Tweeted from the bottom now I’m here

 

4 years ago today, I sent a tweet that would become the defining point of my career.

But before I get to that story, I need to give you some context. It was early 2011, and I was an unemployed 24 year old living in my mom’s house in Santa Clara, California. This was the house I had lived in throughout most of my high school years, and the room hadn’t changed one bit since then — the walls were still painted a splotchy shade of turquoise, decorated with set lists peeled off of the stages of San Francisco’s concert venues and signed by obscure indie bands.

I had just moved back after spending a year and a half in London, where I did an MA degree in International Broadcast Journalism at Westminster University. After the initial excitement of catching up with family, friends, and getting thoroughly reacquainted with proper Mexican food, the dreaded quarter-life crisis came in like a wrecking ball. My student loan money was nearly all spent, and I had no job prospects.

At this point, a typical day was something like:

10am: Eat a bowl of cereal while transfixed by games of Plinko on “The Price Is Right.”

Afternoon: Halfheartedly scour job sites, anticipating rejection before even writing a cover letter because the job market was so grim.

Evening: Crap, dinner time already? Guess it’s time to get out of pajamas and take a shower…

That PJ life though…

Late night: Distract myself from thoughts of, “what’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you found a job yet? You had a stable job before, why did you have to give it up for London? Look at you now, you unemployed slacker!” by reading books, watching TV shows/movies, and browsing the internet until passing out.

So yeah…it wasn’t one of the happiest periods in my life. Luckily, the power of Craigslist and my mom’s instinct joined forces to get me out of this funk. She was also unemployed at the time and, while on her own search for work, came across a Craigslist posting that she thought I should take a look at. It was at a small startup in Mountain View, and they were looking for a summer music writing intern. Because I had been doing music journalism since I was 18, she thought it would be right up my alley.

Initially, I dismissed the posting because I thought that with a Master’s degree, I deserved a job way beyond internship level. Besides, it wasn’t supposed to start until summer and it was only early February. What would I do until then, even if I applied and managed to get the internship? But after taking the time to thoroughly read through the posting, everything that was written in it resonated with me. I remember feeling physically tingly with excitement while reading the tasks this internship would require. At this point, I decided it was worth it to dig a little deeper and to find out everything I could about this company, 955 Dreams. Mostly to make sure it wasn’t really a phone sex hotline (“for a good time, dial 955-DREAMS”).

In actuality, they had just built this cool iPad app called The History of Jazz, which was an interactive timeline of jazz history.

History of Jazz app

In my research, I found the company’s Twitter handle and saw that they only had a couple hundred followers. At this point in my job hunt, I was so jaded that I just had a “meh…I kinda don’t give a shit about anything right now” attitude. So instead of just sending a cover letter and resume like any sane person would do, I impulsively decided to tweet at them, “You can take down your internship posting now. www.linkedin.com/in/amandavanwest.” To my surprise, just a couple of minutes later I received the following DM:

First tweet

 

The next thing I knew, I was invited to their History of Jazz launch party, where I had to meet all of the founders and their closest friends, family members, and professional acquaintances before going through the formal interview process. Luckily my decision to stick to a two drink maximum (while encouraging other party-goers to imbibe more…) meant that I made it through the party without embarrassing myself, and I was invited in the following Monday for the interview. I was given an assignment to pick an up-and-coming band and write a short review on their music, so I wrote this review of The Vaccines self-titled EP. 

Shortly after, I was given an official offer and I became the company’s first hire.

Welcome to the family

Four years later, I’m now the most senior woman in the company, singlehandedly running our music discovery app Band of the Day. I’d like to think that my geeky inner 17 year-old Strokes/indie band fangirl would be proud if she could see me now.

It’s been an incredible learning experience, peppered with a heavy hand of surreal moments like judging a Battle of the Bands competition in the Bahamas, speaking on a music tech panel in Spain, and putting on a showcase during SXSW that resulted in tens of thousands of people wanting to get in.

Needless to say, I’m excited to see what this next year at Applauze (a necessary name change!) will have in store. Like any other tech startup, we’ve gone through our fair share of ups and downs, but I think our strength lies in how we’ve used the downs as learning experiences, and so that’s how we’ve managed to prevail.

I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom and the spambots reads this blog, but if you’ve somehow stumbled over here, feel free to leave a comment. Or, y’know, just tweet me.

The Futureheads: Live at Pure Groove Records in London

“Ok, this next song is going to sound very Russian, and when we start it will become very clear why,” explains Barry Hyde, with the same mischievous grin as The Grinch when he’s slinking around Whoville, stealing all of the Christmas decorations.

The lead singer of The Futureheads has successfully captured the attention of the crowd packed into the tiny Pure Groove Records shop and cafe. It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon in London, and a mixture of students and young, suited professionals on their lunch breaks are gathered to catch a rare, free acoustic performance of the normally raucous Sunderland-based indie rock quartet.

As the group launches into “Struck Dumb” from their newest album, The Chaos, which was released in the UK on April 26th, the Russian reference becomes very clear indeed. Without the aid of electric guitars, band members Ross Millard and David ‘Jaff’ Craig harmonise “ra da-da!” sounds–making sure to heavily roll the R’s–and occasionally display Russian-inspired dance moves, alternately squatting and popping back up with flailing leg kicks and arm thrusts. The only thing missing from the scene is black, furry hats and shiny, red voluminous trousers.

Hyde joins in by singing, “Misery, is a little line, of a little dash, it’s a subtraction sign.” Meanwhile, drummer Dave Hyde sits off to the side, providing a rhythmic beat without the aid of a drum kit.

With influences ranging from new wave and post-punk greats like Fugazi, XTC, Devo, and Gang Of Four, The Futureheads normally perform upbeat-yet-aggressive sets that often result in moshing, crowd-surfing, and pogo dancing. But despite not having the usual array of electric instruments, amplifiers, smoke machines, and brilliantly-coloured stage lights, their performance doesn’t feel any less exciting.

The Chaos
Here, the excitement comes from admiring the power of their voices and poetic lyrics, like “Every time I listen to my heart/It’s like a cartwheel in my head but my legs are made of lead” from “Heartbeat Song.” This is The Futureheads stripped down to their rawest elements.

And, today, those elements consist of one part concert, one part variety show–the band members seem to be in a jovial mood, joking around with each other and encouraging crowd interaction. It’s not every day that a band turns one of their songs (“Hounds Of Love”, from 2004’s self-titled debut album, in this case) into an audience participation game. Millard’s side of the crowd has been instructed to sing the “OH oh-oh”s, while Craig’s side of the crowd has the dueling “oh-OH!” melody.

It’s here where it becomes clear that this isn’t your ordinary British indie rock band, with generic melodies and a pretentious attitude–the band’s vocals alone intertwine in perfect harmony, almost like a throwback to a-Capella barbershop quartets from the turn of the 20th century.

Although the audience members may not possess the same level of vocal talent as the band, hearing the entire shop singing along to “Hounds Of Love” is a testament to the band’s showmanship. Moments like this make you remember why you bother going to shows in the first place. It’s easy to sit back and listen to an album on the bus, while working, or at a club, but without the smoke and mirrors of studio productions, some bands just can’t cut it live.

But whether they’re playing an intimate acoustic set, or performing at Europe’s largest festivals, The Futureheads have consistently proven that they can do more than cut it live–especially with the occasional, impromptu kalinka dance moves.