Column 7 – Part 2

What I think of when I mention Chris

To describe Chris in one word, he is dedicated. On all of his breaks at work he is playing guitar, writing lyrics, or doing some promotional research for his band. He loves it, and it shows. He wants to know where to improve. That desire to take criticism and grow is indispensable in any artistic venture.

It doesn’t seem to me that his other band mates care nearly as much about anything but playing. They must feel like getting out there to make it is just something that falls into your lap. Or maybe they know he’ll do the legwork, and don’t do any themselves. So UC’s success is determined greatly in part of his efforts.

The next day at work

Sure enough, he came up to me the next morning, excitedly thanking me for coming and asking, “So what did you think of the show last night?”

“We had all had a good time” I said courtly, and kind of left it at that. Which we did. It was good to get out and see everyone, and I liked supporting Chris and what he was doing. I really respect him for his dedication, I don’t find that often in people.

He seemed satisfied with that answer and went back out to the shop. But it was only momentarily, because about fifteen minutes later he came back in and dropped the bomb on me.

“I know you might not want to think about it, but if you have the time, I would really like to hear what you specifically thought about the show. To hear an artists point of view, I think might be really helpful, whether UC uses the advice or not.”

“I don’t really think I’m in the position to critique you, you know? I don’t really know anything about music and that sort of thing.” And I didn’t, I can’t advise him, I know nothing about how to write or play music. The closest I come to making music is after a half a case of Smirnoff ice and a carton of Kraft Shells and cheese.

“Well, just a regular person’s opinion, you know.”

“Yeah, ok” I agreed, convinced momentarily that my opinion was worthwhile.

What a loaded question

He left the weight with me, and went out to the shop. He didn’t know how it consumed me for the whole next two hours, and I could barely concentrate on my digging for sales information on the web.

I prayed that God wouldn’t let my overly negative side come out and tried to think of how to explain to him what I thought, in positive and constructive terms.

I took him out to my car at break and we listened to the new Linkin Park cd, Meteora. “I can’t stop listening to this album.” I started. “ It is the most solid album from track one to track thirteen that I have ever heard. People think that they are on the tail end of this rap fusion movement thing, but they’re wrong. They have these rich beats and have a different sound that is complemented by Chester Benningham’s rough, raspy, painfully powerful vocals with the monotone vocals by their emcee, Mike Shinoda.” Chris didn’t know who I was talking about so I added, “You know, the Asian guy.” He kind of nodded as he followed where I was going, acknowledging that I was sort of talking his language. “They’re pushing the bill and they cannot be classified in a genre.”

(Many of you might think I don’t actually talk like that, but I do, so nyah.)

“But the track I love the most is track twelve. You know why?” as I deftly maneuvered the track stereo buttons, “It has NO lyrics.”

I made eye contact with him and gestured an axing motion with my hand, “They have no singing in the song. It is like this evolution of beats weaved with a techno sound that builds to a total climax. You know what I mean? The beats move into each other” as I gave an ocean wave kind of motion with my hand. I don’t think he understood my emotion for the song, but he got the jist.

“It evolves their sound just a little from what worked on their first album, but at the same time it stands out, and I love that.”

I reiterated the positive

“I really liked your energy as a band,” I told him, the same thought I had last night, “And I respect that because for such a small crowd, that is hard. But in the same vein, I didn’t find you all that accessible musically. You gotta think about that first time listener and how they will react. I noticed some guys screwing around down front that probably know all your music, but you have to think from a new listener’s perspective and not just play for the old ones.”

I continued, uninterrupted, “I also just feel like you need something. I can’t tell you just what, but for an artist, you need that ‘thing’. For example, when you guys did your solos. The bass guitarist in particular, didn’t stick with one beat. I mean, we know you guys can frickin’ play, we aren’t stupid. It was like you were just practicing on stage. Do something different. Take the solos and do like a melodic song, different guys leading into each other, kind of like that Linkin Park song. It didn’t need lyrics to stand on its own. Blend the bassist into the drummer after he starts. The bass guitar is kind of like the drums of the guitars, if that makes any sense.”

Not to hit you over the head, but the point I was trying to make was, that they needed to stand out from every other local band.

Tools of the Artist

To make your mark and stand out as an artist, you need to possess three characteristics.

You need talent. Chris and UC have that.

You need drive, and they have that as well.

You also need a little luck. Meaning, you need to just be good naturally. It has to be in you. No matter how much you practice, you just have it. You have something that no one else could have, even if they did the exact same amount of work as you.

I am not convinced they had that. They came out and played, and never once did I think anything but, “They’re not bad for a local band.” They wore typical clothing, and sang songs that didn’t stand out in my mind, mostly because I couldn’t even understand Chris when he sang.

I generally don’t go for shock value, but at the very least they could standout by wearing the t-shirts Chris produced. Get some buzz among your listeners. What is it about your show that they have to absolutely tell all of their friends about. Also, it would convey group cohesiveness, and they would solidify their name or “brand” to those first timer listeners, if they didn’t pick it out through garbled speak. Either way, they needed something.

Or go the other way and do the catchy thing. People love catchy songs. Bands on the radio don’t necessarily have talent, but they market something catchy that the masses can sing along to. And hopefully, if your band is smart, you will use that as a springboard to write good songs now that you have people’s attention.

An example; Nineteen Wheels. They redid this song, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” and it got some serious air play. They are a local band, but they play locally all across Michigan, and I have been to see two of their concerts in Ann Arbor. Anyone can sing along to that fun song. I don’t really even like live music and the sweaty expensive atmosphere, but I have been to them twice! My friends and I just love that remake.

I don’t think it came off right

But I know if I made my point clear, and even though I prayed about him and his feelings, I am sure I did more bad than good, and I feel bad. It is easier to concentrate on the bad, as I have mentioned before.

But disregard all that I said

In the end, no one can really tell you what you need. That is the last component of an artist. You need to know when you are right, and follow your heart.

I am just one unimportant opinion of many. Lots of people care about lyrics, and experimental music, and scoff at any catchy mainstream radio or shock value gimmick. You just need to listen to your heart. You need show people what is good, make them know it is good.

And, if you win the respect of other people for what you are doing with your artistic ventures, you’ll always have those people to back you up.

Respect is not something that fades as quickly as a band with a great freshman album and a piss poor sophomore effort. Chris’ band might not be as big as Linkin Park for me, but I don’t know Linkin Park. I do know Chris, and he is working hard at making it big. He balances a wonderful family, three kids and one more on the way, a fulltime job with regular hours and his band, which he lives all the time in between. I know I can’t say that I am ALWAYS doing something to further my art.

This is a recycled thought, and might sound cheesy, but it is true. Anyone who sees him and his passion knows like I do, that he is following his heart and not listening to everyone else. UC deserves to make it, and all of us who went to their concerts are going to be there, waiting to say, “… I knew him when.”


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