No you’re not. You’re the beloved singer-songwriter and mod housewife. For her new album, time had arrived to tip her bonnet to the lifers—among which she finds herself, in 2018, part of the gang. And she never felt more inspired and invigorated than now. (Photo by Ted Barron. Rigby starts her tour this week and will be on tour now through the end of March, and then again during May and June. Dates and info HERE.)
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Amy Rigby wrote the title track to her latest album around four years ago, when she noticed that many of the mentors and sidemen and even fans who had supported her early on were starting to pass away.
“I don’t know if you read the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, but he talks about losing Clarence Clemons and about this bond that you have with people that you make music with. It is a spiritual thing,” says Rigby. “I felt really strongly, the loss of the first person who I recorded with who made me think that I was good. To just think that, wow, if all these people are gone, who’s going to tell me that? Will I still believe it?”
So in some ways The Old Guys is her tribute to the lifers, the grizzled veterans with their battered gear who load in week after week, year after year, in the service of the music they make. It’s a group that’s largely male, for whatever reasons, but one that Rigby feels a kinship with. Asked why there weren’t more “old girls,” she laughs. “I guess I’m the old girl.”
Amy Rigby has been making music since the 1980s, at first with Last Roundup and NYC urban folk heroes the Shams, and later, from the mid-1990s on, as a solo artist. Her landmark album, Diary of a Mod Housewife, won her Spin’s “Songwriter of the Year” title in 1996. Originally a CD-only release, it was reissued on vinyl last year to celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary. For the past decade, she has mostly been recording with her husband Wreckless Eric (Goulden), though. Her last solo album, Little Fugitive, came out a dozen years ago in 2005. (Find out more about Rigby at her official website and Facebook page.)
“It just took a while to get together,” Rigby admits when asked about the gap. “I didn’t want to repeat myself. Too much time had gone by and I’d gone too far in life to do a retread of something I’d already done.”
In the driver’s seat
Rigby worked with her husband Wreckless Eric, who played bass, electric guitar, and keyboards, on The Old Guys, as well as producing and engineering. The process, says Rigby, was both similar and different than on the joint albums. “We never actually wrote together,” she explains. “We both felt pretty strongly about the other’s writer’s voice in their songs and neither of us felt comfortable tampering with that. But at the same time, I guess we approached those more like we were in a band, and how would we play those live? It was more of a democratic kind of band type of thing.”
For the solo record, Rigby was in the driver’s seat. “I felt more that the responsibility all on me as far as going, well, like, what songs go together? What sort of statement do I want to make?” she says. “Not to say that it had to be a big concept album, but it does feel more like a personal statement. The only way that anyone will hear the record is if I’m going to go out and play. So what could I feel strongly enough that I could stand up by myself, not even with a band, and just get up and share with people?”
The album was mostly new material, but once she had her theme, Rigby found a few older songs that fit into its reminiscent vibe. One of these was “Bob,” which sketches an older fan, spotted at a show, excited to see her and then gone. Rigby had recorded the song on a tour-only CD more than a decade ago, but never felt it was finished. During The Old Guys sessions, she wrote a bridge for it. Artie Barbato wrote the trumpet solo which is now one of her favorite sounds on the album. “I love when the trumpet comes in in ‘Bob.’ That always kind of gets me, I guess because my mom just loved Herb Alpert records and Bert Bacharach records. It has a little bit of that feeling for me.”
Famous writers and anti-heroes
Other songs are contemporary, like the opening “From Philiproth at Gmail to Rzimmerman at AOL,” which imagines Philip Roth writing to Bob Dylan on the occasion of his Nobel Prize for Literature. Rigby wrote it at a songwriting camp she was teaching, when her fellow teacher assigned everyone in the class scenarios intended to provoke indignation.
“At first I thought, oh my god, how am I going to do this? Can’t you give me the one about the neighbor who’s like, stop parking your car in my space?” Rigby laughs. “But it gave me this little power jolt to get to pretend I was this mighty author.”
Rigby had sympathy for both viewpoints. She’s been writing prose as long as she’s been writing songs and keeps a very literate and interesting blog at https://diaryofamyrigby.wordpress.com/. But she’s also a Dylan fan, well acquainted with the satisfaction of performing, rather than publishing, written work.
“So I was thinking about Dylan and thinking about this serious writer, Philip Roth, but I was also thinking about myself and that gratification of getting up on stage and just how lonely actually writing words, just one word after another is,” she says. “It seems more pure somehow than getting up in front of people to play a song where the music part’s doing half the work for you anyway.”
“New Sheriff” is another song with very contemporary references, which reveal a taste for high end television — and revenge. “In my mind, I’m Knucky Thompson/In my mind, I’m Tony Soprano/In my mind, I’m Walter White,” sings Rigby, who is probably not very much like any of these people. “I guess that it felt good to be able to picture myself as any of those people — just like if I could only not be a meek little mouse,” she says. “But having watched all of those episodes of those shows fairly recently, they do start to creep into your consciousness and your subconscious. You feel like you’re in the show.”
Rigby admits that it’s surprisingly satisfying to let loose in the song, “just imagining myself just going in with a blowtorch” but, she adds, “at the same time, I felt like, it wouldn’t be honest not to pull back at the end and say it was really just a fantasy.”
Folk music on Mars
Rigby’s music took shape in the home studio she shares with Wreckless Eric, with her husband on bass, plus three drummers — Doug Wygal (of the late, great Individuals and other outfits), who played on Diary of a Mod Housewife, Jeremy Grites, who has played with Wreckless Eric, and Greg Roberson of the Reigning Sound and Tiger High—and Rigby herself on acoustic and electric six-string guitars, organ, piano, and a Danelectro 12-string electric guitar. (Brian Dewan played synthesizers on a few tracks as well.) That guitar, a present from her husband, has changed her sound. “I’ve played guitar for years but I’ve never considered myself an electric guitarist, even though I like to be plugged in and playing an electric guitar,” she says. “But the electric 12-string, I just feel like it expresses something.”
“Danelectro guitars are always kind of copies of what they were in the 1960s, these quirky 1960s guitars,” she says. “But there was that very brief period of Danelectro 12-strings that sound really great. They’re really inexpensive but whatever pick-ups they used…they just sound really good. It just adds another tone to everything. It has this majesty to it. One strum on a 12-string, you don’t really have to do much more for another two bars.”
“The word people usually use is ‘chiming,’” she adds. “If you grew up in the 1960s, hearing pop radio, and the sound of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ by the Byrds through a transistor radio, there’s just something about it. It is like kind of from outer space. It sounded like English folk music bounced off another planet.”
Amy Rigby is heading out on the road with her new album this spring, navigating a physical and digital environment that has changed dramatically since her last solo record. “The last time I put out a solo album, there was no Facebook, and there was no Twitter. It’s not just like ‘Oh, it would be good to do that.’ It’s like you are kind of obligated to create events for everything and tell everybody and keep telling everybody and all of that. It feels like it’s a lot,” says Rigby.
She’s also hitting the circuit as that rarest of phenomena, the older woman artist. As an artist who has always admired the “old guys,” Rigby now finds herself in a similar, but lonelier position. “I guess I am the old girl,” she says.
“I remember people used to always say, and this was when I was in my late 30s, and people would say, ‘But Bonnie Raitt…’ And then, there’s Joan Jett. But she’s almost more like a caricature,” she muses, looking for peers with grey in their hair. “Honestly, though, if I was an academic I would love to go and figure out, do a study of what happens to women in that wilderness years of going through menopause. I mean I know it’s not a topic that anyone even wants to hear about or talk about and certainly it’s not related to music. But I think it would be so interesting to know…”
It’s a touchy topic, she recognizes. At a Planned Parenthood benefit late last year, she let it slip, while speaking, that she doesn’t need birth control any more (though her daughter does). “And a woman’s voice said, ‘TMI.’ And it was like…it’s Planned Parenthood! I don’t think it’s TMI. I think it’s kind of obvious,” she says.
“So is it really so gross that you can’t dare saying something up there that’s so obvious?” she asks. “But I do wonder how it affects writers and artists and musicians to go through this period of, you know, like, it’s a complete change of everything you ever thought about. I know it affects everybody differently but I think it’s got to have some kind of effect on how you perceive and can you continue and what are you interested in after you go through this transition.”
30 years ago the Cowboy Junkies struck gold with The Trinity Session. With a vinyl reissue of the iconic album, a new record on the horizon, and a sold-out American tour in progress, they’re mining it again. Below, read a CJ story about Trinity and its aftermath from the BLURT editor’s archives.
BY FRED MILLS
This past weekend I was privy to one of the most intimate-yet-expansive, brilliantly engaging, shows in my nearly half-century of concertgoing. On March 2 Canada’s Cowboy Junkies, currently on their “All That Reckoning” North American spring tour, performed at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville, North Carolina, a two-set concert essentially bookended by familiar tunes l from the band’s classic 1988 sophomore effort The Trinity Session (“Sweet Jane” in particular was staggeringly great; below is a solid version from another tour) and featuring material from the group’s upcoming studio album, their first since 2012’s Nomad Series Vol. 4: The Wilderness (reviewed here), plus selected faves from their extensive back catalog. Though the essential Cowboy Junkies formula remains the same in 2018—atmospheric, at times meditative, wraiths of sound and spotlighted by guitarist Michael Timmins’ trademark clean, bluesy, just-a-hint-of-reverb riffs and leads, alongside sister Margo’s breathy, ethereal vocals—it’s anything but formulaic, instead rich, resonant, luminous, and haunting, the kind of music that follows you for days afterwards.
The concert in this small, acoustically perfect venue sold out weeks ago, and the transfixed audience (which clearly tilted towards an older demographic; I’d be surprised if there was anyone there under 30) was both reverent to the point of being hushed for long periods of time, and wildly enthusiastic. That the band came out afterwards to greet well-wishers, sign records and pose for photos, and of course move plenty of merch only cemented the bond, which for two hours was profound. (Below: Load-out in Asheville; via the band’s Facebook page.)
In addition to the forthcoming record, The Trinity Session recently saw a 30th anniversary Canadian reissue as a two-LP vinyl edition (upon its original ’88 appearance the vinyl was extremely limited and primarily released only in Canada and Europe) boasting a gatefold sleeve, slightly different artwork, and extensive liner notes detailing the inception and the making of the album. Collectors could also snag it in different shades of wax, either limited edition white or red, or the more widely available black. Long one of my favorite albums, it prompted me to revisit a story I did on the band in 2008 for BLURT predecessor Harp magazine, where I served as Managing Editor and also penned the archivally-minded “Indelibles” column. Occasioned by the CD/DVD release of Trinity Revisited, a document of the CJ’s return to the original church where they recorded their 1988 opus and were joined at the sessions by Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant, and Vic Chesnutt. Michael Timmins proved an engaging interview subject, hardly matching the image I’d had of him being relatively non-forthcoming in interviews (based on other journalists’ reports), seemingly willing to answer questions he’d no doubt fielded scores of times in the past and also apparently eager to set the record straight on a number of points. “You got kind of exhausted by it,” Timmins told me, in response to my query about always being asked in interviews about Trinity. “But you very quickly learned after a few years that it was a very important record that launched our careers and got us into the spotlight internationally and onto so many people’s radars. It allowed us to continue on—it was a vehicle to enable people to explore the rest of our music when they might never have heard of us otherwise. So we got a kind of perspective on that record pretty quickly: ‘This is an important record for us and we should not dismiss it.’”
Indeed—the record’s timeless, and people will always be interested in hearing about it. They clearly were interested in 2008 when the band did selected conc erts during which they performed the entire album from start to finish, such as THIS Feb. 23, 2008 concert in Toronto, broadcast over the radio.n So now seems as good a time as any to resurrect the conversation. To Michael, thanks for your time 10 years ago, and to the entire band, thanks for three decades-plus of music and memories. The Asheville show marked only the third time I’d seen the Cowboy Junkies perform—it definitely won’t be my last. (Below: The band performs a phenomenal 10-minute “Working On a Building” in Toronto in 2008 during a concert featuring them covering “Trinity” in its entirety.)
CHARLOTTE, NC, 1990: The Cowboy Junkies have just taken the stage of Spirit Square, an old church renovated into a performance venue. As the Canadian band eases into the familiar bluesy lope of “I Don’t Get It”—from 1988’s acclaimed The Trinity Session, recorded at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity—your future HARP correspondent gazes around the intimate room, marveling at its visual beauty (the original stained glass windows are still in place) and perfect acoustics.
“That was a special show—that was a nice little space,” says guitarist/songwriter Michael Timmins, on the phone from Toronto. I’m surprised he remembers it; perhaps he also looked around the room that night and said to himself, this is like returning to Trinity.
We’re here to discuss his band’s literal return to Trinity, in November of 2006. That’s when Timmins, his vocalist sister Margo and their drummer brother Peter, along with bassist Alan Anton and harmonica/mandolin player Jeff Bird plus guests Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt, convened at the church to re-cut the dozen songs that comprised The Trinity Session for a 20th anniversary edition CD/DVD. Trinity Revisited benefits from better circumstances—the earlier recording was done in 14 hours, with a single mic and no overdubs, while this time they spent three days and brought along a full audio and film crew—yet as Timmins points out, the intention was not “to redo it or improve upon it. We just wanted to revisit it, just sort of go back and see where all the songs are 20 years later.”
Some quick backtracking is in order. In 1987 the Cowboy Junkies were essentially unknown outside Canada; a year earlier they’d self-released their debut LP, Whites Off Earth Now! which sold modestly and remained import-only in the U.S. Now, their close friend and producer Peter Moore was suggesting that for their sophomore effort they give the acoustically-sublime Trinity church a try.
“Peter had done some recording in the church before, a little jazz combo and some orchestral stuff, and he thought it might work for us,” says Timmins. He pauses, then chuckles at one particular memory. “But at the time we were an unknown entity, and although the church was pretty progressive he wasn’t sure whether booking a rock band called Cowboy Junkies would fly! So he just figured, ‘Oh, I’ll play it easy, tell them it’s a group called The Timmins Family…’”
Call it a case of strategic serendipity. Timmins recalls going over to his sister’s apartment the next morning with the Trinity tape and playing it for her and their mother who’d dropped by for coffee. “I said, here, you gotta listen to this, and we put it on, and it was… amazing! [My mother] turned to Margot and said, ‘You know, your life is never going to be the same.’ She’s not some big music aficionado. But she heard something in there.”
Mom was right. A career-making album by any measure, Trinity was initially self-released like its predecessor. But its seamless blend of opiated swamp-rock and ethereal twang, plus some downright haunting interpretations of Hank Williams, Elvis, Patsy Cline and the Velvet Underground, caught the ear of RCA, who released the album in the U.S. The record quickly struck a deep chord among critics, radio programmers (the Junkies’ cover of “Sweet Jane” became a Top Ten hit) and the burgeoning alt-country scene. Since its release the Junkies have toured the globe and issued eleven studio albums, steadily growing and expanding their musical palette. But all along, Trinity material has remained in their setlists, and from time to time fans and friends would raise the question of why hadn’t they ever gone back to that Toronto church to recapture some of its sonic—holy—magic.
“We’d thought, well, let’s just leave good enough alone. But then the anniversary was coming up,” explains Timmins. “I dunno, I guess we just felt we’d moved far enough from it that we could revisit it with some perspective. And we thought that having the guests would definitely bring a new perspective to it. As we’ve moved along, more and more people have mentioned how important a record that was to them—these three being some of them.”
“These three”: far from the walk-ons that we’ve come to expect from guest star-laden projects, Adams, Merchant and Chesnutt literally joined the band for the making of Trinity Revisited. All eight msicians set up in a circle to achieve—as captured on cameras by filmmakers Pierre and François Lamoureux—an uncommon intimacy to the music. Chesnutt’s ancient mariner’s croak; Merchant’s woodsy warble; Adams’ lilting yelp; all three voices pierce these familiar songs, but not intrusively, instead lending fresh nuance to the material. There’s also a newfound intensity in spots, such as during a midsong Timmins-Adams guitar duel in “I Don’t Get It.”
At one point Margo Timmins glances around at her accompanists: it’s a look of pure pleasure, a kind of I’m-pinching-myself-this-is-so-good look.
And now, in reflecting upon the trio’s contributions, her brother’s enthusiasm is palpable; his voice actually rises in pitch as he recalls how uniquely the personalities blended. “We had no clue how they would work together,” he says. “But we just said, let’s go for it and we’ll see where it lands. And we’re ecstatic how it turned out! The guests brought their own edges to [the songs] that added the next level of newness to them for us.”
The Cowboy Junkies performed Trinity in its entirety last October at London’s Royal Albert Hall. As of this writing, plans were to do it again in February in Toronto. (Adams guested in London and was scheduled to come up to Canada for the Toronto show along with the Band’s Garth Hudson.) Timmins indicates that they might mount a few more Trinity showcases but that they are adamant about not touring it per se (“I think we’d get bored pretty quick…”) so they didn’t risk diluting its specialness. Hearing this, I ask him if that 1988 album had ever felt like an albatross for the band: Oh no, here comes another question about the church…
“Well, yeah, on that level, it did,” he replies. “But we quickly learned that it was a very important record that got us onto so many people’s radars. We were once doing an interview in the mid ‘90s, and the questions inevitably came back to The Trinity Session. We did our dutiful best [laughs] without rolling our eyes, and afterwards Jeff Byrd sort of turned to us and said, ‘You know, I realize that you only get one story in life. Trinity is your story!’
“And it’s very true. That is our story.”
MICHAEL TIMMINS—THE HARP INTERVIEW
[Editor’s Note: What follows is the complete transcript of our conversation with the Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins in which he expands upon some of the topics covered above and touches upon others.Below, watch a kind of “Trinity Revisited” trailer created by a fan – it would seem that the band and/or their label has been quite proficient at taking down audio and video not specifically uploaded by them.)
HARP: You are still a Toronto resident, right? I was wondering if you’d see the church from time to time and think to yourself, “What if…?”
MICHAEL TIMMINS: I still live in Toronto, yeah, but there was no real reason to go to the church. I mean, I’ve driven by it a lot, and walked by it, but for whatever reason never stepped inside it.
HARP: In 1990 I saw you guys play—Townes Van Zandt was on the tour with you—at this place called Spirit Square in Charlotte. An old converted church, stained glass windows and everything. I remember thinking at the time that this would be the closest I’d ever get to seeing the band in a setting remotely similar to the one for Trinity. Lo and behold: now I’ve got a DVD of you performing a return engagement in the Trinity church.
MT: That was a special show—that was a nice little space. I remember it! It was maybe a little bit smaller than Trinity Church.
HARP: So a devil’s advocate question: As great as the new recording is, why mess with perfection?
MT: Oh yeah, that’s definitely a question we asked ourselves, and probably the reason we’d never touched it before. Nevermind going over the material—we’d never even gone back to Trinity Church to record something else. It was just this perfect moment in time which we captured back then and thought, well, let’s just leave good enough alone and move on.
But then the anniversary was coming up, and this was suggested to us—and the idea of bringing in guest musicians was suggested. I guess we just felt, as a band, we’d moved far enough from it that we could revisit it with some perspective. And we thought that having the guests would definitely bring a new perspective to it. As we’ve moved along, more and more people—obviously music fans, but musicians as well—have mentioned how important a record that was to them. These three being some of them. And it was just, I dunno, I just thought of it as an opportunity and a challenge. We weren’t attempting to redo it or improve upon it; we just wanted to revisit it, just sort of go back and see where all the songs are in the spaces 20 years later. And as I said, bring in some guests this time.
HARP: Why these particular guests? Did you already have a relationship with Ryan, Natalie and Vic?
MT: Not really. Vic, we’d done some touring with over the years. We’d never met Ryan but were big fans of him. Natalie we’d never worked with but we’d certainly crossed paths with over the years. All of them had some connection, though; they were all fans of that album specifically, and of the band in general. We, more importantly, were fans of what they were doing and what they’ve done over the years. And it was just an odd mixture of people; we had no clue how they would work together. But we just said, let’s go for it [laughs] and we’ll see where it lands.
It was a big risk on many, many levels. Certainly the least of which was screwing with this record. But we just thought, as I said, we were far enough away from it and had enough experience and perspective now, so let’s see where these songs are and where this record fits. I’m really glad we did it and we’re ecstatic how it turned out. We never want anyone to think we were trying to redo it or recreate it. It’s a different record, you know? Same songs, different record. And it’s part of what you do onstage every night too. You play the same songs over and over again. But this is just a way of bringing them all together and going back to the same space. I dunno, it was a project and I think it worked out well.
HARP: Most albums with guests just do it more as “walk ons” where they sing this or that song. It was unusual for you to integrate them into the ensemble.
MT: Yeah, that was a big part of it. We wanted to get players who had the ability to do that, and more importantly were interested in doing that and not just “come on and do the song.” It was kind of like the way we approached the first recording in a sense; we invited guests back then, too—not famous people, but they were guests—and incorporated them into what we were doing.
So we just sort of ran through these songs, and it was very similar [to the original session] how we approached it. We charted things out kind of loosely at the start, had a brief rehearsal, and then just went for it, doing the songs two or three times and recording them. Just like last time. That was a very important part of it, too. We wanted to make sure that the people who were going to join us weren’t just going to learn a song and come in and do it, but rather become a part of the band for that day of the recording.
HARP: Over the years song arrangements evolve and change. Was there a temptation to “go back” to the old songs? “Okay, this is how we used to do this song, let’s do it that way…” That sort of self-editing?
MT: Not really. We kind of stuck to how we were playing the songs now, and that was part of the whole deal of not wanting to try to recreate it. It was more this being twenty years down the line, where we were, and some of the songs are still the same while others have a bit more edge to them because we play them with a different attitude now. We wanted to bring that to the new recording so it would be a new recording. All these songs, to a certain degree, we’ve played on and off through the years, so we kind of kept them where they were. And the guests brought their own edges to them, so that added the next level of newness to them for us. So no, we didn’t really go back. The only reason I would go back was when I was putting together the rough outline of who was gonna sing what, because I knew that [album] was what the guests would be referring to. So in listening to the songs I wanted to explain to them “this doesn’t work like this anymore, it works like that…”—so it was more of a reference.
HARP: There’s a moment in the bonus documentary on the DVD where you and Ryan are working on one of the songs and he’s suggesting to try something for the spinout of the song, so you do. And to me that signified that it wasn’t carved in stone for you.
MT: Oh yeah. That was a big part of it. And again, 20 years down the line, we’re not precious about the record or about our music. We love having guests come in whether it be onstage or recording, bringing their perspective and their ideas. We’ve always approached our music like that from the beginning, really—the original Trinity Session being a perfect example of that, you know? We brought in all those guests to bring their talent and their voices with their instruments.
So there’s no difference with this. Ryan had lots of ideas, as did Natalie and Vic, and everything was listened to and tried and experimented with. Some were used, some weren’t, but it all shifted stuff slightly. And, as I say, it brought their personalities to the record, which was very important.
HARP: Such unusual sounding voices. They brought different nuances of the songs to the surface at times.
MT: Yeah, yeah. That’s true. And we had no clue how their voices would work together! I mean, Vic is such a unique artist, his voice and his playing, and obviously his songs; his singing and his playing are totally “outside” and that’s what I’ve always loved about him. Natalie has a voice we’ve always loved—and Margot has actually referred to her voice many times when we were recording, sort of trying to do something “more Natalie-like.” [laughs] She’s always been a presence in our music. And Ryan, I think what we were most amazed bout him, because we’ve always loved his music and his songs and his recording, in person it was just how amazing his voice was. He can sing anything! And there’s so much confidence behind it, which is an incredible thing.
So it was a real joy to do it. As these guys began to play it was really fun.
HARP: During “Working on a Building,” I believe, Ryan, Natalie and Margot are all harmonizing together at one point and it’s an amazing stack of harmonies.
MT: Yeah, exactly. And that’s the sort of thing that we didn’t know whether it would work. I don’t have enough musical technical knowledge to be able to listen to the recordings and figure out where they fit within their range. It was just a matter of getting them together and hoping for the best. Yeah, their vocals stack up great.
HARP: It was interesting watching the documentary where you guys sit around reminiscing with your original producer Peter Moore. What was it like getting back together with him, or had you kept touch?
MT: Oh, I’ve been working with Peter ever since that record. A couple of the other records he co-produced, he mixed others, and he’s mastered most of our records. I work with him on a lot of independent stuff too, so Peter’s been a part of what we do for a long time. He’s also a great wealth of knowledge on technical and recording equipment; as we built our studio and done more recording, I’ve always referred to him.
HARP: Tell me the story of Peter booking the church to do the original recording—“The Timmins Family.”
MT: [laughs] Peter had done some recording in the church before. Not an electric band, but a little jazz combo and some orchestral church. That’s how we knew about the church, and he thought it might work with us. We weren’t sure how the drums and bass would work, but he liked the sound of it. But at the time we were an unknown entity, and although at the time the church was pretty progressive, he wasn’t sure whether booking a rock band called the “Cowboy Junkies” would fly! So he just figured, “Oh, I’ll just play it easy, go in there and tell them I’m recording a session for the CBC”—which is our national radio station—“and it’s a group called The Timmins Family.” [laughs] Just a way of getting us in there and not having to hassle over the name Cowboy Junkies.
HARP: “Oh! Like the Von Trapp Family Singers! Like the Sound Of Music! Sure! Bring them on in!” Smart move on Peter’s part. There’s another story I’ve heard about the morning after the first Trinity was recorded and your mother was over at Margot’s place having coffee when you came in with the tapes…
MT: It was a very weird situation because of the way Trinity was recorded. It was done; the day we walked out of the church, it was finished. No mixing. A live recording to two-track, just on a DAT tape. So I had the actual master tape, and probably a dub onto a cassette. We’d gone home that night after the recording, and Pete was living in the same house at the time so we listened to it and we were blown away. You know, we walked out of the church thinking that was a great day, but not knowing what it sounded like on tape.
So the next morning, Margot was living a couple of blocks away, and I went over with the tape and said, “My God, you’ve got to hear this!” My mother happened to be there, which is very unusual; she’d come downtown to do something and stopped in at Margot’s. I said, here, you gotta listen to this, and we put it on, and it was.. [stammers, then laughs]… amazing! She turned to Margot and said, “You know, your life is never going to be the same.’ [laughs] It was really weird, because she’s not some big music aficionado. But she just heard something in there — which I guess a lot of people wound up hearing. So that was an interesting comment.
HARP: Barbara Walters question: How does a band stay together for 20 years? What’s the chemistry, aside from the familial connection?
MT: That’s a big part of it. We’ve always had a way of knowing how to deal with each other. Even Alan, I’ve been friends with him since before Pete was born. So we’re all very tight and have a shared background. Shared musical tastes, we all shared record collections, and that includes Alan. I guess we fought as kids and made up because we had to live in the same house, and so now we sort of… know each other’s spaces, which buttons not to push at certain times. And I think we sort of have shared values as far as what we want to get out of being a band and making music. We all enjoy the same things; it’s not like one person wants to become a rock star and the other person wants to be whatever. We just enjoy being in a band and playing music together and we kind of glom on to that. When things are bad or we’re kind of troubled, we go back to that: “We like playing music. We don’t want to lose that.”
HARP: A lot of bands will tell me that when times get tough they sometimes cast back to when they were stuck in the van together, get a chuckle out of it, and they can appreciate where they are now.
MT: Sure, sure. There’s a shared history, and the longer you go the longer that history becomes. With the family history and the Alan as a friend history, we have a lot joining the four of us together.
HARP: What are your plans for your next studio album?
MT: Well, I’m going to start… today! After this interview I’m going to go meet a guy about this place: when I start to sit down and conceptualize and write a new record, I try to get out of town and isolate myself. I don’t have my own space so I rent places up in the country, say, an hour or two hours out of Toronto. I’m calling this guy today because I think I have a lead on a place where I can do that this month. That’s the start of it, and you never know where it can lead from there. [Ed. note: In 2010 the band would finally release the fruits of their latest recording sessions, volume 1 of “The Nomad Series,” Renmin Park.]
I tend to get a place for a few months and that kickstarts the writing process. I try and gather material and ideas and hopefully finish some songs. Then I bring the band into the process from there. Things can go really quickly from there, or they can get spread out over the course of a year. So I dunno; we’ll still be touring a lot in the coming year, so I’d like to get some songs that we can play live and go from there.
HARP: I always thought you were very fortunate to have a “voice” through which you could write—Margot’s voice. It reminds me, oddly enough, of how Pete Townshend had a voice he could write through—Roger Daltrey’s. It’s a very special relationship for a songwriter to have with his material, filtering it through another voice.
MT: Yeah, it makes the whole process very interesting. The way I look at it is that once I finish a song and hand it over, I feel really removed from it. So I can almost write the songs on a very personal level and not even think of how they’re going to be expressed, because Margo takes them and they become her songs. [laughs] It’s kind of a neat thing. And of course having the ability to have Margot sing them adds a new level of meaning to them. It can be a nice surprise when we’re working on the songs.
HARP: Getting back to Trinity just a bit more: Did you ever perform the album in its entirety from the stage?
MT: We never did in the past. Just a couple of gigs after [recording Trinity Revisited]. In October  we did it at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and Ryan actually joined us for that. And then we’re doing it again at Massey Hall in Toronto next month [February]. Ryan’s coming up for that and we’re hoping Garth Hudson will join us too.
But we never toured it. There’s no real temptation to do that either. I can see us doing it maybe once or twice more. You know, it begins to smack a little of nostalgia, and it’s kind of fun in a way. Having Ryan there makes it exciting and different for us because the whole show has a different vibe with the extra musician onstage. Garth would make it really fun. But just for the five of us or the four of us to go around on tour with it… I’m not saying we won’t do it a few more times, but we wouldn’t do a full tour with it. I think we’d get really bored pretty quick, and with our shows we’ve always changed them around night to night and carried a full repertoire of songs. It’s what we do; we do a lot of touring and we like changing things around.
HARP: Whites Off Earth didn’t come out in the U.S. initially, so for the majority of the record buying public, Trinity was your debut. Did it ever become an albatross? “Oh no, here comes another question about the church…”?
MT: Well, yeah, on that level, it did. You got kind of exhausted by it. But you very quickly learned after a few years that it was a very important record that launched our careers and got us into the spotlight internationally and onto so many people’s radars. It allowed us to continue on—it was a vehicle to enable people to explore the rest of our music when they might never have heard of us otherwise. So we got a kind of perspective on that record pretty quickly: “This is an important record for us and we should not dismiss it.” It is what it is.
Sure, you get tired of it, but you have to respect it. We were once doing an interview in the mid ‘90s, a radio show, me, Margot and Jeff Byrd. I think we were promoting Lay It Down, our sixth or seventh record, and the questions inevitably came back to The Trinity Session. We did our dutiful best [laughs] without rolling our eyes, and afterwards Jeff sort of turned to us and said, ‘You know, I realize that you only get one story in life. Trinity is your story!’ [laughs]
And it’s very true. That is our story. No matter what you do, people are always gonna refer back to it. And that’s true too. The majority of reviews we get, no matter what the record, there’s always a reference back to Trinity: “It’s the same/better/worse than…” Or whatever; it’s always referred back to. But we’ve kind of been around long enough to realize it is what it is and we know how to deal with it.
HARP: Better that than some big tragedy or drug/booze-powered flameout to be “your story” or the coda to every review.
Forty years on, a new album reflects a classic simple mindset. Frontman Jim Kerr explains. Watch a complete 2018 concert by the band, below.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Forty years is an extraordinarily long time in the music biz, especially given the fact that the public always seems fixated on the latest sensation at the expense of those that have come before. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part, holding to a continuum is a challenge at best, and all but impossible at worst.
Given that fact, credit Simple Minds for staying true to a sounds and style and that’s shifted slightly over the years, but never followed any fashion other than their own. They’ve had their hits — “Promised You a Miracle,” “Speed Your Love to Me,” “Alive and Kicking,” and, most notably, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” — but have also maintained their integrity through a consistent flow of new releases and a steady succession of tours and high profile performances that have secured their presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Though typecast at times as New Romantics, dance devotees, Celtic mystics and powerful pundits of anthemic proportions, they’ve always remained true to their muse, wherever it takes them.
The longevity is even more impressive given the seemingly constant change in musician membership over the years, a steady shift that’s left singer and songwriter Jim Kerr and guitarist, multi-instrumentalist Charlie Burchill as the only constants. Indeed, the band’s new album Walk Between Worlds, released in early February and their 19th studio album to date, finds a sonic merger of past and present, emerging as one of their best efforts of recent times.
Blurt recently had the opportunity to speak with Kerr from his home in Scotland. Amiable and expressive, he was all too willing to share his thoughts about the band’s past, present and future. (Below, watch the band’s recent Berlin concert.)
BLURT: Congratulations on the new album, Mr. Kerr. Tell us a bit about what went into it.
JIM KERR: It’s the result of a head of steam that we’ve been building up over the last five or six years. I felt buoyed by the success of Big Music, the last real studio album we did, and I was further propelled by that. When we finished our last tour, we had a spare week or so, so we used it to our advantage to see what we had on hand. We always have a backlog of stuff, and before we knew it, we were up and running. In between, we also did an acoustic record. So everything came together over a year and a half.
The new album finds a spirit of optimism. Song titles like “Magic,” “In Dreams,” “Sense of Discovery,” and “Utopia” suggest that you haven’t given in to despair.
I think we do have an ability to transcend. We are in a bubble, this musical place that just makes us feel good. There are still things to consider. We are parents and grandparents and we have to believe that there’s something more. We have to believe that a lot of this stuff we’re experiencing now is cyclical.
How then have you managed to maintain that momentum for four decades?
We love doing what we do, and we appreciate the good fortune we’ve had in doing it. We have never taken it for granted. We’ve not always been on top of the game for 40 years, but then again, when you do something for 40 years, there are periods where you’re not always on top. Some records maybe don’t quite fulfil that promise. And when you do it for 40 years, it’s much more than a career. It becomes part of your life, and subject to all the other things that are a part of your life. We may be luckier than many, but nobody gets a free ride. (chuckles)
With all your ups and downs, how do you maintain your mindset when you find yourself in a bit of a slump?
For us, it all comes round again, and in the last few years, the band has been an absolute priority. Even when you feel like you’re beaten up, you can learn certain things about yourself. You don’t want to keep doing something simply because you don’t know what else to do. You’ll end up like a punch drunk boxer. It’s more like, hang on, the wheels may have fallen off, but let’s try to get them back on. Let’s see if we can get the engines going and get this thing on the road and take it as far as we can. That’s what we’ve done for the last six or seven years. We’re all about maximizing this thing that we have here. This is just what we do, this is who we are.
Speaking of which, your first hit here in the States was “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” your contribution to the John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club.” Ironically, it was one of the only songs that you didn’t write yourselves.
It was strange indeed. We had had success in other places, but not the States. College radio was great and we did well in some places like New York and L.A. but we weren’t getting mainstream radio play because we hadn’t had a hit, that big time radio play. We were starting to think maybe it would never happen. Our record label A&M came to us and all but admitted that they had failed. So they assured us that they would push our next record properly, but that in the meantime they needed something new. We tried to tell them we didn’t have anything prepared at that point. So they said, “There is this thing. This guy called John Hughes wants to use you in his film, and we’ve got the song for you. We objected and we made it clear that we only record songs that we write.
How did they convince you?
They insisted that the song they had in mind was written for the script. And when we spoke to John Hughes, he was a lovely fellow. So Keith Forsey, who had written the song, came over to visit us and told us how much he loved the band. He hung around and watched us while in rehearsal and became like our best mate. Finally he said, “Why don’t we take a crack at this thing and we’ll get the record company off your back? So we said, okay, and then we came up with those la-la-las and all the hey-hey-heys, and elevated it with that big sound. The rest is history.
Is it ever a challenge to maintain the signature sound that your fans expect, while also keeping your creative urges intact?
It’s not easy. If you’re a band of a certain vintage, you’ve got a certain style that you’re known for. With every album people will say, make it a classic Simple Minds album. But so too, they’ll tell you to make it sound contemporary? So there’s the contradiction. By definition, they’re telling you to go back to the past, but also insisting that it should sound like something new. You want to show off the DNA, but you want to be able to keep it fresh. The easiest thing would be to do the same old same old, but no way could we do that. We would be bored. So you have to do those things in right measure, and always fit things in the right boxes at the same time.
Doesn’t that mean that you’re constantly looking over your shoulders?
As soon as a record comes out, it’s judged in comparison to the earlier albums. But you just have to accept that challenge and tell yourself we’re going to do something great. At the end of a project, the outside world will let you know what it thinks. So you become more aware of your past and learn to reconcile with it. You do your best on it and then move on.
Even so, Simple Minds has seen a steady shift in styles over its 40 years. How do you view that transition?
When people ask me to describe Simple Minds, I have to ask, which Simple Minds? Are you referring to the New Romantic thing, the dance band, the stadium rock outfit, or our spiritual side? Maybe you mean the band we were back during the MTV years. The interesting thing to me is that we have that diversity and it’s a credit to the guys we worked with that they could play with such diversity. We managed to try all those things, but never lost our identity. It always seems to feel like Simple Minds. So when people come to define us, I’d simply say Simple Minds is a great band. It makes great music. They make music of their time.
After 40 years, that’s quite an accomplishment
When you’re in a good place and you have a clear run, you go with it. On the other hand, as you get older, you can’t guarantee that everything is going to pan out, or that you’re going to have the energy to continue. When you get a clear run, you have to get as much work done as you can knowing that other things in your life may eventually take priority. You never know when there’s going to be a parting in the road or even a bend in the road you weren’t thinking about.
Are you nostalgic? Ever find yourself reminiscing about all the history that’s behind you?
I’m nearly 60 and at this point in life, one does tend to have an internal dialogue about where you’ve been and where things are now. That does lead to a certain kind of nostalgic. I never wish for things to be as they were, and I’m grateful, because it would seem a little forlorn. Yet at the same time, I feel these are the good times. I still look forward to what’s over the hill. I enjoy so much of what we do and I still love performing love. We had some great ups and we had some great downs, but we always manage to roll with it either way.
The Big Takeover (#81) The human wind-up toy Jack Rabid hits issue 81 and I don’t think he plans on stopping anytime soon. This time around it’s got cover stars Slowdive plus interviews with Pixies, Roger Shepherd from Flying Nun Records (!!!!), Chrissie Hynde part 2, Art Bergmann (from Canada’s Young Canadian), Grizzly Bear and more and lots of more including short takes and holy brick of reviews.144 pages. Some folks’ bible so write to Father Jack. www.bigtakeover.com
Casting Couch (#5), Austin, TX’s Miranda Fisher had been doing her cool garage punk zine C.C. for the past few years but sadly, as she mentions in this issue it is coming to an end. She’s stopping CC to focus on ……a Temptation zine! OK, so I’m bummed about the former but happy on the latter. Still though, she goes out with a bang in this final ish That has interviews with The Cowboys, Andy Human, Adam Smith, Mordecai and more plus reviews, pin ups (sadly not one of me) and a pull out poster of Beta Boys. Sad to see this one go…. firstname.lastname@example.org
Everything’s Swirling: a Galaxie 500 Fanzine This is a cool little half-sized zine out of the UK dedicated (by uber fan Andy Aldridge) to Galaxie 500, the great Boston band that broke up in 1991 (or thereabouts…Dean went on to form Luna and Damon & Naomi formed ….yup, Damon & Naomi). It’s got random pics, pieces, articles, etc. and a cool silk-screened cover. Reminds me a little of Bus Stop, the Belle & Sebastian zine from several years ago. If there’s any left Andy will be happy to send it to you via carrier pigeon. I hope there’s another one soon. http://www.fullofwishes.co.uk/
New Wave Chicken (#7), This is a cool little rag (another half-sized) done by a gent named Steve Hart out of….Hawaii. Not a hotbed of zine activity but then again, maybe it is, who knows. This ish is dubbed “The baseball and Ramones Issue” so Steve knows what I like. Pieces on little, minor and major league baseball plus some records reviews and lets not forget our boys from Queens. Da Bruddahs. Drop Steve a line and send him a few shekels for a copy. You won’t regret it. email@example.com
Nonstop Diatribe (#2- Fall 1994) Yup, you got that right, issue #2 from …well, nearly 25 years ago. Jen Matson put out here first issue of NSD in ’91 ro so and it was a terrific issue (Hamish Kilhour, the Go Betweens, etc. etc) and apparently she had this issue written but it never came out. Well, here it is and it has more Go-Betweens love as well as interviews with Tim from Stereolab, Gedge from The Wedding Present, Robert Scott of The Bats and Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3.There’s also reviews, letters, some comics and more plus…well, it just looks great,. http://nstop.com/shop/
A kosmiche, psychedelic, improvisational slab of genius, spread across four beautiful clear vinyl sides, announces the arrival of a visionary new outfit from the Old Pueblo.
BY FRED MILLS
Trees Speak, hailing from Tucson, Arizona, is visual artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s musical persona, formerly of Blind Divine and Crystal Radio, and here joined by Michael Glidewell (Black Sun Ensemble), Gabriel Sullivan (XIXA, Giant Sand), Connor Gallaher (Myrrors, Cobra Family Picnic), Damian Diaz (Human Error), and Julius Schlosburg (Jeron White Acoustic Trio). They consider themselves more of a “sound laboratory” along the lines of early Can—crafting long, live-in-studio improvisations, then editing them in the studio, adding effects, and more—than a straight-up rock band.*
Although that’s not to even remotely suggest that these cats won’t rock the fuck out, because like the Krautrock greats of yore, Trees Speak can shift instantly from a luminous, ambient electronic shimmer to a pounding, pulsing, powering wall of sound. Trees Speak, released this past December on the Cinedelic label, home to numerous electronic and experimental Italian artists (including several film soundtrackers—Ennio Morricone’s Eat It is among the label’s catalog), and distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure, is the group’s debut, and to these ears, at least, it is utterly unlike anything that the Old Pueblo had produced to date.
Side A is highly instructive. The ominous “Soul Machine” kicks things off on a heady Neu!-esque motorik note before yielding to a percussion segue leading the listener directly into throbbing, electronics-splattered drone territory, “Black Butterfly” and “Atomic Heart.” This in turn gradually turns into a series of restful, melodic passages via harmonium and nylon string guitar—although “restful” may be a misnomer, or at least misleading, since there are also some abrupt glitchy effects as well as some strange background vocal samples. The side concludes with the track “Trees Speak,” which synthesizes all of the foregoing into another moment of motorik magnificence—the key here being the use of repetition for both texture and dynamics, whether within the context of a minimalist or a full-arrangement composition.
One could similarly describe the other three sides, but it wouldn’t really do the music here justice. If the core elements of Krautrock appeal to you, along with the notion that genuinely transcendent psychedelia always is rooted in the improvisational aesthetic, then you won’t be able to resist this remarkable debut. I found myself playing certain tracks over and over—the aforementioned “Atomic Heart,” side B’s lengthy, aptly-titled “Spirit Oscillator” (which sounds uncannily like Can’s classic “Mother Sky” in places), the sizzling/searing uneasy listening of “Unconscious Through Control.” A single synapse-snapping composition, “Shadow Circuit,” takes up the entirety of sides C and D, split into Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, recalling at times fellow Tucson bands The Myrrors and Black Sun Ensemble in all their mystic, lunar-worshiping, Lower Sonoran glory; during the song, heady bursts of kosmiche guitar dart hither and yonder as if they were desert creatures engaged in their nocturnal hunts, only to be frightened back into their burrows by predatory rapid-fire percussion and zooming electronics—and then the cycle begins all over.
There’s a palpable sense of time standing still while Trees Speak performs, like standing on the floor of a rock venue, the lights turned off with only red LED lights on amplifiers for illumination, and simply letting the music wash over you. I realize that these tunes are the product of post-performance editing and tinkering, but they were also originally created live over a five-day period (at Sacred Machine Studio and Dust & Stone Studio in Tucson), and to their credit, the musicians retained that live feel for the finished product.
For you vinyl fans out there, the photo below should be all the motivation you need to scoop this up while it’s available: 2LP, 180-gm. clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, plus a 12” double-sided print, five 5” postcards, and two stickers. An artistic beauty, courtesy Diaz. And only 250 copies were pressed, so don’t sit ‘cos if you do, you won’t be able to spin.
* I usually refrain from quoting a band’s press info at length, but in this case I think it’s wholly appropriate to let them state their musical manifesto directly. It’s spoken like true Tucsonans: “Our intention is to create music with an unrehearsed minimalist approach performing simple beats, riffs, and sequences that take one inward. We attempt create a sonic environment to set one’s mind free and to become aware of the nuances of tone, melody, and structure. We organize our recording equipment with the same approach, in a transparent manner. Our recorded performances are never rehearsed. Our belief is that a brilliant rehearsal is a lost opportunity to capture a magical moment. We are chasing the mystery of music and tone. We let the musical performance sculpt its own destiny and create imperfect perfection. Our tool of creation is the anxiety one feels when they are unrehearsed or prepared for a performance. We believe this approach brings us closer to the authentic self. The result is genuine music without an agenda that captures the unfiltered spirit.”
The gifted NYC duo talks about the band and how they communicate musically, their forthcoming new album, what it’s like to be working musicians in New York, and more. Also check out our exclusive live-in-studio video, below, as well as some choice audio that the band kindly provided.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Dadalon are a New York jazz group that I happened to catch by pure happenstance a few weeks ago on the Lower East Side. When they took the stage, their music immediately resonated somewhere deep in my soul. Alon Albagli, guitarist for the group, sounds like a young Bill Frisell, creating heightened states of awareness with his cyclical looped guitar work that builds and builds until there’s an intense emotional payoff for the listener. Daniel Dor, drummer and keyboardist for the group, is able to infuse a rhythmic playfulness into each song that is both supportive of Alon’s guitar playing and propulsive at the same time. The music is an intimate conversation between two friends that is beckoning for you to join in.
Check out “D Major” courtesy Dadalon, who have provided the track as an exclusive to Blurt:
Indeed, it’s the conversational aspect of the music, cut with a euphoric dreaminess, that had the crowd at the Rockwood Music Hall mesmerized and in a state of positivity. Over the next few days, this feeling that I’d come across NYC’s best kept secret was hard to shake, so I took it upon myself to interview the group and film a few numbers out at their studio in Brooklyn for Blurt readers.
I guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about these guys in the future. For now, check out the video below; the interview follows immediately afterwards. For more info on the band, visit their Facebook page.
Dadalon: Live at Vibramonk Studios in Brookly, Feb. 15, 2018
BLURT: When and where did your band first get together (how did you guys meet)?
Daniel: We met at a Jazz workshop back in Israel when we were kids, then met again 10 years after at The New School University. We’ve been making music ever since, and DADALON was born in 2016 as a way of taking our friendship into a more intimate musical [project].
What made the two of you decide as young kids to join a jazz camp?
Daniel: We were both huge jazz nerds growing up, these workshops were profoundly educational, they were an opportunity for us to study with some of the musicians we admired.
Why a duo?
Alon: Daniel and I have a similar taste in music and a really close friendship for so many years. When he asked me if I want to do something together it was clear that it will be a duo project. That way instead of hanging out all day anyway, we might as well write some music and play shows just the two of us. We were led by a strong feeling that this is worth pursuing.
Stylistically, which artist or artists have had the greatest influence on your playing style?
Daniel: As far as playing with DADALON is concerned, one of my main ideas was to keep a punk rock quality to the playing, and not having it be lost to and become cerebral. Besides a long list of Jazz drummers that I’m inspired and influenced by, such as Jack Dejohnette, Jorge Rossy and Justin Brown, there other a lot of other artist which I wish to capture their essence in some way, like Kristian Matsson, Tom York, Adrianne Lenker, Mozart, Bach, etc. I wouldn’t presume to actually know what they are really about, but the impression these people leave on me is profound, so I wish I could play drums like they sing or write.
Where are both members from? In what ways has this influenced the band’s musical sensibility?
Daniel: I’m from Tel-Aviv, and Alon is from a suburb nearby. Tel-Aviv has a very diverse musical environment, as cosmopolitan as the city itself. Perhaps that is the reason why when I think of DADALON’s influences, there are about a hundred different styles of music that come to my mind.
Why and when did you guys leave Israel? How did the two of you end up in NYC of all places? Did you come here at the same time?
Daniel: Alon moved to NY in 2008 and myself in 2010. I imagine we probably left for similar reasons. Mine had to do with a need to expand musically, as well as learning new things in general. Back in Tel-Aviv, every street already had at least 30 stories attached to it, and so familiar narratives which I had about myself were hard to let go of. It was as if I was constantly reminded of who I am and where I’m from. I prefer leaving these questions more open, so a career that involves traveling made sense, as well as relocating somewhere so diverse like New York. Jazz music was the trigger as far as choosing New York as a new home, but I believe the underlying reasons were more emotional and [still] to be discovered.
What bands have you played in prior to Dadalon?
Alon: I worked with artists such as Ari Hoenig, J.views, Daniel Zamir, Janelle Kroll, and many more. Daniel has played and toured with Avishai Cohen Trio, Matisyahu, John Patitucci, Yotam Silberstein and more.
How would you classify the music you create?
Daniel: I’m sure there’s a chord we can find that’ll answer this question better than I can. I’m thinking of a D major7(add4).
What’s on your turntable as we speak?
Alon: Lately we have been listening a lot to Big Thief (Capacity), Frank Locrasto (Locrasto) , as well as “Vaporwave” artists such as ESPRIT. I’ve also been obsessed with the Brad Mehldau solo piano music (10 Years Solo Live).
Alon, what sort of guitar do you play? Can you tell us how you came up with your rig set up?
Alon: I play a Gibson ES 335 from 1979, have been using it for a while and it works really well for DADALON cause of its big sound and a lot of low mid-range. For the pedal board I had to come up with a set up that allows me to play low bass parts and looping options. Most of the interesting sounding effects come from the Eventide H9 and the Helix LT by Line-6 and combinations of both, using presets that I’ve build over time.
You have a new album coming out; where was it recorded and who produced? Will it be self-released or on a label?
Daniel: Yes, we have an album coming out really soon. It was recorded at Vibromonk Studios in Brooklyn. We both produced it, and it will be self-released.
When will the album be officially released and will it be for sale on Bandcamp?
Alon: The CD will be coming out mid-March, and it will be up on sale on BandCamp, iTunes, and [other platforms].
What did you guys release prior to this?
Daniel: This is the first time we both release an album under our own name, although we both play on other artists’ recordings. For example, Alon can be heard on Jviews’s The DNA Project or Yacine Boulares’ Ajoyo, and I can be heard on Avishai Cohen’s From Darkness, NOA’s Love Medicine (alongside the great Pat Metheny) or Yotam Silberstein’s upcoming album, which I just recorded on!
Tell us about some of the individual songs and the musical direction you were aiming for on the new record? Is it just the two of you or were there other musicians called into record?
Daniel: For me, the first song on the album, “D Major” (listen to it at the top of this page), sets the album on a path filled with mountains, valleys, wormholes, and a bunch of love making. The bridge of “D Major,” which leads to the final chorus, was originally part of a song that I wrote for my mom’s last record, so childhood feels like a big part of this first album. Creating music that feels intimate has been an aspiration of mine throughout this whole process, bringing people into my room in Brooklyn, my last breakup, my dreams, the things I’ve lost and the things I found that meant something to me. I trust Alon with all of these, and so much more. While I know our [intention] is to create music that feels inclusive, it felt right to have no one else involved in the writing/arranging process. The only collaborators on this album are Nate Wood, who mastered the album, and Jacob Bergson, who mixed it.
Have you guys toured outside NYC?
Alon: We’ve toured Israel on our last visit, and [our] first international tours are being coordinated as we speak.
Who are some kindred bands either here in NYC that you have an affinity for?
Daniel: Luckily, we are a part of a few different musical scenes here in New York, so we affiliate ourselves with lots of Jazz artists, as well as new Folk artists, Vaporwave artists and Drone Music. Our current NYC heroes are my friends from Big Thief, the wonderful Joanna Sternberg, the amazing Nitai Hershkovits, and others.
What’s the hardest thing about being a band in NYC?
Alon: There are not as many places to play as one would think. We’ve decided to have one venue we call home, called Rockwood Music Hall, and play there monthly. That way we can come up with new stuff between each show and experiment. It also keeps it interesting for us in regards to trying out different set lists and songs.
There’s an emotional directness to your music, that I found easy to connect with and yet it ended up stirring all of these complex emotions in me. Is this a common reaction that people have to your music?
Daniel: Thank you, I’m glad the music resonated with you. One of the things that meant the most to me so far while performing with DADALON has been the similarity I noticed between how I felt while writing my part of this music and the feedbacks we’ve been getting. To my ears, what you’re describing about your own experience sounds very similar to my experience throughout the writing process, which took place at a time when the idea of writing music that’s compassionate is something I wanted to consider. I want to be able to be direct and emotionally available in music, and not be manipulative. Stirring people’s feelings is a very sensitive subject, so I try to take that very seriously when we play, and feel like Alon is an amazing partner in that regard as well.
I found it pretty intense seeing the two of you communicate musically on stage, tweaking a knob hear and freeing up a hand to play the keyboard, while using the other hand to keep the beat. What’s it like performing where you have so much to control and think about at the same time while trying to harness your emotions?
Alon: We rehearse as much as possible because we wanted to get to that exact point, where we don’t have to think about it and just play and feel the music. As part of our practice session, we’ve just been repeating the same parts many times until we had enough of it, drank some water and then did some more of it.
What do you guys hope to accomplish in 2018?
Daniel: In 2018, I hope to continue writing and developing our repertoire, as well as exploring more ambient musical journeys, which we’ve been delving into in the past few months. The idea of real-time ambient compositions speaks to us both. Also, getting our debut CD out so it can be shared by more people is another goal for 2018.
Below, watch a brief clip of the band performing last year in Tel Aviv.
This maestro’s not your typical electric bluesman, either. Live at Toronto’s Cadillac Lounge on Jan. 29, the Ellis trio blew out the sky. Following the review, check out a selection of smokin’ audio and video.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERIC THOM
I don’t know about you, but my measure of a professional musician is measured by the degree of what the artist invests into a show, regardless of audience size. Tinsley Ellis plays for his fans – and, given their elevated expectations, he simply doesn’t mess around by ever calling it in. Such was the scenario on a very snowy night in Toronto as Ellis, drummer Erik Kaszynski and bassist Kevan McCann ripped a tidy hole in the ozone above this smallish club that, nonetheless, teemed with potential. Sixteen songs later, that potential was realized, convincingly so.
Local hero Al Lerman (Fathead) began the night with a set of mostly self-penned acoustic blues supplemented by his smile-inducing asides, adding the zest of his superior harp-playing to songs like “A Few More Miles To Go”, Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go” and a head-turning closer in “You Sure Look Fine To Me” – a tribute to mentor Sonny Terry.
Tinsley Ellis arrives with much critical acclaim, yet true fans justifiably think of him as being light years beyond the narrow category of blues-rocker that seems to dog his hefty catalogue. Guitarist, singer, songwriter and force of nature behind 20+ releases, Ellis channels everyone from B.B. and Freddie King to Muddy Waters, Carlos Santana, Robin Trower, Robert Cray, Rory Gallagher and Peter Green across an equally diverse choice of guitars, each with their different voices. Everything that goes into the Ellis blender comes out distinctively Ellis-like and, given his rich, southern heritage, it’s little surprise you’ll find clips of him onstage with the Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Albert Castiglias of this world. Part of the thrill of seeing him live is the fact that you’re never really sure ‘which Tinsley’ you’ll get in a live setting as he has so many points to draw from. On this occasion, Tinsley and band came on strong, sporting the powerful lead track off his latest album (Winning Hand). “Sound of a Broken Man” might well be the quintessential Ellis track, its mid-tempo groove setting up his trademarked, razor-sharp leads, well-matched to his equally emotive, rough-hewn vocal rasp. Divided into two sections by searing solos, Ellis leans into his trusty wah-wah pedal, turning something old into something new again. In no time, this meaty trio had driven up the room temperature.
Jumping directly into “The Other Side” from ‘09’s Speak No Evil, Ellis’ tough guitar lines, again offset by his throaty baritone, provided the trio something equally solid to bite into. “Saving Grace” from the new album, provided an opportunity to slow things down considerably – when Ellis’ creative fretwork shines its brightest and works best with his surprisingly soulful vocals – the song assuming a definitive Trower-esque vibe. Clearly in warm-up mode and suffering from some laryngitis, Ellis’ vocals were uncharacteristically rough in the top end, yet he soon regained control for the balance of the show, evidenced in his powerful take on Mel London’s Chicago classic, “Cut You Loose” (Storm Warning) – encouraging the audience to clap along with his jaunty, amped-up version.
Tracks from Storm Warning continued with the muscular “To The Devil For A Dime”, stretching it out to showcase Kazynski’s fat drum sound while adding more wah-wah back into the mix. More Storm Warning with “A Quitter Never Wins” proving, once again, that Ellis’ 6-stringed ferocity is at its best when things slow down, allowing him time to dig deep with equal parts shred and simmer – the song’s blistering solos offering a warming antidote to the wintery bluster outside. Cue Tough Love’s upbeat “Midnight Ride” – a boogie with a lighter touch – as stinging leads worked to offset Ellis’ lack of top-end vocal range. Problem solved with the jaw-dropping rendition of the delicious “Catalunya” – a Latin-tinged, Santana-esque show-stopper from Ellis’ all-instrumental Get It! – that proved one the evening’s highlights. As he is also a longtime Freddie King fan, “Double-eyed Whammy” from ‘89’s Georgia Blue proved the perfect vehicle for his lower-register growl as the rhythm section dug deep and Ellis offered one-handed solos, spellbinding, single note sustains and leads triggered by altered tunings. Another showcase tune was “Gamblin’ Man” from the new release – its slow pace setting up a solid, heartfelt vocal performance and more standout solo work which, at one point, conjured the effect of crying sounds from distant seagulls. Despite missing the substantial B3 contributions of keyboardist Kevin McKendree on the album version, there was zero compromise in what was presented live – reminding all that the caliber of sounds generated by this three-piece sounded like so much more.
Without so much as a break, Ellis underlined his role as the last of the southern gentlemen by asking if the audience would mind if he switched over to a satisfy an acoustic request or two on his National Steel. Incredible – would we mind? Buoyed by the crowd’s favorable response, Ellis told insightful stories of meeting Muddy Waters, B.B. King, James Cotton and almost meeting the darkly intimidating Howlin’ Wolf – again, to great audience response, rendered all the more special given that Ellis seemed honestly surprised by the positive reaction. A rousing version of Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” chased Burnett’s “Little Red Rooster” and, because he seemed to be having so much fun on this acoustic sidebar, the newly-anointed King of Just One More added his own “Shadow of Doubt” from Moment of Truth, teased with plenty of slide.
Without skipping a beat, the band returned to an electric barrage with Live! Highwayman’s title track, a wah-wah-driven boogie that pushed Ellis’ vocal to the breaking point, quickly redeemed by the hearty, harder-edged “Pawnbroker” from ‘89’s Fanning The Flames. The ensuing encore coaxed a stirring version of “Rockslide” from ‘09’s Speak No Evil, bringing the evening of inventive, smoldering guitar, bass and drums to its inevitable climax. There was nothing more for these talented players to do but to absorb their well-earned drinks and meet ’n’ greet the party faithful before heading back out into the snow to make their way on to Chicago.
Make no mistake. This is not your typical night of electric blues – and far from anything as restrictive as that imposed by the ‘blues-rock’ category. Tinsley Ellis is nothing less than the many influences and styles he continuously and rigorously morphs into what has become his own very personal, inimitable identity. Forever the music fan, Ellis’ natural discovery of British invasion blues and his deep love for America’s original blues heroes joins his southern heritage and natural affection for southern rock, soul, r ’n’ b and country. Add this to his impressive arsenal of self-penned originals, a studied blend of multiple guitars each possessed of their own distinctive voices in addition to his own and, adding in a sea of imaginative effects, you’ve just had a night to remember.
Ed. note: Ellis has been dealing a winning hand for several decades now and he simply gets better and better – I say this as a longtime fan who used to see him at the tiny-but-venerable Double Door Inn in Charlotte, NC, way back in the ’80s. It’s eternally gratifying to know that he continues to tour and record and make fans across the globe. (-FM) For tour dates and more: http://www.tinsleyellis.com/
The Philly wunderkind behind the beloved Photon Band talks songwriting, pop and punk, the Lilys and other fellow City of Brotherly Love bands, and upcoming plans.
BY TIM HINELY
Art DiFuria first came on my radar in the mid-‘80s when I saw him in a band called Tons of Nuns on stage at the Kennel Club in Philly. He seemed kinda like me, a “normal” punk (no mohawk, leather jacket, etc.) but I noticed his choice of footwear was cool. He had slippers on which I thought was about the most punk rock thing you could do (I wore mine in public a few times after that and got some odd looks/comments). A few years later I saw him in Uptown Bones and remember him being the same guy in Tons of Nuns and made a mental note. Fast forward a few years (early/mid-‘90s by now) and I had left the east coast for the west coast and began hearing rumblings of a band called Photon Band who began releasing singles in 1995-ish (yes, the Lilys, who Art played with for a time, have a record called Eccsame the Photon Band and as far as who inspired who well……read below).
The stuff I’d heard by Photon Band seemed to be a real inspired stew of whatever was/is in Art’s head at the time. A wiggy blend of psychedelic rawk with illegal u-turns all over the place. The stuff is good. On paper it could seem like the workings of a shot-out guy whose brain was addled by Clorox and Pop Rocks who lives in his mother’s basement and jams for jams sake, but no. These are honest to goodness songs by a truly talented songwriter and regarding Photon Band there’s more to come (again see below).
I shot Art some questions and he was more than happy to spill the beans on his childhood as well as what Philly band should’ve made it (also what was was more hardcore, the Ardmore, PA or Exton, PA scene). Thanks so much to Art for really making this interview come to life (or “Pop!” as the kids say). Take it away….
Where did you grow up? Was it in the city of Philly or a suburb?
I grew up in a place that was basically “nowhere,” culturally speaking: Exton PA. Its redeeming quality was that there were endless woods and creeks out there. It wasn’t as developed as it is now and so you could get on your bike and just ride or walk forever, and just think and dream.
Did your parents or any siblings influence musically?
There was always all kinds of music playing in our house. We had this gigantic TV / Stereo system with this posh turntable and huge speakers. On Sundays, after church and before the Eagles games, my dad played a lot of Perry Como, Al Martino, and of course Sinatra. Hearing those big, fluffy recordings on a deluxe stereo was mesmerizing, even though the music wasn’t really my thing. My mom could play the piano, too. We had one in our house (which is now in my huse!). But my sisters were the biggest influence. They would eventually take over the stereo from my dad by whining about the old goombah music and they’d put some Beatles on. Of course, in my little kid mind I was like “holy SHIT, what is THIS?” That was all a huge influence. My sisters are older than me by 7 and 10 years and they could both play guitar. The one closer to me in age majored in music in college, so she was always talking about music all through junior high and high school. It was the early 70s, so it was a very folky thing that she and my oldest sister were into, that whole heaviness-with-an-acoustic-guitar scene was very big then. And our local Catholic church, trying to be hip, dispensed with the organ and had a “guitar group” play the hymns. 10 or so teenagers looking wholesome on the outside but seeming a bit fiendish below the surface, as all teenagers do, was really cool to me. I was really little and hated going to church already, but I did like the sound of the guitars being tuned as we walked into the church. In my little kid mind I associated the big crucifix over the altar with the sound of guitars being tuned. It seemed ominous, like there was something profound about to happen. My sisters also had the first three Monkees albums, which made an indelible impression on me.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought with your own money?
Well, my folks were giving me records from an early age. They gave me “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” in 1973 and I had my own little turntable to play it on. I wore the grooves out on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce and also the Raspberry’s “Go All the Way.” My first purchase, I remember very well because it pissed off my dad. I bought “The Who Sing My Generation.” I had become obsessed with them because I had seen footage of Townshend smashing his guitar and Keith Moon going nuts on drums. I had just seen the commercial for The Kids are Alright on TV on a Friday night and was supposed to do some yard work for my dad on that Saturday. He gave me the money in advance of the work because he had some errands to run. Then my sister invited me to go to the mall with her. Of course, I ditched the yard work and went to the mall and spent the money without having done any of the work. When I came back with the album my dad was waiting for me. Man, the tongue lashing that followed was intense.
Where was your first punk show? Love Hall? Somewhere else? Who played and what year was it?
We could get to Philly pretty easily on the R5 and by the early 80s, we were taking it upon ourselves to do so. The “other” record store at the mall, called Grand Records, was way better than the establishment one, Sam Goody’s. Grand Records actually carried the SST catalog, which was my entre into punk. I had Land Speed Record and The Punch Line because of that store. You could buy buttons and patches there that said “The Jam!” and “Fuck Art, Let’s Dance!” on them. They also had a little bulletin board with show posters and flyers. It was mostly new wave stuff, all pink and day-glo, about shows at the old Latin Casino, which had been renamed Emerald City. But one day, there was this black and white “xerox” flyer for a show at Love Hall with Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen. I had to go! It said that Love Hall was on Broad and South so I knew I could find it easily. I went by myself. I was scared shitless, this 16 year old kid with a new buzz cut so as to not look lame, wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and combat boots just purchased from I.Goldberg’s. I scuffed them up on purpose right after I got them so they didn’t look too shiny and new. I was a LONG way from home. Once I got there, I didn’t talk to anyone. I just made myself invisible and watched the whole thing happen. Those bands were way better than I could have ever imagined. I left that show with a whole new concept of music. I think I went to see the Born Again era Black Sabbath that same fall and there was no contest in my mind as to which show was the real thing. But there was nobody at my high school that could relate to my Love Hall experience. They were all either wishing John Bonham hadn’t died, or to decide whether or not Rush’s Signals was a betrayal or a master stroke. Those are valid pursuits, too, and I didn’t become a punk overnight, or ever, really; becoming one narrow thing seemed dumb to me. But I did become a huge fan of it because of those bands.
I first saw you in Tons of Nuns in 1985 or maybe ’86. Was that your first band?
I had played in cover bands in Exton, which is how I learned to play “live” instead of just playing along with records at home. But yep, the Nuns was my first real band. It started as Bernadette Rappold on guitar, Brian Sussman on drums, and Mike Logan (aka Spayce Mann, who currently plays with Brother JT) on bass. Then Mike decided to bail and Bern switched to bass. That sort of became our identity, that trio. And that was how I learned to play guitar in a trio: trust the other two.
What was next, Uptown Bones? How long did that last?
Between Tons of Nuns and Uptown Bones, there was Holy Smoke. Tons of Nuns started to feel too kooky, too gimmicky. I could’ve stayed in it and slowly changed that, but I had my head up my ass. It started to feel like it wasn’t growing, but that’s probably because I wasn’t willing to give it a chance. So I told those guys I wanted out. They stayed together and got Bill Rudolph to play guitar. He later founded Rotgut and then Rear Admiral. They also got a really great guitarist named Dan who could play circles around me. Brian and Bern turned the Nuns into a much better band after I left. I think my leaving gave them a burst of energy, like “we’ll show him!!” And it was probably a lot more fun for them without this pain-in-the-ass brooding perfectionist around who wanted things to be more serious. When Mike Logan heard I left the Nuns, he wanted to jam again. We were very tight buds and quickly got songs together with a drummer named Jay Jurina who was also in Sky Grits. We felt like Holy Smoke had no limits; we used to do long instrumentals, ballads, really fast stuff, heavy Sabbath sounding tunes, you name it. And we had a lot of gigs in a really short time during the spring and summer of 87. But then Mike left Philly without really explaining why. Jay and I tried to keep the band going, but I was really thrown for a loop. I had lost my best friend and didn’t know why. I sort of blamed myself and thought, “well, all I’ve really done is start this kooky band that got better after I left, and then started this other one that wasn’t good enough for its co-founder. I must suck at this.” So I decided to lay low and not be a front man. I went to see the Uptown Bones whenever they played. They were guys who came to Temple a year after I did. They were a spunky little band with super spazzy energy. Plus, they were tight with Eric DeJesus (the Raw Pogo on the Scaffold / Easy Pop Art guy, and eventual best man at my wedding) who had been showing me his poems and stories which were so fucking excellent I couldn’t believe it. They were, in my mind, a “real rock band.” And I could see right away that Rich Fravel, the singer, was probably the best front man I’d ever get to play with. We all sort of spoke a language that nobody else understood. We were like a little scene of our own, wherever we went. When their original bassist Scooter drifted away from them, I stepped in. We started to click right away. That momentum lasted from the spring of ’88 through to our last tour in France in the summer of 93; two full length albums, three tours, and a bunch of singles. But then, we grew tired of each other and could see that it wasn’t going anywhere. We opted out.
Tell me about your involvement in the Lilys? Had you known Kurt previously? How long was your tenure in the band?
I had been messing around with this totally spontaneous band called the Psychic Enemies. It was me, Wayne Hamilton from Suffacox, and Simon Nagle, future Photon Band drummer. We purposefully avoided writing songs. We would jam for hours and never repeat a riff. We’d show up at gigs and do the same. But after awhile, we just couldn’t sustain it. Somehow, all that freedom felt like a dead end. So I was sort of putting word out there that I was looking for a gig. I had my hand inside a turkey on Thanksgiving eve 1993 and Bryan Dilworth and Mike Lenert came up the stairs of my warehouse and said “you’re playing in the Lilys.” I had heard In the Presence of Nothing and Amazing Letdowns and was pretty impressed. And I loved Bryan and Mike. So I said “yes.” We had a gig in DC like a week later. I didn’t know Kurt when I joined, but we instantly got along and had all sorts of things to talk about. I thought the Lilys were set up to do a lot more than we did. We had three songwriters and access to two cool recording studios in Philadelphia because I had my own 16-track and the drummer, Dave Frank (who had been in the Wishniaks) was co-owner of Studio Red with Adam Lasus. I figured we would just be recording our White Album for the next 15 years or so, you know? At least, that’s how I wanted it to work. But it wasn’t my band, and so I respected Kurt’s way of doing it which was to stay true to whatever his inner ear told him to do with his songs. That usually didn’t involve us.
Am I missing any bands in between? Did you do a stint in Robert Hazard & the Heroes that we don’t know about?
Ha…never hung with Hazard or the A’s or the Hooters, heaven help us. But I did play with a lot of other bands. I can’t remember them all, but here are the main things: I played with Baby Flamehead, which was such a breath of fresh air for me, such a pleasure. From about 94 to 2010 when I moved to Savannah, I also played either guitar, bass, or drums in a bunch of John Terlesky’s projects: Suffacox, Vibrolux, Brother JT, and even late period Original Sins. In the mid-2000s, I also played drums for We Have Heaven (Eric DeJesus’s band) and Ex Reverie. The latter is Gillian Chadwick’s prog vehicle. I loved those drumming gigs so much. I was sad to have to bow out of Ex Rev especially, because I had too many other commitments.
How/when did the Photon Band come about? Did you have a vision for it?
Even though I pulled back from being “the guy” after Tons of Nuns, I couldn’t stop the flow of ideas for songs. It seemed to be on the increase. Sometimes, they were so complete when I’d hear them in my head or dream them that I thought it was a cosmic phenomenon of some sort, like there are songs flying around out there in the ether and they choose people. And for some reason I was receiving more and more songs. I had been amassing cassette tapes of song ideas. At the same time, I’m really into astrology because my mother had been into that when I was a kid and it fascinated me. So I picked up this astrology magazine and there was an article in it by a woman named Barbara Hand Clow stating that since around 1962, the earth had gradually been entering into this band of photonic matter that would ultimately encompass our world and blow consciousness wide open. It made sense to me because I felt like that was happening to me. “Photon Band!” I thought. “If I ever start a band, that’s what I’ll call it and anything I write or record will go under that name. Its identity will be that it encompasses all the variety that comes out of me.” At the time, I was in the Lilys and my hopes for that band to become a vehicle for me and Mike Lenert as well as Kurt was dissipating. I left in late ’94 and told Kurt I wanted to start my own band under the name Photon Band. It was an amicable parting. He named the next Lilys album to honor that idea. That Lilys album, Eccsame the Photon Band and the first Photon Band single, “Sitting on the Sunn” came out at around the same time.
I know in the Photon Band you play all or most of the instruments. Did you learn all of those as a kid or pick them up along the way?
I taught myself guitar. Bass wasn’t hard to do after that. And drums came together just by sneaking behind the kit before practice, during break, and after practice and getting a few minutes in here and there. I love playing drums but man, if I don’t keep practicing, the next time I sit down, the drop off is more severe than it is with either bass or guitar. And whether it’s live or in the studio, I really need Jeff Tanner there. His ear understands where I’m trying to go better than anyone I know. His approach to playing bass is really important. And when we were a four piece, what he was doing on guitar was starting to take on its own identity that was re-shaping the songs. As far as drumming goes, Simon, Brendan, and Patrick have done all the best drum parts on our records. It’s only very occasionally that whatever I’m able to do on drums has worked better than them. I’m lucky to have had those guys as willing foils.
Is Photon Band still going? If so what’s next?
Yes. Since I moved to Savannah, I still record, and we still gig, though much less frequently. Pure Photonic Matter Volume 1 came out in 2013 and Songs of Rapture and Hatred came out in 2015, thanks to Nod and Smile Records. We did release shows for both and a few gigs before and after. In fact, from the fall of 15 through the fall of 16, we played three gigs. I think those three gigs were the most we played over a single year’s span since I left for Savannah. But then I had to finish this book I’ve been working on for quite some time. The publisher was getting antsy, so I had to put the music aside. The next thing will be two albums; one will be the next installment in the Pure Photonic Matter series. Another, probably done around the same time, will be an album of very long songs, sloppy, poppy, noisy, and primitive, with lots of jamming (think White Light White Heat). I’m also putting together a live album from all of the recordings I’ve got from over the years. And I’m going through all of the old DATS and cassettes. There are a number of songs that I’ve earmarked for another album of singles, comp tracks, and outtakes album: Our Own ESP Driven Scene:part II, I suppose. But I’ve also discovered a huge number of tunes that are either finished or nearly finished that I never released, plus also totally different versions of some of the songs that have come out. So over the next few years, I’m going to release an archive of sorts, probably on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
How did you land in Savannah, GA? Are you involved in any kind of music/art scene down there?
I’m an art historian. I was teaching at Moore College of Art and Design in Philly but started looking around for a better gig. The money there wasn’t great and there was quite a bit of dysfunction and acrimony between faculty and administration. I got a very good offer from Savannah College of Art and Design and off we went. The job, raising two kids, and going forward with my plan to publish the work I had been doing on a sixteenth-century Netherlandish artist named Maarten van Heemskerck have effectively kept me from getting out and involving myself in the scene down here. But now, I have basically taken care of Maarten (that’s the book I mentioned above). I feel like there will come a time soon when I can start saying “ya know any good drummers?” or “ya need a guitar player?” I’d like to get something together down here, another three-piece, sort of a Photon Band South. But what I’d also really like to do even more is just become the guitarist for a really good, no nonsense rock and roll band where I don’t write the songs.
Who are some of your favorite current bands?
Weeding through the shit to get to the good stuff requires time, doesn’t it? It’s good that there are some nice places to hang out here in Savannah that let their younger staff choose the music, otherwise I might have no idea. Some of the Ariel Pink I’ve heard, I really like. The Dear Hunter has made some albums I like and so has Ty Segall. But those are by now, pretty old, right? I like bands that do interesting things with guitars, so I really loved the first Garden State album, also pretty old by now. I haven’t heard anything by them since then that suggests that they’re still committed to weaving together guitar lines the way they did on that first album. Sheer Mag’s guitarists do that really well! On Dead Waves have some good songs, and I like everything I’ve heard by Bass Drum of Death. I really like that song called La La La by Hoops, too. It’s a never-ending quest, isn’t it? There are plenty more bands who have a song or two that blow my mind: the Wavves, the Panic Buttons, Suzi Chunk, Eagulls, to name a few.
What are your top 10 desert island discs?
Oh shit! Okay…
Neil Young: Time Fades Away
John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
Stones: Beggars Banquet
Stooges: Fun House
The Who: Live at Leeds (the expanded version, because it has more tunes on it)
Stereolab: ABC Music
Flying Burrito Brothers: Gilded Palace of Sin
MC5: High Time
Rites of Spring
That’s nine. Then I’d lay the following four albums on the floor, have someone mix them up, and pick one blindfolded:
Sun Ra: We Travel the Spaceways from Planet to Planet
Mr. Airplane Man: Come on DJ
Thenew Ty Segall album
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Pig Lib.
Any final thoughts? Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
Hmmmm…well, to close the loop on the Mike Logan / Spayce Mann story, all these years later, he came into JT’s orbit and now he has the role that I once had in JT’s band. We’ve reconnected and it feels so good to have that whole thing come full circle in such a cosmic way. It’s not just that we understand each other. We reconnected because he’s playing music with someone whose music is dear to us both. That’s our shared musical DNA, the stuff that resonates with our souls, determining our paths and bringing us in contact with the right people. That’s cosmic.
BONUS QUESTION; What is one Philly band that really shoud’ve made it?
I know the popular answers are Ruin and the Electric Love Muffin, and that’s definitely true, especially the latter. The Muffin were so important for a lot of people, especially me, and they were as good as, or better than, any of their contemporaries. But in a better world, the real answer is either the early period of the Original Sins, or F.O.D. There’s no question that of all the bands of my lifetime that the industry missed, they sure did blow it with the Sins. JT should have a huge audience. If the industry was less shallow, either the Sins or JT would’ve “made it.” And to me, F.O.D. are the Experience, the Who, the Minutemen, the Sex Pistols, and Sun Ra’s Arkestra all in one brilliant three piece. I don’t think there’s a live band that can touch them.
The original indie pop prodigy holds forth on everything from the current state of the music industry to Mark Lanegan filling in for Siouxsie Sioux and Johnette Napolitano to, naturally, his addictive new album, Fresh Flesh.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s been more than two decades since Jonny Polonsky put out his stellar indie pop debut, Hi My Name is Jonny. Since then, he’s added one interesting chapter after another to his life’s work. He’s toured and recorded with a slew of diverse musicians over the years that seemingly have no obvious imilarities, everyone from Neil Diamond and Pusifer to Audioslave and Johnny Cash.
All the while, he’s continued to put out his own records, including his latest, Fresh Flesh, a smart, fun rush of British Post Punk and Polonsky’s fantastically addictive wry wordsmithing. A spur of the moment recording, Polonsky and crew spent all of two days in the studio recording Fresh Flesh, but the result is anything but slapdash.
Polonsky was kind enough to trade some questions back and forth over e-mail recently.
BLURT: This album sounds a bit different than some of your other records. Was that a conscious decision?
POLONSKY: This album really just fell together almost by accident and had no premeditation at all. I had put a band together, we worked up a bunch of new songs and were playing lots of shows in Los Angeles. We were offered free studio time, and we took it.
You have to work with what you’ve got in any situation, no matter the limitations of time, money or materials. That’s something I learned from David Lynch. We had two days to make the record. I knew we could just go in and play our live set and it would sound good. Because we had such little time, I knew it wasn’t gonna sound like The Joshua Tree, so I went into it knowing it would be kind of loose and raw. No click tracks, no auto tune, no drum edits. Just lay it down and smack ‘em yack ‘em.
We recorded all the songs, most of them first takes; I did a few overdubs, most of the vocals were one or two takes, and bada bing – a bouncing baby record! At the time I was really into a lot of English punk and post punk bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, X-Ray Spex… and also really liked how smooth and dreamy some of the Horrors’ records sounded, particularly Skying. That was the general aesthetic – hopefully not the general anesthetic, for those of you still with me… But it wasn’t really planned. It’s more like looking in your fridge to see what you can cobble together for a meal.
I like making records where you really labor over everything too, but this way is a lot of fun because you don’t overthink anything.
I’ve been a fan since the first album and, while I love that you aren’t constantly writing the same album over and over, I still listen to Hi My Name Is Jonny all the time. It’s been decades since you first worked on that one. Do you still identify with that record or is it just too different from where you are now?
It’s a corny analogy, but true, that it’s like looking at old photos of yourself. You know it’s you, you remember how you felt back then about certain things, little details about your life and personality… it’s you, but it’s not you anymore. I still have tons of great memories and a lot of fondness for those songs and that record, but it feels kind of faraway now. Every once in a while, I’ll do one of those songs if I’m doing a solo show and someone wants to hear it, but it feels like I’m covering someone else’s song.
Kevin Haskins plays on this new record. You had mentioning getting into a lot of post-punk; was/is Bauhaus a big influence on your music?
I love Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and Tones on Tail. They’re all really imaginative bands that know how to create a mood, and not paint themselves into any corners. They get labeled as goth for obvious reasons, but the music is really diverse, dynamic and multi-dimensional.
Kevin and I first met a few years back through Zander Schloss. Zander was the guitar player in Joe Strummer’s first solo band, post-Clash. [Also a member of the Circle Jerks and Weirdos, along with a respected indie film actor. —Strummer Ed.] When I was a teenager, I bugged Zander on the phone and would send him tapes of my stuff because I loved his guitar playing. Still do. Anyway, Zander had set up a tribute show to Joe Strummer. Kevin and I were part of the house band. We did one or two more Strummer tributes over the years, and I also played on a horror film soundtrack that Kevin scored. He and I became buddies over the years, and I was real excited to have him play on that song—he gave it the perfect extra lift.
Lovely guy and great drummer. Poptone [Haskins’ band with Bauhaus’ Daniel Ash] is awesome too. I saw them last year and they were great.
Did you always envision Mark Lanegan for the voice over the intros “Solar Child”?
Actually, I initially wanted a woman to do the intro. I put out feelers for Siouxsie, Diamanda Galas, and Johnette Napolitano, but didn’t get anywhere. I love Mark Lanegan, he’s a huge hero to me. Incredible singer, great writer. A mutual friend connected us, and he agreed immediately. Wouldn’t let me pay him, either. Pure class. Gargoyle was one of my favorite records from last year. [Lanegan songs] “Goodbye to Beauty”… “Old Swan”… forget it.
You started out in the music business in the mid’-‘90s—obviously a very different time than now for the industry. What are some of the pros and cons of where record labels are now?
Honestly, I really haven’t had anything to do with a record label in years. But the benefit of being on a label is money, if they have it (duh). Making records can be expensive, touring is very expensive, publicity is very expensive. The downside is if they don’t want to spend that money, then what’s the point of being involved with them? Unless you are fortunate enough to be hooked up with some really smart, visionary people who can offer more than cash—like good ideas, clout, new adventures, red wine, dark chocolate, hiking, no hookups… I’m so sorry! My Bumble app just went off.
Anyway, the benefit of doing everything yourself is total freedom of expression. The downside is you have to find a way to pay for everything, and you have to find a way to reach your listeners. You just have to be crafty, frugal, patient, and have realistic expectations.
Any plans to tour when the record comes out?
There are a couple shows planned for Los Angeles. [Polonsky performed Jan. 29 at Love Song Bar and Feb. 9 at Hotel Café; the video above and the photo below is from the latter gig, courtesy of Polonsky’s Facebook page.] But nothing on the books after that. I’m working on some ideas to get us on the road.
What’s next for you? Are you working on or with anyone else?
I’m not working with anyone right now. I haven’t done any work as a side musician in several years. I love playing with other people, but I really want to concentrate on my thing. I’ve got lots of new songs. I’ve been doing some recording with a drummer friend, but I don’t know what will happen with those tracks, we’ll see.
I’m also doing a bunch of recording at home. I’ve got a couple albums’ worth of good songs, we’ll just see where it all lands.
As a new live album recorded on tour in 2016 demonstrates, the Seattle band is always morphing, and always, always, always is a monster live band.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.
Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), a/k/a Live in Europe, collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.
The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”
You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.
Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.
Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea