This week some Seattle natives, Nate Drahn and Zach Saul, are introducing me to Seattle through their eyes. I will be going to Seattle for the first time next week on my spring break for a school service trip. So this week’s blog is written by Nate and Zach; be sure to let ‘em know your thoughts. I’ll be responding to their playlist next week with my own thoughts about how it affected my view of Seattle. Big thanks to Nate and Zach.
1. When They Really Get to Know You, They Will Run- Pedro the Lion (Hope)
2. Summer Light- The Cave Singers (Nate)
3. Lolita- Throw Me the Statue (Zach)
4. The Same Tattoos- Fences (Zach)
5. Castles Made of Sand- The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Zach)
6. Yellow Ledbetter- Pearl Jam (Zach)
7. Northwestern Girls- Say Hi (Zach)
8. Love One- Common Markey (Nate)
9. Recycled Air (Acoustic)- The Postal Service (Nate)
10. I Don’t Want to Live There- The Lonely Forest (Nate)
11. When We Swam- Thao (Nate)
12. Drops in the River- Fleet Foxes (Nate)
13. Grapevine Fines- Death Cab for Cutie (Hope)
“Esteemed readers of ‘Golden Age of the Radio,’
“Between the ages of five & eighteen I hailed from the music rich oasis that is Seattle, Washington (the state). For most of those years, I was too young to appreciate what was happening around me, or have a profound interest in music that reached beyond a desire to dance around with anyone and everyone within a fifteen-foot radius. The first thing everyone not from Seattle says about Seattle is that it must be tough living in a place that rains so much. Tough it certainly was-but not for the reason’s you’d think. When it’s raining 200 days out of the year you’re forced inside, where options are more limited. You can’t have barbecues with members of our extended family in October. When you walk down your neighborhood block your probably not going to encounter a ton of folks who’d like to sit and chat with you (they’re cold and just wanting to get inside). There is however one thing you can for certain do in Seattle. Listen to subdued, reverb heavy rock and folk music.
“So what is characteristic of Seattle-based musicians? When I hear a song, and someone asks me why I either like, or dislike it, the best way I can explain my preference is “do I believe it?” Do I believe that the expression I’m listening to is real, or sincere? So how can one create this sincerity? I would argue that fostering a culture in which we’re more attuned to our emotions is one way. Regardless of your temperament—whether you’re easily upset, easy-going, or ditzy, understanding and accepting the moments when these feelings wash over you affords you some power. In Seattle, musicians and creative alike veer toward forms that are tear jerking, nostalgic, infuriating, and at times; unnecessarily grandiose. In addition to being a culture well suited to emotional contemplation, it’s geared toward introversion, and self motivated individuals. For some types of musicians—that’s terrific news, and works in accordance with their craft. For others it can be isolating and difficult to deal with. It’s easy to see that preference aside—a specific type of musician has survived in Seattle, and one that’s distinctly different from other regions of the country.
“Another characteristic of Seattle based music is the masochistic relationship many musicians have with their own experience. Wanting to leave, or perhaps remove themselves from their psychological experiences is a part of being in the Northwest. Perhaps that’s why much of the music from Seattle is so reverb, and effect heavy: there’s an angst-y element of displacement present.
“Who’s the first musician everyone thinks of when they think Seattle? Jimi Hendrix. Personally, my favorite of his works is his most subtle and perhaps least acclaimed; Axis Bold as Love. In comparison to his other work, the lyrics on the album are more story-driven. They’re infused with nostalgia, and less reliant on abstract metaphorical concepts (though they’re certainly still present). In “Castles Made of Sand”, we hear the effect heavy guitar riffs we’d come to expect from Jimi Hendrix, but there’s a subtlety to it’s composition: a percussive baseline and arid, weary sounding solos that tie his verses together. As he weaves through issues of loss, remorse, and empowerment he uses nostalgic experiences to equate “castles slipping into the sea”, to this woman on the heavier lyrics like the “burning tears of a man at the garden”, and a “woman drawing a wheelchair to the edge of the shore”. Troubled by the perils of life? Jimi Hendrix says; “Que Sera, Sera” (What will be, will be), like sandcastles, they’re fleeting.
“Second to Jimi Hendrix, the second artist people always attribute to the great northwest has to be Pearl Jam. If I had to describe the genre of Pearl Jam, and of the song “Yellow Ledbetter” it would be “beach grunge”, it’s very serious, sometimes even heart wrenching, but at it’s core are classic rock hooks, and easily digestible melodies. There are characteristics of many Seattle artists, and perhaps some influence taken from Jimi Hendrix—complicated and layered electric intros and outros, syncopated rhythms, and angst-y, churning vocal performances that make you wonder who this man’s parents were. Eddie Vedder is, in my view, an extremely easy figure to dislike—but if you give his music a chance and allow it to wash over you, I think you’ll find truth and sincerity amidst the wailing. In “Yellow Ledbetter”, I think what’s presented is fairly accessible. Vedder takes you through his frustration, and internal experience of disappointment. It’s one of the most seemingly self evident fact of life but people simply aren’t going to be exactly the way we imagine them to be. The song ends in a place of angst, but you might interpret it as hopeful, of a means of a new beginning.
“Eric Elbogen of ”Say Hi” (Formerly Say Hi to Your Mom) isn’t going to write you a novel about ancient warriors, like perhaps Colin Meloy (the Decemberists) will, in his songs. Instead he’s going to tug with both hands at your gut. As you listen to “Northwester Girls”, it starts out as thought it’s going to be a pop song you’ve heard many times before, but slowly as Elbogen’s (and his backup’s) vocals come in there’s a distinctive tension to the song’s progression. From the few lyrics we’re given, we can feel a pressure that’s accompanied with regret thrust upon the man in the song, to handle the opportunism and challenges before him as he comes of age. “I’m grown up this time I swear”, Elbogen asserts his, fixation and perhaps affliction (it isn’t completely clear whether the tension comes from a successful or unsuccessful past) with comes from the “Air Here”. This track I feel gets at a quintessential question in music and art evaluation: does the context matter? Or can the experience for the listener be a visceral one, that’s more focused with capturing a moment, a feeling or even a whim. Artists in Seattle have been grappling with this question for years, and different artists approach it in different ways. Page long lyrics with historical and biblical allusions certainly provide us with more context and obvious things to think about as we listen, but does that make them better?
“Some of you might know “Fences” for their sampling work with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on “The Versus EP”. Macklemore for all his faults has always held he wants to work with local independent artists, and takes a great deal of pride in that. Christopher Mansfield (the lead), to be perfectly honest, gives us vocals a little bit reminiscent of over emotional punk music from the 90’s and early 2000’s—but there’s something different about the final product here. Instead of incessant and overbearing crescendos his songs are full of Seattle indie rock staples; reverb heavy guitar riffs, bells and xylophones – and of coarse angst-y vocals you’d come to expect from a northwest indie ensemble. In “The Same Tattoos”, Mansfield writes about some of the shame, scars (“tattoos”) and complications associated with his romantic past, and uses memories to explain his emotional journey.
“I am sincerely honored to contribute to The Golden Age of the Radio blog and so enjoyed being included in Hope’s infamous radio show this week. To preface this post, I would like to say that I am not a music connoisseur, but I do listen to music and I did grow up in the Seattle area.
“There is a spectacular music festival called Bumbershoot that served as my initiation to Seattle music as a young teenager. What I love most about the festival, besides the rockin good vibes, is that there are always a good portion of local Seattle artists that no one has heard of who perform at the festival. Each year I spend much of my time walking aimlessly and letting my ears pull me from one stage to the next. Ever year I find a handful of pure gems that I never would have found or listened to without stumbling upon them.
“I included a song by the Seattle artist Common Market titled “One Love” on my playlist for the radio show. This song is intertwined in my direct experience with the Seattle music scene because in high school I had the privilege of forming a relationship with the M.C. of Common Market, RA Scion. The group Common Market hasn’t been together for a number of years, but RA Scion has continued to perform and record music in Seattle, and has a devoted fan base at the local level. We asked him to come to my school a few years ago and perform for a benefit concert my friends were putting on, and to our surprise, he agreed to come. I spent quite a bit of time talking with him when he came, and after his performance he proceeded to invite us up to many of his shows in Seattle for free and introduced us to many other hip-hop artists that he performs with regularly. It quickly became evident that there was a tight knit group of hip-hop artists in Seattle that was highly collaborative and supportive of each other’s music. There wasn’t that hostility you would expect to find in the ruthless world of “making it” as an artist.
“I also chose to play the song “When We Swim” by Thoa. I went to see Thoa a number of years ago in a small venue near the Seattle Center called The Vera Project. I went into it without any prior knowledge of the artist, and was overwhelmed by her high level of technicality on the electric guitar and crisp vocals; it was a mesmerizing performance. In reflection, I realized how it was an example of what I described at Bumbershoot, where the audience is willing to take the risk of going to a show even if they don’t know who is playing. I see this as a true indicator of wether a community is passionate about supporting local music.
“Although my first hand experience is fairly limited, I feel that it represents aspects of Seattle music culture that may help us to explain why so many of the greatest artists (I’m a little biased, but you know it’s true) have found a home in Seattle. One of my biggest qualms with the music world is that it seems you either are an insanely popular musician or you are a failing musician. However, what I observed in the Seattle music scene were many musicians who seem to break down this binary. I conclude that this is becomes possible because of the close camaraderie and kinship among the musicians coupled with the devoted Seattle listeners who come out to the shows, and yield the power to turn striving musicians into thriving musicians.
“Go Seattle! Woo!”