Friday, July 24, 2009

extra thoughts - High Strung (7/24) / Johnny Headband (7/25)

Heartfelt sentiments, including a fine recounting, regarding Johnny Headband's development and upcoming show, 7/25 at Small's - with Office and the Pop Project.

Also..., a few more rambled thoughts triggered by my conversation with Josh Malerman (of/and The High Strung--who play 7/ The Berkley Front, with The Wrong Numbers and Matt Jones)

You'll forgive the grandiose narrative, as this was a scrapped draft for a column in Current Magazine:
"You find time to get laid, you find ways to get paid..." - Bob Pollard

The label sat the singer down and showed him some album sales. Wait a minute, he thought, this -so-and-so-band has sold more than 200,000 copies and I’ve never even heard of them?

Oh yeah, the label head nodded, that’s a Christian rock band. And then, they uttered the words, “There’s room for everyone.” Words he’d never forget…

Throughout the many jittery days and nights I’ve spent speaking to local artists and musicians, the reciprocal ramblings often draw towards the frustrating unfeasibility of fruitfully forging art with commerce.

It is often a question of sacrificing integrity, or just being able to look at yourself in the mirror and knowing that the art you’re pouring out is for you and not for an agent, a label, or a venue. (By extention, also not for a girlfriend/boyfriend, editor...or, sometimes, a fan). Because those specific cogs of “the biz” just want to try to sell you or shape you to be sold, to sell your work, to feed the monkey. So what’s a band to do?

Meet in the middle. Find the middle ground.

I had a sobering back and forth with Josh Malerman, singer of Detroit-based indie-rock/power-trio The High Strung, regarding the release of their newest album Ode to the Inverse of the Dude. We covered the sacrifices he has had to make while shopping a novel he'd written recently, for a (hopefully) future publication...and a generic airing out of irks puts into the artist, over how he/she feels about his/her work.

Malerman and his band-mates Chad Stocker and Derek Berk aren’t on the cover of SPIN and they don’t have 1 million download visits on myspace and they may not be hitting gold-level record sales. Yet, the band is their day job, its how they support themselves.

It made me realize that there was a middle ground – I’d gotten swept up in blue collar garage bands and beer league blues bands and young punks, all who were commendably thriving on the local level in the realm of DIY through self-released albums and a few runs to Chicago or Cleveland and back. But the next level beyond that is not some gold medal pedestal with confetti and paparazzi and Jack-White-World. The High Strung, The Hard Lessons, Mason Proper, Chris Bathgate, most recently Prussia and Child Bite, are groups of musicians who have effectively (albeit not dominantly) penetrated the national and world-touring aspect and have found “the room” that which labels and agents and “art-peddlers” are so aware. It sounds dirty to put it this way, but local rock bands in the basements of Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb, imagining that idyllic Almost Famous-tour bus and trekking across America, can find a…and I know it’s gross to say…a system…that works for them, to allow them to continue what they love (music) while serving the need they so begrudge (money). The answer, so far seems to be... to, simply, tour your ass off and live cheap. Smell bad, eat bad, drive hard, play hard, and hopefully drink--medium/hard. Hit the road and use all your funds for gas, coffee and cigarettes, live like a blue-jean nomad and stink up vans with your friends. Even in this internet-blurred world, you will be heard by those who didn’t know you before – thus...progress.

So...looking back on this draft, I'm not sure what my thesis was...something close to--a label, or a magazine cover, or album sales, shouldn't define the reward, for you...the reward should be, simply the continuation of why you started playing the first place.

High Strung interview (Metro Times)
7/24 - Berkley Front
(headband photo: JHeener)


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