July 19, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: My Band Rocks #1: The Mojo Wire

Okay gang, brace yourselves, cause this week and next week the DV's Shameless Revisionism series will be all about band stuff. See, when Honey White was winding down its second phase in 2006, I realized that by that point I'd been playing in bands for a decade. Getting used to the idea of measuring your life in decades is always a head-spinning proposition, but in this case it was really validating because of all the great work I'd been a part of, first in the Mojo Wire and then in Honey White.

I got inspired to write seriously about it thanks to special editions of UK music magazines like NME and Uncut, which began publishing entire issues devoted to a single band or artist. In particular, I really liked the presentations they made for the U2 and Smiths/Morrissey issues, where NME would dig up contemporaneous interviews and features, and lay them out alongside new reviews and analyses for each album or period in the group's career. Naturally, the ego demanded that I do this for the Mojo Wire/Honey White.

I pulled together as many MW/HW writings as I could find, and had great plans to augment my album essays (written in third person to match the NME mags) with revisionist articles from each period of each band's history. It soon became a massive project, and near the end of the year I decided to lay off the histories and get started on something new, which turned out to be my first novel.

Of course, this whole Shameless Revisionism thing is all about wallowing in the past, but who cares? Being a bassist in rock bands was probably the best creative outlet I've ever had, and I'm so glad that there's all this work to pore over and have for posterity. Anyway, let's start at the beginning: the dark, decadent years of 1996-1997 with the Mojo Wire. Buckle up.

The History Mix: Twelve-Bar Ruse (Sep. 6, 2006)
Two years later, I'm not too sure if I like the whole third-person approach on these essays, but whatever. The writing is still good and definitely worth reading in terms of a band history. I originally posted them on the My Band Rocks blog under the "History Mix" catch-all title, and actually wrote the album histories out of order, but they'll make more sense if presented in the order that the discs came out. This first one is for the Mojo Wire's debut disc, released in 1997.

First albums, by anyone, are almost always momentous and fun: some bands stick their toes in the water, working their way up to greatness and competence on later records; some jump in head first, splashing their pent-up talent (or lack thereof) all over everything. Committing the creative impulse to posterity for the first time often results in outpourings of good, bad, and ugly originality, but it's rarely unmemorable for everyone involved. Some debuts seem to come out of nowhere with surprising freshness, and some crawl out of the distant artistic past via long-ignored or discarded stylistic roots (and routes). Some are labors of love, some are by-blows made to avoid boredom, some come from improvised chaos, and some are complete accidents. All of this can be said about the Mojo Wire's debut album Battery Acid Blues.
The History Mix: Don't Mix Your Drinks (Jan. 29, 2006)
This one was actually the first album essay I wrote for the ill-fated "band book" project. It's a bit less serious than the one for Battery Acid above, but that one was written near the end, and generally I kept a less-pretentious attitude about the admittedly less-professional-sounding Mojo Wire albums. Guess this was a good one to start with, then:
Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: a confident, well-oiled machine of a rock band comes off a banner year full of a whole new set of wild ideas that they're just dying to impress upon the wider world, and in the process of actually recording anything and everything they can think of (usually under the guise of "progress" or "growth"), the earnest, lovable, and hopelessly deluded young men instead cough up a formless gob of tunes that makes everyone wonder what the big deal was about them in the first place. Okay, well, maybe that's not exactly what happened, but it's the best description that fits around the genesis of Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor, the second Mojo Wire album, released hard on the heels of the first one, and giving off a distinct whiff of undercooked tunes slathered in a myriad of gooey sonic effects.
The History Mix: No Lifeguard On Duty (Feb. 5, 2006)
For some reason, the Mojo Wire's third album, and the year or so during which it was made, had always been a really special memory for me. I'm not sure why; it could be the idea that we'd successfully re-invented ourselves creatively, or maybe that it's the first truly excellent album cover I'd ever designed, or even (thanks in part to Emily) my gradual descent from the certifiably insane state of mind I'd been in for most of 1996-1997. Most likely, though, is I'd become a confident songwriter and lyricist.
Let's face it- "trouble in paradise" is probably the oldest and most banally superficial cliche in the history of popular songwriting. It is initially, however, a real kick in the head when you happen to notice it. Exposing the nasty, poisonous underbelly of some idyllic Shangri-la is one of the first rebellious impulses that anyone learns, and if they're lucky, they won't forget to apply it to any subsequent promise of perfection. Righteous anger doesn't exactly have much of a half-life, of course, but it tends to go down easier with a nice slathering of sweetness on top. That was the eventual modus operandi of the Mojo Wire on their third album, but the mostly acoustic, folky surf-noir of Seaside Hamlet Skids doesn't easily place itself in the canon of pretentious bubble-bursting, despite some loosely-focused effort.
Hitting the Skids: The Band from Ignoreland (Jan. 16, 1999)
This piece is the first of the contemporaneous stuff I'd planned to pull in to flesh out the pretentious and over-analytical History Mix essays. It's a fake article written around the time of the third Mojo Wire album, right after the Adam/Joe/Keir/Bryn lineup began to solidify as a performing band. It's not great, and I think that's because it's not as derivatively gonzo as my older Daily Nexus columns, but back then I'd been trying to get away from that sort of thing and go straight in terms of a writing voice. Needless to say, it was a creative dead-end.
Adam Hill is on a roll. Five beers after his band, the Mojo Wire, has finished a gig at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, the frontmanly singer-guitarist has forgotten the screwups and PA malfunctions of the performance and is holding court with his friends on the balcony of his Isla Vista, CA apartment. Adam, 20, joins drummer Bryn DuBois, also 20, in telling tall tales of the band's previous shows while Bryn's brother, bassist Keir DuBois, 22, and guitarist Joe Zulli, 19, look on and occasionally throw in comments of their own. The drummer, who has refused alcohol tonight after a hideous hangover from yesterday, carefully translates Adam's increasingly surreal flights of fancy for fellow revelers and reporters alike. It sounds something like this:
—Adam: "Did I ever tell you about how we found Jesus? Yeah, we jammed with him! We found Jesus the other day. No, not in the religious sense- we saw him at a party!"
—Bryn (interrupting): "Actually, it was just a friend of ours named Chris who lives a few blocks away. He has long hair and a goatee and looks a lot like Jesus, but is not in fact, the Son of God."
The History Mix: Things Fall Apart (Apr. 21, 2006)
I was sort of in a philosophical mood about bands breaking up when I wrote this one (as we return to the History Mix essays for the final time this week). Honey White had just decided to scale back our band time together due to logistics and real life and stuff, and it occurred to me that I was okay with it, which was absolutely not the case when the same thing happened to the Mojo Wire five years before. It sort of trained a too-harsh light on the Mojo Wire's end, and that was reflected in this essay.
When rock bands destroy themselves on record, it's usually a group effort. The Beatles bickered like babies on Let it Be, the Eagles slouched into the sunset on The Long Run, and the Police drove each other crazy making Synchronicity. Some musical self-immolations, however, are the result of one band member's driven, monomaniacal fixation on Finishing The Project At Any Cost. Elvis Costello did it to the Attractions on Blood and Chocolate, and David Lowery did it to Camper Van Beethoven on Key Lime Pie. On a much smaller and, probably justifiably ignored scale, Keir DuBois did it to The Mojo Wire during the making of You're On Your Own, a slab of vintage indie-rock that would prove to be their final album.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Press Releases (Nov. 2001 to Mar. 2003)
Back to the contemporaneous stuff, a la "Skids" above, but this time with more of an irreverent sense of humor. I had lots of fun writing these four faux-press releases for Mojo Wire- and Honey White-related events and pseudo-events, and I make no apologies for how silly/dumb/embarrassing they may be for anyone and everyone involved.
ISLA VISTA, CA (AP): According to Mojo Wire bassist Keir DuBois, "the band re-naming situation has become a little more complicated." DuBois notes that first of all, Mojo guitarist Joe Zulli has publicly stated that any and all name changes must be, in his opinion, "better" than the Mojo Wire (messrs. Adam Hill, Joe Zulli, Keir DuBois, Bryn DuBois). "If any suggestion does not pass Joe's iron hand of justice, then may God's mercy be upon it, for we shall show none, and continue on as the Mojo Wire." 

Also, drummer Bryn DuBois has abstained from any further comment upon new nomenclature and all monikers, because of the conflict of interest concerning his efforts to assemble a new band under his leadership with guitarist Brian Wolff. However, today Keir has speculated that in fact, his brother's retreat from all comments had more to do with "Bryn not liking anything I thought up" as well as "threatening that if the three of us couldn't come up with anything decent in four days, he would arbitrarily choose a name and we'd have to live with it."
Mojo Wire Lyrics: Retaliatory Self-Martyrdom (Sep. 2, 2002)
This piece (and a concurrent one for Honey White that you'll see next week) is basically just more self-obsessed rambling analysis from me, this time about Mojo Wire lyrics, their creation, and "meaning." I was really bored in the UCSB HR office at the time, and did this instead of working. Each song has about a paragraph dedicated to it:
How Far Away (May 1998): The first lyric that I put any real effort into was still essentially a whiny breakup bitchfest, the perfect weapon for a 21-year-old man-child. It was loosely directed at an ex-girlfriend for (as I saw it at the time) scurrilously defaming me as some kind of superficial gigolo. Calling her Cassandra was a cheap and toothless insult that seemed fitting, so I ran with it. It wasn't cathartic, though- it was more like a festering cut, and I found it dangerously easy to progress from false prophecies to something nastier. Slashing with the Sylvia Plath knife was callous and ignorant, but like I said in the lyric, I was the last one to find out about any of this. I've always hated being the victim of inside jokes, so since everyone else knew I was getting dumped except me, I thought it was more than fair to fight fire with napalm. It's a total hyperbolic stretch from what actually happened, but it's okay to be a little cartoonish in a pop lyric, right? Naturally, it had no effect on her whatsoever, but the band dug it. The music was happy and loud, so that was the only thing audiences heard anyway.
Next week will be similar stuff, but all about Honey White. It may be up as late as Monday night, though, so sit tight. Um, assuming this is all incredibly riveting stuff, of course.

1 comment:

  1. I love Honey White, send me an album! I need something to shake and jump around to.


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