It’s always a thrilling feeling for me to hear about a local Sarasota band that’s taking on that infamous next step that is, apparently, part and parcel of serious musicianship: THE TOUR.
Last Friday, I sat down with Carmela Pedicini and David Brain of Sarasota’s own folk band Passerine, which is about to take on that great leap with a 17-day tour across four states in early August. As a fan of music with no actual experience myself, I’m terribly curious about what that experience must be like, as well as what it’s like to start and grow a band. Passerine’s website describes their unique sound as “built around three (and sometimes four) part vocal harmonies, backed by the crisp rhythms of acoustic guitars, lively exchanges between fiddle and dobro, and an acoustic bass that builds on a solid foundation with occasional flights of fancy.”
This conversation quenched my curiosity and gave me a new appreciation for the hard work and strategy that goes into making this stuff happen.
April Doner: What’s the story of the band?
Carmela Pedicini: Well, it started with David and me just doing open mics. He would come and we would play together, and I was like, ‘You know, we could do something. We should find Tanya [Radtke] and create a little something.’ We set up this show at the Sarasota Olive Oil Company. It was our very first show, and we asked, ‘Does anyone play upright bass?’ That’s how we found Miles [Tweed].
We played for about a year, and then Miles said, ‘We’re going to school, moving to Asia.’ And actually when Miles was gone to Asia, we never found a replacement. We went down, didn’t do a lot of shows, mostly just played in the kitchen and worked on creating new sounds and sets.
And that was when Sara [Moone] came in. She had just come off tour with the River City Rebels, and she was a fiddle and violin player. She came to one open mic, then one rehearsal. We turned her hands into hamburger — played for four hours. And then we needed a bass player, and Sara knew David Baker from New College.
And this Passerine entity has now grown.
Dave and Sara are real musicians. They have strong ears and strong music backgrounds, which helped them find their way with me and Tanya because we do it from ear. And then you have the genius next to me [Brain] who, whatever he touches, he can turn to gold. He picks up the dobro and it’s like ‘whoo!’
AD: How did you get to the point where you decided to tour?
David Brain: It’s really the next step as a band if you want to grow — to get out of town. This year we’ve been focusing on festivals, rather than just bar gigs. We didn’t want to get stuck in the bar rut. We have done six or seven festivals — the Sarasota Folk Festival, Florida Folk Festival, Will McClean.
CP: That was a big deal for us to be able to do those big festivals. We did really, really well — but we didn’t have any CDs to sell! David had made a little EP with five songs on it just with Miles, Tanya, David and me. It was either buy and pay for more of those, or make a full-length … so we said, ‘We need to make a CD.’ It was a lot of money. We had to come up with the cold, hard cash — boom. We’re all working people.
DB: And if you’re doing the math as far as getting out of town, no venues will pay you for travel costs. The only way to make money is to have merchandise — and then hopefully you can break even or maybe even make a little money.
CP: I went to talk to Julio [Madrid from Let's Rock Sarasota], and we had this whole conversation about Kickstarter. And we know actress and writer Jaszy McAllister. We took all of our gig money — anything we could sell, we put into a jar — and took that money to make a Kickstarter video [with Jaszy]. And it was worth the investment because you can’t just put a Kickstarter video up; it has to be accepted.
We got approved and we got the [$5,000] goal we set — which, again, says a lot about who you are because it’s our community supporting us. We took that funding and we were very thoughtful about how we used it.
DB: So we recorded out of town at Zen Recording for two reasons — to get an out-of-town experience and because [Chief Engineer] Steve Connelly has such a good resumé. So we went there to get that out-of-town experience and he was amazing for us.
CP: For David, this has become his full-time job. He has booked this entire tour. All of us work out of the house in various places. Sara got married right around the time of this CD; Tanya got married as well. It’s been a lot with everything going on, and the mass has been on David’s shoulders.
DB: We have 17 gigs lined up in about a 17-day tour. Sometimes we’re playing twice a day.
CP: We’re not going out and doing this to make any money; this isn’t about that. The goal is that this time we will expand our fan base so that we can broaden that reach.
AD: What’s supported you most as you have grown as a band?
CP: We’ve all taken on tasks, which has been helpful. Sara writes the press releases, Rob [Demperio] does the graphic design, David works on booking the tour, Tanya has written amazing songs and we have creatively written songs together.
I think it has been our backers that have really supported the financial — it takes money to do this. You can’t do this this well without finances. I mean, you can throw everything together and jump in a van, and some bands do that. But we think we can do better than that by investing a proper amount of finance. And the way we were able to do that was through our community.
DB: I think besides the financial support, the music itself [supports us].
We rotate houses but we always rehearse in the kitchen, because kitchens tend to have the best acoustics. So we always crowd in a circle in the kitchen. One Tuesday night we were in Tanya’s kitchen. Some rehearsals are rough and some just feel really good. Tuesday it felt great and sounded really good, so when Sara suggested we go to Growler’s open mic, which normally no one would have energy for, even Tanya who has to work early in the morning, she said yes. So we all showed up at Growlers and played four or five songs. But that was great, and the people that were there, they perked up.
And I think we really just feel good together as a band, and we have those moments. Of course, we’ll see how that works on the tour.
AD: What are you most excited about in the tour?
DB: The idea of playing every day for two weeks. I think everybody feels one of the great benefits of playing a tour is that at the end of the tour, you are as good as you can be. I’m also excited about getting out to new audiences and how it will push our development as a band.
CP: I can’t wait to get out there every day and create. And that we’ll play every day for fresh audiences. If we were just playing every day at the same locale, it would get old. If we’re playing every day in a new town, the energy is different.
What advice you would give to other bands?
CP: You know, the Finch House kids have done it, Fancy Rat and Erin [Murphy], they have done really well and I have no idea how anybody else’s process is. We just wanted an adventure. This is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’ve done [music] since I was 11 — I’ve done this more than anything else, including raising kids!
We all have careers, we all have busy lives. But you can do it all. Don’t limit yourself. Do what you love. Do it all. Live the dream. Even as little as it may be.
We’re not out there to be superstars. We’re out there to have fun and to create.
DB: There’s been discussion among musicians lately, a lot of grousing about venues and difficulties with getting paid for what they do, and you know, I really think it’s true that if you take what you do seriously, and you approach it in a business-like way, then you can step up your game a notch or two to the point where you can do this kind of stuff.
For example, my success at booking the tour — which every time I tell people they seem to be really surprised —’Who booked?’ It seems like a really daunting thing to do. But I read from the very start, and I guess I heard at workshops, that you have to understand the different kinds of venues that are out there and you approach them in a professional way. For instance, put key information in your subject title: ‘hole to fill 2.12.’
Some people think this is art and shouldn’t be about business, about making money. And, it’s not about business, but you have to make some money. It’s about demonstrating to people that you’re serious, you’re reliable, you know what you’re doing, that you’re going to be easy to deal with — and that enables you to get the support you need to get the music. Selling CDs is not about making money, it’s about getting money to support playing music. All the merchandise — which is fun — is about finding merchandise streams that will support what we love to do.
CP: And we’re all taking part, keeping it as one thing. Keeping an equal amount of having to pay into it and having to reap its benefits.
DB: If you want to go from a band that plays local shows to doing out of town stuff, then you have to dial up the level of seriousness in the way you present yourself. It’s great if you can record your own music in our living room and make your own CDs, but it makes a difference when you can present someone with a real shrink-wrapped product.
CP: This is the most we’ve ever done. It was done with intelligence and hard work.
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Want to hear Passerine and show your support before they take flight?