Search for Acceptance Pt II: How We All Got Into Music
A chronicle of my our extremely unhip beginnings

A couple months ago, I wrote an article detailing the humble beginnings of my music lust and solicited your own personal stories of entry into the music scene. The flood of emails that proceeded to fill my inbox over the next few weeks proved this topic is closer to our readers' hearts than even I'd expected, and I was thrilled with the opportunity to get a bit of insight into your incredibly diverse lives. I figured it wasn't fair for me to keep these stories all to myself, so I've decided to publish a few of my favorite responses, throwing in some of our TMT writers' own musical histories for good measure. Perhaps some of these accounts can provide additional inspiration to send your musical journeys careening into yet another unexpected yet exciting direction. Enjoy! – Nicolemc99

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A.C.: Like you, I wasn't really guided into the underground by anyone. My interest in the underground actually started by the mainstream. When I started to burn out on rap, I started listening to alt radio. Alt radio was fun, but it was boring in a way. Then it started playing techno. Techno took up a good five years of my life. But, as techno became less fun to me, I started finding out about this thing called shoegaze. I got on an email list and everything just started going from there. Then college radio came around and that was everything. And that's my story.

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JSpicer: Music in my household was limited to classic rock and popular ‘80s pop metal. It's hard to believe my mom had musical taste hidden under a pile of Journey, Loverboy, and Uriah Heap. Of course, it wasn't until I heard her play Stevie Ray Vaughn albums that I started noticing music as something more than just MTV videos and outdated small town radio.

Rap was the first genre that I gravitated towards--and much like anyone in middle school during gangsta rap's peak, it was Dre, Snoop, Cyprus Hill, NWA, Easy E, Bones Thugs and Harmony and anything remotely popular. Of course, it was hard to neglect the grunge bands taking over the airwaves, but sans Soundgarden they didn't touch me until I heard The Toadies and Hum. Somehow a band wrapped in religious metaphor and a nerdy band from Champaign eradicated any pleasure I derived from rap.

Wanting to hear more alterna-rock, I watched every minute of music television I could, listened to every minute of rock radio allowed, and swindled BMG and Columbia House too many times to count. And though I acquired stacks of popular alternative acts thanks to mail order behemoths, I also found my first true musical love: alt-country.

I nab Wilco's A.M., Son Volt's Trace, Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne and Golden Smog's Down By the Old Mainstream in one glorious summer haul. Coupled with the Screaming Tree's Dust and Big Wreck's In Loving Memory Of, those were the albums that entertained me throughout high school.

By the time I arrived in Cincinnati for my first year of college, my musical tastes weren't varied or cutting edge. However, I stumbled upon WOXY while searching for a radio station to wake me up and succumbed to the musical pleasures once unknown. The deeper I delved, the stranger the music got. If a side player or guest musician grabbed my attention, I did my best to seek out their work. It's a habit that continues. The music nerd in me grows.

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Emily: My dad used to always make derisive comments about music that had nothing to say other than, "ooo baby I love you," so, though I loved the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys as much as any sixth grade girl, my first albums were No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom and Savage Garden. I always had my ears open for something that was a bit different, and though at first that category included Matchbox Twenty and, yes, Dave Matthews Band, I'm proud to say I never owned a "boy band" album.

After middle school, my musical journey was encapsulated in my friendship with L. L was always a little cooler than me, not in the cheerleader way, but in the artsy, future chain-smoking hipster way. Our social circles overlapped as being mostly kids in choir and AP, but were never exactly the same. We'd hang out at school and show up to the same birthday parties, but that was about it. Still, I wanted desperately to be her friend, and her friends' friend.

Her friends always seemed to know about bands I'd never heard of, but also listened to lots of the Beatles and other music from the 1960s. I remember searching thorough my parents' cassette collection hoping to find something cool, but mostly finding soundtracks to '80s movies and The Eagles. I did manage to salvage a Joni Mitchell cassette and a "Best of Simon and Garfunkel." The idea had been planted in my head that if I wanted to listen to good music, neither the radio nor Circuit City could help me out.

I knew what I wanted to be listening to, just not where to find it. I pounced on anything that seemed remotely un-mainstream, sometimes hitting winners like Fiona Apple and Ryan Adams, sometimes flopping as with Garbage's "Beautiful Garbage" and The Vines. I felt pretty cool for listening to Jack Johnson and John Mayer on my choir's Disneyland field trip. A small breakthrough occurred senior year of high school when a friend told me about Limewire, and suddenly I could start downloading the random bands I heard thrown around, including Radiohead, who I wouldn't appreciate until years later.

Choir at my high school was the gathering point for those who thought that being cool and being the prom queen were actually mutually exclusive. Before performances, it was ritual to play music in the dressing rooms, and though this mostly involved Missy Elliot or the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, one time L got a hold of the boom box first. The song that came out of the tiny speakers was dark, layered, and sung in a pained half-whisper. I watched her close her eyes and lean her head back to listen. When the song was over, a boy appeared in the hall in front of the dressing room, saying, "Oh my gosh, who was playing Bright Eyes?" I made a mental note and downloaded "Lover I Don't Have to Love" as soon as I could. Bright Eyes was like nothing I'd ever heard before, it was scary and made me feel sick to my stomach, but I liked it. As much as I hate to say it, Bright Eyes changed my life. I found his music at exactly the right time and wouldn't have made it through my senior year without him.

Bright Eyes was the first music I couldn't listen to with my friends, but I still had no idea what indie was, or how to get more of it. I left for college with a small arsenal of independent music, including Modest Mouse and The Postal Service, hoping to meet people who could introduce me to more. In college I was disappointed to find everyone listening to Bob Marley, Sublime and the dancier bits of the Top 40. I still wasn't cool enough to hang out with the smattering of freshman who looked like they knew something I didn't.

This is where L re-enters the picture. While I stayed in California for school, she'd gone off to Tulane. We'd traveled with the same group to Spain after graduation, and over the course of that trip, my good friend J and I said we'd visit her on our spring breaks the following year. J bailed, but I was determined to go. When I showed up in New Orleans, L had transformed. She'd found indie the way born-again Christians find Jesus. I was still the girl next door, and she was the stereotypical hipster. When we weren't doing the tourist things, I sat on her roommate's bed, listening to L talk about music and watching her browse Pitchfork. I was skeptical about the whole thing until about halfway through my visit. She went to shower, and left me lying exhausted on her roommate's bed. She'd had In the Aeroplane Over the Sea playing softly in the stereo, and turned it up when she left the room so I could really hear it. When "O Comely" came on, reality shifted, and my life was again changed by a song. I'd never heard anything like it, so twisted and sung with such rawness. That's when I knew I'd go home and try to fit myself into the box that L had outlined for me.

My search for unique music had lead me to a new conformity, but when I was disillusioned by that, I was left with musical taste and access to the type of music I'd always dreamed of finding. As for L she went to my university in the aftermath of Katrina. She, another hometown friend, and I put together a band over that winter break and recorded a CD on her laptop that we promised to distribute anonymously on trains and in coffee shops. L went back to Tulane that January, and we've lost touch since then, but I'm sure she's still hunched over her computer somewhere reading music reviews online. Maybe, she even responded to your article, just like I did.

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Joe B: My youth was a typical "classic rock and whatever's on the radio" time. My first cassettes, around age five or six, were Ten by Pearl Jam, The Wayne's World Soundtrack and the Kris Kross I Missed the Bus cassingle. I specifically remember my father purchasing me Ten to counteract any negative influence the Kris Kross might have had, but I'm not sure I ever listened to it all the way through.

It was all mainstream radio, TLC CDs, and Mom and Dad's Aerosmith records until (almost simultaneously) a brief and unsuccessful flirtation with nu-metal drew me towards hardcore and I received The Clash's London Calling and Weezer's Blue Album as gifts. I was a freshman in high school. As popular as both those albums were, they were probably the first two experiences I had with loving something that everyone around me hadn't already discovered.

During this time, I suffered a crippling addiction to the video game Crazy Taxi, and after buying it for my Dreamcast I soon discovered how necessary it was to keep it on mute in order to avoid hearing "All I Want" by the Offspring and "10 in 2010" by Bad Religion over and over. This resulted in listening to four or five hours of music a day. This handily removed any music without serious possibility for repetition (I'm looking at you, Bloodhound Gang) from my repertoire.

Towards the end of my Crazy Taxi run, I bought Slanted and Enchanted, Something to Write Home About by the Get Up Kids and Relationship of Command with a gift certificate to Hot Topic (!!!) I'd received for some reason. Other discoveries of the Crazy Taxi era included Daydream Nation, The Lonesome Crowded West, and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I rode out the rest of high school on basically those albums and the occasional hardcore show, and somewhere along the line became the jerk I am today.

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Phil: I got most of my tapes from my older sister - who wasn't especially hip - and the music I heard was on the national radio. Actually to this day I still consider myself to be a pop fan, so I'm kind of irritated when people call me an indie boy. But whatever. The window for me was John Peel, without whom my teenage years would have been infinitely more boring. I'm sure thousands of other Brits had the same experience. Peel was unafraid to play the popular stuff (his adoration of Pulp was one of the reasons I took him to heart so enthusiastically), but also the eccentric oddities - which to me was pretty much the perfect combination. And the show was perfectly timed to soundtrack my homework every school night. Sure I was already by that point reading the NME and whatnot, but that two-hour radio slot opened up countless avenues to me, and I suppose that has a lot to do with why I'm reading this site.

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Lars Gotrich: I grew up in a very musical home: mother a professional vocalist/voice educator, father a trombonist, brother a euphonium and piano player, myself a cornet-turned-tuba player and vocalist which I gave up for guitar once I graduated high school. I am heavily indebted to the Salvation Army church for my musical upbringing and training (see, not all music critics are failed musicians! Some of us just don't become mega indie-stars, that's all.)

Ages 5-7, Psalty tapes. Give it up.

That said, I grew up on a heavy dose of '60s/'70s Christian rock/folk (i.e., Larry Norman, my mother even put out a couple Christian hippie records herself) and oldies radio. Dad played Revolver for me at age eight and I can think I can pinpoint my obsession with music then and there.

Plenty of Petra and (later in middle school) dc Talk's Jesus Freak was spun. Every now and again I'd veer towards the Top 40 station (loved Mariah Carey then, still love her now!).

(Funny bit of irony: In my third grade music class, the teacher was explaining the piano to us and some of its key players. She began talking about a man who would go inside the instrument, placing screws and pieces of paper on/through the strings to make "odd noises." She heavily discouraged the students not to try this at home, but I thought, "How cool!" It wouldn't be until college that I realized that man was John Cage. Cosmic!)

Sometime in middle school, I began listening to Christian pop-punk, hardcore and metal by scouring the "Alternative" section of the local Christian bookstore. This was the turning point of my tastes, I suppose, at least in the "underground" regard. Adam Again's Perfecta was an eye-opener at 12 (and still holds a lot of weight for me now... totally depressing stoner-rock/grunge holds up extremely well). Count me among the many who worshiped MxPx, Five Iron Frenzy and Mortification, too (Though I fucking hated Stryper even as a kid, and still do). I also gave into alt-rock radio (Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms).

Sophomore year of high school, started listening to Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Starflyer 59 (still my favorite band despite recent records), Roadside Monument and the Promise Ring along with any number of Christian metal/hardcore bands (Zao, Living Sacrifice, if you are at all familiar, you know what I'm talking about - the Tooth and Nail Records phenomena). This all made headway into indie-rock, post-rock (I had some GY!BE albums), more mid-'90s emo, assorted math-rock in later high school (what bands, I couldn't really tell you). Wrote for some online magazines, too, starting out in a pop-punk zine called Unleaded and wound up at Tangzine (read: free swag).

College: Became the "music guru" to many of my friends, though my knowledge was admittedly still infantile. Going to school in Athens, GA (home of B-52s, REM, Pylon, Elephant 6 folks) helped a shit-ton. Went to Wuxtry Records once or twice a week my first semester digging through the promo/used sections and went to shows seemingly every night (by myself, mostly, until I found other like-minded friends). I was completely broke by finals and nearly failed a class, but it was so worth it. A lot of Pet Sounds-inspired music was coming out at the time (AM/FM in particular was a favorite, as was Starflyer 59's Leave Here A Stranger), and I really latched onto it.

In my sophomore year, I joined the student-run WUOG and quickly became the local music director and a DJ for the local music show (for 2.5 years). I spent my office hours picking out records at random from WUOG's extensive vinyl collection and listening to them while I did office work. Now THAT was an education. The Cramps, Television, The Residents, The Afghan Whigs, Nick Drake and every Athens band you can think of and didn't know existed.

On my first DJ shift, I heard Matthew Shipp's Equilibrium, which was my catalyst for exploring free-jazz. Halfway through college, I developed a particular hatred for indie-rock/pop/etc. and almost abandoned it all for free-jazz. Eventually, I'd start my own specialty show called “New Orbit” that played nothing but free-/avant-garde jazz and other free-improv musics (including some noise, but very rarely). This piqued my interest in modern composition, etc. etc. This is currently where I'm still at (with an added interest in psychedelic music and music from northern Africa).

I'm also currently rediscovering my love for pop music.

No matter how diverse my tastes have become (or how "academic" by some of my friends' opinions... whatever), I still love a good punk or metal record more than anything.

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Michael B: I was a navy brat growing up. My parents were always really into music; their collection consisted of a single purchase my dad made from his friend in the mid-70s. Lots of great records: Beatles, Brubeck, Bach and more. I also grew up watching Harry Nilsson's "The Point," which I think was a latent influence. At the same time, I grew up listening to Anita Baker, The Pretty Woman soundtrack and whatever adult rock my parents were into at the time.

In elementary school I was living in northwestern Florida (hick country), but somehow I managed to get into a radio station from Mobile, Alabama that featured lots of cool mixes on "Friday Night Jams." DJ Magic Mike frequented the show, and since we shared a name, I jumped into his stuff. This introduced me to sample-based music, electro, dub and southern bass. To my parents' dismay, until about fifth grade I was stuck in an almost all hip-hop world, from 2 Live Crew to A Tribe Called Quest. My first tape ended up being "It Takes a Nation of Millions...” by Public Enemy. The only thing I listened to outside of hip-hop was some R&B. I had an obsession with Michael Jackson (same first name, again) and his sister Janet (Rhythm Nation 1814 rocked my world).

At the same time my parents had me taking piano lessons, so I was learning music theory along with Baroque and Classical greats. I wouldn't appreciate this until way later—but learning about Bach was a touchstone to my musical evolution.

In sixth grade we moved to the Northeast corridor. I was ripped away from the Southern hip-hop radio and immersed in alternative rock. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and all that junk was pretty popular in school, on MTV and the radio. I liked it well enough; I was an angsty teen too. Then, something amazing happened--and you talked about this in your article—I found Radiohead. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, so it really wasn't something all my peers were doing, or even any of the cool kids for that matter. Those people were all busy getting drunk and jamming out to Incesticide.

My discovery happened by chance again—like getting into hip-hop because a DJ shared my name. I was back in Florida visiting my now distant friends and “Spencer's Gifts” was having a sale on concert t-shirts ($3!). Now, even though I was about 4'9" and 90 lbs (I was 11 at the time), I decided to go for the extra-large googly-eyed Pablo Honey shirt since it looked cool and I liked that song “Creep” well enough. (I still have that shirt…and now it almost fits…)

After getting the shirt I felt a little guilty for not having the actual album, so I went ahead and bought Pablo Honey- a move which changed my life for sure. I quickly became obsessed and listened to pretty much nothing but angsty Radiohead. My older sister, who was hanging out with a really hip high school crowd, caught wind of my decent music and made me a tape with the Pixies, the Cure and “My Iron Lung”—a Radiohead track she found at her high school radio station. My best friend was British and into the whole Britpop scene, so we talked our parents into letting us buy Radiohead tickets in '95, when I was 13, right before the US release of The Bends. Although I had seen the ‘Stones (with Counting Crows opening) earlier in the year, this was what I consider my first show…my parents let us go on our own, so it was a pretty big deal. What a night!

After The Bends, Radiohead found a relatively cultish following and their mailing list and website (not yet run by the band) became really popular. The people who maintained their Internet presence decided they didn't have enough time to host such trafficy sites. I was also a little UNIX computer geek so I decided I would take charge and take over the Radiohead Mailing List. This involvement with the band got me hooked up with lots of other musically talented and interested people (as well as RH and their management), which would lead down a long path. The tips I would get from these contacts on the Internet really opened me up to a world of music. It seems like since this time (‘96ish), whenever the Radiohead is interviewed about their musical taste—I'm digging into just the same stuff…some weird synchronicity happening there.

For example, in high school one of my best mates ended up moving to Detroit. He got involved with electronic music and all the fun stuff going around in that city. In my first visit up there I heard DJ Shadow's Entroducing for the first time and it made my head explode. For the first time in almost a decade all my love for hip-hop came rushing back. I quickly snapped up everything on Shadow's label (Mo'Wax) and caught up with the years I had been missing in the hip-hop scene. I started a DJ Shadow mailing list and eventually hooked up with the man himself hosting web-chats with his fans.

Once I got to college I found myself spending less time with these well-established artists and digging deeper into experimental stuff, and being heavily involved in college radio. Kranky, Constellation, Chemikal Underground, Tigerbeat6, Morr, etc. would be playing in my room.

Despite my passion for music, I've never really considered myself to be part of the music scene, down with the crowd or any of that. I feel more like an excited spectator, hoping to see talented musicians develop some kind of substantial following. I grew up loving music, and I've grown to appreciate more and more of it. In retrospect, a lot of really great coincidences really changed my life.

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