Monthly Archives: April 2009

YOU CAN CREAM ON ME Peaches

Her thing is whatever
she happens to be doing. She does a lot.

 

BY STEPHEN DEUSNER

 

Peaches is long past giving a fuck what you think of her. Of
course, crucial to her persona has always been the appearance of not giving a
fuck what you think about her crotch shots, mullet, outrageous stage attire,
smeared eyeliner, or austere beats, but now she really seriously doesn’t give a
fuck And judging from her new album-the predictably ballsy, conceptually
playful I Feel Cream-really seriously
not giving a fuck suits her better than the appearance of not giving a fuck.
It’s hear mantra on the Spartan banger “Serpentine”: “I don’t give a fuck if
you’re calling me / I don’t give a fuck if you’re mauling me,” she half-raps,
“Serpentine, serpentine / never a straight line, serpentine.” She doesn’t give
a fuck if you make a joke about Peter Falk in The In-Laws either.

 

“I used to be very concerned with people knowing me as a
musician,” says Peaches (nee Merrill Nisker), “but now I know I’m a musician
and I know I make great albums.” This realization has given her greater license
to expand the Peaches persona into a multimedia project. “Now I don’t really
give a shit about music. I’m an artist. I’m whoever I want to be. If I want to
make installation art one day, if I want to make a movie another day, if I want
to put on a theater production, that’s all fine with me. I’m Peaches. I can do
what I want. I’m not bound to music.”

 

Such a bold statement may seem particularly ironic
considering that Cream is arguably
her most inventive and diverse-in short, her most musically assured-album since
her 2000, The Teaches of Peaches.
It’s also the one that most balances sexual and musical provocation. After the
relentless self-pleasing electrothump of “Serpentine,” she lures a full backing
band from the dance floor to the bedroom on “Talk to Me,” pointedly singing,
“This ain’t the Peaches show / It’s just me and you.” Is her persona slipping?
Is that Merrill Nisker talking? Doubtful. Peaches is just having fun with the
expectations her previous exploits have instilled in listeners, toying with one
of the most artfully constructed alter egos since Marshall Mathers’ alter ego
(Eminem) got its own alter ego (Slim Shady).

 

But the first real surprise of Cream is “Lose You,” an aching anthem that shows off Peaches’
considerable vocal chops. “I’m quite a good singer,” she says, not boastfully
but as forthright as someone asserting empirical fact. “I’ve always chosen not
to sing too much on my albums because I didn’t want to be in a singer category,
especially on my first two albums.” Wait for it. “But now I don’t really care.
I can do whatever I want. If I want to sing, I sing. If I want to rap, I rap.
If I want to collaborate, I collaborate.”

 

Just how much of this newfound no-fuck-giving independence
is a hard-won new phase in her career, as opposed to further execution of the
Peaches concept? It’s difficult to say, and Cream would bear it out more if her previous albums weren’t so similarly dismissive
of public approval. And yet, these songs feel much less aggressively
transgressive than those on Teaches or especially the errant Fatherfucker,
which doesn’t suggest a softening so much as a resignation that you either get
it or you don’t. Instead, Cream is
more musically than sexually confrontational, emphasizing sonic hooks like the
Princely synths on “Trick or Treat,” the Möbius strip couplet that anchors
“Mommy Complex,” or the shifting accented beats on closer “Take You On.” And
then there’s “Billionaire,” a post-Madoff banger that pairs Peaches with Yo
Majesty’s Shunda K. Rhyming about kinky hook-ups in modestly priced chain
hotels, they devise the year’s first great hip-hop shout-out: “Best health
care!” “It’s my answer to the financial crisis,” Peaches explains. “You can
still fuck like a billionaire even if you can’t be one.”

 

In addition to Shunda K, Cream features contributions from Gonzalez, Simian Mobile Disco, and Soulwax, among
others. They give the album its impact and range, but Peaches may have had ulterior
motives in hooking up with them: “These are people with really good gear,” she
admits, “and it’s really fun to go into their studios and find out all about
this old equipment.” Yes, Peaches is a gear nut, and she has a fetish for old
equipment. “I like the look of it,” she admits. “I like to turn knobs. I don’t
really like clicking. I like the real thing.”

 

At the top of her game, Peaches is surprisingly dismissive
of music, although less as a medium than as a business. “The music industry is
a bunch of crap,” she exclaims. “It’s shit, and it’s going down hill, so why
would anybody want to stick to that? I don’t want to rely on anybody. I just
want to do my thing.” Her thing is whatever she happens to be doing, and she
does a lot. Currently, she’s working on an installation commemorating the
anniversary of The Teaches of Peaches,
in addition to various DJ, guerrilla theater, and performance art projects.

 

 “I just enjoy being
creative,” she says. “It’s ridiculous just to make music when there’s a lot of things
you can do in this world. It doesn’t make me less of a musician if I do other
things. It just makes me more of a well-rounded person and more of a creative
person. And probably makes me make better albums.”

 

Maybe she gives a fuck after all.

 

 

 

THE DISCIPLINARIAN Ken Stringfellow

Pop music maestro and
Posies co-leader Ken Stringfellow goes balls-out with The Disciplines.

 

BY BRIAN STAKER

 

The song “Dream All Day” was
the crescendo of Ken Stringfellow’s early-nineties work with The Posies that
established him as a pop music maestro. Since then his work solo and with the
reformed Posies has been a wellspring of under-the-radar songwriting gems, but
Stringfellow still felt a need to explore one side of his musical identity.
This aspect is less polite and posed than his erudite, almost literary, Posies
persona. Although he rocked hard and well with that band, and ventured right
out into the audience during performances, he wanted to rock harder.

 

So to channel his latent
garage rocker, Stringfellow and his friends-the Norwegian pop band
Briskeby-formed The Disciplines. The band’s debut, Smoking Kills (Second
Motion/Redeye) already has a following in Scandinavia, where they’ve performed
for festival-size crowds in anticipation of a US tour so incendiary that the
Surgeon General warns it might be downright hazardous to your health. “We are
pretty balls-out,” Stringfellow enthuses. “We never make the same moves or play
a song the same way twice.”

 

***

 

BLURT: Why is now the time
this new creative impulse of yours came out?

 

STRINGFELLOW: I had gotten
married, moved to France and
focused on touring and making a reputation in Europe.
My soon-to-be bandmates in the band Briskeby were popular in their native Norway, but
couldn’t bust out further. It was very pristine pop, and they wanted to try
something new. When I met them, we clicked. The guitarist, Bjorn Bergene,
wanted to bring out his “inner AC/DC,” and wrote the first couple of songs.
They were tight, efficient, with no wasted space.

 

            I came from a more elegant, bookish musical background,
and somehow skipped the garage band phase; my music has been more British and
wordy.

 

 

Your songs are usually all
about melody and lyrics; how did the collaboration change your songwriting
style? It still has a pop sensibility.

 

The Disciplines is never AC/DC
though. Usually Bjorn presents four or five musical ideas at a time, and we
choose from them. “Wrong Lane”
was from one of my ideas. The ones that work best are where Bjorn and I meet in
the middle. I am good at coming up with double entendres, and the more straight-ahead
ones are Bjorn’s. [Ed. Note: See “Yours
For the Taking” video.]

 

            “There’s a Law” has more a Posies feel, and a similar
philosophy. There’s a reason they were interested in what I do; we have shared
sensibilities.

 

 

Does it bother you that
your music with the Posies in the 90’s is by far your best-selling material,
and what a lot of people know you for?

 

That’s fine with me. The fact
that people remember is flattering. Ten years ago I was looking to show what I
could do solo, but now I’m just doing what I like.

 

 

What kind of musical
impulses do you get to express with your different projects: solo, the Posies,
REM and the Disciplines?

 

The Disciplines are a very
strong musical personality of mine, with no boundaries. The singing is loud,
projecting energy. That wants to come out in Posies shows, but there’s a
tension. The Disciplines releases that tension in a dynamic way. I try to
encompass everyone, and get as close to the audience as possible. It’s the
opposite of shoegazer.

 

            Playing with REM was an incredible experience, and
slightly surreal, kind of like graduate school.

 

 

The band name sounds kinda
badass and cool, but is there any significance?

 

We are casual, and the
recordings less orchestrated; it appears like a happy accident, but there’s
gotta be more to it. Now I’ve understood, at my adult age, that trying to start
a band is quite difficult in some ways. Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
With REM I saw that ‘rock stars’ are real people too, just very committed, and
that commitment is essential.

 

            It takes discipline to stay healthy to play shows. The
name also has a double meaning: bondage, which isn’t really my vibe; and
academic, scientific discipline. We meet in the middle. The music is naughty,
sexy, but also nerdy and precise. It’s not butt rock. We never give in to
garage rock clichés.

 

 

How key are live shows to
the Disciplines experience, and your stage persona?

 

Playing live is absolutely
essential, and the group didn’t make as much sense until that happened. We
hadn’t played many live shows, then the disc was released in Scandinavia.
We played for audiences that knew all the songs! We became a popular festival
band; you wouldn’t believe how many festivals there are in Norway, which has less people than Connecticut!

 

            When the record took off in Europe,
it became a whole new experience. It reminds me of sharing favorites growing
up. In high school, I was mystified by music. The first non-arena rock band,
that wasn’t remote up on stage, was REM. Then I saw punk bands like the
Butthole Surfers, with flame burning right in your face, and it was a
life-changing paradigm. In the Disciplines, the only special effect is I’m
getting out into the audience.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Mathieu Zazzo]

 

MEMPHIS POP REBORN Good Luck Dark Star + J.D. Reager

A pair of musical
savants reclaim and resurrect the city’s rich pop legacy as originally forged
by Big Star et al.

 

BY STEPHEN DEUSNER

 

Memphis’
music history extends not just deep, but broad. In addition to the early rock
sounds of Sun Records, the soul of Hi and Stax Records, the snarling lo-fi rock
of the Grifters and the Oblivians, and even the nasty hip-hop of Three-Six
Mafia, the city has a strong pop legacy, with bands as cult-big as Big Star and
the Scruffs or as obscure as any of the garage-bound acts playing the frat
circuit during the ‘60s. Since then, the form has been taken up by different
artists over the years, including two performers who have spent nearly a decade
playing Bluff City clubs: J.D. Reager, who has performed with a variety of acts
over the years, is finally releasing his solo debut, and Bret Krock, who toiled
with the power trio Eighty Katie earlier this decade, is make his own debut as
Good Luck Dark Star.

 

The obvious touchstone for Reager is Matthew Sweet; his vocals
on opener “Water” recall the Midwestern singer/songwriter/Winona fan very
closely, but where Sweet has his head in the past, Reager’s is, well, somewhere
else. The Repechage (Makeshift; www.makeshiftmusic.com) crackles
with ideas and ambience. “Panic,” which shows off Reager’s upper register,
two-steps its lament against a guitar that wants to be a bagpipe, and “I Can’t
Decide” pogos on a spiky chorus and a needling organ that wants to get to the
next song. Venturing into lite-country territory, “Knoxville Song” is
nudged gently along by Tim Regan’s lap steel. The stand-out here may be
“No One Wants to Know,” which glides on a patient, pointed guitar theme and fluidly
segues into Justin Jordan’s outta-nowhere sax solo that may be the album’s
best, most devastating moment. There’s grit and dirt in these songs – what
sounds like lived experiences rather than pop constructs.

 

That there are more obvious historical precedents in Krock’s
first album as Good Luck Dark Star shouldn’t diminish his accomplishment on You’ll Need It, which was originally
self-released but is getting a wider digital release via local label Shangri-La
Projects (www.shangrilaprojects.com).
With energy to spare, Eighty Katie devoted itself to heart-on-sleeve pop songs
about unattainable girls and the Who’s Meaty
Beaty Big & Bouncy
. GLDS has more to do with life’s harsher
disappointments and ELO’s Out of the Blue.
He’s not just making the old sound new, but space-age: Especially on the
lower-key second side, Kevin Cubbins’ production is airy and open, creating a
roomy ambience for Krock’s layered vocals and some melodies inherited from
Chris Bell. Softer, keys-based songs like “Good Luck and “Phenomenology” sound
weightless, while the guitars on “Mirror Ball” and “Last Hurrah” sound
jet-propelled. “Map of the Sun,” with its arcing George Harrison guitars, is
immediately catchy but only deceptively sunny: That chorus will stick with you
for days until you realize how heartbreaking it is. Like Reager, Krock is using
pop’s energy and effervescence to explore darker ideas about isolation and
emotional drift. Every night he tells himself he is the cosmos.

 

Ultimately, both of these albums have ideas to spare and
songs that never quite go where you expect, which only makes them more
rewarding with each listen. That neither sound like any of their Memphis peers or
forebears only makes the sound even more Memphian.

 

 

[Pictured: Good Luck Dark Star, by Matt Isbell; check out
their MySpace page HERE;  check out J.D.
Reager’s MySpace page HERE.]

 

 

BLOOD ON THE TONGUE Bob Dylan

The bard, at his most
pugilistic, crotchety best, navigates his muddiest mixed waters yet.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

From the first strains of Together Through Life, Dylan’s 46th release, the song “Beyond Here
Lies Nothin’,” Bob Dylan seems to offer the words of a romantic in the rasp of
a slapped stupid wrestler. Fans of Mickey Rourke’s recent Oscar nominated role*
will find delight in the manner in which “I
love you, pretty baby/ You’re the only love I’ve ever known/ Just as long as
you stay with me/ The whole world is my throne”
comes tumbling through the
tune’s dicey blinking bossa nova swing. Dylan holds each couplet of love’s
lacing in his mouth as if he’s rolling the blood between his tongue, gums and
teeth. If he wants you to stay pretty baby, you better find your own cushion.

 

That’s not the worst of it, really. And all that kicked and
corroded romance isn’t necessarily a bad thing according to Bob. He had it
rough all this (nearing age 68) time and he turned out OK.

 

Lady, you’ll be fine.

 

Again produced by Dylan’s not so ego-filled alter ego Jack
Frost, Together Through Life treks
its crotchety best through his muddiest mixed waters yet. Once more – that’s
not necessarily a bad thing.

 

His usual touring crew, abetted by star guests, backed him
up on this effort and everyone seems to churn and kick quickly, as if these
were pre-show improvisational run-throughs. At a time when too many albums
sound hermetically sealed (I’m looking at you,
U2), the frantic murk of Dylan’s mix is sort-of refreshing. The rust-belt bolts
of guitar courtesy Dylan and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, the last waltzing
accordion of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo – when those wheezing snaking noises
knock on the window come closing time at the Texican saloon of “Forgetful
Heart” (“If You Ever Go to Houston” sounds similar), and when Dylan mumbles “I
lay awake and listen to the sound of pain/ The door has closed forevermore/ If
indeed there ever was a door,” you’ll need a stiff drink.

 

And fast. Fast because even when tunes like “I Feel a Change
Comin’ On” linger languidly, they still seem slap-dashed. Then slapped again. Though
pensive and slow “Life Is Hard,” seems a quick read, as if a jaw-gnawing Dylan,
atop yawning pedal steels and shuffled softly drums, is coming down off blow
while enunciating carefully the phrase “Ad-mit-ting life is hard/ With-out you
near me.”

 

Lyrically too, Dylan seems in a hurry. The bluesy “My Wife’s
Home Town” and the juke-dis-jointed “Shake Shake Mama” are spit-fire and
chatty, as if he read his stinging indictments, first take, into a tape
recorder and just added instrumentation as an after thought. (That’s a
compliment, incidentally.)

 

“If you’re goin’ on home/
Better go the shortest way.”

 

Why not? Dylan did.

 

 

*The Wrestler, 2008,
dir. by Darren Aronofsky

 

 

BLURTING WITH… John Davis/Superdrag

The pop maestro on the
band’s reunion, on their biggest influence (hint: it ain’t the Beatles), and on
giving the fans what they want.

 

BY RON FAULKNER & FRED MILLS

 

In July of 2007, the following post appeared at the official
Superdrag website
:

 

“Superdrag Reunion set for October and November ’07: The rumors you
may have seen online are absolutely true. The original Superdrag lineup (Don
Coffey Jr., John Davis, Brandon Fisher, and Tom Pappas) are reuniting to play 6
limited tour dates in October and November!”

 

For fans of the Knoxville, Tennessee, powerpop combo, and
for pretty much anyone who’d had a pulse during in the alt-rock ‘90s (re: 1996 Elektra
album Regretfully Yours and ubiquitous
hit single “Sucked Out”), this was not insignificant news. The aforementioned
lineup, after all, hadn’t played together since ’99, following the release of
1998’s Head Trip in Every Key.
Eventually, following a series of personnel changes and in the face of
diminishing returns, Davis broke up the band in 2003 to pursue a solo career
that reflected his newfound immersion in Christianity, issuing a pair of
Faith-themed records, 2005’s John Davis and 2007’s Arigato!, while the other
former members all pursued various projects as well.

 

Yet all along, interest remained high in Superdrag –
apparently for Davis, too, as you’ll read below – and 2007 brought a pair of
archival projects from the band that helped fuel the fan fires, the demos/live
collection Changin’ Tires on the Road to
Ruin
and the two-CD collection of unreleased early material, 4-Track Rock !!! 1992-1995 + Complete Bender
Sessions
. After the fall reunion gigs featuring Davis (guitar, vocals),
Fisher (guitar, vocals), Pappas (bass) and Coffey (drums) turned out to be
resounding successes, the stage was set, certainly, for further investigations.

 

Davis and his
reconstituted Superdrag continued to perform throughout 2008, and by the end of
the year word had leaked out that a brand new studio album was in the works. It
finally arrived this past March in the form of Industry Giants, issued on the band’s own Superdrag Sound
Laboratories. A riotous collision of sound that referenced classic hi-nrg
Superdrag melodic maneuvers alongside big-ass heavy guitar workouts, Industry Giants was everything fans had
come to love from the band. Pop – with power (as Pete Townshend might’ve put
it), and an utterly joyful celebration of rock ‘n’ roll’s manifest ability to
elevate both body and spirit to a higher plane.

 

What’s that old saying? Free your mind and your ass
will follow? In the case of music that rocks this vitally, let’s flip that one
around: free your ass, and your mind
won’t have any choice but to follow.

 

Superdrag founder and chief songwriter John Davis
sat for our latest “Blurting With…” grilling.

 

 

***

 

BLURT: You have
already done some dates to promote the new album.  Do you plan to follow
this with a more extensive tour, and do you intend to visit any areas where you
have not been since reforming?

 

Yes, yes and yes. (Ha-ha.)  I think the live
work will be steady throughout the rest of the year.  All of us have
family commitments, small kids at home, and other work to do, so it’ll be
somewhat sporadic.  More like guerrilla warfare and less like a battle of
attrition.  We’ve got dates on the books in several places we hadn’t been
to since 2003 – or in some cases even further back than that.

 

 

Many people are
describing the sound of the new album as considerably harder and as having lost
much of the Beatle-y influence of previous efforts, yet one can still hear
certain similarities between Industry
Giants
and Regretfully Yours.
 Also, I get a Husker Du vibe in places on Industry Giants. What is your take on these comparisons, and how
Superdrag’s sound is, or is not evolving?

 

Well, arguably, Husker Du has been THE biggest
influence on our band from the get-go.  I mean, the SST bands inspired me
to start my own band to begin with.  In musical terms, their influence has
been way more out-front on the last couple of albums than on any of the
others.  But then again, the first solo record I did, the self-titled one,
was the biggest Beatles rip-off I ever perpetrated – in a long line of Beatles
rip-offs.  As a matter of fact, it was kind of the summation of that
pursuit for me.  I’m done with it.  That being said, though, there
are moments on the new album that sound a lot like The Kinks, The Who, that
whole pantheon of ‘60s British Invasion bands that is just sort of in the
groundwater or the DNA of everything we do.

 

 

What are the bonus
tracks on the Japanese release of Industry
Giants
?  Are they the same as the bonus tracks on Amazon and iTunes in
the US?

 

They’re the same ones: “Filter Out The
Air”, which is another one of mine, and “4 On The Floor”. 
Senator Tom Pappas wrote that one.

 

 

I love the “Aspartame”
video – the production is just great.  What was it like to make it? [Ed note: see below for the video.]

 

It was probably the easiest time and the most
fun we ever had while shooting a video.  Even Don enjoyed it!  (Ha!)

 

 

I always thought that
your Arigato! solo album sounded like
it could have been a Superdrag record.  Were you consciously thinking
about getting the band back together or were you just going for a harder edge
on the songs?

 

I guess I just tried to write songs that I wanted to
hear.  It does sound a lot like Superdrag in places, but as a whole it’s a
lot harder, faster and more aggro than any of the old Superdrag music.  I
thought about putting the band back together pretty much the entire time we
were away – for a long time I thought about reasons not to do it.

 

 

Are Tom and Brandon
going to write more songs for the next Superdrag record?  How do the plans
for songwriting contributions seem to be taking shape, or is it too soon to tell?

 

As far as I’m concerned.  I hope so.  I’d
love to get something on record from Don next time around.  He’s got some
great songs.  I think we’ll just record the best songs we’ve got at the
time.  Some people don’t like to hear from other writers and singers on
Superdrag records.  I do.

 

 

A lot of Superdrag
fans would be really anxious to get their hands on some demos from the
Bearsville outtakes.  Do you have plans to release any of these?

 

At some point in the not-too-distant future we plan
to present a second installment in the series that began with 4-Track Rock !!! 1992-1995 + Complete Bender
Sessions.
Essentially [it will be] a 2-disc set that includes all the
4-track demos for the 2nd album on the first disc, and the complete Bearsville
demos on the other.  We would love to present those to fans in the best
possible way, in a nice package, from the original source.  I’d venture to
guess that most of what’s out there online probably doesn’t do them justice in
terms of the sound quality.

 

 

Lastly – what are
your day jobs?

 

Tom is a contractor—he does home improvements and
construction.  I am an audio/data analyst.  Brandon does closed-captioning.  Don is
a stay-at-home Dad.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Jimmy Abegg]

 

 

BLURTING WITH… MARK OLSON

The alt-country
godfather gets back together with his old Jayhawks partner Gary Louris.

 

BY AARON KAYCE

 

 

When Mark Olson and Gary Louris led famed alt-country outfit
the Jayhawks, it was their earthy songwriting and interlocking harmonies that
defined the group’s sound. In 1995, Olson left the band to spend more time with
wife Victoria Williams, causing fans to wonder if they’d lost the dynamic duo
forever. The two kept in loose touch and worked together on a film score in
2001, which sparked the fire for future collaborations. In 2006, struggling
after his divorce from Williams, Olson set off to find Louris in Minnesota. They spent
their days in Louris’ garage effortlessly piecing together songs that would
become Ready For the Flood.

 

Finding the perfect creative foil to produce the album, they
enlisted old friend and ex-touring partner Chris Robinson. This is the album
Olson and Louris have always longed to make and it welcomes one of the
strongest partnerships in music back to the limelight. In a recent interview
with BLURT, Olson allowed his Midwestern charm to permeate our discussion about
the past, present and future of the Mark Olson & Gary Louris
relationship.  

 

 

BLURT: When you left
the Jayhawks it was assumed there was some tension, was that difficult to
overcome when you came back together with Gary?

 

OLSON: I don’t really think about that too much now, but at
the time, yes I’m sure there was tension. But it was more in the line of, I’d
been in the band a long time and thought there might be a different kind of
life for me. So what I basically did was play different instruments in
different kinds of music.

 

 

Is this a
continuation of where you left off with the Jayhawks, or is this something that
seems different to you?

 

It was always something that was brewing in a way. Even when
we made the records I was on, there was always feelings coming from Gary and from me that we
really wanted to have an acoustic song on those records, but it just wasn’t in
the cards. And we’d always listened to acoustic music and liked the combination
of band and acoustic; not so much straight ahead folk stuff, but experimenting
with that, different chords, different grooves, weird harmonies, weird lyrics.
We’d both been into that for many years and this was the first chance to try to
put it on an album that way. Nobody was telling us what to do at this point.
And Chris [Robinson] was very versed in British folk so we just went for it.
And this is so strange, but this was the first time we sang together in the
studio and we kept all the live singing tracks, there wasn’t any overdubbing on
the vocals.  

 

 

How did you guys get
Chris involved to produce the record?

 

We toured with them [The Black Crowes] and there was
something different about them; they were like these Southern Gentlemen in a
strange way. You wouldn’t think so with these “crazy rockers,” but they had
manners and they kind of impressed us. They went out of their way to do things
to make us feel welcome and to talk to us and invite us bowling and that always
stuck with us. And I think Gary
kept up with Chris, I actually got together with Marc Ford a couple times over
the years, and they were all decent guys. And I was aware how much he [Chris]
listened to music and how much he knew about music and I really thought it
would be a good idea to work with him and it worked out great. He’s a very
encouraging guy and he takes it very seriously.

 

 

In terms of lyrical
themes where do you tend to draw inspiration?

 

I think some of the stuff has always been clued in on
Midwestern society, just the way people relate to each other. I certainly
haven’t moved in the way I think about the world, that’s still how I grew up.
And the music you listen to really influences you and I think we’ve listened to
a lot of Band and early country stuff that had stories that were mysterious in
a way, and I think that influenced us on the lyrical level. We wanted to tell
an interesting story that left you hangin’.

 

 

Do you have any
thoughts about the future; will there be another album with Gary?

 

That’s all to be determined, but I’m really interested in
making another record. I sat around listening to this record this past week
because I’ve been getting ready to do it [live] and I’ve been relearning some
songs and getting the beats down, and I really really like it. It’s a challenge
and that’s what I like about music in general, anytime you go in it’s a
challenge to get something you really like and have it sound good down the
road; and this is one of them. 

 

 

 

 

 

DEBATE TEAM The Architects

The Kansas City punk band’s frontman passes MENSA
test, makes new album. Sorry, no rockets.

 

By CRYSTAL
K. WIEBE

 

 

With
his inked-up arms and punk-infused rock songs about partying so hard you’ve
gotta call in dead to work, Brandon Phillips can come off like a stone cold
hardass. But Phillips-who along with his brothers, drummer Adam and bassist
Zach, and guitarist Keanon Nichols make up Kansas City’s The Architects-brings
new meaning to the term “band nerd.” Phillips is a new member of MENSA, and he
talked with Blurt about the perks of
being part of the international league of extraordinary intellects. We also
discussed The Architects’ summer Warped Tour engagement and impending new album
on Skeleton Crew, the label owned by My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero.
(Note: The Architects are not to be
confused with a British death metal band of the same name.)

 

***

 

Your last album, Vice, just came out on Kansas City’s Anodyne Records last year. Are
you that prolific?

 

We
started talking to Skeleton Crew last August, really only a few months after
the last album had come out and were planning on… getting the writing engine
going again when the word came that we were on for the Warped Tour. [So] we
agreed that we needed to step it up and cobble something together quick. Being
prolific is the easy part. There is far more anxiety involved with actually
producing the final product: recording all our instruments, beat-mapping,
quantizing and auto-tuning all our instruments, hiring session musicians to
re-record all our instruments, flying in Metallica’s therapist and a vocal
coach to teach me the emo “death growl,” etc. It’s a lot to handle. 

 

 

What sort of bragging rights
does MENSA membership entitle you to?

 

I
was able to get my MENSA tattoo, which was my principal motivation and then
there are the little ancillary benefits like sweet MENSA rates on car
insurance, all-night chess tournaments and screaming message board debates
about the epistemology and ethical implications of the first season
of Stargate SG-1. Mensans are not
really much on bragging and so as to not offend the cultural norms of my new
clique, I’d just say that I am now entitled to whip your ass at word problems
and not much else. 

 

So, underneath all those tattoos, you’re
just a big nerd?

 

Ask
anyone who knew me before I was old enough to get a tattoo and they will
confirm for you that I have always been a huge, unrepentant nerd. I was 19
years old before I stopped regularly attending the Greater Kansas City Gem
& Mineral Show for fuck’s sake… but I still have all my specimens. My
medals from high school debate (6A State Champ, thank you very much) are framed
in my office. My all-time closest friends whom I look forward to seeing above
almost anyone else are all nerds, too. Since passing the MENSA exam I have been
challenged by some of them to take the LSAT and the Foreign Service Exam.
Challenge accepted. Check… and… mate!

 

If you’re such a smartypants, why aren’t
you out building rockets or something?

 

I
picked up a guitar when I was 8 and got a Dead Kennedys album when I was 12 and
my first band was signed pretty much out of high school, so I just never looked
back. Smartypants shit always seems like stuff I would take up as a hobby when
I retire. Like, retire from music at 50 and go to law school… or take up
model rocketry as you so aptly suggest. 

I bet that big brain of yours is
constantly spinning. What’s the best way to shut it off?

Epic
failures to balance my goddamn checking account are a quick way to pull the
plug on any delusions of superior cognitive function. 

 

Are you the smartest dude in rock?

 

Probably
not. There are tons of chicks and dudes amidst the rock community who have
actually managed to balance their musical lives with their academic lives.
People like Greg Graffin from Bad Religion are surely far more learned than I
for having been dedicated to the pursuit of both avenues. 

 

Are you the smartest Phillips brother?

 

Not
even close. In my family, I just test well. 

 

How are you going to apply your smarts
to the Warped Tour this summer?

I
will be holding seminars on semiotics (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and normative
critique (Tuesday, Thursday) behind the catering tent. Tuition is only $1,500.00
and credits are transferable to most state and private universities. 

 

You must enjoy schooling people. Who’s
the last unfortunate soul that you schooled?

 

Therein
lies the paradox. I admit the shameful truth-that I do feel unabated joy when I
get to sweep the legs out of some sucker-duck who imagines that he/she has some
game in a serious debate. However, people who flaunt their supposed knowledge
for no reason other than to assert superiority over their peers are just
douchebags and not at all secure or sincere about the very nature of intelligence
(not to mention whatever modicum of it they have been anointed with).

 

So
it is in the spirit of respect for virtuous brains that I make all possible
efforts never to be confused with one of those assholes. So I don’t drop
knowledge unless asked, and I don’t debate unless it’s called for, and I always
accept that having my ass handed to me is a distinct possibility. 

 

But
to answer your question, it was some shit-heel, tinfoil-hat conservative on a
message board who was building an imaginary case against Barack Obama’s
citizenship. I also love debating Pat Buchannan, Ari Fleischer and David Frum
when they are on TV, but I recognize that it’s not fair since they cannot
respond directly and because I am the only one allowed to use curse words in
that debate format. 

 

[Photo
Credit: Todd Zimmer]

 

BURNING, MAN! Coachella 2009

Morrissey, Macca, M.I.A.
and more: Blurt wraps up our annual pilgrimage to the Cali desert.

 

 

BY SCOTT DUDELSON

 

Last week our roving reporter braved heat and the flesh to
take in the 2009 installment of Coachella. To view his photographs of some of
the key performers (plus the occasional passed-out drunk), go here (April 17),
here (April 18) and here (April 19).

 

***

 

DAY ONE:

 

If somebody tries to tell you that Coachella is the hottest
music festival in the United
States, believe them – daytime temperatures
generally average 105 degrees Celsius. The festival itself takes place on a
nicely manicured Polo field in the vast Mojave Desert; about 20 min from Frank
Sinatra’s old hang in Palm Springs, and 2 hours
east of Los Angeles.
And while Day 1 of the three-day event, brought the requisite desert heat, it
lacked the edgy headliners that have made Coachella one of the most respected
festivals on the planet.

 

The first half of the day was dominated by younger, up and
coming indie-rock acts, and in turn, was the most interesting part of the
festival. Early highlights included Cage the Elephant, a five-piece, balls to
the wall rock outfit from Bowling
Green KY,

and the always-excellent Hold Steady.   M. Ward and The Black Keys also took to the
daytime Coachella stages, and in the case of M. Ward, less than 1000 people
stopped over to watch his beautiful set and hear tunes from his latest album
“For Beginners.”  Not even the Black
Keys, with their crunchy blues-rock sound, and mainstream music buzz could pull
in a major crowd.  The bands set included
raw and heavy versions 10 A.M. Automatic,
Strange Times, and Stack Shot Billy
and to those who watched the
performance, it was widely regarded as the days best.

 

The lack of enthusiasm for some of these great daytime acts
likely had something to do with the presence of Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen
and Morrissey as night one headliners. 
While all three are iconic legends, none of these artists fit the
traditional profile of a Coachella headliner, and it in turn attracted an older
crowd that didn’t fit the traditional profile of a Coachella concertgoer.  A vast majority of the crowd that attended
were only interested in watching
McCartney, Cohen, and Morrissey, and didn’t bother to show up early and catch
some of the great indie(ish) acts.

 

The most interesting of the three headliners was Leonard
Cohen who performed with a large band, and gave the crowd a set chalk full of
classics including Dance Me To The End Of
Love, Everybody Knows, Bird on a Wire, and Hallelujah.
  The rumor was that Cohen accepted the
Coachella gig because he needed the dough (apparently he lost his $10 million
fortune recently), so it was a great relief, that Cohen showed up in fine
voice, spirits and interest in giving the crowd the performance they wanted.

 

The final two acts – McCartney and Morrissey, performed the
sets you’d expect from Moz and Macca. 
Moz’s set featured an abundance of Smiths tunes (Bicycle, Girlfriend in a Coma, Ask, How Soon is Now), and solo hits
(Irish Blood, English Heart), coupled
with the occasional commentary about how ‘Meat is Murder.’ On stage Moz did his
best Moz impression, and for 50 minutes simply stalked the stage apathetically
and flailed his mic chord around like he was bored.

 

Macca’s appearance was notable for being preceded by a DJ
set that remixed the very tunes that Macca was to soon after perform.  A strange opening, but the baby boomer heavy
crowd didn’t mind, and the sing-a-long atmosphere was fitting for what was to
come.   McCartney kicked off his set with
a handful of Beatles / Wings tunes – Jet,
Drive My Car, and Got to Get You Into My Life
– before he went into an
extended run of songs from his last few albums that nobody really seemed to
know, nor really care about. The second half of the set was Beatles intensive,
and exactly what you want to hear when you see an ex-Beatle (that’s not Ringo)
perform.  Songs included Paperback Writer, Something, Yesterday,
Helter Skelter, Can’t Buy Me Love, Long & Winding Road, Let it Be, Day in
the Life, Get Back, Sgt Pepper
and the final festival sing-along Hey Jude.

 

After all was said and done, the promoters of the festival
had claimed a sell-out, but even a quick walk through the crowd during
McCartney’s performance indicated otherwise.

 

Lets see how Day 2 turns out…

 

 

 

DAY TWO:

 

Whatever bite that was lacking during Friday’s show, was
available in abundance yesterday. The event was pretty well packed the entire
day and night, and in true Coachella fashion, the field was dotted with dudes
passed out from the combination of beer and heat, the occasional topless chick
was spotted dousing herself with water to keep cool, and interesting acts were stacked
up, one after another.

 

The festival kicked off early with a furious (and
surprisingly engaging) set from Ontario based punk-rock outfit Billy Talent,
and was immediately followed by a performance from the beautiful English
blue-eyed soul singer, Joss Stone.   With
a ten-piece band in tow, Stone performed a forty-minute set in which she mixed
a couple old tunes, with a few freshly written tracks (which apparently have “only
been heard by a few people in English pubs”), that stylistically could have
been pulled from a early-mid 70’s Stevie Wonder record.   At only 22 years old, Stone has both the
talent and time, to recapture the early success she achieved with her debut
album Mind, Body and Soul, and it was
surprising that such an amazing talent was relegated to playing such an early
day-time set.

 

Impish Scottish singer Paolo Nutini followed Stone on the
main-stage, but his set was often punctured by the sound of some ass-kicking
guitar work from a nearby stage that featured Drive-By Truckers (including, of
course, frontman Patterson Hood). For DBT, though, their day-time performance
was simply a warm-up for their funky instrumental set later in the evening with
legendary Stax soul-man Booker T (performing under the moniker Booker T &
the DBT’s).  

 

Following DBT’s and Nutini were a quick succession of
politically charged sets from both Michael Franti and Spearhead, and ex-Black Flag
singer, Henry Rollins.   With Franti and
Spearhead, you get what you expect to get – a laid back, no frills good-time,
blanketed with some left-leaning commentary; Rollins on the other-hands, is one
crazy, unpredictable, and brilliant mother-fucker.   Rollin’s 40 minute spoken word set was a mix
of political commentary and stand up comedy, and although he no longer has
George W. Bush to focus his anger on, there was no shortage of topics for him
to wax poetic, be it airline security, our relations with Iran, and even Cat
Steven’s detention at a US airport.

 

As dusk began to settle, one of the festivals most
interesting acts Tinariwen, laid down their authentic Western Saharan desert
blues, while Calexico, on a nearby stage, treated fans to their authentic
vision of dusty, desert Americana.

 

Although the Killers were the night’s stated headliners,
much of the advance buzz was focused on sets by TRV$DJ-AM and M.I.A.   Coachella marked only the second appearance
by Travis Barker and DJ AM since they survived a plane crash late last year,
and when the duo hit the stage, it was hard spot an audience member without a
smile on their face. The duo kicked off their set with a wicked re-mix of
‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and for fifty minutes the jam-packed crowd roared with
excitement as the duo remixed everything from MGMT to Bloc Party, and
introduced special guest Warren G to the stage. 
By virtue of circumstance, TRV$DJ-AM’s set was truly a celebration of
life.

 

The advance buzz for M.I.A’s appearance was helped by an
unexpected ‘Tweet’ that the Sri Lankan singer sent out to her fans early
Saturday morning, suggesting that crunk master Lil Wayne will be joining her
for a couple songs.  Although Young Weezy
didn’t turn up for the performance, at least 35,000 fans did, and M.I.A in turn
delivered an exciting set that took the party over the top. Although there were
moments when she was clearly uncomfortable performing on such a massive stage
(toward the end of the set she noted “next time, I’m back in the tent. I prefer
people to sweat.”), and had to make clear that “just because [she] played
the Grammy’s, doesn’t mean [she’s] sold-out,” her fuck-all attitude and natural
charisma was enough to keep even the most demanding critic satisfied.  Lets just hope that she will be able to keep
it together.

 

Day 3 here we come!

 

 

DAY THREE:

 

Much like Day 1 of the festival, Day 3’s appeal (and draw)
relied heavily on the reputation and legacy of its headlining artists, which
included The Cure, Public Enemy, My Bloody Valentine, Perry Farrell, and Paul
Weller.   Whether it was due to burnout
from the first two days events, a lack of interest in these acts, or the
sweltering 100+ temperatures, the crowd was noticeably thinner during much of
the day, and the festival as a whole seemed to be moving much slower.   Multiple stages were running behind
schedule, and this caused many concert-goers (including myself), to miss significant
portions of key sets because there was never any certainty when one act would
begin, and another would end.   Not cool.

 

But with the bad, comes a lot of good, and the sets that I
did manage to catch were great.   One of
the most interesting acts to perform was the hard-core punk band Fucked Up from
Toronto, Canada.  Just as the name implies, the band’s set was totally fucked up.  In fact, it was so fucked up, it was
awe-inspiring.  The five piece is led by Damian
Abraham, a big, hairy beast of a man, with blood painted over his face, and a
wicked intention to remain perpetually topless.   Much like the singer of Valiant Thorr
(another totally fucked up, crazy front-man), Abraham plays hard and invites
audience participation.  During the
band’s first song, Abraham jumped over the photo pit, and somehow managed to
get his 250+ pound frame over the barricade and into the crowd.  Luckily nobody was crushed, but Abraham’s
presence ignited frenzy in the most pit, and for the next few songs this crazy beast
tossed fans left and right while his band thrashed on their instruments behind
him.

 

Shortly after Fucked Up blazed their trail of destruction,
the Brian Jonestown Massacre took the stage and performed a surprisingly tame
set.  Singer Anton Newcombe’s reputation
as an eccentric live performer is well documented, but for this performance
Newcombe instead sang dispassionately, facing his band instead of the
crowd.  In fact, it wasn’t until the
fifth song that Newcombe even looked at the audience. Not even a few f-bombs
hurled toward the stage could get a rise out of Newcombe. It’s unclear whether
Newcombe was channeling the sprit of Jim Morrison, zonked on Prozac, or just
simply bored.

 

As the day turned into night, one of the festival’s
brightest younger acts, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, took the stage and nearly the entire
festival the crowd with it (Paul Weller’s set, which was taking place at the
same time, only had thousand or so people watching).  The band, led by the theatrical Karen O,
kicked out an hour long set with tunes from their new album It’s Blitz and favorites from past
albums including a stunning version of their hit “Maps.”  Following Yeah Yeah Yeahs was the
one-two-three punch of Public Enemy, iconic English noise-rock band My Bloody
Valentine, and The Cure.

 

While the members of My Bloody Valentine, stood stoically on
stage, the sound they produced was akin to an explosion, and lifted and lulled
as the melodies demanded. The band performed much of their classic 1991 album Loveless, while Public Enemy performed It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us
Back
in its entirety on a nearby stage. The Cure closed out the night with
a two-hour plus greatest hits set (and Robert Smith would have played more if
they hadn’t gone 30 minutes over curfew).

 

After the show I spoke with a few fans and each had a wildly
different take on the festival and what day was best.  To me, it underscored the fact that Coachella
– and any festival with numerous stages and a large variety of acts – is not
unlike a ‘choose your own adventure’ story, and luckily no matter what
adventure you choose, its bound to be a pretty darn good one.

 

 

 

LIKE A GIANT BAMBOO FIST Dengue Fever

With a new DVD in stores and in the
middle of a tour, the L.A.
band is surfing the American pan-cultural zeitgeist.

 

BY JUD COST

 

 

In a few short
years, Dengue Fever, a six-piece rock band from Los Angeles, has accomplished what purveyors
of fusion-jazz could never completely pull off: the successful blending of
musical styles that, on the surface, seem incompatible. The secret ingredient
in this alchemical recipe is America’s
continuing love affair with the Doors, whose music had just enough exotica to be used in the opening
segment of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. With a few shakes of Jim Morrison & Co. added
to its strangely alluring arrangements (not to mention liberal dollops of surf
guitar in mix), the band, whose lead singer sounds unlike anyone you’ve ever
heard, can make instant converts of an entire clubful of patrons who know next
to nothing of the Far East or its pop music: the group’s exciting hybrid-rock, heartwrenchingly
chirped by vocalist Chhom Nimol in her native Khmer dialect, can grab you like a
giant bamboo fist and wring melancholy and ecstasy from the listener in equal
amounts.

 

Currently in the
middle of an extensive U.S. tour, Dengue Fever continues to capitalize on its
most recent album, Venus on Earth,
which was issued back in January of 2008 and went on to land on numerous
year-end best-of lists. Expect the group’s profile to rise even further with
the just-issued documentary DVD Sleepwalking
Through the Mekong
(M80; www.m80music.com),
an eye-popping document of the band’s 2005 tour of Cambodia and directed by John
Pirozzi (cinematography on Too Tough To
Die: Johnny Ramone
and Leonard Cohen:
I’m Your Man
). Adding to the Apocalypse
Now
flavor of danger lurking around the next river bend, the photos of the
males in this combo, from their three previous albums, could have
come from the “No-Fly” dossier of George Bush’s Homeland Security
boys.

 

Sleepwalking Through The Mekong is a gorgeously colorful, one-way ticket
to a part of the world you may have seen only on cable TV, with celebrity chef
Tony Bourdain zipping around Thailand
on a motorbike in search of fast-food. Instead of curried veg, peanut sauce and
steamed rice, Dengue Fever backs Simol’s enchanting vocals with David Ralicke’s
spell-bindingly morose tenor sax, the pounding jungle drums of Paul Dreux
Smith, the wide-eyed bass of Senon Williams and the snake-entwined keyboards
and guitar of brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzman, taking you deep into the heart
of darkness.

 

Beautifully shot
and smartly edited, Sleepwalking will
leave you as baffled by traditional Cambodian stage entertainment as it will
thrilled by the exploits of these six good-will ambassadors, helping to undo
the cultural disaster of the Bush years. Dengue Fever unveils its hypnotic take
on traditional Khmer pop/psych-rock before delighted club audiences, then ventures
out into Phnom Penh record shops to track down vintage albums by the
originators of Cambodian rock: Ros Serey Sothea, Sinn Sisamouth and Pen Ra,
whose music (included on a piggybacked soundtrack CD here) was all but
exterminated by the cruel Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot.

 

At last, you’re
free to enjoy that armchair adventure you couldn’t have taken in the ’70s, as
described in the Dead Kennedys’ ironically titled punk-rock anthem “Holiday
In Cambodia.”

 

GOING MAD AT HIS OWN SWEET PACE Willie Nile

From the streets of NYC to a
house of 1,000 guitars – all without succumbing to stardom.

 

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

Relying on one’s reputation is one thing, but sustaining a
meaningful legacy can be quite another. 
Take Springsteen… or Mellencamp… or Van Morrison.  Each has proven that he’s up to the task,
plowing forward with works that seem to enhance, expand and redefine their
seminal accomplishments.  Likewise, Willie
Nile has also earned his standing in that esteemed company, not because he’s
achieved superstar status – sadly he hasn’t — but rather due to the fact that
he still makes music that achieves the same standards etched with his earliest
efforts.

 

 

The evidence lies in his remarkable new album, House of a Thousand Guitars, the
riveting, follow-up to his comeback of sorts, the highly lauded Streets of New York.  If, in fact, there was any doubt about his
tenacity and perseverance, these two albums have affirmed his irrepressible
endurance and reminded admirers past and present that he’s not only a singular
talent, but also a tireless troubadour. 

 

 

“I just write
what comes to me,” Nile insists.  “There’s no grand design or
anything.  I like a variety of things and
try to mix it up a bit to keep it interesting. 
I just try to follow my instincts on a song and get it to where it feels
right to me.  I figure if I like it,
maybe someone else might like it as well.”

 

 

While critical kudos have been more prevalent than
commercial acclaim, that mantra has managed to serve him well for the better
part of the past three decades… ever since his 1980 self-titled debut and his
sensational sophomore release, Golden
Down
.  Surrounding himself with an
A-list assortment of musical contributors (Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III and Roger McGuinn among them early on), Niles
has explored the gritty undercurrents of everyday existence with a fiercely
uncompromising stance.  A relentless
rocker, he plied vibrant melodies and compelling choruses with a fury and
intensity that reflects both heroism and humanity. 

 

 

“The early adulation was interesting, but I never took it
too seriously,” he recalls nowadays.  “I
was just grateful that some of my music was getting out there and some people
were hearing it.  I never had a grand
plan for world domination or anything.”   

 

 

Maybe not, but the other epochs that followed – 1991’s Places I Have Never Been, the Hard Times in America EP released the
following year, his live Archive Alive in 1997, followed by the remarkable Beautiful
Wreck of the World
two years later – further bolstered his reputation as an
edgy, incisive artist whose message remains as compelling as his music.  “The joy for me is the writing of the songs,”
Nile replies when queried about the
combination.  “Its finding something
beautiful in a place where it might not be, combining words and melodies that
speak to a part of the soul that maybe has been in the shadows a bit too
long.” 

 

 

An early tour with the Who and a guest performance with
Bruce Springsteen further established his credence, but it would be another six
years before Streets of New York would
propel him back into the spotlight.  A
live CD and DVD, both of which were dubbed, appropriately, Live from the Streets of New York helped up the ante.  Not surprisingly then, House of a Thousand Guitars and its searing title track – an anthem
of sorts that imagines Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams,
John Lennon, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker united in a sort of spectral
celebration -finds Nile coming full circle.

 

 

“Success, or whatever people mean by that word can be a
double-edged sword,” Nile reflects.  “It has its good things and its bad
things.  Judging from some of the train
wrecks in our celebrity culture it clearly has its drawbacks, but who wouldn’t
like to be able to go into the garage and open up one of those suitcases full
of hundred dollar bills and gold doubloons and take care of what needs taking
care of.”

 

 

Whether or not the new album elevates him to the upper
reaches of mass acclaim seems to have little bearing on Nile’s
continuing quest to maintain his muse. “I think I’ve been fortunate in that
I’ve been able to continue working on my craft away from all the cameras and
fame.  I’ve been able to develop as a
person and a writer without the usual interference.  Hopefully that has made me a better writer and person.  It also allows me to go mad at my own sweet
pace.”