April 16, 2009

Growing Up: Me and Matty T

Greetings Follower (I hoping to one day be able to pluralize that),

So the blog is just over a month old and I've made you wait over a month for a new post... you might want to get used to this kind of apathy from the author.
As I stated in my maiden post, the intent behind this blog is to give my self an outlet to write when I feel like it and see if anything good comes of it. So far this blog has taught me that I'm still generally lazy and, on a typical evening, would much rather play video games or hang out with my wife than spill the frivolous contents of my mind all over the Internet. Suffice to say, it's probably not worth your time checking back here regularly for new content. I'll try to keep people updated on new posts via Facebook, that way you can save yourselves a couple of mouse clicks every few days. Anyway, enough with the excuses. I know the lack of new content must be tearing you apart, so I decided to get off my butt and write another post. [By the way, if you think that last sentence was simply an excuse to link to my new favourite YouTube clip... you're absolutely right. Thanks Bill Simmons!]

I recently borrowed Relient K's The Bird and The Bee Sides from my brother Nathanael (I think I officially have to drop the "little" from his title) and listened to it for the first time. Now, I normally wouldn't wait so long to check out a new release from one of my favourite bands, but I've always had some sort of bigotry against B-sides. I didn't even buy Copeland's B-side album -- and I would probably buy a recording of Aaron Marsh locked in a studio with a steel drum and a kazoo -- so this is pretty deep-rooted stuff. I guess the concept of a B-side album always seemed to me like an idea cooked up by record label executives trying to make a few more bucks off the backs of hard-core fans... just by publishing a bunch of songs that the artist previously decided weren't worthy of public consumption. Well, I gave
The Bird and The Bee Sides a chance and, to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Looking back, that really shouldn't have been much of a surprise at all: there's a reason Relient K has been one of my favourite bands for a long time now... Matt Thiessen (the genius behind the band) just doesn't write bad songs.

[A quick side note: although the intent of this entry is not to give a review of The Bird and The Bee Sides (by definition it's below average for RK), I will say that "The Lining is Silver" would easily have been one of the better songs on Five Score and Seven Years Ago... and I think "Here I Go" might be a song they're working on for their next album... and that's a good sign.]

This fresh enjoyment for a new batch of RK songs got me thinking nostalgically about my journey with the band, and specifically with Thiessen. As most of you probably know, I can often be a bit of a fanboy, and tend to get easily caught up in things I really like. This especially applies with music. However, even with that said, I don't think I've ever felt a connection with a band/songwriter as strongly as I have with Relient K / Matt Thiessen. I think the reason for this struck me the other day when I was reading an interview with Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra (I've been reading a lot about that band since their latest CD came out last week). While reading the article, I realized that even though I love the music Andy writes and his lyrics always give me something to chew on, he's just not a guy I can easily relate to. From what I've read, it seems that Andy has some extreme social anxieties and just generally views the world from a different perspective than I do. In fact, when I started to run down a mental checklist of my favourite songwriters, I found that more often than not, I don't feel like I connect with them on a personal level. Jesse Lacey (Brand New), John Nolan (Straylight Run), and even Aaron Marsh (Copeland) are too dark and brooding; Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) is an alcoholic (although possibly recovered... or I might be confusing him with Ryan Adams) and musical genius, who, like most geniuses, is pretty eccentric; Michael Shepard (Lovedrug) shows signs of being extremely bitter and jaded; David Crowder seems to be a great guy, but I think he operates in a different headspace than I do; Martin Smith (Delirious?) and Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay) are from a different generation than I am; Jim Adkins (Jimmey Eat World) and Andrew McMahon (Something Corporate / Jack's Mannequin) view the world through "secular" eyes, so I miss out on deep connections with them; and the list goes on. In fact, out of all of my favourite songwriters, the only guys I can think of to whom I relate really well are Seth Alan Roberts (watashi wa / Lakes), Dustin Kensrue (Thrice), Tim Skipper and A.J. Babcock (House of Heroes), Thiessen, and maybe Jon Foreman (Switchfoot). That's a short list... and even out of those guys, Thiessen stands apart as the one who's connected best with me through his songwriting. It might be crazy, but I just get the sense that we would be great friends if we were put in the same circle. I guess part of the reason I feel this way is that Relient K has been so readily accessible throughout their career; doing little things for their fans such as tour journals, webisodes, plenty of interviews, etc. Seeing them in these different contexts gave me the impression that I knew them outside of their music. And this stuff wasn't just throw-away fodder that they pumped out. Thiessen's old tour journal was utterly hilarious and used to be my favourite thing on the Internet, and was directly responsible for me starting my old email newsletter (essentially my first blog). Just having access to his thoughts in that way made me feel like I knew him on a different level than most artists.

Still, I think that only begins to tell the story of why I've connected with Relient K the way I have. It really seems as though there's been this uncanny way in which each of their albums seemed to hit me at the perfect time in my life... they were always right in my wheelhouse musically and the themes Thiessen tackled often reflected stuff I was dealing with at the time. In short, I feel like I've grown up with the band. Their first two CDs (Self-Titled and The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek) both came out when I was in high school and I really appreciated the care-free exuberance of the music and unfiltered zaniness of the lyrics. I also appreciated how Thiessen would hide legitimate virtue in and around ridiculous songs about Marilyn Manson, Skittles, and Lion-O. He also wasn't afraid to occasionally step out from behind his veil of humour and write the occasional song that was a lot more pointed lyrically ("Softer to Me", "For the Moments I Feel Faint", "My Way or the Highway", "Less is More", etc.). I related to this because I was a guy trying to build an identity around my sense of humour, but I still had deep thoughts (apart from the ones authored by Jack Handy) kicking around in my brain that I dared to share with others from time to time. What was great, was that as I matured, so did Thiessen, and it came through in his songwriting. Throughout Two Lefts Don't Make a Right... But Three Do and especially mmhmm, you can really see how he came into his own as a lyricist and mastered his ability to seamlessly incorporate depth into his lyrics, while maintaining his trademark wit and uncanny ability to fit seemingly any lyric within the flow of the song. Musically, these albums also showed progression and maturity and fit right into the type of music I was most enjoying at the time (Anatomy was perfect pop punk for high school, Two Lefts transitioned to more melodic pop rock at a time when I was loving harmonies and catchy hooks, and mmhmm added more edge, power, and emotion to their music just when I was first discovering emo and indie rock). On their most recent album, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, the band spent time experimenting with a number of different sounds (expanding their musical horizons, at a time when I was trying to expand mine) and drew a lot from Matt's happiness at being in a great relationship... and it came out just after I started dating Jess and felt unbelievably joyous and care-free. It just seems that as I've gone through life, Matt Thiessen and Relient K have been there every step of the way (well... at least since 2000).

Having this sort of musical journey with Relient K stands in stark contrast to my experience with a band like Thousand Foot Krutch. I loved TFK in high school, but as I got older and matured, their music and themes seemed to stay stagnant (i.e. still targeted at high school kids). It's not that I have a problem with this -- in fact I'm really happy that those guys have carved out a niche for themselves and are experiencing the success they deserve -- but I do feel like I've naturally "grown out" of them. They are simply something nostalgic from my past. Relient K, on the other hand, is right here in my present, going through life with me... just like they've always have been.

Hope you get the Swine Flu (it's gonna be like this until someone helps me figure out a good sign off line),