SXSW (South by Southwest) is the largest festival of its kind. It runs for over a week and combines some of the heaviest players in media, art and design, comedy, film, and music to create an experience unlike any other outdoor event. For its music component, not only does it attract larger names to its line-up like Crystal Castles, Alex G, Caveman, and a dozen more bands we may not be hip enough to know (yet) but the appeal reaches past the Official Showcases that SXSW offers. During the festival’s dates, any business magically transforms from bar, taco shop, or hat store into a venue. With the city of Austin opening their door wider, this gives more opportunities for bands from across the country to perform in the SXSW madness.
I sat down with one of these bands, The Noise FM, as they gear up for their eighth trip down to SXSW. The Ward brothers, Alex and Austin, formed The Noise FM in the small town of Fort Scott, KS just outside of Kansas City. The guys now live in Chicago, but as Alex admittedly says, “Everyone knows we’re from Kansas because of our accents.” Alex sings, plays guitar and keyboard, his brother Austin plays drums and sings, and their bass player, Barry Kidd, was found on Craigslist—unfortunately he is not a Ward brother but is still working on the adoption papers.
BB: How many years have you been heading down to SXSW, and what are you excited for 2016’s festival?
Alex: This will be The Noise FM’s 6th or 7th or 8th year traveling to SXSW in Austin, Texas. We’ve lost track of how many times we’ve gone down, probably a result of all the free margaritas that venues tend to hand out. SXSW is the Mardi Gras of music and we’re really excited about the shows we have lined up. We’re currently scheduled to play on 6th Street (right in the heart of all the madness) at a venue called the Thirsty Nickel on St. Patrick’s Day, and on Friday, at the Midcoast Takeover showcase at Shangri-La. Both of those shows are sure to be wild.
Alex: I fantasize that in the early years of SXSW, bands used to roll into Austin in their beaten-down vans and record labels would line up along 6th Street to hand out record deals. But that day seems to have come and gone. Now we mostly drive down to SXSW to play a handful of fun shows in-between searching for free food and margaritas.
We’ve definitely seen a change in the festival since we started going in 2008. I suppose SXSW has become a little more corporate in the past few years. Huge companies like McDonald’s, Doritos, Taco Bell and Spotify fly in major label artists that sometimes tend to overshadow the smaller acts. And everywhere you turn you’re bombarded with free promotional sunglasses or complimentary Wing Street chicken wings. We’re not complaining though. We love free sunglasses and chicken wings. And you can still stumble across lots of cool bands you may have never heard before, especially if you adventure out of the mayhem on 6th Street and into surrounding neighborhoods. Lots of showcases operate independently of the official SXSW brand. Midcoast Takeover, for example, is a Kansas City-sponsored showcase that presents a fantastic variety of indie bands from all over the Midwest.
BB: No one is going to say no to free sunglasses or chicken wings! Though wanting to have a button that breaks out from a conventional promotional item has me understanding the thought that went behind your button. How do you plan on using your buttons?
Alex: We have ambitious plans to give buttons to anyone who signs our mailing list. We’ll probably give up on that idea pretty quickly and just start handing out buttons to anyone who asks about them. We’ve found that buttons can be a lot more meaningful to fans than stickers or other pieces of merch. There’s something timeless about a button, ya know? And if you can come up with a design that is unique people are more inclined to wear them. But hopefully our design isn’t too unique.
BB: We’ll definitely want one for our collection. So it sounds like heading off the beaten path is your best bet to find interesting, new music and performances. Do you have a most memorable performance from SXSW years past?
If you’re going to be at SXSW 2016 be sure to check out Alex, Austin, and Barry of The Noise FM at any of their shows to pick up that button! Be sure to sign that mailing list first.