Author: Moorman, Trent
Date published: March 14, 2012
Journal code: STRR
and Grateful Lovers
Wed March 14, Rat & Raven, 8 pm, $5, all ages before 10 pm/21+ after
THE SEATTLE MUSIC SCENE SUCKS
Chris Jury is a guitarist/vocalist from Seattle rock band the Bismarck. In the 20 years he's been playing and working within the business of music, he's formulated some opinions about our music scene-a scene that hasn't necessarily bought what he's been selling. The Bismarck do everything themselves. They make straight-up rock that's of and for volume. Overdriven guitars and screamed vocals fi re through a sloppy turret. Originally from North Dakota, the Bismarck are instilled with a workmanlike Midwestern ethic. They record, engineer, produce, and release their own music (three full-lengths since 2002, the latest being Great Plains in May 2010). They book their own shows and tours, silk-screen their own shirts, build their own instruments, drive their own van, and do all their own promotion. Through trial and error, they've learned where to tour and what spots to play. Now, music is something the Bismarck does more for fun. They aren't trying to "make it" anymore.
Jury and bandmates have grown frustrated with a scene that hasn't accepted their brand of rock music. They gave up caring about playing Seattle shows years ago, instead opting to tour and play where they are better received. In the Bismarck song "Not If You Were the Last Team Gina Fan on Earth," Jury sings, "Everyone was wearing girl pants... Everyone was on the cocaine... Everyone had an awkward haircut/And everyone was sucking everyone else's dick." Jury and I spoke. No fellatio or girl pants were involved.
What do you think of the current Seattle music scene?
It's a good indication that something is wrong in a given scene when bands like Police Teeth or Kozo can do very well touring the Midwest, East Coast, and Europe, but locally have a hard time getting the time of day. Local bands, both here and in Portland, that have their social infrastructure here often have an easier time and get better receptions elsewhere, and do so consistently. The Hunches are a good example. In Portland or Seattle, they were playing at a two-thirdsfull Funhouse or Twilight Lounge, but when they toured Europe, they were playing with JSBX or the Stooges at large festivals.
You recently booked a European tour for your band. How was booking that as opposed to booking shows in Seattle?
I actually had a much easier time booking the Newcastle-Leeds-Nottingham- London leg of the tour than I had booking our last Sunset show. Which is why we quit giving a shit about playing Seattle years ago. The Sunset is easy to work with, and I have always had good experiences with the folks who book and work there. But even the relatively easy process at a welcoming venue like the Sunset is harder than booking in many other places-even the process of visas and work permits is more straightforward. I can't really describe it in another way. The level of effort involved is simply less. I send mail, they reply with a yes or no, I move on to the next venue or town.
So the Seattle music scene sucks, and you don't give a shit about playing here. Why do you live here?
My wife and I moved here for work. Many of our friends had moved out here as well, so that made it more appealing. I wouldn't say the scene sucks-that would be a bit simplistic. I would say that there are a few specifi c forms of music-making that are in vogue, and those are the acts that get a disproportionate share of the attention available. My band doesn't happen to be part of that scene, so trying to force ourselves onto an audience that isn't interested is not much fun. We play with friends' bands or when we have the chance to do something interesting, like screening the Grateful Lovers documentary. But we don't look for shows, try to get on bills just to play, or try to make it to the next level here. It isn't worth the time.
Whose fault is all this? The suckiness of the scene, in your eyes?
I'm not sure there is a fault. I think there is a disconnect between local press, local venues, and local musicians. What brought this to the fore was a seemingly endless stream of minutiae about a single local band on Line Out a few weeks back. There is a large pool of exciting bands that haven't been able to garner much attention, and there are venues that want to fi ll the rooms. Then there is local music press that needs to straddle the line between telling people about stuff they already like and introducing new stuff to at least appear to be a likely source of information on the next thing. I'm not sure how to get them all playing together. One of the nice things is that with a blog, as opposed to a physical paper, there is no limit on content other than what someone can upload, and there are a pile of folks who would do so for free.
What do you want to see happen?
I think there is a lot of opportunity to tap an amazing group of ambitious young people who want to be making music, writing, or promoting. Rather than dumping money into the Vera Project, why don't we work to encourage spaces where bands can play their fi rst shows? Why not let some kid book the fi rst Tuesday night of the month at your empty bar to let them learn the ropes and try to do something fun? Why doesn't Line Out have dozens of posts daily from high school and college kids who are totally into music and want to write about it? It isn't like it costs you anything. So what if you end up with an article about how great Skrillex is. It can't be any worse than that tour diary from Monogamy Party...