Yesterday I spoke with Ryan Lee Dunlap, guitarist and vocalist of Fan-Tan. The band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is about to release their album, Age of Discovery, on May 11th and is beginning a national tour to promote their music on April 15th.
Their MySpace reads:
Fan-Tan formed in the fall of 2006 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when Kuki and Sandee Kooks, two Indonesian expatriates active in the Chapel Hill college rock scene, met local singer/guitarist Ryan Lee Dunlap and began making music that parted stylistically from the 90s alt rock sound so abundant in the area, and drew more from British post-punk and new wave. After a few months of recording demos and playing shows around the area, the trio decided to move the project and themselves to New York where they incorporated the unique synth sounds of fellow North Carolinian and circuit-bender Mike Walters, who had also recently relocated. It is here where ultimately the sound of Fan-Tan would take shape. Over the next two years, the band played venues all over New York, toured the east coast, and began recording their second EP with Arjun Agerwala at James Iha’s Stratosphere Sound Studio in Chelsea. The results of those sessions, entitled “The Age of Discovery” will be released on March 26th, 2010, followed by a US tour in April.
Here’s what Ryan had to say:
Tell me how you guys got your start:
We’re all from Chapel Hill, NC, a college town. It’s a big music town, it’s music scene was very big in the 90’s, it was like the second Seattle. It had its hay day. We all played with different bands at various points, but Kuki, the drummer, wanted to start our own thing. Sandy came in and we started playing as a trio.
In CH, college rock, indie rock was the thing. But we all had a new wave, very British influence. That was why we got together to play and once we started playing and it was really good. From the beginning we had a bit of a following, and we just kind of clicked. We only stayed for 6 months before we moved to New York.
We got here and started playing around, toured a couple of times. We had a really long recording process, and the material we recorded in 2008 is just now being released on May 11th. We’re also going to do an East coast tour to promote the EP that we’re releasing.
Why was the recording process really long?
Stupid stuff. Logistical shit, the guy was impossible to get a hold of. It wasn’t because there were creative troubles. We’re recording new material now.
How was your transition from North Carolina to New York City?
It was pretty easy for us. We just moved and started playing shows. We emailed everyone as soon as we got here; it was a lot of calls and stuff. Our first show at the Cake Shop, and it was good. We had a good draw because we knew a lot of people in NYC at the time, so that sort of helped. And once you play one show at a venue you can book another show there later. We just kept doing that and then we went to bigger and bigger venues and started getting established as being able to play wherever we wanted to around the city.
Where do you guys typically play?
We play the Mercury Lounge a lot, Cake Shop. Pretty much everywhere, The Knitting Factory, the new one in Brooklyn, and Union Pool, etc.
Do you guys have a team?
We have a manger, Sarah Fenlaw, she’s a friend of ours acting as a manger. We don’t have a management company, but we’re working with Janelle Rogers, from Green Light Go Publicity, and Kim Paris, our booking agent.
Do you think a band can success without a team of managers, PR, agents, etc.?
Not per se, the point of a manager is to 1.) handle all the logistical crap so the band doesn’t have to. And 2.) You want a manager who has connections, who can get you signed to a label. If you already know everyone in the business, and you don’t mind doing all the clerical ins-and-outs then you don’t really need one.
And how do you guys support yourselves? Is your band your career?
We make money with what we can sell at shows. We released a seven inch record, a single, but we didn’t do it properly because, it was just a vinyl. We didn’t have any digital distribution to sell at shows. But we went on a week long tour and wanted to have something to sell.
But at this point we all have day jobs. I’m a bar tender, the drummer works in a coffee shop, mike does instillation, and Sandy has a day job in accounting. The goal is to be able to do it all the time, which means you gotta be making money doing it. In my plan, our goal is to be able to write and record and tour all the time.
Have you heard of the 1000 True Fans theory?
1000 true fans? That sounds like a lot of money but if you break it down it starts not to be quite as much. There’s the overhead to record the ablums that they’re buying, divide the profits four ways, and there’s the cost for PR companies, and the label will take a chunk of that. And you can’t make as much money off of records as you used to be able to because you can’t really sell as many hard copies of material as you used to.
I think it’s a good start and I think the big way that a lot of people make money right now is licensing with iPod commercials or TV shows or something. It’s essentially free money. We had a song on some E! Channel show that paid three grand. It went all to the record label because we owed them money, but it was literally a free $3000.
Touring is a good way to make money besides the licensing. And it’s having its affect on the industry because you have to be a good live band and not have to mind being on the road all the time.
What’s your next step?
Going to the next level would mean getting more press and getting label attention. That’s is the hard part.
Our biggest problem was that we didn’t have any recorded material. It was like rolling without a resume, playing a lot of live shows without any recorded material. Getting this EP out is our big plan of action and getting a PR company behind it. We’re also touring on our own. Labels like when bands tour because they want us to promote ourselves.
Do you think getting signed to a label is the end-all of making it in the industry?
Not always. We’ve been on a label before and we certainly weren’t making a living. And, of course there are bands that never sign to a label and they make a good sum of money. Depends on how the cards fall. We’re sustaining the whole thing on our own right now. It would be nice to get a label because they provide distribution. I think the break down of why it’s important to get on a label is press and distribution, not that it’s the end-all-be-all. You can be signed and forgotten about. Look at a labels roster and you’re guaranteed to come across a few musicians you’ve never heard of because they got caught in the cracks somewhere. Press is very important; the more you’re in the limelight and the more people are talking about you, the better.
What are your thoughts on becoming famous?
It’s just being able to play music all the time. When you’re playing live and you’re on stage and everyone’s looking at you, well that’s nice. But I don’t think it’s because it’s a fame allure, I think it’s more of the love of playing your music. Personally I enjoy playing live more than I do recording or writing. You’re in a dark room, up on a stage and literally you can do whatever you want, be whoever you want. You can be a show pony for a little bit. But that feeling, fame, is not the reason I wake up everyday. I don’t think the fame aspect plays in too much. No one who does this actually expects to get super famous anyway.
How do you think bands similar to yours make direct connections with their fans?
It’s changed. You don’t tend to sell as many hard copies of CDs is basically it. Aside from not selling hard copies, it’s changed the outlet of the press. Getting written up in a blog is more important than going into Rolling Stone. They go to Stereogum or Pitchfork, that’s the big press break. I think the Internet has shifted it from magazine to blog, other than sales. But sales are a big thing because you can’t just sell a million copies, you have to tour and find other ways of promoting.
We’re going to release the record and record some more stuff. The booking agent is working on licensing, too. We’re trying to make it more of a full time job, so we’re looking to either start our own label or get on a label. I want to keep writing, recording and touring as much as we can get away with. We’re in it for life; we don’t have anything else to do. We’ve consigned ourselves to this. But it’s nice, its fun, I want to keep doing what we’re doing and I hope to be able to do it at a larger scale.
Thu Apr 15, 2010: Cake Shop – New York, NY
Tue May 11, 2010: The M Room – Philadelphia, PA
Wed May 12, 2010: The Velvet Lounge – Washington, DC
Thu May 13, 2010: The Plaza Bowl – Richmond, VA
Fri May 14, 2010: Local 506 – Chapel Hill, NC
Sun May 16, 2010: Snug Harbor – Charlotte, NC
Tue May 18, 2010: Drunken Unicorn – Atlanta, GA
Fri May 21, 2010: Derby City Espresso – Louisville, KY
Sat May 22, 2010: The Comet – Cincinnati, OH
Sun May 23, 2010: The Majestic Cafe – Detroit, MI