Just before i started my job at HMV in late 1996, a new record popped up that hit the airwaves of both alternative rock and pop stations; even though it was primarily filtered down to Adult Alternative for its easy and melodic sound, the songwriting was so unexpectedly tight and adventurous that it got picked up everywhere. It was not the bombast of Collective Soul’s self-titled record, or the earnestness of Live’s Throwing Copper; it was simply a lovely album to listen to.
But that lightness is betrayed by darker, gloomier lyrics. James Hunter of Rolling Stone likened Sheik’s music to Talk Talk and The Smiths, perhaps for that reason: the musicianship is top notch from start to finish, the melodies are wonderfully creative but not overly complex, and the songs definitely get stuck in your head.
If you’ve only heard “Barely Breathing”, I suggest you check out the rest of the album — it’s definitely worth it.
Bonus Track: A year and a half later he popped up on the Great Expectations soundtrack from early 1998 with another fabulous track, “Wishful Thinking”, which got a lot of airplay at the time.
His later albums unfortunately did not get the attention they should have — partly due to changing tastes and partly due to the late 90s industry shake-ups — but they too are well worth looking for. He’s also kept busy since the mid-00s by writing and scoring music for multiple stage plays and musicals, his best known being Spring Awakening.
Been stupidly busy lately due to the Day Job, so I’m doing a fly-by here. I’ve been thinking a bit about Portishead lately; I haven’t listened to them in a while and after happening to hear “Glory Box” on the radio, I figured it was time to bring them back into rotation.
I do dearly love that late-90s slinky, smoky trip-hop sound.
I’m thrilled to report that in the span of one month, I’ve already hit over 13,000 words for the Meet the Lidwells project, averaging around 500 to 700 words day. I’m still on track for a fall release at this point, as I think I’m about a fifth of the way done already!
Meanwhile, here’s a few songs I’ve used for inspiration and reference so far. As you can see, there’s definitely a deep Britpop influence going on.
The Stone Roses, “I Am the Resurrection”: The four-to-the-floor beat of this track was part of the inspiration for the Lidwells’ first major hit, “Grapevine”. Theirs is a catchy track that captures the interest of not just their younger teen fans but also the older ones, thanks to their ability to cleverly mix pop stylings and creative alternative rock. The Lidwells were known for stretching out “Grapevine” live, much like how The Stone Roses did with this song.
The Charlatans UK, “Opportunity”: Keyboardist Danny Lidwell wrote a groovy deep track called “Trust” for their debut album inspired by the keyboard-heavy Manchester bands like The Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets. He claims that “Trust” was when he deliberately decided to stop being self-conscious about his playing and just powered through it, revealing his own unique style in the process.
The Real People, “Window Pane”: I’m using this song as a sort of template as to what the early Lidwells sound like aurally: a lot of harmony, a positive and funky vibe, and definitely catchy and fun to dance to.
The House of Love, “You Don’t Understand”: This would be a good example of the type of song they would write, especially eldest member and band leader Jason. In fact, Jason will end up writing a song similar-sounding to this one by their third album.
Veruca Salt, “Volcano Girls”: This is definitely a great example of how I picture the two women in the band, Hannah and Amy, rocking out. Hannah is a badass drummer with no fear, and Amy is one hell of a shredder. They’re both solid songwriters with no filter at all.
The La’s, “Looking Glass”: If A Division of Souls had Failure’s “Daylight” as the soundtrack for the final scene, this is the one for MtL‘s finale. This would be Thomas, the youngest Lidwell, singing this as the final song on their final show on their last tour, going out on one hell of a high.
Speaking of 90s music, I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff lately that came out while I was in Boston, college and post-college. The city has a fascinating musical history, especially where rock and radio is concerned. [I highly suggest looking for Carter Alan’s Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN and Brett Milano’s The Sound of Our Town for a great overview.] There’s always been a scene of some kind in the city over the years, and it’s always been great. A lot of it is due to its eclectic mix of blue-collar families and college students.
I was glad to be able to listen to, if not go see, a lot of the local bands while going to Emerson College in the early 90s. Here’s a few of my favorites from that era…hope you enjoy!
Alas, my recent fascination with 70s music has been sidetracked due to my starting in on the Meet the Lidwells project; in this case, I am now immersing myself in the poppier side of alternative rock circa 1990-1996. Not complaining, considering.
I’m trying to avoid the expected hits, the songs that still pop up from time to time: “Unbelievable” and “Right Here Right Now”, Achtung Baby and Nevermind, and so on. I’d like to dig just a little deeper than expected — something I am wont to do for my writing projects anyway — and bring back some of the tunes that were on my Walkman during my college years.
Sure, I’ve often said that the early 90s was definitely an unpredictable era of great highs and miserable lows for me personally, but that’s not the story I’m writing here. [And that’s another blog post entirely anyway.] I’m reconnecting with a lot of the great music that came out at the time, and channeling that energy into the Lidwells story.
The early 90s was an interesting time, for a multitude of reasons anyway. Musically, post-punk and college rock was becoming the new mainstream, 80s pop was aging a bit (sometimes not that well at all), and new voices and sounds were popping up from around the globe. Politically, old walls (literal and figurative) were being torn down, and soon a new President would be entering the White House. It felt like there was a weird positivity in the air that we’d almost forgotten about.
It may have been the political sea change, or it may have been something else. For me at any rate, I was thinking this was the last decade in the millennium, and that we were all looking forward to a more positive future than the sometimes dreary one we’d been recently subjected to.
Musically, I was getting into the wave of Britpop that WFNX was playing (when they weren’t playing grunge, which took me a lot longer to get into). In addition to that, Boston was experiencing a small renaissance of sorts with a hell of a lot of great local bands old and new getting some serious airplay — Manufacture, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Tribe, Heretix, The 360s, Think Tree…a bunch of bands I may not have been able to see live, but I certainly bought most of their releases when I could.
I was also doing a lot of shorter writing at the time — my fiddling with the Infamous War Novel had faded into the background; I’d created my comic character Murph and put him through all kinds of weird universes; I’d finally gotten out of the ‘doom poetry’ phase I’d put myself through and was writing some solid Flying Bohemians lyrics; I was also pushing myself to play around with new story ideas.
This is the energy that I want to use for Meet the Lidwells; a feeling of optimism and strong bursts of creativity. Sure, my story will deal with their personal ups and downs and their eventual demise as a band, but that’s only part of it. This is about celebration as much as it is about struggle.
It’s about the love (the characters’ and mine) of music. 🙂
Or: Albums Wot I Listened to Incessantly While Writing the Trilogy in the Belfry, 1996-2004. It’s by no means a complete list, as I’ve left out a ton of albums that didn’t get nearly as much play but may have shown up in heavy rotation for a shorter time. I also didn’t list the albums that popped up during the revision years, which would probably be another long list in itself.
I’ve put them in semi-chronological order of release. These are still some of my favorite albums; I would highly suggest checking many of them out, perhaps finding a copy or two for your collection if you don’t have them already. It’s a wide mix; there’s electronica, alternative metal, alternative rock, and even a classical album or two. A lot of these albums still pop up on rotation when I’m working.
To be honest, it does feel kind of odd to finally be listening to a different style of music for my latest project. [Meet the Lidwells! is full of power-pop goodness, so there’s a lot of Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne involved, and a lot of listening to The Power Pop Show on KSCU.] But I highly doubt I’ll stop listening to Fantastic Planet or Sea Change any time soon…
If you haven’t seen my recent post over at Welcome to Bridgetown, I’m currently celebrating the platinum anniversary of my starting a novel (The Phoenix Effect) that would end up morphing into my Bridgetown trilogy. All this month I will be posting fun things related to the original as well as the trilogy, and I thought I’d do the same over here.
Twenty years ago I was a few months in on my relatively new job as the lone shipper/receiver at HMV Records. Even though I was one of the oldest hires there (I’m pretty sure I was closer to my manager Tom’s age than the young’uns I worked alongside), I was still feeling my way around.
The biggest change from the years previous was that I had a much closer connection to the music I was listening to. I was listening to a lot of radio at the time but didn’t have that much money to spend on new releases, but this job let me listen to a lot more stuff (and yes, I may have dubbed a number of cds onto blank cassettes while in the back room, heh!).
But the sounds were changing as well. The bright bounciness of Britpop was suffering from hangovers and bloating (see: Oasis’ Be Here Now, a solid but WAY overworked album); the American grunge was kind of losing its way (not to mention some of its lead singers to overdoses), and let’s face it: the college rock I knew of then was essentially the commercial rock of now.
That’s not to say the quality (or quantity) of alternative rock was declining…it was merely evolving with the times. In fact, 1997 featured some fantastic, solid releases from bands both old and new, taking the genre in new and interesting directions.
On a personal level this was a positive and much-needed evolution for me, as I’d been in dire need of a change in my life and outlook. I’d been broke, angry and depressed for about three years straight, gone through some personal issues that were Not Fun At All, and needed a positive change ASAP.
Not only that, this change in mood is reflected in my writing. I’d essentially started a new project resurrected from the ashes of one that I had to close down for personal reasons. And let’s be brutally honest: back then, I’d had a collegiate view of being a writer. I was a special snowflake with the Powers of Story [insert sprinkly *whoosh* sfx here] and I wrote Important Life Allegories™. In reality, however…my writing was crap, I knew it was crap, no one was going to take it seriously, and I was going to need to be a shit ton better than the level I was currently at if was going to get anywhere with it.
So that meant dispensing with the mindset of Writing as Superpower and take it seriously. Making it a daily process instead of a casual one. Relearning the basics of story construction. (This included doing a hell of a lot more reading than before; not just the how-to writing books, but the different genres of fiction and nonfiction I was interested in. This plan kick-started my habit of visiting book stores on the weekends and, thankfully, a love of reading.)
Music has always been a part of my writing process, and this time it was no different. This time out I’d be making mixtapes of tracks that would inspire my writing (the four-volume Songs from the Eden Cycle from 1997-8, the sort-of sequels in the early 2000s, and the recent Eden Cycle Sessions mp3 playlists). Certain albums released during this time would get heavy rotation play on my cd player down in my basement writing nook. And I’d listen to a hell of a lot of stuff on my fifty-mile commute, which was always a perfect time for me to brainstorm.
I’d made a decision to be a writer quite early in my life, but 1997 was when I decided to take that decision seriously.
I don’t use the Sirius XM radio on my own PC as much as I should, so today I thought I’d put it on. I chose the Lithium channel, primarily because the song playing at the time was Nine Inch Nails’ “Down In It”. And now I’ve been listening to the 90s all morning.
Yes, I know! Me, the guy who’s posted about 80s college rock for far too long, finally moving forward in time? Heh.
Seriously, the 90s was an interesting decade, looking back on it now. I tend to think of it as a decade where we crossed a lot of lines that had drawn in the sand for so long that we kind of forgot why they were there in the first place. A lot of interesting chances were taken in the creative world; some fell flat, but some were welcomed and became the norm. College radio became modern rock became alternative rock became chart-topping rock. It didn’t help that the 80s chart rock had become a sad caricature of itself, full of hair metal spandex and arpeggios, and bar bands with very few actual hits. Something had to take over eventually, and alt.rock had been waiting in the wings since the early 80s.
The music of the 90s for me felt sort of like a light was finally turned on. More to the point, it felt like I’d exited the dark cave of my bedroom and its 4AD/Cure gloom and entered the sunshine of the wider world beyond. I could easily say that Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was in fact the point of change, as it probably was for many others. It wasn’t the first alt.rock song that broke through to chart radio (I’d like to think that honor actually belongs to Love and Rockets’ “So Alive”, which hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart two years earlier), but it was the most important one. Rock radio wasn’t the same afterwards.
Yeah, sure, there were also the bands that weren’t grunge, weren’t Britpop, and didn’t quite fit into the already-standard ‘alternative’ format. In retrospect they were chart rock’s New Breed. They were melodic, catchy, and just mainstream enough to be played on pretty much any commercial rock station without scaring the parents. They were just edgy enough that the kids loved them anyway. You probably wouldn’t hear them on college radio (that avenue was being filled at that time with No Depression, math rock, slowcore, and the other decidedly noncommercial subgenres), but you’d hear them on the burgeoning Modern Rock and AOR stations.
These are the songs you’ll hear on Adult Alternative stations nowadays, tracks by Collective Soul and Tonic rubbing shoulders with James Bay and Elle King. The slightly harder stuff will pop up on the alt.rock stations that have survived this long, sneaking in as ‘classic tracks’ next to new tracks by other 90s bands that have miraculously stayed together this long (Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182).
I can pretty much divide the 90s into two distinct personal eras: the college/Boston years (1990-95) and the HMV years (1996-2000), with the yearlong entr’acte of ennui and deadend jobs of 1995-6. Despite the personal ups and downs I was contending with at the time, I rarely missed an opportunity to follow the latest trends. I may not have had the money to buy it all at the time, but that didn’t stop me from making radio tapes, dubbing cds from friends, or keeping my boombox set to the local alternative stations.
Or spending most of my hard-earned pay at the record store I worked at, for that matter.
Despite my personal and emotional ups and downs in that decade, I found it to be a lot more enjoyable than the previous decade when I was dealing with my gawkish teenage self. My twenties certainly had their extremely frustrating moments, and I did make a lot of really stupid decisions, but by the back end of that decade, I had my shit together and knew exactly what I wanted to do. That’s when I knew for a fact that I’d be a writer. It’s also when I knew that this infatuation with music was going to be a lifelong thing and I was perfectly fine with that.
Next week will be the first of many entries for the Walk in Silence blog series…and of course, I’ll be letting you know all about that over the next week and a half.
But that’s not the plunge I’m talking about.
When I was first planning out the WiS project, I always had the timeframe in the back of my mind: should I focus just on my own personal connection with college radio (1986-1989)? Should I talk about its history (197? – 199?)? Or should I just come up with an arbitrary time? Eventually I chose the third entry, that way I could focus mostly on my own personal history, but also include the time before I connected with the genre, thus 1984 – 1989.
The plunge I’m thinking of now is the college and post-college years. They weren’t exactly the happiest years of my life, for various reasons, but they were interesting musically. College rock, at least with American radio, gave way to grunge and Britpop as it became more popular, and changed genre names numerous times before deciding on the all-encompassing ‘alternative rock’. A schism grew: those who felt alternative rock was selling out and followed the most obscure bands possible, and those who really didn’t mind either way, as long as the prefabricated crap currently in the charts went away.
I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a sequel to Walk in Silence for quite some time. There’s no name to it yet, nor is there any concrete schedule or plan for it at this time (all my focus is currently on posting WiS and publishing the Bridgetown trilogy), but I do have a few ideas floating around…it’ll focus mostly on the years from late 1989 (when I left for college) to late 1995 (when I left Boston and moved back home). And it will most likely continue the WiS theme of both personal story and music history.
Some albums from that era still get heavy airplay on the radio: you’ll still hear tracks from Nevermind and Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Loveless and Definitely Maybe and Achtung Baby and Violator and so on. But there are so many more albums I’ve ignored for one reason or another, forgotten about or couldn’t make myself listen to for personal reasons. Songs that radio let pass into history, even forgetting to play them on Throwback Thursday. But as with Walk in Silence and the 80s, it’s been nigh on twenty-plus years for most of these. It’s well past time to revisit them again.
So starting today I’m going to start listening to some of these albums in my collection, give them a once-over they haven’t had in quite some time, and see where I can go with it.