Music Musings: The Vines

I’ve been thinking way too much about how best to write about music on the blog here. Every week, I move the “Music Musings” block further and further into the week on my calendar checklist, usually to wind up deleting it. It’s strange because, unlike movies and comics which I absorb and then write about, I feel the need to write about music while I’m listening to it. There’s so much going on on every CD that I find it hard to focus on things to write about, plus I worry that I’m just saying that same stuff that’s been said by others. I also have a different relationship with music than I do those other formats of entertainment. To me, movies and comics are an experience that I live through, meaning, I absorb them and then move on to something else, but I live with music. It stays with me and it’s more readily absorbable to me. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Anyway, I’ve decided to play Russian Roulette with my iPod to figure out my weekly music subject. This week it’s Australian retro rockers The Vines who made a big splash in the early 00s only to completely fade away from my personal memory. I picked up their first two records Highly Evolved and Winning Days and apparently my iPod wanted me to listen to them today, so that’s how it went down.

Like a lot of other people, I first heard The Vines thanks to their first big single “Get Free” which was all over the place in the summer of 2002. That was such a strange time in music because it seemed like rockers might actually be taking over pop music. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing someone talk about The Strokes (a band I never personally got into). Plus, bands like Jet and The Hives were getting some much deserved notice thanks to the surge of garage-influenced rock. Of course, it wouldn’t last, but some really interesting music came out of it. I remember purchasing the black plastic-covered CD while visiting the missus-to-be in New Hampshire, but the record didn’t make quite the impact on me I thought it would have. I think a combination of negative thoughts about the follow-up Winning Days and reading about lead singer Craig Nicholls losing his mind thanks to touring put me off to the record. Plus, you know how it is, there’s always more music out there to listen to, so unless something really smacks me in the face and demands my attention and devotion, I’m probably going to move on to something else.

With that in mind, I was a little skeptical about listening to Highly Evolved again, but that was all for naught because this is a pretty good record. The Vines did a great job in the early days (I can’t speak to their more recent albums because I haven’t listened to them) of combining some of the more psychedelic sounds of the 60s and 70s with the raw energy of punk rock and funneling all those obvious influences into something that sounded both modern and complimentary to their influences. The album starts strong with the title track, shows off its mellow side with “Autumn Shade,” a track that I probably didn’t like in my younger, more straight-up rock oriented state of mind but dig now and then kicks it back into high gear with “Outtathaway!” For me, the high point of the record is “Factory” with it’s bounciness and walking bass line.

There’s a few missteps, though. “In The Jungle” has some great musical ideas and riffs in it, but they don’t feel connected enough to be an actual song. This one really feels like several other song segments that were kind of mashed together without much of a through line which is too bad, because I think they could have been broken down and turned into even better songs than the last three tracks which are kind of boring to me. I dig 60s and 70s rock, but not so much the droning stuff. Anything that’s too repetitive gets on my nerves. I wouldn’t say tracks like “1969” and “Mary Jane” get to the annoying place, but they verge on it. Overall I was kind of surprised with how much I liked this record.

Unfortunately, Winning Days doesn’t seem to hold up nearly as well, even thought it starts pretty damn strong with a great rock song like “Ride.” This isn’t a bad record by any means, it’s just not the kind that I’m super interested in listening to over and over again. Like with their previous effort, the musical talent of The Vines–who I should mention are Nicholls on vocals and guitar, Ryan Griffiths on guitar, Brad Heald on bass and Hamish Rosser on drums–is very clear on this record, I’m just not sure if the place their at with their music is one that’s super interesting to me. They seem more intent on exploring slower, more melodic compositions, which is great for them as artists, but I’ll be honest, I want to rock! Instead of the psychedelic tinged rock songs I want to listen to, I’m getting alright explorations. I think the problem might be that the songs might be new ground to the band, but they’re not for me as a listener, so I kind of gloss over them in my head.

But how awesome is that video? The record is kind of a bummer because it’s bookended with such great songs. “Ride” very simply kicks ass and the final track “F.T.W.” which stands for what you think it does, is so much fun. It’s too bad the middle of the record is filled with stuff that isn’t super interesting. I found it interesting that the track “TV Pro” shares some of the same problems to my ear that “In The Jungle” did on the previous record: too much crammed into a small space with no through line. Again, there’s elements in there that could have made for a few different great songs. Instead we get one that’s uneven and other tracks that don’t really do much for me.

Even as I write this, I feel apprehensive about posting because writing about music is such a different animal to me. I didn’t take nearly as many notes while listening to Winning Days as I did to Highly Evolved. Was I being lazy or were there just fewer noteworthy elements to talk about? Am I being fair? Does any of it matter because I’m writing about six year old records that don’t seem to come up in regular music discussion? Those kinds of thoughts don’t really plague me when I’m writing about movies, but I do like writing about music, so I guess I better get used to it.

Music Musings: Jack White

I used to HATE Jack White. The White Stripes blew up when I was in high school, maybe it happened earlier there than everywhere else in the world because they’re from Detroit which is only a half hour away from where I grew up in Toledo. Anyway, as a bass player, I was immediately put off by the idea that they didn’t think that position was important enough to fill in their band, even though I was pretty sure there was bass on some of the tracks. I also didn’t really like the schtick with the red, white and black color scheme and “are they siblings or married?” talk in regards to band members Meg and Jack White. But the most damning thing in my opinion was a Guitar World interview with Jack where he badmouthed blues players. That was it for me. Fast forward a decade or so and now I can’t get enough of White, The White Stripes or The Raconteurs (I haven’t gotten into The Dead Weather yet, but I will).

So, why did my opinions change so drastically? Well, first off, I hope I’m not as a judgmental asshole as I used to be in high school. But, even more importantly was watching It Might Get Loud, one of the (if not the) best musical and most interesting rock and roll documentaries I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it (and you really should it’s on Netflix Instant right now!) the conceit was to get three very different kinds of rock and roll guitar players from different generations to tell their stories separately and then get together to talk about records and play music. The three musicians are Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page who I love, U2’s The Edge who I don’t care for (technically, I don’t care for the band, he’s fine) and Jack White. I really appreciated seeing White talk about working as an upholsterer while coming up in the Detroit music scene and even now he does things not to make life easier on himself, but to test his limits. Whether he’s playing with a guitar that is forever going out of tune or putting the microphone a few more feet away from the keyboard, the man seems dead set on challenging himself when it seems like most rock stars decide to take the easy road. I can respect that. There’s something very bluesy about his mindset and hardworking, which comes straight out of the Midwest or really any cold place where people have to work hard for their money.

I was such a fan of the movie and White’s after watching it, that I immediately went out and picked up one of the two Raconteurs records (I honestly can’t remember which one I bought first) and then got the next one. Of course, I’m talking about 2005’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers Of The Lonely both of which I have become a huge fan of and have been on regular rotation ever since. How great is “Steady As She Goes”? Super freaking great, but the thing I like most about these two records is how broad they are. You start of with a pretty straight forward rock song like “Steady” and then from there it’s all over the place. The songs might seem disparate at times, but there’s an earthiness to the proceedings that tie all the tracks together. I actually got a Beatles vibe from the records because of all the different elements and kinds of songs, which is not a compliment I offer lightly.

From there I went back to The White Stripes and wound up getting their first album, The White Stripes (1999), and their most recent studio record Icky Thump (2007). Stripes has a lot of raw energy to it which you might expect to have faded by their last record, but that’s not what I see. If anything, I see musicians who have gotten more comfortable with each other (in a good way, not a lazy way) and who have decided to branch playing more kinds of music. I’m nowhere near an expert on the band, only having watched It Might Good Loud and the band’s Canadian tour film Under Great White Northern Lights, and like I said, I’ve only got two of their records, but I feel like I’ve got a handle on the mindset behind the music (at least as much as White is willing to show). He’s a hardworking man with a love for music of all kinds and isn’t afraid to push himself to try and make that music better, which is a huge part of UGWL. Not only do we get more behind the scenes type goodness, but also White’s desire to play shows in unexpected places, to play for people who aren’t fans and to hopefully turn some of those people into fans. I guess that’s what he did to me, so mission accomplished!

From here I’m keeping my eyes open for the White Stripes records I don’t have and getting into The Dead Weather (the fact that he’s a multi-instrumentalist is also impressive) as well as keeping my eyes peeled for other projects he might have in the works, like when he gave Conan O’Brien and his then-touring band a place to record or, well, really anything else the man has planned. He might literally be the hardest working man in rock and roll at the moment, in a time when most people are using their success to make things easier, White’s making himself work harder, even bringing his talent to other artists through his Third Man Records. Anyone with a work ethic like that, is aces in my book, ten year old remarks about the blues aside.

Music Musings: How I Got Into Music

Recently, my love of music has been rekindled. I’ve always had an affinity for the medium and have never really left it behind, but for the last year or so, I’ve been decidedly less focused on listening to music in favor of watching movies while I work or listening to podcasts. With my recent work changes, I’ve also changed how I work, which now involves playing the old iPod instead of zoning out with a movie I don’t really care about. I’m still gonna watch some TV and movies during the day, but I’m also going to utilize my time to catch up on the tons of CDs I picked up this summer at flea markets and also revisit some old faves. I’ve also been playing my guitar and bass a lot more often which has been a great stress reliever and a lot of fun. With that in mind, I figured it might be interesting to talk about how I got into listening to music.

I don’t remember much about music before around the 6th grade. I know my mom tended towards the classic, oldies radio stations when we’d drive around and my dad was more into classic rock, so I had a pretty broad base growing up, but it took me a while to go after music on my own aside from asking for MC Hammer tapes for my birthday. I don’t remember exactly when I got my first CD-playing boombox, but I think it was around 1992 because the first three CDs I got to go along with it were Kriss Kross’ Totally Krossed Out, the Aladdin soundtrack and a Disney disc called For Our Children with covers of children’s songs by artists like Little Richard, Bob Dylan and a slew of others. Pretty eclectic. Oddly enough, I don’t have any of those three discs in my collection anymore, having sold Kriss Kross in a garage sale and passed the two Disney discs along to my folks, though I might have to get them back for my kid to listen to. I would have been 9 around that time.

My second discman, Christmas 1998. Age 15, be nice.

My  musical evolution has a few distinct memories from those early days, but mostly a lot of fog. I’ve mentioned going to see KISS with my dad in 1997 and I have very distinct memories of sitting in the back of Mrs. White’s classroom in 7th grade during free time with my friend Jimmy listening to CDs on our Discmen and doodling. I did a lot of doodling back in the day and had great fun coming up with various lists of my favorite bands. During the last few summers of my grade school years, I remember watching MTV even though I wasn’t supposed to and probably did so when I was alone after school as well. I remember having a hard time mapping out the history of rock and roll in my brain because there was just so much going on (and I knew almost nothing about punk or funk, so it would only get bigger and more unwieldy as I got older). Wait, so the Beatles broke up BEFORE John Lennon was killed? How is it possible that Eric Clapton was in SO MANY bands?! Getting a subscription to Guitar World in high school really helped. That mag was like a history book for rock and roll.

The extent of my punk rock knowledge in 1999. So weird...

Jimmy was a pretty big influence on my listening habits. I got into bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice In Chains thanks to him. We also both dug 70s music because both our dads were into that kinda stuff. I would raid my dad’s CD collection and listen to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and the like. At some point I also got my own turntable and borrowed a bunch of my dad’s vinyl which had a lot of 50s/60s pop records and introduced me one of my favorite bands of all time: The Ventures. Eventually, I’d start hitting up the used CD stores like CD Warehouse to add to my collection. For Christmas one year, my parents bought me a CD player that could hold 51 CDs, like a juke box. You would slide the CD booklets into a book so you’d know which ones were where and could even hit the random button and just let them run wild. Eventually, the CD selector arm stopped working and iPods came into play, but that stereo served me well all the way through college.

First with the help of the boom box and later the stereo, I also started listening to some Toledo and Detroit rock stations. I was pretty anti-rap, pop and country at that point for whatever reason (close mindedness, lack of experience, whatever you want to call it), so it was mostly 104.7 which was classic rock, 106.5 Buzz FM (alternative and classic) and Detroit’s 89X which introduced me to a lot of 90s bands and also played more than just the regular singles. I discovered this in the last few years after giving the missus’ Our Lady Peace records a listen and realizing I knew more songs than I should have.

By the time I got to high school I had seen KISS and Aerosmith with my dad, I’d soon win tickets to see Black Sabbath from one of the aforementioned radio stations and would add a bunch of music enthusiasts to my group of friends who would bolster my fandom and exploration even further. Going to concerts was a fairly regular occurrence with us (I miss those days a lot) and we had a ton of fun. We’d also talk about music more than was probably healthy, but what else are you supposed to talk about at an all guy Catholic high school?My freshman year (1998 or so) a group of us attended our school’s Battle of the Bands and were so inspired that we decided to form a band. Since one friend had a guitar and one a drum set, it came down to me to learn bass. So I did. I rented a black Fender Squier and an amp for a little while, took lessons from a guy named Ed who thought my dad’s first name was mine and eventually bought my own bass at a store’s semi-annual going out of business sale. Eventually, I’d switch teachers and get a really good one named Jason who I would go to for the rest of my high school career. It took awhile and a lot of effort, but we finally put a band together Sophomore that had the friend who was going to play guitar on drums, a different singer, a new friend on guitar and the one who was going to play drums too busy to participate because he was doing musicals. We practiced a lot, went through two lead singers (the musical dude eventually became the singer) and played a few parties, but nothing too fancy. It was a ton of fun. Senior year, we got our shit together, played Battle of the Bands and won. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to convert the VHS tape into YouTube clips to really embarrass everyone.

Bennet band practice.

Between playing music and learning more about it, I had a great time in high school as far as music was concerned. My buddy Chad, who would become the guitar player in the band (it was called The Pen Is Mightier, first, then Bennet after the singer change in case you were wondering) helped me get even further into classic rock, by really introducing me to Pink Floyd and some other bands. The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I started working at Barry’s Bagel Place and would continue to on and off until I moved out to New York to work at Wizard. That was a whole other world of music to get exposed to thanks to all kinds of new people of all different ages with different tastes. That’s where I discovered the Buzzcocks! The bakers got to choose the music played in the back and they had a big effect on what I was listening to as did this dude Matt who I worked up front with. He was a big fan of classic rock. But, the biggest influence on my at that time was working down the strip mall from my beloved Boogie Records, an independent record store that sold new and used CDs, records, DVDs, patches, the whole shebang. I can’t tell you how many laps I did around those racks before the place closed down when I was in college, but I wound up buying all kinds of CDs from them. It wasn’t until well after Kurt Cobain died that I really got into Nirvana. I had picked Nevermind a while before, but at some point I got really into them and went back and bought all their CDs at Boogie and even got a rad interview disc called The Bark Not The Bite that I should give another listen to. My tastes tended towards rock, classic and alternative including the growing pop punk of the day, but not much into metal or the nu-metal that was popping up all around me. While some of my friends got into Korn, I never could. I guess I wasn’t angry enough. Plus. those dudes always seemed like posers to me anyway.

Not my actual hair style in college, the ladies had fun with me then I played pourly, but looked cool.

In college, I had much less money to spend on music, but I did expand my horizons, slowly getting into blues, hip hop, country and jazz thanks to a class I took my senior year. I started with old school hip hop, outlaw country and general blues but I was liking it all. I also dropped my outstanding dislike of pop music, deciding it’s more fun to have fun with crappy pop music than it is to outright hate everything. Sure, there’s bad–really bad–pop music out there, but what’s the point of letting it upset you? Shitty music has always been around, it takes effort to work past that to get to the good stuff. While in college, the whole digital thing started happening, but I was mostly oblivious to it, preferring my CDs and, yes, my mini disc player. It wasn’t until right before I moved to NY and got my Mac that I discovered the joys of ripping all your music to a computer and a year or say later when the glorious iPod entered my life (it’s almost full now, which is kind of sad). Sometime around the end of high school, I decided I wanted a guitar and got a Squier Telecaster start-up pack, which I took with me, along with a bass, to college. I only ever played two gigs/shows/recitals in college but I liked having my gear around to play with. Still do.

Now I find myself with more CDs than I care to count, a small collection of records and an iPod nearly full of music with more to put on. I don’t really spend a lot of money on new music, but usually try new things out that I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. I’m generally cheap, so the idea of being able to get a disc for a few bucks is very appealing and allows me to try a lot of new things (for what it’s worth, I’m against pirating music). I’ve found a TON of 90s hip hop CDs at garage sales. The thing that still blows me away about music is how broad of a topic it can be. I used to think I knew a lot about a lot, but that was mostly all popular music. I know dudes who can talk for hours about bands I’ve never heard of.

So, what’s the point of this post aside from rambling scattershot about my history with music? Well, first off, it’s a way of me telling you that I’m going to be writing more about music on the blog. Music Mondays will now be Music Musings because I’m not sure if posts will always go up on Mondays. I’m also planning on actually doing record reviews on a more regular basis and documenting my exploration of new-to-me music genres like 80s music (to a 90s alternakid, the 80s were one big joke, but there’s obviously a lot of good stuff in there). For a brief period of time I got paid to do this kind of stuff, which was a life long dream. I’m hoping that my newfound enthusiasm for music will combine with this crazy blogging addiction I seem to have and make for some interesting posts. If not, well, I’ll probably just quit doing them and post more music videos or something.

Music Mondays: Jay-Z

Back in 2003, I fell in love with Jay-Z’s music. Three of my friends from high school got a house together in Toledo that I would hang out at a lot when I wasn’t at school. One of those dudes, Toth, worked at the radio station and had piles of CDs in his room. I borrowed a few discs from the piles, one of which was Jay-Z’s then recently released Black Album and my mind was blown. I listened to it a lot on my trips to and from everywhere, but eventually I gave it back. I didn’t actually buy the record for myself until a little while later, but it stuck with me. This album was supposed to be Jay’s swan song, his last record and even though I figured he’d be back, I wondered who would fill the void with him gone. There would be lots of attempts, but no one has captured my attention like Jay, though I understand that I might not be the target audience of current hip hop and rap considering I’m a 27 year old white dude.

That 2003 near-obsession with the Black Album wasn’t my first interaction with Jay-Z. Like anyone else my age, I’d known his music since he blew up, but especially in college when “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” sort of became my theme song. For some reason, my roommate Hatem started singing the lyrics to that song using my last name; “D to the izzo, ietsch [pronounced “eech”] to the izzay.” For the rest of my college career I’d hear that song and put his lyrics to it. Why fight it, right?

Since then, I’ve gone on to pick up four of his eleven records, mostly thanks to flea markets and yard sales. I’ve got The Blueprint, Volume 2…Hard Knock Life, The Black Album and The Blueprint 3 which not only held special significance for me but was also one of my favorite albums of last year. What I dig about Jay-Z’s records is a combination of things. The flow of his rhymes is amazing. The man can put some phrases together, to say the least. He also works with the best producers who invent some sick beats for him. You’ve got guys like Kanye West (back when he wasn’t just that annoying guy), Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes and tons of others. The various producers give his albums a variety and scope that some other records don’t have. Finally, dude’s got swagger. No matter what you think of his records or his music, you can’t deny that the guy knows how to carry himself. Just like he says in plenty of his songs like “Empire State of Mind” Jay-Z has a lot of the outward qualities that draw me to Frank Sinatra.

I dig that the guy has grown up and has started dressing like he has. You don’t see a lot of this in pop music, rap or otherwise, but I like how he’s grown into an elder statesmen role without completely giving up the game. I’d like to think when I get older, I’ll have enough scratch to class the ol’ wardrobe up. I guess it’s a little weird to like a musician for what he wears, but maybe it’s because I’m getting older and have found a new Sinatra to be a fan of.

Music Mondays: Fall Out Boy

I’ve always had a love of poppy punk and rock songs that get me pumped up. In high school I dug bands like Blink-182, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish. In college I found out about Sum 41 and dug them. And after graduating college in 2005, I came out to New York and got exposed to Fall Out Boy thanks to my buddies at Wizard, many of whom were really into the band. For whatever reason, I was kind of stand-offish to the band, but it was all around me and I wound up knowing a handful of songs just thanks to trips to the mall in cars and overhearing it played out loud in the office.

Soon enough I was hooked. The combination of head-bobbing, foot stomping rock and clever lyrics with even more clever song titles (perhaps too clever for their own good as I can never remember which song goes with which title unless it’s really obvious) had me dead to rites. I was a Fall Out Boy fan. I picked up their third record From Under The Cork Tree which had big hits coming out in the form of “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” Man, I dig those songs. “Sugar” is even one of my ring tones and it because a staple every time the Wizard crew went out to the bar with half of us singing at the top of our lungs and the townies looking they wanted to beat us to death.

I dug their high energy music videos, especially with all that jumping around and bass or guitar swinging around. I think one of them even does a flip at some point. However, I’ve heard that all these theatrics make for pretty poor live performances (I havne’t seen them and eye witness accounts vary, but their Live CD SUCKED, more on that in a bit). Anyway, I went back and picked up their previous record Take This To Your Grave, which is awesomely pop and rock filled, but also really bitter when you listen to the lyrics. However, there were a few tracks I was really relating to at the time thanks to missing some bros who left the company for other states and getting generally homesick like “Chicago Is So Two Years Ago,” “Grenade Jumper” and others. I liked listening to some upbeat music that still captured some of the things I was thinking about and going through as a dude who moved away from every person he ever knew to work in a new place and follow a dream. Don’t get me wrong, FOB’s not supplanting Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd on my all time favorites list, but they are definitely a go-to band when I want to get upbeat and sing along to some jams. A few years later in 2007, Infinity On High came out and I fell in love once again with a pop record. This one felt more polish, which sometimes is a bad thing, but it felt like they had a really good relationship with a producer who understood what they were trying to do. The first big single “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” came out and rocked my face off. It feels like a pop rock battle put on wax. I don’t specifically remember, but I would imagine that I picked the disc up on one of our weekly trips to the Palisades Mall for New CD & DVD Day and it was in heavy rotation on my long commute back and forth to work and on my headphones in the office. Once again I had a record filled with songs I could sing at the top of my lungs, plus, Jay-Z who I was just discovering how much I liked did a few little thing like introducing the band. When I saw that the first track was called “Thriller” and heard Jay’s voice, I was hoping they would team up and cover that Michael Jackson cover. It wouldn’t take long for them to team up with another huge name in the music industry to cover Jackson though.

As I mentioned, I don’t like Live In Phoenix which came out in 2008. I don’t generally like live CDs and this one turned out to be not so great with tempos seeming off, vocals not up to the par I expected from listening to the records and some timing issues. But, the huge plus was “Beat It” which they recorded with John Mayer as the record’s sole studio track. I bought the double disc (which came with a DVD I never watched), but sold it back to FYE recently when I realized keeping a whole CD and DVD for one song that I could get for a buck was kind of stupid. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy their most recent record Folie A Deux which came out at the end of 2008 right away. It wouldn’t be until that summer when I was schlepping back and forth to New York City in a daily four hour commute that I finally picked the record up and I really dug it too. Not sure what kept me away, but I liked how the seemed to be growing as musicians. Sure there were your usual word play songs about relationships, but also what sounded like some old school rock and roll (“She’s My Winona”) and “America’s Suitehearts” which had a lot of different elements going on. As with many of my other favorite bands, the new record didn’t replace any of the others in my heart, but it was a solid addition to the catalog. Far as I’m concerned, they haven’t put out a dud studio album which puts them ahead of some other bands in my mind. I get why people don’t like FOB on paper. One of them showed his junk online and also married a lipsynching pop star, but I don’t give a shit about any of that. Some people call them emo or hipsters and I don’t care about that either. I’m listening for the music and as long as the music is solid and makes me want to get up and dance around or helps me get through another round of cleaning the kitchen, then I’ll be a fan for a while. Just don’t start sucking. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Music Mondays: My Weezer Fandom

For whatever reason, Weezer had nothing to do with my formative music-liking years in 7th or 8th grade when it was taking my future high school friends by storm. I’m sure I’d heard “Buddy Holly,” but the name Weezer meant nothing to me. Being kind of an asshole in high school I would constantly make fun of my new friends for liking Weezer even though I was basing that on absolutely nothing. It’s a wonder we’re still friends, though I think part of that’s because, at some point either sophomore or junior year, I asked my buddy Chad if I could borrow their records. At the time Weezer–consisting of lead singer and guitar player Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson, guitar player Brian Bell and bass player Matt Sharp–only had their 1994 self-titled debut (dubbed “The Blue Album”) and 1996’s follow up Pinkerton out. Unfortunately, Pinkerton didn’t do so well, Cuomo went crazy and the band went on hiatus for a few years. I listened to the two records and did a complete 180, becoming a huge fan of the band, even checking Weezer.com on a regular basis, though never getting involved in the message boards (I hate those things). Luckily for me, I got into the band towards the end of their hiatus which meant that 2001’s self-titled album (this one dubbed “The Green Album” for obvious reasons) wasn’t too far off. During their off-time, Sharp left the band to be replaced by Mikey Welsh on bass and Rivers started writing poppier, less personal songs because he was devastated by Pinkerton‘s failure (an album that featured lots of personal feelings from the singer). I remember going to my beloved local record store Boogie Records with my friend Matt during our free period senior year and buying the record the day it came out. The album wasn’t great–not as good as the previous two at least–but it was new Weezer, which meant new tours would be on the horizon. At the time, the band pretty much played the exact same set list every show, but my friends and I hoped to see them soon.

Also around this time, Rivers started doing a lot of interviews that lead to lots of angriness from fans, especially the ones where he practically disowned Pinkerton (an album everyone I know loved and, from what I read in an article in Guitar World about the then-new emo scene, influenced that entire scene thanks to this new thing called the internet) and said that his fans were assholes. I can’t tell you exactly where this happened, but it did. I was pissed. That’s when I realized that Weezer was one of the hardest bands to be a fan of, but I was hooked. Soon, I would go off to college and purchase the poster version of the Green Album cover which hung proudly in my room. On September 22, 2001, my freshman year of college, my parents came down to Delaware, Ohio, my friends Matt and Charlie who were going to Ohio State at the time came up and then my parents took us back to Toledo, which got us closer to Detroit where the show was. A band called The Start opened up and–this is the best part–I got to shake hands with new bass player Scott Shriner who also happened to be from Toledo! In fact, I worked with his cousin at the bagel shop. For whatever reason, Scott was running up the aisle near us and one of my friends notice and shot his hand out into the aisle. Scott very nicely stopped and shook all our hands before moving on to his destination. I don’t remember many specifics of the show, but I do remember singing like crazy along with all the songs. Good times. As I mentioned in a previous post, I actually drove up from Delaware, Ohio to Toledo to hit up the midnight release of Weezer’s next record Maladroit. Someone snapped a picture of Scott Shriner’s dad buying it at Boogie Records and it made its way onto Weezer’s website. That’s me in the gray sweatshirt and the missus in blue (she was nice enough to let me use her car for the voyage). I really didn’t like Maladroit when I first listened to it. I wanted to hear more Pinkerton-like music, but it was poppy like “Green.” But it eventually grew on me and I wound up digging the record. That was in 2002. I was a sophomore in college at the time. That summer my friends from Toledo and I went to see Weezer again in concert, this time they were doing shows with two stages, had five bands playing along with them (including Sparta and Dashboard Confessional who I realized I hate) and a side stage with smaller bands. Another good time was had by all. Then Make Believe came out and broke my heart. I know it sounds dumb to say something like that about a band filled with people you’ve never met (hand shake aside), but with that album’s string of poppy pap crap, I was done with the band…for a while at least. How many times did I need to get kicked in the ribs before I walked away? The record came out in 2005, I was still in college and I don’t think I’ve listened to it since then, though I do still own it (I’ve never even ripped it into iTunes). Soon, I’d graduate college and go on to work for Wizard in New York with a bunch of dudes who were also, at this point, former Weezer fans. Many of them felt the same way I did and some were even angrier about it. I kind of mellowed out after a while, but I still didn’t buy or even listen to their next two records “the Red Album” from 2008 and 2009’s Raditude. So, it’s been a good five years since my heart broke. By now it’s mended back together and was ticking better than ever (thanks to realizing a band isn’t really worth getting too upset about). Plus, recently I’d been seeing a few things that made me curious about their latest record Hurley: Rivers’ appearance on that B.o.B song “Magic” and their first single off the record called “Memories” which I really really dug. There’s finally an official video for “Magic” now, by the way. Watching Rivers doing his MC thing on stage is always funny.

So, last week, I found myself in Best Buy doing something I hadn’t done in half a decade: buying a Weezer CD. I went with the deluxe edition because it was the same price as the regular. My friends and I used to joke that you can expect one thing from any Weezer CD: ten songs. Well, that rule had been broken in the past, but it made me chuckle that the regular version of the disc had that magical number of tracks. And, you know what? I really like this record. I don’t know if it’s just me being sentimental (like seeing a girl you used to like and thinking you’ve got a thing for her again, but really it’s just a fond memory) or if it’s legit. I’ve only listened to it once all the way through, but I wasn’t depressed after the first listen, so that’s much better than my first Make Believe listen.

You might be thinking to yourself “Oh, TJ, don’t go back to that band, they don’t know how to treat you right and will only wind up hurting you again.” But to that I would respond “Yo, I got this.” Now that I’m less emotional about the whole thing, I’ll probably even go back and listen to Make Believe again and keep my eyes peeled for “Red” and Raditude at flea markets, garage sales and used places.

Music Mondays: Fountains Of Wayne

I’ve done some moving around on the recurring feature schedule I made for myself recently. I’m dropping Crossovers I Want To See as a weekly feature because, frankly, I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that isn’t going to get old really quick. I also never got into doing a weekly record review on Fridays, but I still want to talk about music on a regular basis, so I’m changing the focus and moving it to Mondays, hence Music Mondays. There will be record review elements, but also more personal anecdotes involving various bands. The first entry will revolve around Fountains Of Wayne, a band I mentioned in last week’s Supergroup Showcase about Tinted Windows.

There aren’t many bands out there that I remember exactly when I first heard them, but it just so happens the the night I staid up watching MTV’s 120 Minutes and discovered Man…Or Astroman?! I also saw the video for FOW’s “Denise” off their second record called Utopia Parkway. This was probably around 1999 when that record came out, so I would have been 16. I was instantly taken in by their awesome pop rock sound. Soon enough I bought Utopia Parkway and then eventually found their first, self titled record at my beloved Boogie Records. I even got my friend Matt into them, which was fun. In fact, I believe I found their first album at the library first ad listened to it a bunch before finding the used copy. Anyway, it was fun to get into a band with a good friend who also had good taste in music.

The band consists mainly of Chris Collingwood (far right, above) and Adam Schlesinger (far left, above) on guitar and bass. These guys are the brains behind the operation as they’re the main songwriters. Collingwood also sings, offering his versatile vocals to the tracks. The guy has proven that he can sing in every style from mournful longing to country warbling and good old fashioned rock and roll. Jody Porter (second from right, above) acts as the other guitar player and Bryan Young (the other one) plays drums. These guys come together to create beautifully eclectic records that zoom in on real life from the heartbreak of breaking up to the mind-numbingness of working a crappy job. I defy you to listen to a FOW record and not relate to most of, if not all of, the songs. I always describe FOW as “What pop music should be.” What I meant by that is that it felt like the natural progression from 60s pop and 80s New Wave, skipping all the bad stuff including the late 90s pop I was being subjected to at the time.

Of course, just as I started getting into them and started spreading the records amongst my friends, the band went on a few year long hiatus. During the break Schlesinger helped write the original songs for the Josie and the Pussycats flick. At the time I started getting heavily into bootleg trading online. This was back when you had to actually swap discs, I assume you just send digital files back and forth now with the use of FTPs or YouSendIt. I eventually found some people swapping live FOW shows and got my hands on an in-store Sam Goody acoustic set they did on 5-5-99 and a lesser quality regular live set from a place called The Shelter in Detroit on 7-15-99. Both are still in my regular listening rotation.

Soon enough I would go away to college in Delaware, Ohio. A few months into my sophomore year, I read that they were playing in Cleveland at a place called Peabody’s. I immediately told my buddies Matt and Charlie who were going to school in nearby Columbus, Ohio and more importantly, had access to a car. The three of us made plans to go to the show on 11-12-2002 and I even got introduced to OK Go, another band I would wind up loving. Luckily I did a concert review on my old website, so here’s my review from back then:

FOW is one of my favorite current bands, so I was stoked as hell when I found out they were touring. As I said earlier, we drove all the way to Cleveland (from the Columbus area) to see them. After OK Go finished up, some people moved around and we ended up being one person from the stage. I could have literally reached up and touched Chris. It was amazing. Actually, I wouldn’t have been able to touch him because he’s a very tall man. Their set blew me away. It had all the songs I wanted to hear “Leave the Biker” (my personal favorite), “Utopia Parkway,” and “Denise.” The only song I really wish they would have played and didn’t was “Lazer Show,” but I was by no means disappointed. They played three or four songs from their upcoming album that sounded great. Two songs that stood out were “Bright Future in Sales” and “Stacy’s Mom Has Got It Goin On.” Usually I don’t like it when a band plays songs that I haven’t heard yet, but it was different this time. The songs were so good they made me want to go out and buy the album. They closed the show with “Sink to the Bottom” (I think). Right after they left one of my friends reached up and took three pics from the pic holder on the microphone. Do I feel bad about this? Nope. I’ve got a FOW pic, even if Chris didn’t use it, it’s still cool. By the way, Jody looks like a true rock star, a combination of Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. As a whole the band was tight and performed amazingly. They didn’t quite have the energy of OK Go, but their music is also a lot more mellow. This very well could have been my all time favorite concert.

It really was a great show. I had seen some huge bands by that time, but they were the first one that I felt like I really discovered and followed (even though, yes, I discovered them on MTV). That upcoming album I mentioned would turn out to be 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers and it would turn out to be my favorite of the group so far. The first three songs on the record “Mexican Wine,” “Bright Future In Sales,” and “Stacey’s Mom” are killer pop rock songs. “Hey Julie” would go on to be a favorite of the missus’ and even her ringtone. Heck, I even like “Valley Winter Song” at a time when I thought I hated county-ish music. Even though it’s a favorite, I’m still not a great fan of “Hailey’s Waitress,” but even the best records can’t be perfect. Matt and I saw the band in Detroit while touring behind this album, though I can’t remember exactly when.

In the last few years, we’ve gotten two more releases from the band. One, a two-disc collection of B-sides, outtakes and live tracks called Out-Of-State Plates came out in 2005 which also included their recording of “…Baby One More Time” a song their label passed to them and they recorded before Britney Spears got ahold of it and turned it into a gigantic hit. It’s not a bad record by any means, but there’s a reason many of these tracks aren’t on regular albums. It’s still fun to listen to, but not up to the same caliber as the regular records. Their last original record Traffic and Weather came out in 2007, another great, fun record that I still enjoy to this day, even after a sometimes-damaging heavy rotation in my car’s CD player for quite a while. I just discovered there’s a live DVD too, so I’ll have to check that out and hopefully a new record this year.

I can’t think of another band that I discovered during that time that still makes music I enjoy as much as the first records I heard. Most of the 90s bands I got into have seemed to have a dip in quality of their songs or have moved into stylistic places I’m not such a fan of, but Fountains Of Waynes’ diversity lends itself well to my aging along with them. Fun fact, after my Wizard internship, I was at home with my parents. The computer was kept in a hutch that also held the stereo. One day I was listening to Welcome Interstate Managers and “Little Red Light” popped on. I started freaking out because the song has a lyric that goes “New York to Nyack, feels like a hundred miles.” I had just spent nine weeks in Nyack so that was pretty awesome. They even refer to the Tappan Zee bridge which I had crossed a few times. It was cool to have lived in a place referenced in a song. That was a new feeling. Now I live in that area and still get a kick out of finding myself in more and more of the locations they sing about.