Houston, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Mobile, Pensacola and Jacksonville are just some of the cities in the southern circuit that lie on the I-10 and surround New Orleans. This stretch of road is quite valuable to the local indie rock and roll community — a scene that’s growing larger each year, and pushed heavily by young students and graduates from the town’s universities. It’s a straight shot through the South with many smaller cities in between — or not far off — which makes for an easier tour and a convenient way to broaden a fan base. But the roads in New Orleans are bumpy and mostly go one way, and whether or not an indie scene can survive is a question that looms over the city. Yet, it doesn’t seem to faze bands like Coyotes, Bantam Foxes or Sun Hotel, thanks to a strong New Orleans community that has created a platform for them to build on.
As a band that started in Los Angeles, Coyotes frontman and guitarist Duz Mancini admits that it’s hard to identify with the jazz and blues groups that define New Orleans but that the city is ideal for the indie scene. “You can gig here,” he says. “It’s seven miles by seven miles and people can walk to shows. L.A. is a little bit more of a brutal scene, a little more cutthroat at the clubs.”
“It’s harder to get people out to the clubs in the beginning,” Mancini claims. “In New Orleans, I think they trust the music a little bit more. They kind of welcome you with open arms. And that’s a good feeling when you’re trying to get things started, and you don’t know what’s going on in the city yet.”
Although the scene may be a little less cutthroat in New Orleans, Mancini confesses that the band gets better responses in California. “Our genre, in particular, exists way more out there,” he says. “Same thing with Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. We’re kind of outliers here because we play a bit more of a country/indie sound. For that in the local indie scene, I feel like we’re one of the only bands that does that.”
Despite New Orleans’ predominate jazz, blues and brass band traditions, amidst Tulane and Loyola University’s combined student populations, there exists an emerging market for diverse genres and burgeoning acts such as Coyotes. Mancini puts it plainly: “Two universities right next to each other, and one has a huge music school — of course, you’re going to get a bunch of kids immediately from the universities.”
College is where many young indie bands are forming these days, and although the university market may be limited to friends or a couple of kids looking for something to do on a Friday night, it’s a good starting point.
Loyola students and twin brothers, Collin and Sam McCabe got their first experience with the indie/university community with their band Cute Machines but moved on recently to create the trio Bantam Foxes. Although they’re a young band and have only been performing together since January, their experience combined with
the presence of their older, more seasoned drummer Jared Marcell has helped the trio break into the scene and embrace the New Orleans indie community.
“[Jared] knows everybody in this city. It’s ridiculous,” explains Sam McCabe, who plays guitar for the group. “With Jared being six years older [than us], it gives us a broader age spectrum. He’s 26, and more of our fan base is [college graduates].”
For the group, this is a good and bad thing. It’s easier to promote on a college campus, especially one as small as Loyola’s, but if the band attracts a crowd that consists mostly of graduates, then they’re competing with an entire city.
“New Orleans is tough,” McCabe says. “There is so much music. It doesn’t matter what night you’re playing; there’s always something else going on that’s going to pull from your show.”
But the fledgling band is aware of the role that they assume in the community.
“We try to help people out as much as we can, because that’s what we want people to do for us,” McCabe explains. “That’s the good thing about New Orleans. If you help someone out with something, then that band is going to do something for you in the future. That’s the best part about [the city]: the community.”
Although the group realizes they have had little to no impact on the scene so far musically, McCabe and his bandmates understand that “the best impact a band can have when they’re at the level we’re at is to try and help everyone else out with the impact they want to create.”
But even established acts like Sun Hotel try to push that ideal, and it’s the point of their label — co-founded
by sibling band Caddywhompus — Chinquapin Records. Whether it’s web design, recording or booking tours, everyone involved with Chinquapin comes together to pool resources, and everyone is assigned a job.
“When something good happens for any band [on Chinquapin], it’s good for every band,” says Sun Hotel lead singer and guitarist Tyler Scurlock. He recalls one day when the band was in Cleveland for a gig: “I got to the venue and saw a kid in a Caddywhompus t-shirt. I walked up to him and told him I liked his shirt. He goes, ‘Yeah, that’s why I wore it. I know you guys are bros.’” And that’s one of the label’s main goals: to give every band on Chinquapin exposure — be it directly or indirectly — because it spreads throughout the entire label.
Chinquapin is still growing, and the guys from Sun Hotel and Caddywhompus are still trying to figure out a way to create further growth, but what’s important is that they’re in the right place.
“It’s so easy for bands to use New Orleans as a launching point,” explains Scurlock. “Especially if they’re trying to save up some money so they could eventually go on tour and put out some records. It’s such a good place for any band to get a show and start building up not only their bank account, but their fan base on a regular basis.”
This gives a different form of importance to the city. It shows that New Orleans may not need the bands, but that the bands need New Orleans.
When asked if he felt that Chinquapin or Sun Hotel had progressed the indie scene in any way, Scurlock replies, “If we have, it’s only been because we’ve done everything we can to bring bands together and get them to help each other and form a team spirit.”
And that, after all, is what matters most.