Sofar Sounds' Joanna Jurgens Talks About the Best Kept Secret in DFW Music.
Perhaps you've been clued in to the existence of Sofar Sounds by now. Otherwise known as Songs From a Room, it's the group that puts on secret free shows where local and touring musicians play stripped down, intimate sets for small groups of people in homes and other somewhat unconventional spaces.
The international group has had a local presence for a while now; we even wrote about them once back in the day. But, even now, getting into Sofar's shows remains difficult due to their popularity. Some people can wait around eight months to get into one — a fact that definitely sucks, although it also makes things all the more rewarding when you actually do land an invite.
If you are able to get into one of these shows, you'll find that their vibe is completely different that most any other type of concert you could attend. There's a mutual sense of respect. People don't talk. No one makes a mess. Everyone is super friendly.
At a recent show, the talented Denton violinist Leoncarlo Canlas described that the appeal of these shows to him is how they're “about making connections globally on a local scale.” He's not wrong, either. There's a real cool sense of community to Sofar's offerings..
So, since Sofar Sounds has grown so much since we last wrote about them, we wanted to check in with Sofar's Dallas project manager Joanna Jurgens, who those who have attended these shows will recognize as the person who introduces all of the bands.
To begin with, can tell us how long you've been with Sofar Sounds and what you do with them?
I got involved with Sofar in July of 2011, and we hosted our first DFW show in Dallas on September 11, 2011. I started out as the city leader for Dallas. Our city leaders now get starter packs with processes and email templates and lots of how-to tips, but as we were one of the first, it was pretty much up to us to figure it out as we went. I still lead the DFW team, but we have a crew of strong volunteers and a solid reputation now, so it is much easier. My title of Project Manager is just that — whatever project pops up at the time, more on the global side of things. I work closely with our Global Community Manager in helping cities get started and designing and following up on processes to help Sofar Sounds as a whole scale.
What made you get initially involved with organization?
I was born in London and have a passion for the UK indie music scene, which is, of course, where Sofar started. I had done a few house shows for UK artists on tour over here, so it made sense to get more involved in our local scene and bring Sofar here. I love how Sofar manages to combine local scenes on a global level.
Sofar, as a concept, has grown to include various countries and even its own festival. How has that growth affected the DFW shows?
We have held shows in about 170 cities around the world now. Sometimes people will apply to attend shows while on vacation because they have been to Sofar in their hometown. We really all feed off of one another. It's also been especially good for our artists because, the more cities Sofar is in, the more cities in which we can help touring bands network. We have had artists play in Brazil, France and Ireland through our connections. We are getting to the point where we are actively looking for ways to be able to tour artists through some of the cities in which we are strong.
How long does it take to plan a show?
It really depends on how easily it comes together each month. There have been shows that are a breeze, in which a host with a perfect house comes to us, and the first three or four artists we ask all say yes immediately, and there's no schedule conflicts with our team, and it's done. But there are, of course, some that make us pull our hair out with schedule changes and conflicts. On average, including all of our team's volunteer hours, it takes from 30 to 40 hours a month for a DFW show. That includes scouting locations, listening to and working with bands, and, of course, editing the videos.
How are the musicians picked for the shows?
When a city first starts out with Sofar, we have a review committee that listens to a new leader's choices for a few shows until we are sure we are on the same page with quality. Then, once we are comfortable with them and their music scene, we let them loose to curate as they wish. Each city usually builds up their own review team, and we typically have a rule that three of us have to say “yes” to each submission. We are probably about 50/50 as far as artists we reach out to as opposed to those who come to us. We try to keep each show diverse in genre and style, too, so no matter what taste in music a guest has, there should be something for everyone and, hopefully, something new to discover.
In your time with Sofar, can you think of a performance or a show that's stood out?
Several come to mind. On a personal level, I have been lucky enough to have some of my all-time favorite artists play for us. The Crookes from the UK performed at our annual pre-SXSW show in 2014, which was a real treat, especially for my then-five-year-old daughter. In fact, it was a video I posted of her that I think got them here. She thinks I can just send an email and get any artist she wants to play now. Don't I wish! Also, Jordan Laz from Locksley was really special to me as I am a massive fan of the band. He ended up playing all three Texas Sofar cities — Dallas, Houston and Austin — the same week, essentially because I was somewhat fangirling on Twitter about them. Oh, and Leon Bridges and Luke Wade both, coincidentally, played the same show that just happened to be in one of the most beautiful homes we have ever been lucky enough to have open to us. That was June last year before Luke went on The Voice and before anyone picked up on Leon. My cousin was over from England at the time, too. It was really special in many ways, even without considering the commercial success they have both gone on to achieve. And Leoncarlo — you know that story! [Leoncarlo was recently flown out to Ireland to play in a wedding because the couple heard his music from a Sofar Sound show.] And Seryn's “We Will All Be Changed” back in May 2012 kind of became the unofficial Sofar theme song as you can tell from this promo video out of London.
I know you guys rely on volunteers to put on the shows. Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
Yes and no! There are tons of people who are all vital to our organization, but I'm afraid of missing someone. There is one person who really stands out, though: my co-leader in charge of A/V, Jay Simon. Jay and I have each only ever missed one Sofar show, and he is the recording and editing genius behind all our videos. There's also Polly and Brittany, Kim, JoAnna, James, Chris, William, Anthony, Rusty, Thom, and so many more volunteers. All our hosts, too. And the artists — especially the ones who actively support us and tell others about us. There's no better recommendation than an artist that tells others our shows are valuable to them. Seryn was probably the band that first put us on the local “map,” and they have become very good friends of Sofar. But people like Luke Wade, Jessie Frye, Salim Nourallah, Northern National and others that not only play once but ask to come back truly make us feel — I don't even know the word — successful, maybe?
Is there a chance we can see a Sofar Festival here in Dallas?
I would love to do it. The main reason we haven't really done one yet is that our area is so saturated with festivals. It's important to me that we don't come across as competing with local venues and festival organizers. We see ourselves as complimentary to them, so perhaps something in conjunction with a current festival would be more appropriate here.
You're so right about the music festival saturation around the area. Speaking of, what are your thoughts on the DFW music scene?
It's just as good if not better than Austin, that's for sure! We're gaining ground, though. And I honestly believe we aren't as far behind among true music lovers as people may think. Put it this way: Crap artists that aren't getting traction in their hometown think they can move to Austin to get attention. They never think they should move to Dallas to “make it.” We have this great built-in filter, so overall, no doubt in my mind, our quality is considerably higher. Active bands in DFW are active because they are good. We don't have many wannabes. That isn't a knock on Austin at all — there are several artists there I know and adore personally and professionally. It's just much easier to seek out great music here. And yes, I have lived there!
What's been some music you've been jamming to lately?
This for sure. And Telegraph Canyon's new album, You From Before, is killer. Frank Turner's Positive Songs for Negative People is my favorite out of the UK lately. Frank is on my dream list for Sofar for sure. I see him every opportunity I can.
Where do you see Sofar going from here?
I'd love to be able to get enough volunteers to run multiple shows each month in all three of our DFW cities. We certainly have the demand for spaces at the shows with us turning away hundreds of RSVPs at each show. But, more importantly, I love hearing stories of how we have truly helped artists. More stories like Leoncarlo's would be my dream. Fun fact: Bastille's very first radio play back in the UK several years ago can be traced to a Sofar show. We didn't even know that until years later when they told us!
Do you have any parting words for our readers?
Support local music! And love one another.
Cover photo by Brian Hamm. Interested in attending a future Sofar Sounds show? Sign up here.