Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I walked into work this morning and what should be the first thing I hear on the radio but Avril Lavigne's "My Happy Ending", produced and written, as if I need remind you, but the new Mutt Lange (okay, I exaggerate), Mr. Butch Walker.

Now, what was it I was saying about this song last week?

You see, this is a clear case of The Rock Hole Blog directly influencing record company decisions. Keep your browser here to find out all the important stuff first. Hopefully this is Butch's move into the real big time. Someone very amusingly commented that by writing for Avril Lavigne, Butch proved the old adage "if at first you don't succeed, go corporate." Everything Butch has ever done has been on a major label though, from Southgang through to Left of Self-Centered, so maybe this is hard work and consistent quality paying off.

I also recently spent some time trying to drag some information on the new Def Leppard project out of someone who has "something to do with" the album (and it wasn't Mark Senff). No dice though... the Leps know how to swear their inner circle to secrecy.

Apart from Van Halen's American schlepp, nothing is happening in the world of rock so I have nothing to say.

However, someone did dare me to listen to White Lion's Pride CD twice before the last weekend. If I did that, they said they would buy Def Leppard's Euphoria. Well, there's a deal. I'd do anything to help Def Leppard. But, I'm afraid I bottled it. I'm sorry, White Lion just suck too much. I place a higher value on my life than to waste ninety precious minutes of it on that album. The worst thing is that, as a musician, I'm aware that anything I listen to can influence my playing and writing. And the idea that I could start to write like Mike Tramp is just too scary...

Whoa. That is frightening. I should have saved this entry for halloween.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

By the way, a new Rock Hole auction is online. It's a rare Stryper single:


Let me tell you about the rock world’s best kept secret: the incredible Butch Walker. In spite of a small army of militant fans, a commercial breakthrough as a performer continues to elude him. He is of interest to hair metal fans because of his short stint with the early 90s hair band Southgang, who were one of the more successful also-rans of that era in spite of their inexcusable omission from the Rock Detector A-Z of 80s Rock. After that, Butch was in the power pop band Marvelous 3, for whom he wrote the US top 10 hit “Freak of the Week”. In spite of this, the Marvy 3 failed to really break.

In the meantime, Walker found himself a fairly successful sideline in producing. Although he has produced for some pretty crap artists (ie Sevendust), he has written a couple of big hits: “Right Now” by SR-71, and “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” by Bowling for Soup, which was nominated for a Grammy. His solo album Left of Self-Centered is still the best modern pop rock album I have ever heard, with ranks of killer tracks and a guest spot from Nikki Sixx, but the album still didn’t sell. Maybe Sixx was the kiss of death!

Anyway, Butch recently made his move into the big time by producing three songs on Avril Lavigne’s new record, of which first single “Don’t Tell Me” was one. Now, I happen to think that “Don’t Tell Me” is not a particularly strong single and has only really been a hit on the back of her first album. When I heard it, I was perplexed. Butch is a sensational songwriter. This was his shot at huge international recognition, and he blew it! He choked! How could he let us down like that? Well, today I finally saw the credits for Avril’s album and boy was I relieved: Butch didn’t write “Don’t Tell Me”; he was only the producer. Avril’s magnificently talentless guitarist Evan-something-or-other penned the music, and of course the lyrics carry the poetic genius of the girl herself (I jest).

I admit it, I don’t have a great deal of time for Avril Lavigne. Sure, “Complicated” and “I’m With You” were great pop songs, and so is “Sk8er Boi” if you can get past the dyslexic title and the sphincter-tightening lyrics, but I’m not sure how much of the talent is hers. In radio interviews she is monosyllabic and faintly moronic. On stage she could be replaced by a mannequin and no one would detect any reduction in movement. Her live vocals drift in and out of tune and have none of the gutsy power of her mega-layered studio performances. And all of her hits have co-writing credits from big name song doctors.

Still, some good records have come out with Avril’s name on it so I was disappointed when Butch didn’t seize the opportunity. Only it turns out he did: One song on her new album was written by Butch Walker, “My Happy Ending”, and although I’ve only heard it once, it was immediately one of the coolest songs I’ve heard this year. I feel like organising a campaign to get it released as the next single. Good old Butch... totally infallible as a songwriter, he’s the new Desmond Child.

Butch Walker’s next solo album, Letters, is out next month.


Friday, June 18, 2004

Ah, the inevitable question has been asked... I rant about why you should never answer "everything" to the question "what kind of music do you like?" so someone asks, well, what do you say?

Well, I say "everything", of course! How else do you think I became such an expert on why it's a stupid answer?

Yes, I have been guilty of enormous hypocrisy in this area. The trouble is that it's so uncool to like Def Leppard. I worship that band. Whenever music is mentioned, they're the first thing that comes to mind. But you just know what the response is going to be when you tell people you like them. It kind of sticks in my throat. What kind of music do I like? "Def... Aerosmith." And once again I have betrayed my heroes. Usually I manage to get it out eventually, after stuttering furiously for a few minutes. "Well, kind of everything, you know... Stevie Wonder, De... De Beatles, and er... but I'm mostly into, uh...[mumbled hurriedly] Defleppard and rock kind of stuff."

It's important that I do get it out, because one day I'm going to meet someone who likes them as much as me and I'll be glad I did. And it's my little bit of promotion for the band (My school once made the faux pas of organising a school photo on mufti day and I was on the front row in an Adrenalize T-shirt). I guess it's that I don't want to hear people slagging them off though, because Def Leppard are very, very important to me. It's not like just following a band. My devotion to them is more akin to the way some people follow football teams. Their success is my success, their failure is my failure, and I follow them avidly through good times and bad. I'm even re-evaluating my opinion on the band Jet after Joe Elliott gave them the thumbs-up, after I'd initially written them off as another bunch of lo-fi pansies.

Thought of the day: Has it not occurred to the record industry that low sales may not be down to illegal downloads as much as that people don't want to buy much current music because it's crap?


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I've just discovered a website, rockersconnected.com. The idea is to help musicians find each other. A very worthy cause, and a well designed site -- not graphically impressive, but the features are right. I'm plugging it because it will only work if lots of people use it. Otherwise there will be no musicians to find. You can search by genre and instrument and stuff, although unfortunately you can only search in one category at a time so if you're trying to find the right person it could take ages as you search genre by genre, area by area...

Anyway, looking on the website I see that a lot of people have cheated. When they list the styles they play, they have just said that they play all styles. This is lazy and lame. I ran a search for British musicians who play hair metal. My only results were people who had just said they play all styles. This is just not possible. Two of the options, for example, are "pagan rock" and "Christian rock". I'm pretty sure they aren't going to be up for playing both of those unless they have a personality and/ or faith crisis, so I wish they'd do us the favour of deselecting the one they are less inclined to play. Anyway, there is no point in contacting them because you just know that even though they say they like all styles, they would make an exception for Motley Crue.

The same is true of all people who claim to like all styles of music. If someone asks you what kind of music you like, you should damn well give a proper answer. "Everything" is not a proper answer. Yeah, yeah, we all want to show what colourful, unpredictable, and open-minded people we are, but saying "everything" is a conversation killer. If you say "everything", what you really mean is either 1) I don't really like music, or 2) I'm too embarrassed to say what I really like.

OK, so you really like everything, do you? In that case, I can launch into a conversation about any musician under the sun and you'll be willing to join in, right? I can ask you if you're excited about a new Dokken CD, and you'll say yes while at the same time talking about your new purchases by Nirvana, Pat Metheny, *NSync, NWA, Styx, Cannibal Corpse, the Byrds, and Joni Mitchell, will you? Of course you won't. But on the strength of your answer, I should be able to say "Oh, then you'll love the new Butch Walker CD." But of course, you'd say "Butch Walker? Never heard of him!" To which I would be completely within my rights to respond "But I thought you said you liked everything." See, that answer leaves us with nothing to talk about.

So even if you do like everything, say a particular favourite, or what you're currently listening to, or just pick something at random that the other person might be interested in talking about. And don't be a loser who says "everything." Because you don't like everything, do you?

I hope you're all listening to Andrew WK now (now there's a name to gnaw at your conscience next time you claim to like everything). "Never Let Down" still rocks. It's not the most romantic or tender love ballad though. I can imagine Andrew singing it to his girlfriend. For a start, she'd be deafened. But the other thing is that the sheer force of air and spit coming from his mouth would make it feel like standing in the middle of a gale. Rock indeed.


Monday, June 14, 2004

When I first heard Andrew WK, I was at music college and he caused a bit of a stir. Well, among three of us anyway. We all rushed into HMV following his Top of the Pops appearance (although being the musical pulse reader that I am, I had already known about him for some time) and played his CD on the listening station. We all had the exact same response; to wit, crying with laughter.

It’s difficult to explain why I find Andrew WK so funny because it’s not that I dislike him or don’t think he’s good. I think it’s that, being British, I am incapable of being straight-faced about anything serious and Mr. WK is so labouringly earnest and sincere that it’s impossible not to chuckle. Plus, in spite of playing all his own instruments on his CDs, he is in no danger of getting an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. His idea of guitar playing is to tune the guitar so that he only needs to use one finger at a time and then hammer away at a chord until it’s time for the next one. His drumming philosophy appears to be to play every drum at once on every beat, and hit the cymbals very hard in between. It totally rocks. Er, I mean totally rawks.

When I heard him, I thought he was the saviour of rock music, which means that for the first and last time ever, I agreed with NME magazine about something (that was a life re-evaluating time, I can assure you). His music may be completely ridiculous and pompous and overblown and laughable, but he plays it with an endearingly unwavering seriousness. That’s what makes it so funny, but also so good.

I hate the word “cheesy”. When I have formed Wyld Stallyns and achieved a new world order, my first act as World King will be to ban the word “cheesy”. I think it’s a lazy and trite criticism which has lost all meaning, if it had any in the first place, and I think it’s used condescendingly and cynically, often to demean music which is just good fun and... no need to go on a rant, but anyway I hate it. Still, I can’t deny that Andrew’s sort of inspirational lyrics are wide open to exactly that description, but I’m a sucker for them. When he’s singing “Don’t be waiting for luck, find a way to do more” I’m like “Hell yeah Andy, I’m gonna do something with my life!” So there you go. This probably qualifies me as an uber-geek, if having a blog didn’t already do so.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear now that Andrew WK is not going to save the world, which is good news because otherwise I would have had to think of something else to do with my life. With most of the music I love, I can’t figure out why the hell anyone could not like it, but even I have to admit that WK is an acquired taste. So here’s the song you need to hear: His last single (probably his last ever, because I detect a split with the record company on the horizon, and then it’s into indie-label obscurity land), “Never Let Down”. It’s a power ballad (and should have been #1 on my list of underrated ballads).

Andrew WK doesn’t believe in challenging his audience, so he does away with poncey musical concepts like dynamics and structure. A traditional power ballad has verses and other such boring periphery, mainly to fill up the time. Take Bon Jovi’s “Always” for example. No one cares about a bleeding Romeo, especially if it’s Jon Bon Jovi, and especially if it turns out that he isn’t actually bleeding at all, and it’s just Jon being a drama queen as usual. So Andrew WK doesn’t bother with those bits in his ballad. He just has the dramatic intro, and then it’s pretty much straight into the guitar solo (the first interesting bit of any ballad) and a few minutes of a very OTT chorus. In case you hadn’t realised this, subtlety is not the guy's strong suit. He does, however, understand things like guitar solos being melodies rather than a chance for the guitarist to show off (although this is mostly because he’s a crap guitarist). Perfect.

Anyway, listening to The Wolf makes me feel very happy and it’s a pity it’s the Darkness and not Andrew WK who are the success story of the hair metal throwbacks.

PS Justin Hawkins denies his band are recording with Mutt. Woohoo!

PPS I’m desperate to get in a band again. If you know ANYONE who is a good (ie professional and talented) musician, let me know. Ability more important than musical taste, as long as their taste isn’t total crap. I’m prepared to travel for the right band.


Saturday, June 05, 2004

I apologise for my prolonged silence. I’ve been too tired and lazy to write. Plus I’ve been getting on with useful things like passing my driving test (at last) and improving my own musical skills. I’ve had a few things to write about, like why I used to think Nikki Sixx is the coolest guy on the planet and now I think he’s a bit of a loser (In short: There’s nothing exceptional about flat-lining in hospital and being resuscitated. It happens every day. It doesn’t make you the rock n’ roll messiah, Sixx. Motley were just a party band of bad musicians having fun so stop taking yourself so seriously and acting like you’re the father of modern rock). In the interactive segment of the BOD album, Sixx is talking about the lyrics to “Shut the F**k Up” and explaining why he wrote them. “Sometimes you’re watching the TV... and you’re like, ‘Dude, shut the fuck up!’” he intones, without a trace of irony. Moron.

But anyway, I headed out last night to watch a local gig to see what the talent is like around here. Every time I do this it’s an incredibly depressing experience. Last night’s bunch were the Young Leonardos (nul points for the name before we even start) but they could just as well have been Play-doh or Smalltown Paranoia or any of the other unutterably horrendous bands on the local scene. I get there and the lead guitarist is attempting to tune his guitar. He doesn’t know how. For a start, the guitarist shouldn’t still be on the stage tuning once the public have been allowed into the place. But anyway, it’s not exactly confidence-inspiring to see a guitarist with a guitar that needs to be tuned from the bridge end of the guitar attempting to tune the wrong part of the guitar.

Some people say that these young bands with no musical skills are a lot cooler than polished professional bands because they have attitude and energy and all those other hip critical buzzwords which the likes of NME deem higher in importance than minor details like knowing which way round to hold the instrument. This is a crock. There’s no reason on earth why a band can’t be tight and professional and still passionate, excited, and vibrant. Young Leonardos were, as it turned out, neither of the above.

The guitarist, as far as I could tell, was getting his sound by plugging into a distortion pedal and then running that straight into the PA. There are two problems with this. 1) You can’t get any volume, and 2) You will get a sound that makes listening to nails being scraped down a blackboard for two hours seem like an entertaining pastime. The other guitarist was running through an amp, actually a fairly decent one, but he had clearly spent days conniving as to how to set the controls for the most repulsive possible tone, and succeeded admirably. As usual at such gigs, all the band members stood on stage with all the confidence and conviction of a butcher at a vegetarian convention. And while almost every unsigned British band thinks that making self-deprecating jokes between songs about how bad they are is endearing, actually it reeks of amateurishness.

The band only got one big cheer of the night, and that was when the singer said "I hate Busted". Busted are a British boy band who pose as punks. Unfortunately, though, I've seen Busted playing live (okay, semi-live) on TV and they were still ten times better than the Infantile Michaelangelos, or whoever I was watching.

Still, beyond parody, someone turned to me mid-gig and said, “They’re good, aren’t they?” That’s the depressing thing. People actually go to these gigs, and because there is no live music scene in Britain anymore, they have no idea how bad the bands playing are.

I walked out.