When Casey Cohen and Matt Stotland had little money and even fewer industry connections when they started their musical charity, The Yellow Bird Project.
The friends, who met as high school students in Montreal, essentially began cold-calling musicians they admired and asking them to participate by creating designs for T-shirts, the proceeds of which would go to a charity of their choice.
“It was really that kind of DIY approach” Cohen said. “We knew nobody.”
“The key was getting that first band to sign on” Stotland added.
That initial “yes” came from Devendra Banhart, and many others soon followed.
“I didn’t think we would actually (get the project off the ground), but if he’s willing to do it, there’s no reason why we can’t” Cohen remembers thinking after getting an enthusiastic note “in all caps” from Banhart in response to their request.
Soon, they found that word of mouth about their project was spreading like wildfire among the insular indie rock world. Some artists they contacted had been working independently on illustrations; others, including The National, already had T-shirt designs prepped and ready to go.
But they heard some “no”s along the way, too.
“Most of them have a reason that’s justifiable” Cohen explained. “Some said they don’t have artistic inclination.”
Thus far, the Yellow Bird Project has raised money for organizations like Art for Change, AIDS Society of Canada, Safe Space, and Free Arts for Abused Children.
Cohen and Stotland recently expanded their venture from clothing to create a children’s activity book dubbed the “Indie Rock Coloring Book.” Parents looking to up their “cool” quotient will be glad to hear that the finished product includes music-inspired illustrations and activities from indie darlings like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bon Iver and Rilo Kiley. (Cohen and Stotland like to quote The National’s Matt Berninger, who once said “I’ve decided to have kids just so I’ll have somebody to give this book to.”)
While the Yellow Bird Project is currently just a side project for both Cohen and Stotland, they each hope to turn music-related charity work (or is it the other way around?) into a full-time career. Stotland, who has a background in computer science, still lives in Montreal and does freelance computer programming; Cohen studied philosophy in college and now resides in London, where he works for a marketing agency.
The two 25-year-olds are still two unassuming music fans who can’t hide their excitement about working with artists they enjoy and admire.
“We just really like music” Stotland said. “This project just sort of fell into our laps.”
They celebrated the book’s September release with launch parties in New York City, Montreal and at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco.
“It’s basically our favorite bands (who participate)” Cohen said. “To have people who want to be a part of that “¦ It’s quite cool where this has taken us.”
The Indie Rock Coloring Book is available at various online and retail locations, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at www.yellowbirdproject.com.