7/27/2006

Does Myspace really work?


Eight Bands: on Myspace, the internet and getting known
By alexander laurence


You could see the sun going down in early evening at the end of the road in
West Hollywood. It was the first week in January 2006. On that last block of
Santa Monica Boulevard is the Troubadour. It is a small venue that is quite
legendary and has been around for over fifty years. It has witnessed legendary
gigs from old classic rock bands to bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Motley
Crue, to bands of today, who are “The Next Big Thing.” Tonight, The Strokes,
the famous New York band, is playing a secret show for their friends and anyone
who is lucky enough to get in. The show actually sold out in an hour. People
are not so much there to witness the music. It seems like they are
congratulating themselves on the fact that they could get in.

The early part of the year in Los Angeles is very interesting. There is that
period for a few weeks where there are some happening shows that set the tone
for the rest of the year. The Grammy Awards also happen in February. People
are anticipating all the bands that will show up in Austin, Texas for the South
by Southwest music festival. The bands that will play Coachella are announced.
Some bands are inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame this month.
Through all those signposts, you can tell who is established, and who is a new up
and coming band.



The Kills

As far as new bands, The White Stripes have been the most successful band in
the past five years. They come out with an album and can tour internationally,
like Morrissey and Red Hot Chili Peppers and others. The White Stripes have
spawn a number of duos. One of the most interesting is The Kills. Alison, also
known as VV, is from Florida. Jaime, also known as Hotel, comes from London.
They might be best described as an art project, which is devoted to the blues
and rock and roll. They are very stark and to the point. It’s all editing.
Everything useless is kept out.

The Kills are not a very pretty band. There is something unhealthy about
them. In pictures they often smoke cigarettes. VV almost looks anorexic. Their
performances range from boredom to exhilaration. They might seem like the closest
thing to a punk band today. They turn their backs on the audience in a slight
way. They talk very little between songs if at all. They don’t crack jokes.
It’s all music. It’s a wall of sound. You dig it or not. They don’t care.

Rock and roll may have undergone significant changes in recent years, but The
Kills' no-holds-barred brand of dramatic guitar music remains vivid, vibrant,
and vital. Fuelled by a ceaseless spirit of forward motion, The Kills are the
sound of one of our most potent and distinctive bands operating on all
cylinders. For a small band, they seem to be doing well. They have played many
festivals and toured with Placebo. Their second album, No Wow, came out in early
2005. They have been an undeniable presence on both shores. They have played
both Coachella and South By Southwest.



Maximo Park

Probably the best new British band in the past year is Maximo Park. They too
have an artistic sensibility. If it is in the use of Robert Longo type images
on their record sleeves it is in their weird imagery lyrically. Their first
record came out in summer 2005, and sort of got lumped in all the British bands
sounding awfully close to Gang of Four. As far as the comparisons, singer Paul
Smith said: “I guess there was something going on there. Bloc Party and
Futureheads were the more commercial end of that scratchy artpunk music. Franz
Ferdinand also broke down a lot of barriers. Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park got
pushed into that. Both bands are far more song based. We are more melodic and
more direct. I don’t think that the Kaiser Chiefs are writing really emotional
lyrics.”

If these bands are not referencing the sounds of Post-Punk, what inspires
them? Britpop was very strong in the UK and other parts ten years ago. Are these
bands all trying to be Britpop Part Two? Smith replies: “I don’t think that
any of them are overtly British apart from the Kaiser Chiefs. People think ‘The
Coast Is Always Changing’ is about the rough northeast coast. If you didn’t
know where we are from and our accents, that song could be about Australia.
Once people know about music or who makes it, they start to have preconceptions
as to what it’s about. They start to compare it to other bands from that area.
We didn’t know anything about these other bands when we started. We wanted to
make music that was exciting.”

When pressed for more precise influences on Maximo Park, Smith offers: “I was
born in 1979. When I reached my early twenties, when I was looking for more
music that I have never heard before, and those were bands like Television,
Gang of Four, and Talking Heads. There is a lot of No Wave stuff and the less
commercial stuff. I am a big fan of Arthur Russell. He is amazing. He did some
much different stuff. He is much more an influence on me than Gang of Four. His
stuff resonates with me much more.” And so Maximo Park seems like this odd
experiment. They have recently released an album of B-sides that includes a cover
of a John Lennon song. This may be the most enduring band of the recent
British crop.




Turbonegro

They are one of the oldest Swedish bands. They were just becoming a worldwide
success in 1998 when the band split up for a while. The lead singer, Hank Von
Helvete, was addicted to drugs. The band retired for five years and pursued
regular lives. Then a few years ago, in 2003, the band reformed and released
the album Scandinavian Leather. They toured for the first time that year in
Europe and America. Last year they have returned with a second world tour.
Turbonegro are like a mix of Alice Cooper style theatrics with old punk rock.

I asked them about their look. Their fans also dress up with Levi’s jackets
and sailor caps. Guitarist Rune Rebellion said about their look: “What would be
the dumbest thing to do? What would be the most self-destructive? We have a
gay image. We are a punk rock band. We all dress up in Levi’s, which would be a
big corporative enemy. It’s an image that we have developed throughout the
years. When we do the most stupid thing, it actually works out.”

Even though being from Sweden conjures up images of Abba and bad pop music,
most of these new Swedish sing in English and like bands from America and the
UK. Drummer Chris Summers explains this further: “We are definitely more into
American music. There are some great English bands. There are even some good
German bands: imagine that! Most of the music we like is from California. Some
of the best punk rock bands like Black Flag are from here. And most of the best
Hiphop bands are from California.”



Horrorpops

Also Scandinavian in origins, Horrorpops are now a band that works from the
Los Angeles base. Most of their tours in America are long 50-date two-month
tours. I wondered why a band would pack it up and come to America. Lead singer
and bassist, Patricia Day, explained it like this: “It was a huge change. We
started the band in 1996. Being in Europe doesn’t get you anywhere when you are
in a band. If you want to be touring all the time, it’s better to be in the
States. It was a dream to come to LA. There seemed like a lot of possibilities.”
They have seemed to attract many American fans that like punk rock and
rockabilly.

For American ears, they are a fairly new band, having only released two
records here. They just released one in September 2005. I wonder what was the best
way to discover new bands like Horrorpops: was it through live shows or
through the Internet? Patricia told me: “It depends on the band. For Horrorpops,
it’s the live show. We are a dedicated live band. We love touring. Our stage
show is quite crazy and different from what people usually see. How we have
gained a following is from touring. Some bands don’t like that part. For me that is
absurd. But for some bands, they probably only want to be played on the radio
because they don’t have want it takes to play live.”

For American kids, much time is spent looking on websites like Pitchfork
Media and Myspace. I wondered if Patricia from Horrorpops thought anything about
this. She said: “That is a very American way of looking at things. Yes, people
in Europe are on Myspace looking for bands, but that is only because you can’t
go to shows like you can here in America. You don’t the option of going to
shows in Denmark. There might be a show every two months.”




Living Things

Living Things is a new band who have just released their first album. They
did have a record deal a few years ago, but it fell apart. The band was invited
on tours in Europe with The Libertines and Velvet Revolver. America would have
to wait a while to see this band for itself. Lead singer, Lillian Berlin,
thought the Internet was actually a good tool for discovering music. He told me:
“It seems like today the Internet is able to spread music very well. It has
become a way for musicians, and artists, like painters and filmmakers, to get
their work out without a bunch of corporate middleman. I am very pro-internet in
that respect. But it is set up where people are fucking glued to that shit.
They are trying to communicate without any human interaction. It can be used
for information, which is good, but often it is abused and it’s unhealthy for
people.”

Living Things have been one of my favorite new American bands. They seem like
a perfect distillation of punk and glam rock. Being a band from St. Louis,
they might seem much like a kid who downloads music because there is no
happening music culture available in his small town. Berlin admits: “I was that kid. I
come from the suburbs of St. Louis. There are no indie record stores and no
bands come through that part of the world. The Internet is great place to find
music if you live in Middle America or anywhere that is not a big city. We
still live in St. Louis. We have a place there. We haven’t spent much time there
recently because we have been on the road. It’s the same place that we grew up
in. Our parents moved out and we stayed there. We figured out a way to buy
it. We record there and live there.”

Once bands had to move to big cities like New York or Los Angeles to work and
record. I asked Lillian Berlin about the differences of the big cities versus
small towns: “I think it is important to be somewhere that you feel
comfortable. I don’t know how some bands live in big cities because it seems so
expensive. In NYC, you can’t really practice in your apartment or in some loft. We
have found that sticking to our current house is fine. I don’t think a band has
to go to those cities to work. Some of the best music of the past ten years
has come from smaller cities in the Midwest like Detroit and Chicago. I don’t
think that I could ever live in Los Angeles.”

Since some people’s first reactions to a band are formed on the Internet or
by a video, it must be important to think visually if you are a band. I asked
Berlin what he thought of this notion: “I don’t know. You do whatever suits
your style. I do gravitate towards more theatrical looking stuff. I like it when
the music and the things around it are more theatrical. It makes it almost
like a play. To me, punk rock was very theatrical. People think it is not. The
Ramones are almost like West Side Story. I like it when the music has a visual
escapism along with the sound.” Living Things are another band that has been
invited to Coachella this year.



The Vacation

Touring the East Coast with Living Thing was a like-minded rock outfit called
The Vacation. The Vacation was like the closest thing to Iggy Pop since Iggy
himself. Like Living Things they are from the St. Louis. Guitarist Steven
Tegel said, “We are from near there. My brother, Ben, and me are from the Midwest.
Our bass player is from New Jersey. Our drummer is from Baltimore. We are an
LA band. We formed the band in Hollywood. We are boys from the Midwest, but we
have lived in LA for a while. It is important for us to be in LA. I don’t
think that we would have existed unless we went to LA years ago. We like a lot of
the LA bands like The Doors and Guns and Roses. I wanted to get out of the
Midwest. It’s a cold dog place. California is like the land of dreams.”

The Vacation are not subtle. They are about mind-blowing rock and roll. I was
wondering if the scene in LA was as good as the rest of the country: “We do
really well wherever we go. The best shows always seem to be the all ages
shows. Those kids seemed starved for music. They get really excited by the music.
People are pretty hungry for live rock and roll. It’s been pretty positive.
There are only a few bands that play high-energy shows like we do. When I was
growing up all the punk rock shows had become watered down. We are trying to
bring back some chaos back into music. We hit it and quit it. Everyone seems to
have some fun.”

Since The Vacation had won over fans by their live shows I wondered what
Steven Tegel and his band thought of Myspace: “I think it is really good thing. We
meet a lot of people on Myspace. A lot of kids find out about our music on
there. Myspace creates this direct way of contacting the bands. When we come to
town they know us and it makes every gig very personal. Every teenager has a
Myspace page. We have pictures there from our tours. Teenagers get excited
about all those details. We can book tours with Myspace. Bands want to play with
us.”



Ambulance LTD.

One of my favorite New York bands is Ambulance LTD. I saw them play a few
times before they had any record released. They toured with Placebo and Suede.
They released their first record a few years ago now. Recently they have
released “New English EP” which includes a cover of a Pink Floyd song. I asked lead
singer and guitarist, Marcus Congleton about downloading music: “That seems to
be a hassle more for the record companies than for the bands. People still
come to live shows. The bands seem to benefit from the fact that people are
downloading music or buying their records. If they are listening to the music
somehow it is good for the band. The same thing happened with radio. Record
companies were worried about people taping the music. It didn’t really harm the
musicians. It is more about the record companies changing to another format. I
don’t give that a lot of thought.”

Ambulance LTD. have been one of the New York bands that have stayed
interesting. They have avoided trends and have stayed original. They met in New York,
but come from all over, including Ireland and Portland, Oregon. I was wondering
if they regretted moving to New York City: “It is a good place for me. I
can’t speak for everyone. It’s probably easier to live somewhere else because
there are less hassles. Our main focus is to finish the second record. Then we
would like to go to some places that we haven’t been like Australia and Japan.”
This is definitely a band to watch.



She Wants Revenge

The popularity of this band is frightening. They have went from virtual
unknowns to big tours and playing Coachella. Singer Justin Warfield talked about
the recent rise of his band: “That is really what we wanted to do. We wanted to
do a record. We wanted to tour for a year straight. We wanted to play all
sorts of places for people. We are quite pleased with the way things are going.”
She Wants Revenge was a project started by Justin Warfield and DJ Adam 12 a few
years ago.

She Wants Revenge has been no stranger to Myspace. In fact they were one of
the band to pave the way: “We had a few songs on Myspace. Then we had the whole
album on iTunes. Some of the songs that were on the Myspace page ended up
being on the record. Last year we did two tours. People were asking us when they
could get the record. We created a demand. We knew that we had to get
something out. Things worked fortuitously for us. We toured without having a record
out, so by the time the record came out, there was an audience. Now when we play
places, kids have the record, and it is great because they know the lyrics
and the songs. That makes it more pleasurable to go out and play.”

They are definitely a band that has befitted from the Internet. But don’t
some of these bands ever worry about their music being stolen? Warfield assures
me: “At the end of the day I don’t because my job is to make music, not police
who is buying it or not. People are going to steal music anyway. In the end,
any piracy creates a larger awareness of our band. If we were only in it for
the money, we would be upset. But we are here because we want people to hear
our music. It hasn’t really affected record sales. Our album is selling more
than we ever dreamed of selling. People download our music, then they buy the
record, and sometimes they buy our record again at shows and have me sign it. You
are being a dick if you are an artist who attacks fans for downloading music.”

With this band, Placebo also figures in: “We are playing two shows with them
in Germany in June. We are talking about doing more shows. Placebo have been
good friends of mine. I have known them for ten years. We have talked about
collaborating and working together. They are one of my favorite bands and they
are dear friends. When we played our first show in London, the whole band came
down to watch us. They have been very supportive.”

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