The Future of Rock:
a discussion with Kittens For Christian,
Stellastarr*, Vue, Low Flying Owls
By Alexander Laurence
and roll music is fifty years old. There have been many
claims of what is great music being made today. The Beatles,
The Stones, and Elvis weren't just trying to sell a few
records and maybe sell out Roseland Ballroom. They were
making music that was great then and also today. Those bands
have been copied to death. In our time, you can wonder if
there is any music being made today, that will influence
the next generation of musicians? Or are we just recycling
past genres of music that lay dormant for many years? People
are always looking to past, but is anyone looking to the
future? Are there any important bands today that will transcend
any scene or trendiness?
To answer these questions, we assembled four bands making
music today, to solve these enigmas. We cleared the offices
of Free Williamsburg for these people, and grabbed a few
six packs of beers and a carton of cigarettes. Free Williamsburg
went all out to get these four bands in one room. Soon we
found this was impossible because there was not enough room
for everyone. So we got a few representatives of each band
to say their piece about the future of rock. The bands included
Kittens For Christian, an LA band who has just completed
a long tour with The Raveonettes. We also spoke to Stellastarr
who are the band you love to hate from NYC. From San Francisco,
we have the lovely Vue. And from Sacramento, we spoke to
Low Flying Owls.
These are bands that I think are all different from each
other and all in their own way doing something cool and
real in today's pop culture. From the trio Kitten For Christian
(KFC) we spoke mainly to singer and bass guitar, Hiram Fleites.
From Stellastarr* (SS), we spoke to drummer Arthur Kremer.
From the five-member Vue (V), we spoke to mainly to guitarist,
Jonah Buffa, but Jeremy Bringetto, Jessica Ann Graves also
joined in. From the band, Low Flying Owls (LFO), we spoke
to drummer Sam Coe. What will we be listening to in the
future? Where are we coming from? We are we going?
AL: Where were you
guys born and for what is that place known?
Hiram (KFC): I was born in Cuba. It's known for Fidel Castro,
hot women, and a great climate. I went back there a year
ago. It was interesting going back there.
Arthur (SS): I am originally
from Lithuania. They produce very good cheese. They produce
a lot of Amber.
Jeremy (V): Three of
us are from Half Moon Bay, a small town in Northern California.
It's mainly known for a yearly pumpkin festival and big
Sam (LFO): We are from Sacramento which is the state capital.
Musically it's known for bands like Cake and The Deftones.
AL: Where do you
Hiram (KFC): I live in Eaglerock. It's close to Hollywood.
Arthur (SS): I live
in Brooklyn. I used to live in Pennsylvania and I moved
to New York to go to school. I stayed in New York afterwards.
Jonah (V): We live in San Francisco now. I used to live
in the Mission but I got tired of seeing needles on my doorstep.
We have on tour for so long that we don't really have our
apartments anymore. I am staying at a big house by the ocean.
I am coasting in life on charisma. I like hanging out on
Sixth Street in San Francisco.
Sam (LFO): Currently we still live in Sacramento, but we
are going to soon be relocating to New York City. It's going
to be a transition over a few months. A few members are
going there now in October 2003, and the rest will follow
in the beginning of 2004. The label we are on Stinky Records
is based in New York City.
AL: How did you
get involved in music?
Hiram (KFC): It was a fluke. I thought that I would always
pursue visual arts. I went to Otis Parsons. I picked music
as an elective in school. I started playing the upright
bass. I was playing classical music and I was in a jazz
band. I started jamming with my buddies so after that.
Arthur (SS): I played
piano and guitar. I knew Shawn and Mandy from Stellastarr*.
They were in a band when we were in school. The idea of
being in a band was so exciting to me. They had nine different
drummers. I didn't think that any of them did a good job
interpreting the music. I felt like I could do better. I
asked them to give me a chance. We are all novices really.
Jeremy (V): My dad
is a jazz trumpet player. He taught me trumpet and when
I was thirteen I took the solo on "Don't Cry For Me,
Argentina" somewhere in Daly City. I was in some bands.
One was called Four Way Split, and another called Pizzazz.
Sam (LFO): I was in a high school band. I have always played
the drums. I felt something while playing music that I could
get nowhere else. That is what keeps me in tune.
AL: What are some
important things to know if you are in a band?
Arthur (SS): Communication
and listening to one another is important. A band is like
a relationship because you spend so much time with people.
Compromise is a big part of our band. We have a lot of democracy.
Sam (LFO): It's definitely important to get along. You
should be making music that you enjoy.
Hiram (KFC): It's important to know where's the beer? Seriously,
you should learn about the business: you should learn as
much as you can about publishing and contracts. We had our
own label at first. We learned a lot on our own.
Jonah (V): It's important to know proper directions. We
spend most of our time driving down dead ends and abandoned
roads. For people who are not in bands: when we do a show,
this is one night among many nights. People want to stay
up all night and go out after the gig. They think that we
are having a great time. But this happens for me every night.
I meet people who want to party all night.
AL: What are the worst
aspects in music today?
Jonah (V): Notes and time signatures. It sucks going to
so many shows.
Hiram (KFC): You have to be optimistic in terms of how
things are going. I think that there are a lot of really
great bands that are coming up. I would count us as one
of those. It's frustrating that there are a lot of bands
out there. We are a new band for most people. Not many bands
are selling a million records.
Arthur (SS): There
are too many fucking bands. Most of them are okay. I can't
pay attention to all these bands. I wasn't really into music
until I was much older.
Sam (LFO): The worst aspect is it's hard making a living
doing music. It's fun to do but it's hard to make money.
AL: Do you think
that it is good or bad that fans are just attracted to the
lead singer or a member of the band and are not really fans
of music at all?
Arthur (SS): I think
it's bad. Maybe I think so it's because I'm the drummer
and I'm in the back. There is a lot going on in our music.
It's not like the lead singer is the star of the show. The
dynamics of a band is the most important thing.
Hiram (KFC): It should be about the music. Any edge that
you can use is going to be great. You stand out from the
other bands because of image and how you look. I am definitely
from the school of it should be about the music first, the
Jonah (V): For us it is a good thing, but for Journey it's
Sam (LFO): It's natural to focus on the singing or the
AL: Is fashion and image
an important thing in music?
Arthur (SS): I am glad
you asked that question. Fashion is not important at all
to me. Why I wear these big sunglasses in this band photo
because it is ironic for me to wear them. It's my Spinal
Tap moment. I don't feel like I am a rock star in any way.
It's funny and ridiculous to me that I wear these huge sunglasses
and nipple tape. It's irony.
Jonah (V): Music is fashion and music is fashionable. Saying
we are not into fashion is it's own style. I don't know
if kids are concerned with that. We just played a bunch
of shows with Hot Hot Heat. They are really dressed up and
Hiram (KFC): That attention to image has always been around.
Even serious musicians like Bob Dylan had a cool look.
Sam (LFO): You can make music without a cool jacket.
AL: What do you about
all this attention to garage rock and new rock revivalism?
Do you have anything to do with that?
Sam (LFO): I see the term "garage rock" thrown
in reviews to describe our sound. I don't really keep up
with any trends in music. The stuff I listen to is a broad
range of stuff. I don't really know who are all these "garage
rock" bands are.
Hiram (KFC): I don't see us as being part of that. We have
some of that in our music. People can do what they want.
There are bands who are in that milieu who I like. There
are the derivative bands too. There are so many genres to
weed through now. You have to find those bands who are giving
it their own spin or who are being true to themselves.
Arthur (SS): People
always want to classify and deify something. I don't care
for any categories.
Jonah (V): People think that I am from Sweden. We are not
really a garage band. It's just a stripped down rock and
roll music. We like stuff like 13th Floor Elevators.
AL: Is there room for
serious music today? Or are the dark forces of capitalism,
competition, and marketing too much to handle?
Hiram (KFC): I think that there is a blending of both.
Why there is so much music being revived this week, is because
there is not a lot of new music that is super forward. Much
of the good stuff has already been written. If a band is
paying homage to old bands, that's a great way for kids
to retrace the steps. It's good to go back.
Arthur (SS): There
is room for serious music. As long as there are feelings
involved, and people having their hearts broken, and as
long as there is love, people will always want to write
and hear songs with power and emotion. Even cheesy pop songs
can be good. I am disappointed that people don't play ballads
in clubs. How are you supposed to ask a girl to dance?
Jonah (V): Radiohead gets to do serious music and people
are hearing it. It's hard to get anything across on a first
record. A lot of creative and imaginative music doesn't
get across to people. Some obvious things are easier to
Sam (LFO): Marketing records successfully is harder to
pull off. I don't know if a record comes out next week and
is going to be number one and a thirteen-year-old kid is
going to love it. I don't know if it's going to be serious.
AL: Is it better
now to be on a small indie label or a major label?
Arthur (SS): The difference is money. Big labels are notorious
for breaking a career because money is involved. We went
with RCA because they have an indie label mentality: they
are interested in developing an artist. The lines between
major labels and indies have blurred in the past two years.
Big labels are losing money because they aren't developing
artists. They are dropping bands after one album. The label
we were on, Tiswas, didn't have any distribution. They couldn't
help us when we went on tour.
Jonah (V): Subpop is a small label. We released our own
record too. It's better being on RCA. It's more complicated
and there's a bigger machine working. I like it and hate
it. You get so involved in your art and you want to be in
control. We come from that indie mentality. We were in hardcore
bands before this. But I want to focus on making art and
I don't want to focus on working at a coffee shop and trying
to scrap up some money for a practice space. I don't want
to worry about subletting my room. San Francisco is an expensive
city to live in.
Hiram (KFC): There are a bunch of cool records that come
out on an indie label that do nothing. It all depends on
whether you are a high priority for that label. It doesn't
matter if you are on a major or an indie. If you were on
Epitaph or Matador and the label doesn't care about you.
It's the same uphill battle if you are a low priority artist
on a major label.
Sam (LFO): Right now I hear it's better to be on a small
label. A band like Fugazi is this whole other deal. I have
been a fan of them for a long time. Whether you can pull
it off as a band, it doesn't matter what sized label you
AL: Are audiences better
in England or in America?
Arthur (SS): It's really
good in Europe in general. How are people supposed to hear
about new bands in the Midwest? Where do they go to buy
records? How are they supposed to hear about a little band
from New York? They can't. They have MTV and Top 40 radio.
That is nothing. People in Europe have more exposure to
Jonah (V): They are more into music in England overall.
There is not a subculture of music. They are into everything
there: pop music, garage rock, techno, and weird underground
music. They will freak out at a show more and jump around
a lot more than in America. Look at the music magazines
there. Mojo and Q Magazine are great.
Hiram (KFC): We haven't been over there yet. We feel that
people are into us just in different parts of America. We
plan to tour in Europe soon. If we went over there we would
get a bunch of good press. All the anglophiles in America
who read that will take note. You need that stamp of approval
with the really cool kids.
Sam (LFO): We are hoping to go to the UK for the first
time next year. I have never been there. I like a lot of
AL: How do you think downloading
music and burning CDs is affecting the music industry and
Sam (LFO): It is affecting bands. Record companies have
been struggling with it. They are trying to figure a way
to regulate that so bands can make money. I went to the
Virgin Megastore in Times Square last month and it was empty.
Jessica (V): It's obvious
that there is a changing of the guard right now. There is
going to be a new generation of people who are going to
find a way to make it work. We all want for bands to be
able to survive and people still can download songs. When
radio was invented people thought that was the end of live
musicians because you could just turn on the radio and listen
to music for free. It's obvious that there is a changing
of the guard because there is all these bands getting signed
who come from a DIY background. There are bands who can
make it work without a big tour bus and their ass being
licked all the time. The music industry is going to transform
over the next ten years. There is a demand for music because
radio hasn't really supported new music for a long time
Hiram (KFC): It's hard to guess where the industry is going.
We are down to five record companies.
Arthur (SS): Our record
is available on the internet. It's on iTunes. It's a mistake
to fight copying. You should embrace it. Record companies
are starting to do that now.
AL: Who are the important
bands now and who are the important bands from the past?
Sam (LFO): The White Stripes seem like they are important.
I have definitely seen a lot of duos in the past few years.
I think Radiohead is an important band. They have made great
records and have been able to succeed and they keep back
from the mainstream. Fugazi is great.
Jonah (V): I like Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the
White Stripes. All these bands who are coming up together
now. It feels like what are we doing here. It's strange
that we are playing shows all over the world. That is exciting
and fun to be a part.
Arthur (SS): I love
Interpol. I like the classics. I like Interpol and the Yeah
Yeah Yeahs. I am curious to hear the new Strokes album.
I think Bjork is important.
Hiram (KFC): The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, and The
Velvet Underground. Those bands are classic and timeless
and they all influence all the bands who are on the planet
AL: Is there any room
for originally in music?
Hiram (KFC): Absolutely. I hope that there is.
Arthur (SS): It feels like everything has been done, like
people bringing in classical instruments.
Sam (LFO): Yeah, there is always. I believe there are still
true artists out there who strive for that. No matter how
original you try to be, someone is going to hear some other
band in what you do.
Jonah (V): You shouldn't be worried about if it is original
or if it has been done before. If you like it, do it. If
it sounds good, do it! Even playing the same chords in 1999
or 1967, it is culturally different. In 2070, people are
going to want to rock out. Every new generation gets into
the same types of music but they perceive them very differently.
AL: Where do you see the
band doing in five years?
Sam (LFO): We will have three albums out by then. Rock
and roll is fifty years old now. I don't see why people
will not be listening to this in fifty years from now.
Arthur (SS): We hope to do four or five albums by then.
We have about twenty songs but we only recorded eleven.
We already have most of our next record done. We have been
around for three years. We have paid our dues by playing
Hiram (KFC): I hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
You can't predict the future.
Jonah (V): I will be doing this for a while.
Kittens For Christian: www.serjicalstrike.com
Low Flying Owls: www.stinkyrecords.com