Since the Albany Music Coalition first launched in April, co-founders Harith Saam and Katie Hammon have been met with some confusion as to just what it is their organization is hoping to do.
In addition to the launch party at Valentine’s, the group has so far hosted three songwriting workshops, with big names on the local music scene such as Michael Eck, Matthew Loiacono and duo The Parlor acting as panelists. Through those events, Saam and Hammon have gotten a number of suggestions — including requests for a songwriting session focused on electronic music.
According to Saam, that’s kind of the point of the organization, in a nutshell.
“We hope to act as kind of a central hub of communication of scenes that might be kind of separate,” Saam said. “Not just musical genres, but also areas of the music world — like venue owners, like radio stations, like labels, recording studios. The idea is just to get people talking to each other. That’s why we put on the events. Everything that we do is moving toward that goal of just getting people to talk that might not otherwise.”
Opening the lines
The events have already opened up lines of communication among musicians and newcomers to the scene that may not have had a chance to touch base before. The songwriting events were hosted at Fuzz Records, which opened in Albany in June and has quickly become a new hub for the music scene, hosting shows and serving as a place for local musicians to sell their music on consignment.
“It was kind of in the back of my head, getting involved with putting on shows — I didn’t think it would actually be at the shop, but it just kind of happened due to the space that lent itself to hosting these shows,” said Josh Cotrona, Fuzz Records’ owner and a Cohoes native.
“I still think it’s not known by everybody in the music scene, but the people who do know or have gotten to know about us have been really on board with their support as customers — it’s a place where they can hang their fliers, sell local consignments on CDs, records or tapes even. That’s definitely something I’d like to continue.”
And the final songwriting workshop in particular, which took place Sept. 13, helped bridge the gap among different eras in the Albany music scene, with panelists Eck, Loiacono and Meghan Duffy all representing different eras of Albany music.
“It was a nice time,” Loiacono said. “The thing that was really cool about it — it was Michael Eck, Meg Duffy and myself, and that was sort of interesting. You had representatives from three very different generations of songwriters in our area, and a really great perspective on the craft of writing. And interestingly enough, with the structure [of the event], it was a wide open playing field. It was really cool to hear that many different perspectives.”
Loiacono, known for his solo work as Matthew Carefully and for his roles in Kamikaze Hearts and Rosary Beard, was actually the first to introduce Saam and Hammon a few years ago. Saam, a songwriter and musician in his own right, had originally spoken with Loiacono about an idea for a two-day conference, and Loiacono suggested he contact Hammon, who performs under the name Bear Grass and with the duo Slender Shoulders.
“We met up and we found out that Katie was actually working on almost exactly the same thing I that I was talking about,” Saam said. “And so we just got to talking about how I didn’t, and I wouldn’t have known that, if I had not been referred to this specific person by one other specific person.”
“We just talked quite a bit about the fact that there’s so many hot things in the scene that are happening at the same time,” Hammon said.
“And how the communication doesn’t really happen,” Saam added.
The two first began talking in May of 2011 about holding a conference — an idea the two are still working toward. With support from friends in the music community, including B3nson Recording Co. (two of the coalition’s board members are with B3nson band Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned), the two readied the launch party in April.
So far, the coalition has held only four events. Reaction from attendees and the community has been positive.
“Everybody that’s attended the events has been so happy about them, and they’ve been contacting other people,” Hammon said. “And we’ve gotten a lot of conversation with different people around the events that we’ve held so far.”
Saam and Hammon both come from Albany’s indie and alternative rock scene, and there has been a focus on those genres, but they’re looking to branch out. The duo has already reached out to the Albany Blues Foundation and to jazz musicians in the area.
“We don’t want to be subject to a specific genre — I mean, we are friends with specific people, so they’re naturally going to be more inclined to be part of it,” Hammon said.
So far the Capital Region music community has embraced what the coalition has been trying to do. Eric Krans and Jen O’Connor of The Parlor, who hosted the first songwriting workshop on Aug. 2 alongside Eric Margan, have found themselves opening up more about their songwriting process since the workshop, with both other musicians and within their own group.
“It’s interesting for us because we rarely get to talk about the craft — that’s not something that we do a lot,” Krans said. “For Jen and I, when we write for We are Jeneric and The Parlor, we’re writing songs that unfold kind of organically, and the process isn’t something we’re fully cognizant of maybe — we’re just not talking about it. So trying to explain it to others is an awesome thing to do.”
Local-centric radio station WEXT, Exit 97.7-FM, helped to put on the launch party. Chris Wienk, the station’s vice president of radio and afternoon DJ, would like to help the coalition more in the future.
“The idea is a monumental one; I think it’s really cool,” Wienk said. “What they were telling me they wanted to do just struck me as very ambitious, but a very cool thing to do to sort of find ways to help unite people and collaborate, and provide opportunities for younger musicians to sort of get the lay of the land and figure out how they can be a part of it.”
Saam and Hammon are looking into hosting further events in the future — the multiple-day conference idea is still on the table. “That’s kind of our long-term goal, to put on seminars and workshops so that we can learn as a community.”
Music in the schools
Loiacono would like to see the coalition become more involved with music education in schools.
“I remember when I was in high school, way back in the day at Columbia High School in East Greenbush, they had a folk festival, and it was amazing for a young student to be heavily involved in putting on a concert,” he said.
“Some of us got to perform as openers, too, which was a super amazing experience for me — it lit a fire for the future. An organization like the Albany Music Coalition could really get involved and be an official front for that kind of activity.”
Even with the recent closings of Jillian’s and The Dublin Underground, AKA Savannah’s, both long-standing music venues in Albany, Saam feels that the scene is still growing. It’s just a matter of knowing where events are happening — and that’s where the coalition hopes to help.
“Someone said to me last year — right before Rest Fest, somebody said to me, ‘I know that there must be a way to have fun in Albany, but I haven’t found it,’ ” Saam said. “And this was a man in his mid-50s. It’s not that he’s new in town, it’s that he had no idea that there was music in Albany. I’ve thought that for years, and when I was younger and putting on music, the way that people got famous had been set in stone for like half a century, so that’s kind of how we approached things, and I just don’t think that’s the case anymore.”