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Day One: The Sounds of South by Southwest

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Day One: The Sounds of South by Southwest

Day One: The Sounds of South by Southwest

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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South by Southwest is on, down in Austin, Texas. Tons of acts big and small are performing, and our New Music Tuesday regular Andy Langer is there on the scene. In fact, we hear they call him the Mayor of South by Southwest. Andy, is that true?

Mr. ANDY LANGER (Music Critic, Esquire Magazine): NPR said it's true, so it must be. But I hold no official capacity.

MARTIN: You don't have a little star or anything?

Mr. LANGER: No. No ability to arrest anyone or anything like that.

MARTIN: For bad music?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, exactly.

MARTIN: OK. It's New Music Tuesday, so we're going to talk about new acts that also are performing at South by Southwest. One of those - Andy, what can you tell us about Jaymay?

Mr. LANGER: She's a sort of neo-folky from Brooklyn. Imagine that, some neo-folky from Brooklyn...

MARTIN: Odd. That's funny.

Mr. LANGER: But she's funny. She's really sort of got this rye edge that these songs about rejection that, you know, there's no shortage of women singer-songwriters right at this moment. I mean, it seems like the record companies have just run out after the success, you know, of everyone from Katie Tunstall to Amy Winehouse, you know, Regina Spektor. They've gone out and tried to find as many women singer-songwriters as they can, which there's nothing wrong with, but she sounds different than the rest of them.

MARTIN: Hm. OK. Let's take a listen to her new release out today. It's called "Autumn Falling," and we're going to listen to a track called "Gray or Blue."

(Soundbite of song "Gray or Blue")

Ms. JAYMAY: (Singing)

I feel so helpless now, my guitar is not around And I'm struggling with the xylophone to make these feelings sound And I'm remembering you singing and bringing you to life It's raining out the window and today it looks like night

You haven't written to me in a week, I'm wondering why that is Are you too nervous to be lovers- friendships ruined with just one kiss I watched you very closely, I saw you look away Your eyes are either gray or blue, I'm never close enough to say

But your sweatshirt says it all with the hood over your face...

MARTIN: So I like that. But then again, I like female singer-song writers, so it's not that surprising. And she kind of sounds - you know, it's nice!

MR. LANGER: Yeah, and she, I mean, she's a really detailed writer. I mean, you can, you know, that we just heard the color of the sweatshirt, the color of the eyes. I mean, it's a lyric book that you can read along with, and she's a really articulate, real - her phrasing is really easily digestible. And you know, you can hear every word, and she's just - it's a classy, and yet also funny record.

MARTIN: Sounds kind of folky too.

MR. LANGER: And folky.

MARTIN: Folky. I like folky. OK, we're going to talk about another artist who's down there in Texas performing this week, Kaki King.

MR. LANGER: Yeah, Kaki King is - she's best known as a virtuoso, as a guitar virtuoso. I mean, she makes the guitar do things that you didn't know guitars could do. I mean, they...


MR. LANGER: They end up sounding like a full orchestra in her hands, and there's a lot of quick, lightning-fast movement that goes on when you see her perform. And your - you know, your jaw hits the floor, and you look at the guitar a different way when you've seen Kaki King. That said, she's moved away from that solo instrumental thing over the last couple of records, and she's cutting out her own little niche as a sort of dreamy atmospheric songwriter.


MR. LANGER: And that's what this new record's about.

MARTIN: Speaking of dreamy, the album is called "Dreaming of Revenge." Let's listen to a track from it. This is "Pull Me Out Alive."

(Soundbite of song "Pull Me Out Alive")

Ms. KAKI KING: (Singing)

The tyranny of trying to know everything Takes over the freedom of the mind to find Its own course. Knowing more about, let's end...

Pull me out, pull me out alive.

MARTIN: OK. That's a track off of "Dreaming of Revenge." Let's move now to someone who is not, surprisingly, at South by Southwest, Mr. Randy Jackson.

MR. LANGER: Yeah, well, I think only his" American Idol" schedule stopped him from being here, because this is a guy who wouldn't miss a chance to promote himself, right?

MARTIN: He has something new, "Randy Jackson's Music Club"? What is this?

MR. LANGER: It's just as awful as you'd think it is...

MARTIN: Oh! Andy.

MR. LANGER: You know, really, a couple weeks ago, I was on the Bryant Park Project, and...

MARTIN: Great show.

MR. LANGER: You guys subjected to Taylor Daines.

MARTIN: It's true. We did.

MR. LANGER: By surprise. And this is my payback. But I don't know what Randy - what I ever did to Randy Jackson that I deserve this record. I mean, that's the...

MARTIN: Are you serious?

MR. LANGER: Oh, come on! It's awful. And...

MARTIN: Is it really?

MR. LANGER: Here's a guy who just, you know, name drops on the show itself...


MR. LANGER: You know, as a panelist on "American Idol." And here he is just - I mean, the back of this CD reads like a "who's who" of people you cared about five years ago. And like he just went into his rolodex, and, you know, there's Josh Stone. There's Angie Stone. There's Van Hunt, Jason Mraz. These are people that barely have record deals, and I think he, you know, just piled on a bunch of these names. You know, there's like a two second Mariah Carey cameo. Keb' Mo' lowers himself by being on here, and Ghostface Killah, I don't - you know, there's a guy with a legitimate career. What's he doing on this thing?

MARTIN: If there is one track off of this that is - that illustrates some kind of redemption, that's worth a listen, what is it?

MR. LANGER: It's certainly not the Richie Sambora-Travis Tritt cut.

MARTIN: Which we're totally going to play just because you said that.

MR. LANGER: Yeah. There's no redemption except that, you know, the Paula Abdul song, which by now a lot of folks have heard, isn't as awful as you'd think a Randy Jackson-produced Paula Abdul song might be, simply because your expectations are already so low.

MARTIN: OK, well, let's take a listen. Here's "Willing to Try" by Travis Tritt and Richie Sambora. Don't blame us.

(Soundbite of song "Willing to Try")


When push comes to shove And you tell me you've had enough Thinking of giving up on love. I'm still willing to try.

Mr. TRAVIS TRITT: (Singing)

Yeah, here I go. Step into the spotlight on stage...

MARTIN: OK, let's get back to South by Southwest. I've never been down there, and I have to admit, I feel a little bit miffed, because I had a good friend - I haven't seen him in awhile. We had plans to go out last weekend, and I get this last minute email saying, you know what? Sorry, bailing, going to Austin, South by Southwest, with all the cool kids.

MR. LANGER: See? He won the music lottery, and you're left at home.

MARTIN: I know. So, it's a fun vibe?

MR. LANGER: It - as much fun as it is, it's simply overwhelming. There's 1,600 bands showcasing in a four-day period.


MR. LANGER: And you've got everything from REM and Van Morrison to My Morning Jacket, and, you know, those - those are just the big names. The festival's about the other 1,570 names who are coming here to establish or to do something, make a step with their career. It might just be something as simple as finding a booking agent, or, you know, hanging out with the bookers from clubs across the country.

The idea here is that since the whole industry is here at one time, your opportunity to be in front of people that you used to have to travel, you know, back and forth in your car, or your van, or whatever to hit individually, are all here at once. And you can play for an enormous amount of press, and an enormous amount of industry folks all at once.

And so, for those 1,600 bands, it's worth it to come here to play 40 minutes, except you don't wind up just playing once. You play all these parties, and bands will come here and play six, eight, nine gigs in a four-day period. And that's what South by Southwest is all about.

MARTIN: And has it - I mean, it's really grown, though. It didn't always used to be this way.

MR. LANGER: Yeah, well, it grew from literally 700 people and like, you know, 50 bands the first year, 25 years ago, to what it is now, where there's 23,000 people who hold the badges. There's 7,300 musicians. There's 7,000 more Austin-ites who have wristbands. You know, people planned their spring breaks and their vacation around South by Southwest. And, you know, the crazy part is, look at the music business.

The music business is in shambles, but apparently, the business of marketing to people in the music business is doing well, because carmakers are here. Soft drink manufacturers, social networking sites, everyone's sponsoring a party. Everyone wants to be involved for these couple days in the music business. And more than anything else, people just want to come to Austin, Texas, for four days a year.


MR. LANGER: That's what people enjoy. They enjoy barbeque, Mexican, decent weather, and they get to run around under the guise of work, and see as many of the 1,600 bands as they can.

MARTIN: Your job is really tough. OK, so who are you excited about seeing?

MR. LANGER: You know, I'll want to see Duffy. I mean, she's got the number one record in the UK. She's, quote, "this year's Amy Winehouse." Only she's small, blond and lives at home. And you know, hasn't gotten any of the troubles that Amy Winehouse has. And she appears to be the real deal, and it's going to be really interesting to see whether she is the real deal or just another Joss Stone. And we'll see that here at her American debut.

You know, a lot of people obviously, buzz-wise, want to see Vampire Weekend. They want to see Santogold. I'm looking forward to She & Him, which is M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel. And I never thought I'd be excited about seeing an actress-turned-musician.

MARTIN: Yeah, how's she being received?

MR. LANGER: She's the real deal. I mean...

MARTIN: Really?

MR. LANGER: I mean, she's on Merge. Here's a label that puts out Spoon, and the Arcade Fire, and Ward. And they're not going to risk their reputation on some actress unless she's the real deal. And it winds up, she is. And these are really - she's singing these just sort of old timey standard sounding songs that she wrote. And M. Ward plays and produced, and it's a terrific record that I think a lot of people are going to just slowly discover. And it's going to, you know, steam roll from there. But...

MARTIN: We've got a track from that. Let's take a listen to that...


MARTIN: Hang on.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. M. WARD and Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL: (Singing)

Why do you let me stay here? All by myself. Why don't you come and play here? I'm just sitting on the shelf.

Why don't you sit right down and stay awhile? We like the same things And I like your style. It's not a secret. Why do you keep it? I'm just sitting on the shelf.

I've got to get you presents...

MARTIN: So, she's the real deal, huh?

MR. LANGER: I think she might be. We're going to see, you know, whether she can do this live. You know, she's not going to end up doing a lot of touring because she's got movies to make. But it'll be interesting to see whether she can perform live, and, you know, if she is good you're going to read about her everywhere, because like I said, you know, there is a member of the press - there's three members of the press for every real person here, so, you know, nothing goes undocumented here at South by Southwest.

MARTIN: Hey, Andy Langer.

Mr. LANGER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you, as always.

Mr. LANGER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. M. WARD & Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL: (Singing)

You make me feel like I am just a child. Why do you air it? Just give me credit. I'm just sitting on the shelf.

STEWART: Thank you for listening to the Bryant Park Project. Y'all come back now, you hear? The BPP is directed by Jacob Ganz and edited by Patricia McKinney.

MARTIN: Our staff also includes Dan Pashman, Ian Chillag, Win Rosenfeld, Angela Ellis, Caitlin Kenney and Nathan Duell. Laura Conaway edits our website and blog.

STEWART: Our interns are Elsa Butler, Laura Silver and William Hoffman.

MARTIN: Josh Rogosin is our technical guru.

STEWART: Our senior director is Mr. Matt Martinez. Sharon Hoffman is our executive producer.

MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin.

STEWART: And I'm Alison Stewart. The Bryant Park Project is always online at This is the BPP from National Public Radio.

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