KCRW's music director Jason Bentley is one of the patron saints of bands at South By Southwest. Countless bands playing the fest got their start from DJs at the station, and Bentley himself has championed dozens of them on his daily show, Morning Becomes Eclectic, vaunting them from unknowns to buzz bands sometimes literally overnight (or, at least, over coffee).
We snagged some time with Bentley at KCRW's Saturday day show (featuring Rogue Wave and Australia's The Middle East), to talk about his discoveries of the year, spewing craziness via megaphone, and why getting beers and iPhones are a killer combo.
WCS: How many South Bys is this for you?
Jason Bentley: Probably four or five. This is my second consecutive one as music director, though, which is a totally different experience. I come in representing a very important station; your responsibilities are totally different. I used to come in, guerilla style, do a panel, and then fly out. I like this way better.
It's been some pretty late nights, hot and crowded bars — and some bad music too. Bad mixes. I really feel for the bands who have to endure that. They fly thousands of miles, this is their big breakout, and they just get a shit mix. I can't deal with it. I have to leave if something doesn't sound good. That's what's good about our day showcase: it's pristine. It's like a health spa in there. You get to relax and lay down on beanbags.
WCS: Without naming a band, has there been anyone you've seen going in with high hopes, and left thinking, “who is ever gonna see this band?”
JB: Of course. You gotta keep your expectations in check down here. If you hype it up and invest yourself in something, you're bound to be let down. There're some clunkers — and that's ok. You gotta keep in mind that most of these bands are in the early stage of their development, and things will get better. But I've definitely walked out of a few showcases.
WCS: Conversely — who were the bands you were most surprised by?
JB: I liked Minus The Bear a lot — they were great, really tight. I dipped into check out a couple songs from Band of Horses; I haven't heard the new album but they sounded great.
[Full interview, after the jump.]
I think Fanfarlo made a really strong impression here, considering we saw them last year and there were about 10 people, it's nice to see their evolution, and KCRW's been a small part in that, so it's gratifying. It's always good to have that one experience when you stumble into a bar and have no idea who's there and what's going to happen — it's a great experience — and I saw a band from Barcelona called Delorean last night, who were pretty good. It was still a clunky mix a little bit, but I heard some good potential. I don't know that I would ever have caught them or known about them before.
WCS: How about LA bands?
JB: I had never seen Local Natives, and they were terrific: great energy. Although I haven't seen them yet, I had a chance to meet Voxhaul Broadcast, who were lovely people. I would love to see them — I really like the songs I've heard recently.
WCS: What's the craziest thing that happened this South By?
JB: I got to ride home in a pedicab from Broken Bells the other night. The guy gave me a giant pink megaphone and I just accosted people on the street all the way back to the hotel. It was so fun. It's sort of like a touch of Burning Man here in Austin. The overall experience gives you faith — not in the business; there's business, and there's networking, and that's great, and the conventions run very well. But this gives you faith in the music: people are here for that. Maybe in LA I don't get that as much because of the Blackberry/iPhone crowd; here, it can be someone with an acoustic guitar, pouring their heart out, and everyone's just locked. I love that.
WCS: Finally, what's the correct amount of beer to drink to survive this madness?
JB: I think, for me, I tie it to my iPhone battery. I'll keep drinking as long as I have a charge. As soon as I'm out, I'm done. 20%, 5% — I know I need to slow down.