Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Craigslist Connection Proves Bitter:Sweet

This article appears in today's Washington Square News.

Don't dismiss the next ad you see on Craigslist. It could be your big break.

Singer-songwriter Shana Halligan had just returned to her hometown of Los Angeles from Europe. She was disillusioned with the L.A. scene, to say the least."There was a time when I had even stopped listening to music," Halligan said. But when she answered an anonymous ad on Craigslist for a singer, her luck changed. The source of the ad was Kiran Shahani, the former production wizard of the band Supreme Beings of Leisure. Despite their random introduction, the two unknowingly lived on the same block and even recorded in the same studio before meeting. The result of this collaboration is Bitter:Sweet.

Although Halligan's past work involved "sitting at a piano, writing sad songs," as she said in an interview with Santa Monica's KCRW radio station, there's no confessional key-playing on the group's debut album, The Mating Game. Instead it's an intoxicating blend of trip-hop, electronica and Halligan's seductive vocals.

The evolution from ivory to silicon was a natural process. "I've always had a big appreciation for electronic music, it's the majority of my CD collection," Halligan said. That's not to say the band runs on a 4/4 beat." My dad [Blood, Sweat and Tears founding member Dick Halligan] turned me on to a lot of music, including jazz," Halligan said. She explores this last element in her vocals, which move gracefully from the sassy "Dirty Laundry" to the lounge aesthetic of "Heaven." Halligan's father also took an active role in string arrangements for the album.

In addition to Everything But the Girl and Billie Holiday, Halligan cites Portishead as a major influence. Although the melancholia of Dummy is substituted for a more upbeat outlook on The Mating Game, the legacy is definitive. While Beth Gibbon's dignified delivery remains unmatched, both albums begin with the use of turntables, as well as a mood often described as a "spy theme."

Halligan had difficulty translating these influences into a musical environment, but after the serendipitous meeting with Shahani, everything fell together. The former Cirque du Soleil director Bruno Guez signed them to his Quango Music imprint and contributed production. But the group's foundation, undoubtedly, is the dynamic relationship between Halligan's singing and Shahani's production. This complementary setup has been extremely productive - Halligan said the group is already halfway done with their follow-up album, tentatively scheduled for a fall release. But you can expect to hear plenty from the band before then.

Bitter:Sweet has drawn attention from the prominent KCRW, and has appeared on soundtracks for "Grey's Anatomy," "Entourage" and "Nip/Tuck." Microsoft began preloading The Mating Game onto their Zune portable music players in the fall, while Apple's iTunes music store offers a number of remixes of the singles "The Mating Game," "Dirty Laundry" and "Moving Forward."

These trends coincide with the shift in the industry towards unconventional marketing. "Being innovative is how to get yourself played, so few bands can get onto commercial radio," Halligan said. In addition to television and radio outlets, the band has established a strong following online, receiving over two thousand daily plays on their MySpace page a year after the album's release. The band has embraced the virtual environment and posts frequent updates."We have to change with the times," Halligan said.

Extra exposure was particularly important because the logistics of touring presented another challenge. "We've set a standard for ourselves live, and we're trying to bring as many people as we can," Halligan said. The group's depth comes through its liner notes, which credit saxophone, cello, a number of violins and two DJs, all of whom appear during live sets. It's not quite Portishead's 35-piece string ensemble at Roseland Ballroom, but this collective mentality is rare in electronic music. Unfortunately, the sheer cost of such a lineup has prevented the band from touring extensively. This week represents Bitter:Sweet's first major trek across the country, and its first show in New York. A number of West Coast shows will follow, ending with a live performance at KCRW's "Sounds Eclectic Evening."

When Bitter:Sweet steps onto the stage Thursday night at Joe's Pub, expect a crowd.


There are actually two shows scheduled tonight. The 9:30 show is apparently sold out, but there are tickets still available for the 11:30 show. Info can be found at Joe's Pub.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...