When every basement-jamming band in the world has a website and a self-produced album, it can be tough to stand out in the crowd. So Travis Trevisan, frontman for San Diego's Tape Deck Mountain, turned to the same marketing tool that freshly hitched couples and horny bargoers have relied on for decades: the humble matchbook.
“It was the best money I ever spent,” he laughs.
A year ago, Trevisan handed out 2,500 matchbooks imprinted with his band's name and MySpace address at shows and parties. The back cover promised a free download of Sparks, the band's debut EP. How effective was it? I still have the matches in my incense drawer. And I downloaded the album, which was also available on cassette for $5 (tapes are cheap to produce and, as it turns out, a good way to get people to listen in the car).
Trevisan grins upon hearing this as we knock back a round of Olympias at Tin Can Ale House in Bankers Hill (“the new, cleaner Scolari's Office”). Bassist Jordan Clark, whose main gig is fronting The Feelings Mutual, is hanging out, too, though drummer and keyboardist Paul Remund apparently forgot to show up. He's a little flaky, his bandmates note.
“But he's awesome,” Trevisan says. “He plays the drums and the keyboard at the same time.”
Trevisan's matchbook idea stemmed from his obsession with branding. He also designs the band's artwork, from the record covers to the fliers. His scanned handwriting and enigmatic photos of friends have become trademarks. “We have a whole concept,” he explains. “Sometimes I think I spend too much time marketing and not enough time writing songs.”
Until recently, Trevisan had a day job as a graphic artist at the North County Times. He's now an unemployment-collecting casualty of the newspaper-industry collapse who lives with his parents in Escondido. And that might just be a good thing.
“People ask me if I get bored on unemployment, but I'm out pimping my band all day long. People can get annoying when they talk about their bands all the time, but that's a major part of my life. Uh, I hope I'm not annoying.”When he's not out pimping, Trevisan actually does manage some solid songwriting. And with all his newfound spare time, he can put serious effort into what was always more of a hobby. Since junior high, when he fingered sax in the school band—an admission that elicits five minutes of band-geek anecdotes around the table—he's wanted to play music.
After years spent as a side guy in local bands (First Wave Hello, Long Live Logos)—a role he says he found very comfortable—Trevisan finally took the plunge and turned frontman. “I was playing lead guitar, but then the bands would break up. Somebody would move or people wouldn't get along. Or there would just be too many different ideas.”Tape Deck Mountain's sound is nothing too new. The spacey / melodic / lo-fi electro-indie with distortion-pedal buildups and wry, occasionally ennui-laden lyrics nods in the direction of Sebadoh and My Bloody Valentine, among others. But the band definitely doesn't favor style over substance. After all, marketing can only get you so far. It also doesn't hurt that their music's recorded by the talented Keith Milgaten of Jamuel Saxon and Black Mamba.
Trevisan's learning new songwriting tricks as he goes along. “Originally, I would write the riffs first, record on the computer, then sing over. Lately, I've written the songs with chords. I'm mixing it up. A couple new songs have just been jams with the bands.”
And he's also moved on from the cassette tape, which had turned into their own baby albatross (“This band only records on tape!”). For the band's debut full-length, Ghost, Trevisan did a pressing of 7-inches featuring two songs from the album; a home-burned CDR with the full album comes with it. “Kids these days want vinyl,” he explains. “They want something collectible. If they get a CD, they're just going to download the songs and toss it.”
If Trevisan sells every last copy, he'll break even. Then he'll release another two songs on another 7-inch. Will this strategy lead to bigger success? Trevisan shrugs.
“I feel like I didn't choose to play music; it chose me,” he says. “I've always thought about songs all day long and being in a band and all that stupid stuff. There's a billion kids that want to be like Kurt Cobain. It's kind of like a crack-pipe dream, and people go crazy if they don't make it and crazy if they do. I try to keep a level head about it and stay balanced, but at the same time, you just have to go for it. I don't think I've completely gone for it yet.”Tape Deck Mountain play with Writer and The Paddle Boat on Friday, July 17, at Soda Bar.