Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Punk Rockin' in China

Chinese punk band Brain Failure have just recorded their new EP, which includes the song "A Box on a Broken Ball", (no idea what that means, either) a collaboration with Public Enemy's Chuck D that talks about China's environmental problems.

The lyrics detail severe pollution problems - a result of China's fast economic growth - and the recent abnormal weather changes due to global warming. The band unveiled the song at a press conference in China. Again, Brain Failure held a press conference IN CHINA - a country not exactly known to welcome dissenting views - to talk about a song that is critical of their own country. Now that is punk rock!

Here's a link to the song:

The single is being released through the iTunes Music Store exclusive on April 30th. Their third album, "Made in China," is expected this fall.

Great band. If Joe Strummer were raised in Beijing he would definitely have started this group.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Interview Do's and Don'ts...

The main reason I started covering punk music - aside from the brilliance of The Clash - is that the interviews tended to be much more spontaneous. I'd covered mainstream music in the past and it had all the pleasure of chewing on tinfoil.
The bands' PR department's had media-trained any originality out of the musicians. I would see the quotes from my story picked up in half a dozen other articles about the band. There also seemed to be a sense of unearned self-importance around a lot of these bands. They were signed to a major label, In their little world, they had made it, so granting an interview to the press was seen as little more than a favor to the record companies.

About five years ago, as a favor to a friend I did a piece on a small punk rock band and was shocked at how much fun it was. The band loved talking about themselves and did not shy away from a single question - controversial or not. They were crammed into a tiny van with their buddies for months on end, eating peanut butter on white bread to save some money for beer and couldn't be happier. They knew that major labels were never going to come knocking on their van door with a million dollar contract, but that didn't seem to matter. They had day jobs and twice a year, saved up enough money to tour behind their albums, playing to small, but devoted crowds of kids who loved their music. They also saw an interview as a great way to speak to their fans. I was sold.

From that day on, I tended to concentrate mainly on covering punk bands.

About a year ago though, I noticed that these interviews have started to become less and less fun. The problem almost always seems to come when I'm covering younger bands, on tour behind their first record. Not sure if it's a generational thing - Millennials who were pampered by their parents and now think the rest of the world should treat them like the precious little snow flakes their parents raised them to be. Regardless, it's starting to get annoying.
That's why I've thrown together this helpful list of do's and don'ts to help out these snow flakes and their PR folks (my day job is in PR, so I'm not asking you to do something I wouldn't do myself).
Here we go:

  • Let's drop the attitude. I'm sure you were a big deal at your high school talent show, but I've never heard of you before and chances are 99.9% of the record buying public hasn't either. You're not too good to spend 20 min. on the phone with a reporter who is trying to give your band a little publicity. I have interviewed some of the bigger names in punk, folks in Bad Religion and Flogging Molly, who don't need a mention from my magazines to sell records, and they have been fantastic, entertaining every single question I had without an eye roll. You'd be lucky to have a career half as successful, so suck it up buttercup and handle the interview like a big kid.

  • Buy a watch. This one seems obvious, but if you're on tour, I know you have nothing to do until sound check late in the afternoon. There's no need to be two hours late for an interview. Put down the PSP and show up to the interview on time.

  • Pretend like it's your first time. I know interviews can sometimes get tedious. Especially when you get asked the same questions again and again. Here's a little secret: we're asking you those same generic questions because we know absolutely nothing about you. At all. You've been together as a band for less than a year, you have one five-song E.P. to your name and your bio includes absolutely no interesting details other than your drummer spells his name with an "i" rather than the traditional "y" spelling. We're just desperate to keep the conversation going longer than three minutes. If you're give us nothing, then you're going to get questions like "How did you guys first get together?" Here's a deal I'll make with you, you don't sigh loudly when I ask a question you've heard before and I won't ask how your band got it's name. Deal?

  • You're really not that funny. I'm sure it can get boring on the road. You need a diversion, so why not screw with the reporter and not take a single question seriously. Being sarcastic is an art form that few can pull off (Fat Mike, being one). Chances are you will not come off funny, but will inevitable just sound like a douche. Nice job! You have now pissed off the reporter who will never write about your band again and alienated tens of thousands of readers who might have bought your record. At least your bass player laughed, though.

  • This one's for the flacks. Dear publicist, I know you got this job to one day meet the guys in Green Day and now you're stuck pitching a band like Cute is What We Aim For (one of my worst interview experiences ever, by the way), but suck it up. Return that e-mail and answer your phones. The only time I hear from some of you is when you are pushing some no-name band that is about to disappear into the ether and your client is pressuring you for a clip. I have no problem covering small bands if the publicist has been cool in the past. Mike at Earshot and Vanessa at Mutiny and Fat Wreck Chords, for example. I would cover anyone for these guys because they have been extremely helpful, setting me up with hard-to-get interviews and ALWAYS answering my e-mails, even if it's a question about when a record is coming out. Earshot and Mutiny have a phenomenal client list, in part because their owner's know how to deal with the media.

  • This one's for flacks, Pt. II. Tell me the truth. I know I'm not writing for the New York Times. If your client doesn't want to talk to every outlet, that's fine. Just don't tell me "he's not doing interviews," when I will pick up a competitor's magazine next month and see an exhaustive Q&A with the dude. Again, I'm in PR, so I know those conversations are uncomfortable, but if I lie to my reporters they don't cover any of my clients again. I'm the same way. You're dead to me. Also, don't pester me about covering some horrible band and then go silent the second I ask to get some more details on one of your bigger clients. If that's your M.O., don't be surprised to see your clients walking out the door because you can't get a reporter to answer your calls.

OK, I have stepped back down from the soapbox. All in all, the vast majority of bands and PR folks I deal with on a day to day basis are extremely professional. They make this job, of which I get paid almost zero dollars for, worth doing. To all of you I say "Thanks".

To the others, remember this phrase: "Would you like to supersize that?".

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Me and Willie

So I woke up to another birthday this morning.

I am now officially 35 and while it would be easy to start ticking off all the cliched dreads that come with getting older (another day closer to death; thinking about all that I haven't done; all the money I haven't put aside yet; blah, blah, blah)... not this year. This year I greet the anniversary of my ride down the log flume of life with a great big grin. Why?

Because last night, the Fed Ex driver left a package at my front door. Inside was the Holy Grail: A copy of the latest Willie Nelson box set "One Hell of a Ride: (thanks Randy @ Legacy/Columbia!).

Wille - who incidentally turns 75 later this month - has been a constant in my life and in my CD (formerly tape) collection. Despite years of evolving musical tastes, Willie has always been there for me. I may have been sporting a bolo tie and paisley vest in the mid/late-80's but I was listening to "Whiskey River" as I was getting ready to hit the skate ring.

In fact, Willie and Bruce have been the only two constant anchors in the Mt. Rushmore tribute to my musical heroes (unfortunately, at a low point in my musical tastes they would have been sharing real estate with Kiss and a handful of hair metal bands).

I'm turning the tables on the tradition of gift giving this year and handing you a present. Take 3 minutes and listen to this song:
No need to thank me.