The 2016 SouthSounds Music & Arts Festival brought perfect weather and some of the best bands the Southeast has to offer — in short, a perfect weekend.
It also marked the inaugural “Lagniappe New Southern Music Showcase,” in which six bands from across the Southeast performed, on the final day, 20-25 minute sets before a panel of music industry figures, including local music legend Rick Hirsch, the owner/operator of Studio H2O and founding guitarist of the band Wet Willie.
In addition to participating on the panel, Hirsch also donated three days of studio time and production to the showcase’s already impressive prize package.
Hirsch told Lagniappe the showcase was a chance to experience new Southeastern sounds and get an idea of the band with which he’ll be working.
“I appreciate the talent that is emerging out of this city and the region,” Hirsch said. “It totally surprises me, every time I turn around. Paw Paw’s Medicine Cabinet is recording with us right now, and they have these amazing songs and amazing vocals. Every time I turn around, there’s somebody else emerging. So, it’s really an honor to capture that and record those folks.”
As the showcase progressed, the audience was treated to a wide spectrum of sound that included modern soul, folk and indie rock. Ultimately, the industry panel found one band that shone brighter than the others.
With their soothing, infectious style of indie rock, New Orleans band Motel Radio won over both the industry panel and the crowd and went home with a prize package that includes three days with Hirsch at his studio and accommodations, a week-long writing/R&R retreat at a Gulf Shores beach house provided by the festival, a $500 gift certificate to Andy’s Music and a $150 gas card. For the members of Motel Radio, their victory was the perfect conclusion of their positive experience at SouthSounds.
“It’s good as a musician to come to a festival and realize that the crowd is listening,” bassist Andrew Pancamo said. “They’re [the audience] there for social hour too, but they care about the music and the bands. It’s definitely uplifting for a musician.”
“It [SouthSounds] was very cool,” added guitarist Winston Triolo. “All the other bands were great too, and the crowd was into it. Me and Andrew thought that we played a bad set, but we pulled it off.”
Sometimes, bands have mixed feelings concerning performance showcases. Pancamo will admit he does not consider music “a competitive thing.” He finds it more appealing to play showcases with the mindset of spreading music, experiencing music and making new friends in other bands.
However, this SouthSounds showcase provided a different experience for Motel Radio. While all of the bands were vying for the same prize, a beneficial social aspect was maintained throughout the competition, which Pancamo found refreshing.
“This one was cool, because everyone was so nice,” Pancamo explained. “All the bands were befriending each other.”
Motel Radio’s success at SouthSounds will help this band on several different levels. First, its win will bring more attention to its hometown indie rock scene. New Orleans is a city primarily known for its wealth of funk and jazz. Bands such as Motel Radio are very few, but Triolo said he would describe the Crescent City’s indie rock scene as being more “emerging” than obscure, which he does not consider a bad thing. He noted the current small size of the indie scene has been beneficial to Motel Radio and other bands of their style.
According to Triolo and Pancamo, NOLA is a city that enjoys anything different, musically speaking. While indie rock may be prominent in other cities, NOLA’s lack of indie rock has brought Motel Radio and others quick success.
“Take a town where rock ‘n’ roll is huge like New York, Athens and Atlanta,” Pancamo said. “It’s hard to get noticed. We played a couple of rock shows in New Orleans, and we were gaining traction quickly. I don’t think a lot of cities have that.”
“When you combine the support that New Orleans gives to creativity with something new, it’s been a great place for us,” Triolo said.
As far as the prize package is concerned, Pancamo and Triolo were quick to admit they can’t wait to enter the studio with Hirsch. Motel Radio just signed what Triolo called “a small EP record contract” with an entity that wants the band to provide a release as soon as possible. With songs already written, the band had reached the next step of the process — recording.
The expenses that come with a professional studio recording sometimes force bands to resort to more DIY techniques. According to Hirsch, Motel Radio’s time in the studio will result in a quality recording guided by someone with a wealth of experience in songwriting, engineering and producing.
“They can expect that I’m going to capture them in the most pristine way possible,” Hirsch said. “Then I’ll probably introduce some of my producer skills along the way and make some suggestions, in terms of their arrangements or any other ways that I can help them musically.”
Motel Radio’s win at the Lagniappe New Southern Music Showcase adds to the momentum the band wants to maintain. With this in mind, the group plans to record their next EP and get on the road as soon as possible. Motel Radio has already toured extensively on the East Coast and through a good portion of the Midwest. The band hopes its upcoming tour will introduce its live show to new regions, especially the West Coast.
For those who missed their post-showcase performance at Callaghan’s, the Azalea City can also expect Motel Radio to return in the very near future, they’ll return to Callaghan’s on Sunday, May 15.