Day one of Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho set the bar pretty high for the rest of the weekend: Headliner Vince Staples delivered a career-honoring party-of-a-set at the Knitting Factory, up-and-coming musician Rosie Tucker showcased their songwriting chops and L.A. rockers illuminati hotties closed out the night with a mosh-friendly (sort of) shindig at the Linen Building. The annual festival, now in its eighth year, brings established acts like Staples and emerging artists like Tucker to the same city for a weekend of magical musical clashing. Treefort is like South By Southwest, its sister festival in Austin from which I’ve just returned, in that you can see your favorite rapper at the local indie venue then walk down the street and hear the best set of your life by an artist you’ve never even heard of. Downtown Boise, a tidy area of the city brimming with coffee shops, brewhouses and taco trucks, is the perfect location for such a gathering.
Before heading over to the Knitting Factory to see Staples, I meet up with illuminati hotties’ Sarah Tudzin to browse the goods at The Record Exchange, the biggest (and the most charming) music store in the state that recently purchased a hefty collection of 64,000 records. So there was a lot to explore.
All those options and somehow we find ourselves divulging a shared (and until now, secret) admiration for the Dave Matthews Band. Tudzin, an industry vet who’s worked as a producer and studio musician alongside the likes of Lady Gaga and Barbara Streisand, finds the acclaimed Steve Lillywhite’s name on the back of Under the Table and Dreaming, and we decide the DMB gets a bad rap. Tudzin, an L.A. native, released her debut album as illuminati hotties, the extremely likable rock diary Kiss Yr Frenemies, on Tiny Engines last year and is currently touring it with three pals/bandmates: drummer Tim Kmet, guitarist Nathaniel Norton-Freeman and bassist Zach Bilson. Like me, they’ve just come into town from South By Southwest. Unlike me, they have to be in Seattle by 2 p.m. the next day. (Update, even after their graveyard 12:30 a.m. set at the Linen Building, they still make it to Seattle in time for their KEXP session—and a brief detour at the Space Needle).
While she’s keeping busy with illuminati hotties, Tudzin still finds time to work as a producer and immerse herself in what’s going on in L.A.
“I think it’s kind of at its best right now,” Tudzin says of the supportive scene. “Indie rock’s been more interesting and more friendly than ever before in L.A.”
Then I ask Tudzin about that amorphous little phrase, “indie rock,” and how she feels about it, given its volume of both haters and fans in the music industry.
“You can fit a lot of bands into that category,” she says. “It’s this weird thing where Vampire Weekend is by no means independent. So there’s just a weird vibe with what indie rock means, but also I think you know what you’re getting.”
In May, illuminati hotties will tour with emo legends American Football, a dream bill for Tudzin.
“It feels fake,” she says. “It feels like I’m going to get the email any day that’s like ‘Just kidding! That was fun wasn’t it?’” But I’m really excited. It’s sort of the emo gospel. That sort of style they have crafted definitely sneaks its way into all the music I’ve written.”
Illuminati hotties, who show plenty of emo traits (confessional lyrics, communal fanbase, catchy guitar pop) are a tremendously fun live band. Their set, full of staggered drum solos (from both Tudzin and Kmet), spectacular shredding and good-natured banter, was my favorite of the night. A recorded version of ”(You’re Better) Than Ever” stylized like the Super Mario Bros. theme song sounded off while Tudzin switched guitars. And at one point, she audibly howled like a werewolf and demanded the audience do the same. After the chorus of shouts to the moon died out, the band rolled into a rousing version of their latest single, “I Wanna Keep Yr Dog,” about a time when Tudzin preferred her date’s dog over her date.
The band’s sound certainly touches on indie rock, emo and pop-punk, but Tudzin’s own descriptor for their sound is “post-naptime burrito-core.” Tortillas seem to pop up in illuminati hotties’ feeds frequently, so I ask Tudzin, what’s the deal with all the burritos?
“I love burritos,” Tudzin says. “And our drummer Tim will eat anything, as long as it’s good. Well it doesn’t have to be good. Yeah, we really all love burritos.”
Before illuminati hotties took the stage Wednesday night, fellow L.A. group Blushh brought all kinds of energy to the Linen Building, so much so that frontwoman Shab Ferdowsi advised moshers to “be safe” and “not hurt one another.” Everyone emerged from the set in one piece, as far as I know, and quite possibly with a new favorite band to dive into: Blushh, also fresh off a SXSW run, stunned the whole crowd with their searing guitar-pop and righteous power chords.
Earlier still in the day was a set from songwriter Rosie Tucker and their band, who just recently released a stellar new album, Never Not Never Not Never. Tucker’s a clever lyricist with a rock ‘n’ roll bent who’s playing four shows this week, and, based on that set, there’s a good chance they’ll emerge triumphant as a highlight of the whole festival. Listen to the single “Gay Bar” below, and watch illuminati hotties’ recent Paste session at SXSW further down.