One of the more opportunistic questions for band interviews, at least when you’re first wanting to learn about a band or the music they aim to make, is to ask them about their influences. What they listened to for inspiration. This is going to be a bit like that – except instead of gauging my inspiration for creation, we’ll be considering my influences in a manner of figuring out just what it is I like to listen to these days.
My childhood is perhaps not as clear cut as I would have liked it to be. Not that I don’t remember it, but as far as this portion of storytelling is concerned, it is a little bit hazy. Growing up in a pretty small family in suburban Michigan didn’t quite rub off on me the way it did with the rest of my family. Earlier years of my life were spent listening primarily to oldies – read: pre-1970s – and the slightly more relevant sounds of country artists such as Garth Brooks, Conway Twitty and the like. My older siblings would slowly seep hard rock into my ears, mostly through just being in a particular place at a particular time, but the general vibe of our household was music steeped in twang and down-home textures created by bands and singers not too far from said genre.
On the flip side to that, car rides were mostly spent listening to the local oldies station, where doo-wop, rock and roll and pop of decades prior would inflect a considerable amount of enjoyment for that specific style of music. Whether it was Elvis Presley, The Temptations or being what I like to call ‘genetically pre-disposed’ to liking the movie Grease, there was just something about that type of music that has stuck as my idea of rock and pop even as the years have progressed.
I remember getting slightly older and being a little more drawn to things as the world moved through different musical phases. In particular, the juxtaposition of the pop-dominance of Michael Jackson and the satire of Weird Al Yankovic was a liking of mine even as both would artistically fade away in my teen years. It was during this time, roughly in the early to mid-’90s, that even the most popular music of the time would simply seem irrelevant and uninteresting to me. I often wonder if my missing of the grunge act is what holds me to having a distaste today in bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam – even though many people around me hold a completely different opinion.
As I made my way into middle school and high school, it was seemingly another case of what people around me were listening to that drew me to different types of music. In middle school, my eyes ended up glued to Rock Across America for a very long time, forcing a hand of bands like Sugar Ray, Smashmouth and Everclear into my musical preferences. While I will be quick to say that I honestly got into these bands as they were cresting in popularity, they very much held a spark of interest for me as they would appear and re-appear on said show for weeks at a time. In that same idea though, bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Sixpence None the Richer stuck around a bit longer, and my memories of such times are often rekindled when those songs come on.
Yet, my interest in such types of bands would be for the most part short-lived due to the ill-fated creation of a particular file-sharing program called Napster. My drive for new music – combined with an array of friends due to my inclusion in a band from playing a musical instrument – led me to a push for something a bit different. It was around then that I discovered Our Lady Peace, hearing songs like “Thief” and “Clumsy” on the radio that would create my first true obsession with a band’s work. As I first got into high school, I’d end up searching out each of the four records the band had out at the time due to being drawn to OLP’s interesting songwriting and way with melodies. To this day, Spiritual Machines is among my favorite albums, even though it did not do as well as their previous works. My time of searching did not end there though. For some reason or another – probably just trying to fit in in high school no doubt – my ears turned to music that would certainly be considered as unconventional by members of my family. The exact order and progression of things is tough to truly remember, but as high school went on, I’d be turned on to everything from Thursday to The Casualties, AFI to Slipknot. It was very much a discovery time for me when it came to music. I’d fall in love with records like Full Collapse, White Pony, and Tell All Your Friends, all while churning in the wave of pop-punk that the late-’90s and early years of the next decade would foster. In all admittance, I had some interest in bands like Good Charlotte and Simple Plan, but those glossy tracks were eventually ditched for older cuts of Blink 182. If anything though, all of this was fueled by the people I was surrounded by during the bulk of my school years – whether it be getting my first listen to The Marshall Mathers LP at marching band camp or being given an AFI mix-CD from a friend.
Another influential part of my time in high school came through my experiences in band, whether it be marching band, percussion ensemble or concert band. My peaks in drum and bugle corps can come and go, but more importantly I’d say was the music I actually played in said groups. In particular, playing a collection of Frank Zappa tunes – selected by my instructor Doug Allen who sadly passed away while I was still in high school – had a huge impact on my future listening even if I didn’t know it at the time. The strange instrumentation, challenging time signature and rhythmic bursts of songs like “The Black Page” would certainly find application in my math-rock excursions later on, but at that point when compared to the types of things I was already listening to, Zappa just seemed completely awesome – even if I didn’t totally understand it.
I would like to believe I had a pretty good handle on the music that I liked coming out of high school. It wasn’t particularly specific, but I knew what I did – and didn’t – enjoy listening to. Post-hardcore, pop-punk and hard rock dominated my CD player and car stereo, while strangely enough country was completely out of the question at this point in my life. It was also quite apparent that my ear for hip-hop and rap was very, very picky, because though I was a fan of rappers like Eminem, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, not just any rapper would warrant my attention for whatever reason. However, my years in college were again a changing point in both my musical tastes and my life in general. My long-term relationship through those years again infused another chapter of bands and sounds into my musical palate. But then again, this is what happens when you spend so much time with someone who is almost particularly into metal and hardcore.
It started with bands like Comeback Kid, Bane and Alexisonfire. Bands that took the screaming and cathartic aggression I knew from the likes of Thursday and Funeral for a Friend to a different place. It moved on to bands like Converge, The Locust and The Number 12 Looks Like You. The strangest thing was that as my listening got to be stranger and stranger, it got very narrow in terms of different bands. I distinctly recall a period where I was maybe only listening to the same ten bands over and over – even as some bands I enjoyed for years were putting out albums that were good but just didn’t quite fall in line with things. That period went on for a couple years, and while I certainly enjoy some of that music more than others, for the most part I am more than willing to admit to some of it being a phase that holds a bit of nostalgia as I go back to listening to it.
After such a deep submergence into heavy music, the kick back came in the form of super poppy, heavily hooked music that went hand in hand with my renewed interest in personal fitness. It’s a funny notion to consider that at one point I was balancing hardcore bands with electro-tinged bands like Innerpartysystem and Cobra Starship. But for some reason, those bands made what seemed like a pretty ridiculous goal of running a 5K both enjoyable and rewarding. As time went on, the enjoyment faded a bit when I realized they were more energetic songs for working out than everyday listening-type music to my ears. However, as my current gym routine features more running than it has in the past couple years, there’s a part of me that remembers how much those songs fueled my drive for a goal that has been reborn. It wouldn’t be hard to believe for me to reintroduce those songs into my daily running playlist.
So where does that put me now? For years I was always saying that I listened to everything but country and rap. To not sound as much of a douche, I have tried to stop saying that to people – because in reality every sort of music that I can remember listening to has had some part in my life and has shaped what I look for when listening to bands today. Rap has re-emerged as something I truly enjoy even if I’m still a bit of an infant in knowing the landscape of the genre. While I still enjoy my go-to artists like Eminem, newer rappers like Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar and Odd Future have found a place in my ears. As for country, I try to keep things a bit more in the classic realm, as I’m still a bit jaded against the current state of what is considered radio-friendly country. My heavy side is quite satisfied with the mix of new hardcore acts like Code Orange Kids mingling with older bands like Converge, As I Lay Dying and the like – while less conventional bands like La Dispute, Circle Takes the Square and The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die are sure to find some playing time as well. I’ve watched some of my favorite bands like Thursday, Fear Before and The Fall of Troy stop releasing records, while bands I couldn’t stand at first have made some of my favorite albums (shout out to Fall Out Boy and The Wonder Years).
To simply say that my musical tastes have changed would be an understatement, but to say they haven’t stayed with me would be a bit naive. As I hear new music with the passing of time, it is important to remember where you’ve been and why you are at your current state of affairs. I only hope that in this recollection I’ll be able to continue to look back with enjoyment to the good and (awesomely) bad moments of my experiences with music with a grand sense of nostalgia and wonder – just as I often do when putting on my headphones in the present day.