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Roundabout and Under the Radar

March 21, 2012

radar screenYou know, the things that come to our attention by accident can often become our favorites.

I’ve written before about how bands and other artists can come into our lives very late in their own. Perhaps your tastes changed just enough to finally make something interesting to you, or it changed over time and finally entered your proverbial wheelhouse, or you’ll hear or see something that makes you completely reevaluate your opinion of an artist or filmmaker. It’s interesting to me how a random happenstance can pull something cool into your field of view and make you wonder why you ignored it for so long.

It is these simple happenstances that fascinate me: “if A had never happened, I would never have known about B.” The small joy that it may bring to my life would have passed me by. So, in the grand blogger tradition of talking incessantly about oneself, I have a few anecdotes to share regarding this phenomenon with more to come. I hope you’ll share your stories as well in the comments below.

The band Big Wreck, whose latest album I reviewed last week, came to my attention soon after their first album was released. I was doing seasonal retail work at a big, corporate music store. Big Wreck’s In Loving Memory Of… was one of a few dozen promotional CDs we had on hand. Someone would load the 5-disc changer in a back closet a couple of times a day and just hit “Random.” Every time a Big Wreck song came on the store’s system, my ears perked up. Truth be told, I ended up swiping that promo copy when I quit (though I eventually bought more than one copy of the album, and turned a few dozen friends onto the band.) Now Big Wreck is among my favorite bands, and I don’t think I would have heard about them quite so early if I hadn’t worked that soulless retail job.

In a slight spin-off of my Big Wreck story, I wouldn’t have heard about Big Sugar if I hadn’t gone to see Big Wreck play in Cincinnati. Toward the end of their set, Ian Thornley played a gorgeous solo open-tuned blues number. The setlist I swiped off the stage at the end of the show didn’t help me identify the song but later, on a Big Wreck Internet forum (remember this was 1997), I found out it was Big Sugar’s “Wild Ox Moan.” I bought the album that featured the original, 500 Pounds, and have been an avid Big Sugar fan ever since. Guitarist Gordie Johnson’s tone is what I base my own guitar tone on, and his playing style is one that I admire and believe is just within my reach, skill-wise. In fact, my whole approach to guitar (an instrument I had played for almost 10 years before encountering Big Sugar) changed upon hearing their music.

I first heard Silversun Pickups in a noisy wings n’ beer joint during a major NCAA basketball game. At the time, I was very much NOT a fan of messy finger foods like buffalo wings (although I like them now.) And I am still not what you would call a sports fan. I was there to be social with friends and to share in our local sports team’s triumphs. Also I have tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears (usually caused by regular exposure to loud things like, say… rock n’ roll) that makes it difficult to distinguish sounds and voices in crowded, noisy places like, say… sports bars. Despite all of these things, I was there and I happened to hear the faintest drum beat that sounded a little like Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.” A quick perusal of the jukebox (to see if they had any other Smashing Pumpkins) revealed that it was Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye.” I bought the album, Carnavas, the next day and have been into them ever since.

I got into Mutemath because of Twilight author¬†Stephenie Meyer; that’s right, Ms. Sparkly Emo Vampire herself. You see, my dear wife was a huge fan of the books and, for a period of time, gobbled up nearly all things Cullen. Not only is Meyer an avid music fan, she even has relatively good taste. Among other things, she likes Muse and Radiohead and other guitar/pop-rock bands. For the release of each book in the series, Meyer had posted on her website a playlist of all the music that she listened to for inspiration. I think each one had a different Mutemath song on it. My wife bought all the songs online and set up iPod playlists that she listened to constantly. The song “Spotlight” was on the soundtrack for the first movie, and I very much enjoyed the backwards video for “Typical.”¬†Their third album, Odd Soul, came out recently and it’s quite good. And, for the record, I’m Team Jacob all the way.

I like to think I was into Gotye before it was cool, before his “Somebody That I Used to Know” had the unlikely position of #2 on Billboard’s Rock chart, behind The Black Keys and ahead of Foo Fighters. Like many people, I was first introduced to this earworm via a video by Walk Off the Earth, whose five members crowded around one guitar for an excellent rendition of the song. (Seriously, Gotye should consider cutting Walk Off the Earth a check, or at least inviting them on tour with him as an opening act. I’ll bet more than half of his current fans came to him through the five-people-one-guitar video.) I bought his Making Mirrors LP the day it came out and absolutely love it. I suppose this story has less in common with the others since Gotye is really blowing up right now. I think I would have gotten into him eventually, but I’m glad to have been in on the ground floor, so to speak.

Check back next week when I’ll be talking about some other surprising ways I’ve been introduced to great art. And remember, pay attention to your surroundings. You never know when something you might love will cross your path.

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