Monthly Archives: July 2008

DANCING QUEEN Mia Doi Todd

The hills are alive
with the sound of Mia!

BY JIM ALLEN

 

Mia Doi Todd’s Gea (City Zen) is rich with
contemplative art-folk that’s simultaneously cerebral and sensual. The L.A.
singer/songwriter once lived in Japan, studying avant-garde Butoh dancing, and
we asked her to envision how some of Gea‘s
songs might be expressed through dance, Butoh or otherwise.

 

 

“Big Bad Wolf & Black Widow Spider”

I could see that as a
ballet. Peter & The Wolf meets The Wizard of Oz meets Charlotte’s Web, with dancers in crazy,
outlandish costumes.

 

 

“Esperar Es Caro”

One dancer doing a
flamenco… the fire rising, and longing, like a wolf howling to the moon.

 

 

“Kokoro”

A tap dancer. It’s a
sad song. I hear it with a bittersweet-ness. There’s something about
tap-dancing that is bittersweet.

 

 

“Can I Borrow You?”

You go out dancing;
early in the night you’re kind of shy. You have a drink or two and start to
loosen up, you really dance your heart out… totally exhaust yourself. And
maybe then you go home with that person who asked you to dance.

 

 

“Wolf Reprise”

A more Butoh aesthetic.
A dancer being like a stray dog wandering a lonely street at night, some
plastic bags floating around. Plastic bags, they can really dance. 

OBJECT OF DISSECTION Wire

Tackling the
surrealism and absurdity of life.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Calling a work of musical art an object may seem somewhat chilled
in nu-pop’s moistened environs. Especially if the work is as harsh, hearty and
deeply melodic as Object 47. But if
it’s Wire we’re discussing and we know them as Britain’s aged-yet-ageless post-everything
ensemble who’ve been an off-and-on unit since punk’s first heyday, “object” is
about right. Because along with creating the blunt snarling Pink Flag and the eerily languid 154, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis have
made recent shard-sharp EPs like Read
& Burn 03
that come across like gut-busting jabs as opposed to Object 47’s swat to the skull.

 

“The tag was of my invention, coined towards the end of the
working process when I was trying to find a shorthand way of describing 47‘s main trust to a friend in an
email,” says Lewis, Wire’s erudite singer/bassist and owner of a six month old
Affen Pinscher named “Iggy Pup” from his family’s home in Uppsala, Sweden.

 

 “It stuck.”

 

As a band that thinks more in calculated arcs than it does
will-nilly spurts, Lewis and Newman discussed the process. “Colin asked me what
kind of a record I wanted to make,” recalls Lewis, “and my answer was one which
was illuminated, expansive, communicative and let in light into the place which
was [2003’s] Send.” There would be
lyrics which posed questions, suggested answers and observed keenly — and described
brutally and minutely — the surrealism and absurdity of life at large. “It’s
always easier to think of, and work within a process, trusting that it will
produce an object which accurately reflects that… in all its failure and
success. The surviving failures one tries to keep to a minimum.”

 

The ambition of projection is what made/makes Object 47 so potent. As expansive as
“Perspex Icon” and as weighty as “Hard Currency” are now (to say nothing of how
cutting and incisive their recent EPS have been), Lewis admits that Wire came
closer to extinction in the preceding four years to 2008 than at any time in its
willful existence. “A brush with mortality is always a wake-up call. So my
interest in this arc of work was to pick the Wire vehicle out of the ditch
where it had been carelessly steered by self serving interests and put it back
on the creative track upon which it belongs.”

 

While you can’t help but wonder if that statement (and
Wire’s snide rant “One of Us”) isn’t being lobbed against recently dismissed
long-time Wire-r Bruce Gilbert, Lewis is nothing if not a gentleman. And a
mystery. “I think its universality is great,” says Lewis. “I hope the song will
serve a function in other people’s mangled relationships.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Malka Spiegel]

SEMIOTIC FOR THE PEOPLE American Princes

Arkansas band writes the songs that make the whole world think.

BY HAL
BIENSTOCK

 

When music
fans hear the term “concept album,” they generally brace themselves for either a
pale imitation of Pink Floyd’s The Wall or a goofy, overblown epic like Rush’s 2112.
But when Little Rock’s
American Princes describe Other People (Yep Roc) with the dreaded c-word, they mean something completely different.

 

“You can
look at concept albums in one of two ways: having a narrative or just
channeling the feelings of the time,” says singer/guitarist David Slade. “An
illustration of the former would be Tommy or The Wall. An illustration of the
latter would be What’s Going On by
Marvin Gaye… That’s the direction we wanted to go in.”

 

The themes
of the loud, melodic songs on Other
People
are alienation, relationships and the ways people perceive one
another. Like What’s Going On, the album
is a reaction to the political climate. “The notion of [perception],
particularly in an election year and where America is right now with the rest
of the world, is a profoundly frightening thing,” says Slade.

 

Of course,
topicality means nothing without a catchy tune, so the guys turned to hip-hop
producer Chuck Brody (Wu-Tang Clan) to ensure the music hit as hard as the
words.

“[Singer/guitarist]
Collins Kilgore and I had a protracted conversation about how integral the hook
is in hip-hop and how important producers are for keeping an eye on that,” says
Slade. “A lot of indie bands lost sight of that.”

 

“There are
a lot of bands influenced by the Pixies and Sonic Youth who say ‘Let’s make our
music weird and experimental,’” adds Kilgore. “The problem is that [they
forget] bands like that were very hook-oriented.”

 

In the
end, American Princes know some fans pump their fists, while others give their
minds a workout. Either way is okay with them. “I don’t think the songwriter
should have all that much say in how your work is interpreted,” says Slade.
“One of the best things about pop music is you don’t need a degree in semiotics
to make it your own.”

 

[Photo
Credit: Stewart Isbell]

 

BOUNCING OUTSIDE THE BOX Doomtree

Minneapolis punk-hop collective is limited only in liability.

BY JAMIE
GADETTE

 

The idea
of making a record with the entire Doomtree crew was always on the table. For
seven, eight years, the conceptual project simmered on the backburner as
various artists in the eleven-member crew pursued solo careers and day jobs in
their hometown of Minneapolis. The expansive hip-hop collective finally put the
wheels in motion three years ago, recording in fits and starts the self-released,
eponymous 21-track LP that could raise them out of the struggle and into the
spotlight.

 

Obscure
above ground and beyond Minnesota, Doomtree are largely recognized for one
member’s fairly swift ascent. Emcee/producer P.O.S. broke out before the rest of
the crew took flight, signing to local indie label Rhymesayers and grabbing
headlines for his aggressive, genre-bending style. Of course, most of the
headlines got him all wrong. At the time, lazy writers and PR hacks just
couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of a fluid punk/rap/rock combo
that didn’t sound like Linkin Park. And so many simply, foolishly wrote him off
altogether.

 

Those that
stuck around couldn’t quite pin down P.O.S.’s connections. Though he namedrops
Doomtree throughout both of his critically acclaimed albums (2004’s Ipecac Neat and 2006’s Audition), most people identify him as
part of the extended Atmosphere/Brother Ali family—which he is, and isn’t.
P.O.S. is still signed to Rhymesayers, but Doomtree’s relationship with the label
is purely informal and amicable.

 

“Being in
the same city and being friendly with those guys, we get a lot of support from
them. And it goes both ways—they’re a staple in Minnesota and we’re building
our way to being a staple in Minnesota too,” P.O.S. says. “They show us love
and we show them love back.”

That
spirit of loyal camaraderie parallels Doomtree’s internal workings. P.O.S.’s
band mates don’t begrudge his success. In fact, all ten of them—Sims, Cecil
Otter, Dessa, Lazerbeak, MK Larada, Mike Mictlan, Turbo Nemesis, Emily
Bloodmobile, Paper Tiger, Tom Servo—encourage it.

 

“We’re really
good friends, really loyal to each other. We don’t get jealous. We realize the
bigger picture—this is Doomtree, this is our company and the reason why we’re
so picky about business is because this is us,” emcee/producer Sims says. “It’s
in everyone’s best interest.”

 

“Picky” isn’t
the first word that comes to mind when you watch the group joke around like
siblings on their first road trip without mom and dad. Whether shooting the
shit or getting merch in order, Doomtree seem perfectly content to operate on
cruise control. Behind the scenes is another story. When it comes to serious
business proposals, Doomtree sort through fine print with a razor blade. Now an
official LLC—“our liability is limited,”
emcee Dessa says proudly—the group started their business plan from scratch and
in the dark, knowing only that they wanted to remain independent at all costs.

 

“Nobody is
willing to make compromises on their aesthetic decisions, so that’s just out
irrespective of financial goals,” Dessa says. Besides, “None of us harbor huge
aspirations toward shiny cars and big houses, I think all of us would like a
living wage… ”

 

“Speak for
yourself. Living wage is just not going to cut it. I’m tired of being broke,”
Sims interrupts, though after some cajoling from the crew he admits no amount
of bling could ever persuade him to sell out. “We passed up on money from a
couple of companies because we wanted to play our music—and we wanted to own
it, all the Internet sales, everything,” he adds.

 

In the
couple of years leading up to the record, Doomtree focused on booking shows and
getting their internal business plan in order as a complete democracy. “There
is no hierarchal order to Doomtree,” says Dessa. “We’re a diehard committee. I
think that’s our strength, but it taps all of our resources. It’s a challenge
to be as agile as you’ve got to be.”

 

That means
figuring out how to highlight individual voices while showcasing the group’s
chemistry. It also means weighing the pros and cons of a proposed contract with
each and every member, and if one person says, “Nah,” the deal is off. Period.

 

“That’s
one of the things that keeps our boat floating a little bit slower than
everybody else’s,” says P.O.S. “It’s very important to us that we’re all
feeling it before we jump into something.”

It helps
that Doomtree long ago agreed to bet the farm on DIY ethos. While shopping
around for potential labels and distributors, the group discovered that while they
might not get the best immediate numbers on their own, they’d feel good about
the work and would learn enough to chart the course indefinitely—or until the
right deal comes along.

 

“You don’t
automatically say no to anything. You take a look and you think smart, you
think longevity more than what can we pop off right this second,” says P.O.S.

 

To that
end, Doomtree took their time with the album. Well, they weren’t entirely
responsible for the slow and steady pace. With engineer Joe Mabbett at the
helm, progress hinged on whatever additional jobs he agreed to in advance. The
crew laid down tracks at Mabbett’s Hideaway Studio for a week here, a month
there. Toward the end they dropped in whenever a slot opened up. They also
recorded portions of the album in the Doomtree house—a modest mansion “built of
paper,” whose tight quarters put the all-for-one theory to the ultimate test.
In a house where a sneeze in the attic can trigger “bless you” from the
basement, it’s not a bad idea to forgo certain basic needs. “Nobody did ‘it,’
ever,” jokes P.O.S.

 

They
recorded several songs in the butler’s pantry; “Jaded” in a closet; “Last Call”
in Dessa’s kitchen. The cut-and-paste approach mirrored much of the group’s
writing and production techniques. The beats come first—original compositions
reflecting each producer’s vision and methodology. Lazerbeak (who also plays in
The Plastic Constellations) is arguably the most prolific of the five. “He came
with 25 beats to start,” says Sims. “And by the end of it he had turned in over
50 beats for the crew album. He’s definitely one of the most prolific and
gifted producers I’ve ever had a chance to work with, or see.”

 

Cecil
Otter digs voraciously through crates, coffee mug in hand. Judging by his
hard-knockin’, smooth-talkin’ delivery, he doesn’t take cream or sugar. (Then
again, Otter sometimes describes his material as “emo shit,” so who knows?) He puts
the needle on the record and, if he likes what he hears, he’ll build on it. A
little guitar, some drums. P.O.S doesn’t attack the crates so much as caress
them, carefully adding to his existing pool of songs and mashing them through
the ringer.

 

“It’s a
lot less sampling from the records and a lot more me playing stuff and then
making it try to sound like a sample,” he says. Basically, after years of
buying beats and then watching beat and gear prices balloon, Doomtree developed
a sound that’s “very unique to us and unique to individuals in our crew as
well. Cecil makes beats that sound like Cecil beats. I make beats that sound like
P.O.S. beats.” Most importantly, they make beats that sound like no one else’s.
“The idea of rapping over others’ beats, for the most part—unless it’s like a
straight banger—it’s not as appealing as showcasing your own stuff,” P.O.S.
says.

 

And there’s
quite a bit to show off. Doomtree reads
like a “Dear Diary” wake-up call: Lust, love, lies, and redemption dissected in
reverse. Mistakes were made. Here’s a rag—clean it up.

Each emcee
hits the ground running, down but not out; each song implying things might look
up if you can only get your shit together.

 

Welcome to the future!/ Rap won’t save
you/Did you hear that?/Rap won’t save you.”

 

Doomtree
assume the role of drill sergeant one minute, wise barstool sage the next. Most
of their tough love scenarios involve bottles and battles with fallen angels,
“baptized in bourbon/capsized for certain.”

 

It’s not
all dead-ends and sob stories. Most of tracks soar with a sense of urgency and
fierce determination to right past wrongs. “It’s like we don’t even talk no
more/ never seem to really anyway/ just repeated single serving and
erections/best wishes on your way/can you see how we speak right through each
other?” P.O.S. sings on his shit-happens lament, “Liver Let Die.”

 

Though
common themes thread through Doomtree’s lyrical content, each emcee and
producer brings a unique and distinct sound to the album. They make it seem
easy, even if it wasn’t.

“I think
that was one of the challenges for us as solo emcees,” says Dessa. “The styles
are so disparate that it took a lot of dedicated effort to make something that
was cohesive but still really showcased a huge range.”

 

It helps
that Doomtree grew up in a community that encourages cross-genre pollination,
so to speak. Unlike the majority of music scenes across the country,
Minneapolis seems more or less immune to divisive cliques. Death metal bands
play with folk artists, for example.

 

And it’s
not just the musicians, but the listeners as well. “It’s not just ‘I’m a hip-hop
head’ or ‘I’m an indie rocker’,” Dessa says. “They’re really willing to listen
to all types of stuff and go to shows that have really mixed bills.”

 

“I think
that’s one of the bigger reasons we’ve had so many shows,” Cecil Otter says.
When he and P.O.S. were first starting out, they would play anywhere, with
anyone. That flexibility continues to give Doomtree a consistent leg-up on
today’s word-of-mouth music world. P.O.S. recently toured with Underoath, and
while much of the audience was understandably confused, by the end of each gig
he converted at least a few hard rock fans to his signature sound.

 

“I went to
see Atmosphere and Dillinger Four once in Chicago and people were brawling. It
was a total mess,” P.O.S. says. “If that same show happened in Minneapolis it
would be a straight party. I feel like nowadays more and more it gets easier to
do that and have it be okay, but it’s nothing like Minneapolis.”

 

With the
new crew album—plus releases by Cecil Otter (Aug. 27) and Dessa, Mike Mictlan
and Lazerbeak out later this year—Doomtree just might convince the rest of us
to bounce outside the box.

OCEAN CROSSING Julie Ocean

 

 CNN producer and former Velocity Girl drummer
Jim Spellman debuts a new band.

 

BY ROXANA HADADI

 

Scheduling an interview with Jim Spellman, singer and
guitarist for Washington, D.C., band Julie Ocean by night and producer for CNN
by day, isn’t as easy as one may think (even though he happens to live in the
same city as this writer).

 

First, there was the Wednesday interview that had to be
pushed back because of a last-minute package Spellman had to prepare for the
next morning’s 7 a.m. edition. Next, the Thursday interview was postponed
because of a ride-along Spellman scheduled with the Metropolitan Police
Department the night after the Supreme Court struck down the city’s gun ban. Then
a weekend spent at the beach with his family. Finally, during a lightning-happy
thunderstorm in College Park, Md.—home to Spellman’s alma mater, the University
of Maryland—the man is ready to chat.

 

“Every day I go to work, I don’t how my day will end,” he
says apologetically. “I’m not really like a brain-shut-off kind of guy.”

 

Julie
Ocean may have released
their first album, Long Gone and Nearly
There
, barely two months ago, but that doesn’t mean the band—or Spellman—is
taking any kind of a break. After six years at CNN and more than 20 years of
making music, hectic has become Spellman’s state of being, he says.

 

As a producer at America’s No. 1 cable news network,
Spellman covers the homeland security beat; has worked for boy wonder Anderson
Cooper at his show, Anderson Cooper 360°; spent
days in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city (including “the
weirdest night of my life,” during which Spellman was shot at while staying on
the roof of a police station above the French Quarter, he says); and even did a
clip for CNN.com, “Producer Gets Tased, Bro,” in which he does just that.

 

Take that level of activity to an exponential level, and you
may get some idea of Spellman’s indie-rock track record. He’s been recording music
since he was 17 and went on tour as a roadie with post-hardcore D.C. natives
Jawbox when he was 19. He spent five-and-a-half years at the University of Maryland,
juggling classes and jobs at two different record stores while playing in the
melodic, harmony-loving Velocity Girl. After graduating in winter of 1991 with
a degree in radio, television and film (a major no longer offered at the
university), Spellman stuck with the band until it broke up in 1996.

 

More than a decade later, Spellman joined forces with fellow
D.C. music veteran Terry Banks (formerly of Glo-Worm, the Saturday People and
Tree Fort Angst), drummer Alex Daniels and bassist Hunter Bennett to form Julie
Ocean, named after a single released in 1981 by British band The Undertones and
continuing Spellman’s track record of being in bands named after songs by other
bands (third time’s the charm, right?).

 

But this was no drawn-out affair – Spellman and Banks
decided to start playing music together in fall of 2006; took a break during
the winter while Spellman had a baby; “didn’t start doing much” until February
or March of 2007; put a four-song demo up on the band’s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/julieoceandc);
and were signed to Philadelphia’s Transit of Venus label before even playing
their first gig in June.

 

“I’m a big believer in making records,” Spellman says
simply. “I love making records.”

 

Julie
Ocean’s sound, which
jumps between retro, cavity-inducing, bright-sounding pop and brashly swooning
guitar riffs, is on full display on “Long Gone and Nearly There.” The album may
be only 25 minutes long (while only including 10 tracks), but is already
causing enough buzz (The Washington Post,
Washington City Paper and USA Today, among others, have all given
the band a nod of approval) to keep Spellman happy.

 

That kind of hype – especially when broadcast on the Internet – is what Spellman
is banking on, if only to spread the band’s name far and wide while also
keeping them from touring. Though the band wants to secure more gigs outside of
their D.C. homebase – they have already played at local venues such as the Rock
and Roll Hotel, DC9 and Iota – Spellman says they aren’t planning on traveling
across the country anytime soon – or ever. The challenges for Julie Ocean’s
band members, with their jobs and their families, are just too great, Spellman
explains.

 

“The biggest obstacle, for our band, isn’t writing songs or
getting the band together,” he says. “The biggest quandary is touring… I
don’t know how interested any of us are in going on tour.

 

“I’m not any grizzled vet, but I’ve probably played Cleveland a dozen times,”
Spellman adds. “Going on tour, for us—I don’t know how worthwhile it would be.”

 

To make up for that lack of wanderlust, Spellman and the
rest of the band are planning to upload more supplemental material on their
MySpace page—such as music videos, three of which Spellman has already
“sketched out”—and may create a Facebook page to keep listeners interested, he
says.

 

But while Spellman can be brutally honest about Julie Ocean’s
possibility of drawing a huge fanbase (“I’m sure there are a lot of young kids
disinterested in a band of guys in their late 30s, and I can’t blame them—I
would be, too.”), that doesn’t mean he’s unhappy with the level of success the
band has now.

 

“One of the best things about D.C.’s music scene is that it
has room for big personalities, like Ian MacKaye, but there’s always been room
for people like me and my bands,” Spellman says. “I’d like to have a few songs
enter the public consciousness. If one of our songs could be one person’s
favorite song—that would be a great honor.” 

 

THE BLURT Q&A Ray Davies

Erstwhile Kinks
frontman is a 21st century kind of guy but he definitely don’t wanna
be—or die—here.

 

BY JUD COST

 

When music critics get teary-eyed about certain artists—Nick
Cave, Steve Wynn, Steve Earle, etc.—creating some of their finest work after
turning 40, what does that say about Ray Davies, due to hit 64 in June? With a
robust back catalog of Kinks songs whose shimmering melodies and Dickensian
attention to detail would give even Lennon & McCartney a run for their dough,
Davies has cut a second solo album, Working Man’s Cafe (New West/Ammal),
that shows the old boy still fully in control of his art. His new tunes treat
world peace, job out-sourcing and the demolition of old churches with
equal zest.

 

 

For a man who once complained he felt woefully out of place
back in the 20th century, Davies was rudely welcomed to the new millennium,
American-style, when he was shot in the leg on January 5, 2004 as he tried in
vain to apprehend a purse-snatcher in New Orleans’ French Quarter. A short stay
in a local hospital gave Davies time to reassess his life’s priorities and, no
surprise, compose material for a new tune, which he scribbled on the
complimentary stationery left next to his bed. He was coughing when he picked
up the phone connection from London.

How are you feeling, Ray?

I’m all right, just recovering from flu like everybody else around here. It’s
been an epidemic.

Do you ever look back nowadays on your 45-year musical career?

Yeah, I have to look back because I’m cursed with our first recording deal
which was with Pye, and when they closed they wouldn’t sell us the Kinks
catalog. Now it’s ended up with one of the monsters of the music industry. It’s
not an ideal situation. I don’t think it’s anything to do with money. At this
point, it’s more market-share-go-round.

Any chance to re-acquire your old stuff?

I think if the court of human rights convenes anytime soon and has the time,
apart from all the other horrors in the world. [laughs, then coughs]

It must be nice to have such a fertile catalog of songs you can reference.
Do you ever re-use bits and pieces of your old material? There’s a riff in
“Peace in Our Time” that sounds like the familiar descending intro
line from “Sunny Afternoon.”


Oh, yeah, that “Waterloo Sunset” phrase. I think that’s my
nature. I’ve been listening to a lot of Percy Grainger recently. He’s an
English composer. Old Percy does that. I’ve been playing him in my car for the
past few days. Every writer has a signature phrase, you know, and I think
that’s one of mine.

We haven’t spoken since you were shot in New Orleans. Can you tell me about it?

I got shot. Haven’t got much to say, really. Wrong place at the wrong time.
Tried to defend a lady’s honor. Her purse was snatched, and I didn’t like the
way he was shouting and shooting his gun at the ground. I’d had a bad day, and
he was just the last thing I needed. The shooting wasn’t as bad as the
after-care. It’s very impoverished down there, and they give the best help they
can. But it’s left me with a bit of a problem in my left leg. Fortunately I’ve
stayed fit all my life, and that’s really held me in good stead.

The new song “Morphine” comes from the New Orleans incident, I assume. 

Yeah, I wrote that song in hospital. They were worried about me because I’ve
got a really slow heartbeat. I went down to about 24 beats per minute. I was
really frightened because I could see they were frightened.

The worst part of being in the hospital, for me, is that constant
“beep-beep, beep-beep” of the heart monitor. I asked them to turn it
off once, but of course, they won’t do it.

They won’t do it. If that goes off, it means you’ve gone off. [laughs] So, I wrote the lyrics to
“Morphine” out on a notepad and didn’t change anything when I
recorded it. It’s a first-draft special. When I came to do the melody I just
used that “tick-tock, tick tock” rhythm.

Tell me about “Hymn for a New Age.”

I went to church when my daughter was christened, and I was appalled by the
quality of hymns. Here they were, trying to modernize the church, and all that,
making hymns that were friendly to the new society. And they still sound really
square. Churches are closing all around in the U.K., replaced by fancy apartment
blocks.

Did being shot have anything to do with that song?

Nah, I had that song already. But, yeah, the after-effect, those incidents do
make you reconsider all your standards and your place in the universe.

Will there ever be a Kinks reunion? I read somewhere that Dave hadn’t spoken
to you in six months.

I spoke to Dave about a month ago. And Dave really would like to do it. But
it’s not just me and Dave. If it could be done at all, I think everybody’s got
to have their heads into it. Some of the guys in the various bands we’ve had
over the years get together and play every so often for fun. I went to one gig
they did and just listened to them. It was Mick Avory on drums, John Dalton on
bass and John Gosling on keyboards, and a couple of the girl backing vocalists
from Preservation turned up. I was
amazed how tight the band was. They call it the Cast Off Kinks.

You once complained in the song “20th Century Man” about being
stuck in the wrong era. Do you still feel out of place?

Oh, definitely now, more than ever, and I didn’t like it when I was in the 20th
century. It’s not a grumpy old man song. A lot of my beliefs come from my dad.
He hated the industrial revolution. It’s things I heard people say when I was a
kid about the ways of the world. You know, I wrote that song to be sung by somebody who’s
demolishing a street. It’s from Muswell Hillbillies, and it’s about an
area in Holloway that’s being knocked down. It’s about someone refusing to
leave their house and dynamiting the house.

I know you’re an Arsenal football fan because of your dad. Last time we
spoke, 10 years ago, you were going to watch the FA cup final in Nashville, I think.

I did, and Arsenal won. I watched the cup final once in San Francisco when I was playing the Alcazar
Theatre. My tour manager was Liverpudlian and Liverpool
was in the final. We found a pub somewhere at six in the morning and sitting
next to us was Elvis Costello, who’s a Liverpool
fan.


Is Elvis an old friend?

We bump into each other from time to time. He narrated and appeared in a
documentary  about Charles Mingus I did years ago for British TV called Weird
Nightmare
. I heard Mingus’ records a lot when I was an art student in the
early ’60s.

Someone, maybe it was Miles Davis, once referred
to Mingus as “rock ‘n’ roll artist number one,” and he didn’t mean it
as a compliment.

Mingus probably hated rock ‘n’ roll. But his attitude was very rock ‘n’ roll:
not much music written down, but getting the arrangements through brute force
and continual repetition at rehearsal. In many respects, I think he was like an
early rock ‘n’ roller. Although his tonality, obviously, was purely jazz, there
was just an attitude in him, I felt. In the end, the film was about a
tormented, brilliant person, and those people tend to leave a tormented trail
behind them, full of rumor and hearsay that help make the legend, the
myth. 


You cut Working Man’s Cafe in Nashville.

I got fascinated by some of the good old boys down there. I’d like to do a film
about someone like the Louvin Brothers. They were this country duet, precursors
to the Everly Brothers. But there was this whole thing about being brothers.

Speaking of which, I’ve seen you and
Dave play many times, and I’ve never seen you strike each other onstage. Or is
that just part of the myth?

I think it’s more like we’d throw a punch, miss and hit a wall. [laughs] If we’d been from somewhere like
Nashville I
think we’d have blown each other away by now. There was a lot of sibling
rivalry. These things run deep. You can’t analyze it, you can’t say who’s right
and wrong. And you can’t define what makes it go wrong. There’s just an edge
there that rubs up the wrong way.


I know you didn’t like Tony Blair. Is Gordon Brown doing any better?

I think we’ve become the whores of Europe.
Tony Blair was one of these guys who seeks public office to do good work for
the country. But there’s an element in him that did it because it looked good
on his CV. It’s like picking up a bad guitar solo. You’ve got no inspiration
afterwards. You know what I mean? One bad solo leads to another. You think you
can jump in there, change the key a bit and put in some more improvisation, but
it’s still as crappy as the one that came before it. It had a profound effect
on me when Tony Blair became prime minister. I just didn’t buy it. So many of my
peers did, the Britpop thing with Oasis going to Number Ten Downing St. It was
the seduction of a culture, of a generation. And then he took us into this war.
And now, meet the new boss who claims he has nothing to do with the old boss. But
he’s basically the same thing.


What do you think of Barack Obama?

Obama-rama! I dunno, I’d like to see him really tested. I didn’t see any of the
debates, but I’d like to see him pressured by a really good journalist. He
hasn’t had that yet—he hasn’t really been grilled.



SONIC PARTNERS James Toth & Jex Thoth

Visionary husband-and-wife team explore
musical fringes solo and together.

BY JAMIE GADETTE

 

Syncronicity being
what it is, we were still surprised when we heard that both James Toth and Jex
Thoth were issuing new records almost simultaneously. It should be stressed
that neither project is really connected —  Thoth sings on Toth’s album and Toth plays on
Thoth’s; he’s effectively disbanded their Wooden Wand outfit — but both benefit
from the proverbial intangible we like to call “something in the water” that
makes certain artistic endeavors even more special than usual because of their
context.

 

BLURT couldn’t
resist, then, talking to James ‘n’ Jex (separately, per their request, hence two separate stories, below) to get
the scoop.

 

 

****

 

 

VANITY/NEMESIS

 

James Jackson Toth breaks up Wooden Wand and
scrapes the slate.


James Jackson Toth is moving on—and he ain’t looking back. As
co-founders of Wooden Wand, Toth and his wife Jessica (or Jex, as she’s known
these days), explored the darker depths of eccentric psych-folk and earned a
spot in the freak-folk canon before they could scream “pigeonholed.”
Now Toth wants to scrape the slate with Waiting
In Vain
(Ryko), produced by Steve Fisk and recorded at John Vanderslice’s
Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco.
It’s a remarkable solo effort that trades obtuse imaginings for streamlined
psych, back-porch blues, country and jangly pop. “Prolific to a
fault,” Toth emptied stacks of bedroom recordings and fleshed out 12
tracks for a cohesive album that features Nels Cline, Carla Bozulich and other
friends who “thought enough of the project to lend a hand.”

 

With James and the Quiet (2007) you wanted to
create an “un-weird” album and Waiting
In Vain
charts a similar course. Why the intentional shift to
“normal”?

 

I think on the last album it was a more conscious decision.
On this album, while on the surface it might seem un-weird, the production and
mixing is actually quite weird—as far
as being reverential to the Western Beatles tradition.

 

So why the emphasis
on now versus then?

 

People tend to live in the past and want me to keep doing
what I’m doing and make 100 records of psych-folk improv. But all of my
favorite artists follow their muse. I could have made a trance album. We listen
to a lot of black metal and I could have made a black metal record.

     I can’t worry
about what people think and to be quite honest there aren’t many people who
give a shit either way. I know I could make a lot more money playing
eccentric—a lot of artists do. But it’s kind of like playing retarded in a movie.
Anybody can do it, but at what cost?

 

How did you wind up
at Tiny Telephone?

 

John [Vanderslice] and I go back a little way—he’s a
super-gracious, generous individual, and Steve Fisk was the perfect producer.
He understands the lineage of Neil Young but he’s also experimental. He
understands why we want to be in tune, but also why we want to mix for
hallucination.

     I find the studio
quite tedious. A man has to know his limitations. Once I give them the demos,
my work is done. Some people learn from the studio process—I’m more of a
one-take kind of guy.

 

Did any collaborators
help shape your original vision?

 

They helped me whittle it down. I kept an eye on
transcending the indie-rock quotient; to market the record for people who were
fans before but also for people who buy records not just because it’s on a
certain label or some weblog said it was cool.

 

 

*****

 

THE JOY OF JEX

 

Psych-folk-metal siren Jex Thoth snatches
magic from the air.

 

If you listen to Jex Thoth on shuffle, you’ll miss the point.
The dark goddess of underground psychedelic folk and heavy, heavy metal
understands the temptation to mine select tracks off her eponymous I Hate
Records release, but she didn’t bunker down for 12 days in a dank Midwest studio to produce one hit single. Even the climactic
four tracks that comprise “The Equinox Suite” serve only as a Cliffs
Notes to the epic doom record. “It offers just a taste of what we’re going
for,” she says.

 

You prefer listeners
to consider albums as complete works. Is that why you change your name — Wooden
Wand, Jessica Toth, Totem, Jex Thoth — so often?

 

I want to preserve the integrity of each project. It wasn’t
that I planned to adopt pseudonyms—each one just kind of came to me. Jex came
about pretty organically. It’s a nickname I’ve always had and, also, there was
a mysterious black car parked outside of our studio in Madison, Wisconsin
that would sit there all day and disappear each night. On the fourth or fifth
night, we noticed that the license plate said, “Jex.” We took it as a sign.
After recording, we immediately had to pack up and leave, so I called up the
studio and asked if that car had been around and they said they hadn’t seen it
since.

 

Spooky! I imagine
that set a strange tone for the session.

 

The whole experience was kind of dark and dismal. All kinds
of external things impacted us: hailstorms, wind and rain, and snow. It was
definitely more of a team situation than I anticipated—we were in the trenches;
locked in our own world in the back of the studio with a leaky ceiling and a
lot of drafts. We kept buckets around to catch the water. We had lots of local
visitors—metal fans coming in and out trying to sneak in on the recording. We
tried to keep them confined to the break room  

 

How did you approach
the new group dynamic?

 

Everybody understood the tone I wanted to set. I tried to
make it clear that I didn’t want to lock ourselves into any specific genre or
preexisting path. There wasn’t time for second guessing. And as soon as I felt
this magic in the air, I wanted to capture that… There were a lot of twists and
turns I didn’t expect and I’m so happy that they came out.This is my band and I
have final say, but everybody has amazing things to contribute and I would be
an idiot not to embrace this.

 

BLOGGING FOR DADDY

BLOGGIN’ FOR DADDY

 

Meghan McCain—the perky blonde 23 year old political scion
is not without her contradictions. Between her tattoo (oooh! a star hidden on
her foot), impeccable fashion sense, the (mostly) good taste in tunes
(Whiskeytown!), the “R’N’R badboy” fascination, her republican voter
status and apparent rock writer ambitions (oh dear gawd, help her—and us),
McCain piqued our curiosity when first launching her blog, www.McCainBloggette.com.

 

However, as the months have gone by and her seemingly blind
support of her daddy —John “the Duke” McCain—have taken on laughable
proportions and site feels more and more like a paid infomercial for all things
republican, BLURT felt it was time to take the gloves off and comment on some
of her more brilliant blog entries:

 

Thursday, July 3, 2008

POSTED BY MEGHAN

As I blogged earlier this month, the girls and I had an
amazing time exploring Nashville.  It has quickly become one of my
favorite cities – the music, culture and nightlife – everyone should
visit!  We love Nashville and can’t wait to come back!!! 

 

*Tootsies thanks you for the fair warning….swoller!

 

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

POSTED BY MEGHAN

As we made our way back to the U.S. from our amazing trip to
Asia, we stopped in London with Mom to attend a finance event hosted by Dr.
Henry Kissinger… The most surreal moment of the evening was when Dr.
Kissinger called me out on blogging about his shoes (see our entry from
December 20, 2007) and wanted to know how the ones he was wearing
compared. 

 

*We heard they sipped My Lai’s afterwards and had a good
laugh about the whole thing.

 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

“Republican”

As some of you may know, I have been registered as an
Independent since I was 18 years old.  However, after careful thought and
consideration, I recently decided to change my political party affiliation.
 This morning, I went to the State Capitol Executive Building in Phoenix
with Mom and re-registered as a Republican.  I did this as a symbol of my
commitment to my dad and to represent the faith I have in his ability to be an
effective leader for our country and to grow and strengthen the Republican
party when he is elected President of the United States.

 

*100 more years in Iraq! Woo hoo!

 

 

Thursday, June 12, 2008

“My Dad, John McCain”

Today, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing announced
that I have been working on a children’s book about my father’s life. I’d like
to share the press release below. It’s been a very exciting opportunity and I
think everyone will really enjoy the book. Thanks to everyone for your support
and encouragement!

 

*Apparently the suckup powwow between Daddy and the late
Reverend Falwell is beautifully illustrated. Toddlers eat that kind of thing
up!

 

Monday, June 9, 2008

POSTED BY MEGHAN

We spent Friday at Florida’s Everglades National Park with
Governor Crist and discussing climate change.  

*Perhaps Daddy should’ve attended and taken notes, too? 

 

[Pictured above: Caught in the act — McCain registers as a Republican!]

 

 

 

KNOW YOUR PRODUCT(S)! Gear Guide

De-funkifiers! Flip
Videos! Robot guitars! Hair shirts! We got yer gear right here!

BY
AARON BURGESS

 

Flip Video Mino Compact Handheld Camcorder

If
your camera phone’s glitchy, 30-second video of that once-in-a-lifetime Tom
Waits gig didn’t quite capture the magic the way you’d hoped, you don’t need to
resort to a full-sized hand cam the next time you’re committing an event to
video. (Read: You can still sneak this one past security.) No bigger than an
iPhone, the Mino lets you store 2GB worth of
VGA-quality footage, and it’s also got the tools to help you organize and share
the clips when you’re back from the gig. ($179.99; theflip.com)

 

 

Kill It Dead: A Natural
De-funkifier (So People Think You Take Baths)

Outside of baby wipes, Kill It Dead may be the
greatest shower alternative ever presented to touring musicians. All-natural
and vegan (unless you’re opposed to killing bacteria), the fine-mist spray
attacks your funk while leaving you smelling neither perfumey nor like a
hippie. Pick up a crate before your next tour, and you’ll also be benefiting
the
Kirk Rundstrom Cancer Fund, named for the late
Split Lip Rayfield guitarist and connoisseur of funk both musical and physical.
($12.34; ilovechickenpoop.com)

 

 

Flüd 33 1/3 Watch

Flaunt
your love of vinyl with this literal wheel of steel, which also happens to be
available in a leather band, even if that doesn’t make for as good an analogy.
Its record/platter face is designed with subtlety in mind, but the 33 1/3 packs
such vivid detail that you can actually count the grooves on the record. You’ll
probably impress more people if you don’t admit to doing that, though. ($60; fludwatches.com)

 

 

Gibson Robot LP Studio and
Robot SG Special Ltd. in Limited-Edition Metallic Finishes

If
you weren’t among the 4,000 lucky buyers who, over one weekend in 2007, bought
up the entire run of Gibson’s revolutionary self-tuning Robot Guitar, you’ve now
got a limited window to score the next best thing (and with these finishes,
some would say better). Both the Robot LP Studio and the Robot SG Special Ltd. feature
the cord-securing Neutrik jack and the classic styling and performance of their
non-robotic counterparts – but unlike those models, these won’t be around forever.
($3,599 and up; gibson.com)

 

 

Lost in the Supermarket:
The Indie Rock Cookbook

If
you’re reading this, it’s not a stretch to assume that at some point in your
show-going life, you might’ve put up some of the gourmandizing artists featured
in Lost In The Supermarket – from
Fugazi to Animal Collective, Black Dice to Antony And The Johnsons – after a
show. Now, it’s the bands’ turn to repay the debt via this collection of recipes,
recollections and road rules, all of which pack enough flavor and grit to do
Anthony Bourdain proud. ($17.95; softskull.com)

 

 

Mix Tape USB Stick

We’ve uploaded as many love-struck jams to Muxtape
as the next sap, but even still, a mixtape isn’t truly a mixtape without a hand-designed J-card and a cheap plastic
face to make it real. With the Mix Tape USB Stick, you get the hiss-free
fidelity of digital audio with the tactile reality of an old-school cassette mix
– just store your music, video or whatever on the included USB stick, pop it
into the “tape,” and aim for the object of your desire.
(£20; suck.uk.com)

 

 

Wire & Twine Facial
Hair Shirt

Only a
pognologist (we had to look it up, too) would know for sure whether this shirt really
includes every manner of beard under the sun, but from the looks of it, the
Facial Hair tee at least has the full range of indie-rock beards covered.
Forget irony – with this puppy sitting a few inches below your own Sam Beam, you’ll
be positively meta. ($20; wireandtwine.com)

 

 

Guitar Hero: On Tour

The
first truly mobile entry in the Guitar
Hero
series makes a surprisingly smooth transition to a system that really shouldn’t
have been able to accommodate its console-friendly features. But thanks to the
snap-on “fretboard” controller and the awesome detachable pick-stylus (please,
let’s get one of these for the game’s other versions), Guitar Hero: On Tour shreds just as hard as its bigger siblings. ($500; gmpdiecast.com)

PARTY INTERPRETATION Gil Mantera's Party Dream

Scoping out the  Dream’s DVD with Ultimate Donny.

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

The dream is never the same, at least where Gil
Mantera’s Party Dream is concerned. There are no boundaries in their debauched,
proggy, synth-pop world where a boner is as significant as a long-festering
dream to be all you can be—even if that’s just a couple of crazy shithead brothers
who saw the potential of a Roger Troutman-Geddy Lee hybrid and dance in their
underwear (with glowsticks), which sometimes has a unicorn dick sock on the
front. Or straddle—and pretend to ride—each
other during a show. Or pull down the shirt of a hottie in the front row and
suckle those sweet, sweet—screeeeeech!

 

You get the idea. But you
should see for yourself: grab a copy of the Party Dream’s new DVD Live Performances [Volume 01] (PartyDream.com),
where Youngstown, Ohio natives Gil and Ultimate Donny put on two of the
best—and funniest—concerts you’ve ever seen. You may also wanna snatch up a
copy of their album, Bloodsongs (on
Audio Eagle, the label owned by The Black Keys’ Pat Carney).

 

BLURT: Where are you and what were you doing before
you had to entertain these penetrating queries?

 

ULTIMATE DONNY: I’m home watching The Little
Mermaid
. I’m at the point in the movie where Ariel enters the castle as a
human, and she can’t speak because Ursula took her voice. It was part of the
deal.

 

BLURT: Do you believe in unicorns?

 

UD: Yes, wholeheartedly.
Not believing in beautiful, mythical creatures can be dangerous, especially
when they come to kill you.

 

BLURT: You’re brothers—and after witnessing the
debauchery on this DVD, I gotta wonder if your parents were drooling and
catatonic by the time you guys moved out.

 

UD: I think they had mixed
feelings about it. On one hand they were thinking, “peace…
finally,” and on the other they were concerned about no longer having two
creative geniuses in the house to keep them abreast of all the cool underground
shit going on in the community.

 

BLURT: How would you characterize GMPD’s
relationship with police throughout your lives?

 

UD: So far it’s been cool.
We don’t have the Luther Campbell vs. the cops relationship… yet.

 

BLURT: What’s the secret to getting away with
molesting a sweet young thing in the front row?

 

UD: Location. Location.
Location.

 

BLURT: One show is from 2003, the other from 2006.
It really shows how you guys evolved. In the two-ish years since that last
show, how have you grown? I noticed Gil could “fit” a Heineken bottle
in ’03 so I assume he’s graduated to longnecks, tallboys or quarts by now?

 

UD: We took a long break
from live performances in 2007 to regroup mentally and emotionally. We did a
lot of push ups and wrote a bunch of new songs that we feel continue in our
evolution of writing better and more “real” pop songs. We’re
stronger, emotionally stable and willing to shine our own shows this time
around. I’m not positive, but I think Gil gave up that practice.

 

BLURT: Never in a million years could I have
imagined an intersection between prog rock and 1980s synth pop. And try though
I may, I only get as far as understanding that you combine the simple and the
complex, then average it out. I’m missing something, though. What is it? Are
you allowed to say?

 

UD: It probably has
something to do with having three stereos blasting out Midnight Star, Rush and
High on Fire simultaneously.

 

BLURT: What do you guys have that Ghostland
Observatory doesn’t? A couple of Rush albums and…?

 

UD: I’m sure both bands
have plenty that the other doesn’t as well as many commonalities. One thing we
have that no other touring band has is Youngstown.
Pavlik and Mancini 1 y’all!

 

BLURT: The vocoder is a huge—and essential—part of
your sound. Is there an altar to Roger Troutman at your place? Has he ever
appeared to you guys in a dream?

 

UD: Roger Troutman is the
man. I don’t have any physical altars but loads of mental ones — David Lee
Roth, Prince, Robert Pollard, Greg Dulli. Gil lives with Jackson of Grand
Buffet, and they have a lot of weird shit in their place. There are a multitude
of things that could be altars, but I dare not inquire.

 

BLURT: Donny, sometimes you just gotta play guitar…
but sometimes they cut you off. How do you channel that urge in a way that
satisfies yourself and the crowd?

 

UD: It’s impossible. I’m never
satisfied. They’re never satisfied.

 

BLURT: Bloodsongs came out in 2005. How long until you cough up Bloodsongs II: The Tumescence?

 

UD: We just recorded four
songs in Hoboken
and NYC a few weeks ago, three for the new album and an intentional b-side for
a new single that we plan to release on vinyl soon. It’s an intentional b-side
because it’s a new version of an old song, not because it sucks.  We’ll finish recording sometime after this
tour, but we have no idea what’s going on with label shit. We have no idea when
the new record drops. 

 

[Photo Credit: Randy
Harward]