the press rolls in – i just can’t prove it.

The Lippy press started coming in fast and furious, and all over the map.  

But here’s where I’ve got to jump around in the story a bit.

Now, I had a system.  It wasn’t a good system; it was a great system.  I wanted to document every single piece of press coverage our bands received, good or bad, and so I would seek out every zine on my promo list, going to zine stores, subscribing, or simply writing the publisher, in hopes of getting tear sheets of our reviews.

When we got a review, I would carefully cut the review out of the zine, write the name and issue on the back, and paper clip it together with the rest of them.

Once we got far enough away from the release date of the record, I would spread out all the reviews, lay out a special template with the band logo and title of the record, and then carefully scotch tape the reviews to the paper.  Then I’d run off copies, so that I had special sheets of press clippings for every record we put out.

I cut out all the press clippings with Lippy.  I swear.  There were a lot of them; more than we’d gotten for any other record we’d ever done.  I think this was partially because we had sent out so many promos, partially because our profile was increasing, partially because I’d spent months yammering about the band wherever I could, and mostly because Footstone was a good band and Lippy was a good record. 

But I was really busy.  I had two other records out at roughly the same time, so I was working on three records simultaneously.  And I had a dayjob.  And a pregnant wife.  And I was house-shopping.  Eventually, we bought a house, moved into it, and had a baby.  So I would cut out the press clippings, paper clip them together, and keep them in a tiny pile in my top drawer for when things calmed down a bit.

I never created the press clipping sheets for Lippy.  I cut out all the reviews and paper clipped them together – there were a lot of them.  Although we didn’t get any reviews in high profile publications like Spin or New York Magazine, we got a ton of reviews from punk zines.  And like I said, they were all over the map – some were great, some were awful.

Eventually I had several small piles of them, all paper clipped together.

Today, I only have one pile.

That’s right – despite my keeping awesome records and files, the majority of the press clippings for Lippy have been eaten by Father Time.

And I’m really sorry about that.  My favorite record that we put out, by my favorite band, and I can’t tell you much about what the press said.

What I can tell you is that the first review that we got was this one, from Throwrug:

I’ve heard this before.  Or maybe I’ve just heard something that sounds exactly like this before.  College rock; if you like that, go for it.

Not a very auspicious debut.

Shoelace wasn’t a hell of a lot nicer:

This started out as a really cool power pop offering, but it tailed off towards the end.  Maybe two songs too long.  It certainly has its moments.

The reviewers had just as difficult a time describing Footstone as I did.  Suburban Voice, a cool little zine, said this:

Emotional and yearning guitar rock, though it’s a little too clean and polished to be called punk.  Surging, bright arrangements and you can tell Footstone enjoy old REM, mainly through “7-Words” and Ralph’s soaring, Stipe-ish vocals.  Smooth, yet often given an infusion of power, hooks and drive and fairly decent, overall.

What did he just say?

Is it a punk record?  A rock record?  College rock?  WTF?!

Paul Silver of Jersey Beat had the same dilemma:

A very cool blend of pop, punk, and alternative rock.  Very melodic, very tight band, very clean, balanced mix.  “Mad G” is a real stand-out track, with a kind of DC post-emo influenced sound.  I don’t know what else to say other than I liked it a lot and you should buy it.  Oh, and there’s a really strange phone recording at the beginning in which drummer Dave Noel is checking in with some sort of automated curfew verification system.

But it was our friends at The Aquarian who finally came through with the kicker, a great review that – despite still being unable to pigeonhole the band – probably best described Lippy:

Driving pop rock with an indie/alternative/punk edge.  Loud, catchy and kinda noisy all at the same time.  Guitars simultaneously shine out with single notes and buzz with underlying noise, creating a deep and full sound for the band.  The first song, “I’ll Get Over It,” best demonstrates this feat, as well as containing beautiful vocals that bring it over the top.  Always changing, but always retaining melody and hooks, Footstone are wonderfully in control of their songs.  A great release for both the band and label.  They must completely rip live.

“Wonderfully in control of their songs.”  Perfect.  Perfect.  Controlled chaos, I guess.  But yes.  

For those keeping score, though, those reviewers all struggled to describe the band.  And that’s the problem I had with Footstone.  The punk guys said “they’re not really punk.”  The pop guys said “they’re not really pop.”  The indie guys said “they’re not really indie rock.”  In reality, Footstone were all three.  But the reviewers?  How could they describe that?  Reviewers – and a lot of music fans – like to put you in a box.  They’ve been doing it forever, and it will never change.

The best reviews, then, always seemed to go back to the band’s personality.  So when Hoboken’s Oculus magazine agreed to do a feature on the band, conducting an interview at the band’s favorite Hoboken bar, it came out stellar.  Here goes:

Try to interview Footstone, I dare you. You show up with everything organized, armed with a thorough knowledge of the band’s music and a list of thoughtful questions, (OK I actually didn’t show up with either of these–but I did have a tape recorder.) You’re all ready to find out about them and get inside their music, and what happens?

Let’s begin at the beginning. I show up at our pre-arranged meeting place–Louise and Jerry’s on Washington Street in Hoboken–a little early, order a beer and ask the guy behind the bar if he knows the band. It turns out that the bartender is actually J. from American Standard, and he is great friends with the guys from Footstone.

Hoping to fill in the blanks, I ask J. if there is anything I should know about Footstone going in. “Well, they’re great,” he says.  “I’d say they’re a lot like the Gin Blossoms, only with more edge.”

After meeting the band I’m going to amend that description a bit. Footstone is a lot like the Gin Blossoms, only with more gin.

Bassist Mark Abney and guitarist/singer Ralph Malanga showed up first, sporting bright blond dye jobs that I later learned were brand new. (“I did it because I just broke up with my girlfriend.  I had to do something, and I figured that chopping off my penis wouldn’t be a smart idea,” Ralph explained later.  

Drummer Dave Noel and Lead Guitarist Eric Greenberg soon joined us and thus began a two hour interview cum-hangout punctuated by lots of beer, fits of laughter, and frequent power belching. As I discovered later, the night also featured an impromptu interview with a bewildered couple from Scotland who were visiting the bar for “th’ furst time” and a version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”–both performed using my aforementioned tape recorder while I was visiting the men’s room.

This is Footstone’s world, where half the jokes make no sense to the uninitiated and no subject (especially those brought up by an under-prepared interviewer) can sustain serious logical discussion for more than a few moments. Thankfully it’s also a world of good music put together by four good guys.

The band formed about five years ago when Mark, Dave and Eric were playing at a party and met Ralph. “He basically showed up and made fun of us, but then we heard him sing and we thought, ‘Holy shit this guy..'” “‘…sounds  just like Michael Stipe!”  finishes Eric. They started out playing covers, putting Ralph’s voice to good use. “At one time our show consisted of about 35 songs, and about a third of them were REM tunes,” explains Mark.

Footstone have been writing their own songs and gigging around the area for a while now though. Being together for so long have made them a pretty cohesive unit and from the way they finish each others sentences and laugh at their inside jokes you get the idea that they all know each other inside out. This unity can be heard on the band’s new full-length CD release, Lippy, on Dromedary Records.

The album is a wealth of tight, punchy power pop, delivered with musical authority. The sound of the album belies the goofiness the band exhibits in the real world. While their off-stage demeanor runs toward the bone-headedly anarchic, the music is focused. The rhythm section drives the songs with controlled force, while the guitars fatten out and color the sound, providing lots of hum-along hooks in the process.

Although Eric technically is the lead guitarist, he seems to have earned the title because he spends less time playing power chords. Neither he nor Ralph spend much time wandering outside the melody into soloing territory. You get the feeling that they know they have good songs to work with and are thinking “why not get on about playing them and not confuse things?”

Similarly Malanga’s vocals are powerful without sounding overwrought, and there’s nary a trace of his former Stipeness.

While the music is serious, of course the disk isn’t all business. Lippy starts out with a computerized voice announcing “Hello, this is your on-guard curfew call” which goes on to announce that the person currently under house arrest has 10 seconds to come to the phone to state his name and the time of day. After a brief musical interlude comes a thoroughly unamused sounding “David Noel, one a.m.”  followed by a hang-up.

The tape is real. “I got in trouble,” explains Dave.  “I got pulled over right in front of my house.  I didn’t have insurance, I wasn’t registered, the plates were fake, and I had a 14 year old girl in the back,” (I’m sure at least some of this is true.) “Instead of going to jail I was under house arrest for 10 days and they would check up on me by having this machine call me at all hours of the night.” 

“We figured we’d put on the record and it would be funny.  And it was funny…for a little while.”  Other Footstone-esque moments on the record include “Watermelon,” a two and a half minute ode to guys who love watermelon….I mean guys who really love watermelon.

“We’ve all heard these stories about farm town kids that would go out into the fields, drill a hole in a watermelon, and…you know, go to town,” explains Mark.  “Actually these are the same type of guys who get together and form bands like ‘Live’.”

“Yeah,” adds Ralph. “You know ‘I Alone’?  That’s about a watermelon.”

Footstone gigs about once or twice a month, but they have yet to assemble a big following of people who come out just to see them.

“It’s especially tough in Hoboken,” says Mark, “because Maxwells is the one place everyone wants to play, but it’s really competitive to get in there.  We’ve played there three times, but every time it’s because one of our friend’s bands will be on the bill and say ‘Hey you wanna play?’  We are really grateful for all of the help we get from our friends, but one of our goals is to get there by ourselves.  We don’t want to get top billing, we just want to get in there and get a chance.”

When they do get a chance to play for new people, they make it count. “We played the Macintosh Music Festival on Oculus night,” says Mark.  “It was a last minute thing, but we got a lot of good reaction from it.  People came up to us after the show and said they were pleasantly surprised, because they had never heard of us but we put on a great show.”

If you’d like to help cure Footstone of their obscurity, watch for their live shows in the area. You can also pick up Lippy in your local indie record store, or better yet buy it direct from Dromedary Records through mail order. 

It was an especially nice piece for a small publication like Oculus.

The thing I didn’t get, though, was this weird positioning of Footstone as this Star Search band, looking for their big break at Maxwell’s.  Footstone never had trouble drawing a decent-sized crowd, and although Maxwell’s wasn’t an easy place to get a gig, the band made the rounds from Maxwell’s to CBGB to Continental to ACME to Brownie’s to Coney Island High with no problem.  Then they’d go down south and play the Fast Lane, Court Tavern, and Brighton Bar.

Footstone had no trouble getting gigs in New York and New Jersey.

But what’s more important, in my mind, was this: a very nice piece, very little of which described the band’s music.  Lots of description about how funny they were, how nice they were, and lots of space filled with humorous quotes.  Meanwhile we have a host of reviewers who couldn’t even come close to describing their music.

Was that my fault?  Was I so intent on showcasing the personality of the band that I was forgetting to focus on their music?

I thought maybe it was.  And I pledged to myself that the promo efforts for the next Footstone record was going to focus on songwriting, playing, singing, energy.  Shit like that.

~ by Al on August 19, 2009.

One Response to “the press rolls in – i just can’t prove it.”


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