The Filth and the Fury and Fake Outrage

filthandfury

Just watched Julian Temple’s The Filth and the Fury.  It is a documentary about the Sex Pistols.  I felt it was well done.  Having just read both of John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) books, I felt that it got the gist of what he tried to communicate in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, which was his book on those times.  Obviously no film could get the detail of a book, but I thought most of the important points were hit.  The film was also excellently done from a visual standpoint.  It had great archival film of those times, mixed in with multimedia clips of different cartoons and movies.

Anyway, this isn’t a review of that film.  What was interesting was how many of the same types of people that opposed the Sex Pistols are still plaguing society today.  There is still the conservative religious types that would rather do anything than look at reality.  One of the things that gets lost a lot in all of the circus and myth of the Sex Pistols is how Johnny Rotten was really class conscious.  He really cared about those that were being oppressed economically.  Meanwhile you had the preachers, the conservative members of government, the business class, and what have you, that were on TV condemning the Sex Pistols.  Those people look really silly in hindsight, but there modern counterparts are still out there raising the flags of fake outrage.  Instead of being offended that certain people live in squalor, that young men and women are going to fight in wars of empire, that people can’t pay their rent, they will do their best to destroy anyone that shines a light upon the truth of the situation.  They’ll either do that or generate some fake outrage on some kind of cultural thing that is really just distracting people from what is really going on.  It’s the same cheap trick that is being done over and over again.  When will people learn?

Shinyribs Tonight at Threadgills

I will be appearing with Shinyribs tonight at Threadgills in Austin, Tx.  Go to http://www.threadgills.com or http://www.shinyribs.org for details.

No Show Ponies just picked up a show at South Austin Brewery in Austin, Tx during SXSW.  The show is next Thursday at noon central time.  It will be broadcast live on Channel 10 in Austin and there will be a live stream on YouTube as well. http://www.noshowponies.com

See you in the future, when all’s well…

No Show Ponies, What We Do

Tonight I will be with Shinyribs at the Rockin’ Rodeo with Shinyribs at 9:45pm.  On Saturday the band that I have with my brother, No Show Ponies, is going to be playing Austin at the One 2 One club.  That show starts at 9:30.  Opening act John Neilson starts at 7:30pm.

I would like to try to attempt to explain my band No Show Ponies.  As a friend recently commented to me, writing about music is like dancing about architecture.  However, I write about music all the time to various degrees of success, so I will wade into the deep end again.  Writing about oneself, and one’s own artistic endeavors, is even more challenging.  Oneself is infinite, while others, although they may be filled with mystery, take up a more defined space in one’s mind.

No Show Ponies is first and foremost a rock n roll band.  Although our sound is completely different, much like Shinyribs we genre hop quite a good bit.  This is great for creativity and I believe makes us more interesting, but is not good for the modern idea of branding.  However, primarily again we are a rock n roll band.  That is our bread and butter and our driving principle.

To confound those of you even further we have also gone through a very extreme sound change in the last two years.  When we first moved to Austin my brother Ben and I were without a band.  We had also spent the last seven or eight years playing loud guitar driven rock n roll.  We were tired of this approach, and as I said we didn’t have a band to base our sound upon anyway.  During our first two years in Austin we primarily played two man acoustic shows.  When it came time to make our record, The End of Feel Good Music, we wanted to make a record that was acoustic in nature, although with loud drums like early Rod Stewart records.  Because of the friends that we had made, and used on our record, the record ended up sounding more alt country then rock n roll in a lot of places.  This is a genre that Ben and I don’t listen to in any great deal.  There is no one to blame but us, but this was not a natural fit for our talents.  That being said I am overall proud of the record, as there are several, what I deem anyway, great songs on it, and we will always have the great memories of recording with members of the Gourds, our friend Missy Beth, Jon Dee Graham, and others.

We eventually developed a live band, that sounded completely different from our debut record already, but in the months following the recording that band disintegrated.  Over the next two years we picked up the pieces and rebuilt the band.  Although we had strong identities as writers, we didn’t have a strong identity when it came to our band’s sound.  In these two years we found that sound.  Part of the missing puzzle was finding the incredible drummer Alex Morales.  For the first time since moving to Austin we had a drummer that could play the complex polyrhythms that we so desired.  I moved to bass, which is the instrument I primarily grew up playing.  The biggest and most essential key move, the move that I believe for the first time gave us a unique sound, was moving my brother to the main guitar spot.  We also decided to be a three piece, partly out of necessity, and partly because we realized, even in its infantile stages, that this was the start of something that was sonically exciting.

My brother, who grew up playing acoustic guitar, can not play a traditional blues solo to save his life.  However, if you know anything about the history of rock n roll, you will know that limitations are often essential for invention.  Because of my brother’s extremely strong right hand picking technique, which again was developed from acoustic guitar, he is able to play extremely intricate arpeggios in the style of Johnny Marr and Lindsey Buckingham.  And again, because he can’t solo in the traditional sense, he is able to jump from highly intricate and musical rhythm playing, to post punk noise solos that are pure raw energy.  I’m telling you there is no one that plays guitar quite like this kid.

I would call what we do independent rock n roll.  That is in my mind different from indie rock.  That is splitting hairs with language, but as Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug.”   Rock n roll pushes the vocals up in the mix and doesn’t shy away from big emotions.  A lot of current indie rock seems to me to be almost shy of expressing anything too definitive, as the singers are often weak or purposely buried in the mix.

What we do is an amalgamation of the kind of powerful rock n roll that came from the 60’s combined with the more experimental music that came out of the post punk scene.  I’m not kidding on the new record we go from a song that was influenced sonically by Public Image Limited, noise rock, and New Order, into something that could almost be a Beach Boys song.  However, for the first time in our history as a band since moving to Austin, I believe that we have a sound strong enough to bridge these different worlds.

I think that our sound is also unique for Austin, largely because of our origins.  None of us our native Texans.  Ben and I derive from the North East and Al comes from New Mexico.

The North East influences us in ways that we probably didn’t even realize until we moved to Texas.  It informs both our sound and our lyrics.  Sound wise I believe that this makes for a much tougher rock n roll sound that is a descendent of the music that came out of the large North Eastern cities in previous decades.

I have noticed, since I moved to Austin, a kind of almost scatological and surreal sense of humor.  The way people often speak truth to power in Texas through humor is often through word play and drawing conclusions between disparate things.  We grew up on the darker, more vengeful humor of the North East.  People like latter period George Carlin and Bill Maher come to mind.  It also helps if you understand that we are reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, and other writers, whose modus operandi is to point out the absurdity in the American system.  We also love those songwriters like Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed, whose humor is jet black.  Please believe me that I am not saying better or worse, only different.

When you add all of that in with Al, who brings the tribal rhythms of the South West, and a passionate encyclopedic knowledge of rock n roll drumming, you get something exciting and unique.  I call Al’s apartment the “drum museum” for the incredible collection of vintage drums and percussion that seems to be in every nook and cranny.  This is a guy with a serious dedication to his craft.

I realize in looking back on what I’ve written, that I have sort of described what we do in long form, written around things, and not given one an easily descriptive blurb for what we do.  I’m fine with that.  If something is too easy to define, unless it’s the Ramones or AC\DC, it’s probably simpleminded too.  If rock n roll still means anything, then that is what we do.  This is music that is both literate and primal, that is both aggressive and beautiful, and that wants to have you both sing along and make you feel uncomfortable at times.

Recently we recorded an album to old analog tape with the great Ramsay Midwood.  This new album, when it debuts, will showcase this new found confidence and sound.  If you want to get a taste of what we are doing before then, please come and check us out this Saturday at the One 2 One club.  Again we start at 9:30.  In closing to describe what we do, I would like to co-opt and paraphrase Paul Westerberg:  This is rock n roll played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason.  This is our blood.

Roads Still Yet to be Traveled

I’ve really become interested in electronic music lately.  Some bands that I’ve been listening to lately have been Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, OMD, and Book of Love.  I also love the Knife, though their music fits less moods than the others, as they are more abrasive and confrontational.  I also love the music on Johnny Jewel’s label, especially the band The Chromatics.  I’ve always loved synth pop.  I grew up on bands like New Order.

I’m interested in the idea of people getting emotion out of technology.  Also some of the best pop songs are in this genre.  Bernard Sumner from New Order can write endless melodies that never leave your head.

Although I grew up with bands like New Order, Electronic, and Depeche Mode, some of my current interest has been driven by the films of Nicolas Winding Refn.  He uses this music to great effect in films like Drive, Bronson, and Only God Forgives.  He understands that although this music is very synthetic on one hand, it is also capable of great emotion.

If country and folk music, which I also love, evoke pastoral settings, electronic music reminds me of the city at nighttime.  That’s not to say that electronic music can’t also be pastoral.  Brian Eno’s 70’s album Another Green World is an album that brings nature to mind more often than not.  Kraftwerk’s Autobahn album also has moments like this.  Although I love songs that have a message and am a fan of great lyrics, sometimes music is wonderful when it just creates space for dreams.

Haruki Murakami’s book After Dark creates a surreal dream like version of the city at night.  When I read things like this I often picture certain pieces by Kraftwerk and the Chromatics as being the perfect soundtrack to these worlds.

I grew up as a fan of the pop song.  More recently I’ve begun to be as interested in music that is non verbal.  Music that is non verbal has to create emotion and thought through pure sound.  This can be music that is instrumental or music that has the vocals obscured through production techniques.  Non verbal to me can even be bands that sing in foreign languages, where I can’t understand what they are saying, and the voice becomes just another emotional texture.  Often in electronic music, especially as you see with bands like Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, only a few simple phrases will be repeated throughout a song.  Even though you understand what they are saying it is open to interpretation when combined with the music.  The words become almost just another sound that feeds into the music and vice versa.

Although I write in the pop song format, and it’s still my favorite format, there is something to be said about music that is non verbal.  The human imagination is a powerful thing.  In the place of words we will often find that our dreams take over and place meaning into things that may or may not be intended by the artist.

I’ve mentioned before how David Lynch liked using grainy digital video for the movie Inland Empire, because he wanted the human imagination to fill in the space that the imperfect images left.  I think a lot of electronic music, the kind that is non verbal or almost non verbal, does this same thing.  It allows for interpretation and dreaming on the part of the listener.

Well there are many forms of instrumental music, many of which I love, the sounds created by electronic instruments create a different headspace.  Again it is often, but not always, more urban and futuristic.  Some bands like OMD, who write pop songs and instrumental pieces, create a retro futurism.  It’s like the sonic version of a film noir that takes place in the past and the future at the same time.  One of my favorite albums right now is their album Dazzle Ships.  It is an album full of mystery, ideas, and dreams.

Too often I think people let cultural or tribal things get in the way of exploring new worlds.  People are more open now to new musical experiences than ever before.  Sometimes though, there still exists a certain tribal instinct that gets in the way of people enjoying different forms, based solely on what they might find “cool” or acceptable in their group.   The human imagination can go anywhere and should be given as much room to roam as possible.  Don’t listen to anything but your own gut.  There are many roads still yet to be traveled.

New Worlds

On Wednesday night this week, August 28th, my band Shinyribs will be playing at Scholz Garten, also known as Scholz Beer Garden.  The show starts at 7:30pm and we will be doing two 60 minute sets.

In Shinyribs I am just the bass player.   This band is the vision of Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell.  Kev and Keith Langford, our drummer, are also in the band The Gourds.  Kev is very open to others ideas, but at the end of the day he makes the final call on things creatively.  The only place I am pretty much given free reign on the creative side is what I play on bass.  Although Kev has made some suggestions here or there, he pretty much let’s  me do what I want.

One thing I have learned working with him is that in any artistic project it’s good to let people be themselves.  The frame of the band is Kev’s.  However, within that frame he allows people to paint almost anything that they want.  In doing so he ends up with something unique.  Another way of looking at his process is that he picks a point out on a map.  He has an idea on where he wants to end up.  However, he lets us choose how to get there.  He only chimes in if we are getting too far off the grid.

Every artistic project needs a leader.  Otherwise chaos will ensue.  However, if you hire the right people it’s best to let them put their own individual stamp on things.  This is a brilliant strategy for two reasons.  It allows people to feel some ownership for the project.  It also allows for the project to stake out new territory.

Let me give you an example.  On our new album, Gulf Coast Museum, there is a song called Lympia Hotel.   The song is an impressionistic telling of a vacation that Kev took with his family in the New Mexico desert.  In the beginning of the song, on the recorded version, I play a part that is highly influenced by the Beach Boys.  It’s a bit looser than the Beach Boys, but it has the same melodic tendencies that some of the bass parts did on their Pet Sounds record.  To me I can’t help but associate The Beach Boys with summer.  But here is the thing; I have never once heard Kev put on a Beach Boys record in all the hours I have spent with him.  I chose to purposely add this part because I knew that it was something that Kev probably wouldn’t think of on his own.  It would add a texture to one of his songs that hadn’t been there before.  Kev’s brilliance is that he realized it worked and let it stand as is.  He didn’t start out with any preconceived notion of how the song should be and let that get in the way of the moment.  Everyone in the band pretty much agrees that it is one of our best recordings, and I believe it got that way because everyone in the band added their own little signature on what was already a great song.  Kev wrote the song and then had the confidence to stand out of the way and let people do what they do.

I think it’s important when you are younger to decide what you like and don’t like as you establish your identity.  That’s an important phase of the artistic process.  I think it’s almost natural and healthy in your late teens and early 20’s to lay down a much more firm set of rules about what you want.  It’s how you figure out who you are.  Hopefully once you have established that identity though, you can let go and stand out the way, and let other people bring what they have to the table.  You might just find yourself entering new worlds.

The Return of The Replacements

The Replacements just played their first show in 22 years.  I have always loved the Replacements and Paul Westerberg’s solo material.  I have an autographed poster from him hanging in my living room.  It seems like the reports from the show live up to Westerberg’s statement that they can still, “rock like murder.”

Probably no other artist has had as much influence on the way I construct melodies and write chord progressions as Westerberg has.  It’s something I’ve been aware of and actually tried to get away from at times.  The more influences a band has, the more likely that they are probably interesting.

Usually the most boring bands are the ones that sound like they have just a couple of influences.  This was really prevalent in bands that became popular after the first wave of grunge came through in the 90’s.  I remember when the first Staind video came out. It was filmed as if it was a tribute to a recently deceased person.  Their singer was surrounded by candles mumbling a tuneless melody that seemed fit only for someone that was brain dead or a crystal meth junkie.  I really thought upon seeing that video that the singer had just died.  I was sadly mistaken.

If you are in a punk band listen to Motown.  If you are in a country band listen to reggae.  You get the idea.  A band that doesn’t sound like just one thing might not sell as much, but it will probably be around a lot longer and be a lot more meaningful to people.

The Replacements could go from blistering punk to heart breaking country on the drop of a dime.  It’s probably one of the reasons that they were never super successful.  But it’s also probably the reason that they found a space in so many music fans lives.