22 posts tagged mtv hive
22 posts tagged mtv hive
One thing that surprised me about Pusha was just how grounded he was. This is a guy who, after years of being jerked around by labels, having his name pop up on “most underrated” lists, and otherwise watching time slip by (he’s almost 36) without ever getting the breaks that he was told that he should is finally on the verge of releasing a solo album with the full weight of the world behind it. (Kanye is the executive producer; it has guest spots from Rick Ross and The-Dream, etc.) And he spends most of our conversation talking about how exciting Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$ are to him; in an excerpt that was cut for length, he actively volunteered the fact that the upcoming Public Enemy/Ice Cube/LL Cool J tour is playing venues five times the size of the ones he’ll be performing on his summer tour. He ends the friggin’ conversation by saying that his dream track is just one on which he can get Andre 3000 to rap again, and if he did that, he wouldn’t even put himself on it.
I have interviewed a lot of rappers about a lot of different things, from all different schools of hip hop. But I’ve never interviewed one as humble as Pusha T. It wasn’t fake humility or anything like that, either — he seemed genuinely thrilled about what it means for hip hop that so many people want to see LL Cool J and Public Enemy rap right now, and he talked about Kendrick, Joey Bada$$, Tyler and Earl, etc enough that it’s hard to believe he views himself in competition with anybody. That alone sets Pusha T apart. I can’t wait to hear his album.
2012 was a weird year for me as a freelancer. I picked up some high-profile work in Austin. (Five Austin Chronicle cover stories!) I lost some work for various reasons — Adult Swim shut down the blog that I’d been working with, CultureMap and I parted ways, some of the nice behind-the-scenes stuff I’d come to rely on, like a quarterly Q&A for Hemispheres, got shifted to in-house. I didn’t pitch as aggressively as I did when I was first starting out, and so I didn’t land anything big and national this year.
I did do a lot of writing that I was genuinely proud of, though. Because there is no point to having a Tumblr if you can’t be both self-indulgent and self-promoting on it, here are ten things I wrote this year that I still like.
“[Y]ou can’t overstate the band’s importance, especially in its home state: As a multiracial group of five guys from the depressed border town of El Paso, they inspired an entire generation of kids in hopeless-seeming places like Laredo, McAllen, Abilene – they were living proof that their rock and roll dreams could come true, that it wasn’t just for white dudes in big cities. For Latino and Latina kids in shitty Texas towns, they weren’t just the Velvet Underground – they were Jackie Robinson.” (April 10th)
Hive really opened up what they let me do in terms of live show coverage this year. When it launched, it had been mostly a boilerplate format, but they were more interested in letting their writers actually write in 2012. (Jeff Weiss did a killer essay on Outside Lands; Katherine St. Asaph has done a number of in-depth and thoughtful album write-ups.) I was really excited that I got to say something about At The Drive-In that captured what I saw that band bring out in so many of my friends. (The show, incidentally, would easily make any top-five list of “best live shows I’ve ever seen,” which is impressive for one you saw at 31 years old.)
“The hardest part of rooting for Tim Tebow in the playoffs is knowing how much you’re going to hate that guy when he’s the Republican nominee for President in 2036. If you caught yourself cheering when he torched the Steelers defense with an 80-yard touchdown pass to win the game on the first play of overtime — with a lot of help from Demaryius Thomas, sure — then be prepared to have that memory twisted against you as the esteemed Senator from Colorado replays it in every campaign ad to snatch the nomination away from Bristol Palin.” (January 10th)
I loved having the chance to write a weekly football column that looked at the game, the politics, and the culture of America as one big stew, and the fact that Tim Tebow emerged during the year I did it was very fortunate, since he is all of those things.
“Legion are the bands – metal and otherwise – that have come to Austin because of the mythology and campfire tales of those who made it. Beyond Gods and Empires, the band that founded the Texas Metal Collective, is just one of them.
The dream goes like this: You leave your opportunity-starved hometown to come to Austin. Your band gets booked at cool venues, starts scoring opening slots for buzz bands, and then recording and financial excess follow.
Here’s what really happens if you’re a band like Beyond Gods and Empires.” (August 10th)
So, this one actually didn’t turn out the way that I wanted it to. The editor and I never really saw eye-to-eye on what it should look like, and it ended up getting trimmed considerably before it ran. But that happens sometimes. What I like about this story is that it still talks about an under-served part of the Austin music community in a way that gave them the space to be celebrated as important. There are countless bands who come to Austin to make it, and most of them toil in obscurity in bars that don’t have a cool reputation, wondering why the so-called Live Music Capital has so little to offer them. A thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare, maybe, but it takes a thousand monkeys, and most of them don’t get famous.
“Tejano—and its northern Mexican counterpart Norteño—looms large over the Valley. Where Austin has Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Valley has Esteban Jordan (dubbed “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion” by musicians) and Freddy Fender. The music is inescapable. Rock fans like Maldonado grew up with Tejano in the air at barbecues and at work.
Maldonado, 34, played in rock bands in the Valley for years before taking his chances in the rock-friendlier environs of Austin. The deck can seem stacked against Valley rockers. If you want to succeed as a musician, you have to move away. If you choose to stick around, you might as well become an electrician, because the music scene isn’t conducive to achieving rock-and-roll dreams.
But Charlie Vela, a musician who also hails from the Valley, didn’t move away or become an electrician. Instead, the 28-year-old opened a studio in the Valley for recording rock music. Vela, who lives in Edinburg, plans to prove that the Valley can be a home for indie-rock and Tejano, and perhaps one day create its own rock legends.” (March 5th)
I am just realizing the common thread to what I was interested in writing about in music this year — largely, it was underdogs from border regions who were determined to prove that they weren’t outside of the mainstream just because they came from forgotten places. It’s funny what you figure out when you look back with some perspective.
“You’ll hear this sort of thing from aspiring musicians all over the country, if you talk to them about Austin. It’s always been a part of our city’s mythology, but it’s only gotten bigger as SXSW continues to blow up, as ACL has established itself as one of America’s Big-Four music festivals and as Fun Fun Fun Fest has earned a part of the national conversation.
We have these major events that bring the attention of music fans from all over to Austin, and if you’re a band dude in Arkansas with a dream in your heart that you might be able to go somewhere and find a home for your music, it’s a myth you’re eager to buy.” (August 14th)
There were a number of disappointing things about how my relationship with CultureMap shook out, and one of them was that I never got to finish pursuing the conversation I’d tried to start with the Music For Capital column, which was about what Austin music looked like and where it was going right now. I was happy with the discussions that it started — especially around local hip hop — but it was meant to be a much longer project.
“It’s not fair to expect that every other artist will engage his or her senior years with the same grace, flair, and elegance that Leonard Cohen has (in truth, those are attributes that he possessed in uncommon abundance even in his youth), but the fact that he is still here, still performing, still offering up three and a half hours of music a night, and still fundamentally in possession of everything that made him important in the first place makes the Old Ideas tour absolutely essential.” (November 1st)
Another thing that I was very interested in writing about this year: aging, and the affect that it has on creative vitality. (I wrote an essay on Bob Dylan’s Tempest for Hive about this that didn’t quite get to what I wanted to say.) The reason I love music writing is because it’s such an open form for writing about anything that interests me. A review of a Leonard Cohen concert is an essay about the way that we look at old people, and about aging gracefully. A write-up of an At The Drive-In show is about border culture and common threads between disparate nowhere regions. This is all pretty obvious stuff (you can do the same thing in sportswriting, or literary criticism, or probably dance or tech or whatever else you care about), but it continues to make the opportunity to write about something that doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things seem very important to me.
“At Austin City Limits, meanwhile, the crowd is diverse in ways that would be utterly bizarre at, say, Bonnaroo. There are old people at ACL, y’all. Like, a lot of them. This is the one weekend a year where a whole lot of people from all over Texas — men and women in their forties, fifties, sixties, beyond — get out and see some music. They bring folding chairs and blankets, they don’t give much of a shit who’s going to be on which stage, they stake out a spot a good fifty yards away from the front, they drink beer all day long, and they have a damn fine time. There are parents with little kids, there are pill-swallowing teenagers, there are the seemingly-endless parade of 20-somethings who have made Austin one of America’s fastest growing cities, there are faces that are many different colors staring up at the stages — it’s a reflection of the city, and Austin is distinct from Chicago, from LA, from everywhere else that has a giant music festival that attracts thousands and thousands of people, which is pretty much everywhere these days.” (October 15th)
I liked what we came up with, which is a very long, very rambly post that jumps from “check out how great Michael Kiwanuka and LP were” to “this is what Weezer and Neil Young mean to people in 2012” to “What makes one festival different from another in the contemporary American monoculture.” I’m really grateful to have an outlet that will let me write things like that.
“Here’s how you alienate the meager fan base you’ve managed to develop as an independent rock band struggling to make a career in the bleak-as-hell music industry of 2012:” (February 17th)
I’d always wanted to write one of those in-depth profiles where you spend more time than just a phone call or a cup of coffee with the people you’re writing about, and try to get at some of the things about them that they don’t want to tell you. I’m not sure that I accomplished that in this profile of the formerly-Christian band Quiet Company, but I am pleased with the results nonetheless.
“Obviously, I’m not a victim here (‘No one suffers more than freelance writer Dan Solomon!’), but this whole experience was eye opening for me. CultureMap is a not-insignificant player in Texas media, and the idea that a company would let go of someone they’ve worked with for a long time for saying, ‘Speculating about whether a girl who files rape charges is a liar without reporting any information that leads to that conclusion is irresponsible!’ while so steadfastly defending the article that does the speculating was a surprise.” (November 26th)
The times I’ve felt most like a “real” journalist — whatever that means — are the times when I know that something I’ve written has ruined the day of people whose day deserved to be ruined.
The fact that I was a big part of this story — maybe too big, some people I’m disinclined to argue with, suggested — made it pretty uncomfortable. For a few days, my big face was on a lot of people’s Facebook walls, which honestly stops being flattering after the first five or ten and then makes someone like me want to hide under a bridge for the next 36 hours (which is how long it takes for the Internet to move on to the next thing). But I’m convinced that the story landed with people because there was a big white-dude-face on it. “Media company writes something irresponsible about rape” is dog-bites-man; “White dude affected” is man-bites-dog.
Anyway. I learned a lot from this story, and a lot of it is useful. I learned how to recognize when you’re being praised because people’s expectations are very low, and how to not let that go to your head; I learned that people in the media will outright lie if it preserves their narrative (CultureMap denied, in print, several times, that I sent them an email saying “I’d like to try to resolve this”); I learned that I don’t want to be the public face of much of anything, and that I definitely should not be invested in having an identity as a Feminist Dude. All of those are good things to take away from an experience like this.
“Shubin gets giddy talking about being a cop. ‘I couldn’t do it today,’ he says, but not just because he’s 59. ‘Today, everybody’s got a camera, and everybody’s got a lawyer. Steve Shubin would be fired in a month.’ He describes his days as a cop as ‘the best job I ever had,’ and that’s up to and including his current gig raking in a bazillion dollars by selling Fleshlights. Shubin gushes about it.
‘If somebody needs their face slapped, they’re getting their face slapped,’ he says, talking about his style of policing – but, he laments, ‘You can’t do that anymore.’ He talks about this stuff so openly, I almost wonder if he remembers that my recorder is on. ‘I’ve killed people before. I’ve done everything. I have choked hundreds of people unconscious. Did I enjoy it? No,’ he says – and when he explains why not, he says that it’s because a person who’s choked out poops their pants. Why’d he stop? The pay was bad. ‘There wasn’t much money in policing,’ he says.
All of which is to say that Steve Shubin probably has a different perspective on the world than you or I do.” (May 11th)
I’m pretty sure that this profile of the inventor of the Fleshlight is the best writing I’ve ever done. It helped to have such a vivid character as Steve Shubin (who was not pleased with the way the story came out), but I really was proud of the prose here, and the fact that I was able to say so much about what is interesting to me about a culture that buys Fleshlights by the truckload. If 2013 involves me writing even just a couple of things that I’m as proud of as I am of “Pressing The Flesh,” it’ll be a very good year.
The way that it’s always been, where, as a musician, depending on how much money I make in six-month chunks – maybe I had a busy six months, so now I’m not eligible for insurance, because I’ve had a busy six months. Now the record’s been out for a year, so I’m not as busy anymore, and now I qualify for insurance again. It’s always been so back and forth and up in the air. I used to be on something called MinnesotaCare, which is pretty decent insurance, if you’ve got low-income. But I would only qualify for it once every couple years, depending on how the records were doing, and how the shows were doing. I don’t see that getting settled anytime soon. But that might just be me being pessimistic about it.
I had a pretty candid conversation with P.O.S. about his health problems — he’s experiencing kidney failure which requires dialysis, and a transplant. There are some interesting things to learn from what he said about what it’s like being a successful independent musician in 2012 when things go wrong with your health.
The good news is that he’s got a dozen friends and family who are a match for the transplant, he’s raised some money to pay for it, and when it’s over, he’ll be healthier than he’s been in a long time. Click through to learn the details.
Leonard Cohen is unique among the remaining icons of the ‘60s. Like Dylan and Neil Young, he can fill a room the size of Bass, or Madison Square Garden, or the Barclays Center (where he’ll conclude this tour in December), but he’s different from them in fundamental ways, and those are reflected in both his stage show and the way he’s managed his career. He’s seven years older than Dylan, eleven older than Young, and his music career started late (his debut, Songs Of Leonard Cohen, was released when he was 33). This is significant, because no part of Cohen’s persona is rooted in him as the upstart young rebel. Which makes watching him onstage as an old man feel comfortable in ways that watching, say, Mick Jagger, isn’t; Cohen has been a grand wise man of rock and roll at least since he peeled the banana on the cover of 1987’s I’m Your Man, so there’s no cognitive dissonance — or just plain sadness — in seeing him so aged. If anything, it’s just added another layer to his work.
I got to see Leonard Cohen play last night, and then MTV Hive let me write about it.
I spent a lot of time thinking about why the sight of an elderly Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger makes everybody feel super depressed about life, but the image of a 78-year-old Leonard Cohen feels like a triumph somehow. I think this is a big part of it — we have to balance our vision of Old-Man-Dylan with the vital young man of Don’t Look Back, or the dorm-room posters, or our parents’ (or grandparents’) memories. We see Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend onstage singing youth-culture anthems and it just reminds us that everyone, even those whose youth was the very thing that they defined themselves by, eventually ends up old.
But Leonard Cohen was old when he was young. I discovered him through the Natural Born Killers and Pump Up The Volume soundtracks when I was a teenager, and those were the songs of a man pushing sixty; Leonard Cohen has always been old, and so he wears old age with a dignity that few of his peers can match; in fact, with a dignity that I think most people would be very lucky to attain.
(If I’d had another thousand or two words, I might have expounded on this; I think there’s something relevant here about the importance of acting one’s age, and not trying to pretend that we are young in shallow ways as we age, because time’s inevitability is not just a destination that hits when we join the AARP, but something we experience our entire lives — but a 750-word review of a Leonard Cohen show is not the place for that.)
In any case: the way that we respond to old people is usually deeply weird, treating them like they’re only display in a museum for our amusement. (Like that MoveOn ad where the joke is that the old folks in the nursing home are threatening cockpunches and burning this motherfucker to the ground, because we’re inclined to believe that people who lived through the threat of Hitler and the 60’s and Richard Nixon are strangers to profanity.) Watching Leonard Cohen onstage, none of that is in effect, and that’s not true watching Bob Dylan or The Eagles or most other aging classic rock icons. You’re aware as you watch Cohen that he’s closer to Betty White’s age than he is to Neil Young’s, of course, but it’s not cutesy or uncomfortable. When he flirts with the audience, it’s not creepy. The word “dignity,” in a context like this, usually means something muted or deferential, and that’s obviously a totally inaccurate way to describe someone with the intensity and vitality of Leonard Cohen, who sang for three and a half hours last night. But those things aren’t what that word actually means, anyway.
The point, really, is that Leonard Cohen has carried a dignity to his work, his persona, and his music throughout his life that few others can match, and that may be way he’s so potent in his old age, when most septuagenarian (or soon-to-be) singers are so obviously trading on the impressive things that they had done when they were young.
I’m really glad I got to see the show last night. Do feel free to click the link and read more about it.
I spent all weekend at ACL, and MTV Hive pretty much let me write whatever I wanted about it. This is really exciting — the past couple years, I covered the festival for a major music magazine that insisted I write a “best moments of ACL”-style listicle, and which more or less dictated which moments those would be from their New York office days in advance. (This is a dirty business sometimes!) In contrast, Hive gave me a wide mandate.
At 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, while Gary Clark Jr.was in the midst of his set — a bluesy, oft-rocking, occasionally soulful collection of songs that will end up in commercials, TV shows, and scenes in movies that take place in bars foryearsto come, there were huge outbursts of cheers. From people who had their backs to the stage, maybe a hundred yards away, tucked inside the football tent. The Cowboys were on the verge of a 4thquarter comeback over the Ravens.
You can question the wisdom of spending $200 on a festival ticket, only to spend three hours glued to a Jumbotron in a tent showing a football game (“I wish they set this up every Sunday,” Ethan, a young dude in a Patriots snapback, lamented), but this is Texas. Friday Night Lights was set there, and filmed in Austin, for a reason. They don’t have a dedicated area of the festival showing sports all day at Lollapalooza, but for a not-insignificant portion of the ACL demographic, the chance to watch the Cowboys play on a big screen while Gary Clark Jr. rips through a great set a hundred yards a way is a fair description of utopia.
One of the things that fascinates me about festival culture, which is a huge part of music culture, which is a huge part of American culture, is the notion that everything is the same everywhere. Cynics spend a lot of time decrying it, and people argue whether it’s the result of the Internet or the corporate oligarchies that dictate the culture, or whatever. But here’s the thing: I went to Lollapalooza and ACL this summer, about two months apart from one another. I was there to do the same job, at a festival put on by the same promotion company, that had booked a whole lot of the same bands. Both weekends, I bounced between press tent and festival grounds, did interviews, and watched bands. I stayed up late each Saturday to see the Afghan Whigs play an aftershow (also, y’all? That set two nights ago at Antone’s is a top-three concert experience, for real) and I got completely sick of music by Sunday night. In Austin I stayed at home, and in Chicago I slept on my homegirl Cindy’s couch, but otherwise, I was in a very good position to judge the similarity between the two festivals.
And really, they’re not all that similar at all. We’ve got a more interesting culture than we let ourselves believe sometimes. I’m really glad that MTV Hive gave me the space to explore that, as well as why Weezer is a better band now than the Pinkerton-obsessed want to believe, and why people are bored with Ryan Gosling, and why LP is going to be famous next year, and a bunch of other things. Give it a read, if you have the chance.
Here’s a bit of fun over at MTV Hive: I interviewed Ian Young, the fella who plays the sax solo at the end of “Midnight City” as part of M83’s touring band, and he helped me break down the key elements to the gig of nailing a sexy sax solo. Young is a bit of an unsung hero in these times, as he perfectly encapsulates the new sincerity concept that is maybe the defining characteristic of whatever it is we talk about when we use words like hipster. His sax solo sounds so good, and it’s also utterly ridiculous, and he knows and embraces both of those facts, just like his audience.
The Shape Of Punk To Come is maybe the best punk rock record anybody ever made. It’s also a lie — or at least hopelessly naive. Over at MTV Hive, I make the argument for why.
While most reunions of long-dormant bands are nostalgia-fueled trips down memory lane, the return of Refused actually feels important. So many punk bands — even ones who, like Paramore, were obviously influenced by The Shape of Punk to Come— took the band’s lessons in the wrong way. They picked up on the priceless hooks of songs like “Liberation Frequency” and “New Noise,” but ignored the possibilities that would come from evolving the sound. A bunch of punk bands have covered “New Noise,” but few of them actually made any.
See that pun up there? I just made that up. It’s been that sort of weekend.
Anyway! I was at Lollapalooza all weekend. I am still in Chicago now, in fact — my flight is tomorrow, so I went down to Bourbannais, IL this afternoon to meet my parents at Chicago Bears training camp for a few hours (they live in Indianapolis). Now, sunburnt, I am here and my Lollapalooza recap is up on MTV Hive.
A few notes: The recap assignment was to come up with ten superlatives from the festival. “Best crowd singalong,” “Funniest stage banter,” “Coolest hair,” whatever. I have had similar assignments at other outlets in the past for festivals, but this was the first time I was actually allowed to pick what acts I wrote about. (Yes, at some outlets, the best moments from a festival somewhere out in America would be determined in advance by an editor in New York.) This was delightful, because it meant that I didn’t have to chase down stuff I had zero interest in and try to think of something to say about it. (That was a challenge for some things I really enjoyed, too — what is there to say about The Weeknd besides, “Gosh, this band is so great”? Fortunately, I did not have to say anything at all.)
Also: the monsoon or whatever that was on Saturday sucked pretty bad, but mostly because I missed Alabama Shakes since they were canceled. (And also because I gave up after the mud-pit and surrendered my shoes to Grant Park that night.) It sure made for a lot of hip teenagers wandering around TJ Maxx on State St, though. I did a lot of interviews over the weekend, which meant that I missed a few people on my must-see list: Sharon Van Etten, Michael Kiwanuka, and the Gaslight Anthem were all casualties of scheduling. They also distributed White Castle hamburgers in the media tent, which I grew up with but have not eaten in years. They were delicious. MTV Hive also hired my homegirl Cindy as the photographer for the fest, so hanging out with her when possible during the weekend was lovely.
In all: My feet hurt, and I’m kinda sick of music right now, but I’m glad I came here and did this. I don’t plan to make traveling for music festivals a regular part of my work, but for the (likely) last opportunity a person will have to see Black Sabbath on this side of the ocean, and the (who knows) final currently-scheduled At The Drive-In performance of their reunion, it was worth it.
So, yes — go read the link, if you’re so inclined. Cindy’s photos (especially Tune-Yards and Childish Gambino) are lovely, too.
“[I]f I get asked — as I have been in the past — to do some stupid shit, like if Kerrang! wanted me to dress up as a dolphin and fellate Billy Corgan for the cover of their next magazine. If I go, ‘Guys, I don’t think that’s a good idea, and I’ll explain why,’ then I’m probably putting on that dolphin costume, and I’ll have to do some preparatory work on Billy’s balls. I’ve learned that the only way you get your own way for a band in our position in the music industry is to say, ‘No, and if you make me do it, I’m going to split up the band and never make any more music.’”