John of the weblog Us|Against|Them

Our editorial format really hasn't changed since inception. We're still committed to reporting an any news, reviews, etc. and adding our own biting commentary. One of our mottos is "if we have nothing to say about it, we won't bother with it". We've expanded a bit with what we offer (features, columns, radio) but our purpose is still the same. For the record, we've gone through one site design.

This interview is with j o h n of the weblog web site us|against|them

TR: How long has us|against|them been up for and whose brainchild was it?

u|a|t has been around since april of last year. I guess you can say it was the brainchild of mark and myself after venting a litte frustration concerning the lack of any real viable music weblog/zine concerned with the indie scene. We were also a little annoyed with the lack of any real critical writing on music in the online arena. Aside from a few notables then, everyone just seemed to be stroking each other’s ego, like in a big scenester clique. It was pretty bad.

TR: How many times have you changed its format since it started?

Our editorial format really hasn’t changed since inception. We’re still committed to reporting an any news, reviews, etc. and adding our own biting commentary. One of our mottos is “if we have nothing to say about it, we won’t bother with it”. We’ve expanded a bit with what we offer (features, columns, radio) but our purpose is still the same. For the record, we’ve gone through one site design.

TR: Do you guys sit in an office together?

Not at all. Mark and myself are in Arlington, VA, Jeff’s in LA and Eric is stuck in Dover, DE. One thing people don’t realize about u|a|t is that it’s done during whatever free time we have at work, home, whatever. We all have full-time jobs and are involved in a bunch of other projects outside of u|a|t.

TR: Arlington, are you near Inner Ear Studios (the seeming mother of D.C. music production)?

Not really. Inner Ear is a few miles away, in another part of town.

TR: Are you the ground zero for must have info for the indie enthusiast?

I wouldn’t say that. We don’t cover the whole spectrum of indie music as much as we would like. We each like different genres of the indie scene so we naturally tend to report on those things. We’re currently looking to expand on that by adding new people to the team.

TR: What was the best show you ever saw?

That’s tough one. Probably either Jane’s Addiction in ’91, or Quicksand in ’94, or Hurl sometime in ’97, or even Cursive this past year. I’ve seen some really good shows but not one stands out as the best ever.

TR: Can you tell me where those favorite show were?

Jane’s was at Lollapalooza at Great Woods in MA (an outdoor ampitheatre), Quicksand in Buffalo in some club (the Icon maybe?), Hurl at the Bug Jar in Rochester NY, a great place, and Cursive at the First Unitarian Chruch in Philly.

TR: What is the best venue in the country?

I don’t really have a favorite venue. I like different venues for different reasons (crowd, sound, decor, etc) so it’s kind of hard to guage one against the other. But I do have a least favorable venue.

TR: What is your least favorite venue?

Has to be the Wilson Center here in DC. Yes, I am aware of all the history the Center has, how the whole DC scene started there, but that all doesn’t make it for the terrible acoustics. I can deal with slimy door people, cheap bartenders etc, but the reason I’m there is to hear a band. That’s the bottom line.

TR: What happened to punk rock? Is it commercialism or apathy or no doubt?

I think the big thing that’s kind of killing punk rock is the lack of activism in the scene. Back in the day, there was a lot more involvement from young punks and bands in fighting for causes, protesting, benefits, writing songs about bringing down the man and all of the injustice in the world. Now everyone’s singing about the girl who went away, not feeling good about themselves blah blah. It’s kind of killed the fire, diminished the importance of punk rock. You can say “it’s just music” but it wasn’t always “just music”. It was always about something more. You can even go as far as to say that you can blame the death of punk to the rise in popularity and commercialism of west coast/cali punk. They were always about taking care of themselves first anyway. Definitely not the way it was out here in the East Coast.

TR: Are indie labels trying to hard to mimic the majors in order to turn a buck rather than be the doorway to music that is hard to get your ears on?

I think indie labels have become more aware of the reality that they have to make some money in order to keep running. Today, with it being so easy to release your own record, you have to do more get your music heard, exposed to new people. And that stuff requires money. I think label owners have become aware of that and have started to do some of things that majors do that labels ten, five years ago didn’t like hire a press agent, have someone handle radio, etc.

TR: What labels are putting out stuff that you consider punk-worthy?

It’s kind of hard today to really find a label that has any clear cut vison. Everyone’s roster has become pretty diversified, with all kinds of different sounds and types of bands, like punk, hardcore, indie-pop, electronic, ambient, post-rock, etc. It’s definitely evident of the indie scene today, with it’s vast range of sounds and styles. Besides old standbys like Dischord and Touch & Go, one label that comes to mind that, to me, still hold true to their punk ideals is No Idea Records. Everything, from their roster to their distro. In attitude, quality, and in “doing it for the kids”, there’s nothing more punk than No Idea.

TR: Where do you think indie music is going? More folk, more pop, more hip hop?

Definitely not hip-hop. Sadly enough it’s looking to go more pop. That might be a good thing since it’s a sound that can be accepted by far more others than math rock or post rock. But there’s just so much one can do within the pop song contraints, so there’s no real room for innovation.

TR: What bands should we be listening to?

In terms maintaining some sort of throwback to the punk ideals of yesterday, bands like Milemarker, Boy Sets Fire kind of have that fire, wanting to make people stop and think and question things. And then there’s always Propagandhi. They’re still around, aren’t they?

TR: Do you think new bands along with the greater separation of the mainstream/major acts from the indie-world and the greater expense of touring than it used to be, will create a new music scene based on the local?

No, I wouldn’t think so. You can only go so far staying local. I’ve seen a few great bands do great locally, but never take off anywhere else. Even with the new distro models available today (like everything the Interner has to offer), bands still need to tour and get their name and sound out there. Creating a buzz about yourself is the surefire way to go.

TR: Do you think cities/regions will further develop their own sounds?

I think with the greater opportunity to hear and read about new different kinds of music we’ll seldom see any certain geographic location adhere to a certain sound. For example, the San Diego chaotic hardcore sound can be now be seen in bands from St. Louis, NYC, Baltimore. What was considered the DC Dischord sound can be heard from bands in Boston and Seatle. The whole Midwest emo-pop sound is everywhere.

TR: And do you think this will increase the amount of music venues where new bands can play?

Music venues will come and go because it’s so hard to make enough cash to keep a place operational. They usually have to have other parts of the venue (like alcohol, non live music dance nights) make enough money to cover the losses posted by the nights that live bands play.

TR: Do you think there is an audience, will there be an audience for this localized music?

There’s always an audience for any music, local or genre driven. How large and supporting is another question.

TR: Or does the Internet and Internet radio become the new venue for bands to seek a wider audience?

Initially it looked like that Internet would be a great way for new bands to be heard but now it’s so saturated with every band thinking the same idea. A listener is given thousands and thousands of choices. How does he or she know who to check out over another unknown band? Nine out of ten chances they’ll go for the act they heard a little something about, the buzz that’s been going around.

TR: Does it take a good booking agent or management to make it in this biz?

Good booking agent would be my pick. They’ll get the good shows to get the best exposure to generate the largest buzz and so on. I think that’s the way to go.

TR: I’ve read at us|against|them that you don’t like Jets to Brazil or Burning Airlines? Whats wrong with the old guys still rockin’.

There’s nothing wrong with old guys rocking. Ian MacKaye still rocks and he’s older than any of them. Jets to Brazil and especially Burning Airlines just don’t do it for me. I really think that if they were some new band without any of the history, they would not be considered nowhere near as good as they are perceived. Jets and Airlines are nowhere near the caliber and quality as their previous bands. Nor do they have to be. I understand it’s different directions and sound than the old stuff. I knew not to expect Jawbox when first seeing Airlines. I was actually expecting something a lot different. Instead I felt I got a two bit imposter. I still give them the chance to surprise me and win me over, but they haven’t yet.

TR: Do you think the reduction in “music with a cause” or “music that makes the audience think” is related to the mass distribution of sex and violence on TV and the Internet and that fans just want their music to make them feel good. That they turn to new bands for “fun” since they feel disillusioned by the culture in general (this is a bit a of a reach here, but I wonder if the kids these days feel that they “can’t do anything about it anyway” and look to music for escape rather than to excite their sense of rebellion)?

No, I wouldn’t say that. If anything, the abundance of sex and violence in media desensitizes everyone. It has become such common fare that the lines of what’s decent and respectable and common have become completely blurred to the individual, at times dangerous to a select few. If you had to point to some sort of outside factor contributing to the “dumbing down” of the scene, you could arguably say it’s an indirect cause of a booming economy. When times are good, no one wants to hear about the injustices of the world, especially when you don’t experience it first hand. We had a booming economy in the eighties to go along with a fluff and image conscious music scene. When the recession hit in the late eighties, early nineties, there was a sudden need for change. It seemed like everyone was protesting, talking about what’s wrong, bringing awareness to all kinds of issues and injustices. With things looking peachy keen, no one seems to care. Except for Zack De La Rocha. He’s such a martyr.

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