Music News: Is every artist an indie artist now?

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The Current Music News for July 30, 2020 (MPR Video)

Last week, Taylor Swift surprised us with her eighth studio album. The existence of the album, folklore, surprised even some of the artists who played on it. It was immediately labeled Swift's "indie album," even though it's not in the conventional sense: it was released by Republic, part of Universal Music Group.

The album has an indie vibe, a dramatic departure from the huge pop sound of her recent records. It was made in collaboration with artists including The National's Aaron Dessner, who produced most of the songs, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who duets with Swift on the track "Exile." Jack Antonoff's in the credits too, because of course he is. Maybe what's most "indie" about the album, though, is the way it was made.

Let's turn back the clock to March, when the world went into coronavirus lockdown. Venues and studios closed. While major-label artists tried to figure out what their next steps were, independent artists like Minneapolis rapper Nur-D hopped on their laptops and started making music. In a recent interview with The Current's Andrea Swensson, Nur-D talked about making his EP, appropriately titled Trapped In My Room.

"I recorded it all in my bedroom, in my apartment bedroom," he said. "It was very hilariously set up with my old microphone and just a bunch of time to write and think and create. So it was really cool. I like it. Available now on all platforms!"

One of the first big stars to get back to recording was Charli XCX. On April 6, she hopped on Zoom with her fans to announce that she was making a new album in quarantine, and bringing them all along for the ride.

"The idea of the album is that it's going to be very DIY," she said. "It's going to be very indicative of the times that we're in. I'm going to basically be making it live, from scratch — there are, like, a couple of ideas in the works — but it's basically, I'm starting from nothing and I'm only really going to be using the tools that I have at my fingertips, the people I can reach online, the things I have in my house, to create my music, to create my artwork, to create my videos, to create everything."

The album, How I'm Feeling Now, was released 39 days later. It's now shortlisted for this year's Mercury Prize.

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift was making her own plans. She reached out to Aaron Dessner in late April and the two started working closely together, sending tracks back and forth remotely. Now, if you listen to The Current, you probably know who Aaron Dessner is. In fact, I just interviewed Nabil Ayers, the U.S. head of The National's label 4AD, an independent label based in the U.K. — and Jade just interviewed Aaron Dessner himself, about his collaboration with Michael Stipe.

But to give you a sense of how deep a reach this was for a lot of Taylor Swift's fan base, Variety ran a story with the headline, "Who is Aaron Dessner?"

To finish the tracks, Dessner pulled in some of his regular collaborators — including JT Bates, a drummer based here in the Twin Cities. But the Taylor Swift project was so secret, Dessner couldn't even tell Bates who he was drumming for. After the album came out, Bates told our colleague Jill Riley about it.

We're going to leave you with a clip from another artist who recorded new music in quarantine. In this case, though, the music's about something even bigger than the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, MC Longshot was inspired to record a new EP called I'm Saying. He recently released a visual to accompany the album, and he said the process of recording such a personal piece was "hard, but it's needed — it's part of the process of healing."


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