Archive for Punk Rock

An interview with Pinsky

Posted in Recommendations with tags , , on March 1, 2010 by stevenreedkelly

Last week I was in a little bit of a slump.  It had been a while since I had found any new music that was any good.  Then this band (Washington Square Park, check them out) started following me on Twitter.  As I was looking over their tour dates, I saw that they were playing a bunch of shows in April/May with this band, Pinsky.  Upon first listen, I was reminded of everything I loved about playing and writing music.  Jangly, melodic guitars and big, shout-out-loud choruses that get stuck in the back of your head.

I promptly bought both their releases for sale on their website (go here) and spent the remainder of the week listening to them constantly while at work (sorry to all my coworkers that I may have annoyed).  Coincidentally, Thursday night the band was playing a show in Brooklyn (the same night we got a foot of snow in NYC) and my friend Blake and I braved the weather to see them.  It was totally worth it.

You need to listen to this band.  You need to go see them play.

The guys in the band were nice enough to participate in a little interview.  Thanks again to Pinsky for making music worth getting excited about.

So give me a quick intro on the band – who plays what? and how old are you guys?  How long have you been playing together?

Pete:  Pinsky consists of Pete Vachon (25) – vocals & guitar, Jeff Roberts (26) – vocals & guitar, Andre Tranchemontagne (26) – drums and Mike Graton (25) – bass & backing vocals.  Jeff, Andre and myself have been playing together since the fall of 2007.  Mike just recently joined the band in December.

What’s the music scene like in Portland, Maine?  You guys are pretty far-removed from major cities.  Does that make it harder to find an audience?

Jeff: The music scene in Portland is extremely diverse. You can hear a bluegrass band at one venue then head two blocks down and hear a grind-core band. We’ve been lucky to have really close friends and fans that live in the New England / East Coast area who have been nothing but amazing and supportive when it comes to us playing out.  The crowds and shows are definitely mixed but we still manage to gain new friends/fans at every show.

Andre: Like Jeff said, the music scene is extremely diverse.  However, the support system is awesome. When someone has your back here, they’ll have your back to the end.

When you meet someone that hasn’t seen you play or heard your music – how do you describe what Pinsky sounds like to them?

Pete: This is always a tough one to answer.  If people ever ask what our music sounds like, I simply say ‘rock’. I feel that a lot of people these days try so hard to classify music – I never want to pigeonhole our sound! I’m always open to different genres that people think we sound like.

Jeff: It’s hard classifying your own stuff.  I’ll usually go with something along the lines of ‘energetic/dynamic/melodic/rock’.  One could say ’emo’, but that usually has an undesired effect and creates more confusion than anything else.  The quickest way to find out is to listen for yourself.

The name Pinsky – does it come from the poet, the celebrity doctor or other?

Jeff: We actually got the name from the character ‘Ronnie Pinsky’ from the 90’s television series “Salute Your Shorts”.  We all grew up watching Nickelodeon and thought it would be appropriate, seeing as how none of us actually act our age.  I’m pretty sure Jeff Roberts “Age 11” and Jeff Roberts “Age 26” would get along swimmingly if they could hang out.  It’d be nothing but Ellio’s pizza and Batman: The Animated Series.

You guys write some pretty complicated chord progressions and riffs (in unexpected time signatures sometimes).  What’s the writing process like for you guys?

Pete: All the songs pretty much stem from demo’s I write. I’ll try and demo a song (whether it be 30 seconds or 3 minutes) to really nail down a feeling and concept for the track. We then bring it into the practice setting where we jam on the parts, move things around, cut parts etc. Once we start recording the track, it’s easy to sit back and objectively listen to the song to see what it needs.

What kind of gear do you guys use?  Any essential piece you couldn’t live without?

Jeff: Epiphone Elitist Les Paul Custom through a Peavey Classic 50 with a Marshall 1960 cab. Pedals: Boss Tuner and Noise Gate, BBE Green Screamer, Sonic Stomp and a Line 6 DL4.  The Sonic Stomp is my unsung hero.

Pete: Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Gibson Les Paul Studio through a Fender Hot Rod Deville 2×12 with a Marshall 1960 cab.  Pedals: same as Jeff plus a BBE Fuzz pedal, just to up the ante a little.

Mike: Fender P-Bass through a Carvin R-1000 head and Ampeg 8×10 cab.  Pedals: Boss Tuner, Sansamp, and BBE Sonic Stomp.

Andre: Gretsch Catalina kit, A Custom and Avedis Zildjian Cymbals, DW 5000 Double Bass Pedal, DW Hardware, Evans G2 Coated Heads, and Vic Firth 3A Sticks.

It looks like you guys do all your own recordings in your own studio – and you just put out a brand new two-track bundle on your website.  Describe the thought process behind that as opposed to cranking out another EP or full-length.

Jeff: Having the ability to do our own recording has been great. The two latest tracks we recently released were actually recorded at the Getaway Group in Wakefield, MA by Jay Maas.  We’ve definitely had the itch to get more material out for a while now.  We released our first EP almost two years ago so it’s definitely been looming over our heads that we should be getting new stuff out.  The two new songs are ones we felt very strongly about and wanted people to hear as soon as possible.  Releasing it solely as a digital download took the burden of production/duplication costs out of the equation so we could focus our money toward new merch and ultimately a van.  We’re planning on heading back into our own studio for the next EP which will hopefully be out by this summer.

What’s 2010 looking like?

Pete: Besides the new EP, we’ll be trying to play as many shows as possibly around the Northeast.  We’re hitting the road in late-May with Late Nite Wars and Washington Square Park for a short 2-week stint to the Midwest and back.  Who knows what the rest of the year will bring?  We just can’t wait for ‘Lost’ to end.  A tear will most definitely be shed.

Andre: It’s not for a ways out, but seeing what happens in Dexter. Plus we all want to start skateboarding again.

Now go listen!!!

What’s wrong with kids these days… (Get off my lawn!)

Posted in Rants with tags , on November 24, 2009 by stevenreedkelly

I had an exchange with my friend in response to reading my previous post:

Amanda Jane Kloos: punk is dead?
Steven Reed Kelly: you hadn’t heard?
Amanda Jane Kloos: nah.  i already knew.
Amanda Jane Kloos: you are one person i know who still fearlessly trying to cling to it though.

Perhaps she’s right.  Maybe I’m the sentimental punk rock version of the high school quarterback who won’t give it a rest.  Constantly reminiscing about the glory days when he won a state championship and fucked the head cheerleader.  No one aspires to be that guy, but I will say this:  When you’re a part of something that means so much to you at a formative age like that, it sticks with you forever.  It has a bearing on who you are.

Me?  I’m a punk.  It’s been part of my identity since I was fifteen.  I think it’s the same for a lot of people.

Joe Strummer is rolling over in his grave.

No music scene is static.  I understand that.  Punk in the 1970s fused into this really tough brand of hardcore in the 80s.  The hardcore punk of the 1980s split into the punk rock and hardcore genres in the mid-1990s.  Pop-punk really took off in the later part of the decade.  Then for a few years, everyone wanted to classify their band as “emo” (and all aging hipsters down in DC were like “This isn’t the same emo we grew up with!”).  Three years later, in 2006, “emo” became a disparaging term.  Now kids have silly haircuts and matching neon vomit t-shirts.

I can’t claim to be a part of the punk scenes of the 70s or 80s.  I’m 25 now, so I would’ve been 4 years old when the Dead Kennedy’s dropped Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.  I’m pretty sure my mom was spinning Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting for a Star to Fall” in the car on the way to daycare.  What I have seen was the transition from punk rock to emo.  And I watched as everyone fled that genre in favor of “indie” in the past few years.  I gotta say, a few things have been lost in the transformation.

Here’s what I miss about punk rock:

1. Heart

Once upon a time Gabe Saporta had a heart.  Midtown released three punk rock staples in their time.  Save the World, Lose the Girl and Living Well is the Best Revenge are two of the finest examples of pop punk.  Those albums rock.  They had brass.  Each song is a fist-pumping singalong.  Midtown released their final album, a Brand-Newsian departure from the previous two; Forget What You Know.  For all intents and purposes, this might be one of the most incendiary, essential albums released by a pop punk band.  It was ground-shattering.  The music was smart and dark and heartfelt.  It didn’t grab people as immediately though, and it didn’t meet sales expectations.  Then Gabe snorted a bunch of cocaine – and that’s an expensive habit – so he decided to cash in on the dance-punk craze.  Cobra Starship is what happens when good bands go bad (and follow a silly trend to make a few bucks).  When I listen to any of the band’s three albums, I can’t tell if the songs are sarcastic or sincere.  One thing I can infer though is that they’re all devoid of any real substance.  No fucking heart.

2. A Fierce Fan Following

Alright… I’m not saying punks are more rabid than Justin Bieber fans (or any teenage girl for that matter), but I will make some observations.

When is the last time you saw someone walking around wearing an Animal Collective t-shirt?  You know why you can’t think of one?  Because indie bands are the most disposable kind.  That shirt would be out of style by the time you washed it.  Indie albums have a life cycle of about 2 weeks.  The first week you’re getting acclimated to it.  The second week, you give it 9.0 rating on Pitchfork.com and it’s on to the next big thing.  Back in the day, an album would last you months.  I put Name Taken’s Hold On in my car in 2003.  It’s still there.  Every time I take a drive longer than an hour, that album still gets a turn in the cd player (note: CD players were these devices that spun optical discs with recorded music on them.  You’ll hear about them in history class someday).  When New Found Glory dropped their self-titled album, we listened to that at parties for a whole year!  You just don’t get that same kind of shelf-life out of music these days.  Maybe it’s the overabundance of content or maybe it’s the mindset of the apathetic modern-day music fan.

3. Less Faux Hawk, More Rock

Fashion has always been a part of music.  I’m not saying the music I loved was somehow above that.  For a time in my life,  I wanted to be just like Tom Delonge so I went out, pieced my lip and bought Hurley t-shirts and Dickies.  I’m just saying that these days, it’s getting out of hand.

Every piece of hair on the lead singer from We the King’s big red mane looks like it was placed with purpose.  The guys from Every Avenue and Forever the Sickest Kids look like they owe more influence to Kanye West than they do to the Clash or the Ramones.  Those plastic sunglasses are stupid.  And for christ’s sake, why are they wearing girl’s jeans?  I just don’t understand how that can possibly be comfortable.  The good news is – if you’ve ever seen the boxers vs. briefs episode of Seinfeld – they’re diminishing their chances of successfully mating.  I think we can all appreciate that.

Look, I see people shudder at the mention of “emo” and “pop-punk” often…  And I understand the backlash.  But I would be remiss if I thought that I was the last dinosaur in a scene that had passed me by.  I refused to believe that punk rock is dead, but maybe it needs to lie dormant for a while – to let all these derivatives die off so it can get a fresh start in the hands of some new talent.

Now vs. Then – Someone had to ask the question, “How did we get here?”

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by stevenreedkelly

I have a huge problem with the scene I grew up supporting.

This is going to be one of those highly contested articles that makes me look like a total asshole (because it’s about to get sexist up in here!).  I’m just going to let you know that I’m okay with that.  It won’t be the first time I’ve been called a jerk.

Here’s my general theory on how bands generally build a following:

1.  Guy scopes out a new band with his other guy friends.
2.  Guy shows his girlfriend said band
3.  Throngs of teenage girls flock to see said band.

I know that probably sounds like a huge generalization (it is!).  But I really think there’s some truth to it.  I also think the “punk” scene has evolved in recent years as an attempt to skip the middle man.  “Punk” bands these days tend to pander more towards their female fans as an attempt to quickly establish a rabid fanbase (and get laid!).

First lets take a look at your average punk band 15 years ago.

No Use For a Name.

No Use For a Name

I feel like this is a pretty representative sample for the ’90s punk rock scene.  This is also a band that never really broke it big.  They signed to an indie label (Fat Wreck Chords) and put out a stream of consistent records while never really flirting with mainstream radio.  Their sound stayed roughly close to home base (just last year they put out their 9th studio album, Feel Good Record of the Year, which they very well could’ve released much earlier in their career), but its fair to say that their earliest albums were harder.  If you were a fan of NUFAN, you were most likely a fan of similar popular punk bands like Millencolin, the Vandals, Pennywise, etc.  These bands all sounded vaguely similar and formed the foundation of the punk rock scene from the mid-1990s until about the year 1999, when emo and screamo really started to take off.  In 1995, the punk rock scene was a conglomerate of bands that played fast (sometimes goofy) and catchy songs.  Most of the bands looked like they spent all day skateboarding before they hit the stage.  Style was as much an afterthought as using any sort of chord that didn’t include the word “power” or “octave” in front of it.

You’d get in the mosh pit for a No Use For a Name show.  This was music you’d furiously steering-wheel-drum to in your car.  The lyrics may have been about girls – but they were tough songs.  You’d listen to these songs with your guy friends, but they were catchy enough that you could probably intersperse some with the Gin Blossoms songs on the mix tape you were making for your girlfriend.  Hell, when my old roommate was dating this girl in college, their “song” was NUFAN’s cover of “A Fairy Tale of New York”.

The crowd majority was mostly guys for a band like No Use For a Name.  It was those guy fans that would spread the word about the band to their friends.  It was those guy fans who became devoted and spent cash on their merch and records (remember mailorder?!).  One thing’s for sure: a girl at a NUFAN show in 1995 either had a boyfriend in attendance or she must’ve been pretty cool (obviously not both!).

So the “punk rock” scene has evolved quite a bit since 1995.  If you looked at the Warped Tour lineup of the past few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that embodies hints of the same sound.  The kids making tunes these days have been drip-filtered through that whole “emo/screamo” phase and a whole new breed of band has become the norm.

The Maine.

The Maine

The Maine is a resounding example of what a scene churns out after 15 years of inbreeding.  Take a look around.  Your old punk rock venues are full of bands like the Maine, All Time Low, We the Kings, Boys Like Girls – pick one.

All of these bands are cookie-cutter copies of each other.  Swooping bangs, neon t-shirts, silly white-boy, club-banger slang.  Look at these kids!  I didn’t even pick the douchiest picture.

Every generation has its own style though, I get that.

The problem?  These bands have lost their teeth.  They’ve lost that bite and grit that made punk rock so appealing!  There’s no rebelling!  There’s no anger!  These are sappy love songs with glossy production – a perfect companion to the latest American Idol debut.

So how did we get here?  The popularity of Blink 182, Sum 41 and (ugh, it pains me to give this band any credit as an influential force, but) Simple Plan started to draw more female fans to punk shows.  Somewhere along the lines, horny teenage guys in bands decided that it was better to stuff a venue full to the gills with barely legal (and not-so-legal) girls.  They’ve bailed on trying to build a strong male following.  So the Maine uses lines like “with eyes like sunsets and legs that go on for days” to speak to the ladies out there.  The worst and most misleading part is that the music is presented under the guise of being punk, and that’s what makes it suck.  I mean, they spend time name-dropping Prada.  Seriously, where’s the angst in expensive designer clothing!?  Indeed, the underground has gotten a serious makeover.

You go to AbsolutePunk.net (a staple website for the punk rock scene) and these are the bands getting represented.  Why?  My guess is because the well has run dry.  There just aren’t many bands garnering popularity in the scene anymore that have that punk rock sound.  It’s full of this garbage.  And it doesn’t look like it’s losing steam right now.

Not all is lost.  NUFAN and Propagandhi, despite getting older, are still making great records.  Younger bands like The Swellers or Bayside are churning out tunes that still harken back to those glory days.    Still, I hold out hope that someday the youth of America will grow a pair.

Update: a continued observation of “the scene”