All things come from somewhere. The history of the path from a common ancestor is not always of interest to people trying out on their own, but it still exists. For the topic of this post I’m talking about musical lineage. Even purists have a line to follow, those who came before gave each musician a jumping off point. How far they jumped, and to where, is where it gets interesting. Growing up I had some pretty diverse influences. That, along with the incredible need to be different, pushed me to seek out things that were not as popular as what my classmates were listening to. My father played Indian Classical Music, Latin Jazz and BeBop around the house, as he played both the tablas and the congas with other musicians. My mother, in that period of the mellow rock sounds,listened to James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carole King.
Looking at the charts for lets say 1978, you’ll see Queen, the Bee Gees, Meatloaf, Kansas and other FM staples. The Ramones, Talking Heads and Paul Simon are on that same list of radio favorites. By then I was listening to Jeff Beck, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Genesis, Yes and the Dixie Dregs. Not liking Kiss or Olivia Newton John made me a pariah in high school, though Zeppelin, ZZ Top and the Southern Rock bands filled my needs. I still leaned toward fusions of different things, blues/rock, rock/jazz, etc. Finding a way to meld those different likes into one thing was very pleasing, even to an immature drummer of 15.
I also was fortunate enough to have other family member who played at a high level, my uncle, Peter Donald. His musical career carried him from gigs with pop acts who paid (Olivia Newton John, Peter Allen, Paul Williams, Helen Reddy, The Osmond Brothers) and jazz acts(The Toshiko/Tabackin Big Band, The Bob Florence Big Band, The John Abercrombie Quartet, 3 Prime) who pushed the envelope. Another drummer, his excellence was something I studied from an early age. His path to Boston and Berklee is something I ended up following in time. Between him, my father and others who listened to more challenging music (both listening and playing wise) my tastes began to lean towards those who not only play their instruments really well but were doing new things built on a history and a vocabulary.
Very few players live entirely in a vacuum; the ones who say they don’t listen to anyone else and are influenced by even less, I don’t trust them. I know people who assemble their ability, choose a direction and then avoid being influenced by people on their path, trying to listen to the voice inside and maybe be unique. I tend to steer towards people who are still fans, still love music and learning something new. In this day and age, you don’t want to be accused of plagiarism, either intentional or unconscious ; it’s much better to outright steal what you like and make it your own, in a good way.
So as a teen I was listening to Fusion, Progressive and flat-out Jazz while others were supping from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. A diet of Zappa, odd time signatures and high tempos probably caused my brain to swell and misshape. Don’t let these descriptions convince you I became a complete snob musically; there was plenty of room for good, simple or sloppy tunes, as long as the performers were real. As time went by I actually made more room for the less technical stuff, the less-is-more school finally made sense not only economically but spiritually.
OK, where is this going? At one point in the 90’s I was working for a musician who I felt lacked a bit in the history department about his own instrument. His immediate influences went back 5-10 years and really just broke the surface in the levels of possibility. Like my father, I tend to step into an educator position with music, drawing lines from one person to another, one style or period. I am compelled to expand the musical vocabulary of some and therefore the understanding of the performance or logic within it. Most people are not only reluctant but completely uninterested in being challenged by what they are hearing. I understand; the familiar and the easily consumed can be background, a comfort zone, a recognized vehicle to calm, to propel, to work out, to release.
Music isn’t always beautiful or soothing. It can be sad, angry, uplifting, dissonant, polished, raw, sickeningly cheerful… just about anything. Everybody has their personal tastes, not only with genres but with mood, tempo, instrumentation and the like. I also tend to believe that a limited musical vocabulary tends to make certain music unlistenable because the listener doesn’t really understand what they are hearing. I’ve written about this before and can’t honestly remember where it is posted (or if it is), to this little abbreviated thing will suffice, as it isn’t really the point of this post but an important tenant of where I’m going. So at some point some listeners say to themselves “I want to do that!” Not all motivations begin or end the same; ranging between “I want to be the greatest guitar player ever” to ” I just want chicks to dig me” is a thousand levels of “I want to be a part of that”. Begging for an instrument from your parents, borrowing, stealing, building…learning chords or beats, playing with others, going from nothing to something, the progression from imitation to creation. This is where the personal lineage begins.
The simple songs my first garage band (the actual thing, not the software) played were easy chord progressions to copy and all the subtleties and detail would come later. I can remember “Evil Ways” by Santana, “Hymn 43” by Jethro Tull, maybe “Funk 49” by the James Gang… (as the drummer, I was at the mercy of what the guitar players could pull off!) You begin to realize that your ability and the ability of your bandmates limit your song choices. Practice, practice, practice…maybe. If you’re lucky you become a big fish in a little pond, then make the jump to a larger pond and realize how small you are. You grow or get ate; most people just get the hell out of the pond. You study the guys you admire and maybe pay attention to who they say influenced them.
Shadowy figures and unknown names get repeated; why would rock guys mention old blues guys, dead jazz guys and classical composers? At first you don’t see the connection; how would a sax player influence a metal guitar player? How could the guitar player on “Miss You” have wanted to be Robert Johnson? Lineage is a good word, but realize that very few people come from a single line anymore. Even purist forms, “classic” styles such as gospel, bluegrass, classical of all forms, they are becoming more hybrid and mutant, blending outside influences and creating more personal music.As I’m writing this, I started with a linear list and it is quickly becoming a cloud or multiple rays coming toward a series of self-centric nodes.
Trying to decide if I should pause and create a graphic to insert into this post at this point… Ugh, not a good idea. I’ll look at it later, as a truly incestuous ancestry hairball that needs some clearer thought. I want the Org chart to go backwards and it just doesn’t wanna.
LOTS of crossed nodes.
What inspired this post was the discovery of a branch of the tree now known as “Djent” (said to be coined by guitarist Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah) which gives me another one of those “YES! YES!” moments that I had when I first heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ combination of rock and funk. One of the bands I played with in Boston during the early 80’s attempted to blend the genres in the same way and didn’t quite nail it. When I heard the Chilis, all I thought was, “Yup, that was what we were trying to do.” I called my old band mates and they all nodded for me over the phone. This music nicknamed “Djent” just hit me in the musical solar plexus the same way, perhaps as it took elements of many of my favorite styles and nailed it. It’s heavy, it’s technical, it’s truly DIY in that it has such limited interest the guy who started the band could have only created it with the wide reach of the internet.
I stumbled upon an article about Misha Mansoor and his current band, Periphery. I usually take guitar mag articles with a grain of salt, the flavor of the month either manufactured or rehashed.Though I have a certain weakness for “chops” music, not much of recent tips have produced any lasting interest to me. Older, more established players finally getting the distribution that the internet provides usually are more my speed. The one exception is a few bands who play heavy music that have some remarkable talent and that stand out audibly from the pack. Meshuggah and any Devin Townsend-related projects come to mind. Though brash and aggressive, there is more than meets the ear.
Periphery started with Misha posting clips of his ideas online to a service called Soundclick. He also participated in forums about Meshuggah & John Petrucci, the guitarist of the band Dream Theater. As Misha also played 7 string guitar he posted to sevenstring.org. The modern 7 string is like a typical guitar with an extra bass string, extending the range lower. Guitar player Steve Vai, who played with Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth made them popular in the 80’s; the group Korn really got the kids excited about them during the mid-90’s. With lower tunings and the extended range, they became quite common in heavy music.
Louder and faster, more angular, the heavy scene may have lacked some of the finesse of some other genres both technically and harmonically. There is no doubt of the veracity and ferocity of many players, there just wasn’t always much substance. In the same way that BeBop jazz and Fusion took tremendous ability in the players, the compositional complexity fed another level, the one that requires an extended vocabulary to realize that what is being performed is beyond the textural and temporal character.
Lineage calls when I hear a number of bells ring within me, both of the familiar and the new. As I listen to a song like “Racecar “, I hear direct influences and then secondary ones that Misha might now even be conciously aware of. These are the ones who inspired the people he listened to.
So for me I see this (by no means complete or linear ) line that goes from Indian Classical Music to Charlie Parker to Miles Davis and John Coltrane to Mahavishnu, the Dregs, Jeff Beck, Weather Report, Chick Corea and the Brecker Brothers to Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and other Prog Rock bands to King’s X, Alan Holdsworth, U.K., Mike Keneally, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani to Strapping Young Lad, Meshuggah, Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane, Freak Kitchen, Mars Volta and Tool; this is the next layer of the planet.
Misha wasn’t the only one who saw the compositional complexity, the tempo and heavy texture as the next step. Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders, Chimp Spanner, TesseracT, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Scale The Summit and Fleshwrought all carry elements of this extreme music that is firing on so many levels that my recent immersion is by no means total and comprehensive. In the same way that BeBop and Free Jazz had limited appeal (heck, still do) but were created as a reaction to a staid and undynamic music scene, Djent and other heavy paths challenge the ear, the brain and the central nervous system.
It gives me hope, as well as some of those who went before, who keep pushing both the creative possibility as well as their audience to listen and enjoy their efforts.
Here are a few examples of this music if you’re interested:
Periphery- Racecar (instrumental)
Animals As Leaders- CAFO
I fear the next post will be a Lineage pt. 2 post with a direct focus on drummers…