B3ND3R: We Were the Young Americans

“You have to lose that fake British accent.” Stephen Bender had a penchant for calling out any kind of pretension. It was 1995 and he, Andrew Nimmo and myself had just formed the lo-fi indie trio eponymously named B3ND3R. Except for Jin who lived downstairs (more on his bossa nova influence later) all of us were displaced southerners who by some strange convergence ended up in a crooked asbestos-shingled shack in New England (Somerville, Massachusetts to be exact). And no, New England is nothing like ‘old’ England, especially accent wise!

Stephen was right: we all needed to shed layers to start thinking about what it meant to be authentic in the age of over-marketing and over-production. Nimmo had stripped down his drum kit to the bare essentials. As for me, I needed serious professional help: I had unwittingly become a fake Brit after years of playing new wave. Even my more recent folk tunes sounded like an Englishman trying to sing like an American.

Ironically New England via Berkeley School of Music was the place real Brits came to study how to ‘lose’ their accents. (someone explain why you’d want to lose that English charm if you were born with it). In any case I went straight to the source and took the only 2 voice lessons in my life with an acclaimed vocal trainer whose specialty was helping English rock and pop artists banish their ‘evil’ accents. For our grueling sessions, I was forced to rehearse David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ for hours on end. Think that’s easy? Try singing ‘Ground control to Major Tom,’ without the English inflection!
After weeks of accent exorcism I was apparently healed. I was now a ‘real’ American, born again. To celebrate, we wrote this anthem, albeit a fresh one that questions the fact that as Americans we don’t question enough. What was interesting is that as southerners in New England we actually felt like foreigners in our own land: The people and personas were different enough that in this new context we had to meditate on who we were and what we wanted to be. In this way I learned from Stephen that authenticity is something that’s constructed in the exact same way that pretension is. The important difference however is that authenticity is durable and you can build on it, where pretension is a fragile house of cards.

Fresh Anthem

our country ’tis a thee sweet land of… liberty, praise of we…
this land is, your land is my chance to kneel with thee, momma with thee.
land of our pilgrim’s grace used to make:
all the weight of heart strings…

so race me, contain my bashful daze… race me, contain me.
i’m crowded, drowned in tomorrow’s flowers
crowded. guilty and free!
land of our pilgrim’s grace used to make:
all the weight of heart strings…
can’t keep nobody’s faith half awake, all the weight of heart strings.

written by: bender x nimmo x jh0st
stephen bender: guitar
andrew nimmo: drums
jh0st: voice, electric guitar

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