The New Wave Of Clas­sic Rock

Classic Rock - - Contents -

Far from be­ing dead, ‘proper’ rock is hav­ing a real resur­gence. We look at its re­cent rise, and at some of the artists poised to bring it on home.

Ev­ery cor­ner of pop­u­lar cul­ture has its break­out stars. It’s an age-old con­cept: the hot young thing who ar­rives out of nowhere and be­comes the talk of the town, rack­ing up col­umn inches (or the modern equiv­a­lent, YouTube views), start­ing con­ver­sa­tions. Hol­ly­wood has them, TV has them, pop mu­sic, hip-hop and R&B have them.

The one area that hasn’t had an hon­est-to-God break­out star in a long time is rock’n’roll. Not since the late 90s and the days of nu metal, Mar­i­lyn Man­son and the Foo Fight­ers has it pro­duced a band or artist that has bro­ken be­yond the genre’s bound­aries. That isn’t to say that it hasn’t had its next-gen suc­cess sto­ries – Ghost, Halestorm and count­less oth­ers have all given lie to the glib no­tion that rock is dead – but no one has truly stormed the gates of main­stream cul­ture the way they used to.

Or at least they haven’t un­til now. In the past two years, Greta Van Fleet have gone from be­ing a bunch of goofy Mid­west­ern kids who sound a lot like Led Zep­pelin to be­ing proper break­out stars.

The Michi­gan band have crossed over in a way that many peo­ple thought would never hap­pen again. They’ve played at Coachella and celeb-stud­ded par­ties – the sort of places bands who look and sound like GVF do don’t nor­mally get in­vited to. They re­cently bagged four Grammy nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing one for the pres­ti­gious Best New Artist (the last rock band to be nom­i­nated was Paramore back in 2008; the last one to win was Evanes­cence four years be­fore that).

But Greta Van Fleet rep­re­sent some­thing big­ger too: the po­ten­tial resur­gence of rock’n’roll as a cul­tural force.

This month Ri­val Sons re­lease Feral Roots, their sixth al­bum and their first for a ma­jor la­bel, At­lantic. Bri­tish nou­veau-glam rock­ers The Struts spent a large chunk of 2018 sup­port­ing the Foo Fight­ers on tour in the US, and their sec­ond al­bum, Young&Dan­ger­ous, was one of the year’s most talked-about re­leases.

“I think there was a scep­ti­cism on the part of the mu­sic in­dus­try that this kind of mu­sic would ever come back,” says Jason Flom, CEO of Lava Records and the man who dis­cov­ered and signed Greta Van Fleet. “But now you’ve got a bunch of guys play­ing pure rock mu­sic, who are bring­ing this sound and this ex­pe­ri­ence to a new gen­er­a­tion.”

It’s im­pos­si­ble to pin­point ex­actly when rock be­gan its com­mer­cial de­cline. The last gen­uinely mo­men­tous move­ment was nu metal in the late 90s. But even at its height, that genre was never a guar­an­teed ex­press el­e­va­tor to the top.

“Break­ing a rock band is a long process, re­gard­less of the cli­mate,” says Ben­jamin Berk­man, man­ager of The Struts, the Bri­tish band who are lead­ing the charge along­side Greta Van Fleet. “As the great Bon Scott said, it’s a long way to the top – and that was in 1975.”

But rock’s com­mer­cial po­tency un­de­ni­ably be­gan to wane in the mid-00s. A the­sis could be writ­ten on the cul­tural and gen­er­a­tional changes that pre­cip­i­tated this de­cline, but one ma­jor fac­tor that played a part was that young peo­ple found other ways to en­ter­tain them­selves.

“Tra­di­tion­ally the mu­sic in­dus­try and its in­vest­ment in new tal­ent is led by the younger gen­er­a­tion, and young peo­ple are at­tracted to things other than mu­sic,” says Chris Ing­ham, co-or­gan­iser of the clas­sic rock-themed Ram­blin’ Man Fair fes­ti­val. “Even within mu­sic, they have more choice now. Grime is just this gen­er­a­tion’s punk.”

The emer­gence of stream­ing cul­ture has only com­pounded mat­ters. The likes of Spo­tify (launched in 2006) and Ap­ple Mu­sic (2015) tend to spot­light more pop­u­lar – and lu­cra­tive – gen­res such as pop, R&B and hip-hop. Rock fans have to take at least part of the blame them­selves for that – stud­ies show that they’re less likely to en­gage with Spo­tify than fans of other styles of mu­sic.

“I be­lieve that the rock fan is more about the al­bum than the pop or hip-hop fan is,” says Ben­jamin Berk­man. “Those au­di­ences seem to be song-driven, and with a few ex­cep­tions prob­a­bly don’t con­sume en­tire al­bums or longer sets of mu­sic. To be deemed a ‘cred­i­ble’ rock band you still need an al­bum or at least an EP. While EPs and al­bums cer­tainly ex­ist on the stream­ing sites, it doesn’t seem that most con­sumers utilise these plat­forms for that pur­pose.”

How you view the po­ten­tial re­turn of rock de­pends on whether you think it went away in the first place. Ev­ery fes­ti­val es­sen­tially stands or falls on the strength of its bill. Ram­blin’ Man Fair boss Chris Ing­ham says a big part of its draw is their com­mit­ment to new bands. The likes of Black Stone Cherry, Ri­val Sons and Tyler Bryant & The Shake­down have all ap­peared on the main stage at Ram­blin’ Man, while the pop­u­lar Ris­ing Stage of­fers a unique plat­form for new and un­signed bands. Acts that have bro­ken through on the lat­ter in­clude Bad Touch and blues­rock hot­shot Kris Bar­ras.

“There is a huge amount of tal­ent out there,” says Ing­ham. “We had more than five hun­dred bands apply to play on the Ris­ing Stage last year. I would have given the top thirty of them record­ing con­tracts. They were all that good.”

He says the Ris­ing Stage’s pop­u­lar­ity is in­dica­tive of the pas­sion that re­mains for rock mu­sic – and a de­sire from the peo­ple in­volved to share their dis­cov­er­ies with like-minded mu­sic fans.

“Many peo­ple who come to the fes­ti­val are life­long rock fans,” Ing­ham con­tin­ues. “It’s of­ten lit­er­ally a life­style. And while they may have

“I think there was a scep­ti­cism on the part of the mu­sic in­dus­try that this

kind of mu­sic would ever come back.”

Jason Flom, CEO of Lava Records

their favourite bands from 1980, they didn’t give up lis­ten­ing to or wish­ing to dis­cover new mu­sic in any way. ”

The pres­ence of a thriv­ing grass-roots com­mu­nity of rock fans with an ap­petite for new mu­sic is un­der­lined by a Face­book group called The New Wave Of Clas­sic Rock. It was founded in 2017 as a plat­form for peo­ple to share videos and rec­om­men­da­tions of new bands they’ve heard or seen. “We all felt that there were so many qual­ity new bands around,“says its co-founder and ad­min­is­tra­tor Jeremy Wills. “It re­ally feels like some­thing is hap­pen­ing.”

Wills says one of the rea­sons the group was set up was as a reaction to rock fans who were dis­parag­ing of the cur­rent scene. “We were fed up of peo­ple say­ing: ‘There’s no good new bands, mu­sic’s rub­bish,’” he says. “So we said: ‘How can we think of some­thing to get the older fans to check out the new rock bands?’ And that’s where we came up with the New Wave Of Clas­sic Rock name. We thought it might get them to have a look.”

It’s clearly work­ing – the group cur­rently has 10,000 mem­bers. But it’s more than just a means of swap­ping tips on ex­cit­ing new bands – it also acts as a sup­port sys­tem for the grass-roots rock scene. When Aus­tralian band Te­quila Mock­ing­byrd had their equip­ment stolen dur­ing a Euro­pean tour ear­lier this year, Wills and his col­leagues printed and sold T-shirts to help them out fi­nan­cially. When a Bad Touch gig in Corn­wall was left on the verge of can­cel­la­tion af­ter the pro­moter pulled out, the group swung into ac­tion again, ad­ver­tis­ing the show and adding an­other band to the bill. Af­ter NWOCR mar­shalled the troops, ticket sales for the gig rock­eted.

The rise of Greta Van Fleet has pro­voked what Wills calls “a Mar­mite reaction” on the group’s page. “Some peo­ple love them, some peo­ple don’t. But it feels like they can open the door for a shed­load of other younger bands. If it means even one teenager starts play­ing rock mu­sic, that’s a good thing.”

While the suc­cess of Ram­blin’ Man Fair’s Ris­ing Stage and the New Wave Of Clas­sic Rock Face­book group is proof of a vi­brant grass-roots scene, it’s a huge leap from there to putting rock mu­sic front and cen­tre on the cul­tural land­scape once again.

With rock fans gen­er­ally hav­ing a mu­tu­ally an­tipa­thetic re­la­tion with Spo­tify and Ap­ple

Mu­sic, and main­stream ra­dio vir­tu­ally ig­nor­ing the genre – even Greta Van Fleet strug­gle to get played on pop ra­dio – it has forced bands and man­agers to come up with more in­ven­tive ways of reach­ing po­ten­tial au­di­ences.

For The Struts, this has in­cluded ap­pear­ing at the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret’s Fash­ion Show, and duet­ting with pop star Kesha on a ver­sion of this year’s Body Talks sin­gle. As Struts man­ager Ben­jamin Berk­man, points out, the lat­ter isn’t a new idea – Aero­smith did it more than 30 years ago when they teamed up with Run DMC for Walk This Way.

“I think it’s al­ways been im­por­tant to push the lim­its and look for ways to ex­pose your­self to the fan bases of other, per­haps more pop­u­lar artists,” says Berk­man, who points out that Kesha is “a to­tal rock chick at heart” and has col­lab­o­rated with Alice Cooper and the Ea­gles Of Death metal. “Given that the lis­ten­ing au­di­ence at rock ra­dio is pal­try com­pared to those at the pop for­mats, you def­i­nitely need to se­lec­tively find ways to sep­a­rate your­self from the pack, while of course do­ing things that re­main ‘on brand’.”

That’s not to say the tra­di­tional routes to suc­cess don’t still work. “Hon­estly, from where I sit it’s about live shows and it’s about play­ing for more peo­ple in each city than you played for the last time you were in that city,” says Pete Gan­barg, the A&R ex­ec­u­tive re­spon­si­ble for sign­ing Ri­val Sons to At­lantic Records for their new al­bum, Feral Roots. “Which is not that dif­fer­ent from how it went in the seven­ties. If you’re get­ting into the rock busi­ness as a la­bel, you have to be more pa­tient. You can get a hot rap record that’s go­ing to stream twenty, thirty mil­lion times a week. You can’t ex­pect that from a rock record.”

Does the modern mu­sic in­dus­try have that kind of pa­tience?

“It feels like [Greta Van Fleet] can open the door for a shed­load of other

younger bands.”

Jeremy Wills

“I know that At­lantic Records does,” he says. “Our phi­los­o­phy is def­i­nitely one of pa­tience and artist de­vel­op­ment. I would rather be the one la­bel with pa­tience, and hope­fully be pa­tient enough to be stand­ing side-stage at Madi­son Square Gar­den when Ri­val Sons or Halestorm or who­ever it is is ac­tu­ally head­lin­ing. ”

Of course, be­ing on a ma­jor la­bel isn’t the be all and end all. Nei­ther is it a guar­an­tee of suc­cess, as count­less bands can vouch. But wider com­mer­cial suc­cess is in­dica­tive of how healthy a scene is – and, let’s face it, ev­ery­one wants to see their team win­ning.

There are pos­i­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions to what’s hap­pen­ing. The mu­sic in­dus­try ha­bit­u­ally fol­lows its own lead. If one band does well, its nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion is to in­vest in more bands like it. By that mea­sure, the suc­cess of Greta Van Fleet could have a ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on the likes of Ri­val Sons (who, iron­i­cally, were do­ing this long be­fore the GVF’s Kiszka broth­ers picked up their in­stru­ments).

The ‘Greta Van Fleet ef­fect’ is al­ready start­ing to kick in, ac­cord­ing to their la­bel’s Jason Flom. He says he has seen a rise in the amount of mu­sic the la­bel has re­ceived from pure rock’n’roll bands. “I have and I love it. Nat­u­rally, now more than ever bands want to be on the la­bel that Greta Van Fleet are on. It’s log­i­cal – they see what’s hap­pen­ing, and they recog­nise that there’s a good vibe there.”

(By con­trast, At­lantic’s Pete Gan­barg says he hasn’t no­ticed any up­lift. “Not specif­i­cally, no. I think that two gui­tars, bass and drums was here be­fore them and will be here af­ter them.”)

The be­hind-the-scenes fac­tors that com­bine to make or break a band or artist are many and com­plex: the right busi­ness strat­egy, a strong team be­hind you, the sup­port of ra­dio and stream­ing ser­vice, and, cru­cially, great songs. “And only the very best will make it to the top,” says Chris Ing­ham. “But that still leaves enough oth­ers that will be good enough at a level whereby they can make de­cent-sound­ing mu­sic and per­form at de­cent-sized venues.”

Ul­ti­mately, what we’re see­ing now is just the lat­est cy­cle that stretches back to the be­gin­nings of the mu­sic in­dus­try. Gen­res, no­tably rock and hiphop, have had the last rites read to them, only to come back stronger than ever.

“I think all pop cul­ture is cycli­cal, and right now the zeit­geist is re­flect­ing hip-hop and pop artists as the ‘rock stars’ of to­day,” says Ben­jamin Berk­man. “At one point no one could imag­ine a band like Guns N’ Roses or Nir­vana top­ping the charts. But they did, and I think it will again should an­other band emerge with mu­sic that is as bril­liant and has a front­man or woman of the cal­i­bre of Axl Rose or Kurt Cobain.”

Even if GVF do prove to be rock’s sole new break­out stars, they’ve at least proved that the genre is far from dead. There’s no point wait­ing for the res­ur­rec­tion of rock’n’roll. It’s al­ready hap­pen­ing.

“If you’re get­ting into the rock busi­ness as a la­bel, you have to be

more pa­tient.”

At­lantic Records’ Pete Gan­barg

Words: Dave Everley

The Struts: lead­ing rock’s new charge from the UK.

Tyler Bryant is among the new artists win­ningover the rock crowd.

The Struts: “It’s im­por­tant to pushthe lim­its.”

Greta Van Fleet: the band of the mo­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.