Monday, February 12, 2007

The Akron Sound?

I don't know anything about Akron. It's a pretty mysterious place to most of us in the Midwest. Who the hell chooses to visit Akron, unless they have some specific reason? All I know is that I have a friend who became a lawyer, who then moved back home to Akron. Now I rarely see him anymore. So it's either the best place in the world or it's a black hole of nothing people get sucked into.
So I thought the best way to figure out Akron was to ask an Akron band. I turned to Houseguest (signed to Audio Eagle).
As I told them, I thought they were from Cleveland and only recently (today) discovered they weren't. One more notch against Cleveland.
Houseguest Guitarist Dave Rich thankfully took my question seriously and gave me an interesting answer, (because believe it or not, Cleveland, I'm being sincere):
"To be honest, i don't really think there is a singular, defining sound. We went to High Schol with the Black Keys, but we don't really sound anything like them. Many, many Akron bands share members, but that almost never translates into a sharing of sounds. We tend to get defined as college rock, or indie rock, whatever those terms mean. Our drummer is in another Akron band called Beast and they are basically instrumental prog-metal. Our bass player is in Genetically Yours, an instrumental dance rock trio. I used to be in Good Morning Valentine, which is a country-rock group. Like i said, we all share members, but not really sounds," Rich said.
So, in essence, the Akron Sound is based on a tight knit community. Is that why trying to get a gig at the Lime Spider is impossible for out of towners? (I had to get that rip in there.)
But a tight knit community can be like putty. It stays the same form, shifts in diiferent directions and yet remains intact.
Rich seems to hint that Akron is more like many pieces of putty, with many different ideas about how the same people want to shape them - all within a community of putty sculptures. Ahem. Wow, I stretched that metaphor as far as it could possibly go.
"I think the thing that probably ties the groups in Akron together is that all the people I know who are in bands like many different types of music, and they express that by being in a lot of bands. Pat from the Black Keys was in a band called Churchbuilder a few years ago, which sounded like the Rentals with female singers, a far cry from what the Black Keys sound like. It's probably because we grow up in a place where we have exposure to college rock (from Cleveland and Kent) but are mostly raised on popular radio. Akron only has one non-commercial radio station, and they cater to the over 30 market. The end result is that you get a lot of kids who love Modest Mouse or Band of Horses just as much as they love Thin Lizzy or Queen."
So stepping back a bit, it seems like the Akron sound is based on the notion of confetti.
I must admit, where the hell does a band like the Black Keys fit into? White suburbanites reinventing the blues of yore? It ain't the 1960s anymore, my friend. But they effing succeeded.
Then you have Houseguest with it's baritone mish mash of Elvis Costello and a shitload of 60s rock, 80s indie rock styles and more tossed into a bowl. Where would any of these bands fit into one scene? Instrumental prog rock? A female Rentals, he said?
Patrick Carney, owner of Akron label Audio Eagle recommended people check out other historical hometown bands such as Tin Huey, Devo, Chrissie Hynde, Human Switchboard, Waitresses, Unit Five, Chi-Pig, 1/2 of the Dead Boys, Rubber City Rebels, Bizarros.
"Most of these bands were on major labels in the mid to late 70's. All of the bands play "mutant pop" music in my mind...very creative people," he said. "Oh yeah, and (filmaker) Jim Jarmusch is from Akron."
So, it's settled, Akron is the Land of Forgotten Toys. It is what happens when a small town has too much access to independent media outlets and is allowed to run free - but in the strict confines of the town limits.
Akron is kind of like the end of Footloose.
But I feel I must warn any Akron music scene readers that their city is dangerously close to being like Cleveland. I always become afraid when I see a city turning into China. If music is going to churn across the Midwest, cities have to be more open to allowing out of town bands inside.


Anonymous said...

How are the Black Keys 'suburbanite' if they are from the city? Akron is a city of over 200,000 people.

Christopher Animalhead said...

Every city has its suburbs. I think of Akron as I think of places like Toledo. Columbus may be called a city, but it's basically all suburbs and a miniscule downtown.
Keep in mind I have never been to Akron, which is why the entire article I wrote was based on what I learned about it.
But I should refer you back to Akron's motto: So Much, So Close.
I think that pretty much sums it up.