“Start a fucking band,” writes my friend and former journalism professor George Miller, quite forcibly, in his editor’s letter of the newly released, newly redesigned Fall issue of JUMP magazine.
Just over a year ago, George, myself and about fifteen other Temple students were putting together the prototype for JUMP in London, and documenting every glimpse we could catch of the city’s music scene. I was living a dream life, one I may never even come close to again. Realistically, since moving back to Philadelphia and starting a job in the airline industry, I’ve drifted farther and farther from music and journalism, the more overtime hours I’ve compiled, hoping to stay afloat and pay rent.
The point JUMP‘s editor and publisher was trying to make in his was that times are about as rough as they could be. The economy, government, the City of Philadelphia, etc. Everything has gone to shit, basically, but what a better time than to channel your energy and frustrations into something creative.
“The best music was born out of difficult times,” he argues. “So, channel your energy. Find your passion. Find an audience. Fuck the workday world and their consumer culture.”
“Where we were once the ‘Workshop of the World,’ Philadelphia is now a city that needs a reason to exist. To me, music could be our raison d’etre. That should be what we’re known for.”
George’s column inspired a lot of strong emotions in me. While I felt empowered by his strong message, I felt indignant at the ease which he presumed such a venture would take.
The inner struggle playing out my mind over the past few months has centered around my desire to use my little amounts of free time in a productive and creative way. Such a task is much easier said than done, however. Truly, one my life’s most prevalent goals is to be in a serious band. A collaborative, adventurous project comprised of equal parts, working toward common goals.
And maybe George is absolutely right. Maybe this is it.
Well, after thinking about it for a few days, I’ve decided the time is now. For the next couple weeks, I’m hoping to jam and collaborate with as many people as possible, and I’ll be open to whatever results might come of those sessions. Hopefully it’s a band, but if it’s not, it will likely broaden my horizons in some positive way.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Craigslist ad to post.
You can pick up the latest edition of JUMP in a bunch of place all around Philadelphia, or check it out online. George Miller’s awesome editor’s letter is on page 5.
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Maybe it was inevitable.
And it’s probably pessimistic to think that you’re bound to get jumped at some point, but living in Philadelphia for four plus years, and being the adventurer I am, I was probably naive to think that I could get by completely unscathed forever.
Justin and I finally put together the Wednesday night motivation to make it to an open mic at South Street’s newly opened (sort of) The Legendary Dobbs (as it turns out, a pretty phony knockoff tribute to the former J.C. Dobbs, which used to highlight the street). A night of drinking and barhopping eventually led us to Old City, where we set open the guitar case and busked on busy street corners, to a much more fulfilling response than the earlier open mic. A pitstop at The Kyber just before last call pushed us over the threshold from buzzed to drunk. Hungering for a cheap slice of late night pizza, we made the unguided decision to return to South Street to the infamous Lorenzo’s.
In reality, and I already was well aware of this fact, there are parts of South Street that just are not great places to be late at night. Many businesses close fairly early as the street seems to become a breeding ground for bored kids looking to cause a stir by whatever creative delinquency they can invent.
Justin and I obliviously walked from Lorenzo’s along the quieter sections of South at 2:30 am toward the Broad Street Night Owl bus. We passed few people for blocks, then passed a group of teenage-looking loiterers. Well, we almost made it past them.
In less time than I could blink, a forearm caught me under the chin, sprawling me out on a steam grate. My guitar case fell from my grasp to the street. I looked at Justin, who had apparently stumbled forward, reeling from a punch to the back of the head and quickly braced myself for whatever might remain of the onslaught. But as I wheeled around to defend myself, all I saw was the group of assailants jumping in a waiting getaway car. The screeching of tires on asphalt, and they were gone. All in a matter of what had to have been less than 15 seconds.
None of them made any attempt to steal money, cell phones, guitars or anything else, and they were clearly not interested in a physical altercation beyond a blindside swing at each of us.
It’s the one question that I’ve tried for days since the incident to answer. What did these “muggers” hope to accomplish?
The more I replay the faint blur of a memory I have of the fleeting attack, the more I get the impression that their motive goes no farther than sport. That it was literally just a sort of game for a few punks with nothing better to do on a Wednesday night. I’ve wondered how many others have been victimized in the same senseless manner. I’ve wondered if they had intentions for a bigger plan, then changed their minds, for whatever reason, at the last second.
As the pure rage I felt in the preceding days has cooled and allowed me to see the event in a clearer light, I still feel hardly closer to any kind of clarity. Was this truly just their idea of random “fun”?
I understand what I’m supposed to feel, under the given circumstances: relief. I’m supposed to, as everyone with whom I’ve discussed this has said, feel “lucky it wasn’t a lot worse.” and believe me, I do feel that way.
But the bigger part of me, the one who believes, hopefully not naively, that people are generally good by nature and should be given the benefit of the doubt is faced with sheer bewilderment.
I’m not going to visit South Street any less than I already do, which is not very often (it’s massively overrated, beyond Jim’s Steaks, Repo Records and maybe the TLA). Just maybe the next time, at 2:30 am, I’ll walk up Lombard or Pine, two much nicer, safer streets.
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In case you’ve never tried doing it, starting up a new band and giving it the kind of push to really, seriously make things happen is a giant ball of frustration.
It is a painful, painstaking process that relies on other people’s more or less blind support, as many of them have never heard or seen your new band for a split second and have no real reason to lend you their valuable time beyond their sort of forced curiosity. So what do you do? Book shows, right? And how do you get booking agents to care about you over hundreds of other inquiring bands? The truth is, it’s really difficult.
So you play as many open mics as possible and meet as many people as possible, so that you might be able to soon call in a favor and take the smallest of steps forward. You tough it out, waiting around for hours on some nights, just to get up in front of a usually awkward, half-listening crowd, to play two songs, that hopefully go just the way you want them to go. Unfortunately, they rarely go exactly that way, but you settle for what you can come up with. Because you have to.
The other thing you do, which I am lately finding to be the most excruciating aspect of the new band startup: you send swarms of e-mails, tweets, Facebook messages, invites, suggestions, events, chats, status updates, links. Shameless plugs. In essence, you spam the living hell out of people.
It becomes almost mechanical and without any kind of substance or meaning. How many different ways can you rephrase, “Check out my new music”? I think I’ve probably exhausted every one. It has made me feel downright soulless at times, like I’m some kind of vapid robot.
I could be taking this opportunity to link to the new ReverbNation page, but chances are, you’ve already had ample opportunities to click on any of the dozens of links I’ve spewed on saturated social networking sites.
An old friend of mine, Eric Hunker, recently made the decision to focus seriously on his music. In a matter of days, he reached over 1,000 fans on his Facebook page. I have positively no qualms about linking you to his page, not only because his music is tremendously fresh and mesmerizing, but because he’s plainly one of the nicest people I know. He fully deserves the support, which couldn’t happen to a better person, but of his already meteoric success, I’m just utterly bewildered (and a little jealous). He barely had to try beyond simply asking people for their earnest support in this new endeavor only a few times.
Maybe I should get some lessons on networking from him.
In all reality, I should be thrilled right now. I’ve moved back to Philadelphia, after sitting around in a music-less town for the better part of six months, knowing not what to do with myself. I suppose I’m a little impatient, and for the sour post, I do apologize.
At least I’m writing.
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When I moved back home with my parents near Allentown, PA, after graduating from Temple in August, I had a lot of time on my hands. I had very few friends who still lived in this area. I had a hard time ever being motivated to do anything. Most of the time I felt completely uninspired in a town with no music scene to really speak of. But I had my guitar, and I had lots of time to play it.
I also had a small catalog of songs that had never found a home with any of my previous musical projects, songs I held very close to me, that I desperately wanted to share with people. So I found a few open mics around the Lehigh Valley, and I tried to regularly attend. Unfortunately, when I finally found a place I really enjoyed and that was becoming my new home, The Wildflower Cafe in Bethlehem, the venue/cafe closed for business, a few weeks later.
So I went back to doing what I had began doing in the fall, recording the songs, all written in 2010, piece by piece, on a friend’s borrowed digital, multi-track recorder. And a couple weeks ago, I finally finished the five songs that would make up the EP I had been dreaming up since late summer, early fall of last year. I wanted it to be called Middle of Anywhere.
Those five songs, in my mind, tell a sort of narrative of the ups and downs of my life through most of that year. This is that loose story, song by song:
“Your Crowded Heart”
The majority of 2010 involved a lot of my own sort of soul-searching. At the beginning of the year, my love life was really just fragmented. I had a friend, for whom I had done everything I could think of to help her through some difficult times. But when I was around her, I just had the most overwhelming desire to be there for her in a bigger, more meaningful way. To kiss her, to hold her, seemed like the most fitting way to console her, but it was never going to be that simple of a fix. I left her one night and went home to write this song, one of the most heartfelt ones I’ve written.
It became one of my favorite songs to play with my band at the time, the Natural Result, but somehow, it never entirely felt like a song written for that band, and so I hung onto it for dear life, until now.
Ultimately, it’s a song about unrequited love, and that, my friends, is one of the oldest topics in the book. A new interpretation of a classic motif. There you go.
“Middle of Anywhere”
The title track spawned from a really lousy couple months I had at the beginning of last summer. The semester had ended, and I was still living near Temple, which is a ghost town when classes aren’t in session. I had no job, other than doing sporadic freelance writing. I was basically just ready to go to London, later that summer, but had months to kill.
I was really lonely and in one of the most depressed states I’ve ever been in. I had failed, it seemed, to make any new, meaningful connections with anyone in so long, that I had just lost all self-confidence. I ran into an old friend at a party who jokingly asked, “How’s your love life?” and when I said something to the effect of “dismal,” asked, “Well who are your prospects?” It was at that moment I realized that absolutely no prospects could come to mind and that it seemed I had no prospects in any other avenue of my life.
It was a brutally hot summer, and I would just lie awake at night, sweating, unable to sleep even if my mind would have let me. I just wanted to be on another continent (which I soon would be), but I said to myself, “I want to be in the middle of anywhere but here.”
“Walk With Me”
This may be no surprise to you, but I have not really ever been one for good timing.
Toward the end of summer, I started forcing myself out of my North Philadelphia apartment. I began going to a small open mic on South Street. When you go to a particular open mic regularly, the cool thing is, you get to really know people and become friends with some really great musicians who are all doing something similar. One of the other regulars at this open mic was a tremendous piano player and singer, with whom I quickly became friends. I was enamored by her performances every week, and it seemed like we were establishing some kind of growing connection, despite the time rapidly approaching when I would be off for London.
Needless to say, it basically came down to my own daydreaming of an image of taking her by the hand and taking a walk along the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing (this was the best I could imagine in my current state of despair). The week before I left the states, I decided to play the open mic one last time. That day, I began strumming a simple acoustic progression and I put the daydream to lyrics. In a bold move, I planned on playing the song for her that night. Alas, she didn’t show up, so instead I played it for a bunch of slightly drunk bar patrons, who seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. So much for my last ditch effort at a summer fling.
I spent six weeks in London that accounted for the greatest experience of my life. At the end of the six weeks, I went to Paris, alone, and had absolutely no schedule or plan for my trip. It was an intimidating, thrilling and liberating excursion, but at the end of each night there, I would always head back to my hotel with the same sense of loneliness.
Coming home from Europe, I had fully expected to be miserable, having graduated college with no clear path to follow from that point on out. Instead I came home, to find love in probably the last place I would have ever thought to look for it. Suddenly, things were simple, and I was all right with that. Things made sense (outside of London) for the first time in about a year. This is the turning point in the story.
“You Were My Home”
This song really wrote itself, as I was sitting around just reflecting on my time in London in the weeks following the trip. Each of the song’s verses are things I actually did.
We danced in Brixton to live ska until the early morning, when we attempted to navigate the city’s night bus system for the first time, and ended up landing on the wrong side of the enormous Hyde Park. I walked into a Camden Town pub as Amy Winehouse was walking past me out the door to head home, a couple blocks away.
Most people visit London. I lived it. I’ve never gone to a completely new place and felt so instantly at home, but something just clicked for me when I was there. And I would most certainly live there again.
Download the EP for whatever price you choose at www.kevinbrosky.bandcamp.com.
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With four straight days off, I decided to take the weekend to the place I hope to move back to by the summer, Philadelphia.
And the weekend revolved around the two things most associated with my trips to Philly over the last half a year: music and Philadelphia beer. On the beer front, this time, was a rare case of Philadelphia Brewing Company‘s Rowhouse Red. But this isn’t a beer blog (even though that might be cool).
I came down to the city on Thursday night, just in time to catch an electrifying bill at The Fire for night three of the Northern Liberties Winter Music Festival. Primarily, it was to see my good pals, the synth-soaked, electro-rocking Philly quintet, East Hundred. I first met the band at one of their many packed-house Johnny Brenda’s gigs over a year ago. I ended up writing a feature on them for Philadelphia Weekly, which had me hanging out at one of the band’s Fishtown rehearsal sessions, drinking beer with them while they ironed out a brand new song (now, my favorite EH tune, “Fools, Kings and Queens”).
It had been a while since I’d seen the band, one of my favorites in Philly, and their repertoire of blossoming new material has improved exponentially over the last year. Sitting at the bar with bassist Dave Sunderland and guitarist Brooke Blair, they talked with me about the band’s new catalog of songs and their desperation to fund the recording and release of the project. The subject changed to their setlist for the evening, which the guys expressed their desire to readjust.
“I’d like to open with ‘Plus Minus’ for once,” Dave offered, “but it’s a tough one for Beril to sing first and Will thinks he needs to be warmed up a little on drums.”
Clearly, it was one of the band’s most heart-racing, challenging numbers, but I completely agreed with Dave’s notion of trying it as an opener.
“We should just have you write our setlist,” the two joked.
“I’d be honored,” I shot back, trying not to explode at the excitement of writing a favorite band’s setlist, a sincere dream of mine.
Brooke jumped into action, pulling a pen and piece of paper from his jacket and setting it down on the bar in front of me.
“Seriously,” he said, “you should write the setlist, and we shouldn’t be able to see it until we’re on stage.”
Dave grinned and shared his approval. After receiving the roundup of possible songs, I went to work. When I finished, I handed Brooke back a totally new look setlist, one that didn’t include the band’s staple song “Slow Burning Crimes.” Dave had previously pondered aloud about a show when they finally might leave it out. As they were on a tight bill, with seven other bands, the set had to be a tight six songs. The six I scribbled down looked like this:
Fools, Kings and Queens
“I guess I better start doing jumping jacks or running a few laps around the block,” Will jibed, upon learning of the unlikely opener.
I spent the rest of the night, catching up with East Hundred, drinking too many $3 Kenzingers, another PBC beer my good friend Justin Foley asserts, “just tastes like Philly.” I’ll get to Justin in my next post. (Did I mention this is not a beer blog?)
Close to midnight, the band finally took the stage and played through my custom setlist like the pros they are. Aside from the honor of writing East Hundred’s setlist for a night, I’ll also have the honor of writing the bio for their brand new website, coming soon.
The night also included fantastic, tightly-wound sets from other Philly rock mainstays Arrah and the Ferns (who I’d somehow never had the pleasure of hearing) and the eternally jubilant Toy Soldiers, among others.
Friday, Justin (my gracious host for the weekend) and I made a midday stop at World Cafe Live for one the best tickets in town every week, the Free at Noon show. Watching rugged country crooner Hayes Carll play through a heartfelt set full of amicable tales from the road, all I could think of was how stupid I was not to have taken advantage of the weekly free Friday shows in my four years living in the city. I’ll be heading down again tomorrow for local psych-folk innovator Kurt Vile (and the Violators).
I can’t stay away from Philadelphia and the music scene I’ve grown to love. I just want to live and breathe it full time again.
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Dr. Dog – “Shadow People” – Shame, Shame
I popped Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame into my car’s CD player today for probably the millionth time since its release last spring.
“Shadow People” still struck me the same way it always has: pure musical bliss. Scott McMicken’s strained, high-octave vocals ring out over a jangly acoustic guitar, which eventually builds to full-band, electric guitar euphony.
“The neon lights on Baltimore/ Every shadow’s getting famous/ In some backyard, in some plastic chair/ Hoping these cigarettes will save us.”
On a neo-old-school rock masterpiece (also one of my favorite records of the year), this is a gem that shines a little brighter than all the rest. There’s a euphoric sense of togetherness and fullness in the three-part vocals and full-capacity instrumentation of the song’s later choruses.
Where did all the shadow people go?
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The one thing I’ve always struggled with in music journalism (granted, I haven’t done much of that recently) is maintaining the balance between Kevin Brosky, the aspiring music journalist, and Kevin Brosky, the crazed music fanatic.
See the problem is (at least, I think it’s a problem), I am and have always been a music fan first. So many of the bands I’ve written about over the past few years have been bands I’ve dearly admired previously. Even ones with whom I’m not as familiar, I often end up falling in love with after meeting them, hearing a bunch of their music and seeing them live. Furthermore, as a musician myself, I’m absolutely fascinated by the creative processes of other musicians, their nuances as live performers and just their general lifestyles.
So when I get into a sold out show at the Barbary by being Kurt Vile’s “roadie” or I talk to Alex Dezen over the phone for a short interview, it’s hard for me to not jump through the roof with excitement. And that’s just it: Music excites me in a way that nothing else ever has.
In truth, I shouldn’t be writing about a guy like Alex Dezen, the lead singer and songwriter for my favorite band, the Damnwells. The journalism world would call that a “conflict of interest,” the natural second thing I struggle with, being such a music fan.
That said, sometimes those musicians with whom you develop a relationship or admiration, are also the people you most want to write about and who deserve the coverage but might not get it.
In my four years at Temple University, I met some absolutely terrific musicians, who became even better friends. A group of us put together a few open mics at a campus performance space we rented out called The Underground, where we met even more talented musicians.
I had gotten so used to meeting new great performers that I didn’t think anything of it when Brittany Ann took the stage with her acoustic guitar at an open mic last fall. She introduced “Puzzle Pieces” and began finger-picking a delicate ballad in C major. Then she started singing.
I was floored, along with every other person in the room. Her voice was delicate at places, fiery at others and altogether captivating as she guided the audience through her purest emotions and words.
“To love somebody is to feel their pain/ It’s to go insane when they’re not OK,” she professed on her chorus.
Her second verse even further explained strands of wisdom well ahead of her age.
And I take you just the way you are
‘Cause that’s how you came to me
I think when love becomes conditional,
It turns to currency
And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be
You know, if it’s real,
It will defy our every insecurity
As I later learned, Brittany wrote that song, and many of her other songs, as a high school student.
In my final year at Temple, we became good friends. I dueted with her on “Puzzle Pieces” a number of times. Brittany was a frequent performer at house performances in my apartment’s basement, turning every one into a massive, all-night singalong. It’s those kinds of memories I already miss most about my time at Temple.
This fall Brittany Ann released her debut album, The Good in That, a ten-song, tightly-wound folk tapestry. The record winds like a river through an array of moods, set by the songwriter’s precise acoustic playing and dynamic, daring voice. There’s the elegant “Kings and Saturdays” and the mystical “October.” There’s the hopeful “Song for Freedom,” on which she urges the world to simply, “Try out love.”
So profound, yet pure and simple, are the resounding truths in Brittany Ann’s lyrics that they remain suspended in midair, leaving the listener feeling warmly enlightened, long after she sings the album’s final word.
So that was the point of this somewhat unfocused blog post: an album review. A completely conflicted, biased album review.
And I, Kevin Brosky (the music fan), do not care much about conflicts of interest, at this juncture.
Buy Brittany’s record. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for a young songwriter who has much, much more on the horizon.
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