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WHY SO HEAVY? Metz

Because
there’s “something missing from a lot of music nowadays, that physical
reaction,” that’s why. The Canadian combo wants to
feel it – and you will, too.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

These days, when someone says a band is ‘80s influenced, you
can already see the asymmetrical haircuts and hear the robotic voices and Human
League synthesizers. That’s not the ‘80s the members of Toronto’s
METZ are
interested in. The hard-driving yet melodic punk of their self-titled debut
(Sub Pop) looks back to Nation of Ulysses, Public Image Ltd. and Bleach-era Nirvana. Or you could just
describe it in one word: loud. We talked with singer Alex Edkins about how they
got their eardrum-busting sound, their raucous live shows and what other punk
bands simply don’t get.

 

 

 

BLURT: People
talk about you as saviors of punk. Can you live up to that?

EDKINS: I feel like that’s a little bit pushing it. Toronto has a long history
of punk and great music in general. We’re a continuation of that. We’re happy
about anything positive that anybody says about us, but we’re not trying to
live up to anyone’s crazy expectations, just our own.

 

What
are your expectations?

Our expectations are to keep doing what we’ve always done:
make music in an uncompromising fashion. We don’t set out to please anyone. We
just set out to please the three of us. If we can stand behind the music,
that’s all that matters. It’s a bonus if other people like it too.

 

The
first thing everyone notices about METZ
is how loud the band is. Why so heavy?

I’m not totally sure. It’s not something that was
premeditated; it just happens that way when we get in the same room together.
All of us came from a punk rock place. Growing up, that’s what we were
listening to and the shows we went to. There’s a certain amount of that in all
of us. If we’re going to get technical, some of it comes from the fact that
Hayden (Menzies), our drummer, plays in a fashion that is one volume. It’s
necessary for us to crank the amps up or we’ll be drowned out. That’s the
boring answer. The better answer is that it’s all we know how to do, all we
want to do, and it serves the songs. They can’t be turned down or the point of
it is lost.

 

And
that point is..?

There isn’t really any bigger point than three guys making
music for the love of it. We’re not trying to prove anything. We’re doing what
feels natural to us. We love to do it. The volume and energy of the live show
is just us having a good time.

 

Are you
the kind of kid who grew up banging on everything you saw?

I think so. There are pictures of me at four or five, and
I’d be sitting on the couch with my dad’s record player with headphones on. I
was a bit of a record nerd my whole life. To this day, I tap on things like any
musician. I’m banging on things constantly.

 

What
were you listening to on Dad’s hi-fi?

Mostly the Beatles. If I had to pick a band that’s my
favorite, that’d probably be it.

 

A lot
of your fans would probably be surprised to hear that.

I know it’s not a cool answer, but it’s an honest answer.
Through my whole life, that’s the band I got the most enjoyment from. I can’t
say I listen to them as much now, but I did a lot when I was younger.

 

Is
playing loud and fast a good way to cope with Canadian winters?

I think so. I grew up in Ottawa. It’s a government city. It’s a little
sleepy at night. There’s not much nightlife so a lot of people decided to make
music to keep themselves occupied. I lived in the suburbs. Me and my friends
would be in the basement all day playing just to have something to do.

 

 

Originally,
METZ had a
bigger sound. What made you decide to strip it down?

It just naturally happened. We used to have more complicated
song structures. We were messing around with electronics and samplers. It felt
more natural to strip it back. It was more fun to play live as well. We decided
to work with just our three instruments and see how far we could push those
instead of making it overly complicated.

 

As much
you’re known for being loud, there’s also a lot of melody in your songs. What
songwriters do you admire?

I don’t think I could even pick. We’re just big music fans
in general. Our record collections go anywhere. We’re really into good
songwriting and hooks. With this album, we started to focus on having a happy
medium between the noise and the feedback and good song structures and
songcraft. We’re equally as interested in that as we are in creating a racket.

 

Do you
think other punk bands don’t understand that?

Sometimes in heavy music it’s more about the riff than the
song. Nowadays, the three of us don’t listen to much heavy music. It’s more
about good songwriting. There’s not too much of that in punk or heavy music.
It’s out there, but it’s rare.

 

What
was it like playing with bands like Mission of Burma,
Mudhoney and Archers of Loaf? Was there anything you learned from them?

We feel really lucky to have had the chance to do that. We
would have been in the crowd regardless, but it’s nice when you get to share
the stage and meet them. All I can take away is that these guys are genuinely
nice people doing exactly what they want to be doing. They have a certain
approach to music and a certain realness you can’t fake and can recognize right
away. We want to model our band after guys like that who are doing this for so
many years and haven’t wavered in their commitment or the quality of their
music.

 

Can you
put the live METZ
experience into words?

It’s loud, in your face and fun. Hopefully there’s a lot of
movement in the crowd. We want people to move around and have a good time. The
songs seem to call for a certain aggression that comes out when you play. If
you don’t play them that way, it doesn’t sound right to us. It’s not a
theatrical show. We just rip through the songs and play the shit out of them.

 

It
seems as much physical as musical.

Absolutely. That’s something missing from a lot of music
nowadays, that physical reaction. I want to feel it. There’s nothing better.

 

An
edited version of this story appears in the latest issue (#13) of BLURT.

 

[Photo Credit: Bobby Reis]

 

 

ATTENTION: HEADQUARTERS The Monkees

The Pre-Fab Four – now
Three – return to the stage to celebrate their breakout album and their lost
colleague.

 

BY MICHAEL BERICK

 

Daydream believers will have their dreams come true this
month. The three surviving Monkees – Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz
– are touring together for the first time since 1997, and for their first
American tour with Nesmith since 1969. (It starts this week in California; view tour
dates here.
)

 

The occasion of this tour is bittersweet celebration. These
concerts will be commemorating both the 45th anniversary of the
band’s hard-fought-for Headquarters album
(the first record where they played their own instruments) and the passing of
their beloved bandmate Davy Jones, who passed away earlier this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a recent conversation, Dolenz revealed that the guys
had been talking about doing this 45th anniversary tour even before
Jones’ death, but it was the Los Angeles private memorial service where tour
talk fell into place. While chatting with Nesmith and Tork in a corner of a
room, Dolenz said he made the suggestion: “Well, you guys want to start a
group?”

 

The idea of a memorial concert in Los Angeles evolved into
doing one in the cities where Jones had family and friends (L.A., New York and
London), which then snowballed into a 12-city tour. “We aren’t calling it the
Davy Jones memorial tour or anything of that nature. It sounds a little weird
to me,” Dolenz explained, while adding, “[Davy] will certainly be remembered in
a very special way. The fans will be very pleased I think with the way that we
pay our homage to him.”

 

(below: Dolenz &
Tork today)

 

 

 

 

On this tour, the band naturally will spotlight a number of Headquarters songs along with performing
classic Monkees hits like “I’m A Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Last
Train To Clarksville.” The concerts will also feature a wide of Monkees tunes
as well as utilizing plenty of video and other multi-media elements, which is
something that fans have enjoyed at recent tours.

 

(below: Nesmith today)

 

 

 

 

According to Dolenz, the Monkees’ enduring popularity is
because they “really touched a nerve. It really has become quite an important
part of the American cultural landscape.” He was quick to give credit for the
work to the songwriters, TV writers, producers and the other behind-the-scenes
people who helped make the Monkees “into something bigger than the sum of its
parts.”

 

 Dolenz offered two reasons for the generation-spanning appeal
for the Monkees TV show. On the show,
the band was not famous; unlike, as he pointed out, the Beatles in their
movies. “They were famous and we were
always trying to be famous. That is a
real important distinction, because the kids around the world back then – and
even today – who are struggling to start a group in the basement, can identify
with the struggle.”

 

He also noted that the show’s comedy had a timeless quality.
“The show was not satirical or topical. John Lennon once said it was like the
Marx Brothers. The comedy did not date, like I Love Lucy or The
Honeymooners
– the humor is just the human condition. You can watch it to
this day.”

 

The sense of timelessness also forms the central core of
Dolenz’s new album, Remember, which
he introduced recently at a special listening session/press conference in L.A. that BLURT attended
(see story here). It’s a collection of cover songs resonating personally with
Dolenz. The concept, he explained,
came about after he started telling stories about music that meant something
special to him. Selections include his Monkees audition song “Johnny B. Goode”
and “Good Morning, Good Morning,” which was the first Beatles recording
sessions he attended.

 

 Some songs are ones he recorded while a Monkee (“I’m A
Believer,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Don’t Ask For Love” and “Sometime In The
Morning”) and some are tunes he nearly recorded.  The old Bread hit, “Diary,” Dolenz revealed,
was a song that had been offered to him in the Monkees’ waning days. “And I
turned it down like an idiot. I didn’t think I should be doing a ballad at the
time.” He also stated that the power pop classic “Sugar, Sugar” was
figuratively the straw the broke the camel’s (or in this case, Nesmith’s) back.
The Monkees rebelled against their producers over recording this tune – Dolenz
said it wasn’t so much the song as the control over song selection – with
Nesmith threatening to quit and Dolenz jetting to England where he met the
Beatles.

 

 Whether a Monkees track or not, Dolenz and his producer
David Harris have done an inventive and extensive job in reinterpreting these
songs with vastly different arrangements. Dolenz describes “Diary” as having a
Coldplay-like vibe, while Dolenz’s own “Randy Scouse Git” now possesses a
heavier, more ominous vibe.  As a result,
this is a covers album that sounds familiar yet different.

 

This new Monkees tour, however, will rely on more familiar
renditions of Monkees’ songs, although Dolenz noted that during rehearsals that
he to teach Nesmith some of his own lyrics. “He hasn’t sung these songs in 40
years,” Dolenz said with a laugh. Still, he described the rehearsals as going
great, exciting him about this new tour – particularly with the opportunity to
once again share the stage with Nesmith.

 

“I love playing with him.” A multitude of Monkees fans also are
loving the fact that Mike, Peter and Micky are playing together again.

 

THE OVERACHIEVER Ty Segall

How
many recordings and tours can one man tackle in a single 12-month span? This
Bay Area guitar monster – his profile in ascendance – has a pretty
good idea…

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“It was kind of an accident. I didn’t really mean for all
three records to come out so close together,” admits Ty Segall, about a very
busy 2012, a year in which he released three full-length albums of new material
Hair, a collaboration with White
Fence’s Tim Presley; Slaughterhouse,  a full-band record; and Twins, a guitar-heavy solo album just released by Drag City. “But
the reason I wanted these three records to come out was that I genuinely
thought they were different things,” he added. “If there were three solo
records this year, I would worry about it, that’s too much. But there’s only
one, and then there’s the band record and the record with Tim. They’re three of
the most different sounding things.”

 

Segall has been a force in the Bay Area garage pop scene
since his self-titled, one-man-band debut in 2008 on John Dwyer’s CastleFace
label.  Along the way, he has released
roughly a dozen albums, a pile of singles (recently compiled on Goner’s
double-disc Singles 2007-2010), and
cassettes collaborated with Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, Mikail Cronin and others –
not to mention touring relentlessly (see link for tour itinerary at the bottom
of the page).

 

Still even as one of San
Francisco’s most prolific, productive musicians,
Segall couldn’t pull off his 2012 triple-play alone. He wrote Slaughterhouse with his touring band – Mikail
Cronin, Emily Rose Epstein and Charles Moonhart – while jamming out its tunes
in a practice room and, later, a studio, and sharing lyric-writing duties with
Cronin. Hair, too, was a joint
effort, with Segall bringing in two songs, Presley three and the two of them
writing the remainder together. Only Twins came about through the painstaking, time-consuming process of solo songwriting.
Segall says he worked on it for six months, on and off, first demoing songs
with a guitar and provisional lyrics, later fleshing them out with bass, drums
and lots of guitar.

 

 “One of the goals of
this record was to make it a guitar heavy record,” says Segall. “I had never
done that before.” And, indeed, Twins is uncharacteristically shreddy and riff-centered, with three and four guitar
parts layered over one another in some tracks. That’s a big shift for an artist
who came out of Southern California’s
skateboard punk scene and revered bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains.    

 

 

 

 

Lately, though, Segall says he’s into “heavier rock music,
like 1960s and early 1970s stuff. Blue Cheer and Hawkwind and Sabbath and
Hendrix and Cream, those are all my favorite guitar sounds. I got really into
kraut-y stuff. Noisy stuff.” Segall also discovered a pedal called Fuzz War,
whose buzzy, metallic, distorted blare quickly became his go-to guitar sound.
“That’s like my favorite pedal ever,” says Segall. “I wanted to use it on every
song. So I kind of wanted to go for that.”

 

As he has for every record since 2009’s Melted, Segall turned to Eric Bauer to help him record Twins, cranking out the tunes in Bauer’s
Chinatown basement studio, and experimenting with the many sonic devices
available there. “Eric’s got a lot of ideas about sound,” says Segall. “He’ll
get a new chorus echo chamber, and we’ll throw that on. Or he’ll get a new
compressor, and he’ll be like, let’s try this thing out. So he’s really a great
guy to work with. He’s always throwing ideas back and forth, and he’s a great
guy to toss ideas off, too.”

 

Twins is
about duality, the idea of split personality and the interplay of light and
darkness. It’s dedicated to San
Francisco, Segall’s adopted
home and, he says, a prime example of the theme. “San Francisco is amazing, beautiful. It’s probably
the most beautiful city on the West Coast. But at the same time, it’s such a
dark weird place that has a history of mental issues, drugs and psychedelia.
When the sun is shining, maybe 20 days out of the year, it’s an unbelievably
positive place, but a lot of the time it’s cold and gloomy. So, I think that San Francisco has this
really unique split personality. There are extremes here.”

 

Segall worked mostly alone on Twins, but Moonhart did turn up to play drums, while Brigid Dawson
of Thee Oh Sees made a guest appearance on “The Hill,” which is the album’s
first single. Dawson
sings the introduction, a very pretty, closely harmonized folk interval that
runs into a buzz saw of psychedelic guitars about 20 seconds into the
track.  

 

“That song started out as a mellow song,” says Segall. “The
demo of it is an acoustic song, so I decided to see what it would sound like if
I sped it up and made it electric. And then I couldn’t sing the opening part
very well. It was all right, but it was missing something. I had been talking
to Brigid for a couple of years about doing something together.”

 

Dawson’s band
is one of a tightly knit collection of combos that live and work in San Francisco, frequently
tour together, play on each other’s records, and just hang out.  Segall did his first-ever tour with Thee Oh
Sees and remains close to the band’s founder, John Dwyer. “John’s the best.
He’s like my big brother. He’s the guy you want to go to first if you have a
question about music. He’ll always be the guy to tell you to do it or not, or
lead you in the right direction.”

 

Adds Segall, “[John] has been doing music for so long, and
always under the radar. He’s so happy to be putting out records and touring and
doing the Ohsees now, but I think back in the day, he had to work a lot harder
for a lot less. He deserves everything he’s gotten and more. Thee Oh Sees should
be one of the biggest bands in the world. I think they’re one of the best live
bands around.”

 

As San Francisco
outfits like Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys, Sic Alps and Segall’s band get to
be more popular, they are on the road more and together less. Big group shows
in San Francisco
are rarer now because it’s hard to get all the players together. Still, Segall
says he connects regularly with this musical fraternity, grabbing tacos with
Dwyer or getting coffee with Mike Donovan of Sic Alps.

 

“To be honest, if I didn’t have these guys around, I don’t
know if I’d be doing what I’m doing at all,” he admits. “John and Mike help
keep me going. It is a very isolating, weird lifestyle, but these guys have
been doing it for so long and they’re so positive about it. It’s pretty cool.”

 

Segall won’t be releasing three albums in a year again any
time soon; in fact, his plan for 2013 entails a six month lay-off from touring
and one new recording. (Not counting
In the Red’s January reissue of Reverse
Shark Attack
with Mikail Cronin.)  “I
just want to take a moment and collect my thoughts,” says Segall. “And then I
was planning on working on one record for an entire year. Trying to make it the
best record I could do.” 

 

An
edited version of this story appears in the current print issue (13) of BLURT
as part of our contemporary garage rock
scene overview featuring, in addition to Segall, the Fresh & Onlys, Sic
Alps and Thee Oh Sees. Ty Segall just completed a US
tour and commences a UK and European trek on
November 7, running through early December; he then tackles a week-long series
of west coast dates Dec. 11-18 to be followed by yet another North American
tour starting Jan. 23. View his full itinerary here. Did we mention he’s an
overachiever?

 

 

[Photos credit: Marty Perez]

 

THE POSSIBILITY OF TRANSCENDENCE Dan Melchior

On the
harrowing yet hauntingly beautiful
The Backward Path, Melchior pays tribute to his wife Letha
while trying to make sense of the impermanence of life.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

 

“This album is for Letha,” says the back cover of The Backward Path (Northern Spy), the
most personal and introspective Dan Melchior album yet. Letha, if you haven’t
been following along, is Melchior’s wife and sometime band member, who has been
struggling with cancer these last couple of years. The two of them have been
engaged in a draining battle against health insurers and medical
establishments, drug providers and the deadly disease itself.  There is a very good article about exactly how
daunting the last two years have been for them at Indy
Week
, and if, after reading it, you feel that you want to help, there is a PayPal account set up to defray
Letha’s medical expenses.

 

Melchior wrote and recorded The Backward Path during a time when his wife was becoming
increasingly sick, a time when it must have become clear that he might lose her.
As a result, the album is very serious, at times, quite sad, and also touched
by a kind of mysticism.  There are seven
instrumental interludes tucked between verse-chorus songs, which seem through
abstraction, muted noise, fleeting bits of beauty, to suggest the impermanence
of life and the possibility of transcendence.

 

 


Dan Melchior – All The Clocks from The Backward Path by Northern Spy Records

 

 

The songs in between are also full of existential angst –
though leavened with a dark humor. “I have known the emptiness,”
sings Melchior. “It wasn’t my kind of thing. It made me nervous with its lack
of jokes.” Yet as he faces this emptiness,
here and elsewhere on the album, he can’t seem to stop himself from cracking
wise. Who else, spinning abyss-ward in a “Dark Age Tail Spin” would stop to
wonder where his copy of The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks had gotten to?  Who
else, in contemplating the rush from past to future would pause to ask,
venomously, if a few bullet trains and the internet were all we were going to
get from the future? 

 

Melchior is serious even when he’s joking, but he turns
especially, brutally, so late in the album, on “Waves.” The song is, musically,
layered and beautiful, full of space-wandering electronic blips, ghostly traces
of blues guitar and piano, strangled bits of C. Spencer Yeh’s violin. The
sounds themselves come in waves, one running aground, another rushing over it,
the next gathering itself just out of hearing. Melchior sings over all this,
contemplating the emptiness lying
ahead somewhere and the exhausting struggle it will take to get there. “Still
you want to breathe, you don’t want to shut down, you don’t want to get buried
in dead thoughts,” he murmurs.

 

The
Backward Path
is a lovely, extremely moving demonstration of
exactly how a person can go on, not ignoring what’s going on, but not being
beaten down by it either, and continuing to make art from the rawest of raw
materials.

 

The
Letha Melchior Rodman Cancer Fund: http://melchiorfund.blogspot.com

 

Letha’s
Happy Hospital Funtime Blog! http://lethashappyhospitalfuntime.blogspot.com

 


 

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS: A Conversation with RZA

With his directorial
debut arriving in theaters this weekend, the Wu-Tang overlord talks film,
hip-hop, Quentin Tarantino, and more.

 

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

What sort of movie would RZA, the de facto mastermind behind Wu Tang Clan and its hip-hop dynasty, make
if he had a chance to direct one? We wouldn’t know precisely what kind because The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA’s
directorial debut that he co-wrote with Eli Roth, wasn’t made available to
screen before this interview. But you could guess from his background in the
theology of martial arts – the skill and its films and their influence on Wu
everything – to say nothing from a reel where he, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick
Yune, David Bautista and Jamie Chung run roughshod across19th century China. It would
be a fast paced bloodbath, especially since it’s being “presented by” his
cinematic mentor Quentin Tarentino with whom RZA has worked on several film
scores.

 

Plus, RZA created most of the score to The Man with the Iron Fists when he wasn’t developing red Chambers headphones
(and the sleek black zip-up pouch it comes in) and trying to get the entirety
of the Wu Tang Clan in fighting action for 2013. Despite Iron Fists being RZA’s directorial debut with nothing proven in the
box office department, somebody other than Tarentino must like him. The Hollywood Reporter reports that RZA will
direct a movie based on the life of Genghis Khan, written by Apocalypse Now scripter John Milius, as well as a third film after
Khan’s tale in No Man’s Land, an
action thriller. 

 

BLURT spoke to him from the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. (In photo above: David Bautista as “Brass
Body” and RZA as “The Blacksmith.”)

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: What was the
first movie that you absolutely loved?

RZA: Star Wars. It’s an amazing film
still. I even love the whole saga.

 

 OK. What was the first film that moved you to
pay attention to its direction, to decide that making movies was something that
you’d like to do someday?

 Wow. I’m going to have to get back to
you on that. I can say the first film that I found remarkable enough to want to
know more about was Five Deadly Venoms, then The 36th Chamber of Shaolin after
that. Once those hit I probably began to look at films from the standpoint of
how they were done. The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – these
were masterpieces of cinema that you wanted to get inside of. I watch films
with a different eye because of that. Like when I saw The Grey I felt like I was in a rainstorm the whole time. I got
cold.

 

 Do you find it hard to just enjoy a film
without picking it apart now that you’ve directed one?

 Yeah, I can. I’m not
jaded yet. Every time I go to the movies I’m excited. I might not walk out
excited. (laughs)

 

 If say the phrase “Shaw Brothers” what comes
to mind?

 Those guys were one of my schools of movie
making. They made me who I am AND they are responsible for my single most
favorite collection of films ever. I pride myself on that collection.

 

 Were you freaked out the first time you
stepped before a camera for Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost
Dog
?

 I didn’t know what to think. It just
felt cool to be on a big screen. Somebody told me something about me sticking
out, that I looked right up there. Then I did Coffee and Cigarettes for Jim and that was even cooler. I was
basically being a version of myself but that was fine. Plus you had to figure
that on that first film I had two words to say: “power” and “equality.” Coffee and Cigarettes I had ten minutes
of dialogue.

 

 Do you remember how you felt hearing yourself
for that long on screen?

  I’ll never forget being in this theater
in San Francisco
watching it. I shrunk in my seat. I tuned to butter and started melting away
because I was so nervous I was almost embarrassed, right. Then a minute in,
people laughed. Then more people laughed. All of a sudden I wasn’t shrinking
anymore. As they laughed throughout the skit, I started growing. By the time
that bit ended I was all the way up in my seats. I felt good. It was like that
feeling when you make a girl happy. It was a real wow sensation.

 

 Tarentino has talked about having you beside
him while he worked on set. Before Quentin, what did you pick up about
filmmaking from Jarmusch?

 We became buddies and
have had lot of conversations. When I did my Bobby Digital film package, it came in part from hanging with Jim as
we did that without a script. That’s
his style. But Quentin is my teacher. I sought him out. Not just a friend where
I’m taking advice – but I wanted to learn, hands on. John Woo talked to me.
Jarmusch talked to me, but Quentin was serious and made me get more serious. Go
to the set. Get behind the camera. Some days I was over his shoulder, watching
everything from three feet behind.

 

 

 When did you know that you were ready to be a
director?

 I thought I was ready
in 2007. I tried again in 2009. Then on New Year’s Day of 2010, after I
finished a big part of the screenplay, I knew it was a go. Months later, I
stepped into Universal and we were ready to start. By December 2010, principle
photography was on.

 

 What did Eli Roth bring to the table?

 He helped fleshed
these characters out. I’m not a screenplay writer, too. (laughs) I can tell you a story and I can make you see the whole
thing but to make it into a screenplay with the necessary details? I’m not
there yet. It’s a map. You got a make it readable for line producers on down.
Everybody has to know what the vision is or it won’t come to life. That’s why
the book is sometimes better than the movie…

 

 Any butting of heads? I heard you had nearly
four hours ready to roll.

 That was my mistake
for saying that out loud. A first-time director loving everything that he do
type-of comment. We had four hours of assembly – something I thought would be
worth two movies. I figured cut here and come back with a second half. That
would have been taking a big risk. Jarmusch has a style, a long shot where
nothing’s happening, which gives you an opportunity to ponder what an actor’s
character is thinking. Quentin would fill that scene with constant brilliant
dialogue. John Woo would use that same scene to have tables turning and birds
flying and guns blasting. What I had to do was find my balance. I didn’t have
that sort of balance for a four hour assembly. After I got my first director’s
cut, it was only 2 hours and 17 minutes. Most of which you‘ll see on the screen
with 96 minutes. I have a lot of eye candy for the DVD extras.

 

 How did you get Russell Crowe? It’s weird
thinking of him here.

 I asked him. I saw
him in my head as “Jack Knife” and he believed in me as an artist, simple as
that. He came on board to support the vision and he kills it.

 

 As you were writing the film, were you coming
up with the sound track or was that separate?

 It was mostly
separate but I wrote the film to music that wasn’t mine. It could’ve been John
Frusciante’s music or the soundtrack to Carrie.
I didn’t know that I was going to score the film. Funnily enough, I had a
keyboard and a guitar with me in China and started writing music,
but not for the film. When I couldn’t sleep at night I wound up writing and
riffing. Those songs then wound up being perfect for the score, especially this
one temple scene… You saw the film, right?

 No. They weren’t screening it.

 Don’t worry. You’ll
love it. Anyway, I wrote this one song during a long night and it fit the scene
and the synergy of being in China.

 

 Was it tough filming there? Was the government
cool about everything?

 They were mostly
cool. They had some demands. They had to proofread the script and there were a few things that they were
uncomfortable with – too much reality for a fiction film. (laughs) But the Chinese crew was incredible, very ingenious and
quick.

 

 

 

 

 

 What’s the most personal scene in the movie,
the one that reveals who you are as a director?

 Hmm. OK, there’s a
scene where “Jack Knife” starts his villainous purpose. From that point up to
the scene where he meets up with “Madame Blossom,” which is Lucy Liu, and she
starts her villainous purpose, that whole chunk is great movie magic. Keep your
eyes peeled.

 

 You ready for the Wu reunion?
 I am. Only if they are – and for real this time.

 

The Man with the Iron
Fists
opens in theaters today, Friday – Nov. 2.

 

 

MR. COBAIN RISING “Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana”

We talk with the author of a compelling new
biography that takes a fresh look at the grunge icons’ pre-superstar years.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

If you are reading this
publication odds are that you own at least one book about Nirvana or Kurt
Cobain. The Seattle band’s tale, with all its myriad twists, turns and
tragedies, is sufficiently embedded in music lore to ensure a thriving and
ongoing Nirvana cottage industry re: the literary world – the group’s artistic
output and longevity, relative to such bookshelf perennials as the Beatles, Bob
Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, notwithstanding. Not that all rock books
are created equal, mind you, or that you necessarily need to direct your investigations
much beyond, say, Michael Azerrad’s 1993 bio Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana or 2002 bible Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt
Cobain
by Charles R. Cross.

 

With that duly noted,
however, I have no qualms over recommending Entertain
Us: The Rise of Nirvana
(Jawbone Books), by Seattle-based author/journalist
(and, full disclosure, occasional BLURT contributor) Gillian G. Gaar, who has
also penned well-received titles on Green Day and Elvis Presley plus the
pioneering collection She’s A Rebel: The
History of Women in Rock and Roll
. It’s a book that’s simultaneously an
engaging, fast-paced read and an essential compendium of details and
reflections that get to the core of what makes a Nirvana fan’s pulse quicken.
Some of this is strategic; as you’ll read in the interview below, in an effort
not to retread overly familiar ground, Gaar focuses primarily on Nirvana’s
pre-fame period leading up to the recording and release of ’89 Sub Pop long-playing
debut Bleach, with the superstar era,
the Cobain suicide, the posthumous releases, etc. receiving a brief (though
insightful) summary in final chapter
“Nirvana In Its Afterlife.”

 

The rest is down to Gaar’s
situational proximity and journalistic savvy: being a resident of the Northwest
during  the grunge era – not to mention
being a writer for Seattle music paper The
Rocket
–  meant that she had
firsthand knowledge of and access to the events and personalities discussed in
her book; plus, she’s a solid, diligent reporter additionally gifted with the
intuition of a lifelong student of rock, allowing her to marry objective detail
to empathetic description, such as
with the following passage discussing Cobain’s iconic vocal in “Smells Like
Teen Spirit”:

 

“It’s Kurt’s voice that
gives the song its character, and stamps it most firmly with his personality.
His almost languorous drawl during the verses is as enigmatic as the lyrics; he
could be world-weary, introspective, or disinterested. But his full-throated
delivery in the choruses is scorching, tapping into an unexpected well of
emotion… At the song’s end, after the last time through the chorus, the band
pushes themselves even harder, Kurt’s repeated cries of  ‘A
denial!’
ringing out with unmistakable fury, although it’s never clear
what’s driving his frustration or what it is he’s raging against. It’s a
question that’s left hanging, unanswered, as Kurt’s voice and guitar finally
mesh together at the song’s end, and the final chord slowly dies away.”

 

Most of the major players
agreed to be interviewed for the book, among them bassist Krist Novoselic,
early drummer Chad Channing, Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman and producers Butch Vig
and Jack Endino, along with a slew of friends, associates and local
personalities. Secondary sources yield additional interview material where
appropriate, and thankfully Courtney Love’s name only pops up a couple of
times, primarily in the final chapter.
Throughout, the recollections and anecdotes are clear and deployed judiciously
to serve the larger narrative (something any aficionado of music biographies
knows is not always the case, with far too many authors apparently feeling that
endless or multiple quotes are crucial for making their cases).

 

Rounding out Entertain Us is an endnotes appendix
detailing Gaar’s chapter-by-chapter source material along with an appendix listing
selected recordings and live performances. There’s also a nice 11-page gallery
of photos, many of them quite candid or otherwise obscure.

 

Gaar agreed to field some
email queries about her book for BLURT. Although, it should be noted, the
burning one that still persists to this day – “Who REALLY killed Kurt Cobain?”
– elicited a modest demurral from our favorite Nirvana authority, who wisely
chose not to wade into the Courtney Love/El Duce/et al dogpile: “A question I don’t like to address!” Fair enough,
Gillian. Entertain us, then…

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: The most obvious question is: Does the world
really need another Nirvana book, and what do you think sets yours apart from
the numerous others that have preceded it?

GILLIAN G. GAAR: It was
actually easy to decide to do this book. There had been a book on the making of
Nirvana’s Nevermind. There was also a
book on the making of In Utero (I did
that one). So it was only a matter of time before someone did a book on Bleach. That was what I told the
publisher; someone will do it eventually, so why not us?

        But it was to be more than just a look
at Bleach. It was going to cover that
whole pre-fame period. When I sat down to start on it, I did think, how will
this be different? Then I had it: the music. I would be focusing on the music,
every recording session, every radio session, and the “video” session at
Evergreen. No other book has looked at that stuff in a narrative context. Plus,
I had good quotes from the key players, as well as looking at other things like
photo sessions, record cover design, shows, etc.

 

Take us back to the first time you heard and saw
Nirvana: what was your reaction, both as a journalist and music fan? Did you
have any moment of prescience regarding what might be to come?

It’s funny. I wasn’t
paying attention at first. I got Sub Pop
200
to review for [Seattle
music publication] The Rocket for the
December 1988 issue. It’s a compilation album and one of the tracks I didn’t
write about was Nirvana. The track was “Spank Thru” and it’s still not a
favorite song of mine. The time I paid attention was when I reviewed Bleach a few months later, also for The Rocket. I liked the diversity of the
music, and the pop edge was always in there; I think it kept the music from being too metal/hard rock. So I
guess that’s why I liked it better! But no, never had any thoughts of possible
massive success.

 

Given your resume and background in all things Nirvana
[among them, the 33 1/3 Nirvana’s In
Utero and The Rough Guide To Nirvana books and liner notes for the Nirvana box
set
With the Lights Out] what – if any – big surprises or revelations did
you come across during the interviews and research?

Working on this really
reaffirmed how strong the bond between Kurt and Krist was. I think every other
musician that was in the band felt like an outsider to some extent, even Dave
Grohl.

        The first confirmed Seattle date was April 24 at the Vogue; I was
surprised to see that Kurt had submitted a Musicians Wanted ad to The Rocket to find a new drummer a week
before that show, meaning his unhappiness with Dave Foster as drummer was
pretty immediate.

        Perhaps the biggest surprise was
finally figuring out when the Fecal Matter demo had been recorded. It was
always said to be December 1985. While getting a preview of the Nirvana
exhibition at the Experience Music Project, the curator showed me a letter Buzz
Osborne had written to Krist, then living in Arizona, in 1986. He mentioned the tape, and
coupled with an EMP interview Kurt’s aunt Mari where she said she recalled the
session as being around spring break, we now know the session was really around
Easter. Well, it was big news to me!

        And it was funny to learn that the Oct 30,
1988 show wasn’t taped because the taper was too drunk to realize he hadn’t put
a video in the camera!

 

Who, if anyone, was on your short list of
must-interviews but proved to be elusive or simply unresponsive, and why do you
think they wouldn’t cooperate? Conversely, over the years was there anyone who
seemed particularly open and genuine and not necessarily agenda-driven where it
came to setting the record straight about Kurt and Nirvana?

I’ve gotten so many requests
re: interviewees I didn’t get for this book… and I think it focuses too much on
the negative! I’d rather think about the great people I did work with, getting
Chad Channing and Jack Endino to talk again. Kurt Danielson (of TAD) was great,
as was Earnie Bailey; we had long long conversations. I’m glad Dan Peters
agreed and that Jason Everman responded to my requests. I’m glad to everybody
of course, especially people I spoke with before who gladly opened up again
(Steve Fisk is another one).

 

The Nirvana Industry: how well do you think the
legacy has been curated to date? Has the marketing of the band been done
tastefully or cynically? And to what degree have the personal sideshows such as
the Courtney-Grohl feud overshadowed the music?

They seem to be taking slow
and steady as far as music and DVDs [are concerned]. I think they could be
doing more (see below). I think things were definitely taken slow so as to not
appear to be exploitative and cynical. I think in part what delays things is
that everyone is living in different places and doing different things, so it’s
harder to take time out and focus on another project. I think it’s less
anything between Courtney and Dave thing and more that Dave is generally pretty
busy. I don’t think there’s that much out there, really.

 

What else is in the vaults, and what’s on your
personal wish list you’d like to see rescued from the bootleg graveyard and put
into official release?

Well, it would be nice if
someone went through all the studio tapes, a
la
Mark Lewisohn with The Beatles
Recording Sessions
book, and nail down exactly what’s there. Ditto those
120 cassettes or whatever that Courtney had. Who knows what that might turn up?
Also, have everyone look in their own archives to see if they have long
forgotten cassettes of rehearsals, etc. There could certainly be things there. There
are many things that could be released; there still isn’t an official release
of all the radio tracks, for example. Then there’s live stuff, both audio and
video. Maybe a few select commercial releases – the MTV performances for
example – then everything else could be available on an as-ordered basis via a
website. I would curate and write liner notes for everything of course…

 

Here’s a kind of “WTF?” question: just before your
book was published, another one with a painfully similar title (and, to a
degree, theme) appeared: Entertain Us:
The Rise of Alternative Rock in the Nineties
by Craig Shuftan, published
digitally by ABC/Harper Collins.  The
term “entertain us” is part of the rock lexicon, of course, but I’m wondering
why that author co-opted it – and if that bugs you.

I didn’t know about this
book until I found it doing an Amazon search at the time my book came! So it
was too late to do anything about it. As my book was up long before his was
listed, I wonder why he didn’t change
his title. Not having a Kindle – or
any kind of e-reader – I guess I’ll never read it….

 

 

A version of this article also appears in issue #13
of BLURT magazine.

Vex Ruffin Drops Cassette-only Album


Listen to a key track,
below.

By Blurt Staff
With Same Thing Tomorrow, just out on Stones Throw, Vex Ruffin offers more of his signature infectious but minimal sound. This cassette-only release of ten new, understated tracks – culled from more than 300 songs Ruffin submitted to Stones Throw Records head Peanut Butter Wolf over the past year – is an intimate showcase of the prolific Chino resident’s songwriting, displaying his eclectic range of influences, from early New Order and Peter Murphy to the Jungle Brothers. Check out the track “Same Thing Tomorrow”:

Vex Ruffin – Same Thing Tomorrow by Stones Throw Records
Ruffin’s song “Take It” was recently featured on HBO’s Girls and the feature film Lola Versus. Coming up is the “Space Tom Test” single, from the forthcoming Ruffin/James Pants collaboration, as well as the “Living For the Future” single. Next spring will see his debut full-length.
Go here to read the BLURT review of his Crash
Course
EP, issued last December.
Tracklisting:
Side A
1.     “I Focus (Born To Be Vex)”
2.     “Do It Big”
3.     “Release”
4.     “Flaming Torch”
5.     “Same Thing Tomorrow”

Side B
1.     “Dark Room”
2.     “Roll With The Punches”
3.     “I Can’t Seem To Find It”
4.     “Zoo (Part 2)”
5.     “It’s In My Soul”

MUSIC JOURNALISM 101 / JOHNNY MNEMONIC

Running amuck (adrift, actually…) in the magical Land of Oz with a big-boobed, coke-sniffin’ bimbo and assorted loonies.

By Johnny Mnemonic

I am a man adrift.

Prior to my current existential state of affairs, however, I was a staff writer for what I presume most people considered to be highly-regarded national music magazine. I hasten to emphasize my phrasing being in the past tense, as the publication recently folded, the victim of all those things you’ve been reading lately, with alarming frequency, about music magazines (and the print world in general). I won’t bore you with all the mundane details of my dismissal and its demise — yet — other than to say the basic law of the jungle was in effect: if a business ceases to continue making money, and this goes on for month after month despite (or owing to) the regular influx of meddling new investors, hapless new editors and inane new marketing strategies, etc., soon enough, something’s gotta give.

Ergo, I am a man adrift, with no immediate, regular source of income. I will certainly be offering up my freelance skills to other highly-regarded national music magazines, perhaps even the one whose website you are reading this very moment, but the terms “freelance writer” and “regular income” remain mutually exclusive. So while I drift, in between resume-mailing, LinkedIn networking and Velvet Rope-lurking, in order to keep my mind from atrophying from a steady diet of satellite TV and internet porn I’ve accepted an invitation from the editors of Blurt to author this blog.

“Music Journalism 101” is to be part-memoir, part-exposé and part cautionary tale. On that first count, I’ll draw upon my experiences as a music writer and introduce you to assorted denizens of the musician community ranging from the sweet to the sour, from the supremely gifted to the astonishingly clueless, and from the types who help make the world a better place with their artistry to the walking/talking chunks of human feces who in a sane, just world would be lined up next to a mass burial site in some godforsaken corner of what used to be Yugoslavia and summarily shot and tossed into the pit. As far as the exposé part is concerned, don’t necessarily take that term literally (don’t want to get your hopes up), although I will be tugging the curtain back to give you glimpses of what goes on in the lives of music writers, their editors and publishers, their peers and significant others, their hookups and drug dealers, etc. Just to give you a teaser: for a week in 1989 I joined the touring entourage of a former college rock band-turned-MTV-darling — for the purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to them as “Dream Response” — in order to do an on-the-road profile. This gave me access to the after-show activities, although there was an unspoken understanding that I’d use discretion in reporting any behavior that might prove upsetting to the quartet’s fairly vanilla fanbase, or for that matter, to the members’ wives. From the band’s point of view, that unspoken understanding probably served them well when it came time for me to file my report. I quite diligently did not recount the scene in which I wandered into one of their hotel suites’ bathrooms only to find the lead singer — let’s call him “Frothy Bryson,” after his unnerving habit for literally foaming at the mouth in the middle of one of his onstage “poetic” rants — ankle-deep in the chunky, dark-haired, big-boobed local radio personality who’d turned up at the show to record station I.D.s and was invited to stick around for the party. After a few healthy toots of Peruvian weasel dust and three or four stiff vodka-and-7-Ups, she’d apparently been ready to take more than just airchecks from the group. I can still hear her horsey-like, pack-a-day wheeze of a laugh (how do these obnoxious gals get their radio gigs? oh, right…) as she was grabbing for the straw… and if I squint my mind’s eye just right, I can still see — no, please God, not again — Frothy’s hairy, boil-studded ass.

But don’t think that life in the music journalism business is a merry old yellow brick road stroll into the Emerald City, where vials of coke dangle from trees like sugarplums and nubile munchkin lasses beckon seductively from shop windows like Amsterdam hookers. This is where the cautionary tale aspect comes in. “The biz” has a boundless supply of headaches, frustrations, diva- and asshole-like personalities, and just out-and-out lunacy, not to mention a deadeningly mundane side to it (you know, hours upon hours trapped in a cubicle pounding away at a keyboard while your head pounds from all that free booze you swilled the night before at the Metallica album listening party at Arlene’s Grocery). It’s not all that different from used car sales, actually. So my hope is that after reading this blog, at least one aspiring music journalist out there, having gotten a sense of how the sausages are made, so to speak, will plot a beeline straight to his or her college counselor and switch majors to, say, Astronomy, or perhaps Botany — any discipline where one’s native talents can be nurtured and turned into a bankable commodity in the employment marketplace. Because if you believe being a rock critic is a viable career path, I have some stock shares in Madoff, Inc. I want to sell you. At this juncture in life, it’s probably too late for me, but it’s not too late to prevent one of you from making a huge mistake. Don’t wake up one morning to learn that the business you’ve chosen to work for is sinking faster than a GM truck with cinderblocks chained to each axle, and that you have no tenure, no seniority, no job security, no marketable skills, no nothing, really, plus the additional stress of a pending loss of health insurance benefits when your COBRA coverage expires. Now’s the time to consider that offer from your father about taking up the family business, in other words.

Above I mentioned that the editors of Blurt invited me to become one of their bloggers. Technically, I approached them with the idea. (I could swear I detected a shrug on the other end of the telephone, but as the answer was “sure,” that’s good enough for me.) Still, my ego can only take so much battering in a compressed period of time — losing that highly-regarded national music magazine gig and all — so it does me good to create this fantasy in my mind that my arch prose remains in demand by my peers and, hopefully, will be admired by Blurt readers. I may be a man adrift, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still spout off with the best of ‘em.

My friends tell me I’m actually quite good at spouting off, especially after a couple of whiskey sours. (I know, I know, a girlie-girl drink, but — and here’s the first of what will be many fascinating insider tips from the world of music journalism — you can casually sip whiskey sours all night without getting too plastered, which greatly enhances your chances of getting some juicy backstage or behind the scenes stories, since the bands themselves tend to really bring it on, post-gig; I think we already covered that part three paragraphs earlier.) I promise to write most of these entries in a relatively sober state of mind, of course. Well, that is unless I feel, in the interests of accurately recounting some of those juicy stories culled from my fabulous career in music journalism, I simply must recreate the semi-sober state of mind I was experiencing at the time of the original incident.

Did I mention that my friends also tell me I have a pretty fucking spot-on memory? I may be a man adrift. But I know where the bodies are buried.

Guarantee: many of the names, places and entities outlined in this blog will be changed to protect the innocent along with the not-so-innocent. And also to ensure I don’t burn so many bridges I can’t get hired again by some highly-regarded national music magazine. Not that there are any left.

***

Johnny Mnemonic is the pseudonym of a “highly-regarded” national writer with, he advises us, over two decades’ experience working as a music critic, reporter and editor. We’ve never met him face-to-face, and he further advises he will be delivering his blogs to us via the “double blind drop-box method,” whatever that is, to ensure his anonymity.

 

THE PERFECT BEAT: A Halloween Fable

WWPD? (What would Poe do?) Sticky bud, rare vinyl – and the haunting breakbeat that will not be silenced.

 

BY MITCH MYERS

 

It was the tail end of 1994
and noted hip-hop producer Amon Tillado was living the high life and running
out of money. Tillado once ruled the airwaves, but hadn’t produced a memorable
recording in years. He was desperate for a hit but he’d burnt through his
relationships with several beat-merchants and now had a shady reputation,
notorious for skewed publishing deals and withheld royalties.

 

Kid Fortunate was peddling
old vinyl at the Roosevelt Hotel on East 45th Street when he first
met Tillado. Seeing him at the Roosevelt record show a couple more times, the
Kid eventually played some rare forgotten breakbeats for the famous producer.
One particular old funk beat captured Tillado’s imagination – he knew it could
be used for something really big. The vintage beat was perfect and Amon was
willing to pay good money for it, even promising an album credit to Fortunate
if the beat was used.

 

Despite Amon’s hard sell, Kid
Fortunate smugly refused the deal, insisting that he’d promised the perfect
beat to Prince Be from PM Dawn-who was still flush with cash from the triumph
of “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.” Kid Fortunate was also dismissive of Amon’s
status as a producer, which displeased Tillado more than anything else.

 

It was true he hadn’t
produced any important recordings for a long time, but Tillado was still a
popular, well-connected guy. Hell, Amon was the only person to attend Willie
Nelson’s Farm Aid and the recording sessions for Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic that same year – he liked to
think that he still knew what was happening.

 

The DJ had spurned his offer
and insulted him, but Amon showed no sign of taking umbrage. Rather, he kept
schmoozing Kid Fortunate that whole week right up to New Year’s Eve. He also
learned that Fortunate had one particular soft spot – not only did the DJ
consider himself an expert on old soul, funk and jazz recordings, he also fancied
himself a true connoisseur of the finest marijuana.

 

It was late afternoon on
December 31st and the two had bumped into each other on the street
in Midtown. After discussing their respective plans for that evening’s
celebration-Fortunate on his way to spin records in the East Village, Tillado
committed to an elite party on the Upper West Side – Amon casually offered to
give the Kid some really high-grade smoke, some “Willie Nelson shit”…his Most
Salacious weed…to help usher in the New Year. 

 

Intrigued, Kid Fortunate
agreed to a quick visit of Tillado’s three-story brownstone on West 58th. As a
bachelor, Amon occupied the entire building and had live-in help. When they
arrived Amon mentioned that he’d given the butler and his wife the week off for
the holiday. Kid Fortunate was openly sarcastic about Tillado having a butler,
but the producer acted as if he hadn’t noticed the snide remarks.

 

Had all this occurred due to
simple coincidence or by virtue of careful planning? A fair question, as it was
only after Amon became satisfied that no one else knew Kid Fortunate was at his
home – and learned the DJ had yet to play the perfect beat for PM Dawn – that
he decided to punish the Kid for his impudence.

 

 

 

 

Amon insisted on giving Kid
Fortunate a tour of his beloved brownstone, where each level’s décor was done
up in a different color. Starting at the amazing library on the top floor – aptly
dubbed the Green Room – Tillado pulled out a long glass pipe filled with some
super sticky Sensimilla, which when ignited set off a huge coughing fit on the
part of Kid Fortunate. The Kid’s eyes were watering and bloodshot and he kept
on hacking for several minutes until he was able to down a glass of orange
juice.

 

When Kid Fortunate had
finally recovered from his encounter with the sticky Sensimilla, Amon led him
down a narrow stairway onto the second floor, which was tastefully decorated in
pure azure blue. There they settled in Tillado’s blue-hued study, where the
producer prepped a large Graffix Bong with fresh ice and loaded the bowl with
some knee-buckling AK-47 that had been smuggled in from the Netherlands just
the week before.

 

Amon noted how wasteful Kid
Fortunate was as the young DJ torched the bong’s contents, greedily inhaling it
all in one massive hit before inevitably exploding into another series of
horrifying coughs. Tillado chided the Kid, gently suggesting that he go home
and rest up before the evening, and perhaps the Most Salacious might be too
much for him to handle.

 

Dismissing the producer’s
warning, Kid Fortunate asserted that the cough was a mere nothing and he was
ready to sample all the weed Tillado had to offer, especially the Most
Salacious. Despite his protestations, Kid Fortunate was becoming increasingly
unsteady and wasted to the point of fatigue. Thoroughly self-absorbed, he
showed no patience for Tillado’s anecdotes about the talents of yesteryear and
was oblivious to the memorabilia scattered throughout the grand blue room.

 

Forging ahead at Kid
Fortunate’s insistence, they stumbled down the stairway and came out on the
magnificent main floor, which was bathed in a dark ruby red. The pair sank into
a massive couch in the front room as Amon brandished a bag of clustered buds
(replete with fine red hairs that matched the room’s décor) he called “Master
Kush.” Tillado quickly twisted the pungent buds into a modest-looking joint,
pushed a makeshift filter into one end, and handed it to his guest.

 

Although Kid Fortunate
thought he was prepared to inhale the Kush, he was mistaken. After just one
toke he was overwhelmed by another coughing fit of serious proportions. With
more liquids on hand and Amon offering throat lozenges, Fortunate collected
himself as quickly as he could and then added to his fading bravado by
insisting they sample the Most Salacious before it got too late. He also made
sure to convey that he was still expecting some salacious buds to take home
with him as Tillado had promised.  

 

Amon diplomatically reminded
Kid Fortunate that the smoke didn’t seem to be going down very easily that day,
and offered him a rain check on their burning adventure should he like to take
a pass. But Fortunate was adamant about proceeding, and urged his host to
continue the tour and produce the Most Salacious before his time ran out. “As
you wish,” said Amon, “there’s not much further to go.”

 

Leading Kid Fortunate down to
the basement, Amon explained how the space had once been used as a wine cellar
but he was now converting it into his very own home studio. To Kid Fortunate’s
tired eyes, the room was unimpressive. The dank area was only half constructed
with one wall still exposed. There were splattered dropcloths covering audio
equipment, building materials stacked on top of furniture, and the ceiling
sported an uneven coat of bland white primer.   

 

Then Kid Fortunate’s attitude
caught up with him. He’d been clutching his saddlebag of old LPs throughout his
tour of the brownstone, mostly rare vinyl he’d planned to use that night,
including the album with Tillado’s “perfect beat.” Noticing a turntable amid
the equipment, he momentarily forgot about the Most Salacious and decided to
play the track so coveted by his host. As he cued up the rare record, Fortunate
let it be known that he’d promised the breakbeat to PM Dawn unheard, but wasn’t
likely to see him any time soon.

 

 

 

 

 

In his stoned condition, Kid
Fortunate expected Amon Tillado to at least double his previous offer for the
recording, but the producer merely smiled and bid him to sit in front of the
mixing console to fiddle with the breakbeat himself. This was a gesture the Kid
could not refuse. In a matter of moments he’d isolated the perfect beat, slowed
it down a bit and added a slight echo, making the rhythm feel even more
elemental and seductive than before.  

 

With his eyes closed, Kid
Fortunate was absolutely rhapsodic. He was immersed in the music and just about
to press his host for the Most Salacious when Amon came up from behind him and
wrapped a sheet of plastic around his face, holding him down and suffocating
the DJ while the beat played on. Kid Fortunate struggled wildly but was unable
to escape Tillado’s deadly grasp. The producer noted ironically how Fortunate’s
fading heart had perfectly matched the beat before his life essence was
extinguished. 

 

Amon wrapped the body in
sheets of plastic and insulation. He wrapped and he wrapped and he wrapped
until he could wrap no more. Then he pushed the sealed corpse into the studio’s
unfinished wall. “The ultimate in soundproofing,” he thought to himself.

 

After making a brief
appearance at the New Year’s Eve party on the Upper West Side Tillado returned
home and spent the next three weeks working alone on his studio. He even
covered the walls with some acoustic tile that had been part of the original
Sun Studio in Memphis. By February he was finished, and no one had even asked
him once about poor Kid Fortunate.

 

It seemed the city had
forgotten that Kid Fortunate ever existed. A couple of the Kid’s friends were
concerned when he hadn’t shown up to spin records on New Year’s Eve, but the consensus
was that he must have gone home for the holidays and would turn up again
eventually. There was a bit of a fuss when Fortunate’s landlady put all of his
belongings out on the street, but the record hounds on his block grabbed up
everything of value before a single night fell.

 

In the springtime, Amon could
contain himself no longer. Arranging a gig at his home studio with an
up-and-coming rapper was no trouble, and after securing substantial co-writing
royalties and additional points for producing, Tillado dropped a sampled loop
of the perfect beat – just the way Kid Fortunate had mixed it – right onto the
record’s most infectious track.

 

To say the track was
successful would be an understatement. Amon’s sage instincts had been right
about the perfect beat and the song stayed high on the charts for months.
Accolades and money came streaming in from every direction. The beat became
ubiquitous and the song was even licensed for a car commercial. Other DJs were
sampling Tillado’s beat as well the original recording, which shot up in value
before being reissued and made available on CD or vinyl for about twelve
bucks. 

 

By winter Tillado was
wealthier than ever, and more popular too. He already had plenty of high-priced
gigs lined up for the following year and formed his own record label in the
interim. Everyone was saying that Amon, the rapper, and their smash track were
a sure bet for multiple GRAMMY awards. So it was with nothing less than
audacious confidence that he decided to celebrate his good fortune by throwing
a little party, at his home, on New Year’s Eve. 

 

All sorts of characters came
to the bash. This included the rapper and his crew, music industry honchos,
over a dozen beautiful young women, two movie stars and Tillado’s attorney.
They were partying on every floor but most of the action was down in his plush
basement studio. Almost everybody was jammed in the playback room drinking
Cristal, snorting cocaine and smoking huge blunts. As the New Year loomed Amon
turned down the music for the countdown. The clock struck twelve, and there was
much kissing and hugging and high fives all around.

 

Amon had saved his own party
favor for the midnight hour. As a treat he lit up an entire joint of the Most
Salacious all for himself. Puffing extravagantly on his salacious weed, he
suddenly heard the music come back on and became angry, demanding to know who
was messing with his sound system.

 

Then Amon recognized that it
was the perfect beat that he was hearing. At first he thought it was just
another remix of his celebrated track someone had slipped onto the stereo, but
it was clearly the original breakbeat – echoing, elemental, electronic and
stripped bare – looping over and over and reverberating in his ears.

 

The volume, however, was
still turned down and the sound system remained untouched. Amon began to shout
and swear, insisting that someone must stop the pulsing beat immediately.
Everyone in the room just turned and stared. No one else had heard anything at
all and they assumed Amon was just stoned and clowning around.

 

Then Amon started smashing up
the place, trying vainly to eliminate the source of the haunting breakbeat. The
party broke up in a hurry after he destroyed the mixing console and began
breaking into the studio’s beautifully tiled walls.  And they say that Amon Tillado was still
raving, drooling and muttering about the perfect beat when the authorities
finally showed up a little while later.

 

 

 

 

(With apologies to E. A. Poe… Mitch
Myers is a freelance writer, radio commentator, curator of the Silverstein
Archive in Chicago and author of
The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll
Fables and Sonic Storytelling.)

 

 

 Additional reading:

The Masque Of The Red Death  

 

 

The Cask Of Amontillado 

 

 

The Tell-Tale Heart 

 

 

 

 

STRIKING THE PERFECT BALANCE Moogfest 2012

October 26 & 27
brought the third annual gathering of the tribes. We were there, natch. (See also:
our exclusive photo gallery from this year’s event.)

 

BY JORDAN LAWRENCE

 

Unlike its peers on the nation’s festival scene, Moogfest
will always be judged by one very specific criterion: How true is it to the
legacy of Bob Moog? The late synthesizer pioneer founded Moog Music and
contributed innovations that have impacted every musical genre that doesn’t
exclusively rely on acoustic instruments. Since relocating from New York to
Asheville, N.C. three years ago, the festival has juggled this high-minded
curatorial responsibility with the necessity of booking the kind of
high-profile acts that can sustain a multi-day festival that includes venues
with capacities of 7,700 (ExploreAsheville.com Arena, aka the former Asheville
Civic Center), 2,400 (Thomas Wolfe Auditorium) and 1,050 (Orange Peel).

 

Ashley Capps, the head of AC Entertainment, the promotion
company behind the fest, spoke to the challenge of representing Moog at a
pre-festival press conference, calling it “the thread around which the festival
is made,” adding: “We try to keep it from being a box.”

 

At its best, the festival explores the boundary between the
popular and the experimental, offering accessible samples of electronic styles
and arresting artists making waves in the indie music realm. Reduced to two
days after a pair of three-day events, this year’s Moogfest lacked some of the
star power enjoyed by its first Asheville
outings, but the line-up was tight and meaty, rich with acts who stretched the
Moog thread in intriguing ways. Leveraging its Halloween-adjacent weekend, the
event retained the party-hardy atmosphere of years past, drunk kids in costumes
vibing to unexpected soundtracks.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday night was the more adventurous of the two sessions,
using Moog’s broad influence as the connective tissue uniting an array of
diverse and vital performers. German electronic innovator Pantha Du Prince
started things off at the arena, and his set played out like a microcosm of the
diverse styles Moogfest manages to draw together. His lush electronic
landscapes united throbbing house beats with delicate techno flourishes and
moments of harsh distortion sourced from experimental rock. The results percolated
patiently only to suddenly lunge forward, a marvel of mood management and
rhythmic acumen.

 

Later, a pair of high-profile rappers offered wonderfully
contrasting sets, a welcome improvement over last year’s scant hip-hop
programming. Nas (pictured above), performing
with a live band that played various Moog instruments, rocked the arena with
his provocative lyrics and steely flow. Bolstered by the band’s muscular,
understated funk inflections, classics like Illmatic‘s
“The World is Yours” impressed with robust beats matched by potent melodic
counterpoints, often in the form of pristine trumpet fills. With a beloved star
daring to try a new approach, Nas’ set took Moog’s mission of innovation to
heart.

 

A few hours later at the Orange Peel, GZA, the Wu-Tang
Clan’s resident “Genius” offered one of the most charismatic rap sets you’ll
ever see. Showcasing an intuitive connection with his DJ, what started as a
performance of GZA’s 1995 landmark, Liquid
Swords
, became a wowing journey through Wu-Tang history. He offered
performances of hallmarks such as “Clan in the Front” and went a cappella to
recite a verse by late Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The latter was one of
many moments made possible by GZA and his DJ’s unparalleled chemistry, beats
dropping out and bouncing back with perfect timing, complementing the rapper’s
sly, gravelly delivery. It wasn’t the full-album performance that festival
goers were promised, but GZA proved himself to be a consummate entertainer and
an artist fully in command of his craft.

 

There were missteps, notably headliner Primus, whose
uninventive combination of Tom Waits-isms and maddeningly busy bass and guitar
fills was in no way helped by the gimmicky 3D projections that accompanied it.
But every sour note was answered with a sweet one, in this case the free
jazz-inflected art rock of Asheville’s
own Ahleuchatistas. Shane Perlowin’s dizzying guitar lines swung from
blistering bop permutations to crushing semi-metal riffs and on to intricate,
Oriental-leaning patterns. Drummer Ryan Oslance added complex clamor, working
through swift, ever-changing progressions and adding creative embellishments,
at one point dropping chains on his tom to create a brutal, leaden stomp.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday began with a slate of performers flush with indie
buzz. Divine Fits (pictured above)
a supergroup comprising Spoon leader Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs
alum Dan Boeckner, and New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown — started the night
off at the arena. They united Spoon’s kraut-ish throb with stylish synths,
creating relentless, elongated grooves that drove forth with veteran swagger.
Santigold followed, her lyrical, melody-driven style of hip-hop assisted by the
robotic choreography of two female dancers and myriad costume changes. With
theatrical elements such as a two-man horse — played by her bassist and
drummer — striding onto the stage to a clippity-clopping beat, her set
utilized spectacle to enhance her already catchy songs.

 

Better still was Death Grips, who brought their brash,
noise-inflected hip-hop to the Orange Peel. The beats came by way of harshly
distorted synth lines pulsing from a backstage laptop
and the enraged volleys of drummer Zach Hill. As the incredible volume shook
the Peel to its foundations, Stefan
“MC Ride” Burnett unleashed his rhymes in guttural shouts. Shirtless
and ripped, he gyrated and flexed, roaring at the crowd silhouetted by
blood-red spotlights. It was a jarring and transfixing display, intense
electronic sounds powering some of the most visceral hip-hop around.

 

Saturday’s second half
was an onslaught of top-flight electronic music: ambient duos, eclectic DJs and
energetic EDM. Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never, Ford &
Lopatin) induced trances with a powerfully understated wash of serene synths
and ethereal noise. The English EDM pioneers in Orbital led Moogfest’s biggest
party down at the arena, masterfully controlling momentum and unifying zombies,
Trekkies, Muppets and more in movement to their kinetic beats.

 

But none of this topped
Four Tet, who closed down Thomas Wolfe much like Pantha had started things at
the arena one night earlier, with a uniquely diversified electronica display.
Dense dub beats met prickling notes from samples and synths and an undercurrent
of ambient noise, The resulting loop-heavy expenses were at once mentally
immersive and danceable, a potent reminder that forward-thinking music can be
enjoyed with the body as well as the mind. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moogfest was
established to honor the contributions of one of the world’s most important
sonic innovators. This year’s event lived up to that mission, emphasizing
artists who are exploring the possibilities of sound while also creating work
that is intrinsically accessible. It’s a balance that Moogfest has spent three
years refining. This year, they got closer than ever to perfecting it.

 

 

[Photo credits: Margaret
Hester
(top); Jordan Lawrence (other 3)]

 

 

Additional Moogfest
coverage:

 

Moogfest
2011

 

Moogfest
2010

 

The
Legacy of Bob Moog