IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #9.8
J Church / Honey Bear Records Newsletter - Summer '01
Coming down fast…

 

BAY AREA GIGS…

Hey, thanx to anyone who came out to or helped out with those Bay Area gigs this past weekend. It was really great to come out for just a few gigs. It was really great to play with Citizen Fish again. You know, our very first gig was opening for them at the Chameleon. No lie.

Also, it was great to see Pirx The Pilot live not to mention The Urchin from Japan. It's hard to call these bands up and coming as they've both got music out and they're both made up of veteran scenesters. Suffice it to say that I'm sure we'll be gigging with them again and I'll be greatly looking forward to it.

I didn't get to see `em play as our gigs conflicted. But it was also nice to hang out with the folks from Kill The Man Who Questions (I think that's what they're called. I get all these "Man Starts Fire To Warm The Down Comforter Of Revolution" type band names mixed up) at the MRR house. Man, they are some of the funniest guys I've ever met. It's a shame we didn't play together as we were all in town. Shit, it all leads back to my argument against genre segregation. There was a time when we could play with hardcore bands and it was no big thing. Why do promoters feel the need to book a bunch of bands that are all similar? Wouldn't it have been great to have one big gig with Citizen Fish, The Urchin, Kill The Man, Pirx The Pilot and (if time permits) J Church? Blah, blah, blah. I know I'm repeating myself…

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT PUNK IS OUT THERE

Of course, it was also really great staying at the Maximum house and chillin' with Mike "The Thorn" Thorn and Arwen. I have to say that they are the first coordinators that I have total (uh, well, as close to total as I can get) faith in. They strangely compliment each other. The straight edger and the drinker. The vegan and the fish contemplator. They're a demented yin yang.

Meditating on that idea led me to an epiphany:

Mike "The Thorn" Thorn and Arwen Curry are the Mulder and Scully of DIY.

Think about it. No, don't think too hard about it. Just a little… Tell me you don't totally agree with me… Follow this metaphor for a moment, please…

Mike Mulder: "Arwen, can't you grasp the concept that by exploring the possibilities of revolution through demo tape and zine culture the entire structure of society can be altered which is why the government has developed a secret program to disseminate "travelogue zines" to dilute the revolutionary potential of zine culture?"

Arwen Scully: "Mike, isn't it more likely that most zines just suck?"

Of course, that would make Mark Murrmann, Tom Hopkins and Floyd the Lone Gunmen. But that's enough of that…

 

NEW J CHURCH CD IS OUT ON HONEY BEAR RECORDS

Okay, Meaty, Beaty, Shitty Sounding is finally out on Honey Bear Records. Needless to say, you can mail order it right from me. I'm pretty happy with it. It's got 20 tracks from singles and compilations from the past few years. Here's the list:

Telephone Line, Turn To Stone, Sweet Talkin' Woman, Don't Bring Me Down, Tightrope, Palm Tree, Closing Time In An Early Town, Harvest, You're The One That I Want, Kill Surf City, Lemon Zinger, Winter Comes Again, Indignation, Socialist Newspaper, Disappear, Pointless Pointing, Sea Of Pearls, Earthquake Song, Crazy Lady On Market Street, Travelers

 

THE FUCKING CHAMPS HAVE STARTED THEIR OWN FUCKING GENRE

I love the Fucking Champs. I love the guys in the band and I love the music they play. Hey, there's a sleeping metal head in all of us and he/she needs to be awoken. But I have to admit; I thought that what they did was on the periphery. To be a mostly instrumental metal band ("instrumetal" if you will) is unique enough. To have no bass makes you even further out there in the concentric spirals of musical conformity. I never could have guessed that they would spawn an actual genre of music.

I guess we are reaching the new wave of metal and it's nothing that anyone could have predicted. Smart, self-aware, prog metal? How could this have happened? Where was metal heading?

Once the leap was made from heavy metal to speed metal, forces were set in motion that could only lead in one direction; Satan (and I mean that in a good way… sorta). All musical currents can usually follow some sort of genealogy and metal is no different from jazz or punk or avant-garde polka in that respect. It's not to hard to see how Venom paved the way for Slayer who paved the way for Carcass who paved the way for Morbid Angel who paved the way for Deicide who paved the way for Cradle of Filth. Shit, looking back on it, they look like battles in a long war. There's something really macho even about the progression from generation to generation. Everyone wants to be more and more extreme. What's the point?*

The Fucking Champs are smart guys. They read books and stuff. They watch "films" as well as "movies". These guys aren't your stereotypical metal heads. No "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" types in the lot. You can talk to them lucidly about subjects other than beer, metal and American pride without worrying about getting your ass kicked. Not your metal stereotype…

At first I thought bands like C Average were wannabe's and shockingly derivative. But now I'm thinking that there's a new reality for metal. It's nice to know that there is a serious alternative to the metal head stereotype without it being a joke band. I ain't saying that they're all a bunch of geniuses. This ain't the hesher version of Good Will Hunting. But they don't revel in the ignorance that a lot of traditional metal heads do.

I always thought it was random chance and musical Darwinism that prevented a more cerebral strain of metal from developing. My theory is partly proved true with this new scene. It was all just a matter of time.

I think a lot of critics (musical and social) have dogged metal because of its self-imposed limitations. Historically, metal bands were forced to work within a very narrow framework. This was largely due to their careerist ambitions as musicians. Metal bands are entertainers. There's never been much more to it. So, rather than take risks that might affect record sales and concert attendances, most bands have played it pretty safe. It's a lot easier to simply focus on what most metal heads thought of as progress (guitar solos and getting laid for the most part).

But after years of punk rock and indie rock, there is a new consciousness in metal. There is the idea that you can play whatever you want and not be concerned with commercial success. If you're playing metal strictly out of the love for metal, then aren't you just as much an artist as someone playing any other strain of independent music?

This lack of limitations as defined by commercial ambitions is probably the main reason for the new freedom in metal. There's no reason to feel intimidated by outside influences. How many metal heads are into Gary Numan and Kraftwerk? There was a time when you could get your ass kicked for admitting that you liked those bands to your metal buddies.

This new freedom and adventurousness in metal is epitomized by the Fucking Champs. They're in it for the music, man.

* - I'd like to qualify this by saying that I really liked Carcass and the first couple of Cradle of Filth records.

 

IN THE J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM

BOW ROETHKI - What Was A Scare CDEP

I don't know much about this duo. Got this randomly in the mail. For a while, there were a lot of bands like this. But right now, it's a nice change of pace from all the "challenging" stuff I've been getting in the mail.

Bow Roethki is Kristabelle Lee and Dave Coscia. Kristabelle seems to be the main person as she writes the songs, sings the songs and plays most of the instruments. This bedroom band is from Portland though what they do is certainly reminiscent of a lot of UK lo-fi stuff like the Slampt bands or even Sarah Records. It's sweet pop music with lyrical nods to the Beat Happening School of tasty-treats-as-metaphor-for-romance type lyrics.

It is especially catchy and if you just focus on the song structure, it's a lot like Heavenly or even the Buzzcocks. But the bedroom recording inhibits the sound in a pleasing way. Bands like this often find more success with understated performances than with an all out attack. Everyone knows you're recording in your bedroom on a little cassette four track. Nobody is expecting Flight of Icarus. The subdued approach takes the focus off of the technical aspects and redirects the listener to the songs themselves.

Again, it's not groundbreaking. But I'm assuming this is their first release and it shows a lot of promise. On a personal note, it was a nice little present after a hard day of work.
(Empty View Rrekerdz, PO Box 5312, Portland, OR 97228)

FIJI - The Glue Hotel Tapes CDEP

Ooh, I really like this one. It's great that Jamie from Scarfo is making music again, though it's without the support of a functioning band now.

Fiji is a one-muso band along the lines (in function at least) of Sparklehorse. There are, in fact, moments that do recall Sparklehorse in it's blending of `60s 7th chord pop music with the fuzz and white noise of today's underground.

On the first track, Pillshop, I was almost knocked down by a feeling of nostalgia. It really reminded me of the old days way back in the early `90s (tongue only partly in cheek), wandering around rainy streets listening to Oh My Lover or Victory by PJ Harvey on my Walkman. It's an interesting little rhythm that's equal parts international, hip-hop and theatrical rock ­ n ­ roll. It's a lot of varied sounds strung together by a disturbingly catchy tune. A lot of the music's style is in that it's so purposefully unusual with its use of melody.

This is the music made by people that felt (like I do) that The White Album was the Beatles' finest moment. Maybe their only moment, to some… There's even a bit of an attempt to usurp that atmosphere with a song about Manson with lyrical references about "piggies".

At this point, this CD has been out for a little while. Last I heard, Jamie was doing something with the dreaded Sheryl Crow. I guess everyone needs a day job. Let's hope he finds more time to continue this fascinating thought process.
(Impresario, PO Box 357, London SE19 1AD, UK)

HALF JAPANESE - Hello CD

Lester Bangs once described Half Japanese as "…sub-Jonathan Richman white-burba-infantilismus vocals that as they natter tunelessly onward actually tell little stories… This may be a whole new songwriting genre, or at least one terminal of the Lou Reed "I walked to the chair / Then I sat in it" school of lyrics." Of course, that's a compliment and remains true to this release.

I've always liked Half Japanese and all things Jad Fair albeit usually from the sidelines. Over his long career, I can't say there's anything I've disliked. I mean, I'm one of those people who still think the Half Japanese song was the best thing on Let Them Eat Jellybeans. But my interest has come and gone. Maybe that's why I see him as an inspiration as J Church's relationship to the public has been very similar.

You know what's weird? Call it a conundrum. Okay, don't. But it is a little weird how on songs like Red Sun there is an uncanny resemblance to The Weakerthans. I'm sure, if anything, it's the other way around. But it's the first thing I thought on first listening to this record.

The profound influence on punk rock and independent music by Jad Fair is now coming full circle. Influence in the indie world is always nebulous when you look outside the world of dilettantes and track down bands at least attempting to do their own thing. It's a pyramid scheme. One band like the Velvet Underground or Devo will influence the subsequent generation of bands. They in turn influence the following generation. The mathematics are exponential and soon you have a million bands saying they're influenced by Duty Now For The Future though I doubt that record sold that many copies! Half Japanese are certainly one of those bands at the top of the heap. Though it's often buried, confused and reconfigured, their influence exists either purposefully or inadvertently in a million indie bands around the world.

For that reason alone, you've gotta give 'em a little props for sticking to their guns and coming up with this interesting album of tales and adventures. It's amazing that in this day and age, someone can still create a very distinctive and unique style and do it for 20 years AND still manage to sound fresh and excited. You wouldn't think that there was much uncharted territory for Half Japanese. But there is a lot of really interesting stuff here. The keyboards on this record are tasteful and add a psych meets Battle of the Band era Turtles type of sound. Lots of inventive backdrop music here but also a lot of fresh pop songs. Patty might actually be my favorite song on the record though it almost sounds like a Pavement cover (though Pavement were an especially self-conscious Half Japanese most of the time).

I pretty much enjoyed this record from start to finish. It's very comforting that Half Japanese are still putting out these types of records. And the records are good.
(Alternative Tentacles)

V/A - The Christmas Fisting EP

Hmmm… I just got this a month ago (it's the end of July as I write this) and it's supposed to be a Christmas record. It was actually meant for release at a December gig from last year where the three bands on the comp were playing. It was a really great gig at the Underworld and if you were in London and not there, you blew it.

Anyway, this three song 7" features Southport and Capdown covering each other's songs. I have to admit that I wasn't too familiar with Capdown. But they're a mix of ska / reggae and punk / hardcore. Not usually my cup of tea, but I can get into it for the purposes of this novelty record. Of course, Southport is the new band featuring Simon who was the original guitarist / songwriter / sometimes vocalist for Snuff. They're pretty great and the take they do on a Capdown dub-style song is very Fugazi-like. It makes me wanna re-investigate their full length on Go-Kart.

Of course, the real stars on this record (as is the case anywhere they appear) are Hard Skin. It's been a while since we've seen any recorded music from this amazing skinhead juggernaut. But it's well worth the wait as they wonderfully massacre the Christmas standard re-christened Ding Dong Merrily, Oi Oi!. What can I tell you about this band? They're great and no matter what you think of their intentions, they've produced some of the greatest Oi! music of all time. This track carries on a great tradition. I should mention (for bragging purposes) that I got an advanced tape of some stuff they've recorded presumably for TKO. Bigger production this time around and it sounds great.

I dunno what the availability is like on this record. If you find it, you should grab it, as I'm sure it's a one time only pressing as it was for a one off gig.
(Household Name Records, PO Box 12286, London, SW9 6FE, UK)

 

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