I call my papa every week on Sunday, as I have done since I was a wee lad. You see, we have not lived together for a very long time because he is a traveling salesman. However, once a week when I make my phone call we talk all the important stuff: girls, guys, if there really are alligators in the sewers, if Taco Bell is ever gonna bring back Taco Sunday, if Eva Longoria will ever try to come between me and my wife (who I always felt was kind of a dime-a-dozen gal [Eva] - living in San Antonio surrounded by all these beautiful Latinas - until I saw her in a dress on Children's Hospital), the Spurs, Nascar, and of course, music.
I usually say something like, "So, Pops, what's banging around in your eight-track player these days?" and he says, "Oh, that's an old person joke, how clever my boy is," and then he proceeds to tell me what kind of hipster shit he's been bumping lately. So, this week, like all the others, I said, "So, Pops, what's banging around in your eight-track player these days?" and he said, "Oh, that's an old person joke, how clever my boy is." Then he said, "I've been listening to this band called Protomartyr that all my friends at school have been telling me about. They're from Detroit so you know they're probably pretty tough — y'know, 'cause Detroit is like the third world now, ever since Jack White moved to Nashville."
I says to the old man, I says, "Tell me about these tough dudes from Detroit in the band Protomartyr," and this is what he said:
"Well, Protomartyr are on Hardly Art, the record label, and they just put out a new record in October called Agent Intellect, in case you were too busy listening to Merle Haggard and Kacey Musgraves to know anything about cool music." Which I was, but I said, "That's not fair, Daddy! Merle is the shit and Kacey has those two good songs on her new record — the Hawaiian sounding one and the Ray Price cover," and he said, "Yeah, okay, Ray Price is the man...isn't Willie Nelson on that track, too?" And then I replied,"Yeah, Willie is on there. What a lucky ——— that Kacey Musgraves is."
Then my dad says, "Back to business, boy. That's the problem with your generation, no attention span. So, Protomartyr sound like Hot Snakes on downers playing behind the vocalist from Moving Units, but at 3/4s speed, so it's deeper, the vocals I mean, and the band is kinda chubby and none of them look like rock stars, just typical shitty, shaggy-haired band dudes." And then I said, "Is the whole band chubby?" and my papa said, "No, just the singer and the bass player." And then I said, "What does that have to do with their music?" and my da-da said, "Not a lot, at least not in the bass player's case, you can't hear the chub in his fingers - he's probably using a pick. But the singer has a baritone voice, it's deeper, y'know, cause it's post-punk, and that makes him sound chubby."
Then I said, "Dad, do they rock?'
Then he said, "Yeah, they rock pretty good."
Then I said, "What do I tell the people they sound like if they have never heard Hot Snakes or Moving Units? I don't want to come off as an elitist and I'm not so delusional as to think that folks are gonna drop everything they're doing to look up those bands and listen to them just so they can have an idea what this band sounds like."
Then papa said, "Well, why not? They gotta kill time at work or on the pot or all the other places that everyone has their faces buried in their phones like church and the library and school, right?"
Then I said, "Yeah, but it's kinda my job to explain to them what these bands sound like and if they're good, based on my knowledge of the history and influences of rock 'n' roll."
Then he said, "Alright, son. Tell the people it sounds like someone who cares deeply about the plight of the world and its inhabitants, or did at one point, very deeply. Maybe like he was real political as a youngster and campaigned for Nader in 2000, and obviously Ralph had no shot and he really believed Ralph could've made it into the White House and he had to make it into the White House for the future of the planet and all of its creatures, kind of like Bernie Sanders now, but with even less sex appeal. Like, no sex appeal. So, this young man worked and campaigned very hard trying to spread the word on why the planet needs Nader if we want to leave a place for our grandchildren that isn't just McDonald's MREs scattered from Black Hawks to the starving masses that live in shantytowns built on Wal-Mart roofs because of the massive flooding in Kansas and the drought in everywhere else. So this young man, older now, is really bummed but has enough drive still to write lyrics about dogs in mangers munching on fingers and bettering yourself, or pointing out the flaws in others surrogately through teasing out the flaws and imperfections in your own character, realizing he is better than no one, in a philosophical sense, but may just be better than some of the morons we are surrounded by, in a political and alchemical sense."
"Ok," I said, "and the band?"
"Well, they're solid, even live. I watched some videos on Youtube of them at the Pitchfork festival or something like that and they're pretty tight. The bass player holds it down. The drummer plays direct and steady, his hi-hat slightly parted, like a clam just about to give up. His ride cymbal is sparkly and has a lisp, like a chipped-tooth Harmony Korine character - ugly like Chloë Sevigny but hot like Chloë Sevigny. The best part of the guitar, for me, is that he doesn't sound like he's rushing around to stamp on pedal boards bloated and overpopulated with boutique gadgets and vintage laser overdrives. He pretty much picks a disassociated, slighty reverbed tone that sounds a room away but isn't dainty or lost. It drives the band equally along with the rest of the rhythm section. The whole group is built on eighth notes. No swinging, which makes it all the more driven and somber. As if a bouncy, optimistic groove - think The Smith's "This Charming Man" - would send them into convulsions, and they certainly lack the energy for that. Like Interpol but less nasal and slightly more disaffected, or The National if they couldn't write love songs anymore. Not coke-heads, beer-swillers. Chubby, cool beer-swillers."
"Thanks, Daddy," I said. Then we kissed over the phone — mmmmuah-smack — and hung up.
Scroll to read more Music Stories & Interviews articles