By Mark Guarino
Do the math: At the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Tex., over 8,000 people check out 1,200 bands in 50 venues over four nights.
That’s enough music to keep your ears ringing until late summer. The annual blowout, in its 20th year this month, is considered spring break for music industry types and a chance for up-and-comers to get heard, get signed and get their careers going.
Chicago’s Devin Davis will be in the thick of it even though he’s not sweating to get signed to a label, thank you very much. With the buzz still in high gear around Lonely People of the World Unite!, his self-released album, he is a prime example of the new brand of artist finding an audience strictly through the word of mouth excitement generated by the internet.
“I have learned a lot about the power of blogs,” he says. Davis, 30, spent nearly three years in solitary confinement in a Bucktown coach house, meticulously recording almost every instrument on the album, designing the artwork, organizing the manufacturing with the help of his parents, and mailing out copies to the press. After that, it was wait and see.
Almost instantly, he was championed in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, Harp plus online sites Salon and Pitchfork among others. Ben Gibbard, singer for mope maestros Death Cab For Cutie, read a blog review, bought the album and then praised it in three separate magazine features. Davis was invited to open for the band in Milwaukee and these days he is filling local clubs with fans encouraged by his relentless pop hooks, funhouse arrangements and endearing, often surreal, lyrics.
“I wanted it to be fun,” he says. “Some music turns into a science project. I just wanted it to be a good time. I view that as legitimate as anything.”
After Austin, it’ll be back to the coach house where a follow-up album is brewing. Yet don’t expect a rush job. “I would love to have somebody put it out and spend money promoting it,” he says. “But that’s dessert. I have to worry about the meal first.”