Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sell Out or Die

Byron Bay metalcore band, Parkway Drive, headlined a show at the Hordern Pavillion in Sydney back in September 2010. That gig was sold out. People wanting tickets on the night, at the door, couldn't buy any. Parkway Drive have been accused of selling out in another way. Some people say they make music to make money. (There's something wrong with that?)In other words, making more popular, commercially viable music in order to make more money.

This accusation is nothing new. Throughout the history of popular music, bands and solo artists have had their integrity questioned by alleged fans and music lovers whenever they have, in the artists' own words, "changed" musical direction.

Recently I watched Australian hard rock band Grinspoon perform. Grinspoon started their musical journey as a hardcore post grunge band but over the years they have developed into a more mainstream rock act. Some people don't like that they've changed. They are angered by the irony of Grinspoon performing a cover of INXS Don't Change. But what's wrong with a band growing, even changing their style? Writing and playing music requires creative force. Why should Grinspoon, for example, keep writing the same style of song about the same subject matter? People change and mature, so why wouldn't their music reflect that? What's wrong with a band trying to attract new fans to their music by writing a few radio friendly songs here and there? Or even all over the place?

Payable on Death is another band which began as a punk band in the early nineties and over time developed a style of their own with elements of reggae, hardcore, rock and rap all fused together. Some people say the old POD was better, and they wished they still rocked like they did back in the day.

Fans of groups like POD, Parkway Drive and Grinspoon (like me) love what they do. They have opinions about songs and albums they like better than other songs or albums, of course, but they follow the band. They grow with the band. If you start rocking with a band when you're a teenager, and they are a bunch of teenagers then the connection is solid, but you don't want your fave band singing about teenage angst and pimples when they, and you, are in their thirties or forties. Being a fan means liking the way the band does business. If your favourite band wants to go on writing new music and experimenting, or if they want to carry on producing the same beast in different clothes, then it's all good. If they want to start writing songs about the environment instead of songs about getting wasted at parties, then good luck to them. When interviewed about the band's last release, When Angels and Serpents Dance, Sonny Sandoval from POD admitted that they were no longer a bunch of kids playing punk in the garage. There's no selling out here. True fans know it. The critics can rack off and listen to something else.

What about bands who deliberately write songs to achieve, and then to maintain popularity? Nickleback comes to mind. They smashed into the mainstream with Silver Side Up and the modern classic single, How You Remind Me. They followed that CD with two more just like it, and fans lapped it up. Dark Horse was their last release and it was less popular than the previous three because it was different. Was Nickleback selling out with Dark Horse, or trying to return to their hard rock Metallica inspired roots? Speaking of Metallica, they are another band who have been accused of selling out and going soft, but they are rightly numbered among the great bands of all time, and Death Magnetic proves they are true masters of heavy metal.

What about stars who burn brightly for a short time? What would Jimi Hendrix have been playing had he survived the sixties? Would Nirvana have developed into the Foo Fighters even if Kurt Cobain had not killed himself? What might Jim Morrison have written songs about had he made it through the muddy swamp of drug addiction as Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon did? What do Hendrix, Cobain and Morrison have in common? They didn't grow up. They didn't live to go on writing great music. They killed themselves before they had time to mature as people and as artists. Maybe they had nothing left. Maybe they were afraid of being popular. Who knows?

Hate a particular band and their music if you must, but don't waste your breath on pathetic self righteous judgements about them "selling out". They don't care and neither do their fans.


  1. Hi Dave
    I don't think Nirvana would have morphed into the Foo Fighters as Nirvana was essentially Cobain's vehicle and the Foos (at least initially) were very much driven by Dave Grohl's personality/creativity. I don't think Dave really influenced the sound of Nirvana - he is a good drummer but it could have been anyone playing the drums as the personality of a particular drummer is not evident in the songs.
    The Foos have Dave's personality all over, from silliness to odd-time riffs. The melodic elements and pure pop fun of the Foos is not evident in Nirvana.
    Hard to say how and if Hendrix would or could have evolved from what he was. Perhaps he would have become like Eric Clapton? Many people are unaware of how influential and radical a band like Cream were, even on people like JH. But a decade late EC was releasing some very safe pop music in addition to blues and blues-rock albums.
    Many people speculate that Hendrix would have ventured into jazz, but there is nothing to suggest that in his playing. He essentially took blues and pentatonic motifs and played over a chord progression, instead of actually referencing each chord as a jazz player would.
    Selling out is a stupid notion anyway - of course they need to make money to pay for releases, and do other things people actually like to do such as eat!
    It is easy for ignorant 'fans' to comment and give directives but they rarely seem to consider all the implications of a band's decision to do something, even if it is merely to attempt to grow as a band.
    We have enough music by numbers 'artists' (and I use that term very loosely), if a band is writing and playing their own songs good luck to them!

  2. Thanks Scotty. Nice to hear from a guy who knows what he's talking about unlike the author of that piece you commented on. Cheers.

  3. Love it. Recently, when Bono was talking about U2's next album he said that one of the things they were most eager to do was have a hit song that got a lot of airplay on the radio because with their last album, they didn't get that.

    I remember watching footage of furious Bob Dylan fans coming out of one of his concerts. They were absolutely spewing because in this concert he had played electric guitar. They had come to hear folk music and here he was 'selling out' to play some kind of rock music.

    The idea of an artist like Hendrix 'evolving' - what a thought! How sad, though, that that will never happen.