Louisville, Kentucky: The next Seattle?
What do you think of when someone mentions Louisville, Kentucky? The
Kentucky Derby? Louisville Cardinals basketball?
As far as music, you surely would assume Louisville, which is three hours north
of Nashville, to be a hotbed for country music. Well, maybe it is, but some of
the best Louisville-based bands that are garnering attention right now are rock
Indie record label Toucan Cove was smitten by two Louisville rock bands in
particular over the past few years, the Muckrakers and Digby, and signed both of
them. These are not hip, cool, Next Big Thing bands, but rather hard-working
pop/rock acts that write great songs and aren’t afraid to get on the road and
show the world who they are.
But why Louisville?
“Well I think one of the really cool things about Louisville is that there’s not
just one style of music,” says Rob Carpenter, front man for the Muckrakers. “You
have your bands like My Morning Jacket and VHS or Beta. Then you also have your
Days of the New and Tantric, but then there’s also a wide-open space for good
pop-rock bands like us. And every one of those bands can succeed, but also
support each other. So I think it’s been really nice to see this recent
appreciation for Louisville sound. I think certain publications try to peg it
one way or another, but the actual music scene in Louisville doesn’t allow that.
It is so diverse. There’s room for everybody.”
There is also a perception when the bands play out of town that comes with being
from Louisville, or from the south in general.
“Yeah, for some reason if people don’t know who we are or where we’re from, they
think we’re British,” says Rich Oeffinger, guitarist for Digby. “We’re all
influenced by English music, so it probably comes out that way. But when we tell
them we’re from Kentucky, they’re like, ‘What?’ Especially when we go north of
here. They seem kind of shocked by that.”
So once the rest of the country comes to realize that Louisville is a breeding
ground for new rock bands, maybe even in the vein of early ‘90s Seattle, they
will start to appreciate the depth of talent the city has to offer. Toucan Cove
certainly has its work cut out in that regard, but both bands appreciate being
on a label that believes in them, as opposed to being a number in a major label
“The major labels have more muscle behind them, obviously,” says Oeffinger. “And
with more muscle comes somebody pushing you harder to do something you don’t
want to do. So we’re not really interested in that.”
Carpenter agrees wholeheartedly. “We had been at the point with our band to have
offers from major labels,” he says. “But they all wanted us to change our sound
to become harder, edgier, depending on what the newest trend was in music. And
we said, ‘You know, that’s not who we are, why fake that?’ We haven’t hit any of
those big battles and I have full confidence that Toucan Cove can carry us
though all that. When you see how many great bands are strictly with independent
record labels, you don’t need to go through the channels anymore.”
As far as touring, this is also the kind of situation where a band has to work
extra hard to gain fans one at a time. Both the Muckrakers and Digby have great
songs; it’s just a matter of getting more and more people to hear them.
Sometimes that calls for unique marketing strategies, including spending the
entire day of a show promoting the gig.
“We will walk around the streets passing out flyers,” says Carpenter. “We will
set up our laptops and let people listen to the album. We’ll do downloads into
people’s iPods if they have them with them. I’m very lucky to have a couple of
guys in the band that are really good at coming up with those kinds of ideas.”
It’s this kind of work ethic that, long term, should get both of these fans the
national, and maybe global, recognition they deserve.
Great rock bands emerging from the center of Kentucky? Absolutely. And why not?
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