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Capturing Lightning In A Bottle

Sometimes I like to step back from this blog and being super on top of everything as a music advise giver and instead just take some time and enjoy the sort of silly stuff that made me fall in love with this in the first place. I wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about records that capture lightning in a bottle. You know the ones I’m talking about – Kind Of Blue, British Steel, Appetite For Destruction, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. These are the records that our culture is based around. I have been thinking a lot lately about the things that made these records so special and why these records so clearly feels like the band in question managed to capture the proverbial lightning in a bottle. I think there are a few things that encapsulate what makes these records so special, but it’s always worth investigating them if only as a fan, and who knows – there might even end up being a few applications for your own band!

The big key for all of these records is songwriting and the vibe encapsulated. Sometimes the songwriting isn’t enough – sometimes you need to pad it out with a vibe in order to get people excited – look at KISS’s Alive. It isn’t a record that introduces any new material from the band, KISS basically just went into the studio and recorded ‘live’ feeling versions of their songs and then turned around and added in a few crowd noises. Once the vibe was there people could really appreciate the greatness of the band formerly known as Wicked Lester. The songwriting and tightness is key though. Look at a record like Cowboys From Hell long renown for having some of the most precise guitar and bass playing put on record up to that point. The bands producer made Rex Brown and Dimebag Darrell go through the record microsecond by microsecond for everything to be perfect – and now they’re sitting on a goddamn classic.

The other thing I think a lot of these bands did was they found something that had already been introduced to the tastemakers in their scene and refined it. This can range from the extremely obvious, like Rage Against the Machine creating a sound fusing the hardcore of Inside Out and the rap metal of Korn to weirder things – like KISS and Twisted Sister arising out of what is now a largely forgotten Bleecker Street glitter glam scene. The point being – everyone who has gotten famous in music made sure to be a good listener before anything else. Look at Kanye West, he has repeatedly said he doesn’t think he is famous because of his songwriting ability but rather his ability to listen and to turn his deep understanding of songwriting into creating meaningful art that people the world over of any creed can respect and admire. So if you want to capture lightning in a bottle you need to be listening to a lot of shit.

Something I’ve noticed when you look into the legacies of a lot of the breakout groups is that they came off heavy touring on the underground. This meant that the tastemakers and people who you can hit up to create a meaningful fanbase were already aware of them. This is something you even see today, Baroness actually made it part of their strategy on their latest album cycle playing a series of shows in very small venues in order to reconnect with their core fans. Other bands like Nirvana ground it out for years doing regional and rarely national touring. I have friends who saw Nirvana play to less than a hundred people well before Nevermind came out. That doesn’t make Bleach any less great – but rather shows that the band understood they really had to connect with the fans who fell in love with Bleach in order to make sure the label didn’t feel gypped out of their money when it came time to drop their next record.

The hardest part of creating a record that captures lightning in a bottle is creating the record for the time and place. This has a lot to do with the previous two points but is also very much its own thing. Look at something like Iron Maiden – a big part of their breakout was their sheer bloodthirsty rebellion in the height of the Thatcher era. Other bands who did a great job of capturing the zeitgeist and then exploding from it include acts like Mothership who saw that there was a brewing desire for wild ass hard partying rock and roll and then fell in love with it. Folks don’t realize that you need to fall in love with this music at the right point in your life for it to mean something forever. An artist like The Chainsmokers is aware that they are creating music for partying college kids, but those partying college kids will always cherish The Chainsmokers as music that reminds them of a simpler time in their lives. So, as much as it pains me to say it, #SELFIE might end up being a classic.

Few bands capture the lightning in this day and age. Most bands who think they have are just bullshitting themselves. The bands who do something meaningful are usually pretty unaware of what is going on. My friend Paul Masvidal of Cynic once said to me of the early days of death metal, “You know, we didn’t really realize what was happening while we were doing it, we just did it” This is crucial for anyone trying to grow their band. Sometimes you can’t consciously do it. You can put a ton of money and time into it, but if it doesn’t meet the above criteria you might find yourself up shit creek without a paddle.

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