Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide

This past weekend I watched a documentary on The Funk Brothers, who were the house band for Motown records while they were based in Detroit during the 50's and 60's. The amazing thing about them is that they were one (albeit very large) band and they wrote the music and played on EVERY SINGLE SONG MOTOWN PUT OUT DURING THIS TIME. THAT IS A FUCKLOAD OF SONGS. And not just a lot of songs, but a lot of really, really awesome songs. I was already a huge Motown soul junkie, but this documentary really made me realize that The Funk Brothers and Motown really had their style down pat and pretty much created the perfect pop music.

Everyone in the band was pretty exceptional at what they did (I'm obviously biased because I play bass, but ESPECIALLY James Jamerson. He was their only bass player for a long time and when you stop to consider the amount of "classic" songs he not only played on, but gave extremely memorable and also technically difficult basslines, it's kind of impossible to not give him the "best bass player of all-time tag.) and managed to make each song absurdly catchy and poppy, give it an absolutely fabulous groove so everyone can dance to it and also make them not that easy to play (you can't just pick up an instrument and play any of the hits from Motown. They are fucking tough.).

What makes it even more crazy is that the documentary makes it seem like on person would come in with an idea and then they just throw around ideas say "Yea, that sounds good" and just jam out a #1 single. And that is fucking ridiculous.

The singers did the same thing and I guess that's why essentially all of Motown's output from this time is so revered; everyone from the lead vocalists to the pianist to the third guitar player to the tambourine player was the best at what he did. This was especially obvious when the remaining members of the band did a version of "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" with Ben Harper.

Now, Ben Harper is definitely someone who the average person today would say has a "great voice". People definitely say "I wish I could sing like Ben Harper". As soon as he started singing it was obvious that he isn't half the singer that David Ruffin (who sang lead on the song for The Temptations) is. If you compare the two versions, Harper looks like a fucking hack. Not even that he can't hit the notes that Ruffin can, but completely ignores the inflection and timing that make Ruffin's performance so incredible.

To compare:


If you play music (or if you don't and just love soul music) this is also awesome.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that everyone involved with Motown was the best and that is what makes the music so special.

Naw'm sayin'?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'm Sort Of Fun At Parties

The more I think about it, the more I'm pretty sure that this was the best summer I've ever had. This is because of a variety of reasons, which, if you couldn't guess, I am about to go into below.

The first and easiest thing to talk about was all the shows I got to see. I got the chance to catch almost literally every single one of my absolute favourite bands this summer. The only thing that would have taken away that "almost" would have been an Ergs! reunion. But still, seeing the Descendents on my birthday after an extended hiatus from them, Lifetime back in Canada for the first time in four years, my habitual bi-yearly Less Than Jake experience, seeing Anthrax for the first time, an incredible set by Against Me! near the end of August, Title Fight and The Menzingers ripping up Sneaky Dee's, Hot Water Music and A Wilhelm Scream two days after The Descendents was easily the best summer music-wise I've had.

Most of all though, I managed to catch Bomb The Music Industry! at the end of July. The band played an absolutely killer set and the crowd was going crazy. They came out for the encore and let a kid play "Stuff That I Like" with them on guitar. The last song they played was "Syke, Life Is Awesome!" which is my personal favourite from them and definitely one of my all-time favourites in general. It was a big deal because I hadn't seen the song live before and it is really, really special to me personally. I had a pretty shitty time in high school and wasn't a huge fan of life. One of the things that made things seem not so shitty was To Leave Or Die In Long Island by this band. I would time it on my walks home from school so that "Syke" would be the last song (I've posted all the lyrics to this song on this blog before). So naturally I went bananas and somehow screamed louder than I already was when they played it.

The last part of the song is a giant climax with Jeff screaming a bunch of lyrics that really hit home for me. Now, I know I spew a lot of bullshit all of the time but I am being 100% real and serious when I say this: There are two people who I look up to and try to be like in my life. One is my Dad, he works his ass off for essentially nothing in return and never says anything about it or complains. He encompasses everything the word "father" could possibly mean. The other is Jeff Rosenstock, the singer of Bomb The Music Industry! and the former singer of the Arrogant Sons of Bitches. He's a phenomenal lyricist, a songwriting genius and extremely down to earth and friendly and is pretty much everything right with punk rock and music in general. He is "my guy" when it comes to the music I like. Less Than Jake may be my favourite band and stuff, but nobody's music really hits home and helps me out like his does.

That being said, during this last part I figured it would be a good time to stage-dive. I did and ended up being in the position of on my stomach at the front of the crowd so that my head was more or less level with Jeff's. During this climax he grabbed the back of my head and pulled it down to scream all the words along with him.

And seriously, that was the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.

Here's the song if you want to check out what I'm talking about:

So yea, it was a really awesome summer for music.

I also worked a whole bunch this summer. At my job I can essentially work as much as I would like to, so that is more or less what I do. At first it sucked because I would wake up at 7, get to work at 9, leave work at 9 and get home at about 9:45, then go to sleep around 11 to do it again the next day. As a result of this, I didn't really get to do anything except work. Then I realized that not seeing my friends all summer is no fun, so I just didn't get very much sleep for the next two months. I ended up having a ton of awesome times with my friends and more than a few hungover Wednesdays at work because of "My Friends Over You".

The upside of working so much was that there was a completely awesome crew of people at the waterpark this year. Not only did they make work bearable, but they made it fun. I've worked there a long fucking time and everyone I got to know this summer were hands down my favourite staff we've had there.

I listen to a ton of music on the way to and from work because my commute on the gotrain takes more or less an hour, so more so than any other time, in the summer I really have a "soundtrack" to that short phase of my life. I figured I'd close this up by posting a "greatest hits" of what I rocking out to for the last 3-4 months.

First I started listening to Saves The Day because their first album is basically a 14-song Lifetime cover. Then I got into Through Being Cool because it's an awesome pop-punk record. I wanted to hate the band for so long because "THEY'RE EMO AND SHIT BRO", but goddamn Stay What You Are is a phenomenal combination of punk, rock and pop. Pretty much every day I would leave the house, look at my ipod and think "Am I going to listen to Stay What You Are or something else?"

Probably my other most listened to album this summer was Good For Me by The Swellers. I loved My Everest because it was a poppy skate-punk shredfest. They slowed it down a tad for Ups And Downsizing and I wasn't as much of a fan. I had pretty much written the band off, but checked out their newest after a friend recommended it and I heard it described as "alt-pop-punk". It is so fucking good. I know I already described it on here earlier, but the way they combine good 90's alternative and pop-punk is just divine. I had seen the band talk about those influences on twitter and I'm pretty stoked that they evolved their sound in that way, as opposed to pumping out skate punk record upon skate punk record, which they totally could have done.

For awhile this summer I really wanted a solid rock/pop album to listen to that I hadn't heard before. The one I used to scratch that itch was No Traffic by The Stereo. The band actually just recently reunited to play Fueled By Ramen's 15th anniversary show, which is how I got turned on to them. I'm paraphrasing, but someone on said that The Stereo were the band that all the huge bands that the label is known for were trying to sound like. Poppy rock songs about girls? I'm down.

Like I already mentioned, The Sidekicks were also a go-to this summer. I also apparently only listened to bands that start with S. What I like about The Sidekicks is that they are (maybe) the best example of having a wide range of influences (punk, rock, folk, soul), but not just mishmashing a bunch of genres together. For example, the song "Looking" which I put up a few posts ago. It starts with some nice chimey open chords and then rips into a great guitar lead. They pause before the verse for some absolutely Phil Spectoresque "bum babum"s and then start a folky (more open chords!) poppy punk love song. THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT.

This song really rules too though:

And House Boat just totally ruled the second half of the summer for me. Holy fuck, what a pop-punk record they put out. Perfect mix of fast poppy punk, nasally vocals and awesome love-lorn somewhat depressing lyrics. They do it fucking right and this record is definitely going to be up there as album of the year for me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Found It Hard To Believe

I realized when I woke up this morning that thinking of something to write a big long write up about never even crossed my mind this past weekend (In order to understand this go back and read the post titled "Since It's About Old Entries, I Should Probably Post Bayside Lyrics Because I Loved Jamming That Shit Back Then", it's probably a page behind this one). So naturally I tried to come up with one on the spot. The first thing I thought of was my daphne blue Fender Mark Hoppus precision bass because I could still feel the blisters on my fingers from practicing the day before. Then I realized that there isn't much to that. I bought it and play it a lot. Then I thought of the first band I played that bass in, which was The Pragmatics, and figured that that might make for an interesting story.

So here we go.

We used to have "bush parties" in the ravine beside Warden Station all the time because we could never find houses to party in and it was somewhat convenient to get to for everyone. At one of these a few of my friends (for ease later, Erik and Parks) came later and told me that they had been jamming ska/reggae songs at Erik's house with some people and needed a bass player. I obviously jumped at the opportunity. They told me to learn "Having An Average Weekend" by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet (which is well-known in Canada as the theme song to the absolutely amazing and famous sketch comedy show Kids In The Hall) as well as The Aggrolites cover of "Don't Bring Me Down" by The Beatles and "Have The Time" by The Slackers.

I bought my new bass that week and went about getting all of the songs down as well as I could. I showed up to Erik's and met Sherman (guitar), Alex (trumpet) and Lauren (keyboard) for the first time (Erik played drums and Parks played alto saxophone). We ran through the Slackers song once or twice, but started focusing on doing a ska/reggae cover of the SMOASP for the rest of the practice. It started to sound pretty good and we ended up recording it that practice. And you can even hear that recording (and a few others) right here.

Sidebar: Holy fuck, these fucking recordings. They are probably the worst fucking quality that you can imagine. To record songs at band practice we used the hands-free microphone from the cordless V-Tech phone in Erik's basement. We plugged that microphone into Erik's family's desktop computer and used the "Sound Recorder" application to record. In order to "balance" the levels we would put the mic in the middle of the basement. However, drums, guitars and basses are much louder than horns, so we would have the horns lean down to play near the microphone, with the soloists moving even closer when they needed to. This made for INCREDIBLY out of tune hornlines. We played a whole better live. I swear.

Man, we did actually record a ton of songs for how long we were together though. Most aren't up there.

Anyways, that recording ended up getting the best levels I think and we were all really fucking stoked considering we had been a full band for about three hours.

We met again to practice the next week and added another member, Graeme on tenor saxophone, who we all knew from local Toronto ska shows. We ran through the songs we knew and also wrote and recorded the song "Stormfront" that is on the myspace player I linked to up there. We started to meet every Friday to record and produced a new song at pretty much every practice. We got a lot tighter and started to put together a setlist.

We figured that we should play a show since we had been practicing so much and the logical choice for us was Cardinal Newman High School's Talent Night. Cardinal Newman was where Erik and Parks went to high school, along with essentially all of my friends. Every year they put on Talent Night and every year every one of our group of friends' bands would play (The year before being host to the only Chinese Fingertraps show ever. That's a way less interesting story though. Or maybe not. We'll see.). So yea we played our first show at Talent Night in 2006. We were playing in a highschool auditorium with absolutely no soundcheck or balancing of levels. We were so fucking bad. Like really, really bad. It bummed me out. Bad shows are never fun.

After that we kept on practicing and kept on writing songs. Alex also played in another band called Say Ah!, so we got our first real show as an opening band for their CD release. This show went so, so, so much better. I thought we played pretty well and there were even a few kids that started dancing during our set. I still have our set-list from this show and put it up on the wall of whatever room I'm living in at the time.

After that show we began to get offered shows very frequently thanks to lots of help from Yvonne, who played baritone sax in the absolute incredible Toronto ska band The Makeshift Heroes (I know I recommend music on here all the time and it probably falls on deaf ears, but this band was seriously the best thing that happened to ska in Toronto. There will probably never be a download that I will recommend as much as that link right there. DOWNLOAD IT. DOWNLOAD IT. DOWNLOAD IT. IT IS FREE. THERE'S AN INCREDIBLE COVER OF "MAD WORLD" IF THAT WORKS FOR YOU. DOWNLOAD IT. IT WILL IMPROVE YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE.), as well as another local band Frankie Foo And The Yo-Yo Smuglers. I realize that might be a little confusing. I meant that both Yvonne and Frankie Foo both helped us get shows.

So the next show we had was the opening band at Nut'n Butt Ska Fest at The Dungeon in Oshawa. This was a big deal for us (I guess me, I don't know about the rest of the band, but i'd assume they were stoked too) for a variety of reasons. One was that it was the first all-ages show we would play (with a whopping one show under our belt before that!). Now, if you are at all familiar with ska music, you know that it is usually something more associated with a younger teenaged crowd, rather than what you would get at a 19+ show. That being said, they were a decent group of older people who would come and see us somewhat regularly because we played something closer to "1st Wave" or "Trad" ska as opposed to being a Reel Big Fish clone, and that was radical. Still though, I was excited because we would be playing to kids closer to our age, rather than a bar of adults. And that way kids could "skank" and stuff and the thought of people doing that to music I was playing made me feel REALLY FUCKING GOOD.

It was also an out-of-town show for us, which was also a new experience. Even though Oshawa is the dirty shit-laden sphincter of Ontario, it meant that there would be kids from another town, or possibly towns, that would hear us and know us. And that also got me REALLY FUCKING STOKED. We got to load up our van, which I named the "Pragwagon", and then drive out to Oshawa in order to load in and soundcheck. And that made it seem like we were a for-real band doing for-real, serious band-type things and that made me REALLY FUCKING STOKED.

The final big-deal about this show was that it was allish-day festival-type of thing, which meant that we were going to be playing with bands that were way bigger than us and already established in the Southern Ontario ska scene, like Keepin' 6 (who were great and I still listen to on occasion) and The Cheap Suits (who had been around the longest of all the bands and were always really, really nice to me because they knew my brother) and The Johnstones (who are a really, really bad band). Which meant that they would bring out a lot more kids and that this was a pretty fucking sweet deal for us.

We met up pretty early and got all of our stuff loaded up and ready to go. We drove out really fast because we thought we were going to be late and thought we were the biggest badasses on earth when Erik and I flipped off a woman on the highway. We didn't bring a drum set or bass amp because the promoter told us that both of those things would be there for us. We arrived on time to find that pretty much nobody else was there yet. We set up and realized that Erik would be playing on the shittiest-in-house-beat to shit drum set that I had ever seen in my life. I felt really bad for him. We also found out that there was in fact no bass amp for me to use there. From that point on we brought our own drums and bass amp to every show, no matter what.

But the show went really well! a pretty decent amount of kids got there at doors, which meant in time to see us, and they seemed to like us a lot! There's even a full set of pictures from this show! I'm pretty sure that my hair is like that because I'm a dude who dances and jumps around and goes crazy when he plays! But I also used to just have the worst fucking hair ever! The rest of the show was also really fun because there were a ton of other bands that we were friends with on the bill. I felt a pretty strong sense of scene unity.

The town of Oshawa really fucking sucks though. Don't go there.

We played a show the next night (HOLY FUCK! TWO SHOWS IN TWO DAYS? WHY AREN'T WE SIGNED?!?!?) at the Tiger Bar in Toronto, continuing our tradition of playing every venue possible at the intersection of College and Bathurst. Not many people came to that show, probably because it was a Sunday night and it was full of shitty ska bands that nobody had heard of. I think I still have the flyer for this show packed away. The highlight of the night was finding a box of fluorescent tube lights and then smashing them, which would also become a tradition for the band.

We had another show the next weekend (WE WORK HARD FOR OUR MONEY) (But seriously, we played way more shows in a month and a half than all of the bands my friends were in. We really weren't a big band at all, but it made me feel like I was doing it right, because playing shows is what real bands do) at Sneaky Dee's. That was super rad because Sneak's is a very well-know bar and concert venue and saying "We have a show at Sneaky Dee's" is a fuckload cooler than saying "We have a show at The Tiger Bar". There's also pictures from this show, but I can't seem to find them anywhere. If you look at my facebook profile though, I'm pretty one of my really old dp's is from this show.

I was really, really stoked for the next show because it was going to be our first all-ages show in Toronto. We were playing with a lot of the same bands from Nut 'N Butt Fest and I was stoked to create a sort of network of local ska bands. Some of our friends came and all of them said "Man, you guys are pretty good live!" which made me feel REALLY FUCKING GOOD. The show also turned out to be pretty packed and there were tons of kids dancing and stuff for our set. And that is a PRETTY AWESOME EGO STOKE. We got a positive review on a pretty prominent ska zine and that made me PRETTY FUCKING STOKED. There's a full set of pictures for this show too! They make me look cooler than I am! If you didn't believe me that kids got mad stoked about dancing to us, there's a picture of them in there! Hot damn!

We had a ton more shows lined up after this and it seemed like everything was coming up Pragmatics, but unfortunately Sherman was being an asshole. I still don't know the entire situation, but he and another member had a bit of a checkered history (C wut I did tharr?), which lead to a bunch of conflict at practice. Eventually it got pretty heated and he decided he was going to quit. We still had one show booked for sure and decided that it would be the last one, which sucked.

What ruled was that this show was opening for Chris Murray! I realize that name probably means nothing to you if you aren't big into Canadian ska, but in that realm he is a pretty fucking big deal, which meant that it was a pretty fucking big deal for us. This is still my one claim to fame regarding this band: "One time, we opened for Chris Murray". Anyways, we were up to our usual business live when the two aforementioned members started to go at it. We had one song left and one of them kicked the other one and walked off stage. This was unfortunate because that member was really needed for the last song. We tried to drum up some sort of jam to kill time but ended up just unplugging. At the time, I was super pissed off because my band had just broken up onstage. Now, I find it to be one of my funnier anecdotes, especially if you know/are somewhat familiar with the people involved, because my high school ska band broke up onstage. The rest of the show was really awesome, because Chris Murray is pretty much the man (he does every show all request).

There's a full set of pictures from that show too! Brutal ill Scarlett shirt! Ugly board shorts comboed with high socks! Seriously though, if anyone could go back in time and bring me back that Lakeside softball, I'd be the happiest clam in the sea! (Like I'm not already, MIRITE?)

So that was pretty much the end of the band. We were pretty serious about keeping on, but that never materialized for, I'm pretty sure, no reason whatsoever. We actually got together once I had come back from my first year at Guelph and jammed out all of our old songs and seemed like we were somewhat serious about getting it going again, but that also never materialized.

It was a really fun time though. The Pragmatics were the closest thing to a real band that I was ever in. I realize that this isn't really anything other than a way to kill time reading for everyone else, but it was a super-duper-crazy nostalgia trip for me and I remembered a ton of shit I hadn't thought about in years (this actually took me the entire summer to finish, I started it June 29th, mostly because of laziness) and I'll probably add some more to this later.

There's probably nothing I miss more than being in a band and playing shows and having an awesome time playing music with my friends. Maybe having a girlfriend. But I think I would take being in a band still.

Because that shit rules.

Happy Anniversary

This summer i just completely neglected this blog. Not just that I put up posts, but also in general upkeep. Usually I check my dashboard at least once a day and try to stay on top of things. This summer though, it just went free. That being said, I was pretty stoked when I checked my "stats" tab and found that the two highest referring sources for it over the last week (what up, 24 views!) were "I musical genius tabs" (makes sense, the blog is named after an Arrogant Sons of Bitches song) and "rash on my dog's privates" (just plain awesome).

I think I'm going to bring it back full time? I say that a lot don't I?

I'll do some sort of summer recap shit I think. Science knows I have nothing else to do right now.

Scorpios are a new alt-country/folk band. Before writing them off because alt-country/folk bands seem to be the flavour of the week these days, you should take note that it comprised of Joey Cape (Lagwagon's singer, Bad Astronaut mastermind, The Playing Favourites, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, two fucking awesome solo records and that Joey Cape's Bad Loud Thing I wrote about briefly at the start of the summer), Tony Sly (No Use For A Name's singer, also a pretty solid solo career), Jon Snodgrass (Drag The River, all-around awesome dude and involved with roughly a million rad folky-acoustic-alt-country-I've-used-that-term-way-too-many-times things) and some other dude who I am not familiar with.

Four good singer-songwriters and acoustic guitars that made a full length record and THEN PUT IT OUT FOR FREE.

That's all folks.