According to their Tumblr, Non Market is a collective of “Oakland music friends making music and trouble.” I recently caught up with Keith Brown from Trails and Ways, and Nate Salman of Waterstrider, two of the bands at the center of Non Market, to see how much trouble we could get into over a quick cuppa’, and to talk about their newly released compilation.
Over the past couple of years, Salman and Brown’s bands, along with cohorts Bells Atlas, The Seshun (who recently signed to the UK-based Tru Thoughts label), Astronauts, etc, and No Sé (formerly Más Bajo: Scott Brown of Waterstrider and Astronauts, etc, Aki Ehara of The Seshen, and Doug Stuart of Bells Atlas) have been at the center of a burgeoning East Bay (as in Oakland and Berkeley, California) music scene. While several band members are connected with more established local acts like Tune Yards and Toro Y Moi (who have rightfully gained national recognition), the Non Market crew have been quietly, confidently and cooperatively cultivating a following, a sound, and an approach to the music business that they can call their own. Rather than compete for space in live venues, they share info on booking agents, and instead of worrying about who will grab the attention of music writers, they collude to help each other reach fans more directly. At the cafe it quickly became clear that Brown and Salman weren’t actually going to get me into any trouble, and that their ideas and the potential for Non Market are blossoming as quickly as the music scene they have created.
Bandcamp: Why start Non Market?
Keith Brown: I was starting to find this real organic music community growing up around me; friends who shared a lot of musical ideas and how they conducted themselves as bands, and people who were open and compassionate. I’ve seen other music scenes get rift with competition and that business pressures push bands apart – so in contrast to that, I want to see if we can replicate something like what happened in Olympia in the 1990s with K records, or with the Hieroglyphics here in Oakland decades ago. It has been pretty informal so far – house parties and blogging – but now we have our first release.
BC: So what are your plans, what do you hope to achieve?
K: We’re really moving one step at a time – starting with the comp. Honestly we’re still thinking about how else to set a lot of things up!
BC: I’m presuming that each band has its own strengths – are people willing to share opportunities and resources?
Nate Salman: There’s a network of people that is expanding from band-to-band – booking agents, managerial and other resources. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and so far are willing to share so that everyone benefits. People are very supportive of opportunities right now, I mean I’d play shows with people who only play house parties just as quickly as I’d play with some nationally known act. And we’re all figuring out how to improve our recordings – some people have access to nice studios, others not, so it’s nice to be helping bands get to the same level of recording. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bedroom recording sound – Toro Y Moi, Tuneyards – all these bands started from that place, and keep some of that sound in their later recordings, too.
BC: Why is your first Non Market release a collection of covers when you can all clearly make great music of your own?
K: A lot of us had found that covers are a good way to reach a new audience. Also, making them does not have to time with album cycles – these tracks didn’t have to be something from the band’s new EP or the lead single from someone’s new album – we’re all in the middle of recording albums right now, so a cover was a good way around that.
N: Coincidentally we’re all working on big albums right now – 1st and 2nd albums, so we want to make those as good they can be, and so taking time out to interpret someone else’s song is a good break.
“With this cover, we tried to make the music ascend from the unanswered questions that float through the original. Two distinct field recordings from a farm in Ithaca, New York mark a transition from night to day. As the sun comes up, and with it the diurnal fauna, we chant a mantra that affirms our individuality on this planet. We are in control of our own fate, defined only by our own dreams and intentions.” – Water Strider
BC: How incestuous are each of the bands in Non Market?
K: Urm, that’s a question for like the VH1 special isn’t it?! Actually the bands are made up of people who knew each other from their time at Berkeley, Santa Barbara, and the Michigan Jazz School – so there are connections that are new -made here in the East Bay, and others that go way back.
BC: How important is it to you that Non Market stays local? Could you see incorporating like-minded bands from further afield?
N: I like the idea of tangible relations. You can get far on the net or phone, but to have cohesive interesting goals as a group or community I think it needs to be in person.
K: Yes, I think it’s about actual friendships more than anything else.
N: World domination doesn’t really fit with our plans, we’re more about just bringing as many friends into the fray as possible.
BC: How do you view the East Bay scene? There seems to be a lot of great bands, but is the scene getting noticed?
N: It’s pretty healthy, bands and support is great, but I think the thing we’re missing (and I might be saying this because I was recently reading David Byrne’s book “How Music Works”) is one central hub – like CBGBs back in the day, or The Beat Scene in LA. Having a place, somewhere welcoming where fans know they’re getting a sound with a community vibe surrounding it, would make this more tangible.
BC: You’re not all exactly the same, but there is an interesting line that connects Non Market bands with strands of jazz, soul, indie, electronics, even worldly influences weaving its way in and out of your music, right?
N: It’s interesting that the beat scene is so heavy in LA, and that Brooklyn has a great network of indie bands, and in a way what we’re doing here is like the East Bay’s own regional version.
“Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) was recorded in the spirit of spontaneity with the simple intention of collaboration between friends that don’t usually get to work together.” – No Sé
BC: Where do you stand on the debate about DIY vs traditional music business models?
K: We share a sense that the traditional music business game isn’t necessarily morally wrong or bad – we all play that game as long as it doesn’t conflict with our ethics, but we want what we’re doing to be something that goes beyond that world.
N: The whole idea of Non Market – we haven’t 100% figured out – but we know for sure that we want to embrace a non-traditional way to spreading the word about music.
K: We like the older, traditional passing the word about music, from person to person, like when people used to trade cassettes. By creating a strong community we can avert and resist profit-driven marketing where blogs post about music solely to up their numbers. The music press has so much power in the fate of bands, so the story behind the music now holds as much power as the music itself, it’s become so important it’s seen as more important the music, but in 20 years time people won’t care so much about the story. Our attention and mental space is even being marketed on the net – we want to make something that transcends all of that.