Another A-hole with an opinion, volume 10: Twenty thirteen - the year of years  Podcast

Well friends, 2013 is nearing to a close. I'm going to skip the usual long-winded shpiel and keep this short and sweet (no I won't). This last year was a good one - both personally and for the band. But there's no denying there were some shitty moments. Some moments were so shitty, in fact, that I was ready to throw in the towel on this whole thing. This project is a labor of love; something I've worked hard to build up for about 5 years. But I was just exhausted with all of the things it takes to make it work and keep the momentum going. But like any great American story, we remained as resilient as a pair of Depends on a Tex-Mex all-you-can-eater (what?), and we worked it out. We ended the year on a high note at Pianos in NYC with possibly our best show yet. After playing a few shows that felt like a chore (at least to me), I truly enjoyed myself at this one and I think the whole band did as well. We are going into 2014 with a good feeling, excited for what's to come. And what is to come, you ask? Well, the biggest thing to come is our EP - scheduled to be released in spring/summer 2014. Let's say summer because musicians can't meet deadlines for shit. So in summer or fall 2014, you can expect brand new tunes from the band. And we really feel that this is our best work yet, and we're not just saying that. Ok, we're saying that but we mean it, dammit! It's going to kick ass. Also! We will have some new videos for tracks from our latest album Reactor. Most likely a video for "Woke Up" and a lyric vid for "Mountain."

I think we've come a long way - as songwriters, performers and musicians. So much so that as a Christmas gift, I am offering a listen to the very first track recorded for this project, back when it was still a solo project. (Damn, I must be in a good mood. Or high). Appropriately titled "Early Days," it's about the nature of most relationships. How one person usually holds the power at one time or another. And then things change. I think we've all been there. I feel that we've come a long way as a band, and going into this new album felt like the right time to share the "lost track." You be the judge. I mean, it's not that bad. Right? Take a listen and let us know what you think. Or don't let us know what you think if you think it sucks. (Cue fragile artist mental breakdown.)

So, to summarize: good stuff. Merry Christmas, happy new year, and have a positive and productive 2014! We're planning on having a big year. (Sorry for the long-winded shpiel, can't help myself). You guys rock, thanks for the support! -dan
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  1. Early Days

Another A-hole with an opinion, Volume 9: Whoa, dude, you got humor in my music 

I can't tell you how many pompous music reviews (*ahem* Pitchfork) I've read that discuss the role and importance of humor in music. Anytime a "cool" music blog or publication criticizes a band or album, they talk about them being "humorless" or "overly earnest" or "melodramatic, without a hint of humor or irony." This always bugged me. Look, I'm as big a fan of comedy as any other normal human being, and if you can incorporate that into your live show - great. But who says I want that in my music? Who says a band is only valuable if their music contains humor? Comedy and music are two completely awesome - but separate - things in my mind. Sure there is a place for They Might Be Giants or Ween or any other band who injects comedy, but that is THEIR sound and THEIR own writing style. And it's not for everyone. On the flip side, if a band is so serious to the point that it's mentally draining or depressing, they're probably just shitty. 

Personally, I listen to music to create a mood and an experience, to put me in another space. At its best, music will give me chills when I hear it. I do not listen to music to laugh, or even chuckle. I may smile, but that's because I'm overwhelmed to the point that it's become funny - as in, holy shit that part fucking KILLS ME. So good! Rewind that please.

People even criticize bands like Pink Floyd - one of the greatest bands of all time - for not having a sense of humor. Last time I checked, they had songs that completely moved people into a different space mentally. Took people out of their humdrum existence and hit them over the head with melodic bliss and pure technical ability. And SONGS. Great songs. 

Anyway, if you want to inject some "hilarious" writing into your ditties, by all means - go ahead. It has its place in certain songs and styles. But I would just love to stop seeing popular blogs and magazines and internet trolls criticizing music that is earnest. Music that is poignant, honest and comes from a real place. Because for some people, that's the only kind of music that resonates. I'm not looking for Seinfeld when I listen to music. The real funny thing is, despite all these criticisms of earnestness, bands like Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear - two incredibly serious and earnest bands - are somehow given a pass by Pitchfork and the like. Exceptions to every rule, I guess. For the rest of us, I guess we should look to Weird Al for inspiration.

In other news, our video for "Headlight" (which is actually pretty funny) will be out tomorrow, so look out for that. Hope all is well, peoples! -dan

Another A-hole with an opinion, Volume 8: Matt Basile 

So I think it's about time that we introduce our new bassist, Mr. Matthew Basile.

What we know about Matt so far:

-Grew up in Connecticut
-Likes to skateboard
-Has played in numerous bands, including his own projects where he's been the frontman
-Runs a great rehearsal and production studio in Brooklyn called Proper Pop
-Responds a hell of a lot quicker to texts than phone or email
-Has been to Rio De Janeiro exactly 87 or less times
-Favorite breakfast is Moons over My Hammy (not accurate)
-Dabbles in ventriloquism (creepy and inaccurate)
-Obsessed with the work of obscure 19th century Swedish painter Gottfrid Kallstenius (what?)
-Social security number has a 2 in it (possible)
-Name spelled backwards is Weht Tam (accurate)
-Has fantastic hair, as evidenced below
-Is a fantastic bassist

And yet despite all these great qualities, he is a complete and utter asshole. I keed! Matt’s a very talented and very cool guy. We’re psyched to have him in the band as he's a great fit and brings a lot to the table. Please help us welcome him!

Dan/SA




 

McCartney at Barclay's Center 

On Saturday night I went to see Paul McCartney at Barclay's Center. Around 3 hours, 30-something songs. About 70% Beatles material, 20% Wings, and 10% solo stuff. With the exception of a couple songs, I felt an internal sense of giddiness (aka holy-shit-I-love-this-song) for virtually every tune as the first note was played. I wasn't bored for one second. Sometimes I'll see bands that play for an hour and I can't wait to get the fuck outta there. The thing is, I'm not even a huge McCartney fan. I love the Beatles, but I wouldn't even put them in my top 5 bands. But I definitely felt the sense that this man is a legend and really - how many more tours does he have left? He's 70! Tix were expensive, and I debated buying them - but once I had them I couldn't wait to go.

As I was watching the show, I was reminded (once again!) that IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SONGS. Paul McCartney and the rest of The Beatles weren't the coolest guys ever. None of them had extraordinary voices, although Lennon and McCartney are good singers. None of them were masters of their instruments, although all very capable players. But they were genius songwriters. They each took the innate skills that they had and worked their asses off at getting better. People think they were an overnight success but these guys had been working on their craft for years and playing small shitty clubs for a long time before they hit it big - and essentially started rock and roll. Yeah I know...Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Robert Johnson and all the blues guys yada yada bullshit. They were all amazing musicians and legends in their own right but nothing exploded pop rock 'n roll the way The Beatles did.

My point for writing this is that I feel like marketing/promotion and the desire for instant fame are starting to trump songs and songwriting. Bands' priorities are backwards. Sure The Beatles had a ridiculous marketing team that exploded them in the States, but they had the musicianship and songs to back it up. I feel like, nowadays, you have an artist with 1 good song and 1 GREAT publicist who gets them onto pitchfork.com (oh, and someone in the band who is "witty" on twitter). This is why you have bands that are popular for a month and then you never hear from them. There are exceptions, of course, and a ton of excellent bands out there who put the focus on the right things. But seeing McCartney made me realize that the 10,000 hours of work, the craft, the fine-tuning of songs on top of the natural-born talent, is what it's all about in terms of a career. And honestly, there are very few legends and you can't even try to compete with that level of songwriting. But you can always experiment and improve on what you have. That's the exciting part.

Twitter/FB and other promotions are great and necessary for getting your music and brand out there but it won't help you polish a turd of a song. This doesn't just go for music; spend your time doing the work and becoming great at whatever it is you do. Shit, I'm even learning how to write these blogs through practice! In the end, your brand and work should sell itself. With a little help from a photo of a cat shooting lasers out its ass. You know, to get some "likes."  -dan



 

Motivation 

It's been a reflective couple weeks for me in regards to the band. Prior to our last show I had been feeling sick and congested (aka awesome for singers!) and on top of that when we got on stage the vocal monitors were WAY too low and the amps were WAY too loud. Consequently I blew my voice out and had to stop the show 2/3 of the way into it. It had never happened before and it was very disappointing for me. I went through a few days of the "whoa is me" mentality and really started to reflect on music and the band in general.

There are so many ups and downs about creating music. In its purest form, just sitting at home with a guitar or piano by yourself, it's such complete bliss (most times, anyway). On the other hand, the duties and stresses of actively pursuing music as a living can be downright exhausting. Things as simple as getting other human beings together to practice is such a huge ordeal. Add to that the financial burden of an indie artist, the constant feeling of needing to do "more" and promote and get in people's faces etc etc. As much as music is supposed to be fun, the business side to it is the exact opposite of fun - which I guess would make it lameboringshitty.

So that old question comes back to mind. Why? What is the reason for pursuing music in this way? Can't you just be a bedroom artist and upload some tracks to soundcloud/youtube like the 9 million other wannabes out there? Well...obviously everyone has different motivations for why they pursue music. Get chicks, respect of peers, money, fame, adoration, fill some eternal void in your soul, yada yada. And while all of those are arguably valid reasons, I had to ponder this yet again and how it applies to me personally. Because you start to lose the plot at some point. And what I realized, again, after briefly considering moving on from music, is that I don't know anything else that would make me happier as my life's work. Besides the idea that I hate quitting anything, it's my passion. It's a purpose. It's really the only thing I enjoy. It's the only thing that gets my blood pumping and makes me excited for "work." I think about sitting in my rocking chair in Florida and going through my stack of shit that I "accomplished" in life, and a shit-ton of music (good, bad or otherwise) is what I really look forward to seeing.

So once again I became excited about music and the future. And I answered the question for myself - why? Well why the fuck not? What else am I gonna do?!

Which reminds me of our song Headlight (which we're currently creating a video for - coming soon!), it deals with this very topic. Sort of an ode to music. You can listen and check out the lyrics here:

http://soapboxarmy.bandcamp.com/track/headlight

As always, thanks for the support! You guys always keep us encouraged. Upwards and onwards...

Cheers,
Dan/SA



 

What's in a (band) name? 

When I decided on our band name, I got mixed reactions. Some people loved it, some people hated it or just didn't get it. I always wonder when I tell people the name if they're going to read too much into it. And maybe even judge the band based on the name. And sometimes I feel like they do, and I guess I should've prepared for that.

It wasn't completely arbitrary. I liked the sound and look of Soapbox Army, and I hadn't really seen soapbox in a band name before. I wanted something different. On top of that, it just seemed appropriate for people who stand on a stage and spew their perspectives on the world and those around them. Every band creates a soapbox because every band uses the platform to share their own unique view of the world. The "Army" part just had to do with the fact that, well, EVERY ONE nowadays has a voice. Whether you believe that's good or bad, everyone has a twitter, facebook, blog, whatever. But to me, that's just an observation - sometimes I think it's a good thing, sometimes bad. But either way, it's the new norm.

Traditionally a soapbox is a political thing. However, this is not a political band. We're not Rage Against The Machine. That said, the lyrics can be opinionated and therefore I thought the name was appropriate. But as far as politics go, after witnessing this latest shitstorm of campaigning/debating/FB opinion-spewing, I'm so turned off by the whole thing. I can't really identify completely with either party. I'm with Chris Rock, who said in one of his stand-up specials that if you choose a side on something before you even hear the issue, you're an idiot. He said, "On crime, I'm conservative. Prostitution...I'm liberal!" And I think that's the only healthy mindset to have. But I digress... 

I guess my point is, a name is a name. Some bands put "The" before a noun and there you have it. They don't think about it too much. Others probably think about it too much (like I did). I do believe that, just like the music, you should be able to stand behind it and have it mean something to you. Because you're gonna have to live with it. But at the end of the day, it's a name and shouldn't really affect anyone's opinion of you or your music. If a band calls themselves "The Fartsbargles" and they have amazing songs, who the hell cares? Wait, I think I just came up with a side project. -dan

Pop music & Gimmicks 

I have a love/hate relationship with pop music. On the one hand, it can be simplistic and all about sales and completely overplayed ad nauseum. On the other hand, there have been some amazing pop songs to come out in the last century. And at the end of the day, my favorite music has pop sensibilities and at least a little bit of melody and catchiness to it. Not only that, but as a musician you start to have a real respect for people who can write a big, hooky pop tune. It's not easy, and anyone who says otherwise oughta give it a shot and see. It's a specific set of skills that not everyone has.

My real issue with newer pop stars and pop music is that any of the originality and artistry that might've been there has been completely stripped away. Sure, everything's been done, but to lump the amount of praise onto some of the current heap of stars is just ridiculous. And my biggest issue is the gimmicky sensationalism and attempts at being "risque." Madonna, David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson all had gimmicks but they had the music to back it up. They had songs - great songs, timeless songs. Nowadays it just feels like there's a desperate need for attention and worship but a disregard for the craft of songwriting. It's really hard to tell if anything in the mainstream right now will hold up in 10, 20, 30 years. But I guess we'll see.

Hate to sound like an old man bitching and moaning (get off my lawn!) but I'm writing this blog after seeing one of these "artists" in a new video. I just simply don't get it. The imagery is ridiculous but I wouldn't care if the songs were great. And that's all we're seeing nowadays in the pop world. Hopefully the next crop of pop artists will bring some amazing songs to the table, a little artistry and add some more icons to the pop culture landscape. Nobody said it's easy to write "Billie Jean" or "Changes" or "Purple Rain," but in the meantime can we maybe limit the gimmicky assholes to their 15 minutes and one overexposed song/video? -dan

Hurricane Sandy, Baroness & Doing What You Love 

Oh, what a week we're having in NYC. Without adding depressing insult to injury, right before the storm hit I was reading an article about the band Baroness and their recent bus crash near Bath, England. You can read the lead singer's letter regarding the crash here (it's long but a really powerful read):

http://baronessmusic.com/update-from-baroness/#more-501 

While driving down a hill on their tour bus, the brakes failed completely and the bus went flying through a guardrail and dropped about 30 feet into a bunch of trees. Amazingly, all nine people on the bus survived but with severe injuries (letter includes gory details). In the letter, lead singer John Baizley talks about the fact that he was as close to death as you could possibly be. But that the band can't let the accident stifle what has become so much more than a passionate hobby for them. They have to go on, and in fact, they're now more encouraged and driven than ever to pursue their goals because of what happened.

As much annoying crap as I've been through this past week, that's all it really is - annoying crap. It's nothing compared to what many others have gone through. I've heard some pretty devastating and heart-wrenching stories. When things like this happen, people always talk about what's important - and of course, the number one thing people mention is family (including close friends). That goes without saying, and who you love is always the most important thing in life. But people don't really talk about what you love after things like this happen. I feel like it's almost as important. And that's one of the reasons this letter affected me so much. Having purpose and feeling like you're contributing something to the world, however big or small, is such a big deal. At least for me. 

I come across people all the time that have dreams or at least things they'd love to be doing besides trudging it out in their current jobs. And time is a'wasting. And none of us are getting any younger. And the point is to just do it, as Nike says. Have the courage to get the F out of your current situation and into a better one. It might just be a marketing ploy, but Nike's line is brilliant. Quit procrastinating and whining. I mean we're all guilty of it, hell I'm one of the worst offenders, but find a way to get things done. Now. Discover what you love, what makes you feel alive, and pursue it completely. If nothing happens, you can't have any regrets because you tried. And you'll find something else to fulfill you. It may sound like some cheesy Tony Robbins guru crap, but it's all true.

So yeah...Call your mom and make sure you're doing what you love. Just my .00002 cents. -dan

Lyrics 

Yesterday I got an email from a fan in Germany asking for lyrics to one of our songs. He said that the song completely fit what he was going through. I get these emails occasionally and it's always very flattering. But it also makes me think about song lyrics in general. For me personally, I've always connected to songs because of the actual melody first and foremost. Secondarily I connect with the sound of the words. After becoming a fan of a song, then I might start reflecting on the lyrics and what they could mean. But until I started writing songs myself, I would just sing along to the words without any thought about what they could possibly be saying. Unless the meaning was completely obvious OR I was a hardcore fan of the artist and would dig deeper.

Take Bob Dylan vs a guy like Beck (early Beck). I have a ton of respect for Dylan and I actually like a few of his songs a lot. But I guess I never completely connected with him because it sounds like the lyrics dictate the song. A lot of folk music is this way, and there is definitely a place for it. We're even covering a Dylan song live right now - however we do the Van Morrison version because it sounds cooler ;) Dylan has written some of the most creative and poetic lyrics ever but a lot of the music to me sounds the same. 

Then you've got a guy like (early) Beck. He has definitely grown big time as a lyricist over the years, but check out a few lines from "Loser":  "In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey, Butane in my veins so I'm out to cut the junkie, With the plastic eyeballs - spraypaint the vegetables, Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose." I never even thought about these words other than the fact that they sound ridiculous. I was too busy grooving to the song. "Man, that's so f'n cool," young Daniel would say. The song is catchy as hell and the SOUND of the words is what stuck with me. Beck's voice was cool. Didn't matter that the lyrics were complete gibberish.

I've written a ton of songs over the years, and I think I can count on one hand the number of times where lyrics came first. I almost always hear a melody in my head or come up with it on guitar, and then the lyrics seep out as stream-of-consciousness thoughts (which are then shaped into real lyrics/themes). The funny part is that people generally compliment me on my lyrics, sometimes before the music (if they can decipher the words). I think this has to do with the fact that I listen to bands like Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Pink Floyd who write metaphorically. Nothing is straightforward and therefore the songs bear repeat listens. And this has kind of shaped my writing. I don't intentionally write in a cryptic way, it's just what comes out when I sit down to work on a song. I don't think I could write in a straightforward way if I tried. 

Recently I've been thinking about the importance of lyrics again in songwriting, and there was a huge focus on them for our latest album, Reactor. I was a writer before I was a songwriter, be it short stories/poetry/advertising whatever. When we were recording Reactor, our producer Craig Levy said that you should be able to stand by every word you write. Nothing should be arbitrary or a "throw away" lyric. And I've really tried to adhere to that. Along with working on the enunciation of the words, placing more importance on them. I've always thought about every line and what it meant to me, but I was way more concerned with how the music and words sounded. I guess I still have that question in the back of my head though - how important are lyrics to a song? Does it depend on the artist/type of music? What lyrics stand out to you? -dan




Art & Recognition 

Welcome to the first official Soapbox Army blog post! 

Gonna start off with something that's been on my mind lately. And that is the topic of artists and the recognition for their art. Our guitarist, Pheroze, posted something related to this on his own blog recently. One of the things I took from it was that we, as artists, shouldn't be whining that people aren't paying attention and complaining that we're not getting the right opportunities and bitching about others' success. He goes on to explain that he creates art because it's a calling; and his focus is on continuing to create and get better at his craft. And that "Generally, if you're doing something important with your life, not a single fuck will be given about it by anyone." This line cracked me up, but it's also sorta true. It's a generalization and people do care, but you can't expect them to care about it like you do. 

I agree with Pheroze. However, I think that as artists we ALL want to be acknowledged (to different extents). It should never be the primary motivation for creating something, but it's always a factor. Even bedroom artists will post shit on YouTube, email friends, etc. It's part of an artist's (and human) nature to want to connect with people and have them see what you've accomplished. Sure, there's guys like Kurt Cobain who supposedly committed suicide because of how mega-famous Nirvana became, but when they were starting out, Kurt was sending demo tapes to SubPop and other indie labels. He wanted people to hear and recognize his talent - he may just not have wanted that level of recognition. Careful what you wish for.

I am not a self-promoter. I don't like doing it, I don't like getting in people's faces. And it's probably hindered certain aspects of my life and career. And the thing is, I do believe in our music. And there's nothing I'd rather be doing with my life. But in order to continue this thing in earnest and beyond just a hobby, you need at least SOME people to give a shit. It took a new member of the band to light the proverbial fire under my ass and get me to realize this. Because, like Pheroze, I've always believed that it should be all about creating art because it's what you're supposed to do. I've always admired bands who believe their music speaks for itself. There's both an ego and a humility to it. And if people aren't paying attention, hey - you still accomplished something.

But as an artist, you have to make a distinction between hobby and a real desire to achieve. I didn't start this project to achieve Coldplay-level ubiquity. But I do want to achieve something with it. Recently, there's been more people commenting, interacting and just overall RESPONDING to our music in a favorable way. And these are the people that matter because they are the true music fans; their lives are enriched by the music. And that's what it's all about. Of course it feels good to create for yourself, but it feels GREAT to affect people in a positive way. Satisfy yourself creatively, and hopefully enrich other people's lives as a result. And then you've "made it." And you can start whining about other shit.

That all said, thanks so much for the support! -Dan