The Future of Rock:
a discussion with Kittens For Christian,
Stellastarr*, Vue, Low Flying Owls
By Alexander Laurence
Rock and roll music is fifty years old. There have been many claims of what is great music being made today. The Beatles, The Stones, and Elvis weren't just trying to sell a few records and maybe sell out Roseland Ballroom. They were making music that was great then and also today. Those bands have been copied to death. In our time, you can wonder if there is any music being made today, that will influence the next generation of musicians? Or are we just recycling past genres of music that lay dormant for many years? People are always looking to past, but is anyone looking to the future? Are there any important bands today that will transcend any scene or trendiness?
To answer these questions, we assembled four bands making music today, to solve these enigmas. We cleared the offices of The Portable Infinite for these people, and grabbed a few six packs of beers and a carton of cigarettes. The Poratble Infinite went all out to get these four bands in one room. Soon we found this was impossible because there was not enough room for everyone. So we got a few representatives of each band to say their piece about the future of rock. The bands included Kittens For Christian, an LA band who has just completed a long tour with The Raveonettes. We also spoke to Stellastarr who are the band you love to hate from NYC. From San Francisco, we have the lovely Vue. And from Sacramento, we spoke to Low Flying Owls.
These are bands that I think are all different from each other and all in their own way doing something cool and real in today's pop culture. From the trio Kitten For Christian (KFC) we spoke mainly to singer and bass guitar, Hiram Fleites. From Stellastarr* (SS), we spoke to drummer Arthur Kremer. From the five-member Vue (V), we spoke to mainly to guitarist, Jonah Buffa, but Jeremy Bringetto, Jessica Ann Graves also joined in. From the band, Low Flying Owls (LFO), we spoke to drummer Sam Coe. What will we be listening to in the future? Where are we coming from? We are we going?
AL: Where were you guys born and for what is that place known?
Hiram (KFC): I was born in Cuba. It's known for Fidel Castro, hot women, and a great climate. I went back there a year ago. It was interesting going back there.
Arthur (SS): I am originally from Lithuania. They produce very good cheese. They produce a lot of Amber.
Jeremy (V): Three of us are from Half Moon Bay, a small town in Northern California. It's mainly known for a yearly pumpkin festival and big wave surfing.
Sam (LFO): We are from Sacramento which is the state capital. Musically it's known for bands like Cake and The Deftones.
AL: Where do you live now?
Hiram (KFC): I live in Eaglerock. It's close to Hollywood.
Arthur (SS): I live in Brooklyn. I used to live in Pennsylvania and I moved to New York to go to school. I stayed in New York afterwards.
Jonah (V): We live in San Francisco now. I used to live in the Mission but I got tired of seeing needles on my doorstep. We have on tour for so long that we don't really have our apartments anymore. I am staying at a big house by the ocean. I am coasting in life on charisma. I like hanging out on Sixth Street in San Francisco.
Sam (LFO): Currently we still live in Sacramento, but we are going to soon be relocating to New York City. It's going to be a transition over a few months. A few members are going there now in October 2003, and the rest will follow in the beginning of 2004. The label we are on Stinky Records is based in New York City.
AL: How did you get involved in music?
Hiram (KFC): It was a fluke. I thought that I would always pursue visual arts. I went to Otis Parsons. I picked music as an elective in school. I started playing the upright bass. I was playing classical music and I was in a jazz band. I started jamming with my buddies so after that.
Arthur (SS): I played piano and guitar. I knew Shawn and Mandy from Stellastarr*. They were in a band when we were in school. The idea of being in a band was so exciting to me. They had nine different drummers. I didn't think that any of them did a good job interpreting the music. I felt like I could do better. I asked them to give me a chance. We are all novices really.
Jeremy (V): My dad is a jazz trumpet player. He taught me trumpet and when I was thirteen I took the solo on "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" somewhere in Daly City. I was in some bands. One was called Four Way Split, and another called Pizzazz.
Sam (LFO): I was in a high school band. I have always played the drums. I felt something while playing music that I could get nowhere else. That is what keeps me in tune.
AL: What are some important things to know if you are in a band?
Arthur (SS): Communication and listening to one another is important. A band is like a relationship because you spend so much time with people. Compromise is a big part of our band. We have a lot of democracy.
Sam (LFO): It's definitely important to get along. You should be making music that you enjoy.
Hiram (KFC): It's important to know where's the beer? Seriously, you should learn about the business: you should learn as much as you can about publishing and contracts. We had our own label at first. We learned a lot on our own.
Jonah (V): It's important to know proper directions. We spend most of our time driving down dead ends and abandoned roads. For people who are not in bands: when we do a show, this is one night among many nights. People want to stay up all night and go out after the gig. They think that we are having a great time. But this happens for me every night. I meet people who want to party all night.
AL: What are the worst aspects in music today?
Jonah (V): Notes and time signatures. It sucks going to so many shows.
Hiram (KFC): You have to be optimistic in terms of how things are going. I think that there are a lot of really great bands that are coming up. I would count us as one of those. It's frustrating that there are a lot of bands out there. We are a new band for most people. Not many bands are selling a million records.
Arthur (SS): There are too many fucking bands. Most of them are okay. I can't pay attention to all these bands. I wasn't really into music until I was much older.
Sam (LFO): The worst aspect is it's hard making a living doing music. It's fun to do but it's hard to make money.
AL: Do you think that it is good or bad that fans are just attracted to the lead singer or a member of the band and are not really fans of music at all?
Arthur (SS): I think it's bad. Maybe I think so it's because I'm the drummer and I'm in the back. There is a lot going on in our music. It's not like the lead singer is the star of the show. The dynamics of a band is the most important thing.
Hiram (KFC): It should be about the music. Any edge that you can use is going to be great. You stand out from the other bands because of image and how you look. I am definitely from the school of it should be about the music first, the image second.
Jonah (V): For us it is a good thing, but for Journey it's bad thing.
Sam (LFO): It's natural to focus on the singing or the speaker.
AL: Is fashion and image an important thing in music?
Arthur (SS): I am glad you asked that question. Fashion is not important at all to me. Why I wear these big sunglasses in this band photo because it is ironic for me to wear them. It's my Spinal Tap moment. I don't feel like I am a rock star in any way. It's funny and ridiculous to me that I wear these huge sunglasses and nipple tape. It's irony.
Jonah (V): Music is fashion and music is fashionable. Saying we are not into fashion is it's own style. I don't know if kids are concerned with that. We just played a bunch of shows with Hot Hot Heat. They are really dressed up and having fun.
Hiram (KFC): That attention to image has always been around. Even serious musicians like Bob Dylan had a cool look.
Sam (LFO): You can make music without a cool jacket.
AL: What do you about all this attention to garage rock and new rock revivalism? Do you have anything to do with that?
Sam (LFO): I see the term "garage rock" thrown in reviews to describe our sound. I don't really keep up with any trends in music. The stuff I listen to is a broad range of stuff. I don't really know who are all these "garage rock" bands are.
Hiram (KFC): I don't see us as being part of that. We have some of that in our music. People can do what they want. There are bands who are in that milieu who I like. There are the derivative bands too. There are so many genres to weed through now. You have to find those bands who are giving it their own spin or who are being true to themselves.
Arthur (SS): People always want to classify and deify something. I don't care for any categories.
Jonah (V): People think that I am from Sweden. We are not really a garage band. It's just a stripped down rock and roll music. We like stuff like 13th Floor Elevators.
Low Flying Owls
AL: Is there room for serious music today? Or are the dark forces of capitalism, competition, and marketing too much to handle?
Hiram (KFC): I think that there is a blending of both. Why there is so much music being revived this week, is because there is not a lot of new music that is super forward. Much of the good stuff has already been written. If a band is paying homage to old bands, that's a great way for kids to retrace the steps. It's good to go back.
Arthur (SS): There is room for serious music. As long as there are feelings involved, and people having their hearts broken, and as long as there is love, people will always want to write and hear songs with power and emotion. Even cheesy pop songs can be good. I am disappointed that people don't play ballads in clubs. How are you supposed to ask a girl to dance?
Jonah (V): Radiohead gets to do serious music and people are hearing it. It's hard to get anything across on a first record. A lot of creative and imaginative music doesn't get across to people. Some obvious things are easier to sell.
Sam (LFO): Marketing records successfully is harder to pull off. I don't know if a record comes out next week and is going to be number one and a thirteen-year-old kid is going to love it. I don't know if it's going to be serious.
AL: Is it better now to be on a small indie label or a major label?
Arthur (SS): The difference is money. Big labels are notorious for breaking a career because money is involved. We went with RCA because they have an indie label mentality: they are interested in developing an artist. The lines between major labels and indies have blurred in the past two years. Big labels are losing money because they aren't developing artists. They are dropping bands after one album. The label we were on, Tiswas, didn't have any distribution. They couldn't help us when we went on tour.
Jonah (V): Subpop is a small label. We released our own record too. It's better being on RCA. It's more complicated and there's a bigger machine working. I like it and hate it. You get so involved in your art and you want to be in control. We come from that indie mentality. We were in hardcore bands before this. But I want to focus on making art and I don't want to focus on working at a coffee shop and trying to scrap up some money for a practice space. I don't want to worry about subletting my room. San Francisco is an expensive city to live in.
Hiram (KFC): There are a bunch of cool records that come out on an indie label that do nothing. It all depends on whether you are a high priority for that label. It doesn't matter if you are on a major or an indie. If you were on Epitaph or Matador and the label doesn't care about you. It's the same uphill battle if you are a low priority artist on a major label.
Sam (LFO): Right now I hear it's better to be on a small label. A band like Fugazi is this whole other deal. I have been a fan of them for a long time. Whether you can pull it off as a band, it doesn't matter what sized label you are on.
Kitten For Christian
AL: Are audiences better in England or in America?
Arthur (SS): It's really good in Europe in general. How are people supposed to hear about new bands in the Midwest? Where do they go to buy records? How are they supposed to hear about a little band from New York? They can't. They have MTV and Top 40 radio. That is nothing. People in Europe have more exposure to new music.
Jonah (V): They are more into music in England overall. There is not a subculture of music. They are into everything there: pop music, garage rock, techno, and weird underground music. They will freak out at a show more and jump around a lot more than in America. Look at the music magazines there. Mojo and Q Magazine are great.
Hiram (KFC): We haven't been over there yet. We feel that people are into us just in different parts of America. We plan to tour in Europe soon. If we went over there we would get a bunch of good press. All the anglophiles in America who read that will take note. You need that stamp of approval with the really cool kids.
Sam (LFO): We are hoping to go to the UK for the first time next year. I have never been there. I like a lot of British bands.
AL: How do you think downloading music and burning CDs is affecting the music industry and bands?
Sam (LFO): It is affecting bands. Record companies have been struggling with it. They are trying to figure a way to regulate that so bands can make money. I went to the Virgin Megastore in Times Square last month and it was empty.
Jessica (V): It's obvious that there is a changing of the guard right now. There is going to be a new generation of people who are going to find a way to make it work. We all want for bands to be able to survive and people still can download songs. When radio was invented people thought that was the end of live musicians because you could just turn on the radio and listen to music for free. It's obvious that there is a changing of the guard because there is all these bands getting signed who come from a DIY background. There are bands who can make it work without a big tour bus and their ass being licked all the time. The music industry is going to transform over the next ten years. There is a demand for music because radio hasn't really supported new music for a long time now.
Hiram (KFC): It's hard to guess where the industry is going. We are down to five record companies.
Arthur (SS): Our record is available on the internet. It's on iTunes. It's a mistake to fight copying. You should embrace it. Record companies are starting to do that now.
AL: Who are the important bands now and who are the important bands from the past?
Sam (LFO): The White Stripes seem like they are important. I have definitely seen a lot of duos in the past few years. I think Radiohead is an important band. They have made great records and have been able to succeed and they keep back from the mainstream. Fugazi is great.
Jonah (V): I like Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the White Stripes. All these bands who are coming up together now. It feels like what are we doing here. It's strange that we are playing shows all over the world. That is exciting and fun to be a part.
Arthur (SS): I love Interpol. I like the classics. I like Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I am curious to hear the new Strokes album. I think Bjork is important.
Hiram (KFC): The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, and The Velvet Underground. Those bands are classic and timeless and they all influence all the bands who are on the planet right now.
AL: Is there any room for originally in music?
Hiram (KFC): Absolutely. I hope that there is.
Arthur (SS): It feels like everything has been done, like people bringing in classical instruments.
Sam (LFO): Yeah, there is always. I believe there are still true artists out there who strive for that. No matter how original you try to be, someone is going to hear some other band in what you do.
Jonah (V): You shouldn't be worried about if it is original or if it has been done before. If you like it, do it. If it sounds good, do it! Even playing the same chords in 1999 or 1967, it is culturally different. In 2070, people are going to want to rock out. Every new generation gets into the same types of music but they perceive them very differently.
AL: Where do you see the band doing in five years?
Sam (LFO): We will have three albums out by then. Rock and roll is fifty years old now. I don't see why people will not be listening to this in fifty years from now.
Arthur (SS): We hope to do four or five albums by then. We have about twenty songs but we only recorded eleven. We already have most of our next record done. We have been around for three years. We have paid our dues by playing shit gigs.
Hiram (KFC): I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You can't predict the future.
Jonah (V): I will be doing this for a while.