Monthly Archives: March 2014

Fred Mills: Who Wants an Autograph?

Replacements crop

Yeah, I’m showing off with all these signed record sleeves. And you’d do the same. Above: The Replacements (duh).

 BY FRED MILLS

 This weekend an old friend dropped by, and while looking through some of my records he spotted my copy of the first Replacements 45, which had been signed by all four of the original members, including the late Bob Stinson—I had gotten the single autographed in January of 1985 when the ‘mats played a punk rock club in Charlotte, NC, and subsequently wrote about the memorable night in a story for BLURT. This prompted my friend to ask me how many other records I had autographed. Well, you could say there are a few: 45s and LPs along with CDs, the stray cassette cover, and even a few napkins and scraps of paper I later inserted into sleeves. (There’s also a framed Patti Smith concert poster from ’79 that also houses the autograph she gave me at the concert.)

 Some I’ve gotten rid of over the years, either selling them or giving them to friends who were super fans, like a copy of Jane’s Addiction Nothing Shocking. I actually wish I still had the signed GG Allin 45 and the signed copy of Screw Magazine (the one with the GG pictorial) from the early ‘90s, but I had eBayed them a number of years ago because at the time memorabilia of the late scum-rocker was fetching seriously good money. But I still have quite a few, and my friend encouraged me to scan some of them and share with a wider audience. Yeah, I’m bragging, sorta, but I’m also proud that I have these. In recent years I’ve started getting records inscribed to my young son. I’m not sure exactly why, since he hasn’t demonstrated the slightest interest in becoming a record collector; maybe there’s some weird paternal ego thing going on. He will inherit them some day and maybe he will figure out what my urge was all about if and when he becomes a father.

 Anyhow, here’s a modest sampling of some of the signatures I’ve scored. Enjoy.

  U2 crop

In the early ‘80s I had started a fanzine called U2/USA (yeah, I was a U2 geek, so sue me), and, taking notice of it, the band subsequently gave the staff pretty much blanket access when touring the States. I got the double-45 for “Pride” signed by the band when I went to a concert in Roanoke, VA. Shortly after I obtained the signatures I found myself sitting backstage with Bono, sharing a bottle of wine and interviewing him for the zine. Those were certainly far more innocent times.

 REM crop

Similarly, in the ‘80s I wrote frequently about R.E.M., even penning the liner notes for the sleeve of the “Femme Fatale” flexidisc they did for rock mag The Bob. I have copies of that signed as well as the original Hib-Tone 45, but the double-45 for “Wendell Gee” is my favorite.

 Minutemen crop

Speaking of R.E.M., the Minutemen were guests on one of the band’s tours, and as I had backstage passes for a series of NC and VA shows I was able to strike up a friendship with the opening act as well. Rest in peace, D. Boon.

 Ramones crop

The Ramones—should I even comment? One of my greatest regrets is selling my signed copy of Road To Ruin, but at least I held on to a couple of singles that Joey, Johnny, Marky and Dee Dee inscribed. (Look closely.) The band was in Raleigh, NC, to do a show at the club The Pier and that afternoon they did an in-store at the nearby Record Bar. After the signing session they all fanned out, scouring the bins for music. Joey was particularly excited with some of his finds.

 MoB crop

Raise your hand if you were a Mission Of Burma fan. Their initial incarnation was my favorite version of the band, and when they came to Chapel Hill around the time of their first album, I had the good luck to be the one chosen to show them around the UNC campus and take them for some post-soundcheck grub at a small Greek eatery. Their “Trem-Two” 45 is my favorite record by the Boston band.

 Chilton

Alex Chilton: you may have heard of him. Or possibly that little band from Memphis he was in. I got him to sign a few sleeves when he came to Charlotte with his solo band. He wasn’t the crabby guy I had heard him made out to be, but gracious and easy to talk to. Rest in peace, LX.

 Joe Strummer cop

Joe Strummer: you may have heard of him or a band he was in as well. When Joe and The Mescaleros played the States in October of 2001, they appeared at Irving Plaza and I was assigned to do a profile for Magnet magazine. He signed my London Calling CD sleeve after the show and also asked if I had gotten enough material for my interview. I don’t think he was just being nice—he really seemed to care about treating journalists and fans (and, it should be said, opening bands) properly. Go here to read my interview.

 Arcade Fire crop

Around the time that Arcade Fire’s Funeral album was starting to blow up they came to Asheville, NC, to honor a previously-made booking. The 2005 show was sold out, of course, and they could have played four nights in a row. I was doing a profile on the band for Magnet (you can read the story and interview here), so I got my copy of the CD signed by everyone in the band the next day when I took them all out for lunch.

 Warren Haynes crop

I’ve seen Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule numerous times, often at the annual Haynes Christmas Jam in Asheville. Interviewing Warren for Stereophile Magazine prior to one of the Jams, I got him to sign a couple of pieces, and for some reason I asked him to autograph one to my son, setting in motion a tradition on my part that I still indulge.

 Jason Isbell crop

Ditto Jason Isbell, who I’ve also seen numerous times and of whom I have sung the praises frequently in these pages. He signed this one to my son when he came to the Grey Eagle in Asheville for a solo performance.

 Ettes crop

And ditto one of my favorite bands in the whole damn universe, garage demons The Ettes. I suspect my son might be embarrassed by all the scribbling on the sleeve dedicated to him, so Eli, if you are reading this—please don’t be. It’s all sincere (you were only six at the time anyway), and I know for a fact that the folks in the band dig you.

 Alejandro crop

Alejandro Escovedo actually asked me what my son’s name was without prompting at a show one night in Asheville. Amazingly, he’d remembered I had a young kid from when I’d interviewed him several years earlier. After the concert he came out to the merch table and patiently stood for more than a half hour for autographs and photos with fans. A class act all around.

 Rainer crop

It’s fitting that the last one I share with you is of Rainer Ptacek, who passed away from a brain tumor in late 1997. I had gotten to know the Arizona guitar maestro (and sometime member of Giant Sand) while living in Tucson from 1992-2001, and I’m proud to have called him my friend. We would often talk music down at the record store where I worked, or at the music shop where he worked, and I also interviewed him a few times for different publications. Nocturnes is my eternal Rainer favorite, a gentle and luminous album that I played in the delivery room when my child was born. This is the proverbial record I would rescue first if a fire broke out at my house. God bless you, Rainer, I still miss you deeply.

 

 

Johnny Mnemonic: Music Journalism 101 – The Seven Deadly Sins of P.R.

Johnny M

You’ve Got Mail!

 BY JOHNNY MNEMONIC

 Before I get started, a belated thanks and apology to BLURT. The thank-you part is for allowing me such a forum, which the editor pledges will be published sans filtering, censoring or editorial tinkering. [Oh really, John? –Tinkering Ed.] The apology, of course, is for being the slack-ass goofball that I am and essentially disappearing for over a year and not filing a single missive during that period. I’d like to tell you that I got married, my mother died, or that I was in rehab, but none of that would be true. Shit happens, people get busy with other stuff (like, uh, trying to pay the rent by taking paying gigs), and I can’t promise it won’t happen again. But for now, as the powers that be decreed last week, I’m back and I hope to keep this “Music Journalism 101” column a regular thing.

 Okay. Although I’ve been a so-called music critic since the ‘80s, for the past five years I’ve occupied myself primarily with electronic media and marketing, including a semi-gratifying stint in London working with MTV networks. Still, I kept at least a toe or two in the rock-write biz in order to (a) stay current with musical trends, and (b) keep the free swag coming. Something I never anticipated, however, was how the very landscape of music journalism would change, and not necessarily in a positive way. I’ve touched upon this in some of my previous blog entries, so this time I’d like to focus on one of my pet peeves, one that I suspect is shared by this publication’s editor as well as its staffers: the mass-mailed p.r. pitch.

 Back when I got started in the business, the Internet was still but a moist glint in Al Gore’s eye. I actually was an early email adopter, getting online in the early ‘90s and having great fun forwarding clever jokes to everyone on my listserv. But at that point, since probably less than a quarter of the population even knew what email was (that would all change with that stupid Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie), the business of music promotion was still conducted as it always had, via snail mail and phone call follow-ups. While time-consuming and even occasionally expensive—you youngsters out there with unlimited calling plans probably don’t even know what the term “long distance charge” means—the more personal touch engendered in particular by the phone conversations between publicists and journalist served to cement a long of mutually beneficial long-term relationships. Just ask some of the older SXSW regulars who also came up through the ranks in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

 No longer. The accepted practice in 2014 is the bulk-mail/mass-mailed pitch, and if you have read this far you are no doubt nodding your head when I note that fully ¾ of the daily accumulation in my inbox comprises such spam, er, unsolicited pitches. Granted, this is probably what we’d term “a necessary evil” given the unwieldiness of publicists cold-calling journalists in the era of Caller I.D. and Blocking; it might even be considered the tradeoff for getting all those free CDs and albums in the mail, not to mention guest-list privileges for concerts and access to the artists that we are looking to write about an interview.

 Still, it can be aggravating as fuck. Particularly when the emails fall into certain categories.

 For lack of any better terminology, I’ll classify each of the following p.r. pitch excerpts as Sin Of Presumption, Sin Of Smarm (otherwise known as Sin Of False Flattery), Sin Of Blatant Falsehood, Sin Of Redundancy, Sin Of Spelling/Grammar, Sin Of Bait-and-Switch, and, as a generally catch-all category, Sin Of Annoyance. What they all have in common: just as nominal Internet trends become memes through virality, as soon as one fledgling p.r. agent or two adopts these strategies, scores more notice and follow suit, sometimes throwing in little variations here and there but essentially replicating the original style of pitch or salutation—and to such a degree of ubiquity that you’d be forgiven for wondering if somewhere there is a lone person who writes every press release in circulation and everyone else simply licenses them from him. (Cue up that old joke about the Internet actually being a fat guy living in his parents’ basement in New Jersey.) Bottom line: you know that saying love the sinner, hate the sin? In this scenario, fuhgettaboutit. Assuming these are in fact sins, then I hate the people who keep committing ‘em, too, every single goddam one of you.

 ***

“Dear Mr. Mnemonic: Thank you for having a magazine that truly champions new music—you are the lifeblood of the indie artist. XYZ ’s [not an actual  magazine or website name] elegantly and colorfully written reviews capture the essence of emerging musical artists and offer the reader the delight of discovering something new and special. [Insert generic query + pitch.]

        That one obviously falls under the heading of Sin Of Smarm or Sin Of False Flattery. It’s more transparent than an Oscar acceptance speech in which the winner thanks everyone involved with the movie right down to the set janitor. Well, of course I think I write elegantly and colorfully, not to mention pride myself in championing new music. But couldn’t the publicist be more specific and tell me which writing he or she is so smitten by? (I don’t even “have” a magazine; I just write for ‘em. Odd syntax, no? Perhaps the pitch was outsourced to some call center in a country where English isn’t the first language?)

 “Dear Mr. Mnemonic: I loved your recent elegant and colorful profile of [artist name redacted] because it truly demonstrated an appreciation for his music. Well done, sir! I think you’ll likewise enjoy my new client, [artist name redacted], who has a similarly compelling backstory and whose music is…”

        I had to ask. Clever, yes, but that pitch qualifies for the Sin Of Blatant Falsehood. Just as web-crawling bots are always on the lookout for valid email addresses that can be added to master spam lists, there’s a certain breed of p.r. flack who culls writers’ names from previously published stories and reviews but doesn’t actually read the stories and reviews other than noting what band was being written about. That detail is inserted into a False Flattery pitch and voila! we have a faux-personalized pitch aimed directly at moi, who is apparently too dumb to realize I’m being shamelessly manipulated. Just to be an asshole, I have on occasion emailed back to ask the person what specific aspects of the aforementioned story/review seemed to stand out the most. It works: they never write back after that. 

 “Dear Johnny – I hope you enjoyed the weekend. Just circling back to see if you received my previous email about [band name redacted] and their new LP, [album title redacted]. The album, which sees the group further refine their contemporary take on goth rock and darkwave, comes out on April 8 via [label name redacted].”

        Sin Of Presumption: This one is the type of pitch that inevitably arrives early on a Monday morning, hence the “I hope you enjoyed the weekend” intro—which, I hasten to add, starts to ping my Sin Of Annoyance radar when I have to read it or a variation thereof over and over at the start of every week. It’s kind of like a followup to a followup, with the phrase “just circling back” a dead giveaway, in that I’m being pitched on an already extant pitch, which I probably ignored initially in the hopes that I wouldn’t be harassed about those contemporary goth/darkwave rockers again. (I have never written about goth or darkwave in my entire career, other than a few reviews of Cleopatra Records releases back when that silly little label was dabbling briefly in space-rock and psych.) I ask you: do you think that I’m feeling guilty about not responding to the first pitch and sitting here hoping that you’ll pitch me a second time so I can atone for deleting the earlier email?

      (Aside: The weekly Friday afternoon corollary is equally bad, although for some reason a lot of folks are in a better mood on Friday afternoons than Monday mornings, so anecdotal evidence suggests that the Friday pitch is a better gambit: “Hi Johnny, before everyone takes off for the weekend, wanted to make sure you had a chance to hear…” etc. etc. Please don’t interpret that as a suggestion. Me, I love bulk deleting emails before closing up shop for the weekend.)

        (Aside Pt. II: The whole “circling back/previous email” stuff appears to have been crafted by a psychologist, because it clearly aims to trigger a subtle guilt reflex on the part of the recipient. Some pitches are actually blatant about it, using phrases like “haven’t heard back from you yet” or “making sure you saw the previous email” or even “could you please take the time to let me know what you thought…”. Beyond the pale, yes, but increasingly common.)

 “Dude! Thank you SO MUCH for the GREAT review of [redacted] and the link. We passed it along to the artist and her label and they were SO THRILLED they IMMEDIATELY put it out on her social media. Do you think you might want to interview her for a feature as well? Oh, and while I have you here, I’m working with a new client, [redacted], who I’m sending you a private link to an audio stream. I really think it will be up your alley—what would you think about a review?

        This is the somewhat complicated Sin Of Bait-and-Switch. In the retail world it’s a kind of legalized false advertising, whereby you get people in the doors based on a tantalizing pitch, and then once they are there you try to upsell them with an entirely different product, sometimes even having “just sold out” of the advertised item but “happen to have a special on” this other piece of junk. You can see the genius dynamic behind the strategy, because the writer has already become semi-engaged in the process: I did, after all, like the first artist enough to write about her, so there’s actually a chance that I am in fact interested in talking to her as well; and with that foot in the door the publicist can toss out a secondary “softer” pitch. Well, aside from the fact that this whole thing smacks of multiple sins, including Redundancy, Smarm and Presumption (and possibly even Grammar), it’s galling to think that I have inadvertently set in motion the proverbial never-ending-email-chain simply because I was enthusiastic enough to write about the artist and then nice enough to send the publicist a link to the review (or, in some cases, sent a PDF or mailed a photocopy, old-school style). I realize that a foot in the door is sometimes the only opening someone is gonna get regarding the second artist, but once in awhile etiquette should dictate that a simple thank-you is not only sufficient, but the appropriate response.

        Oh, and never write “while I have you here” in an email. This isn’t a telephone conversation. And you’re increasing the likelihood that there never will be one, either.

 “Hey Johnny! Check out this SoundCloud link of the album [redacted] from the stellar West Coast band, [redacted]. The album, out via [redacted] on March 28th, has a 70’s rock sound to it mashed with contemporary rock elements. The singer has been compared to Matt Bellamy of Muse and Freddy Mercury…”

            Sin Of Spelling/Grammar: Now, before you get all don’t-be-so-nit-picky on me, keep in mind that while, yes, I have done my share of copy-editing in the past and therefore spotting goofs becomes, to a degree, second nature. Note that when I worked as a copy editor I also dealt with a huge experience gap among the contributors since they included everyone from 50-year old seasoned veterans of the roccrit biz to very green 20-somethings who had barely gotten their feet wet at their college newspapers. I can be pretty tolerant of writers’ foibles and peculiarities, in other words. Not so with press releases. Look at it this way: if you are sending out a pitch, you are representing a client who is paying you for your professionalism, and that includes not distracting the recipient of the pitch with visual hiccups such as the four in the excerpt above. They are (1) the lead singer of Queen’s first name misspelled; (2) incorrect apostrophe usage for the numeric “seventies” (it’s not possessive, but plural, and therefore requires an abbreviation apostrophe, i.e. ‘70s, not 70’s; (3) unnecessary comma after the term “west coast band”—this drives me up the fucking wall, period; and (4) incorrect usage of the term “mashed”—while I suspect the likely culprit for that goof derives from the ubiquity of the word “mashup,” anybody with any grammatical sense will know that the writer meant to say “meshed.”

       So I deleted the pitch before I’d even gotten to the second paragraph. FAIL. Not an epic fail. But a fail just the same. It’s illiterate and borderline incoherent. Allow me to recap: you are getting paid for this. Important people are reading your stuff, along with even more unimportant people. Do you think if you worked at a bank your boss would tolerate sending out error-strewn missives to the bank’s top depositors and clients? Nope. You’d be back working the Burger King drive-through window in a heartbeat.

 ***

 Come to think of it, Burger King employees make more money that 90% of the music writers I know. Food for thought, friends. But that’s a topic to be dealt with in a future column.

 ***

  Johnny Mnemonic is the pseudonym (duh) of a “highly-regarded” national writer with, he advises us, over a quarter-century’s worth experience working as a music critic, reporter, editor and television executive. We’ve never met him face-to-face, and he further advises he will be delivering his blogs to us via the “double blind drop-box method,” whatever that is, to ensure his anonymity. You can contact him via this magazine or simply by posting a comment below. His Twitter handle is @JohnnyMnemonicX

 Here are links to his previously published blogs, originally written in 2012.

 

 

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns – The Blurt Metal Roundup (2)

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.2

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the second installment in our latest genre study, with Hirax, Hell, Conan, Artificial Brain, Psalm Zero, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

Eighties refugee Hell never got to release an album during its original lifespan. Curse and Chapter (NuclearBlast), however, is the British act’s second LP since reuniting in 2008, with guitarist/producer Andy Sneap and singer David Bower (brother of bandleader Kev Bower) joining in place of original singer/string-slinger Dave G. Halliday. Nearly 30 years on, the band is in better command of its thrashing proto-power metal than ever. If the singing Bower’s roots in musical theater sometimes show a little too much, his projection-to-the-cheap seats style at least puts him on equal footing with the riff-roaring guitars. Given the genre’s continuing obsession with religion in general and Lucifer in particular, Hell’s lockjaw grip on the same subject veers between timely and quaint, but the utter conviction with which sentiments like “End ov Days” are delivered blows past any eye-rolling. Check out the raging “Age of Nefarious,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Darkangel” or the dramatic epic “A Vespertine Legacy” for catchy, exciting lessons in heavy metal bombast.

Speaking of ‘80s metal, Hirax, a veteran of that gilded age, storms back to life with Immortal Legacy (Steamhammer/SPV), its first LP in five years.The California bunch still thrashes it old-school like Metallica’s black album never happened, with Katon W. DePena’s powerhouse larynx leading the deadly charge. Cf. “Victims of the Dead” and “Tied to the Gallows Pole” for some perfectly hair-whipping kicks. Chrome Division doesn’t go back any farther than the mid-’aughties, but definitely looks to the Reagan years for inspiration. Infernal Rock Eternal (NuclearBlast), the Norwegian four-piece’s third album, finds a sweet spot between Motorhead and hair metal and rides it like a sleek Harley zooming down the road with a chick on each arm. “The Moonshine Years,” “Reaper On the Hunt” and “(She’s) Hot Tonight” rock like proper sleazebags, while“Lady of Perpetual Sorrow” digs out the ambition and acoustic guitars for something more grandiose. Sweden’s mighty Grand Magus eschew glam and go straight for blood and leather on its seventh platter Triumph and Power (NuclearBlast). Though the trio still hasn’t quite lived up to its massive potential, this is still a satisfying slice of NWOBHM-laced epic hard rock, as songs like “Steel Versus Steel,” “Holmgång” and the title cut slot nicely between Iron Maiden and Manowar.

Conan revels in the kind of slow, sludge-caked riffery found in the first Black Sabbath album. Hardly unusual for a doom trio, but the band evolves its craft to the point of near-perfection on its second album Blood Eagle (Napalm). Spiking its collective vein with the kind of wild-eyed charge favored by fellow travelers Electric Wizard and the late Cathedral, Conan literally lays it on thick here, translating the sound of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese mountains into amplifier abuse. “Crown of Talons,” “Gravity Chasm” and the relatively brief but mighty “Foehammer” wield the mace of doom with fierce power and a surprising grace. Blood Eagle climaxes with the roiling “Altar of Grief,” a rumbling roar of pain and defiance that encapsulates what both Conan and doom are all about.

Conan’s fellow Brits the Wounded Kings stride across the landscape with less elegance, but make up for it with sheer bulk on their fourth album Consolamentum (Candlelight). No need for any fancy experimentation or genre-diddling here – the flattening weight of “Lost Bride,” “The Silence” and the monstrous “Gnosis” are this band needs to be effective. Kudos especially to singer Sharie Neyland, a siren amongst monsters – a black-eyed and -hearted siren, but still. A long distance collaboration between Canadian musicians and a Swedish vokillist, Culted pukes up some particularly frosty blackened doom on its second LP Oblique to All Paths (Relapse). Redwood-thick riffs grind the soil while Daniel Jansson’s other-dimensional devil rasp finds unholy secrets in every corner of the dim, pre-dawn haze. It’s not easy listening – especially with a near-20 minute opener in “Brooding Hex” – and, frankly, it’s too long, but the creepy edge of Culted’s arty take on dinosaur sludge sets it apart.

Houston’s Omotai keeps one claw on doom-soaked sludge, the other on bristling thrashcore and its teeth in the throat of raging noise rock on its sophomore slab Fresh Hell (TheTreatyOakCollective/The Path Less Traveled). “Get Your Dead Straight,” “Back Office” and “Giant Pygmy,” the troika of tracks that open the record, wax both savage and lyrical, vein-popping and brow-furrowing, and that’s just the tip of the ship-sinking iceberg. Put this riffmongering troop on tour with fellow barbarous Texans Lions of Tsavo and you’d have a hell of a headringing double bill.

A meeting of sick minds, Artificial Brain is a collaboration betwixt Revocation picker Dan Garguilo and former Biolich frontdude Will “No, not that one” Smith. (The ashes of the apparently seminal Biolich also gave birth to the excellent Castavet.) Labyrinth Constellation (ProfoundLore), the duo’s debut full-length, puts a science fictional spin on murderous death metal, as titles like “Brain Transplant,” “Worm Harvester” and “Frozen Planets” indicate. (Smith’s vocals are beyond guttural, the lyrics a feral blur.) Apparently that theme gives Garguilo license to add subtly psychedelic bits to the teethgrinding brutality, like the droning Farfisa in “Absorbing Black Ignition” and the sine-wave synth intro, pounding doom bass, looped coda and cosmic changes of “Hormone’s Echo,” making the LP more than just a thorough pummeling.

Equally beloved and maligned, the whole stoner rock thing always seems on the verge of being done to death, but then a band comes along that reminds us why the style was cool in the first place. Cue Pagan Fruit (SmallStone), the second album from Salt Lake City’s Dwellers. The mindgames of former members of Iota and SubRosa, the record filters doomy blues rock through a blotter of shimmering desert psych, balancing Joey Toscano’s skilled axework with songwriting stepped up several notches from the group’s 2012 debut. Check out “Call of the Hallowed Horn,” “Rare Eagle” and “Return to the Sky” for some nicely illicit pleasure spikes.

There’s been a trend over the last decade or two that involves reviving progressive rock melodies and dynamics while eschewing the solos and pointless timeshifts. Norway’s Sahg definitely falls into that camp on its fourth disk Delusions of Grandeur (Metal Blade/Indie). The Bergen band keeps the melodies flowing and the sonics racing to the rafters, whether on chugging cosmic metal like “Firechild,” atmospheric riff-pounders like “Ether” or widescreen heavy prog a la “Sleepers Guide to the Galaxy.” Ambitious and powerful. Speaking of progressive, Psalm Zero reaches for that accolade as well on its debut The Drain (ProfoundLore), but in the sense of pushing the envelope of heavy rock, rather than trying to sound like Yes cranked to eleven. The duo of Charlie Looker (ex-Dirty Projectors!) and Andrew Hock (of Castavet) melds industrial rhythm programming a la Godflesh to moody, knotty, occasionally anthemic melodies, alternating broody indie boy vox (Looker) with vein-popping growls (Hock). Check out “Meanwhile,” “Force My Hand” and “In the Dead” for a rifftastic journey through the imagination of an act not content to just regurgitate familiar tropes.

The Traveling Wilburys of U.S. extreme metal, Twilight has led as tumultuous an existence as one might expect, given the personalities involved. The Stateside chapter of the black metal underworld tends to lean towards depressive misanthropy, rather than Satanic ego worship, which must’ve led to some tense group therapy sessions (AKA band meetings). Now consisting of original members N. Imperial (leader of Krieg) and Wrest (majordomo of Leviathan and its alter ego Lurker of Chalice) with Stavros Giannopoulos of the Atlas Moth, Sanford Parker of Minsk and a thousand headbanging production jobs and, shockingly, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, the supergroup delivers as its final album a coup de grace entitled III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb (CenturyMedia). With that pedigree, it’s no wonder some non-trad BM sounds sneak into the mix, from the alt-tuned guitar shreeng that intros “Swarming Funeral Mass” to the anthemic arpeggios of “Oh Wretched Son” and the noise rock bass thrud of “Below the Lights.” But most of the audio hallucinations herein sound like an absinthe-sodden vampire dragging itself through its own muddy lair by its broken fangs – classic black metal filth given the royal sonic treatment.

***

Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, for a number of years a mysterious spate of as-yet-unsolved cattle mutilation crimes have been occurring at regular intervals. We at BLURT have no insight into any of this, however. His Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

Tim Hinely: 15 Questions For… Slumberland Records

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Announcing a new BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon.

BY TIM HINELY

For over two decades Slumberland Records has been releasing some of the best indie rock/pop, shoegaze and dream pop. Staunchly independent, the label is—and for the most part (see first question) always has been—a one-man show by its leader, Mike Schulman. He’s gotten by the old-fashioned way, on good taste and hard work. Schulman was nice enough to answer some questions from the Slumberland HQ in sunny Oakland, CA. (Pictured below: Black Hearted Brother, whose Stars Are Our Home was released in October of 2013. L-R are Nick Holton, Neil Halstead and Mark Van Hoen. Read our interview with the band here.)

Black Hearted Brother

BLURT: When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

MIKE SCHULMAN: Slumberland started in December 1989 as a collective effort by people in the bands Big Jesus Trash Can, Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine and Powderburns. We were all total novices inspired by lower east side NYC noise, No Wave, Post-Punk, K Records, Creation Records, Postcard Records, Factory, Rough Trade, William S Burroughs, Marcel Duchamp, The Jesus And Mary Chain, etc. etc. Most of us had never even picked up an instrument before starting the aforementioned bands, but were fired up enough by the fertile mid-‘80s DIY scene to give it a shot. After playing local shows and getting a bit better established it made sense to document what we were doing, and hence Slumberland.

Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

The current logo was designed by Crayola from Sarandon. We’ve gone through at least 5 or 6 logos over the years; Crayola’s is probably our longest lived at this point.

What was your first release?

A 3 band compilation 7” called “What Kind of Heaven Do You Want?” It featured one song each from Velocity Girl, Powderburns and Black Tambourine. All recorded on 4-track, lo-fi sludgy noise. The engineer at the studio that we went to to mix onto DAT thought we were insane.

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

Definitely: K, Postcard, Rough Trade, Fast Product, Creation, Sarah, Factory, Flying Nun.

What difficulties did you realize come with running a label?

Getting people to pay attention, to take us seriously, to actually buy the releases. Honestly, none of that has changed at all in the last 25 years. It’s still a real challenge. (Below: Withered Hand’s Dan Willson and Pam Berry, whose New Gods album is released March 25.)

Withered Hand by Pierre Antone

If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by, who would it be?

Saint Etienne.

What has been your best seller to date?

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s first album.

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?

Yes and yes, but I always feel a bit weird about it. I’m not a very serious musician, so I feel sort of guilty spending resources on my own bands.

What are your thoughts on having a presence at the major conventions like SXSW, CMJ, etc.? Have you done them before and if not, would you like to?

I have done them on and off over the years. To be honest I don’t think they’re that useful unless you already have a buzz for the bands. There’s just too much going on simultaneously and too much competition. For a label the size of Slumberland, it’s rarely worth the expense.

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Yep, we’re quite active on Facebook and Twitter. It’s one of the few even semi-reliable ways we have of communicating with the fans at this point. (Below: Terry Malts, whose Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere album was released in September of 2013. L-R is Nathan Sweatt, Philip Benson, Corey Cunningham)

TerryMaltsPress01-Web

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

For the bigger selling titles the digital sales can be significant, but for the most part Slumberland fans are still more interested in physical media.

What are your feelings on vinyl? Have you always offered your releases on vinyl?

Vinyl is and always been our primary interest, and I’m quite proud to say that unlike almost all of our peer labels we never stopped releasing LPs. It’s been quite gratifying to see interest in vinyl bouncing back, though it’s anyone’s guess how long the bump will last.

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

7” single, which sadly is all but dead.

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

To be honest most of the labels that I follow are on the dance music side of things: Wild Oats, Sound Signature, KDJ/Mahogani, Perlon, Sushitech, FXHE. When it comes to rock stuff there are definitely individual bands that I really like, but they tend to be scattered across a bunch of different labels.

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

I do, but with the caveat that we’re a very small label and almost never pick up new bands based on demos. I think a lot of people imagine that since we’ve been around as long as we have and have had some success that we’re some sort of cash-generating mini-major just looking for ways to keep the money moving around, but in reality we’re just a one-man show, hustling to keep things going in a challenging and saturated market. (Below: Tony Molina, whose Dissed and Dismissed album is due March 25.)

Tony Molina

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CONTACT INFO:

Slumberland

PO Box 19029 Oakland, CA 94619

URL: www.slumberlandrecords.com

Email: slr@slumberlandrecords.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SlumberlandRecords

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SlumberlandRecs

John B. Moore: The Damn Choir, Interviewed

TheDamnChoir_2014_by_Vanessa_Buholzer

JBM checking in with his latest column on all things punk, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.”

 I DON’T WANNA GROW UP / JOHN B. MOORE

 Being raised in a fanatically strict, fundamentalist household – where even your choice in music could be an indicator if you’d spend your afterlife up in the clouds or sentenced to the pits of hell – can really have an affect a kid. For Gordon Robertson, it helped shape the musician he is today.

 Long since removed from that church, Robertson, now fronting the aptly named The Damn Choir, has spent the past few years in his quest to write the “perfect hymn,” something a little more sincere and relatable than the songs he was surrounded by in church. Judging by the 13 tracks that made it onto his band’s debut, Creatures of Habit, he’s pretty damn close.

 Robertson, now based in Chicago, spoke recently about his background, his quest to write a more appropriate hymn and his band’s connection with pit bulls.  

BLURT: You talk in your bio a little about growing up in a fundamentalist household. How did that shape this band?

GORDON ROBINSON: Growing up in a fundamentalist house was a very different experience as you can imagine. I have four sisters and one brother, and we were all homeschooled. This shaped the music because I was forced to be creative. My school was a tiny house filled with kids, dogs, cats, lizards, and everything you need to know about God.  

 

Were you allowed to listen to rock music growing up?

 I was not allowed to listen to rock music.  When I was a kid, the music I knew was DC Talk, The News Boys, and Steven Curtis Chapmen.  All Christian alternative bands. I remember going to a friend’s house and he was watching “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.” I saw Mick Jagger and all I could think is, “he is so cool.”  I think that was my first taste of rock and roll.  

 

Can you talk about your quest to write the “perfect hymn?”

 I wanted to write a hymn that made sense to me.  When I was a kid, I would hear people in my church singing these hymns about how everything is perfect, but I knew there was nothing perfect about their lives. In my opinion, a hymn should be honest and sometimes hard to listen to.  

 

How long have you been working on the songs that made Creatures of Habit?

 Creatures of Habit took us two years to write. We thought we finished it a year-and-a-half in, but then Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Apples in Stereo, Evan Dando, etc.) wanted to produce the album. He didn’t quit hear a complete album yet, so we kept writing. We wrote around 25 songs and kept 13. 

 

There has been some lineup changes over the years. How did you pull the current version of the band together?

 There have been a lot of lineup changes over the years. It’s not easy to find people that want to travel in a windowless van and not get paid. But we have a solid crew and we are super excited to see how this album does.  

 

Can you talk for a minute about the inspiration behind the song “Violet”?

 “Violet” is about someone I love moving to New York from Chicago. The song talks about a day we spent together in Ohio walking through fields of corn and wheat, and she tells me she is moving to New York.  The song is named after Bryce Goggin’s daughter.  

 

Chicago obviously has a great track record for music (punk, alt rock, blues, etc.). How would you describe the music scene there? 

 The music scene in Chicago is great. It gets a really bad rap from most bands. It’s not always easy to get people out because there are a million shows and the weather sucks. The local music is so good though. I’ve been humbled so many times from Chicago local bands like Paper Thick Walls, Brendan Losch, Archie Powell & The Exports (to name a few). There is so much talent it keeps you shape.  

 

Can you talk about how you guys got involved with Pit Bull advocacy? 

 I’ve always have had pit bulls and we wanted to do some sort of charity. I found A New Leash on Life and loved what they are doing. They are finding homes for dogs through social media. I found a local Chicago artist and gave her a picture of my pit bull, Snorkel, and she designed us a shirt for A New Leash on Life. Five dollars from every shirt sold goes to the dog rescue. 

 

So what’s next for you and the band?

 We are going to be on the road for the next year touring with our new album, sleeping on floors, eating Taco Bell, and selling dog shirts.  

 

Anything else you want to cover?

 I just want to thank you for your questions, and thank all of the great members of our team: our publicist Heather West, our booking agent Kat Lewis, our families and friends, our backers, and all of the people we’ve met so far on this tour. 

 

Photo Credit: Vanessa Buholzer

John B. “Moshpit” Moore blogs for BLURT and is a charter member of our Circle of Trust. He additionally writes for New Music magazine, InSite Atlanta Magazine, Innocent Words and NeuFuture Magazine.