Something really cool came across my desk the other day. It was a package from a killer Detroit rock band called The Hard Lessons, who'll kick out the jams at Hollywood Alley in Mesa on March 24. According to their bio, the band members ditched their teaching jobs for the rock 'n' roll life (clever band name, then!), but they're still brainiacs because they obviously did their homework on the art of attention-grabbing (this is coming from somebody who gets about 75 look-alike mailings a week). I think I can make an easy lesson out of The Hard Lessons.
For one thing, they skipped the standard padded envelopes from the office supply store and instead sent their press kit in an old thrift store record sleeve. (Do these guys read ReadyMade?) The 1973 album, which probably cost them a quarter (postage was $2.07), is by Danny O'Keefe, some guitar-strumming mountain man who now has his eyes X'ed out, a target drawn on his face, and a ginormous penis enlargement, thanks to some ridiculous Sharpie art. "HARD Detroit Rock N Roll Musick" it screams out in big black letters. On the other side, the thing's addressed to me, and my name's even spelled right.
Again, they did their homework.
Inside, I found a glossy black-and-white photo of a girl in a striped dress and two guys in tee shirts, all laughing and looking like they're up to no good. The one-page bio, printed on lined, three-hole notebook paper, laid out all of the basics: contact info, what they're doing that's newsworthy (touring for seven weeks, playing SXSW, and putting out an EP this month), what their influences are (the White Stripes and DFA 1979, among others), and what well-known bands they've played with (one of my faves, The Dirtbombs, plus The Killers, Social Distortion, The Detroit Cobras, and more). There was a photocopied list of tour dates with a hand-written note at the top, punctuated with lots of chipper exclamation points ("We're coming to town!!!), and press clips annotated with excited comments like, "Another weekly cover!" and "Props from New Mexico. Critic claims we've received critical acclaim?"
And, full disclosure: There were three Life Savers and two Werther's candies, which I ate while writing this column.
None of that would've mattered, of course, if the first 30 seconds of their CD sucked. Instead, a battering of raw guitar punches knocked me flat on my figurative ass. Wise Up!, a six-track gem full of fuzzed-out hooks, soulful male and female vocals, and trippy, melodic organ over a garagey stomp, was burned on a blank disc and packed in the kind of wafer-thin little jewel case that would easily get lost in a pile of fancier releases. It's a good thing that first impressions made me immediately want to put it in my stereo.
All of this was apparently done without a publicist. This D.I.Y. touring band from Detroit simply took the time for research (most cities have at least one alt-weekly like New Times), coughed up a little cash for the aforementioned materials, and let the U.S. Postal Service take care of the rest.
Although that sounds pretty easy, you'd be surprised at how many bands and even publicists send out CDs with no info (sometimes just a disc with the band name written on it), or worse, a thick, expensive-to-mail stack of boring press materials with no CD. As if I'm psychic. Some of the worst press kits either look like something assembled by an eighth-grader, or are totally over-the-top, with expensive folders and every page of a pseudo-lofty, too-long bio printed on glossy paper. The happy medium is simple and informative, stating right off the bat who's coming to town and why people should pay attention.
And hopefully there's something eye-catching. One time I got a CD that had a plastic mold of fangs glued to the case -- weird, but funny. Some press kits contain unexpected stuff like drink coasters or confetti. Others might have a written message, sometimes even on a Post-it -- just something to make it clear that it was sent by a human and not a robot. And back to my sugar addiction, there's one artist who sent a couple of custom candies embedded with her name and a twinkly little eye design.
If you're thinking about touring, whether it's just to L.A. and San Diego, or somewhere far-flung, you can do this. Not the candy, necessarily, but the D.I.Y. publicity. It's cheap, doesn't take too much time, and can pay off in the form of listings, press coverage, and -- most important -- people in other cities who've never heard of you taking a chance and coming out to your show.
Okay, wanna-be road warriors, that's it for this week's lesson. Now get crackin' on that homework!
Overchoice: Speaking of touring, have you noticed how our city is getting bombarded with visiting bands this month? There are almost too many shows to keep track of, including the hard-rockin' Rye Coalition at Martini Ranch on the 9th, Japanese electro-punks The Polysics at the Brickhouse on the 10th, sexy dance-rockers Moving Units at the Brickhouse on the 11th, riot-grrl-pedigreed Spider and the Webs at Modified on the 12th, and dreamy Black Mountain side project The Pink Mountaintops at Modified on the 13th.
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The chosen one: In late February, veteran local blues guitarist/vocalist Danny Rhodes was elected to the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame. He'll perform at a special induction ceremony at the Rhythm Room on May 7.
Healthy competition: The Zippo Hot Tour is back again, looking for unsigned bands to register for the 2006 contest. Like last year, there will be online voting, local music showcases, and, ultimately, some lucky winner who'll get an opening slot for a major headliner this fall. Check out zippohottour.com for info.
The natives are restless: A batch of brand-new Valley releases is hitting the streets right about now, including hip-hop from Tha Squad and Ako Mack, both on the local Hokis Pokis label; DMB-inspired acoustic jams from Obadiah Parker; hard, energetic rock from Evolocity and Vayden; juicy power-pop from The Loveblisters; amped-up punk from Thirteen Black and Parkway Wretch; and country-tinged indie rock from Archer Avenue (technically, it's a Texas band, but drummer Dave Volk goes to Arizona State University).
It's all enough to give me spring fever.