Barnstormer Tour is a chance to hear new music in odd setting

Sean Moeller has heard over 700 bands perform live since 2006. He doesn’t get sick of it and he definitely doesn’t get jaded. He says there’s an infinite amount of space in our ears for good music.

It’s especially hard to be jaded when that music is being played in a barn. Or a pumpkin patch. Oh, and it’s completely free – can’t forget that.

This genius musical idea is called the Barnstormer Tour, presented by Daytrotter, an independent music Web site created by Moeller that offers free downloads of live recording sessions. The weeklong tour will only hit cities in Wisconsin and Iowa. It kicks off tonight at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1032 N. 4th St.

Although the venue isn’t a barn, the historic Turner Hall Ballroom will still be a stunning and rustic backdrop for tonight’s line-up, which includes Dawes, Christopher Denny, Suckers, Maritime and Brooks Strauss. There’s no headliner. The bands will switch rotations in every city, Moeller said.

Since 2006, hundreds of artists — from Andrew Bird to Zookeeper — have stopped by Daytrotter’s studio in Rock Island, Ill., to make analog recordings.

Some artists you have heard of, others maybe not, but Moeller wants you to click “play” and meet their sounds. Hearing these sessions is like tasting an apple after eating canned frosting for a year straight. Forget the additives. There’s no order, overdubbing, or instruction with the sessions, resulting in beautifully simplistic music. It’s a chance to hear bands perform without the pressure to entertain a crowd.

“We don’t get told what to do,” Moeller said. “I personally invite every band in here.”

Dan Didier, drummer for the band Maritime, said Daytrotter is doing something amazing.

“Sean set out to be the John Peel on the Internet and so far it is working, mainly because of offering great music for free,” Didier said.

Suckers, a quartet from Brooklyn, recorded its Daytrotter session in July. Suckers’ music incorporates group chants, synthesized sounds, primitive percussion and multi-instrumentalism. The band’s bassist, simply known as Pan, said Suckers received a warm welcome as soon as the band arrived to the Daytrotter studio.

“It’s a really relaxed environment, which is really important if you’re recording a live session,” Pan said. “Then they gave us the keys, let us crash there and told us to lock up in the morning.”

Taylor Goldsmith is a member of Dawes, an indie quartet out of Los Angeles whose folksy sound has been compared to that of Neil Young. Goldsmith said the people at Daytrotter have an incredible ability to make others feel at home.

“We walked in and immediately, between the band and the guys at Daytrotter, everyone started coming up with different ideas for recording and performing each song,” Goldsmith said. “Between the sounds those guys can get and how comfortable they make a band feel, everything that comes out of there sounds inspired. Every single session I’ve ever heard on that site.”

Daytrotter isn’t big on marketing, advertising or outreach. Moeller said most online visitors to Daytrotter learn about the site from friends. So, in an effort to spread good music, Moeller wanted to barnstorm.

“Barns are sort of a natural theater. They’re sort of built to support a rock show,” Moeller said.

Pan said Suckers was interested in the Barnstorming tour as soon as Moeller called the band up.

“We’re really into playing unconventional venues and a pumpkin patch seems like it’d be right up our alley. Also, Brian Aiken (drummer) just bought a shirt at a truck stop that has pumpkins on it, so it was meant to be,” Pan said.

Moeller has a way with words, especially words about music. The reviews he writes for Daytrotter stray from the norm. They aren’t fueled by press releases and they don’t discuss beats or melodies, but obscurities – in both music and life.

For example, when reviewing Dawes, Moeller said the band’s songwriting and lyricism will change your breathing habits. If that’s not complimentary, it’s tough to say what is.

The morning a band’s recording session is posted online, Moeller often wakes up to e-mails from band members, thanking him for his words.

“That guy has a real inherent sense of how to see bands the way they want to be seen, to understand them on their terms,” Goldsmith said. “I feel like he knows what we, and all Daytrotter bands, are going for.”

Since Moeller invites artists to record, he doesn’t debate whether they’re worthy of positive reviews or not. He already knows. A month after the band records, he will listen to the session eight to 10 times in a row and then get to writing about an unusual aspect of the music.

“It’s writing that’s not supposed to tell you, ‘This is great.’ It’s supposed to tell you about music in a completely odd way,” Moeller said.

The show starts at 7 p.m. tonight. The tour will continue on to Treinen Farm Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Lodi, Wisc., on Friday at 6 p.m. Artist illustrations courtesy of Johnnie Cluney of Daytrotter.

Illustration by Johnnie CluneyDawes

This four-member group from Southern California has put out one of the best records of 2009, in Moeller’s opinion. With a classic sound reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Moeller said he sees Dawes ascending into a musical niche similar to that achieved by Fleet Foxes last year.

Illustration by Johnnie CluneyChristopher Denny

Denny’s a young dude from Arkansas who sounds a lot like Roy Orbison. Moeller said he loves watching the audience’s faces when Denny opens his mouth to sing that first song – his voice makes jaws drop.

Suckers

Known as the “dance band” on this tour, Suckers hails from Brooklyn and has energy similar to bands like Yeasayer and TV on the Radio. They have some Caribbean influences, and Moeller said it’s only a matter of time until they break big time.

Illustration by Johnnie CluneyMaritime

These guys are Milwaukee’s hometown band. Once members of the band The Promise Ring, drummer Dan Didier and singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen started the indie-pop Maritime in 2003. Their music carries a great, full sound that doesn’t weigh you down.

Brooks Strauss

He’s completely undiscovered — all the more reason to see him tonight. He’ll sing about the devil, fire and brimstone in Turner Ballroom, a venue still under restoration after two ceiling fires in 1931 and 1944. Strauss is one of the best songwriters Moeller said he’s ever heard.