College Rock

Back in 1999, my friend Joe asked me if I liked the band, The Get Up Kids.  I hadn’t heard them before and I can still picture standing outside his house when he described them to me as “college rock.”  I was sold!  I wasn’t sure what college rock was, but I pictured a band of dudes a little older than me, in sweaters, playing smart music, in a house somewhere.  The sweaters were not too far off considering the “EMO” movement was starting to hit my high school and I was about to start wearing sweaters with a collared shirt popping out all the time.

I’m not sure if he played any of The Get Up Kids music for me or if I did any more looking into them myself, but there I was heading over to Tower Records where I bought their first EP, Woodson.

I quickly became a big fan of their music.  I connected with the DIY, heart wrenching and aggressive feel of Woodson.  It is a raw and honest album that made me hopeful about playing music and being in a band.  Even hearing the title track, “Woodson” today, still gives me the excited feeling I had the first time I heard it.  The song starts with guitars slowly building up, strings bending, the drums coming in and then the desperate vocals kick in, “we can not work out what has to be said.” This opening line, wrought with frustration, feels so honest. The drums are choppy and relentless and keep the song moving along with an impatient bounce.  The second track, “Second Place” keeps up the album’s momentum.  It comes in aggressive and immediately I’m bopping my head along and singing, “it’s not what I said.” The entire song is catchy and anthemic; it makes you want to get up and move. It is followed by “Off the Wagon” a choppy and powerful song with a build up that shows the importance of anticipation, tension…and snare rolls.  The music comes in like a storm building up over the ocean that explodes and dissipates quickly making way for the moody last track.  The last song of this EP, “A New Found Interest in Massachusetts” was my favorite song for a while and still holds up as one of my favorites today.  The slow build up and fade of the music as Matt Pryor begins to sing is so heartfelt. I love the honesty of the lyrics, “If I told you that I was thinking of moving east, would you save a place for me?”  The interplay of the soft  and loud moments, leading up to an explosion of sound is so perfect.  On its own it is a great song and it is also a stellar finish to a great album.

I was very lucky to see some of these songs live this past Thursday, December 10, 2015.  I went to The Bell House to see The Get Up Kids on their 20th anniversary tour. The show was amazing.  I got so caught up with the crowd…the community.  I, and everyone else in the room, was singing and screaming along with every song as though we were telling the band what the lyrics were, how they went and the way they were supposed to sound.  They didn’t need it, they sounded great, but I’m sure they loved the crowd’s enthusiasm.  They mainly played all older songs off  Woodson, Four Minute Mile and Something to Write Home About.  They played so passionately. I was incredibly impressed.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the two opening bands, Rozwell Kid and Into it.  Over it.  They both were great.  Rozwell Kid gave me a bit of a Weezer vibe with their sweet guitar parts.  Into it.  Over it. were so well put together and tight.  I really took notice of the lead singer’s voice and the drummer really tied the room together.  Amazing show.

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Remember The Wall?

Punk O Rama Volume 1.  That’s where it really started for me.  I’ve been going back and trying to put my finger on what it was that got me so excited about music, so passionate about music, so hopeful about music and the Epitaph Records compilation – Punk O Rama Volume 1 is it.

The funny thing is, I don’t even own it.  It was my best friend Mike who bought it from The Wall.  Remember The Wall?  That was the first record store that I went to on my own as a pre-teen.  It was just into the next town, but we could walk there.  Back then, we just wanted to be out of the house, on our own and even cold, blustery, wet weather wouldn’t stop us.  We would run across Wantagh Parkway, hopping the divider and risking our lives to save ourselves a few minutes travel time.  We couldn’t take the long way, it just took too long.

One of the things I loved about The Wall was that, if you were interested in buying a CD, they open it so you could listen to it and you didn’t have to buy it.  I was always fascinated by that.  It felt so wasteful and decadent.  I remember buying some albums from there with “controversial” album art and hiding it from my parents.  Looking back, I don’t think they would have really cared.

I’m not sure why Mike bought Punk O Rama Volume 1, maybe it was the word “punk” or the colors and album art.  Although at that point, we might have recognized some bands on it.  Maybe even listened to some of them.  There is just something about this album that stands out to me as the moment where music seemed more important.

As soon as we played it, we were hooked.  Quickly claiming our favorite bands as we poured over the liner notes.  This fast, purposeful, energetic music came screaming out at us from what I remember as a small, grey, Casio radio and we were totally swept up in it.  Mike, proudly stating Ten Foot Pole was his favorite band and mine was Pennywise.  We were 12 or 13 years old and this music was dangerous, different and mind-blowing.  I mean, think about it – finding out there was a whole world of underground music, stuff that wasn’t on the radio.  That whole world opened up to us.

By the time I was in my early teens, punk, specifically bands from Epitaph Records and Fat Wreck Chords were my favorites.  I had been playing the drums for a few years and really starting to hone my musical taste.  The mid to late 90’s Punk music was really something special to me and to this day when I put on one of those records, it brings me right back.  That is one of my favorite things about music, time travel.
Another record that really stands out to me from my youth is About Time by Pennywise.  I put the album on for the first time and as the first song, “Peaceful Day”, played I felt a chill run through me and my heart ached along with the singer.  I was reading every lyric as he sang and it was as if he was speaking directly to me.  I sat alone in the “little room”, a small room off the side of our house, fill with books, a closet I never went in to and the house stereo.  There, I kept turning up the volume on the stereo more and more with each song that played.  As a new and inexperienced drummer, the machine gun snare hits on “I Won’t Have It”, had me declaring that song as my favorite, but really every song was a declaration and a revelation to my ears.
As I write this, I’m listening to both of these records right now and I hope you check them out or revisit them if you haven’t in a while.  They still fill me with the same feeling of hope and excitement as they did 20 years ago.