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.?