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TGTF Guide to SXSW 2019: this year’s recommended keynotes and speakers

 
By on Wednesday, 6th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Every year without fail, you can count on the SXSW Conference to bring you an illuminating parade of industry visionaries and artists speaking next month in Austin. In a few weeks, there will be an awe-inspiring selection of sessions to sit in on and engage with as part of 2019’s Conference. Below is just a smattering of what music programming is on offer this year.

A$AP Rocky and Gorden Wagener (Monday, 11 March, 12:30 PM) – The announcement of A$AP Rocky as a SXSW 2019 showcasing artist has been huge. Quite possibly as huge is his session on the 11th of March to discuss his success with development and sales of his own athletic wear and accessories. (You can check out a recent interview he did with Los Angeles radio station Power 106 before a live appearance at the Forum.) Joining him in this session is Gorden Wagener of Daimler AG, responsible for directing everything related to the customer experience at Mercedes-Benz. The importance of creativity, branding and fans and followers will no doubt be discussed in this session.

T-Bone Burnett (Wednesday, 13 March, 11 AM) – He may not be a household name you recognise, but you definitely know his work. Musician, producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett has composed the soundtracks for countless films and produced many albums, including those that launched the careers of Counting Crows and Los Lobos while helping reinvent and relaunch those of Gregg Allman and Roy Orbison. Burnett will be releasing his 13th album ‘The Invisible Light’ in April, so he’ll be chomping at the bit to talk about his newest work.

David Byrne (pictured at top) (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – The former frontman of Talking Heads and multi-award winner will be speaking about Reasons to Be Cheerful, a platform to drive social change he launched last year. The purpose of the Web site is to give people the tools and information to make changes locally to social issues as diverse as climate and energy to transportation. For a taste of what Byrne might talk about, I’ve embedded below a talk Byrne gave in early January 2018 at the New School in New York City.

Lance Bass (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – You remember him, Lance was the blond bass singer in *NSYNC. In case you somehow missed this, since his former ‘90s boyband’s implosion, he has become an actor of stage and screen and a gay activist. He even had a turn on Dancing With the Stars. Perhaps it’s surprising that his appearance at SXSW 2019 will be to talk about his current career as a film and tv producer. Like Madonna, Cher and many other legends in the music business, he’s proven resilient in successfully reinventing himself, his time as *NSYNC fading into the distance.

Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry (keynote; Thursday, 14 March, 11 AM) – These two female titans of Scottish music will be appearing at Thursday morning’s Music keynote. It’s being presented in association with PRS Foundation’s Keychange programme and will be centred on discussions about “creativity, the music industry and the female identifying narrative.” Both have been outspoken on feminism and and equality in the business; below, watch an interview with Mayberry at Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass.

Laura Jane Grace (Thursday, 14 March, 2 PM) – Formerly the founder and frontman of punk band Against Me!, Grace is a transgender musician who has become a role model for those struggling with gender identity and dysphoria. With her new band Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, Grace is headed in a decidedly more intimate direction with her first solo album. The changes in her life over the last 6 to 7 years have thrust her more into the public limelight, and I’m sure she’ll be using this platform at SXSW 2019 to revisit key events, as well as discuss the music she’s making while Against Me! is on hiatus.

Björn Ulvaeus and Niclas Molinder (Thursday, 14 March, 3:30 PM) – Ulvaeus is best known as a Swedish songwriter and producer of international giants ABBA and the co-composer of Mamma Mia! and other Broadway musicals. He will be making a stop at SXSW 2019 along with Niclas Molinder; both are cofounders, along with famed pop songwriter and producer Max Martin and manager Ash Pournouri, of Auddly. Auddly is described on the SXSW Web site as “rapidly setting the standard for how music creators, their collaborators and their representatives are identified along with accrediting their contributions in compositions and recordings.” A worthy enterprise, indeed. Ulvaeus seems like such a great interviewee, as evidenced from the BBC One Show clip from last year below.

Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond (keynote; Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – The surviving members of seminal NYC hip-hop trio Beastie Boys will be stopping by SXSW this year for the Friday morning keynote session during the Music part of the SXSW Conference. Late last year, Horovitz and Diamond released Beastie Boys Book, 6 years on from the untimely death of their bandmate Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Ross Golan (Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – Like T-Bone Burnett described above, Ross Golan isn’t exactly a name that will ring too many bells but I can guarantee you’ve heard and appreciate his work. Golan penned Ariana Grande’s ‘Dangerous Woman’ and 5 Seconds of Summer’s ‘Mrs. All American’, among others. However, I don’t think Golan will be in Austin to rest on his songwriting laurels and will be speaking on something else near and dear to many artists and managers’ hearts. He’s a major champion of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into U.S. law last October and aims to move forward with better best practices in issues of copyright in the digital age. He’ll be discussing this, along with the future of songwriting.

As always, the schedule of events at SXSW 2019 is subject to change. For the most up-to-date information on the SXSW Conference, visit SXSW’s official Web site.

 

(Charity!) Live Gig Video: Gang of Youths’ David Le’aupepe plays acoustic version of Ryan Adams’ ‘My Winding Wheel’ for Bedstock 2018

 
By on Wednesday, 12th December 2018 at 4:00 pm
 

Bedstock touts itself as “the first and only online music festival”. You may be wondering, what’s the fun in that? It’s got a specific purpose: it’s designed for kids who are too poorly to leave their beds and in solidarity with them, musicians have performed on a bed with limited equipment to help raise money for Children’s Cancer Association and their MyMusicRx program. Many artists you’ll know by name have already shown their support, including UK acts The 1975, Aquilo and Jacob Banks. In the below video filmed during his offstage time at Austin City Limits in October, frontman David Le’aupepe of Aussie band Gang of Youths decided to cover a Ryan Adams’ song, ‘My Winding Wheel’ while sat on a bed with his acoustic guitar. Check it out below. You can donate to Bedstock’s efforts through this link; more on Gang of Youths (a band I knew would blow up big) on TGTF is through here.

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Harry Pane

 
By on Wednesday, 18th July 2018 at 11:00 am
 

My final interview of the SXSW 2018 music festival was with English singer/songwriter Harry Pane, who played a mellow late Saturday afternoon showcase at the Hilton Austin hotel’s Cannon and Bell Lounge as part of SXSW’s Second Play Stage series. Pane played a relaxed set in this acoustic setting and even engaged in some friendly banter with the intimate crowd between songs, which encouraged me to approach him for a quick chat after he finished playing.

Harry Pane internal

This performance at The Hilton marked Pane’s final show of SXSW 2018, and he seemed happy to take time for an interview after a busy week of gigging in Austin. “I did six [shows], overall. But they were kind of stretched out enough that it was enjoyable instead of just, like, an endurance test.” His shows included an official showcase at Stephen F’s Bar, as well as a set at one of my favourite Austin venues, The Tiniest Bar in Texas, and a radio performance for KSGR, where he peformed alongside fellow English songwriter and TGTF alum Frank Turner. “I [had done] a songwriting workshop with him and his band, who are really, really nice people”, Pane said of Turner. “He was on the KGSR show too, and he very kindly mentioned my name and gave me a shout out, which was really good.”

This year was not Pane’s first experience at SXSW. He played the festival once before, back in 2016, and that experience allowed him to come into SXSW 2018 with clearer expectations. “I kind of went in blind to that one, and I had one showcase. Didn’t really know what it was about or what I was doing”, Pane remembers. “This time around, two years later, I’ve done a few more things, worked a little harder. I feel this one’s been way more beneficial, and a lot more fun, actually.”

As a fully independent artist, Pane appeared in Austin without a band or entourage in tow, which made the small Second Stage venues a near-perfect fit for him. “I have a double bass player at home, and I’m trying to sort of slowly build a band, put it together. But at the moment it’s just me, on my own.” When I asked about label support, Pane demurred. “I’m not in a position to even talk about labels. I’m with AWAL, who are an amazing support for independent musicians.” AWAL is billed as “Kobalt‘s unique alternative to the traditional music label”, offering services to independent musicians who want to maintain control and flexibility. Pane continued, again very frankly, “If it came to the crunch, I do think that they would look after you way more and take less money off you.”

We also talked about the unique challenges of recording music as an independent artist, and Pane discussed them candidly in terms of his own current experience. “My last EPs that I did, I recorded with Dani Castelar, who worked with Paolo Nutini and other people that I really like.” He laughed, “I’m name-dropping now . . . But it’s really good, because we’ve got a really good friendship now, and I’ve got this kind of understanding with him where I record with a guy in London, on a cheap rate, and I send my stuff over to him, and he mixes it. He tweaks it and polishes it. This is a way I can afford it at the moment.”

Releasing singles, rather than full albums or even EPs, is Pane’s current way of keeping his name and his music afloat in the vast milieu of singer/songwriters. “At the moment I’m feeling like that’s working more, at my stage, to release song by song. I released the EP last year, [‘The Wild Winds’] and it was beneficial for the single, the leading song of that, but the other songs kind of got wasted within that EP, they got sort of lost.”

At the time of this interview, Pane had freshly released a new single called ‘Beautiful Life’. When I asked about forthcoming releases, Pane confessed, “I’ve got some songs in the pipeline, but nothing quite ready yet.” However, he has been keeping busy in the interim. This Friday, the 20th of July, Pane will release a new single titled ‘MacArthur Park’. While no preview of the track is yet available, you can pre-save ‘MacArthur Park’ on Spotify and iTunes now.

Harry Pane is scheduled to appear onstage at Penn Fest in Buckinghamshire on the 21st of July and at the Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire on the 27th of August. You can find a full listing of Pane’s live appearances on his official Web site. TGTF’s previous coverage of Harry Pane is collected here.

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Buck Meek

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd July 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo: Buck Meek, far right, with his band at Luck Reunion during SXSW 2018

If you’re a regular TGTF reader, you might already be familiar with the name of singer/songwriter Buck Meek. We’ve covered Meek before in his role as part of alt-rock band Big Thief, both in live review and previous SXSW coverage. Back in March, during SXSW 2018, Meek came to Austin as a solo artist, to preview his now-released debut LP, which is simply titled ‘Buck Meek.’ I caught a very quick moment with Meek after his set at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion to ask him about the new album.

‘Buck Meek’ technically isn’t Meek’s solo debut, following on his previous EP release ‘Heart Was Beat’ from back in 2015. That EP includes the memorable track ‘Sam Bridges’, which he played in a slightly different form in the Revival Tent at Luck than what I remembered from a live performance in Phoenix with Big Thief several years ago. Discussing his set on the day, Meek agreed. “That [song] had a more country feel. I mean, we’re playing it with a slide guitar player today, who kind of mimics the [pedal] steel, and with a country drum beat and everything.”

Having only seen Meek before in the context of Big Thief’s edgy folk rock, I was curious about the more obvious country influence I heard on display in his solo work. “I think there’s influence there”, Meek says. “I grew up in Wimberly, Texas, south of Austin. I grew up listening to, surrounded by country music. So it’s always been, I think, an influence. And to be honest, this set, I catered more towards that feel.”

But many of the songs on ‘Buck Meek’, the album, defy easy classification as straighforward country songs. Musically, the record’s foundational country tone is obfuscated by elements of what Meek describes as “grunge, and punk rock, and more esoteric stuff.” Early single ‘Cannonball!’ has a distinct twang to it, most prominently in Meek’s vocal lines, but its laid-back rhythm section is unmistakabely jazz-tinged, and its electric guitar riff is pure blues rock. ‘Ruby’ is a charmingly elusive, rhythmically complex track which Meek explained to Uproxx as “the suspension in love, when time folds in on itself, when the first instant of meeting cycles through the idiosyncratic friction and ancient affection of years together, which again cycles into infancy and eager fascination — all contained within a sideways glance.”

Thematically, ‘Buck Meek’ touches on a wide array of subject matter, from platonic male friendship (‘Joe By the Book’) to a plane crash in the French Alps (‘Flight 9525’), and an intriguing cast of characters, including a widow named ‘Sue’ and a devoted canine ‘Best Friend.’ In the end, the heart of the album is revealed in final track ‘Fool Me’, a late night country bar classic, with a plaintive piano melody and Meek’s self-deprecating vocal evoking the mild yet persistent yearning of one last slow dance on an otherwise deserted dance floor.

‘Buck Meek’ was released on the 18th of May on Austin record label Keeled Scales. Buck Meek will spend the remainder of the summer on tour supporting the release of the album, including the following run of dates in the UK in August. In addition to the shows listed below, Meek will support fellow country artist Courtney Marie Andrews at the Norwich Arts Centre on the 21st of August and at Southampton’s Talking Heads on the 22nd of August. You can find a full listing of Meek’s upcoming live dates on his official Facebook. TGTF’s previous coverage of Buck Meek is collected through here.

Monday 20th August 2018 – Brighton Komedia
Thursday 23rd August 2018 – London Islington
Friday 24th August 2018 – Manchester Gullivers
Sunday 26th August 2018 – Dublin Grand Social
Monday 27th August 2018 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Tuesday 28th August 2018 – Glasgow Hug and Pint

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Sam Lewis

 
By on Thursday, 21st June 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Nashville singer/songwriter Sam Lewis seemed very much in his element at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion, which took place just outside Austin during SXSW 2018. The weather was sunny, the atmosphere was mellow, and the music was abundant. I heard Lewis perform at the early-by-SXSW-standards hour of 11 AM, and later in the afternoon I had a chance to chat with him about his new LP, ‘Loversity’, which was released on the 4th of May.

Sam Lewis internal(photo by Sarah Bennett)

Despite the afternoon sunshine, a strong breeze was blowing as we found seats on a quaint wooden swing set, and Lewis broke the conversational ice by asking about the windscreen on my voice recorder. “Tell me what’s on your recorder right now, because this thing looks kind of like, remember Don King, the boxing promoter? It looks like his hair.” (He wasn’t wrong; if you’re not American or have no idea who Don King is, check out photos of Don King through here.)

I asked Lewis about the Song Swap he’d played that morning with Courtney Marie Andrews, Caleb Caudle, and Kevin Kinney, and he responded with a wry smile. “With 100 percent honesty, I think all four of us were were asked to come play, and then we found out a couple of weeks ago that it was at 11 AM and it was a Song Swap, so we all kind of got a chuckle out of that.”

Lewis played three songs on that set, and I was surprised that none of them were from his new record. His explanation was disarmingly candid: “I didn’t feel like playing any of those.” But he continued, talking about the songs he chose to play instead. “I played ‘Virginia Avenue’, [which is] a song about where I’m from, and ‘In My Dreams’, which is off of my first record, and I also played a song called ‘Little Time’ which is a John Prine-inspired song I wrote with Taylor Bates in Nashville.”

Lewis released his self-titled debut album in 2012 and followed it up with ‘Waiting on You’ in 2015. His new third album, ‘Loversity’, centers around its eponymous title track, which sprang from a moment of spontaneous inspiration. “I was touring a couple of years ago, just outside of Richmond, Virginia, and I passed by this really cool, colorful building.” The sign on the building was partially obscured, and in his road weary state of mind, Lewis couldn’t quite make out what it said. “I saw this building, and all I saw was ‘-ersity’. I knew that there was missing letters or something, [but] I just blurted out ‘Loversity’. A friend of mine was with me at the time, and he looked it up real quick, and he was like, ‘That’s not a word.’ And I said, ‘Well, I really dig that, I don’t know what that means, but I’m going to find out what that means. So, I wound up writing a song called ‘Loversity’.”

‘Loversity’, the album, is an eclectic group of songs, both in terms of musical style and lyrical subject matter.”I don’t know where it’s going to wind up living as far as genre,” Lewis admitted. “Like with many things, there’s an identity crisis [in music], everything’s been cross-pollinated. It’s getting called ‘cosmic country’, it’s getting called ‘country funk’. I’ve heard all sorts of different things. It’s got a little bit of everything, because I’m not a big fan of limitations, but exercising all of your abilities.”

“I’m really proud of [this] project,” Lewis said about ‘Loversity’, which he produced, working with Brandon Bell at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville. “I’m a big fan of this project because of the people involved.” Lewis recorded the album with his former band, who now tour full time with Chris Stapleton and could only join Lewis in the studio. Despite having given a solo acoustic performance earlier in the day, Lewis said, “That’s where I’m going with everything, full band. Like, I experimented with horns on this album. There’s two songs that have horns, and I can see how you can get a little crazy with that, because it’s really fun.”

The individual songs on ‘Loversity’ are more philosophical than actually political, though some of them do touch on political ideas. “They’re getting thrown into a political realm, which I’m fine with, but they’re not political songs,” Lewis said. The common thread among them is a thematic motif of unity and sharing, and Lewis confesses that “they’re personal songs. I needed to hear those songs, too.”

I had a confession to make at that point as well, that I had only listened to the album once before meeting Lewis that day. He was undeterred, encouraging me not only to “try it again,” but to “try it at different times, try it it inebriated, try it non-caffeinated, try it in a car . . .” In the time between the interview and this publication, I’ve taken his advice, and I’ll pass it along to you. ‘Loversity’ is a perfect listen if you’re searching for an uplifting message in trying times, if you need a soundtrack for a long drive, or if you simply want a soulful groove on a hot summer night. Try it.

‘Loversity’ is available now via Sam Lewis’ official Web site. Our thanks to Sarah for coordinating this interview.

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Dan Bettridge

 
By on Tuesday, 19th June 2018 at 11:00 am
 

If you’re a long time TGTF reader, you might remember that Welsh singer/songwriter Dan Bettridge was originally tapped to make the trip to America for SXSW 2017. (If not, you can read our SXSW 2017 preview coverage here and here.) Sadly, unexpected visa issues prevented Bettridge and several other international artists, from making the trip last year.

I met with Bettridge on the Wednesday night of SXSW 2018, at the Focus Wales showcase hosted by downtown Austin club the Townsend. He was kind enough to give me a few minutes before he played his set on the showcase, and we naturally started with a chat about the aforementioned visa challenges. Specifically, Bettridge had a problem with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which determines eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of 38 approved countries, including the UK, to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa.

If that sounds complicated to you, you’re not alone. “To be honest, I think it was a clerical error,” Bettridge said. But the ordeal inspired his management team to write a guide for international musicians planning to travel to America ahead of his rescheduled trip to Austin this year. “I think that was helpful to some people, because people are still confused, you know, artists and management, about how to get their band over here. So the more we share about it the better, I guess.”

I mentioned the current American political climate as a potential obstacle for visiting musicians, and Bettridge quickly agreed. “Yeah, it’s a nightmare! I mean you’re supposed to be able to do it with an ESTA, but people are saying, just for security reasons, go and get a visa which is a bit of a pain, really. But I got [a visa] this year.”

“You don’t strike me as a security risk,” I joked. Bettridge laughed, “No, that’s just what people said! I don’t consider myself a security risk.”

At that point, we turned our attention to Bettridge’s impending set, and I asked him what I might expect to hear when he took the stage. “It will be all new stuff,” he said, “it’s kind of, how do I explain it?” He paused for a moment, and I empathised with the ever present challenge of trying to describe music in words. “I guess it’s soul rock, with a little bit of country thrown in sometimes. I guess that’s the best way to explain it.”

That intriguing description led to discussion of Bettridge’s forthcoming LP, ‘Asking for Trouble’, whose release format is equally intriguing. In the midst of the digital age, when so many musicians are releasing singles and EPs rather than waiting to put out a full album, Bettridge has struck a very deliberate compromise with the new project. “It is going to culminate in an album,” he explained, “but I’m releasing it in ‘Waves’ of four songs at a time.” The idea behind the staggered release, he said, is “to take advantage, really, of everything turning to streaming. It’s just more digestible. It’s a 16 track album, so I think it just wouldn’t work, putting it out in one piece.”

Bettridge also wanted to encourage his listeners to take some time with the new songs. “Sometimes huge artists will bring out albums, and the following week they’re just forgotten about, you know, they’re just dead. So [this] was another way of prolonging the release and trying to get every song to be [heard] without interruption. I think four songs is a good number of songs to be released at a time.”

The individual ‘Waves’ are each carefully constructed and deliberately different from the final album tracklisting. “It’s a little bit eclectic,” Bettridge said of the full LP. “There’s some really driving rock songs on there, and then there’s also some more sort of pop sensibility songs on it. The ‘Waves’ are gathered together where the songs make sense together, so there won’t be so much of a shock when the full album does come out. There’ll be three ‘Waves’ in total, and then the final ‘Wave’ will be kind of like a completion of the album. So when people buy the album, they’ll still be getting songs they haven’t yet heard.”

Despite the temptation of that payoff at the end, I suggested that the ‘Wave’ approach might be asking a lot from Bettridge’s listeners in terms of thoughtful comprehension of the music. “I kind of thought I was making it easier for them!” Bettridge exclaimed. Still, this is clearly an album for dedicated listeners, even with accessible singles like ‘Heavenly Father’ in the mix.

Dan Bettridge’s LP ‘Asking for Trouble’ is due for full release on the 6th of July. In the meantime, you can listen to Waves One, Two, and Three on Spotify or on his official Soundcloud. Bettridge will be on tour in the UK this summer, playing headline shows and festival slots.  TGTF’s collected coverage of Dan Bettridge is right through here.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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