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He's So Emo
Eric Grubbs chronicles two decades of DIY music the only way he knows how--doing it himself
By ANDREA GRIMES
Article Published Feb 2, 2006
Slowly, people are trickling into the Cavern, sporting requisite hipster wear in all its various forms, from punk chic to whatever's on the mannequins over at Urban Outfitters. It's Thursday night, and they are, or will very soon be, hard at play. Forty miles west, at KTVT-Channel 11 in Fort Worth, the folks on the night shift are hard at work planning the next morning's broadcast. But in both the Lower Greenville bar and the news hub, the fact that Channel 11 reporter Rebecca Flores has the flu is a problem.
Eric Grubbs, who is nervously bouncing his foot on the Cavern floor, will be responsible for filling in for Flores in just a few hours. He should be home, sleeping, with his closely-shaven head resting comfortably on its East Dallas pillow. But he has a more immediate task: a concert with his band, Ashburne Glen, the first they have played in nearly a year and a half. Eyeing the tiny stage, he plans his exit strategy--off the drum stool, over the amp and out the front door to a couple hours of sleep. At least, as a traffic reporter, he doesn't have to go on camera.
"Yeah, and with these ears?" Grubbs says, cupping the sides of his head and laughing to himself. He has a deep voice perfectly suited for broadcasting; he easily sounds 50 years old. But at 26, Grubbs is one of the youngest guys in his field, reporting accidents, brush fires and other commuting impediments to the rabid motorists of North Texas on stations like KLUV-98.7 FM and KRLD-1080 AM. It pays the bills, and he takes it seriously. As tempting as it might be to get riled up about High Five congestion, however, Grubbs spends most of his time thinking and, most recently, writing about music. For the past two years, Grubbs has divided his life between the clean-cut, chronically square world of alternate routes and construction delays and his book, a do-it-yourself, homemade volume about the evolution of post-hard-core music and (don't say it too loudly) that dreaded, much-maligned genre known as emo. It's called Post: An Anthology of American Post-Hardcore /Whatever-You-Call-It-Core: 1985-2005.
"Nobody wants to talk about it seriously in any form of press other than in bits and pieces," says Grubbs in an interview at a certain Seattle-based corporate coffee house on Knox Street. The definitive work on the music thus far is a book called Nothing Feels Good by Spin magazine contributing writer Andy Greenwald, an admitted outsider in the scene. While it's not his only reason--or even his main one--for writing Post, Grubbs thinks Greenwald has it all wrong.
"Nothing Feels Good seems to be the epitome of how a lot of mainstream people like to write about [post-hard-core, emo, pick your term], which is 'Aww, these poor little guys, they've been mortally wounded by girls,'" says Grubbs, cocking his head and batting his eyelashes in mockery. "I get the feeling that they've got their tongues in their cheeks when they're writing it. This is ridiculous."
Grubbs' approach to the book, which is still a few chapters from completion, takes more from early DIY punk rock than modern publishing. Grubbs is seeking to redefine the perception of bands from Minor Threat to Braid and Jimmy Eat World by tracking down the musicians themselves, without the backing of a well-funded music magazine or publisher, and asking them to tell their stories. From a fan's perspective, Grubbs is finding out how--or whether--Ian MacKaye's music morphed into the acoustic angst of Dashboard Confessional. It's taken a lot of cold e-mails, a lot of waiting backstage after shows and a fair amount of luck.
After getting nowhere with Jimmy Eat World's publicist, for example, Grubbs finally met drummer Zach Lind because of a band T-shirt he wore at a party. When a friend saw his Sparta tee, Grubbs says, "He said, 'Hey man, Sparta's awesome.' We got to talking, and he grew up with Jimmy Eat World. He got me in backstage at the show."
Grubbs has made incremental advances such as that since he decided to write the book in March 2004, after getting hit on the head with a pile of shingles at his apartment complex.
"I was kind of in a daze," he says about the injury. "Whenever I'm sick or injured, I think of when things are going to get better. I had heard [Nothing Feels Good] was overlooking a lot of stuff. I thought, 'Well, obviously, there's going to be somebody who's going to write a book about this.' With this going through my head...I'm going to my afternoon gig at KLUV. As I'm going through the Wycliff toll plaza, I said to myself, 'Well, why don't I write about this music?'"
He called his TCU college buddy Nick Wright, now the owner of Mission Label, an independent record label in Chicago, and told him about the idea. Wright, who had no experience in publishing, jumped onboard immediately. He's taking his book-marketing approach from that of newly formed bands who may or may not have a full recorded album to shop to fans. The theory, more than anything else, is just to get people to listen rather than buy.
"We're trying to find the best way to get the word out organically," says Wright, who calls Grubbs an "encyclopedia" of the post-hard-core genre. Wright and Grubbs have already created a press release and post cards promoting Post and hope to build an audience the way a band builds a fan base.
"The bands [Grubbs] talks about in Post had to do the same things [Grubbs did] to be heard or to get their records out," Wright says. "We all should understand that really good, independent, DIY music comes from people who have that same attitude."
As is true of many of the artists he interviews, Grubbs has a sense of major-label skepticism and rejects the idea of shopping his book to the likes of Harper-Collins or Penguin.
"I don't want to bother getting an agent and beg publishers to get it out," Grubbs says. "There was no middle man when people started their own records. Why should there be a middle man when publishing a book?"
For now, Grubbs is very much a man in the middle. Between performing with his band (Ashburne Glen's second album, It's All Just a Dirty Game, will be released by Mission Label on February 7), demystifying morning commutes and just trying to get some sleep, he has a limited amount of time to dedicate to Post, but he says he gives it all he can.
"The emotional reward is writing it, researching it and finishing it. That's the experience I'm always going to remember."