by Dan Bolles
It's hardly news in Burlington that the Vacant Lots are blowin' up. The garage-psych duo have had quite a run of late, touring the country with the likes of Spectrum, dropping by showcases such as SXSW and the Austin Psych Festival, and signing to hip indie label Indian Summer. For TVL, it has been a very good year indeed.
But it seems in the midst of his wandering, TVL founder and front man Jared Artaud may be souring on the scene in which his band cut its teeth. In a recent interview with music website Rock Edition, Artaud offers some provocative words on the Queen City and its music scene. Here's an excerpt:
Rock Edition: What’s the music scene like in Burlington, VT?
Jared Artaud: It’s a small city with a big scene: a lot going on, but not a lot happening. In the 4 years I have been in Burlington, I have always tried to get the most out of this city, but I am continually disappointed. There is a lot of activity locally, but not a whole lot that is drawing me out to experience it. There is a lot of mediocrity in Burlington. I think there is a great amount of comfortability and conformity here that I don’t correspond with. Honestly, I feel pretty detached with the scene here. [There are] not a lot of people making music that I like seeing live either. I spent my first year here going to everything, every show, every night. It took me a year to find a drummer to play with!
It’s equally difficult to invite other bands to come and play here, with a low attendance rate and excitement surrounding live shows. I think the greater disappointment with the Burlington music scene is this unspoken notion of, “Well, they’re playing this Friday night, but I’ll catch them next time they play.” How does a local musician make a living with that kind of attitude? That really doesn’t work for me. There are also only a few cool venues to play. Consequently, the scene gets old pretty quick, if you know what I mean. It’s a city that has great potential but continually disappoints, because there is so little really happening here, [and so few] bands that are really saying something. Do you know what I mean? That’s the kinda sad truth of the small city.
We play so few shows here, mostly just incorporating the shows into our future tours and not doing a lot of one-offs. Maybe one to two shows a year, tops. The funny thing, too, is people are always asking, “When are you playing here next?” You tell them you are playing next week and they don’t show up! So why bother at all? I’d [prefer to] just concentrate on writing, recording and developing my ideas, rather than worry too much about when or if we should play here soon. There is also a continual trend with bands leaving Burlington for bigger cities. We’ll see what happens.
Curious sentiment from a guy who said this in a 2009 interview with Seven Days:
“There’s just something about Burlington,” he says. “I really believe that a revolution is necessary and that we need to redefine our values and explore new roads. I believe that art can pave that road. And I really believe that is happening here.”
Artaud points to the wealth of artists and musicians, new and old, currently combating what he calls “the decay around us.” When asked to be more specific, his eyes light up. “There are some really great bands doing things here that weren’t happening a year, two years ago,” he says. “There’s a revitalization of spirit. Rough Francis, Blowtorch, Nose Bleed Island . . . these are all people who are expressing in this new light for our generation.”
In his RE interview, Artaud didn't air any grievances we haven't heard before. Disillusioned local musicians have been grumbling about the perceived limitations of the Burlington scene for decades — often blaming fans, as if a packed house is a birthright in BTV. We're not Brooklyn or Austin or Portland. And, for better or worse, we probably never will be. Still, Artaud's apparent change of heart is interesting. Maybe the scene really has diminished in the last two years — at the least, it is always in flux, and ebbs and flows constantly. Maybe for Artaud, Burlington has simply lost its lustre. It happens. Or maybe tasting the riches of higher profile scenes has just made ours seem provincial and plain by comparison. Or maybe Artaud is dead on and Burlington needs a kick its artistic ass. Still, one can't help but wonder how TVL would have fared without the support from bands such as Rough Francis and Blowtorch, and the Burlington scene at large that embraced them in their early days and helped put them on the map. Whether he's right or wrong, as TVL continues its ascent, here's hoping Artaud remembers that.