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Monday, April 29, 2013

Sound and Fury

The news that NBA center Jason Collins is gay is about six hours old at this point.

This is of course a major deal in professional sports, as he is the first active male professional athlete in a major sport to come out.  There has been talk of NFL players coming out in the near future, and now that Collins has done so the way has been paved for other athletes in pro sports to do so.  The resounding outpouring of support he's gotten from the NBA community at-large is impressive and shows that the league has come a long way since the insensitive commentary of Tim Hardaway some years ago.  Collins is a widely respected player in the league, and is viewed as a locker room leader and all-around great teammate.  And you know what?  Good for him.  I can't imagine what it was like for him living a lie, having to behave like he thought professional athletes should to maintain some image.  From a human standpoint, I'm happy for the brother to have finally publicly acknowledged who he is.

And yet...

Before the Jason Collins news broke, odds are if you were asked who Jason Collins was, unless you were a hardcore hoop-head, the answer would have been "Who?"  I'm a hardcore hoop-head, and my response was, "He's still playing?"  He's been described by his own GM, right after the announcement, as a "utility big," someone who is somewhere between 11th and 15th on the depth chart.  His career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds doesn't scream "upper-echelon player."  He's played 12 years for six teams and is a free agent this year.  He's 34 years old, which in NBA terms is like 65.  To be blunt, his recent career has seen him be a bench player for a bad team.  As much of an important step as this announcement is for that community, Jason Collins has unfortunately branded himself as a "gay ballplayer" as opposed to a "ballplayer who's gay."

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier decades ago, the concern was whether he was the "right guy--" talented enough, humble enough, respectable enough -- to legitimize the black athlete.  Jason Collins is not Jackie Robinson, at least not in the respect that he's an elite player.  He's on the downswing of a long but unremarkable career.  Collins is a Stamford educated man.  That is to say, he's not an idiot.  I'm sure as an athlete and as a businessman, he has to have come to grips with what this could mean for his career going into his free agent year.  And while I agree with Charles Barkley in that it's nobody's business who he sleeps with, putting this into the public eye makes it a public conversation, and unfortunately part of the talks in terms of continuing his career.  Big picture: it's a blip, and not because it should be a blip, but because Jason Collins isn't Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, or Dwyane Wade.

Now, I sincerely hope that this is the first step to this FINALLY not being a big deal anymore, the way being a black athlete, entertainer or executive is not a big deal anymore.  I hope that this announcement inspires an athlete of more clout to step up and embrace who he is, which in turn inspires more people to embrace who they are, and finally encourages the rest of us -- forces the rest of us -- to accept who they are.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Interview with TripMadam


At the suggestion of a co-worker, I went to a local bar to check out a show featuring bands from around Bellingham.  It was a Thursday, and I didn't have anything else to do, so I went.  Three bands played: two metal bands, one of whom I didn't stay for (metal isn't my thing, I'm sorry) and one band that was a little different: TripMadam.  The 45 minute set they played was quite good in my opinion, and by looking at the crowd I wasn't alone in my opinion.  They were easily the stars of the show.  When I found out that a band this good was unsigned, I had to get them for a Declarations of Independence profile.

TripMadam is Jared Fox (J-Fox) as lead vocalist and rhythm guiatrist, Taylor (T-Slammer) Galley on guitar and backing vocals, Mike Honeycutt on bass and Ryan Holland on drums.  The band's been around for four years and they've developed quite a local following.  Known for they're solid songwriting and crowd interaction, they tend to leave a trail of cheering, impressed fans in their wake.  The band is a sort of rock/metal/grunge hybrid calling themselves a sort of "Alice in Chains with a twist of lemon."  They compare their style to bands like 3 Days Grace, Staind and SlipKnot.

TripMadam was founded in 2009 by J-Fox and Ryan, along with Aaron Kirby (currently of Amish warfare) and Bryce Irwin (Black Beast Revival).  "Aaron and I had been friends for a long time," Jared explains, "and we said, screw it, let's try to find a couple other guys.  We've been in several bands so we knew tons of musicians.  We were fortunate to meet Ryan, and we started jamming and everying just clicked."

While Ryan and Jared had based their participation in TripMadam on an old friendship, Mike Honeycutt found his way into the band through sheer luck.  "Before (TripMadam) I was on kind of a musical hiatus, and then it was like, 'hey we need a bass player.'"  He bought new equipment and joined the band on a Thursday in August of 2012.  And the new bass player was immediately put to work.  "I learned enough music to played a show that Monday," he said.  "It's been like a rocket from there."

TripMadam's newest addition joined in November of 2012, as Taylor Galley was added after co-founder Aaron Kirby departed to focus on other projects.  "I had been in two bands with Jared before and Jared did a lot of the songwriting for those projects.  when I auditioned, I was familiar with a lot of the songs."  That familiarity has worked well to his advantage, and he's eager to make his mark on the band's sound.  "I'm more into heavier metal and stuff, but I;m trying to think outside the box with TripMadam."  ("Not trying to," Jared deadpans, "I'm making you.")




TripMadam defines itself by it's high goals and the hard work that goes into attaining them.  "We don't want to just be a garage band," Jared says.  "We want to be that next level, so we treat everything with professionalism.  We show up early, we stay late, we make sure that wherever we're playing, anyone who's throwing it on gets the proper thanks and appreciation for having us there.  we put on a show and when we leave, we leave a great taste in their mouth."  The shows that TripMadam puts on tend to be fan-focused affairs.  While they have primarily played small, local venues, they have used the limited space to get up close and personal with their fans.  A show that stands out in Taylor's mind was at a bar called Tubbs.  "This bar could only hold maybe 60 or so people.  We had it pretty packed, but the thing is there's no real stage.  since we like to participate with our audience so much, what was fun about that show was that we got to walk into the crowd while people were having their drinks and play to them personally."

Manager Paul Sullivan also likes their up-close-and-personal style.  "The first show where I was excited to see them was at the GLOW," he says.  "To actually watch Mikey and Taylor and Jared rock out on their guitars, they were playing on the dance floor and people were all around them.  The crowd was feeding off them and they were feeding off the crowd.  It was beautiful to watch." To Mike and Jared, their show at the Underground last December, where I saw them, was their finest to date.  "It was 400, 500 people," Jared says.  "They had us between two metal bands, and we had the crowd interacting with our songs, even people who never heard us.  I had earplugs in and I could still hear them.  Merchandizing coordinator Ashley Lee thinks this is the band's big appeal.  "(TripMadam) is so much fun to watch.  They give off this energy that draws the crowd in.  It drew me in, and it's so much fun to watch."

In my time interviewing the band, the one thing that became apparent to me was the way they interacted, very much like a family.  This bond was forged on a recent road trip to San Diego: where the average group of friends might have been at each other's throats on the 20 hour drive each way, TripMadam was on a mission.  "We went down the coast to sell the band," Jared recounts, "let people know who we are and let them know the Northwest is gonna come down there and kick your ass, let them know that we're still doing great music."  The family approach even comes through in songwriting.  "It starts with an idea, you know.  It could be a riff that I'm writing, or a song Taylor's writing, or something Mike says 'come here and check this out,' and we start playing and put the pieces together, then we hand it off to Ryan, and he makes it jell together."



The family approach extends to the team surrounding the band, from managers Kimm Davis and Paul Sullivan (Paul jokes "She always says she got the band in the divorce.") to the minds behind the merchandizing, Ashley Lee and Ruby Huizenga, and even to the former bandmates and their new projects.  "Anyone who's been in TripMadam was a part of the family -- they still are part of the family.  We jusst don't see each other as much because we're off to bigger and better things with our own projects."  One of those projects is Amish Warfare, headed by former backing guitarist Aaron Kirby.  "They're a lot of fun to watch, kind of like a punky version of KISS," Jared says.  Taylor adds with a laugh "They're the kind of band that can do a punk version of Britney spears and have everyone dancing to it."

The band's best days are ahead of them, as the future includes a West Coast Tour and even a contribution of two songs and score pieces to a film soundtrack, "The Last Fall of Ashes."  The band contributes the title track, "Ashes," and another song, "And I Know."  And like everything else for a do-it-yourself artist, this came about through being in the right place at the right time with the right people.  Jared met the director of the film through a chance encounter with a mutual friend.  After auditioning, he gave Jared the script also he could write a song and a score piece.  "At that point in time, I was going through chaotic stuff in my life, with my wife.  when i read the script it was like, verbatim, everything I had gone through with her and our situation.  It's a tragic love story, it really is and it really connected with me."  after viewing some clips to the film, Jared wrote "Ashes" for the film.  "It kind of came to me, lyrics were just pouring out."

The other song the band contributed to the film is "And I Know," for which they filmed a video.  "We did three days of shooting in eight hours," Jared says.  "And it was freezing fucking cold."  And in keeping with the DIY nature of the band, they called in a few favors to shoot the video.  "It was done by a couple of really good friends.  They took exactly what I was talking about, and put it in the video."

TripMadam has ambitious plans to tour this fall, somewhere between October and December, with plans to expand their fanbase beyond the Northwest.  Planned stops include San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs.

You can find TripMadam's music at their website, or on SoundCloud.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Actual Happy (short post)

"Everything is so fragile. There's so much conflict, so much pain. You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this is it: the dust is your life, going on. If happy comes along -- that weird, unbearable delight that's actual happy -- I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get because it's here, and then, gone."

I found that quote from a comic book, of all places, and it got me thinking about how much time we spend NOT pulling the trigger.  We keep waiting for that right moment, for our lives to be perfect, for the situation to be perfect, for the stars to align properly before we make our move.  And by the time we're prepared to seize the moment, it's passed us by.  We convince ourselves we weren't meant to have what we want when that happens.  I'm accusing the human race of doubt-driven complacency.

I know I'm guilty of it.

I've done it a million times.  I've allowed myself to not pursue some things, some people, some goals out of doubt and fear.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of failure. Fear of humiliation.  Even fear of success.  And I know not all of us are afraid of the same things, but the fear is still there.  So now that this has been acknowledged, what is there to do with it?

My brother always tells me that the key is play recognition: realizing what you're dealing with at the point of impact, and then you strike at the first opportunity.  The flaw in that logic is finding the right moment.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Declarations of Independence


It's the American Dream, really.

It's the story we all are told as kids, how in this country, we have the opportunity to take our talents and make something of ourselves, create a better life, and get wealthy doing exactly what we want to do.  We hear about it from the top a lot, from the people who have already made it.  What about the rest of us?

As an independent author, I know that between the starting from nothing and the becoming something, there's a lot of grinding in the middle.  A lot of paid dues.  A lot of separation from the pack.  A lot of figuring out which way is your way.  To be honest, the stories of the people trying to make it is a lot more interesting than the ones of those that already did.  You never hear the stories from the middle, but maybe we should.

I will be taking it upon myself to find these stories and tell them, partly as shameless self-promotion and partly as a way to get the word out on people who are doing it themselves and meeting varying levels of success.  That's the inspiration for us all, isn't it?

So, look for "Declarations of Independence," profiles of independent artist, authors, designers, businessmen and women.  People who started with a passion and a good idea and turning a dream into reality.  And if any of you are out there and wanting to have your story told, contact me on Facebook or at frankcthomas@hotmail.com.

Cheers!