From the stage dives to those powerful vocal moments to the destructive encores, emerging talent have done nothing but rule this year in music. There were romantics lost in the idea of making songs together, punk rock revivalists who wanted to be heard, new blood who made their bed on the road and even those who literally performed with their audiences to configure that personal connection. In the end, they all had one thing in common: they established their own definition for the word “innovator”, providing new music for listeners to fall for repeatedly.
These are our Breakout Artists Of The Year and here are their stories about their favourite 2011 releases, most memorable moments from the past 12 months and the personal life lessons they’ve learned.
TENNIS (ALAINA MOORE)
FAV ALBUM FROM 2011: Not just anyone can pick one album because so much happens in a span of 12 months as you’re exploring and discovering new places and new things, so for me there are a few albums. I really love Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s self-titled record as well as Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes and Twin Sister’s In Heaven. UMO’s album – I just love the “nerdy” recording feel it has and I love the sounds – it’s something we sort of try to aspire to. It’s very well recorded and mixed. The other two albums helped when it came to looking for female inspiration and that contemporary style. I adore both of them.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Our set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona is probably my favourite show from this year. It was a perfect day at the beach and while we were playing our set, a sailboat actually passed by in the distance. The crowd was really responsive too. Touring in the United States is easier but the whole experience was perfect – getting to see Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, PJ Harvey and even Odd Future play was amazing. I like to see artists play their music first-hand and I really enjoyed Odd Future’s set. Aside from the controversy, they’re good performers and seem like really nice kids.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: The biggest change was embracing the fact of being in a band and knowing if it’s what I really wanted. For the first part of 2011, we were catching up around the idea we were a band, the release of our first album and just building to tour and at the time we didn’t know if it’s what we wanted. Before, we were in our late 20s’, had normal jobs and it was weird to quit that. But Patrick and James and I saw a lot of evolution as we continued; as time went by, we were coming together as a group. Throughout the year, I felt we needed to fulfil certain expectations – the kind that comes with being a musician – and there wasn’t time to for my own and that can be difficult. Evolving quickly and producing prolifically is what we’re focused on and we couldn’t be more excited for next year and starting a new chapter of our lives.
STRAY FROM THE PATH (THOMAS WILLIAMS)
FAV ALBUM FROM 2011: Personally, I would say Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto is my favourite this year. Coldplay are one of my favourite bands ever and when I heard the first song on the new record, I was literally blown away. But on a band perspective, I would say Balance And Composure’s Separation. There was literally an entire tour where we listened to this record everyday. Nobody is playing like them nowadays and there is this obvious emotion and energy in their songs and that album specifically that cannot be touched.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: We played a show at 2 a.m. in the morning on an hours notice in Midland, Texas, with our boys in letlive. 75-100 people showed up and we both played until 4 a.m.; it was amazing because we played about three shows in only 24 hours.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: Shit happens. The end of this year has been one of the hardest moments in this band’s career but we managed to not die and not miss a show. We love playing and we realized not everything will always be awesome. Roll with the punches and move on; just hope you don’t get KO’ed.
POLAR BEAR CLUB (JIMMY STADT)
FAV ALBUM OF 2011: I really enjoyed the latest Into It. Over It. record called Proper. I instantly fell in love with the album’s style of lyrics; there are not a lot of records of this calibre out there.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Singing on-stage with Tom Morello (guitarist) of Rage Against The Machine and Tim McIlrath (vocalist/guitarist) of Rise Against was my favourite memory. That was really cool.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: Every year you get a centimeter closer to know what it is you want to do. I’m not sure I could even say what that is yet but it’s fun to be creating this music in search of that.
BASS DRUM OF DEATH (JOHN BARRETT)
FAV ALBUM OF 2011: That’s a pretty tough question so I’m going to have to go with two albums: Davila 666’s Tan Bajo and Soft Moon’s self-titled LP (although that was released late 2010 I think). When I first heard the Davila record, I honestly wasn’t that impressed but the more I listened to it, the better it got. The songs are simple, catchy and familiar, and the production is dirty and weird. They also use backing vocals very well and do a great job of pairing both straight-up pop songs and hard-ass punk songs. Not to mention when they play live, it sends the songs to an entirely new level. Same goes for Soft Moon; they absolutely destroy live and the record is insane as well. It’s my “driving alone at night smoking cigarettes” record. One of the things that fascinates me – because I can’t get anywhere close to doing it – is that the production is so slick but the tones are so f*cking gnarly. I also love the use of his voice as an instrument. He definitely knows what he’s doing with his music and you can tell.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: It would be the kitchen show at SXSW. There was only room for about 15-20 people in the kitchen and when I would headbang, I would hit my head on the fridge. I also stabbed my guitar through the roof and almost impaled myself on a cymbal stand. We played about five songs and I don’t think we made it all the way through a single one.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: Life is short and can be taken from you at any point so keep your friends close, work hard and have fun while doing it.
SUMMER CAMP (ELIZABETH & JEREMY)
FAV ALBUM OF 2011: Emmy The Great’s Virtue is problem our favourite album. Emma is a good friend of ours but we listened to this album completely without bias and were blown away. She has this fantastic ability to take intense personal moments and share them with the listener in a way that makes you connect instantly. Her lyrics are unbelievable, so detailed yet so simple. We saw her perform a few songs from the album in a church, it was brilliant.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: We just got back from our first UK headline tour and mini tour of Europe. It went really well and we’re still on a high from the shows. We have so many good memories to choose from – touring can feel like a real slog at times but when you’re off-stage after a show, you can’t help but be overwhelmed that this is what you’re doing for a living. We all had a moment like that when we were in Paris, and felt so lucky.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: Work as hard as possible and be prolific. Don’t let the admin drag you down.
HEARTSOUNDS (LAURA NICHOL)
FAV ALBUM OF 2011: My favourite and most listened to album of 2011 is Living With Lions’ Holy Shit. I first heard it when we toured with them and the band played it non-stop in the van. At first, I thought it was very odd but catchy at the same time and that combination usually ends up capturing my long-term attention! Some of the melodies and phrasing of the lyrics are extremely weird and unexpected but really cool. It’s creative as hell and in this day and age, and that is really something that should be valued.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: It just happened! We filmed our music video at my favourite venue in San Francisco – Thee Parkside. A bunch of our friends and fans came out, drank a ton of beer and rocked out to us playing “Unconditional” about five times through to get different shots. We then played a set because we were already there and set up and we had a blast as everyone was singing our lyrics back to us and I could just feel the passion and chemistry in the room. It felt like we accomplished something that day, all the while having fun.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: We had two shows in a row during a pretty stressful time in my life. I had just moved back to San Francisco, got my own place and was broke and working my butt off at a new restaurant. I was juggling a lot so everything went wrong the day I was supposed to haul ass from work to a show in Santa Cruz – it put me in a really bad mood toward my band. On top of that, we had to get up early the next morning to drive to San Diego, play a show and then drive all the way back overnight.
The show was f*cking unreal though. We played at one of San Diego’s coolest venues – The Belly Up. The sound that night was the best I’d ever had and Strung Out – the headliner – and our favourite punk band ever, was watching us from the side of the stage the whole time. The whole night felt so right, even more right than the previous day had felt wrong. It made me think – if driving 20 hours round-trip in a van feels worth thirty minutes of playing, then I’m doing something right. And I’m not going to stop playing just because the band makes my life inconvenient sometimes; I really want to see where we can take this.
letlive. (JASON BUTLER)
FAV ALBUM OF 2011: House Of Balloons by The Weeknd. I couldn’t tell you the precise moment I first heard it, but I can provide the scenario. I was driving home from a personal retreat to our local mountains with my then significant other. I remember thinking he was a white dude with soul. I’m not sure why this was my initial reaction, possibly because the recommendation was sent to me by another white dude with some soul and I assumed the consideration provided him some sort of self-serving hope that he may be able to perform as well as the man he just sent me. Digression – that’s the theme here.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: I would have to say the time we played songs that we invested every ounce of ourselves into, creatively, emotionally, intellectually, and physically and there were people that were there to listen and attempt to understand what it was we were doing on that stage (floor, area we were afforded to propagate that ll.).
LIFE LESSON LEARNED: None of this is about me.
(Due to time restraints/touring, honorable mentions go to the following)
JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD
JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD