True to indie
Some label blew it because Prussia's about to crush us
Published: September 14, 2011
The rising indie stars of the band Prussia were so proud of their new album, they wanted it to reach as many ears around the world as humanly possible. But that kind of distribution still usually requires a big record label, and seeing as how the music industry's all topsy-turvy with new distribution schemes, bootleg bloggers and pirate downloading, "getting signed" is as exasperating, and maybe more pointless, as ever.
"It got to the point," Prussia's singer Ryan Spencer says, "where I thought. 'This is never going to come out."
But after the band's 2009 "Blessed Be" EP, Prussia had plenty of label nibbles (including Drag City, Yep Rock, even Ann Arbor's Ghostly International) but no bites.
The band (Ryan, drummer Drew Spencer, guitarists Brenton Bober and Adam Pressley, and newest member, bassist Kasey Press) thought that a label deal was certainly next after four years spent honing their eclectic sound (this weirdly beautiful concoction of space-rock, dancey-reggae and bubblegum-pop). That's what everyone watching the band thought would come next.
"I thought getting on a label was the goal," Pressley shrugs, "But other musicians who're on a label told us, 'You guys are lucky. You're not signed to a label — you can do whatever you want. Stay like that.'"
Thing is, the new album, Poor English, which was funded by fans through Kickstarter, was wrapped back when snow was still on the ground. Ryan says Prussia were "Done. Fucking. Waiting." More, the band's expanding local audiences — from the early die-hards at house-party gigs to new fans crammed into recent higher profile shows — were equally "done waiting."
Like many Internet-age up-and-comers, Prussia knew there was nothing we'd gain from signing to a smaller label that "we couldn't do ourselves."
So the band formed its own label — the cleverly titled Notown Records — to release the album. And, in a marketing move that'd do Berry Gordy, and even Jack White, proud, the LP is broken up into three parts, each released separately on 10" vinyl (or downloadable). Poor English Part 1 dropped in last month, Part 2 this week, and Part 3 is out on Sept. 27.
After months spent shopping the finished album to labels, and then wising up to simply releasing it themselves, the boys have to wonder what's up for the future of the music industry.
"Maybe there'll be more Odd Future types," Pressley says, "who post all their albums on shitty Tumblr sites, blowing up and having only 15 ... seconds of fame."
"It does suck knowing you're a part of a dying industry," Ryan adds.
Pressley: "But, still, we're not ungrateful. We're not whining that it's such a hard world out there, to be in a band."
Being able to say it's not such a hard world shows the band has grown.
Prussia's early shows (with original bassist Andrew Remdenok) would sometimes find the guys trading "busted" instruments, tearing through sock-hoppy indie pop simultaneously as bewitched by Motown as by punk. It's different now.
Their sound's gotten a bit darker, but in a good way; hard-boiled lyrics ride atop dizzying soundscapes and clattery dance grooves, and they balance their varying influences (from baroque pop and reggae to dub and dance) with the kind of aplomb that applies only to those who have done the work.
And it's all paying off. They're getting attention. Prussia's shows are booked through the happening Windish Agency and they spend three months a year on the road. Notable music pit stops (such as Brooklyn Vegan and Prefix) pimp them and their shows. Even the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne's a fan. After Prussia supported the Lips last June, Coyne tweeted, "Weirdo-pop band from Detroit!"
Ryan says he felt inspired after talking to Coyne. He sighs, "I got cynical. ... I was tired of trying to appease people who don't care about art. But no matter what, I have to write music. We'll still push ourselves to write better music."
And time in the trenches begets better music, which begets better production (engineer Miko Mader at RMS Sound Studios recorded English, aided by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s Josh Epstein). That, in turn, begets better media accompaniment — like the flashy and surreal music video shot for their new single by artist documentarians Single Barrel Detroit. "What Am I Gonna Tell Your Mom?" (with Ryan in freaky-flapper drag) premieres online (singlebarreldetroit.com) this week — one of four Prussia — "films" funded through Kickstarter.
Prussia also hopes to release sporadic digi-singles (recorded with Electric Six's Zach Shipps) online beginning this winter.
Other bands told them that now they could do whatever they want — we'll see what happens.
See Prussia at 7:05 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, at the DIY Street Fair on the Metro Times stage.
> Email Jeff Milo