Black Iris finds success working for 'the Man'

If Black Iris were an actress, you might be kind of sick of seeing her face right now. The work of this music collective — with outposts in New York, Los Angeles and Richmond, Va. — is all over primetime television, from the anthemic swells in a spot for Al Gore’s We initiative to the bass-heavy rock of a Miller Lite commercial to the sweet acoustic jangle in an ad for Sharp flat-screen TVs.

In an interesting twist on that quintessential rock ‘n’ roll dream of quitting the day job, the members of Black Iris — indie rock veterans all — have discovered a new path to artistic success: making music for “the Man.”

Three years ago, Daron Hollowell was living in Richmond and playing in a popular band called Delegate. But just as the band was negotiating a production deal, it fell apart.

Although that kind of scenario has led many to quit the business, Hollowell and fellow Delegate Justin Bailey had picked up a few commercial gigs through friends at Richmond’s Martin Agency, and they recognized a growing desire for original, authentic music in advertising. They also realized TV spots had become a viable way for musicians to get exposure.

“People got used to hearing something cool on a commercial and being like, ‘What band is this?'” says Hallowell, who recently moved to L.A. and is overseeing the company’s new studio in Downey.

Black Iris employs eight full-time composers, musicians and producers, and there are about 20 freelancers on the roster who can play any style from country to gangsta rap. All the musicians are still in bands; the L.A. contingent includes members of indie faves Foreign Born and Darker My Love. Notes Hollowell, “If they’re out there really doing it — if they’re playing at the Echo — then they’re not just being informed by, ‘How do I make this for a commercial?’ They’re informed by their whole experience. Therefore, you deliver something authentic.”

In fact, music Bailey composed for a Cadillac spot — electro pop with a sticky guitar hook — was so catchy that people began posting on the Internet, trying to find out what band had licensed the song. Except there was no band, and no song, either. Today, because of the demand, a full-length track with added vocals is available through Black Iris’ new record label, which will promote its members’ personal projects as well.

“It’s a unique time with the music business in the state that it’s in,” observes Hollowell, adding that videogames are another great outlet for musicians — and one he fully intends to explore. “We’re just beginning to tap into the possibilities.”

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