Notes on bands and music from Georgia
THE FIRST MUSIC I ever felt connected to was early (“Fables of the Reconstruction” era) REM. I was in middle school.
This was in Marietta, Georgia in the mid 80s. The area still had this somewhat rural element. There were local farms and a few kids the bus would pick up from the edge of the woods. But it was all turning into suburbia, and by the time I graduated college, the place would all become one solid strip mall / subdivision.
It seems necessary to provide this context for some reason, although I’m not sure it’s relevant, just like at the time it wasn’t relevant to me that REM was from Georgia.
It’s only later, as you get into your 20s and 30s, that you start looking for connections like these, constructing mythologies around the things you did and the places you did them.
So that being said, part of me feels like collecting bands or music by geography is a total illusion. Like I could really start this article by saying “Georgia is a bigass place and ‘given’ the ‘cultural juxtapositions’ it’s ‘only natural’ that many great musicians and bands would come from here.”
But that doesn’t recognize the strange relationship I have with Georgia music, the associations between the sounds and the landscape and the hard-to-describe emotion–not quite pride but something else–when I hear, for example, Washed Out for the first time, and then learn it was recorded up in Perry, Georgia where it’s mostly peach orchards.
And it would also ignore the relatively disproportionate number of “game-changing” musicians and bands that have come from here, as opposed to say, Pennsylvania. So let’s look for patterns here:
My friends and I really didn’t “discover” funk until college. It was part of the progression that started with Miles and Coltrane and then quickly branched into all different directions.
One day JJ brought home James Brown’s “Sex Machine” and we were like “James Brown?” and then he put it on, and when it got to the first big drum and bass breakdown (like on the video @4:30), we were like “dude . .James Fucking Brown!”
These are pivotal moments in your life and education.
Sometimes I worry that kids in their early 20s will skip over JB, thinking (as we did at the time) of bad 80s movies. If this happens, then a connection will be lost between hip hop and electronic music, and where it really came from, which was the template JB constructed, basically breaking songs into all different drum parts, even the guitars and horns section. That’s how he later described the creation of funk: that he just “heard everything as drums.”
There’s a whole musical lineage here that runs from JB to his bass player Bootsy Collins to Parliament Funkadelic, that now continues with Outkast.
Andre 3000, Big Boi, and the whole Organized Noize crew have been producing next-level shit for over a decade now.
There was always this rift between my brother and I as far as liking REM. For my bro, they just didn’t funk out, I think. There’s no swing; it’s all straight up surf beat or simple drum patterns; I get that.
For me though, REM has always been about the melodies and this kind of micro wall-of-sound effect produced between Peter Buck’s guitar and Stipe’s vocals, especially with Mills and Berry’s harmonies in the backgroud. This video from 86 captures that sound really well.
I always got into the way you could sing whatever you wanted over the early stuff. The lyrics were “yours.”
I became less a fan of REM’s sound post-Document, once the lyrics really came out in the mix. It’s not that I don’t like them anymore; it’s just that those early records seem so different than anything else anyone else was doing at the time. I wish they’d followed that musical progression, gotten more obscure and “formless” over time (something like Radiohead). Still, REM has influenced generations of bands now, including all the bands that follow in this list.
Neutral Milk Hotel
I remember taking a group of kids on a road trip to South Carolina (I was teaching at Athens Montessori Middle School) and putting on “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” in the van. Seems strange now.
This album and the band has seemed to reach a kind of indie rock mythical status, but at the time, in Athens, different members of this group, together with the rest of the Elephant 6 collective were just playing music at all different house parties and local shows with all different lineups. It seemed like they were having a lot of fun and not taking it too seriously.
I remember seeing these guys at one of the Elephant 6 house party shows over Halloween (I blogged about it here.)
I wasn’t really that into their sound then, but over the years I’ve gotten to like Of Montreal more and more, particularly Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, which has some of the most transparent and relevant lyrics of any album I’ve ever heard.
I get the feeling that their next album (recently recorded in Los Angeles) is going to have a billboard hit.
I can’t explain why exactly, but the combination of ambient sounds and reverb, the digital delay, the way the vocals get sampled and looped live, all the distortion, the lyrics which always seem to go back to overcoming pain or damage–all of it is very healing somehow.
I’m not sure. I like telling people down here (Argentina) where I’m from though. I say, “Si, soy de Georgia. Tenemos buena musica.”
What bands / musicians have come from your home state or place? Let us know in the comments section.