It’s an exciting time for independent artists. The Internet has brought dazzling opportunities to bands and singers who otherwise may never have been able to live the dream—touring, recording, and making music.
But it’s harder to tap into all that potential than you might think. It takes innovative minds, bands and acts who work at it constantly and think outside the box, to make this really work.
One of those bands are The Wellspring—Talia Osteen and Dov Rosenblatt, a songwriting duo that is setting trends and business models for independent artists, both with their careful approach to crafting memorable songs as well as their innovative ways of sharing their music with the world. They are perhaps best described by SmashedChair Magazine, as a “byproduct of the Troubadour era that breathed life into Carole King and James Taylor—soft-speaking musicians who carry big sticks.”
Fate brought them together in New York when Dov met with Talia, who was Vice President of a film production company at the time, about placing his music in their films. A few months later, Osteen quit her job to devote her attention to the band full time, and the duo have been writing songs together ever since.
Fast forward to present-day Los Angeles. Dov and Talia have already toured all over North America, opening for Pete Yorn and Ben Kweller in support of The Wellspring's self-titled debut EP, dubbed #1 Indie Album of the Year by Examiner.com. Their music has been featured on several popular TV series, including the FOX hit TV shows “House” and “MD,” as well as ABC's “Cougar Town.”
They have even formed a partnership with popular travel site LastMinuteTravel.com, which has fueled their tours and many local shows—a perfect promotional model for bands constantly on the move, bringing tour costs down and opening new doors. In the summer of 2012, they scored all original music for the upcoming feature film comedy Coffee Town, written and directed by Brad Copeland (Arrested Development, My Name Is Earl).
Now, the band are headed to the prestigious South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, performing for the first time as official showcasing artists. They will release two singles at the festival from their upcoming debut full-length album, The Girl Who Cried Sheep, produced by Grammy-nominated, platinum record producer Eric Rosse (Tori Amos, Sara Bareilles). You can catch their performances on Wednesday, March 13 at 10:30pm at Raptor House; Friday, March 15 at 6pm at the Hyatt Regency (acoustic); and the Official Showcase on Saturday night, March 16, midnight at the Creekside at Hilton Garden Inn.
We were able to catch up with the duo before they leave for Austin to talk about life on the road, influences, and their upcoming debut album, The Girl Who Cried Sheep.
Q&A WITH THE WELLSPRING
You're heading back to Austin, this time as official SXSW showcasing artists. What do you hope to come away with from the experience or accomplish while you're there? What are you most looking forward to?
Talia: It's an honor to get into SXSW, because such great music has been showcased at the festival, and SXSW draws such interesting, creative, and innovative people who work in the music [industry] to one place for one week. I'm looking forward to meeting new people and hearing new music that's out there.
Dov: Of course I'm looking forward to our shows at SXSW and meeting fellow musicians and music business folks, but I am really excited to visit some great spots in Austin—one of my favorite U.S. cities by far—like the frozen banana stand (dipped in chocolate, thank you very much) and the movie theater in which you can order food and drinks, and the boots stores, and record shops...who's excited?!
What are some of the main things you hope people will get from your music?
Talia: An emotional resonance. Each song tells its own story. This upcoming album has a few songs that tackle different phases of a relationship—the beginning, the struggle, the end, and finally, the moving on. Other songs are cheerful and meant to inspire joy and share happiness. Others tell the stories of other people's lives, and we aim to bring those stories to people's attention.
Talk about your influences, musical and beyond—a few artists who impacted the way you make music.
Dov: It helps that we are both influenced by a lot of the same artists—the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Death Cab For Cutie, Sufjan Stevens—but it also helps that we've both introduced each other to a lot of great artists. Personally, I grew up appreciating everything my dad listened to in the car on our family road trips, which was mostly Motown. That helped me develop a love for a well-crafted pop song that still has soul to it.
Aside from artists, I'm very influenced by the way I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish environment that places a huge emphasis on singing—especially on Shabbat without any instruments. This allowed me to focus on coming up with interesting harmonies when my family was sitting around the dinner table on Friday night singing traditional tunes. To this day, I'm a sucker for a good harmony—which is why Talia and I work so well together!
I read your name was inspired by one of Talia’s favourite poets, Kahlil Gibran. What other writers and poets inspire you? What books or poems influence your life outside of recording and touring?
Talia: Other authors and poets that I adore and whose writing inspires me: Stephen Dunn (I've probably read more of his than anyone else's poetry, and often find myself inspired to write after reading his writing), Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Jeff McDaniels, Saul Williams (spoken word poet), Nicole Krauss (novelist, The History of Love), and so many others. I'm constantly finding new poets through anthologies, compilations, and sharing with friends. When I started writing lyrics, I listened to a lot of Ani Difranco (her Reckoning and Reveling album still has some of my favorite lyrics), and I love Conor Oberst and Rachael Yamagata's lyrics (particularly her song “Elephants”).
Talk about your relationship with each other. How do your personalities and backgrounds complement each other?
Talia: We formed a strong friendship simultaneously with forming our creative partnership, and both are always growing. We're different in a lot of ways. On the face of it, we might seem an odd pairing—a lesbian and an Orthodox Jewish man. You wouldn't necessarily expect people with those two labels to become the best of friends and form a deep understanding of one another that allows them to express themselves together through music. Ultimately, our differences are the places in which we help each other become more open-minded, and push us to grow.
We're also different in that I come from a producing/business background, and he comes from a longer career in music and has more knowledge of engineering and recording, and brings those skills to the band. So we balance each other out in a lot of different ways. We have mutual admiration for one another, are both open to trying new things, both put the quality of the music before ego, both try to be sensitive to others, and each have a dedicated work ethic.
You've been all over the country, both with a major artist and on your own—what is one story you can share where you learned something about yourself as a touring band?
Dov: We were in Syracuse for a show and it started snowing heavily during the concert. By the time we all packed up and got out of the venue, there were several inches of snow on the ground and the roads looked slippery and dangerous. So, we did the "responsible" thing and all of the band members—Ben, Pete's crew, and us—met up at the bar next door and hung out there for a while.
After a few rounds of drinks, Pete suggested that we pile in our van so he could give us a tour of his old stomping grounds, since he went to college there. Reluctantly, we had a designated driver pull our 15-passenger van around—already pretty full with equipment—and drive all of us squashed in the van around the college campus. It was very dangerous on the roads and we were all nervous about continuing on this adventure, especially Mr. Kweller, who kept pointing out that we should turn around. Pete insisted, and we continued driving along icy roads so we could find one specific bar that he always used to hang at.
Finally, we found the road and parked and all started walking in the snow, and alas...the place had been knocked down long ago. As it turns out, it was more about the adventure of the band members bonding as we walked in the snow throwing snowballs at each other, and held onto one another in the van as we prayed that the van would make it up and down the icy hills of Syracuse campus!
How did the tour with Pete Yorn and Ben Kweller influence how you tour independently?
Talia: We learned a lot from them. We'd never toured on that kind of scale, so we got to experience what it feels like to be on the road for those stretches of time. We learned from Ben the difference it makes to come out after the show and stay to talk to everyone at the merch booth. That personal connection to the fans is really important when you're on the road. We saw from Pete how to keep the energy up night after night and change the set a bit for each audience to make it fresh.
Dov: On a showmanship level, both Ben and Pete taught us a lot about relating to the audience. We were used to playing small venues where it's easier to have that immediate intimate connection. At these two-thousand-seater venues, we had to learn how to connect with the audience and make them feel like we were singing and speaking to each and every one of them.
Tell us about your new album, The Girl Who Cried Sheep. How did you come up with the title?
Talia: The title came from a funny story on tour. We were on a long driving stretch and pulled over at an In & Out Burger joint to get some food. I had been catching some much-needed sleep in the back seat of the van. I woke up and was the last out of the van, and as I caught up to the guys, I noticed a herd of sheep grazing in the field behind the In & Out. I asked the guys (Dov and our drummer Chris Lovejoy) if they saw the field of sheep, and how crazy it was to see them there. The guys went outside to see what I was talking about, and found…an empty field. They told me I was crazy. There were no sheep. I must have still been half-asleep and seeing things. Lovejoy joked that I was “the girl who cried sheep,” and we joked that it sounded like a good album name... What the phrase came to mean, metaphorically, fit the album overall.
What was the inspiration behind this collection of songs?
Talia: Many of the songs are inspired by different stages of a relationship that I was going through (which ended during the course of writing the album). I joked about calling the album “Self-Made Closure” because so much of it came out of grappling with a relationship that needed to end but somehow couldn't find closure. The songs really did help me with that. The Girl Who Cried Sheep is a bit about the stories we tell ourselves and the illusions we convince ourselves of to make something seem or feel the way we want it to, rather than the way it is in actuality.
How has your sound developed since your last release?
Dov: Working with producer Eric Rosse helped us understand a lot about the recording process and finding our sound. Eric is a great songwriter as well as a producer so there was a big emphasis on pre-production, making sure every lyric “hits the hardest,” every chord has the most emotional intervals, and every song has just the right structure. I think our songwriting chemistry has developed since the last EP, and we put a lot of time and thought into crafting this album as a whole body of work.
Do you have any advice for other independent artists who are starting out?
Dov: Talia has really taught me the value of being business-minded even though we're a band. I think most musicians are still stuck in the old model in which they could just be the creative artist making music and allowing everyone around them to do the work of getting that music heard by the world. Talia and I get together EVERY DAY and treat our band as a full-time job and balance writing the music, rehearsing, performing, and everything that the business side entails—social media presence, reaching out to music supervisors...the list goes on.
Talia: Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Find ways to keep writing and making music that you genuinely care about, to keep you grounded in why you are doing what you are doing. But don't wait around for anyone else to take care of the business side of the career for you. Think outside of the box about ways to get your music exposure. Try to find a balance between creating the music, and then getting it out there into the world.
The Wellspring will perform at the Ladies Rise Up and Rock launch event in San Francisco on March 23, 2013, supporting headliner Gretchen Menn. For more information about The Wellspring, visit www.thewellspringband.com.
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