By MIKE CHAIKEN
This Saturday at 9:30 p.m., there will be a little South by Southwest (SXSW) flavor at Barley Vine on Main Street in Bristol.
Northampton-based Jamie Kent and the Options will take the stage after returning from one of the biggest music showcases in the country: Austin, Texas’s SXSW.
The Observer caught up with Jamie via email to talk about SXSW and what fans can expect when they turn out to downtown Bristol on Saturday night.
Observer: I saw you guys just came back from SXSW. How did that come about and why did you want to go?
Jamie: We’ve actually played SXSW for the past three years. It certainly has its positives and negatives, but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing else like it in the world. The entire music industry and thousands of music fans descend on Austin for a week, and it’s literally non-stop music every hour of every day. This year, we played something like nine shows in five days, and had the opportunity to play new songs in front of some really important new faces. On top of that, we met a ton of great independent bands like us working tirelessly to get their music out there. There’s something really powerful about growing that kind of network across the country, and that’s why we continue to go back to SXSW.
Observer: How was the experience, and, besides playing, did you also try to “catch the competition,” as it were?
Jamie: We didn’t have a ton of time to catch other acts since we were playing so much, but there were some really killer bands on our showcases, and a real fraternal vibe amongst all of the really good bands. There’s, unfortunately, a lot of crap at SXSW as well, so you sort of gravitate towards other awesome bands that are clearly working their asses off. We all sort of realize that we’re only going to get to where we want to be by helping each other. The bands that don’t have that attitude, well, I won’t be going to their shows.
Observer: Listening to some of your tracks, you seem to have a sound ready made for Austin… a little bit of blues, a little bit of soul, a little bit of rock, a little indie—it’s definitely contemporary to groups like the Lumineers and Mumford and Sons… what kind of reaction did they have to you guys live?
Jamie: The reaction to our shows was really great, which is affirmation that we belong exactly where we are. SXSW can be annoying at times, because fans are constantly running from show to show. But I noticed that when people came to see us, they stayed for the whole show. That meant a lot me. Also, I’m a huge proponent of making the live show the best it can possibly be. That’s why we play 200 shows a year, and why I’m constantly studying great performers and how I can learn from them to improve our shows and the experience for our fans. A great show should be a series of moments that people remember forever, not just a bunch of songs you play for people.
Observer: I saw you guys were able to do some fund raising for your next album. How did you guys make out and why that route to fund an album?
Jamie: When I launched my career, I also launched a new micro-financing model for independent musicians known as “The Collective” (www.jamiekent.com/thecollective). The Collective is a community of my most loyal fans, friends, and advisors who support my career from day one, and reap the greatest returns from its growth. “Partners” in The Collective provide financial support and creative consultation in return for free access to exclusive cuts of my music, live performances, the coolest merchandise, and a voice in the major decisions I must make throughout my career (album art, tour locations, radio singles, etc…).
Over the past two years, companies like “Kickstarter” and “IndieGoGo” have launched to provide a similar platform, but all remain project-based models that don’t focus on developing a lasting community, like The Collective. That said, as I prepared to record my third album, I discovered a really powerful fusion between these two models. Because Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have become such popular platforms, they also serve as a great way to bring new fans into a specific project. Once they are there, I can then provide a Partnership in The Collective as well, to make them a permanent part of this journey. So that’s what I did with this new album, and it went tremendously well. I raised more money than expected, and now have the funds to record and release a killer new album.
Observer: I saw you planned to release two EPs rather than just an LP, why?
Jamie: Instead of just releasing one big album this time, I’m actually going to release two EPs throughout this year. There’s a couple reasons for this. The music industry has become so focused on the single, that people’s attention spans aren’t what they used to be. I’d rather capture a fan’s attention from start to finish and keep them wanting more. On top of that, I’m really looking to garner interest from larger managers, film/television, and publishing companies with this release. If I can raise even more money through those channels, I’ll be able to promote both EPs to an even great extent, and have a better shot at getting my music out to a larger audience.
Observer: Let’s back track to music… I’m hearing things in the music but it may not be where you’re coming from. What are your influences… folks that you aren’t necessarily emulating but who help inform who you are as an artist.
Jamie: I’ve got a ton of influences, but recently Bruce Springsteen has been a big one. Not even so much musically, but more as an entertainer, band leader, and songwriter. He’s an incredibly hard worker, focused entirely on his craft, and his shows keep you on your toes for three-plus hours. There are so many memorable moments. I can’t think of a better person to emulate.
Jamie: What kinds of things influence your songwriting… are you someone who reaches from within, or looks outside of himself and tries to weave a story with characters… or a little bit of both?
Observer: I typically reach within for most of my songwriting. A lot of times I’ll put that in a context of a story, a phrase I hear, or a another person, but I then usually relate that back to a personal experience in some way. I really believe that in order for other people to relate to a song, it needs to be honest. Being on the road 200-plus days a year provides plenty of inspiration on that front . The way it affects my life, my relationships, my confidence, will, etc…it’s always evolving and always sparking new ideas.
Observer: For this show in Bristol, for people who have never caught you before, what can they expect from Jamie Kent, live?
Jamie: I’m an entertainer first and foremost. Folks can expect a killer band (The Options are all unbelievably talented musicians), heartfelt songs that hopefully get stuck in your head, and many a moment you will remember for a long time.
Jamie Kent and the Options take the stage at Barley Vine, 182-184 Main St., Bristol at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.
For more information, go to JamieKent.com or BarleyVineCT.com