David Remnick: We're going to close the show today with TheNew Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh. Kelefa writes about politics, sports, music. He is absolutely passionate about music. His book Major Labels is a history of popular music, genre by genre. In TheNew Yorker, he wrote recently about an artist I wasn't familiar with, who goes by the name HARDY.
Kelefa Sanneh: HARDY. HARDY HARDY, in this case, Michael Hardy, who's made his name as a country singer and songwriter. He has a new song on his new album called Radio Song that I wanted to play for you.
David Remnick: All. right. Here we go.
[Radio Song by HARDY playing]
Kelefa Sanneh: His Radio Song is a country song that can't be played on country radio.
David Remnick: I can hear that.
Kelefa Sanneh: It's part of his shift. His new album is half country music, and half rock music.
David Remnick: What's his story?
Kelefa Sanneh: He's a guy who grew up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, so he grew up culturally country, but that wasn't really what he listened to. He was listening to-- I think it started with Pearl Jam, and it went into like Linkin Park, System Of A Down.
David Remnick: Oh, you can hear the Linkin Park roaring through it.
Kelefa Sanneh: Yes. New metal, listening to the music that is sometimes referred to as Butt Rock.
David Remnick: Okay. All right. What is that?
Kelefa Sanneh: As far as we know, the phrase Butt Rocks comes from--
David Remnick: Well, and how are we spelling it?
Kelefa Sanneh: Spelled with two Ts-
David Remnick: There we go.
Kelefa Sanneh: -but it comes from the rock radio stations that promise to play nothing--
David Remnick: But rock.
Kelefa Sanneh: Exactly right.
David Remnick: I got it. Oh my God.
Kelefa Sanneh: It's funny. It's such an old-fashioned tradition now. You turn on these stations and they're still playing Metallica, and they're playing old songs, and they're playing like Papa Roach, and Disturbed, new albums by these bands. In this context, HARDY is a breath of fresh air. He has a song on rock radio right now called Jack.
[Jack by HARDY playing]
David Remnick: It's so crazy. It starts out country, and three lines later, you're in Linkin Park land.
Kelefa Sanneh: Yes. The whole second half of his album is Rock. I have a theory that there was a time, not that long ago, when country music was considered the most uncool music in the country, and coastal elites loved to sneer at country music. I think maybe it has now been overtaken by Rock. I think that kind of like loud mainstream Rock, new metal, post-grunge is now the most unfashionable music in America.
David Remnick: It is.
Kelefa Sanneh: I think so.
David Remnick: Among coastal-- Yes, those people.
Kelefa Sanneh: I think by comparison, that's why someone like HARDY who arrives from the country world is able to bring some fresh energy to it.
David Remnick: HARDY outlined what makes a song a radio hit in the first track that we played. What makes this song good for rock radio?
Kelefa Sanneh: Well, it's a specific tradition, right? It's this thing that happened since Grunge where it was a lot of minor keys, and then in the late '90s, and the early 2000s, you get the heaviness, you get the breaks. I talked to HARDY, he told me, there was a point in high school where he just wanted to hear something that was heavy. If it was these kind of hardcore and metal core bands, punk bands like A Day to Remember or August Burns Red, he just wanted a heavy mosh part.
David Remnick: At the Super Bowl, and then at the Grammys again, you've seen Hip Hop celebrated and venerated as almost a historical genre. Is rock and roll so dead that's beneath consideration?
Kelefa Sanneh: It sometimes feels that way. I think one of the things that happens is that rock and roll is just more traditional. It's not that it's about chasing the latest trends, it's that different styles get resurrected. There's a band on rock radio right now called Giovannie and the Hired Guns. They are self-described Tejano Punk Boyz from Texas. They're drawing from a lot of bands like Weezer, Blink-182, but also the Norteño music that they grew up on. This is a song they have called Overrated, and you can hear those traditions colliding.
[Overrated by Giovannie and the Hired Guns playing]
Kelefa Sanneh: Please, note the tuba.
David Remnick: Listen to the lead singer's voice, though. Who does that remind you of?
Kelefa Sanneh: Who does it remind you?
David Remnick: Kurt Cobain.
Kelefa Sanneh: Well, yes. The shadow of Kurt Cobain is a long shadow. It's amazing how, there's a sense in which rock and roll has never really recovered from the shock of Nirvana, at least that kind of rock.
David Remnick: How do you mean?
Kelefa Sanneh: Well, you think about the Hair Metal era. Lasts what? Four or five years, from '85, '86, and then it ends in maybe '91, whereas the Grunge and the post-Grunge era feels like it never really goes away. It's incredible.
David Remnick: This music also seems influenced by-- Let's bring the personal into this. You were in bands when you were young, punk bands, playing bass. It's a little bit of that power in there, too.
Kelefa Sanneh: Yes. That's the idea that there's some kids out there that want to scream at the top of their lungs. That's a very common and popular idea. It's also the fact that these cycles, they keep going. We remember when The Strokes, 20 years ago, were borrowing an old Tom Petty riff from the 1970s and re-using it. Now, we have bands, like there's this band, Avoid, I think, a very entertaining young band from Seattle. They're dusting off the long ago sounds of the 2000s. I remember this stuff. I was at those concerts, not as a kid, but as a music critic, and so, I know, I think a little bit how you must feel, David, which is-
David Remnick: Oh, shut up. [laughs]
Kelefa Sanneh: -extremely, extremely old.
David Remnick: Let's hear this.
Kelefa Sanneh: Here's Avoid.
David Remnick: Can't Take This Away by Avoid.
[Can't Take This Away by Avoid, playing]
David Remnick: There are some familiar moves in there.
Kelefa Sanneh: I was going to say, if you listen closely-
David Remnick: That stock thing, that little riff.
Kelefa Sanneh: -you can hear that little riff that you might recall. I know, as the editor of this magazine, you spend your days attending to weighty matters-
David Remnick: Like that.
Kelefa Sanneh: -but we can learn important lessons from a band like this. What I've learned from that song is that, as a great man once said, "The arc of the Rock universe is long, but it bends toward the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
David Remnick: [laughs] These bands you're playing, they remain outliers for the moment, or do you see them becoming mainstream?
Kelefa Sanneh: Well, one thing that happened with rock and roll is that it's splintered. You have indie rock over here. Then, even on the radio, you have classic rock stations, you have alternative stations that are playing rock bands, but they're also playing Billy Eilish. Then, you have mainstream rock and active rock.
David Remnick: Who's listening to the radio?
Kelefa Sanneh: Radio is still more popular than you would think. It still drives discovery. People are discovering new music on the radio.
David Remnick: Mainly in the car?
Kelefa Sanneh: Often in the car, but also people don't want to think too hard. You log on to Spotify, and it gives you all these options. A lot of people just want to push a button and have something come out, and have someone maybe local, talk a little bit about the weather and the traffic, and play some songs that they're going to like.
David Remnick: There's a lesson in there for Netflix [unintelligible 00:08:13]. Ke, it's a huge pleasure. Thanks, as always.
Kelefa Sanneh: Thank you.
David Remnick: You get to pick one more track, what should we go out on?
Kelefa Sanneh: There's this guy, Jelly Roll, tattooed former rapper from Tennessee who managed a pretty amazing feat. He went number one on both the country and the Rock chart in the last year with different songs. This is his number one rock hit, Dead Man Walking.
[Dead Man Walking by Jelly Roll playing]
David Remnick: TheNew Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh. You can read his writing on HARDY and 10,000 other subjects at NewYorker.com.
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