(I wrote this blog post a few months ago, but for one reason or another I never shared it.......)
Something happened a few days ago that has got me thinking about what the public expectations are as to what a band in the 21st century should be saying, or not saying, out in the public domain.
I saw a photo of Chancellor George Osbourne holding up his little red budget briefcase, and it reminded me of the case used in popular US Wrestling brand WWE's Money In the Bank match, so I joked via the bands Facebook page that if parliament was more like the WWE then someone would take it off him and hit him with it, indicating that this is something I would quite enjoy to see. I didn't think too much of it really. Innocent enough. Here in Scotland to suggest that George Osbourne should be hit in the face with a briefcase would be considered so tame that you might be labelled Tory sympathiser and be swiftly catapulted over Hadrians Wall.
It was no surprise that it was a statement met with one or two grunts of anger from miffed Sun reader types, in many ways I feel like I've let myself down when I say anything that isn't growled at by a Union Jack profile picture or two. But what shocked me a little was the sentiment put across from more than one person that it wasn't what I had said that was wrong, but that fact that I, as someone in a rock band, should be saying anything political at all.
I cringe a little to even use the term "political". Like a lot of people in the UK I find everyday party politics completely tedious and pretty much impossible to rise the slightest passion towards. I am naive and uneducated, I will happily admit that. I'm not going to attempt to give any in-depth analysis of the modern political landscape. I couldn't if I wanted to. But I don't really see having complete contempt for a government that shamelessly spits in the face of the most vulnerable people in society in favour of business and the wealthy as exclusively a political issue, at its core it is a human issue. To have strong feelings about this and not say anything would seem quite dishonest to me. It would be really easy to sit silently, trying to hide out in a haze of ironic cool, hugging a rare Shellac cassette and sneering at anyone who opens their mouths. But it doesn't appeal to me. I am fully aware of being a nobody in a band that no one has heard of but I feel like I can sleep easier at night knowing I have used what small voice I have to try and land on the right side of the evil empire.
Modern rock n' roll is morphing into a sort of neutral, wipe clean, sexless blob. The fear of offending and alienating a potential sales market outweighs any desire to have an opinion or to stand for something. The main reason I started writing this was to ask whether bands should open their mouths on any sort of social or political subject matter, or on any subject matter at all that isn't "buy my records and buy tickets to my gig and buy this T-shirt"?
Have we reached a stage where the idea of musicians as dead eyed sales drones has been pushed so much that people now want and expect nothing other than this? I have no problem with selling things, I want people to come to our shows and buy our records, but that can't be everything. End of transaction. Warm smile. Have a nice day.
So much great rock music has been based on attitude and rebellion, on being a thorn in the side of the mainstream and offering some form of "alternative" culture, surely that can't be allowed to die. At least not without a bit of a fight. A little bit of fire in the belly, some uncontrolled rage, just a little injection of fight would be wonderful. Can you imagine any popular guitar bands rolling up to a major televised show and putting on a performance like Kendrick Lamar's at this years Grammys? I really can't. And that scares me a bit.
Is it any real surprise that rock music is wheezing out a slow death gasp when you actually listen to the voices out there now? Much like a lot of the arts and journalism it is a rare thing to hear a voice from a modern band that isn't coming from a well educated upper middle class mouth. Other than perhaps that one token band that's allowed to slip through the net every now and again to be "the band of the people" and rip out a few rehashed Live Forever covers, when do you get to hear a working class voice, or even one which originates anywhere south of London? In the BBC Sound Of 2016 long list of 15 new acts that are tipped to soundtrack the year ahead only one of the final 15 acts came from outside the London area. I'm not saying that any of these acts, or any popular bands of the moment don't deserve all the success in the world, just that there should be a balance. Variety is a healthy thing. If those in the creative industries all come from the same place then what representation is there for the rest of society? From personal experience I have always found music and books to be the best thing in the world for battling loneliness. To hear or read something that makes you think, "holy shit, there are other people out there like me" is beautiful thing, and for that to continue and to be a sensation available to all then there needs to be a whole spectrum of backgrounds and opinions in art.
The way things are currently set up it is nearly impossible for anyone to make a career in the arts unless you can afford to sustain yourself with no income. I sometimes find it quite hard to figure out how bands ever "made it" at all. The way things are in this current moment are so deeply ingrained in my mind. The digital revolution in music hit so hard that I think it will still be some time before anyone really knows what the hell is going on, or how a new band is ever expected to make a living.
Last February we all gave up full time jobs to try and make a real go of this. We spent nine months touring and recording an album, and the minute we got home we were all straight back to the job centre, drowning in debt and uncertainty. Granted, we wouldn't change it for anything in the world, we'd all sell organs to keep doing the things we've been doing, but it is really fucking hard. I guess we have the benefit of really understanding and supportive girlfriends and families. I can sort of understand why so many bands in our area had to jack it in and find a proper career. I don't know if its necessarily a good or bad thing that we have no skills or proper qualifications. I guess it's good in that it reaffirms our feeling that this is all we can do, all we want to do and all there is for us. But bad in that if it all falls to pieces we are completely fucked.
Right now, if the pop charts and major radio stations are anything to go by then the most popular genre of music is a sort of watered down, corporate hip-hop/ R n' B where the consistent subject matter is a mumbling brag about all the expensive things the performer has or how good they are at sex. Can the idea that material wealth and sexual attractiveness are the two highest goals in life be the undisputed narrative of our generation? I really hope not. For that reason I am a big fan of raised voices.
I may have gotten a little side tracked on the way, but the point I'm trying to make is that I like bands that mean something, and that speak out, bands that are filled with rage and alienation. I think it is a healthy thing for everyone. I would like to mould my band around those that I love and that mean so much more to me than just a collection of sounds. I will try hard to think more before I speak from now on, but I certainly wont be shutting up anytime soon.
Peace and love,