IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE
J Church / Honey Bear Records Newsletter #9
Not Messing With Texas

 

NEW YEAR MEANS A NEW SINGLES CLUB ON HONEY BEAR RECORDS!!!

Yep, I'm starting the super, fucking limited edition Secret Society Club ASAP. It's been years since the last singles club ended and I've decided to follow-up that financial debacle with an even more absurd endeavor! Six 7"s all featuring music from J Church, Cringer, Cilantro and more will be coming out as part of the club. Each 7" will be limited to 100 copies. That means that almost none of the records will be available in stores. Whatever records are left over and I sell individually will be considerably more expensive. You, dear reader, will be offered these records at cost. With the price of pressing and the fact that we all just got reamed with the new postal rates, that means a cost of $45 (postage paid) to join. That comes out to a little over $7 a record which isn't too bad considering the punk recession that we're in the middle of. You can either join through the regular mail with a check or money order, or you can join electronically with my new deal with Pay Direct (more on that below).

 

THE TOUR

Yeah, everyone has probably heard by now that we are doing a full US tour in March with Propagandhi, Avail and Fabulous Disaster. Here are the dates that I've gotten recently. Remember to double check your local listings as everything is subject to change…

MARCH
2 Rock & Roll High School - 1116 Main Street - Green Bay, WI
3 Cubby Bear - 1059 West Addison - Chicago, IL 60613
4 Bogart's - 2621 Vine Street - Cincinnati, OH 45219
5 St. Andrews Hall - 431 East Congress Street - Detroit, MI 48226
6 Agora Ballroom - 5000 Euclid Avenue - Cleveland, OH
7 Club Laga - 3609 Forbes Avenue - Pittsburgh, PA 15213
8 Off/Travel
9 Wetlands Preserve - 161 Hudson Street - New York, NY 10013
10 Providence, RI - Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel
11 Trocodero Theater - 1003 Arch Street - Philadelphia, PA 19107
12 Peabody's - 209 21st Street - Virginia Beach, VA 23451
13 Winston-Salem, NC - Ziggy's
14 The Masquerade - 695 North Avenue N.E. - Atlanta, GA 30308
15 Off
16 The Masquerade - 1503 East 7th Avenue - Tampa, FL 33605
17 Spanky's - 500 Clematis Street - West Palm Beach, FL 33401
18 Club 618 - 618 West Forsyth Street - Jacksonville, FL 32202
19 Off/Travel
20 Houston, TX - Fitzgerald's
21 San Antonio or Austin, TX
22 Off/Travel
23 Mesa, AZ - Boston's/Nile Theater
24 Los Angeles, CA - The Palace
25 San Diego, CA - Epicenter
26 Ventura or Pomona, CA - Ventura Theater or Glass House
27 Santa Cruz, CA - Palookaville
28 San Francisco, CA - Slim's or G.A.M.H

Okay, I think that there are four more gigs at the end. And we may try to do a headlining gig at the very end in San Francisco. But this is all I've got so far. Come early as we're playing second…

 

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THIS NEW "WEB SITE" THING

Yeah, everyone else has one so I felt like I really needed to get one too. Now Honey Bear Records has a sight. Not to be confused with the official J Church site (www.j-church.com), I have my own site, which focuses on label stuff as well as other things connected to the label and the band. Basically, it's all me, me, me, me… (although Liberty is the one that did most of the grunt work). It's stuff I like as well as stuff I've written. You can find my most recent newsletters as well as rants and raves about different things. I've also got my whole mail-order catalog up there as well. Please come by and sign the guest book. We put a panda there to draw your attention. You can check it out at www.hbrecords.org.

 

YOU CAN BUY STUFF FROM ME ELECTRONICALLY

Yes, now that e-commerce is finally starting to bite the dust, I'm just getting involved. Well, not really. Here's the deal. To guarantee you get the records you want as fast as possible and to avoid the US postal service stealing your money, you can now order and pay for stuff through the Internet. Yeah, I've got a Pay Direct account with Yahoo. To pay for your records (or whatever) with Pay Direct, go to the Yahoo home page and click on "Pay Direct". You'll need to start an account. But it's free and you've only gotta do it once. In the long run, it's easier, cheaper and safer than ordering records through the mail.

 

WHAT FREAKS ME OUT ABOUT AUSTIN

Okay, I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I live in Austin, TX and not San Francisco. However temporary this move may be, I live in Austin and will for, at the very least, another year or so. Hey, I could be here for another five years if Liberty decides to get her PhD.

Guess what, I really like it here. It's nice. It's cheap. There are great record store (although I really don't usually venture too much past Sound Exchange). There seem to be bands playing all the time (but lets' face it, I never used to go see bands in Frisco either…). Even the food is turning out to be better than expected for a vegetarian.

There's a lot to love about this city, and it wouldn't surprise me if at the end of our tenure here, we would still have thoughts about staying. Now I love San Francisco more than anything. I like to think that it's still my future. But like I've said time and time before, San Francisco just isn't San Francisco anymore. I just can't get with that place at the moment and I certainly can't afford it. So Austin it is…

And yet, something really freaks me out about Austin. It took me all this time to realize why I feel like such an outsider here. It's not what you think.

At first I thought that it was because I was the big A. Yeah, it's pretty easy to feel like an outsider when you're Asian or Asian American. I've felt plenty outside at times when traveling around the world. I've even managed to feel more like an outsider because of my race in some places in Asia. There's nothing like spending some time in Tokyo to make you realize that you are Asian American and not just Asian… and certainly not Japanese.

I also remember when I lived in College Station. That was pretty scary. I remember regular confrontations with racist kids at school. I remember getting into fights and shit all the time. Hey, that was only third grade. For the longest time, that was my impression of Texas.

But no, this is Austin. This isn't like anywhere else in Texas. In fact, being Asian American in the middle of America never crosses my mind (which it does all the time usually… but maybe I'm just insane…) and I feel really comfortable. I mean, I'm surrounded by my peeps. There are zillions of Asians all around me. First off, UT Austin seems to be very Asian friendly. The department that Liberty is in (linguistics) seems to be especially alluring (and for what reason I can't guess. It would take a whole sociological study to understand.) to Koreans. UT Austin = Asians galore. And most of these people are from the homeland. Shit, they make me look like a cowboy.

Plus, there are a lot of Asians here who've got nothing to do with the school. There are so many good grocery stores for Chinese, Korean and Japanese food, it rivals the Bay Area big time. Plus, we're starting to find the good restaurants. There seem to be loads of noodle joints in So Cal style strip malls all over the place.

I also thought that Austin was freaking me out because of the lack of "punker" types. Okay, I don't really look that "punk". But I don't really look that normal, as far as middle America, either. So hey, the normals kind of freak me out. It's still us versus society, y'know. Plus, living in the Bay Area really skews your outlook on the world. Everyone looks "punk" or "alternative" and you forget that we all look like the X Games on crack to the rest of America. The Bay Area is a safe space for people that can't look normal no matter how hard they try. It's like a grunge comfort zone. If you live in Frisco, you just need to take a trip up to Sacramento or down to Cupertino to remind yourself that you are a freak and you should appreciate your home.

But the more time I spend here the more I'm starting to realize that Austin is at the very least Number 2 as far as being the national freak magnet. You spend enough time walking around Guadalupe and there are more weirdoes then you can shake a stick at. There are punkers and indie kids and Goths everywhere. I've seen death rock kids wearing all black, long sleeves and full on corpse paint in 100-degree weather. Now, that's commitment to a pose. I say this all as a compliment to the city.

And, no, it's not the lefty / anarcho thing. Come on! This is Austin! The first week that I got here, some campus group was showing Chomsky interviews as part of a video series. There's lefty stuff everywhere…

So what is it about Austin that freaks me out? What is it that's making me feel like an outsider when I don't even feel like an outsider in other countries? Why is my new home making me feel like a tourist?

Here is the main problem with Austin: Everyone here is too nice. I can't take it. Everyone here is polite and they at least try to be helpful. And guess what: they mean it. It's part of their fabric. They are genuinely nice and polite. It's really, really, really weird.

I'm not used to people greeting me with a smile. I'm not used to people at stores being attentive. Even the cool kids at places like Sound Exchange and 33 Degrees are really, fucking nice. And, yes, it's totally freaking me out!

Okay, in California, if someone is nice and you don't know them, what does that mean? It usually means that either they want something from you or they've done something bad that they're covering up. Hey, I've done it. I know the score. Its just part of the unwritten code that is living in California (or New York or most big cities). It's one of the principle left coast cultural mores.

But in Austin, most people are just plain nice. If they aren't nice, they've probably moved here from somewhere else. Even then, the nice-ness bludgeons the weak into submissive friendly-ness or at least perkiness. It's like a mild form of the Stepford Wives, except that it's the Stepford Texans.

Now usually this doesn't bother me. This niceness becomes the butt of my jokes (hey, it already has) and that's it. But here, it's making me feel really weird. I'm starting to wonder if being bombarded by niceness is making me realize that I'm not nice at all. Hey, I'm kind of a dick! I'm kind of a sardonic asshole. Oh well. Live with it, Texas!

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM…

ACTION TIME - The Time Versus The World LP
Hey everybody, London is really fucking different from anywhere else on the planet. I mean, it's even kind of weird compared to Glasgow and a lot of cool weird shit happens there. Despite what you know or you think you might know about London, there is always something weird going on… And thriving.

The Action Time is a shameless and un-fuckedwith-able outfit of boys and girls who have successfully merged the old with the new to create something that is sorta unique and wholly odd. I mean this as the highest possible praise.

I once said that they were a crossbreed of Huggy Bear and early Dexy's. But with this full length, that's only part right.

Drums, guitar, and bass are augmented by flash keyboards and even more flash female backing vocals. It's a combination that works for a lot of bands and it's a formula that I'm surprised isn't copied more often. Think Girlfrendo and how they make it work for pop. Think the Headcoatees and how they make it work for garage. The list really can go on for pages…

But Action Time also can't be pinned down to one format. Sure, there's a big `60s feel to the whole presentation and the wall of Vox amps is a visual aesthetic as much as aural. But add to the mix an underlying current that in some ways is reminiscent of Northern Soul, which as an American only reminds me of Motown. It's the spirit if not the actual notes.

I don't know if they would consider this a compliment (a lot of bands don't and it's a shame) but there's a certain looseness that works for them. It's something that goes back to what I was saying about London being unlike anywhere. You can go see a band like this, who is a little loose in performance, and they are taken as seriously, if not more so, as the most technically proficient bands. Hell, it's a style.

There's nothing more generic than a band that hits every note perfect and spends all of its energy trying to hit those notes perfectly. No personality. The Action Time is confident and that confidence over-rides any and all need for musical critique. The songs are good. The band can play them. The songs are fitted to the bands ability. It's what they do, so fuck off.

And it all sounds really great. The first time I heard the band, it kind of reminded me of the first time I heard the Huggy Bear side of their split with Bikini Kill. All these classic elements mixed up with that pathological confidence that made something totally new. There might not be a movement behind the Action Time. But it could just be a matter of time. (Southern Records, PO Box 59, London England, N22 1AR, www.theactiontime.com)

 

ACTION TIME - The "Rock And Roll" 7"
The a-side is from their debut album. But this is worth tracking down for A) the nice packaging, B) a new rant from the kids and C) a great non-LP b-side called You've Got To Escape From All The Heartbreak and Pain Of Living In The World Today. Really, don't you need to have that song title? (Southern Records, PO Box 59, London England, N22 1AR, www.theactiontime.com)

 

GRANDADDY - A.M. 180 / Here 7"
I've been avoiding this band like the plague. I mean, all that hype? At best, I'd find them (or him) over-rated. But what do you know, I really like this. Okay, there must be some relation to Sparklehorse here. If not, I think someone owes someone some royalties. It's sweet swinging pop with those innocuous Mr. Rogers vocals that you either love or hate (I love it, but I'm an indie pop loser).

This would almost be pop punk and Weezer or something, BUT then they do "something". I don't know. I like Weezer and I like a lot of pop and pop punk. I like this, but I don't understand why all you have to do is one little weird thing and suddenly you're on a whole new level of sophistication. In this case, it's a weird little keyboard riff that forms the main hook of the song. It's great and I dig it. But does a Casio keyboard represent the fine line between genius and stupid?

I actually like the b-side just as much. As you might have guessed, it's a Pavement cover. A nice distorted version of what I think of as the Pavement's greatest moment to date. (Big Cat, PO Box 3074, London, W11 4GY, UK)

 

JUNIPER MOON - Volveras? 7"
Wow! This band might be God! This is the kind of powerful pop punk that can totally re-inspire you when everything around you sounds like the Warp Tour. Needless to say, this band is not from the states. I'm starting to think that nothing this inspired could come from anywhere touched by MTV and KROQ style radio.

Juniper Moon is three guys and a girl from Spain who belt out some of the liveliest music I've heard in ages. All five tracks on this little piece of vinyl is catchy and exciting and just barely long enough for you to need to play it over and over again to prove to yourself that, yes, it is that brilliant. I haven't been this excited about a punk band since the first time I heard Discount.

Elefant Records are no longer the big secret. Get `em when you find `em. They're getting pretty good and this is the best release since Eggplant. (Elefant Records, PO Box 331, Las Rozas, 28230, Madrid, Spain)

 

JUNIPER MOON - Basado En Hechos Reales 7"
From Spain come four more great songs following up that amazing first single. Just as essential as Volveras? and I'm hoping that next up is a full length.

Shit, it makes me a little sad because all the lyrics are in Spanish and while I love that (in fact I think it's part of this band appeal). That means that they will probably never come over to the states. Nope. Big dumb Americans can't read sub-titles and they won't listen to non-English punk.

Don't be another big dumb American. Get this record and don't miss out. (Elefant Records, PO Box 331, Las Rozas 28230, Madrid, Spain)

 

KICKER - Get Rid Of Him / Turning Left 7"
Now that Space Rock and Space Lounge and all this shit are dead, what do you call this kind of music? Kicker are two boys and two girls who I've just unfairly categorized with two pretty dated terms. But, hey, I like "indie rock" and most of you like "punk rock" and I can't think of two more dated terms. So, yeah, Kicker might very well be London's most recent answer to Yo La Tengo. But that's cool. They don't sound just like Yo La Tengo and they don't sound just like Stereolab although I'll bet that their collective membership could come up with at least five records from each band in their personal record collections.

Okay, it's a little derivative. But it's still quite nice and both sides are good enough pop tunes to have been the a-side. Now that Yo La Tengo are trying to sound like Stereolab and Stereolab are trying to sound like a Mentos ad, I welcome this single with open arms. I still collect records from both Yo La Tengo and Stereolab hoping and praying that their new material will sound like Kicker. But I'm usually disappointed. Remember when Sonic Youth started getting like that and suddenly we all discovered Polvo? I'm hoping for the same thing will happen here.

So, here is Kicker with some scintillating pop music. Nice vocals, bright guitars and keys and catchy songs. (For Us Records, Kicker, 8 Milton Ave., London N6 5QE)

 

KICKER - Said And Done / Chncifer 7"
Second single (I think) from London's Kicker is not as immediate as their debut. Two tracks that venture deeper into Stereolab Emperor Tomato Ketchup landscapes and maybe even a little Loaded era Velvets. It's pop music with blasé form characterized by methodic drum rhythms and repetitious guitar down strokes. It's funny, but it's a form and style that can be found in a lot of Velvets stuff (which obviously must influence Kicker as well as Stereolab). But it's more pronounced on the first Modern Lovers record. The a-side of this single (which is brilliant the longer it goes on) owes a lot to Road Runner and Someone I Care About. (The Track And Field Organisation)

 

LIFE WITHOUT BUILDINGS - The Leanover 7"
Who is Sue Tompkins and what is going on in her head? Take away Sue Tompkins and you've got a pretty nice little indie rock band with some definite emo type leanings. Catchy tune with some interesting and understated guitar work. Really pretty. Check what I said about emo leanings. It's sort of like Joan Of Arc. It's okay. It's good. But it's not something I'd remember in a few months.

But add to that Sue Tompkins crazy, sociopathological vocals and you've got one of the best singles of the year. She rambles and rants in what appears to be random snippets of various conversations she's heard just walking down a busy street. But her reading is in tune with the music. She doesn't really sing (except for one great moment) but chats along to the rhythm. It's fantastic and it will grab your attention. You've never heard anything like this. (Tugboat Records, 66 Golborne Road, London, W10 5PS)

 

JOHN LURIE - Big Trouble / She's Not A Nurse 7"
John Lurie is brilliant. He's the closest thing that we've got to a renaissance man. Shit, Fishing With John? Inspired and for so many reasons. But long before I saw that show, I was a fan of the music. I love the Lounge Lizards (especially the first records) and I really dig a lot of Lurie's soundtrack work. He's brilliant.

If you don't know that much about him, this may be a weird introduction. This may not sum up his talent, but it sums up his personality. Side A is a fantastic slow jam of trip hop style free jazz with Lurie telling stories like Gil Scott Heron over the top. But these stories are funny as hell. The b-side is a full on punk track that is so unexpected, we (the royal "we" as all fans of John Lurie) can only love him more. Shit, it's not a great punk song. But it's good and you gotta love him (and give him props) for doing it. (For Us Records, no address)

 

V/A - Ho! #1 ­ Roady Music From Vietnam 2000 CD
I've always wanted to go the Vietnam, not only because of my personal interest in the American War, but also because I love culture shock. I thrive on that specific kind of fear of the unknown. I find it an exciting justification in my belief that all moral codes and religious / political doctrines are synthetic and fabricated in the self-interest of whatever society or culture created it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... More anarchist rhetoric… But think about it this way. Culture shock is like taking acid for the first time. It's a shock to the system and a shock to the brain forcing you to re-evaluate your so-called reality. Acid made me question reality around me. As a result, it made me question my entire belief system. I felt the same sort of thing the first time I got lost in a crowd in Hong Kong.

But for those of you who aren't up for eating liberty caps in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, here's a record that will, at the very least, blow your mind. This is street music from Vietnam and there's nothing in the world like it.

This CD is a collection of field recordings done out in the streets of Vietnam. It documents the street musicians and others as they play their music for the sake of music (and usually some spare change). There's everything here from traditional folk music to full on noise and a lot of weird aberrations in the middle.

There are several groups and performers here whose style exists to accommodate performing in the streets. Eo Sinh and Nam Nao are a daughter and father duet. She sings and sells Lotto coupons while he plays electric guitar. The sound is nice and gritty as the vocals are sung with a megaphone and the guitar is powered by a moped battery. Their song is a Viet Cong love song called VC Love Song. Nam Nao is also blind. I mention this because it seems like most of the street musicians are handicapped or deformed in some way, either from being in the war or from side affects of Agent Orange.

Some of my favorite stuff is the crazy punk-like noise of Santana V and the Dead Man's Orchestra. Santana V are a trio that blast out weird garage or surf like noise with drums, guitar and trumpet/flute.

The sound is great and the drums sound perfect. Dead Man's Orchestra is just that. They are a "marine-style funeral combo sounding like some New Orleans-Trash-Punk-Free Jazz…" The drums blast away at warp speed and the horns charge in like Albert Ayler on crack. I'm not really sure if it's a group of immensely talented musicians going out of control or a well-orchestrated piece of music being performed by crazies. Apparently, part of the cacophony comes from the fact that brass instruments can never stay in tune in Vietnam due to the climate.

There's a lot more great stuff here but nothing that could accurately be described as "rock". Though I'm guessing it's not true, I'm wondering if Vietnam is one of the few places where punk just didn't stick. Who needs guitar solos when you can have badass mouth organ solo!

There's a real funny phenomenon in the punk world to search out punk rock and hardcore in every corner of the globe. Like it's some sort of sign that punk is winning by finding a band doing Ramones covers in Uzbekistan. I have to admit; I'm fascinated if not strictly for sociological reasons (slowly, that's becoming the extent of my interest in ALL punk).

But in some ways I find it really disappointing because it usually is an indicator of how narrow the scope is of most punks' musical interest. The very people who you would think would be the most open to new and outrageous music are the ones with the narrowest musical boundaries. It sucks and it makes me feel like punk and hardcore bands in all these countries are just another part of American Imperialism in the world. It's cultural imperialism and we're gentrifying the neighborhood.

Of course, that's a bit of an over-simplification. But it makes me sad when I meet someone who I think is really cool and interesting. Then one day I'll happen to check out their record collection and find that there's nothing but punk rock. You may have 1,000 records in your collection. But if it's all punk and hardcore, you're as closed-minded as your grandparents. (Trikont, Kistlerstrasse 1, Postfach 901055, D 81510 Munchen Germany)

 

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