Greasers Palace – Lafayette bands of yesteryear

I’ve been on something of a sabbatical for the last few months. Partially I just couldn’t stand to think about academia anymore, and partially I needed to take a time out to try to figure out who I am as a person at this point in my life. (Perhaps I’ll touch on this in a later post)

During this time of self directed listlessness, one of the things I’ve picked up on is how important music is in my life despite my self-imposed absence from participation in it the past several years. Part of this has involved catching some of my favorite bands of olden times who are now re-activated, like Braid, who I saw in Chicago recently in support of their new record and Failure who seem to be giving it another go. Additionally, I do a fair amount of reminiscing about Lafayette bands that I knew personally.

A week ago I was poking around youtube, and happened to find a pile of videos from Greasers Palace, a band that was active in the 2002-2005 ish timeframe. When I first met these guys, it was during the era of “Tazzma’s Rock ‘O Rama”, a sketchy venue in the spot on 6th street that has hosted Luckey’s, Mixerz, Downtown Records, The Venue, and most recently an installation gallery show by Purdue Visual and Performing Arts grad students. At the time, their music was a weird amalgam. There was a lot of Marilyn Manson influence; an element of shock showmanship, and offbeat instrumentation like theremin and Q Chord. At this point there was also a hint of John Mellencamp influence, which later became more prominent. The music was interesting, but a little chaotic. At the time, it was kind of a high point for me in terms of a happy, networked music scene, and these guys played a big role in that, I think. They were friendly with most of the other bands they encountered, and cool to me as well, so we became friends.

Here’s an audio recording of one of their sets at Tazzma’s around this time:

Over time their sound evolved, and more of the typical punk rock influences came in. The Mellencamp vibe came in more too. While it’s worth mentioning that Seth and Elijah, the two brothers in the band were from Southern Indiana, and the ‘Coug could be counted as a role model, I was never quite sure if the Mellencamp thing was tongue in cheek or serious. I think initially, I viewed it as a joke, but it caused me to go a little deeper into his catalog, and I eventually found myself taking him seriously. I guess it’s similar to the way people view Journey? Anyway, as a hoosier, I now have a pretty good appreciation for Mellencamp’s perspective even though I still laugh at him from time to time. A few selected hilarities:

“But you must believe that when I walk down the tracks
All those young girls fall back and say
There goes that sleek young silhouette
He don’t drive no Corvette
But he stings just like a Sting Ray”
Chestnut Street Revisited

“I’ve seen lots of things
But I have not seen a lot of other things”
You’ve Got to Stand For Something

At about this point I started helping them record. This was more an element of convenience for everyone than a business transaction. I think they’d recorded at a studio somewhere and didn’t like it or it was hard to schedule or something, and there also wasn’t a lot of money flowing around.. Plus, they had some decent equipment including a little BOSS recording workstation, I think it was a VS-890. I may be wrong, but I think my payment for recording them was getting to use the BOSS recorder to do a Jim-Jims album later which ended up being “Here it comes!“, probably my favorite album that I recorded. At the time, I think John Gordon had moved on to Boston, meaning the usual recording space that we had been living in was gone, but I think I still had some of the equipment around, so we set up in the living room of Casey, the drummer’s house that the band was practicing in.

I ran the session in what became my standard documentary style. We set up live, with amps semi isolated in different rooms, and the drums in the living room. Micing was all pretty basic. I don’t think I had anything fancy. I remember that there was a good balance on the two guitar tones. Their bass player had disappeared at some point prior, so they went with a two guitar/vox/drums arrangement that really worked for them. Elijah was using a bandmaster set to an almost muddy tone; lots of low end. he played mostly drop D barres, and the tone fit the style. I can’t remember what Seth was playing through.. Something a little more high gain with a slight harshness. Maybe the tubeworks or a marshall of some kind. I think we got everything live. Vox and guitar solos may have been overdubbed, but I don’t think so. I remember that the band was adamant that the vocals be low in the mix and they wanted a little distortion on them. I think I used a terrible ART TubeMP for that task. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Elijah didn’t have lyrics for all the songs and Seth didn’t have guitar leads/solos. In more recent listens, I’ve been able to catch some mumbling where the words weren’t done, and for one of the solos, I recommended that Seth just play the tapping part from AC/DCs thunderstruck; which he did, and I think it sounds ok.

I guess it’s all a little fuzzy at this point. I feel like I did two 4 song sessions with them, but I really only remember one. Maybe we recorded something at Tazzma’s during the day? I don’t know. Four of the songs ended up becoming the Tatonka EP – Brown Bottle Blues, Transmission, Straight Shooter and 9” Chamber. A few more ended up being their “Going to Arizona” demo – Road to Damascus, Immortal Class, and Battle Flag. I really enjoy that I was around to see the evolution of what these guys were doing, and I’m also really glad to have known them. They were great friends. Once Seth and Elijah graduated, all of them moved to Arizona, and they continued on as a band for a while, but I think it petered out as everyone established adult lives. The last time I heard from any of them, Casey was still playing in a band, but that was admittedly many years ago.

Here are youtube videos for some of the songs I did with them:

Design and Music: Louis Kahn – Order Is

I seem to be picking up pieces of the idea that musical composition is design. I mean, it’s clear that it is, but I think many don’t think of it in the same what that we think of visual design, but there are parallels both philosophically and pragmatically. I’m going to try to start documenting the bits that I find. Here is the first – Order Is by Louis Kahn.

Design is form-making in order
Form emerges out of a system of construction
Growth is a construction – In order is creative force
In design is the means – where with what when with how much

The nature of space reflects what it wants to be
Is the auditorium a Stradivarius
or an ear
Is the auditorium a creative instrument
keyed to Bach or Bartók
played by the conductor
or is it a conventional hall

In the nature of space is the spirit and the will to exist in a certain way
Design must follow closely that will
Therefore a stripe-painted horse is not a zebra
Before a railroad station is a building
it wants to be a street
it grows out of the needs of the street
out of the order of movement
A meeting of contours englazed.

Through the nature – why
Through the order – what
Through the design – how

A form emerges from the structural elements inherent in the form.
A dome is not conceived when questions arise how to build it.
Nervi grows an arch
Fuller grows a dome

Mozart’s compositions are designs
They are exercises of order – intuitive
Design encourages more designs
Designs derive their imagery from order
Imagery is the memory – the form
Style is an adopted order

The same order created the elephant and created man
They are different designs
Begun from different aspirations
Shaped from different circumstances

Order does not imply Beauty
The same order created the dwarf and Adonis

Design is not making beauty
Beauty emerges from selection
affinities
integration
love

Art is a form-making life in order – psychic

Order is intangible
It is a level of creative consciousness
forever becoming higher in level
The higher the order the more diversity in design

Order supports integration
From what the space wants to be the unfamiliar way may be revealed to the architect.
From order he will derive creative force and power of self-criticism to give form to this unfamiliar.
Beauty will evolve.

Some new(ish) music – Feersum Ennjin

I am admittedly behind the times in regards to music. I tend to gravitate towards bands who are still trying to advance the sounds they were working on in late nineties and early 00s. As such, I don’t get excited about music nearly as much as I used to. One such band that has recently popped back up on my radar is Feersum Ennjin.

You likely wont recognize this band’s name, but it starts with a band whose name you likely know. The album Undertow by Tool was something of a landmark; prog-rock for the grunge era. Paul D’Amour was the bass player for that record and left the band shortly thereafter. D’Amour moved on to start a band called Lusk with Brad Laner, Chris Pitman, now of Guns n Roses and Greg Edwards who was in Failure and is now in Autolux. Surprising to most who knew D’Amour from Tool, the result was an excellent, but very poppy record released in 1997 called Free Mars. (iTunes link) The album was nominated for a “best packaging” Grammy, and had a video for the song Backworlds that did well on MTVs shortlived show 12 Angry Viewers.

 

Lusk disappeared shortly thereafter. I remember reading on some long-gone band-related blog that one of the members had been in trouble with the law or something. Apparently their label was having some issues that also led to the project not going anywhere. It’s a shame, because Free Mars was really good. When recently played for one of my bandmates who hadn’t heard Lusk before, it was assumed to be more modern, and compared with Owl City.

Jumping from 1998 to 2005.. D’Amour released an eponymous EP for a new project called Feersum Ennjin. I think I found out about this around 2008. While only 5 songs, it was a great album. It had a striking similarity to Lusk, but was perhaps a little more focused, and heavy. Seeing as I was so late to the party on this one, and that there hadn’t been any new releases, I assumed that Feersum Ennjin had already come and gone.

 

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about Lusk, and I decided to go good Paul D’Amour and see if he had anything new going. To my surprise there was a Feersum Ennjin full length. I grabbed it off of iTunes. Somewhat disappointingly to me, the LP is comprised of the songs from the EP with some new songs. Still, it’s a good record. As Paul himself states in the interview below, it’s pretty easy to see where Feersum Ennjin goes from being Lusk part 2 to something slightly different.

Mike Doughty is bringing me down. (or, “The future reality of playing music for a living”)

I used to have an interest in the music industry. I think I actually believed that I could potentially, eventually get a job in that mucky muck. With the passing of such ideas, I still have a vague interest in the music industry. Mostly I’m appalled at the way businesses have failed to adapt to the advent of the Internet (suing your customer base for fun and profit) and simultaneously I’m curious to see how things will shake out once the sinking ships finally go down.

There has recently been an exchange in the media whose honesty is one of the more accurate reflections of the current situation of making money off of music. It all started with a blog post by Emily White, an NPR intern, titled “I never owned any CDs to begin with” in which the author brags about the amount of music she has acquired illegally, rationalizing her acquisitions by way of the venerable “artists don’t get any of the money from record sales” argument.

Emily’s blog moved a lot of people to write about it, including almost 1000 comments, a commentary from an NPR staff member, a post from a talent agency co-founder and most importantly for my little narrative, a reaction from David Lowery, the singer from Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker who now teaches music business courses at the University of Georgia.

Lowery depicts the current music industry situation by tracking the flow of end user money; when users download illegally, their money goes to internet providers and manufacturers of computers and phones _instead of_ musicians. While I can see his point, it’s not waterproof, as downloading legally still requires that you buy a laptop and internet service. Regardless, his ultimate point stands – musicians don’t get any money. This is backed up by the fact that most musicians do not, as many lay people suspect, make all their money from touring. He goes further to insinuate that music stealing makes depressed musicians commit suicide; kind of a low blow.

The next step in this conversation of comments comes from Mike Doughty, who in a blog post agrees with Lowery’s description of the situation and takes it a step further in the form of the equation:

less money to record labels = less tour support for bands = fewer bands

Doughty drives this home by positing that a band like Radiohead wouldn’t have survived if they had to deal with this new industry economy. It’s a depressing picture. Not just because of Radiohead, but because there will be fewer creative bands.

I agree with many of his points, but I can’t help but think that his equation is only good at predicting the short term. We’ve already been seeing the fallout of diminished recording industry revenues. What it amounts to is the big labels not gambling as much on quirky acts, and instead banking on the sure bets. This manifests in an abundance of over-produced, good looking pop singers and little else. I feel like this is what Doughty is describing. We’re already there.. My feeling is though that this strategy wont sustain the music industry, or if it does, it’s neglect of all the other non-cookie cutter music will spawn new avenues for bands that don’t fit the mold. Sure, these bands wont be able to tour the way that they have in the past, but does that mean they can’t be successful? I feel like new avenues for music discovery will develop as people who like music other than whats on the radio grow discontent with the Katy Perry’s and Maroon 5’s of the world.

What will these new distribution avenues and taste makers be? I have no idea. That’s for someone else to think up. I think there is plenty of room for it though. Technology has not only given people the power to steal music, but it’s also given people the power to create web streaming and pirate broadcast stations with little financial cost. The web has given us a huge network of self guided discovery, and interactive discovery. You can’t shortchange that. At an even more basic level, will the death of the “getting signed” dream keep people from making music? Yeah, right. Less people will be able to make a living playing music, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Music is a big part of the human experience. I wouldn’t mind seeing it de-commercialized a bit. It doesn’t cost as much now to “be a musician” as it used to. You can buy instruments at Walmart. You can record your music on your laptop at home and distribute it on the internet. Yeah, you wont get Radiohead level famous doing this, but why do you need to be. If the “get rich” factor is removed from the equation, I can’t help but think that cooler, more interesting music would surface. 

 

Note: I’m not deriding any of the authors mentioned above, or trying to say that they are wrong. We’re all just trying to see the road map of the future of music.

 

Thoughts on car stereos

The time has come around again for me to think about a new stereo for my truck. My current head unit, a Kenwood mp2032, is still working fine, so I kind of hate to get rid of it.. The reason I’m entertaining the idea is because the drive on my phatnoise phatbox mp3 player finally died. For those unfamiliar, the phatbox is the OEM version of the Kenwood music keg a hard drive based mp3 storage solution from the late 90’s. It was a nice system for it’s time and integrated with Kenwood head units well. It’s inherent shortcoming was the use of mechanical hard drives as well as a proprietary file system that would only allow drives sold by phatnoise to work.

Now that my drive has died, I’m stuck listening to the radio and CDs. The MP2032 can play mp3 CDs, but I find the 10 or so album capacity of a CD really isn’t enough variety and I don’t like toting around and constantly switching a pile of CDs. After browsing Crutchfield for a while, I’m thinking there are two likely candidates for mass media storage – a head unit with either a usb port or iPod controls. I think the usb option is more my speed.. My iPhone doesn’t hold much music so I’d have to get a new pod if i went that route. A 32G flash drive costs about $50 at the moment and should hold most of my music collection. Still not sure if I’d want the usb port on the back or front of the receiver though. There are pluses and minuses to both. I think I’m going to stick with Kenwood. I’ve been using their stuff since Pioneer quit adding features to their 1.5 DIN GM fit head units. The KDC-X693 and KDC-MP438U are the two main units I’m considering at this point, although I’m still debating getting a similar unit with the bluetooth hands free calling system built in.

The state of music?

I fully admit that I am out of the loop with regards to current pop music. At some point things seemed to spin out of my realm of comprehension. This is really odd, because music hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years, and neither has the media’s handling of music. (with a couple of exceptions)

I think the most significant change that has happened in my lifetime is the integration of so-called “urban” styles into the media-hyped mainstream. It’s cool because although a lot of the music is kind of copy-cat and repetitive, there seems to be a lot of freedom allowed in some of these styles. One of the most practical demonstrations of this in my opinion is the latest Beyonce Knowles record, I am… Sasha Fierce. Mind you, I’m not particularly a Beyonce fan, or even a fan of the style of music, but after catching her performance on SNL, I was intrigued. The first tracks of each disc in the set were really interesting. The first, If I were a boy, was interesting to me because of the live performance. It’s a slow, ballad-y type thing, and on recording, not terribly interesting. Live however, Beyonce is going with a “rock band” setup, with drums, guitar, bass and keys. More importantly, she seemed to perform (during this song) like she was fronting a rock band. She really seemed to be rocking out – It seemed somewhat cathartic and even at times kind of awkward, but my personal belief is that kind of awkwardness is a part of the ethos of rock music. It seems like this absorption of elements of rock might be a trend, especially with more hip hop artists like Kanye and T-pain using sung vocals a lot more often because of the popularity of vocoding/autotuning. (but that’s another post in itself)

The 1 track of the second disc is Single Ladies, which is a just plain weird song when you look at all of it’s individual parts. It’s pretty much just a rhythm with some samples over it and then the really repetitive vocals, but it works somehow. It’s got more emotional content than some of the other similar dance songs I’ve heard.

The rest of the album is more common fare, but I really got into those two tracks a lot.

On the other end of the spectrum, the bland, cookie cutter pop is still kicking. Brittney Spears has a new record, and I was really hopeful when I saw the video for the first single, Womanizer. I hoped that maybe the pop tart had returned from the brink of paparazzi fueled, post partum nut-bar status with a clear head with this (assumed) stab at an ex, but it panned out to be just another crappy song written by a random production team. Spears is such a train wreck. There is enough of her that’s small-town-girl to make you like her and hope she will become normal, but it seems like the child-star damage runs too deep. (by the same token, I have to give her former boyfriend Justin Timberlake a lot of respect for not only avoiding being a douche, but being so level headed and maintaining a really good sense of humor.. in the public’s view at least)

So here I’ve been rambling about pop-starlets.. Music that I’m fairly averse to. Why? These things seem kind of relevant to me as a study of media effects, and more specifically their role in the new pecking order of musical taste making and delivery, and a lesser extent, the evolution of music creation. We’re still speculating about the fall of the majors and the rise in importance of the “long tail“. I’m not going to speculate on the future of music, because it’s really too fluid right now to say. I have much more hope for the future of creative music now than I did years ago though. Technology has brought the ability to make and deliver music to people who don’t know/want to avoid the rules. I’m too set in my ways and shortsighted to be much a part of that new movement, but I’m glad to watch it happen.

I often feel that my time as a member of pop culture society is over. I heard about the launch of the mtvmusic.com site and was really excited. A collection of just music videos had a certain feel reminiscent of the days when Mtv only played music. I picked up right where I left off when the channel jumped the shark, looking up some of the ridiculous videos that amused me around that time – the jerseey rap-rock of progenitors of the genre, Brougham.. the failed frat rap of Bad Ronald, and then went after some of the vids that were introduced to the world by Beavis and Butthead. (sadly, I couldn’t find any Plantman) As cool as all this was to me, I don’t even think the site was a blip on the radar of today’s culture consumers.