Raleigh indie rockers Annuals earn big hype, little cash 

In the gardening world, annuals pop up in the spring, party all summer and say farewell in the fall. In the music world, Annuals have no such luxury. Touring in support of their expansive sophomore album Such Fun, the six fresh-faced members of Raleigh's finest indie-pop outfit have spent their winter in transit from one mercilessly frigid destination to the next—Minneapolis, Cleveland, Boston, Montreal. Chicago offered a pleasant -20 degrees.

"Yeah, we weren't worried so much about the crowd sizes as the fucking freezing-ass cold," says Adam Baker, Annuals' free-spirited, 22-year-old frontman. "I do not do well in cold weather."

Such are the sacrifices a modern independent band must make to earn a buck. As Baker explains, no amount of critical acclaim (of which Annuals have had plenty) or Internet buzz (of which they've probably had too much) is enough to sustain a musical career in this day and age.

"I'm definitely proud that we're going somewhere and that I get to do this," he says, "but it's certainly not the same thing it used to be. If we were where we are now, say, 15 years ago, when records were still selling, we wouldn't have a damn thing to worry about. ...But anyone who thinks they're going to make any money from selling records now is just living in the '90s. There's no chance. It's just not possible anymore. Now you make money by touring, period."

And so Annuals soldier on, basking now in the comparatively sweltering conditions of a brief jaunt through the Southeast on their way home to North Carolina. It should certainly be noted that Baker and his bandmates are very proud ambassadors of the burgeoning Raleigh scene. Even as their music garners comparisons to the meticulously produced chamber-pop of Canadian ensembles like the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, the axis of their influences and style remains firmly in the City of Oaks.

"It's definitely had a huge impact on me," Baker says. "I've been playing around Raleigh since I was 12 or 13, so it's had a pretty massive influence. I was actually just thinking about this the other day—if I'm ever actually going to be able to leave this city. I'm already turning into an old man at 22, not wanting to leave. But the music scene here right now is starting to really evolve, and bands are branching out into new directions, which I think is really important to any good music scene."

As Baker encourages people to check out what's brewing in Raleigh, it's hard to ignore that he and his Annuals brethren seem to make up a large chunk of that scene in and of themselves. Just about everybody in the band has other projects they're involved with, including guitarist Kenny Florence's band Sunfold—the group from which Annuals actually sprung in 2003. More than anything, all this musical cross-pollination speaks to the diverse talents of these young musicians. But of course, basic survival is a factor, too, as even hip rock bands are battling the economic downturn.

"It's definitely a concern, but it's definitely worth it, too," Baker says. "I'm certainly not making any money. I'm not even able to afford my own apartment. I'm living with my bass player's mom. I can't keep a day job because I'm on tour all the time. ...But, you know, I can't imagine being able to enjoy anything else in life as much as this for a career."

Even when the cadence of his speaking voice slips into beer pong champion mode, Baker's passion is undeniable, and so is his talent. Such Fun, the follow-up to Annuals' much ballyhooed 2006 debut Be He Me, runs the gamut from pensive piano balladry to drum-heavy saloon rock and prog caliber showmanship. Baker writes most of the songs himself, then delivers them to the band for the rather liberal layering process to begin. The result on Such Fun is a big, wide-screen, Technicolor sound perfectly suited to the Bob Ross nature painting chosen for the album's cover. It's also music well suited to Annuals' notoriously high energy shows, which makes winter gigging a little easier to deal with, even in a recession.

"We have a goal of making a profit this year," Baker says. "We've been trying for years to figure out how to come home from a tour with money. But each time, something happens—a wheel of the van comes off or something. But, you know, our main goal is just to get better, keep working, and hopefully, somehow, get our own apartments."

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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