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The best of times are had with friends.
 

In 2012/2013, Proof and Proving performed around Philadelphia as a three piece: Brian (me) on vocals/guitar, Justin Stevenson (One Win Choice, Man About A Horse) on mandolin, and Rene Ropac (Astpai) on bass. Though we had all first met in the early/mid-2000s via our past touring punk/hardcore bands, the three of us – all living in south philly and no longer touring at the time – coalesced over drinks, great conversations, and fun times.

5-18-2006 show with Giving Chase, Metroplex, The Gun Stays, Thru It All, and One Win Choice at Circle Thrift in Fishtown, Philadelphia

5-21-2007 show with Giving Chase, Breaking The Forth Wall, and Astpai at KSet in Zagreb, Croatia

Oct 30-Nov 1, 2009: Fest 8

As that trio, we played some great shows and made some fantastic memories before we all went our different ways – as each eventually moved out of the city.

In that time period, and as a way for us to improve our chops, we live-tracked a practice in my basement. Portions of this album are from that session, while the live tidbits are from one of the shows we played at the legendary Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar.

Last year, as I was moving around files for another recording session, I stumbled across our basement and Ray’s recordings. These recordings, which were never really meant to be an album, were too fun to not share (also, before this album, this lineup of Proof and Proving, with Justin and Rene, only ever had one song released: a cover of Sam Hall, which was on The Philly Rock Comp: Vol 2 put out by 502 South).

I look back on these times fondly, and wanted to share some of the good times I had with such good friends. As a nod to our practice space and caliber of shows, the album is affectionately titled “South Philly Basements“.

And lastly: A special thanks to our boys in Welter for, among many other things, adding gang vocals to the last track on the album!




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For as long as I can recall I have had distaste for electronic music. To me, its place is in 8 and 16-bit video games; and even THEN it should be midi versions of real songs that were written with real instruments that used hands or mouths or feet. Electronic music was space-bar enthusiasm that I didn’t get, and didn’t want to.

In the early 2000s I was playing in garage pop punk bands and was a pizza delivery driver. I had friends that enjoyed electronic dance music and the beats behind hip hop verses. It disgusted me. It wasn’t real music, and as a real musician, it was offensive. It felt like someone comparing a Microsoft Paint color-by-numbers (executed with just the paint bucket tool) to a piece by Mark Ryden. It was samples mixed with a beat mixed with minimal creativity – not something to be envied by a craftsmen of pop punk songs in major keys with bridges in the relative minor key – no no.

[Unrelated side note: I often do not appreciate the level of jackass or asshole I am when I am IN the moment. I can be oblivious during the moment; but in hindsight it can be painfully obvious.]

So in the 2000s, early 20-something Brian thought it’d be good to show his electronica appreciators just how easy creating that music really is. I had no background or examples of the style of that music other than what I had been exposed to in my friends’ cars, but I was confident (see side note above) that I could accurately create something that was as-good. With a Casio keyboard, a Jackson guitar and distortion pedal, and a pirated version of the Cool Edit Pro 2.0 recording software, I spent an afternoon writing, recording, mixing, and mastering the following:

 

I was proud of my accomplishment, though I recognized it was not nearly on the same level as the kind of music I was mocking – something I hoped my friends would not realize, as they were not in garage punk rock bands and were not real musicians.

I kept that recording as a joke – occasionally slipping it into demo session with my pop punk and later post hardcore bands; or generally into mix CDs waiting for someone to say “who the hell is this?” and the great story that would come afterward.

[Unrelated side note: I guess I always wanted to be a storyteller.]

[Unrelated side note: I did something similar with acoustic country-esque songs. I recorded three or four demos and called it “Brian plays country”. Those songs were later revised into Proof and Proving songs]

In 2011 I was playing in my singer/songwriter jawn Proof and Proving, which I still write/play-for today. At this time I had been with my now-wife Maria for a few years. While I admire her musical tastes that include 90s alternative and 90s/00s hardcore, I hated the fact that she occasionally would listen to electronic music while she painted; or that she and her friends Liza and Ashley would go to festivals where this space-bar-pressing music thrived. I wanted to try to expose both how easy and how stupid this style of music was, so (not unlike my early 2000s attempt), I decided I would write and record an entire album in a short period of time. Using only an iPhone 3g and the Beatmaker 1.0 app, I crafted an entire album. Furthering the point of obscenity that this style of music is, I also decided to create a fake band and persona around it. This was the start of JunioR.

JunioR, as I made up, had the following bio:

After performing throughout the majority of 90s in seminal Philadelphia punk and hardcore bands musician JunioR (not to be confused with 80s British R&B Junior Giscombe) decided to trade in his guitar and microphone and pursue his true musical passion. Receiving praise from artists ranging from MC Hammer to Gaga, and gaining loyal followings from LA to Berlin, JunioR has reaffirmed his mark in the music world.

It was a stupid bio, paled only in comparison to the music itself. With a fake bio, and after writing the entire six-song album on an iPhone and mixing/mastering in pirated version of Adobe Audition 2.0 (the successor to Cool Edit Pro, after Adobe purchased it and bundled in its Creative Suite; AND which I received from my friend Fred), I released my first joke album under a fake artist name JunioR. You can listen to it here.

With this 2011 attempt I put more effort than my prior attempt. I still did not see electronica as a viable/acceptable form of music, but I was finding particular things interesting. For instance, I wanted to title the songs in a funny way that reflected both the song as well as some sort of kitschy Philly reference. It felt weird to me. I was taking pride in the output. Not a lot, but some.

Interestingly, the audio streaming site BandCamp partnered with some third party to aggregate band’s show information into its page. Initially unbeknownst to me, apparently there is some artist known as Junior who tours Europe often, and their tour dates get pulled into my JunioR’s BandCamp profile. It’s not lying, technically; though I do understand the deception there. To clarify: Lying is the fake bio that I wrote; seemingly supporting that lie is the tour dates.

JunioR to-date has had hundreds of album downloads, and actually surpasses my album downloads for my serious music. Irony can be painful.

Fast forward a few years: Maria got me an iPad as a gift for our wedding. This is, by far, the best songwriting tool I have access to; and has surpassed pen and paper – a scary sign of the times. After demoing many “real” songs on it, I decided to try – ACTUALLY try – to create a better JunioR album. Maria had given me tips on how the songs could be better, which I stored in my head and was now calling on.

Within two weeks of off-and-on working in my spare time, I crafted a new JunioR album. While working on this project, which clocks in around 33 minutes across ten songs, I noticed something different than the prior attempts I made at this joke genre: I was having fun. I was getting vested in the work. I went over songs multiple times, the way I do when I normally write ‘real’ songs. I was caring about the work.

That said, I still think electronica is a joke of a thing in the world of music. However, I will acknowledge that this is just my opinion, which is swayed by the fact of my being a musician. Thinking in this kind of absolute is like saying only directors can have an opinion on movies, etc. Additionally, while still a joke, it does have its merit. Sure, it’s not classical or progressive rock; but listeners of those two genres combined are outnumbered to those who appreciate the various forms of electronica.

The new JunioR album was set out to serve a very specific purpose and sound. I wanted it to sound like having plans of spending a night partying with friends in South Philly, but instead staying home and playing Nintendo all night. I feel that I achieved that sound. Incidentally, it also makes for good music for playing video games or painting to. As a way of paying homage to Maria for encouraging me to go down this rabbit hole, I’ve decided to call the album “Music To Paint To”.

 

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Ingenuity and creativity were born out of necessity for me in my youth. Like many, my family did not have much when I was growing up, and whenever we seemingly did run into good times, they were both short lived and squandered. In fact, before my teens, I had learned how to drain the hot water tank in our house when we no longer had running water being supplied to it.

My socioeconomic status growing up was what attracted me to DIY culture, which was finely intertwined with the punk rock music scene in my area. Sure, there may have been times where I had a safety pin that was not absolutely necessary, in terms of utility or functionality, but I was a young teenager still trying to find where he fit in this world. For the most part, though, the times where I had what looked part of a punk rock uniform was actually entirely for purpose: like my blue JanSport backpack hand-me-down from my older sister, which was, indeed, falling apart, and safety pins were the only way I knew to hold it together.

[Disclaimer: This is before pop-punk, bright colored shirt Brian – a time in which the start corresponds to my friends’ and my immersion into the pop-punk/punk-ska scene. This was simultaneous to the fortune of me having my first job, which lead to my choice of thrift store and skate-brand clothing to be purchased with my own earned income. This is an entirely different story altogether. Unfortunately, the term “fruity booter” is also part of that same story.]

This ingenuity has come in handy in the nearly two decades since I first felt sheepish about needing creativity in lieu of spending money. When on tour somewhere near the east coast with my dirt poor punk/hardcore band, our guitarist, Ryan, had a handle break on his guitar case. Sure, a handle could be a $20 part, but finding a music shop that sold it, derailing a planned route and day (this was road-atlas-touring and MapQuest-touring days, not GPS-touring days), and shitting $20 is not something a DIY band member can easily do. We did, however, have a roll of duct tape, so I fashioned a guitar case handle out it. And it was not a sub-par handle, either. I put a great deal of thought into it, and found a way to make it nearly as functional and comfortable as one that could be bought for $20; all while sitting at a venue before a show. That handle finally broke in 2014 in LA: nine years and countless shows through many US tours and three or four Europe tours after my repair job; and four years after our band last played a show together.

RyanCase

Over the years, I have kept the DIY creativity and ingenuity close to me, as well as a keen eye on things like reuse, recycle, up-cycle, and waste. I keep these characteristics close out of both the habit of them as well as the consciousness of my impact on this world (which itself is a byproduct justification of growing up without).

Aside from cathartic release, I mention all of this with purpose.

You know how people attach water bottles to their backpack? The other day I saw a hipster who took a glass Smuckers jam jar and affixed it to his empty-looking messenger bag by intertwined wire. He also fashioned a metal electrical socket into it as a patch on the same bag.

16 year old Brian may have thought this hipster guy in his mid 30s was cool, innovative, and clever. “Fuck the man…AND soap!” is what I would agree with, in thought.

32 year old Brian thought he was an attention-seeking “Oh, look at me and how eco I can be” ass.

It’s slightly unnerving to see something that is born out of necessity turned upside-down into some level of fashion. Case in point: 1) If one can afford an expensive messenger bag they can likely afford a BPA-free water bottle with carabiner from a dollar store; 2) If one were concerned with reuse and not-needed extra expense, why wouldn’t they place their up-cycled jam jar inside of their empty bag?

It’s not the first time I’ve been simultaneously perplexed and angered by fashionable faux thriftiness. I see it in distressed jeans. I see it in “road worn” or “aged” or “distressed” guitars. I see it in fake vintage aged throwback tee shirts. “Pawn Shop Series” guitars. Trucker hats. A culture of pretending to be something it’s not.

Or maybe I’m overanalyzing it, and I need to lighten up. Maybe creativity, ingenuity, thriftiness – maybe it’s over?

At any rate: I can’t wait until Urban Outfitters copies this hipster’s unnecessary fashion; and the shelves of plastic faux mason jar water bottles are replaced by faux repurposed jam jar water bottles.

#UpThePunxJellies

Not Water Bottles
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