I've been listening to my friends' record for the last week. It's a record that's been worked on for the last year. It's from a band you probably never heard of, even though they're connected (down to the point of recording) with many a band that receives praise and glory through the news feed of this very site and others. It's not important to tell you who they are, but to tell you their current story and where I'm going to go with it. I, and a few people I have shown a few songs to, think the music is pretty damn good to good to pretty epic. I think it's a solid release, and at the most minimalist of output with the final product, it at least deserves to get heard by how many people can hear it. Then again, that's the goal of all music ever created, right?
There's no management, no label, no hype, no viral campaign, no six month outlook and no plans for a "spring tour" in the works. The only publicity the band has is a bio/press release I told them a year ago that I would write when they started working on the record. It is in fact an album, that when mastered at the end of the week, will be in a state of limbo. It was all funded out of the pockets of the three people who helped create the music. In this business, whether you are the one creating the music, pushing the music (management, publicists, booking agents) or writing about it (press outlets and Tumblr blogs galore!), it is all a "labor of love" with no job stability, 401K or guarantee of climbing the corporate rung based on a set output.
As someone who almost dropped out of it all, only to be blessed by a hand to pull me back in within a matter of days, I consider myself lucky and humble to be a part of a special minority of "people who actually give a shit" and still fuel their "labor of love" with a passion not lost in the muck of the day-in and day-out. I mean, I never thought I'd be happy filling out spreadsheets and taking inventory - but I also have a turntable on my desk - so fuck you society! I finally won!
Tonight ol' Nassiff texted me and asked me to read his response to Kevin Devine's Kickstarter campaign. While Devine didn't get an Amanda Palmer response just yet, he certainly won over my heart just by reading his statement about the project this morning. As someone who respects the hell out of Devine already, Nassiff also brought those sentiments home with his column tonight.
That being said, I still have my convictions about Kickstarter as a whole, and they are convictions I brought up with Nassiff over the phone after reading his column:
1) "The Whole 'DIY' Argument": You want to do something you love, well, fucking work for it. Nobody likes a fucking trust fund kid in the world of punk rock, but a kid who thinks he's so "punk rock" and "DIY" is just equally as annoying. That said, the only reason I have a laptop is because I had cancer as a kid, and I used scholarship money later given to me as a "survivor" to purchase one. It sometimes bothers me and still seems a bit shady. I mean, money to be able to purchase a laptop that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise, or money towards cancer research to save lives. I know it's a ridiculous stretch of an example, but I'm trying to make a hyperbolic statement that every system is abused, and that everyone is going to cry "Why not me?!" like a child...always and forever until we're all rich with gold mansions and rocket cars. Coming from someone who has always busted his ass while people around him just "get things," I get it. I've lived that feeling of frustration many times, and probably will still experience numerous times over until I'm six feet under. It's why we'll always argue about free healthcare and why some people can't get food stamps with next to no income and others making a good five figures beat the system. Deal with it. Sometimes it's not the system, it's the assholes who have access to it. Maybe I shouldn't hate Kickstarter for my "work for it dude!" attitude, I should just hate those assholes.
2) "Incentives": Here's the biggest gripe I have with Kickstarter. The linear notes, phone calls and little prissy things that super fans eat up for a couple of extra dollars. Is it necessary to whore your work out like that? An extra 7", a show in your hometown (that's probably just going to be plotted on the next tour) and even a test pressing are all tangible, not insane incentives to have fans get more "bang for their buck" as they say. (Do people still say that?) Anyway, I just think there's a fine line between "investing" money in a project and getting a return of something so low. Why not just sign all the Kickstarter funded bundles? Are you that big that your signature is worth a couple of extra dollars? Would you charge me that if I came up to you after a show? Why charge me that now? And by far, my biggest complaint is the "thank you" section that some pay for. I've been "thanked" in a few releases this past year. Most of the time, I didn't even know. It's a special moment when you go, "Oh shit. Cool. But did I do anything?" I certainly didn't pay $5 for it. To me, it just sort of bastardizes the whole system.
The truth is, in the last decade of change throughout the industry, the old ways are finally crumbling. There used to be four big shots, and now there are three. No one gives a shit about last year's American Idol, X Factor or America's Got an Hour to Kill Because Worked Sucked at My Dead End Job or whatever "talent" show is making some phone company a lot of money. There are smart people in this industry that still care about music and know how to help people make money. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. I'm lucky enough to have met and known a few in my time, but they are a minority in the overly saturated market or "music business by the books" graduates. I get that Kickstarter could be a step in the right direction in helping bands like my aforementioned friends get their music to the masses because enough people believe it should exist on some tangible level in a business where most consumers would rather just steal it because that sort of consumerism has become the norm.
With progressions this past week with Bandcamp, it's a sign that Kickstarter is not the only means to a new business end in this industry. I'm just saying that the entire system of "crowd-sourcing" as it is deemed needs some work from the users and rewarders of the program itself. We're living in a time of great ideas and expansion. Don't become greedy like our corporate relics. Let's be fair, and show the next generation that this one killed the dinosaurs and finally learned from their mistakes.
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.
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."
Last night I got off the phone with one of my best friends who is currently out on tour for the second time in his life. This happened right after reading professor David Lowery's open letter to NPR intern Emily White, who, in a recent blog, proclaimed that she only purchased 15 CDs in her entire life, but obtained an iTunes library of over 11,000 songs. White is 20. My friend is 22. I'll be 26 in two months. Lowery, being a professor and ex-musician, is 51 years old. There is definitely a generational gap between all four of us. All four of us are involved in the business (or was), and to debastardize it to an extent, the "joy" of music. The four of us are also part of a greater consumerism, both financially and emotionally, of millions that hoard digital libraries, buy used CDs and flip them for new ones and/or spend way too much, or luckily at a steal, on OOP print vinyl or new, limited circles of wax.
To detach Lowery from the equation, the three youngest people mentioned do live in what he calls the "Free Culture movement," and i completely agree with that term. But at 26, myself and the older users and staff members of this site should remember going through the motions. I remember Napster on dial-up. I remember living through the downfall of it and the rise of Kazaa and Morpheus on countless others. I remember switching to Soulseek and ripping iPods in my early college years and then to the backdoors of Sendspace and Rapidshare in the later years. Yes, I have pirated a good chunk of music. In reading Travis Morrisons' column tonight, I also remember doing all those other things (with the exception of shoplifting. What?! My dad's a cop!). But I've also spent a good deal on t-shirts, concert tickets, CDs, vinyl, posters, etc. in that time. I love the tangible feel and ownership of something I find special, and even though I may not always have the dime for it, I generally attend the local record store at least once a week, if not twice and try to leave with something. Take that as you will and if you want to continue reading this op-ed.
For those that are 18-21, such as White, you came in at a time of music discovery when what Lowery describes as a "neighborhood" without an "antiquated police force" exists. More than just music, every form of media is digital and free. I just found out you can download comic books a few months ago! I thought video game emulators were one thing in my time, but that recent concept really blew my mind a bit. It's all free, why would you pay for it? The gas to go to the store only to find it's sold out, or the store doesn't carry it? You could order online, but there's extra for shipping. A simple Google search, and within minutes it's unzipped and in your iTunes. I could go to the store and buy fresh tortillas and meat and vegetables and cook tacos and invite my friends and share a good time. Fuck that! One of the best instant gratifications gained living in Texas is Taco Cabanna. Convenience reigns supreme.
That's my biggest problem with White's blog. Lowery touches on all the fiscal reasons why White is wrong, but I want to touch on the brightest red flag I had with her piece. This is going to come off as corny and lame (then again, a lot of what I say does, so take it or leave it) - there is nothing special in the "convenience" of either making music or consuming music. I say that in the most positive light too. Before sitting down to read both White and Lowery's blog entries, I watched Pitchfork.tv's documentary on Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West. Besides the information on the classic album's recording and meanings behind such Jesse Lacey covered classics as "Trailer Trash," the film makes old points on touring and promoting music without the vast space that is "the 'Net" and its ad-space virus which consumes sites like this and those lawless towns we loot from. All of the grain bands face daily only helps to create what I see as the best music in the end. The tension, anxiety, good times and bad, fear and letting go you hear in the most cherished records are generally reactions of going through the motions of making the music itself - especially lyrically, and sometimes (read: hopefully) instrumentally. (see also: 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, Read Music / Speak Spanish, Kid A)
Like good satire, music has the ability to not only make us reflect on current trends and motions, the best music makes us grasp something deeper in the reaction to what's being executed. That's the thing that separates convenience from the people who should be in this industry: If something holds enough meaning to me, I want some sort of tangible item to remind me of that - especially when it comes to music. I will pay my water bill late for a copy of a record I've been looking for for sometime. I will drink less than stellar beer to own a copy of a CD or vinyl recently released from one of my favorite bands. I would sacrifice my credit - and have - to financially support something I believe in. I know that I'm not the only one who would do or does do this, and I know that there are people who are reading this thinking I'm insane. Well, so be it.
The economy certainly sucks. There just isn't enough money to go around that everyone can even remotely live a "convenient" life. I'm three years out of college living somewhere close to the poverty line trying to make it. My friends in bands are doing the same. Some of them you've never heard of, and some of them you might think are rock stars truly aren't. My friends who run labels doing their best to support their family of bands do well. But some rosters cater to a demographic of those 15-21 year-old listeners that share the tunes, and you have to remember that a pre-order goes a long way to put back into the label to sign more of "your friend's awesome band(s)" so they can truly see the same muck of business shit we all do.
I have no idea what to do about the financial situation of this industry. I can only give so much myself and still be able to work part-time and not give up my own dreams. It's not "convenient" whatsoever. It's an adventure, and the bands and industry people who live (or lived) through the years of "inconvenience" are generally the smartest. They know how things not only work, but how they work best. I'm not saying that White should quit her dream, because hell, she's on a great path. I'll say this, her demographic needs to think about the "convenience" of life catered to such technologies we've all been thrown into. Nothing I've ever loved has been easy to obtain or understood the moment it entered my life. There was no instant gratification, only days and months and years of appreciating something special that I once garnered. There's no "convenience" in true ownership, only hard work rewarded. I haven't been handed a lot of things in my life, so I know the work that has to be put into such ownership and confidence. A great band this week asked, "So what if everything that you ever loved more than anything was killing you this slow?" Well, this past year I've been on a deathbed of sorts. Some close friends have struggled as well. Just understand that big advances and trust funds generally don't make a lasting impact - quality music does. Go out and make a quality product and people will throw their hard earned money at your confidence and heart put into it. The people who matter will. They're the fans who will give your "new direction" a biting chance and take a plane or road trip cross country to see you reunite years later. People will put themselves through any number of "inconveniences" for any number of quality products - especially the comfort of music.
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)
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.
This year's South by Southwest is already two weeks out (a week and a half if you count when it actually starts with the "interactive" portion). This is a big year for many reasons. First and foremost, this site has a showcase this year. Jason will be announcing our line-up tomorrow, but it certainly feels special to be a part of this larger festival of who's-who and "who the fuck is this band?!" said in both the positive and negative tense throughout the week by many a critic and causal drunk alike. While I'm content with our line-up (we as staff fought it out, hugged it out, came to an agreement and we're stoked on the line-up which includes...errr, you'll see tomorrow.) From someone who has only been a part of the festival for two years now, I can tell you it's a shit show. There's a group of people who think they're something, and they're nothing but assholes. There's a group of people that just want to go and get sloshed for free and watch some music cause it's spring break, or they called in sick from work, or they have the day off, etc. Half of those people end up being assholes too - but just the ones that have a bit too much to drink or think they know what the next big thing is cause they're in this "in." Then there's a group of people from across all genres both local and touring that just want to play their music - their special creation - for the sake of playing it to a group of people and having that opportunity.
There are a few 8 Mile moments for some.
The music portion of the festival is like literally taking an entire industry of fuckheads, rock stars and more than grateful souls to play the smallest of venues and shoving them into one small area of the United States. It's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome if Mad Max were a DIY punk band or great local blues act, and the exclusivity and pompous behavior of some were Tina Turner. Luckily, there's hope among it all, and last year certainly proved it: new friends, labels, community, a new generation, etc. This year will be no different either. It's the friends staying with me and those I'll see during the week and the line-up of shows I've put together. The ugly truth is that you meet a lot of people that have "business" written across their face, and you wind-up scratching your head wondering if they still really enjoy music like they used to when they picked up their first few albums years and years ago. They talk to you like you're their friend, but they're looking for press in an indirect slide of tongue. You have to avoid it at all cost.
Still, in the face of said motivational devastation and confusion brought on by the powers that control what you should like and what gets shoved against your eardrums and thrown on a NOW THAT'S WHAT (SERIOUSLY?!?! THEY STILL MAKE THESE FUCKING THINGS?!) compilation or even a BEST NEW TRACK or "essential podcast" for the month, it's about making the best of the week. It's sitting in the corner of the lunchroom knowing that the so-called "popular" majority will never understand your qualms against the mundane and your love of things that keep you on your toes and heighten your curiosity and subconscious intrigue you can't shake for days after the circus lets out and the animals go home.
If I sound bitter, it's partial nerves and partial exhaustion. I personally came into this line of work because I needed to control and make sense of all these commentaries in my head I was spewing amongst my friends. Instead, it's been three to four years of really learning the divided line of integrity and lack thereof that knows no genre and isn't discriminatory to just bands - but publicist, managers, and labels as well. We're entering one of the largest music festivals of 2012 and there are still a good number of people "in charge" that are unsure of how to control piracy, get their music to more people beyond just touring and just plain be noticed in a sea of thousands of others that just want a shot at this dream of playing music as a primary outlet of, well, a job.
Here's to South by Southwest. Here's to mediocrity. Here's to the intimate crowds and long lines to see that one band you were really hoping to catch. Hold onto that moment when you get in and close to the stage. Enjoy it and forget that a complete shit show of false idealism is happening around you.
2011 has been quite a year. It kind of goes without saying. In fact, I've been saying that a lot lately in these entries. I'm not sure if I have because I'm trying to nail an already fastened hinge of a thought, or maybe I'm just trying to tell myself it's not a dream or I'm not lying to myself or the audience - which at this point, for the most part, should agree on the subject. As we come to a close on this year and prepare ourselves for an exciting 2012 (see I'm already making predictions with what I know, and most of you don't and things neither of us have knowledge of), major things are happening right now.
One of those things is the SOPA/Protect-IP Act we have been discussing this week. It's a noble cause to put a stop to illegal means of sharing and obtaining content artists are losing money on, but for many, it's unconstitutional and could completely put the archival properties, the marketplace of ideas and the ability to create and share new thoughts and art in an unwanted grave by many. We're talking about the censorship of the Internet and the longstanding legal bout of fair use. How do we put a stop to the trucks being unloaded on the back of the dock, while also maintaining order that shouldn't be run by an industry who aren't suffering as bad as college graduates without jobs and student debt or the high rate of unemployment across the board for that matter.
But, we have to think of the middle ground as well. The margin of bands that are truly being affected by all of this. After having lunch yesterday with a good network of mine, he shined some light on the topic and points I was overlooking: the way the casual listener really controls the fate of most bands, how the second and third waves of a movement are always more successful than the first (and we're sick of it by the fourth and fifth wave of over-saturation) and how most people in this industry have their big moment before they later go back to working part-time jobs while not out on the road to actually go out on the road thereafter - advance or not. Is illegal downloading the problem? Part of it. Will streaming subscriptions be the next solution? Possibly, but I've just been told the return on each stream is less than a download. Does that mean we should take extremes in building walls, or does Hasselhoff have to come sing a song atop the cyber barriers while we tear it down? #occupytheInternet
There are two sides divided between listeners: the casual observer who will download and sit at home, away from venues and their local record stores, and there is the diehard fan - the one who might download a leak, but pay the door charge, buy a t-shirt, snag a pre-order or vinyl. Unfortunately the latter is the 99%. See, the 1% hold the power to change trends, to follow what's hip, to never dig deep enough to appreciate album artwork or holding a booklet and taking time to read every single lyric as you listen through an album - a piece of music meant to act as one larger piece of art and not a radio hit with a hook. As we sit here and blame the industry, we blame the labels (both indie and major level) and blame how "open" the Internet is to piracy and obstruction of intellectual property - we actually should be blaming ourselves and others around us.
If you like a band, support them. Buy a print if they do art on the side. Go to a show and rage and share high fives with the audience after their set. Get in the pit "and try to love someone," even if you've never been that close and thrown around for the last eight years of your life. Want to know why a band isn't touring your neck of the woods? Sure, maybe they're not "moving units," or maybe they showed up to play and you didn't show up for support because you didn't like one album out of the four or six that they've done so far. Take an album on mediafire? Buy a t-shirt. Just as bands have to stay on the road to survive, we have to make sure we're doing our part as well. New favorite album? Play it in the car for your friends. Praise it on a message board. Put it on a mix for a friend. All these things we've always been doing years before we could hoard illegal downloads on our hard drives, those are the things that still really connect people to music - and hopefully for a long time thereafter. There's always going to be press; there's always going to be sites giving off free promotion presented as journalism; there's always going to be a hype machine churning out what you should hear.
At the end of the day - and something more than pointed out to me by the aforementioned person I had lunch with - it boils down to your friends, your networks and the people that you ultimately trust. Remember going to see your favorite band and hearing a new favorite band as an opener? There was no social site to hear their music. There was no subscription service that you used its trial version to sift through discographies before going out. You just went, and you discovered. Maybe I'm jaded toward that now since I have this job. Maybe that's all still happening, and I hope it is. I know good bands are taking out my new favorite bands. On the flipside, I know shitty bands are taking out new shitty bands. Unfortunately, I know those tours are doing better.
Friday night I experienced two viewpoints. First, for the first time since Warped Tour 2002, I was in a pit, up front and screaming every lyric to Every Time I Die. A band that continues to be one of my favorites as each album comes out. A band that is herald by many, not gotten by some and literally spat on by others at some of their shows - the current tour they're on. They soldier on through all of it. After sitting in the van drenched in sweat, while Jordan Buckley played my friend and I four new tracks off the upcoming album, it's a band that just keeps getting stronger. I heard Botch. I heard Harkonen. My friend heard Dangers. Most importantly, I hear a band that's not slowing down anytime soon. A band that doesn't give a fuck about the rest, and only feeds off the energy of the crowds and their fans. As the scene (whatever that is) has changed, they never adapted, they paved their own road while some came up and others fell.
After that, I headed across town to catch Senses Fail's set. Now, I've never been a Senses Fail fan, but I think they're a band that has made way better albums than most of the bands that tried to copy their style and others thereafter, and my show of support goes out to them because unlike some of those bands - they're still around. What was interesting when watching the show from the stage was that the crowd of people to the front, crowdsurfing and pumping their fist (a position I was in earlier), they were all wearing wristbands - meaning they were of age, some holding drinks. These were kids that were thankful to see one of their favorite bands years later - maybe for the first time and maybe for the sixth. What one could hope is that they are also continuing the support I mentioned earlier. (Since they're at the show, I'm sure they are. duh!)
The thing that got me, that clinched a nerve inside me - the right way - was that the band was making shout-outs to the next generation, the next movement. Sure, I've heard that on stage the last five or so years, but I feel like there's truth behind it now. There's a collective of bands that don't sound alike feeding off of each other. While I've more than made that point many times this year, I think I missed one though: It's important to respect your elders. Again, as previously discussed, first generations of bands and movements - they're never overly appreciated until a demise and later, possibly a reunion. But when those elders that are still around are telling you about new band x or taking them out on tour and talking about them in an interview or giving shout-outs on the other bands' social media pages - well, that means something. Maybe I'm blind to it. I'm sure it's always been happening - but I've never seen it enforced like it has been lately. I've never seen the companionship of punk so backed as I've seen it at the tail end of 2010 and throughout 2011.
While I understand this rant is going on longer than it should, I'm going to make one last point. A point that speaks volumes as to the name of this blog. A point that we tend to overlook as we sit behind our computers and judge decisions not in our hands - and many that don't directly effect us anyway. I've wanted to quit this job multiple times. I tend to get aggravated reading through news articles on the industry weekly and curse out my computer multiple times throughout the day. "You got to be fucking kidding me" should be my next tattoo. Out of the three big entertainment industries (music, television and movies), music is by far the shakiest ground. While there's this world of people around us trying to figure out a way to make it work, to build up walls, to protect property that rightly belongs to artists that created it and strive desperately to make a living off it, we need to remember why we're all here to begin with: the music itself. It's the way a song crawls up the back of your spine, or is a perfect fit for the weather when you're running errands around town on your bike or in your car with the windows down. I've jaded my love of music with having a job like this because of knowing about all the bullshit that comes with the territory. I know people who have quit because of it as well to go back to that constant feeling.
As I told a band last night, it doesn't matter what label you're signed to, as long as the music, your art (and under a bastardized term - your product) holds water and meaning and is something worthwhile to the general public of both the casual listener and diehard alike, that's all that matters. That is what I want bands who are creating the music to think about. I believe in the ability for art to resonate well amongst those who hold that art to some sort of value.
2012 can be another exciting year for music. But you as the producers and we as the consumers need to value the output.
Something I think I forgot about these past few months is examining the start of this decade, the year of music we've had and people reacting and embracing music with a (heart)beat again. I think in the end, we yearn to explore the movement of emotion through art. Okay, The Notebook made you cry over your ex-boyfriend, or your shelf of old books filled with forgotten poetry you found at the local book store says everything you're thinking and no one gets when you explain it to them - it's all a thick connection of personal understanding with a rewired connection from the previous works' intentions.
The message is sometimes lost, but we still find some sort of solace, because it's there, we're tired and we therefore play into the albums'/movies'/books' ranges of mood and the lyrics/lines/thoughts "we get," or whatever that feeling is. 2011 has certainly been a year where we haven't just enjoyed records or lines or hand claps, etc. - 2011 has been a year where we can feel the pulse in music stronger than ever. We're lightening up in giving the archive of the Web we access as a library of chance and new knowledge, wondering what we'll end up retaining. I guess since we've decided that we've given ourselves access to the damn library of congress of music we're really not allowed to touch without paid admission, we might as well absorb as much as we can in the wake of this "culture jam." I remember reading something a while back (the piece escapes me), but someone commented on a young journalists' ability to discover and know more about a genre in a couple of months more than the guy who lived every hometown show and close friendship amongst the same scene.
Back to our rapidly expanding culture of technology and information - I overheard some elder businessmen at a table I was waiting on today talking about the company they work for switching all their paper archives to iPads and digital back-up. It was seriously "crazy" to them. We're constantly on four to five social networks. Do you really care about the FBI finding you at this point? Worry about big brother? Half the world knows you're bitter about that geology test or when you break-up and get back together in your "on again/off again" relationship. We only know how to express ourselves in "memes" and 30-second clips found on YouTube.
This year my favorite albums were those that made me think about a lot of things: love, life, growing up, missing home, hating your roots and embracing them, feeling defeated among the worst of times and overcoming a mountain to only prepare for the next one and the most important: realizing no matter how heavy the load you bare on your back, there's someone beside you that has it worst and will matter the most in finding understanding. We are the bright new generation of giving up on the old while learning from them as well. We're connecting through tragedy and uncertain impending doom measured on an ever-changing scale still controlled by the media and entertainment we'll eventually loathe in our old age, and the next generation will come along and the cycle of resentment, tearing down and rebuilding something classic into the contemporary will start again.
That's what is happening in 2011. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the music scene doesn't turn over new ideas that will still have to find a chance at longevity when the next cycle starts in a couple of more years. Luckily we're at one of the best times of that stack of turtles all the way down we hope to remember fondly one day. It's not that 2011 restored my faith in music again, it's that it has really restored some faith back into people wanting to enhance their senses and minds with something that was worth saying at an economically, socially and for some of us, personally horrible time. Punk started as a counter fashion and political middle finger to the system. What about that idea in the new millennium? It's a cutthroat time, and no one is looking to go home from the party as long as they can keep the public attentions with a good hook or an overly saturated single through Clear Channel. Where do those punk ideals fit in a system where you want to make a living on something that has a high percentage of failing in even the best conditions.
I tend to forget who has done what pop single that I've heard a million times over, in my sleep and background to a movie. I forget the first girl I ever liked. I forget who sold the most rock albums of 1995. I forget petty arguments and selfish behavior both towards me and coming from me. A good album is hard to forget. A good friendship is hard to erase. Unearthing those memories years later both with scratched CDs from then and newly compressed files from now speaks volumes both to the passing of our youth and the future of a hopeful imprint that will only be pressed with a new one before we know it.
It's not about touring. It shouldn't be about merch sales. It certainly isn't about selling your newly made products, because everyone is taking a sample out the back of the truck while you're watching. Or maybe you're one of the ones figuring out how to show up with the truck, give away the product and still find a return. You know what's been silent this year? The industry. Sure, we finally got our hands on Spotify, but most of us saw that coming. There's too many artists with something real to say, a couple of interns working their way up in the ranks of the big leagues and small imprints that show both the evil and good guy traits of the business and somewhere - right now - someone is working on the next way to shake up 2012 either in their favor or for the greater good. That's where all this written logic leads me. As we grow older, our experiences shape our future without us knowing it. The variable that's the most interesting to watch is if we fall in the same pitfalls of the elders we reject or reach our goal of shaping the future in our confidence.
2011 has been a year of confidence in the ideals of punk. 2012 will be the year we see if that momentum can continue or if we see the road beginning to slope for our newly favored heroes and saviors we see them as now.
Occupy Wall Street has become an infectious thing as it has left New York City and traveled to other bigger cities in the United States. Austin is no exception as protestors are stationed both at City Hall and the Capitol, both located downtown just blocks from each other. There is no shortage of people in attendance either. It's a tough time for our generation, like the counter revolution of the '60s, enough people have had enough. No matter how you feel about the subject of protest (I myself see it as a noble cause, but always believe you can do more damage on the inside - it's just how you manipulate and conceal intentions by outsmarting the elders), this is a time where no one is really sure of sufficient way of changing what they are aware is wrong. At our darkest moments of clout, we at least put ourselves out there in some sort of process to move forward. I'm not saying waking up on the steps of a building is going to turn a leaf the next day for an already fucked up system, but once the media grabs a hold of it - people will notice. I wonder how different the counter revolution of the '50s-'60s-'70s would have been with social media for that matter. Do we educate ourselves by talking with these people, or are we just following random posts through a network - whether it's big media or social - I think when emotions tie-in, either side can seem like bullshit propaganda and ruin any sort of positive progress.
The first time I met and talked with Kevin Devine, I had read up on a lot of what he had to say in previous interviews and read lyric after lyric. Aside from what I deemed his songs on life, death and love - he also seemed to have something to say about the political agenda. Of course when I confronted Devine with a question about a conscious agenda, he immediately laughed it off. After talking with Devine tonight and over the last few years, I can see why - there's no agenda in observation. That's what Devine does best as a songwriter, he's able to pen his observations in some of the best songwriting that I think still goes unappreciated by some - but not by many. Devine's approach is in the way he talks to you or a group of people. It's in his laughs and jokes on stage and in his lyrics of finding a certain peace and understanding. Devine's been on the road for seven weeks, and as someone who continues to never let up, I think his travel plays a big part.
I know I'm repeating myself, but Devine has this complete polarizing effect that radiates in his live show - whether it's how he can quiet the crowd with just him and his guitar, or how he lets it all out with a talented band behind him - it just connects in a way that a singer-songwriter should with an audience, a fan or even someone just there for a show. I'm not sure if I noticed it until the other night, or it's always been there and it finally hit me after seeing Devine so many times, but the guy just seems natural on stage. I see so many artists a month and over the course of the year that just seem nervous: "What's the response going to be?" or "I hope we sound good," and "I can't hear myself in the monitor," and so on. Devine has a confidence in his set that resonates the most. It's in how he presents each song as an act with witty monologue in between. Again, he seems like a man with so many questions, but always up for at least discussing answers whether he's right or wrong.
The support for the night displayed both of Devine's live shows - his acoustic urgency and full band swagger. It was my first time seeing The Rocketboys in over a year or so, and it's like they never had the 10 months of writing between them at all. As of now, the band is writing as a trio and they're writing separately instead of together with their new material and hope to have something put together for next year. Even with a fill-in drummer and guitar player, their sound still filled the inside room of Emo's and exhausted the band's lush sound. The guys don't intend on slowing down, but their not looking to be a quick flash in the pan either. We'll all have to stay tuned to see what happens in 2012 for them, but I have high hopes. I caught most of An Horse's set before talking a bit with Devine and some friends. For a duo, their sound carries with duel vocals and furry. Live, the band sound even more lush than on Walls studio sound as Kate Cooper wails out in the songs' choruses. A pretty solid act for this leg of the tour.
It's certainly hard times lately. I myself haven't had the best couple of months behind me, but it's about keeping your head up in it all. For whatever reason, between the people camping blocks away at City Hall or the fact that I have less than nine dollars in my bank account for a couple of days or stress about all the work I have to put out this week and get finished up - it all just went away watching Devine's set.
"Ballgame" was a soothing end to the night, but not before the anguish of "Brother's Blood." I'm not even sure why I keep coming back to see Devine play, why I get excited to just talk with him about politics or music or (for what I didn't bring up) how bad the Jets are doing - but maybe it's because every time we talk, or I hear a new song or read another interview - he always has something insightful to say. There are people (friends in this industry even) that talk with confidence and there are some that talk in an uneasy nature and both seem like they're trying to follow themselves instead of what the conversation has to offer them. Every time Devine has something to say, it's a careful confidence. We're always growing toward a "better," and the only way to stay relevant and genuine is to straddle that line made up of such confidence but a humble undertone. He's a rare personality in a community of sharks, scholars, business and the all encompassed fear that seems to plague my thoughts on a daily basis talking with artists large and small. For that, I will continue to keep in touch with a spirit like Devine, and I hope he continues to do well because of the mentality I see in him.
Last night I received the much anticipated Pianos Become the Teeth album, The Lack Long After. While I was talking with some of the band's friends about the album last night (some people I was with had heard it), I knew it was something special to sit down with, read and listen through. My options were reduced to a cheap pair of headphones I bought the other day, and eventually succumbing to staring at the ceiling while not falling asleep. I decided to give it a spin while laying in bed. With no lyrics in front of me and slowly drifting into dream land, the music itself was just taking over my senses in some parts making me pull the plugs out my ears and making a conscious decision to listen to it the next morning. After a quick e-mail, the lyrics in front of me and completely taking 40 minutes of my lunch time to experience this, I plugged in my stereo system and just sat on my floor in front of the speakers.
This is what started a moving day.
The way vocalist Kyle Durfey comes off on The Lack Long After is incredible. The band has written one of the most beautifully melodic pieces of anguish in the album's closer. A lot of the writing seems to center around Durfey getting over his father's death. If you were moved by Wildlife, The Lack Long After will be as gripping and dramatic - if not more uncomfortable.
Then later in the day, the news came through the wires about the death of Steve Jobs. No matter how you feel about or how much you use Apple's iTunes system - it revolutionized the game. It's not just about the iPod, it's about turning music consumption into a customizable purchase. Why buy five albums for ten songs, when you can buy just the ten songs? Could it have directly caused some artists to build albums again instead of filler? Who knows. Jobs was always looking to outsmart others and try something new. He used the system to his advantage and kept reinventing the wheel one after the other. He is a contemporary punk in my eyes.
While learning of the news, I was thirty minutes from seeing 50/50 - a movie that I'd been anticipating since seeing the trailer about a guy named Adam who had cancer. I knew the movie would bring back memories, but in the scene where the character is about to go into surgery and he's getting nervous with anxiety as the morphine goes through the system was terrifying. For the first time ever with a movie, I teared up a bit. 50/50 does an excellent job with capturing the emotion of going through something like that. For someone who has gone through it or was there when it happened, I'm sure they would feel the same way about the aforementioned scene. I know I was only 6 years old, but I remember sitting with other patients getting chemotherapy. I remember my mom finally shaving my head because my pillow was completely full of hair. I was the baldest kid in first grade.
After leaving the movie, I put in the end of Wildlife and just sort of absorbed everything I had observed all day, as well as taking in the last few days with seeing friends from out of town on tour or seeing how things are slowly getting better as a whole. Death is the greatest fear for some - both our own and the ones around us. As horrible as the Final Destination movies put it, fate can hit us at any time. It's making something out of the days we have that counts. Whether that something is music or writing or fashion or public service - do your best at it, grow and make a footprint in this world. Listening to The Lack Long After and reading through those lyrics this morning made me think of my grandmother who is really at the cliff of her health. I will always remember the greatest thing she ever told me was that I was destined for something and that she always believed in me. She didn't know what it was, but she knew I'd figure it out one day.
It doesn't matter the mark, just make it special enough and maybe it'll be a bigger print than you think.
Ah, 25. As my car insurance is lowered and I can legally now rent a car and…well, I guess that's it really. I guess it's that age when you really begin looking back and worrying about moving forward. It's that scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt is telling Edward Norton about how he kept asking his dad, "Well, what now?" and in succession he just keeps doing what his father said until there was no real answer. Around this age, it seems like if you haven't chosen some sort of path now, you better make the best compass out of a paperclip somehow and get a bit of direction somewhere.
This past month I was fired from my part-time job and entered the world of unemployment for about a month now. With a new sales and marketing job and starting another small part-time job next week, it was an emotionally wrecked month of rest. Through all of it, it made me realize how important it is to have a sort of drive and to take risks. As I was sitting in two of my interviews this week discussing my knowledge of the evolving industry model, it began to hit me just how the last ten years has really morphed (and possibly animorphed) into different avenues. At the end of the day it was just a lot of people fed up with the norms. This industry is a lot more dog-eat-dog than most of you want to lead yourself to believe. You have to be punk with your business if you want to survive.
Reading this last week's interview with pg.99 over at NPR.org was very refreshing. See, the thing about interviewing all these bands from the '90s and early 2000's is that a lot of them just had a "do it" attitude. Sure, they were trying new things, but there wasn't a "sophomore slump" or "expectation" to live up to. In fact, some fans hated Document #7 for its shift into some more "experimental" territory. That sort of critique is only echoed daily from publication to publication from writer to writer and so forth and so on without any knowledge of true timely reflection. Now we have Circle Takes the Square's highly anticipated return. From someone who's spent two days with the first chapter/EP from Decompositions Vol. 1, Rites of Initiation is incredible. This is a band that has learned to craft their sound in the studio without losing any of their chops and identity along the way.
What I'm getting at in all of this is that looking back on the last two years out of college, and even what I've achieved a few years before that along the way, I can't even believe it. I put myself in some ruts because I kept wanting to fight the system instead of embracing its progression mixed with my knowledge and ideas. That's what I'm just now beginning to understand this past year: You can fight the norms, but you have to be prepared for the consequences for doing so. I was catching up on Louie today on Hulu, and a line really hit me:
"I don't know why you don't wanna just keep your mouth shut and keep the money?" - Casino Manager
"I don't know either." Louie C.K.
I could have gone the route of working for a newspaper. I could have gone the route of getting a job I wouldn't be happy in just because that's what we're carved out to do. But this scene, these ideals are too ingrained in my blood to do that. Having a good friend write "He’s an avid supporter of the underground punk community and is praised for his coverage of the bands involved," really touched me. To be told that a band gravitated toward me because of my attitude and ideals really hit me hard. I don't think much of myself, and I don't want this to even seem like I'm e-jerking myself off, so in one week for two people to say that to me means so much I can't even articulate a thank-you.
It means I must be doing something right. Past all the copy-edit problems and questioning how close I'm going to come to just make rent this month as the bank is calling me three times a day since I haven't paid my credit card payments, I know its all trite in the end. I want you guys to have that same attitude as well. In this industry you can be a flash in the pan, or you can resonate for years to come. It doesn't matter if you're playing music or writing about it or managing bands that have stuck behind you for years on end. If there's one thing I will take of myself this last year, it's that integrity goes a long way. I'll leave you with one last line from the same episode of Louie:
"I wish I could tell you it gets better. It doesn't get better. YOU get better." - Joan Rivers
Social commentary pertaining to any sort of business within the media industry usually sparks a laugh in us. How eerie is it when you watch commentary made over a decade ago that still resonates today? About a month back I threw on my Simpsons DVD collection and Season 7 contained "Homerpalooza," an episode that just kept the laughs rolling while having me go "Wait, this was made in 1996?"
To set things up, the premise of the episode is that Homer is out of touch with his kids, so he buys them tickets to the Hullabalooza Festival and then ends up joining the festival as a side show freak. Old, out of touch Homer brings the laughs, but it's also a lot of commentary made by the rest of the cast that hit home heavily.
I thought about giving some commentary myself, but then I decided to ask Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos to give us his own take on the situation. If there's a Simpsons fan to go to in this industry, he's the first one I know of.
Why is this funny now? I feel I'm getting old. I'm starting to lose myself in the past sometimes. One day, I fear we'll all become Homer - or our parents. (Also parallel to South Park's recent episode.)
Nick's commentary: This is interesting to me because there are very few "new" bands I find myself being real excited about. If I were to write this same joke today I'd probably reference 1985, or some year around that. For me it's definitely an unconscious wall in my brain that has been built for several reasons- first and foremost, because almost all of my favorite music comes from at least 25 years ago. It's a total incidental thing. I'm constantly discovering old music that blows my mind and there is very little I can think of to come out in the last 10-15 years that hits me the same way. Of course there is music and bands that I really like, but I'm talking about "attained perfection," as Homer puts it. The other problem I run into, sadly, is avoiding the almighty hype machine. I can't help it. I've found that these days the quality of music is based on "who, where, when, why and how." The missing element being "what." I like the music that I like because it strikes me in a particular, natural way, not because of extraneous particulars- genres, geographical location, etc. Of course the "who, where, when, why and how" is also important, but, for me, none of those precede the "what." I want to stress that I do think there has been some amazing music that's come out in recent years. I guess what I'm trying to say is, "Why do we need new bands? Everyone knows that rock attained perfection in 1985."
Why is this funny now? The term "emo kid" and how '90s mainstream alt rock was as depressing as its underground parallel.
Nick's commentary: Bummed out teenagers don't want to listen to lame, happy-sounding music- they want to sink even deeper into their own heads and listen to bleak, depressing music. for some reason that's just a psychological thing and it always has been. I'm sure that scientific studies can trace it back to fucking Joy Division.
Why is this funny now? So did grunge kids just become hipsters?
Nick's commentary: This is still super relevant. Irony just keeps coming back around as the cool thing and it's very obvious that people get confused as to which stage of the cycle irony is currently set at. Luckily I think most of this is based in fashion and other things outside of music itself. So there's not too much to be worried about there, unless of course you're someone that likes to live an ironic lifestyle, in which case you can just walk into an American Apparel and easily figure it out.
Why is this funny now? Do I need to explain myself on this one? Live Nation?
Nick's commentary: The whole Live Nation thing is really crazy to me. I just Wikipedia'd it- 11.94 millions dollars net income in 2007. What the fuck? Promoting shows? And that's what you're getting paid? I don't understand how it's even a part of the world we, and many other smaller bands, exist in. Unfortunately it's definitely not a "healthy mix of the rich and ignorant," it's just people that want to see their favorite band. Yes- Jay-Z probably needs millions of dollars to step into your shithole town and play a show (does he "play" shows?? or just walk around the stage talking fast?) so i guess I can understand marking up ticket prices with all of those hidden costs. But it just does not make any sense outside that realm. I guess technically we (the bands) have the power to avoid these idiots and their charges, but it's just such a nightmare to figure out. Ultimately, some places don't have better venue options and we're stuck with it. if my band was in a position to call the shots, I'd definitely try to be more conscious of staying out of those places, but alas I am a very little fish, swimming with a very small group of other little fish in a very, very large sea.
Why is this funny now? I find that very few festivals have any identity anymore. Thanks for the free stuff, now let me listen to the music I came here to see.
Nick's commentary: Gosh, I haven't gone to a festival in a long time. I used to go to Warped Tour, like 10 years ago, literally. I don't have too much festival experience outside that and Lollapalooza '95 - oh and i guess SXSW is considered a festival, and we've played there a couple of times. I'm a pretty firm believer that product positioning does not work on me. I mean of course it might subliminally but I really don't think so. I'm a scavenger at heart. At Warped Tour they gave out free cups of Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink. I didn't give a fuck about it, other than it was free chocolate drink and i wanted as much as my stomach could handle. Same with SXSW- only with energy drinks. You don't even need to find a vendor to get free cans of liquid sugar at SXSW, they're usually just rolling around in the gutters, unopened. It seems pretty clear that a lot of festivals are not based on good music alone- all the promoters/organizers are in bed with advertisers and other non-music related slime. Lollapalooza used to be Perry Farrell's freak show of music, and now Coldplay and Eminem are headlining. Again, advertising and product positioning doesn't phase me, I want your free garbage and I want a lot of it, but I can understand why that's obnoxious and why the Simpson's would reference it.