Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fred Mills: Open Letter to Bob Lefsetz about Record Stores

vinyl-record

In which ye old Blurt editor fantasizes about 12″ vinyl records and the sweet young things who covet them….

June 9, 2014

Dear Bob – It’s your buddy Fred again. How goes it? In your latest “Lefsetz Letter” post (“David Carr’s Article,” June 9, about NYT writer Carr’s “Free Music, At Least While It Lasts” story and “the outbreak of free”), you very astutely summarize where we’ve been and where we are; no arguments on my part there. But near the end, when you namecheck some of today’s dinosaurs (printers, travel agents, etc.) you take what I feel is a somewhat gratuitous—and ill-informed—swipe at record stores writing, sarcastically, “While we’re at it, let’s bring back record stores.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that while you’re a staunch anti-nostalgist you still harbor fond memories of hanging out in and shopping at record stores back in the day, back when a lot of your boomer-fave bands like the Eagles were making vinyl LPs and a young Bob Lefsetz could be found flipping through the bins in the aisles of a favorite local shop while those timeless chords of “Take It Easy” blasted from the store’s stereo… and out of the corner of your eye you spotted a pretty girl over in the other aisle also flipping through the bins and also grooving to the tune so you screwed up your courage to wander over to her and, using the mutual musical connection as an ice breaker, asked her what her name was.

lefsetz

Wait—don’t hit “delete” just yet, Bob. I’m also going to go out on a limb here and presume that you and I are pretty close to the same age (I’m 56), and since the above scenario, or a similar one, probably unfolded for me a few times back in the day as well, we’ve got a few shared experiences that might make for an interesting conversation someday. (I am what you’d call an “occasional nostalgist” but don’t hold that against me. I’ve also got a 13-year old kid so part of my job as a parent is to make sure I don’t forget what it was like to be young.)

Back to the record store thing. Putting the stores into the dinosaur category is, I think, to consciously avoid actually going into one in 2014 to check out the dynamic therein. A lot of them have disappeared over the past two decades, and they ain’t coming back. Quite a few, though, hung in there, some of them literally by the proverbial skin of their… you know. As I may have noted in past emails, I’ve been working at an independent record store (Schoolkids Records, Raleigh NC – about to celebrate its 40th anniversary, in fact) for the past two years, and while no one here harbors any illusions about things returning to anything remotely resembling the Nineties Normal of the pre-download era goldrush (although the raging success of the annual Record Store Day vinyl-centric event is, in fact, encouraging) there is a definite sense here that everything old is becoming new again.

Our store (and for the most part all of the other stores in the US who are part of our Coalition of Independent Music Stores, which has been in place for years now) doesn’t exactly operate from a position of nostalgia, but what we ARE trying to do is restore the notion of a record store being a place to come and hang out, meet friends, hell, bring the whole family (it happens), geek out on this or that band/record (and I do mean records: new and used vinyl comprised nearly 80% of our sales), get your OWN band’s record/CD/tape placed in the bins via consignment, and yeah, maybe even screw up the courage to wander over to that pretty girl in the other aisle and make a comment about the music that’s playing over the store stereo. I mean, some things are eternal and don’t need fixin’, you know?

Schoolkids

As a semi-relevant aside: at least once a day I see my teenage self in the store. It’s uncanny, Bob; here’s this geeky kid, might be a guy or it might be a girl, and they definitely look like 2014 kids, but it’s still ME some four decades hence, out there in the bins, feeding what’s potentially going to turn into a lifelong obsession with music. That’s me, in the early ‘70s, discovering my first used record store, or a store with a huge stash of UK imports and a box of bootlegs under the counter, or even a store where one of the employees stops what he’s doing to patiently help me find some weird-ass obscure band and doesn’t treat me like I’m some weird-ass geeky kid.

At our store we have tried to modernize within reason, of course. To that end we have free Wi-Fi so you can check your email, a big stuffed couch and a few chairs for lounging, a centrally-placed stage where we host live shows every early Friday and Saturday evening, and even a bar with 6 local drafts on tap (soft drinks and agua as well). We also jettisoned the “cranky old burned-out clerk behind the counter” model in favor of… well, since I’m the resident “old clerk” we actually just jettisoned the “cranky” and “burned out” components ‘cos I really enjoy being the clerk behind the counter, honest. Hell, I make it my mission to go up to every kid under 10 who comes in with a parent and hand him or her one of our store stickers (it’s a kind of demented fish logo, go figure), because I’ve never met a kid under 10 who does NOT like getting a free sticker and because I’ve never met a parent anywhere who does NOT like seeing a smile on their kid’s face. We are all about making people feel welcome here at our store and, oh by the way, we are all about giving a little kid a good feeling about our store because that’s gonna be a regular customer here in 5-10 years’ time.

My rather long-winded point is this: nobody’s trying to “bring back” record stores or trying to cling to some outdated or dead business model. We’re just trying to show people that they have an option they might not have realized has been here (at least in some cities) all along, right under their noses. A record store is — I risk sounding like the gone-native proselytizer here, but bear with me — way more than just a place to spend your money on music. If that was all a record store is, everyone would be happy just going to Best Buy. (Whoops, Best Buy has shifted all their music floor space to smartphones now. Never mind.) It’s a gathering spot, a public square, a nexus of interactions and social transactions and even the occasional teenage mating dance. Some folks stick around for a couple of hours or more. Everyone is welcome, and everyone has a good time.

It’s a beautiful thing Bob, and I would like to personally invite you to swing by some Saturday afternoon if you are ever in the vicinity and — not to get all hippie on you — enjoy the vibe. The first Bell’s Ale is on the house.

Viva le vinyl,

Fred Mills / Raleigh NC

***

Link to Lefsetz’ Original Blog Entry That Prompted My Response: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/

UPDATE 6/10: Apropos of nothing – okay, okay, I’m being disingenuous; it’s fucking apropos – the Autumn Defense and Yep Roc filmed a series of testimonials about records and record stores last fall at Schoolkids (our old location, prior to moving). Watch a clip, below, or check it out over at YouTube.

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/Brett Newski

Brett Newski by Sweet Chucky B

Chicken feet, bicycle rides, tampon ads and, er, songwriting: the acoustic punk maestro talks about his American Folk Armageddon album as well as his ongoing love affair with Vietnam.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

From budding rock star to the Vagina King of Vietnam… and back to rock star. As Elton John and those animated lions once taught us, kids, that’s the Circle of Life.

Brett Newski is finally back in the U.S. after a stint of living the not-so-glamorous life of an expat in Asia penning tampon jingles and doing voice-over ads for Red Bull. He has shed his band and is going the solo route with his latest, the superb acoustic punk album American Folk Armageddon. Part Frank Turner, part Billy Bragg, the ten songs that make up this record are often witty and always charming.

Newski spoke recently about what caused him to flee the modern conveniences of life in America for a moped and outdoor sleeping in Thailand, going under the knife of a med school dropout and, of course, his brief rein as the King of Vaginas.

BLURT: So let’s start with what brought you to Bangkok in 2011.

BRETT NEWSKI: My band had split; my girlfriend and I had split; I left my job and just bought a one-way ticket to Asia. I’ve always been obsessed with that part of the world; the bizarre Far East. Great food, smiley people, strange smells, organized chaos, sensory overload. With the cost of living being so low, it’s a prime place to write and work on art. All the pressures of the western world go bye-bye and you can finally see the rat race from a third person perspective.

I bought a Chinese Honda motorbike for $100 upon arrival and drove it up the entire country of Vietnam. The seat was literally duct taped on. I went for days without seeing anyone who spoke English. I ate chicken feet, pig eats, cow heart. Would ride my bike along Highway 1 until the sun retreated. Then pull over and sleep in a dusty town I didn’t even know the name of. No phone, no GPS, just dirt and freedom. The cops would pull me over and I’d have to bribe them 10,000 Vietnam Dong ($10) to let me go.

So did you go there with the intention of writing and recording music?

Songwriting was my #2 objective. #1 was escape. Getting a fresh start.

I was playing a bunch of makeshift shows in Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Hong Kong. We would throw DIY shows on rooftops, boats, corner cafes, small clubs. I even played a gig in the lobby of a happy ending massage parlor.

After traveling and getting burnt out from being by myself, I moved to Saigon, Vietnam. I had always wanted to live somewhere bizarre and foreign, so Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) seemed like the place. I found work making commercial music for tampon ads at Saatchi & Saatchi. It was like living on Mars you could say. Living in Vietnam is like a good mushroom trip. You see so many astonishing, wacky things; Locals cockfighting roosters in the street, 6-year-old kids herding water buffalo, old dudes taking dumps on the sidewalk.

What prompted the move to Vietnam?

Escapism. I just wanted to get lost and leave everything at home behind. Nothing was working out; my band, relationship with the girlfriend, and my best friend and I had a falling out. I was just being a mopey sad person and needed a change of scene. Distance from the negativity.

How did you hook up with the ad agency?

I went into Saatchi & Saatchi looking for copywriting work, because that’s what I did in the states. Creative director goes, “Hey we don’t need any copywriters but I saw your music Web site and we need music for this tampon ad. Can you do it?” I just said yes and drove my little shitty motorbike across town to a studio the next day and hammered out the music. They liked it, so more tampon ads started coming my way. Then music for other brands too. But tampon ads are my specialty, you know? As of a few months ago, they were still playing in the movie theatres before films, like James Bond and stuff. The creative director once called me “the Vagina King of Vietnam.” I peaked too soon. Now I’m back sleeping on strangers’ floors. The things we do for rock n roll.

Let’s talk tampons. Where do you go for inspiration to write a tampon ad?

You must dig deep into your soul in order to make quality tampon ads. I like to bust out the VCR and watch early Swartzenegger workout tapes, mute the audio, and play guitar left-handed. That usually yields a solid gold musical jingle within a few hours. It’s not hard to find VHS players in Nam. Also, going to the Vietnamese driving range is a good place for creative juices to flow. If the ball picker-upper guy is out on the range, I pretend I’m not aiming for him, but of course I do. We all do. Right after that I’ll usually write a tampon ad.

Any other ad music you wrote while you were there?

Did several voiceovers for Red Bull, Nestle, Laughing Cow cheese. There was a lack of tall gangly white dudes with American accents, so odd jobs came along all the time.

Is there a group of ex-pat American musicians living in Vietnam or were you pretty much it?

There is a strong ex-pat scene in Vietnam. Several Americans, but not an overabundance. The white devil hasn’t fully taken over yet. No McDonalds yet, and Starbucks had only moved in two days before I left. Every expat I met there was a total character with a couple of screws loose. I say that with love. You do have to be halfway fucking crazy to live in Nam.

One time I had a cyst in my leg. My American buddy Sweet Chucky B (who took the photo at the top of this page) had completed half of med school and convinced me he could cut the cyst out. I put my leg in the sink. He started numbing the spot with ice, sterilized it, then started cutting into my leg with a little razorblade. After five minutes he says “sorry dude, it’s too big. We gotta go to the hospital.” He puts me on the back of his bike and we drive five blocks to a very scary hospital. Total chaos, nobody seemed to know what’s going on. They send us to a little dingy back room where a Thai dude in jeans and a white T –shirt says “Hello, I Doctor.” He looked more like a mechanic, but he fixed my leg up and charged me only $8.

Were you releasing the albums you recorded there in the U.S. or Asia? Or did you wait to get back to the States?

I did two albums there, one solo and one band. I toured In Between Exits (solo record) for two years in the US, South Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe.

The songs that made this new record, were most of them written when you were living overseas?

Most of them were written in Vietnam and while on tour in South Africa. I might have retired from music if it weren’t for South Africa. They’ve been massively supportive.

What’s next for you?

Keep chipping away. I’m really starting to understand how to tour relentlessly without killing myself. It’s a grind, but the lows are always followed by big highs. Whenever I have a tough show or I get food poisoning or I miss my bus, I just think “whoever survives the beatings the longest wins,” one of my favorite quotes from South African songwriter Matt Vend.

Anything else you want to cover?

Yes, if you ever go to Vietnam, try chicken feet, its good drunk food.

Brett

***

John B. Moore’s regular BLURT column on all things punk is titled “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” Get into the pit with him – such as this recent entry or this even more recent entry at your own risk ‘cos he is one tough-ass motherfucker.

Tim Hinely: The Singles Scene VIII

THE SINGLES SCENE VIII - Blurt's Indie 45 Roundup

A roundup of some of our latest favorite vinyl 45s and EPs. A man walks into a digital singles bar… the bartender says, “Hey, why the long face?” To which he replies, “There’s no point to my stylus anymore…”

BY TIM HINELY

Now wait a minute…. yeah, so I’m a little late here but don’t pin this one on me. I’ve got an editor here you know. Not saying it’s his fault either but…… ok, fine. I’ll take some accountability. [Drop and give me 10 now, Hinely! – Drill Sgt. Ed.] The floor of the house is filled with empty pizza boxes, half-drank cans of Mountain Dew and so many newspapers that I can’t even see across the room. They tried to have an intervention but it didn’t work. They tried to get me on Hoarders but it didn’t work. They did everything in their power to get me to write another singles review column except ASK ME. When they simply asked, nicely, I complied. See, I’m not a bad guy, a little preoccupied but nice.

 

Bunnygrunt

Bunnygrunt/ The Winchester (split single)

The Worst of Both Worlds EP (7 out of 10 stars)

(Pancake Productions) www.pancakeproductions.net

St. Louis institution Bunnygrunt (Matt, Karen and Eric Von Damage) are still at it, thankfully and still blasting out sugar-coated pop nuggets that any band would be proud t call their own. The flip features a band called The Winchester who spout off with not one but two songs. “Minus One Plus” and “30 Seconds to Bars” show me one thing, if these guys ever show up in Denver I’m going.

 

Elika

Elika

Girls, Be Serious (7)

(Saint Marie Records) www.saintmarierecords.com

Regular readers of this column (all 4 of you) will remember I reviewed a previous Elika 7” last time (same young girl on the cover though this time she’s making a weird face) and yes, the vinyl is still the thickest I’ve ever felt (oooh baby). “Your Secrets” on the a-side is the best song of their yet, all slow and dreamy (think Trembling Blue Stars) while flip “Truest Heart” is nearly as good. Smoove.

 

Insurgence

Insurgence DC

“True to Life” b/w “Man in Black” (8)

(Crooked Beat) www.crookedbeat.com

Based in the nation’s capitol and with Triangle (N.C.) roots, Insurgence plays old school punk with the kind of vim ‘n’ vigor long associated with the punk scenes of those two locales. Indeed, bassist Bill Daly’s lead vocal on the blazing “True to Life” has the type of rabble-rousing anthemism (“Get it out/ Stir it up/ Shout it out now!”) that we’re sorely missing these days (the Occupy movement could’ve used an adrenalin shot of Insurgence). Meanwhile, “Man in Black” marries a rebel-rock message to a twangy riff and a cowpunk thump; you’d be hard pressed not to put your pogo boots on and get to scootin’ when this tune cues up. Available on both black and super-limited yellow vinyl, wax fans. (—Fred Mills)

 

 

Fireworks

The Fireworks

“Runaround” b/w “With My Heart” and “Asleep” (9)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Oh man, I wasn’t sure if this UK band was gonna top their debut 7” from last year (at least I think it was their debut) but this one is even better. Two blissfully fizzed-out songs in the vein of the Shop Assistants. “Runaround” is my fave with that great drum sound that only UK indie bands can seemingly get while side b, “With My Heart” sprints to the finish line and “Asleep” tucks it in. G’night. On beee-yooo-teee-ful red vinyl!

Butt

Butt/ Gogolplexia (split single)

Ass Sick Creeps (6)

(Pancake Productions) www.pancakeproductions.net

Whoah…..that’s all I have to say, whoah. This 7” is apparently a tribute to Denton, TX band Fishboy. Each band here wrote a song about the other. Butt consists of a drummer named Amy Frogpockets and bass by Drunk Uncle Doug (there’s other members too) and their “Ass Disaster” stumbles out of the gate and vomits all over the floor (got a mop?). Gogolplexia offers up a tune called “Butt Release” and the bands members, all two of them, start and stop songs are roughly the same time. I’m not saying I didn’t like this, it just may not have been the best thing to play after my pork chops tonight.

 

 

Great SWamis

The Great Dismal Swamis

“Surfin’ with the Swamis” +3 (8)

(Fandango Records) www.fandangorecs.com

Dunno jack about this band but hey, I can read so it states the band hails from Norfolk, VA (the label is outta Washington, DC) and the band was previously known as the Hydeouts. I’ve heard things described as frat rock before but most of it’s lame but if I was younger and going to frat parties this is the kinda stuff I’d wanna hear. All dirty guitar, choppy organ, trashy rhythm section and a vocal straight outta of the rubber room! Best song title: “Whiskey Twitch.”

 

Luxembourg DRive

The Luxembourg Signal

Distant Drive EP (8)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Ok, so anytime I hear that Bety Arzy (aka Beth Aberdeen aka Beth from Trembling Blue Stars) is involved in a new project I stand up and take notice (same with Pam Berry). This is Beth along with a few compadres from Aberdeen and Fonda (another terrific L.A. pop combo) offering up two soaring pop tunes. “Distant Drive” is near pop perfection (Ginny’s simple yet effective keyboards make it) while the flip, “Wishing Pool” (Broiler Rom Session) is more rockin’ and direct. Man, I cannot wait for the full-length. Huzzah!

 

Negro Spirituals

Negro Spirituals

“Black Garden” b/w “Ancient Trees” (8)

(A Wicked Company) www.awickedcompany.tumblr.com

A Wicked Company is batting .1000 so far (better n’ Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Ted Williams…hell, anyone) and this Wisconsin bunch get a hit here, at least a triple. “Black Garden” blasts out some dizzying effects that made me fall outta my chair, hit the ground, bounce back up and not miss a key while doing this review. “Ancient Trees” was a bit more traditional, that is if you consider Caroliner Rainbow Milkqueen traditional. There’s only 500 of these so git your ass to Hot Topic and pick one up!

 

Pep

Pep

My Baby and Me EP (8)

(The Stones Records) www.thestonesrecords.com

I like how on this band’s Facebook page they describe what they do as doo wop /dreamsauce. Hey, they have a sense of humor and yeah, I’d call this doo-woppy. I’m guessing that the band is from L.A., but who knows as the label website is Japanese and I couldn’t read a damn thing on it. “All songs written and performed by Karys Rhea”, so there you go. The songs are bouncy and fun, a bit like The School or even Camera Obscura (when they’re in a good mood). If I like it you’ll like it, trust me.

 

 

Polkaholics

The Polkaholics

“Blue Haired Lady” b/w “Spaced” (6)

(self-released) www.thepolkaholics.com

Chicago trio who do a blend of, what else, polka music and rawk. Go to their webpage and they’ll try and sell you something (they got a ton of merch). These two songs kick out the jams brothers and sister. The band obviously has a real sense of humor (love the artwork on this 7” ) and I’ll bet they’re a scream live. Can one of my Chicago underlings check ‘em out on stage and report back to Blurt? Please? (side note- big hole 45s rule).

 

 

Graham Day

Graham Day & the Forefathers

“Love Me Lies” b/w “30-60-90” (6)

(State/Sandgate Sound) www.staterecs.com

This garage-shocking power trio comprises gents who’ve served time in The Prisoners, the Prime Movers, the Solarflares, the James Taylor Quartet and Billy Childish’s Buff Medways, so with that kind of collective resume you’d be right in presuming some jams will be kicked out. “Love Me Lies” revisits an old Prisoners tune in glorious metal hues lined with careening riffs and wah-wah squiggles. Even better is the organ/guitar powered hi-octane R&B instro flip hailing from the pen of one Willie Mitchell (who originally wrote it for the Get Carter soundtrack). (—Fred Mills)

 

 

When Nalda

When Nalda Became Punk

Indiepop or Whatever! EP (9)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Yessss!!! New music from WNBP and not a moment too soon. I was going through withdrawals. I loved their full-length from last year and was jonesing for more and this Spanish bunch, led by Elena Sestelo, came through in the clutch. Not much has changed, they’re still whipping out indie pop nuggets at an alarming rate (my kinda band). “Song for Carrie Mathison” is very good but the title track is incredible! All squealy guitar and melody. On the flip “Daylight Savings Time” get the nod from me of the two and again, if you love the supple sounds of bands like Helen Love or Heavenly then you’ll want this in your collection.

***

Tim “45 Adapter” Hinely spins backwards when he reviews Australian records, but don’t let that throw you off balance. Check out his most excellent rock mag Dagger at www.daggerzine as well as his 7th installment of The Singles Scene (here at BLURT) and the 6th installment (right here) and the 5th (here).