Monthly Archives: August 2008

LOOTING THE BINS WITH… JASON ISBELL

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

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

“I’m gonna make
you walk behind me and carry that thing like Buddy Guy’s brother unwrapping his
guitar cord behind him,” Jason Isbell says with a laugh, gesturing to the
digital recorder-and-lapel-mic contraption I’m fiddling with as we wander into
San Francisco’s Amoeba Music. “You’ll just have to follow in my wake.”

 

If anyone’s
qualified to relate the difficulty of following a tough act, it’s Isbell, the
talented 29-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist from Greenhill, Alabama
who left the Drive-By Truckers in April 2007 to pursue a solo career after
three tremendous albums and five years with the band.

 

Although fans
questioned his decision to part with the wildly popular Athens, Georgia
rockers, Isbell quietly went about his business, forming a new band – the 400
Unit (bassist Jimbo Hart, guitarist Browan Lollar, keysman Derry deBorja and
drummer Mike Dillon) – to tour behind Sirens
of the Ditch
, a fantastic, 11-song studio debut released in July 2007 on
New West Records that quickly topped many critics’ annual album-of-the-year
lists.

 

“The majority of
that record was done over several years and some of the songs dated back to the
time when I joined the Truckers,” Isbell explains. “These guys I’m playing with
now really didn’t play on that one, which is why I’m excited about getting the
next one out.”

 

Just as with Sirens of the Ditch, FAME Studios is
playing host to the recording sessions for Isbell’s forthcoming sophomore
effort, which he hopes to release in early 2009. The legendary, Muscle Shoals, AL studio – where the
likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke journeyed to record
– has seen its share of spectacular sessions since it opened in the early ‘60s.

 

“Here’s another
great, great soul record from down at FAME,” he says, holding up Candi Staton’s
1969 debut I’m Just A Prisoner. “It’s
real good, but then she got married, became Candi Staton Sprewell and started
making religious records. She’s a real Ann Peebles-style soul singer and
probably could have been on Hi Records before she went the religious route, but
this one is an incredible record.”

 

Soul music –
beyond the classic Atlantic tracks cut in his backyard at FAME under the
watchful eye of the dearly departed Jerry Wexler – has been a defining
influence on Isbell since he was a young boy. You can hear it on a song like
“Hurricanes and Hand Grenades” off his most recent release: Isbell’s channeling
of Ray Charles and The Band’s Richard Manuel is almost uncanny.

 

“I’ve always
loved Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes,” Isbell says of the ‘70s Philly soul
outfit. “Their biggest hit was “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” but they had a
lot of great songs. Most people outside Philadelphia
couldn’t name anyone in the band except for Teddy Pendergrass. He was the most
famous one of the bunch. But they were together for like 30 years and made some
really good music.”

 

Certain albums
often serve as cultural barometers and shed insight into the mind of the
listener. Bringing It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited? Lady Soul or Aretha Now? The Bends or Ok Computer? For me, one of the best
indications of someone’s musical taste is to ask which of the five albums Stevie
Wonder released in the ‘70s is their favorite.

 

“Now that’s a
good question,” Isbell replies, rubbing his chin. “It might be Innervisions. That might be my
particular favorite, ‘cause it’s probably the one I’ve listened to the most out
of those. I think it’s got the best songs on it. But you can’t go wrong with
any of them, really. Music of My Mind,
Talking Book…even Secret Life of Plants. They’re all
pretty incredible records. Stevie never gets old for me.”

 

As big an
influence as soul music has played in his life, Isbell is quick to point out
that great songwriting has always been the focus for him as a musician.

 

“I listen to
Nick Drake a lot, ‘cause I like the texture of his music,” he says. “Pink Moon is hard to beat. Bryter Layter is really cool too. It’s
really sad music. He’s a great songwriter and a really good guitar player. His
tone is really unique: it sounds like his guitar strings are way off the neck.”

 

Talk of the
sanctity of song stirs a memory in Isbell, who excuses himself to search for an
album by Iain Matthews of Fairport Convention.

 

“Check this one
out right here,” he says, handing me Matthews’ 1972 country-folk album Journeys from Gospel Oak. “It’s an ok
record with three or four songs that are pretty good. Some of it is just bad,
like the ‘Tribute to Hank Williams.’ But this song “Polly” is one of the most
brilliant songs I know. It’s just gorgeous.”

 

Despite his
penchant for older music (“It’s hard to buy vinyl on the road without it
getting damaged. I’m still waiting on that fiberglass-graphite blend of vinyl
that doesn’t warp in the van.”), Isbell says that’s he does draw inspiration
from a few of his contemporaries.

 

“I listen to a
lot of Ray LaMontagne. I like his two records a whole lot. In fact, I might be
one of the few people out there that thinks his second record was better than
his first,” he says. “Fionn Regan is a cool little Irish fella on Lost Highway. I saw
him for the first time out here in San
Francisco when he opened up for us at Café du Nord.
He’s a real talented songwriter. Kinda weird, but his record is really good.”

 

“I don’t like
Alicia Keys,” Isbell says, spotting the sultry soulstress’ newest release,
2007’s As I Am. “Her new songs sound
so run-of-the-mill to me and her old stuff that was supposed to be so good was
just over-sung. All these melismatic singers who do the vocal acrobatics just
drive me crazy. Joss Stone’s the same way. I like for people to just belt it
out. I dig Amy Winehouse, but she just can’t seem to get to the gigs. It’s not
like you have to be sober when you show up. Trust me: you can play drunk if you
want to. You just have to be there and play…”

 

“And not get
caught smoking crack on video with Pete Doherty,” I offer.

 

“Yeah,” Isbell
says with a crooked grin. “Funny story: I met that guy once. I lit a cigarette
for him and then realized that I was in danger of being photographed hanging
out with Pete Doherty, so I took off. Just split.”

 

 

[Photo Credit:
Andy Tennille]

 

DISHING WITH… The Ettes

With their second CD about to drop
frontwoman Coco Hames takes stock.

BY APRIL S.
ENGRAM

 

The Ettes-guitarist/vocalist
Lindsay “Coco” Hames, bassist Jeremy “Jem”
Cohen, drummer Maria “Poni” Silver-are coming, and bringing their dose of old-school
thunder once again. After serving up high octane, ‘60s-evocative punk rock on
2006 debut Shake the Dust (Sympathy
for the Record Industry), the trio returned to their sonic roots for their sophomore
effort, Look at Life Again Soon, recorded
in London – as was the first album – with British producer Liam Watson (White Stripes, Kills, Billy Childish)
at Toe Rag Studios. The new record was self-released this spring exclusively on
vinyl just in time for a trip to Austin for SXSW
(which by all accounts went smashingly); San
Francisco’s Take Root Records just issued it digitally
and will have it in stores on CD starting September 9.

 

In May the Ettes
went back to the UK and Europe for a tour as the opening act for the Black Keys.
Prior to that, though, Hames, feet still planted in the States, let us into her
world. In this modern age of artificial intelligence and electric cars,
resorting to antiquated technologies like the phone may seem passé. Thus, while
basking in the Florida sun at the group’s temporary home (they’ve since
relocated to Nashville), Hames braved a terrible gash on her finger – disposable
shavers are deadly weapons – and typed a droll yet acute response to our
inquisition on her BlackBerry. We’ll take her thinly veiled threats to burn the
house down and wield her Fender as a truncheon as a cue to watch our ass.

 

***

 

SIMPATICO

 

Live and in
action, the Ettes share glances, smiles, laughs and jokes – it’s apparent they
just get along. “We communicate without speaking,” Coco
elaborates. “It makes it easier that everyone is so great on their own and when
we come together, we’re like… Captain Planet. We already recycle, what’s a
better analogy? A Swiffer?”

 

 

HOW SHE COOK

 

When not holding her guitar, Coco can
be found with a skillet in hand, but that may prove to be a deadlier
combination. Though she indeed loves to cook, “I don’t think I could be a
professional cook; I have a bad temper,” she says. “If someone scolded, ‘Coco!  Table four says the lobsters are still
alive!’ I’d probably burn the place down.”

 

 

CUDDLE VS.
CUDGEL

 

Coco might look cute and cuddly, but after
one show, the trio usually converts their doubters. “We don’t give a fuck if
you’ve got antiquated sexist notions. How fucking boring, you know? If people
have something to say [about it], that’s fine… our instruments double as
weapons!”

 

 

SONGBIRD BACK
HOME

 

Recording with producer Watson “was a dream
come true” for Coco, and now the Ettes are a viable contender in the rock and
roll arms race between the US
and the UK. “Rock
and roll has always gone back and forth across the pond. We had Elvis, they had
the Beatles; we had the Ramones, they had the Sex Pistols. It’s a terribly
lovely volley but I’m afraid it’s back to America now, old chaps. I do beg your
pardon.”

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Matt Wignall; L-R: Poni, Coco,
Jem]

 

DREAM’S ALWAYS THE SAME Ryan Adams

A sneak-peek at Adams’ short story collection, due in 2009.

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

So Ryan Adams is diversifying: he’s gonna issue a collection of prose via Brooklyn-based fringe publisher Akashic Books.
The as-yet-untitled book isn’t due until 2009, but you know BLURT has the hookup. We traded a bunch of
watermarked promo CDs and two dirty
books for the following excerpts from three of Adams’
short stories. Enjoy.

 

***

 

“(B)RYAN”

 

The dream is always the same. I’m onstage, dripping in sweat
and wearin just my tighty-whiteys. Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, Kurt Cobain, Johnny
Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp and John Mellencamp are in the front row, just
staring at me. Their mouths move and, while no sound comes out, I know what
they’re saying.

 

Me and some guys from
school…had a band and we tried real hard… Jimmy quit… Jody got married… Shoulda
known… we’d never get far…

 

Oh, but when I look back now, that dream seemed to last
forever. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t wanna be there. That was the worst dream
of my life.

 

***

 

“NO DEPRESSION IN
THIS ONE-HORSE WHISKEYTOWN”

 

I carried Caitlin for miles before my back finally gave out.
We’d been walking in circles, through tangled kudzu and stinging nettle,
looking for a way back to civilization.

 

Neither of us knows how we got here. Last we recall, we were
on Faithless Street.
She was nagging me about the surgical tubing on my arm and the syringe bobbing
from the crotch of my arm like a drowsy flesh sausage, the plunger leering
blindly at her like an opaque plastic thing. She looked lovely-both of her-as I
drifted off to float over fields of cold roses.

 

Something she said echoed in my head like a bad end-rhyme. Knockin’… rockin’… Dokken… What she
meant, only the opaque plastic thing knows. The significance, I’m sure, is what
I’m missing.

 

Missing. Kissing.

 

It’s nearly dark. I can hear my sanity crumbling on the
chill wind.

 

***

 

“HALLOWEENHEAD (FOR
MICHAEL MYERS)”

 

“Jamie Lee Curtis is definitely a dude,” I told the guy in
the papier-mâché mask. “No mistaking.”

 

He just looked at me.

 

“Don’t you agree? I mean, look at her throat. Supple-maybe too supple. And watch when she
swallows. There’s a ripple in her neck. It’s subtle-you blink, you’ll miss
it-but it’s there.”

 

Still, he eyeballed me.

 

“And, dude. Tell me you haven’t noticed her husky voice.
It’s just-it’s gross, right? I mean, all these years, since I was 12 and I saw
the first movie, I wanted to bone her so bad. Then I got that email. Do you
know how many times I rubbed one out, thinking of her? That’s why you went
after her in the movie, huh? You knew.”

 

More staring. I lost my shit.

 

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man? Why don’t you talk?! Are you some kinda mute or
something?”

 

He must have been, and I must’ve pissed him off, ‘cause he
pulled out a big-ass butcher knife and started moving toward me. I tried to get
away, but tripped over the hukka hose.

 

He moved slowly, but was on top of me cutting before I could
get up.

 

Then he left. I pulled myself up and examined my chest  in the mirror. The crimson traces formed block
letters: “PLAY SUMMER OF ’69, DUDE!”

 

 

STRANGERS IN TIME Whiskeytown

Eleven years ago they
painted their masterpiece, then promptly imploded.

BY FRED MILLS

 

It starts out innocently enough, courtesy a waltz-time slice
of unassuming country-folk called “Inn
Town.” Things pick up a
bit on the next track, “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” a loping
honky-tonker wherein the singer opines (in subtle echoes of his spiritual
godfather Gram Parsons), “This situation just don’t seem so goddamn smart/  This situation is tearing me apart.” Then comes
the album’s first genuine kick in the teeth: the churning powerpop of
“Yesterday’s News,” a buoyant, Westerbergian chronicle of falling down and
falling apart.

 

The album is Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac, an Americana
touchstone and an American classic in
its own right. Just ask anyone who heard it when it first appeared in the
summer of ’97. Or ask one of its architects.

 

“It’s a special record,” says Whiskeytown guitarist Phil
Wandscher, who for three years stood shoulder-to-shoulder (and sometimes fist-to-jaw)
with singer Ryan Adams in carving out an iconic spot for the band. “Shit just
fell into place, where songs weren’t even work. They just happened.”

 

By 1997 Whiskeytown’s star was in full ascent. Adams and
Wandscher had only met three years earlier, in Raleigh, N.C.,
but once the original five-piece came together things kicked swiftly into high
gear. 1995 saw the release of both an EP and a full-length, while a triumphant SXSW
showcase in the spring of ’96 sparked a major label bidding war. Adams’
songwriting genius and the volatile Adams-Wandscher chemistry helped make
Whiskeytown one of the purest, most instinctive rock ‘n’ roll groups since the
Replacements a decade and a half earlier.

 

That ascent was not without incident, however. When several members
quit after a trip to New York, Adams freaked out and disappeared, leaving Wandscher to
track him down and convince him to restart the group. That they did, just in
time to ink a deal with Outpost Recordings and head to Nashville to commence work on Strangers. But according to Wandscher, Adams went out of his way to butt heads with producer Jim
Scott, aggravating the musicians in the process.

 

“It was just not happening, and Ryan would be in there as
usual, fucking off, getting pissy if Jim didn’t like a vocal take, and the next
thing I know we’re spinning our wheels for a couple of hours because Ryan keeps
changing things. I don’t know if it was passive-aggressive or some form of ADD
or what!”

 

Adams also pulled his disappearing stunt a second time,
bolting from the airplane he and Wandscher had just boarded and leaving the
guitarist to make a trip to L.A. (for mixing and overdub sessions) alone. After
he resurfaced the record company put him on a train, but by the time he arrived
in L.A. Wandscher and Scott had already gotten the bulk of the work done by
themselves. “All I knew was that I was in a deal where people had invested a
lot of fucking money in this thing I was doing and I wanted to do it right. [Ryan]
was lost in a sea
of Jack Daniels and mental
weirdness,” says Wandscher.

 

The Strangers sessions yielded gold, however. For one thing, with Wandscher and singer/fiddle
player Caitlin Cary co-writing half the album’s songs, Whiskeytown was closer
to a working democracy than anything control-freak Adams
would have in his subsequent solo career, and the inherent tension fueled the
collective muse. The addition of several key session players, notably John
Ginty on keyboards and Greg Leisz on pedal and lap steel (Alejandro Escovedo
sang on three tracks as well), smartly fleshed out the tunes’ arrangements. And
producer Scott, who’d previously worked on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, somehow managed to reign in Adams’
worst tendencies and coaxed riveting, emotional performances from the vocalist.
On the recently issued 2-CD Strangers
Almanac (Deluxe Edition)
the inclusion of a whopping 26 bonus tracks brings
into further relief the original record’s sonic muscle; a preproduction demo of
“Excuse Me,” for example, cut with Chris Stamey, simply doesn’t hold a candle
to the album version.

 

When Wandscher talks about individual songs, a note of pride
creeps into his voice. “I love ‘Inn
Town,’ just the feel of
that song. ‘Yesterday’s News’ – I loved it when we played those kinds of [high
energy] songs. ‘Everything I Do’ is one of the songs that’s gotten used the
most for licensing and stuff, and it’s funny because we were just fucking
around one day at practice and I came up with the guitar thing, he came up with
a couple of chords, and boom – ‘All right, that’s a song!'”

 

Wandscher also attributes the album’s brilliance to some of
the emotional changes Adams was going through.
“For [Ryan], finally here was this opportunity to have everything he’s dreamed
of, yet it was obviously like a crossroads. He was letting go of a lot of
things that were his past. That’s one reason I really think it’s a special
record, because he had a place he was coming from. He had a home, he had a
life, he had these things he’d worked hard for and had an attachment to. And I
think it shows – that it is personal, that it’s a place he was coming from,
rather than just floating around and living in a hotel and not really having
any attachment to anything.”

 

It all ended badly, of course. Powered by booze and ego, Whiskeytown
had always been a combustible proposition in concert, and on the Strangers tour things steadily
deteriorated. Explains Wandscher, “I’d made this vow that I will stand behind
this guy, I will stick with it as long as I enjoy playing the music. Then it
just got to the point where it was like… he would play my guitar parts during
shows so I didn’t know what to play! It just got weird, man.” Whiskeytown
imploded one memorable night in Kansas City when
Adams had an onstage meltdown, smashed his guitar and fired the band (with the exception
of Cary).

 

Adams would front several
more incarnations of Whiskeytown and record a third album, Pneumonia, although label politics conspired to delay its release
until 2001. By that point the group had already broken up for good and Adams was well into his solo career. Just the same, Whiskeytown
had managed to paint the proverbial masterpiece. That’s a feat few bands can
muster, much less lay claim to.

 

***

 

WHISKEYTOWN SELECTED
DISCOGRAPHY

 

Angels  7″ EP (Mood Food,
1995)

Faithless
Street
(Mood Food, 1995) Reissued as expanded
edition by Outpost, 1998.

Theme For A Trucker 2×7″ EP (Bloodshot, 1997)

Rural Free Delivery (Mood Food, 1997) Early demos.

Strangers Almanac (Outpost, 1997) Reissued as 2CD “Deluxe
Edition” by Geffen, 2008. Bonus tracks: 5 songs live 1997 KCRW-FM; 17 songs from
the Baseball Park Sessions and Barn’s On Fire sessions, produced by
Chris Stamey; “Wither, I’m A Flower,” from Hope
Floats
soundtrack; “Theme For A Trucker,” from The End of Violence soundtrack; plus acoustic demos “Avenues” and
“I Still Miss Someone.” New liner notes by Peter Blackstock.

In Your Wildest Dreams EP (Outpost, 1997) Promo-only.

Pneumonia (Lost Highway, 2001)

 

 

 

 

 

TAKING CHARGE Martha Wainwright

The lady knows what she wants.

BY JAMIE GADETTE

 

If you’re at all
familiar with Martha Wainwright, you know her story: father Loudon Wainwright III
and mother Kate McGarrigle are folk icons; brother Rufus is an artist famous
and eccentric in his own right. Martha, well, she took a bit longer to join the
family business, and released her debut just three years ago.

 

That eponymous
breakthrough was a stunning, raging work-much more an exercise in catharsis
than her well-crafted follow-up, I Know
You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too
(Zoë). While still deeply
passionate and personal (there’s a track inspired by her new husband/producer
Brad Alberta and one for a departed friend), it seems this time around
Wainwright had a better sense of how to shape the record. “I wanted it to
be a little more produced than the last record,” she says, “so I wanted to find
that right person. But at the same time I 
didn’t want to let one sort of older guy, generally, take over and sort
of ejaculate on my record.”

 

Instead of messing
with one unruly ego, Martha hired several producers for the job-a move that
could have easily resulted in a sloppy sophomore slump. Instead, the album is
just loose enough to accommodate the singer’s unique delivery, which navigates
the sweeping space between sweet, fragile breathlessness and grizzled
salt-of-the-earth bravado. At times, it’s hard to believe Martha ever lacked
the confidence to take control.

 

“I always straddled
music in a really serious way, but I think that I was probably a bit insecure
and intimidated to really go for it as an artist,” she says, of her early years
playing New York
coffee shops and backing Rufus on his breakthrough shows. “On the first record,
there was a lot of baggage to overcome, whereas with this one I was just able
to go into the studio as an artist and a singer.”

 

 

 

PENETRATING Q&A Richard Kern

Maverick photographer and filmmaker talks pierced
twats, Thurston Moore and
Extra Action.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

Richard Kern is a legendary East Village NYC filmmaker whose fiercest works (e.g.
Fingered) throughout the 1980s symbolized
what came to be known as the “Cinema of Transgression.” Ultraviolent sex-driven
flicks that included Lydia Lunch and Clint Ruin led Kern to shoot harsh videos
for his pals in Sonic Youth  (“Death Valley ‘69”), King Missile and Marilyn Manson.
But Kern is best known since that time photographing nubile gals in all manner
of sex spreads (literally and figuratively). Now, with Thurston Moore scoring
his newest DVD, Extra Action (MVD),
Kern’s come full circle-only without the blood.

 

***

 

 

BLURT: Extra
Action
is uniquely lit for you; naturalistic, a real switch from your last
works that were more neon and noirish. Why?

 

About 75 % of the photos in Action were from shoots I did for mags like Barely Legal or Legshow in the ‘90s.  So most of the photos are
lit so you can see everything clearly-sex mags require that. 

 

 

 

B: How and why did
you and Thurston Moore get together on Extra
Action
?

Years ago, Thurston told me I could use his music for a movie I never finished
called Strip for Me Now.  I emailed him about Extra Action as soon as Taschen okayed some money for me to pay for
music. He didn’t know what was going to be on the DVD. He just thought it would
be fun. Thurston gave me six or seven MP3 files to work with-about 20 minutes
of music and noise.

 

 

 

B: So what was your
first reaction to what he provided you?

 

My first reaction was “I need some more music” but then I
calmed down and decided to use it to make different themes like they do in Hollywood movies. Like how “Lara’s Theme” in the ‘60s
movie Dr. Zhivago plays every time
they want to remind you that Dr. Zhivago is in love with Lara. Thurston told me
later he would have gladly given me more music, but he liked the way it
repeated and the way we laid different tracks over each other. I used to do this
with my old movies, too. 

 

 

 

B: Do you still have
the same verve for this as when you started? I mean, so much of this-as iconic
as you are-must seem rote: another dildo, another pierced twat? What do you do
to make it feel different?


If I get a good model and a good location, I get excited about the shoot.
Or if I have an idea I’m working towards. I just finished a book that will be
out in June, Looker, that is all
photos of me following girls around and spying on them until I get to see some
part of their body. It was fun thinking up new situations for the models to be
in. Besides, I haven’t shot a dildo or pierced girl in years.

 

ROCKER OF AGES Rainn Wilson

Funnymen Wilson and
Teddy Geiger make merry with mockumentary.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Maybe the two people you least think of when it comes to starring
in sweaty sloppy rock comedies are Rainn Wilson and Teddy Geiger.

 

Wilson
is gracefully unhinged for his most familiar roles in The Office, Six Feet Under and his cameo in  Juno . Geiger of Love Monkey and New Partridge Family  fame has Warren Beatty’s hair from Shampoo and seems gently becalmed even
though he’s a prince of teasing power pop.

 

Yet, for The Rocker Geiger is appropriately cute and Wilson
is mullet-ready and mightily manic in his role as Robert “Fish”
Fishman, the occasionally bare-assed drummer of the Van-Aero-Bon-Triumph-like ‘80s
rock act, Vesuvius, who, on the occasion of signing their major label record
deal, dump Fish. While Vesuvius becomes a Beatles-of-hair-metal throughout the
next two decades, Wilson-Fish puts the dream on ice until his nephew Matt (Josh
Gadd) finds himself in need of a drummer for their high school band A.D.D. to
play at the school prom. Fish gets the gig and laughs ensue as the
man-post-mullet gets that second chance at rawk’s elusive holy grail.

 

“Indeed I do believe in second chances,” says Wilson after strolling
into a Philadelphia NPR broadcast studio to chat about his Rocker.  No sooner in the
room, Wilson
jokingly calls one reporter a “corporate stool… no, stooge” and eyes me weirdly
after having dealt with my BLURT photographer (“I know about you, A.D.”). Wilson kids around with
our crew, but not obnoxiously so.

 

“It’s only now that I’m in my early forties that I’ve
achieved a sort of celebrity,” notes Wilson who studied acting and struggled as
a young actor since his twenties. He got the strength to carry on and out from
his folks, who he calls failed-but-committed artists. “They were strong,
though. I committed to this acting thing whole hog so I was like a pit bull. I
didn’t want to wind up wishing I had the career I hoped for, living in regret,
so I thought fuck it.” He kept his overhead low and “lived in shit holes” until
the jobs got better, and “Arthur” on HBO’s Six
Feet Under
gave way to “Dwight” on The
Office
.

 

“My manger told me my life would change after “Arthur” and
it did,” says Wilson.

 

Before his 2003 role in Six
Feet Under
and 2005’s The Office,
Wilson did a little rock flick, 2000s Almost
Famous
, that in his speedy words “cost $70 mil, ours $14; theirs took five
months to shoot, ours was a six week long run ‘n’ gun-low budget comedy of 15
hour days and break on through to the other side,” he says in one rush. Wilson also did Rob
Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses in
2003, that hirsute rocker’s directorial debut. “That was my first lead role in
a film,” says Wilson who can’t say enough about Zombie. “He’s a singular filmmaker,
smart and with a great eye. We still talk. He even came by The Office‘s set. He’s a big fan of the show.”

 

Fans of The Office – including Rocker director Peter (The Full Monty) Cattaneo – are most
responsible for Wilson’s
rocking out here. He jokes along the lines of popular wisdom that all comedies
in Hollywood start the process by being offered
to Jack Black and Will Ferrell, and that when they pass a collective big Hollywood sigh can be heard. “I love when people ask why
this is my first real starring role – as if there was this wealth of projects –
the suburban romance, the action comedy. I think I’ll take The Rocker. I don’t mean to mock. It’s a funny misconception. I’m
lucky to have gotten it.” Wilson
fought for The Rocker and only got
the studio’s blessing after its director and producers showed them that
Thursday night’s Office episode where
co-star Steve Carell and Wilson were on a roof throwing watermelons and rocking
out with air guitars.

“The episode where I’m screaming ‘burn a hole in the sun’ – those 17 seconds sealed
it.”

 

Next thing you know he’s doing rock ‘n’ roll humor with
heart to it – warm with real characters and cute smart good people that’s a
curious throwback to a John Hughes movie (“wholesome despite the fact that’s
about heavy metal”) with his ass out for long stretches (“feast your eyes; I’m
all about giving people what they want, and if they want my long creamy torso,
so be it”) while drumming.

 

And what has he learned about rock? About drummers? Like why
is the failing drummer, dumb drummer such a cliché?

“Because drummers are idiots,” says Wilson. “You can quote me on that. I have a
newfound respect for all those other musicians that have to deal with drummers.
What do you call a guy who hangs out with a group of musicians? A drummer. It
takes a particular mindset to want to sit behind a bunch of guys and bang
really loud. There’s got to be something primal about that.”

 

Along with getting a chance to bang loud while in his
underwear for a majority of The Rocker.

 

Wilson
says the biggest benefits have come from being allowed to dress up like the
Pinball Wizard and interview The Who for its recent VH-1 Honors program and
hanging out with some of the bands (Flaming Lips, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters) who
joined together for Daltrey, Townshend & Co.

 

“The Who was so special to me growing up. I could feel blood
rushing to my ears doing it. Those songs were the soundtrack of my adolescence,
and sitting with the man who was responsible for that was strange – but such a
great perk. Meeting Julia Roberts and George Clooney – yawn! Besides it was fun
to fake-play concerts and get that fake rock ‘n’ roll rush.”

 

 

***

 

 

Days later, Teddy Geiger was playing a real concert with some
real rush to it as a group of girls could be found screaming outside Philadelphia’s World Café
Live while he was sound-checking. After releasing Underage Thinking in 2006, Geiger found himself working on a new
record with producer/Philly boy Billy Mann in 2008 when he got the call for The Rocker

 

“‘Yeah, sure,’ I said,” intones Geiger, in his deep
soon-to-be-20-year-old voice. “I had some free time. [laughs] It’s not something I didn’t want to do – it can only help.
I definitely had something like that in mind. Besides, I really did want to try
some acting and seeing what could happen.”

 

After almost being the next Keith Partridge for VH-1 and
playing a guitarist on the Jason Priestly series, Love Monkey, Geiger wanted something different from his big screen
debut. “Rainn was hilarious; very talented,” says Geiger of The Rocker star. “I learned a lot
watching him – even just being around him. I’d read this stuff that he’d have
to do in any given shot it was so different than what I imagined would go on in
the scene. It helped me realize how much creative space there is in acting.
Rainn definitely uses all of that space.”

 

As for Geiger, he’d like to do more films – less comic, more
romantic ones, maybe without music attached – but right now wants to polish off
this new record of his. “I’ve been listening to a lot of The Band as well as some
M.I.A. and Madlib records – things that helps me hear music in different way.”

 

 

 

 

FOOTLOOSE REIMAGINED Doveman

Kenny Loggins-powered
soundtrack to Kevin Bacon teen flick finds life anew.

BY CHRISTIAN KIEFER

 

In some ways, death is the same for us all.  It equalizes us as human beings, sending us
to our knees in anguish and despair and despite the constancy of death around
us we are so often bereft of the ability to understand it. 

 

One assumes that it was much the same for Gabriel Greenberg
when, as a young child, his teenage sister died tragically.  There must have been years of confusion at
her absence and as he grew up, illustrating some album covers for his friend
Thomas Bartlett and entering graduate school, he continued to hold the small
cup of loss that had entered him the moment that his sister had departed.

 

Then he discovered one of his sister’s old cassette tapes:
the soundtrack to the 1984 film Footloose.  It was like a key that opened his sister’s
world to him.  As Greenberg himself
writes: “I couldn’t stop listening: it was a portrait of ‘80s love, desire,
pain, freedom, and frenzy; of being a teenager in a time of change.”

 

Greenberg asked his friend Thomas Bartlett-aka Doveman-to
rerecord the entire album.  Perhaps it
was a way to re-envision his sister’s life, to bring it somehow into his own
life, to bring her back to him in some way that was useful or significant.

 

Bartlett did re-record the album-all of it-and it is
something to behold, particularly when one considers the source material
(Greenberg, incidentally, is credited as “producer” on Bartlett’s new version).
1984 was a year that the pop charts were dominated by names like Culture Club,
Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, and Duran Duran. 
Footloose represented the big
money studio dreck that had come to dominate the culture machines of the entire
decade.  The fertile mid-1980s
underground was burbling somewhere deep under the surface but if one tuned in
the radio one only heard Kenny Loggins’ irritating yelp about, of all things,
the need to dance.  The Replacements’ Let It Be, the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime, and Hüsker
Dü’s Zen Arcade all appeared in 1984
as well, but what role could they play in Reagan’s America except as
reactionary material to exactly the kind of mainstream fodder that Footloose represented.   What other position was possible for art?

 

Having made that point, it must also be acknowledged-nay
admitted!-that despite this writer’s obvious snake hatred of the mainstream
culture he grew up in, it’s undeniable that those songs do have a tidal pull on
his soul.  It’s likely this way for many
of us: Good or bad, the mainstream music of our teen years forms the backdrop
to much of our lives regardless of our desire to have it be otherwise.  So many high school dances with blaring top
40 music we despised, knowing all the while that our claims that we abstained
from dancing (or from attending at all) because the music was so awful was
merely a feeble excuse for a serious lack of teenage courage.

 

What Doveman does with this material is something akin to a
reinterpretation via outsider art (even though Bartlett himself is an in-demand
session keyboardist; far from being an outsider to the music scene).  His voice is a high, warbly creature just on
the verge of being out of key but never actually dropping, much like Mark Linkous’
breathy quietude on his Sparklehorse albums. 
With Doveman, Bartlett’s breathing is nearly as loud as the singing
itself and the end result is a breathy, lo-fi tenderness that might drive the
listener to want to put on the pumping dance music of the original just to get
the blood flowing again.

 

The listener might want to do that, but he or she likely
won’t because Bartlett, somehow, manages to pull it off.  With Loggins’ title track he takes the lyrics
and dispenses entirely with the music, reimagining the song as a sad piano ballad,
a form that works amazingly well and accomplishes much of what Mark Kozelek
does with his reimagining of AC/DC classics as slow folk ballads.   In fact, the tempo throughout the album is
slow, but there are enough instances of drums and rhythm and occasional blasts
of noise to keep things interesting. Case in point: “The Girl Gets Around,”
originally recorded by Sammy Hagar for the soundtrack, which Bartlett has
turned into a Chris Whitley-style dirge grind.

 

The best covers (if that’s what these are) accomplish what
Doveman seems to do with ease: revealing the hidden beauty of the source
material, uncovering something new about a song or a melody or a lyric,
bringing something new to the listener’s ears. 
If that can be accomplished with source material that the listener has
heard hundreds of times, that’s quite an accomplishment, and especially so if
the listener actively dislikes the original (which I imagine to be the case for
many, many contemporary listeners of Footloose).  The breathy tenderness might not be every
listener’s cup of tea; consider yourself warned.

 

The best part of the story is that the album is not for
sale.  Doveman and his label Brassland Music
(www.brassland.org) had been offering
it as a free download until quite recently when they received a cease and
desist order and had no choice but to remove it, proof that the major labels
still behave much as they did back in 1984 (Sony
Is Watching You!).

 

However, you can still hear the whole thing as a stream at Doveman’s official website. Do so before it’s gone.

 

CLASS ACT Shannon McArdle

Saying goodbye to her
marriage and the Mendoza
Line, the songstress comes alive.

BY LAVINIA JONES WRIGHT

 

 

For her solo debut, former Mendoza Line chanteuse Shannon
McArdle had only one objective: to avoid being labeled Alt-country. And if fans
and critics can listen to Summer of the
Whore
without expecting it to resemble Mendoza line, then they will definitely find
that it doesn’t and McArdle will have succeeded. With a miscellany of styles
being explored throughout – “Poison My Cup” toys at ‘60s girl group riffs and
drums, “That Night in June” slides into a haunting and groggy waltz meter, and
the steely guitar hits and fizzy organ riffs on “Leave Me For Dead” hark to
“70s movie soundtracks – Summer is an
affecting and complex album by a woman who found herself suddenly unaccompanied
in life and in music after divorcing bandmate Timothy Bracy. Between classes –
McArdle is a teacher in New York
BLURT spoke to the affable singer
about her unexpected solo turn.

 

 

BLURT: Why did you
call the record Summer of the Whore?

 

I wrote the song “Summer of Whore” about the summer of 2007,
which was just awful for me. It’s just about the feelings of desperation and
the worthlessness you feel when you’re desperate for any type of company. Not to
say I was a whore in the summer of 2007, that’s a character of course, but it’s
about going through extreme sadness and desperation and confusion, and anger
and then realizing that I’m not married anymore. I had all these questions
about how my life is going to be as far as men are concerned.

 

 

BLURT: You weren’t
really a trained musician when you joined Mendoza
Line. Is becoming a solo artist something you ever expected?

 

No and I still don’t. I still know my ten chords on the
guitar. I play the guitar to write songs and I play on the record, and I’m
going to play guitar live, but I’m the world’s worst guitar player because I
don’t have any interest in getting better at it! Writing came very easy to me
because no one discouraged me, I didn’t realize that you were supposed to know
how to play guitar. It certainly was not what I expected to do.

 

 

BLURT: What were the feelings between the band members
about disbanding the Mendoza
Line?

 

There was never really a disbanding, there was never really
any talk about it. It was just obvious that the band couldn’t go on because Tim
and I weren’t together anymore. It was something we had both worked on together
and developed together, so we decided that neither of us would use the name
anymore. I think everyone else was just so uncomfortable about what had
happened between Tim and me that I don’t think they thought so much about it.

 

 

BLURT: Do you feel like maybe it was a good thing for you
because you got to make a solo record?

 

For years I had been thinking about doing a solo record and
there never seemed to be time because if there was time for writing songs or
touring or recording, it had to be dedicated to the band. Doing a solo record
was a wonderful experience, and it’s been almost a year and half, so I’m beginning
to think that the marriage breaking up is somehow a good thing. It’ll become
clear to me why in the future.

 

 

BLURT: There are a lot of different styles being mixed
together on the record, but it seems that all the songs are coming from the
same place emotionally. It’s kind of like this string that ties all the songs
together.

 

Yeah, I decided pretty early on that I wanted a narrative,
starting out with these extremely raw, angry, pathetic feelings and trying to
end on some sort of either hope or a strong note with the second to last song
“Come Out and Breathe,” which sort of contemplates finding love again.

 

 

BLURT: Did writing
the songs help you deal with the things you were feeling at the time?

 

I’m sure writing them helped, and the thing that helped most
was finishing a project. Just having it done, I feel a tremendous feeling of
relief and pride.

 

 

DEED AFTER DEED RZA as Bobby Digital

RZA works out his
demons via Bobby Digital.

By RANDY HARWARD

 

“Peace,” is his greeting. Guy says he’s cool, “just chillin’
and shit.” The image that forms isn’t of a hip-hop star soakin’ up chlorine and
Hennessey in his pool; it’s of a superhero in his fortress of solitude, maybe a
castle of crystalline ice, like Superman’s crib. That’s ‘cause this is the RZA,
de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, among other things-some mysterious, like
his purported ties to organized crime; others are verifiable, like his
alter-ego Bobby Digital, which is the reason he’s on the line.

 

Why, exactly, a guy like RZA needs to create an alter-ego is
virtually beyond comprehension. He’s a kung fu master and philosopher, he’s at
the top of the hip-hop game, and perhaps soon, with his roles in Derailed and American Gangster, as well as his scores for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, he’ll rule Hollywood.
He uses his power, his celebrity, for good: within Wu-Tang, he strives to sow a
philosophy of peace and good times. So he’s at least a pop culture icon, if not
already a superhero. But the RZA is the reality of him-it’s who he is. Bobby
Digital, in a way, is the dark side: who RZA was, and may still be, as he
endeavors to walk a shinier path.

 

“I had a crazy imagination [as a child],” he says, his
effusiveness bubbling up through his hip-hop cool. “I would walk to school, and
by the time I got there, I done started a movie in my head. Then I would go to
school, do everything I gotta do, and then walk home and finish it. It would be
all kinds of movies, from horrors to martial art movies. I definitely had a
wild imagination.”

 

That’s no surprise, given the back story and general
aesthetic behind Wu-Tang, which is as serious and spiritual as kung fu and as fun
as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. But does the kid in RZA feel superhuman? Or
at least like a cartoon character?

 

“I think no,” he says. “To be honest, sometimes I feel like
one of the mutants [from the X-men], man. That’s what I feel like and shit. You
know what I mean? Bein’ a part of the Wu-Tang is definitely a blessin’ too,
gettin’ to show our skills and our talent and shit. But also, it’s not a
overnight thing. It’s years of sharpenin’ our lyrical and our musical swords…
to get to that level. But it was also somethin’ that was inherent in me. When I
first heard hip-hop, I must’ve been seven years old. But if you ask my older
brother, he says since the age of three, I was readin’… Dr. Seuss in rhyme and
rhythm.”

 

The RZA, an acronym for Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah, represents
“the quest of life… If you take everything I’ve done and will do and put it all
together, that’s that Zig-Zag-Zig, right there.” Bobby Digital is a different
characteristic, “a growth to RZA. Bobby Digital is somebody who actually fell
down from grace and needs to rise up, back to the RZA.” The character debuted a
decade ago on the In Stereo album
(Gee Street/V2/BMG) and appeared again with 2001’s Digital Bullet (Columbia). The saga continues now on the newly
minted Digi Snacks (Koch), which
features guest spots by John Frusciante, Shavo Odadjian, Dexter Wiggles and
backing band Stone Mecca, and is due next month.

 

RZA likens Bobby Digital’s arc to the story of the Silver
Surfer, particularly when he was exiled to Earth by planet-gobbler Galactus. “Because
he tried to help the Earthlings, he had to win back the ability to travel the
universe with his cosmic power. He was contained,
and he had to keep doin’ deed after deed to win back his freedom. That’s how I
peg Bobby as: he’s trapped in limbo, but he’s allowed to travel… and get enough
merits to escape limbo and rise up to the higher plains of life.”

 

Digi Snacks finds
RZA fleshing out the Bobby Digital character’s identity and story (in the songs
and the apt added-value: a comic), which parallel RZA’s own. “This is the snack
pack, showin’ you some sides of him,” he says. “It includes songs that’s
life-related; it includes songs that are totally like science fiction.” The
line between the two is hard to differentiate, and RZA alludes to his own
promiscuity and bad deeds-ostensibly, when he shot that dude in 1993. It’s
nothing if not perfect superhero lore.

 

“[Bobby Digital]’s still strugglin’ with his sex-tryin’ not
to be so promiscuous,” he chuckles. “His growth is basically at that point
right before I started Wu-Tang Clan. Right before I started Wu-Tang Clan, I was
at that point where… I had demons inside myself. And it took a tragedy for me
to snap out of it.”