Monthly Archives: February 2009

WISDOM OF THE METAL GODS Mike Daly

 

 

The erstwhile
Whiskeytown guitarist brews up some chicken soup for the inveterate cock
rocker’s soul.

 

 

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

It’s about nothin’ but a good time, and bein’ a turbo lover.
That’s why 80s arena rock-a/k/a butt rock, cock rock, ass metal, hair metal,
mousse metal-fell out of favor after dominating airwaves, MTV and stadiums for
a decade. But arena rock wasn’t all pap, was it? Was there not something
worthwhile in the music, something to edify and uplift? Leave it to a
Whiskeytown alum to find it: Mike Daly’s Time
Flies When You’re In A Coma… The Wisdom of the Metal Gods
(Plume) quotes
lyrics like Shakespearean verse and Tony Robbins affirmations. Whether it’s
ironic or otherwise, it works to inspire and elicit laughs from the reader. So
before you give metal a wholesale dismissal, heed the words of Ronnie James
Dio: Don’t dance in darkness. You may
stumble and you’re sure to fall.

 

***

 

WHY, WHY, SEE

 

The point of Time
Flies…
was to “goof on self-help,” says Daly. It quickly became something
else. While walking down 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, listening to a
friend vacillate between indecision and resolve over a move to France, he said,
“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Astonished, his
friend asked if he’d just quoted Rush to her. He had, and he continued to quote
metal lyrics to friends until, again talking with his 2nd Avenue
companion, Daly wondered aloud about producing a one-a-day calendar of
inspirational and hilarious metal lyrics. “She was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s the
greatest idea ever.’ I laughed, but she was like, ‘No. Focus. This is really good.'”

 

 

PROPA-GAUDY

 

Which Bible for the moussed-out pouters and leather daddies
did Daly read? “Ah, Hit Parader. I
liked [HP] the best, and for no
appreciable reason. Except for two things. Number one is that I bought a really
cool earring [from its classifieds] that was a tooth. I thought that was the
coolest shit ever, but now I’m horrified I ever had it. And the other reason was
that HP had all the Mark Weiss photos,
which is how I found him.”

 

 

STALK PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Weiss-one of rock’s famed shutterbugs-contributes scores of
full-bleed photos from hair metal’s heyday to Time Flies, and Daly actually tracked him down for the project. “As
a kid, I loved his photos and then this guy I work with a lot said, ‘Oh, I know
Mark Weiss.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god.
Alright! Let’s do it.” Surprisingly Weiss had never done a book. He
enthusiastically supplied “twenty, thirty photos of each band. And they were
all awesome.”

 

 

AND JUSTICE FOR…

 

Daly’s first concert was Metallica opening for Ozzy, but that
wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. Two years before, Daly won Duran Duran
tickets on New Jersey’s Z100, “but I convinced them to give me Van Halen tickets
instead.” His parents had other ideas. “They were like, ‘No fuckin’ way.'” Daly
was forced to sell the tix-at face value-to his dad’s friend’s kid. Walking through
that parking lot at the Metallica show, Daly figured it was for the best ‘cause
if his dad saw Van Halen’s raunchy show, “there was no way they would ever let me go to another concert. But I always
think, God, I could’ve seen [VH] with
Dave in their prime, man…

 

 

PRETTY BOYS

 

Daly’s ex-bandmate Ryan Adams famously embraces le roque du coque. Back in the
Whiskeytown days, says Daly, “we used to listen to that shit all the time. One
time Ryan bought a Pretty Boy Floyd tape at a truck stop, and we were cranking
it in the van. And Caitlin, fuckin’ flipping out, took the tape and threw it
out the window. And I remember cranking Ride
the Lightning
in the back of the bus one night, me and Ryan jumping
around-probably drunk-to “Trapped Under Ice” and the “Ride the Lightning.” And
then we get onstage and like, [sings softly] “Sixteen days…” Totally, totally
funny. But we grew up on this shit and we were into it unironically.

 

 

TONITE: WHISKEYTOWN
AT THE WHISKY!

 

Y’know, Whiskeytown actually sounds like the name of a
Sunset Strip band. Daly does not dispute this. “Yeah, right?” The first time Whiskeytown played the Strip’s
notorious butt rock flashpoint, the Whisky-a-Go-Go, was a religious experience
for him. “I remember that show, so
clearly
,” he says. “This is the Whisky,
man. This is where Van Halen started.”

 

 

WHIS-DOM

 

People find inspiration and affirmation in Whiskeytown
songs. Is there a Whiskeytown lyric Daly would put in his book? “There’s a good
question. I’ll give you two. One is from “Under Your Breath”: Sometimes I wish I were deaf/so I wouldn’t
have to hear what you said under your breath.
And I always loved a line in
“My Hometown”: Whatever it takes/not to have
to sweat it on a classified ad
. I always thought that was one of his
greatest lines. In the context of the metal book, they’re just words of wisdom.”

 

 

GET YUKS, INFLUENCE
PEOPLE

 

So, Mike Daly, do you sit in the lotus position and meditate
on any of these nuggets? “In this day and age there’s the Stryper zen question:
They say money talks/If so, what does it
say?
That’s a good one for the bond traders right now. And Anthrax: Talking to you is like clapping with one
hand
. The greatest insult the world doesn’t know. That is so freakin’ genius.”

 

 

WISDOM OF THE EMO
GODS?

 

Here’s a scary thought: Where ass-metal was, but is no
longer, the red-headed stepchild of the music world, what does that say for
today’s most hated genre? Will emo songs one day be held so reverently? “Absolutely,
100%, no-no-no doubt about it. When enough time has passed… I’m sure Pete Wentz
will be the one putting out the book. That’s definitely gonna happen.” [laughs]

 

 

LIKE CLAPPING WITH
ONE HAND

 

Time Flies…has
been selling “real well.” The reviews are raves, except one. “We only got one
super-bad review. It’s from LitMob.com, and the guy completely didn’t get it. He
just said, ‘What an unbelievably stupid book this is.’ Like, how can I try to
tell him that these guys have any freakin’ insight? And as an example, he uses
the Black Sabbath quote, Perhaps you
think that when you’re dead you just stay in your grave?
[To which] he said,
‘Why, yes, as a matter of fact I do. So does Salman Rushdie.’ It was so
awesome. It was like my grandmother reviewed the book… and took everything
completely at face value. As many great reviews as we’ve gotten… that’s my favorite.”

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: John Vlautin]

 

NON-FOLK Vetiver

On multitasker Andy
Cabic’s tightly knit potential (and his new album, due Feb. 17).

 

BY MICHAEL D. AYERS

 

 

You may think of Andy Cabic as a
folk musician- and by all means, I had lumped him into that folkie revivalist group,
too.  Last year’s Thing of The Past reveled in rare gems from forgotten artists of Americana’s by-gone days;
his work with Devendra Banhart’s studio albums and touring band would lead to
that assumption, too.  But the way Cabic
explains it to me make sense. The difference for him is between what he calls a
“true folkie,” and what he describes himself as- “a simple pop song
writer.”  It started in his adopted
hometown of San Francisco,
where he took some banjo lessons with folk legend Jody Stecher. 

 

 

“That really crystallized it for
me; I saw a real difference here in what inspires and what drives,” he explains,
of his time spent with Stecher.  One day,
Stecher asked Cabic to play him a Vetiver tune. 
So he did, sparking a moment of mutual confusion.  “He asked “why did you do that,” and I said
“I don’t know,” Cabic recalls. “He was so troubled by that, but I thought it
was such a crazy question”  Stecher went
on to play a song of his, and bit by bit, demonstrated each part,
deconstructing the tune, while simultaneously placing its parts in a proper
folk lineage- where the melody came from, the chorus, every part.  “I saw it through a true folkie- the value of
the song is a composite of these traditions and how you put them together.  The lineage, which is what matters, makes
that a valid thing.”

 

 

Cabic describes Vetiver- which was
once considered a moniker, but now is a full band – as relying more on a Tropicalia
sense of gathering and collecting influences. 
Growing up, he was never a “phase guy”- but describes himself more a
“record store guy.”  “I would buy what is
ever cheap and what is interesting,” he says. 
“I bought a lot of cassettes, a lot of vinyl and would just ask the
clerks if there’s anything they particularly like.”  Mazzy Star, The Replacements, and Paisley
Underground groups became fixtures; during his college years at the University of North Carolina
at Greensboro,
he devoured up Polvo, Superchunk, and Erectus Monotone. 

 

 

The latter half of this decade has
been a slow, but steady climb for Vetiver. 
Cabic’s started his own record label, Gnomonsong, which has released
records by bay area psych-poppers Papercuts and lo-fi songstress Jana
Hunter.  On Vetiver’s 2004’s self-titled
debut, Cabic set the tone and template for what has become a fruitful period,
driven by his whispery, hushed voice, and he’s slowly expanding the sounds over
the last five years, to include familiar notions of ‘60s psych-pop and tinges
of garage-rock embedded within a rather delicate, warm, guitar driven agenda. 

 

 

2008 appears to have been pivotal
year for Cabic.  He toured with The Black
Crowes and signed with Sub Pop for his fourth record, Tight Knit.  “[the material]
has been gestating differently,” he says. 
“Since To Find Me Gone, I’ve
pulled together this band, and it’s a reaction to playing out live more; it’s a
reaction to recording Thing of the Past.  To me, it seems to be a summation of all
three albums, when I look to it.” 

 

 

Indeed, Tight Knit poaches from Cabic’s own past, while carving out its own
place in the Vetiver library.  Its
fuller, and expansive; Cabic pairs a faint warble over a more poppy drum beat
during “Sister,” the sunny, jangle of “Everyday,” and “Another Reason to Go”
riffs on a funkier sound, complete with catchy organ riffs and horns; Cabic
sounds soulful, confident, and matured. 
Fans of his older work won’t be disappointed; all of this is framed
within the Vetiver context; Cabic still retains that poignant, humbled delivery
during “Through the Front Door” and the soft, quiet opener “Rolling Sea.” 

 

 

            Yet much
like the string-along psych of “Down from Above,” Vetiver’s future still
retains the potential to be that slow burner his career has taken.  While things have recently caught a bit of
momentum for Cabic, he’s still trying to remain realistic about his work’s
potential for bigger things.  “I’d love
for people to hear what I’m doing,” he says. 
“I wonder if you climb those tiers, if your music fits in a certain
context that will accommodate larger crowds, bigger venues.  I hope our music can do that.  Something about my voice and our songs
contains an intimacy, so that’s a tricky thing to do.”

 

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Alissa Anderson]

 

SONGWRITER, AUTHOR AND… LABEL OWNER? John Wesley Harding

The songwriter’s
audacious new Popover Corps imprint gets by with a little help from his
friends.

 

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

To call John Wesley Harding – that’s Wesley Harding Stace to
his mum; simply “Wes” to close friends –  a modern-day Renaissance Man
might seem a lofty pronouncement. While undeniably accurate, I suspect he’d prefer,
as we move into this new, post-Bush era of frugality and humility, to be
described as simply a “gifted multitasker” – as befits a gentleman who’s been
known to juggle several careers at once, including Singer/Songwriter and
Recording Artist (numerous albums released since debuting in 1988 with It Happened One Night), Published Author
(2005’s Misfortune and 2007’s By George, both issued under the name
Wesley Stace), and Artist-In-Residence (at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson
University).

 

This week he adds another title to his C.V.: Variety Show
Host, unveiling the first in an ongoing performance series called “John Wesley
Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders
, slated to take place Feb. 11, March 11 and April
15 at NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge. Featuring musical entertainment, comedy, literary
interludes and even ventriloquism, the only things missing are ballet and
circus acts, and maybe a Baldwin brother or
two plugging a new film. Conan O’Brien, watch your back.

 

There’s also the matter of Harding’s new album, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead,
featuring JWH backed by members of the Minus Five along with Kurt Bloch, Mike
Viola, Kelly Hogan, Steve Berlin and others. It’s due out March 10 on Harding’s
own Popover Corps label (www.popovercorps.com)
in association with The Rebel Group (www.therebelgroup.com),
and you can read all about it in an in-depth Harding profile in the March issue
of BLURT, due on newsstands in just a few weeks.

 

Meanwhile, though, let’s rewind back a sentence to Popover
Corps, because it’s this other addition to the Harding C.V. – Record Label Owner – that’s been raising
eyebrows.

 

Through chance, while on vacation not long ago I ran into
Harding in a New York
area used record store and wound up corresponding with him. Not long
afterwards, he unveiled the Popover website and, knowing I’d been a record
collector and music fan since the ‘60s, he was curious to get my take on his
fledgling enterprise. I must confess – and I mentioned this to Harding as well
– that the very idea of launching a new record label in the current economic
climate seemed, well, daft. There’s
not a music fan alive that wouldn’t love to own and operate a record label, of
course; being able to unearth and then help bring to the public’s attention
cool music is the ultimate expression of fandom. But we all know that the music
biz is in the toilet right now, and furthermore, artists are proving, in
increasing numbers, that you don’t even need the patronage of a label anymore
to get your music into the hands of your fans and actually earn a reasonable
living doing so.

 

Certainly in the case of
Harding, who’s done his time on both major labels and indies, Popover represents
an instance of the latter phenomenon, and he previously tested the waters with
another imprint, one he dubbed WOW, in order to self-release his fan-oriented Dynablob series of rarities and live
material. Several years ago Harding even hinted, none-too-subtly, that he’d
just about had his fill of the mainstream music industry, telling a Vanity Fair reporter (in what was a
contentious, now semi-legendary, interview) that the world would be “a better
place without all the Richard Bransons and Clive Davises.” So it makes sense
for him to finally come to a point where he’s his own manager, label head and
marketing person.

 

What seems to fly in the face of logic, however, is to make
Popover a full-service, multiple-artist boutique label. It’s one thing to cut
out the middleman and the overhead for yourself;
why then turn around and take on the role of middleman and incurring oftentimes-nebulous expenses to promote other people’s artistry?

 

But that’s exactly what Popover is about. Harding has
fashioned his label as a means to release albums from contemporary artists he
admires – among them, Kurt Bloch, Clancy Gaines (an old-time roots-punk combo
from Greensboro, NC, who recently worked with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
and are described as “Hank Williams meets Joe Strummer, or Josephine Strummer”),
and Seth Tufts (an Englishman currently residing in Tennessee who Harding calls
“the bastard child of Lucinda Williams and Kurt Cobain”) – as well as archival
material from a host of older performers, many of them so hopelessly obscure
that the average punter would wear out a keyboard and a couple of mice just
doing Internet searches on them. Yours truly literally wasted several hours
until I was able to dig up anything on the likes of songwriter Tucker Crowe
(whose ’86 album Juliet reportedly
made Jeff Buckley weep the first time he heard it; Sufjan Stevens and Damien
Jurado are also huge fans), The Suave Loins
of Darkness (their limited-to-1000-copies/Thurston Moore-influencing 1971 LP Revolutionary
Musical Wheel
practically never pops up on eBay or at record fairs) and Zeroville (a ground-zero NYC punk band
who issued a lone 45, played a few gigs, then vanished). And even then, most of
the info I found came directly from Popover.

 

At the site, Harding and his stable of A&R execs –
most of them culled from his circle of friends and fellow authors, like Rick
Moody, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Lethem, Vendela Vida and Sherman Alexie, although rocker
Robyn Hitchcock was apparently the one who brought the Clancy Gaines combo to
Harding’s attention – have painstakingly assembled bios, images and song
samples for all the artists on the Popover roster. In addition to the ones
already mentioned, bands who have records out on Popover include the Betsy
Rosses (whose Feist-meets-Yeah Yeah Yeahs album Circle of Stars is currently in heavy rotation at the BLURT
offices), Human Human, Onslaught of Autumn, Rory Spillane (another BLURT fave
whose Aussie mashup of pub-rock, rootsy pop and grunge brings to mind, oddly
enough, the Stones-Dylan pastiche of the Masked Marauders, which Rhino Handmade
reissued a few years ago), Strange Angels and Tyger Tyger – full details at the
site.

 

As you’ll read below in my interview with Harding, he
was inspired by labels like Light in the Attic and the Numero
Group, so in that context I have to admit that the man’s
heart is in the right place. Both Moody and Hornby also spoke with us, and
they, too, seem to have a keen interest in promoting the types of artists that
speak to the musos and collectors of the world. Clearly, it’s all about the
music: spreading the wealth, and shining a spotlight on those who rightly
deserve it. So maybe starting a record company in 2009 isn’t such a cockeyed
idea after all – it’s downright inspirational.

 

After all, you just gotta love a label with the twinned
mottos “Popover – oh no it isn’t!” and
Robbing the rare of its scarcity value,”
y’know?

 

***

 

POPOVER, PART ONE:
THE START-UP

 

 

BLURT: First of all, why start a record label NOW? Everyone has
heard about how dire things are for the music business nowadays; I assume
you’ve read Steve Knopper’s recent Appetite For Self-Destruction book
about the demise of the biz in the digital era. So unless someone comes into an
inheritance or has a sugar daddy, 2009 appears to be a time for retrenchment,
not branching out.

 

JOHN WESLEY HARDING: Well, perhaps if I were more prudent,
I’d realize now wasn’t the right time, but it’s more a question of me being
ready to do it than the economy inviting me. Besides, what’s wrong with a
sugar daddy? There are so many great records languishing out there that
for a variety of reasons none of the bigger reissue labels will take a punt on.
The people interested in the records we’re releasing don’t want to download
inferior mp3 files; they want the liner notes, artwork and the whole
package. 

 

 

 

I came across a quote from a mid-‘90s where you reflected upon your
Sire Records era and concluded that “being on major labels was impossible.” You
subsequently spent the next decade recording for various indies, but if I
recall correctly, in that notorious Vanity Fair profile a few years ago
you stated flatly something to the effect that “being on small labels was not
practical.” Isn’t that slightly contradictory? Given that you’ve experienced
problems with both majors and indies, how do you see Popover Corps as an
antidote, or at least a reasonable alternative?

 

Well, my own case is like everyone else’s: I might have
meant that “being on major labels was impossible” because none of
them would sign me. As for indies, you ended up wondering just why you were
giving them ownership of your music when you could do it all yourself – but I
was too lazy to do it myself and was, in fact, the perfect artist for the old
school paradigm.

 

And that was the spark for Popover: I was going to release Who was Changed and Who was Dead on
Popover and I thought it would be lonely without some label mates, plus people
like labels to have an identity. And it all rolled from there.

 

I can’t claim Popover is going to break up-and-coming
artists, and to those people, I say: “See if you can get some cash from Warner
Bros. If you can’t, pop over.” We are going to give neglected artists the
treatment they deserve and hope to bring great work that means a lot to us to a bigger audience. Besides, there
are too many songs written already – I’m guilty – so it’s time to focus on the
what’s already out there. Don’t think of Popover as either major or minor: we’re on a whole different
scale. 

 

 

Were there other record labels you admired or looked to as models for
how you wanted to do yours?

 

I looked to curated record labels like Numero Group and Light in the Attic that mine the
record bins for the like-minded junkies who appreciate the package and the authenticity
of the music: great labels, both. And I just know that every single person has
that one album in their collection,
an album they love that no one else knows about, lost in the mists of times. So I started casting around for ideas
from people whose opinions I respect, and many times that was enough. I would
search it out – or better yet, have them do it – and release it. I imagine
that’s how it happens on those [other] labels too, because one guy’s taste,
i.e. mine, isn’t enough for a label like this, it’s all about a community of
shared taste. Genre is unimportant: that’s very ‘80s.

 

Was it hard to track down the artists once you’d decided you wanted
them for the label? Obviously it wasn’t problematic with someone like Kurt
Bloch [the northwest-based producer and Fastbacks guitarist has a pair of solo
albums compiled on Popover’s Second and
First
], who has worked with you, but some of the others are astoundingly
obscure.

 

Ironically, the most difficult person to track down was Kurt
Bloch and he’s one of my best friends! There is one album, I will admit,
that hasn’t quite been cleared but there is a check waiting for that band, in a
bank account earning interest, as we have already sold over 600 copies. In the
case of some artists, I made the A&R person find them – sending Rick Moody
to meet Onslaught was pretty fantastic – and in one case we had to fly to the UK, drive to Rotherham
and take the band out for a curry (non-recoupable).

 

But as I say, a lot of this was done by recommendation. I’d
never heard of The Betsy Rosses, but read Vendela Vida’s description:
beautiful! I think with MySpace, Facebook etcetera, it’s a lot easier to find
people than it used to be.

 

 

What’s the hardest part about starting a label and, relatedly, what
kinds of snags did you encounter in arranging the licensing, getting bonus
material, etcetera, for the archival releases? Conversely, any “happy
accidents” that occurred in the process of getting the label off the ground and
having some of this material reissued?

 

The hardest part of starting a label is coming up with a
name. I was in Watch Hill, RI this summer at the St. Clair Annex having
breakfast and the waitress said “Popover?” and someone else said,
“Oh, no it isn’t”.  And I
thought it seemed like a good name for a label.

 

A lot of majors won’t reissue with extra tracks, because of
licensing issues, and then do weird things like get that drummer for the Foo
Fighters to play a song on a Dennis Wilson reissue. For us, that wasn’t a
problem because we just did whatever the bands or their fans wanted.  In
the case of The Suave Loins of Darkness, it turned out that the extra songs
were in the care of the art director: he found the masters of the B-sides under
the 4-track of the Human Human B-sides, which was an incredible stroke of luck.

 

 

What artists were on your wish list for your label that for you just
couldn’t get, and – if you can disclose this without airing too much dirty
laundry – why?

 

Struwwelpeter, obviously, but it turns out that they are
going to be reissued some German label. [Editor’s
note: Initially rumored to be Italy’s Akarma, the reissue label is now
reportedly going to be German prog specialist Bellaphon; Bear Family had also
expressed interest in the band’s back catalog but ultimately bowed out.
] We nearly had our hands on the
Rodriguez album which was suggested to me by [The Exception author] Christian
Jungersen, but by then it was already gone [to Light in the Attic]. There’s no
Duncan Browne left for me to release, but he’s an all-time favorite of mine.
And also there’s a very good Carl Oglesby album on Vanguard – but it turns out
that it can’t be released for obscure legal reasons, because he was in the SDS
or something. I’m not going to air any dirty laundry, because there really
isn’t any; I could make some up for good copy, but everyone we asked was either
happy to come on board Popover or had things going on elsewhere. 

 

 

Who do you have on your radar for your next round of releases?

 

The trouble is, it’s like football transfers in England,
you want to keep it under the radar as long as you can, so no one else finds
out. I hate to make it seem so cloak-and-dagger, but it is a little. Culture is
very accelerated these days. For example, I was out in the store the other day
and I heard a song I knew and worked out that it was a cover of the song “Houses” from
that fantastic Elyse album that was reissued last year. That album had been
reissued about a day! But I can tell you that a lot of forthcoming picks will
be mine because my only pick of the first twelve releases was me. Here’s a
clue: the paper is pink sticky rice. I’m
sure you know what I’m talking about – and we have some extra tracks.

 

 

****

 

INTERLUDE: THE
A&R TEAM

 

RICK MOODY

Rick, you’ve dipped your toes in the
music business a few times in the past – I know, because your Wikipedia says
so, and anyway, I have some Fly Ashtray records – so moving over into A&R
work for a record label isn’t that huge a stretch. What do you think of the
Popover label’s efforts thus far, and why did you sign on with Wes?

MOODY: Well, you know, it’s a really bad period for the book business. It’s a
bad period for the record business, too, I recognize, but it’s a sign of how
bad the book business is that I really felt I had no choice but to moonlight in
the music biz. Actually, I also owed Wes some money relating to an ill-advised
wager on a certain Arsenal game. So that, in addition to the fact that the book
business is just for shit right now, made it inevitable that I would get into
the A&R racket at Popover. If you have to do it, hawk somebody else’s art
form, you might as well appreciate the vision that’s in play.

 

I think Popover has, generally speaking, hewn close to its
love of things with great lyrical inventiveness. Most times, these days, young
songwriters sound like they got their start in the greeting card business. But
no matter what musical idiom you’re looking at, here at Popover, the words are
stunning. I think that’s a real accomplishment. But when I get the debt cleared
up, and when Obama’s stimulus plan allows people back into the bookstores, fuck
it, I’m out of here.

The band you’re working with for
Popover, Scotland’s Onslaught of Autumn, had a not-unwarranted reputation among
journalists, promoters, managers and even fans for being difficult to deal with
– they even got thrown off a Sensational Alex Harvey Band tour once for
overindulging, which if you know anything about SAHB is quite a feat – so I’m
wondering what drew you to them in the first place, and how did you approach
them for putting together the Clouds
Massing on the Horizon
compilation? Have the members mellowed out any since
the seventies?

You know, when Wes and others suggested I get to know Onslaught a little bit, I
was really worried. I mean, I’m a middle-aged guy, I’m about to be a father, I
don’t drink anymore. Was I really going to be able to deal with a bunch of
washed up fat guys who laid on the Red Brigades propaganda a little thick, and
who were all missing teeth and drinking around the clock? I had a period of
infatuation with Trotsky and with Artaud in the seventies, who didn’t? But
people grow up.

 

Anyway, when I flew out to Glasgow to meet up with the band,
or with the ones who were still alive, Alisdair and Donnach, I found two guys
who could just as well be middle managers at an office supplies outfit. I
suppose they, too, had some demons when they were young, but I’m thinking they
also had overzealous publicists or something. Back then, they were probably
looking for a way to get a bit of a reputation. The way they tell it their tour
manager had to work really hard to get them thrown off the Alex Harvey Band
tour. Donnach, especially, was really unwilling to foot the bill for the
television sets that got thrown out the hotel windows. He and Alasdair were
conscious of wanting to put the band’s profits right into their pension funds.
It was only Finlay, the original drummer, who bought the hype.

 

I know this all doesn’t sound terribly sexy or anything, but
it made assembling Clouds Massing on the
Horizon
pretty easy. I don’t
know what to tell you, that’s just how the story goes. In the course of my
association with the band, I did find out that there is actually another band called The Onslaught of
Autumn, some kind of metal band from Minnesota.
Maybe those guys have pentagrams carved in their chests or something. [Editor’s note: Shortly after this interview
was conducted we learned that the U.S.
Onslaüght of Autumn has the name copyrighted in North
America and their lawyers had sent a cease-and-desist order to
Popover. Label owner Harding indicates that all subsequent pressings of the
album will have sleeve and label art altered to read Onslaught Of Autumn U.K.
]

 

 

NICK HORNBY

 

Nick, a lot of observers would say that,
among all of Popover’s A&R execs, you’re the one most naturally suited to
the job description. I’d be journalistically remiss if I didn’t ask – have
there been any High Fidelity-esque moments at the label thus far?

 

HORNBY:
This is my first time working for a record company, and it’s been much tougher
than I thought –  heartbreaking, sometimes. The powers that be – and you
know who I’m talking about  here –  are only really interested in
making money, and for  every god-like genius I’ve persuaded them to sign,
I’ve had to let another nine go.  I thought I was going to be working for
Seymour Stein or someone hip like that; I’ve ended up working for an indie
Simon Cowell.

 

Tucker Crowe: how did you know about
Tucker, or track him down, and what is he like? Was he aware of the cult
following that had built up around him since he fell off the radar? I’ve only
seen the Juliet, Naked album once, in the early ‘90s at a record fair,
and it was priced so ridiculously high I had to pass, although I later was able
to buy a bootleg CDR of it…

 

I’ve
known Tucker for a while – he got in touch after something I wrote about him,
which was pretty amazing, seeing as he’s been a recluse for over twenty years.
 Nobody even knew about Juliet,
Naked
, although pretty much everyone of my age owns a copy of [the
original] Juliet. When you say you
own a bootleg, you’re lying. Showing off. Don’t do that.

 

***

POPOVER, PART TWO:
BEHIND THE SCENES

 

 

Wes, you’ve got an intriguing roster of A&R folks as well: most of
them are novelists or poets – among them, Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Vendela
Vida, Sherman Alexie, Nick Hornby. This seems to be almost a statement on your
part that Popover isn’t going to be “business as usual” in terms of how most
labels operate: hiring long-term industry vets,
you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours insider types, and the like. True? And
what do literary-minded individuals bring to the table that others don’t?

 

HARDING: Don’t imagine for a second that any of these people
are sitting in an office with me! I ask their opinions, when we’re in the same
city we have a little “record club” and we talk about music,
everybody has their enthusiasms, and if it all coalesces then Popover puts out
the record. Perfect. Writers spend a lot of time alone thinking about music and
a lot of these guys have better taste in music in they have in literature.
That’s only partly a joke… 

 

As for “business as usual,” I just hope we do any
business at all! But frankly we don’t really have to make money, so much as not
lose money.

 

 

Talking of which,
Nick Hornby, I presume as a joke, referred to you as an “indie Simon Cowell,”
when he had envisioned working for a visionary like Seymour Stein. You were signed for Sire by Seymour Stein in 1989 –
would he be an influence?

In some ways, absolutely. He had an incredible knowledge of obscure old songs
and was a kind of human jukebox over dinner. The trouble with, and the great
thing about, Sire though was that they signed so many people. Seymour’s taste was fantastic and some of his
signings were bound to be hits. I was reading a Bill Drummond book the other
day and he said Seymour
had a propensity for signing too many pretty boys, or something like that. But
there was a specific note saying he wasn’t referring to me…. or maybe I
imagined that.

 

 

Robyn Hitchcock is
one of your few musician A&R execs, and he toured not all that long ago
with the band he’s repping for, old-time roots/punk mavericks Clancy Gaines, so
he has an obvious affinity for that group. But I have to ask, how in the hell
did you convince a consummate artiste like Hitchcock to get involved
with this side of the business? He’s like the guy voted least likely to have a
tolerance for PowerPoint presentations and boardroom chitchat.

 

You don’t know Robyn.

 

 

In general, what kind of long-term business model do you envision for
the label? So many artist-run enterprises talk big at first but ultimately
fizzle, either because there was no coherent plan in place or the artist him-
or herself grew bored with the day-to-day operations. I’m sure a lot of people
rolled their eyes recently when they heard about Gene Simmons launching an
imprint that would be specializing in Canadian bands exclusively… There’s a
reason we call these things vanity labels sometimes.

 

To start with, there in nothing wrong with a vanity
anything: a vanity mirror, fine, Vanity
Fair
– great magazine, excellent novel. But I can’t claim to have a long
term business model beyond the American economy, so we’re doomed already. The
point is to put out great music and pay the artist. I don’t know much about
other record labels, but I guarantee we’ll do both of those things. What better
business model could there be?

 

 

It’s expensive to run a label, of course. So how will you approach
marketing and promotion in the digital era? Will you venture outside the box,
as you did with the A&R staff, or will you take the traditional route, in-store
promotions, hiring p.r. firms to work the press and radio, etcetera?

 

A lot of albums are subscriptions based, so they sell out
the day they released. Did I mention that? It’s a vital part of our business
model! People like the matching packages. We’ll indulge in the things you
mention – press, radio – but our artists know exactly how much promotion we’re
putting into these releases and also how much love.

 

I once asked Los Lobos to be on WOW, the label that I
self-released a number of my Dynablob albums and a very beautiful David Lewis album called Ghost Rhymes – it was David who suggested [Popover artist] Rory
Spillane to me – with the following pitch: “I will spend no money on your
record, no promotion, nothing… but I’m going to be quite clear about that up
front.” We’ve all been on labels who did that but didn’t tell you. Lobos
didn’t sign for WOW, but maybe they’ll sign for Popover! 

 

 

Your upcoming “John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet Of Wonders” stage show
features, among various guests, your A&R exec Rick Moody. Will any of the
Popover artists take part as well? I’d imagine it might be expensive jetting,
say, Rory Spillane’s band in from Australia, but Tucker Crowe, though
reclusive, lives just down the road in Philadelphia, or so I’ve heard. And late
‘70s NYC punk band Zeroville is back together now, I assume as a result of
Popover putting out their Couldn’t Get a Gig at the Pep LP, so…

 

We’re really excited about the new Zeroville album, though
they might not be the right vibe for the Cabinet. Having said that, they are,
at least, local. Tucker Crowe would be quite a coup. You know, I’ll probably
ask every single act we have. I’m touring the show around the country with
Eugene Mirman as “Wes and Eugene’s
Cabinet of Wonders,” so maybe we can have some local guest appearances. I
should have made it “Popover Presents”!

 

Lastly, referring again to the Vanity Fair piece – for the
record, I thought you were treated unfairly, particularly in their choice of
paparazzi photos – it was interesting how you said it was more gratifying to be
a published author than a working musician. “The hours are easier” is one quote
of yours that sticks out in my mind. Because I get the sense that now,
after working with the Minus 5 and recording what’s unquestionably one of the
strongest, most immediate-feeling albums of your career, you might say just the
opposite. Merely the fact that you’re committing to music so wholly by starting
a label from scratch is evidence of that. True, false, or somewhere in the
middle?

 

This question is far too well thought out to be a last
question, to which I can give a short glib answer! The irony is the musician’s
hours are way easier and you get applauded at the end of the day. As Nick Lowe
said: “They pay you for the other twenty three hours.” Nothing’s
worse than staring at a computer screen or a blank page all day. 

 

As for my own life, I don’t consider there [to be] too much
difference between writing and music: and I’m very happy to be able to do
either. It’s weird to be on the other side of the fence, music-business wise:
but then, I’ve been on kind majors and unkind majors, indies who cared and
indies who didn’t give a crap – so at least that experience should count for
something.

 

I’m just happy Popover can pay tribute to the great music
that has gone before. In many ways, to me and to my “A&R” staff,
what we’re putting out sounds more modern than what’s happening today. As Nick
Lowe also said: I love my label!

 

 

[Pictured above: JWH, by Bill Wadman; Popover Corps main
entrance, by Annie Leibovitz]

 

 

 

BLURTING WITH… Tommy Keene

The songwriter on his
new album, on working with Robert Pollard, on coming out as a gay man, and on,
er, miming to Spoon songs!

 

By MATT
HICKEY

 

When I
first interviewed guitar-pop singer/songwriter Tommy Keene almost 11 years ago,
he brought up the notion that he might quit the music business, at least as far
as making records. The Bethesda, Md., native turned L.A. resident would
continue to be a hired gun (having previously done so for Paul Westerberg and
Velvet Crush), but the travails of a critically respected, commercially
hit-and-miss career were wearing on him.

 

A couple of
funny things happened in that article’s wake. First, Keene has been more active
in the last decade-plus than he was in the previous, releasing four solo LPs,
including the excellent new In the Late Bright (Second Motion), an
outtakes compilation, a live record and a collaboration with Robert Pollard (Blues
and Boogie Shoes
, billed as the Keene Brothers), and toured in two
incarnations of Pollard’s backing band, most recently Boston Spaceships. And
second, whenever the press bothered to pay enough attention, writers kept
asking him why he hadn’t yet retired.

 

On the eve
of heading off to Europe for another sideman job, this time playing bass (for
the first time onstage) with British pop songstress Sally Crewe, Keene spoke
about how things have gone for him lately-and his possible new gig moonlighting
in commercials.

 

 

***

 

 

BLURT:
Let’s talk about that article a decade ago, where you mentioned retirement.

 

TOMMY
KEENE: You zoomed right in on that angle.

 

 

Yeah, I
did. And you obviously didn’t stop. How do you feel about your career now?

 

At this
point, I’m doing it to amuse myself. I don’t mean to sound catty. But as long
as I feel like I’m being productive and writing good songs and playing with
good musicians and songwriters and having a good time, then I’m going to keep
doing it.

 

 

In one
of the articles that referenced the retirement stuff, you claimed that I simply
caught you on a bad day. That’s not true, is it?

 

No, that’s
actually very true. Sometimes you look at your career and you think, “Why am I
doing this?” Other times you think, “Of course I’m doing this, this is what I
love to do.” It’s difficult being the sort-of unproven, unsold artist. You’re
always going to doubt yourself.

 

 

When I
hear unproven, I think-

 

OK, unknown
to 99.9 percent of the population on Earth. (Laughs) How’s that for pessimism?

 

 

That’s
pretty good. You must be having another bad day.

 

No, I’m
having a good day.

 

 

What was
the Boston
Spaceships tour with Pollard like?

I had a great time. I
love the Boston Spaceships record (Brown Submarine), and I really like
Bob’s last record, Off to Business. We did about four songs from the
second Boston Spaceships record (The Planets Are Blasted), which I think
is really great. I hadn’t been out that long for a while, as Bob hadn’t, and I
think it was a little difficult for both of us. But I kind of adapt naturally
to those situations.

 

 

As
someone with more than a passing interest in the Keene Brothers, give me the odds of another
record.

 

I would say
better than one would think, but nothing has been scheduled or hinted at. Bob
did tell me that this time it’s going to be called the Pollard Brothers. That’s
only fair.

 

 

“The
Right Time to Fly” on
In the Late Bright is a Keene Brothers instrumental track that wasn’t
used. Are the rest of the songs new, or are any of them also things you had
lying around?

 

All new,
with the exception of “Hide Your Eyes.” That was written in 1984. It’s always
been a song I really liked, and I always wanted to record it. I even presented
it to Paul Westerberg the one night we got together in 1987 to try to write
songs. He liked the riff and came up with a lyric: “Watch the lucky ones flop.”
I wonder now if he was directing that at me or himself.

 

 

What
period of the day is the “late bright”?

 
The late bright is the early morning hours or the late-evening hours. It’s the
time of day that I usually find most productive. I write a lot in the
afternoon, but when everyone goes to sleep and I’m left to my own devices,
that’s the time I enjoy recording and working on records.

 

 

Have you
always been on that kind of late-night schedule?

I’ve always been a
late-night person. I think it started when I was little. My parents would
reward me for good behavior by letting me to stay up late and watch horror
films on this local D.C. station.

 

In high
school, my band would play frat parties at the University of Maryland,
probably about three or four times a month. We would play from 9 o’clock to 2
in the morning. We would do four sets in the basement of these frat houses, and
they’d supply us with beer and stuff. I was 15, 16, 17. By the time we finished
and loaded the equipment and drove home and unloaded it at the guitar player’s
house, I’d get home at 4 in the morning, and I’d have to get up at 6:45 to go
to high school. My parents were cool with it.

 

 

A lot of
the Crashing the Ether reviews said, “This is more of the usual Tommy
Keene stuff,” even though I know you tried to do some different things. Given
the general laziness of the rock press, I imagine you’ll hear some of the same
things with Late Bright. I was wondering if that bothered you or if
you’re resigned to it.

 

I’m totally
resigned to it. Hey, my stuff’s not groundbreaking. It’s just fun. It’s just
good music and good songs. At this point, who fucking wants to reinvent the
wheel? There aren’t enough people out there doing what I do or what Bob Pollard
does-just making great rock and roll records, or trying to. There are too many
idiots experimenting and not getting it.

 

 

During
that last round of press, you also talked for the first time about being gay. I
was wondering what the reaction was. Did anyone care? Did anyone say anything?

 

No, zilch.
Gay men are unfortunately pretty stereotypical in their tastes. They like dance
music. Madonna. Beyoncé. Or they like the flavor of the month in rock bands,
like the Scissor Sisters or Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire. They think, “Wow,
this is cool, this is cutting edge. I have to get in on this.” Gays have always
been ahead of the trends, but I don’t think a lot of gay guys like power pop,
which to me is the Beatles, the Byrds, the Replacements, Guided By Voices. That
to them is about as fashionable as last year’s diva. But, no, that admission
didn’t make a blip, which I knew it wouldn’t. And that’s fine.

 

 

I asked
you in that first interview what you would be doing if you did retire from
music, and I believe you said you would maybe try acting or something like
that. Fast forward to today – if you gave up music, do you have any clue what
you might do?

 

At this
age, I don’t know. But last week, through a friend of mine, I auditioned for a
TV commercial. Dig this, man. It was a national commercial. The role was a guy
playing guitar, singing a song.

 

 

Typecasting.

 

Right. At
the end, people from the company – I’ll leave out the name [Editor’s note: It was controversial managed
health care organization Kaiser Permanente
.] – they come out and go, “The company and you, we rock together.”
Guess what the song was that I had to mime to? It’s not what will be in the
commercial, though.

 

 

I have
no idea.

 

Spoon, “Don’t
Make Me a Target.” [Laughs] A woman
came up to me afterward and said, “I like your moves.” I was just doing my
thing, moving with a guitar and miming to Britt Daniel. I got up in front of a
camera and jumped around to a Spoon song for 40 seconds. I don’t think I got
it, though. I haven’t heard anything. Maybe I was too realistic.

 

 

THE FEVER EXTINGUISHED Lux Interior

“It’s not music. It’s
misdirected noise”: When the Cramps frontman died on Feb. 4, we felt a
disturbance in the Force.

 

BY TIM STEGALL

 

Who are The Cramps? They
are the most beautiful – yes, beautiful – group I have ever seen, and the fact
that they exist is enough.” – a pre-fame Morrissey, 1979

 

The band walks on, looking
like 1950s juvenile delinquents straight out of American International
Pictures’ central casting office attempting a glam rock version of The Addams Family.
The gangling, basketball-player-tall front man, resplendent in Herman Munster makeup, black
fright wig hair, black PVC head-to-toe, and black patent leather stilettos,
surveys the audience with demented glee. To one side, a porcelain china doll
exuding stock-still ice maiden sex, straps on a big hollow-body Gretsch guitar a la Eddie Cochran. A pompadoured
drummer in head-to-toe black and vintage Ray Bans, settles behind the minimal
kit, looking like the corpse of Roy Orbison.

 

Mr. Dementoid Singer leers
at the gathered masses, then grabs the mic and announces, “On this solemn
occasion, I have one word to set the proper tone.” He then leered a beat
longer, and stuck the mic in his mouth and HOOOOWWWWWLLLLLLLED!!!!!

 

By the end of the set, The
Cramps would reconstruct the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll in their image,
and Lux Interior – said dementoid – would wind up stripped to a black pair of
silk panties, writhing on the stage howling further, covered in red wine and
smeared makeup. It’s what happens when you spend the preceding minutes acting
as a shaman in the service of demon rock ‘n’ roll.

 

“Rock ‘n’ roll is so
great that everyone in the world should think it’s the greatest thing that’s
happening. If they don’t, they’re turds.” – Lux Interior

 

 

Once you saw The Cramps
live, you were marked for life. Such was the passion and commitment and
intensity of their mission to strip rock back to something primal and
ferocious. And much of the impact of the band had to do with the vision and
personality of Lux Interior. (And “vision” might be more apt a term than any of
us realize: The man was once quoted as saying, “I lived on mescaline for a
long time.”) When Lux left this sphere Feb. 4th, 2009, battling an
existing heart condition in Glendale Memorial Hospital
in Glendale, California at 4:30 AM PST, this sphere lost
an awful lot. But Lux surely died knowing he and The Cramps changed the world
in ways it likely does not realize.

 

The Cramps – who for all
intents and purposes, were the core of husband Lux Interior and wife Poison Ivy
Rorschach, through innumerable lineup changes – believed in rock ‘n’
roll. It was a fundamentalist religion to them, of snake handling,
speaking-in-tongues intensity, and had nothing to do with whatever you saw on
MTV or read in Rolling Stone. In The Cramps couple’s universe, ’56 Elvis
met ’72 Iggy headlong at 150 mph, illuminated by the sickly blue cathode ray
light of 1000 low-budget horror and exploitation films, soundtracked by
scratchy no-hit ’60s garage rock and beyond-obscure ’50s rockabilly 45s. It was
a universe given context and life within the energy of the early Manhattan punk scene,
although they didn’t sound like any other punk band alive. But loads of bands
ended up trying to sound like them, and loads of fans were introduced to a
culture, lifestyle, and aesthetic much richer than whatever was offered by
whatever was the modern pop culture at any given point across their
30-years-plus existence. Including whatever the punk or indie scenes had to
offer.

 

Lux was born Erick Lee
Purkhiser ten days before Halloween of 1946, in Stow, Ohio.
He grew up during the rock ‘n’ roll ’50s in the thrall of local disc jockey
Pete “The Mad Daddy” Myers and late night horror movie host Ghoulardi. Come the
early ’70s, “feeling quite psychedelic” as he put it, he allegedly picked up
young hitch-hiker Kristy Wallace and began a lifelong romance that would color
every aspect of their new lives together. By the time they’d relocated to
Cleveland, they’d already begun a lifestyle where they’d be existing on lunch
meat in order to afford collecting scratchy 45s, books, movies, etc., etc. – the
talismans of their aesthetic.

 

And then: “After we saw
the New York Dolls, I was sure that was what we should do,” as Lux would put
it. “I didn’t know how to play an instrument, but neither did they.” By
the time the pair had migrated to mid-’70s punk rock NYC with brother and
sister Brian and Pam “Balaam” Gregory on guitar and drums, respectively,
Purkhiser was Lux Interior, Wallace was Poison Ivy Rorschach, he was singing
and writhing and she was strumming. And nothing would be the same.

 

It’s hard to calculate the
immensity and scope of The Cramps’ impact. It surely exceeded their record
sales: According to Reuters, the band’s best-selling release (1984 greatest
hits package Bad Music For Bad People) only moved 95,000 copies. But The
Cramps likely did more to propagate the vogue for ’60s garage sounds than Lenny
Kaye’s seminal Nuggets collection and introduced more punk rockers to
rockabilly than anyone this side of The Clash. The thing was, The Cramps were
not a nostalgia outfit. These strains were influences. There was no
attempt in channeling the Sun Records’ spirit as, say, the Stray Cats tried to look and be Elvis, Scotty, and Bill. In tapping into garage-psych, they never
did as The Chesterfield Kings and grow Brian Jones pageboy haircuts and wear
Beatle boots and corduroy and play through crappy Vox amps with buzzes. Even
playing CBGBs and Max’s, they were a sore thumb that impacted all around ’em: Opening
several show for The Ramones, the headliners took note of how the voodoo
exorcism had transformed The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and would work up their
own typically stripped-down arrangement for 1977’s Rocket To Russia LP.

 

But… where do you think
Jack and Meg White figured out they did not need a bass guitar? That The
Gun Club figured out they could make punk rock out of the bones of rock ‘n’
roll and blues past? (To the point of the band paying explicit tribute in the
song “For The Love Of Ivy,” and losing guitarist Kid Congo Powers for a time to
The Cramps.) Where Australia’s
The Scientists, once tired of channeling the Dolls and Flamin’ Groovies,
learned to get swampy and primal? The Jesus and Mary Chain learned to reduce,
reduce, reduce, and get noisy? It is literally possible to cite thousands of cases for The Cramps’ impact on all most of us hold dear. But room does not
permit.

 

Instead, you should weep.
The Cramps taught by live, throbbing example what Lux Interior stated to a pair
of interviewers years ago: “It’s not
music. It’s misdirected noise!”

 

“To us,” Lux
summarized, “rock ‘n’ roll is a blues-based folk music, not a record company
product.” More musicians could stand to have that attitude nowadays. We
will never again see Lux climbing atop enormous PA stacks, stripped to the
waist, his leather pants riding dangerously low, finding lighting gels and
stuffing them in his mouth and spitting them out in the audience, mindlessly
chanting a one-word mantra over his band’s frenzied deconstruction of “Surfin’
Bird”:

 

 

“MOW! MOW! MOW! AAAAAAOOOOOOOUUUUUUAAAAAGGHHHHHH!!!!!”

 

Rock ‘n’ roll as cathartic
ritual.

 

As the man himself ad-libbed
on The Cramps’ rendition of Little Willie John’s “Fever”: “Well, now
you’ve listened to my story/Here’s the point that I have made/The Cramps are
born to give you fever/Be it Fahrenheit or centigrade – WE GIVE YA
FEE-VAAHHH!” I always took that to be The Cramps’ version of KISS’ “You
drive us wild/We’ll drive you crazy.” Except The Cramps meant it, and meant something
beyond selling lunch boxes and action figures.

 

And with Lux Interior’s
exit, so exit The Cramps. What a pitiful world we now live in.

 

TIM “NAPALM” STEGALL, an
Austin-based punk rock musician and writer, has fond memories of interviewing
Lux and Ivy twice. “Lovely people,” he says of them.

 

 

 

THEY SPREAD LIKE FUNGUS The Cramps

They knew where the
REAL freaks and weirdos lived.

 

BY ROB MILLER

 

Lux Interior, the singer, showman, shaman, rock and rock
archeologist, thinking and fucking man’s Elvis by way of Vincent Price,
huffing, puffing, grinding leather-panted and stiletto-healed leader of the
Cramps died on February 4th
They were/are my favorite band. 
Ever. Lux, guitarist Poison Ivy and the rest messed me up but good
and I never really got to thank them for it. 

 

I can still distinctly recall the exact time and place I
first heard the Cramps in 1981: on the late night, left of the dial radio show
“Radios in Motion” broadcast over the oily waters of the Detroit
River from Windsor, Ontario.  Amidst the
preening synth-pop, humorless art rock and knuckleheaded hardcore so prevalent
at the time came “Human Fly.” 
The fuzz.  THAT fuzz.  It crawled into
my ears through the headphones and gave me an itch I scratch to this day.   It was like a light switch turning on and I
ain’t been right since. They oozed, I throbbed.

 

That week I picked up the Gravest Hits EP, Songs the
Lord Taught Us
LP and the Drug Train 7″ at Sam’s Jams in Ferndale.  I have since worn out all but the 7′ from
untold numbers of spins.

 

While everyone in my high school was going ga-ga over the
Go-Gos, I had Poison Ivy.  While the
great rockabilly scare brought on by the Stray Cats caused a run on rayon
shirts and leopard skin creepers, I was soaking in, goggled-eyed, the fatback
reverb, the scuzzy howl, the horrorshow ethos and the campy heresies contained
in those grooves.  In a punk/hardcore
scene where regionalism ruled and every town had their bands, and, at least in
Detroit, “from DC” or “from LA” seemed to be on every other
flier (back in the day when most info on shows in the underground was
disseminated via fliers), the first Cramps one I ever saw said ” from
Outer Space.”  I was not then, nor
am I now, inclined to disagree. 

 

 

I’m the night head hunter lookin’ for some
head…

 

 

Seeing the Cramps in concert cemented my nascent love of
live music.  Lux was a spectacle.  There was no mopey shoe gazing or static
crooning, there was only pure, feral conviction and, in the face of
indifference, confrontation.  He was
going to take you on sweaty thrill ride whether you wanted to go or not by any
means necessary.  If he had to strip
naked or climb a PA stack or deep throat his mic, he would do it in the name of
the naughty spirit of true rock and roll rebellion.  Once, I saw them on acid and it is an
experience I want to neither repeat nor forget. One does not want to cheapen one’s
conversion on the Road to Damascus,
you know.

 

From the Cramps, it was a short trip to the Gun Club, X, the
Meat Puppets, Panther Burns and a host of other bands that were churning
through the guts of Americana and fermenting in me a love of music that exists
between the genres, that looks back to look forward.  Thanks to them I discovered the REAL freaks
and weirdos, never-beens and no-hit wonders that lurk in the nooks and crannies
of rock and roll’s basement, and each song they covered was like a mysterious
rune from a wild and hastily hidden past. 
Forgotten or never known American treasures like Hasil Adkins, Andre
Williams, Ronnie Dawson, the Trashmen, the Novas, the Phantom and Charlie
Feathers found new opportunities to entice and enthrall and dement. They
exposed the mainstream freaks and weirdos like the Misfits and Marilyn Manson,
who scared and titillated the dollars out of suburban kiddies’ pockets, to be
the frauds they were.  The Cramps didn’t try to be out there, they were out there.

 

Sure, the latter years saw them trading on their
increasingly cartoonish image, but they were never mere shtick.  If they were, they wouldn’t have influenced a
thousand other bands to get real, real gone for a change, or a dope like me to
someday start a record label.  Lux could
sing in that rare way that was leather tough for the guys but would make the
girls sneak out their bedroom windows to meet him behind the biker bar.  The Cramps were beyond punk or psychobilly,
beyond trite hyphenates like sleaze-rock or horror-rock or garage-punk.  They were the Cramps. 

 

One knew exactly what that meant.

 

 

I’m the king of the jungle, 

They call me Tigerman

 

 

It is somehow befitting that Lux Interior should die as the
mainstream media waxes rhapsodic over the 50th anniversary of The
Day The Music Died, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were
killed in a plane crash.  Rock and Roll,
like all families, has characters that can be sometimes uncomfortable.  The nostalgia factories and revisionist
musical historians would like us to enjoy it (and consume it) as all virginal
Peggy Sues and Donnas and rave ons and la bambas and sock hops and malts,
memories to recall fondly, safely, sitting on the plastic slip-covered sofa,
thumbing through the photo album with your kindly Aunt.  The Cramps, though, were like the dirty uncle
we all secretly hoped would come to a family reunion and tell us stories about
knife fights and scoring with showgirls, show us the shrunken head he bought at
a bazaar “somewhere out East.” and then wink, give us a boozy, smoky
laugh and let us take a pull off his flask if Mom wasn’t looking.  Both sides of the family of rock and roll
sang about the virtues of wanting to kiss your sweet lips, it’s just that the
Cramps aimed a little lower, and a little truer than most spoke of in decent company.

 

It is not hyperbole to say that Bloodshot Records would not
exist if not for the Cramps and the damage they inflicted on me.  I have no doubt that dozens of other labels
and hundreds of bands could make that same claim. Without them, I might not
ever have known the joy and freedom that comes from mutating and molesting
forms and sounds and tropes that have come before us.  Beyond music, it’s the way I’ve lived my
life.  For that, I am grateful to them.

 

Lux Interior is dead. 
There will never be any performer like him again.  That is at once high praise and very, very
sad.  It’s time to listen to their
dissection of “Surfin’ Bird,” which teeters on the edge of disintegration.  Lunacy. Exquisite. Epochal.  I hope the end of the earth sounds something
like it.  Truly it would be a joyful
apocalypse.

 

 

The Cramps were born to give us fever…be it
Fahrenheit or centigrade!

 

 

***

 

Rob Miller is co-owner
of Chicago’s
Bloodshot Records label.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Steve Jennings]

 

 

BLURT'S BEST KEPT SECRET #3: stephaniesid

Headspinning indiepop
from deep in the western North Carolina mountains.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we
have our latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s Asheville,
NC, combo stephaniesid, whose distinctive sound – swirly-but-edgy pop, with
elements of noirish jazz, dancey Björk-meets-Feist stylings and throbbing rock
– has been steadily pushing the band to the forefront of the regional indie
music scene. Fronted by extroverted vocalist Stephanie Morgan, they’ve issued
three records to date, including 2007’s well-received Grus Americanus. Morgan and her bandmate (and husband) Chuck
Lichtenberger have also spearheaded the annual POPAsheville music fest, which
increasingly is helping to put Asheville
on the music industry’s national radar.

 

The band plans to issue a new album, Warm People, on the Nine Mile label in May and will be touring up
and down the east coast (and even out to Texas) leading up to and following the
release. If the BLURT magic 8-ball can be trusted, all signs point to “yes”
that 2009 will be the year the already-impressive buzz on stephaniesÄ­d will
spread far and wide beyond the confines of their home base.

 

Tune in to BLURT radio if you want to hear an MP3 by the band
– just click on the music player image on the right hand side of our homepage and
scroll down for the song. Meanwhile, check out the band’s MySpace page for more
song samples, tour dates, details on getting their previous releases, etc. And
congratulations to stephaniesÄ­d, ‘cause they’re one of the good ‘uns; trust us.
The members: Morgan, vox & keys; Lichtenberger, keys & vox; Zach
Alberto, drums; Matthew Richmond, vibraphone and percussion; Jon Reid,
trombone, trumpet, melodica, vox; Michael Libramento, guitar.

 

We talked to Morgan about the group, about Asheville, and about the origins of that, er,
slightly enigmatic band name.

 

 

***

 

BLURT: Tell us a little about your musical
roots, how stephaniesÄ­d came together and how things have evolved thus far.

 

MORGAN:
I grew up on A.M. radio and old 8-track tapes of the Bee Gees and the Beatles. 
I played on my grandparents’ organ a lot and made up songs.  I got a big
crush on British pop music – 4AD bands and some clubby stuff – in the ‘80s
because I really like to dance.  I never really intended to make music
myself, except that when I came to Asheville
to work at a wilderness camp, there was no music [except] guitars or whatever
you could play around a campfire, so I picked up a guitar and started writing
more songs.  They sounded too folky to me, and I wanted to learn more ways
to play music, so I learned 30 jazz standards for one of my first gigs, with a
band that needed a singer.  I emulated the voices of all the greats, and
eventually found my own voice and relationship with the audience. 

 

In
2001, I really wanted to start a pop/rock band.  I assembled a group of
great jazz players and I threw these pop arrangements at them… our one show
was kind of disastrous. I was mostly intimidated by all of them and didn’t
know how to be their band leader – so I waited for awhile before trying the
band thing again!  Then I met Chuck
Lichtenberger, who was playing with Asheville
theatrical rock band the Goodies and with R&B singer Kat Williams; he’s a
classically trained pianist with a lot of jazz experience, and was also into
Metallica and Van Halen, and he’d previously been in bands called “Stormy
Pony” and “Dank.”  So our backgrounds were really
different, but he was able to really get where I was trying to go with the music,
and suggested much more interesting chords for the songs.  [That’s when] we
really started creating what I already heard in my head. 

 

We
played duo shows for a little while, started dating, and hosted events like
“Naked Music,” a showcase of pared-down musical acts. Then Chuck’s former
bandmate from the Goodies, Vic Stafford, who was also playing with Blueground Undergrass
and some other bands, joined us for awhile.  He has become a sort of fifth
Beatle, producing and/or mixing on three of our albums.

 

It
would be a long exposition if I were
to name all the players that have been involved in stephaniesÄ­d! Suffice to say
that Chuck and I have met and fallen for many musicians over the years,
including vibraphonist Matthew Richmond, who plays with a lot of classical
projects and is the best vibes player I have ever heard, horn players, a prodigy
of a guitar player named Michael Libramento, and singers.  We usually play
with a core including a drummer, some kind of bass, and keyboards – which are
presently our basses – and are partial to having some version of an expanded
“dream team” join us when we’re close to home… There’s a very warm
feeling to the band and its extended family.  I think we’ve counted close
to 30 people over the entire history.  Their influences and experiences
are all over the place, and they all play in other bands, too:  Chuck and Matthew have a project called Spies
Among Us, and Chuck has a crazy rhythm-oriented soul-pop band called The
Archrivals for his own songs. Lucky for me, each also has a secret yen for the
music i like to make. 

 

 

A lot of musicians are always thinking in
terms of “When can we move to NYC…?” or something similar, yet you
seem to have put down your roots pretty firmly, both with the band and by
staking an additional personal cause with your annual POPAsheville festival,
which has steadily grown and begun attracting national attention. How do you
fit in with or view the Asheville
music scene in general?

 

We’ve
always felt simultaneously very at home and very displaced in Asheville.  This city is riddled with
talent of all kinds… that is clear.  But it’s mostly centered in the
roots arena – bluegrass, alt-country, Celtic. 
Music that’s interested in preserving tradition or celebrating a certain
time in history.  So it took awhile for our pop/rock to find our fans
here.  Once we did, we realized how amazing they are.  stephaniesÄ­d
truly has the most supportive fans we could ask for. 

The city has grown tremendously, and Chuck and I started POPAsheville a few
years ago, which has spotlighted the indie pop/rock scene in Asheville and the region.  We did that
as a way to provide a great show for out-of-town bands we owed shows to, and as
a sort of “ali-ali-income-free” for indie pop/rock bands in the
region. We wanted to build a scene for
ourselves, and a beacon for Asheville. 
It seems to be working out!  [There are
also several] local bands we’re great friends with, and play with a lot, or
them with us:  Jar-e, Ménage, RubySlippers, and Jen & The Juice. 
They’re not really pop/rock bands per se,
but we like to mix it up.  It’s a small town; we’re all family.

And we love living in Asheville! 
I always think of moving, and I travel quite a bit.  I know that our band
may have had more traditional success by now if we had moved, and that still
could happen.  But at the end of the day, coming home to these mountains,
and living in this city that so strongly nurtures authenticity and community,
is a blessing that just can’t be taken lightly.

   
 

When I’ve seen stephaniesÄ­d perform, I’ve
been struck by how very, very dynamic and physical the band is – does this come
naturally for you?

 

I
performed the same way when I was 3 years old, at my mother’s insurance
office.  I lost it for awhile, though – you know, awkward teen
years.  I thought I was supposed to be something other than myself.

 

Chuck
is crazy to watch on stage.  His face is priceless.  Everyone is
really bringing it.  I don’t think anyone’s putting that on, and we
wouldn’t play with them if they weren’t bringing all that they are to the
stage. It’s a great show when it feels like we’ve made a connection.

 

Biggest thrills to date? Disappointments?

 

Bonnaroo [2008] was thrilling – really an amazing
time!  It’s very well-run, and we saw some of the greatest bands. 
Sigur Ros played, and since the bands all hang out backstage together, I got my
picture taken with Jonsi, the singer… I look like the dorkiest teenager in
the picture, because i was so starstruck!  Michael saw Kanye West and Metallica
from rafters backstage, Krum hung out with the drummer from Battles, and Jar-e,
who was playing horns and singing with us, talked comedian Zach Galifianakis’
ear off in the hospitality tent.  We had two really, really great shows
there, and we all had our own rockstar weekends.  Which was sublimely fun
for us, because I don’t really see us that way in general; we’re relatively
chill on tour, and there are some cities where we play to 20 people.  But
at Bonnaroo, we got free shoes from Converse, at the same time M.I.A. was
getting her free shoes.

Disappointments? Well, there are some.  It’s disappointing sometimes to be
reminded that a lot of people don’t have their own internal compasses, and need
a sort of permission to invest heart or reputation on a certain band.  That
permission might come from top 40 radio or from their friends, but regardless,
as our fanbase has grown, we’ve certainly seen how crowd begets crowd: “A
lot of people went to that show; that band must be a good band; I will go see
that band.” It happens with the media and with labels and all over the
biz.  So I particularly love when a venue or a fan sticks his or her neck
out – and I can think of many right now… they certainly exist – and holds the
torch proudly, before or regardless of anyone else.  I’ll now take this
opportunity to thank our longtime fans, who were there at the very beginning,
and anyone who has opened themselves up to us without knowing how many hits we
have on our MySpace page.     

     
 

What can you tell us about Warm People?

 

if all goes as planned, we’ll release it on May 19.  I am
so happy with this record.  It is just as its title suggests: warm, and
also orchestral in places, and kind of tells the story of the power of the
connection between people.  There are some songs that we’ve been playing
live for awhile but that hadn’t been recorded, and also some totally new
songs.  A year or so ago I started playing a synth at live shows, and
there’s a lot of weepy synth sound on there, as well as vibraphone, gritty
guitar, horns, voices and harmony.  It’s got a ton of energy, and still
stays warm and fuzzy.  And we’re planning to press an awesome vinyl
version as well.

 

Non-standard band names such as !!!,
stellastarr*, stephaniesÄ­d, etc.: Savvy marketing and a means to stand out in a
crowd, or utterly pretentious and potentially problematic during Google
searches? Discuss. I’m sure you get asked about the origin of the name often….

 

Absolutely problematic re: Google and iTunes searches – o,
why must we conform to the digital age?!?!  Pretentious?  Sure.  Probably.  But it’s no secret that we
all think our bands are important and deserving of distinction. 

 

 

Regardless, in spite of these issues, the name stephaniesÄ­d, spelled as such, came
about for mostly practical reasons.  It
was actually the original spelling I had in mind, minus the symbol over the
“i”: the “id” allusion is of course to the Freudian/Jungian
seat of all impulses and desires, which I frame as mine or anyone else’s
“guts” or proverbial “little light” – I have a master’s
degree in mental health. 

 

 

But back at the naming, I thought people wouldn’t know how to
pronounce “stephaniesid”, so I got practical and divided the name
into “Stephanie’s Id”, which when typed into a keyboard – dang
technology – was easily mistyped “Stephanie’s ID”, which upon further
deliveries into various hands came to be pronounced “Stephanie’s Eye-Dee”,
which prompted at least two reviewers and a multitude of fans to comment on the
band’s flippant name and how it almost kept them from listening at all!  And
whenever we arrived for load-in at a club, the witty bartender would ask for my
“ID”… 

I remembered a spelling book in elementary school that made use of symbols –
“sound spellings” – to help kids pronounce words.  And I was
endeavoring to keep capital letters out of the picture.  So for our last
album, the name morphed to the humbler “stephanie’s Ä­d” and for this
one it became the simpler, “stephaniesÄ­d”. 

By the way, I’d recommend trying all of the above in the Google search!

 

 

MIDNIGHT RAMBLERS Mercury Rev

Taking a look at their
most successful and acclaimed record yet.

 

BY AARON KAYCE

 

After almost four years without a proper studio album,
Mercury Rev returned last year with Snowflake
Midnight
and its free-by-download, mostly instrumental companion album Strange Attractor. The group
subsequently embarked upon an extensive tour from September through December
that took them to the UK,
Europe, Mexico, and across
the U.S.
Still comprising the three core members that have driven the band for the past
decade – Jonathan Donahue (vocals/guitars), Grasshopper (born Sean Mackowiak, guitars)
and Jeff Mercel (drums) – the band not only worked to update their shimmering,
psychedelic pop sound, they wanted to reinvent it.

 

“The perception started to become that people somehow knew
what to expect from us” says Mercel. “So we were very conscious of the fact
that we wanted this record to somehow sound like it was made by a different
band, or at least a different Mercury Rev.”    
 

 

To achieve these results, the band embraced change in every
way. They physically changed the location of their upstate New York studio-twice, but also changed the
way they worked. “I didn’t sit behind a drum kit for 90 percent of the process;
most of the drumming is programmed and not all by me: Jonathan did a lot of the
drum programming and Grasshopper didn’t play a lot of electric guitar,”
explains Mercel. “We took ourselves out of our comfort zones and worked in
areas and with instruments or technologies that were sort of new to us. And
there’s a certain innocence to that and you arrive at new ideas that way.”

 

One new idea was to come in free of compositions and just
roll tape for hours on end, cranking out repetitive, hypnotic motifs and later “go
back in and really attack what we had on tape, just cutting things up randomly”
explains Mercel. “Almost taking the most unlikely juxtapositions of maybe two
or three different pieces that were recorded six months apart from each other,
and sort of slamming them together, making almost like mash-ups of our own
[material].”

 

While the essential characteristics of Mercury Rev are still
intact, Snowflake Midnight is the
sound of evolution and possibility. “Everything embodies its opposite at the
same time,” says Mercel, pondering the album’s title. “A snowflake can be water
or ice. So we certainly deal in those sorts of ideas, working in the duality of
things and the potential for one thing to become the other. But also the idea
of midnight… It’s not quite day, it’s not quite night. It’s full of potential.
You’re about to sort of wipe the slate, anything is possible.”

 

AN OPEN LETTER TO: Ryan Adams

On tour Down Under in Australia, the Cardinals frontman makes a convincing case
for his retirement.

BY
BARBARA MITCHELL

Dear
Ryan Adams –

Fucking
get it over and retire. Go fill your
time writing books or bad poetry or nonsensical blog entries and spare us all.

Yeah,
I know – you’re an easy target and you and your fans expect critics to crucify
you. But here’s the deal – in the
height of the Ryan/Bryan Adams debacle a few years back, I actually defended
you
in one of America’s
snarkiest alt-weeklies. It was the only
time a preview has elicited a rebuttal in said publication and I took a lot of
heat for saying you were capable of being a genius. I stand by that proclamation. And I call for your retirement effective
immediately.

In
some ways, you’re the Seattle Seahawks of alt-country – so much potential, but
always dropping the proverbial ball (or worse – losing the goddamned plot) and
breaking the hearts of your biggest supporters.

At
times, you’ve looked Super Bowl-worthy. I’ve seen you do shows that were
jaw-droppingly awesome: the kind of
performance that most artists would sacrifice small children to create. You
were soulful and self-deprecating and funny and singular. Apparently, your Melbourne show –
Saturday, January 31 – this weekend fell into that category.

So
about last night…

I
walked out on you about 45 minutes into your dimly lit set. I’ve worked in the
music biz for two decades now and if I had actually paid to see you play –
well, let’s just say that no one was actually seeing you play. The sound was
pristine, the band sounded awesome and since I don’t like playing games
(particularly not “spot the lead singer” or “bobbing for
sightlines”), wondering when a brilliant performer was going to do
something more than karaoke, paying for overpriced drinks and wondering if
public transport is going to be operating when the “show” is over
(and I’m sure most attendees will agree that this was more of a “no
show” than a “show”), I made the unprecedented move of going for
late-night vegan snacks (which will shock anyone who familiar with my love of
bacon and/or cheese and particularly music) and I left.

If
I had stayed, you see, someone was going to mistake my catatonic state for
drunkenness or death and I would have been hauled off anyway. Three-quarters of an hour into your set and
you didn’t even address the audience?
Those are the folks who make it possible for you to avoid working a
minimum-wage job and date actresses. The people who root for you when evil
critics like my editor at the Stranger take pot-shots at you.

I
feel betrayed. I trusted you – or at
least your talent. I was excited to see
you play, having been regaled with tales about the first night’s awesome set
and riding high on previous shows I’ve seen you play. I guess I’ve just been
lucky up to now. Like rooting for the Seahawks, I managed to miss most of the
missteps and was blindly expecting the greatness I know you’re capable of
without realizing how much you’re truly addicted to self-sabotage.

I
could’ve stayed and reviewed your show, but why? If you didn’t bother showing up for it, why
should I have stayed and been pummeled into a death-like state of boredom? I’ll let the bloggers (who walked away with
the same frustration I did) have their say.

Are
you done yet? And if you’re going to go
out like this, will anyone care?

[Photo Credit: Mark Abrahams]