For the next two days, the Goldrush festival will take place at Delite and the hi-dive. The event was the brainchild of three local music bloggers: Jake Martin, Crawford Philleo and Ryan Pjesky. For the last two years, each of the three have been writing largely about contemporary music for blogs (Speaker Snacks, Tome to the Weather Machine and Magic Teepee), and the line-up of the festival reflects a coming together of the taste of each in underground bands from around the country.
One thing in common among all of the acts on the festival roster is that none of them are heavy. None of it is rockist. None of it could be described as hip-hop in any conventional sense. There are only a handful of acts that anyone could really consider a rock band, none of which would go over too well in a southeast Aurora biker bar. What is here in great numbers are innovative pop artists, ambient bands (such as Kevin Costner Suicide Pact), purveyors of melodic drone and other exemplars of experimental electronic music. We spoke with Martin, Philleo and Pjesky recently about how the festival came together and what each of them does in the world of the music blogger.
Westword: Why did you three get together to do the Gold Rush Festival and why did you give it that name?
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Ryan Pjesky: The idea was to have a festival that was small in scale but big in terms of the types of artists we were bringing and blogged about. We wanted to reach out to a lot of national artists that we've really enjoyed over the past year or so and a lot of our favorite hometown artists as well. The name kind of ties in to the time of year. There's no secret that it turns fall in Colorado and our color in our hills is gold. Then kind of the whole idea behind bloggers searching all over for wonderful music for the people reading our blogs to listen to -- and, no doubt, we mine the web for these little random nuggets of music. In the end, it's sometimes just one track. Other times, it's an artist that, eight months down the road, turn pretty full-scale in terms of albums and touring.
Jake Martin: It was good to bring on three different bloggers too. We blog about the same kind of stuff. Crawford will write about a lot different ambient stuff. Ryan does the poppier stuff. We just all bring something different to the table, and it's made the festival more well-rounded, I guess, than just one of us curating the entire deal.
Crawford Philleo: It's been an idea that's been in the cooker for a long time. Jake and I have talked about working together on projects for a long time and when Ryan came up with the official idea and brought it to us, it just seemed like what we'd been thinking about doing it forever and ever. I think it's a pretty good match, and you can see by the different artists that the three of us have invited, we each have a unique taste, but they're all kind of aligned.
RP: It would be hard to do it without three people involved. It's been a full-time job for the past few months, since we started it, and it's nice to have other people taking on different jobs and make sure things get accomplished.
CP: It's definitely not something I'd consider trying on my own.
JM: Absolutely not. Kind of like what Crawford was saying, my weaknesses are Crawford's strengths and vice verse. We bring very different things to the table, each of us. Some of us are more business-oriented.
Why did each of you get into blogging about music in the first place?
JM: I started in October 2009. I think for the same reason as a lot of bloggers. It never started out as anything I thought anyone outside my immediate circle of friends were going to see. And that's what it was. It was for my friends, and it was a hub for them to connect to what I was listening to. It just so happened that it kind of hit on a national level, and people started reading it. It evolved on its own, really.
RP: For me, it was a similar idea. But, as anybody does, I have friends who live all over the country, and when we gather, it's usually for some big event or a party. And by the end of the night we're talking about all this wonderful stuff we're listening to, and by the morning, everyone goes their separate ways. It was kind of a place set up for people to tap into what I was listening to at the right time. Two years ago that whole personal blog becoming a national blog thing was just starting to crest a little bit.
Yeah, there were the big websites, and there were those that had a really personal feel to them and a genre-specific taste where somebody could go and know what they were getting there. It's not like a Pitchfork or a Stereogum, where it's across the board. It's like, "I trust this person's taste and usually only one person is writing." Kind of the right time, the right place, but we're still just writing for fun. It's not like we're getting paid or anything like that. Some days a lot of people are reading, other days not.
CP: I've always been a writer. I wrote for UNC Mirror, which was the student newspaper, and I did CD reviews for them. I always wanted to be something of a musicologist, which was my major in college. I never thought about starting a blog, exactly, but when my band, Vitamins, went on tour to Salt Lake City, my friend Ryan Hall let me stay at his house. He was already running a website that had reviewed a Vitamins CD I had sent to them. He's a fantastic writer, and I loved his website, and I briefly mentioned to him that I was also interested in writing about music. He called me about two weeks after the tour and asked me to contribute to the website, so I did.
I got set up with an email for Tome to the Weather Machine and started getting messages from artists from all over the world. I realized some of these people needed a voice, and it was kind of a cool way to introduce a lot of weird music to an audience that might not know they existed otherwise. The Tome is still pretty small, and it's a lot of work. I turn down other paid writing gigs to do it because I like doing it the best. I have more freedom in terms of what I can write and write about. I'm in the back end of a website, which is the first time it's ever happened for me, so it's fun to play around with how things end up looking on the website. You can be creative in how you do your hot-linking and embedding of videos and MP3s and things like that.
You also contribute to Foxy Digitalis, right?
CP: After I had written for the Tome for a while, I kind of wanted to get out there even more, so I applied to write for Foxy Digitalis, which is run out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were excited to have me on, and they started sending me records. So I get a box from them about twice a year. It's full of some of the weirdest music I've ever come across in my life. It's definitely introduced me to a lot of really cool stuff. Many of the artists coming here I found out about because of those guys. Quiet Evenings, for example. So that's been a fruitful experience, although they don't really pay either.
Ryan, you said something interesting about how people know this opinion is coming from one person. Do you feel like your writing is genre specific? What do you think you bring to what you're writing about?
RP: Over the two years that my blog has been in existence, I've created my own style of writing. Most of my posts are only a few sentences because, honestly, I don't like to read a whole lot, and I know that there's a lot of people out there like me as well. Give me a few lines about it and let me hear it. I try to craft something that's a little bit creative, and I try to tie it to my own life, too, because in the things I listen to, I always look for associations to myself.
In terms of the sounds coming on to the blog, it's very diverse. Some days I'll post folk and for another week straight, it's a bedroom artist or something like that. There's an electronic emphasis on the blog, but I post all sorts of different stuff. When I talk about being genre-specific and one writer, I think a lot of people like these smaller blogs because we get to do what we want. There's no politics involved in what we do, probably because there's no money involved at this point. The second money comes into play, yeah, we'll probably write about all sorts of things we don't totally feel.
With that being said, there is a feeling all the music represents a similar sound, whether it's folk, hip-hop or bedroom artists. But that's for me. Maybe the reader has a whole different idea about it -- and, hopefully, they do.
Do you, Jake and Crawford, feel like you bring a certain kind of feeling in writing about music as well?
JM: Before I started writing my blog for friends and stuff, I had kind of taken a break from music in general. I didn't really know what I was into. I used it as kind of a tool to nudge me back into the world of experimental, indie music. So when I first started, I was re-posting a lot of Pitchfork stuff, Gorilla Vs. Bear, that kind of thing. Now I think I've evolved into something of my own. I like finding genres and let's say I get into R&B or something and my whole goal for that next month is to find everything and anything that's pushing that genre the most to the far end of experimentation. People pushing it to new heights, I guess. If you come to my site, you'll find that.
If you're from Denver, I'm going to find music from New York City or California that's just like the scene here but elsewhere. Aggregating the kind of music that's big here in the indie scene all over the country, I guess.
You've released music through Speaker Snacks as well?
JM: Yeah, it's gotten to the point where I guess I'm producing new music from these bands too. I'm helping bands I've never met personally release new music. The bands I choose to release are my favorite, favorite bands. I don't go after random stuff. I'm finding those experimental bands I really think are pushing it, pushing it into a new world and trying to release the music for them -- give them an outlet.
You put out that unreleased thing for Fissure Mystic. How did that come about?
JM: When Fissure Mystic was bigger in Denver, that was kind of when I was in my little lapse, not really listening to too much music. I saw a show of theirs at the Meadowlark and I think it was one of their very last shows. They were playing with Suzi Bromfield at that point. It really moved me, and it was probably the best I'd seen in Denver yet. I had a crush on that band, and I talked Fez a lot and heard they had unreleased material and figured most people would want to hear it. That was the original album that I released. They have a new one that never got released and I'm actually pushing to grab that too. I'm just obsessed with that band.
It's like anything, you know, you find a band you like and you want to hear more of it, right? You hear the discography and you get bummed out that you don't have the opportunity to hear more, so that's what I do now. I push them to put out more for everyone's gain who is into it and will be into it--whether that be old or new.
RP: The funniest thing is that all these people out there, bloggers and people who listen to music, how long does it really take you to listen to an album and begin to understand it so you can really write about it? We live in a fast-paced world and everyone wants to be the first to do this and have an exclusive, but in the end to feel comfortable and confident that you're putting something on your blog or your site that you really like takes a little bit of time. Obviously, your ears get better over time. So I get stuff in my inbox and give it two tracks and I'm like, "Yeah, I really like that," or "not at all." That's a strategy I take toward posting.
Selecting these bands, obviously, they're all artists you like. And there were others who you wanted to play but couldn't and you had to cut it off at some point.
JM: We had a list probably a hundred bands deep.
CP: I had to tie these two in a room for a while. I just kept getting emails for a while like, "New Gold Rush Artist! New Gold Rush Artist!" And I thought, "What? This is getting out of control."
JM: Next year you'll probably see fewer bands. But it worked out.
CP: When I saw the schedule I was able to calm down a little bit and be like, "Well, this will actually work." I can't imagine doing it without some of the bands that are playing.
RP: You're always going to have schedules that don't work out, either. In the end you're going to have to invite all the artists you really want to invite, and from there, see what works out and see where the chips fall. In the end, I think all these artists mesh really well together, even though there's some big differences between them.
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CP: I think you can really see that on the compilation that came out. I didn't really have a hand in organizing how the tracks went out. I did reach out to the artists and say, "Hey, we would really like to feature you on this compilation." Not all of the bands were able submit tracks. But if you listen to it track by track, it's a pretty cohesive mix of music despite how different all the bands are from each other.
JM: If you follow and respect our blogs, you won't be disappointed when you show up.