Tag Archives: hardcore

Origin Story

I came across this odd post entitled “The Origin of Emo” on an unusually blank WordPress blog (though the thing appears to be written by a Thom Lloyd, which is the gmail address at the bottom of the article). It’s the only post, and it’s written in a pseudo-term-paper light, with citations that don’t really say much of anything or connote to any one article/book/etc (though some of the names provided can be linked up via a quick search). It’s all very odd.

What’s even odder is Lloyd’s thesis statement on the origin of emo, which he sort of drops in at the end:

Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate did not start the emo genre.

Eh? Lloyd continues to throw out vague, inconsistencies, many of which I can agree with (genres are a culmination of the sounds that have influenced the bands), and some that are rife for contradiction. Namely the last point:

With all of these factors in place a band and or a label had to start the wheels in motion forming the emo genre.

Huh? Didn’t he just say Rites of Spring did not start emo? And Dischord doesn’t count because emo didn’t rise solely out of it?

This happens to be an ongoing problem with people seeking a solid definition for emo: the fact that the genre/sound exists as a fluid and evolving concept that many individuals ignore simply because of the condescending nature of the term makes it damn hard to tack a pin in it and call it a done day.

But, those irrelevancies aside. Rites are duly credited for starting emo: that’s where the term as a definition for a musical sound came from. Period. Not Husker Du, who Lloyd credits as an important factor. The fact is, Zen Arcade came out after Rites were a fully formed band with an entire pedigree of songs (1984 to be exact). Rites were listening to all sorts of hardcore (nothing I’ve read remotely mentions Husker Du though), and sought to challenge the trends within their own community by embracing a poppier sound. They took from many a British popper: The Buzzcocks are most credited as an influence there. But nothing about Husker Du.

And Lloyd’s idea of indie rock fusing the gap between Rites and Sunny Day is… well, a bit much. Lloyd also calls into play grunge as an important influence on emo and bridging these two bands: hardly. As far as grunge goes, the only role that played was its skyrocketing popularity behind Nirvana led to sale numbers that helped Sub Pop move out of the red zone and avoid bankruptcy so that they could go on and sign SDRE: grunge’s influence on emo is really relevant in a business capacity. Emo was a complete change from grunge, which is why Sunny Day startled so many people in Seattle: it was different. They were different. They took from hardcore, took from bands like Rites, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, and many of the DC bands that Lloyd overlooked. Yes, as Lloyd mentions, there are too many bands to name, and many of them he overlooked when trying to tie these two distinct bands (ROS + SDRE together). Since when do you need to fill in a time blank in terms of bands that came about that were important and led to another important band of the same sound anyway? How many of the new shitgaze (or whatever you want to call them) bands actually took other sounds and used them in their own songwriting? It’s always possible, and often an excellent appeal to change. But I can’t see Vivian Girls having taken lots of notes on IDM when they wrote their fuzzy, 60s surf garage rock sound. (It’s possible, but after the interview where they dissed bands that use a dancey drum beat, I doubt it.)

But there are plenty of bands that “filled in those years.” Just on Dischord there were a bunch (again, Embrace, Happy Go Licky, One Last Wish, Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, Jawbox etc etc). And then there’s Jawbreaker’s take on the sound from DC. And then there’s Drive Like Jehu’s take on the DC sound and it’s impact on the San Diego scene: that whole arty-hardcore-meets-DC-emocore is indebted to the DC scene. Gravity Records, Heroin, Antioch Arrow, etc etc. And all of this in the years between 1984 (Rites of Spring) and 1994 (release of Diary).

That’s a lot of time, and many of these bands aren’t remembered because, in terms of folklore or the progression of a genre, only a few – those considered to be important for one reason or another – are consistently remembered and repeated to the next person, and the next person, and so on and so forth. That is an evolution of a genre, not some influential indie band that has nothing to do with these groups: no offense to The Pixies or Sonic Youth, but those bands hardly share anything with the first wave of emo. And because genres evolve, and many within different spheres and cultures (aka underground or mainstream), it may sound different at different points along the way. So, of course emo sounds different than it did before: it’s not static. Some things grew, other bands made their individual changes, and other bands made changes on other bands’ changes. Though the definition is rather fluid, a general line is fairly recognizable (one that doesn’t exactly include Sonic Youth, who were more no wave affiliated and who’s experimentation is mostly left out of many an “emo” act, or The Pixies, who tend to have a fairly basic pop sound that, as it’s well known, is more a grunge influence than an emo one) and observable.

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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):

Situation On Mars: An America Is Just A Word Update

A new week, another great musician who’s words and work will be included in America Is Just A Word. Justin Pearson – currently the bassist and half of the vocal team that is grindcore/noise-rock/post-hardcore group The Locust – will be talking to me about his experience fronting the mid-90s emo/screamo/post-hardcore/whatever weirdo term is out their act Swing Kids, as well as his role as owner and part-operator of San Diego-based record label Three One G. Swing Kids were known for their manic, mathy and impossible-to-guess-what-will-happen-next take on the ferocious, caustic emo sound that was brewing in San Diego at the time. Pearson’s work in Swing Kids, The Locust and the other half-dozen-plus bands he’s operated in have really helped to challenge the constraints that emo and various other post-hardcore subgenres have fallen into today.

Recently, the Swing Kids had a couple of reunion shows in support of a handful of local charities and as part of the release celebration for Brian Peterson’s book, Burning Fight. Peterson’s book is about the continuation of hardcore past the “death” of the genre as written in American Hardcore. Soon enough, I’ll have a copy of the book in my hands; you can pick up your copy here.

Swing Kids (live):

Still Jamming Econo…

 

Mike Watts feet, on the move

Mike Watt's feet, on the move

Caught Mike Watt and the Missing Men at TTs this/last evening… quite a set and great to see a genuine punk rock legend (not to lead into paradoxical statements, just take it as you will). Considering the impact the Minutemen have had (including on emo, as the Minutemen’s DIY ideology was a shared practice in the Revolution Summer circle and even before in the harDCore scene), it’s great to see Watt remains such a genuine guy after what many would describe as a whirlwind life and musical career. He was quite an inspiration back in the day and onstage, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to see him in action…

Be on the lookout for a gig review on Bostonist in the next day or two.

Tune Travis Tune: An America Is Just A Word Update

I’ve got some exciting updates in the progress of America Is Just A Word.

While I’m content with what I’ve already written for the book, I must admit that, from conversations with other individuals and some time mulling it over, it does need a little something… more. In and of itself, I feel the book has plenty of information on the relationship with emo and American culture that would satiate both inquisitive emo novices and academic musicologists alike.

But, there is always room for a little more… and while the considerable literary attention paid to the 80s independent/underground/hardcore/post-hardcore/etc genre in recent years has only increased, there are plenty of acts that will get left out. Although it’s impossible to cover every band that was important to someone, there are certain groups that definitely need a look.

So, I’ve begun to seek out interviews from members of acts that will add a little more clarity to the culture of emo that I discuss in the book. So far, Chris Simpson of Mineral, Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu, and Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan have agreed to be interviewed for some additions to America Is Just A Word. It’s quite exciting news, and it’s a great feeling to do some more creative work on the book versus the enormous task of editing that is ahead of me. Keep a lookout as some of these interviews may crop up as a post here and there. Until then, it’s going to be quite a treat talking to these three…

*Mineral – Gloria (live):

*Drive Like Jehu – Do You Compute? (live):

*The Dismemberment Plan – Time Bomb (video):

The Rap on Emo Rap

P.O.S. said emo rap “sounds pretty unfortunate,” so one must wonder what Kanye West must think about the term. Sure, various blogs abound on the Internet that didn’t meet a song with any emotive content they couldn’t shake a finger at and immediately label it have tied Kayne’s newest 808s and Heartbreak and emo in twine. But what happens when XXL Magazine, the most credible source of hip-hop news next to The Source, sticks a “hello, I make emo rap” name tag squarely on Kanye’s heart-shaped patch?

 

 

Theres that heart-patch...

There's that heart-patch...

 

A feature article titled “Emo Trippin’” is published, that’s what. Sure, over half a decade after Atmosphere ignited the term around the time that emo burst into the cultural definition and no major word in XXL. But when Kanye does it… Feature article. 50 Cent can attempt to rag on Kanye all he wants, but there’s no question Mr. West continues to set and define culture in a way Fiddy can only dream of.

 

You’ve got to give XXL credit for observing a tired out genre-name that was, for all intents and purposes, a dead term, resurrected for time to time to describe acts such as Gym Class Heroes. The XXL staff do a pretty decent description as well:

 

“Emo rap—emotive hip-hop of pain and introspection, the antithesis of swagger—is now seemingly as mainstream as Main Street, suitable for serenading a new president, lucrative enough to generate bags full of dead ones.”

 

However, the connections to Coldplay and the lack-thereof of any indication to emo’s hardcore/punk roots is a bit of a misnomer for what is a well-written piece. (It was Atmosphere’s connection to underground punk, as well as the introspective notions and self-reflection within the lyrics, that had the duo receive the emo rap title.) Though, I’ll have to pick up the full article – as smart as XXL is, only a portion of the article is published online.

Down with the Sickness

awesome cat

awesome cat

Sorry for the lack of posting, I’ve been a bit under the weather. But here’s some quick stuff to throw at you, although none of it necessarily emo related. Here goes…

*In preparation for the kickoff of the Baltimore Round Robin today/tomorrow at Mass Art, here’s an excellent article the New York Times wrote up this past summer about the expansion of the F Yeah Fest. In similar fashion to the Round Robin Tour, it’s all ages, inexpensive, features underground bands, and has no corporate sponsorship (something akin to the emo and hardcore scenes of old).

*Free Music During Times of Economic Crisis:

Today’s music is…

The Hood Internet Vs. Tobacco & Aesop Rock

*Why did Madonna direct a movie?