So over the past year I have invested a lot of time in listening to classic albums and trying to find out why they became classic and also just increase my musical vocabulary. A lot of this has been getting really into bands that everybody knows but not a lot of people actually listen to, folks like bob Seger and Boston, just discovering their discographies and letting artists I had never really spent time with become a big part of my life. This has been a really cool journey because it’s taught me a lot about music and a lot about how independent bands need to operate. This journey wasn’t undertaken with a specific goal in mind, I just wanted to educated myself about some great music that I had never taken the time for and wound up with a bunch of great new albums under my belt. It’s the kind of thing that I am excited to continue and which has become very important for me personally as it helps me keep being able to reach out to new people and has been able to make my own music a lot more interesting and relevant.
First off I want to clarify that a lot of the bands I have been digging in to are anything but obscure, right now I’m delving deeper into the Heart discography than I ever have before, and I spent a lot of time this year with cult projects like Neutral Milk Hotel in order to better understand subgenres I never previously delved into before. I wrote a few weeks ago about micro classics and that was very much in reaction to all of the new music I have been listening to this year. It’s been quite the adventure , and it’s showed me that a lot of people need to really sit back and educate themselves. I think a lot of us have much less diverse listening habits than we care to admit, I certainly did. Sure I listened to all manner of metal, but my taste outside of that was fairly limited .Now delving into broader realms of pop, country, rap and rock has led me to having a more thorough understanding of how music works. It’s allowed me to understand that the music industry is sitting on a lot of really amazing undeveloped talent and there’s a lot for folks to get out of it.
When it comes down to it I think it’s really important that you think about whether or not your band actually has interesting influences. Now I understand the argument that “Well all we want to do for our prog band is emulate King Crimson because King Crimson is the best” but guess what, that’s what every other prog band is doing. Maybe it makes sense to delve into some next level prog stuff like Camel or Gentle Giant. Of course – even those can be seen as fairly entry level, music subcultures are nested fractally, getting increasingly more obscure and circle jerky every time you go down, and that’s fine. What I’m simply trying to react against is the fact that so many bands don’t even bother trying to get more interesting influences and are happy skimming the surface. But when it comes down to it, if you have surface level influences then you are going to have surface level music. As harsh as that might sound, the depth my personal understanding of music has grown by discovering bands like Big Star, has taught me that limited listening is always going to hurt bands.
Now you might be totally fine with that, but I have to remind bands this time and time again, you aren’t that special. No matter how inspirational you think your blend of Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Free (They’re obscure right?) is, it’s been done before and you’re not digging in deep enough. However if you’re sitting there with those as your foundational influences, but then write some songs that show you understand the works of Budgie, Pentagram and Bedemon suddenly your rather standard classic rock takes a darker turn. Of course it can still end up derivative, look at so many of the stoner rock bands that crowd the scene today. But if you spend time with the records and start to try and develop songwriting off of that and standing on the shoulders of giants rather than pretending that you have some unique vision you are going to get a lot further a lot faster. When it comes down to it, all your favorite bands have weird influences and are made up of music nerds, that’s just the way it is.
Of course a lot of obscure stuff is obscure for a reason. But I’m not saying dig into the obscure. I’m saying maybe for a second try and expand beyond the three or four bands who make up most of your listening and realize that there is a ton of good stuff out there. It’s amazing to me how few people will even go out of their way to listen to a key rock and roll record like Rumors simply because it’s a little off the beaten path. In this world of oversaturated markets and so much neew music people are gravitating more and more towards the classics without paying attention to even the best ancillary records. It’s leading to this ridiculous vacuum where the stars are taking up even more space than ever before and people simply aren’t getting it. They aren’t going out and discovering older records that can inform their understanding of the new. And that’s where we are at. People are lost so far up their asses I’ve given up trying to make them listen to young bands, just please try and understand the classics at least?
The state of the nation is a rough one and it is one that is going to require a lot of people to wake themselves up. When it comes down to I recognize that a lot of modern music sucks and is played by people with too much money, too little life experience and an overinflated sense of ego. I’ve gotten sick of a lot of it. That’s why people listen to older records, because it’s fascinating and there are a lot of things already filtered through for you. The struggle of course is that so many people out there don’t really listen to music that means anything, or rather it’s become so overplayed to enjoy it is trite and frustrating. I want to see a world where people are willing to dig deep and listen to The Outfield. The classics are great, but dig a little deeper!