For musicians not named Adele, the last few years have proved next to impossible to set sales records, but artists desperate for official recognition have found another path to officially-sanctioned bragging rights: the Guinness Book of World Records.
Lately, the illustrious reference-keepers have been distracted from measuring most clock collections and Smurf memorabilia by a growing list of bands looking to immortalize their musical triumphs alongside other such achievements as Most Snails On Face and Highest Jump By A Guinea Pig.
The recent interest in the Guinness World Records from the music sphere seems to have sprung from Jack White, a man always up for a good stunt. Before fully embracing his silly side in his guise as Third Man Records label boss, White brought the White Stripes on a tour of every Canadian province and territory, finishing with a show in St. John’s, Newfoundland consisting of a single note. Not content with the achievement, White used a recent interview as a chance to lash out at Guinness, calling it “a very elitist organization” with “nothing scientific about what they do.”
Oddly enough, Guinness actually answered back, claiming that recognizing such a record “trivializes the activity being carried out.” Never one to back down from a challenge, Jack White took this as an opportunity to actually trivialize the organization and set forth on a bizarre quest for the world record for Most Metaphors In A Single Concert. (According to the Third Man website, “the record attempt had to be forfeited by Jack White when during the second half of the set Mr. White trivialized a metaphor by saying it too quickly. It was something about the moon being a faucet of light but was uttered too fast to be counted.”)
Rather than deter others, White’s public spat with Guinness has seemingly energized other bands to try their hands at cracking its pages. Unsurprisingly, one of the first takers is the Flaming Lips. No stranger to publicity feats themselves, the Oklahoma City psych rockers will attempt to break Jay-Z’s record for Most Concerts In One Day on June 27th as part of MTV’s O Awards, playing eight shows throughout the American south accompanied by Grace Potter, Grimes, Gary Clark Jr and Neon Indian. Meanwhile, seminal sludge-rocking workhorses the Melvins are turning the Lips’ marathon into a sprint and going for a record 51 shows in 51 days, each in a different U.S. State, plus one in Washington, D.C.
Why the sudden influx of record-seeking bands? To find out, we asked Mathias Kom, leader of St. John’s-based folk rockers The Burning Hell. The band is preparing to attempt a record for the most shows in the most countries in a single day, but unlike the Whites and Coynes of the world, they’re doing it without regards to the powers-that-be in Guinness World Records. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try.
“We did indeed look into it, and extensively,” Kom writes AUX in a late-night email from a tour stop in Germany. “The two major sticking points were needing to take at least two commercial flights and play in 300-plus capacity venues. Despite the nice amount of attention we’ve received in Europe, we’re still just another nobody band from Nowhereseville and we can’t afford to do any of that famous-band stuff. So we started thinking of ways we could do it OUR way, since in the end, ‘our’ way is more representative of the reality for 90% of touring bands out there. So we decided to do it regardless of Guinness, because really, who cares? We’ll know we did it, and our fans will, and we’ll make a fun little documentary out of it, and ultimately we’ll have a great time in the process, which is all I’ve ever cared about anyway.”
Where there’s a level of pride for all the bands seeking world record approval (even while smiting the measuring organization’s elitism), the Burning Hell has turned their quest into a celebration of hard-nosed DIY tour-warriorism, proof positive that being a musician isn’t all private jets, groupies and caviar.
“I can honestly say that when we decided to do this a year ago, I had no idea that there would be some kind of rush on musical world records right now,” writes Kom. “But third, and most importantly, if we had one tenth of the dough that Jack White or the Flaming Lips have, we’d have destroyed both of those records ages ago. It’s pretty easy to play a billion shows in a short time if you can afford to drive some transport trucks and crew and lights and sound et cetera all over the country or the continent. We’re five people in one tiny van and we’re getting paid nothing at all to do this. Instead, we’re doing it to highlight the point that the average band busts their asses all year, every year just to play their music, and at the end of the day, that means a hell of a lot. “