Monday, June 30, 2008

Same Old Song

Complaints about the current crop of "rock stars" signed to major labels is certainly nothing new. Like payola and bad morning DJ's, moaning about the current state of popular music is nearly as old as radio itself.

That being said, I am a card carrying member of Generation X, and believe it is my God-given right to cry in my flannel about the mediocre soon-to-be has-beens that pass for musical heroes nowadays. Below is a Saturday morning rant a buddy/music fan/and longtime music mag publisher sent over this weekend. Thought I would share:

I have become one of those music snobs and I just realized it today. I am sitting here with a stack of CDs on my desk per usual and listening to this average band at best playing radio friendly adult contemporary music you might find in 1986. Why is this relevant in 2008? Why do people record this stuff and spend lots of money to put it out?

I have become jaded because some of my rock heroes have become my friends and I think their music is the elite. So why can’t these unsigned bands be as good as Pearl Jam, King’s X, Juliana Hatfield, Hamell on Trial or Ani DiFranco and I think that is a pretty diverse selection of music mind you.

Where has the soul and heart and passion gone in music. Who would really make the commitment in today’s bands to play a three hour show and sweat through their clothes like Eddie Vedder or Bruce Springsteen and those dudes are in their latter years. They could out rock any of these new punks on the block who think they know about music. Hell they think music started with Blink 182, Green Day. They only like the Clash, Joe Strummer, Sex Pistols because it is “punk cool” to like them. But do they know the history, do they know the literal blood sweat and tears some of those bands put into their music?

Sure there are still good bands out there playing for the sake of the music but in this era of downloads, My Space what not, anyone can play three chords, write and record a song on their computer and call themselves a musician.

A friend of mine, who was mentioned above, told me that music was becoming disposable and sadly they were right. One click of the button and you can throw a song into your computer trash bin or erase it from your IPod when you are sick of it. But how can anyone really get sick of music?

After reading his rant, I decided to go through my own stack of promo CDs to find one solid release courtesy of a major label. Nothing. There is some great stuff coming out on smaller indies (the new Gaslight Anthem on SideOne is amazing and the Osaka Popstar live record will likely be in my car stereo for the next three years!), but small labels are limited in their distribution and the amount of money they can spend on promoting a band, so chances are you will likely never hear about any of these bands if you don't regularly hit the small dive clubs and bar.

All that being said, I will continue to do my admittedly small part and trumpet these smaller, far more talented bands in any way that I can, from magazines to blogs. It's a drop in the bucket, but it at least makes me feel better about myself.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dennis Wilson Review

OK, so you don't always (or ever) think of the Beach Boys when someone mentions punk rock. But Dennis Wilson did hang with Charles Manson ever so briefly, so that may be a strong enough connection to justify mentioning him in this blog.

Legacy Records just released a remastered version of the former Beach Boy drummer's only solo record, with tons of extra (including a never before released second record!). R.I.P. surfer man.

Here's the review:

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue (Legacy)

History is packed with drummers that tossed away their sticks and grabbed the mic (Dave Grohl, Phil Collins, Glen Fry, etc.), often with uneven results. Former Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson was one of the few drummers who could actually pull off the change.

Though he may have spent his brief musical career behind the shadow by his older brother Brian, the re-released version of his 1977 solo record shows he was every bit as talented. Wilson’s solo record was/is a big step away from the traditionally cheery Beach Boys, melody-soaked songs, leaning more toward beautiful, melancholy piano-backed efforts. Light on production and extra instruments, Wilson uses little more than a piano and his voice to move the songs along.

The Legacy Records deluxe set treats this often neglected gem of an album right, with four bonus tracks that didn’t make it on the original record and second CD of Wilson’s never released “Bambu” project: 16 rarely-heard tracks, and a new version of the unfinished song “Holy Man,” aptly enough, with Foo Fighter’s drummer Taylor Hawkins on vocals. The package also comes with a 44 page book of photos and several essays about the musician.
Listening to “Pacific Blue” in its entirety, followed by the salvaged songs on “Bambu,” you can’t help but mourn for the short, but understated brilliant solo work of Dennis Wilson and what might have been had he not died in 1983.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Band Worth Knowing: Ludo

The only back up plan the guys in Ludo had was “don’t have a back up plan.”

It seems to have worked out OK for the St. Louis-based rock band. Just a few years into it’s existence and Ludo has already signed with Island and are hitting the road with the Presidents of the United States of America to promote their second full-length “You’re Awful, I Love You.”

Co-founder Andrew Volpe took time recently to speak with me about the beauty of not looking back.

So where did all of you meet?

We came together in pieces. Tim Ferrell and I played together as Ludo while we both were in college. We started playing acoustic shows full time in early 2003. Tim Convy, who had known Ferrell since high school joined after that spring and the three spent that summer recruiting a rhythm section and got Matt (Palermo) and Marshall (Fanciullo) that summer. We recorded our first album after being together for a few weeks, and immediately went on tour.

I know at least some of you dropped out of college for Ludo. How thrilled were your folks about that?

I think all of our parents had a feeling early on their kids were going to pursue something like this. They've all been very supportive - they see how hard we work, and they know how much we love what we do. Of course there's an occasional "get a REAL job!" but for the most part they've all been great.

How would you describe the band's sound?

Describing what music sounds like is like trying to draw a picture of what spaghetti tastes like, so it's not really something we like to do but in short - we're a rock band.

Do you guys have any influences that would surprise people?

We really like Chuck Berry and we've all got individual tastes that would surprise people. Tim Ferrell has been really in to music in "pure" intonation which basically abandons all rules of Western notes, chords, etc and it's crazy!

Have you all been able to quit your day jobs yet or do you still work between tours?

We've been very fortunate and have done nothing but Ludo from the day we started. We always say "If you have fall-back plan, you'll fall back on it." Before Ludo we did everything from bartending, DJing, graphic design, and selling shoes, futons, and all sorts of things.

How did you get the attention of Island records?

We played a show at South by Southwest in Austin and there was an A&R guy there from Island. He saw us, took us out to eat the next day and then brought his boss to see us at home in St. Louis.

How long have you been working on the songs that made this record?

Years. Some of the songs have existed since December of 2003, and others were written while we were in the studio.

How was the recording process this time around?

It was really amazing and probably one of the most positive experiences we've ever had as a band. Our producer, Matt Wallace, was incredible and supported us in making the record we wanted to make. We also got to live in Hollywood for two months which was quite an experience in and of itself.

What are the largest and smallest crowds you've played in front of?

We played to over 4,000 people at a show during the Final Four in St. Louis. We also played to about four people in a swimming pool at college in Texas.

Any advice to bands that are just now starting out?

Love it. Do it for yourself. Write lots of songs. Push each other. Play every show you can. If something isn't fun, don't do it. Get plenty of sleep.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2008?

We're going on tour with The Presidents of The United States of America. Before that, we need to get the oil changed in the van. And after that, who knows?