Sound Field

S1 E31 | FULL EPISODE

Is Indie a Music Genre?

Independent, or "Indie" music, has a broad definition that can be applied across genres and regions. So what makes indie music indie? LA Buckner interviews Quinn Christopherson, an up-and-coming indie musician in Anchorage, Alaska and 2019 NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner, about what it's like to create DIY music. Together they create their own indie song that you can hear at the end of the video.

AIRED: May 29, 2020 | 0:11:14
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TRANSCRIPT

Before I started playing electric guitar people just titled my music as folk

music which I thought was bizarre but now that I don't play as much

acoustic, people say it's indie. (I used to have long

hair). I wanted to learn about the independent music scene and the

communities where the genre comes from, so I partnered with my friends over at

INDIE ALASKA to show me one Alaskan artist's story.

Quinn Christopherson is a young musician born and raised in the Last Frontier.

After making independent music in Anchorage for years he rose to relative

stardom in 2019 when he won the NPR Tiny Desk Concert

contest. So Quinn if I wanted to make an indie

song, what exactly would I do? What steps would I take to

make a complete indie song? If you wanted to make an indie song,

I would tell you to pick someone you love

and that you want to write about and write a song about them.

Or a poem, start there. So question for you Quinn, do you think we should

collaborate on a song together? Yeah absolutely. Let's get it. Let's do it.

I have a feeling that, you know, you're just gonna bring something special

to the table. okay thank you thank you. I'm gonna try

I'm gonna try my darndest.

To bring it to the indie table! That is indie! Right? While we work on that song

together, let's learn more about the indie music scene.

Before indie described a band's sound, independent music was just that,

independent. Taking a page from punk rockers before them in the 70's,

indie bands followed the do-it-yourself ethos of self-reliance

and operating outside the mainstream music culture.

Since indie describes a band's outlook more than their musical style,

independent musicians can range from the electronic soul style of Frank Ocean,

to the lyrical and melancholy sounds of The Smiths.

And like most genres, sound and style is greatly influenced

by location.

To learn more about the history of the music scene in Alaska

we spoke with Kurt Riemann, the owner of Surreal Studios,

the oldest recording studio in Anchorage. Every piece of music in Alaska is

independent music. There's no label supporting

anything in Alaska. So the people that stay here are people

that are very fiercely, independently Alaskanites

who take whatever it is they're working on whether it's folk or punk or rock

or electronic or whatever and put their own independent spin on it. In

another 50 to 100 years it's going to be seen as the folk music of the time.

Quinn acknowledges that his sudden rise to fame might be considered an anomaly

in the independent music industry. I kind of like skipped a lot of steps.

Person wins this contest and then they're like

in this like world all of a sudden, which is I think unique. Other indie musicians

they make a record, do it theirself, upload it and then maybe a record label

gets hold of it and it's like, oh, we, you know, will like this, we'll release this.

And then they kind of get their start from there.

Before, I was working a full-time job

and my music was solely kind of like this therapy thing

and my songs are kind of crushing in that way. And I think

now that I've been able to give my full self

and like my work hours to my music I've been able to

like experience it and use it in in all sorts of different

emotions that I didn't before so I think it's definitely

changed. (All the things you've done for me, I hope I can do

some for you). Songs with dark somber lyrics

are common all over mainstream music right now. Just look at the popularity of

musicians like Lana Del Rey and Post Malone, and recently when Billie

Eilish made history at the 2020 Grammys by collecting six of

the seven top awards with her album that she recorded in her

brother's bedroom in their family home. Clearly, people are drawn to this style.

In the indie music scene a DIY style of recording music is common.

Quinn told us he once recorded a song by putting a sock over a microphone.

Indie music also tends to be more sonically adventurous or experimental.

Some independent bands like Neutral Milk Hotel sound purposefully raw

with pitchy vocals and over modulated instrumental sections.

Hey Quinn tell me about your time when you

entered the Tiny Desk Competition and you won. What was that like?

Best thing that's ever happened to me for sure. It was like

seriously amazing. We entered last year and I say we cause it's like a community

affair, like making a video and putting it together and putting it out.

(I'm tired of people trying to erase me)

It was just crazy. I'm just gonna tune up this guitar.

Looking at you Bob, because I don't know if you know this but when

you called me and you told me you won I got off the phone and I

thought, dang I should buy a guitar.

Legit did not have one.

But that's Anchorage. That's the music community there. Everyone just borrowed

me their stuff long term. It was

unreal. Everybody hot has to hit

Tiny Desk. Oh my god. Tiny Desk is like the

stage. So Quinn what inspires the themes that

you put into your music. Life experiences.

I feel like i'm a storyteller (Storytelling!).

Yeah I like telling stories and pulling from like people I love and

people I know and and that sort of thing. So quinn should

we check out this song? Should we see how it's going?

Let's listen to it. But I didn't have a mic, I didn't have an overhead

so it's gonna be like a real washy like a weirdly miced

indie kind of thing. Okay that's perfect! Let's get into it.

Yeah, that's way more vibrant already. I play with the bass though.

(He got me my own ball and matching shoes)

(I was a real bad sport. I never liked to lose)

(He kept showing up teaching me the rules)

(Oh my dad. Yeah he plays guitar. Says he knows more than he can do)

(He tells me that I do more than I know)

(He'd tell me don't be stupid when I hang with friends. And look me in the eye. My dad has always been a real smart guy)

I'm telling you when I recorded the vocals I recorded them in my backyard

that's why all the birds and everything. Oh! That stuff was real?! Yes! Oh I thought that was like...man.

No, I'm telling you and you hear in the beginning of the song, "Kalia! Kalia!"

That's my neighbors' kids I think they're just like playing.

And see that's the that's really the the essence, the organic

essence. Yeah so the fact that you did that on your end too is hilarious.

Do you think living in Alaska influences your music at all?

Yeah I think the weather influences me in general. It's just like so freaking dark

for like eight months, you know? Yeah yeah yeah yeah. I think

that affects my writing for sure. Despite indie music's current dark

streak, many artists these days are open about their own mental health

and shed light on things like depression and anxiety. I've been therapized

at a few shows. When I wrote those songs, I was

playing for nobody. That was true therapy. Now, pouring my heart out in front of

like strangers and them just really willing to take me

in is so crazy. I never thought that would happen in a

million years. So it's like, I'm really grateful.

Quinn is currently working on his first full-length album.

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