It can take years for a band to find the right chemistry, painstakingly crafting everything from their songs to their name. But what if they had just 12 hours to do it? Some adventurous musicians will find out this weekend at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle as the Rock Lottery returns.
The premise is simple. Twenty-five musicians are randomly divided into five bands of five people each. They get just one day to write and rehearse three to five songs (one cover maximum), then perform.
“I think it’s really good to force both musicians and audiences to see bands or musicians that they wouldn’t think that they would be into,” says Rock Lottery creator Chris Weber of the grand musical and social mash-up.
Weber staged the first one in Denton, TX. back in 1997. Since then, it’s spread to Seattle and Brooklyn. In its fifteen-year history, the Rock Lottery has featured a number of musicians from big name bands like J. Tillman of Fleet Foxes and Father John Misty, Damien Jurado, David Bazan from Pedro the Lion and Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson.
But it’s not just big names Weber and co-producer Kathy Lindenmayer go after. While this year’s Rock Lottery features local notables including Christina Bautista from Visqueen, Derek Fudesco of Cave Singers and Kris Orlowski, the organizers have spent months trying to convince musicians from all walks of life to take the plunge.
“We want younger musicians, really experienced musicians, people who are doing this for a living, people who have just started, people with all levels of technical ability and of course all instruments represented,” Lindenmayer says.
It can get pretty eclectic. While there are plenty of the usual guitars, basses and keyboards, Weber tries for all sorts of instruments. One year someone even played an old Japanese Shamisen, a traditional stringed instrument often used in Kabuki theater.
It’s a lot of pressure. And the unknown can be pretty scary as the bands race the clock.
“Even if they know one or two people they’re inevitably going to end up in a band with people they don’t know who play instruments they may not even be aware of,” Lindemayer says.
The results are mixed, with some collaborations coming off better than others. But Weber says that’s not the point.
“It’s always fun. There are always levels of success but it almost doesn’t matter. The audience is already on their side as soon as they walk in and its been the happiest live experience that I’ve ever been in.”
No supergroups have emerged from the Rock Lottery yet, but a number of partnerships have been formed. And a few drummers stolen. Harvey Danger’s Nelson was so impressed with Sean Welke – who was playing in another band at the first Rock Lottery – he added him to the band.
But it’s not supposed to be a lasting thing. “We don’t want people to feel like there has to be a longer trail than that because the experience, it’s about that experience,” Lindenmayer says.