The Myth of the Band

Madeline Meyer

littler madeline meyer

It’s probably because I’ve spent most of my life writing that it’s only now, as I’m in a band, that I’m feeling the effects of reception. When you write 90-page screenplays, it is both fortunate and unfortunate, that few, if any, people end up reading them. I’ve never had to worry about authenticity or selling myself. I’m more or less anonymous.

With my band, Littler, however, I perform. I can read about myself on the internet. Nearly half of questions directed towards me (by people at a show or interviewers) have to do with my gender. As someone, by and large, raised by a single father, my female self is something I’ve struggled to own. This process felt normal until I started to feel as if I needed to have solidified my identity in order to fit into this grander, musical narrative put on me. These types of narratives, whether they relate to a person’s gender, race, sexuality, or as any other foothold into an artist’s story, are everywhere, all the more so because of the internet.

In some ways, it would seem that being in a band now is easier than ever. Record a demo on GarageBand, put it on the internet. Voila. But, while it’s true that it’s easier to get your stuff out there, the collective attention span is shorter. This means there’s a larger emphasis on having a story that can make you distinct from the masses. On a less cynical note, this also means, if you want to, you can craft your own narrative. You can sell yourself any way you want, provided you’re not working with people who want to do that for you. Particularly for people of marginalized communities, this is really important, because often the opportunity to write your own story is not given to you. Much of the time, some journalist, superficially acquainted with you, will write it for you.

For one reason or another, the narratives that are being woven are uncomfortable to talk about, whether for their benefits or their shortcomings. However, to neglect to do so would be a mistake.

Here are some narratives that I encounter and am uncomfortable with. I’ve listed below the reasons why.

I wish I had started playing music earlier but I didn’t. Now I worry that I fit into a stereotype of a lady who is not as experienced at her instrument, and bring all other really, talented ladies down by being a reason for dudes to not take us seriously.

This is dumb and I shouldn’t have to feel personally responsible for the fact that ignorant dudes don’t take women seriously. I am not emblematic of 50% of the population and if you are the kind of person who thinks this sort of thing anyway, whether this manifests in literal comments like, “Girls don’t know how to play their instruments,” or patronizing gestures like adjusting my amp, you are the problem. Not me.

A variation on this theme is feeling like I always have to be tough, that my band, by virtue of three-quarters of its members identifying as female, will have to be political, and that I can’t ask for help when I need it. All of these things only seem really unfair in comparison to bands with dudes. They exist, they pave their own way and no one is asking them about feeling out of place, how to fix inequalities within the punk scene, or asking them why they chose to play with other dudes.

I wish that I didn’t feel weird that the majority of the shows we get asked to play are only with women.

Playing with women is awesome. Women are great. But it can also feel like when people book us on certain shows with all women we become niche, like we’re hidden in areas away from the boys because we’re not good enough. This also puts us in a weird degree of competition, pitted against each other for some reason. People still haven’t figured out that not all bands with women in them are the same. It is the job of good bookers to diversify their shows. If your shows only have cis, white, heterosexual dudes on it, chances are you are making people uncomfortable.

So is everyone in the band best friends? Have you known each other your whole life?

This is weirdly guilt-inducing (and also, so often, untrue) because being in a band, in my experience, is like a family. It’s strangely intimate and disagreements happen! We don’t always hang out all the time and that’s okay and doesn’t make us lesser. The propagation of this unrealistic notion just makes us feel like our reality is disappointing.

Am I authentic?

Music is one of the only art forms where authenticity is demanded, which is weird. People want to believe these constructed narratives because they want to feel like they know you. I want to write songs where I present myself as I am, but do I even know me? Am I presenting myself right? Am I thinking about this so much that whatever comes out will never be right? These ideas have the potential to fragment authenticity, so I have to remind myself that whatever I do will be a reflection of me and that, in and of itself, is authentic.

Music is one of the only art forms where authenticity is demanded, which is weird. People want to believe these constructed narratives because they want to feel like they know you.

I think about these narratives a lot and turned to some other musicians I really respect to share their feelings on the subject.

Lauren Denitzio of Worriers

worriers lauren denitzio

Maybe it’s because of how I started off playing shows, in mostly houses and basements, but I’m a big believer in trying to break down that wall between the band and the audience. I like playing on stages, but I don’t like the notion that the people in your favorite bands are anything more than another person who happens to be talented at writing and playing music. Social media has played a big role in making musicians feel more accessible to their audience, but at the same time that can be really easily crafted and sculpted for their own gain, in a way that isn’t always honest. The way I try to engage with that though, is to not be manipulative but intentional about the parts of my personal life that I associate with the band, and the ways that I want that to happen. I’ve been asked more personal questions lately, specifically in relation to the songs that I’ve written, so I’ve opened myself up to that line of questioning. But I also don’t have to answer everything, or share every little detail, and I think what I do choose to share can be considered “crafting my narrative,” even though it just happens to be what I feel comfortable talking about in public or in print. On the flip side of that, I feel like any sort of attention is an opportunity to send out into the world the things you think are important or helpful or vital. So any creative project, especially a band, is an opportunity to be really specific about what you want to project into the world and what you’d like to have reflected back to you. There are certainly bands who try to do that in order to fit a specific genre, or mold, or fan base, and that’s fine. But I think my approach to making those decisions for the band are much more about what I want to reinforce in my creative world than what I think any specific audience is interested in, or what we’re perceived to be.

The labels we’re assigned, whether they’re related to politics, gender, sexuality, or whatever it may be, only really interest me if they’re positive or meaningful qualifiers to someone listening to our music. I write lyrics that might be feminist or queer, because I’m both of those things, but those aspects can easily be used to disregard the music by someone who doesn’t share those politics or experiences. I find that to be the worst kind of criticism, when I see writers contextualizing a band, or relegating them, really, to a very narrow category based on a single quality of someone in the band. I think it’s so disrespectful and just lazy writing.

The release of our most recent record has really shown me how being honest and organic in songwriting has the ability to be read authentically and as you intended. While there were certain things that we might have told people about the record in advance, the things that people have written about it have been largely their own observations, and those observations have been accurate to my intentions for the songs. People are getting it, and we’re being written about in a really respectful way, which I value immensely. I didn’t write those songs hoping for a specific interpretation or reaction, and to read some really thoughtful things about our music, to me, says that such an approach is far more on point and meaningful than trying to write a “political punk” record.

Sarah Everton of Bleeding Rainbow, Blowdryer, and Telepathic

In an article from Forbes magazine entitled ”5 Secrets to Use Storytelling for Brand Marketing Success”, Susan Gunelius writes:

“Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.”

Oh, how hilarious that all you need to do is remove the “r” from the word “brands” and you’d still be correct. This is the state of the indie music business in the year 2015, which is to say it is exactly the same as any company with millennials taking control of their marketing departments. You’ve got to show consumers that they can trust you, and that your b(r)and is authentic.

A band, at best, is a vehicle for creative expression directed towards an audience composed of individuals who get what that band is doing. Bands can achieve this in a number of different ways, some of which are conceptual and intentionally manipulative, while other approaches are more gut level and unplanned. Neither is wrong and I can cite plenty of bands who have nailed either approach. (e.g. Devo/The Replacements.) The problem, I think, is that what many young bands run into is a weird, unintentional mash-up of both of these directions. Websites, blogs, magazines, and radio stations require bands and musicians to have a story. This is not unlike the current trend in huge companies and corporations with “Tell your story” campaigns. These are best demonstrated by cutesy commercials soundtracked by ukulele and glockenspiel while a narrator tells the story of the company or by showing an ordinary/relatable consumer using their product in their everyday life. In recent years the only bands who get anywhere need to have a hook, not just a catchy riff, but a unique or relatable story that can be capitalized on and copy and pasted easily. This is quite unfortunate when you consider how this is the expected default approach used in the indie music scene. Indie is totally an irrelevant term now (real indie is now referred to as DIY, which is quickly also losing its edge); but it still has some clinging air of righteousness against a mainstream and capitalist music industry. I think this remaining romance of an independent scene operating outside huge record companies is a lingering fantasy left over from the mid 90s and is used to make us all feel good about buying into its marketing campaigns.

Having a brief history of a musician’s relevant past and present is very useful and many times necessary to understand their music. The danger is when the story is either manufactured, grossly exaggerated or, worse yet, when truly personal and sometimes painful moments are drug out to emphasize just how authentic this particular artist is. Many times these stories are used to bank on our love of tormented artist narratives and everybody just soaks that shit up. Again, it can be a very thin line. If a person writes a song or an album about a loved one who died, that’s very important to note and obviously that person would probably want their audience to have that information. What I’m saying is in an age where interns and budding music journalists just copy and paste lines from artists’ one sheets, it cheapens people’s real life experiences in exchange for a voyeuristic tid bit.

The lighter, much more common side effect of music blogs and record labels requiring band stories results is mediocre desperation. For example: “They met while busking on the streets of Orlando when Chad complimented Sydney on her Smiths t-shirt.” Or, “The two set out on an adventure together, bringing only windchimes and a didgeridoo into the wiles of a bleak South Idahoan landscape.” I want to know, who buys into that? These whimsical, hyper-twee Wes Anderson/Zooey Deschanel tales are a dime a dozen now. It’s so played out. I think labels, journalists, bloggers, and dorks who want to be the first to discover a band to tell their friends about are just on a constant quest to break the most authentic band. I’m saying that is dumb and self-serving in ways that do not benefit the band except in the fleeting short term. If you want to achieve success with your music, first you need to write songs well and keep your ego in check. Then if you are ever tempted to sell yourself via gimmicks and ad campaigns that benefit others, stop and think about how gross that is. It’s okay to play the game and use pre-existing structures to achieve your goals through minimal compromises, but no band or musician should ever feel like they have to market their persona to make money for other people.

Rachel Gagliardi of Pouty, Slutever, and Upset

It is 2015, the internet runs the world. A band’s narrative is undoubtedly important, if simply just to allow a band to stand out in an over-saturated market. For my band Slutever, we didn’t set out to create a specific narrative, or origin story. We were two best friends, living together, going to school together, playing music together, so we presented ourselves as such. But there weren’t a lot of other two piece, all-female bands, so it sort of felt like a rarity. I think we attracted some attention because we offered an alternative to what had historically been presented as a “band” (typically a group of 3-5 males). In some ways, I think our narrative did benefit us. It’s possible that in the beginning, some people were interested in us simply because we were not a “conventional” band. (However, I would hope that after eight releases, people care more about our music than our “story.”)

I have definitely struggled with the way I both present myself and have been presented in the context of Slutever. Being in a band with your best friend can cause tension. Nicole and I have shared a lot of highs and lows in the five years Slutever has been together. I have felt pressure because I know our fans expect things to be always sunshine and rainbows between us, when at times the reality has been otherwise. But we are two humans, just trying to get through this life, and it is only human that we won’t see eye to eye at all times. After all is said and done, I know we will always have each other’s backs, and will always be friends. I am inspired and influenced by Nicole’s creativity and talent, so I feel lucky to be in a band with her.

There is no doubt that Slutever’s narrative has been used both for and against us. It has been rewarding and empowering to play with other strong-willed, talented female musicians. Because we have been presented as a feminist band, we have had some amazing opportunities. We have played shows that are focused on celebrating women in music, supported LGBT rights, and raised money for feminist organizations we believe in. But conversely, we have also had to deal with a lot of bullshit (continuously getting labeled as a Riot Grrrl band, inaccurate assumptions, lazy musical comparisons, etc.) I feel uncomfortable that my gender identity can be used for and against me in this way.

I personally believe the internet has done a lot of harm for music in general. I can recognize that there are a lot of advantages provided by the worldwide web, but I still see a lot of consequences. Bands can gain popularity too quickly, often times before it is deserved. Gaining the attention of certain websites is something bands take into consideration, because if you want to have a sustainable career, you will need some amount of support from “the media.” This can lead to a number of troublesome things, such as feeling forced to play into certain perceptions of your band, saying inflammatory things to attract headlines, acting gimmicky for the sake of standing out, etc. I get annoyed with the amount of lazy journalism that exists today. I’m tired of people asking us the meaning behind our band name when it has been answered dozens of times before. A simple Google search can really inform an interviewer a lot about their interviewee, and I think it’s important that people treat artists professionally if they expect the artist to take their questions seriously. You should research a band beforehand to allow thoughtful answers to be presented to your audience.

When I write, I am first and foremost writing for myself. I have always wanted to be a songwriter, a singer, and a musician, and feel obligated to always be creatively working. When I started touring, and meeting girls younger than me who were listening to what I was saying, I started to realize how much responsibility comes along with performing publicly. I wanted to show these girls that anything is possible, that they can start a band with their friends, that writing can be a therapeutic and empowering means of self-expression. I always find it important to operate through a feminist lens. This can mean hiring other women to work with us whenever possible (album art, tour managing, etc.) If we want the world we live in to look a certain way, it is important to act intentionally. If women help support other women, we have a better chance of living in a safer, more equal world.

When I write, I am first and foremost writing for myself. I have always wanted to be a songwriter, a singer, and a musician, and feel obligated to always be creatively working.

In the end, authenticity is really all anyone has. If people suspect that you are not being presented authentically, they stop listening to what you are saying. The jig is up. Suddenly, you are labeled as “phony” or a “poser.” I am careful of who I work with creatively because authenticity is important to me. I have been lucky that I play in bands with close friends, people I love, and respect. I have my own vision that I don’t feel I need to compromise just for the sake of an “interesting story.” There is a difference between presenting artistic mystique versus presenting something contrived.

Katie Alice Greer of Priests

The internet is like a big black hole or a really messy library, everything gets dumped in the pile, there’s no context for anything anymore. So, perhaps we all rely more heavily now on a band’s narrative to sort them in our own brains, or make sense of their work. With that said, I feel pretty compelled to dispel romanticized notions of our band. I don’t want people thinking that we’re perfect feminists or always angry or always happy or any sort of other simplistic narrative about our work. Having said that, my bandmates are actually some of my best friends. So, that part of our narrative, however apparent it may be, is just true. Which is nice for us.

That being said, I don’t see performativity as being a contradiction to authenticity. Performance is a physical expression, like talking or singing. It can be honest or dishonest, it can communicate a message effectively or ineffectively, depending on how it is employed by its actor. I love being a performer. In terms of creating, I write for myself and perhaps a small group of friends. I always hope that I’ll write something that might matter or speak to someone outside this intimate group, but I can only ever focus on a small audience, or else I’ll feel too overwhelmed.

I don’t really want to be specifically understood as a woman making woman art all the time, if you know what I mean. It would be as if someone was always talking about how I’m a person with size 8.5 feet making size 8.5 foot art all the time, it’s just weird. Like, yes, relevant at times to discuss, but not necessary to pigeon hole into this description, in every iteration. Having said that, I am more often reminded by the world that I am a woman, or reminded of my sexuality, or other things, than I am reminded of my shoe size.

I’m very involved and vocal in creating my own narrative. As a woman, you’re constantly made aware of how little you control your own voice in the world or how it is used. So, that probably influences my strong desire to be involved in the way I’m communicating our band. My bandmates are also really involved in this process. We all like to speak for ourselves and use Tumblr for most band-related announcements. The benefits are being misunderstood less frequently, or at least feeling like you’ve got a place to explain yourself.

Performance is a physical expression, like talking or singing. It can be honest or dishonest, it can communicate a message effectively or ineffectively, depending on how it is employed by its actor.

I hate to be misunderstood, but more and more I recognize that another person is just always going to have a different idea about me than I have about myself, and I might as well let it go. It isn’t of much concern to me in the long run. If someone working for me, like a record label or a publicist, is communicating things about me that seem incorrect, I’ll let them know. That, to me, would be inauthentic: allowing someone I’m working with to perpetuate a narrative that doesn’t seem accurate to me. If I’d spent a long time talking to a writer and felt like they were misrepresenting our conversation, I’d get in touch with them, too. I’m all about communication and resolving misunderstandings. It’s like that Animals song, “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood”. I’ll work to that end as often as possible, but at the same time my job is to write songs and make stuff. And at some point, if that work is misunderstood, it’s really sort of out of my hands.

Alex Karaba of Slow Animal and White Crayon

slow-animal

An artist’s story might be the silliest component of the music/art world. It’s a dramatic paragraph used to sell albums and push buzz words for “journalists” and “critics.” When tossing around ideas of who was going to put out our last EP everyone wanted to know what our “story” was. Some people we were working with suggested Dan (Colanduno, the other member of Slow Animal) and I allude to being in a romantic relationship but never actually stating it, so we wouldn’t technically be lying. In the span of those few weeks I learned how much energy and time is used to cultivate a story. I walked away feeling like I couldn’t work with anyone who considered this an important part of music. As far as concern about authenticity goes, it’s definitely something that comes up from time to time. When first releasing music it was all I could think about and now it’s just become a self-confidence issue. It’s more of I know what I’m writing is genuine but will everyone believe me? Which is not why I got into playing music. The most authentic thing you can do is to not give a shit.

Tim Keen of Ought

I think there are at least two things going on here when we talk about being authentic: firstly, a certain autobiographical or confessional relationship to the things you do musically, and secondly, an alignment (or lack thereof) between a band’s private selves and what the media presents as the band’s “narrative.” I think the first is a little less murky, for me, anyway. We’re in the first era of (Western, at least) musical history where the performer of a work is expected to be the composer, where anything less than 100% authorship is considered misleading to audiences. As someone who crossed over from a classical world, a world in which I spent the majority of my young life learning to interpret and perform other people’s music, I have a hard time assigning the bulk of the available “authenticity” only to those who do all the work themselves. Surely there’s just as much authenticity in figuring out how to conjure a particular mood by plucking a string, or in realizing someone else’s abstract ideas on a computer, as there is in doing all the work from scratch. It would be impossible not to imbue every step with oneself, and I think that not recognizing authenticity in interpretation and collaboration is not looking hard enough. So yeah, team Drake, obviously (although the conventions of authorship in hip-hop are way outside of anything I could speak to.)

Criticism for musical “inauthenticity” falls mostly on those who white patriarchal society has a hard time imagining making things themselves. Both Mitski and Grimes (as two examples of many) have spoken publicly about finding their authorship challenged whenever they work with a producer; musical authenticity seems to be as much as possible reserved for (white) men. I think this particular kind of authenticity is something we could do away with, in favor of thinking more about how well someone does the thing that they’re attempting to do.

The second question is about how closely the way a band is presented in the media matches what they’re like, and whether that matters or not. Ought has had kind of a tricky time with this: our initial narrative (Montreal! Strike! Anarchy! Streets!) isn’t wrong, in the sense that we were all in Montreal during that time, but it definitely takes what is at most an unconscious association (we were playing music, there was a strike which in some ways involved us, while listening to our album it’s possible to think about both things) and turns it into a motive (we formed because of the strike, we were major players in it, this music was written to make a specific point). Of all the problems with this romanticization, I feel most uncomfortable with feeling like I may be taking credit for others’ work or for overstating our tiny role in what was a massive social movement. I also worry that people who don’t live in Montreal might not realize that we are just one band of a hundred really good bands who formed during this time, most of which by either choice or circumstance have no need for a bigger narrative—they’re just good bands who play shows when they want to.

The internet, as well as the broader indie touring circuit, has a lot to do with this. It’s really easy for a narrative to spread quickly across different websites; journalists begin interviews having read every other piece of press you’ve ever done. It’s also worth pointing out that narrative is a product of media. Bands sound exactly the same and are exactly as meaningful without a media narrative—many of my favorite bands have nothing to do with that world. Abstaining from media is a totally viable response to feeling like offering anything up to that world involves a certain lack of control over how it’s presented and interpreted. Ought spends a lot of interview time qualifying, backtracking, and trying to complicate our narrative, and a lot of the time (for honest reasons of time, space, and story) those qualifications aren’t included or are glossed over.

I think it makes it easier for people to grab onto a band if they have some sort of coherent narrative; people’s inboxes are so full with music that they need something extra-musical to hang it on. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I guess I’d like it if people were engaging directly with the music, but I don’t think one gets to be didactic about how people listen to music. I’m also not even sure what that means, whether “engaging directly with music” is a bourgeois music school construct that reifies listening in a bourgeois music school way. So I guess I do try to be reasonably earnest in interviews, in the hope that the narrative that’s inevitably constructed doesn’t feel self-involved. “How embarrassed would I be if my friends back home read this?” is usually a good test.

All that being said, I don’t have a problem—at all—with artists who construct a persona; I think all four of us have on-stage and off-stage characters that are a little distinct from our regular selves. There’s something theatrical about the genre, and it’s fun to be able to be aware of that and play with it a little. I wrote above about how politically nightmarish the idea of musical authenticity is, and a lot of the same arguments could be made about narrative or performative authenticity, too. Drawing attention to that absurdity by playing with it and acknowledging it can be an interesting strategy, and there are people who put it to really good use. See: Krill, Nicki Minaj, Jandek, Holly Herndon, St. Vincent.

Eva Moolchan of Sneaks

Growing up I would imagine myself in a leather jacket shredding on a Flying V to Santana. But times have changed and I do not feel compelled to push this idea of the “rock dream life.” Now with the internet it’s way easier to project an image. My favorite bands still have a thick air of mystery.

I’ve gotten creative with my resources, my process is very direct. There really is no middleman. When writing the music in Sneaks I definitely write for myself as a defining moment to never do something again. I also like it when other people vibe with my lyrics too. At this point who I am is a driving force. This year was monumental for women of color in music: Tommy Genesis, Abra, Barf Troop, Destiny, and others. People will have their own limitations placed on you. They will even share them with you. Exceed them. Create new territory with like-minded individuals. The benefits are that you’re creating your own vision and not playing a role in someone else’s.

I think being authentic is different to everyone. That may be when you are not following a way of doing something purely for the comfort it provides. For me, both performance and authenticity come together when you are not aware of everything you are doing onstage. When you have finished performing and experience memory loss of what just happened.

Stephen Steinbrink

stephen steinbrink

I probably missed out on a lot of good group identity building having never been in a purely collaborative “band.” To have other people hold a mirror up to you. I never learned how to write songs with other people, always alone in a quiet room somewhere. But maybe making things up in a vacuum without a whole lot of outside influences created an environment where it was important for me to be asking myself these questions all the time in a sort of obsessive way: what am I really trying to say here? Am I being sincere? Do I mean that? Am I projecting my true self, my actual identity onto this melody, or am I engaging in a kind of unconscious pastiche? That’s where constructing a narrative comes in for me. If I apply a narrative on myself, with regards to my work, it tidies it all up, makes specific emotional peaks and lows in my life easier to reference.

Maybe it’s not so bad to romanticize your reality. I’ve been trying to find this quote all week from an interview I read with Chris Kraus where she talks about (I’m severely paraphrasing) how when it comes down to it, all we really have is our subjectivity, our story, and how we should better fucking own it, and hell yes we should romanticize it. Make archetypes out of our experiences. Find the symbolism in what maybe at first appears banal, weave it into a story so we can start making associations and let it feed back into the art. Use that to make more music and more words and more images.

All we really have is our subjectivity, our story, and how we should better fucking own it, and hell yes we should romanticize it.

Last Christmas, I had a journal of mine stolen from my car late at night. It was a really special book. It contained lots of songs that hadn’t been recorded yet and lots of memories that I had written down. I had made myself very vulnerable to the book. It made me feel raw and gutted that it was taken. This is something I wrote the day after it was stolen:

Last night I went to a birthday party for someone I didn’t know and everybody was dancing and actually screaming at each other. I tried sitting in the corner with my eyes closed, trying to visualize all the pages I could, flipping through them in my mind. I still remember some of the pages and drawings very clearly, but most of them are already gone. I just feel so sad, it’s like I have no connection to myself anymore, my own memories. They are all disembodied now. No evidence tying my memories to myself in the physical world. Today I’m attempting to figure out a way to make this loss useful for my art and furthering my ideas but I can’t help but feel pessimistic. I was talking to Sunny really late last night on the phone and I told them how I hate it when people talk about an object as if its value is only based on its distilled physical makeup. As in: “Oh, at least it’s just a thing. It could be worse.” I so wholeheartedly disagree. That feels very capitalist and bad. I think Objects can be people. I think Objects can be places. The associations we make and the symbols on which we place meaning is what makes life not shitty. Our Objects are people. Our Objects are places.

I guess the point I’m trying get across is that I had the choice to view the missing book as something that was just an object, 400 pages of glued paper, or as something that had real emotional capital, real substantive weight—and a story that was intrinsically tied to me. And maybe that’s the metaphor I’m trying to make, that maybe this is the thing to do in a life, to add some kind of romance to make everything more rich. Maybe it’s okay to trick ourselves into seeing an illusion of meaning for a minute, the world is pretty bleak.

Of course there’s a bad side to the romance, in the world of music press, especially when it’s done by people who have no idea who you are. Even if you trust the person writing about you, or arranging something to be written about you, it’s so rare that it’ll ever sync with your own perception of yourself. Whenever I read something about myself it feels so unnatural even if it’s kind or accurate. Tiny insular cortex explosions. I get depressed and have to watch TV.

I could try to figure out how to figure out if a musician is authentic, like who has “it”? To compare their ambitions to their aesthetics, to try to crack the code or whatever, but ultimately I think nothing works better than just listening. True sincerity is usually just there. It’s apparent. If the listener can use their intuition, they’ll be able to tell. I think being vulnerable is good.

Bean Tupou of Try the Pie

try the pie

I create for myself in time (past, present, future) and for others who can find connection with what I make. Sometimes I write as gifts or offerings to loved ones and sometimes I write to work out things that are very painful for me. In writing songs, I am somewhat compelled towards romanticism because it’s fun for me and I love when other people do it. I find it hard to make a stark distinction between sharing my experiences in a language I see fit and embellishing them altogether. I don’t use romanticism in describing the band or project though; if it has a place in any of this it’s probably just in lyrics.

One good thing about sharing my own narrative is that I have control over how my story is documented and read/re-read because it’s through my lens. Crafting your own narrative means fighting for not only the present space you inhabit, but how you will take up space through history. This is an important idea considering a lot of people who came before me didn’t get that option.

When I share my narrative, it involves everything I’ve gone through up until this present moment, literally up until I’m writing this response. It also involves the multiplicity I have experienced as a human. It’s informed by the belief that some parts of identity aren’t always fixed. Sometimes stories include only fragments of my identity and how I choose to identify or they might be what I am feeling at the time, however temporary and intense. I understand that sometimes this can mean disjointed memories or being selective about what I share. I am not comfortable with any narrative placed upon me that is modified or contrived by someone I do not know or have never met. It’s faulty, no matter how close it is to an actual truth. It’s like not doing the research before writing a paper on the genocide in West Papua. It’s irresponsible. The facts have to come from origin, they not only have to be based upon the subject’s reality, but they have to use direct words and expression from the subject. How can you possibly know and record a reality you’ve never witnessed or lived yourself unless you do the heavy lifting of real understanding?

As far as the ‘band myth’ goes, it’s as possible to function performatively as it is to function authentically. However, “functioning,” in my mind, means “getting by.” It’s sufficient rather than substantial. Authenticity is substantial and sustainable, that’s the difference between the performative and the authentic. I don’t know if I necessarily believe fully in a binary when it comes to this though, and that’s something I continue to think about.

The internet has played a vast role in the way we perceive the “self” and other “selves” and, consequently, the hype of the band myth. We can virtually and freely construct any identity on the internet. We can share only what we want people to see and we can omit the less appealing, mundane and unbecoming parts out of our lives.

I think it’s not really a virtue of mine to be political in this body of work because I don’t really wish to gain some sort of power in a tactful form with it. Personally, I want to give my life, energy and support to those who are engaged in political struggle, but Try the Pie is expression firstly. Sometimes it can become a platform for dialogue and sometimes that dialogue is political. I don’t live in a vacuum and everything that affects me goes into this project but there’s no obligation to make it political. This project expresses particular experiences I’ve carried that compel me to share and keep sharing. Sometimes that means it may touch on topics that are “political” but to me, that word can evoke a feeling of “trend” in certain circles and the experiences of marginalized people aren’t political trends; they remain experiences long before and after dialogue about them becomes mainstream or topics to reblog.

I’m not sharing to convince anyone of anything, I’m sharing to document and connect with others who have similar experiences or who can empathize, topically or sonically. My obligation to share comes from a desire for my narrative (and the narratives I’ve inherited) to survive and possibly reach others in real ways.

It bothers me when others’ mere opinions or perceptions of me are articulated as fact. I just think it’s irresponsible and lazy to do in general but also it’s very human to assume that your perception of someone else’s reality is what they are actually experiencing. I want to move past that notion. I’m working on it.

A band’s narrative becomes inauthentic when it becomes untrue or bent to please some kind of perceived audience. I want to work the opposite direction, stick to what is real and let those who connect with what I’m doing find me. That’s the key of authenticity to me: self reliance, doing what you truly think is right and self-fulfillment. It’s not too important how “authentic” people think I am, especially if they do not know me. I consider all criticisms though; they are powerful insights and learning tools if you let them be.

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