Indie-Structable Rock Scene Smashes Major Labels

If Internet downloads, piracy and bootlegging are the blasts that are shaking the very foundation major music labels stand on, indie rock is the cockroach emerging from beneath the rubble —unharmed and even thriving on the surrounding disaster.

It’s quite the ironic twist on the current state of tunes: Major labels hacking jobs and budgets just to stay afloat while tiny independent labels and artists with pea-sized bankrolls are seeing increased sales, exposure and critical recognition.

Granted, this success isn't what most dreamed of while air-guitaring atop their childhood beds. There are no million-dollar tour buses, no lavish after-show parties and no massive pyro or lighting displays. There's just pure, straightforward music.

But in a faltering business, this formula seems to be the adrenaline injection into music's aorta.

"Bands are looking to make a good, solid album that you want to buy rather than an album with two singles and the rest is filler," said Andrew Katchen, a music writer for the Boston Globe. "There's less of an expectation and money funneled into an indie record, as opposed to say a Nelly album that has to sell millions of copies just to recoup marketing costs."

Another reason the independent music world is seemingly bulletproof is because of the relationship between the artist and the fan, which weaves a closely-knit community.

"There's such a sense of community between the fans and the band — you know who the artist is, even though you may not know the musician personally," said Katchen. "After the show they'll go to their own merch table and sell their own disc and you can talk to them, so you know you're supporting them more than the record company."

But why not go directly to the horse's mouth?

Fox News was able to speak with two burgeoning indie rock bands that have seen newfound success during 2003. Both bands recently played headlining shows at the CMJ Music Marathon (search) in New York City — a four-day musical onslaught featuring more than 900 bands at 50 venues spread all over the five boroughs and New Jersey.

Pretty Girls Make Graves: 

Don’t let the morbid moniker fool you: Pretty Girls Make Graves (search) are nothing but feel-fine, upbeat indie rock. The Seattle band dishes out a calming tide of Andrea Zollo’s pudding-soft vocals with march-based rhythms and oddly tuned guitar chords – all doused with funky electronic bursts of smiles-mandatory rock 'n' roll purity.

Zollo, indie rock’s hipster answer to Pat Benatar with Cyndi Lauper’s range, often sings of depressing matters, but when married with the thumping bass lines of Derek Fudesco and twangy guitars, bleak hugs bright and sedate kisses sass. In the end, it’s Zollo’s delivery — pure as the snow — that overwhelms the listener with ticklish pitch changes and oddball vocal meters.

Bassist Derek Fudesco speaks out on:

Major labels vs. independent labels:

"Majors throw away millions of dollars on crappy bands that are just making music to have a hit song. It's not real and kids aren't going to buy into it. Everyone I've ever known that's been on a major label has hated it, and either been dropped or done whatever they can to get out of it. Indie labels and indie bands do everything themselves. They don't worry about tour buses or mass promotion. They play music because they want to play music, and they do it in small clubs and basements two feet away from the fans. Major labels focus too much on the bands out to make a buck."

Sense of community within the independent scene:

"Indie fans buy the albums because they like the band, and generally indie bands don't have radio singles. People that know about them hear about them through other, more personal means than MTV and radio. Once you go to a show, you're in the family."

CMJ Marathon's impact:

"We do the Marathon because we're in the same city with lots of our friends and bands we like. We didn't get signed to a label from playing there, and we never expected to. I don't know anyone that's ever gotten signed from playing there."

The Blood Brothers:

Noisier than a train wreck and twice as intriguing, The Blood Brothers have taken hard-core punk and turned it into a spasmodic avant coup d'état. The odd man out in a genre rife with glacial amounts of testosterone, this flamboyant Seattle quintet prefers melodies over misguided confrontation.

Vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney trade callous Burroughsian one-liners (for example: “Bulimic rainbows vomit what?/Coconut pupils never shut?”), turning Stevie Wonder-ish guitar leads into writhing eruptions of epileptic song. Looking like a Beastie Boys cloning experiment gone awry, the brawn of hard core has been moshed away by impossible artistry, quirky lyricism and hefty smarts.

Vocalist Jordan Blilie speaks out on:

Major labels vs. independent labels:

"With independent releases, it's not something like 'We're going to get the hype machine rolling' with some six-week bombardment blanket mission statement about how you sound, and then after that, you're back where you're started from. If it doesn't catch on and you're not continually in the public eye, those people paying attention a few months prior are going to forget about you. I think major labels make it a lot less honest ... but if you can make it work, go for it."

Sense of community within the independent scene:

"Take a band that releases indie records. It's going to be on a smaller scale, and they're going to be working with friends of theirs, and they're networked with a larger community of the same people. When you continue to support that community and live within it and present your art form in that context, you're going to see a lot more longevity and interest. I'm more apt to get behind and support a band who have been doing it themselves for five or six years and grown gradually."

CMJ Marathon's impact:

"It's definitely one of the only weekends I can think of where you have the sheer amount of indie bands coming together and playing. I don't think that the indie music community needs this large parade and open invitation to the industry to thrive and be important, but it's definitely a nice place to hang out."