It's a great time in history to discover new music — whether it's new to you, new to everybody, or somewhere in-between.
DJ-curated streams play day and night on Internet radio stations. On Spotify, Tidal, Pandora and Beats, algorithms guide you toward Your Music. The daily deluge of surfable new releases on Bandcamp and Soundcloud is astounding.
Arguably, the best source remains the Trusted Friend — the living, breathing expert, dangling obscure artists and musical traditions, hypnotic DJ sets, and "taper"-approved live shows under your nose: If a suggestion comes from them, you try it out.
This month, three trustworthy Fairfield County residents — Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth and producer Peter Katis — curate the first entry in the non-profit Fairfield Theatre Company's new Emerging Artist Series, beginning with a May 18 performance at StageOne by vintage analog synth/voice duo Xeno & Oaklander, with Kid Ginseng opening.
How trustworthy? Without getting laughed out of the room, you could argue that Talking Heads — co-founded by Frantz, Weymouth, and singer-guitarist David Byrne in the mid-1970s (eventually adding Modern Lovers keyboard player Jerry Harrison) — were the greatest American band of all time. Frantz and Weymouth later started Tom Tom Club — you'll likely recall inescapable, infectious, often-sampled groove of "Genius of Love" — as a side project.
Katis, meanwhile, who operates Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, was a producer on some of best-sounding indie-rock records in recent years: The National's "Boxer," Frightened Rabbit's "Midnight Organ Fight" San Fermin's "Jackrabbit."
His credits include Kurt Vile, Mates of State, the Twilight Sad, the Head and the Heart, Jonsi, Interpol and dozens of other great bands; his own group, the Philistines Jr., released "If a Band Plays in the Woods …?" in 2010.
The Emerging Artist Series, curated by Frantz, Weymouth, Katis and other FTC staff and board members, could run once a month, or more or less frequently. It's fairly loose right now.
Upstairs at the Warehouse, Frantz and Katis talked about the new series and the process of musical discovery.
Q: How do you encounter new music?
Katis: My answer's easy: It walks into my studio. That's how I hear about it, honestly. I'm not good at going out and searching out new things. But I work with a lot of bands that are cool, and I overhear what they're talking about on the couch: what bands they think are cool, what bands they don't think are cool, what bands are threatening to them. There's not a lot of competition, but that element does exist: "These guys are really hot right now." They pay attention, especially the bands in their peer group.
Frantz: I find new bands through friends or through surfing the Internet, not particularly Spotify and Pandora, more like Facebook. Friends are always emailing me: "Would you check out my friends' band?" That's how I get in touch with music. But the idea of the Emerging Artists Series is to push the envelope for this community a little bit, so that it's not always just a spin-off of the Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers, not that that's a bad thing. There's room for a little excitement, a little surprise.
Q: How did the Emerging Artist Series come about?
Frantz: I first heard about the idea in a conversation with [Fairfield Theatre Company development director] Joe Rog. FTC is doing a wonderful job here in this community. It really has changed the whole nightlife situation in downtown Fairfield, which didn't exist before FTC. They've done a fantastic job of promoting local talent, and also national and international bands that come through on tour. Both of us agreed that there was some room for something a little more experimental, a little less predictable in the sound of the music.
Katis: The kind of music I am interested in and work on and try to make has definitely been underrepresented at these venues, and I feel like there are people around who would care about that music. Everyone I know does.
Q: The idea, then, is to present slightly more experimental music in an intimate space?
Frantz: Yes, we hope so. We're hoping to attract some younger people, too, college kids, even high school kids. They're welcome here. It's an all-ages venue, but if you're old enough, you can get a nice glass of wine.
Katis: Having the two venues [StageOne, which holds 220 people, and the 640-capacity Warehouse] — three, really, with the Klein Auditorium [capacity: 1,400] in Bridgeport — is a pretty powerful thing, because you can have such a broad range of bands.
Q: Are you presenting music young people can't necessarily find around here?
Frantz: I don't know if they can't find it. It's very easy to hop on a train and go into New York. But what's happening in, say, Brooklyn, over the past 10 years hasn't really reached here yet, with a few exceptions. One could say we have an abundance of dad rock here, and it would be exciting, even to some of us dads, to hear something a little bit less predictable.
Katis: If there was more music here that was alternative, experimental, whatever angle you want to take on it, it would be really exciting. I just moved three doors down from the library, so I live extremely close to FTC. My interest is largely personal.
Q: How will the series work?
Frantz: When Joe Rog asked me for some names of bands, I thought of three off the top of my head. One was Xeno & Oaklander, who I'm very close to, because one of the band members is my daughter-in-law. [Singer Miss Liz Wendelbo is married to Egan Frantz.] They made their latest record at our studio, and they're moving to Southport next month. I thought about them because they play in Brooklyn on a regular basis, they play in Detroit, they play in San Francisco. They've never played here. Why not?
I also thought of this band called Sunflower Bean. A friend of mine's daughter went to high school with the person who plays bass and sings in that band [Julia Cumming]. I suggested their name, and the next day they were featured in Rolling Stone as one of the most anticipated new albums of the year. I thought, "Oh, I guess they are good."
Another band I recommended is one we've worked with called Wild Belle. They're originally from Chicago, a brother and sister act who also have sidemen in the band. They're a little bit world music-y. One guy plays baritone sax and electric kalimba. His name is Elliot Bergman, and his sister Natalie Bergman has an incredible voice.
When Peter became involved, he recommended many bands that he's worked with and knows about. Some of the other committee members who are on the board have their favorites. The people who book the place are reaching out to these bands, sort of one or two at a time, to see what their availability is. It has to make sense for them, travel-wise and financially. Thankfully, one of the law firms — the guys who wrote my will, Brody Wilkinson — is underwriting the series. That way, neither the band nor the venue will lose money if there's a light turnout. But we're not going to allow any light turnouts.
Katis: I just came from a meeting with the bookers of this space, just to take it from this broad concept of doing this to actually doing this. I'm going to approach bands I know and I'm friends with — that's my biggest role. I'll just start to email them or call them and say, "Hey, you should play FTC. Remember that venue that's in the train station you'd go to?" That might count for something. I'm in a position to make a more personal connection. I'll start doing that this week.
Q: In terms of size and timing, it sounds like a pretty fluid, open concept.
Frantz: I was told that it would be every other month, but I'd be happy to see it once a month, like a regular thing.
Katis: We had a lengthy concept just now about trying to create more "fun" events, not just straight-up bands playing a show. That's a lot harder to do than to say. We could create collaborations with people. Sometimes, when the National showed their film, "Mistaken for Strangers," I did a Q&A. Just stuff that's fun.
Frantz: At the moment, we are talking with Cindy Wilson of the B-52s. Being sort of the Grand Dame of Athens, Georgia, right now, she's friends with these newer Athens bands. She has a new solo record. We were talking about the possibility of having her here with a couple of newer bands and having an Athens Night. That seemed to appeal to everyone.
Katis: Ultimately, if it becomes regular enough, to the point where it's the same night every month, people might not know exactly what's happening and who the bands are, but they'll come because they know it's going to be a fun night.
Q: What happens on the first night?
Frantz: Xeno & Oaklander is a very interesting band, a synthesizer duo with vocals. They use old analog synths, patch cables all over the place. They've made three albums. The third one ["Topiary"] is a quantum leap — very exciting, musically. They're very popular in Europe. ... It's composed, not improvised, but there's no pause between songs. They go from the beginning of the show to the end without stopping. They fix things on the fly. They have projections behind them, which they do themselves.
Katis: With vintage analog synthesizers, there's going to be some level of improvisation.
Frantz: The opening act, Kid Ginseng, is a DJ who's going to be playing electro from the late 1970s/early 1980s. They're clearing out the front of the area [at StageOne] for dancing. There will still be chairs for people like us, who need to sit down once in awhile.
Katis: If I don't dance, it won't be for a lack of enthusiasm.
XENO & OAKLANDER perform as part of the Brody Wilkinson Emerging Artist Series at Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne on May 18 at 7:45 p.m., with Kid Ginseng opening. Tickets are $15. fairfieldtheatre.org