Music: Two Tribes

Indie and mainstream Rock bands not at war, but could cooperate more

Apr 9, 2003 at 2:06 pm

If you track rock shows happening around the Tristate, you may have noticed two groups of bands that tend to book gigs together: the Indie crowd consisting of bands like Chalk, The Sundresses, Hilltop Distillery and Mallory and more mainstream Rock bands such as Spindle, Saving Ray, Promenade and Clabbergirl. These guys always seem to be playing out with acts from their own circle, leaving many people wondering why the two groups don't work together more.

Music is only a small factor, since there is as much variety among the scenes as there is between them. The Indie and mainstream Rock bands could conceivably share fans, so what keeps these two camps from collaborating more often? This question sparked a lively debate on the message boards recently, with musicians clamoring to explain and defend their positions.

"I think that bands get grouped together because they essentially work together, and in many cases have the same specific short range goals," says Saving Ray drummer Josh Hagen. "Why not work together and create a huge buzz?"

The dividing factor may be what kind of success the bands are seeking. Hagen explains, "Our goal is to get a record deal that enables us to write, record, and perform music for a living. And yes, we would probably accept a major label deal with some artistic compromises.

That's what generally happens when you get a good producer, and we look forward to that."

On the other hand, Indie bands tend to be apprehensive about relinquishing artistic control. "As a producer, I've found them to be as open as anyone to input," says Datawaslost co-founder Michael Bond, "but most of them will be very opposed to compromising their ideas for cash."

It's not that simple, according to Chris Haines of Anonymous Bosch. "When people throw around the words 'ethics' and 'respect' and suggest substantive musical choices are being decided on the merits of potential cash flow, it suggests that everything is contrived and art-free. I don't buy the distinction, particularly when we're all truly independent bands."

Lines are blurred as the popularity of Indie Rock grows and mainstream Rock acts increasingly push creative limits. So what's the difference?

"It's just a matter of taste and goals," says Bond. "I think 'Indie' bands in town are rebelling against the exact thing that mainstream acts are obviously striving for." Jeremy Springer of The Sundresses agrees. "This whole Indie thing has gotten overblown and misused. When I use the term, I am referring to a set of ethics, a DIY approach."

Perhaps this division has grown out of the human tendency to categorize for convenience. Admittedly, the stereotype of a band styling their hair and makeup in the men's room, hoping that a label rep is lurking, is a tempting one, as is that of the pimply slacker in his parent's basement making intentionally unlistenable music on his four-track. We like these cartoonish characters, and think we understand their motives. Maybe we should stop questioning and categorizing and just enjoy the music.

If you are in a Rock band and not sure which crowd you fit into, take this quiz and find out... ©

The Indie vs. Mainstream Quiz
I knew music was going to be my life the first time I heard ...

a. Sonic Youth

b. Nirvana

c. Days of the New

You are recording a CD, who is at the control board?

a. Us

b. One of many great local recording engineers

c. Whoever makes us sound the most listener-friendly

3. Who will do your album artwork?

a. Us

b. Some artsy friend

c. Whoever our management team picks

4. Where will you get your CD mastered?

a. Huh?

b. QCA

c. Some overpriced guy out of town to disguise our Cincy roots

5. Somebody said your guitar tone is annoying. You say...

a. What do they know about my art?

b. What specifically annoyed them?

c. Holy crap, I must need more expensive gear!

6. My album might sound better with more...

a. Vibraphone

b. Mandolin & percussion

c. Layers of over-processed guitar

7. Who are your local heroes?

a. Brainiac

b. Ass Ponys

c. Afghan Whigs

Now, give yourself ...

2 points for each "a"

1 point for each "b"

0 points for each "c"

If you got...

10-14 points: You are Indie as hell, bro. Keep rocking those rafters!

5-9 points: You must be in Morals Galore or Len's Lounge. Proceed to the Gorge and get high.

0-4 points: You want it so bad. But get used to the taste of Skyline, my friend — it's a million to one shot.