The borderless terrain of the internet has decimated lots of the ol’ charming regionalism of American pop music. The days of the Standells having a local Boston hit with “Dirty Water” before it became a national smash, or Prince dropping details about Minneapolis, are seemingly long gone. If your implied audience lives everywhere, you may be inclined to leave geography out. Who wants to write a song called “The Devil Went Down to Domain Name?”
But that doesn’t mean artists have completely given up on highlighting their home base sometimes. We scoured the music site Bandcamp for songs and albums whose titles refer to local north metro towns. Then we checked with the artists about their motivations for writing a nod to someplace listeners way out in digital space may never visit.
Bandcamp itself, in its own unique way, has been able to retain some of the regional flavor of the old townie musical habits. Unlike the somewhat faceless interface of Soundcloud, or the ubiquitous (and perceived shady) corporate enormity of Spotify, the clunky-fun homepages that artists create on Bandcamp often have the vibe of old album liner notes, with sidebar highlights of where they’re from, contact links, thank-yous to other local bands, and generally are chock-a-block with personal and recording info.
During the COVID crisis especially, Bandcamp’s “Free Fridays” — where the company waives its cut and bands often offer all sales to a particular cause — have come across as a kind of digital benefit concert where much of the monies raised come from fans of the band’s hometown.
So here are some Bandcamp discoveries who were directly — or misdirectly — inspired by local towns.
Detroit, Michigan, 2016
This nice, slide-guitar-led stroll musically demonstrates this acoustic strummer’s pre-Rust Belt existence in Georgia, as his drawl and mood sure don’t feel like the Motor City. Indeed, Carmichael was a member of Radar, a band of Atlanta’s 1960s and ’70 progressive rock scene.
“’Sandy Springs’ was part of my CD called ‘Roswell Road,’” said Carmichael. “The entire record is about my formative years living in Georgia. Sandy Springs was my hometown. This particular song was inspired by revisiting Sandy Springs and reminiscing about my life at that time. I was in high school then. Roswell Road is a long road that passes through Sandy Springs.”
A fizzy, techno-rock, DeLorean race of an instrumental that might’ve been floating out of one of Buckhead’s malls in 1987.
“I’ve lived in Atlanta on and off since 1997, and I love crime cinema and fiction. I wrote the song ‘Buckhead Heist’ as part of a fake crime film soundtrack called ‘Atlanta Crime Wave,’” says Deaton. “I was dreaming a lot about a nonexistent 1980s action film set in Atlanta, so I wrote an album’s worth of Herbie Hancock/Harold Faltermeyer synthesizer music. ‘Buckhead Heist’ would be the scene in the film where a group of thieves steal a haul of diamonds from a high-end Buckhead jeweler and escape by helicopter.”
The Well Wishers
San Francisco, California, 2013
This singer-songwriter, Jeff Shelton, unknowingly named a whole EP after the local town. And while he admits on his page that he has “since discovered” the existence of Dunwoody, Georgia, he somehow gathered enough of an impression to “chronicle the imaginary lives of those trapped in Southeastern suburban bliss,” via his lilting, Big Star-like jangle rock.
A dainty, handclapped singalong respite from the Atlanta punk stalwarts’ otherwise itchy art-punk on their debut album.
“‘Buckhead Betty’ was on our first LP, where we held no opinions back,” says Coathangers drummer/singer Stephanie Luke. “A Buckhead Betty was/is a term that refers to privileged women in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Think ‘Real Housewives’-meets-Karens of the world. The type of woman who judges others ‘below’ them in status, yet are themselves miserable, pill-popping ladies.”
War, West Virginia, 1963
We’d ask Mr. Null — a one-time writer of country hits like “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” — why he chose to write a tune about Buckhead, but he passed away in 2001. It’s a good bet he knew that part of town was way different and closer to the rural autoharp amble of Null’s minor fame than the upwardly mobile locale it is today. Then again, it could be named for the rival city of Buckhead in Morgan County.
The airy, electro drone of this tune sounds more like background for the image of the spaceship floating at the top of his Bandcamp page than anything that might honk or lawnmower its way through Sandy Springs.
To catch up with this locally named mystery figure, we checked out “Poor People,” a slightly trippy, angelic electro-yearner with a breezy gleam that matches the sheen of his artistic nomenclature, if not the song title. Mr. Shaman turned out to be a musician named Tyler Hobbs.
“Buckhead Shaman was originally an online persona delivering facetious health, wellness and spiritual guidance,” said Hobbs. “I started making music, and realized it matched well with the shaman character. It started as very tongue-in-cheek — poking fun at Buckhead’s consumerism and pseudo-spiritual residents obsessed with their health. Buckhead Shaman is a total brand whore with a heart — a beacon of healing — repping a part of town believed to be a cut above the rest.”
–John Ruch contributed