NOTE: Oops. The auto post function didn’t work on this. But it’s online now.
Local musician/writer Tony Bennett became the News Tribune’s new music reviewer in mid-November. This week’s Wave has a Q&A with Bennett where he talks about what he listens to, what he likes, and how an opinion is just an opinion.
Here are the outtakes from that interview:
Q: As a musician, do you care about reviews? Do you remember things that have been said about your band in reviews?
TB: I can remember getting Dames reviews that were really great and we’d be like “Yeah, they get us.” And then you get a bad one and … I don’t think we got a whole lot of bad ones. I remember one in particular. Our second album had just come out and we were like “Can’t wait to see what people say about us.” Some guy talked about Beck for a paragraph and then compared us to Alice in Chains. No song titles. He probably didn’t listen to it and decided to slam us.
I decided to be angry about it. Not because we had a bad review, but because he didn’t think about it much. He decided to write something snarky. He wanted to get back to his Pavement album and we were playing riff metal or whatever it was. It was negative and it made us feel bad.
I think about that. I think about what the band or the artist will take from it. I’ve been on that side of the fence. While I’m not going to try to pull any punches to keep someone from feeling that pain or rejection, I’m not going to write something just so I can write an amusing piece of critique. Hopefully I’ll write something that has something to say and comes from a perspective where I’ve got a little experience being review and I’m a musician and I’m not just some guy who walks in off the street and has a keyboard.
Q: What makes a good song or a good album?
TB: It doesn’t matter the style of music. I love Elliott Smith as much as I love, well, not just as much as I love Jesus Lizard. So it’s not a stylistic thing. To me it’s honesty. That’s not just in a song, it’s how you play and how you present your music. I like stuff that’s serious but has a good sense of humor. I like things that aren’t too perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good.
I like someone who isn’t afraid to be a little honest about themelves being a little strange or angry or sad. I don’t want to hear that everything is sunny and perfect and stuff all the time. I don’t relate to that. I don’t think people are being honest when they present a Pollyanna-ish thing.
That’s not to say everyone is doing stuff like that or that everyone needs to be depressive or dark for me to like it. I like plenty of things that are stupidly happy. As long as it has got a sense of humor or you’re not too uptight or precious … that’s what I gravitate to I think.
Q: Since you’re not going to be reviewing the new Cars & Trucks, can you talk about the album?
TB: It’s sort of a concept album. We did (Renegade Theater Company’s production of) “Tommy” and it was inevitable that we would be influenced by The Who because of it. We played these songs that were more dynamic than what we were playing. We didn’t have these extreme highs and lows. We were playing songs that were six, seven minutes long. It felt good to stretch out and be more musically adventurous.
We had our ship pointed in that direction. At the same time I was writing these songs that were kind of … I was listening to the Kinks and I’ve become a Kinks disciple. Ray Davies was inspiring me to be brutally honest, almost embarrassingly honest. I wrote about feeling like a big loser and a has-been. At one point I was a starry-eyed rock ‘n’ roll dreamer, then that all fell apart. It took me a few years to suss out what I wanted to do with music. I realized it didn’t matter if I was a known quantity or not. It only mattered that I was doing it.
It’s sort of about that. It’s about everyone. All of my friends who have played in bands and they all love it and can’t help but love it and they can’t help but play a guitar or play a drum or sing a song. I wanted to honor that.
Not everyone can climb Everest. Sometimes walking down the path and going up a little hill is cool, too.
I was reading Pete Townshend’s biography and he said he can’t help but write songs about songs. I thought “That’s what our album is about: Music about music.”
I wanted to make an album that was a single statement that actually had something to say and I decided not to be afraid to say something.