Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Unsung Songwriters

Flying under the radar, 'outsider' musicians play to the beat of a different drummer.

“Have you ever been to a place / where there exists no human race? / doobie doobie doo / doobie doo,” begins “Questionnairre,” the most famous song by Victoria Galinsky. Pianos tinkle percussively, suggesting a lost sister of Tori Amos or Fiona Apple.

It’s Galinsky’s most famous song because she made a video for it, which has been viewed on YouTube 755 times, a surprisingly low number considering that the video is unforgettable. In it, Galinsky floats in front of a computer-generated suburban house, plastic green leaves flowing from her head to her shoulders, like a mom who drank too much wine at a toga party. Then, a bench filled with teens appears. They laugh as if embarrassed to be participating. Not much else happens.

Galinsky, 40, has released four full-length albums since 1997, with titles like Space Ovary and One Bean Taco, to Go. On her MySpace profile, she writes, "I'm an ancient healer from Atlantis. I have a broken crystal from the land of the young. It is thousands of years old. Possibly 50,000 years. Spaceships are following me."

Outsider musicians like Galinsky channel the sounds heard in their heads and transfer them onto compact discs, so that others may share in their journey.

"They're definitely some of the most ambitious and eclectic people housed in our local music section, in terms of personality," said Sean Bailey, whose job at the record store Ear X-tacy is to figure out which local bands and artists are worthy of inclusion in the store's inventory.

And they are persistent. Corporate radio stations treat them like red-headed stepchildren, while non-profit WFPK-FM, the city's only meaningful outlet for local musicians, treats them as curiosities at best. But they soldier on.

Markus is the nom de rock of Mark Spence, who’s "42 going on 21". He plays stadium-ready, synthesizer-driven rock that otherwise died in the 1980s after being perfected by the likes of Journey and Whitesnake. Fans (many of them employed at Ear X-tacy, Music-Go-Round and Wild & Woolly Video) tout his pure, Springsteen-esque approach to rock and romance, with songs like “Play It Loud”, “Winner in You”, “This Must Be Love”, “A Better Man”, “Champion” and “Stand Up (Shout Out Loud)” testifying to his single-minded approach.

A grocery store employee, Spence performs all of his songs using computer software programs, lately working with co-writers via phone or online. Spence, like Galinsky, offers his discs for sale through CD Baby, a website popular with independent musicians. "I wouldn't mind having a lot of people listen to me without having to jump through hoops," he said, "and I'm thankful for the internet."

In Jeffersonville, the girls of The Hi-Tops range between 10 and 14 years old and have been playing for four years now. They started after a viewing of Freaky Friday (the remake, not the original) inspired them to rock out like a young Lindsay Lohan.

This past January, they played a showcase at the National Association of Music Merchants trade show, where they performed for a talent scout from Nickelodeon. Locally, they've played at Waterfront Park, the Phoenix Hill Tavern, and at a fundraiser for then-Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, where they met original riot grrl Chelsea Clinton. When they need to get around, they hop into their brightly colored bus or their limo, a customized 1976 Cadillac.

However, the girls - Ally Whitlow, Bayley Whitlow, Remi Maxwell, Jessie Madill and Madi Cunningham - profess to be more ordinary. "Don’t need to be 'American Idol' / Don’t need to be a movie star / Don’t need to have a fancy title / Just be who you truly are," they preach in the inspirational tune "You". Another song, "Welcome to My World," describes in detail an average day in the teen life. "Can you dig it? I live it!"

Okolona resident Ronald Jenkees hasn't traveled far from his roots ("I grew up in good ol' PRP"), but his videos on YouTube – he calls it, charmingly, "YouTubes" – have made fans out of Katy Perry, Linkin Park and ESPN's Bill Simmons. With an exaggerated country boy persona fused with a passion for videogame-style electronic keyboards, Jenkees has earned 90,000 subscribers on YouTube, people who have signed up to be alerted whenever he posts a new video. Simmons commissioned him to compose a theme for his podcast, and Jenkees is meeting with members of Papa Roach next month to discuss doing a remix of one of the band's songs.

The 28-year-old is able to call music his job, fueled by sales of his album through iTunes and his website. Though he's interested in working as a producer, in the style of trendsetters like Timbaland and Dr. Dre, Jenkees is close with his family, loves his hometown and has no desire to live the life of a touring musician.

For now, he says he’s happy because he gets to combine "two of my favorite things in the world - music and goofiness." His second album - "(It) was supposed to come out last summer, then Christmas, now I've stopped naming dates" - is sure to get more acclaim for the guy who just can't crank out YouTubes fast enough to satisfy his fans.

"People can see when you're really having fun. It's contagious."

c. 2009 Velocity Weekly

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