Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baltimore’s underground metalcore

If musical genres could be compared to animals, then metalcore would be like an unbroken horse. Its lyrics paint powerful, emotional landscapes and its song structures demonstrate complex and technical character, but in the end, the unbridled sound throws its listeners to the ground in a sweaty heap. Metalcore, deathcore and their crusty cousins, hardcore and grindcore, are not musical subgenres for the weak. They simultaneously feed off of and fuel the angst and rage of fans and band members alike, even as many songs collapse into grins and laughter at the end. It is as if the blunt force trauma of the sound engenders the kind of euphoria one feels after narrowly escaping serious injury—or death.

That was pretty much the mood Dec. 30 at The Sidebar Tavern in Baltimore, which featured five area bands that roughly fall into these musical categories. I caught the last three of those that performed: Disette, Above All and American Womanhood.

On Facebook, American Womanhood describe their sound as “preppy guy grind.” The combating vocals of Asa Gillis and Marc Dyer volley over the jazz AND punk infused musical backdrop of Mike Barth on drums, David Gills on guitar and Adrian Baines on bass. The resulting effect is something like dueling beat poetry, only way cooler. A slightly less disciplined Dillinger Escape Plan comes to mind when I hear this band.

Above All launched a full frontal assault with the crushing riffs from guitarist Aaron Schenning and the unrelenting rhythms of bassist Andrew Capino and drummer Wade Civitarese. Meanwhile, Jamie Bruce vocally sparred with die-hard fans, who all wanted to grab the mic and sing along.  The group’s emotionally charged set, dedicated to a fan who’d lost his father to cancer shortly before Christmas, whipped a good portion of the audience into a fist-pumping frenzy.  If exercise increases mood-boosting endorphins, then thrashing to the sounds of Above All is probably an effective therapy for grief.

The final act, Disette (French for dearth or famine) began with singer Pete Hegeman intently pacing before the stage. Within a few seconds, he transformed from unassuming band spokesman into a blackened font of inconsolable agony. Guitarist Todd Ferger and Adam Zenich executed strikingly melodic death metal riffs and bassist Shannon Huster laid down a stunningly complex bass line. Drummer Sean Otte held it all together with pounding rhythmic glue, enhanced by thoughtfully placed fills and black metal inspired blast beats.  The contrast between the surprisingly harmonious and slightly experimental tunes with the animalistic growls evoked a strong crowd response, with fists, knees and elbows flying. A brief scuffle broke out at the back of the room, but Pete charged headlong into the crowd to break it up. All in all, everyone was smiling by the end of the night.

American Womanhood, Above All and Disette all expect to complete studio recordings in early 2012. These groups as well as the first two, Waves and Nekota, which played before I arrived, can be heard on Facebook.

Mary Spiro is a full-time writer fro a major research university. In her spare time she goes to see bands and sometimes writes about the local music scene in Baltimore, MD. Her favorite musical genres are death metal, black metal, prog rock, ambient, experimental, industrial, cool jazz and underground hip-hop. And Devin Townsend. You can follow her on Twitter at @mary_spiro.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Above All, The Sidebar Tavern 12-30-11

Above All is a hardcore metal band from Baltimore, MD.  I spoke with them briefly after a show on Dec. 30, 2011 outside The Sidebar Tavern. They discussed their upcoming recording and the Baltimore music scene.  It's nice when a band feels they can be candid with you.

Above All is guitarist Aaron Schenning, bassist Andrew Capino, drummer Wade Civitarese and singer Jamie Bruce. Their next show is January 13 with Gideon of Facedown Records at the Linthicum Heights United Methodist Church
200 School Lane, Linthicum, MD 21090. Details can be found here.

Above All on Facebook.

Our Music Scene Sucks

The sentiment of "[insert city name here] has a lousy music scene" has existed in every place I have lived (which includes Washington, DC; Champaign-Urbana, IL; Manhattan, KS, and now here in Baltimore, MD). I also hear this complaint from most musicians I know who live in other cities across the country. I have even heard it from people in towns where music is supposedly the core attraction. We can’t all live in Austin, Texas (or wherever the hot scene is supposed to be now).  The music scene in your town is what it is so let’s make the best of it.

I am convinced that the complacency over going to live shows is pervasive across North America.  There are plenty of other fun things to do that are easier, cheaper, and more convenient than standing for several hours in a club (sometimes a smoky club) to hear some music you are probably never going to hear on the radio. Personally, I would rather hear your music than the shit on the radio, but I realize that I am an exception. I am not a musician but I support local music to the extent that my paycheck and stamina will allow.  Of course, it is less of a time commitment to play video games, go to the movies, or just sit on the couch and surf the web than drag myself down to a club to see you. Yet, I do this again and again more than most people half my age and certainly way more than ANYONE in my demographic. I might be a little crazy, but I have always been this way.

Some musicians will say that the answer is that bands need to support other bands and go see one another’s shows. Well sure, but that is only part of the solution. If all you are doing is going to see your fellow musicians, the scene will become what I like to call “musically incestuous.” Everyone starts sounding like everyone else and the only people going to shows are other musicians and their girlfriends/boyfriends and moms. Yuck.

Baltimore may never be a music Mecca, but we can enjoy what scene we do have more if musicians are willing to try a few things simple things that will cost them little or nothing. Like all things rock, this list goes to 11.

1) Yes, go see other bands but ALSO bring along 2-3 friends who are not musicians and have NOTHING to do with the scene. When you talk about music, don’t assume your friends know anything about anything. The general music listening public does not understand the infinitesimal difference between musical subgenres (screamo, deathcore, grindcore, WUT?) There are only two kinds of music: the kind people like and the kind they don’t like.  Give people a chance to like it or dislike it at their discretion.

2) Make sure your band's website (or Facebook, MySpace or Reverbnation page, YouTube or whatever) has at least three songs for people to preview on it, and change it up once in a while.  I feel sad when I visit a band page and it only has one song to listen to. If you only have one song, maybe you are not ready to leave the garage yet. Also spend half a minute writing up some legit information on your band. Give fans the chance to become familiar with your music and who you are in advance. It can make a world of difference. I listen to as much as I can of a band before I see them, even ones I already love.  YouTube is especially good if you can post decent SOUNDING live clips. Please don’t post highly distorted live clips. This does not help you.

3) Network with bands from the wider region so when I go out to see you I have a chance to be exposed to someone new from DE, VA, PA, NJ, NY etc. I am interested in all independent music, not just the stuff in the city. The music scene may not be Baltimore; maybe our scene is the Mid Atlantic. Make a mark together.

4) Make sure you talk to people who come to your shows, engage people you have never seen before and get them to like YOU as well as your music. If only one person in your band is chatty and social then guess what, that’s going to be his/her job—Official Band Spokesmonkey. People come back to see people who acknowledge them. This sounds kind of cheesy but it is so true. As someone who has worked in public relations for a long time, I cannot emphasize face-to-face interaction ENOUGH! If you remain aloof and uninterested while standing at your merch table (oh you have merch?) that feeling will be mirrored back on to you from the audience.

5) Carefully space your shows out; don't over saturate your regional market by playing all the fucking time in the same fucking place. Go write some new songs, save for gas money so you can go play somewhere else (see number 3). I hear from bands that audiences go wild in SE Asia, Australia, South America and other places. Why? Because the people are starved for live shows.  Now, that’s an extreme comparison, but the principle is the same.  Why should I go see you this week if you are playing someplace else nearby next week? Make me want you.

6) If an out-of-town band comes to play with you, make sure they have a place to stay. No sleeping in the van! Don’t make them have to ask you. Offer first and allow them the opportunity to decline. They are likely to return the favor when you play their town. Also get in touch with this organization called Fans 4 Bands that can provide tour support in the form of snacks, water, socks, and other simple things bands need on the road.

7) Use the fuck out of social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google +, YouTube, whatever, etc.) because it is FREE. When you have a show, create an event and put all the links and crap on there so people know who’s playing and what everyone sounds like and what it costs and where to park. If your show is booked through a promoter, don’t rely on the promoter to do all the promotion. YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Oh, and don’t underestimate Twitter. It takes consistency and a little time to build up a following there. But you will reach organizations and untapped audiences you might never have imagine just by posting to Twitter. If anyone wants help in managing Twitter, please contact me directly. Or follow me at @mary_spiro.

8) Tip the sound guy/girl or buy them a sandwich or something. Otherwise, they may make you sound terrible, unintentionally, of course. This via guitarist Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams. 

9) Change your set up each time you play so that people hear different songs. Surprise me, please. Thank you.

10) Stop saying we have no scene. “As a man thinketh, so is he.” (That’s in the Bible, kids.) Stop thinking your bad scene into existence. When you do this, even people who don’t know what a “scene” is supposed to be like, will just think ours sucks in advance. Do you think that will make them want to come to your show? I am not trying to be delusional here. But I am sick of Complainy McComplainersons finding fault in everything and everyone.  When I was in college, long before people coined the term “hipster,” I was still surrounded by 18-20- something malcontents who could find no good in anything. Now I am hearing it all over again from a younger generation. JUST STOP IT!  Life is too fucking short to spend all your time finding fault. You should be squeezing every bit of life out of every moment you draw breath.

11) Don’t give up. The truth is, you probably won’t ever be rich and famous off of playing your music. Even bands you might think are doing pretty well, the members all have very real ordinary jobs in their off hours and there is no shame in that. But is money and fame the reason you do it? Probably not, or at least I hope not. You do it because you love music and you have to make music because you are a musician (just like I have to write because I am a writer, or so I claim).  Regardless of whether you attain some measure of success or not, just be happy that you were a part of something unique and that you added your art to the world.

OK, that’s it. Some of you may disagree or say that I don’t know what I am talking about because I am not a musician playing here. Well, so be it. These are my opinions and my suggestions. I will continue to go to shows, large and small, in and around Baltimore as much as I am able, regardless of whether or not I am told we have a scene or not. I love indie, underground music. And I love you. Happy New Year.

Mary Spiro is a full-time writer for a major research university. In her spare time she goes to see bands and sometimes writes about the local music scene in Baltimore, MD.  Her favorite musical genres are death metal, black metal, prog rock, ambient, experimental, post-punk, industrial, cool jazz and underground hip-hop. And Devin Townsend.