2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 5
by Steven Spoerl
Four installments in and this series, designed to emphasize meaningful moments- on a personal level- in music throughout the course of 2014, is going strong. In the fifth installment, Space Mountain’s Cole Kinsler writes about Pile’s Rick Maguire and Pile’s Rick Maguire writes about Yautja. Additionally, David Sackllah writes about both great film and great music (a trend that will be repeated throughout the coming year), Stephen Pierce tackles confronting devastation, and Miranda Fisher looks back on an interview before looking ahead to her next project. As always, it’s an absolute honor to be presenting such extraordinary pieces from equally extraordinary people. Everything they’ve got to say is always worthwhile and their words here are no exception. So, enough introductory grandstanding (or whatever this is), and on to part five of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.
One Night, When Rick Went Solo
I moved to Boston for work, not really having any close friends in the area. I jumped into the music scene and found a bunch of my now-favorite bands. Ever since I’ve been heartened by how sincere and unpretentious everyone has been. I feel a pretty strong attachment to the city now. Sometime in June I saw Rick from Pile play a solo set at a house in Jamaica Plain. He played in a living room to maybe 30 or 40 people sitting on the floor. There was still some chatter in the room when he sat down and unassumingly began his set with “Purse and Fares”. I’ll never forget the sound of his huge voice in that little room. It was a really cool night. I was blown away, and may or may not have gotten teary-eyed a few times. How beautiful his songs were suddenly hit me. I went solo but the handful of people I met were all super nice and probably just as excited as I was. It’s always awesome to be a part of something like that because it feels so special. I’ll never forget it.
-Cole Kinsler (Space Mountain)
I wish I had something better prepared for this but the only thing about 2014 that is coming to mind and then consistently blows said mind is Yautja. Their album Songs of Descent is great. Also, we were lucky enough to tour with the likes of (New England) Patriots, Grass is Green, Fax Holiday, Big Ups, and Speedy Ortiz, and that was pretty great. Hanging out with old friends and making new ones.
-Rick Maguire (Pile)
A Case of Whiplash and Fireworks
2014 was a whirlwind of a year, with ups and downs both personal and social. I made a lot of new friends, grew apart from some old ones, moved back to the city I grew up after four years away, and began a new job. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the year, or any year, without the great people and music that I found throughout the year. I wanted to touch on two pieces of art here that blew me away, one that left me trembling in a theater and a four-minute song that tore me apart emotionally every time I heard it.
Part 1 – An accurately named film
On paper, Whiplash doesn’t sound like the most tantalizing concept: A prodigious student at an elite jazz school studies with an esteemed yet abusive teacher. The film pulls the audience into a world of technicality, constantly name-dropping great musicians such as Buddy Rich, drawing the viewer into a highly specialized world that means everything to the people involved. Thankfully, a knowledge of jazz, its styles, or its legends isn’t required to enjoy the film. The movie winks at that, about halfway through, when Andrew (Miles Teller), the aforementioned student, attends a family dinner with his uncle and cousins. The whole family keeps on bragging about his cousin’s mediocre achievements in football, as Andrew throws a tantrum for not receiving recognition for being accepted into one of the most prestigious jazz bands in the country. It’s a familiar sentiment for many, where one has reached a level in their concentration that is highly laudable, but the people they have grown up around, of whose approval they seek, don’t understand or care about.
Director Damien Chazelle does an exemplary job of pulling the viewer into Andrew’s mind frame, that of an obsessively ambitious musician who has eclipsed many of his peers, and refuses to back down when faced with obstacles. Only in his case, the obstacle is immense, the cruel, sadistic teacher of the top class at the top school, the fearsome Terrence Fletcher, played excellently by J.K. Simmons. Simmons delivers a tightly controlled performance, stalking his classroom with an icy cool that is always on the verge of becoming unhinged fury. Fletcher snaps often throughout the movie, subjecting his students, and Andrew especially, to a tirade of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Simmons doesn’t play it one-note, offering bits of approval, luring in his students with seductive techniques that they have a chance at winning his approval, typically before striking that down.
Whiplash is a thrilling battle of wills; one that also shows the isolation that can go hand-in-hand with ambition. Andrew pushes away his family and girlfriend to achieve his goal of being the best drummer and winning Fletcher’s approval, pushing his body to extremes and making some supremely reckless decisions. The film properly vilifies both student and teacher in their quest to push each other to a breaking point, showing how the extremity of talent or drive doesn’t always make a person likable or sympathetic.
What Whiplash does excellently, is build up its story, getting the viewer to care about its two supremely flawed leads, and then amplifying the stakes before leading into possibly the most thrilling third acts in cinema in the past five years. As Whiplash plows ahead to its finish, the viewer, like the characters, get locked into a full-throttle ride that leaves the heart pounding, and had everyone in the theater in a tight sweat. I can’t recommend Whiplash enough, a visceral journey that felt like a master-class in getting the wind kicked out of you.
Part 2- A little spark doesn’t mean you’re the only one
Three and a half years ago, I met the love of my life, a wonderful woman who is extremely strong, caring, and supportive. I count myself extremely lucky that she wants to be around me. Before that, I spent most of my life in middle school, high school, and college, very unlucky in romance. Like many teenagers, I went through a cycle of crushes. There were times I put myself out there, and got turned, and other times where I resigned to be a sad sack about it and keep it to myself.
There’s two parts to every crush. There’s the fun part, the part where you think the person might like you back. You’re filled with joy and excitement every time you see their name. Your phone vibrates and your heart jumps a little because it might be that person texting you. Then there’s the other part, the uncertainty, the longing, and the nagging feeling that it won’t end well. That’s the painful part, where you don’t know how the other person feels, but hope and pray that it’s the same way you do.
That second part is what grounds “Fireworks” by Radiator Hospital, and made it such a poignant song that when I first heard it, it made me relive every crush of my teenage years. Sam-Cook Parrott does the astounding job of including the song twice on his album. The first version you hear is sung by Maryn Jones of All Dogs, and presents the first character in the tale. She reminisces about a walk with a friend that “went further than we thought it would.” She wonders why he doesn’t call, imploring that her boyfriend isn’t at home. She knows it won’t work, and tries to forget him, even though she knows it’s futile. She asks if he felt the fireworks, and affirms, as if she’s trying to convince herself, that “a little spark doesn’t mean you’re the only one.”
On its own, the song would be a devastating tale of a longing feeling that isn’t returned, but the addition of the reprise towards the end of the album makes it so much more. This time around, you hear the exact same song sung by Parrott, from the male character’s point of view. The lyrics are almost identical, with subtle but important changes. “I think of them often, when he gets home” is changed to “I think of them often, when I’m alone”. “I looked at you like you meant something” is changed to “I looked at you, thought I’d never stop looking.” The meaning is similar, but the difference in words adds a layer of intimacy and authenticity to the song. The events and circumstances are the same, but both people remember them and feel them in slightly different ways.
Both “Fireworks” and its reprise are a master class example in songwriting. Few songs do as good a job as capturing such an intense, familiar feeling. By telling the story from both perspectives, Parrott makes it feel real, complicated, and intense. Hearing it brought me back to being 17, wondering if the girl about to go to college might actually like me back. It made me remember these vivid, specific memories in my life. I’ve talked to friends, who had a similar reaction from the song, applying it to situations in their life. Fireworks isn’t great just because it’s relatable, but the fact that it touches on something so specific and familiar, while being universal enough to apply to people of completely different circumstances, makes it a shining example of stellar songwriting.
-David Sackllah (i am full of light)
Reigniting the Spark
It’s hard, when you’re the obsessive type, to reconcile endings; to change.
The year began for me at a turning point. The outlet for my prior six years of singular drive and dedication– bicycle racing– had ended its season with a question mark hanging over it. Because of a knee injury, that trajectory was sidelined. Stir-crazy, restless, and of course wondering what I had been working toward and what I hoped to get out of it, that question mark only grew as time went on and the problem persisted– worsened, even. Panic set in, then desperation. Eventually, I settled on a sense of existential detachment: You know, that kind of place you can work yourself into where you’re kinda aware of just how stupid it is to be so passionate and depressed about something as ephemeral as whatever that object of your affection may be, but mostly you’re terrified, gripped by a fear of embracing the void and figuring out what’s next.
When you’re in that sort of dark place, you have to embrace what light exists- otherwise make your own. It’s an elemental thing. So I looked toward what had been there the whole time: The soundtrack, pushed from the background to the forefront.
Loveless has been a significant part of my life since 1998. I didn’t understand it then but I was fascinated and enraptured by the sounds that– as a kid that grew up on Crass, Born Against, and Reversal of Man– sounded impossibly otherworldly. That record, and then Isn’t Anything, the EPs, everything but the first 12” really, followed me everywhere, not stopping at bike racing. They were there during long summer rides, winters in the basement on the trainer or freezing in crosswinds, intervals and recovery timed to the pulsing spikes and valleys of whatever record was on. I wasn’t so far out of the loop that I didn’t hear about MBV in 2013 and my February that year was soundtracked by that, pretty exclusively. Immersed, I got to thinking about what my favorite new records were from the previous year and I couldn’t really think of any.
Of course, at that point, I was on the outside, looking in: Nothing new was making its way onto my radar, unless it was by a band that I cared about before putting on blinders. It used to be, though, that new music consumed me, as a part of– through my youth– several vibrant, active DIY punk communities. Cynthia Ann Schemmer, a friend of mine from when we were both living in Brooklyn, just published an absolutely jaw-dropping year-end piece on The Media wherein she writes of separating yourself from this conjoined twin that begins growing with you when you get into punk. Effectively, I had done this at age 26 when I decided to focus all of my effort away from that world, but I think that we’re all, for better or for worse, endlessly followed by that ghost. It haunts you everywhere; manifests itself in everything.
In my case, at the end of 2013, it showed up as that gut feeling that you get when you first hear something that instantly hits as relatable. It showed up, too, in dictating what, exactly, that means to me: Relatable is coming from house shows. Relatable is a sense of community and togetherness, which that world builds and nurtures. The friends that played in DIY punk bands a decade ago that are also carrying that ghost with them down divergent roads these days– they’re relatable. And there are so many of them. Listening to old friends forge new paths away from punk but still working within that ‘code of being’ that we all lived by in our more dogmatic days reminded me of how limitless we all can be. Seeing friends succeed while holding true to themselves is such a hugely inspiring and incredibly empowering thing to bear witness to, and it sparked a flame inside me.
I can’t nail down a single record or band that reignited that spark. There wasn’t a singular “a-ha” discovery but instead a heightened appreciation- in addition to my friends’ new bands finding success beyond basement shows, like Parquet Courts & Merchandise– for the music that had been there all along. MBV, Spacemen 3, Yo La Tengo: Loud, weird guitar music. Being without an outlet for whatever compulsion governed my actions when I was racing bikes, I dove in, down some wormhole or another trying to find music that embodied whatever it is about those bands that has resonated so heavily with me. One day it was the search for something repetitive and built around a drone, the next it was full-volume fuzz blasts, then the next day it was damaged pop. Eventually, all at once. Through Gimme Tinnitus, which became gospel after I saw it name-checked somewhere on some friend’s band’s page, the curtain was pulled back and I became aware of a whole world that had been passing me by.
I found out about Exploding In Sound Records and went through their entire catalog alarmingly fast. I was surprised to see that so many of the bands on Dan & Dave’s label that I was falling in love with were from within a two-hour radius of where I live. Continuing to turn over rocks, I found that an acquaintance of mine from a lifetime ago was making perfectly hyper jangle pop with some other folks as Bent Shapes, whose song “Hex Maneuvers” was one of my most-played songs after discovering it late last year, until their single “86’d in ‘03” dethroned it as my go-to song of theirs. I guess I really hadn’t been paying any attention at all: I had a ton of catching up to do.
The funny thing about feeling the level of excitement and newness that I found at that point is that everything becomes so incredibly urgent, immediate, and entirely possible. When I was young, I remember saying that I couldn’t imagine ever being at a point in life where I was not playing music. Though I remained a member of the mostly-hibernating DIY punk band Ampere, I barely touched my guitar in the time between my first and last time racing a bike. 2014, and the bands I heard in 2014, pushed me to change that. Obsessively, I went for it full-blast. Fast forward to the end of spring, and I had written about fifteen songs for a new band that began in late February.
Who knows fully what would or wouldn’t have been possible with or without the records that I heard and drew inspiration from this year; I think each one has been as important as the last, and will be as important as the next. It’s about filling space and finding that essence- that indescribable feeling of childish excitement and abandon. Some sort of connection. Each record that has factored into my life in 2014 has provided me with exactly what I needed through my darkest moments of reflection: A light.
It’s got to be the biggest cliché in the book to note that from even the most disappointing endings comes the promise of a new tomorrow. When one dream comes to an end, another is right around the corner, etc. etc. I guess the key is to not get too bogged down in grieving what’s departed, to continue to move forward. To apply everything you’ve learned from one path in life to another. There are universalities everywhere, ways that everything can seem to line up and connect. The ghost of the past can show up in anywhere. I can’t help but see this past year as a blur: Darkness faded into optimism, a sinking feeling of hopelessness transitioned to dedication & drive, and all along the way I was taken aback at how very fortunate I am– we all are– to be a part of whatever it is that we’re a part of, right at this very moment in time.
SOME OF MY MOST-LIKED THINGS IN 2014:
THE RECORDS FROM 2015 THAT ALREADY RULE:
-Stephen Pierce (Kindling, writer, Exploding in Sound)
Interviewing Neil Hagerty
At this point in my life, I’ve done enough interviews and I know myself well enough that I’m well aware I’m always going to get nervous before interviews. It’s just a given. I’m prone to anxiety anyway, and when you add in the excitement of talking to someone whose work I respect and the pressure of trying to get some usable material out of it, my nerves multiply exponentially. In 2014 I was lucky enough to interview a lot of my favorite musicians, and from Cheetah Chrome to Life Stinks, my heart was always racing in the moments leading up to the interview. But nothing compared to the sheer panic I felt on my way to interview Neil Hagerty in Denver last May.
I’m sure part of my anxiety was due to the fact that I am an embarrassingly huge fan of Hagerty and his work with Pussy Galore and Royal Trux — I think he’s the greatest guitarist of the last 25 years, at least. But the intensity of this particular freak-out was largely due to the fact that I was going it alone. Since my friend Jon asked me to create the writing section for his then photography-only zine, Rubberneck, in 2012, he has been at nearly every interview I’ve done. He takes pictures, he cracks jokes that get cut from transcription immediately, but most importantly to me, he’s a calming force. Just having one of my best friends in the room with me gives me the confidence to get through situations that otherwise would have undoubtedly sent me spiraling into a panic attack were he not there. Which is exactly what happened in the car that night in Denver. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking, my heart from racing. I practiced breathing exercises to try to calm down. I was dipping out of a ladies’ weekend to go see Hagerty’s current project, the Howling Hex, and interview him. And although my girlfriends are wonderful and supportive (shoutout HFC!), they had no clue who this guy was or why I was so worried about fucking everything up.
But I somehow managed to not fuck up! We talked and he was nice and didn’t say anything about my nervous stuttering or the tremors in my hands. Instead, he gave thoughtful, revealing answers to all of my questions (which you can read in Rubberneck #10.) Seven months later, I’m sure he wouldn’t recognize my name, much less pick me out of a lineup. But that night I couldn’t have asked for more from someone I was interviewing, down to his offer, in the brief, terrifying moment I thought I’d lost the recording, to meet me for lunch and redo the whole thing the next day. Then the Howling Hex played and I finally got to see Hagerty on guitar. Every riff, every solo was perfect, seemingly effortlessly so. The man is a guitar wizard. The way his hands move is inhuman. Ten seconds into their set, I felt a catharsis. By the ten minute mark, a reverie. Of all the great sets I was lucky to see last year, nothing came close to the electricity I felt while watching the Howling Hex.
There were six people watching.
I don’t know why I get moved to panic over a musician whom the population of the bar couldn’t be bothered to swivel on their stools to watch. Are they wrong? Am I? (Both?) All I know is that the Howling Hex’s set that night meant more to me than to anyone else in that room, and more than anything else last year.
A month later, when Jon told me he wanted to end Rubberneck, I was heartbroken. I cried basically nonstop for two months. And when he suggested I start a new zine, it made me angry. How could I do it myself? But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the possibilities, the opportunities to do things I couldn’t with Rubberneck. And so going forward with my new zine, Casting Couch, while I know that Jon’s going to be there with me — whether he wants to admit it or not — I also know that I can do it alone if I need to.
2014 was a shit year in so many ways, both global and personal. But it was also the year that I interviewed Neil Michael Hagerty. And I did it by my god damn self.
Casting Couch: coming April 2015.
-Miranda Fisher (Rubberneck, Casting Couch, The Zoltars)