Thursday, January 24, 2008

I hate radio.

I've been reading a lot about music lately. Articles about mixing for vinyl instead of CD, recording on tape instead of computer, the death of pop, the death of rock (again), the usual stuff. My interest in music drifts a bit. People say someone's music really "reaches" them or helped them through some particular angst. I've started reconsidering exactly what level of mystic contact or emotional appeal I attribute to a work of art.

See, I grew up playing in a rather progressive (for its time and location) church band. Being part of a group that practiced and performed different songs every week is a unique way to grow into the art form. I'd say every musician needs that at least once in their life, being part of a cover band or party band or some such act that has to keep up with the radio. You really know your craft when you can do it different ways, and that applies as well to things other than music.

So I got into this band called David Crowder Band a couple years ago. Good stuff. "Illuminate" was a terrific album and an exemplary collection for any first-time listeners to DCB. These guys get the whole internet, modern multimedia thing better than most bands. Youtube videos of Ted Nugent sitting in at their barn studio to record a song for the "Remedy" album. Hand-drawn maps of the studio and charts of songs. A "Grow Your Crowder" fan site dedicated to David's beard. It was the music that got my attention first, though. Quirky, vulnerable songs with intimate lyrics. Unafraid. Totally unafraid.

I hate radio, cliche as that sounds. A few of my favorite albums could barely be played on radio. DCB's "Illuminate", mentioned earlier. Radiohead's "Thumbs Down" webcast. A particular Violet Burning album called "A Stranger In This Place: an experiment in vibe". That album is what I'm talking about. VB is an 80s-influenced indie rock band, but they recorded some of their most beautiful songs live-to-tape with hand percussion and dialed-down instrumentation. The timing's a little shaky. Percussion parts come and go midstream. It's live and vulnerable and spontaneous to a degree. There are intros so quiet I can barely hear them on my iPod at work, which totally won't work on the radio. I'd like to say I support my local Christian radio station, but I don't now and never have. I'd like to say I support my local college station. Let's be honest; most of them are just weird for weird's sake. What I'd rather say I support is indie artists who play quality music in an honest way.

I believe, deep down, that music is an art form and an expression of creativity. I experience a certain flavor of stage fright that I believe clarifies my point. I'm not a very good singer, to be fair, but I'm honest about that. I have no problem singing in front of 200 people. On a 12" stage at a coffee shop, well enough. In front of two people on a sofa, not so comfortable. It's very easy to accommodate for weak artistry with volume. Picture how much trouble men have "communicating" with women. Talking quietly on the sofa stereotypically spooks us, but karaoke in a bar does not. You should see my guitar gear; talk about a mid-life communication crisis.

So I'm dealing with this idea of starting over as a musician. I'm considering guitar lessons to get some input from outside what I already know. I'm constantly looking for open-mic nights, but I never go. I can sing, after a fashion, but it is more important to take the listener along than to impress them. Honestly, most of us will never have Christina Aguilera's pipes. (You don't; deal with it.) I think that I've already gotten the whole loud thing. I do that really, really well. I even do Quiet really well, when it's loud. I have been really out of touch with my quiet side for about a year now. My spiritual life, my music, the friendships I've started since coming to Atlanta. It's all been loud, very marketable and radio-ready. I look forward to doing Quiet quietly and actually saying some things sincerely.