Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Folks Behind the Music - Spotlight on Chris Carr - The Small Takeover

 Today's feature is on Chris Carr, former co-writer at Peacedogman.com and the longtime author of The Small Takeover, his take on music reviews of punk, doom, metal . . .pretty much anything.

How did you get started with this crazy idea to write about music?

I can't remember exactly when I started.  Not terribly long ago dug up a diary at my parents' place where as a teenager I wrote about the videos and bands that impressed from the UK TV music "TheTube" and "Max Headroom".  I wrote that I was impressed with The Jazz Butcher, Balaam and The Angel and The Style Council".

  Later I wrote unsolicited scene reports from my small city in New Zealand for a free national music magazine under the pseudonym O.range.   My local student radio station had a scene report from most New Zealand cities and my hometown wasn't covered in the national music press so I wrote down what was said and sent it in. 

 I didn't really start going to gigs until I was eighteen due to living in a farming community and the usual age issues, which was in reality quite close to the city but transport issues always made attendance difficult.  That all changed when I bought a motorbike.

Much later, I sent a review of a Pantera gig I went to another magazine and it was my sample writing when I applied to a Journalism school as it was the only thing I'd written under my real name.   I wasn't accepted and never ended up going down that career path although I do now possess a degree in Media and Communication studies.

I think I first started blogging about music ten years ago, just writing reviews of bands I'd seen but after a couple of years, the blog platform got swallowed up and disappeared.  Google's blogspot has been much kinder as the present incarnation of the blog has existed for six years.

We're all products of our musical past.  What's your musical history?

 Neither of my parents have ever really been big music fans so it's been a voyage of self-discovery.  My mother had a few records by The Seekers and my father had a few jazz records.  Although I do remember them buying a Rolf Harris cassette on a family trip to Australia back in '79.

I think the only instrument I ever learned for any length of time was the drums when I was seventeen.   I had to give it up as I started a job where I never knew exactly what time I'd finish and would often be working 7 days a week so my timing was bad poor not only to lack of practice. 

 My town had a place where you could rent instruments and practice for very little money as it was funded by the local council.  Friends always talked about learning instruments and forming a band but it never happened due to work, girlfriends and the usual drifting apart.

First album you ever bought?

A dubbed copy of Twisted Sister's "Stay Hungry" was the first album I bought with my own money.  I'm not sure if my friend pocketed the money or there really was a fee for dubbing tapes at his mother's work as it was back in the day before every tape deck had a twin cassette player.  First proper album with artwork was a cassette copy of DIre Straits "Brothers In Arms" because older  guys at my swimming club were talking about it and the first vinyl was a coverless version of U2's "Under a Blood Red Sky".  The first CD was Bauhaus's "Peel Sessions".  I have no memory at all of the first musical  download although I do remember being taught how to download about six or seven years ago.

First album that terrified the hell out of you?

Slayer's "South of Heaven" was the album that really seemed like forbidden fruit due to the sinister nature of the lyrics and the fact that I came from a church-going family.  It's now one of the albums I listen to most as it served as my introduction to Slayer.

First musical epiphany moment?

It's a toss-up between the day I first heard the song"Holiday in The Sun" from the Sex Pistols "Never Mind The Bollocks " on student radio as a 13 year old and the night later on that I bought and played "Master of Puppets" back before Metallica had made their first music video.  Both made me realize that loud, heavy fast and abrasive appealed to me and most of my close friends really couldn't handle either band back in the mid-80's.

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

I recently reviewed this young Finnish rock power trio, Mojo Waves first full length "Lo and Behold" and man, the guys mix alternative rock, garage rock and psychedelia coupled with these shrieking vocals that sound like a whole lot of helium sucking has been going on just moments after a number of energy drinks were consumed by all three band members.  I can see them appealing to the garage rock crowd, the psychedelic crowd and alternative bunch.  It's an attention demander!

What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?

I don't really think things have changed all that much.  There's always been a lot of short-lived bands and great musicians holding down full-time jobs but that happens throughout the arts and always has.  Maybe there are more great bands who are forced to work full-time worldwide due to the money not being there but I don't think the money has really been there anyway as expenses such as recording were way higher a few decades ago.   Venues tend come and go as do regular gig-goers. 

 It's easier to track down those obscure releases that you wanted for years thanks to the internet.  I'm really  not a great fan of I-tunes but know of underground bands and musicians  collecting minor royalties from it.   I prefer to use bandcamp more myself though.    Promotion is easier than ever but there are many out there who will just send a random email to all the music blogs they're aware of whether or not they're aware of the genres the blog covers.  It's all too easy to have an inbox overloaded with music and I find it a lot easier to ignore or miss a download link than a CD.

Facebook, message boards and email have made communication between bands and fans easier.  I'm still blown away when band members of highly established bands  post on messageboards but on the flipside but then there's bands who reply to negative comments when they should just walk away.

Despite being the age of downloads, there are still a lot of small and great record labels run by true music fans.  "Good to Die" records from Seattle is one that deserves not only the press it gets but so much more.  It's really obvious Nik is a fan of all his bands and quality over quantity is a factor on his roster which swelled quickly.  

Something I think is negative but really comes down to personal taste is that there are a lot of cookie cutter death metal, hardcore and grind bands.

With so many music sites, what's your unique take on the music and the writing?

I don't think there's really anything unique about it although I started at a time when there were a lot of download blogs that would offer a picture of the album and a link to download the album.  I often found it frustrating that the blogger didn't tell you anything at all about the music but then again the internet is international and a few of my favourite sites were  like that(but they have all disappeared) were made by people from Germany and Japan so there's a potential language issue right there.  

  Cosmic Hearse was one of my favourite download blogs because Aesop Dekker updated daily and was always able to give the music some context with his short write-ups.  I'd often read his writing and not download.  I'm certain his writing influenced mine even though he started later.  I used to post a lot more frequently than I do now so the hits aren't really there anymore.   

 I now only write reviews and haven't been scared to say if I think something was terrible.  I use a rating system 1-5 rating system with 5 being the best and have been known to give out both 1's and 5's.  I even have a 0 review, which I wrote for another site, stored away on my computer.  That was actually fun to write but the feedback I received told me it wasn't fun  for the band to read. Haha.  Still, it was pretty clear to the people who did actually read it that the band sounded like a bad version of Biohazard and ultimately it's the info about the music that I hope people want.

Illegal downloads on your site.  Yes or no and why?

There was a time when I'd upload albums and the self-imposed rule was that they had to be out of print.  There was a great blog called "Totally Fuzzy"  where bloggers would list the albums they'd uploaded that day and a few hours after uploading, the hits would really come in if the album wasn't superobscure.  The whole Megaupload  versus the FBI saga happened in my home country  but by then I was concentrating more on reviews so it didn't really effect my blog although some of the stuff I've had removed from my Mediafire account surprised me due to its obscurity.  During that point in time, some bloggers ended up having albums from their own bands removed.  There's so much great stuff out there that is downloadable for free with the band's permission these days so I now I just give a free download link if there is one.

What's been your all-time greatest "find"?  The band you "discovered" before anybody else and started the word spreading?

Recently, that's probably Beastwars even though I'm certain there were a few other music writers based in New Zealand, who were at their first and second shows where they were supporting a HLAH reunion show.  I was telling all  sludgy, stoner rock or just generally heavy bands that were sending review material to check them out and often got an email back saying they were blown away.  If you haven't yet you should look at some of their stuff on youtube.  The Sunday Sessions are amazing.  You have this really heavy music and the audience are all sitting down on chairs. It's weird, if you're into heavy music, because they're definitely a band you don't want to be seated to watch regardless of your age.

If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which song would it be?  What makes that song so important?   

The Buzzcocks "Orgasm Addict".  It's important because most music is largely about pleasuring yourself and I first heard it when puberty was hitting hard and it felt like the song was a forbidden fruit.  It was possibly the first pop-punk song to reach my ears and "Singles Going Steady" is still the best punk band compilation out there.

Give us three bands we need to keep our eyes out for.

There's a Michigan doom metal band called Stone Magnum.  I received their self-titled around the time the latest Sabbath and it's definitely Sabbath-worship.  I'm in the process of writing a review of their latest which is strangely closer to Candlemass.  The before-mentioned Finns, Mojo Waves.  Flesh Juicer from Taiwan are a metal band who recently impressed live.  They had a frontman wearing a dog mask and light brown suit with a jacket in the tropical summer heat of Taipei so visually they were striking but they were great musically too.

Tell us about your personal music collection?  Vinyl?  CD?  What's your prized possession?

I keep wanting to get rid of all my vinyl.  I only have about twenty LP's at the moment.  There's a few I just can't bare to  part with despite no longer owning a turntable.  I have a couple of thousand CD's and still keep buying more.   A large percentage were rescued from sale bins.  These days I only buy them at shows.  My prized vinyl would be Sticky Filth's "Weep Woman Weep" album.  It's an 80's  New Zealand punk album and had two limited releases with different covers.  One from a New Zealand label and the other from a German label.  I owned both pressings at one stage.  I paid a ridiculous price for the NZ pressing and then sold it at a small loss but there's no way I'm parting with the other copy.  They were the first band I ever saw in a bar.   I saw on their facebook page that the song recently reached number 10 on the New Zealand charts as the title song has been re-released on vinyl.

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

I still get pleasure goosebumps and hair standing up on the back of my neck when I hear great music and it's the desire to both capture that euphoric feeling for myself and share it with other like-minded souls.  It's a buzz when people tell me they like reading what I've written and I'm still the same excited kid when someone has taken the time and/or money to send product for review.  I love getting comments on the blog and the interaction with other bloggers has lead to a number of long friendships and then there's a few real life friendships that have just come about due to being a music fan.

How would your life be different if you weren't writing about music?

I probably wouldn't be staring into a computer screen so much or would be a Candy Crush expert.  I've attempted to walk away from writing about music a few times but keep getting drawn back in.
  I don't know.  Maybe I'd be writing about cars and test-driving them instead.   I'd likely see more of friends and family who aren't so into rock music.

Ever been threatened by a band or ravenous fan?

Not physically but I've upset a few bands with bad reviews and even slightly above average review scores and their feedback is often difficult to take seriously.

In the end, what you have like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

If someone reads a review and checks a band out and likes them, I've accomplished what I've set out to do.  As for being remembered, I don't really care as that's never been important to me.

Many people may not realize the hours you devote what you do for little or no pay?  Is there a day job?  If so, how do you find the balance?

During the course of The Small Takeover's existence I've had a few jobs.  The one that I stuck at longest was a part-time postman job.  It was only a few hours a day and at that point in time, I was able to update the blog regularly and write for a couple of other sites.

 I'm presently teaching English as a Foreign Language in Taiwan.  I usually have around 25 teaching hours so there is a little spare time to update the blog but often I just don't feel like sitting down, listening to music and writing after dealing with a classrooms filled with noisy kids.  I tried to get another reviewer as I was being sent a lot of death metal and it's definitely not a sub-genre I particularly care for.  I had a nibble but wasn't able to reel a death metal expert in

What's next?  Any new projects?

Totally unrelated to music but I keep toying with the idea of starting an Asian movie blog.  I'll have another go at getting a reviewer or two for The Small Takeover willing to work for less than a single peanut first.

Finally other than music, what's your other burning passion?

Travel, food, movies and books.  I've written a few reviews for a movie site http://cinemania.co.nz under the  moniker, Phlegm.  Admittedly a few were music related but the other stuff was mostly low budget horror.  I guess languages are there too as I speak reasonable Mandarin Chinese, a little Thai, Korean, Japanese, French and Spanish.

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