2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 1
by Steven Spoerl
I don’t know where to begin. In all honest, at this very moment, I’m at a complete and total loss. The support and kindness lent to me and this thing that I’ve created has been gratifying beyond reason and some of the responses to the things I’ve shot, written, and posted over the past year (and some change) have been overwhelming on a deeply personal level. When I first started Heartbreaking Bravery, I did it so I could write about the things I love and publish them more immediately than an outside editing process would allow. I did it to keep myself in practice with writing. I did it so that there could be another outlet, no matter how small, to lend a greater focus to marginalized artists. I did it to celebrate DIY music, to celebrate great publications, and to celebrate great writers. I did it so I could write about live music documentation and so I could analyze the contents of great music videos. At no point did I expect to gain support from the people behind the art I loved. I did it so I could explore something like the idea that Sasha Geffen- a writer that I greatly admire and a friend that I greatly appreciate- helped me develop on a trip to Kentucky; a year-end piece that focused on moments in music rather than relying solely on individual lists of top albums or songs. At no point did I expect the site- or the idea- to start expanding into what they have become.
2014 was an extraordinary year for music. I listened to more new music than I ever have in the past, met some extraordinary people, became aware of a lot more things that were happening across the DIY landscape, and saw some people I know and admire start succeeding on greater levels. Today, it’s my absolute privilege to share with you the first portion of something I’ve been working on relentlessly for the past few months. Below is a compilation of musicians, label heads, music video directors, artists, and writers whose work I’ve admired from afar for lengths of time. Each of them has contributed a recollection of the music-related things that meant something to them throughout the past year. More parts of this series will be running throughout the week to grant the pieces the emphasis they deserve. I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to be hosting all of these pieces and am eternally grateful to each contributor. A quick note to them: each of you, whether you knew it or not, meant something to me before all of this insanity kicked off and you all now have my undying gratitude in addition to my unfailing admiration. So, without further ado, it’s my absolute honor to present: Heartbreaking Bravery’s 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 1.
Deserving of Gratitude
2014: the year my mom died, I got married and we released Tropical Jinx all within three weeks. Yes, really. It was the year of a lot of heartbreak and a lot of love. In May we found out my mother had stage four cancer, and a very short five months later we lost her to it. I wrote a eulogy two weeks after I wrote my wedding vows. I slept in hospitals for weeks. Music, whether I was listening to it, performing it, writing it, or interacting with its community, played a huge part in giving me strength and helping me through.
Things I’m grateful for in the year 2014:
In March, Ian (Little Big League’s drummer) and I (Michelle+Ian=MACHINE) turned twenty-five in front of exactly four people in a giant, brightly lit college auditorium. We debuted all of Tropical Jinx, played our entire discography in chronological order to two friends who’d come with us, and the sound guy and booker who watched us from two folding chairs in the back while smoking e-cigarettes. At the end of the show some old guy somehow affiliated with the school gave us our $500 check and asked if we had played two sets of one hour as the college had apparently requested in a contract that was never sent to us. I drank a can of high life in the van and maybe cried a little bit on the dark four-hour drive home while reflecting on what Max Stern from Signals Midwest and I refer to as a prime example of “The Struggle”.
Cleveland, in general
Everyone is always like—Cleveland sucks! Why on earth would anyone want to go there? It’s not even like we have some huge following in Cleveland. So why is it that anytime I tour, even if it’s five to six hours out of the way, I will play a show in Cleveland? And the reason is—Cleveland fucking rules! Every time I’ve gone to Cleveland I have had an amazing time. Even when we were sick and our van broke down in Cleveland we got put up in the craziest house I’ve ever seen. It looked like a sixties opium den. Lava lamps, fur rugs, and Soviet army hats were everywhere. We played Magic: The Gathering there for like eight hours while our van was getting fixed. Big ups to Jesse from Cherry Cola Champions! He is the nicest dude and has booked like every single one of our shows in Cleveland!
Also an awesome Cleveland person, Nina Holzer (who I know only by touring through Cleveland), always puts us up and is just everything you want in a badass, music-loving woman. Watching Bars of Gold play Brite Winter Fest in a filled-to-the-brims bike shop. These dudes have lived the struggle twice as long as I have and put on the most raucous show I’ve ever seen. Watching my friend get so drunk he tried to take a swig from a roll of duct tape before proceeding to fall asleep standing up during Bars of Gold’s set. Falling on my ass a million times while loading out of said bike shop in February on hard iced over snow, post so many shots of fireball. Happy Dog, where I got tater tots with a can of SpaghettiO’s and fried egg piled on top. What the fuck. You go, Cleveland.
People who spoke the fuck up
Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy, Christian Holden from The Hotelier, Max Stern from Signals Midwest. Joyce Manor. Saintseneca. Fuck anyone who says you aren’t hard. How could anyone get upset with an artist who chooses not to work with other artists or promoters who were publicly accused of domestic violence and rape? Or for stopping a show because young, stoked girls at the front are getting pummeled by dudes twice their size, making them feel even more like they don’t belong there? The answer is —a lot, apparently.
I got socked in the face by a drunk front dude this year because I got all girls-to-the-front and wasn’t going to let two really aggressive moshers get in the way of supporting my friend’s band. And then I get hit in the face by the front man! This is a friend of mine, who didn’t apologize, because he thought I was punk enough or something and would think it was funny. Uh, dude. No! It means something when a front person says hey, let’s have fun, but look the fuck out for each other. Do you know how cool it is to watch people propelled to mosh around and crowd surf when your band plays live? It’s awesome! It very rarely ever happens at a Little Big League show, but every time it happens, I am so excited! I feel so fucking cool! I can’t imagine having the true good person-ness and lack of ego to say, hey, I can tell from here things are getting out of hand, cut it the fuck out. These people were just so impressively outspoken about what just seems so obviously right and fair, all the while under the spotlight of vicious online commentators and at the risk of losing what little money they probably make. Also, Azealia Banks! I just watched this interview and it is just so real and important and emotional. The way the two dudes in the interview condescend to her just drives me nuts. Just—bravo, thank you, and I’m sorry the world is so fucking horrible.
Albums, EP’s & Singles
Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste, Spirit of the Beehive’s s/t, Mitski’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek, LVL Up’s Hoodwink’d, The Hotelier’s Home, Like No Place Is There Is, Mr. Twin Sister’s s/t, Alex G’s DSU, Frankie Cosmo’s Zentropy, Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes To Love, FKA Twigs’ LP1, Crying’s Get Olde/Second Wind, Chad Van Gaalen’s Shrink Dust, Perfume Genius’ Too Bright, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Hundred Waters’ Murmurs, Makthaverskan’s II, and all the Ovlov and Porches. singles that came out this year.
Touring with Foxing & The Hotelier
This was our last big tour before I moved back to Oregon to be with my family. There was a lot of anxiety waiting for the dust of a hard, second chemo treatment to settle and see if we’d beaten it or not. I cried a lot because I just felt so guilty being away from my family during such a hard time. But it was also just the best tour ever. The Hotelier and Foxing are the very best dudes and are so, so hard working and talented and real. We went to Typhoon Lagoon. We went night swimming in Ft. Lauderdale. Christian Holden is just my hero. JP from Rescuer and I talked hours into the night like little girls in Tampa and I got to feed his terrifying, giant pet pig an enormous zucchini.
When we found out my mother’s cancer was terminal, my family went to Korea for a last vacation and as a way for my mother to say goodbye to her country. Our plans were shot down. My mom became violently ill and had to stay in the hospital the entire two weeks we were there. I slept there, by her side, every single night. We were planning an emergency medical evacuation to get back to the states. I called my partner from the hospital. I asked him to marry me. I asked him because I knew it would make my mom hold on a little longer. Because I didn’t want things to end that way. I wanted it to end with flowers and macaroons and my mom watching her only kid get married. Because I was in love, and it would have broken my heart if we’d just waited and she wasn’t there when the day did come around.
I saw my mother’s face light up as I walked down the aisle to Smog’s “Mother of the World”, and walked away, hand in hand with my partner to Wilco’s “She’s a Jar”. Summerteeth has gotten me through every single break up of my life, and to be all shit, I am a jar with a heavy lid and to find someone that just opens you up and loves all of you as you walk together to a buffet table lined with Korean BBQ? That’s a great feeling.
-Michelle Zauner (Little Big League, Japanese Breakfast)
Favorite Music Moment of 2014 — Ex-Cult at MACROCK
Every April, I take a trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia for MACROCK. The independent music festival is a twoday event in the Blue Ridge Mountains that I coordinated with a team of my friends in college. (MACROCK was once associated with James Madison University, but no longer receives funding from the school and is now a DIY production.) In the past, I’ve lost my voice by the end of the weekend from a combination of singing along, drinking, and catching up with my friends who either still live there or made the same annual pilgrimage I did. This year was no different. I got to see rad bands like Ex Hex, Amanda X, and Charly Bliss for the first time at Clementine. I watched the totally silly madness that unfolds without fail in that town during a Diarrhea Planet show. I discovered teenage sister duo Skating Polly as they tore up the Blue Nile stage, trading off guitar, bass, and Kliph Scurlock’s drum kit. But Ex-Cult was the band that made this MACROCK particularly exceptional.
When I first discovered the Memphis punk band last year, I became obsessed with their self-titled record. It was unruly but focused, an album overcome with vicious hysteria but anchored by tight instrumental skill. I had seen them live once before — at 285 Kent in Brooklyn the previous October — but that was before I’d spent much time with their recordings. My best friend Marisa’s band, Vulgar, played some shows with them and hearing her talk about Ex-Cult’s chaotic sets got me more than stoked to see them again at MACROCK. She didn’t get too specific, but urged, “You need to see them tonight.” Her word was good enough for me.
I skipped their official MACROCK show at Clementine for the aftershow at my friend’s house, My Mansion. It was well past 2am when Ex-Cult started playing, late enough that I had sobered up and reached the point of existing in a hazy blur, as is common by the end of MACROCK weekend. The room in which Ex-Cult played (one that I helped paint an unappetizing shade of orange many moons ago), was tiny. There’s always a mattress propped up on the back wall, though it’s been known to make its way on top of the crowd, usually carrying some adventurous showgoer. But that was the vibe of MACROCK itself: A weekend-long party for downtown Harrisonburg, one that kicks off Thursday night. And right in the middle of this citywide party was an aggro band playing a small room around 3am.
It wasn’t warm outside yet, maybe in the 40’s or 50’s at this point, but it felt like I sweat more in that hour than I have in my life. I had no idea they would play for that long — Ex-Cult was a punk band after all. I guessed 20 minutes tops. But Midnight Passenger was due out later that month and they must have played their entire catalog. The raucous corkscrew melody of “Knives on Both Sides” soundtracked bodies slamming against walls, “M.P.D.” riled up drunken attendees with metallic, discordant chord progressions, and one of my favorites, “Shot the Beehive” even had Marisa crowdsurfing. J.B. Horrell stared the crowd down with wild-eyed sternness throughout, expertly shredding through garage-psych solos without missing a beat. Chris Shaw growled out sinister lyrics with more violence and frenzy than
could ever be felt from their recordings. I was blown away. It may sound hyperbolic- but it’s true.
I know that it is because I don’t normally hang out in the middle of the crowd during punk sets. I’m skinny, I wear glasses, and just generally don’t enjoy close contact with other humans, even if half of those humans are my friends. But getting to watch Ex-Cult was worth any sweat and bruises that might come from sticking around and getting into the thick of it. I was constantly squeezed in between roughly four other people, so much so that my bra came undone on its own from all the bending, pushing, and shoving. Everyone was going totally nuts as I focused on the utterly impressive and consistent musicianship of this band as kids constantly crashed into them for a solid hour.
Eventually I had to leave — before their last song or two — due to heat and dehydration. I stumbled outside, my hair completely damp, and I must have looked like a rat that just crawled out of a sewer. I collapsed outside on some concrete next to my friend to recover. All I could think was, “I can’t wait to see them again.”
-Tess Duncan (writer/editor, Wondering Sound)
Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs
A package from Orchid Tapes showed up on my doorstep at the end of a very snowy and cold February. Inside the box was a piece of hard candy, a bag of tea, a small thank-you note, and a copy of Ricky Eat Acid’s Three Love Songs on baby blue vinyl. I had first become privy to Sam Ray’s electronic project at the advent of the new year; I was initially drawn in by the pulsating “In my dreams we’re almost touching” but soon found myself emotionally attached to his more melancholic compositions which favored the juxtaposition of faint piano melodies with washes of white noise and feedback.
I was fresh out of an upper-level composition and history class on electronic music and my discovery of Ricky Eat Acid allowed me to make the rare, immediate connection from the classroom to the real world. I could hear hints of Hugh Le Caine and I noticed a very conscious use of space consistent with a minimalist approach to composition- but I could also listen to Three Love Songs without ever trying to dissect the nuances of its construction. It was soothing and fluid and soon proved to be one of the rare albums that I could routinely get lost inside of. I made do with the digital version while my physical copy was packaged and shipped but I carved out some listening time on the evening the album arrived.
Up until the needle dropped, Three Love Songs had primarily served as my soundtrack to the frigid Wisconsin winter that was exacting vengeance on my city, its drones and swells mirroring the stillness of frozen trees and the punishing gusts of wind they would occasionally succumb to. In an indoor setting, however, the album radiated warmth and revealed its true sense of polarity. Alone in my bedroom with eyes closed to avoid any visual distractions or associations, Three Love Songs began to more clearly dictate an entire spectrum of emotions, from haunting uncertainty to elation to what can only be described as a consoling embrace. I began to truly connect with the album’s intimacy during that span of forty-five minutes lying on my bedroom floor, and Three Love Songs consequently served as my musical compass of 2014, a personal reference point that has kept me grounded throughout one hell of a year.
-Sam Clark (founder, Dimestore Saints)
HEY HALLWAYS “ABSENCE MAKES THE HEART FORGET”
Radiator Hospital toured out to California this summer- and while it was by far my best experience of the year- that is not what I want to write about. There’s too much, so let me focus on one part, which is the folks of the Bay Area and the art they produce. Maybe it’s a combination of the opposite sea’s salt and the genuine personalities of the friends I’ve made, but it all feels so real and true. A lot of these people probably have no idea, because in the grand scheme of friendship our ranks may be low, but I really cherish the heart-to-hearts I’ve had with some of them. Overcoming grief, self-doubt, and our own demons dominate many of the conversations we’ve had and they’ve truly split me open. And so, I was honored to play (the last show) at the House of the Dead Rat in San Jose. It was, by far, my favorite show of the five-week tour. Aside from Radiator Hospital, the show included Try the Pie, Joyride!, Pigeon Island, Wuv, and Tall Can. Surrounded by some of my favorite people and musicians, it felt like a dreamy haze.
At the end of the night, Jason Brownstein handed me a tape of his solo music. Jason’s one of those people I’ve mentioned above whose friendship and conversation I hold dear. We’ve discussed our fears of creating and pushing ourselves, something he even mentioned when handing me the tape, so I was wild about him releasing his solo music. Radiator Hospital put it on in the van when we left San Jose for Southern California and I immediately knew that it would be one of my favorite releases of 2014.
Jason plays in Joyride! and Permanent Ruin, but in June he quit his day job so he could write his first solo record in 6 years. Hey Hallways’ Absence Makes the Heart Forget is a collection of five songs that remind me of why I got into punk in the first place. You can hear the fear and conquering in every note and every word. Fierce guitars and melodic vocals envelope Jason’s thoughtful and self-aware lyrics. They question how he got to where he is, how he sometimes slips, and how he can move forward. In between songs are recorded pieces of conversations with his father, a seemingly complicated relationship perhaps addressed in the opener, “Proven Facts”. On side B is a 9-minute piece of lyric-less music that, for me, serves as a moment of self-reflection. The piece was recorded in 2011, two years prior to the tracks on side A but with the addition of his father’s voice. Side B says to me that we need the past to push us forward, to move us in the direction we want to go. Ending the tape on this note from long ago is a perfect nonlinear conclusion.
On the track, “Anything At All”, Jason sings the following:
Is it enough to justify spending all my time thinking about myself or how I got this mind or how to dispose of it or spending all my time trying to help somebody else? I’d rather wait inside, but I’m lucky to feel anything at all.
I think such thoughts every day. I go to therapy and spend a great deal of time on me, and sometimes I feel guilty for it. They could come off as selfish, these things we do, but they’re not. The music, the self-improvement, and the conquering of emotional pasts and presents are the things we need to get by in this life. Things aren’t easy in Absence Makes the Heart Forget and we are better for it. Where there was once forgetting, there is now remembering. There are feelings buried deep that have resurfaced and there are new feelings where there was once old dark holes. Hey Hallways confidently unearths a plethora of emotions and creates a truly resonate release. None of these emotions are anything we haven’t heard before- they are the same old feelings most of us deal with daily- but Hey Hallways presents them to us in a refreshing way and I’m glad to call Jason a friend who sheds new light on dark days.
-Cynthia Ann Schemmer (Radiator Hospital, solo artist, managing editor, She Shreds)
In January of 2014, LVL UP sat in a Holiday Inn somewhere in Indiana, after an 11 hour driving day doing 25 mph on a sheet of ice highway. The arctic vortex was in full swing, and sort of bumming us out, having cancelled what looked to be some really awesome shows with Pity Sex. Earlier that day Dave and I had posted the pre-orders to Frankie Cosmos’s Zentropy, the first LP we would put out as Double Double Whammy. Being totally unsure about how well the record would sell, we ordered a modest 300 records for first press. So, after having a really stressful and scary driving day in a white out blizzard, we finally got a chance to check our emails at the motel. Well, at some point during that day things had really snowballed (pun intended) for the Frankie pre-order- and to our complete amazement we had received 100+ preorders in less than 24 hours. From that moment on we knew that Frankie Cosmos would soon take over the world. That was a real standout moment in music for DDW!
-Michael Caridi & Dave Benton (Double Double Whammy, LVL UP)
Women In Music
I’ve been so inspired by all of the women kicking ass in this past year. The ones who kicked ass didn’t do it subtly and I think that has been my favorite thing about 2014. Also, Jawbreaker Reunion.
-Shari Heck (Cyberbully Mom Club)
2014 in Six Parts
I stayed up until three in the morning, and I still can’t remember everyone I saw this year and everything I heard this year and I can’t figure out all of my feelings about this year. I’ve been listening to Liz Pelly’s voice memos for inspiration. I want to say something elegant and resonant, but I’ve been failing, so here are my disorganized musings.
I used to be afraid of interviewing anyone, because I have lived my entire life under the impression that I have nothing interesting to say and that I ask weird questions. I have tried to take up as little space as possible in order to avoid bothering anyone else. I have often dreamed of disappearing.
Even though I have spent quite a bit of time this year working to unlearn a history of self-hate, sometimes I am still terrified to speak, so I wonder how I held conversations with Cynthia Schemmer and Meredith Graves and Katie Crutchfield without visibly freaking out.
Cynthia and Meredith and Katie are three of my heroes.
I still think about how Cynthia said that sometimes she’ll write an essay, then rip it apart and write it again, differently. I still think about what Meredith said about writing songs as a way to transform sadness. I still think about how Katie explained her writing process, how she takes forever to craft images.
Perhaps these conversations sparked a little bit of personal confidence. I realized that I am not insignificant. I realized that I am capable of forming friendships with women who inspire me. I realized that I can connect with others through honesty.
I was wearing a black skirt and tights and boots the day I wandered through the rain into Queens to see Priests and Downtown Boys for the first time. Katie Alice Greer talked about how she feels like Downtown Boys are not afraid of anything.
I am afraid of everything.
During one of her speeches between songs, Victoria Ruiz said that we should no longer be bodies defined by borders but beings created by liberation. Perhaps this will sound hyperbolic, but I felt like part of a revolution. I felt electric. I felt inspired and empowered.
And I realized that I have a voice.
I saw Neutral Milk Hotel. Afterwards, I could hardly speak.
I thought about leaving New York while standing by the East River and freezing and listening to All Dogs.
I thought more about leaving New York while walking down a street that smelled like snow and pepper and dead fish and listening to Great Thunder.
I thought even more about leaving New York while walking back from the library as fast as I could and trying to stave off a panic attack and listening to Perfect Pussy.
“This would all be so much easier if I had nothing more to say”
Angel Olsen gets me.
-Caroline Rayner (writer, Tiny Mix Tapes, The Le Sigh)
Last summer, at the suggestion of one of my professors, I decided that it was absolutely crucial for Charly Bliss to embark on our first tour. We all live in New York, so of course it probably would have made more sense financially to tour the East Coast, but I’ve never been one for practicality. Instead, we decided we would fly to Seattle the day after school ended and careen down the west coast in my best friend’s grandmother’s van.
Anyone who has ever booked a tour by themselves will tell you that it involves constant anxiety and the replies to your zillions of sent “Hey! We’re a band from New York and we would love to play with you in San Francisco/Olympia/LA…” e-mails are few and far between. When it came time to actually book our flights, I lied to the band, telling them that I was finished booking, when in reality I had only confirmed three shows.
It was right around then, after much Facebook band page surfing, that I discovered Girlpool. I can’t really describe it any way other than kind of magical, which sounds stupid, but is true. Digital interactions usually feel really blah, but finding Girlpool’s page reminded me of the first time I realized that I could look for music myself and not just listen to whatever my older brothers or my parents liked; subsequently gobbling up every Rilo Kiley song I could find and feeling like I had some special secret on my iPod as I rode the bus to and from middle school.
Listening to their music felt like that- like a secret. Like listening to someone’s diary, which is a songwriting cliche, but also true. In The Punk Singer, when Kathleen Hanna talks about her 1998 Julie Ruin record she says, “It sounds like you could hear a human being’s fingers all over it.” That’s what Girlpool sounds like. When I saw the obscure allusion to The Princess Diaries in their bio, I thought it was too good to be true.
A few months later, at the very end of our tour, we played with them at Pehrspace and I remember being really shocked by how the room was simultaneously silent and electric while they played. No one was checking their cellphone or anything, everyone was totally absorbed. The show happened to fall on the night that Cleo was graduating from high school and I still feel really honored that we got to be a part of it. We also played with SUSAN and Feels and I remember being awestruck the whole night. I didn’t even want to drink after the show, we just went and got milkshakes and talked through the night like forty times.
But really this is all exposition because my favorite moment in music this year was watching Girlpool open for Jenny Lewis at Terminal Five. Harmony and Cleo lived on my couch for a few weeks in October/November while they were in New York for CMJ, and as spellbinding as every Girlpool show I’ve ever seen has been, seeing them play for thousands of people, and opening for my all-time hero of all heroes, after having spent three weeks together watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, talking at length about being away from home for the first time, eating despicable amounts of Thai food… I guess, generally getting to know both of them for the two huge-hearted whip-smart g00fballs that they are, was really special.
While they were in the middle of “Alone at the Show” I tweeted “I LOVVVVEEE BEEEEINNNNGGG AAAA GIRRRRLLLL!!!!!!” from the balcony, and that’s exactly how I felt. As several witnesses can attest, Cleo’s parents included, I cried the whole way through.
-Eva Grace Hendricks (Charly Bliss)