The ” Sell-out” Paradox

Sell-out. One abusive word that can be hurled at the most humble of musicians after they experience a bit of success and decide that would prefer to make business deals in order to make a steady income rather than keep playing small local venues in order to make pizza money. To be honest, there are times when I use the word myself, but I think it suffers from a very vague definition in everyday usage.

My definition of selling out is when someone is already as successful financially as one can be in the game and then decides:

“ Why stop here? I have the capacity to sell people potato chips, nonsense health yogurts and a wide array other absolute crap and be paid shedloads of money to do it!”

Without naming names, it’s a pet hate of mine when I see a soft-drink commercial using an already super famous person to flog a few more litres of its sugary death juice. I really start despair for popstars like that. Do they really need that money? Wouldn’t the gracious thing to do be to just step aside and let someone up and coming who could do with the endorsement whore their image out while they’re at a forgivably young stage of their career? Do you really need to build a swimming pool inside of your swimming pool?

Whatever the case, it seems sellout is more often than not directed at artists outside of the pop genre or those few who dare crossover from the underground into it. Look at your typical underground act. It takes hundreds of hours of practice in order to become good enough at performing to make a meagre living doing it and even more to make a good living. If you play in a band you need to be several things at once, a competent musician, punctual, dedicated, a psychologist with the patience of saint to put up with other musicians and their egos, a networking expert, a getaway/roadie/taxi driver ect. You take all of these things and you basically have a full-time job which most musicians do on top another full or part-time job to supplement their income. It’s not easy and on top of all that everyone who doesn’t achieve at least moderate success has a ticking time bomb resting in their lap.

Age. There’s a fine line between being a young aspiring musician and becoming a grown adult with responsibilities that can’t afford to practice four nights a week and play shows at the weekend. You can’t speed across town to rescue your fucked up bass player from a crack den when you got an early start the next day and you’re old enough to give a shit about things like buying a house or installing a wooden patio. You can’t just fuck off to Europe to play small festivals that pay you in regionally brewed alcohol and bizarre crypto-currencies that always fail to ever become the next Bitcoin in lieu of actual money when you have a dog and a cat and a boyfriend/girlfriend and shit. It’s just not feasible. You start to show up to practice less, there’s less of you to go around and eventually the current incarnation of your career implodes and you become a part-timer, then hobbyist and eventually a full-blown Sunday painter. Eventually you’ll encounter others on the same path and you’ll gravitate towards each other. You’ll start a new project where everything is far more relaxed and far more sporadic. Megan will be your guitarist, She’s got faded tattoos of bands that you used to like and shitloads of stories about her children. You drink and smoke weed together about as much as you spend time playing music and it will depress the shit out of you. Because as Megan tells you another funny thing her kid said last week that isn’t actually funny at all you realize that Megan is a mirror of yourself. The reason you resent her is because she holds a mirror up to something about yourself that you don’t want to accept. Your own faded glory.

However, one fateful day after playing a small venue opening for a much younger, more obnoxious band, you are gathered around a table drinking with your bandmates and realize that you’re actually having a great time. Megan’s actually pretty cool when she gets drunk and you enjoy swapping war stories about the old days, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have work tomorrow and your other half has given you explicit permission to get drunk because you babysat/dogsat/catsat for the last month. You realize that apart from your new found domestic bliss, there’s no other place that you would rather be. Fuck making it. That pressure is gone. You’ve missed the boat for the twenty seven club a long time ago and dying of drug abuse, suicide or being murdered by a crazed fan at your age isn’t cool anymore, it’s just inconvenient and embarrassing. As you come to this moment of self-realization you feel an overwhelming sense of contentment, it makes you feel, powerful. Almost godlike.

Your attention turns to the younger band you’ve just opened for and you come to the conclusion that you’ve seen it all before. The angst, the apathy, the stupid haircuts. The singer looks like an asshole, the type of asshole that you pray you never were back in the day. All of the songs are clearly about sex and an ex-girlfriend he cheated on but is still in love with but this is disguised through metaphors because that’s artistic and shit. His girlfriend is clearly that girl slightly away from the front of the stage but he’s fucking the girl with bigger tits closer to the back with her friends. Pathetic. Amateurish. At least cheat on the road and don’t shit on your doorstep. The guitarist looks very well groomed and is possibly gay but hasn’t realized it yet,  he looks like he might end up going into real-estate contracting. The Drummer looks like the type of drug addict that could die any day now or do a 180 and end up a vegan cycling enthusiast with a shitload of kids in the suburbs, the wife works, not him. The bass player seems like an IT guy and probably will be for the rest of his life.

You don’t miss any of it, and you’re glad you don’t. You know what time you’ll be home at and who’ll be in bed with and take comfort in that fact. The younger you would call you a sellout, the older you doesn’t give a shit. Maybe you’ll even relent to what your bandmates have been suggesting and start playing covers….

This is one road to go down and the road of success from what I’ve seen and heard is not enviable. Especially not nowadays. Social media and the rise of the gutterpress on the internet has made life for a young celebrity hell. Any semblance of a normal life that extremely famous people had before the invention of the internet is well and truly gone. Marlon Brando could have probably thrown on a pair of shades and gone to McDonalds, Justin Bieber and Billy Eilish? Not a chance. Poor them right? I’m not suggesting that anyone feel sorry for them, but I would worry about anyone that becomes famous below the age of 25 nowadays because any concept of reality is completely out the window. It’s also impossible for Bieber to sell out. He’s such a mainstream popstar that he’s not just allowed to endorse whatever product his handlers decide he should, he expected to do it. Billie would probably get a bit more flack.

Nevertheless Bieber is not alone, because in Hip Hop, as far as mainstream hip hop is concerned, the concept of selling out doesn’t really seem to exist. Since it’s beginning there has been a strong focus on financial prowess being a desirable attribute and dare I say it, a good thing. It’s perfectly fine for rappers to diversify their business interests and become fashion label owners, fragrance designers, headphone technology pioneers or restauranteers. The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well and while I doubt every hip hop artist who ever released a perfume or fragrance spent years in Italy or France honing their nose until they came up with the perfect combination of ingredients, their fanbases don’t seem to have turned against them too much for it.

The most violent hatred of perceived sellouts seems to come from the alternative rock and heavy metal scenes. This however is the type of criticism that I’ve never managed to get my head around. The proponents of the theory that anyone who plays in these types of bands and so much as attends a job interview not wearing an ironic t-shirt with an offensive slogan is a filthy corporate shill are always particularly bitter in their assault. I’ve met people who seemed to feel personally betrayed by bands who crossover into the mainstream and start going on tours that allow them to support their families and get a mortgage. I think if a band changes their sound so significantly that you don’t like them anymore then it sucks, if they did it order to get on the radio and sell more content, it kind of sucks even more. However, I don’t feel anyone should be expected to suffer unnecessarily just for the voyeuristic pleasure their fanbase.

What I mean is that there are certain people out their whose idea of an ideal musician is an incredibly gifted, tortured genius, who was orphaned by the police murdering their parents and has some form of undiagnosed mental illness that prevents them from pursing any kind of normal profession. Basically Van Gough with a guitar. This person pours their heart and soul into their work so you don’t have to and receives, nor should be interested in receiving, any substantial financial compensation. In typical cases when bands are accused of selling-out their accusers are long-term fans who claim to have supported them since their inception.

” They used to be good before they sold-out” ect ect…….

The key thing that I’ve never understood about this attitude is that by definition almost everybody walking the on the face of the earth is a sell-out. Everybody either works for somebody or owns a business. One could argue that a group of musicians who have managed to figure out how to make a decent living from a mixture of releasing content, performing live and endorsements have far more street cred than someone who works directly for a massive corporation and isn’t being paid to produce any kind of creative content. If you’re a pretty big wheel on your local punk scene and are a manager in a fast food ” restaurant” then who is the shill really? Nobody wants to pay to come see you flip burgers live. Worse yet, there are people who are in highly desirable positions in massive corporations who carry the same attitude. You’re angry because your favourite band has watered down the subject matter of their major label debut but you’ve spent the last month flying to business meetings across the country/globe so you’re already filthy rich CEO can afford an even more ridiculously expensive car.

You could argue that you are just not a creative person, deep behind your counter-cultural facade there is an unrelenting pragmatist who just wants to be entertained, buried under your mohawk there is a simple, almost conservative personality which likes your dinner ready when you come home, your lawn cut and your favourite artists to be revolutionary and uncompromising. You’re the kind of person who buys ridiculously over-priced, limited-edition box-sets that bands release when they start running out of drug money. You may even post unboxing videos on youtube.

Whatever the case, as an artist, your bank account and your integrity should be two completely different entities.


Review: Spinnerette

First and foremost, I would like to say that I’m a massive fan of Brody Dalle and I’ve listened to every project of hers that I’m aware of. Much like my previous review of Light and Magic I’m reviewing an album that I know and like well, so if you’re looking for a biased and objective review you’ve come to the wrong place. If that’s what you’re after you may as well be attending a debate about vegetarianism sponsored by and held in a KFC. I’m sure the scholars among you have already clicked off and returned to Pornhub in the ever-ready incognito window. They and their leather-elbow patched tweed suit jackets shall not be missed.

Spinnerette was Dalle’s first major project after the break-up of The Distillers and in my opinion the best thing she’s ever done. This was the first time that we met the Post-Distillers Dalle that we know today. There was a noticeable departure from the distinct vocal style from her former band where she had been known as the girl who could scream.  The screamiest song on the album was in fact the lead single “ Ghetto love” which could be described as a gateway song to bridge the gap between fans of the Distillers the new sleek, sexy and modern Spinnerette. I recall a big deal being made of this at the time, some people dug it and an awful lot of people didn’t.

 “ She’s not screaming enough! Why isn’t she screaming anymore? It’s not punk! I want it to be 2004 forever!” They would proclaim before breaking down into big salty tears and sobbing inconsolably into their vans wristbands. Yes, It’s not really a punk album. It’s an alternative rock album with elements of punk, electronica and shoegaze. Dalle’s decision to employ a more melodic vocal style for the majority of the album could have been for various reasons: she might have been bored with screaming since the start of her career and wanted to try something different, she might have lost the ability to scream her way through a 15 song album and do it justice live after screaming her way through all the Distiller’s records, or maybe, just maybe it was an artistic choice based on the fact that she had matured as an artist and the contemporary music scene had also moved on from mindless screaming and fuck you mom bedroom door slam rock.

Whatever the case, the album was a huge departure from what she had become known for and the results were sublime. Particular highlights from album include the delicious “ Sex Bomb “ which is thankfully not a cover of the tacky Tom Jones tune that resurrected his career. If you’ve never heard it then do yourself a favour and keep it that way, it’s not worth it man. Dalle’s song however is an effortlessly sexy tune which is told from a relatively unheard perspective: a woman who wants to be dominated sexually. Obviously, it goes almost without saying that any song about this topic has the potential to be problematic but this track is refreshingly crude and direct. It makes no bones about its subject matter ( much like Dalle herself, who has mentioned in interviews that she loves being “ Squashed” and the sexual act being the only time where you don’t want to feel like you’re in control) and I think it makes a major difference that it was actually written by and sung by a woman. The song is far from Sado-machoistic and stands out from other songs of a sexual nature by not being overly poetic or vague to shy away from the crudeness.

Perhaps the most evident example of the shift in style between The Distillers and Spinnerette is Baptized by Fire which is possibly my favourite track on the album. Dalle sings beautifully on an empowering almost dance pop track where guitars are certainly secondary. It’s a very melodic tune and definitely earned the ire of any punk purists who happened to be listening. Geeking is a very interesting song and seems to belong to a genre all of its own. It’s not quite rock, it’s not quite pop, it’s just quirky and fun in a non-cheesy kind of way.

A strange omission that was included on the Ghetto Love EP that preceded the album was apparent fan favourite “ Bury My Heart”. I’ve seen more covers of this song than any other from this period of Dalle’s career and I must say I’m quite fond it. Exactly why it wasn’t included on the album remains a mystery.

One of the most interesting and controversial reactions to this album is the long-speculated conspiracy theory that Dalle can’t really write music on her own and Josh Homme wrote/produced everything on the album. This theory that Brody can’t write songs because she’s a girl and stuff had been doing the rounds since she was married to Tim Armstrong and he of course had been writing all her material. Personally, I don’t buy this theory, it all seems a little too convenient. I knew many people who were adamant at the time that this was just a Queens of the Stone Age album that Brody was singing on. I can’t actually imagine this ever being a QOTSA album and if it was it would be the weirdest album they ever made and that’s saying something. The insistence on this theory was addressed by Dalle herself who remarked that no one ever accused her of writing Homme or Armstrong’s material. Wonder why? Even though I don’t subscribe to the theory, I find it more plausible that Armstrong was involved in writing on the first two Distillers albums and the rapid increase in quality that was Coral Fang is explained by her divorcing him and doing it all by herself.

There are one or two issues that I have with this album despite my lopsided reviewing skills. I am confused about why on earth Brody decided to form another band in the first place. At the time she was a reasonable name in the music industry and could have carried a solo record without the need create the entity of a new band. Tony Bevilacqua could be one reason for this, as maybe it seemed unfair for him to go from one fourth of The Distillers to the guitarist in Brody’s backing band. Alain Johannes and Jack Irons are obviously fabulous musicians and their reputations precede them, but they were obviously never likely to stick around and be in Spinerette full-time or even appear on another album if it had ever materialized. Divorcing herself from the notoriety that she already had before that point to form a new band has always seemed like a strange move to me.

The main issue I have with the album is however that we never got a second one. Dalle has characterized her time in Spinnerette as unhappy, particularly after the record dropped and she went out to tour it. She had changed her image significantly since The Distillers and yes, gained weight because she was popping out babies with Josh Homme ( who was definitely not writing all her songs). This affected her self-esteem to the point in which it culminated in her overhearing a fan in the audience remark: “ Oh my God, she’s so fat!” apparently this levelled her which I find somewhat surprising as I recall a few friends of mine saying that they found her quite hot with a bit of weight on her and they even preferred her then to how she looked in her Distillers days. The word milf may have been used. Either way, Dalle under-toured and under-promoted the album by her own admission which had a lot to do with having a young family and raising them. Controversially, I might say that I’d prefer one less Queens of the Stone Age album to one more Spinnertte album but I hear the fanboys baying for blood already.


Welcome to the random musings of a lunatic, otherwise known as my blog. Here I will be mainly reviewing, promoting or discussing in some way my passion. which is music. My blog is Bi, bilingual that is. I don’t speak Spanish perfectly but I’m aiiight, and I intend to use this blog as a tool to improve that and have some fun. I am also a musician and will mention/shamelessly promote myself through this blog as I see fit. If you enjoy reading my blog as much as I enjoy writing it then I suggest you call your local health authority and have yourself sectioned.