By Simon Dowling
“I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me, and it’ll happen to you, too” – Abe Simpson, 1996.
What a year that was. The Simpsons was still fried gold, Fargo was released, and Weezer unleashed the masterpiece Pinkerton. I was a few years away from the thirst really hitting me. I was still in primary school so for me, the biggest release that year was Now That’s What I Call Music 35. I probably spun ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ by Deep Blue Something at least seven times that year.
I remember getting the thirst in the form of Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’. There was an excitement about it: the sweet taste of rebellion, straying away from the charts and into record shops. I loved that moment I turned on MTV2 at 11pm by accident and heard ‘Epic’ by Faith No More, and playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater with the School level blasting out ‘Superman’ by Goldfinger (which had the knock-on effect of encouraging me to see [spunge] with my cousin and promptly losing my shit, dying my hair blue and buying an oversized shirt with flames up the bottom).
But I also remember the thirst dwindling away. Eventually you get to a point where your enthusiasm for new bands feels finite, or your absolute favourite bands release disappointing record after disappointing record. I was getting old, starting to empathise with Grandpa Simpson, or that episode of South Park where they listen to the noises of actual shit but pretend to like it. Who needs Neck Deep when we already have New Found Glory?
As I entered the final month of my 20s in November 2016, a message came in from my good friend Jimmy asking if I fancied a Teenage Fanclub ticket he had going spare. Having never really paid much attention to the band in the past, I put pressure on him to make me a playlist.
It took me less than 48 hours to be absolutely hooked. I can’t quite put into words the emotions I felt as the first moments of ‘The Concept’ hit me: that fuzzy G-chord; vocals dripping in Scottish nonchalance; the immediately identifiable girl who “wears denim wherever she goes” shuffling her way into my head.
It filled a gap I thought wasn’t there anymore, perhaps a newly-created gap that magically opens up as you realise you’ve missed the boat on joining the 27 club. Maybe I was starting to appreciate the maturation of esteemed rock bands, as I had also finally ‘got’ The National and Ryan Adams fairly recently
There was a sudden realisation that I had just found the band I had been looking for – and that this was something I’d not felt since those halcyon days of Playstations and flame shirts. It was something deeper than the nostalgia you get when you hear ‘Beating Heart Baby’, or ‘Party Hard’, or anything from the American Pie 2 soundtrack.
It’s not that I’ve not liked a new band in years, (that would be ridiculous when Pinegrove exist) but to have that life-altering feeling of something new being fulfilling is just an experience I’d stopped expecting to have, and you expect it even less from a band that you could have discovered at any point in your adventurous youth.
Perhaps I’m like Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors, if I’d caught that bus I ran for in 2006 I’d have heard ‘The Concept’ blasting out John Hannah’s headphones. Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it. I might have tutted and turned up ‘Letters To You’ on my Creative Zen. To express my adoration for Teenage Fanclub in 2006 terms, they’re my third most listened to artist on last.fm.
A daunting aspect about delving into the back catalogue of an already established band can be the mammoth size of their output. Take Guided By Voices or The Cure, bands I’ve been recommended on countless occasions with discographies so vast they requires several Wikipedia pages; or Ryan Adams, who has comfortably hopped between genres throughout his alarmingly prolific career, lassoing folks like me in with bangers like ‘This Is It’ and ‘So Alive’ only to then be turned off by his mostly Americana output, but then find out he has a black metal album.
Although listening to their 10 albums isn’t exactly an insurmountable feat, the playlist allowed my friend to collect the songs of merit, so I didn’t have to do the sift. It allowed him to plug my ears with songs he knew I would like, rather than relying on a Greatest Hits or Best Of which may completely miss the mark. You’re rarely going to like everything a band has done (even your favourite band can disappoint you), but it seems easier to dismiss a band when you start with something you don’t like.
My adventurousness with musical discovery has definitely wavered. I under-utilise resources like Spotify Discover Weekly, yet I remember the days I spent rifling through forums online, and getting record label sampler CDs from record shops, desperately hunting for bands no one else had told me about yet so I could be first to tell my friends about them. I remember trying to get people to come to shows with me back in the days when no one had a job and gig tickets were £6, even for touring American bands, so you weren’t being unreasonable asking someone to be out of pocket if they didn’t end up liking a band. I also remember being on the receiving end of those invitations, being put in the situation of having to pick between seeing Finch or Mad Capsule Markets, and regrettably picking Mad Capsule Markets. Brand New supported Finch. If I had a time machine…
Another big aspect in the shift in my attitude over the last decade has had one significant aspect: the desperation of seeking stage times. If I hadn’t been there for doors opening I wouldn’t have discovered my teenage sweethearts Biffy Clyro supporting Limp Bizkit in Finsbury Park, or The Fall Of Troy supporting The Bled at Newcastle Uni (I also wouldn’t have stolen a kiss from a future Smashing Pumpkins bassist, but that’s a story for another time). Now I work out the opportune time to walk through the door to have enough time to buy a drink, glance at the merch, and find a decent spot before the band I’ve paid for start playing. Maybe it is something I should remedy, make the effort to source out and listen to supports that aren’t also bands I want to see.
As upsetting as it when your favourite band going to pot, maybe that helped open the door to new musical endeavours. The spaces I’d allotted in my heart for new releases from Biffy Clyro have remained barren wastelands. An absence of topless Simon Neil shredding out a fiery solo on the top of a war-machine through my mind has allowed a polite Evan Stephens Hall to quietly serenade me from a Philadelphia bedroom. There is nothing more disheartening than watching your former heroes release awful music, especially when you dedicated so much time and money to supporting the band early on. All of a sudden I was a washed up jerk who had to find new bands to enjoy.
Writing this as a 30 year old who often feels left out when people go full High Fidelity with ridiculous knowledge, knowing I seemingly have three years left, I just want other people to know that, although there is hope, it is also fine to be a philistine. I dedicated the majority of my free time as an adolescent to the medium of cinema, exclusively to contest in quiz shows, or on Sporcle trying to name the 50 states in the shortest time possible.
Discovering new bands is wonderful, listening to bands you’ve always loved is just as wonderful. Just like me, you don’t have to trawl to make the discovery, sometimes the discoveries will come to you. You can shazam that song in the pub with all the dogs and real ale, or you can not. It is probably Midlake. You should listen to Midlake. See, that recommendation came to you, it’s that easy. I’ll make you a playlist.