Heartbreaking Bravery

stevenmps2@gmail.com | @steven_mps | @hbreakbravery

Tag: Athylia Paremski

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

++

SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

++

Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Athylia Paremski)

athylia paremski
Photograph by Nicole Rapkin

Returning once more to the A Year’s Worth of Memories series is Athylia Paremski, who runs the extraordinary Steep Sounds and constantly, vocally supports the artists she loves. There’s an inherent lightness to both her personage and her writing, a quality that’s exemplified in even the smallest of actions. Everyone that meets her seems to be immediately drawn to her and she, in turn, provides a welcome (and welcoming) source of grace and comfort. Here, she takes on the second installment of the Odd Castles-presented Our Hearts Are Beating showcase, the Silent Barn, and a whole host of artists. Read it below and remember to fight for the important aspects of your community.

++

October 19th was a crisp fall Monday. A very clear and warm autumn sky, I remember as the bus pulled into the city. I’ve lost track of how many bus rides I’ve been lucky enough to take between Boston and New York City these past few years, however I always remember my surroundings and the faces around me when we drive down, or is it up, through Manhattan. A young individual across from me, engulfed in music pouring out through red headphones was ever so gingerly eating a hamburger clutched in a pair of black fingerless gloves.

I looked down at my neurodegenerative diseases notebook and out of the corner of my eye I caught the loveliest flourish of rainbow light. A pair of lancet styled windows with multicolored glass posed next to a giant gold cross stared back at me from a church on a corner. I kept thinking about miracles and the miracle that is not only the support, love, dedication, and pure hard work behind the rebuilding of the Silent Barn, but the miracle and wonder that is the Silent Barn and everything it is, stands for, breathes into countless environments, and simply inspires.

Knowing I was going to step foot into an atmosphere that was just incredibly reopened for shows and community support less than a month after a dreadful fire, for the second Odd Castles showcase no less, left me feeling the brilliance of that last remaining hour of daylight beaming on those rainbow pieces of glass. Our Hearts Are Beating part 2, basking in the glory of its first counterpart showcasing the magnificence that is R.L. Kelly, Poppy Red, Uxvie, Emily Reo, and Yohuna, offered again the perfect opportunity to celebrate a phenomenal group of women and their art.

This time, Fin, Shakai Mondai, Yohuna, Uxvie, Emily Reo, and Qualiatik took to the stage respectively and each took us to different and truly mesmerizing worlds. The rest of the evening was brimming with hugs, fresh air, the magnificent DJ work of Cascine’s Andi Wilson, kind conversation, chai wine, dancing, and incredible light. Echoing in my mind are the lyrics of Lontalius’ “yr heart is beating”, an absolutely beautiful ballad of love, hope, sacrifice, just the trembling odds and ends and in-betweens of life I suppose.

To know, to remember that somewhere, everywhere, there are people beautifully existing right now with hearts pumping in all different sorts of rhythms; that thought glimmering in all its comfort, eternally captures what the night felt like for me.

That, and every time Emily Reo sings “Spell”.

-Athylia Paremski

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 6

It’s been an insane project to run and I’ll hate to see it go but it’ll draw to a close soon. Not today, though. In the penultimate 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, another colorful collection of contributors touch on the moments and memories in music that meant something to them throughout the course of 2014. In this round, Patrick Garcia recounts the long process of getting Protomartyr to McAllen, TX, Athylia Paremski navigates around the people she grew to love by turning to their lyrics, Joseph Barchi shares some thoughts about the artists to find the strength in himself, Phil McAndrew relays some very just familial pride, and Johanna Warren waxes poetic about the power of The Moon. All of the pieces are moving pieces that aptly showcase some wonderful personalities, settling in perfectly with the spirit of this project. So, with no shortage of affection for everyone involved, it’s my honor to present (the second-to-last): 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

++

“Capitalized in this Town”

“If by chance [our] drummer loses his job, explodes, or gets more time off, I’ll let you know”

This was the last sentence in an e-mail exchange between Protomartyr’s gruff-voiced Joe Casey and myself, but it wouldn’t be our last exchange. It happened in early Spring of 2013 when I took on the trepidation of trying to convince Protomartyr, based out of America’s ashen symbol of industrial heartbreak, Detroit, to play a show in the socio-economic scapegoat of ‘the border crisis’ that is South Texas, or, McAllen, TX, where I live and feverishly book shows.

I had only been recently turned onto Protomartyr by a roommate who wrote for Get Bent. He regularly received a dump of new music in his inbox to review each week and decided to put ‘em on one morning while I was burning some hash browns for breakfast. He clicked play on the record and “Ypsilanti”’s ruffian guitar line ripped out through the living room speaker. I was floored. We listened to the record on repeat over coffee for a good portion of the morning when I decided I needed to know more about this band.

I propped up my old laptop and sprung from tab to tab on my browser while the rest of their album, All Passion, No Technique, tumbled and wrenched in the background. I soon found Protomartyr’s social media presence- at the time, surprisingly updated and consistent. The band didn’t seem to have much ‘press’ at the time, but they did have the black and white printed kiss of approval from MRR, of which the band took a photo, shared on their Facebook profile, and, accordingly, received 9 likes. This was a great sign. The vibe of this band was clear- they were doing this themselves, and this became even more evident when their booking contact was simply listed as the band’s own gmail account- a sigh of relief for a promoter such as myself. Real communication between a band and a show booker is a golden thing, as even most DIY centric artists eventually cave to having a booking agent just before their secret is out.

So I did it, I e-mailed the dudes.  Nothing special, just a quick hello and interest in booking a band from Detroit in McAllen TX. It made sense in that it didn’t make sense. Detroit, an ongoing media scapegoat that’s branded as being this disheveled, broken-down industrial shard of hope. McAllen, a border town 250 miles south of Austin on the southernmost tip of Texas, or, a market completely and geographically out of the way for any band touring the states. McAllen is regularly ranked #1 by shoddy socio-economic research for being consistently the poorest, the least educated, and un-healthiest city in the blood red state of Texas.  The idea of connecting Detroit and McAllen became alluring. It’s like a marriage of two cities, or myths, both with huge socioeconomic issues, both with huge problems, both with huge, battered, cultural souls.

I didn’t type any of that in my e-mail to Protomartyr. It was the total opposite, short, and to the point, and as with many e-mails I’ve sent into the dark to smaller bands, I expected it to fall on deaf ears, either in an un-checked inbox, or, worse, read and left for dead in a digital stack of read messages.

Within the day though, Joe Casey, Protomartyr’s vocalist, had responded with interest. Casey was humbled and wrote out praise and thanks, but also expressed what was not surprising, though sincere and great in its reality: Protomartyr was, refreshingly, a band tied down to day (and night) jobs, and reluctantly couldn’t tour, at least at the time.  This response was refreshing to me because, in today’s contemporary realm of music, more than ever the idea of ‘indie’ or being ‘independent’ couldn’t be a more golden fleeced balloon for artists who can afford to live the part, be branded as the part, or sell the part to an even wider expanse of ‘indie’ consumers, without having to necessarily work, or work for it- it’s weird, but it’s true. So many bands are composed of lucky individuals who can afford to tour or make music all day. This is not a bad thing but it’s also not a reality for many. Protomartyr, in the exchange I had with Joe, came off as definitely not having this privilege, unfortunately, and- arguably- fortunately. I keep seeing fortunately because I guess I’m used to working with so many artists who have earned, or been granted, the opportunity to pursue full time careers in music, and become total assholes. Given, an artist owes fans nothing, but I also can’t say I haven’t noticed a correlation between artists more financially strapped to working class realms being nicer, more humble, and more enthused to play shows. What happened shortly after this exchange, though, would be the rolling out of what I could only imagine as being a bizarre dream for a genuine indie band- organic growth and awareness.

In the months since the exchange, Protomartyr started getting attention, and they were doing it without polished videos, or for a paid sub-tier Coachella slot, or for the handwork of a well-seasoned publicist. It began to sink in – they were pretty much living that coveted fable of a band getting discovered and praised for being just that- a great band. Likewise, with their growth, their fans who were there from the start also began to feel that slow burn of anxiety and satisfaction: here is a band, shadowed and great, now being awkwardly forced out into the laptop spotlight of new fans and listeners clicking across a Protomartyr YouTube video or six month late pitchfork review.

Like clockwork or karma or whatever, the opportunity presented itself: Protomartyr would do a weeklong stretch at SXSW with McAllen being a possibility in the days before the fest. Casey and I began the conversation- but it became apparent that the band was still very much not a full-time endeavor- and by full time, I don’t mean they weren’t living and breathing their band, I mean most of the dudes still had jobs that didn’t provide the luxury of asking for weeks off at a time for tour. This was the context for Casey’s quote above, which provided a deserving jest in response to my persistence and refusal to lose out on the opportunity to book a band I had seen grow into a larger consciousness. Their drummer was anchored in and couldn’t get the extra date for a McAllen gig, and alas, the band would not be able to make the trek south to McAllen this time.  In an awkward stream of e-mails, Joe and I both apologized for being misread, me on my stubbornness, Joe for being Joe without me knowing Joe.  At the time, it felt like I had just a let balloon go by accident that was floating beyond my grasp and I was frustrated at the idea of this band, which owed me nothing, floating out of my grasp to better things.  Thankfully, the exchange I had with Joe resonated, and when the band eventually embarked on a tour through the south again shortly afterwards in May, I would finally land them.

The show happened on May 29, 2014 at Cine El Rey, a venue built in the 1940’s that was originally a movie theatre that catered to the segregated Hispanic and Chicano populations before the advancement and effects of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s. The theatre has major history, which is often overlooked by most artists out for the book, but reveled with most- like Protomartyr, Shabazz Palaces, and Laura Jane Grace- who cherish the humanities. The band played on the balcony to a packed space and delivered a steady shelling of post-punk shimmer and grit. The crowd that night was full of movement, chants, and was leveling and volleying the energy the band exuded. It was great, and on several occasions I recall Protomartyr’s drummer squinting with a befuddled smile at the kids thrashing around, myself included. At the end of the night the band, beaming alongside their new fans, kept it real and stayed over at my place after the show.

So many bands travel to weird places while touring but very rarely do bands want to come to a place like McAllen, TX. It happens, but it’s rare, and it’s a huge financial, physical, and logistical burden on artists who aren’t doing this for huge guarantees and clam chowder at the right soupy temperature. Scoring Protomartyr in South Texas was my favorite moment of booking in 2014 because, like with the band’s notability, the booking itself came into a slow, frustrating, but eventual, well-deserved fruition based off persistence and timing.  More importantly, though, is that they- again a punk band that came out of Detroit’s underground- made a nationally shadowed city feel illuminated.

-Parick Garcia (Tiger’s Blood)

++

2014 in Lyrics

Each day my heart grows fonder, one day ill be your small wonder 
Until I Open My Wings” // Small Wonder

We live for a second only, and then we’re claimed by the atmosphere
For Rock Dove” // Bellows

And I don’t mind that you are not like me because I don’t feel like I’m a lot like me
Pine Tree Lines” // Told Slant

Wouldn’t this be easier, no it never would, wouldn’t this be better, no wait it never could
Two Ativan” // Florist

I had something to tell you but I forgot it
Fire in My Eyes” // Yours Are the Only Ears

But that sunset never left your mindset
Gemini” // Sharpless

Nothing in this world is holier than friendship
Broken Necks” // Eskimeaux

Though I only just met the core of The Epoch early last year, they are friends that I have learned much from and hope to continue learning from in the years to come.  This also goes for any and all souls surely associated with The Epoch. Though already timeless, I feel 2015 is truly going to electrify the epoch’s takeover because of their proper knack of cultivating all that is good. I eternally appreciate every last one of their existences and wish them warmth and comfort always. One of my favorite memories in their realm is a morning jam session complete with henry and Oliver singing southern twang style on-the-spot songs, Felix grooving on a banjo-head guitar, Emily taking a break from woodworking to make some breakfast, gabby and jack playing around with Gabby’s new spy cam, and hopeful thoughts of Susannah coming home from work to hang in her lovely studio. I am very grateful to have stayed at the Epoch haus the times I did, to have witnessed the beauty of their routines, and to have left with pure inspiration.

So many voices stronger than mine
To Hold” // Sea Oleena

Charlotte Oleena is a human that i have not yet had the lucky chance to cross paths with yet, except in our dreams. Her spirit and the way she creates the most blanketing atmospheric sounds, especially in shallow, are one of the most breathtaking and inspiring things I could think of. I owe her a good cup of tea and some moon gazing hopefully someday when life allows.

I do what I have to do this is when I say my I love you
My I Love You” // Frankie Cosmos

When I stay still, I can still feel my body inside of my body
I Do Too” // Frankie Cosmos

Cause time moves slow, it moves for you to have time to grow
U” // Frankie Cosmos

Greta Kline is one of the funniest and most welcoming souls I was lucky enough to catch early last year as well. We met in Boston at a show right after we had done our steep sounds art exchange interview. Meeting her and gabby was really lovely and conversations of dogs and good things are never-ending with these too. I was also taught some very secret games and at another Frankie show, we all bonded over a bunny. Frankie Cosmos, Porches., and Eskimeaux have all been eternally stuck in my head ever since.

You think you know me well, I thought I knew myself
DBTS” // LVL UP

All of the lads (Mike, Greg, Nick, Dave) in LVL UP are spectacular beings doing spectacular things. Now is a good time to mention, Double Double Whammy is one of the most superb labels of all existence. Additionally, David Blaine’s The Steakhouse is also a very cool space doing very cool things and I hope it continues to bring joy to all. Hoping the new year brings more time to hang out in good spaces with these kind folk.

And I see you happy, it warms my heart
Cold Apartment Floors” // Vagabon

Laetitia is such a gorgeous soul and I am excited to see all the good she will surely accomplish this coming year.

I always wanted to die clean and pretty but I’d be too busy on working days
Last Words of A Shooting Star” // Mitski

To me, Mitski is world domination.

Running your hand over the piano keys absentmindedly as you pass by
There is Only You in the Light and Nothing Else” // Ricky Eat Acid

Confronting the fear that lives in your chest
Altars” // Foxes in Fiction

I was lucky enough to hang out with both Warren and Sam a few times this year as they came through to play shows and stayed with me.  All of the work they did last year is beyond astonishing and they are both two of the most honest, kind, and real humans out there. They care they take in creating active, supportive, and beautiful environments and ambiances is everything. That being said, everything orchid tapes releases is a piece of art itself and the principles fueling this label and labor of love are just as important. One of my favorite memories of these two is Sam playing around and writing something lovely on guitar and warren devotedly working on his computer as the room fills with the scent of lemongrass and ginger.

Success for my buddies, success for my friends
Harvey” // Alex G

Living in the age of Alex G is simply something I feel lucky to be able to experience.  The several times I have been lucky to hang out with these souls (Alex, Sam, John, and Dexter) and to experience these lyrics and songs come to life echo in my mind always. I honestly could not imagine this line any other way besides leaving the lips of every person in the room singing along with every word.

I will go to sleep still believing
No More Sad Songs (N.M.S.S.)” // Elvis Depressedly

Mat and Delaney (as well as Elvis Depressedly mates Eric, Noel, and Justin) stayed with me a few times this year as well and getting to know them more closely has been really nice. They are truly some of the
most kindhearted and honest human beings i have come across. New Alhambra is so pure and an absolute reflection of being completely true to one’s self.

I don’t know you but I feel like I know you
Hope U Nevr Hear This” // Couples Counseling

Virginia is another human who made last year especially special to me. Her music, tours, art, cassette creations, and overall existence truly is integral to the inner workings of the world. If you have not discovered this yet, I hope you can do so soon.

I couldn’t say if I was awake, I watched my body taking up space
Prism” // Porches.

I love you at top of the tree, 
I lay down to have 
two dreams
Forgive” // Porches.

Aaron Maine is a remarkable human and Porches. is everything. When I met him and Greta together, I was reminded of simply good ol’ humble human respectfulness and kindness. All old Porches. songs are very important life lessons, and all of the new porches will forever reinforce these ideals and only allow for more goodness and learning.

And all I wanted was to hold your foot but I couldn’t imagine how I ever could
Foot” // Krill

Krill is forever and I hope to see them again soon in Boston. I remember hearing this song for the first time on a radio show recording that Jonah did and have been ever so excited for this upcoming record since. I recall several Krill sets from the past year and each one is filled with pure rejuvenating energy. Every time I see krill, it is very good and I recommend it to those seeking to solve internal conflicts.

Don’t let it matter at all
It’s not your fault
I know what it feels like on the floor
what it feels like

They wanna hurt you
because they’re hurting too
Don’t let ‘em inside your head
They’ll take control of everything you’ve ever loved and did or wanted to be

Doesn’t matter what they said
‘cuz they are fucking dumb
don’t let ‘em get you now
you’re the coolest kid around
Wake Up” // R.L. Kelly

I got to meet and hang out with Rachel two times last year and that was not enough. The latter night was simply endless hugs, happiness, love, dollar store escapades, piggy back rides, life, and all that is good in the universe. Rachel is a connoisseur of cheer and truly every one of her lyrics and the entirety of the brown horse split (with Spencer Radcliffe) is meaningful and important, but this song is especially crucial for your soul.

~ ~ ~

2014 was filled with the eyes, hearts, kind words, and embraces of so many people I hope to keep close to my soul. The list of lyrics I’ve kept in my heart from this past year along with the memories cherished are quite extensive. Though I am missing many more important words and humans, I hope some of these help you like they have helped me. Good spirits live on in words and sounds, and when coincidence or life allows certain paths to cross, that should be used to make something special if possible. It is not the records or shows, but rather the significance of the people and words that defined last year for me. The lyrics above renew so much for me. As I reminisce, I wanted to share some of these with you and hope that they inspire you to make or do something you want to do. 2015 should be about spirits inspiring other spirits to be most true to the good inside them, for people to get a grasp on how to better the world we live in, to appreciate small things you might have overlooked in the past, and to support the people who need it the most.

-Athylia Paremski (Steep Sounds)

++

A Love-Shaped Year

2014 was a year of love for me. I fell in love with a boy for the first time, but more importantly, I learned Perfume Genius released “Queen“. When I first heard it, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t strike me the same way his earlier songs had. I listened to it once and then went to work. I spent the next six hours obsessing over it. “NO FAMILY IS SAFE WHEN I SASHAY” ran through my head on an endless loop. I went home and listened to the song for six hours.

Within that video and song I found courage. I found anger. I found a hymn and a battle cry. I was going to wear what I felt confident in, no matter how uncomfortable it made the straight people around me. I found a new sense of self love within Queen. It felt revolutionary to be able to look in the mirror and love parts of what I saw. I saw Perfect Pussy at Pitchfork that summer, and when some asshole decided to punch me in the stomach, I didn’t cry. I was in a crop top and short shorts and a really great shade of purple lipstick. My immediate reaction to being punched was to vomit directly onto his face. I could feel Meredith’s vocals pound into me. I felt my fist connect with the bro’s face.

I felt a righteous anger bolster me. I felt confidence. I screamed in his stunned and vomit-covered face. He walked off in a bruised and disgusted daze. I felt immediately exhausted, and empowered. Perfect Pussy’s set raged on. Meredith was a force of nature onstage. I could feel her power radiating on stage. I took some of her power with me that day. I carry it in my fists and I carry it in my mind. I have it as a constant reminder that if a boy decides to fuck with me, I am not defenseless. I am loved and I am powerful.

The other big moment of love was falling in love for the first time. It was all soundtracked by Mitski. The night I met him, for the sake of anonymity let’s call him Matt, was the night I saw Mitski for the first time. I had never listened to her before. I was at the silent barn CMJ showcase. I was wearing my favorite button down with little Dalmatians on it. I had been awake since five AM. I was exhausted and anxious and hoping to be kissed.

Mercury was in retrograde, and it was Drake’s birthday. It was set to be an incredible evening. I was standing in the back holding Matt’s hand when Mitski started her set. We had walked in from the outside late and the second we stood still to listen, everything stopped. Maybe it was the lights, or the boy pressed up against me, or the pot brownie, but I felt myself wrapped up in a romantic little haze. Mitski was so stunning I actually felt like I couldn’t breathe.

Matt and I kissed for the first time during “Townie“. I kissed him, something I never did. I don’t take risks when it comes to boys. I’m always terrified I’m being too intense, but in the soft light of the silent barn, being intense felt like the only option. We kissed as Mitski sang “I WANT TO KISS LIKE MY HEART IS HITTING THE GROUND” and holy hell did I.

When Mitski sang “I’m writing this at three am” I felt understood in a ridiculously cliché way. I was always writing about boys at 3 am. I was always trying to find my voice at 3 am.

Matt and I talked about Mitski’s set for the rest of the night. I started falling for him in the back of that crowd and I didn’t stop until I hit the ground. Before Matt and i inevitably ended things and I had my heart shattered, we saw Mitski together for a second time.

I just had finished my last final. I got in my friend’s car and we drove the four hours to Brooklyn. Mitski and I had talked a few times on social media, and she was kind enough to put me on the list for the show. I felt a moment of self-love and power during her set that I had never felt before. She played “I Don’t Smoke” for me and I was given the opportunity to scream every word in Matt’s face.

Let me tell you, yelling “I AM STRONGER THAN YOU GIVE ME CREDIT FOR” in the face of the boy who is ripping out your heart, is one of the most empowering moments a person can have. Two weeks later Matt and I still hadn’t ended things. Christmas day we sat in my friend’s car listening to Radiator Hospital. We were making out and I at one point stopped to sing the words “I didn’t want this to mean nothing”. It felt cathartic to finally hear someone say what I had been hiding.

Even after Matt and I ended things, I found comfort in returning to Bury Me at Makeout Creek. It was the soundtrack to my first love- but it had also become more than that for me. I think that’s one of the greatest things about really truly incredible music. No matter who shows it to you, no matter what memories are attached, if it is incredible, all of that fades away. Then it’s just you with this person’s words. Mitski’s words helped make 2014 a year of love for me, but more than that, she helped make it a year of power.

-Joseph Barchi (@theyarenotaboy)

++

A Family Reunion

  1. Holy shit. I’ve had a lot of great music experiences this year, many of them not just favorite music experiences of 2014, but favorite music experiences of my entire three decades on planet Earth.

My favorite music experience of the year was definitely on Friday, April 4. I got to watch my two younger brothers play a sold-out show at Death By Audio in Brooklyn, New York. For my brother Ray and his Perfect Pussy bandmates, it was a record release show for their critically acclaimed Say Yes To Love (their first full-length album). It felt like a triumphant homecoming after their first insane five or six month United States tour (all practically non-stop). My brother Tyler and his old band Sarongs, a band that I’ve desperately missed, reunited just for this one show, to open for Perfect Pussy along with two other upstate New York bands: Friendless Bummer and Green Dreams.

Sarongs hadn’t played together in a few years, the members having all left Syracuse, scattering to different cities. But they sounded as if they had never stopped. I’d only ever seen them play in basements and living rooms in Syracuse (I’m not even sure if they ever played anywhere that wasn’t a basement or living room in Syracuse), so seeing them play as part of a sold-out show in Brooklyn was really great. Sarongs was the only band I was aware of that was doing amazing, surprising things in Syracuse, NY in 2010.

I left Syracuse for California in January 2011, right around the time that Sarongs dissolved, and then came back to Syracuse in the middle of 2013, right around the time that Perfect Pussy started exploding. It was a great show, all family ties aside. Sarongs and Perfect Pussy are two bands that I can say with a lot of certainty that I’d love even if my brothers weren’t members. But the family ties made it really special. It was the first time in a while that all three McAndrew brothers were together in the same place. There were so many friends at that show. My parents were there as well as most of the Perfect Pussy band members’ parents. It was the most insane, energetic, heartwarming show I’d been at in a long time. There were a lot of big, happy hugs and high fives. It was also during this weekend in New York that Perfect Pussy and I first talked about working on something together, the result of that being the comic book that doubles as packaging for their brand new 7″ split with Joanna Gruesome. Working on that project- and later getting to hang out with Joanna Gruesome and see them play with Perfect Pussy- would definitely be a close second for my favorite music moments in 2014.

Phil McAndrew

++

A Devoti0nal Offering to The Moon

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the task of singling out one moment from what has been unequivocally the most magical year of my life, so I’m just going to write about today, because today makes as good a subject as any other day, everything is a metaphor for everything else, every breath contains the whole universe, etc.

I’m going to write about today, even though today was actually a really hard day. It’s a counterintuitive move, given how many moments of unadulterated bliss occurred in 2014, but one that feels deeply appropriate, as I attribute the splendor of my year in no small part to actively cultivating a sort of alchemical theme in my internal processes. I am learning to exercise the power of my own mind to shape my experience. When a challenging situation arises, I look for the lesson; when I get snagged on a thorn, I find the rose. I am learning how, within my own heart, to transmute destructive emotions like fear and anger into their opposites: love and gratitude. For instance, if my best friend doesn’t text me a rainbow of emoji hearts on my birthday tomorrow, I might experience feelings of abandonment, resentment and self-pity. Whereas in the past I might have latched onto those emotions, become convinced that my friend doesn’t love me, and let myself get sucked into a vortex of misery, I would now make an effort to sit with those feelings and realize my friend is probably just super busy and the real issue is that I’m attaching my self-worth to external validation because I’m not loving myself enough. So I say, “Thank you, friend, for pointing out to me the work I have to do on myself.”

When you take on this kind of work, amazing things start to happen. Sometimes it almost feels like the most challenging days become the best days, because you learn so much. So, here’s to today, which was a highly educational day.

I had trouble sleeping last night. My brain kept looping the highlights reel from what has been an outstandingly difficult and draining week. I sprang out of bed at 8:00 a.m. and started frantically throwing things in my backpack, all the while hearing my higher self trying to steady me- “Slow down, breeeeaaaathe”- but masochistically letting anxiety take hold and almost reveling in the horror of what was escalating to a full-blown panic attack. My usual grounding morning rituals were thrown to the wind. I was a runaway train.

I barreled out the door and into my car and slapped on a façade of cool, calm collectedness before picking up my incredible friend and collaborator Jess. She and I were driving upstate to make a music video about The Moon in which I was going to be mostly/entirely naked and possibly/definitely dancing. Nothing was set in stone- all I knew was I had two tubes of body paint, a disco ball, and a vague yet strong feeling that I had something to heal.

Earlier this week I realized how quickly the shoot was coming up and started feeling a little panicky about my lack of a plan, so I pulled up a few Kate Bush videos and started strategizing my approach. Right off the bat I came upon three major issues: 1) I have no notable dance skills or experience 2) I have some very charged feminist sensitivity around semi-nude dancing, and 3) my struggles with self-love have historically manifested themselves as cruel, compassionless objectification of my own body. Thus, the thought of showing considerable skin and conceivably shaking it, on film, called forth a broad spectrum of emotional responses ranging from abject terror to ecstatic triumph… which is generally how I know I need to do something. The way I see it, those squishy, tender, uncomfortable emotions are just big neon markers for wherein lies the stuff that needs healing- after all, “the edge is where the action is,” or so say some permaculturists and yoga teachers (and, I hope, U2’s The Edge, pre- and/or post-coitus).

So, around 3pm today I found myself completely naked, painted white from head to toe like some ritual sacrifice, standing on frozen mud in a beautifully decrepit old horse barn, convulsing with full-body shivers as my own voice cooed from my laptop speakers: Don’t be drawn to me; I may be here today, but soon black moss will cover over my dead body. I sang along, teeth chattering and lungs constricting in frigid spasms, waving my arms in awkward jerking motions and feeling like a frightened, wounded rabbit who was losing a lot of blood very quickly.

Jess, benevolent angel that she is, suggested that we go inside. Flooded with relief, loss and defeat, I stumbled out of the barn, feeling a deep well of buried grief and stress steadily rising to the surface. As soon as the warmth of Jess’s parents’ farmhouse wrapped around my numb flesh, something broke. I sat down in a chair and wept.

This video was to be, as my forthcoming album is, a devotional offering to The Moon, with whom I have been in intimate relationship this year. She has been teaching me how to attune with the cycles of my body and all natural things, and to learn to embrace the darkness as well as the light, for the crest cannot exist without the trough. Although Jess and I got no usable footage today- by the time we got an indoor location set up, we had run out of time- I will forever think of the experience as exactly that: a devotional offering. Yep, here’s where that inner alchemy kicks in: today I totally failed at making a music video, but I succeeded in performing an unexpectedly cathartic ceremony of sacrifice, a symbolic gesture of gratitude for the cosmic guidance and blessings I received in 2014 and the innumerable “favorite moments” I could have written about.

Johanna Warren