Nashville transplants the Black and White Years have scored at SXSW. While playing unofficial parties in 2007, the quartet was singled out from the crush by Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison, who then produced their debut. Two years later, the band cleaned up at the Austin Music Awards with the eponymous bow. Even with that fairy tale, songwriter Scott Butler maintains a healthy fear of the beast.
"You look forward to SXSW because it is fun," he says. "It's a fun nightmare you hopefully wake from. We, of course, have a good history with it, but it's so exhausting."
This year, TB&WY head into the eye of the Downtown storm with a mission: finding a booking agent to help open the passage from Austin to Albany, New York.
"We have a weird problem where, in 2008, we were a big hit in Austin and in Albany," explains Butler. "When we played there it felt like we were Def Leppard in the Eighties."
"[An agent] is the last piece of the puzzle," adds guitarist Landon Thompson. "I've booked us tours up to the Northeast and I'll do it again if I have to, but I'm kind of holding out for an agent to help us."
With any luck, the art-pop outfit can go north with January's Strange Figurines. Following up 2010 sophomore disc Patterns, which executed a swift about-face from Harrison's guidance, the new album balances an initial hesitance to slicked-up production over minimalistic proclivities they feel were smothered on their debut. Though Thompson and Butler are quick to note that the working relationship with Harrison ended on friendly terms, the struggle between expectation and reality for the then-fledgling act has become more evident in retrospect.
"When we showed up, we felt so lucky – the belles of the ball," says Butler. "But the entire process got away from us. We had an idea of what we would have turned it into, which was a very lo-fi indie record, and what it became was pretty, clean pop. The songs were so goddamn quirky. It was like pulling teeth trying to make it fit as a pop record."
After a brief DIY experiment with Patterns, the Black and White Years settled in with producer and Shearwater drummer Danny Reisch to produce this third full-length, 10 tracks edited down from a double-disc's worth of material written between 2010 and 2013. Butler jokes that for the sake of time and wasted songwriting, they'll strip back down to Unicorns-level lo-fi for the next one.
"We wanted to make sure we did it right," he says. "We tried to organize and let it all kind of hit at the right time."
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