Today, we’re introducing a new series called Area Codes, and the focus of this biweekly feature is local music scenes across the United States and the globe. In a music landscape where musicmaking has been largely democratized and the notion of a regional sound is an outdated concern, local music scenes seem to still be flowering or starting up in unexpected locales. So for the inaugural Area Codes, we’re headed to Boise, Idaho, a slept-on town living on Mountain Time, a city that flaunts a striking balance between both urban and rural qualities. (Pictured above is Eric Heaven of Boise blip-step duo Owlright boogie-boarding on the Boise River).
Initially, what interested me about Boise arose in an interview my colleague Tom Breihan did with Youth Lagoon while he was still at Pitchfork; in it, Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers said that, “Boise is rad… I feel like it’s going to be the next Portland within the next five to ten years.” That intrigued me because, well, I had never heard that about Boise, and that’s pretty generous speculation, given that Portland is America’s hipster epicenter on that side of the country. Even though I’m originally from a flyover state, and I try to stand tall for others who might have had a similar experience to me as kids, I had, even still, ignorantly assumed certain things about those mountain states. Boise had never really struck me as that kind of town, a location that was conducive to a really active and fruitful music scene. So I tracked Powers down and forced the issue. He was more than happy to elaborate.
“Idaho is one of those places where, when you drive through, some people are just like, ‘There’s nothing in Idaho,'” Powers says, calling in from the tour van somewhere in Colorado. “But there’s some beautiful places. Three hours out from Boise is just the mountains, and they’re covered in snow. It’s like Narnia!”
When it comes to artists like Powers and Boise cinematographer Tyler T. Williams, you can notice nature’s immediate effect on their aesthetic. It’s a connection that both Powers and Williams will readily make. “There’s a river that runs through campus,” Powers says. “There’s a wooded area in there and I would just sit and think. I feel like that type of stuff can’t help but inform whatever you create. That’s what inspired me the most, the landscape and growing up there. There’s a lot of nostalgia for me — old restaurants, or whatever where my dad would take me after my little league game, things like that.”
“I think the part about Boise that influences me most is the vast rural locations,” Williams, who is responsible for a number of impressive videos like Youth Lagoon’s “Montana,” says over e-mail. “There is this long country road that goes out to this place called Swan Falls, and it is a huge canyon that the Snake River formed. I’ve shot a few music videos out on the long highway roads and the canyon. It’s gorgeous. I just love the country. Boise is the perfect hybrid of countryside and the downtown city life.”
Even though Boise has some new exciting things sprouting up, it isn’t exactly a new scene. It has a pretty significant history when it comes to indie rock, and remnants of that past are still abound. Scene forefathers Built To Spill once reigned supreme in downtown Boise, and to an extent, musicians in Boise had a hard time working out from under their shadow.
“In the Built To Spill era, and a little after it, there was this thing where people were just trying to rehash the Built To Spill sound, and I think the Boise scene has outgrown that a little,” says Eric Gilbert, keyboardist for the local band Finn Riggins and one of Boise local music’s biggest supporters. “There was a lull; everyone felt like they had to move to Portland, get out of town if they were going to pursue doing music at all. The Internet has allowed that reality to change a little bit. I remember one question we got on tour from a paper in Michigan. They were like, ‘What’s it like coming from a musically devoid state like Idaho?’ I was like, ‘Well, there’s lots of music there. There’s not a lot of industry. There’s a lot of Idaho music, but a lot of people moved elsewhere to make it happen.’ But [new activity] is really getting the scene excited again. A bunch of bands came out of the woodwork, Trevor included, and a lot of the kids are like, ‘We don’t have to move! We’re going to make it happen here.'”
Impact is something I always think about. Is it more important to stay in your hometown and cultivate something locally, or should you always, given the opportunity, move to a city where there’s a little more competition? Is it more important or fulfilling to have a stronger connection with a handful of people, or a weak connection with dozens? For someone like Williams, so involved in a thriving scene, the answer is pretty clear: “I totally think it’s important to create your own scene nowadays, and to create your own path. We are all influenced by past ideas, art, music, and even fashion. It’s throwing all of those nostalgic feelings into one and try to make it something new and original. Boise is definitely creating its own scene, and it is really awesome to see so many people come out of Boise and leave a mark on the world.”
Also, a freakin’ river runs through the middle of their downtown, which is a nice little capsule of Boise life and illustrative of its dynamic. A river! How awesome is that?
OTHER NOTABLE SUPPORTERS
Sam runs the Visual Arts Collective (the VaC) and is highly-regarded as one of the Boise music scene’s most influential supporters. He’s basically Boise’s answer to Todd P, and he’s keen on getting locals involved with the stuff he books at the VaC.
Matt Jones, creator of Audiomilk.com
“Matt has this vision for this blog that would cover local bands coming up but it would also cover all kinds of rad new music. Audiomilk has definitely made an impact on the Boise scene.”- Trevor
Go Listen Boise
Go Listen Boise is an independent radio station that exudes a college radio feel; there’s lot of free forum and the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. But, in an area that’s typically starved for locally-focused outlets, Radio Boise makes that much more of an impact in Boise.
KRBX 89.9 FM
Another grassroots radio station deeply rooted in the local scene.
Visual Arts Collective
“The VaC has “Uber Tuesday”, it’s basically a giant local party every Tuesday, where sometimes there’s out of state bands that play but it’s mostly centered around local acts, it’s free to get in, cheap beer, cheap pizza. It has a spectacular vibe,” says Trevor Powers. To see Trevor back up his word here, roll to the 1:32 mark in the above video.
“There’s this super cool bar called Neurolux. They do tons of rad shows. Me and my buddies hang out there a lot.” – Trevor
The Red Room
The Shredder (DIY, all ages space)
Linen Building (all ages)
Flying M Coffee Garage (all ages)
The Venue (all ages)
Knitting Factory (“We have a Knitting Factory here now, which is kind of more embarrassing than anything.” – Eric)
Idaho Botanical Garden
Eagle River Pavillion
The Manor (a little outside of town in Caldwell, ID)
The Military Reserve
“Another place that I love is a biking/hiking trail in the foothills of Boise called The Military Reserve. I’ve also shot there a few times and go there from time to time to relax and just get away yet, it is literally two minutes from downtown. There is also an old cemetery that was from the civil war that was relocated there in the early 1900’s after flooding at its previous location. There is actually a headstone there of a man named David Bowie” – Tyler
A quick note on the tracks, because they represent several different threads running concurrently through the Boise scene. Youth Lagoon you know from Powers’ outstanding debut Year Of Hibernation, and Finn Riggins is the relative “veteran” of the scene, having been out for about five years and hitting the road hard during that timeframe. Shades is a really new band that people are buzzing about, and TEENS is sort of Idaho’s resident garage rock party outfit. Mozam Beaks is the project of Trevor Kamplain — “He just tries to transfer his mind to someplace else, say like a tropical beach, and think of different scenarios and write songs about it. His music is super progressive, I feel like what music needs is forward thinking. He’s another one who’s on top of his game,” Powers says. Hypno Safari wades in similar sonic territory as Youth Lagoon, which makes sense because Logan Hyde plays guitar for Youth Lagoon live. Le Fleur is a Boise outfit in the Built To Spill mold, and Owlright makes blippy, goofy pop incantations.
All directed by Tyler T. Williams.
Finn Riggins – “Dali”
Youth Lagoon – “Montana”
Coma Cinema – “Blue Suicide”
With Child – “Come Near Me”
Heeding the immortal words of Kreayshawn — “You can’t find that? / “I think you need a Google Map” — I’ve made a shareable Google Map with many landmarks mentioned in Area Codes. If I’m missing something, let me know in the comments.
View AREA CODES: Boise, ID in a larger map
I’m looking for more pockets of awesome music both in America and abroad, so if you’ve got an idea for something that would be a great part of Area Codes, let us know through firstname.lastname@example.org.