Music genres can be such a finicky thing. Some bands seem impossible to pin down into one genre – some genres seem impossible to define! Just look at the crazy history of the emo genre, and many of my friends have heard me rant on the awfully widespread misuse of the term “screamo.”
The topic of genres came up today in the hilariously entertaining absolutepunk.net Podcast with Keith Buckley, the singer of Every Time I Die. As they talked about the tenth anniversary of the band’s breakout record, Hot Damn!, (which if you ever hear me talk about in person, I’ll say Hot Dang!), Buckley had some interesting – and humorous – things to say about the hardcore genre and how his band doesn’t exactly fit in. (We’ve seen these kinds of stories before, such as when Fall Out Boy started, they did not fit into the emo crowd at all…only to become emo’s poster-child.) He talked about how joyful of a person he is, so it was hard for him to try to find things to be hateful toward in typical hardcore lyrics. So instead he screams these lyrics that are often funny, or have really off-the-wall metaphors. Then Buckley made the statement that really stuck out to me:
“The medium is the message.”
Could this be true? That no matter how different Buckley’s lyrics could be, they would still be pigeon-holed into the understood themes of the given genre? To be honest, I have had plenty of experiences just recently that resonated with this statement.
A few days ago, I was listening to The Dear Hunter’s song “The Lake and The River”, and the mother at the house I’m living in here in Germany just happened to walk into the room during the one really heavy screaming part of the song. She immediately responded with her face aghast, proclaiming, “What is this? Punk? Hardcore?” I laughed her off, trying to explain that this band was anything but.
Later, she pulled me aside and explained to me why she reacted as she did – that in her childhood, she had some traumatic experiences linked directly to heavy metal and hardcore music. To this day, she just cannot stand being around anything like it.
On the serious side, this kind of genre-prejudice reminded me of multiple people I’ve known who had to entirely give up listening to heavy music because it caused them to become angry. On the not-so-serious side, I was reminded of how my father thinks that the idea of screaming or rapping being Christian is completely ludicrous.
However, I had similar thoughts earlier today while listening to Derek Webb’s sophomore work, i see things upside down. While I love all of his albums, I tend to always think this album may be my favorite, and it’s probably because of the lyrics. But the one thing that really bothers me about this record is how the lyrics seem to work against the music, which is so U2-stylized that it seems poised for the nearest mega-church. Anyone who knows Derek Webb’s music knows he is more likely to have music banned from a church rather than performed inside of it.
So what does this mean for artists? For Derek Webb, he has changed his musical style nearly every album, continually challenging what music best fits each new set of lyrics. For Buckley, he has set out to better his vocals on every album, particularly in terms of annunciation so that his lyrics can really be understood in ways that rise above the genre his band loves playing in.
Overall, this is kind of a strange topic for me because I don’t always relate. If you see me listening to the extremely heavy thrash metal album Monolith by Sylosis, you’d probably think I’m listening to the soundtrack for The Wiggles because I’m smiling so big the whole time. The concept of metal music making people angry is foreign to me, personally. I don’t understand why anyone would listen to music for any other reason than enjoying it… Maybe I’m wrong, but I never listen to music in order to become sad or angry. At the times when a song does make me sad, I’m also happy that I found a song so good that it nearly made me cry!
So how about genre-prejudices? Unfortunately, it’s a widespread epidemic. I can’t count how many people who, upon me asking who their favorite bands are, respond by saying, “Oh, I like everything,” usually with an added clause of “except rap and country” or “except screamo.” UGH. (This would be like asking someone what their favorite Bible verse is, and they answer, “Oh, I like God.” Gag me.)
There is something hugely important for us here, as fans, to do. We need to respect artists. If a singer’s voice changes, we should accept the changes. If a band’s style changes, let’s roll with it. And let’s not judge any artist by their genre or force them to stick in the same genre that we found them in.
Also, on the flip side, if you consider yourself a fan of an artist, actually listen to the artist. Being able to sing-along to the band’s radio single doesn’t mean you’re actually a fan. Buying an album, talking to your friends about the lesser-known songs, going to see the band live, that makes you a fan. Only at this point can you come to learn that every good artists carries their own distinctive style with them. Every good artist has something about them that the other metal bands or the other country singers don’t have to offer.
That’s what I found when I listened to Sylosis’ song “Fear the World” for the first time – they had something that I liked much more than I had ever discovered in a metal band before. So I immediately went and purchased the entire album, and I love it. It’s now a regular staple in my album collection and it’s my current go-to for an album to listen to while I mow the lawn. With a metal-prejudice, I would have passed them up without a second glance. But because I allowed Sylosis to be Sylosis, I am now proud to call myself a fan.