behind the 'Every Bird Ever' album rollout with Ilithios

behind the 'Every Bird Ever' album rollout with Ilithios

Welcome to another behind-the-scenes-of-an-album-rollout interview! God I love doing these!

Last time I talked to Micah Leith of 2:00 AM Wake Up Club, who spoke about their long and winding road to the unified release of their dreams: combining the two halves of their album Mall Fantasy after several years of musical schism...

Behind the ‘Mall Fantasy’ album rollout with 2:00AM Wake Up Call
The rollout of an album can often be an art form of its own, especially in this era of DIY digital music marketing. From Jimmy Montague’s clarion call of “don’t fuck me on this” in the lead-up to the release of his album Tomorrow’s Coffee, to Penny Bored’s QR code

And today I spoke with Manny Nomikos, who leads the NYC-based band Ilithios. I first encountered Ilithios when I interviewed the band for The Alternative before a show of theirs at the Brooklyn venue Our Wicked Lady. Manny's measured and thoughtful video interview demeanor belied his stage presence, which was wild and expansive (at one point he sang while standing, and then dancing, atop a chair).

Every Bird Ever, by Ilithios
13 track album

The Ilithios project itself is pretty expansive, in fact. At a time of much consolidation in many fields, Nomikos often leads quite large ensembles—Every Bird Ever, Ilithios' latest album on Totally Real Records, features a host of collaborators from the NYC rock scene like Rosie Slater of New Myths and Thick, Kasey Heisler of A Very Special Episode, and Nick LaFalce of Atlas Engine. It's a beautiful album, buoyant in sound though melancholic in subject matter (we'll get into that contrast in the interview itself).

"Athens," for example, is a synth-y tune that will enable you to physically tear up the dance floor like a hydraulic excavator, but it also explores the unease of spending too much time in a place that may or may not feel like home: "Don't you wanna throw this life away and move away somewhere? Don't you wanna move from people who don't know you?"

Nomikos also launched the album in a really interesting way: with a 15-minute video that breaks down the struggles of promoting your own music (announcing a new album with "the vague photo with a large block of text" on social media, for example), and then shares a plan for Every Bird Ever's promotion, which eschews a lot of the traditional routes of album marketing in favor of simple interpersonal requests: if you like the music, tell a friend, share it with others, and come to a live show if possible. Also SPOILER ALERT, the video ends with his rescuing a hawk.

I was struck by this rational and emotionally sustainable approach to an album rollout, especially since I feel a bit of this strain at the other end of the artist-music writer continuum, and am constantly trying to figure out how to make meaningful connections with musicians and blog in a way that benefits them tangibly somehow, even if it's just being able to provide a wee hyperlink in a pitch to a bigger blog that will rocket them to stardom in a way mine can't (yet)...

ANYWAY, I wanted to talk to him about all of this so I zoomed with Manny and we discussed what sucks about doing your own promo, the weirdness of some of today's music coverage, his favorite song to do at karaoke, and of course, every birrd ever...let's get into it...

How is the album release going? How are you feeling about it?

It's going great. The thing is, I didn't really have many expectations, and that immediately just made anything that happened great. We had our album release show on Thursday, and it was the biggest show we've ever played. It was everything that we could ever ask for.

Where was the release show?

It was at Our Wicked Lady. We had, like, a nine piece band. Anyone who was a guest on the record was invited to come up and we all crammed up on stage and played the whole thing through and it was just remarkable. We really tried to make it a unique show.

So I know I pitched this as kind of a meta interview about releasing your album. I saw a clip of your announcement video on Instagram, and then I watched the whole YouTube video. I'm curious about how you first thought of that approach to putting the album out there.

Initially, the plan was, alright, I got great [album release] advice from people who have done very well. However, that process just is so long and overwhelming, especially if you are doing it on your own. We have a label, but our label has limited resources and is mostly emotional and logistical support. My buddy [Bryan Bruchman of Totally Real Records] is an enthusiastic lover of music, and gives guidance, gameplans, etc and it's helpful. But logistically speaking, it's so much...I had the organized folders with the press kit and all materials ready to send out to press outlets, then I started writing emails, and it felt very disingenuous. It's bizarre doing it yourself, as you have to personalize each communication, make it feel down to earth, but also hype up your project in a way that can feel off-putting.

I was trying to do research, and was looking through blogs and the thing that was insane to me is how a lot of them are clearly ghost towns. There's no cohesion. There was [one blog], I'll never forget it, it read "Finally, someone who speaks truth to power. This is the voice that we needed." This big thing about standing up against the oppressors. And then I looked at what they were talking about, and it was some crazy hillbilly in the woods. He was a flat earth guy and all his songs were insane. But it was a glowing review. And I'm just like, What? Why am I agonizing about trying to impress this?

It was taking me an hour per email, and the best case scenario is, I'm giving my friends homework. You know? If you want to listen to our new song, you've got to go to this crazy website and click there. So let me just make a video that'll be the one thing and then that's it. We never need to talk about it again, and the music will come out and there's no homework.

To me, with that initial video, it reminds me of what I'm trying to do with the blog too. There is so much noise on the Internet now, and if you make the effort to draft these emails and send them to people, send them into the void—I'm not shading any particular blog, I promise—you might end up with just a regurgitation of the press release. So it's like, why don't I just publish my own thing?

You absolutely nailed it on the head. And it is a symbiotic relationship between an artist and people who are passionate about writing, who aren't getting paid most of the time, and might have a full-time job, so they can't listen to every single thing that comes their way. So I get it. But I might as well put my own statement out, and we'll do it at our own pace and not give ourselves deadlines.

The model that I came up with was "no pre-saves, no playlist, no press." Those were the three things that were the most agonizing. You've gotta get playlisted. Who cares? The pre-save stuff, it's such a bummer. Stop what you're doing and give this weird app permissions to look at your phone because, no, we swear we're only going to add it to your library the day it comes out. Why is there a middleman?

So this time I didn't pitch to playlists, and it's been great. I think people really responded to this initial thing, because we've never gotten so many people engaging with us. We're not trying to be "the big thing." We just want to play good shows with good friends, and we think it's a decent record.

I do think people are also tired of the infinite capitalist growth model that the the streaming platforms push—the last person I talked to about album releases said this, that it's disappointing if you're looking at the cold hard numbers and something doesn't do as well as the last thing.

Yeah. It's this reprogramming that's happened, where it clicked that I am having a horrible time in what should be the most fun part of it. Ignoring all of that stuff made it so great. I think I talk about it in the video, but if you've never seen it, they have Spotify for Artists and inside they're like, here are strategies, players from the industry will give you advice. And it's the funniest thing, I always reference it because it's still there, a story about how Beach House went viral! With their fifth album, Depression Cherry! And it's just like...okaaayy...

"Great. I'll take some notes from Beach House..."

It's ironic, because they were from pre-streaming, and they blew up in a very organic way.

Did the announcement video format feel comfortable to you? Did you like making it?

Eeeeh...yes. And it just seemed like it was going to be the most immediate thing. It was stream of consciousness, which was way more fun than writing emails. Now the big thing that I'm doing is making karaoke videos.

I saw! [The Ilithios YouTube channel has started to publish karaoke-style videos for friends' bands]

The hardest part is making all the MIDI tracks. But I feel like it's fun, and it's a great way to shine a light on your friends. And then at the same time, if you're someone who is super casually into a band, you might learn the lyrics, learn the song...maybe it goes nowhere, but it's like throwing a Frisbee into the dark. See what happens.

Do you like doing karaoke?

Yes. For the past three or four years, that's been my birthday thing. Doing Aerosmith "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"...

Oh, that's a nice one. I imagine that goes over well.

Yeah, that one gets everyone. It's so emotional, especially in a karaoke environment. It's dark, it's moody, everyone starts thinking about that scene with Liv Tyler, and they get a little teary eyed. Beautiful.

Here's a question about the non-music things that you have to do to support your music. I know you have a label, but it sounds like a lot of things have to be fairly DIY: doing social media, managing all of the uploading or distributing. How much of a hassle is all that maintenance stuff? I'm curious, just because music is its own thing and it's a very specific skill set, and to me it feels somewhat separate from the rest of the work.

I mean, you're right. I am just, like, psycho obsessed. Today, I had to mail half the records out. The USPS person literally said, "Why are you doing this now? Why are you doing this to me?" Getting tracking numbers [Manny holds up a very long paper receipt] and the whole shebang. They scolded me, and they actually sent me home. "The international ones take too long. You have to come back in the morning." How was I supposed to know?

But I'm driven, and it's more of an obsession for me. I have to do it. In a weird way, I've created this scenario where if I do well, then it's going to shine a light on my friends, and that would make me happy. It's some kind of weird programing where I'm just like, I want to make them happy so it makes it worth their while having done this.

It's a bummer in general because it's a requirement now that you have to be able to do all these things. And not everyone has the time, or the mental space. Imagine if you're someone who's trying to stay off social media because it's an addictive thing—but sorry to say, no one's going to find you because you can't post every day.

Or if your posts aren't clever...I like being a goofball, but it doesn't really match the aesthetic of the music. Something I'm always struggling with is, if you look at our social media and the YouTube stuff, it's goofy as fuck. And then you listen to the record, it's sometimes a little sad, a little serious, a little fun. We've been invited [to play shows] by a lot of bands I would say lean towards...kind of comedic? [laughing] "You guys are great. Let's play a show together." I like you guys, but did you listen to the record? Your fans will not have a good time at our show.

That is interesting, having that extra 'aesthetic' layer that you also have to worry about whether it goes with what you're doing.

I'm in awe of people who stay on brand. Like, I'm mystical and weird and mysterious, and all their posts are so cryptic. How...tedious! I would like a coffee, but I must commence with the summons of the moons...

Yeah that's my feeling about social media these days. I'm like, let's just get back to basics of posting a cool flower that I saw. Which, speaking of that, my only other question was the symbolism of birds. The album is called Every Bird Ever, and I know you put up some videos that featured different birds. Will you speak a little bit about the bird of it all?

So my wife (Andréa DeFelice) painted [the album art]. The birds each had some kind of meaning in my life personally. One of them is my actual bird Piper, who's now going to sleep. One of them was our previous bird. I live right by Green-Wood Cemetery, and we're just constantly finding birds, so we're constantly taking them to Wild Bird Fund, and they don't always all make it. So each one that had passed away, we put in there.

Some of them were just because of the meaning behind them. I wrote it about a bit, it's a little heady, semi-pretentious sounding, but: we place symbolism on these birds. What does this bird mean? This bird represents healing. This bird represents luck and good fortune. And different cultures assign these kinds of values to them. And some of that is really pretty and some of it is really devastating. Like the Coucal—this is kind of a bummer, but people believe that bird knows how to find the best [plant] medicine, so they go into their nests and break the legs of the baby birds, so the mother bird will bring the plants and they can harvest them. This is insane! It's this beautiful bird, just let it be.

So I think it was this idea of placing value on natural beauty, which can be beautiful and can be devastating—the idea of beauty and devastation, and striving for the positive in it. I think we're trying to talk about serious things because we're old now, but we're trying to not be sad. I don't like sad music, but we all feel sadness. So how do we do it in an uplifting way...that's not, like, Polyphonic Spree?

That makes sense to me. I was listening to the album today and it's not sad music. It's music that is about sadness. Does that make sense?

When I was writing some of the songs, whenever it got too deep, the music itself had to become the opposite. Jeff [Berner], who is my initial collaborator, he heard version ones where it was just like, this is a fucking depressing record. We threw away all the depressing songs, but the ideas still remain. It's a nice way to do it. Being in New York, we've got a wonderful punk scene, great garage...but there was no one that was filling that Flaming Lips-y-ness. And I was like, well, maybe we can be that, and invite all of our friends, and then each show becomes a fun cathartic thing that we share together.

Thank you Manny! Go listen to Every Bird Ever and check out the link aggregation for Ilithios. And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music, the blog where I try to encourage everyone to enjoy music On Their Own Terms.......tell a friend if u like the blog. Or two friends.