JAIMIE VERNON – EVERYTIME I SEE YOUR PICTURE I CRY

I’ve been around this music thing a loooong time. Three quarters of my life in fact. I started in bands when I was 17, I started my own label when I was 22 and have had a roller coaster ride of sweet success and monumental failures. But in all that time I never lost sight of being professional in every aspect of promoting my career. There was always attention paid to improving production, songwriting, musicianship and, especially, presentation (WEA Records once offered me a job to put press kits together for them after one of mine wound up on an exec’s desk). The public visage of my image and that of my music projects was toiled over, debated and deliberately calculated. Not all of it worked (see Crime Exhibit #1 above), but all of it was done with the aid of like minded people who had similar goals of putting our best face foreword.

I’d like to believe every act feels the same way but either out of lack of experience, knowledge or just not giving a shit I still see bucket loads of poorly written biographies (fuck, people, invest in Microsoft WORD and get someone to do a spell check and grammar check for you) , posters that look like they were laid out by someone that just discovered Corel Draw 2.1 and the worst offending promo tool  of them all – hysterically bad and embarrassing artist promo photos. Now that social media has become a microscope of poor choices and bad decisions it would behoove musicians to give more than a passing thought about photographs that will be floating around the internet – FOREVER. Look at all the bands past and present that will now live out eternal infamy not because of their music…but because they looked like shit:
http://www.rockandrollconfidential.com/hall/

Yes, I know…a lot of band photos are contextual as they are from the time and culture surrounding the music of a certain era. I mean, you can’t help but laugh at 60 year-old Gene Simmons spitting blood, wearing bat wings and Kabuki make-up now. But back in the 1970’s – this was comic-book cool.
However, a good percentage of any artist photos are just plain bad.

To wit, I was directed to a band photo from someone on Facebook promoting a gig this week. The band shall remain anonymous because they are trying to make a living. But a promo photo that bad is doing them no career favours. Like every bad promo shot before it, they broke ‘The Code’ which goes something like this:

1) No brick walls! Aside from the fact that the horizontal lines are a distraction, it shouts “we have zero original ideas for a band shot so let’s just stand here in front of the first wall we can find with good lighting and look awkward” (and most times the lighting ISN’T good).

1a) No full body profiles! especially if your background is as dull as sawdust. No one cares what your shoes or your pants look like. And do you really want to emphasize the mismatched body types of your 300 lb. drummer alongside your malnourished guitar player? A 1/2 profile shot gets the photographer closer to the band and focuses the attention on your beautiful smiles and lovely hairdos. Nothing below the waist unless you’re sporting fishnets, kilts or wearing Red Hot Chili Peppers tube socks.

2) Smile for fuck’s sake! This brooding, miserable, pouty EMO shit doesn’t say “buy my music”. It says “call the cops because I believe these guys are about to commit a felony”. Yeah, I’m talking about you Good Charlotte, My Darkest Days, and other ‘serious’ artists who look like B-movie extras from the next installment of ‘Underworld’. And, that Justin Bieber bangs-in-a-wind tunnel motorcycle hair-lid you paid $150 for at Haircutters is, like, so six weeks ago.

3) Co-ordinate wardrobe! If the lead singer’s wearing flashy colours and patterns then everyone else should be wearing solids or vice versa. Only your vocalist should be asserting any individuality – the rest of you are the BAND. You should look like a team with a captain…not a witness line-up at a police station.

4) You’ve got a hot female singer. What the fuck are the rest of the band members doing in the promo shot? No one’s coming to your gigs to see your keyboard player. No one’s buying your CDs to listen to your bass player (not even his girlfriend). They want the hot chick. Sex sells and if you’re not willing to flaunt that you will fail in obscurity because it’s the one asset that will stop you from being yet another dirge-making, formulaic rock act. And if your lead singer is Adam Lambert you get to score the chicks that would be otherwise wasted on him.

5) No musical instruments! We know you’re a band. We don’t care what your gear looks like. There’s nothing more ridiculous looking than a bunch of statued poses of vibrant musical instruments hanging lifelessly around your neck. It’s not a PROP. It’s a device that makes SOUND. You wouldn’t put the latest P.A. speakers around your neck would you? Or a mix board? So, unless you have an audio track accompanying your promo shot why is there a guitar in your picture…or, God forbid, a drummer holding two sticks across his chest like King Tut’s sarcophagus. If you MUST show off your gear then have a LIVE photo taken. And make sure the photograph is action filled. No one wants to see you standing there with your eyes closed fiddling with an acoustic guitar (unless you’re 72 year-old blues legend) or the drummer’s face obscured by cymbals or someone’s back turned because they have stage fright. And if you want the whole band in the shot it better look as cool as the two pictures above.

And the biggest point of all is: PAY A PHOTOGRAPHER. If you got your Mom, your little brother, your neighbour or the bass player’s girlfriend to take your shots (who I’m sure knows everything about wardrobe and blow jobs but can’t work a Smartphone never mind a precision device like a camera) then your photo will suck just on principle. You wouldn’t bring any of these people on board to mix your record so why would you let them take your photo? There are people that specialize in this work – it’s what they do for a living. Your image is just as important as your sound. A photographer is just as important as a record producer or a manager. It also lets potential labels, agents, and TV people know you’re the full meal deal but consciously thinking about how you want the world to see you.

NOTE: Your band will break up after the professional photo is taken. 9 out of 10 bands do. Why? Because it’s at that point that everyone finds out just who is serious and who isn’t about the band’s future.  It’s why the lead singer photo is the safest bet…or …hide your identities behind a top-notch logo (there are paid graphic designers that do this too). It will solve the issue of having your exceptionally butt ugly trio be subject to the humiliation of a bad Sears Portrait photo. Better still, have ‘THE TALK’ – which is a sit-down heart-to-heart with everyone in the act to establish everyone’s expectations of the future. Expect the drummer to quit immediately after you tell him he will not be getting a songwriting credit on any of the songs.

Do a search on Google for photographers in your area. Find the ones that specialize in music photography – not a modeling agency or people that do still life photos of garden gnomes. And for God sake leave the kimonos, Hawaiian shirts, Stevie Nicks shawls and headbands at home. They’ve NEVER been in style.

SHORT TAKES
Before Facebook became my newsroom of choice I was part of a Yahoo Group called Audities where the crème-de-la crème in the Power Pop world would hang out and discuss the latest and greatest and past heroes of jangly guitar rock. Anything descended from the Four B’s was fair game: The Beatles, The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Badfinger. It was there that I discovered a band from Coventry, UK called The Enemy in 2007. Their debut, ‘We Live And Die In These Towns’, was a salve for the chaos in my life at the time. I’ve never been much of a fan of downtrodden Working Man songs – Springsteen’s beaten that notion out of me but good. But when three working class thugs – Tom Clarke (vocals, guitar), Andy Hopkins (bass, vocals), Liam Watts (drums)  – picked up guitars instead of crowbars and turned their pain into ploughshares I listened. I had spent a week in Liverpool absorbing The Beatles’ port town flavour and when I returned to Canada my father was in the final stages of ALS which would eventually take his life at the end of that summer. My record label business was also in free fall. The Enemy became my go to band for wallowing in self-pity – because the characters in their songs were in far worse shape than I was. But, the poppy, jangly plaintiff guitar lines and uplifting choruses that recalled the best years of The Jam, Sham 69, 999 and The Buzzcocks brought me a nostalgic respite to a time in my life when I was just discovering music and taking every lyric, every drum beat as a clarion call to do….SOMETHING (which I did…by joining a punk band at the age of 17). The record spoke to me in a way only two other modern acts have – 54.40 and Orson. So imagine my disappointment when their sophomore record, ‘Music For the People’, in 2009 was a bloated, overproduced rehash of Coldplay and Oasis’ excesses. Oh, it had some decent songs, but it was like The Beatles had jumped from ‘Please Please Me’ to ‘The White Album’ overnight. I was truly disappointed as the songs and the production indicated to me that the band might be reading their own British media hype. I sold the album within a month of having it delivered from England. Imagine my great surprise then when the band dropped album #3, ‘Streets In the Sky’, a few months back and it was business as usual. This sounds like the proper follow up to ‘We Live In Die In These Towns’. The trio has returned to their three-man, three minute agro-power pop arrangements.  They’ve matured quite a bit so the tunes are less stark – in fact the first single, “Saturday”, is quite uplifting and inspirational. The boys have found plenty of success in the UK and it shows in the album’s more positive vibe. On Friday the newest single dropped entitled “Like A Dancer” and it’s quite the toe tapper!  http://youtu.be/hFI0dgTXXYs
The Audities mailing list has recently made the transition to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2539806035/10150911350591036) and it’s been a quicker, more user friendly forum for discovering the latest underground buzz bands – let’s face it, you’re not going to hear 99% of this movement’s favourites like Cherry Twister, Jellyfish, or Material Issue on the radio despite it having all the elements of what made pop radio so popular while we were growing up. It’s been here that I most recently made the acquaintance of Keith Klingensmith of Futureman Records – the label that most recently brought us the awesome tribute album to The Who’s ‘Sell Out’ entitled ‘The New Sell Out’. Keith informs me that he’s just released Australian power pop maestro Michael Carpenter’s next in the ongoing series of cover tune albums entitled ‘SOOP (Songs of Other People)’. This one’s a sampler being used to introduce Futureman’s clients to Michael’s catalog. There is also a cool new release by The What Gives. Check these and other Futureman releases out at http://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com

Having been a subscriber to Audities since the late 1990’s I’ve gotten to meet a lot of vocal supporters of the scene and made some great friendships – the biggest being David Bash who developed and still cultivates the long-running International Pop Overthrow Festival that tours North America and Europe and digs up the most interesting power pop acts from each of the dozens of cities where it sets up showcases literally every few weeks. Catch one in your city or a city near you.  The next IPO on the agenda is Los Angeles from July 27th to August 5th. And be sure to grab the ever-amazing IPO compilation CDs which showcases songs from artists in all the various cities each year. Ten tracks from the upcoming release can be previewed at http://www.internationalpopoverthrow.com

I’ve also come to know many other folks in long-distance, virtual relationships not the least of which is former child-star Robbie Rist (you might know him from such cherished TV shows as ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ as well as the ‘Teenage Mutant Teenage Turtles’ live-action movie franchise). But I know Robbie through his music. And, by God, he’s made a lot of it. I recall at one IPO Festival he was performing in 13 bands in one week. At another IPO in Chicago one year I was stuck without a drummer for my own act and he volunteered to fill in literally last minute – but then my guitarists were trapped in an airport in New Jersey in what would turn out to be a winter storm of the century. An opportunity lost, but it was heartening to know that Robbie would have been there for me. He is a workaholic and absolutely LOVES what he does. At any given time you can find him as part of The Andersons, globe-trotting with The Mockers (where they have a Beatlemania-type following in Spain) and Your Favourite Trainwreck. The band’s been around for about three or four years and is just starting to make a name for itself. Here’s what the band’s official bio says:

Led by two influential members of the post-hardcore/pop-punk scene, Your Favorite Trainwreck features icons Jeff Caudill (ex-Gameface) and Popeye V. (ex-Farside) sharing the songwriting, lead singing and guitar duties. Jeff and Popeye both come from highly influential and successful bands that helped pioneer a sound that would later be known as “emo”. Drummer Robbie Rist might be better known as a former child actor, however he is also an acclaimed musician who has been in countless bands. Bassist Jeff Holmes, who rounds out the line-up, has played for many years under the moniker Immigrants & Navigators. Your Favorite Trainwreck’s sound fuses Popeye’s love of vintage power-pop (Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson) with Jeff’s Southern California country-rock influences (Eagles, Jackson Browne) along with their own brand of heartfelt, melodic punk rock. With the release of their 2009 EP, Your Favorite Trainwreck successfully re-connected with their post-hardcore audience and also captured a new audience of rock-hungry music lovers. With their latest effort, the band teamed up with veteran alternative music producers Eric Stenman (Thrice, Weezer, Saves The Day) and Mike Fratantuno (Black Eyed Peas). This self-titled LP offers a slick, yet powerful, and scrappy sound laden with heavy doses of vocal harmonies and layered instrumentation. It’s clear when listening that Jeff Caudill and Popeye have a deep connection as musicians, and can merge together seamlessly to create a solid musical force. A supergroup? Maybe. A superb group? Definitely.

The new album has just been released and is big and brash and filled with post-grunge/post-punk Alt-Rock anthems that make you want to tap your foot or break things (your mileage may vary). You can get a preview and download it here:   http://yourfavoritetrainwreck.bandcamp.com

Also, check out the video for last year’s track ‘The Brilliance’ here: http://youtu.be/LoYvLPIU9Ug

This week I also got a fader’s up demo sneak peak of my old labelmates Swedish Fish’s as- yet-untitled, incomplete next release. Following their reunion in 2006, Martha Bouchier, Simon Bedford-James and company have enjoyed a resurgence for their criminally overlooked sound that has matured from its Young Marble Giants/Siouxie roots in the 1980s to a quieter, gentler post-10,000 Maniacs vibe…though, Swedish Fish are really none of those things. Brian Gagnon (The Hunt, Frank Soda) is once again at the production helm and the rough mixes so far are stellar. The standout track from the six I’ve heard is “Swain” where Martha has taken her voice into an amazing new place – lots of dynamics and limit-pushing falsettos. I expect a great response when the project is finally rolled out – maybe later this year or early 2013. Really looking forward to this one.

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

 Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

2 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – EVERYTIME I SEE YOUR PICTURE I CRY”

  1. I have broken “the code” and I’m sure I have my share of embarrasing band pictures floating around out there. All you can do is learn from experience and try to do better. This article would be hilarious if it weren’t so true…

  2. Great piece about the album photos. Hilarious.

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