You probably have not heard of Nathan Broaddus, or his calm, thoughtful bedroom recording project Evenings. But Broaddus, a talented 21-year-old UVA student studying French and Music, may very well be the “next big thing”—we small town music writers are always on the lookout for it—to come out of Charlottesville music.
Though he has no physical releases, Evenings’ Nathan Broaddus has achieved fame on the Internet by giving his digital recordings the earthy warmth of vinyl.
Broaddus said he didn’t know anyone was listening to his music when he started posting to MySpace the Evenings tracks that he’d recorded at home. “I’ve been tinkering around with computers and music for a long time,” he said over the phone last week. “I started putting stuff on the Internet. I gave it out for free.”
Things picked up for Broaddus when he released a free EP, North Dorm, through the streaming music website Bandcamp last year. After that EP gained traction, Broaddus released a follow-up full-length last month called Lately, composed while he was studying abroad in France.
Lately is expanding his e-celebrity exponentially. In all, his songs have logged nearly 150,000 plays from Last.fm users. About 2,300 Facebook users are “fans” of the Evenings page. He’s been tweeted about, Facebooked about and endlessly blogged about.
In a word, he is famous. And yet, he has no physical releases. Few of his fans likely know, or are likely to care, about his real name. By his own accounting, the only two concerts Evenings has ever played—one at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, and the other at the UVA Chapel—were disasters.
The smart money in the music industry says that as the Internet continues to kill record sales, big bands will cover the difference by playing more shows and selling more merchandise. But the flip-side is that the Internet has paved the way for a cottage industry of lonely guys with guitars and computers who don’t like playing shows, but who are good enough at making music —and savvy enough at social networking —for their music to be a hobby that makes them money. You won’t see artists like Broaddus in Rolling Stone, but selling his new LP through Bandcamp for five bucks a pop at least covers the cost of his groceries.
Question: If you are a musician who is written about on lots of blogs, and lots of people are listening to your music, and yet nobody knows your name or where you live, are you actually famous? For his part, Broaddus doesn’t seem to care. “I’ve never put anything physical out,” he said. (Although a 7" single is tentatively planned through a San Francisco label.) “I think that’s a cool idea. I think it’s a cool idea to have all this kind of stuff that’s intangible amount to something.
“It’s all just music,” he said.
Lately emphasizes a handmade, earthy vibe over great emotional depth. Just as it was composed on a computer, it is best enjoyed while sitting at one. For song titles—“[Intro] Jæune Reflection,” “Aisle, It Blooms,” “////”—Broaddus seems to choose them not for what they mean, but for how they look in 10-pt. Arial on the Bandcamp website. For those of us who prize lyrics, it makes the temptation strong to view the project more as a vehicle for fashion (Lately is a stone’s throw from chillwave) than an artist trying to communicate a message. But people don’t generally like music because it’s cool, or fashionable. People like music because they like it, and listening to Lately is superbly pleasant.
Broaddus’ music is a disciple of acts like The Books and the producer Matthew Herbert (who is working on a highly-anticipated album composed entirely of pig noises). Broaddus reduces the sound of the instruments—a drumset, an army of classical and electric guitar sounds that may, in fact, be synthesizer sounds—into jagged little segments. The method creates a collage effect, where cloudy melodies intermingle with the soothing sounds of water passing over rocks and reassembled windchimes. Synth tones pitch-shift lazily, like a tired Hawaiian running a bottleneck down his lap steel. Through it all, the sound of an LP needle crackles as if across a dollar-bin record.
One of Broaddus’ songs recently premiered on a blog called Turntable Kitchen, which suggests recipes for meals to go with music you’re enjoying. I won’t even attempt to best that website’s conclusion: “As a result [Lately] pairs well with Kasey’s Grilled Watermelon Salad recipe. The salad is bright, full-flavored and clean. It’s a unique and refreshing treat for the spring and summer months.”