The Teenage Frames, Mods and old friends
The Teenage Frames represent something that is so vastly over looked in the speed of light digital age, something that pure, timeless and clean. Yes I said clean, and I don't mean clean as in their lyrics aren't explicit or that they are safe for your children but clean as is there is no mud or dirt or confusion about what they project. It just is. Rare, wonderful, fun, but also with a sledge hammer of unbridgeable power that should put a smile on even the most jaded of us. The best thing is they aren't a dead band or come across as a throw back. They're story is a rough one and it's reflected in their music and it's difficulty to be stripped down and marketed. You see it's just what it is, it's fun like Rock and Roll should be but with just enough darkness to make it real. It points to a past but it's a past that is their own and not a retro vacation. The best thing is they still after 15 or so years, dealing with sickness and countless other real life problems and moving have way across the country, are putting out records and in a large way, still doing it themselves. Oh and they have a new EP coming out next on Tuesday April 3rd called Armband Manifesto but you can preview it on Spotify now(for more info go to http://www.teenageframes.com/).
You see the Frames are one of those bands that effected me and maybe it was my state of mind when I was first exposed to them. The time marked a lot of changes in my life, two of the most important people in the world to me had moved away, Sophia back to Lincoln and Lanny to LA. Slipknot was starting to get ready to take over the world and would take Paul with them. 1997 had been a water mark for my involvement in Safari and for the music scene that called it home. Shawn had sold it to Jake and you know Jake was a good guy but it just wasn't the same. The Axiom was experiencing a great deal of growing pains and I guess the biggest issue was my pending fatherhood and an uncertain future. It wasn't a good time in my life to say the least. Now don't get me wrong there were a lot of good things that happened between late 1997 and 1999.
One of them was my introduction to the Teenage Frames. They can into my life like a lot of bands did in the late 1990s, with a phone call looking for a show at Safari. About all I really remember was the mentioning of the word "Mod" which was a word that I really hadn't heard in a while and would spend the next couple of years realizing that it is a word that totally confuses a majority of Americans and including those jaded, in the know people. In part this is because it's one of those weird misunderstood English Youth Movements like Skinhead that is almost completely lost in the translation from English to American-ish.
Mod like most sub-culture movements on the later part of the 20th century can trace it's roots to Jazz. The term Mod is a direct reference to the modern Jazz movement of the 1950s. Though most associate Mods as a forerunner to Skinhead and the Who, the reality is that it finds it's roots closer to the Beatnik culture of the late 50s and then progressed as the fashion and music changed over the coming years. The idea was to be the Face, the guy or gal with the newest hottest clothes and the most hip taste in music, basically a trend setter. Unlike most youth cultures the fashion came before the music, other than the reference to Modern Jazz, Mod didn't really have a set music until the 1960s. In fact the movement's main driving force was high fashion and dance clubs with no centralized bands or music movement to rally around. For that reason it developed into a movement with vast musical tastes including Soul, R&B, English Beat Music and Ska. The movement took fashion elements from each music style as it progressed through the early to mid 1960s. It was fueled by Amphetamine and all night dance halls.
It was the Who and Small Face that first really used Mod as a marketing term and even though their music didn't really reflect the music styles that were at the roots of Mod, they lyrics, clothes and style reflected the Mod movement. Weather this was more to market the bands than to express the movement could be debated until the end of time. By the mid to late 1960s Mod had become mainstream and like with most youth movements this marked the death nail. Most of the bands that were considered Mod bands moved on to the Psychedelic and Hippie movement. There had already been sub-cultures developing within the Mod movement including the Hard Mods which fashion sense and music interests laid more with the Jamaican Jude Boys and English Football Hooliganism would hop on to their Vespa Scooters and morph into the Skin Head Movement. While the more dandy, fashion driven side of Mod would move on to the Swing London and Hippie movement of the late 60s.
In a lot of ways that should be the end of the story and more than likely would have been if not for a few events. The Who's release of Quadrophenia and the film that came after, sparked a revial of the culture in the mid to late 1970s that rallied around Scooter Rallies and a handful of new bands that had cropped up including the Jam. For the first time, the Mod developed a musical style that was decidedly it's own. It was pure melodies with the edge and power of early who. It was Rock and Roll translated through the mind of those involved in the rebirth of Mod, written and played for Mods to call their own and to express there ideas and culture. Due in part to the success of the Quadrophenia the movement first made it's way to the US and with it came Skinhead on the back of the 1970s punk movement and the Two-Tone Ska revival.
There is more to the story but I think I've rambled on enough and it's important to get back to what sparked this whole thing, The Teenage Frames. At the time they first contacted me I was one of the talent buyers at Safari Nite Club. A majority of the bands I was working with were Punk and Metal. Slipknot was either getting signed or where already signed which effected the scene greatly. It had seemed like over night every band in Des Moines had become a metal band. Now don't get me wrong there was still a strong punk, rock scene and there were a few Ska bands but a majority of what I muddled through on a daily bases was metal bands either both on a local and regional level but also on a national level. It seemed because of Slipknot's success, Safari became some kind of Metal Mecca and along with it most of Des Moines. The years that followed would be odd ones as one after another the carpet bagging bottom feeders came to town to find the next Slipknot and many hopeful bands throw a net in hopes that a little success would come there way.
Like many times during my promotion career, it's strange to call it that cause it was more like a hobby that turned in to a job that didn't pay well. I had become jaded and well, rather burned out. On any given day there would be 5 to 10 yellow envelopes of submissions, packages with great care and wishes to be a part of the great rock and roll shit hole called Safari. I would often dread that walk from the car to the studio door where I would find them piled just inside. It would mean in most cases, 3 or 4 hours of listening to music that I had little or no interest in. The thing was that it was often my own fault, it was part of the big blow off. You see the phone would be ringing non-stop with hopeful strangers trying to live the weekend rock and roll dreams. Now the thing is that a majority of those on the other end of those phone calls where good people, in fact sometimes great people, sometimes they were in fact very talented people but before the internet and Myspace especially, it could be a painful experience to listen to the long and often misleading marketing terms that people used to describe their music. To avoid this, I often would cut them off and say, "Send me a Demo." You see, describing music is all about vocabulary but trying to describe something personal is often as difficult as trying to describe yourself. It's just too personal and a majority of the time you just aren't distant enough to define it correctly. You see even the worst band in the world thinks they sound great and let's face it words like punk or ska or metal are really marketing terms.
At some point, I had developed a system in which the less terms one used and the more direct they were in there description, the more attention they got. If you called up and said you were a post-hardcore, grindcore, sledge, jam band, you went to the bottom of the pile. However if you said you were a punk band or a ska band or even a rap-metal band you went to the top. Now in the 6 or 7 years of combined time that I promoted shows only one band ever said, "We are a Mod band". They could have brought up the Material Issue connection too but saying mod was enough. They stood out from the start. Then the CD "Less Songs, More Music" and I was a fan about halfway through 'Who's Got the Action?' and was on the phone setting up a date by the end of 'Leave Home' setting up their first show at Safari and beginning a relationship that would last for the years to come.
I don't remember much about the first couple of gigs but I do remember thinking that live they were even better which wasn't usually the case. Which just increased my fan boy interest in the band. They stood out in so many ways both musically and live with a style that was all their own regardless of the Mod connection and they were great guys too and that wasn't always the case. There was always the bands that you did business with and then there was the handful of bands that you built a relationship and friendship with. When those bands came to town it was an event, not only were you going to experience a performance but you where going to get to hang out with people that mattered. The Teenage Frames belonged to a small club that included the U.S. Bombs, Murpy's Law, Chicken Hawks, Last of the V8s, At the Drive-In and a few others where the business and the band playing almost took a back seat to catching up and hanging out. Looking back, I think I miss that part of them playing here almost as much as the pleasure it was to see them live.
Now there is a little bitterness to the whole story and it all started when I began to take note of a number of pay to play scam artists promoting shows in the Des Moines area. Mostly they targeted bands that had large draws and then paid them a small percentages of the gate or "paying" the bands by giving them tickets to sell. The thing that shocked me the most was that these criminals openly bragged about the amount of money they made. A good example would be a festival that the average band made $100 and the promoters ran around telling everyone that they made $20,000. So to combat this and maybe put a little money in my pocket, I started a management and booking agency with the then Safari doorman Eric. We signed a number of local bands and a few from out of town. Some were for management and shopping to labels and others we just booked their shows. The idea was mainly to insure that local bands didn't get screwed.
We signed the Teenage Frames and I set out to book them a tour. Being on the end of those phone conversations was not a pleasant experience. Also dealing with the screaming phone calls from their manager didn't help much either. Either way I figured I'd call in a few favors here and there and that the band would sell itself. The thing was they were not the easy sell I thought they would be. People just didn't get them. Conversations went something like this, "What style are they?"
"Mod", I'd reply
"Yes, Mod, like the Jam or early Who"
"Oh, well send me a CD and I'll see what I can do."
The call after they got the CD - "I don't think they will fit into the show." or "Yeah, we aren't really doing any bands like that right now. Don't you have some connection to __________ ________ or __________?"
"Yes, but I'm not representing them."
"Too bad. Well, I'll hold on to the CD but they really aren't our thing and blah, blah and blah blah."
Now I don't think this is really a bad thing that they didn't fit the marketing in the 1990s. In fact I felt that one of their strengths was the fact that they could get pegged into one style or another. It was really disappointing that I couldn't make it happen, In fact looking back it still bugs me and I can't help but feel that I let them down. I don't know if it was that I was taking on too much too quickly or if I just wasn't the man for the job. I did get them a gig in LA at the famed Al's Bar with Sloppy Seconds. In fact I talked Toast into it because it was a gig that she didn't want to do mainly because it meant a higher ticket price then the usual $5 door on Saturday night. I even flew out to see them at a gig they played at the Viper Room the night before and saw them at Al's Bar. It struck me at that shows that LA was a good fit for them. Maybe it was the fact that their was a long standing Mod scene there but people seemed to get them there in much the same way they got them in Des Moines and Chicago. What I didn't know was that it would be the last time I would see them. I knew that the booking agency thing was over and rightly so. In fact the whole thing just fell apart with a silly fight between me and my partner shortly after that. In fact we didn't talk for a while and it would take Paul make me feel foolish for being mad at my partner Eric in the first place. Paul was always good at that.
It kind of marked the end of my interest in promoting shows too. Though I did struggle on for a year or so and never really completely got out of it. It's funny but as I write this over 10 years after the fact, it strikes me that I felt a lot of loss in things not working out. It would be easy to say that it could have been the loss of possible income but that wasn't it. It was the loss of relationship that I had with four great guys. Guys that I believed in and felt in my heart should have gotten a lot more attention with their music than they did. Guys that sent me chocolate for Christmas and when they called were truly interested in what was going on with me and not just looking for a lead into a discussion of future bookings. They were and are stand up guys which isn't the norm in the music industry and I miss. In a way, I depended on them as an example of why I continued to promote shows and without them in the picture it was one less reason to do it.
Either way I did keep up on what they were doing and continued to enjoy their music when I could find it. Through out the last decade we've had a little contact here and there but I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing them live because they have been in LA and not the Midwest. The simple truth is they have continued to put out great music that is true to who they are. Weather it's Mod, rock or whatever it is their's and it still stands out.
So it was rather a pleasant surprise when I showed up to the studio on a Monday for an appointment and found a yellow envelope waiting. Inside was a short note from Eric Vegas. Also included was the Teenage Frames new EP Armband Manifesto which comes out on Tuesday as I mentioned at the beginning of the long rambling blog. With a smile on my face, I slipped it into the computer and was greeted with a sound that I haven't heard in a while. New music that, on first hear, I in fact want to listen too. In fact the only complaint that I have is there isn't enough of it. There is nothing diluted here and it isn't a call back to former days. It is if anything a continuation of the story they started in the 1990s. Armband Manifesto starts out with power and that clean and solid sound that made me fall into lust with them so many years ago. Then continues into three other new songs, I was a Member of the SLA, the softer I Don't Wanna Go Home Yet and driving Can't Get Away From You. Then finial it all out with a cover of the Who's Substitute. It just flys by too quickly and is a reminder that what I saw and heard in this band years ago is still there and they should be one of the biggest bands in the world. I would highly suggest that you pick it up or at least give it a listen on Spotify.