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Why Successful Indie Rock Will Save Rock And Roll
Vee
So often in bands either the talent is there and the personalities clash or the opposite is the case. It's not often that things fall together the way they have for us. - Marc Bynum
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] Vee
Vee

Is file-sharing killing the major label? To listen to the proclamations from on-high the music scene, nefarious illegal music hucksters shooting digital contraband through the back alleys of the 'net are destroying the billion-dollar musical media empires. Wilmington, North Carolina-based Vee makes a strong argument for a very different, though less dramatic, reason for this shift in the industry: the major labels are simply becoming less important and unnecessary.

The power of the labels, besides their money, has been distribution. They were able to bring the music to radio stations and other media outlets, as well as move units into record stories and, ultimately, to the buying public. For a band gigging in their hometown clubs, it was the only way to get to the next level, make a living, and become someone.

But talent is talent, regardless of the packaging, and the art of talent development is lost on the majors. Instead, they are looking for a ready-made product who they can sell, often after changing the very qualities that made the artist so appealing in the first place.

So, why does an aspiring, talented, dedicated and driven band need a label anymore? The Internet and technology has made the distribution channel pervasive and infinite. Printing costs are down, as are the costs needed to manufacture CDs, t-shirts and the other tools of the trade. A web site, a few well-placed business relationships, and a good booking agent, and you're ready to go.

Ok, so it's not quite that easy. But getting to that point does take that special something good bands have. In the case of Vee, their four members, Veronica Lasher on vocals and guitar, Marc Killian on guitar and vocals, Marc Bynum on bass and Joe Paris on drums, found it in their experiences, and in each other. Products of far-flung music scenes, they came together in artsy Wilmington, North Carolina in September 2001 to try and use their experience, behind Lasher's charismatic performance style and lyrics, to find their niche. They did.

Paris and Lasher had met a few years prior, bonding over shared dreams of a songwriting career, and left their home base of Nashville for the coastal city, performing a series of acoustic gigs as a duo. Seeking to expand their horizons, they began seeking a bass player and drummer. A brief search granted their wishes, finding an ex-pat from the Detroit music scene in Killian, and Byrum, transplanted from Athens, Georgia just days before spotting Lasher's ad.

A bit over one year later, they are getting ready to release their debut full-length album and set their sights outward. Chorus and Verse had an opportunity to question the band about becoming a unit, the album, and the evolution of an indie rock success story.

Vee

In late December, you announced that you had finished recording your new album, and were starting the mixing and mastering process for a planned February release. Can you update us on how that process is going, and when you expect the album to be available?

Marc Killian: As of mid-January we are about halfway through the final mix. I plan on having it completed by early February, then it is off to the mastering stage, where those guys will work their magic. So, I see us looking at a mid-March release date.

Have you decided on a title for the CD yet? How did you go about the artistic elements of the CD production, deciding on the cover art, what content to include in the CD booklet, and the other elements that go into creating the packaging?

Veronica Lasher: The album title is Reaching You. Lyrically, the title led to the concept of communication/telephone, which is what the cover is based on.

How many tracks will be on the album, and what was the process you used to pick what would be included and left off? Did you know the track list walking into the studio, and just worked on those songs until they were ready to go, or did you over-record material, and pick and choose the material you felt was the best fit?

Marc Killian: The album is going to have 11 cuts on it. For the most part we knew the songs we were going to do. The majority were songs Veronica had been working on prior to the four of us coming together. We did decide to let go of a few tunes that were possible for the album because of writing material during the recording process, like the title song "Reaching You".

How will fans be able to get the album? Since the CD is independently recorded and produced, what are the challenges you face with distributing the album and making it available nationally?

Joe Paris: Fans can get the album over the internet at our website, www.veeband.com. Also, local record stores will be stocking the album.

Currently, we are in the process of finding regional distribution. We are planning a summer regional tour, so we need to get the album in stores so people can get it before we get to their city. As far as national, we are trying to start regionally first and then do what we are doing locally, then regionally, then nationally. The only national distribution we are planning is through internet marketing.

Vee

Most stories about the band center around your leaving Nashville to plant musical roots in the Wilmington, North Carolina scene in November 2000. How has the area treated the band and how has it matched the expectations you had when you first arrived?

Joe Paris: Wilmington has been great for us. Veronica and I met the Marc's brothers, Marc Killian and Marc Bynum, here and this city has enabled us to play shows and get publicity relatively easy. Whereas in big music cities, those things are not as easy to do. Wilmington has allowed us to hone our craft and make mistakes that other cities may not have been so forgiving for.

Can you briefly talk about the band members' experiences prior to forming Vee? Were you all previously in other bands? Are any of you formally trained in music, or self-taught?

Joe Paris: I studied jazz for many years with the late jazz great, Howie Mann. That gave me a great foundation for my playing today. After that, I played in a hardcore band in NY until I moved to Nashville and met Veronica.

Marc Killian: Prior to Vee, I spent a lot of time in various harder rock projects in Detroit but never really found the cast of characters I was looking for. As far as I know, Veronica is the only one formally trained.

Veronica Lasher: I had been playing since I was five. Classically trained and played in church for many years. Moved to Nashville, went to school there and performed in many showcases. After school, stayed in Nashville and wrote songs for other people until I met Joe and began performing my own stuff.

Marc Bynum: I played for about 12 years with a phenomenal guitarist from Georgia. I learned so much about music from that experience. Everything else has come from just keeping my ears open.

Can you give us an introduction to the Wilmington music scene? What are some of the cool places to play, and what are the media outlets that are most supportive of the bands and their music? Have you made friends with any other bands in the area who are worth watching?

Veronica Lasher: Wilmington is very open to various styles of music. Good for getting your feet wet. Dreams and Marrz are great locations for live music, Kefi also, it's high energy and a great crowd. Media outlets that are very band-supportive are, The Beat magazine, Encore and Outrider mags. Also, Surf 107.5 and Rock 104.5 radio stations have local hour every week. WECT news has a music program called "On The Beat" with Mike Raab. Other bands that we have played with are Glide and Mike Garrigan. We have a show scheduled with Vaughan Penn in Feb., she's great. Tom Gossin is also worth checking out.

You've described the band as being "family-like", and seemed to put such a unit together quickly after hitting Wilmington. Why do you think the band came together so quickly and worked together from the start? How has experience with past musical project shaped your attitudes in Vee?

Vee

Joe Paris: When Veronica and I decided to play music together, our goal was to put together a band, but not just merely musicians, we wanted to build a family-like band. I think we all became good friends initially which helped us to become a good band. I believe the band came together quickly because of this closeness. It makes you work harder and trust those around you. Being in a hardcore band, you don't have the dynamics that you have in what we are doing. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to the sensitivity.

Marc Killian: Well, I think we are family-like because we all listen to each other and we know that each one of us has a special gift to bring to the table, so I think that provides us with a deeper respect and consideration for each other.

Veronica Lasher: I believe our desire to be in a type of band where each person is taken into consideration has helped us come together so quickly. My past experiences working with songwriters has helped me in Vee because each band member is a songwriter and it helps in understanding where they are coming from.

Marc Bynum: I just think we've been lucky. So often in bands either the talent is there and the personalities clash or the opposite is the case. It's not often that things fall together the way they have for us.

You all come from fairly cut-throat musical scenes, New York, Detroit, Nashville and Athens, and you've said that one of the reasons for moving to Wilmington was to become a "big fish in a small pond." Do you find Wilmington to be a more supportive and nurturing area than those which you left? Do you feel that the area is destined to remain somewhat small and artsy, or will it eventually develop into the type of scene that you left behind elsewhere?

Joe Paris: I believe Wilmington and the point in my life both had something to do with the success of this band. We have found that getting gigs, press and people to listen has been easier for me [here] than elsewhere. But, I think because of its location, being as far east as you can go, makes it difficult to be a city that national bands would pass through. Also, they have enforced sound ordinances and other laws that kill a city's live music scene.

Marc Bynum: Every band needs an incubation period. Wilmington has been a good place for us to develop our sound and try new things.

Vee

Some songwriters might say that leaving an area like Nashville or New York City will deprive you of the experiences that you can turn into new lyrics or song ideas. How has Wilmington been in terms of a source of inspiration and a muse for spurring the band's creativity? Have you found that the ways you create and the inspiration beyond your music is different when moving from one area to another?

Veronica Lasher: I believe that any place you go can be inspiring. Some of my feelings of home sickness fell into the lyrics, but it wouldn't have happened without leaving my comfort zone. Clearly, meeting my band members here made this what it was and that has fired my creativity. Method is not part of how I write. It happens and I don't know why.

Several reviews mention the fact that you like to give out stickers, lots and lots of stickers. How difficult it is for a band to get their name out there, and how much time is spent on the promotional aspect of your music? With printing costs going down, the rise of the Internet, and CD burners so cheap, it is impossible to really do something truly different and creative to get the word out that lots of other bands aren't doing as well?

Marc Killian: Getting your name out is probably the hardest thing for bands to do because, like you said, costs are coming down and that makes being creative and different harder. But, at the same time, I think doing all you can in that department eventually pays off.

Joe Paris: It is difficult to get your name out, but it's something you do for the success of your band, just as if you would practice your instrument, you must promote your band. Many people shy away from it and think that if they play well, then people will come and listen. I think of all the bands I grew up listening to, had they not promoted themselves, I would probably have never heard their music. We spend a lot of time and money on promotional materials because if those look good, then people will think the band is good and they take themselves seriously. As far as doing something different to promote ourselves, we are always thinking of different ways. We are actually working on something right now ... but I cannot talk about it.

What are your plans to promote the CD? What will you be doing to try and gain additional radio airplay, and to book live gigs in new markets where you haven't played yet? Does the band have any plans to get indie or major label interest for the next album?

Vee

Joe Paris: We are working on internet marketing and getting regional distribution. We want to concentrate on the Southeast and play cities within. We've hired a wonderful publicist to help open new markets and are currently [interviewing] for several booking agencies to help with that. As far as label interest, that is not our primary goal. We have started our own record label, www.privateeyerecords.com, and have been financing our first release ourselves. We would be open to anything, but you hear so many horror stories of bands that have gotten signed and are worse off than they were before they were signed. With today's technology, things are limitless for bands these days and I think that reflects in major label sales being down. The labels blame file sharing, but the technology has opened doors for independent bands like ourselves. I believe because of it there will be a wider variety of music available to people instead of having to be force fed whatever sounds like the band of the year. It will be the good bands, the ones that work hard and are creatively marketing themselves, that succeed. Besides, if we can play music and get out of debt without having to work day jobs, I'd be the happiest boy on the block.

What are your plans to move beyond Wilmington? When the new album is released, do you hope to gig outside the state, or other parts of the country? Are there goals for the band that you feel you can accomplish in 2003?

Marc Bynum: Today Wilmington, tomorrow ...

[ Web site: www.veeband.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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