Saturday, September 26, 2009

Indie Accuracy

Hello [Inlander],

In the recent article "Indie-spensible" [Sept. 24-30 2009, p. 45], I noticed several inaccuracies that were used to make a bigger point about the state of indie music today.

Specifically, suggesting that band like Oasis, Hanson and Bloc Party are signed to major labels shows a lack of research and doesn't take into account the difference between being a major-label band and independently produced albums being distributed by a major label. To say that they are the same thing would be akin to calling Guinness an American beer because it has a large US distributor.

When Oasis were originally searching for record deals, they wanted to go with Creation Records, which at the time was a highly successful independent UK label. Around the same time they were finally signed, Creation was undergoing financial troubles and had to sell to Sony. So while it is fair to say that their albums from 1994-2000 were released as imprints of a major label, that is no longer the case. In fact, since 2000, all Oasis music has been released under what was originally an imprint of Creation -- Big Brother Recordings. Their older albums now have Big Brother catalogue numbers.

Big Brother records has a distribution deal with Sony in the UK, and with Warner Bros./Reprise in the US, though it remains an independent label. In addition to releasing their own material, old Creation standbys Happy Mondays also released some of their more recent music through Big Brother.

(sources: 1, 2 and 3. And while Wiki isn't the be-all end-all of sources, of course, these entries aren't full of conjecture either.)

Is it some tiny label with lo-fi everything? No, but I'm not sure why a band should be faulted for wanting the smoothest distribution process, especially when they move such a high quantity of albums (Just look at the sales from the last album, Dig Out Your Soul.).

You say that indie is a sensibility, one that means doing your own thing and sticking by your ideals. If that's the definition, and if Big Brother is an independent label, then what's the problem here? Too many people bought their album?

In the June 2009 issue of Q Magazine, Noel Gallagher was asked about loyalty, professional and otherwise, and he said, "[Creation founder] Alan McGee would tell you: he thought for six months I'd blow him out because we had bigger offers than Creation's. But I'm a man of my word, professionally."

Now, one can easily label me as an Oasis superfan (and I am, unabashedly), which is why I recognized the major-label assumption as incorrect right away. If one didn't know any better, they would read the list of names provided in the opening paragraph of your article and take it as fact.

But what about the bands I only like but don't know a lot about? Or ones I have no strong feelings for either way? I did a little further research.

Bloc Party, while they do have (again) distribution through Atlantic, their record company is the independent Wichita Recordings. And though I do not know what the criteria is for this award, their album Silent Alarm was given the 2006 PLUG 'Indie Album of the Year' award. (source)

Hanson, meanwhile, are on the independent 3CG Records. While they did begin their career on a major label, they left in 2003. Their distributor in the UK is another independent label, Cooking Vinyl. (source)

So if you want to quibble about major label distributors and say that makes a band ineligible for the 'indie' blessing, fine. We all draw the line in different ways. Saying that Hanson is not 'indie,' however, shows a major lack of research.

Also, I'm confused as to why you would refer to The Shins as having sold out. For most of their career, they were on Sub Pop records, and now are on the label Aural Apothecary. I don't quite understand the attitude that a band has to be only known by a few in order to be considered indie. If being recognized was besides the point, why would anyone want a record deal in the first place? If a band is creating just for the sake of creating, then why venture out of the garage/basement? Why is it so distasteful to some music fans that a band might want to succeed and go beyond only making ends meet?

As far as the subject of the article, The Most Serene Republic: What sort of face are we presenting to them as a city if the feature in the popular weekly essentially says, "Hey guys, we think you're great, but if you continue on this path to success, we'll have call you sell-outs. Have a great show!" I don't know that this was the intent of the article, but it certainly came across that way.

I agree that the term "indie" doesn't necessarily mean what it used to, but as far as I know (and I could be wrong, I haven't been to Myspace in quite awhile), Myspace doesn't have one option for "indie" and one option for "independent label." Because anything can be released on an independent label. This all could be a matter of bands clicking the best box out of the options given. Fault Myspace, not them. If you had your own label, but were distributed by a larger company, who would you show your allegiance to?

Feeling passionate about a certain era and genre of music is a great thing, and we all have our opinions on "the rules" of the music business. It is a debate probably as old as the music business itself. However, a dismissive attitude mixed with poor research shouldn't be the way to go about it. Success isn't a bad thing. Having your own label and asking for help getting it out there isn't a bad thing. Disagree? Well, all right. Next time, use better examples.

(This was an email sent to both the author of the article and the editor of The Inlander. I am a near-weekly reader of The Inlander, and while I do have the occasional passing complaint about their content, they're still a worthwhile publication and of great value to Spokane. However, for obvious reasons, I couldn't let this last inaccuracy go unnoticed.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Other Haunts:

Both Tyson and I have pages over on the Creative Profiles section of the RiVerSpeAK blog. RiVerSpeAK, in addition to being another local site that one has to think twice to spell correctly, is meant to be a central area for all of Spokane's creative culture to promote themselves and each other. One stop shopping, if you will. The site is in its infancy, so there's only a decent handful of profiles right now, but soon there will be contributors writing for the blog (including yours truly), along with interviews and a calendar of some sort. I wrote a bit about it in Issue #9.

Tyson's page has a few examples of his photography, and mine has one fiction sample and one non-fiction sample, both of which should be familiar to anyone who has read my column or this page.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Compulsive Chronicles #9: Solo Efforts

(Photo by Tyson.)

Compulsive Chronicles is an ongoing column for SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine. Each month, I post supplementary material relating to the column on this page. This month, I discuss the perils and triumphs of solo albums.

Here are some of my favorite songs from artists who broke away from the band and released their own material:

1. Why Not Nothing? - Richard Ashcroft (The Verve)
I ain’t got time for your politics
or your masquerading Machiavellian tricks, good-bye
You know I ain’t got the time

It took me a little while to devote enough attention to his solo work. Old Boyfriend bought me the first one for my 18th birthday (along with some clipped interviews from magazines, which was thoughtful of him), and I’ll admit I didn’t give it enough attention then. I was busy diving into Ryan Adams, The Frames and the last Bush album. Not until 2006, when I officially started in on my book again, did I start playing him more often, at once aghast that I’d let the music sit on my shelf for five years.

It’s a high road on your own, you gotta learn the way you do
Take my advice, don’t let ‘em treat you like a fool
Hey, pain, I’m going to look you in the eye,
that’s when we started singing

On a trip back from Montana in 2007, I spun into Rockin’ Rudys when I passed through Missoula. While their music selection is not as spectacular as years past, I can’t very well not look at what they have. Both Keys to the World and Human Conditions sat in the used bin, and though I was also buying a Tracy Bonham album I didn’t know existed until then (Blink the Brightest), there’s tradition to follow. One must spend more money than originally planned while music shopping. The shops are dying, man — Support the cause!

“Why Not Nothing?” opens Keys to the World and it’s a massive, fantastic, defiant kick in the ass. I love the horns, the volume and the steadfast confidence.

Who the fuck are you when you take that mask away?
Friend, I don’t know, Oh where do we go?

I love The Verve, and I’d love if they stayed together long enough so that I could see them live, but I would be just as pleased to see Richard Ashcroft on his own. Whatever the band’s doing, I hope he also keeps doing his own thing. I cannot recommend him enough.

2. I’ve Seen It All - Björk and Thom Yorke (The Sugarcubes, Radiohead)
Dancer in the Dark has to be one of the saddest movies of all time. The year it came out, I heard all about how great and well-made it was supposed to be, and that despite her real-life crazy, Björk put on the performance of her life. The movie is all these things, but oh wow, does it hit you right in the gut. Unless you’re a sucker for punishment, it’s not for repeat viewing.

Strangely, the soundtrack (entitled Selmasongs) does not affect me in the same way. Although the songs feature prominently throughout the film, I could separate the two, including a long stretch in high school where I used to put on the music while I fell asleep. We’ll let someone else infer what that might say about me or my occasional state of mind.

What about China? Have you seen the Great Wall?
— All walls are great if the roof doesn’t fall

Thom Yorke makes a great duet partner, as also evidenced on PJ Harvey’s “This Mess We’re In.” Being only a casual Radiohead fan, I didn’t recognize his voice here at first. He sings in a very low and measured way, letting Björk do all the vocal gymnastics.

The sounds of trains morph into a drum beat and the orchestra is at once haunting and gorgeous. Though I own just three of her albums, I find Björk’s music fascinating. Even when I don’t love it, there’s always something surprising.

3. Wise Up - Aimee Mann (‘Til Tuesday)
I know it seems lazy to reference the Magnolia soundtrack when Aimee Mann has such an extensive back catalogue. Still, the set of songs used in that movie stand up as some of the best she’s ever done. Paul Thomas Anderson says she is “the greatest articulator of the biggest things we think about, ‘How can anyone love me?’ ‘Why the hell would anyone love me?’ and the old favorite, ‘Why would I love anyone when all it means is torture?’”

You got
What you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though

Her songs are aching and lonely, beautiful, and yet not always hopeful. There’s an edge of madness, and those are always the fun things to write about. Pick apart feelings, pick apart what we try so hard to push back, stare out into the world and try hard to not look so disheartened.

When I watched the movie — back when it took two VHS tapes to get through it all — I remember thinking that the only way these people’s problems might be solved was if the world came to a sudden end. The characters seemed so impossibly sad and screwed up, it was hard to know what they should do.

You’re sure
There’s a cure
And you have finally found it, you think
One drink
Will shrink you ‘til you’re underground

For as much as I like confidence, there’s nothing wrong with melancholy either. Sometimes the confidence only covers what lies beneath, and only sociopaths are above insecurity. For all the good that propping up ourselves will do, sometimes it’s best to wallow for a little while, reassess, and come out swinging another day.

4. To Try For the Sun - Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac)
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks will always be wired together in their own complicated way, forever inspiring and frustrating the other, even thirty years since the end of their relationship. On his 2006 solo album, Under the Skin, Lindsey revisits his past again.

We huddled in the derelict building
The gypsy girl and I
We made our beds together
With the rain and tears in our eyes

Sometimes I get bored by his tendency to draw out the guitar solos into long, meandering territory, but here, Lindsey goes back to the brisk finger-picking that should impress anyone. This song is both nostalgic and unwavering, accepting his history as what formed him today.

I don’t know that any of the good successes come without struggle, and we learn from every failure. It’s worth looking back on the times where we wanted everything, but had no idea how to get there.

And who will be the one
To say it was no good what we done
I dare anyone to say we were too young
We were only trying for the sun

5. Cheers Darlin’ - Damien Rice (Juniper)
I have a great affinity for the sounds of glassware used in songs. Whether in Ani DiFranco’s “Diner,” The Cardinals’ “Cherry Lane,” perhaps it provides a sense of immediacy, the feeling of being right there and experiencing the music as part of a community of listeners. In “Cheers Darlin,’” it comes as the encouragement of a marital toast, when we’re all supposed to give our well wishes.

I got your wedding bells in my ear
Cheers darlin’, you gave me three cigarettes
to smoke away my tears
and I die when you mention his name

I’ve always said that Damien Rice makes the sort of music that’s stab-you-in-the-heart good. He is a howl of loneliness and introspection, crashing through love lost and love never had at all. The songs sound so personal, yet so identifiable — How does one’s chest not seize just a bit while hearing them?

I should have kissed you
when we were running in the rain
What am I, darlin’ ?
A whisper in your ear? A piece of your cake?

When does the ache of “never meant to be” go away? I don’t know. Maybe that’s why some of us write or play music — We’re forever trying to figure it out. The messy inertia of minds, how the past informs the future, all these words meditating on what we mean to one another, we keep searching.

Honorable Mentions:
Teotihuacan - Noel Gallagher
(because I just can’t help myself)
What is this, you ask? Likely forgotten by everyone but the most fervent among us, this is Noel’s contribution to the first X-Files movie soundtrack. Played over the second half of the end credits, it’s entirely instrumental, features a lot of drum machine, and you can bet we all stayed to see his name roll across the screen. The X-Files is one of my favorite TV shows, and of course, I enjoy it when things I love overlap.

Candy - Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson (The Stooges, The B52s)
Kate Pierson’s voice gets stuck in my head about every time I hear it, and sometimes just thinking of this song or her band’s “Deadbeat Club” causes her to occupy by brain for a good day or two, on a loop. Could be worse, I suppose. At least I like hearing this song. And I’ve always liked Iggy Pop, even though I don’t own a lot by him. Lately, my main source of his songs is through videos on VH1 Classic.