Not too long ago, we at DC9 took a look at the value of supporting music with the local tag. It's tempting to apply the tag to anyone with any ties to North Texas, but how often is it accurate? Two notable releases will be widely, and perhaps wrongly, deemed local in the coming weeks.
The self-titled fifth record from former Dallasite Annie Clark, better known to most as St. Vincent, came out earlier this week to universal raves, and indeed it sounds even better than her stellar previous releases. Also, Denton-born Eli Young Band's latest, slick dish of modern country, 10,000 Towns, hits the street next week, and all signs point to it being a chart-buster for the former Mean Green-ers.
These two headline-grabbing records merely provide us a chance to set some things straight. There are plenty of well-known, beloved examples of acts we should both stop considering completely local, and continue to appreciate as fully local. The time has come, area music lovers: The definition of what makes an artist or band "local" needs to be reexamined.
A restaurant boasting locally sourced ingredients is careful to refer to only produce, meats and cheeses that come from their relatively nearby environs. The USDA states that "local," in terms of food, can mean the product travels up to a maximum of 400 miles from the provider to where it is consumed.
Applying the "local" label onto a band or a singer is much more complex due to the fact we're dealing with humans, not heads of lettuce or keg-filled trucks. On a regional level, Steve Earle and Guy Clark, for a couple of prime examples, are still regularly referred to as "Texas treasures" in magazine profiles and regular discussion amongst music fans, yet it's been decades since either have lived in the Lone Star State, and for the most part, their greatest works have been created well north of the Red River. Does being born in Texas and enduring some of their formative years here mean we as Texans can claim them as our own? Is our pride well-meaning, but misguided? Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, at least until very recently, has lived in Austin. Is he a Texas artist, or is he the majestic rock god from the U.K., only?
Clark, who now regularly graces magazine covers and has rocketed to indie god status since her debut album in 2007, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has lived in New York for the past several years as her fame has grown more intense and her work even more splendid. Though to be fair, she has recorded albums in Dallas with John Congleton since her move to NYC. On the flip side of that coin, The Eli Young Band, born out of Denton in 2000, has become the most commercially successful act associated with the Texas country/red dirt scene. Even with three Billboard No. 1 hits and millions of singles sold, three of the band's four members, including lead-singer Mike Eli, still call North Texas home, though massive cabins in Nashville where the group would be closer to the action they're a part of is a temptation few emerging country artists can say no to once the massive checks start filling their collective mailboxes.
Both St. Vincent and Eli Young Band are often referred to as "our own," "hometown heroes" and most significantly, "local artists." Two big-time acts with two different geographical and artistic scenarios, indeed. The only way they can both be considered local artists is if there are different levels of local. These aren't distinctions relating to quality, of course. Lest we forget, there are plenty other prominent names considered to be local who require something more defined than a strict "local or not" designation.
Make no mistake, nuance is required even in considering a band like Old 97's, who put Dallas on the alt-country map. Yet only two members live in Dallas while the two founding members live on opposite coasts. Still, the group remains as local as most of us Metroplex-dwellers want them to be. Texas country kingpin Pat Green has lived in the Fort Worth area for years, and now is part owner of one of Dallas' most exciting new restaurant and live music ventures, the Rustic. How many times has he been referred to as a local by locals? Not many times, is our guesstimate. Will Green's next album, which is already recorded, be considered an album from a Fort Worth artist? Probably not, is our prognostication.
It's high time we break things down a bit with some notable examples. For this introductory exercise, we'll stick to acts that are actively releasing new music (So, we're leaving out notable names such as Don Henley and Stevie Ray Vaughan, for example.)
Local: Eli Young Band, Sarah Jaffe, Midlake, True Widow, Erykah Badu These are acts which have created a national or even international profile to various degrees over the years, and still have their cores intact here in North Texas. They may tour the world for 300 days a year, but for the other 65 nights, they are here, drinking in our bars, crashing on their locally-situated beds.
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Local-ish: Old 97's, This Will Destroy You, Centro-matic These are acts with historically strong local ties, but haven't functioned as cohesive North Texas units for some time now, though they are still often identified by outsiders as a product of our area. Bands in this realm will usually have members still living in this area, but are kept form the Local-Firm designation due to key member(s) not living here any longer, or never having lived here, possibly.
Not Local: St. Vincent, Norah Jones, Neon Indian This level will likely be the most fluid one (and certainly the one most up for debate). Artists fitting into this category have likely grown up in our area, and even perhaps began to achieve notoriety as an artist here, before creating a larger name for themselves while calling a completely different area home for a number of years. Acts in this realm may return to record an album, but not to return for good. Often-times, magazine articles or record reviews will even fail to mention these artists connection to the north Texas area. The local feel of these artists lies most strongly with loved-ones still living here, and with the friends and fans they made in their days before packing their U-Haul to somewhere else.