When you're young, music is really cool. But the reality is that you can't ever truly appreciate the music you love until the artists that created it disappear. The day they say, "We're not going to do this anymore. Do not expect new music from us until further notice," is punishing to many of us. There's a Bill Burr joke about appreciating a dog more when you're older, because when you're younger - everything is awesome! "Why wouldn't a dog be awesome?!" The same can be said about your favorite bands. Whether you're reading this and you just discovered that band, or you're an older person like myself who's halfway between giving up on discovering new music because "They don't make it like they used to," and still striving to keep an ear to ground - I hope this week's column sheds some light on why we're all going to be deaf at an early age or clutching our records when we hear about that one-off reunion and so forth.
I anticipated that 2011 would be an amazing year for music just like the rest of the staff and this fine community on the site. What I didn't anticipate was that I would lose three bands this year, that without them, I wouldn't have an opinion, wouldn't be writing and wouldn't devote my life to this thing. Whatever that thing is.
There's more than one reason why the RX Bandits, Thrice and Thursday are cuts in my musical Rosetta Stone. Thinking about it the other day as a third story came to a close, I couldn't have understood what I'm about to say without these three bands, and a few others that really have pushed what I think and continue to expand on my palette of tastes and audible experiences.
Without drudging on anymore, here are five things that I learned about music from three of the best bands I've come across in my youth up until their current indefinite hiatuses.
1) It's Not That "Album X" is Their Best Record, There's Just a Moment Attached To It…
Sometimes it's hard to meet bands and not say, "Hey, [album] is one of my favorite records of all time." Then you sound like every other asshole who thinks their new direction is boring, when in fact it is leaps and bounds above the aforementioned record. The thing is, that first record got you excited and all fan-like because either (a) you listened to really shitty music up until that point or (b) some records just reach certain people at a certain time. Maybe the disc had answers we were looking for or a conversation we just found interesting. The things we learned from it is what keeps it herald as such. We sometimes tend to stick to those bars that were set though. Unfortunately, instead of appreciating when the same bar is raised years later - we tend to get stuck in the first sense of awe from way back.
Which leads us to...
2) Progression Can Kill a Band or Make Them Stronger…
A lot of bands have called it a day after attempting something new and losing a large chunk of their audience. They're fighting a constant uphill battle. You can adapt and fade away or you can progress and lose as well anyway. The variable is how fast you will burn up or die out. If you're good at it. If you have the ability to shift your sound a bit and still turn heads - that's a feat that most can't pull off, and it's how some bands tend to go from a favorite band status to a cult one. This is a huge deciding factor for who my favorite bands generally are. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it is for most, because...
3) The Best Bands Will Challenge You, And It'll Be Rewarding…
I think the best bands - think about it, your favorite bands - will create new records that are not meant to be absorbed right away. My favorite bands - their new records - they never capture me the way that first one did. With time, I actually like chipping away at what I like about them though. When a new record does capture my attention with time though, I'll spin it and spin it and spin it and then go back to the band's whole catalog - see how it really stacks up. The results might just surprise you as you grow older. Those new tastes will reflect on other new tastes and will lead you to more great bands or different styles of music you wouldn't normally listen to. Most importantly, it will lead the best listeners to keep true in being open to new sounds.
Now, that all said, the following will happen...
4) You Will Most Likely Hate Some of What Comes Out…
That's okay. You disagree with your best friends at times? Maybe the sequel to a favorite movie just wasn't good at all. Your favorite beer didn't exactly knock it out of the park with their winter lager? It's okay. Just breathe. Does that mean you now hate a band when there's an extensive catalog of what you love? Absolutely not. This seems to be the one people get up in arms about the most with bands they hold close to. This is one of the negatives about being a person who dictates their life by the crescendos and decrescendos of their headphones. Then one day, you wake up, and see some awful news...
5) Goodbyes are Hard, But Can Be Temporary…
So many of us have gotten into bands long before our time. Bands that influenced the bands we listen to now. We got into them post break-up. It's a different feeling. We can't lose something that we never experienced first hand. (note: A reunion show is nice, but itis not the same thing as the past moment when it was happening.) It's times like these with bands like these that have had this sense of longevity (loosely defined for the sake of argument) that are shattering to many of us. As we've seen in the last couple of years, just because a band says it's over - doesn't mean that it's over too. So in the wake of a year that penned the final chapters (for now) of three amazing acts, I'll hold my discogs close, remember every moment and do my best to share my memories with others and hand them down to a younger generation of listeners. One day, they might get to see that reunion tour. I'll finally get to say, "I was there." I'll look like the creepy old dude in the back, but I'll have my moment one way or another.
When Fugazi came onto the scene around the tail end of the '80's, they redefined punk rock onto a pedestal many will never be able to sit above. It turned a lot of heads for kids seeking progressive music from what they thought it was or could be. It was a band that for many, and still many of my friends years later, that defined not only how talented and forward thinking genres can be, but how reaching outside the box and being honest as a musician will make you sit atop the rest for a long time. "Legacy" is a word that over 80% of bands today will never reach. Possibly 90%.
That's a fact.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Fugazi had that much influence on me as a listener when I was young. It was a band I didn't discover until college and even begin to understand, analyze and realize the true worth until the last few years of my life. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the band I'm about to look back on will ever reach that level of broad influence, because time is yet to show us that. But picking up Progress by the RX Bandits for me was like others discovering Repeater. With each release and live show, I watched the RX Bandits just stride when getting better and better and give birth to some of the best music that will forever stick with me and be passed down. It goes without saying that missing the band's Hoodwinked set of Fugazi covers at this year's Bamboozle will be regrettable for years to come. A tiny itch in the back of my mind.
A little over a year ago today, I was sitting in the back of the Rx Bandits' tour bus on the second night of their summer tour. What was about to take place was an interview between Matt Embree and I. This was not the first interview I had conducted with Embree, but it would be my last to this day. The interview was a tough one to swallow, but it was at times inspirational. But in the moment, it was downright devastating. After forty minutes of quite an interview, I was left a bit hollow. Why? I was essentially told that the future of the RX Bandits was undetermined and on shaky ground.
Earlier this year, we were told of the band's decision to go on indefinite hiatus.
After seeing the guys plow through one of the most phenomenal sets I've ever seen from them, I was told that the general expectancies of albums and tours are definitely "on hiatus," but to say there's no "future for the band" is putting an unsolicited nail in the coffin. That night, the band chronologically brought the audience and I through album by album cuts (the set of the night consisting of the first two songs and the last of each record with others thrown in here and there), and one by one I realized not only why I stuck with the band for as long as I have been a fan, but it was an audible sense of the truest form of "progress" that hasn't been cheaply bastardized by the general mainstream of shitty journalist like myself trying to define a band moving forward with their "art."
For me, seeing the RX Bandits (and anticipation in the weeks and month leading up to the show) is about my headway into what I can subjectively call amazing music. Not only that, the RX Bandits was the first show I was ever snuck into (though Joe Troy's appendix was to explode that night in Baton Rouge, so Embree played a solo set) and the first big band I interviewed for my high school newspaper. I vaguely remember the four or five shitty questions I had for them, but it still dwells on my mind to this day. Even after that, I've had my share of interviews with the band, and each time the words and views out of their mouths express how the band built art upon exploration of not only other art, but first hand experiences - and as seen in the final tour's openers - their closest friends.
Bringing on Maps and Atlases and Zechs Marquise (and opening for a few nights, and the one I caught in particular, Happy Body Slow Brain) really shows that talent will follow and feed off of talent. Zechs' upcoming record shows them harnessing their skills and getting to the point better, stronger and tighter just like each time I've see them in the last few years. What's not to love about Maps and Atlases' precise playing, and the awe of how careless, yet flawless they make it look to the naked eye. Even after the show, Embree and Dave Davison sat out front of the venue jamming soul and blues classics between each other in front of a small audience that stayed. There is the common thread of grand influence that flows both inwardly between the bands and their outside influences.
Then there's the guy who packed his car and was following the entire tour, looking for a place to crash each night among fans. There's a showmanship of community among not only the bands, but the fans who appreciate the music themselves.
Here's just what some of our users had to say about the band's impact:
I understand that some of you reading this will probably just see it as a fanboy editorial and that's completely fine, because after writing, rewriting and coming back to this for a month now, it really was meant to be an honest farewell. Maybe it's not the RX Bandits in particular for you, but imagine if that one band that you held so personal in your collection just called it a day, how would that make you feel? This was that band for me. I've been talking a lot this past year about nostalgia and looking back at personal influence, maybe you're too young to get it now or have yet to experience this feeling, that's okay. Maybe that band broke up the other day, or will be destined to break up five years from now as you reflect back on 15 to 20 years down the line. Very few artists these days will hold a candle forever, and with the saturation of the market only swelling due to the Web when faced with a parallel constant touring schedule competition as well, you can't expect your heroes to last forever. Having these guys lay down their instruments for a while (but not completely when considering their equally talented current other projects) is really my first taste of bitter acceptance of the aforementioned point.
There have been so many reunions in the past two years alone, I've lost count - and for some of them - kind of lost interest. If in five, ten, thirty years the guys decide to get back together to create music as a unit of architects working on another well structured piece, I will be waiting as anxiously as I did when I learned of their departure. If this is the end, then I'd say they left a pretty solid catalog behind. If this is just a break, then I'll be one of the first in anticipating the return of easily one of the best, sometimes underrated and all around progressive bands to have existed.
So this is my 500th entry in this trivial thing since starting it a few years ago. 499 entries of probably pure babble that made sense in my head at the time, but as I sift back through some "classic" ones, what the fuck was I talking about? Even as I scroll back through some even older stuff I wrote for some of the first publications I wrote for, it's kind of gut wrenching.
So, for the sake of argument, let's call Absolutepunk.net my first real writing job. Easily, the most memorable thing about doing all of this is the ability to talk music with the industry and the musicians that take the ride on it. Over the years, I've made some close and casual friendships with the bands I admired and grew up on. Seriously, tell this to the stupid kid that couldn't play sports ten years ago when he decided writing about music was going to be that thing to make him, er, successful?
Then you get caught up in the gears. There's outside forces, obligations that you take on, and the thrill and flow of the writing itself becomes harder. Not only do you find yourself repeating yourself (fear that your barely readable typing keeps making circles upon itself), but you also begin to become more of a critic by association instead of choice.
Then you can't come up with the right words for something you've been writing and rewriting for a few weeks now.
See, I was hoping my 500th entry would be my farewell feature for the RX Bandits (AP.net username: duffmanrxbandit) and instead I just don't think at what I'm staring at to be the justice I want it to serve to a band that not only was my first ever interview when I was a dumb naive kid back in high school working for the paper; a band that serves as that turning point for looking at music not as entertainment and awe, but with jaw on the floor, learning how to play guitar better and think about views with a broader lens; a band that never let me down in their progression, live show or side projects. To this day, the band's discography still sits as one of the most honest pieces of work in my audible library.
A hopeful bombshell was dropped on me last night - "never say never." As I looked at Matt and said, "No one knows what the future holds," he repeated it back to me, and there was an understanding that the band's hiatus is simply that: a break. Flipping through a full feature in this month's Alternative Press on band reunions, there's no shortage of picking back up the instruments and making some noise again as we've seen and heard in the past few years.
Monday I'll be attending the Taking Back Sunday/Thursday tour in Houston, and it will be a nostalgic night for sure. As much as it gets exciting to hear about a reunion, we can tend to hang ourselves up on the past. With my time off from the site in the past few weeks working on the book again, it has really reminded me about the moment - the moment the music was made, the stories that go with each song that was made, and most importantly, the stories we share alongside each song that is made as it shifts hands from someone else's creation into our own judgement and property.
We have so many expectations sometimes that we tend to get tied up in them. Will it sound like this other record? Will the signature sound stand-up against the contemporary sound of bands that are influenced by reunion band x's originally captivating sound? Am I still digging on the music, because I'm aware my personal tastes have changed?
Time is a bitch, and the hell spawn of anticipation and foreshadowing is not and will never be on our side. As I'm reaching into year 25 of my life in a little over a month, I'm beginning to understand the concept of time just a little bit more, not much, but peacefully enough. I feel like that initial ten years of musical consumption that mattered has passed, and I now I have to be smart enough not to get caught up in over analyzing what I (think I) know, and begin to listen to the moment, whether that means a new band or recently reformed one.
I will say this, as you grow older, you do realize what bands continue to matter without time as a variable. Every Time I Die continues to be my Anthrax; Brand New continues to be my love of post and alternative rock from my adolescence; Blink 182 still has the answers to all of life's first world problems and heartbreak; I can say, without a doubt, RX Bandits are my personal Fugazi...
..so this is where this (for lack of a better word) landmark entry ends, and where it will pick up with entry 501.
Today I payed for my weekly groceries with a credit card. Now, before you even think I'm playing the pity game here, it was a rough week due to Thanksgiving, and I just made rent. By Sunday, I'll be fine. Since my move to Austin, post-graduate debt has certainly taken its toll, and working a restaurant job and keeping up with my time here at Absolutepunk has been quite a juggle - an adventurous one at that!
In my time here I have had the pleasure to interview and meet some artists that I can only imagine having the pleasure of talking music with. Match that to the kind words you people lay upon my work...it's something special.
On the opening of Rx Bandits' Halfway Between Here and There, Matt Embree screams, "The best things in life are free!" He says it again in "Get" off of Progress - an album that all encompassed my free thinking of music. An album that may seem out of place in the midst of the book I'm working on, but in fact encompasses the idea behind the literary theme.
See, prior to hearing Progress, I knew of the Rx Bandits' catalog just being another great ska band wedge in between the likes of Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish.
Then I picked up Progress. I couldn't put it down. I would say for a good three months straight. That album possessed my life. I'm unsure if it was because it was a challenge to label it one certain brand of music, or the fact that the energy level of the album was as exciting as I wanted life to be from that point on.
Lyrically, it reached me at a time of adolescence, when I started to disbelieve what I knew and began to argue what I thought I knew. It is an album masked in constant questioning, but alive in the spirit of free thinking. I've yet to hear an album like it's aura since.
Now, we wrap ourselves to the beginning of this post. Sure, I barely made the month because of my no pay career and full time fiesta of "live by the dollar, die by the dollar" restaurant job. (You can only be a server for so long until you begin to lose it.) Embree said it best, and I continue to believe in his word, no matter in what way he intended it to make its mark. The end of my year - graduation, my move, my staff position and opportunity on this site - has been quite free and one of the best times that I will surely look back and smile upon in my life.
It's quite a way to end a decade. I'm so stoked on how the next ten years will go. I'm going to be stoked at both the positive and negative reactions to this book. I'm excited about continuing my journey and my career that will hopefully help me get by - just like many of the artists are able to do through our undying support of good music.
I can look at the Rx Bandits and see them as being my Pavement, my U2, my fucking Beatles or Radiohead to an extent. We all have one band that made an impact like that.
This was that band.
love and respect.
P.S. --- Matt Embree is the one person I've interviewed the most in my career thus far...coincidence?
I'm going to start this by telling a bit of an embarrassing story.
When I was in high school, the Rx Bandits was my favorite band. I was, with no better word in mind, obsessed. I had b-sides; waited in much anticipation for both The Resignation and the Live DVD; and in the end, helped put on the Something Corporate show that they were on the winter of my senior year of high school.
Then, in my early journalistic naive form, I had the privilege of interviewing the band for the school paper. Needless to say, as excited as I was, the interview must have been ten, twelve minutes tops, and I felt like such a Grade F n00b!
Anyway, five years later, I was lucky enough to interview singer-guitarist Matt Embree again for a piece comparing/contrasting the Rx Bandits to Portugal. The Man on their tour. We sort of brought up how much we've both grown, he as an artist, and how I tried my best to become a better reporter.
About a week later, through a fact/quote check, Embree congratulated me on a well done article, and it made me feel like I may have accomplished said growth. It felt good, warm, fuzzy, (insert more lame words here).
Tonight I decided to check the Sargent House site to see if there was any word on the progress of their business model with Amazon last night. I was driven to these words written by owner Cathy Pellow.
I have to say this about the model, it seemed to have worked:
This is a great thing on many levels. I went ahead and downloaded it since I would be seeing them on Saturday, even after the fact that I purchased the Deluxe Package. What's three more dollars right? (In all honesty, I'm that much of a vinyl fiend, that I HAD to have the limited clear copy.)
Pellow brings up an idea of compromise. Even if you aren't willing to purchase the record in physical form, at least $3 shows you were willing to give something to good art. I think the same can be said with the models Cursive and Kevin Devine used earlier this year. I think they worked, though I never saw definite figures for either.
What about the music ya' industry ranting freak?
Well, I think one of the users put it best, this is the album that follows Progress, and that's both good and bad. Negetively, I think it's far above the last two albums, so to say that it's a good predesesor is kind of wrong, because I think the last two documents are good marks. Positively, it brings up a lot of things that I enjoyed about Progress, while at the same time carrying on the progression of sound this band has a knack for producing.
The thing that steered me a bit away from ...And the Battle Begun is that the more I delved into it, the more I lost myself because there was SO much going on, and at times I had trouble keeping up with it. Mandala gives a bit of room to breathe, without taking away from the overall composition of each song and the record as a whole.
This is one of my top five favorite bands of all time. Even though I think my "obessession" in high school burned me out a bit over the past few years, and other bands have taken a bit more play on my iPod and stereo, I will continue to support the FUCK out of these guys.
There's no definition or genre to pigeonhold, and that's why they are free to produce good music. That process bands used to take, before all the make-up and autotune. Remember?
The sad thing about the above chart is this: Notice who's #2. Daughtry. At regular price. That means we are motivated to buy at less for better music. That also means there's a majority paying more for less.
Maybe my dad was right. Maybe by the afformentioned thought I should have become a lawyer.
First off, I would like to thank Adrian for the spotlight. Without him, I wouldn't have even thought about doing something like this if it had not been for his suggestion.
Secondly, I would like to thank all the positive feedback, and those withholding a debate (please do not, let's argue, I get bored in class and that's why I end up with two C's in summer school, ugh!). If there is one thing that I have learned this summer in ethics though, is that you may think you have the ultimate point of no return, and then someone comes in, tears you down, but if you are humble enough, take the criticism as something to construct more ideas off of.
Lastly, if it wasn't the positive feedback from a bunch of strangers I've never met, hearing a band say that your article was one of the best written articles he's read in awhile dropped my jaw.
To that, I present it to you here. Want to know how the RX Bandits are doing and what the new Portugal. The Man sounds like, read on to this shameless plug. HA!
Besides the Spanish Final at 730 this morning, dealing with my apartment move, and the barrage of work ahead of me in the next few days (restaurant, reviews, and moving)...this has all made my day.
Thank you again. So much love. Keep watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm, my favorite show at the moment,