It’s always been easy to get jaded when working in the music industry. The constant hamster wheel grind, fickle fans, navigating egos, and monetary uncertainty make it sometimes seem like you’re fucking psychotic for choosing this career path. But at no time has it felt even weirder than the past two years. When one of your last few compensation options - touring - gets pulled out from under you and then jerked back and forth for the next year after things have “re-opened,” it would be perfectly understandable to choose the desk job you’ve been avoiding all these years.
But then there are moments like this where someone steps up. Someone says, “No, we can’t have the arts die just because the artists can’t pay their bills.” And in this case, this someone is Rain City Relief. Born out of a foundation that was already working to make the world a better place for people in need through the work of artists, the Seattle World Tour Foundation partnered with local top-tier dispensary The Reef to give back to the artists who make this city worth living in.
Their idea was two-fold, with a physical compilation record featuring local luminaries like Chong the Nomad, Perry Porter, Shaina Shepherd, Parisalexa, and more as well as ten live performance sessions filmed one year to the day concert venues were forced to shut down to be released via YouTube and social media. 100 percent of album sales will go directly towards the artists, with the goal of helping offset some of the financial losses Seattle’s rising artists are experiencing so they can keep creating, recording, and performing until this nightmare of a pandemic is finally fully over (insert laugh track).
One of Rain City Relief/Seattle World Tour’s chief operators Seth McDonald and I coordinated an interview between nine out of the ten artists involved that turned into a conversation that could melt even the most jaded of music industry hearts. From the get, everyone was excited and thrilled to not just (virtually) see each other but honored to be included amongst the roster of incredible talent.
I think Beverly Crusher frontman Cozell Wilson said it best when he recalled his response to McDonald about being included amongst artists like Chong the Nomad, The Black Tones, Smokey Brights, and Perry Porter was, “Say less.” The recurring theme of the hour-long conversation is of utter respect and awe of each other.
“Perry, he blows my freaking mind!” gushed The Black Tones’ Eva Walker with her gun-to-her-head answer to the one question everyone had trouble with: Whose set completely blew your mind?
“They're all amazing, obviously, and that's a cop-out of an answer,” says McDonald before admitting, “But I just didn't know that Chong could play the piano and sing like that. And so I'll just leave it at that, that was so fucking cool”
Indeed, it is a pretty fucking cool moment. The artist most known for jumping up and down with 1000 watts of energy while playing some obscure instrument is now intimately belting a ballad on a piano for her Rain City Relief set. It’s truly something incredible. But like everyone said, so was everyone else’s.
"My answer would be Shaina," counter Agustiano. "Because I think her voice and her presence deserves like the most top quality production. It's the utmost importance to me, personally, that she gets the best of everything."
“I honestly think that, first of all, just as an artist, the setup, the fact we were all forced to do it in kind of a broken down way just allowed us all to…” explains popstar-in-the-making Parisalexa. “I listened to everyone's performances and I've never heard the artists that I know, my local community like this and that was awesome.”
While, right at this particular moment in time, it appears things are re-opening yet again, the past couple of months of the Omnicron variant throwing a massive wrench in the music industry yet again has had significant impacts on these artists, who were finally just getting comfortable enough to books shows and tours.
“I would say this last wave has been one of the most fucked up mental times,” Kim West of Smokey Brights proclaims. “Because we did have this false sense that it was all coming back to normal. And I remember reading at the beginning of the pandemic that later waves will be emotionally taxing. And then I kind of forgot it, and then I remembered it when we canceled, like, fuckin everything.”
In an ironic twist of fate, the vinyl delays due to Covid that pushed the record’s release from October to February turned out to be a godsend to these artists, who are the main beneficiaries of its sales.
“I would have done this just because it's fun and I want to be on a record with you all,” recalls Ryan Devlin, the other half of Smokey Brights. “But when Seth called and was like, ‘Hey, it's actually making money and this is all working.’ I was like, ‘This couldn't have come at a better time.’ Because when you start to think that you have gigs, you start to do crazy things like book studio time or like buy a new piece of gear, and then all of a sudden you're broke and you don't have anything to pay for it.”
Money. Such a disgusting thing to talk about. At least, for people who already have it. For these struggling artists, it was an exciting proposition. Luckily, there was one local band that understood the struggle (or at least faintly remembered it from decades prior) and stepped up in a massive way to support the cause. Yes, you probably already guessed it - Pearl Jam.
In true heroic fashion, Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Foundation donated $20,000 to Rain City Relief, pushing them $11,000 over their original goal. How the heck did this come about? Well, it just took some good old-fashioned local charm from the Seattle-born-and-raised McDonald.
“I just took like, ‘Hey I’m a Seattle kid,’” explains McDonald. "Grew up on 145th and Lake City. My dad opened up for y'all when you were named Mookie Blaylock and I’m Seattle through and through, and we're doing this campaign 100 percent rooted in artist relief.”
Apparently, that was enough to sell them because over the course of three emails that consisted of four sentences total, they donated $20,000.
So, what does $34,000 spread over 10 artists mean?
“As soon as Seth messaged me that, I was eyein this van,” says Wilson. “I was not trying to put all this money in it but our van is a piece of crap. And as soon as I got that message, I emailed the dude. I was like, "Coming tomorrow.'”
Meanwhile, Parisalexa is getting a new apartment she can actually sing in, Walker is funding her upcoming tour, Smokey Brights are buying plane tickets to Europe for their European tour, and Alda Agustiano aka Chong the Nomad is getting back on track after ordering a bunch of merch for shows the past couple of months that have been canceled.
But there are higher goals. To raise more money and spread it out amongst a wider net of artists.
“Right now, the goal is one hundred thousand,” McDonald details. “And it would definitely take another Pearl Jam-like contribution from some business to get to a hundred thousand. But we have a little under 500 of the thousand records left and just through Caffe Vita, Rudy's Barber Shops, the Edgewater, Alive and Well, Lil' Woody's, all these different companies coming together to support and give back through different give-back initiatives over this next month, plus the records, I feel really good that we're going to at least get to like 55, 60,000, but we're shooting for $100,000, for sure.”
McDonald’s bandmate in All Star Opera and partner in Seattle World Tour, Sam ‘Oz’ Osborn, best states the reasoning behind the mission.
“It was hard to be an artist before all of this, before the pandemic hit. And there was no or very limited frameworks of support and structure for artists who were struggling or having a crisis. And then when collectively the whole artist community is experiencing crisis, you know, we were all kind of just floundering. And so I'm really grateful for the Reef for planting the seed along with the Seattle World Tour to help launch the project and create something that really is an investment in the Seattle artist community. And I think that most people from the city recognize that the music is such an important part of the city's soul.”
The conversation was too deep, nuanced and, to be honest, long to print in full here but is required listening for anyone who needs a pick-me-up or, frankly, just gives one good goddamn about the local music scene. Listen to the conversation in full below and support Rain City Relief efforts here. Tomorrow, Saturday, February 12th Rain City Relief will celebrate their record release at Easy Street Records with performances by All Star Opera, Beverly Crusher, and Ariana DeBoo.
Seattle businesses and nonprofits merge to release the benefit compilation Rain City Relief that strives to provide financial support to emerging local artists
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