Friday, June 25, 2010

Spotlight - Pittsburgh Local Artist - The Slant - Edition 5

I am doing the July local spotlight a little early. When I started the 'spotlight' series, one of the first bands I reached out to was The Slant. I have praised these guys in the past here and here. They were seriously one of my favorite local acts. I say were because after I received their answers to my questions they informed me they were breaking up. A big disappointment for me.

Below is the interview; the last 3 questions are followup I did with the band upon hearing the news. They really gave insightful answers especially to the ones concerning Pittsburgh and how to gain publicity. If you are in a band and are trying to make it here I would really suggest you read the entire interview.

The band will be performing one last show together on Saturday, July 17th at Olga's in Coudersport, PA. It's a small place about 3 1/2 - 4 hours from Pittsburgh. Show begins at 7:30p

How did the band come together? Were you all friends that went to school? Or?

Brad and Zach started working on music in junior high school. Through mutual friends we were playing with Mark by the end of high school. Once in college, Mark met Andre through mutual friends and so the current line-up began. In addition, Zach and Adam are brothers and the addition of Adam came after his move to Pittsburgh to attend college.

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?

We generally wouldn't. At best, we might reference a few bands we collectively enjoy and tell listeners that if they enjoy those groups they may also like our music. Describing our music in such a way would narrow the scope of listeners willing to give us a thorough once-over. Also, we'd probably get that description wrong. People generally base a band’s sound on their influences, one of which for us is the Beatles. It makes the listener think we will sound like the Beatles. When we don't, they're disillusioned and probably don't get out of our music what is actually worthwhile. Perhaps it is best to leave these descriptions up to the listener.

Are you all originally from the Pittsburgh area? Families here as well?

Andre is indigenous to the greater Pittsburgh area, Ellwood City specifically. The rest of us are not.

Do you create music full time or is this more of a part time venture? Do you have day jobs?

We have day jobs. Collectively, we have various degrees from different universities. We probably have equally varying ideas of which is the day job and which is the full-time venture. Right now, we all want to continue music.

How do you create your music? What is the song writing process?

This has always been a difficult question to answer because it implies that we have a collective approach to creating music. The truth is, we have no collective approach. Or, if we do have one, it does not often become clearly evident. This has become more apparent over the years. Our answer to this question in the past often ran something like "one person comes up with something and shows it to the rest of the band. Then we all work on it together and record it". It's not completely untrue, but it isn't the norm. We weren't trying to mislead people, we just didn't know how to answer. Because we aren’t relegated to the standard “I play this instrument and that’s it” mentality, each person has his own approach to writing, and in turn, recording. Sometimes a more collective effort is sought after and everyone has a hand. Other times, a song is almost completely done before anyone hears it. It causes tension in some instances, but the intention is to create the best music possible.

What are your goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish? Are you trying to get signed to a label?

We intend to grow musically with each endeavor we undertake. It is very important to better ourselves personally with each new song or project. We’d like to look back on each milestone, be it an album or otherwise, and be able to see we have progressed and to what degree. As a group, we need to tour and put a great deal of time into promotion while working to increase our library.

The most basic goal is to continually reach people on a personal level through the music, whether it be millions of people or hundreds. We just want quality fans. The next goal is to be able to sustain ourselves on music alone. This isn’t to say we want to be living in lavish houses in expensive neighborhoods, but rather just that we want to keep modest lifestyles and remain honest. We have looked and are continually looking for opportunities to make that happen, whether it be through a record label or anything of the sort.

You have a new project you are working on. Can you describe it? Are all members involved?

We’re working on a sound track for an independent film called Movie Money, a tale of two struggling actors in New York who come up with an idea to create a screenwriting contest. Andre Royo from HBO’s The Wire plays a starring role and is also an executive producer for the film.

As with most of our projects the level of involvement comes down to how much each person puts into it. We don't force each other to be involved, nor do we always ask each person to work on a specific part. The more ideas presented and the more work put into each idea generally correlate with the level of personal involvement.

Have you all toured nationally? Or do you usually stay more regionally?

A lot of shows have come and gone for this group but for some reasons that are viable and some that aren't we haven't toured nationally.

Being in the Pgh area, do you find it more difficult to try and succeed?

Pittsburgh has been good for us in a lot of ways, but it has its pitfalls when it comes to being a non-main stream band. Though it is important to note that the band is still responsible for how much work we put into succeeding in any place.

What are some of the obstacles you face trying to create some 'success' in Pgh?

Airplay, for one. Though it's true that we don't contact the various radio stations on a daily basis that are available in Pittsburgh, we have contacted them several times before and not gotten their attention. Most bands are willing to do the networking and whatnot that it requires to get played on independent radio stations in cities. College radio is more likely to play it but less likely to be taken seriously. Other independent stations seem to have the attitude that they won't play it unless they are sure listeners will like it instead of realizing that there is no way to know whether or not people will like it unless they play it. It seems to us that the independent stations have a responsibility to find new music in their cities (and we are in no way only referring to our band) and do their best to get it out there so the people can decide.

The other main issue is booking; mainly, that it's difficult to deal with the idea of having to sell a certain number of tickets where almost all of the proceeds go to the booking company. If you don't sell the required amount of tickets the band has to make up the difference monetarily. We know business is business but we didn’t get into playing music (especially the kind we are interested in) to pay money to perform for young professionals at the hard rock who would rather hear a DJ.

The last thing we’d like to note is that this city is creating a new image for itself, going green and basing its economy on education and healthcare (among others). As it goes through this process, the people of Pittsburgh are bound to change with it. In terms of what that means for the music scene, we really hope that music coming out of this city will have a distinctive sound or identifiable newness that people nationally can pick up on. That said, it’s not just the responsibility of a band to make music that brings that kind of exposure. It takes the existing network of booking agencies, promoters, radio executives, and the whole music industry “community” at the local level actively seeking out new music. We just don’t understand, really, how the independent music in this city goes largely unnoticed when there are really great existing outlets available. When a booker or venue puts absolutely no effort into helping the band promote a show, they should not be surprised when there is not a huge turnout. This is the case with a lot of venues outside of Pittsburgh as well. Maybe instead of letting any band play any time, there ought to be more venues that take a ‘quality over quantity’ approach so that the music coming out of this city may someday have some unique and distinct qualities. While this might be wishful thinking, it makes too much sense to dismiss the notion that as more people work toward a goal, it becomes more likely the goal is attained, leaving more people to benefit from it.

What are the positive benefits of being in the area?

It's really easy to meet people who listen to you, and they remember where and when they came across the music. We also have become friends with several other bands in the area. It's easy to play shows in the city and still be 20 minutes from home afterward. In addition, no one bothers us when we record and practice out of our home in the south hills - even our neighbors (Thank you).

Is there a venue you have enjoyed playing more than others in the area (liked you at Club Cafe, Brillo not so much...too many people talking over you)?

That's interesting. We actually like playing both of those venues. Club Cafe has great sound and a nice environment, but not a lot of foot-traffic. The Brillobox seems to have a built in crowd and we felt very well received there. We had a lot of fun that night but I personally would like to apologize to you and anyone else who felt that way about the Brillobox show. None of us can stand people talking over music. Why go to a show if you don't want to hear the band? Though maybe that's the downside of built-in crowds. Either way, we hope it was due to things outside of our control that offended you and not our playing. We care very much about putting on a good show - we love it and want you to love it as well.

How did the movie score come about? Is this a definite?

Brad contacted a friend of his from his days at Penn State looking for footage to include for a video for our song "Pennsylvania!" During the conversation, his friend mentioned some filmmakers in New York were interested in using some of our music for the film. After speaking with the editor and a producer for the project, Brad mentioned our willingness and eagerness to write a movie soundtrack. The people involved liked the idea, and since we were between projects at the time, we moved ahead with it. The film is currently finished and should be shown at festivals this summer and fall.

You voiced concerns about not receiving local support from radio, promoters, etc. What do you feel would be a solution to this? Have you heard of bands in other areas that are able to work with local promoters, radio, etc in a successful manner?

Pittsburgh has produced many great acts over the years who have been able to do this kind of thing, but the general feeling amongst those in the 'underground' scene, without speaking for them, seems to be similar to our own. As with anything, getting ahead in this part of the business depends largely on how creative you can be in getting your name, and music, in the ears and heads of those who can spread it amongst the 'masses'. It isn't because we feel our band has suffered more hardship than others that we chose to raise this issue. We hear similar stories very often from groups we feel are deserving of attention in our city. Each band is responsible for putting in as much effort as possible in getting their name out to those people who are capable of pushing them to the next level. But when we can name a handful of bands without batting an eye that are marketable and have a fan base, we start to wonder where the problem truly lies.

Our band, for some reason or another, has actually had more success with airplay on college radio stations in places no one has heard of us, across the country, than on independent or college radio in our home town. As far as a possible solution is concerned, as a music community, all we can do is continue to make the best music we are capable of and continue to be as innovative as possible. As the quality of music is raised to a higher standard, so will everything else - maybe. Who knows.

In addition, while searching for the best way to answer this question, we stumbled upon an online article written by Scott Mervis (who incidentally did an article on our band awhile back) of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was written in 2004, but is still very relevant. The article adds some depth to what we very briefly described, and shows that we aren't the only ones who have experienced difficulty.

Three years is a relatively young time for a band, especially for one who has such talent. Was everyone okay with disbanding? Did any of you want to keep it going?

First, thanks for the kind words. We appreciate the fact that something we care about so deeply can generate positive feelings amongst those who hear it. That being said, on to the answers:

A good deal takes place over three years, regardless of how short a time it may seem to observers outside the group. For us, these three years have been spent in closer contact with one another than with our immediate families; the time normally spent with friends, we spent together. At a certain point, the line between professionalism and personal life becomes so blurred that each suffers as a result of the other. In addition, we have individually developed deep-rooted stylistic preferences that range from song-writing, to production, to actual lifestyles. In some instances our ideas work very well together, yet in others they become serious obstacles that are not overcome without further straining the aforementioned connection between personal and professional life.

The scenario involved with the final decision to disband consisted of a group meeting in Pittsburgh. At first, the idea was met with some small resistance; though it was more sentimental than practical reluctance. We unanimously agreed, in person, to end The Slant as a functioning entity. In addition, the decision was made to make a public statement approximately one week after our meeting.

As with any decision of this nature, it is difficult to tell what each individual felt as the door shut on our time together. The best way to describe the overall feeling of the discussion is to recall a calm, collected discussion. No seriously harsh words were spoken, and no one verbally objected to bringing things to their logical, and much needed ending. The problem we face now is how we each approach the process of talking about what happened. Once word gets out to people who truly care about the inner-workings of a group like ours, more and more details are sought after to explain what went wrong. As this gains momentum, people often resort to using explanations that shift any possible connection between their actions and the final outcome onto another. Then, instead of perpetuating the message we all agreed on, we run the risk of pointing fingers at one another and worry more about self-preservation than what we should have fans remember us as. It is important for anyone reading this to realize that, regardless of what rumors and half-baked explanations reach their ears, we made this decision together and for our own good. And we need to remember it, as well.


  1. Well-spoken, however, unfortunate.