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Fan mail to the future - click opera
February 2010
 
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Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:51 am
Fan mail to the future

"Hi Momus," runs the email from Vampire Weekend, "we're big fans of yours." Now, even I -- a man who sits behind a pophype firescreen six layers deep wearing pophype shades thicker than the bottoms of blackened Coke bottles -- recognize the name Vampire Weekend. Even I know that the preppy, snappy, witty quartet is currently one of the most talked-about bands in the popsphere, dividing opinion on blogs, bulletin boards, and in media outlets from Pitchfork to the Financial Times via futile, class hate-filled tirades in The Village Voice. Vampire Weekend like me. And they're going to be huge. I respond cautiously, telling them my address so they can send me their debut album.



In my own musical career I seem to have just gone along forever at the same level, trapped under some sort of glass ceiling (about 5000 album sales and about 20,000 YouTube views if I'm lucky). Nothing's happened, in the sense that I've never really "broken through", and yet everything's happened, in the sense that I've toured, released records, done press, got played on the radio, penned the odd chart hit, been able to live by music, traveled the world, had adoring fans (some pretty), changed lives, and done all the other things that "successful" musicians do. Just on a much, much tinier scale.



I've done all this long enough for the Vampire Weekend email to be just the latest in a series of tentative contacts from up-and-coming bands destined for much greater success than I'll ever have. Did I tell you about the time Pulp wrote asking me to produce their next album? 1989, baby, just before they broke. I didn't even answer. I listened to the tape they sent. "Death Goes to the Disco" sounded like a steal from OMD's Red Frame White Light overlaid with some whimpering, hysterical vocals reworking the theme from a Jacques Brel song. Don't call us, "Pulp" (or whatever you call yourselves)!



My next big "career mistake" involved a bunch of precious, shy Glaswegians called Belle and Sebastian. They sent a handwritten letter with an early pressing of "Tigermilk" (who knew this vinyl would soon be worth hundreds of dollars?), then, a bit later, asked me to play a festival they were putting together called The Bowlie Weekender. Bowlie turned out to be the Woodstock of Twee, a gathering in holiday bungalows of enormous crowds of kidults, a demographic I could, if I'd gone, have claimed for my own, losing my sinister marginality and my glass ceiling in the process. I'm not quite sure what made me say no. I suppose it just felt like someone else's party. I preferred being a big fish in my own pool to a small fish in someone else's.

Of Montreal was the next indie breakthrough group to approach me. It was 2003, and I'd just moved to Berlin. This fellow called Kevin Barnes wanted to collaborate somehow, sent me lots of unreleased material, and invited me to open for him on his next tour. I listened to the homeburn CDs in their hand-drawn covers and found the music somehow uncomfortably twiddly. The lyrics were sort of interesting, though.



Often, long after the initial, rebuffed contact from these artists, I'd realize that they really had something. I remember seeing Belle and Sebastian at their "seminal" Union Chapel gig in Islington and just feeling a huge glow of talent and charisma radiating from the vicinity of the pulpit. The congregation would rise. Pulp fell into place with "Babies", and when I saw Jarvis throw his paraplegic flamingo moves at the Forum in Kentish Town. My Of Montreal moment came when I watched YouTube videos of the tour I'd refused to join, and saw Kevin's ecstatic covers of Andre 3000, Gnarls Barkley and David Bowie.



I haven't really had my Vampire Weekend moment yet. They've sent me their album, and I've listened to it, and I can hear the basic appeal -- the directness, the economy of means, the well-written lyrics, the happy feel. I get a weird sense that there are possibilities in this music ("Wow, pop can do this!"), and yet the possibilities are all in the past. Taken a bit further, this bit could become Talking Heads, this bit could become The Beat, this bit The Police, and this bit Prefab Sprout. The Afropop guitar thing is done much more progressively, to my mind, by Black Dice's Bjorn Copeland. (Hey, I seem to like the RISD bands better than the Columbia bands! There must be something in the art school water supply.)

My fusty-prog "make it new" imperative clearly isn't shared by the mass market, which likes its music fresh-n-trad, classic, evergreen. The thing which makes me say "Thanks, but no" to a new band may very well be the thing that makes a significant part of the public say "Great, yes!" And at some point -- like Talking Heads connecting up with Eno -- perhaps Vampire Weekend will work with a producer who gives them enough experimental edge to make my penny drop.



Until then, Vampire Weekend will have to join the crowd of hyped, connected and connecting artists -- the Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Arctic Monkeys -- I wish no ill upon but filter out in favour of commercial non-starters -- the struggling, doomed, risky artists I love and nobody else seems to. These are the people whose videos I've stuck between the faux-regretful paragraphs on this page, artists who suggest (to me, at least) pop possibilities which lead us forward towards new (and possibly never-arriving) horizons. Avant poppers like MEC, Popo, Gutevolk, Rusty Santos, Ariel Pink, No Shit. Artists like that don't write me -- I write them. Call it fan mail to the future.

86CommentReplyShare

petit_paradis
petit_paradis
erik
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:11 am (UTC)

I'm listening to an ADD N TO X album of 1999 and it still sounds new and fresh to me


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)

Yes, I waited in vain to see them on the cover of the NME as The Future of Rock. Instead they put the past of rock on the cover and called it the future. And people believed them. And the ship sailed on towards the iceberg.


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womanonfire
womanonfire
Auriea.
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:29 am (UTC)

nono you're right!
i've been introduced to so much great music through you.
music that makes me think and be happy because its unlike so much other stuff out there.
no retreds!


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:36 am (UTC)

So, what if I asked you at this very moment to help produce my beautiful banana themed parodies of Morrissey/Smiths music under my pseudoname Microworlds?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 10:18 am (UTC)

Morrissey parodies? That's not FROM THE FUTURE enough, Microworlds. I want to hear parodies of artists who don't exist yet.


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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:38 am (UTC)
Someone forgot the lessons learned from Ghostbusters:

When someone asks if you are a god, you say, YES!


I share a studio space with the wife of the trombonist on Neutral Milk Hotel's, On Avery Island. My studio space used to be in the same building as the lead singer of Dressy Bessy. Dressy Bessy and the Apples in Stereo *used* to use a web app I make on their sites. That's as close as I'll get to being a part of the Elephant 6 Collective, except when my E6C shirt is clean and I'm wearing it. Of Montreal did a pretty good live show a few months back.

Back who you want. General appeal isn't a good indication of how good something actually is. You're personal opinions are what matters and it's your time. You can be enthusiastic for other acts that don't quite follow your appeal and I hope you do. I'm usually enthusiastic in any creativity I see in this world.


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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 09:42 am (UTC)

One last thing - the animation on Scratch Pet Land looks a lot like James P's stuff. I've been following him since, well for a while. You can see more at:

http://presstube.com


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charleston
charleston
Bonham C
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 10:01 am (UTC)

I really like this post. I've still never actually got round to buying one of your albums, but I think I will now.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)

You know, I just listened to "Ocky Milk" yesterday and thought two things

1) Damn it, this deserved to be heard by more people than heard it!

2) It's a few songs too long -- I should have gone straight to "Ex-Erotomane" after "Zanzibar", then ended with "I Refuse To Die".


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 10:39 am (UTC)

I have often wondered where you get your terrible taste from. I guess your next on their list to contact after Jarvis or Jay Jay Johanson.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 11:00 am (UTC)

And I, for my part, have often felt quietly vindicated by the fact that the hataz are always people who don't know when to use "your" and when to use "you're".


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand



imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)

I'm not going to roll over for the pups!

What this entry is, really, is me saying "Hey guys, if you want a slightly edgy producer for your second album, I'll be the Eno to your Talking Heads!"

Except, screw that, I don't really want to be a record producer.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand



(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 11:57 am (UTC)
fan mail about fan mail

Nick of all the 'artists', that I have stumbled across, and by that I do mean in the very real sense of the word, you have been the one consistently recurrent influence on my own idiosyncratic non pop trajectory. By turns awkward, obstreperous, infuriating, bewitching, wonderful, terrible and entertaining. As an artist and artisan, by both embracing ideas and refusing to be defined by them, you have forged a greater body of work and solid gravitas that far more popular artists would die for. You have also been both stand offish and friendly to me on numerous occasions, and as I like to keep that respectful distance between the art and artist, this was a wonderful piece of writing. The Protagonist!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 12:08 pm (UTC)

This is a bit of a mean-spirited entry. Imagine if you'd sent a fan email to someone, and that person just used it to damn you with faint praise on their website. I mean, these guys are probably a good quarter of a century younger than you. Whatever happened to the older and wiser mentoring the young and eager? I mean, that Happy Family album wasn't all that great, was it? What if you'd sent it to Bowie and he'd made some snide remark about it?

You readily admit you're not the greatest talent-spotter, missing Pulp, Belle & Sebastian, Of Montreal etc. Producing some fresh new band would probably do you a world of good and get you out of the rut you seem to be in.


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klasensjo
klasensjo
klasensjo
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
Harry Merry

The future is Harry Merry. You should know that. May well be the end of music as we know it, but full of joy. Congratulations humanity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8RIdo10eC8
http://www.myspace.com/harry9merry
http://www.harrymerry.com/




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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Harry Merry

Harry Merry's chord progressions -- and his general sense of don't-give-a-fuck -- recall late Syd Barrett.


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Re: Harry Merry - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 12:23 pm (UTC)

Shorter Momus: "Look at me! All these trendy bands like Pulp, Belle and Sebastian, Of Montreal and Vampire Weekend think I'm great! But fuck those sell-outs, they'll never reach my artistic heights. Excuse me while I go and listen to one of my own albums."


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trickseybird
trickseybird
Bruce Springsteen, you're not the boss of me
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 01:48 pm (UTC)

lolol dad technology 100%


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
olamina
olamina
blackgirlgenius
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 12:34 pm (UTC)

Until then, Vampire Weekend will have to join the crowd of hyped, connected and connecting artists -- the Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Arctic Monkeys -- I wish no ill upon but filter out in favour of commercial non-starters -- the struggling, doomed, risky artists I love and nobody else seems to.

Now I can exhale. I've been wracking my brain trying to put to words the way I feel about Vampire Weekend. Now I can just put a link on my blog and direct people to this post.

I spent years devoting my life to managing and booking bands that had only a handful of fans scattered around the world (Barbez, Golden Arm Trio, The Tigerlillies, and other bands few ever really knew). Having only quit about a year ago, my feelings are all still muddled about it, I keep thinking about chances I might have missed, other bands I should have chased harder, pursued more fervently -- some band that would have really hit the "big time". But then I read this and feel calm and self-affirmed again, pleased that I did my part to support what I really adored and believe in. I never know what the world will say about them in 15, 20, 30 years, what they will inspire and how many letters they will receive.


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staryu
staryu
staryu
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 12:55 pm (UTC)

i wouldn't say they're going to be big, they've gotten enough media attention that they're already there.

i can't help but feel sorry for those guys though.. they like you but you don't like them :[


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Feb. 8th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
The VW music video

I know it was done by some big shot with lots of "cool" videos under his or her belt - but was there any need for the under water bit in that vampire weekend video? Its like when you notice the strings when watching thunderbirds. It just wrecks it.

wewillbecome.com


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