Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Special!

On December 11, 1993, a bunch of bands got together at 1208-A West Franklin and recorded Christmas songs.  I don't want to get too into it because I have company over, but do notice that there's no relation between the popularity of the bands and the quality of the material.  For example, Bear's "Merry Christmas (I Don't Have a Family)", Chutney's Grinch song and Megaspore Mothercell's "Little Drummer Boy" were unexpected highlights.  All modesty aside, 15 on the Fifteen's "Do The Stormtroopers Know It's Christmas" is the best song on here.  For the Jolly Mortals song, I got everyone in the room to say the word "Satan".

Whirled Records Christmas Side 1
Whirled Records Christmas Side 2

20 years ago, Mike Chapman was going to apply for a job at a Williamsburg tourist trap called The Christmas Mouse.  For his interview, he was going to say that he was a "Christmas-ass motherfucker."  Here's proof.

Little Drummer Boy
Merry Christmas
Sleigh Ride
Mr. Grinch

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cherry Valence/Birds of Avalon

There must have been something in the water in North Carolina in the 1990's.  Around 1998 or so, a trickle came from down south up I-95 by the name of Cherry Valence.  In a just world, every accolade that was heaped upon undeserving bands like the Strokes would have gone to this band.  But then, if that were the case, what would I write about?
The Cherry Valence rocked.  By that I don't mean they got into music by listening to Weezer and kind of pretended to rock.  These dudes (and one lady) could probably recite every lyric to every song on the first Grand Funk Railroad album backwards, while drunk AND asleep.  They lived it, they breathed it.  They even owned a club in Raleigh called King's Barcade that had live bands and an old-school arcade.  You can always tell which venues are owned and operated by musicians in how they treat touring bands - no matter how small your band was, there'd be people there and a deli tray.  Cherry Valence was one of those bands that made rock and roll worth it.
Another interesting thing about this band was that their guitarist - Cheetie Kumar - raised the bar for women that play guitar in rock bands.  I shudder at the oft-used term "good... for a girl."  No.  I don't care what your gender, race, religion etc. are.  You either locked yourself in your bedroom until you could play Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones the whole way through, or you didn't.

At Home

Cherry Valence toured seemingly non-stop in the late 90's.  They played in Richmond more often than a lot of local bands did.  After I moved to Texas in 2001, I lost track of what they were up to, but it seems like their schedule slowed down.  A few years later, Paul (their bassist) and Cheetie left the band and were replaced by my good friend from High School named Erik Sugg and some guy I don't know.  Paul and Cheetie went on to form

Monday, December 12, 2011

Muscle Beach

Considering the vastness of the universe, extra-terrestrial intelligence isn't a pipe dream - it's a statistical inevitability.  The only problem is that solar systems are too far apart for them to have any contact with each other.  In order for a rocket to reach the second-nearest star to us (Alpha Centauri), it would require more energy than that which is available on the entire planet Earth.  Reports have come in that a planet 600 light years away is as far away from its sun as we are from our own, but it would take 600 years to get there if we could travel the speed of light, and we're technologically not even close.  Our fastest manned vehicle was Apollo 10, which traveled at something like 25,000 mph.  Light travels at 186,000 miles per second.  So yes, everyone take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in the universe... but, we may as well be.

When I moved to Austin in 2001, I knew a handful of people.  Through their hands, I ended up knowing an armful.  My roommate Paul's friend Tom was in a band called American Analog Set.  AAS was an indie rock band from right around the end of the time where being an indie rock band didn't preclude complete suckage.  They were a perfectly enjoyable, relatively harmless band that the girl you liked was into, but she didn't like you because you secretly listened to Led Zeppelin (this is not based on real occurrences).  This is not their story.

The keyboardist of AAS was a tall, Germanic young man named Thomas Hoff.  He had a bedroom band by the name of Muscle Beach.  Muscle Beach was a heavy metal/pop band that - instead of terrible bands like Poison - extracted the better elements of each genre.  Tight, heavy, catchy, short songs.  According to Paul, Tom was trying to turn Muscle Beach into an actual band, but needed a "shreddy" guitar player.  I jumped at the chance.  Muscle Beach grew from a guitarist with a drum machine to two guitarists with a drum machine.  Practice meant going to the rehearsal space with a couple of practice amps and renting a PA for the backing track.  All was well.
Muscle Beach only played one show.  It was at the Flamingo Cantina (I think?) in March of 2003 for the annual South by Southwest Music Festival.  You may have heard of it.  We were one of 47 bands playing there that day, so let's just say the soundguy wasn't really that concerned with how pleased we were with his handiwork.  The mix sounded fine to me, but Tom seemed extremely disappointed and that was more or less the end of Muscle Beach.  He had the odd notion that the songs he had written were beginning to sound "dated." Also, Tom was getting married and having a baby, so he didn't think it was viable to balance rock and roll with parenting (something I have been trying to prove right for the past decade or so).  I almost was able to get my friend Trivett to move from Seattle to Austin to join Muscle Beach, but the stars did not align.  He went on to be in another band anyway.  More on that later, I suppose.

The following recordings are all I have of Muscle Beach.  I personally do not appear on any of these tracks, but I didn't really add anything to it anyway.  It's possible - though unlikely - that Tom still secretly records jams like these for no one to ever hear.  Like with extra-terrestrials, I am under the assumption that other great one-man bands exist out there, never to be heard by anyone.  This is both inspiring and depressing at the same time.

01 Muscle Beach
02 Muscle Beach
03 Muscle Beach
04 Muscle Beach
05 Muscle Beach
06 Muscle Beach
07 Muscle Beach
08 Muscle Beach
09 Muscle Beach
10 Muscle Beach

Monday, December 5, 2011

Municipal Waste

At times, I can't help but be skeptical of Eastern thought.  Was the Tao Te Ching nothing but a way for the Chinese nobility to placate the lower classes?  Buddha tells us to renounce all of our earthly possessions, but that guy doesn't look like he's missed too many meals.  Plus, that look on his face really makes you wonder whether he's laughing with you or laughing at you.

The world of music isn't a pass/fail dichotomy.  This is a common truism that amateurs like myself tell ourselves, each other, and the rest of the world.  "I do this for myself, it doesn't matter if anyone else gets it!"  Let's face it, though.  You're either spending the next morning wondering what city you're in while washing encrusted champagne and vaginal fluids out of your hair with a sample bottle of hotel shampoo, or you're not.

In order to achieve the Western idea of success in music, there are three prime factors. 
The first - and least important - is good old, Yahweh-bestowed talent. 
The second most important factor is timing.  This is relevant in regards specifically to style of music: the Cherry Poppin' Daddies would never have broken the 200 attendance mark if not for the swing revival in the late 90's.  Some bands are able to predict trends and catch the crest of the wave before it breaks. 
The third - and by FAR - most crucial factor in determining a band's success is hard work.  Pick a style, find like-minded individuals that can handle living in a van for a decade or so, and dig in your claws.  Persevere.  Have band practice twice as often as every band you've ever heard of (except of course for Van Halen, who practiced 7 nights a week before they got signed).

Municipal Waste is a textbook example of the above factors.  Tony Foresta was (I guess is?) a few years younger than me, but I recall seeing him at punk/hardcore shows for as long as I can remember.  I don't remember him actually being in any bands before Municipal Waste, which leads me to believe that for several years he collected information about what kind of band he wanted to be in, while many others went for a more "trial and error" approach.  I don't personally know the other guys in the band that well, but the guitarist had his name legally changed to Ryan Waste.  That's dedication.

Municipal Waste started around the time that I left Richmond, so I only caught the very beginning of their ascent.  I used to write for a local Richmond weekly called Punchline, and (if memory serves) reviewed their first demo.  It reminded me of all the things I liked about bands like DRI and Septic Death, but with more of a sense of humor: one of the songs was about scanning the pit for items that people may have dropped.  Tony included a hilarious picture of a guy at one of their shows covered in blood with a big peace sign on his shirt.  Fileden has been giving me problems, so I can't upload the demo right now.  Here's their first 7", which actually might be the same recordings.

01 Thrashing is My Business
02 Detention Mosh Session
03 Rat Bite
04 Rock Hatchet Knife
05 Floor Score
06 CxMxD