Evolution of a Song – “Rejects in the Attic” – Part 1

It has been almost four years since Seth and Scott Avett debuted Rejects in the Attic at an intimate Merlefest songwriter’s workshop.  That morning, fans nestled into the 200-seat auditorium with grand hopes that they would witness something truly special.  I doubt that any of us were prepared for this song and the palpable heartache that echoed through Seth’s microphone.   Once an orphaned sheet of scribbled lyrics buried in a disheveled pile, Seth dusted off Rejects, dismantled it and pieced it back together, replacing Scott’s pain and vulnerability with his own.

As fans, we speculate on what may drive the emotion behind such a heavy song–despair, regret, shame, hopelessness.  Though we will never fully understand the twisted path a song takes from start to finish–even when written by two brothers, years apart–it was clear that on that day, as Seth sat with his journal and heart left open for the world to see, the pain behind those lyrics being uttered in public for the first time was fresh and present and very personal.

Seth’s face told a story of sleepless nights and mental anguish. With eyes shut, the weighty lyrics left his lips to find sympathetic ears and sturdy shoulders.  Suddenly, we realized that we were there to share the burden.  We held our breath and took it in, collectively acknowledging the therapeutic exchange that was unfolding before us.  We were not just a passive sounding board that day, but rather a living, breathing levee taking on a flood of emotion.  And just when we thought the chairs may buckle beneath us, Seth opened his eyes, looked to the sky and asked us for more.   We obliged, hopeful that whatever role we played that day for him allowed those holes of pain to be filled in with new found joy.

As Seth closed the song, an almost embarrassed smile spread across his face like that of a grade school kid who just finished reading aloud his first poem in English class.  That bashful authenticity reminded us all that even though we often find ourselves separated from them by a steel barrier or tour bus window, we are all just a bunch of rejects riding through this crazy, beautiful, painful experience together.

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Album Review – Mipso’s “Old Time Reverie”

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“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller was a man of the people–an 80’s pop culture icon created in the era of John Hughes’ brilliance.  Ferris’ words continue to find footing thirty years after audiences caught their first glimpse of the vested hero on the big screen.  He was right–life does move pretty fast.  In our current culture of instagramification it can require some serious effort to slow down, stop multitasking and take a break from all of the Facebook updates and Tweets.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution that often yields positive results–music.  Music is that powerful catalyst that forces you to look up from the glow of your iPhone.  When the sound of joyful voices melting together into a rich harmony hits your eardrum, you can no  longer ignore the goosebumps on the back of your arms and the calming breath in your chest.  Music pulls you away from all of the noise.  It frees you.

On their third studio album, Old Time Reverie, Mipso serves up just that–freedom.  Sitting down with this album transports the listener back to a simpler time, though not one without its own set of obstacles, as evidenced by the album opener “Marianne.”  With a happy fiddle playing peek-a-boo throughout the song, one may mistaken “Marianne” for a jovial tune.  Lyrics tell a different story, one of the forbidden love of an interracial couple in 1960s North Carolina.  Mipso sets the storytelling bar high with “Marianne,” a familiar approach for the band’s album openers–hook the listener from the get go and hold ’em ’til the end.

Down in the Water” follows with Rodenbough’s timeless, crisp vocals at the forefront.  The simplicity and tone of the song feel hymnal, even baptismal at times.  However, the beauty of the song emerges in its content and transcends church walls as Rodenbough pleads for a quiet and content mind–a very relatable request.  “Eliza,” a lover’s plea laced with three-part harmonies, brings a little folky waltz to the album and is sure to be a live fan favorite.

On “Bad Penny,” Terrell hits the ground running, taking listeners on a wild lyrical goose chase with his ever evolving gift of storytelling.   The song’s fiddle line elicits images of a Smoky Mountain family feud, even though the story unfolds in modern-day NYC.  It is in playing with these lyrical and musical contradictions that Mipso continues to grow and evolve as a group.

With Sharp on lead vocals, “Momma” tugs at the heartstrings, combining a Simonesque melody with Mipso harmonies and honesty.   “Father’s House” highlights the gospel influence that often accompanies Mipso’s bluegrass roots.  Here the band uses religious imagery to tackle feelings of isolation and uncertainty in life and death.

“Captain’s Daughter” sets sail on the high seas, telling the story of a lonely seaman who yearns to reunite with his land-bound love, Annabelle.  Rodenbough’s fiddle brings in Celtic tones, transporting the listener across the pond to a more rustic land where passion is fierce in both love and trade.

“Stranger,” a more modern love ballad for the group, pumps the brakes while breaking hearts.  “Honeybee” picks up the pieces and brings in a bit of sweet springtime sunshine.  Terrell convinces listeners that he’s singing from a very personal space, though in his songwriting prowess perhaps he’s just that good.

Everyone Knows” slithers in with a desperado darkness, fit for a Tarantino flick.  Though a bit of a departure for Mipso, it stands tall as the album’s best track.  On “Everyone Knows,” Mipso stepped out boldly into the dusty town square, pulled their pistols and walked away unscathed.   The only thing missing now is an accompanying video.  Jon Kasbe get your camera ready.

The album closes with “4 Train,” a love song set to a steady locomotive cadence.  Touching on familiar emotions that accompany love, “4 Train” shines a spotlight on each band member’s talents, book-ending the album perfectly.

Old Time Reverie offers listeners a solid collection of stories, steeped in traditional acoustic instrumentation and tight-knit harmonies at a steady rocking chair pace.  With each listen, you may find it easier and easier to pull yourself away from the hustle and bustle and take a moment to really live inside the beauty of a carefully crafted song.

Ironically, the members of Mipso weren’t even born when Ferris first delighted downtown Chicago with his famous renditions of “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”  Yet, somehow they collectively possess his spirit, charm, and ability to captivate an audience.  On Old Time Reverie, Terrell, Sharp, Robinson and Rodenbough further reveal the old souls that live in their youthful vessels–wise beyond their years, much like Mr. Bueller.

Mipso is a four-piece folk/bluegrass band out of Chapel Hill, NC consisting of Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (double bass), Jacob Sharp (mandolin) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle).

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Interview – Marco With Love

Photo credit - Curtis Wayne Millard

Photo credit – Curtis Wayne Millard

EOAF recently caught up with frontman Marco Argiro (guitar/lead vocals) of Brooklyn-based indie rock band Marco With Love to discuss the band’s upcoming EP, Townes Van Zandt, NYC inspiration, Slimer from Ghostbuster, and his kick ass band members Subodh Samudre (bass/ backing vocals), Blaine O’Brien (pedal steel/backing vocals) and Peter Landi (drums/backing vocals).   The band’s four track EP, Tidal Wave, is slated for release on July 17th.

EOAF: What’s the quick and dirty of how you guys came together (when, where, how, etc.)?

Argiro: I met Peter a few years back when we were both doing live session work for a mutual friend of our’s band. He and I became fast friends and later he ended up playing drums for my British side project The Killing Floor. So when I was assembling the live band that would later turn into Marco With Love he was the obvious choice to be the drummer. Subodh and I met at Ping Pong Tournament some years ago hosted at the Corbis offices in NYC. We bonded over a mutual admiration for 90’s power pop bands like Superdrag and Nada Surf and talked about one day having a jam. Our schedules didn’t line up to make good on that jam ’til a couple years later when I was wrapping up production on the Love LP. We had a instantaneous spark. Together we worked on the music for what would later become Tidal Wave, the band’s first song. I met Blaine at the 11th street bar in the East Village only a few short years back. He was playing pedal steel and harmonica in his band Brothers NYC and I just so happened to be the support act on the bill. I was immediately intrigued by his playing and style having just spent the last couple years exploring the cosmic American music of Gram Parsons. Up until this point I hadn’t seen anyone playing steel guitar up close before, and I was blown away by the sound he was putting out. I remember approaching him after their set and asking if we was a fan of “Sneaky Pete” Kleinlow. Thankfully he said yes, and within a short few months he joined Subodh, Peter and myself at the next rehearsal. The core of MWL’s lineup was now in place, the rest is as they say. History.

What inspired the new EP? 

The new EP was inspired by living in the big city, our collective travels around the globe, family, and the need to create our own blend of Jangly Country Fried Rock n Roll music. Visionary artists like John Lennon, Tom Petty, and high energy garage acts like the Sonics and The Troggs really helped path the way for us and helped the guys and I to push the boundaries of conventional modern music. We have also decided to add a fourth cut to the EP. It’s a song called “Leave It Behind” and some folks may recognize it from the Love LP. The original version is in a different key and was recorded back in 2012 in my Bushwick basement studio. The band and I felt the new MWL version far better represented our band’s sonic evolution and captures the intensity of the band’s live show with some added psychedelia production.

Why did you choose to include a Townes Van Zandt cover (Waiting Around to Die) on your EP?  How does it fit with the other song?

We decided to include the Townes cover on the EP because we all loved the way it turned out in the studio. The song has a great vibe and truly captured a moment. We also felt that it helped showcase our band’s versatility and ability to explore related genres. Waiting Around to Die is the kind of song we aspire to write ourselves one day. As far as how it fits on this particular EP, we felt the fictional drifter in this particular song is not unlike the character in Poor Young and Gifted and also share similarities to one of the main characters in Leave It Behind. Both had an abusive father and had to endure hardships along life’s journey.

What is your songwriting process like…who is the primary songwriter?  How do others contribute?

Our songwriting process varies from tune to tune. Historically I have been the primary songwriter for the band, but with the Tidal Wave single the music has been more of a collaborative effort. For example, during one of our earlier writing sessions Subodh had a really cool riff that he had been messing around with. He shared the idea with me and we quickly started jamming on it for a while until we came up with some other chord changes together and thus the rough outline for the tune was born. I generally record these raw sessions into an iPhone singing a rough melody so they can be further explored at another time and mined for other potential ideas. Once we’ve had a chance to shape them a bit more we like to get the whole band together and start jamming as a unit. We usually then realize what is missing from the arrangement and each member adds the dynamics that are needed in order to fill out the song on the their respective instrument. Every single member of MWL is a multi-instrumentalist and capable of writing songs on their own so this helps tremendously when being objective during a jam or a writing session. In between rehearsals and gigs is typically when I work on lyrics for the songs. Living in Brooklyn, I often write in transit. Mostly on subway commutes or even in the back of cabs utilizing the iPhone again only this time working on lyrics by typing in notes. Though I prefer to write in my home studio in Clinton Hill, you never know when a line will come to you and a potential lyric will be born.

Did you all grow up in NYC or just live there as adults?  If not, where did you grow up and how was music incorporated into your lives?

Like most people living on this island we all originally came from other places. My father and his family immigrated to New York from Italy back in the early 60’s, but he and my mom ended up moving to South Florida where they raised my sisters and I down in Fort Lauderdale. From a very early age music became the driving force in my life–started bands with my best friends, made records, and submersed myself in the local punk music scene. The only member of the band that actually grew up in the New York area is our drummer Pete Landi. He grew up out in Sag Harbor and like the rest of us music played an integral part of his youth. Subodh, our bassist and his family ended up settling in Virginia Beach, Virginia after living all over the world. He grew up playing in bands in the early post hardcore emo scene in Virginia Beach then continued to make waves playing and touring with various bands in Richmond, VA. Blaine, too, called Virginia home, only his town was Roanoke. I think it’s safe to say we all got the musical bug pretty early on in life which helped shape our trajectory.

What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write?

Various subject matter tends to inspire our band’s material.  While some songs tend to lean more towards abstract thought and points of view, others are more direct chronicles of the lives of family and friends. Tidal Wave could very well be about turning over a new leaf as much as it could be about the ridding oneself of poisonous people in our life. We consider ourselves socially conscious, but not overtly political. To quote Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream. Wandering by lone sea breakers, and sitting by desolate streams. World losers and world forsakers, for whom the pale moon gleams. Yet we are movers and the shakers of the world forever it seems.”

How has living in NYC influenced your music?

Living in New York City has kept us street smart and continues to inspire all of us on a daily basis. Getting just about anything done in NYC is just a little bit harder than most other places we’ve lived. Though the city is almost too fast paced and often can prove to be logistically difficult, the people and the rich musical history help keep our heads in the clouds.

Why type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

Every stage we get up on has its perks. There’s something about playing to an intimate room where people are listening to every lyric and really engaging, but of course for us rockers playing a big festival or club show with a packed room is pretty darn cool. Regardless of the size of the audience we always aim to make every last person in the room leave the venue with a smile on his/her face. Ideally they will remember their MWL show experience and bring a friend to the next one.

What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

I love it when the show all comes together, it’s really rewarding for us to work hard on writing the material, rehearsing it with the band and then the big pay off comes when we play out for a live audience. It really is a symbiotic relationship between the audience and the guys and I. It’s always nice to return to a city or venue and looking out into the crowd only to notice people are singing along or even just smiling. There was one time that we played the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn with a couple bands from Detroit when the guys and I noticed that there was a guy dressed up in a Slimer costume from the Ghostbusters movie.

How has social media helped your music career?

Social Media is a blessing and a curse. On one hand it has helped us reach music fans in far off lands as well as down the road from us in Brooklyn. On the other hand, I feel it can take away the mystique that musicians once had. People end up knowing way more about artists these days. As a musician it can sometimes seem like a chore. I think overall I’d prefer to just make music rather than worrying about telling everyone what were doing at that particular moment. That being said, I bought into it early on and saw the potential and reach that it could provide independent artists.

Tell me a bit about your upcoming touring schedule…how are you going to promote this EP on the road?

Well, we plan on having an EP release party here in NYC, in addition to a few dates in Nashville, San Francisco & Los Angeles. We will be getting our new record into all the mom and pop and independent Brick n Mortar record stores that we possibly can around the states and across the pond in the UK/ Europe.

What do you do when you aren’t writing or performing?  Any other interests or charity work?

When I’m not writing or performing you’ll likely find me behind the bar slinging drinks, however I like to spend time with family, read, and watch documentaries with my dog Layla. I’m also a volunteer member of Musicians On Call here in NYC. We do our best to brighten the day for sick kids and their families. Subodh is a Creative Director and Art Director for Advertising, a rock ’n roll photographer, music composer and is always busy producing art projects with his design company ‘Make Things Awesome.’ Peter works in a record store and also fronts his own grunge rock band, The Glazzies. Blaine designs websites, is a honky-tonk DJ, does kickboxing in addition to session work for other groups.

Take a listen to the first single off of MWL’s EP, Tidal Wave, and check in on news and tour dates via Facebook.

 

 

 

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Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Album Review – Justin Townes Earle’s “Absent Fathers”

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If album titles could speak of the wounded heart of an artist, Justin Townes Earle’s latest installment, “Absent Fathers,” would be screaming humbly from a Nashville rooftop. This 10-track album is the companion to Earle’s fifth studio album, “Single Mothers,” which was released last year. Earl recorded all tracks live with his four-piece touring band before settling them into their parental album positions. Taken as a pair, these albums bare the soul of a boy-turned-man and his journey to solid ground.

“Absent Fathers” softly, but unapologetically, reveals a side of Earle that longed for a stable father figure, one who could have saved him from the depths of addiction and heartache and taught him how to be a gentleman. Sadly, most fathers who leave a son at the age of two years are not typically equipped for such a noble post. Such appears the case for Earle’s father, alt-country artist Steve Earle, who has certainly faced demons of his own.

Despite his life’s turmoil, Earle, whose voice finds itself nestled somewhere between the muddied mumble of Dylan and the rocker rasp of Springsteen, has catapulted himself into the Americana spotlight with a blue collar mix of folk, blues and country. Much like his godfather, the late Townes Van Zandt, Earl’s vocal delivery teeters on melodic spoken word, often with an unpredictable cadence.

On “Absent Fathers,” Earle’s style translates as if he were reading straight from his personal journal — raw emotion with very little frill, yet full and layered. So layered in fact that on the opening track, “Farther From Me,” it is unclear whether Earle sings of heartbreak from a young love or from being abandoned by his father. It is one of the album’s strongest tracks, tacked down by loneliness and suffering, but unfastened by a hopeful and simple guitar arrangement.

Earle’s unique vocal pacing is most apparent on “Why” and “Least I Got The Blues,” two short tracks that maintain Earle’s wide-open narrative, but have trouble finding a strong footing when measured against the others. “Call Ya Momma” is a mellow, bluesy, rock tune that tells the tale of quarreling lovers on the brink of a forever farewell.

“Day and Night” opens with the lonely whine of pedal steel accompanied by lovely finger picking. This track displays the beauty of Earle’s songwriting with striking lyrics of the uncertainty the day brings as the night is put to rest. “Round the Bend” picks up the pace as the album’s truck-stop rocker, evoking images of Earle standing on the side of a dusty country road using the last of his pocket change to call to his jilted lover.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith” brings Earle’s blues influence to the forefront. With his head hung low, Earle sings of the familiar woes that come to anyone who has loved and lost. Gears shift back to country on “Slow Monday,” which strangely possesses shades of a Randy Newman animated tune and sums up the commonplace opinion of the most dreaded day of the week. “Someone Will Pay” is an upbeat revengeful track with a punchy guitar solo interlude.

The album’s final track, “Looking For A Place To Land,” is a somber but encouraging tune that chronicles the trials of a man eager to evolve beyond boyhood dreams and a painful past. With delicate guitar picking and heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics, Earle ends the album with a story unto which his listeners will attach their own past memories and future optimisms. It is in this unpolished openness that Earle so easily connects to his listeners. As Earle’s story evolves, he will certainly continue to find stability and safety within the Americana’s halls and heart.

Collectively, “Absent Fathers” tells just one part of Earle’s multifaceted life story. Even with a first listen to the album, it is clear that songwriting from the soul is therapeutic for Earle. He sings of his mistakes to make amends with himself and creates a bond with his audience that is rooted in honest emotion and a desire to do better. The album itself finds perfection is its simplicity, relatability and underproduction, which lends listeners a clean and uncluttered collection of songs from the emotional pages of Earle’s past.

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Album Review – Rancid’s “…Honor Is All We Know”

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Nothing exudes the holiday spirit quite like a new Rancid album — this year’s perfect stocking stuffer.

“…Honor Is All We Know” marks the punk rock band’s eighth studio album and its first release since 2009. Punk veteran Tim Armstrong continues to lead Rancid head-on into the fire pit with his unmistakable, gritty vocals and anarchistic, yet upbeat, agenda. Along with longtime bandmate Matt Freeman (bass, vocals), Lars Frederiksen (guitar, vocals) and Branden Steineckert (drums), Armstrong finds a sweet spot between staying true to his punk roots while pushing the tight-fisted genre into the future.

The album opens with a familiar frenzied pace on “Back Where I Belong,” marking the band’s valiant return after five years between recordings. This is a no-frills announcement and a reason for listeners to perk up and pay attention. “Raise Your Fist” follows in all of its anti-authority glory. Chock-full of enough “Oi Oi Oi” chants to rally the masses, this 3-minute track is quintessential Rancid retaliation.

With reminiscing lyrics and a familiar Armstrong tempo, “Collision Course” harkens back to Rancid’s “…And Out Come the Wolves” days, when American punk rock found itself on mainstream music’s frontline. “Evil’s My Friend” brings in that reggae-ska flavor that has peppered Rancid’s sound over the decades, making for a perfect skanking song.

On the title track, Frederiksen and Freeman join Armstrong on lead vocal. This is initially distracting, but speaks volumes of the band’s message of brotherhood and unity. “A Power Inside” is the perfect follow-up to the title track, continuing the positivity of union and inner-strength no matter the cards life has dealt.

“In The Streets” is a punk rock “Freaks Come Out at Night,” chronicling the happenings of late-night street corner huggers. On “Face Up,” Armstrong gives thanks to another day in the struggle after surviving a bar fight. Though tapping out after just 1:35 minutes, this short track still manages to translate vivid imagery and gratefulness to the listener.

The drum-heavy “Already Dead” is a hell-raiser, made for flashes of leather and spikes in a mosh pit full of fast flying elbows and bloody noses. The devilish “Diabolical” speaks to the evil tug-of-war that violence pulls out of the human race. On “Malfunction,” Armstrong and Frederiksen trade off verses smoothly. While the track stays in line lyrically, the drum and guitar arrangement feels almost like a Rolling Stones tune—a little more rock than punk, but a well-received deviation from the norm.

“Now We’re Through With You” calls out the disloyal and maintains the band’s focus on doing right by each other because forgiveness is not an option. “Everybody’s Sufferin’” brings in more surfer-ska and stands out among the other tracks with organ-tones and a slower pace. The album closes with a similar vengeance and fever as it opened on “Grave Digger.” Another track shared by Armstrong and Frederiksen, “Grave Digger” keeps fans in a bit of a purgatory, greedily wanting more. Fortunately for fans, there is a deluxe iTunes version of the album that features an additional three songs.

Collectively, “…Honor Is All We Know” falls in line with typical punk rock albums in that it clocks in at just under 33 minutes. For those who lack the attention span to listen much longer, it is a perfect departure from the real world in about the time it may take to drive to work.

While lyrical intricacies have never been Rancid’s strong suit, the simplicity in message and arrangement continue to serve as a solid backbone on which to build. Despite the fact that Rancid peaked in the mid-90s, the band continues to deliver music with a fresh sound that appeals to the old underground fans as well as young punk rockers who are just discovering the boisterous genre.

As long as Armstrong is at the mic, punk rock will have a distinct voice that will perpetuate a message of unity amidst the defiance. “…Honor Is All We Know” succeeds in this light, and proves that Armstrong and his crew show no signs of backing down from what they came to do—speak loud and proud with a fist in the air and a fight in their hearts.

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Technology’s Impact on the Music Industry

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In the 80s, video killed the radio star and music lovers became glued to MTV around the clock. Cable TV and the music video revolutionized how music reached people. Music fans were excited and satisfied, completely naïve to the impact that technology would have on the creation, delivery and live experience of music in the future.

More than three decades later, technology has exploded and changed the face of the music industry on all fronts. Musicians no longer need big record labels to reach the masses — they have social media and YouTube for that. Getting “discovered” can literally happen overnight with viral videos that spread like wildfire across the globe. As Dylan sang, “the times, they are a-changing’.”

Today, fans are bombarded by musical options — band status updates, tweets, live-streaming concerts, crowdfunding campaigns, Instagram concert photos, digital downloads, satellite radio, music apps, wireless headphones and more. The opportunities to connect to music seem endless and ever expanding, which allows fans to pick their poison, but also leaves plenty of room for overload and pitfalls.

The ability to record and mix an album no longer sits in the hands of big name studios as it once did. Home recording studios have popped up across the states as artists gain access to affordable digital audio workstation programs like Avid Pro Tools and Apple GarageBand or Logic Pro X. While engineering an album still requires a trained ear, these tools have opened doors to musicians who may have never dreamed of the chance to lay down tracks.

Ask independent touring musicians about income and they will likely tell you they are broke — this is no lie. After gas, hotels, meals, and bills, there is little left for recording costs. Without backing from a label, recording an album in today’s climate often requires the support of fans. This is where crowdfunding comes in handy. Online platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and PledgeMusic have changed the way musicians raise money to support their craft. Successful campaigns from artists like Langhorne Slim, Joe Fletcher and Holy Ghost Tent Revival have turned out solid albums that may have otherwise never been created. This virtual tip jar allows fans to be a part of the process, and in return receive “prizes” that are often handmade by the artists themselves.

For some, smartphone technology has ruined the live music experience. Watching an entire concert through the bright screen of someone’s iPhone or tablet is certainly not ideal and can create frustration among concert-goers. This frustration can also be felt by the musician, who can look out into a sea of phones, rather than faces, often creating a disconnect.

On the flip side, jam band Umphrey’s McGee has chosen a different approach to use technology to increase engagement and unity among its fans. At selective shows, including the band’s annual UMBowl, fans are asked to live tweet song requests and improv ideas to the band or vote for specific songs to guide the set list.

“It’s really fun and the fans just went nuts for it,” band member Joel Cummins said. “It’s a really great experience to be creative with the fan base and come up with new things … it turns improv on its head and treats it like composition. Over the course of three years, we’ve come up with nine to 10 new songs from it.”

Surprisingly, Cummins and the band have found that the live tweeting and voting have not distracted from the show itself.

“I don’t see (overuse of phones) as much of a problem at our shows,” Cummins said. “We aren’t big stars. (The fans) are there in the moment, for the music. People aren’t into us as people. They are more into us as a group, so if they want to take a picture that is fine with me. You really have to pay attention (at our shows). It’s not going to be the same thing every night.”

Umphrey’s McGee also offers a selective number of wireless headphone packs at most shows, allowing fans to experience the concert through the soundboard, just as the band does through ear monitors. Currently they have 40-50 packs that fans can rent for $40, which also includes a digital download of the evening’s performance. What started as an idea to bring fans a unique listening experience, has grown into more than the band could have ever expected — spawning new friendships and headphone sharing.

“Our biggest fear was that it would create a strange social stigma at shows, but the opposite has happened,” Cummins said. “It brings out people’s curiosity and most of our fans are nice, intelligent people. They want to accommodate and spread the word about the goodness of this. We’ve had about five to 10 negative comments and 500 positive comments — that it is a game changer.”

Social media has done wonders for the independent musician, not only through spreading information and new music, but also through networking and tour planning. Many smaller music venues now handle booking through Facebook, and keep patrons informed by creating event pages. Websites like Bandsintown and Artistdata can be linked to Facebook and Twitter by musicians, keeping fans informed of nearby shows.

However, the amount of accessible music may be nearing a threshold. Wood Robinson, bassist for the Chapel Hill-based group Mipso, has observed a shift in music accessibility on the internet and thinks that musicians need to use these resources wisely in order to be successful.

“The webs are all but saturated with music of all kinds and of all aesthetics and all abilities,” Robinson said. “It gives a little more of an even platform for everyone, but it also means that the listener has to plow through a lot to find that yet-to-be-discovered group that they’re going to fall in love with. It’s like taking all the fruit trees in the world and putting them in one grove. All those fruits are a lot more reachable, but so are the fruits that you don’t want to eat.

“I think that the biggest thing for artists is to figure out how to use that accessibility to their advantage. The constant connectivity is great but not if used poorly. Reverbnation has a lot of great tools for unsigned artists, but a ‘like’ doesn’t necessarily translate to a butt in a seat at a concert. It can be a good proxy for estimating growth, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all for measuring success.”

Music delivery through websites like Pandora and Spotify has also drastically increased mobile accessibility to music, while also somewhat stealing from the mouths of artists. This conundrum equates to the proverbial double-edged sword. While fans can listen to any type of music they want for free or a small monthly fee and it gives the artist exposure, in the end most artists literally earn pennies for the web-play their songs receive.

This drastic decrease in pay-out is also evident when fans choose to purchase a digital download over a physical copy of an album. Local musician Rebekah Todd has concerns about the impact technology has on not only the livelihood of the artist, but also how people are connecting to music today.

“Things have changed dramatically with the digital age and the introduction of things like Rhapsody, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and so many more,” Todd said. “The act of obtaining music has been cheapened. Thirty years ago, you had to walk into a record store and thumb through physical copies of albums. You picked the album up and you examined its artwork. You might have even read about who played on the album and where it was recorded. Today, we don’t have to have any physical contact to have a song delivered to us immediately.

“Not only have digital sites stolen the personal act of buying music from us, it has stolen a large portion of how musicians make their living. What people don’t realize is that musicians make a fraction of a penny for every time that their song is listened to, digitally, as opposed to the days when people had to spend at least an entire dollar on a song that a musician poured their soul into for months on end.

“I believe that music is not something you hear. It is something that you feel. If you aren’t feeling music, you might as well stop listening. To fully experience music, you have to stand in a room with someone who has written a song about the highest and lowest points of their life and you have to meet that person in their song — in their experience. That is where the connection is made. It isn’t made on an iPod. It isn’t made on XM radio. It is made at the live performance. I fear that a large percentage of the kids being raised today have never even been to a live show. They have never felt the bass pumping so loudly that they can feel it in their chest. They’ve never seen someone pour out all of their emotion with every bead of sweat that lands on the stage.”

Over the past decade, vinyl has made a significant comeback, giving listeners a higher quality recording when compared to a digital MP3 file. According to Pitchfork, 2013 vinyl sales topped out at 6.1 million units in the US alone. While this still only accounts for two percent of all album sales, it represents a 33% increase in vinyl sales from 2012.

To stay up with the times, most newly-pressed vinyl comes with a digital download code for those who want the experience of spinning a record, while also being able to take the music on the go. For audiophiles this is the best of both worlds.

Independent record stores, like Greenville’s East Coast Music and Video, have had to adapt to the digital world in order to survive. Store owner, Jon Hughes’ has gladly embraced the new demand for vinyl by stocking his store with new and used records, in addition to CDs, offering music lovers a wide array of options while trying to stay current.

“I think the resurgence in vinyl interest is awesome,” Hughes said. “The fact that vinyl sales are up throughout the world’s retail markets is evidence that people are starting to come full circle when it comes to listening and buying music. A lot of people have become slaves to their gadgets over the years and they have lost touch with the pure enjoyment of owning and collecting physical pieces of music. Many folks in the younger generations do not know what it’s like to really want their favorite band’s new album and having to wait for it to come out. They’ve never experienced the genuine excitement of going to their local record store and finally getting their hands on it for the first time.

“Opening up the record, admiring the artwork and photographs, reading the liner notes and song lyrics while listening to a beautiful piece of vinyl can be a surreal experience on many levels. A band’s music should be more than just background noise to fill the room while you’re scanning the internet. Let’s face it, music is art and it should be enjoyed that way. MP3s are flat pieces of digital noise but, vinyl records have warmth, depth, texture and soul. Nothing sounds better than analog and I believe more people are reconnecting with that fact.”

The increase in demand for current bands to release vinyl versions of albums comes with a disclaimer — fans must be patient. Currently, there are only about a dozen pressing plants in the US, which means turnaround time has gone from about four weeks to three months. Perhaps vinyl’s comeback will offset the need for instant gratification that comes with immediate downloads or streaming, and bring music lovers back to a time when great music was worth the wait.

 

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