Tag Archives: Jeremy Enigk

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!

Kaboom!

I recently uncovered a load of random Sunny Day… well, everything. For example, I’d been trying to find a picture of the infamous Nordstrom ad the band did when they first got together, and the searches would usually be futile. But, with the website sunnydayrealestate.net fixed up, it’s online, as clear as day:

That SDRE ad that was supposed to be a joke... notice the singer they hired on the left

That SDRE ad that was supposed to be a joke (from the band's perspective)... notice the "singer" they hired on the left

The big treasure trove I came upon is thanks to a little hint from Verbicide magazine on Twitter. It lead to enigk.com (as in Jeremy Enigk) which contains a variable treasure trove of little heard songs from their previous incarnations, Jeremy’s solo stuff, live recordings, demo tapes etc. Again, something of a conundrum in many ways, and now that Sub Pop is reissuing their first two albums with a handful of those rare tracks, I’ll probably buy them in a remastered version.

But, all things aside, literally a treasure trove for super-fans, and a lot of the stuff has been online for quite awhile. Sure, The Empty Set and Chewbacca Kaboom didn’t quite have what Sunny Day had (it was the trio of Dan, Nate, and William before Jeremy joined, with various name incarnations before settling on SDRE, starting w/Empty Set and then going to Chewbacca Kaboom), but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless. And the self-produced Flatland Spider 7″?! That thing isn’t even getting the reissue treatment, which makes it an even more fantastic find.

There is plenty of material on there to keep any super fan happy and overwhelm anyone with a case of the SDRE curiosities. It was also a great reason to delve online, looking for some of the members previous bands. (Reason For Hate anyone? The hardcore band that had Jeremy on guitar and William as part of a drum team bears a resemblance to their later work together only in that it cemented their status of having been reared in hardcore.) May the great finds continue!

Sunny Day Real Estate – “Flatland Spider”:

Reason For Hate – “Kill The Itch”:

List-less

Isn’t it a little to early for those end-of-the-year or end-of-the-decade critics list? Didn’t September just roll around? August hadn’t even ended before Pitchfork rolled out it’s top singles of the 2000s.

Doesn’t it all seem a little too, well, soon? It’s still just September! There are four full months left in the decade! Some kid in the middle of Mississippi could be making the best damn pop tune of the century with a jug and Garageband tomorrow, but for some reason the lists are done. Final. Sorry jug players of tomorrow, today’s history lesson is over.

I get why people make lists. It’s not even necessarily about “being the authority,” especially these days where anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to string verbs, nouns, punctuation, and numbers together with a complete thought can upload their list to every foreseeable computer. (Though in some small sense, anyone who makes a list wants to be the authority on their list.)

In most cases it’s because making these lists are fun. How do you think the guys in High Fidelity manage to get along each and every day without going ballistic? Top 5 lists! I know it’s fun because I’ve done it (on this blog no less). It’s especially fun to go back and see what you thought was the end-all-be-all of a particular year and how your tastes have changed over time. These aren’t the final word on anything. No way, no how. (Though consensus always brings “the classics” to the public, and you can’t go wrong there.)

But of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t get flustered at some lists. Take this one by Stephen Ortiz which cropped up on UConn’s The Daily Campus site: “Great Emo Anthems.” Whilest asking himself what the best emo songs of the past decade were, Ortiz came up with this list:

1. Taking Back Sunday – “Cute Without The ‘E'”

2. The Used – “The Taste of Ink”

3. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”

4. Senses Fail – “Can’t Be Saved”

5. A Day To Remember – “I’m Made Of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?”

Huh?

What?

Really?

There are always things one finds questionable with lists like these. But I have to wonder what Ortiz was thinking with this list. Let’s just take a think here for a second. Take out A Day To Remember, because, really, what? And as far as Yellowcard, they were always considered widely to be more pop-punk than emo; that’s the “all sensitivity is emo” argument, and in that style of pop punk, wasn’t New Found Glory always considered to be more “emo” than Yellowcard?

What’s left? Nothing I could really consider top 5 emo anthems. “The Taste of Ink” may have been a hit, but it doesn’t place anywhere near top 5 (I’m surprised the band is still around to be perfectly honest). But “Cute without the ‘E'” was always something of a tune beloved by diehard TBS fans. And Senses Fail… I won’t bother there.

But are these anthems? Take a look at the definition of the word:

1 a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause : the song became the anthem for hippie activists.

I’d hardly call any of these anthems. I can think of 5 emo songs from this decade that are more anthemic to the general population (nevermind emo fans) than these songs fairly quickly. Let’s take a gander, and in no particular order:

Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle” (really, that song was inescapable in ’02)

Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down” (wasn’t this the dude that made emo the thing at the start of the decade? Yes, I believe so)

Coheed & Cambria – “A Favor House Atlantic” (fairly inescapable in 03/04)

Say Anything – “Alive With The Glory Of Love” (is one of the few pop songs of the decade that had a 2nd life; once when it came out as a song on an independent record in 04, and then again when the album was reissued on a major label)

Taking Back Sunday – “A Decade Under The Influence” (dur)

See? Fairly easy. I even tossed in a TBS song more non-fans are probably familiar with. And this was all done without thinking what is a better song or a song I enjoy more, but instead what most people would call an anthem. There were so many great “emo” songs of the decade that any list would be missing some stuff. People will no doubt forget the Maritimes, Jeremy Enigks, Pedro The Lions, hell, even the Fugazis when making these lists… and well, that’s the way it goes.

I will probably make a list or two towards the end of the year. Probably nothing as monolithic as a “best albums of the decade,” because my rabid interest in music and knowledge of what was coming out every day wasn’t like what it is today. But, something will crop up. And I’ll be sure to have fun with it.

Passion Pit = Electronic-Rock’s Jimmy Eat World?

I rarely mention Pitchfork in the guise of this blog… I won’t go into great details, and I will admit it’s easily one of the best aggregators for independent-related music information, so I do visit the site regularly. But when it comes to reviews, I try to stray from their pieces. Yes, the Pitchfork writers are clearly intelligent, and are articulate… and yet, they voraciously dispense their harshest vocabulary upon criticisms of acts that don’t so much reveal what is necessarily “good” or “bad” about an album, but really display the reviewers’ own unkempt contempt for a particular genre or band. It often feels at times as if they choose a critic who’s distaste towards a musician far outweighs anyone else on staff to give a record its “proper” review.

So I stay wary of Pitchfork reviews. Granted, if one album gets the “Best New Music” seal-of-approval, I’ll check it out; Pitchfork has a select taste, and it’s good. But I’ll also be sure to take a peek at records that get trashed. After all, it doesn’t hurt one to look into a band – it hurts when you purchase the album to find out you hate it. I’ve enjoyed many an act that’s sustained Pitchfork’s wrath and many that have received their praise.

But one genre that never seems to get much respect is emo. Sure, Pitchfork loves the indie-established emo acts – to a point. Fugazi is always tops for them, Sunny Day Real Estate has done well (with the exception of The Rising Tide, though it does get a fair “ok” from em), The Appleseed Cast and Cursive fluctuate on the P-fork scale, and The Promise Ring managed to sneak in with Nothing Feels Good (only for their later material to get trampled).

But a band like Jimmy Eat World? They’re toast, put on a pedastil of emo in its worst essence and burnt to the ground. They’ve yet to achieve a good review from the site… and this isn’t even including the skewering that Clarity received that was less a review and more a transcribed taunt at all the bubbling stereotypes that were about to burst to the surface.

So I’m a little baffled with the introduction to Pitchfork’s weekly music pick on ABC. When describing Passion Pit’s Manners, Ian Cohen praises the group by saying:

What Passion Pit does is update a real passionate, really sincere, almost emo sound of the early 2000s like a band like Jimmy Eat World, and applies it to an electronic-dance sound.

Strange. He goes further in his review on the site:

Most of the time, singer Michael Angelakos’ half-eunuch/half-Jeremy Enigk voice is likely voicing some sort of commentary on his feelings. There’s an almost archaic belief that a record should have at least four singles and the nagging feeling that Passion Pit could just be another garage/emo band that traded in their guitars for samplers. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, just about all of this works in Manners‘ favor, as it’s the sort of heart-to-heart populist record that’s every bit as sincere as it is infectious– though Angelakos sings in a manner rarely heard outside of a shower with unpredictable temperature control, it feels symbolic of a band that’s completely unashamed, not shameless, in its pursuit of a human connection.

I’m sorry. What? Honestly, that is every bit as revealing of Cohen’s distaste of emo out of sheer blind-hatred than anything about Passion Pit’s music. The description that Cohen gives matches that of many a great emo act – I would hardly call Jim Adkin’s lyrics shameless… perhaps later on “not great,” but it’s sheerly “unashamed in its pursuit of a human connection.”

So why does Passion Pit get the go ahead? Well, it’s not emo for one – it exemplifies many a trait, but the band’s choice to do so with electronic music gives it something of an ironic twist, even in its sincerity. After all, the band was originally nothing more than a cute few ditties made from looped samples by Michael Angelakos for his girlfriend on Valentines Day. It was humorous and cute in its creation, and in many ways continues to be. Because the band doesn’t muddle in familiar musical antics that so many emo bands do, it’s a bit refreshing. And, again, there’s a bit of irony to bringing high-pitched falsetto to over-the-top love ditties. It gives it a twist that some may be able to stomach in a different sonic plane than in a guitar-based state. While it seems purely superficial done with three-chords and loud and noisy, for some reason, it’s high-hopes and dreams are matched with Passion Pit’s sound.

But, as is my interpretation of Cohen’s love of the band and not, well, emo.

As for my take? Well, I like them, but I’m certainly not over-enthusiastic about them. “Sleepyhead” is nearly-impossible to not get stuck in your head and enjoy… but the rest of Manners is up and down and doesn’t seem to have the same, well, passion as their single or a few of the other songs on Chunk Of Change. But, it’s nice to see a Boston band do well for itself; considering the mass of bands and music communities festering in this city, whatever gets any of the odder bands more attention because they’re from the same city as Passion Pit or any other band of the moment that’s cropping up from this town ain’t too bad.

Passion Pit – “Sleepyhead” (video):

Tracking the SDRE Rumors

So, months after my first post on a potential Sunny Day Real Estate reunion, and having recently come to realize how much of a hoopla my words have caused and the potential anguish I could cause in many an SDRE fan, and the reunion rumors are still bubbling. A little while after some newer rumors declared that Sunny Day might be performing at Bumbershoot, I’ve decided to help folks navigate all the newest rumors out there. So without further ado, here goes:

On May 20th, Dusty Henry reviewed Jeremy Enigk‘s show at Neumo’s in Seattle for The Falcon. Henry had this little tidbit to add to the rumor mill:

Throughout the evening, diehard fans would request Sunny Day Real Estate and The Fire Theft songs. Enigk denied, saying he would not play any of those songs.

When someone requested the Sunny Day Real Estate song “Television,” he started to sing the first few lines of the song a cappella then stopped and said, “I won’t play that song. I’d need a full band for that song.”

He then went on to say, “I don’t know. I have heard some rumors,” and then intentionally mumbled and laughed.

Does it mean anything? Well, it certainly helps provide those diehards and hopeful fans with some oil for their reunion-dreaming machine’s gears…

I tried to take things up on my own and email one of the places that might be a location for the potential reunion: Bumbershoot. I emailed the general info line, but instead of asking “will SDRE be performing at Bumbershoot?!?!?!??!!?!?!?!!!” I asked when the last additions to the festival’s lineup will be announced. Here’s what I got as a response:

We will continue to make lineup announcements into the summer. To receive
the most up-to-date information about all things Bumbershoot, including
lineup announcements and Insider Deals on tickets, please be sure to sign
up as a BumberFan. It’s free and easy!
You can sign up at:
http://www.bumbershoot.org/bumberfan/

BumberFans are the first to know about lineup announcements. Its the best
way to stay informed about who will be coming to the Festival.
Hope this is helpful and we hope to see you this Labor Day Weekend!

-Bumbershoot

So, unless an official announcement is made by someone at the Sunny Day camp anytime soon, fans may have to wait until September to see if the Bumbershoot rumors are true. And it may be in your best interest just to sign up rather than check on the Bumbershoot site day in and day out… if that’s what you’ve been doing since that particular rumor came to fruition. As of now, nothing on the site about SDRE performing on the first weekend in September.

Which brings us to the original rumor mill for the recent rumors: Twitter.

Not only Twitter, but, yes, good ole’ SDRE-reunion-rumor-guy Marco Collins. Though this tweet was deleted from his profile, it’s somehow still searchable on Twitter:

Picture 22

Curious and curiouser… The “fiction” is probably in reply to the recent Bumbershoot rumors, as in there would be announcement relatively soon. However, Collins appears to not be avoiding the idea entirely, as he says the band mentioned they were in… Then again, they could have been pulling his leg.

Collins and his recipient, TylerBlue, have deleted all tweets of the nature concerning SDRE. But why did TylerBlue, aka Tyler McPherson, get rid of any scent of this SDRE reunion back-and-forth? Take a look at his profile:

Picture 23

The SDRE reunion-rumor hunting may not have been in his best interest as a Bumbershoot intern… I just hope this post won’t jeopardize any of the work he’s doing, but I feel curious people really aught to know!

The next connection is a bit of a round-about-combo. The Ear, Eye, Nose Candy Blog recently had an insider look at another emo band’s reunion: The Jealous Sound. Here’s the info there:

Star Parts drummer and good friend Tom Ackerman mentioned to me recently that he was offered the chance to audition for a Jealous Sound reunion, drum spot…what that ultimately is a reunion for, is a possible Sunny Day Real Estate reunion tour.

But what’s the connection between The Jealous Sound and Sunny Day Real Estate? Well, it could be original SDRE bassist Nate Mendel. Nate did not return for the original SDRE reunion in 1997, and made the hard decision to stay in Foo Fighters instead of trying to juggle both bands. For those who scanned Brian Perkin‘s Twitter after I posted his tweet on the SDRE rumor may have found that post deleted, but this one still online:

Picture 24

And it remains online. And though it is summer and no tour dates have been announced, there is still something of a connection. What is it exactly? Enter Rory Felton, who had this to say:

Picture 25

So it appears that, at least according to Felton, Nate is working with the Jealous Sound on their new record and an exciting tour announcement soon. Considering Mendel is rumored to be involved in the rumored Sunny Day reunion, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to see them tour together. Conspiracy? Wishful thinking? Probably the later. And considering it sounds like The Jealous Sound may, in fact, be reuniting (at least, according to their myspace post and a bunch of blogs), I’ve certainly got my fingers crossed…

The last piece of reunion snooping comes in the form of a tweet from Lee Martin, a website developer for bands who’s worked with another emo act – Jimmy Eat World. Which makes me wonder what this means:

Picture 26

Are Sunny Day Real Estate setting up a website with the help of Martin? Well, considering that the only current websites available for the band are: 1) a rarely updated fan site, 2) a fan-created MySpace page, and 3) their Sub Pop site that hasn’t been updated since their last album was released on the label – their live album. In this day and age, it certainly would be beneficial for a band to get some properly-updated website in order…

Again, this may all be wishful thinking on my part, but the more you dig, the more hopeful one can get…

We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks and months; as I said before, I hope no one gives their hopes up, but digging sure has proven to be interesting…

Those Sunny Day Real Estate Reunion Rumors

Tim Karan had an interview with former Sunny Day Real Estate frontman Jeremy Enigk for Alternative Press posted the day after the release of his newest solo album, OK Bear. What’s interesting was the conversation at the very end of the interview:

Is there any truth behind the rumors that Sunny Day Real Estate are getting back together?
There’s a huge force behind Sunny Day Real Estate that none of the band members ever controlled. It took on a life of its own. It had nothing to do with us as individuals, and it created a lot of expectation from the music industry and fans. It became a gigantic beast. 

I imagine it’s like a pressure cooker right now.
A little bit. I’m already sensing this–not individually or personally within the members–but on the outside, suddenly all of these people are freaking out. And it’s like, “Woah! Pull the reins in a little bit here.” It’s a bit overwhelming.

As soon as there’s so much as a mention of the chance of a Sunny Day reunion, people go crazy. That must be a lot of weight on your shoulders.
Yes, and people want to control it, as well, which is the weirdest thing.

It should be just yours, right?
Apparently. It’s supposed to be just ours, right? But the thing is that it’s not. That’s the force that Sunny Day create: It’s everybody else’s. People love to own it for themselves and that’s very special. But as a person who’s actually doing the work, it’s like, “Okay, start swimming. Here we go!”

When you are talking about other people wanting to own it, are you talking about the music industry or the fans?
Well, especially the music industry. Our fans have a very passive ownership of it in that they own it in their CD player or their iPod and it’s very special to their hearts. But it’s the industry that is the most controlling. They see the potential explosion of it–and I’m not saying that they just want to profit off it– but they want to see it flourish. With Sunny Day there’s always been the question of why we didn’t get bigger than we were and people think, “Well, let’s do what we can to make it happen for these guys.”

So you’re saying it’s still a “never say never” situation?
What it comes down to is that I just fear getting fans’ expectations and hopes up. It would be just a major bummer to be like, “Hey, We’re doing this!” and then suddenly not do it. alt 

How oddly ambiguous… But, outside of the unknown future of SDRE, Enigk does have an excellent point to all this. Enigk deftly manages to explain the power of internet rumors and its ultimate impact on the fans. It’s something I ultimately agree with, and I too do not want to give up fans’ hopes, including myself: as much as I really want to see Sunny Day perform, I hope that my own words haven’t spurned definitive thoughts of a reunion in the minds of others.

Since I first wrote about the potential reunion/rumors back in March, my piece had been getting tons of traffic. It’s gotten picked up by Absolute Punk, Alter The Press, Alternative Press, Paste Magazine, an emo blog from Japan, and even the Sunny Day Real Estate Wikipedia page. While I was certainly honored to be written up in these fine places, I’ve been a little worried about folks reactions. Suddenly, the question mark at the end of the post’s title indicating some lack of veracity became an exclamation point, and this blog became one of a couple of “sources” claiming that the reunion was, in fact, true.

Now, as I said, I would absolutely relish the ability to attend an SDRE show, but until there is an official announcement concerning a Sunny Day show, it’s a little to early to call anything go. And yet, just the other day when Enigk released his album, there was a new wave of rumors cropping up, saying that the band might be playing this year’s Bumbershoot. However, many of these write ups were definitive.

There was Marco Collins, who’s original Twitter post for that day spurned the original Bumbershoot rumors. Marco was one of a couple of folks that the original reunion rumors were based on, and he’s known as credible considering his closeness to members of the band, or at least with Enigk, and at least for work. Collins originally had this to say:

Sunny Day Real Estate @ Bumbershoot? Fact or fiction?

He then took the post down and said this a little later that day:

Picture 17

And then there’s the Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s Ear Candy blog, written by Travis Hay, who’s last piece on the reunion said the eventual Bumbershoot set was all but inevitable. And though Collins, who retracted his statement, was all but definitive, questioning the very idea, Hay has been recklessly positive about the group’s appearance, calling Collins a credible source because of his insider knowledge and previous positive, potentially-educated, guess about a festival headliner. Though the outline of Hay’s piece isn’t definitive, the tone of it surely is, and the constant ambiguous Twitter-postings certainly show that Hay believes the reunion will happen. But, as Collins perviously stated that the band would be performing summer festival dates and the first two albums, and most summer festival announcements are coming to a close (Bumbershoot’s schedule isn’t finalized, but that’s in the beginning of September, so technically still summer… all that’s left is the Virgin Music Festival), I’m still a little suspect.

But, what might be most troubling about all of this is Hay’s attitude about his work. Take a look at this conversation over Twitter:

Picture 19

And the response:

Picture 20

It’s a little stunning if you ask me. Sure, it’s ok if you don’t take your job seriously; no one in that working relationship hurts more than the individual who thinks of their job as nothing serious. But music journalism, true music journalism, is like all kinds of journalism: it’s meant to inform the public about their interests. Readers, music fans, and people take this stuff seriously, and take it to heart, and it’s a damn shame when someone involved in journalism just doesn’t think anything of their words or their affect. 

To end things, I’d like to take something that Ian MacKaye said in an interview with Alex Cook for The Believer:

IAN MacKAYE: How could it be that someone under the age of twenty-one is not allowed to see a band? I mean, did you like music when you were under twenty-one?

THE BELIEVER: Of course.

IM: Did it mean anything to you?

BLVR: Yes, it meant everything to me, in fact.

IM: Of course it did. It is completely absurd and insane that because of the economic dependency that musicians have been faced with which maintains this status quo, that they are forced to say, “That’s the way it is.” And I think that’s a bunch of bullshit. I know music predated the rock club. I know music predated the music industry. I know music predates the alcohol industry. I know music predates it all. Music is no joke, and the fact that it has been perverted by these various industries for their own profit is discouraging to me.

While what MacKaye was talking about was strictly focused on age restrictions at rock clubs in conjunction with alcohol sales, it’s still a particularly applicable for this piece. Hay’s job is merely another part of the music industry if you want to think of journalism (especially music journalism) in terms of consumer writing, and so his preponderance over a popular broken-up band potentially reuniting is all good business for him (and that is very much an ugly interpretation of journalism and I partially apologize for that as I tend to view journalism as something greater than simply consumerist influences). But what’s most important about that quote is how serious both these individuals look at music. Music was, and is, an important part of their lives. And music journalism is a part of the culture of music today; it allows us to discover new bands, learn more about the humanity behind bands we love, and find out about potential reunions. And Hay’s strong focus on a Sunny Day Real Estate reunion and his positivity of it is potentially dangerous. And while Hay’s words certainly aren’t responsible for the Spanish-American War or putting individuals in harms way, they certainly are putting pressure on a group of talented individuals to do something they might not want to, and feeding into the hopes of many a passionate SDRE fan who are amorous about music and nothing else. And to let those people down on a whim would be unfortunate.

I’ve still got my fingers crossed, but we’ll have to wait and see. And if any member or friend of Sunny Day comes across this and wants to voice their opinion here or anywhere else, I (and so many others) would be completely supportive.

Sunny Day Real Estate – “Seven” (Live on The Jon Stewart Show, right before their first break up… interestingly enough, they were thought to have broken up immediately at the end of this set, but that claim is untrue… you’ll have to read Norman Brannon‘s Anti-Matter Anthology for the SDRE 1997 reunion piece originally featured in Alternative Press):

Sunny Day Real Estate Reunion in 2009?

 

I hope this is real...

I hope this is real...

Twitter is beginning to become really beneficial… the news that Sunny Day Real Estate may be reuniting for a second time is literally music to my ears… History and influence aside, the ability to see Sunny Day on stage today would be a momentous occasion for those who still consider emo to be a viable genre. Considering the numerous groups that have been reuniting en mass lately, this would be a pleasant surprise.

This announcement, or Twitter-based, pre-potential-announcement leak from Brian Perkins, may explain why, just a handful of months ago, Sunny Day frontman Jeremy Enigk refused to perform any of the band’s material during a solo set at Great Scott. “I cannot play any of those songs without the rest of the band” was what Enigk announced after a flurry of calls to perform SDRE tracks. Considering he’d been known to perform the average Sunny Day song solo lately, and considering this little bit o’ news that’s come to fruition, I guess it does make sense that Enigk would refuse to perform any material from SDRE as they may be reuniting once again.

Fingers crossed…

In other Sunny Day news, Jeremy Enigk will be releasing his newest solo album, OK Bear, on May 12th. Pitchfork has the album’s single, “Mind Idea” available for download. Fans of Enigk’s Return of the Frog Queen should be satiated with this song, as it’s lo-fi quality and focus on darker musical tones is more reminiscent of Enigk’s older material than the musician’s slicker sophomore release, World Waits

Jeremy Enigk – \”Mind Idea\”

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.

The Revolution Will Be Produced

It’s always nice getting some sort of personal email, especially when it’s in the form of a musical reunion between David Byrne and Brian Eno. Well, “personal” isn’t quite the right word, but I certainly took the message as a sincere and direct one:

It’s with great pleasure we offer you a sneak peak by sharing an MP3 from the album. The song is called “Strange Overtones”.

The album in question is Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and it’s the first collaboration from the two post-punk minds in decades. The duo last came together with the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. However, that album was overshadowed (and probably will always be overshadowed) by Byrne’s main musical artery, Talking Heads. Yet, Eno was a central tenant to the Talking Head’s success, as his role in the producer’s seat for three of the Heads’ best albums (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light) was as vital as any other performing member of the band. It was because of Eno’s previously-unforeseen creative control over the band – which according to the book Rip It Up And Start Again hit its tipping point when Eno and Byrne got writing credits for Remain in Light ahead of the other band members, who were simply written down under the umbrella of “Talking Heads” – that his relationship with the Talking Heads and Byrne deteriorated.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads

It took me quite a bit of time to realize what an impact certain producers have over the final musical product. I always assumed that the final version of a song and album was simply a record of what the musicians themselves had originally created. And in many cases, that is true, especially in the world of underground music (and on the flipside, with mainstream, conglomerate pop, there’s the tendency wherein the “musicians” have less control over the final sound – or even the original sound to begin with). But as I became more interested in music, its with the “behind the music” stories so to speak, that I realized what a fundamental role producers play. The most famous stories I can think of involving the influence of a producer are all about Rick Rubin, the man who transformed the Beastie Boys into a fully-fledged hip-hop act and brought guitars and turntables together with his idea to do a Run-DMC/Aerosmith collaboration.

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin is the kind of guy who blends a musician’s sound with his own distinct style. His style is not quite overbearing, but you can hear distinct patterns and ideas in songs such as Jay-Z‘s “99 Problems”; with it’s big, chunky guitar riffs broken up by break-beats, its in the same ballpark as “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” or “Walk This Way.” It’s something I tend to notice coming out of my favorite producer today – Danger Mouse. Despite the fact that DM works with a diverse number of genres and artists, there’s a certain reliance on futuristic-soul (a bit faster than old skool soul) with a twist that flows through most of his repertoire. Don’t believe it? Take a quick listen to the Black Keys‘ “Strange Times” and compare it to Gnarls Barkley‘s “Go-Go Gadget Gospel.” They’re both excellent songs, but they share a pop-friendly downbeat and have the same hand-clap filled start.

Strange Times:

Go-Go Gadget Gospel:

It is partially due to production that emo transformed from an obtuse and ambiguous umbrella term for DC based post-hardcore, into a tangible genre. In its infancy, many of the bands who were tagged as “emo” simply produced their own records, or had friends produce their records. Everyone from Rites of Spring to Beefeater (note – their friend “Gumbo” MacKaye is said to have produced their overture) to Fugazi to Lungfish to Jawbox had band members working on both sides of the soundtrack. Hell, Happy Go Licky, the post-Rites of Spring group in a slightly different formation, only has one album, and its a collection of live recordings. The first wave of emo’s lack of a singular mode of production allowed for each act to create their own sounds uninhibited by any outside forces.

Happy Go Lickys Will Play

Happy Go Licky's Will Play

Enter the second wave of emo and there are noticeable changes and formulations drawn out that inevitably impact the future of the genre. The 2nd wave basically has two distinct halves: the spread of the DC-inspired sound to particular parts of the country in a small number of bands (Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, etc), and then the immediate spreading of “emo” under the influence of the previous 1st and 2nd wave bands (most notably throughout the Mid West). Of all of the groups in emo 2.1, Sunny Day Real Estate had the most influence, and yet, they themselves have two distinct parts in which their sound developed due in part to the band’s relationship to two producers: Brad Wood and Lou Giordano. Wood produced the first two Sunny Day albums (Diary and LP2), and the production value brought out a certain aural dissonance derived from the feedback of the band’s dual guitar-work. Considering the band found an instant fan base (albeit, rather small) isn’t unbelievable as their produced sound shared numerous qualities with grunge, which was still popular at the time (Wood worked his alterna-sweeping grunge sound into the work of other artists such as Red Red Meat, Hum, and Smashing Pumpkins). And yet, on LP2 you could sense that the band wanted to achieve something more powerful than the immediate gratification of sonic blasts, as songs such as “J’Nuh” delved into succinct, taught patterns. When they reformed, Sunny Day grabbed Giordano, who helped relieve the band of its excess dissonance in favor of sparse melodies, a concept which has carried on into the band members’ post-Sunny Day work (The Fire Theft, Enigk’s solo work). Sunny Day held their own individual sound throughout their career, but with the help of two different folks created two distinct portraits.

Sunny Days final form

Sunny Day's final form

As emo spread throughout the rest of America and bands began to share musical ideas, producers helped sift through the sounds to create something resembling a conglomerate creation. And the two people who had the most impact behind the bands themselves are Mark Trombino (former Drive Like Jehu drummer) and J Robbins (former Jawbox frontman). Trombino is best known for his production work with Jimmy Eat World, most notably on the album Clarity, a record which traded the band’s pop-punk leanings for ambient experimentation. Trombino’s relationship with Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Knapsack, and Boys Life no doubt formed a core aesthetic for emo which mainly highlighted the band’s talents by simply teasing out the volume, focusing on the intertwined guitar flurries, and highlighting the singers’ vocals. It’s a style of down-tuned production that no-doubt has influenced countless pop-punk and emo bands today, many of whom Trombino has worked with.

J Robbins

J Robbins

As Trombino fiddled with certain bands’ sounds, J Robbins mostly covered the bases of bringing the bands to the studio. In the case of many J Robbins’ produced albums (most recently, his work on Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual has gotten attention for bringing a notoriously hard-to-record-but-excellent-live band into the world of recorded sound), Robbins leaves much of the musicianship up to the band, but makes sure to twist the production knobs in a way that it gives each group the kind of pop-friendly gloss they were hoping to achieve. Even in the case of Texas Is The Reason (Do You Know Who You Are?), Robbins has been able to flesh out the noise-fetish in order to create approachable pop. In fact, Robbins’ work with one band in particular helped drive emo into the bubblegum chew of pop perfection: The Promise Ring. After TPR were upset with the sonic outcome of their debut, 30 Degrees Everywhere, they turned to Robbins for a little quality control. And that’s exactly what Robbins did, delivering the band’s two poppiest records; Nothing Feels Good and Very Emergency. It’s with Robbins that certain aspects of the emo “sound” manage to stand out, because he managed to make the sounds all stand out; rather than bands being lost in a caterwaul of noise, Robbins’ produced material (from the Dismemberment Plan to Jets to Brazil to Braid to mewithoutyou) sounds clear and conscience, making the band stand out. And in music production, that’s what counts.

Brian Eno and David Byrne – Strange Overtones (fan video):

Impossibly Short

Just a quick one for tonight. Caught The Impossible Shapes at the Milky Way Lounge and Lanes in Jamaica Plain this evening. First thing’s first – the Milky Way may just be the best venue in Boston, period. The Middle East is the time-olde locale for great incoming shows, as is the Paradise and a number of others. But nothing can beat the feel of the Milky Way. It’s an anomaly of a club; the place was used purely as a bowling alley until someone had the bright idea to turn it into a quasi-club. You can still go duck-pin bowling and catch a band playing on what is still the hardwood floor of a bowling lane. And they’ve got really cheap and free shows and events. If only JP weren’t so far out of the way….

Needless to say, The Impossible Shapes put on a solid set. Their music went through crazy time signature changes, hung around low-fi folk tunes before blasting them with a hit of psychedelica-cum-rawk instrumentation, and the harmonies were just great. Suffice it to say, their work reminded me of the Sunny Day Real Estate album How It Feels To Be Something On. Before all of the indie rock reunions of today, the band that brought emo to the big time with the appearance of the “Seven” video on MTV rotation in 1994, Sunny Day broke up in ’95 only to get back together a couple of years later. What came out of this reunion was a startling piece of pop music. Although I’m quite partial to Sunny Day’s second release, 1995’s LP2 (otherwise known as The Pink Album as its cover is drenched in bright pink and has no official title),
How It Feels To Be Something On is a masterpiece, a startling evolution and ideological streamline where before there was simply a caterwauling mess. Sunny Day could caterwaul with the best of them, but their first album after their reunion was startling mature, comfortably crafted, and a straight shot of pure emotion. Whereas on Sunny Day’s earlier material, frontman Jeremy Enigk fights against the drift that has swept him away, with How It Feels Enigk’s voice and lyrics are startlingly clear, straightforward, and thoughtful. Before his words were a question in search of an answer, but with How It Feels, Enigk appears to understand the question, answer, the entire picture, and the reason that’s it all there.

Sunny Day Real Estate

And the music cannot be beat. Diary and LP2, Sunny Day’s first two albums, excelled in the world of the DC, post-hardcore aesthetics of what is known as emo. The music lurched back and forth, seething with a catharsis that cannot quit, and a restrained hardcore punk fury that pushes it along. But with How It Feels, Sunny Day stretch out their musical abilities – those which were easily heard on their first two albums, but put to their experimental tests with their inevitable reunion. It may reach out into prog territory, but it works for the benefit of the album, which takes in the best of many rock-based genres for trips into tranquil waters and angelic highs. Enigk’s voice, an uncompromising falsetto, soars to unbelievable new heights, lengths that crash through the ceiling the singer had set with songs such as “J’Nuh” and “Song About An Angel” on earlier albums. For anyone who thought that emo was uniform, terrible pop, or impossible to listen to, How It Feels To Be Something On can quell the worst fears that emo went the way of the dodo after it left DC.

Also, before I sign off, check out the blog Songs Across Boston. In the coming weeks, I hope to establish a guerrilla performance schedule, a flash mob for bands, if you will. More details will be up soon on the blog, so stay tuned… it should be an interesting experiment. Anyway, here are some musics for you…

Sunny Day’s live rendition of “Guitar and Video Games” plus the “Seven” video:

The Impossible Shapes – You Are Not The Target