UnderGround and UnderTow Music began out of the ashes of a project I started in the fall of 2014 called "100 Bands In 1 Year." I had read an interview with a musician I admire immensely, Devin Townsend, and was thoroughly dismayed by the end of the piece. After reading the interview I did some research to see if what I had read was true, and sadly, it was.
There is a production company in California that is responsible for all of the hits from the American Idol winners, and rock groups like Nickelback and Hinder. Apparently, you go to this company, briefly explain the genre of music, and tell them you want a hit. Then, you give them a payment of a specific amount and they begin asking you questions. One of the first is: "When is the song or album going to be released?" They ask this because there is a computer application that holds a database of all of the biggest hits over the last number of years. Depending on when the song is going to be released, it can change everything from the lyrics to the chord progressions. The database then prints out what the lyrics should be about, the tone and mood, and the proper progressions to ensure a hit. Yes people, a majority of the music that are "Top 10 Hits," was created by a computer in a room.
I know that to many of those who are fans of the giganta-pop-stars are not going to care about the fact that when they weep over a love song, they are making an emotional connection with a machine (I know this because out of all of the people who I spoke to about this - the people who were fans of Katy Perry, American Idol, and the like - said they didn't mind because the music made them "feel good" and that's all that matters). As someone who has been involved in the music industry for over 20 years; having seen countless bands who are truly amazing at their craft and work themselves to death on little food or sleep, only to play a club to 50 people; makes the thought of being able to pay for fame, and to get that fame off of completely soulless art, completely disgusting to me.
I know, I am extremely overly-romantic, but that was the beginning of all of this. It was then I decided to dedicate myself to helping as many great bands as I could; those that may not be able to gain attention anywhere else. This is where the book "100 Bands in 1 Year" came about. I was going to see, and write about, 100 bands from December of 2014 to November of 2015. My editor, and friend, Rebecca Vernon suggested I apply at Salt Lake UnderGround (SLUG) Magazine, as a reviewer, to help me meet my goal. I did apply, and got the position with my first article being published in February, 2015. I worked writing reviews (with over 50 band performances published), as well as going to shows in my free time. When I was writing for them, I had some basic rules (which have carried over to this site), and are as follows:
1. This is not a "rock/hard rock/heavy metal-only" site. If you look at my previously published articles in the Article Links section, you will see that I have covered everything from funk to punk, classical to country, blues to black metal, and goth to grindcore. I will be the first person to admit that the music under the umbrella which contains the rock/hard rock/heavy metal genres are my favorite, but I will also say that jazz and goth closely follow. To be perfectly honest, if it were a rainy day and all I had were Miles Davis - "Nefertiti," Switchblade Symphony - "Serpentine Gallery," and "The Best Of Joan Baez," I'd be a happy camper. The majority of the content will be rock and metal, however I will do my best to vary it up from time to time, to ensure that it will not be boring or mundane.
2. I will NOT cover any music that resides within the realm of rap/hip-hop/R&B or commercial pop. The reasons are: with rap and hip-hop, there are a number of reasons, but the number one is that I have never been able to make a connection with those types of music. Because of this, I have always steered clear. Because I do not possess a wealth of knowledge when it comes to rap or hip-hop, I feel my opinion would not be valid or justifiable, and I refuse to give my readers mediocre, or worse, inaccurate assessments. The reason I won't cover pop - boy bands, girl bands, Katy Perry clones, those that rely heavily on synchronized dance moves - is because, to me, it is supremely disposable music that uses technology above human interaction and whose business model is based on number of units moved, not number of real human connections achieved. It rots your brain. Now, there will sometimes be acts that have a pop element to their music (like pop-rock, or pop-punk), that I will listen to with an open mind and give a fair shake to. But if it's the full-blown Britney ... I'll pass. If you think this makes me "unqualified" to review music, then please go to the Credentials/Article Links section, and read around a bit. Mainly, I would like all of the reviews published on this site to be from a place of knowledge and accurate assessment. You may not always agree with what I say, but you will know that it is coming from a very large data-base of comparisons, as well as a specific set of rules and guidelines.
3. I will only cover acts who are a part of the "underground." By that I mean, they cannot sell out venues that have a capacity of more than 5,000. This also takes care of most of the pop-music aversion.
4. I have very specific criteria as to whether I think something is "good" or "bad." First off: I need to know the artist cares. I'm not saying that they need to kill an animal in the name of Satan, or that all of the members need to be taken to the E.R. due to hyperventilation or self-inflicted wounds by the end of the performance. But I do want them to appear like they are happy and enjoying what they are doing. If they stand there staring into space like they took way too many downers, then I'm going to mark them a little lower on that (unless, of course, they really are on a lot of downers, then I'll judge them more heavily on technical execution). Second: technical execution. There is nothing worse than hearing any band of ANY style of music sound like they have practiced only once before hitting the stage. Even if it is punk, I want to know they have practiced a bit before performing. Third: I want to hear a majority of original music. A cover every now and then can help make a set more cohesive. Doing nothing but covers will get you marked down, though there are exceptions. Fourth: I want to hear something I have never heard before. That doesn't mean invent some weird experimental free-form death-rock (although that night be cool), but it does mean that I want to hear the core sound - whether it is punk, or death metal, or country as the base construct of your music - and see what you can do with it. If you are a cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill example of whatever your style of music may be, I'm going to mark that down. Finally: make it memorable.
5. My reviews cannot be bought. This HAS cost me friendships in the past. If you want to give me goodies like t-shirts, CD's, or other things, I will gladly say thank you and show my sincere appreciation. However, if you suck that night, I will call you on it. I would rather have my readers know that they are getting an unbiased opinion, then have you call me names on Facebook. Sorry.
This entire exercise is one based out of passion. As someone who has spent a lot of time going to underground shows, I can tell you this: The record industry is dying. In the month of August, 2015, it became possible to have a number one selling album on the Billboard charts that sells less than 50,000 copies. 15 years ago, that amount of sales wouldn't have even cracked the top 50. The only way that many of these bands are able to continue to make music is through the support of their fans buying a concert ticket and getting some kind of merchandise at the event. Many of these bands have a difficult time getting enough gas money to make it to the next stop of their tour. A lot of bands have resorted to putting out tip jars at their merch tables just to try to get some help from fans who may not be able to afford a t-shirt. I want to see brilliant, unique music that is from the hearts and souls of real human beings trying to convey the world upon which they reside to another person in a way that is - as silly as this may sound - magical. However, many of these acts will tell you that the underground is having issues.
There have been many shows that I have attended recently that have had huge amounts of success. Others, depressingly in the majority, have been through many disappointments. There is nothing worse than seeing a band that is truly genius playing to a small, unenthusiastic crowd. I'm hoping that I will gain your trust, and that you will follow me through these musical adventures. I'm not saying that you should shell out $100 per month and go to shows constantly, but I am saying that all of us should go to more. Even if you only get out once or twice more a month than you already do, it would help immensely. If you are someone who downloads music illegally (which, I won't even bridge that topic, so don't ask my thoughts), then it is even more imperative that you make it out to these events and help support the artists that you love. I can promise you that in the next 15 to 20 years, if attendance at these smaller shows doesn't increase, then touring and the possibility of seeing any act (save for those who are able to sell-out arenas) will be nothing more than a memory. And no, I'm not being melodramatic. The next time you see a touring band at a club, go to the merch table and talk to one of the members of the band and ask them about my prophecies and see what they say.