Monday, January 23, 2012

Advice for New Bands: Don't All Love the Same Music

 I'll always remember the crestfallen look on my long-time close friend and band mate's face when the realization hit him:
"You'll just never love The Moody Blues, will you, Brian?"
I had to be honest. After all, he and I ranked many of the same artists in the highest regard. From The Zombies to Love to The Stooges.
But The Moody Blues...he was right. I just could not get with them. Still can't, honestly.

Well, before I go any further, and if he is reading this (and crying), I will right now list a few Moody Blues songs that I can say I like very very much and wouldn't kick out of bed, as it were:

1) Peak Hour
2) Tuesday Afternoon
3) Evening (Time to Get Away)
4) Voices in the Sky
5) Questions
6) Thinking Is the Best Way to Travel
7) Lovely to See You

So there. That wasn't so hard.

That same person, I was surprised to find, enjoyed listening to Bob Marley. I couldn't rap my head around that. It took me getting into Desmond Dekker, a few years later, to discover early Marley, and then allow myself to get mellow enough to appreciate the slow stuff (this was when you wouldn't catch me within 20 yards of a Grateful Dead album).

So my point is this: If a band forms because everyone worships and wants to be, say, Radiohead, or Arcade Fire or The Clash, guess what you're going to sound like? And guess how interesting that will be?

Did you form a band just so you could get compared to the band you worship?

In fact, it helps if there's even an unspoken (for the sake of keeping the peace) extreme distaste for an artist within a band. That's how new sounds evolve. Or even a guilty, unspoken love for a band. (Holy Christ, imagine if so and so actually was a HUGE Red Hot Chili Peppers fanatic this whole time?)

So, say.... one guy starts playing a bassline that's totally derivative of a Fall song. The drummer, who knows nothing of the Fall, but loves The Replacements, will steer the song in a totally different, but hopefully compatible direction. The guitar player who worships Richard Thompson might suggest an interesting twist. And badda bing.There's an interesting band. (Just don't mention the name "Richard Thompon" to the bassist or he'll ditch the song--and possibly the band-- immediately).

You see, by not forcing one's taste on the others, but just presenting ideas, the whole band can learn.
It's like putting dill in a recipe and not telling the person who you know would never eat it if that person knew it had dill.

I could get totally turned off if I said "bloody great riff there! It makes the song!" Then the person said "Yeah, it's a total Ben Harper rip off". So sometimes it's good not to say anything.

Let's take for example one band I've played with.

School For the Dead is pretty compatible, in that, for example we all like XTC. But...some of us get off on the over produced, layered, Oranges and Lemons (which could also be called Samples and Triggers (sound geek laughter)), and some of us like the sharp, angular, "seal-bark" vocals, full of jagged herky jerky stops and starts of the early stuff like Go 2 and Drums and Wires. Some find that unrewarding.

Let's look a bit more. I hope this is seen as just a fun sociological study and not a way to break up the band. Crikey, we've been together 10 years.

While sometimes compared to They Might Be Giants, only a couple of us would consider ourselves fans. Some have never seen them or ever would even entertain the idea. Some have only listened to an album of theirs all the way through because their high school girlfriend liked it. Some admit a strong distaste for them. Some really like a handful of singles but that's enough.

Some would declare Neil Diamond "boring".
Some would declare Cat Stevens "unbearable"
Some would declare The Doors "the worst".
Some like "Shattered" by the Stones. Some hate it.
Some can't name more than 3 Rush songs.
Some have probably never sat through all of Axis: Bold As Love. Or Zen Arcade. Or Physical Graffiti.
Or Band on the Run. Or Solitude Standing. Or The Head on the Door. Or anything by Billy Joel.

But some have.

Everyone loves The Velvet Underground and Robyn Hitchcock as far as I know?  

Most will diss anything Clapton post '74.

Some know more about 80's hair metal than they're letting on. 

Some have a hard time not falling asleep to women singing without drums.

Some will say they like King Crimson, despite never having listened to more than two songs.

Some could argue the relative merits of various Beach Boys and Kinks albums for hours, without the help of external stimuli.

One might name their kid Miles after a famous jazz musician.

One would consider naming his kid Elvin for similar reasons. But probably won't.

Elvin would be a great name for a cat, however.

Only a couple of us could name more than 7 Monkees songs.

At least one of us could name 100 Monkees songs, who wrote them and the month they were recorded.

Some can sit through an entire Dire Straits album.
Some can maybe sit through half of a Dire Straits song.

One or two could be happy driving cross country listening to nothing but oldies stations. One or two might arrange for other transport were that the case. 

Some grew up on 70's Pink Floyd. Some have never even listened to Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall beginning to end.

Some only like the Syd Barrett stuff.

Some lives were changed when one got some into Harry Nilsson.

One didn't think anyone under 40 listened to solo Paul Simon (back when we were all far from 40)

One could expound for an hour on all the differences between 1969, 1973 and 1977 Grateful Dead and why they sound like three different bands. Then offer to fully demonstrate using an 11.3 hour playlist.

That same person might need some money or medication if made to listen to Phish.

Some may have never thought they'd be in a band where the singer played an acoustic guitar.

Some really like Queen. Some just don't get it. One had to admit that he'd never paid full attention to Bohemian Rhapsody until made to play it for a few thousand people.

Some love The Fall. Some just don't get it.
Some love Exile on Main Street. Some probably never will.
Most love the Beatles.
Some much more than others.

Some might prefer newer bands that sound like The Beatles.

Some might find Buzzcocks much more interesting than The Ramones.

Some might like Frank Zappa? Some definitely don't. 

Some might not be able to see what the fuss is about with NRBQ or Steely Dan. Some won't care to try to find out. Some may ask for a mix CD to learn and be eternally thankful.

And yet, whenever we get together, since the first time, we sound like School For the Dead. Crazy, that.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely and loving post, Brian. I'll 'fess up to being the one with probably the highest degree of punk influence due to the teen years and you're right, somehow I bet Husker Du and Buzzcocks find their way into my playing in this band somehow. By the way, I could easily name 100 Monkees songs and who wrote them but would never know months they were recorded in (that one must be you). And although the internet told me just now, for all I knew when I first read this, "The Head on the Door" was possibly by Rush, The Fall, TMBG or Phish. Or Jane Siberry.