Monthly Archives: November 2008


Of self-mythology and
cold winter nights: Phil Elverum’s season of shadows and light.




Much has been made as of late about the ability of musicians
to get their sounds directly to the fans by way of digital downloads and home
recording.  It seems there is little use
for self-restraint anymore as music can be produced so inexpensively and
distributed for very little outlay of cash that the musician can release, well,
everything.  With some musicians, every
note, dog fart, or improvised jam session seems to see the light of day.  This has not only been a facet of digital
distribution either; there is something of a cultural bug to
release-release-release, with our current interest in “deluxe and expanded
editions” wherein we are privy to all the stuff that wasn’t deemed good enough
for the original release.  For the most
part we’re learning that such material was left off for good reason.


Phil Elverum may have been one of the architects of this
general trend.  Take his breaththrough
release, The Microphones’ Mt. Eerie.  Not content to simply release the album to
stand on its own merit alone, Elverum also released two companion E.P.s: The Drums from Mt. Eerie and The Singing from Mt. Eerie.  They are more or less that: the vocal and
drum tracks from the Mt. Eerie album
and while surprisingly interesting in some regards, one can’t help but wonder
if they are really necessary.


Before I go much further, I should be blunt in stating that
Phil Elverum is a kind of genius.  Even
when simply passable, Elverum’s work contains moments of breathtaking beauty
and heartbreak.  So it is with his most
recent releases, two albums and a related 130 page “Winter Journal.”  The title of that early Microphones record has
been adopted as his most frequently used stage moniker these days and, as such,
it graces two of his three most recent releases: Lost Wisdom and Dawn,
both of which have been released as “Mt.
Eerie.”  Just to confuse matters further, there is
also a book version of Dawn under
Elverum’s given name. 


Perhaps the starting point to make sense of these various
releases is this “winter journal,” the 130 page volume Dawn (Buenaventura Press). It presents Elverum’s journal during a
winter spent in a remote cabin in Norway in 2002/2003.  Here we get the day-to-day minutiae of
Elverum’s life in the sunless and bleak winter darkness: the struggle to
collect wood and water, the crushing boredom, the weirdness of isolation, and
the shock of occasional return trips into town for supplies.


“Hello.  I am a
self-mythologizer.  That’s just how it
is.”  So Elverum begins, but despite that
claim, there’s little real self-mythologizing in the volume’s 130 pages.  The journal tries to be self-mythologizing
from time to time, but mostly it wanders through a kind of muddled thinking
that circles back on itself with a regularity that makes it something of a
difficult read past the few fifty pages or so. 
Couple that with the volume’s small size and microscopic font and the
reader is in for a struggle.  But perhaps
the more important issue is that Elverum’s journal reads like the complaining
of a teenager bitching incessantly about virtually everything and searching for
some kind of “authentic experience,” all the while doing little to
nothing.  Its myopic focus is at times
fascinating, but in the end it’s just too much. 


In large part, the problem with Dawn as a book is that it lacks any kind of explanation for the
various points raised.  We learn that
Elverum has broken up with a longtime girlfriend who is now, apparently, in a
relationship with Elverum’s friend, but we learn little about the relationship,
about the friend, about the girl herself. 
It was in some ways self-destructive, but beyond that we’re left to our
imagination.  What is not left to our
imagination is the constant wood chopping and water collection that were the
primary activities of Elverum’s day-to-day life.  Elverum does an excellent job here of
presenting what the physical aspects of his life were like, but one wonders why
the winter might be interesting to an outsider as it does not even seem
particularly interesting to Elverum himself. 


Nonetheless, there are some statements that claim a kind of
“enlightenment” as with a February entry:



am probably changing a lot here.  At
least from where I sit now everything in the whole world seems totally
different than it ever has.  Everything
is different.  You name it, I feel
different about it.  So it’s proven true
that we keep changing and finding things out and forgetting them, and it won’t



Elverum’s claim here is natural enough and it is the kind of
claim we strongly desire when reading this book, but it is also
unsubstantiated.  There is nothing in the
text to suggest that there has been any change whatever and self-mythologized
or not, the Elverum that starts this journal and the Elverum that ends it are
exactly the same-at least on the page.


What helps some is the inclusion of the Mt. Eerie CD Dawn
Tucked into the back cover of the book and also pressed separately as a
vinyl release, Dawn (P.W. Elverum
& Sun) presents recently recorded versions of all the songs Elverum wrote
during his winter in Norway.  (Interestingly there is little to no mention
of songwriting in the journal itself.) 
The renditions here are sparse and as chilling as the landscape Elverum
inhabited and taken with the text they actually seem to make more sense of the
journal than the journal is able to do on its own.  The Dawn songs as we have them here are stripped down, mostly consisting of
Elverum’s gently strummed guitar and vocal. 
There is an immediacy here as Elverum sings: “Hope unhand me, I finally
yell.  Let me dwell on bad news.  Let me wallow in it.” Given that we’ve read
pages and pages of Elverum being wrapped up in his own thoughts while endless
collecting wood and water, the words ring true.


The songs also make one wonder why the journals don’t
include the lyrics and notebooks for the truly creative work Elverum was doing
at the time.  For whatever reason we are
not made privy that that material and instead are given a list of the pop
culture references Elverum makes during the journal as an addendum, including a
list of books Elverum read but did not reference.  Is knowing that Elverum read Walt Whitman and
Carson McCullers useful in understand the journal?  Not at all. 
Why then it is made available to us? 
Perhaps to prove that Elverum read “good stuff” while he was at the
cabin, the claim himself as a kind of intellectual adventurer?  That’s the best guess I can make given the
material at hand.


What continues to be interesting, though, is the fact that
Elverum, at least by way of his output, has chosen to center on this particular
winter.  He released eleven of these same
songs in an earlier incarnation titled 11
Old Songs
.  Now we have Dawn (the music, as both CD and vinyl)
and Dawn (the book).  Furthermore, two of the songs also appear on Lost Wisdom, Mt. Eerie’s
recent collaboration with Eric’s Trip’s Julie Doiron and guitarist Fred
Squire.  Clearly Elverum himself feels
that there is some sense of importance or significance during that winter of
2002/2003 as he continues to release and comb through material developed from
that period.  Surely it’s important to
him in some way, although again, as outside listeners, the actual significance
is blurry at best.


What puts this issue into even starker relief is Lost Wisdom (Southern Records), by far
the most successful of this trio of releases. 
Not only are the songs themselves stronger, but Elverum’s selection of
the two best songs from the Dawn period to be resurrected here at show that there is some sense of critical
acumen at work. The arrangements here are nearly as sparse as those from Dawn, but the interplay of twin
vocalists Doiron and Elverum, along with Squire’s occasional guitar textures
all coalesce to create an album that is breathtaking in its beauty.  Indeed some of the tracks, in particular the
gorgeous “Voice in Headphones”-indeed a holdover from the Dawn material-will leave all but the most heartless listener in





It’s tempting to close with some blanket statement about
Elverum’s work, to perhaps ask him to truncate his output a bit so that fans
need not hunt through the coal mine to find the diamond.  It’s tempting to do so, but I will
refrain.  The truth is that Elverum’s
material-as “completist” as it tends to be-is consistent in its beauty and
grace and even when he fails he does so pushing his envelope.  Do you need
all of it?  Likely not.  Fans will reach for Dawn, perhaps the book and the vinyl.  For everyone else, there’s Lost Wisdom, one of those diamonds in
Elverum’s catalog and, at least to this listener, truly one of the most
beautiful albums of the year.


ARTISTS & GODS Michael Gira

The Swans/Angels Of
Light frontman makes his record label thrive even in an unsteady business






As the Big Bad Major Label System falls down dead with an ax
in its back, it seems like the last man standing will be the long-struggling indies.  With more room to maneuver and more space to
be creative with marketing and deal-structuring, it’s the artist-run labels
that seem to have the brightest futures, and none has as exciting and
experimental roster as New York’s
Young God Records, launched in 1990 by Swans/Angels Of Light frontman Michael



Young God works with Akron/Family, Devendra Banhart, Windsor
for the Derby, Larkin Grimm and Mi and L’au to name a few, and demonstrating a deep
understanding of how to create solid careers for its artists rather than riding
the dead horse of a hit single, YGR has held its ground while the industry
retreats.  Blurt spoke to Gira about
maintaining a solid label in a shifting climate.






BLURT: Do you think that being a musician yourself
puts you in a better position to want to make artist-friendly deals and
decisions with Young God?


yes, of course. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through the tribulations I
went through for years dealing with labels. I try to enforce a realistic
approach to the amount we spend, based on pessimistic expectations, but often I
throw that out the window, since I get so intimately involved in the creative
aspect of the making of the recordings and forget that I’m supposed to be the
one who knows when to say “no”. The music we release comes out
sounding great I think, and in the end it’s all voodoo, whether it eventually
sells enough to make money or not.



BLURT: How did you decide to release other bands through
Young God?  How did that decision change the way you were operating the


was on its last tour in 1997 and Windsor For The Derby was doing some shows
with us. I enjoyed their music immensely, so since the label was starting to
stabilize I offered to put out a record by them.  I had to hire a publicist and radio promoter and things like that. Gradually the label
has built an identity well beyond my own music, and I spend most of my time
working on other people’s music now.



BLURT: Does running the label take away from your time to record your
own music?

yes! I spend probably 75% of my time on the label, but that’s ok. I’ve released
so many of my own records over the years that at this point I don’t mind taking
a back seat.



BLURT: What are the challenges and benefits unique to
having so many different bands on your label? 


basically juggling one emergency after another around here. And dealing with
people’s expectations is sometimes not fun (though most of the time things run
smoothly). I love the artists I release – personally and musically –  and
having the opportunity to be involved in their music is a privilege.



BLURT: Do you sometimes create non-traditional tour packages out of
your acts?


the time of Devendra’s first YGR releases, I realized the best way to initially
expose him to an audience was to take him on tour with Angels of Light. He
opened the show, but then he was also a guitarist in Angels for the next set.
This worked very well – though crushingly exhausting for him. He immediately
won over what audience I had, and soon eclipsed that by a huge margin. I also
did the same thing with Akron/Family. They opened the shows for a few tours as
themselves, then for the next set became “Angels of Light.” They pulled
it off with excellence. They now have surpassed Angels of Light in terms of
audience and are on their way.


be doing some shows with Larkin Grimm sometime early next year, with the same
idea in mind.



BLURT: What do you look for in a new band to sign?


they of course have to be unique musically in some way, and I have to sense a
personal integrity and commitment in them too. The words to their songs have to
be of high caliber. And they absolutely have to have a unique voice (if there’s
singing involved). They have to be ambitious and willing to work incredibly
hard, and understand that building an audience and a career takes time and
sustained effort.



BLURT: What do you have planned for 2009?


other big priority this year is Larkin Grimm, of course. Her album Parplar just came out late October.  Her voice is the key; a deep, full powerful
woman’s voice at times, and other times it’s this kind of helium Minnie Mouse
thing that sounds like the tape was sped up, then also vary-speeded. We worked
a long time on her album, and the orchestrations are sort of like
“films” that evoke the weird worlds she’s describing.


year I’ll have the personal honor of starting to release the music of James
Blackshaw. He’s an amazing finger-picker of the 12-string guitar. He adds a few
orchestrations here and there, but I’ve seen him live and I can attest that his
guitar sounds like an orchestra (no effects, mind you) by itself.


Germano is finishing up her next YGR release at the moment too. I’ve heard it
and it’s beautiful. As with James, I was a fan of Lisa’s for years, and I feel
lucky to be able to release her music. Her voice kills me. It’s always right
there, up close against your ear, and her songs and her musicianship are just



BLURT: Do you have a release of your own music coming soon?


of any great ambition planned – still writing songs, accumulating material for
an album. I am doing a limited edition DVD through the YGR website soon – two
complete live solo shows, plus some stuff that we recorded here around the
house. There’s a few new songs on it performed by me here in my office, songs
that don’t appear (yet) anywhere else. Packaging will be hand made by me. I’m
also working on another stripped down – just me and guitar – release to be out
through the website only soon.



BLURT: How do you feel about digital downloading and single
track downloading?

I have no objections to it
if people are honest enough to pay for it, which unfortunately is not always
the case.









of dynamic duo Tegan & Sara, the Canadian popster has more than just a good
home-cooked meal on her mind these days.





Speaking to Blurt just one day before the November 4
Presidential Election, Tegan Quinn (pictured above, on the right) is hyped up,
a little scared and really talkative. 
Having recently completed a very successful cross-country Tegan &
Sara tour (with her twin sister Sara of course), she’s quick to praise the
bigger crowds and overwhelming response to the duo’s fifth album, 2007’s The Con, but deep down she really just
wants to rap about gay marriage, boobs and her grandma.         





Blurt: In terms of
what’s facing the next president, what are you most concerned about?


Tegan: As a Canadian, there are certain things that we take
for granted because it’s just always been there. Things like health care, and
we don’t really get involved in war. The idea that you guys are spending twelve
billion dollars a month in Iraq
and 45 million Americans don’t have health care is ridiculous. It’s an outrage.
It stresses me out at night before I go to sleep. I should be thinking about
sex, or making more money, or selling records, or meeting Bruce Springsteen,
but instead I’m thinking about how one of the wealthiest nations in the world
doesn’t care for its people. And as a person that now lives part time in California, it concerns
me that people are voting yes for Prop 8. I’ve been working a ton with the
people from Prop 8 to hopefully keep gay marriage and equality for people who
are homosexual [this Proposition did pass and is being protested heavily]. I
just don’t think that there should be a double standard. It’s been proven that
there’s a gay gene. I don’t think that it’s fair that anyone be excluded.



Blurt: Why are people
so concerned about who marries who, especially during a time like this? Why is
this an issue right now?


Tegan: I think a lot of people are just afraid. They’re
living in fear about a lot of things, be it the terrorists that the George Bush
administration made us afraid of, or God – we all live in fear of not being
welcomed into heaven. So I think ultimately gay marriage shouldn’t be relevant
to anybody. It shouldn’t be an issue at this point, but I think it’s actually
an easier topic for us to concern ourselves with. I think that trying to figure
out how to give everyone health care and stressing out over whether that’s
socialism or not; that’s a pretty big topic and I think most people aren’t
trying to wrap their heads around it. They’re just saying things like, ‘that’s
socialism anyway,’ and ‘gay people shouldn’t get married.’ They’re just saying
the tag lines. And I think the Republican Party is pretty great at coming up
with those tag lines. And it just makes the other side look kind of backwards.
You know, like you’ve seen the Prop 8 ads with the two different water
fountains. It’s similar. Like for those of us that are gay and remember being
three or four years old and being attracted to women, it’s like it wasn’t a
choice. I didn’t make a choice when I was three years old to like my best
friend, I just did. The same way a little boy knows that he likes a little
girl; I knew I liked girls too. And so it’s very frustrating. I’m dating a girl
right now who’s never dated girls before and she gets so upset and riled up
talking about it. And I always say to her, ‘You can’t change the world. You can
only change the people that love you.’ And you would be surprised how many
people that love you don’t know or understand that this isn’t a choice.



Blurt: Now some more
lighthearted questions. What’s the biggest size bra you’ve ever been hit with
while playing onstage?


Tegan: Oh, my god! I mean they’re always big and I always
laugh because I’ve always dated girls with small boobs. So I’m like, ‘This is
the worst thing ever!’ If you threw a small-boobed bra onstage I would be like,
‘Oh, that’s hot. What girl threw this?’ But there’s nothing more not hot than
giant boobs – when you have boobs that is.



Blurt: Name one or
two things that you never leave home without when you go on tour.


Tegan: IPod and bedding, because when you sleep on the bus,
I just… I know exactly what has happened in those bunks and I don’t want my
skin to be anywhere near it.



Blurt: That sounds
like a wise idea. What album do you always take with you on tour?


Tegan: The Essential
Bruce Springsteen



Blurt: What’s your
favorite band right now?


Tegan: I’m really into Ra Ra Riot right now.



Blurt: What’s the
best and/or worst part of spending so much time with your sister?


Tegan: I think the best part is that she’s actually really
funny, and I think the two of us together are really funny. So I like hanging
out with her because I’m always very entertained. I never feel bored of Sara,
or her stories. I think the worst part is, just as you can imagine, traveling
with your sibling and spending probably 60 percent of your time on the road
with her, sometimes we can get very frustrated with one another. There’s a
certain amount of bullshit that you can take out on each other that you could
never take out on another human being or you’d probably be sent to prison. So I
think that can be the worst sometimes, because it can be very stressful dealing
with each other emotionally.



Blurt: What would you
consider to be your best habit or quality?


Tegan: I think I’m a pretty generous human being. I just had
an argument with my grandfather the other day because he said it’s like I’m
running a communist or socialist band the way that we think over things and
give percentages to the people we work with. And we’re pretty good about
bonusing everybody, and if someone is coming to a show with free stuff for Sara
and I, I make sure they bring free stuff for the band, and if they’re not, then
I have them send it to us rather than show up without enough for everyone. I
think the philosophy is: don’t bring gum to class unless you have a piece for
everybody. That’s sort of been our philosophy, and we have a very close knit
and loyal group around us for that reason. I think that we really care. And so
I think that’s probably my best quality, that I really genuinely care about
everyone around me.



Blurt: And how about


Tegan: I don’t think I’m that great of a listener. Though
people constantly are telling me how I’m a really good listener, I feel like
they’re being passive-aggressive. I’m very excitable, very high strung, a very
anxious person and I sometimes, it’s not so much that I don’t listen, as much
as I just constantly talk. And so I feel like I monopolize a lot of time and
often feel this burden or this expectation to entertain when it’s not expected
of me, and so I come off sometimes a little narcissistic.



Blurt: If you could
have dinner with any person – living or dead – who would it be? 


Tegan: I would have dinner with my grandma. She passed away
three years ago and I miss her like crazy. She was funny and just so awesome.
She’s the first rock star I ever met. I mean, she was an absolute star in our
lives. There would probably be like a hundred visitors a year to their house. They
were constantly entertaining and they had a bar in their basement and they just
mesmerized everyone. So my grandmother was just an amazing force. And I spent
so much time on the road the last few years, I really didn’t see her much
before she died and so I would have dinner with her.



Blurt: What’s your
favorite food?


Tegan: I’ll take a roast beef, mashed potatoes, asparagus,
gravy, Yorkshire pudding dinner any time.



Blurt: if you weren’t
a musician, what do you think you’d be doing to pay the rent?


Tegan: Oh god, I probably wouldn’t be paying the rent. I’d
find some girl that was really rich and just live off of her.







Gene Simmons complains that Kiss gets no love from the Rock and Roll Hall
of fame. News flash: he’s a hypocrite.




Once again, ultimate glam rockers Kiss have failed to make the ballot for
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Reuters story about Simmons’ recent carping
about the would-be snub to a Billboard conference
makes a good point: They’ve sold millions of records, and influenced several
generations of fans and musicians. So why isn’t Kiss in the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame?


Well, Gene Simmons certainly thinks they should be inducted into the Hall, and
as much as I hate to validate dipshits, I must agree. While Simmons and band
spouse Paul Stanley are no Lennon and McCartney in the big picture, their
songwriting up through the 1977 album Love Gun, and even in a few spots
since, is the L&M equivalent… in the butt/cock rock genre. Simmons would no
doubt quibble with that distinction, too, ’cause in his mind he’s Elvis,
L&M and God-and that’s just the part of him that occupies the codpiece.


Aside from the songs, Kiss has made significant contributions to rock and
roll just by being Kiss. They were the ones that elevated rock stars to
superhero status, not just by gettin’ all gussied up in kabuki makeup and
elaborate costumes and giving themselves out-of-this-world identities. They
were super and heroic because they actually were larger than life.


Kiss had to have some kinda charisma to sell us that concept and those
theatrics. Any shithead could procure greasepaint, fireworks, and lights, then
decide that instead of Chaim Witz or Stanley Eisen, he wants to be Gene
Simmons, demonic sex machine or Paul Stanley, absolutely fabulous ladies
man/ladyman. Simmons’ shrewdness and hubris; Stanley’s campy androgyny; Ace
Frehley’s spaced-out, drunken master persona and guitar playing; Criss’s
sensitive pussy/low-man act-it wasn’t genius. It was pure alchemy, the result
of the right four guys coming together at the right time with the right idea.


Until it all fell apart. Since Criss and Frehley exited/were fired and the
band began serving shit sandwiches like Music from the Elder, Kiss has
been a shadow of its once-mighty self. None of the scabby, reconstituted
Kiss-es that followed could touch what The Originals accomplished. That much
was proven when Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter reunited in 1996, but the magic was
almost immediately shit upon by Gene and Paul. They treated Ace and Peter, so
key to Kiss’s greatness, like hired hands and, when their ostensible
subordinates once more exited the band, they were replaced-but not their


Simmons and Stanley justified it as an exercise of their intellectual
property rights, yet while dressing Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer as the Cat and
the Spaceman was legal, it was-to any devoted but realistic Kiss fan-total
bullshit. Kiss with Singer and Thayer rings false. Not in the aesthetic or the
performance, but in the music. Singer’s Cat and Thayer’s Ace are much
too competent as musicians. Peter and Ace had signature styles rooted in their
own dysfunction, and that shakiness complemented Simmons’ and Stanley’s wannabe
Beatles/Who songwriting, giving Kiss’s caveman rock (and over-the-top image) a
level of accessibility that enabled them to sell millions of records, influence
generations of fans and musicians, and become important and permanent pop
culture icons.


Kiss was the sum of very specific parts. If-hopefully when-Kiss gets
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Simmons and Stanley would do well
to recognize this, and allow Ace and Peter to share the main spotlight with
them equally. Certainly the replacements (Singer, Thayer, Bruce Kulick, Eric
Carr, Marc St. John, Vinnie Vincent) and even the musicians (Bob Kulick, Rick
Derringer, Anton Fig and who knows who else) who played Ace and Peter’s parts
when they were, shall we say, incapacitated, should be acknowledged. But we all
know where Simmons is going with this.


The inveterate huckster just wants to keep the money train rolling. Case in
point: The once out-of-the-question Alive Worldwide reunion tour (1996) and new
album (1998, accompanied by the Psycho
Tour) led to a farewell tour (2000) that was repeatedly extended and
ran into a co-headlining tour with Aerosmith (2003), the Rock the Nation Tour
(2004), assorted brief tours and one-offs, and now the Alive/35 Tour. Now Stanley
is talking about a Summer 2009 continuation of Alive/35, and a possible new
album. Imagine what induction into the Rock Hall, the would-be ultimate brownie
point, do for sales.


Simmons is noted for his marketing savvy, but his publicity stunts, are
getting more hamfisted and desperate. Remember how he released that sex tape prior to the new season of his reality show? (That skank wouldn’t even KISS
him-ha!) Now photographer Ross Halfin reports that Stanley told him Kiss may
make a new album. Then Stanley poo-poos the rumor to the press at the UK’s
Download Festival saying, “If you’re playing a new song, that means you can’t
play a classic song. So, really, what’s the point?” (See clip from press conference, below.) Eight days later, “I
thought that I’d be content for KISS to remain a heritage act, just playing our
greatest hits… But the new KISS lineup is proving to be so good, so strong in
spirit…” Blahbitty blah, blah, blah.


So Simmons’ pissing and moaning is both a press grab and a way to get the
Kiss Army, which has petitioned for Kiss to get a Rock Hall nod, energized and
saving their pennies. The Demon himself told the Las Vegas Weekly in 2003 that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is “a
popcorn fart for us. It doesn’t mean a lot because it’s not really
representative of the American lifestyle. It’s not democratic.” Now he suddenly


So let’s assume Kiss gets inducted. Simmons will gladly share the honor with
life partner Stanley, and with pang of reluctance, will allow Ace and Peter to
play bitch roles in the ceremonies. Where’s the democracy there? Before you cry
foul, Gene, be sure you’ll be as fair as you’d like to be treated. To do
otherwise would be to make a mockery of your greatest achievement.


Then again, Rolling Stone founder and Hall honcho Jann Wenner, whom
you aim to chastise and humiliate by saying he can fetch your sandwich, did the
same thing. He squandered all of R.S.‘s
credibility, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-which inducted Madonna and Grandmaster Flash ahead of artists who made far more substantial
contributions to rock and roll-is
pretty much a popcorn fart. At least Wenner was able to onanistically
induct himself into the Hall, albeit with plausible deniability and distance,
with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Too bad you can’t do the same.


But, hey-at least you can tongue yourself.





How do you make the
perfect rock ‘n’ roll sandwich? Ask these Tarheel popsters.




In the summer of 2001 I was temporarily back in my hometown
of Wadesboro, N.C., where I’d frequently hear the two kids next door, upstairs
in their parents’ house, jamming away and working out the chords to Hendrix and
Neil Young songs. I’m not sure if we ever even spoke, but each time their
electric racket pierced the sticky Carolina
afternoons I was transported back to my own youth, blasting records from my bedroom
window, oblivious to the world outside.


“Oh man, we thought we were horrible – we couldn’t even
finish the songs!” Will Huntley (a/k/a Sammies vocalist/guitarist Frank
Backgammon) groans as he recalls the period when he and his younger brother Joe
(a/k/a drummer Donnie Yale) hadn’t even considered starting a band. “We were
just having fun at the time.”


They’ve sure come a long way. By 2004 the brothers were
living in Charlotte and putting that hometown woodshedding to good use in the
form of the Sammies – completing the lineup were guitarist Bobby Freedom and
bassist Gymmy Thunderbird, later replaced by Conrad Vacation (the band
apparently appreciates a colorful nom du
) – and enjoying “Best New Band” status courtesy the local alternative
newsweekly. 2006 saw the release of The
on the MoRisen label, drawing the attention of critics and Hollywood alike, landing song placements in Employee of the Month and on NBC’s Friday Night Lights.


Steady touring further boosted their fanbase, the group
traveling to Texas (including a celebrated
SXSW appearance in ’07), Colorado and California. Their live
shows are displays of pure exuberance, powered by Will’s natural gifts as a
kinetic frontperson, his brother’s Keith Moon-like kit bashing, Freedom’s
steely licks and Vacation’s elastic low-end buoyancy. That a professional work
ethic is key to any group’s success nowadays isn’t lost on the band either: As
the elder Huntley notes, “We’ve never cancelled a show. We always show up on
time. We’ve always tried to approach the business end of this.”


Plus, as evidenced on their sophomore platter Sandwich (MoRisen), they’ve got the tunes, pure and simple. Recorded mostly at Mitch
Easter’s Fidelitorium Studio in Kernersville, NC, the album shimmies and
swaggers as it conjures images of everything from ‘60s sunshine pop to
‘70s/’80s riff-rock to latterday powerpop, all glistening with a melodic sheen
and shot through with the group’s signature hi-nrg. (Picks to click: the
brawny, anthemic, Who-styled “Sleep In My Clothes,” the
yes-I’m-not-kidding-here Billy Squier-esque ‘70s riff-rawker “Treat Her Like A
Queen” and the dreamyjanglysexycool “Golden Sun.”) These four guys,
simultaneously brawny and beautiful with their widescreen tunes, have a swing
in their hips and a snap in their pace that falls perfectly into the rock ‘n’
roll tradition.


Part of this is due to both brothers soaking up the tunes
any way they could as kids. “We didn’t have MTV, so I remember watching Nick Rocks and getting the ‘80s songs,”
explains Will. “Also, Dad loved classic rock and blues, so when I first started
I’d be listening to the Doors and Hendrix, back when I was in high school. Dad
is great, he was a big influence.”


 It’s also a testament
to their eagerness to keep absorbing
music as adults, and backtracking as necessary. “I’m gonna sound dumb here,”
says Joe, “but the first time I’d ever even heard any early R.E.M. was a couple
of weeks before going into the studio. Then we were there, and Mitch had worked
with them, and after that I listened to ‘em at least four or five straight
months.” Adds Will, “I’m always downloading stuff – like, I just got the new Ra
Ra Riot album which I like a lot. I just got all those Paul Westerberg
downloads too.”


In the past, reviewers have sometimes batted around the term
“southern rock” to describe the Sammies, and while there may be the occasional
bluesy or twangy flourish in the tunes, just because these guys are from a
sleepy blue-collar North Carolina
town, don’t mistake them for Skynyrd wannabes. Will, chuckling, admits that
“sometimes you throw off people because we do have pretty thick accents [lapses into an exaggerated drawl] like
we’re talking now. That may be where the southern rock thing is. But I think
we’re more Athens southern than we are Macon.”


With Sandwich released to stores in September, the Sammies
intend to capitalize upon the momentum they’ve built up thus far. They continue
to write (Joe: “I’ve got a recorder in my room, and we’ve always recorded just
for fun anyway.” Will: “I bet we’ve got 30-40 finished songs, and probably
enough pieces to make 100 songs – it’s always hard to pick the songs for an
album, and it’s always hard to pick the songs for a setlist and we fight about
what goes on the setlist because we have too many damn songs already!”) and they’re
already filling out their tour schedule for the rest of the year because the
bottom line is that they just want to play (Will: “The other night we played for two hours and [the club] was like, ‘You
can’t take a break.’ We went, ‘That’s great!’ That was fine with me – we could
play everything and not fight!”).


They’re additionally taking steps to get their new music
once again into the hands of TV and film people. Says Joe, “Like Frank was
saying, from the business aspect, I think that’s how you’ve got to approach
everything. You’ve really got to push [the CD] and get people excited about


Wait a second – he just called his brother by his stage name


“I’ve called him Frank in front of Mom and Dad!” Joe/Donnie
hoots. “They’re like, ‘Who?!?’ I’ve gotten into the habit sometimes where I’ll
just say, ‘Hey Frank!’ and it will throw people off: ‘Who are you talking to?'”


“You know, somebody did that to me the other day at my job,”
says Will/Frank. “They were like, ‘Oh, you answered to it!’ I guess I’m just so
used to it that I did.”


“We call each other all kinds of names,” adds his brother,
firmly, without an ounce of irony… I think.


Ladies and gents, we give you… The Sammies.



[Photo Credit: Enid Valu]




ASS, GRASS AND GAS Brightblack Morning Light

Or ‘If You Like Pina Coladas’… Everyone one rides for free with
Brightblack Morning Light.




“We got booked to do a split EP with
Bonnie Prince Billy [Will Oldham]and during that process I got beat up by the
San Jose Police Department and put in jail on Valentine’s Day,” says Nathan
“Nabob” Shineywater from Matador Records band Brightblack Morning Light.


“It was the first protests against
the war and that song came out of that experience years later … “


Shineywater’s talking about the epic
cut “Oppressions Each” off new album Motion to Rejoin, while heading
East currently somewhere outside Louisiana
just after the election. Johnny Cash blares out of the AM radio.


“We were all sitting in jail on
Sunday morning on Valentine’s Day bleeding. I had blood all over me. And there
were two people coming down off meth sitting next to me. Big, 600-pound dudes
clenching their bodies. And there was blood on the floor and blood on the wall.
Other people’s blood. I had open wounds. I don’t think I’ve contracted anything
through it, but when they put me in the cop car there was already blood in it
from something else. I was like, ‘God, this is crazy.'”


Now six years after that beating, America has
relapsed into the drugged out, liberal, consciousness-expanding ’60s complete
with a Kennedy-like president and ascendant hippy jams dominating boomboxes
across the land. But the thirty-two year-old guitarist, vocalist for the
champion hippy folk duo remains suspect. Nabob and pianist/vocalist Rachael
“Rabob” Hughes are crashing around the country in a tour van through February,
and are observing a nation in convulsive flux.


“If we say it’s up to the people, we
have to see how awake the people are, man. We’ve yet to determine that. Out
here, people are kind of smirky and smiley. And the old creepy Republican
people, you can kind of tell that they don’t really belong in that mindframe,”
he says.


“I want to see more people on their
lunch breaks smoking joints out the backside of businesses these days. Let’s
get everyone partying across the nation. We’re a young nation and we’ve to
learn how to truly party.”


Nabob and Rabob’s personal Air-Conditioned
-esque journey is occasioned by Motion to Rejoin, their
second LP on Matador. Released in the Fall of 2008 to rave reviews and a
historic new Democratic majority, Motion combines the soulfulness of
southern gospel with the drug-addled murk and blues of an after-party at Steely
Dan’s house. Fender Rhodes electric piano coos
over trap kit. Electric guitar and horns wane in and out. The album runs at
what feels like six beats per minute and the entire approach plugs a symbolic
daisy into the smoking gun barrel of contemporary music. It’s as though
gangster rap, alternative’s rise, electronic music never happened; the question
is, “How?”


Nabob was born in Alabama in 1976, he says, the only child of
“an outlaw and a nurse”. He graduated from church choirs to coke parties,
searching for whatever doped-out, mothercountry maniac culture he could find in
the congenitally confederate ‘Bama. By late adulthood, he had befriended
folk-punk polymath Bonnie Prince Billy before moving to Humboldt County, California
to study furniture-making; of all things.


Nabob told Billy to play Humboldt,
and one day Billy asked Nabob to do just that — join him on a tour of the
region. Shineywater was back East at the time and broke though, so he had to
steal his way West, pilfering fuel from every town he hit when the needle
pointed to”E”. Again, How?


“You put on a certain kind of hat and
you pick a gas station that’s easy to get on the freeway from, you know? And
you pick a pump that’s far from the cashier window and, you know, you look
regular. Stand around. Put the thing back on the thing. Get back in in the
truck. Crank it up — I don’t like to go out causally. I usually like to floor
it, but, you know that was a long time ago.”


Back out West, the story goes he
enlisted pianist Rachael Hughes, another Alabama
native he knew from jam sessions down South. She was working for AmeriCorps on
endangered salmon restoration, yet skipped the fish for tour dates with Billy
and Nabob. The tour lep to that 02 slplit EP, an ’04 LP Ala.Cali.Tucky and another split EP in ’04.


In 2005, Slint invited then-named
“Brightblack” to play boutique UK
festival All Tomorrow’s Parties. Reps from Matador swooned, and asked them to
record. But Nabob blanked the esteemed label of Interpol and Sonic Youth.


“We didn’t send them nothing for
months,” he laughs, in a raspy, cannabinol drawl. “I have no idea how we got it
together.” Eventually, the two became Brightblack Morning Light on their
self-titled debut in 2006, recorded near Idyllwild, CA.- a seemingly effortless
yet timeless gem in an otherwise dark year.


For their 2008 follow-up, the pair
decamped to a mesa in New Mexico
and lived in an adobe pueblo. They home-recorded on power from a solar panel
when wattage permitted. Over the languorous months, the pair would slowly lay
down one track to a four-track, dump it into ProTools the next day, dump it
back onto four-track the day after, and play with the horn blowers and other
musicians that showed up. If it was too cloudy to record, they hiked.


Most surprisingly, Nabob maintains
the duo’s relationship is and was platonic. They play brilliantly together and
they’re lucky to have that connection, he says. It’s hard, though.


“It shows mental domination. Because
how many women do you know are willing to go live on the beach in a tent by
themselves and work a full-time job? And pick up to go make a record? Rachael
is the real deal, man. I think some of these high maintenance chicks need to
know that like, uhhh, you know — we were all shitting behind bushes a few
hundred years ago.”


BML’s strange trip continues through
February before a possible sabbatical in Joshua Tree National Forest. Which
naturally begs the question, ‘what does a BML tour rider even look like?
Ketamine? Ayajuasca?’ Nabob laughs.


“Truthfully we haven’t had our rider
honored once since we’ve been on tour. And we only put ‘pina coladas’ on


POWER POTTER Matthew Sweet

After going folkie, the
songwriter returns to shaping heartfelt ballads and trippy power-pop-not to
mention vases and pots.





Many of Matthew Sweet’s most famous songs strike a difficult
balance between screaming guitars and folk-rock melodies. But over the last few
years, that balance has shifted squarely to the folkie side. There was a Crosby
Stills & Nash-style album with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge as The Thorns,
an acoustic-based solo album (2004’s Living
) and an album of ’60s covers with former Bangle Susanna Hoffs.


So fans may be surprised to hear Sweet sing “I need a room
to rock in” on his latest album, Sunshine


“After I did The Thorns, which was very poised, I felt like
I wanted to play loud guitar and get out my frustrations,” he said. “It’s been
fun… to get back to that.”


Sunshine Lies features the same three-guitar lineup as Sweet’s string of classic‘90s albums:
Television’s Richard Lloyd, the Voidoid’s Ivan Julian and sessionman extraordinaire
Greg Leisz. But like those albums, Sunshine
is more than just a six-string showcase. It also has its share of
heartfelt ballads and trippy power-pop.


“The record started off as nothing but loud electric rock,
but then I added other things over time,” Sweet says. “Those songs made the
album seem more full and made the rock moments seem more dramatic.”


While Sunshine Lies is Sweet’s first album in four years, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy.
He’s already working on a sequel to the covers album he did with Hoffs (the
next one will be covers of songs from the ‘70s) and has been developing a new
skill: pottery. Sweet says doing pottery has helped both his music and his bank
account. He started selling his work on his website three months ago and has
already sold 65 pieces.


“There’s a moment when you’re throwing pottery on a wheel
that reminds me of music,” he explains. “The moment where you don’t know what’s
happening and you have to let yourself go. That’s what I’ve always looked for
in music-that life spark, where you just let something happen. It liberated me
and influenced my music in a positive way to think of it like that.” 



NATURAL BORN STAR Jessica Lea Mayfield

The girl can’t help it
(and homeschooling didn’t hurt her none, either…).






Hitting the lesson books on Bill Monroe’s old tour bus while
gigging with the family band, singer-songwriter-guitarist Jessica Lea
Mayfield’s entire life thus far has been leading up to her stunning debut With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt (Polymer



A dark, emotionally-saturated album that pulls from rock,
indie and folk music to create some mutant blend of alt-Americana, her vision
and haunting voice belie her youth. Maybe it’s because she was homeschooled and
never went to high school and all her friends are in their 20s and 30s, or
maybe it’s because she was going through more than one serious breakup while
making it; whatever the reason, this is a heavy, sophisticated album for a
teenager. Speaking to BLURT just one day after her 19th birthday,
Mayfield says, “I always look at things from a dark point of view. I’m an
upbeat person when you meet me, but for some reason I cannot write a happy song.”



Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach (who also plays guitar,
piano, organ and drums on the record), With
also features Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy of Dr. Dog. Scott
Avett from the Avett Brothers (who she’s toured with and will again) calls
Mayfield “the most exciting artist in the scene today.”



So how did such a young gal find herself working with all
these rising stars? It takes one to know one, and when you’re this gifted dreams
become reality. “When I was seven years old I knew I wanted to be a musician,” she
says. “I always wanted to be a rock star.” Looks like Jessica is getting what
she wants.



Lupine howls and standing tall at the foot of Mount






Ever since
their 2006 debut, Apologies to the Queen
, sent Wolf Parade into the upper echelon of indie rock, fans have been
clamoring for a new album. Yet it seemed like the band members were more
interested in their solo projects-whether keyboardist Spencer Krug’s Sunset
Rubdown or guitarist Dan Boeckner’s Handsome Furs.



says he and Krug were working on Wolf Parade songs the whole time, but just
never got around to recording them. Finally, the band decided to isolate itself
in the Arcade Fire’s studio outside of Montreal and get to work. “We didn’t
know anyone out there, so we stayed up all night eating barbecue meat and
getting the songs to a point where we could record them without screwing them
up,” he says.



The result
of all that meat-fueled isolation is At
Mount Zoomer
(Sub Pop), which finds Wolf Parade shifting from a band with
two leaders into a cohesive unit. If Apologies sounded like a tug-of-war between the different styles of Krug and Boeckner, At Mount Zoomer is the sound of them
finding new ways to complement one another. “Spencer keeps me from writing
updated versions of Tom Petty songs and I reign in his proggy Deerhoof sort of
stuff,” Boeckner explains. “There used to be more conflict about that, but now
we know each other so well and have played together enough that it just comes


MR. MOJO RISES William Parker

On his latest album,
the virtuoso jazz bassist brings canny craft and otherworldly inspiration to
the fore.






While William Parker’s been making a name for himself since
the ’70s as one of the finest bassists in free/avant-jazz, laying down the
bottom line for everyone from Cecil Taylor to David S. Ware, in more recent
years it’s become clear that the occupation closest to his heart of hearts is
that of bandleader. Much in the manner of his forebear Alan Silva (who played
bass with Taylor in the ’60s, and with whom Parker has also worked), the
Bronx-born bass man eventually expanded beyond the role of workmanlike
instrumentalist to become a conceptual-minded leader of ensembles where the
open systems of free jazz are adapted to more organized sonic scenarios for a
happy meeting of exploration and articulation.



That’s exactly what he achieves on Double Sunrise Over
, issued recently by the esteemed Aum Fidelity label ( 



In fact, Parker doesn’t even play bass on the album (that
task falls to the talented young Shayna Dulberger), instead playing double
reeds and doson’ngoni (a West African lute), in addition to his primary role of
conductor. A piece created to realize Parker’s theory of “universal tonality,”
which holds that all sounds predate the sound-makers and come from the same
spiritual source, Double Sunrise was debuted in 2007 in New York City,
at the 12th annual Vision Festival (which Parker helps organize).
Owing to technical problems with the live recording, only the second half of
that 40 minutes-plus performance made it to the album; the musicians gathered
again the next day to record it again, and the second performance is also featured
here, in its entirety.



A freewheeling, mood-shifting piece that nevertheless moves
with an insistent sense of momentum, Double Sunrise mixes African,
Eastern, and American flavors in a musical river that is constantly moving,
never allowing the listener to step into the same place twice. Vamps that stir
Afro-funk with blues and jazz undulate beneath a whirring hornet’s nest of
reeds and strings, and Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s keening vocals inject a
transcendent spiritual feeling. Joe Morris’s guitar and banjo add angular,
almost percussive motifs, while the drums of Hamid Drake and Gerald Cleaver
seem to work inside and outside the time simultaneously, driving the whole
thing with a winning blend of color and propulsion.



While Parker takes a relatively low-profile instrumental
role, not a note played by the 16-strong ensemble would have the same meaning –
much less exist in the first place – without the canny craft and otherworldly
inspiration created by his carefully wrought context.