Album Review: Past Lives (Against the Current)

Back in 2012 I came across Against The Current on YouTube watching random music videos of artists covering Taylor Swift songs. Then I came across Chrissy Costanza, and when I first heard them do a rock cover of a Taylor Swift country song I was hooked. Before they signed their record deal with Fueled By Ramen they were a small pop-rock band out of upstate New York that energized their music with rock driven guitars.  Now, they are charging their own course with a changed sound.

Their sophomore album Past Lives takes the forms of many current pop-rock bands before them. All the guitars have been slowly drowned out by the techno edge that has engulfed the music industry. It has made music sound stale and robotic. What happened to the guitars? The edge that I first fell in love with in your early EPs?

The 80s electric pop is definitely coming back to the music scene and every artist is jumping on the band wagon.  The new album isn’t all bad and this isn’t going to be a blog post full of down and out on how I miss the old music days because lets face it, without change we are all dead.  Past Lives is a mix of 80s electric pop with side of techno.  The guitars have been replaced with music machines, electronic pianos, and stronger drums.  One of my favorites off the album is “I Like The Way.”  The song seems like a memory or a dream as the music has numerous overlays of voices with a wave of sound that is crashing over a heavy clap beat.  It reminds me of never growing old.  We all have to grow up, but to continue the youth that we are born with we need to remember all the things we love about life.  In the second verse it goes:

“I found a burnt CD-R in your visor
From back when you were in a band
You laughed so hard it hurt
But I like how that guitar looked when it was in your hands”

“Voices” is one of the few songs on the album that has a rock tone.  With a powerhouse guitar phrasing that is linked throughout the upbeat tempo of the song.  It is an interesting concept to have it be upbeat since the song is about negative thoughts taking over your own sanity.  The music video a little out there but this song reminds me why I fell in love with Against The Current.  Their forceful bass-lines, compelling vocals, and dynamic song writing continues to improve year after year.  No, I don’t think they are sell outs for continuing to grow and change, it all goes back to what I said before.  If we don’t change, we die.

 

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Artist Promotions – Times They Are A Changing

dont-ever-let-someone-tell-you-that-you-cant-do-somethingRiding the metro in Los Angeles you see talent and some people who are just beggars.  Yes, there is a difference between an artist and a beggar.  An artist doesn’t have to say “we are coming around with a hat and dream” after a performance in public.  An artist does what is necessary to improve their art on a daily basis.  It is not about gaining fame, money, or validation, but about crafting their skill.

This past Tuesday, a violinist and a guitarist were playing on the redline.  From the looks of these two young (20-something) African-American men they had just been riding up and down the redline playing popular songs such as The Fray (How To Save A Life), Michelle Branch (Everywhere), The Beatles (Here Comes The Sun).  Their honesty, conviction, and dedication to their harmonies and musical stylings had the train clapping after each song and numerous train riders giving them donations in their beat-up guitar case.  They didn’t ask for donations after each song; they just continued to play consecutively throughout the 30 minutes I road from the North Hollywood station to the 7th Street Expo Line connection.  This on the ground marketing isn’t a new thing, in fact, it was something that was designed before marketing was even considered a job.

So what is it about artist promotions that really creates a superstar like Taylor Swift?  Selena Gomez?  Mandy Moore?  Travis Wall?  Is it timing?  Is it having talent?  Is it hard work and dedication?  Is it having the right branding, marketing or promotions team? Working in event marketing the last few years, I’ve learned that you need a mix of things to make magic happen.  Here are my top five tips to bring your promotions to the next level:

  1.  Advertise Without Advertising – This goes for everything you do as an individual and as a company.  If you are an individual artist you want to show people why they should watch and pay attention.  You shouldn’t need to give a speech before your performance.  Let your talent speak for itself and let the curiosity of the audience make the choice to stop.  If you are a company promoting an event it should be about the people associated with the event (the talent), the people who have attended and their experiences as well as the business relationships you have with sponsors.  Each of these aspects always draws more attendees because they feel like they are missing out, or a new business who sees their direct competition tearing into another market that they haven’t touch yet.  Fear of missing out is a strong promotional tool and it is vital to show that in an advertising campaign.
  2. Be Active On Your Social Media – Yes posting regularly on your social media is important, but when I say be active on your social media I’m talking about interaction.  Following people or businesses that could increase your promotions on other platforms or bring you to the next level as an artist.  Also, interacting with your followers from Q&As to comments to videos that ask what they want to see from you.  As the saying goes, give the people what they want.
  3. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Lots of promotional photos and videos are important.  It helps to develop marketing strategies, strong branding, and a cohesive platform on who you are and what you do as an artist or company.  Sit down and figure out what you want to show and present to the world and how you want to be represented.  Set-up photo and video shoots to stage promotional materials and constantly have someone dedicated to social media at events to get live shots and reactions from the audience and participants.  This is what is going to develop that concept of “fear of missing out” to drive attendance in the future.   Think about Coachella, LalaPalooza, or any awards show.  Each event has live streaming/broadcasting, they are constantly posting about the people at the shows and the talent that is performing.  It is always about showing someone something that could be their experience.
  4. The Personal You – Society is obsessed with people’s personal drama.  Think about Keeping Up With the Kardashians or The Bachelor.  The one thing about these types of shows is they help you invest in the people as they are sharing personal aspects of their lives to the audience.  Granted all of it is not real and probably a lot of it is staged, but the point I’m trying to make is let people get to know who you are – what you like (i.e. music, films), your friends and family, your favorite places…etc.  People want to feel connected especially if they are investing time and/or money.  Show them more than just your talent.
  5. Attraction – This may sound a little crazy, but bear with me.  No, I’m not talking about how attractive you are as a person, but what individuals are drawn to.  Think about when you see someone saving an animal that is in danger.  You are attracted to someone’s kindness.  Think about a new headshot with colors that make your features pop.  You are attracted to someone’s beauty.  Think about a big open space with no one around but nature.  You are attracted to the freedom.  Promotions are all about attraction.  What makes your audience tick?  What will get them to see the next show?  What will get your next follower to commit to what you put out?  Your audience is comprised of all different people from all walks of life.  You have to know who your audience is to make the impact you are looking for in this world.

In the words of Chris Gardner (Will Smith’s character in the Pursuit of Happyness), “If you want something, go get it.  Period.”

Before The Sun Goes Down – An Album You Need In Your Life

31175If you haven’t heard of The New Respects you need to get on Spotify now and check out their latest album Before The Sun Goes Down.  This family band comprised of siblings Darius, Alexandria and Alexis Fitzgerald, as well as their cousin Jasmine Mullen, was listed as one of the top 10 artists you need to know in 2017 by Rolling Stones Magazine.  Their sound takes you back to the 70s with their electric grooves like Led Zepplin, soul like Aretha Franklin, and catchy lyrics like The Beatles.  Creating a new music genre all their own, they are breaking the mold and rules of what music can be in the 21st century by combining rock, soul, and pop music with acoustic lyrical overtones.

Recently signed to Credential Recordings, the Nashville-based group is making waves with their family affair by taking their positive views on life as well as reaching into society to bring back songs that have heart and meaning from the music to the lyrics.  These refreshing, hard-hitting lyrics are more than catchy pop, but send out messages about strength, challenges, and the push we have to give ourselves every day to be the best versions of us.  In the pre-chorus of their single, “Before The Sun Goes Down” it says:

“Maybe we won’t find the answers every time
But I wanna find a little peace of mind
There ain’t nothing wrong with working over time
So let’s make it right”

Another song that really stood out to me was “Come As You Are.”  It is a slow-moving lyrical wonderland that makes you feel like you are the last person on earth, but that one person who has your back is following you as someone to hold you up when you feel like falling down.

“I’ve been telling you for some time now
You’re not a burden, not weighing me down
So fight that voice that says you’re on your own
You don’t have to do this thing alone”

If you are looking for your music to have a little meaning, a lot of soul, and a dash of a groove, The New Respects have you covered.  Check out one of their videos below to help you get over the middle of the week.  It will have you energized in no time.

Take Me Back to 2001…

In 2001, I was fifteen years old.  Where every mistake, rejection, and rude comment made you feel like it was the end of the world.  Getting lost in a lyric, a story in a book, a film, my favorite television show, or in the dance studio was my way of dealing with it.  The entertainment industry was my escape, and still is to this day.

Los Angeles is a big high school.  A sea of people craving approval from society.  Hoping that one day they will be accepted into the inner circle.  Every criticism is exactly what Simple Plan fought.  They rejected the normal and craved for people to understand the outcast.  On Saturday night, I got to see one of my favorite bands, Simple Plan, play at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.  It has been 15 years since their first album came out.  It brought me back to a more carefree time.  Remembering how one band or one song can have a such a huge impact on your life.  As I stood in the venue, I looked around at the crowd.  People of all ages from teenagers to adults in their thirties and forties; all affected by the band that was about to take the stage.  To this day, their message hasn’t changed and it still affects everyone that has ever felt like the outsider.

Before Simple Plan took the stage there were two opening acts – Seaway and Set It Off.  Both bands killed it!  Going to concerts like this brings music alive again with strong guitars, energetic drums, and lyrics that fight to give the quiet kid a voice.  It’s not like rap or pop music.  There seems to be more meaning behind rock music that gives it an edge.  It can connect on another level of the developed musical phrasing, the piecing together of the different instruments into a cohesive sound, and the lyrical versing that can help you get lost.  Seaway was the first to step out on stage.  They seem like they are still working on finding their live voice, and how to bring energy to an audience who doesn’t know who they are.  There was a song that really stood out to me and that was “Best Mistake” off of their “Colour Blind” album.  Maybe why it struck a chord was it was the epitome of 90s rock where it sounds like one loud mix of multiple instruments fighting for the lead with an overlay of screaming the lyrics over the guitars.  It brought me back to the night of staying up too late in college where my friends and I were wandering around the streets of a small town singing random songs that we barely knew the words to as we attempted to do piggyback races down the street.  Why I say it was my best mistake?  Well, the night ended with a bloody face (because someone got dropped), a hand being slammed in a car door, and a crying girlfriend, but it was still one of those nights that was the best because it was simple.  We were just a bunch of 21-year-olds having fun on a Saturday night.

Set It Off had so much energy.  If Fall Out Boy and The Summer Set had a baby I’m pretty sure it would have been this band.  The lead singer Cody Carson has the powerhouse voice and talking fast talents of Patrick Stump and the rasp of Brian Dales.  Can we talk about heaven, because that is Cody’s voice.  Set It Off started as a band back in 2008 and even though some members have changed out over the years they have had a solid crew since 2010 which includes, Cody Carson, Maxx Danziger, Dan Clermont, and Zach DeWall.  One of the best things about going to a live concert is you get to experience new bands that you may have never heard before.  Set It Off was one of those bands for me and their song “Something New” really brought me out of a funk I was feeling that day.  I have been getting lost in my own head lately.  Worrying about never truly being happy.  Never finding that career that I seem to be looking for constantly.  Worrying that those people that love and support me will somehow disappear.  Feeling frustrated that others are moving faster towards a future with that one person that totally understands them.  At least isn’t that how it always feels because of the images that projected all over social media?  The lyrics go:

“I think it, I say it, I write it, erase it,
And break my back so I don’t let you down,
I’m restless and twisted, strung out, addicted
To chasing after picture perfect sound.

And if there’s one thing in my life,
That I’ve been fighting day and night,
Well, it’s my fear of flying standby,
I feel I’ve opened up my eyes,
I shook the nightmare from my mind,
I checked the clock and now it’s my time.

So lemme show you something new,
I need a little revolution,
This could be like a revelation,
Make you see oh that a change is overdue,
Lemme show you something new”

It was like listening to a song that was saying exactly what I was thinking at that time.  Worried about standing still, the need of something new, and being so twisted and strung out from all the thinking that you just want to scream and throw every responsibility out the window.  That excitement to try something that scares every fiber of your being but you do it anyway.  It is time for that push to jump off the cliff.  Is it weird that I thrive on change, but crave the comfort of the people that have known me forever?  It’s almost like wanting to try different things, but know that a safety net is going to catch you if you fall flat on your face.  After hearing “Something New” I had to watch the music video and that thought process of wanting your friends by your side that you trust indefinitely while doing something scary, it doesn’t seem so scary anymore to do something new.

When Simple Plan stepped on stage the crowd went crazy.  It was like the fire was finally ignited and the audience was ready to get lost in a song that they knew.  The band played their entire first album cover to cover including the song that really skyrocketed their career  “I’m just a Kid.”  It was a song that was really ingrained in my high school years like Green Day’s “American Idiot” album.  The years 1998-2006 were the years of the rock and punk bands.  It was like guitar exploded on the radio – Simple Plan, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, All American Rejects, Fountains of Wayne, Bowling for Soup, Offspring, Blink 182…etc.  It was the years of thought-provoking lyrics, music that you felt understood your angst as a teenager, and those fun tunes that you would sing randomly with your best friends when you locked yourself in your bedroom as you danced around jumping your bed as your parents yelled at you to turn down the noise.

Living in Los Angeles has been an adventure the last few years.  Unlike going to other concerts on the east coast where you talk to those strangers that you don’t know because you have the same favorite song, and make new friends with those people standing next to you all night, where everyone has a tendency to stick to their own group that they came with at the event.  It’s like sticking to the status quo and if you talk to that person next to you then you might not be the coolest one the in the room anymore.  Simple Plan played a few songs that were off their second album – “Crazy” and “Welcome To My Life.”  Both were popular back in 2003 and are still an anthem for every emo kid to ever exist.  When they began to play the song “Crazy” it got me thinking about life in LA.  The conversations that you overhear about money, dating, and lifestyle.  I haven’t met very many real people out here.  It seems like the whole city is masked which makes it difficult to make friends because you don’t know if someone wants to become friends with you because of what you do or where you work, or if it is because they actually like you as a person.  The city is very materialistic.  It is more important about the car you drive, what you wear, and what you look like than about who you are as a person.  I think when Simple Plan played that song “Crazy” it really went above everyone’s head in the venue.  Did anyone in the audience really understand it?  That it is about people, and caring about people and the person that we are as individuals.  Maybe someday LA will open up their eyes, but for now, I leave you with “Crazy.”

A Voice With An Old Soul

In light of recent events, it can be difficult to have faith in our government, other people in society, and our health care system.  This past week the United States has experienced the largest mass-shooting casualties in this country at a night club in Orlando, Florida where 49 are dead and 53 are in the hospital for gun-shot wounds.  When did society get like this?  It feels like reading about a mass shooting has become a daily routine; fearing for family and friends on a daily basis.  We need to take back this country.  There needs to be stronger security at the doors of night clubs, concerts, public events where the only thing that you are allowed to bring is anything that is in a clear plastic bag.  Sporting events have metal detectors and regulations on bags so why isn’t it enforced in other areas of entertainment?  History is always doomed to repeat itself unless we learn from it.  We live in a different world now, one where mental illness is ignored, extremists are a huge threat, and where getting a gun seems to be like getting candy at a convenient store.

Now, I understand that the right to bear arms is apart of the constitution and that people hunt, but did you know that 36 people die daily from gunshot wounds and that guns are rarely used in a self defense situation?  We need to reconnect with humanity.  We need to show that love, support, and peace overcomes violence, hatred, and power.  This is not just a one time incident that is going to go away.  We see powerful figures like Donald Trump spout hatred on a daily basis in his presidential campaign yet still a large percentage of American society supports him and we expect to protect ourselves through war, brute force, and more violence?  Violence only causes more violence and to stop it we need to take a look at the deeper issue that is causing all of it.

You know that saying, “That person has an old soul.”  I heard that a lot throughout my youth and I think I am now starting to understand it’s true meaning.  People who have old souls connect with difficult situations on an emotional level that indescribable.  We understand situations well beyond our years.  We hurt for people we don’t know.  Every time I read about a mass-shooting, a killing of a young adult’s life destroyed by a senseless act of violence (Christina Grimme), or a shooting of yet another parent who’s children now have to grow up without their father/ mother (UCLA Shooting) breaks my heart and I cry every time I hear about them.  In a world where the threat is no longer overseas and is beckoning at our front doors, we need to find the hope to believe that most people are truly good.  We need to learn to find closure when none can be found, when an action can’t be explained.

Close your eyes and turn on the voices of Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse, Frank Sinatra, Angelina Jordan, or Grace VanderWaal.  These voices can take you to another world full of empathy, heart, and compassion that people have difficulty expressing.  Why is it so hard to tell someone you love them or cry in front of a person that cares about you.  Society has this thought that crying or showing emotion is a sign of weakness, but I think it is a sign of strength; it shows vulnerability and humility.  Something that we can all use a lesson in.  In the words of Jimi Hendrix, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”