GIVEn Away for a Song
Interviews with Charitable Musicians Who Appear on the GIVE Seattle Compilation
We live in a time when musicians are struggling to make money. What motivated you to donate a track to a charity compilation?
John Van Deusen (the Lonely Forest): A charity comp is a great thing to be a part of. It gives the artist a chance to get involved in the community and hopefully make a difference. It's also win-win, because many talented bands get good promotion from it as well.
Tony Ruland (the Lonely Forest): I'm a firm believer in charity and helping to benefit others when given the opportunity.
Trent Moorman (Head Like a Kite): Yes, money and music don't always go together. But something like the GIVE comp is good to be a part of because it's such a cool grouping of bands and songs. Most of all, it's a chance to be a part of a couple worthy causes. I wish I could donate more to charity, but I don't have the money to all the time. You walk down the street and you see people struggling, the ones that really need help. It's etched in their faces. Something like GIVE is a way to help, a little. And Arts Corps's mission to broaden kids' access to the arts is something I'd like to help, as well. I think it's a real shame to cut out arts programs in schools. Seems like you always hear how schools are threatening that they may have to cut out art and music from the curriculum. I say cut out math. Kids need art more than math. It's funny, we have money for sports stadiums and space stations, but not for elementary-school music class?
Dave Einmo (Head Like a Kite): Michael Hebb, who coordinates all the One Pot events and is involved with Caffe Vita, approached us about including a track. I've really enjoyed the stuff we've worked on with him in the past, so doing a track on this compilation sounded very intriguing. When he told me all the proceeds go to Arts Corps and local food banks, it made it even more enticing. Plus, there's such a great list of artists on the comp that I was honored to be part of it.
Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes): I'm sure the largest bands have seen a decrease in the number of guest bedrooms per house they own, and that must hurt, but in my mind anything above the poverty line is ample compensation for getting to do music full time. Requiring everything you do to be a moneymaker is a bad policy in any field, I'd say. Plus, they asked! The only back pat we deserve is that "Yes" took one more letter to type than "No" would have, and so was technically more difficult.
Matt Bishop (Hey Marseilles): It was a pretty easy decision. We've given out tracks for free just to try to get people to listen to us. To have it benefit a worthy cause makes such a decision that much easier.
Ryan Barrett (the Pica Beats): I know the folks involved with this release, and I trust that they genuinely care about musicians and are not simply enhancing their own project via the naive goodwill of people who know how to play guitar.
Gabriel Mintz: Trent Moorman.
Rachel Flotard (Visqueen): Musicians are steamrolled into giving songs away under the guise of "exposure" for totally stupid agendas all the time. Why not do it for something incredibly important and lovely? This was a no-brainer for me and Visqueen. GIVE has heart, has purpose, and showcases a brilliant cast of Seattle artists. I like it.
Fences (Chris Mansfield): If I wanted money, I wouldn't be a musician. I work regular jobs if I need cash for rent or whatever. I want nothing from this process except to make music. If it can help someone, that is great. Music has saved my life, so I feel like if I can use a song I wrote to help someone else, it is an honor. I am humbled by it, really.
Sam Simkoff (Le Loup): It doesn't cost anything to donate a track to a charity comp. As you say, being a musician isn't the most immediately profitable lifestyle in the first place; giving away one song isn't going to break the bank. That's not the song that would have suddenly defied all the laws of modern music marketing and made us untold millions if we just hadn't given it to a good not-for-profit cause. And, anyhow, while it doesn't exactly benefit us financially, there's obviously a sort of moral profit—makes you feel good in your soul.
Chris Martin (Kinski): We had an unused track from our last album that we really liked and we wanted it to come out. We're working on writing a new record now, so I wanted it to come out before it got lost in the shuffle.
Kevin Murphy (the Moondoggies): It was a no-brainer; they asked for it, and we gave it to them. I think anybody who wouldn't be interested in that has something wrong with them.
Talbot Tagora: We've never really thought about creating music as a source of income, so donating music, in our eyes, isn't seen as a loss. Even though there are a number of other ways that we, and the society that we live in, could be helping out people in need, we felt that contributing a song to this compilation is probably the least that we could do.
P Smoov (Mad Rad, Fresh Espresso): When the coordinators of GIVE approached Fresh Espresso and Mad Rad to participate in this, it was a no-brainer for us. We saw the amazing charities the money was going to. We saw that 100 percent of profits were going to the charities. We saw the other musicians participating, and we are also down with the things Caffe Vita and other sponsors have been doing for Seattle in the past. It just seemed like an all-around cool thing.
Grant Olsen (Arthur & Yu): We've been lucky enough to get asked to play a handful of benefits in the past, and it's flattering to be asked. Playing music, or music in general, is a pretty useless endeavor, which is also its great attraction, but becoming something like a baker seems much more contributive to the community. Maybe someday I'll learn how to do that.
For some reason, musicians get more opportunity for philanthropy than other artists. So when there's a chance to add some utility and function to the form, it seems important to do so. To be a funnel (however small) for a place like Arts Corps is a privilege. They are an amazing local organization and much more important than anything any of the musicians on the compilation will ever be.
In which ways, if any, do you think you will benefit from participating in this release?
Talbot Tagora: We will benefit from the future generations of telepathic children who aim to destroy the unbalanced, present-day value system.
P Smoov: Besides the great feeling we get from helping our community with our music, it's a great way to have your music heard by a wider variety of listeners from all different demographics. The difference between Fatal Lucciauno and Cave Singers is pretty big, and I think it's cool that they can both be on the same record, being heard by all different kinds of music fans.
Grant Olsen: I think we get a free copy and there are a lot of interesting bands on it, so that's a benefit right there, I guess. I'm playing the benefit show at the Croc, and I think they're feeding us and giving us some free drinks, so that's another one. Plus, there are a few local bands playing that I've never heard or met, so that might be nice.
Kevin Murphy: I don't know how I'll "benefit" in any way other than feeling good about it.
Chris Martin: I don't know that we particularly benefit other than the fact that a few people who might not normally listen to our music get to hear a song of ours.
Sam Simkoff: We spend so much time doing something that doesn't immediately benefit society—I mean, music is great and (if done well) contributes to a greater cultural exchange, but generally speaking, it's not like I'm building infrastructure or finding a cure for cancer or developing green energy or something. So if you're faced with an opportunity where you can use something as intangible as music to directly contribute to a worthy cause, yeah, that also benefits me, wherein I can feel like I've done something concrete with the music that we make.
Chris Mansfield: I am just happy to be acknowledged as a part of such a rich musical community. Of course, it will reach new listeners for us. I won't complain about that. In the end, I don't think it's about each individual band; it's more of the thing as a whole.
Gabriel Mintz: Professionally.
Ryan Barrett: Exposure is key in show business, so any time you can remind people you still exist and are producing art is useful in the long run.
Matt Bishop: Being that we're one of the lesser-known bands, we would love it if the persons who wanted to hear David Bazan or Throw Me the Statue or Fences happened to stumble upon our track and enjoy it. If that doesn't happen, we appreciate at least being in their (and others') company.
Robin Pecknold: Like in the classic episode of Friends in which Phoebe realizes there is no such thing as a truly selfless deed, we gain the appearance of generosity when in reality we're money-hungry scrooges.
Tony Ruland: Maybe people will dig it—a sense of sharing/giving to people.
John Van Deusen: Any time I have ever had the chance to be a part of a benefit/charity event, I leave feeling good about it.
Do you feel like you gave GIVE one of your lesser tracks, so you can keep superior material for your own releases?
Talbot Tagora: (Wondering how many people would answer "yes" to this question.) Actually, we weren't able to contribute an unreleased track, which is sort of a bummer. We did choose a song that we felt was most appropriate, though.
P Smoov: Mad Rad made our song specifically for GIVE. We were like, "Okay, we got this GIVE thing coming up in a few days. Let's get in the Robot Room and write our song for it." And with Fresh Espresso, that was one of our stronger tunes in our opinion, so we went with that one. Being placed among such amazing talent was also a good motivator not to submit a "lesser track."
Grant Olsen: Hah. I'm not sure what you're trying to say there. I guess it's up to you if it's one of our lesser tracks. I think we both felt good about the song when we finished it. That's really the only test for releasing anything (which is probably why there's not a lot of material out there). I guess you always hope that the next stuff will feel superior, but it's hard to know what that really means in the long run.
Kevin Murphy: I don't think it's lesser. It's actually my favorite song that didn't make it on the first album [Don't Be a Stranger]. That album is almost an hour already. I wouldn't put out a song I thought was lesser, anyway... I'd hide it and never show anyone. A good song (that's subjective) is a good song, and people that like what we're doing will like it... my mom likes it, anyway.
Chris Martin: The track that we donated, "Whatever Happened to Madeleine Stowe," was from the sessions from our last record, Down Below It's Chaos. I think that it is one of the best sounding things from those sessions. It just didn't quite fit with the rest of the record. We kept trying to put it on the album because we all really liked the song, but it just didn't work with the rest of the material.
It's a bit of an unusual track for us. Eyvind Kang wrote a string arrangement for the song. I believe he recorded 12 tracks of cello and violin, and he wrote the whole arrangement on the fly. What he did is cool and subtle and really makes the track, I think. It reminds me of the way strings are used on Zeppelin records.
Sam Simkoff: In our case, we gave them a track that's already been released. Not so much because I'm keeping all the good ones for something that'll (theoretically) make us money, but because I write songs incredibly slowly and I just don't have any new ones to give away right now. But, if it's any consolation, "Forgive Me" is one of my favorite tracks from our new LP [Family]. So hopefully it's a worthy contribution to the GIVE compilation.
Chris Mansfield: Not at all; quite the opposite. I actually gave one of my favorite tracks. Whether or not it's superior material is subjective.
Rachel Flotard: No way.
Gabriel Mintz: No.
Ryan Barrett: No, but in all honesty that was due to unique circumstances. The song in question was one that didn't make it onto our last label release [Beating Back the Claws of the Cold] for one reason or another. I still kind of regretted agreeing to take it off the album and hoped to have an opportunity to get it released in some form or another. As time went by and my stylistic desires evolved, I thought less of releasing the song as is but was (and still am) weighing the idea of re-recording the song in a different and better way. With that said, I do still love the original version and it was nice to have a way to get it out there. If the exclusivity agreement were any longer than a few months, then yes, I would have given them a lesser track.
Matt Bishop: Nope. We gave them one of our better tracks, just recently remixed.
Robin Pecknold: Our contributed song is from our EP [Sun Giant], so both?
Dave Einmo: Not at all. I think this is one my favorite Head Like a Kite tracks that I've ever written. It was specifically written for this comp. Tilson, from the Saturday Knights, has guested with us at a few shows lately, and we recorded a track a few months back for the upcoming Head Like a Kite full-length coming out in the spring. We had a blast working together, so we had been talking about writing another track with him. When Hebb asked Head Like a Kite to be on the comp, it was the perfect opportunity to head back into the studio and work on a new song with Tilson. And I'm really excited about the way it turned out. A-list. Top-shelf Head Like a Kite!
Trent Moorman: The Kite song was written specifically for GIVE. And the Gabriel Mintz song [on which Moorman drummed] was given full energy as well. Nothing held back at all.
Tony Ruland: Uh, well it is a demo, but I don't think that makes it lesser. I like the word "rare" better than "lesser."
John Van Deusen: "I Don't Wanna Live There" is a demo track that will eventually be re-recorded and released on a Lonely Forest record. I think it's great that this version will be available only to those who buy the compilation. It makes it a special Lonely Forest donation. Plus, I love the song (although I'm partial to it).
Have you ever needed/benefited from charity?
Talbot Tagora: Yeah, in a small sense depending on whoever's definition of "charity." Money for school, donated space for shows, and other friendly contributions.
P Smoov: When I was squatting in a building with no heat or shower in Seattle, these cousins, Tatti and Amelia, would let me come take showers at their apartment and give me tea. That was pretty chariteous, ha-ha. But no, not from an organized charity.
Grant Olsen: Definitely. I've benefited from charity on local to federal and, of course, personal levels throughout my life. And I'll certainly take any cosmic charity when it can be found. At this point of my life, I think I've finally realized I need all the help I can get. You can't do it on your own.
Kevin Murphy: Do food stamps count?
Chris Martin: Not yet, but I sure could use a trust fund right now.
Sam Simkoff: I'm a firm believer that we all benefit from charity, if not directly then by its overall social benefit. Charities don't exist within a vacuum; if run correctly, they don't only help those individuals who immediately need it and then forget about them once the check has been handed out. They actively and continually build a stronger society—they remind us what's really important, they instill us with stronger moral and social values, and they help populations that can then hopefully give back to the community and others in need. Right now especially, we all need to be charitable to each other if we ever expect to build our communities back up. We all need help in some way, shape or form.
Chris Mansfield: MusiCares has helped me on a few different occasions.
Rachel Flotard: I would imagine everybody needs charity at some point in their lives. Maybe not always in the form of cash or stuff, but friendship. I know I have.
Gabriel Mintz: Yes. Yes.
Ryan Barrett: No. While professional artiste is my goal in life, I remain fiscally solvent via not yet taking the plunge and giving up my day job.
While entertaining requests to play charity events (aside from the more rare charity comp), I do always weigh cost over benefits. For every one show I play for free for charity, I have probably turned down five other requests. It's quite possible in Seattle to play a show every month payless for a "cause," and I can see how many musicians jump at the chance for exposure without looking at the big picture (when perhaps they are often just as poor as those they are helping). In a perfect world, every single band would get paid a modest (at least) fee for the time and effort they are donating. After all, those coming to the club are only asked to donate the meager $7 door cost, while musicians are in essence donating hundreds of dollars' worth of time, sweat, and creativity. But hey, writing songs is really easy, right?
Matt Bishop: We're all from pretty fortunate backgrounds and have not directly benefited from charity organizations. But we're committed to the value of community and the mission that underlies the organizations GIVE is benefiting.
Robin Pecknold: I tried to apply for low-income housing once a few years ago, but I didn't make enough money to qualify, which was disheartening. Too poor for the poorhouse. But yes, for the first 18 years of my life I was fed, educated, and given a room with a bed completely free of charge with no strings attached besides merely having to remain alive.
Dave Einmo: I'm back in school right now, so have I ever needed charity? Are you kidding me? I sometimes think we should do a Head Like a Kite tuition show, bake sale, and car wash. Can you imagine Trent in a cheerleader's outfit out in front of Chevron with a cardboard sign reading "CAR WASH" while I'm knee deep in soapsuds hosing down cars?
Tony Ruland: Yes, in a very big way. The charity-care program at Virginia Mason Medical Center helped cover a huge part of my medical expenses when I was very sick and hospitalized for over two weeks, and for that I am very thankful.
John Van Deusen: I got the chance to visit Africa because of a benefit show. I would not have been able to go on the trip if it wasn't for the bands that brought people out. So, yes, firsthand.
Snow Keim (the Blakes): Thanks for the request. And in regard to your inquiries, I will do my best to answer these questions honestly and truthfully and solemnly swear to omit no shred of information that could prove helpful in resolving just why we GIVE.
It's the holidays and nothing gets me more in the spirit than to know I'm doing something to help out my fellow man. I am grateful for how much I have been blessed with, and I hope that in my lifetime I can do much to help those who have been less fortunate.
I know Michael Hebb on a personal level and can honestly say you won't find a more kind and generous man. Michael s so much to our community in helping to reach those who would not necessarily encounter the various forms of expression through art in their everyday life, not to mention within our musical community on an intimate level: from inviting relatively unknown bands to sing and share their personal experiences at dinners and parties to offering up songs so to make Seattle an example to other cities in how we can be united as a community that cares.
Money has never been abundant in my 29 years, and what little I have seen does not leave me holding it in high regard, not for money itself but for the corruption it can bring to the human spirit. I believe that a life in servitude is far more fulfilling than one directed by selfish desire, a fleeting whim or passing fancy acquired through money.
One of your questions was suggesting that it is getting more and more difficult for artists to make money, but I can tell you firsthand that in the last 10 years it hasn't really changed. Sure there are the one or two each year that break out and to those that do, financial freedom generally follows. But the other 97 percent will surely struggle. I can only think that gives even greater to their art and character. I believe it has always been this way and there is really nothing new under the sun, as you've heard say.
I remember a specific incident in the autumn of 2004. The Blakes were on tour and in Lubbock, Texas. Our van, a 1990 Dodge panel van we had literally pulled out of a junkyard, broke down on us an hour from Tokyo Joe's (the venue). We got a tow to Rick Bigham's, the local mechanic in Lubbock, and it was Friday and they were just closing. We explained our situation to Rick, and he took pity on us. So he then on his own time towed us back to the venue so we could play our show and gave us 20 bucks, but not before making us promise not to spend it on booze and cigarettes. The next morning, he came back to the venue, picked us up, and even opened the shop on a day off so he could fix the van and get us back on the road. When we asked if there was a way to repay him, the only thing he said on parting that afternoon was he was happy to GIVE.