Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
Social media is a vortex. You see the rush of information coming onto your screen and click, click, click through to endless amounts of information — you know how it goes. Hey, that’s likely how you found your way to this page.
This isn’t an anti-technology rant, by any stretch. In fact, there are plenty of gems to be found among all those pictures of cats and mash-ups of Beastie Boys lyrics. For the crusty skeptics among us, social media is considered at its best when it’s used for social commentary — all that self-promotion stuff seems like something you accept as part of the exchange.
For Jim Hopkins, online promotion is both a lure and a repellent. Hopkins plays bass guitar and sings backing vocals in the Ottawa indie-dance-rock band called Fevers.
They’re a dynamic little act, made up of five people who spend most of their time quietly toiling away in day jobs. They come together and play music that sounds like the stuff that Stars was doing five or ten years ago — but not as whiny. It’s danceable with touches of melancholy in all the right places. For example, their single “Passion is Dead (Long Live Fashion),” is dancefloor gold. Packed between the beats, if you listen carefully, is a lament for what’s lost in music: the soul of it all, the reason, the passion. Music made by a certain generation and of a particular style comes with a look — you know that look. It’s hipsters dressed in layers where everything looks worn in (though slightly more upscale than Value Village offerings). The Outfit is tied together with the right spectacles, and the right shoes.
For Hopkins and his Fevers bandmates, it’s as if the music industry, even the beloved indie rock scene, puts all the emphasis on packaging at the sake of content.
“Music doesn’t need all that fluff around it,” Hopkins says, noting that their band isn’t particularly showy. “The real question behind the song is do you need fashion and art on top of the music to get your work out there?”
The members of Fevers found out quickly that the answer is yes. In the crowded web sphere, rock videos are major currency. They go viral and allow a band to get its song and its message out there. High-quality videos do particularly well and help festival bookers make decisions about a band’s potential on a live stage.
“You realize it’s a promotional tool,” Hopkins says. “You just hope people don’t take it too literally, and that they delve further to realize there’s something behind the song.”
When it came time to make a video ahead of festival application deadlines, the band, working with start-up producer Bryan McNally, chose the tune “Passion is Dead (Long Live Fashion),” for its message — and for the challenge inherent in making a video about a song that questions the continued rise of spectacle over substance.
The band crowd-funded the shoot through Indiegogo and raised $3,000 from 45 people, including $400 from the Ottawa Police Association where McNally works by day as a photographer and videographer. Money went toward renting In Motion studios on Boyd Avenue, off Carling, plus camera rentals, purchasing props, and hiring a director of photography to give the five-minute video its clubby look and glam feel. There’s a preview trailer of the video online here.
“We hoped there was some irony in the video by making it look like a fashion shoot,” McNally exclaims. “We didn’t want it to be cheesy or pure satire — that would take away from the song. It really is a question about the duality of being an artist now. You have to maintain artistic integrity while adapting to the masses.”
It’s a minor adjustment to the age-old question about where the lines are drawn between art and commerce, or, put another way, a question about whether or not all this Internet video will kill the real music stars.
Fevers’ video release takes place Thursday, May 10 at Mercury Lounge, 56 Byward Market, 7 p.m., no cover.
NATIONAL VELVET ARE BACK?
I never quite understood the National Velvet tune “Sex Gorilla.” Its opening stance sounded like absolute nonsense: “Onions can be sweet/if you’re trying to beat the heat/but nothing’s quite as sweet as Sex Gorilla.” Huh? Wot’s that mean?
Silly stanzas aside, the song — which came out on the Toronto band’s 1990 album Courage — was a favourite. It sounded good and was on a number of mixed tapes I made and received growing up in Southern Ontario. The tune segued nicely into “The Criminal” by The Sons of Freedom — a fierce punk track by another Canadian band of the era. National Velvet was fronted by Maria del Mar, punk rock goddess admired by many for her voice and her looks. Turns out she’s not some lame-ass lyricist after all. The song was actually called “Sarsaparilla” — a soda drink — but was changed to “Sex Gorilla” after fans kept referring to it as such. I know this because I was prompted to look into it after I saw that National Velvet is back touring and will be playing Zaphod Beeblebrox this weekend. Wikipedia solved some of the decades-old confusion. Thank you, Internet!
National Velvet plays Zaphod Beeblebrox with Hard Honey, Saturday, May 12, 9 p.m., $15.
Kitchen Party happens this Friday at the Rochester Pub. It’s one of three new rec-room-style-jams happening in the city. Ottawa Magazine breaks them down here in “PARTY ON: Three quirky (and decidedly cozy) venues to hangs out, be seen, and get sweaty.”