Knowing music’s roots deepens listens’ connections

Chazz Aden | April 11, 2012    

Music cannot stand still. The music you listen to daily comes from a rich myriad of influences… Music cannot stand still. The music you listen to daily comes from a rich myriad of influences and experimentation,  and this exploration is how listening can be enriched.

This Monday, Screaming Females came to the Mr. Roboto Project. This band has changed its music throughout its career, and the band still continues to evolve their sound.

It may be a cliche of the pretentious music snob to scoff at new releases and declare earlier records superior, but there is value in seeking out the origin of cool sounds.

Screaming Females has earlier work that demonstrates the themes of their later albums. “Arm over Arm,” an early single, includes a riff that would later be fully realized on “Mothership,” a track off their album What if Someone is Watching their TV?

Going back to find my music’s roots has been valuable and has enhanced my listening experience. I’ve heard artists forging their identity or playing with genre bounds, musicians figuring out how to make cool music together, and I’ve witnessed the fun that comes with just making music.

The early works of Bob Dylan paint a portrait of a folk artist in love with the blues but still allow a space for him to grow into something completely different.

Propagandhi is another fantastic example of a band that took the time and grew into its sound. By recognizing the band’s progression from earlier albums like 1996’s Less Talk, More Rock to later albums like 2009’s Supporting Caste, a listener can take in the development of increasingly complex concepts, both musically and lyrically.

But the search can move beyond simply finding the earlier works of a single artist, and an eager listener can begin to explore the scenes from which these artists grow.

Bands like Screaming Females can lead to more extensive explorations of other musical scenes. The punk scene of New Brunswick, N.J., has a set of unofficial venues in basements and living rooms that have influenced other bands’ developments like 1990s punk bands Lifetime and The Bouncing Souls.

A curious listener can go even further and find the pioneers of punk music by listening to bands out of the early 1980s hardcore scene of Washington, D.C. Northern Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers, whose first album Inflammable Material (1979), may still be the perfect punk record.

And even at this deep level, listeners can still find more by delving deeper into music history. One of the key features of the punk music scene, as well as of the hip-hop scene, is the sense of a do-it-yourself community where artists work together to make music. They focus on their message rather than depending on developing high levels of musicianship.

These same qualities can be found in country, the blues and folk music. The idea of a musician stepping on stage with a sticker on his or her guitar that reads, “This Machine Kills Fascists” may seem typical of a punk show, but this was a trademark of Woody Guthrie, a popular folk musician. The sentiments of these artists are similar even if their sounds wind up being vastly different.

By finding the origins of our music, we can discover a way to appreciate what we listen to on another level. This is by no means mandatory; — a great album should still be a great album even when stripped from its context. But for eager and curious listeners, there is a rich history just under the surface, waiting to be discovered.

Chazz Aden is the news director at WPTS-FM and the host of “A View from the Porch,” which can be heard Mondays from 9 to 11 p.m.  He can be reached at

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