20 November 2014

(Music as a) charity starts at home: A response letter to David Greenwald

Sounds like a plan but are we skipping a step or two?
"Charity", Online Image, "Charity Begins at Home", 20 November 2014
< http://www.expandasign.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Charity.png >


Given the many holidays, winter months and an inevitable slew of charitable requests coming in the near future, why not see where the conversation of "music as charity" leads. This letter was inspired by a recent piece from veteran music critic David Greenwald, who's insight I admire and whom I have referenced here before, on the topic of music and media consumption


*          *          *


Dear David,

It was neat to see you contemplate, then write, and ultimately, publish a piece via The Oregonian gravitating around the prospect of buying music as an act of charity, in order to keep the making of said art alive and well. I took it upon myself to favorite your initial tweet juggling this concept because the thought felt like a topic destined to have decent meat and substance to it –which it in fact does.




You make many brief but crucial and accurate points about the state of music consumerism and the appeal of convenience. You are candid about the partial penny payment nature of streaming plays and the way you yourself keep a foot in both camps of paying in full for a single album while turning to Rdio while you catch up on backlogged material in need of library syncing. This is all very appreciated within a field of talk that comes with an innately large amount of potential for writer bias and or complete one-sidedness in pertinent conversations.

Where I'm having some trouble simply embracing what, at its core, sounds like you communicating a positive and loving advocacy for music (making), is not your sentiments but rather, in how they are framed. This isn't to say I believe your concept of viewing music as a charity is a bad or wrong one. What I feel is that suit does not fit the non-streaming parts of this industry and, instead, runs just slightly small –constricting what are an otherwise amazingly simple but perfect set of ideals for boosting music's monetary turnout. This portion of your piece is probably my favorite, as well as being somewhat reflective of my own music consumerism habits:

You can do whatever you want with your [music] purchase: listen to it, delete it, display it in a bookshelf, toss it in a closet. You can keep listening to the music in the cloud, guilt-free -- this is actually the best thing to do, since it means the band will be payed both ways. Some buyers already understand this: a study by ICM Research found that 15 percent of physical media purchasers don't listen to them. They bought them to collect them -- or, perhaps, to offer their support, to tell an artist that recorded music matters as something more than the soundtrack to a car commercial or background noise at the office.”

Where I have been coming from for a long time, and where my own corner of the internet continues to stand on, is a podium vying for a bridge between the commercial mainstream music business and that of the remaining “performing arts” –in which music of the traditional classical repertoires often gets placed. Connected to the camp of the latter is the 501(c)3 non-profit label, under which so many of the world's arts organizations are classified as and within the boundaries of which they work. While I am in absolutely agreement and will hold up a glass to second your motion that music fans show their support in as many ways as they can for the music they love, I think coloring that choice as charity and simply as a “way to keep the music going,” somewhat dismisses the fact that plenty of organizations, that employ plenty of people who love and make music, have already long been running on the potential of this message –both because they stand behind the sentiment and because that sentiment is connected to the very essence of how their organization(s) operate and bond with at least some of their fans (or should I say patrons).

If only the world were as motivated to get onboard the train of thought you, myself and others who love music as much as we do –in the way we do– as well, perhaps the music industry would have evolved past the heyday of the CD to yes, develop streaming and YouTube and iTunes and such but for that future to come along with more leeway for balanced coexistence. I emphasize balance because all those methods for purchase and access do currently coexist but as you point out, the sizes of the slices of the different pies vary–from far more than needed, to fractions of pennies, so, equal they are not.


*        *        *


I do think there's a great deal of merit in the idea of non-profit record labels and the idea of fans remembering and relating to the purchase of music as the fuel that goes right back into the machine. The thing is, instead of just chaining the two thoughts together and hoping more of the everyday people catch on, I think the music industry needs to first have these ideas implemented more from among its many participants. Returning to the mention of my particular soap box, when I see relatable points being made from one corner of the industry about people or things in another corner –especially the non-profit arts– I cannot help but wonder why more ubiquity, in at least so far as artistic empathy, has not spread more among all of those of us who proclaim ourselves to be part of the gears that turn the music world's wheels. 

Sometimes, it feels as though the only thing a person can ask, without an ensuing bit of complication or confusion, and expect a fairly consistent set of possible answers, is if one “is in the business that involves music” and or “if a person likes music.” These queries are safe enough to pose to a lifelong national orchestra pit performer or a small town local band booker. Any less general and disconnects shall cometh in plenty.

When Nick Norton and New Music Box published a piece this week that shot right to the idea that musicians should listen to as much and as many different kinds of music as they can, part of me was internally shouting “Yes! A call for a small but super significant ounce of universality among people in music!” Sometimes it surprises me that platforms running on the power of music can get as big as Spotify and others do, when really, the only thing we can come to agree on is the idea of instantaneousness and infinity in music –so long as you can fence yourself off in the “section of infinity” that you like or to which you most relate or in which you work.

I suppose, since I am all to aware of musically powered non-profits that are working constantly to stress the benefits, importance and enjoyment of music, art and creativity and often coming up short, to the chagrin of many, I'm thinking this mindset is good but should start with the people on the inside over the fans on the outside. Then, maybe the guys over “on the non-profit side” could put forth some sage advice and then maybe the reach of the commercial camp could help compensate for where the non-profits sometimes fall short...and...and...everyone wins? Then all of us can tell fans of ALL music to show their love via multi-reach relationships and, well, might the music industry come to be the more balanced and empathetic place I described?


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 In an effort to part from this letter on as much of an agreeing, universal thought as the industry I am aspiring to see, I'd like to join in with you in saying that we need to remember if you like music and wants it in your life, you should “let it know.” If the way you need to let it know today is by compensating more than just what you can get away with, (zero often being the case) then that's the part of the relationship that needs bolstering. People will shout to the rooftops all day long and until they are blue in the face, how much they love music. All the same, music provided in all of its modern, flexible and technologically altered ways only exists once outside the minds of those who dream it and, only after a slew of complex steps and the people who make those steps happen –many times DIY musicians themselves– deserve that same notice, as much as their melodic outpourings do.

If nothing else, let's keep plugging away at stressing that message: Music is important. As we emphasize, we as a business just have to make sure the simplicity of that three word statement does not get muddled among extremes entangled in motives or money, lest that ruin any tenuous balance we might attain along the way.

Until next topic,

Kira

12 November 2014

Six Scorpios sing in a shamrock themed bar...

"Band silhouette", Online Image,
"10 Band Names You Can Use Right Now", 12 November 2014
< http://www.merchantsofrock.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/band_silhouette.jpg >


While the title of this page might have people insisting a joke is about to follow, this is not the case. In fact, the description could not be more accurate.

Sliding the spotlight from the global and grandiose to the local and lively, it is always important to remember things like roots, smaller venues, intimate audiences and the magic of mashed together lineups where band members can make surprising new friends with one another, just as much as their audience can.

One such example of this scenario is the Twisted Shamrock–a modest but bustling bar / lounge in Babylon, NY. The facade initially gives off an impression of, “Don't mind us, we've been here forever, so feel free to continue on your way”; mostly seeming like a mainstay devoted to regular late night commuters–as the local Long Island Rail Road Babylon station is a mere few hundred feet from the Shamrock's front door. Still, if one applies the mantra of not judging a book–or in this case bar–by its cover, the ensuing reveal would be one of pleasant surprise because unlike the presumption of solely come and go commuters, the Twisted Shamrock is actually home to a tightly knit but ever growing community of musical people that encapsulates far more than the cliché of one person or one instrument on a soapbox stage all night.

Tuesdays are a regular staple for the Shamrock, presenting a weekly open mic night that has brought in first time music makers passionate enough to then become part of specified events and showcases hosted there on other nights, which is where Scorpio comes into play. Both the regular and the specialized intermittent events are the brain child of Peter DeMaio, one such passionate musician himself, DeMaio is a man of many bands (including one featured here) and founder of budding artist and creative collective, The Satellite Tribe.

This Saturday, 15 November 2014, six groups will be putting on a special show, celebrating many of the participating artists themselves, who happen to be of the tail stinger's sign. The event is thus aptly titled, “Scorpio's Birthday Bash!” The bands slated to perform include the following


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Alset Alokin are self-described “alternative funk goodness,” embodied in a three piece band from three different towns. Skeptics of separate origins fear not, Alset Alokin keep busy with lots of shows in lots of places–both on and off of Long Island–all while presenting a sound that is as cohesive as a band that has been jamming in the same town since day one. Their “Super Moon Sessions” up on Pure Volume offer up three tracks (I'm noticing a favorite number here?) of varying tempos, rhythms and moods, while retaining a very firmly planted foot in the sonic character of funk, with just a bit of sheen mixed in, giving them the “progressive” hyphenate add-on and throwing new listeners a touch of modern–not showing the group to reside only in a genre susceptible to chains of chronological bias. The instrumental, “40 Something and Change,” is a nice surprise and showcases the prog side of things well.


Currently, Weather Underground might only have one track up on their bandcamp page and the track might be disconcertingly titled, “Paper Tiger.” However, don't presume that means the band, or that song, leaves nothing to be desired. Based in New Paltz, NY, this four member noise rock outfit certainly calls up the vibe of the classic underground group, whose sound has “un je ne sais quoi” that makes one miss the days when descriptions like “underground” and “hipster” were described with each other respectively and held more weight behind their meanings. It's the kind of music meant to be heard and experienced in person.


The brevity of autumn days is very much in swing and that means cold airs, darker skies and watching leaves colorfully die. Okay, that last bit was a little on the cheerfully morbid side but regardless, the surf rock and rap of Motion Ocean is perfect for thriving in these next two seasons because who wants to harp on the dry and morbid? Packing some snappy raps, major keys and of course, a ukulele, this island based group, (with the emphasis on Long) has their niche but isn't settling to be boxed in, as their beats give the group an edge that surf-related genres sometimes lack. Their EP, “Drift Away” is on bandcamp and for a sample of their raps, check out “My Apologies.”


Based in the Twisted Shamrock's turf, Golden Wave might have the band name with the most connection to their sonic presentations–at least if one is to go by their succinct description of “sound waves, waveforms [and] dancing.” Led by host Peter DeMaio, an analogous band often bill-sharing and from whom listeners can get a sense of Golden Wave's stylistic company, is psychedelic dream rock group, Phantom and the Fox. Golden Wave are focused on playing music that thrives in the moment and sets a fluid mood, which makes them a perfect follow up to Motion Ocean on Saturday's bill.


Despite having the phrase “House Band” in their name, Rhino House Band is not a middle of the road group dedicated to playing behind the scenes. Babylon bound for this weekend all the way from Brooklyn, this three piece group is bringing their indie rock A-game with a solid repertoire that can be relished here and now through their newest bandcamp EP, “Golden Summer.” (Check out Little Things!) Clean and tight production teamed up with an off-the-path band arrangement (organ anyone?) dances smoothly on the “line of different” enough to be indie but stay strongly approachable.


The question mark in Sugarskull Piledriver's name might be the most pertinent thing when it comes to “doing one's homework” on this group. Nevertheless, as it's a band about which is being discussed, the music is what matters and though their recent releases only include the lone track “Highspots,” this is arguably the most instantly addictive of the three songs available for listening–especially if the first thing people see is the garage punk rock labels before hitting the play button. The uptempo, half step-fueled hook brings to mind, classic hit ,“Brand New Cadillac” by iconic, English punk rockers, The Clash, evoking much of the same energy and farinaceous character in Sugarskull's collective sound as a band.

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The show is bringing together lots of styles, stage presences and people committed to creativity, so if local to the area, it is certainly worth a visit!

The Twisted Shamrock is located at:

11 Railroad Avenue
Babylon, NY 11702

21 + (ID required)
Doors at 8:30PM
Music at 9:30PM
 $3 cover

06 November 2014

Wanted: A PROperly designed royalty payment system

In need of restructuring is an understatement
"Please help call to action", Online Image, "How to Ask for Help On Twitter"
6 November 2014,
< http://allisterf.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/please-help-call-to-action.jpg >

Some thoughts on a recent upswell of news about local businesses coming under fire from US PROs:

Exhibit A: Bauhaus Kaffee
Exhibit B: Nine separate businesses local to Long Island, NY / Small bit of reporting on the same stories, from a third, non-ASCAP party

For the non-music business savvy folk out there, PRO=Performing Rights Organization. Companies that make sure royalty checks get sent out to songwriters and musicians who have registered with them.)

The PRO infrastructure is, I will admit, flawed but necessary. The problem is that in order for businesses of varying sizes to attain the kind of flexibility ideally being sought, things (read: things like set lists and venue capacities) would need to be reported honestly, and EVERY single time in order for data to stay transparent and everyone to be happy. Many times, the case ends up being that places like smaller, local restaurants don't know all the minute details that go into the flow of this PRO system and that's when "breaches" start to happen and subsequently build up. It's not a crime to not be super versed in the overly complex ways of the music business when all you're trying to do is giving local musicians a stage to play on. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean the PROs are the ones to blame either.

Think of it like filing taxes. There's a system that is all together complex, full of small print, widespread and mandatory but, simultaneously has a sub-system of bracketed differentiations for everyone *in* the system. At the same time, plenty of people hate the headaches that come with tax season and in dealing with the IRS in general but the system continues to exist for a reason.


What would probably help is if there were some basic education and evaluation on the expectations of venues who are planning to have a live music component as part of their business, incorporated into the pre-launch process–much like how places need to be up to health and building codes before they open for operation.


That way, everyone is on the same page before anything even occurs and no one is scrambling to figure out what's going on. The other thing that needs to be accounted for is that fact that the whole PRO system is affected by a lot of factors controlled by a lot of different parties.


  • A) The songwriters of the world who choose whether or not to register with a PRO
  • B) The venues who choose to track plays and file data with PROs
  • C) The efficiency of the PROs in getting the most royalties possible, as fast as possible, out to the musicians/songwriters who have registered with them and for whom they represent.


The two sides of "stifling the little guy" and "compensating artists who have made it and deserve to be paid for the use of their art (read: work)" both have merit and the debate is probably destined to be a never-ending one. Still, just as it is a songwriter's choice not to link up with a PRO, for those that do, it is unfair to not expect to have access to the benefits promised them by making the choice to register and connect. If, as a rebuttal, you are thinking, "But restaurant / venue owners aren't the ones that are joining or not joining a PRO," aside from my hypothetical proposal about pre-launch evaluation, it can also be looked at like drinking in a venue. If a business owner doesn't own a liquor license, they don't serve alcohol. If you do serve alcohol without one or if underage drinking happens with or without one, owners are subject to a penalty. Business owners don't seem to take issue with a penalty for that, so, in a way, getting up to speed on expectations for inclusion of live music and keeping your records with that current, can be viewed much the same way. The actual metrics of what's owed is another branch of the problem and that is certainly part of the subject that can stand for systematic alteration.

The thing is, if the system isn't ready to change, the best a person can do in the mean time is stay inside the lines. The crux of the issue is that so often we want to box the whole of what music means, and where it fits in the human existence, as a single definition: universal and something that shouldn't be so analyzed, dissected and controlled. However, if one musician's relationship with music is that of art leading to profit and another musician's relationship is art for art's sake, then to insist upon a singular system that only nods to one of those lifestyle pursuits is a futile effort.

Again, I will say, the system is flawed. It cannot, and should not, exist without taking the nature of small, localized, non-industry trenched artists and performers into account. However, it also cannot ignore those that conversely choose to actively make an effort to do the work to become bigger and make a profit for what they consider to be a source of livelihood, no matter how subjective, artistic and emotionally charged that source may be. How the music industry as a single entity can come to balance these directly conflicting perspectives and approaches is the dilemma with which needs to be carefully and attentively dealt.

04 November 2014

Remembering to band together, when you're a band together

It's not always about just separating the suits from the songwriters.
"Bands as Brands", Online Image, "VPDM Digital" 4 November 2014
< http://beta.veepopat.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/bands-as-brands-620.jpg >

It being Election Day here in the U.S., a day devoted to the concept of collective decision making and balancing subjective choice with objective counts, now feels like the perfect time for just a few words on the subject of interpersonal and logistical differences when you work in the music industry; stressing the significance of an area I believe to be often acknowledged as expectantly ubiquitous but unfortunately left to its own devices.
Consider this:  
Musical creativity : Music business 
as
Jam sessions : Studio sessions

The rise of so much collaboration, cross-genre experimentation and so many guest appearances on unexpected platforms, (See tomorrow's Country Music Association Awards with the inclusion of Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor.) has become a staple of such commonality, that hardly a gasp of genuine shock gets uttered anymore. Lines have become less hard and fast, walls are less obtrusive and by virtue of the fact that delineating the royalty payments for songs can now involve upward of four to seven parties at any given time, singularity in the music business –both in the sense of musical styling and in construction of music– has clearly had to make room for new norms.

What is interesting to think about in lieu of all these connective mentalities, is the fact that the more one opens up in a work oriented setting, the more the chances are something said or done could cause feathers to fly. Yet, amidst a radio single here, a shared concert billing there and the classic, claustrophobic tour van, there isn't typically an avalanche of headlines detailing discordance among artists that are working together. Occasional, ugly band breakups do come up in wider public view –the beginnings of the story behind punk band Single Mothers and the infamous fracturing of Paramore come to mind– but the otherwise lack of talk about what it means to work with (potentially) so many people, on an art form that is so individually preferential, stems from one of a few possible reasons:

  • Nothing bad is actually happening

  • If there is something going on, people involved are keeping things under wraps

  • Things are not subjectively interesting enough to attract a flock of pop culture press


Among those three variables, number one is really the only sure fire positive explanation. After all, no news is good news, right? Beyond that, lack of awareness about something dicey doesn't mean it's not happening. (If a cymbal falls on the floor and no one is around to hear it, does it still crash?) Why would we only want to read about bands after they have suffered a major blow or after some incriminating text, photo or phone conversation gets leaked to show one person swearing off on another and breaking the metaphorical door on their way out?

Shedding some light on basic principles of communication and empathy seems like a prudent but under addressed area of importance for aspiring music industry professionals, as well as the artists that exist alongside them. The move to have more talk surrounding these skills, perhaps at the university level, might be something to consider integrating into more music programs. A lesson on how not to text your engineer post-mixing about a tracking change is an extreme example to be sure, but, generally speaking, learning how to navigate that kind of relationship,  –one that an artist would conceivably encounter many times throughout their career– among many others like it, might be worth deeming more than important solely by way of a, “You'll see when it happens to you” kind of implication. (Just imagine any time post-high school, when a student says they never touched trigonometry again but wished someone had explained the inner workings of doing taxes.)

If you're working with someone on a project that feels personal to you –and it doesn't get much more personal than music– it's important to remember that while emotions and sentiments are irrefutably yours to own and shape into a musical vision, like any undertaking involving concrete work, there are objective aspects to consider when making functional decisions and interacting with cohorts. 

The same can really be applied to social exchange in general.

It can certainly be hard to distinguish when, or even how, to turn the dial of dialogue from emotional to factual, since emotions flowing freely in a room can lead to some of a band's most unique music and the music is what everyone is there for. Nonetheless, there is something to be said for having the wherewithal to mentally compartmentalize the part of the process that involves making music from the mapping out of one's music.

24 October 2014

Musical score and four years ago...

For the love of music!
Today, Throw the Dice and Play Nice turns four years old!

This has been a particularly hectic, unpredictable and amazing year. Made new friends in the name of music, tech, design and creation and have had a blast every minute!

Hearing and writing about everything...from chatting with Stephen Godfroy on the opening of the US's very own Rough Trade shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to discussing the music business aspirations and holiday stylings of Elizabeth Chan, to debating the integrity of music journalism itself, to tackling the touchy subject of misogyny in music with the worldwide effort "Musicogyny," and of course, the more normative, but still exciting, introduction of new music, (by way of Brighton and Pint Size Hero), among so many other fascinating people, places, events and ideas with snappy headlines...2013 into 2014 has been one of the most diverse years yet.

Now going into year five, Throw the Dice and Play Nice is getting ready to introduce some fun changes that will come along as the year progresses. New types of articles, more ways to interact and have those hot discussions and debates–even a new look is coming soon! I am beyond excited and I'll openly admit, quite proud, to say this little corner of the net where I write words has stayed true to itself but, never become a place of monotonous predictability. Art, creation, music, lyrics, pictures, people and their personalities are all different so as always, let's dive into the next 365 taking on all of that uniqueness and do it with all the passion and none of the fear. 

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In honor of starting year five, here are five things I've taken away as ongoing thoughts of importance:

1. Embrace a new genre, even if you only do so by starting with a single song by a band you haven't heard before. If your default excuse is, "well, that's not my thing," think about it: Nothing used to be "your thing." We all had to take a first listen to everything we claim to love now, in order to love it in the first place. So that thing that's "not your thing" might surprise you and suddenly "become your thing."

2. Controversy is worth paying attention to–only to a point. Like stereotypes, stories that breed such stiff opposite sides and such high levels of volume from their respective parties, are usually initiated from a grain of something that has indeed happened in real life but then spread and mutated like wildfire to become talk about seemingly everything but the actual issue/topic/facts.

3. Artists change and sometimes it's important, and can even be interesting, to step back and look at the whole of their timeline. Taylor Swift is my favorite example of this. As metal scribe Kim Kelly recently put it, and I will jump on this wagon with her, "I have a very complicated and nuanced relationship with Tay Tay and her discography."

4. Don't watch a whole concert through your phone. Full disclosure: I do take pictures at concerts but more and more I'm reaching for my phone less and less and I'm extremely happy about it. A photo here and there that reminds you of the mental and emotional space you were in, in that moment, during that concert, is cool. Past that though, look up, the bassist is about to tap your head with the neck of his instrument and if you're holding your phone, well, your hand can't hold your phone and touch a famous musician's bass at the same time, can it? 

5. If you have a pair of thoughts or ideas that seem insane because they've never existed and don't, in any way, seem like they go together, start writing it down and or doing something with it. This year's Music Tech Fest in London is a prime example of this mentality. The festival introduced me to so many people who have degrees and training and aspirations that feel like the oddest pairings in the world but these people make these supposedly opposing skill sets fit together like a perfectly coordinated outfit.

To wrap up, once again, thought you're probably sick of being told, but I will say anyway:

Thank you everyone who continues to support myself and this space, read these words and those who give back thoughts of their own. You each make this so much more than what it began as and I only hope for it to get better and better. 
Bring it on five!

22 October 2014

There's nothing better than talking up a band's “Negative Qualities”

The guys of Single Mothers have plenty to positive about, that's for sure!
Negative Qualities, Online Image, "Dine Alone Records-Releases" 21 October 2014
< http://www.dinealonerecords.com/2013/images/releases/91/391/sm-nq-500x.jpg >


Don't worry, this is no slanderous band rant.

This all about the London, Ontario based, garage punk band, Single Mothers and their debut LP, “Negative Qualities,” which just dropped via HXC Recordings (subsidiary of XL Recordings) on 8 October.

Single Mothers is a band that, even in their relatively short life as a group, already has a narrative that unfolds as fascinatingly, and with the kind of minute, career-span-worthy detail rivaling the “Behind the Music” documentary installments from the heyday of music channel, VH1. Interestingly, the journey to the band's current state of increasing recognition by figures in the mainstream music business feels like a series of events that were cut out of a time from the ways of the old music industry and dropped in present day, digitally driven 2014.

Referencing people to the tagline of “[B]roke up in 2009 - and have been playing shows ever since” and pushing through to album release success, despite a rotating door of at least 12 members prior, is not exactly the epitome of picture perfect normalcy. This is perhaps though, a quality of Single Mothers that makes them more old school punk than even the band's music itself. Calling to mind sounds of bands like The Replacements and The Hold Steady, and with the production chops of Joby J. Ford of fellow punk band and former tour mates, The Bronx, neither “Negative Qualities” as a single album nor Single Mothers as a whole entity, are as easily digested as their respective whirlwind paces might have one otherwise believe.

Currently holding down the fort with four members, Andrew Thomson (Vocals), Micheal Peterson (Guitar), Evan Redsky (Bass) and Brandon Jagersky (Drums), Single Mothers effortlessly balance the rough-around-the-edges character of “the up-in-coming band that's driving neighbors crazy,” with an indescribable cohesion in their execution that makes listeners feel like this band has had anything but player rotation problems.


Single Mothers current lineup from left to right:
Brandon Jagersky, Evan Redsky, Drew Thomson and Micheal Peterson
Photo credit to Ben Pobjoy

Micheal “Mike” Peterson recently sat for a call with me, talking everything from the making of “Negative Qualities” to the band's overall sense of identity and even a bit about his preferred musical tools of choice as the (now) guitar player of the band. Read the interview after the jump!

17 October 2014

Royal Blood at Webster Hall: A case of priceless concert contradiction

"Royal Blood Logo," Online Image, Royal Blood, 17 October 2014
< http://royalbloodband.com/cdn/_graphics/logo.jpg?v=2 >


The age old idea of a “quick rise to fame” is something that stirs up a range of reactions, depending on the context in which said outcome is posed. Reality TV-induced overnight fame is one thing, YouTube overnight fame is another. Beyond those, there is also a quickness of fame that sits squarely in the context of music popularity, evident when the name of a band suddenly seems to appear everywhere a person turns. The latter of these sources of fame is not always overnight in the literal sense but with the volatility of the music industry and the fickleness of public taste and attention, seeing a band penetrating every avenue of press and increasingly becoming a mainstream name, all in less than a year, is no "slow grower" in today's business.

Riff-powered rockers, Royal Blood, have managed to do just that, far away from their home base of Brighton, UK; climbing the proverbial performance ladder from blasting the scattered stages of SXSW, to intimate shows at places like Brooklyn's iconic Glasslands Gallery, to having major press and TV appearances like their recent guest performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, the solidly stacked power duo that is Royal Blood, are not shying away from their multi-pronged rise to fame happening both here in the U.S. and five-fold more so, closer to home in the EU, where they are gaining so much traction, so fast, that amidst selling tickets for remaining 2014 performances, they decided to upgrade shows to larger venues in some places, “[d]ue to public demand”, as explained via their Facebook page. Even more recently, MTV announced the pair as one of the performances slated to appear at the MTV EMAs on 9 November.




Now, what typically happens when a band starts to gain more high profile attention and receive booking slots for larger capacity venues?

  • Higher ticket prices
  • More distance between fans and the artist (figuratively and literally)

Prior to that jump up to the level of high profile, mainstream attention, acts are usually doing things like fine tuning their identities/stage routine, merchandise development...maybe even still putting together their music if an album has not been released yet. (As was the case at the time when Royal Blood were at Glasslands.) These things are core to the intimacy and down-to-earth element that comes with a group still in the process of ascending the mountain of the music business. Afterward though, once the “big guns” kick in, shows can take on a feel and a look to match the larger status of a band. (e.g. Fall Out Boy's present pyrotechnic-tinged stadium size shows, as compared with their shows during the days of teenage angst and “Take This to Your Grave.”) This change isn't necessarily a bad thing but fans are losing an apple and gaining an orange, whether they want it or not.

Forced to choose between the accolades of being big and the charm of being small —Royal Blood was having none of that during their show last night in the Marlin Room of New York City's Webster Hall. A room of only 500 person capacity, this show already flies in the face of where Royal Blood are on the global music industry's radar. Webster Hall might be “big by default” because of musically historical context but given other circumstances, Royal Blood could have easily upgraded to the larger Grand Ballroom space and that would have matched the other large scale points of their current reputation. The smaller and barrier-less space inside the Marlin Room already made this show feel like one of a particular rare grade. Then, to have the price for admission reflect a dollar amount that was anything but corporately inflated, implying instead, a vibe of “We're still local enough to not break your banks on our tickets,” solidly put the experience under the umbrella of “This will never happen in this way, ever again.

The combined energy pumped out by Kerr, (left) and Thatcher (right)
could knock down a wall.


Past logistics of show setup, Royal Blood's actual performance simply hammered home the true uniqueness of the duo, even if a lot of the press the band has acquired focuses on the very prominent channeling of their influencing predecessors like Led Zeppelin, Muse and the White Stripes. Thatcher and Kerr are able to unquestionably stand with the likes of bands that sound just as good live as they do on studio recordings and, this is not just due to the fact that there is only two of them; implying quality only as a result of there being not much stuff with which to mess up. (which would be a gross misrepresentation of the pair's musical ability and collaborative chemistry.) Every strummed, distorted, POG'ed bass chord and every sharp-as-knives snare hit lifted with ease, the stampede-sized sound cranked out within the confines of pristine studio space.


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This show being for the promotion of their first album, Royal Blood's only weakness is the pure lack of age on the part of the band itself, that results in a limited amount of material to play, with limited coming to mean playing through their entire record, with room left over for another song or two before it is considered a full set. Such was the case last night, as the audience was given a performance of every track on "Royal Blood" and even with that, two B-sides, “Hole” and “You Want Me.” All these tracks had plenty of time to come in without any kind of time crunch. In fact, the whole show, including the set by the tamer but equally unique, multi-stylized opening band, Kan Wakan, ran with an efficient smoothness that could spoil a spectator waiting around for set changes at any other venue. It was about the music and that's that.



LA band, Kan Wakan, offering up
otherworldly songs with a symphonic touch
Gratitude and a few calls for revved up excitement were certainly strewn throughout but, other than that, everyone involved was focused on just setting up, counting off and playing passionately through; not hanging onto filler dialogue. Approaching a live show this way might feel like a shortcoming to some but in a lot of ways, it instead can translate to mean that the music is strong enough to hold audience attention and that everyone just wants to hear the next song rather than a personal anecdote.


Ben Thatcher out for an audience supported stroll...
That's not to say Kerr and Thatcher did not know how to keep things interesting. Pulling what could very well be called a “Matt Shultz move,” (Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant is known for routinely incorporating a stage dive and or audience walk at shows,) near the tip end of the set, Thatcher stood up from his kit, walked over to the edge of the stage and casually stepped up, into the audience — not stage diving but, indeed being held up by the fans and even rotating to let everyone see him. Capping that up-close and personal interaction with a traditional flood of hands and arms reaching out to the stage (the perks of no barrier or burly security line) while Kerr knelt down, whaling out power chords on his bass with a fuzzed and fierce fervor that shot straight into nearby arms and legs, firmly ensured that no one would return home thinking they heard less than what Royal Blood's compounded record, formal press and social media hype had set them up to expect.

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You can keep up with Royal Blood via their official website, as well as find them on these social media outlets:


You can check out more about Royal Blood's tour mates, Kan Wakan, on their official website, as well as these social media outlets:

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