Making Waves with ... THE RASSLE - Dec 20, 2010
“These days it’s not so much about releasing the music as it is about being heard above the noise.”
For the latest edition of Making Waves, our series focusing on how artists are drumming up support and success by themselves, we speak to hotly tipped New York indie rock group The Rassle who appear to be pushing all the right buttons in terms of generating fan excitement and label interest.
Drummer Erik Ratensperger talks to HitQuarters about the potential unleashed by having a song licensed in a video game, the marketing value of free music, and recording their debut EP on a creaky old computer in their apartment.
photo credit: Jimmy Fontaine
How did the band first get together?
It was strange how it all came together. I had known Reed [Van Nort] and Blair [Van Nort] from when they played in a band called The Young Lords. My former band [The Virgins] had gigged a bunch with them in New York and we became friends and kept in touch. One night I came across Blair at random and he was telling me about how his band was probably going to break up, and then just casually said, “Maybe we should jam and see what happens.”
We got together and started messing around, nothing serious. They had some demos they were working on, just him and Reed, and I really liked them. I liked the way they sounded and the direction they were going, and at that point we talked seriously about making something happen.
So last winter, Reed, Blair and myself started writing and recording and came up with four songs. Those four songs became the EP that we’ve been giving away as a free digital download online. Our bass player Mark [Solomich] was living in Pittsburgh at the time, had a band called The Takeover UK. Blair and Mark have been friends at least 10 years. When Blair played him what we were working on, he really liked it and shortly after came out and joined the band officially, and we started rehearsing probably early spring.
The funny thing is we actually recorded these songs before we got to a real rehearsal space. We recorded them in Blair and Reed’s apartment and did all the writing and recording before we brought them to a live context. So once Mark got here, we started getting really heavy into rehearsals and ended up playing our first live show in May.
So recording and then presenting the music live is a new experience for you?
This approach was nothing I’ve ever done before. We had a plan and goal but they were reversed. We weren’t really expecting the songs to come together the way they did - especially not having rehearsed them officially until they were done - but it happened to work out all right.
I read that you used some $50 mics and recorded the EP at your apartment, is that true?
It is true and that computer is soooo slow! So in terms of basic editing and all that, the stuff that you would think would take only an hour would take a lot longer. It’s true that we used shitty equipment that we’ve had forever and just made the most of it.
One of the songs was picked up by Playstation – how did that come about?
We’ve been reaching out to people that we know and some people we don’t, and saw this trend of the music spreading. People were passing it on to other people and other people were passing it on to other people. It ended up in Alex [Hackford]’s (HQ interview) hands, and he pitched the song for us, and it made it on.
We found out not too long ago and we’re really excited about it. It’s a really great opportunity to reach people that we otherwise wouldn’t hear us. Plus it’s for the game MLB 2011, so we’re pretty stoked on that. Go Mets! Ha-ha.
What do you think this exposure will actually do for the band?
We hope that by having our song exposed through a platform like PlayStation there might be someone who gets the game, hears something they don’t expect, digs it, and then checks out the band. That’s how things happen these days, right?
I feel like music is being pushed through so many different platforms just because of how much has changed over the past few years. We can all hope it stirs up a little bit of interest.
What are some of the platforms you find are the most influential, and which online tools have created the most success for you?
First and foremost, the recording methods have made it so much easier for people to track music and release it on their own, and I feel like the DIY approach has also become a major key role in how music is promoted.
The fact that people can record decent sounding demos - and even record in their bedrooms or apartments - with minimal equipment, and be able to release it themselves, and promote it through media like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, is awesome. You can even build websites for free! It’s all pretty much at your fingertips, you just gotta know what to do.
These days it’s not so much about releasing the music as it is about being heard above the noise.
What are some of the ways to get heard above the noise?
I don’t know if there’s a method to the madness. The kind of approach we are taking, of putting these four songs online and hoping that people like them and spread the word, so far seems to be working. We have been getting a lot of attention for the past few months since we released these songs, and I think that’s great for a band that’s just starting.
The fact that you can just put it out online by yourself is a really valuable thing if you have songs you want to be heard.
How important is live performance to a band’s success?
A band who can perform live is obviously a very important thing. Bands I’ve liked on record have come up short live and it can be a major let down. More so now than ever, I definitely think it’s important to bring it to the live context. Now almost anyone can do a decent recording and so a live performance is a whole other thing.
What are the main sources of revenue for a band these days?
It can come from anywhere. It probably depends on the artist too, but publishing and licensing can be key for many artists. Obviously records are just not selling the way they used to and so both bands and labels are trying to figure out new ways to generate revenue.
But I don’t think anyone knows really how to go about it. The record labels are now in the business of selling merch and ringtones and all this other shit. It’s no longer just about the physical record anymore.
What are your thoughts behind giving your music away for free?
I really believe that if a band records a full-length record and puts it out officially, and it’s for sale, then I obviously encourage people to buy it and not rip it off. Obviously that’s wishful thinking, because most people are stealing music. But if anything, they’ll go to the show and pay for a ticket and buy a t-shirt or a hoodie,
Giving the EP away for free is a promotional tool for us at this point. We’re not looking to make money off the sale of the 4 songs as an EP. We decided from the beginning that giving away the music is probably more beneficial than trying to sell it for five bucks.
Getting back to your question about the live performance, I really think that’s why it’s a very important aspect of being a musician or being a band, because these days, people who are going to be paying money to experience your music live so you’ve got to play your show like it’s your last show and make it count. If they pay the $15, $25 $35, $75 tickets and you don’t bring it then that’s a problem and it reflects pretty badly on you.
What are some of the shows that have offered the most exposure?
We did our first CMJ this past October and though the shows were smaller, the response was completely unexpected. A lot more people were giving us more attention after the three shows we played, whether it was blogs, other publications, labels, etc.
I know CMJ is very industry-heavy, but we honestly weren’t expecting anything, and in terms of the response it was very, very good, and so I would say CMJ gave us the most exposure, or at least the most attention.
Do you have a booking agent?
We don’t have a booking agent. We just recently paired up with our manager, and have been working with Ian [Ginsberg] for almost four months. We got to a point where we thought that we could really use someone to help steer the ship and give a little bit more structure to what’s going to happen, and I feel like he came in at the right time. He’s been really integral to the trajectory that we’re set on at this point.
As a band, what do you look for in a manager?
Someone who is straight-up. Someone who is no frills, no bullshit. Someone who tells you how it is, and doesn’t puff any smoke. Someone who we can hang with, ask questions and not feel like we’re annoying them, and someone who knows what they’re talking about and who gets it. I think from the get-go we really got that impression from Ian and we’re very lucky to have found him.
Is a booking agent something that you are looking for?
Yeah, absolutely. Because we’re so new, it is obviously a process. To have management in place is a very good thing for us. And right now we’re just keeping our heads down, going about doing what we’re doing. We’re in the middle of writing and recording and doing shows, etc. Hopefully the further we go the more people will come our way, and we just take it as it comes.
You were talking about the DIY perspective of the music industry. Who do you think are some of the key players that you still need to have part of your team while maintaining that DIY ethic?
The four of us are rooted in a DIY culture - we all come from punk and hardcore backgrounds. I’ve always been a real advocate for DIY, and doing it to the best of your abilities.
I feel like, as a band, you get to a point where you need outside help and expertise, and I definitely think we’re now ready to put a team together. We’re very lucky to have Ian, and now we’re in the process of assembling the rest of a really strong team that gets us as musicians, gets what we’re trying to do and where we’re looking to go.
When it comes to building fanbases, what are some of the ways you do that?
For one, it’s really important to be inclusive. You have your tunes, and people might like your tunes, but it’s gotta go beyond that.
When you play a show, after your set you shouldn’t disappear into the green room and not talk to anybody. It should be an interactive thing where you try to meet people that have come to see you.
It’s also important to return an email. If someone takes the time to hit you up about playing a show, or just ask a random question, it’s important to make an effort to communicate and have a certain amount of accessibility.
So you communicate with your fans online?
We do, absolutely. If someone writes us a really nice comment on our Facebook wall, we’ll write back a thank you or whatever. Whatever time allows we’ll definitely holler back at whomever shouts at us.
Does that mean you’re the moderators or webmasters of all your online sites?
Yeah. We actually designed our own website, and we all handle our Twitter and Facebook and all that. We’re all very much involved in those communications.
With your current background and the experience that you’ve accumulated, what are some of the things bands should not do and should do to be successful?
I think practice is number one - practice, practice, practice … Get to know your instrument, get to know your songs. As redundant and repetitious as it is, I feel like there’s nothing more effective than rehearsing your songs. Over time the songs are always changing - even for us. We’ve been playing the same set for almost a year now and it’s always changing.
What not to do? Don’t burn any bridges. Just be nice because you never know who is listening, you never know who could help you in the end. I’ve learned that in this industry there’s a six degrees of separation type of thing. It’s small enough that when people talk to other people and those people talk to other people, you never know where things could lead you, good or bad.
Hopefully tons of touring and writing, recording - lots of recording. We have a lot more songs that we’ve been dying to get tracked so this past week we’ve actually made a pretty big dent in some new songs.
The overall goal is to keep writing, keep recording and to eventually get on the road and stay there for a very long time.
Are the next songs going to be recorded the same way as the first one?
The initial tracking we’ve been doing that way, but I’m finding that because we’re actually becoming a real band versus just us in our apartment with no rehearsal space, and I’m behind my drum-kit almost everyday, I just really want to get into a real studio.
At this point, we’re just scratching theses demos in the hope that eventually that we can get into a studio put some real meat on them.
Has it all been trial and error then?
Always is I think. There’s been a lot of things that we experimented with in terms of sound and techniques or whatever. Reed actually took some production classes at school and he implemented a lot of that in how we did these tracks. Also from our own personal experience of recording before, we put on our own spin on what we thought would work.
We tried a lot of stuff before we ended up with those four songs. But we did go to a friend’s studio and had them cleaned up, mixed and mastered. Doing a proper mix and a decent mastering job really tied them up nice. We saw at that point that they were good to release and give out to people.
Would you say your old bands have directly affected the speed in which this band has been gaining such popularity?
I’m sure it plays a role in terms of people being familiar with the old bands, and maybe that being the gateway. If anything the associations have helped with people making a little extra effort to just hear what it’s about.
I think the great thing about this is that The Rassle is much different from our previous bands, and I think people are really seeing that. People are refreshed by the fact that it’s not something that they might expect based on the association with the past groups. The Rassle is definitely its own thing.
Interviewed by Aaron Bethune
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