Interview with indie-popper When I Was 12

November 5, 2009

*cough* Hi… well, um, Twee is back, sorta.  You know?

Depending on which circles you hang around in, Twee is either hailed as “punker-than-punk“, or maligned as “music for bedwetters.”  Nevertheless, the most misunderstood pop genre continues to tout cuteness over coolness and has the market cornered on Growing Up Awkward.

Twee has always been the most unapologetically emasculate sect of “Indie”, but it always seems to hover, smirking, just on the outskirts of popular music.  It’s too catchy to ever be marginalized, but it’s just too fey for the trampy-or-macho American taste.  Pitchfork’s excellent essay of all things Indie Pop, “Twee as Fuck” said it well:

…”indie” and “alternative” became popular in precisely the hard-rocking, masculine, centralized form that indie pop usually shied away from. The mainstream honed in on the underground’s hard-rock side, and, acts like Superchunk and Modest Mouse would go on to become Important Bands; acts like Tiger Trap and Heavenly would, for good reasons and bad, fade into history. And there on the television, ironically, was the K-tattooed Cobain, still wearing his cardigans and covering songs by the Vaselines.

So there twee sits, like the kid not picked at recess, rewarding anyone willing to seek it out.

Maybe it’s because of the excellent Juno soundtrack, but twee artists seem to be on the rise again.  The playfull Architecture in Helsinki, sallow Vivian Girls, the spider-fearing Boy Least Likely To, and the self-referential spunk of Los Campesinos!, have all attracted the blogosphere masses in the past few years (and, oddly, a large number of television commercials to boot). Fast on their heels are artists like New Jersey’s When I Was 12 – producing the sonic equivalent of a painfully joyous (or joyously painful?) prolonged adolescence.

I ran across WIW12 searching a now-defunct music site and really enjoyed their aesthetic.  The endearing strum-hook-and-harmony style burrows deep into your head and doesn’t go away — like a library volunteer into Franny & Zooey.

Earlier this year their principle songwriter, Adrianne, was nice enough to swap a few Q&A emails with me before their first non-basement gig of her young career:

Brian B (BemBang): First things first… Who’s in the band, or is it a “swinging door” type thing where there’s a core and people come and add vocals and accompaniment etc?

Adrianne Gold (When I Was 12): First things first… When I Was 12 consists of two main members: Adrianne Gold and Camille Bayas. Then some other beautiful revolving members; our friend Brianne Evans did some harmonies on “Dear Eskimo” with her angelic voice, and my guitar teacher, Mike Yelle assisted with lead guitar. When we play live friends Jenn Diaz plays bass, and Will Samtur on drums. We are so lucky to know so many wonderful people.[ …] It’s been a little hectic we’ve been getting offered shows and things lately!.

BB: Good to hear you’re busy… I hope things are going well. Is there some sort of tour in the works? When I hear the name “When I Was 12″, I immediately think of both the charming and awkward aspects of that transitional age… was that the aim?

AG: We still have two more months of high school so we’re not exactly planning a tour but we’ve been getting offered a lot of shows lately! I suppose so about the name, I mean we definitely try to be charming and I definitely am a bit awkward!

BB: Ha. Since there’s not much info about you guys online I couldn’t tell if you were in high school, or if you were just channeling your inner-highscooler to write the songs.

Your music, lyrics, production, etc seem very attuned to what I would consider classic indie-pop/twee. That is to say; sweet, clever, and fixated on youthful experiences… even when the person singing may be 30+ years old.

Ha. You’re the real deal, apparently.
What inspiration do you draw from … musically or otherwise?

AG: We are the real deal! We write about things on a high school level because it’s what we know! It’s what we are familiar with. But like I said only until June! We are so excited for summer and then of course for college! We are inspired by so many things.

Camille really likes bands such as: Los Campesinos! Beirut, The Submarines, and Seabear. I on the other hand am insanely inspired by Bright Eyes (of course, who isn’t!) Tilly and the Wall, Mates of State, and Saturday Looks Good to Me. We were actually just featured on an online mix CD, “Birdsongs, Beesongs – Eardrums Spring Compilation 2009″ and so was Saturday Looks Good to Me! So that was exciting to see!

Inspiration otherwise would of course include every boy i’ve ever known, even if only for five minutes. The boys who’s hearts I’ve broken, the boys who have broken my heart, and the boys who have yet to break my heart. Boys in bookstores, coffee shops, New Brunswick basements, and any other place you can imagine. However! I did write about my grandmother, “You Me & Symmetry” is about my grandmother, I love her. We still do arts and crafts together.

BB Hahahaha yes, the album is definitely heavy on the boy-crazy.
So…  you brought it up…  you’re from Jersey.

NJ tends to get a bad rap; some of that probably because you’re so close to the self-proclaimed cultural capital of the world.

Many big names spent time in New Jersey… , George Clinton/P-funk, Les Paul, Sinatra, Springsteen among them. What are your feelings about ‘repping from a place that has been home to many musicians but also the target of many a joke?

AG: Well I’m going to college in Philadelphia so soon i’ll have that rep and I can’t wait! It’s such a great area and so many opportunities arise there! However New Brunswick is a pretty fun area in New Jersey just last friday, we played a basement show there! Such a great vibe, I mean those are people who love and understand music! Unfortunately I cannot say the same for those at my high school!

BB: Congrats on going off to school next Fall… where in Philly? You’ve started playing a few shows in the area — will you be doing that this summer as well?

AG: Yes! We have a show tomorrow in fact, and then another one this coming friday and then the next! It’s all very exciting, I’m even starting to manage my stage fright a bit! I’ll be attending Drexel University actually so I’m absolutely pumped!

BB: That’s really cool that you were on the same comp as Saturday Looks Good To Me. How did that whole Birdsong, Beesongs thing happen? Are you familiar with any of the other artists on the album, or are they from all over?

Do you find yourself playing alongside / opening for the same bands… like, is there a like-minded scene in Jersey, or are you on your own singing to whoever listens?

AD: To be honest I am not sure how we were spotted but I am glad! The band Thunder Power from Omaha Nebraska on Slumber Party Records spotted us on the compilation and have now asked us to play a show when them they come through New Jersey touring! And we got invited to play a show in Brooklyn! We’ve been having so much fun and meeting so many wonderful people!

BB: What happens after this Summer. Will Camille be in the general area? Will When I Was 12 go on the back-burner once you start school up again?

AG: Camille will be attending Cornell, (Congrats to her! It’s really a great accomplishment!) On the contrary, once college begins, I hope When I Was 12 will be going full throttle! Because I write most of the music, melodies and lyrics, I am going to look for permanent members once I arrive on campus! You’ll have to wish me luck!


The Digital Switcheroo

May 22, 2009

Photo Courtesy of CNL822 on Flickr

Watching baseball last week with all the jitters, smears, and pauses of digital broadcasting,  I realized I haven’t officially bitched about the digital switchover. All this info (well, except for the Kanye part) I think is pretty valuable:

  • With good reception, digital broadcasts look good. It is a huge step forward for television clarity.  Admittedly.  It does work.  So, if you get a new TV, yay, you get a new TV with potentially much better quality and more channels.  Everybody wins!(?)  The following bullet is much more important…
  • DIGITAL SIGNALS ARE NOT CRYSTAL CLEAR. It’s true.  Before I got a digital converter I didn’t realize this, my coworker didn’t realize this, so I assume some of you have been (or are in the process of being) mislead as well.

Now that people are using digital receivers, we’re realizing that digital TV reception is as bad or worse than analog TV.  Those that haven’t gone digital yet (or in some cases can’t even afford to), hear the Networks pitching the switcheroo and it’s like they’re doing you a favor.  It’s important to know that TV Networks/the government/Big Businss are NOT just doing it for your benefit.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, hell, any rant that mentions “the government” usually makes me tune out.  But this is true, apparently: The initial digital switch plan (I shit you not) was a delayed reaction to  Post-9/11 communication issues. According to Bloomburg

The government mandated the switch to free up airwaves for advanced wireless services and emergency workers’ radios, to raise money and to provide clearer pictures and more programming.

Broadcast networks volunteered to give their analog frequencies over to  emergency police and fire communications.  Though, “volunteered” is a stretch.  Television networks were well aware that this act, which appears fairly selfless and sensible, had an overwhelming business-minded upside.

Giving up these frequencies and moving to a digital signal would mean that every American that does not subscribe to a cable subscription (~20% of the population, skewed towards the less affluent) must buy a brand new TV, update their televisions on their own dime (that’s 285 million sets as of ’05),  or  get cable.  It was a sweetheart deal all around, exemplified by the nifty bullet points below:

  • Government gets low-freq emergency channels (Which is great… whoopdie-doo.)
  • Broadcast Networks, who have been trying to go digital anyway, get to do so with the government bankrolling them, and in the name of public good.
  • Broadcast Networks now have multiple channels to run second-tier content on, which can steal share back from cable stations like The Weather Channel, Univision, Telemundo, and in NBC Universal’s case —  ESPN.
  • Cable companies  profit off of new subscribers unwilling to make the digital switch
  • Electronic stores (namely Radio Shack) make a killing on digital converter box sales, and on selling peripherals around the digital conversion.
  • Everybody gets to pretend they’re helping John Q. Public

That last bullet is the kicker, because, if you installed the digital converter box you quickly realize that reception can, and does, still suck.  What’s worse, broadcast channels that used to come in a little fuzzy on an analog television will not even register through the digital box.  No longer do you have the option of watching a fuzzy screen — it’s all or nothing now.

Digital TV is a snob — if it’s not crystal clear, you’re not allowed to watch it.   You cannot even manually tell your digital converter to include a channel that is not registering — this is what is happening to CBS (WBBM) on my TV and a friends in Chicago.  I wonder if they’re losing ratings because the digital boxes they forced on their viewers refuse to recognize it as a channel.

The funniest part is those antannae… you know the ones you were supposed to be able to throw away…  those rabbit ears they made fun of in the “swtch to digital” PSAs earlier this year?  Yeah… you have to buy a new one.


Take My Stuff and Pay Me For It – Genesis (not the band)

February 23, 2009

I don’t like giving stuff away, even if it means getting money back in return.  This must change.

It seems I’m increasingly less impressed just by my collections of things, especially because I went about all such collections half-assedly. I also had to concede that, because most music is now bought and enjoyed digitally, having CD jewel cases on display not only seems like a waste of space, but also a somewhat dated (dare I say cliché?) male interior design choice.

Seriously – what’s the point of displaying jewel cases anymore – to prove that you go somewhere and buy proper albums instead of going online?  Is that a claim to fame nowadays?  It’s seems pitiable, and very nearly a failed attempt at elitism. Now, if I was a vinyl junky it would still be cool to have crates of that shit sorted in my apartment, Rob Gordon style, but I am not.  I never got into vinyl. I do not own a record player.  So it’s time to say “bye-bye” CDs and hello to whatever money a record store will give me.

I can’t get rid of ALL my albums at the same time though… they’re my most-prized, but still poorly maintained and disorganized collection. Baby steps.

I decided to start weeding out the ones I never listen to, or will feasibly never take out of their cases again.  Everything was fair game, so long as it is also stored on my external hardrive backup.  This logic only half makes sense. Apparently, I’m only comfortable giving up something I never use so long as I could feasibly use it sometime in the future.  However, this does explain why I have pairs of jeans in my closet that have never worn, never plan on wearing but can’t bring myself to give away.

“So”, I comforted myself, “you’re not really losing any of these albums, just the physical manifestation of them.”  Yes.  That’s still off-putting though, isn’t it?  What is it about saving things on a computer that makes you feel still slightly uneasy?  Why do we still print out important emails?  Why am I abstractly distrustful of Google’s “cloud computing”.  For me, I guess the physical presence of an item is a comfort — an increasingly wasteful, expensive, and unnecessary comfort.  (Just like most comforts!)

So, recalling some Buddhist-like advice (“It doesn’t matter where you start, only that you finish,”)  I grabbed my topmost CaseLogic that was topped by a fine layer of dust, and opened it up to the M-through-P discs.  I then sat my ass down in front of my cheap sleek Sweedish black-painted wood media center and got crackin’…

I’ll try to document my little adventure more later this week.


First Zima, Now Sparks?!

December 18, 2008

How are we supposed to get all hyphy before we ghost ride now!?!?!?!

Sparks Spokesmodel by Ryanwiz Sparks by Al Bar 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-ap-energy-drinks,0,4219784.story

MillerCoors to remove caffeine from Sparks energy drink in deal with states
By EMILY FREDRIX | AP Food Industry Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP) — MillerCoors LLC announced Thursday it will remove caffeine and three other ingredients from its Sparks alcoholic energy drink in a deal with 13 states and the city of San Francisco, who had contended the drink targeted young drinkers.

A coalition of state attorneys general had complained the stimulants reduced drinkers’ sense of intoxication and were marketed to young drinkers, who were already more likely to have risky behaviors in driving and other activities.

*cough* BULLSHIT *cough*.  What the hell.  I’ll have to go back to slamming a pot of coffee, and then slamming a pint of Guiness.  Actually, that doesn’t sound that bad.

Attorneys general and advocacy groups have long been targeting MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller’s U.S. unit and Molson Coors Brewing Co., and market-leader Anheuser-Busch due to the making and marketing of such drinks.

As part of the agreement, MillerCoors agreed to remove caffeine, taurine, guarana and ginseng from Sparks, the leader in the alcoholic energy drink category, and not produce caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future. The company also will pay $550,000 to cover the cost of the investigation into Sparks. The agreement does not mean the company was found to have engaged in unlawful behavior.

I’m glad they’re getting rid of the guano though.

“They are fundamentally dangerous and put drinkers of all ages at risk,” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement of the drinks. “Today’s agreement will ensure that from here on out, these drinks are kept off New York shelves and away from New York consumers.”

The MillerCoors settlement also includes the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Oklahoma and the city attorney of San Francisco.

“We are always willing to listen to societal partners and consider changes to our business to reinforce our commitment to alcohol responsibility,” Long said.

Time to head back to Wisconsin next time I want to make Hyper Vipers.

The money will be split between the states and San Francisco, MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green said.

MillerCoors noted that labeling and all formulas for Sparks had been approved by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It said it marketed the drinks only to legal drinking-age consumers.

MillerCoors President and Chief Commercial Officer Tom Long said in a statement the changes mean the company can keep marketing and selling the brand to legal drinkers.

Thanks for the photo Sikanna! — http://www.flickr.com/photos/sikanna/

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch said in June it would reformulate its Tilt and Bud Extra drinks to remove the stimulants as part of a settlement with 11 attorneys general.

Groups say these drinks target young drinkers, even those underage, because those consumers are already drawn to highly caffeinated drinks like Red Bull.

As part of the agreement, MillerCoors will sell through its remaining Sparks products and stop making them by Jan. 10.

Green said the company will then start brewing the new formula after that.

Random drunk guy by charleym143

Marketing of the brand will also change, the agreement said. The company must also eliminate all references in advertising to caffeinated formulations and not promote Sparks as a mixer for caffeinated drinks. It will remove the plus and minus symbols — which evoke a battery — found on the blue and orange cans for the product. The company also agrees not to use batteries, rockets, lightning bolts, or the terms “powered by” or “ignite” in marketing the new formulation.

sparks! by minicloud

The company also took down the Web site for the brand, as part of the agreement, which said MillerCoors may launch new Web content for Sparks to promote only the reformulated version.

Green said the company will continue to expand the brand. SABMiller bought Sparks and Steel Reserve, a slow-brewed lager, from McKenzie River Corp. for $215 million cash in 2006.

Sparks holds about 60 percent of the alcoholic energy drink category, he said. But in MillerCoors’ portfolio it makes up less than 1 percent of the brewer’s total volume. The brand is growing, though. Data from AC Nielsen in a recent 12-week period showed the brand’s sales in convenience stores were up 15.9 percent from the same period last year, Green said.

drunk by ksosmall 

He noted that advertising for the brand was minimal, compared with the company’s other brands like Miller Lite, and said there had never been any television ads for Sparks.

“We remain committed to the Sparks franchise, including the possibility of line extensions,” Green said.

Steve Gardner, litigation director for public advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest — which has a suit against MillerCoors over Sparks — applauded the agreement. In September the group filed a suit against MillerCoors to stop the brewer from selling Sparks, saying it’s going after teenagers with the drink.

Noah rocks Sparks Lite in the ZML by justin 

“It’s a devil’s brew of a product because it combines caffeine with alcohol,” Gardner said.

He said much of what the group wanted from MillerCoors — to remove caffeine, guarana, ginseng and taurine from the product — was accomplished in the agreement. He said he was not yet sure what the agreement means for the case, which was pending in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Randall + Sparks = by Phil Sharp.


The Drew Peterson Date Material Test

December 17, 2008

Please take the test below to see if you could be compatible with Drew Peterson.  If your answer to the question is “yes”, “maybe”, or “depends”, please move down to the next question.  If your answer is “no”, you are not a good fit for Drew Peterson:

  • Would you date?
  • Would you date a man?
  • Would you date a man who is a police officer?
  • Would you date a man who lives in the Chicago suburbs?
  • Would you date a man who is a police officer in the suburbs?

Congrats.  You have passed Stage One of the Drew Peterson Funnel (DPF).  You are now considered: An Eligible Bachelorette

  • Would you date a man who is over twice your age?
  • Would you date a man who exclusively dates people 30+ years younger?
  • Would you date a man who sits around in bars?
  • Would you date a man who has been divorced?
  • Would you date a man who is overweight?

Yep..  You have passed Stage Two of the DPF.  You are now considered: Open-Minded

  • Would you date a narcissist?
  • Would you date a man who has kids from a previous marriage?
  • Would you date a man who drinks excessively?
  • Would you date a man who has left two wives?
  • Would you date a man who has left three wives?
  • Would you date a man who has left four wives?

Nice.  You have passed Stage Three of the DPF.  You are now considered: Slightly Confused

  • Would you date a man that, in some circles, is considered infamous?
  • Would you date a man who has been fired from his police force for misconduct?
  • Would you date a man who has been accused of police brutality?
  • Would you date a man who, in some circles, would be considered a sociopath?
  • Would you date a man who has a history of domestic battery?

Hmmm.  You have passed Stage Four of the DPF.  You are now considered: A Bad-Boy Aficionado

  • Would you date a man who exploits personal tragedy for moderate fame?
  • Would you date a man who hits the talk show circuit immediately after his wife has disappeared?
  • Would you date a man who begins dating a few months after his wife has disappeared?
  • Would you date a man who taunts bereaved families by using the death of their daughter/friend as a bizarre ploy to date younger women via a radio show promotion?
  • Are you an O.J. sympathiser?

 Hmmm.  You have passed Stage Five of the DPF.  You are now considered: Amber Alert Worthy 

  • Would you date a man who is, in some circles, suspected of murdering his wife?
  • Would you date a man who is, in some circles, suspected of murdering his wife by drowning her in a bathtub and using his position in the police force as a means to cover it up?
  • Would you date a man who is, in some circles, suspected of murdering two of his wives?
  • Would you date a man who is, in some circles, suspected of murdering his second wife, stuffing her in a barrel, manipulating his stepbrother in assisting of it’s disposal,  whose grief then drives the step brother to attempt suicide days after the wife’s disappearance?

Huzzah!  You have passed Stage Six of the DPF.  You are now considered: Drew Peterson Date Material!

Unfortunately, Mr. Peterson has recently announced his engagement to an anonymous 23-year old girl who, God willing, will soon become Drew’s 6th wife.  Sorry Gals.  We wish them luck, but, don’t give your hopes up… Drew will probably be available again in the forseeable future… roughly 2010 or so.


Gift Certificates: Giveth and Taketh Away

December 5, 2008

Direct from the Un-P.C. Department: My pal who works at Planned Parenthood has informed me that they will soon be making Gift Certificates available.

Starting soon we are selling gift cards for any services that PP offers. In an effort to help make health care more accessable for some people. Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty good idea. Moms could give them to daughters so they could get on birth control. Boyfriends could give them to girlfriends for BC. But, we are gonna get a lot of shit because they can be used for AB services.

I actually applaud this too — Planned Parenthood actually does a LOT more than the one thing you will immediately think of when talking about Planned Parenthood.  What a good way to promote a healthy lifestyle than by de-stigmatizing a visit to your local family planner.


Did You Get That Memo: Office Culture is Pop Culture

October 9, 2008

(Originally posted last February on the UR Chicago site but no longer accessible.  I had to save my baby).

Can you believe it’s been nearly a decade since Office Space? That’s roughly 36 financial quarters of bad Lumberg impressions and Swingline stapler jokes. The unforeseen longevity of a movie like Office Space -– a cynical look at corporate drones — stuck with the American audience long after its theatre run. Though the defining modern corporate farce is getting old, it seems like “life at the office” has become an increasingly prevalent touchstone. A new breed of unflinching, cynical, critical, tragi-comic and sometimes downright depressing office themed productions have hit a cultural nerve.

There have always been the silly corporate comedies and hyper-real farces a-la Office Space, Dilbert, and (can I throw in) Fred Savage’s short-lived Working, but it seems the new crop of pop-culture corporate landscapes have a biting, sad, desperate underpinning. What’s the deal?

The obvious jumping-off point is NBC’s excellent adaptation of The Office — a satire that turns a documentary-style camera on the lives of paper salespeople in first-world Nowheresville. It’s a show that’s both funny and melancholy — simultaneously hilarious and hitting a little too close to home. You’ve also got the inanity of Carpoolers, a silly single-cam show that’s the brainchild of Kids In the Hall graduate Bruce McCulloch. If you flash back 50 years and add some slick suits, the politics, binge drinking and philandering could easily be that of the sloganeering Madison Ave execs of AMC’s period drama Mad Men.

Elsewhere in the business world, author Matthew Beaumont documents the hilarity of London’s fictional Miller-Shanks office in a story told strictly through exchanged e-mail in e. If the U.K. doesn’t hit close enough to home, local cube dweller Joshua Ferris is getting stellar reviews for Then We Came to the End, a wry comedic novel chronicling the dismantling of a Chicago ad agency.

Of course, I can’t get too far into an office-themed blog without mentioning OFFICE, the group of former Chicago worker bees who produced a killer EP, quit their day jobs, and now professionally churn out bouncy pop tracks with some seriously sardonic underpinnings. Elsewhere in the music world there’s been a huge response to the National’s CD, Boxer. The album, with equal parts charm and anxiety, chronicles the Willy Loman-esque slide of a modern corporate worker into a nostalgic shut-in.

So if popular music, books and television are meant as means of escapism, what’s to say for an audience that’s developed an interest in fictionalized versions of working stiffs? Is the emergence of corporate-themed amusements just a mere coincidence, a blip on the radar, or a hint of more to come? Whatever the explanation, the subject matter has resonance and the writing is good, so I will continue to ignore the inherent irony of hanging around the office every week to talk about The Office.