Who knew that such an itty-bitty desk could have such a big impact?
The Tiny Desk Concert series on National Public Radio (NPR) has been a hit since it was introduced in 2008. During what is literally a bunch of musicians crowding around All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen's office desk to perform a few tunes, the series has showcased different sides of artists such as T-Pain, Skinny Lister and Yo La Tengo. The virality of favorite concerts via social media has given a surge of popularity to retro acts and millions of potential fans to newer bands.
And a St. Louis act just might be next.
Boilen and his NPR cohorts just wrapped a contest to find the next breakout band that will play a Tiny Desk concert. Musical acts from across the nation submitted YouTube videos of themselves performing around a desk (any desk, even two-inch dollhouse ones) between December 2 and January 19, hoping to be considered for NPR's single slot available to unsigned bands. A panel of judges -- including nationally known musicians and producers -- is now reviewing submissions for musical quality and appeal, originality, stage presence and charisma. A winner will be notified around February 6 that they've got a gig in NPR's Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Over the past few days, we've noticed quite a number of St. Louis acts excitedly sharing their Tiny Desk videos through social media. Will one of these homegrown bands get the opportunity to play at "the most famous desk in music?" We'll find out in February. But looking at the twelve excellent videos we've rounded up below (and we're sure there are even more out there -- let us know!), St. Louis has a hell of a shot.
LETTER TO MEMPHIS
Why did you choose this song for your entry? We chose our song "Other Life" because it has a unique kind of energy and explores themes I think a lot of people can relate to. It's a good representation of the strings in our band (all eighteen of them!) and is folky and a little dark, but also driving and urgent. The emotion in the song is strong and we hope that comes through. - Devon Cahill, vocals, ukulele
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? St. Louis has an amazing original music scene and yet it's hardly on the map when people think of the great cities for the arts. There really is something special about the music scene in St. Louis, coming from both the roots the city's built on as well as the innovative and original, and it would be great to open people's eyes to that.
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? It's a toss up. I loved Lucius, the way they found objects in the room to use as percussion instruments. And their harmonies, especially in a bare bones setup the way they were, were breathtaking. I also loved Angel Olsen's set, although I might be a little biased. Just her voice and her electric guitar -- and it was amazing, hauntingly beautiful and inspiring.
Why did you choose this song for your entry? Sometimes it seems like there are sparks floating in the ether around you and you need to reach up and grasp the shiniest one....And you hope that you can shape that spark into something tangible that is more than the sum of its parts: music, lyrics and arrangement! "State of the Union" fell into place fast. The band "got it" even as I was presenting rough drafts! In other words, we like it. It's hot off the press, and we feel it represents us really well! - Jim Ibur, guitar
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? I've been a fan of the Tiny Desk concert series since its inception. I am under no illusion about winning this contest, but I would love to see the video posted on NPR's site. St. Louis has always had a great music scene, but it is has been hard for bands to make a go of it here. My own daughters and Jim's nieces, Bella & Lily, are making a run at it right now. I would love to see our city better recognized for its thriving music AND arts community. - Ted Ibur, drums
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? Redding, California's Wesley Jennings and the Penny Arcade's song "Control." The video is extremely clever and funny. It is set at a faux office space. The four band members are dressed in business attire and are using their desks, staplers, coffee mugs, a container of paperclips, etc. to drive the song. The lead vocalist is playing an old organ and sounds a bit like Brett Dennen. That said, there are a lot of terrific bands from all over the country that entered the contest. - Ted
MIDDLE CLASS FASHION
Why did you choose this song for your entry? This song, called "Runway", is part of a group of songs we're developing for a new album. We're having fun with the new material, a lot of which is in this synth-based style. - Jenn Malzone, vocals and keyboard
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? It would be great to see more St. Louis bands recognized nationally. The Tiny Desk concert series in particular is something I've enjoyed watching, so it would be neat to see one of our friends playing it.
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? I thought CHVRCHES did an amazing job of bringing their huge sound to the Tiny Desk format. Some other great ones: tUne-yArDs, The xx, Diane Cluck, Angel Olsen.
See more St. Louis entries on page two. BROTHERS LAZAROFF
Why did you choose this song for your entry? This is a new song from an album we're releasing in the spring, and we've been having fun playing it since adding it to our live shows. We did discuss this song and a few others ahead of time, but the whole band kind of assumed we would do this tune when we sat down, so we did it. - Jeff Lazaroff, vocals and guitar
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? St Louis can always use a win, and right now is no exception. It'd be nice to expose such a large audience of listeners to a small example of the music being created here. St. Louis has a such a great musical history and unique perspective -- any light that can be directed toward this town is a good thing!
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? There are tons of great ones, but our current favorite is one of the most recent ones with Daniel Lanois. He just brings his effects processing rig and does some experimental compositions with a killer rhythm section of Brian Blade on drums and Jim Wilson on bass. It's a nice juxtaposition to the numerous acoustic singer-songwriter sessions. Brian Blade is rocking the three-piece drum kit. We like when Grover (our drummer) uses a full drum kit in more quiet situations because he can just adjust the volume of his whole sound without having to take away any drums, so it's fun to watch a master like Blade rock the small office on a kit playing experimental advent-garde breakbeat stuff. That would've been a fun day at work.
See also: - Ten St. Louis Acts That Deserve To Be Famous Now
DAN JOHANNING AND THE WILDERNESS
Why did you choose this song for your entry? It's our most requested song. I hear "Are you gonna play the 'cold beer under ice' song?" a lot, and we have a video for it. It also features Leo Jalipa of the Johnson Family Band on back-up vocals and Glenn Burleigh of the Defeated County and Union Electric on pedal steel. - Dan Johanning, vocals, guitar
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? The best thing about a St. Louis band winning would just be more awareness to the incredible music scene in this city. It's like no other anywhere. All genres have amazing acts, and many folks (like myself) play in different types of bands. All the scenes blend here and get along. It's raw and beautiful like no other other city. I could go on forever.
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? The T-Pain show. I was never a fan of his, but seeing the pop star stripped down, raw and vulnerable and then just destroy it was awesome. He's an immensely talented guy, and that episode put that on display. Billy Bragg was also amazing because Billy Bragg is amazing. My favorite sentence from any episode is when Pokey LaFarge said "Lets do this one for St. Louis, boys." I think I said "Fucking yes" out loud.
SALT OF THE EARTH
Why did you choose this song for your entry? "Doorstep" is one of our most-requested songs at our live shows. It has some good energy but still kind of captures everything we do well, like Lynne Reif's and my vocal harmonies, Jim Hieger's lead guitar playing and Jake Brookman's cello playing. - Mike Schrand, bass
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? We've been able to gig regularly for twelve years now as a band playing almost entirely original music, so that's a kind of testament to how great of a music city St. Louis is. Plus having worked in public broadcasting for a long time, it would be good to finally see NPR's headquarters and meet Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton.
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? That's tough. I'm going to have to pick two: 1) Mother Falcon, because who else would fit a seventeen-piece band around a desk and still get a great performance? and 2) Reggie Watts, as he never fails to amaze me with how he pulls such amazing music out of thin air.
Why did you choose this song for your entry? We've been a band for something like ten years, so we have a lot of songs. Some emails and texts went back and forth. We made a long list, then a short list, then we took a nap. And then we just asked our friend Jonathan and went with whatever song he picked. - Jamal McLaughlin, vocals, keyboard, guitar
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? St. Louis has a crazy amount of awesome music. Would a St. Louis band winning this contest make the world aware of this fact? Probably not, but I'd be glad to see another one of its children do good. I really just want to see what St. Louis submits to this thing, hear bands that I love do one of their songs in a quiet, close-up fashion. So, that's a pretty selfish answer. See what the Internet has done to me?
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? Of Montreal for sure. Their recordings are so beautifully layered and pristine, and their live performances are so intense and over the top. Seeing and hearing them so stripped down and intimate was really cool. His personal, poetic lyrics are even more revealing when it's just a guy and his guitar in front of a mic. I also enjoyed what looked like Kevin's French striped shirt and beret.
Why did you choose this song for your entry? We chose "Stay Unknown" because we felt that the song was fun and represented our music really well. Since we were lucky enough to shoot in the Urban Outfitter's studio space in the Lemp Brewery, we felt that it would really sound great in such a wide open space. - Michael Logsdon, vocals, multiple instruments
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? The Tiny Desk contest gives just enough constraints that we think St. Louis' artists and musicians will find creative ways to flourish and showcase not only the talent that this city holds but also the amazing landscape that we have to work with. If a St. Louis act were to win the Tiny Desk contest, it would really show the rest of the nation how resourceful and driven that we can be.
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? There are so many great Tiny Desk concerts to choose from, and of course we love Pokey LaFarge's concert, our hometown hero, but we also can't stop watching Mother Falcon's concert and the one done by St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
More St. Louis songs on page three.
ARTHUR AND THE LIBRARIAN
Why did you choose this song for your entry? "One Last Fix" has always been a crowd favorite, so we immediately knew that it'd be a good song to put forward. We also had the idea to do something a little different with our video. By telling a story at the same time, we were able to make it more than just us playing at the desk. - Chuck Crittenden, guitar
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? It would be really fun to see an STL act win this contest. Hopefully it would help shine a light on the great music scene we have here!
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? I'm a big fan of the Kishi Bashi concert. Watching him work his magic in such an intimate setting feels a little bit like we're being let behind the curtain.
Why did you choose this song for your entry? We chatted as a group about what song, but this was the first song on all of our tongues. We agreed that it showed off what we love most about our music -- compelling story, harmonies and beautiful guitar riffs. - Shawn Telkamp, vocals
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? A St. Louis act winning would bring more interest to our scene as a whole. Frankly, we have some incredibly gifted folks making music here, and they deserve continued support on a national/International platform. When people question me about STL, our music is what I share with them first because arts are from the heart and soul of the city -- not crime stats, not XYZ factoid, but the ARTS!
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? I had not previously listened to this particular program, but holy wow. Just seeing the entrants in this competition gives me so much respect for what this program does and these artists; I'm already fan-boy-ing several of these folks. In earnest, given this was our first attempt at ever recording video of Shotgun Abby, I found a new love and respect for each of my bandmates. I'd encourage all bands to go out there and do something like this.
AL HOLLIDAY & THE EAST SIDE RHYTHM BAND
Why did you choose this song for your entry? We chose a new song we have been working on. It definitely has a lot to do with how much I love the St. Louis community the radio station KDHX. I feel like we have had a lot happening in our community this year and it is heartbreaking, but I guess like one of our songs says, "The world is on fire and the sky won't rain - my love is strong, baby, just the same." - Al Holliday, vocals, piano, keyboard
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? I think that it would shine a light on STL's very genuine homegrown music community. A little national media love is always nice and we have plenty of groups here that are worthy!
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? My favorite has been Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I love those guys.
And St. Louis expats couldn't stay away from the Tiny Desk Concert contest, either. Ali Ruby from the late St. Louis band Animal Empty moved to Colorado some time ago but shared her Tiny Desk video and thoughts about St. Louis with us.
Why did you choose this song for your entry? That was a tough one. I fully recorded and prepared a second song just in case, although I was feeling pretty set on this one. This was the first song I wrote and committed to after leaving Animal Empty, bringing me out of kind of an empty music period. I had been waiting to process some pretty big stuff that had happened and was trying to be patient with myself, and this song was sort of the breaking free of all of those feelings and new understandings. I guess this was the most bare and honest thing I had ever let out of me. - Ali Ruby, vocals, keyboard
What would be the best thing about a St. Louis act winning the Tiny Desk contest? I have found while traveling to and living in other cities that people have a pretty skewed concept of what St. Louis is. The diversity and rich culture and arts that are very much alive in St. Louis seem to have been looked over. We have some pretty kick-ass shit going on there in all forms of the creative industry. It would be nice to get some credit thrown our way, especially in light of the last six months of St. Louis happenings.
What's been your favorite Tiny Desk concert so far and why? I love most of the Tiny Desk concerts. NPR has introduced me to some of my favorite stuff. The one that always sits in the front of my brain would be the Civil Wars one, which is odd because I'm not even really a Civil Wars fan. I don't have their CDs, nor do I ever intentionally listen to them. But the way they interacted together and how their voices blended was absolutely awesome. They were so on point and connected the whole time, and her voice just seems to effortlessly flow out of her face at a stupidly beautiful level. I love every second of it.
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