Monthly Archives: September 2009

DAMN! BYO TURNS 25! Youth Brigade & BYO Records

A quarter century’s
worth of punk pulchritude get commemorated via a box set and a documentary.



Pete Wentz wasn’t even wearing eyeliner when brothers Shawn
and Mark Stern decided to start BYO (Better Youth Organization) Records 25
years ago. The label, which put out releases by Youth Brigade – the Brothers
Stern’s own punk band – went on to put out seminal punk releases from bands
like Leatherface and 7 Seconds.

To quote the band, BYO was founded as “part political movement, part
business venture that began as a way to organize punks to take positive action
to help sustain their scene and their way of life.”

To commemorate their 25th anniversary – not bad considering how many other
labels have come and gone during that time – BYO is putting out a 31-song box
set, featuring a who’s who of American punk rock. Groups like Bad Religion,
Dropkick Murphys, NOFX, Anti-Flag and the Bouncing Souls all took turns
covering BYO bands. The set also comes with the documentary Let Them Know, which looks at the
influence of the label through interviews with Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor
Threat, founder of Dischord Records), Fat Mike (NOFX, Me First & The Gimme
Gimmes, founder of Fat Wreck Chords) and Steve Soto (Adolescents, Manic
Hispanic), among others.

Shawn Stern, in the middle of a Youth Brigade tour, took some time recently to
answer questions about the label, the band and punk rockin’ as a 40-something.



BLURT: Are you surprised
that the label is still up and running 25 years later?

STERN: I’m surprised that we were able to put out one record, let alone nearly
120! When we started I never thought I’d be playing music in my 30’s let alone
my 40’s and approaching 50. For us to last this long is kind of amazing to us
and we feel extremely lucky.


So how do you think you’ve able to keep it going for so long when so
many others have folded?

Pure luck! (laughs) Well, I think we
just put out good music that we like and people seem to respond well. We never
did this to make money; we never had any business plan or really any plan at
all. We put out records ‘cause we had a band and we put out other bands’
records ‘cause we liked the band, the music and what they had to say. I guess
we’re doing something right, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived.


Do you think its easier running a
business with your brothers or ultimately harder?

My brothers and I are all very close, so I think it’s really easy to work
together. I mean we’ve been doing it all our lives, so it’s pretty natural. We
can argue – and we do – but we don’t take it personally, we just go eat lunch
or go have a drink after.


Ever get into any Kinks style fist fights over the band or the label?

Nah, our punching each other out ended in our teens. Screaming arguments once
in awhile that we usually end up laughing about is the extent of it.


Have you always had a defining principle or set of principles that BYO
was founded on?

Well, like I said, we never had a plan we just did things as they came up. The
principles have always been those that our parents and grandparents instilled
in us as kids: think for yourself, life is about learning and giving back,
helping people. From that we devised our own ideals about what punk rock is to
us, that one should question everything and decide for yourself what makes
sense. Don’t be a sheep, don’t follow anyone. I was heavily influenced in my
senior year in high school by an existential lit class I took. I read
Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus, and the next semester I had an
entire class on Herman Hesse. They all had a profound effect, but Albert Camus’
The Stranger and the Myth Of Sysiphus were almost life
changing for me. I think those ideals will always stick with me.


What was always the deciding factor in putting out a band’s music?

We put out bands that we like as people, whose music we like and believe in and
we feel we can help them. There’s lots of bands that we like and would like to
work with over the years but for one reason or another it just didn’t work out.


Do you get a sense of enjoyment of watching major labels falter and
grasp to stay relevant?

Hmm, I’m not really someone that takes pleasure in other people’s failure. I
don’t really worry about other labels; it’s not something I can control or be a
part of. But I’m not gonna lose sleep over the fact that a multi-national
corporation leaves the music business, because in my view they only look at
music as nothing more than a way to make money and I think that is not good for
anyone. So the more of them that leave music, the better it is for music and
all of us.


Was it difficult deciding who would be on the album that comes with the
box set? More important, was there a fight between bands to cover “California is

We just asked all the bands we like and they all said sure. Now getting them to
actually get in the studio and record, well that’s another story. Everyone is
busy, when they are recording a new record they are concentrating on that and
putting together a cover sometimes isn’t at the top of their list of things to
do. Picking songs was up to the band, there were a few that wanted to do a
certain song but someone had already picked it, but there were no
“fights.” Worked out really well I think. Well, I guess everyone can
listen to the record and decide for themselves, but it’s a pretty amazing


A lot of folks cite you guys as influences in starting their own
labels. Did you really have anyone to emulate or learn from when you were
starting BYO records?

No, there were very few labels at the time doing punk rock on the level we did
it when we started. Slash and Dangerhouse were about it in L.A. but we just sort of figured it out on
our own. Ask questions, call around, talk to the guys at the pressing plant
about how to do things ‘cause they had been in the record business for years
and they knew the basics. A lot of it was just logic, go around to stores and
ask them to take the record. That was our early distribution.



Why did the band ultimately decide to call it quits?

Adam had left the band to go back to school in ’84, we got Bob Gnarly in the
band and changed the name to The Brigade and our sound got a little more
“poppy” I guess you could say. The punk scene was dying, the hair
bands were taking over the sunset strip and we were burnt so we just decided it
wasn’t fun anymore.


So was it an easy decision to get the band back together and tour?

Yeah, we were all playing music again in different bands. I had a band, That’s
It, and my brothers had all started the band Royal Crown Revue, and [we] met up
on tour in Germany.
People had been asking about Youth Brigade on both our tours, so we talked
about doing a “reunion” and I said if we wrote new songs and make a
record then I would do it. We all agreed, it was pretty easy and we’ve been
going strong ever since.


Did you find that you missed playing together?

I think we found that we had fun playing together. Mark (Stern) and Adam
(Stern) and our other brother Jamie were all playing together for a few years
in Royal Crown Revue and having fun. That’s the bottom line, it has to be fun.
Otherwise what’s the point!?



Was it surreal participating in the documentary?


No, not surreal. We put it together but we tried to not
involve ourselves too much in the planning. We wanted to let the filmmakers
make the movie, not us. We told them people they should talk to and gave them a
chronological line of what/how things happened, but we let them put it
together. I think they did an amazing job.


Listening to the interviews, were you surprised at how influential the
band was to so many?

I’m flattered. I don’t know if I’m so much surprised ‘cause I think there was
only a handful of bands in the punk scene that have lasted all these years and
odds are they have lasted because people like the music and that’s ‘gonna
influence bands that are coming after.


Any chance you’ll revive the BYO split series?

Oh, it isn’t dead, just been on hiatus. The box set was such a huge
undertaking, the biggest project we’ve ever done, so it took up nearly three
years of our time. We’ve had quite a few bands interested, just haven’t managed
to work it out. But we will hopefully soon.



BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #6: Bulletproof Vests

Memphis garage/power pop/soul musos know where to
find the best chicken salad.




The BLURT staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids Best Kept Secret”: it’s Memphis
outfit the Bulletproof Vests. Take a little bit of garage, a whole lotta power
pop, touches of Beach Boys vocal harmonies, sprinkle in some twang, some soul –
pure Memphis, in other words.


The music city’s in the quintet’s genes, in other words (and
in their jeans as well), and based upon the evidence of the Bulletproof Vests’
debut album Attack!, they couldn’t
fake it if they tried. From “To The Moon,” which righteously marries Big Star
to T. Rex, through the anthemic pop/soul (think erstwhile Memphians the
Reigning Sound) of both “Magic Wand” and “Down in Yer Pocket,” and all the way
to the unreconstructed Nuggets-worthy,
raveup of “Queenie in Trouble” that’ll have you hittin’ the nighttime avenues,
ready to rumble – these guys got the


The band: brothers Jake and Toby Vest, on guitars and vox;
Greg Faison, on drums; Dirk Kitterlin, on keyboards; and Brandon Robertson, on
bass. With a collective resume that includes the likes of Antenna Shoes, Jump
Back Jake, Snowglobe, The Third Man, and even a one-off with the late producer
Jim Dickinson called the Trashed Romeos, those Memphis roots are consistently on display. Jake
and Toby also operate their own studio, High/Low Recording and have been
diligently documenting the Memphis
indie-rock underground in between working on their own projects.


You can hear tracks from Attack! at both the band’s MySpace page and their official download site – it was
originally self-released earlier this year in a super-limited run, but it’s
slated to have a full national release very soon via local label Electric Room
Records. Meanwhile, totally smitten by what we’ve heard to date, we contacted
the band to get the scoop on where they came from, where they’re going, and
everything we need to know about their home town. A big salute to the band from BLURT and Sonicbids.




BLURT: Where did all
the members come from – previous bands, etc. – and when and how did the
Bulletproof Vests form?


JAKE VEST: Toby and I were in the midst of mixing a record
for our first band, The Third Man, when we got a call from a friend offering
the Third Man a gig at the legendary Hi Tone Cafe.  Sadly, some of the members of the band had
scheduling conflicts – one had chest waxing appointment, another had to wash
his hair – so we couldn’t commit to the gig as The Third Man.  Toby looked at me and said, “Why don’t we
just write 15 songs and get some folks together and bash through it.” I
immediately wrote our song “Magic Wand,” and the idea of another band
was born.


We toyed with names – Deathcopter, Vietnamicon, Grammar
Napkin, Wizard Tears, etcetera – and while drunk on a plane, we decided to
include our namesake and call it The Bulletproof Vests. Through the passing of
time and the shifting of the solar plexus we put together a band that included
Brandon Robertson, of Snowglobe, Coach & Four, Jump Back Jake, and Antenna
Shoes, on bass; Greg Faison, of Antique Curtains and Jump Back Jake, on drums; and
Dirk Kitterlin, a member of The Third Man, on keyboard instruments.


TOBY VEST: Let me also say that one of the main reasons for
starting The BPV was to have a creative outlet that was miles away from what
we’d done before. The excitement of expanding our creative palette really fed
into the way the songs came about and the way the record sounds. That, and the
fact that we were tired of jumping up and down on effects pedals in The Third
Man, so something a little more natural was a welcome change.



I’m also told that
some of you were in a band called the Trashed Romeos with Jim Dickinson and
Greg Roberson – what was the deal with that?


JAKE: We were lucky enough to spend a couple afternoons with
Jim Dickinson at Zebra Ranch throwing around song ideas, jamming on stuff, and
listening to great stories.  We took the
demo tapes, picked the best songs, and cut them at our studio, High/Low
Recording.  After that, we went back to
Zebra Ranch and Jim played piano and organ like a madman all over it. I mean,
he NAILED that shit to the wall! In that short time, Jim Dickinson taught us
more than we would ever be able to thank him for.  He is and will always be an important
influence to us musically and beyond.


TOBY:  We’ll forever
be grateful to Greg Roberson for introducing us to Jim and facilitating the
project and to Jim for welcoming us into his world. 



Tell me a little
about the album Attack! and how it
came together.


JAKE:  I guess the
best way to explain the album is to look at the cover.  Our friend Mary Carmack created the collage
that we used.  I relate intensely to her
work for many reasons, one being that her collages are just like our band. She
uses classic images in concert with her own creations to make something
completely new and exciting.  That was
our goal with this record.  When I saw her
piece that we used for the cover, it just made so much sense.  We wanted this record to be a full out
attack. So we just dropped those words on top of it and called it a day.  Hopefully, she’ll let us continue to butcher
her work in the future. 


Musically, the album is the result of us learning to be a
band.  And at the time of recording our
lineup was different.  Our friend/Third
Man bandmate Preston Todd was on drums, and he contributed greatly to the
writing and singing of the vocal harmonies. So you have songs where Faison
would be on drums AND bass, Preston would be
singing, I’d play 2 acoustic guitars and an electric, etc. etc.  All these odd little pieces surprisingly
ended up as a somewhat cohesive album. It was loose and fun and still is.


TOBY: The recording of the record was pretty much a club
house kind of situation. Jake or I would come in with a song and we’d cut a
track and start to build on top of it. There were no sessions, per se, for the record;
it just kind of came together by working as much as possible over the course of
maybe a 6 months or so. It was fun and relaxed. We had the songs done for a
while and were introduced to Adam Hill, who works at Ardent, by Greg Roberson
and he did a great job turning our ramshackle recording into a listenable
album. We pressed a small run, maybe 100 discs, and sold them at shows this
summer. We are going to officially release it on local label Electric Room
Records this fall. Then world domination can commence.



Memphis has a
schizophrenic reputation: it’s one of our most legendary music towns, yet
numerous musicians have told me that it’s a damn hard place for an indie rock
band to make a go of it. Is that true?


JAKE: I don’t think I understand the question, really.  It’s not hard at all to be a band in Memphis. You find some
dudes, or dudettes, you like and you play music and have fun doing it.  Sure, if you bring expectations into the
equation, then eventually you’ll get disappointed by something like a low
turnout or the 1,000 copies of your record you still have stored in your house.  The way I see it, this is the EASIEST town to
make a go of it.  Not only do you have a
huge wealth of musicians to work with, but you also have venues that support
their bands and an audience that is hungry for live music.  I challenge anyone who disagrees to an arm
wrestling contest. 


TOBY: I think one of the biggest obstacles in this city is
the audience for live music because this town doesn’t tolerate bullshit. Either
you believe in what you are doing or you don’t and the audience in Memphis can tell. And if
you don’t, then why the hell are you doing this anyway.



What are some of the
best kept secrets in Memphis
– from bands to venues to vices – we should know about when planning our
vacations to your fair city?


JAKE: I’d say musically its Richard James & the Special
Riders. Richard and his wife Anne Schorr make up the core of the band, and they
are incredible.  The live show is not to
be missed.  The Hi Tone Cafe has the
finest pizza, Payne’s BBQ has the best barbecue, the Lamplighter has the best
patty melt, the shows at the Buccaneer Lounge are always insane and out of
control (in a great way), and Alex Threet is the greatest bar regular you will
ever meet.


TOBY: Jeffrey James and The Haul is another band that stands
out to me – great songs, great dudes, and fun for all. I might also say that
what is going on at our studio space, High/Low Recording, is a pretty well kept
secret. Over the last year we have recorded Jeffrey James and The Haul, Antique
Curtains, two Richard James and the Special Riders records, Chinamen, New Mary
Jane (featuring Dave Shouse and Scott Taylor of the Grifters), and Holly Cole,
as well as all the stuff we are personally involved in – The BPV, The Third
Man, Trashed Romeos, and Kid Polio. Our hope is to make it easy and comfortable
for our friends to make records in a relaxed environment.



I hear a lot of
styles and influences in your sound, but I wanted to know, if YOU were
encountering the Bulletproof Vests for the first time, what would your reaction


JAKE: My reaction would be as follows: “What a bunch of
drunk fools up there lookin like they’re having the time of their lives playing
music with each other. And shouldn’t that drummer lose some weight?”


TOBY: “What’s with the tights?? Is that a statue or a
keyboard player/wp-content/photos”  Or simply,



Biggest successes to
date? Biggest failures? Plans for the immediate future?


JAKE: For me, our
biggest success has been that our friends keep coming out to our shows and
having fun.  Our biggest failure is when
we ran over that possum in Pittsburgh
last summer while on tour.  All I’m gonna
say about the future is that we are recording our 2nd record and where we’re
going, we wont need roads.


TOBY: I concur.



 Anything else we should know about the band, the city, life, love or
the pursuit of happiness?


TOBY: “Never get less than twelve hours sleep; never
play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get
involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to
that, and everything else is cream cheese.”


JAKE: Our mom makes the best chicken salad you will ever









Desperately seeking Lemmy:
the boys are back in town – the Queen
City, that is –  after a two-decade absence.




I had the pleasure of interviewing Lemmy Kilmister of
Motorhead in January of 1988 at the Charlotte Coliseum. Grow­ing up, I had seen
everyone there: Heart, Black Sabbath, Billy Idol, Judas Priest, Van Halen,
Robert Plant, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and AC/DC. (When I was a kid, others my age
were going to see Barnum and Bailey; I was going to see KISS.)


Excerpt from the book Kill
the Music:


It was a thrill to enter the Charlotte Coliseum through the
press gate in an official capacity as a staff member of WUSC-FM (Columbia, SC),
with my clipboard and tape recorder. The security guard ushered me to
Motorhead’s dressing room.  After some
pleas­antries meeting the other band members, the representative from Profile
Records sat me down in a small room, with a table and some folding chairs. On
the table sat a phone with a rotary dial next to an ashtray filled with
cigarette butts. I was a little apprehensive, as I waited.


After a few minutes, Lemmy Kilmister emerged. He was wearing
a wifebeater, flared black polyester slacks and white patent leather zip-up
ankle boots. He had long brown hair, a mustache and chops, and pronounced moles
on his face – he resembled one of the federales in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.


Lemmy, a bit irritated, sat down and rubbed his eyes. He
smoked his cigarette, and stared into the ashtray with his palms to his forehead.
He spoke with a gravelly British accent:


“All right. Let’s get
this over with.”


Nervously, I set up the tape recorder and microphone,
produced the pad and paper, and began the interview.


“So, Lemmy, tell me a little bit about your latest, entitled
Rock and Roll. It sounds like the songs are more about women than they
are about rock and roll.”


Interestingly, Lemmy gave a laugh, as if he had just been
called out, “Well, rock and roll is about women, and the songs are about women,
so you could probably say that, I suppose.”


“You are familiar with the British ‘Grebo’ movement. This
month’s Sounds Magazine proclaims that you’re the ‘Godfa­thers of
Grebo.’ How do you feel about that?”


Lemmy was indifferent. “We’re not the godfathers of any­thing.
We play what we play, and that’s it.” 


At first, I could tell that Lemmy didn’t want to be there.
He figured that I was just another moron with no grasp of how influential his
band was to the Brits. Motorhead wasn’t that well known in the U.S., like some
of the English flavors of the month such as Whitesnake, but among the hipsters
in the college radio crowd, bands like Motorhead, Slayer, Anthrax, and
Metallica were at the top of the food chain. Today, these same bands have been
glorified far more than the others, and they now adorn today’s video game
soundtracks such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, exposing a whole
new generation of listeners to their music.


Lemmy spoke a little about how Motorhead had missed the
first wave of metal and punk, and was in tandem between the two. He said that
the band wasn’t Led Zeppelin, or the Sex Pistols. He likened Motorhead to The
Ramones. They had, in a sense, carved their own niche, because of two reasons:
one reason was that the music was heavy, but not easily categorized, and the
other because none of the band members, Bill Campbell, Wurzel, or “Filthy
Animal” Taylor were poncy or attractive, in the same fashion as the other
touring gits in their tight knickers.


“What is Grebo?” I asked.


“I dunno, really,” Lemmy responded. “It has something to do
with motorbikes. Biker metal or something.” Lemmy dismissed it as a fad.


“Like maybe The Cult?” I inquired.


“That’s more like Bad Company, isn’t it?” 


I continued. “Zodiac Mindwarp? Gaye Bykers on Acid?”


“Gaye Bykers? A bunch of shit there. Queens aren’t they, the


“Do you dislike homosexuals?”


Lemmy responded matter-of-factly, “I don’t mind faggots, as
long as they’re not swishing, screaming faggots.”


(A number of years later, there was an internet rumor that
Lemmy was indeed gay, but I knew it wasn’t true from his candor in the
interview. Later, Out Magazine had to retract it.)


I changed directions a little. “I had read that you believe
in reincarnation. What are your thoughts on the subject?” Lemmy examined me for
a moment, as if he thought I was clever, and offered me a cigarette. Lemmy
placed his hand on the back of my chair, as he responded.


“I believe that I was reincarnated from an SS Officer of the
Third Reich.”


He leaned back, and took a draw off of his cigarette.  The coal brightened, and as he exhaled, he
flicked the smoke into the ashtray. He continued.


“It makes the most sense, you know, reincarnation. I think
souls are recycled. If you die a good person, you get upper wrung, and if you’re
bad you get backer wrung.”


“I read in the liner notes of No Remorse that
Motorhead had a reputation as ‘England’s
loudest band.’ That’s quite a title to have.”


Lemmy shook his head, and retorted. “No. We were truly England’s
loudest band at one point.  I’m sure that
there have been louder bands since that was printed. There was this one time,
we were playing in Detroit…”


I quickly followed with, “At a hundred-twenty decibels,


“Yeah, in this theatre. The plaster started falling from the
ceiling. Big chunks of it. We were afraid the building was going to come down
on top of us.”


After forty-five minutes of interview, I asked my last
question. “I read recently, that you had considered having your moles removed.
Is that true?”


“No. These are in too deep. I’m getting old. I’m forty-two.
I’m no spring chicken. I went to a plastic surgeon, and he told me because of
my age, if I had them removed, the scar tissue would be worse than the moles,
and that was it. I had all my teeth done. They’re not mine. But they don’t come
out at night or anything. I’ll admit, I’m no day at the beach, you know.”


We laughed together. We talked back and forth, as if we had
known each other for years. I did have one last request. “Before I go, would
you be kind enough to give me station identification for our radio station?”


Lemmy grabbed the microphone, and read the call letters from
the side of the recorder, and brashly spoke, “Hello, sons of bitches! This is
Lemmy from Motorhead and you’re tuned to WUSC-FM.  Keep listening or I’ll come around and saw
your face off, all right!”


So there it was. Lemmy was as forthright, honest, and as
offensive as I had hoped. When I left the Coliseum that night, I was as
jubilant as a horny Catholic school girl.




So let’s fast-forward 20 plus years.  Motorhead, with openers Reverend Horton Heat,
and Nashville Pussy were slated to play September 11, 2009 at the new Fillmore in Charlotte, NC.
It was the first time Motorhead had appeared in the Queen City
since I interviewed Lemmy back in the day. The band’s lineup has changed a bit,
and is now back to a three piece (how it was originally), with Phil Campbell on
guitar and the legendary Matt Sorum on drums, supporting Motorhead’s new
release, Motorizer. The Fillmore is a new concert venue incorporated into
an entertainment complex known as the North Carolina Music Factory. The Factory
is also home to the recently built Uptown Amphitheatre; both projects helmed by
Live Nation, centered in Uptown Charlotte. 


For old time’s sake, I started making some calls to see if I
could stir up passes. After first contacting the venue, then the wrong agent,
and then the right agent, I was given a resounding “thumbs down” by everyone I
spoke to, due to the lateness of the request, or “there are no passes left,”
etcetera. But, I was determined to get in to see Lemmy, as I had already told
everyone that I was going to review the show. When I woke up the day of the
show, I was pouring my coffee around 8:15,
when a brilliant idea popped into my noggin: I’ll email Lonn Friend and see what he could do for me.


Lonn Friend is the “Zen Master of Heavy Metal”, very much
like “The Dude” is the “Zen Master of Bowling.” Friend was “The man for his
time and place,” during the era of California
hair music and if there ever was a fabric that weaved itself into every facet
of that period, it was him. The ex-RIP
Editor-in-Chief and Author of Life
on Planet Rock
(also conjuror of the recent resurrection of Larry Flynt’s
defunct publication at
is a well-thought-of “friend” to metal’s last, best age, and was arguably
responsible for breaking most of the more durable bands during his tenure at RIP, including (but not limited to) Guns
N’ Roses, Metallica, and of course, Motorhead. 
In so many words, Lonn Friend is a legend. And sometimes he has a hard
time letting you forget it.


When I was in L.A. to attend the Newport Beach Film Festival
to meet with Jasin Cadic and Scott Rosenbaum, Co-writers of Perfect Age of
Rock n Roll
(produced by Spike Lee still yet to be released theatrically),
I had dinner with Lonn and some dingy tart he brought with him (who sent her
filet mignon back twice and then left her to-go box in the car), along with my
girlfriend and editor, Anne. It was my birthday. And having just written my own
book, Kill the Music, I was eager to meet the guru, who I had met only
casually on MySpace of all places, and pick his brain a little. We scooped up
Lonn and his muse at Friend’s loft, and then drove into Hollywood.


After stopping by Sirius Studios and catching the last song
by a showcasing band, The Operation, we went to grab a bite. Poetically, we ate
dinner at Lemmy’s favorite jernt, The Rainbow Bar and Grill. And much like Lemmy
would, Lonn and I hammered down mucho Jack Daniels shots. Afterward we went
back to the House of Friend, which by this time was consigned to moving boxes
scattered across the apartment floor, just prior to his trip to suburbia (and
out of the Hollywood Hills). While there, we explored what made Northern California famous and cracked a bottle of Dom, as
it was all there was to drink; save some skim milk that had expired. Anne and I
barely made it to the Comfort Inn on Sunset around 4 AM. 


Anyway, Lonn got back with me promptly, with the email
address of Motorhead’s manager, Todd Singerman. 
My specific instructions from Lonn were to, “Tell him we’re buds.” So I
sent Todd the logistics, and waited all day to hear something. After 8 hours or
so, I heard nothing. Finally, after throwing in the towel on the whole
situation, I dozed off on the couch around 5:15, only to be awakened by my cell phone.  I looked at the number. It was a 310 area
code. I answered. Lo and behold, it was Todd Singerman. 


Todd’s exact words were, “Any friend of Lonn Friend, is a
friend of mine.” Cool.  We were in.  The caveat was, “I can get you the tickets,
and ‘After Show’ passes, but I can’t get you an interview this late.  Lemmy’s been a real asshole about giving
interviews, anyway. And I can’t guarantee that he’ll come out after the show.
They might just start drinking and never come out.”  Fair enough. I wouldn’t expect anything less
from the maestro of mayhem, judging by my encounter 20 years ago.  Luckily, I was prepared for the interview way
back when, and that scored me some points. Otherwise the interview would have ended
abruptly. I could only speculate how gruff and impatient he is now. I imagine
his demeanor something like Captain Quint from Jaws, but instead of a
boat, he’s driving a 1987 Delta ’88 with a peeling Landau roof, on the wrong
side of the road, laughing maniacally at the oncoming traffic.   Anyway, I had already been there, and done


I then sent Lonn a text to inform him that he had worked
some magic for me, and I was appreciative.  He hit me back with, “It’s not magic. It’s a
relationship.”  I couldn’t help but think
of Artie Fufkin from Polymer Records. 
There again, I couldn’t get shit done in my own back yard, so I had to
outsource it, and Lonn came to my rescue. 
Luckily, I’ve met some folks in my travels, and occasionally they’ll do
me a solid.


That evening, we picked up the tickets from will call and
entered the venue around 9:30.  Reverend Horton Heat had just taken the
stage, which gave me an opportunity to examine the venue a little closer. The
Reverend bores the shit out of me. I had promoted a few Social
Distortion/Reverend Horton Heat shows in the 90’s in Charleston,
South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.  I didn’t care for him much then either,
especially after I lost my ass in Savannah. 


The room was cavernous with 2,000 plus black t-shirt
wearing, biker, metal-head, and post-punk concert attendees.  In other words, there were a lot of dudes, all
relatively still during Reverend Horton Heat’s set (and probably hungry for
some more Nashville Pussy, a hard act to follow with that electric tape and


The stage was easily 70 feet across with huge stacks on each
end, and more hanging above with 100 or so par 64 cans on trusses.  The venue has a ballroom feel; above the hardwood
dance floor; an array of crystal chandeliers. The Fillmore is tiered, very much
like the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina, and it has a
similar interior arrangement, although the venue feels a little claustrophobic opposite
the stage, due to limited head room.  The
show was standing room only, with the exception of the VIP area, which seemed
to be the only spot with chairs and tables.  But if there were chairs, there wouldn’t be a
bad seat in the house; you can see the stage from practically anywhere in the


Motorhead came on around 10:45 opening their set with “Iron Fist” and man, it was
loud. Almost deafening. Lemmy’s was as energetic as possible on stage, at 63,
taking into consideration his diet of Marlboro Reds and Jack Daniels. But his
bass thundered with the might of a rhinoceros herd. Ably assisting was Campbell on guitar, who’s
been with Lemmy off and on for almost thirty years, and “Neil Pert-status”
drummer Sorum, helping to bring the heaviest heavy monster sound available. Next
up was “Stay Clean”, followed by songs such as “Metropolis” and “Another
Perfect Day” although I got a little lost during the middle of the set.  Lemmy brought me back home, ending the set
with “Killed by Death” and “Bomber.” Then the band left the stage.


After a few minutes the crowd began to chant “Motorhead”
over and over; then came time for the anthem. I first heard “Ace of Spades” on
the BBC’s comedy show The Young Ones sometime in 1984 or 1985.  The last time I heard the song performed live
by Motorhead (and not the countless times I’ve heard it covered) was at Atlanta’s mythical Metroplex
in May of 1988 shortly after I graduated from college. Hearing the song played
after a 20 year hiatus was almost subliminal. And to add aural assault to
injury, Lemmy finished out the encore with “Overkill”.  Surprisingly, Motorhead went through the
entire set without playing one new song from Motorizer.  Don’t ask me why. Probably has something to
do with unit sales, as Lemmy continuously complains, “We don’t sell any bloody
records in the States.”


Frankly, the experience was almost like a homecoming. But Motorhead
could never have had its origins here. 
They’re just too English; that’s part of their mystique. But Lemmy’s
crew has become so entrenched in American pop culture that even AT&T
adopted an “Ace of Spades” reference a year or two back. I can’t, for the life
of me, imagine Rock and Roll without Lemmy Kilmister.  And it’s funny. In a recent interview, Lemmy
was quoted, as if a galley slave chained to a ship’s oar, en route to an
Australian prison colony: “We don’t know how to do nothing else. I’m trapped
behind this bass guitar. I really wanted to be a postman, but they wouldn’t let


Well, we’re certainly glad you didn’t take that job, Lemmy.
But if you had, you’d be the coolest postman who ever lived.




Michael G. Plumides,
Jr. is author of
Kill the Music, available on Watch for an
excerpt from the book in the new print issue of
BLURT. Read a review of the book here.



Conor Oberst, Jim
James, M. Ward and Mike Mogis are thankful for what they got.




“I don’t think that it’s a coincidence we’re all four here,”
says Mike Mogis, sitting in an oceanfront hotel in Santa Monica with a
panoramic view of the Pacific. “We all share that same love…”


“…of monsters?” quips Jim James from deep inside the thick
covers of the suite’s king bed. M. Ward nods approvingly. Conor Oberst lounges


“Well, I was gonna say music, but yeah, monsters, too,”
Mogis replies without missing a beat.


Hanging with the Monsters of Folk – Mogis, James, Ward and
Oberst – keeps you on your toes. Friendships in the band date back to the ‘90s,
and they’ve all recorded with each other over the years. In 2004, the group
toured together as a quartet under the guise of “An Evening with: Bright Eyes,
Jim James and M.Ward” but were quickly dubbed Monsters of Folk by their road
crew. A bond was built. Today, they finish each other’s sentences, whether
they’re snappy retorts or prescient insights into the motivations behind their
splendid self-titled debut released this week.


“If you and four of your friends were in a room, the things
that are said are certainly important, but almost more important are the things
that are unsaid but understood,” Ward explains. “So when you’re talking about a
project like this, it’s a hard thing to put your finger on, but that’s what I
think about when I’m asked about this record.”


“That was actually exactly right and incredibly eloquent,”
Oberst says with a grin.


“I have no idea what I just said,” Ward deadpans.


[Ed. note: see our new
– Winter 2009 – issue for a different version of our MoF interview, along with
a photo gallery shot exclusively for Blurt.






BLURT: How’d you guys
first meet?


Conor Oberst: Michael, would you like to tell Andy how we
all met?


Mike Mogis: Well, obviously, I’ve known Conor for a long
time, so we’ll skip that one…


M. Ward: Actually, I’m interested in how you first met


Jim James: Yeah, me, too.


MM: I met Conor during my freshman year in college. I was
probably nineteen, and he was like thirteen or maybe fourteen…


CO: I was probably thirteen.


MM: Yeah, you were like elementary school looking to me. I
remember thinking, “Who’s this kid?” He had long hair and an acoustic guitar
and would play on campus.


MW: You were into metal at the time, right, Mike?


MM: I wasn’t just into metal – I was into about everything
at the time. I had long hair and was in an acoustic band.


JJ: An acoustic metal band?


MW: Was that Lullaby?


MM: Lullaby for the Working Class was the band. We were the
first acoustic metal band. I played the glockenspiel and some fucking banjo… but
in a metal way.


JJ: What a rich heritage. (Laughter)


MW: So what was Conor listening to at that time?


MM: Superchunk…


CO: Yeah, I was wearing Umbro soccer shorts and giant Smiths
t-shirts that went down to like my shins. That was my steez at the time. Mike,
how’d you meet Matt?


MW: It was a stormy night in Belgium, wasn’t it?


MM: Liège.
I was working on a label project and someone was like, “You wanna go see a
show? This guy Matt Ward is playing.” I’d never really heard of him at the
time, so I went. I was a little homesick at the time, so it was cool to see
another American musician. That’s the first time I saw Matt. I thought it was
so cool ‘cause I’d heard nothing like that before, to be honest. Here was this
guy that sounded like he was fifty years old, but he was a peer onstage wearing
a baseball cap and playing this music that sounded like it came from a
different era.


MW: Why thank you, Michael.


MM: You’re welcome. I remember getting some records that


MW: I gave you some records?


MM: No, the guy from the label gave me some records to give
to Conor because he knew we were friends.


CO: Yeah, Mike tried to talk to you, Matt, but you blew him
off. (Laughter)


MM: Actually, no, I came up to introduce myself…


MW: But I was only speaking French… (Laughter)


MM: No, you were super sweet. You were with the Norfolk & Western.


MW: I think it was Jordan Hudson and Tony Marino.


CO: Marino? You mean, the quarterback?


JJ: Jordan from New Kids on the Block?


CO: Tony Romo? (Laughter)


MW: No, it was Tony Marino. Tony Romo couldn’t make that


CO: How’d you meet Jim, Mike?


MM: The first time we met was at Field Day Festival 2003,
I think. It was similar to the first time I met Matt in that I got to watch Jim
perform before I met him, so I got more of a fan experience. I’d heard the My
Morning Jacket records before I’d seen them live, and I remember thinking that
they seemed like a cool band. It was obvious they were a deep band, with the
melodic, mellow acoustic stuff and the soaring rock thing, but I’d never seen
them live until that Field Day Festival show. I remember it rained. There was a
lot of hair flying around onstage, and the rain made it seem that much more
intense. We sat on the side of the stage and were just blown away. It was such
an uplifting experience. The day to that point had been such a drag. Bright
Eyes had played earlier, and everything that could have gone wrong did. We were
all in kind of low spirits, but when they took the stage, all that shit went
away and all that was left was that pure joy you get from being a part of




CO: We’d like to thank you for that, Jim. (Laughter)



Matt, how’d you meet


MW: I met Jim through Conor. It was an invitation that
Bright Eyes extended to me to tour with Jim. I was already a fan of both Jim’s
and Bright Eyes’ musics…


CO: We were his booking agent at the time…


JJ: Bright Eyes also does booking.


CO: We had a helluva roster. (Laughter)


MW: We actually met in the basement of Conor’s house and
started rehearsing songs.


JJ: Immediately.


MW: Yeah, immediately.


JJ: Didn’t even say hello…


MW: I just walked in and said, “This song’s in C minor.” (Laughter)



Tell me about the
2004 tour. How’d it come together?


CO: That same weekend of the now infamous Field Day
festival, we did a last-minute show at the Bowery Ballroom. Jim played acoustic
to open up, and I think that’s when we really hit it off. That’s when we knew
it was destiny that we were going to play music together. We talked about it
that weekend, in the way you talk about things in bars after shows. You know,
the whole “wouldn’t it be great” kinda thing. I don’t remember exactly how it
actually happened. I think we asked Jim if he was really interested in doing
it, and when he said yes we suggested that we also invite Matt. So I invited everyone
out to our house and I guess they accepted.


MW: We all said I do.



That’s when y’all met
in Conor’s basement?


MW: Yep. We met in Omaha. It was wintertime, if I’m not
mistaken. I remember there was icy terrain.


JJ: I slipped on an icy patch going into a restaurant, fell
on my back and hit the back of my head. Right above where my head hit, there
was an icicle hanging there and it kept dripping and landing in my eye as I lay
there stunned on the pavement. I think that was the first time we all ate
dinner together. (Laughter)


MM: It was. That place is torn down now.


JJ: That’s what they get for not clearing the ice off their
stoop. (Laughter)


MM: It was a Thai restaurant that was connected to this
hotel where all these prostitutes hung out and smoked crack. We went there for
the prostitutes and crack really. The food sucked.



Any favorite memories
from that 2004 tour?


MW: The tour ended up at Carnegie Hall, where we played with
the Tibetan monks. That was the last night.


JJ: Who did?


MW: We did.


JJ: We played with the monks?


CO: Don’t you remember that?


JJ: I remember playing Carnegie Hall, but I don’t remember
playing with the monks.


CO: The monks did their chants before…


JJ: But we didn’t play with them?


CO: No…


JJ: We didn’t chant with them…


CO: We were on the same bill.


MW: I went onstage with them. It was me and Ira (Kaplan, Yo La Tengo) and the monks. You
guys were there, right?


MM: At the end, there was this group thing…


JJ: That’s right. I do remember everyone being onstage at
the end.


CO: We did a Keb’ Mo’ song.


JJ: Didn’t we also do “What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace, Love And


CO: No, that was with the Boss.



Who dubbed it the
Monsters of Folk tour?


MW: Wasn’t it Eric D?


JJ: I thought it was Bill Sullivan.


CO: That still needs to be sorted out. There’s a little
dispute. (Looking to the band’s publicist)
Pam, do you think they do sciatic massages here? Honestly. Can you give me a sciatic massage? (Pam consents.)



On that tour, you sat
in on each other’s sets pretty frequently. What did you learn about each other
as musicians that perhaps you hadn’t known before?


MW: That’s going back a few years, but I think we really
learned our chemistry. We learned that we had chemistry very quickly. That
we’re not…


JJ: …to be fucked with. (Laughter)


MW: Well, yeah… basically. (Laughter)


JJ: It
was cool to see the magic in the chemistry
. All of our personalities work
well together. Every band out there today knows C chords and D chords…


CO: Speak for yourself… (Laughter)


JJ: At the end of the day, it all comes down to the magic in
someone’s personality. I just learned to appreciate more the beauty in
individuals’ personalities and what that means.



So how did it move
from a tour to wanting to make a record together?


JJ: We just had so much fun on the tour. It was this pipe
dream that we were joking about on the tour. It took us four years to finally
do it, but every time we’d see each other, we’d be like, “When are we gonna do
that record?” A year later, we’d run into each other again and be like, “Let’s
do that record, oh yeah!” (Laughter)
It was always being talked about.


MM: I think we all knew it would be fun and potentially
something that we’d be proud of and want to share.


MW: Yeah, it was one of those proverbial no-brainers. Of
course we’re gonna do a record; it was just gonna take some time to get it
started up.



So how did it get


MW: In Omaha, Nebraska.



Back in Omaha…


MW: Back where it all began.



Did you guys bring
songs independently or did you write songs collectively?


JJ: We brought in songs individually, but then we
collaborated on them. So it was a little bit of both.



Is it safe to say
that the singer of the first verse of a given song is the songwriter?


MM: Not all the time.


MW: It’s not that simple. It’s more complex.


JJ: If you hear one of us singing the bulk of the song,
chances are that one’s probably that person’s song.



Mike, tell me about
your approach to producing this record. I guess you were both playing and
producing, which is something you’re pretty comfortable doing.


MM: Yeah, it’s something I’m used to doing, but on this
record, it was different in the sense that all four of us had equal production
input and credit. That was the whole idea behind the project – that
collaborative spirit. We all contributed to the songwriting, we switched up
instruments throughout basic tracking and recording and we all had ideas in
production. The sheer improvisational approach to making this album was a new
thing for me. There were no real roles for anyone in the studio at all. That
was really refreshing for me ‘cause I’m often in the studio and there’s a
fucking singer, a guitarist and a guy who plays drums, and I’m the guy sitting
behind the board making the decisions. That’s all fine and good, but this was a
different project in the sense that we took turns doing things, things we were
comfortable with and things you might be uncomfortable with. I think that led
to a unique sound…that old folk sound. (Laughter)


JJ: It’s been driving ‘em crazy for decades. (Laughter)



When did the first
sessions go down?


MM: It started in February 2008. It was the first time we
could all get together. No real preconceived ideas of what the hell we were
gonna do, aside from throwing around some ideas, I suppose. We had no label. We
didn’t really tell anybody that we were gonna do it. There were no
anticipations or expectations from anybody outside or inside the group. It was
nice to have that freedom.


MW: It was Conor’s birthday also…


MM: It was also Conor’s birthday. Right around Valentine’s


CO: (Rubbing his lower back) Man, I need to look into a massage. This sciatic thing hurts.



It’s crippling, isn’t
it? I’ve had it and it hurts like hell. It’s nothing to joke about.


CO: I haven’t had it for very long. It just started this
week. It felt like something bit the back of my leg.


MW: That was old age biting you… (Laughter)


CO: Like death nipping at my…ass. It’s sudden, kinda like a
shock. Is that what you’ve experienced?



Yeah, and it doesn’t
matter if you’re sitting, lying down or standing up, it still hurts.


CO: Yeah, man, it doesn’t matter. How long does it last?



I got some muscle
relaxers, and it went away in about a week. It happens every so often when I
really tweak my back, so I take a few muscle relaxers and it goes away. It’ll
drop you for a couple of days though.


CO: Dude, how old you are, if you don’t mind me asking?



I’m 32 years old.


CO: Yeah, I’m 29…we’re too young to be getting this, I




MM: What kind of muscle relaxers? (Laughter)



I think they were Flexeril.


JJ: You got any with you? (Laughter)



Left them in my
luggage. Sorry.



JJ: Bummer.


CC: What kind of muscle relaxers do you have, Mike?


MM: Mine are Soma.


JJ: You’re on muscle relaxers? I didn’t know that…


MM: I’ve got the same fucking problem they’ve got. That’s
why I was curious.


JJ: Do you take them every day? Do we need to be worried
about you? (Laughter)


MM: No. Fuck no. I take them when I get on a plane. Sitting
down for that long can really fuck you up. I lost feeling in my leg for weeks
one time after a really long flight.


CO: That wasn’t your sciatic…


MM: True, I had broken a disc, but it was pushing on my
sciatic nerve. It was right before the Lifted tour. I did physical therapy before and during that tour and got two epidural
shots. They laid me on this table, and I watched on this screen as they gave me
a shot in my spine. It felt weird, but I didn’t walk out of there feeling numb.
It just relieved a lot of pressure.


MW: How’d you break your disc?


MM: I don’t know…


CO: I thought it was from sitting on your wallet while you
were mixing records.


MM: That’s when it got really bad. I couldn’t sit at that


JJ: It’s
bad to sit on your wallet


MM: I know. I’m doing it right now, but I take it out all
the time.


JJ: What you do is you keep your wallet in your front


MW: That’s what I do.


JJ: That way, it’s harder to steal and it’s not as bad on
your back.


CO: Mike used to have a giant chain wallet….


MW: …with a wad of cash.


MM: I do roll around fairly flush with cash.


JJ: Note to readers: Mug Mike when you meet him. (Laughter)



Any favorite memories
from the sessions? You guys also spent some time out here if I’m not mistaken…


CO: That was some of my favorite time, when we were in



Where were you in


CO: Shangri-La


JJ: Rich history.


CO: Jimmy rented this beautiful convertible…


JJ: Teal green
Chrysler Sebring convertible
. Only the best. (Laughter)



Did y’all take a spin
down the PCH?


JJ: We drove all up and down the PCH listening to “Be Thankful for What You
by William DeVaughn.


CO: Literally, on repeat for a week. (Laughter)


MW: How does the chorus to that song go again?


JJ: “Diamond in the back, sunroof top/Diggin’ the scene with
a gangsta lean.”


MW: Yeah…great moment, er, moments, I guess. We did listen
to it a lot.


JJ: That was back in the days before we were tethered down
by Conor’s sciatic problem. (Laughter)
Now everything’s based around that. When we want to go to dinner, we can’t go
anywhere that Conor has to walk too far. (Laughter)



Favorite songs on the
album. Conor?


CO: One song is “His Master’s Voice.” That song takes me to
a special, strange land. Jim basically came up with it, which is beautiful, but
the way in which it was recorded and all the instrumentation really give it
this surreal feeling. To me, it’s like the dream you have after the record’s
over or something. It takes you off into this far-off special place.


MW: “Temazcal” kind of does the same thing for me. I feel
like I’m in another country or something. The lyrics are amazing, and I think
the production is incredible. That’s one of my favorites.


MM: I think right now maybe my favorite is “The Sandman, the
Brakeman and Me.” I listened to it a few days ago on my way here, and it just
struck me. Maybe it was the mood I was in, but I found myself really enjoying
that one. I like the less is more approach to that one, but I’m really proud of
the record in total.



One of the successes
of this album, in my opinion, is the diversity you achieved, be it the
diversity of song, sound or roles in the studio. Each track is its own little
world, but they play well together.


MM: One thing I really enjoy about this record is that it
does have a lot of twists, turns and surprises. It has a traveling feel to it.


CO: I think it’s like a tapestry. There’s all these
different designs and you can focus on one and see that, but then together it’s
more complex and there’s all this nice imagery.


JJ: That was the cool thing about everybody bringing in
ideas, ‘cause someone would bring in a song but you never really knew what was
going to happen. “The
Right Place”
was like that. Conor was talking about “His Master’s Voice” –
once everyone got in, all these guys brought in ideas that I never would have
had going into it. Mogis had this really cool guitar thing he was doing that
lent this really spacey feel to the song, and there were these parts where all
of us sings…


MM: That was the point when I got goose bumps in the control


JJ: There’s this point on that song where Conor is yelling
that kind of takes me to almost this Peter Pan, Lost Boys kind of place.
There’s this other piano part where it sounds like a ship is coming through the
water. I just feel like every song had something like that. When Matt brought
in “Whole Lotta Losin’,” I felt like that was a fun song, ‘cause he kinda had
an idea for it, but it got taken into this real different place where we did
some electronic drums on it and we all got to sing verses and bridges and
really mix it up. I just feel like the songs still stayed as the creator wanted
it to but there are so many surprises that happened that the creator never
would have imagined that it became the best of everybody’s worlds.



You guys said earlier
that you learned a little something about each other as musicians during the
2004 tour. What did you learn about one another from recording this album?


JJ: I think I learned a little bit about listening to people
and trusting their instincts and go along with them. Not that I don’t do that
in the band that I’m in, but it’s just a different thing when everyone involved
works in their own world. It’s a rare opportunity to work with some of your
favorite artists that are also your peers. So it was an opportunity for me to
listen and learn.





MW: I learned a lot through the whole process. I loved
watching these guys in the studio and seeing us all rely on each other to
finish each other’s thoughts and sentences. To be able to do that in the studio
is a very rare experience.


CO: It just felt so amazing to me because how much I love
their music and respect what they do as musicians. Beyond that, I trust each
one of these guys and their sensibilities as people. It was really a great
experience. We all have our own bands that are like these little planes that
we’re used to flying and we’re trying to get to where we’re going, but then all
the sudden this comes along and it’s like you’ve got these two jet engines. You
can get to your destination of a good sound or take so much faster and easier.
It was like having this incredible reinforcement to your ideas.



Mike, you mentioned
earlier that this album feels like a journey. Is that the tie that binds these
songs together?


MM: I think a lot of it is the commonality that we share,
both personality-wise as well as musically speaking. There’s a lot of
commonality in the songwriting. There was never really any talk while we were
recording about a common thread or some grand scheme. It was just sort of
naturally present. I guess that’s why we never talked about. There was never a
feeling that it was lacking of anything, like it was going off the rails. It
always seemed to have…


MW: …a direction and structure…


MM: Yeah. Even though the songs sound so different, there’s
still some commonality. I think it’s due to the personalities.


CO: That’s why it’s easy to do what we do together – ‘cause
there’s enough of that unspoken understanding. That’s the foundation that
allows it to be so comfortable.


JJ: Right. If you had to waste time talking about some basic
fundamental shit, then you’re probably not with the right people to begin with.



The comparison has
been made in the lead-up to this record to the similarities of this group to
CNSY and the Traveling
. Is that comparison silly in your mind?


CO: Well, the Traveling Wilburys were a family band, and
we’re a family band.


MW: Same mothers…


MM: Different dads…


JJ: They likely have lower back problems and so do we. (Laughter)



Photo credit: Autumn




THE RETURN OF… Sunny Day Real Estate & MFNW

While Music Fest
Northwest swirls around them, Jeremy Enigk and Co. make the 15-year leap.




It’s Friday night, Sept. 18, at Portland, OR’s
Music Fest Northwest (MFNW). Beard factor: high (literally everything from ZZ
Top-style facial gear to neatly-coifed geometric shapes to all manner of hirsute
accessories in between can be spotted out and about this evening, as if Williamsburg had been
transplanted whole cloth within the Pacific time zone).  Indie t-wearing
quotient: major (if I see another obscure band reference – tonight the most
below-ground being Miracle Legion and some dude in a ratty Poison Idea hat – I
will scream, which should successfully frighten all the crossed-arm peaceniks
around me).  Drool IQ over Sunny Day Real Estate’s long-awaited reunion:
“bucketful + bib.” 


After releasing two beloved but quirky full-lengths as a
quartet back in the early ‘90s, the Seattle-based Sunny Day Real Estate
dissolved into a puddle of timeworn rock music clichés: its singer found god
(and in an early, prescient move, told the world about it through a post on the
), its rhythm section found Dave Grohl (who subsequently, found his
post-Nirvana special purpose via the Foo Fighters), and eventually, the group
found its way back to one another and to stages across North America as it
reunited in original form for the first time atomizing back in 1995.


To say that this reunion was highly-anticipated is to engage
in a fair bit of disingenuousness: outside of Jimmy Page finally coaxing the
old lion in winter (Robert Plant) back onstage in full Zep regalia in 2007 for
a glorious one night stand, one can hardly imagine a less likely scenario, but
one more important to a generation of indie-rockers who related almost entirely
to SDRE’s proto-emo musical platform and vaguely-articulated,
eyes-wide-with-wonder lyrical worldview.  Portland’s Crystal Ballroom teemed with
punters of a certain age champing at the bit to see their anti-heroes take the
stage together once more and party like it was 1995 all over again.


To put it crisply: Sunny Day didn’t disappoint.  “You
guys are amazing,” marveled frontman Jeremy Enigk as he scanned the noisy,
seemingly enraptured crowd before him on the night, as if a pastor looking out
to see his faithful flock waiting just where he’d left them.  “It’s been
almost 15 years since we played together.  It feels so great to finally be


And back, they were: the core of the band had always been
wrapped tightly around drummer William Goldsmith’s amazingly complicated
polyrhythms and off-kilter time signatures, and as the group made its way
through the evening’s setlist – confined almost entirely to its first two Sub
Pop albums on which all four original members played, 1994’s Diary and
1995’s LP2 (or “The Pink Album,” as fans have come to know it over the
years due to its monochromatic cover art) – they often turned their backs to
the audience and hovered around him, with Enigk, bassist Nate Mendel and
guitar-whiz Dan Hoerner whipping their heads and hands in ecstatic frenzy as
the headset-wearing Goldsmith whacked everything around him in service of
propelling the set ever onward.  From the very first note of the very
first song – the prismatic guitar figure that opens “Friday,” then explodes
into huge, colorful chords that serve as the backdrop for Enigk’s jaw-dropping
gift of a voice – SDRE were as tightly coiled and rippling as they had been
back in the band’s heyday, with Enigk’s keening voice piercing the surrounding
din with its shredded upper-register timbre (at one point urging the fans to
“sing the lyrics if you know them, this vocal part’s a little high for me!”) as
Sunny Day’s signature loud/soft/loud dynamics kicked into full gear on the
set’s second song, “Seven,” which kicked off Diary all those years ago
in a flurry of speed, distortion and yearning.   


The hardcore fans around me seemed captivated by what
unfolded before us: “Song About An Angel” and its message of the inherent tension
between sacred and seeking, “Grendel” and “47” with their early pivots between
downtempo and joyous, skyward distortion, and LP2 mainstays such as
“Iscarabaid” and “Red Elephant,” using the group’s early churning underpinnings
as a starting point but ladling spiderwebbed, effects-enhanced guitars over the
affair to create a denser, more nuanced effect.  In what could be a sign
of good things to come, the group also busted out a composition they called
“New Song,” which they were quick to label a “work in progress” and “public
rehearsal” but which sounded as good as anything in their catalog.  By the
time the quartet encored with its signature song, “In Circles,” it was clear
that the reunion had not only been a success in the traditional sense – e.g., had
avoided the descent into money-grubbing, familiarity and nostalgia that
characterize most of these affairs – but had transcended even its most
wild-eyed fans’ wildest dreams, laying the groundwork for what we can all hope
to be a very productive road ahead. 


Welcome back, SDRE.  The emo-loving generation you
helped create in the first place can’t wait to hear what else you’ve got in
store.  As Enigk once wrote about his born-again status, “Who knows what
is going to happen in the future?  Every time I make a plan it gets
changed.  The future is the future.  I hope that we come to a
decision about the band that everyone is happy with.”  To judge from the
sweaty, smiling throng that departed the Crystal
late Friday night, I’d say the happiness quotient is pretty universal right
about now. [CD]




Editor’s Note: Jason Simms and Erin Harrell hit the Portland clubs throughout the five-day (Sept.
16-20) MFNW. Below is their report – to see an exclusive photo gallery from the
festival, go here.



While traditionally, festivals of the multiple-nights,
multiple-venues nature are reviewed in a chronological, blotter-type format,
what the typical festival-goer walks away with is a set of highlights to report
to their friends the next day or at bars or after parties while still covered
in sweat from the shows.



Well, we’ve showered, but what follows is an alphabetical
list of yearbook-style awards from last weekend’s Music Fest Northwest. By no
means could the two of us see each of the eight score bands, but similarly the
yearbook staff doesn’t know everyone in school.



Best Lungs: Arctic
– Singer Alex Turner gets more words out per breath than one might
think humanly possible. His pulmonary feats started the packed crowd dancing
from the dropped jaw on down. (Wonder Ballroom, Friday)

Fewest Fans to Sweat Towels Award: Derby

Nodding to each other with excitement, it was clear that this local Portland band was psyched
to be playing the festival. And the 40 or so people were there to see them had
at least an OK time, to be sure. But just in case things got out of hand, these
guys were prepared with sweat towels, accoutrements not furnished to acts
playing to crowds ten times that size elsewhere. (Ash Street Saloon, Thursday)



Most Likely To
Succeed: Dillinger
Four – As vocalist Patrick Costello of this long-running
and celebrated Minneapolis punk band took the stage 40 minutes late, he began
to tune and told the crowd to “shut up.” He said, “This is a big
important music festival and we are going to get signed and get huge.” As
he revealed his chest tattoo that reads, “How much art can you take?”
the hefty man explained, “I don’t have this body to do some DIY shit
forever.” By making a mockery of the festival and the music industry, Dillinger
Four connected with their crowd better than anyone else. And as their often
chorus-less songs wrapped up sooner than you wanted them to, they reminded you
that, yes, they are some of the greatest punk composers ever. (Hawthorne
Theater, Saturday)

Best Shades: Dr. Dogg – Three
members of this psychedelic indie band sported plastic square specs with
fluorescent arms. They might have looked laid back, but they were also
considered for the tightest band award. (Wonder Ballroom, Thursday)

Best Dramatic Performance: Explosions in
the Sky
– Thirty seconds into the this Texas post rock band’s sold out set,
they were head banging at the waist like it was the encore. Their energy was
high, but left some near the back of the venue high and dry. (Crystal Ballroom,

Most Optimistic: The Get Up Kids
“We’re gonna play some more songs off Four Minute-Mile, just chill the
fuck out,” said Matt Pryor to the most excited and happy to be there crowd
of the festival. About 90% of the audience was wearing beanies which is perhaps
the only thing that kept their heads from exploding during “Red Letter
Day.” Three fans actually spontaneously combusted during the cover of the
Replacements’ “Beer for Breakfast.” Don’t worry, it didn’t stop them
from closing with “Oh Amy.” (Roseland Theater, Saturday)



Keep It Classy Award:
Mayer Hawthorne
– Portland
is not a classy city and Music Fest Northwest is not a classy event. Both are
exceptionally drunk, in fact. And though there was one fan vomiting outside,
Los Angeles soul singer, Mayer Hawthorne succeeded in getting the MFNW crowd to
man up, look nice and dance like civilized human beings. Well done, sir. (Jimmy
Mak’s, Saturday)



Fan Appreciation
Award: Modest Mouse
– Long time fans were pleased when the final set of the
festival was kicked off with a 10-minute version of
“Dramamine.”  “Doin’ the Cockroach” may even have had
some verses that aren’t on the record. Modest Mouse (pictured above and at top
of page) was in no hurry to get the festival done–playing only three extended
numbers in the first half hour of their set. (Crystal Ballroom, Sunday)



Best Dressed: The
– This dreamy girl pop band took the stage clad half in rockabilly,
half in grandma-chic and immediately started complimenting the appearance of
specific audience members, “like that cute couple over there.” But it
wasn’t enough to make the hundreds of onlookers move–all stood still like
dolls. So vocalist Z Berg figured fuck popularity and slipped some f-bombs into
her stage banter. She’ll never get homecoming queen that way, but she could
have had any of the drooling boys in attendance who were too awkward to give
this catchy set the energy it deserved. (Wonder Ballroom, Friday)



Extreme Tambourine
Award: The Lonely H
– Mark Fredson, the 20-year-old singer of Port Angeles,
Washington, classic rock band, the Lonely H, is like a Ken doll created by
Robert Plant to sing perfect blues-infused rock melodies. He plays keys too,
but his tambourine arm might have generated a few Newtons of force and perhaps some bruises on
his leg as these rock stars (honorable mention: best denim) stormed the stage
with “Out West.” (Ash
Street Saloon, Friday)



Best Percussion: Love
is Laughter
– As part of the showcase for Isaac Brock’s new label, Glacial
Pace, this upbeat indie folk ensemble came equipped with three dedicated
tambourinists (all female) and two drum sets each with many tiny cymbals to add
nuance to their familiar formula. (Crystal Ballroom, Sunday)



Most Mobile Drummer:
Mint Chicks
– The drummer of this New Zealand
experimental electronic pop four piece set up on floor in the middle of the
Doug Fir, one of Portland’s
fancier, more by-the-book venues. Then he proceeded to accentuate the heavier
parts by holding his snare drum up and beating it above his head. (Doug Fir,



Best Use of Concert
Barricade: Monotonix
– OK, unless you’re a security guard or the owner of a
very large concert facility, you know that having a barricade at the front of
the stage is lame. But Monotonix doesn’t put up with lame. Security is
powerless to stop these three Israelis from doing whatever the hell the want.
In this case, they set up their amps behind the barricade so they wouldn’t get
knocked over as they proceed to crowd surf the drum set and perform some sort
of garage rock muck from the center of a mosh pit. Your move, concert security.
Your move. (Roseland Theater, Friday)



Best Use of A Capella
and Vocal Rounds: New York Rifles
– As all but the drummer of this Portland
rock ‘n’ roll four piece stood at the front of the stage, microphones in hand
and belted out their final, southern spiritual-inspired number,
“Rails,” it was hands down the most powerful and rock ‘n’ roll moment
of the festival witnessed by your reporters. (Ash Street Saloon, Friday)



Most Likely to Change
Your Life Award: Team Dresch
– For so many who knew every word and bounced
to every beat and cherished it as these queercore pioneers played their nearly
distortionless brand of punk this set was therapy. Or church–with all the
judgmental bullshit replaced with positive vibes. It was so magical, in fact,
that some of the biggest fans sang along to the band’s one new song out of
sheer psychic connection to their heroes. (Rotture, Saturday)



Life of the Party:
The Thermals
– Despite the envy of those excluded from them, VIP parties do
not usually get very out of hand. All that changes if indie punk trio the
Thermals is what’s behind the velvet rope. By the time their set wrapped up at
3 am, even the most “important” people were sweaty and horse from
singing along. (Top Secret Location, Friday)



Best Hair: Viva Voce – This one-time two-piece now plays as a four-piece and its pair of lady
guitarists had body and shine that out-shined the rest of the fest. Yes, these
feathered dos were right out of the classic rock sound Viva introduced on Get
Yr Blood Sucked Out and even the band’s softer numbers were beefed up and loud.
(Berbati’s Pan, Friday)



[SDRE Photo Credit: Brian Tamborello]





HEAL THYSELF Early Day Miners

Dan Burton mines the
abyss of divorce and comes up with
The Treatment.




For the past decade Early Day Miners have been considered a Midwest “musical cooperative.” Based out of Bloomington, IN-a
“two-dog town,” according to bandleader Dan Burton-EDM often featured up to 12
people, but that’s all changed. Burton
has trimmed the Miners to a quartet and they’ve aggressively refined the sound.
Reeling in the epic, cinematic guitar journeys of the past, on their sixth
full-length The Treatment (released
Sept. 22 on Secretly Canadian), they are now engaged in subversive pop music.
Sad and at times desperate lyrics are hidden behind buoyant bass, tripped out
loops and layers of digital haze. It’s pop in the same way Death Cab for Cutie,
Elbow or even some areas of the Radiohead catalog is pop.


“All good bands that exist over a period of ten years
dramatically change who they are, you gotta try new things” says Burton. “I like that it’s
sort of new, it’s kind of like looking at the band through a new lens or


From the lineup to the songwriting to the mindset,
everything is more concise and focused, but there are certainly elements of the
past that have been retained. “It’s almost like through being less ambitious
sonically we’re getting into music that we’re super excited about,” Burton says. “The whole
less is more thing; we’ve always been sort of a minimalist band, but the reverb
pedals, I just love ‘em and it’s hard to kind of keep away.”


Change is good, there’s no denying it, but it’s usually
difficult and often only happens when thrust upon us. “I went through a divorce
when writing all the lyrics on the record,” says Burton, “and [the lyrics often] come off
being really happy and almost kinda flip, but really, they’re pretty dark.”


With the context of divorce it’s natural for the album to be
built around heavy emotions and bleak imagery and it makes perfect sense when Burton explains that “a
lot of the lyrical content of the record, the themes are family and
disconnections within family.” With its female counter-point and disturbing
guitar squall, you can feel the tattered threads of Burton’s marriage slipping
through his fingers on “So Slowly” as he sings: “Everything you can’t hold in
your hands/All this gold you can’t redeem in any land/In my house I know your
ghost/In my soul you’ll stay for sure/Summertime goes by so slow.”


This sense of isolation and loneliness permeates everything
on The Treatment, even the very
fitting album art. Created with multiple exposure photos of a family
disappearing into thin air, this is the visual representation of the songs we
hear, the connections we long for, the evaporating love around us, Dan Burton’s


“A lot of people are ‘people pleasers’ that live their lives
for others,” says Burton
with a sense of reflection. “That’s sort of my take on when you go through
something like a divorce, you’re disappointing the other person so much, and
you just want to sort of hold things together, and you want to be the good guy
and say things, even when it’s really maybe not the right thing to do for
either person.” 


This struggle to just hold on, or maybe even just hold the
other person up while you fall down, runs deep in The Treatment. But by seeing the “people pleasers” for the
self-destructive dreamers they are we might find the strength to allow
ourselves happiness. “It’s okay to be selfish I guess is kind of what I’m
getting at as the answer” explains Burton,
“because in the end you’re making everybody around you happier.” 


What he means is that you might have people you can rely on,
people that are your friends or loved ones, but at the end of the day it’s you.
You’re alone in this world and it’s up to you to make yourself happy, and if
you depend on anyone else for that, it just makes everyone miserable. It’s hard
to swallow but it’s true, and that’s what this album is, it’s The Treatment for our sad, TV fantasy,
disconnected digital-age lives. 


“It’s definitely the perfect title for the album” adds Burton. “And there are two
reasons, sonically the record is treated a lot more than past EDM records so we
thought that fit well. Also, the lyrical content is sort of, a song like
‘Becloud’ is about getting yourself out of the room when you’re depressed. And
so there’s a sort of rehabilitation whenever you’re down in whatever way it is,
whether you’re going through a divorce or a life change or whatever. You pretty
much have to heal yourself.”


[Photo Credit: Rebecca Drolen]


Outspoken U.K. Troubadour pursues a
fast trajectory to Stateside success.




fortunate enough to have inhabited the planet back in the mid ‘60s are certain
to recall the all-out marketing blitz that accompanied the arrival of the
Beatles on these shores, manifested through multiple album releases, high
profile television appearances, manic tours and all variety of accompanying
product placement. While it would certainly be a stretch to liken the introduction
of tempestuous troubadour Frank Turner to the overwhelming onslaught of the Fab
Four – we’ve yet to see any Frank Turner wigs or lunch boxes, at this juncture
anyway – the rapid pace of Turner’s initial introduction does suggest that
Epitaph, his new American record label, intends to promote him with similar
urgency and enthusiasm. His last release, Love
Ire & Song
, had barely hit Stateside store shelves when a newer disc, Poetry of the Dead, began competing for attention. (Both were
issued here by venerable punk label Epitaph.) Naturally then, Turner’s taking
full advantage of this double-edged introduction in gunning for Stateside


main idea behind the release schedule was to try and get the rest of the world
up to speed before the new album comes out,” Turner explains, casting an
amiable attitude on the proceedings. “Love
Ire & Song
has been out in the U.K. for over a year now. The new one
[had] a simultaneous international release. So I guess it was just like trying
to level things out before then. There are a fair few people overseas who have
known about what I’m doing, so they’ll be waiting for the new stuff too. Who
knows if it’ll help or hinder… help, I’d hope and imagine.”


acknowledges that those already familiar with his work will notice a change of
direction, if not change of attitude, infused in the new LP. An outspoken and
opinionated pundit and pontificator, he veers away from the Billy Bragg
comparisons that have trailed him up until now and opted instead for a more
band-oriented approach that references the Clash, the Pogues and other English
insurgents. “When I did my first album, I was just starting out at playing and
writing this kind of music,” Turner recalls. “Since then, I’ve been improving
with practice. But on the whole I feel like the things I’ve done up to and
including this new album have been part and parcel of the same project.”


so, Turner acknowledges that there are certain similarities that are likely to
draw the attention of those in need of a quick reference. “The Billy Bragg
comparison is a reasonably fair cop – we’re both English ex-punks dabbling in
acoustic / folk music,” Turner concedes. “The Clash and the Pogues, sure, are
bands I’m a fan of. Actually for the new record, I wanted it to be somewhere
between Springsteen and the Levellers [laughs].
I’d just like to sound English if I can.”


whatever his intent, there’s no denying that traces of rebellion and righteous
indignation hang on practically every strum, much like Dylan in his perched cap
and protest days. Turner demurs when it comes to specific intents, but short of
a sudden attitude adjustment, it’s likely he’ll still be perceived that way.


don’t really think about it too hard,” he reflects. “I don’t consider myself a
‘protest’ singer, partly because I more often talk about other things, and
partly because if you get that label, people make sweeping assumptions about
your politics. For example, a lot of people think I’m left-wing [laughs]. I guess in general I’m quite a
passionate or angry person. It just kinda comes out that way when I start
trying to express myself musically.”


so, Turner was inspired to undertake his musical trajectory in a most
inauspicious way, having been moved initially by a poster he spied on the wall
of an older boy’s bedroom. “It was the Stranger
In A Strange Land
Iron Maiden poster, and the whole thing of having a
zombie cowboy from the future was pretty much the coolest thing I’d ever seen. When
I found out it was a band, I was sold. From then, well, I guess I always
thought that if I enjoyed something I should participate in it, so I got a
guitar and started hammering away. As for making it a career, well, with my
last hardcore band, Million Dead, we eventually found a way of not having jobs
while being in the band, and I never looked back.


other artists, Turner insists his upbringing did little to nurture his musical
ambitions. “My parents are reasonably musical, but also hold that all decent
music ended in about 1900, so it wasn’t a popular music household,” Turner says
somewhat sarcastically. “Getting into music always had an air of rebellion to
it for me. I first fell in love with metal and then moved through punk into
hardcore. Though the music I make isn’t really so much in that direction any
more, I think that background really influences the sound I make.  Beyond that, my tastes were revolutionized by
getting into stuff like Springsteen, Dylan and Young – artists I didn’t grow up
with but got into after Black Flag.


Dead had lasted roughly four years when the members decided to part while
they were still in good standing with their public and each other.  Opting to go it alone and choosing an
acoustic guitar as his instrument of choice, Turner made folk music his means of
affirming a rebellious regimen. He stayed on the road nonstop for eighteen
months, making occasional forays to Europe and the U.S. Signed by a small
English label, Xtra Mile, he put out an EP and eventually an album, the aptly
and somewhat pointedly titled Sleep Is
For the Week.
The release of his sophomore set, the aforementioned Love Ire & Song, boosted his
recognition factor by several degrees, resulting in a spate of sold-out shows,
larger crowds, more than two-dozen festival appearances and his first hint of
true chart success.


not really sure I believe in breaks,” Turner says now, reflecting on it all. “They
happen, but the hard work around them seems more important to me. I’ve been
touring hard for as long as I can remember, and that seems to be the key
factor. The first records I put out were on a DIY label I ran with my friends,
and then later on, other people’s DIY labels. It was a reasonably smooth
progression from there to where I am now. Signing with Epitaph was obviously a
big fucking deal, and I’m stoked about it. But it came at the end of a lot of
hard graft. Having the opportunity to release stuff properly in the USA is
awesome, a dream come true for me really. Touring in the USA is basically every
English musician’s dream. There’s something insane about traveling thousands of
miles to a city you’ve never visited before and finding a crowd who know your



Credit: David Black]












Even in concert the
avant-indie icons manage to mesmerize and mystify.




The super trippy Black Moth Super Rainbow makes an
otherworldly sound, its songs bulging with synthesizer flourishes, filtered
through a robot-esque vocoder, paced by pounding, syncopated drum and bass. Natural
images float by, though viewed through prism lenses and rainbow clouds. Suns
are always rising, flowers blooming, yet the colors are brighter than normal,
the sounds sleeker and more plasticine. Listening to 2007’s Dandelion Gum or this year’s Eating Us, it’s hard to envision exactly how a band – a
bunch of regular people – would elicit these tones and melodies. What exactly
do “Bubblegum Animals”‘ look like? What flavor is your “Lollipopsichord”?  


A live performance, though, this past August 27 at the Iron
Horse in Northampton, Mass.,  did little to dispel the mystery.


Voice-altered singer Tobacco huddled in the rear of the
room, near a makeshift movie screen projecting disturbing imagery from horror
movies. Lanky Father Hummingbird set up camp on the floor to the right of the
stage, pumping glossy swells of polysynth sound from a keyboard and
occasionally stepping up to play a little bass. Drummer D. Kyler rattled rapid
snare-shot breakbeat rhythms from behind her kit. And the Seven Fields of
Aphelion smiled beatifically from behind her keyboard, salaaming in thanks for
applause. The tunes were made flesh – and yet not – remaining as untouchably
strange and ebullient as the first time you heard them out of a stereo.


But first the opening band. Black Moth Super Rainbow was travelling
this tour with a NYC band called Soundpool, a five piece that set up as people
filtered into the room. (It takes a long time to get into the venue, because of
a changeover from an early show with Buffalo Springfield vet Richie
Furay.)  Soundpool, like BMSR, deals in
dream-like textures and atmospheres, Kim Field singing high and pure above a
very odd mix of space-y, shoegaze-y guitars and hard funk bass and drums. Her
partner, and the band’s co-founder, John Ceparano, holds down the left side of
the stage, stomping on pedals, bending into the speaker for feedback and
working the whammy bar at blur speed. On the right hand side, Dean McCormick
stalks and bobs, his bass pulsing somewhere between funk and disco, while Mark
Robinson coaxes eerie wails of synthesizer out of a Nord 2 set up. And in the
back, James Renard lays down a heavy, uncompromising beat, the anchor to all
those airy clouds of sound.


The sound mix is not quite right, making it difficult to
hear the vocals well, or discern lyrics. You get a vague sense of airy lyricism
over thumping bass and space raider synthesizers in “Do What You Love,” early
on, but only a shard or two of the “Do you…” chorus. “Wide Awake in Dreamland”
starts with a hard, drum-beat, its austerity soon swathed in diffuse clouds of
synthesizer and eerie guitar effects.  “The Divides of March”, the big song off Dichotomies and Dreamland, turns from
diva pop into an extended kraut-ish jam; near the end, “Butterflies,” also
coming late, takes a quiet-storm soul tack, building chilled keyboards and
wah-wah guitars into its slow burn.  You
finish, not quite sold, but wanting to hear more.


Black Moth Super Rainbow works with video accompaniment,
projected onto a bedsheet, and in fact, they start with just a video, a
self-deprecating piece where a blogger type makes fun of their long name and
calls them one of the five worst bands working today. (We never find out who
the other four are.)  It’s all tongue in
cheek, and followed by another expert in hipster glasses who recommends that
they change their name to Black Rainbows featuring Super Moth. (Funny image of
Super Moth, a fat kid in dreads.)  Okay,
it is a long name, and sometimes I get mixed up and say Black Super Moth
Rainbow, but enough’s enough, let’s get to the show. And finally, they do.


It all starts with a hard funky beat, a percussive
underpinning that is harder, sharper, dryer and more prominent than in BMSR’s
synth-swaddled, hippy fluted CDs. The bass, too, is leaning more toward Motown
than Paisley Underground, a thudding, undulating foundation for pastel washes
of synth. The band plays a good bit of Dandelion Gum as well as the janglier,
more 1960s-guitar centric Eating Us, with the bass player sometimes
moving to guitar, and Father Hummingbird clambering up onto the main stage to
pick up the bass. The video show continues throughout, juxtaposing often very
disturbing images – fruit decaying, a man whose hands have turned to skeleton
bones, dismemberment – with breezy lyrics about sun and butterflies.


There is a surge of excitement at the first crystalline
synths of “Sun Lips,” a murmur of approval at the strident “Woo!” “Woo!” of
synths at the opening to “Lollipsichord.” Tobacco, the band’s reclusive
songwriter, remains obscured at the back of the stage, hunched over a pink
microphone, whispering psychedelic lyrics through the vocoder. There’s a modal
folky inevitability to many of these melodies, which twine up and down scales
in flowery bursts. Yet what seems trippy and bucolic in recordings turns into
kraut-leaning jam onstage, hard beats driving, bass thudding through cuts like
“Melt Me”. A boy in a fedora is executing complicated nearly choreographed
shimmies of arms and torso down in front; around him, a seething mass of arms
and heads sway in time. BMSR’s head music has turned, somehow, into body music.


There is a very brief interval between main show and encore,
as Apelion flips through her sheet music, and then the Beatlesque keys, the
funk-syncopated drums, the slicked swells of synthesizers of “Born on a Day the
Sun Didn’t Rise” ensues.  You’re still
not sure how they do it, even standing right in front of the band, but BSMR has
linked hippie naturalism with robot synthetics, dreamy folk with funky
breakbeats, self-effacing musicianship with baroque video images without
letting any of the seams show.



For a gallery of
images from the show, go HERE.


To read the BLURT
interview with BMSR, go HERE.


KRAUTROCK DELUXE Michael Rother (Part 2)

A freewheeling conversation
with the legendary German guitarist in which he discusses Kraftwerk, NEU!,
Harmonia & Eno, and more.





We continue with our
exclusive interview with guitarist Michael Rother, who is one of the key
architects of Krautrock, having worked over the years with Kraftwerk, NEU!,
Harmonia and others, additionally forging a fruitful solo career that continues
to this day. Harmonia’s collaboration with Brian Eno,
Tracks and Traces, has just been reissued in
expanded/remastered form by the Grönland label. Read part one of the interview
HERE.  – Ed.



BLURT: Getting back
to Harmonia, in July ’73 you put NEU! on hiatus and moved from Düsseldorf to
rural Forst to live with Roedelius and Moebius. Did the communal experience
shape how you worked?


ROTHER: Well, we lived in one house and shared the same
bathroom and the same kitchen. We had very little money. Harmonia, you will
have heard maybe, was such a commercial disaster and people really hated us. I
mean, hardly anyone wanted to hear Harmonia in the ’70s and the sales were very
poor and surviving on that little money was very difficult. But it was a very
important period of my life, musically and living together with these people.
Actually, I still live in the same house now.


Was the first
Harmonia album, Muzik von Harmonia,
created largely out of improvisation?


Improvisation, yes. It was just the idea of listening to
what the other two were doing and then adding some ideas and spinning the tale.
On the first Harmonia album, there are two tracks that we recorded live —
“Sehr Kosmisch” and “Ohrwurm” — and it’s quite interesting
to look at those two tracks. “Ohrwurm” is just five minutes taken
from a concert we gave for our friends in ’73 and that concert went on for,
maybe, one-and-a-half or two hours and everyone was either fainting or falling
asleep because it was very hard to follow and there was not much happening. But
when something did happen, it was so
intense — and these five minutes of “Ohrwurm” belong to the most
interesting music I think that has ever been made by Harmonia. But that was the
situation in early Harmonia because we didn’t have any premeditated structures
in the beginning: when we played, we searched a lot, for a long time, and
sometimes we didn’t find anything. That was the logical result of not having
any fallback plan.


Did the
“searching” part of it sometimes get to be a bit much, then? You
enjoyed playing live with Harmonia, right?


Oh, definitely. I mean, the good moments were very beautiful
and very intense, but that was something we started struggling about — about
the direction of Harmonia: I wanted to change the ratio of the searching and
the beautiful moments and increase the amount of good music but, well, maybe I
wasn’t wise enough back then with the methods I chose [laughs]. But it’s
difficult to judge. You can look back and say maybe you gained something but
lost something else — and I guess that’s what happened to Harmonia when we
played live and we had more structured music. That’s what happened when we did
the recordings with Conny Plank in ’74-’75 for the second album, Deluxe, which has more compositions, or
at least more clear ideas.


So the approach on Muzik von Harmonia was more
experimental, whereas on the second album you had a stronger sense of what you
were aiming for.


Yes. The first album was a collection of what we did when we
were in the studio, just creating. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we are recording
an album now.” It was just making music and having a tape running — and
then we had to erase most of what we recorded because we were so poor and the
tape, the Revox 2-track tape, was so expensive.


You had to erase what
you’d been working on and recycle the same tape?


Yeah, we recorded over most of the tape and erased the music
and that was one reason I am so happy about the Live 1974 recording [released in 2007]. You know, there are only a
few documents, a few recordings, of Harmonia still with me in my archive. That
tape remained untouched. I knew at the time that that was a special evening. It
was a very special concert. We were on very good form. I was very excited
because that night I fell in love with a girl who was there and I think that
had a positive effect on my guitar playing [laughs]. But the reason we didn’t
record over that tape was because of its musical value, not its sentimental
value. So when I transferred that tape onto the computer a few years ago, I was
really surprised by the freshness and the quality of the music — and by the
technical quality. And I was so surprised to get all that positive reaction
from people when we released it.


Was the material on Live 1974 edited down considerably?


Well, to be honest that was the way we played back then.
Sometimes we didn’t know how to stop. So the endings could be as long as the
whole idea because we just grew softer and softer and faded — everyone had
these volume pedals. In a way, we were shy also and we just didn’t know how to
stop and so the endings could be very long. So for the album, I left out what
wasn’t necessary on the recordings. Apart from that, I didn’t have to do much
— just some level adjustments. There’s no trickery involved on Live 1974. That’s how we sounded; that’s
what we did.


Do you remember how
the audience responded?


I don’t think they paid much attention [laughs]. In the
press release, I think I said that you can’t hear any crowd noise because maybe
they were all too stoned to react. Maybe that was true but, to be honest, I
think that people just weren’t very excited about us. So if you listen closely,
especially if you use headphones, on the fade-outs you can hear people talking.
There weren’t that many people in the club. It was a very special club, though.
I played there with Kraftwerk a few years earlier and also had a great evening,
so it must have been a very special place. It was a cool place and cool people.
The crowd was polite to us, but I don’t think they had the idea that they were
witnessing something that would create excitement 30-something years later.


Harmonia met Brian
Eno when he came to a gig in ’74. Was that planned?


No. The story was that — I’m not sure — maybe he was on a
promotional tour for one of his solo albums. It was post-Roxy. Anyway, he was
in Bremen and talking to a German journalist who was a fan of Harmonia and NEU!
— a journalist named Winfrid Trenkler. He was one of the two-and-a-half
journalists who really picked up on our music and promoted it. So they were
talking about our music and Winfrid Trenkler told Brian that Harmonia were
playing in Hamburg that night and Brian said, “Please take me to see
them.” So we talked and we had Brian sitting in the first row in the
concert at the Fabrik in Hamburg and he joined us onstage for a bit of a jam.
Then we invited him to collaborate with us and it took two years to happen, but
he finally showed up in Forst in late summer ’76.


Around the time you first met him, were you
aware that he’d called Harmonia “the world’s most important rock


I think I read that in the New York Times. Of course, when we met in 1974 he told us that he
and David Bowie had been talking about us and knew all of our albums and that
they were talking about how great they thought they were. So we knew about
those guys, but I’m not sure how many more there were, how many other people
were listening to Harmonia. Maybe a few more people were listening to NEU!


So the Harmonia
records weren’t selling and no one was really writing about you?


Yes, that’s right. We were really below all the radars.


It must be very
gratifying now that Harmonia’s work is garnering such a positive response.


I am especially happy for Harmonia because, when I started
Harmonia, I was just as enthusiastic about that project as I had been when I
started NEU! And I expected the same response. I felt my own love for a project
and then thought everyone should feel the same way [laughs], and I found out
quite early that that isn’t always the case….


By the time Eno
showed up to work with Harmonia, is it right that the band had split?


Yes. We split in summer ’76 and all three of us recorded
solo projects. I recorded Flammende
with Jaki Liebezeit and Conny; Roedelius recorded Durch
die Wüste
and Moebius had a project with other musicians called
Liliental. And in September ’76 Brian showed up in Forst, and I’m not even sure
if it’s right to say that we were Harmonia then. Maybe we were three individual
musicians working together with Brian, but we decided to call it Harmonia.


Were you all familiar
with Eno’s work?


Yes. We had the Roxy Music albums. I’m not sure how many,
but they were around and we listened to them. I think what he did later
appealed to me more, in a way. I think Moebius liked Here Come the Warm Jets.


Which of his records
did you enjoy most?


On Another Green World there are some quite beautiful pieces of music, but it could also be Before and After Science.


How long did the
recording last with Eno?


He stayed in Forst for, I think, 11 or 12 days.


Did working with Eno
alter the way Harmonia worked at all?


I don’t think so. It certainly isn’t true for me, but I
really enjoyed collaborating with Brian and having him around. It was a very
creative phase, a very good collaboration. As you probably know, we didn’t
actually try to record an album. It just happened. We were just four musicians,
four scientists sort of, and musicians, meeting in the studio and then
exchanging ideas. It was quite similar to the way Harmonia worked in the
beginning: one guy with an idea and the others listening and then joining in. I
had a 4-track tape recorder at the time and it was four people — four
musicians — and four individual tracks.


What did Eno bring to


I think Roedelius has some different memories from mine. I
read somewhere Roedelius talking about Brian passing some notes, writing some


You don’t remember
him getting out the Oblique Strategies cards?


I don’t think so. My memory may be wrong. I remember Brian
was very interested in cybernetics and talking about that a lot. But for me, it
was just a case of him listening and then he processed my guitar and then I
started a beat and processed a beat and he joined in. It was just very
practical — the way I prefer to make music — not theorized: you just do it.
Making sounds and not talking about it too much.


The result of the
collaboration wasn’t released for over 20 years. Was that because there was
never any specific intention to make a record but, rather, just to experiment?


That’s right. Well, the story was that Brian brought some fresh
4-track tapes, four blank tapes, along to Forst and when the tapes were full,
he departed with them. Before he left, I made rough mixes onto a cassette
recorder. These were meant only as a memo until Brian returned a few months
later — the idea was actually to meet again and continue, but we now know this
didn’t happen. He went on to Montreux to record with David Bowie on Low and I’m not sure really where things
went wrong or just changed course because I released my first solo album in
March 1977 and that took off like a rocket in Germany and I was quite busy from
then on and very happy with that. Roedelius and Moebius did meet Brian again a
little later on and worked with him in Conny’s studio. Years later — in the
’80s — Roedelius came to visit Forst. When we talked about those 1976
recordings, he mentioned that Brian had told him that the tapes had disappeared
and were untraceable (ha ha). We were
all quite unhappy about that loss — but what could we do? It was very
unfortunate, but then being busy I just accepted that. So I was surprised in
1997 when Roedelius suddenly sent us Tracks
& Traces
version 1, what he had unearthed: in 1996 or 1997, during one
of his visits to Brian, Roedelius had found one of the four 4-track tapes and
had mixed the 4-track down to stereo.


Were you at all
dissatisfied with that first version Roedelius put together?


Well, at the time, there was a lot of friction between
Roedelius and Moebius, in particular, but also between all three parties:
Moebius and myself on one side and Roedelius on the other. I was especially
unhappy about the way he had finished that project without asking us. The first
thing I said was, “Well, the music is great, but why didn’t you do it with
us?” I mean, it would have been perfectly natural for us to meet and
finish that album, finish that music. But he decided to do it that way. But
then, on the other hand, the music was great and he did a good job and so
Moebius and I just said, “OK, the music is all right. Let’s release


How did the second
version of Tracks & Traces come


I kept that cassette, the one I’d copied before Brian left
Forst, in my archives and didn’t listen to it for many years until I checked
the material early this year when we started discussing the new release of Tracks & Traces. I knew that we had
a good time and that it was a creative period, but I was surprised to find, I
think, 27 or 29 fragments, ideas, sketches — most of which were worthy of
release. I was astonished by some of that material I found, which sort of
shifts the overall impression, the mood of the 1997 album. The musical quality
of the tape impressed everyone to the extent that we agreed to neglect the
inferior audio quality — the lo-fi sound actually has a special quality, quite
befitting the project — and to release those documents.


So how does the new
version differ?


I think it’s fair to say that the first release reflects
some of the dark moods which are common with Roedelius’s work, but there were
also other different materials — and maybe Achim [Roedelius] didn’t have those
materials when he did the first version. I’m happy now that the new version of Tracks & Traces has a somewhat
different balance between a darker mood or atmosphere and a harmonious,
melodious sound. There are three new short pieces — that’s the sketches. The
second track, I glued together out of two fragments of the same idea. Roedelius
and Moebius were as enthusiastic about the music as me. With their consent I
picked and edited the three bonus tracks. That wasn’t a big job compared to the
importance of the original material: the editing is not a big deal. I work like
an archivist. It was an honorable duty to unearth and to feature that material
in the best possible way. But it’s nothing that I can use for my ego. That’s
not the idea.


It’s interesting that
you haven’t incorporated the new tracks in the conventional sense — i.e., by
tacking them on the end. You’ve sort of reframed the original release.


That’s right. I thought about the best way to connect the
new tracks to the original release and felt that it would be boring to just add
them at the end. So I decided to play around and had the idea to present two
tracks at the beginning and another one at the end, which is like a frame to
the original version. But if you listen to it, I hope you can understand why I
thought that was a good idea. When I did that, everyone was happy with the idea
and so that’s how it’s going to be released.


How involved were the
others in the reissue?


Well, this time all the work with the music in the studio
was done by me. The recordings were de-noised and I did the remastering in the
studio in Hamburg, but there wasn’t that much I had to do. I just made the
choice of all these sketches that I mentioned, to complement the album and show
what I think is a much more complete view of the material we worked on, a more
complete view than Roedelius’s original version of the album showed.


Harmonia reconvened
in 2007. How did that come about?


I think the record company Grönland asked us, because of the
amazing reviews and all the attention that Harmonia’s Live 1974 was getting, especially in the UK. This great reception
was surprising for me, but maybe not for the label. So the idea was, “Is
there any chance that you could play live?” and I had been playing live
with Moebius for many years, and so we all met and discussed it. We met in a
good atmosphere, free of tension, and we decided to give it a try. It seemed to
work quite well.


How does it seem
different now?


To be truthful, no one would want us to start searching for
one-and-a-half hours like we did in the early ’70s. People would start running
out of the venue! So the material was pre-organized and when we played live it
was mostly one piece by Moebius, one by Roedelius and then one by myself, with
each of us joining in whenever possible. That was the idea of the Harmonia
collaboration in 2007 and 2008, until January 2009 when we were in Australia,
which was great. But we decided to stop the live collaboration again. There was
some arguing and quarreling — an atmospheric pressure drop [laughs].


Obviously, you can
never say never, but does it seem to be over?


No, you can never say that because if you look at it in the
right way, you have to realize how foolish all this fighting is. It’s very
difficult to explain in English — it’s even harder to explain in German….
The lack of wisdom in our personalities…. On a lighter side, it was funny to
see all the same psychological elements working when we met and first played
again in 2007. Maybe it’s not so funny and not even surprising, but we haven’t
changed, really. I mean, the surroundings have changed and the reception has
changed and, of course, the sound is much better, but maybe only in a way.
Maybe some people think the old sound is great.


Since Harmonia first
worked together in the ’70s, the technology has changed enormously. Has that
altered the way you do things now?


I use computers and the effects machines that are available
these days, all the amazing new stuff, but I’m still the same person; it’s
still the same vision of music. Also, some of the gear is actually still the
same. I still have some of the same fuzzboxes I used in the ’70s. In fact, I’ve
just asked a technical wizard I know to readjust my old tremolo machines. I
collect all that gear. It’s like having all those different colors at your


Your work has always
combined an interest in technology with a human, emotive presence, which comes
across in the strong melodic dimension. Are you aware of having to balance the


Maybe sometimes you’re in danger of being too fascinated by
the possibilities of sound creation — especially when I look back at the ’80s
and some of the things that changed then. I was completely fascinated by the
Fairlight music computer in the ’80s. But it all moves in spirals. The basic idea
of taste in music hasn’t changed — at least maybe only in some small shifts —
but the gear has changed. Sometimes I use the same old gear. As long as you
have your own vision, an idea, a vision that comes out of your own mind and
that is not premeditated by some software program or some sound designer, then
that’s safe, that’s OK. But I use all the new tools. I mean, it’s great to have
tools like the Kaoss Pad, for instance. The idea is to create exciting sounds,
exciting music, and if you can do it with a wah pedal, a fuzzbox and a delay
machine, like what I had in 1971, then that’s fine. But it would be artificial
to say that I can drop all the new gear and go back to what I had in the ’60s
or early ’70s. It’s the same idea with the amount of time spent recording. We
recorded the first NEU! album in four nights and I remember being very anxious,
very afraid of crashing — of failing — and we were very close to failing, I
know, but it’s something that leads to a special result. Maybe that’s one of
the explanations for the freshness of the first NEU! album — that there was
not much time to reflect and to change things. We just had to move forward all
the time, very fast. If I tried to work that way today, it would be artificial.
In the early ’70s, we just couldn’t afford to hire the studio for any longer


You seem to have
always worked in small set-ups — with Kraftwerk, NEU!, Harmonia, with Moebius
and as a solo artist. Has that been intentional?


I’m not sure it was intentional. Originally, it happened
because, most of the time, there was no one else around who interested us. If
you imagine the situation in the late ’60s/early ’70s, if you try to remember,
I was surprised, as I already said, that I met someone like Ralf Hütter —
someone with the same melodic approach. That was something I didn’t expect to
find. Maybe there were other people in other cities, well definitely there
were, but I didn’t find out about them and so we worked with the people we
knew. People are willing to accept that a writer works on his own or that a
painter works on his own, and I think this can also be true for a musician: if
a musician has an idea for a complete music, he can work on his own. Maybe it’s
a good idea to exchange ideas, to pick up inspiration and to stay alive in an
exchange, but I think for me it’s quite natural to work on my own, and it’s
been that way all the time.


Is it true that you
turned down the chance to collaborate with Bowie on “Heroes”?


Well, that wasn’t true at all. The story was that I talked
to his secretary, who called me and asked me on behalf of David. I said that
I’d be interested, but that I’d prefer to talk to David. Then David called me
and we were both very enthusiastic and talked about details and so on. And
then, another guy called me from his management, who wanted to talk business
with me. Maybe I didn’t give the right answers — I said, “Don’t worry
about the money, as long as the music’s great” [laughs]. I’m not sure that
they wanted to hear that! But I think that the main reason for the funny thing
that happened next was that they needed to protect David from doing more crazy
experiments in the ’70s; the kind of music that David was starting to make
wasn’t popular. It’s a fact that the sales were going down and his management was
probably getting a bit restless or nervous about the sinking popularity of
David Bowie. So, next, somebody called me and said, “I have to tell you
that David’s changed his mind and he doesn’t need you.” So that was that,
and I thought, “That’s funny — that’s not how it sounded to me!” But
I was busy. That was in the summer of ’77, after the release of Flammende Herzen, and I was in the
middle of recording Sterntaler, my
next album, and I didn’t think about it that much until 2001, maybe, when there
was an interview with David Bowie in Uncut magazine. In that interview, I read that he said something like,
“Unfortunately, Michael turned me down,” and also he mixed up the
names “Dinger” and “Rother” — calling me “Michael
Dinger.” Later he contributed a quote about NEU! for the 2001 Grönland
re-releases of the NEU! albums and we exchanged some emails. Anyway, I think
one day we can talk about that, but I had to make it clear that I didn’t turn
him down at all. Somebody must know what happened. Maybe it was a mistake, but
it seems logical that people were taking care of him. Also, I think David was
also a bit fragile at the time, with drugs. Maybe they thought he needed
protection, maybe against himself.


I understand you’re
preparing some NEU! reissues.


I’m working on a NEU! vinyl box set, which will include an
LP-sized booklet with text about NEU! and some as-yet unpublished photos. I’m
still in the middle of the project. So far, the idea is to release NEU!, NEU! 2, NEU! ’75 and a
re-worked version of NEU! 4 (which I
think will be called NEU! ’86 like
we’d originally intended) including some material from 1985-86 that is as-yet
unknown to the public. Plus — possibly — excerpts of Live ’72 (the recording of a rehearsal). When I’ve finished editing
NEU! ’86, I’ll check those live
recordings and edit the highlights. I’m in the process of reliving that project
with Klaus. When we separated, we weren’t finished with the project and Klaus
decided to do that behind my back because I think he was just paranoid and needed
the money, etc. — well, he’ll explain later when we meet again. But now I’m
reliving that project and I will do my best also to present what we did in the
’80s in what I think now is the best way. Then, sometime after the vinyl box
set, if everything goes OK, we also plan to release a new CD version of NEU! 4/NEU! ’86 and to make available all of NEU!’s recordings for
download. You see, there is still a lot of work to be done here. I met recently
with Grönland and the last partner of Klaus and I’m optimistic that we’ll
agree. She understandably hopes that we will release as much of the two CDs
Klaus put out illegally in Japan as possible. I was happy to see that she also
respects my reservations and my approach to this unhappy chapter of my
collaboration with Klaus. I’m optimistic that we will agree on the best
possible release for NEU!


When do you think the
box set will come out?


We hope to release it later this year, but it could well end
up being next year. What I really like about Grönland — and that’s due in part
to Herbert Grönemeyer being an artist himself — is that they respect artistic
ideas. It has to be done in the best possible way. It would be best to have the
box set ready before Christmas for all the fans. We’ll see. It depends on how quickly
I can find my way around the material. I was in the studio today editing one
track and I’ve been transferring music from all the analog tapes to the
computer. I also stumbled across some old NEU! music that I’d forgotten because
Klaus and I split the tapes and he didn’t have all the material in Düsseldorf
when he released that version of NEU! 4.
This is all quite interesting and another piece of work for the archivist
[laughs]. And when that’s done, next year I’m thinking of doing some live solo
concerts. I’ve been in touch with my musical friends of recent years. Josh
Klinghoffer and Benjamin Curtis are both of course on my list and are excited
to join me and also John Frusciante and Flea, actually. He’s a great guy. We
jammed together with the Chili Peppers twice in concert in Germany a few years
ago. He told me that whenever I need a bass player, I’ve got one. I’m thinking
of playing my idea of NEU! music and also some Harmonia and my solo stuff. I
think that could really be very exciting. I’d love to play live again soon.
Next year. I’m in touch with Barry Hogan for All Tomorrow’s Parties.


I heard that when you
were at ATP in upstate New York in 2008, you had to leave halfway through the
My Bloody Valentine set.


[Laughs] Well, I was so tired. I had jet lag and I had to play the next day. I met Kevin Shields
backstage with Benjamin Curtis and I talked to him. I wanted to see My Bloody
Valentine and stay around, but halfway through their set I nearly fell asleep
standing up.


Very few people can
claim to have almost fallen asleep at a My Bloody Valentine gig.


It was funny. They were giving out earplugs to everyone. It
was so loud, but there are magical moments in that music. I hope I have another
chance to see them when I’m not so sleepy.


KRAUTROCK DELUXE Michael Rother (Part 1)

An exclusive,
sprawling conversation with the legendary German guitarist in which he
discusses Kraftwerk, NEU!, Harmonia & Eno, and more.




It’s hard to overstate the importance of the ’70s generation
of experimentally minded German musicians like NEU!, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Can
and Faust, usually grouped under the dodgy term, Krautrock. Having come of age in the postwar period, many of these
diverse artists shared a common bond of refusal,
rejecting not only their country’s troubled political and cultural past, but
also the global hegemony of Anglo-American pop and rock. Ironically, despite
distancing themselves from the musical mainstream, these bands would exert
considerable sway over those traditions they’d rejected. The line of influence
stretches from punk’s smarter manifestations through the post-punk generation
and Bowie’s vital late-’70s work, to more recent rock of all stripes — Sonic
Youth, Tortoise, Stereolab, Radiohead, Primal Scream, Secret Machines, the list
goes on and on. And beyond rock, the likes of Cluster, NEU!, Kraftwerk and
Harmonia have also been perennial reference points on the continuum of
electronic music from the late ’70s to the present, from synth-pop to techno,
as well as its more abstract, experimental variants.


Michael Rother’s guitar minimalism is a connecting thread
weaving through and between several of the most innovative of the ’70s German
bands. When Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider briefly separated in 1971, Rother
joined Schneider in Kraftwerk. Also present, on drums, was the late Klaus Dinger,
with whom Rother formed NEU! later the same year. Between NEU!’s second and
third records, in 1973, Rother teamed up with Cluster’s Dieter Moebius and
Hans-Joachim Roedelius as Harmonia, a project spawning two studio albums, Muzik von Harmonia and Deluxe, plus two posthumous releases: Live 1974 and a collaboration with Brian
Eno, Tracks & Traces. By 1977,
Rother had hooked up with Can’s drummer Jaki Liebezeit and embarked on a solo
career that continues today.


Despite solo success, particularly with his first three
records, Rother is still most widely known for his work with Dinger in NEU!
Immensely creative as an artistic unit, Rother and Dinger were never friends,
and by the mid-’90s, with the band long dead and its three original albums out
of print, the pair’s relationship had been reduced to an exchange of fraught
faxes after Dinger — without Rother’s approval — began putting out unreleased
NEU! material on a Japanese label. Thanks to Dinger’s intransigence, the
original NEU! albums remained legally unavailable until 2001, when Herbert
Grönemeyer stepped in and brokered their release on his Grönland label, which
later also issued Harmonia’s archival Live
The latter prompted renewed interest in Rother’s recordings with
Roedelius and Moebius, which in turn led to the reactivation of Harmonia for
live performances from 2007 through early 2009.


Now, on the occasion of Grönland’s expanded reissue of
Harmonia and Eno’s Tracks & Traces,
Michael Rother looks back over a career of sometimes vexed but always
groundbreaking creative partnerships.




BLURT: How did you
first connect with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius? Did you know them
personally or just through their work as Cluster


ROTHER: We did a concert together, in Hamburg, when I was
with Kraftwerk in ’71. Cluster worked with the same producer — Conny Plank —
and I’m not sure how it happened, but we ended up playing at the same concert
in Hamburg.


So both bands were on
the same bill?


Yes, they were playing on the same night: it was Kraftwerk
and Cluster in the big university hall there. There’s a funny story about that.
I’ll never forget that concert. Kraftwerk were quite popular already. The first
Kraftwerk album had been released some months earlier and so, obviously, for the
crowd, we were the main attraction, but we were so democratic [laughs] that we talked to Roedelius and Moebius
backstage and asked, “Who should go on first?” And they said,
“Oh, you go on first and then we’ll take over.” There are hardly any
documents of what we did as Kraftwerk, but we’d really been making quite rough
music and people were very excited and when we wanted to stop our set, the
people just kept on cheering and shouting and we said, “No, we have to
stop because the other band’s coming on.” And then, when Cluster started
playing, the people got really mad and they rushed the stage. I don’t know how
many, but maybe 20 or 30 people actually went onto the stage and disconnected
their speakers and equipment. I was afraid they would start beating them up.
That was the result of Kraftwerk’s furious playing!


These days people
don’t tend to think of Kraftwerk as a rock band whipping crowds into a frenzy!


Cluster played very soft music, but what we did as Kraftwerk
then wasn’t very soft. It was quite the opposite: it was very rhythmical, very
rough, primitive, raw music. Well, that was my memory, at least. Maybe they
weren’t really in danger of being beaten up, but it’s something I’ll never
forget. So anyway, after that we stayed in touch and one year later, when we
had already released our first NEU! album, we had this offer to do a tour in
the UK. Our British label, United Artists, invited us and of course the two of
us, Klaus Dinger and I, couldn’t perform live — playing just drums and one
guitar, that’s not enough. And then I remembered especially this one track on Cluster II, “Im Süden.” That
track really appealed to me and I had the idea that the harmonious, melodious
connection was there. So I went to visit Cluster in Forst and jammed with Roedelius
in order to find out whether they could join NEU! on that tour, as members of
the live line-up. But, actually, in the end I liked that music much more than
NEU! so [in 1973] I stopped NEU! for a while.


What was it about
Cluster that you found so attractive — attractive enough to put NEU! on hold?


When we jammed together it was a different world, a
different atmospheric world. It was quiet. Roedelius played these melodious
patterns on his keyboard — I think there was maybe some influence from minimalist
composers — and there was the sound treatment, of course. Sometimes it was
fuzzy — he used wah and other filters. It was very primitive gear, actually.
Nothing sophisticated. In fact, it was very similar to what I had been using
with NEU! but the combination of Roedelius’s piano, his electric piano, and my
guitar was immediately something that connected. And, well, there was so much
to discover on that road.


You mentioned
minimalism. Had you listened to composers like Terry Riley by then?


Not by that time. Until then, I hadn’t come in contact with
any of them. It was only really when I met Roedelius and Moebius.


How did working with
them as Harmonia compare to working with Klaus Dinger in NEU!?


Well, there were several differences. One big difference was
that with Cluster as Harmonia we could create music onstage: it was a complete
musical picture. That was totally different to NEU! With Klaus, we needed the
multitrack machine and that limited our possibilities, of course. And also, to
be honest, I respected Klaus as an artist, as a great drummer, but as I’m sure
you’ll have heard, we were so different in character and personality. Maybe
sometimes the impression that’s created is wrong, but we weren’t friends. I
didn’t want to spend any time with Klaus outside the studio. In the studio, it
was perfect. We were a great team. We didn’t have to discuss music in the
studio because we had similar visions of where we were heading and what we
wanted to do. But everything else was not so pleasant for me with Klaus. With
Moebius and Roedelius, it was different. Klaus thought of himself as a hippie
— in later days he referred to himself as a hippie-punk or something like that
— but the calmness and surroundings of Forst had a strong appeal to me, and
this all connected. It was just one big excitement. The visit to Forst was
inspiring; it was an inspiring place for me to stay.


As you say, you and
Klaus had very different personalities and you weren’t friends. How did you
come together initially?


I met him when I stumbled into the Kraftwerk studio in
Düsseldorf one day, in early ’71. At that time, I was working in a psychiatric
hospital, as a conscientious objector [in lieu of compulsory military service],
and I was with a friend who was also a guitar player and we were in Düsseldorf
demonstrating against something or other — I can’t remember what it was
[laughs]. At the time, there were so many reasons to be angry. Anyway, after
the demonstration he said, “Oh, I have this invitation to go into the studio
of a band here in Düsseldorf. They want to do some film music or
something.” He told me the name of the band and that didn’t ring a bell —
I hadn’t heard of the name Kraftwerk at the time. So, I joined him and I jammed with Ralf Hütter in that studio.
Florian Schneider and Klaus Dinger were sitting on the sofa listening and,
obviously, everyone had the same impression that there was something happening
musically. I got on very well with Ralf Hütter. He was also a big surprise for
me because there was no need for discussions: it was just the similarity of our
music, our harmonious, melodious ideas maybe — something like that — as
opposed to the blues-oriented rock musicians playing guitar solos that were
around all the time in the late ’60s.


Although you’d originally
been inspired by Anglo-American rock, you weren’t interested in reproducing it.


Well, I grew up imitating all those people. I mean, the last
one who really knocked me off my feet was Jimi Hendrix and I still love his
music. It’s still inspiring and it’s so amazing what he did at that time. But,
of course, it was necessary to forget what I had heard and what I had been
impressed by in the late ’60s in order to be able to move forward and create my
own music. And when I met the Kraftwerk guys, that was suddenly a sort of…in
English do you have the phrase Hour Zero?


Yes, or Zero Hour or
maybe Year Zero if you’re talking about big socio-cultural paradigm shifts.


In German it’s a very common expression, Stunde Null. It’s used for postwar
Germany, after the collapse of Nazi Germany. And everything started for me at
that moment in ’71, with Kraftwerk. So my main idea was to forget the clichés,
all the guitar techniques and song structures of my teenage heroes, which I had
so carefully adopted and copied. The Beatles, Eric Clapton and Hendrix were
already around, I understood that, and copying their ideas would never be an
expression of my own musical personality. The first thing I did was to slow
down my fingers: no more running around on the guitar neck at high speed. Then,
consequently, the ideas of pop music and blues — their melodic and harmonic
song structures — were scrapped from my musical vocabulary. All of this left
me with the basic elements of music. One string, one idea, move straight ahead,
explore dynamics. An echo of my listening to music in Pakistan, probably [where Rother lived as a child]. Anyway,
this minimalistic approach was not limited to guitar playing. It was an idea
for a complete music which — in the end — was meant to express and reflect my
own personality and individuality. It probably sounds very ambitious and
self-confident — but that’s what I was, what we were. The future wasn’t clear,
I didn’t know in 1971 where the musical adventure was taking me, but it was a
vast open ground with lots of freedom and the chance of limitless


So when you were
working with Kraftwerk and then NEU!, you consciously tried to cut yourself off
from the rock tradition.


Yes, completely. You know, it wasn’t enough just to forget
the English and American musical heroes. German also…. Actually, there were
really no German musical heroes that I can remember — whatever I heard from
German musicians was something that didn’t impress me. Later on, when I played
with Kraftwerk, we also met the Can people. We had, I think, one or two
concerts together and, of course, later on I listened to their albums — not
closely, but enough to know that Jaki Liebezeit was a great drummer. And that,
of course, led to our collaboration later.


And you only felt
musical kinship with people like Can, Kraftwerk and, of course, Cluster?


Yes. Maybe that’s some sort of a family, but with very loose
ties. I chose to be influenced and inspired by the people I collaborated with
and not, you know, by just anyone who put out a record.


By the time you
joined Kraftwerk, they’d already released that first album.


Yes, that’s right. It was a few months earlier and they were
becoming popular. I remember there was talk about the “Heroin Crowd”
in Munich being totally taken by this first album, and then, when we did our
concerts, our tours, there were so many people, especially young people, who
discovered the music and it took off like a rocket.


Is there any chance
that the work you did with Kraftwerk will be officially released? Some of the
aborted studio work with Conny Plank or the live material?


It’s hard to say. I hesitate to say never because many things happen that in earlier times I wouldn’t
have considered possible. I mean, the lost Harmonia tapes with Brian Eno, for
instance — the Tracks & Traces tapes. But I know, of course, that Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter did their
best to forget the period in ’71 when they were separated. They tried to erase
that part of their history, even saying that the actual Kraftwerk story starts
with Autobahn in ’74, which is quite


They certainly did
some interesting work before Autobahn.


Yes, and some of the best work, in fact. Of course, I
haven’t discussed that with them; I haven’t spoken with them for ages. Now I
hear that they’ve split. I met Karl Bartos recently, who was with them for a
long time, and he tells me it’s only Ralf Hütter now. But as for the recordings
we did with Conny Plank, to be honest, they weren’t great. That was one of the
reasons we stopped halfway through, because, well, maybe it wasn’t the right
combination. When we did it live, sometimes in the right situation, the music
got very, very exciting — for us onstage and also for the crowd. I think that
the videotapes and the bootlegs that are available do not reflect that. Some of
them are completely wrong in the audio balance. I think the reason for this is
that the technicians didn’t realize how important the stuff was that Florian
Schneider played. Instead, they concentrated on my guitar much too strongly,
making it dominate everything. And I thought that Florian did amazing things on
the electric flute, especially. If there would be a possibility to remix that,
to do proper audio balance, I guess it would be much more exciting than what is
available, but I don’t see Florian or Ralf Hütter at a certain time suddenly
approaching me and saying, “Hey this has to be released!” [laughs]


You’re not in touch
with Florian Schneider at all these days?


No. I have friends who sometimes see Florian. I don’t know,
maybe I’ll meet up with him one day. He seems to be getting calmer since he
left Kraftwerk. But no, there was no reason to stay in touch. I mean, we
weren’t friends either. The music was exciting, but I also remember being
witness to some horrible fights between Klaus and Florian: horrible arguing… and
really crazy driving! Florian was such a crazy driver. I think he risked our
necks many times because he was so on-edge. Everything was the complete
opposite of being relaxed and driving with foresight. He didn’t drive
carefully…or maybe that was just my impression because I didn’t have a
driver’s license at the time. But I think it was quite true because that’s how
Florian always appeared to me anyway.


Let me ask you about
the dreaded term Krautrock. This was
a term invented by the British music press, I think.


I can’t say. It could well be, but there are several
versions of the origin of this word. You know the band Faust? I heard they had
a song called “Krautrock,” but I don’t know their music.


You’ve never listened
to Faust?


Not really. Well, actually someone once gave me a record
[laughs], but [listening to other people’s records] isn’t so important, really.
I mean, I have my own job to do!


That’s funny.
Although it’s heavier, Faust’s “Krautrock” sounds vaguely similar to
the kind of thing you were doing earlier with NEU! on “Hallogallo.”


Hmmm, maybe I should go and listen to Faust.


Did you find the term
Krautrock at all offensive? Or was it


I’m not sure when the expression first came up, but I
remember that in ’72, when our first NEU! album was released in the UK, there
were some very favorable reviews — but there were also some in which there was
this old fear, do you know what I mean? Maybe it was something to do with a
fear of Germany, the Teutonic cousins: a mixture of admiration and revulsion.


In my experience, at
least, we British have a very, er, ambivalent relationship with the Germans.


Well, not on my side [laughs].
But many journalists and people didn’t seem too fond of whatever came out of
Germany — especially if some musician thought that he’d invented something
that was independent of what British or American musicians had made. That was
something that the music scene first had to get used to. I mean, everyone in
England and America was mostly — and maybe even now is — used to dominating
the world with their products and with their culture. [But the rejection of
their dominance was] what led us to concentrate on our own roots; our own ideas
had to do with Vietnam and, of course, also with Nazi Germany. A lot of the
’60s cultural struggles and political struggles went into our way of thinking.


You’ve touched on
this, but did you see anything particularly German about your music?


That’s interesting. For me the term German didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t connected to a specific
German idea. I think Kraftwerk are a bit different — at least that’s what I
read somewhere — in that they had this idea of creating a German music, a
German musical identity. But I know that my own influences come from all over
the world, so it doesn’t make much sense in my case: most of my time growing
up, I lived in Germany, of course, but then as a child I also lived in England
for a year and then Pakistan for three years.


Didn’t you live just
outside of Manchester?


Yes, and from there we moved to Karachi. And speaking of
influences, I remember these Indian, Arabian musical sounds, the bands walking
the streets, and the fascination I experienced.


You mentioned that
that had an effect on the way you played later.


Oh yes, definitely. The idea of repetition and a sort of
endless music, as opposed to a verse-chorus-verse-and-then-stop kind of
structure. I recently saw a documentary on television about Paul Bowles, the
American author who lived in Morocco, who wrote The Sheltering Sky. His work is amazing. He lived in Morocco for
many years and whenever I see programs like that, with that atmosphere of the
Islamic world, it touches a spot in my soul.


Have you ever been
back to Pakistan?


No. In my mind I have but, you know, looking at the
political situation, it’s not very desirable to be there in Karachi. I’m not
sure. A friend of mine worked for a fashion company and she told me she visited
Karachi a few years ago and didn’t feel insecure. But no, I think I’ll wait and
hope for a better time. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be running around
there as a Christian foreigner. It was different back then, but I did notice
some changes happening in the last year I was there. Of course, we could talk
for a long time about the necessity for cultural independence, but at the
beginning, as a young boy, I wasn’t aware of that. But when I was 12, I
remember once there was some sort of unrest. There were crowds outside the
boundary of the school, outside the high walls of the school. They were
demanding that the school should respect their religious holiday and close for
that day; and so all these people stormed into the compound and I called home
and said, “Please send the driver. We’re having a revolution!”


Did you go to
university in Germany?


I tried, but I’m not sure whether I was really trying. I was
interested in psychology. I mean, I worked in that psychiatric hospital as a
conscientious objector and, next to music, psychology was something that
interested me. But I sat in class with long hair and I stuck out from the other
28 students and I just thought about music all the time. My mind just wandered
off all the time. It was clear very soon that, apart from music, nothing could
get me excited.


What did the name NEU! mean to you?


At the time I was quite unsure. I thought it was too cool.
You know it means “NEW!”, of course. Obviously, it was perfect for
what I had in mind and what Klaus had in mind and it was also a bit cheeky, you
know, with the exclamation mark. A lot of people thought, “What’s
that?” So it was strange. And there was also the first Kraftwerk album,
also with this kind of minimalist artwork approach. But it stuck out in the
shops, of course.


Was it Klaus who did
the cover art on the NEU! albums?


Yes. He made suggestions and I said, “OK, let’s do it
that way.” Klaus had this to offer. We didn’t argue about it. We talked
about the details and moved on. Everything went very fast, actually, with NEU!


NEU! anticipated punk
and post-punk: the DIY artwork, the experimentation, the simple beat, the
guitar sound on the song “Hero”; in turn, the more interesting punk
and post-punk artists cited NEU! as an influence. Did you have much interest in


Not really. I liked some of the music, but in a distant way,
and I didn’t share the emotional side. The emotional connection was something
that was true only to Klaus. I guess Klaus had quite strong frustrations about
his life and a lot of anger at people. That’s something that separated us also
— the way we reacted to rejection and things like that. Klaus had this
attitude, in later days at least, that was like, “Everyone who doesn’t
love me hates me… and if you hate me then I hate you even more” [laughs]. I mean, that’s putting it very
simplistically…but I didn’t share that approach, really. What I liked about
the songs that may have influenced Johnny Rotten and other people — songs like
“Hero” — is the powerful, strong forward rush of the rhythm, and I
could put my guitars, my melodies, on top of that. It was much more the
aesthetic of dynamic movement which appealed to me and not the emotions, like
Klaus singing, “Fuck the company, fuck the press, fuck the program,”


Did he become more
difficult over time?


I think he did. Now that he’s dead, he can’t defend himself
and I have to be even more careful about what I say. He wrote on his web site
that he was proud of having taken more than 1000 LSD trips and that certainly
affected his mental stability and also his ability to relate to other people,
and that got worse. And there were certainly other drugs also. It was difficult
to find the same reality in later years, to be able to discuss anything. When
he released those two NEU! albums in Japan behind my back, I wrote him faxes
and exchanged messages with him about all that many, many times, and my partner
at the time said, “If you think you’ll ever find an agreement, you’re just
as crazy as he is.” Of course, she was right in a way, but there are also some
other aspects. He was short of cash. He later apologized for what he did with
the NEU! albums in Japan. On the other hand, he was a smart guy, so maybe that
was a tactical apology in front of Herbert Grönemeyer, the head of the Grönland
label, when he first met him [to discuss the 2001 reissue of the first three
NEU! records]. So, yes, we couldn’t solve our problems, unfortunately. But it
wasn’t just about money, of course. It was about even more important aspects:
the betrayal and the way he put KLAUS DINGER all over NEU! 4 and the artwork and even wrote an editor’s note in the
booklet asking people to contact ME [laughs]. I’m not sure if I should
laugh… but he was in a very strange mental state in later years, sending his
faxes to everybody, even cc’ing the President of Germany: “Mr. President,
this is not a free market… I wish you knew.” Well, going back to my
psychology days, I have ideas about what was wrong, but I won’t talk about


Did he have family
and friends around him?


Yes, well maybe it’s being indiscreet but you know he had
that band La Düsseldorf with his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe? They had very
severe problems. I think they were fighting in court over royalties for about
12 or 13 years after the split of La Düsseldorf. Well, to say something nice
about Klaus: I hope the impression I’m creating when I talk about him is that
he was difficult as a person but that I really respected his work as an artist.
You know, these days I’m in the studio working on the NEU! 86 material — that was the NEU! project in the ’80s — and
although I don’t love everything we did or he did, he was a great artist. He
just had some problems finding peaceful arrangements with people, especially
when things went in a direction he didn’t want them to go in. He could be very
sweet [laughs] as long as everything
went his way, and then he got very nasty when things went wrong.


When you were working
with Klaus in NEU! and Kraftwerk, you also began your involvement with the late
Conny Plank, of course. What do you remember about him?


With my projects, he was an amazing, creative guy at the
mixing desk, with a very clear mind. He was very enthusiastic, open to all
kinds of craziness. Conny was just as crazy as we were and I learned quite a
lot from him, picking up his approach to changing everything, turning the sound
upside down. You know, that was one of his credos: just turn everything upside down.


So he played an
important role on the NEU! records.


Definitely. To be honest, at the beginning I don’t know if
we would have been able to record an album without Conny. He was a vital member
of the team, of the production team, and he had experience. Of course, he
wasn’t as experienced as he was in later years, but he already had enough
experience to be able to handle the studio gear and to handle the musicians. He
wasn’t the kind of producer who would have told us what to do — that wasn’t
our idea of having a co-producer. He was part of the team, listening
attentively and also, at certain times, giving inspiration: for instance,
turning the tape around in “Hallogallo.” I remember that clearly. It
was exciting to hear all my guitars playing backwards, and then I played
forward guitar to that — matching it.


That was Conny
Plank’s idea for “Hallogallo”?




Did Conny get along
with Klaus?


[Pregnant pause] [laughs]
You know, Klaus always wanted to crash through walls, to break down barriers.
Klaus wouldn’t accept a “no.” That was part of his personality. He
always wanted more. Always more. I remember Conny sitting at the mixing desk
working on a track on the second NEU! album, trying to point out to Klaus that,
no, he couldn’t make the mix louder. Klaus always wanted more excitement. I
understand that desire perfectly well, but in contrast to Klaus I think I was
willing to accept that there were boundaries, that there were limits. Klaus, on
the other hand, always said, “More!
Make it louder!
” [laughs]
And sometimes Conny — well, he was a very strong person, of course — but I
remember that he was a bit unhappy about those situations when Klaus just
wasn’t willing to understand that there was a “no” or there couldn’t
be “more.” But otherwise, I think Conny respected Klaus in the same
way that I did. We all knew that we were a good team and that we needed each


[Continued in part two
of the BLURT Michael Rother interview
, tomorrow, in which Rother discusses his
work with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Möbius of Cluster as Harmonia,
meeting Brian Eno, the
Tracks and Traces reissue, and his plans for overhauling – and adding to – the NEU! back


[Photo Credit: Hadley