In Deep Ellum
modern bands in general

W   
ent to Deep Ellum Saturday (9/10) to see my nephew play drums. I feel a little out of place there (it being mainly for the twenty-something crowd) ... but it's a family thing sometimes. And I still enjoy an occasional night on the town ... couple of margaritas and no band is tooooo loud. ... especially if you've jammed a pocketful of tissue into your earholes.

We saw three bands perform (Evenmark - nephew on drums - was last, else we would have left earlier). The second band was most impressive in their consistency. They were just awful (though they certainly knew how to play their instruments). I say "awful" from the point of view of an aged rock 'n roll connoisseur. After all, I've been listening to this stuff since before these guys were born. What they did was just the "screaming band thing" and nothing more. I can't remember any words screamed or notes played or bass part or name of song or even ... the name of the band which either was not given or was also drowned out. Anyway, the sound was so uniform in its loudness that I began to fall asleep and this was no more than ten feet from the stage ... something like a soldier falling asleep during an extended battle. The young people liked them because they display the inner state of their consciousness ... fear, nervousness and a repressed desire to strike out at something.

However, showing an audience a reflection of itself (though it will make you popular to some degree) is not what people seek in music when they go out to pay money for it. What they actually pay for is to hear someone doing and being what they cannot do or be ... but would like to ... do be do be do. They don't want to see what is ... but rather ... what could be. For money, they expect and demand true musical-philosophical inspiration ... not a trip to the garbage dump or pig wallow.

Inspiring Rock 'n Roll ?!

No, I'm not talking bible thumping. Rather, the band must get up on the stage and perform superbly in all facets of its craft. They have to do everything right. This includes being sober and professional to start with (all the bands I've seen at this level do this just fine because if they didn't the "gig is up" so to speak, i.e. no saloon keeper will employ them if they fail at that level). You have to be famous to be drunk or juiced on the job. Then ... there's the music itself ... its composition and exposition.

Here is where the failure is.

When I go to the "honky tonk" (white bar ;o), I expect to hear Led Zeppelin or the Stones. Failing that, I expect to hear somebody trying their dammedest to rise to that level. I expect to hear a memorable tune that I can take with me and play over in my head while I'm stuck for twenty minutes in traffic trying to get out of freakin' Deep Ellum. But this doesn't happen.

Why?

Simple. It's too damn loud. It's not that I'm too damn old ... it's that the volume of the sound these people put out drowns out every part of the composition. Apparently, just about every indy band out there will accept in a performance what no neophyte studio hound would ... to equalize every instrument so that none can be heard above the other ... under any circumstances. In other words, there is no discrimination within the band ... everyone is equally deserving of being heard ... at all times ... regardless of the composition.

The Anti-Discriminator is volume.

There are only three basic parts to music. These are:

  • Pitch of a note
  • Duration of a note
  • Volume of a note
Everything about music is subsumed by these three. For instance, the term "expression" involves all three in various combination. Timing is subsumed by duration. The big problem in these bands comes from pitch and volume. They don't have much trouble with time because they know their instruments quite well enough. They have terrible volume issues ... and ... that begets pitch issues. I made this observation last night which I believe to be universally true of such bands.

Pitch spread is inversely related to volume

By this I mean that the louder you intend to play, the shorter the meaningful range between the highest note and the lowest. As a result, the compositions of indy bands are woefully inadequate in the area of "melody". I don't mean here Tchaikovsky or Rogers & Hammerstein that you whistle .. rather, rock & roll type melodies (short motives) that tend to stay exclusively in your head and yet are considered meaningful (because they make you drive faster and maybe your dick gets hard and you want to kill something - that type of meaningful ;o).

Now, you could point to the lead guitarist and say, "Hah, he's all over the place" ... but that's not typically where the melody is. And no "pig squeal" lick will ever be regarded (by me) as any kind of music at all.

This volume washout also extends to the entire repertoire of a band. They can't-won't play anything at all that's in contrasting softness. Everything is fast, loud and hard. And yet ... no experienced musician in any indy band ... is unaware that
no rock band ever succeeded with such a repertoire. Every single successful band has a variable repertoire to alternately soothe and incite the audience. Every last one of them knows that if everything is the same, you might as well shoot your career in the foot and go home ... permanently.

The long and the short of it is ... I go home with nothing in my head except maybe a hangover.

What is the cause of volume washout?

There are two possible causes. One is physical the other mental. Let's deal with the physical first because it's less complicated. It is this

drums are acoustic instruments
To change them into electronic instruments is probably unacceptable to real hardcore drummers. But this is exactly what is needed to play "full force" in a small venue. You see, the drums drown out the other instruments so they simply have to play louder to be heard. If the drummer could turn down the volume in a small house, the guitars could do so also ... then ... the lead instrument of the moment could be turned up above the rest in order to stand out. As it is, they all play so loud that none can be distinguished one from the other.
evenmrk2.gif - 6kb
The lead guitarist in Evenmark ... as in all other bands in these small venues ... cannot be heard distinctly. Hence, I don't know whether Dustin Kyger is a great soloist, mediocre or inferior. I can't hear him so I have no info on which to base a decision. I know that Cody McCubbin is an excellent performer and songwriter (from hearing him sing with acoustic guitar in my brother-in-law's house) but you might not guess it from a stage appearance because ... I ... can't ... hear ... you ... because of all the noise. The background must come down a notch so that a foreground can even begin to exist. Though I couldn't hear the notes played by the bass player (new guy? he looks familiar though) I did discern that his instrument was too soft (like an unfocused picture). It needs to "growl" a bit like a big carnivore if you know what I mean ... but this is an aesthetic issue unrelated to the volume issue. The drummer is ... of course ... a world class musician requiring nothing from this critic ;o) ... but maybe he could just bang the drum softly ... once in a while ... for part of the show ...

evenmark.gif - 5kb A possible physical solution is to put the drummer behind some sort of acoustic sound screen so as to deaden the volume. Then the others could tone down their volume and all could be heard. But ... you couldn't see the drummer too well. Hmmmmm ....

The other reason for having such a large volume is the simplest thing in the world. Fear. Plain and simple stark terror. It takes a lot of guts to get up and perform (I know I wouldn't dare to do that ;o). But that's not the hardest part. The hardest thing to do is to put your "soul" on display ... and ... expose it to derision. That is, you put on what you sincerely believe to be your best show and people Boooooo you off the stage. That's a tremendous incentive to cloak oneself in a protective shroud of volume. One can depend on it such that if people don't like the music ... they can blame the whole band ... not any one individual ... certainly not the composition since nobody can actually hear it.

All bands at this level seem to have gotten over "stage fright". But it takes a tough skin and a lot of experience to take a hit like "You are no good, right down to the core". You'd have to have experience, in the genre of music, on a scale like I have in the general field of ideas, i.e. I know that some of my ideas are good and others are stinkers ... so it doesn't matter what people think. I know this one thing for certain ... those who hate me the most, all have this in common ... they have nothing to offer of their own. The same is true in music or any other endeavor. It is a universal truth ... those who despise the artist most, will have nothing of their own to offer. Therein lies the risk and reward of presenting your own music. Some of it will be good, some will be bad ... you will be praised and derided for both the good and the bad ... but no one but you will truly know which is which. If you can accept that, you need have no fear of presenting your soul for ...

ritual stoning on the altar of creativity
Those who succeed in getting by this last hurdle by being psychologically-philosophically beaten up ... get "earn" the contract. Then, they get confidence from "sales" which is the only objective proof of value (but not necessarily virtue). I understand and acknowledge that some people get the contract without paying their dues ... like "The Monkees" ... but most pay full measure ... like "The Beatles". Or course, as ever ...

"If you believe in yourself all things are possible
... including failure"
- EBTX


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