The Pursuit of the New
If you go back and read through the BRP archives, there are a lot of acts that are highlighted, some well- known and some head scratchers. Despite covering musical acts like Gregg Allman, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Frankie Valli and Dolly Parton, I’m still trying to chase new bands. I’m not going to lie to you: I appreciate many of the icons of popular music, but I also like to know about the latest in the world of rock. Why?
First Albums Are Often The Best
Here’s a sad but true fact: there aren’t that many bands that have the talent to do more than one great album – or hell, sometimes one great song, hence the “one hit wonder” phenomenon. Quick: name a song other than 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians. Hard, right? Ever hear anything else from The Vapors other than Turning Japanese? Nope.
The first album can take years to come to fruition, with lots of opportunities to test new songs before the album is cut. But once that album is out, the pressure to go on the road to support it, and then simultaneously write and produce a second album quickly, is super intense. Not many bands can do it, and the dreaded sophomore slump can be career-ending. There are plenty of bands that put out one great album followed up by mediocre efforts – think the Strokes – or others that simply had one album in them – say, the Sex Pistols – before they collapsed. You gotta get ‘em while they’re hot.
New Bands Have a New Sound
Do you remember the first time that Nirvana’s “Sounds Like Teen Spirit” hit your eardrums? I remember it distinctly: I was in my car at a red light on Radnor-Chester Road waiting to make a left onto 320. I was listening to bland rock on one of Philly’s radio stations when all of a sudden this solo guitar riff piqued my interest. About 10 seconds later, this thunderous drum and wall of electric noise followed, and it was off to the races. Grunge saved rock at the time, and that song was the first grunge tune to really blow me away.
But Nirvana had been out in Seattle building a following for a quite a while before they knocked me out while making that left turn. So don’t you think that is the same for a lot of other bands – they are playing great sounds that are not yet commercially acceptable, but have the ability to lead the charge into unexplored territory. Right now, I’m thinking of bands like Protomartyr, Speedy Ortiz, Chumped, Sheer Mag and some others that are writing and performing music that will be ubiquitous in about 10 years. You can go to any NBA arena and hear the Ramones now, but that was not true during the 1970s when they were actually making that music. If you catch on early, you get that 10 years, and you get to see it live and cheap.
Movements Start At The Grassroots
This is somewhat the same point as above, but not exactly. Sometimes, it’s not just one band that makes the leap to something new, different and exciting, but groups of musicians all do so at basically the same time. This is true over and over in the history of rock: Sixties bands like the Stones, Beatles, Byrds, and Beach Boys all were influencing and listening to each other.
The Summer of Love was the launching ground for the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and many others. Punk blasted out of England with the Pistols, Clash, Jam, Buzzcocks and Damned, then hit California where X, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and the Dead Kennedys came out almost simultaneously.
Grunge hit with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Soundgarden basically at the same time. One thing that hasn’t been said is that sometimes the commercial mainstream catches this (like in the 60s or with grunge) and sometimes it completely misses (like with the punks). If you are only listening to the commercial stations, you are probably missing out on some of the most compelling music out there right now. And if you live in Philly, you may not be aware that there are a ton of local acts that are kicking ass right now – Low Cut Connie, Sheer Mag, Dr. Dog, War on Drugs, the Menzingers, the Districts, Waxahatchee, Kurt Vile, and on and on. Get with the program at its inception and you’re swirling around lots of fantastic artists all hitting their strides simultaneously … and sometimes under the radar. Fun!
I’m Cheap and I Like Small Venues
New bands don’t sell out arenas and stadiums. They play at small, intimate clubs. Not only is the musical experience fantastically different, the cost differential is also tremendous. Low Cut Connie costs about $20 to see – not only are they great, but they are also tremendous value. Back when I was sucking down rivers of wine, I was into finding the $15-20 bottle that tasted as good or better as the $50 labels. This is kind of the same thing: you find a good thing before everyone knows about it, and since the supply exceeds the demand, the prices are depressed. That means I can go to a lot more shows, enjoy a much bigger variety of music, see bands that are working like dogs to make an impact and be heard in an incredibly crowed music scene, and be right up front experiencing an intimacy that is simply not doable in an arena, stadium or festival setting.
Some Bands Will Never Be Hugely Commercially Successful … But They’re Great
Graham Parker. XTC. Big Star. Marah. NRBQ. The Jam. The Buzzcocks. All of these bands had great critical acclaim, are recognized by other artists for their work, but are virtually unknown to most Americans. Yes, there is a cadre that appreciates them, but none of these artists ever sold out an arena (and may not be able to sell out the biggest club in town, either). But I love them all. My life has been enhanced by their songs – in fact, some of their tunes are basically the soundtrack for my life. I don’t know what it would be like to live without them. And I wouldn’t have known about them had music not been a passion of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go for everything out there. I’m not a huge Dylan fan, and I still think that most people say they like Radiohead but secretly can’t figure out why they are so popular. Many massively talented musicians will languish on the fringes of commercial success and never be accepted by the masses. That’s alright with me (but I pity them) because that means I get to see Ash absolutely rip up the Foundry, the Feelies make the Queen quiver, Wolf Alice blow me away at UT, or Kasabian shake the foundations of the TLA, all with very little competition for tickets or front row spaces.
It Suits My Interests
Not everyone has my interests, which is good because the world would be pretty boring if we all liked the same things. I’m happy that there are others who are as passionate about literature, ballet, scrabble, baseball, foreign films, or whatever, as I am about music. It’s what makes a world a world. I love meeting someone who is really into something that I am not, and who will sit down and guide me through their passion. I don’t claim to know that much about music, but I love it and love to talk about it and experience it. I can be moved to tears by a sad song, want to jump for joy with a happy rave up, dance to a disco beat, or laugh out loud by a witty tune. The combination of creative writing and musical arrangement is super compelling to me. And seeing it live is transforming. I’ve turned one of my passions into what you are reading right now. And some of the music that does it the most for me is the new, the non-commercial, the experimental. Cool, huh?
Isn't Thirteen the most beautiful little love song? I love that song. And the fact that so few people have heard it is terrible.
I’m on the hunt for the next thing. This year I’m hoping to see Chumped, Fang Island and a few others that I’ve been jamming to for a while but haven’t yet experienced live. But I also want to see great visual art, skydive, travel my rear off (oops, my skinny little toosh can’t do that too much), laugh at comedy shows, see fantastic theater and movies, read some great books, eat fresh and carefully prepared food, catch up with friends and make new ones, and play with my grandkids. Among other things. How about you? What are you pursuing? Whatever it is, do it with passion and commitment. Thanks for sharing your time with me.
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.