Monday, February 27, 2006


Music is Universal

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot today about where singing came from. At what point does speaking become singing? We use tone, pitch, inflection, etc. in speaking to communicate emotion and add character to normal conversation, yet singing is a distinctive and separate entity. Perhaps it is some divine gift, or maybe it was just an accident. The origin of singing intrigues me much more than the origin of "music" and any musical instrument, which seems strange. I don't have any answers to any of this, but I do believe that singing is now universal. Drums may be universal too, but I'll have to think more about that. Of course, singing isn't used everywhere, as in tribal drumming and instrumental music popular in America and Eastern Europe, so I think music in general can be said to be universal.

Music has infested every nook and cranny of the entire globe. Whether it's a rock club in Los Angeles, a black metal show at an old church in Norway, an opera house in France, or a fireside ritual in remote regions of South America and Africa, it would be hard to find a person that doesn't have music in their life in some way. Rock music is what amazes me the most. I think it is definitely the most widespead genre. There is so much passion, energy, and rebelliousness that can be a part of rock n' roll, and those characteristics can be found in people all over the world.

I first realized that music surpasses language when I heard a split album between Cursive and the Japanese band Eastern Youth. This is a group of three guys from Tokyo that at some point got their hands on a bunch of Dischord Records albums and fell in love with US punk and hardcore. I think part of music however comes from immersed in the culture of the genre's "scene" and the music being more than just music to a person. I bet there are hundreds or thousands of foreign bands out there with horrible wannabe-American punk bands, but a band like Eastern Youth started putting out amazing music reminiscent of Jawbreaker and Fugazi, but with Japanese lyrics, and it works amazingly, and they sound great. Then of course there's Sigur Ros and Bjork, who come from Iceland, a country not very well known for their music but who has produced artists extremely popular in America, although their vocal stylings are different, and in Sigur Ros' case, the lyrics sound like gibberish.

I think English speaking countries have definitely set the standard for rock music, from The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Radiohead, and Oasis to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nirvana, KISS, and Aerosmith. But that also makes me think of musical styles we have imported from other parts of the world. The metal of Sweden and Norway greatly influences the metal of America, and spawned bands in Florida to put an American twist on it all and form the death metal genre. I think we as Americans do take music and run more with it, with a large arena for music: record stores galore, radio, concert venues, iPods, etc. But I think rock music has made it everwhere. Sure, most of the bands probably sound like bad versions of Soul Asylum or something, but that's just because rock music hasn't become bland there yet, and bands like Animal Collective and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah aren't necessary yet. Of course, some foreigners are just crazy anyways, so experimental music has been made all over the world (i.e. Melt Banana) but has not gained the popularity that genres like freak-folk and trip-hop are gaining here.

Yet we still hold strong to our cultural roots with musical styles that have not greatly crossed borders or oceans. Blues, jazz, mariachi, opera, bagpipes, tribal drumming, throat singing, and on and on still remain cultural genres. But I think they can all make any of us feel something, whether it is peace, disgust, annoyance, or excitement. Why is this? Because music is universal.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Oxes - Oxxxes - Monitor Records

Instrumental music began to really rise in popularity with the post-rock movement, with bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor leading the way for newer bands like Explosions in the Sky and The Album Leaf to become quite successful. Now, creative metalheads are dropping the screaming and growling to make their mark on the genre, whether it’s the epic metal of Pelican, the technicaal workout of Collapsar and Behold…the Arctopus, or the ambient droning of Sunn o))). All of the ground in between is fairly uncharted territory, with only a few bands (like Don Caballero and The Fucking Champs) able to pull anything worthwhile off. In an attempt to discover more bands that could hold a listener’s attention with balls out rock sans vocals, I ran across this 2002 release from Oxes.

The first track, “boss kitty”, opens the album with heavy palm-muting and basic drumwork. Soon after, they open up the high hat and let loose with a sliding riff. The song stays around the same themes, but rises and falls in intensity. Luckily, they switch things up enough so that the palm-muting doesn’t sound like a lost verse from a grunge band. Palm-muting remains very common throughout the album. “Half Half & Half” showcases lots of hammering and more tempo changes, while “Kaz Hayashi ‘01” could have been written by a late ‘80s heavy metal band and is noisier than most of the songs. They show their softer side with “chyna, chyna, chyna”, but pick up the pace again with “Tony Baines”, a pace they pretty much hold steady until the drummer gets the spotlight at the beginning of the last track, “Russia is HERE”. When the guitars finally come in, Oxes show what they can do with a delay pedal before finally returning to the palm-muting.

It really is hard to stay imaginative in straightforward rock without a good voice or lyrics to fall back on, but Oxes pull it off. Of course, no Godsmack or Creed fan is going to like this, so there has to be enough noise and experimentation to appeal to the Pelican and Tristeza fans, and believe me, there is. What amazes me is the upbeat pace they manage to maintain throughout the album. The drums never slow down for spacey, fifteen-minute interludes like other bands, and the guitarists rarely touch their distortion pedals. I’ve now realized that I’ve made it sound like this album is nothing but noisy palm-muting, but there are two guitarists, so the other one is usually doing something pretty interesting over the chugging. This album is not mind-blowing, but it’s raw, full of energy, and it held my attention. If you don’t like words getting in the way, but fall asleep to Godspeed and The Album Lear, try this album. It works just as well as a shot of espresso and a six-pack of Mountain Dews. However, unlike drinking a six-pack of Mountain Dew, you can listen to Oxes around breakable things.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Early Man - Closing In - Matador Records

If you think The Darkness revived the “golden days” of rock and roll, you have not heard Early Man. The duo was signed to Matador Records shortly after releasing an impressive EP on Monitor Records. The music is full out thrash, the kind that would make Dave Mustaine proud. The vocals and lyrical imagery are very similar to Black Sabbath-era Ozzy. The lyrics are filled with scenes of death, killing, evil, and bulletproof eagles made of steel. The band members are quite young, so this at first comes across as a novelty act, until you the see their long, greasy hair and plain black t-shirts and realize that they don’t know how to rock any other way. Guitarist extraordinaire Matt Sweeney produced the album and added some guitar parts (perhaps the harmonies in some of the sweet guitar solos), pushing the band beyond the potential they showed on the EP.

“Four Walls” opens the album with an epic-sounding intro before blasting into a thrash riff that could have been on Master of Puppets. “War Eagle” is my favorite song, but I think it’s only because of the line “my eyes shoot laser beams at will.” No wait, maybe it’s the ridiculously high note that vocalist Mike Conte holds out for ten seconds or the pre-chorus that Iced Earth forgot the write. “Death is the Answer” reminds me of some of the slower Mastodon stuff and contains a great harmonized guitar solo. The Black Sabbath-influenced “Thrill of the Kill” contains a line that could be a band motto, “Thrill of the kill is why I’m coming after you.” “Contra” is the closest thing to what might be a ballad (which every great metal band has to try to pull off at some point). Conte’s vocals are drenched in almost as much reverb as Jim James’, and the effect does wonders combined with the high notes he constantly hits.

I’m not sure how much exposure the band will get being on Matador, but hopefully they will reach the ears of fans of stoner rock bands like Kyuss or Electric Wizard, and power metal bands like Iced Earth and Helloween. I’m eager to see how the duo pulls off the songs live, because they sound so full on the album.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Tyler Read Interview

Tyler Read (
5 Jan 2006

Tyler Read is a pop-rock band started by two brothers and a cousin in Northern Louisiana. After replacing the cousin, independently releasing three EPs, and adding two more guitar players, they’re ready to take over the world...or at least the CD players of a bunch of 15 year olds. Taking pointers from classic rockers Queen and The Police and mixing it in with an addictive modern edge a la Fall Out Boy, Tyler Read is out to write the perfect pop song. Josh Johnson, lead vocalist and guitar player, was a good sport and did an e-mail interview with me (your guess is as good as mine as what the answer to that first question is about).

Sammy Williams: How long has Tyler Read been breaking young girls' hearts?
Josh Johnson: First off, I am a Christian. Sorta Non-Denom I guess...just like God.

SW: What motivates you guys to keep writing, playing, and touring?
JJ: The absolute hatred of a real job.

SW: So you're up to three guitar players now. How has the new addition helped your sound?
JJ: It’s nice to have someone who can actually play the guitar. I don’t really play that much anymore, that helps me. I think I am going to learn to sing while jogging across the stage, maybe it’s more like a march. I think Brent is going to play a lot more keys. But it’s very nice having an extra piece. If we wanted, we could all play together like the end of that Thin Lizzy song....the one where he sounds like Travolta.

SW: Who starts the songwriting process and how is a song completed?
JJ: I write most of it, because I want most of the money. Everybody else then comes in and does their thing and then the producer comes in and does his thing. I guess I have been at it the longest. Songwriting takes a lot of practice. God knows I have done my share of writing broke-down songs. Check out our back catalogue of self-released EP's. There are some real gems.

SW: Where do you get inspiration for lyrics?
JJ: Ok, for the sake of not giving the same answer for the 100th time...I write into songs what I don’t have the nuts to say in conversation.

SW: What do you guys listen to when you're out on the road?
JJ: Right now.....hmmm.....The last road trip we played: The Who, Queen, Elton John ("Levon," over and over), The Stones, The Beatles, The White Stripes, Dylan, The Wicked Soundtrack, some Jonezetta, some Stellamaris, Kings of Leon. Brent always tries to play Sujan, or Supyan, or whatever his name is. I’m sure he is great, but I don’t listen to him for the same reason that I hate people who try to collect all the state quarters... and an unhealthy fear of Asian people....there is no real logical explanation I guess.

SW: What do you think makes a perfect pop song?
JJ: A big ole' universal truth with a pretty little melody. And a good beat. My vote for Pop song of the decade so far is "Hey Ya" by Outkast. Last decade it was "Let Me Ride That Dunkey Dunkey." You can’t argue that. I guess it seems like black people are better at it than white people.

SW: What's been going on with the recent demos and can we expect a new Tyler Read release soon?
JJ: We could have released another ep with all these demos, but we are lazy and cheap. We are starting a real record in Feb. Im glad that it is finally happening. We have wanted to do an album for a long time, but werent ready. Right now we are finally walking the ever-so-thin line between complete genius and complete garbage.

SW: How do you guys maneuver in those tight pants?
JJ: Well the good Lord didn’t bless me much downstairs; in the way of tree trunk thighs...I really have no problem with it. But about the tight pants backlash, usually started by nu-metalers, dudes, or members of my family who look at me with shame in their eyes...look at pics of Zep man....they weren’t wearing no JNCO's.

SW: Would you rather play a guitar solo in the rain or in the middle of the desert?
JJ: I think about that a lot. The great thing about that to me is that Slash went into the guitar cable factory and asked for a 3,000 foot cable. They looked at him and said, "I’m on it Slash." They probably did it because he wears a leather jacket with no shirt on, and tucks his jeans into his boots. You don’t tell a man like that no. I dream of making it to that level, walking the streets wearing a bolo and drinking Budweiser. Back to the question, I would say that the possibility of dying from lack of food or water from the desert and the possibility of being electrocuted while being in the rain are about the same. The most Slash-like thing you could do would be dying while playing something in the blues scale. I pick both.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


As Cities Burn Interview

As Cities Burn (
6 January 2006

As Cities Burn is a hardworking band from Baton Rouge, LA, whose debut album, Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest, came out last year on Solidstate Records. The band gained a loyal following from constant touring the two years before their signing, and the success of the album has only added to that following. They still haven’t slowed down on the touring front, but I was lucky to get an interview with drummer Aaron Lunsford while he was at home for a couple of weeks.

Sammy Williams: How long has As Cities Burn been together?
Aaron Lunsford: A little over 3 years.

SW: Do you think you would be anywhere near the point you are now without constantly touring before being signed?
AL: Well, I think just being on solid state automatically just gets you to a certain point. But all the touring we did before we were signed put us so far ahead of a lot of other bands that never toured independently. I think it has helped us appreciate how well we have done so far, cause we can think back to two years ago when we were playing for nobody somewhere in Connecticut. Sometimes when young bands get signed off a demo and then go into the studio, and THEN start touring, they don't realize what they are getting into, and it can be a disaster. There is a certain level of maturity and understanding of how things work that you gain from touring independently for two years. Also, we probably wouldn't have gotten signed if we hadn't toured so much on our own. Labels are very attracted to bands that work hard independently.

SW: Who starts the songwriting process, and how does an entire song come together?
AL: Cody always starts the songwriting process. Sometimes he will come to the table with an entire song mapped out, but I think mostly he just comes with a bunch of different parts, and we try to put them all together as a band. We are very slow in our songwriting for the most part. The last two songs we wrote for the record were "Thus From My Lips..." and "Admission: Regret", and we spent the entire 3 weeks between new years and the first day in the studio trying to write those songs. I think those were the hardest and most challenging to put together, because we knew we had to have at least 2 more songs, so there was a lot of pressure to deliver something we felt strong about. Those two songs ended up being my favorite on the record I think, so we were very fortunate that we pulled together, and that Cody can write some sweet guitar riffs. That poor kid was probably ready to chop his hands off by the time we were done.

SW: How do you feel that being attached to the Solidstate Records name has hurt or helped the band?
AL: Well it helps, because you get an instant fan base of kids that just love Tooth and Nail/Solidstate bands. And with the huge success of so many of their bands right now, there couldn't be a better time to come along and be on the label. The only thing that could hurt, and I am not sure if it has, would be the Christian band stigma. The worst thing in the world would be for a kid to just not want to listen to us because of that. I can't even say for sure that has even happened. I think a lot of kids are smart enough to just listen to music for the love of music, no matter what the guys in the band believe. I listen to a lot of bands that I completely disagree with there views on the world. But, I love music, and I feel that respect for each others views is so important, especially if you are a Christian and you want impact other people that don't think the same way you do. But all together, Solidstate is a great place for us, and they have been great so far.

SW: Do the lyrics mean a lot to the entire band, or are they only personal to TJ?
AL: Well actually Cody writes most of the lyrics. He will have a bunch of lyrics and then he and TJ get together and change stuff around and make it work for the song. But the lyrics do mean a lot to everyone in the band. So much of what Cody writes about was influenced by the past 2 or 3 years of touring and all the stuff we have been through spiritually and emotionally. So except for "The Widow" which is specifically meaningful to TJ and Cody, all the songs are definitely very special to each member of the band. And even "The Widow" is special to us, but I guess I can't specifically relate to that song. But I very much enjoy the sadness I feel after listening to it, ha.

SW: What do you guys listen to most on the road?
AL: I guess I won't speak for everyone cause I don't really know but I will give you a top 5 for me right now... 1. Jimmy Eat World 2. The Cardigans 3. Nada Surf 4. Death Cab for Cutie 5. Craig's Brother

SW: What are some of your favorite moments from touring?
AL: This is a hard question to answer cause everything is funnier when you are actually there, but basically the best night of tour ever was with a band called Welton and we got stranded in a blizzard in New York on the way to Ohio...pulled over, got hotels, got some innertubes and a rope, pulled people behind the van in the parking lot, found a hill, made a ramp, went inside and watched the video, put all of our wet clothes back on, made a bigger ramp, and declared ourselves the kings of sledding. And playing at Rocketown in Nashville on the Emery tour for 1300 kids was an amazing experience.

SW: How do you guys stay focused being out on the road for so much of the time?
AL: I am not so sure we do, ha. I remember at the end of this fall tour (16 weeks with NO break) I felt delirious to the point of not being about to carry on a conversation with people that I wasn't on tour with. It was really weird to actually feel exhausted from the road. But we try really hard to encourage each other, and make sure to stay friends throughout everything we go through. Also, the countdown to the day I get to go home and see family and friends keeps me focused. But I don't recommend ever touring for 4 months straight with no break...even 1 week off would have made a world of difference.

SW: Who does the band's hair?
AL: Joey Swindle in Cabot, AR.

SW: What do you think of Ryan Rado?
AL: One time he grabbed my crotch...

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