Kickstart My Life

Kickstarter has been around for a few years but it feels like only in the past six months it has exploded as the default fundraising tool for bands and musicians. Amanda Palmer, Kevin Devine, Protest The Hero and Big D and the Kids Table are just a few success stories. And I completely get it. Kickstarter, along with several other similar crowd funding sites, has been a revelation for creative types looking for a means to generate non-traditional income from supporters.

This new model of “help me do X” hinges on the relationship of artist and fan and is built on incentives. Pledge $500 and the band will walk your dog for a week type stuff. These opportunities are fun, rare and inclusive. You are a part of the process. You are making a direct impact on the future of our band. That’s awesome. I’d love to have that connection with certain bands. But what isn’t always understood is that this model can only be successful for established artists that have a core audience of enthusiastic fans willing to make that connection. Anyone can launch a Kickstarter campaign. If you build it though, they don’t always come.

What is more interesting to me now is how bands have fully embraced the model of transparency. The notion that bands openly ask for money from the their fans because they are broke or can’t afford a certain studio or can’t tour is wild. The stigma and shame is gone. DIY is now “Do It For Me.” When a Kickstarter campaign is launched, you’re effectively giving up and admitting that you couldn’t do it on your own. And that’s probably true in most cases (and back to the fan connection and the starving artist transparency), but it also just feels lazy and easy. Why do the work ourselves when we know we have at least 5,000 fans willing to pony up $20? We hit our goal in seven days? Shit that was easy, let’s just do that again next time instead of losing money touring! Bands no longer want you to only buy their music, merchandise and concert tickets, but also fund the making of all those things. I understand if a crowd funded project is a one-time deal, but asking fans to repeat the process might be too much to ask. Time will tell.

The music industry is changing. While major labels die, independent artists are gaining more control over their careers. Not having the support or budget from a label can be hard to adjust to. The goal should be to achieve financial sustainability, not a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality. Kickstarter provides a great service, but what if that record all your fans help fund sucks and is a major disappointment? Ultimately, it comes down to the music. Make that good and the money will come.

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An Honest Discussion on Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy’s new movie Identity Thief opens today. It looks atrocious. Seriously, I wonder how these comedies get made. That’s besides the point though. I want to talk about McCarthy herself. I think she’s very talented. Her small roll in This is 40 was one of the highlights of the film. But honestly, I didn’t find her that funny in Bridesmaids and I never watch her sitcom Mike and Molly. I worry that after her “breakout” roll in Bridesmaids as the big, loud, vulgar and obnoxious friend, she’s already been typecast and forced to try and replicate the same performance over and over again. She’s playing the same character from Bridesmaids in Identity Thief and the upcoming girl power buddy-cop flick The Heat with Sandra Bullock.

So, why do audiences think she’s so funny? It’s not the material. Some of her improv is amusing, but not inventive. I honestly think that it’s because viewers can relate to her. Call it the Honey Boo Boo effect. Audiences want to see someone like themselves or a person who can be looked down upon— imperfect, foul mouthed, uninhibited, confident. Those are acceptable qualities, but they are not inherently funny; the same way in which swearing has now replaces jokes as being the go-to comedic device in the past decade. [“Fuck” on it’s own, with little context is not funny, and swearing used excessively ultimately detracts from its power.]

This leads me to believe that audiences are laughing at her and not with her. What if Kristen Wiig or  played her role in Bridesmaids? Would seeing Wiig, or any other young, attractive actress shit herself be as funny? Would Wiig be praised for her bravery or willingness to do anything for a laugh? I don’t think so.

McCarthy is not the first talented person to fall into this trap. Look at Will Farrell. His last five film rolls all seem to be a riff on the same loud, dumb, doofus. Farrell became a star on SNL for his ability to adapt and play different roles based on the needs of a sketch. Unfortunately, he hasn’t found that balance in Hollywood and has since diminished his brand.

McCarthy (and Farrell) are not stupid. I do not fault them for their film choices. They’re getting paid well for these movies and if they want to make the same movie for the rest of their careers, more power to them (Adam Sandler seems pretty content with it).

No one sets out to make a horrible, unfunny movie. But somewhere between the script and the screen, the same things seem to always happen. Studios get involved, lines change, improv is introduced and what was once an edgy, compelling comedy is now the same old generic mainstream bullshit.

I’ll pretty much guarantee that both Identity Thief and The Heat will flop. But if you loved McCarthy in Bridesmaids, you’ll probably still love her upcoming films. And that tells me more about you, than her.

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Fall Out Boy Return

Fall Out Boy announced this week that they are returning from their hiatus with a new album and tour. Their reunion is to “Save Rock and Roll” they say, because rock music always sends out distress signals every few years. The pessimist in me believes that the members of Fall Out Boy are running low on money and because their personal solo projects never took off, they’re willing to put aside their personal differences for the sake of their bank accounts. We get it and most people expected this day to come.

Along with the announcement came a new song — “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up).” The video (below) features 2Chainz and some fine ladies literally burning the old Fall Out Boy image. Cliched, but effective. The song itself doesn’t blow me away. Patrick Stump sounds great, but the production and lyrics are overwrought and think they’re a much better than they actually are — another sign of a typical Fall Out Boy single.

I remember seeing Fall Out Boy open for Mest twice in one week back in 2003/4 (I think). I could see then that they were going to be the next big scene band. I didn’t think they’d achieve the crossover success that they attained with “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” From there, the band became huge and naturally, I hated them for it. I was young, jealous and thought other pop punk bands were more deserving of the spot light. I hated Pete Wentz for wanting to always be the front man and after seeing them again a few years later when they opened for Blink-182, I was happy to see that FOB had actually gotten worse as a live band.

For some reason though, once they went on hiatus after Folie a Deux, it felt safer to revisit their catalog a second chance, especially since songs like “A Little Less Sixteen Candles…” and “Grand Theft Autumn” were super catchy and fun songs. What I found were some really great album tracks. Fall Out Boy is a great studio band. This is mainly due to the songwriting talents of Patrick Stump. His songs and melodies paired with Wentz’s lyrics are pop punk gold. This is what gets lost in much of the Fall Out Boy hype. They are a polarizing band, but if you judge them on their albums, and more specifically their non-singles, it’s hard to deny their lightning in a bottle type genius.

This is why I want to wait until Save Rock and Roll is officially released to pass judgement. “My Songs…” is just one track on the record, similar to “I Don’t Care” or “Thks fr th Mmrs” — two ambitious and marginal songs, released as singles that pale in comparison to some of the other songs on their respective albums. So with that in mind, in honor of the massive-huge-OMG news, below are my top five deep cuts from Fall Out Boy’s catalog, followed by a more extensive playlist.

Fall Out Boy

[“The Take Over, The Breaks Over” and “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me” are definitely Top 5 FOB songs for me, but both were eventually released as singles for their respective albums.]

5. “She’s My Winona” – Folie a Deux
Pete Wentz grows up and writes an honest song about being a father. Stump’s delivery during the hip-hop inspired verses is brilliant. His vocal range and inflections are so beyond what everyone else in their genre is doing.

4. “Thriller” – Infinity on High
The big ‘f you’ song to their haters. Jay-Z (then head of Island/Def Jam) intros the track and then the band acknowledges its hardcore roots. They were way ahead of the social media frenzy: “Every dot com’s refreshing for a journal update.”

3. “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” – Folie a Deux
The evolution of a pop-punk band. Stump is a beast on this track. “Detox to Retox” is the motto of a generation.

2. “Hum Hallelujah” – Infinity on High
“I can write it better than you ever felt it.” That right there is Fall Out Boy’s self-referential mission statement. Why write about your own experiences when you’re so in touch with your fan base that it’s easier (and better) to deliver what your core audience wants? Pete Wentz may be a douche bag, but he’s smart.

1. “20 Dollar Nose Bleed” – Folie a Deux
Listen to this song, then read this piece from The Atlantic on Benzedrine, then listen to the song again. Fascinating. The addition of the brass in the post-chorus puts this song over the edge for me. The arrangement is just on another level. (But seriously, the poem tacked on to the end of the track is lame).

The lyrics speak to Wentz’s ability to craft lyrics that don’t speak down to the audience. It’s also probably the most overt illusion to their impending hiatus. Wentz was burned out. Relationships were strained. The band needed a break. It’s probably time to also credit Fall Out Boy’s long-time producer Neal Avron for his outstanding work. Avron is a legend in the pop-punk scene but he has been able to harness Stump and Wentz and push them to heights never imagined (especially since Take This to Your Grave).

Listen to the essential FOB playlist below or on Spotify.

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The Story So Far – "Right Here"

The first song from The Story So Far’s new album What You Don’t See was released overnight and it’s a doozy. Pounding drums, intense vocals and dual guitars all signal that the band has picked up where they left off on Under Soil and Dirt. “Right Here” is a small sample size, but it looks like the sky high expectations for What You Don’t See have the potential to be met.

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Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

Good pop music seems like a dirty oxy moron. Pop music is style over substance, glitz over guts, computers instead of instruments. Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga—all have tapped into the formula and have ridden the wave of Top 40 radio and veiled sexuality to super stardom. Every agrees that those artists are talented, but in a drone-like coma. Sure the songs are catchy and you have fun dancing to them, but they don’t mean anything. Their music is plastic, cloying, disposable. I’ve long argued that the world is getting dumber and this is just one symptom. How did we go from Jackson 5, The Beach Boys and The Police to this? Pop music isn’t just for teeny boppers and Ryan Seacrest. Just because ‘NSYNC names one of their albums Pop doesn’t mean it all has to suck. So why would a group like Tegan and Sara willing and wantingly throw themselves into this world? Listen to Heartthrob.

Tegan and Sara Cover

Tegan and Sara have been around since the late 1990’s and their sound has evolved on each of their seven studio releases. The twins started as a Canadian folk-rock duo and have became alt-indie darlings with The Con and Sainthood. On both those albums you could hear the seeds of Heartthrob. The synth bridge on “The Con,” the dancey “Alligator” and its subsequent remixes. More recently, their work with club DJ’s Tiesto, Morgan Page, and David Guetta. Point being, Heartthob should not be a surprise to fans and should not be considered a musical departure. The Quin sisters knew what they were doing and intentionally are trying to make the leap from hipster favorite to mainstream powerhouse.

Heartthrob is the most intelligent and exciting pop record of the year. It’s slick, fun and a ready-made dance party. It’s also vulnerable, honest and empowering. Just because the music is shiny and perfect for your local KISS station doesn’t mean Tegan and Sara have dumbed themselves down in an effort to be more accessible.

“Closer” kicks off the record and is pure, innocent spin-the-bottle excitement. Two mid-tempo tracks—”I Was A Fool,” and “Now I’m All Messed Up”—all pack power ballad punch. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” feels like it was written specifically for the final scene and end credits of an episode of Girls. “I’m Not Your Hero” is an expert examination on the burden of responsibility. “Drove Me Wild” is a puppy love story that would make Cyndi Lauper proud.

Tons of credit should go to producers Greg Kurstin and Justin Medal-Johnsen for cultivating and curating the sound for Heartthrob. The mission was clear and the resulting collection is creative and cohesive; a powerful exhibit that in the right hands, pop music doesn’t have to be one note.

It’s no coincidence that Tegan and Sara decided on the title “Heartthrob.” This is their pop opus. They are putting themselves out there to be the next objects of our musical desire. If these songs don’t make your heart feel something, you’re a lost cause.

Tegan and Sara have swung for the fences. They crushed a hanging curve and the ball is on it’s way out of the park. It’s now up to the fans in the bleachers to try and reach out and grab the greatness of Heartthrob.

Listen to Heartthrob

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Bowling Alone

For the past year and a half I have been writing and recording a new album for Parallel Bars called Bowling Alone. I think it’s probably the best music I’ve done on all levels. It’s a very personal record that is meant to be fun yet complex, thought-provoking yet mindless, different yet familiar.

Bowling Alone is now available (on Bandcamp, iTunes, & Spotify) and nothing would make me happier than if you just listened. I’m not begging you to buy or forcing you to like/follow me on social media. I believe that the music can and should stand on it’s own and that if you create something great, people will find it. So take a listen. If it’s not for you, then fine, but at least you gave it a shot. If you do like it, then how about sharing it will friend? I love music and believe that discovering new bands/albums is one of the most exciting aspects of being a fan.

Bowling Alone Cover

One of the big themes of the record is being alone. The feeling of being alone can be depressing, scary and crippling. It can also be empowering. The album borrows it’s title from Robert Putnam’s excellent book from 2000. In it he lays out the devolution of our societal social fabric. His book was written thirteen years ago. Things have only gotten worse. And I don’t feel good about it.

Over the past several months I’ve also been fascinated with etiology — the study of causation or origin; the question of Why? Why do people care about certain issues? What motivates us? Why did I record this album? It’s a very gray area with no easy answers.

There’s a famous scene from Mad Men where Don Draper talks about nostalgia to pitch Kodak’s new “Carousel” slide projector. He says that in Greek nostalgia literally means “pain from an old wound” and that it’s far more powerful than memory. So why do we always glamorize the past? We remember experiences fondly and therefore they’re put on a pedestal for the rest of our lives. As Putnam’s evidence shows, we were far better off socially back in the 1950’s than we are today. Cultures evolve but there’s always nostalgia. Is that because the past was truly better or because we think it was better in reference to our current situations? I don’t know.

Bowling Alone opens with the song “First to Leave.” In it there’s the line: “We’re just a click away/never more connected/I feel isolated and alone now more than ever.” I think it speaks to the odd juxtaposition of our society today and serves as a pretty good mission statement for the record.

If you listen and have thoughts on some of these issues or others, please share them in the comments. You can stream Bowling Alone below or you can get it in various places. The Parallel Bars site is a good place to start.

Thank you for your time. I think I’ll go…

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Rustic Overtones at Church

Rooms by the Hour is considered by many to be Rustic Overtones‘ best album. It is certainly their most popular, and the release that broke the band within the Portland, ME music scene, ultimately leading to their major label deal with Artista. Rooms was released in 1998 and features the building blocks of what has come to be known as the Rustic sound—funky riffs, big horns and energetic vocals.  The band recently joined the ‘play-your-whole-album’ craze that is super popular with fans right now by holding several sold out shows in their hometown around Christmas. The performances were so popular that Rustic decided to bring it around New England, specifically to Church in Boston this past Friday.

Rustic Overtones

Fans expecting to just see Rooms were surprised when the band announced that they’d be playing two sets—the first being one of catalog-spanning fan favorites then a second of the famous album. Rustic got Church moving with tight versions of “Rock Like War,” “Common Cold” and “Crash Landing” which added an extended percussive jam. Guitarist and lead singer Dave Gutter almost blew the roof off the joint during “Combustible,” jumping into the crowd and performing the whole song with sweaty fans singing word for word back in his face.

After a short break, Rustic returned to the stage and effortlessly tore through every track on Rooms. Highlights included rarities like “Kicking and Screaming” and “The Shaker.” Ryan Zoidis raged with two killer solos on “History Crush” and “Iron Boots” respectively. Having seen the band several times in the past few months, it’s safe to say that Gary Gemitti is finally cutting loose behind the kit. He sounded more confident and really got in the groove on uptempo songs like “The Heist” and “Let’s Start a Cult.”

These Rooms by the Hours shows have clearly re-energized the band. Rustic remain humble and appreciative to their fans who have stuck with them for over twenty years. These shows are their version of giving back. So return the favor once more by checking out their music and catching them in person next time they roll through your area.

Set List

Let’s Start a Cult
Gas On Skin
Rock Like War
I Like It Low
Crash Landing
Common Cold
Combustible

BREAK

Feast or Famine
Girl Germs
Check
The Letter
Hardest Way Possible
Kicking and Screaming
Pink Belly
Sugarcoat
The Heist
The Machinemaker
History Crush
The Shaker
Iron Boots
Outro

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