Slam Donahue is a New York City based band led by singer/guitarist David Otto and bassist Thomas Sommerville. They build their identity out of bootlegged recording programs, department store keyboards, and keen, thoughtful melodies. After meeting as youths, playing in rival bands, and then finally collaborating; the duo’s skills grew to complement each other in their attempts to test pop music’s conventions. Sometimes skirting into new wave, R&B, hip hop, they are after something new and beautiful.
The two ceaselessly try to one-up the other, pushing towards a sound defined by the sharpest of hooks and exactly the right atmosphere. Self taught and studied under the usual cavalcade of your parent’s sixties/seventies icons, John Lennon, David Bowie, Paul Simon, as well as an enthusiastic interest in the history of pop music, idolizing Irving Berlin, Joe Meek, and David Byrne, the band quickly raised attention with eclectic live shows and free cdr mixtapes. Outpacing their surroundings, house parties and dive art spaces, they moved on.
Leaving a trail of short-lived band members and meticulous, though admittedly lo-fi, home demos, the duo arrived in New York in the summer of 2010. Carrying songs that ranged from pop anthems, complete with the requisite big bang chorus, to burners with get busy hi-hats and falsetto acrobatics, the band ran their way through countless back rooms and showcases.
Signing with Cantora Records in 2012, Slam Donahue finds a new, much nicer home to record in. The old place was well documented in those demos; you could hear the bounce of the walls, our feelings at the time. But, the new place has more promise and a bigger backyard.
Tiny Victories is Greg Walters and Cason Kelly. Their debut EP dropped Feb. 28.
So here’s where the band name comes from (or so they tell me): Greg and Cason were walking down the street in Brooklyn when they saw this guy scraping graffiti off his front porch. Somebody wrote “F— You” on his house. He had this gleam in his eye, like he was getting even with the universe in a small way. “All right, everybody, today is mine.” And Greg’s brother Doug, who was with them, turned around and said: “So what are the opposite of tiny defeats?”
For me, that’s what this music is about: small moments of redemption, amplified. It’s got the spirit of a marching band at a funeral. It’s a party at the end of the world, and you can’t help but join in.
It’s a big sound for just two guys. In their live show, they play electronic music with an array of samplers and gadgets and live drums—no laptop. They’ll sample crowd noises with a microphone during the set, process it live, and weave it into the songs. Their show has an uncommonly organic, improvisational feel for electronic music. I’ve seen crowds completely change when Tiny Victories takes the stage.
If you ask Greg and Cason about it, they’ll tell you every song is an experiment. Each uses a method they’ve never tried before. It’s a process that’s impossibly complicated—they’ve tried to explain it to me, and I just nod my head and stand back.
Once (after a long night of drinking) Greg put it this way: “We make simple songs out of complex pieces.” Take a melody that works on an acoustic guitar. Then orchestrate it with samples that have been reprocessed beyond recognition—like the sound of trash being thrown into a Manhattan dumpster. They sampled that one afternoon, then ran it through a gazillion effects and turned it into a backbeat you can hear in the ending of Get Lost.
I first found out about these guys last year, back when I had a job booking bands in Brooklyn. I’d scroll through hundreds of bands looking for something new, something that stood out. And then I came across these two. It was suspiciously great music.
They formed the band in 2010 after meeting in Brooklyn. Cason moved there from Athens, GA, and spent his early 20s doing social work with inner city kids. Greg, born in DC, moved to New York after six years as a foreign correspondent, covering a war (Russia-Georgia) and two revolutions (Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan). If you ask them to tell you a story, get ready for a crazy one.
Those Of Us Still Alive is their debut album. But these songs don’t sound like a band’s first effort. They have the confidence and consistency of a mature project. It’s an album about how the outside world might not be as bad as it looks, or maybe it is. And it’s about ghosts that won’t shut up.