In his new book Hip: The History, John Leland talks about, among other things, the tension between indie-rock idealism and pop ambition. He writes about Kurt Cobain's attitude toward K Records co-owner Calvin Johnson, "an indie diehard who saw the enemy not as the people who disapproved of punk rock but those who wanted to put it on MTV," Leland writes. "But Cobain also saw the Calvinists, as Johnson's circle aptly called themselves, as parochial scolds for whom the only success was making sure no one else succeeded." He then argues that the indie honest/sell-out model is too simplistic, writing, "Hip becomes relevant precisely when it is impure, jumping in the pit with the beast of capitalism -- feeding it, resisting it, exploiting it, shaping it. Co-opting IT, even as it is co-opted in return."
Rilo Kiley's new album, More Adventurous, prompts these reflections because the band is in exactly this bind. It has solid indie cred, having put out two albums on two different indie labels, the second being Saddle Creek, the Nebraska-based label largely started by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst. Drummer Jason Boesel recorded with Bright Eyes, but Rilo Kiley left to release its third album on its own label, Brute/Beaute, distributed by Warner Brothers.
"The last record we made with the intention of putting it out on Saddle Creek, but there were a few things we didn't agree on," Boesel says by phone from Chapel Hill, N.C. "We wanted to have total control of the record, and if that meant somewhere down the road going to a major label with it, we wanted that option. They weren't comfortable with that, which is completely understandable. They have a set of ethics they work really hard to preserve, and we respect that."
The band has always had the potential of being big in conventional terms, with singer Jenny Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennett marketable as attractive people with great stories -- both were child actors. More significantly, in "It's a Hit" the band has, well, a potential hit. Its pop pleasures are pure -- melody, personality and a chorus you can't refuse or forget -- and the lyrics show substantial wit and intelligence. "Any chimp can play human for a day," the song begins, then a few lines later Lewis sings, "but it's a jungle when war is made / and you'll panic and throw your own shit at the enemy."
But part of what makes indie -- or any -- music hip in the eyes of many is its exclusivity. "Is it still hip once it spreads outside the original in-group, or does it lose its hipness if it's available to anybody?" Leland asks.
Doing the things necessary to reach beyond the indie audience is something that makes many in Indieville nervous. Boesel points to the success of Modest Mouse to show that indie success is possible, but "Saddle Creek is uncomfortable with involving itself with the major label world and doing what a major label does to get the music out there to such a bigger level," he says. That involves the label buying into record store promotional programs. "You go into every record store in America and Modest Mouse's record is prominently featured. I think they have retained their indie credibility and are still thought of as indie rock."
Late this summer, Fuse TV shot Amplified Guide to New Orleans, a half-hour look at New Orleans rock 'n' roll. Fuse is a national video network located at channel 346 on Cox Cable's digital package in Orleans Parish, and channel 10 in Cox's regular package picks up some of Fuse's programming. The show is scheduled to run in about the second or third week of October, but at presstime no date had yet been confirmed. The show features interviews with members of Supagroup, Rock City Morgue and World Leader Pretend, among others. World Leader Pretend, by the way, finalized a deal with Warner Brothers and looks to have its first album with the label out early in the new year.
This week, there are more shows worth seeing than we could mention with a "Hot 24" section, much less our Hot 7. On Wednesday night at House of Blues, the Neville Brothers are staging a CD-release party for the band's Walking in the Shadow of Life, perhaps the group's most comfortably funky album in years. Avant-garde violin and viola player LaDonna Smith is performing Friday at the Big Top solo and with the Dry Bones Trio, and the same night New York roots rockers the Silos are at d.b.a. On Saturday afternoon, Schatzy is having a CD-release party at Louisiana Music Factory, then that night Tom Violence is celebrating the release of its new CD at the Hi-Ho Lounge. On Sunday, Country Fried is hosting a block party at the Kingpin in celebration of the release of its "hippie & Western" album, Nowhere No More.