Knoxville surf-psych band Coolrunnings has good news for you: music is free.
"We wouldn't be in the position we are now if it weren't for giving away our music," says singer/guitarist Forrest Ferguson of the digital EPs Buffalo and Babes Forever, which he collaborated on with similarly alliterative local pop notable Brandon Biondo since they joined forces in late 2009. The recordings—evocative of hazy midnight beach parties on the verge of tragedy—are available free of charge through their web presence, and neither could be more enthusiastic about the implications.
"When I look at how many people have downloaded the first EP since I put it up on BandCamp, it's like 2,000 people," says Biondo, whose work with Ferguson marks a turn from his sunnier work under the Twinkiebots name. "It's not like 2,000 people are just going to buy our record when they have no idea who we were. I wouldn't. I don't! But if it's good I'm gonna go see their show, and buy their stuff."
So what does Coolrunnings have to sell at their shows, if that's how it works? They have so far resisted bothering to prepare a physical release for either EP, but are planning to put out a third release on cassette tape in time for an August tour.
"Anymore it's just as ridiculous to put your music out on CD as anything else," figures Ferguson, an observation that may factor in the cassette tape's minor resurgence in underground music distribution. At the forefront of this trend—Biondo quickly rejects the descriptor "gimmick"—happens to be the Knoxville-based Arcade Sound Ltd., and the band jumped at the opportunity to work with the label, whose MillionYoung will join Coolrunnings on Thursday night opening for bedgaze troubadour Toro Y Moi at Pilot Light.
Still, the benefits of the Arcade Sound association still seem secondary to the band's own work in getting their music out to an audience that would have been unreachable five years ago. Ferguson credits their relative prominence to Biondo's magic touch with the oh-so-crucial music blogger, but Biondo has a more practical explanation.
"I'm really impatient so a lot of the time I'll just e-mail them every day saying, ‘Hey, listen to our band' or something like that," he says. "And after six or seven days they'll e-mail back, like, ‘You guys are really good, I don't know why I didn't listen before now.' And they do end up helping us a lot."
The response from these sites has already been a boon to the band, who have donated exclusive mixtape tracks and seen an uptick in response to their own blog at teenagetn.tumblr.com, a collection of found oddities, nascent Coolrunnings tracks, and most importantly music from other Knoxville groups the band is enthusiastic to share with their growing audience.
"I can put stuff up on the blog, and then all of a sudden there's dudes in Europe flipping out over [drummer Elliott White's band] Yung Life," Biondo says. "The music industry has changed to where it's not really that important anymore, and it's awesome that now it's all in the hands of the people who are actually really into music."
The group is even now looking into booking their upcoming tour as a string of blog-sponsored shows. Though the recordings to this point have been primarily Ferguson and Biondo's efforts—a reflection of the group's roots as a joint solo venture—the live band regularly consists of anywhere from four to seven people, most typically percussionists White and Thomas Finn plus Dan Quirand, widely and affectionately known as "Crazy Dan" for his effusive presence at local rock shows. Agreed upon as an integral part of the band, Dan acts as something of a silent hype man.
"I take the motivation I feel from the music and get other people to feel like it's okay to be motivated by it too," Quirand says. "Dancing is contagious."
"The drummer's job is to keep Dan happy," Biondo explains. "And Dan's job is to keep the crowd happy."
The process of arranging Coolrunnings' recorded material for an expanded live setting is something Biondo and Ferguson have been eager to open up to the rest of the group, a trust facilitated by the pair's uncannily attuned songwriting.
"I'm a firm believer in, when I see a band live I don't want to hear what's on the recording," Ferguson says. "I'm glad our songs can stand up to that."
Biondo is quick to add a more specific reason for the band's recent focus on their live show: the lure of the road.
"I want to be playing somewhere every night," says Biondo, who did just that playing guitar for Royal Bangs before leaving to focus on Coolrunnings. "I don't want to have breaks. I feel like I've lived in a van for the past two years, and I don't want to move out of the van."