How I Got into THAT band: Soundgarden

Sometime around Christmas of ’88 I wandered into Manifest Discs and Tapes in Columbia, South Carolina, looking for new music. As I perused the racks of albums, I stopped to listen to the song that began playing in the store. It was heavy, but not like any heavy music I’d heard before. I’d later learn that song was called “Flower,” but it was when the next song, “Beyond the Wheel,” played that the hair on my arms and my neck stood on end. The guitars were chaotic, the vocal range phenomenal, the dynamics off the charts. This song, this band, this moment changed my entire perspective on music. When the song ended, I put down whatever record I was holding, walked up to the guy behind the register, and asked, “Who is this? And give me everything they’ve got!” He skipped through the CD blasting other songs so I could sample the whole album. Customers sneered and covered their ears, but we knew we had something special. He handed me an Ultramega Ok CD and Screaming Life on vinyl. Then he pulled a few albums of bands, he said were friends of Soundgarden.

I left that day with records and CDs from several Seattle bands, but the one that stood out to me most was Soundgarden. I was taken by the balance of contradictions that characterized their sound: brutally heavy but subtle, aesthetically complex but blunt, blatantly primal but intellectual, lyrically dense but soulful. And that voice. That voice. They defied boundaries, genres, and expectations. Outsiders among outsiders, it’s easy to forget how unique they were at that time. To me, they were the best of all genres: Black Sabbath, Black Flag, the Cure, the Ramones, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Motorhead, and Bauhaus all in one band. Soundgarden was my metal band, my punk band, my arena rock band, my art rock band. Now they are the one thing I never thought they would be: my tragic band.


No band is impervious to personal and professional issues, and Soundgarden, especially Cornell, weathered their share of setbacks. Their career had a slower rise and a longer arc than most, though, and they seemed to consistently navigate the drama and tragedy of their friends, contemporaries, and the industry. I’ve never understood chemical addiction. I’ve never had that urge. Ironically, the faintest parallel I can draw is listening to music and trying to evoke the high I felt when I first heard Soundgarden. Few artists have elicited that reaction, but every time I hear a great new band, part of me is 16 again, back in that record store, discovering my favorite band. Not once in three decades has someone asked “What kind of music do you like?” that the first word to pop in my head wasn’t “Soundgarden!” No other band have I identified with more or tried to emulate more musically and creatively than Soundgarden. No other band embodied what rock music could be to me more than they did, and therefore no other artist’s death has affected me as much as this one has. This one is going to take a while. The timing just seems so wrong.

How I got into THAT band: The Decemberists

In honor of #DecemberistsDay, TAM presents another installment in its series How I got into THAT Band.

One of the facts about my marriage is that my wife and I are perfect matches in almost every area… except musically. The old Osmond song “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘N Roll” comes to mind when trying to explain the differences. Granted, in our version the title should perhaps be “A Little Bit Industrial, a Little Bit Hair Metal.” Our difference in musical tastes doesn’t change our love for each other, but it can lead to some interesting road trips.

All that said, every once in a while we do manage to synchronize our opinion on music. In 2006, one of these rare occurrences happened when my wife, Laurie, dragged me to a Decemberists concert at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. She had discovered the band while listening to college radio and when she found out that they would be playing locally, convinced me to take her to the show. Laurie couldn’t really describe what kind of music the band played and eventually settled upon a “kind of folk/rock” description. Of course, I was too obstinate to bother listening to the band in advance of the concert and instead used the opportunity to grouse about it.

When the night of the concert arrived and we were finally sitting in the balcony at The Tabernacle, I began to feel even more trepidation. The audience was filled with college students, including three young gentlemen dressed up as chimney sweeps. The opening bands did nothing to alleviate my concerns, as they were both ‘folky’ and did little to interest me. Eventually, The Decemberists took the stage and began performing selections from their album The Crane Wife. I watched and listened to the concert, absorbing it all and eventually found that my defenses had crumbled and I was paying rapt attention to each song.

 

At the end of the show, as we were walking out of the Tabernacle, Laurie asked me what I thought of the concert. I believe that my response was “They were very talented, musically.” I just couldn’t admit to her (or even myself) that I had actually enjoyed a band that she had introduced me to. However, for days after the concert I kept thinking about the band and their music. It had affected me somehow, but I was still hesitant to admit it. I finally swallowed my pride and borrowed her copies of The Decemberists CDs and listened to them during my daily commute. Within a few days, I was singing along to “Crane Wife” and I had to admit that they had won me over.

Laurie and I ended up seeing The Decemberists play at least two more times during that tour, including a performance at Chastain Park in which they were accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. During the band’s tour in support of The Hazards of Love, Laurie and I drove to Athens, GA and found ourselves in the orchestra pit, two feet in front of the stage. I looked at her and said “This is amazing, but the thing that sucks is that we will never have seats this good again.”

To say that I have become a fan would be an understatement. Like with most things that I fall in love with, I throw everything that I can into my passion for the band. During the tour for The King is Dead, Laurie and I helped out the Capitol Music Street Team by putting up posters and seeded the internet with links to their music videos. For our time and dedication to the band, we were given two tickets to see them play at the Cobb Energy Center along with a framed photo of keyboardist Jenny Conlee that had been on display in an art gallery in New York.

Now, almost a decade since that first concert at The Tabernacle, I am listening to What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (read my review here) and eagerly awaiting The Decemberists’ two night return performance at The Tabernacle in April. Laurie opened my mind when she introduced me to The Decemberists, so she only has to blame herself for the fact that the new CD will be on loop in our car for the next few months.

I guess it is fitting that the romantic love of my life introduced me to one of my greatest musical loves.

What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World is available now.

Tickets for The Decemberists at the Tabernacle are still available and can be purchased here for April 10 and here for April 11.

How I got into THAT band: Styx

Two weeks ago I was given an opportunity to interview Lawrence Gowan, one of the members of the classic-rock band Styx. The group, famous for songs like “Renegade,” “The Best of Times” and “Come Sail Away,” is on tour again this fall and is performing in Macon, Georgia on Sunday, October 5th. The Target Audience Magazine interview with Lawrence can be found here, and focuses on Styx’s seemingly non-stop tour of the world.

I’ve been a Styx fan for over 30 years and can say, without any exaggeration, that their songs were the foundation of what would become my diverse and slightly odd taste in music. My first real interest in Styx can all be traced back to a summer in the 1970’s, before I started fourth grade. A new family had just moved into a neighboring house and their daughter, Karin, was my age and about to start going to the same school. We quickly became friends and thanks to the power of the internet we still keep in touch to this day.

When Karin and I first met, I had an overwhelming obsession for all things “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Mork & Mindy,” but my musical knowledge was limited to the constraints of the local Top 40 radio station. Karin, on the other hand, was really into music and introduced me to the concept of having a record collection. After a while her bubbling enthusiasm for music, especially Styx, began to rub off on me. She seemed to have every picture of Tommy Shaw (Styx’s guitarist and vocalist) that she could find on display in her bedroom. When Kilroy Was Here was released in 1983, she managed to convince the manager of the local record store, Waxie Maxie’s, to give her the life-sized standee of Mr. Roboto they used to display the album. To say she was a Styx fan is probably the greatest understatement that I can make.

One year for my birthday, my parents gave me an all-in-one stereo system and Karin bought me my very first Styx record. Once I had that stereo I began adding to my music collection by taping my favorite songs off of the radio and saving up to buy records of my own. Of course, if Karin introduced me to a band, I became an instant fan. That said, nothing she introduced me to stuck to my heart as much as the music of Styx.

Styx during the 2013 Midwest Rock N Roll Express - photo by Michael Bradley

Styx during the 2013 Midwest Rock N Roll Express – photo by Michael Bradley

 

I would listen to Styx’s Paradise Theater over and over while I read books or played with my action figures. Eventually I added other Styx albums to my collection, but never delved too far back into their musical history. In fact, until I was a teenager, I preferred Styx’s later albums and didn’t listen to anything earlier than Crystal Ball. Another peculiar quirk of mine was that I had convinced myself that bands only put their good songs on the A-sides of records. I would seldom listen to the B-sides for that reason. So, even though I had a growing Styx collection, I was not listening to half of their songs. It took the release of Kilroy was Here to finally change that misconception.

When Styx was out on their Kilroy was Here tour, I failed twice at convincing my parents to let me attend the concert. My mom just did not feel comfortable with her little boy going to a loud rock and roll show, even if I had an adult with me. I remember very clearly the night that we were in Charleston, West Virginia visiting family and Styx was playing just down the road. I begged and pleaded to go, but to no avail. It was just not meant to be.

Sadly, that was the last tour that the band ever performed with that lineup of musicians. By the time I was finally able to attend a Styx concert (almost 30 years later), original drummer John Panozzo had passed away and Lawrence Gowan had replaced original keyboardist Dennis DeYoung.

I tell you that last story in order to tell you this one:

When I was done interviewing Lawrence Gowan, I told him that same tale of woe. He commiserated with me and regaled me with one of his own. The exact same thing had happened to him when he was a boy. A neighbor had an extra ticket for a rock and roll concert that he desperately wanted to attend. Like my mother, his would not let him attend a rock and roll show at a young age. Instead, she promised that the next time the band came to town, he would be a bit older and she would let him go. The name of that band was The Beatles, and he is still waiting for them to come back to town.

At least my story has a happy ending. A few years ago, when Styx was out on the road with their “Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight” theater tour, I bought a ticket to their performance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. It had taken me almost 30 years to finally see Styx in concert and the opportunity to attend a show in which they played two of my favorite albums in their entirety just could not be missed.

There I was, 41 years old and thinking about all the things in my life that had occurred since Karin introduced me to Styx so many years ago. The lights went down, the band started playing and I suddenly realized that I was there cheering on Styx, literally “from the shadow of the 14th row.”

For more information on Styx and their tour, visit their website.

How I got into THAT band: The Front Bottoms

How I got into THAT Band: The Front Bottoms

 

By: Mary Lynn Ritch

 

I was invited to see The Front Bottoms last summer at the Drunken Unicorn. I paid $10 and had no idea who the band was. To my surprise, The Front Bottoms were pretty amazing and I immediately listened to the band’s whole discography when I got back from that show.

 

For some lame reason, The Front Bottoms were placed in the back of my mind as the year progressed until my friend invited me to go to the Say Anything headlining show at the Masquerade in Atlanta on Friday, June 20. Since I absolutely love Say Anything, and knew about The Front Bottoms, I thought I should go.

I’m not going to going to go into too much detail about how amazing Say Anything was and how you should pick up the new album Hebrews or how the band is still as relevant as it was when “Say Anything….is a Real Boy” was released back in the day. I’m going to go into detail about one of your hipster friend’s best-kept secret—one of Say Anything’s opening acts, The Front Bottoms.

 

After You Blew it and The So So Glos played full sets, the stage was set for The Front Bottoms with three plastic inflatable T, F, and B letters. The letters were inflated almost immediately and the crew hit the stage opening with its biggest hit, “Maps.” The crowd went crazy.
The Front Bottoms have a unique sound that is hard to describe, but from my perspective the band reminds me of an folk/punk beach party.

 

Throughout the set, Brian Sella and company took sips of champagne and maneuvered around inflatable letters. Towards the end, the inflatable letters were accompanied by arm waving tube men inflatables, like the ones you see at car dealerships. I was surprised at how skilled the band was at dodging those, especially while playing instruments and drunk in the sweltering heat due to a broken air conditioner.

 

The band played 10 songs and the biggest highlight for me was the closing song, “Twin Size Mattress.” It was played live with such intensity that it is felt through the crowd and I jumped around with the best of them.

 

After the show, my friend wanted to meet The Front Bottoms and we waited around for a bit before she spotted drummer Matthew Uychich at the merch table. The three of us talked for a while, and I felt bad that I couldn’t admit that I owned or knew of many Front Bottoms songs, so he took out $5 from his wallet and helped my friend and I purchase one of his records. The band is also obsessed with pets so he asked us if we owned one. We both said yes and showed him pictures. Then, he signed our merch and took a selfie with my friend.

 

All in all, I was surprised at how talented the band is while seeming so personable. The members reminded me of those talented friends you have who are the life of every party and just enjoy having fun. Although I would hate to sell my soul to Satan to afford to see The Front Bottoms at the Philips Arena, I couldn’t think of a more deserving group that should have success. I think they will.

 

Download The Front Bottoms’ music and tell all your friends!

How I got into THAT band: Black Lab – review of ‘Raven’

I was actually looking for a song by a different band back in 2000 when I stumbled on “Wash It Away.” I knew that I had heard that song somewhere before so I kept digging and discovered that it had indeed been a hit for the band back in 1997. I picked up the album with that song, Your Body Above Me, and could not stop listening.

Paul Durham’s voice is truly something to behold; it’s raw and emotional, yet somehow sexy and seductive at the same time.

He has a way of conveying emotion in his songs that is like no other. Black Lab is a band that I’ve relied on during some rough times in my life to get me through, just by listening to lyrics that are honest and real, uplifting and sorrowful and most importantly, relatable. When I listen to Black Lab, there’s an artist/listener connection that comes through that is so profound, it almost feels as if Durham is in the room singing only to me.
Black Lab also has one of the broadest ranges I’ve ever heard, from the ‘90s alternative sound of Your Body Above Me to the darker, moodier sound of Passion Leaves a Trace. The band even put out a techno album in 2007 called Technologie, and pulled it off effortlessly, proving that they can do anything they set their minds to and it will be amazing.
My favorite Black Lab album thus far is Unplugged, in which many of my favorite songs are stripped bare, leaving little more than Durham’s flawless voice. However, it may have some competition with the newest release, A Raven Has My Heart, which continues to blow me away every time I listen to it.
A Raven Has My Heart was completely funded by Black Lab fans through Kickstarter, and I am proud to be one of them. I’m also proud that one of my favorite bands in the world is finally getting more exposure, because they deserve it. Black Lab is usually the first band I recommend to friends and I like to tell them it is truly the best music they have never heard.

 

A Raven Has My Heart Review:

Black Lab is a band that has done its share of genre-swapping, from the ‘90s alternative sound of 1997’s Your Body Above Me—the album that spawned the hit “Wash It Away”—to an album of nothing but techno called, appropriately, Technologie and nearly everything in between. The band is not only musically versatile, but possesses a rare gift in that no matter which genre it chooses, it sounds like the right one.

With the new album, A Raven Has My Heart, Black Lab has embraced a dark, lush electronic sound, first hinted at with 2007’s Passion Leaves a Trace. A Raven Has My Heart starts off like a quiet storm with “Unfamiliar Sky,” setting the tone for the entire album with soft, almost ethereal synths and Paul Durham’s flawless vocals shining through.

“Gravity” is probably the best track here, with an expansive electronic sound that fills every sense, commanding that you stop and listen. Durham’s lyrics are heart-wrenching (“The pain just goes on and on…chained to your love”), and his raw, emotional delivery is breathtaking. This is the song that, upon first listen, literally made me stop in my tracks and think, “Wow, this is incredible.”

Another standout song is “Part of Me,” a swelling outpouring of emotion from Durham that speaks to the emotional depths of heartbreak and longing. “Further” is an anthem about staying strong and never giving up (“There ain’t nothing that can keep you from getting back up”), while “Radio Tonight” is the opposite end of the spectrum with a fun, borderline dance vibe.
With A Raven Has My Heart, Durham and co-founder Andy Ellis have ventured into a new territory for Black Lab and they wear it extremely well, proving that, at least for this listener, everything they touch will turn to gold. Hear free previews and order at http://blacklabworld.com/