Monday, April 7, 2008
R.I.P. The Teeth
The great Philly band The Teeth have officially disbanded, sending a minor shock wave around certain granola crunching, mildly androgynous, indie rock circles. To be sure, The Teeth were among the elite of the current crop of great bands hailing from the eastern part of the state, having the type of impact that most bands in the mid west can only dream of. Maybe they listened to too much Kinks and Bowie for some tastes, since these guys wore their influences on their sleeves, yet somehow they managed to provide a fresh listening experience time and again, be it live or with a new recording. Plus, The Teeth earned heaps of additional credibility for their grueling tour schedule and "electrifying stage presentation." That's exactly how I put it to Peter a couple of years ago outside of the Garfield Artworks, and it got me a big smile from the giant. Good times. As a humble tribute I was going to offer an account of my experiences as a promoter working with the band, but the more I wrote I began to realize that would just be more boring, self-aggrandizing internet tripe. The Teeth slept on my floor and I watched Peter eat an uncooked can of Spaghetti-o's in a Sheetz parking lot. Add to that a couple of shows, a trip to the Funhouse to see them explode on some townies, and finally, a discombobulated voyage around the foothills of the Rockies listening to "You're my Lover Now" and I have what I consider to be a sort of reckoning in light of the recent news. Instead of selling myself as a cool dude (which the band and their eventual "hip" crowd would probably argue,) I'll share some thoughts about the current state of the independent music scene.
First of all, I can't blame The teeth for cashing in their chips after several years of working with Chris Watson at Park The Van. After all, the guy is a slave driver, and I say that with all due respect. Even though the trend appears to be for his bands to burn out on the road, they do so willingly, such is the confidence the guy inspires. Chris possesses a certain charisma and a ton of hard earned music biz knowledge, as well as a keen ear and sense for which bands are doing things in a way he can harness for his cause. And that's not a whole lot of people. I can safely say that even if something I attempt musically shows up on his radar, there is no way in hell it will occur with people willing to work as hard as Park The Van bands do. Maybe not all of them, but it seems to me that if Chris sets his sights on your band, you will spend several months out of a year inside a van, cruising through the middle of nowhere, playing to a nil audience and sleeping on floors.
It occurs to me that The Teeth, operating within the sphere of Chris' influence, quite possibly blew up too fast in an era were even the most influential names in modern rock continue to work day jobs. If we're honest with ourselves we can see that it's next to impossible to maintain that type of aggressive touring routine they had while at the same time having a place to live that's all your own. Despite the best of intentions somethings gotta give. If I'm asking a question it has to be "what price for success?" Does one push so hard, for as long as he or she can, achieve (in relative terms) tremendous levels of success and then stop? Some bands seem to go on forever, and I have to wonder if maybe they aren't working so hard at all. Maybe those bands that seem to have it don't want it so bad. I'm not even sure which bands I'm referring to, and I don't mean to say that guys in The Teeth were delusional or misguided or in any way doing something wrong, I just wonder what happens to make a successful band, one seemingly poised for even greater success, decide to pick up and call it a day. It's not just the hard touring, for I agree that logging some serious mileage is the only way to get ahead of the thousands of bands vying for the some recognition.
I believe that the internet has diluted the business model necessary for making a living solely from performing original music. People have too many options and are permitted to navigate onto a musical island, thereby isolating themselves from any random influences that otherwise might open their minds to something different. This is evidenced by the numerous varying tribes of twenty somethings lurking all over the web. Modern rock and pop music seem to exist in a previously unknown vacuum of listeners attempts for self actualization, manifest through strict adherence to categorization, fueled by the glut of info on the web. By the end of the eighties most musicians would find the idea of labeling their music to be repugnant, but with the rise of the internet labeling seems to have approached epidemic proportions. Categorizing your band for the sake of a Myspace profile is a ridiculous effort in redundancy. Scrolling down a list of hundreds of options it's evident that at this point, none of them can properly be applied to your band. "Screamo?" Is that a for real musical term? It sounds like more sub categorized bullshit. Naturally, they don't even begin to approach the broad spectrum of classic rock, which makes me wonder who it is serving as arbitrator of the online musical dialog. Imagine what it takes to get your band attention in a climate like that. I have a friend who insists that the internet is actually making it more possible for bands to become known, and he offers plenty of valid points to back up his argument, none of which didn't exist in some form prior to the internet. Self promotion has always been essential to a bands success, only now apparently, you have to own a bunch of expensive computer equipment and be able to write code just to combat the over saturation of music attempting to make an impact by way of the web. It looks like the only way around that is the only way there ever was, bringing us back to the basics of touring your ass off. That's exactly what The Teeth did, that's what other bands on their label do. Unfortunately, when your potential audience is inundated with so many options that they don't respond to any, playing to half filled rooms in the great lakes region goes from fun and adventure to a being grind real fast.
Then again this is all purely opinion. There are any numbers of reasons awesome bands don't survive in the corporal world. Music, however, is something entirely different from the tangible, and has a way of finding a life of it's own long after the creators are gone. The Teeth have always impressed me with their talent and creativity, and as good people. The enthusiasm at the beginning of their national touring was truly inspiring and impossible to maintain. I enjoyed some cool exchanges with each respective band member at various times, and watched as their hard work slowly wore them down. Still, they never let up on the stage, were the energy needs to be dispensed, and have earned their spot in music history. They have transcended their humble beginnings. Frankly, the last couple of stops seemed to indicate that these guys were getting a little whacked out, at least by western PA standards, yet it's hard to say if it wasn't just life on the road, a blur of strange and familiar faces, and too much sleeping on hard surfaces. No matter, this band's legacy will remain through several fantastic recordings and so much great press, so however they went out will likely be disregarded. The Teeth climbed above the clutter and into our ears, and filled our heads and hearts with their love of great music, something I suspect their recordings will continue to do in their absence for years to come. Long may you run, Teeth recordings, and long live The Teeth.