Last month, This is Noteworthy, an educational initiative created for musicians, helped bring BandSwap, a national music competition, to Charleston. The competition gives local musicians the chance to a win an all-expenses-paid trip to BandSwap's host city in Fort Collins, Colo. for a homecoming show, plus paid gigs in the area with like-minded bands.
BandSwap works like a music exchange program. Bands from participating cities like Charleston, Milwaukee, Memphis, Portland, and Athens will switch places with their musical counterpart from Fort Collins for a week this fall, thus sharing fanbases and resources, building connections, and extending their musical networks. BandSwap is also meant to be a nurturing, learning experience. "It takes drive, dedication, and determination not only to the craft of making music, but also to the business side of booking, negotiating, and marketing the product to create the most valuable market position," says Becca Finley, executive director of Charleston's This Is Noteworthy. "We wanted to create a safe, fun, and professional space to educate and arm musicians with tools and guidelines that will help them with forward momentum in a tough industry."
Nearly 30 Charleston bands competed to win in five musical categories. The finalists performed privately in front of a panel of industry professionals last week, and the winner of the five is set to be announced at the Piccolo Spoleto finale on June 7 in Hampton Park. In the meantime, give it up for the final five BandSwap nominees.
Winners of the Rock Category: The Dead 27s
This road-weary band may have passed out recently in the middle of the day in a Wendy's parking lot, but don't worry; they ain't dead. The Dead 27s are a very-much-alive five-piece known for making audiences sway and smile along to its particular brand of breezy Southern, soulful rock. Most of the guys met during their USC days, where they played in various ensembles before the right combination clicked. "We had all of these scattered projects, but this is the one that made sense," guitarist Wallace Mullinax says. The Dead 27s found their sound by not only having a few things in common, musically, but from having some varied opinions on the subject, too. "The cool thing about this group is it works with these five different tastes," drummer Daniel Crider says. "I've been in other bands where everyone liked the same thing, but something wasn't right about those bands. Something's right about this one. So it works." The band will take their recent release Chase Your Devil Down on the road at the end of the summer, pit-stopping for naps and all.
Winners of the Electronic/Experimental Category: Lectra Lust
You know you're doing something right when your band's song comes on at a party and some dude's lifting his iPhone to the speaker. "We officially got Shazamed at a party," Lectra Lust drummer Brooks Wharton says. "It was flattering. But we weren't on Shazam so we just had to say 'Hey, that's us.'" A relatively new electro-pop band Lectra Lust formed only a year and a half ago when they met at a tacky Christmas sweater party, where of course there's no shortage of creativity. Lectra Lust wrote five songs during their first practice and have since recorded their debut EP over at James Island's Treehouse Studios. The band, whose live shows are colored with lasers and smoke, cites Future Islands and Passion Pit as musical influences, but we see a lot of '80s new wave there, too. "The music can be retro, but we also love the new toys," guitarist Jamie Teske says. "[Synth player and vocalist Davies] has recorded a lot of his old vintage synth sounds, and he conjures up something, and then we all hit it hard." The result is energetic and dreamy synth-pop that's begging to soundtrack your summer. No, really. Teske says, "We're trying to book our pool party tour, so if you know of anyone that's having a pool party... ."
Winner of the Singer/Songwriter Category: Estee Gabay
Estee Gabay was writing little ditties by the time she was in the second grade, and those songs were focused on some pretty serious subject matter for a seven-year-old. "Pom poms over here/ Pom poms over there/ Pom poms in the air/ Pom poms everywhere," Gabay remembers. The now-24-year-old stayed busy writing and submitting poems for publication until she got her first guitar at age 17 and started putting her poetry to music. "So I recorded my first demo at 13," she says, "but when I started playing guitar, I really started to write songs. I finally had an instrument where I could remember my songs, and I didn't have to get a little recorder so I could remember the melody." She built her confidence by posting her own songs to YouTube before she made her first EP, Green, in 2012 with local producer Wolfgang Ryan Zimmerman. The album is an alt-pop gem with songs like "Smile Pretty," a tune that's a prime example of pop songwriting at its greatest. But Gabay's been writing new material, and these are a little different. "One of the tracks is 'I'm Down.' These songs are a little darker," she says. "There's one on my first album called 'Taste the Night,' and that was a little darker, kind of Fiona Apple-ish, and these new ones are in that vein but with a hip-hop flair."
Winner of the Country/Americana/Folk Category: Jordan Igoe
Over the past couple of years, Jordan Igoe has gone from a pretty great act to catch live to an awe-inspiring performer who is not to be missed. Gradually, the parts have come together to form her full band, complete with slide guitar and backing vocals. Each added element allows Igoe to take her Americana-rock originals to the next level and then some. Igoe got the gang together and released her album How to Love earlier this year with Zimmerman at the helm. But even when it's just she and her guitarist Mackie Boles (Royal Tinfoil) doing their twosome thing as Double Trash, it's something mighty special. So, what's changed? "I feel like I've been able to grow a lot just by being around so many different musicians and being able to collaborate with them," Igoe says. "And quitting smoking cigarettes last January has made my voice stronger. I have more endurance, and I have a higher range now. But I've just been trying to sponge life and take in everything, and that has dramatically helped my music."
Winner of the R&B, Hip-Hop, Soul, or Reggae Category: Sun Dried Vibes
The three-piece reggae outfit Sun Dried Vibes began playing music together in college when they all hooked up in the Columbia, S.C. music scene. "When [drummer Alex Winchester] was free from school or felt like ditching school, we practiced some songs," frontman Zach Fowler says. "Eventually, we started up the group." That was four years ago this July. They made their first full-length album at the Space on Line Street with prolific producer Zimmerman, and Sun Dried Vibes' latest release is from Ocean Studios. When it was released last month, the album enjoyed a few moments of sun at No. 6 on the iTunes reggae chart, and the band is currently in the middle of touring around to bring the East Coast a taste of a sound more widely heard on the other coast. "We're a mix of a lot of different sounds. Rock and hip-hop, funk, a blend of where we're from," Fowler says. "Carolina reggae. Nobody else is making this." And in the most delicious way to describe the style, he says, "It's like deep-fried reggae. Deep-fried vibes."
Stay tuned for details on the BandSwap stop in Charleston on September 20, when lots of local bands plus one winning Colorado artist and national acts will perform in an all-day, two-stage festival at the Royal American. All proceeds from the show will go to a catastrophe relief fund for local musicians.