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By Amanda Savage
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The year 2011 may go down in history as the first year we paid more attention to where music will be stored and what delivery system it will stream from than we did to actual music (which continues its steadily declining devaluation in the marketplace, thank you). One hallowed time, not so long ago, music wasn't just the thing piped in the background of the restaurant; it was the whole meal itself.
The devaluation of music was a hot topic discussed animatedly and somewhat drunkenly on New Year's Day as Yolanda Bejarano, Lindsay Cates, Nick Hadik, and Matt Wood, who collectively make up folk band Snow Songs, convened at Harvey's Wineburger. The music of Snow Songs, one of Phoenix's most evocative and engaging bands, is valued and, yes, cherished by those who have heard the band's 2010 self-titled EP or attended some of its sporadic but spellbinding shows in the Valley.
But how to get it in the hands of more than its immediate fan base quickly becomes the next topic of conversation. Everyone agrees that simply giving it away doesn't work, and that CDs are most likely over, but then a certain degree of one-upmanship takes over, with each member vying to come up with the most ridiculous delivery system for their next album.
"I like to have something in my hand," says Bejarano. "You don't get that with a cloud."
"T-shirts, thongs, feather earrings, tampons — we need to focus on that," says Cates, "Forget about music; just sell Snow Songs merch. It's called monetizing."
"A Snow Songs lunchbox," offers Wood. "A lunch box that when you open it, an owl pops out."
"Yes!" beams Bejarano. "Or how about we sell a box filled with snow at shows, but then we sell them a freezer to keep it in. All that means is we have to drag the freezer to every show."
"Sure, everyone needs an extra freezer," agrees Cates. "What are we thinking, price points?"
"I'm thinking two grand," says Bejarano. "And the album plays only when you have the freezer door open."
"Every rehearsal kinda ends up like this," grins Hadik.
He's not complaining.
Snow Songs started three years ago when Bejarano, a longtime member of the Valley's indie rock set, decided to form a band with Cates and original drummer John DelaCruz. "I stole the name from a mix tape someone gave my sister Diana. It was titled 'Snow Songs.' I liked the name for an acoustic project I was thinking about starting. I thought it was a good idea at the time, but people always think we're called 'Snow Dogs,' 'Slow Songs,' 'Snow Socks,' 'Songs in the Snow,' you name it."
For a moment, I mistakenly offer up another permeation, "Show Dogs," and the foursome happily reimagine themselves as that for a while.
Despite Hadik's lobbying for a name change (two years' worth, to no avail), Snow Songs just might be the perfect name for a band that makes wintry-sounding albums, not unlike all those Midwestern bands that moved to Brooklyn and wind up on critics' best-of lists because they compile those lists around Christmastime. Bejarano laughs, acknowledging that was Snow Songs' plan all along.
But none of those bearded bands has a mischievous angel like Bejarano singing for them, someone capable of both Claudine Longet chanteusery and champion pop wailing in a song like "Everything Ends" or aching vulnerability in a song like "London."
Bejarano's shadow stretches far enough across the local music scene that all the other Snow Songs enlistees can recall seeing her singing for different bands. Hadik recalls falling in love with her watching her group Chula open up for At the Drive-In in 1998 at Tempe Bowl. Cates also remembers Chula and Slugger, while Woods first saw her in a New Times Music Showcase in 2002 with The Slowdown. Just before forming Snow Songs, Bejarano took a support role as one of the "spirit squad" for Runaway Diamonds. And in 1998, she performed a New Times Music Showcase fronting a mariachi band.
"Yes, it's true, I played with a mariachi band," she laughs with an equal measure of modesty and insecurity. "It was great fun but very hard on your vocal cords."
Every Snow Songs member but Bejarano plays in at least three other bands, so what is it that sets Snow Songs apart?
"Yolanda can write a song in as long as it takes to play it. Not to mention her voice," says Hadik. "And band practices make me feel like a teenager, a lonely, confused, misunderstood teenager."
For Cates, who plays in Pick and Holler and Fatigo, "It's the creation and collaboration that we do really well together, creatively. We rarely talk about or reference other music. The ability to create together so effortlessly is the greatest gift and probably the hardest to find in a band."
Wood recalls seeing Snow Songs play Shizzfest three years ago and wanting to join: "I loved it. This is such cool music, I want to play something like this."
This lineup has been intact since the group's biggest show: playing the Artists for Action concert with Calexico and Jimmy Eat World in response to artists boycotting Arizona because of the SB 1070 law, rather than playing here and using the opportunity to speak out against it.
Since it's represented on sound recording with just an EP, the full Snow Songs experience has best been represented by its intimate and immediate live shows.
"Ultimately, the memory and shared experience of the live shows and the fixed moment in time of the recording process is all any group has to live on," says Hadik. "And we do that by both sounding like our record and re-imagining that sound for the audience."
"I like to listen to a new record alone at first and then experience it in the live setting. There's nothing better than falling in love with a record and then going to the show. It's pure magic," says Bejarano. "We're working on making our live show a sight to behold. I want it to be a bit theatrical and dark, kind of like David Bowie in the '70s."
Since Snow Songs is her only project, the pressure is on Bejarano to do all the administrative work leading to fame and fortune. "It's a lot of work, but I have an iPad now, so 2012 is gonna be a lot different. Just make our fliers, hit send, and — boom — we have fliers. GarageBand on iPad is so amazing. I thought the iPad was stupid until I had one. It's insane. Gorgeous!"
As for the fame bit, Bejarano's had a taste of it already — and we're not talking being interviewed by NPR about the Artists for Action participation, either.