All images courtesy of Getty Images
By Andrew Daly
So, I don’t write as many articles as I used to. It’s not for lack of want or even a lack of ideas. No, what it really comes down to is time. Burning the candle at both ends is never healthy for anyone, and yet in the world we live in today, it seems we end up doing just that far too often. When I do write an article, I want it to count. I want it to mean something. Words can so easily be wasted, and so I want mine to count toward something, even if it’s only something small.
I’ve got a good friend named Andrew Earle, who lives way up in Saint John, Canada. Many of you may know Andrew. He’s a humble and generally good guy, but what many of you don’t know is that Andrew was once a touring musician and player. Now, I want to make something clear- Andrew is legit. When I say he was a touring musician, I am not counting him out as being done. He’s only dormant. Anyway, look up his two main bands, NotFunnyAnymore and Hospital Grade and I dare you to tell me different. NotFunnyAnymore also known as NFA, was a truly legit Punk band, which had distinct influences dating back to early 80s Punk and Hardcore music. These guys could really play and if you didn’t know any better, you might actually think some of their songs ARE Black Flag songs or from another band of that same era. If you can find a copy, listen to the cassette of their album Two-Faced. You will be amazed at how good it is, and how it somehow flew under the radar of labels such as Discord and SST. I know that may sound like high praise, but I don’t dole it out if it’s not deserved. NFA was legit. Period.
At some point, NFA came to an end, and my understanding is the remaining members sort of regrouped to become Hospital Grade. Now, when it comes to this band, they were still carrying members of NFA with them, and their first official album as Hospital Grade, which was called Written Axe To Trigger is sort of a transitional album. It’s got a ton of Punks spirit, but some more intricate things are beginning to happen. Elements of Math Rock and Emo are permeating these tracks and it is a true signifier of what was to come. What came next was what turned out to be the final album by this supremely underrated group, Secrets & Sawdust. While it may end up being their last record, it may also be their best. It is here that the band really grew into their more mature selves and leaned hard into Math Rock, Emo, and Alt-Rock. Sure, the Punk Rock spirit is still there, but this is an entirely different animal. Take a quick trip over to Hospital Grade’s Bandcamp here and listen to “Ten Year Ring” and tell me it doesn’t stand toe to toe with the best of Sunny Day Real Estate.
I don’t know. At the end of the day, this is all only my opinion, but I’ve listened to a lot of music in my life, and I like to think I know good music when I hear it. More so, when a band has that special quality about it, I like to think I’ve got a well-trained enough ear to pick it out from the crowd. I know that NFA and Hospital Grade were damn good and should have been bigger than they are, but if that’s the case, then why weren’t they? Why don’t we remember NFA with the likes of Circle Jerks and Black Flag? Why don’t we group Hospital Grade in with Sunny Day Real Estate and Jets To Brazil? Both bands had the songs, the talent, and the drive, so that was never the issue. In my opinion, and it’s something that I’ve spoken on before, the issue was exposure. More specifically, access to exposure.
With the advent of streaming services, social media, and Bandcamp, from the outside, looking in, it may seem like bands have more opportunities than ever to market themselves and get themselves out there. A band like NFA, which was primarily active in the 90s surely didn’t have that kind of access, as social media wasn’t even a “thing” back then. Hospital Grade did have some access in the mid-2000s, but still not to the level there is today. Would their fate have been different had they had access to Instagram, Twitter, and the whole lot? I have no idea. What I have learned though, is to be an indie band today, you need to be a full-blown machine beyond just making music. You’ve got to self-manage, self-publicize, and self-advertise. Many indie artists aren’t built to do that, so they fail. Oftentimes, the indies that do get noticed, get gobbled up by the machine, changed and morphed into something they never imagined, and then spit back out with nothing to show for it. In short, the world we live in today is an ever-flowing bullshit spigot fueled by the machine that is social media. For better or worse, we live and die by it.
Back in the day, artists would walk from telephone pole to telephone pole with a stack of flyers and a can of glue, putting up their own flyers to advertise. It may sound old school and quasi-romantic, but in truth, all it really amounted to was a ton of hard work for potentially marginal gain. From what I gather, artists would take to the streets guerrilla-style, and do their best to get the word out about their shows. And back in the day, there were a lot more A&R scouts on the ground who would attend these shows, and feel the literal live energy of the band, thus giving the band a better shot at their big break so to speak. Whereas these days, most of them are watching digitally and then looking through said band’s socials to see if they know how to pose and posture correctly while captioning things just right. Back in the day, there seemed to be a lot more indie managers too. These were people who truly loved the band, and would go to the end of the earth to try and get them noticed. These days, if an indie act has a manager, they may not have even met them, but in most cases, as I mentioned before, bands are left to manage themselves.
So, how does an indie band go about getting noticed? Is it possible that the next Taking Back Sunday, or whoever is out there, we will never know about them? It’s kind of insane when you think about that. For all of these social networks that seem to sprawl to the end of time, bands and artists still can’t get ahead. Do you want the truth? I don’t have the answer. Truly, I don’t think anyone does. If it’s a secret, then it’s not one that anyone is selling. These days, it really feels as if the odds are fully stacked against indie bands. Big labels want artists to follow a formula that they “know” works. They don’t want a band with character or something new unless the trend dictates such. Perhaps it really has always been a total crapshoot for a band to be noticed. Maybe over time, we have overlooked dozens upon dozens of potentially legendary bands simply because they weren’t in the right place, at the right time?
There’s an old quote for the book/movie High Fidelity, “What came first? The music or the misery?” I often wonder about that. What does it really mean? It could be applied literally to any given person, such as one who obsesses over songs about heartbreak and rejection and thus fulfills their own prophecy in life. Or, it could be the story of indie bands. Groups writhe passion, fury, and ideas. Groups who create wonderful music only to have next to nobody ever hear it. What do we make of them? Did they rush into a fool’s game that could only ever end in heartbreak? Haplessly clinging to the promise of one day taking their seat at the proverbial table. At the end of the day, that’s not for me to decide. Maybe the only way for these bands to get their due is by people like me singing their praises, for whatever that is worth. So, if you’re looking for something new to listen to….if you’re into old-school Punk, Emo, and Math Rock, then why not give NotFunnyAnymore and Hospital Grade a try? Even if you don’t, then at the very least…don’t allow yourself to be led around by what the mainstream tells you is “good.” Decide for yourself. And if you love a band, support that band. Buy their albums directly from their website. Go to their shows, and when you do go- buy shirts, buttons, and records from their merch table. Get to know the band. They’re working hard and they’ve got a dream. The simple fact remains, if we don’t support the indie acts we love, then they will die. If that happens, then all we will have to remember them by is articles like mine and you wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?