Every year growing up my family spent two or three weeks together in August renting a house on Nantucket Island (a slow moving 2 ½ hour ferry ride out off the coast of Massachusetts) and that’s where the majority of our most treasured family moments happened. We celebrated every one of Hoag’s birthday’s there from when he turned one year old til about 28! Over all those years going through the stages of childhood, adolescence and adulthood we learned all the secret spots on the island and fell in love every year with not only the physical places, but with the memories tied to them.
A few years ago my parents fulfilled a life-long dream of actually owning a second home (or in this case, a portion of a second home) when they went in on a house on Martha’s Vineyard with my Uncle David. Martha’s Vineyard is the other gorgeous and unique island off the coast of Mass, several times bigger than the 12-mile-around Nantucket and with a much different vibe, culture and even geography. These last few years we haven’t gone to Nantucket anymore. (We did try one year to do both, but it’s just too expensive and makes no sense aside from the hard tug of our sentimental feelings for Nantucket and the friends we don’t see there anymore.) Now have wonderful family experiences every year on the ‘new’ island.
My parents are still self conscious that Hoag and I don’t like Martha’s Vineyard, which is anything but true! We love it… it’s beautiful, more culturally diverse, great ocean and beaches and also great locally grown corn on the cob! And how lucky are we to get to go there every year?! No matter what though, it’s not quite Nantucket. The unfair and unfortunate thing for MV, at least in how it relates to our lives, is that despite its relatively subtle differences, it is SO MUCH like Nantucket without actually being Nantucket, and therefore it will always be a comparison in our minds and hearts. In many ways they look the same, the water is the same, the beaches look similar, the weather and the food is the same… but it’s not the same. The only problem, really, is with my expectations; a small part of me is still expecting it to be Nantucket when we’re there.
I recently watched Beats, Rhymes and Life, which is a new documentary about the hip hop group (one of my favorites!) A Tribe Called Quest. The first half of the movie is all about how those guys came up in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Nostalgia is thick for the days of turning the dial on those giant boom-boxes fighting through static to find the music EVERYONE was listing to on DJ Red Alert’s radio show when Hip Hop was at its cultural and creative peak – the jazz music of the modern day. Tribe grew up out of the fertile NYC scene at the same time as De La Soul and a host of other awesome hip hop groups. Those days before the internet there was of course the downside for the consumer of less access to just about everything, but in the case of popular music, that kind of radio show was THE break a group needed. The channels to a wider audience for a new group were very well defined and clear. Profitable labels, A&R guys finding new talent and radio DJs all playing gate keeper before new groups were accessible to music fans (of any genre). If you were a new band trying to come up, those were the doors to go through, and everyone knew it. Now I’m not saying that there weren’t a million bad things about that biz model and the way things were, but that’s how the Tribe broke through … and how almost every band and group came up in the music business until the early 2000’s.
That picture of ‘how a band or group makes it in the music biz’ really hasn’t been relevant in 10+ years, yet it’s still what the majority of aspiring bands and certainly MANY in the music industry still have imprinted on their minds. Many of those bands that came up in that era are still writing and performing (and popular) today, and many of those behind-the-scenes music business people still hold the reins.
Bands still try to get a “single” on the radio and label guys still try to figure out a way to get things back to how they were then, when it was all so easy (and profitable)! In many ways the music biz – and what it looks like to be a “Rock Star” today – looks the same as it did in those early days of A Tribe Called Quest. There are still “Top 100” charts, still concerts with big crowds, still radio shows (even though DJs have no control of the playlists) … but it’s definitely NOT the same.
The lesson for me, in both these cases, has nothing to do with what’s “better” or “worse” because both scenarios are just the reality (and I love my ‘reality!’). The truth is that Martha’s Vineyard is an AWESOME place and I’m so blessed to be able to go there with my family every year! If I had spent every summer going there instead of Nantucket and the situation were reversed now, I’d have the same feelings about MV as I do about Nantucket.
But it’s also true that the sentimental side of me hasn’t quite let go of Nantucket and that nostalgia holds me back from fully enjoying or appreciating the new experiences.
Obviously what I’m getting at is that the same holds true for my music career and my band. I came of age musically in the height of the ‘old’ popular music world and still remember records, CDs, radio shows … basically everything pre-internet. That was my image when I got started with my own band here in Austin, and even further back when the dreams were first hatched with Hoag (then just “Dave”) jamming in our older brother’s room back in PA. I honestly do feel that Full Service has made a name for itself largely BECAUSE we are forward thinking and not paralyzed by viewing our career under those 90’s terms. The Takeover Tour and the 20 Tour, the new movie TAKEOVER! and the fact that I actually ENJOY being our manager are all just a few pieces of evidence to that. Just like with Nantucket, though, I still hold some of that nostalgia. . . I still hope that 101X or KGSR will play our new single (as if that’s even possible!). The bands I measure our “success” against are those that came out before the internet – like Tribe or 311 or whomever.
All of this, I guess, is just a reminder to myself – to make sure I don’t approach the music biz of 2012 with expectations or assumptions born of the music biz of my formative years. I have to not let ANY amount of preconceived notions of how the past was get in the way of taking full advantage of the present. The past was awesome! The present is even more awesome! Phife Dogg (from a Tribe) was only 28 when the wheels fell off of their group and essentially they were done as a band. I’m 34 and still in the thick of creativity with my band mates, still in the heart of the journey and adventure, still feeling more relevant musically than ever (and knowing that’s the truth).
This summer, I can’t wait to get up to Martha’s Vineyard with the fam! Though I still plan to go back to Nantucket many times in the future, I think I’m finally past letting those coming-of-age experiences detract from the new ones. And in our music career, I’m glad I had this little check-in with myself, glad I won’t waste even a little time trying to figure out how to fit the Full Service “square” into the music business’s conventional circle. Instead, I’m even more focused and motivated to make our square bigger on our own terms and let the music business re-shape itself to fit US!
POST SCRIPT: After finishing this blog post, i came across an awesome interview by Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) from the 2012 SXSW conference. A perfect follow up!