Butch Walker is your favorite songwriter that you’ve never heard of. He has written and produced a number of hit songs for other artists such as Weezer, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Fallout Boy, Katy Perry, and the Wombats, to name a few. While I’m sure that you’ve heard at least one of these tracks, you haven’t HEARD Butch Walker until you’ve been to a Butch Walker show.
About a month ago I found myself at a diner in downtown Denver at 3 in the morning with a healthy buzz and a plate full of bacon. I had spent the evening at Lost Lake Lounge hanging with my friends Wiredogs, who were playing the after party for Bad Religion’s show, and Nerf, from KTCL.
After the show, while saying goodbyes, I met this girl. Spontaneity took over and we decided to grab a bite at the diner down the road. We were both having a good time, and at some point, we exchanged Facebook information. When she excused herself to wash her hands, I had this overwhelming urge to ‘Facebook stalk’ her profile to quickly learn a bit more about her.
It was in that moment that something struck me. What type of society have we become where it is socially acceptable to spy on someone we’ve just met? I put my phone into my pocket, and took another sip of coffee. My mind began to churn on all the changes that have happened to our culture since the beginning of the social media explosion. A somewhat curious unease began to come over me.
I’ve been a proponent of online networking since even before the MySpace days, having run a few groups and discussion boards as a teenager in the late ’90s. Nowadays, it’s become a regular daily activity, and I’ll admit, until that moment in the diner, I’ve never seriously considered any repercussions of it. With those things bouncing around my head, which were more than likely enhanced by the lingering effects of whiskey, I decided to give it all up for a month and see what really was at the root of this newly discovered unease.
The first thing I did when I got home was delete all the social media apps on my phone and tablet. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… I removed them all. I also logged out from all the sites on my laptop, then went to bed, wanting to fall asleep before the sun came up. I closed my eyes, feeling good about my experiment.
I awoke mid-morning, and as habit, reached for my phone with the intention of checking my Facebook. Remembering my previous night’s decision, I chuckled. Facebook has become my newspaper. It’s my go-to for news, current hot topics, and the general knowledge of goings on of friends, acquaintances, and specific personal interests. The early morning routine was going to be the hardest to break.
Throughout the first few days I was surprised how many times I reached for my phone to check my feeds. The habit of spending my time reading digital nonsense was thoroughly ingrained. In its place, I began to read quite a few more news and special interest articles. One thing that I noticed almost immediately was that I began to have even more things to talk about with people. Throughout the day the conversations that I had felt more meaningful and lively.
The urge to check my feeds subsided after about the first week. I found myself on my phone for shorter periods of time, becoming lost on the internet far less than before. I took pictures without feeling the need to upload them to Instagram. I got a cup of coffee without the desire to ‘check in’ just so that I could play my part as a cog in the machine, for the sole purpose of giving other people fodder for doing the same exact ‘vicarious living through others’ that I had been doing for years.
I came to realize that, as a time waster, Facebook is king; a maelstrom of information that sucks you in, where seconds turn to hours in the blink of an eye. Time is the only equal currency that we all have, and the idea of how much I’ve been wasting was a bit staggering.
It also came to mind that the time that I had been spending looking at social media feeds was probably 75% scrolling past stupid memes and play-by-play posts from my friends about their daily happenings, with a good majority of those being complaints and rants about things going wrong in their lives. The 25% of the posts that I actually liked seeing were buried in the midst of these, and finding them was like panning for gold in polluted waters.
Throughout the month I kept in contact with my friends through text and messenger apps, and also a bit more than usual of old school talking on the phone. Not knowing people’s day to day schedules actually made talking to them that much more of an adventure. I think social media, while at its core is about making the world smaller by putting our friends at only a fingertip distance, is actually changing the dynamic of friendships in a less than positive way. We no longer have a chance to miss people. Their lives scroll before our eyes, so that when we actually do see them, we have very little of substance to talk about. Thinking back, I’ve found that more often than not I exponentially enjoy the company of those friends who hardly post on social media, when compared to the chronic over sharers.
While being out of the loop was very refreshing, there were elements that I missed, albeit not many. (If I missed your birthday, or such, I apologize!) Stepping back into the digital world with a clearer vision how using this technology is actually affecting me will allow me to set up personal parameters so that I don’t get sucked back into the pitfalls of over consumption. My plan is to create groups of friends within the social media sites. That way, I could populate my feeds with those people and pages that are most likely to post things that I’d actually be interested in spending my time reading.
There is no doubt in my mind that social media is a powerful, and very useful tool. As with any tool, if used improperly, it can be dangerous. It’s like they say, “Sugar ain’t poison, but sugar will kill you…”
Oh, and the irony of the fact that that I’m posting this on social media isn’t lost on me, in case you were wondering!
The Marquis Theater in downtown Denver is home to three of my favorite things in the world: live music, booze, and pizza. Two of the three are unfortunate fatalities of my self imposed April diet, but my friends, Wiredogs, needed someone to sling tee shirts and so I had to nut up and deal. The thought of spending a sober evening running a merch booth 30′ from a pizza oven was never a concept that ranked very high on my bucket list, but I suppose there are worse fates. I could’ve been running merch at a Taylor Swift concert. No amount of booze could dilute that pain.
The Friday evening that was to host the show happened to also be the day of the Colorado Rockies home opener. The streets of Denver were flooded with purple, and general drunken douchbaggery abounded. The Rockies had won, so at least they were happy douchbags. I found parking about 300 blocks away, and made my way through the madness.
Wiredogs were direct support for Dead Sara, and I’d be a liar if I said I knew who they were. Ok, I did know the bands name, and I’m sure I’ve heard them on the Denver rock station, and I had a nagging sense that I for some reason SHOULD know them, but I know I couldn’t name a song of theirs if I was being Guantanamo’d. I debated on checking them out on Spotify, but decided to stick to my usual M.O. of, if possible, catching the live show and then seeing how they decided to go about it on the record (if I like the band, that is!). Going into a show with no preconceived ideas about the music frees my mind to make a first impression in the moment.
Dead Sara came out of the gate kicking and screaming, then refused to be quelled as they sonically fused an almost old school punk rock vibe with modern metal riffs. The energy that the band exuded permeated the crowd, and was reflected right back to the band. Vocally, I was surprised at how well the singer was able to switch from soft melodic tones to guttural metal screams, and back, without a falter.
That’s when it hit me. Back in 2012 I HAD seen them open for The Offspring and Neon Trees at The Fillmore in Denver.
Thinking back, I don’t remember being blown away by Dead Sara at that show. I’m not sure if the band has gotten immeasurably more kick-ass in the last few years, or maybe the smaller room of the Marquis was just unable to contain them, so that the roof just HAD to be blown off. Then there was the fact that the Marquis show was the last night of a month long tour for them, which, in my experience, usually places a band in their “A game” zone. Or maybe my musical tastes are just in a different place than they were 2.5 years ago. Whatever it was, Dead Sara’s Marquis show hit me in a completely different way than the Fillmore one. I guess sometimes you do get a second chance at a first impression.
Punk rock is far from dead. Denver, Colorado’s Wiredogs are doing their part to keep punk’s fire burning with their infectious sound that can best be described as what would be the precocious love child of Rancid and Against Me!.
I first met the guys from Wiredogs in the summer of 2012 when Dan Aid (lead vocals, guitar), Austin Searcy (lead guitar, background vocals) and Mark Hibl (bass, background vocals) were still in their previous band The Hate. I had just moved to Denver full time and had begun working on becoming familiar with the local music scene. So, when friend of mine who had been working promotion for The Hate told me that she and her sister had agreed to run the bands merch table at one of their shows, I decided to go hang and help out a bit. The Hate was opening for Authority Zero, so they had a full house to entertain. When they took the stage I was instantly hooked on the bands dynamic presence, cutting lyrics, and driven message.
As the band matured, drummer Stefan Runstrom (formerly of Tickle Me Pink) came on board as a full time member. With a consistent lineup came a new name. After much deliberation, the band settled on the name Wiredogs, which is military slang for line electricians.
I recently had the chance to work a few shows with them as stage hand, and as lighting director. I found it to be quite the learning experience.
I’ve spent plenty of time working with altrock, folk rock, hip hop, and metal bands before, but never a punk rock band. I found there to be quite a number of marked differences between working a punk rock show as opposed to the other genres that I’ve worked with. One of the most noticeable was how the energy of the crowd dictated the show. While that is true with most live music, I found it to be much more of a pronounced thing at the Wiredogs shows. For example, at one point late in one of their sets, Dan knocked over his microphone and stand. Plenty of times while working stagehand, I’ve gone on stage to fix fallen or broken equipment, but something in the way the crowd reacted to the situation stopped me. Seamlessly, Dan made use of Mark’s mic for his vocal parts, and you could almost see the collective middle finger of the crowd defying the fallen microphone, the show surging on without ever missing a beat.
In that moment it was blazingly obvious that that’s exactly what punk is, and what it stands for. It isn’t an antiauthoritarian movement, as many people see it to be.
I’d say the spirit of punk rock’s message is to press on, overcome any and all adversity, and do it with your head held high.
As a lighting director, punk rock offered me a whole set of new challenges. I haven’t had a chance yet to take courses for concert lighting, so everything I’ve learned has been on the fly, total hands on experience. The thing with punk music is, much of it is a steady fast tempo from start to finish. This forced me to tune in a finer focus on the music, so as to prevent the urge to just turn on a strobe effect that matched the tempo. By delving deeper, I began to see the songs as stories and the lights as the accompanying illustrations, a new way for me to view the light show that I was orchestrating. I began picking colors and patterns that reflected the emotions that I felt best fit the song, as opposed to just doing something that I felt looked good. I see this new understanding of what a lighting director is greatly helping with the development of the light shows for the other artists in the other genres that I work for.
I capped off the weekend by sitting in on a Wiredogs writing session in Stefan’s home studio. We all crashed at his place after the previous night’s show, so first order of business in the morning was a band breakfast. A quick run to the store later, and everyone was pitching in, taking a part in prepping, cooking, and setting up.
When you share a meal with a group, you discover a lot about them. I saw that beyond the band, these guys were also genuinely friends. They weren’t just hanging out to play music together, they truly enjoy each other’s company. This sense carried on throughout the rest of the day, as they worked on arranging then recording a new demo. It was amazing to sit and watch the evolution of a song, especially one tempered by mutual respect among the musicians. There was no suggestion that wasn’t taken seriously, no one was domineering or belittling. By the time they had a demo-ready song it was easy to forget that they had started with a half worked out idea just a few hours before.
As I headed back home involuntarily humming the Wiredogs new tune I reflected on the things that I had taken from my weekend. You never know where an opportunity for personal growth lies. Take every chance you can to step outside your norm. You never know what you might learn.
You can find Wiredogs at:
Catch them live at Denver’s Summit Music Hall on March 15th w/The Ataris