Tag Archives: Nothing Feels Good

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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List-less Once Again

Another day, another quizzical top ten list. This time it’s curtsey of Justin Jacbos at Paste magazine, with a piece entitled “10 Bands That Prove That Emo Wasn’t Always For The Hot Topic Tween Set.” The newsworthiness of the piece is due to the two fall reunion tours by emo 2nd wave forefathers Sunny Day Real Estate and 2nd wavers The Get Up Kids.

I do have to give Jacobs a solid round for putting The Promise Ring at the top: considering the type of emo-tive image Jacobs is shooting for, and the band’s impact on the future of the genre. Still, Jacobs does go for the condescending route while observing the genre in list form, even praising Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good (Jacobs’ perspective was revealed fairly clearly when he called the book a “must-read manifesto.”)

Still, a big odd spot of confusion: Fugazi. Or the lack thereof. Great to mention Rites of Spring (though as proto-emo? Come on, the term was first used to describe that very band!), but not even a hint at Fugazi? And instead name check Minor Threat when describing the band? Yes, they are the go-to hardcore band, but Rites were a post-hardcore act, evading many of the redundancies of hardcore and doing things dramatically different than Minor Threat.

But the real kicker with the lack of any Fugazi-inclusion is Cursive. Alright, I get that most people don’t like to include Fugazi into the whole emo arrangement because that either A) messes with their ideals of the band itself or B) invades their definition of emo with something more multidimensional. But to mention a band who’s entire first record literally sounds like a take on the early part of Fugazi’s discography – aka Cursive – without mentioning the inspirational band is just odd.

And no At The Drive-In? That’s just surprising.

The Promise Ring – “12 Sweaters Red”:

Interview with Geoff Farina

I’d been meaning to post this up for quite a while, and here goes…

I met up with Geoff Farina, frontman of the now-defunct and beloved band Karate, for an interview to be included in America Is Just A Word. Karate is one of a handful of bands that really challenged the ideals for what emo can do and where it can go. Where other bands stayed their ground, traveling in much of the same sonic ranges, tempos, and even cliches that emo had wrought in the mid-90s, Karate moved into areas of jazz, indie, and slowcore all while growing to an organic stop at 2004’s Pockets. In the emoverse, there really is no other band like Karate.

In terms of how the band is perceived in the realm of emo, it’s a pretty close-focused view. Andy Greenwald halts the band’s evolution down to zero in Nothing Feels Good, hardly mentioning the band outside of their early roots in Allston and their first record. It’s with a certain frustration towards Greenwald’s single-mindedness towards emo that was, in part, a reason I decided to expand America Is Just A Word and get in touch with Geoff Farina in the first place. So much can be said for the depth, breadth, and places emo can go with the entire Karate catalogue, and they’re a fantastic band to put to print for the argument that emo is more than just melodramatic pop-punk rife with suburban angst.

In June, I met up with Geoff Farina at the Porter Exchange, a mall in Porter Square filled with tiny restaurants that specialize in various Southeast Asian cuisines. Farina is an intelligent, humble guy with plenty to say, and a lot of wise commentary to throw into the America Is Just A Word mix. Below are a couple of selections from the interview, with some pretty heavy stuff in the second clip. Enjoy!

On getting into music:

On inspiration for songwriting and personal experience versus autobiographical in song:

SDRE + The Jealous Sound…

The Jealous Sound have confirmed a rumor I tracked down a little while ago: they are in fact touring with Sunny Day Real Estate and sharing bass players, one Nate Mendel.

Whoa, is Mendel trying to one-up his bandmate Dave Grohl on the how-many-bands-can-I-perform-in-at-one-time? So far, Mendel’s got Foo Fighters, SDRE, and The Jealous Sound… I think Grohl’s got him beat though (Foos, Queens of the Stone Age, Killing Joke, Garbage, Nine Inch Nails, Probot… and who knows what else.)

Anyway, here’s the down-lo, from the band’s myspace:

Ok, even though that is true, i am writing to tell you that Nate Mendel and Asher Simon are writing and recording our new record with us. Blair and I couldn’t be happier. Nate is possibly one of the greatest bass players i have ever heard live or recorded and Asher is absolutely destroying and bringing something very new and special to the band. We have been hearing all sorts of crazy rumors about who is and isn’t playing with us as well as some other insane rumors about us going on tour with this band from Seattle called Sunny Day Real Estate. Wait, that one is also true…. I should cut this short, Kanye is going OFF next door and we have been playing this new song over and over trying to get it just right… I think we are super close. This would bring our current song count up to about 5 fully finished and another 5 or 6 only wearing their skeletons. Everything is in it’s place friends so, again, thanks for being here and being a part of our lives. It is an amazing feeling indeed. I am assuming we will see you in a couple months, no?

Andy Greenwald posted it on Twitter the other day:

Picture 25

But, several blogs (if you check my “Tracking SDRE  Reunion Rumors” and “More SDRE Reunion Rumors” posts, I’ve got them linked) beat you to it. Like this one.

That’s for the awfulness of Nothing Feels Good!

Unfortunately, I don’t have the Village Voice music blog listening to me on Twitter.

Touche Andy Greenwald, touche.

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):

Amazon is soooooooo emo

Amazon released their list of the 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Times. As with any “definitive” list, Amazon’s has some flaws, and some seem to stand out like sore thumbs, especially moving from one individual’s taste to the next. As a side note, yes, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is a great album and will no doubt be at the top of many an end of the year list, but isn’t it a bit too early to put it in the category of top anything of all time? I mean, the album came out two months ago…

The rules and regulations for the list were rather confusing, and when you consider the concept of indie rock vs independent rock music (many an early blues/rock label were, by way of creation, independent, but there’s not a mention of any Chess Records release or otherwise on the list), it’s all the more perplexing. And, the list does bring to light the confounding question of “is emo indie?” which seems to be brought up more often nowadays in a fashion sense than a musical sense. Still, a good chunk of emo produced today is independent and fits into the ambiguous aesthetic of “indie,” and in the past, emo was a strong component of the 90s emo scene.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at where some big-name emo acts landed on the Amazon list:

84. Hearts Of Oak – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

83. Save Yourself – Make Up

80. The Ugly Organ – Cursive

78. Nothing Feels Good – The Promise Ring

45. How Memory Works – Joan Of Arc

31. Repeater + 3 Songs – Fugazi

29. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy – Jawbreaker

If you’re confused about the placement of some of these albums in relation to one another, you might not want to look at the full list… it’s rather… well, odd. But, I do have to give them some props for including The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good33 1/3, take a look at that list!

America Is Just A Word: The Book

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fugazi – “Stacks” (Live in Louisville):