2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 7
by Steven Spoerl
To get this out of the way up top: this site’s been going through a lot of planning phases lately and everything’s being collected as it appears. It’s been a while since the last post (mostly due to a new full-time job and splitting time between two active bands based in two cities nearly two hours apart) but that silence is coming to an end now. Initially- when I pitched the idea of a “meaningful moments in 2014 music” piece (one that had been built off an idea that grew out of a conversation with Sasha Geffen on a road trip to Kentucky) to the wonderful and absurdly talented, writers, musicians, artists, label heads, music video directors, and people- I had intended to run all of these together. Before long, it became extremely apparent that there was simply too much great content to do service to all of the pieces. It was extraordinarily humbling to piece everything together and even though this will be the last traditional post of the series, it’s far from over. There will be an epilogue that ties up everything with a bow just a little ways down the line.
Until then, this site will be going into overboard catch-up mode, featuring the best songs, music videos, and records to have been released in 2015. While all of that will bring some exciting new changes to this site, it’s the part of the paragraph where it’s time- once more- to reflect on what made 2014 so great. Below are pieces from a few of my favorite people in music and music writing, who I hold in the highest possible esteem, as well as my own personal reflection. And, lastly, a quick note to all of the people gracious enough to agree to this project: 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. 7.
fast like light (august 2014)
How do you tell a secret that’s already told a thousand times a day?
This was August, and I had a bruise like an egg on my shin because I’d tripped over a gazebo in New Hampshire two days before. I’d hiked a whole mountain in my Vans with all my stuff on my back and my leg leaking into my jeans. Now I was in Brooklyn, where the air smelled thicker. The sun puddled up on the crooked streets.
I dropped my bag at Eric’s so I could walk without lugging it. He lived with Nadia in a railroad apartment in Bushwick, the kind of building with black iron scarred across the front. We hadn’t met before but I’d reviewed his tape a few months back, and he remembered my review and gave me a real tape to take back to Chicago with me. I opened the door to the bathroom instead of the stairwell when I tried to leave, and we both felt awkward and laughed.
The day moved slow. I met people I’d known online for years. There was a show in a hot loft. Eventually, we sat in Eric’s kitchen again, his windows blank to the night and fringed by pulsing Christmas lights.
Yeah, Christmas lights in Bushwick. But we also sipped tea out of small, worn mugs, and the show had been so good we couldn’t stop laughing. None of us had really had anything to drink, but we were tired, and excited, and full of the buzz that comes with warm, new love.
I mean love like friendship, the kind you get when you meet someone you’ve been talking or listening to forever, and the whole person is just as good as the parts you glimpsed, even better.
The apartment was stacked kitchen to music room to extra room to bedroom. Everyone went home but me, because I was sleeping on Eric and Nadia’s floor in the extra room. It was two or three in the morning, and Eric and Nadia were going to track vocals on one of Nadia’s songs.
I sat on the air mattress in the next room listening. They’d recorded instruments onto the computer already, and Nadia was making up the lyrics as she sang. Her voice was good and clear, like she’d had lessons once, or maybe just practiced a lot. Some of her takes were airy, whispery, then she’d cut through the whispers with a sharper overdub. She was trying to figure out what sounded better.
I wish I could remember her lyrics. I sat still, like I wasn’t there. You don’t break something like that when it happens.
She sounded like she felt so safe there, in the quarter of the home they’d sectioned off for music. Both of them had day jobs, too. They didn’t get to do this all the time. They made what they could, because they loved to. This is what I mean by a secret.
When they were done and the song was a little more finished than it had been before Nadia went to bed and Eric and I stood talking in the music room. Her project didn’t have a name yet but I told him how good it sounded from the next room. I still don’t know if it has a name.
We talked until about five hours before I had to get up to go to the airport. In the morning I would leave before either Eric or Nadia woke up, slip out the front door, and take the subway into LaGuardia. But it was four, and I wasn’t tired and Eric wasn’t tired, so we stood talking about the friends we had in common, the music they made, how lucky we were to know their music while it was young.
-Sasha Geffen (editor, Consequence of Sound, writer, basically everywhere else)
Finding Strength within Yourself While Working With Music
On sunny days I go out walking I end up on a tree-lined street
I look up at the gaps of sunlight I miss you more than anything
I was walking down Eastern Parkway on a Sunday, early afternoon in the summer. Chris was texting me, again reflecting the fierceness of Mitski’s lyrics of her then unreleased Bury Me at Makeout Creek. This is a subject that Chris and I found ourselves enraptured in often, and continue to delve into at great length today. The sun was shining, and I marveled at how her lyrics described the very street I was walking down. I made it to my doctor’s office and sat in the waiting area with three or four children, yelling about squatter’s rights of the Lego table. Their parents were disengaged, and I matched their stares at the ceiling. It was cracked and dirty, and left you wondering, “How did something that color orange get up there? What is that?”
This was my fifth, maybe sixth visit to this doctor within a month. I was currently diagnosed with a myriad of titillating, polysyllabic phrases, mostly boiling down to “your hormones are messed up big time in a serious way.” From my burgundy waiting room chair, I remember thinking to text Chris something like (though I am certain that I never did, as the joke was never really developed), “Mitski’s line about not being able to afford ‘the drive I need to go further than they said I’d go’ is probably about the G train.” I laughed at myself, then got extremely anxious. My doctor opened the door and waved for me to follow her.
Sometimes the human body stops working, or a part fails. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was seventeen. It taught me that when your body stops working, and it will at some point, there are ways we as humans compensate. But no one is invincible. I had a thyroidectomy, went through radiation therapy, and was put in isolation in my childhood bedroom for weeks. I take pills every day to fill in as my missing, malfunctioned body part. I will take them every day until I die. Sometimes, though, even the ways we find to compensate for our bodies don’t work.
I found myself at the doctor’s office on this particular day, and basically every visit since May, because my medicine was not working. I had ignored symptoms of it not working for months on end. These symptoms included, but were not limited to, frequent panic attacks, inexplicable long sessions of uncontrollable crying, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, etc. I was spending so much time hiding and sobbing in bathroom at my office, that I had developed a system of guessing when the stalls were most likely empty. Even at my least lucid, I knew that crying alone was most suited for the office environment. My poor parents would have their regular calls cut off by my spiraling into a gripping fear that my boss’ fish would die and I would be fired. I was not myself. I was all of the saddest, least brave parts of my psyche at once. Eventually I was looking out windows and thinking about jumping out of them, and that was about the time that I knew that I couldn’t chalk this up to something I needed to handle on my own. I was later told that my hormones were so imbalanced, not only was I experiencing these extreme emotional side effects, I was at high risk of promoting irregular cell growth and my cancer would likely return if my dangerous hormone levels continued to go unaddressed.
It’s one thing to hear that you have cancer. It’s an entirely other thing to hear that you might get cancer again. Cancer is like winning the lottery or the opportunity to smoke weed in college: every time you get it, the higher the probability is that you will get it again. And while I’m not sure that bit about the lottery is true, I can tell you that I most certainly never want to get cancer again. And so I sat in the doctor’s office, walked 45 minutes each way to and from the doctor’s office, and would contemplate what my different blood tests would reveal in the moments in between, all the while enveloping myself exclusively in Mitski’s music. Her lyrics would weave in and around the folds of my brain. She taught me ways to put words together that I didn’t even know existed. Her fears, her love, her desires mirrored mine. She sings the kind of songs that make you feel like she is singing these words into your mouth. Even when I was full of fear, I found comfort and strength in knowing I was not alone.
As I began my walk back to my apartment that day, I sent Chris an equally under-thought (but somehow more worthy) joke about how I was prescribed ice cream this week. He replied asking for a referral. And it made me laugh out loud. It made me laugh through the tears and the confusion and the fear I lived with constantly. And for that reason, I felt close to him. I also felt close to him because, beyond our discussions of Mitski and her music, we also could talk about Taking Back Sunday and Bruce Springsteen and how much we love disgusting fast food and how much we love our parents. The night I met Chris, about a month after the height of my symptoms, he was leaving a party early to go see Mitski for the first time at Death By Audio. I had just drafted a track post about her new single for PORTALS and assured him that her performance would be well worth missing out on the party.
It’s beautiful out today, I wish you could take me upstate
To the little place you would tell me about when you’d sense that I’d want to escape
Mitski and I, like Mitski and Chris, met through her music. Her incredibly candid lyrics made me feel like I knew her much more than I did. This is probably because when I heard the first single she released, I did not know her at all. Her artistic creation had accompanied me to doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her songs sat with me on subway trains to and from work. They sunk to the foot of my bed as I screamed into pillows, erratically. Think Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I listened to “Drunk Walk Home” on the occasion I was, God help me, under the influence and walking home. When I wrote about her music for PORTALS, she thanked me graciously, as she is very gracious. “First Love // Late Spring” reminded me of a gust of exploding wind, dust billowing into doves. “I was so young when I behaved twenty-five, and now I find I’ve grown into a tall child,” Mitski sang. In between hiccup-laden breaths, I would find strength in her biting sense of humor and total agony in the very feeling she was describing.
I went to see her play a few times, and I talked to her between sets. When she told me about preparing for the record’s release, I offered my humble abilities at writing a short bio for her album announcement. We began emailing back and forth about this and that. At one point, when I was at a friend’s birthday party, I drunkenly texted her asking if she would want to put the record out a tape. This never came to fruition, or was spoken of again, as many things I ask about while drunk at birthday parties.
When I listened to Mitski’s music, I heard all of her feeling, her talent, her words, but I also heard a soundtrack to my own life. It rang like a bell. But perhaps that is why humans make music at all, to connect. And Mitski is extremely well versed in the art of connecting. She shares with great purpose. And the words and sentiments she was sharing were not just present in my life, but also lighting a fire within me, much like I imagine is the same with many of her loving supporters. In the midst of the sludge, the uphill battle I faced in righting the wrongs in my body, my ears perked. When falling in love with music, specifically, your blood gets warmed in an emotional incubator- and this gets you kicking. There is a light that awakens you, but it’s coming from your headphones, and then it comes within you. Instead of looking to someone else for purpose, you look inwardly, contemplating what this music means about the world around you as a whole.
Chris and I continued to hang out, run into each other at shows, trade music videos of our favorite horrible pop punk bands back and forth. We even drove to Baltimore together to see Taking Back Sunday, and I skipped my regular Sunday doctor’s appointment. My health was improving, though. By this time, Chris had met with Mitski regarding management, and had started a conversation with her about the future of her career. I had let her know anything I could help with, I would. That’s the other thing about falling in true love with someone’s music, much like falling in love with the person themselves: the more you get, the more you want. Mitski sent Chris and I Bury Me separately. And once we realized we both had the record, we could not be satiated. Discovering every nook and cranny of this album was our journey to the center of the Earth. We each saw her perform as much as we possibly could, usually together. Before one of her sets, I “performed” a DJ set from the safety of a Spotify playlist that consisted mostly of Blink-182 and Gene Chandler. Chris was late for my introduction, but we were both front row the moment “Townie” began.
One night, Chris and I were walking to our friend Jesse’s house in Greenpoint. We were weaving around the BQE, considering McDonald’s as an actual option for dinner. Chris was talking about the trajectory of Mitski’s career, where he could see her in three, five years. I told him where I could see her in ten. Chris began talking about what we could do managing her together, mostly in the short term. It wasn’t necessarily something we had discussed seriously before, but not something we hadn’t mentioned in passing. The more he talked about what I could bring to the table, the more I realized that this could become a reality. I had never been joking, but had always managed to be laughing when talking about the prospect with him. Once she texted us separately that she could see us working together with her music, referring to us as something of a dream team.
My grandfather died in the fall. He was very wise, and he was an amazingly intelligent man. He taught me my favorite flavors of ice cream and how to play Connect Four. He taught me about country music and how to laugh at anything, how to have a sense of humor. He taught me that it is important to live your life the way you want to live it, because then you will be happy. These are also traits that I see in my parents, my mom, his daughter. I stood in the driveway of my mother’s apartment complex while on the phone with Chris two days before the funeral. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about, as I was elsewhere. My dad would try to distract us both by asking questions about Mitski. I showed my mom a video of her playing that I took at Cake Shop. It seems crass, perhaps, to be thinking about anything at all at a time like that- but there are times when pain is best escaped and not faced. My parents are strong and they held us together, held me together. We talked about things we missed, things that hurt, and then things we had to look forward to. I do remember that Chris went to see Mitski play a show with her full band that week, while I was away. When I returned, we had a signed contract saying Chris and I were now her managers.
And while you sleep I’ll be scared
So by the time you wake I’ll be brave
Mitski’s music didn’t save me. Her lyrics didn’t heal me. Listening to her songs again and again and again and talking about them ad nauseam with Chris, my parents, and anyone who would listen to me ramble didn’t make any of my problems disappear. However, what Mitski and her music did do is much more powerful. In listening to her music, those moments walking down Eastern Parkway, in being reminded of how music can make you feel, how powerfully it connects our human brains together and tethers them together for life, I found strength in myself to face whatever came my way throughout the year. For good measure, when I go to the doctor next Sunday, I will listen to her record and I will text Chris, as I have for months now.
These experiences as a whole reminded me of why I work in music at all. It kept me believing in not only myself, but also what I, Chris, a team of excellent people, and above anyone at all Mitski herself could do to build her life and career as an artist. When we’re on the phone with her lawyer, or Double Double Whammy, or a potential booking agent, I think about what her music will create for people in the future. I want her to tell her story, and continue to foster this amazing talent she has for connecting to that microphone wire to the ventricles of her listener. I want to have everyone listen her music to hear it and allow her screams and howls and croons to lead them to something true and beautiful in themselves, like it did for me. To be a part of this, for me, is to live.
Save the Scene: Eight People Who Taught Me How the Music Industry Should Work in 2014
As with every year before it and with every year to come, 2014 was all about change. That’s all we ever do and, as creatures designed to grow, that’s what we do best. I was incredibly fortunate to find a real foothold in the music journalism industry this year and to watch myself adapt to the feel of it all. It seems so long ago, but somehow 2014 saw me finish up my final semester of college, graduate, travel all over the US, and write a ton. As exciting as all of that is, those aren’t the things that come to mind when I look back on 2014. What does are the incredible people I met, especially in regards to music.
Music journalism is a blind walk through an overcrowded room with a wall of amps turned up to full volume. It’s competitive, it’s loud, and no one actually knows what they’re doing. No one tells you what to do in this field. As digital trends take over and we’re continually forced to reinvent the way music consumption operates, those in charge are fumbling with the remote control. The rest of us watch wondering what button they’re going to press. Well, most of us.
There are a few people out there who don’t want to wait around. They’re happiest when taking action. Naturally, these eight people are all incredible workers—authors, photographers, fans—and fit right into that description. While 2014 was filled with a slew of incredible opportunities, albums, and bands, the best part of the year was seeing those who went out of their way to teach others how the music industry should really work.
DeForrest @ 285 Kent Goodbye show
When 285 Kent was closing, I wandered into New York to see Laurel Halo. I was alone, drawn by the general infatuation with an artist that has enough allure to give you confidence standing idle in a DIY space where people smoke inside and reveal insider data with a flippant shrewdness. A mutual friend suggested I meet up with his old friends from from Tiny Mix Tapes, and after a few miscommunications regarding who was wearing what color shirt, we found one another. For such an in-the-know website, I was expecting its authors to be taciturn, brainy, witty but inane. At their core, they were. They cracked jokes that bounced off remarks not yet made. They kept their voices down, but talked frequently, each with his own distinct pace. It was a great farewell show. When keeping in touch afterwards, however, I learned a lot, particularly from DeForrest. He writes to exceed the highest bar, pushing himself to provoke an intellectual discussion with whomever is reading the material, regardless of the musician at hand’s popularity, product, or longevity. He goes beyond flowery descriptions. He expects a level of determination from the reader, and that in itself demands a great deal from him, too. Over the course of the year, he took time to reach out with in-depth articles, collegiate-level discussions, and musicians that pushed the boundaries. What really stuck, however, was the direction he faced. In a year that drowned itself in clickbait articles, DeForrest marched straight ahead with a well-stitched flag of high-quality content, singlehandedly proving that the music industry should expect more of itself – because both an author and audience are hungry for it.
Christine @ Allston Pudding
It goes without saying that you should support your local scene. Bands grow from word of mouth. If it weren’t for people coming out to shows, buying merch, and listening to their records after the fact, their music would have a hard time taking flight. Supporting your scene means giving them that foothold, showing someone cares. No one embodies this more in Boston than Christine. Despite seeing her at shows all the time for a year or so—trust me, she’s hard to miss, even though her height should technically make her easy to miss—we never talked until 2014, especially when both writing for Boston’s music blog Allston Pudding. Hearing that passion for Boston’s local artists coming straight from her mouth was enough to get anyone psyched, even if they couldn’t remember the last time they bought a record or went to a concert. In an age where promotion teams are at one another’s necks trying to get their roster on Rolling Stone, it’s difficult to truly stand up for music you believe in that has yet to be influenced by larger masterminds. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with that. Being able to decide you actively enjoy what’s coming straight at your ears separate from their name or the URL link you’re hearing it from, though, takes some clear thinking to figure out. Christine knows about new acts before their demo tapes hit the web because she’s constantly at shows. She’s in the front row, listening to people play their heart out and applauding them for it, even if it’s not her cup of tea. She’s the reminder the music world needs that you can support musicians without being a diehard fan. Giving someone a single thumbs up makes a huge difference. So when your backyard is ringing with the noise of a dozen new bands, staying inside becomes the obvious error.
Ryan @ SXSW
There is so much happening all the time everywhere. As Lindsay Zoladz discussed in her essay on hyper consumption and digital exhaust, the digital age is running so quickly that there’s no time to stop and properly digest. Instead, most everything passes us as a vaguely recognizable blur. SXSW is the festival-equivalent. There’s nonstop shows every single day, with a dozen secret events being held around Austin, from house shows to 3am performances on a bridge to impromptu bill swapping. It’s hard not to fall into the trap. There’s a fear of missing out, for sure, but there’s a fear of underappreciating. You want to make sure you’re taking away exactly what there is to be extracted, that your consumption of that moment is chewed slowly and with great attention to detail while still swallowing that bite fast enough to try something different shortly thereafter. As a photographer at the festival, I found things to be chaotic but enjoyable. The shutter moves so quickly that you can reflect on the taste of your so-called meal later on. As an interviewer, however, things are a bit different. I worked alongside Ryan and several other Stereogum writers that week. Watching how they operated felt like walking abroad the Titanic as it sank. People were scurrying everywhere, often drunk and directionless, but their staff stayed calm. It was as if their heads were above the water. They took their time with every endeavor. Every interview would be done with slow pacing, giving the artist time to think before, during, and after speaking, making space for any words that could spill out like drowsy dribble. If you’re going to write something, you need to take your time with it. You can’t be pressured by the various clocks spinning around you. Sure enough, more of Ryan’s work would pop up over 2014. Every feature held tight to its pacing, every paragraph exhaled with soothing resolution. He took his time with his work, and every piece encouraged others do the same.
Photographer @ Governors Ball
The music industry is both tightly structured and casually loose. Because of that, it’s easy to get involved. That also makes it a discouraging toil. When waiting in the main stage pit at Governors Ball, I noticed one photographer pacing back and forth in a green flat-rimmed hat with small ducks on it. Thanks to that hat, I realized I had seen him at various other festivals that summer. He’s young, around 22 years old or so, and average height. In the pit, he looks even smaller. The other photographers toss giant canvased camera bags around their hip while balancing one monstrous lens in one hand and their enormous camera in the other. They wait for the bands to step onstage with a slightly bored look, one that speaks to their familiarity with it all and the privilege they get to be the closest ones to the artist. It’s an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re a young photographer, but he appeared to be unfazed. For a few minutes, we began talking, and I asked him how he was able to get passes to shoot if he was working for a smaller blog. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just ask.” It’s obvious, but it doesn’t get said enough, especially coming from a small, independent blog. That photographer reminded me that it doesn’t matter how old you are, who you’re working for, or what your resume looks like. If you want something, keep asking for it. The worst is you’ll get turned away.
Steven @ Pitchfork Festival
The internet is cool. It can be an awful place, for sure, but it brings together all sorts of people, and thanks to a quick introduction from a mutual Twitter friend, I got to meet Steven (yes, this Steven). We both were attending Pitchfork’s summer music festival and were running around Chicago’s grassy field trying to take in every blissful set. It wasn’t until after, once I was back home and face to face with the internet again, that I began to learn a lot from him. He’s a writer and photographer with one of the most giving hearts. He applauds others for their successes. He highlights the overlooked. He drives long hours to attend a small house show. The running thread through it all? His support for his friends. Steven goes out of his way to see, read, and promote any work he finds important. In a straightforward way, most of us do this. We like what we like and enjoy sharing it with others. However, we place ourselves ahead of our friends, putting their efforts on the backburner when it isn’t a convenience for us to do otherwise. For Steven, that’s not the case. He constantly sets aside time to hear people out. He listens to his friends’ new songs. He’ll take a minute to read another pal’s review. If there’s one thing the music industry needs, it’s a network that uses iron bars to hold itself up, not paper straws. We need to be on the lookout for one another, giving credit where it’s due so we can continue to look in that direction again and again as time carries on. With all the staff cuts and job slicing, the music industry is in need of support. It needs some hugs and it needs some honesty. Over the course of a few months, I learned that may not be as impossible as it sounds. When we look out for one another, it creates a stronger shield to defend with, and Steven makes it clear how effective that can be.
Mark @ Pickathon Festival
Nestled off at Portland’s edge is a small grassroots music festival called Pickathon. It focuses on being family friendly, ecofriendly, and generally friendly, but particularly while drawing a finely curated list of acts to come perform in the middle of the woods. I ventured off to the festival alone, prepared to enjoy excellent music, but soon found there was much more to it. After plopping down in the grass to watch Hiss Golden Messenger, an older man next to me leaned over and asked where my festival bracelets were from. He and his wife soon started talking about all the sets they had seen over the years at Pickathon. They had been going to shows for decades. He dragged her to see My Bloody Valentine a dozen times back before they broke up. He had an audio recording of one of Nirvana’s opening sets a month before Nevermind came out where a mere five people clapped after they played “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Mark pulled out a schedule for the weekend and we began comparing our top picks. Over that weekend, he, his wife, and I would steak out front row spots and trade stories of our musical experiences. They introduced me to their child and his friends. Despite them being the age of my own parents, we got along just fine. It was people united by an interest, not an image. For that, Pickathon is a magical place. There’s no denying that. What makes it special beyond that is Mark leaning over to introduce himself, creating a bond for two people to share their musical experiences – and then enjoy some new ones. Since then, I made it my goal to introduce myself to at least one person at every festival I went to from there on out. So far it’s gone well. Without Mark showing firsthand how helpful introducing yourself can be, who knows how long it would have before I realized how easy it is to join forces without someone just as passionate as you.
The 1975 Fan @ Boston Calling
It’s near impossible to grow up without being a superfan. There’s an intense joy that comes with giving up your time and attention to a musician, and that joy fills you up in the most pleasing of ways. To be 13 years old and constantly fawning over a musician is a wonderful thing. From the outside looking in, it looks rather terrifying. The cults that follow bands are easy to target, and the more you indulge in music over the years, the less attached you are to a single act. It’s evident because you see fans screaming over nothing and, rather judgmentally, laugh. At Boston Calling, other photographers and I found ourselves taken aback by the first few front rows of fans waiting for The 1975. Many were younger than expected and almost all were wearing black. One girl in the front was crying. As the job essentially requires, I went to photograph her. Looking through the lens, I saw she was holding a piece of sketchbook paper. On it, there was a to-scale portrait of the frontman’s face. He was smiling. I went over to the fan and asked her if she drew it, to which she said yes. She was planning on giving it to him when he walked out. Getting a closer look, I was amazed. Behind her, another girl held up a cross-stitch portrait she had made. When the band walked out moments later, both tossed their items up onstage, smiles spread wide, with an inexplicable bliss. The respect fans have for their idols is a beautiful thing. I felt strange, like I had just been laughing at my own self moments ago had this been 10 years ago. The perseverance, dedication, and genuine love diehard fans have for their favorite band is inspiring. Few things in life can get that intense and lasting of a connection from humans, but music is one of those. To remember the honesty of that, especially the importance of that, was an odd moment. Fans are filled with love. Realizing you almost forgot that you felt that same pure emotion yourself is a terrifying thing, but fans like her remind you that fandom is a remarkable thing.
Tom @ Bacardi Triangle
By happenstance, I got to cover a weekend-long party to celebrate Bacardi where three musical performers happened to be there. It was a strange event, especially as someone who doesn’t like rum, but memorable nonetheless. A gaggle of other writers were flown down to Puerto Rico for the event and many of us were confused as to what was the proper way to indulge in the festivities. Sitting next to me at the breakfast table was Tom, an English writer for Dazed. This group clung together at various events, enjoying one another’s company in the bizarreness of it all. On the second-to-last night, Tom lowered his voice to explain his real goal. The next morning, he was going to wake up early, hail a cab, and ask to be brought to the darkest corners of Puerto Rico to investigate the drug trade. He wanted to meet with gangs. He wanted to observe how it all worked. Tom admitted he knew how dangerous this was, but he seemed not to care. A week earlier, I believed going on this trip in itself was a chance. Technically, it was, but compared to Tom’s bravery that was nothing. The difference was what was at stake. Tom was willing to risk his safety, sanity, and status on that trip. This wasn’t a reminder to fling myself out in the middle of the road more often. It was a reminder that bravery is rewarded. Bravery means more than an instant thrill. Bravery means taking the first step, inching closer to the truth, and showing others what you have found. Looking back on 2014, it seemed to snowball out of control. If I were to live like Tom, I could grow more mental muscle. I could push against that snowball. The music industry invests in the art of regurgitation, but with Tom’s approach, it could finally brush the vomit aside to ask why things operate the way they do and what we can do to change things up.
-Nina Corcoran (Consequence of Sound, Allston Pudding)
In 2014, I saw more sets than I’d ever seen in my life. I left the country for nearly a week to have an immersive festival experience in Toronto (which wound up being spent with some of the kindest people I know). I made new friends, several of which were responsible for creating music I love or for bringing incredibly beautiful art into existence. When it came time to buckle down and zero in on one subject, I had a million ideas running through my head. Getting chills during sets from Perfect Pussy, Mutual Benefit, All Dogs, Mitski, Pile, Nervosas, Radiator Hospital, Speedy Ortiz, or any of the touring bands that played Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? Majical Cloudz’s unforgettably brave Pitchfork set? Putting together Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1-year anniversary party? VAYA’s LCD Soundsystem cover set that took a sharp left and ended with the punchiest, scuzziest rendition of “Crazy In Love” I’ve ever heard? Playing and creating music with a band again? Jayson Gerycz’s drumming? Trading cigarette burns with Maria Sherman, some of the 285 Kent crew, and a few others during an inspired Kendrick Lamar set? Resuming writing my own songs? Any number of moments spent with Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves either on the phone or in person (we’ll always have the hammock, ILYH)? Exploding in Sound? Double Double Whammy? The line “The shape of true love is terrifying enough” in Cymbal Eat Guitars’ “Warning”? Curating this project? Running the site and seeing it grow? The unwavering belief in my abilities as a music journalist that came courtesy of a dream-worthy trio made up of Liz Pelly, Faye Orlove, and Jeanette Wall? The way a certain subsection of people in my small town heartily embraces basement shows and so readily encourages any form of creativity? A long-overdue ascension of powerful, respected non-male voices in cultural criticism?
In the end, I went with the only thing I could think to logically do: I chose a moment that incorporated the most items of my constantly-expanding list. After coming dangerously close to revisiting NXNE (and paying special attention to its most memorable moment), I went with something less internally divisive: the day I shot Mitski delivering a stunning solo acoustic performance for The Media. My friend and fellow writer, Sasha Geffen (whose importance in regards to the development of this piece I can’t emphasize enough), had been kind enough to put me up for a few days in Chicago and joined me in catching a particularly memorable Pile set on the first night. After a quiet second day/night spent mostly writing and watching films, it was time to prep for Mitski, who was accompanied on tour by LVL UP.
At that point, Sasha and I had each spoken at length with both acts (though Sasha’s involvement and history was more extensive than my own), which led to some entertaining late realizations towards the end of the night. Mitski and I had been texting back and forth leading up to her arrival, each expressing equal excitement over the ability to be involved with The Media in any capacity (I’ve long held a stance positing that The Media- or Fvck The Media- is one of the most important independently-run publications in contemporary media, so to be able to work directly for them- or in collaboration with them- is a sincere honor). After LVL UP dropped Mitski off at Sasha’s doorstep, a few casual introductions were made and we all stepped out of the cold and into a warm, cat-friendly apartment.
Some small conversation circled around the room, allowing everyone to get caught up with everyone else while settling into each other’s collective company. Before too long, Mitski had a guitar (a Martin that used to be my father’s, which was also used by All Dogs‘ Maryn Jones in the session I did with her for The Media) tuned to her preference and was launching into a spellbinding three song set. All of those songs were wrapped on the first takes- what’s seen in The Media video was (essentially) captured in real time. After each song, I sat transfixed, clutching my camera; I wasn’t sure if it was more appropriate to applaud or simply sit in stunned silence. I opted for the latter as Sasha did the same, each of us managing to get out a quiet “wow” or some other one-syllable exclamation.
After Mitski closed with “Townie”, easily one of my favorite songs of the year, we all allowed ourselves to breathe a little and struck up some more conversations. Sasha’s roommate Ben made some incredible steamed buns, which we each gratefully accepted after he offered to let us try a few. We traded opinions on things happening in music, weighed the costs of living in our respective states, and exchanged stray thoughts. After a short while, most of LVL UP came back to collect Mitski and allowed us to climb in their van before taking off for Beat Kitchen.
After already amassing a good day’s worth of memories that easily qualify as favorites (Mitski’s set, Sasha playing me Bury Me At Makeout Creek before the session and some of her reactions to my reactions, the van ride over where everyone traded stories and talked about Mike Kaminsky), the one that stands out most from that day is what happened at Beat Kitchen and how I knew I’d found a group of people worth their salt: while everyone crowded around a table that was just slightly too small for such a large party, Mitski’s order got mixed up in the kitchen and even though everyone had been casually mentioning their hunger, no one ate a bite of their food until Mitski had been served- a small gesture of respect and kindness that’s since acted as a perfect summation of the character on display in all parties involved. LVL UP expressed some nervous trepidation over being a headlining act and were formulating some musical runs in their set over dinner while the table swapped stories and jokes.
Before too long, the show was up and running. A decent set from MTV Ghosts and a strong set from Staring Problem acted as the introduction to Mitski’s set and Mitski wasted no time in laying everyone to waste. With LVL UP’s Nick Corbo on drums and Michael Caridi on guitar, Mitski’s songs took on a new life. While both the first listen of Bury Me At Makeout Creek and the earlier acoustic session had successfully made their mark, neither compared to seeing that setup play live. As the band fell into their rhythm, the chills got fiercer and, for the last few minutes of their set, wound up being sustained. Not a lot of moments in 2014 compared to looking back from the lip of the stage to see just about everyone in attendance looking absolutely shell-shocked as Mitski unloosed piercing scream after piercing scream to end “Drunk Walk Home”, which wound up being a perfect lead-in to LVL UP’s set.
Hoodwink’d is a record that contains just about everything I love in modern music and, in a welcome turn of events, it’s the product of four of the better people I’ve had the fortune of meeting this year. LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, and- by extension- Dan Goldin and Exploding in Sound (who co-released Hoodwink’d)- have come to be a few of this site’s biggest supporters thanks in part to shared taste. Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound have been in collaboration on a few of my favorite releases this year, with Hoodwink’d operating proudly as the crown jewel of their conjoined efforts. Getting to see those songs, which have now become such a deeply engrained part of my life, performed live for the first time by a band I reserve a deep affection for with the person who originally introduced me to the band, felt surreal. It was an extended moment worth reeling in, savoring, and committing to memory; a time of small bliss and unwavering camaraderie.
From spending some of the morning in silence, working alongside one of my favorite writers today, to some extremely entertaining post-show goodbyes, it was a day that filled me with joy over the things that I was doing and the people that surrounded me. There were more than a few moments where life felt at ease, which wound up being a blessing in an extremely tumultuous stretch of months. So, to The Media, Sasha Geffen, Mitski, LVL UP, Double Double Whammy, Dan Goldin, and Exploding in Sound: thank you- life’s worth living just a little more surrounded by the things that make you happy. I’d like to extend that same thanks to Meredith Graves (this little site’s patron saint), Sam Clark, Ray McAndrew, David Glickman, Jeanette Wall (and The Miscreant), Edgar Durden, Shaun Sutkus, and anyone else who ever had a kind thing to say about Heartbreaking Bravery (or cared enough to contribute to this project); it’d be dead without their interest and encouragement. I love you all.