8-Track Mind (#103.1) It had been a few years since San Franciscan (via Chicago) Russ Forster had slapped together a new ish of 8TM. It’s a half-sized rag that’s 40 pages, but it’s quality over quantity here, folks. This ish goes way back over 20 years where he’s writing about the salad days (“Echoes from the Glory Days” as the cover says). The So Wrong They’re Right tour (from 1995). Yeah, it’s a tour diary and instead of contributors he has a “names dropped” column. Pure genius! Get yours now from email@example.com
The Big Takeover (#79) If editor Jack Rabid hits issue one hundred I wanna be there for that party. Like clockwork, every June and December comes Jack’s long-running mag (not sure how many times I’ve called it “long running” but it’s a lot). This time around it’s Lush (cover stars…and unfortunately already broken up, again) Belly, Luna, The Descendents, Eagulls, Kid Congo (part 2), Cheetah Chrome and lots of more including short takes and a holy ton of reviews. For the real deal you need to subscribe. 146 pages. www.bigtakeover.com
Casting Couch (#5), Miranda Fisher just keeps cranking out her zine, Casting Couch out of her humble abode in Austin, TX. She’s up to her 5th issue and in this one are interviews with Counter Intuits, Wet Ones, Trampoline Team and Rik & the Pigs plus reviews and the usual much She’s even included a few pin ups this issue but I can’t tell you who they are (don’t wana spoil the surprise.All that and more and everything for you, dear reader. . firstname.lastname@example.org
Razorcake (#96) This long-running Los Angeles-based punk zine has been at it for a long time now, sorta picking up where Flipside left off. They’re staunchly independent and at $4 per issue you get lots of bang for your buck. This time around is Pedal Strike, Fur Coats, Sharkpact (ok, have not heard of those three band) plus a punks guide to rap music. In additon there’s plenty of columns and a bucketload of reviews too. Subscribe, it’s way worth it (in other words, dive in and don’t come back up unless you really need some air). www.razorcake.org
Ugly Things (#43) Nothing can slow Mike Stax and his staff down on pumping out issues of Ugly Things. And I mean nothing (hey, Mike’s even a dad). He also told me that they are now publishing three times per year (whoah!). In this latest issue are pieces on Crime (!!!!), Bent Wind, Things to Come, The Turtles, Music Machine and more plus reviews of all formats (records, cds, dvds, books etc.) and at 146 pages it equals that of the latest issue of the Big Takeover (see above). Thick. www.ugly-things.com
Vulcher (#2) Yes! Vulcher #2 came out and it rules more heavily than the debut (believe it). Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy are still runing the show here with a mega long list of contributors (including yours truly). It’s a throwback to music mags of the 70’a with all kinda gunk crammed everywhere. Pieces on/by Coley, Meltzer, Bangs, Goner Records, Jan & Dean and way too much more. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy (or die tryin’) at email@example.com
When Metallica releases an album – something that’s become an oddly rare occurrence in the past couple of decades – it’s an event. The San Fran band is such a major player in its genre – arguably the most important act in metal still in full flower – that the quality of the music is almost beside the point. Fortunately, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (Blackened) finds the nearly 40-year-old band closer to its original mojo than it’s been since the early 90s – maybe even the late 80s. The quartet has made no secret of its desire to revisit the whipcrack thrash it pioneered in the mid-80s – members have filled interviews with assurances of a return to their original sound, and recent shows have relied almost solely on its Reagan-era repertoire. Unsurprisingly for an album with such high expectations, the results are mixed. Much of the record takes the heavier tracks on the massively successful and still controversial Black Album as core inspiration – anyone expecting Master of Puppets II will be disappointed. Plus a lot of the lyrics are seriously dire – the chorus of “Hardwired” (“We’re so fucked/Shit out of luck/Hardwired to self-destruct”) would embarrass a 12-year-old. And James Hetfield’s mighty voice is starting to sound thin on a few tracks – on “Dream No More,” he’s nearly unrecognizable. But when the band locks in on what it does best – the raised-fist power metal of “Atlas, Rise!,” the hatchet prog metal of “Confusion,” the neckbreaking attack of “Spit Out the Bone,” “Moth Into Flame” and even “Hardwired” – with all the power, precision and, most significantly, enthusiasm of their younger selves, all the carping falls away in a haze of headbanging and air guitar. Hardwired…to Self-Destruct may not be the new masterpiece most of us were hoping for, but it’s absolutely the best Metallica record in a quarter of a century. TRACK: Metallica – “Moth Into Flame”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tdKl-gTpZg
Instrumental metal usually takes the form of either prog-like epics or shredfests designed to let the musicians show off. Philadelphia’s Dysrhythmia can certainly be accused of the latter, as the trio is made up of virtuoso technicians who can play nearly anything. But on The Veil of Control (Profound Lore), the band’s eighth LP, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel, bassist Colin Marston and drummer Jeff Eber use their powers for good. Taking cues from jazz in their interplay and punk rock in their elevation of intensity over technique, Dysrhythmia grab hold of riffs that are complex more in feel than in form and don’t let go, driving them to levels of power and tension that takes telepathic reciprocity and a lot of time in the practice space. Anyone looking for insanely complex solos worthy of Guitar Face may need to go elsewhere – Dysrhythmia’s compositional smarts and interwoven musicianship creates a space where solos aren’t needed to make the songs compelling. TRACK: Dysrhythmia – Veil of Control Bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-veil-of-control
More overtly referencing jazz fusion than Dysrhythmia, Animals As Leaders takes similar influences to different places on The Madness of Many (Sumerian), the D.C. trio’s fourth album. Eight-string guitarists Tobin Abasi and Javier Reyes are quite capable of soloing with GIT-soaked abandon, but are more interested in textures than technique. The axemen’s string slashes – which contribute both bass and guitar tones – clash in a way that creates polyrhythms with drummer Matt Garstka, and a subtle funk undercurrent keeps the tracks percolating. TRACK: Animals As Leaders – “Inner Assassins”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEYt2GtfQJk
Drawing on different inspiration than its fellow trios, Russian Circles eschews solo-happy arrangements and just goes for the jugular on Guidance (Sargent House), the Chicago band’s sixth record. Guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz ride a fine line between doom metal and post rock, infusing the soaring dynamics of the latter with the power chord chug and thundering crunch of the former. TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be
Ottawa quartet The Night Watch adds prog rock sweep to its second record Boundaries (self-released). Guitarist Nathanael Larochette and violinist Evan Runge – both also of equally wordless experimental act Musk Ox – balance power chords and soaring string lines over the course of one 36-minute tune that never loses steam. TRACK: The Night Watch – Boundaries Bandcamp: https://thenightwatch.bandcamp.com/
Veteran Seattle black metal duo Inquisition has endured its fair share of bad press lately, due to accusations of Nazism. (Which seems unlikely, given this decidedly non-Aryan act hails originally from Colombia.) While denying all charges, guitarist/vocalist Dagon and drummer Incubus spit out Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist). The title alone indicates more interest in high-falutin Luciferian fooferaw than National Socialism, and Dagon’s guttural rumble makes meaning hard to discern in any case. In truth, the band’s passion is for grinding but catchy riffs and blastbeat rhythms that conjure up that most rare of demons in black metal: a groove. (All the more impressive given the lack of bass.) “The Flames of Infinite Blackness Before Creation” and “Through the Divine Spirit of Satan a Glorious Universe is Known” don’t court controversy so much as headbanging glory. TRACK: Inquisition – “Power From the Center of the Cosmic Black Spiral”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C-W3Tq-zgM
Also no stranger to controversy, Norway’s legendary Darkthrone returns with its sixteenth LP Arctic Thunder (Peaceville). Singer/guitarist/bassist Nocturno Culto and drummer/lyricist Fenriz forgo the usual chaotic blast beats for a powerhouse marriage of blackened extreme metal and NWOBHM riffery. “Tundra Leech,” “Boreal Fiends” (which ends with a synth solo!) and “Deep Lae Trespass” sound, a quarter of a century after the band released its first album, less like black metal classicism and more like classic metal. TRACK: Darkthrone – “Tundra Leech”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lwz7gucE7x0
German headbanger vet Sodom also make a big return with Decision Day (Steamhammer/SPV), the trio’s 15th record, released 30 years after its debut. The band’s blackened thrash is as teeth-gnashingly powerful as ever, blazing through ugly anthems “Rolling Thunder,” “Vaginal Born Evil” and “Caligula” with nasty (and faintly ridiculous) intent. What else would you expect from a group whose singer is called Tom Angelripper? TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be
Witchery keep the Satanic vibe rolling on In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media), the long-running Swedish ensemble’s sixth LP. The quintet has always blended its bloody black metal with other styles (particularly thrash and power metal) for an evil brew that appeals to more than just the corpsepainted crowd. The powerhouse whipcrack of “Netherworld Emperor” sidles up to the blastbeat explosion of “The Burning of Salem,” both of which contrast with the heads-down stampede of “Zoroast” and the straight-up anthemry of “Oath Breaker.” Good headbanging fodder whether you worship Lucifer or not. TRACK: Witchery- “Oath Breaker”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMBynqpUzdE
Norway’s In the Woods… never bothered with all that Satan stuff, finding its eerie weirdness inside its own collective head. Pure (Debemur Morti Productions), the innovative band’s first album in 17 years, keeps the menacing atmosphere of darkness, but skips most of the other BM signifiers. Exchanging blastbeats and vampire-on-crack singing for sweeping minor-key melodies and a gruff baritone, ItW uses its black metal roots as foundation for moody progressive anthems “Blue Oceans (Rise Like a War)” and the massive “Transmission KRS.” TRACK: In the Woods… – “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY0nBdumDr0
The Gates of Slumber waved the flag for old-fashioned doom metal for over a decade, before the departure and subsequent death of bassist Jason McCash put a period on the end of that sentence. But guitarist/singer Karl Simon isn’t done laying down the thundering riffgroove just yet, picking up exactly where he left off with Wretch, named for TGoS’s final LP. The trio’s self-titled debut (Bad Omen) floweth over with deep sludgy grooves, lava-thick guitar waves and Simon’s plainspokenly gruff ruminations on “Grey Cast Mourning,” “Winter” and “Running Out of Days.” No psychedelic excursions, blackened atmospheres or noise dynamics here – just pure doom done well – better, possibly, than anyone else treading the boards not named Tony Iommi. Check out “Icebound” for a near-perfect encapsulation of everything doom is all about. TRACK: Wretch – s/t Bandcamp: https://badomenrecords.bandcamp.com/album/wretch
Combining progressive rock melodics, death metal aggression and doom crunch, Vancouver’s Anciients blast to life on sophomore LP Voice of the Void (Season of Mist). Alternating carnivorous roars with keening croons, sweeping tunesmithery with thunderous riffology and soaring majesty with grimy brutality, the quartet lifts you up to heaven, only to drag you back through hell, usually within the same song. As such, the band is at its best on longer pieces where it can really flex its considerable muscle – “Worshipper” and “Ibex Eye” are particularly good examples. TRACK: Anciients – “Ibex Eye”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFJaeVS8L00
Veteran Swedes Dark Tranquility skip the doom part of the equation, but aren’t a million miles away from prog metal on eleventh LP Atoma (Century Media). The band’s sense of majestic melody informs tracks like “Neutrality,” “When the World Screams” and “Encircled” – it’s just one clean vocal away from a radio-ready anthem. TRACK: Dark Tranquility – “Forward Momentum”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suhuQlYZwtE
Pioneering avant metal act Neurosis lets enough years go between releases that any new album is a big deal. Fires Within Fires (Neurot), the influential Oakland quintet’s twelfth album and first in four years, serves as a thirtieth anniversary record, and a summing up of the group’s long career to date. Over the course of five long tracks, Neurosis takes a journey through noise and silence, chaos and order, alternating high volume and maximum crunch with delicate beauty and near-ambient intonation. Guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till interweave steely webs of thorny latticework before crashing into wall-shaking thunder; drummer Jason Roeder modulates the dynamics while still keeping to the crunge. Keyboardist Noah Landis and bassist Dave Edwardson fill out the sound without drawing attention. As vocalists, Kelly and Von Till evoke the album title in their performances, calling up a harsh passion undiminished in their three decades around the metal block. “A Shadow Memory” and “Fire is the End Lesson” present masterclasses in how to manipulate sturm und drang without becoming tiresome, while the awesome closing epic “Reach” is a summary of everything that makes Neurosis great. TRACK: Neurosis – Fires Within Fires Bandcamp: https://neurosis.bandcamp.com/album/fires-within-fires
Every time we think NYC alt.metal icon Helmet has finally given up the ghost, we’re proven wrong. Since its reactivation in the early ‘aughts, Page Hamilton likes to take his time between records and tours, so the confusion is understandable. Six years since the underwhelming Seeing Eye Dog, Hamilton and co. return with Dead To the World (earMUSIC), Helmet’s eighth LP. The guitarist’s voice has gotten rougher over the years – indeed, he’s almost unrecognizable to his former mellifluous yet harsh singing self. Otherwise, though, the song remains the same – growling riffs, grungy melodies, noisy guitar breaks, the occasional unusual lick or chord progression to remind us of Hamilton’s jazz training. “Bad News,” “Life or Death” and “Expect the World” likely won’t change the minds of the unconverted, but fans will feel a familiar warm and steely buzz. TRACK: Helmet – “Bad News”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkFMvststF0
On their last albumClean., Whores. seemed just too angry and spiteful to live. But rage can keeps the blood pumping, as on the band’s follow-up Gold. (eOne). The Atlanta trio pummels its riffs with barbwire-wrapped baseball bats, while guitarist Christian Lembach rants and raves about whatever’s pissing him off at the moment. Same old same old, especially in the noise rawk world, but Whores. (spellcheck loves that period!) definitely possess that certain spark that elevates them above mere Unsane clonery. Maybe it’s because, like Unsane, Wrong and the other heads-above distortion mongers, Whores. writes real songs – “Baby Teeth,” “Mental Illness as Mating Ritual” and “Bloody Like the Day You Were Born” would hold up if they were being played by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Fortunately, they’re not. TRACK: Whores. – “Baby Teeth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqPVISe4jhI
If metal musicians are playing, is the result still metal? Hard to say, given how many active headbangers like to make goth rock, postpunk, prog, noise rock and various electronic and ambient musics. Case in point: Brain Tentacles, the membership of which includes dudes from Municipal Waste, Keelhaul and Yakuza. The trio’s self-titled LP (Relapse) plays smash ‘n’ grab with elements of free jazz, riff punk, noise rock and thrash for a gleefully frenzied tornado of sonic ass-whuppery. Bruce Lamont’s growling sax leads the charge, dragging bass guitar, drums and occasional synth waves and vocal expulsions in its wake with a chain. Four-stringer Aaron Dallison sometimes challenges Lamont and even threatens to win, but ultimately goes back to his corner, while drummer Dave Witte just keeps his head down and bashes away. “Sleestack Lightning,” “Fruitcake” and “The Sadist” are exciting and goofy and overwrought and brilliant all at once. Exactly what you want from a band called Brain Tentacles. TRACK: Brain Tentacles – s/t Bandcamp: https://braintentacles.bandcamp.com/
Opeth hasn’t really been metal in several years at this point, ever since excising its death metal side with 2011’s Heritage. While the Stockholm quintet still hasn’t rediscovered the magic that made Blackwater Park and Watershed so distinctive and compelling, it gets closer with every post-Watershed album, as latest Sorceress (Nuclear Blast) shows. “Era” and “Will O’ the Wisp” mix progressive rock and psychedelia like there’s no difference betwixt them (is there?), while the Middle Eastern melodies of “The Seventh Sojourn” give the album a different flavor. “Chrysalis” and the title track also remind that Opeth still knows how to rock when required. Sorceress is this metal royalty’s best non-metal album so far. TRACK: Opeth – “Sorceress”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhqijfqecvA
Opeth’s countrymen Witchcraft have followed a similar path from headbanging to headscratching, though starting from 70s doom rather than 80s death metal. Time (Nuclear Blast), Witchcraft leader Magnus Pelander’s first solo album, falls even further from the metal tree, its apple rolling off into fields of lite prog and acid folk. Given how stripped down these tracks are – mostly just acoustic guitar and voice – the nearly nine- and ten-minute lengths of “True Colour” and “Precious Swan” seem excessive. But Pelander’s melodic instincts serve him as well here as they do in his main band, keeping him out of trouble. TRACK: Pelander – “The Irony of Man”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXF7Y_QOV5g
Similarly, Sweden never seems to tire of the heavy classic rock groove, as it spits out bands of that ilk like watermelon seeds. Örebros quartet Captain Crimson is the latest to cross over to domestic shores, via its third album Remind (Small Stone). The band sports a fairly traditional (if you can say that about this music) melodic blues rock sound – songs like “Money” and the title track sound familiar even if you’ve never heard them before. But singer Stefan Lillhager boasts a charismatic tenor and guitarist Andreas Eriksson knows when to let riff and when to let rip. “Black Rose” and “Drifting” score big on both counts. TRACK: Captain Crimson – Remind Bandcamp: https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/remind
Musicians hate the royalty structure of online streaming services, which are clearly reaping financial rewards while artists are being ripped off; meanwhile, fans, though potentially conflicted, love those services’ ability to deliver tunes, albums, and artists “on demand,” anytime, anyplace. Is there a middle ground?
BY FRED MILLS
Recently I was engaged in an online discussion about streaming music, and as a number of the respondents are musicians, you can imagine how more than a few of them came down on the side of the anti-Spotify crowd because the royalty rates for streaming plays are so miniscule. The discussion grew from quote by Pete Townshend that musician/label person Pat Thomas posted:
“I’m a user of Spotify,” admits Townshend, “so I feel like a complete hypocrite when I say ‘I think the guy that runs it is probably a f*cking crook’. Take me to court. I was reading about some artist who had 450,000 plays and he got a check for [almost nothing]. It doesn’t make any sense.” There’s also a recent article in The Guardian that adds some perspective to this, “Music Streaming Hailed as Industry’s Saviour as Labels Enjoy Profit Surge.”
Comments came fast and furious. Among them:
Steve Wynn: I love it as a music fan, hate it as a musician. But it makes sense to embrace the former over the latter, y’know?
Bill Janovitz: I’m with you Steve. I pay for premium Spotify but would be glad to play at least twice the $10 a month if I knew more was going to the artists. As an artist and an optimist, I subscribe to the notion that there will be more upside from streaming, each spin bringing at least some money, in perpetuity, as opposed to records, CDs, used ones in particular, being bought once. The real truth of the matter is few recording artists made royalties from sales of their records. If we were lucky, we got good enough advances that never recouped. Many times, this streaming discussion fails to take artist/label contracts into account.
Pat Thomas: As someone (me) who works for several different labels – I’m NOT seeing the upside to streaming at all. “Our” profits (indie-labels I’m speaking about) have gone down….
Paul Kimble : The streaming services are bad enough, but then you have Youtube, where you can listen to anything you want to, for free, instantly. It’s literally nothing more than institutionalized piracy. It’s only going to get worse with the incoming administration…if that’s even possible. GLB has over 10 million plays on Spotify alone, for only 10 songs, I’ve never seen a penny. /shrug. Heads on sticks times, I’m old and don’t have much to lose.
Stan Denski: I love Youtube and the instant availability of stuff. The major trend in the 21st Century is ACCESS over OWNERSHIP. Most of my younger friends don’t understand the idea of a CD or DVD “collection.” Ask them “What Kubrick films do you have?” and there’s a pause and then “…um… all of them?” And there’s nothing inherently evil about pressing a button on a phone or computer to play a film or song, and nothing righteous and “natural” about pushing a button on a CD or DVD player to play it. Personally I am tired of having “collections.” They are millstones carved in the shapes of albatross.
Kristian Hoffman : You may be shocked that an absolute nobody like me has these numbers, but I have had over 1 million plays of songs I wrote on Youtube – that’s right – over one million. And have never been paid anything because I didn’t post them personally, and I don’t run around taking every single other post of my music down.
Bob Martin : While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think folks are looking at this the right way. 450,000 plays, when radio was actually the driving force, would be 450,000 listens. That’s one spin of the record in two major markets. Consider the number of ears. The difference now is that you can listen when you want instead of having to wait. AND you don’t have to listen to things you don’t want to hear.
Let’s do the math really quickly. A hit record in the 60s, for instance, might get played twice an hour all day long. So, that’s 48 plays a day. In a major market, that’d be, depending on size of market, that could be 100,000 people hearing it each time. So, that’s a possibility of 4.8 million listens in a single market… Considering that there are at least 20 major markets in the USA, that’s 96 million listens a day, just in major markets.
NOW… each time a radio station played the song, they owed, for lack of a better argument (but it was a lot less), ten cents to BMI/ASCAP, etc. From that, the record company got, say, nine cents. The artist got one or two cents. So, let’s be generous and say two cents. SO… for each radio station playing his record 48 times a day, the artist would get 96 cents. That’s 96 cents for 4.8 million potential listens. Or… 0.00000002 per listen, per radio station…
People tend to forget just how many ears got to hear music for a very small amount of money. Of course it added up over time, and then there were record sales on top of it. But, 450,000 plays isn’t even a day’s worth of listeners in a single city from the radio days….
Those are just a small few who weighed in. As I responded myself: Streaming’s a topic that I’ve been interested in for some time, and I have to say, I tend to fall on the “music fan” side of the equation, as Steve Wynn put it, so some of what I’m going to say here may be taken as anti-artist. It’s not intended to be, however. I’m not a musician myself, so perhaps I’m not entitled to presume anything on musician’s parts. In addition to being a fan and collector, I’m also a writer who just “happens” to be the recipient of (cough) free music sent to me by labels, publicists, and fellow music heads. I don’t take any of it for granted, either, and when I want something I didn’t get in the mail, I go out and buy it. Particularly when we’re talking vinyl, I try to order direct from the artist or label if possible; for example, I ordered the Southern Culture on the Skids blue wax LP from the gang even though I had already received the CD as a promo. Like I said, though, I’m pretty damn blessed with all the gratis music, so either through my own (so-called) writing or by publishing my fellow scribes’ reviews at Blurt, I try to repay the generosity as much as possible by helping to get the word out about the artists and the records.
I’m also a lapsed taper of concerts, and I’m militantly pro-bootleg as well precisely because I am a music fan who wants to hear more from my favorite artists than just the official releases. You can probably guess that I subscribe to the theory that, rather than bootlegs cannibalizing sales, they help turn fans into superfans who will in turn go out to the shows, buy merch, etc. I should stress that, other than live shows, I was never a file sharer during the Napster era and I do believe that piracy – which is different from bootlegging – is wrong and that it rips off the artists. I can say truthfully that I have never uploaded an album to the internet other than to transfer digital files to one of my writers who wanted to write a review for us.
Now what does all that have to do with streaming? A lot, actually. Bill Janovitz hinted at one aspect of this – that at least streaming generates SOMETHING in the way of income, as opposed to illicit file-sharing – which is basically what the streaming model replaced because it’s way easier than downloading. Piracy not only generated no income for the artist, it theoretically took money away from artists when it meant someone was getting an album for free off the internet that he might otherwise have gone out and purchased. In fact, for me, streaming has become my go-to means of previewing some new music prior to purchasing it. Two perfect examples: I streamed the new A Tribe Called Quest album when it hit Spotify, and subsequently put in an order for the album that finally dropped last week. And just recently I streamed the new Run The Jewels album (could have downloaded it as well) and immediately went to their site and ordered the super-duper 4LP version; it will hit in the spring, so in the meantime I can enjoy RTJ via Spotify, while the band can bank my preorder dough.
You can see where I’m going with this: Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud and their ilk ARE the new radio – a means by which to be exposed to new music, which typically I listen to at the office where I work and in the car, since I can play my CDs and LPs at home. I’ll add, too, that I am fortunate to be able to tap those audio resources and indirectly promote artists at the Blurt website by posting tracks to accompany our reviews and stories about those artists. Obviously there’s no metric to determine if my posting tracks translates into actual record sales, but I would like to think it has the potential to do so.
I can certainly sympathize with Kristian Hoffman and his YouTube plight here. Ditto all the artists who have seen the math and realized that they’re getting paid next to zip even after a zillion spins. The streaming royalty rates need to be adjusted because the artists are not being compensated adequately. (I will avoid touching on the other issue regarding streaming: whether or not the owners of streaming services are getting rich from them.) It’s all a matter of perspective, which is why I found Bob Martin’s calculations above – traditional radio plays versus streaming plays, and how many ears actually get to hear any given song – pretty enlightening, as it reinforces my contention that streaming is an excellent means by which an artist can get heard in an era where the chances of actually landing on radio are remote. Is it a fair tradeoff? By that I mean, is the knowledge that you are in fact reaching a listenership but still feel moderately ripped off sufficient to just grin and bear it and accept the new paradigm? Or should one stick to one’s guns and remain a purist while knowing that you are not going to be played on the actual radio (and therefore be heard by no one)? All debatable, but it’s definitely an aspect of the argument that must be considered.
And as I previously noted, once someone has been turned on to new music and becomes a fan of the artist, he or she can often turn into a superfan who feels very strongly about supporting the artist by purchasing records, merch, and concert tickets – or maybe even contributing to a Kickstarter campaign.
Ultimately, I think that if the argument is boiled down to intellectual property and the right of a musician to earn a decent living from that intellectual property, it oversimplifies or even ignores part of the dynamic, in that just because an artist has written a song he wants to be paid for performing, that doesn’t mean anyone is actually going to pay him (i.e., buy the album or the ticket). You have the right to create and own your music, but that right doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to turn that song into income. Most consumers want assurance up front that they are going to enjoy hearing that song, and in 2016, streaming seems to be the most efficient way of initially getting the tune in front of the public.
Coda: Posting one final note was Rob Cullivanwho detailed the following: “Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, which started out playing clubs in Rochester in the 1990s and then became one of the bigger reggae acts nationally, were asked how they survived, and their answer was simple. Never play for free (benefits excluded, of course). But too many bands undersell themselves at so many levels. I can see taking a few free gigs early, but once you’ve established your name, never play for free again. And paying someone else so you can tour with them? No way, that’s just silly. I get that musicians want to be heard through Spotify, but to me it just seems you get lost in a sea of other songs. I think it’s better to get 10,000 paying fans than one million listeners who don’t support you.”
I pondered Cullivan’s additional first person objection to – and valid extrapolation from similar arguments about – streaming services. To which I responded: That’s a valid point, yeah. I guess what I’m thinking is, first you have to convert those 10,000 potential fans, and there’s so much white noise these days that you have to reach them through the media they use rather than just sit back and wait for them to find you. Let’s say I read about a new band, or perhaps hear the tail end of a song on the local college station: to be able to pop over to Spotify or YouTube instantly and listen to their record is incredibly gratifying and in the immediacy of that initial rush I may even be convinced I should go buy the record. It’s the digital equivalent of being turned on to a band while wandering around the record store. (Let it be known that I have worked in stores three times, early 80s, throughout the 90s, and from 2012-2015, so I am devoutly pro brick and mortar. But that doesn’t mean I don’t accept digital for what it represents to a lot of folks, and to ignore that is to lose a significant percentage of potential fans. I use similar logic when I tell bands they need to release on digital, cd AND vinyl if they can afford it.)
In the week or so since this original discussion unfolded, I’ve seen several more of similar tenor. Working musicians, almost across the board, tend to fall into the anti-Spotify/streaming camp; I’d be interested to see actual royalty statements from a multiplicity of those folks, not only to give me a clearer picture of their objections, but to bolster the contention (which is also mine, do not mistake me here) that the powers that be need to take a hard look at what fair compensation for our artists should be. Historically, they have been ripped off to a ridiculous degree. I also feel, though, that in 2017, in a lot of instances, lower-radar artists are getting their music heard on a heretofore unprecedented level, with each fresh listen representing an opportunity for a new sale. Admittedly, that’s a bit of a crapshoot, but still… 1% of something is better than 0% of nothing. (Not trying to be facile here.)
I’d also like to see a broader understanding among the general public about what it means to be a fan, consumer, and collector of popular music. Because the music industry has ripped us off as well—just Google terms like “$10.98 list price,” “Napster,” “rootkit,” “RIAA lawsuits,” and my favorite, “Green Day sets list price for new CDs at $18.98,” among many—and it may be time for we fans and you artists to pool our resources and find a new way of doing business together going forward.
Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT magazine and Blurtonline.com. He receives a shitload of music in the mail each month for free, and he also buys nearly as much each month because he believes in supporting his favorite artists. He has the record store receipts to prove it. What’s in YOUR wallet?
This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.
BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY
Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 4 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which mean that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….
Zisk (#27) I have to start off every review of Zisk by stating that it is “The baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines.” Mike and Steve will never quit. Ever (and we hope they never do). This ish includes Mighty Joe Young! The all-time World Series team, some serious hate for Roger Clemens and much more. Come on man, don’t we all hate Clemens? For that alone you need this. www.ziskmagazine.com
Vulcher (#1) Long-time Los Angeles based writer Eddie Flowers has dusted off his old mag and restarted it again. He and his pal Kelsey Simpson have gathered up a gang of folks to put a new spin on a classic old rag. You might not hear Eddie’s name in the same breath as Bangs or Meltzer but it should be: During his early days in Indianapolis, he was a member of now-legendary punk band The Gizmos and part of the creative team that gave the world the mighty fanzine and record label Gulcher—hence the ‘zine title here. He’s got a hard-working crew of writers (including yours truly) that rivals that of Bull Tongue (see below). It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Big Takeover (#78) Speaking of someone who nevers quits (and we hope he doesn’t) is Jack Rabid, editor of this long-running mag. It started off 100 years ago as one piece of paper and now has grown into a nice, glossy mag covering the gamut of punk and indie rock. In this ish is Savages (cover stars) plus other interviews with John Doe, The Thermals, Tanya Donnelly, Kid Congo, Lemmy (RIP), Great Lakes, La Sera, and more interviews also hundreds of reviews and much more. Lotsa bang for your buck. 152 pages. www.bigtakeover.com
Bull Tongue Review (#5) Byron Coley and his motley crew of writers just keep on keeping on with this thick monster (close to 80 pages). You get reviews of whatever the writers feel like writing about and with a lineup like this you’ve gotta be tuning in: Gregg Turner, Tom Lax, Michael Hurley, Eddie Flowers, Thurston Moore, Bruce Russell, Richard Meltzer and too many others. Tune in, turn on and get intoxicated (on these writings). www.bulltonguereview.com
Casting Couch (#4), Miranda Fisher hails from Austin, TX, and seems to be soaking up all that fair city has to offer. Fuck the high rents and overpriced lattes, she’d rather head down to Beerland and catch a band then write about it (I’m assuming here). Casting Couch isn’t all Austin though. In here she’s got pieces on Lavender Flu, La Misma, Golden Pelicans, Crazy Spirit plus reviews and a lot more. The Golden Pelicans even pose for a color pinup on the back cover, hell, this is issue is worth it for that alone! email@example.com
Dynamite Hemorrhage (#3) San Franciscan Jay Hinman used to do the punk-garage zine Superdope. He then got married, had a kid and settled down, if just a bit. Well he came roarin’ back a few years ago with DH #1 and now he’s up to issue #3 and it’s spectacular. It’s a perfect mix of old and new, olde as the Velvet Underground are on the cover plus a piece on old San Fran band World of Pooh, but he also scribbles about new bands, too. White Fence, Unit 4, Sara Fancy and others. Plus there’s reviews, pics and it looks beautiful (bound with a full-color cover). www.dynamitehemorrhage.com
Exploitation Retrospect (#52) Editor Dan Taylor used to do an awesome food zine called the Hungover Gourmet but I had no idea he’d been doing this rag on obscure films. I guess he’s been doing E.R for like thirty years or more, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this one. Anyway, this is a bound, digest-sized rag that calls itself “the journal of junk culture & fringe media.” Inside this ish is WAVE Productions, Nikkatsu Erotic Films, novels and movies featuring The Destroyer and plus reviews and a lot more. One issue and you’ll be hooked. www.dantenet.com
Fuckin’ Ziggurat (#1) This zine is put out by the folks behind the Emotional Response record label but mostly done by Stewart Anderson and this zine come with a 17-track cd as well. In this ish is Bobby Carlson, Ginnels, Primitive Calculators, Quaaludes and others plus no reviews but plenty o’ comics! It’s all bound up in a zine that slightly bigger than a half-sized one. On the cd are the names listed above plus Bing and Bob, Tangible Excitement, Croque Madame, Wanda Junes, etc. Dig into the zine, the CD and the label. Go! www.jenandstew.com
Incremental Decrepitude (#4) Done by Mr. Dave Brushback who is no stranger to the zine scene having previously done zines like Run It and Brushback as well as others. This one is pocket-sized and is all record, zine and live shows reviews except for the interview with Bonus McGinty. Dave only made a handful of these but write to him anyway and see if he has any left (if not he probably has a new zine in the works anyway). Rock_in_my_shoes@yahoo.com
Saying farewell to the Bard via a collection of our Cohen coverage from over the years.
By Fred Mills
With the passing of Leonard Cohen this week (Nov. 7, at the age of 82), the inevitable deluge of tributes followed. Which is as it should be, of course. Intriguingly, it was a story on Cohen published shortly before his death that has taken on a remarkable resonance: While promoting his recent album You Want It Darker (you can find a link listen to it here or on Spotify), Cohen did an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker in which he commented, regarding how he was viewing life at the time, “The big change is the proximity to death. I’ve got some work to do… take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable.”
Whether uncannily prescient or simply making an semi-oblique reference to some personal details he was already aware of, it’s a quote that I suspect will linger whenever people talk about the man, his life, his work, and of course his death.
As with most music magazines, BLURT has covered Leonard Cohen many times over the years (we’ve been around since mid-2008). So I thought it would be appropriate to compile some of the more relevant pieces here; included are reviews and meditations, plus a very special interview with Cohen that originally appeared in the pages of our predecessor, Harp. Check them out, and I hope you’ll honor the memory of Cohen as well.
HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, by A.D. Amorosi (Photo from the Beacon concert by Scott Weiner.)
Ed. note: In 2005 Cohen sued his former manager for having misappropriated more than $5 million from him, and this eventually led the singer to start touring again in order to generate income. He did so fairly extensively between 2008 and 2010, and I was fortunate enough to see Cohen live in Asheville, NC, in 2009; it remains one of my brightest memories of my recent musical life. Cohen also performed on that tour in Manhattan for the first time since 1993, at the storied Beacon Theater. Contributing Editor A.D. Amorosi was fortunate enough to attend, and he penned a deeply insightful review of the concert for us.
“It was profound and religious, plain and simple,” wrote Amorosi. “We were watching him cradle his microphone while occasionally kneeling before a grand flamenco-folk-smooth-jazz ensemble and oddly-sunny background vocalists, all who played elegantly precise waves of wonder so that Cohen could croon-chat in a mummy-lizard-like voice his stories of sensually tempered interludes, un-flowered romance and crushed-ice apocalypses…”
Ed. note: With the newfound touring regimen also came a number of new and archival releases for Cohen, among them a trifecta of DVDs: Bird on the Wire (a 1972 world tour; released by MVD Visual), Songs From the Road (the 2008-2009 world tour; Columbia/Legacy), and Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes (a documentary-style examination of the songwriter’s influences featuring selected performances and interviews; Chrome Dreams). Contributing Editor Steven Rosen stepped up to the plate and concluded that, while each DVD took a different approach in its appreciation of Cohen, they all worked quite nicely together whether you’re a longtime fan or a novice to his oeuvre.
Wrote Rosen, “Taken altogether (but not quite as a de facto trilogy), these DVDs further establish Leonard Cohen as one of the preeminent bards of his generation. Not that anyone needed to be reminded of that fact, of course, but it’s reassuring to know that successive generations will also have these aural and visual documents available for consultation, edification and inspiration.”
THE COMPLETE STUDIO ALBUMS COLLECTION, by Ron Hart
Ed. note: In 2011, Columbia/Legacy released a limited edition 11-CD box set of remastered editions of Cohen’s 1968-2004 output: Songs of (1968), Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love & Hate (1971), New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), Death of a Ladies Man (1977), Recent Songs (1979), Various Positions (1984), I’m Your Man (1988), the Future (1992), Ten New Songs (2001) and Dear Heather (2004). Pretty irresistible, and the CDs were nicely packaged in mini-LP sleeves housed in a smartly-designed box. Contributor Ron Hart was impressed, to say the least:
“This exhaustive overhaul of his historic body of work, warts and all, is without question well worth the dive into the expansive artistic sprawl of North America’s premier ‘Chief Apocalyptist’ as he enjoys his 77th year on this planet.”
HOLY (WHOLLY) EXISTENTIAL SENSUALIST, by A.D. Amorosi
Ed. note: In January of 2012 Cohen, clearly energized from all the activity of the past few years, released his 12th studio album to huge acclaim; it even landed in the Billboard top 10 albums. A.D. Amorosi, our resident Cohen acolyte (well, technically, we all are), once again did the deed, tackling the record with his trademark passion, concluding that it was Cohen’s best album, period.
“Old Ideas,” he observed, “has a sort-of devilishness about it, in that it’s an exaltation and an assault on Cohen’s sacred/profane intellectualism. There is forgiveness. And then some… Vision – his old ideas, the best ideas – is what guides Cohen in matters of sexuality, decay and renewal, always has in what’s become a philosophical decretum. If a holy existential sensualist is required, Leonard Cohen alone fills that niche… Song for song, sound for sound, lyrical point for point, [it is also] most certainly the best album of 2012.”
It’s fascinating to note that prior to Cohen’s latterday “comeback” there hadn’t been too many books published about him. That has certainly changed, with notable additions to any self-respecting Cohen fan’s bookshelf being Sylvie Simmons’ definitive 2013 bioI’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, Alan Light’s more narrow-focused book, also from 2013,The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” , Liel Leibovitz’ 2015 musical analysisA Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen, and a 2015 anthology, edited by Jeff Burger, called Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters (Musicians in Their Own Words)—not to mention several collections of Cohen’s poetry. Then there was Everybody Knows, published in late 2014 by esteemed music book publisher Backbeat and written by the equally esteemed journalist and author Harvey Kubernik. Rich in photos, many of them rare or previously unseen, and arranged as an oral history along an annotated time-line plus the author’s connective narrative, the coffeetable book is not only quite handsome, it’s a solid reference work. As I put it, “one could easily use this as a primary source when researching specific details and events of Cohen’s life.”
Of additional note: “Kubernik skillfully avoids the key pitfalls that plague most oral histories; his aforementioned connecting text includes notes on his respondents so the reader understands their significance and relevance, while the aforementioned time-line structure proves to be the book’s greatest strength in terms of providing a real sense of the arc of Cohen’s career.”
Ed. note: I have semi-saved the best for last, and technically, this isn’t even a Cohen piece published by BLURT. It did, however, appear in Harp magazine, in 2007, and I was responsible for assigning, coordinating, and editing it. (Harp essentially morphed into BLURT following the former’s abrupt demise and bankruptcy in 2008, with the main members of the Harp editorial staff resuming operations again within a few months. I retained copies of all editorial content I had overseen, as well as PDFs of pre-publication pages.) Since most of the magazine’s content has basically disappeared into the ether—the archives were lost after the Harp website was shut down—and there are not even any copyright owners, I just hope that all the individual writers have taken the initiative and archived their own material for posterity, because there was a lot a great writing in the publication.
Such as the one at hand, by Harp contributor (and occasional BLURT contributor) Gillian G. Gaar, a Seattle-based journalist and author of numerous books. “He’s Your Man” originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Harp, and at the time it was one of only a handful of interviews Cohen was doing; we were pretty proud that he had approved our request, and I knew instinctively that Gaar would be perfect to do the interview. It was enthusiastically received, and we even had a number of inquiries from overseas about obtaining copies of the magazine—definitely one of the projects from my Harp tenure that I’m deeply proud to be associated with.
Gaar was able to subsequently republish the piece in the aforementioned Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen anthology of writings, and it’s one of the book’s standouts. Introducing her story for the book, Gaar recalled being contacted by yours truly and being offered the chance to be flown to L.A., squired around by the record label, and spending a good amount of time with Cohen and then-paramour Anjani Thomas to talk about his upcoming reissues and her Cohen-produced album.
There’s a telling passage in the article, one which essentially forecast the flurry of Cohen activity that would unexpectedly unfold starting the next year. Wrote Gaar, “Those anxious for Cohen to record his own work again should be pleased to learn that the film’s concert sequences have inspired him to consider touring in support of his next album, tentatively set for release later this year. ‘Yes, yes,’ he confirms. ‘I haven’t been out since ’93. The years went by and I thought ‘I’ll never go out again.’ But every so often you do have that itch. You’ve heard that saying in rock ‘n’ roll, they don’t pay you to sing, they pay you to travel. But you forget about that stuff. The actual concerts are always compelling. If you’ve got good musicians, and you’re playing, and people know the songs, and they want to hear them live, it is a wonderful thing. And so I’m drawn to that.’”
Indeed he was. And we, his public, have been all the richer for it.
Go HERE to read the entire original Harp interview.
And… here’s the fifth installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go HERE for entry #1 (Slumberland Records), HERE for #2 (12XU), HERE for #3 (Saint Marie), HERE for #4 (Trouble In Mind), HERE for #5 (Fort Lowell), and HERE for #6 (Chunklet). (Below: 2008 photo of the Darla Recs staff; go HERE to read the Detour magazine article it originally appeared in.)
When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?
August, 1993 when I received a DAT tape master from Grifters. “Holmes” b/w “Junkie Blood” with cover art by Grifter, Trip Lamkins. I absolutely loved this band. Still do. I asked to do a 7″ single because they were unique and strong enough to stand apart. The single was released October, 1993. I’d intended to do my own label since 1985 (age 22) when a friend who worked at Virgin said, “Y’know what you should do? You love music so much. You should work in the music business.” A light bulb literally went on at that moment. Like duh. Of course. Before that it may have occurred to me abstractly but it was her suggestion that literally set me in motion. I just wanted to learn as many aspects of the business as I could first. So, I was the Energizer Bunny on the path then. KUSF, I-Beam, BMG, RCA, Geffen then Darla. I have always had my head immersed music and surfing. When I was 13 I’d skateboard around Laguna Beach garage sales on Saturday morning, buy records for .10 cent to .25 cents, then skate with an armload downtown to The Record Shed and trade in or sell (what I didn’t want to keep) for $1.00 or more. I started building my collection then and learning. On day the owner, Sam, asked me if I knew how to make change and left me with the cash register drawer open because we didn’t have time to learn me how to work it and split for lunch for more than a half hour. I worked for Sam at The Record Shed on weekends that Summer. What I do now is a natural extension of that first start. I should have been a professional surfer though!
Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?
I did it myself – freehand with pen and ink. Appropriation was big in the early 90s y’know. The primary Darla logo has elements of two classic American labels from the golden age of stereo, lovingly appropriated. The spiky frame is from the Jubilee Records logo. The D is from the Dot Records logo. There’s a secondary logo, which we haven’t used as much in the past 10 years – the Darla girl in the little black dress dancing on a record. She’s appropriated from the Hula Records logo where she has on a grass skirt, lei and hibiscus. I just changed her clothes. I love classic record label logos.
If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by who
would it be?
Neil Young. I’d love to work for soul daddy. The Beatles and Neil Young are my top two all-time favorites. Fela Kuti if he were still with us.
What has been your best seller to date?
My Morning Jacket – At Dawn (Darla: DRL111) by miles, however, Darla does have a strong, active catalog of over 300 titles now.
Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your
label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?
No, however, I do have a concept album in mind to make one day…
Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?
Oh yes. Every day. Required now y’know.
Is the Southern California/San Diego music community supportive of the
Yes. Amoeba is good about stocking titles! Our #1 distribution partner AEC is in Irvine and they seriously are the best ever. Whenever I meet local music people they share stories about their favorite releases on the label & etc., however, we’ve always looked globally more than locally. We didn’t emerge with a roster of local talent exclusively. We are supported locally but California-wide as we began in San Francisco and still have strong ties there (Sweet Trip and MCM And The Monster), then moved to Sacramento where we have a ton of good friends we don’t see enough (Holiday Flyer, The California Oranges, The Sinking Ships, Avaleya and the Glitterhawks). And in LA: Lowlights, San Diego: Maquiladora, Tijuana: Static Discos, Fax. So, that’s the big picture locally speaking…
Have digital sales been significant or nominal?
Very, very significant. More significant since digital overtook physical by a hair in Spring, 2015. Digital sales have grown steadily since while physical sales continue to shrink, for everybody.
Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?
Yes, however, we still see more CD sales by far. Mucho mas.
What is your personal favorite format to release music?
CD. Reasonable profit margin. Practical.
What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?
Serein, Carpe Sonum, American Laundromat, Saint Marie, Elefant, Les Disques du Crepuscule, Orange Twin, Factory Benelux, Deep Space Recordings, Essence Music, Seksound, 12k, Aloha Got Soul… Always someone new.
Do you accept unsolicited demos?
Yes. Every day.
What releases are upcoming?
Corky Carroll – Blue Mango CD/DD. Corky is my hero. The California sound with a core crew of stars in their own right who’ve been his band for decades. So stoked on this project.
MCM And The Monster 2xCD/DD. San Francisco’s ultimate party band (80s/90s) retrospective including the demos and an unreleased third album.
Peyton Pinkerton – Rapid Cycler CD/DD. Guitarist/songwriter from New Radiant Storm King, Pernice Brothers.
Momus – Scobberlotchers CD/DD. It’s actually on his own American Patchwork label manufactured and distributed by Darla. Nick Currie’s perspective/world view/filter is my absolute favorite of all artists today.
The label is me and Chandra Tobey, my wife and partner of 26 years. I couldn’t do all that we do alone and it is A LOT. In addition to the label we provide physical and digital distribution service to over 150 labels. We manage a digital catalog of over 15,000 songs. We provide publishing administration for a small handful of Darla artists. Chandra does all the bookkeeping, accounting, receivables/payables. I do the creative and marketing. As physical distribution declines for all, I look forward to focusing more on the label as I enjoy that part most of all.
Ye Olde Blurte Editore reflects on his 1987-92 musical romp across the Charlotte, NC, skyline…
BY FRED MILLS
Sweet memes are made of this: I recently met a fellow North Carolinian who, it turns out, was living in Charlotte during part of the same time I lived there. We apparently did not know each other, but we did have a mutual friend, photographer Don “Bongo” Swan, who passed away in 1995, so it was natural to share stories with one another. Don was loved by pretty much everybody in Charlotte, and I had the good fortune of working with him on numerous occasions in my capacity as Music Editor for alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. The conversation left me feeling more than a tad nostalgic, so I did a search online and found a story I wrote for the Loaf in 1997 to mark the paper’s 10th anniversary. Rereading it now, a lot of memories came back, including plenty of Don. He took the photo pictured above, in case you were wondering, of my editor John Grooms, the Domino’s pizza noid, and me as we took part in an attempt to land the Guinness Book record for “most guitarists playing ‘Louie Louie’ at the same time,” go figure. (Somewhere in my files I also have the original image that Don gave me. I need to get that framed.) So at the risk of seeming hopelessly self-indulgent, I thought I’d republish the article here for posterity. Let me just add – this one’s for you, Bongo.
Rock through the first five years
Charlotte music from 1987-1992
If, as historians advise us, eras have their defining moments, then so, too, do smaller periods contain their own seeds of identity and character.
Looking back at the first five years of Creative Loafing, during which I served as the paper’s music editor, I get the sense that there were a number of “defining moments.” Viewed as separate points on a time line or as linked incidents on a continuum that has now stretched to 10 years (and counting), these moments do seem to paint CL in a myriad of hues and shadings. Put metaphorically, if Charlotte’s daily newspaper is black and white (and, like the musty joke adds, “read all over”), then this city’s alternative weekly is as colorful and rich in depth as a Hockney painting. And at times, suitable for framing.
One such event that will always represent, to me at least, what CL — as an alternative to the mainstream — was all about transpired in January of 1990. For weeks Charlotte had been fudging its undies over Tom Cruise and the filming of Days Of Thunder at the Speedway. The Observer in particular was a lighter shade of brown at the time, logging the star’s real and imagined movements around town as if he were Mother Teresa touring local leprosy wards. Imagine the chagrin, then, of the daily paper when we reported from the front lines and even buttonholed Cruise for an exclusive interview.
Seems that the Belmont Playboys got the wrap party gig, and the band smuggled me in as their roadie. I duly reported the arrival of Robert Duvall, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, not to mention the impromptu jam session involving the Playboys and the Duvall entourage (Cash was particularly smitten by the band’s version of his “Rock & Roll Ruby”). More importantly, and sensing my duty as a journalist, I engaged Tom Cruise for our “exclusive interview.” The entire interview went thusly: “What did you think of the Playboys, Tom?” “Man, they were rockin’!”
Yessir, Creative Loafing (not to mention its worldly music critic) had finally arrived into high society. Of course, we had to come through the back door with the servants and hired help, but still …
Damn. Time flies. Here it is, seven years later, and I’m browsing a Tucson record hole when I spot a CD called Wolf Patrol by none other than my ad hoc employer, the Belmont Playboys!
Even though talent naturally rises, it’s hard not to feel like CL had at least a small hand in boosting the band’s career. One of our prime directives from the git-go was “support local music.” Before our first issue was published in April of ’87, editor John Grooms and I had lengthy discussions over what role the paper should play with regards to the area’s music scene. It had always rubbed both of us the wrong way that the media powers-that-be (including Charlotte’s candy-ass radio stations) tended to treat local bands with the same kind of embarrassed condescension usually reserved for that eccentric, flamboyant relative who turns up tipsy and in a feather boa at the family reunion. To that end, we set out to champion our rock ‘n’ roll underground — what the hell, let’s crash the party and get drunk with the rest of the freaks! — and challenge the rest of the populace to keep up with us.
A poorly kept secret around the Loafing office is that Break, the entertainment tab started up in 1987 by the Observer in order to complete directly with CL for advertising revenue (let’s face it, it sure wasn’t for prestige), tried to hire me as a music writer. As the editrix schmoozed me over instant coffee and stale donuts, I inquired as to the level of music coverage Break had in mind.
“There’s a Billy Joel show coming next month to the Coliseum. I think our readers would enjoy a 750 word profile on the man.”
When I mentioned that Antiseen and Fetchin Bones had gigs coming up too, I was met with a blank look. ‘Nuff said.
I’ll admit it, we were as arrogant as we were hip. Case in point: taking it upon ourselves to paint Charlotte’s Springfest celebration in its true colors — a crashing bore or a yuppie circle jerk — we proceeded to muscle a local rock and blues stage into the annual goings-on for a couple of years. When Springfest organizers tried to water down our efforts, we opted out entirely and put on our own Nightfest (the name we judiciously picked over “Counterfest” and “Screw You Springfest”) in ’90, staging bands after sundown in three clubs during Springfest weekend. The idea seemed to fly despite some territorial pissing among competing club owners (don’t ask), so in ’91 we put the call out en masse and wound up with three nights, seven clubs and 27 local acts. The entire spectrum of Charlotte talent was showcased: folk, blues, heavy metal, alternative, punk, psychedelic, etc.
And whether or not any of the bands and performers went on to bigger and better things isn’t the point — what matters is that someone was taking local talent seriously, not as minor league players. (You want serious? Seven months later CL threw its weight behind striking members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and helped put together a fundraiser for the out-of-work musicians. The sight of our beloved Spongetones onstage, backed by seven string and three horn players, as they played a dead-on set of Beatles songs was one of the best Christmas presents we ever received.)
Nowadays, of course, judging by the club ads and CL “Soundboard” listings, it seems that on any given night of the week you can catch a reasonably hot gig. But for those with short memories, let me assure you that there was a point in time when Charlotte’s idea of a thriving club scene meant folksingers doing Kenny Loggins and Eagles covers, blues bands who performed entire sets sitting down, and multiracial reggae-cum-fusion outfits listlessly jamming on Fridays after five on the watering holes’ outside decks.
Likewise, 10 years ago it was simply not an option for a local band to release a CD; I recall a Major Event being defined as so-and-so putting out a three-song demo cassette, and when a regional compilation like Statements Vol. 1 or Metal Mythos appeared in the stores, declaring a civic holiday was in order.
So even though the term “thriving” is relative (and probably cyclical as well), Charlotte would be a far poorer community had it not been for the efforts of a small but dedicated network of musicians, club bookers, fanzine editors, record store owners, independent label and recording studio heads, even the occasional radio visionaries (you may all turn in the direction of Spindale and genuflect). I’d like to think that CL helped transform the scene — oh, screw modesty, I know we did, as anyone who’s ever turned to the “Music Menu” or filled out a ballot for our annual “Best of Charlotte” knows.
Defining moments aren’t necessarily positive in nature. Sometimes they can be downright notorious. (Just ask people who attended the dung-flinging ’87 appearance at the Church of Musical Awareness by punk nihilist G.G. Allin.) No recounting of our first five years would be complete without mention of the Great GWAR Obscenity Bust in September 1990. The incident has long since passed into the realm of rock ‘n’ roll lore, and the band itself has even been immortalized in song and on video the night when Charlotte vice and ALE agents, acting on a “tip” provided by scanning the CL Music Menu concert preview, raided the 4808 Club and toted vocalist Oderus Urungus and his two-and-a-half foot long penis (in two separate paddy wagons) off to jail.
Not to romanticize the event unnecessarily, but a bit of local innocence was lost that night as well. 4808 had long gotten up the noses of local authorities anyway, staging all-ages punk and hard rock shows right in the heart of the downtown area. (Unlike the Milestone Club, which garnered some negative reactions over the years but was “lucky” enough to be located across town on the other side of the tracks, so to speak.) So hosting GWAR, with the show’s explicit, if cartoonish, sexual content, simply blew out the fuses, and when the dust cleared, 4808’s owner had been charged alongside the band with disseminating obscenity, ultimately getting his beer license revoked. The club closed, and Charlotte seemed just a little less friendly a place to be for working musicians. Maybe the arts community too; is it my imagination, or did a theater production have a similar clash with the prevailing Bible Belt mentality around here less than a year ago?
In my own arrogance, it was a rude awakening. I actually believed it was my duty to further the subversive agenda of latex-covered, heavy metal practitioners of sodomy and ritual disembowelment. Antiseen’s as well.
Ah well. In the words of CL‘s staff photog at the time, the late Don Swan, “Fuck ’em, man.”
People and personalities also defined the paper and its first five years. Too many to list here, including the bums who entertained us with their grunts and moans of alcoholic lust as they previewed skin magazines at the convenience store across the street from our South Boulevard location. Don Swan, though, was quite the bon vivant, and I was proud to have worked with him on assignments. In 1995, John Grooms called me with the news that Don had died and asked me to pen a brief remembrance for the paper’s farewell to him. The first thing that came to mind was of one night when Don and I were covering the Scorpions at the Coliseum. I made the observation that “there’s something kinda weird about a 40-year-old man dressed in spandex and wiggling his butt and making goofy faces.” Don thought for a second, then turned to me and stated matter-of-factly, “Yeah, but I bet he gets laid tonight.”
Now that was rock ‘n’ roll. I would end up naming a kitten I’d adopted around the time Don passed away Bongo, in his honor.
I could produce a laundry list the length of Oderus Urungus’ erstwhile member of moments sublime and surreal that stand out in my mind as significant during my tenure at Creative Loafing. Come to think of it, I already did, in the April 18, 1992, fifth anniversary issue.
But overall, what the experience meant to me was being able to treat music and music culture with the kind of respect, passion, and yeah, adolescent irreverence that I thought it deserved. I mean, what could be more pointless yet life-affirming than spending weeks debating behind closed doors with Grooms, then proudly writing a cover story called “The 100 Greatest Intro Guitar Riffs Of All Time”? Or heading south to the Gaffney Peachoid with Swan and Grooms, to help break the record for most people playing the three chords from “Louie Louie” over and over?
When I surrendered my duties at this paper in ’92 to move to Tucson I received two retirement gifts. One was a lifetime (theoretically) gratis subscription to Creative Loafing. Reading it from afar, I’m proud to have watched it grow in size, scope, and just plain huevos.
The other gift was a colorful T-shirt custom-designed by none other than Rene Escarcha, aka Renelvis, aka the only known Charlotte-based Filipino Elvis impersonator. Displayed on the back of the shirt is the music column I wrote in which CL “discovered” Renelvis during his residency as the floor show of a local Chinese eatery — clearly, in tone and texture, one of the paper’s singular defining moments.
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to sum up five years worth of rock ‘n’ roll memories. See the concert, get the T-shirt.
There’s unlimited supply
And there is no reason why
I tell you it was all a frame
They only did it ’cause of fame (—The Sex Pistols, “EMI”)
BY STEPHEN JUDGE
Ed. Note: Stephen Judge, who owns BLURT, also owns Schoolkids Records, a small chain of North Carolina-based record stores; yours truly worked with him in one of those stores from 2012-15, and during that time we got to experience firsthand the latter-day vinyl explosion. From the groundswell of new releases, both major label and indie, that previously would have only been offered on CD, and the deluge of catalog reissues on vinyl; to the steadily-growing used vinyl business, and the broadening of the customer demographic to include every age group, including pre-teens just discovering vinyl for the first time as well as older music fans catching the bug again and finding a reason to return to their neighborhood record stores; it was by all measures a period of unprecedented growth for that sector of the music industry, one which saw the market share of vinyl growing by significant percentages practically every quarter. (You would’ve had to be living in a cave not to spot at least one hyperventilating “Vinyl is back!” report in the national and international media during that time as well, to the point that such reports started become hilariously redundant.)
Now, however, with the escalating price of new vinyl—for both new releases and reissues—hitting what some are calling dangerous levels from a consumer point of view, media coverage has gradually been turning negative, in some instances even prematurely sounding the death knell for vinyl. Last year there was a cautionary story published at Stereogum titled “Have We Reached Peak Vinyl?” which discussed, among other things, those rising prices, the problems small labels were having getting their records pressed with a limited number of actual pressing plants, and the perception among a lot of collectors that the annual Record Store Day—which arguably kick-started the whole latter-day vinyl revival—had become co-opted by the major labels and ultimately rendered near-meaningless. (That’s what a limited edition Justin Bieber record will do, eh?)
Then last week Stereogum published a follow-up story, “We’ve Passed Peak Vinyl—Here Comes the Collapse” in which writer Michael Nelson addressed all this, and more. Lively discussions about the Nelson article quickly followed across the interwebs, including one that Stephen and I found ourselves knee-deep in—we’re both extremely passionate about these matters, to say the least, and feel it’s a dialogue that needs to be ongoing. Plus, make no mistake, Stephen’s take (and mine too, even though I am no longer in Raleigh and working at Schoolkids) is that despite all the current issues, vinyl is decidedly NOT on the verge of extinction. There will always be collectors of and devotees to the analog format. Perhaps the headlines should instead read something along the lines of, “Hi, My Name is Vinyl: The Rumors of My Impending Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” What follows below, then, is his recap of our side of the conversation, plus elaboration, stemming from his experiences as a record store owner and as a well-known figure within the national independent record store community, both as a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and a board member for the Music Biz Association (formerly NARM). Readers are encouraged to post their comments and reactions. Got all that? Okay, let’s rock. – FM
The Michael Nelson-penned Stereogum report referenced above may be viewed by some as “just another person belly-aching about the record industry and its mistakes.” However, from my perspective as a record store owner—I operate three Schoolkids Records businesses, in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—it is all 100% accurate and an honest take on where things stand. (The comments that Stereogum readers posted following the piece are honest, too; they are all spot on.) Regular customers who shop at stores know. This is fluid and serious. Now, more than ever, support your local stores—they need you.
Furthermore, if people blow this off as just another person just complaining about the industry, major labels, etc., you are really missing the point. I am all for major labels, all for vinyl selling in chains, and am not an elitist and someone who never promotes or looks for negativity ever. But these statements Nelson is making are correct, minus the parts about Billy Fields, who I know personally and is 100% a champion of vinyl and record stores, one of our biggest cheerleaders and advocates in the industry. Everything Billy says in the story about Record Store Day and the industry itself is true as well: Yes, WEA recently announced they would stop selling to anyone who doesn’t meet a certain threshold of sales on an annual basis, but as much as I know that doesn’t help (and that it does hurt some small retailers), also realize that a lot of people were also taking advantage of the system, buying direct from WEA just so they could participate in Record Store Day while not buying and carrying vinyl year-round—which defeats the purpose. However, it is a policy that has been in place with WEA for years but was not enforced. And it is a concern, as it will hurt a lot of small, low volume stores and make it more difficult.
One thing I get really tired of is people blaming Record Store Day, such as in THIS article published earlier this year at TheVinylFactory.com about stores opting to drop out of RSD participation. To me, that’s the same short-mindedness as saying, “I don’t shop at a store that carries Led Zeppelin because that’s too mainstream…” Get over yourselves. Vanity is not a virtue that will yield long-term success in this business. Fields’ comments on RSD in the report are accurate. While it’s not untrue that the major labels have essentially taken over, as most of us know, it’s still a good day overall, sales-wise, and in terms of spreading awareness of indie record stores—which was the whole point of RSD in the first place.
I have been on many panels with Record Store Day co-founder Carrie Colliton seen the venom coming her way, as if she has something to do with the onslaught of releases coming and the prices—as if she alone can 100% control it. The RSD folks do everything they can; they are a non-profit tiny operation where the day to day administrative aspects and policing of policies is run by one person. Yes, one. What’s corporate about that? What people fail to realize, is that some companies out there will do whatever they want: They defy our rules, our criteria, hell, even our way of life, and they will do it with someone else (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble) if we say no. They are already doing this. In Dublin, where I am at now writing this, local friends/colleagues were telling me about Tesco (UK company), a grocery store that is the third largest retailer in the world for Father’s Day, selling rare, limited edition colored vinyl from bands such as The Jam and The Clash.
Seriously? Do the labels not understand what they are doing to the format by doing promotions with large chains like this? Not to mention what this does to small indie record stores? It’s an insult to all of the work we stores have done; it’s now in the hands of those who do not respect what it is and will do anything to make an extra buck.
In addition to that, I also know, since she works in our Raleigh store every single year to help us with crowd control on RSD, what Carrie deals with on an annual basis. This includes record stores themselves breaking the explicit rules set up by RSD, such as gouging fans by putting limited LPs on eBay. Some things I will not mention here as it would create havoc for her, but let’s just say that there are some greedy people out there, and they are not all at labels—they are at stores as well.
Then where does that leave the stores that helped create this phenomenon and curated the format? Who never stopped selling vinyl for over 40 years? We build something up, make it work, make it successful, and then it leaves us to go elsewhere? Hello, LeBron James! They will just take “their talents elsewhere.”
Well, it’s time for the flirtations to end, time to take a pay cut and take one for the team, and time for you to do the right thing—and come home. If LeBron can do it (who was once the most hated athlete in the world for leaving Cleveland to go to Miami), why can’t you? You can win in Cleveland; you just have to assemble the right team.
Make no mistake: Vinyl is not dead, so don’t believe any headlines to that effect. It’s not in any danger of disappearing. But the pricing structure is deeply problematic. The real issue RSD has presented, and something that was not mentioned in the Stereogum article, is that because of its success, stores have become a line-item on the Income Statement for major labels, instead of just being in the “Misc” column. That is, RSD has made a significant enough impact (as vinyl sales have, overall, but this is largely led by RSD) industry-wide to prompt the “black-and-white/I-have-no-idea-why-people-buy-records” accountants working in the industry to start to dissect those line items. Those accountants then come to the conclusion that the labels are “not making enough margins” on their products. THIS is the reason for the price increases that Nelson outlined in his Stereogum report. It’s based on the generic analytics that accountants use to study what something should be priced, which incorporate manufacturing issues, volume, and the ridiculous overhead they have, what with the large buildings, offices, and expenses incurred for the elite few in an industry that is only a fraction of what it was before, during the peak years for the CD, volume- and cash flow-wise.
The latter point is worth restating, and I have said it before. It makes no sense for the majors to have these large offices in NYC or in extremely expensive real estate markets, when you can work from just about anywhere (depending on your actual job). You can save tremendous amounts of money having satellite offices and/or in cheaper markets. There are tons of empty buildings, for example, in Atlantic City from casinos that went out of business. In 2016, normal human beings are moving away from overpriced large cities like New York to more reasonably-price areas like Raleigh-Durham (my hometown). But the music industry, for some reason, feels it has to “keep up appearances” and stay in ridiculous situations. They therefore make the “business of music” almost impossible for these large corporations—the ones that waste money on such things—to have a realistic grasp of the “business” in terms of the prices that normal people are actually willing to pay and what this industry realistically can make in 2016 and into the foreseeable future. It all goes back to those margins, which become the problem, which in turn is due to the inflated overhead and unrealistic expectations.
In a sense, independent stores were better off when we did not show up on those accountants’ radars. RSD did generate press and hype; those large RSD sales figures and vinyl sales in general got noticed by the industry, and the numbers were then played with. And here we are: accountants in NYC making decisions that might work on paper in a short-term sense, but make no sense for the long-term life of the business. Anyone in the trenches or who actually buys records can tell you this; it is obvious. However, this is nothing new, that those decisions are being made by people who haven’t bought a record (or even music, for that matter) in years or decades and answer monthly to shareholders and look at everything as just “widgets.”
They simply do not understand the landscape and the customers—what they actually want, what their consumer habits are like, and what they are willing to pay for the products they buy. However black and white that is, it lacks complete common sense. As my late father, who was a highly respected CPA, used to say, “You can teach someone the numbers and the books, but you can’t teach someone common sense.” In this day and age, where people walk around like the zombie apocalypse playing a video game on their phone, is it any wonder why the stereotypical starched, white-collar accountant can’t look up from his desk for five minutes and see what is really going on? Of course not, but we all need to look up as we are missing a really beautiful world around us, all the while getting stuck in a fantasy world with numbers that don’t add up.
The indie labels understand this—most of them do try to keep their prices down, relatively speaking—but the majors control way too much catalog and therefore need to lead here. But the direction they are leading us in is down to the edge of a cliff once again, when people actually need to see the whole picture of what is happening. Success—the type that RSD did foster— shouldn’t necessarily be a problem. If managed properly, growth and success can work, but not if the people making the decisions don’t understand what exactly they are selling and who they are selling to and the basic common sense of it all.
At any rate, I have been saying for a year now that vinyl has reached a milestone and a peak, mainly because of the price and over-saturation of the marketplace, versus the demand and supply. The only reason vinyl sales are even up nationwide is because some places are only just now coming to the party, so it’s a false increase. I call it the “Bugs Bunny Effect,” when someone gets hit over the head with a hammer while running and they keep running for many frames until they realize someone hit them over the head and the big bump rises on the top of their head and it goes “ouch!” There is always a delayed reaction in the marketplace. It was the same when vinyl was going up; we saw it first at indie retail, and now we’re seeing the opposite.
With stores closing, prices staying high, too many sub-par reissues coming out, labels’ continued policies of vinyl being sold one-way/NON-returnable (unlike CDs, and unlike vinyl in decades’ past, once you buy a new LP for your store, it’s yours, and if it’s a stiff like the latest, and high-priced, Lana Del Rey album, you’ve essentially eaten your cost and can only pray you recoup after you’ve reduced the price and dumped it in your “sale” bins), and stores struggling to keep cash flow up for the traffic and turnover, this will ultimately start to trend downward. More stores will inevitably close, many will survive just like 15 years ago (when piracy had taken a huge toll on the independent store sector), but many markets will not be able to support a store, or multiple stores, especially if you are vinyl only.
At this rate and change we have seen over the last 12 months, there is going to be another purge. This is also inevitable, as everything is cyclical; but it could have been another 5-10 years before we saw this (and could have been more gradual) if the industry would just be more patient, let things build organically, and not overprice and make the same mistakes made in the ‘90s with the CD. (Remember when you’d pay an $18.98 for a single CD, not even a deluxe version, just to get the couple of songs you wanted?)
The stores with the higher rent are going first, which is why you are seeing it in NYC, where we all know rent is an issue. It will continue to trickle down into other markets unless the industry makes some major changes such as (1) moving street date from the current Friday back to Tuesday; (2) lowering the price of vinyl back to what the market can bear; and (3) also not allowing streaming services to have a record online and streaming on street date. The film industry doesn’t allow 99% of its movies to be rented concurrent with them opening in theaters, so why does the music industry allow new releases to be streaming—which is very analogous to renting— the same day they appear in stores? It makes no sense.
At my stores, I have seen double digit growth over the last four to five years—until last year, May 2015, when it just completely stopped. This trend started when the majors increased vinyl costs and list prices. Blurt editor Fred Mills was sitting right next to me, around April 2015 in my Raleigh store, when I opened the email from two of the major labels announcing the price hike. My immediate reaction was, “What are you idiots doing?!? You are making the same mistake you made in the ‘90s with high list prices for CDs, which directly fueled the downloading and piracy problem.”
Then the industry compounded matters with street dates changing to Friday, which has been an utter disaster and effectively killed weekday sales; weekends were already when customers were more likely to be out and shopping, so having Tuesday at a street date was a great way to get them into the stores during the week.
Many other factors were at play, too, but those were two huge ones. For example, we started off the first four months of 2015 up 22% from the same period in the year before, and we were on pace to have our best year in 10 years. Once those changes outlined above took place, however, the bottom fell out, and we finished down for the year.
I am seeing this nationwide. I deal with it every single day in my stores, as do the retail coalitions mentioned in the Stereogum article. I am a proud member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and also a board member for Music Biz (formerly NARM), so I am hearing stories from all over the country. Some are seeing it worse than others, but the common denominator is, everyone agrees, that we have a really serious problem.
I noticed things dropping off a few months after Record Store Day 2015, by the time August rolled around, I knew something was seriously wrong and this was not just a lull and/or a slow summer. I have voiced my issues to my colleagues, and there have been some heated discussions. There are many higher-ups in the industry who are furious about this and are pushing every day for solutions, but it typically falls upon deaf ears among those people who should understand but cannot seem to do anything, as well as people who just don’t care. So I am back in my corner, building up my reserves as best I can for the winter and the freeze. It’s been a perfect storm of problems, and here we are.
Another point worth mentioning here is that there are too many places selling vinyl for the number of people actually buying. To restate what I said about about the UK grocery store Tesco selling vinyl, with the boom we also have chains such as Guitar Center, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and even some Whole Foods locations selling the wax. If you look at the statistics and sales numbers, they are not large enough to justify this amount of growth in the market place it’s all hyped-up fashion that has been sold to them by those who benefit from it, and it’s not healthy to the business in the long run—you don’t want to blow your wad before you have the romance, so to speak. Think of your retail partners, people. Think of the long-term effects of this. Can we really afford to not let this grow organically? Do you seriously not see the ramification of going to the altar too soon?
Many of these challenges were bound to happen, but in this day and age of social media, things change quickly. When we had a little bit of “good news” in the industry during the last ten years, such as all the “Vinyl Is Back!” stories in the media, well, of course everyone jumped on board. But it was too fast, too soon, too broad, too expensive.
Now those businesses that are more efficient, can manage their cash flow and inventory, have reasonable landlords and rent and good locations, experience a stable market, and diversify themselves enough to make higher margins off other items (such as online sales, second-hand vinyl, and accessories) are the ones most likely to survive. Lately I’ve been working more with shirts, books, and other items that have better margins, additionally trying to stockpile as much second-hand product as I can get my hands on, whatever the format.
When nearby stores do close, those stores that remain will certainly pick up some of the customers, but it’s all short-lived gains. Don’t forget that competition is good and more product in the marketplace is good—as long as it’s priced right and fits the market demand. This is the same thing that happened in the early 2000s, when stores were closing left and right. It’s about to happen again, and it’s sad because it could be different if it was managed better.
I am particularly worried about the small stores that are vinyl only and don’t have any room for error. Two of my stores are 50/50 CDs-to-vinyl, which is healthy. Another was 70% vinyl, but that is gradually starting to change now. Stores that sell only vinyl, that is a really tough thing to manage, and unlike my stores, they don’t necessarily have a 40+ year history of selling CDs and all genres. This gives us an advantage, not just in the shop itself but especially on-line, where secondhand sales do really well for us with CDs and LPs alike.
Regarding stores located in areas of high rent, they are the most vulnerable right now. As mentioned, I have three stores and I have a lot to fall back on. We are adjusting to these industry changes. It’s what I do and analyze every single day.
I also have an accounting degree and business management degree, and thanks to having smart store managers, I am not bogged down daily with running the stores. That frees me to spend all of my time running reports, analyzing sales, trends, and inventory levels. (Having a robust point-of-sale system that can manage inventory and cut down on the administrative labor is critical for a retail business, and that’s the best investment I’ve made in the last 6-12 months.) I also am constantly looking for more things to increase our business and to make us different—like having a bar and selling craft beer at my Raleigh location, for example—and to increase our brand, not just within NC but nationally and in Europe as well.
But many others do not have this luxury, and it’s those stores I worry about. Clearly the conversation about all this is now happening among the general public, and with customers, too, who are seeing it happen every day.
The question is, will they do anything to fix this? The record industry, that is. I am not counting on it. But I plan to survive regardless. Vinyl’s not dead; it’s a music format that has endured for longer than most of us have been alive, in fact. As a retailer, I certainly don’t plan to go down without a bloody fight—which makes it worth reminding you that in 2013, major label EMI was broken up as part of its acquisition by Universal. This renders those defiant, confrontational Sex Pistols lyrics quoted at the top of this article all the more timely, and meaningful:
“Some people don’t get metaphor at all”: The acclaimed Texas rocker/songwriter/raconteur on the innate power of words, and what it means when someone like Donald Trump knows how to twist them to suit his own ends.
BY JAMES MCMURTRY
Whatever the front man says or does gives license to those in the crowd. A certain band used to play at the Continental Club in Austin, where my band and I regularly play when we’re home. When they played, a woman danced naked, or very nearly naked, behind a screen on which a light threw her shadow to the full view of the audience. Some of the staff that worked those shows are still working at the club. They tell me that during those shows some of the men in the audience became unusually and uncomfortably aggressive toward the women in the audience. I thought that was terrible.
Years later, while touring through Utah, someone gave me a small sticker that read “I love Mormon pussy.” It actually employed the symbol for a heart, rather than the word “love.” I thought it was funny as hell. I put the sticker on my ESP Telecaster. My label thought it was funny as hell, and put a picture of it on my website. After we got home, we resumed our regular residency at the Continental Club. Some of the staff soon reported that some of the men in the audience were becoming unusually and uncomfortably aggressive toward the women in the audience at my shows. I took the sticker off the guitar and had the label take the picture off the website and that shit quit happening. I didn’t feel so morally superior to that certain band after that.
When Donald Trump said he’d like to punch someone in the mouth, he knew there was a good chance someone would get sucker punched at one of his rallies, and someone did. Donald said it was ok, so someone believed him and made it happen. When Trump said some of the Second Amendment people could do something about Hillary, he increased the odds of Clinton getting shot at and he knew it full well. He’s a front man and he knows the power of the front man. For Trump to deny that he’s inciting violence is beyond full of shit.
But let’s just say, for the sake of devil’s advocacy, that Trump actually was speaking metaphorically, as his spinners say he was. Even if he was speaking metaphorically when calling for the assassination of his rival, he was still criminally negligent because he said those words from the podium. He said those words as a front man, speaking to his millions of followers, many of whom, statistically speaking, are unlikely to understand or even care that their Messiah was speaking metaphorically. Some people don’t get metaphor at all, so anything one says from the podium to an audience of millions must be taken at face value. Trump has crossed the line into unabashed thuggery and is dragging our electoral process down to the level of Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin, and Joseph Stalin. He should share a room with them somewhere, metaphorically speaking of course.
James McMurtry blogs for Blurt with his “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” column. Find him on the web at JamesMcurtry.com.
And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)
BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND
As leader of the now-legendary Lazy Cowgirls, Pat Todd created a canon of blazing roots/punk rock & roll that should serve as a textbook for anyone who reveres both Johnny Cash and the Ramones. When the Indiana-born longtime Los Angeleno shifted focus (barely) toward the Americana side of his personality with the Rankoutsiders, he stuck to the same standards – four chords, blasting guitars, a kickin’ rhythm section and more soul than a Baptist church on Sunday. Blood and Treasure (Hound Gawd!), the band’s fourth LP, is another stellar example of Todd’s vision. Jolted by the six-string team of Kevin Keller and longtime foil Nick Alexander, the ‘outsiders rip through blues and ballads, C&W and R&R, with an expertise that should be the envy of bands half their age. Todd’s songs eschew clever wordplay and ironic distance to simply channel the man’s heart from his sleeve to yours, whether he’s fighting bad love (“Tell Me Now,” “I Hear You Knockin’”) or working class despair (“This Counterfeit World,” “Just Another Broken Day”). He won’t give in, though, stating his case most effectively in never-surrender anthems “Stand Up and Sass Back” and “Don’t Be Sellin’ Emptiness.” Blood and Treasure shows Todd and the Rankoutsiders once again reinventing ragged but right by being simply unable to do wrong.
Fronting a freewheeling blend of Detroit hard rock, Nuggets garage punk, dirty Cramps-a-billy and grungy surf, all given an acid sheen, Spain’s Capsula have been blasting away for nearly 20 years to a devoted audience far smaller than it should be. But the Argentina-bred power trio have never let that – or anything, really – get them down, and that same joie de vivre infests Santa Rosa (Vicious Circle), the band’s eleventh album. (Twelfth, if you count its stint backing up Ivan Julian on Naked Flame.) Tempering its live energy a tad (note: if this band comes to a club anywhere near you, do not hesitate), Capsula polishes its songwriting to an even more potent shine, balancing full throttle burners like “Tierra Girando” and “Candle Candle” with midtempo psych poppers “Moving Mutants” and “They Are New Models.” The trio even successfully ventures into ballad territory on “Past Lives.” Proof that great bands can keep getting better. Birth of Joy comes from the same spiritual place as Capsula, but, with the bass replaced by keyboards, trucks in a more expansive sound. Get Well (Long Branch/SPV), the Dutch trio’s sixth album, picks up where its last studio LP Prisoner left off, pushing the psychedelic and jamming tendencies to the fore while not losing the band’s intense rock & roll drive. That proves BoJ equally adept at both short/sharp/shocked bangers like “You Got Me Howling” and “Blisters” and drawn-out epics “Numb” and the title track. Perhaps not the revelation Prisoner was, but a progression, for sure.
With a name like Dr. Boogie, you’d expect a band beholden to John Lee Hooker, or at least ZZ Top and Canned Heat. In this case, though, you’d be wrong – the L.A. quartet owes its soul to the New York Dolls and the heyday of glam and protopunk on Gotta Get Back to New York City (Dead Beat). “Down This Road,” “Queen of the Streets” and the title track rock hard with that ever-so-tricky mix of Chuck Berry and aggression, while “Really Good Feeling” verges on power pop. The biggest surprise is “Together,” which adds a disco beat and “doot-doot” vocals for a dandy variation on the formula. Boasting a clever, “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” name, Indonesian Junk romps straight outta Milwaukee with an impressive self-titled debut album (Rum Bar). Throwing glam rock, protopunk, power pop and R&B-flavored garage rock into a centrifuge, the trio shakes it all down until it comes out as uncomplicated rock & roll. “Black Hole,” “Little Malibu” and “Indonesia” show off a band that rummages through the past, takes what it wants and leaves the rest to rot. Surprise bonus: a cover of Jayne County’s “Fuck Off.”
Though best known for leading U.K. punk & roll band the Almighty and his current frontman position with Black Star Riders (the group that grew out the latter-day revival of Thin Lizzy), Ricky Warwick started banging guitar in imitation of Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Despite his schedule with the Riders, the Irish native found time to knock out a double album that serves both sides of his personality. When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (and Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues)/Hearts on Trees (Nuclear Blast) ranges from the hard-edged heartland rock of the first half (“Son of the Wind,” “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” “The Road to Damascus Street”) to the mostly acoustic folk rock (“Said Samson to Goliath,” “Disasters,” a cover of Porter Wagoner’s immortal “Psycho”) of the second. Not out of line for a dude whose first professional job was playing second guitar on a New Model Army tour. German singer/songwriter Conny Ochs takes a similar tack on his third solo album Future Fables (Exile On Mainstream), though he prefers to mix his folk and rock rather than segregate them. Fielding melancholy introspection and cautiously optimistic progression, the record sounds like Ochs decided to blend his twin lives as acoustic troubadour and badass rocker, giving “Golden Future,” “Piece of Heaven” and “No Easy Way” a grit most singer/songwriter records rarely achieve.
If Kiss had succumbed to its 70s glam rock tendencies instead of its 80s hair metal fantasies, maybe it would be half as cool as Watts. The Beantown quartet kicks the requisite amount of gluteus maximus on third LP The Black Heart of Rock ‘N Roll (Rum Bar), happily rebooting riffs from the Stones, ZZ Top and the Sweet as it’s the first time anything like it has ever been heard. “She’s Electric’ and “Strut Like a Champ” brandish serious swagger, “Stage Fright” boogies like Marc Bolan if he’s been born in Texas and “Bye & Bye” reveals the bruised heart under the bravado. If the U.S.A. has ever produced a rock & roll band inhabiting the same dimension as the late, great Dogs D’amour, Watts is probably it.
Led by singer/songwriter Victor Penalosa – younger brother to Hector of the Zeros and Flying Color, cousin to the Escovedo clan, current drummer for the Flamin Groovies – the Phantoms bop all over the map on their self-titled debut (Rum Bar), from power pop (“Baby Loves Her Rock N’ Roll”) and country rock (“One For the Road”) to snotty punk (“Chump Change”) and no-nonsense rock & roll (“Tears Me Up Inside,” “Ditch Digger”). Add the driving heartland rock of “Two Lane Black Top” and Chuck Berry boogie of “The Ballad of Overend Watts” and it’s a party. The band has a solid grasp on anything that requires a backbeat and loud guitars, while Penalosa’s memorable melodies and appealingly plain singing tie it all together. You can probably be forgiven for casting aspersions toward the Two Tens – after all it’s a co-ed duo with a male guitarist and a female drummer, and debut album Volume (Ugly Sugar) was mixed by Detroit super producer Jim Diamond. But the L.A. act is no White Stripes wannabe – the band is far more enamored of 60s garage rock than Zeppelin blues. All the better to rock sweet pop tunes “Sweet as Pie” and “Watching Me” and pounding thrashers “Life” and “Rush Out” into the dirt.
Despite coming from Portsmouth, New Hampshire (or maybe because of it), the Connection has established itself as one of the best 60s-inspired power pop bands going via Little Steven-endorsed rekkids like Let It Rock and the stupendous Labor of Love. So it’s a good time to reissue the quartet’s debut New England’s Newest Hit Makers (Rum Bar). Fresh-faced and sparkling, the record gets down to business quickly and efficiently via “Stop Talking,” “My Baby Likes to Rock N Roll,” “I Think She Digs Me” and other nuggets analogous to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night era. Delightful. Seattle’s Navins apply similar energy to power poppy tunes that boast melodies by the jangleful on debut LP Not Yourself Today (Green Monkey). Named after Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, the band (which includes ex-TAD man Gary Thortensen) certainly exhibits a sense of humor, but is no joke, showing serious craft and heart on the winsome “Oceans,” the jamming “Wallet Full of Signs” and the crunchy “Never Wanted Nothing.”
Singer/guitarist Eric Knoxx slung strings for rockin’ surf/lounge band the Vice Barons for several years, but finally uncorks his larynx on Saturday Night Shakes (Rum Bar), the debut album from his new outfit the Backseat Angels. With a nod toward the upbeat melodies of old school punk/pop like the Boys and a wink toward the swagger of bubblegum glamsters like the Sweet, Knoxx and co. bang out hard candy delights “Teenage Rock’n’ Roller,” “To Be a Better Man” and “My Baby Wants to Brainwash My Mind.”
Hailing from Seattle, the town that kicked off the whole garage rock thing back in the 60s with the Sonics, the Wailers and – RIP Jack Ely – the Kingsmen, Liquid Generation takes direct inspiration from its forebears on Quarter to Zen (Green Monkey). Recorded in 1983 and unreleased until now, scrappy snarls like “Hang Up” (a gem from the Wailers’ catalog), “Nothing” (via the Ugly Ducklings) and “¼ to Zen” would’ve landed the band on the Get Hip label and on tour with the Chesterfield Kings had it come out when it should’ve. NYC’s Mystery Lights get even more faithful to the old school on their self-titled debut (Wick) – close your eyes and you’d think this was recorded in 1965. As such, it sounds like a bunch of kids with loud guitars, a handful of chords and a few drugs fueling their rock & roll fantasies. It would almost be too retro for its own good if not for the quality of the songs – the blistering “Melt,” the wide-ranging “Before My Own” and the surprisingly psychedelic “Flowers in My Hair, Demons in My Head” scratch the Nuggets itch as well as anything from the original era.
The blues is, of course, one of the bigger planks in rock & roll’s platform, and bands will never stop using it as the crux of their raison d’etre. So it is with Jane Lee Hooker. The NYC five-piece takes on everyone from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to Ray Charles and Otis Redding on its debut album No B! (Ruf). But since these ladies have backgrounds in punk and hard rock – specifically Nashville Pussy, Bad Wizard, Helldorado and the legendary Wives – they simply can’t help rocking the hell out of the likes of Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” Albert King’s “The Hunter” and Charles’ “I Believe to My Soul.” The band’s rip through Johnny Winters’ “Mean Town Blues” hews far closer to the members’ previous day jobs than anything that came out of Memphis. Whiskey-and-cigs singer Dana “Danger” Athens’ original “In the Valley” fits right in alongside genre classics and deep cuts. Northern Ireland duo the Bonnevilles stick to an original program on Arrow Pierce My Heart (Alive Naturalsound), but also punk up the blues like Chess Records filtered through the Standells. “I’ve Come Too Far For Love to Die,” “The Electric Company” (not a U2 cover) and “The Man With the X Shaped Scar On His Cheek” rock raw and dirty, not a million miles away from what the Black Keys were doing in their early days.
For the last decade, Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser has practically defined the idea of punk blues. Beck in Black (Alive Naturalsound), compiled by original drummer Brenn Beck from the albums on which he appears, collects tracks from the then-duo’s earliest days up until right before the band became a trio on last year’s barnburner Dirty Spliff Blues. The Cruiser’s rawboned bottleneck ‘spunk stomps and stammers on “Zombie Blocked,” “Circus” and the mighty “Sausage Paw,” one of six previously unreleased tracks. Shawn James is more of a blues traditionalist than Hooker, Cruiser or the Bonnevilles, but only in the sense of staying acoustic on his latest LP On the Shoulders of Giants (self-released). Wielding a pair of resonator guitars and recording at Sun Studios, the big-voiced Arkansan lays down deep blues like “Back Down” and “When It Rains, It Pours” that would crush boulders if played through a Marshall stack.
The blues is more of a feel than a form for international (counting members from the States, France and Sweden) quartet Blues Pills. Second full-length Lady in Gold (Nuclear Blast) finds the band folding in flavors of psychedelic soul into its groovy rawk stew, which suits brassy singer Elin Larsson on tunes like “Rejection,” “You Gotta Try” and “Won’t Go Back” (all hidden in the final third, oddly enough). Ultimately, though, the band is still about fairly frill-less rock & roll – check “Bad Talkers,” “Little Boy Preacher” and the especially catchy title track. Bonus: a menacing, rocking take on Tony Joe White’s “Elements and Things.” Hailing from Sudbury, Ontario, Sulfur City plays groovy blues rock with a political edge on Talking Loud (Alive Naturalsound). With an electric washboard, a powerful howl, a 60s sense of social outrage and a thing for the Devil (who appears in “Johnny” and “Sold”), leader Lori Paradis cuts a striking figure. Aided and abetted by guitarist/co-writer Jesse Lagace, she sometimes lets her band lapse into a Grateful Dead choogle that sucks the energy out of the performances. But when she and the band grit their teeth, via the swampy “One Day in June,” stomping “Tie My Hand to the Floor” and fiery “You Don’t Know Me,” they show a lot of promise.
Remember when alt.country meant more than folk singers with tasteful bands backing them up? The Right Here does. Sounding on debut LP Stick to the Plan (Rum Bar) like the Old 97’s if they’d just come off a particularly debauched tour with Motörhead, the Minneapolis (of course) quartet takes two-stepping melodies and C&W progressions and thrashes the hell out of them while keeping the songcraft intact. From blazing cowpunkers “Til the Wheels Come Off” (which sounds like a classic set-closer) and “Judge Me When I’m Sober” to the tear-in-your-spilled-beer ballads “Drunk and Rolling Around” and “Fall Asleep, Hate Yourself, or Leave,” the Right Here rips and tears at your heartstrings as often as your ears (and your air guitar). Austin’s New Mystery Girl also fields a rootsy vibe on Crawl Through Your Hair! (Gutsy Dame), but calling them just another band of that ilk is a mistake. Singer/songwriter Chrissie Flatt and guitarist Eric Hisaw have deep roots in country and Americana music, but also a smart pop sense and a raw attack, while rhythm section Bobby Daniel and Hector Muñoz did many years with Alejandro Escovedo. Add quality songs like “Stepping On My Toes” and “I’m Not Ready to Let Go” and a rollicking rip through the New York Dolls’ “Subway Train” and you’ve got something more developed than just roots rock.
The Kingbees were contemporaries of the Stray Cats, but never hit the same heights. That’s partly because the trio simply wasn’t as stylized as Brian Setzer’s crew, and partly because the group’s neorockabilly wasn’t as flashy about its retro stylings. That’s especially evident on second LP The Big Rock (Omnivore), originally released in 1981. Singer/guitarist Jamie James and co. worry less about 50s trappings than in simply continuing the tradition, making streamlined confections of the title track, “She Can’t ‘Make-up’ Her Mind” and covers of Charlie Rich, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins.
On the way to recording their second LP, the Muffs lost rhythm guitarist Melanie Vammen and traded drummer Criss Crass for ex-Redd Kross basher Roy McDonald. The changes did the band good, however, as evidenced by Blonder and Blonder (Omnivore). Originally released in 1995, the record reflected no radical departures from the self-titled debut. Instead the band refined its melodic punk & roll, with sharper hooks, wittier lyrics and a more aggressive attack. (Credit McDonald, whose spirit animal is clearly Keith Moon, at least in part for the latter.) “Ethyl My Love,” “Oh Nina” and “Laying On a Bed of Roses” rock recklessly without ever losing their grip on the hooks, while “Sad Tomorrow” and the waltz-time “Funny Face” demonstrate growing lyrical sophistication. The Doug Sahmish “Red Eyed Troll” and mostly acoustic “Just a Game” show a group growing beyond its self-imposed boundaries. Blonder and Blonder represents the Muff growing from strength to strength. As with last year’s reissue of The Muffs, this edition adds a gaggle of bonus tracks (including the album-worthy “Become Undone” and “Born Today”), informative liner notes from bassist Ronnie Barnett and Shattucks’ song-by-song commentary.
Careening out of control like a bus driven by a tweaker, Sleeping Beauties reclaim punk rock bash ‘n’ crash for a younger generation with their self-titled debut (In the Red). Slavering meat-eaters “Meth,” “Hands” and “Bobby & Suzie” filter garage rock through the prism of ADHD-addled high school dropouts; “Slumber Party” adds a shit-kicking (if barely recognizable) C&W beat. “Merchants of Glue” and “Addicted to Drugs” pass for ballads, with pretty melodies rolled in the dirt and left to dry in the sun – “South Eugene” even goes full on acoustic. The Pacific Northwestern quintet lays claim to real songwriting chops, which means even the most crazed numbers hold up beyond the initial energy rush. Like the long-gone Squirrel Bait drowning in the Johnny Thunders side of its personality, Sleeping Beauties buries a sensitive soul under a nightmare of squalling guitars, blaring vocals and chemically-assisted insanity, and may very well be what rock & roll is all about.
Michael Toland also writes about metal for BLURT. Go HERE to read the latest installment of his blog, “Throwing Horns,” in which he covers himself in goat’s blood and genuflects before the likes of Cobalt, Melvins, Death Angel, Candlemass, Dust Moth, Lord Mantis, and more.
The Backseat Angels – Saturday Night Shakes bandcamp: