Of course I've been seriously slacking on the blog front for a while, but I'm trying to find a way to balance out my daily schedule and I need new muses for new writing projects (you can read all about my struggle for balance and attempts to focus on new projects in my latest YA Outside The Lines blog post, by the way), so I'm going to give it a go again.
My latest musical obsession is what I'm going to call acoustic punk for lack of a better term. (Maybe that *is* the term, I'm no music critic, just a music lover.) It seems like a little bit of a contradiction, at least if you think about punk the way I thought about it when I was in high school. The music my parents listened to was acoustic. Growing up, I'd loved some of that stuff (ie. The Beatles) and hated others (ie. Bob Dylan. I'm sorry, I know to some people it's blasphemy, but I really can't stand the sound of his voice. You can blame my father and all the Dylan he inflicted on me during childhood roadtrips.) But by eighth grade or so, I felt like such an outcast and had been bottling up so much anger and sadness about it for so long, I needed my music to match. It had to be loud and furious. Sure I understood that punk was political, a form of protest like the folk my parents listened to in the 60s, but I wanted the bands to shout their political and personal discomforts over raging guitars and drums.
During my teen years, I made few exceptions to this rule, but I rediscovered one of them recently while adding a bunch of my old CDs to my iPod. (This will warrant another blog post or perhaps a series of Tuesday Tunes flashback posts after I work my way through the 3000 songs from my past that I've added.) It's safe to say that I was at my angriest during my junior year of high school. For the most part, I was fueled by Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and Babes in Toyland fueled me. But I also loved Tattle Tale. They were different--cello, acoustic guitar, the occasional acapella duet--but somehow just as raw, in fact maybe even more so because the music felt so vulnerable and maybe because I felt so vulnerable, I couldn't listen to them unless I was in a certain mood. They were alone, late at night, writing in my diary music:
I don't feel that vulnerable anymore. I've stripped away most of the really angry layers and addressed what was underneath. I've learned to deal with my rawest emotions and to channel them into my writing. I went through a massive Johnny Cash phase while writing BALLADS OF SUBURBIA because I was trying to produce something as earnest and real as that man with his deep voice and his guitar. Ever since then I've been seeking out more and more of that--songs that feel like stories whether they be stories about a political event or the state of our world or stories about someone's personal growth and experiences. I was pleased to discover there was a type of punk rock that fits that particular mood of mine perfectly. The so-real-it-hurts mood, when you want to crawl inside your own head (or often in my case, the head of a character) or put your finger right on that throbbing raw nerve.
Dave Hause, lead singer of The Loved Ones, recently put out a solo album that kicked off this acoustic punk obsession of mine. His album Resolutions as been playing on my iPod and my record player pretty much nonstop since February. Maybe it's that "early thirties thing" he's singing about, but I haven't related so strongly to an album on such a personal level since I heard Hole's Pretty On The Inside in junior high or Sleater-Kinney's first EP junior year of high school or The Distillers' Coral Fang in my mid-twenties when I was coming out of a messy 8-year relationship and finally learned to use words instead of substances to heal. All of those albums are filled with loud, dark songs sung by women. This is a softer, more reflective album sung by a man, but nothing else has summed up how I feel as someone who is struggling to make a living off of their art, but wondering if the time will come that they have to get an office job and a 401K. I hear my own self-doubts. I hear the restlessness I've been feeling stuck in the same general area where I grew up, longing to move away from the winters that drag me down, but again can I take that risk, can I live in the city I love and still afford to be the struggling writer. I hear my own story of a fucked-up teenager who has grown up and feels relieved to have survived, but sometimes gets nostalgic and tempted. I hear my own thankfulness for the amazing friends that helped her through. And I hear stories of the characters I write about, too. ("C'mon Kid" could be the theme song of the Bartender Book--well, one of them.)
Once I realized how much I loved the sound of Dave Hause's record, I started searching my collection for things that I might have picked up in the past that were similar and I'd overlooked because I was in the wrong place for it. Admittedly even though I'm not that angry, fucked-up teenager anymore, loud, distorted punk is still the main thing I listen to. I also tend to obsess on one band or type of sound for awhile and if I buy something new that doesn't fit with it, it gets set aside.
My husband who is a huge Hot Water Music fan had actually been the one to download Chuck Ragan's solo album Feast or Famine. He'd played it for me a few times, but I always when I was on a Civet and Social Distortion kick or an Alice In Chains and Soundgarden kick or something else that just didn't jive. I saw on twitter that Chuck Ragan and Dave Hause were touring together (and god, why couldn't they have come to Chicago together because it would have been me and the spouse's dream show!) and it reminded me that I had Feast or Famine and should give it another listen.
Sure enough, now I'm hooked. This is like my Bob Dylan, complete with harmonica, which I must admit is an instrument I used to loathe partially because of the aforementioned childhood road trip trauma and partially because of teenage bad alt rock ala Blues Traveler trauma. While I still can't deal with Bob Dylan's voice, I appreciate the kind of stories he tells through his songs and how they struck a chord with my father and my brother. Fortunately I have Chuck Ragan to sing songs with the perfect mixture of the political and the personal, but the kind of raw, punk voice I adore:
So that's what I've been listening to lately. Check out Tattle Tale, Dave Hause and Chuck Ragan if you're in the mood for something stripped down to the most raw and real punk rock heart.
And hit me up with your recommendations. Maybe you know of other similar stripped down punk artists I should check out or perhaps you have a different obsession and can launch me into a whole new phase.