A couple of weeks ago I made a passive-aggressive remark toward the current "scene" of music - that new wave of substance, that for the most part, is already beginning to have its own breathe of "I want to do that!" talent. Like the upward cycle we've been on in the last couple of years, my concrete evidence of the regurgitation and lack of bracing challenge among the punk community is the ramped return of "Recommended If You Like" lines I'm getting in personal messages and press releases all the same. "Hey, I've read reviews saying you like this, this and this band. I know you'll love THIS NEW BAND!" Do you? Or do you know that I'm a cynical asswipe who thinks this new band does sound like those bands that I like - only not good. It's happening. The same thing that pissed me off as a teenager with those stupid stickers that labels would put on CDs to dupe you into buying their newest signings with hopes to turn a buck - I'm really seeing that trend strongly coming back as of late.
While good music will always and does continue to exist and blah blah blah, I agree. What is good and what isn't can be hard at a time like this. We're at the "everyone's on the bandwagon to be genuine" train because it's the hit thing right now. No matter how deep you get into the underground, everyone uses the same tricks as the mainstream uses to get buyers to jump through hoops. It's marketing, and it's genius. You guys made vinyl big again, and because of it, now Hot Topic is cashing in. It's fucking genius. Still, you kind of have to wonder why someone would pay upwards of $300 for a second pressing of Deja Entendu and no one has re-pressed that yet?! The music world is a funny place that way.
I'm getting off track as usual.
Then there are the reunions. Numerous ones at that. Music seems, for the most part, pretty damn good right now. Great bands. Great albums. Great labels. Grand community of self-worth and an overall sense of great leadership from some - but with respected leadership comes blind following. It's not just in the "hardcore" or "punk" scene either. It's everywhere lately. Commercials seem like washed out, forced internet memes to sell a soft drink, and the nostalgia of how cool a Nerf commercial was in its appealing "camp" is room to remember when a band was a band to be a band and how that will never die, but unfortunately it takes time to be recognized by the general public years later.
At the beginning of the month, I was given an advance of Duck. Little Brother Duck!'s Don't Take Our Filth Away. It was captivating from the start. While I could pin down a lot of influences of what the album pulled from, those influences cross a spectrum of bands I would never see on tour together or who probably never even listen to each other respectively. I'm not saying Don't Take Our Filth Away is a game changer, but it's certainly fresh among a sea of "too closed-knit communities" of late. That's where a banner decade can take a turn for the mundane only years later. This is where we experience the final breath of the third wave and the drudge of the fourth through sixth thereafter. Duck. Little Brother Duck!'s full-length showcases dynamics, tempo shifts and enough gang vocals (which sometimes get a bit annoying) to keep some sort of heightened appeal all the way through, even though repeat listens draw on the album's ability to run together just a bit too much. Those aforementioned elements draw an A.D.D. listener like myself to the album's captivating core of "we can do anything here and do it with confidence."
In short, Don't Take Our Filth Away is the first record of 2012 to completely take me by surprise and bring me coming back for more just in the first day. It contains elements of everything I want to continue to see among the young underground today and the older rockers with sharp chops as well. Duck. Little Brother Duck! took me a bit out of some of the boredom of the last few months. My most anticipated records have come out swinging so far this year from bands that already had my attention, but this time the one inbox listen on a whim pulled me away from what I knew I'd enjoy into something exciting from left field. I want more bands to do this to an elitist shit like myself. Don't buy into what's around you, buy into the spirit of what lives inside you. Don't try to be a part of something, make what you're doing the thing to do. It's that sort of confidence that will keep music interesting and lessen the gap of lulls throughout the years.
"The whole 'music sucks now' thing to me is so lame. Youths write me and tell me that their band will go nowhere because of all the bad bands in the world. I tell them there has always been awful music and that no great band ever wasted any time complaining, they just got it done. Their ropey ranting is just a way to get out of the hard work of making music that will do some lasting damage." - Henry Rollins, LA Weekly
The media can be damaging. I wonder how Lebron James felt Thursday as sports outlets put his career on the line in every segment leading up to game six. It's not enough to tell people what's going on anymore, it's also about how they should feel about someone or something that they're closely attached to. My biggest personal problem in working in the media industry is basically trying to figure out how to open people up to something I'm excited about, without forcing my opinions onto them as a final will and testament about anything. When I read the quote above from Mr. Rollins the other day, it got me thinking about how negative not only I, but media outlets everywhere, can come off towards something they're just "not feeling" or "extremely biased" towards in the passion of conveying any sort of message.
It's a catch-22 in this business and a cop-out at the same time. We have to pit what we think is good to what we think is bad. Every day we wake up and evaluate someone's progress to others around them. We tier and create caste systems that are bulit and torn down on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis of "best of" lists and hyped review systems of numbers and best new "something or other" to make us selfishly feel like taste-makers and give us some sort of worth in a job that a lot of people not in this business could do - if they weren't already out there making a real difference in society, like we maybe should be doing instead of this.
I'm not going to lie, I've had a pretty shitty day. The one good thing that happened today was getting to see my friends play to a packed house show. Our other friends played with them. All of their friends showed up. It was quite a special moment to be briefly part of. While I always hear about concerns of opening for touring acts from some, a good local show stacked with close friends excited about what's going on centrally is an enjoyment that should be had once in anyone's life - especially if you care about the heart and community of music in general. No matter how big you see a band get and tour with other bands from states away, the local aspect of music is and forever will be felt as a well kept moment among many. In that living room, basement or backyard - the people around you get it. There is no media judgement. There is no "anticipated next album" or expectations in general for that matter. There is only support.
I can't tell you how personally happy I am for the current local scene in Texas right now. A lot of great bands are doing not only great things right now, but the best ones have the most distinct sounds that I've heard writing and reviewing for a national outlet. I know it's not only going on here, it's going on everywhere. The excitement a local scene has is necessary to carry over into national takeover - whether that takeover is playing small rooms for five years, or hitting it big in two or three. The great thing about the hardcore scene that Rollins grew up in during the '80s was that sense of local community - from Chicago to L.A. to D.C. to New York - that carried into national word of mouth. Through it all, shitty music has always existed during it. There are some terrible bands that get big all over, and a budding underground that will never die within a specific region. You just have to go out there and seize the moment among the muck. If you have a unique voice to some, you may not be suitable for others - but there's always that some, and that's who you should give a fuck about.
Today I realized that I wouldn't be getting an opportunity that some of my friends received. I somewhat have my thoughts on why that is, and for the most part it has to do with my output as of the past year. I've said it before, but today - especially - it warrants another reminder: If you don't go out and bust ass and never lose steam, someone else is going to grab the crown. Someone else who also yields success will probably get it when you trip for even a moment. It's a dissheartening feeling when you don't stack up to the competition, but it should still make you think for the long run.
A friend said something that cut quite deep tonight: "I don't really care what anyone else is going to think about this album. I care about the people here and shows like this and what my friends think." I'm thankful every day that any of you give a shit what I have to say. The truth is that I'm half plagiarizing discussions that I quarrel with among my best friends on a daily basis. In the end, that's all I care about - success will eventually follow to any who do their best at what they're passionate about. It's not about how you don't like what's going on around you, it's about how you can go out there and change it and get people to recognize that. It's not about forcing your opinions on someone, it's about getting others to see a different take on music, ideas, politics, religion and the such.
I'm coming up on three years for this site and I hope I haven't eaten those aforementioned thoughts. My close friends continue to inspire me, and it's helped so much. I can't be anymore thankful for that sort of "local" support and challenge. Every quick minute to the crawling year we grow a bit against the grain of "awful" we deem around us as highly opinionated creatures. Mediocrity will always thrive - it's how we end up fighting it that's the best part of any long term goal in life.
Punk rock is something to many and notably not all the hype for some. It can be dirty, violent and unforgiving. Well, It's meant to be, right? At its core, punk rock is not a sound, it's a universal language of revolution and change. It has something to say and doesn't care who or what gets in the way of it. No matter how much you want to separate specific sounds into genres and sub-genres alike, punk rock is not how you play a guitar or start up a pit. It's the energy that flows from simply striking a guitar to the tone of the amp resonating across crowds of 50 in a basement to 1,000 in a venue where you finally made it. Even that description doesn't matter. None of anyone's opinions of how something sounds or acts matters. At the end of the show, what you take away from it, the feeling of emotional release - that's what matters. Punk rock is supposed to invoke something special inside you and exorcise it for the thirty minutes to hour long sets of any band. Two very big people reminded me of that this weekend on separate occasions during this year's Chaos in Tejas festival in Austin, TX.
I met Moss Icon's Tonie Joy on Thursday night meeting up with my friend Derek who so happened to also handle the band's press for their reissue through Temporary Residence. Though our conversation was short lived before Toys That Kill hit the stage (and put on a stunning performance they did), I got to ask Joy at least one question I was curious about. I asked him what he thought his band was at their height. What genre did he think he was in versus what people thought of Moss Icon now? His answer wasn't that all surprising - he simply thought he was in a "rock band." Fast forward to after Moss Icon's incredible hour long reunited set (and only one thus far or possibly ever), and I got a chance to talk to Pygmylush's Chris Taylor. Taylor of course was one half the vocals of hardcore greats pg. 99. If you remember the band's interview with NPR, Taylor's take on where he saw his old band at the time and what people deem pg. 99's legacy now, it's certainly a matter of "he said, she said" dribble that's been passed along through media-heads and elitist alike. What has since carried through into Pygmylush is the state of simply doing without a purpose or foresight. There is no image, no gimmick and no predestined answer to what a song, record or band as a whole should sound like. The Ramones were a dirty pop band but they're herald as "punk pioneers." Led Zeppelin were taking a new spin on the blues and considered metal to others. Watching Tonie Joy's mini-solos on some of Moss Icon's songs Sunday night - he really was playing in a rock band.
The great thing about punk rock is also its bastardized downfall. It sums up the phrase "This is why we can't have anything nice!" We're all guilty of it - especially we, the media plethora of writers. I wonder why that is - is it the fear of association with one sound and not another? "Oh, well, they're not this, but they're more that. I don't listen or like that." It just seems dumb, and it's finally snapped in me how irritating it can be to breakdown what music isn't instead of what music is. Watching Nasum on Thursday night was no different than Dropdead on Friday to me. Both were brutal. Sure, one's "more metal" than the other, but they both invoked similar damages among the crowd and through my eardrums. I can also see the separation as well. To me, Thou is not only one of the heaviest bands, they also standout in how clean their execution is and how forceful they come off compared to everyone else around them doing the same thing right now. It's simply terrifying. Is it it doom? Is it hardcore? Is it metal? I'm sure if you asked different people, they'd give you a different answer depending on what they know and what they like.
Festivals like Chaos in Tejas and The Fest down in Gainesville remind us about the importance of community of punk rock, no matter what genre specific band you're going to see, what you're wearing to go see it or how old or how young you are still trying to attach yourself to the reason you never let that anarchist and revolutionary inside you ever completely die off. That feeling is global and seen across the overseas acts of Chaos in Tejas. Reality Crisis put on a raging set Thursday night, I almost forgot in all the media imagery I see that tells me what Japan is and isn't into that there is massive punk and metal scene in Japan. Then there was Ice Age from Denmark on Sunday before Moss Icon. It was raw, angry and slightly harmonic. It wasn't exactly grunge and it wasn't exactly hardcore. But their set sure was punk as fuck. Who the hell knew Denmark had a punk scene?!
Last year, between a heavy weekend of work, I was only able to attend a handful of shows and see a handful of bands. This year I tried to attend as many shows and see as many different bands as possible. On Saturday I saw the brutality that is the heralded Dropdead, immediately heading over to see the lush layering of one of my new favorite acts, Chelsea Wolfe. As the excitement began to calm inside me during Wolfe's intoxicating set of harmonies - opposite that of the heightened feeling I witnessed just minutes later - it dawned on me that revolution has always won out among the masses and lasted. I've said it before, I'm just some kid who writes behind a computer and can only offer insight, and hitting 26 in a few months, what I now know of what "punk can be" versus "what punk was" when I discovered the word a decade plus earlier, they are two complete variations. For the most part, the bands that I've seen to be "the best" lasted a good long time or are still talked about among "the know" - ahem*EngineDown*ahem. The bands that I didn't get to see and understood years after their demise, still last today with generations to come - as seen by the ramped hype of reunions as of late. This weekend I probably couldn't talk to you about half the line-up of Chaos in Tejas, but the venues were packed with kids and adults alike that could. Punk rock is not a fad, and the media and press and labels that make it out to be will fail for all the wrong reasons. Punk rock isn't a specific sound. It's always been a feeling. You'll know it when it hits you. You'll know it when the idea of punk rock expands when you grow older as well. I can promise you that. If you don't get that feeling ever, than you were just one who held punk rock in the wrong hands.
Is viral marketing a thing of yesteryear? Well, it depends on who you ask and how certain PR groups, managements, labels and artists are using them. We all are aware that online marketing is a heavy hit for many right now. Whether it's intentionally leaking or giving away your album to get fans to (at the very least) come out to a show, buy a t-shirt or that limited vinyl to put up on their wall - or whatever kids do with those frisbee things these days. Viral marketing certainly has its pros. For one, it's supposed to build anticipation. In an era when "just having ad-space" is part of the overload of informational clutter - the feel of anticipation is what viral marketing corners. With anticipation comes work. Why give the fan something, when they can help build marketing for your brand (read: band, product, whatever)? "You want to hear that new song? Well, you better get your friends to get our Facebook page to X number of "Likes" by midnight or you're going to have to wait another week assholes!" The general public will end of participating. It's nothing to them, and it only builds your product in their personal feed for others to see and click and "Like" as well.
Then there's the "special" factor to it all, which, if you understand the basic structure of "mediocrity," you're smart enough to look past the fact that you're not part of something that special, you're a number in a system to sell a product. Sorry, it's the truth for most, but not for all, so take that statement with a grain of salt. The blanket of exclusivity that's being marketed to fans is also a problem in controlling, and there lies the biggest con in today's viral marketing. The truth is, with the overload of ways to share, post and message(board) any and all activity on the internet, how does a band and their crew of knowledgeable staff contain any sort of exclusivity on the web. I think the answer is just another nail in some of viral marketing's out-dated ideas: they won't be able to.
It's a sad dilemma that the sort of "exclusivity" for fans can't exist because of how fast news can truly travel across the web these days. I think back to the AFI scavenger hunt a few years ago and how something like that couldn't exist now. We live in a digital world where it's hard to not only trust some with information months before its proper (press) release, but giving the general public of fans anything from a scavenger hunt to a secret URL to a coded stream, it'll be ousted to the populous in a matter of minutes, hours and at the very least, by the end of the work day.
It's a really sad state to think about though. As I've brought up the pessimistic opinion that you are not special as a consumer, and only a number to some in this industry - it's a blatant slap in the face and generalization to lump some who do want to do something special for their fans. Sending out a song premiere in an e-mail just isn't special enough today, because it's up on YouTube minutes later. Putting together a well calculated puzzle to open up an album stream just doesn't show a special, well-deserved pay-off to fans - because it only gets posted across messageboards and blogs alike as news.
So where does the fault lie? Is it in the hours spent that would seem wasted in putting together such packages? Or are the fans and media who expose these things meant as gifts to the fans who sit impatiently waiting for something new to blame? In the end, it's a great gesture that is ruined because of modern technology. We as media report on what we know. We know so much so fast, and it's not always through a proper press release. It's because of tips from fans and social feeds we do our best to research our news from. It moves fast. The idea of having any sort of "exclusive" content is kind of laughable at this point. You have to think about how exclusive any sort of content is for how long, whether it was intentionally put out into the public eye or kept to launch for a specific time on a specific day on a specific site - it all gets retweeted, shared and posted elsewhere before you can have a chance to call it your own at this point.
Last Thursday morning, moments after I posted last week's column, I got a call from my mother that my grandmother, who had been suffering and declining for about two years now following a stroke, would probably pass over the weekend. As I stood on stage Thursday night watching Thrice play "Beggars," I definitely choked up a bit and I started thinking about the drive home on Saturday. When I was driving home late Saturday night, I was trying to quell my anxiety with the right musical selections in my car for the eight hour trek of interstate and more importantly, the eight hours alone in a car with just the stereo and my thoughts. As I think about it now, it sounds crazy that some of us vent through the medium of music in such a way. You don't want to watch a romantic comedy where Katherine Heigl plays the same character again after you broke up with someone, but you'll put yourself through the abuse of a sad song at your darkest moments. Seems strange, doesn't it?
A few weeks back I talked a bit about the ownership of music. Once it leaves the artist and it is put on the market for the general public to consume, it has the ability to shift meaning depending on the person listening and translating it and then attaching it to a moment or event for better or worse. Of all the familiar motions we tend to move through in life, death is certainly one of the roughest patches we must overcome. There are a lot of feelings both large and small that run the gambit through not only our hearts, but our minds as well. As I sat in the funeral home Sunday with my mother and aunt and uncle, I couldn't take my mind off the music that was playing over the speakers. Maybe it was simple subconscious distraction, who knows? The only wakes or funerals I've ever attended, I've never noticed whether or not there was any music playing at all. Sunday, I noticed. A mix of old country and gospel, I immediately figured it was simply part of the funeral home's general selection. While I sat there silent listening to an old Willie Nelson track, I overheard my uncle talking about how he found some older country and gospel albums helping clear out a home for a friend and wanted to bring them to my grandmother in the nursing home. In the condition she was in at the time, this now seemed the most appropriate.
One last selection on the jukebox.
I sat there wondering what would play at my funeral (there's your Saves the Day reference…): "Pyramid Song" or maybe the first untitled track off of ( ) by Sigur Ros first came to mind. Something soothing and accepting was my initial thought. Then I began to think, well, what if you were a metalhead? Would it be wrong to blast Cowboys From Hell or Ride the Lightning if it meant a sincere memory of how much that person loved to headbang and throw up the horns every chance they got? What do they play at Juggalo funerals? Wouldn't you want to honor the "family" wish to spin The Great Milenko or Riddle Box one last time before they close the casket? I'm not trying to say these things to make you laugh or be hyperbolic in outlandish varied situations that might occur - I'm just thinking very outside the box to make a point. Remember, anything, any wish, any last testament is a possibility. I'm sure there are a lot that exist. If we can turn our ashes into vinyl as this new century's burning viking ship, then I feel any final request is relevant to this conversation - especially when considering music.
When we attach ourselves, or others, to certain musical backgrounds, the music acts as a bookmark in growing chapters of our lives. Just as certain music has the ability to close a chapter on someone close to us, it goes without saying (because it's been said thousands of times) that elements as small as a lyric to something as large as a shared favorite band, to the songs and albums and concerts in between - they all hold depth to when we knew a particular person well, whether its warranted or not at any moment it may strike us. I bring up the word "warranted," because of a parallel that hit me while I was sitting at a beer garden late Sunday night trying to relax myself and jotting down a lot of my anxiety into what you're reading now. As we grow up, we need these bookmarks to sort of cherish the greater moments of our lives. There are certain memories we will come across not because of music, but we can attach a certain time, a specific group of people to the larger whole of a catalog or genre or specific record for that matters. What's more interesting to me is how building a record collection can lead to losing pieces of it in the end, and gaining them back later down the line. Remember your close friends in high school? How many of those albums have you traded in for new ones? What about the parties with a particular mix of friends you'd hear from every weekend? Are they still part of the regular rotation or are they fair-weather, collecting dust in the closet of a memory only to be recognized when you run across them months and years later? We sometimes lose boxes of records in a move for various reasons, and we often denounce our past ties to certain bands because their sound never changed, but our tastes and opinions did.
Watching Thrice for the last time Thursday night was a perfect parallel to the weekend that followed. My grandmother was always there for me as a kid, and she's one of the few people who was very optimistic about who I was and where I could go in life. She gave me hope. Even though she's gone now, she'll always be a force behind what little confidence I hold. My favorite bands made me believe that music could be special for various reasons. It's hard to see them go - especially when they have such a strong connection in shaping not only who you are, but how they are a benchmark of who you once were and the growth you've made since then. The same can be said about the hundreds of people I once knew or had frequent beers with - and even though I may not see them as much, if not ever again, they were there for a reason. The hardships, the good times; the first kiss to the worst rejection; the tastes of success and the biggest failures yet. This weekend I encourage you to dig deep in your iTunes folder or in the back of your closet for that box of CDs. Whether it's your copy of Middle of Nowhere by Hanson or the cracked casing holding Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement underneath that, turn off your television and your video games and YouTube searches for things like this. Take a drive or put it on in the background while you call a family member you haven't heard from in a while or old friend you often bring up in conversation when telling stories from "back when..." Music is immortal - the people we share it with are not.
Last year I watched as three of the most influential bands of my youth called it a day. At the beginning of the year, RX Bandits announced their hiatus. Since most deaths happen in 3's - back to back, Thrice and Thursday decided to take their breaks as well. What I've been thinking about leading up to seeing Thrice's farewell show tonight in Austin is what each individual band has shown me. RX Bandits showcased the fact that some of the best bands can't be pinned down to any particular genre, combining many different elements to create a distinct sound. Thursday showcased an even level of anguish and beauty - something that has carried with me throughout my favorite bands. It's a band that has maxed out at both the heaviest elements and the most melodic (perfect example: "Past and Future Ruins").
Then there's Thrice. As I've talked about the idea of bands being challenging over the years within our spectrum of tastes - Thrice has certainly taken the reigns for me in that aspect when it comes to my favorite bands. I would jam a new RX Bandits or Thursday record for months on end when they were released. Thrice was a different story. It's not that their sound shifted so drastically between records, it's that each record truly had to marinate, cook on high and then allow my palette to absorb each flavor that every album had to offer. The crazy thing is, I'm unsure why exactly that even happened. As I listen to The Artist in the Ambulance now, I can rock "Paper Tigers" heavier than I ever did the day my friend bought the record for my birthday. It's a song way heavier than anything on The Illusion of Safety or the first time I heard "Phoenix Ignition" and my jaw dropped and wanted more. For some reason it took months to sink in. It took half a year to fully grasp Beggars and hearing the Major/Minor cuts live last Fall really breathed a different light into them that I was not seeing. It's a very bizarre concept, but I know it's not a concept that only effects my tastes as a listener - a staunch one at that.
It's hard for some to write punk rock forever. Thrice has easily been that band to shed light on that very idea. Here's a bunch of guys who were too technical for the mainstream for some, and sometimes a bit too mainstream for some of the underground. As they grew, fans either loathed the direction into the more conventional (yet never lackluster in structure) or opened up to what the band were growing into. That idea of being open to one's growth is very important in punk rock. It's an idea that you either learn or forever miss - and end up forever stuck listening to a small library of what you think you know, which actually is false. You become forever jaded in the past or stubborn to new elements in music you're simply dismissing. Again, I know because I've been through those motions many a time and fully regret it. It takes a big man to admit his close-minded behavior at a young age, and another to pass that knowledge along so it saves another generation from closing their doors on new ideas and progress outside of what the media and labels want to sell their bands as or who to sell their bands to.
As I'm sitting here late writing this up, my Facebook feed loaded up again, and my buddy Daniel posted something I thought was pretty special after he saw the band in Dallas last night…
If my blog a few nights ago seemed angry, it's because of sentiments like the one above. That's coming from a friend of mine and someone who's in two bands himself. That's not a writer who has some sort of "authority," it's just a person who feels passionate about music. Daniel is not only me, he's also you. His sentiments are your comments. It's your arguments. It's your attachment to something "special." To say something is "special" though is to say it contains depth and honesty in the music that is being sold to you rather than the image you are actually being sold to from media outlets, PR and management and the lackluster thereafter. I know it's a tired argument, but it's the truth that we subconsciously forget. Thrice isn't the only band. There are thousands that share the same spirit and another thousand that don't and somehow make it further to only become a mark of forgotten history.
Thrice has a been a band that taught me the payoff of being challenged by music. They gave me a decade of thinking and rethinking the elements of rock and roll. I know I've thrown around the word "post-hardcore" a lot and tried to pick apart and restructure what that term really means, but Thrice is definitely a contender along with bands like Cave In and Poison the Well who stepped out past their hardcore roots to make careers out of challenging their fans with what they could come up with next as a band. Like the aforementioned, they didn't fail many of us when showing us a new trick as they learned a few themselves each time around.
There are a handful of elements I do not like about this job. Being a sort of "judgement call" for an entire demographic of people (whoever that may or may not pertain to) is one of them. I don't hold myself on a pedestal by any means, and the best thing I can deliver onto whoever reads any of this is simply insight. That insight comes from living and breathing every minute of my life to some sort of aspect of music. It's the choices I make on my iPhone on the way to work at 7 a.m. and it's the song that gets randomly stuck in my head during my shift and it's the hours I stay up late reading articles, books and writing til 3 or 4 in the morning sometimes. It's the bands I heavily research and the talks among musical friends. So, if anything, yes, that makes me an authority on some sort of level. Yes, I feel very well educated in what I say. I feel so educated in fact, that sometimes I have to lower myself to the world around me. In working for a site that caters to a whole demographic of young mushy minds and those older elitist scum like myself, sometimes I loose it and go, "Really? No! Stop! I'm not going to let this cycle of bullshit run its course this time." On Friday, I lost it with this.
To repeat myself, because I stand by what I said: "If there's more press about the drama of your band rather than the music it produces. Quit."
Now, some of you guys found that to be an ignorant statement. Some of you guys agreed with me. That's great, I haven't been attacked in some time (well, since SXSW anyway...) and since I was at work during most of the discussion dealing with a whole other breed of idiots, I was only able to rebuttal to an extent. Tonight, after giving some thought to the original quote, I'll open up some more about my feelings toward this situation, and one that isn't the first time in the last couple of years, well, as someone pointed out, since music's great pop stride, has gone on forever. With understanding that, you also have to understand a set of variables. To say every band doesn't have a bit of drama (even The Partridge Family had their tiffs) would be an understatement. As those cases of tabloid/PAGE SIX news reels throughout the blogging network these days, it seems to take precedent over a lot of the substantial news that SHOULD be covered. That's not only in music. The Daily Show thrives off exploiting the major news networks of too much glitter whored across their reputable titles as gatekeepers. What do we do? The public eats that shit up! You fuckers love drama! Take a look at this week's top stories. At least half of the top stories (more than half if you count The Offspring single thread) were drama induced. Most comments. Best memes. You guys know the drill.
The thing is, and especially after working for this site for close to three years now, the younger these bands are getting, the more I hear about their drama in the news feed than I actually hear about their music. Again, the statement wasn't directed specifically at He is We or their music (subjective to argue, but bland to my ears) - it's about how sometimes I log on in the afternoon and the feed looks like a fucking high school gossip page of "he said, she said" bullshit. (Limp Bizkit reference. Check.) Yes, I may have used the term "Disney bullshit" a bit loosely in my original argument, but if there weren't behind the scenes mechanisms working on a "press release" or "statements" that are now being refuted - then something is up. It's not about the music - it's about an image, and that's the biggest part of this job that I'm sick of. Jason wrote a pretty blunt statement the other day, and there's really not much more I can add to it, because it just about sums up my point.
Drama happens. We're all human. Some of my favorite bands have certainly been through the ringer and some of the biggest bands have made it to countdowns of insane rock and roll moments that I watch on Vh1 over and over again. But those larger bands also have staked some sort of stock in this business a long time ago. After some time and some well followed music, those bands' drama ousting never overshadowed their work. With all the praise that The Dangerous Summer get musically, even their biggest fans are sick of the bullshit. Their external perception, this rock star image, is beginning to overshadow who they are as musicians. It used to be, when a band had problems, they took some time and regrouped - or just called it a day and accepted their small spot in history to someone - whether it was big or small. There's always tomorrow. If you were a band that gave your all to music and that made a "genuine" or "substantial" impact to even a minority, there's always a chance to get back on the horse - I mean, every band ever is reuniting right now - maybe in ten years, we will turn another cycle out of side stage cult followings. Maybe a bunch of kids will pull out their neon t-shirts and find those MP3s that were taken off their iPod to make room for their new favorite band because you couldn't get your shit together, or were managed by people who couldn't be as honest as you wanted to be about a situation. Honestly, any time anything is dragged through the mud and taken out back to be shot - a lot of people suffer. I can say this because I've seen it, I've read about it and I can tell you that He is We's situation is not the first - but maybe it's a mark to head in the right direction.
There is a moment of clarity in everyone's life where they realize that they can be easily bought and sold on their weaknesses. The reasons for you hating Warped Tour are the same reasons the kids older than us hated it when kids my age were going. The thing is, it's getting worse. Every band used to have to bust ass to last almost a decade if not more - those bands made a mark with their music that resonates today, and they did it without trying to have an image (their own, not one given to them by the media). It's a mark that makes us stoked about these small one-off reunion shows and so on. A lot of those bands have the Internet to thank for that - but they were also around at a time when there was a benefit to being blogged about - now it seems that some have taken the phrase, "There's no such thing as bad press," a bit far. The cool blogs are running puff pieces - or some blogs are Tiger Beat reincarnated for the technical age. That's why I made the statement I made. That's why I stand by it. It's my job to make those kinds of statements. If you've ever watched any of the "Rage Quit" videos on YouTube, that's how I feel most days of the week. That's the kind of shit you guys seem to care about. You say you're punk rock, but you're being sold an image from someone who doesn't know shit about punk rock, doesn't know shit about three to four years of D.I.Y. and VFW Halls. When Panic! At the Disco recorded an album before they even played a show and got inked - it was an image and sound that has been bought and sold for at least five solid years now. It is a distinct bubblegum-pop underground, just packaged to a different demographic. Guess what, I'm calling these bands out on it. I'm calling their managers out on it. I'm calling their labels out on it. As good as the underground punk and hardcore scene is right now, that mentality will seep into the cracks. It has through every genre ever. It's just a matter of time before wafting shit and eating stale saltines that "sound pleasing" because you've just given up.
"Angry without a message or a meaning. When I got into punk and hardcore we were proper outcasts. We got into fights with the pretty boys that nowadays seem to be the bands. We were ugly and stupid and no girls liked us. They still don’t. Now it seems like all the jocks and pretty boys got themselves some fresh Ink and everyone loves them...This is just another boyband. Maybe it is more appropriate to compare it with the 90s Hairmetal. Music that claimed some sort of metal stamp but was just supercommercial and substanceless music. Yeah, that’s what is happening. Music has no meaning, no substance. It just about haircuts and tattoes. We are living in horrible times." - Dennis Lyxzen (Refused, The International Noise Conspiracy)
The idea of being part of the mass media leaves me with onset anxiety most days. It's not just being a voice streaming in the babbling brook of blogs, magazines and op-ed pieces such as this, but it's also knowing that somewhere someone is pondering, questioning, agreeing or even disagreeing with your opinion. Once you write, record, film or capture anything and put it out into the world, it becomes part of a conversation that can run as smoothly as a pleasant game of bridge with the ladies or as insane as a 150 cap room during one of the most intense Trash Talk sets you've ever been a part of. There's reason and there's chaos. It's a spectrum that makes up the comment section of just about any given Monday of news and gossip to start off our week. It takes one voice to state an opinion and a million to deconstruct it and overly think outside the context of the original statement. We do it because we're human and we have to attach ourselves to something to express anything. It's the basic neurotic structure we are all made up of whether we are conscious about our actions and thoughts, or unknowingly living in our own shell of a lie. It's quite fascinating.
On Sunday I went to see the guys in Say Anything on their Anarchy, My Dear tour. I especially went to have a chat with a friend. See, every time I talk to Max Bemis or read an interview he's done where someone (which that someone has been me) grills him about the music industry, he always has something reasonable to say. (I can't say that about some rock stars out there who think they have a grasp on things, even as they're riding the "contemporary" sweet life as we see it.) Bemis has certainly been through the ringer: On top of his mental set backs and through an unhealthy bout with drugs, it seemed Bemis also struggled with what the industry and his fans wanted him and his music to be, and through it all, it's always been about what he wants it to end up being. He wrote a debut that many want him to still live up to as their standard of him as an artist. His new compositions have been met with a mixture of praise and loathing by not only critics, but fans as well - fans that feel like Bemis owes them a direct re-connect each round of songs he diligently works on - and not just for himself, but the "Song Shop" some fans directly pay him for. That has to be a lot of stress on a person who continues to get up and keep walking after every opinion in the world about his songwriting has been thrown as blunt stones of regress both on the Internet, in print and - I would presume - in a passive-aggressive smirk in person as well.
As I sat there on the bus talking to Bemis about how I'm still trying to find a grip with the "Why's" and "How's" of this industry on one level, and our attachment to music on another - he's still calmly stating a sense of comfortable numbness to all that's been plaguing my anxiety as of late. There's a state of nirvana when I spoke with him on Sunday evening that I now envy. But I also acknowledge that he's in a state of the "creation," while I'm in the state of "judgement." It's a bit easier to shut the world out and focus when you're not focusing on the world and your expectations as judge, jury and best new music floating around your head as some pedestal of what is it and what isn't it. The context changes depending on what shoes you're wearing - the ones on stage or the ones standing on the side of it.
In reading my favorite column this week, I began to ponder the above with the reasons for why we keep our opinions as sharp as knives in every thread of every site. (read: shit storm with a chance of "Spider-man Thread") We fight for what we feel is comfortable. In talking last week (or last month, or always) about the challenge our favorite bands have the ability to put us in, I didn't mention where the challenge actually lies. I think it's our level of comfort. It's that simple. It's why some of us drag our feet to impress a girl that wouldn't normally give us as much time in the same relationship we should end. It's why we're afraid to jump ship if a job is keeping us afloat. It's paying a bit extra on your re-lease for our apartment so we don't have to go through the hassle of moving again this year. It's our favorite shirt, and it's lying on the couch on our only day off watching Arrested Development Season 2 for the 18th time. When it comes to music, we want to feel the same warm blanket we needed last winter as we will need through this one as well. It's not that we want the same album twice, it's that we want the same level of comfort the last one brought us. That comfort can be measured from knowing we're listening to the most technical, new-age thing still, or we're going through a hard time (work, relationships, etc.) and we're lost without some new answers we're just expected to be given because they were all there last time.
Like music, when you begin to tear back the variables and subjectivity, our problems are quite universal. We all live through some sort of fear and are destined to feel love many times in our life at many levels. With the weight of social media and comment sections marinating our thoughts on every one of those feelings and what we should be and what we are meant to listen to and not listen to and what we should watch and not watch and what we should create and hesitate in building - it truly is why we fight. At some point we all lost the fact that each and every one of us has a story, a problem or an adventure to tell through words, music, fashion and hell - even baking one hell of a cake! I envy Bemis because he's one of the few people I've met in this industry that has seemed to figure out how to live the dream and not everyone else's version of it. As we grow older, we begin to grow into the shell that we fought in angst against when we were young. We become the noise we wanted to tune out. Lately, I've been tuning out. Apparently that makes me look concerned about things. Really - I'm just doing this. If we did more of that, our anxiety would probably ease and the comfort of a less than stellar radio hit might just be the most comforting thing in the moment...
Well, unless it's that Gym Class Heroes song featuring Adam Levine...
[writer's note:The views reflected in this editorial and any other are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the opinions of any other staff members or Jason Tate with regards to any band or label mentioned from here on out. Thank you for reading. Always form your own opinion, don't let someone do that for you.]
Poison the Well's Versions is the band's best record.
There, I said it.
After going through the catalog again upon hearing the news this week that Poison the Well has "something" coming to us soon (according to Twitter - May 3rd), it immediately sent me digging through what I deemed the prime cuts from the guys. Poison the Well, like most of my favorite bands - and those celebrated mostly through a minority or majority cult worship - have an uneven discography. Every record sounds different than the last. If you think about the bands that matter - the ones that have really made their mark, whether it be a decade or more since their beginning and end - those bands in question took a lot of chances, and in retrospect, they fucking paid off. But the key term here is "retrospect," because when you hear something unexpected from one of your favorite bands, there's always this limbo that you sit in. It could last three months or it could last three days. Maybe it'll be three years later when you pick back up the record and go, "Oh fuck! This is incredible!" The time you hangout in the limbo between not getting it and that realization of getting it is what makes your palette of musical tastes quite special in itself. It's subconscious growth, and it's a beautiful thing to look back on.
Like I've spoken about in other write-ups, there is a challenge set in getting to that understanding. That challenge has to come from simply giving new music and new ideas a chance. You won't like everything you hear, but you also may find elements that carry over into what you do like from the aforementioned music for which you at least gave a listen to. It will be subtle as well. For example, I'm not a huge Death Cab For Cutie fan like most of my fellow writers and friends, but the catalog is quite solid for the sake of argument. If you shuffle through the best of it, there are some power ballads evenly mixed with a bit of screamo-octave chords riding in the band's earlier work (as pointed out by one of my friends who is a big fan since the beginning). While it's not a catalog I celebrate per se, there are elements in the band that I see in my favorite bands. Elements that are subtle pointillism of the overall picture, but when called out by others, you realize the connection. Again, Death Cab For Cutie is a band that hasn't really written the same record twice. They attempted new things and they either gained fans, lost them or subjected some to the "challenge" that I speak about.
Like I've said numerous times before, that challenge is the best thing about punk rock. The risks that are taken and the way bands blend their favorite music into the boiling pot of influential gumbo is what keeps music exciting for most of us. While JADEDPUNKHULK may or may not agree with me, the "punkest" thing you can do is your own thing - even if it doesn't work for everyone. While I've made many a joke and scoff at a lot of the music that passes as "hardcore" or "post-hardcore" in some of your heads - there's a majority of young minds out there that truly believe that The Bunny the Bear is the most revolutionary thing to them. For some reason, for some it's their, err, At the Drive In. For some people, the expectation for Bring Me the Horizon to be influenced by post-rock will bring this new generation a hopeful Oceanic of sorts. Hell, The Illusion of Safety probably boast more of an Until Your Heart Stops for my teen years than Until Your Heart Stops does for me as an album now - in retrospect. It's hard as critics - especially as we grow older - to say, "Okay, I see what you're doing there." Because back in the day, an older generation found the likes of 3OneG to be just a garbage pail of noise and the next generation thought Thursday was ripping off the Level Plane catalog. It happens in cycles, we grow older, and new music doesn't stick as well as when the first chord struck us. About once a month I hear a new band and say to myself, "Man, if this came out in 2005, this would be my favorite new band." For whatever reason, I'm over it. For whatever other reason, subconsciously, I'm not over the music I fell in love with in 2005. The paradox will have to be solved on another day though.
So, to get at the point I came in here to make - the other day, with two of my good friends, we took a listen to the new Skip the Foreplay album, Nightlife. To put it best from one of those friends, "Man, Brokencyde opened up a door that shouldn't have been opened," or "This sounds like Crazy Town." Why not, the opening track has to introduce the band through a soundbyte. WHO DOES THAT? Nu-metal rap-rock bands between the years 1998-2000, that's who! So either we've come full circle, or this album is the biggest troll since Lil B's Everything Based or anything 3OH!3 has ever released. The titles: "Dinner With Snooki" "Hangover" and the lovely "Date Rape Predator" - a song title fitting in a scene of stories fed through the now deceased Is Anyone Up? website. (I'm not accusing anyone in Skip the Foreplay of such accusations though, that's for Tumblr and scene girl tweets to handle.) Seriously, a few minutes into "Date Rape Predator," and there's a sample of a girl acting like she's been slipped something in her drink! WHAT?! UGH! FUCK! (throws hands in air) I can ignore the breakdown after breakdown. I can ignore the sing-scream combo that has been played out for years. I can ignore the aerobic stage jumps and crouches tied into every oncoming breakdown that leaves your band with no utter sense of dynamics within the plateau of sound that is your music. I can even ignore this dubstep shit you've added to give "texture" for lack of a better word. Listening to this album was the blade that cut the umbilical chord of my youth and left me balding, yelling at kids to "Be safe!" and "Don't do anything stupid!" What bothers me is that someone, somewhere (and I'm not calling out just Epitaph on this one) said, "Yes, let's put this out," without giving the public at least a ten page dissertation on how a band like Skip the Foreplay, The Bunny the Bear or I See Stars is furthering anything in music besides a headache and a target for a candid joke when there's not a good nu-metal one at the moment.
I read a great article by Chuck Klosterman the other day. He attended both a Creed and Nickelback concert in one night. Now, I know that's making a lot of your heads spin, but it's worth a read. Klosterman not only makes some great points about the hate of some and the packed arenas for others, he also snagged some definitive quotes from attendees who willingly bought tickets of their own will. The most interesting point brought up in the whole piece is how much we as listeners live in our own reality when it comes to enjoying any band in question by the rest of the general public. We ignore the flack (haterz gonna hate, amirite?), and we only take in what a band or song or album or lyric means to us and no one else. That unwavering point when critics' and the popular media's opinions don't matter is pretty special. A lot of factors go into your tastes besides the consumption of the vast medium of music itself: your personal life, your financial demographic, your exposure to city life versus the rural bumfuck nowhere and your friends and home life. No matter how much you want to deny it, at a young age you probably listened to some god awful shit, and unbeknown to you, whether it was a negative turned into a positive, it helped shape who you are and what you listen to today.
So before Skip the Foreplay or any of the bands mentioned sends me a letterbomb (I'll just start a podcast or something, but seriously, I'd like to keep my hands) - maybe it's me not recognizing that maybe, just maaayybeee, these bands could be the next Antioch Arrow for a new generation. Then again, I seriously doubt any of you know who that band was, so enjoy the good times while they last. As soon as all these fans of the present Warped Tour and Hot Topic crowd grow-up and discover the inner-twines of some indie dream-pop band or discover some back catalog worship of some powerviolence or math-metal act - then you're just some band that they used to know and love and ended up in used CD trade-ins or deleted MP3 files. I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't already live through the motions. As prominent as the idea is now, not every band is entitled to a reunion - or deserves one for that matter. The biggest reason for that is not every band can make a mark worth lasting not only a decade long, but generations of young minds at that. When it gets to simplicity, you, as a band and an "artist," have to ask yourself this: Am I a gimmick to turn a buck or am I at least being honest with what I do and am actually contributing to the greater good of the challenge I may indirectly set for my fans? As long as there's some sort of honesty between those drops and on-stage calisthenics, I'll keep my mouth shut until the next trend.
Thanks to the wonderful age of social news feeds, this one popped up from Sargent House just last week. After nine other (very helpful) tips, the tenth one left me thinking all the way to work, at work, on the way home, while I was out at shows during most of the weekend, lying in bed listening to iTunes…well, you get the picture. In an age where even the underground seems somewhat processed and prefabricated and packaged as a counter-style to mainstream ideals of music and art - music in its most subjective form still resonates mostly through personal connection from musician to fan. While it has been brought up in conversation before, there is an interesting medium between when music is created and then handed off for judgement both critically and personally - a shift in value of what it meant to the creator has now become more valuable to the consumer and listener in a matter of hitting "play." For example, maybe "Mandy" was written about Barry Manilow's dog (according to Can't Hardly Wait), but damn it if it didn't mean something to a lot of people who loved and lost many an Amanda in their time. It's this unspoken paradox that can make or break any band, because it's truly out of their hands as soon as they sing into a mic or distribute a recording.
Why do bands decide to begin writing music? A bunch of friends get together, they all love music, right? Some want to be rock stars, some want to have a fucking hobby and annoy the shit out of their parents, right? Think of the bands that have been the most successful. Generally they "speak" to people in some way. There's the variable of how they do that - is it what they say, or possibly how they say it - but for the most part they make some sort of emotional connection through instrumentation to lyrical address. Some bands have been revolutionary…
Wait. Let's stop here for a second. Think about that last sentence.
Revolutionary. Why? How? Intentional or naive? I've heard some great bands tell me they were intentionally trying to reinvent the wheel. I've had some say they were just trying new ideas because they had nothing left to lose. I've had some say they were trying to escape the pigeonholed genre description they had been tagged as being because of a number of people and critics. Some of these "revolutionaries" were just young and couldn't play their instruments. Sid Viscious couldn't play his bass, why the fuck should I have to learn?! Amirite?! For the most part, these bands of the past and present are now heralded because they did attempt something different at the time in retrospect to everything else. Time was not on a lot of these bands' sides, and personal qualms and infighting aside for some break-ups, no one gave a shit for what they did at the time. A friend showed me a ton of great old At the Drive In and Mars Volta live videos with them cracking jokes about people listening to "nu-metal and hip-hop" - is that what we were doing? Probably for some. Why was that? How did I ever get out of it? See, I can boast all the jokes I want now about your shitty scenecore music, but I'm sure nothing I say will ever negate the fact that maybe, just maaaybe that Rise-core band or radio pop sensation speaks to you. That's why they continue to sell out tours and sell merch to so many - because that "chug-scream-synth" record means something to them - them being millions. I went through it, it's okay. Then someone showed me something challenging.
Jokes aside and back on topic, no band truly has the capability of judging how successful their art can and will be. You could tour for years on end with some of the best music you think you've ever created - one album after another - but if no one gives a shit, you'll never be successful on a level you eventually want to be at - especially at a time when everyone can and will open a Kickstarter, use their trust funds or work for half the year in a shitty part-time to tour the other six months living some sort of dream. When the cycle starts over again, hitting the road will hopefully boast bigger crowds for some the second or third time around - but if it doesn't, you may have lost the "connection" along the way, or never made one to begin with. It goes to bastardizing the term "music" again into a "commodity" though. If no one wants to buy your product, even with some sort of following - you're left as last year's product - or a vintage collectable to some that once was moderately successful to others.
I do have one problem with the quote the more and more I thought about it this past week, and it leads me back to something I said earlier about the business end of both the mainstream and the underground. By that, I mean the quote would lead one to believe that if you want to be successful as a band, you have to give the audience what they want. Well, as both an avid concert attendee and a part-time server, I can tell you this: people are and will be assholes to their own discerns. It sucks, I know. But as a small minority who can muster some sense of patience with these slow, stubborn people, we can also grow to understand that giving a consumer what they want is not always best and generally doesn't work out for any long term business end. Again, I'm a server, and even rectifying a problem to its fullest doesn't mean there's added gratitude when a situation arises and is more than resolved. The same can be said about creating music. Want to write the record you always wanted? It doesn't sound like your successful last album? Well, it's time to get the fuck out and make room for my new favorite band, because you're yesterday's news ass-wipe!
That's sort of our mode of operation - especially in an age where every bit of information we try our best to retain is disposable, because with our smart technologies, it's just a couple of clicks and a search away! With music being as disposable as Chemistry notes for tomorrow's big test once it's done and we need to retain something else, I can only hope that each generation challenges themselves with every song, album or band they come in contact with and continue to want to grow just as their favorite musicians hopefully want to do as well. I can also hope bands will hinder success on whether or not they're being truthful in what they create. The gap between creation and distribution is a very scary thing to put your life behind when you (a) do want your art to mean something, if not the same feeling to someone else (b) maybe have your music be a bigger impact in someone's life both personally and within their growing musical spectrum and (c) be financially successful in ways you can continue to be creative in and have it be recognized.
As I was standing to the far back of the venue against the wall while Cursive put on one of the best sets I've seen of the band on Saturday night, I began thinking about the unfortunate news about my grandmother, grasping the concept of death ("Big Bang"). I thought about the girl standing a few feet up that I had been trying to ignore all night because of certain feelings ("The Martyr"). I thought about being successful current new endeavors myself, but having less than $50 to my name at the moment because work was slower than I anticipated earlier in the afternoon ("Dorothy at Forty"). It was a panic attack that I was enjoying as each song played into the next. It was a show that I personally needed after the day that I had. It didn't matter if these were songs part of bigger conceptual albums, it meant something more to me. There's a solace people feel in music that is untouched by anything else I have yet to see. This viral video from a few weeks ago only further proves that.
Being a musician has to be one of the worst jobs to have because there's no direct financial success. If you're white collar or blue collar, your decisions directly effect your pay, and for the most part, those decisions are usually a taught skill that has a definite answer. If I perform task X through these universally accepted means, success will happen and I will reap tangible benefits. Since music is one of the most argued forms of subjectivity among many of us, there's no telling if you could be a success overnight, or with your third album almost a year after its release. To that worry, I'll do my best to add to Mr. Davey's quote. I'll say this tacked to the OP, "...But if you're honest with yourself and what you write, there are enough people out there that will take notice that some form of success will follow." How big will your success relatively be? That's for the marketers, your manager and publicist and the general public to latch onto and figure out - or at the very least, a publication to throw you into the "hype" machine. You can trust those people, right? They're all getting better and better in seeing who's faking it and who's spilling their guts without remorse. The god awful truth is that you have nothing to truly lose in this industry right now. Gut yourself on stage and let your soul speak for itself. Do you have soul?
This has been quite a week for music. I've seen plenty of great shows this week ranging from huge reunions to touring friends and local acts in an intimate setting. I saw a show on campus and one that I very much needed. They were all different: different styles, different ages, different places in their respective careers.
Still, I can't get this quote from Robin Davey out of my thoughts: "If you think that anyone cares what your music means to you, they don’t – they only care what your music means to them..."
Pretty amazing to think about for a second. Really think about the quote. Not only think about what particular music means to you, but also the understanding of when something that was creative and an outlet for someone else then turns into a gift, a commodity, product, song, album or lyric, etc. that now holds new meaning to you outside its original context.
The above quote (thanks to Cathy over at Sargent House) has been stuck in my head most of the week. It was stuck in my head while watching both new and old favorites. It's been in my head thinking about big festivals viewed in our homes - and those up close to the sound and action. I thought about it on the way home last night thinking about a girl, a family death - among many other business things I all had running through my thoughts as I carefully selected what was coming through my car speakers. It didn't matter who was driving in the car with me the other night - it was just my thoughts and my musical choices over them.
Think about this quote and we'll discuss it more later this week when I gather a more complete thesis statement.
When I was fifteen-sixteen years old, the ending to "Invalid Litter Dept." was one of the most intense moments in music that captivated me and forever left a violent influence on the rest of my musical spectrum. But it wasn't intense in the general realm of metal or hard rock or, er, white-belt grindcore - it was something that I heard and felt throughout my nervous system. It was deep belly and snarl of anguish felt in the pit of one's stomach, untouched by anything i had felt prior. Relationship of Command was the first time I heard something that was deemed "hardcore" by the general consensus. Ten years later, and I witnessed At the Drive-In leave anything that would deem them "hardcore" in the past and play what I would be safe to say their best sounding set to date. For some of you who were there Monday night in Austin, or in Dallas last night, I'm sure you'll disagree with me on some level. I walked away after an hour and ten minutes with mixed emotions and a better understanding of out-growing punk rock to an extent.
I never saw At the Drive-In when I was young for two reasons: I lived in suburbia and I rarely went to shows at that age. A lot of us my age or younger never saw At the Drive-In for that same reason. They were one of those bands that some of us missed the boat on or were too young to fully grasp. The truth is, when they were around, the band played to small rooms that would barely sell out in the States. (An older friend of mine said the last time he saw the band, they played off campus here in Austin at a record store to about 20 people.) What about At the Drive-In leaves us all yearning for these reunion shows? Why were they so special? Some will tell you it's because "they changed the face of hardcore music," a genre for which they hated. So many bands can cite their favorite moments of an At the Drive-In record, but none of those moments have ever been re-imagined or challenged on a level worth noting since. Relationship of Command was like the Revolutionary War of hardcore records. It's an impact that forever changed the game, but one few can still recount being a part of when it landed. It's a record on a pedestal in a genre for which it didn't want to be. It took risks, fought the status quo of punk and was tossed aside in an era of nu-metal many of us would like to forget. To those who lived it and saw the spastic showcase of the band's youth would probably be disappointed in the decade of growth that happened Monday night at Red 7 in Austin.
As the band launched into "Arcarsenal," everyone went to ten and the place exploded. But after three songs in, the band decided to move along to the songs that separated them from the pack. When it came to the jam session of an extended version of "Quarantined," I realized that not only did I not care if they played "Invalid Litter Dept." at that point, I also heard the best version ever of a song that lacked the fury of most fan favorites. I thought it was the cornerstone of the set, especially following a tightly executed "Napoleon Solo" at that. I think if I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I would have been disappointed with the set list, but now that I have experienced a larger palette of music to reflect back on, the set was an even mix of perfection. I screamed my lungs out to "Enfilade" and was amazed the guys pulled out "Non Zero Possibility" before "One Armed Scissor" in the mix.
Just last week I went on a These Arms Are Snakes kick. Now, back in the day I always loved the quick spastic hits and larger than life rockers the guys had to offer, but as I was shuffling through songs, I noticed my love in all the slow burners or enormous builds and swells the band offered in their time. It hit me on the afternoon drive to work flipping from "Tracing/Your Pearly Whites" and "Ethric Double" instead of "The Shit Sisters" to "The Blue Rose" that my tastes really had changed. The college years of indie pop and nights falling asleep to post-rock that came after discovering punk and hardcore in my youth evolved my tastes for the better and in that challenge, I grew into a better understanding of what punk rock really can be - defined past what history, elitist crust punks and the general media of "know-it-alls" that we all learned about the term from when we were naive. As At the Drive-In flawlessly strode through "Quarantined," it hit me how over traditional punk rock I truly was. While I thought I was going crazy with emotions of the show walking back to my car, I immediately called my friend, and he shared the same sentiments.
I wasn't crazy. I had grown up. I'm no longer a kid who is searching for what punk rock is or isn't. I've grown to see and experience what it can be and what it grows into as a term. It's not spin kicks. It's not crowd surfing. It's not seeing how many stage dives you can do to one Gorilla Biscuits song (though I would like to know who holds that record). It's not not selling out. The most punk rock thing any band can do, whether they succeed or fail, is to be themselves. That's what's really behind some of the most heralded records - a bunch of youth with nothing to lose and everything to try on their own terms. If that's the idea in the beginning, generally those same artists will continue to push that idea as their career moves on. You either recognize that, or you'll forever be stuck in the past. If you do get held back with mental expectations, you should know that special moments are created, but they are rarely ever re-created. The members of At the Drive-In have long moved on from something special they once gave to the music world who half ignored them, and as my friend said of the more toned down show Monday night: "At least they didn't come out and fake it."
I'm not writing this to tell you that At the Drive-In's reunion was a bust, because it wasn't whatsoever. If you have a ticket or a way to see this, go see it and sing your heart out. Just know that you're not seeing young musicians deconstructing a genre of music. You're going to see a band play their work better than it was ever recorded since recording and writing pieces of music well removed from their young career. Monday night I saw At the Drive-In play the set I believe they always wanted to play. They performed their songs the way they were intended from the moment they were pieced together, but never came into fruition because the musicians didn't have a decade of experience and practice at their craft behind them. There's a part of me that's disappointed I never got to see what some will deem as the "glory days," but there's a bigger part of me that's glad he saw a group of musicians perfect the chops they fought hard to at least bring attention to so long ago. Take that statement as you will, leave your expectations of the past at the venue door and enjoy the moment until the station is no longer operational once again.
When does one person exceed the rest of the unit that makes up a team or a band or a company? With the unfortunate loss of the genius that was Steve Jobs, will Apple just level off like a consistent plain when it comes to new technology - never overly exciting us, but always keeping us attentive? Why is there so much press about a back-up quarterback last week? Why do publications with niches outside sports care about Tim Tebow in the Big Apple? Regimes change like fantasy drafts most every year, CEOs will always step down or be forced out of companies and if you've been following Chiodos over the past few years - you're familiar with the fact that bands also rotate members here and there, it's nothing new and has been going on in the punk rock scene for years. In the hype of whether Craig Owens will or won't return to front the band with the departure of Brandon Bolmer, I begin to wonder what makes one person's abilities outweigh the rest, and on what grounds - theirs or our own?
The additions, subtractions and multiplications and plain divisions of bands past and present is nothing new to any of us. Sometimes it's as positive and understanding as family, work or school. Sometimes it's about girls and drugs and going to jail - you know, tabloid shit we seem to care about more than that of the music. But I guess that's really a fuel to the industry fire of their old "no bad publicity," right? Honestly, what doesn't kill you can sometimes make you stronger depending on how you feel about a certain band's style. Depending on what album and at what age you've discovered said band - the whole damn thing is relative anyway. I'm sure, somewhere out there, there are a collective of people who agree that Chiodos' last album, Illuminaudio, is the best. Then there's the set of fans who've been there since All's Well That Ends Well. Those fans have probably taken their convictions with them in hearing both D.R.U.G.S. and Chiodos' most recent line-up.
What truly makes a band their strongest thought? Is it one person, or the collective of individual talents, and where does the majority put their focus on? I guess that depends on what you're into. From an outside view, the majority tend to think it's the vocal and lyricist end. Kids will follow Anthony Green anywhere. Some (unfortunately) have done the same with Jonny Craig in his move to Emarosa and back with Dance Gavin Dance. Others gave Aaron Gillespie a chance with The Almost. What we tend to forget is that a different band is a DIFFERENT band. It contains different members whose summary parts are different from the whole that you're familiar with when comparing them to their other bands. It would be dumb to compare Narrows to Botch or These Arms Are Snakes. There's a significant difference between the fun of Lifetime and the force of Paint it Black or Kid Dynamite. D.R.U.G.S. won't ever be Chiodos or Matchbook Romance or From First to Last or any of its members' pasts.
I also understand the longing for the original group of artists who presented you with something you continue to deem as special among the rest. The creation of anything still follows a timeline and each move defines generations to come. What if Keith Morris stuck with Black Flag, would Henry Rollins be an icon and would Circle Jerks not be another great edition to early '80s hardcore? If it were not for Milo walking away from The Descendants for a bit, we would not have another great band like ALL. At some point people accepted the past, but there will always be those who lived those initial moments of "glory" who will never get over it. When we found out that Taking Back Sunday was getting back together with its original line-up, we began to stack all our expectations like a thick structure of fortified brick and stubbornness. It led some people to be disappointed that five guys didn't write the same album they wrote when they were teenagers, but instead wrote an album from who they had become. Where does the subjective fault lie, in the band or in our degree of never letting go of a moment that many of us have sort of grown out of, but some will never admit and others will forever deny.
The exciting thing about change-ups is the product without expectation. Expectation is something we somehow can't seem to shake as listeners and fans. Everyone from the casual listener to the most die-hard has such expectations based on the music that meant a revolution per minute to them in the past. What we have to remind ourselves is that by taking different talents and rearranging them, we are continuing to challenge ourselves and to test the waters of our own pallet of tastes. Sure, it's not going to work all the time, but there's a layer of subjectivity in even saying that as well. What doesn't work for you, may be the greatest thing to others. Maybe those people didn't like band X or Y like you did, but the collaboration of members from both into band Z is exciting to them.
I could go on a whole other tangent about the consistency of line-ups and how it's worked for some bands and how they've evolved nicely among the original line-up - but that's another 1200 words off the subject of change. We have to learn to look at each band and each collective as something new and take it with that grain of salt first, without the expectations of our past getting in the way. If the past somehow reshapes itself into a familiar form - then what? Well, we need to still take it as a clean palette. A person writing something in their bedroom with no expectation at 17-years-old is not the same one under years of personal growth, artistic growth - hopefully - or even the everyday wonders of life we all face as humans.
Hypothetically, if tomorrow, Craig Owens announces he's been writing new material for Chiodos and will rejoin the band. Record in four months. Early next year there will be a release. What if it comes out the success you so want to see? Happy, right? What if it doesn't click? What if there's a loose connection? Ask yourself why that may be - is it the music itself or the fact you'll never be able to let go of something you continue to hold onto in the past? My bet is that it's the latter. Even I've found myself guilty of that more than once.
All I wanted was a set of ear plugs. I couldn't find the pair I had brought and searched frantically past the pills of Mucinex, my headphones and random stickers and swag in my backpack only to come up short. So as a friend told me they were giving away some at the front of the venue, I made my way through the crowd only to be berated five times with a what looked like a plastic discount card containing a code to some website for something I was supposed to check out at some point, but instead ended up tossing every single one handed to me in the trash on the way back to the outside stage. Maybe it was the fact that I was fighting a cold brought on by the lovely Texas weather of the weekend prior or maybe it was the muggy weather that made me feel back at home and worse, or maybe it was the exhaustion of sleep and lack of food between putting on shows, going to shows, writing reviews (I gave that up halfway through the week) or the fact that everyone was partying around me and I looked like an extra in The Walking Dead. Needless to say, this South by Southwest wasn't a blast like it was last year - and the hoards of sponsors shoving their products in my face wasn't helping this punk rock kid enjoy himself past how rundown his entire body felt. I don't mean to sound like a grinch off the bat here. Because through all the muck, I saw a lot of inspiring things last week. I met a lot of inspiring young artists and talked to a lot of people that have come up from the underground to make the system work for them and make a career out of it. So before I get into my mental frustration, let me try to rundown the positives of the week and the reasons I didn't send Jason an e-mail on Monday saying, "Fuck this, I'm out. The system blows, and I don't want to be a part of it anymore."
During the week, I ended up putting together four shows (one of which I unfortunately couldn't attend due to prior commitments - which included our showcase in that mix), and putting on said shows, I brought in some talent I thought worth "showcasing" and some new acts that really blew me away. Mountains For Clouds really grabbed my attention the most early in the week and was the standout at the Count Your Lucky Stars showcase on Wednesday. Thursday's line-up felt underrated as hell. Mansions and Aficionado played the same venue last year to practically no one, and this year they packed in the biggest crowds of the night. Travis Shettel of Piebald even showed up to perform "Honesty" with Aficionado. Mansions played a couple of new tracks Christopher Browder has been working on for the new album. If Dig Up the Dead was his breakthrough, I expect the next record to be huge hearing these new cuts live. Then there was Look Mexico performing one of their best sets yet. A truly underrated act among the masses of the "defenses of pop-punk" - scholarly on another level past what I think some listeners can even grasp. A Great Big Pile of Leaves played to only about 25 kids. But they were attached to every word, and as the band knocked out a 40 minute set, all 25 kids were chanting for an encore. Like I said before - past all the "hype" going on downtown - that moment was bigger to that small crowd than anything else - that moment, to them, will be held special for a long time.
The show I put together Saturday was really something else though. It was a mixed bag of rock and roll to say the least, running the gambit of razor cuts and brash fury. Silver Snakes hopped on at the last minute and blew me away with their biting edge of alternative rock. The split set from Full of Hell and Code Orange Kids was something else altogether though. I already see Code Orange Kids being the biggest hardcore act of 2012 (the band are preparing to hit the studio to record their full length, discussing final plans last week), but it's their live show that just destroys. There are very few times when the heaviness of a band can transfer from album to show without feeling overly gimmicky and a bit misogynistic and so aggressive it's a bit laughable - but following in the steps of bands like Converge and even contemporaries like Trash Talk and Ceremony - Code Orange Kids are young and they're ready to tear shit up and bring their music to life in front of you, and I saw it at every show I watched them play last week. I let Full of Hell split the set, and they didn't disappoint either. It makes me even more excited to know there's another young band out there attempting something a bit outside of everything many kids will (and starting to RIYL a bit too much) base their new suburban bands around. Also, Jowls was the loudest band I heard all week - their new record is the real deal and I'm glad I got to see it play out in front of me. Seahaven put on a performance that will have me pay closer attention to the four piece in the future. All of this happened in a fucking pizza shop - that's what really blew my mind, that I even pulled off something so small when a 56-foot tall (?) Doritos machine is just five minutes away, and according to some, the best sounding stage of the entire week.
Before I get into the downer end of the week - I have to give thanks to Sargent House, and specifically Cathy Pellow for always putting this industry into perspective for the lost soul and fighting punk rock anarchist that lies heavily inside me. The consistency of Sargent House's roster is one thing we as subjective critics can argue, but the showcase on Friday night only proved my sentiments toward the label, and there wasn't a doubt it wouldn't otherwise. While it didn't contain any "secret sets" like last year, Pellow showcased a lot of the label and management's newest talent. Marriages (three parts of Red Sparrows) floored me with their performance of the entire Kitsune record. The album is one thing I can't get enough of lately, but to see it come together live and so flawlessly was entrancing. I was anticipating Indian Handcrafts, but a few live videos I searched across YouTube left me a bit weary. The tone, rawness and tight ship that came out of the two Canadians that night put whatever Death From Above 1979 had to offer last year to *ahem* death and any negative viral video notions I may have loosely had about their live performance in the same coffin. Then there was Chelsea Wolfe. Simply jaw dropping. Something of a cross between the vocal layering of tUnE-yArDs, the elegance of St. Vincent and the vocal eeriness of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Wolfe is a real deal and she pulls all of it off more vibrantly live.
Finally this year, Absolutepunk.net made its presence known at the shit show of a festival. Packed into a 500 person cap of Purevolume House, we had quite a line-up. But alas, our showcase was the most troublesome for me to cope with. Each band put on a terrific set, but the night boasted one of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen at South by Southwest. For all the bands that stirred shit up and put on a show or a fight or pitched a new product or whatever their soapbox was for the week (not necessarily at our show, but in general) - I watched as one of our users, setting up for only his third show ever, had the curtain fall on him before his festival moment. Due to technical difficulties and wiring troubles none of us could figure out, Malcom Lacey (Arrange - user: WakeUp) didn't get to perform. Here's a kid, no gimmick, only hyped by the likes of ourselves and Pitchfork, getting a moment and having it taken away due to unforeseen technical issues. For some reason, that hurt me. I think deep down inside, I wanted to see something special that night. I'd seen all the other bands and I knew they were capable of pulling a great show (I mean, that's why we booked them - bangarang, amrite?!), but I wanted to see Lacey get a bigger chance, and I think I wanted to see this special South by Southwest moment of unnoticed talent on a larger scaled stage go noticed. It didn't happen, and it was gut-wrenching. Now, add that moment early in the evening to the crowds of belligerent drunks, half filling the room with disinterest in what music the showcase had to offer and more what the bar had to give them for free past 2 a.m. when 6th Street shut down its services, some attempts of attendees to get into an "exclusive" V.I.P. area that wasn't that big of a deal and the line of people who didn't get to see the show because of it - it was just disheartening. I even got to meet Adrian Villagomez, one half the reason I started working for this site, but it was all cut short by the bullshit of the evening. For some reason it all got to me. All the bullshit of South By Southwest ruined this bigger moment.
My one day and night in the pit of downtown Austin for South by Southwest was miserable. The bands I wanted to see were great - don't get me wrong. I was lucky enough to see Say Anything blaze through themost punk rock set of the entire week, and it made me think about this: for every harsh critic on the web or in print, there's always ten fans there screaming every word to both songs old and new. That's rewarding in seeing. I finally got to see Braid not outside a venue looking through the glass and leaving three songs in. I saw those three songs again, and more, five feet in front of me. I saw the band help out a marriage proposal. To me, that's the special moments of South by Southwest. It's those small moments when you forget you're at a festival the size of Disneyworld, and you feel you're just at a show watching Foundation stir shit up like it was any other night they were holding the crowd's attention from the pit's perspective. One of the best parts of South by Southwest is that I got to spend it with my friends in Former Thieves for the most part between both our hectic schedules. The guys played 9 shows in six days. One day they played three shows. That's insane to me, but it's not an uncommon element for South by Southwest either. The guys' first show was a house and their last was the closing of a bar on Sunday when most of the tourism had cleared itself out. It wasn't their "official South by Southwest" show that was their favorite. It was their last two - a pizza parlor and opening what could be deemed a hip-hop extravaganza featuring Bad Rabbits and Doomtree - both killed it as well.
It's not that my South by Southwest experience was completely miserable. I only had to sit through a handful of awful bands (mostly all Wednesday afternoon leading up to fun.), it's just that the business end of the deal ruined the enjoyable aspect of the annual festival this year around. I took notice of it more. I took notice of the crowds that stood in line for free booze and food instead of the line-ups on the bills. I'm not even talking about a lot of the official showcases that went on, I'm referring more to how overrun the majority of free shows have become. There are more venues and more companies and more sponsorships and more of "COME SEE ME!" for all the wrong reasons. Maybe all this hate and anger is just steaming off the little punk rock kid inside me that won't die. If I sound bitter, it's because I wish a bit of the deadwood, the party, the ad-space that the festival has become would die off a little bit and that it would just be a bunch of shows to check out or being able to see a band you love in an intimate setting for free and not standing in line while half the room is just there for all the free shit and "to just be there" - and this is coming from someone who has no problem getting into much of anything during the festival without a badge.
Maybe this year, because I was more involved with the production of South by Southwest, I began to see the festival from a whole other light. The fact is I couldn't believe the small amount of crowds for some showcases and the long lines that lasted blocks around the corner for others. It just doesn't make sense to me. The business end of it all doesn't make sense to me. At the end of the day, I'm no authority and I'm no one special. I'm just a guy who writes for a website to offer some insight and to unload his thoughts and confusions and to stir discussion. That apparently is not an occupation at South by Southwest or this industry. So instead, I just want to be dead with my friends. Until next year, goodnight and good fucking luck.
I know I've been a bit absent since my "Day Two" entry of South by Southwest, but the final two days of the week were the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most confusing and the most frustratingly exhausting days of the week and the year thus far. I keep blanking out the past few days thinking about how I'm going to unload a lot of what's on my mind, my future in this industry and how a lot of people have given me hope or shown me that there are sharks in every tank of this business.
I think that's the biggest term I had a problem coping with as I was having lunch Sunday afternoon - trying to separate the term "business" from all of this, while figuring out how to make a living off of whatever this is as well and intact some sort of integrity into it all. Finishing that Xerxes review last night was one outlet and stepping back into the interviewing game tonight was another. Standing in a room filled with kids who were eating up something that I couldn't grasp for the life of me made me feel a disconnect - a disconnect I felt on and off throughout the week. It may not be as simple as "getting older," and I hope it's as positive as "getting wiser" as well.
I'm going to get some sleep. Get up tomorrow and sit down with my headphones intact and just unload on TextEdit. What you get on Thursday morning (late Wednesday night) will be my best at explaining why I may give this all up soon or be inspired to keep fighting the good fight - whatever that may be past what I think it is in my head after this week.
South by Southwest was a blast for the most part - I just don't have business cards nor do I care about "hype" bands. Maybe that makes me the outsider - or maybe I just wanted a bit more hate moshing during Darkest Hour - that's all I'm saying.