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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Boy's No Good

Yesterday I found myself in a position where I could either be an old grump about something or not. Here is the backstory:

Currently, Fall Out Boy is a very popular band with "the kids" (aka, teenagers called such by people that are not that much older than teenagers). Their songs are poppy and they rock and the band members are cute and funny, especially bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz. Wentz is the star of the band as most interviews feature him, giving much less attention to his bandmates. The deal is, he is hated as much as those that love him. Troll any message board about the band and you'll see. I personally cannot stand all the sad emo looks the guy gives in publicity photos (see here) and all the goofy stage poses he does (see here). All of this only makes me enjoy Fall Out Boy's music even less (which I've always found to have a severe lack of life with its whiny vocals and neutered sound).

Wentz has a label called Decaydance which is an imprint under respected indie, Fueled By Ramen. Decaydance currently has a hit on their hands with A Fever You Can't Sweat Out by Panic! at the Disco. Panic! is similar to Fall Out Boy (long and goofy song titles and a very neutered emo-punk sound), so it comes as no surprise that Panic! is almost as popular as Fall Out Boy these days. So what happens when a respected and legendary hardcore punk band signs to Decaydance? Pure outcry and disbelief by many longtime fans. For me, it was disbelief more than outcry.

Lifetime put out three proper records and a few 7"s in the 1990s. Their second album, Hello Bastards, is often heralded as a genre benchmark because of its distinct blend of melancholy, hardcore punk and pop-punk. This album, along with the Promise Ring's debut album, 30 Degrees Everywhere, really helped put indie Jade Tree on the map. Jade Tree has never been about jumping on trendy bandwagons with what "the kids" want. They have always put out really good indie, punk and post-hardcore that has a wide reach with fans young and old. So, with the announcement yesterday that Lifetime was signing to Decaydance for their next album, I was puzzled and felt I should share this with my friends over at the SOMB.

Mere minutes after I posted the news, I already had two responses essentially asking, "Who's Lifetime?" This is where I had to make a decision: be an elitist snot that feels that if you didn't know who Lifetime was, you're stupid or be a helpful guide and clearly talk about who these guys are. I chose the latter, but there was an initial grumble about being a fan of non-hip stuff in a hip-centric place. Since I chose not to be standoff-ish, I think about why I brought it up in the first place.

The deal is this, people on the message board go on and on about such-and-such indie band that has this awesome album coming out soon. That's totally fine because these people are expressing their love for a band or album with those that may not be aware. I think it's great to talk about the new Cat Power, Band of Horses or Twilight Singers records, yet I feel like adding some of my own raves (whether they're considered hip or not) to the table. Merely talking about Lifetime helps spread the word on them.

As for how I think about Lifetime signing with Decaydance - at its core, a label is a vehicle. While Decaydance is currently a hot label, I'm not 100% sure that it has strong legs. Of course with its ties to Fueled By Ramen, it's on some stable ground. Yet with Panic! at the Disco on Decaydance, the label seems to represent something that's trendy and ephemeral - something Lifetime is not. So I can understand there being some outcry and some puzzlement that Jade Tree, the label that has released/re-released the band's (and various bands featuring Lifetime's members) recorded output until now, isn't releasing their next album. I'm sure the band has their reasons and they may not be willing to explain them all in public at the moment. I don't want to jump down slippery slopes with two middle fingers in the air, but as I said, I'm a little puzzled by the signing. At least this wasn't like when Jawbreaker signed with Geffen in the mid-'90s.

UPDATE: Guitarist Dan Yemin addressed this issue in a MySpace bulletin sent out on Saturday, April 1st. (No, it's not an April Fool's joke). Here's what he said:

Hey everyone, this is Dan Y. and I sing and write the songs for Paint It Black. I also play guitar in Lifetime. As you probably know if you're receiving this, Paint It Black is pretty heavily concerned with political subject matter, and for me personally it's always been important to try to keep my actions and my lifestyle consistent with my beliefs and ideals. A lot of people have been upset by the news that Lifetime has signed to Fueled by Ramen/DecayDance records. From what I can tell, most of the uproar is based on people jumping to conclusions or making inaccurate assumptions. I'm flattered that Lifetime and
Paint It Black are important enough to people that they can get this upset about who puts out our records. I'm also really happy that people care what we believe in and whether or not we're sincere. This is punk rock and those things are important. I totally understand that people feel like they have some ownership of theband and the music because it's played a large part in their lives, and I'm gratified and flattered by that. I'm concerned that some people seem to be
questioning the legitimacy of Paint It Black because of this. I wish I could be punk enough to say that I don't care what people think, but that would be dishonest. I'm more than a little upset over some of the vicious things people have said on message boards. I can honestly say that Lifetime hasn't done anything that I'm ashamed of, but I understand that people have questions, and I'm more than willing to answer them. I want to encourage people to contact me here at our myspace page and feel free to ask whatever questions that you might have about what any of this news means for Lifetime or for Paint It Black. Just be sure to put "Lifetime" in the subject heading.

I'll give you the FAQ to start with, it might make things easier:
1) Fueled By Ramen/DecayDance is neither owned nor funded by a major label, I made sure of that.
2) Our motivation in signing is not to "cash in " or "sell out". We simply wanted the resources to make the record we wanted. I still make more money if I stay home and go to work. We all have day jobs and it will stay that way.
3) No $$$ advance, just a recording budget.
4) No "big name producer" on the recording, just Steve Evetts who recorded "Hello Bastards", "Jersey's Best Dancers", and "Tinnitus", and also all the Kid Dynamite stuff. Although I suppose Steve has become a big name in his own right in the last 8 years. We will be working at the same old studio, TraxEast in NJ.
5) The new stuff is fast melodic HCpunk, like the old stuff.
6) No one will be interfering with our songwriting or recording.
7) When we play something big and ridiculous (Bamboozled) we will attempt to balance with something intimate (Court Tavern, New Brunswick).

thanks for caring. I look forward to answering your questions...-dy

3 comments:

pimplomat said...

I'm not familiar with the band or the ladder-status of the different labels, but I'm just curious about what you would rather see them do to get more recognition in the already cluttered field of rock bands. Maybe they felt they weren't making any headway with Jade Tree. Maybe this other label has better distribution. If they make a record and they don't change their sound to mimic their labelmates, does it really matter what record label they're with?

This reminds me a little of when R.E.M. left I.R.S. to sign to Warner, though on a smaller scale, of course.

Eric Grubbs said...

You bring up some very valid points. The concern that I have is that Decaydance hasn't really proven itself beyond the confines of mall punk. Maybe Lifetime's next record will prove that.

To be honest, label choice is a really moot point. As Elvis Costello put it once: "It's like getting a box of Corn Flakes and eating the cardboard." However, we're trained to believe that a band will get mangled in the "wrong" hands. Whether it's the fault of the band or label, we hate to see our favorites go down in flames.

A concern is that Lifetime will now cater to the mall punk crowd, leaving us longtime fans in the dust. I don't think Lifetime will do this, but you never know. I think it's great that younger people get into music like this, but if it becomes this audience made up solely of teen mall punks, it will be incredibly alienating.

PAgirly said...

i can't read any further until i correct you...the boys in fall out boy are NOT cute.

i know, this is a mindless, girlie comment but you'll have that (from me at least).

=P