Band Name: After the Sirens
Album Name: We Have No White Flags
Best Element: Hybrid mix of indie-pop and hardcore
Label Name: Blue Duck Records (www.blueduckrecords.com)
Band E-mail: email@example.com
I was extremely surprised when I heard After the Sirens’ album We Have No White Flags. Not content to excel at one genre, After the Sirens have crafted an album that combines two completely unrelated genres: indie-pop and hardcore. That’s right- After the Sirens actually fuses two of the most disparate genres I can think of. What’s amazing is that the sound actually works- every time. Whether it’s an indie-pop song that ratchets up to a burning hardcore epic (“Hemlock is the New Mistletoe”) or a post-hardcore song with indie-pop style melodies and harmonies (“Red Letter Ransom”, standout track “We Have No White Flags”), After the Sirens know how to write an amazing song.
It seems like the sound would fail because the genres are so distant from each other, but it succeeds due to the serious chops of the players. They can churn out brutal hardcore songs (title track “We Have No White Flags”) and straight indie-pop songs (the beautiful, Jimmy Eat World-ish “Arietta”) with the same amount of ease, so they upped the ante by combining both of these genres. The results of this fusion are their best songs: “We Have No White Flags” and “Caesura.” I’ll do a play-by-play of “Caesura” because it was the first track to really catch my attention.
“Caesura” starts off as a twinkly indie-pop song that calls up Death Cab for Cutie comparisons, but the solid, no-nonsense melodic style cuts off any comparisons to Ben Gibbard and co. The vocals here are stunning- full of clarity and earnestness tone, they cut through fake emotion straight to the heart of the matter. These highly expressive vocals continue to call while the song continues upwards in intensity to a dramatic rock explosion of quick-strummed guitars and huge chords. The intensity suddenly drops down to a Jimmy Eat World-esque melancholy as a section of extremely beautiful guitar work enters, then fades the song out- until the death metal scream of “FATHER” comes in. This kicks off just over a minute of pure, gut-wrenching hardcore. Segueing straight from an indie pop elegy into an abusive hardcore piece….who’s got guts to pull that off? The shock I had first time I heard it was somewhat akin to the impact of skydiving without a parachute.
That’s their signature: beautiful, twinkly guitar work and soft interactions that give way rather suddenly to violent explosions of sound. They’ve become the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of rock music: gentle and thoughtful one moment, rageful and violent the next. Yet both sides are treated with equal attention, resulting in a very clear establishment of their individual style.
Hybrids are a funny breed. Always talented, but often criminally unappreciated due to lack of a proper scene to fit in, hybrids often die on the vine, their genius untapped. I hope this will not be the case for After the Sirens, as its members have crafted one of the more intriguing hybrid sounds I’ve ever heard in We Have No White Flags.
Band Name: Baxter House
Album Name: Please Baxter, Don’t Hurt ‘Em
Best Element: Rock that rocks.
Label Name: n/a
Baxter House should’ve subtitled this album “How to Create a Huge Splat on the Musical World”- because that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished with this 6-song, 12-minute EP. They establish their guitar/drums/vocals sound and they don’t back down off it. There aren’t any concessions, there aren’t any genre fusions- this is stripped down rock with a snotty punk attitude. If you like it, you’ll love it, and if you don’t, you’ll be confused.
It’s an extremely galvanizing record in the fact that there’s not a lot to respond to- there’s the female sung vocals, the female screamed vocals, the guitars that borrow from both the herky-jerky fervor of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the sludgy melodicism of an old school punk band, and extremely versatile drums that mutate to fit whatever the guitar is doing. If you’re put off by the girl screaming in “No Food”, then you’re put off- there’s not much other stuff going on that you can focus on.
That narrows our focus right at the songwriting- are these songs good or not? The answer is mostly yes. While the guitar sometimes gets a little bit bland (parts of “Black Skies”), songs like “MKAO” are just incredible on all cylinders. “MKAO” has verse that are very subdued (the drums even do some mellow rimshots), but the chorus just rips wide open, with the vocals and guitars and drums all going full tilt. They use some interesting rhythm patterns in the chorus of “MKAO”, as well as in “Dissociative Personality Disorder.”
They do a really good job of mixing it up, though- the intro to “Black Skies” is just drums and vocals, and “Black Skies” also includes a toy piano, in a cool touch. “Gumdrop Heaven” is only forty-five seconds long- but then again, it’s a Baxter House version of reggae. I think that gets props in itself.
So basically, this EP rocks. The songs are good, the instrumentation is unusual, and the sound is fresh enough to pass an USDA test. They’re not going to change the world, but they’ll certainly make a big splat when they’re dropped right in the middle of your day. You’ll remember Baxter House. Whether you enjoy that memory or not is up to you.
Be Positive. Or Else.
I went to a show the other day, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an out-of-town opener band that was extremely talented. I usually take great pleasure in name-checking bands, but for this article the band will remain anonymous.
I saw this band perform, and as I said, they were extremely talented. They have a great vocalist, a solid sound, a great live performance, and they exude cool when they’re on stage. The bassist is a girl, and she looks like she’s one you just can’t afford not to know. I mean she just oozes cool, with her laid-back stance, nonchalant face, and awesome bass lines. Their indie-rock sound really stunned me, so I naturally made tracks to go visit them when their set ended. I sauntered on up to their merch table and proceeded to strike up a conversation with the drummer and the bassist.
Now before I go further, I will say that I am an advocate of humility. I think it’s a great thing to have- so much so that I seek out people who have more humility than ego for my friends. But there are places to be humble and places to bust out with the ego- and when you’ve got a fan ready to drop some money on your album, that is not the time to be humble.
But that’s exactly what these two band members did- be as nonchalant as possible about their talent. They dodged my compliments, they answered my questions unassumingly, and they just generally tried to tone down the fact that they had just ripped up the house with an awesome show. They were a little disappointed that only 30 or so people showed up for the show, but they still should have showed a little more excitement about themselves. I came away a little bit confused after talking to those members of the band- they didn’t sound passionate about who they were and what they were doing. I could hear the passion in their music, but it just didn’t transfer over to real life. I still count myself as a fan of the band, but it brought up an interesting point in my mind.
If you’re going to be a band, it’s your job to be excited about who you are. Especially if you’re great (like this band is), if you’re signed to a label (this band is), and have a fan eager to know more about you (like I was). You have a chance to start a relationship of sorts and cement a fan in a town that is not your own. You should jump at that chance, not brush off the fact that you’re touring the entire Midwest.
You have to be excited about yourself. Some days it’s just not fun to be excited- sometimes it seems like work and sometimes it plain just is work. Sometimes you fake excitement. But these people came out to see you, came up to see you, and they expect to be entertained. They expect to be met with the same type of people you’d be on a good day- the type of people who are excited to be on the road, to be a band, to be playing music. And everyone has bad days, but you can’t let that get in the way of being a good self-promoter.
Because that’s what it comes down to: self-promotion. You can’t be a great independent band without self-promotion. As much as everyone hates promoting, it must be done. It’s the ‘work’ part of being a band. If you treat it with as much respect as you treat the music, you will go far in the music world.
So don’t be apathetic, tired, or uninterested if a fan comes up to you at a show. Fake it if you have to, but meet that fan at their level. Connect with them. Make them want to see you guys again. It may not be fun given your circumstances, but then again, it may turn out to be fun. Never pass up an opportunity- you never know which one will make you big. Always go for it. Always.
Band Name: Dugong
Album Name: Quick to the City
Best Element: Awesome rhythms
Genre: Indie Rock
Label Name: Bombed Out Records (www.bombedout.com)
First off, I want to say “Damn!” Dugong’s Quick to the City is an overall amazing album. It has everything that I like in a modern indie album: fast songs, cool guitar parts, and awesome vocals. Over the years, Dugong has worked their way from being an underground no-name band to an extremely good U.K. band making their way to the U.S. This album didn’t need any time to grow on me- I enjoyed every second of it from the time I first listened to it.
This is an album that I will keep in my normal circulation of music. The vocals are extremely tight and well-composed, and the singer’s voice is very unique. It’s refreshing to hear something completely different vocally, because it is such a major part of the musical arrangement. Another thing I found interesting about Quick to the City was the rhythms. The drums were fast, but kept up with the music. This talent added a certain depth to the songs by making the tempo and phrasing changes interesting.
While listening to Quick to the City, I did, however, find myself becoming bored with the music. It’s not that it’s bad, but the songs do sound the same after a while.
Overall, Dugong’s Quick to the City is an excellent indie rock album. I would recommend this to anyone who likes good indie rock, or even punk based rock.
Band Name: Matthew Shaw
Album Name: Quick to the City
Best Element: Strong organic-meets-synthetic songwriting
Label Name: Burning Building Recordings (www.bbrecordings.com)
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Shaw is a very comfortable songwriter. No matter how many times I’ve heard a song of his, whether it be once or a hundred, I feel a connection with his songwriting. It could be his vulnerable lyrics, or his disarming melodies, or his organic-meets-synthetic songwriting- but whatever it is, it makes me want to rant and rave about Matthew Shaw.
Thus, I was thrilled when I received a new EP by Mr. Shaw. I had high hopes for this disc, because I still spin his stellar debut Ghosts in the Concrete quite often, which is high praise from a guy who listens to about five new CDs a week. Those hopes were all fulfilled, and while I could ask for a few things different, Convenience is still quite a good release.
Not content to rest on the laurels of his last release, which was almost an entirely synthetic affair, Shaw has incorporated a full band into this EP. The basis of the sound is still electronic, for sure- but there’s a lot more real guitar (“Quicksand”), real bass (“The Drunk”), even some real drums (“These Lists are Tombstones”) included with the electronic beats. All of this new instrumentation naturally makes the sound much thicker and layered than it was in his debut EP, which is a very satisfying change- songs like “The Drunk” could not exist without this new-found density.
With this integration of more players comes a couple new moods into his arsenal- whereas Ghosts in the Concrete was an exercise in disenfranchised melancholia, musically this album takes some new directions without abandoning the old. The upbeat “These Lists are Tombstones” could almost be counted as an indie-dance number, while “The Drunk” feels more epic than any of his previous work. To balance out his new-found interests, there are some songs that are merely a tweaking of the original sound- the lead riff of “Deadlines and Days Off” sounds like something he would’ve produced earlier.
But the real showstopper here is the closer “Late Nights”- a song that actually sounds like late nights. This song includes real bass, real guitar, real drums, electronic noodling, and Matthew’s signature vocals. The song is mellow and brooding in the verses- pensive, restrained, and a little bit eerie. But the chorus! The chorus bursts into a striking indie-rock barnburner. It’s truly incredible. And he ends the EP on a beautiful note- a music box chorale that makes me want to drift peacefully off to sleep. It’s a statement from Shaw to us: “Yeah, I’m a little more rock now, but here’s the proof that I still have the pop in me.”
And while the songwriting of this album is fantastic, there are a couple negative issues that caught my ear. The lyrics of this EP are good, no doubt- “These Lists are Tombstones” is especially inspired in its deep truth about the busyness of life hidden behind a little ironic humor. The main problem lies in songs like “The Drunk” and “Deadlines and Days Off”- songs that touch on topics like transition, disillusionment, social nervousness, and other topics very similar to the ones that make up the debut album. I fear that if Matthew doesn’t find some new topics, he’ll become a one-trick pony in the lyrical vein.
The second quibble I have is that although the instrumentation is ratcheted up in quality, the vocals seem to have less punch to them. Shaw’s voice is one of the most accessible pieces of his sound, and it makes me sad to see that his melodies are not as strong as they could be in songs like “Quicksand” and the verses of “Late Nights”. They’re not bad- but from what he has shown in the past, he can do better.
Those two minor issues are not nearly enough to stop anyone from getting this EP- Convenience is, on the whole, a great EP that I will be playing alongside Ghosts In the Concrete for a long time to come. His sound is comfortable- there’s no way you can hear it and not fall in love with it. That’s the mark of a great songwriter, and that’s the real reason you should buy this disc: you’ll love it.
Extreme Duplication: CD Edition
PCX Media.com has quickly become the one-stop shop for any DIY band looking to make a CD. Their low prices, huge selection, and many quantity options make turning your music from a CD-r demo into a snazzy-looking CD a breeze. They’re also expanding into pins, posters, and t-shirts- soon there won’t be anything they can’t handle. We recently had the opportunity to get an interview with PCX’s owner Tony Felty, Jr.
Independent Clauses: What prompted you to start PCX media?
Tony Felty: My band needed CDs! We had looked into how to make them to save money and just kinda stumbled into making them for other people. (We made CDs for my band about a year after we started!)
IC: How can you afford to keep your prices so low?
TF: Buying in bulk, reducing waste, doing stuff right the first time, not sucking ass. It’s not that we do something else to keep our prices lower, it’s that other people just charge way too much I think. We’ve been doing this for over two years now and yes, our prices have gone up (only a few dollars here and there) but not to the extremes that other short run facilities have. Our Package A price has actually stayed the same since we began this operation.
IC: In your opinion, what’s in the best CD package you guys offer?
TF: I’m really a fan of our “Package A” disc. It’s a four panel insert and disc tucked into a poly sleeve. I had seen the idea a long time ago and thought it was very creative, resembling old record packaging. I believe we were the first duplication house to package them this way, although there are one or two others who have similar packaging now. Regardless they are dirt cheap and bands sell the hell out of them.
IC: What’s one of the largest projects you’ve ever worked on?
TF: We’ve done a HUGE amount of discs for a publishing company. I’m not quite sure the specifics of the contents, but it was something to do with Hare Krishnas. The project consisted of 56 different discs and a DVD. 50 of each disc, and 200 of the DVD’s. It was a project we didn’t mind taking on although we learned our production capacity very quickly. Because of the short runs of each disc a replication house couldn’t do the project for them, and no other duplication shop had the patience to make them! We love doing custom projects like this.
IC: Do you think that your type of company will gain prominence in the music industry soon?
TF:Duplication companies have been around for years, they’ve just stayed with the current media. It used to be records and tapes, now it’s CDs. If everything goes digital we’ll have to find something else to do! That’s why we’re making posters and doing other types of printing and we’re always looking for other ventures. Screenprinting might be in our future. We’d like to stay in the merch business.
IC:Why is what you do so important?
TF:First and foremost, it can be a struggle for small bands to get by. Saving a few dollars can really help. I’ve played in my share of bands and I know what it’s like when the rehearsal space rent is due, and you have to pay for recording, tshirts, buttons, stickers, etc. It all adds up. If I can help some kids save a few dollars I’ve done my part in lessening the burden on them. The less they spend on the discs is more money they can make selling them at shows too which always helps!
(Buy CDs from small bands! you’re supporting more than just the band!)
I work because I love it. I’ve always wanted to be self employed, ever since I was little kid. I used to bring candy to school and sell it to kids for twice what I paid for it (supply and demand!) and for a while I made skatewax outta Gulf Wax and some other crap and sold it. This was before I was in high school! Through high school I ran a record label (although we weren’t very successful) but I learned a lot. It’s a dream, and putting up with the stress, long days and occasional grouchy customer are well worth it at the end of the day. I’m rewarded by my success. I love being self employed, I can look you square in the eyes and tell you there is nothing I would rather do than what I’m doing now, unless I could sleep in ’till 1 everyday and do this too. That would be heaven.
IC: How big do you want to make PCX media? Will you always stay on the duplication or will you ever go to replication as well?
TF: We’ll get as big as we have to. We can only handle so much and we bite off more than we can chew sometimes (which really sucks!). Our turnaround times suffer on occasion because we can only handle so many orders a week. We are constantly upgrading equipment and production methods to keep up.
Replication would be real cool to do, but we’ll have to watch the market and see where CDs are going to be in the upcoming years. They might disappear along with 8 tracks and laser disc!! Seriously though, I don’t think CD’s will ever have the nostalgia of records or tapes.
IC: Do you have any funny stories relating to PCX media?
TF: We did a project for a female vocalist one time when we first got started. Somehow one of her discs ended up in a hardcore band’s set of discs packaged just like their discs. That was an interesting phone call. We’ve since learned how to keep our projects separated. =)
Oh, one more thing. The ‘X’ in PCX stands for Xtreme! 😉
IC: Do you listen to the music that you help release?
TF: About once a month when we get sick of the music on XM and in our mp3 collection we dig through the masters we’ve received and spend a day listening to all the bands we’ve worked with that we haven’t heard yet. It’s nice to hear new talent.
IC: What’s one of your favorite releases you’ve helped put out?
TF: My favorite release…we’ve put so many discs together it’s hard to choose…My own band Faye’s disc because it’s interesting to be involved in every part of the process, from writing the music to recording to CD manufacturing.
IC: What crappy bands did you look up to as a kid?
TF: Hell.. I listened to a lot of Fat and Epitaph bands when I was young…back when the Offspring and Rancid were on MTV. My first punk comp was Fat Music for Fat People when I was like…9. That was what, 94? I traded a Bosstones disc for it. The favs were always Bad Religion, Propagandhi, and Social Distortion though.
IC: What have you been listening to lately?
TF: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Kind of Like Spitting, Minus the Bear, and the guys in my band turned me on to Anberlin.
-Interview Conducted by Stephen Carradini
Band Name: Recess Gone Rong
Album Name: 3-song Demo
Best Element: Intra-instrument chemistry
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: email@example.com
I used to be a huge fan of pop-punk. Back when I was first getting into independent music, that was the easiest stuff to find on mp3.com- so naturally, I snapped it up like candy. I still have dozens of tracks by pop-punk bands that went nowhere on my computer. I still listen to them, too- some out of nostalgia, some cause they were actually good.
That’s why I listen to every pop-punk release that comes through Independent Clauses. Yeah, 9 times out of 10 pop-punk bands will amount to negative points on the talent scale, but for each of those 9, there is a tenth. This time, that tenth happens to be Recess Gone Rong.
Now, ignoring the fact that they committed a cardinal sin in my book by misspelling their name (the only band in the world that can get away with this in my book is 5th Projekt, cause they’re Canadian and they play post-rock), RGR has actually cultivated a sound that gives me hope for them. Opener “I Can Feel” is a straight-up pop-punker, but for some reason, it doesn’t suck. The band isn’t herky-jerky, the lead guitarist actually sounds like he fits over the chords, the drummer can stay in time and switch up beats (hallelujah), and for once, there’s actually a bit of bite in the vocals. Yes, attitude- in a pop-punk band. I know it’s tough to believe- and they drop it in the chorus, which is a seriously infectious “whoa-oh” singalong- but for a couple of seconds in the verses, there’s a bit of venom in the vocals. That can definitely be expanded outward as their sound grows. I’d love to see that, actually.
“Through Today” and “Endless Story” are both minor-keyed songs, and while they are good, they aren’t near as polished as “I Can Feel”. The band’s chemistry never falters, but the chemistry just isn’t strong enough to save both songs from cliché vocal performances and sub-par songwriting. These two songs feel insipid instead of inspired. Even though the bassist offers up some great bass work on “Through Today”, his contributions are not enough to save the song. The vocalist needs to sing in his lower range, because it sounds good there. The high range sounds cliché and annoying.
RGR (I can’t bring myself to write out the name anymore) have a couple strikes against them and a lot for them. First off, they need to change their name, pronto. It sucks. Secondly, they need to grow- they’re a very young band, and it shows. Third, they’re going to have to work hard to get noticed in a genre that has been overpopulated and often mocked.
But the members of the band work extremely well together- the intense chemistry is notable for a band this young, and as a result, the sound flows. They also can write good melodies, which is all important in the hooky musical world we’re in right now. Those two characteristics give me a lot of reason to believe that with a couple more years experience, RGR could be on to something good here.
State of the Scene: Bands
Once a year, the President goes on public television and states how the country is doing- it’s called the State of the Union address. Here at IndependentClauses, we don’t run the scene, but we do a pretty fair job of covering it. Thus, this is my state of the scene address for 2006. I’m splitting it up into two parts: one part for bands and other part for listeners.
Here’s 2006 for you indie bands: good luck, cause no one’s on your side. There’s an excess of bands and a minority of talent, labels are going down, zines are closing, and fans are less loyal than ever- which all means there’s a heck of a lot more work involved in being a band than there used to be.
The main problem this year is that with technology getting cheaper and cheaper, it’s easier than ever to record, duplicate, design and distribute CDs. This unfortunately means that anyone who plays guitar can emulate their favorite band and make a CD of it, which they subsequently send to labels and e-zines. This makes it harder for bands with actual talent to get noticed because after listening to ten packages of crappy pop-punk, juvenile nu-wave emo, and shaky-vocals acoustic artists, it’s hard to believe that the next package is going to be any better. Thus, the reviewer/record label gets backlogged out of sheer apathy for it all, and the good bands go unheard.
This happened to Splendid E-zine (www.splendidezine.com)- they got so many open submissions that they couldn’t handle them all and they recently closed their doors. They had the policy of reviewing everything they got. Lots of it was sucky or mediocre, and Splendid got so backlogged in the junk that they had to stop the zine (to the detriment of the good music). That’s a very sad thing.
Indie labels aren’t as good as they used to be, either- my two favorite labels Deep Elm and Tooth and Nail are both in a bit of a rut. Both have developed a scary affection for nu-wave emo- Deep Elm with Fightstar and Eleven Minutes Away and Tooth and Nail with Spoken, The Classic Crime, and Far-less. Both do have some fight in them- Latterman and Small Arms Dealer are brand-new and stinking amazing on Deep Elm, while the backbone of Tooth and Nail is still brilliant (Starflyer 59, Joy Electric, Further Seems Forever, Mae, MeWithoutYou, and –if they stick around- Showbread). It’s just been a down year. Militia Group is doing pretty well- they aren’t very focused, but they sign good music. Basically, there’s not really a label for any cutting edge indie sounds any more. My guess is that Common Cloud records will soon fill this gap, as the small label’s signings are all brilliant [The Felix Culpa, Towers (formerly known as Braille), Ammi…”>.
But a lot of disillusioned bands are skipping the record labels completely and going the DIY route. They go for soundtracks and advertisements- see this article for more info. I’m thrilled to hear that independent bands are able to make it on their own, but I’m sad that the modern music system has been broken so long that artists get no help in their quest.
Basically, this all boils down to one statement: God bless indie rock- cause nobody else is doing it any favors.
If You’re Ever in New York City….
The Box Social Interview
The Box Social is a fun-loving power-pop band from Milwaukee, WI, signed to No Karma Records. No Karma released their last EP Blown to Bits, which you can read a review of here. Guitarist Nick Woods had a chat with us over the phone about things like Metallica, the joy of record labels, and nearly dying in New York City.
Independent Clauses: What’s your name about?
Nick Woods: In all honesty, when the name got picked out, I wasn’t in the band. What basically happened was that our singer and our drummer got really drunk hanging out in the drummer’s basement watching Family Guy or the Simpsons and writing songs about Brian’s high school. In the morning, they remembered it. There’s no real story- it just sort’ve sounded cool to all of us. It’s catchy and that’s about it.
IC: How has life on No Karma Records been?
NW: Being on a record label is kind’ve a lot better than not being on a record label. I’d recommend being on a record label to someone who’s not even in a band- that’s how cool it is. It’s cool to be able to say, “You can go buy our album in a store,” instead of going through some shifty online store. The No Karma guys run their own online store, but it’s different. With No Karma, the guys who run it have been in bands and they’re not out to screw you. They really know how to work hard and make us feel important, whether we are or not. And that’s really the main thing- we feel important whether we are or not. IC: Kinda like permanent fans. NW: Yeah, just like that. It was weird, actually- we met Michael when we opened for Thunderbirds Are Now! within the first few months of us being a band. I hadn’t really heard of No Karma, but they released stuff by a band named Managra that I really liked. So I had bought Managra CDs from No Karma, and that’s all I had heard about them. We opened for Thunderbirds at a venue that’s since been shut down, and Michael was there. He didn’t say hi or anything, but the next day we got an e-mail from him that said, “Hey, I liked your show.”
We said, “Sweet! A record label exec saw us!” So we went and recorded a really crappy demo called What, Too Soon? and sent it to him up at No Karma, and basically said, “Okay, you can sign us now.”
We sat around for a couple of weeks and didn’t really hear anything. Later I ordered a CD from No Karma and when I received it, attached to the CD was a note that said “Thanks for buying this CD. Thanks for sending us a copy of yours, too.” And we thought that was the end of it. We played a whole bunch of shows and we even played some shows with Michael’s band The Five Mod Four. We went and recorded another demo called Golly Gee Whiz and that was pretty cool, and eventually we ended up with this EP called Blown to Bits. By this time we knew a little bit of what we were doing, so we were trying to get a label to help us out a bit. We were going to these labels that were really small and really didn’t know what they were doing. They were making us all these promises and we were a little bit skeptical. As we kept going…
IC: Wait, hold on. I need to catch up on my typing.
NW: Oh, sorry man. I’m used to doing e-mail interviews with teenage girls who have a zine, and usually they’re like “You play in a BAND?? SWEET!!” Cause nowadays everyone has a zine. It’s like everyone has a band. But most of the time they’re just a pile of shit- no one knows what they’re doing. We’re glad to have someone calling us who knows what they’re doing.
IC: Yeah, we try to look like we know what we’re doing.
NW: That’s what everybody tries to do, so yeah- it’s cool.
NW: Anyway, as we kept going, more and more of these labels kept sketching out on us. Most of them were real little, run-out-of-the-basement type things, and it just wasn’t working. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with running a DIY label, but there’s a line between knowing what you’re doing and having no idea what you’re doing. So basically, we were still in touch with Michael from No Karma, and Michael said, “No, we’re not having any of that shit. We’re doing it my way.” And so we got signed to No Karma.
IC: When do you release your next release (and is it an ep?!)?
NW: It’s going to be a full length, finally. I think the plan is to put it out next summer, pending complications that everyone doesn’t foresee. Actually, we never meant to put out three EPs in a row- we’ve wanted to put out a full length for two years. Originally, we had songs and no demo, so we recorded an EP (What, Too Soon?) and it was a piece of shit. So when we finally got our shit together we had 6 more songs so we went and recorded those. So we said, “Now we have 12 songs- we can go record at Pachyderm Studios.”
NW: It’s a fantasy- Nirvana recorded there.
NW: We got around to next summer, and we decided, “Some of these 12 songs are really really not too good- we’d better ditch some of these.” So we went to drop some of the songs and write some new ones to replace them. By the time we finished those 5 replacement songs, it turned out that they didn’t go with the rest of the noisy pop thing we had on the first two EPs that we did. I mean they did, but it was a lot more rock and roll than the old thing. So we met with Michael and it went from there. Now we’re putting out a full-length next summer, and we have it all written.
*pause* If there’s one bit of advice I’ve got, it’s this: do a whole bunch of practice runs. Don’t spend a whole bunch of money when you record your first album. Even if you have a whole lot of money and someone producing it, you need some really good time to figure out what you’re doing. I’m glad that we’ve taken our time and I think that we will all be happier with what we’ve put out, now that we’ve taken our time.
IC: Is there a story or reason behind the hilarious artwork on Blown to Bits?
NW: I don’t know, really. The guy who did it (Tony Weber) runs a really small design company in Milwaukee. He’s really really super good with screen printing- definitely impressed us. Nick knew Tony kind of well. He said, “This guy’s really good with screen printing, and this would fit a little bit better with what we’ve been doing. It’s a little more primitive and less cartoony.” So we went to his house to talk to him, and we were prepared to lay out $300/400 for the art, but he said, “Yeah, you can have this one for 50 bucks.”
It’s really unsatisfying to talk about meanings, because everything we do, we do because it seems to fit. There is no active story or deep meaning; we just did it cause it fit.
IC: Funniest Tour Story:
NW: In June we did this long tour: two weeks out to New York and back. We were like, “Sweet! We’re gonna play New York!” We drove out to New York and Brian said, “We don’t know where we’re staying.” So he calls his Mom, and she cashed in all her hotel points and we got a free hotel night. Really fun. So we get to the venue, and it’s this really really small bar. This place doesn’t even have a sign over the door. There’s a bartender who looks pissed to see us and that’s it. We load all our stuff in to the basement where we’re playing, then go back up top to hang out outside. Brian and Nick are smoking cigarettes, and we notice this homeless guy who’s wandering up to us. We’re thinking, “Shit, he’ll ask for money.” Instead, he asks for a light, and Brian says, “Yeah man, here’s a cigarette lighter.”
He lights up and he says, “Who are you guys? You guys in a band?” We say yeah, we’re in a band. He says, “Oh yeah? Where are you playing?” We point at the bar behind us and he says, “I’m the guy who booked you for that show.”
We’re like, “Okay…” So we find out he’s from Green Bay and we’re from Milwaukee, and he knows everyone we know.
So we’re talking a bit, and then suddenly, this guy takes off running. Like full speed, up the street. We’re kinda confused, so we go inside to hang out a bit, and we see this really really gay and really really drunk man. He kept touching Matt and kept rubbing the back of his head, and all Matt could say was, “No, man- I’m not like this.” The guy kept saying “Just jokes, man- just jokes.”
Eventually, the homeless guy comes back, and he says “Let’s go up to my apartment and hang out.” We all agree, and we start following this guy. But he stops and says “This guy’s my friend, we’re going with him.” So the gay guy comes with us, and we go.
Just as an inventory, you’ve got four kids in NYC 4,000 miles from home with no money, a homeless man, and a boy-hungry pedophile. That’s the company. The homeless guy walks to the door next to the bar, and we all get into this really skinny staircase with one bare lightbulb hanging, like we’re in this serial killer thing. The homeless guy turns around and says to us: “If the Pakistani guy below me hears me I’m going to prison, cause he doesn’t know I’m up here.”
At this point, we know he’s homeless- literally. He’s squatting on this bar. So, to recap, we’ve got this boy hungry nymphing pedophile-
NW: Yeah, nymphing. I heard it on Family Guy. Side note- if you ever say anything and no one gets it, say it’s from Family Guy and everyone is required to laugh.
Anyway, so we’ve got homeless man in front and pedophile in back, and we don’t even know these guys, and it’s ten o’clock at night in New York City. We get to the top of the stairs and he slams the door. I’m thinking “Oh shit, this is where we die, he’s going to stab a knife in my back and I will die.”
But we didn’t die. He turns on this lamp, and it’s one bulb of piercing fluorescent light. It’s so bright that it’s blinding us, pretty much. It’s bad. The guy says yeah, “That’s where I sleep,” and nods towards this rotting mattress. The story’s getting kind’ve sad, actually, cause it’s this rotting mattress and it’s just nasty. I mean this guy lives in his own filth- just one mattress and a lamp and nothing else.
So he says, “We’ll go back downstairs now, but we can’t let the Pakistani hear us.” Throughout this entire episode, he calls him the Pakistani- the guy never gets a name. It’s not like he doesn’t know it- it’s pretty much full-out racist. So he says that we’ll go down by the elevator. He walks over to the breaker and sticks his hand into the breaker and sparks go everywhere. He gets really shocked. And we’re shocked too, cause the guy just stuck his hand in and shocked himself! So he keeps putting his hand in to flip the breaker, and this thing shocks him every time. After a bunch of “AH’s” and yelling he finally flips it, and we take the elevator down to the floor. By now it’s funny- we pretty much know we’re not going to die.
We say to this guy, “Before the show we’re going to go bar-hopping.” So we walk around the corner to this bar, and you could tell it’s an old breakfast club, which was cool. The stove is a set of video games and such. The homeless guy says, “Go talk to the guy behind the bar and get us some beer. Tell him you’re friends with me. You’ll get free beers- just give him this ten bucks.”
So one of us walks back to the bar to give him the money, and the bartender walks away and doesn’t take the money. When he gets back, the homeless guy says, “He didn’t take it?” Now this homeless guy is acting like someone is on his tail, like someone is out to get him. He hisses at us “Pass it to him under the bar! pass it to him under the bar!” So we go up with the money and the bartender comes over and takes the money from under the bar. Really freaking weird.
The homeless guy comes back again and says, “I’ve got somebody who’s going to guest musician with you guys tonight.” and he brings over this old black guy named Melvin. He says, “hey, you guys play in a band? I’m gonna play with you.” And we’re like, “Great- this is a homeless friend of a homeless guy and he’s going to drunkenly cavort around on stage while we’re playing.” We found out later that the guy who booked us with a show doesn’t even work at the bar- in fact, on numerous occasions he has gotten kicked out for stealing liquor. He’s a known criminal, he’s homeless, and he’s booking shows.
So we finally go downstairs to play our show, and we play to three people. There’s a drunk lady who’s dancing hardcore, and a guy in the corner who’s acting more and more weird. And the third guy is Jimmy Fallon. I didn’t even notice, but our drummer did, and he said, “Yeah, man- that was Jimmy Fallon in the back.” We found out later that this bar was so low-key that it’s a place celebrities go when they want to be alone for a while.
IC: Are you serious?
NW: Can I make this stuff up?
IC: I guess not….this is pretty crazy.
NW: I know- all throughout the night we were waiting for the story to end, but it just kept getting more and more hilarious. It never seemed to end.
IC: It’s still not over?
NW: Not yet. So we finish our set, and our booker comes over and says, “You guys are gonna play another set.” We don’t have another set- but we said, “We’ll play another set, whatever.” Melvin comes in, and we say, “Shit- this is where we have to play with drunk, homeless man number two.”
We get up on stage, and we ask “What do you play?” He said, “We’ll play Jimi Hendrix for a while.” So I’m just riffing, our bassist is playing a walking bass line, and our drummer’s playing a shuffle. And suddenly, this guy just goes off. I mean he’s seriously wailing. Seriously really fucking good- just an absolutely incredible musician. We found out later from our booker that he played back up for B.B. King for a while. But right now he’s making up words and singing them as he goes along. These are really incredible songs- right off the top of his head. It was amazing, actually. So we finish the second set and we’re hanging out. We’re like really freaking drunk by this point and we don’t care that they’ve got no money to give us- at this point we just want to tell the story. We’re about to leave, so me, Brian and Nick go out the car. Matt’s hanging out in there, and he’s been hitting on this chick that our booker knows. Before we leave, the guy says, “Do you want me to mess with him a little bit?” And we said, “Oh yeah, do it.” So we’re outside waiting by the van, and suddenly the booker kicks the door open and throws Matt out on his face, yelling, “Don’t ever come in my fucking bar again!” And throws Matt on his face. And that’s the end of the story- we got in the van and went to the hotel.
IC: *laughing* that’s an amazing story.
NW: Most bizarre and ludicrous situation ever- we kept waiting for the story to end and it never did. It just got more and more and more ridiculous.
IC: What’s the best thing to ever happen to the Box Social:
NW: Getting signed to No Karma. It’s an unbelievable difference being on a record label that cares for you. I have the utmost respect for DIY bands who do it without help, but I don’t know if I could do it myself forever. Once you get signed, it opens a lot of the doors to meet new people and find new audiences. I think it’s really fun being DIY, but it makes it a lot easier to have people behind you willing to work as hard as you are.
IC: Reason that playing in the Box Social is awesome (and infinitely hilarious):
NW: Man, there’s a lot of it. I love music a lot. I think that’s the number one thing. I really like playing in a band, even with the bad tour stories- it’s all about being able to come home and tell your friends what happened. Another thing is getting to drive around with your best friends for two weeks and do nothing but play music. Just drive around and play around and have a good time with the band.
People say that it’s all about the music or all about the money, but for us it’s all about the experience- the fact that we can go on a vacation for two weeks that doesn’t cost much. That’s why people follow the Grateful Dead and Phish around- to follow the music and just hang out with their friends.
IC: Where do you see the band in 3-5 years?
NW: I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know. I hope to be…I think for all of us the major goal is to be able to do this for a living. That’s any serious musician’s dream. If I could, I’d tour full time. That’s what I’d be all about. I’d come home to talk to my friends and family, but I’d drive all around for my entire life. Hook up with a major label or maybe No Karma will grow- but right now we’re going to do what we’re doing and see where it takes us.
IC: Bands you looked up to when you were a kid:
NW: Oh my God- depends on how young I am.
IC: You can choose that.
NW: I’ll bet I had better taste in music in 4th grade than in 8th grade. In second through fourth grade I was all about Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, Green Day, and Silverchair. That’s probably a lot better than 8th grade- I was into some really really bad shit. Metallica was my biggest obsession. Me and our singer were freakishly into Metallica. In fact, I paid 50 bucks for a Metallica bootleg. I had all their shit arranged in a closet with a special light. I know Brian was really obsessed with KISS….
NW: Yeah. Have you seen Some Kind of Monster yet?
IC: No, I haven’t, actually. I wanted to.
NW: Oh my God, Steve- you need to see it. This is the exposure of a band that has just reached into the greatest depths of hell. Nobody trying to be that bad could actually be this bad. I mean St. Anger was so bad that when it came out there would be magazines giving it 0 out of 10 stars. It’s so ridiculously bad. In 8th grade I was in awe because they were sweet- now I’m in awe because they’re so ridiculous. I mean, they’ve done some pretty good stuff- I don’t want Elektra records getting on my case because I’m not a fan of Metallica anymore or anything. It’s pretty sweet that Metallica stood up for Beatallica- that was cool.
IC: *laughing as he types* let me catch up on typing.
NW: Alright. *pause* Here’s something…We were talking about band philosophy, and none of us are out to be artists. We like playing rock- it’s cool that there’s some artsy bands out there, making an art form out of it, making huge leaping soundscapes- but it’s not for me. I subscribe more to the 50’s philosophy where there’s pop and stuff that entertains. Some of the emo and hardcore and stuff- no offensive to them, cause there’s some really good stuff that I still listen to- but it kind’ve sucks that they’re trying to create aesthetic emotion in some person’s mind. It doesn’t mean you have to sell out, but I don’t know why people can’t take themselves less seriously. There’s no reason for what you play and what you have fun with to become a burden.
For example, remember when Krist Novoselic threw his bass into the air and it hit him right in the face? It’s so cool that you’re into these songs and that you’re into it, but sometimes I’d like to see a band that dances on stage and trashes equipment and just goes nuts.
IC: Yeah, there’s this band I know of that played a show up here, and their bassist was going nuts the entire time- dancing around and stuff. They had the last spot, so they could play as long as they wanted and they didn’t know when they were going to end. They got to a part in one song where the bassist played a really sweet solo and then freaked out- he jumped, and then threw his bass into the drum set, then fell off the stage. That was the end of the show.
NW: That’s what I’m talking about man- that’s cool. At this point in my life, I would rather see an unbelievably shitty band that goes ape-shit on stage. It’s cool if you’re tight, and I’d rather see a really good band that does that stuff too, but I’d rather see you go ape-shit than stand around. I’ll use this for example. I went and saw the Plea for Peace Tour when Further Seems Forever was headlining. Further Seems Forever, these supposed huge indie legends. So they get on stage and they just don’t do anything- it sounds like I’m listening to a record.
There’s a defined difference between an album and a show. You make a tight album but when you make a show, you’re entertaining. I don’t like that they go verbatim, straight off the record. There are so few bands now that go on stage and play music and have a good time with it. There’s a band named Mclusky that does it- I never got to see them live, I really wish I could’ve. You could tell that they went into the studio and had nothing polished. They’re a super tight performance, but their recordings are all noisy. *pause*
Punk rock has fallen down the tubes- it doesn’t exist. Everyone’s about these ‘great’ performances. I’d rather have a great time and make an audience go nuts on stage. It just doesn’t happen very much any more, and I wish it would.
IC: What have you been listening to lately?
NW: Geez, not much of anything. When we’re in the van we listen to Mclusky. The Thermals are a really cool band on Subpop- Michael introduced us to them. Their old band The Urban Legends was on No Karma back when it really wasn’t No Karma. Dillinger Four. Phantom Planet has a new album coming out soon that I’m really excited for…that’s pretty much it right now.
IC: Hey, thanks for the interview.
NW: No, thank you. Have you ever seen Almost Famous?
IC: Yeah, it’s my favorite movie.
NW: Alright, then you know when I say, “Man, just don’t make us look lame.”
-Interview conducted by Stephen Carradini in December.
Band Name: The Noise Revival
Album Name: To the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia
Best Element: Stunning songwriting, stellar musicianship
Label Name: n/a (this is a sin)
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Noise Revival has a lot of guts, and I admire them for it. I admire the fact that they would put barrels of money into an extremely well-produced record of sounds that aren’t going to be well-received by the public at large. You see, The Noise Revival is somewhat akin to a more optimistic Pink Floyd- creating huge slabs of rock that are at times droning and at others complex and intricate. Ebb and flow is the lifeblood of the Noise Revival, and To The Seven Churches in the Province of Asia is basically one 60-minute song broken up into 9 slightly-easier-to-handle chunks (this very nature defeats the purpose of quoting song titles, which I won’t do very often during this review). It’s freaking awesome if you like that sort of thing- which I do, a lot. This album has some extremely strong songwriting and while the vocals could use a little bit of help, these songs are mostly instrumental, which only adds to their gutsiness.
These songs succeed because these songs aren’t long out of pretentiousness. These songs are long because the members of the band enjoy the melodies that they play so much that they feel compelled to repeat them many times in many different settings. This isn’t a band that says “lets play long songs cause it’s cool”- this is a band that says “man, this melody is awesome- how many different ways can we work this into a song?”
Another thing that helps out their sound is that the band members are all on the same page. Each of the individual members seems to be on equal talent footing. None of the members go for the narcissistic touches- each plays their own little part in making the sound go. There aren’t any huge drum solos or bombastic guitar riffings- there’s only what needs to be done. The keys offer up a brilliant touch in “Lie N Die”- then disappear. The guitar repeatedly plays a beautiful melody in “Good Job”, but it never gets excessive. The drums never goes for the throat, put always gently pushes the sound forward- the stomping beat on “Revolution” is ample proof of that. The bassist has a huge contribution on this album- his finesse and melodic ability turn many of the more droning sections of atmospherics into highly enjoyable sections of music.
The only drawback to The Noise Revival’s sound is the vocals, which take some adjusting to. They’re sort’ve like a mournful trumpet- not really all that happy to be there, but you know it’s there. Sometimes the low, swooping sound works in the context of the music, but many times it feels a little awkward. It’s truly the only awkward piece of this equation, though- every other piece fits together like clockwork- including the mood shifts, which are dramatic. The song “Revolution” alone contains all out rock, dream-pop, ethereal moodiness, dancy stuff, tempo changes galore, and I think even a key change, although I can’t verify that. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if there were one in there.
The Noise Revival has crafted an epic with To the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia. This is probably my favorite release of epic post-rock since Pink Floyd committed their visionary whatever-you-want-to-classify-it-as to tape. And while it’s ambitious to pass up people like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed and all those who made the genre famous, I feel something in the Noise Revival that I don’t feel in the others. I feel an earnestness, an honesty, a passion, a driving force that gives them something more. Also, I feel a lot more variations in sound than I do with other bands. That always helps.
Basically, if you like post-rock and you don’t own this album, you’re cheating yourself. This album is the epitome of both post-rock and the enduring hope of the independent music scene.