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Monday, December 07, 2015

A Year in Music (2015 Edition)

I am very thankful how 2015 turned out to be. Work remains steady and satisfying. Doing a podcast was a great decision, as it's helped me reconnect with friends and make new connections in the process. I wrote a lot of articles about musicians I care about. And I found someone special who makes every aspect of my life better and rewarding. (Thank you, Hope!)

For the first time in many years, I listened to even more music than usual, thanks to a Spotify Premium account. From finding the joys of the Marshall Tucker Band to Frightened Rabbit, the search for music continues to be a rewarding journey. As for the full albums I enjoyed that were released this year, well, that list is rather short compared to the list of songs I really liked (which, you can listen to here). 

So, as 2015 comes to a close, I present my favorite albums of the year, as well as my favorite shows.  

Albums


Deafheaven, New Bermuda
To be frank, I was not sure Deafheaven could make another classic. Sunbather was such a revelation, blending dreamy shoegaze with black metal and goblin-like vocals. Yet somehow, despite fearing a Sunbather retread after the first couple of songs were premiered online, when I heard New Bermuda from start to finish, I was in love. No riff overstays its welcome and there are absolutely no filler tracks on it. There is beauty on this record, especially the "Champagne Supernova"-like ending on "Gifts for the Earth," and there is plenty of harshness throughout, yet I find a whole new appreciation of this San Francisco-based quintet.  















Richard Hawley, Hollow Meadows
There are certain songs in Richard Hawley's back catalog that I can listen to over and over again for months at a time. While there are many classic songs on Ladys Bridge and Coles Corner, I've never been too hot about the sequencing of such albums. Too much mellow, meandering stuff mixed with greatness. Coming from his last album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, a long and drawn-out exercise in hypnotic rock, I was not expecting Hollow Meadows to be one of his efforts to date. When I heard "I Still Want You" kick in with its chorus, I thought the magic had returned. Then the next track came and I liked it, and it continued all the way to end. Hawley harkens back to calm and lovely vibe of his earlier work, but with an immediacy that had been absent for a while. 


Spraynard, Mable
It's not often that I openly proclaim my love for a record after only one spin, but that's what happened when I received an advance digital copy of Spraynard's latest record, Mable. Put out on the reactivated label Jade Tree, I was reminded of what I loved about records by the Promise Ring and Lifetime back in the late 1990s. Spraynard doesn't sound like those bands, but the feeling of joy, filtered through a certain amount of self-deprecation, makes this a quick and enjoyable listen.  


Beach Slang, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
The hope I had with Beach Slang's first proper album was that it would be as good as their two EPs. Not much was changed between those EPs and this debut LP, but it's totally fine by me. James Alex Snyder is not afraid to say how rewarding it is to be honest and true to yourself. He's a 30-something playing punk rock and driving around in a van, but he and his bandmates put out a sound that is special. Special to the point that goes beyond the punk crowd. Imagine Jawbreaker and the Replacements up for affecting thousands of people in a stadium. 


Shows


Night Demon, The Boiler Room, May 6th
Night Demon's material sounds like the original version of the Misfits playing New Wave of British Heavy Metal. There is an intensity to their sound and performance that made me feel so happy and alive back in May. I've known frontman Jarvis Leatherby for many years, but I was not expecting to see my favorite show of 2015 on this night. They followed a grindcore band with Geoff Tate-like vocals and proceeded to make everyone in the venue take note. Smoke machines went off, their merch guy came on the stage for one song dressed a ghoul, and my face was melted off by riff after riff. 


Deafheaven, Trees, November 15th
If you were to tell me ten years ago that Trees, under a new owner, would be one of the best places to see a show, I would have laughed at you. Ever since the venue reopened a handful of years ago, I have had no problems with the venue or its staff. Their sound system made Deafheaven come across as a constant surge of energy, passion, and excitement. It was my third time to see Deafheaven and certainly the best. 

Braid/Beach Slang, Exit In, August 7th



















I drove ten hours to see this show, and I didn't regret it one bit. I needed some kind of summer vacation, as my full-time job actually wants its employees to take time off. When I saw that Braid was going on a short tour this summer, I decided to go to a town I had never been to before: Nashville. I spent a lot of time with the Braid guys before the show, even seeing Michael Ian Black do standup, going record store shopping and a trip to Guitar Center. The show was great, as Braid continues to make music that is crucial to my ears and performances that are worth remembering. 

Rahim Quazi, The Kessler, June 18th


Rahim Quazi and I have been in the same room numerous times before, but I didn't understand the power of his music until this show, which sold out the Kessler. Performing his excellent album, Ghost Hunting, in full, along with various songs from his first two solo albums, I came away from the show with a blend of all kinds of thoughts and feelings. Rahim writes about heavy stuff, like falling out of love and recovering from child abuse, but he makes music that is hard to not love. It's rare for a local act to sell out the Kessler, and I was happy to see it. 

face to face, Gas Monkey Bar & Grill, April 23rd, 24th, 25th


face to face became the first national band I have seen nine times. That's right: nine times since 1997. Though I didn't think fondly of their last two records, face to face did a special engagement at Gas Monkey, performing Don't Turn Away, Big Choice, and self-titled over three nights. I met some fellow face to face diehards, spent time talking with some of the members, and was up in front for every night. They never disappointed. 

Mineral, Club Dada, January 10th


If it weren't for this show, I'm pretty sure I would continue to acknowledge the importance of Mineral's music, but be quick to talk about the greatness of Sunny Day Real Estate. After this, I can safely say Mineral deserves all the respect they have. Playing a long set of songs from their two albums and some non-LP material, I had a good time hearing those songs in a new light. 

Swervedriver, Club Dada, March 19th


I saw Swervedriver in the late 1990s, and it was not an enjoyable experience. Opening for Hum, the four-piece looked like they didn't want to be there. Songs devolved into jams that went nowhere and the band acted aloofed. That was not what I saw back in March. With Mick Quinn from Supergrass on bass, the band blazed through many great songs with very little jamming. Slag reunion tours all you want, but this was a redemption show for Swervedriver. 

Frank Turner, House of Blues, October 28th 

















The turnaround from hearing Frank Turner's "The Next Storm" to seeing him blow the roof off of the House of Blues was only over a span of weeks. I had heard of Frank's name a few years ago, but everything came together very quickly after hearing Positive Songs for Negative People. There's a tremendous amount of vitality to Frank's songs and I felt that with every song he played that night. Definitely walks a line between Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen, and I love what Frank does. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Onward, through the night

It has been a full year since I lost my friend Evan Chronister to an accident. I have written plenty about what he meant to me when he was alive (this piece and this piece sum up everything pretty well) and I have certainly not shied away from talking about him to friends, family, and co-workers during these past twelve months.

This is how I've processed the grief, which I accept is an ongoing matter. And I think a part of this process is sharing what life has been like without him in the physical sense.

When I go to record stores these days and see a vinyl record reissue, I remember the caution he told me, as well as many others: the record label is ripping you off! Many reissues of classic albums simply ported over a CD mastering to vinyl, thus making it not an actual vinyl mastering. He could tell in the sound quality, and while I took his advice seriously, I have yet to do a side-by-side comparison. The guy cared about music listening as much as the music itself.

Only a couple of days after his death, my housemate Joel and I inherited a lot of vinyl LPs from his massive collection. From Ghost to Hawkwind to Saxon to Rainbow to Rush, I have tried to give these records as much love as he did. I identify myself as a music enthusiast, and my vinyl collection continues to show that as I have Goblin next to Andrew Gold, Mastodon next to Johnny Mathis, and Blue Oyster Cult next to the Born Free soundtrack. I don't show my collection to impress people. It's more to show how scatterbrained my taste in music is.

Evan never gave me hell about liking what I liked, which was refreshing. I was so used to being chastised for liking Black Flag, Rush, and ABBA. He recognized the passion to find music you love, no matter how hip or un-hip the artist was. That's an idea I've really tried to stress to impressionable music fans I know.

For many years, I would fear making musical recommendations to people. Too often, I'd praise something that people found to be the opposite of praise-worthy. These days, I'm happy to recommend bands to people that are curious. It's not an invitation to the Cool Kids club; it's an educated guess based on musical preferences.

I have a cousin who's in college now. He's into all kinds of music and is open to recommendations. I decided to make an ongoing Spotify playlist for him that I update weekly. I don't fear him disliking something I put on the mix. I'm simply happy to interact with somebody who likes to seek out things he's never heard before.

Over the summer, I talked to my cousin about seeing concerts. He lives in an isolated college town where a lot of country acts hit, but certainly not a regular stop for any other genre of music. I suggested he ask around with friends who play music if they know of any performances that happen in the smallest, non-traditional places, like coffee shops and garages. Apparently he's all about the local scene now, and I'm happy to hear about how much he loves it.

It's highly doubtful I'd be inclined to roll the dice and make suggestions if it weren't for Evan. Now I find recommendations to be an enjoyable activity.

I learned a lot from Evan and I certainly miss him, but I'm glad I did know him and many people who knew him well. The memories of my time with him will not fade away. I must continue the life I want to live, and I hope those who knew him do, too.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Iwrestledabearonce


Once again, another band trailer robbery has happened in North Texas. This time, the trailer belonged to Iwrestledabearonce, an emerging schizoid metal band. It was stolen when it was parked in a church parking lot in Denton on North Bell Street just for a night a couple of weeks ago. A drum kit, all of their merchandise, road cases and speaker cabinets were stolen on September 20. It was estimated at a $20,000 loss.

Yesterday, a GoFundMe page was set up to recoup some of the money they lost in the theft, with an initial goal of $7,500. They set their initial goal to fulfill their upcoming U.S. tour dates starting at the end of this month, but additional funds are gladly accepted. (The funds already raised were close to $5,000 by last night.)

The band’s bassist, Michael “Ricky” Martin, lives across the street from the church where the trailer was stolen, and had thought of Denton as a safe place where you don’t have to worry about a theft of this magnitude. After filing the report to police, there have been no leads from police or friends of the band.

This is not the absolute worst thing that has happened to this band, but it is definitely yet another setback. They changed singers a few years ago at a critical period in their career, and when they all lived in a house in Birmingham, all of their personal possessions were stolen while they were on tour. While this loss is big, it certainly is not a reason to cancel any future tour dates or call it quits as a band.

“We’d much rather go into debt ourselves just to keep going, at least to see if we could eventually recoup just from becoming a bigger and better band,” Martin says. “We don’t make much money, but we continue to do what we do because we love doing it. We love playing in front of people and we love to inspire people. We do this because it’s awesome to do. It’s awesome to travel the world and do what you like to do.”

Not only have friends and fans of the band helped out already, the band’s label, Artery, has already extended help with merch and plane tickets. “I’m really surprised with how many people have helped,” he says. “It’s crazy how lots of people are responding and helping us out. It really encourages us to get better and play more.”

The white trailer has a pretty noticeable thing on the back: a smiley-face created out of reflective tape. “It would be ironic to see it now,” Martin says with a laugh.

Here is the list of all the stolen items:
CDs, LPs, hoodies, hats
Two PPC Orange 4x12 cabinets
Two white road cases containing the orange cabs
One Hartke 8x10 hydrive bass cab
Gretsch renown maple 5-piece drum kit with mounting hardware
Gretsch renown maple natural finish custom snare drum
Iron Cobra HH905N kick pedals
Accompanying Gibraltar hardware
Complete set of SKB drum cases/cymbal cases
14" Zildjian new beat hats
2 x 18" A Zildjian custom medium crash
2 x 18" A Zildjian custom crash
19" K Zildjian China
19" hybrid K Zildjian custom crash
2 x 8" K Zildjian splash
8" A Zildjian custom splash
2 x 19" hybrid K Zildjian custom China
2 x 18" Oriental Zildjian China
22" Zildjian K Custom Dark Ride
16" Zildjian A Custom Reso Crash
A wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man (production piece)
Band tent


If you see anything or have any leads, contact the band via their Facebook page, Twitter page, or this e-mail address
.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Is it me? Is it fear?

A sign you're making progress in life is when rejection doesn't destroy any (or most) of your self-confidence. I got that sign today when I learned a book proposal of mine was not accepted. And while it's disappointing I won't spend the next twelve months of my life committed to that proposed project, I certainly am not taking this like a torpedo hit my sailboat.

Given how internally I process things and how sensitive I am, it's really easy to take things personally. Before I realize what's happening, I'm playing the Victim card. Alas, that didn't happen today. Instead, it was a reminder of how sometimes things work out the way you thought they would, while other times, things work out in ways you never expected. (Sometimes those ways really suck and leave scars, but other times, they work out way better than you could ever imagine.)

I submitted a proposal for a short book defending Metallica's St. Anger, an album that has been the easy dog to kick whenever most fans talk about the band's catalog in person or online. I think the album is very important for the band's legacy, as it helped keep the band together when it almost permanently broke them apart. Master of Puppets and the Black Album are easy to praise based on their sonic merits and longing in the hearts of fans, but I wanted to go further and discuss why a reviled record was the band's most important record to date.

I don't know how else I could have written my multi-page proposal, and I'm not kicking myself, pondering how I could have made something that would have been accepted. (I should add that hundreds of other people submitted proposals on other albums, and hundreds of them got the same news I did today.) 

I haven't abandoned my desire to defend said album, but for the time being, it will be relegated to blog posts, tweets, and Facebook comments. If ever there was another way or chance to get to speak my mind and say what I want to say (be it for an article, a book, or a documentary), I will not turn down the opportunity. Rejection doesn't mean you give up what you want to say; you just have to find another way of expressing it, even if it's like dropping a small pebble in an ocean. You don't cast that pebble for immediate approval. You cast it in hopes there are other people out there who don't think you're crazy and actually agree with you.

What's weird about facing rejection in the eye is this thought that you must have a thick skin. I don't know about you, but I wasn't born with a thick skin. It took me a long time to realize I should enjoy doing what I do, no matter how much people tore down my abilities. Whether it was playing and writing my own music or writing about matters I really cared about, I wasn't going to give up because somebody said I sucked. I don't have a choice: I have to pursue creative passions. If I don't, I wouldn't have much to offer this world.

Certain rejections in the past five years have led to major lulls in my life. Relationships broke up, friendships fell apart, job situations were not entirely stable or promising, and so on. None of those experiences were wastes of time as I believe I learned a lot from them, and most importantly, understood my role in why those didn't work out. I like to think I'm better for going through such grief, as friendships have been repaired, the job situation is more stable, and I'm comfortable with whatever happens next on the relationship front.

It can be easy to let a small rejection like a book proposal pass by when there are many other things on my plate right now. There are articles to write, podcasts and music to record, a novel to work on, concerts to see, sporting events to watch, movies to see, and friends and family to spend time with. I didn't put all of my emotional well-being into the acceptance or rejection of this book idea. I put everything I could into a proposal, but I tried to see a bigger picture of what I would do if it didn't get accepted.

Life can go in crazy directions, and rejection can be a gift. If you were ever tell me I'd be able to relate to Garth Brooks' "The Dance" and "Unanswered Prayers" (songs that I found incredibly corny and silly in my teens and twenties), I'd laugh you off. But I have a better understanding now of what the general messages are: if you don't try to do this, you won't be able to appreciate that. And just because things don't work out the way you wanted them to, that doesn't necessarily meant they're the wrong outcome. They're just what they are: experiences that help you get through the road of life.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where the puck is going

Given how long I’ve admired Kevin Smith’s work and ethos, it’s a little strange how I had never seen him live before. I first heard about him in 1994 and really got into him in my college years, especially in 2000, when I played catch-up on all of his films on DVD. Whenever he’d come to town in the past, it would be at big conventions or nights I couldn’t go. So, when it was announced he would be at the legendary Texas Theatre on a Friday night, I figured now was the right time.

Seeing Kevin in person (and spending two hours with a sold-out crowd) was like catching up with a college friend over the course of an evening. Though he technically answered only one question, he delivered an inspiring rant about accepting yourself when failure is possible at any time. Recapping the Wayne Gretzky adages of missing every shot you don't take, and you should skate where the puck is going instead of where it's been, he built on those pieces of wisdom. (I heard a lot of people complain after the show how he only answered one question, but damn, what he said really trumped tidbit answers about upcoming projects or previous projects that never happened.)

Kevin might address a room filled with people at his Q&A’s, delivering stories like a stand-up comedian, but what he has to say seems like he’s talking directly to you. There’s a lot of sincerity with what he has to say, and I really appreciated that.

It was fun to write a cutesy article for the Observer about "10 Questions You Should Not Ask Kevin Smith." But the bigger picture at hand was realizing how important this guy has been for me.

I freely admit my enthusiasm for a number of Kevin’s projects in the past ten years, whether it’s a film or a podcast, has not been very strong. I’ve seen every movie he’s made and I was a regular listener to his SMODcast for a few years. Given how many podcasts he does these days, it got to a point where I couldn’t keep up and lost interest. (Hearing him think outloud while he was baked didn’t make me want to hear that week in and week out.)

The question he answered was about how he stays creative even when there are a lot of people who want to remind him of his faults and limitations. He touched on working with Bruce Willis on Cop Out, characterizing Willis as a “Why?” person. Since he had a lengthy rant on Too Fat for 40 on the difficulty of working with a jaded famous person who made it in Hollywood and now phones his performances in, what he shares now is what it was like to work with “Why not?” people.

It’s important to point out how “Why not?” people are not necessarily “Yes!” people. You shouldn’t fill your life with people who tell you every thought or idea you have is the best thing you’ve ever come up with. At the same time, you shouldn’t fill your life with people who constantly tell you how awful you are. With Kevin, he openly admits how critical his wife Jennifer is of his work. When she showed tremendous interest in the script to Tusk, that floored him. A film that audacious for Kevin to do yielded the hope of seeing if he could actually make it.

He spoke at length how this led to working with Johnny Depp on the film. The point of why he spoke so long about this was to show how Depp as a person was the polar opposite of Willis. Depp didn’t have to do Kevin’s three-million-dollar film for a paycheck, but he loved the character that he played (and especially the accent he created for the role). I thought of this story as the upswing after the downswing of Cop Out.

Kevin briefly mentioned how failure is preparation for success. That, essentially, is what drew the strongest response out of me. I still have an uneasy relationship with failure and rejection, but a true failure is not trying at all. Then things all came together in my head about why I was in a room listening to Kevin speak.

I flashed back to college, listening to commentary tracks for Mallrats and Chasing Amy, repeatedly watching scenes from Chasing Amy, reading his scripts and comics -- all serving as inspiration for a  screenwriting class I was in at the time. I haven't written a script since college, but the inspiration of creating the kind of stuff you want to read/see/hear has always been there. Couple this with a pivotal scene in Rad! (where the hero decides to create his own company for sponsorship), and you, essentially, have why I do what I do today. Whether it's the podcast, this blog, writing books or articles, I do these things because I want to, and I'm not afraid to share this with people I don't know.

Kevin's not the only influential person on my creative pursuits, but he certainly inspired me to get on the path I'm on now. I might not end up loving Yoga Hosers or Mallbrats or even Clerks III, but I want to see them. And I certainly would not want to pass up a chance to see him again. It would make for another fun evening of catching up with an old friend. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Let Your Arrow Fly

Late one night during my vacation in Nashville, I saw an article in my Facebook newsfeed from Vanity Fair with the headline, "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse.'" I read through it and thought, Is this really what I encounter these days as a single guy, hoping to date someone again? Since I'm not on Tinder, the answer was no.

I found the article to ring true about a few people I know who are a little younger than me. I have yet to see in my dating life where hook-up culture clashed with my hopes of meaningful conversations and monogamy. But the article did make me do a mental inventory of where I'm at now.

Since my previous relationship ended last summer, I have been on exactly one date. I don't wear that as a badge of honor or an albatross. Simply, it's the reality that has happened. I've needed time to grieve over a lot of matters that happened last year. My hope has been to work on myself, trying to clean my side of the street to the best of my ability. That way, someone new can walk down it without fear stepping into garbage, vomit, and/or poop.

Still, there are blockades to getting down to a thorough cleaning. I'm not one of those people that can immediately bounce back into another relationship when one ends. I know many people who can do that, but I accept I'm not like them. I'm not better or worse; I take things at a different pace.

What hampers my ability to open up to new people comes from obsessive thinking and awkwardness when I am around people I don't know. I'm always thinking too much about this or that, usually some bad experience that I use as an excuse to not try something again. Previous failures have erroneously made me think I should never try something like them ever again. The whole, "What can I do to make sure this never happens again?" served as apt excuse for so many years, unfortunately.

My twenties were filled with a lot of parties and concerts, meeting many people I still keep in touch with. I didn't really date anyone, but the topic of dating somebody was on my mind all the time. I don't long for those days to come back, as I am much happier in my mid-30s with the occasional party and even more concerts than before. The thing is, I appear to be a social person when I'm with people I know, but when I'm unaccompanied, I'm detached and awkward. If I'm at a show, I'm very focused on watching the bands, rather than getting drinks and trying to make new connections.

Miraculously, I have been in a couple of extremely meaningful relationships in the past five years. One relationship came out of suggestion by a mutual friend. The other came from being on OKCupid for a few months. Neither relationship was a wasted experience as I learned a lot about relationships in general. Some were great lessons; others were painful lessons.

I had resisted online dating for years, as people can easily fall in love with the idea of a person rather than the realities of that person. Somehow, through the clutter of the New to Town, Lived Here All My Life, Single Mom Looking for a Strong Christian Man, World Traveler With No Plans to Settle Down, and other stereotypes, I found success with someone. But after many months of being on the site again, I have to admit I strongly agree with the flaws of online dating in this article on Cracked.com. Now, it's like I maintain my profile as if it's a beacon signal, hoping I could find someone special -- and that person finds me special, too.

A very helpful way of dealing with the person I really am came from reading an article on the type of people I go for, based on my Myers-Brigg personality type. As an ENFJ (extraversion, intuition, feeling, judgment), writer April Lee seemed to know me all too well. In regards to the personality type I'm usually attracted to: "The one who gives you half as much as you give them," she wrote. "The one who you really really really like, but doesn’t necessarily like you as much back. You believe in hard work when it comes to relationships, and you’re determined to prove that you’re faithful and trustworthy."

As for the person I should aim for, I agree with what Lee suggested: "The one who tries. Someone who acknowledges that passion is important, but understands that effort is what truly keeps people together. Someone who initiates as often as you do, and is willing to share every part of their life with you."

Now that I've laid all of this stuff out, I think about ways I can improve my situation. I know I don't want to be single for the rest of my life, but I don't want to be with someone who makes me miserable, either. No one person is without weaknesses or flaws, and not everyone is sane for every hour of every day of the year. As my parents have told me time and time again, it's about finding somebody that you can balance your life with, and vice-versa.

It's been very easy to stick to this idea for many months: don't turn down an opportunity to meet new people. I've been extremely fortunate to get involved with a variety of circles thanks to my continued involvement in the local music scene, as well as people who love the radio station, The Ticket. Facebook and Twitter have done wonders on that front.

Still, it hasn't been easy to find someone I could be romantically compatible with. There have been some near-misses, as well as a few potentials that ended in disaster. Those don't make me want to throw in the towel. But I won't lie, sometimes I start to believe bullshit like, "Women only care about how much money you make" and "You'll die alone and miserable unless you step out of your comfort zone." Those don't help me pave new trails, but there are times when I give those ideas a lot of time in my mind.

Whenever I hear a creative type dedicate his or hers work to a longtime companion or spouse, I freely admit I'd love to express that about somebody someday. Whenever I hear a creative person add he or she would be nothing without that special someone, I'd like to tell what my experience has been. As in the reality of being "nothing" in that person's eyes.

I don't consider myself a failure on this aspect of life. Some things take time, longer than most people I know. Everyone I'm close to is either married, in a relationship, or getting over someone. I'm surrounded by good people, some who are in kinds of relationships I'd like to be. Others, well, represent kinds of relationships I hope to never be in. The hook-up culture has not destroyed their hopes of a lasting marriage or commitment. They've let life take its course and have not been afraid to stay with the right people.

So, that's where I'm at on this topic. It's an ongoing thing, as I still maintain this attitude: we all want to love and be loved. The harder one fights off that notion, the harder life is. It's vital to accept a two-way street relationship, and to never stop wanting to be in one.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

We're Allowed to Be Alive

Eleven hours to get there, ten to get back, and one car battery later, I'm back from Nashville. My summer vacation came and went in a flash, but I came back home with a greater sense of clarity. Much more than I thought I would, actually.

Instead of a day-by-day/hour-by-hour account, let me run down the highlights between Thursday night to Saturday night: ordered tacos and got a sandwich and hot wings instead, saw Michael Ian Black do standup and kill, watched Filmage again, went to four record stores, bought Jawbox's first album on vinyl, ate a couple of large plates of Indian vegetarian food, hit up a Guitar Center, got a new car battery, helped with setting up (and tearing down) a drum set, helped do merch inventory, visited Sun Studio again and went to Ardent Studio for the first time, and got home safely.

The main attraction of seeing Braid and Beach Slang was the pinnacle of my whirlwind visit. Both bands put on excellent sets, mixing old and new material well. I spent a lot of time with the Braid guys, hanging out and volunteering to help in any way that I could. They are good people that I have known for over ten years, and I look forward to seeing them again, whenever that is. Getting to know the Beach Slang guys was a major plus. I freely admitted to them about how much I like their sound, and I hope to see them again on tour later this year.







 Driving almost endlessly down I-40 on the way home, I didn't dread coming back to my regular routine. I realized this "vacation" was a way for me to take a break from mental doldrums swirling around in my head. Spending almost 24 hours of helping a band get from place to place and setting up and tearing down gave me the chance to not think too much about topics that have been on my mind lately. I now understand that I am an obsessive thinker, and have been for many years. Recognizing this as a problem can help me work on solutions for what I can do in the foreseeable future. 

Quite often, I hear people say their vacations are never long enough and they can't wait to go on another one. I'm not thinking that way, as I enjoy doing what I do in my regular routine, for the most part. I needed this trip, as perverse as it might sound to drive a long way for a show. But it wasn't just a show for me. Most shows aren't.

 















Monday, August 03, 2015

This Road I'm Travelling

As summer draws to a close, I have my eyes set on another long roadtrip. Last year, I drove all the way to St. Louis, a town I had never visited before. This year, it's another town I've never visited: Nashville. I'd been close to Nashville before (Memphis, to be specific), but I've never been there.

There are multiple reasons why I chose Nashville. My friends in Braid will kick off a short tour there when I'm in town. They aren't coming to Texas anytime soon, and I haven't seen them in a couple of years. I always enjoy spending time with them, and it makes a much more involved experience. It beats standing in a dark bar for a couple of hours, surrounded by people staring down at their shoes or their smartphones. (Full disclosure, I usually am one of those people at shows, too.)

The drive to Nashville is not short, but it's not insanely long, either. Ten hours on the road is enough for me, and that's how long it will take for me to get there. I look forward to seeing a part of Tennessee that I have never seen before, and that's a major plus about traveling to parts of the country I've never seen before.

Like my trip last year, I have a limited amount of time to make the most of my trip. I get more out of a trip this way, as I don't have much time to fart around. I plan on hitting up a few record stores and eating at some restaurants my friends have recommended to me. The morning after the show, I'll be back on the road and heading home, hopefully stopping in Memphis for a couple of sight-seeing matters (Sun Studio and Ardent Studio, mainly).

I'm at a point in my life where I force myself to take some kind of vacation every year. I'm thankful to work for a company that encourages its employees to take time off, and one that doesn't shame you for wanting some time off in the first place. I don't think of the years I spent with my former employer as wasted years. The times I was able to vacation in Chicago, Little Rock, Memphis, and Destin really stick out from all the days I spent working, partying, walking the dog, writing articles and books, playing shows, and seeing shows.

I continue to choose a responsible attitude with leaving town for a few days. I have a plan to get to my destination and return. I don't have many responsibilities in my life, aside from work, paying rent, and taking care of two adorable dogs, but they are important responsibilities. As much as I look forward to spending a few days away from them, I look forward to coming back to them.

And yes, this year's trip is another part of the process in grieving the people (and relationship) I lost last year. Life has been, overall, significantly better in 2015, but there are still a lot of questions about where the hell my life is going next. I recently talked about grief in a feature I wrote for the Observer. Talking to Brandon Curtis, a former Dallas resident about his current projects, we openly talked about grief as he continues life, thinking all the time about his younger brother Benjamin, who passed away in 2013. Talking to Brandon was incredibly therapeutic, and I appreciated his openness with me. It was a conversation I had to have.

No other long roadtrips are on deck for me this year. Aside from a family reunion in Round Rock over the Labor Day weekend and family visits during the holidays, the rest of my year will be going to a lot of shows (especially this month and next month) and doing as much as I can to live with what I have now.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ghost Hunting

The past couple of months have been very productive. Probably more than ever before, which has been good for some peace of mind. Between the regular work hours at my full-time job and the freelance writing for the Observer, there hasn't been much time to sit around and think. It's just been go, go, go and go to sleep at some point late at night.

Some of the most recent articles that I most proud of had been in the works for a while. The story I did on the Cool Devices studio had been kicking around as an idea for almost two years. Writing about the owners of Red Pegasus Games and Comics was a spur-of-the-moment idea after the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, but I knew one of its owners through job networking over a year ago. And writing about Rahim Quazi was a fun exercise in piecing together a story that gave me nightmares.

After my piece on Rahim ran, I interviewed him for my podcast. Something he brought up in our hour-long conversation has frequently come back in my mind. On the topic of promoting his new record, Ghost Hunting, with shows and possible interviews, he talked about an anticipation of rejection often leads to not trying at all. If he wanted to put together a dream line-up, sell out a local theater, and do press interviews, he wouldn't have been able to accomplish such without looking beyond possible rejections. Instead of "Why bother?", it was "Why not?"

A big reason why this idea keeps coming to my attention is that I'm currently faced with something that could lead to a rejection letter. I've decided to propose a short book idea to a publisher that focuses on many of the greatest albums ever made. The deadline is in two weeks and I'm working on my proposal almost every day, including weekends.

The call for submissions is for anyone who thinks he or she is qualified to write a couple hundred pages on a single album. I know a handful of writers who would like to submit a proposal, but for various reasons, they won't. Whether it's scheduling or just not having enough free time to commit to such, I find myself in a predicament that's a little too easy to chicken out on. I have the time and drive to do such a thing, and I know I might not always have the time or drive down the road.

I could imagine hundreds of better proposals from writers who are more qualified than me. I could imagine how a rejection letter will read and what it could look like. I could imagine people laughing at me for even trying. With a lot of other things in my life, it would be easier to take a safer route of letting things come to me rather than me coming to them. Let the good things fall into my lap and not think of trying something that's a little out of my comfort zone.

I've never been friends with rejection. Rejection says I suck, my ideas stink, and I should find the darkest corner in my home and not bother anyone. As much as I should try to come to accept rejection as part of the journey in getting what you want in life, it's easier to run in the opposite direction. The anger and sadness I usually feel with rejection doesn't encourage. It discourages.

But there are times when the fear of future rejection is overshadowed by the fear of regret in not trying. It can be easier to get over a rejection (especially if something better happens not too long after it), but the regret of not at least putting yourself out there can be almost impossible to forgive yourself in the long run. That's what I try to tell myself everyday working on this proposal. The odds are not in my favor, but they're not in anyone's favor.

What helps me stay focused is thinking about what else I could do if I get a rejection letter. If my idea gets turned down, I'm not going to stop writing. Hell no. There's the long-gestating third book I would like to write about pop culture critics. But if my proposal is accepted, then I will get to that book (still titled Forever Got Shorter) after I finish.

Sometimes the biggest hurdles in life are staring right at us everyday. Like a ghost that follows you around, it's easier to acknowledge than fathom a life free of it. But a great question to ask yourself, would I be happier and better if I didn't have to constantly talk myself out of good ideas? That's something I struggle with, and sometimes the struggle puts me into motion, potential rejection letters or not.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Clockwork Angels

Leading up to last week's Rush show at the American Airlines Center, there was a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I had a sense I'd enjoy the show as a longtime fan of the band, and I hoped to review and photograph it for the Observer. (I was lucky enough to do that and had a great time.) Why it was bittersweet was how prior to the show, I couldn't stop thinking about my friend Evan, a longtime Rush fan who passed away unexpectedly last October.

I think about the guy a lot (not many days pass without thinking of him), and I wasn't sure how I could handle seeing one of his favorites without physically being with him. Obviously this was not appropriate to talk about in my review, as the average reader wants my review of the performance, setlist, crowd, and sound rather than a personal reflection. I was fine with supplying that for the Observer reader, but I wanted to share about the cathartic effect the show had on me.

As I waited for the show to begin, I was in front of the barrier along with photographers way more experienced than me with much more expensive equipment. I had the jitters and frequently paced around in a small circle. Still not quite in the acceptance stage of Evan's death, I wished that the guy was with me in the enormous arena. Strangely, after I thought that, I felt a calming feeling as I looked out into the crowd. Akin to the final scene in 24 Hour Party People, where Tony Wilson sees the spirit of his departed friend Ian Curtis, I could see Evan's enthusiasm for Rush reflected in the many intensely-focused members of the crowd. I told myself, "He would want you to be here and to have fun."

Maybe it was a voice from the afterlife or just a desire to hear a reassuring thought, but I was able to give the three-hour show a fair shake without having a tremendous shadow of grief hang over me. I was able to wrap my head around the vast catalog Rush has and take in what might be their final Dallas show. (Various factors are pointing towards this as the last large-scale tour for the Canadian trio.)
I came home and wrote my review and uploaded the best pics I took. Receiving positive feedback from friends and fans as well as my guest (Joel's father, who has been going to Rush shows since the mid-'70s), I was proud to represent what it's like to be a Rush fan in 2015. Knowing longtime fans helped shape me into being the fan I am now, and I'd be pretty clueless without them.

Fast-forward to today and I decided to set aside my evening to a Q&A/signing with the founding member and primary lyricist of Anthrax, Scott Ian. I wasn't so sure I wanted to go, thinking there would be a massive crowd and an interminable wait to get something signed. But a friend of mine that works for the bookstore hosting the event assured me that the wait would not be long, given how they do things with event passes.

During the lively Q&A, Scott answered questions about his role as a zombie in The Walking Dead to how he wrote his autobiography. I decided to raise my hand and ask a somewhat inside-baseball question about "Black Lodge," a song about a place in the Twin Peaks world. I asked what it was like to work with the show's musical composer, Angelo Badalamenti, on the song. And also, if he had any interest in the upcoming third season of the show. His answer was very enthusiastic as he had a great time working on "Black Lodge" with Badalamenti and he looks forward to the third season.

Thing was, after he answered my question, I thought about my high school friend Jeff, whom I dedicated When We Were the Kids to. Jeff was a gifted guitarist who could figure out almost any song by ear. The memory that came into my mind was when he showed me the opening riff to "Black Lodge" in my bedroom. I thought it was so cool that he figured out the riff, as well as the pedal/amp effect used in the song. 

That memory is one of the handful of memories I have of him before a drug overdose took him away from us. I don't think about him much these days, but I will never forget him and what he meant to me, even though we weren't super-close friends. The guy loved music and he inspired me, as well as many others.

Once again, the bittersweetness came into me as I got to take a picture with Scott, got my book signed, and even won tickets to Anthrax's show. But like clockwork, the thought of "Go, have fun and live your life, damnit" appeared and I made the most of the experience.
 
You don't meet people and think you'll only know them for a brief time. You want to have many great experiences with them, because you connect with them the most, compared to everyone else you know. As life can sometimes be cruel and unfair, there should not be a reason to deny yourself happiness again. We cherish the memories we have with one another, and we should not be afraid to create new ones with the new people that come into our lives.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Not Over

For most bands, no matter how much I love them, one night of seeing them live every few months (or years) is enough. I don't want too much of a good thing, but when it comes to face to face, seeing them three nights in a row is an exception.

I was fortunate to attend all three nights of their Triple Crown shows, where they played Don't Turn Away on the first night, Big Choice on the second, and the self-titled record on the third. Even though I heard "Disconnected," "Not for Free," "I Used to Think," "Don't Turn Away," and "Dissension" three times, I did not mind. The amount of songs that were not repeated was greater than the ones that were.

I previewed the series of shows for the Observer and I let my fandom/appreciation be fully on display. I acknowledged the elephant in the room, given the recent writings on the impact of nostalgia on a lot of shows coming through Dallas these days. And while I did recall certain memories of my past with face to face's music (ie, getting Big Choice on the same day as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and learning various face to face songs on guitar), I came away from these shows with many positive, new memories.

When you meet a face to face fan, you're meeting someone who *gets* them. Meaning, he or she might be into a lot of other pop-punk bands, but doesn't adopt the attitude of acting like a pompous asshole or smarty-pants to make a statement. He or she is in touch with deep, inner-feelings, from happiness to sadness. No matter what age or what's currently happening in life, face to face's music and lyrics resonates. 

Time and time again, I've been able to listen to Trever Keith's lyrics about life's struggles, relationships falling apart, and fighting through rampant negativity with fresh ears. I cannot say the same about most of the NOFX, Screeching Weasel, and blink-182 records I listened to in college. Songs like "Resignation," "Overcome," and "1,000 X" spoke to me as a teenager, a college student and as someone now in his mid-thirties. This is a band I can keep coming back to and appreciate them for who they are, not necessarily as a band I liked when I was younger.

Talking with Trever and Scott here and there over the years, they've remained friendly and approachable people. They were no different on these nights.



 
As luck would have it, former drummer Pete Parada made a guest appearance on the second night. He was in town with his current band, the Offspring, and he played two songs during the encore. Whipping out "Overcome" and "Bill of Goods," I was pretty over the moon about this. Ignorance is Bliss was a favorite of mine when it came out, and I knew the change of style would turn off fans, but I have been vocal about its many merits for years. (I was recently at a show in Denton and it was playing on the PA between bands. I thanked the soundman for playing it.)

A story I like to tell about Pete is that when people were whining about the band's temporary change in direction, people singled Pete's drumming out on the band's message board. I argued his playing was exactly what the material needed and he could play the older songs just as well, if not better, than original drummer Rob Kurth. He seemed to appreciate my comments, because when I met him outside of Liberty Lunch in Austin, he was happy to meet me. Seeing him again on Friday night, he remembered me and gladly to snapped a pic with me.

Over the course of these three nights, I met a lot of great people and saw some people I hadn't seen in a while. The whole experience was like a reunion and a convention. Thing was, nobody dressed up like it was church and nobody didn't want to be there. The new people I met, I hope to see again, maybe at a future face to face show, or anywhere else in life. (Facebook brings us all together.)

As a way of reminding myself of how special this was, I have the following poster, signed by the whole band, framed above my home office's computer.
I might be falling into a nostalgia trap by placing this in a spot I look at every single day, but I want to keep a positive experience fresh and alive in my head every time I sit down to write. These shows signify the seventh, eighth, and ninth time for me to see face to face (now the national touring band I have seen the most times), but they will not be my last times I see this great band.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Nostalgia Trap

As a follow-up on my thoughts on the Bomb Factory reopening, I wrote a lot of words about the dangers of investing too much time to nostalgia. Basically, the past was great, but it wasn't all great. So let's look forward to what's next. And I quoted Billy Joel.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Bomb Factory

I was asked to pen a few words about the return of Deep Ellum's Bomb Factory for the Observer. I never went to it when it was originally open. I was living in Houston at the time and it had been closed for a few years when I moved to the DFW area. I went to Deep Ellum Live, which was next door, plenty of times and saw many great shows, from Spiritualized to MxPx.

Now it looks like the Bomb Factory will bring in a lot of great bands, filling a void that's been in the area for many years. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Art is Hard

A few new stories to share that I have recently written. I followed up with Dallas-based filmmaker Jeremy Snead, who made an excellent documentary called Video Games: The Movie. From talking about the kinds of reactions to his film to his upcoming series on video games, we had a great talk.

Over the weekend, I had to be in Houston for my father's 70th birthday party. People I had not seen since 2002 would be there, and I really wanted to go. Luckily I escaped Dallas before the snow and ice shut down the city.

While I was down there, I decided to review the Cursive/Beach Slang/Megafauna show at Fitzgerald's for the Houston Press. I had a great time watching Cursive for the sixth time and the openers for the first time. Beach Slang is all kinds of incredible, and I was happy to see them as they are on the rise.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Already Gone

There are times when reading about music bums me out. Bummed to the point where I think the writers only want to hear free jazz while being stoned and/or drunk, huddled alone, spacing out in a dilapidated home.

I enjoy reading perspectives from people who take the time and effort to investigate why a certain record or an entire catalog connects with people. (When I mean "people," I mean people who actually identify with the music and they carry that connection for the rest of their lives.)

But if someone is going to continually bad-mouth a popular act, I have to wonder why this person is going on and on about it. "Okay, it's not for you," I think to myself. (I say this knowing full well of how much I despised a popular form of emo ten years ago and wrote a lot about it on this here blog.)

If I were to only abide by music critics, especially those from the 70s and 80s, and fear verbal stoning for disagreeing with them, I should not speak up. Especially when it comes to writing about the Eagles. I'm supposed to hate that band for life. Liking them is conforming to the Establishment and I'm just a cog in a machine that spits out mediocrity.

There's a Salon article that echoes (and quotes) Robert Christgau's hatred of the Eagles, while linking pieces by Chuck Klosterman and Jason Heller that defend the band. It should come as no surprise that I identify more with Klosterman and Heller (and have for years, actually) than I ever have with Christgau. I don't think of music writers being in the wrong when I disagree with them. Rather, I try to acknowledge their opinion while not being ashamed of having a different opinion.

Let me break down why I should hate the Eagles, according to those who hate them:
 
-They're frauds who took country rock and turned it into Top 40 mush.
-All of their singles have been overplayed on the radio. 
-Glenn Frey is an asshole.
-Don Henley isn't a very good drummer.
-They say they are on a farewell tour, but they keep touring with no end in sight.
-Don Felder got the shaft and was fired unjustly.

None of these reasons reflect anything to me about their actual songs, mainly their melodies. These reasons are more about the personalities behind the band and the band's business, and how they affected people who don't spend hours poring through music, hoping to find something connects with them.

Somehow, after years of listening to them (including a five-year run where I heard an Eagles song every day between Monday and Friday), I have found I like them now more than ever. Like them in the way that I want to dig deep into their back catalog and read books on them.

This renewed interest came from watching a lengthy documentary on the band called History of the Eagles. Frey comes across as a pompous jerk, but the guy wrote some wonderful songs. I wouldn't want to work with him or someone like him, but a good song is a good song. Their story is an interesting one, filled with drama and ups and downs, making for an enjoyable watch.

One of the first things I never really noticed until I saw the documentary was how well the band (in its various incarnations) harmonize together. Randy Meisner's high register was especially the secret jewel of the band's sound, from "Take It Easy" to their version of Tom Waits' "Ol' 55."

A song like "Lyin' Eyes" and their version of "Ol' 55" warrant repeat listens from me. I can't really get enough of them. Songs like these are perfect for driving around, whether it's short distances or long ones. And somehow, I'm less prone to drive angry when I have their songs on.

Have I bent over backward to the Establishment out by admitting I love the Eagles? It doesn't matter to me, because I've never really identified myself as being a complete outcast. I'm too weird for the mainstream and I'm too mainstream for the weird. If liking the Eagles means that I have no credibility in discerning what's good and bad, then that's someone else's projections. I like what I like, and I'm not pretending to be anything more than what I am.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Do You Know Who You Are?

Hosting a podcast has been something I've thought about for years. My uncle Keith suggested it about seven or eight years ago, but I didn't really know where to start or how I could maintain one.

As the years passed, I kept finding new podcasts. When friends of mine started doing their own shows, the thought of doing one kept coming up in my head.

Only in the past couple of years, I've recognized what I want to hear in a podcast and what I don't want to hear. I want to hear an engaging conversation between two people in the same room, not on a cell phone connection. I want the people to be in a quiet room, not frequently interrupted by dogs barking. And, I want to hear something that isn't too inside baseball, meaning too niche-oriented that you can't understand what the hell the people are talking about.

With Santa Claus bringing me a laptop, two microphones, a quad box, and ProTools, I decided 2015 would be the year I did my own show.

Two episodes into Do You Know Who You Are?, things have come together quite well. My first guest was my housemate Joel, and we talked about growing up in a small town, getting into British music, and what led him to doing a DJ night on the first episode.

For the second episode, I interviewed Michael "Grubes" Gruber, someone I've recently befriended, but it seems like we've known each other for years. We had a great conversation over the weekend, discussing his time at the radio station 1310AM The Ticket, his current gig with the Dallas Stars, and his love of music and Chili's restaurants. We might be cousins, so we had to touch on that, too.

Right now, I don't have plans to put out a new episode every single week. I'd prefer to take the time and find people I know that could share unique perspectives and stories. Since I've met a lot of people through my work in radio, writing, and the music scene, there's no shortage of people to interview.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Last Word is Rejoice


New year, new stories to tell.

I've been sitting on this story for a while, but I'm now clear to share it. Mineral is one of the most important bands in the evolution of post-hardcore/emo. Without them, the Promise Ring, Sense Field, Jimmy Eat World, Texas is the Reason, and Braid, you'd probably not know what emo is today.

I decided to not flesh out the band's story in chapter form in Post. There was no doubt this band was influential, but their story arc was a little too similar to Texas is the Reason's and the Promise Ring's. I didn't want to wear my readers down with story after story with the exact same arc: Band gets buzzed about, tours a lot, puts out a great record, and breaks up before they sign with a major label.

Getting the chance to interview Chris Simpson about the Mineral reunion, I wanted to talk about how the tour has gone, instead of what led to it. That story has already been told many times, so I did the post-script, Now What? story.

Since the band is playing Houston and Dallas on this (possibly final) run of dates, I gave the story to the Observer and sister paper, the Houston Press. There are some subtle differences between the two and you can read the Observer article here and you can read the Houston Press article here.