Alaska musicians get creative for Tiny Desk Contest

Last week, NPR Music announced the winner of its second-ever Tiny Desk contest, Duluth, Minnesota’s Gaelynn Lea.

More than 6,000 hopeful bands and solo musicians submitted videos of their original music for a chance to play NPR Music’s coveted Tiny Desk at headquarters in Washington, DC. Though there can only be one winner,  here are some of the stand out Alaskan performers who competed for the title.

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Illuminated by a single light, a four-piece band sets up inside the wheelhouse of a fishing boat moored in Juneau’s Harris Harbor.

Dan DeSloover and Dan Kirkwood perform on the F/V Arete as part of their Tiny Desk Contest submission. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO - Juneau)
Dan DeSloover and Dan Kirkwood perform on the F/V Arete as part of their Tiny Desk Contest submission. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau)

“We’re Goldwing, and this is a fisherman’s desk,” said Dan Kirkwood before the song begins.

Kirkwood fronts the band competing in NPR Music’s video competition to discover the next great performer to play the Tiny Desk.

“You end up with one light, the light just above the helm. You can see that it’s a gray day in Juneau. You can see the forward leaning windows of the wheelhouse and the actual helm,” said Kirkwood of the band’s submission. “It feels like Juneau.”

Goldwing was one of 25 Alaska bands who submitted videos of their original music to NPR’s Tiny Desk contest.

Today, NPR Music announced that Duluth, Minnesota’s Gaelynn Lea beat out 6,000 other contestants to become the winner of the second-ever Tiny Desk contest. Lea will tour the country, appear on the NPR program Ask Me Another, and of course, play a coveted Tiny Desk concert at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

What about Goldwing’s fisherman’s desk? That’s part of the contest rules. All videos must take place at a desk — any desk — emulating Bob Boilen’s in D.C. Since 2008, Boilen’s desk has been host to nearly 500 intimate performances from Yo-Yo Ma and Death Cab for Cutie to Adele.

From Bethel to Fairbanks, Anchorage to the Big Island of Hawaii, bands showcase their original songs written in and inspired by the Last Frontier.

For second-year contestants Emma Hill and Brian Daste, the contest was about overcoming geographic distance to create their video for their song “A Long Way to Run.” With Hill in Hawaii and Daste in Oregon during the submission period, recording together meant that Daste taught himself to use green screen technology to create the illusion of performing in the same place.

“No matter what we did it was probably going to come off as a little wacky, but just wanting to do it anyway just for fun. And honestly, mostly so that Brian could have fun playing around with green screen,” Hill said.

Anchorage-based musician Hannah Yoter saw the contest as an opportunity to make a video for one of her newer songs “A Million Tears.” Her five-piece ensemble recorded the song in a band member’s office with the help of a tech-savvy friend.

“It’s really nice to not only have audio but to actually have a video where you can watch the band and you can see them playing — just to have something more than just an iPhone video at a concert.”

With plans to record a full length album in April, the band’s already getting a response from NPR’s national audience.

“Right after we posted the video we were contacted by multiple people about multiple gigs, people we’ve never met before,” said Yoter. “The NPR tag on it makes it available to a broader spectrum of folks. It’s getting a lot of exposure to places we never thought it would. There’s only so far you can go in Alaska.”

Though the path from Alaska to the Tiny Desk in D.C. is still long, the contest brought 25 Alaska artists a little closer.