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Jessica Small

Almost Independent writing contest


By Paul Wellman

Jessica Small
Jessica will be attending Cal State Northridge in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism. She’s originally from Long Island, New York, which explains her heavy addiction to Billy Joel tunes. Her knack for memorizing movie lines might someday qualify her to perform a one-woman show of Clerks.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #1 (from Sound & Fury, Independent vol. 74)

The Little Heroes, Cinematic Americana

Can The Little Heroes save music? Opening with the breathy “Flight Plans for Airplanes” on their debut album, Cinematic Americana, the band sounds as though it is ready to take part in the next Zach Braff compilation album (Garden State 2, anybody?). Don’t let this mellow first track fool you. The tempo picks up with “September Falls” and stays consistent throughout the album (besides the acoustic ballad “Come On” and the last track “September Calls”). They hit a nostalgic note, echoing bands such as R.E.M. and the Gin Blossoms, but give us a taste of modern indie rock as well. They may not save music, but The Little Heroes bring a diverse, melodic electroshock to the industry.

ONLINE ESSAY #1: Why I want to be a Music Writer

Neil Young is my father. Tom Petty, my crazy uncle from Florida. There’s Cat Stevens, my uncle from the “other side” of the family who was ostracized when he converted to Islam. And gone but not forgotten is Harry Chapin, my favorite uncle until he was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway.

I only wish these icons were a part of my family tree. However, to me, they are like family. I was born to two people whose musical obsessions became my own. My father still nurses his passion for music, venturing into new territory like Death Cab for Cutie. And my passion for music keeps me connected to the memories of my mother.

I first acknowledged my musical autonomy when I moved from Madonna, Paula Abdul, and Ace of Base to Guns and Roses, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains. I realized that I didn’t have to conform to what girls my age were listening to. I could pioneer into the realms of music that actually meant something more than writhing around on stage in an altered wedding dress.

As idealistic as it sounds, I want to be a music writer to initiate media literacy among people and their relationship with the music industry. I want them to know it’s OK to enjoy music that isn’t manufactured in a balding, fat executive’s office. Music is art and should be treated as such. Becoming a music writer would truly unite my two passions: music and writing. What more could I ask for?

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #2 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 75)

SAMPLES SET EXAMPLE: There won’t be any free samples on June 17 at SOhO, but there will be a chance to witness music history in the making. The Samples have endured two decades of togetherness, making the seemingly backward leap from a major record label to an independent one. Now The Samples may be able to teach other bands a lesson: You don’t have to sell out to do what you love. Maintaining a loyal fan base since the ‘80s, they are an example of success without overexposure. With comparisons to the Grateful Dead, The Samples give the younger generation a chance to experience good old granola-eating, folk music fun. The band goes on at 8:30 p.m., the price is 15 bucks, and the music is priceless.

ONLINE ESSAY #2: My first concert experience

It was a scorching July day during the summer of ‘98, and there I was, wearing all black with sparkly stockings on my arms. Some 40-year-old creep walked past me, shouting “I like that!” as he looked me up and down. If only he knew I was thirteen.

I guess that’s the kind of crowd one can expect at Ozzfest, especially in New Jersey. It was a good year for Ozzfest, with a lineup as diverse as its audience, with bands like Coal Chamber, Soulfly, and Sevendust for the younger crowd and Megadeath and Ozzy Osbourne for the aging metal heads.

Newcomers Limp Bizkit took the stage. They had a woman dressed in a provocative outfit chained to a giant toilet bowl. Fred Durst pretended to whip her. I screamed, “You suck! Get off the stage!” They didn’t comply with my requests. I patiently waited for the main reasons I came to Ozzfest: Tool and Ozzy. Tool took the stage with Maynard James Keenan wearing a beige polyester suit and a blonde wig that I was pretty sure he stole from a Ken doll. By the end, he was in his boxer briefs and a shaved head. And Ozzy? What more can I say? Humorous introduction, solid performance, no severed bat heads. Everybody won: humans and animals, alike.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #3 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 75)

MAKING MARLEY PROUD: They may not be buffalo soldiers, but The Aggrolites have worked hard to perfect their fusion of infectious reggae and ska melodies. The ‘lites don’t hail from Jamaica, but they do consider themselves lucky to have been raised in Los Angeles, a city with a thriving reggae community. As much as the band has pioneered bringing a classic reggae and ska sound to the U.S., lead singer Jesse Wagner‘s vocals are strikingly similar to a lead singer from another SoCal band, Sublime. All Brad Nowell comparisons aside, round up your dreadlocked Rastas and head down to Velvet Jones on June 23. Don’t forget your skankin’ shoes!

ONLINE ESSAY #3: My dream interview

As Billy Joel once said, “The good old days weren’t always good. And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Maybe that’s the way we should look at music, especially the younger generations. Of course the classics will always be classics, but shouldn’t we give a chance to up and coming artists to make their mark in music history? They can’t do it if we keep sorrowfully hanging our heads in our hands while whining that Nirvana was the last great pinnacle in music.

One man’s beautifully cryptic lyrics give hope to music lovers such as me. He has captivated me since 2002 when I first heard the album, Your Favorite Weapon. His name is Jesse Lacey, and his band is Brand New. Their name is well suited, considering each album they create is a breath of fresh air amidst a cloudy sea of pop punk clones and meaningless pseudo hard rock. As the primary songwriter of the band, I wouldn’t just want to interview this man. I want to live inside his head for a day.

Not only is Jesse Lacey a musician, he is a writer. I can’t say that for many other lyricists. Just like Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, he knows how to write. He is aware that the lyrics are just as important as the melodies. Even as a teenager his sarcastic play on words set Brand New apart from their pop punk counterparts. Lucky for us, he gives the gift of emotionally gripping lyrics about love, heartbreak, and self-examination. And the best part? He does this all without falling into the oh-so-tempting pit of self-indulgent whining. As he’s said in other interviews, he’s not afraid to point the finger at himself.

Here are the things I would ask him:

1. When listening to your first album, Your Favorite Weapon, as compared to Deja Entendu and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, do you feel embarrassed by it or proud to see your sound evolve as you get older?

2. After seeing other lead singers, such as Ace Enders from The Early November, find success on their own, does the idea of a solo project entice you?

3. When you write your music, do you self-reflect as you write or does that self-reflection come after the record has been completed and you have listened to your songs in their entirety?

4. How do you feel growing up on Long Island impacted your sound as a band? Like the grunge movement that came out of Seattle in the early ‘90s, do you feel Long Island has a distinctive music scene?

5. Being from Long Island myself, I’ve been dying to know if the song “Limousine” is about the tragic car accident that killed a flower girl and a limousine driver on the Meadowbrook Parkway in July 2005.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #4 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 76)

PARKING IT: What’s more beautiful than the sound of flamenco guitar? Easy-the sound of flamenco guitar intertwined with nature’s own resonance. On Thursday, June 28 at 6 p.m., guitar virtuoso Benise will be spicing things up at Chase Palm Park with the help of his sultry flamenco dancers. To get a double dose of flamenco music, cruise over to Alameda Park on Sunday, July 1 to see the Anthony Ybarra Trio. Ybarra and his boys offer up classic Spanish and Latin American music beginning at 3 p.m. Gipsy Kings, watch out! This summer’s Concerts in the Park series boasts a variety of talent, so sit tight and check out santabarbaraca.gov for the complete lineup.

ONLINE ESSAY #4: Cover song that eclipsed the original

My iTunes is an eclectic mess of talent where Queen fraternizes with Notorious B.I.G. and A Tribe Called Quest kicks it with Nirvana. No, I don’t have an impressive array of obscure artists in my collection vying for attention, and I will not choose a song covered by an even more obscure artist which was performed at a coffee shop once in 1993. I never really wanted to be John Cusack in High Fidelity. I wanted to choose a song most people will recognize and appreciate.

Johnny Cash added his strangely upbeat yet innately melancholy country flair to “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965, shortly after Bob Dylan released the original. June Carter offers an angelic complement to Cash’s booming vocals while they reinvent Dylan’s tale of rejection from a former flame. Cash’s rendition personifies a steam train chugging along with his harmonica in tow. Even though Cash took this song and made it almost indiscernible from Dylan’s, the original will always be better because without it, the cover would cease to exist. However, The Man in Black still makes this one of my favorite cover songs.

IN-PRINT SAMPLE #5 (from Positively State Street, Independent vol. 77)

READY TO LAUNCH: With many bands coveting everything from glamorous red-carpet walks to underwear ads, Santa Barbara-based StompRocket speaks to the bleeding-heart indie music lover in us all. “I think the music we play is far removed from what’s mainstream on the radio,” lead singer Sado said during a recent phone interview. “I know doing what we feel is true to us will come across more authentically.”

And the band’s mission statement is paying off. That authenticity won them a top-five spot in the GarageBand Faceoff, an Internet contest for unsigned bands. StompRocket blasted its way past the 34,000-band roster, refusing cash offerings of up to $25,000 to quit the contest. Even though the boys didn’t win that oh-so-alluring prize-a $100,000 deal with Capitol Records-they chalk it up to experience: “We weren’t bummed because it was really unexpected,” Sado explained.

Drawing inspiration from eclectic influences, including Alice in Chains, David Bowie, and Metallica, StompÂ-Rocket- composed of Sado, drummer Bob-E, guitar player Dave Escobar, and bassist Gary Braun-offers a familiar sound thriving with fresh metal nuances. But don’t limit the band with labels. “I feel like we kind of have our own genre,” Sado said. Witness the explosion of speedy guitar riffs and double bass drum thump-a-thons for yourself this Friday, July 6 at Velvet Jones.

ONLINE ESSAY #5: Most overrated album

As I Googled “most overrated albums of all time,” I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between each grumpy music critic’s list. For some reason, Nirvana’s Nevermind seemed to have the number one spot, along with albums by the Sex Pistols and The Beatles. The reasoning for these attacks on the musical validity of classics was unclear. It’s futile to argue the artistic quality of an album if it began a musical movement, especially if it’s over 30 years old. Maybe Nevermind wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but it was a building block to a revolution.

I never understood the critics’ and public’s fascination with The White Stripes. Something about the crudely applied make-up, outrageous outfits, and head scratching relationship status between Jack and Meg White makes the Stripes seem like a gimmick. Their album Elephant received heavy radio and MTV airplay with the help of their single “Seven Nation Army.” With its primitive sounding percussion and Jack White’s Fran Drescher-like vocals, I would say any Stripes album is overrated. While I don’t oppose bands who favor simplicity over intricate drum solos and flaming guitars, the Stripes give me a bad after taste in my mouth. However, it’s more bland than bitter.

ONLINE ESSAY #6: The polite bashing

Fresh Meat

While the boys of Drew Mackie and the Macaroons are not confectionary treasures like their name says, they are attempting to break into the Santa Barbara music scene to please people aurally, not orally. Drawing their name from their experiences as bakers in an Italian bakery, Drew and the gang had good intentions on Friday night at Rocks, but they’re freshness as a band was imminent. They’re tempos were inconsistent during a few songs, especially their parody cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” As the Macaroons belted out the chorus behind Drew’s lead vocals, their harmonies were dissonant at best. With their equipment on the fritz, the microphones squeaked and squealed like newborn piglets; the audience tensed up their shoulders and squinted their eyes in displeasure.

Even with the technical glitches, one thing is clear: Drew Mackie and the Macaroons love what they do. The discouragements of Friday’s show didn’t seem to deter the band, a true sign of maturity. There’s nothing more endearing than a band that can laugh at itself. The band shows potential with Drew’s baritone vocals setting him apart from other pop rock singers. His words seem to find their way to the microphone from the depths of his diaphragm. They are all skillful musicians, but definitely need to practice synchronizing those talents to create a cohesive unit. Whether or not Drew Mackie and the Macaroons find their voice in the Santa Barbara music scene and beyond is up to them.

ONLINE ESSAY #7: “Seeking Writing Fame, Finding Myself”

Let’s face it. Contests can get ugly. That’s probably why I never felt the urge to make myself vulnerable to the evil clutches of competition. However, when I saw that piece of paper on my professor’s desk in April with the words “Music Writer Contest” printed on it, something spoke to my skepticism towards contests. I was coaxed out of my fortress of cynicism and distrust with an overwhelming sense of optimism. I’ve always wanted to write for a living and I have been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t resist entering a contest with my calling written all over it.

Making it to the final two of this contest awakened my confidence and consoled my fear of making the wrong decision for my future. I realized that sometimes a little healthy competition can trigger motivation. I learned that encountering critics is inevitable when making art: whether its music, visual art, or writing. People aren’t always going to like what an artist has to say, or more importantly, how they say it. I think taking the constructive criticism, yet filtering out malicious comments and continuing to do what I love, is the key to success in this business.

The most important thing I discovered about participating in a competition is to always learn from my opponents. I think many people view their competition as enemies and fear the challenge their competitors might bring. Insulting other competitors is self-consciousness at its best. Showing respect and even cultivating potential friendships with one’s competition shows good sportsmanship. I would rather possess that virtue than win a contest. Besides, I could end up with some great friends.

Being exposed to the real world of media (whether it’s being on a morning radio show or going to a concert to review it) has given me experience I would have never gotten from simply going to school. For that, I am truly thankful to the Independent and all the readers who have voted for me.

IN-PRINT ASSIGNMENT: Incubus review

Not far from the Santa Barbara Bowl lies Incubus’ old stomping ground: Calabasas High School. Now with everything from double platinum albums to sold-out tours, the band’s humble beginnings are a distant memory. But even though Incubus’ last two albums sold well and held respectable spots on the album charts, their popularity seems to have waned throughout the years, perhaps because their last two albums covered more rugged territory than the days of Make Yourself and Morning View. However, Thursday night was a loud, kick-ass reminder that they are here to stay and more stellar than ever.

Opening for a band as well-known as Incubus sounds intimidating-unless you are Simon Dawes, of course. Don’t be confused; Simon Dawes is not a lonely singer/songwriter fighting for the arriving audience’s attention. They are a band of four young men desperately trying to bring back rock ‘n’ roll. They claim their name doesn’t have a specific influence, yet their music indicates otherwise. The eclectic, classic rock style of this band creates a mature and unique sound most of its peers cannot replicate. Singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Taylor Goldsmith has a modern vocal style comparable to Chris Cornell, especially when he hits those hard-to-reach notes. His vocals unite with Dawes’ 1970s jam band style, creating fresh yet nostalgic songs that please everyone from the most insatiable youngsters to the most skeptical old timers.

As I waited for Incubus to come on, I sat as an impartial audience member. I was an older fan of Incubus who lost interest long before Light Grenades made its debut. But during the course of the show something happened. Between the perfectly synchronized lighting, Brandon Boyd’s dexterous vocals, and the intricate musicianship of Mike Einziger, Jose Pasillas, Chris Kilmore, and Ben Kenney, Incubus reclaimed a spot on my favorite bands list. Just like an inmate finds Jesus in prison, I found Incubus that night.

Nothing recreates faith in a band than seeing a solid live performance, and this experience was no different. Incubus stirred up their discography and performed a diverse set list that included classics like “Wish You Were Here” and “Drive” as well as recent tracks such as “Anna Molly” and “Oil and Water.”

Not only did the band reconvert me, they also stretched their musical abilities by ignoring conventional alternative rock recipes and venturing into sci-fi like interludes, not uncommon to bands like The Mars Volta. Incubus used diverse musical instruments like the Djembe drum and pipa (a Chinese lute) to keep the audience in suspense during each song. The band seemed to pick up momentum, climaxing with two encore treats which taunted the crowd’s insatiable desire for Incubus’ high energy stage presence. And with their terrible rendition of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”- which Boyd dubbed as “pure sex”-the band proved they are steadfast in the fickle world of the music industry, and funny, too.

Who should win the Almost Independent writing contest?

See the results without voting.

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