Postrockstar State of the Union Part 3: All Hail Bright Futures

Here we are once again with the conclusion of this three part blog. You can read part one here and part two here. In the finale of this blog we’ll look at the site as it is current day and where we plan on going in the future.

We are hitting a reset button. Throwing out the playbook completely and starting over from scratch. Moving forward the current Postrockstar staff consists of Erich and myself. Anyone else who has written for us in the past (or wants to write for us in the future) is gladly welcome to, but they will have to come to us and let us know they are as serious about this blog as we are. We won’t be touching base with past writers to see if there is still interest in contributing to the site. It’s a harsh stance but I believe it is for the best. Less is more.

As of right now the current focus with Postrockstar is to help connect bands to music lovers. My aim was never to influence the decision of others towards on what they should listen to, but to guide them in the right direction.  Also it was never my intention to cause any harm to any band no matter how much I may not like their work (sorry to Fire Spoken By the Buffalo!). This is one of the primary reasons why I’ve done much more promoting of albums and less reviews in recent months, along with the time constraints of juggling Postrockstar and my personal life. In doing nearly 150 reviews for this site, I’ve learned that less reviews means more quality reviews. I really want my reviews to be more heartfelt and less generic so that they have lasting impact. Less is more.

I don’t read other review sites very often, but when I do seldom do I see the same connection I have with music between the reviewer and the album. When I don’t feel that connection that sparks great writing, I really lose all interest in what the writer has to say. I never want our readers to feel that way.  I write reviews nowadays to help pique interest in a album and convince the reader that this is album well worth their time. I don’t write reviews to influence others to like the same music I like.

Music shouldn’t be something we all have to agree is good for it to be good. I have a co-worker who also likes Post-Rock and Post-Metal. His theory on music is that the weirder it is the better, whereas I like a more defined and structured sound. The great thing about us is that while we both like the same genres, we like them for completely different reasons. I would never criticize his taste in music he enjoys and he would never criticize mine because we mutually agree that we enjoy music for two completely differing reasons.

As far as reviews go and future content on the site, moving forward our goal is to post one full review a week which will most likely be on Fridays. The albums we choose to review will be albums that we can connect to as listeners. This means that there will be albums sent to us by bands that won’t be reviewed. To make sure those albums still find their way to the site, we will still continue posting links to unreviewed albums on the days we don’t publish reviews, generally Mondays and Wednesdays. Maintaining this balance will allow us to put more time into the reviews we do publish while keeping artists seeking promotion happy as well. On both fronts we accomplish our goal of bringing new music to our readers.

A quick side note to any bands seeking reviews or promotion, please don’t forget to send us download links, codes, etc. Postrockstar is paid for completely out of our own pockets. We receive absolutely no compensation other than free music downloads and satisfaction in knowing we are helping spread the word about the music we love. While most bands have generally been really good about this, there are a few out there who not only wish to receive free publicity but also try to squeeze a sale out of us as well. I personally support as many bands as I can, but that is me doing so because I want to, not because I have to. Finally, to any bands who have contacted us in the past, you might have noticed our response time is slow and sporadic at best. We’re going to do our best to stay on top of all the contacts we receive, respond in a timely manner and be easier to access in general.

As for other content on the site, Erich and I have quite a few ideas we will try to roll out in the future. One idea I sort of like is a bi-weekly or even monthly round up of news tidbits such as album announcements, tours, etc etc. We’ve dabbled with news in the past and while I’ll admit I think it brought some flavor to the site, it is very hard to stay on top of current events. Also I’m not quite sure that breaking news is something that fits our demographic. Most of daily traffic this site generates is through google searches for past album reviews. I’m not sure if our target audience is interest in breaking or recent news around the post-rock stratosphere, so some input from our readers would be nice. What would you like to see on our site?

I really like writing these blog style posts and the idea of editorials and columns, so these will likely pop up from time to time. I think it’s good to show personality and try to connect with our readers by letting you guys know a little about who we are and what we are up to. Obviously this three part series went a little above and beyond that. I’m not quite sure if we’ll have anything quite the magnitude of the walls of text you’ve read this week, but you never know.

Finally I’d like to address the much stagnant and dingy design that has remained largely the same since our inception. It’s going to change, drastically. Expect a much brighter color scheme and perhaps a complete redesign or new style. I expect this transformation to the be the final step in our overhaul, signaling that are ready to start fresh. I want this change to be meaningful. I didn’t want to slap a fresh coat of paint on a product I wasn’t satisfied with. Postrockstar has been in desperate need of an overhaul and a clear cut direction for some time now. I was not happy with leaving the site on auto-pilot any longer than it had to be. We have the ability to create something special here. We are a platform for introducing bands to a widespread audience. It is important that we nurture that concept and watch it grow to fruition.

In closing, my promise to you is this. 2014 will be the year that Postrockstar truly shines. We’ve established a presence in the post-rock scene and now it is time to plant our roots and do what we do best.  I want to thank everyone who has ever checked out the site regardless of if it’s been for a brief moment or you’ve routinely checked our site since the beginning. We wouldn’t be able to help spread music to the masses if it wasn’t for your support.

What would you like to see from us going forward? What do you like? What don’t you like? Leave us a comment. Your insight is invaluable to us and allows us to better understand what our readers expect from us.

As always, Dream Away.
~ James

Postrockstar State of the Union Part 2: How Postrockstar came to be

…This is a continuation of the beginning of my three part blog series that started on Sunday. You can read Part 1 here.

In 2011 a little site called turntable.fm was quickly becoming my go-to for internet music streaming as a way to pass my monotonous days of GIS based mapping at my job working for Google Maps. I happened to stumble upon a room called Post-Rock & Beyond and I quickly realized I knew nothing about Post-Rock and had been barely scratching the surface all these years. The bands I was introduced to produced some of the most unique songs I had ever heard. I had never heard anything quite like Cloudkicker, MaybeSheWill, The Calm Blue Sea, Friends of Dean Martinez, the list goes on. I was being introduced to dozens of post-rock bands on a daily basis and I couldn’t get enough. I was snatching up full discographies left and right and learning everything I could about the roots of the genre and all of the subtypes within the post-rock stratosphere.

In early 2012 I was asked by a couple friends if I would share the albums I was listening to at the time and what I thought about them. I obliged and began writing and maintaining a facebook note containing my thoughts on every album released in 2012 that I had checked out. A lot of these small blurbs would later go on to be the first reviews hosted on the site. Postrockstar was based on an idea that was always passed around in our Turntable.fm room but never went further than mild discussion. After my contract with Google ended, I had the entire summer to myself. With a plethora of free time, Postrockstar.com was born through WordPress as I have little to no web development experience and wanted something simple.  I created this blog with the intention of directly comparing post-rock albums released in 2012 to one another in an effort to determine the unquestionable best albums of the year.  I used a zero-100 percent rating system to rank albums, a system that worked well for the original intention of the site.

I never quite fathomed Postrockstar becoming relatively popular in a short amount of time and it was never actually my intention to become an influential part of the post-rock community. I was simply reviewing the music that I liked and ranking it accordingly to my own tastes. Averaging over 5,000 hits a month, the site was receiving significant support from bands eager to have their work reviewed. We were delving deeper into the post-rock scene and I was trying to cover both the bigger bands in the genre and the smaller regional bands as well. With so many bands seeking our approval, Postrockstar began to evolve as it snowballed into something bigger than myself.

In October I took a full time position for a local tech upstart here in Seattle and my free time quickly dwindled.  I needed help, so I turned to the people who helped me discover the post-rock genre on Turntable.fm and asked for help. They obliged but it still wasn’t quite enough, so I began recruiting others who were fans of the site. In theory this worked for awhile, but with no real structure or expectations, reviews other than my own came in sporadically, meaning I still had to produce a large sum of Postrockstar’s content. With more and more bands sending us material for review, backlogs quickly became unmanageable. In January of 2013, the site peaked when it saw nearly 15,000 hits following our spree of year ends awards and lists. Discovering and sharing new music was still fun to me, but the rigors and expectations of running a popular blog was taking its toll on me mentally.

At the same time my motives for what I wanted Postrockstar to accomplish were drastically changing. No longer did I want people to either listen to or not listen to music based off my reviews alone. I wanted to share music but have people discover it on their own. I didn’t want our readers to listen to albums with an idea of what to expect or listen for the imperfections and gripes I had with albums. As a person who lives each day with a postive outlook and shuns negativity, it was growing increasingly difficult for me to be ultra critical of musician’s work. I would rather not review an album than waste time giving an album a poor review that will benefit no one. You can read more about that in the blog I wrote this last May.

I’ve done a pretty good job up to this point of keeping my personal life separate from Postrockstar, but I think I should mention that major events in my life have drastically consumed the large majority of my free time in the past six months.  I routinely work 50 hour weeks at my job and have my hand in many other projects and hobbies. There are simply weeks where I no longer have the time to write reviews, post news and do anything other than share very brief descriptions of albums that were sent to us by bands asking for review or promotion. This blog has always remained high on my priority list and anytime I can devote an hour or two to the site I usually spent that time producing these unreviewed album postings you’ve seen the last few months to ensure that the site had its regular 3-5 weekly updates our readers have come to expect.

This last August my life was turned upside down in the culmination of a yearlong venture into the world of competitive trading card games. I won’t even began to explain my fascination with card based games but to make a long story short I spend most of my weekends playing Pokemon competitively. No Shit! It’s not as crazy as it sounds and it’s an absolute ton of fun that has brought me fame, fortune and has brought a ton of amazing friends into my life. Fame and fortune you say? How? It’s just a children’s card game isn’t it? Not exactly.

I’ve traveled to Indiana, California, Oregon and Canada to play this crazy card game. In playing competitively throughout an entire season, I was one of 200 or so players who qualified to play in the 2013 World Championship. In the World Championship, I cemented my name into the history books by finishing in 3rd place, receiving over $10,000 in scholarships, prizes and travel awards. On top of that, I instantly became a “named” player known worldwide by both competitive and casual players as well as fans of Pokemon in general. Much of my time lately isn’t taken up playing, but rather being something of an ambassador to the game, chatting and talking Pokemon with anyone and everyone who has congratulated me on my performance and is interested in hearing my thoughts about the game . It’s been a whirlwind last few months that I never saw coming and is as equally important to the essence of who I am as Postrockstar is.

Before I go any further, if you’re reading this and thinking “this guy is lame, he plays fucking Pokemon? What is he, 12 years old?” Well, here’s a question for you: Do 12 year olds own their dream car? I own mine thanks to the money I made through finishing 3rd at the World Championship. Sitting behind the wheel of a 2011 Dodge Challenger is all the reassurance I need in my decision to play Pokemon competitively. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

And that will wrap up part two of my three part blog. In the next blog I’ll discuss the current state of Postrockstar, the future vision for the site, what you can expect from us going forward and the changes we’re going to try to implement to make Postrockstar better than before in 2014. That blog will be posted in two days so stay tuned.

Postrockstar State of the Union Part 1: Who is behind Postrockstar?

Hello Postrockstar faithful! In an effort to switch things up around here, I thought I would do something a new and write an actual blog style post.  Earlier this week Postrockstar writer Erich and myself traded ideas regarding our future vision for the site. If you’ve been following us since our humble beginnings you’ve probably noticed a lot has changed around here. Full reviews are a rare occurrence, writers have come and gone and the site’s appearance has been stagnant for quite some time. In the interest of full transparency between ourselves and our readers, I want to touch on all of that as well as future plans for Postrockstar going forward.

 But before I get to that I want to sort of remove the veil from who we are as people, which I don’t think we’ve ever talked about aside from our terribly outdated “about us” section. This State of the Union address if you will is going to be broken into three parts as it may get a little wordy.

I’ve known Erich since 2001 and in that time I’ve always felt as if he were an older, much wiser brother figure to me. We met through our appreciation for the band cKy, which he was the leader of their “Alliance”, a tight-knit street team composed of people who wanted to change the music industry for the better. cKy was a band that in their prime were right on the cusp of infiltrating mainstream music but always came up just a little short. They are innovators and pioneers who inspired and connected a generation of  angry young music lovers fed up with what they were hearing on the radio. In an era that lacked the amazing music discovery tools we have now (bandcamp, spotify, last.fm) cKy was a breath of fresh air that was difficult to pigeonhole into one particular genre. While his motivational words of wisdom sort of guided me through my teenage years into adulthood, for the last five or so years of my life, Erich has been my go to for advice when I’m feeling lost. I value his opinion as if he were a family member and was thrilled when he wanted to be a part of Postrockstar.

I’m hoping that my blog inspires Erich to write his own and tell you more about himself because his life is far more interesting than my own. He is the most genuine friend I have.

I grew up in a musically diverse family. My Mom raised me on country western, 80’s hair metal and 90’s alternative.  Weekend trips to my Grandparents house would result in copious amounts of oldies and classic rock.  Though I didn’t really get to know him well until the final year or so of his life in 1995-96, my Uncle was an ultra talented guitarist that had  the same connection with rock and heavy metal asI have with Post-Rock. I remember being 8 or 9 years old and he would always say “DREAM THEATER!!!!” in a high pitch voiced. Back then I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it always made me laugh. The most frustrating thing about him not being here today is not being able to share that love for the same type of music that I gained in my older years after he passed.  He would have loved Post-Rock. Cloudkicker would have blew his fucking mind.

I despise the notion of rejecting genres as “bad” because they don’t fit your personal taste. Developing my own musical tastes as I grew up allowed me to appreciate all types of music in the current day.  I remember being nine years old spending my summer off from school playing basketball in the driveway listening to Kube 93.3 FM, a Seattle R&B station. “Waterfalls” by TLC and “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey w/ Boys2Men were my jams in 1995. Despite the first CD I ever owned being “Tragic Kingdom” by No Doubt, I found my way into rap and hip hop in 1997. I kept Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Tha Dogg Father” and 2Pac’s “R U Still Down? (Remember Me)” albums hidden from my Mom, knowing she would certainly take them away the same way she did with my copies of Green Day’s “Dookie” and Adam Sandler’s “What The Hell Happened to Me?”, two albums that no 10 year old should have had in their possession.  And then came 1998-2000, the years I wish I could erase from my musical history.

It takes a brave man to admit he was once a juggalo, and that’s exactly what I was as a stupid 12-14 year old.  I didn’t know any better. They were two rapping evil clowns and for whatever reason that appealed to me. The end of my Juggalo days came in the most humiliating fashion possible and I’m not afraid to share it with you. One of the clowns, Violent J, was a guest on a nightly radio show called Loveline. I was the very first caller on the show and proceeded to nervously ask him a question in a high pitched voice only to be caught off guard in a moment I have repeatedly been grilled about my friends for the last ten years. You can hear it here at the 6:30 mark:

That experience caused me to do a complete 180 and I finally got on the path that led me to where I am today. In 2000-2001 bands like P.O.D , Adema, Mudvayne and System of a Down were getting popular and I found myself getting into the nu-metal scene. It was easy to enjoy a genre so many of my friends were into, but I wasn’t completely satisfied. All of those bands filled my urge for heavy guitars and creativity, but to be completely honest few bands managed to hold my attention for more than a few weeks at a time. There was always a band quick to rise through the ranks with a radio hit only to lose my interest as soon as I realized their album was three radio tracks and eight filler songs. That still rings true with a lot of mainstream music today.

 In 2000 one particular song stuck with me. It was used as background music during a segment on the MTV show “Jackass”. I had no clue what the song was at the time and I found myself watching reruns of the episode just to hear that minute or so of this unique song. Little did I know I was on a collision course with cKy, who would ultimately change my teenage years for the better.

As an avid gamer, I was huge into the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. I got Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 the day it came out for gamecube. Looking back at it, the soundtrack was killer. The Ramones, Motorhead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Reverend Horton Heat just to name a few. But there was one song that grabbed my intention with it’s infectiously catchy guitar work and epic breakdowns. That song was “96 Quite Bitter Beings” by cKy and it captured my imagination like no other song had before. I was hooked and through that song and the power of the internet, the stars aligned. Discovering that the song I told you about earlier from Jackass was actually one of theirs (“Disengage The Simulator”) only made my discovery that much more beautiful.  This was a band that actually communicated with their fans, answering questions daily on the “ask cky” section of their website and each member posting regularly on their unofficial message board. My love for this band blossomed and I met others with a similar passion.

It was through cKy that I began to discover music that made me think, that inspired me and that played with my emotions. Bands who created music with finely detailed craftsmanship where passion in music shined through. These weren’t bands trying to churn out radio hits, they were trying to be the best at what they do. First it was Dream Theater, who I was introduced to by some of the more musically inclined cKy fans. Then it was melodic death metal  introduced to me by Jess Margera, drummer of cKy. Bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquility and Amon Amarth absolutely blew my mind.  Of course there were others too: Dimmu Borgir, Dillenger Escape Plan, Lacuna Coil, HIM, The 69 Eyes, Children of Bodom, the list goes on.

Like most kids, I was bullied throughout high school for being different up until my Senior year, so I grew quite fond of talking to no one and wearing headphones, opting to connect to music rather than people that I would only be around for a short time.  I didn’t care, music was what drove me to be the person that I wanted to be.  I graduated High School in 2004 as a music snob. While others were listening to Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd, I was rocking the likes of Agalloch, Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Anathema on my mini disc player. I had every Dream Theater album memorized, knew every cKy track in existence right down to basement demos and was quickly amassing a large collection of prog-rock and death metal.  And then I was introduced to the bands that quickly changed everything I knew about music: Sigur Ros, Pelican, Red Sparowes and Isis.

Sigur Ros quickly became my latest obsession and Red Sparowes were very enjoyable, but Isis remained hit or miss at first. I loved the music but was so damn put off by the vocals. They were so different from anything else I had heard in the death-metal realm. Those vocals tend to be brutal and harsh. This was just some guy huffing and puffing, yelling seemingly incoherently. I didn’t get it. And then came Jesu. My internet cKy friends were all over these guys and again it was just another band I didn’t fully understand.  Even though these two bands didn’t appeal to me, they led me to an important band which ended up being the key to unlocking the post-rock realm to me:  Pelican. More on that in a bit.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of my life between 2005 and 2008. My Grandfather, who was my father figure and taught me everything I needed to know about the real world passed in 2006 after two long years of struggling with diabetes complications. I wasn’t much of a person during those years. I was an empty shell looking for direction. Music and video games was my life. I bounced around a lot between genres, trying to rediscover myself. I had another fling with the rap scene (Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Rick Ross, Mike Jones etc) , briefly enjoyed a little bit of country (Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood) and really found myself bouncing around genres and never staying in one place too long.

2009 and 2010 were amazing years where I got back on track in my personal life and I was able to rediscover my prog-rock roots and really start to shape the musical preferences I have today.  I traveled the country, filming 12 cKy concerts in the process with my two closest friends as I rekindled my obsession with the only band I have tattooed on my body. It was during this time I was really starting to get my feet wet in the post-rock genre. Sigur Ros had made their way up to my top 5 favorite bands of all time I finally was beginning to really appreciate and love Isis and Jesu. Like I mentioned earlier, Pelican was easily my favorite of the heavier post-rock bands and through them I discovered the likes of Explosions in the Sky, God is an Astronaut, This Will Destroy You and Caspian. This was all I knew in terms of Post-Rock until 2011, when my life changed for the immediate better.

This blog will continue on Tuesday….