New Orleans is just cool as fuck, no question about that. It’s considered worldwide to be the birthplace of modern American music, the place where it all started, from jazz and blues to rock and roll.
So what is it about this spot that makes its music so epic?
We have to head back to colonial times, when Congolese African slaves gathered in squares on Sundays to dance together and celebrate their blended culture. The African and Caribbean spontaneity, the Cuban influences and the white European brass bands came together in one turbulent melting pot to shape the musical hub of the United States.
The story after that is well known. African American folk, jazz, blues, rock and roll and funk followed naturally, spreading across the country and eventually the entire world. And though the city looks completely different today, New Orleans maintains its status of musical city icon, and lives up to our expectations by producing its own unique music scene.
The face of NOLA music today is independent and wild. The city attracts young talents from all over the States, whose performances unfold in raving nights on Freret Street, the historical corridor of New Orleans, recalling its Afro-Cuban roots. The bars and venues stretch out down the vibrant Uptown, bringing audiences to stages like One Eyed Jacks, Siberia and the Circle Bar, among many awesome local spots.
Part of today’s prestige is no doubt due to the college scene. Not by chance are the most important venues located only blocks away from the University District, including Loyola University, where the music program welcomes talented musicians from all over the States and crafts them into rough and flawless rock stars.
Some of these musicians spoke to us about their experiences and education in New Orleans: Christopher Rehm from Caddywhompus, Tyler Scurlock of Sun Hotel and Ian Paine-Jesam from Woozy. They talked about their city as they see it, providing an expert outlook on the NOLA music scene.
Chris Rehm and Ian Paine-Jesam moved to New Orleans in 2008 to study music at Loyola. Both hailing from Texas, the young artists seized the chance to mingle and bond in the local music industry until they both decided to stay.
That mingling isn’t just superficial, either—all of these artists are working on multiple projects with different groups of artists. “We are all working together and encouraging each other,” says Scurlock, “and we are always always always welcoming new bands!”
Rehm plays solo in a self-titled project, Chris Rehm, as well as in Caddywhompus and Freddy Beach. Paine-Jesam plays in Woozy and Tare. Scurlock has played in Sun Hotel, Sharks’ Teeth, Shame, Keeping and Val Hollie.
After his farewell concert with Sun Hotel on January 31 and the release of their final LP Coast a few days later, Scurlock found himself playing in four other bands and wishing he could be in even more, given the incredible number of talented friends these artists accumulate in the city His fellow Sun Hotel performers John St Cyr and Ross Farbe moved on to Native America, another one of Atypical Beasts’ favorite acts. So how did all of these bands begin? “They were just friends getting together to play music, and we had no idea what the future held for us,” he says.
Similarly, Paine-Jesam told us, “These bands have always inspired me because we have lived together and done basically everything together for the last half decade. So many of these musical habits and techniques, I can only hope I’ve picked up from these musicians.” Rehm’s group of musical friends largely met at Loyola, where lasting artistic cooperation began. “We kind of pushed and pulled off each other,” he says, “and everyone’s accomplishments and goals.” New Orleans’ community vibe has shaped a musical paradise where artists come together and inspire each other, giving life to a unique musical hub.
When asked why they believed New Orleans has such an amazing musical scene, the artists gave similar answers. Rehm tells us, “The city is very lively and unique, and people want to visit it—bands on tour not excluded—so New Orleans provides for an exciting and active music scene.” Scurlock explains how the city provides the ideal environment for emerging artists, as it very easy to start a band, practice, book a show, release a record or even go on tour. “All of those resources are so openly available to us New Orleans musicians, that luckily everyone can just focus on making sweet tunes.”
Paine-Jesam believes NOLA’s strength lies in its immense diversity. “There’s always something going on, and there’s different music being played every night. You could go see the Louisiana Philharmonic one night, then go see your favorite metal band play the next.”
Rehm didn’t forget to mention Community Records among the crucial elements of NOLA’s musical wonder. Chinquapin Records and Community Records are hugely influential labels, featuring national and international bands, and their residency in New Orleans keeps some of the strongest artists based in the city.
So who are these musicians’ favorite bands? It turns out to be an endless list of local treasures: Native America, Pope, Donovan Wolfington, Grotto Girl and Glish. But more great projects follow, like All People, Heat Dust, Trampoline Team, Whom Do You Work For?, High in One Eye, New Lands, Sirens, Treadles, Belong, New Holland, Harrison Fjord, Yuppie Teeth, Sprawling, PEARS, Dominique LeJeune, Giant Cloud and Habitat (RIP). And this list barely scratches the surface.
Chris Rehm calls them all “homies and huge inspirations.” This local may no longer be able to see that he inhabits a musical wonderland, a place where innovation blends with tradition and style, and sound work creates really wonderful music. But we certainly can. New Orleans.
Written by Marianna Giusti