Online music oracle Daytrotter heads for the hills
Daytrotter staked its claim among the growing number of online music sites in 2006 by offering fans something they couldn’t get elsewhere: a personal connection to their favorite bands. Less concerned with breaking “the next big thing” than finding ways to showcase talented artists in a unique light, the website exploded in popularity. And that was largely because of its Daytrotter Sessions — brief, stripped-down performances recorded in a small studio in Rock Island, Ill. The free-to-download sessions are posted to the website with a crude sketch of the artist and a short essay about the recording from Daytrotter founder Sean Moeller.
Now, Daytrotter is taking its act on the road with Barnstormer, a live, touring series that cuts out the digital middle man and brings music directly to the fans with shows in unusual venues. This Sunday, Barnstormer 5 comes to the Old Lantern in Charlotte, Vt., featuring ascendant indie bands White Rabbits, Deer Tick, We Are Augustines, Guards and Doug Paisley.
Moeller got his start writing for the sports department at a newspaper in Davenport, Iowa, where he lives currently. Eventually, he grew bored reporting on high school football games and track meets and moved into music journalism with freelance work for alt-weeklies around the country. Soon, Moeller began to plot ways to do something on his own and expand his journalistic freedom. That something became Daytrotter.
Unlike other major music websites such as Pitchfork and Largehearted Boy, which are generally forums for music news and criticism, Moeller approaches his writing from the perspective of a fan. He eschews the rigidity of straight journalism — and critical snark — in favor of a more personal connection to the music his website presents. That’s always been Moeller’s style.
“The only places that let me freelance were places that let me do it similarly to the way I write now,” he says in a phone interview.
It helps that Moeller has a very simple prerequisite for inviting a band to appear on Daytrotter: He likes them.
“Anybody we invite to do a session, you’re here for a reason. You’re good,” he says. “You’re not going to see anyone torn down on Daytrotter, because that’s not what we’re here for. I write about what [the music] makes me think about, what it makes me feel.”
In the often-savage arena of online music writing, Moeller’s sensitive tack helps Daytrotter stands out.
“Some people think I’m a horrible writer, others really like what I write,” he says. “All that matters to me is that the people I’m writing about feel that the piece got to the heart of something they were writing about in their music.”
Another aspect of the website’s intimate appeal is the unique setting in which it presents artists. Between stops on tour, bands typically are recorded to tape in a small, spare studio with minimal miking. Unlike a studio album or video, or even a live show, a Daytrotter session can be an unfiltered, unguarded glimpse into the artistic lives of musicians.
“We do let artists be seen in a different light,” says Moeller. He’s referring to the sessions, though he could well be describing Barnstormer.
For four consecutive summers, the traveling indie rock caravan has rolled into small towns throughout the Midwest and set up camp in unlikely spots — barns, especially. The bands hawk their sonic wares for one night only before stealing away under cover of night.
“The bands are always abnormally excited to play in barns,” claims Moeller. He adds, somewhat hyperbolically, “It’s such a different experience for them that it makes the music, like, a hundred times better.”
To illustrate, Moeller recalls a night in Madison, Wisc., on the first Barnstormer tour — a bill that included Local Natives, Catfish Haven and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The show was in a small, stuffy attic that he estimates should have held about 30 people. But hundreds turned out, cramming themselves under eaves and any other space they could find.
“It was mayhem. It was unbelievable,” Moeller recalls. On the same tour, the bands played what was allegedly a rural hideout of famed gangster Al Capone in Iowa. “That was pretty cool, too,” he adds.
Now, for the first time, Barnstormer heads east — including a stop in Charlotte that almost didn’t happen.
The original plan for Barnstormer 5 was to play at unusual venues in the Northeast, including an insane asylum in New York. But, due to a scheduling gaffe, the Central Valley show had to be canceled, leaving a gaping hole in the tour itinerary. Matt Burr, the drummer for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals — who have recorded a couple of Daytrotter sessions — heard the news and encouraged Moeller to look at Vermont. Moeller agreed, but where, oh where, to find a barn in Vermont? Ahem.
So, for Moeller and Barnstormer, coming to Vermont was the alternative to the nuthouse?
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Moeller agrees with a chuckle.