"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why Tooth and Nail doesn't Suck Eggs: part II

When thinking early Tooth and Nail, people often think of punk music;  MxPx, Slick Shoes, Calibretto 13.  Me, I entered the T&N universe in their emo glory days...and I'm not even ashamed to say it (Further Seems Forever will always be close to my heart). 

Though it would be hard to guess looking at the label today, T&N has also made some pretty significant contributions to the folk rock world.

Lets start with a band called Danielson that signed with T&N  back in '97.  Daniel Smith was just a young gun at the time and had created a band with his siblings as a thesis project for college.  What other label out there at the time would sign Danielson, Christian or otherwise? You just don't hear bands like Danielson on Sparrow records(...his voice is like nails on a chalk board, yet peculiarly endearing at the same time).  T&N has opened the doors to several young artists who wouldn't have had a chance anywhere else. This was an incredibly wise move for T&N.  When we look to the indie music cannon, Pitchfork, we see that Danielson (who is Daniel Smith) is one of the great kings of the indie realm.  He has gone by many a title.  Danielson, Brother Danielson, Danielson Famile, and TriDanielson.  Though his name has changed, the music world's respect for him has not (Pitchfork gave his album, Ships, a 9.1 rating...this is almost unheard of).  And this is why Danielson (and therefore Tooth and Nail) is so important:

Danielson befriended and mentored a young fellow named Sufjan Stevens (one of the biggest names--the indie darling--of the indie scene) , and released his record, Seven Swans on his label, Sounds Familyre.  Yes, Daniel Smith has his own label with many names that have cult followings (Wovenhand and Half-handed cloud are a couple of my faves).  

Sufjan has his own label (asthmatic kitty records) that has made quite the stir in the indie pot as well.  You may have heard some of these names if indie music is a world you commonly frequent: My Brightest DiamondWelcome WagonShapes and Sizes ...

Yes, it's true, this indie tree is beginning to stray far from it's T&N roots.  Fair enough, but I just like to ponder what the music world may have missed out on if Tooth and Nail didn't give  a young Daniel Smith his big break, and he in turn didn't reach out to dear, young Suf.

There are a few other folk legends that had a stint on Tooth and Nail as well-- Pedro the Lion (David Bazan)Damien JuradoDenison Witmer (he went by the name "The River Bends" at the time).  All of these guys have played a huge roll in the indie-folk scene, and have albums that have received stunning reviews.  Tooth and Nail brought Pedro the Lion to the world (something that they may not be so proud of anymore due to his controversial content; David Bazan also recently announced his becoming agnostic).  Whether you are a David Bazan fan or not, there is no denying the incredible influence he has played in the indie music world (David Bazan rubs shoulders with Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie, for example).  

Damien Jurado has had an album produced by David Bazan, and got his big break when Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate fame spotted him, and encouraged Sub Pop records to sign him.  They released his first full length album back in '97; the same year T&N released an E.P. for Jurado.  This is significant because it opened Jurado to two different audiences; widening his fan base.

Witmer hangs out with the likes of Rosie Thomas and Sufjan Stevens, as is apparent in Rosie's album, These Friends of Mine in which both Sufjan and Witmer make appearances.  Witmer had released several albums before he released The River Bends on T&N, but to have that caliber of an artist on a label says something about the qaulity of the label.

So there you have it, Several influential artists who have all had a stint--or even began on T&N; each owing a debt of gratitude to this label for bringing their music to a wider public.  Who would have thought that the label that brings us the hardcore gutteral screams of Underoath could be the same label that shared with us the gentle folk melodies of Denison Witmer?  

More to come soon.    

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why Tooth and Nail doesn't Suck Eggs: part I

I am a bit of a music snob. I admit it. In fact, I go beyond admitting it, I relish in the title. I like to try to follow the indie scene. I occasionally read paste, HM, pursue the web for music blogs, check out who pitchfork is currently raving about, and on the rare occasion, I have even cracked the pages of RollingStone. By no means do I declare myself an expert in the world of indie music. I am just an indie loving, hipster-want-to-be, who is not ashamed to admit his crush on Rebecca St. James (and really...that’s not very hipster of me). Acknowledging that my opinions do not follow the strict sect of hipsterdom, or their cannon--Pitchfork, I have to bring to surface what I believe to be a great sin of the indie music world. This is the out right down play of Tooth and Nail Records. Senior writer for Spin magazine and author of "Body Piercing Saved My Life; inside the phenomenon of Christian rock" (great book by the way), Andrew Beaujon says, "...it's really quite astonishing how few of Seattle's hipsters know that there is a local independent rock label that routinely sells hundreds of thousands of CDs and it isn't named Sub Pop or Barsuk."

I confess, I have been rocked and nurtured in the proverbial embrace of T&N since I was an indie infant, so they are a label close to my heart whom I would fight tooth and nail (pun completely intended) for. However, as I approach my critical indie adolescence I have become aware of a few of T&N supposed "faults".

It is true that Tooth and Nail has a niche that will follow them to the ends of the earth. Any band who signs to T&N is bound to have thousands of fans before they have even started touring (heck, if in some hellish parallel universe Nickelback signed with T&N, they might even gain a couple fans...I shutter at the thought) just because of the immense fan base that T&N as a label carries.

It is also true that many of Tooth and Nail's bands sound a lot alike; those Anberlin fill-ins after the band's exit and move to Universal Republic Records. But lets not hold that against T&N either. T&N is a business, and these are the bands their target audience (the youngins) are listening to these days. Certainly they have some bands that currently fall far from the category of pop alternative (whether for better or worse, I will leave you to decide)--Neon Horse, Joy Electric, Surrogate, and Corey Crowder are a few that come straight to mind.

Perhaps the greatest thing that Tooth and Nail has going against their "cool" factor in the indie scene is what Andrew Beaujon calls "one of the last politically correct prejudices"--that its ok to ignore a Christian label because it's a Christian label.

The problem is that in the fast past world of indie music, the great accomplishments of Tooth and Nail have been forgotten, or flat out ignored because of their Christian status. And so here it is, here I make my oh-so-bold claim; there are few indie labels that have made such an impact on both the general and indie market as Tooth and Nail.

"What!" you say. Are you seriously claiming that the label that brings us KJ-52 has been one of the greatest contributors to the indie music scene?!?!

Yes. Yes I am.

In my next few posts I will attempt to reveal the impact T&N has had in the music world in the past sixteen years.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Instead of a show

The best songs are those that reach in to your chest, grab your heart and twist a bit just to remind you its there--and challenge you to live that way. This evening I heard a song I've heard before, but this time I really listened to it, and it breaks me. It's Jon Foreman's Instead of a Show.

"You turned your back on the homeless, the ones who don't fit in your plan, quit playing religion games, there's blood on your hands."

I am afraid for my future in ministry. But not simply in ministry, I am afraid for my walk as a Christian. How much of it is a show? How much of my integrity am I willing to sacrifice for comfort? Will I pursue justice, or convenience, God or glory, security or servanthood? Who's name will be exalted? Will I walk the path of ease and comfort or that of wreckless abandon to my Savior? Where does my trust lie? What is the value of my words?

And forget all these "What will I do" questions--What am I doing?

It is so easy for me to cry out for justice. But crying is just crying. Babies do that. I want to be known as a man who pursues Justice.

Instead of a show.