Category Archives: Artist Interview

LIFE’S A GAS: feedtime

Feedtime Sydney Opera House

With a much-heralded new album out—the first from the Sydney trio in over 20 years, and pressed on colored vinyl to boot—and with fans salivating over the prospect of additional activity, let’s take a plunge into ye olde editor’s Aussie archives.

BY FRED MILLS

Among fans of Australian independent rock, the name feedtime looms large, some devotees even going so far as to include the Sydney trio alongside such iconic names as Radio Birdman, the Saints, Cosmic Psychos, and Scientists. Part of the reason is no doubt related to the whole live fast/leave a pretty corpse angle, as feedtime burned brightly in the ‘80s then exited stage left before any rot had a chance to set in. You’ll shortly read what subsequently went down with these scuzz-blooze-rawk merchants. Indeed, some rather recent video evidence, below, speaks a zillion words:

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of breaking news: America’s own In The Red Records has just released a brand new album by what the label calls “Australia’s favorite misanthropic noise-makers” (wish I’d said that), and Gas finds Rick, Al, and Tom (no last names, please—guitar/vox, bass/vox, and drums, respectively) sounding every bit as beautifully brutal as on its four predecessors, 1985’s feedtime, 1986’s Shovel, 1988’s Cooper-S, and 1989’s Suction. (Consumer-wise, all of those were reissued in 2012 as part of the Sub Pop box set The Aberrant Years. There was also a brief reunion in 1996 that yielded the Billy album featuring a different lineup.)

Feedtime 2012 in Minneapolis

Indeed, from Side A’s ready-to-rumble murky-roar of opening track “Any Good Thing” and the slide-guit/barked-vocals sonic maelstrom that is “Hopeful Blues,” to the sheer locomotive aggression powering “Fifty Eight” (more slide) and the hypnotic, pulsing, verging-on-anthemic (term used loosely) “Grass,” Gas is pure feedtime—sounding for all the world like the band simply dipped out the side door for a quick smoke then popped back in, picked up their instruments, and continued the set. Three decades seem not to have diminished the lads in any way, and with Mikey Young (Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring) at the studio helm, the sonic chaos isn’t reigned in a whit; Young, who also recorded the 2015 one-off reunion single for Sub Pop, “Flatiron” / “Stick Up Jack,” has a keen intuition for what makes feedtime tick. That single, incidentally, is not included on the album for some reason, but with 14 fine tracks here, seven per side on a gorgeous emerald/splatter vinyl LP, no one’s getting shortchanged.

***

So. As long as we are celebrating the return of feedtime—no word yet on a tour, but we can all dream, eh?—let us peer into the BLURT archives for some relevant verbiage on the band. I consider myself eternally honored to be a card-carrying feedtime fan from Day 1—please, keep your envy to a minimum—having both reviewed and interviewed the band back in the day. More recently, a few years ago, in 2012, BLURT published a kind of mini-roundup of relatively new Australian bands we felt were worth keeping an eye on. Among them was feedtime, definitely not a newcomer. But because Sub Pop had just released the box set, and plans were afoot for a brief reunion tour to promote the box, a profile of the band seemed in order. (Below, a clip of the band live at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern in 2012, with guest Mark Arm.)

I duly conducted an email interview with feedtime’s Rick plus their friend and old Aberrant Records label boss Bruce Griffith to get the lowdown on the box as well as concurrent outtakes/unreleased compilation titled This Is Friday on the S.S. label, not to mention the possibility of a fulltime reunion and extended tour for the original trio. At the time they were adamant that wasn’t going to happen, and as Griffith put it, “There are no feedtime plans beyond the 2012 US tour. This is it, folks. If you wanna see feedtime, you need to attend one of these shows.”

But then 2015 rolled around. Against all odds, feedtime was once again back, having followed up the brief 2012 American tour with some Australian shows in 2014 (above is a live clip from a Brisbane show supporting Mudhoney; also read a revealing interview with all three of them that year for Mess and Noise HERE), planning a fresh Australian tour with the Oblivians, and with new studio material, the group’s first in two decades, via the aforementioned “Flatiron” single. So at the time, prospects for a full-length seemed good. It took a couple of years, but here in 2017, it’s finally arrived in the form of Gas, so for everyone who arrived late to the feedtime table, allow me to peel back the years for your edification….

feedtime records

The trio of feedtime– Rick, Al, and Tom, and for publishing purposes the surnames listed on the Sub Pop single read Johnson, Larkin and Sturm—on guitar, bass and drums, respectively, originally formed in Sydney circa ’79 and went on to cut four hugely influential albums in the ‘80s before splitting at the end of the decade: feedtime, Shovel, Cooper-S and Suction, all released in Australia via Bruce Griffiths’ iconoclastic punk/noise label Aberrant (Rough Trade released the latter 3 in the US). The group’s 1989 breakup came on the eve of an American tour, Rick years later admitting in an interview with Seattle’s The Stranger, “feedtime broke up because I was having a breakdown, that’s all. There was a lot of anger and darkness that underlaid a lot of feedtime’s makeup. I had to remake myself or die. Allen felt that he might have to do some repair work as well…. Some stuff about feedtime involves very hard stuff and needs to be left alone.”

There was also a brief reunion with a slightly different lineup (Tom replaced by a new drummer) in the mid ‘90s that resulted in the Billy album for Amphetamine Reptile, and then they were no longer once again.

Though feedtime never toured the US during its initial heyday, American fans of pure, primal, skronky blooze-noise eagerly embraced the band—Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, for example, was a very vocal supporter—and they became a mainstay of the fanzine underground. Yours truly can testify to the trio’s prowess; during the ‘80s I authored an Australian music column for east coast rock zine The Bob, and feedtime was a fixture in the column. I also oversaw the release of a 7-song, 10-inch Australian flexidisc for issue #34 of The Bob, and feedtime’s “Trouble” was one of the key tracks. The accompanying interview I did with the band remains one of my fondest memories from that journalistic period: Far from being the thuggish neanderthals that their heavier-than-heaven sound might have conveyed, they were funny and engaging, humble to a fault, and eager to reach out to their fanbase while remaining clear-eyed about their overall position in the music world. (Below, check out a unique version of “Paint It Black,” described by the YouTube uploader as “The Rolling Stones as only feedtime could play them. Recorded live at French’s Tavern, Oxford St, Sydney, Australia, September 26, 1986 by Peter Newberry of Painkillers. A version of this cover appeared on the band’s 1988 LP ‘Cooper-S’,”)

 When Sub Pop announced the four-CD The Aberrant Years, then, it was like manna from heaven for longtime fans of the band. Three of the discs contained bonus tracks, and a thick booklet completed the picture. As the label put it:

This burning energy existed for some ten years and produced some of the most powerful, creative and personal rock and roll music we are ever likely to hear. The songs are out there to discover and relate to and when they hit they explode and you’re never the same again, but you’re grateful for the experience. This isn’t “noise rock,” this is a groundbreaking FORM of music that knows its roots but applies the lessons to a wider scope than their peers.

It’s heavy but life is too and some of us know this and we channel that power into art and sometimes beautiful things are created. Sometimes it’s too heavy and nothing seems to work out. Sometimes you just need to laugh it off and stand at the back of the room for a while. This is perfect sound and pure art. Avant-garde pub-rock. All hail the concrete urban blues.

Hail hail indeed. But as you might surmise from the subsequent arrival of the Sub Pop single and the news about the Oz tour with The Oblivians, things changed. The one-off nature of the 2012 tour for The Aberrant Years apparently laid the groundwork for something more long term, and perhaps more substantial. In that Mess and Noise interview with the three musicians, Tom observed how, for him, nowadays, “the intensity is the same but with less desperation than there was 25 years ago, certainly at least on my part. I like to think the intensity is the same, but I think maybe 25 years ago it was a crutch that held me up, whereas now, it’s a thing that’s pretty good to do and every time you do it, it evokes something in you.”

Al agreed, adding, “I think collectively, when you’ve got three people creating a single thing, that’s what’s special. And I think the joy you get when that happens is fantastic. And I’m almost thinking when I hear us rehearse or play these days that we’re playing even better than we ever were.”

And Rick summed up the difference between then and now, saying, “You’re not palliating a preexisting painful condition, the meaning of it has changed I think. It’s not an act of divesting yourself of pain or putting a lid on it and shouting about something, it’s just opening up and narrowing down into a focus.”

Here’s that 2012 interview, never published before in its entirety. (Below photo by the inimitable Caroline Birkett, Oz photog extraordinaire.)

 

 Feedtime early 2

 BLURT: What the hell has everyone been doing in the years since feedtime disappeared?

RICK: We been just mutting along doin’ stuff.

 

Why feedtime in 2012? I thought we buried you guys good and proper…

RICK: Scott Soriano, of S.S. Records, asked us to a birthday party in 2011… and Sub Pop’s Mr. Poneman was interviewed one day said he’d have done shovel if he had the chance. Bruce got in contact, and off we go!

BRUCE: In late 2010 I received an email from Scott Soriano, asking if there was any chance feedtime would play the label’s 10th anniversary weekend in May 2011 if he covered airfares and accommodation.  He’d long been a fan, and the band was part of his “dream 10th anniversary line-up,” and as much as it was a massive long-shot, he had to at least ask.  Much to his surprise, the band said yes.

A little before that, and entirely unconnected, Carmel, drummer Tom’s wife, heard Jonathan from Sub Pop being interviewed on national “youth” radio station, Triple J, discussing the five albums he wished Sub Pop had released.  Shovel was one of them.  Carmel tipped me off and, as we were looking for someone to remaster and reissue the Aberrant feedtime albums and Sub Pop was literally the “dream label” (and their natural home), I sent Jon an email – “Would you like to…” – and immediately received a “YES.”

The [anniversary show in San Francisco], a “one-off,” was so good that Dean from Sub Pop, who’d traveled down for it, took me aside afterwards and asked what the chance was of an 8-10 gig tour in 2012 to promote The Aberrant Years re-releases. The guys liked what was proposed and what’s actually an 11-gig 2012 tour is the result.

 

What is the Australian press—and fans—saying about feedtime? Long memories? Fond memories? I know you guys were, in a sense, the “odd men out” of the scene back in the day when I covered you for The Bob and other US mags, yet your very underground nature seems to be what has made your legacy, as it were, endure.

RICK: The Australian press is ignoring us completely, except for the mighty Murray Engleheart who writes for Brag mag. But we made some people happy enough when we played in September [at the S.S. Records show]. You can see some on YouTube… feedtime sando.
BRUCE: There seems to be a lot of excitement among fans—old and new, and there seem to be a lot of new—about the re-issues. Deservedly, they sound amazing.  I know some people aren’t keen on ‘remastering’, but going back to the original analog masters and hearing them, and comparing them to the ‘80s pressings, I was astounded by how much was lost [with the original pressings].  The master tapes sound way better than the releases of the day.  The new versions are absolutely true to the recordings – everything is there.  It’s the full glory and as the recordings get better – as they do progressively over the albums – the reissues sound increasingly amazing. The leap in just feedtime is already considerable, but by the time you get to suction, with Trafalgar Studios production values and Butch Vig mixing – woah.

The press never got behind feedtime here, and nothing has changed in that regard.  Murray is their sole supporter. Incidentally, we highly recommend Murray’s book Blood, Sweat & Beers; essentially the story of Rose Tattoo and X, along with The Angels, Billy Thorpe & The Aztec, Coloured Balls, Buffalo.  A great read which captures the era and feel of the music brilliantly.  If that music’s of interest, it’s a must.

Today

Could you give me some more info on the [Sub Pop approved] feedtime “outtakes & unreleased’ album, Today is Friday, that S.S. Records has released?
BRUCE: It was never a condition of playing SS10, but Scott Soriano was keen to have a feedtime release and asked if we had anything lying around. I knew we did – I had high quality cassettes of the full feedtime session, the full shovel session, Cooper S outtakes, and eight reels of quarter inch tape, their contents largely unknown.  Sub Pop wanted to keep the boxed sets ‘pure’ – precisely as the releases were originally issued, track-wise, with bonus tracks restricted to actual Aberrant releases, hence the singles, B-sides, giveaway tracks, etc.). So they gave their blessing to Scott doing a release of “lost” stuff.

One of the reels contained mixed tracks recorded for shovel, which were only left off because of the limitations, time-wise, of the LP format. The feedtime session produced an entire side’s worth of recordings of songs which didn’t end up on feedtime – again, for time/length reasons – which were re-recorded for shovel.  So there are shovel tracks with feedtime sonic feel, kind of a ‘third side’ of feedtime.  Several of the reels were recorded live at the infamous (and violent) Central Markets Hotel, and we lifted some tracks from them, along with a version of Flipper’s “Life”, recorded in The Pit, a rehearsal/recording space Adrian Symes had dug beneath the floor of the house his was renting at the time.

Among the titles, you’ll spot previously unreleased songs ‘Ebgd’, ‘Garbage Scow’, ‘Tatts Willie’, ‘Life’ (Flipper) and ‘I Don’t Care About You’ (FEAR).  Of the released titles, we made sure to pick versions that offered something unique and different to the previously released versions.

Incidentally, the cover art for Today is Friday is a drawing by Tom’s daughter, Mandie, when she was about five I think.  Scott asked if we had anything like the feedtime cover, which was drawn by original drummer Dave’s son, so Tom and Carmel knew exactly the thing.

Where, if anywhere, is the Billy album in all this?

RICK: Billy‘s no place in this.

BRUCE: Billy wasn’t released on Aberrant and features a different line-up. It’s a solid album, we like it, it’s just not part of the Aberrant era.

Why the initial breakup, the reformation, then the next breakup?

BRUCE: It’s a complex [thing]. The ‘89 breakup they always say was because Rick and Al needed to put down the mindset that enabled them to create feedtime music. As feedtime was as much, if not more, about feel than a hostile view of the world, they’re able to do feedtime in 2012 but it still requires going to dark places, mentally—especially for Rick. Hence this will be a very short-term reunion.

***

Ed. Note: Well, that was 2012, this is now. Things change. We’ve got Gas, literally, and as the saying goes, this is feedtime’s world; we just live in it. All respect to Rick, Al, and Tom, along with the mighty Bruce Griffiths of Aberrant fame, and the Sub Pop, S.S., and In The Red labels for carrying the torch forward. Order Gas from In The Red or seek it out at your local independent record store so you can score that sweet green vinyl LP, pictured below.

Feedtime colored wax

SIREN’S SONG: Steve Hackett

Photo by Tina Korhonen © 2016, all rights reserved.

Photo by Tina Korhonen © 2016, all rights reserved.

In which we resume our conversation with the British guitar maestro. Go here to read our 2016 interview. New album The Night Siren arrives March 24. Tour dates for 2017 are here.

BY BILL KOPP

During his time with Genesis, guitarist Steve Hackett released one solo album, 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte. That album featured two of his then-current band mates – bassist Mike Rutherford and drummer Phil Collins – helping out, and only one track featured Hackett’s vocals. So after the unassuming Hackett left Genesis in 1977, it may have come as a bit of a surprise to that group’s fans that he would embark on a successful and prolific solo career. His latest album, The Night Siren (set for release March 24) is Hackett’s 25th solo album. (In contrast, Genesis released only 15 albums of new studio material in its nearly 30 years as a functioning group.)

And while he was always a superb instrumentalist – one listen to his sublime guitar solo on “Firth of Fifth” from Genesis’ 1973 LP Selling England By the Pound is all the proof one could need – Hackett has grown immeasurably in the past few decades as a musician, a composer, and a vocalist. And at age 67, Steve Hackett may have just made the finest record of his career in The Night Siren.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Hackett twice before: in 2010, shortly after the release of Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth, and again in 2016 on the eve of a North American tour. In that first interview, we discussed the backstory of Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth: the painful dissolution of Hackett’s second marriage, and the development of a new relationship – one that is both personal and creative – in its wake. In our second conversation we focused on two topics: the documentary film Genesis: Sum of the Parts and Hackett’s ongoing “Genesis Revisited” live and studio projects.

For our third conversation, the main topic would be The Night Siren and his development as an artist. The following is an edited transcript of our interview, which took place in mid-January 2017.

BLURT: The underlying theme of The Night Siren is a call for unity in divisive times. Can you tell me a bit about what led you toward that theme?

Well, I think more and more it seems that the world seems to be heading towards right-wing politics. The refugee crisis seems to have gotten to the point whereby the rest of the world seems to be adopting a kind of fortress mentality, instead of assimilating the people and trying to fix the problem that we’ve created in the first place. It just so happens I have friends from all over the world, and I have two working on this album – one from Israel, one from Palestine – and I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible for people to do what musicians have done naturally for years and years and years. We naturally cross borders; this is what we do. Music is a great big melting pot and I think that – at the very least – music is an ambassador for peace. And we’re showing people that there is a common language, and it’s the language of the heart.

You often record at home using your home studio; other musicians will often send their tracks digitally. Was that the method that you used on this album as well?

Yes, but it’s part of it. Some of it was done on location in different studios with different people, but I did quite a lot of it at home but then I did get a lot of facilities as well to record other people. For instance, Malik Mansurov from Azerbaijan was recording in Budapest. Some stuff was recorded in Miami; Nick D’Virgilio was recording there. Many people sent in their stuff, but sometimes I went to them. So, yes … it’s a bit like making a movie on location. But sometimes you don’t even have to visit that location, of course. The “second camera unit” is out there. We file share, but we also have conversations face-to-face.

Time was, musicians would all show up in a studio together and work on an album; do you think those days are pretty well gone for good now?

No, I don’t think so. I think bands still function like that, but technology affords you the facility of being able to work face-to-face yet remotely. It means that people get their parts right, and then they send you something that they’re happy with instead of people interfering with each other’s performances before the other guy really knows the song. So you have a chance to perfect it, to send someone something that’s in time and in tune with the song.NightSirenAlbumCover

I’m a big fan of Nick D’Virgilio’s work back when he was with Spock’s Beard. How did you come to know of his work and bring him into the project?

I first heard about him via Genesis [D’Virgilio was a member of Genesis in the group’s post-Phil Collins era; he played on the final Genesis album Calling All Stations – ed.], but funnily enough I first saw him playing with Cirque Du Soleil in London. I was very impressed with him. And I went to meet him, I think, halfway through that show. He’s just sent us an extraordinarily impressive drum check for one of the songs, “Martian Sea.” He’s a great player.

One of the things I’ve found sort of curiously interesting about him is that his career trajectory is a little bit like Phil Collins: he was the drummer in a band, then the singer left and he ended up being the lead singer … and then he left.

Yes. Well sometimes it works like that. I think we were lucky with Genesis to have two fine singers. I wasn’t doing vocals at that time … I was a slow starter, but I do quite a bit of that myself these days.

Speaking of which … as much as I like your vocals on your previous albums, there seems to be kind of a leap forward in the vocal texture and everything on this one.

Yes, I think I’m looking at vocals in the same way that I look at guitars, so I interact with it and insist on certain effects on the voice and I don’t leave it to chance. When you sing a vocal it’s like, where do you want it to come from? Do you want [the vocal] to be right in front of you? Do you want it to be at a distance? And at what distance? So I think the more confident that you get, you can get a better product out of it. If you treat it just like an instrument.

It becomes more specific with time. You think, “I’m looking for that character; I’m looking for something where I can sing it low and hard with a lot of reverb on it, and then sing the melody up the octave.” That’s a vocal style that I started off with many years ago, and I didn’t really follow it through. And I realize that I took exactly the same approach on “Behind The Smoke,” and in a way that’s the vocal style that I think really moves me. I love the idea of it starting out as one thing and perhaps acoustically, and then it becomes something else and builds and builds.

There is a sweeping, dramatic feel to a lot of the tracks on The Night Siren, even more than on some of your previous work. And I’d argue that you’re very, very effective at establishing, shall we say, sort of an emotional backdrop, even before the lyrics come in. So I’m curious: as you’re writing and arranging, is it a conscious goal of yours to create music that serves as sort of a sympathetic or complementary basis for the lyrics?

I’ll tell you what: when I think of the people that I’ve been influenced by, I’ve noticed that there’s something in the way that they use the instruments. And I’m thinking of two acts in particular: the Beatles and Jimmy Webb, particularly Webb’s work with Art Garfunkel on the album Watermark. It’s as if everything has been discussed, everything has been thought about and there’s nothing in there by chance. When those arrangements work like that, you’ll find that it’s hugely influential for certain people.

I know that with Genesis, we all did an interview where we’re talking to Melody Maker at the time and saying that our favorite single was “MacArthur Park.” It was four out of five that said that; we had no idea that each of the others had felt the same way! Jimmy Webb was a template for that, also the Beatles [were]. I think there are some things about that and the work with George Martin where – sometimes – the orchestral dress was as important as the tune.

I had the pleasure of seeing you in Atlanta on the tour last year. The way that you split the concert into two parts was very effective; the audience absolutely loved it. Are you going to take a similar approach on this tour?

Yes. The idea of Genesis Revisited as an ongoing brand is something that I feel is hugely emotional for me. To do that – to re-present those songs that we all fought hard for back in the day – it’s great. But at the same time, I don’t want to be pensioned off into that “Oh, yes: this is what he once did, and this is his most famous thing,” being comfortably retired and keeping the museum doors open for glorious exhibits.

That’s a great thing to do, but on the other hand there is vital music. And the responses to the new stuff that I’ve done have been very, very good, both at concerts and also with record sales. So I can’t complain of that, but I think that Genesis always did open the door for me in a sense.

The concert – one set of your solo music and another of Genesis classics – is a bit like seeing two different shows.

You’re absolutely right, and it is like two separate shows, or two separate films in a way. A film for the ear. But that’s how it feels: that music is very visual, and the Genesis stuff is held in such high esteem by an otherwise disenfranchised following of early Genesis, which included Peter Gabriel as well as Phil Collins as singers. I think it was a very interesting line-up from 1971, when we had both Phil and Pete in the same band at the same time, and of course Pete was the original vocalist.

You stay quite busy; you’ve been releasing an album a year since 2011 or so.

I’ve tried to keep that up, yes. And we’re doing a lot of touring. More and more territories are opening up to us – me and my band – and we’re going to new places we haven’t been before, such as New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. South America as well. So it’s a very, very interesting time. We’re doing the East Coast tour first of all, and then we come back and we do the U.K., we do Europe. We just keep motoring throughout the year.

Is there any chance that you’ll do an additional North American leg after the run of dates that conclude in May?

That may happen later this year. I’m hoping that we’ll come back and, having concentrated more on the East Coast, we may be able to concentrate on the more inner Mid-West and West Coast. But that’s all in an ideal world. Deals have to be done, brokered and all of that, and it’s whatever [management and booking] come up with.

You’re taking part in the Cruise to the Edge again this year. How many of those have you done now?

I’ve done two of them and so this will be the third. I didn’t do the last one but looking forward to that but I’ll be sad to be doing that without the late great Chris Squire, of course.

What do you like best about the floating festivals?

That’s very interesting. It’s a very good way of putting it, “floating festival.” Well, quite apart from people cracking jokes … the first time we ever did it saying, “Well, we’re all in the same boat, ha, ha, ha.” But it’s more than that; these things are huge. They are like floating palaces or floating towns, and everyone goes off. And it’s a microcosm, isn’t it? For a while, and it’s a life on the ocean waves. You either like being on boats or you don’t, and it so happens I do. You get to visit places, you get to meet people, you hang out with the whole crowd, and people loosen up. Bands start to join each other and sit in with each other, and it’s a little bit of jamming that goes on. And that’s very nice.

Photo credit: Tina Korhonen

 

BACK TO THE WELL: Old 97s

PressPhoto

For their latest album, the long-running band decided that recording in a familiar-yet-fresh surrounding was more than just a game plan—it could unlock musical magic anew. Frontman Rhett Miller explains.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been 20 years since the Old 97’s recorded their breakthrough record, Too Far To Care. Their third album and first for a major label, that 1997 record spawned “Time Bomb,” “Barrier Reef” and a slew of other songs that have gone on to become set staples for the band.

It was recorded at the unassuming Village Productions studio in a little Texas border town not that far from El Paso, tucked amongst 2,000 acres of pecan trees. Not exactly the glam you’d expect from a band newly-flush with record label money.

In the two decades since, the band has toured the globe countless times, put out seven more releases and managed to help pioneer the alt country movement in the process. So, it seems an odd move that the Old 97’s would choose to return to that small studio to record their latest, Graveyard Whistling (ATO Records), rather than opt for some state-of-the-art alternative elsewhere.

One track into the new record, though, and you can see the logic behind the plan as the band emerged with one of their most consistently-satisfying records since, possibly, Too Far To Care.

Frontman Rhett Miller spoke with BLURT recently about the choice to return to Tornillo, Texas to record, what had changed and the note he found in the nightstand there.

BLURT: What made you decide to go back to Tornillo, Texas to record this record?
MILLER: In the two decades since we recorded Too Far To Care at Village Productions outside El Paso, the studio changed its name to Sonic Ranch, tripled in size, and became a bona fide world-class studio. We’ve wanted to return there for years, but it took a nudge from Vance Powell, Graveyard Whistling’s producer, to bring us back into those dusty pecan farms along the Mexican border.

As soon as we pulled up to the Hacienda we knew it was the perfect time for us to return to this magical place that had haunted our dreams for two decades.

Obviously, a lot has changed with the band since you were last there. How much had the studio changed during the time?
Despite the studio having grown in size and stature, many things remained the same. The room where we cut Too Far all those years ago was virtually unchanged, as were the hacienda bedrooms. We each stayed in the room we’d occupied during the Too Far sessions. I can’t understate how the surreal the sensation was of having blinked and seen two decades disappear.

Can you talk about the note you found in the nightstand?
My craziest time-machine moment was when I opened the bedside table drawer and found two handwritten notes I’d left there twenty years earlier. Suffice to say I had to sit down and collect myself.

You mentioned that you recorded Too Far To Care there. By going back to that studio, did you guys want to capture a similar vibe to what was on that album?
Too Far, our third album as a band and first for a major label, has always been something of a touchstone record for us. Fans and band alike point to those songs and performances as the distillation of what is good about the 97’s.

So, the idea of returning to that room and seeing if there was any residual magic appealed to us. Turns out the place was full of magic.

I can’t help but notice the back-to-back songs “Jesus Loves You” and “Good With God.” As a native Texan, I know it’s hard to escape religion there. Can you talk about the meaning behind these two songs?
I grew up in Texas going to church constantly – singing in choirs, serving as an altar boy and acolyte, sometimes just nodding off in the pew. I loved the music. The rest of it got a little complicated. As the songs on this record revealed themselves, I sensed a theme of culpability, of sins coming home to roost.

“Jesus Loves You” is a bawdy sentiment, but definitely wrestles with questions of the spiritual versus the prurient. “Good With God” is more about hubris in the face of karma, which seems like a dangerous proposition to me.

This record is a follow up to Most Messed Up which was your highest charting record. Did it add any more pressure when you started working on the follow up?
Yes. It was a strange sensation for me to have our eleventh album come with such heightened expectations. It definitely made me conscious of making it a different album, a progression rather than more of the same.

You’ve got the new record coming up and a tour. What’s next for you?
I’m working on writing songs, poems, long-form fiction and instructional prose on the craft of songwriting. Like a shark, I must swim or die.

OLD_97S_round4_colors.indd

The band will be hosting the “County Fair 2017” in Dallas next month:

DATE: Saturday April 8th

Location: Main St Garden Park in Downtown Dallas

Lineup:

Old 97s
Lucinda Williams
Mavis Staples
The Jayhawks
Jonathan Tyler
Lydia Loveless
The Vandoliers
Texas Gentlemen
The Gordon Keith Band

Amenities:

45 foot Ferris Wheel
Midway Games
Food Trucks
Kids 10 Under Free
Dog Friendly

 

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND… California Oranges’ “John Hughes” (2000)

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Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). After that we dipped way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly. Now Prof. Hinely dials the wayback machine to 2000, as John Conley talks about his band the California Oranges and their pop gem “John Hughes.”

BY TIM HINELY

You’d think that being two hours east of San Francisco that Sacramento would be a veritable wasteland of musical talent. Ah…but you’d be wrong. Oddly enough for the capitol city of the Golden State (with a population of under 500,000) this hamlet has produced some of the best indie rock music out there. From Tiger Trap to Rocketship to Baby Grand to Arts & Leisure to too many others (you’ll see ‘em below). Well, a big part of that fabric is the music of the crew of John Conley and his sister Katie, the Levine Brothers (Ross and his brother Matt) and Verna Brock (who was also in Rocketship for a time as well as doing her solo project under the name of Beanpole). They’ve been spread out amongst bands like Holiday Flyer, Desario and Soft Science, but there was one band that all of them had passed through at one point: California Oranges.

For their self-titled debut from 2000 (On Darla Records) the band was a trio of John, Verna and Ross. For later albums both Katie and Matt came aboard to make the band a 5-piece, but this particular song, “John Hughes” was from the previously mentioned debut.

For those of us used to the (mostly) very soft sounds of Holiday Flyer, “John Hughes” came popping out of the speakers like an M-80 stuffed inside a high school locker. A joyous blast of unbridled melody. The song is all about a guy trying to get the courage to ask a girl out, which, as we males know, in those high school years were the mostly nerve-racking, anxiety-inducing experience (personally I had to know 100% that the girl liked me before I would even ask her out and even then I’d be ready to have a heart attack while other guys in school, those with no fear at all of rejection, would walk up to any girl an ask them out, usually getting shot down and laugh about it).

“John Hughes” is one of my favorite songs by the California Oranges and I was curious about its origins. I shot some questions over to John Conley and he was more than happy to give me some answers.

BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song?

CONLEY: Well, I guess John Hughes and his films. As I teenager I could really identify with the characters. I must have been re-watching at the time. I was also really into Kevin Smith (he is referenced is the song) and his films reminded of the Hughes.

Did it take long to finish writing it?

If I remember correctly, it came together pretty quick.

I think it was one of the last songs I wrote for the first album.

I had the main guitar riff and the melody and first verse.

I remember showing the song to Verna and Ross, and they both really liked it.

I think we knew at that point it would start the album.

Any idea how your long time fans feel about it (i.e.: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)

I’m pretty sure it was one of our most popular songs. I was going to be featured in a documentary about John Hughes. Ross Levine and I were interview for the movie and the band rerecorded the song to be included on the soundtrack. We were told we made it through the 3rd or 4th cut of the film. During the editing process of the movie John Hughes passed away and the music portion of the movie was shortened.

Here are some links about the film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0fPLN459_I

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don’t_You_Forget_About_Me_(film)

john conley

Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later?

It stayed in the live set up through the 3rd album.

Is there anything about the song you’d change?

No, I think it’s a good snapshot of where I was as a songwriter at the time.

I wanted to do something very different from Holiday Flyer. I feel we mostly succeed. When the band started playing live, one comparisons we got was Belle and Sebastian meets Ramones.

I always liked that.

Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?

I think the recording came out cool. We wrote and recorded that album very quickly. Verna (Brock) and I each had 5 song ideas. We rehearsed with Ross (Levine) 3 or 4 times and recorded and mixed the record in the evenings or a week. JH is my favorite song on that album. I do have some problems with the production on that album as a whole, but “John Hughes” came out great. We also recorded a cover of Vanilla Blue by Naked  Raygun during that session that is one of my favorite recordings California Orange did.

 How do you feel about it now?
I still really like this song. It’s so different from what I’m doing now in Desario, but I’m proud of this period in my music career.

 

A NEW SOUND FOR KIDS THAT’S COOL: StevenSteven

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Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips) and Steve Burns (“Blues Clues”) join forces and make music everyone can enjoy.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Children’s music is often shunned by those who look for sounds of a more “serious” variety. For those who are don’t have kids of their own, or whose kids have matured beyond the early adolescent state, it means music of a specialized nature, great for weaning infants but hardly the kind of thing to share as an everyday pastime.

These days though, that may be an outmoded notion. More and more artists who once provided  the soundtracks for emerging maturity and the everyday challenges of love, life and the consequences of being a grown up in an oppressive world, have now turned their attention to making music for the younger set, achieving respectable results in the process.

Even so, Steven Drozd, best known as Flaming Lips’s multi-instrumentalist — a band that’s built a reputation on being avant-garde experimenters of the decidedly eccentric variety — and Steve Burns, the host of the children’s program “Blues Clues,” have joined forces under the all-too-appropriate handle StevenSteven. Their recently released debut album, Foreverywhere, does the improbable, offering up songs about princesses and unicorns that the kids can enjoy with adroit and intriguing melodies that adults will find immediately accessible as well. This isn’t your parent’s children’s music, or anything like the sounds us adults might have been nurtured on early on. It is instead, remarkably enticing, a set of songs that ought to appeal to Flaming Lips fans, and anyone else that prefers music with a decidedly progressive posture.

BLURT recently spoke with the two Stevens – depending on how one interpret text fonts, the duo could arguably be called Steve N Steven, which in fact is how one of their videos is listed –  and asked them to share the backstory of how their collaboration came about.

BLURT: For starters, how did you guys hit it off so quickly?

DROZD: I think it’s a testament to what a stellar human being Burns is. We met in late 2001 at Tarbox Road Studios in Fredonia, New York, The session was set up by Dave Fridmann, long-time Flaming Lips producer, and I only had a few of Burns’ demos to go on. I didn’t really know of “Blues Clues” (this was before I had kids), and I just had no idea what the vibe would be. Burns disarmed me within fifteen minutes and we were instantly laughing and talking about absurd, stupid, silly things. I knew immediately that we were going to work great together.

BURNS: We share a similar sense of humor — dark, but goofy, Steven is a remarkably unpretentious guy. He’s a very open book. We also shared a surprising amount of musical favorites, and that’s always a trusty barometer of potential friendship. Plus you have to remember that the (Flaming Lips album) The Soft Bulletin was — and still is — my favorite album of all time, so he probably could have poured a glass of chocolate milk over my head and smacked me in the face with a trout and I would have been completely accepting of it.

BLURT: Had either of you tried making kids music individually before this?

DROZD: I had made a couple of silly songs for kinds of my friends, but nothing too substantial.

BURNS: I hadn’t, but recording the songs of “Blue’s Clues” episodes was always my favorite part of the day. I love the process of making and recording music…more than performing it really. I just find it so fascinating.

BLURT: Was this project intimidating at all, knowing you had a very specific young audience you were trying to reach?

DROZD: By the time we decided to make the record, we had received such positive feedback for  our song “I Hog The Ground” that it felt like we were meant to make this music! It was mostly fun — Burns had the kid friendly educational content to consider. But I just got to make music that I was very comfortable making

BURNS: I think children are a very difficult and demanding audience if you’re serious at all about being sincere with them. I’ve always sort of made it my mission not to talk down to kids with the entertainment I provide them, and that’s much easier said than done.

BLURT: What is it about Foreverywhere that finds such appeal with both kids and adults? Is that a difficult divide?

DROZD: I guess it can be difficult, but there really is a long history of music that is loved by both kids and adults that isn’t just kid music. The Beatles, Vince Guaraldi, “Sesame Street,” etc. – I guess we were trying to connect the things we loved as kids to what we could listen to now and also have our kids love. I think it has worked in that way as I hear from a lot of people that specific things on the album remind them of their own childhood.

BURNS: I don’t think there has to be such a division between what makes great music for children and what makes great music for adults. Drozd mentioned Vince Guaraldi, and I think it’s a terrific example of music that is both. There’s plenty of overlapping space to explore.

BLURT: Still, most family friendly music these days seems to be aimed wholly at children. Why do you think that is? Why does it not engage adults as well?

DROZD: There is just so much music in general these days. We are inundated on a very regular basis with so much stuff. It’s like the Onion headline from a few years back — “U.S. children born with 1,000 songs on their iPods!” Haha… it’s true, though. My kids know #so much# music and they’re still very young. So, I think the children-specific idea is to try to make a mark in a sea of new stuff. But, we want the kids and their parents to connect…

BLURT: The kids market has become huge in the last decade…How have you seen it evolve? Was the fact that the market has really embraced it an impetus for the two of you to dive in?

DROZD: We did the song “I Hog The Ground” back in 2006-2007, and it felt like this big wave was happening. I thought the wave would crest, but it seems as though it just flooded and then became a whole new market, which is great timing for us…

BURNS: It does seem like there is an impulse out there to return to children’s entertainment that works on many levels at once. I grew up on the Muppets and Electric Company. I might not have understood all the jokes with actual clarity, but I knew they were inherently “funny,” and all of that informed my sense of humor in a positive way.  I think people are coming back around to multi-level content in general.

BLURT: What is it that each of you brings to this project that was specifically gleaned from what you had done before — specifically “Blue’s Clues” and the Flaming Lips?

DROZD: I just make a lot of music, and I like to make music for different things and with different people and projects. Working with Burns is fun and pretty rewarding. We’re on the same exact plane 95% of the time. I’ve fooled him into thinking I’m a musical genius and he is an actual genius.

BURNS: I feel like the curricular parts of the record are pretty relaxed and from the hip, but Drozd keeps reminding me that I was a total stickler for the details of the content and lyrics. That’s #definitely# a vestige of my time on “Blue’s Clues,” which was so painstakingly researched and considered.

BLURT: How do you think the fans of your previous work will take to this? What’s been the reaction so far?

DROZD: There’s been a lot of great support from so many different people. I think Flaming Lips fans that like certain elements of The Lips hear things that they recognize and respond to.

BURNS: What’s freaking me out, truly, truly blowing my mind, is that fans of my previous work have spawned new fans of my previous work, and that sometimes both present and previous fans of my previous work are fans of our present work at the same time. In the present.

BLURT: What was the overall idea/concept at the heart of this album?

DROZD: Wondering is wonderful. Being excited and having your mind expanded and your heart open at all times is what to strive for.

BURNS: Yup. What he said. That, and never giving up. There is often great beauty in the struggle!

BLURT: How difficult is this to replicate on stage? Is there a lot of storytelling involved? Did you model your touring show after any particular precedent, such as Disney, “Sesame Street,” etc.?

DROZD: We are figuring out the live show literally right now. There is storytelling, puppetry, rock n roll hootchie koo, sadness, epic wonder. All of those things. Hopefully it’s gonna work!

BLURT: So what’s next? Will you continue to work together, and if so, will it be a challenge to balance it against your “day jobs?”

DROZD: We will definitely continue to work together, and, if the upcoming Brooklyn Bowl show goes well, we will definitely find a way to perform together whenever we both have any free time.

BURNS: I want to do a Bing Crosby/David Bowie-esque holiday album that’s part music, part radio theater, full of sound effects and characters from our first album and stuff. That’s my idea, so please don’t steal it if you’re reading this. Thanks.

BIGGER AND BADDER: The Godfathers

godfathers

The UK band may have bum-rushed the charts during the ‘80s and early ‘90s with their powerful brand of R&B-tilting punk, but on the evidence of a new studio album, there’s plenty of fuel remaining in the tank. Following the text, check out some recent live video clips.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Legendary British rockers The Godfathers could easily spend the next couple of decades coasting on Gen X nostalgia, hitting the festival and theater circuit every summer to cycle through an endless greatest hits set from Birth, School, Work, Death and More Songs About Love & Hate. But to quote band founder and front man Peter Coyne “We’re not dusty museum pieces!”

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s The Godfathers churned out one great album after the next, mining a sweet spot between punk rock and classic R&B. They band called it quits for a while, when Coyne tried to walk away from music and simply “just be a human being.” But normal life didn’t take and the band was back to playing music again. godfathers-cd

After a long time away from the recording studio, Coyne has reassembled The Godfathers and recorded their best album since 1991’s Unreal World. The latest, A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a clarion call to the world of rock, an album crammed with big guitars, strong hooks and soaring vocals.

Coyne, who is currently touring across Europe with the band took some time recently to talk about the

BLURT: It’s been years since you last recorded as The Godfathers. What got you to do it again?

PETER COYNE: Well, we did something in 2000 and took and eight-year break. In between that I didn’t want to be in any other groups and was quite happy just being a human being. So, I got a call from Kris Dollimore, who used to be in The Godfathers and was putting together a band, and I said, “I’m not really interested, to be honest.” I then said, “Well, who’s in it?”

“It’s Rat Scabies on drums and me on guitar.” and I said “I’ll do it. Just like that.” We did that for about a year. We were called The Germans, recorded a bunch of demos and did about eight gigs, but we never made proper recordings which I always thought was a damn shame. Then I got The Godfathers back together to promote (the anniversary of) our debut album, Hit By Hit, in 2008 and that’s how it all started again. (Below: “Rewind Time” from the new album.)

In getting the band back together, and recording that great live record (Shot Live at 100 Club) in 2010, did that show you that there was still an appetite out there for more from The Godfathers?

Definitely, because we were playing gigs all around the world and there was still interest in The Godfathers. There was a lot of love out there for the band. That was quite pleasing to discover, so we started it all again. (Below: classic early hit “Birth, School, Work, Death”)

You guys certainly have a slew of songs that go back decades, which fans still relate to. You could just as easily make a comfortable living, and I’d assume easier, touring solely off playing the hits. Why keep writing new music and record again?

I’m not interested, neither is anyone else in this lineup of the band, in reflective glory or trading on what we’ve done in the past as The Godfathers. I think we’ve made some fantastic records with the band: Hit By Hit, Birth School Work Death, More Songs About Love and Hate, Unreal World, that one’s that’s called “the Orange Album,” they’re the sort of classic Godfather recordings as far as I can work out, but we wanted to do something with this new album that’s a completely different sonic adventure. We didn’t want to do More Songs About Love And Hate, Part Two and Hit By Hit: The Sequel; Unreal World: The Follow Up. Not interested; No, thank you. We’ve done things like that before. Our job right here, right now is to make rock and roll for today and make it sound even better, if it’s possible, then we’ve done with the group in the past. We’ve got high benchmarks in this band, lofty standards and we don’t want to drop the load ever. And I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a fantastic album. It’s a collaboration between everyone in the band, it’s not just me. birth-school

This is the first time you’ve recorded with a lot of the folks that are in the band now. Were there any rules or outlines about writing that you had?

Not really. The only rule was that all of these songs must be great, they must have something special about them. Writing came completely naturally. I’d done a lot of work with Steve (Crittall, guitar) and I’d just show up with a lot of lyrics to his studio in Soho, London and I’d explain what I thought was the best way to approach it. He’d turn around, have a think about it and then start working musically about what fit. We’d bat it about between the pair of us and within half-an-hour to 45 minutes we’d always have a great number we could work with. The same with Mauro (Venegas, guitar).

Over the past 10 years or so, a lot of younger bands have cited The Godfathers as a musical influence. Were there any bands that influenced this album when you were writing it?

Not really. I think we were copying The Godfathers, copying our own sound if you know what I mean. Everyone is influenced by someone. I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is influenced a little bit by The Stooges. I think musically “You and Me Against the World,” the finishing track on the album, borrows a little bit from David Bowie. Musically it was inspired by the death of David Bowie and lyrically from the fallout of Brexit and what’s happening at this moment.

It’s very pleasing that bands in the States, and in fact all around the world, are influenced by The Godfathers because we’ve definitely been influenced by the bands that came before us and it’s great to get that feedback from other groups. There’s a couple of American bands, Local H and Spoon have covered Godfather songs on their records and there’s that band Mars Volta that said that whole album (editor’s note: Noctourniquet) that was influenced by The Godfathers. That’s fantastic.

godfathers-live-isle-of-wight

I know you guys have started a tour in Europe. Any chance you’ll be in the U.S. now that the record is out?

I’ll be quite honest with you, we’re seriously looking into it. It is so expensive, you wouldn’t believe it, for British bands coming to America. It’s a lot easier for American bands to come to the UK. It should be no problem to get us to the States, but you’ve got to pay for visas, you’ve got to pay for flights. It’s incredibly expensive. We really want to do it though. We love to play live and with an album like A Big Bad Beautiful Noise you’ve got to hear this live. We’re not dusty museum pieces this is fresh rock and roll music that we want to deliver to people. We want to go back to the Motherland of rock music and deliver this to the yanks.

Top photo credit: Sean Robert Howarth / Live photo: Monty Strikes

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Jazzmenco by La Vienta

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The El Paso jazz guitarists were an unlikely highlight of the Lone Star State’s music scene in the ‘90s, and with the album discussed here, they stormed the Billboard charts and nabbed a Grammy nod. Time to revisit—and to catch up, as well.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics, From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk, Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots, Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil, and Illuminated by the 360’s. Here’s our latest, a remarkable album, released in ’93, by a remarkable Texas-based jazz outfit that is clearly dear to our “Story Behind…” editor Levitt’s heart. Enjoy.—FM

***

La Vienta is a jazz group that formed in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. Founded by Mario Otero and Stefan Schyga in the early 90s the band was one of those rare occurrences in a town filled with either metal heads or Freddy Fender wannabes.  This was one of those cases where the right elements for success seemed to just coalesce out of the ether, like a freak thunderstorm in the desert beauty arrives and quickly dissipates from whence it came. Sometimes the right climactic conditions come together and all hell breaks loose, as it did when a young guitarist from Hildesheim, Germany studying music at UTEP of all places became friends with a local El Paso guitarist who together as La Vienta set the jazz scene on fire with their debut album Jazzmenco released back in 1993 for jazz label Telarc records.

With lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” or you’re smile you knew the band could bring the goods.  Here and on the rest of the album you could tell the band was working from a deep fondness for flamenco music. Their collective talent crossed like bridges over a desert wash blending flamenco guitar with a broader jazz sensibility to take the music to somewhere fascinating and uncharted.

“San Miguel” is more straight ahead flamenco with strains of Cuban piano that fuses well. Here drums, congas and palmas (hand claps) sparkle and give the song even greater heft.

“Spanish Invasion” is healthy mix of Pat Metheny and Carlos Santana. I appreciate the shifting of styles on this piece and the delicate fret work in the calmer moments of the song. It’s also a cool moment on the album that despite the dated sounding keyboards shows one of the many strands of creativity flowing through this duo.

“Paco’s Night Out” bolts out of the gate with its galloping beat, here the playfulness of the guitar playing dips and climbs over the pulsing beat, a great track to play as you drive up Transmountain Drive to catch the sunset.

“Skeleton Samfa” is a jazzy number that offers a great back and forth dialogue between Stefan and Mario. The tune which is stretched over a taught drum beat cut with some Jimmy Smith organ virtuosic embellishments will have you tapping your toes, and luxuriating in the positivity.

“Moroccan Face Dance” would have gotten the band in trouble had it been released in Trump’s America with its Mexican and Arabic influences or at least it would have had to been left off the album due to visa issues. Joking aside, this track is worth the price of admission alone, with its deft playing that’s infused with intrigue and romance, sailing in on tendrils of myrrh incense. The song then shifts gears with vocals and palmas and an electric guitar that just rips before ushering the flamenco guitar back into the mix. Stefan says, “[It’s] a song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.”

jazzmenco

Despite being a shade too early for internet promotion, Jazzmenco managed to climb to #17 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart and garner a Grammy nod for production. As with many big label debuts this record shows the abundance of talent the group would draw upon for subsequent releases. That said, there’s something vital and electric about this first album that later albums seemed to dampen down a bit, which is why over the last twenty years this record has remained on constant rotation in my life, providing me with a much-needed dip back into the beauty of the southwest, with its sun-bleached edifices and alluring smell of creosote permeating the air after a summer downpour.

I was able to connect with Stefan and Mario to answer a few questions about how Jazzmenco came about. These days besides teaching music, Stefan is busy recording his next solo record that will be out sometime in 2017. Meanwhile Mario is also still involved with making music and running a music school. Both of them still call El Paso home and while they aren’t currently playing together as a duo, the bond of friendship remains deep between the two.

Online: http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/La-Vienta/

https://www.stefan.us/bio

http://mariootero.com

Blurt: How did you guys start playing together?

Stefan Schyga: We met at the UTEP and heard each other play and thought it was cool to play together.  In those days’ lots of people just hung out in the hallways and jammed, it was a really cool situation.

 

Who came up with the name? What does it mean?

It is from a poem by Doug Adams.  He talks about a girl “and she moves like the wind and he called her La Vienta”.  We just always thought that the name was cool and different, and kind of described our south west style of music.

 

A German-American is not the first person you think of when it comes to Flamenco, how did you develop a taste for this sort of music?

When I was 16 I found a couple of Flamenco albums and fell in love with the music, even though my teacher later said they were horrible. I won’t mention any names but he was very popular in the US during the 60ies. My teacher then let me listen to some great players such as Ramon Montoya, Mario Escudero, Sabicas and many more. I was just amazed by what these players were able to do on the Guitar.  I also loved Classical Guitar but these Flamenco players were using all these cool and formerly unheard (by me) techniques.

 

How long after forming La Vienta, did you start to get interest from labels?

Mario had some good friends Keith and Muriel that were kind enough to finance the first album.  It sold like crazy locally, even outselling Michael Jackson during the Christmas Season. We decided to just send it out to some labels and had 2 labels jump on it.

This was pretty crazy, as one label guy told me: “This stuff never happens”. The labels were Higher Octave and Telarc. We decided to [sign] with Telarc. (Below: Stefan’s advance check in 1993 from the label.)

stefan-advance-check

Where did you guys record the album?

We recorded it here in El Paso at El Adobe a really nice 24 track analog studio, but Telarc brought in their Digital recorders.

I think they were Yamaha Digital 8Track recorders that you could chain together, kind of like the first ADATs

I know we did not have quite enough tracks since most of the recordings they used to do were live sets such as Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson.

This presented a big problem during the mix since the Engineer had to bounce some of the audio, such as congas and other percussion onto one track and we could not change those levels later.

Of the 14 tracks on the record, what was the oldest song that had been kicking around? What songs went through the greatest evolution in the studio?

I think the oldest song was “Paco’s Night Out”, a great song that Mario composed.  We added the drums and stuff so it sounded a lot bigger than we were used to with just the 2 guitars.

Also in “Moroccan Face Dance”, we added the Jaleos and Palmas performed by a Flamenco Singer who happened to live in El Paso. Mario also added some cool electric guitar so this song became a lot bigger sounding.

 

Before you guys entered the studio were the songs 100% ready to go or was there some major tweaking to be done?

We really had rehearsed them well, but there were still slight changes.  Before the session we had opened for Flora Purim and Airto Moreira and we played pretty much all of the songs with the full band.

 

What was the input of your producer Michael Bishop and what songs went through the greatest changes in studio?

Well, Michael was really not our producer but the Engineer.

The biggest issue that we had was that we were using new digital technology and had very limited tracks. So, some instruments were bounced to a track to save tracks and we could not go back and change individual instruments in the mix.  That was a real problem.  Telarc was used to more “live” recording than studio multi tracking.

 

How many of the compositions were penned by you and how many by Mario?

From the beginning, we decided to always do a 50/50 split. (Below: La Vienta with fan Billy Gibbons)

la-vienta-billy-gibbons

 

How many songs were recorded in total and who made the decision on which songs to cut?

We recorded 14 and fought for all of them, and Telarc worked with us.  There were issues such as string noise, but they did agree to keep all the tracks. I think this really helped the album to be a cohesive listening experience.

 

Of the tracks on the record who came up with the running order? Was lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” (Your Smile) worked to jazz radio?

Telarc had radio promoters and other people listen to it and they came up with the order.  We really did not know how any of this worked.  When we listened to the final order though we were happy with it.

 

How did the song Moroccan Face Dance come about?

I just wanted to write a song that combined Rock and Arabic/Flamenco elements with full drums. Can you say “Spinal Tap”? A song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.  I really enjoyed recording that song and Mario really whaled on that electric guitar!

 

When the record came out how was it received?

It did extremely well, much better than expected.  The album got lots of radio play with stations like KKSF in San Francisco having up to 6 songs on heavy rotation.  We got quite a few concerts out of it and did radio interviews etc.  Telarc promoted it with Sound Warehouse (a record store chain) and it jumped on the Billboard Charts!

 

When is the last time you listened to Jazzmenco and if you could change one thing about it what would it be?

I’ve been listening to the album for this interview. I don’t really listen to it.  Maybe once every 5 years!  I think we’d like to re-record it, but most artists feel like that.  It is a moment in time and that’s it. Some songs sound great and some songs well, Mario and I might have heard them differently. Sometimes we feel that our first self-produced album captures the feel better than the first Telarc recording, but then again the guitars sounded much better on the Telarc recording.

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What formats was the album released on?

Cassette and CD.  I still have a cassette, what a weird thought.

 

Where did you first hear the final mix?

I think Mario and I got together and listened to it.  It was weird, because the mixes were done sending tapes back and forth to Telarc.  We were not present for the mix, which in the end was probably not a good idea.  We still liked it though, and I remember driving into LA and hearing it on the Wave ([radio] station), [that was the] coolest feeling ever!

 

What was the feeling when you opened the cd for the first time?

Wow, just pure excitement! All the work has paid off. Let’s see what happens.

 

Stefan, do you disown that haircut that graces the front cover?

The hair got even worse for the second and third albums!

 

Will there ever be a reissue?

Mario and I are currently researching what it would take for us to re-release the very first album. I think people might really like it.  We just have to be aware of publishing contracts etc.

 

When and where do you remember hearing that Jazzmenco was nominated for a Grammy?

We were actually just told after the fact, like yeah you guys were nominated.

 

Did you guys attend the ceremony?

Nope

 

After the nomination, what sort of venues did you play at and what artists did you perform with? Any Jazz fests?

Nothing much changed but we played gigs with people like Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Tommy Emmanuel, The Rippingtons the Ike Turner review etc. We did play some wine fests also in northern California. (Below: performing at a jazz festival)

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How did the album sell?

I believe it was like 100,000 copies

 

In terms of sales do you remember your first royalty check you received from Telarc?

Yes, the very first one was actually an advance.  Still have a copy of it! As far as royalties I don’t think we ever recouped, at least to the statements we have seen.  We still have to receive a statement from Concord Jazz, but that has been our fault for not checking up on it.

 

Seeing as you’re of German extraction (Stefan) did you manage to pick up some coverage in Germany at the time?

We did actually pretty well in Europe.  I remember my former guitar teacher seeing the album in Amsterdam and not buying a copy!!!!  Got lots of radio play.

 

Did any of this make an impact in El Paso?

I think so, lots of people remember us, and I hope we helped to start some other groups.  We have a very vibrant music scene in our Border Town(s), this includes Juarez. Mexico.

 

Did the A&R people or other label staff get involved at all with pushing some creative ideas towards the band?

They let us record what we wanted, but then they started to push some of the tracks they thought were [going to] be more successful in radio play.  They also listened to radio promoters to check on the order of the songs.  All that input was really helpful for the project.

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What was Telarc’s input on the promotion of this record? Did you have any issues with the publicity for the record?

Well Telarc had all the greats like Joe Pass, Al DiMeola and really did not have to promote them so much since [they’d] sell anyhow?

We kind of felt that Higher Octave might have done a better job breaking a new artist, but hey what do we know?

 

How soon after the record came out did discussions begin floating around for the next one?

Right away, since it sold so much (for a new artist), but now with a “real producer” etc.  That is a whole different story though.  I think our favorite album will always be Forgotten Romance.

 

Will La Vienta ever surface again for a new album?

Hey you never know!

 

Stefan, when will your solo record come out?

It will be released this summer (2017)

***

Below: Some of the group’s press clippings and billings.

 

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RE-ANIMATED IN THE FUTURE NOW: Milemarker

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The post-hardcore group, with roots in both the Chapel Hill and Chicago indie scenes, formed in 1997 and powered through eight glorious years before going on hiatus. They briefly re-emerged in 2008, then disappeared again—until now. And we’ve got the scoop on their new album, Overseas, and a whole lot more. The band is currently on tour in the west and then to the midwest this week.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY DAVID ENSMINGER

As the millennium unfolded, bands like These Arms Are Snakes and Milemarker felt like redeemers that cracked the egg-dome of punk norms. Emo had taken shelter in pop modes, math rock unleashed charmless vanities, street punk often felt sulking and rodent, but Milemarker felt like an expedition transmitting new frequencies. Their searing coterie of tunes, like “Signal Froze” (with its warped vocals, undulating electro vibes, and crackling rock’n’roll urgency) and dramatic “Shrink To Fit” (imagine Gary Numan meets Atari Teenage Riot), signify their crack post-modernism.

Instead of mustering play-by-numbers angst, thin protest, and soon faded disaffection, the stuff of teenage war cries, the music of Milemarker seems fermented in a nuanced analysis of the sensory-overladen landscape of late-capitalism and the information economy. Plus, they always feel shaped by prescient literary sources: William Burroughs, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard, and more. Hence, nothing in their music, lyrics, or composition is overtly stripped-down or bareboned; they offer no simple recitation of revolt. Instead, they approach tunes in a cyber-fiction way, creating scenarios, news dispatches, and memos from the digital edge, producing music that morphs and transcends.

Roby Newton’s (who also masterminded their light show) moody chromium voice fills tunes like the hypnotic “Food For Worms” as she excavates all the damage done to women in the world of dead, damaged, suicidal heroines and forced silence, when the best minds of a generation starve for their place in intellectual and cultural spaces: “The girl’s heroes have taken their own lives. We’re left with sewn lips and model lines. The place for us: we are seen and not heard.” She urges people not to take shelter in desultory destruction; instead, turn off the ovens, throw out the stones, shut off the gas, she infers, and don’t enact the tragedies all over again, like a vicious interlocked replication of breakdowns. It’s a call to liberate from the dire ends of Sylvia Plath and others, to crush the monocles of madness, and to fight omnipresent confinement, barriers, and censure.

Meanwhile, her tireless tidal waves of dark, distressing keyboard shape the erratic pull and push of “New Lexicon,” a prescient tune examining the idiom of conformity – the recited phrases learned by rote, never questioned or doubted, like pre-programmed, mass-recited Orwellian thought squelching all dissent and difference. Due to so many memes, jargon, and scripts emanating from the political spectrum, the song looks hard at how language can become no more than a glass paperweight dampening the flicker of free thought.

Yet, despite heady preoccupations, Milemarker can still unleash pummeling power and slanted rhythms, like “Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery” and the holographic punk of “Tundra,” which doesn’t feel a million miles from Kanye West (as does their urban dance-throttled “Idle Hands”) as it gnaws on incandescent keyboard riffs, the drums explode in sudden urges (from jazz-bridged syncopated asides to sheer fist-stomping smackdowns), and the slow, degraded guitar forms a distorted plumage. Newton and crew weigh in on the impending ice age – using the song as stretching harsh light to illuminate the impending eco-cataclysm bound to upset economies, military agendas, populace routines, etc.

Having taken a break since 2005, they have re-emerged, like nomads populated with new band members and up-to-the-minute visions. Overseas (released on the Lovitt label), with Monika Bukowska providing the unflinching internal roil and rhythm on the heaving beats on songs like “Conditional Love” (an electro-punk motif frosted with singalong punk propellants), is dancefloor odored and ordered, an electrifying emblem of punk hybridity.

Al Burian kindly offered to answer questions “haphazardly.” [Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared at the most excellent ‘zine Dagger, which not so coincidentally is helmed by our very own Tim “Dagger” Hinely. Many thanks to him and Mr. Ensminger for allowing us to share it with the BLURT readership.]

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DAVID ENSMINGER: No doubt, members of long-lived bands come and go, line-ups change, etc., but now only half of the band remains at the core. Have you essentially re-imagined Milemarker, not just resurrected it … perhaps taken off the guardrails?

AL BURIAN: Milemarker always had a pretty shifty line-up; every record has had some variation in the musicians playing on it. And from the beginning, we always had an agenda of pushing boundaries, at least our own personal boundaries, of getting the people in the band to go places where they are uncomfortable. Dave and I wanted to do some new stuff with the band in 2015, so we found the other two people, Lena and Ezra, and immediately wrote a record with them. The band history gave us some sort of aesthetic range or parameter for writing– I guess in that sense the band as an abstract entity is the guardrails.

Your tune “New Lexicon” (which musically always reminded me a bit of …Trail of the Dead) is so apropos to this volatile era, this immediate strife. Was the song intended as a play on Orwell’s notion of language being an epicenter of control: “We don’t need big brother to enforce the new lexicon … we wrote it for ourselves.” Is the general public, and not just Trump, responsible for the emergence of alternative facts? 

.A lot of the dystopian science fiction elements in the bands’ past lyrics are becoming descriptive of current reality, which is not a very good development. It seems to me that this current administration is fundamentally different from anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.­ Though to be honest, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve been sitting in my apartment in Berlin, viewing the U.S.A. through the mediated lens of the internet. Of course, we are all responsible in some way for what is happening. With the band, and especially with touring in the U.S. now, I assume everyone in the audience is going to be aware of what’s going on; they don’t need a political analysis from us. Our agenda is to make music. That’s not meant apolitically: if I’m going to be optimistic, I’ll say hopefully that music can serve as a unifying force, maybe even communicate something fundamental and transcendent.

 

Another changing format that has become the de facto norm is “reality TV” (actually, scripted to the core), which the band presciently recognized on “Make Love to the Camera Obscura.” The line “what’s the point of doing anything if it’s not on camera” is eerie. People have shifted from mere consumers to endless makers of content. Does that appeal to you, in the “become the media” sense punks like Jello Biafra once espoused, but also trouble you?

That line is actually taken from Warren Beatty, spoken derisively to Madonna in the documentary, Truth Or Dare. But yeah, if “new lexicon” is Orwellian 1984, dystopia “make love to the camera obscura” is Huxleyan Brave New Worlddystopia. I think Huxley was closer on the mark in terms of predicting our present situation, although really maybe it’s kind of a gross melange of the two, with an authoritarian Big Brother presiding over a sheep-like hedonistic pleasure-centered society. The worst of both worlds! I think the song still holds up overall, social criticism-wise, although the line “you’re on camera an average of ten times a day” is out-dated: that was the average number of surveillance cameras you’d encounter per day in 1999. The number of cameras that capture you on a daily basis now is undoubtedly exponentially higher.

By the time you cut tracks like “River of Blood” for the last album– over eight minutes in length – had you become restless with post-hardcore routines? The lyrics seem pointedly political – the destructive machinations of government and war, but the song (called “math-core” by Pitchfork), seems restless as hell…searching.

“Rivers of Blood” was a pretty old song when we recorded Ominosity. It was written fairly soon after the songs onAnaesthetic. We were into longer songs at that point. As far as the lyrics, why do you say “but”? You can’t be pointedly political and restless as hell at the same time?

 

People tend to romanticize the independent networks of labels, indie publicists, and fanzine editors that formed the backbone of punk from the 1970s-2000s, etc., but the longer I chronicle the movement, the less transparent, and even less honest, it all seems. How would you describe dealing with the punk “infrastructure” (for lack of a better term)? Did we create an alternative commerce and ethos, or did we fail?

Punk led me to pretty much everything I know about as far as “alternative” or anti-mainstream ideas. It’s a conduit for all kinds of information and can lead you to all kinds of interesting places. But it’s only one way to get to these points, and it can lead you to some pretty dumb and nihilistic places too. The question of failing depends on what the goals are. We’re all only humans, and we exist in the framework of the current economic system; to feel like a new world didn’t spring out of your efforts is a beautifully idealistic standard to hold yourself up to, but maybe a little unfair to yourself. We’re all doing the best we can, for the most part. One thing I always liked about punk is that it embraces deviance generally. So there are a lot of freaks, a lot of scam artists and schizophrenics, a lot of bad thoughts, bad ideas, experiments gone awry. There are a lot of lonely people just trying to get attention. That’s all part of it, and part of what makes it great. “Succeeding” might be the wrong paradigm for thinking about it.

On the web:

www.milemarkerwebpresence.com

www.lovitt.com

THE PHILLY KID: Dave Hause

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Despite living in California now, the punk/Americana artist is still very much a child of the City of Brotherly Love—and he’s got a terrific new album to prove it.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Born and raised in the city, it’s where he started his hardcore band, Paint It Black, and eventually his punk band, The Loved Ones. Hell, his first concert was The Hooters, and despite the rest of the world’s insistence that the City of Brotherly Love is all cheesesteaks and Rocky statues, you don’t get much more authentically Philly than a Hooters concert.

So, the fact that Hause – who as a solo artist now plays a perfect blend of punk and Americana – asked Hooters singer/guitarist Eric Bazilian to co-produce his latest shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. The album title? Bury Me in Philadelphia. (Natch.)

Released last week, on Feb. 3 via Rise Records, the album is quite possibly his best to date. Not an easy feat as both Devour and Resolutions, his other solo efforts, were praised by critics and fans alike. Hause, gearing up for a tour that will likely have him on the road for most of this year, spoke recently about the influence Philadelphia has had on him, the chances of another Loved Ones record and writing music after getting sober.

BLURT: I wanted to start out talking about how and why you got Eric Bazilian involved. I think he’s wildly underrated and was stoked to see you were working with him.
DAVE HAUSE: I totally agree, he’s vastly underrated, and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. Helen Leicht, the midday DJ at WXPN in Philadelphia, found out that my first ever concert as a 7- year-old kid was The Hooters at the Tower Theater, and introduced us. Eric checked out Devour and Resolutions and really dug the work I had done, and came out to the headline show I played in Philly for Devour. He played “And We Danced” with me and my band as part of the encore, and we kept in touch. When things weren’t working with the producer I initially started working with for this record, Eric was my first call. He loved the demos of the songs and we booked the time and within a few months, the record was done. It was pretty amazing.

I know you live in California now, but even more so then just the title, I can’t help but think that this sounds like a Philly record. How has the city influenced your music?
Philly is what shaped my whole perspective, my work ethic, the way I view the world. It took moving to California to understand how much of a Philadelphian I truly am, and that ended up being a big part of this record. It’s another reason why recording it with Eric in the Philly area was so crucial. The cover art is the sky above Roxborough, where I grew up, and ultimately that theme of figuring out where you’re from and who you are, no matter how far you run definitely makes its way through the album.

You started writing this record after getting sober, from what I understand. How did that change the way you approached writing it? Was it harder?
I wrote it over the course of a few years, so some of it was while I was still partying. I think the focus that came once I stopped drinking and using drugs was really pivotal to not only completing this record the way I wanted it to be, but also the 40 other songs I have that’ll come out over the course of the next few years. It really helped to have clarity and to get the hell out of my own way. There are more than a few songs I wrote about that topic that didn’t make the record, but maybe will see the light of day down the road. We’ll see.

Your brother also worked with you on this one, right? How did that come about?
Tim was taking classes at Temple University when Devour came out but was a little uncertain what he wanted to do. He played a few songs with me at the record release shows I did in Philly and it was really fun, and it got my wheels turning to take him on tour. His first tour was a 10-week trip of North America in the winter, which was insane. We developed a musical bond beyond any I had ever come across, and when I was having a hard time determining what songs would become this record, I just started collaborating with him and he was a natural, he came up with so many amazing lines. I look forward to writing more music with him, most of our collaboration was lyrical, and his sense of melody is so keen, that’s gonna be so fun to turn over that leaf. He’s a great kid, really is a personal hero of mine.

You put out a great record last summer under The All Brights moniker. Any chance you guys will record a follow up?
Actually, we recorded another EP that’s been done for a year. I think it comes out Memorial Day, 2017. It’s even more ridiculous than the last one, and marries my love of satire, making fun of California culture, punk rock and cartoon noises to an absurd effect. It was fun making those songs with my friend Matt (Wilson), we cranked them out really quickly with the rule that if it made us laugh, it stayed. So, stupid.

You also played some shows with The Loved Ones last year to celebrate the anniversary of your debut. Any awkward moments playing with those guys again after so much time?
I think the only awkward thing about that stuff is that you revisit who you were when those songs were made. I’ve grown a lot as a human, and I’m hopefully kinder, more compassionate, and have less to prove, so remembering some of that young arrogant scared guy is uncomfortable, but all in all it was nice to play and see that we all survived, and actually thrived, 10 years later. We had a blast.

Any talk about working on new music with them?
I have most of what could be a third Loved Ones record written, it really is just a matter of whether or not we all set aside the time to rehearse and record it. We’ll see. I don’t want to play any Loved Ones shows unless we were to make new music.

What’s next for you after this record comes out?
Touring like crazy. We do record release shows on both coasts, headline Europe, then do Canada. It’s really exciting, I can’t wait to get this band up and running and really see what we can do. I have a record’s worth of songs almost completely recorded already, we’ll see what we do with that, and then a bunch of songs written that I need to record in addition to that, so things will be busy. I’m not taking such a long break between records, I want to see if I can get on a few years’ tear where I put a lot of stuff out. Who knows, gotta get this one out first I reckon…

TIME & A FEW WORDS WITH… Alan White of Yes

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Tempus fugit when you’re having fun—the virtuoso drummer on Yes’ past, present, and future.

BY BILL KOPP

Progressive rock heroes – and 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees – Yes are embarking on a short, 10-date tour of the Southeastern USA in February 2017. A continuation of the band’s popular “Album Series” of concert tours, the performances will feature the group’s 1980 album Drama plus Sides One and Four of the sprawling 1973 album Tales from Topographic Oceans. The tour kicks off with a February 3 show at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Western North Carolina.

The “Album Series” is a relatively new approach for the enduring British band founded in 1968. Beginning in March 2013, Yes concerts featured performances of complete albums from the group’s deep catalog. The band would take to the stage and run through an entire album of material, start to finish (sometimes, as in the case of performances of 1972’s Close to the Edge, they would play the songs in reverse order). The first albums to be performed live in their entirety were Close to the Edge, Going for the One (1977) and 1971’s The Yes Album. The group’s 2014 tours featured 1971’s Fragile along with other songs. The 2016 tours featured the first complete performances of Drama, considered on its original release as a major musical departure for the group. By Summer of ’16 Yes was performing half of Tales from Topographic Oceans (specifically, sides 1 and 4).

Since its inception, Yes has gone through myriad changes. In fact – if one wants to get picky about it – the 2017 Yes lineup includes no original members. Allow me to explain in as concise a manner as is possible …

Yes was founded near the end of the ’60s in London by bassist Chris Squire and vocalist Jon Anderson. The remaining three members – guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford on drums – would each subsequently leave the band; both Bruford and Kaye would return at various points, but a full Yes personnel chronology would be mind-numbingly intricate; consult Wikipedia if you really must know.

Jon Anderson left for the final time in 2004; he currently tours with two other Yes alumni, guitarist Trevor Rabin and keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman. Chris Squire – the only member to have participated in every Yes concert and album up to that point – passed away from leukemia in 2015. With Squire’s passing, the sole founding member of the group was gone. But the current lineup of “new” members is anything but new. Guitarist Steve Howe joined in 1970; drummer Alan White took over for Bruford in 1972, and has played on every Yes release since Tales from Topographic Oceans.

The other members of Yes all have substantial history with the band. Keyboardist Geoff Downes came on board for Drama back in 1980, and rejoined as a full member in 2011 (he’s also been a mainstay of the closely related progressive/pop group Asia since its founding). Bassist Billy Sherwood is unique in Yes world in several ways: he’s one of only two Americans (current vocalist Jon Davison being the other) in the group; Sherwood has been in and out of Yes – in both official and unofficial capacities – several times beginning as far back as 1991. It’s worth reminding oneself that 1991 was more than a quarter century ago.

And with the exception of a medical leave during the group’s 25-date Summer 2016 tour, Alan White has been behind the Yes drum kit for every show since a concert in Dallas, TX on June 30, 1972.

White didn’t simply appear out of nowhere back in ’72; his impressive résumé already included work with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Denny Laine’s short-lived group Balls, and stints with former Animals keyboardist Alan Price as well as a brief tenure in Ginger Baker’s Airforce. Through absolutely no fault of the preternaturally good-natured White, most of those projects had run aground in disarray. But the drummer remained undaunted. “I’ve always been very positive,” White tells me during a late January 2017 conversation. “If things fall in place around you all well enough, I don’t complain about much at all. I just get on with performing, and go in a straight line forward. Things come and go around you.” That resilience has served him well during his 45-year tenure with Yes, as he’s seen the band endure – and thrive – through countless changes in style and personnel.

Yes’ original drummer Bill Bruford approached his craft from something of a jazz and improvisational mindset; in fact his stated reason for leaving Yes – already known for its intricate and demanding musical arrangements – was to pursue an even greater musical challenge with King Crimson. But even then, newcomer White was no slouch himself.

White provides some context. “Prior to Yes – and in fact for quite a few years while I was doing all of this other stuff – I had my own band in the English countryside that actually played a lot of prog style music.” He says that the music was in a style not wholly unlike Yes’ approach. “So I tried – when I got into Yes – to incorporate the rock and roll style along with knowing how to do the jazz things. I combined all of that into a fusion type of drumming that went along with a lot of Yes’ music.”

Looking back upon his entry into the band, White recalls the challenge of joining the band on the eve of a major tour of America. “Getting asked to learn and play the whole repertoire in three days was quite an exciting challenge for me,” he laughs. “One I’ve seem to overcome.”

When I interviewed Chris Squire in 2011, he recalled that time as well. “I was never sure it was going to work out when Alan first came in,” he told me. “But after awhile, he did so well that we melted into being the new ‘engine room.’”

For his part, White recalls that he seemed to get it mostly right onstage in Dallas. “Chris said, ‘That was great! We were all sweating bullets, because you didn’t really have enough time to learn the songs!’” He notes that while Bruford had played drums on the then-new album Close to the Edge, even he had never attempted to play the demanding material live. “I was experimenting to the point of how it would work on stage,” White says.

White and Squire quickly developed a close musical rapport, one that did indeed serve as the engine room that Squire described. White says, “When you play with somebody for 43 years – or even for 20 – you get to know how each other play so well, you kind of know what they’re doing before they do it. It’s an unwritten thing.”

Shortly before Chris Squire passed away, he made clear his wish for Yes to continue without him, and hand-picked multi-instrumentalist and longtime musical associate Billy Sherwood to take his place as the group’s bassist. For his part, White has a long musical history with Sherwood, both in and out of Yes; the pair have played together in Circa, a side-project band. White has also played on many of the various tribute albums Sherwood has produced and recorded.

White brushes away any suggestion that Sherwood’s bass playing requires a significant change in the way he plays drums on Yes songs. “You know what? Chris was Billy’s mentor. Billy studied Chris a lot through his life from an early age,” White says. He knows what he’s getting with Sherwood. “We were just in Japan together, doing a Yes tour,” White recalls. “Billy turned to me one day and said, ‘I’m 51 now. And I’ve known you since I was 19!’”

Asked to name his favorite song and/or album from among the 21 Yes studio releases he’s played on, White launches into a long list, jumping forward and backward through the catalog, naming songs and records from most every year and incarnation of the band. “You could go on forever,” he laughs, and he means it. White does make special mention of “Ritual,” the 21-minute-plus track that makes up all of Side Four on Tales of Topographic Oceans. That track features a long and memorable – and exceedingly musical – drum solo from White, and it’s a centerpiece of the February 2017 tour. “It’s really exciting to play,” says the 67-year-old drummer.

White’s long tenure with Yes has seen him take a major role in creating the band’s enduring legacy. But he takes accolades in stride. Case in point is his reaction to the recent announcement that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – long viewed as hostile toward progressive rock – will be inducting Yes in its next annual awards ceremony. “Yeah, well, it’s funny enough,” he says, noting that an artist has to have been active for 25 years before they’re eligible. “And it’s been almost 25 years since that happened for us.”

He continues on that point. “Fans have been saying for years and years, ‘I can’t understand why you guys are not in there!’ I talked to the guys in Rush when they got in; I was down at the ceremony in 2013. They said, “I can’t understand how we’re getting in the Hall of Fame when we modeled all of our music on yours!'”

Yes begins its February 2017 tour in Cherokee, NC, followed by a headlining/hosting spot on the five-day Cruise to the Edge floating festival. Once back on dry land, Yes will play a string of dates in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Future – but as yet unannounced – plans call for a Yes summer tour, a South American series of dates, and, says White, “possibly doing another album in the studio after that.” As the group heads toward its 50th anniversary in Summer 2018, Yes shows no signs of stopping.

You may also enjoy Bill Kopp’s 2016 interview with Yes’ founding member Jon Anderson