Photo: Peter Anderson
It would seem that The Devil Whale are a successful band. Their popular debut full-length was recently followed up with an even more popular EP. They are embarking on a nationwide tour before their second full-length, Teeth, comes out in May. They have been chosen as a showcase artist at the nation’s largest live music festival, South By Southwest. However, in today’s world of instant exposure via social networking and careerist music bloggers, does exposure necessarily mean the same thing as success? If so, how does this new definition of success translate into dollars and cents?
According to Brinton Jones, lead singer and guitarist for The Devil Whale, success would mean having their music support itself financially. “In a lot of ways, I already feel like we’ve been successful, in that we’ve been able to make records we feel good about, tour, and see the country from a cool perspective and do so independently. I really don’t think we spend a ton of time worrying about ‘getting signed,’ ‘getting noticed,’ etc.,” Jones says.
With the proliferation of the Internet, a new model has replaced the angst of getting a record deal, being played on the radio and selling millions of records to remain viable. The ability to record, distribute and promote yourself via social networks and YouTube has wrenched the power out of the hands of the ruling elite and into the hands of the dreamers, the shameless self-promoters and the hard workers.
In many ways, The Devil Whale embodies all three.
After helming an earlier project called Palomino with bassist Jake Fish, going on hiatus after throat surgery and reforming as The Devil Whale, the newly minted group took to the road in the old D.I.Y. baptism by fire of the cross-country tour. After several cross-country jaunts, The Devil Whale remain firm believers in the rite of passage and the necessity of touring, but skeptical of it as an end unto itself. “I feel like as many shows as we play, I don’t know how much traction that actually gives us. It shows that we are willing to do the hard work … But building from the ground up is virtually impossible unless something bumps you up to where you are touring and playing in front of people,” Jones says.
In preparation for their second full-length due in May and another nationwide tour this spring, The Devil Whale has turned to social networking to find that “something” to boost their exposure. “It is so easy to research music online. If you see a video posted of a band that you have never heard of you can instantly know so much about that band. You know what gear they play, what they look like … To be honest, I think most of it is done through social networks. I think that is where everything is done in terms of the transference of information,” Jones says.
The Devil Whale have utilized a number of different tools to capitalize on social media. During this tour, The Devil Whale will be updating their Facebook page with video blog entries. They recently signed up with the “crowdfunding” platform Kickstarter to fund the release of their record and tour. At the time of writing, the band had exceeded their $3,000 goal by $652. They have also scheduled a stop to record a live performance with the tastemaking blog Daytrotter.com (Andrew Bird, Death Cab for Cutie, Dirty Projectors).
These efforts, along with a spotless body of work and energetic live show, have led to a few nearly sold-out shows across the U.S. (one in Fairbanks, Alaska of all places!) and a stop at SXSW as a featured artist. “I would say we are pretty realistic in that we are probably not going to play for a panel of Sub Pop people, but if we can play for people we have already talked to, a lot of them are good contacts already,” Jones says.
All of this promotion and hard work would mean nothing if The Devil Whale didn’t have the body of work to back it up. Their EP, Young Wives, represented an about-face in terms of lyrical content and a startling level of sophistication and expansion of their previous lovelorn work.
Teeth fulfills every promise that Young Wives made. With most of the songs cut (nearly) live, there is a sense of urgency and rawness to it. It is both reckless and tightly orchestrated. Guitar lines are banged out a little faster than they should be, Jones’ voice whoops and calls with reckless abandon on hook after hook. At the same time, Teeth is the most expansive and nuanced album they have ever made. Each song is filled to the brim with auxiliary instrumentation from seventies synthesizers, vocal choirs and a woodwind ensemble on “Television Zoo.” “One thing that I have noticed from listening to it is that songs are very easy to digest and very catchy, and it kind of takes listening to multiple times to actually realize what is going on. It is actually stranger than you take it, but it is easily digestible,” guitarist Jamie Timm says.
A year after several prominent SLC bands have broken up, The Devil Whale finally seem poised to become a successful band on the national scene. Even if that lottery ticket “lucky break” never happens, The Devil Whale are still an incredibly successful band by producing an impressive body of music and traversing this country more than a few times. “Success is how you define it,” Jones is quick to point out. In today’s upside-down music industry, that statement might actually be true for the first time in history.