The Guitar Playing of Alain Whyte

One of my favorite guitar players is Alain Whyte.  He was Morrissey’s guitar player from Your Arsenal through Ringleader of the Tormentors.  He still wrote songs with Morrissey after leaving the touring band, although I do not know yet if he wrote any songs on the new album.  Morrissey pokes some fun at him in his Autobiography, but with Morrissey it is hard to tell if he there is any real animosity or just a sort of backhanded compliments that are the result of his Northern humor. 

Alain Whyte never got the credit that he deserved, largely for the unpardonable sin of not being Johnny, even though he wrote at least 81 songs with Morrissey and contributed to some of his best works. 

I loved the guitar team of Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, but I prefer Alain’s melodic expressive playing to Boz’s more rhythmic approach out of the two.  They were perfect foils for each other.  Although the guitar playing of the two was rooted in pop and rock classicism I actually felt that especially during the 90’s they were one of the few two guitar teams that were pushing the instrument in new directions. 

They took glam, rock, pop, and rockabilly riffs, and blended them into a unique recognizable style.  Under Steve Lillywhite the pair created what to me are the two high-water marks of Morrissey’s career when it comes to guitar playing.  The albums Vauxhall and I and Southpaw Grammar both feature exceptional guitar playing though they are both very different.  Vauxhall and I is very beautiful and gentle while Southpaw Grammar explodes with volume and energy. 

One of the things that is interesting about their playing is that even when they were playing loud they were often including beautiful melodies under the noise.  Vice versa, even when they were playing beautiful gentle parts there was an emotional quality that created tension. 

Much how Paul Westerberg often updated the guitar playing of the Rolling Stones by making it more melodic, I feel that Whyte, and Boorer with him took preexisting rock n roll templates and added a new melodicism to them.  They might have only been painting new landscapes in the margins, but they were still creating their own language. 

Now that Whyte is no longer in Morrissey’s band he often co-writes pop songs with American pop stars.  However, if you like his work his work with Morrissey I would recommend checking out the album Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams.  This album features Whyte’s guitar playing, writing, and singing.  Some of the songs you will recognize as songs that became Morrissey songs. 

If you are unfamiliar with his playing I would recommend checking out both of the above mentioned Morrissey records.  Although I think Vauxhall and I is the pinnacle of Morrissey’s solo career, Southpaw Grammar may interest you more if you are buying a record for purely the guitar playing aspect if you happen to be a rock n roll fan. Both records feature glorious guitar playing that in and of itself has unfortunately been overlooked for too long.   

The Myth of Rock N Roll and Icarus

I’m diving back into Marah’s catalogue after getting their excellent Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania album.  I found a gloriously fun song by Dave and Serge Bielanko, the two brothers that fronted Marah, at least until Serge went on hiatus to raise his daughter.  The song is called Livin’ On the Road.  It’s from a compilation called Camp Black Dog Presents: Rock & Roll Summer Camp ’98

The song is a ridiculous rock n roll tale driven by banjo.  It sounds like it came from somewhere between Ireland and the Louisiana bayou, but its spirit is completely rock n roll.  It features lines such as, “I was a cocaine addict, I did the cocaine a thousand times.”  Another choice line is, “I was a hooker’s lover, an undercover friend of whores.”  In lesser hands, my mind drifts to all the red dirt bands singing about whiskey, these lines might come across as fake rebellion.  But Dave and Serge have such great trashy rock n roll singing voices, and the song is played with such enthusiasm, that one can’t help but feel like defying the laws of decency and nature while listening to it. 

I think most rock n roll myths are pure bullshit.  However, when delivered in the right hands they do serve a purpose.  Most people, at least at one time or another, live lives dealing with some kind oppression.  The defiant rock n roller is like Icarus.  They are flying higher and closer to the sun than should be allowed, defying the gods.  You know that eventually their wings might melt, but they have made it further than most. 

We live in an absurd universe.  I don’t have to tell you that.  Just watch the news, or TV commercials, or politicians, or so many other things.  It’s often easy to feel like there is no sense to things and that the Creator went on vacation somewhere along the line.  Many people are forced to work jobs that they have no passion for, while others have to deal with sicknesses that aren’t their fault.  Fate can be cruel.  However, the rock n roller is like some weird mutant that can fly onward and upward, at least for a little while, in spite of such things.  I think that’s why so many want to believe in the myth of rock n roll, even if much of it is a myth.  To paraphrase the last line of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle:  They are lying on their backs, thumbing their nose at You Know Who.  

The Making of A Manual for Defeat: Part 2

No Show Ponies new album, A Manual for Defeat, comes out tomorrow exclusively through www.noshowponies.com.  

Before I go any father on the personal story of how our new album was made, I think it is best that I should acknowledge the outside forces that shaped its character.  While by no means a “protest” or literal and dogmatic political record, the modern world in all of its absurdity and casual cruelness is never far from view.  Make Businessmen Cry, I’m Not Listening to the Radio, The Great Divide, and People are Lonely, are just a few of the titles that I think give you a clue as to where our heads were at. 

We moved to Austin at the height of the Bush era.  We became adults during the War on Terror and The Great Recession.  We watched as the hope of the early Obama administration morphed into endless drone wars and continued economic stagnation.  We picked a drone for the front of our album cover because we felt it was one of the symbols that we felt best represented the modern age.  There it is in all of its beguiling wonder and terror.  We can do almost anything, but should we?  Progress is no longer a straight ascension, but a choice of forks in the road.  Perhaps it has always been that way. 

We chose songs for this album that represented emotionally how we felt living in such a world.

If you feel the US has lost its moral political standing, if the TV and radio make your mind melt, if you work a meaningless job with obscene bosses, or if religion continues to seem something that was invented to bring meaning to a world long past, then this album is for you.  I know, I’m not doing a great job of selling.  You need smiles for that.  Funnily enough at some point in this world I was a salesman.  This record is for those that stand outside of the economic good times; or at the very least those that can see that many have been unfairly left out.

Again, this is not a dogmatic protest record, although we’ve got nothing against such things.  Living with War is one of Ben and my favorite albums.  But when Ben sings, “Only the losers know my name”, you know what is making him feel that way.  When I sing, “Clouds are shifting \ camera lens is wide \ it appears we are drifting \ across the great divide”, hopefully with the rest of the lyrics you will get that I’m looking outwards and not in.

It may sound like I just described a dark and foreboding record.  Although it starts that way sound-wise to a degree, we love the fun of rock n roll and pop too much.  I’m Not Listening to the Radio Tonight was influenced by the unyielding light of African pop music.  If We Never See Tomorrow has its roots in the summer pop of the Beach Boys to give you another example.  We were also raised by the dark artists of comedy such as Morrissey, Lou Reed, and Leonard Cohen, amongst others.  As the title of a Marah album goes, if you didn’t laugh you’d cry.

We don’t want this album to make you feel hopeless.  Art and music are ways to communicate.  Hopefully the creation of this piece will help us find other like-minded souls and help them find us.  There is strength in numbers.  If you can find one other soul that feels the way you do then you are not alone.  The world can be a better place if only we can join together and make it so. 

Perhaps I’m tying too many things to this record and already weighing it down.  At the end of the day this is only a rock record.  However, it is one that represents the way that we felt and still feel without shame.  It is our lifeblood in sound.  Once you hear it, it will be in your hands, as the meaning is always with the listener and not the creator.    We did our best, which is all one can do…

Ahhh…where was I on the making of this thing…

To be continued…

Lou Reed Lyrics Day 2: Bottoming Out

As I said yesterday, in honor of Lou Reed, every day this week I am going to pick a set of his lyrics and write a piece on them.  Today I picked the lyrics Bottoming Out from his excellent Legendary Hearts album:
 

Bottoming Out

I’m cruising fast on a motorcycle
Down this winding country road
And I pass the gravel on the foot of the hill
Where last week I fell off

There’s still some oil by the old elm tree
And a dead squirrel that I hit
But if I hadn’t left, I would have struck you dead
So I took a ride instead

Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out

My doctor says, she hopes I know
How lucky I can be
After all it wasn’t my blood
Mixed in the dirt that night

But this violent rage, turned inward
Can not be helped by drink
And we must really examine this and I say
I need another drink

Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out

I’m tearing down route 80 east
The sun’s on my right side
I’m drunk, but my vision’s good
And I think of my child bride
And on the left in shadows
I see something that makes me laugh
I aim that bike at the fat pothole
Beyond that underpass

Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out

 

The thing that often gets overlooked by the casual Lou Reed listener is how absolutely drop dead funny he could be.  In reading these lyrics one might not think of humor their first interpretation.  Lyrics, unlike poetry, are only half the story.  How they interact with the music and the delivery of the singer can change their meaning.  This song to brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.  I find this song to be full of the blackest humor.  Lou Reed understood the divine comedy of life. 

For those of you that don’t think Lou Reed had a sense of humor, when he released Berlin, what many consider to be the most depressing album of all time, he said he was, “just having fun”.  The thing about Lou Reed was that he played everything straight.  Some songwriters write songs that are silly, they wear their humor on their sleeves.  Also the way they sing something might express joy and humor in their delivery.  Lou Reed kept everything real close to his breast.  I actually believe this is one of his greatest strengths as a singer.  Many people say that Lou can’t sing.  In a technical sense, they could often be right.  However, when it comes to conveying something through song, for making the stories of his lyrics come alive, he was one of the very best singers.  Try to sing the above song and make it come across the way he did. Even if you are a great singer, I bet you can’t do it.  His voice was the perfect instrument for conveying his truth.

The music to this song is upbeat.  It’s a rock n roll pop song. He purposely chose in arranging this song to put these “dark” lyrics to music that was the opposite.  I believe there is some clue there in his intention.     
Soldiers in war often express “gallows humor”.  They make jokes about completely inappropriate things, even death, to keep sane in the face of madness.  I believe that Lou was often doing something similar.  You know the old saying: If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. 
When you watch a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm it is full of humor based on the problems of human behavior.  The situations Larry David finds himself in are extreme, but we can often relate to them in some way.  He often says the things that we are thinking, but can’t say. 

Everyone has had a bad day.  This song is a bad day taken to the extreme.  In taking a normal situation that everyone has dealt with and painting an extreme version of it, Lou is creating a situation where absurdity arises.  There is a famous quote that is, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”  I would add distance to that equation.  Lou Reed, by presenting us with distance to the above situation, through the distance of artistic perspective, allows us to see the humor and absurdity of the narrator’s situation.  It doesn’t hurt that again he has put these words to a bouncy little tune that helps highlight this. 

Whenever I am having a bad day I put this song on and my spirits can’t help but brighten.  It is in particular some of the darkest lines that I find the funniest given the context of the song.  It is the way he sings bottoming out with almost no emotion.  Maybe I just have a strange sense of humor!

But I don’t think that is totally the case.  I’m sure many of you have had a day that has gone from one bad thing to another.  All of a sudden it reaches a point of such horrible ridiculousness that you find yourself laughing.  Whatever that emotion is, that part of the human spirit that allows us to laugh when things go wrong, Lou Reed must have instinctually understood.  He turned it into a song.  It’s easy to write a song that is just sad or just happy.  But try to write something that conveys those kinds of emotions that are in between, that you feel, but can’t quite describe.  Lou made a whole career out of it.  He was a poet and an artist.  He was also a funny motherfucker. 

This is technically going up a little early.  But what the hell, it’s after midnight on the east coast.  

Lou Reed Lyrics: Pumping Blood

For the next seven days I have decided that, among other posts, I will post one set of Lou Reed lyrics every day, along with a short piece on them.  I’m probably not going to choose the most popular ones, which have already been dissected to death, and instead will choose roads less traveled.  These will be personal reflections, as opposed to seeking the definitive meaning of a song, but I will be looking outward and not inward, trying to show how Lou’s art gave you armor to take on an ever increasing plastic world.  So let’s begin today with:

Pumping Blood

If I pump out blood in the sunshine
Oil on the wheel
That is blasted and busted away

A nail or a little piece of glass
A little piece of glass
A little piece of glass
Swarming like bees over the air
Off the pump off the thing
The blood that I’m pumping away

Like bees over the air
Off the pump
Off the thing
The blood that I’m pumping away

Off the pump
Off the thing
The blood that I’m pumping away

If I pump blood in the sunshine
And you wear a leather box with azaleas
And I pump more blood
And it seeps through my skin
Will you adore the river
The stream, the trickle
The tributary of my heart

As I pump more blood
And it seeps through my skin

Will you adore the river
The stream, the trickle
The tributary of my heart

If I’m pumping blood
Like a common state worker
If I waggle my ass like a dark prostitute
Would you think less of me

And my coagulating heart

Waggle my ass like a dark prostitute
Coagulating heart
Pumping blood

Would you top me off
Would you top me off as I deepen a curtsy
While you yell out, “mercy”
We grow apart
Would you rip and cut me

Use a knife on me

Be shocked at the boldness
The coldness of this little heart
Tied up in leather
Would you take the measure
Of the blood that I pump
In the manic confusion of love

Supreme violation
Supreme violation
“Oh, ah, ah, ah Jack I beseech you”

“Oh Jack I beseech you”
Supreme violation

Blood in the foyer
The bathroom
The tea room
The kitchen, with her knives splayed

I will swallow your sharpest cutter
Like a colored man’s dick

Blood spurting from me
“Oh Jack, Jack I beseech:”
“Jack, I beseech you, I beseech:”
In the end it was an ordinary heart

“Oh Jack I beseech you”
As I scream out my pain
In the end it was an ordinary heart

In the end, in the end, in the end
It was an ordinary heart

“Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack I beseech you”
Supreme violation . . . Oh

“Jack, Jack, Jack I beseech you”
I call out your name

Blood in the foyer, the bathroom,
The tea room, the kitchen
And knives splayed
I swallow your sharpest cutter
Like a colored man’s dick
Blood spurting from me
Blood spurting from me

“Oh Jack”

“Oh Jack, I beseech ya”
In the end it was an ordinary heart

In the end it was an ordinary heart
Pumping blood

 

Before I write anything I want to include this quote from Eric Idle of Monty Python, speaking of people’s reaction to Monty Python:
Once when we were filming, a British middle-class lady came up and said, ‘Oh, Monty Python, I absolutely hate you lot.’  And we felt quite proud and happy.  Nowadays I miss people who hate us; we have sadly become nice, safe and acceptable now, which shows how clever an Establishment really is, opening up to make room inside itself. 

The song Pumping Blood is from Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu album.  I’m not picking these lyrics today because they are some of my favorites, although I do like them, but I am picking them to make a larger point.  I grew up loving Johnny Cash.  I owned many of his albums and read his autobiography.  However, when he died, suddenly the man that was eating amphetamines in the desert was whitewashed.  They made that horrible movie about him.  All of the rebelliousness that was part, and only part, of Johnny Cash’s life seemed to vanish.  All of a sudden this was a man whose complicated life, who sang for the poor and downtrodden, became simple.  It was a simple tale, not just in that fucking movie, of a man who rebelled, realized the error of his ways, and was redeemed through love.  Yeah, he still was a badass in some ways, but not in any real way that challenged the establishment.

Now Johnny Cash never actually changed.  He simply was viewed differently and canonized by the mainstream media.  The one that sang in The Man in Black, “I wear it for the poor and the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of his times”, was still alive on vinyl.  In the overall culture he became too many times a place for fake rebellion.  A place by where you could be a rebel by wearing a Johnny Cash shirt, without having to actually do anything to rebel.  This is not his fault at all.  His work is great and stands the test of time.  It has just been misrepresented.
They will try to canonize Lou Reed as well.  They will try to make him safe.  However, it won’t be so easy with a man that sang at the tender age of 69, “I will swallow your sharpest cutter, like a colored man’s dick.”

I personally am not a fan of things that shock just with the sole purpose of making people feel uncomfortable.  I am fine with, and love and cherish art that makes people feel uncomfortable, but there must be some reason behind it.  It should be done to make people think in some fashion.  Shocking people, and making them uncomfortable without reason, is cruelty.  Shocking people to make people think, feel, and experience, to make them see the world in a different way, is beautiful.

In Lou Reed’s Lulu this is a scene that includes Jack the Ripper.  The Lulu plays inspired this album pushed the boundaries of theater in their time.  However, if you read them now, compared to what exists in our society in movies one can see on TV everyday, they are somewhat tame.  What I believe Lou was doing with the language of this song, and others, was to try to give people the experience that theater goers had going to these plays when they first came out.  (I do want to add that I hate it when other people try to guess what someone else was thinking.  This idea is just conjecture on my part.  I do not know exactly what Lou Reed was thinking and I am merely trying to provide a moment of critical insight.)  One could view the language used in this song as being used for dramatic effect.  The murders that Jack the Ripper committed were horrific horrible things.  We have had so many movies and TV shows about Jack the Ripper that we often are desensitized to that fact.  Lou Reed has found language that is shocking and cannot be ignored.  It will make you feel something one way or the other.  Remember though that he is using language to get your attention that something horrible is going on.
The character of Lulu is also a masochist.  She was particularly offensive to audiences of her time because she was a female that did not fit into the typical female roles of the day.  Again, I believe Lou Reed is using shocking language to grab your attention, to update the piece and the feelings that the piece would have created in people for the modern world.  He is using low debased language, for high art.

It is also good to know, that although they will try and in part succeed, that because of pieces like this, Lou Reed will not be so easy to whitewash and make an establishment figure.  He will forever be ours, dancing on the edges and inspiring thought.  While Lou Reed, like always, was probably just following his muse, he left us with a work that was every bit as challenging as the early Velvet’s stuff was for its time.  Read the reviews of Lulu and see how angry many of the reviewers are.  This work divided people incredibly.  If he was going to go, he at least went out like he started, completely uncompromising.

We need people like Lou Reed in the world to stay one step ahead of the established norms.  As soon as something becomes the norm we become desensitized by it, and it is harder to get an emotional reaction from it.  Again, if the reaction is the only thing you are going for, you are using the gift to shock people poorly.  But if you use it properly, like Lou Reed did, it can be Prometheus’s fire; creating emotion and lighting the dark tunnels of humanity, whether we want them to be there or not.

Rock N Roll Halloween

This has been a week of nonstop shameless self promotion.  The moon has shifted off course and the order has gone out of balance.  In this day and age we must all pimp our wares like World Wrestling Federation managers.  The gate keepers have lost their power.  The fat is in the fire. 

My band No Show Ponies will be playing tonight at One 2 One club at 930pm.  Our friend John Neilson will be performing before us at 7:30pm. 

Tonight it’s a rock n roll Halloween extravaganza.  Two acts for the price of one.  Enough booze to turn anyone into a werewolf. 

As the Aristotle of our time, Ted Nugent, once said:

Come one, come all to a midnight ball
The invitation’s there
I come alone and I’m drivin’ home
I’m healthy, I do declare
It’s a free for all

No Show Ponies, What We Do

Tonight I will be with Shinyribs at the Rockin’ Rodeo with Shinyribs at 9:45pm.  On Saturday the band that I have with my brother, No Show Ponies, is going to be playing Austin at the One 2 One club.  That show starts at 9:30.  Opening act John Neilson starts at 7:30pm.

I would like to try to attempt to explain my band No Show Ponies.  As a friend recently commented to me, writing about music is like dancing about architecture.  However, I write about music all the time to various degrees of success, so I will wade into the deep end again.  Writing about oneself, and one’s own artistic endeavors, is even more challenging.  Oneself is infinite, while others, although they may be filled with mystery, take up a more defined space in one’s mind.

No Show Ponies is first and foremost a rock n roll band.  Although our sound is completely different, much like Shinyribs we genre hop quite a good bit.  This is great for creativity and I believe makes us more interesting, but is not good for the modern idea of branding.  However, primarily again we are a rock n roll band.  That is our bread and butter and our driving principle.

To confound those of you even further we have also gone through a very extreme sound change in the last two years.  When we first moved to Austin my brother Ben and I were without a band.  We had also spent the last seven or eight years playing loud guitar driven rock n roll.  We were tired of this approach, and as I said we didn’t have a band to base our sound upon anyway.  During our first two years in Austin we primarily played two man acoustic shows.  When it came time to make our record, The End of Feel Good Music, we wanted to make a record that was acoustic in nature, although with loud drums like early Rod Stewart records.  Because of the friends that we had made, and used on our record, the record ended up sounding more alt country then rock n roll in a lot of places.  This is a genre that Ben and I don’t listen to in any great deal.  There is no one to blame but us, but this was not a natural fit for our talents.  That being said I am overall proud of the record, as there are several, what I deem anyway, great songs on it, and we will always have the great memories of recording with members of the Gourds, our friend Missy Beth, Jon Dee Graham, and others.

We eventually developed a live band, that sounded completely different from our debut record already, but in the months following the recording that band disintegrated.  Over the next two years we picked up the pieces and rebuilt the band.  Although we had strong identities as writers, we didn’t have a strong identity when it came to our band’s sound.  In these two years we found that sound.  Part of the missing puzzle was finding the incredible drummer Alex Morales.  For the first time since moving to Austin we had a drummer that could play the complex polyrhythms that we so desired.  I moved to bass, which is the instrument I primarily grew up playing.  The biggest and most essential key move, the move that I believe for the first time gave us a unique sound, was moving my brother to the main guitar spot.  We also decided to be a three piece, partly out of necessity, and partly because we realized, even in its infantile stages, that this was the start of something that was sonically exciting.

My brother, who grew up playing acoustic guitar, can not play a traditional blues solo to save his life.  However, if you know anything about the history of rock n roll, you will know that limitations are often essential for invention.  Because of my brother’s extremely strong right hand picking technique, which again was developed from acoustic guitar, he is able to play extremely intricate arpeggios in the style of Johnny Marr and Lindsey Buckingham.  And again, because he can’t solo in the traditional sense, he is able to jump from highly intricate and musical rhythm playing, to post punk noise solos that are pure raw energy.  I’m telling you there is no one that plays guitar quite like this kid.

I would call what we do independent rock n roll.  That is in my mind different from indie rock.  That is splitting hairs with language, but as Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug.”   Rock n roll pushes the vocals up in the mix and doesn’t shy away from big emotions.  A lot of current indie rock seems to me to be almost shy of expressing anything too definitive, as the singers are often weak or purposely buried in the mix.

What we do is an amalgamation of the kind of powerful rock n roll that came from the 60’s combined with the more experimental music that came out of the post punk scene.  I’m not kidding on the new record we go from a song that was influenced sonically by Public Image Limited, noise rock, and New Order, into something that could almost be a Beach Boys song.  However, for the first time in our history as a band since moving to Austin, I believe that we have a sound strong enough to bridge these different worlds.

I think that our sound is also unique for Austin, largely because of our origins.  None of us our native Texans.  Ben and I derive from the North East and Al comes from New Mexico.

The North East influences us in ways that we probably didn’t even realize until we moved to Texas.  It informs both our sound and our lyrics.  Sound wise I believe that this makes for a much tougher rock n roll sound that is a descendent of the music that came out of the large North Eastern cities in previous decades.

I have noticed, since I moved to Austin, a kind of almost scatological and surreal sense of humor.  The way people often speak truth to power in Texas through humor is often through word play and drawing conclusions between disparate things.  We grew up on the darker, more vengeful humor of the North East.  People like latter period George Carlin and Bill Maher come to mind.  It also helps if you understand that we are reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, and other writers, whose modus operandi is to point out the absurdity in the American system.  We also love those songwriters like Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed, whose humor is jet black.  Please believe me that I am not saying better or worse, only different.

When you add all of that in with Al, who brings the tribal rhythms of the South West, and a passionate encyclopedic knowledge of rock n roll drumming, you get something exciting and unique.  I call Al’s apartment the “drum museum” for the incredible collection of vintage drums and percussion that seems to be in every nook and cranny.  This is a guy with a serious dedication to his craft.

I realize in looking back on what I’ve written, that I have sort of described what we do in long form, written around things, and not given one an easily descriptive blurb for what we do.  I’m fine with that.  If something is too easy to define, unless it’s the Ramones or AC\DC, it’s probably simpleminded too.  If rock n roll still means anything, then that is what we do.  This is music that is both literate and primal, that is both aggressive and beautiful, and that wants to have you both sing along and make you feel uncomfortable at times.

Recently we recorded an album to old analog tape with the great Ramsay Midwood.  This new album, when it debuts, will showcase this new found confidence and sound.  If you want to get a taste of what we are doing before then, please come and check us out this Saturday at the One 2 One club.  Again we start at 9:30.  In closing to describe what we do, I would like to co-opt and paraphrase Paul Westerberg:  This is rock n roll played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason.  This is our blood.

Rock N Roll

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I have been listening to the new album by The Shondes.  It is called The Garden.  I have read online that the band is very political.  Despite being largely Jewish, maybe all Jewish, but it’s hard to tell, they have taken a stance of condemning the occupation of Palestine.  I find that commendable.  That is just one example.  However, listening to the bands lyrics I find it hard to get a sense of any overtly political themes.  The title track could be read as a political anthem, but more in the metaphoric sense.  Most of the lyrics seem more centered on human relationships.  I haven’t listened to the lyrics closely enough yet to be definitive on this, and often lyrics can have double meanings, but this definitely isn’t Neil Young’s Living with War. 

The album, however, despite any limitations you could argue it has, feels revolutionary.  By that I mean the sense that it makes you want to go out and do something important.  It does this by simply being full of exuberance and passion.  Even when they are singing something that could double for a typical pop song it seems infused with an energy that feels as if they mean something deeper.  They are not leaving anything on the field.

If I’m going to be honest there are limitations to this album in the musical sense.  The guitar and bass are somewhat bar band like.  The lyrics will not be mistaken for literature any time soon.  None of this seems to matter to me, again because of the passion that it is infused with.

When I listen to this record I want to go stand in a protest line, dance in a circle with reckless abandon, and take on the world.  I think you get what I am laying down.  It sounds like freedom and rebellion.  Yet there is nothing musically discordant or subversive.  The songs are all major and minor key pop rock songs with hooks.  This sense of freedom is again achieved through the pure reckless energy of the performances.  That and big choruses that are sung balls still achieve more than all the studio trickery in the world.

It makes me think of the 1960’s.  If our parents and the history books are to be believed there was a brief moment in time when anything seemed possible.  It might have been fleeting and it might have been doomed from the start, but there seems like there was a moment.  The music from this time seems infused with this sense of energy, passion, and possibility.  I’m not talking about just the political music.  Listen to Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops sing Standing in the Shadows of Love.  It sounds like a fucking jet plane is about to take off.

I love music of all kinds.  I just got the new Grimes record and I really love it.  It’s arty, cinematic, and emotional.  It does not make me want to go outside and burn Ted Cruz in effigy, however.  There is a place for both kinds of music I think.  I like music that fills me with Technicolor dreams and I like music that makes me want to engage with the world.  I think there are too many bands in Grimes arena, that are far less talented, that create music that is not good for much other than shopping and sleeping in.  The term Rock N Roll used to stand for something.  It used to make people uncomfortable.  It used to make people dance whether they wanted to or not, like they were in some kind backwoods church and the spirit had taken over.  I wish more bands would try to remember this.  Too often emotion and passion is replaced by being clever.  If you can be witty and passionate you have the total package.  Don’t be afraid to look a fool going for the jugular.  Yes, you may fail and look silly.  But you also just might wake up in the world you want to live in.

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Sex Pistols Response to Rock N Roll Hall of Fame

Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock n roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organization selling us a load of old famous. Congratulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. You’re anonymous as judges, but you’re still music industry people. We’re not coming. You’re not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL.

The Sex Pistol’s response to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.  This was a couple years ago and I’ve read it before.  I came across it again last night as I’ve been listening to Public Image Ltd.’s First Edition. (John Lydon, a.k.a Johnny Rotten, is in both bands.)  Thought it would be a good laugh with the morning coffee.

What’s Shaking On the Hill

There is probably nothing harder than writing about music, except writing about your own music.  Music is primarily an abstract emotional art.  Other than lyrics music is something that is supposed to make you feel, not think.  Words often fail.  Music is often something that takes the place of words.  Even when you have something more concrete, like a story song, the music, and that abstract emotion, is on equal footing with the words.

I have tried and failed more times than not to tell people what the band No Show Ponies sounds like.  Part of this is the trouble of change.  Our first album, The End of Feel Good Music, was mostly an Americana affair.  This is due largely to the part that we had grown bored with electric guitars at the time and when we first moved to Austin we brought in all of the players that we knew, that tended to lean towards this genre.  This was not a natural fit for us as my brother Ben, who is my copartner in NSP, and I listen to Americana about as often as there is a full moon; maybe less.  Sometimes art just turns out the way the gods intended, and you don’t’ have as much control as you would often like.  Everyone that worked on the album did great stuff.  I still believe in that album as a collection of songs.  I’m not trying to queer my own hustle.  All I’m trying to lay down is that the music on that record doesn’t fit our natural inclinations.

The record that is done in all but title, that we are releasing this fall, is more representative of us and our influences.  It’s a combination of our artier pretensions and at the same time our love for big classic rock n roll.  It may sound strange to say that it is one part Joy Division and one part Van Halen.  It is one part Public Image Lmtd. and one part Thin Lizzy.  It is the Replacements and My Bloody Valentine, it is the Police and Thomas Mapfumo, it is Fleetwood Mac and it is the Smiths.  I know what went into the pot.  Those are just a few of the things we were stirring together.  Lyrically it was influenced by the darker humor of Lou Reed and Morrissey and Leonard Cohen.  But it was also influenced lyrically by Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, and a whole host of other artists and thinkers that have nothing to do with the music business.  To me the album is a rock n roll album in the classic sense.  Most rock bands of the 60’s mixed together a highly eclectic set of influences to come up with their sound.  Someone like Pete Townshend was an intellectual and a primitive.

You may get some of that or none of that when you hear it.  That’s fine.  We just hope that you get something out of it.  That it sounds good cranked up in your car.  We hope that it also sounds good on your headphones when you are alone and want to dive in deeper.

We recorded live to tape with minimal fixing and overdubs.  It’s raw and unpolished, but it’s true.  We redid the vocals, but we even sang into the same microphone at the same time to get it as live as possible.  It’s the sound of a band that can play their asses off all in the same room together.  It’s unhinged energy.

They say when you are slinging your own shit to come up with a catchy term to sell it to people.  I’ve never been able to do that.  I’d say it’s rock n roll, and it is, but that term has lost value as it’s been tied to everything under the sun that features guitars and isn’t country, blues, or jazz.

So again I’ve failed to explain exactly what it is that we do.  That is often death in a marketing sense.  But I believe in this record a hundred percent.  I hope that some of you will too.  Maybe as it gets closer to being released I’ll get some kind of divine intervention and come up with the perfect term or phrase to give this thing wings.

If you are curious about what it is we do, and happen to live in the great city of Austin, Texas, we’ll be playing live at the Continental Club this Friday.  We start at 10pm sharp.  Come out and see what’s shaking on the hill.  Make up your own mind.  As a listener that’s what you should be doing anyway.