From Playing To An Empty Room To A Europe Tour: A Story of Musicians
Interviewing Libido Cornucopia (USA) Written and Interviewed by Shazeen (UK)
Anytime I heard someone say, “If I could move to Portland I would do it in a heartbeat”, my curiosity for the eclectic city grew. I wondered why all those I spoken to about Portland were at least greatly fond of it. Amongst its many prized qualities, the ones which stand out combine individualism, eccentricity and community. In the early 1970s, an urban growth boundary was instituted in Portland’s metro area, separating land that can be urbanised from rural land and is intended to encourage efficient use of infrastructure and prevent urban expansion onto farm and forest lands. This gives more years of supply of developable land.
And the result, ladies and gentlemen? There is a creative use of space and neighbourhood connectedness. For a storytelling journalist as myself, places like this find its way delicately to my heart.
And that is how I met the people that get together in this creative space. Tons of designers, artists, musicians and small businesses find an independent mind-set in Portland. They value a different kind of success; one that fosters collaboration and solving real challenges of their city and the world. I don’t think ‘corporate jobs’ is the main flavour of any day, in Portland.
Michael, the lead singer of the group, moved to Portland at 28. It felt like a fresh start; a new chapter in his life. Instead of being a mere college dropout with an unrealistic dream, he was going to prove to others and himself that this meant the world to him and that it meant moving far away; far away from everyone he so dearly loved. If he was willing to do this, he will stop at nothing to meet his goal. Upon arriving in Portland, he described it as being wonderful. It was far bigger than any place he had ever lived. The people were remarkably more kind and sincere. While being a big city, the city in many ways had some small town vibes as well.
To Michael who came a long way from leaving his home and everything he knew behind, to embark on a daring and risky journey, his passion was the radar through which he decided that the music scene in Portland looked promising. There are plenty of venues and plenty of open mics; and since the city prides itself of people being eccentric, he was confident they would appreciate the quirkiness that makes Libido Cornucopia stand out so much. The only thing he really doesn’t like about Portland is the fact that many things close early and there aren’t many 24-hour businesses open.
Starting a band in Portland was the first time that Michael had serious, committed, and hard-working band members. They instantly caught onto the rhythm of the grand dream requiring an enormous amount of unpaid work and unyielding passion. No one in Michigan, where he is originally from, understood that.
Dante, Darling, Muse, Otto; now that’s a motto. I can get behind that. These names formed the now Libido Corn music sensation that performed several gigs in Portland, USA, and are set to take other states of America and Europe by storm next year.
The band joined me for a pleasant natter, basking in the luxury of a Sunday afternoon. It was the perfect time to get together because exciting activities in the music front happened in their week. Their typical Sunday is usually a ‘chill day’, and that translates to having more time to rehearse together. That’s right, Libido Corn making music is a total ‘chill day.’ Of course they’re pretty flexible when they jam their music but Sunday is a popular one. Last Sunday they practiced for about six hours and had a gig after that, so you can imagine it isn’t a predictable Sunday in their lives. The bars around their locality are pretty cool and inviting and you can imagine music performers seizing the ambience.
Each member of the band has a job so it’s a tough one to manage, but they emphasize that they work their jobs around their music than vice versa. They will make as much time as they can to make music and show a good time to people. They hope to not work 9 to 5 jobs forever and labelled themselves, ‘working musicians’ for the time being. Other than Sunday they practice 3 or 4 times every week after work at night.
I’ve known Michael for about a year and followed him sharing his journey with the band. I listened to a couple of songs and was immediately intrigued to capture your story. How did you guys find each other? Did you always know each other or did you meet accidentally?
Michael: No we didn’t always know each other. It’s interesting to note that none of us are from Portland and moved here at some point or another before knowing who each other are. I found Eli through Craig List actually, which is a site I have a mixed response with, but he had a good reaction. I met Ethan at a bar that none of us liked but at least we met there and one good thing came out of it. Originally we had a bass player, who was Eli’s friend called Damien. But we let him go as he just did not want to put in the time anymore. So then we were considering doing a three piece band as I didn’t try to find good members for a long time. I was just worn out and tired. So Ethan knew our new bass player Blake, actually, and asked him to jam and he only had to do it one time to decide that he is a perfect fit. So that’s how we all know each other.
How do you guys complement each other’s personality with the different talent and skillset you that you bring to the table? Do you clash?
Eli: With me and Michael, the second we met we discovered we have the same music styles, so that’s a really big driving force at the beginning when it was just me and him. But with a lot of what the rhythmic section does, our individual skills are always on point so there are different sides of the music having chemistry.
Michael: We don’t really have personality differences that we can’t get over. We have good communication skills. We’re all pretty healthy psychologically and on the same wavelength. If someone shoots an idea down it’s never personal. We say, “hey, this idea isn’t good for the band.” That’s it. That’s what it’s all about; what works for the band and how to be the best version of our individual selves within it. If an idea doesn’t cut it then it doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean it’s completely dismissed. Ideas are fluid and may be considered or developed later.
Blake: Speaking on what Michael was saying, I was inspired by Fleet so I jammed a lot of their songs and was the newest member in the band. So I became the one reinventing some of the parts that were already there. Michael would come out and say this bass part is not working, you know? But we leave our egos at the door. It’s not a competition to exceed anybody else. Finding that rhythm and working it out as you go along, that’s how a band of musicians get comfortable with each other.
As a band playing music together do you know exactly what the end result might be or do you have ideas and a basic structure to guide what you are making?
Ethan: The structure is definitely there. Well there has been so far. Right now it’s such a new band that with all the new members, we’re just trying to get some common ground between all of us. We already have a lot of Michael’s material, which is pre-structured so it gives us all a chance to kind of come to one point and work with it. But in the future we’re not going to always stick to that. we’re going to write music as a band together.
Michael: We have desired goals. We make music from the songs I’ve written. It won’t and can’t continue this way forever and that’s how we’ll know how we will work creatively from scratch together. There’s potential to write songs together.
Blake: The end goal is to make good music and I’m excited too. I like Michael’s material. Before my audition I heard it and thought it was pretty sweet. I liked it a lot. It’ll be interesting to see how we come into our own with new stuff we start jamming. There’s going to be a lot of growth.
How many songs are on the album?
Michael: Seven. We can collectively play about 6 songs right now. And I have 3 or 4 on reserve that I haven’t fully jammed on yet. There are 10 original songs; so yeah, that much.
Are you thinking to tour simultaneously as you are recording your songs?
Ethan: That’s hectic I have to tell you. If you’re doing all three things; which is writing songs, recording them, and performing them too, it’s too much. It’s best to record our songs first and rehearse them and get them out there in a tour.
Blake: There’s so much effort in recording and you have to edit and redo songs that you’ve recorded the first few times. You don’t want to distract your mind by touring yt.
Ethan: It’s best to focus on one thing first and we’re chill and content with where we are right now.
On the entrepreneurial side of your band, in this day and age of social media there are so many different platforms; way more than a decade ago when I began getting used to only two platforms. How have you utilised these platforms to put music out there and make noise; or even to build an audience?
Michael: I manage our band’s pages on Facebook. Now that I think about it, I wish I began the pages once the band was fully formed, as we do now, because the vision would make more sense at this point. Also you have to bear in mind what Facebook marketing works like. It’s not only by the content and material you put on it; it’s run by ads and algorithms. If you don’t pay Facebook to boost your page or posts, they only show something like, 5% of your content. Now Instagam is the best social media for us because you don’t have an algorithm to stop showing content if you don’t pay them. It’s a new network and the success of it is in using hashtags, which in return gives users their dose of success. Instagram have a business or personal account, so when we launched our Instagam page we connected it to our Facebook page, and Instagram gave us an option to choose the page that enables business tools and features. A business page on Instagram is cool and preferred; mainly because you get so much more coverage and likes on it than on a personal page. At least in my case I noticed that my personal page doesn’t get nearly as many likes and audiences as our business one does.
Blake: Once we’ve done more recording it’ll be more effective to market music using way more content at our discretion. With more content we can get a hold of more people.
Eli: They need to like our music to understand it. We don’t have music on the get go that we get right but we will eventually have that. Spotify works well for us as a platform too.
Michael: Once our EP is done we will use Facebook ads more.
In your opinion how has modern digital platforms influenced music and how you, as a band, make music and perform to the public?
Michael: Major labels are not necessary like they used to be. That’s not to say they’re irrelevant because of course they are. But the time and costs to go through the record label route is enormous that not every artist and musician makes it out there. These days, for instance the likes of Lana Del Rey, who launched her career making music and music videos on YouTube and later grew big in her recognition, musicians can access digital platforms to make and promote their music. They don’t cost much and people are willing to take this route. At the very least it’s good for people that are starting up.
Blake: It’s easier to put music out there with digital tools at our disposal but it’s not refined. So many people are now doing it so it’s harder to stand out and we often get labelled just because a whole bunch of other people are doing it and might not be as hard working and unique as ourselves. This is unless you’re targeting an audience.
Michael: The supply of music has gone up but a lot of musicians may not know how to market it. That’s why content is important. It has to be fresh, engaging and meaningful content for the people that build bridges between them and your music. When we know how to market using social media we can make far more noise. We don’t need a major record label at this point because we can easily get music out now. We don’t have to wait until we’re scooped up by a record label to get our music in front of people. My only gripe is, at the moment capital is needed but we have the likes of Kickstarter to raise funds and make things happening for the band. We may use an angel investor at some point in the future because I registered my band, Libido Cornucopia, as a LLC.
I read on your social media pages that you make music to “change the world.” Can you describe what ways your music is set to change the world?
Michael: It’s good marketing, right? [laughs]
Ethan: Artists have the power to do that. If you think about what they do, they are given a platform and voice, both of which are amplified to make the world a better place than when you came into it.
Blake: When life became bleak music was my way to feel better. It went from being an escape to making me feel better and welcomed back to the world I didn’t need to escape from. When it made me feel better, I got into music. I became a musician. Listening to 70s funk picked me up and made me feel better. Every artist has the ability to do that.
Michael: Our musical style is very unique and our fans tell us, “You guys are unique and original! It’s nice to hear something different and mildly fresh.” An impact like this alone is enough to change the music world and even the world, per se.
Eli: I think it comes down to making the kind of music that you deeply want to, and you’ll see people following it.
Blake: We make different music and some people dislike it, while some others completely resonate with it. But we’re here to inspire people with our out-of-the-box approach to creativity.
The first music video I’ve seen from you was the one Michael shown me a few months ago; where he was walking through a picturesque city and playing music on his guitar. Can you tell the story of the music video and are all of your songs similar to its vibe?
Michael: That video was one of my very first ones and it has long since changed. The music video was shot in Michigan because I had the idea for the video before I met Eli, Ethan and Blake in Portland. I had no choice but to do a video at that point.
Eli: We’ve come a long way since that music video.
Blake: Ethan and I are contributing to the effects of our collective recordings now.
Michael: Oh, our music video styles are a lot better now. It’s the nature of being any type of artist. You begin somewhere and give it the best you can, but you realise moving forward that you’re developing your niche, especially by meeting people who together make it all happen.
Eli: Now in our recordings and videos we have more chemistry and dynamics because different skills and expressions are assigned individually to us. We bring it all into the mix and create a new character out of the outcomes.
Michael: I can play drums but I’m not a drummer, so that’s where Ethan comes in and takes over that aspect of our recordings. Blake does bass. They both do what I can’t do, at least not well, and they add a new dimension to songs and videos that sounds and looks better.
On your band’s Instagram page I was mesmerized by the rehearsal space in which you practice your music. It looked gorgeous to the point that I asked Eli to decorate my bedroom one day! Can you tell me more about that, Eli?
Eli: Me and Michael used to constantly practice in this bare space. There wasn’t much to say for the space, but the complete opposite about our music. Then when the band fully formed I decided to align our rehearsal space with the dynamics and strength of our music, and so I lightened up the room and designed it to give it something to look at. Aesthetics are our game.
Blake: Eli is thoughtful…
Ethan: It set the mood for sure. It makes us comfortable when playing music and collaborating.
Blake: When we’re about to play music we turn off the lights to make it sexy [laughs]
Michael: Eli organises the band in these harmonious ways. He’s accommodating.
After putting yourself out there as an emerging band and already performed live shows, as well as exposed yourself on social media with both fans and haters, what have you learnt are some misconceptions about musicians?
Ethan: One misconception I have noticed is that fans see the end result and not the hard work. So then people end up replicating what they see and pick their instruments to try playing the same kind of music. They still can’t produce what hard work can. I think it’s fair to say that musicians do way more behind the scenes than they do in front of people.
Blake: I didn’t do a lot of recording but I did shows with the band. So when I first recorded something I learnt that you have to get a 4 minute song flawless and absolutely aligned with your vision. You can’t just make a song and not tweak it hundreds of times. You can’t mess a single note otherwise people notice these flaws and you get judged for it. You have to redo your recordings until you get it right. That’s another misconception about musicians – a 4 minute song looks easy but it’s unknown how much redoing goes into the song before it’s ready to be launched and performed.
Ethan: It can be frustrating. Musicians spend 6 to 7 hours on a 4 minute piece and even after that more tweaking is required. It’s also about capturing the energy of a song. You might like your piece but it still doesn’t feel right. As long as it feels right it’s ready to go. It’s not just about getting a room and getting funked up; it’s a lot of work. Drink your coffee, and clocking in right now.
Michael: Another misconception of musicians is that they’re lazy. Well, that’s fairly accurate. Most are lazy. But we are not and that’s why we work so well. Putting shows on and going on tours is a hell load of hard work and business hours. Now combine this with unpaid labour and hours to be paid in the future? You have to be willing to do all of this. This is what people sometimes don’t understand.
Eli: As an artist you begin appreciating other artists. You start reading what they say and do through a different lens.
Blake: One of my favourite bands is The Prodigy. They make good music and I recall watching an interview of them saying all they did was play music and dedicate to being successful. People do this stuff for fun as a living. That’s the kind of dedication required to make things happen as a musician.
What about of celebrities in the public eye when they deal with fans and haters? Have you experienced anything to that extent during your exposure to the public?
Michael: If you’re a serious musician people will hate you for silly reasons; like, they’ll hate my hair or the way I dress and then the YouTube comments section is another can of worms.
Blake: It doesn’t matter if you have haters. People are entitled to their opinion; some like what we do and others don’t like it. It’s about me and what makes me feel good to make music. If it makes others feel good, great; if not, turn that shit off.
Ethan: A lot of bands are not in it for the fame. They do their own thing and get it out there. It doesn’t matter if there are 5 people listening to their music or 500 people listening. I take that attitude because in having to keep chasing the highs and lows I’ll spend more energy than I need to. My ideal way is to stick my nose in the grind and not worry about the spotlight; and put art out there.
Eli: We might not know if it’ll last. We put it out there because it might mean something to someone even after we’ve died and 20 years’ later people love our material and find it relevant to their times. That’s a super intriguing thing about any kind of art.
Michael: You’re not going to get 100% in every feedback. You need to have thick skin and not take things personally. Putting our soul into it and keeping our head above water is the balance we achieve.
Eli: Some people get jealous because they see us moving faster than they are and start hating. It sucks. But you have to focus on why you’re doing it and stay in that mental and emotional space.
Do you have experiences of envy coming from people where they are supportive in front of you and indirectly try bringing you down?
Blake: Personally, I’m competitive by nature. Pathologically competitive. If you’re a better baseball player then me then I’ll likely get jealous.
Eli: Have a do off with the previous bassist [laughs]
Blake: But I remind myself not to take it seriously. I owned a business where I was turning ideas into money and couldn’t see some friends anymore due to lack of time and shifting priorities. I was focused on growing the business. These same friends thought it was a pipe dream and that I should get a job, so as soon as they seen that I was doing well in the business, they got jealous of my success. We look at others and don’t want them to do better than us. But deep down we should respect that a lot goes into it and it’s each individual’s journey and hard work. They worked their ass off. And that’s what I always remember.
Eli: Blake has to see the environment of Portland musicians yet. We have a competing battle of the bands. But throughout our shows, other artists are supportive and accepting. It’s weird stuff. If it you dig it in Portland you’re doing something right.
Ethan: I got fired in my first band. They fired and crushed me and I vowed to practice hard to show them and be on TV one day. This was years’ ago, so that’s ancient history. But it still feels this way. I feel like getting these guys and wished that they didn’t fire me. But these experiences sent me through the loops and here I am now, doing what I love.
Have you ever been rock bottom before joining the band?
Ethan: Before I joined our band I had given up on music. I came to Portland to play music and couldn’t find a band. No one wanted to give me a chance. I repeated in my head that I give up and nothing is working out in my favour. Then I met Michael and we both felt similar about this. And that is where I stopped giving up and picked up my music again.
Blake: I’m from Texas and over there, we know of Portland. I visited Portland as a youngster and wanted to move there after college. I was rock bottom at some point in my life where as a guitarist I gave up and didn’t take it seriously. Everything was so depressing. I put my bass guitar down for 2 or 3 years. When I moved to Portland I saved money and bought a guitar to pursue music once again. I did open mic and was still feeling depressed because I thought nobody was going to watch a bass player. But with enough time I had this hope in me that something will fucking come eventually. I got the call for the audition for the band I am now part of.
Michael: We used to be a 3 piece band. Jeremy and Paul were very hard working and creative, but in Summer, 48 hours before a show we were due to go on stage and perform for, they let me down by leaving the band for personal reasons. We worked hard for 5 hours, 5 times a week and had a few shows lined up for us. When they left, my hopes and dreams were crashed and I was worn out. I was close to going back home at this point. I sat there thinking, I’m 28, finished a college degree; not going anywhere with my music. Fuck it. Then Eli came along when I was nearly giving up. The band revived and now we’re sitting here doing an interview with a UK based publication. The confidence of the story is to not give up whatever you’re going through. As an entrepreneur there are extreme highs and lows but the respect comes from not giving up.
Do you regret anything in the past especially what may have prevented you from achieving your music dreams at one point or another?
Eli: I’m not at the stage of regrets right now in my life.
Blake: I have no regrets, as a general rule. Whatever I do, I fuck up plenty of times until I get it right. I wish I had what I wanted more often; but I don’t regret a thing that happens and I’m able to see through. I keep going. There’s no time to look back at the things that didn’t go well.
Ethan: I don’t have any regrets but sacrifices come part of the package, which can take its toll. We have to maintain our jobs, apartments and livelihoods, and that gets exhausting. But as soon as we’re rehearsing together and making music generally, the exhaustion goes away. I look forward to it all the time.
Blake: Ethan works later and gets tired more easily but as soon as he turns up, as the drummer, there’s a glint in his eyes because he loves making music. We’re here to have fun and get things done. We practice, practice, and practice. We might not feel like doing something if we had a long day and are tired but once we’re in our music space, we get into it and enjoy it thoroughly.
You guys wear many different hats; from your daily routine to friends, music and performances, do you experience anxiety from this?
Eli: I’m aware of my anxiety and make it a priority to overcome it. I have to manage what I feel I need to do.
Blake: I juggle dance classes, socialising and making music with the band. I tell people that our band is my priority first and foremost and right now, so I’m going to be late for dance classes and anything else. I have to practice my music before anything else. I have Bipolar so I’m always anxious but surprisingly I’m never anxious in performances. I love being on stage. It’s my comfort zone.
Eli: After two songs I’m ready to go. The first song brings us out of the basement and is incredibly nerve-wrecking but by the time we’re on our second song we’re feeling the moment, the music and the stage.
Ethan: I get nervous in some shows and not others. I don’t know why. I wish it was consistently no nerves, but that’s how it is with me. I get nervous after a show when people run and talk to us. There are too many people and there’s too much going on at once.
Michael: In a couple of shows I’ve felt this anxiety. I’m the frontman being the lead singer and occasionally playing the guitar, so I get over it after a mild anxiety.
Blake: Something clicks in the brain after playing a song lot of times. It becomes easy to play it without getting anxious in front of people.
Michael: I don’t think it’s really anxiety I go through. I get overwhelmed, yes. I have to also code my websites, manage social media and bookings and attend to a lot of other roles.
Blake: I think the tour we’re going to do is wrecking up some nerves but that’s not happening right now; so we’ll worry about it when the time comes.
Michael: I wouldn’t want life any other way. I’m in a euphoric state in airports and want to travel and tour for a long time coming. It doesn’t give me anxiety but exhilaration instead. I get depressed and more prone to anxiety in staying in one place.
Eli: We’re going to do our Europe tour next summer and hoping to go to Germany first. Our last touchdown is the UK, but we are not sure of the routes we’ll go through in Europe from Germany. But right now we want to focus on completing all the songs and preparing something physical for people to hold onto. We’re going to do a local west coast tour; we’ve got the confidence but need to keep up the momentum.
Michael: I think we have an appeal in Europe.
Blake: Europe is a good market of young people from the ages of 16 to 20.
Michael: I love Nirvana. It was my first album and they were based in the USA where they were very successful, but they had a big fan base in Europe. We have a similar vibe to our music and we believe we fit in Europe really well with our music. I also feel I’m more of a European soul than an American one.
Each of you is different by age. Have you ever felt that it was too late to start a music career? Is there such a thing?
Michael: There’s a wide age range between us. Eli is 20 and Ethan is 39. I’m 29 and Blake is 26 years old. By the time I was 24 years old I tried to start my music career and it didn’t work out; that was around the same age that Kurt Cobain was already known. I moved to Portland at the age of 26 and at 28 I started my first serious band. Age doesn’t matter. The value you bring to your fans does.
Ethan: In my view, age helps. I joined my first band at the age of 28. If I started at the age of 14 and got into a band earlier I would have been ahead. I got a late start and still do a lot of catching up with my skills and of the music industry. At first it didn’t feel like I was doing what I wanted. I wasn’t able to physically play the music I wanted to make. I lost motivation to sit down and concentrate on what I was doing. But now I have found it with the band and I believe you can achieve it at any age.
Blake: Being young and starting doesn’t equate to success. I listened to Queen when I was 12 and was gifted my first guitar for the very next Christmas. The rest was history. Ups and downs happened along the way and giving up make a difference too. It gives you the sense of what can be and you get motivated to go for it.
Ethan: Regardless of fame most people don’t know they’re going to be famous; and some become famous after they die. You can’t start at any right age although there is an ideal of what age to achieve something. But it all lies in the experience and you can have that at any age.
Michael: Van Gogh is an example. He’s a famous painter now but he died penniless. When he was alive and made his paintings, he was considered being too weird. After his death he gradually became a genius in people’s perception.
Eli: I started really young. I heard my first band and I knew straight away I had to start playing. I got my first guitar at the age of 10 when my parents seen how much I loved and wanted it. I stuck with the feeling for years. But it took a long time to finally get to join a band. Some are faster than others to get somewhere, but your passion inspires you for as long as 10 years, 20 years, or more.
Blake: I don’t care for fame and I don’t really mind not getting paid for my music. I don’t stop making and playing music in hope that one day some kid hears the bass I come up with and can relate to it. That’s the real reason I’m doing this.
Michael: The bassist completed the band, in fact. I’m glad we made a 4 piece band instead of a 3 piece.
Has dedicating life to music, as musicians, shaped or affected your relationships; whether family, intimacy, friendship, and others?
Michael: During the first line up of the band, I dated someone for a long time, and said to her that I’ll be gone 4 to 5 times a week and to keep that in mind. I wanted her to be prepared for what may come. At some point the band took off and travelling was the norm, increasingly so, I might add. She couldn’t vibe with it anymore because I wasn’t giving her what she needed and wanted all of a sudden as the main benchmark of the success of the relationship was that it wasn’t progressing towards marriage. That’s why it ended. But I’m not unhappy because it’s one less thing to worry about. I have felt since that it’s better to date an entrepreneur or someone who understands the kind of life i have as a musician, and won’t take it personally if I’m constantly travelling or rehearsing. It comes down to understanding, really.
Eli: The old bassist and I were friends. We lived together and I always wanted to play music with him. So although we shared many experiences together it was different playing in a band together because we would go back to our normal lives with expectations that didn’t exist before.
Blake: As a band we play music together a lot but also hang out and get to know each other. Our focus is on music so we end up talking about that, politics or beliefs.
Eli: We’re good with people and social; so it goes in our favour in conversations with people when we end up talking about music. You can say it raises our profile unintentionally too!
Ethan: Music is the highlight of my life right now. We’ll be touring and having too many late nights to be able to count, I imagine. If someone wants to date me and isn’t on board with this agenda then I’m not going to drop the band for a relationship. That’s where I currently stand in the hot topic of dating.