Asheville, North Carolina has a spectacularly shitty music scene. But at least there's beer.
Photo: Justin Nix
Asheville, North Carolina is the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s a “New Age Mecca," and “One of The Best Places to Reinvent Your Life." This is all according to television stations, magazines, authors, and countless copy-and-pasted listicles which could apply to almost any city in America. It is an undeniably beautiful place, sitting at the confluence of two large rivers in a valley beneath an almost constant blue tinted fog, covering peaks of some of the oldest mountains on earth.
It also has a really, spectacularly shitty music scene.
This isn’t for lack of trying or genuine people and musicians. Like most smaller cities, there are the houses which host shows that come and go monthly, bands popping up and fading away, and too many young people moving out too early. But, even with nationwide attention from larger tour packages, the divide between promotors and locals seems to be uncrossable, given most venues’ apathy for anything that isn’t beer sales. It’s a tough place to start a band, and even tougher when you’re the sad, black sheep in a scene far too small for exclusion. Enter emo survivalists, Muscle & Bone.
We went south to talk to the band about writing their new record, Taking Back Sunday, dying young, and how craft beer ruined their city’s scene. We also drank a lot of craft beer.
Noisey: How did Muscle & Bone get started?
Adam Gross: I think I posted something on Facebook like “come play emo with me” and Rob responded and it actually happened. Which is the first time Rob’s actually done what he said he said he would.
Robert Travis: We had talked about doing something since, like, 2007. We wanted to do something in the vein of Mineral or Sunny Day. Eventually both of our previous bands broke up and we got together in 2012. Also, that’s not true Adam. I said I’d drink a beer tonight and here we are.
So your band pre-dates the emo revival?
Adam: On the timeline, yes.
Rob: Our bass player, Chris, actually started Joie De Vivre in 2006 or something, so we’ve got cred.
Do you get “Ex-Joie De Vivre” put beneath your name on every flyer?
Adam: Constantly. Chris hates it more than we do.
How do you feel about the pumped up coverage of this music?
Rob: We’ve definitely benefited from it. I don’t know if that’s good for anyone though.
Adam: It helps people hear bands, that’s cool. Most of what gets written about it is fucking awful and ill informed though.
Rob: I read some article which was placing more importance on My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday than Promise Ring or Get Up Kids and it finally made sense because like it or not, that shit counts now. And without it this “revival” wouldn’t exist. I think anyone our age saying they never liked a Taking Back Sunday record would be lying.
What’s your favorite Taking Back Sunday song?
Rob: "Bike Scene."
Adam: Great fucking song.
What about My Chemical Romance?
Rob: That one about the vampires is tight. Back to the point though, I just don’t think there’s anything left to say about this. How anyone could possibly argue whether or not this music’s been around before a website wrote about it is beyond me. The oddest thing to me is how it’s already not even about emo anymore. It’s high school kids in pop punk bands that you would have never seen coverage on two years ago. I’m probably just old but I can’t relate to or remember leaving a kegger disappointed I didn’t make out with someone.
Adam: My favorite genre of emo is party emo.
Rob: I party. It's usually by myself.
Adam: I party all the time. Until it’s midnight and then I’m tired and I want to go to bed.
How old are you Rob?
Rob: 27. I’ll be dead soon.
Adam: You’ll be in a club.
Rob: But really, like, what heartbreak am I supposed to relate to or write about now? I’m married, I’m old.
Photo: Andrew Wells
So once you get married, you’ve got nothing to write about anymore?
Rob: I’ve just learned to draw from different places when writing than I did when I was a kid. I’ve always looked up to writers like Mark Kozelek and David Bazan. My favorite emo band is definitely Mineral and I don’t really think Chris Simpson wrote that often about explicitly “romantic” relationships. Our the songs are about relationships but also definitely not all romantic. And once you grow up you start realize there are far sadder things than break ups. I was diagnosed with depression pretty young and I’ve never really taken medication for it or anything, I’ve just always been in bands. And, to get nu-metal on you for a second, I just write in a way that helps me deal with that.
Because you look up to writers like Kozelek, would you say you’ve tried writing a lot of third person narratives or any other sort of impersonal story telling?
Rob: I’ve actually never really been great at that. I’d love to be able to write like that. I can only relate to having a family full of alcoholics. I do think out of anyone I identify with John Samson from Weakerthans, because he can take moments from so many different situations and make them cohesive. That’s definitely something I try to do. I’m much more stream-of-consciousness though. Very Brandon Boyd.
What’s it like being an emo band in Asheville, North Carolina?
Rob: There’s not enough of anything for different genres or scenes to matter. But there’s no community in spite of that. It’s hard here because there’s really no place to play and there’s zero crossover. At least for us. The punk kids don’t want anything to do with it The indie kids think it’s too punk.
Adam: There’s electronic music.
Rob: Yeah, that’s big. Besides that it’s just really young kids playing punk and folk singers.
Adam: It’s real cliquey. We can play anywhere that’s not Asheville and expect a bigger crowd than if we were playing in Asheville.
What’s the worst part about playing shows here?
Rob: There’s a venue our friend books at and in the rafters there’s a plastic skeleton hanging. I always make the joke that he died waiting for punk time.
Adam: This city runs on punk time.
Was there ever a golden age? When it wasn’t so exclusive?
Rob: Punks used to go see Hot Cross. [Laughs]
Adam: No, the cliques were just bigger.
Rob: I think the perception is that Asheville’s this big music town. You get all of this press and people think it’s the Austin of the east coast. That there are all of these cohesive scenes and shows are well attended, and it’s just not that way at all.
Is there no reason for promotors booking these bigger tours to fuck with locals?
Adam: It’s mostly a lack of locals.
Rob: It might be that but we do have some bands with decent draw. Like all the indie bands who sound like Modest Mouse but don’t end up on any of the bigger shows.
So none of you or any of the locals seem to have any relationship with these promotors, correct?
Rob: The only way to do it is to go and drop your fucking resume and demo off and say, "Hey, if you need us... let us know?"
So that means no?
Adam: Pretty much.
Rob: Yes. And also, there are a million fucking folk acts that’ll get pulled before anything remotely indie or punk does.
Adam: Every time we book a show and sit down and try to figure out who draws it’s always no one. It’s a dead town.
Photo: Justin Nix
People also say it has to do with location, that Asheville’s cut off from everything else. Is that true?
Rob: It does feel like it takes things a little longer to reach us here.
Adam: It doesn’t help. We’re not close to Charlotte, we’re not close to Atlanta. To hit Asheville on a tour is just really weird.
Rob: Tour packages here are so poorly attended promotors are scared that they’ll maybe have to pay just a little bit more for a local band so they just don’t book them. There is a small network of houses that put on shows, but we also don’t really fit into that. One house cancelled a show day-of because Japanther had to drop and the dude didn’t want a bill full of emo bands. It’s really hard to make any progress unless you can manage to accidentally play for someone who’d normally never listen to you. We played a benefit show with a bunch of metal bands and kids were like, "Hey, I didn’t hate you." Which is really the best response you can expect in Asheville.
Adam: When people say, "You were, like, alright," we’re stoked. I do get really jealous of bands in the northeast because it feels like here it’s just hard to get the fuck out. To a place where anyone cares or pays attention or whose expectations of live music doesn’t revolve around alcohol. There’s a North Carolina label that’s been around for years who just now signed their first in-state band.
Asheville also has a pretty huge culture surrounding it’s breweries and bars. Has that killed all-ages venues here?
Rob: Kind of. Yeah.
Adam: Rarely all-ages shows. There’s one venue that’s all-ages and no one goes to it.
Rob: I think craft beer destroyed Asheville.
What’s your favorite craft beer?
Rob: Right now?
Adam: This is actually the most important question. Do not make us look dumb, Rob.
Rob: I like French Broad. I particularly like 13 Rebels. It’s an extra special bitter.
Lukas Hodge is on Twitter - @lukashodge
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