Tag Archives: Texas

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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Weak Warp

Warped 08

Warped '08

Warped Tour begins in Mansfield, Massachusetts in a number of hours, and sadly, I will not be in attendance. Warped really is a one-of-a-kind entity, and while the Lollapalooza’s that came before it may have dropped their aims to bring alternative music to the masses across the vastness of America (most recently, Ozzfest suffered the same fate, with a single show in Dallas, Texas rather than a full-out tour). Being able to experience the tour-on-wheels is certainly remarkable; a full-blown, 8 staged (and a handful of music-tents) carnival that appears out of nowhere and is taken down by dusk. There isn’t a second that some form of musical expression isn’t being tossed into the air from corners of whatever open-space the tour rolls through, a rumbling monstrosity of noise that lasts twelve hours and leaves you dirty, exhausted, and sunburned.

And yet, I’m not sad necessarily because I’m missing the tour, but the idea of the tour. Warped Tour was created to bring music of all shapes and sizes to the masses at a cheap price. Certainly, half of that is true; tickets for Warped are exceedingly inexpensive ($25 – $35, give or take), especially considering the mounds of bands that pile in for the summer-long haul. Yet, what may be cheap in price has ultimately become cheap in experience. Among the most vivid memories of my last experience at Warped Tour (aside from the veritable dust storms that arose across Fitchburg due to the mosh pits) was the in-your-face consumerism. I can’t say I’ve never yearned for free shit (at one point in my life, I went after free crap at events with a certain vigor), but to see mounds of kids scramble for a free t-shirt from the Truth while not being completely knowledgeable of what those pieces of merchandise represent left me feeling sick.

Warped Tour merch stands

Warped Tour merch stands

What’s more, merchandise seems to have a bigger role in Warped than the live experience of music itself. Every band rolls in with a merch tent crammed with t-shirts, CDs, hats, and whatever you can slap a band-name on. It’s understandable that a band wants to get their name out there, but when consumerism overtakes the music it’s meant to represent, something is amiss. The idea of punk is to be able to express yourself musically in a voice that’s separate from the mainstream. So what does that say when the majority of space taken up during Warped Tour is simply urging people to spend money than do something individually? As Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.”

The fact that an alternative/punk tour has become such an arm of industry is aggravating in its own right. But, the idea that Warped Tour has failed its original intents to bridge the gap of “punk” within the mainstream is even worse. There is a reason that emo, punk, and pop punk are seen with such severe and negative stereotypes, and unfortunately Warped Tour hasn’t put forth any acts to incur otherwise. This year is no different. Aside from a handful of punk/emo bands (Say Anything, The Bronx, Against Me! chief among them), this year’s Warped is certainly lacking a diverse lineup that it used to parade across the country.

Against Me!

Against Me!

Where are the ground-breaking artists meant to bring a sense of something entirely different than the “norm” punk acts (why is there even such a thing as the “norm” for punk)? Sure, the inclusion of Dillinger Escape Plan and Matisyahu (as well as classics such as The Germs and Fear) offer up a slice of diverse noise, but those acts are only on the tour for a week or two. What ever happened to folks like Andrew WK, Beck, Billy Idol, Black Eye Peas, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, D12, Deftones, Eminem, Fu Manchu, Godsmack, Gogol Bordello, Hank Williams III, Hatebreed, Hed PE, Helmet, Ice-T, Immortal Technique, Incubus, Joan Jett, Jurassic Five, Kid Rock, Kottonmouth Kings, L7, Limp Bizkit, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Misfits, NERD, No Doubt, Ozma, Ozomatli, Pietasters, Quarashi, Reverend Horton Heat, Rollins Band, Snot, Staind, Streeghtlight Manifesto, Sublime, Sugar Ray, Talib Kweli, Valient Thorr, and Weezer? Whether or not you like or disdain the previous bands, or any group on this year’s Warped Tour, you have to admit that this year’s Warped is missing the diverse showcase of sounds it used to contain.

In the pits at Warped Tour

In the pits at Warped Tour

If Warped Tour is ground zero for punk on the mainstream level, then what kind of images are being portrayed about emo and other forms of punk? When all the sounds are similar, the images stereotypic, where does that leave the definition? Punk, as it is viewed by the majority of society, is fast becoming a Levittown (if it isn’t already). Although creating a vast blueprint may be ideal for living spaces, it doesn’t and shouldn’t suit music. Music is meant to project individual creations to the world, not blur the lines of people into one big ball that can easily be circumscribed as the ideal for everyone. The minute any genre can be made fun of simply through compressing dozens of its acts into a small box, something is certainly wrong. Hopefully, this is just a short bumble and not a terrible fall for Warped and the idea of punk on a widespread level.

Dillinger Escape Plan – Milk Lizard (live at Warped Tour):