Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
Every now and then you come across a truly brilliant band that you can’t help but wonder why the rest of the world has not caught on to yet. The Teenage Frames are one of those bands.
Ten years in the making, the LA-group (by way of Chicago, and Portland before that), plays straight ahead rock and roll that would make Robin Zander proud. Crammed with three chord-guitars, sing along choruses and two-and-a-half-minute time limits, the Teenage Frames play music that’s reminiscent of everyone from Cheap Trick to Material Issue.
Frankie: Originally me and the drummer (Jim Holiday) lived in Portland and we knew each other from high school bands and stuff from the early 90’s. At that time, the whole grunge thing was going on and I just didn’t go along with the other kids my age; I just didn’t get it. I just got into rock and roll music. Jim and I decided that Portland was sort of in the grips of this northwest metal blow job fest and we just didn’t feel comfortable with it, so we said “Let’s go to Chicago.” In Chicago you had Urge Overkill and Material Issue and Cheap Trick. That’s where we met Eric (Vegas, guitar). I think what convinced us was an all night drinking fest that a lot of people go through when they form bands and we were watching videos all night, drinking until the sun came up and talking about all these bands that we love like the Beach Boys, Cheap Trick and the New York Dolls and at that point it was a no-brainer and we were off and running as a band.
LFR: So that was 1995, how did you get Aaron (Money, bass) involved?
Frankie: Aaron was someone we met when we came out to LA. When we lived in Chicago we had two different bass players… When we moved out here we had to find a new bass player.
LFR: What was the Chicago scene like at the time you guys first formed there?
Frankie: It was all sort of indie rock, Touch & Go sort of stuff. Bands like Pavement were really big, post-rock stuff like Tortoise. But it definably wasn’t geared toward rock and roll. What me and Jim started doing in Portland we thought was an anomaly. We went to Chicago and it was even more so. And it’s not like we are dealing with something that is revolutionary, but it was almost seen that way, because it was so different than the other stuff people were playing with. We were playing these tiny dive bars and there were maybe one or two other bands that had the same sensibilities, but it was really dry. You’d think there would be bands coming out of the wood work to just string together two chords and play snazzy, snarling rock because it’s so much fun. It gets people moving.
LFR: Is that why you decided to move to Los Angeles?
LFR: I’m sure the scene in LA is completely different than what you faced in Portland and Chicago.
LFR: Does any of that affect your music at all? Have you found yourselves changing your music a little based on what you’re hearing?
Frankie: I would say it really hasn’t affected us at all. To me it’s really more a process of the industry and marketing then it is natural thought. People get into things, especially in Los Angeles where you see the fashions change and the music change, and you realize that these are really just lifestyle accessories for a lot of people. Everybody’s trying to get laid; they’re trying to get a better job; they’re trying to be popular. I think if you allow yourself to be hampered by that it will just ruin you. I don’t think you’ll ever really do anything of quality because you’re always chasing something you’re never ever really fully comprehending or grasping because you’re always going to be on to the next thing.
LFR: In terms of musical influence, have your tastes changed at all in the 10 years or so the band has been together?
Frankie: I would say individually they have, but as far as the band is concerned, we sort of started it on the premise of a very… I think all of us agree that we love the art form of rock and roll, very simple and to the point and economic and give yourself a two and a half to three minute time limit. But you can do an amazing amount of things in that time. We like to keep the structure the same because I really do think there’s a real art behind that. If you listen to a really well-written song by any classic rock band, Cheap Trick or Thin Lizzy or the Dead Boys, it’s almost like they’re the more modern version of folk music to me, because they created these songs with wonderful structures for us to bounce our own ideas off of. It’s something that every body can do. That’s what folk music is, two chords to entertain your friends.
Frankie: I’ve been doing that since about the early 90’s. When I started from about 91 to 92 on up to about 2000, I would do these issues and they would be about once every year and at that time they were just 8.5 by 14, three pages put together. Then in 2000, Jim was like “you need to make this a real thing.” I took all of the issues that I had done up to that point and I condensed them into one sort of anthology and then I started doing regular sizes from that point. What I would like to do is about four a year.
LFR: Do you put together all of the content.
Frankie: Yeah. I literally write everything… except Eric contributed an article about The Romantics because he’s a big fan of them. I always ask people to solicit things because I just love to hear about great records that people really care about. I love all the forgotten records that came out in 1989 and not many people bought it.
LFR: After a number of full length records, you’ve been churning out a few EPs lately. What’s the reason behind that?
Frankie: We had this idea that we wanted to do four EPs. Each band member would get to design an EP, pick the songs, etc., etc. We got to do that and we are on the third one right now, which is Glamourish Trash and it’s been great. We put these out ourselves because we didn’t really think anyone would put out four CDs that have four to six songs. It’s just not cost effective for a label. That was a project that we just fell in love with and wanted to do… We’ve already started writing songs for our next full length.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I feel fairly confident in saying that most of the bands out there that are unsigned or relegated to a teeny tiny indie label are there for a reason - they pretty much appeal to no one (including the band members themselves).
Then there are scads of groups out there selling millions with about as much musical savvy as a lip syncing act at a middle school talent show (Look at me when I'm talking to you Maroon 5!).
Lastly, there are those few musicians who genuinely deserve a far bigger audience then they currently have.
With that in mind, here's a new feature I want to try out: "Best Kept Secrets in Music".
Anyone have a band to suggest?
On that note, hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This is it (Shelter From the Storm Records)
Punk rock has thrived for decades in the underground thanks, for the most part, because it was largely ignored as a genre. Photocopied zines, basement shows and word of mouth was enough to turn the small, but loyal crowds onto better bands. Now that the spotlight from major labels and mainstream glossy magazines has been shined on the scene, every kid that steps into Hot Topic is now trying to throw together a punk band.
Group’s like LA’s In Theory, though certainly not the main cause of the problem, are defiantly one of the symptoms, threatening to ruin the genre. Their debut This Is It, is so formulaic it could easily have been created on a laptop. Taking cues and liberal amounts of inspiration from every flash in the pan band from the last two years (Panic at the Disco: check, Fall Out Boy: check, Cartel: check), polish off anything remotely resembling an edge, create a MySpace page and rush the single to radio station before their sound is deemed passé.
It’s not that In Theory are offensively bad musicians, it’s just that their debut lacks any semblance of an original musical thought. Here’s hoping the record-buying public will collectively decide to move onto the next big thing and allow punk rock to go back to rebelling against whatever that sound happens to be.
In a perfect world, Todd Snider would be headlining arenas, his songs would be popping up in car commercials and his house would be staked out by paparazzi. But this is reality, so Fall Out Boy and Gwen Stefani get all the glory, while Snider quietly packs tiny clubs, perches on a bar stool and strums out some of the best songs never to be heard by the masses.
In the midst of promoting his latest release, The Devil You Know, Snider is back with two quickie releases: a collection of B-sides and rarities from his old label and a seven song live record.
A decent number of the 14 tracks on Peace, Love and Anarchy have been heard in one form or another on other records and at live shows. The demos and alternative takes are interesting, but pretty much prove Snider was right to record the versions that made it on the proper albums. But even Snider’s cutting room floor tracks are stronger than many songs currently charting.
The EP, Live at Grimey’s, offers a stronger look into just why Snider has managed to build up such a loyal, cultish following. The song intros and audience banter are all captured from the October show recorded in Nashville. Focusing mainly on songs from his latest record (which include some of his best, like “You Got Away With It” and “Happy New Year”), the only strike against the album is that it is far too short.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I honestly never thought Prince was crazy, just a tad bit weird.
But ticking items off the list it's starting to add up to a big pile o' crazy: Wearing nothing but skimpy purple undies throughout the 80's, the ass-less chaps, the unpronounceable symbol, going door to door in Minneapolis as a Jehovah's Witness, and now threatening to sue fans.
Prince = Not all there.
It's been reported recently that Prince has had his lawyers reach out to his fansites and order them to immediately take down all lyrics, pictures, album covers, etc. (please note the unauthorized use of a Prince pic in this posting.)
As if that's not bad enough, a letter from his purple lawyers asks those running the fansites to provide "substantive details of the means by which you propose to compensate our clients [Paisley Park Entertainment Group, NPG Records and AEG] for damages".
Suing your fans. Why didn't Metallica think of that!Prince is dead. He is now The Artist Currently Known as Jackass.
Let's Go Crazy!
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I feel close to you people, so it's confession time: I'm a whore for t-shirts (that's size XL if you're wondering).
It started in college, while writing for my school paper. I was sent a package from some PR firm hired by MTV to promote the winner of a Battle of the Bands-type contest. Along with a press release and cassette (yup, I'm that old), there was a black t-shirt. I think they got to play at the MTV Beach House all summer (remember the MTV Beach House?). I was still in J-school at the time, and had already taken my ethics courses, so naturally filled to the brim with smugness. I wasn't going to be swayed by a T-shirt... But, man this was a cool shirt. It was for the winning band (if you consider playing at the MTV Beach House winning); a crappy alt/grunge group from Maryland: Bovox Clown (still remember 'em, that's how cool their logo was. It was this creepy grinning clown face on a black background).
A week later, I was wearing the shirt, so after much internally struggle, I felt compelled to write about this sub-par, paint-by-numbers grunge band... and I did. You never forget your first time. For the record, it was a very matter-of-fact article free of any superlatives or gushing accolades.
Flash forward about a decade and I now have two dresser drawers jammed so tightly with short-sleeved band T's that they don't quite shut all the way.
I get a slew of CDs send to my door each week and try to listen to every single one, at least once, but sometimes it takes a month or so to get through the rotation. And sadly, I still manage to get swayed by a band t-shirt. I'm pathetic. I can admit it. 100% cotton is pretty much all it takes for your record to move to the top of the pile - no matter how lame I think it's going to sound. Trust me, I'm not proud of it, but it's true... Don't judge me! I get paid on average 0 dollars and 0 cents for my reviews and articles, so let me keep my spoils.
Have I ever given a band a shitty review despite receiving graft? Sure. Ever given a shitty band a good review because of a shirt? Nah (it's a shirt, people, not bars of gold).
But, I've also gotten swag from some very cool bands (for those keeping track, I'm wearing a Mental Records T right now, home to some killer bands like Automatic 7 and Chesterfield), so I think it all evens out in the end.
Imagine what I'd write for a hoodie...
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
If the group is willing to give up 20-30 minutes of their time I can at least make sure I've done my homework. However, I do have a full time job that has nothing to do with interviewing bands, and a 3 month old and wife at home, so every now and then I forget that I have an interview lined until the phone rings and a 212 or 310 area code pops up on caller id.
Over the years I have learned to stall for a few minutes while I get online and frantically pull up the band's MySpace page, bio or Wikipedia entry.
Here's a quick list of good stalling questions I have started to collect (please feel free to toss out more in the comments section if you can think of them, because I probably have an interview tonight that I've already forgotten about):
- Tell me about the new album - is there a theme tying together the songs? Classic stall. Unless it's The Who's Tommy or Green Day's American Idiot, who gives a shit? Certainly not the person reading these interviews, but it never fails to illicit at least a three minute response. Plenty of time to Google the band and come up with a couple of questions.
- Any good road stories from the current tour? This one buys you about five minutes, easily. The answer, though certainly interesting to the person telling it, is almost always incoherent, rambling and never quite as funny as he/she thinks it is. Kind of like listening to someone describe a dream they just had.
- How did the band first get together? ... Or the reason why I always skip the first paragraph of any band bio. The answer is either: We all went to school together, but weren't really friends at the time; We played in different bands around the scene for years; or I placed an ad in [insert local alternative weekly]. Unless you found your bass player because your mom brought him home from a bar one night, the story is never really that interesting.
- What inspired the album cover? I have NEVER once printed this response in an interview, but it also never fails to bring about an extremely detailed answer filled with vague descriptions of symbolism and other weird shit that only makes sense if you're stoned.
Any others I should add to the repertoire?
Monday, October 29, 2007
Churning out heart-on-their-sleeve pop songs with as much creativity as they put into choosing their moniker, Boys Like Girls deliver less than a dozen quickly forgettable teenage crush tracks on their debut. It’s hard not to pass a cynical eye over the band that seems like they were put together in the back room of a Hot Topic. They fit the mold perfectly, complete with asymmetrical hair cuts and go-to producer Matt Squire (Panic! At the Disco).
If you haven’t heard of Imperial Teen by this point, you likely never will… and that’s your loss. Fronted by former Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum, Imperial Teen plays power pop like few others. It’s no coincidence that almost every mention of the band is followed by a few lines about Fountains of Wayne, who formed around the same time, clear across the country; both groups play smart, catchy power pop unlike any other bands. The only big difference is Imperial Teen’s boy/girls vocals.
The Hair The TV The Baby & The Band is a reference to the other jobs held by members of the group (hair stylist, TV music writer and mother). This, their fourth record, shows Imperial Teen still writing brilliant pop nuggets as catchy as anything on their first three outings. It’s hard to find a stand out track on the album, as each are nearly flawless, but “Everyone Wants to Know,” which sounds like the last great song The Breeders never wrote, is destined to be a band classic. It’s been five years since they last put out a studio album. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another five more years for the next one.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The reason the Popes broke up years ago was because singer Josh Caterer decided to embrace Christianity. Not just show up at church every now and then, but "I'm-going-to-quit-rock-and-everything-it-stands-for, turning- my-back-on-everything-I've-created"kind of embrace. A great band cut down way too early.
In his case, I think he's just using his sudden spiritual awakening and cult-like new life as an easy excuse to walk away from a truly crappy band.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
It took about half a century for musicians to catch on, but they have finally come to the conclusion that they are getting screwed big time by the major labels (smaller record labels are the exception, as many discover these bands, nurture them for years and watch some jackass A&R guy from Warner walk into the club with ironed jeans and a FallOut boy t-shirt and walk out with the band). They come up with the songs, write 'em, record 'em, cram into a van filled with stale farts and pop tarts and tour the country for about two years, collect a check for a few thousand bucks and do it all over again, while some douche from the record label takes a moment from counting his money to remind the band how lucky they are to be doing what they're doing (cue the maniacal laughter and thunder clap).
In a recent letter, hardcore vet and Throwdown front man David Peters claims that buying CDs actually encourage the current system to keep on keepin on.
"I encourage our fans to acquire our album however they please. The philosophy I’ve adopted is that if you’re supporting disc sales, you’re keeping the old model around longer…the one that forces dudes like me to tour 9 mos/year if they want to make ends meet with a career in music. If you wanna really support a band, "steal" their album….help bury the label….and buy a tshirt when you show up at their show and sing every word."
Great thought, but that brings up a larger question: Once the current system crashes and all label heads lose their jobs, who's going to buy all the coke and hookers? Tom Sizemore?
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Musical punchline Tommy Tu Tone and a handful of music reviewers are now alleging that the opening chords of Springsteen's latest "Radio Nowhere" are (maybe, possibly, I think...) a rip-off of the One Hit Wonder's "867-5309 (Jenny)."
Really? The Boss - one of the greatest rock musicians... well, ever - is going to swipe chords from Tommy Tu Tone?
That's like Steinbeck plagiarizing a passage from The Baby Sitter's Club.
Apparently Tu Tone remembered who he was and this afternoon has said he will now send a letter to Springsteen's manager assuring him that he will not sue. (Why not, he got the publicity he needed. Hey, did I mention Tommy has a new record coming out? Lucky timing!)
Friday, October 5, 2007
Holy crap! From an AP story in Clarksville, TN, a guy shot himself in the head after the zoning board voted against his request.
CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- A business owner shot and killed himself during a City Council meeting Thursday night after members voted against his request to rezone his property, witnesses said.Ronald "Bo" Ward, owner of Bo's Barber Shop, had told the council his business would go under if he couldn't get his home rezoned as commercial. After the 5-7 vote Thursday night, Ward stood and walked toward the council.
"Y'all have put me under. ... I'm out of here," he said before shooting himself in the head with a small handgun.
I covered zoning board meetings for years in Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts and the most exciting thing I ever saw was a board member fall asleep in front of everyone... and I talked about that for weeks!
CA punks Strung Out (their latest record, "Blackhawks Over Los Angeles", is amazing by the way) had just checked into a crappy Days Inn in Philadelphia. They'd been there about 20 min. when they looked out their window and saw someone driving off with their van and trailer (with all of their instruments, all of the t-shirts they sell at the shows and a bunch of personal belongings). Way to go City of Brotherly Love! Suddenly Detroit doesn't look so bad.
If they're coming through your town be sure to catch Strung Out on the "Philadelphia is Full of Assholes" Tour.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
As a writer for music mags., I try to be accommodatingly. I don't randomly slam bands in articles for no reason (the gloves come off with reviews, however). I know interviews are not the number one reason people start a band. If someone is taking the time to sit through an interview and answer the same questions again and again, I feel a little bad turning around and trashing them in print for no reason. I love music and a lot of the bands I interview are not doing this to get rich (and clearly neither am I, because I don't take a paycheck from most of these mags) , but simply to play music. I have an enormous amnount of respect for these bands. I'll even throw the publicist a bone and promote one of their up and coming no-name clients if they have been helpful in the past. Then there are those I will never work with again...
I hate, Hate, HATE, with the red hot intensity of 1,000 suns, when publicists come begging on bended knee for a write up of their band and then never quite follow through once I have agreed to write about them. Two recent examples.
John's List of "Bands That are Dead to Me":
1. MXPXChristian pop-rockers MXPX (which by the way, got a huge following with the Born Again crowd and then got pissed off a couple years later when anyone called them "Christian pop-rockers"). I did an interview with the drummer or guitarist - can't remember which - a couple years ago and the guy was a real dick. He could not be more uninterested if he tried. Every answer was "yes" or "no" regardless of the question. I had about 15 questions and the interview was over in less than 10 minutes. I had to go back to the publicist and ask for an interview with someone else (not much better the second time around, but I was on deadline and had to turn something in). Earlier this year, with the release of their latest crappy CD, a new publicist scheduled and interview which the band skipped... twice. MXPX, you are dead to me. Go to hell.
I know, I was shocked to realize they were still around, as well. They had a tween hit a few years ago with "Ocean Avenue." Their flack begged my editor for a feature, so I offered to write it. We agreed to an e-mail interview and I sent over the questions. A few days go by and the publicist hits me back with an e-mail telling me he wanted to cut a couple of the questions (apparently, the question, "So, there were a couple of line up changes on this record?" was going to bring the band to tears.) "John, (you are asking me) how did you know a couple of guys quit the band?" Good question: Because the jackass publicist mentioned that in his pitch to my editor ("they have a new line up!"). I told him that was cool, we could scrap the whole interview if he wanted to nit pick the questions. He quickly replied that no, he was just going to change around the order and then send them on to the band. Well it's been close to three months now and still no response from the publicist or the band (their album tanked by the way. Coincidence? Looks like someone's going to be applying for that job at Hot Topic, soon.)That's it for now. I'll let you know if I add someone else to the list.
On a positive note, here's a couple of really good albums, I've been listening to this week (i.e. bands that are not MXPX or Yellowcard): Bruce Springsteen's "Magic", American Steel's "Destroy the Future", The A-Sides "Silver Storms" and The Frantic "Audio & Murder".
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I've defended your borderline sanctimonious preaching for years. I stood up to those who screamed "traitor" when you met with Jessie Helms (I took some shit for that one, by the way). I still bought the last two sub par U2 albums (and I NEVER buy music any more - except when Springsteen puts out a record). I even shrugged when I heard you were helping bring Spiderman to Broadway (seriously?).
Then I read about you penning a song for the new Spice Girls greatest hits album. Indefensible! Mr. Paul David Hewson you have gone too far this time. With this letter I am officially severing our fan/musician relationship.
I'm heading out to where The Streets Have No Name, In God's Country, because I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for. Walk On.
Good day sir.
Monday, October 1, 2007
To quote the petition:
THese (sic)are satanic priests in their pulpits on stages and in clubs around the world. They understand the power in music and how they can plant their ideas in your children to make them do anything. THey (sic) want to kill your children and their lyrics state this very thing.
Not since Marilyn Manson has such a crappy band managed to garner such a mother load of free publicity thanks to clueless parents. Here's the equation: Pissed off parents = coolness seal of approval for mall rats with cash to spend.
I first found out about this controversy from the band's record label which issued a breathless press release spelling out the issue (they were also kind enough to provide a link to the pissed off parents petition). Clearly the record label knows how to play the game.
Parents I implore you. Let's address the real evil: Celine Dion's never ending Vegas show. The fact that she can charge $7 for a commemorative Celine Dion spoon is proof that Satan walks amongst us!
Friday, September 28, 2007
... But let's be honest, it will likely just end up being yet another venue for more of my petty bitching, and a passive/aggressive way for me to slam people behind their backs. (By the way, if you recognize yourself in one of my diatribes, it's probably not you I'm talking about... well, maybe you Joey.)