Last week I reviewed an excellent collaborative tribute album to The Postal Service called Never Give Up: 10 Years of Celebrating The Postal Service. The varied artists that contributed to the album were brought together by Stephen Carradini, the man behind the music blog Independent Clauses, and a long-time supporter of underground music. He got together twenty-two very talented bands and crafted a monument to The Postal Service out of folk, indie rock, and a great deal of gusto. So naturally, when I got the opportunity to chat with Stephen about the compilation, I jumped right on it.
TIS: By way of introduction, who are you and what is Independent Clauses?
Stephen: My name is Stephen Carradini, and Independent Clauses is a blog that I’ve been running for about ten years that focuses on undiscovered music – we work with bands that don’t have any press, or PR, or anything. I get a lot of submissions direct from bands saying, “Hey, we released an album, and…we don’t know what else to do after that…” So I help bands through the process of getting their first piece of press, I show them how to submit to other blogs, I introduce them to Hype Machine and show them how that works. I have kind of flown under the radar of known blogs for a long time because I don’t really go out and say “This is the next big thing!” I’m not like Gorilla Vs Bear or anything, that’s not really what I do; what I do is help bands get to Gorilla Vs Bear, or Type In Stereo, or whatever else they need. So that’s why a lot of people don’t know about this blog even though it has been going on for a decade.
TIS: That is undeniably cool! It’s a really awesome thing to have going for ten years.
Stephen: Yeah, I was just as impressed when I realized we were coming up on a decade, so I decided we had to do something cool.
TIS: Which brings us to Never Give Up: 10 Years of Celebrating The Postal Service. How did this whole thing come together? What’s its story?
Stephen: Well, for the seventh birthday, I put together a mini-compilation of original songs. I got seven of my favourite bands together and said, “Hey, if you have a song that’s a B-side or an unreleased track or whatever, I would love to put out seven songs by seven bands for seven years.” So I did that, and it was really cool. And Bandcamp didn’t really exist at that point – I guess it was 2009 / 2010, so Bandcamp was just in its infancy – so I didn’t even have the option of thinking “Let’s put this on Bandcamp, they’ll keep it there forever.” But I really wanted to do something like that, because I love the idea of putting music out into the world – I’m a musician myself, and I love the idea of putting stuff into the world that didn’t already exist. And I wanted to do something bigger for the tenth anniversary. Originally, I wanted to get ten bands to cover one album. So I emailed eighteen bands that I had covered in the past decade, expecting that some people wouldn’t be able to do it or whatever, and seventeen emailed me back and said “Yeah, we want to do it.” That was back in September of 2012; I started this way in advance so that some of these bands that are really busy now – like Jenny and Tyler, and The Collection, and Kris Orlowski – could really get on it and free up their calendars so we could do it. Once I had some bands, we talked about what album we wanted to do. I suggested either The Postal Service’s album or The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats, and there was way more interest for The Postal Service (sixteen bands to one), so I figured I could find a few more bands, put it up to twenty, and we would be good to go. It ended up being twenty with two alternates in case we lost anyone, and that’s how it came together, at least from the band side of things.
TIS: How did you get the rights to use The Postal Service’s stuff? I see that the proceeds go mostly to The Postal Service and the rest to the hurricane relief fund.
Stephen: Yeah, that was quite an adventure actually, because I always knew I wanted to do it legally. I’m a big proponent of legal music – I’ve never downloaded from Napster or Kazaa or any of those – so I knew I wanted to do it the right way. I emailed The Postal Service and got no response, because they were broken up at that point, so I emailed Sub Pop and they told me that they didn’t have anything to do with it. I was just going to go the ‘no harm, no foul’ method, but then one of the bands on the compilation suggested I email The Harry Fox Agency, which is a rights management company. It turned out that they control the rights to The Postal Service’s songs, so that was great. And without getting into the nitty gritty of it, it was basically 9.1₵ per download per song plus an individual $15 licensing fee per song. So we calculated all of that out and I decided that I would need for start up costs, just so that I felt comfortable doing it, about $700. I thought about just doing it myself, or getting the bands to chip in, but we eventually ended up on Kickstarter, because I had seen several bands I had worked with do that. We met our goal in 72 hours.
Stephen: Yeah, it was awesome, just really awesome. I started it on the Friday morning and by Sunday night it was done. I was sitting at my computer just thinking “Whaaaaaaat??” Some of it was friends and family, but some people were just like, “Yeah, I’ll throw down twenty-five bucks for this. It sounds like a good idea.” It blew my mind. We ended up with over $1400, which was awesome. And so one of the things we were able to do, was that in addition to just having the $700 for the start up costs and licensing fees, we had $250 that went to Mint 400 Records. They are a record company started by Neil Sabatino – the singer/songwriter of Fairmont – and he was able to get us six weeks of college radio play, starting…actually, today. So any song on the record will be available for college radio stations all across America. And then anything above that, from $950 to $1400, we used to give away free copies of the album, which was awesome. We were able to give away two-hundred full free downloads of the album.
TIS: That’s amazing!
Stephen: Yeah, I am definitely going to use Kickstarter again. I don’t think I can count on $100 from my uncle again, but I think that in the future there will be some really good response to it.
TIS: Yeah, it seems like an excellent way for smaller projects to get off the ground. So, there is a lot of talent on the record. How did you decide which bands should be approached? What was the decision process there?
Stephen: Well, some of the bands I had just worked with for a really long time, so I didn’t want to do a project without them on it. For example, Fairmont – I reviewed their first album back in 2005. And Venna, who does one of the covers of ‘Such Great Heights,’ are a husband and wife duo, and the guitarist/husband was in a post-hardcore band called The Felix Culpa that my assistant editor and I just loved for years and years and years – we raved about them over and over again – so I just said that I couldn’t do it without them on it. But some of them are brand new bands that I really love, like The Parmesans – they just appeared on my radar last year, but I knew one of their members from a previous earlier band. Really just a lot of connections from bands I have been working with. And over the years I have honed the focus of the blog towards indie pop and folk, so it wasn’t hard to say “Let’s just do an indie pop and a folk side,” because that’s pretty much what we do. We do cover some pop punk, but there were no bands that I had a relationship with – pop punk wise – that I felt comfortable with saying, “Hey, can you do this for free?” So most of the bands that I contacted stood to benefit from it – I mean, there are a few bands that are way bigger than me now, like Jenny and Tyler and Kris Orlowski, but I was there at the very beginning with them, so I felt comfortable going to them and saying, “I love your music, and if you have time, it would be awesome if you could be a part of this thing to celebrate the decade.” So, bands I love, bands I worked with, etc.
TIS: Yeah, we did a review of Venna’s album earlier in the year, and they are fantastic.
Stephen: Yeah they are. I love that album. When Felix Culpa was still around, Venna put out an EP and it actually had ‘Meet Me in the Hammock’ on it, and I love that song, but they didn’t put anything out for like three or four more years, so I was stoked when I finally got to hear that new record. ‘Married’ is a beautiful song. They are awesome.
TIS: How did you decide which bands played which songs? Did they have any input with that, or did you decide it for them?
Stephen: It was kind of a collaborative effort. Once we had decided on The Postal Service – within about three minutes – David Wimbish, the lead singer of The Collection, said “We already do a cover of ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,’ so we want that one.” So that was cool. And then within about an hour, lots of people had chimed in. There was only one time, I think, when I had to say “Yeah, we already have that one covered, how about you do this one?” But even though the record is so iconic, some of the bands had less of a relationship with it, so they said “We’ll do whatever.” The Noise Revival Orchestra, who do that amazing orchestrated version of ‘Brand New Colony,’ were like that. They said “Whatever you want, we’ll cover it, because we don’t really have a relationship with any of the songs particularly.” So that helped fill in the blanks. But it was actually really interesting that almost everyone had a different song that they said “We have to do this one.” Weirdly, someone said, “We absolutely have to do ‘Natural Anthem,’” and I was like, “Alright. That’s my least favourite track on the album, but if you love it, go for it!” That one was kind of surprising to me, because I always thought that was the weakest track on the album, and while I was buying the rights to it, I found out that – ironically – it is actually a cover.
Stephen: Yeah, not many people know that. I think it’s actually the first part – the noisy instrumental part – is the cover, and then the stuff at the end is what they put in. So the rights to that one don’t go to The Postal Service, they go to some other guy. Now…what was I saying? Right, only one person picked up ‘Natural Anthem,’ and that’s why my solo project ended up doing it, and I was able to put a spin on it and say “This is what I wish this song sounded like.”
Stephen: Yeah, but it was really natural. It all shook out evenly. There were no knock-down drag-outs over anything. I mean, pretty much everyone wanted to do either ‘Such Great Heights’ or ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,’ but they usually knew that would happen and said “Or, X, Y, or Z.”
TIS: I figured you would get a lot of bands looking for ‘Such Great Heights,’ so I was wondering how you dealt with that.
Stephen: Well, Fairmont was an easy choice for ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,’ because they’ve been with Independent Clauses right from the beginning. And like I said, David Wimbish was there in three minutes, so that solved that problem. And with ‘Such Great Heights,’ well, you can go back and read all of the superlative things we have said about The Felix Culpa and Venna at Independent Clauses (laughs). And Kris Orlowski, I just love his music. And I have seen his music progress from his early days to now, and so it was really cool to see his unique spin on it, because he really does have a unique voice and a unique take on things. And then Seven Handle Circus, they jumped in as an alternate at the last minute because of a kerfuffle I made. And I was kind of envisioning bluegrass versions of all of The Postal Service in my head when I first started the project, and I knew that was kind of unrealistic, so I was really glad when we got at least two dedicated bluegrass versions on it.
TIS: Speaking of that bluegrass vision, how much creative control did you exercise? Did you take whatever you were given, or did you give any direction?
Stephen: Well, I had arranged it into indie pop and folk sides, so I said “This is how I’m going to group them, but do whatever you want. I want this to be something that you really like and not something that I made.” I don’t think there were any bands that consulted me before they made anything. There were a couple of bands that asked me what I thought about their stuff, and I loved it across the board. I mean, the one thing I was afraid of was getting twenty versions of Iron and Wine’s ‘Such Great Heights,’ but that didn’t happen. That was the only time that I would have said “Maybe we should go in another direction with this.” Actually, the only two really minimalist takes were Andrea Caccese’s ‘Sleeping In,’ which I thought was beautiful, and Young Readers’ ‘We Will Become Silhouettes,’ which just blew my mind in the way that it was different from Jenny and Tyler’s and The Shins’ versions. So I didn’t have any real artistic control, it all just came together really well.
TIS: Actually, the reason I asked that question is because there is that shadow from Iron and Wine and The Shins. They are a band that has been covered frequently by some pretty big bands, so I wondered if there was that awkward conversation of taking it in a different direction.
Stephen: Yeah, and those songs are almost as iconic as the originals. I mean, when you take ‘We Will Become Silhouettes,’ you don’t just have the electronic version to contend with, you absolutely have The Shins’ version as well – I probably listen to The Shins’ version just as much as I do The Postal Service’s. But everyone at least knew enough about the record and those covers that it didn’t become a problem.
TIS: Why did ‘Such Great Heights’ get the honour of a double take on the folk side?
Stephen: We ended up with three versions of ‘Such Great Heights’ because I made a mistake, and, hey, everyone likes that song a lot anyway!
TIS: Now, I know this is a bit unfair, but if you had to choose one favourite from each side, which would they be?
Stephen: (Laughs) Oh man, well, the first time I heard The Collection’s finished version of ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,’ I just got shivers. And it was clear that they had worked on it for a long time and put in a lot of care, and I was thrilled that they were the first group on the folk side, because it was exactly what I wanted the record to be – it’s a completely different perspective of the song that is just as well organized and just as passionately performed as the original. So that has some sentimental value. And on the indie pop side, I would have to go with Young Readers’ ‘We Will Become Silhouettes,’ because when you put Jenny and Tyler’s and Young Reader’s songs back to back, they sound nothing alike, but they are the same song. And that is just the coolest thing to me: that they are vastly different, but they are the same source material. So that one has some sentimental value too. But, purely musically speaking, I absolutely love what Decent Lovers and Seer Group did with ‘Brand New Colony,’ because it’s just so much fun. I was staying with my friend Jeff when the album was coming out, and he really likes rap, and he just kept playing the first thirty seconds of the song over and over again, with the: “What? Decent Lovers? And…also…Seer Group.” And we just loved it. And Elijah Wyman has been with me for a super long time (the songwriter of Decent Lovers) and Jason Rozen from Seer Group is a really solid dude, and so it was really fun. I knew I was going to get something weird from them, but I can’t believe how much I love what I got. But it’s like trying to choose your favourite kid: you can probably do it, but you don’t like to talk about it (laughs).
TIS: Are there any plans for a physical release, or is that just a whole lot more money?
Stephen: I would love to do a physical release but at the moment…well, it took me a good three months to figure everything out for the digital release – and yeah, the money is a question – but just the headache of trying to get everything together for a physical release would be bonkers. And if we were going to do a physical release I would skip CD and go straight to vinyl. I mean, if we were going to make a physical object, I would want one that had materiality to it; something that wouldn’t just be ripped and then stuck on a shelf. And I know some people that press vinyl, so I could probably get a decent price on it, but for now all I want to do is be happy with the digital release and then maybe revisit it in six months, because…well, the downloads license and the streaming license are completely different. We have the streaming license through to the end of 2013, and then I need to re-evaluate if I want to re-up the license. It is $355 to stream it for the year, but I could just make it download only. So when we get to the end of the year, I will take a look at where the album is and whether or not people want a vinyl, or if it’s just something I want because it would be cool. So, I think this project will either wrap up at the end of 2013, or it will see new physical life.
TIS: If you could get any band in the world into a studio to do a cover of a Postal Service song, which band would it be, and which song?
Stephen: Ohhhhh…well, okay, I have two votes. Since I did the album twice, I get two votes. I would love to hear The Mountain Goats cover ‘We Will Become Silhouettes,’ because it is about a nuclear explosion and John Darnielle loves to write about horrible tragedies, and I think it would be hilarious to see what he could do with that song. And then I would love to get…well, because the original vision for this was to get something completely outside of the box, I would love to get Limp Bizkit to cover ‘This Place is a Prison.’ That would be so incredible. Like, Linkin Park? – maybe. But Limp Bizkit? I would play that song forever. That would be the most ironic, kitschy, wonderful thing that could happen to that song.
TIS: (A mixture of awkward laughter and stunned silence)
Stephen: Think about it! You know! You know you listened to Limp Bizkit in the 2000s! Everybody did!
TIS:…I….Yes, I did.
Stephen: Think about how awesome that would be!
TIS: Yes, I guess it would be worth hearing.
Stephen: So realistically, I bet that John Darnielle likes The Postal Service, and I bet he would love to cover ‘We Will Become Silhouettes,’ but really, Limp Bizkit would be awesome.
TIS: And lastly, have you seen / will you see The Postal Service on their reunion tour?
Stephen: Yeah! It’s funny that you mention that. We started this project in 2012, and had no idea that The Postal Service was coming back. And no matter how into music you are, you always have a friend who is more involved than you, and I was sitting at my desk that morning in January when they announced they were coming back, and my friend Cliff texted me and said, “The Postal Service is back!” And I was like, “HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS?!” And so I immediately emailed all of the bands and said, “Guys, we just got infinitely more relevant!”
Stephen: And I am living in Dallas right now, and they are coming here a week from yesterday, so I will get to see them.
Stephen: Yeah, I really don’t know what to expect. I mean, I would be fine if they just went on stage, pressed a button, and sang. (Laughs) But I don’t know…I mean is he going to play guitar for the three times there are guitar parts?
TIS: Yeah, I am really excited, but I have no idea what to expect from them.
Stephen: Neither do I. And they are touring with Ra Ra Riot, and that makes me even more confused. Because, I love Ra Ra Riot, but this seems like a perfect time for Dntel to play some songs. And Ben Gibbard is coming off of a solo tour. I would totally take half an hour of Dntel, half an hour of Ben Gibbard, and then an hour of The Postal Service. Because, I mean, they don’t really have more than an hour to play.
TIS: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve heard rumours of new material, but I haven’t looked into it because I would rather be surprised when I am there – but I don’t know how they will fill up their time unless they do weird covers or something. I don’t know how Postal Service covers would work. It will be very interesting.
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, their cover of ‘Against All Odds’ is great. But maybe they will play a Limp Bizkit cover, and make me really happy.
TIS: I can only hope they play a Limp Bizkit cover.
TIS: Well thanks for talking to me. Is there anything you wanted to say about the project?
Stephen: Oh, you’re welcome. And, well, this isn’t the last project from Independent Clauses. Since this went so well – surprisingly well – we are planning on doing more stuff like this. We have some ideas in the pipeline, but we have to get to the end of July, because that’s when all of our Kickstarter rewards are done being sent out. Running a Kickstarter is awesome because you get so much money, but then you realize you actually have to deliver on all of these things (laughs). So after that we will see what we can get going.
TIS: That’s very exciting, I look forward to it!
Stephen: Yeah, it should be good. And thanks again for your time, I really enjoyed it.
TIS: Any time! It’s been fun!
And with that, I went straight to YouTube to try and find Limp Bizit / The Postal Service mashups. Shockingly, I found none. Personally, I would like to see a Dr Pants cover of ‘Nookie,’ but I will have to wait and see what Stephen and his friends have coming after July.
I was also fortunate enough to chat with some of the bands that contributed to Never Give Up about their roles in the production of the record and their relationships with The Postal Service. Those interviews can be found here.
Banner image received from independentclauses.com
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