GIVE Till It Hertz
Caffe Vita Brews a Seattle Charity Comp Worth a Hill of Beans
Many longtime Seattleites grumble about city leaders habitually becoming mired in process rather than getting things done. These gripers should take heed of GIVE Seattle, a 36-track Seattle-centric compilation to benefit four local food banks and Arts Corps. Coordinated by Caffe Vita's Mike McConnell and Tom Buckley, One Pot's Michael Hebb, the Crocodile's Kerri Harrop, and 206 Inc.'s Mark Dyce (whose company acts as a representative of Seattle City of Music), GIVE moved with alacrity from speculation (September) to fruition (November). Other key contributors include RFI's Ed Brooks and Rick Fisher, who remastered the comp's 36 tracks for free; web developer Megan Woo and graphic designer Robert Mercer; and local record companies Sub Pop, Hardly Art, and Barsuk.
In light of this remarkable organizational feat, we may have to revise our common perception of musicians as lazy sods. Most of those who participated conceived tracks especially for GIVE under extremely tight deadline pressure.
In an interview at Vita, Hebb says that the goal with GIVE, besides the obvious good of raising money for worthy causes, was "to have some diversity in the sound, but keep it focused toward a core demographic of people who like Seattle indie music."
Some have bitched about slighted musical styles, but the aim with GIVE isn't to be comprehensive; besides, as with any compilation, it's impossible to appeal to every specialist niche. Yes, genres like, say, techno, metal, reggae/dub, and jazz lack representation. Hebb acknowledges these absences, but notes, "We're not trying to be curatorial with any specific goal other than 'Who's making vital music and shaping the sound of the city? Who do you want to see in a club? Whose albums are you already buying? If you got exclusive material from them, would you be excited?'"
The artist selection process consisted of a dialogue among the people listed above. There was "nothing too scientific about it," Hebb says. "It wasn't based on MySpace views or anything like that," he admits, chuckling.
The lineup includes Mad Rad, Ben Gibbard, the Long Winters, Visqueen, Fresh Espresso, Fleet Foxes, Le Loup, Talbot Tagora, and Common Market (the disc's biggest surprise, with what sounds like a weird Central European funk instrumental). One could come away from listening to GIVE with the impression that hiphop and folk rock dominate the Seattle soundscape. While most of the 30 finished tracks I've heard are quality, I do wish more risks were taken with the sonic menu. But that's a selfish aesthetic view—and it won't necessarily help fill hungry bellies or foster creative tendencies in young people.
"It's not necessarily for the Mountain [KMTT 103.7 FM] listener or someone who listens to the classical station exclusively, per se," Hebb says. "But the idea is that somebody who loves Sera Cahoone is not necessarily the same person who loves Kinski—but they're on the same label [Sub Pop]. If you dig David Bazan, you may not be the same person who loves Champagne Champagne. But there's a large demographic in this city that likes that range of music. It's not just about appealing to them, but the idea here is to raise money and awareness. What's the best way of doing that? Not to pretend we're music curators—but we do know the musicians who are going to excite people. I think [the album] is fairly representative of that."
Tracks by Bazan, the Long Winters, the Dutchess and the Duke, Throw Me the Statue, Unnatural Helpers, and Gibbard are still in various states of completion and licensing, but Hebb hopes they'll be available for downloading by mid-December; consumers can redeem the tracks until Valentine's Day 2010. Videos of a half-dozen songs—some shot by renowned directors like Chase Jarvis and Creature—will surface in the near future, Hebb promises.
As for Caffe Vita's involvement with GIVE, Buckley says the beanery's role was "to help underwrite the whole project so it would have a successful launch. We're the mechanical piece of it. It took a lot of energy to corral that much talent. Michael [Hebb] was able to do it through his connections. It was our technical provider, the company that maintains our server [Lighthouse], they tied it all together, these vendors who belong to Vita, who were willing to do it for free. That was the magic of the whole deal."
Is the compilation strictly altruistic or does it have synergistic advantages for Vita's business?
"Culturally, we've always been involved [with the local music scene]," Buckley says. "Anyone who works here has been in a band or is in a band. We can't get away from the musical connection, so we might as well go with it. It's an important part of our culture, so harnessing it philanthropically... was pretty natural. Who wouldn't want to be involved with [GIVE]?"
At the time of this interview, GIVE had racked up over 400 online sales and around 600 retail sales in its first week. (The album sells for $7 at Vita and various record shops or on www.giveseattle.org.) "We're pretty happy there," Hebb says. "We would love to sell 5,000 to 10,000 units."
Hebb praises Seattle as one of the only American cities in which a charitable project of this magnitude could be executed so quickly.
"There's a philanthropic spirit, for one, that runs through every major organization and business and artist that I know," he enthuses. "Plus, people aren't 'too busy.' In New York and L.A., you get a lot of that."
Playing devil's advocate, I counter, "Everybody here's unemployed, you mean?"
Hebb laughs and clarifies. "No, I mean too busy for you, to have a conversation. You don't have to pitch 'em; you can actually converse with them. Not everyone's looking out for number one. The synergy and the speed among everyone involved in GIVE were impressive. You can get a lot of shit done. That's what impressed me when I moved to Seattle three years ago."
Saturday Knights rapper Tilson—who's MCing the December 3 benefit show at the Crocodile and who appears on two of GIVE's tracks—later joins the conversation, adding more effervescence to the already bubbly discussion. "I'm tryin' to learn how to be a philanthropist in this world," he says, warming to the topic.
It's probably not easy, with Tilson being a natural curmudgeon, right?
"Yeah," Tilson replies. "You see me every week on Hoarders; I keep all the rubber bands."
Getting more serious, he continues, "When I saw the people involved with Arts Corp, I saw what we're contributing to from the inside. The people there are really excited about what's going on. It's great to have your music... help somebody. Getting involved with this is a no-brainer. It's like waking up in the morning and stretching; you're going to do that naturally."
"There's an intense, powerful sense of community in the music world here that doesn't feel competitive or backbiting in the way it does in certain cities," Hebb concludes. "Projects like this only help that."