You Can’t Get Born Again

While I shouldn’t get into too much detail here, I’d like to share this teaser, narrated by me, for the upcoming album by The Dears. Enjoy, and share!

How I Became a Katy Perry Sympathizer

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is this parenting blog post about our responsibility to teach kids about “good music.” Or, as the title states: “How to Talk to Your Kids About Their Shitty Taste in Music.” It’s a weakly argued call to arms in reaction to the whole VMA/Miley Cyrus twerking debacle.

What a load of hipster-douchebag crap. My retort: How on earth did your kids get exposed to this “shitty” music in the first place? Pro tip: don’t leave your kids in front of Disney XD all day, or they will think music is meant to be overly synthesized, un-artistic pop.

I’ll admit, pop music is heavily marketed to our young people. Whether you realise it or not, a lot of money is spent on product awareness — that’s the music biz. What is on the album takes back seat to the mysticism or hype built on what you think is going to be on the album. You already know what to think and feel, before hearing a note. That is marketing.

If done well, the potential audience will be worked into a frenzy. So let’s get accountable for our actions: instead of pointless, complain-ey blog posts, why not get our mom-and-dad brains into the game? The question should be: Are your kids getting caught up in marketing? Do they know what marketing is? Do you know what marketing is? Do you understand the intersection of marketing and the arts?

Few people, including most people who work in the music biz, care to understand this concept. They willfully ignore it, and gleefully get caught up in it. And, so, our kids follow suit. New Arcade Fire anyone? Gawd, white people — adults, even — are SO PUMPED about their new album. It’s exhausting.

So when my 8-year-old daughter decides her favourite singer is Katy Perry, what do I do? Is Ms. Perry a suitable role model, considering the mainstream options? Is anybody? Or is this an opportunity to impose my jaded, post-feminist, post-indie rock opinion?

In my mind, my daughter must make her own decisions. If I listened to my parents, I would only like Kenny Rogers and 80’s Tina Turner. Our kids must create themselves for themselves. Our job is to give them a loose set of rules, parameters inside which to make good and positive decisions. When my kid asks to listen to “the radio” in the car — which inevitably means Top 40 dance pop stuff — I abide. We listen. I tell her to listen for the sidechain compression, the auto-tuned vocals, the recurring use of beats and fills, arrangement structures that are copied form song to song. I want her to listen with her brain, unhindered by any marketing message.

Point being, life is a perpetual learning experience to be enjoyed. This is the main lesson I teach my children, and happens to be my prime directive. Most music, yes, is shit. Katy Perry balances on the razor’s edge of being a mega-YOLO-slut (ever listen to the lyrics to “Last Friday Night“?) and being a young, powerful, inspiring woman with an incredible voice. RAZOR’S EDGE, PEOPLE.

So sure, we’ll watch the “Roar” video on YouTube together. We did that with “Gangnam Style,” too. Trendy music will ebb and flow, but it’s those times when we’re walking home from school and my daughter is humming “Ring My Bell” by Blood Sisters that I feel a tinge of redemption.

This entry also appears on HuffingtonPost.ca

Kids These Days (Condescending Blog)

I haven’t blogged here in a while, so I’m going to take this opportunity to WAIL on a couple of “self proclaimed music critics” or “bloggers” as it were (see below). Now, it is obvious to me that these are young people (20-somethings), trying to find their place in the world. They are learning about who they are and the things that define them. I know it. I lived it: I wrote for VICE from the age of 20 to 25. That’s your SNARK PRIME. In your 20’s, it’s your time to be flippant and critical: you’ve only emerged from your teens (when you know everything about the world) and entered into a nascent adulthood. A time to illustrate to the world how much you really know, because now you have to pay rent and get a job and be responsible for yourself.  

So this is my rant, my response to these arrogant bloggers who say that my band is boring to watch live, (despite describing in the previous sentence how the whole crowd was singing along and how they felt an inexplicable energy in the room) but that they wouldn’t be interested in The Dears once they took that experience home. I call bullshit on their words. BULLSHIT.

Kids these days are emerging from a digital haze, of being bombarded with millions of songs and thousands of bands. I understand, it can be difficult to make heads or tails of anything. What is good? Who knows? Who can we trust? Today’s youth have been programmed to not follow their heart, but to follow the blogosphere. They are influenced by everything and everyone. How can they know about music when they’ve never really listened to anything? They can’t know until they are 35, because that’s when they begin to know themselves. Until then they are bombarded with a culture that is desperately trying to compete for their attention. They bring several floor toms and impossible instruments on stage. They have crazy, premeditated outfits and freak out on stage, because that’s how they think they should act. Otherwise how will they cut above the rest?

THANK GOD I “show my age” on stage. Do you know what that is called? DIGNITY.

On the flip side I thank the hundreds of other people who did enjoy the show! I admit it wasn’t our best show ever but it was loads of fun. And we got some great reviews from Spinner.com and Telescope Media. This blog even called us a “buzzband” which in my opinion, defies the very definition of the word.

And finally, I congratulate the young writers whom I have addressed here for being annoying enough to draw attention to themselves. You have succeeded in your task! You can read the “show reviews” written by “music fanatic” Shawn Burgess at THE iNDiE MACHiNE and also Lisa Lagace at TurnTheRecordOver.com. Thank you for farting all over everyone else’s experience (including mine), and for reluctantly enjoying the show! Please respond in the comments section below!

P.S. I reference God for effect and do not adhere to any him/her/it theology.

MUSICAL INTERPRETATION: Them Kids by Sam Roberts

Me Party

I spent the latter half of 2011 with my head out of the music industry cloud. I’ve been luxuriating in a stress-free world of science fiction and artificial intelligence. I’ve been reading and writing more than anything else. But then the year turned to 2012 and I realised I would soon have to remove my head from the clouds and return to planet Earth.

With this came an odd realisation: Should I spend so much time on writing fiction? Or should I try to make music? The logical side led me to a classic dead end: “Well, Natalia, whatever you choose, it will be a terrible way to sustain yourself.” Which I naturally shrugged off. I am in too deep to worry about something as stupid as money. 

Instead my head floated off into another cloud. A creative cloud, wondering how to preserve my dignity but still have fun with it. I’m no songwriter, and therein lies the problem. I have no confidence from being surrounded by actual songwriters. In fact, shoddy songwriting is one of the things that maddens me the most about popular music. And by popular I don’t mean only Pop, rather all the inescapable musicians, the stuff in the “press.” It adds to the argument that there are too many bands, too much mediocre music, everybody wants to be a star but they rarely know why.

A bonafide songwriter knows. They know because they have no other choice. They aren’t rebelling against their parents or doing it because they can (i.e. rich kids). They are doing it because they have to. I know, you guys are reading this saying: “Oh, whatever. As if.” But it’s true. Or at least it used to be true. What is popular these days, what comes up through the ranks, is not based on good songs or incredible inspiration. It is half-assed and financially backed. And all that is fine. It’s cute. I guess it is what people need in an age where great marketing rules the roost.  

But this rant has been ranted before. Which is why I keep my head elsewhere: this is wasted breath. Wasted bandwidth. I’m exhausted by it, by the rules, the gatekeepers. I know. I get it. I’m not getting in.

So then, why not make something frivolous? I ask myself. Why not fall in line and further saturate the music world with more gratuitous art? Should I do something I firmly believe that I have no business doing? I wouldn’t make it for primarily for you, but for me first and you second. Would that offend you or interest you? Would you download it? Would you pay for it? Would you want to hear it? 

And PS: don’t panic. These sentiments have nothing to do with The Dears. The Dears are alive and well. We’re just staked out in a bomb shelter living off of rations and bottled water.

 

Musical Mnemonics 3: Squeeze

While shopping for back to school clothes for by kid, I found myself in the beige-est of retailers, Old Navy. Usually when I do normal, mall-related things, the music stores play perplexes me. I can’t not listen to it. I know it’s a whole thing now, for a band to have their song included on these playlists. And depending on the store, the musical selections can be totally unremarkable, frustrating, irritating, mind-blowing, delightful, or, on the rare occasion, a reminder of something amazing I haven’t heard in a while.

Whilst wandering the Old Navy in search of white, child-sized polo shirts, I was reminded of Squeeze via Pulling Mussels from the Shell. A classic track.

This instalment of “musical mnemonics” is dedicated to Squeeze: a new wave pop band from the UK, circa late 70’s/early 80’s, who wrote really fucking great songs. Namely: Tempted, Cool for Cats, Pulling Mussels from the Shell, Black Coffee in Bed, Another Nail In My Heart. Go out and purchase their Singles 45s and Under immediately. Especially if you were born in the 90’s, you gotta hear these songs. It’s imperative.

Anyway, this is pretty much the kind of music that belies my white-ness. I mean, check out some of their music videos on YouTube (see below). Holy goofball festival, but I know, I forgive everything. After all it was the 80’s and that decade unfortunately rolled into the 90’s which taken together created the biggest cultural recession the Western Hemisphere has known. Much like the massive cultural cluster-fuck we’re presently living through.

Take a break from it, remember something easy, something good. Something to listen to while drinking beers by the lake somewhere. NO PRETENTION. REMEMBER THAT?

Apparently that’s Jools Holland pushing the piano around…

Do I ♥ Hype Machine?

When I first got into the Hype Machine, I thought it was genius. An aggregator of music blogs that generates a “Top Ten” list every week. Decentralised, not dependent on skewed radio air play or impossible record sales. I discovered new musicn on HypeM, listened to what everyone else was digging on, clicked on the little heart next to the songs and bands I wanted to support. One of my tweets adds 60 points to the chart! Why? I have no idea!

After the novelty wore off, something struck me: cleverness aside, I didn’t want to spend that much time listening to Madonna/The Who and Norotious B.I.G/Miley Cyrus mashups. I wanted to listen to songs the way songwriters created them: not a remix, mashup or basement redux. As musician in a band, I know how much time, effort and resource goes into writing and recording an album. Shouldn’t that effort be recognised, rather than someone else’s whimsy, territorially pissed all over a track?

I propose two lists: 1) original tracks, and 2) everything else. Call me old fashioned. But we, the people, have been ravaged enough by the downloading and file sharing and the like. Now some song feat. the vs. remix mashup edit club version gets more attention than the song itself. How do you split the mechanicals on something like that?

Just kidding. I’m being a raving old person. Stodgy, impatient, unwilling to accept the obvious change that is happening right before my eyes. I really don’t care: I still read the Hype Machine charts, and vote for my friends. As if the politics of high school never ended.

Art inspiring art. A lyric, a beat, a riff, encouraging someone else to keep going, to keep writing, to continue that piece of art. Non-monetized, positive vibes, good times. “Why should I listen to just one song when I can listen to two at the same time?” Ah, in the year 2000.

As an afterthought, I find it ironical (fake word that I use all the time -ed.) that Google recently shut down a bunch of music blogs that share MP3s, while the entire Hype Machine model is based on blogs that share MP3s. Google just didn’t want to deal with the digital mechanicals, I bet.

Small Records (7 inch)

I am currently watching a few items, like this one, on eBay:

I’ve been going to the Value Village lately, looking for, well, old stuff. I used to go ALL the time, usually for clothes, but I think somewhere around the age of 24 I lost all interest in used clothes. These days I’ve been looking at books, housewares/furniture, toys (scored a big bag of Lego, which was awesome), and records.

Murray brought the record player from the studio into the living room and lately Neptune has gotten into listening (and dancing) to my collection of Phase 4 records. She’s especially in to Hawaiian music (Spongebob + Lilo & Stitch = ukelele fixation) and music played on piano for her faux-ballet recitals.

She’s still figuring out how to place the needle gently on the records, but at the age of 4, “gentle” is still an optional approach to most things.

I’ve strayed a bit from the point, which is that on my last trip to Value Village I picked up a few 7-inches, including Rockit, Popcorn, some traditional music from Iran and the U2 single for Pride. I showed them to Neptune in the car and she immediately assumed these records were hers, because they were smaller. As such, we haven’t been allowed to put them on the regular record player. She insists they are too small and therefore can only be played on a small record player.

I’m so into this method of her discovering music: of it being a physical relationship. She wants a record player in her room, and I can totally get behind that. Hopefully I’ll win one of these eBay auctions soon.

Science of Music vs. Martin Amis

During a moment spent not freaking out about Facebook removing my civil e-liberties, or analyzing the weird dreams I had last night about ordering an Americano coffee in NYC, I read a compelling book review in the Economist. The last paragraph struck me:

“[The] basic message is encouraging and uplifting: people know much more about music than they think. They start picking up the rules from the day they are born, perhaps even before, by hearing it all around them. Very young children can tell if a tune or harmony is not quite right. One of the joys of listening to music is a general familiarity with the way it is put together: to know roughly what to expect, then to see in what particular ways your expectations will be met or exceeded. Most adults can differentiate between kinds of music even if they have had no training.

Music is completely sui generis. It should not tell a non-musical story; the listener will decode it for himself. Many, perhaps most, people have experienced a sudden rush of emotion on hearing a particular piece of music; a thrill or chill, a sense of excitement or exhilaration, a feeling of being swept away by it. They may even be moved to tears, without being able to tell why. Musical analysts have tried hard to find out how this happens, but with little success. Perhaps some mysteries are best preserved.”

The book is The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by Philip Ball. And while I probably will never read it, this abstract does offer some interesting thoughts, like: Why does music even exist? Why does it make us feel? Maybe if I read the book some of these questions would be answered. But I so rarely read analog media (Economist excluded).

AND their review of the new Martin Amis book was pretty intriguing…for a Martin Amis fan. His best since Money? Come on.

What I Learned from Pop Montreal Bios

I think I just finished writing this year’s round of bios for the Pop Montreal programme. I always go into it with an open mind, and while this year I felt like I wasn’t seeing or hearing anything “new,” I realised that musically, we’re (the greater we, as in all of music) in a serious transition phase. The bands that I did like were ones that had good songs, but that also touched a chord, evoked something emotional, a memory, an intangible feeling. In essence, music and musicians that were inspired by something greater; not just the creation of music to satisfy some egotistical bullshit.

Of course, this is not 2004, and when writing a bio the goal is to represent the band or musician in an intriguing way. Not to be clever and smarmy – because we all know I am chock full of that – but to make people want to see the shows.

Sadly, for fellow haters, I won’t be taking this opportunity to trash the bands I thought sucked, or that were just good or even pleasantly great. This is about discovery and hope, about music that was new to me. So no offense to everyone else for my blog being so self-serving. I apologise for nothing.

I was going to print my bios, but then thought that would undercut the programme’s novelty. So instead I’ve made small comments, so you can just listen up, make your own assumptions, then read it for realz in print.

Villa Borghese (Montreal, QC) – There is something very session musician about this band, but I like the energy, the tipping of their caps to great music of the past like ELO and the new wave. There’s something very free and spirited in Villa Borghese that I find attractive.

Katie Stelmanis (Toronto, ON) – Speaking of free spirited, Katie’s music is just a giant fuck you to everything. I loved hearing her genre-mashing Kate Bush a la Trent Reznor vibes. I think part of the reason I liked this because there’s something in Katie that I see in myself…circa 15 years ago. If I actually went to shows I would go see this one.

Valleys (Montreal, QC) – I think I wrote their bio last year, too. I tried to avoid that completely but missed this one because they changed their name from something like We Are Valleys to just Valleys. Anyway, this is cool because it is really keeping the first-gen of the Montreal “scene” alive.

Josh Reichmann (Toronto, ON) – Whenever I have the knee-jerk reaction of being kind of repulsed by something, it usually means that it’s just far enough out there to feel unfamiliar. That’s what originality feels like, kids. Force yourself to get lost in Josh’s inspired, kitchen-sinky, spiritual journey.

Golden Isles (Montreal, QC) – And whilst on the subject of kids, here are some. While heavily Strokes-y, there’s nothing really wrong with that. The Strokes are so eight years ago that it’s still too soon – and, strangely, too late – to sound like them. So this is not “cool” or “indie” but simply totally fun. Burneth.

One thing I noticed was that most of the performers on the schedule this year are Canadian. There isn’t a lot of international stuff, and there is a huge amount of local bands. The best and brightest? Seriously, I wrote like 35 bios out of hundreds, so my list is just a strange and random sampling. Hardly a cultural statement.

Morally Reprehensible

The other day, after I dropped Neptune off at preschool, I decided to go grocery shopping. I learned that 9:30AM is a very strange time to go grocery shopping, and nobody really goes shopping that early in the morning. I don’t know if it was due to the lack of other shoppers and similar ambient distractions, but the top 40 music they were piping in really caught my attention. Specifically the morally reprehensible lyrics to Nickleback’s “Rock Star.” It goes a little something like this:

I’m through with standing in line
to the clubs I’ll never get in
It’s like the bottom of the ninth
and I’m never gonna win
This life hasn’t turned out
quite the way I want it to be

(tell me what you want)

I want a brand new house
on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in
And a king size tub big enough
for ten plus me

(yeah, so what you need)

I’ll need a, a credit card that’s got no limit
And a big black jet with a bedroom in it
Gonna join the mile high club
At thirty-seven thousand feet

(Been there done that)

I want a new tour bus full of old guitars
My own star on Hollywood Boulevard
Somewhere between cher and
James Dean is fine for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I’m gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair and change my name

[CHORUS]
‘Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
Livin’ in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We’ll all stay skinny cause we just won’t eat
And we’ll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger’s
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
with her bleach blonde hair
and well..
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar

I wanna be great like Elvis without the tassels
Hire eight body guards that love to beat up assholes
Sign a couple autographs
So I can eat my meals for free

(I’ll have the quesadilla… ha ha)

I’m gonna dress my ass
with the latest fashion
Get a front door key to the Playboy mansion
Gonna date a centerfold that loves to
blow my money for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I’m gonna trade this life
For fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair
And change my name

(chorus)

I’m gonna sing those songs
that offend the censors
Gonna pop my pills
from a Pez dispenser
Get washed-up singers writing all my songs
Lip sync ’em every night so I don’t get ’em wrong

(chorus)

As I tried to find the Honeycomb cereal, I paused, listened carefully to a few verses and uttered “FUUUUUUUCK!” in total exasperation. The irony of my frustration was two-fold:

1) This song is idiotic. And I take personal offense to the stereotypical “Rock Star” lump being cast. Like only the douchebags that 1) like/identify with this song and 2) wrote it in the first place could possibly take this literally, or feel it contributes to our culture in any way.

2) This song came out in 2005. And it is so “timeless” that it continues to get played on the radio. That said, the next day I heard that “So What” song by Pink on the radio, and apparently 1 in 4 people’s dream job is being a rock star (confirmed by independent polls in The Gazette and BBC).

Anyway, it’s funny. Murray and I got into this heavy conversation a few days ago about music, and how music used to be a tradition, a reason for communion, whether to be spiritually or culturally enriched, to celebrate and belong. And one day, when they invented the record, I guess, and music could me easily commodified and sold, something disappeared. The art left and the business took over. Marketing replaced cultural identity. Now we have these very broad categories that require us to “buy into” them. I think the only vestigial element of spirituality in music remains at live shows: where people experience something together.

So my question, then, is when did it all go to shit? When was a song as comical as “Rock Star” meant to be taken seriously? Who decides? I guess we decide, you decide, the people decide.

But do they? Who decided to put that song on the radio, playing several Nickleback songs a day where as other bands – with potentially better songs – won’t ever be played. Aha! So we do not choose…marketing has determined the answer for us, has told us what to buy, what to identify with, who to be. Not free, but just subdued enough to keep society chugging along.

UPDATE: I can’t win this battle…the irony of music about music is bigger than I am.