Afternoons Was Set to Be the Next Big Indie Band. Then Their World Collapsed
PHOTO BY W.B. FONTENOT
At the beginning of 2008, Steven Scott and Brian Canning were on a bit of a roll, having just returned from touring Europe with their indie band, Irving. Over the course of the act’s 10-year career, they also had opened for Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand and The Polyphonic Spree, and had recently been playing sold-out shows on their own.
Yet when Scott and Canning heard their music on Indie 103.1 that year, they were shocked. Why? Because it wasn't the music of Irving that was playing — it was unreleased demos of their experimental electronic folk side project, Afternoons.
Even more bizarre was how the late, great alternative rock station got ahold of the demos: through graphic designer Shepard Fairey, the famous street artist behind the 2008 Obama "Hope" campaign poster, and creator of Indie 103.1's logo.
In 2008, Fairey was approaching the height of his fame. He had long ago created the "Obey" giant logo, which found its way onto T-shirts and posters around the world, and made art for album covers for Black Eyed Peas and Smashing Pumpkins.
He also happened to be a regular customer at Los Feliz's Mustard Seed Café, where Scott worked as a server. One day on a whim Scott gave Fairey a demo CD of Afternoons' song "Say Yes." A week later Fairey returned, asking to make a poster for the track.
Scott recalls thinking, "You're going to promote us, and you're asking permission?"
Canning adds, "It wasn't like a favor. He just loved the band and felt really passionate about it."
Fairey produced 200 posters for the song and gave the demo to Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols, who began playing "Say Yes" on his early-afternoon Indie 103.1 show, Jonesy's Jukebox. Simultaneously, another Afternoons song made it onto the air, "Love Is a Western Word."
As if that weren't enough, Fairey's "Say Yes" poster was hung inside the station's studio.
Thanks to this great buzz, the Afternoons project quickly gained local attention, and a number of venues wanted to host the side project's shows. There was just one problem: What to do about Irving?
For months, Scott and Canning had wanted to take their music in a more theatrical direction than Irving's relatively staid indie-pop stylings. They wanted to create something along the lines of Belle and Sebastian or Arcade Fire, groups with elaborate costumes and unorthodox song structures. But they felt the need to compromise with Irving's other members.
"Sometimes we'd bring songs to the band that were longer than three minutes, with weird transitions, and they would get watered down, homogenized," Canning says.
"Irving was great, but I think all of the doors that were going to open for us had opened," Scott says. "It was time to swing for the fences. I wanted a home run or a strikeout."
So in early 2008 Irving officially disbanded, though after a year of testing out others, Scott and Canning rejoined with Irving's original members in Afternoons, along with a seven-piece female choir.
The group's star continued to rise throughout 2008. Their monthlong residency at Spaceland sold out, and they played locally with venerated indie act Sea Wolf. After playing South by Southwest in 2009, the band found a manager: Mike Martinovich, who also managed big names My Morning Jacket and Flight of the Conchords.
Soon after, Afternoons were picked up by the Windish Agency for booking, landed a publishing deal with Chrysalis Records and signed with well-known publicity company Girlie Action. In 2010 the band began recording with Tom Biller, the Grammy-winning engineer of Kanye West's 2005 smash hit "Gold Digger."
"For the first time in my life, I'm almost certain this is happening," Scott recalls. "There's too much shit lining up right now for it not to work out."
But it, in fact, did not work out.
On Jan. 15, 2009, Indie 103.1 stopped broadcasting, rather than submitting to corporate demands to play more commercial music. "It was devastating," Canning says. "We had this huge buzz because of this major radio station. Then in one day it was gone."
In 2010, after confusion arose with a Welsh band called The Afternoons, Afternoons switched their handle to Shadow Shadow Shade and, suddenly, that Shepard Fairey poster was a lot less promotable.
At this point, manager Martinovich urged the band to put on hold the album they were planning and to "go in the studio and get really weird."
The idea was for Shadow Shadow Shade to create a concept album, something so original and experimental that the band would stand out and, hopefully, earn a rave review from Pitchfork. They were game.
The concept for the work involved two lovers and was set against the backdrop of an occupied America, inspired by Simone De Beauvoir's The Mandarins. It was compelling music, but their management, according to Canning and Scott, took an unusual approach to its promotion: In an effort to, presumably, up its "cool cachet," they wanted the work to fly under the radar. Which meant not promoting it. At all. (Martinovich could not be reached for comment.)
And so in October 2010, Shadow Shadow Shade released their self-titled debut and waited — in silence.
In the meantime, their booking agent had fallen off the face of the Earth, almost literally. Earlier that year she’d been caught in an 8.8-magnitude earthquake while vacationing in Chile, losing contact with the band. When she resurfaced she left the Windish Agency, and thus, Shadow Shadow Shade's first national tour was canceled.
Next, BMG Rights Management bought out Chrysalis Records and the band was immediately dropped. And so, having not received praise from Pitchfork — or, really, any attention at all — the band parted ways with Martinovich in 2011. "Everything that was lining up so perfectly was suddenly completely upside down," Scott says.
Before long, members left the outfit for work and family responsibilities, and in 2012 Shadow Shadow Shade officially went on hiatus.
Today, Brian Canning writes screenplays and is a staff composer for Barking Owl, a music company that works on big ad campaigns. Steven Scott manages the Mustard Seed Café, as well as Square One Dining.
Surprisingly, they aren't bitter. They’re glad to have experienced near-success, and don’t hold a grudge against their ex-management. "I don't want this to come off as 'poor me.' I don't think there's bad advice, there's just advice," Scott says. “We’d probably trust someone like that again.”
All is not lost, though. The band re-formed in late 2013, with four of the original members and their original name, Afternoons, despite the fact that the similarly named Welsh act is still around. "We came back to the name Afternoons because that's what the band was created to be," Scott says.
And he and Canning have resurrected the original, pre-concept album, which was never released: Say Yes now is slated for release at the end of the summer on Irving's former label, Eenie Meenie Records.
It's been a long strange trip, which has brought them back to where they started.
"It's really weird to go back to something you did, five years later," Scott says. "It's a little full-circle."
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