MarmoConvos: Exploring the History of Place + Sound

As a creative agency full of musicians, sometimes we like to geek out about the history of our trade. Recently, our Senior A&R Advisor + New Music Scout, Brandon Day, shared his knowledge about the regionalization of music and genre with the Marmoset family and sparked a mind-blowing conversation about place and sound. We thought it was pretty rad, so we’d like to share with you, too. Enjoy.

How would you define music regionalization?

Brandon Day: Regionality in music has always existed in some form or another. Whether on the macro level, by creating a new genre or subgenre, or on the micro-level, by creating a specific iteration of a current movement, there are often differences based around physical or social geography.

What locations in particular are best known for producing a specific sound?  Is one more influential than the others? How do they differ?

BD: While I'm not an expert on cultural movements in music, I've always enjoyed exploring scenes that surround different places. For instance, Elephant 6 in Athens, Georgia was a scene in the mid ’90s for acts such as The Apples in Stereo, Of Montreal, The Olivia Tremor Control, The Minders, etc. Although the collective was started in Denver, Colorado, the identity began being tied to Athens when more bands started developing in that community. What tied these bands together wasn't only location, but shared ideals. If you listen to the bands that identified with the collective, you can hear everything from experimental rock to bubblegum pop that brings to mind ‘60s era psychedelia. However, there is an audible tie that connects these artists, because they were collaborating with one another and were interested in a similar ideal.

The idea of regionalism was more extreme pre-internet and pre-sound recordings as well. Traditional songs were passed down through families and communities and sometimes never written down. These songs (American, British, African or otherwise) were extremely regional and were tied to a physical place because of the people that lived this music.

When it comes down to it, regionalism in music is all about the people that interact with one another in a community. Just look to the development of Trap music in Atlanta, Georgia, or the burgeoning roots/rock scene in Durham, North Carolina, and you’ll see modern examples of regional collaboration.  

Do you think the artists that are drawn to these areas would have been able to achieve the same sound elsewhere? Explain.

BD: When a physical place becomes tied to a sound or movement, people outside of that community want to experience the place to revel in the atmosphere -- whether perceived or actual -- that created that sound. For instance, Muscle Shoals, Alabama was a sought after place to record in the ‘60s and ‘70s because of the sound it became known for. There were two studios in that small Southern town, both of which cultivated a gritty groove that people began knowing as the "Muscle Shoals sound." While there was nothing particularly special about these studios (besides the producers and session players), bands from all over wanted to record there to get that specific gritty, southern sound. From the early days of Etta James to later Brit rock band, The Rolling Stones, artists traveled to rural Alabama to be a part of the place that they perceived as bringing out those particular qualities in a sound recording.

Could they have created those songs at a different studio in another town? I'm sure. However, if you've traveled much, you can attest to new culture, sights, sounds and smells having a dramatic impact on your senses. If you've dramatized a place in your mind, sometimes it takes going there to feel what you've been romanticizing for so long.

Posted on October 18, 2016 and filed under Music, Field Notes.