KISS is a bit of a joke.
or at least that is what i grew up hearing and reading from people around me and national music publications. they are unapologetically from the "more is more" school of entertainment and are universally derided for supposedly being all style and no substance. in fact they are regarded by many tastemakers as the epitome of INAUTHENTICITY.
which is all pretty much missing the point because in essence all musicians are in the KISS business of entertaining audiences, whether they be BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, NEIL YOUNG, PATTI SMITH, DAVID BOWIE or BOB DYLAN. they all carry an image that is sold to the masses, some more consciously than others. when i consider the actual legacy of KISS, i think of what bands they influenced, which conveniently enough include members of DINOSAUR JR, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, TOOL, ANTHRAX, FAITH NO MORE (and even STEVIE WONDER) found on the KISS MY ASS: CLASSIC KISS REGROOVED (MERCURY, 1994) tribute compilation. other vocal KISS proponents not featured on this MERCURY RECORDS-initiated compilation famously include the likes of THE MELVINS, PANTERA, THE REPLACEMENTS, ALICE IN CHAINS, HUSKER DU, SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and THE MINUTEMEN.
my sense is that for kids in the 1970s, KISS represented an escapist fantasy where a fan could transcend their daily existence. this feels very much like the very credo of ROCK N ROLL itself. and it goes beyond that since the band was an economic entity unto itself, foreshadowing the DIY HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK ethic that followed in the 1980s. economic independence goes hand in hand with freedom of speech. it should come as no surprise then that these bands are are consciously challenging the political, economic, cultural and gender normative culture of what a ROCK N ROLL is and can be.
critical respect is nice, but clearing the way for such a disparate set of quality bands is a legacy i'd argue better worth having. the KISS MY ASS tribute compilation is evidence of that.
its funny saying this now but i first learned about TOOL from KIM THAYIL of SOUNDGARDEN. i was a huge fun of THAYIL and around the SUPERUNKNOWN-era of that band there were several publicity shots of him playing live with a TOOL shirt on in guitar magazines. same thing regarding THE MELVINS. i wasnt even a teenager yet when my i bought the UNDERTOW (ZOO, 1993) record on a family trip to ITALY in the mid-90s on one of our first trips after relocating to NIGERIA. for what its worth, between my brother and i, we also snagged RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE's EVIL EMPIRE (EPIC, 1996) and SEPULTURA's ROOTS (ROADRUNNER, 1996) and CHAOS A.D. (ROADRUNNER, 1993) records on that same trip. no doubt one of the better record hauls of my life.
what i remember about the experience of first listening to that record was how thick, pronounced and upfront the bass guitar was. songs like "SWAMP SONG," "FLOOD" and "PRISON SEX" showcased the instrument as a key fixture of the melody and song composition as opposed to background support, as usually is the case. i should also mention that between the musty smell of the liner notes (which no doubt had to have been related to the small record store) and the transgressive artwork that was found therein, i was wholly engaged through being caught entirely off-guard. my impression was that here was a band that was playing by an entirely different set of rules than i was familiar with.
and that is before i even attempt to discern the opaque and mysterious lyrics of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN. the whole bit about the cries of the carrots in "DISGUSTIPATED" was something i couldnt even handle as a preteen, much less other subversive tracks such as "PRISON SEX," "SOBER" or "BOTTOM." even after reading his memoir and its elucidation with KEENAN's deep appreciation for the sacred art found with geometry, religion, comedy and the visual arts, i choose to not meet his lyrics intellectually as something to be deciphered. instead i attempt to appreciate them in terms of their poetry or potential allegorical interpretations. my sense is that such is what he would want as well as a gifted writer and performer.
i would be remiss not to mention guitarist ADAM JONES and his incredible PROG-worthy guitar riffage and atmospherics, not to mention the visual artistry of his music videos. also there is the drumming savant that is DANNY CAREY and his mastery of AFRICAN and LATIN polyrhythms. being familiar with their expansive catalogue of material post UNDERTOW, it is interesting to see this record as a blueprint of what was to come. and what followed this stellar record was a sonic vocabulary that makes TOOL a singular outfit of its era, or any era for that matter.
UNDERTOW is a record that deserves all the praise that it has received the past few decades. it has held up and established this legendary band commercially and artistically from whence they pushed further with subsequent albums like ÆNIMA (ZOO, 1996) and LATERALUS (VOLCANO, 2001) that influenced a whole new generation of bands unafraid to mix art with progressive musicianship. cant recomeend this record hard enough. a must listen for any fan of METAL or ALTERNATIVE ROCK.
there's something to be said about musicians interview musicians. there is a telepathy and a common wavelength at work that transcends superficial aspects like genre and style. it probably comes from a rooted common experience and mentality of persistence that comes with "making it" in a band setting. IT'S ELECTRIC! (APPLE MUSIC) was a in-person, pre-pandemic podcast where METALLICA drummer LARS ULRICH interviewed peers like JERRY CANTRELL (ALICE IN CHAINS), NOEL GALLAGHER (OASIS), JAMES MURPHY (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM), MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN (TOOL/A PERFECT CIRCLE), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), LES CLAYPOOL (PRIMUS), GREG PUCIATO & BEN WEINMAN (THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS/NIRVANA), JOAN JETT, JACK WHITE (THE WHITE STRIPES) and TOM MORELLO (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE) among many others.
whats interesting is that ULRICH, despite his notorious reputation for talking (and talking and talking), within the confines of these interviews he is mostly listening. in fact, i'd argue he is an incredible astute interlocutor that gently guides his subjects through insightful productive conversations. most teachers know that the longer you speak the less impact each word has on your students. i was really taken when recently rewatching these interviews to see just how gifted an interviewer ULRICH was and how engaged his follow-up questions were. you didnt get the sense that he had a list he wanted to get through, rather in an almost HOWARD STERN-like manner allow the subject free reign to drive the conversation as he gently steers it. to pull this off you must be a really good listener, which in popular culture i think ULRICH never gets credit for. makes sense though, given the fact that he is often a key composer within METALLICA who often deals with arrangements, a practice whereby you need to listen with intention to surmise the best presentation of musical ideas for maximum impact.
i hope he gets back to this podcast post-pandemic, because it felt like he was really on a roll with it. and it seemed like he was genuinely in his element and having fun. selfishly i just found the conversations compelling and insightful, more so than the vast majority of ROCK AND ROLL interviews you find online.
RICK BEATO is a trained engineer and producer of nominal fame, having mentored and produced minor bands in the 1990s, mostly out of his studio in ATLANTA, and before that was a instructor at ITHACA COLLEGE in upstate NEW YORK. nothing particularly noteworthy but he did make a living as an engineer and producer with CHRISTIAN artists from what i could find online.
however, what i find compelling about BEATO is his YOUTUBE series of videos called WHAT MAKES THIS SONG GREAT where he basically dissects popular music utilizing the stems from the original recording. it is super interesting because the guy gets into the weeds about MUSIC THEORY and it is completely wonky. i may only understand a third of what he's talking about technically, as i am not a trained musician, but what you come away with is the complexity and depth of thought involved with constructing compelling ROCK AND ROLL music.
even songs by bands i thought i had a handle on (AC/DC, NIRVANA) are unwrapped and presented in a way where the tricks of PRODUCTION and SONG CRAFT are revealed. and example of such is how KURT COBAIN in terms of his singing voice will complete and alter chords that are evoked with the guitar, essentially creating haunting melodies that transcend their individual parts. you get the feeling that COBAIN did this innately, but its still cool to know that in technical terms what he did is of interest to scholars that have the ability to inspect his work on a purely compositional level.
this series, along with WARREN HUART's related INSIDE THE SONG YOUTUBE series, gives you a deep dive into MUSIC THEORY and RECORDING TECHNIQUES within the context of specific songs, which is such a gift. its like learning MUSIC THEORY through osmosis and i am a fan. his actual engineering/production career not so much.
TWO MINUTES TO LATE NIGHT (clever IRON MAIDEN reference) was originally an all-METAL parody talk show hosted by GWARSENIO HALL (with MUTOID MAN as the house band!) and filmed at SAINT VITUS BAR in BROOKLYN. however, the show has really come into its own during the past 6 months of this god-awful pandemic era since they began remote producing these really well-mixed BEDROOM COVER videos of various members of the METAL extended family (SLUDGE, DEATH, THRASH, PROG and others), and even some INDIE ROCK distant cousins, covering classic songs by TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS, RUSH, WHITE ZOMBIE, AC/DC, GUNS N ROSES, THE REPLACEMENTS & OZZY among others.
it seems safe to say that this sort of thing would never happen under regular conditions as most of these musicians would be buys with conflicting touring/recording schedules. that being said, the BEDROOM COVER lineups themselves are absolutely insane including members of MASTODON, CONVERGE, TOOL, PRIMUS, DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, HIGH ON FIRE, CAVE IN, POISON THE WELL, UNEARTH, VOLUMES, CLUTCH, HAVOK, FUCKED AND BOUND, POTION, MUTOID MAN, VIO-LENCE and HATEBREED as well as decidedly less METAL-focused acts like TED LEO, PIEBALD, CHELSEA WOLFE, SLEIGH BELLS, MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, RISE AGAINST, COHEED & CAMBRIA and MAX WEINBERG of the BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's E-STREET BAND (and former CONAN O'BRIEN cohost!).
what is super cool is that a recent episode had LILY MASTRODIMOS of JERSEY CITY INDIE ROCK band LONG NECK singing backup vocals on a cover of THE REPLACEMENTS "KIDS DON'T FOLLOW." we here at DEER GOD were lucky enough to record LONG NECK as part of our live performance series OFF THE M at TRANS PECOS in QUEENS not that long ago (performance linked HERE). its so cool to see her collaborating with members of RISE AGAINST and CONVERGE. congrats.
i'm sure this series will continue on so definitely keep a look out for it. way more interesting and entertaining then what passes for LATE NIGHT television these days.
parodies by nacrowe
tonight's new episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM EST on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is focused on PROG METAL. think odd time and song structures and intriguing concepts galore! oh and it will be crushing, worry ye not.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
as i probably made abundantly clear in a recent review of the book MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM about the early 2000s stateside indie music scene, i have a strong bias against rock music of that period. my main gripe was that the bands generally were too nostalgic and ultimately poor imitations of bygone scenes and eras.
two forward-thinking bands that standout during that period who obliterated that safety net were EL PASO's AT THE DRIVE-IN and LONG ISLAND's GLASSJAW. both were abrasive and quirky and seemed to be informed but not beholden to the POST-PUNK, HARDCORE and INDIE scenes that preceded them.
i'll save AT THE DRIVE-IN for another day, but in my mind both bands are similar in that they seemed to delight in creating obtuse sonic and lyrical landscapes that were impressionistic and expansive which allowed the listener to project themselves onto. GLASSJAW to me is particularly all about vibe. vocalist DARYL PALUMBO is renowned for his phrasing style which is equal parts CHINO MORENO (DEFTONES, TEAM SLEEP, CROSSES, PALMS) and MIKE PATTON (FAITH NO MORE, MR. BUNGLE, FANTÔMAS, TOMAHAWK, PEEPING TOM, LOVAGE), which found him changing keys and tempos as he saw fit creating a jarring yet incredibly melodic compliment to guitarist JUSTIN BECK's crushing angular riffage and reverb-drenched ringing waves of distortion. the closest analogue i can think of is JANE'S ADDICTION and TOOL at their most expansive and adventurous, when they seemed content with just exploring sonic space to create hypnotic looping mantras of blissful feedback and poly-rhythmic drumming.
to me GLASSJAW split the difference between the brutality and immediacy of HARDCORE with the dynamism and experimentalism inherent in the best INDIE music of the 80s and 90s. i'd even trace their use of odd song structure elements and instrumentation to that of earlier POST-PUNK tradition. that's all well and good, but to me their music comes off as incredibly deliberate and personal, without being obvious. they are definitely pointing at something and i just haven't figured it out yet and maybe that is the point. great art is supposed to be about a reaction and i have always listened back to their catalogue to remind myself of what rock music is still capable of.
photo by nacrowe
every time i enter FRANKFURT AIRPORT, the main international transit hub of my youth, it is never lost on me that the place itself is more or less the same. only i have changed over the last 20+ years.
thats kind of the experience of seeing TOOL in concert over multiple tour cycles, since each one is 8-10 years apart. its an odd sense of deja-vu or a time warp or something. the last time i saw them was during the 10,000 Days cycle and the LATERALUS cycle before that. love the band but im not big on big corporate arena shows. you always feel screwed when you can't get better seats and you get the feeling those below you either paid royally in a secondary market or worse, got them as a corporate gift like box seats at a YANKEE game. i guess the demand is just so great after so much time that there is no easy answer to this conundrum in fairness to them.
but the actual show this past saturday (with KILLING JOKE opening!) was epic, TOOL are like the second coming of BLACK SABBATH meets LED ZEPPELIN meets RUSH meets CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. i wasn't super-enthused on the last album since it feels like everything post-LATERALUS is just a rehash of it, like they are using the same tricks (mind you, those tricks are beyond cool). i just wish they'd push the audience a bit more at this stage in their career since they have nothing left to prove.
unless filling arenas that screw over fans is a goal of theirs. if you catch them this go around, thats cool. if not they'll back around. in 10 years.
t seems incredible that this book exists, given the mercurial and closely-guarded nature of TOOL / A PERFECT CIRCLE / PUSCIFER frontman MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN, whose legendary live performances notoriously find him donning an eclectic assortment of stage personas/characters/costumes meant to provoke and obfuscate, allowing him to separate his art from himself. in this manner he has continued to maintain a balance with his family and more importantly his own sense of self.
so it is a little more than intriguing that his collaborative memoir A PERFECT UNION OF CONTRARY THINGS (BACKBEAT BOOKS 2016) written by long-time friend SARAH JENSEN even exists.
this is most definitely the first memoir i have read that has the subject written about in third person, which structurally and stylistically has numerous advantages. structurally it gives the book some distance from its subject, not having to worry itself all the time with the personal feelings and perspective of KEENAN, instead allowing for an unbound narrator to integrate multiple points of view into the narrative. stylistically it makes this memoir read more like a novel, which intriguingly makes KEENAN as a "character" another entity for his audience to interpret and project unto, much like his music.
the main takeaway i got from reading his memoir is that KEENAN is the type of artist that is constantly seeking to challenge his audience, peers and most importantly, himself, to see things from an altered perspective. this need to tinker with formulas and audience expectations while maintaining integrity puts him, in my perspective, as one of the most dynamic frontman of his era (the other being renaissance man MIKE PATTON of FAITH NO MORE / MR. BUNGLE / FANTÔMAS / PEEPING TOM / DEAD CROSS).
given his enigmatic nature and numerous outside focuses (wine-making, BRAZILIAN jiu-jitsu, comedy, etc.), this memoir was his way of elucidating to his audience the common thread throughout binds them all: MATHEMATICS. you really get the sense from this book his sensitivity and delight in discovering the patterns, routines and rhythms of nature that bind us all and the myriad of ways mankind has devised uses for them, whether militarily, artistically or even agriculturally.
well worth seeking out and reading. don't worry his mysterious, enigmatic persona is still very much intact, if only slightly more defined at the edges.