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2/09/2005

How much does where you come from influence your creativity?

My friend and I were talking about bands and the cities they come from, and he was claiming that no good bands have ever come out of San Francisco. I'm not sure I agree with him on that, but it did make me wonder if bands were somehow at a disadvantage if they were trying to come up in a big city.

Conventional wisdom would argue that a big city is the best place for a band to be. You have more choices in bandmates, venues, practice spaces, press, music stores, other bands to inspire you, etc. But what about the burden of too many choices? What about having to share your drummer with five other bands, because there never seem to be enough good drummers? What about getting undue adulation from the local weekly? Add that to well attended shows by friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and random citizens and a band might get too-positive feedback too soon, and not push themselves to get as good as they could be. Then there are the million distractions that can make music just a small part of a busy life.

Contrast this with what a small town has to offer. A handful of potential bandmates, maybe one or two venues, practicing in your garage (because it's free and your neighbors are far enough away to not call the cops on you), one music store, etc. You may have few resources, but sometimes scant hope and resources can bring out the best creativity. Your band might be your only hope to escape the town, therefore the dedication to succeed is strong, however delusional it may be. There's probably little to do with your free time but practice, practice, practice. And remember the joys of a low cost-of-living? Sigh.

The reason this is on my mind is because I saw a fantastic show by Eisley last night. Eisley is from Tyler, Texas. I've visited Tyler many times throughout my life, because all of my grandparents lived there. There is nothing to do in Tyler but go to church. It's a dry county. The kids in Eisley were apparently raised religious and home-schooled. They've probably all been playing their instruments since they were strong enough to lift them. And it shows. The three sisters that front the band were confident, playing their guitars and keyboards with self-assurance, singing like angels. Their songwriting was mature and melodically interesting, their harmonies spot-on, their lyrics meaningful. I'm not saying that Eisley is going to be as culturally relevant as the Rolling Stones, let me not overstate my point. But the band was tighter and better than most bands you'll see this year, and they're all in their late teens and early 20's.

Watching them onstage, it made me wish I was encouraged to play music growing up, or pursue any type of art, rather than running around breaking curfews and having meaningless teen misadventures. Granted, maybe the parents of the Eisley members were militaristic and cultish, maybe those kids are burning with resentment inside and will tear out in a Lohan-esque bender the minute they're left unsupervised. But my point is, what if we didn't have a thousand bars, clubs and events to go to, but were stuck in a basement with nothing to do but come up with our own entertainment? What sort of art might come out of us then?

Related: The Mars Volta is from El Paso. Their new single "The Widow" is excellent, watch the video here. Cedric is one of the best rock vocalists alive today. Can't wait for Frances the Mute to come out in March.

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