Among the throng of music-business hopefuls in the Midstate, Self is the stuff of legend. The brainchild of Prince-inspired pop mastermind Matt Mahaffey, Self was a group of local boys who made good, living out the dream of so many aspiring musicians by having their natural talent recognized with four sonorous words: major label recording contract. As if to prove the point beyond any reasonable doubt, they made a substantial pop record, 2000's Gizmodgery, using only toy instruments.
But then the winds changed, as they so often do: DreamWorks — the major label that signed Self on the strength of their releases via Murfreesboro indie Spongebath Records — was bought out, the suits attempted to redesign the band and their sound, and the results failed to please anyone involved. After the 2005 death of their guitarist, Matt's brother Mike Mahaffey, the general consensus was to put Self on indefinite hiatus as the members pursued other ventures. Their label aside, there were plenty of entities who valued the individual members' prowess in music production.
Over the next few years, new Self material trickled onto the Web — a demo here, a single there. In November 2012, however, the first proper Self show in seven years was booked at Exit/In for the end of the year, and it promptly sold out. Around the same time, a sleek new website (self.is) appeared, featuring a streaming sampler of mostly new songs. On a sunny afternoon just before the holiday rush, the Scene checked in with Mahaffey and bassist Mac Burrus on the current state of Self. And as it turns out, the tracks in the sampler were born in the same way as the very first Self music: Matt wrote and recorded it all, and the band is learning it for the show.
"It's not like [new Self material is] not getting made, it's just not getting released," says Mahaffey. "[A forthcoming] record is a definite." He's calling in from his new studio in Nashville, where he's currently at work on music for television programs that will launch on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel.
Despite the loss of Mike and the fact that the surviving members are fully immersed in rewarding careers, the band loves to play together when possible. "All of us have grown up, and we've all been doing other things for the past eight years," says Burrus, currently a Los Angeles resident and the music co-producer for ABC's late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! "We're now testing the waters of 'What do we need to do? What do we need to pull together?' ... This whole process is kind of a reboot, and we've got to do the beta testing."
While no one in the band is in a position to begin a Self world tour, Mahaffey and Burrus concur that the group is excited to exploit the rare opportunities they have to get together. Mahaffey and drummer Jason Rawlings have children, and they're particularly aware of the precarious position of arts programs in schools. Considering that Self's members are spread across the country, they decided to look for a charity with a national focus. Burrus got an enthusiastic response from Music for Life Alliance, a national nonprofit supporting community organizations that give the experience of making music to underprivileged kids. Burrus tells us he did have to make the nature of Self's music clear: After hearing the choice language in "Trunk Fulla Amps," Burrus' contact at MFLA decided against inviting the organization's founder, Muriel Anderson, to the show.
Though the group is optimistic about the opportunities presented by social media and crowd-sourced funding sites like Kickstarter, they are still cautious about how much selling has to be done to make a band financially solvent. Even without the middleman of a record label, records don't stand a chance of breaking even without marketing. Mahaffey cites one recent production client who released a single, which was only marketed via his social media platforms to 2 million fans. It sold 65,000 copies, which seems substantial — until one considers that less than 5 percent of the artist's fans responded, even at the purchase price of $1.
Self's next steps are largely dependent on the outcome of Saturday's show, as well as the members' project schedules. Mahaffey and Burrus are excited and flattered by the response to the show announcement and the sampler, as well as to the website, which was created on their behalf by Michael Eades, curator of the media-and-culture blog Yewknee. Eades, whose YK Records is handling the physical release of locals Forget Cassettes' O Cursa LP, has been a friend of Self since his days as Web manager for Spongebath, and he reports via email that he's happy to "drag Self into the 21st century ... kicking and screaming."
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needs more candlelight! i like this song.