If you’re reading this, thanks for dropping by!
So in the process of coming up with a one-sheet (the equivalent of an actors resume/sales pitch) I am confronted with the uncomfortable (infuriating) position of having to select a genre. The purpose of said one-sheet is to garner attention, reviews/listens to the album James Beaudreau (www.workbenchrecordings.com) and I are putting together. Some might say, “Hey man what’s the big deal? So what? Call yourself alt-acoustic-rock or pop-folk or folks-perimental or a guitarscape-vox-ular…ist or a human-tune-ster.” The wonderful world of the internet has given people the opportunity to hone their musical tastes to such a degree that somebody (marketing/promotional people?) started the snowball of trying to keep up with new musical appellations. The first I remember was ‘alt-country’ applied to the band Wilco. I haven’t ever thought of this stuff in regards to what I make until now. When I set out to write a song I don’t think to myself, this is the type of song I’m going to write. In fact, I don’t even ‘set out to write songs’ that’s just something I do. I also draw, paint, act….I do a lot of things. Why does the world demand that I box myself? Declare my major? Define myself? This morning I came to the realization that …..they (in this case listeners) need my help. People need a context, a setting, a reason to listen.
I read various music reviews and blogs online. Yesterday I came upon a review of the band Foxygen – “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” on pitchfork which was the straw that broke the camels back. The review began with this:
“Before you play a note, your band begins as a series of decisions: Which bands inspire us? Who do we want to sound like? What are we going to call ourselves? These early triangulations often lead to everything else falling into place: bass lines, vocal affectations, guitar tones, production, album-art style. They say a lot about the band you intend to become.”
This is utterly alien to me. The songs come from wherever they come from (thoughts, feelings, experiences, images, sounds, colors), they end up sounding how they sound, I call them what I think makes most sense or might be evocative of the feeling of the thing. I’ve never been so calculating as to triangulate….anything. Maybe that’s my problem, I dunno. Maybe bands work differently than I thought. Now, don’t get the wrong idea the rest of the review speaks more specifically of the music (not in marketing terms) and was given a rating of 8.4 and best new music. Good for them!! They’ve been at it for some years. I was just so stricken by that initial misunderstanding of how music gets made on top of this notion of having to pigeon-hole myself in order to get listens that I had to write about it. But fear not dear reader I believe we have found a solution!! James and I were talking about this and he brought up Van Dyke Parks who has worked in a broad spectrum of ways (he’s produced, composed, scored music, written children’s books, been in films, on t.v. etc.) with a broad spectrum of artists…. whether he’s felt the pressure to pigeon-hole himself ever or not I don’t know. So despite doing many things to simplify and be clear I am a songwriter. Do I play guitar? Yes. Sing? Yes. Folksongs? Sometimes. Rocksongs? Sometimes. Punksongs? Sometimes. My songs? Usually. Cover songs? Occasionally. I’ve been going to at least a couple of open mics each week here in NYC for the past 10 years or more and recently a fellow open mic-er came up to me at a venue he had never heard me play before astounded that I was playing a different type of song than he was accustomed to hearing me play at Sidewalk Cafe….all I could say was that it was a different setting. Later I wondered if he’d been bitten by the bug which demands performers work on being one thing and perfecting that one thing alone. I like stretching my imagination, my resources and my ear.
I’m going through the same thing, selling yourself can be torturous. It’s so much better when others can do it for you! I think the simple quality of my songs is what makes me worth checking out, rather than some checklist of styles or influences. But I know that as a listener I also use heuristics to decide what to check out based on reviews and whatnot, so the tendency to pigeon-hole is somewhat inevitable.
I imagine it’s quite difficult for actors who accept a role that makes them successful but typecasts them for life. In that case it’s something that was never their own creative vision in the first place which comes to define them in the mind of the public.