Monday, December 28, 2009

What Exactly is Geek Rock, Anyway?

Given the type and style of music we write, our band Beatnik Turtle is often categorized with the label "Geek Rock". Depending on what song of ours they're listening to, we're often compared to "other Geek Rock bands" like They Might Be Giants, Fountains of Wayne, XTC, Weezer, Ben Folds Five, and Barenaked Ladies or solo artists like our contemporary, Jonathan Coulton.*

But just grouping us with other "geeky bands" that we may sound-like, while extremely helpful in setting potential new fan expectations, doesn't make a good definition of Geek Rock.

To me, Geek Rock is not so much about the music or even the personalities of the artists themselves (though yes, that does spill over into the music), rather it's about the subject matter that's tackled. It's the fascination with focusing on "geeky" things -- placing that interest unapologetically front and center to the music.

So, while I can't come up with a good definition, the way I've been describing Geek Rock in person when asked by people is: if Rock equals "Maybe I'm Amazed" (Paul McCartney) then, Geek Rock equals Maybe "I'm Downright Amazed at What I Can Destroy With Just a Hammer" (a very cool tune by Atom and His Package).




In other words, it's not so much about the music wrapping, Geek Rock bands can cross all types of music styles -- rock, country, folk, jazz, alternative, grunge, etc. -- so much as the topic that's being sung about.

And that's where our band comes in. We're obsessed with writing songs about things that haven't been put to song. We write songs about Google, IT departments, cereal, pizza, warp gates sucking in kids, blogging, secret agents, Star Wars, interns, obsessive compulsive children, and porn on your computer.

And while we sometimes take the subject matter with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, we always take the music part of the songs extremely seriously -- from melody, to harmony, to recording, to mastering (just download and listen to Pizza: The Rock Opera if you've never heard us before).

Of course, music genres are slippery, amorphous things. Just when you think Beatnik Turtle is completely Geek Rock, we go and record SHAM ROCK, an album of rocked up traditional Irish songs (i.e. Tell Me Ma). Now how does this fit in with Geek Rock?

Uh, I don't know. We just do what we do. Guess we'll have to leave it up to others as to how to categorize that one!

*The interesting thing here however is I remember when most of these bands came out, they weren't labeled "Geek Rock". This is a retroactive term that's been applied to try and capture this hard-to-pin-down genre. This is true for our band well. We started over 12 years ago and the word geek and rock were rarely uttered in the same breath when we took the stage. We were labeled "alternative" (or better yet, "weird") since we had no hope or interest in being mainstream.