Back from SXSW with the Blind Suns
The South By South West festival is held every end of winter in Austin (Texas), capital of live music. SXSW is one of the biggest American festivals, with more than 500 bands programmed each year but also hundreds of conferences dealing with new technologies (NFT, web 30 and metaverse were at the festival this year). For the fifth consecutive edition, Romain Lejeune and Dorota Kuszewska from Blind Suns were on the festival stages. They have created a strong community in Austin that helps them develop their international presence.
How did your SXSW adventure start?
Romain: I went for the first time in 2013 with my label, Wild Valley because the cities of Angers and Austin are twinned. So I was invited to participate in a delegation from Angers. That’s where I met Wiseband for the first time !
I quickly understood that SXSW was one of the biggest American festivals for independent artists and my goal was to play there with the bands of my label and, the following year, I applied. Artists from all over the world can apply on the SXSW platform. There are a lot of applications.
And The Blind Suns were selected?
Romain: We were finally selected in 2016, knowing that The Blind Suns was created in 2014, so it was pretty fast! It was a very big springboard for us because we were selected in “Highlights”, with a banner on the festival website.
You have to know that there are more than 500 groups programmed and when you are in the “Coup de coeur” we see you better! Since then, we write directly to the programmer on his email address, we do not go through the platform anymore! We came back every year except in 2020 and 2021 when there was no festival, because of Covid.
And from there, you have created a whole community in Austin Texas?
Dorota: Yes, we were adopted, we almost have a family there! It all started with Austin Angers Creative and from there, thanks to a friend of mine, Samantha, who is also a bookeuse, we were able to set up dates outside of SXSW. She introduced us to a lot of people, it snowballed…
And now, every time we go to Austin, we feel at home! But this year, there were a little less people than usual because of Covid. We usually do a dozen shows, but this year we had seven.
The concerts are always very short, 30 minutes?
Romain: It’s an American specificity to have very short sets with little time for sound checks and many bands playing on the same night. When you have just one opening act in France, you easily have 5 or 6 bands in the US and they all play on the same back line. You have to be fast and efficient on the sound check.
It teaches you to get to the point, not to be technical or detailed. The energy you’re going to have on stage, the show, that’s what’s really going to prevail.
Did you learn it on the job?
Romain : It was not easy at the beginning because we came with our habits of a young French band. When you are accompanied in Smac, as we were in Chabada, you benefit from very comfortable technical conditions.
If you are used to this comfort and you arrive in the United States in very small clubs with equipment that you don’t know and technicians who do it in a hurry, you are quickly lost! Moreover, for the first times in front of an American public, you put pressure on yourself, it’s not easy. But as time went by, we got over it and now we don’t have any stage fright at all, we’re good at it!
Dorota: Especially since the audience is very receptive and very expressive, and that also encourages a lot to feel at ease. It is very pleasant to play in front of the Americans.
This is your 5th SXSW, did it help you to develop in Texas, in the United States?
Romain: The American market is very difficult, it’s probably the most difficult in the world. Signing with a label and getting airplay on radio stations is almost mission impossible, especially for a foreign band. On the other hand, there are a lot of concert opportunities. We’ve been able to tour quite a bit, from Austin to Los Angeles. We’ve also played a few times in New York.
So those gigs have opened up opportunities for us elsewhere. We were able to play in Asia and Europe. It’s this American experience and also the international image it gave us that allowed us to cross borders and play a lot of festivals, from England to India or Estonia. The SXSW was a real argument.
Do you have an international posture?
Dorata: Our music is international. Our influences too. I was born in Poland and my whole childhood I listened to Anglo-Saxon and American music. Poland was very influenced by the US after communism. It was natural for me to reproduce what I knew.
The chance of life made that I found myself in France but my culture, my music, is not French. So of course, we did some dates in France, but we understood that our place was also elsewhere, that’s why we immediately started to work on export.
Where are you today, with this international strategy?
Romain: Until now, we have been groping our way through, seizing opportunities that have followed one after the other. We have been rather instinctive in our development. But today, we will have to work on it.
We are looking for touring agents. It’s the stage that keeps us going, along with the merchandise, and that allows us to expand our fan base. The vinyl market is more complex. It’s difficult to commit to a label…
What about streaming?
Romain: For that, we need a good distributor. That’s why we work with Wiseband! We see peaks of international listening after our various concerts but it goes down quickly. We are looking to improve our digital strategy and our communication after the concerts, to build loyalty after the tours and to develop on the long term.
These are our thoughts at the moment. We will probably have to work more country by country with marketing and promotion strategies adapted to each territory.
All your songs are in English but the Americans at SXSW particularly appreciated your French version of Patrick Coutin’s hit “J’aime regarder les filles”…
Dorota: Yes, it was a nice surprise. This song is very cool. It’s seen as exotic, sexy for the American public and it makes us think: why not add a little French in our lyrics?
You defended France in Austin! You were the only French group and without any particular help. Aren’t you jealous to see the support given by the Spanish or the English to their artists?
Romain: I don’t know why but it’s true that France is very little present on SXSW. Nothing to do with the English for example. Is it the fear of the American market?
Do the French want to have immediate results when the English are there to do communication on a longer term even if there is no immediate transformation in relation to the investments? It’s true that we were quite alone in defending France!
LP “Baltic Waves” 2014
Double Single ’45 tours “Fire in the Sky” 2015
EP “I Can Sea You” 2016
LP “OFFSHORE” 2018
LP “Crisis Mode” 2022 (May 6th)