Thoughts on Austin Music Awards 2012

Quiet Company

They say that when it rains, it pours. Last night was evidence enough of that, as Central Texas was pummeled by a violent downpour that thankfully subsided in time for life to resume this morning. Unfortunately, that old adage has also been evident with regards to the technical problems we’ve been encountering trying to put up our SXSW recap photo slideshow. So while Dan the tech wizard continues his battle against the WordPress demons, I’d like to offer up some thoughts on the announcement of the 2011-2012 Austin Music Awards (which, for all intents and purposes is really just the 2011 awards, and will be referred to as such from here on out).

These awards are remarkably flawed. They hold a lot of weight as the only major awards dedicated to Austin music (outside of our own lengthy year-end lists, of course), and have the ability to propel winners to great renown – as happened last year with the Bright Light Social Hour. The fact that the whole system is based off of popular voting from around the world means that any band can harness their sizable fan base to skew votes in their favor (see last year’s One Eyed Doll). This is, I believe, what happened with Quiet Company this year.

Now, I love Quiet Company, as has been well-documented on this site. I’ve had the honor of interviewing them about We Are All Where We Belong, and they are thoughtful, humble and enjoyable guys, who produced one of the best records of last year. However, they have been able to couple their prodigious talent with one of the most vital online presences in town. They mobilized their vast fan base quite effectively in order to garner the accolades they deserve. The lesson from all of this, I think, is that every up-and-coming bands needs an extremely active presence on Twitter and Facebook. This is mandatory, and if you are in a band that is not making full use of BOTH of these mediums, you will not get recognition anywhere. I received more AMA voting reminders from Quiet Company than from any artist, and it wasn’t even close. They do this really well, and their social media presence should serve as a model for everyone else. Again, this is not to take away from their music (I did vote for them in three of the ten categories they won), but simply to recognize another element of the Quiet Company experience that deserves acknowledgement.

‘You, Me, & the Boatman’ - Quiet Company

Lost in the story about Quiet Company’s dominance this year is the fact that SPEAK and the Wheeler Brothers also both performed quite impressively in the polling for the AMAs. SPEAK, in fact, played the Bruce Springsteen to Quiet Company’s Prince (1984 Billboard chart joke!) in six different categories. If QC hadn’t put out a record this year, we’d be talking about how SPEAK swept all the major categories and is on their way to worldwide acclaim. Instead, they didn’t finish first in a single category and are not being talked about at all, despite also releasing a stellar album last year in I Believe in Everything. The Wheeler Brothers, though, are probably the most surprising to me. We had them on our year-end album list, and favorably reviewed their album, but I had no idea they had such a wide and fervent fan base. This performance – four outright wins, including Best New Artist, and numerous top three finishes – signals that they are major players in the Austin music scene, and a force to be reckoned with.

Wheeler Brothers - Portraits

Now that the congratulations to these three bands – the unquestionable winners of the poll this year – are out of the way, I’d like to point out the tremendous shortcomings of the voting. As much as Taylor Muse deserved Songwriter and Male Vocals, anybody but Gary Clark Jr winning Musician of the Year is just inexplicable to me. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over this oversight, because I anticipate that he will do quite nicely at next year’s AMAs after his debut album explodes all over the national scene later this year, but he deserves more of a share of the top spots than he received.

Still, at least Gary Clark Jr finished in several top 10 lists. What about all of the musicians whose work went unrecognized? How can the preeminent Austin awards ignore the work of Shakey Graves on acoustic guitar or Wes Cargal’s drumming for Not in the Face? How does Okkervil River release one of the top albums of the year and not make a single top list? Not one! So many other OVRLD favorites were completely bypassed this year, like Marmalakes, Hundred Visions, Little Radar, The Boxing Lesson, Golden Bear, the Great Nostalgic, paperthreat, and Little Lo, among so many more. Others are mere footnotes on various lists, like Sorne, Zorch, the Shears, Wild Child, Sphynx, Maneja Beto, and Whiskey Shivers (though congrats to all of you for making one of the lists!). The Austin Music Awards only begin to scratch the surface of the diversity of the music scene here, and should at best be considered a jumping off point for exploration.

Several wonderful and deserving artists were recognized this year by the AMA. Check the full list of AMA winners here. And if you don’t have the albums from Quiet Company, SPEAK, and the Wheeler Brothers, get them. They have officially become essential listening for any local music fan.

– Carter

The Wheeler Brothers