Posted by: Travis | October 8, 2010

Let the music get down in your soul

I guess it only makes sense that i would write a blog entry about music on the opening day of the Austin City Limits festival in Austin.

I realized the other day that i write a whole lot in this space about my passions – mostly cycling, food, and traveling, but very rarely do i write about my love of music. Perhaps it’s because music is so ingrained in my daily life that i just don’t think of mentioning it here. Wahetever the reason, i wanted to spend some time writing about music.

I love music. If you ask 100 people if they love music, i’m sure an overwhelming number of them would say yes. I’m not sure if i know anyone that would admit to hating music. But really, in all honesty, the feeling i have toward music goes beyond love. I’m obsessed. I crave all kinds of music – classic rock, indie rock, power pop, soul, hip hop, country, jazz, blues, and on and on. Music is so important to me that for our wedding i am refusing to hire a DJ because the soundtrack for one of the most important days of our lives is far too important to leave up to some college student i’ve never met before trying to make some money on the side DJing weddings. The playlist at our wedding is so important to me that i started crafting the playlist before we even got engaged. I’ve already exchanged some emails with my dad and brother bouncing song ideas off of them. It’s a delicate process. You have to know your audience, you have to know that the songs are appropriate for the moment, and your playlist has to have some flow.

Music is probably the single biggest thing that connects my dad, my brother (Ryan), and i. My Dad and i have sports, but get the three of us together, especially in a car, and the topic of conversation almost immediately goes to music. What are you listening to? Have you heard this? Can you burn me this? When we all see each other, even if only for a weekend, we have to budget time to sit down and exchange music. Sometimes we burn CDs (in really dire straits we mail them to each other). Sometimes we break out the external hard-drive or USB stick and a computer and copy files. When we all get together, driving around in a car might just be my favorite thing to do. Everyone is playing their new music discovery, or we’re taking a trip through our favorite songs with the windows down wailing out the lyrics to some song (this happens with Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Taj Mahal, and Bruce Springsteen with astonishing frequency). No question, my favorite time spent with my family is in the car driving from place to place. It’s just too damn fun.

Live music takes it up a notch though. There’s not much i’d rather do than go see live music with people that i love. A vast majority of the top ten nights of my life have been going to concerts with friends and family (Bob Schneider in Austin, taking my brother to see Sum 41 at a small club and getting home at 1:30 in the morning on a school night when we were both in high school, G. Love and Special Sauce, Taj Mahal, The Roots, KRS-One at Fitzgerald’s).

Before Rachel and i started dating, but we both had a crush on each other, what’s the first thing i did? Burn her some music to check out. To her credit, for our second or third date she recommended going to see Ben Folds in Austin, AND SHE OFFERED TO PAY FOR MY TICKET if i agreed to drive, which won her major, major points. Rachel is also a big fan of music, but she takes her self a bit less seriously than i do. There’s a certain self consciousness to my music addiction that she doesn’t have, that i wish i could emulate. Luckily, she doesn’t like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, but if she did, she would have no problems strolling into a music store and picking up one of their records. I would be so worried about everyone in the place judging me. I could care less about people judging my clothes, what i look like, that i race an aluminum bike, my car, whatever. But my music taste is a whole ‘nother thing. I would feel more comfortable streaking the Superbowl than doing the Bieber/Gaga double at my local record store. Okay…given the frequency with which the men in my family streak, that was a bad example. I’ve realized that life is too short to take yourself seriously enough as a music fan to only listen to bands that no one else has heard of, but Rachel loves Lady Antebellum and Jimmy Buffet, both of which are a bit of a stretch for me.

As a kid growing up, music was always playing in our house. Whether it was Bruce Springsteen, old soul music (stevie wonder, sam and dave, otis redding), blues (doug sahm), Texas singer song writer (lyle lovett, emmylou harris), the all encompassing ‘Dad Rock’ genre (springsteen, john hiatt, little feat), and even kids music (can you say Raffi?), music was a huge part of my childhood. When i was a kid my parents would throw huge junteenth parties every year where he would spend months crafting dance tapes of soul music, they would move the furniture out of the house, get a few kegs, invite everyone they knew over to the house, and party until dawn (my brother and i usually went to grandma’s house that night, but the first time we were allowed to stay was a really big deal). Out of context, and in our society overly obsessed with being politically correct, it sounds questionable, but i promise you, it was not. I think i remember hearing that one year back in the 80’s one or two guys that played for the Houston Rockets showed up. When i was a kid music was everywhere and was playing all the time. We danced a lot on Sunday afternoons. We had our favorite songs to listen to in the car. Our family road trips had soundtracks. That’s just the way it was.

In middle school i joined the band and wanted to play saxaphone, but they didn’t have any left so i switched to drums. I played in an all black marching band (think ‘Drumline’) for a year in high school, and an all black jazz band (save for me and my white best friend alex, who played trumpet) all four years of high school. I went to a mostly black school off of MLK in South Houston, which at the time was the epicenter of the Houston hip hop scene just before it went viral. I was part of the Vanguard program (Houston’s answer to desegregation back in the 60’s), which consisted of mostly urban kids that were well mixed socioeconomically and racially. Needless to say, my specific high school experience was unlike pretty much any other in the country. I learned about Houston hip hop from the kids that were from South Houston. I learned about soul, funk, and jazz from the jazz band. I learned about conscious hip hop, indie rock, punk, ska, and a whole host of other types of music from the other Vanguard kids.

I got to college and got paired with a roommate who was a guitar and bass player and an even bigger music nerd than i was. We ended up being roommates all four years of college and spent way too much of our time sharing music with each other, finding new music (this was the Napster era, so it was really, really easy), and listening to music. The two girls across the hall, who would later become really good friends were also music junkies. Susan was from New Orleans and loved that whole scene, plus hip hop and soul. Ami was from Barbados, but also had a thing for soul and hip hop. Whenever we hung out (which was all the time), the music was central to whatever we were doing. I can’t count how many nights ended at 3:30 in the morning, playing whatever album we were obsessed with at the time at full blast.

While in college i worked at an independent record store (a dying breed) in Houston, called Soundwaves, one of the better record stores in this country. Sitting around all day, getting paid to listen to and talk about music? It doesn’t get much better than that.

Music has and always will be a huge part of my life. But when we graduated from college and moved out to Palo Alto, a pretty homogenous, upper middle class (okay, mostly upper class) area, where the nearest decent live music venues are 30 minutes to the north in San Francisco (and to be fair, there are some world class venues within an hour’s drive), new music, which used to just fall into my lap, had to be sought out. It took me a few years to set up new channels for finding new music aside from my family, but i think i’m finally getting there. Blogs, iTunes, podcasts, and and internet induced globalism help a whole lot.

iTunes is a huge. When you look at music, it gives you recommendations for similar bands that people who bought the album you’re looking at also purchased. Most of the time, i’ve heard of all of the recommendations, or they are a total miss, but sometimes they are huge hits.

One of my favorite radio stations in the country is Austin’s KGSR. You can stream whatever they are playing online, but they also have an iPhone app that allows you to stream KGSR to your phone. (Hint: plug the phone into your car stereo system, and you can listen to KGSR as if you are driving around Austin anywhere in the country)

The last two have both come from our friend Jenny, so big ups to Jenny! First of the bunch is a website called LastFM. Much like Pandora, you list a few artists you like, and it will play a bunch of new artists that are similar to the artists you listed. It’s a fantastic service.Not only is it great for discovering new stuff, but also for when you reach that point when you don’t really know what you want to listen to and no particular album hits the spot. The second is a much more recent discovery called The Current, which is a Minnesota public radio station in the Twin Cities that plays great music. You can stream the station online, they have an iPhone app (MPR Radio), but they also have a podcast called Music Heads where a few critics go through some new releases and give their thoughts. It’s awesome.

As usual, it’s taken me way too long to get to my point. If you don’t already know about these sources for new music, check them out.

Music, i love you and i’m sorry you don’t get enough love in this blog. Thanks for all the good times.

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Responses

  1. Have you checked out grooveshark.com? It’s another great online music source. You can search any artist, album, song, or genre and create online playlists. While it won’t help you find new music, it’s great for checking out complete albums that you otherwise would have only heard at random (pandora or last.fm) or a short blip (iTunes).

    Also, please tell me you guys are fans of Mumford & Sons. I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t be, but I just wanted to verify this oh-so-important matter.

    Also, you should follow bencochran on twitter (or have Rachel) he is an internet whiz and was my source of info for both last.fm and The Current. I have a feeling his knowledge will continue to reveal itself on twitter.

  2. Haven’t checked out Grooveshark. Sounds cool.

    Mumford and Sons is a recent discovery, but yeah, we’re on it. Sort of like Avett Bros, but from across the pond.

    I get kinda weirded out when people i don’t know follow me on twitter, but i might just have to bite the bullet on this one and follow ben.

    Thanks for the tips.


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