Tag Archives: DC

Cowboy Emo

Turning towards a Perfect Lines perennial favorite – Lucero – we have what’s been dubbed “Cowboy emo.”

I stumbled upon this from a post on Tampa’s Creative Loafing about the band. The piece was more sizing up/summarizing a “Lucero for begginers” mix by Romeo Sid Vicious, who chose to name his online mix “Cowboy emo.” Romeo explains further:

I chose “Cowboy Emo” as the name of this compilation due to a rumor of the conversation between Ben and Brian that laid the groundwork for Lucero. I won’t bore you with the whole story but rumor has it that Brian described the music he wanted to play as “Cowboy Emo” during that conversation. I don’t think there’s much emo and not much cowboy in the music but it’s a fitting title nonetheless.

I have to disagree with Romeo on that last point, as Lucero’s sound is heavily indebted to the southern rock/country stylings as it is the post-hardcore ravings that sprung from DC and went onwards. A key piece of evidence is Jawbreaker’s “Kiss The Bottle,” a perennial favorite cover that finds its way into many a Lucero live set and sees the band stay true to the emocore roots of the song while drawing out some countryish twang as well.

Still, I’m not at all bored with the idea behind “cowboy emo” as I am fascinated by it. I tried scouring the net for an answer, and the best I could find was in an enotes entry on the band:

The group’s early work featured slow love songs [Brian] Venable termed “cowboy emo” to Michael Donahue in the Memphis newspaper Commercial Appeal. That’s “cowboyish, sappy love songs,” Venable told Donahue. “Emo being short for emotions.”

Not entirely helpful, but a quick scan of the Commercial Appeal archives shows an article from December 18th, 1998 entitled “Lucero Sings Blues For Bereft Cowboys” that is, most likely, the article in question. Unfortunately, you have to pay to read the article, and I think I’d rather track down a physical microfilm or scan of the paper than pay $3 for 500 words of text.

So, perhaps, in the future, I shall have scanned the piece with my own eyes and gotten to the bottom of “cowboy emo!”

Lucero – “Kiss The Bottle” (live acoustic):

Interview with Justin Pearson

It’s been a long while since I last featured an interview by an individual to be featured in the forthcoming book, America Is Just A Word. I’m pleased to present some snippets of the first part of an ongoing interview I’m conducting with Justin Pearson, a man who’s energy cannot be contained by the sheer number of bands he’s been involved in. Most folks may know him from his role in The Locust, a band I was lucky enough to see open for Andrew W.K. some odd number of years ago at the 9:30 Club in DC.

Though Pearson’s amassed discography certainly deserves its own book, America Is Just A Word will focus on his experience as vocalist for Swing Kids and as co-owner/creator of record label Three One G.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s a peek at parts of the interview:

*How’d you get into music? At what age did you decide that you wanted to give music a try?

Justin: “i think at an age, maybe as early as i can remember, i was into music. i was into kiss for obvious reason as to why a 5 year old would be, they looked so cool. i think being drawn to them, was sort of a door opening to what i needed to focus my attention on. i remember being way into styz when “mr roboto” came out. then i remember being super into van halen’s “1984” album as well as michael jackson’s “thiller”. so all this was from age 5 or so up to 8 or 9. at some point, i realized that kiss sucked pretty bad and started to focus on the actual music and what i was drawn to. i think at that point, i stumbled upon skateboarding and that led me to the thrasher skate rock comps. so then i found myself listening to septic death and then bands like the cramps, suicidal tendencies and so on. at that point, i was totally submerged in music and more so, punk and metal. when i was 12 i met the cramps and they were the biggest influence on me to start a band. they were so cool to me and really showed me that i could play music, and that being a musician, even well known like they were, i could accomplish something as great as what they were doing.”

*You often describe your background as poor, white trash, etc. Do you feel that these circumstances helped form who you are as a person? Or even why punk music appealed to you?

Justin: “i suppose. its hard to say though. its not like i can try it another way and compare and contrast situations. however, being from the poor side of the tracks, i think it forced me to be more creative, as well as appreciate the little things in life. it also installed a strong work ethic in what i try to accomplish. as far as punk and its appeal to me, it makes sense as to why id be drawn to it. that was essentially what punk music was created out of and who it was created for.”

*How did you meet and become friends with Eric and Jose?

Justin: “jose i met at a p.i.l. concert when i was 14. then i got a job with him at a swap meet working for his uncle. then he started going to the same high school as me. with eric, i somehow met all these kids in the east county of san diego and eric was one. at some point, we started playing music together in struggle, then later on in swing kids.”

*Considering you, Eric and Jose were in Struggle together, what was the key moment, act, or idea that made you want to all play together again as Swing Kids? How’d you all determine how the band was going to operate?

Justin: “eric was in struggle at the start of the band then quit and started unbroken. later on, he rejoined struggle. once struggle split up, we decided to start swing kids. it had a lot to do with peoples changing interested in certain kinds of music and art.”

*There’s this general concept that seems to run deep in a lot of the people/bands I’m including in the book [America Is Just A Word], that being that the personal is political, that every idea and notion of what you do is no less political than the “screw the pigs”/”fuck the man” sentiments that a lot of played-out hardcore seems to push. How did you and the other guys in Swing Kids come to that conclusion on your own terms?

Justin: “i agree. with struggle, it was sort of that mentality of preaching to the choir. it was already said and done. granted, the things that we were saying were relevant, but we were 15 and 16 years old. at some point, we wanted to say things differently so we did so. but all of this was never preconceived, it just sort of happened and then in retrospect, all made sense.”

*When you wrote the lyrics for Swing Kids songs, where did you draw inspiration from, both for the actual content of your songs and for the point-of-reference for the material you were writing?

Justin: “well i think since it was my first stab at lyric writing for a band besides the occasional lyrics that id contribute to struggle. so now, looking back, i think that the lyrics, and even my voice in swing kids is the weakest part of that band. but it was what it was, i mean, i was still pretty young, and honestly had no idea what i was doing. i would not even have considered myself a musician or a lyricist. but the inspiration was drawn from all sorts of things. none were musical really. i think heroin was a great band, but i was more into political stuff. just at the time of me writing lyrics, i was looking for the not to obvious or overtly political things to draw from. i think i was also growing up and dealing with odd emotions and things from my childhood that were taking a toll on me coming into an adult, trickled into some of the stuff i was trying to convey in the lyrics. its interesting though, as swing kids just recorded two songs when we did the recent reunion. one was redone, or finally completely written, the song “situation on mars”. originally it was just a mess that we created in the studio. at times, even felt like filler. so we write it properly. the additional lyrics that i wrote had more meaning to me than ever. the song took a turn and could be applied to a few things in my life. the lyrics were also written for the band, and even for eric allen, who passed away after the band originally broke up. but i tend to leave the lyrics, specially in swing kids, open ended, for the listener to use them however they want to. the other song we wrote and recorded, “fake teeth”, is about a band in specific that caught wind of swing kids, sort of late in the game and cashed in on something that was not theirs, hence basing their career on something as obvious as culture theft. i think that we benefited in ways by disbanding at a point in time, then coming back to what we did, after we had created a legitimate fan base, and how we still managed to hold onto our dignity.”

Swing Kids – “Intro To Photography” (live, 1996):

Let’s Make A List: An America Is Just A Word Update

I’m happy to announce another addition to the America Is Just A Word roster of voices involved in the book. Chris Leo, frontman of The Van Pelt, will lend his voice to the evolving narrative. The Van Pelt were a part of the post-hardcore/emo scene in New York City in the mid 90s and were quite entrenched in the scene. They were signed to Gern Blandsten Records, buddies with Texas Is The Reason (and happened to give that band their name), and helped progress the general post-hardcore sound in the city. You may also recognize Chris due to a fraternal connection of his… to one Ted Leo, of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (who’s mid-90s emo act Chisel was also signed to Gern Blandsten Records).

The band has recently convened for a handful of reunion shows, so if you’re in DC or Philly, be sure to check them out at the Black Cat (Friday) and Kunfunecktie (Saturday). And stay posted for even more news about the book and the interview process as it continues!

The Van Pelt (live):

Gig Fail

Deacon in the glow of his green skull

Deacon in the glow of his green skull

My review of the Super Secret Summer Surprise – featuring Dan Deacon, Ultimate Reality, and Videohippos – is on Bostonist right now. And it ain’t pretty. That had nothing to do with the musicians involved – just the bumbling mess that was the ICA’s master plan for the evening.

You can read more about the details at Bostonist, but I left out one thing in my review: for much of the performance, it felt like looking at art in a gallery. Granted, the ICA is a museum of contemporary art, but that doesn’t mean that people should interact with performers as if they are just to be stared at and not paid much attention to. It was only until Deacon asked people to move towards the drum kits for the Ultimate Reality set that people seemed to interact with what was going on, but not that much. What’s so great about the Wham City collective (much like the DC emocore scene from Revolution Summer on) is their inherent ability to challenge concert goers with interacting with their surroundings at a show in an entirely different light. Unfortunately, the ICA crowd wasn’t up for that. Even though they moved around during Deacon’s set, I got the sense many did that because they perceived that’s how one acts at a Dan Deacon show and not because the moment grabbed them and allowed them to let loose. How do I know this? Well, probably the fact that people were ready to dance when Deacon was testing some faulty DI boxes, and while they emitted an uncontrollable buzz to the effect of something he didn’t want to send through the PA, much of the crowd took it to mean “this is Dan Deacon music, I must dance like crazy!” Obviously, it’s great when people dance and let loose, but they seemed to entirely betray the points that Deaon wants to make with his music….

And now I’ve gone on a tangent. Read the piece if you’re still interested! And if you disagree, comment on it as well!

Hipsters Say The Darndest Things…

Well, I must stop myself there. I can’t say for sure if any of these folks are indeed of the hipster mentality. My guess is Anamanaguchi aren’t exactly, as they appear to have something of a normal sense of humor and hang out with genuine fun-loving guys Harry and the Potters (who are a very friendly duo of brothers from the area). But, look at this picture:

Am I right? Well, at least the dude on the right. But, as I said, far too much judging for me…

Anyway, the band will be performing at The Middle East next week, and The Boston Phoenix did a little piece on them with an interesting bit of information:

Anamanaguchi go back to 2003, when founding guitarist and programmer Peter Berkman was in the ninth grade in Westchester. In between recording Weezer covers on a four-track, he and his “songwriting bro” at the time, George, “would get some snacks, like some plain doughnuts, and play Mega Man, and we realized, ‘Oh shit, the music in this Bubble Man level is totally, like, the first emo song.’ We were listening to Sunny Day Real Estate all the time and we were like, ‘It’s the same thing, check it out!’ “

Listening in on their tunes on myspace certainly make the picture startlingly-clear; the power-pop metal rings true to Weezer, while some of the intricate guitar work is pretty reminiscent of Sunny Day Real Estate in all forms… and the inclusion of these sounds into “bitpop,” “chiptune,” or, as I like to call it (starting right… now) “nintechno” (not sure that really works for Anamanaguchi, but it’ll do for now) is pretty creative at least… Now I just need to get my hands on the song from the Bubble Man level of Mega Man to know what they’re talking about… Great stuff, but don’t get me started on their Wavves cover…

Switching from that, I stumbled upon a blog filed with post-post-modern non-sequitors that many a hipster tends to flock to in the guise of humor (not the blog, but the writing style). And here’s what a recent entry stated:

 

inventor of emo
i didn’t realize how ian mackaye annoys me until i saw him in person at the silver jews and he thought i was pointing at him.
At least she recognized Ian MacKaye’s connection to emo… in some form. But this is obviously a non-sequitor… the Silver Jews only went on a tour or two (unless I’m mistaken) and haven’t gone anywhere near DC in the recent past…. but I digress. The blogger may not be a hipster, but the humor is certainly in the guise and tone that many a scene-follower today tend to consider “funny.”
For your viewing pleasure, a trip back to when emocore was starting up, and Ian MacKaye’s reaction to the term during an Embrace show:

Interview with Travis Morrison

When I last dropped a line about America Is Just A Word, I mentioned that I’d be interviewing a few different artists who’s bands’ narratives are either barely known or not given the proper coverage. One of those groups is The Dismemberment Plan, fronted by Travis Morrison. Of the three groups mentioned in the previous post (the other two being Mineral and Drive Like Jehu), The Dismemberment Plan have had a little more coverage, media exposure, and lifeline over the years, playing together for a full decade and receiving considerable notoriety among music fans. The Plan’s sound is an excellent mix of the cathartic stop-and-go guitar work of DC first-wave emo, hip-hop, electronica, and post-punk and the band are well known for having put on some fantastic live sets.

In the first of many correspondences to come, Travis answered all of my odds ‘n’ ends questions I tossed his way – poor guy. Here’s a small dose of the interview:

*What got you into music? What made you want to pick up an instrument in the first place?

Travis: “It’s hard to say. I was always very attracted to music. I sang along to Beach Boys records when I was really little. Talking Heads were probably the band I wanted to be in when I was 10-11-12.”

*How did you and Eric [Axelson, bassist] become friends? What made you decide to start a band with him?

Travis: “He was in a punk band at my high school called The Milk Carton Children and being in that band was a bandmate with one of my very close friends, and we stayed in touch as we went into college–really came to be better friends then, we were acquantainces before–and  we just started talking about playing.”

 

Image from DCist

Image from DCist

*Growing up in Bethesda, I always felt this ominous spirit of-sorts in relation to D.C.’s music community before I was ever really aware of Nation of Ulysses or Jawbox of Fugazi. When you were first starting up The Plan, did you ever feel the impact of that spirit, especially considering the year you guys formed?

Travis: “Sure. We loved all those bands. Still do. So inspiring to see bands like that on local stages. I look at YouTube clips of Fugazi, especially on the Repeater tour, and they were just amazing, like Zep. I cannot believe I was able to go see a band like that for five dollars at a church.”

*When The Plan first got started, did you feel welcomed by members of the D.C. music community at first, or did it take a while?

Travis: “You mean like older folks? I kinda got the sense that MUCH older folks thought we were a hoot, really punk and snotty, and that the people immediately above us were a little more doubtful or hesitant or just found us annoying. But I don’t know, I was 21 and stupid. I would never trust my recollections of my social standing then. ”

*The Plan is pretty well known for putting on an active, exciting, and fun live set. What initially made you think to get people up and really dancing during your set? Was it difficult at first trying to do this, simply with the idea of approaching potentially-complete strangers to open up and dance in public?

Photo of D Plans last show by Shawn Liu

Photo of D Plan's last show by Shawn Liu

 

Travis: “Well I mean rock and roll was originally dancing music. But I dunno, it’s become such a cliche now… I don’t even expect dancing per se, I just want them to wake up. Heckle us, dance, throw things at us, give us a cake with pornographic icing… all these things have happened and it’s what I think we really wanted. Interaction.”

*How much of your own innovation also comes from your interactions with other bands in the D.C. community? I know you guys are pretty well known for incorporating a strong hip-hop sound into the post-punk mix, but (for example) Smart Went Crazy were also doing something of a similar notion but to a bit of a different effect. Were you and Smart Went Crazy particularly close, in terms of musical interaction, friendship, etc?

Travis: “Oh, your peers are immensely important. We learned so much from the bands around DC. Hoover‘s weird time signatures… Smart Went Crazy’s tunefulness and colorful arrangements… and outside of DC, Alkaline Trio’s blend of gallows humor and heartfeltness… there’s many examples of that.”

It is the Golden Age

I’m probably one of countless others to check out the newest TV on the Radio song, “Golden Age,” today. Hopefully, I’m also one of countless others to be absolutely floored by the track. The song is off the band’s new album, Dear Science, which will be arriving in just over a month on Interscope, and is available for streaming access at TVOTR’s site. And you’ll never want to move beyond the opening page after hearing this one. It’s just enough to listen and stare at the record’s cover art:

Dear Science cover

Dear Science cover

The cover is a simple, streamlined vision (not unlike Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babes, though considerably lacking any outright image). But the song is not quite simple, and it’s all the better for that. The opening bassline is reminiscent of early Talking Heads, while some of the bridges and choruses remind me of a palatable mix of Michael Jackson and George Michael, with high-pitched vocals swept up by uplifting horn sections. It’s got the familiar TVOTR sound, but it’s got a candy-coated pop blast which is celebrated in the spare hand-claps and the string section that pops up halfway through. And man, is it slick, but with a tasty noise-meets-hip-hop-meets-electro center. Let’s hope the rest of the album sounds like this.

TV on the Radio in earlier years

TV on the Radio in earlier years

The kind of work that TV on the Radio has been doing for “art punk” or whatever you want to call it is reminiscent of what Fugazi was doing for emo (though not necessarily that namesake) about a decade and a half ago. TVOTR sprung up from a creative community (Brooklyn) and have continued to support their friends and like-minded peers within Brooklyn and other dedicated outwardly-thinking musical communities through touring and recording support (David Sitek produces numerous art punk acts while Tunde Adebimpe has lent his vocals to tracks by Power Douglass and Subtle). But equally important is the band’s dedication to furthering their musical output into regions least explored. “Golden Age” is a prime example of that; while their earlier work is buried in waves of ambient noise and oft-rambling instrumentals, “Golden Age” takes a 180 degree turn from that without abandoning their original musical voice. The same goes for Fugazi, the group who ardently supported like-minded musicians in DC and nationally, while furthering their take on emo (and a variety of other genres) from straight-up punk anthems (“Waiting Room”) to dub-infested cathartic blasts (“Shut the Door”) to hip-hop infested philosophy exchanges (“Stacks”) to punk-pop panache (“Public Witness Program”) to fuzz-infested rock bliss (“By You”) to jazz-funk freak-outs (“Break”) to campfire-worthy classic rock (“Argument”). In the ability to further challenge one’s own expectations in the drive to achieve a greater musical creation, these two acts have certainly shown that anything is possible.

TV on the Radio – Modern Romance (Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover):