Starting a Movement With Weathervane Music.
Sharon Van Etten was the ideal artist to launch the Shaking Through series, a recording opportunity for independent artists.
“She came to us enormously talented, reasonably well known, had amazing songs that she was ready to go with,” says producer Brian McTear, the co-founder of Weathervane Music, the incubator that runs the video and recording series, along with WXPN. “She just needed some sort of force that would bring it all together for one concentrated moment and give her something to catapult from.”
Van Etten’s “Love More” single, which she recorded over two days in McTear’s Fishtown studio, was released in January 2010 and made available for free download. A week later Pitchfork reviewed the song. The Brooklynite’s career exploded from there.
“A couple months after that,” McTear notes, “someone sent me a YouTube video of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver covering ‘Love More.’ It wasn’t that he was just covering a Sharon Van Etten song. He was covering the song that we recorded and released.”
A few weeks later, Van Etten performed with The Antlers, opening for indie heroes The National at Radio City Music Hall. She released a full album in October that drew rave reviews. This year, she has toured around the world. And she released another album in May.
While she had a self-produced album under her belt before working with McTear and the Weathervane/ Shaking Through crew, it was Van Etten’s experiences here that really thrust her into the world.
“It definitely reinforced the idea of music being a huge community, and that you’re a part of something bigger,” Van Etten says. “It was definitely reassuring and refreshing to work with people who just love music, who are being supportive and helping you do it.”
That’s exactly why Weathervane exists.
The story of Weathervane Music, although extravagant in detail, started as a rather simple idea: a couple of friends wanted to foster a healthy independent music ecosystem. They wanted to create opportunities and offer resources to support and advance the careers of independent musicians.
They wanted to start a movement.
In 2002, McTear and musician Matt Pond started talking about a musicians’ retreat, like a writers’ or artists’ community, where a musician could live and work for free while pursuing their craft in an inspiring and comfortable setting.
That idea evolved over time. Seven years later, Weathervane Music became a reality – a non-profit, community-funded organization that assists musicians early in their careers, and sees the world from the music fans’ perspective.
“The mission of the non-profit, generally, is to find artists who could use the nudge, who are doing great things but haven’t yet had the opportunity to record in a real studio,” says Mark Schoneveld, a Weathervane board member, guest curator and the brains behind the influential blog YVYNYL.
Weathervane produced four songs in 2009 before the WXPN partnership was established and the whole project was re-branded as “Shaking Through.” The Sharon Van Etten song was the first official project of the new operation.
In the community spirit, Van Etten was given the opportunity to select a guest curator, a person who would chose a band or musician who would participate in a Shaking Through production. She chose Peter Silberman, the singer and guitarist from The Antlers. Silberman picked Nick Principe, the multi-instrumentalist behind Port St. Willow, to be a Shaking Through artist.
Silberman and Principe have been friends all their lives, so they collaborated on the entire project.
“I didn’t expect it to be as immersive an experience as it was,” Silberman says. “Bringing Nick in as the musician changed the notion of what we were going to do completely. In the same way that Nick had me there as a familiar face while in the midst of an extremely daunting task, I had him there as a friend, someone I had worked with very closely. So, in a way, it was more comfortable than I expected.”
The production was the February 2011 feature, which is available online at www.shakingthrough.com.
The series has featured several Philadelphia bands including Reading Rainbow, Party Photographers and Hezekiah Jones.
“We only do ten of these projects in a year and there’s easily ten bands in Fishtown that we could focus on,” says McTear. “But that doesn’t help spread the word far and wide. In an effort to reach people we don’t know or people in far off locations, we’ve decided to start reaching out to these guest curators who would have audiences that would fan in all directions.”
Dr. Dog co-founder Scott McMicken, another guest curator, elaborates, “I see it as a humanitarian effort in a way. Brian’s offering so many people these opportunities to do things they ordinarily wouldn’t have the chance to do. Not only that but also taking the fruits of the labor and presenting it to the world.”
McMicken invited his friend Mike Visser of the band Springs to participate in a production.
“It was life changing,” McMicken says. “It brought Mike and I a lot closer.”
While the entire project is a community- building effort and the work of many people helps make it a success, it was the leadership of Brian McTear that made the effort a reality.
“It has a lot to do with the fact that it’s a great idea,” says Peter English, Weathervane’s assistant director. “And Brian is a visionary guy. That’s something that Brian might leave out.”