This piece was originally published Jan 17, 2013 for Middle of the Mitten 5
Interview by contributor Michelle Perkowski
1. One look at your website will show that you guys enjoy vlogging and making videos. Do you see that as something personal, or an extension of the band? Do you think it helps you connect to your fans better?
That’s a good question. Touring can be really hard for bands without label support. It is expensive, grueling, and venues want you to draw people you can’t necessarily guarantee. We made our music videos to represent us to cities we haven’t played yet. We knew it would give us a chance to introduce our music to new music fans as well as show another side of our creativity.
We made the ‘Simien the Whale short’ series to help spread the word about our November 2012 Album Release Party and to show people we have a sense of humor. We hoped they would show that we are regular dudes, and not the serious brooding artists that a lot of musicians can be perceived as. It was also a fun way to flex our creative muscles when we didn’t have any shows lined up. We’ll probably make more.
2. You guys have participated in ArtPrize a couple times. What draws you to participate in a competition like that, especially considering music is not the typical medium of choice?
2012 was our second time performing at the ArtPrize Musician’s Showcase, and it was the first year music was actually up for a public voting prize.
Not only is it a way to have our music heard by an international audience, but it’s a way to help reinforce the importance of music in art scenes. Visual art is amazing. I love it. Music is another form of expression, that we think has just as much value as visual art. It’s a performing art!
3. The band just recently released its first full-length album. How did the process of making it help you develop as a band?
From the beginning of Simien the Whale in 2006, we made an effort to stay as independent as possible. With the landscape of music in the internet age (Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc.) the term ‘local band’ almost doesn’t apply anymore. All of a sudden you can write, record, and release an album without the help of a label.
Our first album, a six song EP, was entirely self-produced and we liked that. For our first full-length album, we wanted to reunite with our friend and collaborator Michael Crittenden at Mackinaw Harvest Music, partially for a more refined sound and partially because he has a great ear. We wanted to experiment more with our guitar tones and focus on what the lyrics were communicating, and he is a great guy to work with when you need to be pushed.
We prepared 17 songs and recorded most of them. In the end we chose the 10 that best represented our approach to indie-pop. It helped to have a group of songs to choose from that we felt defined us rather than record the total amount of songs we had ready. ‘Simien the Whale’ isn’t a record of the songs we can play, it’s a record of the songs we want to be defined by. It’s why we chose to self-title it. It’s us saying: “Hi, we’re Simien the Whale. Have a listen!”
4. While MOTM does our best to be inclusive, we are admittedly a bit (East) Lansing centric. What do Grand Rapids and the west side of the state have to offer in terms of creative opportunities, and what makes it a good place for musicians?
Haha! You are a tad biased to Capitol City, huh? As you should be. Lansing and East Lansing have great scenes. We are always blown away by the support we receive from people at shows who have heard us for the first time. Sometimes our local fans who have heard us for the tenth time aren’t as excited by a song as a new fan hearing it for the first time.
We love West Michigan for the arts culture in our town and for the vast array of established bands that represent us – Stepdad, Seth Bernard and Daisy May, Drew Nelson, Valentiger, Sweet Japonic, The Verve Pipe, Domestic Problems, just to name a few. We have a great heritage of independent music and the community of musicians reinforces that.
I think the resurgence of local pride, capped off by our designation as Beer City, USA, has helped too. There are new neighborhood breweries popping up all over that all support local arts and local business. It means more places to showcase our tunes and more ways to connect with fans.
5. Skimming through your website shows that the past year has been an incredible one for you guys, with the release of your album and winning the Local Spin award just in the past couple months. Looking ahead, and rounding out our 5 theme, what are five things you are looking forward to in 2013? (music related or otherwise)
2012 was a great year for us. Our most productive to date. Looking ahead to 2013 we are most excited about:
- New music. We are debating between another full length release or a series of shorter releases right now. Maybe we’ll do both. We don’t know. We are already recording again, so we’ll probably just wait until the music is finished to decide how we should share it.
- More Grand Rapids arts. ArtPrize will be back and bigger. The music category will hopefully grow to include more regional, national and international musicians. Smaller, more intimate local music venues are also becoming more established, and you can go see great independent music seven nights a week.
- Great food and beer. In Grand Rapids there is a real interest in small craft brews and small restaurants using local produce. It means you can have a unique dinner and barley pop that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. And it can change every month! Very exciting time to be here.
- Making new friends. Like I said before, the internet makes it possible for us to independently share our music worldwide like never before. We don’t expect to be the next Psy or anything, but we do expect to make new friends, meet new people, and network in a fabulous and thriving online musical community. Who knows where that will take us?
- Festival season. We have applied to a few Summer festivals already with a few more coming, so hopefully we get accepted to some. We haven’t done a proper tour yet, so we are making it a point to hit the road this year. After a year in the studio making our album, we just want to play live a lot more!