Tag Archives: The Fire Theft

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):

Advertisements

A Word on Words

Hey folks,

Gonna make this one quick and then I’m going to take the weekend off. I recently recieved a comment for my Coheed & Cambria post that was not only in poor taste, but horribly written, argued and against the entire point of this blog. This blog is about an openness towards the entire idea of emo in general, and is made in response to the close-minded view of emo. Calling someone an “emo bitch” is basically reiterating all of the negative stereotypes of our society in general, and are a simple sign of frustration at an inability to create any arguable concept. I’m all for creating a conversation about the topic (that’s the point of this blog), but outside of that, attacking me as an individual and not my argument is just poor. So a few thoughts here…

1) The comment attacked me for my supposed sole love of emo. For anyone who knows me or has read even a hint of this blog, I’m a lover of any and all genres. In fact, most of the music that I discuss that is made within the recent past is in fact not emo. Hip-hop, art-punk, indie… it’s a mish-mash of genres.

2) On Coheed & Cambria being emo: to me, emo is of relatively loose definition. If you want a straight up definition, here it is: a subgenre of post-hardcore originating from the mid-80s DC punk scene, where musicians subverted the rule-based notions that plagued hardcore by imbuing it with ambiguous and outside notions of music and lyrics. Much like post-punk, the definition of post-hardcore relies on reliving the original concepts of hardcore (ie punk to its outer extremes), and the what separates emo from other post-hardcore genres is a strong focus on multi-dimensional lyrics that are meant to connect to all who are welcome to the ideas present (ie building a community) and are based in the personal predicaments of the maturation of the lyrics’ writers (everything from politics to yes, love).

So when I hear that Coheed & Cambria are not emo, I have to laugh. They do confine to the flexibility of the genre’s essence. The infamous commenter noted that they are prog and metal, which is true, they do make use of that. But somehow that makes Coheed not emo? False. Clearly this person only has a close-minded interpretation of emo overall, which was why I established this blog in the first place – to combat that. Clearly this person has never opened their mind up to the mind-numbing emo-cum-art-punk of Happy Go Licky (featuring all four members of Rites of Spring, the originators of emo), the exhilirating combination of funk, metal, go-go, emo, classic rock, and a touch of hip-hop of Fugazi, never thought to pick up the later work by Sunny Day Real Estate (or their follow-up, side project, The Fire Theft) which drenches the sound of early 90s emo in a great lake of progressive rock. These acts and individuals made emo such a vibrant, creative, and ambiguous force against the tyranny of definition that has carried the genre/culture/whatever to its current state. And Coheed’s combination of third wave emo (the aesthetics that mark Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, and tons of others – cathartic punk-based musics derived from the original DC aesthetic) with progressive and metal is no different. They just provide a different musical melenge from their peers, which set them apart in their community; Coheed toured with these bands (on various treks and the usual Warped Tour) and particiapted in the community forum of the record label (Equal Vision is one of the largest independent labels supporting emo in its third wave, releasing albums by artists from Alexisonfire, Saves The Day, Armor For Sleep, and a host of others). To say that Coheed is not emo would break the very ideas that continue to make emo so hard to define in the typical concept of a musical genre.

3) So how come I can enjoy Coheed’s earlier work and not their later work? Because if I only supposedly don’t listen to anything but emo, according to the infamous comment, I shouldn’t be able to stand to any of Coheed’s music at all. Period. What a fallacy of an argument. Seriously. The reason I can barely listen to the newest Coheed album isn’t because it isn’t emo, it’s because it just isn’t that great.

Finally, this is meant to be a forum for positive reaction about one of the most negatively associated genres in music/cultural movements today. So, if you would like to provide a fluid and well-thought argument, be my guest. But if you walk in with close-minded assumptions about emo and can only take out your frustrations on the author, well you’ve obviously come to the wrong place.

So, excuse me for that, but I made this blog in an attempt to create positive change – please take your negative concepts elsewhere.

Have a great weekend! I promise more cultural insights and how they relate to emo quite soon. Until then, goodbye!