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All week, Arts Desk profiles area artists heading to Texas for the South by Southwest Music Conference, March 15-20.
Ryan McLaughlin’s last band broke up because its singer moved to Austin. When his new band pulls into the city for South by Southwest, it’ll have a floor to crash on. The music conference is the centerpiece of a decidedly self-organized, 16-date tour, and McLaughlin and the other members of Typefighter—-Thomas Orgren, John Crum, and Will Waikart—-enter Texas with tapered expectations.
“Chances are nothing is going to happen,” McLaughlin says. “But just to have an opportunity to have the right people hear us is reason enough to go.”
South by Southwest is riddled with class warfare. Not long ago, a wealth of broke spring breakers would spend the conference stumbling upon random artists playing across sorted pizza parlors. Today MTV is making a week of it, and poaching target crowds with free swag. It’s more of a scavenger hunt for star power, and bored locals are armed with smart phones, driven by breaking RSVP lists. Countless acts making the trip without some type of sponsorship—-label investors, gigs at Mountain Dew parties, revered writers in their corner—-are in trouble.
“That’s true, again: Chances are nothing is going to happen,” McLaughlin says. “We’re pretty unknown. But that’s why we’re going—-any musician doing anything is going to be there.”
As McLaughlin explains, it wasn’t so much performing at South by last year that made a difference, but the benefit of forging a touring route and dealing with various promoters.
“Lately [promoters] have been getting in touch,” McLaughlin says. “It’s crazy that these people remember us and are willing to give us another date; it gives life to our old songs. There’s nothing but reasons to keep going.”
Typefighter’s fighting chance is its lovesick, aggressively unpretentious, and sweet-toothed rock. Standout gems like “I Wrote This Song for You” from 2009’s debut EP, I Want To See You Game, Boys, I Want To See You Brave, elegantly relay the hopeful moments of crippling crushes. Cuts are often acoustic, always vulnerable.
Teasers from their new album Fall Winter Fall, set for a March 27 release party, show nice expansion and experimentation. McLaughlin even tapped his mother to sing on three songs. Originally a folk-fueled sound with six members, Typefighter’s music has matured into a sort of smart, banjo-infused emo.
“We’ve been through a lot of changes,” McLaughlin says. “I’m pretty confident in the songs…But it’s one of those things where I don’t really know, been so busy getting the new album pressed. Finding artwork. Getting posters to hand out in Austin.”
In addition to acting as chief songwriter and working full-time at Sticky Rice on H Street NE, McLaughlin is Typefighter’s booking representative, street team, and social-media strategist.
“Honestly, it fucking sucks,” McLaughlin says. “I’ve gotten pretty over relying on a third-party website to do our promoting. We’ve gone back to the old school model of having our own domain name. There’s a certain pride there.”
McLaughlin speaks at length about marketing strategies and misfires. It’s his day off but he sounds exhausted. Then he elaborates on the tender and rewarding parts: On the band’s Facebook profile, a fan asked for chords to a song that “changed my life.” McLaughlin personally replied, “chords: verse: C, CM7, C6 Chorus: F, Am Btwn ch and v: G.”
“That’s huge,” McLaughlin says. “What am I going to do—-not give him the chords? I don’t write hard songs.”