Category Archives: Pop

The New Mormon Pop: Clean Flicks or Artistry?

1.11.13 | | 27 comments

I am the lucky mother of a tween. She’s nine years old and, while we share a great number of similarities (like hair color), she is different than me in many ways. Example: For Career Day on Friday she’s dressing up like a pop star/fashion model. When I was in 4th grade the only pop star I could name was Debbie Gibson; I was too busy listening to my dad’s LPs of Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music and, oh yes, Saturday’s Warrior. Thanks to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and the ubiquitous iPod/mp3 gadgets every kid but mine seems to have my daughter has heard more pop music than I have and, well, there’s been some friction.

Now I like pop music as much as the next mom, but I just have a visceral reaction when I hear my nine-year-old belting out Katy Perry or LMFAO or Niki Minaj. I finally had to draw the line at Pitbull. I’ve been doing my research and trying to find “cool” music that will placate her need for auto-tuned lyrics and techno-dance beats without introducing concepts that simply aren’t appropriate for a little girl–because, despite her protestations, she still is one.

Enter The Piano Guys. Seriously, these dudes have saved us many a music battle. Even my 5 year old and 2 year old request  Pepponi on a regular basis. I listen to their stuff for fun, inspiration, and to plow through writer’s block. (I’m actually kind of a super fan; I commented on their Facebook page and they replied and I totally called all my friends and told them. . .)

Of course, my daughter really wants something she can sing along to. Enter artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole. I don’t want to start any Mormon rumors so I’ll just say this: while the Piano Guys sell through Deseret Book, I have no idea if Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are Mormon–except that they have that Mormon look and change cuss words and questionable lyrics in all their covers to more saccharine/appropriate options. For example, in Megan Nicole’s version of “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars instead of waking up, doing some P90X and having some “really great sex”, Megan Nicole does P90X and then has some really great CHEX. Cheesy and silly? Yes. But now my daughter can listen to a song and enjoy it and sing it and she and I don’t end up having long and somewhat tricky conversations.

It recently occurred to me, though, that this is like the musical version of Clean Flicks. Now, if you weren’t living in Utah in the late 1990s and early 2000s you probably have no idea who this company is. The short version is this: they took movies that most Mormons wanted to watch but wouldn’t  because of “questionable” content and edited them to fit a “family friendly” standard. This is the company that made it so Neo in The Matrix said things like, “Oh crud” and “Jeepers Creepers.” They were pretty big business for a few years–until they got shut down by a lawsuit filed by the Director’s Guild who claimed they were violating copyright laws. From what I recall of the court case, directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese felt that the CleanFlicks folks were unlawfully trampling and changing their artistic property. They made their movies with “questionable” content because they felt it needed to be there and it was a slap in the face to their artistic integrity to have someone come along and “clean” it up.

So now I’m wondering if these artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are treading on the same ground. Obviously music copyright works differently and these covers are legal, but what about the aesthetics? Does editing the music so that it is appropriate for my nine year old kill someone’s artistic vision?

For me it’s a moot point. While I don’t mind China Ann McClain, (I love China’s version of Dynamite.) Zendaya, One Direction, and Taylor Swift anything that saves my ears from another Justin Beiber song or a Bella Thorne auto-tune-fest is a gift to me. And, really, the less Katy Perry in my life the better!

What do you think? Do cover songs like this trample the artistic integrity of the original? And, really, is this just a Mormon thing to rewrite pop culture to fit our aesthetics?

And in case you needed it, here’s a favorite of mine from the Piano Guys. Let your inner tween out and bop along!


Mormon Fan Fiction?

7.26.11 | | 15 comments

0--Among_the_Nephites_productEarlier this month Time magazine used the popularity of Harry Potter to look at fan fiction. I was a little surprised to find that not only is the fan fiction universe much larger than I supposed (fanfiction.net alone has more than half a million Harry Potter works and more than 2 million total), but that two LDS authors are in the forefront of some controversy surrounding the genre.

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“Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An interview with Mister Tim in two parts)

2.23.11 | | 3 comments

. . . especially when they’re made with death,” says Mister Tim, the quirkiest voice in a cappella music.

I’ve known Mister Tim for more than 5 years and witnessed many artistic incarnations. The earliest (for me) was as our ward choir director. Intense, focused, squinting with the effort of tweaking our voices into a semblance of harmony and with one ear always turned toward the choir Mister Tim–er, I mean, Brother Tim–did his own arrangements of hymns and sang all the music as if it were being performed for the first time every time. Ward members still talk about his performance of “O, Holy Night.”

The next incarnation, which he had been inhabiting since college, was Moosebutter. Like most college a cappella bands Moosebutter focused on and perfected the silliness inherent in singing “classic” music, like “Popcorn Popping”, with that characteristic BYU-comedy flair. They were big with the ten year olds and all their parents for being able to comically riff on everything from Harry Potter to Spam to Jon Williams (who is most definitely the man), for which they were nominated for a People’s Choice Award.

From there Mister Tim went on to work on the Vegas Strip and put together, manage, and perform in many other a cappella groups. When his stint in Vegas ended and he and his family rolled back into Colorado he came with yet another incarnation: Vocal Magic.

Vocal Magic is a multifaceted one man show that hinges on Mister Tim’s prodigious vocal textures, far-reaching vocal range, and his ability to work three sound effect pedals that enable to sing with himself and mix his voice in real time–a process called live looping. Part stand-up comedy, part poetry slam, and part performance art, Vocal Magic was like nothing I had ever seen before. My first thought: If T.S. Eliot could have sang and Allan Ginsberg had known how to beatbox and been stuck in one body, they could have been reincarnated as Mister Tim. Vocal Magic was like nothing I’d ever seen but it was definitely something I wished to see again.

Mr. Tim graciously agreed to be interviewed. His answers were thorough enough and thought-provoking enough that I split the interview into two parts. Here’s part one.

LHC: How are you feeling today? (Fuzzy, spacey, ???)

Mr. T: Perpendicular.

LHC: Tell me about the modern a cappella scene. Until I saw your show whenever I thought of a cappella I always thought of those guys from “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” How has a cappella grown and changed?

Mr. T:There is a great deal of detail and nuance to this answer. “A Cappella” to most people, I think, means Rockapella (Carmen San Diego), or a barbershop quartet, or a college group like BYU’s Vocal Point, or, more and more frequently, “GLEE” (even though there has only been one actual a cappella song on that show). But, even Rockapella, still touring the world 15 years after Carmen San Diego went off the air, is nothing like they were on that show: [now] they are a technology-dependent pop act. There are groups that use stacks and stacks of expensive sound gear, like Naturally 7 who are touring with Michael Buble.

Really there are three ways to define “a cappella”: 1) the most basic– meaning any music performed without
instruments, regardless of style (including when rock bands sing a section of their song without instruments, like the beginning of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”); 2) what seems to be the popular interpretation of a cappella, which is the Rockapella version, or the college a cappella version, or even the barbershop version, which carries a fragrance of dorkiness; 3) and “contemporary” a cappella, which is a movement of modern musicians doing modern music at a very high level, usually incorporating vocal percussion, and usually depending on technology to create the same auditory punch as a ‘real’ band.

My history in a cappella really follows the progression of contemporary a cappella. I listened to The King’s Singers (classical) in high school, saw BYU’s Vocal Point at one of BYU’s very first a cappella jams; I had friends bootlegging a cappella radio programs onto cassette tapes and passing them around; I was introduced, through rumor at first, to The House Jacks, and then by the late 90’s to m*pact. I started attending a cappella conferences, and growing less satisfied with the traditional a cappella standard and wanting… more. And there were groups doing more, and I gravitated to them. Then I started making my own groups, and have been skewing further and further from “traditional” a cappella since then, although I still keep the traditional stuff around because it makes $.

When most people call me wanting to hire “an a cappella group,” they want something like early 90’s Rockapella, or like a college group. Recognizable covers, bare-bones vocal sound, oftenthey want something a little corny (which is part of that old-school a cappella… thing).

LHC: What attracted you to live looping? How is it different from traditional a cappella?

Mr. T: My wife and I used to joke that I was constantly disappointed with the other singers in my groups because what I really wanted was for all the singers in my group to be me. Well, looping lets me do that! I get to sing everything just the way I want it sung, and I don’t have to wait for other people to learn their parts.

Other reasons I started live-looping: a) I want to go out and perform as often as possible, but couldn’t get the other people in my groups to go all the time; b) There are lots of paid shows that come up that don’t pay enough for a whole group, but are good money for just one person; c) I saw other people do it, and it looked like fun.

But, one of the biggest factors: I love teaching. I love teaching. The problem with the kind of teaching I do, where I drop in and talk to kids in their regular music classes, or in assemblies, or at music festivals, is that if they don’t know who I am, they don’t care about what I have to say. If I’m there with a group, they hear the group sing, they think it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But I want to be teaching as often as possible, visiting classes, flying out to music festivals, showing up at concerts. I can’t afford to fly a whole group out to these kinds of things for free, which most of them demand (even the big a cappella festivals where I teach I have to pay my own way there unless I’m one of the headline performers). But now that I’ve got a solo act, I can drop in on a class with my small sound system that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, sing a couple of songs,
the kids think it’s cool, and then when I speak, my words matter. It’s a pedagogical thing.

Artistically, what attracts me now to continue live-looping is that it really is rare to have one person doing looping with just the voice. Novelty factor, and if done well and if we find the market I’ve got a corner on the market. I do enjoy the constraints: a lot of my material has developed to address specific issues of how to keep the show from being boring, dealing with the repetitive nature of the loop, not being able to change the music once it’s laid down without completely starting over. Limiting, yes, but has forced me to adapt in ways and to develop new approaches to my performing that I think have greatly improved the overall impact of my
performance.

LHC: I know you’re a fan of all types of music, but what musicians and songs/works have stuck with you over the years?

Mr. T: The 3 B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Barenaked Ladies (I don’t like Brahms); Midnight Oil; Kingston Trio; Manheim Steamroller; Spike Jones; Weird Al Yankovic; Alan Sherman; Smothers Brothers; Brandon Flowers; John Adams

To be continued, but while you are waiting feel free to enjoy this:

Dreams for the Future: Neon Trees in 2025

2.15.11 | | 8 comments

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Neon Trees had a big 2010. After getting plucked from the Provo music scene to tour with The Killers in 2008, they finally dropped their first studio album Habits (Amazon) with plenty of buzz and exposure. First single “Animal” went platinum, and after hearing it a zillion times I grew to quite like it and bought the album which spent weeks in our car on repeat. Second single “1983″ has not done as well (speaking sales; it’s on San Francisco radio nonstop), but every song on Habits sounds like a hit and I imagine we’ll be hearing more from Neon Trees at busstops and clubs around the world for years to come.

In case you’re not hip to their jive, man, here’s what they sound like, both album and live: more

Couple-Creators: Mike and Laura Allred

5.25.09 | | 3 comments
Sir:
I’m still trying to get an ftp address out of Sunstone (they must have one and someone must know what it is) and as soon as that gets figured out, I’ll let you know what images I need. (Hopefully by then I will have finished my article.)
In the meantime, I thought I should send you the questions about being a couple of Mormon artists, married to each other. Please distinguish between your comments and Laura’s so I can do the same for readers. (Feel free to forward the questions on to her if would be easier for her just to reply separately.) (Or forward her your answers and let her reply to them.) (Or whatever. I’m flexible.)
I’ve included more questions than I expect you to answer. Feel free to pick and choose. And feel free to plug any upcoming projects as well. And I’ll (obviously) need to include some sort of image with this article — probably one off your website’s gallery or a scan from one of the Madman books I own. But if you happen to have a couple-portrait lying around that you made together, that would be ideal methinks.
Q: Were you both creators before meeting each other? Did creation play a role in bringing you together? How does creating together impact your marriage?
We met at BYU-Idaho and were both in the art department. So, we’ve always had that connection.
We were originally worried about getting sick of each other working together full-time, but it’s only brought us closer together.
Q: Since Michael seems to get hit up for more interviews than Laura, the general impression online is that projects you work on together are purely his ideas. How accurate is this?
Very.
I’ll give him input, but he really does do pretty much everything except selecting the colors.
Q: The Golden Plates. Doing that project seems like a financial risk and, sadly, it wasn’t a big hit. How did you discuss this project ahead of time, and was that discussion different than previous deciding-to-do-a-project discussions? What sort of strain did its lackluster sales cause? How likely are you to return to either that project or the Joseph Smith bio?
First off, it actually was a huge hit. But not big enough to sustain us financially given the time needed to do it right. So, we simply have to find time to do it when we can. We’re confident once we manage an efficient schedule that it will pick up steam.
Q: Speaking of, what is the relationship between faith, art and spouse?
It just is. We don’t have the words to express that answer correctly.
Q: Of course, you both work on projects apart from each other as well as working together — why is it important to take those jobs?
It’s always good to stretch on outside projects. Thats’ where we’ll find new inspiration to progress with different techniques and approaches.
Q: Speaking of, artistically, what are the advantages of working on properties owned by other people?
New perspectives.
Q: How is it different, working together as opposed to working with other people?
Together we have a rhythm and a comfort zone that can’t be matched.
Q: I know you’ve worked with Mike’s brother Lee. Have you involved other family members in projects as well? How does that turn out?
Our children have created characters or done small coloring jobs and stuff. It’s just extra fun.
Q: How do you balance family and art? Do you think it is easier or harder to be parents, you both being professional creatives? How do your careers affect your children?
We would just say it allows us to involve our children more in what we do, and they’re all creative too in music and art. And working at home just brings us closer together.
Q: At the beginning of your careers, before you were The Famous Allreds, how did you balance art with more mundane needs like rent?
We just plugged away. It’s not much different now except…
How has success changed your approaches to art?
…we have more confidence and it’s a little easier to get things done.
Q: How has success changed your relationship with each other?
Simply more comfort, less stress.
Q: I hear Laura is, first and foremost, a painter. Which begs the question: in addition to comics, what else are you two up to in terms of Fab Art?
Not much lately. I have my hands full with our regular work and spend as much time with the kids as we can.
Q: Any advice for Mormon artist couples like yourselves?
Just don’t be afraid to spend more time together. We love it!
Don’t forget to plug your upcoming work (including but not limited to continuing Madman, the Neil Gaiman Metamorpho, and whatever zillion other things you’re busy with).

That’s about it right now. Some things in the works, but nothing I can announce.

yet.

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I imagine the first thing that comes to the average mind when one mentions Mike or Laura Allred, together or separately, is Madman, Mike’s mid-Nineties comics creation that has lived long and is one of the most brilliant comics on shelves even today.

In Mormon circles, they are probably better known for The Golden Plates, their Book of Mormon adaptation.

For both these works, the writing and drawing is done by Mike, with colors by Laura. But their careers stretch far beyond these two titles, deep into the world of popular comics. Mike’s retro-pop stylings are in high demand (look for a collaboration with Neil Gaiman, coming soon) and Laura’s zowie colors for numerous popular titles have won her fan awards time and again. Check out these resumes: (Mike), (Laura).

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Twilight on My Mind

11.20.08 | | 33 comments

Maybe you’re sick of Twilight by now; maybe you’re not.

Or maybe you’re just indifferent.

Whatever the case, I don’t think Stephenie Meyer’s going away any time soon; and with the highly anticipated release of Summit Entertainment’s Film—coming tomorrow to a theater near you!—it’s increasingly difficult to escape the hype. more

The three genres of Christian music

8.15.08 | | 14 comments

I’m finally getting around to processing my notes on Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh. One of the most interesting sections deals with the Christian music industry and various opinions over what is and isn’t acceptable in the industry. Radosh interviews Jay Howard co-author of Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music. Howard identifies three types of CCM* fans: separational, integrational and transformational.

According to Radosh, “the breakdown [into these three groups] is not along aesthetic style lines, and any of the CCM camps can accommodate pretty much any musical style.” Rather, the three groups are each defined by their views of popular culture and the relationship between their work and the larger culture. I’ll outline the three genres and then provide a bit of analysis in relation to the Mormon market. more