Basically: As Cities Burn prioritized signing a record deal over everything, and somehow were still surprised when things didn’t work out the way they thought they would.
When I picked up Backstage, I was hoping I’d be enlightened on all things wrong with the Christian hardcore scene. That’s what author and drummer of As Cities Burn Aaron Lunsford led me–and other readers, it seems–to believe in the months leading up to the book’s release. But aside from glazing over a handful of examples of stupidity in the “bizz,” the book fails to dissect any of the issues within the scene beyond calling everyone working in it “clowns.” It reads more like a collection of tour stories rather than anything that has to do specifically with Christian hardcore.
I wanted to like this book, but instead I found myself frustrated. Grammatical errors aside, the tone of the book as a whole was whiny and full of idle complaints. Lunsford spent the first 50 pages justifying why the reader should care about what he had to say in the first place, then used the rest of the book to bitch about how he regrets dropping out of college instead of getting a “real” job, because touring was boring and didn’t pay a lot.
Excuse me for wandering into op-ed territory, but tour was boring? I’ve had friends in in shitty up-and-coming bands and describe their first tours using colorful language, but never boring. And quite frankly, as much as we hear about As Cities Burn dying to land a record deal, we don’t hear anything about what they did to actually earn it, so I’m not surprised they had nothing to do. Sure, they posted music online and toured, but we hear nothing about how they marketed themselves to fans. In my experience as a fan and journalist attending unsigned bands’ tours, bands don’t expect to get famous by sitting in their van playing video games. They get to venues early to make sure they have other bands’ fans listen to their music, or if they’re really serious, they stand outside the local Hot Topic or Newbury Comics handing out demos or download cards. Maybe touring wouldn’t be so boring if they actually did any of that.
I digress. There is definitely some truth to some of the subjects covered in the book, and I think an honest conversation about the realities of touring as an up-and-coming band is an important one to have. The lack of income, food, and hygiene is a major not-so-glamorous part of touring that kind of gets brushed off by bands. That lifestyle isn’t for everyone, so full disclosure of what to expect is only fair for young, hopeful musicians, but the commentary throughout the majority of the book isn’t even slightly productive.
Maybe I should have seen this coming, since the author prefaced the book by saying a huge portion of it was dedicated to “shit talking As Cities Burn’s fans,” and spends a half-page early on justifying his “politically-incorrect” use of the word “retard” as an insult, even though it would have wasted less of everyone’s time to simply choose a new term. Or maybe the biggest red flag should have been a young band whose only clear mission was to get signed to a record label. Either way, the whole narrative was frustrating, as someone who has worked very closely with up-and-coming unsigned bands for the better part of my young adult life.
In the end: Half of this book reads as decent (although kind of predictable) advice and warnings to prospective touring musicians, and half as a little kid crying that they didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas. Proceed with caution.