Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hear Say

Often times, if somebody out there in web-land writes something related to the band the address of the piece is forwarded to my inbox. If something is written about Voxtrot I am naturally inclined to read it, a fact that I don't think can be fairly classified as "internet vanity," but rather plain curiosity. During the past couple of days I have come across a number of strange threads and in response there are a few things I'd like to clarify about Voxtrot. Now I will make my usual disclaimer: It's not that I think the entire world is dying to know every detail about the origin of Voxtrot; in fact, I'm sure many people are new to the band and this is probably too much information. Frankly, I'm flattered that people are writing about us and taking the time to express their opinions. If you as a reader have no interest in Voxtrot this is completely understandable, and if that is the case you might want to stop reading now. Otherwise...

When I was nineteen I decided to move to Glasgow. Throughout the year preceding this move I had written a number of songs that I wanted to record with a full band prior to moving across the pond. This way I would have a solid piece of recording that reflected the kind of stuff I wanted to be playing with the band I would hopefully acquire. To fill out the pieces I gathered Matt on drums (who I have known and played music with since the age of eleven or twelve), Mitch on guitar (who I lived in a dorm room with in Boston), and Jason (whom I randomly approached at a party in Austin- perhaps the best impulse decision I ever made). We completed this initial set of songs over the course of the summer, and suddenly it was September. As I have discussed previously on this blog, when I arrived in Scotland I discovered something much different than I had expected and spent much more of my time in nightclubs than I did behind a guitar. However I still continued to write songs and when I would return home for summer or Christmas holiday we would work up the songs just for fun.

I had never had any expectation that Voxtrot would ever even be a live band. In fact the name did not come about until necessity forced it to do so. Jason managed to get us a show with out friend David Longoria, who was at that time playing with an incarnation of what is now The Black. In the winter of 2002 (I think) we recorded the Start of Something, which was followed by a handful of recordings with Carlos Jackson (The Shells), however there was never really any plan to release anything. It was mainly just passed around between friends and sold on CD-R's whenever we played out, which was not often. Gigs were usually either at Emos Austin or at House Parties, which is where we probably gathered the grand majority of our fans. Most of our "fans" were actually just friends that we knew from hanging out in Austin who liked the music and liked going to parties (who doesn't?).

Often times our live performance was (perhaps still is) a little choppy, technically speaking, but the atmosphere was/is really nice and people danced. In my mind this kind of enjoyment compensates for a little infidelity performance-wise but that's just me. I think that we have gotten much more solid in terms of playing live, and hopefully that improvement curve will keep on its path. Last year James Minor (who worked at Emos and 33 Degrees Record Shop and now lives in New York) offered to become our manager. James is a very good friend of ours and is one of the first people who I become close with I started actually meeting people in Austin. Before James, our friend Helen helped us to find gigs in Austin and is the one who initially sent James a Voxtrot CD-R but she was not exactly a 'hard-hitting, wheeling and dealing' manager. She was just a friend who wanted to hep us play somewhere other than people's living rooms.

James' offer was kind of terrifying because it meant putting off the remainder of my degree, but all I have ever wanted to do is to play music so I accepted and we about one year later trying to make it work. Now I will quote from a discussion thread:

"the general impression I have of voxtrot is 'exceedingly lame'.. I guess I totally want my music to be popular too, but I'm not going to write a bunch of crowd-pleasers just to make it happen. I want to write music that's good, whether it will be popular or not."

Okay, this notion that we made a conscious decision to abandon twee pop in favor of a more popular current sound is an unfortunate misaprehension. I have nothing against Bloc Party, The Bravery, etc... Primarily because I have never heard a single album by either one of those bands, not because I am a snob but rather because I have spent more of my time listening to dance records, and of course my old indie and sixties favorites. Belle and Sebastian, The Smiths, The Field Mice, etc... I still love all of that shit more than I can tell you but it would be ridiculous to keep writing songs in the same format and style year after year. Personally, I wouldn't exactly say we've strayed far from those twee pop roots. For me the main component of song appeal is melody and then lyrics; that's what really grabs me. However, over time I decided that incorporating a bit of drive and gusto in one's songs can be a beautiful thing. You come to anticipate the way a crowd will react when a certain energy builds in the song, and when it happens both the crowd and the perfomer are feeling the same wonderful thing. It's fun.

As an artist (perhaps this is true for every profession) you want to reach the greatest possible number of people. You also want to be able to support yourself, and I think a lot people have this notion that trying to integrate your band into the realm of being a 'profession' completely denies the purity of the experience. It's kind of a catch-22 because in a way I'm sure this is partially true, but this is where the argument against 'artist as commodity' comes into play. In some countries (ie. the United States) it is extremely hard to survive as an artist. There is very little government funding and let's not even talk about socialised health care. Despite any apparent growing popularity you still have to fucking struggle. And chances are you are doing it because you love music, not the other way around. Some people love attention more than music, but popularity is not necessarily an indicator of that trait, as many have surmised. Personally I think it's pretty shitty to see Austinites tearing down their own bands instead of supporting them. Sometimes we don't make the absolute best choices business-wise but trust me the prime motivation, the original motivation, is music.

20 Comments:

Anonymous shannon said...

i think that a recent post that i made spawned some of the threads you may have been reading. that was carried on to a friend's livejournal & a couple of local musicians she's friends with began commenting. i went back & searched through, but i couldn't find the comment you quoted. the gist, though, is the same.

with friends (obviously you & i move in slightly different circles) i've been very defensive of voxtrot because it seems that a large number of people make the argument that artistic integrity, obscurity, & poverty are inextricably connected. frankly, i think that's bullshit, and my belief that a band or musician can exhibit strong artistic character AND (hopefully) be able to make a living doing seems to not be particularly popular. =P

8:19 AM  
Anonymous angryrobot said...

Normally, I think it's bad form for bands to respond directly to thier own criticism, but I can understand your desire to defend yourself. Sadly, there will always be people who second-guess your artistic motivations. Who knows what drives them? Only you will ever know your true intent, and that's all that really matters. Personally, when I've seen you play, I get a sense of fun and energy that feels genuine. It's refreshing to see a band that actually appears to be enjoying themselves. And I don't think there's any shame at all in ambition, or even in wanting to be popular, so long as an artist is being honest with themself. Making genuine pop music that people sing along and dance to is a highly honorable craft, I think. I think there's still a small sense of that in, for example, the UK. But in America there seems to be far more value judgements made around art, which, living in a post-modern society, you'd hope we'd have grown past by now. You keep the sweet pop songs coming, and we'll keep listening. And best of luck to Voxtrot.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous michaela said...

Ramesh, I'd like to compliment you for not being defensive and childish in the face of criticism. As someone who dishes it out regularly to bands I dislike and bands love a whole lot, with equal aplomb, I've received responses that run the gamut from creepy threats and taunts to tersely polite thanks. But it's rare that you see someone give such a thoughtful and measured response.

I saw the conversation thread you mention a few days ago, and though I was not the one who sent it to you, I'm glad someone did!

10:14 AM  
Blogger thelemurs said...

You have said so much here. Thanks. Atists who are trying to create something beautiful as an end (while realizing the inherent component of commercialism as a means)should just print this blog out, and hand it to the jealous and/or vicious. It is quite a tightrope to walk, and those treading that same ground should be the last ones to shake it. Shame on the them! And shame on their lack of good taste and judgement.

8:37 AM  
Blogger thelemurs said...

You have said so much here. Thanks. Atists who are trying to create something beautiful as an end (while realizing the inherent component of commercialism as a means)should just print this blog out, and hand it to the jealous and/or vicious. It is quite a tightrope to walk, and those treading that same ground should be the last ones to shake it. Shame on the them! And shame on their lack of good taste and judgement.

8:38 AM  
Blogger luzerka i jadnica said...

thanks for writing this. it was rather informational, and i was thinking about writing an article about voxtrot sometime soon. so this will help, a lot.

and i love the way your music sounds so pop, and not hypermodern-whatever.
<3

2:14 PM  
Blogger St├ęphanie said...

i guess one of those the people "out there in web-land writes something related to the band"
merry xmas!

4:25 PM  
Blogger St├ęphanie said...

i guess imone of part of the people "out there in web-land who writes something related to the band".
merry xmas!

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Cuong Nguyen said...

word to that.
sometimes you got to do things to survive even if its not fully the best, its the best for you at times.
good luck with everything!

6:57 PM  
Blogger japanesegodjesusrobot said...

Hey Ramesh I wrote a review of the show a few weeks at Magnetic Field and I thought you might be interested in reading it:
http://www.bigtakeover.com/reviews/voxtrot-magnetic-field-brooklyn-wednesday-december-14-2005

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello!
even though i'm a bit drunk now, i wanted to drop an emotion!
my name is aviad, i live in israel, and I must say that "raised by wolves" is my fav single or EP, whatever someone wants to call it.

hope to see u soon in Tel-Aviv. this is the place for u guys!

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry about that! You guys are amazing. And any musician wants people to listen to their music - the idea that there is some sort of tipping point after which a band is too popular and has therefore "sold out" is ridiculous.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm not a voxtrot fan but i respect your plight
just keep doing what you do
and fuck what people say
you're putting yourself out on the line, its working, and people are jealous...thats it

keep your chin up and stick your chest out

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Sheila said...

Baby, don't sweat it. You don't ever need to explain yourself. Just keep doing what you're doing.

2:56 PM  
Blogger N. Huda /dumb blonde said...

To put off a degree is rather a big decision. has anyone you know ever disagree to that decision? It was a big risk you took between going for your dream and securing your future. I guess that would be one of the trying moments in any artists' lives. So how did you you get all that faith in yourself and in your band? Besides music being the main motivation.

3:23 AM  
Anonymous Emily said...

That was a joy to read. Anyone able to consider the wonder and whimsy that ooze forth from Voxtrot the product of a contrived decision to appeal to the masses clearly lacks either the ability to relate properly to music or the powers of logical reasoning. That was a long and rambled sentence but its heart was in the right place. I usually try to steer clear of writing by people in bands I like because I'm all too easily exasperated by dubious eloquence and misplaced apostrophes/philosophies. It's horrible to discover that whatever meaning you've been drawing from a bunch of songs just wasn't meant to be there at all. More relevantly, though, it's delightful to see Voxtrotly splendour radiating from this here bloggy =) Melody and lyrics are what lure me in also and Voxtrot unwaveringly maintain both to high standards and in glorious abundance.


Also I'm comforted to find that the most Scottish sounding band never to be from Scotland (at least partially) are.



Goodbye =D xx

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Heather said...

This reminded me of something an art professor I had a year ago (whom I often had disagreements with) once said: "You can't make true art and make a living from it. If you are making money, it must not be real art." He also made a similar comment involving musicians, even going as far to say that any musicians who add lyrics to their music are trying to "please the masses" and should be frowned upon! (I wonder if he would say the same if any of his beloved poets decided to add musical backing to their poetry?)

And I disagree with him with every ounce of my exisitance.

(And then I learned that he was paid a lot of money for some of his art... So was he saying that he, The Almighty Art Professor of San Antonio, doesn't do real art?)

I think it is possible to enjoy what you're doing and still make a living without "selling out."

Keep on making the music that you enjoy making and playing! If you make money and gain popularity by doing so then props to you, man! That is not what selling out is.

On somewhat of an aside: I do believe that the reason for your popularity is the fact that you are writing what you want to and not trying to please any certain crowd. The music of Voxtrot truly comes from the heart and the soul, and that is something that can be felt while listening. At least that is what my first impression was after hearing Voxtrot for the first time (the song was "Missing Pieces"). It sounded so true, so sincere...

[Words are failing me now, and I believe it is due to the fact that I have no eaten anything since yesterday evening. I'll end this comment here and have a lunch.]

All the best,
Heather

11:22 AM  
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7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MESSAGE

5:56 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

I've been listening to Voxtrot for months now, but I've just stumbled across your blog, and I am not disappointed. Your blogs are to prose what your songs are to music - whether I've been in your position or not (not, as it happens), you manage to express your feelings in such a way that I find myself nodding in startled recognition. It's not just sincerity; you can express that sincerity in such a way that I feel your emotions mirrored in my own soul. And that is perhaps why your music can never be "just pop". It can never be unexceptional and definitely can never be "lame". Crafting good pop is an art just as crafting any other kind of music is an art, but your music isn't even just that. Listening to your music regularly moves me to tears, more so than any other band I can think of, and why? Everything your music does is moving. Sometimes it's simply the drum line or the melody; sometimes the lyrics hit me particularly hard; sometimes the build to the final section fills me with such joy I can hardly stand it. To remove any part of your music - the sublime lyrics, the exceptional music, the energetic drive, the tendency to incorporate danceable beats - would detract from the perfection.
Most of my friends have gotten into Voxtrot, as my boyfriend and I are huge fans, and none of them simply listen because your music is catchy. It's just ... just ... GOOD, on basically every level. And no one should ever doubt that it is just because people listen to it.
I'm about to reach the maudlin point where I express my strong desire to meet you and thank you in person for enriching my life so greatly, so I'll stop before this gets any longer. But - thank you.

1:38 AM  

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