Linc + Finn of The White Octave

JM: How would you define the music your band makes? Linc: A passerby to our practice once stopped to tell us we play what his brother describes as "strength music." Finn: Over the top Rock.

Linc and Finn from The White Octave:

JM: How would you define the music your band makes?

Linc: A passerby to our practice once stopped to tell us we play what his brother describes as “strength music.”

Finn: Over the top Rock.

JM: How important was your live show in cultivating the sound on your new album?

Linc: We’re too young and inexperienced to really deliniate between playing live and recording, in my opinion. We write and conceive our music primarily as live rock music, and recording happens on that ground. We try to plan some embellishments for the records, but generally, we put down what we play live. I’m not dogmatic about this, though. I don’t necessarily think a record should be true to the live sound. We make decisions on overdubs and other exclusively-studio sounds as the opportunities arise, always just trying to make the best record we can make in the time we have. If we had an abundance of studio time, our records would probably sound a little different, but we do what we can on our budget.

JM: How much Bob Weston is in that album? What flavor did he add to your music?

Linc: There are two dimensions to this, because not only is he our engineer of choice, but he plays in a band that has influenced what we do. The first part of the answer, then, is that the sound on the record is a Weston-ized sound; the music we write lends itself to his kind of production, where each instrument is allowed to work in its own space in the mix. The sound is very open, yet very pummelling, in-your-face as well. The second part of the answer is that there’s definitely a paradigm of rhythm-section action of which the vortex is Shellac, and we’re somewhere orbiting that paradigm.

JM: Were any of you fans of Big Black?

Linc: I like Big Black, but they were sort of before my day; I never saw them live. I’m a big Shellac fan, though. Robert (drums) and I are Shellac fans.

JM: How long did you play as a band before you recorded the album?

Linc: I feel like these questions are about the first record? We have a new record coming out in June on Initial. In either case, the timeline is thus: Steve and Robert and I began playing together in the Winter of 1998-99 and played our first show in March of 99. We recorded “Style No. 6312″ in October of that year (it wasn’t released until a year following). We asked Finn to play with us appx. March 2000. We spent a lot of time working on ways to re-conceive the band with two guitar players, so the next several months were spent between re-learning the old material with the new lineup and writing new material. We really buckled down on the new material in the winter of 2000-2001, and recorded the new record in February at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, GA, again with Bob.

JM: How important do you feel the guitar is to contemporary music and is this good or bad?

Linc: Contemporary popular music? Less and less important. I don’t know. I love the electric guitar and amplification and think that its uses are quite infinite. I also think that a lot of guitar-based music is really generic-sounding these days. Which is too bad. My job in this band is playing the bass, however, and I can say from that end that the bass is an historically under-used, under-appreciated instrument with which you can do some really cool shit if you bother to learn how to play it.

Finn: I think guitars are a huge part of rock music, but just having loud guitars or lots of overdubs or “killer tone” doesn’t make rock music. A band makes good songs. You notice that Slash’s Snakepit can’t really pull it off the way G’n R can?

JM: In your music is the rhythm/groove the driving force or the melodies?

Linc: I’m happy to be able to say that our music is driven by both the rhythms and the melodies. That’s one of the excellent things about the bass, incidently — that it can provide rhythm and melody simultaneously. But in terms of the band, there’s really a focus on both ends of that spectrum, as we spend a good deal of time working the instrumental arrangements and Steve is always willing to adapt the vocal melody to a fitting place in the music.

Finn: It goes either way. It all has to do with what the song calls for. If it is a quiet song with a simpler melody, there’s no need to clutter it up with lots of busy drums. But sometimes a part sounds much better when the guitars stay out of the way of the bass and drums.

JM: Which is more important sound/atmosphere or song/message?

Linc: The cool thing about rock and roll is that song/message is inseparable from sound/atmosphere. Which is why I’d pretty confidently say that lyrics don’t matter in and of themselves. Their meaning is provided through their relation to the aural context. This fact is basically ignored by 67% of all bands. It ain’t what you say but how you say it. But this ain’t to say that what you say doesn’t matter at all.

Finn: I used to think that the most important thing was the song itself, and it still is to me in a way, but the way everything sounds makes a huge difference. Every vocal, guitar line, bass line, drum fill, etc, can make a different impression depending on how it sounds–first from the instrument itself but then the way it is recorded and mixed.

JM: Do you have a day job and what is it?

Linc: I’m answering these questions from my desk in the English Dept. of Duke University, where I’m the assistant of a really cool, insanely smart, compassionate, flexible professor and expert of Black Studies named Houston Baker.

Finn: Yes. it sucks.

JM: Would you tell other bands to move to smaller cities like Chapel Hill rather than go to music Meccas like New York of LA?

Linc: I wouldn’t tell ’em that. There’s a reason to be here, and there’s a reason to be there.

Finn: I have no idea what I would tell bands to do in that situation.

JM: What does it take to have a hit song?

Linc: Apparently, these days, it only takes corporation manipulation. It clearly doesn’t have much/anything to do with quality or work or any identifiable non-monetary value. Company X sinks Y amount of $ into Band Z, and since Company X owns/is owned by Company A or B, which is/owns media outlet C, Band Z automatically gets 10 spins a day on every commercial radio station in USA, and everybody knows if it’s gettin’ played that much, it MUST be good.

Finn: Well, I think that given the quality (or lack thereof) of most of the “artists” who have hit songs now, all it takes is for most of the listening public to be complete morons who eat whatever you feed them. Some of the most asinine pieces of crap that are considered hit songs are fucking awful. And I’m not talking Britney or N Sync–that shit is good compared to the dreck that passes for “rock” on the radio. If you are a band whose label can pay for huge radio/video promotion, then your chances of having a hit are much greater than any indie band. I think it’s much better to have an album, a collection of songs, that speaks as a whole, than one hit song and 9 other crappy 4 chord songs.

JM: What is your definition of success?

Linc: We put this band together to bring the rock to a scene that was not rocking. We’re bringing the rock. The kids are happy. So we’ve succeeded. Everything that comes next is just a big surprise.

Finn: I’ll feel successful when I can come home from a tour and not have to borrow money or worry about what I am going to tell my roommate about the bills or rent. And when I can throw TVs out of hotel windows.

JM: Do musicians in general lose credibility with the mass popular audience as their music became free as traded mp3s on the internet?

Linc: We meet people all over the country who tell us that they found out about our band on napster. They’re coming to the shows, so I’m not complaining. I think that MP3s are simply the new-technology cassette tapes. In some way, sure, it’s copyrighted material and shouldn’t be “stolen,” but it’s also MUSIC, which is not a god damned COMMODITY. The cassette-tape/MP3/what-have-you is simply the means by which people let other people know about music. At the end of the day, the cassette/MP3/whatever sounds like shit, and if the listener likes, she will go buy the record from a real/virtual store.

Finn: I dont’ see how they would.

JM: What do you think is going to happen with Napster?

Linc: It’ll probably resurface with a fee.

Finn: I don’t think about it very much. I’ve never been on Napster. I think it has been somewhat helpful to our band, since we have met people who heard us on Napster before they heard it anywhere else, and that has brought them to the shows. So I hope that smaller bands can still get exposure from something like Napster, and that people can find songs they are looking for easily, but I am not very concerned about its future.

JM: Where do you get most of your music? Online stores, traditional record stores?

Linc: Traditional record stores or ebay (for hard-to-find stuff).

Finn: Traditional stores.

JM: What % is indie vs. major?

Linc: If it’s new music, it’s virtually always on an indie label. The only new music major-label release I can remember buying in the last year is “stankonia,” which isn’t all that great. Some good songs, and it did cost $3 more than whatever else I might have bought. Oh, and the new sonic youth record. In general, there just aren’t bands that interest me on those labels. 70-80% of the music I buy is older rock, and usually on vinyl, unless I’m obsessed enough to buy the remastered cds, which sometimes are worthwhile. And I guess those are usually on majors.

JM: What bands do you feel aren’t getting the attention they deserve? Bands for Chapel Hill?

Linc: On an abstract level, most indie music deserves more attention and deserves to be taken more seriously than it is. Whatever it may be is likely to be somewhat better than 90% of the music that does get the attention of 90% of the public. But there are definitely degrees of goodness and not-so-goodness in indie-rock as well. If I were to cast one vote for an under-appreciated band, it would be for Silkworm. They are one of the greatest bands of the last decade, and a lot of indie-rock listeners don’t even seem to know who they are.

JM: Do you think the greater presence of booking agents, distributors, and publicity crews have made indie-rock in the mirror image of the type of musical organizations indie labels were trying to remove/distance themselves from?

Linc: In some cases, I know that’s true, but I also think those kind of people/organizations are logical/reasonable entities to have around. They make possible an increase in scale of the indie-rock world. They provide services that many bands need.

Finn: There is nothing wrong with having a booking agent, or having your record distributed nationally, or having a publicity person help your record get heard by people who might not hear it otherwise. Making records and being in a band costs a lot of money if you want to do it as more than a hobby. I have spent so much money in the past year and made so little that it is becoming a concern. If this is what I am doing 2 months out of 3, then I have to pay bills, because those keep coming. And if I have to work full-time at my jobs when I come home from a tour,then I can’t really spend time booking a tour, or calling distributors or radio stations, or any of that. None of us can. I’m not expecting to make much money out of this–I’m only hoping I can get by for the time that this band makes records and tours. Having a booking agent who can get the best possible shows we can play, a distributor who can get the records in every store possible, and people at our label who can push the record to everyone possible all makes a difference. And stores and radio stations and clubs will listen to a distributor or publicist or booking agent more than they would to some band they have never heard of asking for a show or radio play. So those people, whether or not they are on the scale of a major label, are important to bands. It would be great if we could do all that shit ourselves, but how can I pay my rent if I don’t get paid to do any of it?

JM: Do labels become obsolete in the future? A future where a band can inexpensively afford to record two songs and post it on the Internet, and possibly eventually stream their live shows through high speed cable wires?

Linc: Labels do the work that bands don’t want/don’t have time to do. Most bands need representation. Even in the hypothetical label-less world you present, bands without some organization and representation to push them above the surface would drown in just the sheer quantity of other music.

Finn: That’s definitely a possiblity. Anything that can make it easier for bands to be heard and be compensated for their works is better. I think labels are a better option at the moment, because most labels that are worth their salt have people who know how to get a record heard, who will bust their ass to make sure a band’s music gets as much attention as possible. But at the same time, those labels have their own interests–if they spend a certain amount of money for a band to record and press cds and make posters and take out ads, then they are going to have to make that money back before the band makes any. That’s not really unfair if they put up the money; it’s the way it works. But if it becomes easier for a band to make the recording they want to make without having someone else put up the money, then yeah, a labels will lose some of the power they have. And frankly, most major labels should lose that power.

JM: Do you feel the merger of AOL and Time Warner will really mess things up, or make cross entertainment (MSNBC/NBCi, CBS-VIACOM, ABC-DISNEY) the new positive standard for the future?

Linc: It’s already messing things up, insofar as these mergers are all about control and greed. These mega-corporations are perverse. They’re inhuman. These juggernauts generate forces which can’t be controlled or even anticipated by the groups of people who are nominally in-charge of them. We get screwed in a lot of departments. But there’s also something amazing about the world this kind of action is creating, where there’s so much distraction that anything goes. The right-wing can’t keep up with the pace of change, so it’s much easier for those so motivated to get subversive or “other” messages into the main current of the media. Young people can take advantage of new technologies and hopefully destroy the dominant paradigms.

Finn: No one should have that much money. It’s ridiculous, and what is even worse is how those mega-corporations have more influence on environmental issues or tax breaks or trade laws than politicians do. Who we elect is not important anymore–it’s who you get your cable modem from. But this has little to do with rock music. Rock music does not concern itself with these issues, but rather with representing something that doesn’t give a shit about who your internet provider is.

JM: Are indie bands even the underground anymore? And if not them, who is?

Linc: The word “underground” usually implies some kind of subversive element, which is lacking in much indie-rock these days. The radical-political stance, which is overtly subversive (how’s that for an oxymoron?), doesn’t really do it anymore, because it fits so neatly into a genre-pocket of the real world. (In the world that the MAN creates, there’s a special place designed to keep dissent fenced in.) The avant-garde can’t be called subversive, either, because it’s become a scene, a cool thing. I think to be subversive, moving, and undergound, you’ve got to play outside the box, in whatever you’re doing. You’ve got to inspire people to get out of the game that someone else has designed for them. Rock and Roll is perfect for this, if it’s done well. It passes on a feeling, an experience that transcends boundaries, which are the foundation of oppressive order.

Finn: The word underground has no meaning anymore.

JM: What influence do you think our new president will have on indie music?

Linc: Our new president can eat shit and die.

Finn: He’s an idiot and a criminal. The only influence he will have is making a new generation of people rebel against his administration. I hope he gets run over by a fucking logging truck.