Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sunny Day Real Estate

Sound Familiar?
“Seven,” “In Circles”

Who Are They?
One of the first bands to establish emo as a music genre.

Before My Chemical Romance and The Used brought their own eyeliner-clad brand of emo to middle schoolers everywhere, Seattle-based sad boys Sunny Day Real Estate ruled the scene.

Guitarist Dan Hoerner and bassist Nate Mendel met at the University of Washington in 1992 and decided to form a band with drummer William Goldsmith. After releasing a demo tape under the name Empty Set, the threesome went through several name changes (including Chewbacca Kaboom and One Day I Stopped Breathing, the latter being the single most emo band name in history). They eventually settled on Sunny Day Real Estate and started the search for a lead singer.

Enter Jeremy Enigk. Before Jeremy came along, Dan did most of the vocals. Dan’s style was more in the hardcore vein, but Jeremy had more emotional depth to his voice, which led the band to adopt slower tempos. And that is essentially the formula for a ‘90s emo band.

Sunny Day’s first album, Diary, was released in 1994 on Sub Pop. The band embarked on pretty successful US tour with Shudder to Think and Soul Coughing, and even appeared on The Jon Stewart Show and MTV’s 120 Minutes. After the tour, Sunny Day regrouped to record a new album. And that’s kind of where everything fell apart.

The band broke up during the recording of Sunny Day Real Estate (or LP2, or The Pink Album) in 1995. Rumor has it that the root cause of the break-up was Jeremy’s sudden conversion to Christianity, but there really isn’t any solid proof of that.

(Fun fact: According to Jeremy, most of the songs on LP2 have incomplete lyrics because he and Dan never bothered to sit down and finish them. As a result, some songs are just pure gibberish.)

After Sunny Day called it quits (the first time, at least), Jeremy pursued a solo career while Nate and William joined Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters. William eventually ditched the band, but Nate stayed.

A couple years later, the band reformed (sans Nate, who didn’t want to leave the Foo Fighters) and released How It Feels to Be Something On in 1998.

Where Are They Now?
Unfortunately inactive, but we can always hope for another reunion.

Sunny Day left Sub Pop after releasing a live album and signed to another independent label, Time Bomb Recordings. The Rising Tide was released in 2000, and the band immediately embarked on a lengthy US tour. Sunny Day planned to go on its first overseas tour after traveling the US, but Time Bomb pulled all tour funding at the last minute. Apparently the label had invested far too much money in an album by Peter Searcy, which left it virtually bankrupt.

Since Timb Bomb could no longer afford to have Sunny Day (or any other bands, for that matter) on its roster, the label shut down and our heroes decided to disband once more.

After the second break-up, Jeremy, William and Nate got together to form The Fire Theft, which didn’t last long since Nate still had an obligation to the Foo Fighters.

Sunny Day eventually reunited again 2009 for a tour, and made an appearance at Coachella in 2010.

As for new material, nothing has surfaced (and probably never will). Dan claimed the band had started recording in 2010, but Nate basically crushed everyone’s hopes and dreams last year by confirming that Sunny Day Real Estate is currently inactive. According to him, the band attempted to record a new album, but the sessions just “fell apart.”

But Why Sunny Day Real Estate?
Even though this band has basically broken up yet again, there’s always hope for yet another reunion and maybe, just maybe, new material in the not too distant future. A girl can dream, okay?

What Does Sam Think?
I will admit that I had an “emo” phase in my middle school years. Much like most people my age (wow, that made me sound a little too old), I was exposed to bands like My Chemical Romance, Hawthorne Heights and The Used at the very impressionable age of 13. At that point, I thought emo was a new thing (and that eyeliner and a Hot Topic-approved wardrobe were required).

As I grew older, I discovered that emo actually predated Hot Topic. The genre, then known as “emotional hardcore,” originated in the hardcore punk scene of the mid-1980s with bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace. Emo was reinvented in the ‘90s with a less abrasive sound thanks to bands like Jawbreaker and, of course, Sunny Day Real Estate.

I started listening to Sunny Day in high school and was immediately blown away by the band’s mature sound. I’m not saying MCR sounds childish or anything, but there’s definitely something more refined to Sunny Day. They don’t try to be aggressive like their hardcore predecessors, but there’s still power behind the slow tempos and shimmering guitars.

My favorite aspect of this band has got to be Jeremy Enigk’s voice. This guy has such a unique voice and it captures emotion so well. It’s not beautiful in a conventional way—he rasps and strains on the higher notes. But all that strain and gravel hits me harder than some guy screaming in my ear (though I do enjoy that vocal style, too).

Diary remains one of my favorite albums of the ‘90s (you can read a more detailed fangirl account here) because it’s the perfect mix of raw emotion and excellent instrumentation. Keep in mind that this album came out at the tail end of the grunge era. The difference between emo and grunge is pretty obvious, but I think Sunny Day bridges that gap quite nicely.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tori Amos

Sound Familiar?
“Crucify,” “Cornflake Girl,” “God”

Who Is She?
A classically-trained piano prodigy with some of the most personal songs you’ll ever hear.

Myra Ellen Amos started playing the piano at age two, and by the time she turned five, she had a hefty scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Maryland. Yes, age five. I couldn’t even spell Christmas at age five.

As she grew older, Myra got really into rock music, much to her family’s disdain. As the age of 13, she began playing in gay bars and piano bars (with her father as a chaperone, of course). Myra didn’t get noticed on a local level until she won a teen talent contest in 1977 with a song called “More Than Just a Friend.” She won another contest with a song called “Baltimore,” which became her first single.

(Fun fact: Myra Amos performed under her middle name, Ellen, until a boyfriend told her the name Tori suited her better.)

At 21, Tori Amos moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music career. In 1986, she formed a group called Y Kant Tori Read (a reference to her days at the Peabody Conservatory, where she was able to play songs by ear, but couldn’t sight read). The group released a self-titled album in 1988, but it was a commercial failure. Y Kant Tori Read disbanded shortly after the album’s release.

Even though her band didn’t make it, Tori still had a six-record contract with Atlantic Records. The label bigwigs wanted a new album by 1990, so Tori gave them Little Earthquakes in 1992. The album touched on the more personal aspects of Tori’s life, including her religious upbringing, sexual awakening and sexual assault. Little Earthquakes became her commercial breakthrough and paved the way for her next two albums (1994’s Under the Pink and 1996’s Boys for Pele) to climb the charts.

Tori took a detour into electronic territory with her last two ‘90s releases, From the Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back. Both albums deal with womanhood, from marriage to miscarriages (Tori is very candid in her music, choosing not to sugarcoat any of her experiences).

Where Is She Now?
Still playing deeply personal piano ballads and just being a badass babe in general.

Tori became a mother in 2000, which inspired her to release a cover album in 2001 called Strange Little Girls. She recorded covers of songs written by men about women, choosing to reverse the gender roles to show a woman’s perspective. The album included covers of Eminem’s “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” If that’s not an eclectic mix of songs, I don’t know what is.

After fulfilling her contract with Atlantic, Tori moved to Epic Records and released Scarlet’s Walk in 2002. Scarlet’s Walk is a concept album (or “sonic novel”) that explores Tori’s alter ego, Scarlet.

(Fun Sam fact: “A Sorta Fairytale” is one of my favorite songs, and the music video is one of the most amazingly bizarre things I’ve ever seen. Tori Amos + Adrien Brody + feet = romance.)

After a couple more concept albums, Tori left Epic Records and moved to Universal Republic to release Abnormally Attracted to Sin in 2009. A few classically-influenced albums followed (including Night of Hunters, which paid tribute to such composers as Bach, Chopin and Debussy), and soon after the release of her most recent album (2012’s Gold Dust), Tori formed her own label, Transmission Galactic.

But Why Tori Amos?
Her new album, Unrepentant Geraldines, is set to be released in spring of this year! According to Tori, this album will be a welcome return to her earlier, more personal work.

What Does Sam Think?
If you think I’m in love with Tori Amos…well, you’re right. Perhaps my intense admiration for Fiona Apple made it a little obvious, as both ladies rock it out on the piano. The difference between Fiona and Tori (and yes, there is a difference) is the delivery.

Fiona definitely has more angst, which is apparent in songs like “Sleep to Dream” and “Limp.” She isn’t afraid to be aggressive and a little intimidating. Tori, on the other hand, takes a more subtle approach. She does have some anger in her lyrics (see one of my favorite lines, “So you can make me come / That doesn’t make you Jesus” from “Precious Things”), but she has a much softer delivery. Her voice is incredibly emotive, but she kind of casually delivers biting lines like the ones I just mentioned.

I think Tori’s at her best when she keeps things personal. If you’re not familiar with her more recent stuff, that’s okay. I mean, unless you really like classical music, I would avoid it. Of course it sounds beautiful in a classic way, but it’s kind of a hollow beauty. Like I said, Tori is great at emoting in her music. And while she’s a fantastic pianist, I’m not really into hearing her play a sonata with little to no singing. I’m glad to hear that she’s going back to her original style, though.

One of my favorite things about Tori is that she continuously takes risks. She’s done everything from intricate concept albums (Scarlet’s Walk) to ambitious cover songs (Strange Little Girls) to classical compositions (Night of Hunters). Not all of them work, but at least she keeps things fresh. I do think it’s time that she returns to her confessional style of music, though. And of course I would like to see some more experimental music videos.

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