In The Attic in the Independent
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 23 05:46:50 CST 2007
In The Attic: A website with lofty musical ambitions
Since Rachel Fuller launched the In The Attic website, it has gone from strength to strength. She and partner Pete Townshend explain how it all started
By Pierre Perrone
Published: 22 February 2007
"We're like the Brad and Angelina of the music world. We just like adopting artists wherever we go," says Rachel Fuller about In The Attic, the website where she and partner Pete Townshend have been chatting and jamming with everyone from The Fratellis to The Zutons via The Kooks and Razorlight.
"It's so informal. We just have a couple of chairs, keyboard, acoustic guitar, stereo mike. We really don't rehearse or anything. We just come up with sheets of paper with lyrics on them and call charts and do a quick run through and that's it, about as live as you can get. I'm the girl from Essex, somewhere between Jools Holland and Wayne's World," explains the classically-trained 30-something singer-songwriter in the big upstairs room overlooking the Thames at Pete's Oceanic Studios in Richmond.
"The fact that we're ready to play with the people that we invite is the thing," stresses Townshend, who anticipated the arrival of the internet in Lifehouse, the early Seventies concept he has gone back to time and again, including on the current Who album Endless Wire, and also inspired MTV Unplugged when he played acoustic versions of Who songs at the Secret Policeman's Ball in 1979. "Doing unplugged, acoustic shows with rock'n'roll artists is not particularly new," admits rock's éminence grise. "But In The Attic is different, really. It's all about the exchange of ideas and playing, all the stuff I personally find incredibly inspiring."
In The Attic was Fuller's idea and came out of necessity. Having released her debut album, Cigarettes And Housework, on Universal in 2005, she found there was no budget available to promote it. "I'd sold about 12,000 copies but I couldn't do any large shows. Pete had a webcam set up and never used it. I had a blog site which was getting quite a lot of hits so I started doing In The Attic with Mikey Cuthbert, an old friend of mine. It was really silly. Music was the serious part of it. I would sing and play piano and Mikey would sing and play guitar and we would do stuff together. And then we would just be silly and I would do fashion tips. Because people could blog and watch the show in real time, they would ask questions and we would answer them. And Pete kind of popped his head around the door, and then he played 'Heart To Hang On To'," she recalls.
"Badly," interjects Townshend. "What happened was I realised I could feel the audience in a way I wouldn't have done if it had just been recorded. We had an upper limit on our bandwidth, believe it or not, 50 people, so it was a tiny audience and yet an incredible power. The following week, there they all were. It was one of those things where you see something creative involving, quite intriguing."
Within weeks, In The Attic became a buzz word on the internet. "We upped the bandwidth to 500, and that was topping out," says Fuller. "We started doing it in September 2005, we did a thing called Basement Jam at the Bedford in London in November, and that Christmas we decided to do a Christmas special. Our mate Jerry Hall came down and did a song, Mikey and I did a fake nativity play. We also went into the big studio here, it was the first thing we'd done here with a live audience. Simon, Pete's brother, came down and then we had Martha [Wainwright]. Pete then started talking about doing a tour with The Who, starting in Europe and all these festivals."
Townshend ran with the idea, bought an Airstream trailer and encouraged Fuller to hold In The Attic live webcasts on the road last summer.
"We carried a satellite. We had sliding bandwidth. Most of the time it was about 5,000 or 6,000 but at Hyde Park, it went up to 50,000. Going into that little caravan with a band like The Kooks and starting to chat was interesting," reflects Townshend. "All the performers came and played live without any pretentiousness. It was the generosity of spirit that I found so extraordinary, and also the lack of that sense of being so up your own arse that you have to control everything. It might have been to do with the internet, or the festival season, but people felt they could play music, allow themselves to go into an informal environment. They didn't have a manager or a PR person looking over their shoulder."
As Fuller is keen to emphasise, none of the bands was told what to play or do. "There was no time limit on their performance. E from Eels came on for 35 minutes and they had to call him to be on the main stage at this festival. The Kooks and the Flaming Lips came on twice. Wayne Coyne, the Lips' singer, said he came in to meet one his heroes, had a million questions to ask him, and what happened was that he found out we were really interested in him."
Townshend, the Godfather of punk, mod, grunge and Britpop, realised he could join in when the Lips, The Raconteurs or The Zutons played his songs but that he could also learn something from them. "We didn't set out to be vampiristic about it but I had a real feeling of being energised. Although I have always known it intellectually, I didn't have to go looking for clues as to whether or not what I've done has mattered to my many friends and peers and younger musicians. They came and told me. That connection has meant a lot to me. Pop has to have that feeling of being able to just elevate. Anyway, I learned a lot on the show. It definitely bumped up my writing. It had kind of slowed down," he confesses. "But suddenly I felt that I didn't have to write the fucking song of my life every time so I started to knock songs out. That came out of the informality, the light-heartedness of In The Attic. It fed into Endless Wire. What's happening on the road with me is I'm performing in a stereotyped, archetypal, classic rock band. If you change anything, it's significant. But meanwhile I can interface with a whole new area of the public on the outside. It's worked for me as well as Rachel."
While it would not be cost-effective to take the trailer to the US, Townshend and Fuller have been holding and filming Attic Jam events at bookstores and small venues there, with guests like Sean Lennon, Minnie Driver and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. They will do so again in parallel with the Who concerts and the guitarist's keynote address at the industry conference South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, next month. In the meantime, the pair have also recorded a radio and a TV pilot based around In The Attic, are talking to the Sirius platform in the US and have already struck a deal with BT here to make past episodes available on btpodshow.com.
"I've found an audience on the internet - an online audience, and then a real audience. I got feedback, support. The internet opened up a completely new layer of intimacy with blogs, myspace, etc. Now I want to see link action," says the ever-enterprising Fuller who has also pulled off quite a coup by convincing a dozen In The Attic guests to allow her to release Attic Jam, a compilation of their rough and ready tracks, via iTunes. Versed as he is in the old ways of the music industry, Townshend was sceptical about this. "If somebody came and asked me to give permission for something I'd strummed away in the back of a caravan with people laughing and the microphone moving around, I just wouldn't do it," he admits. "These are big name bands, but she got all of them."
Attic Jam is available on iTunes. Visit: www.intheattic.tv or www.inthe attic.btpodshow.com
-Brian in Atlanta
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