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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stuck Inside of Worcester with the...

First and foremost, I would like to apologize to all of those who had intended on coming to see us over the past couple of days. We made every attempt to honor the bookings that had been made for us, but after a certain point it became clear that there were too many odds stacked against us. Here is the full story:

Friday night, we played in Boston at a club called P.A.'s Lounge. The weather that day had been disastrous to say the least and thus we left a rather large amount of extra time for our journey to Washington D.C. the next day. Little did we know that we should have left an extra four days. About 35 miles outside of Boston the van started to make this terrible noise that sounded much like a muffled machine gun, certainly not an unfamiliar sound considering that we had to have the spark plug replaced at the beginning of this tour (the reason we had to cancel our Dallas show). However, this time we were convinced that the problem was something different and we pulled off the interstate to find the closest mechanic. "The closest mechanic" came in the form of a non-descript mechanic shop attached to a Getty's petrol station immediately off the Mass. Pike. As soon as we pulled up, a man in a cap came out and told us to shut off the engine, which we did. He opened the hood of the van, took a quick glance, and simply proclaimed, "You have blown a valve, engine is destroyed." My knowledge of cars/trucks is limited to say the least, and I'm pretty sure this particular mechanic was aware of that fact; we were all panicked, pacing and trying to figure out the best way to get back on the road to DC. If the engine was in fact destroyed, it could take as long as a week to rebuild the damn thing and it would likely cost approximately two thousand plus dollars. Still, we were fixated on the idea of making it to the next show.

The most obvious plan of action: rent a van; a seemingly simple task, though finding a fifteen passenger van on Saturday in Worcester, Massachusetts is no easy feat. We managed to find one twelve passenger at the Worcester regional airport and promptly phoned a taxi to take us there. We arrived and were faced with a rather intimidating invoice, but were still prepared to pay as long as it meant we would make it to the remaining shows of the tour. As we were practically signing the dotted line on the contract, a woman appeared with her husband, two hours late to pick up two twelve passenger vans for a 5 hour family reunion. [Insert the sound of dreams being crushed]. It was now clear that there was no way we could make it out of Worcester in time to make it to any of the remaining dates and that the remainder of the tour would have to be cancelled. There was no feasible way to even reach another mechanic before Monday.

I phoned my Dad's friend Liam, who came and picked us up, helped us transport our gear to a motel, and bought us dinner at this Tex-Mex restaurant called "Williker's," the only dining establishment within walking distance of our motel. Upon entering Williker's, we were seated by a really nice girl named Erika, who informed us that the place hosted a karaoke night at the weekend, the first positive thing we had heard all day. That night we drowned our sorrows in tequila and proceeded to completely take over the event, churning out a wide variety of songs/artists, including: Johnny Cash, Soul Asylum, The Band, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, The Spin Doctors, The Beatles, Guns and Roses, Otis Redding... the list goes on. By the time Mitch and company took the stage to perform a very drunken version of the Crash Test Dummies classic "Mmmmmmm, mmmmmm, mmmmm...." it was clear that things had gone too far. Perhaps our state of anxiety had become too much over the course of the day and karaoke was the perfect release. We all went a little nuts, and fortunately the entire thing is on video tape, some of which we hope to host on the Voxtrot web page soon.

Over the next four days, we made friends with our waitress Erika, who provided salvation from the all too familiar motel scenery, visited the Candy Mansion, and spent multiple hours propping up the bar at Williker's, our new local. I entered a rather Brian Wilson-esque phase where I refused to leave the bed, preferring to lay in bed pretty much all day, watching re-runs of MTV Cribs in my flannel pajamas.

Then came Monday, the fateful day where we could get our van to a real mechanic and find out what exactly had been the cause of damage to the problem and what the cost of fixing it would be. Three auto shops and one billion phone calls later it became evident that it was in fact a spark plug. A fucking spark plug. Those assholes at the first mechanic had lied to us and tried to weasel us out of our van, saying it was totaled and offering us a used minivan with no odometer in exchange for the title. By doing this they destroyed any chance we might have had of making it to the Washington, Chapel Hill and Georgia shows. In the end the cost of fixing the fan was approximately one half the combined costs of the Rainbow Motel and the bar tab at Williker's. However, as I said earlier I know nothing about anything auto related and this fix might not be a permanent one, so I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch. It just appears to me that they very knowingly tried to use our ignorance against us for malicious intent and it cost us the potential of completing the second half of our tour. That's pretty shitty.

Today we made it back to new york city and I have my fingers crossed that the van will stay safe and fixed. We are incredibly sad about the cancelled shows and have scheduled a last minute show tomorrow (Wednesday) at nine pm at Magnetic Field in Brooklyn to try and fundraise some of the lost money. Just as a brief update, when we return to Austin we are finishing off material for the upcoming Mothers Sisters Daughters and Wives EP that should be completed in January/February and officially released at the beginning of March. Touring will take place in February (West Coast), then we play SXSW, then more touring in March (East Coast). I shall keep you posted. We are very thankful for everybody's support and we hope to make up for the mishaps of this tour in the near future.


PS. If anybody would like to respond/comment I would really like that. I only realised today that I had the "member-only" response setting on. It has been changed.

I'm sure the grammar on this has suffered a little due to length. I shall try and edit it tomorrow.