The line between music fan and musician at SXSW is so thin you could fly a paper airplane through it.
After witnessing Miike Snow's first-ever SXSW performance, I slipped backstage to chat with front man Andrew Wyatt, who is such a nice guy that he made time to chat with me despite three ultra-cute Asian hipster chicks pestering him for his phone number.
We talked about the challenges of making studio tracks sound good live and how he enjoys mixing up the songs a little bit each show, which is not surprising considering the production background of his band mates, Bloodshot & Avant. He was impressed by Austin and was enjoying his time in the city and running into fans on the street.
"I would love to talk to you more," he said, "but we're playing a lot of shows this week and I've got to save my voice."
The man does have a valuable instrument he's got to protect. The strangest thing about our conversation is that when he first came off stage he had an accent (he's American) that got less and less pronounced the more we talked. I hope our extended conversation doesn't ruin any shows later this week.
I would really love to say I've got some sort of exclusive hook-up that gets me this kind of access, but the SXSW atmosphere provides interview opportunities to anyone brave enough to chat somebody up. Musicians are everywhere -- they are just people after all -- hanging out enjoying music.
The Morning Benders, arguably one of the most intelligent and genuinely self-aware bands in years, were candid between back-to-back sets on the east side of Austin and encouraged fans to come up and talk to them.
Bassist Timothy Or went to UC Berkeley and, ironically, got in trouble for illegally downloading music. After telling him I downloaded a leaked copy long before the official release date, I asked if I could use his music for a video I made. He seemed all right with it but he thought the music label would be pretty upset.
"They'll sue you for all your worth" he said. After I told him I wasn't worth much and all I had was my computer, he said, "well they'll take your laptop."
Or, who looks like he is about 16, laughed when asked what it felt like to be a rock star in Austin during SXSW. "I've been to Austin twice before so I don't really feel like a rock star here."
Fanfarlo hails all the way from Denmark, and guitar man Justin Finch was sporting some new tattoos he had received since performing Austin last Fall. He talked about collecting tattoos from around the world and the differences between getting a tattoo in America versus Europe. He hopes to someday get one in Austin, a city he loves.
"Last year we shot that Black Cab Sessions video here during SXSW and had such a good time with it," lead singer Simon Balthazar said. "Whenever I see that video I think of Austin and how much we want to come back."
The band was also excited to eat some barbecue and good Mexican food, which is something lots of out-of-towners are excited about. Choir of Young Believers were soliciting advice for good barbecue joints and Tex-Mex (Ironworks and Vivo were my suggestions). The cellist was happy to be touring in America after a long stint in Europe.
"Crowds here are much more open to hearing new music and new sounds, it's nice to have our work accepted so quickly," she said. "The sound is bad here though, it's much higher quality in Europe." Much to the dismay of the crowd, the band's epic set was cut short by an overzealous sound guy.
The part that surprises me is how happy the artists are to speak with fans. I patted Neon Indian front-man Alan Palomo on the back and told him how good his show was. He thanked me and looked like he was ready to chat for a bit but I was headed the other way. When I saw Bun B (of UGK fame) hanging out by himself, he almost seemed glad to have somebody to converse with.
Unlike music festivals featuring bands that have been famous for years who are sequestered away from the masses, you're right there with them as they set up and take down their equipment. They're just as excited that you want to talk to them.
Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! band leader Neil Fridd didn't know how much to charge to perform a private party.
"Oh shit, I don't even know how to answer that question," he thought about it for a second. "I guess just gas money to get there."
Oh SXSW, you bring out the best in everybody.
Follow Mark R. Collins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Markswords