Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

Interview with Chris Simpson

It’s an absolute pleasure to bring Chris Simpson into the America Is Just A World fold.

Part of my inclination for adding more interviews and material to what I’ve already written for the book is to really uncover the narratives that have been overlooked, and no band’s lifetime has the same mixture of mild coverage and crass disregard for the group’s actual story like Mineral. For many, Mineral was a pre-eminent mid-90s emo act, if not the pre-eminent act of the time. And yet, a large portion of their story is generally unknown, despite the band’s importance on future generations of C chord pluckers.

Andy Greenwald dedicates three pages or so to the band in Nothing Feels Gooda whole three pages! On Greenwald’s terms, that’s an infinite space for a band to take up if the name of their project doesn’t start with a “Dashboard”. Without speaking to Simpson, Jeremy Gomez (bass), Scott McCarver (guitar), or Gabriel Wiley (drums), Greenwald conveniently tried to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Fortunately, Simpson has been kind enough to lend some time to this ongoing project of mine, and was able to jot down some answers to my endless stream of email questions. As you can see from just a sampling of this material, his perspective will be genuinely helpful for the final version of America Is Just A Word.

Here goes:

Tell me about your personal experience growing up. When did music first hit you, or was it something that was always a part of your life? When did you start playing music?

Chris Simpson: “I lived in Denver, CO from the age of 4-17, so it feels like where I grew up for the most part. I was really into sports as a kid and got into skateboarding in my early teens. My mom was very passionate about music and we always had to listen to whatever she was hot for at the time. My first musical loves were Lionel Richie and Barry Manilow. The first record I bought with my own money was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. At about 14 I think I ditched the sports and skating and decided to go full-on into the music.”

How did Mineral form?

CS: “I finished my last year and a half of high school in Houston, TX. I had met a few friends during school there from going to a lot of shows
and playing solo sets at clubs and coffee shops. I knew I wanted a band and not to perform on my own ultimately. I moved to Austin with my then girlfriend and some other people who were involved in music. Soon after doing so I met Scott and we started trying to write together. We had a very difficult time finding common ground at first. I remember that summer that two records came out that sort of
crystallized our direction, The Catherine Wheel’s Chrome and Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream. We were huge into U2 and Sugar and
Buffalo Tom and Superchunk, etc. We started out playing with a different bassist and drummer calling the band ‘I The Worm’ which was
an awful thing to call a band. Soon after this we started playing with Jeremy and our friend Matt who had also moved to Austin from Houston
that summer, and eventually Gabe took Matt’s place and Mineral, as it was known was begun.”

With The Power of Failing, the album artwork has such a stark, minimalist layout – just a white cover with a little text and a photo and a black inner-cover with a little liner notes here and there: is there any particular reason (artistically, economically, etc) why you decided to go with such a format?

CS: “I think there was a general aesthetic amongst all the bands we found ourselves peers with— Texas is the Reason, The Promise Ring, Christie Front Drive, Boys Life, Knapsack, etc. Everyone seemed to be interested in art work that was minimal I guess. I think we were just
more interested in letting the music speak for itself.”

Why did Mineral break up?

CS: “As we started writing the second record, I began to feel like we were growing apart as writers and personally. I just wasn’t excited about working together anymore. It didn’t feel free or inspiring. It’s like any young relationship I guess. You assume at 19 that the relationships you have in your life will always be there, but realistically, as you get older you start to move in different directions. It was basically me and Jeremy’s decision at the time to quit the band. It was not something that the other guys wanted or liked, so things were pretty sad at the end between all of us. I have ultimate respect for Scott and Gabe as people and bandmates and was sorry to be the driving force behind the end of the band, but you have to follow your heart and instincts.”

What are your thoughts on “emo” in general? When did you first hear it used in combination with describing the music you made (be it with Mineral, the Gloria Record, or Zookeeper)?

CS: “I’m confused and uninspired by it. I remember when I first heard it was when I gave a tape of Mineral to someone I respected who was also a musician and he asked what sort of stuff it was. I guess maybe I mentioned Sunny Day Real Estate as a reference and he said, “Oh, so it’s kind of emo?” I was confused and thought he was referring to the club Emo’s here in Austin where we played a lot in those days. I couldn’t figure out what he could mean by that as a description because as far as the bands who played at Emo’s at the time, I don’t think we were the norm. It was much more of a crusty, garagey, sort of punk sound for the most part. Soon after I realized what it was he was saying and that a lot of other people were saying it too. And they were referring to a lot of predecessors like Rites of Spring, etc that I was unfamiliar with. There was also a real tie to the hardcore scene, which seemed to me to be the farthest from what I identified Mineral with. So, yeah…”

In Andy Greenwald’s book Nothing Feels Good, he pegs Mineral as “a quartet of deathly serious young men,” yet, all lyrical connotations
aside, it doesn’t seem to be the case – the liner notes to the Power of Failing include a description that states “Mineral = pizza boys
gone rock.” Do you feel that the label of “emo” has done something of a dis-service to you (and various others) and your music?

CS: “My friend Chris Colbert said it was belittling to the content of the music, and I think that’s an accurate assessment. It was fun for a bit
to feel that there was this movement that we were considered a part of, but pretty soon you start to realize the danger such classifications pose to creative freedom. The fact is that it was a movement, but not one we were going through so much as one the people who listened to us and came to our shows were going through. As far as Andy Greenwald, I haven’t read the book but I think he was communicating something that a lot of people were also echoing. There was a seriousness and intensity to the material which was not necessarily mirrored in us personally. But most outsiders would have had no way of knowing it. We were, as the liner notes said, actually four pizza boys gone rock.”

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A Brief Scribe on Scrunk

The behind-the-scenes (or rather, behind-my-thoughts) on the Boston Phoenix piece I did on scrunk and Warped Tour is still to come, but consider this a little preview. A lots been said online since the piece went on the net about scrunk/crunkcore and its impact on Warped Tour, which isn’t to say that my article caused these comments (that would be a tall tale), but it’s certainly part of the ripple effect since the announcement that bands like brokeNCYDE and Millionaires.

I’ll discuss a chunk of that soon, but I think the most audacious claim is that the music of kids today is worse than yesterday. To hear “punks” say something like that is more than a bit odd and even counter-intuitive, making these folks appear no better than the old rock dinosaurs and their fans that helped spawn punk in the first place. Whatever you may think of Warped Tour, put that aside for the moment. True be it, the sheer number and impact of scrunk acts on the tour this year is more than noticeable, which is the reason I wrote the article in the first place. But, these bands are not a reflection of all of “kids today and their music,” or even Warped Tour for that matter. As of now, these bands currently fill a simple niche, that being a combination of being in the limelight, riding the tipping point of a trend in mainstream, teenaged alterna-rock, and yes, “controversy,” for whatever that word means nowadays in this context (I honestly think that, at this point, these bands words may be offensive and their music rather tasteless, but their actual existence is hardly controversial). And so, because of their infamy, many of these bands are highly regarded as the epitome of why music today sucks.

And to that, I call bullshit. Since the dawn of time when humans found rhythm, there were countless individuals who followed in the paths of those who could morph these sounds into art. And a lot of the followers created stuff that is hardly up to muster. I hardly know the history of music in humanity because I wasn’t alive at the dawn of time, but simply looking at recent musical history, how many shitty bands and musicians tried ripping off everyone from Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Elvis, The Beatles, Ray Charles, The Sex Pistols, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Prince, Metallica, Public Enemy, Fugazi, Nirvana, Liz Phair, Nine Inch Nails, The Fugees,Notorious BIG, Green Day, Moby, Ani DiFranco… hell, even any big-hit internet sensation today, far be it that they extend past their net-worth 15 minutes. Because for every Nirvana, you’ve got a Creed. And for every Creed, you’ve got a Nickelback. So to say that a band like brokeNCYDE shows why the music today sucks is not fair to brokeNCYDE (their music isn’t really deserving of that kind of responsibility) nor is it fair to youth or music fans. It’s a conceit that just pleases music fans who’ve decided to tune out on what is going on with people who are making music today and not make them feel bad for missing out, all the while claiming they were alive for the best music ever.

It’s all false.

If you want to talk Warped Tour, fine, let’s go ahead and do it. I’m particularly excited about Warped Tour this year because the more “fringe” acts may easily upstage those acts on the bigger stages. For the “punk is dead folks,” there are the NOFXs and Less Than Jakes to go around: those bands will never stop playing Warped, so please stop complaining about how Warped has “totally changed for the worse,” because the older acts are some of the highly considered groups on tour. 

But look elsewhere and you’ll find some really fantastic acts. Like P.O.S., who has really grown into his skin and rhymes to craft some of the best hip-hop in the past decade and puts on one hell of a show. Or Gallows, the UK hardcore band that took that country by storm for bringing passionate performance back to punk, on record and in concert. Hell, there’s even Shooter Jennings on tap this year, and his Southern country might be the most abrasive sound to a young “punk” on Warped. Considering punk is supposed to embrace anything that challenges the usual rock norms, the inclusion of these acts brings some heft and yes, cred, to Warped. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg.

So feel free and go ahead and bash the “music of today” for being shitty, but your scope will be fairly close-minded. True, I focused on a particularly insidious trend on Warped, but that’s because I was drawn to the “genre” and its mere existence to begin with and that inspired me to write the article. The idea to write a piece on the “non” “punk” acts would be a little odd simply because there’s a healthy dose of diverse genres and trends every year – hell, that’s what I look forward to catching if I check out Warped on a particular year. But the meteoric rise of scrunk really caught my eye/ear, and I felt it reflected a particular takeover of a chunk of Warped that hasn’t been experienced since the summer of 2004. The rest of it is merely a continuation of what Warped has excelled at: provide a mix of old and out-there acts among the trendy thing for 13-22 year olds.

Anyway, now I’m going into all sorts of odd directions and getting off the beaten path… I’ll be sure to cover some of this stuff a little more in due time.

In the meantime, below is the new video for the P.O.S. song “Purexed” (a highlight from his new album, Never Better), and a pdf of the scrunk article, which is in the Phoenix that hit newsstands a few hours ago. Enjoy.

P.O.S. – “Purexed”:

Scrunk Happens:

*Sorry it’s soo teeny, but I think you get the picture (as it were)

More News After This Quick Commercial Break

Mountain Dew commercials rarely make me sit up and pay attention – I simply don’t like their product or most of their commercials. But, towards the end of this ad, which begins with the familiar trope of extreme people drink Mountain Dew, I practically jumped out of my seat:

What is Jack Hanna, the mild-mannered animal lover who populated the TV on the lazy Sunday mornings of my youth, doing in a Mountain Dew commercial? I don’t know. Do I like it? I still don’t know. But, it did do the job that TV ads are supposed to, and that was make me pay attention. And they did it by subverting their normal routine for commercials (although it still was the central theme).

Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna

The oddity that is Jack Hanna in a Mountain Dew ad reminded me of another reoccurring TV presence; Fall Out Boy carrying the logo for Circuit City. I guess it isn’t odd that Fall Out Boy would do advertisements – they’re extremely popular and in a place to do so. It’s just odd that they chose to flog products for Circuit City, a corporate entity that doesn’t exactly scream “teenage rebellion.” Again, it isn’t making me run to my nearest branch (I don’t even know if there is a Circuit City near me), but it made me wake up from my natural commercial break stupor. Here it is, in its full, grainy, bootlegged YouTube nature:

In The (Music-Related) News:

*Rage Against The Machine made quite a scene out in St. Paul last week for the Republican National Convention. Here they are performing a couple of a cappella renditions of “Bulls On Parade” and “Killing In The Name Of”:

Punk percussion protest it ain’t, and positive it ain’t either. There’s a reason they brought Wayne Kramer of the MC5 out on stage during one of their numerous shows to perform “Kick Out The Jams” – Rage is trying to incite the same “revolutionary” attitude that made a mockery of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Frankly, nothing really came out of that episode except for some broken bones and a tired-old tale for old-hippies to remind our generation of our inability to challenge authority. Sure, there was a challenge, but out of the hostility came no change. And the only thing that will come of Rage’s “protest” are the same old thoughts that people hold towards young anarchists and vice versa. Until Rage drops the tired-out diatribe meant to incite police violence, they’ll be unable to achieve much of anything outside of some press clips.
*The New York Times has a great article on how Western entertainment is providing an escape and challenge to the hierarchy of power in the Gaza strip. Gotta wonder if anyone in Gaza is rocking out to the new Panic! At The Disco album…

*More news about TV on the Radio‘s Dear Science, is getting me more and more excited about the album’s release. Good thing September 23rd is right around the corner. Again, the New York Times hops in with an excellent article on the group. It’s a quick narrative that briefly mentions how the new album and the band are strikingly anomalous in the Williamsburg of their past, present, and nearly-gentrified future. Sections discussing the group’s “allusive” sound and a quote where Kyp Malone mentions that, “I’ve been done with cool for years,” reminds me of my own interpretation of emo. And the critique connecting “Golden Age” to Michael Jackson is reminiscent of something I wrote a little while ago.

And now, a (fake) word to wrap everything up:

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):