What's In a Name, 5*Update, and Joe Boyd

What if Cory and I were going to go on a tour, playing all kinds of songs from the MFR catalog – what would we call ourselves??? A new name, an old name? Comments are open.


My studio gear has been successfully moved to Matt’s house for the next phase of Five Star Crush work. We’ll be recording songs, ideas, jams, and whatnot with electronic drums and keys/bass for Joel to work with later. I’m stoked. After two nights of work (and wrestling with g*****n Windows XP), we have a basic understanding of MIDI; one more evening of set-up, and we should be off and rolling.

Matt is going to borrow a bass for me to use. I’m starting to think that maybe if I switch back and forth between bass and keyboard (within single songs) that 5*C could work as a 3-piece. Especially if Matt gets some samples/atmosphere rocking on his drum pads. Hasn’t been tried yet, though, we’ll see.


In June, Pitchfork did a great interview with Joe Boyd. Joe’s recently written a memoir; he knew everybody in the 60’s, and Pfork says his book is worth the read whether you know/care about that music or not.

The whole conversation is a cool read, talking about the Newport Folk Festival, the differences between European and American folk audiences, and other interesting big-picture observations of pop music since the 1950’s. The best is at the end:

Pitchfork: What part of that period [the 1960’s -howie] is such a magnet even 40 years later?

Boyd: I do think there’s a little bit of a problem for people making music today in the sense that there aren’t many new forms. Obviously hip-hop is a new form that’s been invented since the 60s and that’s had a lot of energy and has cleared a space for itself in a way. But the guitar-bass-drum rock band and the singer-songwriter with a guitar– those forms are getting a little tired. And it’s hard for people to come up with something really original, I think. Which is why– and I haven’t really listened to them that much– you get the feeling that groups like the Arcade Fire, who are playing around with rhythmic feels and different instrumentations, have a better chance of coming up with something fresh. You can walk down 6th Street at South by Southwest in Austin and hear that same snare-drum backbeat and that same rhythm-guitar pattern coming out of one bar after another. You’re not feeling optimistic that you’re going to walk into one of those bars and hear something that you’ve never heard before. Most of the ground has been covered.

Pitchfork: Do you think there’s anything else on the horizon? Or do you think it will keep advancing in revivals?

Boyd: Well, you have to believe that there’s something new around the corner somewhere. But it is difficult because I think what we had in the sixties, however illusional or delusional it was, we were optimistic. And when you’re optimistic, you can create more stuff that’s new. You feel like you’re looking forward into a great, big, open, warm, sunny space, and you can go in there with positive feelings of being able to do something new. Today, people are looking backwards. It’s like, “Don’t tear down that old building,” because you feel like if you build something new on that site, it’s going to be worse than what was there. Same thing about a lot of things…clothing or whatever. These quotes from the past dominate what’s new, because people don’t feel confident in being able to take a blank piece of paper and being able to draw something freehand and coming up with something that’s better than before. Whereas we did! When you have that confidence, it’s very different. It creates a very different atmosphere. It opens up things that don’t get opened up otherwise.

The dearth of new musical forms – and new art forms in general – concerns me.  I had a conversation with Jill the other night about how we seem to be pushing up against the limits of what can be expressed in the art forms we know… and how human augmentation might open up new artistic possibilities.

Maybe a new form will emerge from a pocket of people somewhere outside of the West… but new forms develop in isolation, and there are few places left that Western culture hasn’t reached.  Seems like mostly what we have are kids making hip-hop in their native tongues, or older kids blending their local folk musics with Western pop forms.  There’s interesting stuff in those areas, but not entirely new forms.  Not another rock ‘n roll; not another punk; not another hip-hop.

When I was a kid I wanted to discover a new color.  Now I’d like to create a new musical form.  I won’t; forms emerge spontaneously, from communities – a critical mass of people and artists building on their traditions and transforming them to deal with new circumstances, often situations of oppression, poverty, and injustice.  From the Batcave in Raytown, Missouri, middle-class U.S.A… it’s not happening.

There’s still decent music to be made.  People have an insatiable appetite for music, which is nice for musicians.  I’m happy to feed that hunger, always seeking the higher harmonic that satisfies me and satisfies my audience at once (AKA, not being just a cover band; though I respect that, it doesn’t satisfy me).

I can say a lot for making music within established forms, and doing it well.  There is a clarity of purpose in that.  It’s not easy; you have to be better than what’s come before, to distill the form into a more concentrated thing, plus add a twist (See: Five Star Crush).

Boyd talks about the difference confidence makes.  I see the lack of confidence in every genre-band I hear; artists who only create their art with a basic level of competence towards the conventions of a single form.  It’s so competent I find it aesthetically offensive (Hello, Nickelback!  Ack.  Easy target).

There are wonderful musicians making great music today, maybe more than ever before.  But do we have the confidence – dare I say faith? – that we can say something new?  Honestly, I doubt the West does.  In the US, it’s an open question whether we have the confidence to maintain our democracy.  Confidence in art, confidence in our social contract; which informs the other?  My songs are statements of faith in art, and I hope that by them confidence may bleed over into other worthwhile causes.  -h