It's been five days that I've been in Los Angeles so far. One day of training in the office, and two real work days. That's not the surreal part. The surreal part is being on the other side and looking in. There are things you can't repeat (duh) and you begin to see a bit of the opposite end of the spectrum you once worked on. In time, you'll begin to grow into the opposite polar end of being within the confides of the music industry (in this case management, product, tour planning, etc.), and far removed from the other end of publicity, fandom and consumerism. You can still be a fan, but I'm sure some of the "know" will take a bit of the magic out of it all somewhat. That's fine, I've slowly crossed into that emotion throughout the years, so yes, I now know that Santa Claus isn't real and that he didn't fuck the Easter bunny like most of the uneducated portion of America believes.
It's all smoke and mirrors, and if you're not aware of that, then you've obviously never heard of the Internet. It's disgusting, but it happens. Thankfully, I don't work for such a company, but it exists more often than not. I guess these companies haven't heard about the Internet either. In today's industry, who can you trust? That's why it's harder to get an album advance more than ever. It looks like now, even press releases will be hard to come by.
Then again, personally, that whole write-up is scum to me anyway, and is a mockery of something sacred.
But as I've mentioned in a previous entry, I have a project that's in the works to make sense of all the madness that's to come this next year. Rest assured, Cathy Pellow will be the first to read it. It's not going to be digitally transcribed through this blog or any other on the web, and it will be handwritten in a journal that my mother gave me for Christmas. There will be no names, and there will be no "tell all." It's about once again restructuring my writing into something else - the challenge of it all, and anything I have ever set out to do.
See, this past week, a good friend asked me how to get into the "writing game" or "journalism" business. After 3+ years of working during its bitter downfall, I want to tell him to run as far away as possible and get that law degree fast. It's not that "music journalism is fucking dead" because of things like this, it's for a lot of reasons, and few of which I had to get out of writing for the time being. (The irony is that I'm typing this now, right?) One of the biggest reasons is that I saw myself cycling similar thoughts about different records, different viewpoints on the industry and even catching myself contradicting my initial understanding or dismissal of certain information and/or social interaction. Another was the lack of long form in media. I don't necessarily blame it on the publication, I blame it on our spoiled nature of wanting things now and fast and cheap in the last five years.
Sure, prostitution is illegal, but we'll fuck anything if it's free, right? The death of print is not only in the death of the long form article, it's also in saying, "Why the fuck would I pay for a magazine that will take up space, when it's on the web for free and even gets to the point in a matter of minutes?" No one "has time" for the long form anymore. The progression of technology has somewhat become a crutch our mind can happen to lean against subconsciously within routine and time.
In following that line of thought, I will come to why I had to really step away: I was tired of being part of the subjective hype. Like I said in my final column last year, what's so great today isn't shit tomorrow. You can't wait four or five years to put out a record, because that's a long time where someone has come along to take your place in that listener, fan, consumer's mind. If you didn't make a big impact on that first run (that's a Catch-22 in itself - sophomore slump, forgetful third record, etc.), time is not on your side in this fast-paced, electronic dreamland of an entertainment industry. I found myself using "hype words" and "buzz phrases" in the excitement that half the time would just calm down some months and even years later. I found myself part of the problem, not the solution. It was fucking depressing to me in the last six months of the year.
Now, I'm sitting here very happy. I have no television - though I renewed my Netflix account for some entertainment escapism. I'm also trying to eat a bit better. Most importantly, I have a new outlook on life. A more positive one. I hope this year I can push all the negative tendencies I have for not only the slop most of America eats out the urinal some companies still are willing to produce, but my own apathetic views on the industry by now working within it. I thought about killing myself in 2012 multiple times toward the end because nothing in life and what I loved made sense anymore. In five days, the sun has looked bright over the hills these past few mornings when I woke up. To me, that's a great start to a new year.
After a week without my computer, I can finally inform you all my plans for the new year. I plan to finish the book on the post-hardcore scene I started within my free time. The other part of my free time will be to work on a journal outside of this one (a written one in fact) and will chronicle something special. It's taking my Consequential Apathy column into a gonzo state of experience and retort. Other than that, this year will be amazing for music. Sargent House's current release schedule alone is incredible, and that's just one label.
I get on a plane tomorrow night and get put into a new world, a new perspective and new rack of many hats to wear.
2012. The year that almost killed me.
2013. The year that....
...hoping for the best. I'll take on one giant at a time I guess. I'll always have a story to share with you guys. Thanks for listening for so long.
It's been pretty surreal to think about the last week. I've worked most of it at my shitty serving job, but in seven days I've also taken care of getting rid of my car, have figured out where I'm going to store and who I'm going to sell my possessions to, and just two days ago, my ticket was purchased to head to L.A. for the next album in my catalog of a life. With a whole month still left, there is still a ton of labor to be done after the ground work is now laid out, and so many people to say "bye" to...
...therein lies the biggest thing to cope with.
I've talked a bit about the environment we live and how it affects our daily intake of ideas, and most of the time, also our output as well. Some years back, when I first decided to move to Austin after college, many of my friends and acquaintances asked why I was moving to Austin and not New York or L.A., because for some reason, that's where they saw me fit. It's busy, crowded and usually the two largest birthplaces of hype and bullshit - two things I can't stand next to superficial behavior and "bro-ness" - as it's loosely defined. So I found comfort in the remote of Austin. That's not to say that all of that shit I hate doesn't live here, because it does.
But back to our environment: As much as I was a respected writer to some (I guess I'll use the term "was" since I'm no longer truly considered a freelance writer with my move into the other side of the industry), I couldn't have done it without the people I've met and interacted with, the experiences these past three years and especially my friends. They are inspiring. Their involvement in the smallest house show to the best venues. My closest friends with which I get fucked up with on the weekends and those I only get to see here and there. Their love of music and the arts and integrity keeps me sane.
When you pack it all up and move out to an area you're unfamiliar with, where do you go from there? The scenery changes, you start meeting people you despise, and the only comfort is that you're working for one of the most progressive entities in the business. You're working with bands that you believe can make a statement, but it's your job to make that statement last. You're not writing a review because an album captures you like no other, you're writing e-mails and press releases to push that band into the spotlight they deserve to get seen in among the saturation of an overly bloated industry that just can't take one more tiny wafer.
Friends and family keep asking me if I'm getting excited, like it's some kind of trip to Disney World or I'm seeing a band I've never seen before for the first time. There's a fine line between being excited and being anxious. "This is what you've been working towards..." and "You deserve this, you're going to kill it..." keeps coming up a lot. No one deserves anything in this life outside of shelter, food and warmth all tied back to one's own health. I haven't been healthy for a while. (That wasn't meant to be a "I had Leukemia as a kid" joke either.) But there has always been music. There has always been a build and a release. Sometimes there's a slow drone, and sometimes a bright melody. Even at our darkest moments, the ones we're a little fearful of, there is harmony in there somewhere. Call it hope, call it dedication to finding a light in all our confusion and frustration.
In 2013 I'll be plucked once again from familiar territory and thrown into something where it's "Titanic or Phelps." Over the phone she asks, "How organized are you?" Well, I've kept my sanity, finances and passion afloat for this long, I think having one focus is going to make that better. If that answer isn't enough, trying waiting tables for the Sunday brunch crowd in any restaurant within a mile radius of a church or two. Now that's sink or swim.
I just can't stop thinking about Lester Bangs' death. It's sort of toiled on my mind for the last couple of months. Bangs died at the age of 33 in New York. Unintentional or not, he died after ingesting three different types of drugs. It was reported that he was listening to The Human League's Dare. The thing that keeps scratching at the back of my cerebral when it comes to all of this is not that Bangs died of a drug overdose, or that he was listening to early post-punk pioneers who crossed over into minor mainstream success. What bothers me is whether or not Bangs got to say everything he wanted to say about music before his death. He lived through the '60s and '70s. These were the golden ages of rock and roll, a less saturated market of commodities and touring acts. He got to experience the birth and death of punk and died listening to one of its predecessors.
Still, there was no experience of where the rock that Bangs both denounced and admired turned into. There is no experience of lavish hair metal. He died before Damaged could truly make an impact. He'll never know what a man like Kurt Cobain could do to music. Bangs will never be able to rattle on about how the digital age is killing the industry and and how the resurgence of vinyl is a trendy sham that will only explode "new arrival" bins in the next ten years. In the time of his many musings and mad ramblings he cemented a lot unabashed biased and thought about both the artists who create and the industry who flips it. Beyond that, he called out his fellow writers and critics as well.
He was a mad, deranged, anxious, disturbed human being who truly loved music on a valued level many of us, myself included, will never fully understand. At a time of "hype" and social registry that moves so quickly, we forget about bands that blow us away in the span of the beginning of the year when they were two thousand-whatever's brightest new hope to save, blah blah blah…and then they may only get an "honorable mention" at best come time to write up that "best of things everyone has their own opinion on" lists we'll sit and argue and scoff over for hours flipping through.
This past weekend I decided that I'm burned out and I need to walk away. Doing this and not having a stable job to back it has been both draining on me mentally and physically, and it's time to put my mind on this industry to rest. In the last three years I've grown to understand many things and become aggravated by many others as well. For me, it's my time to move on. I've said all I feel I could have said about this industry, punk rock, our relationship with music, etc.
Doing what you want to do is not easy. I feel like I'm writing that sappy "band break-up" note we post at least once a week. When you start to gain any sort of success, there is a world around you that will latch on and never let go. You will meet people who you can trust and admire, and you will meet others with their own agendas that include you as a small piece of their bigger puzzle. The music industry is like a darker humor version of Dilbert crossed with the insanity that is the plot of Airheads. There are a lot of laughs, but most of the time you're just shaking your head going, "This makes no fucking sense."
Still, I'm in a position where people respect my opinion. So I'll leave you all with three keys to success in this life: honesty, humbleness and humor. Be honest with everyone from your friends to your business partnerships. Sure, there's a couple of white lies and stretches in there, but just be upfront about shit. Be humble and thankful for opportunity. I've watched people act like they're entitled to something, when you're downright entitled to nothing and should be thankful you're not sitting in a cubicle punching numbers or flipping patties or listening to the "checkout beep" for hours on end. Lastly, have a sense of humor. Crack a joke sometimes. Don't take life too seriously, or you'll drive yourself mad. Even if it makes you crack a smile and no one gets the joke that makes sense to you in your head - it's a natural nirvana.
As this door, chapter and metaphor comes to a close in my life, hopefully another one is about to open. It's going to be even more frustrating, but it's something I believe in and can get behind one hundred percent. It's a position I've been complaining about on the Web for years, and it's finally time I make my way into the system to cash that big fat check I wrote with my mouth. I'll be able to say more on that soon, but for now, the future looks bright and I'm ready to take all this passion and channel it into something full-time, even if it means giving up most of my free time, travel and property to do so.
From the bottom of my big fat heart that sits atop my big fat stomach, thank you.
So it's coming up on three years (or something) that I've been a staff member here. It's crazy to think of the things that I've accomplished in these three years: the friends I've made, the things I've written and how it's gotten stronger but not quite to the point of excellence, and the challenges I've given to myself in each field of interviews to reviews to even this run down old blog. Pushing myself and pushing myself and pushing myself. It begins to tear, creating exhaustion and a rundown engine of sorts. This is being in a touring band. This is pushing your bands on your label that aren't selling as well as other bands, yet you still believe in their talent and poise. This is the hustle of the industry.
I hate it. I loathe it. I breathe it through my inbox every goddamn day.
This past week there's been a heated discussion about the workings of this site and other sites, for which we have partnered with to craft a larger community of news, ideas, features, thoughts, anguish and joy of our love of music. The right selection when we get in the car, or we want playing when we attempt to nervously land that kiss we've been thinking about all night. It's a sense that runs through many of us, but when I talk to many - I feel like it runs through few so deeply. Those people that I think it effects the most are the people I work with. It runs through our "Voices" sites. There is a wall called the Internet, and we're all sitting here yelling at it. Sometimes it talks back. Whether we tend to agree with it or not, we also tend to believe what it says most of the time. That's a scary thought for many reasons I can neither condone nor explain fully.
As one of those "free writers" for which half my networks know nothing of my lack of pay - nor do I think they care, because let's face it, at the end of the day it's a job to pedal. That's why you get paid, and I understand that. But through the muck and negative (a lot of which has been tossed around the social feed as of late), there is opportunity. Opportunity to be a complete ass clown of an opinion strewn across pages and pages of utter bullshit and contempt of uneducated and unmovable fandom alike. Every time someone questions my fiber to continue doing what I do for "free," I think of my friends in bands who have shitty part-time jobs like me; I think of my networks who have worked their way up from nothing; I think of the kind words I've been given - hesitant if they were in vain of personal gain - and just smile.
Writing for a huge publication used to be king. Then someone said, "Fuck it. I'll start my own." The variable that people tend to forget that separates one blog from another is content. Content is fucking king. Content is the fucking Walter White Jr. of this industry. It shocks, intrigues, stirs shit up and never backs down from its stance on or off of a contemporary and/or historical topic. When you're the master of your own domain (pun intended), you can run free and see what works and what doesn't. In the fast paced world of the Web, shit changes every day you're not paying attention. This is a game of chess you should plan on losing if you're not keen to a sense of surprise or uncomfortable feeling.
The truth is, I'm not sure what's next for me. I'm not sure if it lies here within the confines of AbsolutePunk or somewhere else. But no matter the location, I'm determine to make you all think. I'm even more determine to push my writing further. To question my own convictions on music, while testing your patience to hold a conversation without lashing out with your heart, instead of finding an understanding between the layers of the mixes. Lester Bangs died at the age of 33 taking three drugs and (supposedly) listening to the Human League's Dare. I wonder what his last thoughts were on the record, the song, the moment in time before his last breath. Was it understanding or was it nothing but more questions? Can I beat that? Can I write my best by the time I'm 32 and mix it with four drugs?
One of my co-workers is in his Fifties. While we were discussing a song playing over the speaker, he brought up a point when thinking of who the artist was: He not only remembered when he heard the song, he connected it to a time in his life and how old he was. He told me that's how he remembers music, by remembering the time in his life. That's his documentation. That thought hit me hard, because I sometimes think I'm the only one who thinks that as well. I work in an industry of hip denoucers. I work in a "buzz" time and "best new music" of sorts. I'm not that person. I'm just a sixteen year old kid who thinks NOFX's Pump Up the Valuum is the best fucking record he's ever heard - and it's damn funny too!
But now I sit here listening to Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band's 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons. That's far apart from my adolescence. That feeling of discovery and excitement still embeds itself in each new record I hear though. As I grow older, I always tend to think in the aforementioned mindset. To put it bluntly, that's the coolest fucking part of music. That's why I get up and write and put together features and shell out reviews for "nothing." I do it because I want people to be as excited about something as I am. I want people to connect to a sound, a destruction and a bloom of something special.
This is one of the most exciting times in music, and I'm truly grateful every day that I'm somehow a part of it. As one of my favorite bands once said, "The best things in life are free."
When you grow older, the more you delve into the musical spectrum of what you think is special and what your friends are stoked on and what your favorite labels and media outlets shove down your throats with each passing day and... well, it can become tedious to dig through the dirt of it all. You see people get excited about something, then you listen and it does nothing for you. It's an ever passing moment that we all share, especially in this industry of fortified gatekeepers. It's why message boards are king: the argument and the political push and shove of our love of our favorite musical moments.
Today I got a listen to Hostage Calm's upcoming album, Please Remain Calm! and that aforementioned thought that has haunted me for awhile has now turned itself on me and my personal consumption of music. I'm not sure if it's because I hear something new every day to the point of being overbearing, but just because I'm the media, doesn't mean that what I'm about to say doesn't necessarily apply to you - the fans - because it does. As you grow older, you start to pluck bands out based on the taste that you've acquired over the years. I like noise. I like chaos. I like the control of it all. I like music that feels like it has an emotional hinge of uncertainty in its take-off and landing. As weird and obscure and name-dropping as I tend to get sometimes, it only follows how much I'm subconsciously looking for a new high to land in my inbox or through word of mouth with my friends.
In that, I tend to forget my roots sometimes. I tend to disarm myself from the shelve of records I've either sold because I grew out of the style or sit collecting dust or as a saved MP3 file on my external drive. Listening to Please Remain Calm!, I remember when there was no image. There were no MySpace pages. There were no forums or news sites. There was great storytelling. There were hooks worthy of the greatest Bass Masters. There was a feel of urgency, defeat and understanding to a record that carried through every listen and it meant something to you, and no one else. A band sounded like something new to you, not like something "going on at the moment" that everyone else is hooked on. Hostage Calm stand apart with their new record not just for the way it sounds and the progression they've taken, but because it's some of the cleanest and honest storytelling since The Wonder Years' Suburbia and its homage to The Weakerthans' Reconstruction Site before that. It's the simplicity of Through Being Cool, swagger of Life in General and confidence of Everynight Fire Works.
Please Remain Calm! is a record that reminds me that good music doesn't have to be found in the avant-garde or noise or thirteen minute dream-pop and sludgy shoegaze that I've immersed myself into these past years. As much as I hate myself for becoming an elitist shithead in this business, Hostage Calm has reminded me that I was once a kid with angst that just needed a good song to relax me. Now that I've turned 26 this past week, I still recognize a part of my angst that hasn't yet left me. As daunting and uncontrollable as life can sometimes get as the responsibilities stack up, we all need something to settle nerves, to give us hope, to understand we're not the only one who feels down sometimes when we're surrounded by ignorance. Hostage Calm reminded me today that 26-year-old me is still as scared of this world as 16-year-old me once was. Sometimes you just need someone to say, "I understand, and it's going to eventually be okay."
The minute you pick up an instrument, you're immediately a rock star in your own eyes. It's the dream (no matter who tells you otherwise) that any musician would hope to live: Play music for a living. It happens to only the smallest percentage of all musicians (probably somewhere on par with a high school star making it to a professional career), but year after year and band after band, more people put their ticket in to run the course. They sign on to ridiculous hopes and dreams of an industry that has been brought out back and beaten with its own shoe over and over for the past decade. Like bands, labels come and go, leaving impacts for specific generations and niche listeners trumpeting praise and worship for years on end. You know many people like this - just not gatekeepers who see themselves as an authoritative figures on the subject. Everyone has that friend who's like, "You've never heard _______ ? Dude, you gotta hear _________, it's the essential record that never got big. Such a shame," and so on.
Most of my friends are those people.
Then again, most of my close friends play in bands. Hell, I've played in bands. It's fun. On the outside, we rally around the belief that our friends can be that next band that everyone wants to talk about. There's a part of us that wants to say, "Yeah, I saw their first show," or was thanked in the liner notes of the big hit record. Even if you're not playing in a band, there's a superficial connection that not many others can relate to "since the beginning" or whatever. Shoving all the ego aside, friends can still be fans. We're supposed to be, because without fans, a band (or to bastardize it, a business) has no room to expand into that rock star dream I previously spoke of. Living in Texas, there's no shortage of great unsigned acts, and in living in Austin, there's no shortage of indie-best-new-something either. It only increases the bitter apathy, and your warrant in wanting your friends to exceed is heightened.
A couple of Sundays back, I stood in a room with about 1,000 people watching a friend play with his band for the last time. Wait, let me rewind. I met Henry back in 2010 during South by Southwest through Moving Mountains. I checked out his band For Hours and Ours and was blown away. Great live show, underrated sound. With more touring, For Hours and Ours should have been big. Then there's that phrase we repeat far too often - "should have been big." We as close friends use it just as much as industry executives trying to figure out why a band with the right look and sound and run of direct supports flopped on their first headlining run after months of sponsorships and financial support. It's a question we forever ask ourselves about countless bands across the years. As I watched For Hours and Ours' close friends storm the stage during their final song, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the feel of the room at that moment. I see dozens of shows a year, attend festivals and see some amazing "Oh shit, did that really happen?!" moments - but there was a unique energy felt for that full hour up until that one final drag and burn after years of investment. There's something more past the community and past the friendships and interpersonal feelings toward the moment. There's the subjective feeling of success on filling a room, whether it's your first show, first tour or last celebration remembering all of it.
Everyone in the room knew it was over. Like a time of reflection during a life changing event we have been tied to, we can't help but think of the better times and acceptance during a personal strife.
The thing is, if you put your all into it - every week you went on the road without a shower, the room of five kids and the room of five thousand, the countless planning between part time jobs to do a tour and the positive attitude and humble feeling you had behind each small goal you slowly (or for some, quickly) reached - you succeeded. Maybe you didn't financially. Maybe you'll pass down your gear to your kids, or sell them to a young kid on Craigslist who is about to venture out into the last decade or handful of years you just lived. There are the tours that should have been and opportunities you didn't miss, they were just out of your control. The true success lies in the groove of your first 7" or the production and honesty of a few demos you put up for free on Bandcamp. You accomplished more in a short time than many will throughout their whole life. Be proud.
An interesting topic was brought up through my Twitter feed a few weeks back. With the excitement of Texas is the Reason's reunion, most will forget how small the band's catalog is. Same can be said for Desaparcidos. Another for all your sweater bound prayers to the sappy gods for an American Football reunion. Small catalogs. Large impacts. Think of how many bands have done that? Rites of Spring. Minor Threat. Operation Ivy. These are bands who you can fit whole discographies on one disc - that one disc changed a landscape. I'm surely not saying that you should think small, you just should think "now," the moment, the initial creation. That final string you pluck in the studio could be your last, or it could be in crowded room filled with connected memories.
It's 2012. While we care more about how homophobic a chicken sandwich is than the education system, gas prices and the overall state of the economy shelling out student debt that doesn't even out with job growth - everyone has an equal and fighting chance. You just have to do it. It's as simple as that vintage Nike ad. Wait, is that still and ad? In all seriousness, this is our time. I think Patton Oswalt, although addressing the comedic community, made a point in his two open letters this week: "And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with." There's no telling who will write the next great song or album. Millions attempt each year, only a few come close to an accomplishment on a large scale. If you write a song your close friends enjoy in a mix of the bigger bands you look up to - that's success. If you wind up selling out of your first record and see if going on eBay for an outrageous amount one day while sitting at your six figure desk job - that's success. Picking up a guitar and being a rock star shouldn't be a goal of most in 2012. It's knowing you have nothing to lose and not much to gain in this current industry. Not everyone gets a final show. Not everyone gets a final practice. Not everyone gets to even release and record something past a few local opening slots...
...But everyone has a fighting chance, and as Juicy J put it via Twitter a few days ago, "It's aug 1st 2012 ,if u not where u wanna be in yo life....keep hustlin."
I'm not sure if I want to do this anymore. The moment money crossed my mind, I had to take a step back. Maybe I need to step away for a bit. I don't know. I wish I had more to say. I wish I had more to say lately especially.
Music, right now, is really good. We're going to be okay.
I'll be behind the scenes for a while after my next column. A few reviews. Not much more unless the moment strikes me.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, seriously, thank you.
The higher difference between a well written song and that of a math problem or riddle appreciated by few and held high among the majority that scuffs it. Where does the tangent of entertainment end and the construction detour of rhythmic changes and noise begin? Is there a middle ground, and if so, is that where all the best music lives? Does that make it harder on any artist to find that ground? To not be too liberal as to shove away an audience or too restrictive to never expand and try new avenues within their maturing skills? Who's to blame for that? Is it an audience whose core is made up of like-minded individuals who aren't always open-minded? There is always room for anarchy in our most anxious of nerves and methodical undertones of violence - physical anger asserted after mental frustration. We love to watch shit blow-up and the idea of minor destruction never completely leaves our subconscious after childhood. We think about it our every day actions: laughing at a person fall over, watching the news, all those blooper shows. What is it about some ambiance and noise that is attractive to some, and repulsive to others. But if you layer the sort of annoyance in a lush tune, you can sometimes sell it as artful pop? Or again, should that be in the consideration of "best music" found on a specific medium of measurement between harmonic and apocalyptic. What's harder to count? What's harder to hold - tension between bars and measures - or a constant rhythm across a bright chorus? Because of the subjectivity of music, there's no real answer - but I'm beginning to think we overlook the value of one song's point versus a "new favorite artist" (often read: hype machine) who is exploring something mocked only years earlier for something that's not that forward thinking still to people currently. Anyway, I'm sitting there eating a burger - drunkenly scrolling through social feed - and in seconds I'm watching Refused - almost a decade after hearing them - on a major Late Night show. It's all on my fucking phone. I had an aneurism, a hobo revived me for some change to get a burger.
I can't make this shit up.... well, most of it anyway.
There's a moment on "Silencer" where you can hear the anguish spew out of Aaron Weiss' vocals. It's hurtful and real. There are moments on Catch For Us the Foxes where i can't sit comfortably for a minute after the experience. When music crosses that boundary of overtaking any sort of senses, whether it be physically unnerving or mentally unhinging, I begin to wonder if there's a direct correlation between catching our thoughts off guard with a form of entertainment or our attachment to something we find solace in so much that we mentally absorb self-help pamphlets through the vocal counterpoint of instruments? I'm unsure. Today I was listening to a song and heard a line I never took notice to any of the other thousands of times I've listened to the track. I consciously know why I was responsive to the lyric, but how did I shut it out before? It's interesting to gather moss when dragging your body through the swamp of music we roam through daily, but I'm not sure how much of it we retain, or if we're ever aware of what we retain subconsciously parallel to what we block out for whatever reason. I often dwell on my inablities to tell you why I like a certain band or album or song because of the subjectivity behind it. That subjectivity lies in the connection felt or unfelt by the listener, the individual the "educated hype machine" against the grain of the day, hour, breaking life story none of us really take into account, but we all say we're professionals and music lovers at the same time. Then again, who wants to hear from a person with no feeling blabbering on about what is "savant" in style and glows in "mediocrity" from their point of view. Is seeing another point really going to change how I connected to a piece of art? Is it worth reading? For that matter, is it worth writing? I'm not sure. It boggles me sometimes as to the people who rely on other people's opinions, but more specifically - art and to a greater extent - entertainment.
Today I realized that as much as a brand or tour or marketing firm does their best to try and sell you a feeling, nothing is like the moment you're caught off guard by that perfect line against a note. There's a subjectivity and specialness about that moment that no asshole behind a computer or desk can write to detach that.
"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.
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.
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...
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?
I'm not sure why it hit me tonight. The idea crossed my mind the second I pulled onto the highway to go watch the Super Bowl with a friend. Maybe it's this weekend. Maybe it's in the rut I'm in. Maybe it's the work I owe a lot of people, and better things to do with my time. Maybe I want to see the effects of a personal #SOPA blackout. I'm not sure. When I wake up tomorrow and finally drag myself out of bed and onto my futon to sit down and blankly stare at the screen before embarking to my e-mails, I'll move just there. No Facebook. No Twitter. Not even the occasional Tumblr scroll for shits and hoping to find that one funny meme to slightly entertain me for the afternoon. As of the Sun rising tomorrow morning, I will be disconnecting from the social sphere. For how long? I'm unsure. I want to try and last until the end of the month, but we'll see how it goes. At the very least, I want to last a week.
I know, I know. Keith Buckley kind of did this already. He is an inspiration in doing so, but this is about me, not him. I want to see how it effects a lot of things in my life, both personal and professional. Mostly I want to see how it effects my consumption of both inspiration and musing. I'm either writing, or I'm sifting through article and editorial links on Facebook and Twitter (generally aggravated by half of what I read) for hours. What could I be doing with those hours? Finishing half-read books on my shelf? Completing my work in a timely manner instead of 10 minutes here and a half an hour in social networking's endless no-man's land?
Then there's the personal side. I want to see with how many people I can keep up with just by phone - call or text or simply spending more time out. I want to spend time in a room holding great conversations, instead of computer parties and half-listening to what someone has to say because you're checking up on something on your phone that has nothing to do with the moment. For an extended period of time, I'd like to make the best of my surroundings and see how that in turn effects my thoughts and therefore my writing. I want to enjoy my social surroundings without sharing them with the outside world. I want to see how far they'll stick without having them archived.
This whole thing revolves around that archival of information. So many ideas, opinions, pictures, songs, film clips are shared, reblogged, liked or reposted in just one day, I'm unsure if I'm retaining any sort of discussion that's going on around me or if I'm even having a minute to form an opinion of my own, with so many sides of the topic striking me at once. Why do I feel justified even in sharing with you every null moment or inside joke you're not going to get unless I tell you a thirty minute story behind it?
I'll still use the Internet. Still be on the site. Still will be sifting through e-mails. Just no "social" feeds of any kind to gather information or be a social voyeur.
At the very core, I just want this to be fun. I'll let you know how it's going in the next installment.