I’ve been the rotating host of the LP Wednesday night open mic since October, and it’s just recently reached self-sustaining status where we don’t have to plead and beg to get people to attend.
A regular weekly crowd means a slew of musicians who I’m getting know a little better, week by week. One is Trent AKA Stupa Thought. You wouldn’t peg him as someone I’d dig. He plays flat out modern rock with a tinge of hip hop rhythms – stuff that would be easily radio-ready with a fierce band behind him.
I like Trent because he takes music seriously. He’s quick to make light of a blown chord or when I forget to give him an extra round of applause, but when it comes to playing he’s as professional as anyone at the open mic. His arrangements are tight. His vocals are solid. His songs have distinct structure, and he wields a pedal board with looping to add texture.
I try to find a moment to get to know everyone in the room (be on the lookout for my open mic how-to post, coming soon), and I always wind up deep in conversation with Trent. Last week he said an interesting thing to me: “I don’t think any of your songs ever get angry enough. You go right up to the brink, but you always pull back.”
It’s a perceptive comment. I used to be the master of the kiss-off song, but I’ve long since abandoned it as my primary genre. You could argue that I’m mellower now that I’m married. I think it’s more that I comment on myself more now – even in songs about other people – a trend that started with “So Hard.” I think it’s important to root your song’s accusation in something common, and when you are writing something scathing that’s partially about yourself it’s hard not to add a slightly redemptive angle … even if it’s just a vocal that resolves major.
Trent challenged me to come back this week with as nasty a set as I could summon. After some consulting with Elise, I came up with: Splinter (legendarily nasty break-up tune), Bridge (unapologetically fierce alt-tuning rocker from high school), Real You (utter dissection of a false friend), and my “single” Shake It Off – a takedown of passive aggressiveness that was already deemed not mean enough due to the hopeful bent of the chorus.
The set felt awesome. I’m sure my hour of vocal warmups helped, but it was more that I’m not used to seething for four songs anymore. Now that I’m not in that awful place 24/7 I can appreciate a little focused rage. It makes me happy that I wrote the songs – now they’re like pressure valves I can use to blast out a little antipathy at a moment’s notice.
Trent’s assessment? That I certainly picked my nastiest guitar work, but he still feels like I let my vocals redeem the subjects of my wrath.
Can you think of a popular song that’s mean not necessarily because of it’s music, or even its lyrics, but because of a fierce vocal performance that doesn’t scream, growl, or otherwise contort itself? “You’re So Vain” comes to mind.
Comment if you can think of one.