Sofar Sounds, a take on the traditional living room show and organized in London, has now branched out to include Milwaukee as one of its collaborative show-stop cities in the United States. Anyone who has been to a living room show knows that the advantages are many, the main bringing the musicians and the music front and center by giving those two key elements a more comfortable and generally more calm and cool sound environment. WMSE spoke to one of the Milwaukee Sofar organizers, Lizzy Altman, about Sofar Sounds in Milwaukee just in time for this week’s “inaugural” Milwaukee event.
How did you first hear about the Sofar Sounds series? Have you ever attended a session and if so, what was your favorite session?
I first heard about Sofar Sounds from surfing Youtube, actually. I was watching clips of one of my favorite musicians, an Irish singer/songwriter named Rhob Cunningham, and a video of him playing Sofar Dublin came up. It looked amazing – with candles and folks sitting on a living room floor, watching him play without any microphones, just singing to this room at night.
Was the Milwaukee edition idea pitched to you or did you approach Sofar Sounds?
After seeing that first clip, I kind of fell down a Sofar hole. I started watching shows from Buenos Aires and Glasgow and Berlin and everywhere in between, groups like Bastille and Sylvan Esso, which led me to the Sofar Sounds website.
Since recently beginning to perform in my own band in Milwaukee, Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band, I’ve gotten to know a lot of amazing musicians throughout the city and realize what a fantastic musical culture we have. I was sure I wanted to bring Sofar here, so I signed up to volunteer last winter. Not too long after, one of the organization’s founders, Rafe, contacted me about getting involved. We had a few Skype chats between London and Milwaukee, and quickly decided it was time to start Sofar Milwaukee! Now, with my co-coordinator Chandra Rudolph, we’ve been putting together a local team and getting ready for some great shows!
And since getting involved with Sofar in the spring, I’ve attended one live session in Chicago, and it was fantastic! I got to watch and meet four amazing local Chicago bands and purchase one of their CDs.
Is this setup a typical living room show setup?
Sofar Sounds both is and isn’t your typical living room show. Like most house shows, our basic aim is to get a group of music-lovers out to see a good show. What sets Sofar apart, though, is how those shows are run. For one thing, shows are all organized via the Sofar website – sofarsounds.com. In order to attend, you have to RSVP for your city of choice there. The location (which typically changes to different living rooms around the city for each month’s show) is revealed only a day or so before the event and the bands themselves are kept secret until audiences arrive! The idea is that audiences will come out to hear music they would maybe never encounter, otherwise.
Sofar also focuses on pairing music lovers with music, so at shows, audiences are asked to put away their phones, support the bands by sitting back and listening, and stay through [until] the end. We’ve typically got four bands coming in to play short sets of four or five songs, so I also kind of think of it like small plates dining – you’re going to get a taste of lots of different types of music, and it’s always best to savor that attentively.
Lastly, Sofar Sounds is filmed! One song from each of the night’s band will get put up on the Sofar Youtube channel, right next to groups from across the globe. It’s creating a real global community.
What is your favorite thing about Sofar Sounds and what do you hope to add to it?
My favorite aspect of Sofar Sounds is the way it features local music. There’s so much good music coming out of any city, I’m convinced, and as an audience member or fan, sometimes it’s hard to find if you’re not in the scene. Sofar cuts away at that and puts amazing local bands before not just local audiences but an international community online.
What do you have booked so far? Can you share?
You’ll just have to come to the show to find out; can’t ruin the surprise! I will say though, that when we book acts, we’re focused on getting a well-rounded and diverse lineup for the night. So we tend to look for different styles of bands, meaning you’re apt to hear everything from bluegrass to soul to pop when you sign up for one show.
Where can people find more information about upcoming shows and this weeks’ performance?
Visit sofarsounds.com and follow the links to sign up for our Milwaukee series. There’s still time left to RSVP for Friday’s inaugural show! And be sure to check in with Sofar Sounds Milwaukee on Youtube shortly after the show, where we’ll have video from each band! You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Google Plus.