Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Red Collar Makes It Mean Something


Red Collar's Pilgrim was Deckfight's favorite album of 2009. Here's an article I did on them for the December issue of Bootleg magazine. Red Collar can be found on MySpace and over here on the interwebs. Pilgrim is now available in vinyl and in stores in conjunction with Suburban Home Records.

Red Collar: "Pilgrim"

If you read a lot of music journalism pieces, they tend to involve restaurants - neutral places that aren't intimidating for the band or journalists. So you'll get elaborate descriptions of what your favorite band member ate at that one time in their life, a single meal immortalized forever in the annals of rock and roll. This piece will be no different, except that it is, because though I ate with Beth and Jason Kutchma, the originators of Red Collar, I don't remember what they ate, well maybe I remember a little bit, but it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t mean anything. The band, its people, the music – it should MEAN SOMETHING. Because that's what this is about, this piece, this band called Red Collar. Because why else would it happen?

Why would four people ride around the country in a van to spread music? Though I don't know the ages of Beth and Jason or Mike or Jonathan, they're not young (they alluded to that), they're not naive, they didn't just graduate from high school and doing this for kicks. There's a lot of music. There are a lot of bands.

"Cities used to be defined by their music and their scene, and that's not the case anymore," Jason said. "Every town looks the same when you're going through on the highway." That comment was prompted when I asked Jason to tell me about The Boiler Room. Much of this crazy story is detailed in three parts of their blog, but it's essentially a case of mistaken venue identity, in two different Kentucky towns with a venue both named The Boiler Room, both with club-type people, not punk rock people. Jason wrote on the blog:

"These two bars were so similar that if Nate (one of the Boiler Room promoters) said, “Meet me by the guy with the bleached tips, the stonewashed jeans, pink polo shirt, and a gold chain with a gold Taurus attached to it,” then I would’ve been able to say “Nate, I’m patting him on the head, how can you not see me?”"

They eventually found twenty-plus towns with a Boiler Room of some sort, showing how ridiculous and how so many towns are in fact, the same. Beth and Jason didn't directly say this, but in a lot of ways Red Collar wants music to MEAN SOMETHING again, and it might just be their job, nay, their responsibility to show us all.. Music will only mean something if the band makes it mean something. The band’s live performances are a testament to the energy and passion for playing, echoing the live shows we’ve seen by famous bands in the course of our lives.

The band played a show at Reggie’s in April 2008 with Hammer No More The Fingers. In the midst of an outstanding set, Jason, on guitar, throws his instrument down, not as contrived bravado but internal energy erupting as an impulsive blast of expression. The band works up a fury, as if exorcising the devil right there in the room, to give old Scratch the beating of his life. The band’s rhythm is tribal, guttural, a musical transformation from harmony to rough and brazen musical crash and burn. Their set is as powerful as it is electrifying, redefining what a rock show should be. It’s a tough decision for an audience, the body goes from riding the groove to standing there transfixed, taking a close look at the distinct musical detonation on the floor on display

Afterwards Hammer’s drummer Jeff Stickley says, “We gotta follow that,” referring to the fury filled set their fellow Durhamites.

Red Collar has found a way to make it happen, though practicalities get in the way - a van. Twenty-five days gone, nineteen days gone and nineteen more days gone for an unsigned band touring in two circles around the Midwest and the South. Though it's repetitive, the up and down back again, load in, plug in, load out of the road, it's necessary, it's part of the deal.

"Without going back and hitting these cities, it's hard to build up an audience for them,” Beth said. "I can't imagine doing a one-off, then never coming back." She sums touring up: "It's not easy, it's fun as hell."

Beth and Jason are from Pennsylvania and moved to Durham , North Carolina for the weather. They put an ad on Craigslist, found their guitarist Mike and hit it off. During a live show it’s more than apparent with Jason and Mike displaying desperation coupled with energy that makes a show a show.

Red Collar released an EP in 2008, and their full length album Pilgrim earlier this year. In that time, everyone has tried to put Red Collar into categories, into a place. But much to their liking and Jason's spur-accessorized sneakers, they haven't found a place. They've been featured on uber-hip Seattle station KEXP, their album has streamed on PunkNews as well as Spinner.com.

Blogs have made their mark on the album in between it all. Most describe their sound somewhere between The Hold Steady and Fugazi. People are intrigued by the band’s live shows, their catchy choruses, their feel for melody and for excellent lyrics.

The EP shares some material as the full length, and they've been playing those songs for a year or two, maybe three. Beth estimates they've played ‘Used Guitars’ five to six hundred times, but enjoy the longevity of their songs, because they are good songs. Jason says he tosses many, and even though technology is really easy these days, it doesn't mean that everything written should be recorded. He feels a lot of it should be trashed. "Bands go and record without knowing if (the songs) have any life to them. Bands make this huge tactical mistake,” he said. "People say, 'why don't you play that song anymore?' Because those words don't have any meaning to me anymore."

Instead the band prefers to work hard to maximize the life and meaning of those songs. To hold and cradle and cuddle and lift and let free songs that will stay, keep and preserve and last and mean something.

"What I've discovered through the years is that the music, that's what was important. The music is what grabs you. But after the twelfth time, you come back for the lyrics," Jason said.

Everyone has that feeling that something big is about to burst, but Jason and Beth really do seem to not care, and just keep plugging away at their thing. It's that individual thing again, about not making a mark, but reclaiming a mark from The Boiler Room-sub-sub culture that has rendered all punk rock the same. They talked a little bit about being an "exhibit" at a festival like South by Southwest where every band is hoping to mean something, and it turns out they all MEAN NOTHING just by them all being in the same place.

Mike at Troika Festival

I met Jason and Beth a few weeks prior to the October CMJ Music Festival in New York City , which they and Hammer No More The Fingers played in conjunction with a lot of other indie bands. Jason said they used to check their CMJ application religiously, "every fifteen minutes," but this year happened as a fluke when Beth happened to be checking her email and almost missed the invitation. The year they didn't care anymore was the year they made it. In a sense that hardworking blaisé attitude defines the Triangle scene these days. I've gotten in a habit of asking everyone about the "Triangle scene" to see what they say, but Jason and Beth provide really good answers.

"I think the caliber of music in the Triangle is by far the best I've seen. I don't know if it's what I'm used to, I just feel the caliber, the bar has really been raised,” Beth said.

"The Triangle is really strange. There really isn't a Chapel Hill sound, there's not a Durham sound, there's not a Triangle sound," Jason said. “What do they share? They all play notes. That's the only commonality. I think it's a really great area, where people are encouraged. I could list fifty right now, and none of them would sound alike and they're all excellent at what they do, with a unique sound.”

Sounds great. All the bands are unique. All the bands have vision. All the bands are trying their hardest. Sign each and every one of them.

"It's a real blessing to have that, but also a curse,” Jason said. He says everyone says they want individuality, but they all want the same. Like the slogan in a chain of House of Blues venues across the country - "Unity in Diversity” - words that really MEAN NOTHING.

"As much as the public likes to say, not the bands themselves, the public, as much as they like to say ‘I want something individual’ - they don't. They want a stamp. The Athens sound. The Seattle sound."

I'll stop Jason here, because I do agree, but he'd be lying if he says his band doesn't sound like anyone. They may not sound like a lot of bands, but as he says "they all play notes" and Red Collar is kind of in this punk rock vein that relies on certain nods and winks to get by as he said when they were at the wrong Boiler Room. "This was a place that we shouldn't be. You just got that vibe with the social identifiers.”

Doesn't Red Collar depend on the stamp just a little? I didn't ask him that.. But maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe it's not always the exact output of sound, but the attitude that comes in making the sound. The attitude that's confident enough not to replicate another band and the attitude to not care if some of the influences are worn on the sleeve. It's an attitude about not caring either way.

"They're striving, they're being individual," Jason continues about Triangle bands. "There's no pressure on any one in that town, in those three towns, except for the way they want to sound."

"Sometimes there might be stamps, there might be connected dots, there might be similarities. Maybe the only similarity is that Red Collar only cares about being the best band they can be and playing with whomever they want, making their songs, their albums, their shows, their tours, MEAN SOMETHING. "To us, we're human beings that play music and we're all great friends," he said.

After the interview, Jason played a solo set to about fifteen people, none of which stood closer than five feet to the stage. It was an opening slot for a folk singer. I couldn't tell if Jason cared or not, but I firmly believe he didn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails