Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Seven Deadly Questions--one on one with Here's a Hint

The inaugural Seven Deadly Questions features the Anonymous Blogger known as Here's a Hint. HaH jumped into the blogosphere earlier this year with a contentious, opinionated blog that rattled the cages and egos of local rock musicians. As HaH's revamped, revised, and totally tweaked revision of that blog goes live this week, The Deceiver (one of the few people who actually knows who HaH is, by the way) and HaH meet over email to discuss the basics: "what" the scene and "why" the blog.


THE DECEIVER: I'll begin with an objection: The DCeiver isn't THAT political. You'll see--we do no policy wonking, no water carrying, no strategizing, no pool reports. We have stolen plenty of ideas from Wonkette, but we're trying to keep away from that whole mien.

HERE'S A HINT: I guess that's true, maybe I just caught two articles that seemed political on the front page or something (you also have to remember that for me, two political posts == 'poliltical' :). I feel like the link to your site should have *some* sort of warning, though :) Any ideas?

No. Now, the first and most obvious question: How do you sum up the state of DC's Music Scene?

Since starting up my rants, my definition of "DC music scene" has been in flux. You once got me thinking that it was larger than just "what local bands are playing tonight". Commentors on my blog have pointed out my view vs the "go-go vs. punk vs. scene".

For the sake of argument, I am not, and won't be concerned with jazz/blues, cover bands, hip-hop (and all it's spinoffs). I'm mostly interested in rock music, in that broad 'Barnes and Noble" type way and I'm mostly concerned with local music. I think DC attracts plenty of good regional and national acts.

When I sum up the scene, I ask "How many local bands are playing any given week at the top-shelf clubs (which I define to be 930, the Black Cat Mainstage and possibly Iota)? How many articles in the CityPaper discuss local music or local bands? How many times do you hear local music on the radio (outside of locals-only shows)?" Look at the Black Cat Mainstage calendar: every night should be booked in my opinion. Locals should play every night there's not a "bigger" show.

Any one of these things could be explained away, but taken together, it says to me that DC Local Music is not percieved to be an exciting destination on both sides of the coin. And having been to my fair share of local shows, I would tend to agree.

A universalist would have to say that within the subcultures of blues, jazz, go-go, and bluegrass, there's tons of musical life in Washington. But, let's face it, it's rock and hip-hop/R&B that command the most attention from touts, so, let's take the rock up. You are definitely not the first to harshly describe the DC music scene. Michael Azzerad, writing about DC in OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, takes careful pains to call DC "sterile" and "uncool." The CITY PAPER is also a historical naysayer: we had an article a couple years ago harshing on the scene whose author seemed to want a "Sunset Strip"/Ell Lay type of scene here...and there's the yearly article from CP that attacks the legacy of Fugazi (it's like an initiation rite). I'd even be happy to admit that our two chief rock exports have been emo-hardcore on the Rites of Spring/Fugazi axis and the pointillist pop stylings of the world of TeenBeat and Simple Machines.

So, what's missing? Are we doomed by demographics? Are we just too serious minded? Too insider-oriented to form an underground? Or do we simply lack competent musicians, talented musicians, professional musicians?

I guess one could say "government workers == dullards w/ no creativity or desire for culture", but I reject that, simply because, real or not, it's an excuse and it provides no course of action for someone wanting to succeed (other than moving away :)

What I'd like to know is what is it REALLY like "everywhere else"? I know that New York is an anamoly, but what about Philly, Boston, Cleveland, Albany, Charlotte, etc? Are those the types of places to find great live music, or do they each have their own explanation?

And, does the scene elevate the band or is it the other way around? Would Minor Threat have escaped obscurity no matter what the odds, or did they need some shoulders to stand on?

What's missing are those shoulders. Good Charlotte probably isn't going to inspire a lot of creativity, but I can say, at least for myself, when I DO see a good band, I think "what can I do to be better than them?" It's that race-to-be-better, to take a good idea and make
it great (or at least try), that can be a fuel for creativity. And when I see other musicians lauding some shitty band who can barely play and writes 10 of the same song, I have to think that that may be a source of the problem; weak shoulders.

So now we get to one of those sources of irritation we've both slagged in the past, the scene resources--the critics and the blogs and especially the message boards. I've criticized AMS before--and I always feel bad doing so because the guy who runs it, Mike Holden, is a first-class guy who, left to his own devices and absent the overall gladhanding and self-buggery that goes on there would have had AMS be a top-flight resource for area musicians. In your opinion, what's dragging these "shoulders" down, and can anything be done about it?

Well, I think there's a vicious circle that one can get into. If you are best friends with, say, Rotoscope, and you go to their shows, and see them posting on the internet, you tend to think that they are "going somewhere", and that becomes your yardstick: "If I could just be as good as Rotoscope". All the while, you don't stop to realize that they are, for all intents an purposes, a brand new band who doesn't have their sound and hasn't written their best material. But if you see them as the goal, it isn't hard to reach.

Not to really pick on them, because they are competent musicians and a tight unit, but the point is, message boards and "mini scenes" narrow your view and keep you from raising the bar. It sucks because the bands at the top of their game aren't feeling the pressure, and everyone else just plays out when they can get through 40 minutes of material. I just went through this exercise with my band. The singer thought if we could get through a song, we were ready to gig. The sad thing is, in this town we could get a show no problem.

And maybe the problem is there's too many resources for musicians. Not 10 years ago, no one was using the Internet for this stuff. It was all word of mouth. Making a shitty demo was expensive. Getting a show was hard. Maybe we need to return to that? I don't know. That would mean I'd have to become a much better writer and meet deadlines
and schedules and shit, so I can't say I'm not enjoying the freedom that this stuff gives us.

Maybe it is just too easy to be a legend in your own mind these days. Go back to that Azzerad book--the way he describes the early days of each of those's not very glamorous. It's sweat and cold and hunger and stink and grinding poverty.

I'm using your mention of Rotoscope as a segue that you'll understand but I can't explain without getting close to piercing your anonymity, but do you think that too many musicians around here are just whores for the adulation?

Well sure, but at some level, isn't that why one gets on stage? A friend of mine said to me once "All consciousness is ego consciousness", and it's pretty true, and I don't think that's so bad. As long as you keep it in perspective. And it was that (lack of) perspective that finally broke me. To see these people play and suck each other's dicks, all while being splendidly mediocre, was just amazing to me. All it takes is to see one national act at the 930 club to realize how far a lot of people have to go.

I think it's very easy to go from acoustic guitar in your bedroom, to being on a (somewhat) real stage with your friends cheering for you, and with no heavy hitters "showing us how it's done", you think that's it. You think "me + songs + stage + cheers == success".

I think what I've realized and what I never used to (and what a lot of bands don't seem to believe) is that making a name for yourself, a career, takes HUGE amounts of work. You read about Metallica squatting in a rat-infested shithole while recording what many consider to be the best thrash album of all time, and I think "Fuck, I love making music, but I've got to eat; I would never be able to do that". Maybe you don't have be the starving artist, but it just goes to show you what some people will do to succeed. Who's doing that here?

A mutual friend of ours told me that his band rehearsed for a YEAR before playing out. Another friend of mine said his band rehearsed for 18 months. Someone who does that is motivated by more than just having their friends say how awesome they are on AMS.

So, let's get down to the new site. What will the new Here's A Hint site offer the music scene? Can it turn things around, or are you not setting your sights that high?

Before even starting the original blog, I had wanted to put my computer skillz to work to create a portal related to local music. Obviously, there's a lot of that stuff around, but none of it is ever up-to-date, or the people running it just include everything. When
you include everything it's the same as including nothing. A lot of sites are also geared towards band members and not music-lovers. I think Big Yawn has a great approach with talking about national-level indie rock, but tying it into local music on occasion.

The blog itself was a way to document my personal decision regarding local music and how I changed in my approach to it. There's barely anything written on DC local music at all, and when there is, it's usually a promotional type piece like you'd see in OnTap or lots of musicians saying "Yeah, Run Silent Run Deep are really going places!" on some messageboard. Yet, there's still this notion that the DC music scene sucks. I wanted to single out the bands I don't think are good and point out why and say "if you think the scene sucks, be better than these bands and that'll be a start" rather than joining the chorus that complains about Local Lix or whatever.

So, the new site is a combination of the two. My hope is that if I can keep the content up to date, relevant, and somewhat exclusive, it will be a good thing for the "scene". So, this next year will be a big experiment to see if I can do it. Can I keep the bile flowing as well as provide something useful to "the scene"?

How do your respond to all the complaints surrounding your desire to remain anonymous?

I originally was going to just put up the site and write content and see how it went. But, I realized that to make it interesting, and honest, I would have to say that some bands just plain sucked, and no matter how much I sugar-coated things, people might not like a) that I didn't like their band and b) that I wasn't "supporting the scene" and being negative. So, I figured that, anonymously, I wouldn't have that problem. Plus, I wouldn't want my band or friends to have to deal with my opinions.

So, given that I felt the strong need to voice said opinions, yet not want to have to edit them for political correctness, doing it anonymously seemed the only way to go.

I think at this point, the complainers about my anonymity have gone away and people are just accepting my rants for what they are: one person's (detailed and long-winded) opinion. Plus, I think I've written enough stuff that people would rather debate the points of my arguments than who I am.

Some may say I'm not "man" enough or that I'm some chickenshit computer dork hiding behind a keyboard. I guess that's true, but it doesn't change the fact that I've seen some really shitty DC bands.

All right: last question. Imagine you've been put in charge of the City Paper and the City Paper's website. Can you think of any action you could take or decision you could make that could possibly result in the City Paper's coverage of music sucking more than it does already?

Yeah, get rid of Pop Quiz, Greg Ceton and Mark Jennings, who are the only people/things related to local music on there. Maybe jack up the ad rates so only 930 could afford to list their shows?

Now, if Ceton and Jennings have long-term contracts, I would order them to increase the indie snobbery and massive name-dropping they use in their columns (if that's possible), to make them even less accessible to the average person.

And maybe a monthly anti-Fugazi/Dischord column?

I think that's already covered.

[Here's a Hint's new blog can be found at the conveniently located]

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