Daydream Believers

Five skeptical spin doctors probe for local music's pulse -- a City Pages roundtable

SMITH: A lot of it is people choosing pop music as, like, a career option. And then making music becomes something they have to do.

SULLIVAN: I was talking to Steve from Maxwell's in Hoboken. I started to ask him a question about these bands--these young bands that can't seem to build a draw--and he's like, "Yeah. They've been around for two years, and six or seven people are coming out to see them, and they're like, 'Steve! What can you do?' And I'm like, 'Kid, your friends aren't even coming in, why don't you break up?'"

BARBERO: If you have a record label, you get all these tapes in the mail. I just went through a huge bag of cassettes that I got when I was doing Spanish Fly records. I put them on my attic steps, and I decided, "Well, I'll listen to these while I'm cleaning the house, or something." And I think out of about 200 tapes, I kept maybe two. It's not that I'm so picky, it's just that they're...

RANDALL: It's true. You can't even clean the house anymore.

BARBERO: No, I mean, you just put it on and you're going like, "Uhhh!" There's no energy. It's just like they obviously want to play, but they act like it's just horrible having to do it.

SULLIVAN: I know a place that'll give you 50 cents for those tapes.

CP:Was there a time you guys noticed that this was obviously a trend or an escalating problem?

SULLIVAN: I don't know if I've even decided if there's a problem.

CP:Well, you just said that everything sucks, so I would assume that's a problem.

SULLIVAN: I don't think I said that.

CP:That in the last few years there's been a general decline in musicianship?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, that's what I meant.

SMITH: But you don't want too much musicianship in rock, or you'll end up with Phish. The technique has to be matched by some kind of vision. And not only is there a lack of musicianship, there's a lack of vision.

CP:Bill, you just talked about this problem of saturation. Do you think that there's a correlation between this supposed drought of good new music and the birth of this new, amorphous thing tagged "The Electronica Revolution" that's expected to replace the old guard? Or do you think that's just media hype?

SMITH: I don't think there's a sense of replacement at all, I think there's a sense of addition. I mean, if anything, the death of alternative has maybe opened up a space where rock can get some kind of underground again.

SLUG: A good example is this thing with [the Chicago experimental rock band] Tortoise. I've been reading a lot and hearing a lot about that thing they had going on in Chicago with all these different people from different bands playing in a free-form collective jazz kind of thing. That sounds a lot like the shit that the [local DJ/musicians collective] Groove Garden is doing here. And, I mean, that's basically your underground rock scene. Who cares who's playing? These people are going to be down here, they're gonna be jamming, and they're gonna be good.

CP:Let's get specific. What were the records or bands you liked from last year?

SULLIVAN: Locally or nationally?

CP:Both.

BARBERO: I like Slug.

SMITH: I liked Ousia.

CP:How so?

SMITH: There's something irresistible about fat drones and beats that sound like they came from the universe next door.

CP:Slug?

SLUG: I liked the record by [the New York underground hip-hop group] Company Flow. I just got a CD player, so I've been listening to [the acclaimed local free-jazz band] Happy Apple for the last two nights, and I really like that.

CP:Bill, what do you think of that whole scene?

SULLIVAN: I was comparing it to the Three Stooges. Guys like it, but chicks don't. To them, it's just a bunch of slaps and bops. It's like the weather. Wait five minutes, you might like it better, because you never know what the hell they're gonna be doing next. I've only seen them live, and it's been completely different every time.

CP:So we have this proliferation of about half a dozen miniscenes that would have never been around five years ago. Do you think that one of these things can offer what punk offered 15 years ago?

SMITH: Why not imagine that all of them can offer it? It might be that this monolithic point of view we have is a relic of the broadcast age, and as you start to see more microbroadcasting and more Net radio, that monolithic culture is going to fade away. There might not be many Elton Johns or David Bowies, but people might be able to do what they want to do and make decent livings at it. [On the Web] it doesn't take that much money to get started, and you can do pretty much whatever the fuck you please.

SULLIVAN: That reminds me of something. I met this guy and he's like, "Hey, we met in Louisiana when you were with the Replacements in '82, or something like that." I'm like, "I don't remember." He says, "Yeah, we opened up for them." I'm like, "Really?" He goes, "Yeah, we were called the Bobs," or something like that. I'm like, "I don't remember." So he goes, "Well, that's why I changed our name to Fuck."

CP:It's amazing no one thought of it before now.

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