Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Sound Familiar?
“Dammit,” “All the Small Things,” “What’s My Age Again?”

Who Are They?
Pop-punk hooligans with a middle school sense of humor (and later a penchant for writing semi-serious songs with Nightmare Before Christmas references).

Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus met in 1992 and began jamming and writing songs in Tom’s garage. The two recruited Scott Raynor on drums and began playing under the name Duck Tape. Mark’s girlfriend at the time hated how much time he was spending with the band and gave him an ultimatum: her or the band. So Mark left.

Shortly after Mark’s departure, Tom told him he was preparing to record a demo tape. Mark dumped his girlfriend and the trio recorded Flyswatter (a nice mix of original songs and punk covers) in Scott’s bedroom.

The band (known simply as Blink at this time) played its first shows in empty clubs, but its popularity gradually grew along with the ‘90s California punk scene.

(Fun fact: Tom would call up local high schools in order to score a gig. He told them Blink was a “motivational band with a strong anti-drug message.”)

Blink recorded a proper demo called Buddha in 1993, which got attention from Cargo Records. The band signed to the label and recorded its first album, Cheshire Cat, in 1994. Though the album wasn’t commercially successful, it helped Blink develop a much larger fan base.

Once Blink started gaining popularity, the trio had to change their name to avoid a dispute with an Irish techno band of the same name. So they randomly slapped “182” at the end. (Despite people’s attempts to give this a deeper meaning, “182” is just a random series of numbers. Proof.)

Tom, Mark and Scott embarked on their first national tour in 1995 with Unwritten Law, Sprung Monkey and 7 Seconds. During the tour, fellow California punks Pennywise flew Blink all the way out to Australia to tour with them. Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge was pretty much a full-blown Blink fanboy, so he convinced Warped Tour founder Francisco Godinez to sign the band for the 1997 festival, saying, “They’re gonna be gigantic.”

After touring extensively, Blink went back to the studio to record Dude Ranch, which was released in 1997. Lead single “Dammit” received heavy airplay on Los Angeles radio station KROQ, and eventually made it on to rock radio playlists across the country.

Tensions between the trio mounted during the 1998 tour, and Scott was eventually fired. But Aquabats drummer Travis Barker came to save the day. He joined Blink full-time and followed Tom and Mark to the studio to record the group’s breakthrough album, Enema of the State.

The album, released in 1999, became a huge commercial success. Singles “All the Small Things,” “What’s My Age Again?” and “Adam’s Song” crossed over into Top 40 radio territory, resulting in Enema of the State selling over 15 million copies worldwide.

Where Are They Now?
Going strong after an “indefinite hiatus” and a mediocre comeback album (accompanied by a pretty awesome EP).

After the multi-platinum success of Enema of the State, Blink released Take Off Your Pants and Jacket in 2001. Songs like “The Rock Show” and “First Date” further fueled the band’s mainstream success. (Side note: The video for "First Date" has to be one of my favorite music videos of all time.)

During some much needed time off from the band, Tom started a side project called Box Car Racer and Travis hooked up with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong to form The Transplants. These side projects created a rift in the band, which possibly contributed to the darker follow-up to Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

Blink’s eponymous fifth studio album was released in 2003 to generally positive critical reviews. Most critics praised the band for the more mature sound, but fans were split on the change.

The album’s second single, “I Miss You,” hit number one on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, and the accompanying video received heavy airplay on MTV and VH1.

But the success of blink-182 couldn’t diffuse the tension within the band. In 2005, Blink announced an “indefinite hiatus” and the trio went their separate ways for a few years.

Mark and Travis continued playing music together in the band +44 while Tom created Angels & Airwaves, a project that he called “the greatest rock and roll revolution for this generation.” (Tom later revealed that he was addicted to painkillers at the time, so his statement was bit ambitious.)

The three didn’t speak to each other until 2008 when Travis was involved in a grisly plane crash. That event brought the band back together, and plans for a reunion were under way.

Blink embarked on a North American reunion tour with Weezer and Fall Out Boy in 2009, and released Neighborhoods two years later.

But Why blink-182?
If you were as unimpressed with Neighborhoods as I was, you’ll be happy to know that Blink is back in the studio recording the follow-up.

What Does Sam Think?
It’s pretty obvious that I enjoy pop-punk. I think I’ve written about it enough for you to realize that. So let’s talk about the novelty of blink-182, shall we?

The band’s early albums (or at least the albums before 2003’s self-titled album) are brimming with toilet humor, three-chord riffs, and “I fucked your mom” jokes. Immature? Yes. Fun as hell to listen to? Absolutely.

I’d like to take this moment to compare Blink to Green Day. You saw it coming, so shut up.

These two bands are similar, yet very different in more ways than one. First of all, Blink has a more polished sound. That doesn’t make them a better band—it makes them more commercially appealing. But that’s definitely not a bad thing. I’m a fan of catchy pop-punk songs about prank calling your girlfriend’s mom.

Another major difference between Blink and Green Day is that Blink just took longer to mature. Now, I love Enema of the State, but when I heard that self-titled album, I was sold. Yes, I dedicated “I Miss You” to my boyfriend at the time, but the other songs are just so great. It’s a dark album, which is something I never thought I’d see from a band with a song about fucking a dog in the ass.

I do think Neighborhoods is a huge disappointment, though. I think even Tom said he wasn’t into it. But the Dogs Eating Dogs EP is pretty rad. If Blink can just summon the magic of that self-titled album again, they’ll have another great record.

But I’m all for musical growth. This is a band that has surprised me before, so I don’t doubt that they can do it again. They’ve gotten through the awkward reunion party, so now it’s time for the real comeback.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bikini Kill

Sound Familiar?
“Rebel Girl”

Who Are They?
The frontrunners of the riot grrrl scene and symbols of third wave feminism.

Kathleen Hanna was introduced to feminism early on after her mother took her to a rally in Washington D.C. to see Gloria Steinem. Her interest grew when her mom checked out a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique from the library. But the Hanna women had to keep their involvement with the women’s rights movement a secret from Kathleen’s father, who disapproved of such ideas (Kathleen’s parents later divorced).

Once Kathleen went off to college to study photography, she began working as a stripper to support herself. While at school, she worked with a fellow photography student to set up an exhibit that dealt with sexism and AIDS. The school administrators didn’t dig it, so they shut it down, which prompted Kathleen to create her own feminist art gallery with friends Heidi Arbogast and Tammy Rae Carland. The three eventually formed a band called Amy Carter.

In addition to fronting Amy Carter, Kathleen began doing spoken word performances that addressed sexism and violence against women. She later abandoned spoken word in favor of music. After touring with her new band Viva Knievel for a bit, Kathleen met punk zinester Tobi Vail. Kathleen and Tobi, along with guitarist Billy Karen and bassist Kathi Wilcox, formed Bikini Kill in 1990.

(Fun fact: Bikini Kill was originally the name of a band fronted by fellow riot grrrl musician Lois Maffeo. The name was inspired by the 1967 B-movie The Million Eyes of Sumuru. Tobi adopted the name for the band once Lois settled on a different name.)

Bikini Kill independently released a demo cassette called Revolution Girl Style Now! in 1991, followed by a self-titled EP in 1992 (released via the indie label Kill Rock Stars and produced by Minor Threat/Fugazi front man Ian MacKaye).

The band released its debut album, Pussy Whipped, in 1993 and began touring the UK with fellow riot grrrl rockers Huggy Bear.

(Fun fact: Bikini Kill’s most/only popular song, “Rebel Girl,” was produced by Joan Jett.)

By 1994, the riot grrrl movement was getting some intense media exposure, which was both a good and bad thing. On one hand, Bikini Kill’s message was being broadcast to a much wider audience. But on the other hand, that same message was being subverted by the Spice Girls and co-opted by the female artists of Lilith Fair. Kathleen called for a “media blackout” amongst riot grrrls on the basis that the movement was being misrepresented.

Bikini Kill released its final album, Reject All American, in 1996 and broke up a year later.

Where Are They Now?
Still broken up, but all members are still active in music and politics.

Once Bikini Kill called it quits, Kathleen, Tobi, Kathi and Billy all went their separate ways, all of which involved music.

Tobi played with Spider and the Webs and The Old Haunts, among other bands. Kathi joined the Casual Dots and Billy played in Ghost Mom. But it was Kathleen who found the most success.

After adopting the pseudonym Julie Ruin, Kathleen released a solo album in 1997. The project expanded past the album, resulting in a brand new band called Le Tigre.

Le Tigre mixed the politics of riot grrrl music with electronic and lo-fi beats, which was a pretty interesting combo. The band released three albums: Le Tigre in 1999, Feminist Sweepstakes in 2001 and This Island in 2004. This Island was the only album released on a major label.

In 2007, Le Tigre went on a hiatus and each member went on to pursue other things.

(Fun fact: Le Tigre most recently worked with Christina Aguilera on her album Bionic. The band co-wrote and produced the song “My Girls.”)

After her adventures with Le Tigre, Kathleen volunteered as a band coach for The Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, taught an art class at NYU’s grad school and married Adam Horovitz, a.k.a. Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys.

In 2010, Kathleen announced that she would be turning her solo act Julie Ruin into an actual band, The Julie Ruin, with former Bikini Kill bandmate Kathi Wilcox.

But Why Bikini Kill?
The band isn’t getting back together anytime soon, but there’s a new documentary out about Kathleen called The Punk Singer. Plus, there’s always hope for some new Le Tigre material.

What Does Sam Think?
I didn’t get into riot grrrl music until I got to college (the only exception being Hole, but I’ve always considered them more of a grunge band). I took a women’s and gender studies class my freshman year and we spent a few classes talking about third wave feminism and the riot grrrl movement. I was instantly intrigued.

I had heard of Bikini Kill through my obsession with Nirvana (since Kathleen came up with the name for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by writing “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Kurt Cobain’s wall). That was back when I started listening to bands that I knew were huge influences for Nirvana because I was a weird kid and part of me wanted to be a female version of Kurt Cobain.

So I listened to “Rebel Girl” and loved it, but didn’t really delve into Bikini Kill’s discography until later on. When I finally gave the rest of their songs a chance, I fell in love. Everything was so brutal and angry and just true. And Kathleen has a voice that makes any guy’s dick crawl back up inside him (and I mean that as a compliment).

So yes, Bikini Kill is a feminist band with feminist lyrics and politics, but that really shouldn’t scare anyone away. I could write a whole rant about how silly it that feminism is considered a “bad word,” but I’ll save that for another time. Bikini Kill songs deal with real issues and real anger at those issues, including violence against women and sexuality.

My favorite Bikini Kill song, "I Like Fucking," is about, you guessed it, sex. But it dares to ask the question, “Why shouldn’t I be able to enjoy sex?” It’s empowering, as are most BK songs. The line, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe” really sticks with me.

Bikini Kill is raw, like most punk bands before them. This is music that lives in the moment and has something to say. I really wish every girl could listen to riot grrrl bands like this and feel empowered, but I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Even if you don’t like the music, you have to appreciate the message.

And even though Kathleen Hanna can be a bit of hypocrite sometimes, I still like what she does (but maybe not everything she says outside of her music).

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Cardigans

Sound Familiar?
"Lovefool," "My Favourite Game"

Who Are They?

Swedish indie pop sweethearts with a hit sweet enough to make you forget about that whole suicide thing in Romeo + Juilet.

Guitarist Peter Svensson and bassist Magnus Sveningsson were really into heavy metal back in the day, but once they met up with drummer Bengt Lagerberg, keyboardist Lars-Olof Johansson and singer Nina Persson, they turned to pop music.

The Cardigans recorded a demo tape (with Nina only providing vocals on one track) and eventually got signed to a Swedish label to release their debut album, Emmerdale, in 1994. The album was only released in Sweden and Japan (rereleased internationally in 1997), but it scored the band its first radio hit, “Rise & Shine.”

Most of 1994 was spent touring Europe and recording the follow-up, 1995’s Life, which was released worldwide. The album became a huge success (particularly in Japan) and The Cardigans signed to Mercury Records.

A year later, the band released First Band on the Moon, which included their biggest hit to date, “Lovefool.” The song was literally everywhere, even in movies where it probably didn’t belong, like Romeo + Juliet and Cruel Intentions. (Okay, Romeo + Juliet I get, but Cruel Intentions? Really?)

(Fun fact: The Cardigans played themselves on the graduation episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.)

After more touring, The Cardigans released Gran Turismo in 1998. The (arguably better) album was a sharp contrast to the bubbly pop sensibilities of First Band on the Moon and spawned another minor hit, “My Favourite Game.”

(Fun fact: The video for “My Favourite Game” sparked a bit of controversy. It depicts singer Nina Persson joyriding in a car on the highway, causing multiple accidents and eventually killing herself. Director Jonas Åkerlund made five different endings, only one of which made it to air.)

Where Are They Now?
Recently reunited and playing various international festivals.

The Cardigans went on a short hiatus in 2000. Nina released a solo album under the name A Camp, Peter and Bengt worked on a project called Paus and Magnus recorded music under the name Righteous Boy.

But they couldn’t stay apart for long. The band reconvened in 2002 to release Long Gone Before Daylight, a noticeably darker album with an American country influence. (Nina actually dyed her hair from blonde to jet black at this time, supposedly to reflect the album’s sound.)

The Cardigans toured with Liz Phair, Katy Rose and Charlotte Martin in 2004 on the Chicks With Attitude tour, and ultimately released Super Extra Gravity a year later.

The band went on an even longer hiatus in 2007, during which Nina lent her vocal talents to a Manic Street Preachers album.

Last year (2012), The Cardigans reunited once again to play the Summer Sonic Rock Festival in Tokyo and Osaka.

But Why The Cardigans?
While there doesn’t seem to be any new material in the works, the band is still together. And Nina Persson still writes music, so I guess anything can happen.

What Does Sam Think?
Let’s just be honest here—The Cardigans aren’t anything special. That doesn’t make them a bad band—it just makes them decidedly mediocre.

“Lovefool” is a pretty catchy tune, though. I remember back when I was an angsty teenager and I had a crush on some boy who had no idea I existed, I put this song on repeat and choked, “Love me, love me / SAY THAT YOU LOVE ME” through cartoonish sobs. But I’m sure everyone did that at some point (please say you did). It’s cute and a little dark at the same time, which was perfect for my tortured teenage soul.

Now, if you like happy-go-lucky indie pop music, you’ll probably like the rest of First Band on the Moon. It’s a little too sweet for me, and Nina’s voice kind of got on my nerves a bit.

But Gran Turismo is a totally different animal—it’s dark, moody and brimming with cold, meticulous electronic sounds. They’re no Nine Inch Nails on this record, but it’s a welcome relief from the “sun-shines-out-of-your-ass” sounds of First Band on the Moon. (But again, if you dig that, there’s really no harm in it.)

“My Favourite Game” is a great song (complete with a pretty gnarly video), and I kind of wish it got more exposure than “Lovefool.” The Cardigans have proved that they can move past bubbly pop songs, but they’re still not the kind of band that melts your brain with creativity and originality. Then again, that’s the fate of most ‘90s pop bands (especially one-hit-wonders).

But that doesn’t mean you can’t dedicate “Lovefool” to that special someone (to annoy the shit out of them).

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Presidents of the United States of America

Sound Familiar?
“Lump,” “Peaches”

Who Are They?
Alternative weirdoes responsible for a song about a juicy fruit.

Formed in late 1993 in Seattle, The Presidents of the United States of America (hereon referred to as The Presidents because I’m lazy) got off to a quick start. They self-released a 10-song cassette called Froggystyle in December 1993 and signed to Seattle label PopLlama Records in 1994.

(Fun fact: Vocalist/bassist Chris Ballew actually plays a basitar, which is a six-string guitar with two bass strings. Guitarist Dave Dederer plays a guitbass, which has three guitar strings.)

The Presidents released their self-titled debut in 1995 and found massive mainstream success. Their biggest hit, “Peaches,” peaked at number eight on the US Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart (and is also known as the only song about peaches to break the top 10).

(Fun fact: “Peaches” is about a girl Chris had a crush on. He wrote the song after sitting under a peach tree she had in her yard while he waited for her to come home so he could finally tell her how he felt. Oddly sweet and stalker-ish.)

Amid a whirlwind tour and an appearance on MADtv in 1996, “Weird Al” Yankovic decided to release of parody of The Presidents’ song “Lump” called "Gump." You know you’ve made it when Weird Al parodies you.

The Presidents released the follow-up, II, in 1996. It peaked at number 31 on the Billboard 200 chart, but it wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the debut.

The band broke up in 1998 so Chris could spend more time with his family. The Presidents’ last release of the ‘90s was 1998’s Pure Frosting, which included new songs, covers and demos.

(Fun fact: A few songs from Pure Frosting appeared in TV shows and movies. "Man (Opposable Thumb)" was included in the Nickelodeon masterpiece Good Burger, a cover of “Video Killed the Radio Star” appeared on the soundtrack for The Wedding Singer and "Cleveland Rocks" ended up being the theme song for The Drew Carey Show.)

Although The Presidents didn’t release an album of new material until 2000, they collaborated with other artists, including Japanese band Shonen Knife and booty connoisseur Sir Mix-A-Lot. (Yes, the collab with Sir Mix-A-Lot is a real thing. The project was called Subset. Here’s proof. And it’s actually pretty rad.)

Where Are They Now?
Doing what ‘90s bands do best: performing at festivals.

The Presidents reunited in 2000 with a new single, “Jupiter.” The single actually became pretty popular, so the band released a brand new record, Freaked Out & Small, later that year. Critics loved it, but the album only sold 25,000 copies.

The band broke up again only to reunite again in 2004 to release Love Everybody. Dave Dederer left shortly after the album’s release and was replaced by Andrew McKeag, who played on the band’s most recent album, 2008’s These Are the Good Times People.

(Fun fact: The Presidents released a tribute song in 2011 at the Nintendo World launch event for Pokémon Black and White called "Can't Stop (Catchin' 'Em All)." I’m not sure if this is a major accomplishment or a major mistake.)

The Presidents have played various halftime football shows (no Super Bowl appearances, though) and plenty of festivals, but they haven’t had a single chart since 1998’s “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

But Why The Presidents of the United States of America?
The band will be performing at the Hop Farm Festival in the UK alongside My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr. and others. So if you can make it to Kent by July 5, be sure to catch their set!

What Does Sam Think?
My first introduction to The Presidents was probably during my sophomore year in high school. I was on my way to Disney World for my school’s traditional choir/orchestra trip, and when our Greyhound bus reached the Georgia state line in the wee hours of the morning, I put on “Peaches” in celebration.

That story really had nothing to do with my opinion of this band, but it’s a fun memory. So there.

Anyway, The Presidents are a fairly unique band in terms of instrumentation. I believe they’re the only band to use basitars and guitbasses, which really gives them a signature sound. I always wondered why their songs sounded so weird, and now I know. Also, if you’re a guitar geek and want to know more about these instruments, check out this GeoCities-esque website for more info.

The songs are a bit nonsensical, but they’re just so damn catchy. I’m just going to continue to praise “Peaches” here. I used to be obsessed with this song back in the day. I think it turned into an inside joke with one of my friends. We probably thought we were too cool because we listened to The Presidents. Or something like that.

I’d really like to see these guys put out a new album soon. I know they still make music, even in the form of questionable Pokémon songs. They still tour, for God’s sake. Unfortunately, they’ll probably always be billed as ‘90s nostalgia act. I’m just waiting for the day when they join the Summerland tour with Everclear.

Actually, that would be pretty rad. I’d pay to see that. You hear that, Presidents? I won’t think any less of you if you join Summerland. We’ll get drunk and sing “Peaches” together (because that’s what ‘90s bands do with their fans, right?).

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.