When I was a teenager just starting to craft what would be my band's sound, my Dad, a prolific musician who ran a record company and toured since he was 17, gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ll ever receive:
“Write songs that make guys want to fight and girls want to fuck.” – Tom Timony
It wasn’t clear to me if the girls would be fucking while the guys were fighting, but the sentiment resonated nonetheless. My musical theory teacher Jerry Mueller, also gave me another great piece of advice:
“Don’t be boring.” – Jerry Mueller
I’m looking at the current music-scape to see what’s popular and I'm about as impressed as Melania Trump on her wedding night.
This week’s bitchy millennial gripe is written in the key of: Why is “alternative-rock” radio not playing any heavy, meaningful music? (In short it’s because while they may be corporate whores who have a bottom line(( Live 105's Aaron Axelsen is a very beautiful exception and don't anyone think I'm calling him out. He's done more for local bands than anyone)), and most new heavy rock music sucks a broken-glass covered butthole). But we’ll cover that in a moment…
Our “alternative-rock” menu today is serving:
- An appetizer of: throwback, 90’s era rock like Nirvana, Offspring, or Green Day.
- A main course of: soft, bearded, hipster “rock” with banjos, mandolins and subject matter shallower than the time I tried to make a tequila kiddy-pool.
- For desert we will enjoy: some “new” post-punk, which is back again for some reason. So it’s technically it’s post-post-post-post punk.
- For an after dinner drink: some hard rock stations stay old school and play old man classic rock (Zep, AC/DC..). You know, music from a time when men who dressed tough would actually do something if they saw a woman being mugged on a train (true story, I was on the other side of the train when it happened, the guy ran off, when I went to go check on the old Filipino woman who had her earrings ripped off I saw a bunch of dudes in flannel with beards and beanies looking around like their dad just changed the wi-fi password).
Ever hear a song that makes you eye roll so hard you could see your brain dying?
"Alright smart ass, if rock radio is soooo soft then how come I work out to Imagine Dragons?"
Dang dude if Radioactive is what pushes you through 15 minutes on the Eliptical then you should see what some Metallica could do.
Here’s a question: Why are bands who glamorize being a beta humans and being safe and polite seem to be so lauded of late as opposed to bands that are commentating on the current wrongs of the world and - for lack of a better phrase - talking about real shit? Don’t get me wrong, I like to cozy up with some chamomile, listen to Sia’s 2nd album and soak in a rose-scented bath under candlelight, but for the most part I think humans should have some drive. Have the will to go out in the world and and get what they want, but always without hurting people or animals.
OK you’re probably picturing me writing this while wearing a wife beater and backwards Fred Durst hat while listening to Linkin Park and shopping on Amazon for Tap-Out decals to put on my pick-up truck. But alas, I’m not. I’m a non-drinking, Buddhist, vegan, Green Party voting, water conserving, documentary watching, Star Trek loving book worm who just thinks humans should strive for something greater. To not make excuses. Not settle for what's easy and comfortable, and for fuck’s sake, not be smooshy soft pushovers. We don’t all have to listen to hard rock. We don't all have to be alpha-humans. But we should all have an opinion and forever push the envelope and challenge the status quo. Challenge the fuck out of it.
What is popular in pop culture is a reflection on the society we are. And right now we’re fucked. So I’m sounding the alarm.
Someone once said:
“If you don’t fight for something, you’ll fall for any soft, shitty, mainstream hipster band radio tells you to listen to.” I think it was Nietzsche. Or maybe Plato.
Do you remember the 70’s when there were a shit ton of smooshy bands starring ugly guys with huge beards singing about self-indulgent, meaningless crap? Me neither, but from what I’ve seen on all the late-night commercials for CD compilations of hits from the 70’s, it was a thing before. It seems to be a thing again.
“Everything old is new again, dummy.” Definitely Socrates or something
However if you want to sell out quickly, here’s the formula for writing an “alternative rock” song in 2016:
"Talk about politics, war, and real shit going on in the world? And risk my radio play for having an opinion? Are you crazy?! I’d rather sing about how this one day was like, the greatest day of my life and I was all happy.."
After 9/11 the media-conglomerate Clear Channel made a push to get mostly hard rock music taken off the radio, at least in the interim after the attacks. It was akin to censorship. Because duh it’s a given some kid in Tulsa will listen to System of a Down and then jihad the fuck out. CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT: I believe they used the attacks as a catalyst to soften the musical land-scape. After the trauma of 9/11 music reverted to a safe state. Because under the Patriot Act, dissent can be construed as terrorism. Where else are angsty kids going to get an outlet to relieve their frustrations, question authority, AND rock out? MUSE is the only band of prominence I can think of who continue to speak out on global atrocities and still get mad radio play at the same time (hint: it’s because their songs are also amazing). Bless those brilliant boys. But for the most part I hear nothing on mainstream radio that makes me think, question, or grow. The world is like alcoholism: you have to confront what scares you the most before you can start to fix it.
I worry the next generation is growing up thinking this kind of safe music is OK. That being a complacent, obedient cog in the American machine, living and dying, without thinking or questioning, is the only option. Here’s a brain burner: it isn’t. You should question everything. Always. And it begins with yourself.
“But is this really the problem of radio stations who need to turn a profit, weak ass dudes who are trying way too hard to get laid, and listeners who are subject to popular demand?”
Kinda. But here's the elephant in the room: IT’S BECAUSE HARD ROCK ACTS AREN'T WRITING ANYTHING NEW OR INTERESTING! Yes y’all, I’m blaming my clan. We dropped the ball. Now it’s our turn to pick it the fuck up.
(Here's a shitty Venn Diagram)
Here’s a problem: Heavy bands are playing way too heavy. I know it's weird for me to say because I love Meshuggah and Born of Osiris, but hard rock is underrepresented in mainstream rock radio. Concessions either get made, or we stay in the dark. Way too heavy is OK if that’s it’s in your bones. That's fine, I really like those bands. But hell even Slipknot has catchy hooks. Most heavy bands I hear are seldom pumping out shit you can hum along to, if at all.
Hard rock, I’m disappointed with you lately. There seems to be no grey area for rock anymore. It’s either at level 2, or 11. Bands lately that do fall into that grey area play into the Nickleback Canadian country rock fusion game. Bland af. Predictable. Nothing original. Nothing new. Nothing exciting. At least with Hip-Hop radio I could painfully run into Drake, but might also get to catch some T.I.
And as much as we like to make fun of dubstep, when it first came out it was fresh. It was trying to be different. It wasn’t electronic music that we were used to. It wasn’t boring.
The point is: hard rock bands need to make more of an effort. I’ve seen way too many bands in my area with the right amount of grit, their hearts in the right place, but offering little else. Bands, I’m calling you out. Grab a pen and the pad and get back in the lab. Work on your craft. Study music. Study trends.Then buck them. Buck them right in the ass. Take a music class at the local community college. Study harmony, because at the core of every song needs to be something audibly pleasing.
This is our philosophy for writing music:
- Write songs you want to listen to.
- No matter the genre, write songs that would sound good if they were only played with piano and vocals.
- Write songs that reflect the world in which we live. It's our duty as artists.
That’s it. And it may not be the sexiest advice. It may not actually work. But damnit, if I’ve learned anything from writing music since I was 6, it’s these three things. Oh and make dudes fight and dudets fuck.
But after all this I’m not worried. Just like generations past have rallied and created beautiful, meaningful art out of the ashes of self-indulgent, safe bullshit, history will once again repeat. Somewhere there is a kid who hates Trump, turning up his guitar pissing off his neighbors, and not wanting to jihad. We will be OK. Until the next time that we’re not.
If you agree or disagree, hate our guts or want to see us put our money where our mouths are, please listen to the free music we have on this site and give us some feedback. We’d love to hear from you. Unless you want to sing us a song you wrote on your ukulele.
In love and progress,
(Thank you probably dead cow)