THE BLURT JAZZ DESK IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS! Announcing our newest department, which we hope will intrigue, enthuse, energize and – if we do our job correctly – even aggravate, thereby prompting a back-and-forth dialogue. Please say hello to veteran Asheville-based music journalist BILL KOPP, the editor of the Jazz Desk.
Up first from Dr. Kopp: “Jazz Nazis, Fuck Off: Herbie Mann”, in which he offers the late jazz flautist a reappraisal through the lens of a crucial new archival release, Live at the Whisky 1969: The Unreleased Masters, and interviews with compiler Pat Thomas and Mann biographer Cary Ginell. “Herbie’s efforts helped call attention to jazz among young listeners,” summarizes Ginell. “He always had his ear to the ground to see about the new styles of music that were coming into vogue and what young people were listening to.”
Installment #2: Latest Archival Releases (via the Resonance & Elemental labels). Examined: Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, João Gilberto & Getz, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Art Pepper.
Installment #3: New Releases, via respected labels Mack Avenue, International Anthem Recording Co., Whaling City Sound, Onyx Productions, Ropeadope, Same Island Music, Okeh, Jazzelm Music, and Orleans Records.
This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.
BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY
Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! Check out these choice offerings for the winter, as they will leave ink stains on your fingers quite nicely and keep you warm at night…
The Big Takeover (#77) Jack’s back! Meaning Jack Rabid and his trusty crew of hard workers put out another issue of the Big Takeover. Now in its ……35th year I believe and cramming in all the news that’s fit to print. In this ish is Ride (cover stars) plus other interviews with Low, Flesh Eaters Chris D., Royal Headache, Mercury Rev (by Mr. Joseph Kyle) The Damned (part 2) and more. Interviews plus many others. There’s lots of history here and well worth your hard-earned dough at 136 pages. www.bigtakeover.com
Bull Tongue Review (#4) I think this new zine, started up by Mr. Byron Coley, wasn’t even around when I did my last column a little less than a year ago, but since that time he has cranked out four issues. Under the title it states “A quarterly journal of post-rock cultural pluralism.” And basically it’s about 75 pages of reviews and musings on… well, anything and everything. The list of contributors is pretty amazing; Ira Kaplan, Michael Hurley, Tom lax, Chris D., Bruce Russell, Tesco Vee, Gregg Turner and too many more (including yours truly). Pick it up and learn something. I hope this one continue for a long time. www.bulltonguereview.com
Ugly Things (#30) Editor Mike Stax must be finding more time to do this as it seems I see UT a few times a year now instead of the once a year it used to be. I certainly don’t mind though it takes me forever to read an issue. This issue, like all of them, is all things garage and freakbeat (i.e.: mostly 1960’s) and has pieces on The Clingers (never heard of ‘em either), Brian Jones (now him I have heard of), The Mickey Finn plus Kim Fowley, The Saints, a ton of reviews and lots more—including a regular, must-read column by Cyril Jordan of the Flamin’ Groovies—crammed into 176 pages (at press time a new ish of UT, #40, is now out though I have not gotten it yet). www.ugly-things.com
Zisk (#26) I have to start off every review of Zisk by stating that it is “The baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines.” Yeah! They’re now on to issue #26 and Mike and Steve, continue to bust out issues of Zisk two times per year (what the fuck have you done?!). In this ish is a drawing of Yogi on the cover (RIP) plus Johnny Bench (remember him?), an Orioles fan vs. Derek Jeter, the Meaning of Commitment, Cincy and plenty more. You gotta gotta gotta have it. www.ziskmagazine.com
ONE MORE THAT I HAD ALMOST FORGOTTEN ABOUT!
Jim Shepherd: Negotiate Nothing (Nix Rock n’ Roll Comics) Bela Koe-Krompecher is the Columbus, OH everyman, running his own label (Anyway Records) and doing a heartfelt blog on the Columbus scene too (he also used to co-own Used Kids Records along with Stache’s, Columbus’ premier (ahem) venue for indie/punk bands in the ‘90s). OK, cutting right to it, a few years ago he did a blog posting on the late Jim Shepherd, an underground legend in Columbus via his self-produced records and tapes, in this 20 –page zine/comic Bela, along with illustrator Andy Bennet and designer/compiler Ken Eppstein have put together a unique mag on the life and times of the enigmatic Shepherd. Via his work in bands like Vertical Slit and V-3 (once signed to a major subsidiary, Onion Records). Shepherd was sort of king shit on turd mountain (though it sounds like he wanted to be anything but….and yes, there is a good Bob Pollard-related story on here) and truly created a unique catalog by absolutely refusing to budge in any way (even the title of the comic was part of a Shepherd quote, “Negotiate nothing, tear it all down”). This is a fascinating look at a true American original and honestly, a steal at $5. www.nixcomics.comwww.belakoekrompecher.wordpress.com
This is what the world looked like before Al Gore invented the Internet, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert weighs in.
BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY
Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! Just a handful of offerings for this winter, but they will leave ink stains on your fingers quite nicely.
THE BIG TAKEOVER (#75) I’ve already been using the phrase, “Jack Rabid’s long-running zine” for what seems like decades. Well, here in its 34th year Jack and his staff continue to crank out interviews, articles and reviews of the best indie rock/pop and punk out there. this issue has The Raveonettes (cover stars) plus other interviews with The Drums, The Muffs The Bevis Frond, part 2 of both the Dum Dum Girls and Penetration interviews plus many others. Also review and smaller profiles on other bands. 136 pages. www.bigtakeover.com
DENVOID: PUNKER TALES AND BEYOND (#1- Music writings by Dan Allen) Longtime Denver musician Dan Allen (he was most recently in the Sonic Archers and has done some solo stuff as well) put together this digest-sized book/zine. It starts off with some early show reviews of Misfits and Black Flag gigs then on through the years (it’s not in chronological order) with reviews of gigs far and wide: San Francisco, Seattle, Santa Fe, Buffalo, NY (mid-90’s). He saw Crime and the City Solution in the late ‘80s in Denver (grrrr….jealous!). Lots o’ good stuff here. Plenty of Denver gigs that I missed (about 4-5 years before I got here like Dressy Bessy, The Fluid, X, The Breeders, Daniel Johnson, New York Dolls, etc. etc.). You may dive in. Danallen662000@yahoo.com
DYNAMITE HEMORRHAGE (#2) After doing the great zine Superdope many years ago and then laying low for several years (thought he was active in the blog scene) San Franciscan Jay Hinman returned last year with a dynamite (!!!) new zine and here is issue #2 of said zine. In this issue Jay does a terrific interview/ retrospective on New Zealander Bill Direen. In addition there interviews w/ Crypt Records maniac Tim Warren plus Memphis band Nots, Honey Radar and a piece on ‘70s Jamaican dub. There’s article on punk 45s, plenty of reviews and more. Don’t miss this one. www.dynamitehemorrhage.com
ZISK (#25) “The baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines” continues on with its 25th issue! Mike and Steve, also behind the great (though much more sporadic) Go Metric zine, continue to bust out issues of Zisk two times per year. In this ish is Top 10 lists (my favorite, I love lists!), plus The Cincy Cycle and article by yours truly on John “The Hammer” Milner. More stuff on Wrigley, the Waldwick Batboy Trials, book reviews and more. Go on. www.ziskmagazine.com
Tim “Dagger” Hinely flunked both WordPress and Photoshop while attending Denver’s University of Hard Knocks but don’t let that prevent you from checking out his most excellent rock mag Dagger at www.daggerzine
The Clash icon and Mescaleros frontman passed away eleven years ago this month, on Dec. 22. By way of tribute, we present this story from the archives.
BY FRED MILLS
On December 22, 2002, unexpectedly and tragically, Joe Strummer died, apparently from a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. I had interviewed Strummer twice in 2001, once over the phone from England and then again in person when he appeared at New York’s Irving Plaza for an October concert with his band The Mescaleros. Portions of those interviews subsequently saw publication in the Phoenix New Times and Magnet Magazine, and in a surreal twist, a few video snippets of me interviewing Strummer in NYC would turn up in the 2005 Strummer documentary Let’s Rock Again! by filmmaker Dick Rude (who I vaguely recalled having been present with a camera during the interview). At any rate, as today marks the anniversary of Strummer’s death, it seems like as reasonable a time as any to share with readers a vastly expanded version of my Strummer story, combining material from both interviews. Continue reading →
Seattle production duo ODESZA, made up of Harrison Mills (Catacombkid) and Clayton Knight (BeachesBeaches), will self-release their new EP, My Friends Never Die, on September 17. It’s the follow up to 2012’s Summer’s Gone. Here’s the title track:
Production of My Friends Never Die began in early 2013 between tours with Emancipator, Beat Connection, and Little People and was completed ahead of performances at Sasquatch Music Festival, Lighting In A Bottle, What The Festival, Summer Meltdown and Capitol Hill Block Partyearlier this summer. After sets at MusicfestNW, Decibel Festival and Symbiosis Gathering in the coming months, ODESZA will tour the East Coast and Midwest for the first time ever with Michal Menert until linking up with Pretty Lights in November for a week of their largest shows yet.
South Korean indie rockers offer up a compelling alternative to contemporary K-pop.
BY FRED MILLS
The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s Love X Stereo, from Seoul, South Korea. This makes our 22nd BKS selection since commencing the program of spotlighting new and under-the-radar artists back in 2008.
The group is described in its bio as “an electro rock band… authentic electronic music based in alternative and punk rock from the ‘90s. With its free use of synthesizing and effects, Love X Stereo’s music is danceable. And despite the fact that many genres aside from K-pop are being completely excluded in the harsh environment of the Korean music industry, its consistency in creating well-produced, visionary music continues to attract global attention. By infusing alternative music with electronic elements, Love X Stereo is creating a fresh new style of music that is continually gaining great respect from both sides of Korean independent music scene; rock and electronica. Its music often confuses Korean audiences who isn’t always accustomed to absorbing new sounds, but it definitely takes center stage in the expat community (in other words, foreigners living in Korea) thanks to their impressive live performances and memorable song-writings.”
Indeed, one readily detects everything from Smashing Pumpkins, U2 and My Bloody Valentine to classic ‘60s girl-group, spacey ‘70s Prog and poppy ‘80s nu-psychedelia in the band’s sound – check, for example, signature track “Soul City” (aka “Seoul City”) for a sleek sample of the impressive instrumentation and vocalist Annie’s sensual yip ‘n’ croon.
Annie – Lead Vocals, Keyboards and Synthesizers
Toby – Guitar, Backing Vocals, producing
Sol – Bass, Backing Vocals
Young Hoon Jang – Drums
Annie and Toby kindly answered our email questions, and followed up a short while later to let us know that had just received invitations from MidPoint Music Fest (aka MPMF.13, held in Cincinnati Sept. 26-28) and Indie Week Canada 2013 (Oct. 16-20, Toronto), and hope to set up a U.S. tour around the events. Meanwhile, check out their official website or Facebook page for additional details as well as song samples. They’re one of the good‘uns, trust us.
BLURT: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your pre-Love X Stereo days as the punk/skate rock band Skrew Attack.
TOBY: I was in a band called “18Cruk” back in 1998, which was one of the 1st or 2nd generation Korean punk rock band. I played the bass, and our band was like one of those anarcho bands back then. At that time, I was very much into bands like NOFX, Black Flag, Bad Religion, or Minor Threat – many fast paced hard core/punk rock bands. In order to do those type of music, I decided to leave the band and made a 3 piece sk8 punk rock band called “Skrew Attack” in 1999. This band was probably the first sk8 punk rock band ever in Korea. I founded Bitch & Beach Records and Stereo City Records afterwards. (Our band name ‘Love X Stereo’ was actually inspired by this name: ‘Stereo City’.) And in order to pursue music more professionally, there were constant member replacements all the time. Many members went in and out, and then I met Annie in the end of 2005. (‘Skrew Attack’ still remains as Korea’s 1st sk8 punk rock band.)
Why did you decide to change your name and, presumably, your style?
We did punk rock for years and years, so this time we wanted to do something different, something that isn’t necessarily punk rock, and something fresh and new. We love to add experimental flavor into our music, adding different elements from different genres that we like, such as trip hop, electro, alternative rock etc. So, changing band name was quite inevitable.
So far you have released two EPs – Buzzin’ in 2011, and Off the Grid in 2012 – correct? What details should we know about those?
The album Buzzin’ was the first album that band ever produced. This album was our very first attempt for dance music. We bought a synthesizer for the first time, and made our title song ‘Ocean Breeze’ right away. This song sort a led us to dig deep into electro music, which eventually became the origin of our band.
Off The Grid album is more on the shoegazing, ambient, psychedelic side which we always wanted to try someday. ‘Chain Reaction’ is a good example which shows all those elements. But ironically ‘Soul City’ seems to be the most beloved. Maybe ‘Soul City’ is a bit more friendly to the audience than ‘Chain Reaction’.
You’ve also released covers of Nirvana, Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins (listen to 1979, above) – why did you select those artists to cover?
There are many reasons why we do covers. First of all, we cover these songs as an homage to these bands. Second, we thought this is a perfect way to explain our music to a more broader audience. Last but not least, these bands are the reason why we started music in the first place, and we always love to cover songs that inspire us. It started from a very random idea, but we did it anyway, and we still want to cover more songs in the future.
Talk a little about the Korean indie/underground music scene that we outsiders wouldn’t necessarily know about. Not surprisingly, we don’t get much information about it—primarily, it’s just K-pop artists that make the news over here. Where does your band fit in?
We believe that the size of Korean indie scene is only 5-10% of what the K-pop scene is right now. But there are a lot of independent artists out there active these days. Though, we do feel recently that lots of corporates are willing to get involved in this small scene and to take over small labels and independent artists in a certain way. We keep learning from our experiences and try to stand on our own.
In your Sonicbids EPK you suggest that Korean artists have been discriminated against by the recording industry and the government—could you explain that a bit more?
ANNIE: To avoid any further confusion, I didn’t mean that independent artists are getting discriminated by the system. What I meant was that Korean rock itself has been discriminated throughout history, and for that matter, most rock musicians nowadays just really don’t have a chance to create a bond with our great predecessors. Think of it this way: The majority of people in Korea presumably think that ‘rock music equals independent music’. That shows how rock music is underestimated in this country. But rock music is constantly getting attention as a new alternative to K-pop. So… ummm, that says, we are not very much involved in this scene whatsoever (I think.) We want our music to be heard by the world, not just in Korea, lol. (below, two recent live sessions by the band)
How has your music been received by the Korean fans and the Korean music so far? What are your plans to reach a larger audience, either regionally or globally?
Our Korean fans are mostly fans who really love ‘music’ in general. But Korean fans might be only about 10% of our fanbase. Most of our fans who buy our CDs and follow up our shows are mostly foreigners (non-Koreans) living in Korea. And we aren’t getting much love from the public yet, but we do think many Korean artists (such as musicians, artists etc.) seem to like us, too. We will continue making new music, of course, and will try to reach out the world constantly. You will see us in your neighborhood very soon.
You have a new EP slated for release in July? What can you tell us about that?
We are scheduled to publish our new EP in July, hopefully. (Still working on new songs.) It’s going to be sophisticated, complicated, edgy and grand, but still very easy to listen. It’s going to be superb!
And also, we are about to release a new theme song for famous Korean pop artist “The Jack” (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Thejack-더잭/493262977391512). He is a very humorous, photogenic rabbit who portrays real life into this fictional character. The song is inspired by his famous catchphrase is “bu-kkeu-reo-wo-yo”, which means “I’m embarrassed.” And to add more flair, we hooked up “J-Path” (http://soundcloud.com/jpathmusic), the best DnB artist in Korea, and he’s going to remix our track in a very peculiar way. So stay tuned!
In which the Dutch indie-rockers’ visit to Tokyo involves earthquakes, terrorist attacks and food poisoning; floods, fish eyes and the flu; and suspicious undergarments.
BY PETER VISSER
Our band was invited to play at the MIDEM Festival in Cannes, France.
Just 2 hours before show time Carol, our singer, got the 48-hour-flu, with heavy stomach-pains, high fever and all. Doctor came and we had to cancel the show.
Now, in the audience there were some Japanese people. They were there to check out our band, but since we didn’t play they started to get curious about us and decided to invite us to Japan to do some shows. So some time later we flew over to Tokyo and got off the plane, welcomed by the very friendly people from the Japanese record company and a slap in the face from the overwhelming heat and 100% humidity. We got a hotel with tiny rooms on the 11th floor with the toilets with all the modern gadgets.
Next morning I woke up to a roaring sound and the bed was shaking.
On the ceiling there was a lamp hanging, perfectly still, but the room itself was moving from the left to the right: it was an earthquake. Scary!
That day we played our first gig. When we left the venue after the show we were welcomed by hundreds of flashlights from people who were waiting outside for photos and autographs. They also brought homemade gifts. We were very moved by all this.
After the show we went back to the hotel with the subway.
Later we found out that the next day there was a terrorist gas-attack on the very same subway where we were the day before. Jet lag added a surrealtouch.
A day later we had dinner with the people from the record company.
During the second show, while playing, I saw that Herman, our bass player, was looking very pale, uncomfortable and sweaty. Turned out he had food poisoning of a very severe kind. We had to drag him to the hotel and into his bed. Not a single bucket to be found in the entire hotel. We called for a doctor, but doctors don’t make house calls in Japan, as it turned out. Poor guy: while he was suffering we were exploring the Tokyo nightlife.
The itinerary was filled in by the minute. If our Japanese driver would be late for a couple of minutes he could be sacked. The following day we had an in-store in a big record shop. We got stuck in traffic. The driver got very nervous. In the store the power was shut down. Nobody dared to turn it on: afraid to get fired. So we did it ourselves. The people that came to see us were drilled like in a military fashion, to watch, to walk a certain path to get the autographs and finally to leave the store.
Later, while walking in the city, we saw a guy standing on a car with a megaphone, shouting very fanatically to the people passing by. We asked our translator what this man was talking about. Seemed he was ranting fascist slogans. Then we were informed about the flood that came towards Tokyo; the papers and radio warned the citizens that in worst-case scenario, the city had to be evacuated. Herman was still in bed, sweating like a pig, looking green en throwing up all the time. The next morning we had to carry him to the elevator, into a cab, towards the nearest doctor. “It’s food poisoning,” the doctor said, and Herman could go.
That night we had the farewell dinner party in a traditional Japanese restaurant with the folks from the record company. So we all sat on the floor with the low tables. Small plates with what looked like hairy spiders or hairy-what-ever-creatureswere served.Carol, our singer, didn’t dare to put it in her mouth. “If you don’t eat it, the people who are taking us to dinner will be very offended.” Not sure how she did it but the hairy creature disappeared. A bigger platter with a big fish was served. The skin of the fish was removed, except for the head that was still intact. You could see the eyes of the fish looking nervously into every direction. The fish was still alive, sort of.
A lot of sake was on the table. We never had sake before. It was warm and also very strong. Our hosts were used to it, but it also had an impact on them: they took their chopsticks and started poking in the eyes of the fish, while laughing hysterically.
Next morning we had to leave for the airport to get back home. We said goodbye to the people from the record company.One of them was a very friendly girl who had accompanied us all week, so we knew her a bit. While saying goodbye, Herman gave her a kiss on the cheek: a very modest way of saying goodbye, because in Holland it’s usually 3 kisses on the cheeks. The girl felt very uncomfortable and blushed. In Japan it means you’re supposed to get married.
On the airport I randomly bought a Japanese magazine. On the plane I opened it to find out that there was a section of pages about dead corpses dug out of the ground, photos of knickers of 14 year old girls candidly photographed, a “humor” section, and about 12 pages of Japanese people in power or in government attacked with swords etc. I didn’t feel good after seeing all this so I put the magazine away.
We’d been away for less than a week. It felt like years. When I got back my girlfriend asked: “How was it?” I answered: “ You’re not going to believe this!”
Peter Visser is the guitarist for Bettie Serveert, and he is joined by vocalist/guitarist Carol van Dyk, bassist Herman Bunskoeke and drummer Joppe Molenaar. Their new album is called Oh, Mayhem! and it’s out now on Second Motion Records (BLURT’s sister business). Below, watch the Betties’ eye-popping video for key track “Had2BYou.”
It’s a fragrant world
– literally (check the album title) and metaphorically – for the Brooklyn indie heroes.
BY SELENA FRAGASSI
Two years ago, blog aggregator The Hype Machine claimed thatBrooklyn indie group Yeasayer was the most
blogged about artist of 2010, a feat even frontman Chris Keating had to question.
“How is that possible when there’s Kanye?” he laughs, when we catch up over the phone as the band traverses Europe on its latest tour. While Keating claims to have read some of the online material, he admits the only thing he found shocking in the posts was the really bad grammar. “I would have loved to have seen something crazy written about us, like that I have a fetish for small animals or something.” Instead, most outlets-online and print-have done little but lavish heaps of praise on the relatively young outfit, whose first two
experimental releases, 2007’s All Hour Cymbals and 2010’s Odd Blood, set the trajectory for becoming one of the premiere faces of modern music. This year, the group (Keating, founding members Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder as well as Jason Trammell and Ahmed Gallab) returned with third album Fragrant World (Secretly Canadian), a release markedly darker than their earlier pop-infused albums.
Named for a dystopian concept of a world with no smell and as a consequence less memory (since the two are scientifically linked), the title hints at Keating’s mindframe when piecing the album together. His writing is just as bleak, focused on front-page issues of environmental crises, apocalyptic fears and a historical figure named Henrietta Lacks who is the cornerstone of the album’s first single “Henrietta.”
Yeasayer – “Henrietta” by Secretly Canadian
“I heard the story originally on a radio program a couple of years ago,” Keating recalls as he relays the story of Lacks whose death from cancer in the 1950s led to a host of medical vaccination research using her cell material. “The medical world was using her genes over and over again, manufacturing a deceased human. It was very upsetting yet very moving to me.”
Moreso when Keating discovered Lacks was from his town of Baltimore, making the issue hit closer to home. It is here that he first met bandmate Wilder years ago; and as the two remained close, they regrouped with college mate Tuton in New York in 2005. The rest as they say is, well, history.
“It’s been a good progression,” Keating notes of the band’s path to stardom belying any talk of Yeasayer’s so-called breakthrough moment at the glorified 2007 SXSW showcases. “We often joke about how we played this so-called great show but then for three tours after that there was nobody coming to our shows.” Yet that’s just the way he wanted it to happen. “I’m very distrustful of any band that makes it big overnight and doesn’t go through these growing pains of having to play for nobody first.”
In the beginning, it took awhile for people to grasp on to the band’s eclectic sound, self-described as “Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel” music.
“When we started out, we knew that we wanted to embrace a lot of different influences and try out different things; many bands try to rip off something from the past and that’s just kind of played out to me. I like
the originals, I don’t need new ones,” he says.
In a way everything about the band has been original, from its marketing tactics (randomly snail mailing out 200 copies of the “Henrietta” single to fans across the world) to its dazzling light shows, which Keating has referred to as being close to a “religious experience” live.
“Light art installations are some of the most powerful stuff I’ve ever seen,” he says, “and in the same way I want to make music that is just as unique or startling or at the very least engaging.” And if the blogs
are to be believed, the rest of the World is catching on.
[Photo Credit: Mikeal Gregorsky] A version of this story also appears in issue #13 of the print edition of BLURT. Yeasayer wraps
up its US tour tonight at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina, then heads to the UK
next week. Tour dates here: http://www.yeasayer.net/tour/
Pour a little sugar on
her: the British folk/jazz chanteuse returns after a six-year layoff.
BY A.D. AMOROSI
Orton has been the queen of wispy folk-tronica for so long that you almost
didn’t realize that she wasn’t there for a minute. The softly shredding Brit,
famed first for her work with electro producing boys William Orbit and the
Chemical Brothers, was so much a part of our steady musical diet – between
1996’s Trailer Park to 2006’s Comfort of Strangers – that her break
went without much notice, as if she paused between breaths in a sentence. Her
first release in several seasons, this autumn’s Sugaring Season, felt like just that: a freeing gentle gasp.
That’s not because Orton’s tensely coiled words and open air
arrangements aren’t noticed or noticeable. And that’s not to say she wasn’t
missed, even if she didn’t much miss the music business.
“At least not the interview process,” teases Orton during
our transatlantic chat. Instead, her tender web-spun voice, her deep
bass-driven tones, and her sense of domestic lyrical turmoil are so
conversational we thought that she was simply clearing her throat.
Why she took time away from recording and touring has no
simple answering according to Orton, a lively chatter who jumps at every chance
to plumb her depths and to laugh at
every step. “It’s a very deep question if you think about – why didn’t I make
music for some time,” she say.
There’s a daughter named Nancy, a son named Arthur and a
husband in folk musician/singer Sam Amidon, to start. She wrote fewer songs
with those responsibilities.
“I just kept
putting it off if you want to know the truth,” she says matter-of-factly. “I do
feel as if the time away was useful, though I couldn’t truly tell you why,” she
laughs. “I did have a record deal in place (with Anti-) for a while now so I
actually could have made a record two years ago. I guess I just didn’t want
She used to want to. A lot.
Her initial rush of success well pleased Orton, Not because
she got cold hard cash for her klatch of trip-hop induced songs pushed along by
a voice so ethereal angels cried when they heard her. It’s because she wanted
to break through; she wanted to dazzle people quietly. “I remember the
experience of being heard with Trailer
Park and that’s what was most extraaaaaaaaordinarrrry.” she jokes. “That so
many people could be so unquestioningly interested in what I’d done and might
have to say that it was mesmerizing. It was as if I could take the piss and
everyone was fine with it.”
Other than making the music and knowing how audiences appreciated Trailer Park, its stripped down jazzy
followup Central Reservation and her
somber Daybreaker, she doesn’t recall
much more about the rushed-by decade than the music itself. Her life story has,
in her mind, become dislodged with countless versions of that time at career’s
start flying at her like glow sticks at a rave. “A lot of that part of my life
has become a blur and I don’t have my story down pat enough even if some people
in the press seem to,” she giggles. “There are so many different perspectives
that I haven’t settled on one good one. But I do enjoy that I’m open to
While discussing the idea of interpretation, your humble
narrator gives Orton his view of her lyrical style, one that slips through
reality and dream, fact and fiction, with lots of breast beating soulful
moments of personal exposition – but not too breast beaten. It’s true of her
past stanzas. It’s true of Sugaring
Season. At first she’s not too keen on my take that her lyrical mien is a
mess mixed up in one bowl and served up elegantly.
“My gut reaction is to disagree,” she sighs dramatically.
“But on the other hand,” she announces, “it’s a viable option
especially when you consider that writing this new record has been like being
in a prism – that’s a P R I S M and not a P R I S O N – in that there’s so many
angles through which I’ve looked at things.” What Orton always wants to do is
find the truth. Yet what she has found throughout the last many years is that
there is never only one truth. “It would be so much nicer if it was that but it
isn’t that, is that? Then again, I quite enjoy exploring things from different
sides. I did it with my life and my children – why not with songs?”
Writing songs for Sugaring
Season was like a slow spinning of that prism while sorting out her
subjects and sharpening each angle. Willing to accept
other people’s angles with pleasure, she says that she’s found herself immersed
in the business of her last two producers, Jim O’Rourke (of Sonic Youth fame)
who handled 2006’s Comfort of Strangers and Sugaring Season‘s Tucker Martine,
the one-time producer of The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and Laura Veirs.
“The biggest challenge was finding how to do the thing I
love and move onward,” says Orton. “Anyone who would help me do that was OK by
me.” With immersion a two way street, she thought highly of O’Rourke’s
everything-done-in-two-weeks take on the album making process. “Writing,
recording, mixing, no overdubbing; he’s a bit of a genius, Jim is.” As for
Martine, Orton calls him a different beast than O’Rourke, talented and
immediate but more interested in beauty of the music than the process of the
heated rush. For Sugaring Season‘s
jazz folksy feel she imaged the sound of Roberta Flack and Pentangle’s earliest
albums in her head and went from there. Having jazz-bos like guitarist Marc
Ribot and drummer Brian Blade made the jazz side easier without ghettoizing the
process to a skiddlee-bop drop dead jam. String arranging maximum minimalist
Nico Muhly and viola player Eyvind Kang brought a classical gas to the Sugaring proceedings. But it was a song that Orton had brought in on an acoustic
guitar demo that co-composer M. Ward added a piano break to that made
“Something More Beautiful” as epically soulful as any later period Aretha
Franklin-at-Atlantic song could be.
“The whole record really was about serendipity in that you
weren’t exactly certain as to what would happen next,” says Orton. “Most of the
songs had been gestating for several years, two and three at best. But
“Something More Beautiful” was even older.” For the most part, save for the
interaction of this new crew of musicians, her slate of Season songs hadn’t changed much from their first versions. Neither
did “Something More Beautiful” until she played the track for a friend. “‘Come
on with that,’ my friend said. ‘That song screams for some soul,'” laughs Orton,
who then built “Something More Beautiful” up with the band in the studio and
snagged from. M. Ward a simple piano bit that made all the difference.
“I dangled the bait and they drove it home,” says Orton.
“That’s why it’s so important to have feedback, encouragement and
interpretation.” She stops when she says that last word, considering what we’d
The Bongos founder replays
his seminal classic Cool Blue Halo two and a half decades after its live debut.
Barone proved himself a pioneer of sorts when, in 1987, he took a momentary
detour away from his former band, the Bongos, and walked into New York’s Bottom
Line armed with a mostly new batch of material and a couple of accompanying
players from outside Rock realms to perform a set of songs that would later be
released as the landmark album Cool
Blue Halo. The
effort would prove a landmark of sorts, a recording that would initiate the
subset known as Chamber Pop and continue to prove its mettle some 25 years
success of that album would eventually cause Barone to leave the Bongos — a
power pop outfit that helped establish the viability of the Hoboken New Jersey
musical scene, one which also spawned the equally influential dBs and
Smithereens — and carve out a respectable solo career that led to other
individual outings, a prodigious stage and studio producer resume and
currently, a tenure at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. At NYU the
latter assignment came about as a result of a well received 2007 tell-all, Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth,
a definitive guide to understanding how image and allusion tend to permeate Rock
‘n’ Roll realms.
currently focused on a pair of projects, the expanded re-release of the
Blue Halo, and
perhaps more significantly, a double CD/DVD set that captures
the 25th Anniversary Concert that brought the same cast of musicians together
last May at the City Winery in New
York City. Retracing the original set list — one that
included choice covers (“The Visit” by Marc Bolan, David Bowie’s “The Man Who
Sold the World,” the Beatles “Cry Baby Cry”), a handful of retooled Bongos
songs and, naturally, his first crop of solo entries — the package was
expanded to include other material, a behind the scenes documentary, a book of
essays and some surprising cameos from the Band’s Garth Hudson and renowned
producer/musician Tony Visconti.
BLURT recently took the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Barone, who talked
enthusiastically about the project, the original effort and what’s transpired
in his career ever since.
It’s really hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the original release
why I don’t believe in time. It doesn’t seem possible to me either that it’s
been 25 years. It was really Jay Frank at the record label that brought up the
idea of the 25th anniversary when I was at South By Southwest last year. He
came backstage and asked me what I was doing to mark the anniversary. I really
hadn’t thought of it. In a way, it was a wake-up call to the fact that it had
been that long.
this album always special for you?
Yes, and there
were a few reasons why. For one, it was, of all my albums up to that point, the
most spontaneous. I tend to be what you might call a studio geek. I look the
idea of overdubbing in the studio and creating the studio experience. But this
album was done in just one evening, and the mix took place over just one
weekend, so the album took only three days to make, instead of three months. So
that was always special for me in that it had a spontaneity that you can’t get
any other way other than doing it the way we did it. We approached the new
album — The
Cool Blue Halo 25th Anniversary
album — in the same way, because I couldn’t think of any other way to do it
since that’s how the music was made originally. There was a lot of
improvisation on it, a tremendous amount of spontaneity throughout and I wanted
the musicians to play the music how they felt it. Because of that, we only did
a minimum amount of rehearsing before taking it to the stage. That was the same
way we did it 25 years ago.
did the songs all come back to you?
did for me because I perform quite a lot and these songs have whirled their way
into my sets over the years. So I can do “I Belong to Me” because I’ve done it
over the years and in many different styles. The songs are pretty much in my
blood, so it wasn’t a difficult thing for me. The interesting thing was the
Marc Bolan song that I covered. It’s a love song to an alien from another
planet. That’s why I picked it. (laughs)
I can relate to that in some weird way.
do you relate to that?
people I meet are very much like aliens… something along those lines. And we’ll leave it at that (laughs).
you referring to a significant other?
of my significant others are like aliens to me at some time or another, But
really, I love Marc Bolan and I love his imagery and that’s why I picked that
song. It’s deeply romantic but the setting is extraterrestrial, so I thought
that was unique. I know that was the one song of Marc Bolan that I had never
heard covered by anyone else. As was, at the time, “The Man Who Sold the World”
by David Bowies. I loved that song and the only other time it was covered
before I did it was by Lulu, the British pop girl. She did it in ’71 or ’72. It
had been more than a decade until I did that someone else had touched it. And I
had never heard anyone do the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry” either. On the original
album, I tried to do songs by three of my influences and people I loved, and I
wanted to cover songs that no one had done before. That was my goal.
it always your idea to record the original Cool Blue Halo live?
of the musicians I had on that album, Jane Scarpantoni and Valerie Naranjo. The
rest of us were kind of pop rockers, guitar-playing guys. Jane’s capabilities
were more in the classical sense, perhaps more avant-garde. Her playing covered
a lot of ground. Valerie was also more of a jazz musician and she was all about
world music. She was well-versed in African rhythms and so forth, so I wanted
them to just let loose and play and I thought the live stage was the best place
to let that happen, instead of trying to overly analyze it in the studio. It
was always planned as a live performance that we would be record, and a lot of
those songs I never recorded in the studio.
funny, because one never really thinks of Cool Blue Halo as a live album per se.
mixed it that way, especially on the original. This new one has a little more
of a live flavor because the audience knew the songs. When we first did it, you
could here a pin drop while the songs were playing, because people had never
heard them before. On the new recording, the audience knew the songs and they
knew when the solos came in and they applauded. So we left that in. We decided
to let the audience be heard because they were great, and they become part of
did you bill that original performance 25 years ago? Was it like, “Richard
Barone performs his new album?”
One of my
friends is New York
radio personality Vin Scelsa, and he presented me in a show at the Bottom Line.
He’d do live performances for his radio show and he’d have two or three artists
on the bill, so that night it was just Richard Barone on Vin Scelsa’s show. That’s
how it was recorded originally.
there was no particular set-up?
a lot of new material. There were Bongos songs, but they didn’t sound like
Bongos songs… Like “The Bulrushes.” It’s pretty primitive. There’s no
backbeat, not even on the entire album.
people prepared for that? Because they knew you from the Bongos, were they
expecting to hear more of the band’s music?
That was the late ‘80s and the Bongos were still active. We were still playing
large venues around the time I made this album. So I think people were
surprised. I don’t think they had any idea about this album. But I also think
they were thrilled afterwards. I write about that in the book that comes with
the box set. I wouldn’t say writing my essay was agonising, but I really had to
think about what it was like to make this album and I was trying to remember
all the elements about how it came together. There were a lot of surprise
elements. And I think that helped a lot because it was so different than what
people expected from me. There was no Rickenbacker guitar, there was no snare drum,
no bass, and it wasn’t really a pop rock concert. It felt more like a chamber
it kind of set a standard for some things that came after… the whole chamber
rock genre for example.
phrase was coined in the review of that album for Rolling Stone. That was the first time that
phrase was used. Chamber Rock in quotation marks.
these songs written specifically for this album, and did you always have these
arrangements in mind?
for asking! At that point I had been writing songs for the Bongos for almost
seven years and I always wrote those songs knowing it was a point of view of a
group of guys. The views and emotions that in those songs had to cross lines, and
they had to represent all the guys, not just me. It was very rare in the Bongos
albums that I was able to get very personal. So when I did “I Belong to Me,” it
was a starting point. All of them were. “I Belong to Me” wasn’t just about
independence in a relationship, but independence in a band, specifically the
band I was in. So these songs had a lot of meaning for me on different levels.
The Bongos songs I chose also had meaning — like “The Bulrushes” — because I
thought, let’s get back to Biblical times here. That was a good starting point
on the timeline for me. And ending the album with “Numbers with Wings” was a
really good way to end the album because it was really spiritual. And in the
middle, it’s the journey. I had a dream where Marc Bolan asked me if I was
making an album or just a collection of songs, and I woke up and remembered
that. He had already been dead for ten years, but he was always on my mind, and
one of my favorite rock personas. So that stayed with me. And that’s when I got
very specific. I had the benchmarks in those three covers and in the three
Bongos songs. And the new songs I had were sort of dispersed between those
pillars. I wrote them from my own point of view without the filter of the band.
That’s what those songs were about for me and that’s what that album was about
over-all. Getting to the heart of the songwriter. When you’re in a rock band,
there are so many ways to get lost. One way is in your writing, because you’re
writing for the audience or for the band and not from your own point of view.
And that’s what this was all about. It was on an indie label and the Bongos
were still signed to RCA. So it was also a freedom from the corporate scenario.
Everything sort of went through the filter of RCA records. So this was not
through that filter. I could write in “Flew a Falcon” about kissing a guy
without anyone telling me I couldn’t or shouldn’t.
that what led to the Bongos’ demise?
still doing concerts for many months throughout the release of Cool Blue Halo, large scale shows too.
But then this sort of took off internationally, so I went to Europe
to promote it and that’s when the schedule became impossible. I was touring
with Suzanne Vega, and I was on the road for two years with this album, and
during that time, all the guys in the group started doing different things. It
was a very gentle parting. There was no arguing or disastrous scenes or embarrassments.
We’re all friends. We’ve done a few benefits. When it’s right, we’ll get
together for a special occasion.
talk of making a reunion album, like the dBs did recently?
is possible. We’ve never had a problem with that if the time is right. Actually
there are several unreleased Bongos albums, so putting them out could very well
happen. That wouldn’t be a problem. One was a concert that was recorded for RCA
in 1985 and it’s a great album.
did you meet Tony Visconti?
met many times over the years. I met him when I did a 12 inch version of a T
Rex song called “Mambo Sun” in ’80 or something. Tony heard it and called me
I wanted him to produce the Bongos when we got signed to RCA. Tony wanted us to
record at his Good Earth studio in England
and we wanted to go, but RCA wanted to keep us where they could watch us in New York. So they
wouldn’t let us to so it. And Tony told them that that is where he produced, in
his own studio, and they couldn’t come to terms and work it out. So we stayed
and Richard Gottehrer produced us. So Tony and I finally met when Tony moved
back to New York
in the late ‘90s, and we were both on the bill at a T Rex tribute concert. We
started talking and then we started writing songs together. And those songs
ended up on the Glow album. That was a real labor
of love to do that album with Tony.
seems like you’ve worked with a lot of amazing people.
I’m very fortunate
to have worked with many of my heroes, besides great pals and friends. Many of
them have been my mentors from afar.
were you able to get yourself into those circles? You’re work with such a
diverse cast of characters.
(Laughs) It is diverse. I think it’s
because I put myself out there and I like meeting people. I do a lot of
different types of shows and I work with a lot of actors. When I did my book
tour in 2007 and 2008, Joyce Dewitt appeared as me, the reader of the book. I
played guitar and accompanied her as she read from my book. It was pretty cool.
I just get around and I meet people. I’m not shy about asking people to
collaborate because I love to collaborate and I think most artists like to as
produced Liza Minnelli. That must have seemed like an unusual collaboration.
Liza. I did a project with her with a big band and I produced it and it came
out great. When we did it live in the studio, I brought in the big band because
I knew she was a great live performer.
It’s kind of interesting how a lot of artists are revisiting
their earlier work – The Who are touring behind Quadrophenia,
Peter Frampton is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Frampton
Comes Alive, Ian Anderson recently did a sequel to Thick
as a Brick, and here you are celebrating a milestone of your own.
I was just listening to “5:15” from Quadrophenia last
night. I was at a club and they were playing it really loud and I was singing
it quite loudly too. One thing I think is interesting about revisiting those
old albums is that the meanings change. For The Who, it was originally about
the Mods and the Rockers days. For me it was interesting to go back to my early
twenties and my views and emotional state of mind at that time and think about
what has changed and what hasn’t changed, especially the way I approach
relationships, the way I talk about myself and the other people I’m talking
about in those songs. It’s really an interesting and emotional journey to go
back to now, and I think for anybody going back to their earlier work, you
really see it through different eyes. For me, a lot of it was, wow, how did I
know I would feel that way, because a lot of it is how I feel now as opposed to
how I felt then. I often wondered what advice I would give my younger self, but
it’s actually my younger self giving me advice for the future. It’s like that
phrase, if I only knew then what I knew now. It was emotional for me, doing
those songs again with the same musicians.
The next time you went into the studio following the
release of Cool Blue Halo, did you find it a
bit intimidating to have to top it? The bar was raised pretty high at that
why I didn’t try to duplicate that album with my next one. Primal
was a rock album. I brought in the same musicians but I added drums and bass
and Ivan Julian from Richard Hell’s band on guitar. And I made a loud rock
album. All of the albums I’ve made so far have been quite different from each
other, and one of the reasons was just like what you just said. I didn’t want
to feel I had to top myself or copy myself in any way. I like for things to
stay different. As a solo artist you have more leeway to do things that way.
When you have a band, people expect the band sound. You expect REM to sound
like REM and you expect the Bongos to sound like the Bongos, or the dBs, or
Soundgarden or Coldplay or whoever. But as a solo artist, you do have the
ability to change and I have made a point of exploiting that to the fullest.
Take an artist
like Neil Young. He’s not always well received, but just the fact that he did a
record like Trans was pretty cool. I always admire artists
that go out on a limb. Lou Reed is one of my favorites. Not only do I know Lou,
and he’s taught me a lot over the years – even though he doesn’t realize how
much he’s taught me – Lou has always impressed me with the variety of work that
he does. He’s always been super gracious to me.
So what’s next for you now? Are you going to take this
album out on the road?
I have been performing a lot actually, especially in the New York region – New York,
New Jersey, Connecticut
– and rediscovering the state of New
York. I’ve played near Woodstock and some small towns upstate,
sometimes solo, sometimes with one or two other musicians. I’m always
performing in some way, and somehow and I think I will be touring with this
album. And some of it may be solo because that’s another way to hear these
[Photos credit: Mick Rock. Top – Barone and Garth Hudson; middle, Barone and Tony Visconti.]
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