Monthly Archives: June 2008

LOOTING THE BINS WITH WOODEN SHJIPS

Browsing America’s
record stores with musicians – famous and infamous.

 

By ANDY TENNILLE

 

“A lot of people have said we sound just like The Doors,
which is really kinda funny because I just bought my first Doors album this
year.”

 

Ripley Johnson shrugs innocently while standing amid the
Used Rock section at Amoeba Music, a poster of the Lizard King looming
ominously over his shoulder. Since making their debut with the release of the
10” Shrinking Moon for You in early
2006, San Francisco’s newest psychedelic shamen Wooden Shjips have drawn
comparisons to the fuzzy drone of Spaceman 3, Hawkwind and Loop, the distorted
minimalism of Japanese psych-rockers High Rise and yes, the haunting organ and
intoned vocals of Morrison and The Doors.

 

So if critics’ comparisons are off base, whom would Johnson
claim as the Shjips’ biggest influences?

 

“We’re really into stretching out a groove and going for the
hypnotic elements of that and then piling on the guitars,” the guitarist
explains, picking up a copy of White
Light, White Heat
. “One of the big influences on me was this bootleg record
of the Velvet Underground called Sweet
Sister Ray
. It had four versions of the band doing ‘Sister Ray’ over two
LPs, so you had a single song on each side of the records. A friend’s brother
had the vinyl and I got a tape of it and just wore it out. To me, it was like
everything I loved about rock music was distilled into a single song – all the
distortion, the lo-fi feeling of the recording and the incessant beat. It had a
huge influence on me. There was nothing else like it.”

 

Since playing their first show at the Café du Nord a little
over a year and a half ago, the Shjips have played hyped showcases at South By
Southwest and CMJ, played Britain’s
All Tomorrow’s Parties in May and issued their much-anticipated, self-titled
debut on Holy Mountain Records. While their past releases have been relegated to
limited-edition vinyl pressings, the new album is available on CD and iTunes.
But don’t expect Johnson and his Shjip-mates to abandon their affinity for wax.

 

“To me, records are like artifacts. It’s almost like an art
object. When I discover a record that’s hard to find or pressed in a limited
edition, it just seems special to me,” Johnson says. “There’s this one Link
Wray record I’ve been looking for for a while. It’s got a yellow cover and a
picture of Link Wray holding his guitar. From what I’ve heard of his stuff,
it’s probably his dirtiest sounds, his rawest record. There’s a lot of raw
distortion that gives it that torn speaker sound. You can get it on CD, but I’m
holding out for it on vinyl. I’ve seen it on eBay and been tempted to buy it,
but I prefer to find things. It comes from growing up before the Internet when
you had to hunt things down. That’s part of the experience for me. I enjoy the
hunt for obscure things.”

 

Johnson’s hunt for record store rarities today is focused on
Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s East West
Live,
an album comprising four versions of “East West,” the spine-tingling
last track on Butterfield’s 1966 album of the same name.

 

“It’s four different live versions that are all really
stretched out. They’re supposed to be killer jams,” Johnson says, flipping
through Butterfield’s catalog in the store’s blues section before giving up the
chase empty-handed. “I wouldn’t say I’m a huge blues aficionado. I like most of
the basics – Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Hound Dog
Taylor. I’m mostly into the electric stuff, but I just started listening to
Junior Kimbrough. He’s hard to find on CD, much less on vinyl.”

 

Like so many musicians of his generation reared on classic
rock radio, Johnson’s appreciation of the blues wasn’t a direct discovery but
an implicit recommendation from the bands that caught his ear early on.

 

“The first big record for me and my friends was Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones. I
remember buying it on vinyl at
Merle’s Record Rack in Wallingford, CT,” he remembers with a nostalgic smile.
“That was really my first full-on rock ‘n roll experience, and I bought all
their albums after that. Then I read about how the Stones had learned how to
play by listening to old blues records, so I decided I needed to buy some
Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry so that I could learn how to play guitar like
those guys did. The great thing about those records is all those songs have
virtually the same chord progressions, so once you figured that out, everything
is just in a different key. It made it really easy to play along with the
records and figure out what they were doing. That’s basically how I learned how
to play the guitar.”

 

With so much time spent crafting their own music, the road
is where most touring musicians have time to listen to old favorites or get
caught up on the latest, greatest releases, and Johnson is no different. With a
road trip to Portland on the horizon, he’s keen to delve into some thematic
music for the drive.

 

“I don’t own any Kraftwerk, but I thought Autobahn would be the perfect soundtrack
for a road trip,” Johnson says, pulling the band’s 1974 classic from the
stacks. “I read a book a while ago by Julian Cope called Krautrocksampler.’
It’s very opinionated, but it’s the kind of book that makes you rush out and
buy the albums he talks about. I like German Krautrock – it’s been pretty big
in my life.”

 

Talk of Johnson’s musical influences would not be complete
without mentioning Roky Erickson. The king of American garage-psych, Erickson
has experienced a rebirth of late with the 2005 release of a documentary on his
tumultuous life and a rejuvenated touring schedule. Last February, Wooden
Shjips opened for Erickson at the gilded Great American Music Hall as a part of
Noise Pop 2007, San Francisco’s more intimate version of South By Southwest.

 

“That was amazing, because I’m a huge Roky Erickson fan,”
Johnson gushes. “I didn’t really know what to expect because I’d followed his
story for so long. Every once in a while, I’d read an interview where someone
went to visit him and he had 20 TVs in his apartment on, all tuned to different
channels. But all of that was forgotten when he climbed on that stage at the
Great American. He’s such an incredible musician and his band is so supportive
of him. I was a big 13th Floor Elevators fan and just fell in love
with his songwriting and his voice. He sings with such commitment. It doesn’t
really matter if he’s singing about zombies or vampires – Roky Erickson is a
legend.”

DEEP BLUE TWANG Blue Mountain

They’re
back with a new album, but don’t expect a roots-rock
Rumours.

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

The last thing most people want to do after a divorce is
spend time with their ex. But Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt have chosen to do
exactly that for months at a time by reuniting alt-country band Blue Mountain,
which previously enjoyed a celebrated 1991-2002 run. Hell, if Stevie Nicks and
Lindsey Buckingham can do it, why not Laurie and Cary? 

 

“We got asked last spring to play the Twangfest in Missouri,” recalls Hudson.
“I got in touch with Laurie and she said it seemed like a fun idea. Once word
got around, we started getting more offers to play. It ended up being fun, so
we kept doing it.”

 

In fact, they were having so much fun, they decided to go
back into the studio and record a new album.  Hudson says the currently untitled album
has the same sound as Blue
Mountain’s classic
records, but is more narrative-driven than the band’s previous work.

 

One example is the song “Jimmy the Snake,” which Hudson describes as a
jazzy “faux-Django song.”

 

“It’s kind of a fictional story, but it stars our drummer
Frank,” says Hudson.
“It’s in the tradition of people who write songs about the resident rock star
of the band. Sort of like Mick writing about Keith in ‘Torn and Frayed.’”

 

Then there’s “She’s a Wild One,” about someone who might be
a little too wild for his own good.

 

“It’s loosely based on this old guy I bought weed from in Mexico and ended up sitting in a bar talking
to,” says Hudson.
“He was about 70, far too old to be doing that.”

 

While Hudson
is full of stories about other people, anyone looking for Fleetwood Mac-style
songs about the Hudson-Stirratt relationship on the new album may be
disappointed. In fact, the only song about them is a cover called “Emily
Smiles,” which was written by Jim Mize. (Blue Mountain
die-hards will remember him as the writer of “Let’s Go Running” on Dog Days.)

 

“I always wanted to do that song,” says Hudson. ““Then I ran into Mize in Arkansas and he said ‘You
know, I wrote it about you and Laurie.’ We had no idea!”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Bill
Ellison
]

 

QUICK CLIP Marié Digby

You Tube Superstar gets
her 16 million and 15 minutes.

BY AARON KAYCE

 

Pop-folk princess Marié Digby didn’t expect her big break to
come on YouTube, but after posting an acoustic version Rihanna’s hit “Umbrella,”
Digby racked up 16 million views, making her the eighth most subscribed artist
in YouTube history. Now her songs are all over TV (The Hills, Smallville, Ugly Betty) and Gap has commissioned her
to be part of their “Sound Of Color” ad campaign. Digby’s debut, Unfold, was released in April Hollywood
Records; meanwhile, the upstart popster sat down for a lightning round of Quick
Clip with BLURT.

 

From Rihanna to Britney Spears to Linkin Park,
is there any type of criteria you use to pick a cover?
   

It could be death metal or country, as long as it has a good
melody. Second, it has to be a song I can make sound different [and] something
I can make my own.

 

YouTube and MySpace
have changed the playing field; do you think this is an overall positive or
negative trend?

I think it’s overall positive. YouTube is sending the message
that whether you are some kid in your parents’ house in North Dakota playing a
song in your bathroom, or if you’re a girl signed to a major label but nothing
is happening for you, if you have something to say and you have some talent and
you put it up on YouTube, people will find you.

LIKE BUTTA Man Man

They’re engaged in a conceptual
evolution.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Since 2001, Philadelphia’s Man Man have sung loudly and
often about devils, rice, mustaches, zebras and the mysteries of an unraveling universe
to the accompaniment of fractured Zappa-esque noise and melody. They’ve done it
on Nike commercials, Showtime’s Weeds,
on tour with Modest Mouse and—until 2008—on two scattered, elegant albums (Six Demon Bag, The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face) they insist that nobody but Nike,
Weeds’ producers and Modest Mouse heard.

 

Still when Man Man’s main man Honus Ryan leans in and says
“My concept of pop is different than most” in regard to the blunter sound of
their Anti- debut Rabbit Habits, it’s
more diabolical than it might appear. Because organizing chaos in the Man Man
sphere of thinking means mixing the space-surf pop of “Mister Jung Stuffed” and
the sharp funk of “Top Drawer” with crunching Waits-ian cabaret numbers such as
“Big Trouble” where melodicas blow like north winds. Or jazzy revenge songs
like “The Ballad of Butter Beans” where brushed drums and racing marimbas keep
pace with a background chorus singing “buttabuttabutta” while Honus groaningly
intones, “you’ll make a lovely headdress or a double-breasted suit” and “I’ve
seen her lipstick across you tailfin.”

 

This is how Honus’ head works, and it’s been a challenge for
his bandmates. “I started this as a conceptual thing since I didn’t know how to
write songs,” says Honus. “I don’t think any of the original members that came
and went realized how tough it would be—on the road, with me.”

 

Honus is a Texas-born Army brat who came to Philly as a
screenwriting major—“Great for breakup monologues. I know where all the beats
should be.”—only to wind up crafting bizarre arrangements with musicians that
double as sculptors and painters. This wealth of aesthetic diversity allowed
MM’s visceral gigs (ape costumes, members in a tight tribal circle) and
ferocious records to be more than your garden variety rock-out. How the lean,
meaner Rabbit Habits happened came
down to winnowing the more diffuse elements of Man Man’s complexities into
catchier melodies and somewhat-simpler rhythms. “It was a conscious decision to
hone,” says Honus, citing solid single-riff pop songs like James Brown’s “Please,
Please, Please.”

 

“I remember as a kid getting a collection of Raymond Carver
short stories from my dad. After just four pages—pow—my heart was torn out of my chest. That’s what I wanted to do:
something indirect that allowed people to feel connected.”

 

[Photo Credit: Michael
Persico
]

SHOOTER'S BLUES Shooter Jennings

Flipping the
bird at critics who say he’s riding on his late father’s coattails, Shooter makes a
record with… his late father.

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

 

 

“I gotta figure out a way to get rid of that thing.”

 

 

Shooter Jennings shakes his head in disbelief before taking
a hefty drag off a joint circulating on his front porch. Across the street from
the beautiful 1920s Spanish-style bungalow he shares with actress girlfriend Drea
de Matteo high up in the Hollywood Hills, a neighbor has recently built a tree
house that blocks his previously panoramic view of downtown Los Angeles.

 

“They did it when we were in New York,” Jennings says,
stepping up on the top step of his porch to reveal the full extent of the
injustice. “How fucked up is that, to come home to this?”

 

It’s been a while since Jennings has been in Los Angeles, a
city he’s called home for nearly a decade. For the better part of 2007, the
29-year-old country rock star and son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter was
on the road with his band, the .357s, leading up to the release of The Wolf, his fourth album for Universal
South. In the weeks before the record hit the street in October, guitarist and
co-songwriter Leroy Powell left the group to pursue a solo career and was
replaced by new guitarist Ryan Wariner and long-time Waylon associate Robby
Turner on pedal steel. In late November, de Matteo gave birth to the couple’s
first child – daughter Alabama Gypsy Rose – in Manhattan, and the young family
spent the baby’s first months at their apartment in the Big Apple.

 

Tonight, Jennings is back in
the City of Angels
for his Tonight Show debut, rocking
out the title cut off The Wolf on a
writer’s strike fright night that finds him paired with unfunny guy Adam Carrolla,
film critic Richard Roeper and a pair of acrobatic cats. A few hours after the
Leno taping, as bandmates, family and friends gather inside his house to
celebrate the show’s airing in a few hours, the son of one of country music’s
most notorious outlaws is outside, fuming over his multi-million dollar eyesore
and considering taking matters into his own hands.

“Fuck it,” he says, exhaling a cloud of smoke before
pretending to jerk a chainsaw to life. “I might have to just cut the
motherfucker down.”

 

***

 

Waylon Albright Jennings was born an outlaw on May 19, 1979.
According to his famous father, Shooter earned his nickname before he even left
the maternity ward.

 

“I apparently pissed on a nurse,” Jennings says with a wide
grin. “Dad always liked to tell that story. Mom also knew someone at church who
had a son named Shooter and liked the name, so they ran with it.”

 

Jennings’ home is a virtual shrine to his legendary father,
who died of complications from diabetes in February 2002. Concert posters and
pictures of the country music icon abound. A white, baby grand piano draped in
a Confederate flag stands in an office that doubles as a home studio. Old
Waylon vinyl is strewn across the mixing board in the corner. Across the room –
painted floor to ceiling in the rebellious colors of the Stars and Bars – a
giant Waylon emblem (a “W” in the shape of an eagle with wings) fills one wall.
Fifteen gold and platinum records ring the walls of the living room, a tribute
to the more than 40 million records the elder Jennings sold during his
five-decade career. Conspicuously, there’s a single gap in the rows of records
that catches the younger Jennings’ eye.

 

“That’s for my record,” he says, pointing at the vacant
space with a smile. “Hopefully I can put one up there one day. Who knows, maybe
it’ll be this new one?”

 

The “new one” is Waylon
Forever
, a nine-song album that finds Shooter and the .357s backing his old
man on some of the country icon’s favorite concert staples as well as a few
unlikely covers the father and son recorded more than 10 years ago.

 

“This album really got its start back in 1995,” Shooter
says, easing in behind the baby grand. “At the time, I was sixteen years old
and way into Guns N’ Roses and alternative rock. I’d been playing drums for a
few years and was in a band with some high school friends that was like the New
York Dolls meeting Nine Inch Nails. We played my high school battle of the
bands, and our claim to fame was that right as we went onstage, the power went
out.”

 

Shooter wasn’t the only Jennings exploring rock music.
Around the same time, Waylon struck up an unlikely friendship with Metallica, a
relationship that began when frontman James Hetfield interviewed the elder
Jennings for a college radio station. Jennings returned the favor when he
called Hetfield’s father, a huge country music fan, while he was ailing in the
hospital. The goodwill culminated in an invitation to the country music legend
to join the Lollapalooza tour in ’96 as an opener. The time proved ripe to
collaborate with his alt-rock-oriented son.

 

The Downward Spiral had come out a few years before, and that record really inspired me to start
making drums tracks and recording my own music,” Jennings says of Nine Inch Nails’ quadruple-platinum
1994 album. “So when Dad asked me to do a record with him, I started pulling
together some tracks: a couple of things I made, some different versions of his
songs and a few covers. Dad was really excited to do this with me and seeing
his energy inspired me to come up with all these ideas.”

 

While most of the tracks the duo recorded were familiar to
the elder Jennings – such as concert staples “Jack of Diamonds,” “Lonesome,
Orn’ry and Mean” and “Waymore’s Blues” – Shooter brought some ideas to the
table as well. On “Outlaw Shit,” a remake of the 1978 Waylon classic “Don’t You
Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand,” the younger Jennings slowed the
song’s tempo down, which, when combined with Dave Campbell’s soulful string
arrangements, gives the tune a nostalgic, ballad-like feel.

 

“I got that from hearing Johnny Cash do ‘Hurt,’” he
explains, recalling the Man in Black’s infamous version of the Nine Inch Nails
hit. “I really liked what Rick Rubin did with that and how Johnny Cash sounded
so raw, so I tried to write a similar chord progression to get the same feel
with Dad.”

 

Flipping through the radio dial one day in Nashville
inspired the cover of Cream’s classic “White Room.”

 

“I didn’t listen to much classic rock and didn’t know shit
about Cream or Disraeli Gears, but I
heard that song one day when I was driving down the street and knew Dad could
do it,” Jennings
says. “This was back before the Internet days when you could just get the
lyrics online, so Dad listened to it a few times and just wrote down what he
heard. The best part was that he changes the words a little bit here and there.
Some people might think it was a mistake, but I think it’s just cool.”

 

After the sessions were complete, the duo considered
shopping the finished product, but the idea was shelved when Waylon began work
on his next solo album —1996’s Right for
the Time
— and Shooter moved to Los Angeles to start Stargunn, which he
describes as “Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Guns N’ Roses.” The band played the L.A.
club circuit for six or seven years and recorded two albums before splitting up
in March 2003.

 

“We’d gone for a long time and played a lot of shows,”
Jennings explains. “Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine produced our last
EP, which never came out. We’d almost gotten a deal with Epic, but that fell
through. I was feeling stifled and wasn’t getting along with the guys in my
band. I started feeling outside of them and there was some in-fighting going
on. It was just time.”

 

Around the same time, Jennings fell back in love with
country music. Whether or not this change instigated the break-up of Stargunn
is debatable; Jennings won’t say. But the passing of his father in 2002
certainly played a role in his rekindled love of country. “I had been around
country music all my life, but just after my Dad passed, I started listening to
it again. My roommate at the time was a big country music fan, so I started
listening to a lot of Hank Jr. and Dad’s stuff. I wasn’t planning on playing
country music or even going by my own name. I was at this point in my life
where I didn’t really know what I was going to do.”

 

Jennings left L.A., moving to New York to be with de Matteo
and figure out his next move. In a short time, he accepted an invitation to
play a show at the House of Blues and a backing band was needed: the .357s —
guitarist Powell, drummer Brian Keeling, bassist Ted Kamp — were born. As Jennings puts it the
group “just clicked from the first time we played together.”

 

After the successful House of Blues gig, Jennings took his new band into the studio
and recorded Put the “O” Back in
Country
, his first release on Universal South. The album – which featured
appearances from George Jones, Faith Evans, Ce Ce White and Jessi Colter – was
released in March 2005 and charted on both the Billboard 200 and Top Country
charts. Jennings
followed up the success of Put the
“O” Back in Country
in 2006 with Electric Rodeo, a sophomore effort that expanded on the rowdy
country rock of his debut with the .357s.

 

“I thought that Electric
Rodeo
was more country than the first one, to be honest,” Jennings says. “Put the “O” Back in Country was a culmination of a lot of
years and a lot of shit and not really knowing where I wanted to go. I honestly
didn’t think anyone would listen to the record or even really give a shit.
Those records were just an extended version of what we did in Stargunn and a
country label ended up picking us up. So we ended up in that box.”

 

While Jennings describes his move to country music as “just
a jump into the great wide open. There was never an official decision made,”
he’s very cognizant of the skeptical eye with which music critics view his
post-Stargunn work and the assertion that he is merely riding his father’s
lengthy coattails.

 

 I’ve always just wanted to play the music that I want to play,
whether it’s country, rock or really, really weird psychedelic shit,” he says.
“Sometimes, the reviews are written from such an angle that it’s like the
writers aren’t even listening. It’s tough. People say that I’m just trying to
just copy what my Dad did. And I’m not. I’m not at all. And if they actually
paid attention, someone who knows the records isn’t going to say it’s all a
bunch of Waylon hacks. Even if it’s not great, it’s still not… that.”

 

With the release of Waylon
Forever
later this year, critics will likely revive the debate of whether Jennings is just cashing
in on his famous pedigree or is an artist in his own right. While he won’t
dispel the notion that the album is likely to excite Waylon fans worldwide, the
irony is that Waylon Forever wasn’t
even Jennings’
idea to begin with, but a brainstorm from his producer Dave Cobb. “After Electric Rodeo and before we did The Wolf, Dave and I talked about the
tracks I did with my Dad, and he was the one to suggest that we take the tracks
and re-record them with the .357s on it. So that’s what we did. I went to
Nashville and transferred the tracks to a click-track. We got the band together
in the studio and within a month and a half, it was done.”

 

In addition to “Outlaw Shit” and “White Room,” Waylon Forever features a reworked version
of “Are You Ready for the Country?”, a Neil Young cover that the elder Jennings
originally recorded in 1976 for his gold album of the same name. Country singer
Lee Ann Womack guests on “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” and Waylon staples “Jack
of Diamonds,” “Lonesome, Orn’ry and Mean” and “Waymore’s Blues” all receive new
treatments backed by Shooter and the .357s.

 

“It was one of the easiest records I’ve ever made, but it
was also really hard – there were a couple of times where I just got worn out
working on it, physically and emotionally,” Jennings confesses. “But I kept
thinking about how excited Dad was when we did the original recordings and just
knew that we needed to finish it. There’s definitely a magic to it.”

 

Magic. It’s a word
often invoked when promoting
posthumous collaborations from Celine Dion (Elvis, Sinatra) to Carlos Santana
(Miles Davis) to former American Idol contestant Paris Bennett (Dean Martin). Critics
used it when Hank Williams Jr. dueted with his dear old Dad on “There’s a Tear
in My Beer” in 1981 and in 1991 when Natalie Cole’s  Unforgettable:
With Love
, with her father Nat King Cole, worked multi-platinum magic. Alicia
Keys’ duet with Frank Sinatra on “Learnin’ the Blues” at this year’s Grammy
Awards had critics going in the opposite direction, however, and Jennings,
mindful of how slippery a slope such collaborations can be, says there’s one
key thing that separates Waylon Forever from
the rest.

 

“The biggest difference between some of those and this album
is that I was there for the original recording. I was there with him,” the
younger Jennings says. “This album is all about revisiting and re-appreciating
the time we had together during the original sessions. The intent of those
sessions back in ‘95 was all about us getting together to play some music, and
it really had nothing to do with money or trying to sell records. Dad was just
happy to be doing a record with his son. I may not have appreciated it as much
as I should have then, but I couldn’t be happier to be doing a record with him
now. It’s like I’m finishing the job we started together.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BORN MELANCHOLY Sweden's Lykke Li

 

Lykke Li sees
the bright side of heartbreak.

BY ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

 

Just when we’d gotten Peter Björn and John’s “Young
Folks” out of your head, along comes Lykke Li’s “Little Bit,” another
insidiously catchy, deceptively simple Swedish earworm to drive us mad. No
surprise to learn that the song, along with the rest of Li’s debut album Youth Novel# (LL Recordings), owes at
least part of its whispery lo-fi charm to Björn Yttling’s production, but the
22-year-old singer says the sound is all hers.

 

“I’ve had a vision of the
soundscape since I was a child, and that’s why I wanted Björn to be involved in
my record,” writes Li, in an email she dashed off between three weeks of
performing in the U.S. and a fortnight-long tour in the UK, adding that the two
began working together long before she’d even heard “Young Folks.”

 

And if you’re thinking
that the last thing the world needs is another twee-popster from Sweden, give a
listen to the pining, pulsing “Everybody But Me,” which also appeared on the Little Bit EP released in May, or better
yet, check out her collaboration with fellow Stockholm native Kleerup, “Until
We Bleed,” especially the “Mikael’s Cello Version,” neither of which are on Youth Novels but are well worth hunting
down online. Even the poppiest of Li’s songs float on an undercurrent of
unrequited love and lust, but “Until We Bleed” is a downright eerie lover’s
lament.

 

“I wrote it when I was
suffering from heartbreak,” she says. “At least I got a song out of it.
Melancholy is definitely a state I often find myself in. Sometimes I slide out
of it, but I always seem to come back. My mom thinks I was born that way.”

STREET POETRY Maust and Maziar

Cold War Kids’ bassist and pal peer through the lens.

BY CRYSTAL K. WIEBE

 

A rock ‘n’ roll band should expand upon Paul G. Maziar and
Matt Maust’s idea and compile a bunch of photos and journal entries from a tour
into a book. Maust is the bass player for the Cold War Kids, so presumably he
caught some of the black and white images he contributes to What It Is: What It Is (Write Bloody; www.writebloody.com) on the road. Some
of them even seem like they may have been shot from the passenger side of a
tour bus. Maziar, Maust’s best friend and collaborator, is not a rock dude. But
his poetry and prose is spawned from a sort of life tour. Maziar writes like a
Beatnik, recording his experiences walking, drinking, thinking and watching the
Cold War Kids in American cities. Through Long Beach,
Hollywood, Brooklyn and Las Vegas, Maziar collects bits of overheard
conversations and the stories he elicits from panhandlers and bums. Lifted
straight from his post-adolescent journals – “yr” substituted for “your”
throughout – the young author’s words are as unrefined as the cities and street
people in which he sees “diamonds.”

 

Although they appear on the same pages, the photographer’s
and the writer’s specific urban observations did not occur simultaneously. Maust
offers shot after shot of crusty buildings and people waiting for the train;
Maziar ruminates over the interactions of homeless blues musicians. But Maust’s
gritty subway and urinal shots do complement Maziar’s street scenes. Both of
the young men seem inspired by mundane and ugly-but-beautiful moments in life.

 

BLURT: What feelings
do you want your book to inspire?

PAUL MAZIAR: The way that most people have heard the words
in the book were from me doing readings. And one thing that people have said
over and over again is that after the reading, like the next day or so, strange
images that I depicted from the book will pop into their heads, or like cause
them to have funny dreams. I think there was one part of the book that was
about Long beach
and described how there was a lot of amputees and people in wheelchairs there.
With those kinds of images, I want people to have more sensitivity. So if it
comes through in a haunting kind of a way, that’s a reaction that I’m fine
with.

 

How often do you see
Matt Maust?

Oh my god, like not enough. I used to see him all the time.
Now I only see him when the Cold War Kids come and play. I come up and they
always are so sweet to put me on the list. And we just catch up right where we
left off. That’s always been the sign of true friendship to me.

 

How did your
friendship begin?

Right when we met each other, we were laughing our asses off
right away. We didn’t really talk about a lot except for Tom Waits and Bob Dylan
and punk rock and stuff. Once we realized that we just loved all the same sorts
of things, even if it’s odd little peculiar things that we came across, it just
kept getting more and more fun.

 

Does this book
represent a coming of age for you?

I think so. I guess so. But I’m not like a wise man or
anything like that, you know. I’m gonna keep writing and I’m gonna get better.
I can’t possibly right now sit down and write the novel that I eventually will.
But I guess maybe coming of age could be true. A lot of the stuff in there is
old, old writing that came from a very confused time — like I had a lot of
contempt in my head for some things, like for my growing up and stuff like that
— and so in that process, the writing was just exorcising a lot of that stuff.

 

There are portraits
of several American cities in your book – which is your favorite?

Brooklyn – but it’s one of
those things where you get to some place that’s amazing and you can’t imagine
going some place better. So, it’s scary. And I’m not going to settle down. I’m
going to be going someplace else and now I’m like wow, ‘What’s gonna be cooler
than this?’ Maybe I’ll just wanna be bored again.

 

Do you consider
yourself a sort of street poet?

Maybe, maybe like in style. Yeah, I think so. Maybe, and I
guess sometimes, maybe I’m a bit of drunk. And today I smell bad, so that might
also be synonymous with that… (pauses)
I think I’m gonna start just like pulling out the book on the subway and reading
it. And then maybe I really will be a street poet.

 

[Photo courtesy Maust:
Globe & Guitar]

 

THEY KNOW A Big Yes and a small no

 

Sounds great, “looks terrible.”

BY CHRIS PARKER

 

Deep inside A Big Yes and a small no’s singer/vibraphonist
Kevin Kendrick was a pop craftsman dying to escape. He only had to survive a
kidnapping in Cartagena, Colombia (while surveying their cumbia scene), a
heroin addiction that contributed to the demise of his old band Fat Mama, and a
near-career in jazz to realize his calling with the Brooklyn chamber pop
quartet.

 

“I was raised to believe that if you weren’t playing
classical music or straight ahead jazz, than what you were doing was somehow
not legit,” says Kendrick, from his Crown
Heights, NY home.

 

After matriculating from Bristol College in England with a
graduate degree in composition, his post-graduate goal was to make “intelligent,
interesting pop songs” ranging across genres. He returned to New York and ended up hooking back up with
his Fat Mama mates. He played with a lot of people, he says, but no one really
shared his vision.

 

Indeed, it’s the subtle musical touches and Kendrick’s keen
lyrical wit that keep the twee-tinged tracks on Jesus That Looks Terrible On You  (issued May 13 on Through Left Records) interesting. Like a lot of great pop
from Burt Bacharach to Brian Wilson, the virtuosity is designed to be hidden
and seem effortless. The eight-song debut flounces from bubbly 2-tone pulse
(“I’m Always Manic (When I’m Around You)”) to shimmery atmospheric pop (the
title track) and jazzy cabaret pop (“If You Won’t Beg”), all delivered with
Kendrick’s arch clever coo — like Stephin Merritt sweet-talking Stuart Murdoch.

 

“iPod shuffle is so much the way people listen to music,”
says Kendrick. “You don’t necessarily have to listen to several different bands
to get [variety].”

 

[Photo Credit: Rose
Callahan
]

LOOTING THE BINS WITH DEVENDRA BANHART

Browsing America’s
record stores with musicians – famous and infamous.

By ANDY TENNILLE

 

“You guys are standing in oldies. And you guys are standing
in folk, or maybe bluegrass. If you’re looking to pick something up, try a
record by Robbie Basho called The Voice
of the Eagle
. It’s one of the most spiritual records I’ve ever listened
to.”

 

Devendra Banhart is seated in a folding chair on the tiny
stage at San Francisco’s Amoeba Music, dispersing recommendations to the thousand-plus
people that have crammed into every conceivable crease of the cavernous store
for his mid-afternoon in-store set. It’s a role that comes naturally to
Banhart, the 27-year-old Californian–by-way-of-Caracas singer-songwriter and
czar of all things freaky and folky: he was once an employee of this very store
and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music that ranges from rock to reggae to
rare folk albums.

 

“Here’s one of my favorite records of all time,” Banhart
says a few minutes after his performance, pulling a recent reissue of Linda
Perhacs’ 1970 album Parallelograms from
the stacks of the store’s folk section. “Linda sings on our new record on
‘Freely.’ She just had throat surgery and emailed me last night to tell me that
she feels like a new person and can’t wait to get back into the studio to
record because she says I won’t even recognize her voice. So hopefully we can
help make that happen soon.”

 

Banhart’s joy over Perhac’s improving condition is merely a
symptom of the generosity he regularly displays utilizing his celebrity to
spotlight his influences and musical cohorts. Last year, he made a guest
appearance on Brazilian psych-rockers Os Mutantes’ Live at the Barbican Theatre. In 2006, Banhart contributed a
version of “Sligo River Blues” to I Am
the Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey
in addition to singing on Bert
Jansch’s Black Swan. English folk
songstress Vashti Bunyan appeared on Banhart’s Rejoicing in the Hands in 2004 as well as 2007’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, which
bookended his appearance on her 2005 release, Lookaftering.

 

“Vashti Bunyan…I don’t know really what to say other than
she is a very, very special artist to me. They’ve just released this one, which
is all of her singles and demos from 1964 to 1967,” Banhart says, admiring with
pride the copy of Some Things Just Stick
in Your Mind – Singles and Demos 1964 to 1967
in his hands. “It’s got her
very first single which was originally written by Jagger and Richards in ’64, I
think. Most of the rest of it is her tunes and it’s really beautiful. Vashti
found someone online that had an original pressing of her first single. They
gave it to her, which was very kind of them, and they recreated the exact label
for the reissue. I think it’s just so elegant.”

 

Another artist that’s enjoyed renewed success based on
Banhart’s support is Michael Hurley, the American folk singer who’s latest
album — Ancestral Swamp — was
released by Banhart’s Gnomonsong label last year.

 

“Do you have any Michael Hurley?” Banhart asks, slightly
concerned. “I need to buy you a Hurley record if you don’t already have some.
Hurley is an interesting guy – he recorded his first album on the same tape
machine that Leadbelly made his last recordings with. Cat Power covers a bunch
of Hurley songs on her records. That’s it; I’m gonna buy you a CD. I’m really
gonna buy you something, but maybe not Hurley. Let’s go to the dollar bins for
your gift. Just kidding, folks: I’m gonna get him something nice. Don’t worry.”

 

With that, Banhart’s already infectious energy shifts into
overdrive and the lithe, longhaired musician begins pawing through records with
a new sense of urgency. No questions are asked, ‘cause none are needed: Banhart
is on a roll.

 

“Now here’s a Tim Hardin record that I’ve never seen
before,” he says, pointing at a recently released anthology of Hardin’s music.
“Tim Hardin is amazing. He wrote ‘If I Were A Carpenter,’ ‘Lady Came From
Baltimore’ and ‘Misty Roses.’ He shares some of the same qualities that I love
about Tropicalia in that it’s music that takes elements from all these
different genres, from all these different indigenous cultural styles from
around the world but funneling it through something very, very uniquely them.
With Tropicalia, everything they were funneling, from the Beatles to reggae to
African highlife to classical music to American rock, was taken in but the
result was always very Brazilian. With Tim, he takes from jazz, folk, rock and
blues, but it was always him. That, and he had great hair. Don’t ever discount
great hair in music. It can sell records.”

 

“A lot of people get into John Martyn because they know that
he wrote a song about Nick Drake called ‘Solid Air,’” Banhart says, pulling
Martyn’s 1968 debut album London
Conversation
from the bins. “He’s also credited as the innovator of
chilled-out music, like these long, chilled-out jams. He makes some really
weird shit, but it’s really beautiful and his early records are incredible.
John Martyn’s also one of the first dudes to go down to Jamaica and record with
all those guys from Island Records. I think he’s also had a leg amputated due
to gangrene.”

 

“We’re standing here in front of Judee Sill,” Banhart says
when I catch up with him. “Judee was a singer-songwriter from Southern
California and who’s got a pretty crazy backstory: she was an ex-convict,
junkie, prostitute and Jesus freak. All of her songs are like these romantic
songs to Jesus. She’s finally sort of been discovered in the last couple of
years. She’s totally a genius and her self-titled record is a masterpiece. She
describes it as gothic, baroque pop, but I hear a lot of Elliott Smith in it.
Maybe it’s just me.”

 

Since much of the discussion has revolved around the store’s
folk section, I ask Banhart if we might branch out into the blues or perhaps
some world music, where his interests in South American music are widely known.
But as my request passes through my lips, Banhart holds up his hand and points
at the collection of CDs in front of him: we’ve reached Townes Van Zandt.

 

“Townes Van Zandt is the perfect writer,” he says with
complete reverence. “He’s got good melodies, and he’s got a comforting vibe.
He’s sort of like the biological father you always wanted. Bob Dylan’s gave a
great quote about Townes when he said, “In some ways, Townes was the better
writer.” Bob wrote about everything – political songs, romantic songs,
religious songs – but Townes kept it personal. There’s not a word wasted or a
word thrown in for the sake of rhyming in any of his songs. Everything is so
elegantly and perfectly picked. It’s precise. It’s perfect.”

 

On our way to the Used Blues section, Banhart gets
sidetracked when he spots a Link Wray record that stirs an old memory.

 

“This is his country rock record,” he explains, holding a
copy of Wray’s 1971 self-titled release. “Link Wray was immortalized by writing
‘Rumble,’ which had only three chords. He also is attributed to having stabbed
the cone in his amp with a pen to create distortion. Link Wray had only one
lung. Yet with just one lung, he could still really belt it out. This record is
incredible. I was probably nineteen years old when I first heard this record.
The circumstances were…well, I can’t really tell you on the record. I’ll tell
you afterward off the record, but it’s safe to say that it involved some
chemical assistance that resulted in five seconds of absolute euphoria and over
ten hours of terror.”

 

Arriving in the blues section, Banhart heads straight for
Mississippi John Hurt, the Avalon, Mississippi native who learned to play
guitar at age nine and went on to record several albums for Vanguard in the
‘60s.

 

“A friend of mine named Isabel, who plays in a band called
Hecuba from L.A, made me a mix when I was 16 years old of Mississippi John
Hurt,” he explains. “That tape was the reason why I got into music. Honestly, no
shit. It’s not easily expressed in words, because the feeling was so
transcendental. The thing I got out of the tape was the friendliness of
Mississippi John Hurt. His voice is so calming and comforting, but his guitar
playing is inhuman. There’s that legendary story about the famous classical
guitarist who heard a John Hurt recording and after it ended said, ‘That’s
great, but who’s the second guitar player?’ You can’t get any more unique than
that.”

 

Banhart once again reaches hyper-speed when we hit the
Amoeba’s vast selection of world music, naturally gravitating to the Brazilian
music that’s had such a profound effect on him as an artist.

 

“Os Novos Baianos,” he says, scanning the stacks for the
psych-folk hippies from Bahia, Brazil. “Novos Baianos… they don’t have any
here?! No shit, that’s not good. Well, just know that they are the best, just
the best. They are a bunch of fuckin’ mind-blowing geniuses. They all lived
together in this commune in Brazil in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You could tell that
all they did was play music together, ‘cause it’s so tight and poppy and
masterful and joyous. Just incredible.”

 

“Do you know this album?” Banhart says, handing me Alçeu
Valença & Geraldo Azevedo’s 1972 self-titled album that sports the word
“Quadrafônico” across the front. “I used to think ‘Quadrafônico’ was the title,
but I think it refers to the fact that it can be played on a quadraphonic hi-fi
system from the ‘70s. This record is really, really good: very psychedelic and
Brazilian. It’s mind-blowing. Rogerio Duprat, who was like the Brazilian George
Martin, produced it. It’s a must.”

 

Hopping from Brazil to the store’s African music, Banhart
talks about his love of Ali Farka Toure, E.T. Mensah and Fela Kuti before
shifting over to the Middle Eastern section.

 

“Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan might be my favorite singer of all
time,” Banhart says of the Pakistani singer of Sufi devotional music known the
world over as “The Emperor of Qawwali. “His music is incredibly spiritual and
the range in his voice…it just blows my mind. The fact that Jeff Buckley
covered one of his songs just kills me still to this day. That’s insane, just
incredible. The fact that he could even do it is just…it’s so far out. It’s
something to give credit to and respect.”

 

Browsing over the stack of CDs and records that have
accumulated in his arms, Banhart shoots a glance at my own collection and a
surprised look emerges from his bearded face.

 

“I haven’t gotten you anything!” he exclaims. Despite my
repeated assurances that he need not spend a dollar on me, Banhart rubs his
forehead, apparently deep in thought, before jetting off. When I finally find
him deep in the folk section, Banhart smiles like a kid trying to keep a secret
before handing me a disc.

 

“Clive’s Original Band,” he says, proudly. “Clive Palmer
basically started the Incredible String Band and played on their first record.
I think he contributed two songs. Then he took off for India and Afghanistan
and hung out for a while before eventually coming back to start C.O.B. They
have this fantastic record called Spirit
of Love
but my favorite is called Moyshe
Mcstiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart
. It’s from ’72, I
believe, and it’s very, very, very good. This is what I’m gonna buy you. I
think you’re gonna dig this.

 

“And if you don’t, drop me an email and I’ll send you
something else.”

 

[Photo Credit: Andy
Tennille]

 

 

MOOG IN VOGUE

The Bob Moog
Foundation aims to preserve its namesake’s archives.

BY ALLIE GOOLRICK

 

When Dr. Robert “Bob” Moog died of cancer in 2005, the world
lost a great pioneer of electrical music. Best known for the Moog synthesizer—and
his warm personality—Moog was known for building innovative instruments that
broke down the barriers between natural musicianship and technology. For many
musicians, the loss of Moog was the loss of a hero.

 

Immediately
following Dad’s passing, thousands of people around the world paid tribute to
the effect that Dad had on their lives, both through his instruments and
through his warm, humble spirit,” says Moog’s daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa.

 

What Moog fans didn’t know was that they were about to lose
a part of the Moog legacy, too. After the passing of her father, Moog-Koussa
opened up a storage shed to find stacks and stacks of dusty boxes and trashbags
filled with her father’s archives. Covered in a thin layer of mold were thousands of items: vintage instruments and
equipment including the last of the Minimoog synthesizers, prototypes, master
recordings from ‘60s and ‘70s electronic musicians like Wendy (nee Walter)
Carlos and Keith Emerson, copious schematics, articles and photos and a huge
amount of memorabilia.

 

Moog-Koussa knew
immediately that the archives needed to be restored. She soon founded the Bob
Moog Foundation to fund the project with the intention of eventually opening a
Bob Moog Museum. And her plight was heard by the musical community. After the Smashing
Pumpkins’ nine-day run last summer in Asheville, NC (the home base of Moog
Music Inc.), Billy Corgan became interested in the project, donating and
speaking out on behalf of the Foundation.

 

“I strongly believe
many people all over the world would benefit from being able to interact with
the thoughts, ideas, inventions, and life of Dr. Moog,” says Corgan, in a
message on the Moog Foundation website, www.moogfoundation.org.

 

The archives are
only a fraction of what the Foundation is doing to preserve Moog’s legacy. The
non-profit recently released a CD, Mooged
Out: Asheville,
which features Asheville musicians all using Moog gear.
Plans are in the works to set up scholarships at UNC-Asheville, Berklee College
of Music and Cornell University in Moog’s name and the Foundation is designing
outreach programs to bring electronic music into the schools “as a vehicle for
children to connect science, music and creativity,” says Moog-Koussa. The group
was also represented at this year’s NAMM Show, has held community events in the
Asheville area and even anticipates a series of benefit concerts with
nationally recognized musicians.

 

If the Foundation
has any say in it, Moog’s legacy will continue to inspire electronic music and
creative technology for years to come.

 

“My father has a
unique and beautiful legacy of touching people’s lives through innovation,
creativity and human warmth,” says Moog-Koussa. “The Bob Moog Foundation aims
to carry that legacy forward. As my father would say ‘What’s not to like?’”

 

[Photo of Moog 1974 courtesy the Bob Moog
Foundation
]