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Wire: The Colin Newman Interview


The Wire/Colin Newman Interview: This conversation was conducted 5/5/06 via transatlantic phone call to England.


Ed. note: In 2006 when Wire’s label Pink Flag reissued the first three Wire albums in America, additionally releasing the 5-CD box set Wire: 1977 – 1979 containing three original albums plus a pair of previously unreleased live discs: Live at the Roxy, London – April 1st & 2nd 1977 and Live at CBGB Theatre, New York – July 18, 1978, I had the pleasure of talking to Colin Newman for Harp magazine (for whom I was managing editor and also author of the publication’s “Indelibles” column, which discussed key and classic albums). On the previous page you can read a new version of that feature along with comments on the new album Silver/Lead and the band’s recent DRILL Los Angeles festival marking the band’s 40th anniversary. Below, read the entire, unfiltered, previously unpublished interview with Newman.

FRED MILLS: You seem to do the lion’s share of interview duties…

COLIN NEWMAN: Wire is a difficult beast, and the internal relationships are not great. I tend to do that simply because some people would see an interview in a completely different light, whereas I take the view that it’s the connection between the art and the public, and it’s quite an important thing to be able to explain something, to understand, to make connections. It’s not just pure commerce, you know? There’s a role for explaining art, although some people are less interested in that. You know? [laughs]

For me it’s all about communication, and I think that’s something I discovered. When I was younger I didn’t really “get” interviews; I didn’t get the point of all that. I mean, I knew it was important to be on the cover of the NME, but I didn’t really know how you got there or anything about that. So over the years I found I have more and more in common with the journalists I was talking to because I was interested in some of the things they were interested in. I mean, I’m a fan of music! I like to analyze how things fit together – what has led to what, and just what’s noticed and what’s unnoticed, and to take a journalistic attitude towards the medium. Certainly journalists find that attractive because I can kind of talk the same language, so to speak. And Wire is certainly not a we’re-all-down-the-bar kind of band, you know? There are different attitudes towards how you do that thing.

I’ll give you a brief anecdote to illustrate how my awareness of Wire evolved. Back when Pink Flag came out I was working in a record chain’s distribution warehouse, and since this is 1977-78, there were a lot of, shall we say, old-school employees with more of a redneck/classic rock mentality. So we got a box of LP promos for Pink Flag and a couple of us who were already into punk and new music grabbed copies for ourselves. One afternoon I and a friend put Pink Flag on the warehouse stereo. The looks of revulsion and horror and anger on some of the faces of those workers was priceless! It was thrilling and I knew we were onto something. At any rate, the residual point here that I came to realize many years later is that, regardless of what the general public’s reaction to Wire may have been compared to those like myself who were in the know, Wire still had a leg up on a lot of other bands of the era because you did have that Capitol Records distribution in the States and you did have the chain warehouses getting those records into the stores. So, in theory, there was a far greater awareness of Wire than a lot of the others. People could choose to ignore you, but you were still there in the stores.

Yes, that was a huge point. In fact, this is one of the things which is kind of strange because there’s a kind of shorthand for a lot of Americans for Pink Flag. A lot of American journalists thought it was a punk album. Well, from a British point of view it certainly was not a punk album and it was never regarded as a punk album. Punk was something that happened a year before – the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned. Wire were something else, and you knew it was something different. Whereas America didn’t get most of that stuff. They got the Sex Pistols, the Clash. But then the rest was all on import only. So obviously that made a huge difference.

So Pink Flag had national distribution in America and that’s what I think really made a big difference in the American story of Wire. The American story and the British story of Wire are two very different things. Because what happened was, the first album got out there, in ’77 and ’78, and it kind of seeped into many areas, being in national distribution. But by the time we got to play there in ’78, certainly the effect had not been that great. We weren’t immediately lauded as the best thing since sliced bread.

In fact the first reviews were pretty rubbish in America! I have testament to all that. The two most famous journalists who reviewed Pink Flag thought it was rubbish. Lester Bangs who wrote an incomprehensible review, and basically you got the general information that the LP wasn’t much good. And the other guy was Greil Marcus, which is interesting, because this guy who rubbished Pink Flag in Rolling Stone put the Githead album in his Top 3 for last year!

The second wave of reviews that came through for Pink Flag were more positive. Kind of another generation of reviewers going, “It doesn’t all quite add up…” But the gut reaction of Americans was not very positive towards Wire.

There were punk fanzines that clued into it, and I had one myself a bit later and we loved Wire. I talked to Mike Watt from the Minutemen not long ago and he told me about what a huge impact Wire had on him. He read about it in a fanzine so he went out and grabbed it. So the record did find its way into certain hands.

I think it did. It was that other thing. The reason it was not loved in the beginning is because there’s something quite “other” about it. It doesn’t conform to any of the rules of rock ‘n’ roll as they were at the time. America could understand the Ramones; the Ramones had done that thing of simplifying, but it was a joyous thing. Whereas the Wire approach wasn’t so sympathetic. I personally don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, you see. There you’ve got the core of it. I have a big problem with rock ‘n’ roll as a kind of medium. I always just think of some fat blokes taking the stage going [in lunkhead voice], “Rawk en rawlll….” It’s like, no, no, no – it’s something else. It’s all about art.

In Mojo you were quoted referring to Wire as “contextless.” And rock ‘n’ roll is all about context.

It is all about context. And because of that I really think you could just say that Wire is “differently contexted.” [laughs] Because it always is about context. There’s also a v very British attitude there. We played CBGBs in 1978, and people were coming up to us – this girl came up to me and said, “My 16 year old kid brother can play better than you can.” And I said, “Yeah? Well, I’m standing on stage and he isn’t.” She didn’t really have much to say to that. But there were some people who loved it. Some people were insulted because there was no obvious musicianship on display. There was ensemble playing because the band had always been able to play together, but it wasn’t about virtuosity and it never has been.

It seems like a lot of people tried to characterize it as a lot of short songs and that’s clearly not the case. To this day a lot of people seem to misunderstand Pink Flag.

I think Wire continues to be misunderstood in many ways. A lot of people who imagine Wire did three albums in the ‘70s and then the noble thing to do was to not go on until later – that’s completely wrong, the circumstances were entirely different. If you’ve read that Mojo piece you’ll know a lot more about the truth.

Regarding the shortness, some of them were long and some were short – there just happened to be a lot on one record! From my point of view, that came about in the transition from the five piece to the four piece Wire. When we had to get rid of George Gill and had to come up with new material, one of the things was that I was very much reacting to what George had been about, which was traditional rock ‘n’ roll, solos and all that kind of stuff. We’d already got to the point where we were playing all George’s material, but without the solos, so they were a lot shorter without the solos. Then it became obvious that was a good style to write in. You didn’t need to have any more. Because you’ve got the singer writing the tunes it became about the music being enough to carry what needed to be said in the vocal and not much more. And then there were also other pieces counter to that where it was a bit more of an extended story – say, in “Reuters” or something like that, where there is a bit more of a narrative.

Do you remember your first gig as a four-piece?

Yes, that was the one at the Roxy. April the first, 1977.

What went through your mind when you were listening to those tapes for the box set?

Well, I did quite a lot of work on them, actually because there had to be a good deal of post-production that went into it. They were not geniusly recorded, so I had to up some of the tonal qualities and all that stuff. So I went through them quite a lot, and they are hilarious! Absolutely hilarious. You understand something about Wire by listening to that Roxy thing that you can’t understand by listening to Pink Flag. Because Pink Flag sounds deadly serious. Whereas [on the live tapes] you hear the same band, in the same way, in the same style, doing “Glad All Over.” Which is like, “Now hang on, this is not deadpan humor, but this isn’t quite as serious as we thought it was….” I think it’s a very good key to understanding why Wire always said there was a lot of humor in it and why a lot of people didn’t understand that there was humor in it. Because it was extremely deadpan and all done with a very straight face.

The absolute moment is at the point during the second night when Graham tells a heckler to arse off. [laughs] It’s just hilarious.

Interestingly, Jon Savage, who wrote a review of that show for Sounds and later used it in his book England’s Dreaming, that’s exactly what he had remembered. I talked to him because we’re actually quite good friends and told him I was going to use this from the Roxy, and he knew exactly – “Oh, that bit when Graham tells that heckler to arse off. That was the high spot of the evening!” And I thought, wow, what a memory. And he kind of filled in a lot of details for me exactly what the atmosphere was. Because the Wire tracks used on that Live At the Roxy album was so quiet, a lot of people thought they were recorded in a studio. It has to be pointed out that the reason it’s so quiet between songs is because there wasn’t anybody there! [laughs] On the first night we were the opening band. The opening band on a five-band bill, in a club holding 100 people. That’s pretty lowly. On the second night they’d moved us up because they thought we were quite good. But we weren’t that high – I think we were still before X-Ray Spex, who were newer than we were.

You wouldn’t have imagined anything was happening at that point. It was just, yeah, we’re doing this gig, we’re recording it, we got 50 quid… It all just sort of happened, really. I mean, less than 6 months later we were recording Pink Flag.

And you’ve said, by contrast, the recording of that was very serious, right?

Oh yeah. It had to be taken seriously.

 A lot of bands at that time, punks especially, would just go into the studio and try to bash out and reproduce their live sets but with better fidelity and be done with it.

Well, again, Wire, were not a punk band in the people’s perception, and they certainly weren’t a punk band in their own perception. So any attitude that was coming from [punk] we would be of the opposite attitude. Secondly, you have people, at least half of the band, who were really, really serious about the music, and to have a record with your name on it, that’s a serious thing.

“You’re not going to blow this chance…”

You’re not going to blow this chance. You’re gonna do it really properly. And to be honest, the standard of playing was not that high. But the idea we had was, yeah, we should do an album but not a single. And doing an album meant that all the things had to be there. There had to be some concept behind it. There had to be some thought gone into how we were recording it. And so there were a bunch of people with points to prove, including Mike Thorne.

 What did he bring to the table?

He had two basic ideas that he came with. One was heavy metal and the other was pop.

Heavy metal was where all the massed guitars came from. You make guitars big by double or triple or quadruple tracking them. The thing was, that style was really derived from super-accurate players who weren’t playing rhythm guitar, whereas that whole science was used in Wire to track not hugely competent people playing rhythm guitar. That sort of Queen guitar sound, of multitracked guitar lines by expert players is just exactly the opposite. But the sound of someone playing the same guitar part, two chords recorded eight times, becomes an enormous wall of sound. And we went, “Yeah, we like that!” That was good.

And then Mike would have all these tapes which he’d labeled “pop production.” He had loads of recordings he’d made and he had all these theories about pop. And at that point there was very little fear that we could be pop and we could be avant-garde at the same time – “Who cares? That’s what we are. That’s what we do.”

Do you have good memories of the Pink Flag sessions?

Um, Pink Flag was pretty hard work. It wasn’t necessarily grueling, but there were a lot of frayed tempers when we were recording the backing tracks because Robert was not very confident, and if he didn’t keep a steady speed then Graham would stop playing, and then they’d have a fight and the sticks would go flying across the room… It was quite fraught.

Chairs Missing was more fun. Because we could play better and found it easier to put the backing tracks down, and also there was more overdubbing. It was the start of overdubbing. I remember doing something like the rhythm guitar solo overdub in “Lowdown” [makes “dang-a-dang-a-dang-a-lank…” sound] and I remember thinking, yeah, I wanna to that, then going into the playing room, and playing on top of it that part. And just thinking, “Wow, that’s amazing, I can just do that! I can add this thing and take this track somewhere else!” And that’s an exciting thing to be able to do. It’s like when you first start to get the whole feeling of overdubbing, adding parts that were not in the original when the band played and taking a track. That was the excitement for me, and obviously a key to how then that developed in the following album, 154.

Did you oversee the remastering with Dennis Blackham? Were you present?

No. Dennis is in Skye. He’s a very good friend and he’s remastered every release on Pink Flag and every CD release on Swim (label). So we’re talking at least every other week. Originally these were going to be just EMI releases and the Pink Flag involvement didn’t come along until later in the story. So he says he’s got this job, this EMI thing, and I said we are in the offing of talking to them about it. And I think he knew very well that this had to be the definitive version, and I think he took it – he’s reported to me already that he’s had some journalistic feedback on his remastering which he’s very, very pleased about.

The difference is pretty striking from the previously released Enigma Retro reissues.

Those initial CD re-releases were classic ‘80s CD re-releases, just slapped out. The band had no involvement with them at all. And this was a point when no one was talking to EMI anyway. It was just, bung the album out, don’t worry about the remastering, stick a bunch of extra tracks on, whatever fits time-wise and nothing to do with whether it’s from the right period. Not that those extra tracks are bad, but some of them are really the wrong thing in the wrong place. Back then everyone was getting excited about having 70 minutes to work with: “Oh you have to have extra stuff!” Now we’ve gotten a big more postmodern and people have gone back, in a way, to an album-length CD. You don’t need all that extra stuff on there.

And that’s a different thing, a different project. Maybe we’ll be putting all [the extra material] out later. Who knows? A lot of it is about negotiating rights. [laughs] It’s a pretty remarkable thing that our label Pink Flag is releasing these CDs. This is actually the first US domestic release of Chairs Missing in its original format.

Yeah, I remember having to track the LP down on import.

Basically Capitol were not interested. We’d come in ’78 and played 5 or 6 nights at CBGBs, not even a tour of one city, but a tour of one club! Wire was not present in America – that story happened in the ‘80s when that seepage we mentioned really started to happen, when those hardcore bands, whether you’re talking about Mike Watt and the Minutemen, Black Flag, or the guys over in Boston, the DC scene… It was like, “No, no, Wire – THAT’s the band!” My theory is that what was appealing about it was that hardcore was the first native American rejection of rock history. It was like an attempt to say, no, all that “expert” stuff is crap. We just wanna make a noise that’s in your face. In a way that American punk up until then hadn’t embraced.

And Wire had rejected so much as well.

And the Wire record sleeves were pretty iconoclastic for rock album covers too.

I gave the records to a friend who doesn’t know that much about the history of Wire and she remarked that the covers were beautiful. Again, it’s very sort of unpunk. The difference between the cover of Pink Flag and Never Mind The Bollocks is very stark.

And with the other two albums you certainly presented a message that this was a band who felt its visual aesthetic was very important.

I think that has a certain kind of validity. That’s the justification for what some people would say is pulling a fast one – [reissuing] the same album with less tracks. But this is another thing, going back to the original statement. Pink Flag didn’t have “Dot Dash” or “Options R” on it. Those are things that come later, a different mindset. Pink Flag was very specific. As is Chairs Missing. They’re very, very specific records. So what’s there is what fits with them, and I don’t know if people now have the same concept about making an album, but remember we’re talking mid ‘70s, and the “concept” album may have been derided, but it was still very much an idea which was current. And I think in some ways they are concept albums.

In some ways, people think of concept albums along the lines of Tales From Topographic Oceans: big bloated double album productions in gatefold sleeves. So let’s end the concept of concept albums, so to speak. But you can still do it in a brighter way.

Yes, you can do it in a different way. All that prog bloat [sighs] – those bands were just so absurdly successful too!

Did you think, at the time, that Wire was being heard and understood in England at least?

Oh yeah. I mean, there was a point just after Pink Flag came out, and we did a tour supporting The Tubes. A very strange thing to do. They were very good to us, actually. They really supported us as a band playing with them because we were so different from what they did. It was a stark contrast between their kind of baroque over-the-topness and our stark simplicity. Their lighting guy probably set the tone, for a lot of people, of how they saw Wire onstage. He just kept the lighting really, really simple and made us look great on stage. During that period we did a series of Saturdays at a pub called the Red Cow in Hammersmith, just around the corner from the Hammersmith Odeon. A place where loads of bands played. We started off – it held about 200 – the first Saturday with it half full. The second Saturday it was ¾ full, and on the third Saturday it was completely full. And on the fourth Saturday there were as many outsiders as there were on the inside who couldn’t get in. And in that month you could so feel – I remember my friends would be like [dropping volume to awestruck tone of voice] ‘Wow – this is really happening, man!’

You could just feel that that thing was really developing, and certainly in London. When we got out to the other areas, in the midlands I don’t think they really took to us, but soon as you got north, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, those places, there was solid support. A Wire gig was an event. You met everyone in the bands; anyone who was in a band would come see us and tell us how much they loved us, whether that was Joy Division, or Cabaret Voltaire, or Prefects. Even people who were not so well known would come. The more cheeky bands were the ones from Liverpool; they would never admit to liking anyone – even themselves!

I remember playing the Russell Club, one of the kind of early incarnations of the Hacienda in Manchester, and you really felt like it was an event, with anyone who was anyone at that gig that night. It was a special feeling. So we definitely felt liked. We played quite a lot in Britain, and touring was not easy in Britain so you definitely felt that we were somebody.

Given the big changes that you instituted in the sound between albums, did you ever have fears about alienating your audience?

No. The short answer! [laughs] I look back now and I think… pffft, we were pretty damn arrogant, you know. We just didn’t give a stuff about what anybody thought. We just felt that it was obvious we had to do something else. And as a music fan, my attitude was I didn’t want to have a band do the same record. And you’ve got to remember, we were in the first serious, postmodern critical era in terms of what rock music was about. We could say, “But what happened to Pink Floyd? Why did they become rubbish? Well, they got rubbish because they just did more of the same, but more weak, adding water to their formulas.” So the idea was of going on to something new. And the key track coming into Chairs Missing was “Practice Makes Perfect.” It sent shivers up our spines. And something that makes you feel that good can’t be bad! So that was it, and that’s still a key track.

The first time I heard “I Am The Fly” I think I levitated…so to speak. It was like someone rubbing a silk ribbon across my exposed spinal column.

In a good way? Can I have some of the drugs you’re on? [laughs] It’s an enormous pisstake, it really is. It’s a blues change with the wrong chords: it starts on an E, and then the next chord it goes to is precisely the wrong one. And then it goes on, and if anyone was a blues fan it’s really an insult to the blues. It’s got this shocking metallic guitar sound that sounds as unorganic as you can possibly have. And it made everybody laugh. It was a funny tune, not intended to be entirely serious, very, very tongue in cheek. “I’m not really the bad boy. I’m quite far from being the bad boy! I’m not one of the rock ‘n’ roll rebels. That’s not my character to be like that.”

I’ve read that you personally are not a big fan of 154 – is that correct? “I Should Have Known Better” is one of the great opening cuts…

Some tracks on 154 I love and others I don’t love at all.  But yes, that tune I think is awesome. That was one of the creative high spots of the record. If you ever heard the demo, the way it started out was very heavy metal and I really didn’t like it very much – “This isn’t going to work, it’s not going to make the album. Graham’s going to be really disappointed because everyone’s going to turn around and say, ‘Actually, it’s not really that good…’” Then Robert started doing this kind of reduced disco beat [goes dikka-d-didda-da-dikki-da..] and it suddenly sounded fantastic..

I’ve read that as this point the band was divided into a “pop” and an “anti-pop” camps. You were also having problems with EMI, and I wondered what contributed more to the demise of the band after the release of 154?

It wasn’t really pop versus anti-pop. It was more pop AND anti-pop versus just anti-pop. Half of the band, basically me and Robert, was still interested in retaining a really broad canvas for the band. The other half decided they wanted to do something which was more avant-garde, which couldn’t have worked very well within Wire. Personal relations in Wire have always been very, very difficult too. We’ve never been friends and it’s never been an easy kind of thing. And it kind of came to a head working on 154. It had some very, very horrible moments, whereas Chairs Missing had been joyful and sunny and kind of the joy of a band discovering they could really play and then just taking that and pushing it further in the studio. With 154 the expectation was that it should have all of those elements, but then there was also ambition pushing it in different directions.

Relations with EMI deteriorating then couldn’t have helped either.

Well, Mike arrived at the 154 session with, “We’ve got to make five singles.” That idea got junked pretty fast. But where he was coming from, he’d obviously been meeting with EMI, who was saying, “This band’s not commercial enough.” Wire at that point had no concept of a market. You have to understand, there can be a way to be on a major label and understand nothing about how your music is sold. Because Wire would get advances for every record, they would never sell enough copies to pay off the advance, so the only money you ever saw was the advance at the beginning of the album. So the money you earned, what you saw – and we made no money on the road – had no relationship at all to how successful you were. So there was no culture of understanding, okay, hang on, if you do it this way then perhaps you’re gonna make more money out of it our you’re gonna survive better. On one level, yes, that’s kind of good for an artistic purity, but on another level you have to be aware of the fact that you are working within a commercial medium. This is not state-sponsored or –subsidized art! These are fundamentally pop records released on a label that expects to see its money back.

And in some ways it’s great if you can have a long view. I think that’s one thing nobody expected, that there would be such a longevity in those records. Certainly EMI didn’t expect that! When we were out the door in 1980 that would be the last they’d have to care about us. Suddenly, 10 years later, it’s still going, and 10 years after that it’s still going! That’s the craziness of it. It’s like every generation finds its own relationship to Wire. And each generation that finds Wire imagines that nobody else knows about it. Which is almost perfect, this whole kind of thing. But at the same time it has kind of emerged that American has been the place where Wire has achieved the most in terms of attention and success, record sales and the rest of it.

You once said something to the effect of, Wire, whenever it’s on the verge of success drives the bus right off the cliff.

That’s not me driving that bus! But yeah, it’s absolutely true. And it’s also absolutely infuriating, the infuriating thing about Wire which makes the internal relationships very different. Some people, I think, may be really nervous about getting too far with this, and I just think that Wire deserves, in this late stage in its life, to get and receive the adulation and the kind of love for real. I don’t have a problem about suddenly getting attention is going to turn into some kind of squidgy, sentimental thing – we’re not going to all of a sudden do “Mull  Of Kintyre” or something like that, you know what I mean?

You should see the reviews for 154 at the end of the ‘70s – we were, in Britain, the “best band of our generation.” 154 was “the album Bowie failed to make when he made Lodger.” John Lennon “was listening to 154 not long before he got shot.” Bob Dylan was quoting us. All that. We were seriously accepted. So how you can go from that to being dropped by your label and getting crap reviews for doing a “pretentious” stage show is quite extraordinary as a kind of turnaround. So in hindsight I look at that and go, “No, that was a big mistake.” It’s fine to be reevaluating and thinking and changing direction and doing something else, but there can be too much of that.

Rock ‘n’ roll, there’s too much of that “live fast, die young” kind of rubbish. But it’s just not – it’s an evolved artform now. We’re talking about where someone is going to make their tenth record and it’s gonna be genius, and that’s not necessarily going to happen in any way. It doesn’t conform any more to those James Dean things.

There is a certain thought that, because of Wire’s longevity – “We won!”

Yeah, yeah. “We won the punk rock war.” Whatever. In Britain there is a magazine called Artrocker, and the whole point about that, what he says, is, “Without these guys, we don’t exist.” Artrocker considers themselves more important than they are, but they’re really seriously challenging to be the hip version of the NME. So you’re talking something that really means something in the culture, and a bunch of young bands who say, “That’s our roots – Wire is our roots. Not some other kind of stuff.” And I think, wow, that’s an amazing situation to be in.

I suspect you would have spoken differently back in the ‘80s when Wire refused to play any older material.

I can’t speak for anybody else. But a lot of my attitudes are now shaped by the ‘90s, running a label, seeing how hard it is to break young bands that you know are really good and original. Just knowing a lot more about how the industry works. But at the same time, it was the wrong context – the ‘80s was not about ‘70s rock. That was the whole point. In the mid ‘80s, as far as Britain was concerned – and you have to understand, this is a British band – late ‘70s punk rock was just out, out, out! Nothing more out than that. Whereas in America it was different. It’s interesting that I learned in hindsight about the hardcore thing. I didn’t know anything about it at the time: “Why are these bands playing punk rock?” But the mid ‘80s stuff that came out of Britain, the post-punk of the early ‘80s, sort of came out of disco, just starting with digital, a clean, sound, that was the mid ‘80s sound. Not the sort of dirty punk rock.

What’s interesting is that Wire was, for Americans in the ‘80s, rock, and it was kind of lynchpin for hardcore. By the time you got to the ‘90s, for British bands it was pop.

Right – Elastica and all that.

Yeah. And this is actually a moment in time that hasn’t passed in Britain. The most well-known Wire track, the most-played Wire track if you go to LastFM and look up Wire, is “Three Girl Rhumba.” It’s now the best-known Wire song. It was used in a few different places. A TV program used the Elastic riff from it. So in the ‘90s, British bands would go, “Oh yeah, Wire are famous rock stars, they don’t care about this…” But with the generation of bands now they’re like, “Oh no, Elastica got that completely wrong. They should have really acknowledged their debt to Wire like we’re doing.” That’s a recent trend now in Britain, in this decade.

So it’s all fascinating. It’s culture, evolving culture.

Wire’s current status: Inactive, I hear. And that Bruce officially gave his notice last year.  Is that accurate?


So in terms of activity, all we’re to get for now is archival work?

Right now, yeah. It goes through phases from bad to worse to slightly less bad. Last week was bad. Maybe next week will be better, I dunno! [laughs] There were moments when maybe something could’ve been done but I really don’t know. I can’t really imagine that I can do very much with Wire. I can represent it in interviews and I can help promote the back catalog, but when it comes down to it, I can’t be Wire.

Well, the band has resurfaced several times now, against the odds

Yeah, but…. [long pause, long exhale of breath] This last version, the version that did Send, was supposed to be the version that was built to last. It didn’t happen. That was a great album and that whole thing should have gone some place. Actually, the timing of these rereleases was supposed to be very much set. It was supposed to be Send, and then the re-releases, and then a new Wire album, and the whole thing was supposed to be like a virtual circle. But it just hasn’t happened. It’s an incredibly sad story. And I don’t want to talk it down. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved – please edit out anything I’ve said that’s not entirely positive about anyone because I’m not into that.

I look at it from a Wire fan’s point of view. The amount of love that Wire gets for what it’s achieved, and what it’s achieved in more than one incarnation, I have to just cry in my boots and say, “Okay, I’ve got another band.” That’s what I’ve got and I can’t be Wire, but I can be in a different band and it can produce music which I value very, very highly, and continue the dialogue in that way.

I think the fans will treat the box set as a huge gift too. Fans will always want the archival stuff.

They will. And there were all these embarrassing production delays. Believe me, I feel the weight of hundreds of Wire fans: “Oh, we want to get the box set! Where is it!?! Why can’t I buy it now?!?” [in mock-wailing voice, then laughing] I feel for those people.

We’re not officially allowed to promote it in Britain, but in America of course, because we’re the American licensee, we can. And the American press has picked up on it. We are just the U.S. licensee – in Britain they are the EMI versions. It’s a subtle game. Pink Flag is the U.S. licensee for the EMI re-release. EMI has it for the rest of the world. We hope to do well in America with those, because if you can imagine we’re not on a very good royalty from EMI. It’s the same product, apart from the fact that unlike the three you have, EMI just slapped those things out. They didn’t take care of finishing the artwork nicely. We actually did some work making sure the artwork looked good before it got printed, so the Pink Flag versions look superior.

And the box set is something else altogether. That’s been completely taken apart and put together again by our star designers. A different level. Every single aspect that could be improved has been improved. And I am proud of it. The re-releases for me personally have been a nightmare. Very hard to do with EMI. Not because they’re a bad, evil mega-corporation. But because they’re a major label and therefore are much more inefficient than indie people. Even just getting the parts so we had something to release became a nightmare that should never have been. Departments don’t talk to each other; you can’t just go to someone and tell them you need something ready by such and such time because it’s their product. We’re not paying them. Just a whole different ballgame.

I don’t want to just be bitching though because the people have been pretty nice and helpful. They get a certain amount of kudos for that and I think the people that work there are mature enough to realize that perhaps it hasn’t done EMI any harm at all having Wire in their back catalog. They’re not stupid – those records didn’t stop selling.

Funny how to this day EMI and Wire butt heads. I like what you said a minute ago about you feeling the weight of hundreds of Wire fans.

Yeah, I probably care more than I should what people think about the band. I know its reputation is high and I know not everybody in the band cares that much about what the fans think. Different attitudes. That’s to do with some people feeling that artists need to be more pure and to not care what other people think, and it’s a point of view. For me I see the fans as people and I don’t devalue them saying, “They’re just fans.”





The Chapel Hill-based Americana quartet’s female singer holds forth on their ambitious, just-released new album, life on the road, favorite bands (Phish!) and authors, and more.


Outside the Woodlands Tavern in Columbus, Ohio, Libby Rodenbough and the band stood before the venue they were going to play later that night. Before the load in I spoke with Libby on the phone about the new album Coming Down the Mountain that was about to drop in just a couple days and how they passed the time in the van.

If you’re not familiar with the band Mipso they started off as a three piece in the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina with members Jacob Sharp, Joseph Terrell, and Wood Robinson. Starting off with open mics and playing around town they later branched off into playing what was known as Mipso Trio. They went on to record an album titled Long, Long Gone under the name and from there they grew among the locals and their college friends who they had grown up with and moved out of North Carolina increasing their fan base to a larger scale. The following year Libby joined the band to add fiddle and powerful harmonizing vocals on the album Dark Holler Pop and, later on, Old Time Reverie.

(Below, listen to new track Hurt So Good.)


BLURT: How long have you all been on the road?

LIBBY: We’ve been in the Midwest for about a week and half and it’s been typical Midwestern rainy and gray and now we just got out of the car and the sun has broken.


That’s great to hear! Midwestern weather can be quite a drag. Congrats on the new album by the way! Did you all have a concept or idea for the new album Coming Down the Mountain going in to the studio?

The concept was just we didn’t want to overthink so I guess that’s the absent of a concept. We had songs and we didn’t want to overdue them we wanted to create space and track simply and track most of the stuff live and just get it down and you know just not over complicate it. It’s easy nowadays to do want to do a bunch of drafts and then.


 Is that something you have tried to do in the past?

I don’t think we have spent as much time as we did but we definitely put time into crafting the songs. This one I feel like is the most livest.


One of the best tracks on the album is “Monterey County” is there a significance behind that song?

I think that was just because we were driving highway 1 out west and it was just a super evocative landscape and I think the images got into Joseph’s head and he wrote that one. It was the landscape that reflected out mid twenties angst.


 For this album album did anyone take more charge of writing?

I did more writing on this one than in the past. Were all pretty interested in songwriting so it seems to be pretty collaborative.


Any favorite albums you have been playing on repeat recently?

Our friend Jake Xerxes Fussell just dropped an album a couple days ago so I’ve been listening to that a ton. As we were driving up to the venue we were blasting some Blink-182. So I’m the one exception to this but all my band mates were high-school Phish heads. So sometimes when we need to get in sync we throw it on. Even though I don’t know any of that stuff. So there’s the contagious positive energy while listening to it

(So there it is. One of Mipso’s biggest influences is Phish.)

Other than listening to Phish albums in the van is there anything else you guys do for fun in the van?

Yeah I’m very fortunate I have had time to read a lot more. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. We have this mobile hotspot with us so it’s very easy for us to sit our laptops for six hours. Reading a lot more novels now since college for me is key


 Is there anything that you are now reading that you are now saying to yourself why haven’t I read this already?

I just found this one author name Nell Zink. Really great authorial voice. She writes irreverent dark humor but their also filled with great characters. Through an interview with Nell Zink I found this book called The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. It’s from a woman’s point of view during communism during the ‘30s-‘50s. Strong intelligent female voices. It’s all about communism and it’s about the collapse through the eyes of female characters.


Make sure to grab Mipso’s new album Coming Down the Mountain out on CD/LP/MP3, released today, April 7.



Doors band

The just-reissued Doors debut from 1967, expanded to include a mono mix (for both CD and LP) and a key ’67 concert, not to mention a recent 10” vinyl box chronicling the band’s pre-fame 1966 setlist, might turn you inside out.


Fifty years on, all the children are still insane—now, more than ever, and perhaps more than anyone is comfortable with acknowledging. Enter The Doors, as fresh now as it was a half-century ago, alternately testing and serenading America’s youth. This is a fact not in dispute: The self-titled debut of the Lizard King & Co. remains as iconic a release as any from the post-British Invasion rock era, perhaps the defining moment for the underground-on-the-verge-of-going-overground.

How many times can Elektra (via the WEA group’s stalwart keepers of the archives, Rhino) return to the Doors well? How much time do you have?

But this 50th anniversary box is no marketing afterthought. Sure, you probably are not lacking for the original stereo mix of The Doors; by 1967, that’s how most of us would have first heard the LP anyway. A second CD containing the so-called “original mono mix,” while not essential, finally makes that mix available in digital formats so fans don’t have to track down original vinyl mono LPs. (For a younger generation, this may seem slightly archaic, but even by the late ’60s albums were still being pressed in both stereo and mono, and there is a collector camp that prizes mono over stereo. Although, admittedly, they are not rare, as a quick glance at Discogs shows several copies available for as little as $10.)

Vinyl nuts such as yours truly, of course, will appreciate the opportunity to own a pristine mono-mix LP here despite the easy availability of used vinyl copies. Neither it nor the CD mono version are particularly revelatory, but there’s always some fun to be had with the old A-B test between the mono and stereo mixes of records from this era.


CD3, recorded live at venerable San Fran venue The Matrix in March 1967, is perhaps the chief draw for completists; we are advised that this comes from the recently discovered original, professionally recorded, tapes, as opposed to the third-generation dubs that comprised a 2008 release of the Matrix tapes. The Doors estate, via its Rhino-distributed Bright Midnight imprint, has been nothing if not generous with its archival offerings over the past decade and a half, and discoveries do indeed continue to be made, such as the London Fog May 1966 10” box that surfaced not long ago (see below). So even if you own the 2008 Bright Midnight version of the Matrix ‘67 or an earlier bootleg version (yes, there are several couple), this concert recording essentially becomes the proverbial “definitive” one. The eight-song set very nearly replicates the original LP’s 11-song tracklisting, only lacking “I Looked at You,” “End of the Night,” and “Take It as it Comes,” and with the latter arguably the only essential song among those three, Live at the Matrix emerges a must-own live representation of the band on the cusp of greatness, the debut LP having only been released a few weeks’ prior. Listen to Morrison’s growls, howls, and yowls during “The End” and dare to differ.

The box also boasts a full-sized hardback book featuring journalist David Fricke’s liners and tons of photos. As an artifact, it’s flawless, so even if some might argue that musically speaking, it’s for completists only, there’s no question that it merits a solid “5” out of 5 stars. Ride the highway west, baby…

… To the prior year.

Allow me to introduce the latest in a long-running parade of posthumous Doors live releases, London Fog May, 1966. It summons from the mists of time a proverbial “recently discovered” live recording of the band, expertly cleaned up for the modern digital ear, in order to give acolytes a sense of what Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore actually sounded like, onstage, around the time they were recording their debut album for Elektra Records but had yet to burst upon the national scene.

And it’s neither time capsule nor curio, but rather a valid projection into the collector-archival ether that should hold up for future generations. Vintage, if hard-edged, blues apparently dominated early Doors sets: Here, a lengthy workout on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and a remarkably serpentine, sensual Muddy Waters’ “Rock Me” showcase not only Morrison’s intuitive embrace of the blues’ primal imperative, but his bandmates’ agility as translators of same. Also in the mix are covers of Big Joe Williams, Wilson Pickett, and Little Richard. Seminal Doors originals also make surprise appearances: a somewhat hesitant “Strange Days” (which would go on to be overhauled and polished in the studio to provide the second album’s title track), and a rowdy-bawdy-bluesy “You Make Me Real,” which subsequently went into hibernation until 1970’s Morrison Hotel.


Time capsule: well, actually… yeah. Rhino has pulled out all stops for this box, which houses both a CD and a 10” vinyl disc of the nine tracks, plus an assortment of memorabilia that includes reproductions of the evening’s setlist from the London Fog, a postcard and drink coaster from that Sunset Strip dive, and photos of the evening Nettie Pena, a UCLA Film School student who Morrison, also a student, enlisted that evening to document his band’s performance on a small reel to reel deck. In those photos, the musicians seem impossibly young, as yet unjaded by stardom, yet clearly determined as artists. Talk about a snapshot. (Pena, who also wrote a review of the gig, discloses that she cannot locate an additional reel of tape from the show that contained the band doing a 15-minute “The End,” but promises that if it ever surfaces, she’ll immediately pass it along to the Doors camp.) Worth additional note: a passionate remembrance in the CD booklet penned by Ronnie Harran, who at the time of the show was booking the nearby Whisky A Go Go and, acting on a tip, came to check out the Doors during their residency at the Fog, ultimately returning to the Whisky, eager to book them at her venue. Everything is housed in a 10-inch, thick cardboard box—pure collector catnip. Just the effort alone that’s been put into this project demands an above-average rating for archival releases; the mesmerizing music guarantees it a perfect score.

Commentary, artifacts, and nostalgia aside, London Fog May, 1966 ultimately brings the Doors—pardon the inside joke—reverse full circle. Prior to Morrison’s death in 1971, the group had reinvested itself in the blues that had originally spawned the combo back in the early ‘60s (as Rick and the Ravens), tackling both vintage material and primal original compositions on Morrison Hotel and on swansong L.A. Woman. And while it’s impossible to say if the Doors vaults have finally been combed clean (as this obsessive Doors collector’s CD library can testify, the band and its archivists have been diligent over the course of the past decade and a half; hats off to Rhino, Rhino Handmade, Bright Moonlight, Elektra and everyone involved), there’s something fitting about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut LP by listening to an early Doors set comprising the blues, soul, and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll that inspired the musicians in the first place.

But then, of course, there’s the matter of said debut LP, from 1967, now graced with a deluxe reissue/reappraisal. Rewind this tape and start from the beginning. Is everybody in?

Photo Credit: Joel Brodsky




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Survey says… yes, indeed we do! At venerable Atlanta venue the Tabernacle, Wayne Coyne & Co. made jelly out of the crowd’s collective brain…. Photo gallery follows the text. Wait, is that guy above naked?


The Flaming Lips is a legendary band that will take you on a magical journey throughout their show. The Lips proved it in Atlanta on a warm Spring night in an old church that is the iconic music venue Tabernacle. Literally, standing room only and we were all like a jar of pickles ready to explode, and then it happened, The Flaming Lips took the stage. A great roar from us all in attendance to what can only be describe as a uniquely creative experience. Gigantic inflatable mushrooms, strobe lights, confetti cannons, huge helium balloons floating throughout and the Lips front man, Wayne Coyne, conducting a musical journey.

This is how memories are made. People coming together to celebrate music. I’ve seen the Lips quite a bit and they are a band that doesn’t disappoint when performing live. It is almost like a psychedelic circus where imagination and creativity knows no boundaries. It is all wonderful.

Music is never lost by the wonderment of the psychedelic imagery projected on the screen behind the band or by the giant disco ball or even by the confetti falling. They are a rare band that incorporates creative genius and musical genius. This does not come along often enough in music in this present day. Yes, they have been around for years and yes they are a band that some say is the new Pink Floyd. Whether that is true is up to personal opinions. To me, they are and always will be the definition of creativity.

Rope lights that looks like fringe is lifted and lowered to the stage, at one point during the show while it is lowered to the stage a giant inflatable rainbow arch is lifted in it. Wayne Coyne is underneath and beautiful music is the result. Confetti cannons shoot confetti during the show and huge helium balloons float back and forth and the crowd helps in keeping them afloat. A few of the balloons burst and make a loud pop, but that does not stop the fun that we are having in the audience. Laser lights, strobe lights, even Wayne Coyne coming into the crowd riding on top of a mannequin horse wearing inflatable rainbow wings this is what dreams are made of. We were all amazed by this sight of him riding through the audience. A psychedelic dream came true from a band that will always be the band to see on everyone’s bucket list, my advice to you, Don’t Miss this Show!

Their new album is “Oczy Mlody” and is out now.

The band is wrapping up its tour TONIGHT, April 4, in St. Petersburg, Florida, at Jannus Live. Did you miss it?

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NUDGE OF NOSTALGIA: The ‘70s Rock & Romance Cruise 2017


Truth-in-titling, the celebrity-studded journey this year (March 11-16, which went from Port Everglades to Fort Lauderdale then back again) featured Peter Frampton, Little River Band, America (all pictured above) and others.


“When we talk about surviving the ‘70s, are we talking about the decade or a certain age?”

That comment from John Hall, the erstwhile leader of the band Orleans, made during a panel discussion about the impact of music from that particular decade drew several chuckles, but it was nevertheless relevant given the very nature of this particular musical venture, broadly entitled the “‘70s Rock & Romance Cruise.” Indeed, while it was seeped in nostalgia and enjoyed by mostly now-mature passengers obviously eager to revisit the soundtrack of their youth, there was every indication that like the sixties, the seventies still resonated with those who once experienced it firsthand.

Below: participants in the panel discussion:  left to right Moderator Joe Johnson, Gerry Beckley & Dewey Bunnell (America), Wayne Nelson (Little River Band), John Hall, Lance Hoppen & Dennis Amero (Orleans)  


Like most musically themed cruises, Rock & Romance had its headline acts, among them such powerful draws as Peter Frampton, America, Little River Band, Christopher Cross, Orleans, Firefall, Ambrosia, Stephen Bishop, Chuck Negron (once of Three Dog Night), and the Orchestra (a band featuring two former members of ELO along with more recent recruits, among them BLURT pal Parthenon Huxley). Inevitably, most of the aforementioned ensembles were missing key original players, but given the fact most of their careers had extended several decades on, that was to be expected. Indeed, it was the music that mattered, and regardless of whether they performed in the host ship’s Celebrity Theater, in the more intimate Revelations Lounge or on the ever-popular pool deck, the crowd seemed to enjoy every minute, frequently rewarding the performers with standing ovations or simply showing their appreciation by taking to the floor to dance.

Below: Firefall, The Orchestra, Peter Frampton





Produced by StarVista Live, a company that shares the same corporate umbrella as Time Life (yes, the same Time Life that boasts those multitudes of hits collections that have graced TV screens for decades) — and whose diverse array of cruise options include a Southern Rock Cruise, the Country Music Cruise, a Soul Train cruise, and the sixties-themed Flower Power Cruise — Rock & Romance proved a stunning success its first time out. The ports of call in Cozumel and Key West (not to mention Celebrity Cruises’ ship, the Summit, with its superb service and its always ample buffet) provided added enticement to be sure, but it was also clear that the main draw was an opportunity to see an eclectic collection of ‘70s road warriors, all of whom were welcomed as if they were old friends. It was, in a very real sense, a homecoming of sorts, one that reached beyond the name associated with one of America’s classic albums to encourage a communal bond, a gathering of ‘70s survivors for whom the divide between past and present meant little, especially under these circumstances.

Likewise, the chance to mingle made the connection that much stronger, and though certain artists remained out of reach, others could be seen freely roaming the decks and open to selfies and conversation. Special guest Barry Williams, he of Brady Bunch fame, was as amiable as one might expect, and he made it clear from day one that he wasn’t camera shy or adverse to seizing on the seventies nostalgia. In fact, all the references were warranted, from frequent tributes to the likes of Cher, Stevie Nicks, the Bee Gees, and the Blues Brothers, to artists and ensembles whose main purpose was to celebrate the music of the Beatles and the Eagles while filling in the gaps between the headliner’s shows. Costume contests, which frequently found cruisers adorned in bellbottoms, fright wigs and attire befitting an evening at Studio 54, drew the more adventurous, with frequent disco parties providing opportunity to revisit their vintage moves.

Below: Barry Williams, America, Dewey Bunnell of America, Gerry Beckley of America, Little River Band






While skeptics might dismiss the cruise as an exercise in themed theatrics, the real point was to put away one’s prejudices and inhibitions and simply succumb to the party vibe. There were certainly ample activities to keep the passengers entertained when the ship was at sea, but unlike many cruises, there was also opportunity to relax between shows without the need to hurry from one venue to the next. And even if some artists suffered minor setbacks — a hoarse voice in the case of Stephen Bishop or over exertion on Chuck Negron’s part — the audience’s enthusiasm never wavered. Even the aforementioned tribute bands — Hotel California, who paid homage to the Eagles, and All You Need Is Love, whose repertoire drew not only from the Beatles, but from Bruce Springsteen, the Who, the Guess Who and various artists of that ilk who fit that era in-between — received an enthusiastic response, suggesting that it was emulation and not necessarily imitation that added to their efficiency.

Below: Negron, Christopher Cross, and Stephen Bishop w/the author




Given its initial success, the ‘70s Rock & Romance Cruise is poised to become an annual tradition, with several stars — Styx, Badfinger, the Guess Who, and Poco, among them — already announced for 2018. So no matter whether one is 70-something or simply ‘70s oriented, it’s worth the trip back in time.

(For information on next year’s cruise, check out the company’s website at

SOUTHWEST SOUND AND FURY: A Short Overview of Indie and Punk in New Mexico


A look at one of the more underappreciated and underexposed punk scenes in the U.S., originally published in the most excellent Dagger zine.

BY DAVID ENSMINGER (Special Thanks To Jobrian Stammer)

By and large, New Mexico is a wind-swept, arid slice of the U.S. known as the home to the nuclear bomb; vast white sands; an occasional gritty city; stretched-out Albuquerque, the notorious backdrop to Breaking Bad; uber modern popsters The Shins; and hot-pounding drummer extraordinaire Randolpho Francisco “Randy” Castillo, from Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue. It has nonetheless produced a startling punk community, especially from the 1990s until today.

In the 1960s, frat-rock, big beat, and garage nugget style music held some sway, in which King Richard and the Knights instrumental surfy forays broke through the din, while The Kreeg offered up desert-rock tuneage and Fe-Fi-Four Plus 2 unleashed psychedelic noodling.

Flash forward a few decades, though, starting with the time that band like Jerry’s Kidz electrified the state at joints like B&M (behind a lock shop), where Conflict from Arizona would stop by for insurgent gigs in 1983.

That same year Jerry’s Kidz released their opus “Well Fed Society,” a well-produced, manic, guitar-slathered, incisive EP (sonically resting between Secret Hate, Los Olvidados, and the F.U.’s) on Test Site; the fine-lined horror punk graphics by Jaime Trujillo (who sketched for Mutual Oblivion zine too) are grim, death-teeming, and memorable as Pushead, firmly within the skate-punk aesthetic (a shreddin’ skeleton leers on the back cover), while the tunes like “Marionetts” and “DWI” are smoldering bash’n’rock embodying frantic pre-hardcore rage and rigor. Check out the cut’n’paste images of E.T, skate crews, and the band in action on the insert. Singer David Duran soon joined Clown Alley, legendary mid-1980s Bay Area metal-punk provocateurs featuring Lori Black (later of Melvins fame), the daughter of Shirley Temple, who released Circus of Chaosfor Alchemy Records.

On the new wave and power pop spectrum, The Philisteens, a slightly geeky but fluid and focused power trio unit, were tightly coiled and electrifying, producing tuneful, hi-energy fare that reminds one of agile Code Blue meets a meatier version of the Police. Their gigs drew boisterous crowds at the likes of the Student Union Ballroom at the University of New Mexico, while the groovy light dance-pop of the Muttz (from Taos) drew similar college crowds, as did Beverly’s Boyfriend, who embraced Pat Benatar formulas. Most bizarre, though, might be The Wet Sox, a homegrown version of UB40 that played “NM Funk Rock Reggae.”

By the 1990s, though, punk had metastasized as the hammering genre of choice for many antsy, dissenting, feral, and fierce desert youth looking for kicks.

Santa Fe, a tourist-heavy enclave in the northern half where one can smell pine nuts roasting in the biting chill, somehow delivered Logical Nonsense to the world, who were grabbed up first by Very Small, then Alternative Tentacles, by the late 1990s. Their wall-of-noise and scum/thrash/grind/powerviolence is menacing and seemingly out-of-whack with the Polaroid picture, pueblo-lined nature of the city. Try the metallic “Death Approach.” One member later helped form Econarchy in 2013, a grind/hardcore unit known for releases like Economy Monarchy. Others in the 2000s, like Laughing Dog, bottled the grindcore method too.

On the southern tip, Las Cruces has been often overshadowed by its larger, West Texas sister city El Paso, which burgeoned with punk, from the Plugz and Rhythm Pigs to At the Drive-In. Often, lonely Las Cruces suffered brain drain, like the five punks who ventured north to Albuquerque in the mid-1990s to form the rockabilly-punk Jonny Cats, whose “Burning Rubber” 7″ (American Low Fidelity) is a pomade-drenched motorcycle classic. In recent years, Local Crap Records took up the slack in town, producing bands like The Casual Fridays and Homegrown Outlaws.

For years, the underground music scenes clustered in Albuquerque, centered mostly around Central Ave. and the university neighborhoods, where cheap rent, dry bursts of oven-like heat, abundant diners and eateries, as well as armies of skittering roaches were the norm. Record stores like Mind Over Matter, Natural Sound, Bow Wow Records, and Drop Out Records became epicenters.

Meanwhile, rock’n’roll clubs offered cheap thrills, from small dives like collegiate Fat Chance, all ages Club 909,  and the murky Dingo Bar, which booked the likes of Mike Watt, Unsane, God Bullies, and the Cows, to Golden West Saloon, which hosted road shows by the dozens, from Brainiac and L7 to the Dickies, Pegboy, and  Jon Spencer. The sister venue to Golden West was the much larger El Rey, which held terrific nights of brazen underground rock’n’roll, like co-billed Jawbreaker and No Means No drawing 1,000 kids.

Unfortunately, the Golden West Saloon, in the hands of the Kathy Zimmer family since 1929,  when her grandfather erected it, was ravaged by fire in 2008, after a linseed soaked rag in a plastic container spontaneously combusted, not long after the Business gigged there.


Such spaces nourished locals like Elephant. Not unlike the Pixies, they were a tight, dual-gendered, gravely rock’n’punk outfit that released two singles and an album on Resin Records, a start-up label that incubated a variety of acts, like Bring Back Dad, ALLUCANEAT, Treadmill, Flake, and more. In fact, Flake toured out West on occasion, opening for notables like Archers of Loaf, Rocket From the Crypt and Yo La Tengo. They also cut the tune “Deluca” for a split single with Henry’s Dress, for Omnibus Records, and the Spork EP for Science Project before renaming and rebranding as The Shins.

Meanwhile, Big Damn Crazy Weight, whose thudding, thundering “Tijeras” 7” (on Resin) recalls the era of Amphetamine Reptile, landed a single, “Mighty As Well,” that debuted on Sub Pop in Oct. 1992.

Resin’s prime act was The Drags, the delirious three-piece garage ensemble that soon took up residence on Empty and Estrus Records, who released three of their non-stop action albums, including Dragsploitation … Now! Try the scurvy surf beater “$7 Bologna” or the full-bore smash’n’pummel “Shovel Fight,” a little like early Makers, or “Elongated Man,” a head-spinning mash-up of the Ramones, Ventures, and Man or Astroman? They even appear on The Sore Losers soundtrack alongside Jack Oblivion, ’68 Comeback, and Los Diablos Del Sol. And in a true testament to their stripped-to-the-bone, wild-ass charms, Rocket From The Crypt covered their “Allergic Reaction” on RFTC’s EP On a Rope in 1992.


On the poppier spectrum, bands were aplenty, like the Alarm Clock, Young Adults, and the Ponies, but the persistently tuneful Rondelles (also members of LuxoChamp) drew the attention of Grist-Milling, Teenbeat, K, and Smells Like Records, producing fare that is garagey, smart, lean, and wooly. They eventually hightailed to Washington D.C. and toured with the likes of Mooney Suzuki before imploding. On the emo side of things, Silver, featuring writer David Ensminger on drums, self-released a 45 single as well as a split single with roiling Midwest greaser punks Nitro Jr. Guitarist Jobrian Stammer, currently a noted tattooist, continued in acts like Rollover 45, Better Off Dead, and more recently, the venal distorted grit of Losing It.


In 1994, the tongue-tying, indie rock Triskadeckaphobia released “Lady Brown” on Superstition Records, while Luxo Champ (punchy keyboard punk ala Servotron) released their self-titled EP on Super 8 Underground, including titanic tunes like Spacerobotactionfun! Scared of Chaka blitzkrieged the states with their manic Dickies-meets-Marked Men energy, producing numerous quintessential cuts for 702, Sub City, Hopeless, and Empty Records, including a split with Word Salad for Science Project. As their more obscure counterparts, Word Salad pursued the dark side relentlessly, cutting drum-heavy grind for Prank, Dogshit Recurdz, and Hater of God.

Meanwhile, three adept sisters (Gel, Laura, and Lisa Baca) formed the core of the Eyeliners (formerly Psychodrama), who remain one of the state’s most prolific and recognized exports. Their stealthy pop-punk fare quickly rose to the top of the heap, making labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Lookout! Records, and even Blackheart Records scramble for them. Chew on “Here Comes Trouble” for snotty, leather-jacketed, melodic fury.

Meanwhile, young guns from Albuquerque over the last decade continue to ply their trade, like trad-punkers Party Vikings, the hybrid metal minders Leeches of Lore, and Russian Girlfriends, a nimble hardcore unit reminiscent of a thrashier version of early Asexuals or Samiam, whose debut LP was released by Orange Whip Records. Doomed to Exist (brute distortion that sounds like Japanese d-beat), Wulff, Lucia, Twelve Titans, Honorable Death, Embelisk, and Cobra Vs. Mongoose shred too, filling up places venues like the Launchpad, American Legion Post 49, and the Armory.

In addition, SceneXSplitter is now one of the self-made DIY media outlets that keeps the city abuzz.

Though most of the country thinks the southwest is a weird void, desert youth will never recede and keep quiet in the dustbin of history.


This story originally appeared in Dagger zine.

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.


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.


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


Marty Stuart 2017

A review of new music, plus a dip back to ’05 for some older music. Guest starring the Byrds, a Mule, a holiday celebration, and the power of the internet. Sometimes those dang rock critics can be useful.


Ed. Note: To mark Marty Stuart’s brilliant new album Way Out West (Q Prime), recorded with his band the Fabulous Superlatives, we thought it appropriate to republish our Stuart appreciation, originally published in 2014, alongside Lee Zimmerman’s album review. Enjoy.

Like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart is an American original, part of an older breed of tattered troubadours whose obvious affection for the essence of true and traditional country music is part and parcel of his inherent musical repertoire. So it’s no accident that his 18th studio album, Way Out West, becomes an unblemished token of his appreciation for the music’s timeless heritage.

Produced by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, the album is brimming with the vivid imagery of wide open spaces, stark landscapes and the classic visage of the great American west. Not surprisingly, much of it unfolds as a sprawling soundtrack that invokes that last great frontier, a dazzlingly orchestrated melange that would serve well as a Sergio Leone classic of the western cinematic variety. In fact, after opening with a brief Native American invocation, “Desert Prayer,” Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, launch straight into “Mojave,” a surf instrumental with overt spaghetti western flavorings.

When Stuart veers away from that format, he does so discreetly. The title track pits cowboys and Indians against outer space aliens in an eerie narrative laced with psychedelic suggestion. The staunch south of the border sounds of “Old Mexico” is stirred with authenticity and rugged romance, while the unfettered stomp of “Quicksand,” the rollicking rhythms of “Torpedo” and the robust delivery of “Time Don’t Wait” add their own air of authenticity, all of which affirm Stuart’s diehard devotion to his subject and his stature as one who has never lost faith in the form.

Incidentally, if you happen to be a vinyl aficionado, Stuart’s own Superlatone imprint is offering the wax version of the album—autographed, at that. —LEE ZIMMERMAN

Way out West

 Ed. note: Go HERE to listen to a hugely entertaining interview between Stuart and Teri Gross on a recent episode of her NPR program “Fresh Air.” You won’t learn all you need to know about Stuart, but it’ll work nicely as a primer if you aren’t intimately familiar with the dude.


On December 16, 2005, I wandered into Asheville (rhymes with Nashville) venue the Orange Peel, primed and pumped for that year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam pre-Jam, part of the annual Haynes Jam ritual; I faithfully attended every one of those events during the 10 years I lived in Asheville, from 2002 through 2011, and I was honored to be a member of the attending media for most of those years at the pre-Jam festivities held at the Peel the night before the official event at the Asheville Civic Center. (Important note: I faithfully purchased my Jam ticket each and every year as it was a benefit for the local Habitat For Humanity chapter, which I felt strongly about supporting.)

Marty Stuart was to be among the special guests for the ’05 Haynes Jam, and as these things tended to work out, he arrived a day early in order to participate in the pre-Jam. The evening unfolded on schedule, with friends and associates of Haynes, along with already scheduled Jam (proper) artists who were in town, getting up onstage at the Orange Peel for a kind of preview-and-icing-on-the-cake of the Jam (proper); the concert was also broadcast, as per tradition, over local public radio station WNCW-FM (Spindale, NC), and listeners were encouraged to make donations to Habitat. Pretty soon Stuart was up there with Haynes, members of Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic and others, steaming through a ragged-but-right version of the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman.”

Not long afterward, during a break in the festivities, I was backstage talking to Haynes as Stuart himself came wandering up. Warren introduced us, and I congratulated him on the Byrds song, long one of my favorites, and that if he heard anyone singing loud and out of tune from the audience during it, that was probably me. I added that I’d always loved the version from the Untitled album era, and that he’d hit some pretty mean guitar licks while performing it.

“I really appreciate that,” Stuart replied. “And since you mentioned Untitled, you might like to know that I was playing Clarence White’s old guitar during the song.”

Well, damn. Clarence is one of my heroes, I tell him. He was one of the giants. To which Stuart nods vigorously. “I picked that guitar up a few years ago. When I play it I can really feel something special.”

“But,” he continued, “I really screwed up the lyrics on that song. Just couldn’t remember ‘em off the top of my head. We’re thinking we might do it again [at the Jam] and I need to figure ‘em out so I don’t embarrass myself.”

I mentioned it would be easy enough to get the lyrics off the internet, and at that he quickly shot back, “You think you could print them out and get them to me in time for tomorrow night?”

That I could indeed do, Marty. I will be backstage and downstairs at the Jam tomorrow night and can bring ‘em with me. “Oh wow, if you could, I thank you in advance. Just come find me.” Stuart then turns to Haynes, nodding at me: “You can always count on a journalist when you need something like that.” This may be the first and last time a superstar musician has endorsed the career known as “rock critic,” considering the general legacy of tension that exists between artists and writers, but I’ll still take the endorsement.

Marty 2

Saturday morning: log onto computer; find “Mr. Spaceman” lyrics; print out.

Saturday evening: head to the Asheville Civic Center for the 2005 Warren Haynes Christmas Jam; present my ticket plus backstage pass to Civic Center security; head downstairs to the artist area.

Sure enough, it’s not long before I spot Stuart wandering around, talking to folks and availing himself of the buffet. He spots me heading his way and turns in my direction, smiling. I smile back, produce the page of lyrics, and simply say “As promised.”

Stuart scans the paper, grinned a Cheshire Cat-worthy grin, then grabs my hand and pumps it hard. “Man, how can I thank you?” he says. “Well,” I reply, “How about signing this for me,” showing him my CD cover to his ’99 album The Pilgrim.”

He snatches it plus the Sharpie pen I’d smartly thought to bring from me and, as he inscribes the booklet, asks if I have his latest album Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, which earlier. “Listen,” he says, “C’mon over here with me to my tour bus so I can get you a copy of it.”


So I’m walking through the bottom of the Asheville Civic Center, Marty Stuart’s arm around my shoulder, leading me to his tour bus, talking about how cool it is to be playing the Haynes Jam (“Everybody I know who’s played it says they had the best damn time of their lives!”), and then ushering me into the bus and sitting me down while he gets a copy of Badlands for me.

“You said you were a fan of Clarence last night—you wanna see his guitar?”

Holy shit. Here I am, sitting on Marty Stuart’s tour bus, and he’s handing me one of Clarence White’s guitars, and I’m somehow managing to form a “D” chord then a “G” chord then an “E” chord on it without shaking uncontrollably. Marty Stuart is telling me about his guitar collection, and his country music memorabilia collection, and how awhile back he decided somebody had to start collecting all this stuff in one place and could be archived carefully so it didn’t all wind up in places like eBay and the Hard Rock Café. He shows me a few other guitars, although if he tells me they belonged to famous people, I don’t hear him because…

Holy shit. Here I am, holding Clarence White’s guitar and strumming chords on it in front of Marty Stuart.

Luckily I come down to Planet Earth before I take an interstellar piss in my pants, and I make some kind of semi-intelligent comments in Stuart’s direction. (Memo to music fans: this is where being a rock critic comes in handy. You can dredge up all manner of semi-intelligent music comments on command, even when you’re essentially speechless.)

Well, soon enough I am getting up and thanking Stuart for his autograph, the CD, and the hospitality, and descending down the stairs of the bus back into the bottom of the Asheville Civic Center and, it seems, to the real world. Stuart thanks me one last time for the “Mr. Spaceman” lyrics, then stays behind on the bus to stow the guitars away.

A couple of hours later, onstage for his Haynes Jam set, Stuart plays a tune or two then is joined by Haynes plus Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools on bass and Gov’t Mule’s Matt Abts and Danny Louis (on drums and keys). They do rousing versions of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” then as set-closer, you guessed it, “Mr. Spaceman.” Stuart nails the lyrics this time—no doubt having closely scanned a certain piece of paper before his set—and the Civic Center crowd roars its approval while singing along. As the song comes to its anthemic conclusion, Stuart steps to the edge of the stage to nod and wave a thank-you to the audience. (As it turns out, he’ll be back next year for the 2006 Jam, this time with his band The Fabulous Superlatives in tow.)

Me, I’m out there in that Civic Center crowd too, and while I’m in no way vain enough to think for one moment that he was up there waving at me, well… rock ‘n’ roll’s always been a little about dreaming and wish fulfillment, so….

Thanks, Marty. You are the real deal.


Photos Credit: Alysse Gafkjen



SXSW 2017 Photo Gallery


Exclusive pics from this year’s clusterfuck in Austin. That would be Texas, incidentally. Go HERE to read our official report and individual show reviews from SXSW 2017.  Pictured above: Mike Mills and the Big Star’s Third ensemble at Central Presbyterian Church on March 17.


March 11

Ja Rule @ Sellers



March 13

DJ Jazzy Jeff @ Cafe Blue

IMG_3051-DJ Jazzy Jeff-Cafe Blue

IMG_3057-DJ Jazzy Jeff-Cafe Blue

March 14

Erykah Badu @ ACL Live Moody Theatre




Thievery Corporation @ ALC








Wu-Tang Clan @ ACL






March 15

Warren G @ State Side


Warren G & Karam Gill


DMC @ Convention Center interview






March 16

Pvris @ MTV Woodies



Khalil Haat @ Russian House



Jidenna @ YouTube




Hanson @ Bungalow




Powerglove @ The SXSW Gaming Opening Party



March 17

Garth Brooks @ Convention Center



Silences @ British Embassy






Big Star’s Third @ Central Presbyterian Church






New Politics @ Brazos Hall







Weezer @ Brazos Hall










Sadie Claire is an Austin-based photographer. Find her at .











This year’s Xmas in March for music nuts braves two storms along with immigration dust-ups and more overcrowding than usual for Austin. See below for our exclusive photo gallery in addition to the report.


Two storms hovered over the annual SXSW festival in Austin.  The first one was weather-related- Stella, a category 3 blizzard that beat up the east coast just as the music part of the festival was beginning, causing a number of speakers to cancel out.  The other storm was a political one over immigration starting with a Tweet from Todd Slant about SX contracts, followed by pushback from SXSW, followed by SXSW vowing to change their 2018 artist contracts. Judging by downtown foot traffic, it felt like attendance might have been done a little but regardless, plenty of performers and attendees made it to the Texas state capital. At one point on Friday the 17th, the Sixth Street area (where most of the clubs are) was more packed with people than I’d ever seen in the 18 years I attended and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing- thanks to the ‘safety’ barriers installed in the middle of the street, the road left barely any breathing room and made for a situation that could have easily turned dangerous. Funny what we’ll do and put up with to see some music and chow down on BBQ.

Aside from some clueless volunteers, the festival went along again just fine otherwise, with the tech/Interactive portion as the main pull, followed by the Comedy and Film sessions with the Music part pulling up the rear as usual.  There was some impressive panels and speakers this year too- I missed the Nile Rodgers, Mick Fleetwood and Lou Adler interview sessions but have write-ups of the Prince and Garth Brooks sessions below.  We also had a music journo panel with Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune), author Chuck Eddy and Rachel Brodsky (Paste) that wasn’t all doom and gloom and I had to politely take turns telling everyone to shut up to keep things moving along. (KJZZ/NPR did a nice interview with me beforehand about the panel too- – and I did a pre-panel write-up about music scribing for the Reverie Report).

And a bunch of bands showed up again too of course. I usually avoid the big name shows (Garth, Migos, Gucci Maine) ‘cause it’s a pain to get in and not too fun to be sardine-packed in when you make it in.  Otherwise, I find SX a great way to find out about a lot of acts I wouldn’t know about otherwise. I always say it’s a musical smorgasbord where you can aurally pig out, especially since most clubs are easy to jump to from one another (something that NYC can’t match).  I noticed that despite the immigration controversy, there was plenty of impressive foreign acts there, even a showcase of music from the list of travel-banned countries.  And of course, there was no shortage of political commentary, running from the very subtle to the very blatant, concerning an ego-driven, thin-shinned orange autocrat. I caught almost 50 memorable acts and learned about a bunch of good albums from2016 that I didn’t know were out there.  You’ll no doubt recognize a couple of names here but I tried to bear down on acts I didn’t know about before I hit Austin.  Maybe you’ll like some of ‘em too and even support ‘em.


Below, check out a Spotify playlist of the acts reviewed here. Following the text you you can also see a YouTube playlist of footage from some of the shows.

A Giant Dog

  • A Giant Dog (Barracuda, March 16th)
    • Eternally clad in gym tights, singer Sabrina Ellis pulls double duty in the appropriately named Sweet Spirit but here’s where the Austin local rocks out as ringleader/cheerleader, appearing here beside a giant inflatable dragon with its wings flapping.  She/they sing so passionately about rock and roll that you’d think they’re hushing up the stupid naysayers that keep insisting the music’s dead.

Bad Pop

  • Bad Pop (ScartcHouse, March 14th)
    • What happens when you combine a geek, hipster chic and a long-haired wrestler-type dude? You get these hilarious indie rock Canucks.  Chris Connelly (guitarist/geek) has plenty of sly stage banter and an occasional robot vocal, Catherine Hiltz (the hipster) doubles on bass and trumpet at the same time and drummer Aaron Klassen (the dude) is an impressive driving force, even if he’s resultant to solo.

Sho Baraka

  • Sho Baraka (TenOak, March 18th)
    • This California (via Canadian) Christian rapper put out one of 2016’s finest releases, The Narrative. And though the grooveful songs came through for the show, his beef about his late slot and the sound guy got kind of tired after a while.  Did have some meaningful things to say about why inner city projects spring up though and he’s always one stylish dude.

Bastards of Fate

  • The Bastards of Fate (Tellers, March 17th)
    • Singer Doug Cheatwood looked like an office boy but with the rest of his bizarre post-rock band on the small stage, he took to the floor with the crowd, shining a light around himself most of the time and used his voice as a sound effect. Makes you wonder how he’d do on a bigger stage.

Benjamin Booker

  • Benjamin Booker (Container, March 15th)
    • I admired and respected this blues-rocker but wasn’t totally sold on him until this show where his admiration for the Gun Club came out, even in his casual manner.


  • Boyfriend (Palm Door on Sixth, March 16th)
    • She calls her act ‘rap cabaret’ but that sells this diminutive natural actress short. Clad in a wedding gown and then panties, bra and curlers, she led her dance crew through some high-end gymnastics with a knee-slapping number where she complains to her man that he doesn’t satisfy her as good as her hand.

Garth Brooks

  • Garth Brooks (Austin Convention Center, March 17th)
    • You might have heard of this country megastar and he was definitely the BMOC star of the music fest. I like some of his early stuff and was curious to see what his ‘keynote’ was like though I didn’t need to see his big late-announced show on Saturday.  For tech, he’s definitely tone-deaf, even if he was there to boost his partnership with Amazon.  He did have something meaningful to say about the dying art of songwriters in Nashville though and it was kind of refreshing to see such a huge act be so low-key and casual.  Too bad that he didn’t bring out Chris Gaines for a cameo.

Chain of Flowers

  • Chain of Flowers (Sidewinder, March 15th)
    • These Cardiff boys took their name from a Cure song and you can see the influence- the sensitive vocals and synth riffs/atmosphere. They do have a strong sound though, especially with singer Joshua Smith (related to Robert?) who shared a beer shower with us. Just hoped that it wasn’t domestic.

Kasey Chambers

  • Kasey Chambers (Cooper’s, March 15th)
    • Cooper’s is a great place for BBQ but too cramped for shows and though she was a little long on banter about her life (quite a thick shrimp-on-the-barbie accent), this Aussie country legend brought the goods with her voice and her songs. Nashville should get up some courage and just adopt her.

Sturle Dagsland

  • Sturle Dagsland (Tellers, March 16th)
    • Even though the entire audience for the first five minutes was just me and the sound guy, this Norwegian experimental artist put on one of the most memorable shows at the fest. Alongside his brother on guitar, he ran through all kinds of theatrical dancing and pawing at instruments strewn around the stage (including bamboo sax, skateboard, harp, bells, homemade instruments) like it was a mad scientist’s lab.  When he intro’d the songs, he gave the titles as squeaks and squawks.  Wondering if the songs actually had titles, he later told me that ‘they don’t have names in any readable languages.’ Can’t wait to decipher them later.


  • DakhaBrakha (Austin Convention Center, March 16th)
    • Just your typical trio of Ukrainian women with big fur hats who play modernized traditional music, including a cellist who raps in their native language and a crazed drum circle that would drive jam band fans wild. Not so typical actually.

Dark Times

  • Dark Times (BD Riley, March 14th)
    • This Oslo trio ID’s itself as punk but there’s an arty, drone-filled edge to them that sets that apart. Maybe it’s AK’s angry, insistent vocals and noise guitar.  Maybe it’s her background in radio that also gives her roots too.

DJ Yoda

  • DJ Yoda (Valhalla, March 17th)
    • Though the accompanying rapper didn’t do much for this London DJ, he proved himself worthy of all the mixtape buzz by making dance music out of early 70’s mellow classics like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” Has Girl Talk done that yet?

Dream Wife

  • Dream Wife (Maggie Mae’s, March 17th)
    • Boosted by confident Icelandic singer Rakel Mjöll, this London band started as performance art and you can see that in their act, a cunning poppy-punk mix of sugar and spice. The Friday show I caught was their 3rd gig of the day and 8th gig at SX and it showed occasionally- guitarist Alice Go struggled mightily to stay aloft.

Kinky Friedman

  • Kinky Friedman (Threadgill’s, March 18th)
    • Though they frown on unofficial day shows, there’s plenty of non-showcase action going around during the fest. One example was a great singer-songwriter showcase featuring this Jewish comedian, Willie Nelson pal and conservative Democrat. The jokes were as good as the songs and he even pulled out one so new that an audience member had to hold the lyrics next to him just in case he forgot the words (which he did).

Frontier Folk Nebraska

  • Frontier Folk Nebraska (Swan Dive, March 18th)
    • As much of a misnomer as the Austin pizza joint called Hoboken Pie, this Cincinnati quartet provided anthemic, roots/indie rock songs that any Drive-By Truckers fan would appreciate. Don’t let the Southern rock logos fool you though- good ol’ boys they ain’t.  They’re good boys for sure though.

Gabriel Royal

  • Gabriel Royal (Stephen F’s, March 18th)
    • A soul-styled cellist is the type of act that stands out but he’s more than a novelty. He does have soul for real and a voice to go with it and he sounds just fine plucking or strumming his instrument all by himself.


  • Grandaddy (Stubb’s, March 17th)
    • They didn’t have the production/videos of a smaller NYC gig I caught recently but the bigger stage (at Stubb’s) suited the grandeur of some of the early material of this recently reunited band, earning their headline spot for the evening. Jason Lytle’s high pitched voice filled the warm Texas night nicely too.


  • Hanba! (Flamingo Cantina, March 16th)
    • If the Pogues can do trad-punk, why can’t this unplugged Polish band do the same? Featuring banjo, tuba, accordion, parade drums and clarinet, they not only had the punky fast-paced chants down, they also provided a history lesson and a sly warning to us Yanks about nationalism.

High Waisted

  • High Waisted (Cheer Up Charlie’s, March 18th)
    • Though I loved their “Party In the Back” single, I wasn’t sure if there was more to this poppy little indie band. Thanks to singer Jessica Louise’s cheery spirits, there was.

Idle Bloom

  • Idle Bloom (Sidewinder, March 14th)
    • Though they’re from Nashville, they’re definitely not conservative- this indie band dished out the most in-your-face anger about the Orange Imperial Menace that I heard at the fest. Guitarist/singer Olivia Scibelli and bassist Katie Banyay twist through songs that are gnarled and somehow catchy at the same time. Would be great to think that some hometown country acts could pick up on their vibe somehow.

King Cayman

  • King Cayman (Trinity House at Old School, March 14th)
    • This tireless wild man, one-man band, who was barely visible through his shaggy hair, blazed through one song after enough with such furry that at first I thought his garage-rock sound was garage-dance-drum-and-bass related. He’s definitely got his BPM’s notched up high and even if some of it sounds the same, who cares if there’s a great sound attached to it?


  • Lizzo (Stubb’s, March 15th)
    • Even when she went poppy, this Minneapolis rapper still hasn’t quite gotten the respect she deserves. She’s got a strong attitude, great dancers, an impressive stage act and an amazing polymath DJ backing her up- that would be Sophia Eris and you should remember that name.  Is the pop market really that freakin’ stupid that it has to reject a talent like this just ’cause she’s large-size?  Guess so.  Their loss.

Low Cut Connie

  • Low Cut Connie (Tellers, March 16th)
    • This Philly rock and roll (not rock) band never fails to bring it live. Singer/leader Adam Weiner is a born-showman, banging on and standing on a full sized piano, taking a stroll through the audience and assuring us that we’ll make it if we all stick together (a subtle political reference). Didn’t even mind it when he grabbed and tossed my cap.

New Pornographers

  • New Pornographers (Empire Control Room, March 15th)
    • OK, so you know who these guys are but almost 20 years on, it’s worth reminding ourselves what a pleasure they are. Carl Newman’s a great songwriter and singer Neko Case is an eternal treasure.  Hope they stick around for another 20 years.

Octopus Project

  • The Octopus Project (Mohawk, March 15th)
    • This brainy, rock/indie/post-rock Austin outfit is worth multiple viewings. Your head will spin watching them switch instruments, which occasionally includes two sets of drums and you can’t help but be drawn to Yvonne Lambert with her retro outfits and Theremin theatrics.

Tunde Olaniran

  • Tunde Olaniran (Sidewinder, March 16th)
    • This ‘Afro-futurist’ rapper from Flint started out with a taped newscast about his hometown’s water crisis. Soon, two mysterious dancers appeared, followed by him in African-like garb, performing in front of billboards insisting this was homophobia, transphobia, etc. free zone. All those good intentions weren’t wasted either with a big-hearted, soul-searching, stirring act to go with it.

Orkhestra Kriminal

  • Orkestra Kriminal (Austin Convention Center, March 15th)
    • Except for racist scum, who doesn’t enjoy some wild klezmer (‘yiddish gangster’) music with sousaphone, musical saw and violins? What really makes this Montreal crew go is their engaging, footloose singer Giselle Claudia Webber.


  • Paws (Sidewinders, March 17th)
    • I was curious to see if this catchy Glasgow indie band still had it after their wonderful Cokefloat! debut from 2012. Glad to see that they did.

Plastic Pinks

  • Plastic Pinks (Hotel Vegas, March 18th)
    • Though they had shows all over the place, these wild-ass Miami rockers had no official SX showcase gig per se. Tracking them down was worth it though- between their Stooges-riffs and hyperactive singer June Summer (who I first thought was over-enthused roadie) who could play cagey and manic in the blink of an eye, they dominated the tiny indoor stage that they were given.

Lisa Prank

  • Lisa Prank (Las Cruxes, March 14th)
    • Sporting an adorable princess outfit, a sweet attitude and a sticker-filled guitar, it was hard not to fall for this lo-fi singer and her invisible, foot-controlled ‘band.’


  • Priests (Cheer Up Charlie’s, March 16th)
    • After falling in love with their jangly, jagged “JJ” single, I was a little let down by this DC indie band’s debut, wondering if they had anything else substantial going on. After singer Katie Alice Greer shouted and pleaded and sly moaned through their set, it was obvious that there was much more to them than I thought and that she was their not-so-secret weapon.

Prince Panel

  • Prince Panel (Austin Convention Center, March 17th)
    • With his ex-band mates Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson there and ex-manager Owen Husney (who also signed him to WB), it was a dishing fest but who doesn’t want to hear the inside stories of the Purple legend, including how paranoid he was about being recognized BEFORE he was famous? Not to mention how all his weird interviews were actually carefully planned stunts.  All of which just makes us miss him more. And we even got a sneak peak at the upcoming documentary about the Purple One.

Pussy Riot

  • Pussy Riot (Speakeasy, March 15th)
    • Surprised to see that more people didn’t make it out to see these Russian political dissident legends. Of course they pissed all over Putin and made hay of their legal run-in’s as much as Lenny Bruce once did. But their multi-media theater piece with goth-dance music and translations from Russian was amazing.  As Maria Alyokhina sang occasionally wearing a terrorist mask and singer/saxist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova stood resolutely next to her, there was only certainty and determination in their faces and voices as if they were ready to stare down any opposition.  They were fearless. They were a role model for battling an authoritarian head of state.  Only when the words “Russia will be free again” came on the screen, followed by a roar of approval from the crowd, did a smile creep across Alyokhina’s face.  She believed it and we believed it too, thinking thought that we too would be free someday.


  • Qawalistan (Palm Door on Sixth, March 17th)
    • Pakistani fusion might sound like a world music nightmare, especially when it comes from a band who loves Deep Purple and Black Sabbath but luckily, this group leans more on local influences than Western ones. Though they had a guitar and drum kit in their ranks, singer and harmonium player Imran Aziz Mian Qawal dominated with his wailing vocals, backed by tabla and dholak drummers that also gave a trad link and grounding to the music.


  • Qualiatik (Clearport, March 15th)
    • A well planned out schedule can fall apart but still come out OK. Here, I was supposed to see a different act but ’cause the schedule ran late, I saw this one-woman Philly act which she claims as a ‘multi-media act.’  She’s got great surreal videos/visuals, good command of keys/drums/electronics and an expressive voice that makes you think that she could be a star someday.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (Container, March 15th)
    • Even before Sub Pop snatched them up, I was taken by these dreamy-sounding Aussie rockers- no surprise then to find out that the band is made up of relatives and school chums as the music sounds like it, aided nicely by guitarist Joe White’s airy sound. Just be glad that they’re on a (big) indie so that some A&R guy doesn’t make them change their name to make it ‘simpler.’

Whitney Rose

  • Whitney Rose (Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room, March 14th)
    • If you love old-school country, this honky tonk gal is for you. Her recent EP South Texas Suite is a gem and she’s got a gorgeous voice to carry any song she chooses, which happens to be ones that she writes herself.


  • Slotface (Sidewinder, March 15)
    • Originally called Slutface (they still insist on saying it that way), this Oslo band boosts feminism and conservation causes but what comes out in the tunes is their subtle but insistent singer/lyricist Haley Shea (who has shades of Garbage’s Shirley Manson in her) and the songs from a guitarist named Tor-Arne Vikingstad whose catchy music never let on that he was once in a hardcore band.


  • SlowKiss (Friends, March 14th)
    • Even in Chile, grrls will girls. With energy to burn (L7 fans for sure), they were one of the most impressive SX acts this time around with guitarist Elisa Montes and bassist Victoria Cordero trading vocals and creating an emotional pull to the music.  Drooling boy fans picked up on their leg tattoos but all I noticed was their charging sound.

Spook School

  • Spook School (Sidewinder, March 17th)
    • With so many new acts to see at SX, the temptation is to skip repeats from before but I couldn’t resist with these inedible, yearning Scots who have roots in queer punk (singer Nye Todd is transgender) and comedy. Nice to see their haunting way with a tune hasn’t disappeared and their drummer is still a dry, hilarious MC.


  • Spoon (Austin Convention Center, March 17th)
    • These hometown heroes had a three-night curated residency at the Main and still managed to do a morning showcase for KGSR radio and this afternoon show to boot. Smart move though as they were pushing a fine new album, Hot Thoughts. I’m schizzy about these guys ’cause I like ‘like’ their albums and honor the craggy, difficult nature of their music but not sure if I always love it. Live though, Britt Daniels is an effective frontman, just active enough without being too showy. Despite my reservations, they’ve got a great band too, especially with recent-addition Alex Fischel on keys.


  • SuperGlu (Latitude 30, March 18th)
    • Good news for Brit-pop fans who thought that Oasis was too thick and Blur was too clever- these Coldchester brothers and their bloke chums might provide a happy medium for you.

Sweet Crude

  • Sweet Crude (Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room, March 16th)
    • Another fortunate accident as I meant to see a Korean punk band called No Brain playing next door and instead, I came across this folky NOLA dance-pop outfit who cite ELO, Talking Heads, Lost Bayou Ramblers as influences (also Miami Sound Machine even if they don’t know it). Singers Sam Craft & Alexis Marceaux surround themselves with drums and a festive spirit that would rock the hippest of Bar-Mitzvahs. And they’re real Bayou folks- half their website is in French.

AJ Tracey

  • AJ Tracey (Empire Garage, March 18th)
    • Nowadays as strong, if not as varied, as its American counterpart, UK rap, aka grime, is some of the most cutting edge music coming out of pop culture now. Though slack timing meant that I missed grime star Rude Kid, Tracey showed why he’s got a string of sold out UK shows coming up. His tight, rapid-fire delivery was a pleasure to watch.

Uyarakq x Peand-eL

  • Uyarakq x Peand-eL (Cedar Street Courtyard, March 16th)
    • A Greenlandic rapper sounds like just another novelty but Peter Lyberth aka Peand-eL ain’t no joke, even if he dresses like a dad on holiday. The guy had good flow (rapping in kalaallisut/Greenlandic) and even had some harsh political words for his homeland’s government, including protest rally sounds in his songs via his dance-music partner Uyarakq (who describes his genre as ‘dad-jokes’).  If you’re curious about more, there’s even a Nordic festival in the fall, you can check out.


  • Weaves (Maggie Mae’s, March 17th)
    • Jasmyn Burke stands out not just because she’s a black singer leading punky indie band but also because she counts Karen O and Koko Taylor as influences and sounds like it. It definitely helps that she has guitarist/actor/comedian Morgan Waters backing her up with all kinds of wonderful sound effect noises. Where else but in Toronto could this happen?


  • Zeta (Speakeasy, March 17th)
    • Venezuela may not be the place you’d think of for great hardcore/art-rock/post-punk music but that’s what this foursome has to offer- think of them as a less monotonous version of Helmut with still plenty of volume. When a rapper came on for a few songs, you didn’t get nightmares about Limp Bizkit either.

Jason Gross is a longtime contributor to Blurt and also is the archivally-minded genius behind that most excellent music site Perfect Sound Forever. Below, view some of the bands he saw in Austin this year.