October 30, 2016

Relient K: Slow Down and Not Forget

I want to take a detour from my usual posts about traveling for Hanson and let you guys in on another band that has held a quieter importance in my life over the last 13 years. I’m talking about Relient K. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re probably best described as a Christian Rock band with punk tendencies (though not so much punk in recent years, and not always overtly Christian). Personally, I just categorize them as awesome. A close friend introduced me to their music when we were 15, and I immediately fell in love with their witty lyrics and wordplay before I ever figured out that I had any writing skills of my own.

I listened to their album “Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…but Three Do” every morning on my drive to school in the 10th grade. They have these great lyrics that for whatever reason I can never seem to fully learn no matter how many times I listen. It's like they say so much in so few words that I find myself just listening and enjoying it rather than trying to repeat it, and it's the perfect mix of serious and silly. I saw them perform for the first time in 2005 when I was 17, one of the first concerts I ever attended. They were the first band I truly loved that I got to see live, and I think I owe at least part of my love for live shows to these guys.

When I rediscovered Hanson in late 2006, somehow Relient K took an unplanned backseat. Sometimes when I’m listening to their music I question how and why that happened, because I don’t feel like I love their music any less, nor does it feel like a competition. I love both Hanson and Relient K for different reasons. They occupy separate spaces in my music fan heart. Still, I’ve got 10 years of Hanson experience and over a hundred shows, and after 13 years of Relient K, I just returned from my 4th. It boggles my mind a little bit because I feel like I love Relient K’s music way more than four shows’ worth implies, especially when you know my Hanson background. I guess it's an excellent reminder that the number of shows you've been to doesn't make you any more or less of a fan than anyone else.

If I’m being completely honest, I think it might come down to the fact that when I went looking for more, Hanson’s fanbase was waiting for me with open arms. There was a fan club and forums full of people talking excitedly about this music that I loved at exactly the right time in my life, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Even today, I’m not sure where to find the largest concentration of Relient K fans, and I think that has made all the difference in me being willing and able to travel to see them the way that I do for Hanson. I simply haven’t made the connections I needed in the Relient K fan base to push me to do more. There were no enablers making it seem “normal” to knock out ten shows in a single tour, so I didn’t. And every time I see them, I regret it a little bit.

But that hasn’t stopped me from seeing them when they come to Myrtle Beach, and thankfully they do that somewhat regularly. I just came back from their stop here on the Looking for America Tour with Switchfoot on October 28th. Of the four times I have seen them, I’ve gone alone twice. It terrifies me to no end, but they’re worth the discomfort of braving the crowd alone. This time I bought a VIP ticket that got me a M&G and photo opportunity with the band in addition to early entry. Aside from one incredibly quick and hideous photo I got with Matthew Hoopes three years ago, this was my first time actually meeting the band. I was terrified and excited and completely out of my element, so naturally the whole thing was a little awkward. Which is pretty much my way of life, so I’m fine with it. Matthew Theissen made small talk about where I’m from, which I completely bombed when he tried to ask what direction my city was in relation to North Myrtle Beach. (Look, I can’t give cardinal directions to my best friend or my mother either, so it's not necessarily a side effect of being star struck. It's a side effect of me being me. For what it’s worth, the correct answer was southwest!) They were friendly and polite despite my shyness, so I have to give them props for that. I hope for more opportunities in the future where I can redeem myself and act a little more like someone that has a personality.

The show was great from their more comedic songs, to their classics, right down to the part where I sobbed openly in front row center. They had released a surprise Halloween EP at midnight that same day, so we got to hear the EP in full. There is one song in particular called “The Cup” about Butterfinger Cups that I can’t actually stop singing, and if you’re a Hanson fan reading this, think Digital Pants quality with killer candy lyrics:

Some kids smile at SweeTarts, sweet hearts
(It’s so sad)
But three cheers for Three Musketeers
Out there fighting the good low-fat food fight, all night
That's right, three cheers for Three Musketeers
Reese's Cup was the candy they all measured up to
Snickers bar's no fun in the fun size

…you get the ridiculous and great picture here. The EP is called The Creepier EP-er, which is an obvious follow-up to 2001's The Creepy EP. Did I mention they make genius titles? Because they do.

On a much more serious note, the tears came at the end when they played a song called “Deathbed.” Morbid as it may sound, this song was instantly my favorite when it came out in 2007. It’s so real and raw and tells an unglorified story of a man who ends up dying of lung cancer after a pretty sad and unfulfilling life. The part that makes it beautiful is the redemption at the end, and the salvation that occurs on his death bed. It’s just a completely beautiful and moving song to me. I cried the first time I ever heard it even though it held no personal connection for me at the time. I had to stop listening to it when my own dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2015. I lost him last summer, and as far as I was concerned, I considered “Deathbed” permanently retired from my music library. I was afraid that a song that once felt beautiful to me would serve as a bitter reminder of my loss, and I didn’t want to be faced with the emotions I knew it would bring.

But life is full of surprises, like having to endure that song alone in front row center, in full view of the band with tears running down my face. I don’t regret it. I met another fan before the M&G and confessed my fears about hearing that song live. I felt like I owed it to her to not be the weird stranger sobbing uncontrollably next to her at the show, and she reassured me that it would be okay if I cried. I’m hesitant to share such a personal story here and I certainly don’t want to upset anyone or draw pity, but I also want Relient K to know how much I truly appreciate that song, pain and all, because through the tears it still reminded me of what I loved about it in the first place. It's nice to be reminded of the beauty and grace at the end of the heartbreaking story.

I'm not sure who this post is for, exactly. I know it's completely out of place for most Hanson fans that read my blog regularly, and it's probably just plain weird for Relient K fans to see this strange girl with a Hanson blog rambling on about a band that she has stayed oddly quiet about for someone that claims to love them so much. I guess it's for me, and maybe also for Relient K, who have certainly given me more than I have given them. I'd like to somehow give them the truth if nothing else.

I don't know that I have accomplished any of what I wanted to say with this blog post. It still feels like a weird and confused mashup of one girl's love for two bands and a little bit of regret for letting one of them seem less important, even if only in my own head. I guess I just feel like I owe this band something more than silence, like leaving out the truth of how much I love Relient K's music for so long is somehow the same thing as lying. So for what it's worth, Relient K's music has been a constant positive force in my life. I'm thankful for these goofballs from Ohio that sing about mood rings and elephants and the art of letting go of unimportant things. Chapstick, and road trips, and things like apathy. I just want to slow down and not forget to say thanks.  

And if you're not familiar with Relient K, have a playlist with a few suggestions!
(You'll have to check out "The Cup" on Youtube because it's not on Spotify yet)

October 19, 2016

Play On Replay: EP Review

One of the things I really like about the Play EP is that it only has one traditional love song. I know love is probably the single most inspirational factor in the history of music, but I often find myself wishing for more songs focusing on other topics. I’m used to loving melodies and instrumentals and sometimes ignoring the fact that the killer guitar riff I’m nodding along with is accompanying some pretty mushy lyrics. I really like that I can connect with most of the songs on Play with or without having somebody to love, and I think that is something that Hanson also did well with Loud.

 I'm all for a bunch of "love" songs when the object of affection is music and happiness.

"Do You Believe In Love
I LOVE the sound of this song. Those stacked acapella harmonies in the beginning are simply delicious. I have always liked Queen, and I’m not the slightest bit upset to see Hanson try a song in their style. My original reaction stands: It sounds like Queen and Hanson and birthday cake and money raining from the sky. I know the obvious Queen sound has been off-putting to some and may even feel like a rip-off, but as someone who could not even come close to ripping off Queen if I tried, I’ll stay impressed. Besides, Freddie Mercury wrote “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” as a tribute to Elvis and you can definitely hear the influence, so I doubt they’d mind.


What would make me love it more?
#UnpopularOpinion alert: I’d like it more if we didn’t get the full song as an early download. I was so excited to listen to Play on October 10th, and I can just imagine how much more excited I would have been if this song was part of that moment as well.

"Freak Out"
I think this song is the main source of my procrastination for finishing this review. I don't have anything particularly good or bad to say about it. I'm hoping it's one of those songs I fall in love with when I hear it live or at random three years later, but only time will tell. One thing I will say is that as a fan blogger, I never let myself read other fans' reviews before I write my own because I don't want to influence my own opinion before I can figure out how I feel first. Since I don't actually have much of an opinion in this situation, I'm happy to be influenced and I pretty much can't wait to read what other fans had to say about this song.

"Man On Top"
I want to like "Man On Top," but I feel like I need more context or more of a background story to really enjoy it. Something about the lyrics just feels out of place to me. Why is there a song about a guy thinking he's awesome in the middle of an album about great music and feeling joyful? If "Do You Believe In Love" is in homage to Queen, "Man On Top" feels like an ode to Kanye West.

It's similar to "You Can't Stop Us," but where that song feels like exerting confidence and proving your worth to someone trying to keep you down, this one just feels cocky and over the top. And maybe cocky and over the top is the exact vibe they were going for with this song, but I need someone to connect the dots for me and explain how that fits in on Play before I can embrace it. I'm happy to say it sounds way less Clarissa Explains it All than I originally thought when we were recording the background "na na" part, but it also sounds way more Zapp Brannigan meets Ron Burgundy than I thought, too.

"Joyful Noise"

Those catchy little "la las" in the chorus have been on loop in my head since we first sang them in May. A few weeks after we heard Play when my memories began fading to a feeling rather than a sound, this is the tune that still stuck. The whole song is this idealistic concept of healing the world with joyful music, and while that may not be achievable on a global scale, I think it can totally work at the individual level if you let it. Between the upbeat piano and the "la la" part, I think "joyful" is the perfect word to describe this song, and I think Hanson did a pretty great job at capturing that feeling of joy in song form.

A fan friend of mine (other Holly) mentioned that it reminded her of a Coke commercial. I was picturing the animated ones from recent years with dancing animals and super happy music and fountains of Coke spraying joyful little streams of happiness because obviously Coke makes everything better, and I totally agreed that the vibe was similar. Turns out she was actually talking about this one, and that I somehow missed the memo that "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing" originated as a Coke jingle. To her point, "Joyful Noise" has very similar lyrics but with their own unique Hanson sound.

I don't think of this song as a Christian song at all, but I can't quite ignore the phrasing and the fact that "Make a joyful noise" is a verbatim quote from Psalm 100. I touched on a little bit of potential Biblical influence in my rambling analysis of "Feeling Alive" as well last week, but I think in both cases the Biblical wording was chosen to reflect a general feeling of joy and thanksgiving and community more than it was meant to make any sort of religious statement.

"Feeling Alive"
I'll keep this one short because I've already exhausted any reasonable word count when it comes to this song. Suffice it to say "Feeling Alive" is a definite standout to me and I think has the potential to be my new favorite Hanson song, but I'm not allowed to make that call until the newness has worn off some. The lyrics feel meaningful and genuine and I'm proud of the final product they were able to create here. There isn't a single line that leaves me wondering what it means or wishing they had tweaked it just a little bit. The message is clear and confident and that fact is perhaps reflected in Taylor's uncharacteristically perfect enunciation throughout the song. All the gold stars. I had no idea so many people would agree.

If you've somehow managed to escape my full praise report on this song, you can check it out here.

Now it's time for you to tell me an opinion of your own.

(There's been a reported mouse/thumb mishap where someone accidentally voted for Freak Out instead of Do You Believe In Love. So for accuracy purposes, consider DYBIL having one more vote and Freak Out having one less.)

October 12, 2016

Feeling Alive: An Analysis

The first time I heard “Feeling Alive,” I was at the Brady Theatre back in May at Hanson Day. It got to me in a way I couldn’t explain at the time, and I found myself standing there with happy tears forming just loving this song. I left feeling excited and restored in some way, but also confused by why it had such a strong effect on me. It wasn’t until I was talking with another fan a few days later that it hit me why this song felt so strangely familiar and important—it felt like a continuation of “Tonight.”

If you haven’t read my analysis of “Tonight” from a few years ago, you’ll probably get the most out of this post if you pause here for a moment and go check it out. To sum it up, “Tonight” has been my favorite Hanson song since Anthem’s release because it reminds me of exactly how much I have to lose and how much I have to be thankful for when it comes to this band. To me, "Tonight" had a note of finality and gave me a glimpse of just how close Hanson was to walking away from their music. It sounded like the story of a last hurrah before an end. And "Feeling Alive" sounded like the morning after "Tonight" where we all managed to make it to "tomorrow's daylight." Cue the happy tears. (And the lesson plans.)

"Feeling Alive" vs. "Tonight"
Both songs use fighting metaphors to talk about what I presume to be the same topic: creating music. “Tonight” uses boxing—“box to the ropes,” “your heavyweight knees buckle under a ton,” and “don’t give up without a fight.” “Feeling Alive” uses battle/war imagery. We’ve got cannons firing, talk of winning or losing, and being “on both sides of the barrel” of a gun. Even the drums sound like a battle march. So why does this matter? Because there's one big difference:

Boxers fight each other; soldiers fight together.

It's the secret to making it through to that next morning, working together as a team instead of isolating yourself and feeling cornered.

The other obvious similarity is the theme of raised hands. There’s “Throw your hands up” in “Tonight,” and “Lift your hands up high/reach up to the sky” in “Feeling Alive.” This is where I go back to my English teacher roots because the wording totally matters. As I said in my previous post, the particular wording used in “Tonight” has a more negative connotation. In every day use, you “throw up your hands” in frustration or to signify giving up. But the image of lifting your hands up to the sky? It’s a celebratory action found in several places throughout the Bible. Lifting one’s hands is common in an act of worship or praise. Am I arguing that this is a Christian song? Not at all. I just can't ignore the word choice and the fact that lifting one's hands to the sky is a historically positive thing showing joy and gratitude.

Because I actually do want you to make it to the end of this post without falling asleep, I'm cutting the paragraph I had here about the subtle differences in the first person perspective and the use of implied "you" subjects in "Tonight." Just know that it totally exists and you have been spared. There's a handy TL;DR graphic below, anyway.

"Feeling Alive"
Despite the strong connection I see between these two songs, I do think "Feeling Alive" is an incredible song on its own. It's vague enough for the meaning to fit a lot of different situations, but I see it as a metaphor for my favorite musicians joining together in the fight to continue putting out great music. The song acknowledges a struggle and still leaves room for doubt and uncertainty ("Even if we don't survive," "If we've lost or won"), but as a whole the message is positive. It's the story of a fighter who would be cautious and insecure under normal conditions, but has been tasked with a cause and a passion that he simply can't ignore.

In the beginning of the song he depicts himself as directionless. He claims that he isn't a leader, yet he goes on to flawlessly command a full choir, and you can hear the evidence of his success in the background "oohs". His growing confidence is mirrored by the sound of building drums as the song progresses, and there's a moment in the last verse where his voice seems to reach a final, desperate peak as well. You can hear the desperation and urgency when he sings "I've fallen on my face while just standing in place," and I think it's this revelation that ultimately leads him to action and to our chorus of "Tonight I won't stand still." It's 2016's version of "And we won't go down."

(Don't worry, there won't be a follow up post comparing "Feeling Alive" to "This Time Around" even though it's full of war imagery too.)

The line "I'm humble by your side" is also an important one. It may sound hypocritical at first to see someone referring to themselves as humble, but it's the rest of that sentence that matters. He's not saying "I'm a humble guy;" he's saying "I'm humble by your side." The best definition of "humble" that I found says it means "showing deferential or submissive respect." He's showing respect and appreciation for the ones fighting with him, whether that means the other members in the band, a congregation of fans, or both. And that joyful choir? I like to think that's their representation of us in their battle, and proof of what they can achieve when they work together.

I think some will read a little too much into the part at the end that says "There's just one act left in this play" and take it as proof of some impending end, but you can't isolate that line and ignore the rest of the song.

I've said
Just about
All I can say
There's just one act
Left in this play

There's a subtle shift between "say" and "act" where this hesitant speaker finally admits he needs to stop talking about feeling directionless and actually DO something about it. The final act here is literally just to act (instead of "standing in place"), and the play metaphor is a play on words with the EP's title. It's the very end of the last song on the EP; it's the final act of the play, or "Play." 
And with a title like "Feeling Alive"? I have to take it at face value and say it feels like the band is in a really good place to me.  I'll be readily anticipating the next production.

Not bored yet? Here are the notes I made before I started writing this post. There are a few things that didn't make the cut here, like what I think the "seƱorita" line is referring to. I'd love to hear your interpretations of the song, too!

(Too small to read? Open in a new tab or click here.)

October 4, 2016

10 Totally Avoidable Travel Regrets

Let one woman's misfortunes be another's crisis averted.

1. Not bringing enough small bills or change.
If you're sticking to the beaten path, you can usually run to an ATM if you fail to bring enough cash, but that won’t help when you need smaller bills or coins. There’s always tipping, tolls, cab fares, and laundry services to consider. Splitting costs in a car full of people also gets complicated fast when nobody remembered to bring anything smaller than a $20. (Side note—as someone with retail experience, I promise no cashier has ever wanted to break that $100 bill into your preferred combination of $5’s, $1’s, and quarters with your purchase of a pack of gum, either.)

2. Assuming the weather reports are accurate.
I have packed a suitcase full of the wrong clothes more than once because I based my choices solely on weather reports. Always opt for that one jacket, pair of long pants, pair of shorts, or umbrella that you don't think you'll need. Otherwise you may wind up miserable or on an unplanned shopping spree.

3. Overpacking.
Just because you have extra space doesn’t mean you should fill it. There was a time for me when going to a show in a car automatically meant packing a camping chair and a cooler. I’m not saying those things are never worth the space—for some people, they are. But if you’re like me and you wind up not even using the cooler and being angry you have to keep up with a chair, just save yourself the trouble and don’t bring it in the first place. One time I accidentally packed my medium sized suitcase instead of the carry on size. It fit in the car just fine, but I had to lug that thing around for a month. I dragged it around uneven city sidewalks, down narrow hallways, and at my lowest moment, up 5 flights of stairs in NYC. I came home with some newly impressive muscles, at least. Never again.

4. Not taking the time to print electronic tickets and itineraries in advance.
This one is my tragic flaw. I know most people love traditional hard copy mailed tickets for the souvenir factor, but I am in love with e-tickets. They’re usually cheaper because you don’t have to pay for shipping, and you can lose them 37 times and just reprint them the day before the trip if you need to. Until you can’t, because it’s 3 am, your flight leaves in 4 hours, and you just realized your printer is out of ink. I did this to myself last fall. Three months later, I traveled to Jamaica without printing my flight itinerary because I knew I could just print my boarding passes at the airport. That plan worked out fine until the travel agency wanted my return flight information before putting me on a bus to the resort, and “Let me just pull up my email confirmation” isn’t really an option when you're out of the country and there’s no wi-fi. Save yourself the hassle and have all of your tickets, flight information, and hotel confirmation numbers on paper in one place before the trip, just in case.

5. Traveling domestically without a passport.
Obviously you don’t need a passport to travel in your home country, but if you already have one, take it with you. You never know when something might come up to make you glad you had it. A friend of mine had a canceled flight once and the only route that would get her back home the same day had a layover in Canada. She was able to take that flight and avoid being stranded overnight because she had her passport on her, even though her original trip was only in the United States. There was also a tour one year where an unexpected opportunity came up for my friend and I to continue on to the last two shows that happened to be in Canada after our planned east coast run. We had to go back home instead because guess which one of us didn’t bring a passport? Lesson learned.

6. Not reading ticket and reservation details before clicking “purchase.”
If you’re a regular concert ticket buyer, then you know the adrenaline rush that accompanies the moment tickets go on sale. Being too slow to buy can mean the difference between front row and the nosebleeds or missing out on a ticket altogether. But that adrenaline rush can make you do stupid, stupid things, my friends. Stop and read the details once you've got it in your cart.

I had a “Spring Awakening” phase back in 2008. If you're not familiar, it's a play with a pretty neat setup that allows 26 audience members to sit directly on stage mixed in with the actors. When I managed to snag one of the coveted and impossibly hard to get stage tickets, I jumped at the chance to buy it. I had planned to go to the showing in Tampa because it was the closest show to me that hadn't gone on sale yet. I was on cloud 9 after my purchase right up until the moment I finally read the word “Broadway” in the confirmation and realized I had bought myself a ticket to the Broadway showing in New York City instead of the tour version of the show in Tampa. In my moment of excitement I had clicked the wrong ticket link and failed to read the details before completing my purchase. As a result, I got stuck with an expensive ticket I couldn’t use, and to add to my fail, the Tampa on stage seating was sold out by the time I finally figured out what I had done eight hours later. Thankfully, having an extra front row stage ticket made for a pretty easy sale, but not every mistake ends in an easy fix. (In the end, I wound up with stage tickets to two showings in Cleveland because yes, I’m that person that tries to buy a ticket to Florida, accidentally gets one to New York, and actually winds up in Ohio).

7. Not double checking GPS travel routes.
Because the "unexpected beautiful" you find might turn out to be Lake Tahoe when you meant to be at Yosemite.

8. Traveling without a cushion.

Of money, that is. I love saving money and whittling down my travel costs to the bare minimum, but I know it would be irresponsible and dangerous to go without having extra money in my account for emergency situations. Be prepared for the moment your tire blows out or your suitcase gets lost. Once over the course of a month long roadtrip, I had to replace windshield wipers, a headlight, a turn signal, and TWO GPSs. That same trip, a week of the tour got canceled and we found ourselves with no place to go for a week where we had planned out free places to stay in advance. Luckily, we had a friend in the area that we were able to crash with, but that could have easily been a week's worth of unexpected hotel fees.

9. Not knowing how to work your new camera in advance.
I went to Niagara Falls and took the most gorgeous pictures...in 640x480 resolution. They make for some really high quality thumbnails. #NiagaraFails

And finally,

10. Don't pack toy guns if you're traveling out of the country.
Because the Jamaican customs form categorizes them under "traveling with firearms," and that is one box you do not want to have to check "yes" because they're already in your checked luggage. I laughed at the situation, but the customs worker was not amused by me and my colorful squirt guns that had to be confiscated. Or maybe the lesson here is don't check "yes" next to the firearms box just because you have tiny plastic water guns in your bag.

What are some of your travel regrets?