Genre-lize

Sunday morning is coming down. It’s freezing rain in The Hampton. It’s snowing in Fredtown. I’m depressed cause rehearsal has been cancelled. I thought about getting stressed because it’s one less chance to run the tunes that are so rusty but really, we’re going to be alright. It won’t take more than a few shows to knock the dust off the tunes and find our groove. I’m mostly bummed because i was looking forward to playing music today.

Instead I’m listening to some great stuff. Ever heard of KEXP out of Seattle? If you haven’t you want to check out their YOUTUBE page. It is FULL of killer live performances from just about everybody. Listening to Jason Isbell and Shovels & Rope this am has got me strolling the dark hallways of my brain. I’ve been thinking lately about my music career and what i’m doing over the next few years. I recently started working with an old friend who is going to attempt to help me “deal” with the business of music. This help couldn’t come at a better time as I’ve been burning out lately. I don’t mean with writing and performing music or touring. I LOVE doing those things. They are my whole raison d’etre so to speak. It’s the other side that has been wearing me down. Booking the tours, dealing with the alphabet societies, playing the game. It drains you if you’re not one of those people who gets off on it.

  Anyhow, something that has been on my mind lately is genre. You know…”what do they sound like?”…what pigeon hole do they go in? americana, blues, blues/rock, singer songwriter (what the fuck is that anyway?), pop, pop/rock, metal, death metal, black metal, jazz, bebop, funk, acid jazz, country, alt country, twang (what the fuck is that anyway?) etc etc etc. It’s overwhelming. I seem to live in the “blues and blues/rock” genres. I guess that’s ok but I also hate it. I’m told genres are necessary and helpful. It helps people know what kind of music you play and whether or not they will/should like you. That is ridiculous! You know how I know when i like a band or music? I LISTEN TO IT!!!! When did it become that you could only write or perform one kind of music? Why do people throw a fit when their fav artist “changes” their style? PEOPLE! a musician or songwriters STYLE is to MAKE MUSIC!!!!! Don’t ya think?

There are many artists I’ve listened to for their entire careers. Take Neil Young for example. I freaking LOVE Neil Young. There is much of his music that is as important to me as air, food and water. However, there is also music he has made at points in his career that I would rather never hear again. For example, the TRANS album. Not my fav album in Neils cannon. However, when you hear transformer man on the MTV Unplugged album, it’s killer. a GOOD SONG. It’s just the way it goes. Some artists have a constant theme or style in their entire career (nothing wrong with that either) but some artists like to do whatever they feel moved to do at that time. Two examples: Colin James and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Say what you want about Colin James. Like him or hate him. Doesn’t matter. What I LOVE about Colin is this: He has seemingly done whatever he likes at the time. Be it a pop album, an acoustic blues album, a SWING album (or three). Alvin Hart is the same thing. Alvin came on the scene as a savior of acoustic blues. MAN can he kill the straight natural blues. You know what though? Alvin is also a rocker at heart. He nails any classic rock tune from the 70′s, or his own rocknroll originals with his band Muscle Theory, right on the money and with as much conviction as the delta blues he plays.

I love to write songs. It’s such a mystery to me. I don’t know “how” to do it or where they come from. I’m always grateful when one comes to me. Working a song up with my band is one of the most amazing, gratifying experiences in life for me. It is the best feeling. I go home and listen to our shitty demos over and over again. And you know what? I never think when writing or working up  a tune with the band “oh my god, this isn’t a blues tune”. You know why? Because I’m more concerned about writing a good song. I don’t give a shit what “genre” it fits into. That’s for other people to decide. I would never NOT want to perform a song I wrote because it doesn’t fit the genre I’ve been put into. I certainly wouldn’t want to NOT write a song because it didn’t fit into what people expect of me musically. I just want to write good songs. That’s all. You don’t have to like them all. That’s ok. Hell it’s not even expected. As I mentioned, it’s rare I love every bit of output from an artists career.

Recently I had a conversation with someone about music. Theirs and mine. They gave me the impression that I wouldn’t like their music because it wasn’t rocknroll or blues. This made me angry. All they seemed to think that I wanted to discuss was blues music. No. I like to talk about MUSIC. Or when I say to my peers I’d be happy to record on their album and they say “oh well it’s not really a blues song”, as though that’s all I’m capable of. I grew up on Neil Diamond, Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, Twisted Sister, Platinum Blonde, Poison, Cory Hart, Cinderella, Guns N Roses, The Cult, Howlin Wolf, Albert King, Stevie Ray, Metallica, Megadeth, KISS, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, The Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash, Muddy Waters, The Allman Brothers Band, U2, Bon Jovi, The Doors, Deep Purple, Pantera, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, John denver and so much more. Every single one of these and more have had influence on me as a person and musician. How I play and write songs is a result of listening to ALL of these styles. I love all kinds of music and only want to serve the song I’m playing at the time in the best, most suitable way possible.

I see a lot of grumblings on the internet about who is and isn’t getting gigs or what is and isn’t “real”. It really breaks my heart. I know I have been and will be guilty of falling into that trap too like everyone else but I’m making efforts NOT TO DO THAT ANYMORE. We all like what we like. If you don’t like something then that’s cool. Don’t like it. Do you need to publicly bash or make fun of it though? I don’t think so. No one is perfect. People all do their own things. And as I’ve said before, we’re ALL hypocrites. So lets get over hating on shit and judging and pigeon holing and saying “they don’t deserve this or that” and get back to loving music. Not Hating it.

As Dave Grohl once said, “NO GUILTY PLEASURES”. Get out there and listen to stuff you haven’t heard before. Find new bands to get excited about. Love it whether your friends do or don’t. Get out of your comfort zone!

This Spring Tour I’m about to embark on, with my trusty rhythm section, you can expect to hear some blues, some rock, some country, some pop, some classic rock, some folk and who knows what else. We might play some blues in the style of rocknroll. we might play some rocknroll in a blues style. perhaps we’ll rock up some folk? perhaps we’ll folk up some rock. All I know is we’re going to play our songs and songs we love, from our hearts each night, as we always have. You’re going to like or you’re not. Either is ok by me. See ya at the Music show.

Ross

Comments

  1. dale turner says:

    Jaimoe quoted in Alan Paul’s book “One Way Out: The Inside History of The Allman Brothers Band.

    “Thank God I figured out early that music is music and there are no such things as jazz, rock and roll, country, and blues. I got caught up in that mess early. I wanted to be the world’s greatest jazz drummer and didn’t want to play rock and roll or funk. I used to say, “That shit’s easy.” Then I got the chance to do it and what a surprise: I couldn’t play what needed to be played. That turned my head around and opened my mind. Everything has to be played right.”

  2. Dale McKie says:

    Hey Ross, you perfectly summed it up. It’s so strange how easily we can let these labels define us! When we spoke at the blues jam, here in PEI a couple of weeks ago, I tried to describe to you the music Amanda and I were now making. I felt I was short-changing us when I said “it’s kind of singer/songwriter stuff”. I felt almost apologetic that we weren’t creating “blues”. Then I felt like shit for feeling apologetic because regardless of what we call it, we’re making tunes that make us happy! We live to write and play and I don’t know why I have been feeling this “guilt” for not being “true” to the blues. Your words are inspiring my friend. To hell with labels, let’s all make some noise that makes us feel something! Cheers!

    • hy its a dale double down on the comments today! all my dale friends are posting! Well you’re right McKie. No apologies. Make music you enjoy. Be true to YOURSELF. All that other shit is for other people to worry about.

      • Dale McKie says:

        Right on. Speaking of making music you enjoy, I hope you have a blast at ECMAs. I think you perform right before us on Thurs., so we’ll see you there and then at the Globe. Knock ‘em dead!

    • dale turner says:

      That’s the problem with living in the American Idol era. Everything is geared to what the industry wants and to being a STAR. There was a time when it was about making music your own way and trying to come up with something unique instead of the cookie cutter way things are done now. We’ve really gone back to the era of the early 60′s when record companies and producers called all the shots. For a brief while, the artists took over but that time seems to have passed. Hopefully it will come back again. I miss what we called the counter culture back in the day. Keep on rockin’, Dale McKie and Ross Neilsen. We need ya.

      (When the great arranger Gil Evans was told that some people were having trouble deciding whether an album he’d done with Miles Davis was jazz or classical he said that was for merchandisers to worry about, not him.)

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