We Can Control the Medium: Radio’s Dying Gasps

“We can control the medium/ We can control the context of presentation…” – T. Gabel

Radio has been dying a slow death for the past decade, losing ad revenue to companies who have increased their ad spending online. I don’t claim to be an expert on the intricacies of radio but I knew enough in college that getting a degree in broadcasting was a poor choice and quickly switched my emphasis to something more scalable (at least that’s what I told myself at the time). I’ve always held contempt for the radio system. Pay to play payola was and has been rampant for decades even though its not really talked about much now. Besides, public airwaves sold to private companies to sell products to consumers seemed like a blatantly flawed system in any context. The sad part about radios decline is the only people that don’t seem to recognize the change in the minds of consumers is people that work for the radio stations, or at least the station owners—cigar smoking, baby-seal-cowboy-boots on a desk made out of elephant tusks grinning maniacally while sipping a tumbler of chilled baby’s blood with a ‘What? Me Worry’ approach to business. You get the point.

My years spent as a music consumer helped me understand how terrible radio is—or at least that time spent skimming channels for interesting content gave me some perspective once I had determined that I despised the ‘format’ before identifying what that ‘format’ was and is. I liked morning shows. They break up the monotony of song repetition. Program directors of local radio shows have made the single a commondity. They are the assholes known as tastemakers. They are the ones making or breaking artists. They’ve helped perpetuate the culture of mediocrity by playing a song so many times consumers are compelled to plug their ears while the stations mine the tune until the little flicker of brilliance in the song has dulled.

Everyone just tunes out. I didn’t discover half the music I listen to by waiting by the radio for a ‘new’ song from a ‘new’ band. Youth will find a way and now that youth has the internet, what is the point of listening to the radio?

That kind of artifice is evidenced in every contrived little between song BS sesh of the ‘disc jockey.’ These guys used to be inspired lovers of music. True aficionados of sound. The original ‘audiophile’ who, with just the right amount of knowledge and charisma could inspire a listener to expand his or her horizons. That was way before my time. Corporate greed has always help perpetuate this system of diminishing returns but until the FCC allowed companies to buy multiple stations in local markets there was a semblance of diversity. Even though that diversity has been suspect. As a result, music has become predictable, less dangerous and more disposable. Why would I buy a song I know they’re going to play 3 more times in the next hour sandwiched between some terrible Seether song and a lame Pearl Jam track from the fucking Ten record?

Then there is the question of relevancy. San Diego’s 94.9 touts itself as a truly independent station. They are probably the best commercial radio station I’ve heard, though I’d still prefer a dentists drill to the radio. They have beaten out Rock 105 AND 91X in San Diego. Most of the songs they play are surprising to hear on commercial radio. Ten years ago I never would have heard “Holiday in Cambodia” on a station other than one broadcast from a college campus. And they’ve won the holiday concert war with the best line-up. Their ‘Holiday Hootenanny’ has Queens of the Stone Age headlining and support from some local hero’s like Pinback and Louis XIV.

I was a witness to the train wreck that was 91X’s Nightmare Before Xmas concert. The station had to have given away hundreds of tickets just to fill SDSU’s Cox Arena ‘pit’ area. You know the ‘pit’ area where you have to pay extra money to STAND. What had initially been planned as a two day festival event with dozens of bands turned into a handful of mid-level bands playing to what I estimated to be a thousand or 1700 people (who knows what the actual count was, I bet 91X won’t tell) Bad Religion, Against Me!, and late 90’s nu-metal band, Seether were the ‘big’ bands of this little holiday party. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some AM! and some BR but can either of those bands pack an arena? Probably not. How about Angels and Airwaves? You would think they could in their own hometown but they didn’t. It was depressing. And of course, between bands and on the promenade fans are exposed to advertisers and you don’t even have the option of ‘changing the station.’

Another local band, The Transit War opened the show. They were great. Those boys have come a long way. But the music isn’t what is in question here. It’s the apparent lack of communication between the station and its constituents, i.e. the listener—not the companies that buy ads. How often do they actually play Bad Religion on the radio or when can you hear The Transit War short of staying up until 1am on Monday morning for the Loudspeaker show? Seeing the military there actively recruiting young male concert goers made me want to vomit and then I dry heaved when I saw some poor schmuck walking around taking pictures with kids in a Geico the Gecko costume.

Against Me’s Tom Gabel lambasted the event from the stage, telling people not to buy anything and had they known, as a band, that the Military was a sponsor of the event they would never have agreed to play. Its rough to issue a Mea Culpa from the stage as you are playing the event but at least he saw through the bullshit and shared his indignation with the audience [make a fist, put your foot down, pout from the well branded stage]. Of course all the overly sensitive people that are in the military or have family in the military will be sending angry letters to 91X bemoaning a point I’m sure they completely missed. But, whatever right? It’s the music business and like Radio’s corporate counterparts in the record industry, they’ll continue to stick their head in the sand and wait for someone to save them. Sort of like a frog in a pot of water set to boil.

AM! did an on-air interview with Kallao and Capone. It was as cringe-worthy in broadcast as I’m sure it was in person. I’ve done my share of interviews with bands and it was really fascinating to witness the interviewers stumble and squirm when the band basically got hold of the reigns and took them to task. Asking Gabel who he was going to vote for in 08 warranted an especially prickly response. He said he didn’t know cause he didn’t know who the nominees were yet. Dead air and back peddling ensued. Nothing better than watching two douche bags choke on their own lack of preparation.

AM! was significantly antagonistic, more so when asked idiotic questions about working with Butch Vig and the ‘White People for Peace’ video. Anyone could ask the band those questions by looking at a bio their publicist had sent. It was amateur hour and it was telling of how unconnected to music people in radio seem to be. Most of the folks that know the most about music are the interns doing work for free and staying late, just for that ‘one chance man. To make a difference and get some real music on the air…’ Ah, the ellipsis of youthful hope trails off into guaranteed disappointment.

As a caveat to Gabel’s quickness to bash the music industry through song and defiantly voice disgust with performing at a concert with active military recruitment, I question the bands willingness to do a performance appearance on MTV’s scripted soap opera, The Hills the night after playing the 91X concert. MTV and MTV2 have aired US Armed Forces ads for years and the show, The Hills is a perfect representation of disposable entertainment. What would have come across initially as some fist pumping ‘fuck the man’ style punk rock angst instead came across as some petulant jerk whining about a system he’s willingly embraced when he signed a contract with Sire. I enjoy the music of Against Me!, but the context of presentation has lost most of its credibility.

How will 91X look in 2008? We’ll lose Cantore who is getting replaced by Adam Corolla in the Mornings in 08’ so if you didn’t get enough irrelevant banter from Adam and Danny Bonadouchebag before they got scratched from what became Sophie, you’ll get a fair amount next year. What other necks are on the chopping block at 91X? They’ve taken a local friendly rock format from sort of mediocre to notably shitty in less than a year. Then they’ve tried to take on the Disturbed/System of Down/Creed style hard rock format of Rock 105 and to no avail. Rock 105 has taken some shots across the 91X deck by declaring some semblance of turf war-like ownership on the ‘rock’ format ‘Rock 105.3. San Diegos ORIGINAL Rock Station,’ says the whiskey voiced announcer.

Alas, like most institutionalized businesses the corporate management never asks the right questions of the right people because they are certain they can provide their own answers no matter how ill informed and misled they are.

We CAN control the medium. But when will the radio accede to a paradigm shift determined by the listeners?

Hot Water Music Reunion: Now I See (About SXSW)

I got inspired after reading about a reunion on Dirtbags blog. It brought me to this:

I was drunk at South by South West. Most everyone is. It is Vegas for music geeks. My best friend Alan flew in to Houston and drove the truck up from his Mom’s house and we ate and drank on the company till until we got sick of the taste of beer and cigarettes and Against Me! in ten different locations. Alas, one cool thing was hanging with the Mutiny PR Honcho, Vanessa Burt at the No Idea soiree. I had a badge, Alan didn’t, Vanessa helped facilitate his entrance and we drank Lonestar late into a scorching drunk set by The Draft. Right after Chuck Ragan. I deliberated with Andrew and Warren and James of AM!, convinced they’d do at least one HWM song. James was right. They didn’t. We were bummed. Drunk and bummed. Almost as bummed as the some of the post No Idea releases by HWM (with the exception of Neverender and A Flight And A Crash). But then, a cloud lifted today when I was listening to Live at the Hardback. An interview I found on Late Night Wallflower has The Draft bassist and former HWM bassist Jasonn Black explaining:

There were a lot of rumors at this year’s SXSW that Hot Water Music was doing a reunion show, but that it was shut down by the police because of venue issues. Was this actually the case? Nope. People wanted it, but it just didn’t seem right. First off, we hadn’t practiced, so there was no way. If we play again, it can’t be half-assed, and the first show sure as shit won’t be in Texas.”

Thats a big fat FUCK YES! After HWM previous ‘breakup’ they released No Division (Produced by Walter Schreifels) and it was a rare return to form. HOpefully this time we’ll see the same creative burst for an album or two, like A Flight And a Crash. So now we’ve heard it from Alt Press, Punk News, that means it’ll happen. Fingers crossed. Simplicity boys, simplicity serves us all.

Lucero: An Interview with Ben Nichols

Lucero: Blood in your veins is Rock and Roll
Lucero is a southern rock band that had their ears battened by Nashville swagger during childhood, then turned to the irreverence of Punk music in adolescence. While the styles of music seem polar opposites, the reality is they complement one another very easily. Lucero isn’t reinventing the wheel, but the band has busted its ass for rock ‘n’ roll, and the top of the hill is getting closer (relatively) because of perseverance and drive.

Ben Nichols (vocals, guitar), Brian Venable (guitar), Roy Berry (drums) and John Stubblefield (bass) call Memphis, Tenn., home the few weeks out of the year they are off the road. Although Lucero started off as a country music side project with Nichols, Venable and a violinist playing to a few friends, it later blossomed into the full-time touring machine it is today. Lucero’s 2003 breakthrough record, That Much Further West, proved the blood that flowed through its veins was full of vitriol and rock ‘n’ roll, even though many of the songs are doused in bar-room country twang and 3 a.m. beer tears. That Much Further West was lauded by folks at Rolling Stone and Pitchforkmedia, and had MOJO calling them the “Johnny Cash torch carriers.”

Of course, one could get all that extemporaneous info from their bio, and an even more intimate look into their life as a band by seeing the forthcoming documentary Dreaming In America by New York Filmmaker, Aaron Goldman, a story of life on the road with one of the hardest working indie bands on the tour circuit today.

The first time I heard Lucero was at my brother’s house in Colorado. We put Tennessee (released 2002 on now defunct Tigerstyle records) in the stereo and ruminated over every chord, finishing a bottle of Old Granddad or some such rot gut. What struck me most wasn’t the stripped-down, country-fied sound but vocalist Ben Nichols’ whiskey and cigarette-worn voice. He sounded like an old soul, pouring Rust Never Sleeps and Harvest era Neil Young through a Jawbreaker-Dear-You sieve.

There was a sincerity and honesty in his voice that spoke of long days on the road, working hard to play music, partying hard, and just scrapping by to make it to the next show-all while half-a-step short of hanging up the guitar and throwing on a tie to go work for a living (or to suffer some slow cubicle death, depending on the view). As the temps rise this year and the UV index increases to the point where going outside means entering a giant microwave, Lucero’s new record, Nobody’s Darlings, is sounding more like a great late-summer night, backyard barbeque soundtrack when you could get bit my a mosquito and not contract some terrible virus.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Ben Nichols over the phone while the band got ready to play in Little Rock, Ark. [This is an interview/feature I did for the musicedge.com. I have since seen the band a few time but my favorite was in Austin, where I was approached by a heavy set gentleman at the bar who offered to buy my PBR Tallboy. At first I thought he was joking. He then assured me his intentions where good, “I’m the PBR rep for Texas. Just want to thank you for your support.” I smiled and said, ‘its good and cheap. Punk rock champagne.” Then I flailed my arms drunkenly to Lucero]

ME: How old were you when you first picked up a guitar?
Ben: The first time I played some music with some other guys I was fourteen. I played bass-cause it was 4 strings instead of 6, one note at a time. I figured I could hack that. One friend got a drum set and another got a guitar for Christmas so I wanted a bass. So up until this band started I was a bass player. I wrote songs on the bass and I’ve been a songwriter since I was 14 too, just not a good one necessarily. I’ve always been working on songs.

ME: How much has your own song-writing process changed from the time you were 14 up until the last record? Are you pretty prolific, still writing right now while you’re on the road?
Ben: I actually have a pretty hard time writing on the road. I kinda have to be isolated, or I can’t get anything done and it’s tough to concentrate. I’m fairly self-conscious. Even when I’m at the warehouse where I live, the walls are really thin and when you know everybody can hear all the awful stuff you’re trying to sing through, trying to find the right parts, it’s distracting. Most of the songs I’ve ever written have been in the back room of a furniture store that my uncle and my father own. I have a key so I go up there and stay up all night long screaming my lungs out and nobody will ever hear it. That’s actually been really helpful. Finding a place where I can get away. That’s usually where I go to write songs. The process of it hasn’t changed much at all. When I started writing on the bass I always took the philosophy like: All right, I’m not the best musician in the world. You can make a good song out of really simple parts.

The most emotional impact of a song comes from the music going one way and the vocal going another way, and the contrast between the two is what really kinda communicates a certain feeling. As long as you don’t screw it up with really awful lyrics, that’s all it takes. A good two chords and a nice vocal melody and just words that aren’t bad and it can be really powerful.

ME: Once you get something down, something you’re pretty comfortable with, do you take it to the band and does everyone shape it and mold it?
Ben: Yeah Yeah. That’s kinda the process. Usually I’ve got a few different guitar parts and piece them together. Then you have your verse and your chorus and maybe a bridge, maybe a guitar solo. A lot of the times I won’t even have lyrics but I’ll have a vocal pattern. Get it hammered out. … Then I take it to the band, and I’ve got my ideas about what the song should sound like. It kinda grows and evolves as the band learns it. Sometimes it ends up completely different than I thought it would be.

ME: How did the movie get off the ground (Dreaming in America by Aaron Goldman)?
Ben: There was this guy that wanted to make a film, he lived in Manhattan, he saw us play in at the Mercury Lounge, and just by chance wrote us a letter that we looked like the kind of band he wanted to follow around for a while-and so he came out on the road with us. A friend of his followed us around in a car for about two months. They would come to a recording and when we were at home. Random interviews with different people and people that know us. Ended up a full-on documentary on the last year of Lucero’s existence. I’m looking forward to it. I’m kinda nervous. TALKING. Hopefully we don’t come out completely stupid.

ME: Did he start filming post-Tiger Style post-That Much Further West?
Ben: That Much Further West had probably been out for a few months. We were touring a lot. Actually I guess it was fall 2003. Then we toured all 2004 without a record. Now we just finally got a new record out [Nobody’s Darlings]. It might have been that long ago when he saw us. Then he followed us around for a lot of 2004, and a little bit of this year. It was a little bit of the tour for That Much Further West and a little bit of us working on new songs that are on Nobody’s Darlings. Then he came down and got a few shots of us at the barn recording Nobody’s Darlings.

*Nobody’s Darlings was produced by industry veteran, Jim Dickenson (The Replacements, Big Star, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) in a barn at Dickenson’s Zebra Ranch. Dickenson’s sons, Luther and Cody had helped Lucero record their previous albums.

ME: How did that session go in comparison to That Much Further West?
Ben: It was a lot more similar to the self-titled record, which was also done in Jim Dickinson’s barn, but Jim wasn’t the producer. It was us taking advantage of Luther and Cody Dickinson’s time. Both records, the new record and the self-titled record, were both recorded live with the drums and the two guitars done in the same room. The bassist was running directly into the board. We would just do four or five takes of a song and pick the best one. We went into this record with the idea of making a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll record with not a lot of extras. The idea was to make a record that sounded very true to the way we sounded live. We went in with that attitude, and Jim Dickinson’s job was to make sure we didn’t mess that up. So there are a lot of first takes and solos. Jim really wanted to capture the very basic core soul of the band. I believe in that somewhat.

To me, it sounds like a very good, raw and bare-boned record. So that’s what we went in to do and that’s what we did. There is still some stuff I would love to go back and add or change, but its good to have one of those types of records under your belt where it is just a band: there it is. We didn’t add anything to it; we added an acoustic guitar to a couple of songs. I’m very proud of it. I think with the next record, it will be a combination of [live recording and overdubs with more instrumentation]. I think we will take a little bit of time to add a few flourishes here and there. That Much Further West was basically recorded track by track. We did that all on our own. We engineered it all on our own and tracked everything on our own. We spent a lot of time on that. Now when we erred to the other side, I think some of it got a little bit out of hand. We are still learning how to make a good record. Eventually we will put all this we are learning to use. I don’t think we’ve done everything right yet but we are getting close.

ME: I read a quote somewhere by you that said you were inspired by a lot of the stuff that the Pogues and more specifically Shane McGowan had done.
Ben: Its just amazing music. What really puts it over the top, I think, Shane McGowan is a brilliant lyric writer. A lot of the songs just hit home effortlessly. He has a good way of telling a story. Even if it’s not his own story, he can tell a story in a very personal way. That’s something I’m trying to get better at.

ME: Speaking of writing, are you the type of writer that continuously writes even when you’re on a road; as far as lyrics and words or keeping a journal?
Ben: I wish I were. We are actually out on tour right now with a guy named Cory Brannan who is a really good songwriter. He is one of the opening acts on this East Coast tour. He is in the back of the van just writing away all day long, or whenever he has a break. I consider him more of a real songwriter. Myself, I kinda have to wait for something to pop into my head. Then I have to struggle for months trying to construct lyrics around that one idea or one phrase. Again, its like writing songs and writing music really takes getting away from everything else. Just staying up all night for a few nights in a row and bashing it out. Then going back and editing it and singing it back there in the furniture store all night long. Then coming back the next morning and realizing its all crap and doing it all over again the next night. It’s much more of a struggle with me. It may be good to exercise that part of my brain and write constantly, but right now I’m just trying to get to the next show on time. I got to get to sound check, then an interview with somebody, come back, make sure everything is squared away for the show, find a Bank of America so I can deposit the money for the checks I wrote before we left town with a balance, and that kind of stuff. So I don’t really write on the road, I’m too busy driving the car.

ME: Have things business been able to pick up for you guys a bit now since you changed over to East West?
Ben: We’ll see. We’ve had a very strong first week of record sales and all the shows have been pretty good. We’ll still see how that goes. Working with East West has been really nice. And the deal we made with them is a really cool record deal. So they’ve put a lot of work into it, and there has been slightly more money than there has been in the past. It’s definitely not a major label deal in any form or fashion. Its pretty much structured exactly like an Indie deal.

ME: That has bounced off your own label right? Liberty and Lament)? A partnership or something?
Ben: Yeah we started an imprint and started a limited liability corporation and got a business bank account. We started a small business. So basically under that, we own the master recordings. In most record deals you borrow the money up front and pay it back as you go, but when it’s over they own the master. With this deal it’s the same thing but in the end we own the masters. What we gave up for that scenario was basically to say to Warner Bros. that we wouldn’t sign up with any major labels. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t plan on signing with any major labels anyway. It’s an easy thing to give up in exchange for ownership of our records. Now if Warner Bros. comes to us and says, “We’ve been following you at East West. You’ve been doing great and we want to sign you,” we’ll see how it goes when it comes to that if it ever comes up. We might just go to the East West deal, through these two records, and the deal’s done. That’s that. It’s a really cool deal and we have that kind of infrastructure already built for the existence of our own label. We continue to put out our own stuff or maybe even do records for other people; I have no idea how far that’ll go. But it’s nice that it’s there.

ME: That’s awesome. Sounds like things have really picked up for your guys.
Ben: Yeah, we’re busy as hell and it’s going really well.

Against Me or With me?

It took me 3 months to write this Against Me! feature (posted friday). I had spent some time with Tom and Co. in Austin during SXSW. We ‘hung out’ at the No Idea party where we watched the Draft and Chuck Ragan play. I had made a bet with Warren against James that Chuck and the Draft would join forces and do a Hot Water Music song. James was adamant that it wouldn’t happen, he had that twinkle like he knew but Warren and I were so convinced. Blinded by our love of HWM I guess. James was right. The Draft played their last drunken song, thanked all the other bands but Chuck and got drunkenly off the stage. It was like being at a party with a pair of divorced parents and their new love interests. Tom was friendly, though weary of my journalist swagger I suppose. Hows he supposed to know I’m a super fan? I wasn’t swooning. (visibly)

The reason the feature took me so long was because when I interviewed him I was looking for revelation. Some sort of punk rock reasoning behind all their decisions leading up to that point. He said one thing that conceded all the rhetoric, “We’re a rock band.” Explaining that punk rock in its facile philosophy was binding and didn’t allow for expansion outside the ‘box,’ of expectation. People talk shit about AM! and their politics, screaming sell-out. And MRR, a zine’ I’ve always respected, declares a fatwa, but if you listen to the lyrics of New Wave, the dude is lambasting the system he’s become a part of – isn’t that what punk rock has become? ‘Punk Rock’ ceased to be a social movement dictated by music and fashion in 1982. ‘Punk’ as  a statement, or a genre tag, or something you use to describe something irreverent is still culturally significant. What are punk rock ethics? Is it some sort of instilled integrity from listening to Minor Threat and The Clash? Pointedly away from that nihilism of notables like GG Allen, Sex Pistols and to an extent Iggy and the Stooges?  Somewhere along the line there is something that has informed me. Something that I see as the structure of what punk rock is. There is the DIY aspect of all punk rock before 1990. Before it became easier to be heard across multiple platforms. Those bands from Our Band Could Be Your Life, traveling across the country, where they were basically traveling bums playing instruments. The true spirit of the troubadour.

Against Me! paid their dues the same way. They traveled in a van, played shitty clubs, went hungry, got fucked over by promoters – all those wonderful things that happen on the road. It is easy for armchair punks to criticize a band like AM! which they are really criticizing Tom Gabel. Real punks don’t have a fucking computer, if you want to get technical. Real punks, at least anarchist punks, don’t spend anytime online checking the fucking boards at Punknews.org waiting to bitch about the latest news from AM! Kurtz would all them napalms. Just as easy to understand that AM! is really a Rock band and always has been. It would be financially impossible for a band to maintain their punkness.  You’ll probably cite Fugazi. But you forget that there is only ONE Fugazi. There is only ONE Ian Mackaye. He has been as maligned with things he said in his youthful naivety as Tom.

Tom didn’t offer up any explanation as to his bands past politics and current association with the major label. He was a thoughtful interview and at first I thought he was kind of closed off but he just carefully worded everything. Chalk that up to experience. His word isn’t gospel but with enough weak minded people lionizing celebrity out in the ‘world’ its no wonder he choses every response carefully. Maybe his lyrics are response enough.

Against Me!: an interview with Tom Gabel

Against Me! started out as a solo acoustic project by singer and principal songwriter Tom Gabel. His penchant for blue collar lyrics, peppered with folk punk musings on everyday life built a solid base for what many fans and critics consider paramount among Against Me!’s strong points: great lyrics and amazing songs.

Against Me is made up of vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabel, guitarist/vocalist James Bowman, drummer Warren Oakes and bassist Andrew Seward whose collective energy makes for one of the most engaging live bands yours truly has ever seen.  The consistency and passion that AM! performs with is inspiring, leading crowds into a frenzy of sing-a-long choruses while fists pump the air in rock and roll solidarity.

I have witnessed the power of Against Me live more than a dozen times over the past year.  It’s scary. Not like watching The Shining scary but scary like I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been let down by their performance – scary.  I know what you are thinking, ‘more bullshit hype from a sycophantic music journalist asshole,’ but seriously this band kills it every time.  However, the most impressive time I saw AM! destroy the stage was in Austin at some sweatbox of a bar, where the stage was only a foot off the ground and folks in the front row could reach out and touch Tom or James or Andy between songs. Check out the pics! They did a spot-on cover of The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” for their finale. It was fucking epic. I geeked out! Wrung my sweat soaked t-shirt, drunkenly proclaimed my love for them to Vanessa (AM!’s publicist) and left, wondering if I’d ever bear witness to such greatness again.

Do you know what is the easiest part of anonymous shit talking in this so-called scene is? Never having to own up to your words, no matter how irrelevant or hurtful.  Suffice to say, accountability is sacrosanct when it comes to holding George Bush responsible for the country’s problems but in the punk ‘scene’ any self-proclaimed anarchist will be boo-hoo-hooing about a band selling out, even though that band has pretty much had to live off of scraps while touring non-stop for years with barely a nod for their efforts or a viable way to pay their bills.  Though they’ve never publicly accounted for their switch from indie to major, nor felt it necessary to explain the motivation behind their decisions, New Wave is indictment enough against the machine their currently part of – an irony not lost on Gabel. AM!’s latest album and debut for Warner imprint label Sire New Wave,  will no doubt garner the Gainesville quartet at least 3 squares a day and some much needed national attention from the major label marketing machine (and hopefully enough revenue to buy that bio diesel tour bus and graduate out of the passenger van). Or not, cause that wouldn’t be punk enough.

There is of course the ever looming fear or assumption that the whole ‘record business’ is on the verge of collapse with the recent bankruptcy of Century Media imprint Abacus, Tower Records shutting its doors, V2 Records closing down and EMI merging Virgin and Capitol into the Capitol Music Group losing the smaller bands and dozens of staff from multiple divisions in the process.  Bands that have come up from the underground like Mastodon, Cursive and Against Me can make the rocky transition from obscurity to top of the dog pile in the ever-expanding genre classification wars.  While flavor of the moment bands can perform their ‘dance-y’ hit single off-key at Live Earth, looking like a muttoned chopped reincarnation of Chris Farley in slim-tapered women’s jeans and trucker hat, bands like Against Me! prepare for the release of New Wave after several long months of work with famed producer Butch Vig (Nirvana Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, Garbage).

Tom is articulate and well spoken and though he is loathe to make any disparaging comments about the current state of music or his contemporaries he does take the optimistic approach, stating; “There will always be people who say ‘music is bad’ but you just have to know where to look to find the right stuff.”

Moving from Fat Wreck Chords to Warner Brothers was a big step for a band with fans as scrutinizing and judgmental as any grass roots built ‘DIY’ band with roots in the punk community. Of the label experience, Tom explains, “Its been a completely positive experience thus far. I’m trying not to be naïve about things and I know that the relationship can turn at any point but I’m sure the relationship hinges on if we meet their expectations of how successful we should be or whatever but that is a back and forth they have to meet our expectation s of how much they should work for us.” Reiterating, “I’m trying not to be naïve about things but thus far they like the record.”

“I think the record we made would not have been possible without him working on it and would have been a completely different record in all regards if we wouldn’t have worked with him. That’s both sonically and for the songwriting. I wrote 25 songs for this record and when I thought or we thought we were done Butch would be like, ‘no man, keep writing songs. And so without him being there saying that, (and I’ve never had anybody say that before) we would have stopped and I think some of the best songs came at the last moment. It was kind of like having, in a lot of ways, another member of the band. I think it takes a really special type of person to be able to let your guards down and let a total stranger into your group and let them dissect a song that you’ve written and give their opinion on it and take their opinion into consideration.” Adding with a laugh, “He’s a fucking nice person. He’s totally cool to be around. He’s the kind of person you want to be friends with. And he’s really talented.”

After an exhausting six month recording process, countless moaning from the vocal few in the punk ‘scene’ about moving to a major, they’ve kept New Wave ranked in the top ten on Smartpunk.com for the past three weeks for sales.  If there is a litmus test for success in this ever-changing consumer driven music climate it is your own fan base making a dent in sales and that is a good thing. And no matter what the future holds for Tom and Co. the fact they’ve worked so hard to get to where they are is what makes them such an engaging rock band.

Planes Mistaken For Stars: The Best Band You Never Heard Of

I wrote this in 2003. Gared was my fourth interview for the music edge. In celebration of them coming to San Diego to play Cullens 30th B Day bash I thought I’d put this up. There is a funny anecdote of an experience I had when they played the Black Box in 05′. Gared and I were in Cullens Kitchen along with Mikey looking for ice cubes for our Jack and Cokes. Cullen, being a vegan, had a tray of frozen vegetable bullion in his freezer and if you’re outside of CA or not a vegan, that is just bit strange. Well Mikey and Gared both got regular ice cubes and in my drunken state I put what i thought was frozen cola cubes in my drink. It was a very healthy Jack and Coke to say the least. I also sustained a pretty good head wound that night as well. Enjoy!

When the boys from Planes decided it was time they leave their hometown of Peoria Illinois to seek their fortunes, they weren’t alone, “a mass exodus” ensued (thirteen of their closest friends) and they transplanted themselves to Denver, CO. Gared O’Donnell (vocals, guitar) says that, “We all moved out here. It’s sort of the ‘grass is always’ greener type thing. There really are a lot of downsides to Peoria but once you get away you realize that happiness is what you make it. I think at that time in our life when we left we needed to do something. It was a time in our lives when we all knew we wanted to do something. It was an awakening. When you realize that you are you and its sort of a cleansing, learning, teaching experience.”

The kind folks of Denver would have never been the wiser except for the fact that Planes is one of the standout bands as far as music is concerned in that little big city on the eastern side of the continental divide. They even made the number one slot on the Denver Post’s best underground band vote, a place often reserved for indie rock neophytes like Dressy Bessy or veteran indie outfits like The Apples In Stereo, both are great bands, albeit light years away from the hard edged sound of Planes Mistaken For Stars (and without the same amount of distortion).

Matt Bellinger (guitar, vocals), Gared O’Donnell (vocals, guitar), Mikey Ricketts (drums) and Chuck French (bass, formerly of the band Peralta and currently Git Some) comprise this powerful combination of post hardcore music and straight from the gut honesty that has left bystanders speechless and made a fan out of many a skeptic in a commercialized state of “the next new thing.” Eschewing references to the genre known as emo, Planes nosedives into a burning cornucopia of hard rock balladry that hasn’t had the fire of idealistic panache since the second Hot Water Music record or Bukowski’s Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument, Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. This cadre of road warriors are hell-bent on making music, playing it for themselves and their fans without any apprehension of whether they will be “signed” or cash in, which they wouldn’t complain about on either scenario.

At 26, Gared and his band mates (all roughly around the same age) have been on a dozen tours, both regional and national, and have shared the stage with some amazing bands. As far as his age is concerned, he says that, “Days go by slow but years just zip by, especially looking back and thinking about what you have done or haven’t done.” Yet just this past spring they shared the stage with metal moguls, Motorhead in their hometown of Denver. Aside from playing with some amazing bands, Gared muses with a laugh about performing, saying, “You feel like you’re really alive for like five minutes.”

Thankfully that kind of attitude translates itself well to the crowds that have gathered at their shows. They don’t take themselves too seriously, nor do they demonstrate that upper crust nescience when they rock the club (but are often intoxicated to the point of falling down). When they first moved to Denver, thirteen people shared the same house in a somewhat dilapidated neighborhood in North East Denver. It became more than just a place to throw parties, it became a place to sleep for touring bands and a place to play for bands in Denver that otherwise would have to wait until the legal drinking age to play bars or hope that some promoter would let them grace an all ages venue (as long as they could draw a crowd). In essence it became an extended community of like-minded individuals that loved playing music and loved each other’s company.

Gared’s first recollection of music was family inspired; “I was always around music, my Mom was never a music fanatic but she was always into music. She always had the radio on. She had a moderate sized record collection. I can remember times when I was young, but going further back, of course I remember my grandmother and mother singing to me, thinking that was neat. I don’t know, I guess the first time I remember it (music) making an impact on me I was in second grade and my mom worked third shift so she would sleep most of the day. And this was during the summertime. I figured out how to use her record player, and I remember listening to Simon and Garfunkle’s, Greatest Hits and Bruce Springsteen’s, Born in the USA, over and over again until she woke up that day.

I really remember the Simon and Garfunkle record being important because it was the first time I realized that there was more to songs than just a tune. I remember it painting pictures for me, and in second grade you know, you can’t really grasp the gravity of what the songs really mean but that’s what I remember being meaningful. I also remember being in daycare before school and I remember having a crush on one of the ladies that took care of me, as much of a crush as a four or five year old can have. I remember hearing some love song on the radio and connecting her face with the song.”

It’s those kind of dramatic connections that make Gared such a benevolent and imposing figure, on stage. His strong ties with his family have made him into an insightful person, which is something that communicates itself through the music of Planes. Although there is an underlying excitement that permeates his calm demeanor Gared has world-weariness about him. Soft spoken and thoughtful the guitarist and lyric maestro is a stay at home father who lights up at the topic of being a father and the difficulty of being away from home so much.

A modest upbringing in the town of Peoria contributed to the Zen-like outlook he has on life a childlike wonder that has been with him forever. “I came from a single parent home. Me and brother were raised by my mother. We came from a very loving fostering environment. We lived very close to my grandparents. My Grandmother is the one that got me into comic books. My very first memory of my grand parents house was that it seemed as big as a castle but it was just a regular sized suburban home. I always liked exploring and looking for things and finding things and one time I found this box that was over my head but it was within reach and I kept wondering, “What’s in the box, what’s in the box?”

And I pulled at it and the whole box fell on top of me but as it did it opened up, it literally knocked me over, but I was covered in comic books and at that moment I could have died the happiest little boy in the world. I sat down there for what seemed like hours just reading comic books. She came down and told me that, ‘oh yeah, I was going to give those to you at some point.’ So I just have a real big appreciation for that kind of, well, pop art, I guess? That sounds kind of cliché or something but my childhood was filled with that kind of wonder.”

Gared’s influences as a musician is actually simple, citing one band in particular, The Police. “I was always into them [The Police]. I’ve got a lot of younger memories from them. Once I started to put together what songs meant, even on top of the whole Simon and Garfunkle experience, I started to understand that songs could change your moods at the time. You can hear something and it can trigger sadness or happiness or elation or whatnot, it’s The Police. They have always been a huge influence on me.

Adding, “I just wish I could follow suit more and know my instrument better to play at that caliber. But even with the stuff that we write, I’ve always got Police songs in the back of my head.”

Getting signed for Planes Mistaken For Stars was, according to Gared, a bit of a fluke but an interesting story nonetheless.

“We’ve never really been into shopping stuff around or sending stuff out. We had never really done that. But I guess business wise or career wise it just never occurred to us. We didn’t even start making shirts until we had been together for like three years. It never occurred to us, I don’t know why and we might have been a lot better off had we thought of those things. Anyway, when we first started out, we sent out that first copy of our record, we sent two out, one went to Deep Elm, because we played with a band that was on Deep Elm and they were like, ‘You have to make Deep Elm a copy, and you should send this to Deep Elm. I think he’d really like what you’re doing.’

Sending out the record wasn’t really with the intention of trying to be on Deep Elm, cause I’d never really heard of the label. When I did hear stuff from Deep Elm it wasn’t really our thing, anything on that label, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t what we were going for. And then we sent one to Crank Records, well actually we didn’t send it, our old bass players roommate sent one to them. And it was weird because we decided to go out on our first tour and it was a big deal but on our way to our second show our engine blew. It ended up being this big fucking ordeal because half of us ended up getting stuck. Well actually it was me and two other guys but we had a car following us with a bunch of our friends because we’ve always been kind of communal in that sense. We always roll ‘mob deep.’ We always have a bunch of friends us with and it was a good excuse for all of us to get out of town.

We had a carpool following us, so we were lucky enough to have this car behind us so everyone went ahead to the next show and this was somewhere on the border between Oregon and Idaho. Me and the other two guys stayed back, and I called home to my Grandma to check in because I was living with her at the time, to see if she was ok, and she was like, ‘You want to check the messages?’ And the first message was the dude from Crank and the second one was the guy from Deep Elm. Both were like, ‘Whoa, we really liked the tape that you sent us, give us a call, we’d like to talk about doing something.’ We never even thought about being on a label, and that was such a shock and it was so foreign to us because we were such huge fans of music anyway that we just didn’t think that could happen to us. It’s totally a fluke that we’re doing this anyway.”

Adding, (at length) “We ended up calling Crank and we couldn’t get a hold of him then we called John from Deep Elm and he was like, ‘I got your tape, lets sign a deal.’ And I was like ‘wait we’ve never even met you man, this is our first tour and we’ve only been together for six months. ‘ Then I told him our plight with the van, he was like, ‘I’ll tell you what, I can take care of the engine for you and we’ll work on doing this record deal.’

And you know what? As much as I wanted to I could’ve been like, ‘hey send us some money for the engine,’ because we should’ve been completely ecstatic about this label wanting to sign us, but I guess we’ve always been pretty leery about labels, skeptical about labels in general. So I told him, ‘let us finish this tour and we’ll talk to you down the line.’ We were lucky enough that Mikey had a credit card with a pretty big limit on it. We fixed the engine, but the only thing was that it took them (mechanics) a week to do it so we had to rent a minivan to finish the tour, and only three of us could fit in it with all of our gear. Then our last show was in Arizona, for some reason we couldn’t find shows for the way back to Peoria, so everyone cruised home from Arizona, except for me and a couple of other guys, we had to go up to Idaho to get the van and return the rental. John from Deep Elm flew in to Arizona to check out our last show there and he was still really trying to sign us.”

In an age of computers, bands are being grown in the digital world, utilizing things like Sound Scan, a system that tracks album sales. Bands use this software so they can proposition labels and promoters while booking for tours or trying to get signed. It legitimizes them as a ‘crowd-pulling’ act in the eyes of the promoters. “I bet if you checked Sound Scan we’ve only sold about a thousand records. We never pay attention to things like that. A lot of people have heard of our band, they might have heard our records but a lot of people don’t think we actually exist. I know we’ve sold more than that though,” Gared explains.

Planes is a grass roots operation, built from the ground up, with friends for fans and fans for friends, its no wonder their support system is so loyal and protective. Gared continues; “He (John) still really wanted to do the record and one thing led to another and he wanted to sign us, but we were like, ‘we’re not sure how long we’re going to be a band, we don’t know how much we’ve got going now.’ It was such a pivotal point in all our lives but we told him that if he wanted to license this record and put it out then that would be cool. Because we were going to put it out ourselves in the states and he was going to take care of the rest of the distribution. He was going to do it overseas and we were going to take over the domestic distribution because we wanted to start our own label but he ended up doing it here anyway of his own accord. It all worked out anyway though. We didn’t really have the time or resources at the time to push the record and give it recognition. On our tour the printing company didn’t send us the covers for the pressings we had done ourselves so we hand made a thousand covers from stock board paper and used duct tape and a bunch of pictures. It was kind of ghetto but it looked really cool. I don’t even have one anymore, I wish I did though they looked nice.

We didn’t sign an exclusive deal with him, but he ended up doing the Knife in the Marathon EP, (and the self titled full length) which was great but we have always been just sort of passing through (when it comes to labels). That’s kind of how our whole take on it is, I’d love to work with as many labels as possible because its that much more of a stamp on your history to be involved with that many people. Each release is exciting because you know you have that different aesthetic

Gared’s love for the art of music takes interesting thematic approaches when it comes to label support. The band has released both Spearheading the Sin Movement (EP) and F*#k with Fire on No Idea Records, which is currently their home. Knife in the Marathon and the first full length as well as starring roles on Deep Elm’s famous, Emo Diaries, found Planes on their first now famous compilation.

As an after thought, in regards to their old label, Gared says that, “We love Deep Elm and we never really signed an exclusive deal with them. But I think that it’s crucial for the survival of a band to not feel backed into a corner. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of bands where they’re like, ‘we owe this label four more records.’ But for us it’s stifling to feel like you have to write a bunch of crap. We’re pretty sporadic as far as writing goes, we don’t release anything for two years and I mean I could sit down and write a whole record today but it would be crap. It’s never felt like a commodity to us so we take our time. I guess we have fits of creativity.”

Planes Mistaken for Stars is not a good band; in fact they aren’t even that cool. In actuality Planes Mistaken For Stars is a great band. A band made of dreamers and musicians that care for one another as much as they care for their fans and the work they put into their music. If there is one band you should see in your life time, it would be Planes, but remember, those aren’t rock stars on that stage, they are people you will be toasting drinks to and laughing with later.

Ben Lee covers Against Me!’s New Wave

Yeah. It’ll break your heart. Ben Lee covers the entire new Against Me album puts a whole new spin on it. Gut wrenchingly beautiful. Here is a link to the scenestars post and within it you can find links to download the tracks. “Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart” and “Thrash Unreal” are amazing even without the bombast and ire of Tom Gabel’s rough delivery. Ben Lee does some honest cover work here. This is happening now? I thought this whole covering a song thing was sort of what bands did in the 60’s? Let alone an entire album. Magic.

Sirens from the North: Tegan and Sara


As the old tale of the sea goes, mythological creatures called Sirens resided on rocks far enough from shore so that when their sweet voices lulled the ships and sailors near them, the ships would crash on the rocks. The last sounds those sailors would hear were the Sirens’ angelic voices. It’s kind of morbid in a sense, so if you take out the rocks/sailors/shipwreck and leave in the voices of the Sirens, then you’ve got an inkling of how powerful Tegan and Sara are, especially on their latest release, So Jealous (Sanctuary Records).

Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Tegan and Sara are bringing a certain amount of frosty acoustic rock to the table, which draws inspiration from bands they were listening to in the early ’90s, as well as a healthy dose of classic rock, passed down from their parents. The sisterly combination, along with the fact that they’re twins, is a powerful source of inspiration for Tegan and Sara, but can also be a bit of problem when it comes to disagreements. Luckily, separation seems to breed creativity since Tegan lives in Vancouver and Sara lives in Montreal, which is basically on the opposite ends of Canada. Suffice to say, when Tegan and Sara get together to make music, a connection is formed—and having two heads focusing on writing songs is always better than one.

As evidenced by previous releases and again on their latest album, Tegan and Sara compliment each other perfectly; voices reach beautiful harmonies, juxtaposed by loves-lost lyrics and stellar instrumentation. With drummer Rob Chursinoff and bassist Chirs Carlson rounding out the band, So Jealous was born from Tegan and Sara’s tape demos, made during time off after their previous tour. Further expanding upon their delicate pop sound, former Weezer/The Rentals band member Matt Sharp makes a guest appearance on So Jealous, bouncing between the Moog, Casio and organ to create some deliciously melodious hooks.

In 2000, Tegan and Sara released their debut album, This Business of Art, to much fanfare, and from there began a cult following of folks who loved the clever lyrics and intertwining lead vocals of the acoustic guitar-toting sisters. They released their second album, If It Was You, in 2002 and, as most artists are prone to do, they managed to grow and expand on their sound. With the release of their latest record, Tegan and Sara helmed the production seats, making sure that all parties met the integrity of their vision so that the intimacy of their home recordings could come out of the project.

Although the girls got their start in their teens, their interest and participation began much sooner than that. Sara says, “We actually started playing guitar and playing in bands when we were about 15. Our parents were super into music. They were really young when they had us—total ’70s parents, so there were always records lying around, and there was always music. So my whole life I’ve always been listening to music, and even my grandparents and everybody around me has always introduced me to different types of music.

“When we were in [seventh grade], I would say we started branching out and getting into our own style of music. Instead of listening to what our parents were listening to, or listening to the radio, we started getting into alternative music. There was a radio station that started up on the AM dial in Calgary that was sort of similar to a college radio station but slightly more mainstream or whatever. That’s where we discovered bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement and the Replacements—that kind of stuff, which got us into indie rock. In high school, again we were branching out further, musically—eventually to the point where we wanted to start playing our own songs.”

She adds, “We used to go to gigs and punk shows, and I never really thought I could do it until I started playing guitar, and then I knew that I really wanted to do it.”

Tegan and Sara had the requisite piano lessons growing up. “I played piano for eight or nine years, but it never lent itself to how I approached guitar,” Sara says. “I really didn’t think of it the same as far as with piano I was learning scales and classical pieces, and it never really inspired me to write my own songs. But with guitar, it was easy to emulate who I was spending all my time listening to, you know? As soon as I started playing guitar, I was like ‘screw’ lessons; I was ready to start writing my own songs.

“I think in a loose kind of way [piano lessons correlate to guitar]. I mean, I wasn’t terrific at guitar theory because I was competent in piano theory, but I also think it gave me an understanding of how music works. It had developed a rhythm in me, one that I had hammered out for years and years, so it was definitely a natural instinct. I definitely think more classically and technically about the piano than I do about the guitar.”

For being in the same band and being twins, Tegan and Sara take an interesting approach to songwriting—they don’t write together and “never really wrote together,” according to Sara. The first song Sara ever wrote was inspired by her sister. “The first song I ever wrote, Tegan was sick and she had these purple Etnies shoes that I loved, and when she was sick I asked her if I could borrow them. That was the only time I got to wear them was when she couldn’t go to school. So anyway, when I got back from school that day, we had both started fooling around with our guitars then, and I remember she was really sick and asked me what school had been like that day, so I started writing a song. It was called, “Tegan Didn’t Go to School Today,” and it was about her being sick and me having to go to school all by myself—we used to hate not going to school together. We had this routine and it was always awkward for one of us to be at school without the other.”

She adds, laughing, “So that was the first song I wrote!”

Now, several years later, Tegan and Sara have truly come full circle with So Jealous. Working with John Collins, David Carswell and Howard Redekopp on the boards, Tegan and Sara have crafted a warm, indie-pop-fused record with lots of contagious hooks. “It was a lot more formal this time around because we were in a studio instead of recording in people’s houses like past records. Actually, I liked it more because when we were recording in people’s houses it felt like we were never done. When we were done, we’d just close the door to the room, but it was the same house you’d been sitting in the whole day. But with the studio we had it locked out for 12 hours, and when we were done, we’d go home and have dinner and do laundry and watch TV in [our] own house and so it felt more like a job. Or, not like a job, but it felt like there were more boundaries, I guess.

“But the actual recording process of this record differed because we co-produced this record. We were there a lot more, so we had a considerable amount of control on how it sounded and what we wanted it to sound like. We were kind of learning by the seat of our pants but also taking some of the skills we had both learned by working with Pro Tools in the past and applying it in the process. I definitely felt more confident in the studio this time, but I also felt that I had a considerable amount of more work to do as a result. I kept thinking, ‘Why couldn’t we get somebody else to do this?’ because some days I just wanted to leave, but there were decisions that had to be made so that we got exactly what we were looking for.”

Tegan and Sara are currently gearing up for a North American tour in support of The Con, their debut for Warner Brothers and first major label release. Recorded with a big fat budget by Chris Walla, featuring Jason Mcgerr and some other highly talented members of Death Cab for Cutie. Tegan and Sara do a lot of outreach, like playing the Bridge School* Benefit Concert in San Francisco, an all-acoustic concert founded by Neil Young to benefit children with severe communication disabilities. They were first signed to Neil Young’s imprint, Vapor Records.

*The Bridge School is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of augmentative and alternative means of communication (AAC) and assistive technology (AT) applications and through the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative life-long educational strategies.

The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state-of-the-art assistive technology.

For more on the concert and school, click here bridgeschool.org

So Jealous was an amazing record. I’m just getting used to the idea that Tegan and Sara are probably going to get really big this year, relatively speaking. It is time that music and artists who make records take back the spotlight from the single making folks, even if its only for a short time. The title track on “The Con” is one of the stand out tracks. Pick it up. I’ll be doing a review for HYPEzine on it, so go check it out!

Searching for a Form of Clarity:

Or Music Journalists Aren’t Your Friends and Don’t Forget That – Ever!

Hmm. Yes I remember it well. Not quite as well as I should and being a writer I probably should have documented every nuance and snippet of conversation while I was in the ‘moment.’ Alas, I’m not much of a journalist when it comes to that sort of thing. I’m more interested in having a good time and writing usually takes a back seat to my rabble rousing but since this is a story that was mostly experienced three sheets to the wind, I’ll preface it by taking some liberties in the facts. South By Southwest Music Festival is always a trial in patience and a test of ones alcohol endurance. The past two years I’ve been I’ve ended up hanging out with folks that don’t have badges, therefor my show going is limited by their ability to get into a venue, which usually means I miss the good shows at Stubbs (06′ Beastie Boys) or La Zona Rosa (06′ Drive By Truckers) or even Emo’s for (06′ Minus the Bear).

I’m a gregarious asshole and fiercely loyal to my friends, or at least I’d like to appear to have their best interests and happiness in mind and try to lend my brand of drunken revelry as the situation dictates. While 2006 was spent sharing a hotel room with The North Atlantic (J. Richards, who is almost 7′ tall, sleeps in the fetal position and takes up almost the entire bed, leaving me to half sleep on a parcel of mattress like some indentured farmer) and Under The Drone (their stand in bass player snores so loud, even pass-out drunk I couldn’t get to sleep and end up staying awake for roughly 48 hours. As a result of which during the a set by The Sword two days later I nod off on a chair at the back of the room. Luckily I’m there with my friend Ben who walks me across the Congress St bridge back to our room and I make my flight – yay! Crisis averted).

I did manage to break away from the non-badge holding crew, who had spent most of the time at the Red Eyed Fly watching Dixie Witch or Black Lamb and make my way to Lucero at Red 7. While I was there a man approached me at the bar. After I had placed my order for a tallboy of PBR he says, “Can I buy your drink for you?” Drunk and skeptical I look at him funny, turn around to look for Vanessa or Jamie (Badge holding crew/Lucero fans) for some guidance, but he quickly reassures me that his intention is purely marketable, stating, “I’m the regional rep for PBR, just want to thank you for your loyalty.”

“Uh huh. Thanks!” I say, adding,”It’s cheap and I can drink an assload of it.” Then make my way through the crowd to the front as Lucero busts into “Bikeriders” and my arms flail all marionette-like in excitement as my mouth tries to remember the lyrics and my brain warns me that this is the last tall boy I’m gonna drink.

These little one offs are common in Austin during this time. Chance meetings with people. One notable was at the patio of the Red Eyed Fly, watching Dixie Witch, riff through their songs, amplified by a sweet Mojave, I drunkenly turn to the guy standing next to me and bum a cigarette, as he lights it I realize its Elijah Wood (who apparently was there scouting for his own label) “thanks dude.” I mumble, with a twinkle in my eye, thinking, “Fucking Frodo loves stoner rock, he’s even cooler than I thought.” Though for a character of LOTR one might expect some fascination with drug culture and all its sub categories (statement is not to suggest or imply that Mr. Wood condones drugs or the use of them).

That leads me to SXSW 2007. On a much more business oriented, diplomatic approach, with my new boss, coworker and CEO in town I had to keep my booze intake waaayyy down. Meaning that it was bloody’s in the morning and only beer thereafter or I’d be a wreck by 5pm. I’m a good host and I had been to Austin the year before: I could handle it, I knew the score. Savagery by night, civility by day. Though the night before all those work folks got there I was rousing with the Lennon Bus Boys at the Purevolume lounge, drinking free booze (which is the best, btw) and trying to convince them to join me at the Emo’s Annex parking lot thingy where Hydrahead was having a showcase (Jesu, Pelican, Oxbow, Stephen Brodsky), I got in and Fester got stopped at the door, which sucked cause there wasn’t that many people there. Course this year, SXSW was undertaken with the pretense that we were going to actually conduct some sort of business and meet with industry people to discuss the problems and opportunities – blah blah blah – facing the industry I really had to put on the officious air, while toning down knowing that my best friend had flown from DC and the Drone crew was waiting elsewhere.

Now I will get to the point. The point about being a music journalist and all its trappings. Attempting to do something like what we’re doing with HYPEzine.com and what I attempted to do with themusicedge but was thwarted by shortsighted corporate ineptitude is at most times an opportunistic venture. Just like a shark’s feeding habits or a thief’s intuition. But the main point in this piece is about not trying to be friends with people in bands that are subjects of an interview and just trying to get the story and all that shit. You know – that shit that real journalist learn in journalist school and publicity people train their clients ‘these people aren’t your friends, whatever you say is on the record, no matter if they say its off the record” – kind of ethics. While both statements are pretty harsh they are quite true and are pretty much par for the course when it comes to the general journalism practicioners. As a side note, I’m not the most prolific ‘blogger’ not because I’ve got a lack of material, but because sometimes, which is most times, its good to have someone look at your stuff before it gets released into the wild. However, one good thing that comes from this medium is the ability to give another perspective. A first hand account. The gonzo side of things for those of us that get paid to write and can’t write about puking in the graffiti covered stall of some shit hole bar in a Tulsa strip club, or taking hits from a hash pipe and blowing it into the window of a K9 unit while the officer is busy securing the scene of a drunk driving accident amidst a thousand drunken pedestrians.

Right. Just as Fucked Up writes weird pseudo-hard core, I digress a bit. I meet up with Vanessa (AM!’s publicist and longtime friend/colleague of mine) for the Shirts for a Cure showcase where I am to do an interview with Tom Gabel of Against Me! Its 2pm and I’ve already had four Lonestars and to be quite honest, I am a bit intimidated (read: buzzed) at the thought of interviewing him in person (fanboy syndrome), being the telephone coward I am when it comes to interviewing bands I actually care about. In hindsight I probably should have done the interview right then and there. After a brief introduction, I explain that I’d prefer to do the interview at a later date. I don’t pull any punches with Vanessa, since I’ve known her and worked with her now going on ten years since my time at the college paper. She’s cool. That short 4 days in Austin I watch Against Me! a total of five times. Some shows I’m at the stage and some shows I’m way far away (Mountain Dew free show in the Park with Mastodon and Riverboat Gamblers, Eric* and I pass out during the Gamblers set and are awoken by Gamblers singer Mike Weibe who, with wireless mic in hand has come down to the grass and dances with all the kids. I instantly like the RBG more just for that fact). Eric*(best friend from DC) and I go for a gyro and are standing up eating and watching the last few RGB songs when we are tackled by Justin and Ben of Under the Drone. Not just tackled but violently tackled by two uber drunks. Gyro’s fly everywhere. Its quite humorous; sob/laughing a bit, I feel like Chunk in Goonies when his food is taken away. I’m stoked that we’ll be seeing AM! for the third time that week. They come on next, wind blowing, people screaming, making for a very dramatic effect. The band runs through the gamut of great tunes like “Miami” and “Cliche Guevara” and play some new ones like “Americans Abroad” and “White People for Peace” and I begin to realize that this band is my age and they grew up on Fugazi and Black Flag and The Replacements and maybe their replacing The Replacements but thats just the booze talking and the sweat and fists of strangers swirling around me singing at the top of their lungs to “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.” I think how it feels to listen to music and how great it is to be part of this thing – whatever the fuck it is – taking place in the little pockets of world.

So…finally, I end up doing the interview with Tom for HYPEzine.com (Link). I did it on the phone, after almost two months of missed times I caught him at home prior to their tour with Mastodon, Cursive and Planes Mistaken for Stars. The best lineup and tour package I’ve seen in the past five years (even though I didn’t make it when they played San Diego). He seemed somewhat guarded during the interview, even though I had drunkenly bored him to death with my musings on punk rock and selling out at the No Idea party in Austin. [Where Chuck Reagan played a solo set right before The Draft and I was convinced they would do a Hot Water Music song, and I drunk texted one of my old estranged friends but never got a reply. Of course they didn’t. AM!’s James told me he knew they wouldn’t although Warren and I kept saying how cool it would be if they did.] Though gregarious I may be I realized there is sometimes a line between interviewer and interviewee and I suppose I’m okay with that. Tom was quick to assert his disapproval of illegal downloading and like an idiot I mention that the new Neurosis is amazing.

“I didn’t think that was out yet.” He exclaims.
“Yeah, I got an advance copy from one of my sound engineer buddies.” I explain, then realize what a total asshole I must sound like after he just told me what he thinks of downloading.

All in all it was a good interview. I was hungover when I talked to him and I’m always a bit sensitive after a bout with the cohol and I took some of his comments the wrong way but when I went back to transcribe the interview I realized how articulate and thoughtful he was. So there ya go! Here are some pictures from the best show in Austin I’ve ever witnessed from one of my favorite bands.

out of diego, into austin

So i’ll be leaving on a jet plane, bound for Austin, TX. The good old bastion of liberal thought in the middle of Texas, home of steers and apparently queers but i’ve heard they are only in East Texas, the steers that is. Man, R Lee Ermy is lame but his Full Metal Jacket character is awesome. look for new picks and more bullshit written by me soon. Gotta start using this thing more often. time is so scarce these days…i’ll be checking out Boris, Jesu, Against Me!, Mastodon, Gallows; hopefully i’ll see The Stooges and possibly Spoon. Pending how much work i have to do. check out my new web project over at HYPEzine.com.

Its a labor of Love.