Local pop-punk band Cold Warps is gearing up for a 4,196-kilometre drive. Along with Kestrels, Skratch Bastid, Ben Caplan and Steve Poltz, Cold Warps will represent Halifax at The South by Southwest international music festival in Austin, Texas next month.
Wish them luck! Joined by Cousins and Organ Magic, Cold Warps kicks off its first American tour at The SXSW Send-off Show at The Seahorse on Wednesday.
Hosting over 2,000 bands and media stars with swag-stocked schmooze-parties, SXSW is the largest festival of its kind with showcases in every music genre, a rich media schedule and industry conferences. SXSW can connect unsigned bands to other musicians and business pros. It's the highest annual revenue generator for the city and kind of a big deal.
But for most independent artists, financing a working trip to the States can cost a few thousand bucks after visas, passports, lodging, gas and snacks. And with hundreds of shows booked, a good return depends on chance. The loaded schedule means some bands play to empty rooms, SXSW doesn't provide accommodations and legalities can be a hassle.
Ask Cousins, who went to SXSW in 2011 and 2012. Unlikely to hit Austin again anytime soon, the two-piece is instead touring the UK and Europe this spring.
"We went into it as a challenge. Can we get in? Can we tour there? Can we do it ourselves without industry support?" says Cousins' Aaron Mangle, who planned two 60-date tours around SXSW. "The answer was yes. It was a reason to tour. But both times, SXSW was the low point. We learned that unless you have support from labels and promoters, it's not really worth it to play there unless there are very specific and promising opportunities.
"The best shows were unofficial, in a vacant lot or in a record store next to a pizza place. But it's good for the resume and we know bands that had more positive experiences than ours."
So is a trip to SXSW really worth it? In 1994, an Oklahoman dad took his three blonde boy-angels to Austin. Spotted by an exec, Hanson was signed to Mercury Records and the world was blessed with "MMMBop." Same with James Blunt, John Mayer and The Polyphonic Spree.
"If we don't come back with an offer from Warner Bros, I'm going to be pretty pissed," says Cold Warps singer (and Coast cartoonist) Paul Hammond. "But no, we're not really going with any expectations. We're looking forward to having lots of fun, meeting people, seeing great music, eating good food, wearing shorts. You know, the important things."
Playing shows for Burger Records (home of King Tuff and The Black Lips), SXSW is also a chance to hit the road with tour-demo tapes and the band's releases from 2012. Like Cousins, Cold Warps is going to play a dazzling amount of US cities there and back.
It's about time. The lo-fi surf-creeps were invited to SXSW last year but came up short on cash. Since then, guitarist Dom Taylor moved back to Halifax from Ottawa, ending the band's long-distance relationship, allowing it to plan ahead. Cold Warps will record a full-length LP this summer no matter what happens at SXSW. And one thing is for sure: "I'm going to eat so many tacos! I've been told by friends who've played SXSW that you get to eat well and for free all week," says Hammond. "This better not be a rumour, you guys! Because I'm throwing my wallet away as soon as we cross into Texas. Right in the trash."
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