Thursday, June 30, 2011

True Indie

Pomplamoose does it all on their own.

Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn make their living as musicians, but they do it their own way. They choose not to sign with a label; instead, they sell their music on youtube (where they got big) and on iTunes. That includes over 100,000 downloads in 2010. How many since then... I'd like to know.

I found them when we were looking for a youtube version of "Mrs. Robinson." As soon as I started listening to their cover, I was mesmerized. Even in a low register her voice is amazing, and Jack's guitar is dead on, but it was her eyes that caught me. (Haters talk about her eyes freaking them out--something about her gaze is too intense for small souls. That's my theory.) I watched the video over and over, wanting it to go on, looking for the meaning in her eyes. Isn't that what great musicians do--make you fall in love with them, a little bit? Then I had to find everything they'd done, and it blew me away.

Individually, as musicians, Nataly tends toward coffee-house pretty (here's her cover of Magnetic Fields' "Book of Love"), with solid guitar work and excellent skills on the bass, and Jack tends toward Radiohead-style rock with true multi-instrumental genius (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, piano, accordion, all kinds of keyboards). But together they do something else entirely. It's arty (some say hipster, but since that's always a negative I can't agree) and original and something like jazz pop or beatlesque lounge or something cooler than either of those descriptions. Plus whimsy.

Nataly sings, mostly--often in layers--and plays bass; Jack does everything else. Their cover of "My Favorite Things," reworked in 5/4 with harmonies never imagined by Rodgers or Hammerstein, is a great example of their originality. Their covers of everything from Lady Gaga's "Telephone" or Beyonce's "Single Ladies" to Mark Owen's "Makin Out" are better than the original in many ways, and often with a hint of parody, but never disrespectful to the original artists or the music. It is deeply affecting to watch "Makin Out," with the two of them face-to-face--Jack on guitar, Nataly on acoustic bass--with Nataly singing:

I'll be the one who keeps you guessing, who swears a lot
I'll be the one that let your colour in the white wash
You'll be the one that knocks the man out I was beating up and you say
Shut up, shut up, every time I say it.

You can't help but see that they are much more to each other than musical partners, and they're sharing more than music with the rest of us.

Their original work, like all original work, defies classification, but it's finding an audience. "Another Day" has 1.8 million views, and captures their sound as well as any song they have; "If You Think You Need Some Lovin" has 2.6 million views; their eccentric but catchy "Centrifuge" has 800,000. (Check out Nataly harmonizing with herself at :43. I don't know anybody else doing anything close to this.) They recorded a video with Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, and another with Allee Willis, who liked how they covered "September" (her song, originally performed by Earth, Wind and Fire).

That's a lot of exposure for a band that doesn't have, and doesn't want, a label. They're making a living doing what they clearly love, and don't owe anybody anything. In their NPR interview, Nataly says "If you can't just do ... the production, the instruments and everything all by yourself, then you do need help. That's something that labels are really good at... But if you're just a band, I don't think we're in an era anymore where you need that sort of major backing."

Good for them. It's a beautiful thing. Liberating.

And true indie.

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