On Tuesday, Oct. 2, mtvU held an over-the-phone press conference with a host of college music columnists to promote its upcoming “Woodie Awards,” an annual production that rewards rising artists based on voting by college-aged listeners. Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack, James Mercer of The Shins and Stephen Friedman, executive producer of mtvU, were on hand to answer questions.
Friedman explained how the “Woodies” provide a voice for campus-based DJs and columnists. Unlike the “VMAs” and other MTV award shows, the ballots and winners at the “Woodie Awards” are entirely decided by the votes of college students.
New to the 2007 “Woodies” is the “Best Music on Campus” category, which allows college artists to submit their music and a profile to mtvU. Whatever act receives the most nationwide votes will receive roundtrip airfare to attend the Woodies on Nov. 8 at Manhattan’s legendary Roseland Ballroom and a $5,000 cash prize.
“We actually went out to all of the music editors through College Media Network and gave them the opportunity to submit their artists, even if they didn’t have videos, and we placed them on the ballot,” Friedman said. “We also went out to music DJs around the country and solicited their information.”
“The voting for ‘Best Music On Campus’ is blowing away all the other categories,” Friedman added. “There is a passion for discovering local bands and starting with (mtvU) you’re going to see more opportunities like this on a monthly basis.”
Justin Pierre, lead singer for the acclaimed pop-punk outfit Motion City Soundtrack, kicked off the Q-and-A session with the artists. His band is in the running for the “Best Video Woodie” for their bouncy angst anthem “Broken Heart.”
Pierre talked about the band’s ability to stay fresh despite the repetitive nature of its genre.
“The key is not thinking about it. I think we just try to avoid it and do whatever we do,” Pierre said. “It’s human nature to categorize music to make it easier to understand.”
James Mercer, guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter for indie-rock heroes The Shins, who lead the pack with nominations in three categories including one for “Woodie of The Year,” discussed his band’s meteoric rise in popularity. The Shins have achieved independent mainstream success since the days when its first release “Oh, Inverted World” was borderline synonymous with Zach Braff’s 2002 hit film “Garden State.” The Shins must contend with lyrical mastermind Talib Kweli, Bright Eyes, Spoon and Modest Mouse to win “Woodie of the Year.”
“It’s not necessarily the goal of a band (to get popular), but you’re speaking up and singing so people can hear it, so there is some satisfaction,” Mercer said. “I’m proud. Modest Mouse is such an integral part of my success; they really gave me a start. Spoon and Bright Eyes are just awesome bands.”
When asked where he thought The Shins would be if they hadn’t been buoyed by Braff’s flick, Mercer said, “You can actually tell where we would be, because in Japan and other countries ‘Garden State’ doesn’t have the presence in the pop psyche like it does here, so it’s more of a steady climb. I think without (“Garden State”) we’d still be doing OK, it just wouldn’t have been as dramatic.”
British sensations and Mercury award-winning psychedelic pop group The Klaxons are in the running for the “Left Field Woodie,” for band’s that are nearly impossible to classify.
“Someone said we sound like Earth, Wind and Fire meets hardcore. I’d describe us as having apocalyptic discord and punk,” James Righton, vocalist, keyboardist and bassist, said.
The Klaxons’ weird brand of genre-defying electronics, which has been occasionally described as “nu-rave” has been spurred on by the success of their single “Golden Skans.” Righton also discussed the unsettling premise for the video for their pulsating single, which features explosions of neon green paint from band members’ eyes and other disturbing imagery.
“James Ford, our producer, he likes to push us and challenge things. We’ve shaven our chests and jumped on trampolines for him,” Righton said. “We take our music very seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”
Dance-punk sensations Tokyo Police Club didn’t take themselves very seriously either, as they provided lighthearted responses to several inquiries, including one asking how they came to perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“How did Letterman find us?” vocalist Dave Monks said. “That’s one of the great mysteries of life.”
Legendary hip-hop producer RJD2, the mastermind behind countless rap projects including Soul Position’s street-savvy hit “Hand-Me-Downs,” discussed the inspiration behind his choice to switch to a more soulful, dance/funk-driven sound on his new record “The Third Hand.”
“For me, it’s not a complete 180, at least not internally,” RJD2, whose real name is John Krohn, said. “The best way I can describe it in the context of my other records: the difference comes from the summing of a lot of small changes. Take it with a grain of salt, the record isn’t anything larger than what the record is.”
With a sampling of everything ranging from pop-punk to whatever genre the Klaxons are, it is safe to say the Roseland Ballroom will see one of its most eclectic nights when the “Woodies” come to town on Nov. 8.