This week, BreakThru Radio is featuring the very eclectic and imaginable sounds of the San Francisco-born Ty Segall as part of our on-running “Artist Of The Week” segment. To accompany the superb introduction to Segall’s music and personality that was posted by BTR writer Courtney Garcia earlier in the week, I thought it would be pertinent to ponder the motives and livelihood of the non-professional musician. To quote directly from Garcia’s article (which I recommend you read in full), Segall represents the modern musician who “has no lofty expectations of rising to musical stardom… [and who] is relatively happy in his current position, which is a balance of work and music. He spends half his week in an office, and the other half in the studio or on the road.”
Brian Jonestown Massacre
So what is it that makes some musicians content with writing songs and performing for a small group of loy(c)al fans versus those who could care less about music and just want “rock star status,” even if it is only as a one-hit wonder and lasts less than a year? To examine such polarity, I needed to narrow down the massive array of music out there and pick one representative from each group. On the one side, we have Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre, the twenty-year-old cult-followed band from San Fran (oddly the same city Segall is from). On the other side we have Wheatus, Long Island’s 2000 heroes with their MTV-crazed Teenage Dirtbag.
The song “Girlfriend” on Ty Segall’s most recent album release Melted has all the makings of a Brian Jonestown Massacre tune. In fact, the whole album is very Anton Newcombe from start to finish; many different sound qualities and levels, a rotation of instruments, a mosaic of musical expressions and impressions, loads of electronica distortion, and simple harmonies with accompanied punk-like screaming. For Ty’s sake, it should be a massive compliment to be compared to such musical genius as the Brian Jonestown mastermind (and at the same time, for Ty’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t fall into a similar mental state as the Brian Jonestown eccentric).
What Melted is years away from is Wheatus, the self-titled album released in 2000 by the band of the same name. After the massive pop hit “Teenage Dirtbag” appeared in the film Loser and the television show Dawson’s Creek in 2000, the band rocketed to international fame, reaching top three positions in Australia, the UK, and here in the United States. I can personally remember watching them enter the MTV Video Music Awards in 2001 where they were the biggest hit at the show, crawling away from thousands of teenage, screaming fans. It is fair to say that for a window of time, Wheatus were bona fide rock stars enjoying all the associated stigma and privileges.
So, where do these two bands end up years on down the road? It might go something like this: Imagine sitting in an airport lounge fifteen or twenty years from now, and you bump into Anton Newcombe and take up a conversation. Chances are most of the people out there would be like “Who? Brian Joneswhat? No, I have never heard of you. Are you still playing?”
“What the fuck do you mean ‘am I still playing?’ Of course I am. I’m a musician in a band you dumbfuck,” at which point Anton walks away from you insulted.
However, if the same occurrence were to happen with Wheatus front man Brendan B. Brown, the conversation would be something more along the lines of this:
“Wheatus? I don’t think I know your band.”
“Do you remember the song “Teenage Dirtbag”?”
“Oh! Shit yeah! I remember that song,” and then you begin singing, “I’m just a teenaaaaaaaage dirtbaaaaag baby,” making a complete ass of yourself. “I don’t know anything else by you guys. What are you up to these days?” you ask.
“Ummm, not much. The band folded a few years back and now I’m married, got a few kids and am sellin’ real estate over in London.” (It should be noted that according to their official Web site, http://www.wheatus.com, Wheatus is fully together at the time of this article and working on their fifth album “Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 2 – The Jupiter EP.” As well, they continue to succeed in terms of record sales and ticketing in the UK).
Why do some musicians choose to never give in to the executive labels like Columbia or Warner Bros., instead raving on with the noble battle to write, produce, and play their own music under independent labels like Goner (whom Ty Segall is currently with)? Is it because the music is more important than the money and the fame? Probably. You see the good thing about indie labels like the ones featured on BTR is that they are music families where the musicians are given near-complete autonomy. The goal with independent labels is to create and maintain the type of environment where art reigns supreme in the face of marketability.
Yet, other acts are quick-willing to jump at the signing to a major label the first chance they get. But what they soon learn is that they are entering a domain where musicians and bands are forced to co-write tracks, like “Teenage Dirtbag”, under the guidance of corporate-owned producers and mixers who exist for the pure purpose of selling bubblegum pop to mimic MTV/Facebook cultural fads. Their fifteen-minutes is worth every minute, but its industry-credit suicide.
I just can’t put my finger on what makes musicians like Ty Segall say things like, “My life is awesome. I just hope before I die I do something rewarding, like be a teacher.” While John Mayer says, “It’s almost charity work, what people have done, turning other people on to my music.” How can one musician speak so clearly and humbly while the other can be such a douchebag? It makes me wonder whether or not I fall victim to like the person for who they are and what they represent rather than the music they produce.
Link to this article:
– Kory French