Song recommendation: “Confidence” by Linda Smith
As KCPR’s music director, I decide which albums get added each week. With all the albums we receive, one thing I look for is honesty and originality in music. Often, the more original the music is, the more likely it is made independently. These could be the same artists who work at your local department store, library or even perform odd jobs while touring on the side. These are the artists who drive my love of music.
Someone once asked me what the goal is for these smaller, “DIY” bands. This sparks the question: Why make music at all if the aim is for something other than commercial success? I asked one of my favorite DIY musicians, a lesser-known Baltimore artist named Linda Smith, why she pursues music and what she wants to accomplish. Her response: First inspired by the punk and post-punk of Patti Smith, The Raincoats and Young Marble Giants, Smith decided to “make music that was very much (her) own, though, not an imitation of anyone (she) admired.”
Smith’s first step to creating music of her own was with four-track cassette machines, which created lo-fidelity recordings while giving them a more “personal sound.” When the recording is one-of-a-kind, lo-fi and minimally made, I hear the honesty of the music. I no longer care about the appearance of the album cover or whether or not the album is popular.
In my position at the station, I’m allowed to add older music alongside the new alternative stuff. For me these are often forgotten albums and overlooked gems. This is when I break out Linda Smith’s rare CDs and seven-inch records, bands started by New York art scene proponents like David Wojnarowicz’s 3 Teens Kill 4, and adolescent post-punks like United Kingdom group The Prats.
Smith is not the only artist of her kind. San Luis Obispo has its own DIY scene where dozens rally into houses to hear touring folk virtuoso Stephen Steinbrink or join the dance frenzy as local queercore group Loko Ono jams before touring down south. Why do these small-town artists perform in houses, where the audience is probably one-hundredth of the size they would be at a festival? It’s because these performances are personal, where exchanges between the band and the audience become memorable.
Personal example: When I saw the band Bronze perform in San Luis Obispo, I noticed they brought a small coffeemaker. As we stood against the wall where it was brewing, the coffee pot inevitably spilled but the audience did not care and the band continued enjoying the show as the rich smell of coffee filled the air. Though the experience was bizarre, I felt lucky to have been there.
Whether the sound is coming from a screaming face one foot away or a croon into a cassette recording in someone’s bedroom, my favorite thing about music is the unadulterated honesty and creativity that the artist personally employs.