“Maybe I don’t want to be famous,” goes the opening line of Ballroom Sofa’s song “Famous.” That’s an understatement!
I first stumbled upon Ballroom Sofa’s Bandcamp page in March. The four songs posted there immediately hooked me. They blended Britpop and dream-pop, earworm hooks with clever lyrics. This didn’t sound like some DIY bedroom demo either; the production was immaculate. This band had it all – everything except an identity.
The Bandcamp page claimed they live in Vermont, but otherwise offered no information about these people (guys? girls? Russian bots?). A Google search turned up no other references to Ballroom Sofa, and messages sent via Bandcamp’s contact form went unanswered. Even Seven Days music editor Jordan Adams – a man as knowledgable about the Vermont music scene as anyone – came up empty when I enlisted him in my search. The band eventually added a Facebook page, but it proved no help either. As of this writing, it boasts exactly one like: me. That’s right, the band members haven’t even liked their Facebook page!
To see why I cared in the first place, hear the first song that hooked me, “Cool Kids,” which I wrote about in March (alongside a fruitless request for more information):
Last week, four months after my search began, I finally made contact.
The band turns out to be – drumroll please – Wes Aldrich (vocals, guitar) and Whit Shonk (guitar) from New Hampshire’s Hug the Dog, and Nina Spencer (bass, vocals) and Zack James (drums) from Vermont’s much-missed The Snaz. The quartet recorded the EP at New Hampshire’s Loud Sun Studios, so it sounds warm and wonderful. Given the evident care that went into the writing and recording, I’d wondered if they were just wildly incompetent at self-promotion. But it turns out their anonymity was no accident. With this EP, they attempted a radical experiment in whether great music can spread with zero promotion in the digital era.
The lack of information was “somewhat of a conscious decision,” says Aldrich. “Being in bands over the years putting so much energy into promotion, Facebook, websites etc.. It’s a reaction to the culture we live in and disposable manufactured music that drives the industry. We decided this would be a project that we floated out there. We wanted to get more of an organic response and see if we could pull it off without constantly reminding people that we’re a band. We’ll see if that’s a successful approach!”
Hard to say whether it’s a success thus far. Only having one Facebook fan might indicate abject failure – but then again, that one Facebook fan grew so enthusiastic he spent months trying to track this band down. When The Weeknd first started posting anonymous mixtapes online, bloggers desperately searched to find any information about the unknown singer. Is cultivating that sort of mystery a viable model for an independent band in Vermont?
They’re starting to poke their heads out, at least a little. They did finally respond to my messages – turns out they hadn’t meant to be that anonymous, they just lost their band’s email password – and Aldrich says they’re planning their first concerts for the fall. And this morning, for the first time, they actually posted some music to their Facebook page: a new music video for “Famous.”
Hopefully the new video will earn their Facebook page that elusive second follower. The music deserves far more attention…even if the band members would never tell you so themselves.