July 5, 2016

Trouble Boys : The True Story of The Replacements

The title of this 400+ page book doesn't fuck around. That is exactly what you get here. Author Bob Mehr thoroughly captures The Replacements timeline from each member's childhood to the band's bitter demise. If you are are "just the facts ma'am" kind of information seeker, I can't imagine a better read about the band however for anyone looking for a story told through the lense of an outsider with an angle or opinions, you may feel like I did after taking their story in, suffocated by too many details. By the last page I felt sick to my stomach and mostly horrified. I grew up bowing to the alter of this band's music but the force behind their catalog is a freight train of emotional damage that leads to epic reckless behavior magnified by addiction and mental illness. It can all almost be too much. It reads more like the world's longest police report. Trouble Boys is the Lars von Trier approach to storytelling. The camera never leaves anything to the imagination. Just when you don't think the story could get any darker, it does. Oh dear God it does.

I have to wonder, if you knew nothing of The Replacements' music or the key roll they play in the history of great American Rock music, would this book derail you from ever being able to listen to their music and enjoy it? Should you separate the art a group of people make from the very people who created it? It is a tough call when the two are so tangled together. I don't regret reading the book but I will definitely not hear their records the same way again. I don't think I like the people who made these records but at least I have a fuller understanding of how they came to be and why.

The silver lining for me as a music fanatic is this book also highlights the musical influences of the band of which there are MANY. Years ago I helped to create a radio program called Cause & Effect that is still being produced on WRIR but now by other DJs carry on the tradition. Each week a musician or band is selected and they trace their musical roots for two hours. They don't just play songs from their discography but they play the music that helped shaped their style as well as the current bands that exist because of them.

Old habits die hard so when I read a book like Trouble Boys, I still take notes. Thanks to the sites like Spotify I can than instantly build playlists out of those notes from the book. Like a crazy person, I have built 9 playlists that carry nearly 30 hours of music. These playlists are the music companion to the book so as the reader comes across a music related reference, if they had music on Spotify, it was added to the playlist. Much like book itself, if you an absurd amount of detail with nothing spared, these playlists are for you. However for me, this part of the story leaves me feeling an emotional bond to the band that the book helped to erode. As crazy as the members of the band could be, as crazy as their lives would become, each band member was also an obsessive music mans. They liked so many different genres and it is that wide style spectrum that shaped the band's distinct sound and progression from album to album.

These 9 playlists tell the story of The Replacements that I would rather remember them by.

Trouble Boys 1 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 1-5)  

Trouble Boys 2 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 6-10)

Trouble Boys 3: The Replacements Story (Chapters 11-15)

Trouble Boys 4 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 16-20)

Trouble Boys 5 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 21-25)

Trouble Boys 6 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 26-34)

Trouble Boys 7 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 35-48)

Trouble Boys 8 : The Replacements Story (Chapters 49-56)

Trouble Boys 9 : The Replacements Story (Epilogue)

May 16, 2016

Dahlia Seed's ‘Survived By’ Turns 20

Our second release.
Dahlia Seed was a five piece American indie rock/post-hardcore band that existed from 1992 until 1996. I was the singer, the second guitar player in our earliest incarnation, and one of the songwriters. May 17th, 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of our album Survived By. There are no delusions of grandeur here. I don't think anyone is waiting for this history to be delivered. This is a personal landmark I wanted to scrapbook because I am relatively certain it would not happen otherwise. 

I am just one person so this is just my portion of the Dahlia Seed story.

The album was recorded in just 3 days at Studio Red in Philadelphia, PA. We picked this studio because it was affordable, relatively close by, and bands we loved like Helium, Lilys, Versus, and Madder Rose had also recorded there. We recorded very late into the evening and then slept on the studio floor for a few hours each morning. Exhausted and in various stages of hungover or drunk, we recorded and rough mixed 12 songs in a matter of days. This is why my voice sounds so blown out and raw for every song. I had no idea how important rest, hydration, or vocal warm ups were back them. At least there were cheesesteaks

This was the summer of 1995, nearly a year before the recording was actually released.
The songs found on Survived By came together under admittedly ridiculous circumstances that were 100% by my own doing. In1993 I decided my life was in desperate need of change and reflection. I cut off my hair, broke up with my first serious boyfriend, and left New Jersey for Seattle where I basically knew no one. My family, my whole world, was entirely based around the tri-state area so when I was offered a job at C/Z Records, I jumped at the opportunity to start anew. I wanted a life do over but I also wanted to continue playing music with Dahlia Seed. Amazingly the band agreed to a bi-coastal existence. 
Rex seated behind me at our one and only show in Seattle.

I wrote and then recorded guitar parts on my answering machine using a guitar pick jammed into the record button to keep it going past the usual "Leave a message at the beep" timeframe. I mailed these barely discernable cassettes back east and then the rest of the band morphed my lo-fi musings into finished songs. Sometimes they kept my songs nearly as is but most often they restructured the material so it better fit their playing style. They would record their practices and then send music back to me on cassettes; my reworked songs in addition to their new songs. The final step brought me back to my answering machine. I would write vocals to these live practice tapes by singing along to them while playing through my apartment stereo. If it sounds ludicrous and like a painfully drawn out process, it was. We never recorded demos using a 4 track so this disjointed muddy back and forth was how much of Survived By was written. I will forever have a soft spot for care packages delivered via the U.S. Postal Service because it was how I stayed connected to the most important people in my life during all of the '90s and it usually meant new music awaited my ears. 

Greg joins us in Seattle, green shirt.

As a relatively new guitar player I had two key influences who lived in Seattle that showed me things like guitar tunings and new to me chords. Greg Anderson was my boyfriend and a member of Engine Kid. I have him to thank for introducing me to D tuning - amazingly appropriate as he is the king of low end doom currently in Sunn O))). I saw Engine Kid perform regularly, toured with them as a roadie for a bit, and then in 1995 our bands played a small number of shows together on the east coast. Rex Ritter from Jessamine was another key inspiration. He patiently played guitar along with me (we also recording an unreleased single at Dub Narcotic), teaching me the art of not over-playing. From Rex I learned that space can be as powerful as filling a song with notes. It took me nearly 3 months of couchsurfing in Seattle before I settled into a permanent home. My small circle of friends who offered up their homes to me also included the band Silkworm. I saw them play live as often as possible and it was always an incredible gift. They fit together immaculately. Their performances were a captivating dialog unfolding between the members. I remain inspired by all of these musicians/friends to this day. Among this entire group of people, every one of our homes had musical instruments in it and they were always in reach. Music was everywhere for me in Seattle from 1993 to 1996.

Tim from Silkworm and I with Joel in the back.

Consistent bi-coastal travel would not have been possible if it were not for my father who had accrued a massive amount of frequent flyer miles over the span of his career. I traveled back to the East Coast to practice our new songs and play shows remarkably often. I maintained this back and forth for several years but after the death of my brother Peter and the growing activity of our band, I moved back to New Jersey. I bounced from couch to couch: Ira & Georgia's from Yo La Tengo as their cat sitter while they toured overseas, Lyle from Das Damen's, Pier Platters' record store owner Bill who was touring with Sonic Youth / Stereolab/ Blonde Redhead, Dahlia Seed members parent's house, and Katie's from Spin Art. I even lived at a hotel for a few days just outside the Holland Tunnel (low point) all the while working at Pier Platters in Hoboken part time and playing with Dahlia Seed the rest of the time. It was exciting to return back home with so much happening for our band but it was also a stressful time in my life. I felt lost. I hated being homeless. I was in a volatile relationship. I had no future mapped out that included anything but music. My mild panic anxiety grew into wild anxiety. I began cutting myself, not just on stage with my fingernails, but privately as well. I felt like all control in my life had vanished and pulling at my arms until they bled was my way of making sure I was still human while distracting myself from what felt like walls closing in. Our band's posthumous collection entitled "Please Excuse All the Blood" was a black humor nod to my self inflicted injuries and an ode to Dead from Mayhem's suicide note. Don't worry, I knew I wasn't okay and therapy was eventually sought.

Dahlia Seed meets Garden Variety and friends in Los Angeles 1996.

Dahlia Seed went through a series of members but at the core were Chris Skelly (guitar), Darin Galgano (drums), and Brian Getkin (bass). They all had grown up together in the New York hardcore / thrash scene. I had initially seen a classified ad for a band in 1990 (Danny Derella from Underdog's project) who was looking for a female singer and also happened to be friends with Chris. When I showed up to try out for my first band ever, there was an intervention of sorts. Chris who happened to be there that evening talked me out of playing with them. He told me he was putting together his own band and that I should join them instead. We became fast friends and after a few false starts, Dahlia Seed (named after a girl named Dahlia who talked about splitting herself opening and seeds coming out) was a fully formed band by 1992. The role of our second guitar changed quite a few times during our short existence. I was the first however I can't sing and play guitar to save my life. Jon Procopio of Dunebuggy (now Unbuttonreplaced me and he was then followed by Mike O'Keefe. We landed on Kevin McManus for our final year together. 

L to R Darin, Brian, me, Mike, Chris

Musically our band had a large spectrum of influences. We were an entire band of passionate music fans and we loved a lot of different kinds of music. Our long van rides were a mix of every possible genre. As songwriters we started as a more melodic indie pop songs but as the years passed, we developed a much heavier sound and lost a chunk of our earliest fans along this journey because of it (also blowing out chances at a record deal with Mammoth Records). We all loved the angsty guitar bands coming out of San Diego (all things Rick Froberg related), New York's Chavez, but we also worshipped the Dischord Records catalog as well as metal, hardcore, shoegaze, and jangle pop. I was especially keen on bands from Chapel Hill (Archers, Superchunk, Polvo, Small) and much of what was coming out of the Northwest from Seaweed, Sunny Day, to the Treepeople, Lync and Unwound. I have never been a strong guitar player (writing songs, yes, executing them on guitar gracefully, not so much) so as much as I would love to say I was copying any of these bands, I simply couldn't. Whatever we sounded like was a happy accident as we mailed tapes back and forth and tried to make sense of the lo-fi recordings made in our living rooms and practice spaces. As our style developed, we alienated ourselves at the same time. We grew too heavy to be considered an indie-pop band (like Velocity Girl or Tsunami) but we were too melodic to be embraced by the hardcore fans who were moving towards something closer to metal and farther from what bands like Quicksand were also exploring. Just a few years later melodic, heavy music grew into a beloved genre but by that point Dahlia Seed was over. Our band never really found a niche for ourselves so instead earning herds of fans the way bands like At The Drive-In did, we became a cult favorite to a dedicated few. The saving grace to our lack of fitting in anywhere was playing often with regional bands like Garden Variety and Weston who became like second extended members of our family. I am still so grateful for those friendships and bonds. 

I have written regularly in notebooks since grade school so I have amassed a large amount of material to shape into song lyrics (maybe 30 books total to this day). The lyrics to all of the songs on Survived By were deeply personal. They reflect a chemically imbalanced person living far from home trying to make sense of an adult world filled with loss, unhealthy relationships, abuse, misdirection, and depression. I had no idea how to cope with any of it yet. I think the song "Jet Spin" sums it up best for me. It was an amusement park ride a few blocks from my apartment in Seattle at the base of the Space Needle. Emotionally I felt like I was stuck on that ride every day so to take ownership of my manic swings, I turned it into a song. The lyrics to "Jet Spin" were also inspired by a Robert Frank photo ("sick of goodbyes") who grieving after the death of his daughter, went on a similar healing journey. "LET ME OFF NOW PLEASE!"

I grew up obsessed with singing (mostly to the Annie soundtrack and Beatles records) but when it came time to try to sing in a band post high school, I had no idea how do actually do it. I sang along to records I loved for practice (Babes in Toyland, Soulside, Jawbox, Lunachicks, The Fluid, and Mudhoney) but Bjork was and still is the one vocalist I am most in awe of. I love having her voice as a reminder of what is possible. I still can't believe the emotion she communicates through her attack, breaths, and melody choices. It was from dissecting the songs found in my record collection that I pieced together how a song is structured and applied these ideas to the songs we were writing. I had no background in music theory. I never took lessons. I still have no idea how to write a single note of music but from listening carefully to bands that interested me, I formed my own interpretation of how I wanted to express myself in song form. Trial and error over many years turned helped me eventually develop my own style. 

Troubleman Unlimited released Survived By in May 17th, 1996. That summer we hit the road to complete our first, last, and only full U.S. tour. It went as well as you might imagine when a relatively unknown band books the shows though friends of friends and print ads in a few underground fanzines.  Anyone in a small, struggling band will tell you the same thing. Your patience will be tested to biblical proportions. No one  or nothing could possibly prepare you for the rollercoaster ride that is touring. There is intense sleep deprivation. Money is usually lost, not made. Without an income and long hours on the road, your meals are often whatever you find in racks at a gas station. Down time is filled with things that aren't healthy for you (drugs, drinking, late nights with people you wouldn't normally spend time with, and junk food). Your tour van AKA your mobile home is filthy, cramped, and breaks down often. Showering becomes a distant memory. The people who were kind enough to offer you their floor to sleep on often had homes so dirty you were scared to put your sleeping bag down anywhere. For me and the lack of a proper PA on most nights took a toll on my body. 

My throat began to bleed from yelling night after night to be heard. We had to cancel a series of shows just to allow my voice time to recover only for me to destroy it again the next performance. It was an ugly cycle. My instrument was no longer operational and it caused a huge strain on everyone.  

Lastly close quarters for months at a time can make the closest of friends want to kill each other and Dahlia Seed did not survive long after this tour. In fairness the tour also had some incredible high points but for every high point: splashing in the Pacific Ocean with some of the Ebullition crew, exploring all corners of America, meeting peers only previously read about in zines or listened to on record, and the private world that is created among members all placed in the tour bubble, BUT there were just as many lows: being paid in spoiled oranges after the opening band played for two hours and didn't leave any time for anyone else to play, grueling Texas heat that softened the tires on the van, absurdly long drives between shows that no band should ever safely attempt, showing up to play only to discover the kid who booked your show a few months earlier totally spaced. Up. Down. Up. Down. If you ever want to know what it feels like to be a manic person, I highly suggest a few months on the road as a barely known band. 

We played our final show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, N.J. on August 15th,1996. We have not played together as Dahlia Seed or performed any of those songs together ever since. Survived By is long out of print in physical format but it lives on via this Bandcamp page

The sold out crowd at our final show at Maxwell's, so many of whom I still call friends.

I don't think when I joined Dahlia Seed I could have guessed what playing in a serious band would bring me. I eventually found self confidence (or at least accepting not everyone will love you and you better get used to it). I found my voice and learned the value of collaboration / surrender of ego. I had the opportunity to create art that I believed in that also reflected our moral compass. The unfortunate flip to this was the more I stood up for myself and my values, the more I was called difficult, a bitch, a diva, and so many worse things. I was frowned upon for not being a riot grrrl by many of my female peers but also not taken seriously by many of my male peers because of the ridiculous attitude that women didn't belong in hardcore. The reality was that because I was a woman in a very claustrophobic male-centric scene, I was considered less capable and less talented than my male counterparts. When you feel chronically disrespected, sexualized when when men doing the same exact things were not, endlessly on the defense, hungry for respect, and paranoid because you are waiting for the next bad thing to happen to you or the band, you eventually crack. I cracked. 

Maybe surprisingly, I still have no regrets. None. 

Omar from At The Drive In with a Survived By inspired tattoo.
The band was my transition from child to adult. It taught me that failure is how we grow. I met and played alongside so many inspiring people who remain friends of mine to this day. Dahlia Seed continues to open doors for me which almost seems impossible two decades later. Most of all I feel very fortunate to have band members who treated me as an equal creative partner. We worked so easily together when it came to writing music that every practice was equal parts laughter to music. As harsh as outsiders could be about our music, my band members protected me like a family, better than my own family. This kind of support enabled me to to create art in a comfortable environment with others and is the foundation for all the music I have ever made since. There is no personal or artistic growth without a safe, respectful, and loving environment to experiment in, I was fortunate to have that when I really needed it the most. Without Dahlia Seed, there would be no me in 2016. When I celebrate Survived By 20 years later, I am also celebrating the bridge that connects the past to my proud present tense.  

More photos and history of the band can be found here. 

January 1, 2016

2015 Wrap Up: Favorites, Best Ofs, and HELL YEAHs!

If you truly believe that there aren't any good modern day bands or great new records being made, you didn't try very hard this year. 2015 delivered an abundance of quality music. So much in fact that this might be the largest list of stuff I loved since I started making end of year best of lists two decades ago. I think playing in an active band has helped me stay on top of new music too but in the end, I will always call myself a music fan before I call myself a musician. Finding new music to fall in love with is an addiction I don't ever want to kick.

This Spotify playlist features 100 songs from a large variety of genres that I really loved this year. Not all of the artists on this playlist made my best of / end of year list below so they are two different beasts, great songs -v- great albums. 

Happy new year friends. 

Top 25
Sauna Youth DISTRACTIONS  (Upset the Rhythm) 
Whyte Horses - Pop or Not (self released)  
Dirty Ghosts LET IT PRETEND (Last Gang Records) *"Cataract" is my song of the year
Trash Kit - CONFIDENCE (Upset the Rhythm)**came out Dec 2014 / LP arrived in 2015
Sacred Paws 6 SONGS (Rock Action Records)
Desperate Journalist ST (Minty Fresh) 
Joanna Gruesome PEANUT BUTTER (Slumberland Records)
Love of Diagrams BLAST (Bedroom Suck Records) 
Novella LAND (Sinderlyn)
Annie Girl and the Flight BODIES (Annie Lipetz)
Viet Cong ST (Jagjaguwar)
Dilly Dally SORE (Partisan Records)
The White Birch THE WEIGHT OF SPRING (Glitterhouse Records)
Doe FIRST FOUR (Old Flame Records)
Soko MY DREAMS DICTATE MY REALITY (Babycat records) 
Shopping WHY CHOOSE (Fatcat Records)
Soak BEFORE WE FORGOT HOW TO DREAM (Rough Trade Records Ltd) 
Julia Wolfe ANTHRACITE FIELDS (Cantaloupe Music)
Boogarins MANUAL (Other Music)
Chain of Flowers ST (Alter)
Pinkshinyultrablast EVERYTHING ELSE MATTERS (Club AC30)
Hurry Up ST (Army of Bad Luck Records)
Wand GOLUM (In the Red Records)
Infinity Girl HARM (Topshelf Records)
Eternal Summers GOLD AND STONE (Kanine Records)

Other Favorite Records
Terrible Truths ST (Bedroom Suck Records) 
The Leaf Library  DAYLIGHT VERSIONS (Where it's at is where you are)
Salad Boys METALMANIA (Trouble in MInd Records) 
Cloakroom FURTHER OUT (Run For Cover Records)
Menace Beach RATWORLD (Memphis Industries)
Gnoomes NGAN! (Rocket Recordings)
Kagoule URTH (Earache Records Ltd)
No Joy MORE FAITHFUL (Kemado Records) 
Wildhoney SLEEP THROUGH IT (Deranged Records) 
Swervedriver I WASN'T BORN TO LOSE YOU (Cobraside)
Death and Vanilla TO WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Fire Records)
Jacco Gardner HYPNOPHOBIA (Polyvinyl)
Noonday Underground BODY PARTS FOR MODERN ART (Hands Full Records)
Cold Beat INTO THE AIR (Crime on the Moon) 
Eerie Summer - THE WAY I DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING ANY MORE (self released) 
Youth Lagoon SAVAGE HILLS BALLROOM (Fat Possum Records) 
Julia Holter HAVE YOU IN MY WILDERNESS (Domino Recording  Co Ltd) 
C. Duncan ARCHITECT (Fatcat Records)
Ghetto Ghouls COLLISIONS (Self Released)
Knife Pleats HAY BARK BEACH (Where it's at is where you are)
Jeff Bridges SLEEPING TAPES (Squarespace)  
Myrrias ALL ALONE (self released)
Bjork VULNICURA STRINGS (self released)
Beach Slang THE THINGS WE DO... (Polyvinyl Records)
Protomartyr THE AGENT INTELLECT (Hardly Art) 
The Spook School TRY TO BE HOPEFUL (Fortuna Pop)
Intelligence VINTAGE FUTURE (In The Red Records)
Sextile A THOUSAND HANDS (felte)
Killing Joke PYLON (Spinefarm)
Sumac THE DEAL (Profound Lore)

Reissues / Collections:
Oz Brazoes ST (Som Livre) 
Annie Philippe - SENSATIONNEL! - Ace Records
Guerre Froide ST (Born Bad Records) 
Va CRIMINALE VOL 3 & 4 (Goodfella)
Marie et les Garcons 1976 - 1979 (Ze Records)

Assorted Favorite 2015 Moments:
Being featured on Apartment Therapy
Playing Brownies one last time (Hi-Fi Bar) 
Favorite show I played was @ Bathtub Republic in DC
Harrisburg, PA / Little Amps - secret weapon of a DIY show space and great coffee / people.
Peep Show final season (Favorite show of all time) 
Twin Peaks DJ set to cast members Mrs. Briggs and Lucy
Beach Slang live / seeing Jim some 20 years post Weston 
Live: Mutoid Man / Child Bite live at Gwar-B-Q (Gwar Bar is also a favorite place of 2015) 
Dynamic Truths reunion show @ The Answer
Asbury Park, N.J. Pinball Museum
Beaufort, SC - who knew?  
Creating Atta-GIRL! 
Supreme Court ruling making same sex marriage legal
Loretta Lynch as Attorney General
U.S. and Cuba make nice
Strangeways Tirami'zu Brew Rum Barrel Aged Porter  
Master of None for its stellar music supervision
DJing with Bob Nastanovich in the name of charity

This band doesn't have much of an online presence so here is a video from one of the best records I purchased this year. 

October 28, 2015

Atta-GIRL! Blog

I recently started another blog to exclusively focus on women in music It is called Atta-GIRL! I personally find comfort and courage to forge ahead in music the more I learn about and meet other women in the industry. It can be lonely and scary to make your way in a place that is mostly made up of men. Atta-GIRL! will celebrate a different woman or group of women each day who either makes music or works behind the scenes in the music industry. Now there is a constant reminder of just how many of us there are or have come before us kicking ass and doing inspiring things. You could sort through a kagillion social media posts and websites to compile this list yourself for OR you could just sit back and let me do it for you.

October 14, 2015

How to Tune a Fork

Before Lightning’s Girl, I was pitchperfect. It was my nom de plume at Tuningforkmedia, a music blog I founded ten years ago.  We were an anonymous, small group of people who blogged about all sorts of things but mostly we reviewed Pitchfork’s reviews. It began as a private joke among friends within the music industry but then our blog accidently snowballed into the very thing we cursed.

My Tuningforkmedia profile from almost exactly a decade ago lives here. To the left is a joke hand numbered membership card I created.

The idea started innocently enough. When my band Dahlia Seed broke up in 1996 I began working for one of the best indie music distributors in the world. I had been employed as a sales rep there for nearly nine years by 2005. I worked alongside some of the best, most well respected record labels known to man (all genres) and for this reason I had access to just about any new record independent music fans cared about as well as their artist bios and one sheets/ sell sheets that went along with them. It also meant that if I didn’t have some record I was interested in, I was friendly with someone (a fellow sales rep, record label owner, band, or record store buyer) who could send me a copy. I basically had access to any record I wanted to hear and before file sharing music was common, CDs could be mailed and in my hands within a few days. As a music fanatic, this was the best possible position to be in. I wasn’t paid particularly well for most of the 2000s but I was rich with music of all kinds.  

The online music publication Pitchfork Media was and still is an undeniably important selling tool within the music industry. Their reviews can make or break the success of a release and in turn offices like ours were drowned in PFM references. Every label, band, PR company, or creative entity begs for Pitchfork's attention in hopes of that white whale of a perfect review or news coverage. To this day it is common that a new release sell sheet includes a quote of some kind from Pitchfork. The music industry has become obsessed with catching this publication’s attention and even if the review is brutally negative, Pitchfork still has more eyes on them that any other music site so even bad press is better than no press. 

Within just a few years time Pitchfork Media grew to be a God and their highly rated records by artists like Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands, Liars, Animal Collective, Kanye West became the gospel. I saw first hand how record sales were directly linked to the reviews found on their website. For those of us who worked on the industry side of music, it was impossible not to regard PFM as a seemingly unstoppable force. They were all everyone talked about and bowed down to. It was truly maddening. Our world’s focus became this singular Chicago based music publication and in turn Pitchfork's power became frightening and downright annoying.

This also made Pitchfork an easy target for those of us who were working with all the same music and also had the same promotional tools their writers were being sent. We could see behind Oz’s curtain and on most days, we cursed what we saw.

Among a very small group of friend’s it became a private game to pick apart Pitchfork's album reviews. We emailed each other these fake reviews or sizzling commentary. We knew which of their writers were borrowing bits from press kits, which writers were occasionally plagiarizing from the very same one sheets we had on our desks, and which writers had gotten their facts wrong. We lived and breathed these same records every day. It became all too tempting to place Pitchfork under scrutiny. You couldn’t ignore them. Our heads were bashed in with just how mighty their pens were. As the internet grew, as blogger templates appeared, it was really only a matter time that our private chiding went public. The transition was simple.  

Tuningforkmedia was comprised of a very small group of unpaid writers and I use the term writers loosely. These were my good friends and none of us were professional music journalists (clearly if you read our posts). Tungingforkmedia was our home base to vent. Our identities remained top secret. We never promoted our site or accepted advertisements. It never really occurred to us that anyone else would want to read our ramblings however the word spread about our humble joke like wild fire. In hindsight of course it did. The Pitchfork backlash was growing at a rapid pace and music fans were quick to hate the thing so many others worshipped. The thing about indie music snobs is that we hate it when a thing we love becomes co-oped and popular. This once charming and beloved music site had grown to epic proportions and we were there nearly daily to slay that beast. Within just a few months we went from being an industry secret to having hundreds and then on good weeks, sometimes thousands of readers visiting our site. Gossip about our blog also spread very quickly among bands and record labels; the same ones who were dependent on PFM’s attention. They generously fed us music and press kits as if we were a serious music blog and sometimes even tipped us off on Pitchfork’s errors in hopes we would jump to their defense. There was also so few female writers in this world that I admittedly took great pleasure in bringing a woman’s voice to this massive boy’s club.

It was honestly an insanely time consuming effort to review one of Pitchfork’s reviews within 24 hours of them posting it but I was also an insomniac that worked from home. Since our group had access to all the same records Pitchfork covered it took very little effort to spit out a quick re-review. When you also consider that I professionally talked about these records daily with a large account base and often the Pitchfork reviews that went with them, my opinions and retorts to PFM’s posts were pouring out of my mouth in nearly real time, blog or no blog.

Thanks to newish technology at the time, we could share these ideas and discuss them in a conference like setting even though we were spread all over the U.S. With all the resources a music fan could ever want, we collectively could offer a tit for tat. We were not striving to be world class music journalists; we were openly having a piss. Pitchfork did what they do best, one of us would inevitably have something to say about it, and up went a post as quick as lightning. It went on this way for several years.

Tuningfork was a fun, ridiculous, venting mechanism for a few years but we were also all employed full time in a shrinking industry. Half of us traveled a great deal for work and on the whole we were busy people who had never intended on dedicating a few hours a day to some music site we had this indirect working relationship with. The more seriously people regarded our site, the less enjoyable and real work our silly blog felt. Our sarcasm and bite had hurt a few people’s feelings along the way and it was truly never our goal to torture their music writing team. Our joke stopped being fun/funny to us so we decided to pull the plug in 2007. Enough was enough.

In 2007 the masses had not rediscovered vinyl yet. CD sales were dwindling. Cassettes were dead. Digital music was the music industry's new best friend and enemy. We were in the early stages of understanding what digital content sharing would mean to people like us and how technology / music fans would embrace it. We were collectively scrambling to figure out just how many days were left in our numbered future. My particular job was quickly becoming obsolete and it was time to work on a plan B. I managed to bounce around physical music distribution for another 6 years but it never matched the golden age that I was fortunate enough to spend over 10+ years dedicated to. We were considered one of the best indie music distributors that ever existed and I was a part of it for a third of my adult life. Pitchfork may have helped sell records indirectly but I was a part of a lesser known team actually getting these same records into the hands of the people through record stores. It isn’t to say one side of the business was or is more important than another but in hindsight we really played a similar role to Pitchfork. We were both tastemakers constantly introducing the next big thing to others. Sometimes we got it right and sometimes we got it wrong. We helped shape trends and if there is one thing I can be certain of, we were all very passionate about music.  

My name is Tracy and I am still a music addict.

Disclaimer: The company I worked for had no idea I was behind this and would have absolutely not have condoned it. Also 99% of the label and bands who messaged the blog with tips to post about had no idea TFM was someone /potentially a few people they had a working relationship with.

June 16, 2015

Chapter 9 : These Boots Are Made For Listening : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

Written by a fellow student in my yearbook. 

Part One

It took nearly three years but my friendship with Nick Forte was forged with Bad Brains' Quickness on cassette. The record store had been sent an advanced copy of it for promotional purposes and I passed it along to him in the lunch room. It was my olive branch. Nick and I started off on the wrong foot three years before when I walked into to study hall wearing a brand new Agnostic Front shirt. He proceeded to grill me on the band and hardcore music. I failed his test instantly and in turn I was deemed pathetic and fake. Admittedly, when I purchased the black bleached splattered tee at age 16 from Bleeker Bob’s, I wasn’t entirely sure what the band sounded like but I thought the bold messaging was worthy of owning.

That day I learned you never should wear a band shirt unless you mean it. 

Early on at Ramsey High, Nick was a skinhead (and for a brief time also starving himself to be the lightweight on the school's wrestling team) but by senior year, he was focused on his new band Rorschach. They were hardcore but something different was layered in. It was metallic, dissonant, and would go on to spawn an entire sub-genre of music in the years to come; metal-core. I considered Rorschach a better than average high school band at the time but I could have never predicted their relevance in the timeline of heavy music or the incredible influence they would have on so many bands yet to be formed (Converge I am looking at you).

It was Nick who introduced me to Melissa. She was dating a member of his band at the time. He was very adamant that we meet because there were so few girls interested in music to the degree we both were. She too collected records. She was willing drive to record stores or shows anywhere but most notably however, she was a drummer. She was the first female musician I knew in person and it was Melissa that insisted as a music fan that I should consider playing music too. I couldn’t play an instrument yet but I loved singing. It would take me a few more years to build up the courage to play music live with others but it was Melissa York who planted the seed and was the first person I played guitar with in a practice space. Over the past two decades she has gone on to play with so many incredible bands and people: Born Against, Vitapup, Team Dresch, The Butchies, and more recently with Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls.

Nick and Melissa are both respected musicians. Their various bands are still adored by thousands but they hold a legendary status in my life. They taught me that all these bands I worshiped were comprised of people just like us. These band members were not an elite group of people, they were mirror images of ourselves who were also interested in expressing themselves and their ideas overtly. The DIY music scene they were a part of was so hidden from the mainstream population that you really needed someone already involved in it to bring you in and show you the way. They acted like accidental sponsors to me and for this introduction I am humbly indebted.

This very active underground community was practically invisible to the outside world. It was not on TV or talked about on the radio. The publications that wrote about them were hard to come by. There was no internet to troll for this information or befriend like minded people. These do it yourselfers were not old enough to get into clubs so they didn’t depend on traditional music venues to book their bands. They were remarkably self sufficient and put on their own all ages shows at houses or non traditional spaces like small town lodges, ABC No Rio (a squat at the time), and their local church basements. Before event pages and texts, homemade handbills and posters were made for these shows and passed along to their friends in person or left on record store counters. Even more amazingly, this network was not exclusive to our county or even our state. They were a busy ant farm with interconnected tunnels all over the Unites States. This multitude of self created channels made it possible for bands to tour and play for others much like themselves in nearly any other state.   

Just as important to this world was the non musician participants. The fans were just as active, just as outspoken, and because of this the boundaries between band and fan were blurred. Without one side, the other would not exist. The energy exchanged between the two sides at these shows acted like a self charging battery.

Some created their own fanzines on Xeroxed paper and either handed them out for free or sold them for a nominal amount of money at shows. They wrote about bands, their political beliefs, and personal experiences. These folded pieces of paper were blog pages before there was such a thing. Their wordy tributes were dotted with nearly impossible to distinguish images, usually blurry live band photos or images cut from papers or bigger magazines (proceeding retweets and regrams). They are comical to look at now but at the time, their immediacy connected them to strangers and in turn, made us feel less strange to each other. 

Photo from my personal '90s zine collection.
Other show goers sold or traded records from folding tables and crowded car trunks. They built up a small distribution network and created traveling stores that represented their regional scene. Some meticulously photographed each event as if it was their job. Often there was someone serving vegan food to help spread the word that meat was murder and offer us a taste. There were political group pamphlets exchanged like trading cards for a sea of issues, concerns, and collectives. We behaved like a small pioneer town of Little Rascalers that had circled their wagons. We were relatively self contained and our backs were turned from outside society.

These young people didn’t need the corporate music industry’s help to be seen or heard and that is incredibly intoxicating information for an impressionable teen to discover. The message was received loud and clear. Not only could I do this too but I could bring the records of the bands I was discovering back to the record store and sell them to others. I was like a religious zealot ready to spread the DIY word.  

Part Two

My parent’s dire financial situation had proven that a college education would be impossible for me. Rather than jumping into a plan where I would request aid or seek scholarships, in 1989 my parents talked me out of college all together. It was too expensive to go and unless I wanted to start life with an immense debt, I should seek a plan B. My parents were among the last generation that believed their daughter’s certain future was a temporary office job that would quickly be replaced by marriage and becoming a stay at home mom. It wasn’t that they didn’t think I was capable of a career, but especially to my very traditional father, he felt the more comfortable life for his daughter was one that was focused on home and family. Why worry your pretty little head with big world problems when you can have a man provide for you and manage the smaller world of the home instead? I did not agree.

Mom and Turk
My mother while fiercely independent and bright, dropped out of college to marry and start a family. My mom’s first husband (not my father) was named Turk AKA Robert Frank Pozar and now goes by the name of Cleve. He is a Jazz drummer and revered enough in the music community to have a documentary in the works about him. This relatively recent discovery came as a total shock to me. This “news story” ended up in my Facebook feed. The mystery man who vanished from my mom’s life in her early 20s and left her a young single mother could potentially have a whole film dedicated to him. He took off to dedicate his life to drumming and she was forced to move back in with her parents with a new born while waitressing evenings to get by. She never went back to college and her career path was derailed for decades. Her depression bloomed from here.

My mother spent her next 25 years as a remarried stay at home mom. She further distracted herself by remaining very active in the community but while some women are content with this role, my mother was not one of them. She finally began a desk top publishing career in her early forties but it was growing struggle as her MS symptoms worsened. My parents monstrous debt continued to grow and eventually it caused the collapse of both their individual home businesses. Within a few years the house my father designed and built himself would be sold off to help recover some of their losses.

When a major health issue enters the picture, there are money troubles, and you have older siblings in need of some sort of bailing out regularly, I quickly became the non issue. With all these family tree distractions I flew under the radar and out of the house as often as possible. When people wonder how I could see a band at CBGBs at 2am on a school night, it was because I was the least of anyone's worries. Home was where the hurt was so I avoided it best I could. I looked at my parents life and didn't want any part of it no less repeat an inch of it.

I picked up a second part time job through the record store. My allowance had dried up and I didn’t want to add to my parent's financial burden. Now that I could legally drive I was given the opportunity to become an assistant to a gentlemen who specialized in selling, let’s call them rare records. They were unlicensed live recordings or rare unreleased studio material. He also sold Rock related jewelry, stickers and posters but the "rare records" were the bulk of his business. We would meet up at a designated place and then I would sit guard in the passenger seat as he drove around NYC to pick up and drop off product. We checked in with about 20 different small indie stores all over Manhattan and New Jersey every few weeks.

Early on I kept an eye on the station wagon as he ran in and out of stores. If a cop pulled up to the car because we were double parked, I would hop in the driver’s seat and circle the block until the police were gone. Then I would double park it again somewhere close to the store’s entrance. I don’t recall ever being in fear of being busted for what was in the car, I was just terrified of driving in NYC. You get over that fear pretty quickly though when the pressure is on and a police car is megaphoning at you and everyone in a block radius to move your vehicle immediately. Sink or drive!

Over time as I built up trust within this community of dealers. I got to know the all store’s employees, the back rooms to the back rooms, and talked to members of this underground supply chain about trends in tape trading circles (often what was used to create these rare record). Eventually I was running in alone for pick ups or drop offs. If you don’t think there are a lot of women in music now, there were definitely zero teenage girls in this circle in the late ‘80s. I was it. These were all older guys who didn't know anything about this new alternative music trend so I became invaluable. I was their link to the new generation of customers and whatever this not quite metal but weirder than classic Rock / Pop was.

Live and studio rarities on tape from my personal collection.
It is almost impossible now to imagine a time when tape trading was nearly as popular as record collecting as everything today is done with a click of a button through computers. Up until the early ‘90s, you were either buying or trading tapes for this unreleased music or you purchased bootleg records if by some minor miracle, someone decided to press one of these rarities to vinyl. These boots were rarely copies of real studio records, they were typically unreleased material with varying degrees of quality that ranged from soundboard to a dude in the last row of an arena with a handheld tape recorder. Music fans were so rabid to own this hard to come by material that there was a genuine demand for these expensive, wink wink, imports. Before bands could easily share a demo or live recordings through social media, this black market was the only way to hear most of this material.  

I made these quick runs to the city for about a year and was always paid in cash. I was shown parts of NYC that I had never had the opportunity to explore before and was given the equivalent of a backstage pass to nearly every indie record store in the city. I learned so much about music, store operations, and the underbelly of the industry. I had the occasional beer at lunch and being that this was New York in the ‘80s, nobody raised an eyebrow. I recall so many random bits of conversations with this record store community. I learned about Nick Drake’s unique picking technique, which pirate radio stations played the best stuff, and which city neighborhoods were on the rise or way out. They predicted of the death of Manhattan, the rebirth of Brooklyn, the return of coffee shops, and they made sure I was hip to which bars in town didn’t water down drinks in case I was ready to move on to the hard stuff. In this network I was 17 going on 50.

The tattoo on my left ankle is the bottom of this skateboard design.

By Bergen County standards I was a freaky 12th grader with L7 style matted dreads and possibly the only Ramsey High School student with a tattoo (a Tommy Guerrero skateboard design). I was the first to wear a Nirvana shirt ("Fudge packing, Crack Smoking, Satan Worshipping, Motherfuckers") and mocked for it mercilessly. I had a pictures of bands like Mudhoney and The Lunachicks in my locker. My college dream was dead but I was at the ground floor of the music industry and about to take my first step up from store clerk to indie music buyer. I would be graduating in 1990 but my future had already started. I mentally traded in classmates for co-workers. My new friends worked at Sub Pop, CMJ, Revolver, C/Z, Dutch East India, SST, and Caroline.

Some people went to prom, I went to Prong at CBGBs. Suck it seniors.

The handwritten notes posted here are all taken from my senior yearbook and written by classmates. I recently applied for a job at Sub Pop and part of me feels like I should have attached these to my resume. In 1990 I had an entire high school turned on to bands that the rest of the world had yet to discover no less aware of the key record label behind them. If that doesn't reflect some serious marketing skills, vision, and a life long dedication to Sub Pop Records, I don't know what does.