OP-ED Musicians Speak Out (Ben Jorgensen – Armor For Sleep)

Most recent album, Smile For them, frontman Ben Jorgensen takes on the hipster culture prominent in the borough of Brooklyn, New York, in the song “Williamsburg”. There’s a difference between being your “hipster” self and just following trends, though. Jorgensen wants everyone to know that putting down others just to feel cool happens in all 50 states – and it’s not acceptable anywhere.

  “I have been summoned from my grueling schedule of sitting around on tour bus to go on a rant describing in detail why I wrote a song berating a mystical placed called Williamsburg. Am I angry at Williamsburg, Virginia? Do the reenactments of Colonial American life really upset me that much? Well, honestly, they probably would if I had to witness the Colonial actors recite their lines about their grievances with England and how hard it is to churn their butter (or whatever else they feel like they have to act out to seventh grade students and tourists), but nope, I’m not talking about that Williamsburg. I’m talking about a place perhaps more sinister that any found in Virginia. The place I’m talking about is none other than Williamsburg, Brooklyn! What is my gripe with Williamsburg? Let me divulge.
What actually spurred the need for me to explain myself was a slightly angered fan who sent a slightly angry message to my personal MySpace account that reads: “Hey dude. I used to think you were the shit when you sang about being dead. Now you have to hate a town; that’s so lame, dude. Good job selling out.” Fuck. He totally got me!
The thing is, the song isn’t really about Williamsburg. The song is about a group of people I met at some parties in New York City and hung out with for a bit. The use of Williamsburg in the song is more symbolic than anything. Williamsburg in general is known to have a large “hipster” population. What, you ask, is a “hipster” exactly? As with most things in life, Wikipedia has an explanation:
“Use of the word ‘hipster’ in present day slang has developed distinct negative connotations, including: Identifying that a person may be superficially following recently mass-produced, homogeneous, urban fashion trends, overly concerned with their image and the contradictions of their identity, potentially anorexic, disingenuously appropriating a pseudo-artistic image or ‘a collage of other urban identities’ from the past, or simple an elitist.”
I sort of agree with this summation, although it is a little bit mean. I think that at one point in time, there were certain people who could literally only afford certain vintage clothing and who had real reasons for doing things which are now done just because they are associated with certain attitudes. I remember someone explaining to me why ‘thugs’ wore saggy jeans; it’s because in certain maximum-security prisons, the prison-guards would make the inmates remove their belts before walking around certain secure areas. When these inmates were released, wearing no belts and having saggy pants became a sign that they had served hard time. However, others who witnessed this most likely had no idea why the tougher guys were sagging their jeans. It just became a trend because of the attitude associated with the fashion of the people who started it. This is how trends develop.
I guess what started bothering me about certain people’s attitudes in New York City was that they needed to assert being above other people because they associated themselves with a subculture they wouldn’t feel a part of unless they proclaimed to be cooler than other people. I know how huge subcultures are for us. They give us a sense of identity and a sense of belonging to something that is recognizable by others who are in the know. I used to be punk rock. I would do everything in my power to make me feel like I was just as punk rock as the squatters who put on shows at NYC’s ABC No Rio. I understand this need in people to belong. But when people call themselves “hipsters” and identify themselves with a subculture that they think they can’t belong to unless they put down people and things not to list of what the Hipster Gods deem cool – that to me is aggravating. Yes, there are plenty of people who wear “hipster” clothing and listen to “hipster” bands who aren’t elitist; I don’t have a problem with these people whatsoever.
But this group of people I ran into in New York City, all they did was make fun of other people’s clothes, the music they listened to, the food they ate and the shows they watched. Maybe making everyone around them feel uncool was a way they cold all bond with each other, but I had to call them out on – and my voice is my songs.
My friend Rob Hitt [ex-Midtown/owner, I Surrender Records], who lives in Williamsburg, was one of my first to hear the song, and he sat me down to say, “Not everyone here is bad.” I agree 1 million percent! Again, the song is by no means about the entire city (even though in the song I say it is, but I was just being dramatic). The people I’m calling out are the ones who think it’s part of their identity to berate others for doing things that don’t fall under their cool umbrella (for instance, listening to emo), and who say, “Yes,, I am a hipster, but only because I know what’s cooler than you.”
That being said, I’m not interested in starting some subculture war. I just think there is something inherently lame about anyone claiming to be cooler than anyone else. That goes for hipsters, scenesters, football players – whoever. This song not taking shit from those who look down on you. It’s about realizing that the people who have the biggest flaws are the ones who are too afraid to be themselves.”

For more info, check www.armorforsleep.com.

SOURCE: Alternative Press

OP-ED Musicians Speak Out (Breandan Canning – Broken Social Scene)

More and more, bands are taking action when it comes to improving our world, not just talking about what needs to happen, but being proactive themselves. Brendan Canning and Broken Social Scene are no exception. This fall, they plan to launch a website they hope will become the Craigslist of good deeds. They want your help to bring ANYKINDACT.ORG to your community.

  At this point in Broken Social Scene’s career, we feel it’s our duty to be doing as much as we can for our community, with the hopes of being an example for other communities around the world. The world is in need of desperate change, that much is clear. I think too many of us feel defeated when we read about all the terrible things going on around us: Climate change is killing the polar bears; Guantanamo Bay is a torture camp; gun crime is up 40% and please, whatever you do, be careful of GHB.
  If ever there was a time in history to be active, it is now. Our bandmate Charles Spearin had an idea to create something called Any Kind Act, a website people could go to in whatever city or town they live in and find postings from different organizations or groups in the community that could use help from someone like you or me. Whether it is the food bank, animal shelter, kids’ help line – the list really could be endless. Like a Craigslist for all the good things you could do for people instead of looking for used patio furniture.
  There are just so many people in this world with way too much time on their hands who aren’t doing what they could be doing. How many people do you know that spend too much time playing video games, too much time texting, too much time getting high, too much time fighting, too much time shopping, too much time getting drunk or too much time complaining that this world sucks? It’s simply not enough to sit back and let our governments, or “the other guy”, try and solve all that is going wrong in this world. It’s passive and ineffective. Any kind act should also be an ideology, the simple idea that any kind act you do for others is essential to community living. If you live in a climate like we do in winter mobths, how about shoveling not only your walkway but also the old lady’s across the road, too?
  Music can be a very powerful thing. It’s our thing! I’m sure many of us have had their own religious experience at our favourite bands’ show and then that feeling wears off for a number of reasons. Wouldn’t it then be a wonderful thing to take those feelings and turn it into a real action? Something where your community could benefit because you were inspired to help in whatever way you saw fit? Maybe down the nursing home they are looking for people to hang out with some old folks for a couple of hours a week. Maybe there is a kid who cn’t afford guitar lessons and you just happen to play a few Ramones riffs. Money is not the only answer to helping people – it’s your actions. Making the world a better place is everyone’s job and will in turn make him or her feel better, too. And don’t tell me that stuff sounds corny because you know it’s true.
  Since the idea is really still in the early stages and the site has only softly launched Sept.1, the hope is that others (i.e., you reading this article) could get together with your friends and/or bandmates and help establish your community with the same initiatives we are doing in Toronto. By posting ideas and getting the word out to your local organizations to use the site for kind acts in your area, our aim is not only to reach Broken Social Scene fans but to act as a central meeting point for all of us concerned with the ways our neighborhoods have changed, or perhaps sadly, have not changed. We see a much broader scope that could hopefully snowball into something very big to fight a world that breeds a lot of negativity on a daily basis and will ruin us if we let it.
  As a band, we have seen the effect that music has on people and the power it can give when you’re open to it. We’ve had the great privilege of traveling around the world and seeing so many different walks of life, which has ultimately taught us much about the similarities we all share as human beings on earth. Most of us are just striving for the good things in life. There are plenty of great charitable organizations already in existence, but charity is something we can never have too much of. Could you actually imagine the folks at World Vision saying, “Everything’s okay, folks. No more money needed in Africa!” or, “Hurricane Katrina? We licked that one, but thanks anyway”. Anykindact.org isn’t asking you for your money – just some spare time and your efforts.
  Surely people like you and me could set our bars a little higher and really create something for all of us.

Anykindact.org is set for a full launch this fall. Check out myspace.com/brokensocialscene for more information.

SOURCE: Alternative Press Magazine

OP-ED: Musicians Speak Out (Sinister Muse Records president Christian Picciolini)

As a teenager, Sinister Muse Records president Christian Picciolini was embroiled in the white-power scene. A man who once used music to spread hate, Picciolini now works to spread acceptance and understanding throughout the music community and beyond, and he believes anyone can renounce their prejudiced views and work for positive change – if they decide they want to.

   “At 18, I stood onstage in a cathedral in Germany, cries of “Heil Hitler!” blocking out the roar of 3,000 European skinheads shouting my bands’ name, “Final Solution! Final Solution!” At that very moment, I was responsible for the electricity in the air, the adrenalin in veins, the sweat pouring down the shaved heads.
  Absolute devotion to white power pulsated through the crowd on that foggy March day in 1993. I imagined this was how Hitler had felt when he led the Germans on his mission for a pure race. He was dead – persecuted and misunderstood as far as I was concerned – but I was more that ready to step in and undertake his mission.
  Laws favoring blacks were taking white jobs, and we were overburdened with taxes used to support welfare. Neighborhoods of law-abiding, hard-working white families were being overrun with minority gangs and their drugs. Our women were being conned into relationships with minorities. Clearly, the white race was in peril.
  Or so I believed. What began as an affinity with punk music had grown to encompass the hateful lyrics and messages of white-power Oi! music. The truth was that my parents never lost jobs to any minorities. I didn’t even have a job, so I surely wasn’t supporting anybody on welfare. I’d never been the victim of racial bias, although I’d certainly perpetuated hate violence myself. Nevertheless, I pushed the punk-rock subculture to the limits, embraced the racist skinhead mentality and soon was so heavily indoctrinated into a world of hate that it blinded me.
  I was convinced that being a soldier meant hating the enemy, battling anyone unlike us at any given moment and spreading the seeds of hatred throughout the white community. I’m a natural leader, so it wasn’t long before I was also relaying the vicious messages to anyone who would listen. That message brought me to Weimar, Germany, when I was 18. The band I sang for, Final Solution, was one of a half-dozen white-power bands who performed at this worldwide skinhead concert.
  On that day, swastika flags littered the old German cathedral. They glistened on skin, covered clothes, hung on backpacks. I was onstage to make sure nobody forgot why we were gathered. Never mind that I was just a teenager from a lower-middle-class Chicago suburb. I was one of the powerful voices there, and I had no doubt the conviction of my words would have a lasting effect.
  What power. And what ignorance.
  Sometimes when I look back on that trip – which also included a visit to the Dachau concentration camp where I wore a swastika armband and gave Hitler salutes to flashing cameras – I can barely breathe. How could I have been so insensitive to the horrors perpetrated? So unfeeling about innocent people butchered in the name of racism, hate and blind faith?
  Some of my ignorant behavior was nothing more than the natural rebellious nature of a teenager looking for a way to be heard. I looked around me and saw people like my parents working hard and not really enjoying life. I didn’t want that to be me some day. I also didn’t want to be ordinary. I was sure I was destined for something greater. I wanted power and recognition. I wanted  something that made me feel my hot blood coursing through my veins.
  Music had that effect. Through white-power music, I met people who I thought cared about me, who I thought were like me. I liked being an outcast, flaunting authority. I was no longer a kid without much of a future. Instead, I was a soldier leading others on a mission.
  I confused hate and intimidation with passion, fear with respect.
  My involvement lasted far too long, and while it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific event that made me question my beliefs, in time I realized that what the world really needed were people who care for one another despite their differences. While attending DePaul University in Chicago, I was part of a United Nations conference focused on the Millennium Development Goals. I saw how much work there was to be done to make life fair for people of all races, religious beliefs, genders and sexual preferences.
  The more I learned, the less personal power mattered. Instead, what became clear to me was the importance of helping others. So I left my hate and racist music in the dust and made a video devoted to the Millennium Development Goals to try to inspire others to help correct some of the real problems facing the world. Now all that mattered to me was reaching people with the message to help.
  While I am still very active in the music industry, I would never again consider working with anyone that spews hatred or prejudice. I simply will not tolerate it and neither should you. One thing that allowed me to feel such hate in my past was that I refused to see the humanity in others, so I challenge you to take that step. Find a cause you believe in – the environment, gender equality, anti-racism – and do something to make a difference. Organize a benefit concert, design and sell T-shirts promoting a cause, support positive change in the world.
  Make music. But let the song you sing be one that embraces, not disgraces, humanity.”

Christian Picciolini is a Chicago-based musician, writer, visual artist and entrepreneur. For more info on his random projects, check out www.sinistermuse.com and www.un.org/millenniumgoals

SOURCE: Alternative Press

OP-ED: Musicians Speak Out (Ben Brewer – The Exit)

These days, “going green” is all the rage – and rightfully so. Environmental awareness is at an all-time high, but there’s still so much more that needs to be done. Ben Brewer, vocalist/guitarist for indie rockers The Exit and co-founder of Green Owl Records, explains how one conversation led to a record label that stays the green course, promoting awareness for the youth-based organization Energy Action Coalition at the same time.

   “We never actually meant to start a record label. One day, about two years ago, I was walking around the New York City reservoir with Billy Parish. Billy and I had gone to school together from kindergarter all the way until 12th grade. Growing up, Billy had always been into the environment, indie rock and nature, and I was a bit more into punk rock, sarcasm and playing hooky. Throughout the years, our cliques never clashed, but rather peacefully co-existed. At the time of our meeting, Billy had completed his first year at Yale, dropped out and started the youth group Energy Action Coalition, which was quickly becoming the largest youth-based environmental coalition in the United States. I had gone to Emerson College to study politics, dropped out after one year and forged by own path starting a band called The Exid. We hadn’t seen each other in about three years.
  As we walked around the reservoir catching up, our conversation turned to the environment, and our mutual enthusiasm, outrage and frustration all poured out at once. I spoke about how I had seen the gas prices jump up on the road without rhyme or reason (especially because we were now in an unjust war that at the very least, could have brought prices down); he spoke about how the youth movement was zeroing in on global warming as the single most important topic of our generation. It was an exciting reunion. We were trying to think of ways to bridge the gap between our two scenes. I had spent the past couple of years touring with bands like Rise Against, Strike Anywhere, the Explosion and Muse; and he had been on practically every college campus from San Francisco to Boston preaching the environmental word and meeting with the newly empowered youth movement. We decided that if we could get a bunch of bands on a CD to benefit the Energy Action Coalition, it would be a really great thing. On that day in New York, Green Owl was inadvertently born.
  I had just met Ellenike Abreu (who used to intern at Atlantic Records in San Diego) while on tour with Muse, and after meeting with Billy, I met Stephen Glicken, who used to produce Ghostface Killah. Soon, the three of us started travelling around the country going to concerts, asking artists to participate and calling bands out of the blue to finally present the culmination of that conversation between Billy and I: The Green Owl Comp: A Benefit For The Energy Action Coalition. We managed to get unreleased tracks from Muse, Feist, Deerhoof, Bloc Party, Of Montreal, Pete Yorn, Juliana Hatfield and others, as well as an interview with Billy and a bunch of exclusive videos.
  Somewhere along the way, we decided Green Owl would be a good place to house bands and put out their records, as well. We never really meant to start a record label, but rather we fell into it through gathering tracks for the comp, sifting through and finding new bands we wanted to expose. Thanks to Muse and Bloc Party, who donated their tracks first, we were able to round up other big-name artists and give smaller groups like Satori and London Souls exposure next to these bigger names. Talking to so many artists about the problem (and seeing how passionate so many were about the climate-change issue), we realized Green Owl could be a great place for bands who wanted to be on a label that made respecting the earth the center of its philosophy and practice. There was also this sense that while saving the environment used to be an issue that was stereotypically hippie-ish, everyone was starting to care about the environment and a bigger bridge needed to be built.
  Now, Elle, Stephen and I run Green Owl full-time (when we’re not playing in our bands) and are always thinking of ways to help out the environment. All of our products are packaged in the highest-quality recycled goods you can find. We’ve also come up with a simple way to use a carbon calculator, so everyone easily can go carbon neutral; and a ZIP code engine that allows the user to find the closes alternative fuel station in their area, switch over to “green” energy and find their nearest Energy Action Coalition partner. We believe that a company should do everything it can to respect the planet, so we’ve made it the crux of our business practice. We encourage you to explore ways you can make a difference in your everyday routine, too.”

FOR MORE INFO: www.greenowlrecords.com and www.energyactioncoalition.org

SOURCE: Alternative Press

OP-ED: Musicians Speak Out (Mike Shea, founder and president of Alternative Press magazine)

In this month’s AP, we provide a "Year In Review" special for 2007 – a year that saw many changes (good and bad) in the music industry. Here, AP founder and president Mike Shea reflects on the state of the scene we’re in and the steps we all need to take to ensure its survival. Good news: we haven’t lost control. Yet.

  "I’ve been reading a 9/11 recollection book called Tower Stories by Damon DiMarco that includes a story from Nicole Blackman. On 9/11, she became one of many ordinary-citizen role models in New York City who kicked it into high gear by organizing what would eventually be Ground Zero’s food, clothing and aid warehouse – all without the government and all run by volunteers.
  She gives an anecdote from earlier that day when she ran into a friend at an outdoor cafe, smiling and having a cigarette with his dog nearby. She explained what she was doing to get things organized, and he just responded un-alarmed, "Listen, girl. I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris. This kind of stuff happens all of the time in the rest of the world. You can’t get yourself all crazy about it."
  Now, I’m not equating the fall of the music industry with an egregious attack on our country, but it cannot be denied there’s chaos all around the music biz. Many at first tried to fight off the trend while some – now a growing majority – tried to understand what happened and how to adapt to the new world around them. We have two ways we can all respond to it: 1) sit back and be that guy in the cafe, not bothered; or 2) take control of the situation. If you read AP and you’re a music fan, you’ve got the control now. You can decide which band succeeds or dies, regardless of what your local radio station tries to play over and over. You can decide which record labels thrive or disappear, which magazines stay around or not and which websites become popular or 404-Errors.
  Much as been written in AP and all over the web about who and/or what is to blame for the deconstruction of the music industry, but it all comes down to one question: How do musicians make a career out of music in the future? Every band now rely more and more on you to keep them together. It’s said that the number one reason bands break up is lack of money. So if you don’t buy their CDs at their shows or pay for the downloads, they’ll be broke(n up) in no time – regardless of how much you like their music. When they get sick on the road or hurt when the crazy bassist swings back and pops the singer in the upper lip, the money they made from the merch table last night in Detroit could pay for the MedClinic visit next day in Columbus, Ohio. The difference could be one more hoodie sale.
  Believe me, I get it. Someone has to take the fall when it comes to credibility in the music industry. The Big Bad Record Comapny CEO Guy is always the easiest person to hate. It’s "The Man". That guy makes enough money already, so he doesn’t deserve our dough.
  But do Chiodos? Underoath? Against Me!? Silverstein? Gym Class Heroes? Of course they do. If you love a song by any band, help them keep their rent paid by buying something of theirs. A CD, iTunes tracks, T-shirts, posters, calendars or videos from Downloadpunk, Interpunk, Smartpunk, Hot Topic, Virgin, wherever! Buy often and buy directly from the bands when you can. See those SnoCap songs on their MySpace accounts? The money you pay goes directly into the bands’ bank accounts.
  Several issues ago, Pete Wentz pushed the reality of accepting corporate sponsorship as a band to pay your bills and keep ticket prices low on tour. Ben Weasel suggested that dumping the hard-case CD format and releasing all music digitally was easier to market and sell than buying end-caps in Best Buy. More and more people in the music industry are getting onboard with these concepts and others.
  But there are some things that are already tested and true in the new world order of things. Musicians have to take more control. Stay on top of what your manager is doing (and what they’re saying they’re doing). Stay on top of what your label is doing. Most importantly, bands who don’t stay involved in their finances as much as possible are on the fast track to the rudest awakening possible.
  I was at a Boys Like Girls show recently and at one point, I stepped back and realized the audience had their cell phones out since the first note, recording every moment, capturing every image (no matter muffled and over-modulated) that would end up on YouTube and MySpace by the crack of dawn. I pulled out my iPhone and took a picture of the scene, a blurry chaotic mess, but one with plenty of symbolism: Bands who don’t ask their fans during the show to pull out their cells and records one of their songs to put on YouTube for all that free publicity become that guy in the cafe.
  While the internet has leveled the playing field for musicians, it has also lowered the bar. But as fans, we can throw our support behind the things that matter to us. As music fans, it’s our responsability. Let’s take control this year. Deal?"

Mike Shea is founder and president of Alternative Press. He can be reached at www.myspace.com/mikesheaap.

Source: Alternative Press

OP-ED: Musicians Speak Out (Ben Weasel – Screeching Weasel)

Having fronted seminal punk band Screeching Weasel, Ben Weasel has released his share of albums and is no stranger to the regular rigors of CD distribution. But just because he knows the process, it doesn’t mean he thinks it’s the only way to go. Weasel suggests all DIY labels would be better off with digital-only catalogs. Considerating the recent success a little band you may’ve hearn of (um, Radiohead, anyone?) had with their digital-only release several months before the CD hit shelves, Weasel’s ideas may not only apply to the indie underground.

  "In December 2004, my wife gave me an iPod for a Christmas gift. I hadn’t particularly wanted one; I’d been perfectly happy listening to music on my portable CD player. But as I started fooling around with iTunes, creating my oun mix CDs in a fraction of the time it would normally take and downloading entire albums (for about $4 under the usual retail price), I realized two things: 1) The realm of digital music was making listening to music fun again in a way it hadn’t been since I was a teenager; and 2) A small label or band could bypass about 80 percent of the hassie involved in releasing albums if they’d forgo CDs and vinyl for a digital-only release.
  As to the advantages of digital-only for the small, DIY band and label, I didn’t give it much thought. After all, I’d been making music for 20 years and never had a problem finding anybody to release it. In fact, I was just then finishing up demos  for a solo album for which I already had a deal with Asian Man Records.
  It wasn’t until October 2006 that I started thinking more about the implications of digital downloads for the little guy. I didn’t understand why the DIY-style bedroom labels weren’t embracing digital-only. Distributors would have fewer reservations about taking on a label knowing they wouldn’t have to fight for space on record store shelves. The label would dramatically reduce their overhaed, enabling them to charge their artists a competitive royalty rate and turning a profit for themselves. Sure, some people would complain about the lack of a physical format, but an entire generation of music fans is growing up with downloading, and they are the ones who are buying most of the music, anyway.
  The small, independent labels are supposed to be on the cutting edge, but as underground music became more competitive in the ’90s, all but the smallest, quirkiest labels stopped cutting edge bands in favor of copying what the major labels were selling. Much of this new, conservative approach was due to heady labels spending far too much money on releases in the ’90s and losing their shirts as punk’s salad days waned. But as they sliced budgets and downsized staff, they still don’t address the biggest financial burden of all: The manufacturing, marketing and promotion of physical CDs. Finding, signing and promoting the best new young bands – regardless of commercial potential – has always been the bread and butter of the underground rock music scene. Without it, they’re just major labels without the budget or the clout.
  That’s how I saw things by autumn of 2006, but it seemed to me then that everything was changing in favor of the little guy with the advent of digital downloads. But apparently nobody noticed; rather than dividing headfirst into the digital realm, young, small labels are embarking on quixotic attempts to bring back vinyl, of all things – apparently because CDs didn’t cost enough to manufacture. It’s as though they’re going out of their way to reduce their viability and ensure their own demise.
  I kept thinking about the possibilities for a digital-only record label. Within a few days, I’d decided to start one myself. I called Mike Park at Asian Man Records and asked him if he’d mind if I backed out of our handshake agreement so I could release my solo record myself. Mike not only gave his blessing, he also offered to put in a good word for me with his distributor.
  Receiving an iPod as a gift made listening to music fun again. With my label, the Mendota Recording Co., releasing music is fun again, too. More than 90 percent of my job with Mendota is simply helping make and sell the music I love. I don’t have to waste time and money ordering and re-ordering print and CDs or sending out promo. I don’t have to devise elaborate marketing and promotional strategies to try to get my releases into stores that already lack the physical space for anything but the biggest sellers. I don’t have to worry about selling an unrealistic number of units just to break even after having sunk thousands of dollars into a physical release. Instead, I’m afforded the opportunity to focus on what matters: Finding, signing and releasing recordings by the best underground melodic rock bands in the world.
  Digital-only gives new life to the DIY spirit – anybody with a great band can make and release recordings quickly and inexpensively. The playing field has never been more level. I hope other labels do exactly what Mendota is doing; this is the only way we’re ever going to be able to survive, let alone compete. Digital-only is the future for DIY."

For more info on Weasel’s digital-only record label, the Mendota Recording Co., check out www.mendotarecording.com

Source: Alternative Press

OP-ED: Musicians Speak Out (Rich Balling – Sounds Of Animals Fighting)

You may know Rich Balling from his time in Rx Bandits or from his current stint as singer for The Sounds Of Animals Fighting. What you may not know is that he is a school teacher, author and editor of the Revolution On Canvas series – a collection of writing, poetry and art from your fave bands. As you gear up to head back to the classroom, Balling encourages you to challenge your teachers’ methods (they just may be old fashioned) and never give up on reading or writing – just as the music industry shouldn’t give up on the underground scene.

  "For years, Megan would cut off both ends of the ham before she put it in the oven to bake for her family. When her husband asked why she did this, her answer was simply, "I don’t know. It’s the way my mom always did it." Curious for another answer, Megan called her mom and asked why she had always cut off the ends of the ham. Her mom had a similar reply: "I don’t know; it’s the way your grandma always did it." When she called her grandmother, she got a different answer: "We were poor and only had one pan. I had to cut off the ends of the ham because the pan wasn’t big enough."
  Unfortunately, that mentality has pervaded two professions that previously boasted creativity as their foundation: the music industry and teaching. Many teachers subscribe to poor methods in the classroom because they are staunchly set in their ways, often using the phrase, "It’s how we’ve always done it." Such is the case with the new wave of producers that drop by to say, "Hi," and spend the remainder of the recording session rubbing elbows with fellow ego-strokers at the high-priced watering hole down the street. In doing this, these teachers are placing the focus on themselves rather than on the students, while the producer presses the musician down into the lowest echelon of the recording process. Since music and education are my life, I enjoy the comparisons and finding solutions where the two worlds meet. Enter the Revolution On Canvas series.
  In 2003, the idea was to contact numerous musicians and gather lyrics that had never made it into songs, journal entries, poems, fiction, essays, rants and even art. The vision was to make reading approachable to a large number of people who never got excited by the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge in school and to those who were disgusted by the heightened focus of image over quality content in music. I wanted to show that poetry was and always will be capable of engaging even the most apathetic of minds. Revolution On Canvas was released on Valentine’s Day 2004, and in May 2007, we released the all-new, second volume collection. The publishing team still receives letters from those that have bought the first book, one of which had written on the envelope, "I just realized this is the first time I’m writing a letter to share the fact that I love a book." A single letter like that validates every second of hard work spent.
  As a musician, it is my passion to help people reach the heights of inspiration that I reach with the music I write and listen to. I live to exist in those moments that give you chills as melody and lyrics swell from the car stereo and sweep across your shoulder into your hear to say, "I understand." Literature touches lives that same way. If we really want to tap into the vein of an overwhelming percentage of the largely reluctant and apathetic American youth, we need to do ir through the classroom and through music – there is no reason why we can’t get the same chills from literature as we do from our favourite music.
  It is through human interaction that we become literate, as academic reasons fail to motivate most students. Convincing a student that he or she needs to write a five-paragraph essay in standard English simply because "that is how it is done in school" is not reason enough. True writers need to be shown how competent writing skills will directly benefit them in the real world. To do that, they must be encouraged to bring the outside world into the classroom and into their writing.
  In the same way, we must look at our priorities in music. Or, at least, we should take a look at what priorities have been made for us by withering music tycoons. You have been duped into thinking that poetry is boring just as you have been duped into purchasing the music you are force-fed by clueless record execs who are still riding the wave of the grunge acts they signed 20 years ago.
  Being open-minded to explore a variety of approaches and methods to both the music industry and classroom strategy will allow us to solve problems. And as we realize there is more to the writing and more genres than you may have known existed, so must we explore the palette of music and independent bands that border on sheer genius without a second of hat-tipping from mainstream radio. The literacy problem is not without solutions, though the solutions are certainly easier said than done. With a strong force of caring teachers who aim to work smarter, however, and treat their students like writers so that students know their options are valued and respected, the literacy rate can rise enormously.
  I hope projects like Revolutions On Canvas help move reading and writing back into the high-interest category for the youth who have been beaten by the W.H. Audens of their curriculum. I also hope it will open the door to understanding denser works like that of Auden, and other poets that are all but inviting with their superficial dryness. Revolution On Canvas has a chance to accomplish this, if anything does. Music is the vessel for spirits and is able to inspire and influence in ways that nothing else can. As we expand our taste for literature, we will simultaneously place our focus back on quality content over image in music. Two birds, one stone. We must continue to move forward in music so we can move forward in education. Press On. Further your literacy. And don’t purchase music without asking, "Why?""

Revolution On Canvas Vol.1 and 2 are available via Ad Astra Books. For more info on Balling, visit www.thesoundsofanimalsfighting.com

Source: Alternative Press magazine