Commercial Success

Off pop music's radar for eight years, San Francisco's Voice Farm has slipped into the background of background music

"It's much more stable," says Reilly of commercial work, as opposed to dealing with record labels. "The people are appreciative, they return your phone calls. In many instances it's much more creative because people come to us for creativity. Whereas with the music industry -- once you really get in there, once you get into the mainstream music industry -- you're either on the trend, you're either doing grunge when grunge is happening, or you're off the boat. Period. As I got older, I wanted to have legitimate business relationships with people, and the music industry is just completely unstable."

"I think that, of course, Voice Farm was more of a true expression of our personal lifestyles and aesthetic," he adds. "Sometimes commercial music is, sometimes it's not. We've been very lucky in that we've had a lot of creative projects."

"When you're doing commercial work," adds Brown, "you act like a cultural sieve. You assess what the project is, you select from the gamut that's available, and then funnel it back in. It's creative, yes, but not as creative as doing one's personal creative project, of course."

Myke Reilly and Charly Brown: The artists formerly known as Voice Farm.
Akim Aginsky
Myke Reilly and Charly Brown: The artists formerly known as Voice Farm.

The two still make music as Voice Farm -- full-blown songs, the kind they made when record labels and local radio were paying attention. And in many ways, the music hasn't changed: It's still synth-pop, focused on love's darker corners ("My Stained Sheets," "Mystery Date," "Atomic Sex Hippie"), but thanks to technology, the band's newer material is much fuller, integrating both orchestral and dissonant sounds into what remain catchy, R&B-rooted pop songs. Clearly, spending years trying to get their musical point across in 30 seconds or less has taught them something.

Thus far, the songs are available only as sound clips on the Voice Farm Web site (, but Brown and Reilly are -- with no small amount of trepidation -- preparing to look into a CD release. Uninterested in releasing the record themselves ("It's kind of like going back 10 years," says Reilly), they're shopping it to labels. "We're starting that routine again," says Brown, sighing and laughing at the same time. "The old five-song demo CD and all that."

But he's adamant that his and Reilly's tiptoe move into the mainstream music world doesn't mean their commercial work is a compromise or sellout. "It's keeping us alive so that we don't have to do shit jobs to do the music," he says. "That's really what it is."

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