The Fool and the Magician
Celebration sees its future in the cards
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Talking about the business of music is no fun. There's no kick in licensing, digital distribution, contracts, labels, sales figures, and the rest of it--in the end, it's all just the stuff that surrounds or obscures what you came for in the first place. And music has reached a point now where it can conceivably exist without much of the junk between listener and artist, where the old distribution/aggregation systems are just that: old, still built for a pre-internet world of CDs, decent/non-suck radio, and record labels that stood for something besides clunky marketing.
A few brand-name artists have already made a show of chucking the middle men--you know, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails--but in the indie world, without that mass market brand name, saying fuck you to the system is a far more serious step into the black unknown. When a major label artist does it, it's a sales ploy; when an artist like Celebration does it, it feels like a promise to the underground.
A few weeks ago, two songs appeared streaming on a web site for Holographic Resonance, a Detroit sub-indie label associated with the art-punk band Genders. The pair of tunes is the first new material Celebration has made public since its mid-'07 4AD album The Modern Tribe, and little explanation was given for why now? and why there? It came out shortly thereafter that the songs would be the first two pieces of what the band is calling the "electric tarot," what will be a two-odd-year endeavor of releasing songs two at a time for free on its web site (celebrationelectrictarot.com), each one corresponding to a card of the major arcana portion of the tarot deck--the individuated, symbol-heavy cards--and, yes, in two years time delivering a sort of meta reading to its listeners.
But, first, a little bit about how one of Baltimore's biggest bands went from releasing music via indie standard 4AD to releasing music free digitally via an internet tarot. There had been a third Celebration record planned for release on 4AD, but after the label asked to renegotiate the band's contract, "We were like 'You know what? We don't want to go that route anymore,'" says vocalist Katrina Ford, perched with her bandmates around a low table in her Remington home. "We don't have to do that anymore. We just felt, like, happy, that resisting is futile. It will be great. People will support musicians in other ways. We'll never let someone else own our music again.
"We feel like we made a lot of mistakes after we handed the record to the label," she adds. "The way money is spent on things--I feel like I didn't agree with what was happening. I was very thankful for the opportunity to again work with 4AD, but I think we feel it's changing--things are changing. People who are currently in business are not changing fast enough."
After The Modern Tribe's release and the headlining tour surrounding it, the band's first after a series of tours as support for big name bands like TV on the Radio ("Always a bridesmaid, never a bride," Ford says of that time), the band went on hiatus from the public for nearly a year and a half. Between touring and dealing with what sounds like a soul-sucking promotional campaign, "we got really dark and it was bumming me out," Ford says. "And the state of the world right now? We don't need to feel like that. [Drummer] David [Bergander]'s got a son, this beautiful baby. We gotta have some hope for the future.
"Our goals are pretty crazy," Ford says. "I don't know if we'll be able to meet them. The [electric tarot] web site is a multi-media, interactive art piece, for lack of better words. We're calling it 'the portal' right now." The band has a manifesto in-progress, to be released with the two new tracks this Saturday, the Spring Equinox. In it, the band states, "We are constructing an experimental place to experience and share our musical vision with you. This experiment is funded solely by us and those of you who choose to be a part of making the music available." (It also notes that there will be some kind of donation box on the site).
The first two cards of the electric tarot are the Fool and the Magician, "I Will Not Fall" and "Some Kind of Magical," respectively. The songs slip into Celebration's progression as a band nicely, from its 2005 self-titled album's raw, organ-driven "cabaret-punk" to the refined, expansive Tribe. Both the new tracks are sweeping--"Some Kind of Magical," hoisted by a big orchestral backing, boasts a sitar lead that is simply bad-ass; "I Will Not Fall" is a slow, dreamy build of droning sitar and violin, glazed keys, and Ford repeating the title's four words over and over with more and more urgency and conviction until, finally, she sounds like she's convinced herself and the song drops off in a lovely wisp. Together, they're as good or better than anything on Tribe.
"The Fool card is the perfect card for the beginning," Ford says. "We're taking a leap of faith and it can be seen as foolish or as a new opportunity. The Fool is like this jester who is walking along the edge of this cliff, and he's looking up and laughing. He might take one step to his death and he might take one step to paradise."
If the Fool card is misleading at all, it's in implying that the fool has a choice, that he hasn't been pushed to the edge of the cliff. "We just want to change the way we do things to embrace what's already happening," Ford says. "Fate is bringing us toward that inevitability for an ultimate good, that all music will be available to everyone. I mean, it is now, but it really will be. The influence on a child to hearing Miles Davis--it took us years to look through the bins to find that, or have some cooler older kid tell us about it. Now, it's instant. So that influence and culture is going to explode. And people are going to make the coolest shit. The next generation is going to make the coolest shit. I can't wait."