Friday, May 8, 2009

Deer Tick and the Providence Folk-Rock Scene, or Whatever You'd Like to Call It

By the time Deer Tick took to the stage, the crowd had become restless. The room was filled nearly to capacity as people stood on amps and tables just to get a better view of the band. From the first song onward it was obvious that the band played much harder live than on their album, which is both quieter and folksier. The band, along with many males in the crowd, had ripped off their shirts by the time the second song began. Everyone was dancing—everyone—and most people were singing along to every word. If I could describe the whole event in one word it would be ‘passionate.’”

Can you imagine a mixture of Townes Van Zandt and Nirvana? Because that's who John McCauley, lead singer and founder of the band Deer Tick, cited as his two biggest influences in an interview in 2007. And, miraculously, that seems to be almost exactly what I heard each time I saw them play over the past few months.

Deer Tick at Brown University's Spring Weekend.
Note the flannel and the American flag.

Deer Tick are one of the few bands in Providence's rising folk scene to have gained national acclaim, having toured the country, played at SXSW, and received attention from The Rolling Stone and popular music blog the Brooklyn Vegan. Despite becoming somewhat of a national act, though, Deer Tick are still very much involved in what I will call the Providence folk scene, which is why I chose to focus on them in order to learn more about this particular scene. Though the music and style of different bands in this scene can be quite varied, most of it seems to retain some of the defining qualities of folk music: "homemade-type music played mainly by ear, arising out of older traditions but with a meaning for today" (Seeger 5) with simple and often subtle songs and lyrics (185). Deer Tick specifically seems to reflect Burns' description of folk-rock; he describes it as an "amalgamation of folk music and rock music [that] might be regarded as part of an evolutionary process in rock music that started in the late 1960s and early 1970s...this process is ongoing as folk-rock music continues to combine tradition and transformation" (197). For more comparisons between Deer Tick and Providence's folk scene and scholarly definitions of folk, read on here.

In order to learn more about this scene, I, along with Dani, interviewed and talked with participants, attended local shows, and researched what "folk" really was and what it might mean today. We wanted to learn what constituted this scene—who was a part of it, how people interacted, how did it begin, how has it/is it growing, changing, transforming... While some of our original thoughts and theories were supported by what we learned, others were proven wrong or, at the very least, somewhat ignorant. Not only did I somewhat-incorrectly perceive the artists and fans to be hipsters adopting an ironic hillbilly style, but I also underestimated the wide scope of musical genres and styles prevalent in the scene.

First, the aesthetic style—though the proliferation of flannel and mustaches may seem entirely ironic, there seems to be a genuine longing for something that these things represent. Dani interviewed Evan, an involved member of the scene, who commented, "There’s this like championing of like “white trash” or Italian stereotypes...driving pickup trucks, wearing like mustaches and facial hair which is kind of part of a larger thing...and like, specifically like bad tattoos, specifically like American flags and eagles, all these kind of stuff that like whatever is cool but it's not, it's ironic but it's not ironic. That’s not really the point, it’s a genuine yearning for these things, it’s a genuine yearning for this kind of a country boy experience, and I see that in myself and in lots of other people too but it manifests itself in a particular way here." While there may be exceptions, it is very possible that this yearning is tied to the middle class (and often lower-middle class) origins of many of the artists in the scene.

The music itself is much more broad and complicated than I originally anticipated. Whereas I associated the music with simple songs and heavy lyrics, there is more to it than just that. According to Sam, my interviewee, "[M]ost of the bands involved in [the scene] aren't strictly folk. They have rock influences, they have blues influences, they have country influences... there's even some metal influences in there sometimes." When asked to describe the music itself, he said, "It's kind of tricky... I would say that there is a sort of sound to it and it's kind of hard to describe a sound with words, but... for the most part it's definitely folk-inspired—a lot of focus on lyricism more than instrumentals... On the other hand, it's not traditional folk. It's mostly electric, mostly a full band with drums—although there are some performers who just have a guitar." Sam's comments seemed to prove that Providence's folk scene was comparable to other folk revivals that have occurred over the past few decades—folk that is evolving and changing along with other genres as they are mixed and matched, inspiring and inspired. In addition, most musical acts, including Deer Tick, do seem to focus on what I have always thought of as a principle quality of folk music—lyricism, which you can read about in my interview with Sam (check out the link above).

Disregarding the music, the scene was interesting in and of itself. It continues to grow almost entirely through word of mouth. Not only that, but its core members seem to be related not through their music (though I'm sure that does help), but through friendships. Though Evan described the scene musically as "country music played by people with tattoos," he also said that "this is more sort of a group of friends at this point," something I realized when, at a semi-secret Deer Tick show, friends were invited to stay afterwards and seemed to make up a large part of the crowd. The artists themselves are also fans and friends of each other. John McCauley, in several interviews, has mentioned his interest in Chris Paddock and Diego Perez, two other Providence musicians, as well as quite a few other artists and bands, but just going to a few shows, watching YouTube videos, and reading up the various MySpaces has shown me that their relationship goes much deeper than just similar music tastes--they are quite obviously good friends. Chris travelled with Deer Tick during their last tour, ostensibly as their manager, but more as a friend. Both he and Diego often play on stage with Deer Tick at their shows, especially when playing a show in Providence. Each time I see the band, Chris has made an appearance for the song "These Old Shoes," a song of his which Deer Tick covered that has since become one of their biggest hits.

While Deer Tick and the Providence folk-scene proved to be an interesting case study, I'm interested in learning more about similar folk scenes in other locales and how they are all related to each other, if they even are. Do they all share this same longing for "American" ideals? How does class play into the involvement of people in the scene? How do the musical styles compare? Are other scenes also based more on relationships than on musical similarities? I would also like to get in contact with John McCauley (something that I did once but was then unable to do again) and talk with him more about the origins of Deer Tick and his early involvement in the scene. How has it changed since he first became a part of it? Where does he see it going in the future? It seems like the possibilities for this scene are endless, and we can only wait, watch, and listen for what will emerge from it next.

Pictures from Deer Tick's recent show at Lupo's in Providence

Word Count: 1347


Alarik, Scott. Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground. Cambridge, MA: Black Wolf Press, 2003.

Burns, Robert G. H. "Continuity, Variation, and Authenticity in the English Folk-Rock Movement." Folk Music Journal. 2007.

Cohen, Ronald D. Folk Music: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Lornell, Kip. Introducing American Folk Music. Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark, 1993.

Seeger, Pete. The Incolpeat Folksinger. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Elijah Wald's "Polka Contrabandista"

In this article, Wald discusses corridos, ballads which seem to be a Latin waltz or polka (quite the interesting mix), and their social and political role in communities surrounding the Mexican-American border. I was especially surprised by their significance in the drug trade. Though the songs were ostensibly just about news stories, many of the songs not only mentioned drug trafficking and use but seemed to support it. Apparently some bands would even accept money or equipment from drug lords in exchange for writing a song about that person. This brings in some of the issues we've seen in such genres as rap and metal.

Discussion question: Do you think this type of music inspires violence or crime, like some have suggested rap and metal do? If so, what should be done? Should it be banned or censored, even though it is conveying the truth (more or less) of life for this particular culture?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Duany's "Popular Music in Puerto Rico: Toward an Anthropology of Salsa"

In his article, Duany traces not only the musical history of salsa music but also the anthropological one. He discusses that, due to the various interracial relationships in Puerto Rico that began centuries ago, Puerto Rico, like many other islands in that area, experienced a great amount of transculturation that brought about new features and traditions of the culture, including salsa. Though salsa may be a distinctly Puerto Rican form of song and dance, its roots are in such cultures as Spanish (the seis) and African (the bomba). From this reading, it seems that salsa especially thrived because Puerto Ricans living in New York used it as a form of identification with their heritage, even though it was not necessarily something their ancestors did--a phenomenon also witnessed in the study of bhangra and several other genres of music.

Discussion Question: Why do you think there seems to be a phenomenon in which people (especially those part of a diaspora) seem to relate a music to their heritage even when that music is relatively modern or not necessarily a product of their original culture (that of the "home country")?

Field Notes 4/13

After going over my interview with Sam and the excerpts from Dani’s interview with Evan, I noticed that something that stuck out in both of them was the issue of naming this particular scene we chose to study. While Dani and I felt comfortable defining it as folk, or folk-rock, or indie-folk, both of our interviewees seemed to feel that this may not be an entirely adequate description (you may read or listen to Dani’s interview with Evan here). I decided to do some academic research to learn about some of the definitions of “folk” and see how those related to my current understanding of this Providence scene.

First I looked at Introducing American Folk Music, which outlined six general characteristics of “folk” (p 11-12):
  1. It varies greatly over space but relatively little over time.
  2. It emanates from a specific, identifiable community.
  3. The authorship or origins of folk songs and tunes are generally unknown.
  4. It is usually disseminated by word of mouth, aurally, or through informal apprenticeships within a community.
  5. It is often performed by nonprofessionals. Only a few people make their living by playing folk music; in fact, the distinctions between listener and performer can be very indistinct.
  6. Short forms and predictable patterns are fundamental.

While the first and third did not seem to apply to the type of folk Dani and I are studying (referring to folk of cultural traditions rather than folk as a musical genre), the other characteristics seemed to be at least somewhat applicable. The community, in this case, is made up of the group of friends (including fans who have become friends) who compromise the core of this scene, most of them coming from Providence or the surrounding area, though there are connections to people and similar scenes in other cities. Also, through my own experience as well as what I gained through my interview with Sam, it seems that much of this scene, including music and information about bands and shows, is spread by word of mouth rather than by forms of mass media. Because of its small, rather tight-knit composition, made up mainly of performers who still work a “day job,” this scene lends itself well to a blurred line between listener and performer. Many of the bands are fans of and support each other. Some, such as Chris Paddock and Deer Tick, even cover each other’s material. Finally, the sixth characteristic may not be very applicable, but it might be related to the fact that oftentimes the music, while pretty and often melodic, is not necessarily groundbreaking. The focus is usually put on the lyrics. However, this analysis may be a bit of a stretch, so I would say that this scene that we have designated as “folk” meets half of the characteristics outlined in this book. This book also helped to explain why the “folk” scene can be hard to define. Because folk is part of the roots of many genres—including rhythm and blues, rockabilly, early rock ‘n’ roll, Motown and soul, and rap—it’s understandable that the music of this scene could evolve into a variety of different genres while still retaining some of the folk characteristics.

In Ronald D. Cohen’s Folk Music: The Basics, he discusses the history of folk music and its evolving definition. According to him, folk music took on much broader meaning during the twentieth century as it came to represent much more than traditional ballads and folklore. It became associated with popular songs, singer-songwriters, gospel songs, blues, and more. The instrumental accompaniment also became more varied, with instruments like electric guitars, brass, and drums joining the more traditional acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, harmonica, etc (p 1-3). At the end of the twentieth century, he posits that folk music is associated mainly with singer-songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Donovan, and Jewel. Though the newer songs are not necessarily protest songs like the folk music that was dominant in the 1960’s, most still share the “subtlety and simplicity” used to discuss issues through the songs (p 185). This thought clearly resonates with what Sam said about politics and folk music in our interview (listen here). Cohen also acknowledged the fact that technology allowed for a much different dissemination of folk music. Instead of being passed down by word of mouth, it seems that knowledge of bands and songs is shared by word of mouth while the music itself (speaking here of songs or albums) can usually be heard online or shared through a CD. While it may seem that what I have called the Providence folk scene may not best be defined with folk, it seems to fit with the characteristics of this evolving definition of folk. This should not be too surprising—most genres feature some sort of evolution over the years (like the multiple waves of ska).

Finally I looked at Pete Seeger’s The Incompleat Folksinger [sic]. I figured that this would be a valuable source because I knew that he was prominent in the folk movement in the mid-twentieth century. In the book’s introduction, he discusses the use of the term “folk music”: “The term ‘folk-music’ was invented by nineteenth-century scholars to describe the music of the peasantry, age-old and anonymous. Nowadays it means homemade-type music played mainly by ear, arising out of older traditions but with a meaning for today” (p 5). I found this to be a great definition of folk music today because it was both broad and flexible enough to evolve alongside evolving folk music over time. He goes on later, “One of the best things about this kind of music is that there is no high priest who knows all the answers” (p 6). There is not necessarily a definite line between what is folk and what isn’t. It is a broad term, and I think, from the research I’ve done, one that may be applied to the Providence scene Dani and I have chosen to study, if only for the fact that it is the best description we currently have.

Works Cited:

Cohen, Ronald D. Folk Music: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Lornell, Kip. Introducing American Folk Music. Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark, 1993.

Seeger, Pete. The Incolpeat Folksinger. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dudrah's "Drum'n'dhol"

In this article (featuring a quite fantastic title), Dudrah discusses how British bhangra music relates to Asian youth in Britain. Because it uses traditional instruments and, sometimes, even traditional songs combined with more modern Western styles, bhangra music seems to reflect the identities of these British Asian youth. It allows them to connect with their heritage in a way that is still true to the urban reality they know. I did find it interesting that bhangra music was somewhat similar to rap; it is clearly male-dominated, often with lyrics that are disparaging towards women, but listeners often overlook that because they enjoy the beat or are too busy dancing to notice.

Discussion question: It seems that a number of parallels can be drawn between bhangra and hip-hop, including the importance and prevalance of traditional songs and, at least for bhangra, instruments. Do you think these connections to each culture's heritage is related to their minority status, or is this something that is true for most genres?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Interview

I interviewed Sam Eilertsen, a 19-year-old participator in the Providence folk-scene from North Kingstown, RI. Talking with him, I realized just how tight-knit this scene seems to be, not only among the audience but also among the audience and the bands. He also discussed how "folk" may not be the best word to describe the scene because many of the bands incorporate so many different genres into their musical style. However, the general quality all of the bands and performers seemed to possess was a focus on lyricism--the very quality that, according to Sam, seems to draw most of the members to this scene. Here is an excerpt from our interview, followed by a link to a sound recording of the interview in full.

[after Sam describes his music taste, which includes blues, jazz, folk, rock, rap, and classical]
Me: Do you think that that's typical of members of this scene or do you think that everyone else has differing music tastes from that of yourself?
Sam: ...A lot of my friends who are into that scene have similar music tastes to myself... You refer to it as a "folk" scene, but most of the bands involved in it aren't strictly folk. They have rock influences, they have blues influences, they have country influences... there's even some metal influences in there sometimes. So, I would say that it generally would attract a crowd with a wide range of music tastes.

Me: Going on with that--you were saying how it had lots of different influences--can you try to describe at all the music itself, like what that sounds like? [Considering that there] is such a broad [range] of genres included in this one scene, is there any one quality that you think a band has to have to be a part of it?
Sam: It's kind of tricky... I would say that there is a sort of sound to it and it's kind of hard to describe a sound with words, but... for the most part it's definitely folk-inspired--a lot of focus on lyricism more than instrumentals... On the other hand, it's not traditional folk. It's mostly electric, mostly a full band with drums--although there are some performers who just have a guitar.

Me: Going more back towards the scene then, do you think you could describe a typical member of the scene?
Sam: Well, I'd say it's mostly high school and college kids with some older people, but it's very rare to find someone over thirty at one of these shows... a lot of general music aficionados, but also a lot of the intellectual types. But there's also a certain element of a kind of social rebellion involved in the whole thing... There's certain ways people into this scene often dress, like you always see them wearing flannel shirts, often tighter jeans then you normally see on men... a lot of facial hair.

[Later in the interview]

Me: Why do you think that people are attracted to indie-folk and folk-rock?
Sam: For me, it's always been a focus on the lyricism. A lot of rock songs...the lyrics don't really mean that much... Folk songs often are very poetic, following [the old folk tradition] and also some of the newer stuff like Bob Dylan, who really brought it into the mainstream... So it has that element which I think attracts definitely a more intellectual crowd. It's also more critical of society in a more thoughtful way I think than a lot of modern, mainstream music--rap or rock or whatever. It's kind of all cliche what they have to say, for the most part, whereas I think folk still has originality to it. I think the scene in Providence--the way the artists have blended a lot of different genres and the songs they have written I think have kind of a new sound to them... it has kind of a freshness to it that accompanies the creation of a new musical genre or subgenre.

audio recording

Monday, March 30, 2009

Deena Weinstein's Digging the Music: Proud Pariahs

I thought Weinstein's chapter gave great and in depth insight into the culture not only of the metal fans but also of the music itself. What I found most interesting about her article was the relationship between females and the music and, for that matter, with other members of this musical youth culture. Women were either viewed as objects of males or as "just one of the guys," adapting many of the style choices and attitudes of male metal fans. This might not be surprising considering that metal seems to have become intrinsically tied to masculinity. There seem to be very few instances, at least at the time this was written, that women were able to have a creative role in this scene and actually be subjects.

Discussion question: Since a similar issue with females' participation in scenes has come up before (especially during our I <3 Hip-Hop in Morocco discussion), can anyone suggest what steps should be taken to change this social norm, if indeed it should be changed?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where Hipsters Go to Dance: A Night at a Folk Rock Show

Three friends and I arrive at the intersection which was described in an email one of them received earlier that week. We pass by the bar on the corner and knock on the door next to it. A large, somewhat-frightening man opens the door, ushering us inside quickly so that he can close it. We’re in near darkness as he asks us for a donation and ID’s if we’re drinking. After explaining that we won’t be drinking that night, we each give him two dollars and wander up a few flights of stairs until we arrive at the third floor. The stairwell opens up to a hallway filled with people. We eventually navigate towards a door we’ve seen a few people walking in and out of, and upon entering we notice a crowd of people surrounding the area where a band is setting up—we’ve found the site of the night’s show.

We came to see Deer Tick, a folk rock band hailing from Providence who decided to play a secret show in their hometown while in the midst of their semi-national tour. Though it’s already almost ten on a Wednesday night, the show has yet to start and there are still three acts to go before Deer Tick will take the stage.

While we wait for the first band to play, I take note of my surroundings. For whatever reason, tonight seems to have a mustache theme, with a giant mustache sign which reads “The Magical Mustache Machine” hanging on the wall a few feet away from a mustache kissing booth. A few people walking around are even wearing fake mustaches. Perhaps this reflects the mustache’s position as an ironic symbol of hipsterdom; perhaps these people are just avid facial hair enthusiasts. I was left with little time to ponder the back story of these quirky decorations, though, for within a few minutes of our arrival the first band of the night began playing.

The mustache theme was never explained.

The Gambees introduced themselves as “a high school band,” an unsurprising fact considering that most of the crowd seemed to be made up of sixteen to eighteen year-olds. A few older people (between the ages of 18 and about 24) hung around the outskirts of the crowd, allowing the younger kids to dance, smoke, and drink their hearts out to the band’s bluesy rock.

The second band, Brokedown Serenade, was somewhat similar to the first, though they were much more danceable and featured not only a female lead singer but also a female lead guitarist. While some of the crowd formed a small mosh pit in front of the area of the room designated as the stage, reveling in the band’s upbeat songs, others were less than enthused with the rough sound and kept calling out for the next band.

At the same time as this juxtaposition of opposing opinions was occurring, the crowd was beginning to change over from high school kids to an older, more “hipster” group. This crowd was marked by a prevalence of facial hair for the men (including beards, long sideburns, and, of course, mustaches); trendy haircuts for the girls (such as short pixie cuts, bobs, or side-swept bangs); and flannel clothing, tight jeans, and leather boots for both. Though they would never admit it, they all seemed to put some value into the subcultural capital of fashion; having been to shows with similar crowds before, I myself wore skinny jeans and a keffiyeh I borrowed from my roommate (I left a note on the door that said “borrowed your hipster scarf—will return with it later”) in order to fit in. The two kids wearing baggy jeans and Sean John t-shirts clearly seemed out of place, and I’m fairly sure they left just an hour or two into the show.

Flannel dominates.

Besides similarity in dress, I noticed that while the crowd was split pretty evenly between men and women it was almost exclusively white and, I’m assuming, middle to upper-middle class. This could be due to the fact that much of the crowd seemed to be drawn from Providence suburbs and colleges, both of which are predominantly white, but I wondered whether there was some deeper reason. In my experience, nearly all of the folk bands I’ve seen have been made up of white members, which could correlate with having white fans; however, most of these folk bands have had some association with artists influenced by blues, a genre often associated with African-Americans, at least in its beginnings. While the cause of the racial homogeneity may be unexplainable, it might reflect the possibility that the music does not appeal to other races in the same way as it does to whites. However, this seems like an unsatisfactory answer considering what happened during the sets of the next two acts, Chris Paddock and Deer Tick.

Chris Paddock, a short skinny guy with a funny mustache, took to the stage with just an acoustic guitar and began playing songs that sounded like punk played with a folk style. Some songs were funny, others were romantic, others insightful. Many people in the crowd seemed to be already familiar with his work, and I overheard someone mention that he had written one of Deer Tick’s most popular songs, “These Old Shoes.” The intended listener seemed surprised, but their shock could not come close to what I felt when, midway through his first song, Paddock began playing part of “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G., which is not only my favorite hip-hop song but also one of my favorite songs ever written. At first I thought it was unusual to pair folk and hip-hop, two genres that seem quite opposite, but upon further reflection I realized that it’s not such an odd pairing: both genres have a heavy focus on lyrics and use the music as a way to get their message across. The music itself may be different, but the basic ideals are the same.

By the time Deer Tick took to the stage, the crowd had become restless. The room was filled nearly to capacity as people stood on amps and tables just to get a better view of the band. From the first song onward it was obvious that the band played much harder live than on their album, which is both quieter and folksier. The band, along with many males in the crowd, had ripped off their shirts by the time the second song began. Everyone was dancing—everyone—and most people were singing along to every word. If I could describe the whole event in one word it would be “passionate.” Even with the intensity and emotion of the lyrics of their songs, the band still maintained an air of fun. For their finale, they brought Paddock on stage and played “La Bamba,” followed by “Juicy” in its entirety (though, admittedly, a few lines were forgotten), as well as a final song that I was unfamiliar with. When the show ended, friends were invited to stay while everyone else had to “leave strategically” so as to not draw attention to the place. We wandered out the same way we came in, and as we left the man at the door asked us not to loiter around the entrance but instead move at least a block away if we wanted to stand around and talk. As it was cold and past 1 a.m., we simply walked home.

Photos courtesy of Dani Lopez Goicochea.

(Word Count: 1234)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hayes' "Fear of (and Fascination with) a Black Planet"

Hayes' article deals mostly with "relocation of rap by white non-urban youth," focusing on a mostly-white suburban town outside of Toronto. In the article's introduction, Hayes asks, "Who has the right to decide what rap looks and sounds like? Is it a specifically African-American form, impermeable to change, or is it up for grabs, a tabula rasa onto which anyone may inscribe his or her own desires, frustrations, fantasies of mobility and other concerns connected to one's specific place in the world?" This question seems to overshadow most of his article, but it is unclear whether a singular answer exists. Hayes seems to suggest that for both white suburban rap fans and black urban youths rap is inextricable from the notion of it being authentic black culture. The white fans who have little to no experience with urban settings seem to associate "authentic black culture" with what they hear in gangster rap songs--urban violence, crime, poverty, etc. They perceive rappers who ignore these “authentic” things as "sell-outs," even when their success has taken these artists out of poor urban areas and allowed them to live in huge mansions in Beverly Hills. What stood out most to me was how important perceptions of race seemed to be in rap music, whereas arguably "whiter" genres such as punk, classic rock, pop, and metal do not seem to be associated with a particular race nearly as much. Though rap music does still seem to have strong ties to race, Hayes seems to promote the idea that these associations, especially those that equate rap with urban violence, do not need to proliferate; however, he feels that they can be beneficial if people use rap music as a way to interact humanely with people of other races that they might not normally interact with and continue to break the racial barrier that still exists in our society.

Discussion question: Do you think that rap will continue to be dominated by black artists and listeners, or in the future will we see much more involvement by other races (especially white), like what has happened in rock music? Do you think white people might "take over" rap, leaving African-Americans to again create a new type of ground-breaking music that will exceedingly gain popularity?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Duncombe's "A Club of Our Own"

In this chapter from Duncombe's Notes from the Underground, Duncombe discusses how zines were vital to both individualistic and communicative aspects of punk culture. He noted that though most zines were produced by individuals, they often took in articles, art, letters, or advertisements from other people or music venues. By doing so, he claimed that they were creating "a new, albeit virtual, community of friends [the zinesters] can feel connected to" (47). This community helped connect the widely dispersed mini-Bohemias, those which were often not only in big cities but also in small towns. The article also discussed the importance of zines in the Riot Grrrl movement; zines allowed girls to write their own histories, write what's on their mind, write things that other girls should hear. Instead of continuing the typical role of consumer, these people are becoming producers, creating their own content to share and exchange with each other.

Discussion question: Though people still continue to make zines (check out your local record store), they seem to be losing relevance as people use blogs such as this as their outlet to the world. How do blogs compare to zines? What are some of the advantages/disadvantes?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Field Notes 2/23

Working with Dani, we've decided to look at the Providence folk scene. I'll be focusing on Deer Tick and other local acts that are now more national while she'll be more involved with the strictly local scene. We're both planning on seeing Deer Tick and a few other bands play a show Wednesday night, but until then when I can actually interact with people I decided to do some online research to see what I could dig up about Deer Tick and their listeners. profile

According to, Deer Tick has 37,571 registered listeners and 466,515 plays. These people have tagged Deer Tick songs with some of the following descriptions: folk, indie, indie folk, alt-country, singer-songwriter, 5432fun, folk songs that make my heart melt into a syrupy potion, mellow, providence, rhode island, and (my personal favorite) people who are freakier and folkier than motherfucking devandra banhart. Most of the listener comments (recorded in the "shoutbox") generally seem to say that the band is amazing and great live; there were also four people in a row who said, "his music the hipster garabe i've ever heard"...not entirely sure what that's supposed to mean. The five most-played songs are:

1. Ashamed
2. Art isn't Real (City of Sin)
3. These Old Shoes
4. Dirty Dishes
5. Baltimore Blues No. 1

MySpace profile

Next I looked at the band's MySpace profile. It classified their music as rock/rock/rock. Most of the songs in the playlist came off their album War Elephant (reviewed here by Pitchfork), but they did have a covor of the Sean Kingston song "Beautful Girls" [also, I realized later that "Little White Lies" is currently unreleased]. They also had pictures and names of band members, a band bio, and a list of upcoming shows. They're in the middle of a national tour. What was interesting was all of the locations for shows seemed to be announced accept for the one in their hometown of Providence. It said that it was at "Steve'n'Levin 4-ever w/ Chris Paddock, The Gambees, and Brokedown Serenade," but in order to find out where that is you had to email John McCauley, the lead singer. I found a blog that talked about how most local shows in Providence often aren't advertised because they don't want to "[allow] the authorities the ability to obtain info on these performances." Because of this, "What ends up happening is, bands play in guerilla places, off-the-radar and technically illegal venues; houses, basements, in mills, artist studios, and lofts." The blog also discussed how Deer Tick is a great Providence band, something the author felt couldn't be said often enough. The blog can be found here.

Daytrotter Session

A brief bio/commentary on the band accompanied by four acoustic songs. Two ("Ashamed" and "Baltimore Blues No. 1") were previously released on the album War Elephants; one of the others ("Little White Lies") is "sure" to be on their next recording, while the final one ("The Ghost") is simply cited as a non-album song. "Ashamed" sounds much different than it does on the album; John told the band to pretend like they were playing "Imagine." Speaking about "Little White Lies," the band said "Chicks, money, sex – it’s all here in this song." An excerpt from the commentary (written by a Daytrotter writer):

"The songs on War Elephant, the band’s newest self-release is an exploration of those simple concerns of desperate times and the ways in which we’re imaging ourselves breaking out of them and getting on with the way it was back when we faintly remember. He charters some of the most persistent and lovably humble and quaint sentiments that Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and many of the other country outlaws have survived on since they began. “Baltimore Blues #1” makes a man feel as if he’s being sent out of a mouth along with the rest of the discarded cigarette smoke, but in slow motion, sailing out in a white tumbling cloud, silhouetted against those black backgrounds that they shoot all of those educational sneezing videos in front of."

That's all for now. I'll hopefully have lots to update with after the show on Wednesday! I'm also going to take some time to explore Deer Tick's top friends on MySpace and see if any of them are local and have upcoming shows.

Almost forgot: Band Bio on their website; also, video of their show at SXSW last year:

Deer Tick Secret Special Show! from liz isenberg on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Men Making a Scene" Critical Review

Sara Cohen's "Men Making a Scene" discusses the (somewhat non-existent) role of women in rock music, focusing on the Liverpool indie rock scene. This scene is dominated not only by all-male bands but also by overwhelmingly-male audiences, a trend not uncommon among other rock scenes. She notes that many aspects that define the rock scene happen to exclude or discourage involvement by women; these include venues in narrow back streets, "masculine" activities, and male relationships/networks. When women do break into the scene, they are not always well-received. For example, Cohen writes, "One review of Space... stated that the band they were performing with could be 'easily dismissed as another girl-fronted indie group' as if there were already too many such bands, or as if having a 'girl' singer was a well-worn gimmick, thus illustrating how different ideas and values may be attached to the music according to whether it is created by men or women" (29-30). While it may not be explicit or entirely exclusive, rock music does seem to be a male-dominated culture.

Discussion question: Do people still consider girl-fronted indie groups to be gimmicky? If so, why? If not, what has changed this perception?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Providence's Folk-Rock Scene

Though Providence admittedly has a number of musical subcultures, one that has been growing over the past few years is the folk-rock scene. Though any genre of music is often hard to define, this one is mostly characterized by a simplified or "clean" sound. Among its original influences are Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and the Beatles. Traditionally, the instruments used include guitar, bass guitar, drums, and sometimes piano, though any number of other instruments have also been used in the creation of this music.

By studying the folk-rock scene in the Providence area, I hope to gain a better understanding of what exactly defines folk-rock (because, admittedly, as it stands my definition is quite vague), as well as what this particular scene is currently influenced by/influences. For example, one folk-rock fan commented that bands like Deer Tick are actually causing some young people in the Providence area to discover more-established artists such as Bob Dylan. Through researching some of the history of folk-rock as well as taking an ethnographic approach to studying the Providence scene (through interviews with fans, band members, etc., going to local shows, and becoming more involved in the scene), I hope to be able to adequately describe the attitudes and mentalities of the members, the musical and material style, the types of performances, and the methods of musical distribution (ie-how are people finding out about/acquiring this music?).

Guiding questions:
Who are the listeners? Do they identify with any other particular musical youth culture/subculture? Why do they like/identify with this type of music?
What instruments/methods are used in creating songs? And who is creating them?
Where is folk-rock music being performed? What are experiences at shows like?
How is the music being distributed and/or spread, if it is at all?

Example of a Providence Folk-Rock band:

Deer Tick performing at AS220

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hodkinson on Goth

In this chapter Hodkinson focuses mainly on the intranational connections among goths. Whereas other musical youth cultures may not feel any connection to a similar culture in another locale, or even feel hostility towards them (remember the East Coast vs. West Coast hip hop rivalry), the British goths he researched seemed to feel some type of comradeship with goths from other communities and even other countries. However, this is not to say that they didn't feel isolated in some way. Hodkinson writes, "...goths perceived that they had more in common with other goths hundreds or thousands of miles away than they did with most nonaffiliated members of their immediate locality" (134). Because they couldn't feel a connection to their physical location, they associated with this national/international community, fostered by early new media technology. Because of such mentalities, many goths traveled to other places, which Hodkinson believes contributed to the "cross-fertilization" of various elements of goth culture and created an overall consistency.

Discussion: Are there any other youth cultures today in which we can see this willingness to travel and meet similar people from other areas? Are members of youth cultures replacing physical movement with travel via the Internet, connecting through discussion boards, blogs, etc.?