Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Kelly Johnson)

Geronimo!

As I’ve previously stated in the introductory paragraph for Ben Grigg’s entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Geronimo! meant a lot to me. They played the first showcase I ever threw for this site and they’ve been unbelievably kind to me through the time I’ve known them. It was incredibly difficult to see them go but it’s been comforting to watch their other projects develop in the aftermath of their dissolution. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson’s release as Hung Toys, Lurid, was an unexpected 2015 highlight and saw Johnson embrace his fieriest sensibilities. Here, he takes a look at the history of Geronimo!, what that time meant to him, and what he learned about himself through their existence. It’s an oddly moving piece that gives me hope for what Johnson’s future has in store. Read it below and remember that if you surround yourself with the right people, you’ve already managed to succeed more than most people will ever realize.

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I Ate the Best Burger of My Life

I was reticent to write a piece for Steven’s blog because I was worried it would come off as too self-involved. Or that I’d force a misguided, self-righteous message into my story in an effort to offer some sage advice to his readers. It’s hard to say if these fears came from my disenchantment of social media and its “I’m-eating-the-best-burger-of-my-life-right-now” types of oversharing, or if they came out of a genuine place of insecurity about my personal views in this enormous world.

Last year saw countless important issues come to a head: violence against blacks, women’s rights, transgender rights, Trump politics, Pizza Rat. I recognize my position as a white-privileged male and a lot of my experiences are trivial when compared to all of the people on this planet less fortunate than me.

But Steven is a person whose enthusiasm and passion for music I admire. He’s on the good side of things in the fight of life. He’s a sincere and thoughtful person, and I was flattered that he wanted to include me in this collection of personal anecdotes. Also, I remembered how rewarded I was the last time that I stepped out of my comfort zone: I got to play loud rock music in a band called Geronimo!

Geronimo! (yes, we made the unsound decision early on to stay devoted to the exclamation point) was a band that Ben Grigg (keyboard/bass), Matt Schwerin (drums) and I (guitar/vocals) started way back at the end of 2007. Last year, we played our final show on Saturday, March 28.

Geronimo! was not a big band. We didn’t make money or sell albums. Ben and I worked for months and months trying to book a solid 2-3 weeks of tour per year. We worked really hard to make records that we were proud of, but realistically, weren’t breaking any new ground. I am an OK singer at best and understand just about zero music theory. For the first five years of the band, we struggled to find an identity within our sound and to have the confidence to perform the songs we composed. So once it ended, what had we accomplished? 2015 was a year for me to reflect on that.

In hindsight, I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2007 to become a successful rock musician. Quit my job as a proofreader at the local phone book company (seriously look up how many companies called ‘A+ Plumbing’ there are trying to get that primo first spot in the phone book) and moved to the big city. It wasn’t an overtly conscious decision to “be a rock star.” But looking back, yeah. That’s kinda the reason I did it. My subconscious plan to stardom didn’t extend beyond “form a band, start touring, make money, and repeat.” But I had moved to Chicago to try and play music, and that was a success for me.

Inherent in that plan is the idea that, yeah, I’m going to work towards becoming a musician in a rock band and that will sustain me for the rest of my life. My job as a dog walker was utilitarian for taking time off to tour. It’s difficult to tour much more than a couple of weeks out of the year when you aren’t a band drawing crowds in other cities, but we still did it.

We recorded our first couple of EPs ourselves with the help of a couple of generous friends. We burned CDs and hand-made artwork to try and make a few bucks on tour and get our van to the next show. At best we would break even, but we were doing it. We were playing shows out of town, meeting new people and seeing new places. That was a success for me.

After 4 years or so, we were able to make friends with some folks out east in Exploding in Sound Records. Musicians and fans making, what we felt, music that was similar in scope and approach. Dan and Dave were amazing enough to give us a chance and put out our last 3 releases. We got to meet and play with bands we were genuinely fans of (and are still fans of to this day). We still weren’t making money, but this too was a success for me.

After it all ended, we didn’t become rock stars. I didn’t get remotely close to quitting my job in order to become a rock musician. I think we all ended up with about 300 bucks after splitting our “band fund” when all was said and done. I’m guessing we were the least (if not THE least) lucrative band for EIS records.

But it was the best time of my life. The one thing I absolutely learned is that, in the end, YOU get to define your own fucking success. There are no standards in life but the ones that you create. I want to stress this point because I know there are a lot of musicians who were like me in the various circles I met over the years. Dissatisfied with where there musical vision was taking them. Disillusioned after not receiving the positive feedback you’d imagined for something that you’ve worked so hard to create.

In my mind, if you’ve started a band, you’re a success. If you write a song, you’re a success. If you play your songs in front of people that are willing to listen, you’re a success. If you record your own music and another person hears your creation, you’re a success. The fact that you’ve made the decision to try; to construct something that didn’t exist before, means you’ve succeeded in some capacity.

There’s a pure gratification in that if you don’t let arbitrary, outside standards get in the way.

I look back on my years in a touring rock band with great satisfaction. I’m a fortunate person to exist in this world and play rock music. Through that experience, I also learned a million ways to be dissatisfied with your life. But there are also a million ways to be satisfied if you take the time and look. I got to play in a loud rock band called Geronimo! and it was definitely the best burger of my life.

-Kelly Johnson

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Julia Leiby)

jl

I first came across Julia Leiby’s writing thanks to their contributions over at Post-Trash, where they continuously demonstrated a keen grasp of music and excellent taste. Over the past few months, we’ve had some light interactions across various social media platforms. Usually, it’s something simple- but close to every single time, it’s connected back to music. Another photographer/music writer who also writes music, Leiby constantly endorses the artists she loves and frequently acts as a voice of support. I’m excited to be welcoming them to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series and am excited to be hosting their piece, a lovely look at four songs that defined each season of their 2015. Find out what those songs are below and never hesitate to reach out to the people who are positively impacting your life.

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Winter

Tiny Planets – Sports – from the album Sunchokes

I started booking house shows in the spring of 2014, with one show in April and then more once my junior year of college was underway. Together, my friend Mitch and I would put together a bill and run things, asking for donations, setting up, and hosting the bands. Winter of 2015 was a particularly brutal winter with temperatures in the low teens and seemingly never-ending blankets of snow. I was dealing with the end of something I wouldn’t really call a ‘relationship’ but it was important to me nonetheless.

I was sleeping in until almost noon every day, and I skipped a 9:20 AM class I had so often that the times I did go, we were covering material that was completely foreign to me. But, the shows were really what I looked forward to, and they were so stellar that winter. People came out in droves to see bands like The Obsessives, Sports, Eskimeaux, and Adult Mom play in houses. The shows were packed and went off with a hitch every time, save for when a moshing crowd broke the wobbly floor of the Pink Mistress show house. One of my favorite shows of that winter was when Sports played at Wolf Haus. Carmen, Jack, Benji, and James play emotional, catchy power pop, and they went to Kenyon College which is about two hours outside of Athens.

The song “Tiny Planets” is my favorite on their record that was out at the time, an ode to the joy, nervousness and confusion that comes with new love, as Carmen belts out triumphantly, “you’re the reason why/ I can never hide / lying side by side / this is worth a try.” That winter was a golden age for shows and being excited about live music in Athens.

Spring

Yowler – Yowler – from the album The Offer

When I was 18 years old, I went to my first house show ever at a place called The Dollhouse. There was no AC in the house, it had pink walls, and I was feeling so undone and out of place around punks much older than me. I can’t remember who else played the show, but Saintseneca headlined. I remember there was no actual drummer, just a man stomping on a wooden box, as Zac Little feverishly played guitar and Maryn Jones provided gorgeous harmonies. After this show, I was so excited to go to college in Ohio and experience the music scene there. Saintseneca was the only band I knew who were from there, and their existence validated my choice to leave my home state of Maryland.

I have been following Maryn Jones’ music virtually since then.

Three days before my birthday in February 2015 Maryn released The Offer, a beautiful, intimate record made of two elements, just Maryn’s sweet voice and quiet guitar. I would walk around in the late spring, when it was getting warmer, listening to this record and feeling so at peace. As the weather thawed, so did my mind. This record helped me pull out of a deep sadness I had felt for months and months, and probably was part of the reason why I decided to do a girls rock camp and started to play guitar in March of 2015.

Summer

Yolanda – Doubles (formerly O-FACE) – from the EP Mint

Summer of 2015 was, in a word, wild. I expected a quiet summer at home, working retail, going to shows, hanging out with my friend Sarah from high school, sleeping in as late as I could and letting the time pass like the breeze. Instead, I started a band, played two shows with bands that I deeply admired, went to New York for almost a week, and recorded a 5-track EP in a studio, all while meeting a lot of new people who left lasting impressions on me.

At the time, I was listening to the Mint EP by the Philly-by-way-of-Bard band O-FACE, who are now called Doubles. They have a song called “Yolanda” which is an upbeat song addressed to a partner or friend about not doubting yourself, and the chorus is exuberant; singer Preston practically yells “You’re the one for me”. I had so many crushes that summer, and I would listen to this song and melt into my feelings, all while feeling motivated and confident to make music for the first time ever.

Fall/Winter

Plant Boy – Brittle Brian – from the album Verisune

Although Verisune by Brittle Brian came out in July of 2015, I didn’t really delve deep into it until the fall when I was back at school in Athens. Continuing to run shows, I was invested in difficult classes and feeling really disheartened about my major/chosen profession of photoj. I felt a pit of dread in my stomach when I went to my once most anticipated class, my capstone class for photojournalism. I was also talking to someone who lived very far away and hanging onto the last strands and memories of what I had with them.

My friend Adam, who has his own project called Lemon Meringue Die, told me about Brittle Brian and I just keep coming back to this record. Victoria Rose writes sparse, experimental pop songs about Daniel Johnston, touching, and love in a creaky, high voice and though her subjects are heavy, the record is soothing and perfect for winding down after a tough or disappointing day. I would basically listen to this record constantly from September to December and I still throw it on these days too. I remember playing a pretty terrifying solo show (my first ever solo show) and then crying during the next band’s set because my friends didn’t come to see me play.

They went to a party instead.

I hit up my friend Evan to try to feel better and he said ‘just put on Brittle Brian and chill out’ and once I got home I did just that. Songs like “Plant Boy” are reminiscent of Alex G in their ability to take you to a place that is reflective, honest, and cathartic. We listened to this record when my band went on our first tour because my drummer loves her stuff too. Looking back on 2015, I can’t wait to see what records will define my 2016. I’m really excited about the music coming out this year and what the future will hold for me.

-Julia Leiby