Tech (No) Logic #2: Black Cab Sessions
If punk rock was the birth of do-it-yourself mass music, then the internet must certainly have been the birth of do-it-yourself mass media. DiS was born out of a realisation that with a few clicks here and a bit of uploading there, you too can be the media. This column isn't just about technology but about the people who embraced and abused it. Like this:
"One Song. One Take. One Cab" is the strapline for Black Cab Sessions, which has been one of the wonders of the web, garnering blog-love and boarder awe since it started. It's simple: they get a camera and some sound recording equipment, get in the back of a cab and film acts playing stripped down sets. They've had everyone from Daniel Johnston to The Kooks via Emmy the Great and My Morning Jacket. The concept and format is dead simple but the results make for compelling and unique viewing. The site is testament to just what you or anyone can do online if you put your mind to it.
DiS caught up with* Chris Pattinson and *Jono Stevens, via e-mail, to find out the what, why and how of getting (future) indie legends, on tape, in the back of a cab.
*When did you come up with the idea of Black Cab Sessions? *
About a year ago. We had done a few music videos and whilst keen to do more we also thought there had to be other ways to see music. I guess our lack of connections and funds forced us to come up with an idea that was weird enough and practical enough to persuade artists to give it a go.
Did you choose to do it in this format so that you could cheaply film with one camera but add some drama and movement, to make it more than just watching a couple of static people, playing and singing, by having a moving background?
Lack of cash was/is definitely one of our limitations but perhaps not so important as the lack of time. We needed a format that used as little of both the artists time and our time (we need to pay the rent!) without sacrificing quality. Black cabs can be found anywhere in London (though believe me we know a few black spots) so it's much easier to negotiate a 15 minute taxi ride than it is to demand hours from their day. Sometimes we even take them from hotel to venue - that really is an efficient use of time. We also wanted something that was iconic to London (as London was one of the few assets we had) and what is more iconic than a black cab? Seeing London life unfold through the windows is an integral part of the concept as well - these sessions are all one shot - so we never know whats going to happen inside or outside the cab and yes that definitely adds to the drama of the sessions. One thing we definitely didn't think about was a cabs great acoustics, that was a very happy accident.
What was the first session you did? What complications did you come across with the first one and how did you over come them?
Johnny Flynn was our first session. I think the only issue was persuading him to give it a shot but that wasn't too tough - thankfully he's a lovely open minded guy who was happy to try something totally silly. It's a great session, brimming with energy. The positive feedback we received once we posted it on You Tube was all the motivation we needed to keep them coming.
How have the sessions developed since you started? Have you come across any legal or technical complications?
These sessions are all about the artists performance. If we had unlimited funds we wouldn't have two cameras, we wouldn't edit, we wouldn't deck the cab out with lights - the format would stay the same. On the technical side, we have developed our sound recording, though that is sill a bit of a black art and on more than a few occasions it has been the source of a bit of anxiety. Regarding legal stuff, the larger labels with all their 'procedures' can be a bit tricky but thankfully no legal complication has yet prevented a session from happening - it would be a real shame if it ever does, this is just a bit of fun after all.
*What are your top three, personal favourites you’ve done and why? *
This changes every week! I think its Sunset Rubdown. Being in cab with someone as talented and respected as Spencer Krug was pretty special and to do a stripped down version of such a complexed song was amazing to watch. After that, probably Death Cab for Cutie as the whole experience with them was so fun. They were excellent guys. And Spoon. Britt just looks way too cool and delivers such a great version of 'I Summon You'. Also The Cool Kids which isn't out yet but they were just wicked and a breath of fresh air for us. These will all change by tomorrow though.
What’s been the strangest thing that’s happened on a shoot? Any weird cabbies or speed bump related instrument trashings?
No instruments trashed yet. We had a cellist in once. A guy called Johnny Byers. He had this Baroque cello which doesn't have a spike so he had to grip it between his knees. The cabbie had decided on a particularly unforgiving route which had speed bumps, potholes, chicanes, the whole works. After 8 takes he nailed it though and you can see the relief on his face at the end. That was the only time we didn't abide by our tag line of 'One Take'. Man Man bought in this massive keyboard which they ingeniously hooked up to the cigarette lighter. Its always interesting to see what instruments bands turn up with. Fireworks Night came with a musical Saw which was fun. Didn't work though.
What would you advise anyone with an idea of shooting acts and causing a stir online?
I think the reason people want to do a Black Cab Session is because its a really fun thing to do. We did one with The Cool Kids yesterday and they said they wished that all promo could be like this. It is a challenge, different and original. That's what appeals to people and why we have had pretty much no one turn us down - yet! My advice would be to do something totally different and see if it sticks.
Causing a stir online? I'm not really sure we have done this yet but we have just filmed the biggest act we will probably ever get in a cab and I'm sure that will create a bit of noise on the interweb. I can't tell you it is though. You'll have to keep checking the site!
What are you favourite things/sites/vids done by your peers in recent years in the online video world?
We always get compared to Blogoteque and Daytrotter. We do love what they do and Vincent Moon is a friend of ours. I think what Pitchfork TV are doing is great. Such high quality stuff and so much content to choose from really makes for good viewing to pass away the time. Although not strictly music, the best thing I have seen recently is the new animation by Blu - its this film shot in Buenos Aires which is tirelessly animated to perfection, but shows an incredible journey of this 'thing' that takes over the walls and sidewalks of the city.
Who would you most like to get in the back of a cab?
This seems to be ever changing but when we first realized that we could actually get acts involved in this we came up with a wish list. Tom Waits is number one for us. We think he'd do something amazing and just to have him in that kind of environment would be so special. Others would be Will Oldham, Prince, Caetano Veloso, Ghostface, Leonard Cohen and Kriss Kross.
For lots more visit blackcabsessions.com
Previous Tech (No) Logic columns:
_Discuss: Who would you like to see in a black cab? Which one is your favourite session? Think mine's My Morning Jacket. _