Live Review: Cavalier / Bridges / Red House Glory [Live Review – The Boileroom, Guildford, 25/2/2015]
Although I enjoyed Red House Glory‘s Foo Fighters-esque radio-friendly rock songs and decent vocal harmonies, and Bridges deserve recognition for their frontman’s emotive vocals and their unorthodox harmony guitars, I have a few things to get off my chest not only about Cavalier, but bands who come from a music-school background in general.
First off, I should say that I come from that background too – I did four years at ACM, and although when I put it that way it sounds like a prison sentence, it really wasn’t like that. It was a great experience – I learnt a lot, met a ton of awesome people, and the tutors were legends without exception. But at the same time, since leaving ACM and starting TMMP I’ve dealt with a lot of musicians who’ve come out of music schools – not just in the UK but around the world – and I’ve noticed a few trends that if left unaddressed will just lead to more of those musicians, to put it bluntly, failing.
Cavalier are very good musicians. From a technique point of view, they’ve come a long way since the last time I saw them live. Stylistically, they deliver You Me At Six-style pop rock with world-class stylistic awareness. And this is really great in terms of personal achievement – it’s something to be proud of, something nobody can take away, and I’m sure the individual members are getting plenty of recognition and respect in classes and exams. But outside of the higher-education bubble, the harsh truth is that that’s not enough if you’re after a sustainable career in music.
Cavalier have gotten much tighter as a unit over the past several months, and their drummer in particular is much more confident, throwing fancy and flawless stick tricks into his performance with perfect flow. But now they’re at a level where they can be taken seriously – and they’re currently running the risk of becoming another band who know their shit and can play their asses off, but still lack soul, feel, depth, and authenticity. At the moment their show and songs feel too studied, every moment borrowed from somewhere else rather than dug up from somewhere deep within.
Although knowing where you come from is undoubtedly important, following a well-worn path and trailing bands who have already reached chart-topping status is a strategy that only works in the short-term, and not even for the band employing such a strategy. Bands who can be too easily pigeonholed are likely to be picked up by labels looking to capitalise on a current trend – a short-term industry strategy that inevitably leads to a hopeful band maybe getting signed, but suddenly finding their label treating them the same way a Tesco employee treats a crate of own-brand diet cola. Their career life cycle goes like this: Learn instruments and how to play someone else’s style –> Do shows / release music independently / develop a generic social media presence –> Get a small record deal –> Get dropped the moment the wind changes –> Become depressed and pissed off at the music business (rightfully so, to be fair) –> Either give up or try again.
Here’s an alternative path: Develop individual style through education in stylistic awareness and technique as well as looking inward and looking at the world around you, then working out what you have to say about it all –> Do shows, release music, and make sure it all ties together congruently with a personalised and differentiated social media presence –> Take initial industry snubs in your stride and build a fanbase anyway –> Continue until industry types take notice and pursue you –> Use your bargaining power to negotiate a deal where everybody wins, and only do that with a label you feel totally comfortable about working with –> Keep going with the backing of a team who care about more than a quick return on their investments.
Cavalier are a band to be taken seriously – but there’s still work to be done. They’re facing a fork in the road which is being faced by bands not just from the ACM, but from BIMM, Berklee, and the Musician’s Institute – from Guildford to Brighton to Boston to Hollywood. If they choose the right path, however, they’ll go very, very far indeed.
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