Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pass The Coke, I Think I'm New Wave...

Shake is back. Kinda. We've re-arranged the lineup, so Shannon is no longer drummin', but playing her gorgeous baritone guitar in a bass-like fashion. Since her crazy Captain Beefheart sense of rhythm is no longer the driving force in the band (any band with that kind of drummer just has to accept that their drummer is, in fact, leading the band), the songs that we're coming up with are far more conventionally structured.

Maybe it's due to the fact that we're not playing with a drummer yet (know anyone?), maybe it's due to Shannon's relative inexperience on the bass, or maybe it's the fact that in the past 13 years of playing in bands, I've sorta gotten the "loudfastrules thrashthrashthrash" drive (largely) out of my system, but the music we're playing, while certainly punk rock, is nowhere near radical hardcore or anything. I have a feeling that with a drummer, we could gain some kick, but right now, our aggresssion level is set around, say Generation X. Certainly not easy listening, but SS Decontrol it ain't.

What I'm finding myself surprised by, although I shouldn't, is that we're starting to sound like that strange subset of bands labelled *gasp*... "new wave".

The problem is that I hate New Wave. The capitalization is important. I generally hold at arms' length the quirky, off-kilter, synth-driven form of pop music that immediately followed the initial punk explosion. It's usually all surface and sunglasses, and even though there are some great singles from that style in that era, if you throw enough shit at a wall, something is bound to sound like a good B-52's song, right?.

That's not the style I'm talking about really. I tend to follow the Keith Morris view that there is no such style as new wave in regard to punk, only a term used to describe the same music that is somehow less offensive in polite company. "Oh no, I don't like that disgusting punk rock, I like new wave music...". Didn't Seymour Stein invent the term so that people would still distribute Sire Records without the "punk rock" stigma attached to the Ramones and the Dead Boys? While this view is true, and as a punk rock sort of person, I agree... historically, there was a period immediately following the punk ground zero of about 1976 that lent itself to a stripped-down, pissed-off sound that was a little more literate, and maybe just a little more mannered than, say, The Germs. I'm thinking more of things like The Jam, Elvis Costello's "This Year's Model", the harder moments of the first Pretenders album, Blondie's "X Offender", etc. Things that aren't "punk" in the retroactively accurate sense of the term, but certainly aren't the quirky pop of XTC and Squeeze or the synth-driven sounds of the early MTV era.

Not that one man and a blog can make any difference in this matter, but can someone please help me defind this music? "Hard New Wave" sounds like a mid-80s gay porno, and to call it post-punk, while absolutely true, gives it a certain grey pallor that my mind usually reserves for bands from Manchester. Unfair, but that's the way my mind works. Talking Heads, while wonderful, were always too quirky, and rarely approached the straightforward "rock" sound that we're talking about here. R.E.M. was too folky and distantly collegiate, and Devo too contrived. Perfect example? "No Action" by Elvis Costello. Fast (but not too fast), simple, pissed off, well-put (so many turns of phrase!), and, if memory serves, all over in under 2 mintues. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. Under two minutes?!?! I do, however, intend to stay away from any Cars comparisons, mainly becuase they're sacred in my adopted hometown of Boston. But if you dropped the synths from "Just What I Needed" and "You Might Think" and sped them up to about 130 BPM, you're in the ballpark. Fenway, to be exact.

What amuses me the most is that while I feel we're playing in this so-called new wave style, due to modern technology (and, oh, 20 extra years of music), we also sound like a half-decent mid-90s post-grunge act. Same situation. Take the raw nerve revolution (I'm trademarking that phrase, by the way), and see what sort of pop crops up after the initial blast. Superdrag? Veruca Salt? Green Day? Big, loud, pissed-off rock music that stayed stripped down but doesn't have the bile of the "musical reset" (trademark also pending) of the revolution that came before it.

Forget it. We play punk rock. Let's just leave it at that.


  1. Totally agree with you man. I can't hear new wave without thinking of something like Pretty in Pink, and I can't hear Post punk without Public Image Ltd blaring into my head. While they were all in all a good band, Johnny Rotten just comes across as being the biggest asshole out there.

    In my personal opinion, labelling yourself punk makes you no better than Billie Joe Armstrong. Punk wasn't called punk until well into the middle of the movement, and to call yourself punk ruins the whole purpose. You seem like a cool guy so please do not think I am placing you in the same class as Armstrong. If I were you, I would have to go with Garage Rock or Proto Punk. From what you said above, you seem like the early Modern Lovers or Nuggets collection type. If you're punk, you're punk, and more power to you. Gabba Gabba hey

  2. Fair points, Red... well put. I think garage rock is probably a fair assessment of what we do, and double props for the Modern Lovers mention - a spot-on observation.