In the shadows of SXSW

Vampire Hands wants you to download their music and go to their show.

SXSW is like an old crusty dog that pushes itself around on its belly because its legs can no longer hold its own weight. It should be taken out behind the barn and put to rest. It would be laid in a shallow hole beneath the old oak tree, with significant mementos (dog collar, chew toy, R.E.M. album) thrown on top and sprinkled with dirt. Above the decaying carcass and adorning the grave, there would stand a simple cross made from two sticks tied together.

Vampire Hands

ALBUM: Me and You Cherry Red
LABEL: Peppermint Coffins

Why do I feel SXSW should die such a sad death? Two words: Rachel Ray. Are you kidding me? Where did this Prozac-prescribed wannabe chef get the idea rock music needs her skills of salivating over a pot of Hamburger Helper? Mmmmm. Where is the rock-and-roll spirit this festival was founded on? Obviously it disappeared years ago like a rat escaping a sinking ship.

In the shadows of the absurd media frenzy that surrounds the festival, the true musical innovators ply their trade. Vampire Hands, one of many local bands to perform in Austin during the festival, headed south as part of the Minnesota Migration Tour. MMT was a nonofficial SXSW event, a DIY showcase presented by Minneapolis record label Modern Radio as well as local design collective Burlesque of North America.

In the midst of the festival chaos little-known indie bands from Minnesota where making their voice heard and in a way totally counter to the ideals of SXSW. The shows were free, open to the public, put on in small bars or restaurants and presented by low-budget promoters. They weren’t huge spectacles with the attempt to influence music journalists. As Vampire Hands’ drummer and keyboardist Colin Johnson said, “it was like every other show that we would do in Austin.”

With so many people from so many places converging on the city, things can get a little hectic as Johnson recounted. “It’s insane. You kind of just go into this weird shock survival mode where you’re just trying to get where you want to be. There’s so much debauchery, it’s very Greek,” said Johnson. Brothers, Chris and Alex Rose, along with Chris Bierden, fill out the quartet.

Johnson mentioned a few of the peculiar things about the festival, including seeing people walking around with lists of bands they have to see.

Johnson and the band members spent a day and a half in Austin, playing two shows in town and numerous other gigs between there and the Twin Cities.

“We were pretty road-practiced and by the time we got there we were ready for the shows,” Johnson said.

Vampire Hands is renowned for their raucous live shows which, in one example, featured a packed house at Big V’s last September with crowd-surfing guests. We talked a bit about SXSW and the commercialism that currently surrounds it as well as what it’s like for small Minnesota bands trying to break through into the big time. Johnson was very enthusiastic about the band’s current situation, on the verge of a national tour with a reputation for being a great live act.

“The economics of touring comes down to whether or not you’re a good live band Ö When people come out to see us live, it’s money directly in our pocket,” Johnson said.

For Vampire Hands, as well as almost every other indie band without the support of a large label, blogs and free music sharing sites are immensely important. They offer a way for people all over this country and even the rest of the world to hear about them and support them by coming to their shows.

“A band at our level can only benefit from downloading. These local bands that are operating on a small DIY level are still going out and touring and getting people to come out to see them,” Johnson said. Vampire Hands just released their new album “Me and You Cherry Red” and will have their tour send-off party this Friday at the Turf Club.