After a hard-fought battle of talent, EW is proud to announce that the judges simply couldn’t make a decision between the charismatic and explosive Tyler Fortier, and the captivating entrancement of Betty and the Boy. The Next Big Thing (NBT) contest ended in a draw between the two bands — they are the next big things!
The homegrown handmade ghost-music of Betty and the Boy
By Dante Zuñiga-West
Betty and the Boy are the type of extremely talented beautiful weirdos who can’t help but be as enveloping, genuine and eerie as their music is. The sound created by this four-piece tour-de-acoustic-maudlin-force could be compared to the music of Cat Power or Mirah, but stranger and with more instrumental viscosity.
Possessing an unmistakable vibe and a truly haunting aesthetic, Betty and the Boy don’t make music for jovial festivities — they make music to flicker alongside candles.
(left to right) Jon Conlon, Bettreena Jaeger, Michelle Whitlock, Josh Harvey, Photo by Todd Cooper
“People think we are a bluegrass band ‘cause we have a stand-up bass and a mandolin and we mic all our instruments, then they get sore about it when they figure out we aren’t,” says Josh Harvey (banjo, mandolin, vocals).
Harvey and Betty, the band’s namesake (whose real name is Bettreena Jaeger) form the founding nucleus of the band, which originated in Kalispell, Mont. Bassist Jon Conlon and Michelle Whitlock, a violinist trained in traditional Suzuki-method, came out of the woodwork to join Jaeger and Harvey when the two nascent members relocated to Eugene, a move that was very calculated. They preferred to be in a smaller town like Eugene, as opposed to the big blender of Portland.
Jaeger, the daughter of an English professor, was groomed to be the captivating vocalist she has become. Her voice sounds like it could be a resonating complement to the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream. When her father wasn’t teaching creative writing, she recalls, he was dragging her to stoic poetry readings that Jaeger thought were “really creepy” and booking small shows for their family band to perform. Jaeger says the family band (Big Daddy Toad and the Tadpoles), consisting of her, her father and her brother, pretty much played old Pearl Jam covers in small venues and talent shows.
Harvey has a similar story. As a young boy, he danced at the shows his mother’s band put on. His own son, 10-year-old Gavin, continues in this family tradition, and even mans the merchandise table during Betty and the Boy gigs. Gavin is also starting to pick up his father’s banjo. To say that music is a way of life for this band would be a gross understatement.
“There’s nothing synthetic about our sound,” says Jaeger. “It’s minimalist.” She pauses, staring up at one of her own paintings on the wall, depicting a garish looking, monstrous snail devouring plant life. “Most of our instruments are heirlooms passed down to us by dead people,” she says.
Perhaps this explains the lingering lack of genre and the thick presence of emotional mass in their songs. “We’re basically some sort of hybrid between folk music, bluegrass and classical,” Harvey says.
Live, Betty and the Boy are not a high-energy performance act that will get you moving like their award-winning peer and NBT co-winner Tyler Fortier. One listen to their song “Moth to a Light,” the single they submitted to the NBT contest, recorded in Conlon’s living room and mastered by Jim Rusby, immediately makes that clear. This isn’t a stomp-your-feet-raise-your-beer-glass type of tune. A die-hard Betty and the Boy fan recently choreographed a music video to “Moth to a Light” that Jaeger describes as being a “graphic and dark journey” through “drugs, suicide and the afterworld.”
Though the state of the modern music industry is often more difficult for performers who aren’t as live-show oriented, Betty and the Boy are that rare breed of independent musicians who could, if they wanted to, make a leap into a different market, a market where audiences are situated not on a ready-to-rock dance floor but at tables and chairs, with closed eyes and open ears — something like a Fareed Haque crowd, but a bit younger in age. This market exists and Betty and the Boy has the talent to own it, though such a leap may not be what the band is looking to make.
“We just want to be sustainable and happy with it,” Harvey says of the band’s music. “We all have full-time jobs, and I’m just as happy playing down by the water for a duck or a nutria.”
“Money and art don’t go together unless you’re Lady Gaga,” Jaeger says, smirking unabashedly.
“It would be nice to have a booking agent eventually though, if the agent knew what kind of venues we would fit in,” Harvey adds.
This slightly reluctant yet refreshingly honest perspective is to be expected of such unapologetically talented musicians. They are the next big thing, as is Fortier’s formidable performance-oriented attack, and they will go as far as they want, until their music or their instruments become heirlooms of another kind.
Frontiers of Fortier
The rise of eugene’s hardest-working new talent
By Dante Zuñiga-West
Tyler Fortier is a hard-working man who has put it all on the line for his passion, packing all of his belongings into a 10 x 10 storage unit and guerrilla-touring to play solo gigs up and down the West Coast. He has taken the plunge into full-time musicianship, and it’s starting to pay off in a big way. For Fortier (pronounced for-teer), it seems no other way will do.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I’d still be doing this,” he says of his decision to chase after professional musicianship.
A familiar face in EW’s Next Big Thing contest, having placed in the top four and top sixteen categories the past two years, it is no surprise Fortier’s song made it all the way to first place this time around. After graduating from UO in 2010, surviving his post-collegiate quarter-life crisis, then deciding to commit to music full-force, Fortier has been producing and playing at a grueling pace.
|Tyler Fortier and Topper enjoy a hot summer afternoon on the porch. Fortier, co-winner of the NBT contest, distinguished himself with a roaring stage show at the Eugene Celebration. Like Betty and the Boy, he is an artist who can’t help but be anything else. Photo by Todd Cooper.
In his studio space, you can feel the presence of his travels. Dusty cowboy boots, an old typewriter, well-worn pianos, much-loved tambourines — there is a copy of the obscure and wonderful John Fowles novel, The Magus, sitting in his bookcase next to an antique sconce, beckoning one to ask the obvious: “Where the hell did you find this stuff?”
Fortier appreciates rare and unique things, and he gives off a vintage flavor, although he is far too young to be of vintage status. True to form, his album And They Rode Like Wildfire Snaking Through the Hill ‘Neath the Scarlet Sun was a concept album made to sound as if it came straight out of the Wild West. He pulls it off.
Take Brett Dennen, mix it with just a touch of Ryan Adams, and push the whole thing into a jug-band aesthetic, but with more classically trained musicianship — that’s Fortier. He has a hangdog face, big eyes, a firm handshake, a voice like a blanket, and his guitar-playing sounds like it could be twanging and strumming to the scenes of a period piece directed by David Lynch.
Still recovering from a brutal two-month national tour and set to release his third album, Bang On Time, Fortier is blunt and upfront about his experience as a traveling, no-holds-barred D.I.Y. musician. “You’re out there on tour trying to make people care about something they aren’t entitled to care about,” he says. “It creates a love/hate thing with the music, but this is what I want and I can’t get away from it.”
It’s said that chance occurs when opportunity meets careful preparation. But this is not just a platitude, it is the singular holy commandment of any artist in any medium. The advent of the internet, technology and cheaper, more accessible resources has created a larger talent pool that one must swim in — nationally, internationally, whatever.
Though Fortier’s honed talent is overwhelmingly apparent, he humbly attributes his success to this work ethic, which is precisely why he has what it takes to make it even further in the music industry. “There are probably a whole lot more talented people out there, but it’s about persistence and doing the work,” he says.
That work is not always gratifying. Though romanticism exists in the culture of listeners who believe every musician with a name and some publicity is living the dream, the stark reality of road life, the stumbling waltz of door deals, guarantees, promoters and gas money is taxing. It can become simpler and easier if and when one has a good booking agent. However, even then, it is a “mo’ money mo’ problems” type of situation.
Fortier does his own booking, his own promotion, his own lyrics and his own music. He is at the bottleneck of his career, about to push on through to the goodness — if he catches the right breaks, and NBT is one of those breaks. This is what’s so exciting about following Fortier and his music; you can tell he is onto something big that could explode into something even bigger. Backed by a band consisting of Ben Klenz (drums), Joseph Intile (bass and vocals), Matt Greco (keys), Erin Flood (vocals) and Abby Young (violin), Fortier has a stage show that cannot be overlooked.
The burgeoning portions of a musician’s career are the toughest. Sometimes you rock the stage so hard the entire crowd is electrified, which was certainly the case when Fortier played at the Eugene Celebration. Sometimes you play great shows to furniture and a few bartenders.
As gas prices rise, making long-distance touring less and less of an option for journeyman troubadours like Fortier, it will be the squeaky wheel that gets its way. Fortier is doing everything he needs to be doing, and he is, alongside Betty and the Boy, the next big thing in local music.
“It’s baby steps, and sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back,” Fortier says. His awareness of the modern musician’s plights is precisely why his trajectory continues to rise. And though he claims to be making baby steps, it’s more like he’s on the verge of a quantum leap.
NBT artist compilation album featuring the top 16 finalists can be purchased at nextbigthingeugene.com