Heartbreaking Bravery

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2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Ben Grigg)

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Photograph by Mark Federighi

We lost a lot of great bands in 2015 to varying degrees of mourning and despair. Krill’s final bow obviously struck a nerve but it’s important to remember that they weren’t the only band to step down. While Ovlov managed to find a spiritual continuation via Stove, Geronimo! — who I penned a hybrid eulogy/review for back in March, just a small handful of months after they played this site’s first showcase — have taken a somewhat different path. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson and keys master Ben Grigg have been devoting their time to various new projects. All of them will undoubtedly be worth hearing. Grigg was kind enough to reflect on the loss of Ovlov and what it meant to him to be at their final show. Read it below and make sure you see your friends’ bands while they’re still around.

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2015 was a year of change for me. Every year changes people, but last year was a big one for me. The band I had played in since 2007, Geronimo!, called it quits, I left the comfort of a familiar job for the intimidating challenge of a new one, and I moved into a house far from my old neighborhood to the west side of Chicago. The good thing about change though is that it usually forces growth. You lose some comfort for the sake of coming closer to who you want to be. That’s the hope at least.

Pretty soon after our band played its last show, the realization set in that I had no plans for my free time. Intellectually, I had known the that this would happen, but I was not prepared for the reality of it. I would come home after work and have nothing to do. Every day of the week. I found myself contemplating what the hell I was doing with my life. Shit.

Suddenly, amidst all the free time and emo soul searching, I developed an itch to get a plane ticket and travel out to Brooklyn for a weekend. It became imperative. At the time, it wasn’t clear to me why I had to do this. But, with some distance, I can see what was going on in my head. Without playing shows, I wasn’t getting out east to see the friends I had made through past tours. I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get out there again and somehow it seemed like a way to get some closure on that part of band life.

As luck would have it, some pals of mine in a band called Clearance from Chicago were playing in June at Shea Stadium. It seemed like as good a time as any. I joked to the guys in Clearance that I’d see them In Brooklyn but I doubt they believed me. A few days later, Ovlov announced that they would be playing their last show that same weekend, also at Shea. That sealed the deal. I bought plane tickets.

Getting to see Ovlov one last time was especially meaningful to me.We first played with them back in 2011 on an east coast tour and got along with them pretty immediately. On that tour they invited us to their friend’s beach house in Rhode Island. Drinks that night famously consisted almost entirely of Beer 30. We had to leave pretty early the next morning for a long drive to the next show, but awoke to find a bunch of groceries meant for us and a hilariously illegible note from Ovlov and their friend Gator. It was about the coolest thing that had happened to us as a band. Over the next four years, we played with Ovlov many more times and got to know them. They felt like our first real band friends.

I don’t have too many vivid memories from watching them play that last show at Shea. It’s more of a mixture of visceral fleeting moments. Feeling the floor moving, getting my ears blasted, chanting along to “I can’t wait to watch TV”. It was the perfect goodbye to Ovlov, and somehow, in the most cliche way possible, a goodbye to a part of my life. I’ll be in other bands, hopefully I’ll come out to the east coast again and see a lot of the same people. But, that experience, that specific part of my life was gone.

That night, I stayed up with friends waiting until the wee hours of the morning when my flight left LaGuardia. These are the kind of friends that I had the privilege of making from being in a band. The kind that will stay up until 5am after a show to see you off. It was the perfect end to the weekend. All things told, I got to reconnect and hang out with a ton of people that had made my experiences playing in Geronimo so meaningful. It was all I could have hoped for and it made me feel so damn thankful to have had the opportunity to play music and meet all these great people.

By the end of the year, I was back playing music with friends in Chicago. With any luck, 2016 will be a year of first shows, not last ones. New growth. Every year can’t be a 2015, but it’s good to have them every now and then.

-Ben Grigg

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Sami Martasian)

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Photograph by Nina Corcoran

In 2014, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Toronto with Christine Varriale, who has since introduced me to some of my favorite people in music and music writing. One of the more notable introductions was that of Sami Martasian, who was writing alongside Christine at Allston Pudding. Later on, Christine would join Martasian’s folk-leaning project, Puppy Problems. Somewhere in between all of that, I was fortunate enough to get to know Martasian a little better, and it quickly became clear that she’s the type of person that elevates anyone lucky enough to be pulled into her world. It’s a genuine privilege to have some so unfailingly kind, generous, and enormously talented be involved in this project. Her piece for this series is both a celebration of her friends and an examination of an unexpected moment that felt like a small victory for Boston. Read it below and then go spend some time with the people you love.

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Christine and I were working at Boston Calling almost with the sole purpose of catching Krill’s set. They all played a great show but the sound was funky and there was this huge reverb, and when I say huge reverb I mean: extremely fucking huge reverb. I think we were all a little bummed because it was such a big stage and we were so excited for them to be there and we honestly just wanted people to be really into their set (and a lot of people were- it was by no means “bad”, just a little weird).

So the last day rolls around and some of the Allston Pudding bunch and I wind up sticking around after our shift at the festival so we can see Tenacious D and the Pixies. Tenacious D ends up being unexpectedly emotional for a lot of us and kind of takes us back to being in middle school or what have you and getting into music for the first time and I mean come on its Jack Black in person! We’re all tired from working the fest for the past few days and he gets us laughing and a few of us crying like we’re kids again. Soon enough it’s time for the Pixies to play and Jack Black starts hyping them like crazy.

He shouts “WITHOUT THE PIXIES, THERE WOULD BE NO NIRVANA” and the crowd goes totally wild.

He shouts “WITHOUT THE PIXIES, THERE WOULD BE NO WEEZER” and again the crowd goes nuts.

Then Jack Black shouts “WITHOUT THE PIXIES, THERE WOULD BE NO KRILL” and we all just look at each other and lose it.

We’re all practically chanting “holy shit Jack Black said Krill” to each other. The best part of this was knowing that the Krill guys are enormous fans of Jack and that this must have been an incredibly cool moment for them to experience. I think it felt so good because Krill was like this really personal and important band for all of us in different ways- and for someone a lot of us grew up watching, who’s a really big deal in the world, to recognize these hometown heroes felt like a strange victory for our community. We were all messaging Jonah and our friends who weren’t there. It was probably the feeling sports fans get if their team wins.

I remember calling my mom to tell her “mom, okay, do you remember Jack Black? Yeah, think really hard mom…yeah, that guy from School Of Rock… yeah, it was a really good movie, you’re right, but check it out: that guy said ‘Krill’”.

My mom was really happy.

-Sami Martasian

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Jessica Leach)

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A while back, I came across the Basement Babes zine and was immediately floored by the work that was being done. Personal essays about feminism, challenges that still exist because of the arbitrary borders of sexism, and identifying as LGBTQ bled into coverage of Boston’s emerging artists. Smart, nuanced, and important, it’s only managed to get progressively better — and bigger — since its introduction. One of its co-founders, Jessica Leach, was kind enough to submit a piece for this series and zeroes in on how 2015 felt like a step in the right direction for inclusiveness while acknowledging there’s still a lot of work to be done. Read it below and make sure to support the artists who have, historically, been disadvantaged for reasons that don’t even relate to music.

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The Voices of 2015

It’s been an incredible year for music overall, but more so, I think, it’s been an incredible year for new voices. I feel that this year has been one of turning the mic toward others, to listening to stories that need to be heard. In admiring that progress, I feel a pang of insecurity. Since I started making this zine called Basement Babes, I’ve made it my mission to see as many female musicians as possible. To learn about all of them and surround myself with the positivity of women making art. I wonder, though, if that’s enough.

In this year, I’ve watched hundreds of shows with the same uncontrollable jealousy. I wish I could make my words loud. I wish I could shout them at crowds, unabashedly. I wish I could be unafraid to cry and stitch my heart to my sleeve. But I am removed. I am far away. I am invisible. I am one head of many, bobbing back and forth, seemingly lost in the music but actually caught in a frenzy of thought and hyper self-awareness.

I have been the girl standing awkwardly in front of the merch table, hoping I seem cool enough. Hoping I don’t say the wrong thing. I have once or twice been the girl behind the mic too, timidly thanking a basement of drunk kids for contributing to a scene that they may care less about than I give them credit for. Being the dutiful emcee to the real artists positioned behind me. Wishing I could give them more of myself but always stopped in my tracks by the anxiety of not being enough.

I make my zines and hope it’s enough. But I watch others with my jealous eyes, and I wonder if they’re feeling what I feel too. If they feel suffocated by the inherent competitiveness of music, of making space, of having your voice heard. I’ve been the girl in the basement at a punk show, knocked over by a man who’s far larger than I, whose carelessness comes from liquor and privilege. I’ve been the girl whose contributions were overlooked, whose presence was rarely acknowledged, dismissed as “probably just someone’s girlfriend.”

I’ve been one of so many girls who’ve encountered sexism in the DIY scene. I hear voices preaching “safe space” and “equality” but no scene is exempt from the poison of it. Boston’s scene isn’t somehow better than others. I am the girl who’s still watching her beer, who’s still listening to her friends talk about survival, who’s still hearing voices that describe fear.

I worry about giving enough, but I also worry about giving too much. I know that I am not alone, despite feeling alienated. I know that my story is still wrought with privilege, despite also being tarnished by disadvantage. But, I see how my peers have made it a mission to give me a space and hear my voice. So, in spite of fear, I am proud. I am proud of all the good things that have happened this year, in Boston and all over the country. I am beaming.

It would do all these accomplishments a disservice, though, to list them as if they were quantifiable. As if I could compare them side by side to other years, measure a time that was more progressive, more worthy of praise, than another. The point of progress is that its imprint is everlasting. The voices we’ve heard this year, whether in music or politics, that have indelibly made us better or worse, their effect trickles into the next year, and the year after that. Every moment in time is just a reincarnation of the one before it, and so I look forward, because all these moments in 2015 that I’ve so cherished are just waiting to be pushed on into a new year. So, 2016, you’re next. Do me proud again. Maybe someday I’ll feel like I am enough. But maybe it’s better if I don’t.

-Jessica Leach