Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ambles Round Town

Wanted to make a few comments about the shows we went to Tuesday night... we tried to see Riders Against the Storm at Red 7, but they cancelled. Every few months I ask myself why we go to so few hip-hop shows, and then we try to go to one and when we show up half the names of the bands on the "playing tonight" list are crossed out. I guess that's why. We went to Beauty Bar to see what was up there. Something kind of cool, a rock band with a lot of really antic upbeat-striking guitars. Luther from Eagle Claw was there to fill me in: name of the band is Pink Sugar.

We went to Emo's. We'll Go Machete were letting 'em have it. I tend to side with musicians as opposed to writers, since unlike most writers (and like many musicians) I'm a poor verbal communicator. I know from long experience that musicians are very sensitive about comparisons. It is strange to have someone you don't know tell you that your band, which you work very hard on and have very firmly set ideas about, totally sounds exactly like some obscure act you've never heard of... or worse, a band you have heard and don't like. Which is why it's good that I sat in my den a few months ago and watched We'll Go's Paul's eyes light up when I put Automatic Midnight by Hot Snakes on the turntable. There's some proggy construction to We'll Go Machete, but it's pretty well hidden underneath all the bludgeoning. Their drummer is tremendous. The Half Mile Fox Fur guys were there rocking out; they're another band that's all about rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. Melody? Ha, melodies are for sissies.

I'm meeting up with STEREO IS A LIE later on this week to do a story... they've got a record coming out, you know. They're one of the first bands Anna and I saw in Austin, and I have always been impressed by the way they do the part dreamgaze-part modern rock thing with suitable loudness, good vocals, and writing that gives each song its own distinctive arrangement signatures. They're a good example of the vast differences in the way Anna and I perceive bands... she's just not super into the style, but I don't care at all about styles. The way I see it it's not my business to tell a band how they should choose to present themselves. As a critic, you have to take the band on its own merits -- OK, given what style they are, what do they do or not do that makes them unique from another bands in that genre? With STEREO IS A LIE it's principally the songs, although the use of two-and three-part singing sweetens things further.

It was a weird experience seeing them. It reminded me that almost all the time, I see bands that are pretty early on in their existence and made up of musicians learning as they go. I went to maybe... dunno, five out-of-town shows all last year, and the last two weren't bands exactly notorious for their polish (Pavement and Guided by Voices). It was a genuinely peculiar time watching a band that's a finished product, as SIAL is. Rather than adjusting my internal mix around looking for errors to point out I just kept finding more strengths. Their bass player has some strong rock moves, not flashy, but just super confident, something I always like to see since I'm nothing like that myself. After the show we met Stereo singer Glynn, who has been one of the biggest Bell Riots supporters since we started, and now we know why... he pulled down his shirt to show us his "Star Trek" tattoo. Musicians, even handsome ones with great voices and British accents, are geeks.

A pretty girl handed me an Art vs. Industry flyer while I was at the SIAL show. I noticed also they had a ton of skillfully arranged flyers out in front of Stubb's, where they play on Friday. And I got an e-mail from a PR fellow saying the band always mentions me as someone they want to write about them. What the heck? You don't need to hire a PR guy to get me to write about you. You never have. All it takes is an e-mail. I like to claim I have a perfect record when it comes to remembering to check out bands who write me and ask, but obviously I need to start taking notes instead of relying on memory because I totally spaced on Western Ghost House, who wrote me middle of last year. But I did go see them briefly this week, and I'm going to try and go see more of them Saturday, when they're playing at Red 7. Black Eyed Vermillion, the band of the guy from my job Gary I was talking about the other day is playing there too. With multiple Mastodon side projects.

Oh yeah, left a thought hanging there. Nothing wrong with PR. If you have money and you want to spend it that way, it shouldn't affect how people judge you. And there's a lot of kinds of PR short of the ritzy full-service packages another musician at work was telling me about yesterday: "Ten grand just to play ball, man!" I know a lot of people who do promotion for musicians out of the good of their heart. Andrew Stone's manager Harrison is just a guy with a little agent experience who saw Andrew at a show and was so blown away he offered to rep him. He does it out of belief. Zorch seem surrounded by pretty girls who have been drawn to spread the word by the sheer radicalness of their music (and their considerable charm). I've been trying to help my friends Squidbucket, but frankly I suck at it and that's why it's been on my mind a lot lately. I tried pretty hard to read all of the metal blogs and magazines they were interested in, figure out how to write each of them, make a pitch and construct a story... and I got shut down. 0 for 45 or something. Not a single e-mail returned. This is the reality we live in (and the end of my PR career, sorry, Jason). There's just so much static out there -- anybody can record and burn a CD and sent an e-mail to a blog -- that it takes clout just to get a band listened to. Musicians in Austin owe it to themselves to be aware of this state of affairs, and do their best to spread the word on bands they like that don't have the means.

I'm not anti-PR. It's a free country, I'm not trying to become a Marxist rock critic or something. I feel like as a local music writer balance has to be maintained: I've got to go out and look extra hard at all these bands that have no money because somewhere among them are great ones, and no one will ever know because no one is looking at them. I can still go see a band that's being promoted heavily and think objectively. I don't mean to crack on AvI in particular, I'm going to go see them soon and I'll write whatever I think. I'm just pointing this stuff out because while I know that local musicians all know the deal back to front, I don't think enough young local writers do. You know that Spoon song, "Who Makes Your Money?"

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