Thursday, April 29, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition covers my current love of the original Bat Out of Hell record.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Well, have you ever considered writing new material?"

An important hurdle for the Pull Tabs was jumped over last week. We got our first two shows out of the way, but for me, something I hoped for has happened: we have begun working on new material.

I don't mean to sound like I don't enjoy the material we have now. Far from it. I'm just very glad that we keep cooking up new material instead of beating our older material into the ground.

I say all of this because I've played in bands where our repertoire was small and any chances of it growing were slim to none. The bands I've most enjoyed in the past were bands where new material came along and came naturally, usually via jamming.

I've found that when you jam together, a group sound emerges. Nobody gets left out in the cold and everyone has a say. A band democracy is good, especially if you call yourself a band.

Probably one of the more puzzling situations I've played in a band involved a repertoire of only twelve songs. All were originals, but usually, only eight or nine songs would be performed live. I enjoyed playing all of these songs for the first few shows, but I wondered when we were going to play new material. That day never happened; I was fired from the band after four months. And when I saw the band play live a year later, they still played from the same twelve-song list. I realized then and there that my firing was relief from future burnout.

I think how the Pull Tabs have been able to come up with new material is that we're open to jamming and not afraid to play something that's brand new. Usually it starts with somebody playing something, from a guitar riff to a bass line to a drumbeat. Material can happen at any time. And with the impromptu country song we made up on the spot during our second show, new material can happen anywhere as well.

It sure is nice to be working the creative juices again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It starts at the top

This past Saturday, instead of risking torn calves and sprained ankles with kickball on a muddy field, I decided to help a friend out on a music video shoot. Given my options for the day were do that or sit at home, I wanted to help my friend out in any way that I could.

I've been on video shoots before and they can take a lot out of you. Luckily, the eight hours flew by pretty quickly, mainly due to the fact that the director (my friend Joe) ran a very smooth and friendly set.

Proving once again about how things can be run in an efficient and positive way, this stuff always starts with the top.

Certain sides of people that you never knew about can come out when you work with them. I've seen this with people I've played in bands, as well helping a friend move to a new place. Sometimes those sides are sides you wish you never saw, but that's life.

I'm reminded of a chapter in David Lynch's book on meditation and directing, Catching the Big Fish. Before you skim over this paragraph over fear of hearing some advert for TM, I think Lynch nailed a concept about how to keep a workplace happy and devoted. If you rule by fear and intimidation, people don't want to work under you. They stay on because they want a job, but the impact on them on a daily basis is negative. We're supposed to enjoy life to its fullest; not some of it to its fullest, right?

Maybe I pine for some fantasy world that doesn't exist. I counter with the notion that you can be in a working environment where people really do get along, from the top down to the bottom. And there's no intimidation because of fear and negativity. Now there's a concept that doesn't seem like a pipe dream.

Monday, April 26, 2010

On not being prolific

I may have worked on my next book for almost four years, but by no means do I have hundreds of pages to show for it.

Maybe I'm too critical with what I write, but I do a lot of editing when I write. There's always room for more editing later. I write what I hope will make the final cut. In other words, I don't believe I have a problem with written diarrhea.

But maybe I should have this "problem" in the writing process?

I recently read an interview with an author whose parents have been very prolific in their careers as writers, and it looks like he is continuing that trail. Claiming to have written almost thirty pages in only two days for his next book, I wonder if any of those twenty-something pages will amount to anything for the final cut.

The truth is, I'm not a big fan of cutting a lot of stuff. Not to brag, but I try to leave as little excess stuff in the final draft. With POST, only a couple big portions were clipped between the rough draft stage to the final draft stage. I had drafts of chapters that I later abandoned after I decided how the book's narrative arc should really be. I figured what I really wanted to say could be consolidated into the Jimmy Eat World chapter and the epilogue, and I never looked back.

Now with When We Were the Kids, I'm still throwing as much possible onto the page, but before such happens, I ask, "Will this be a good thing or will this be a pointless detour?" I could just write and write and write off the top of my head, but if most of that stuff will be cut later, I wonder why I let myself go like that.

Maybe I should just let the diarrhea happen. I have roughly seventy pages in Word (roughly less than 200 pages in book form), so maybe I should just let the rope loose and see what swings.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition is about a show I saw under the strong urging of my friend Matt Trana. This is another way of me saying thanks to him.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wrecking Force

I can't help but feel anger over the announcement of Voxtrot breaking up. Not because a band is breaking up, since that happens every day and can happen to any band. No, I'm just quite peeved at how this band had a lot of praise and momentum and then seemingly zilch once their self-titled debut album arrived.

Why I'm peeved is that I never believed the ultra-negative response to Voxtrot was justified. As I've listened to tracks from the album over the years, I will say I lean more towards songs from the EPs prior to it, but the songs on Voxtrot are not bad at all. I could never understand why writers who almost universally praised everything these guys did so quickly dismissed the band and any semblance of fandom post-Voxtrot.

I'm one to talk about loving one album by a band but not being as enthusiastic about their next (hello, Modest Mouse), but there's a big difference between that and completely disowning any fandom of a band. Seeing that makes me wonder: did these people actually like this band and want to see them grow, or were they living too much in the moment and just liking this because it was new?

The response to Voxtrot was not completely negative. There were enthusiastic reviews, but none as enthusiastic for their first two EPs (at least the ones I read). And judging by the blogs and a certain message board I frequented in 2007, the response was ice cold. My only comment about the album at the time was, "Sounds like Ramesh can now hear himself sing, but otherwise this sounds like Voxtrot and it's pretty good."

This reminds me of how I have a lot of hesitation towards getting too involved with new acts. I'll give stuff a listen if I think it's worth my time, but I'm hesitant to believe what a PR rep spams me in my e-mail inbox folder. Lately I've been enjoying the sounds of Tindersticks, a band that has a half-dozen releases under their belts and have been around since the early 1990s. The same goes with Richard Hawley. The same goes for Scott Walker's out-of-print albums from the early 70s. It's just a matter of responding to what's really affecting me, and that's not a guarantee it will be a band that's five months old who just put out an EP that's streaming on MySpace.

Unfortunately, I look at the rapid ascent and post orgasmic chill of Voxtrot as a reminder that hipsters can't always be trusted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why you should read A.O. Scott's writing

In an oddly roundabout way, the recent announcement of At the Movies' cancellation introduced me to A.O. Scott's writing. I don't mean his movie reviews; I'm talking about his columns on films.

Thanks to "following" Scott and his soon-to-be former co-host Michael Phillips on Twitter, I've been introduced to thoughtful, well-rounded articles by Scott on the imminent demise of the TV show as well as the portrayal of violence in Kick-Ass.

There was a point in reading the column on the cancellation where I started cheering. Not because a quality television show was going off the air. Rather it was how Scott explained that the fears of film criticism's death have been professed before. Many, many, many, many times before.

Referring to a 1990 piece by Richard Corliss called “All Thumbs, or, Is There a Future for Film Criticism?,” Scott wrote, "The threat Mr. Corliss identified has migrated to the Internet, where self-credentialed commenters snark and snipe and where the simple binary code of the thumbs-up or thumbs-down voting that Mr. Siskel and Mr. Ebert trademarked has been supplanted by the crunched numbers of the Metacritic score."

I don't know about you, but it sure is nice to read somebody who isn't yelling essentially the same cries as Shaggy and Scooby-Doo towards the end of almost every Scooby-Doo episode: "We're goners!"

Basically, the archetypes and stereotypes stick around over the years. They just change shapes over time.

In regards to the violence in Kick-Ass, whether it's offensive or cartoonishly over-the-top, Scott reminds readers that people were outraged with the violence in Bonnie & Clyde and The Wild Bunch when they were first released in theaters. The context of the day is key, and that's something that is too often missing in discussions like this.

I will admit tremendous bias because I'm quite the fan of writers who go about writing this way. This approach is by no means an admission that "nothing" is "new." Instead, it's something that calms people down before they decide to jump in bed with despair.

Monday, April 19, 2010

". . . and came out clean on the other side"

In response to the new blog layout, my friend Richard asked, "It's April Fool's Day, right?"

Well, this isn't some joke or stunt. After five years of looking at dark blue with dark green, I figured it was time to look at something that was light green and blue.

Why the change in design? Frankly, I was inspired after I checked out Keith's (new-to-me) blog, Celluloid Highways. Something about it -- especially its clean layout and easy-to-navigate design -- just made me think of how I could make this blog a better read.

The change also represents a new leaf turning in my life.

I don't want to go into specifics just yet, but I have no problem speaking about this in metaphors. Some big things have changed in my life for the better while some thing that's been lingering for years must be worked on. When that happens, I'll write about it, but for now, I'm still plotting a break from a Shawshank prison that's been locking up a lot of my brain for way too long.

Apologies for the vagueness, but it's something I've mentioned before. Matter of fact, it was something I wrote a lot (also in rather vague terms) while I was in the middle of writing POST.

Again, I can't go into specifics here on the blog just yet, but understand this, there are things in my life that I've greatly hoped for and they're thankfully in my life now. Being with someone as warm, kind, and supportive as Diana and with playing in the Pull Tabs have helped me see life beyond next week and really towards much brighter things in the future.

So here's to happy (and clearer) days ahead.

Friday, April 16, 2010

New layout

After five years of blogging here, I finally found a layout that I really like. Here's to happy days ahead.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition finds me raving about Spoon's Transference again. More raving on this record will be written later this year.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The story behind the name

Now that the band has a name, I figured the story behind the name should be told.

As someone who has been guilty of asking a band where they got their name from quite a few times, I accept being at the receiving end of this question.

After many weeks of discussion, the three of us could not agree on a single name. I suggested some out-there names, as did Kyle, but Mike came up with the name. The Pull Tabs was at the end of one of many lists of possible band names. This list happened to be on Mike's cell phone and we all looked at the list at the end of practice a few weeks ago.

In deciding on the Pull Tabs' name, I remembered the story of how Hot Water Music decided on their name: none of the members hated the name, so they went with it. The same happened with us. The three us didn't hate it, so we went with it.

I'm no beer connoisseur, but I do know a little about pull tabs on old cans of beer. That's what a pull tab is. Since our band has a bit of a vintage sound (circa mid-70s rock, ala Thin Lizzy), we liked the vintage nature of the name.

So that's the story. Or lack thereof.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pull Tabs

This Saturday marks something I haven't done in almost ten years: play a show with a band that has never played a show before. Kyle, Mike, and I have played quite a few shows with other bands, but together as the Pull Tabs, this will be the first one. And just the beginning, thankfully.

What started out as some friends jamming at a relatively quiet level in my bedroom morphed into a loud raging monster a few months ago. We lucked into an affordable rehearsal room two months ago, and despite being surrounded by all types of metal bands practicing as loud as us, we've retained the sound that we started with.

But what that sound is, well, it keeps morphing.

I've played in bands that writing material was always a challenge. Both bands rarely came up with material while jamming. We just practiced the same things over and over again. Hell, even one of those bands wrote a number of songs that sounded suspiciously like well-known songs by well-known bands, from the Stooges to ZZ Top.

Luckily, I've been very lucky to play with two guys who can improvise on the spot. Our material usually comes just from that.

And probably the best thing about this band is that I am encouraged to play how I play. I can play as loud as I want and don't have to worry about getting fired over it. I have my kit set-up just like I wanted it, and I play in the style that has always fit me.

I'm sure we will look back at this first show as a learning experience more than anything. You can practice all you, but things are up in the air once you step out of that zone and play for people. And I'm quite excited to take that next step.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition includes a tribute to the summer of 2001 via Ash's great album, Free All Angels.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dear John (TV edition)

And now, a Dear John letter for two TV shows I have decided to part company with.

Dear the talented and hard-working folks behind the V reboot and Flashforward,

After a number of months of dedication and patience, I feel strongly that we should separate. It's nothing personal. I just think we should spend time in separate spaces of life.

The number of reasons for this separation are numerous. Here are just a few.

When I watch you try to forge something into a cohesive story with characters I want to root for, you get all caught up in trying to make plot twists and jumbled backstories. I'm no fool, but where's the human draw? Or are we thinking too much about a possible future, with or without aliens?

One-too-many actors and actresses have been pushed to chew scenery and furrow their brows in hopes of taking this material seriously. As if this legitimizes the doubters, it sadly does not.

When I watch shows like LOST and Fringe, I get a sense of human interaction and bonds, no matter how crazy something like a time-traveling island or an alternate universe sounds. These shows want to carry viewers until the end of a multi-season series, not a single-season series.

I wish you two shows the best of luck, and I will still check up on how things turn out. But for now, when it comes to Tuesdays at 9 and Thursdays at 7, the DVR will not be on.



Monday, April 05, 2010

WWWTK status

Here's a little update on book #2, still titled When We Were the Kids.

Writing comes in spurts. Some days I come up with a lot of material, other days I come up with very little. But I think about the book a lot and take lots of mental notes. When it comes down to sitting in front of my computer to iron everything out, that's when things can hit a wall. Sometimes the flow comes naturally. Other times it's like passing a kidney stone.

I credit being back into the swing of playing in a band with this recent upswing. Lots of stuff comes from practicing for hours and practicing in a warehouse filled with all kinds of metal bands. Paying a visit to Guitar Center once in a while also helps.

There's something fun and challenging about taking events that did not happen in my high school bands and setting in the mid-1990s. If it sounds plausible, chances are I'll go with it.

Something I considered doing with POST but never did was come up with a mix CD or two covering popular music from this era. I'm not talking just Pearl Jam, Pantera, and Nirvana; I'm also talking about Dig, Sponge, and Earth Crisis. A lot of stuff gets swept under the rug when memories are sold back as nostalgia. I'm trying to sweep as little as possible.

Aside from Diana and my friends Matt and Tim, no one else has seen any pages from the manuscript. I aim for a summertime date for a completed first draft, but beyond that is uncertain.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Staff Trax

In this week's edition of Staff Trax, I mention Rival Schools' United By Fate. This was a record that helped me gain a certain kind of optimism in the fall of 2001, and now it feels like a lot of that optimism is coming back. And boy is it nice.