Tag Archives: Davey Von Bohlen

Rumored Cap’n Jazz and Owls Reunions

Indie Rock Reviews have posted information regarding a rumor that beloved Chicago emo acts Cap’n Jazz and Owls may reunite. Take a look [Thanks Ori Nevo for the tip]:

With Pavement’s reunion plans all but finalized, it was only a matter of time before other defunct acts added their name to the list. The latest: Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz.

It might sound too good to be true, but according to a close source, the band — Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Sam Zurick, Victor Villarreal and Davey von Bohlen — has been rehearsing old material in hopes of putting together a 10-date tour for summer 2010. While nothing is confirmed, the source says the five performers were asked to learn their individual parts for five songs.

Sure, IRR won’t be spilling the beans on their source, so who knows the veracity of that statement. However, it’s not like a reunion would be impossible: The Kinsella brothers are quite close, and Sam and Victor have been in so many Kinsella-related projects it’s hard to keep count. And as for Davey, he’s still a close friend of the band, having recently opened for Mike Kinsella’s full-band Owen gig in Chicago back in September. So who am I to say what may happen?

I’ll try and dig up some information myself. In the meantime, stay tuned for what could be an interesting couple of reunions.

On and On and On

sdrephxfrt

I wrote another piece for The Boston Phoenix, this time about… Sunny Day Real Estate. Whoda thunk it?

For folks wondering about A) all the reunion hubub and why it’s happening 2) what’s the big deal with the band C) just how the band got back together and 3.14) the details of the reunion and how the seeped online, head over to the article. (I did say I’d write up a little something tracking the whole thing, so there you go… and concise too.)

Big thank yous go out to Marco Collins, Brian Perkins, Davey von Bohlen, Jonathan Poneman, and Jeremy Enigk for the wonderful interviews: I feel like I really got a wide variety of voices that weren’t really heard in the din of the “yaaaay reunion” hollers and usual Q+A with SDRE bandmembers. Not that those aren’t great, just a little familiar. And yes, I traced the reunion meme starting with Mr. Perkins’ initial tweet, and got some pretty great info out of folks for that section… If only I could fit more.

Speaking of fit more, I got a few particularly interesting answers from Jeremy that didn’t fit in with the piece… hopefully I’ll be able to get those out in the near future.

But, enough of that… read on!

America Is Just A Word: The Book

Last night, Public Enemy’s Chuck D dropped some knowledge at Harvard. Among the many insightful and brilliant things D had to say, one struck me in particular:

“People need to write books. People need to write more books, now, more than ever. Write books and the cream will rise to the top.”

That’s a bit of an abridged statement of what D said (I didn’t get the talk on tape), but that concept hit right home. The past year I’ve been attempting to publish my own book, and it’s gone slower than I’ve anticipated. Though there’s no definite publisher at the moment, I would like to announce that my work, America Is Just A Word: Post-Hardcore, Emo And American Culture will be published. Whether it’s done through a book publisher or if it will be self-published hasn’t been determined, but, in any case, the words I’ve created will find their way to some bound collection of paper in the near future.

Like this blog, America Is Just A Word focuses on the world of emo, but from a multi-faceted angle. Rather than providing a straight-forward narrative of the bands, individuals, and songs that shaped the genre from its early roots into its mainstream limelighters, America Is Just A Word focuses on emo from the perspective of its connection to and reflection of American culture. Comparisons between artists and American literary figures, cultural critics, and societal concepts are drawn, observed, and left open to interpretation. Unlike the two other popularly-produced books on emo (Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good and the joke guide to emo Everybody Hurts), America Is Just A Word doesn’t crucify the word emo for a stereotypical and easy-to-use term for commercial use and popular representation. Rather, the book carefully observes the changes in definition, the concepts surrounding the genre, and the ambiguities, contradictions, and idiosyncrasies that have informed emo for nearly twenty five years.

Needless to say, this book isn’t your usual “oral history” that seem to be published en mass lately. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with oral histories, but with some books, the creativity is nearly absent (though it certainly takes a lot of work to morph the words of others into a concise narrative and it’s certainly informed by those putting said narrative together). So, in the coming months, I hope to have updates about progress on the publication of America Is Just A Word: Post-Hardcore, Emo And American Culture. I’ve begun a Twitter account for means of getting word about the book out in another forum; in the coming months, expect to see additions to this blog that are connected to the book. And for those eager to see what my 33 1/3 book on The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good may have looked like, you’ll be happy to know there’s an entire chapter/section devoted to the band, with a healthy amount of input from singer/guitarist Davey Von Bohlen.

 

There will be more info to come soon. Until then, keep reading this blog and checking Twitter for updates, and I’ll leave you with a video of the song that inspired the title of my book.

Fugazi – “Stacks” (Live in Louisville):

Just Short…

So, for folks who’ve been following along in this blog, I submitted a proposal to Continuum’s 33 1/3 series to write a book about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. Series editor David Barker emailed everyone who submitted a proposal today concerning those he picked to make it to the shortlist, the final compilation short of the 20 or so that Continuum will select to be turned into fully-fleshed out books (you can check out the shortlist). Unfortunately, my proposal wasn’t chosen for this list, for simple space reasons on the shortlist (I emailed David to find out specifics of why my proposal was turned down and it turns out it was one of a handful that barely missed the cut). In any case, I really enjoyed writing this proposal and speaking to those involved in creating the album about the process of writing a book on Nothing Feels Good. Rather than let it go to waste, I’ve decided to post my proposal here, below, for your enjoyment, complete with some multimedia elements that could not have been included in what was submitted to 33 1/3, but are helpful illustrators nonetheless. Enjoy it… and if anyone has any interest in further pursuing this project with me in some other forum, please feel free to contact me:

33 1/3 Book Proposal:

The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good

Guilty pleasures tend to rear their heads in an interview with music’s next big thing. So when a VBS TV correspondent was chatting it up with No Age, the uber-hip and critically acclaimed experimental punk duo from L.A., singer/drummer Dean Spunt interrupted guitarist Randy Randall’s ruminations on MC Hammer with a shocking revelation:

“I used to like The Promise Ring.”
Beat.
“Yeah, so did I,” replied the stylish interviewer.
The three guys proceeded to awkwardly chuckle and talk over each other until the interviewer brought up his stunning thought:
“Is it really at the point where MC Hammer is less embarrassing than The Promise Ring?”

Great question. And not unlike one I ask myself just about every time I crank up my stereo while playing 30 Degrees Everywhere or Wood/Water. What’s so embarrassing about The Promise Ring? It could be the band’s association with emo, the now-repugnant term for a post-hardcore genre that’s all but taken over the Billboard charts. It was the release of 1997’s Nothing Feels Good that the four “averages Joes” that made up The Promise Ring were presented with the title of poster boys of a genre once thought to be six feet under. The rest of the trials and tribulations of emo remain embedded in our international conscience thanks to numerous pop-punk acts influenced by The Promise Ring. Say what you will about your Fall Out Boys, My Chemical Romances, Dashboard Confessionals, Cute Is What We Aim Fors, Thrices, Taking Back Sundays, Panic! at the Discos, Saves the Days, Coheed & Cambrias, Alexisonfires, New Found Glorys, and Underoaths; when push comes to shove, most of these bands don’t come close to the potent passion, intelligence, and vibrancy of The Promise Ring and their sophomore effort, Nothing Feels Good.

Embarrassment aside, Spunt should have nothing to be ashamed of for name-dropping The Promise Ring as a band that’s clearly influenced the critically-lauded musician. The Promise Ring’s back catalog is filled with nugget and gems of post-hardcore-meets-pop bliss, and much like when No Age’s current work combining elements of pop with hardcore, the results are fantastic. Nothing Feels Good is The Promise Ring’s best and most succinct work, an anthemic, passionate burst of homegrown pop-punk, filtered through tales of existential crises, cross-country road trips, and references to modern Americana. The hooks are sharp, the lyrics poignant, and the performance still as unbelievably urgent as the day the original tapes were mastered over a decade ago.

Part of what’s so phenomenal about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good is the impact the album had when it hit record stores in the fall of 1997. Neatly-packaged emo-pop amalgams are a dime a dozen these days, but there was nothing “neat” about Nothing Feels Good when it was released. Although the album’s music has the sugary-sweet taste of bubblegum pop that numerous artists today no doubt want to tap into, the band’s sound subverts the pretenses of slick pop on Nothing Feels Good with quick bursts of hardcore-influenced instrumentation that seem intent on spilling out of each track marking and into the life of the listener. To mis-quote The Promise Ring, it displays a sense that the band had of having no defined sense or absolute understanding of the world around them, but simply enjoying the view. Life’s peculiarities, ambiguities, and “big questions” aren’t shunned, but brought to the surface with keen observation. In frontman Davey von Bohlen’s hands and sweetly contorted lisp – a performance factor that only makes the music on Nothing Feels Good sound an umpteenth more sincere – The Promise Ring made an album of daring proportions and a musical document to the banalities, every day norms, and even celebrations of human existence not heard since Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Nothing Feels Good cover

Nothing Feels Good cover

Part of the story behind Nothing Feels Good is known, but little of it has a concentrated focus on the actual album or the band behind it. Beyond the musical content, Nothing Feels Good was a smashing success. For Jade Tree – The Promise Ring’s label – it meant financial stability, as the album surpassed their modest predictions and allowed the company to flourish, something of a miracle in the years following the alternative music buyout which had left many independent record labels for dead. For the national emo scene – a ragtag, ambiguous assemblage of independent artists around the U.S. – it legitimized their work in the face of the post-grunge milieu that ruled the radio waves and crippled mainstream creativity. For the members of The Promise Ring, it meant video premiers on MTV, critical acclamation, a position as one of the most creative bands operating in America’s underground music scene, and, much later, a place in cult-music lore for having inspired countless musicians to take emo (or whatever genre they called their own) in new and distinctly personal directions.

Although we’re still feeling the impact of Nothing Feels Good today, the known-narrative of the album’s creation is bare. What inspired the dozen songs on the album, and what transpired in their evolution from muddled creative concept into full-blown pop gold? What about the practices that hammered out the hooks, high-hats, and lo-fi hits in The Promise Ring’s oeuvre? What about the guys behind the instruments, their day-to-day existences and thoughts that no doubt burrowed their way into the band’s sophomore album? What were the moments before, during, and after 1997 that made Nothing Feels Good stand out from a mass of other bands and recordings that make up emo’s so-called second wave? What about each member’s upbringing, their lives in the Milwaukee area, relationships with friends, family, and significant-others? What made four young men band together to form The Promise Ring and create such a phenomenal release as heard in Nothing Feels Good?

These are the pivotal questions I’m seeking to answer with my book on The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good for Continuum’s 33 1/3 book series. Here is an album and a band who’s impact on music today in innumerable. Part of the unknown quality of The Promise Ring’s importance is due to the fact that these deep-seated questions have never been asked – or rather, published – on such a large-scale forum. Considering the fans that the band amassed since forming in 1995, a list that no doubt has been growing with every article, band, or cultural critic name-checking the quartet as one of indie rock’s great cult bands, The Promise Ring are more than due for their proper place in the rock narrative limelight. And the 33 1/3 series is the place I would like to bring the tale of The Promise Ring’s best album.

For this project, I plan on writing the kind of book that exemplifies the credence imbued in Nothing Feels Good. My model for this manuscript isn’t confined to the band-nostalgically-reminiscing-on-a-piece-of-the-past-type writing you may see in a lot of oral histories or straightforward music books out there. Certainly my work will represent the mold that previous 33 1/3 books have upheld, but I’m also inspired by the writing styles of the great new journalists and literary non-fiction pieces. In essence, I’m looking to produce a book that lives, breathes, eats, speaks, and plays music the way that the members of The Promise Ring did when they made Nothing Feels Good. I want to make someone who’s never heard the album feel as though they’ve been following the band since Day One, that they’re back in 1997 and sprinting to the record store in order to merely touch an album by a band that has touched them. Essentially, I want to write a book about The Promise Ring in the same way the band created their music.

My main informants for this project will be the members of The Promise Ring; as I want to get into their heads and extract information about their environment, attitudes, and memories, they will be my go-to source for the book. I’ve been in touch with Promise Ring singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen for well over a year, having recruited his current band (Maritime) for a concert and Davey himself for a previous writing project. I have been corresponding with von Bohlen about this proposal for well over a month, and he has given this project his supportive and enthusiastic seal of approval, and has gotten me in touch with the other members of The Promise Ring. At the moment that I’ve submitted this proposal, I’ve been in touch with two other Promise Ring members, Jason Gnewikow (guitar) and Dan Didier (drums), and both are quite enthusiastic about the project. I plan on having extensive interviews with these three members, as well as the two bass players who played in The Promise Ring during their Nothing Feels Good era, Scott Schoenbeck and Scott Beschta.

Although interviews with the members of The Promise Ring will constitute a large portion of my research, I plan on culling information from as many sources as possible in order to make the narrative more vibrant and colorful. I plan on soliciting interviews with not only those closely associated to the band, but also their detractors and adoring fans. Alongside a list that includes friends and family, I plan on speaking to Tim Owen and Darren Walters (Jade Tree owners), J. Robbins (Nothing Feels Good producer), Stuart Sikes (Nothing Feels Good engineer), Jessica Hopper (former publicist), Tim Edwards (former booking agent), Josh Modell (creator of Milk Magazine and close friend), along with musicians who’ve worked with, influenced, or been influenced by The Promise Ring, including Tim and Mike Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), Bob Nanna (Braid), Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Matthew Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Eric Richter (Christie Front Drive), Eric Axelson (The Dismemberment Plan/Maritime), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Chris Simpson (Mineral), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), and countless others for their involvement in this project. Although not everyone listed is guaranteed to be involved, with my personal connections to some of the people previously listed and with the help from the former Promise Ring members, I will have an enormous number of people contributing to the book’s dialog.

Interviews aside, I plan on digging through swaths of information to aide in the creation of the book. Included will be the usual sources of information; articles on the band, reviews of their albums, zines, blogs, and any other published work that would enhance the narrative. But, I plan to go beyond those musings as well. I will approach the band members to see if I could use personal paraphernalia to help me spin a more personal yarn. This would include anything from old photographs, letters, journal entries, lyric sheets, music sheets, and even doodles scratched into scraps of paper they’ve kept through the years. I will also approach the narrative from the direction of an informed anthropologist by researching the socio-economic background of The Promise Ring’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through census information, background information on area high school and college education systems, and the resources for youth in Wisconsin that was available at the same time Nothing Feels Good was in the making, I hope to gain a better sense of The Promise Ring’s background. I’ll also dig up information on American society’s views of Wisconsin and the Mid West and how that was reflected in the actions of those who lived there. It may seem onerous, but the brief scene in Wayne’s World that takes place in Milwaukee speaks volumes about the international perception of the place where The Promise Ring was formed. Throughout all of this, I hope to get a sense of why The Promise Ring did what they did, but from an entirely different perspective than the usual interview could warrant.

What I hope to accomplish after 15 months of research and writing is a work that can live up to how I felt after first popping Nothing Feels Good on the stereo, and something that will be as powerful as each subsequent listen to that album. My work may lack the aural quality of the album, but I hope it will be able to bring an entirely new sense of being to Nothing Feels Good, and one that will only boost the listening experience of longtime Promise Ring enthusiasts and bring some new fans to the album as well.

Dear Science, I’ve Made a Mixtape for You

After a bit of a delay, I finally present to you my review for TV on the Radio’s Dear Science,. But I’ve decided to offer up something entirely different in the way of reviews by focusing on the one pitfall of music critique I cannot stand yet find myself using at times: comparison. It’s quite often too easy to draw comparisons to well-known music in the past to describe something unheard of in the present. When used sparingly, it can work well, but used to often and it just comes across as cheap. But I’ve decided to tackle this situation head on by combining it with the underlining theme of this blog; I will compare each track of Dear Science, with an emo song that shares some similar quality of its structure (lyrics, instrumentals, etc). It should have quite an odd result, but hopefully it will allow someone out there to either reconsider some song or band they passed over due to a label (emo) or consider a new song they might stubbornly dismiss just because. So, without further ado, here goes:

*”Halfway Home” = The Promise Ring – “Why Did We Ever Meet”

Both of these songs exercise a certain sense of juxtaposition by combining uplifting instrumentation with relatively dark lyrics about the death of/confusing state of a relationship. And with both singers (Tunde Adebimpe of TVOTR and Davey von Bohlen of TPR) taking on the between-lyrics vocal melodies of “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” (“Halfway Home”) and “do-do-do-do do-do-do” (“Why Did We Ever Meet”), it stretches those juxtapositions to pop power’s upper reaches.

*”Crying” = Egg Hunt – “We All Fall Down”

“Crying” details the trials and tribulations that people go through in life (drug abuse, disaster, biblical disasters, the works) and how they face those problems, often taken in the guise of releasing one’s emotions with crying. Egg Hunt, Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson’s post-Minor Threat studio project, crafted their sound in a similar light to what TV on the Radio do with “Crying”; that is, combine the gamut of pop influences into a powerful musical force. “We All Fall Down” does that, discussing the potential pain one endures in attempting to accomplish things and get somewhere in life, and all with a bit of funk that’s heavily imbued in “Crying.”

Unfortunately, no video/music presentation for this one – check the Dischord site.

*”Dancing Choose” = Atmosphere – “National Disgrace”

And they said emo-rap was weird. Here, TVOTR run into new territory as Tunde’s lyrics are delivered with the kind of spit-fire fury and speed of most hip-hop. With lyrics that portray an odd underbelly of society, it hearkens to Atmosphere, who’s place in the emo spectrum was one of many kinks in the genre’s definition but one that added some fluidity and originality to its constraints, and “National Disgrace.” Fueled with an overwhelming sense of anger towards America’s vapid consumer culture, “National Disgrace” recalls the same fiery passion of “Dancing Choose” by distancing the creator from the negative aspects of a culture they’ve become a part of.

*”Stork and Owl” = Cap’n Jazz – “Oh Messy Life”

TVOTR’s “Stork and Owl” is a dazzling and affecting start and stop song a la’ “I Was a Lover,” with an electronically-plastered back-beat and muddled lyrics about life through the eyes of a couple of animals. “Oh Messy Life” is a brash interpretation of life that’s no less affecting, with lyrical outbursts that turn into-run on rants similar to the section of “Stork and Owl” when Tunde delivers “it goes it goes it goes it goes.” It’s all in the stories of other individuals, and the quick snapshots seem to say a lot about life without ever pointing anything out in a cliched manner.

*”Golden Age” = Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down”

For those who’s only math involves the equation of “punk + crying = Dashboard”, “Hands Down” is perhaps the happiest song in Chris Carrabba’s canon. It’s simple, catchy, carefree, and yes, happy. It’s also easily one of Dashboard’s best-known songs. And here comes “Golden Age,” a simple, catchy, carefree, and happy song by TV on the Radio, a band that’s certainly known for addressing the negative undercurrents of society. And “Golden Age” looks poised to be one of TVOTR’s best-known songs, hands down.

*”Family Tree” = The Get Up Kids – “I’ll Catch You”

Here are a couple of songs that are almost a departure from these bands’ passionate, bombastic rock sound, but also happen to be just as affective as any ear-bursting blast (if not more) and more haunting than most other tracks. “I’ll Catch You” trades in The Get Up Kids’ usual pop-punk persuasion for a near-ballad, a piano-based ditty that flat-out addresses romantic love, while staying true to the band’s punk parallels with fits of guitar squeal. “Family Tree” is just as moving, letting TVOTR’s sea of feedback settle to reveal an affecting vocal performance similar to Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babes‘ “Ambulance.” And it’s all about love, but not without TVOTR’s nom ‘de artiste, with the symbols of death and rapture close behind.

*”Red Dress” = Fugazi – “Nice New Outfit”

Here are two songs that discuss the nadir of society’s underbelly – war – with the symbol of clothing. TVOTR note society’s ability to ignore war, slavery, and pain with the line “go ahead put your red dress on,” while Fugazi comment how that “nice new outfit” with its “straight clean lines” was woven with fabric made of blood and war in foreign countries. And all over a jittery, repeated guitar squeal.

*”Love Dog” = The Appleseed Cast – “Hanging Marionette”

These are two slowly paced songs that seem to send shock waves with each painstakingly sung chorus (or lyrical break) and attain something of a similar melody. Their lyrical qualities can be seen as different sections of a long narrative. In “Hanging Marrionette,” the narrator is stricken by the loss and complete absence of someone near and dear, while light years later that person has transformed into a lonely little “Love Dog,” completely lost to the world.

*”Shout Me Out” = Brand New – “The Archers Bows Have Broken”

TVOTR’s “Shout Me Out” has the aesthetic ideal of casting off the ails of old, facing your problems, and defiantly shouting in their face, all to the tune of an electronically-inclined dance beat. “The Archers Bows Have Broken” is a song that builds and rises, with the characters/band overcoming the death of the old world and facing whatever adversity they had built in their minds with a defiant shout. And man are they a couple of victoriously-charged songs.

*”DLZ” = Jawbreaker – “Boxcar”

“DLZ” is an ambiguous indictment of hipsters/trend-chasers/whatever you want to call them, and the general “mess” they make of things. But when it comes down to it, there’s a certain amount of disconnect between their actions and the ideal they like to say they play out. So when Tunde shouts at the end, “this is beginning to feel like the dawn of the loser forever,” is he eulogizing the 90s punk ideal of loser that Jawbreaker was defending against posers over a decade ago in “Boxcar”? That just may be – both groups seem to notice how the out-crowd has been stifling with too many in-crowd seeking individuals, and are taking their frustration of their culture to the front-line, backed by some pop-friendly panache.

*”Lover’s Day” = Pedro the Lion – “Rapture”

Now, here are two songs about one of the three tenants of rock ‘n’ roll – sex. And while they have divergent views on the issue – TVOTR discuss it in positive terms, while Pedro’s take has a certain element of guilt as the song’s characters are having an affair – the ravenous description of “love making” ties the two together. TVOTR’s celebration of the act (“Yes of course there are miracles/a lover that love’s is one”) eventually meets the orgiastic height of Pedro’s heaven’s gates-as-sex narrative (“Oh my sweet rapture/I hear Jesus calling me home”).

And what do I think of Dear Science,? Well, I think it’s clear that I’ve always been a fan of the band. And this has just been another wonderful treat from a group that I feel like I’ve grown with. Simply put, one of the best of the year.

Taboo And Alphabets Too

Last night a bunch of my friends threw a show in their house… a comedy show that is. Whereas most young towns have a thriving music scene, the comedy community in Boston is everything that most insular scenes hope they can be; diverse, thriving, widespread, intimate, creative, and a network of people who are friends first and competitors never. And funny. Man are they funny. Everything from the quick-and-fast rules of delivery to hip-hop rhymes and beats about taekwondo to odd-ball rants by folks featured on Comedy Central, it was all enhanced by the intimacy of the tiny Allston-based house.

I capped off the night with what must have been an hour dedicated to playing the wordsmith worthy game Taboo. After some quick, catch-and-release trials, a group of us decided to play “hardcore,” where you could only give one clue in order for others to get the word in question in one guess. It’s a lot more challenging than the usual method of playing the game, but it sure is fun. In retrospect, the cap-off of Taboo featuring performers from the night’s previous comedy collaboration was odder than I had imagined at the time. Well, odder in recollection than experience; as most of us were all friends, it really wasn’t all that weird. But the boundaries that individuals often place on society with labels such as “performer” would elevate members of the community above others, when really it just provided for an interesting initial introduction for everyone present in the house. The atmosphere lacked any pretension associated with elevating members of the community, the intimacy of the event, the intelligence of the performance, and the humor involved made it all seem like any other night hanging out with friends… just some of those friends had the incentive to stand up and talk to a crowd for ten minutes.

Combining a general lack of pretension with musical intelligence, creativity, communal intimacy, and a warmth of humor is Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz. Though they broke up by the mid-90s, their impact has been felt throughout the emo world, most immediately in the then-growing presence of the Mid-Western underground emo scene that was about to reach a tipping point. Their influence had immediate impact with the culmination of post-Cap’n Jazz projects, most notably with 2nd guitarist Davey Von Bohlen’s side project The Promise Ring coming to the focal point of the national emo community. However, brethren Mike and Tim Kinsella have also had their fare share of impact with acts such as Joan of Arc and Owls (as well as American Football and Owen), two highly experimental groups that aren’t as well known as The Promise Ring, but certainly have their fare share of influence. Still getting shout-outs in magazines such as Alternative Press (last month’s cover story on the 23 most influential punk bands of the last 23 years had a great spread on band), the Cap’n Jazz legacy was compacted into a singular double-album release in 1998, Analphabetapolothology (now there’s the Taboo-worthy word).

Cap\'n Jazz

Brimming from end to end with unmeasurable catharsis, Analphabetapolothology takes some getting used to before you can grab those nuggets of mid-90s emo gold. Then again, Cap’n Jazz were never shooting for pop gold, just music that challenged themselves, made the band members satisfied with their own creation, and had a particular subcultural connotation. It’s a bit of a continuation of the hardcore punk tradition (and hardcore can readily be seen as a starting point for the members of Cap’n Jazz, not to mention countless of other alternative bands that continues on to today), where the band wanted to make something profoundly different then what was being pushed out on the mainstream and have it mean something to their particular community. But, while hardcore became uniform in all senses of the word, Cap’n Jazz’s hold on emo was as angular as the guitar-work involved in it. They called in the horns, lyrics that weren’t all there (at least, upon first glance), gritty dynamic changes that recall Sunny Day Real Estate played by a garage band, pop-worthy harmonies, and song structures that subverted all forms of the norm.

The best and brightest of emo today have Cap’n Jazz to thank for the fuel of creativity that somehow manages to bubble up, as if untapped, while the rest of the world thinks of emo as simply shallow. Musically, you can hear Cap’n Jazz’s influence on a vast array of emo artists. Tim’s almost-whispered, rant-singing at the start of “Puddle Splashers” recalls a more musically ambiguous version of what Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara attempts to create, while “Que Suerte!” sounds like a messier, more cathartic mix of what makes Thursday’s work so captivating.

Yet beyond later influence was Cap’n Jazz’s immediate impact on the community around them. The band appeared at a time just before emo began to solidify its main aesthetic elements, and Cap’n Jazz challenged every idea of singular aesthetic until its end. The biggest acts of mid-90s, Mid-Western emo not only came from disparate places on the map, but had disparate ideas in their musical take on the sound that originally had been birthed in DC. But under the musical heretofore of bands like Cap’n Jazz, they helped open the community to anyone with any original and challenging idea of emo, not simply to those who had pretensions to how to run a scene. It was more about the people involved in the community rather than following a guidebook, and for Cap’n Jazz’s musical and personal role in the national scene, it’s much greater than the first listen of Analphabetapolothology might lead you to believe. In a world where a post-hardcore sound could share space with bands who brought hardcore, pop-punk, pop, and whatever rule-based genre to the table, it was Cap’n Jazz’s original blending of ideas that helped emo form so many different strands and creative impulses for years to come.

Cap\’n Jazz – Little League

An Introduction

Before things begin, I shall kick things off with the words of someone else. Ted Rall is a witty, no-holds-barred political cartoonist with a wonderful sense of humor. Shamefully, I don’t read his weekly comics as often as I’d like to/should. But, as I flipped through the most recent edition of the Weekly Dig, I noticed something particularly alarming. Take a look:

Ted Rall\'s Misconception

No, it wasn’t Rall’s commentary on Obama that was striking (although that is a particularly interesting comment on Obama’s policy, though I often feel that Rall reads in between the lines a bit too much… but that’s part of the humor of absurdity). It was Rall’s quick side-swipe at emo. For someone who combs through detail after detail in the search of the elusive truth in modern politics, the fact that he managed to quickly label emo as crap with his humorous jab is a bit frightening.

Now, I may have gotten ahead of myself or gotten off to a bad start. So, let me rewind here and explain:

This blog isn’t meant to be a place of bitter complaints and sideswipes. I can easily see the humor in Rall’s use of emo as an aural weapon for torture (in fact, I myself have done the same thing in the past, equating jam-based act OAR with musical punishment). I’m not getting needlessly upset by Rall’s quick side-comment; this is simply a starting place for my general frustration with our society’s close-mindedness as seen through the microcosmic scope of emo.

So, rather than complain and or try in vain attempts to change certain individuals’ perspectives on emo, I shall write my thoughts and concepts on the culture in this blog for anyone who is open-minded enough to see it. Of all the pop phenomenons to dominate the American mainstream and be a face of our country’s cultural output, emo has had a terrible rep. It’s been labeled a suicide-hungry cult. It’s apparently been the root cause of teenage violence and cultural friction in Mexico. It’s even been blamed for the death of a 13 year-old in the UK. And to think that a few years ago people thought of it as harmless love songs for punks.

If only things were so easy. To think, we could blame some cultural product for all of life’s problems. If that were the case, we wouldn’t really have to worry that much about anything. So, there are two options we as a society can take: start an anti-emo cult petition to fictitiously solve all our ails, or try and solve our problems not by blaming them on outside sources, but by making constructive attempts to work towards an actual solution.

Making an attempt to understand emo couldn’t hurt. In fact, solutions and emo should be thought of as being hand-in-hand. When the cultural movement and sound that was originally tagged as “emo,” short for “emotional hardcore,” arose, it was at the center of a community looking for self-improvement. Back in 1985, the DC punk scene was going through a Renaissance. After suffering the downfall of hardcore punk into violent, bigoted chaos, a handful of forward-thinking youngsters in the DC area decided to make a positive change. Centered around Dischord, the DIY record label home to DC’s most prominent hardcore acts, a burst of creativity surged through teens who had seen the best and worst of the underground hardcore movement. These individuals began to form bands that subverted the usual hardcore histrionics, taking the passion and power of hardcore and slowing it down, pumping it with a pop-friendly sense of musicality, and packing it with cunning lyrics imbued with ideas about change, maturity, community, self, and politics. And politics. They began to protest the Apartheid in South Africa and become more involved in the local DC community, with a particular bent towards helping the underprivileged communities of their fair city. And it was doomed to be called emo.

Since then, emo has spent two decades-plus in the American wilderness so to speak. For decades, emo thrived in the underground, changing and evolving with each community that was touched by it, until it’s come to the present state of popularity and misconception. But more on that later.

This blog will be more than a simple lesson in history. Some entries (in fact, most) will not even directly be associated with emo. To be truthful, most of what is commonly referred to as emo today simply doesn’t affect me in the way that the emo of previous years has. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but alas, that is not the rule (and that may be one of the reasons why emo is generally thought of as terrible). But, whatever may crop up, I will inevitably find a way of connecting it with emo. Be it political debates, zombie movies, football, current subcultural movements, I will find a way of connecting it to emo… or at least try to. I’ll mostly touch upon the music that I find particularly appealing, and if it isn’t within the realm of emo, I’ll connect it to what I feel is one of the most important cultural forces in recent years.

Why is emo so important? It could be the fact that, unlike any other genre of pop music and its reflexive culture (with the exception of rock, which seems to include every form of pop), emo has covered the most rugged, twisted, and adventurous path. It could be the fact that it’s evolved in ways that mirror the various sub-genres of rock, yet it all seems to be contained within an odd three letter word. It could be the fact that, whatever the band from whatever year, nearly any fan of rock or pop could find an act that they could connect with. It could be the fact that with all its changes and intents, emo is one of the greatest reflections of our society. Or it could be the fact that emo simply is, and has been, an amorphous blob that’s been anything to anyone over decades of time.

This blog is called “Perfect Lines,” a title I cribbed from a song by 1990s emo wunder-band The Promise Ring. The Promise Ring is an act that I admire in particular for the cunning use of language that makes each song so vibrant. Singer Davey Von Bohlen’s words seem to bleed into each other, creating a sense of boundless ideas that make each listen a new experience. The lyrics are like little treasures that continue to give long after the gold has been found. Or just amazing puns that aren’t corny. I hope that my writings in this blog are similar to Von Bohlen’s capacity as a songwriter; the kind that always seem to have something new to say, where ideas are intertwined with a certain sense of ease. Simply put, I hope to write perfect lines.

The Promise Ring – \”Why Did Ever We Meet\”

(Sorry folks, it’s not “Perfect Lines,” but it is another great song by The Promise Ring off the same album – “Nothing Feels Good”)