Paavo Hanninen and I sat on the internet, pretending to be in a Victorian room. The walls were a deep green, owing to the vintage wallpaper, and the armchairs were oversized and maroon. It was raining outside, so Paavo brought out a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
I said, “I don’t know if you’ve heard of Yellow Fever, but I was listening to them on my iTunes, and a song I’d never heard before, by a band I couldn’t recognize, came on. It was dreamy pop with jingly guitar floating in space. I thought, How do I not know who this is? Sounds like someone relatively famous.”
Paavo put his glass down and leaned in, “Who was it?”
“Well, the singer was singing seductively, and there was French Horn. I guessed it must be something new from Broken Social Scene. I figured only Kevin Drew can pull that off. I was liking it, though, so I looked at the track information.
“It said nothing but ‘all that shit again’.”
“Ha!” Paavo picked his glass right back up and took a big gulp.
“This song was listed after ‘Yellow Fever’ because we’d entered the perilous zone of ‘Unknown Artist’. I spent 20 minutes on Google before I figured out it was from Squirrelhouse, your band, and the song was actually just called ‘All That Shit’ without the extra ‘again’. You sent your mp3 out into the world like a poor orphan with a faulty name tag. How the hell do you explain this inexplicable behavior? I mean, don’t you want to be famous?”
He leaned back and laughed. “Well that’s a good question. Can’t really give a good reason other than a lack of due diligence and tech-savviness the rest of the music world has. I suppose it was a product of impatience. You know, I had just finished mixing that track and I threw it out there because I was so excited about how it’d come out. If we weren’t doing everything ourselves, that probably wouldn’t have happened.”
He took a sip and said, “But I’m glad you took the time to figure out the puzzle.”
The fire was starting to crackle.
“Yellow Fever, aren’t they from Austin?” he said. “Yes,” I nodded.
“We’re sort of in Austin, now.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, we’re from Alabama. I was born in Birmingham and lived in Tuscaloosa for 22 years. We started when we were at University of Alabama. We’re sort of in Austin now because I moved in the fall to get my MFA in Film. The rest of the band is moving here in bits.”
“We stopped in Birmingham on our way to SXSW,” I said. “We ate amazing ribs at Dreamland. And we ate quite a bit at Las Cazuelas in Austin. Have you eaten at either place?”
“I’ve eaten at Dreamland many times. I’m glad you liked it, but if you ask around in Alabama, most people agree their ribs are overrated. The sauce is the amazing part. But I haven’t eaten at Las Cazuelas yet.”
“Yes, the sauce was my favorite part, too. So how’s the slow move to Austin?”
“Well, it’s complicated trying to juggle everyone’s lifestyle and figure out how we’re going to keep it all going.”
“Did you play any SXSW shows?”
“No. I was in the middle of production of a short film, so we didn’t schedule anything. I saw a couple of shows on our off day, though. The one band that blew me away was Avi Buffalo. That guy can play guitar.”
“What’s the short film?”
“It’s called ‘Fertile’, we shot it on 16mm. It’s in the middle of post-production right now, and I was actually editing it before you arrived. I’m also messing around with a music video for ‘All That Shit.’”
“I watched your video for ‘Fours’ on Vimeo. I loved it.”
“I make music videos sometimes, and I find it to be a difficult format. Your video does an amazing job of keeping it fun, simple and cheap. Was it your idea?”
“Yeah, that was my idea but there was a lot of collaboration. ‘Single Ladies’ was a big inspiration. We were trying to match the atmosphere of our shows, too. We got a keg and convinced a bunch of our friends to let me choreograph them. We only did one take because we ran out of confetti and champagne.”
“Well you’ve certainly got nice moves. Where was it shot?”
“An empty lot on the side of our friend Meghan’s apartment complex. We called it the Conference Room. My friend Eric did the camerawork. We had to shoot it in night vision because the street lamp was busted. It was quite a night. It snowed, too, which rarely happens in Alabama.”
“What about bands from Alabama? Who should we be listening to?”
“Probably the best known right now is The Dexateens. I filmed a documentary about them playing a set of gospel songs in an abandoned mental hospital on Halloween last year.”
“I think they’re the best Southern Rock group out there. Taylor Hollingsworth is really well-known, too. He plays guitar for Conor Oberst. Lesser-known bands are the Grenadines, El Cantador, Through the Sparks, The Dirty Lungs, Duquette Johnston. Many more good bands but that’s a start.”
“And when does your new album come out?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. We put out one album ourselves, and it was such a big undertaking, we’re really hoping someone will help us put this one out. It’s pretty much all done.”
Shortly after this, my ride arrived and Paavo went back to editing.