Written by Ramesh Srivastava
Since my earliest adolescence, my primary interest has always been in the music of Great Britain. Beginning with the 1960s, the majority of what tugs at my heartstrings tends to come from that tiny island that is permitted to exist only by the fortunate placement of a warm air stream. Like so many other listeners, The Beatles were the primary catalyst for my obsession with music. Thus, I have long held the opinion that living in London during that magical decade would have been the optimum cultural experience. Perhaps, in some bizarre way, I am continually trying to recreate that lost magic(which, of course, I am only able to imagine).
Certainly there are many North American artists who have managed to capture my attention with equal vigor—Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Nirvana, Sonic Youth… the list goes on. Even still, it took me a bit longer to embrace these musicians, and, in a way, I regarded them as secondary to my strongest flame. I suppose it can be said that I am somewhat of an Anglophile, a disposition not dissimilar from that of the majority of my indie-loving American friends. Hell, I was so enamored that, at the tender age of nineteen, I upped and moved to Scotland. Of course, the experience that awaited me was almost nothing like I had imagined, and in some strange way, that relocation helped me to overcome my British culture obsession. At least a little, anyway...
Why, then, as a currently touring musician, do I find the British music market to be so difficult and, quite frankly, annoying? Perhaps it's because, despite my fondest hopes, we have not yet been embraced by its elusive clutch. Then again, perhaps I fundamentally disagree with the value system by which it is currently ruled. To provide further explanation, let me back up a little: We all know that the American mainstream music market is shit. Clear Channel has created a situation in which it is virtually impossible for the majority of decent artists to receive any airplay, simply because they cannot afford the large fees (a minimum of several hundred thousand, I have been told) required to become ‘appealing to the board.’ Obviously, this is a negative thing, but at least it forces most listeners (now armed by the power of the Internet) to delve deeper for aural satisfaction. For this reason, the "major-indie" has become a domineering presence, with bands such as the Arcade Fire and the Shins topping the Billboard charts. By in large, this is a happy coincidence, particularly for a musician such as myself. My only complaint would be that it has caused people to lose scope of what is in fact truly "independent" or subversive, but sometimes you just have to swallow the negative aspects of progress.
The United Kingdom operates on a very different system, one in which subversive acts and decent music have a much higher chance of making it on actual prime-time radio, which sounds like the ideal situation. The only problem is that, to prove yourself worthy of this attention, you need not only musical ability, but also an image to provide readers of popular magazines. You need a vision of a lifestyle that they can attach to your music. And so it goes. I'd like to think that we have musical ability, but thus far we have no significant image with which to promote ourselves overseas.
So, what's the solution? There are parts of image projection that are appealing, if you can manage to treat the process as the game that it is. However, it's probably best to let things develop organically. I have long been of the opinion that it's not enough to make music. It's more important to be part of something that is happening, to have historical significance. There is something to be said for the permanence (especially in this day and age) that comes with being genuinely dedicated to one's art. People, although they may be drawn by it in initially, are highly capable of detecting artifice. Superficiality is an easy trap to fall into, and I find myself doing it all the time, thinking, "What can I do to make myself more visible? What can I learn from more successful contemporaries?"
However, I know in my heart of hearts that this thinking is misguided. In my moments of clarity and better judgment, I know that the best method is to create something wonderful and let other people discover it on their own accord. If you want to have money to live, this theory may present some difficulties. So I conclude that it requires a mix: promote yourself, flirt with the concept of costume and image, but don't allow these things to replace your original passion. In time, with any luck, the latter will constitute the former.