by Adam Gold
Granted, while alliterative Americana(ish) rockers The Romany Rye are yet to distinguish themselves as local rock’s latest transplants (by not moving here ... yet), I wouldn’t be surprised if they're the next. Given that the band — who mostly hail from Little Rock, Ark., and currently call Long Beach, Calif., home — has some local representation, has spent a fair amount of time here lately and have, according to a source close to the band, done some casual recording with fervent champion, father to be and the Cream’s favorite cutter of rugs, Matthew Followill, at the King of Leon’s Nashville studio*, my Magic 8-Ball tells me a Music City move is, more likely than not, in the band’s future. But that's just a prognostication.
Also potentially in this rye coalition’s future: gracing the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Currently the band are — along with seven others not yet eliminated — embattled in a “tournament style” competition the magazine is putting on in which bands vie for studio time with a name producer, an industry showcase and, ultimately — as Shel Silverstein would say — their picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone. It's a feat that would make the lucky winners the first unsigned band in the magazine’s storied (literally) history to do so.
Of course, the final victorious band — to be decided in a head-to-head bout at (where else?) Bonnaroo — will cease to toil in the trenches of label-less-ness once they lay claim to the contest’s other big bounty: a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
So basically, we’re talkin’ about the mother of all Battle of the Bands competitions. It’s got record deals, slots at Bonnaroo, normally unattainable press, high-end studio time — all the classic carrots you can dangle in front of an aspiring band as avenues out of obscurity; things that traditionally aren’t bought with money, but with time.
Back in better days like, say, the ’90s — before the music industry took to the Information Super-Highway like a frightened, waddling toddler trying on Rollerblades for the first time, when opening up a new copy of Rolling Stone felt like cracking a novel — engaging your band in these kinds of tournaments (or gaining notoriety by doing so) was a swift cred-killer. Nowadays, not so much. Since even rock stars can barely sell records, I think it's safe to say that we're living in a post-cred police world, at least when it comes to becoming successful.
Take, for example, the promo clip below for recent local transplants — and soon-to-be Scene cover boys — The Black Keys' Brothers. Once you get past the obligatory opening pull-quote (from Rolling Stone, of course) you're immediately bombarded with a smattering of film and television titles to which the band has licensed their music. Back in the dogmatic days of music fans monitoring bands' every non-musical move, a band as vital, contemporary and, yes, cool would, at the very least, downplay having played soundtrack to films like Black Snake Moan and Cloverfield, and idiot-box fodder like One Tree Hill, The O.C., Gossip Girl and Ghost Whisperer, but in today's music world, the band, or at least their label or management, advertise it as a way of telling the general public that they know The Black Keys better than they think they do. And judging by the Keys' continuous rise in relevance since Brothers' release, I think it's safe to say that embedding themselves deeper into the mainstream consciousness hasn't hurt them.
So, really, the only risk a band like The Romany Rye run by engaging competitors in a contest hosted by Rolling Stone and sponsored by Garnier Fructis is that it might forever follow their name, never ceasing to associate them as popularity contest or pageant winners. I mean, all bands aspire to get their names known, but I doubt many of them are aspiring to become the next Flickerstick — you know, winners of VH1's early-Aughts rock 'n' roll take on Survivor, Bands on the Run. But, hey, Flickerstick managed to actually release their debut record on Epic, cultivate a fan base and tour, headlining decent-sized venues before calling it quits in 2009. That's almost unquestionably miles beyond what the Texas quintet would've accomplished had they simply stuck to spinning their wheels in Ft. Worth.
There are other factors at work here, though; The Romany Rye are much, much better than Flickerstick, and Rolling Stone is more respectable than VH1. Even if the former did recently feature Snooki (MTV idiot) on its cover, it at least requires that users posses the ability to read, right? And, unlike MTV and VH1, the magazine still at least has something to do with music. (Doesn't it?) So, what do you think? In 2011, do starving musicians have anything to lose by competing in these kinds of contests?
Also, if you'd like to cast your vote for The Romany Rye, you can do so here. And if you'd like to see the band perform in the flesh as a way of informing your decision, or just because, you can do that tonight by going to check the band out at 12 & Porter, where they appear with Feedback Revival and bona fide local transplants The Weeks. Show is five bucks and kicks off at 8 p.m.
*FYI, we have no details to report on Followill’s studio other than that it exists in some capacity, apparently.