Monthly Archives: November 2009

HE DON’T KNOW Chris Smither

The
singer-songwriter’s low profile is good enough for him.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Chris Smither’s latest album Time Stands Still (Signature Sounds) starts with a tune called
“Don’t Call Me Stranger.” Although it’s a “bad-boy song” written for his wife,
the portentous, fingerstyle folk-blues come-on is like running into an old
friend. That is, though it’s been only three years-just about his average
delivery time-since his last album, it feels longer. You get to missing a buddy
like that, the one whose stories are always interesting, and told in a way
that’s as satisfying as the realization that your old pal may have been away
for a while, but the bond between you remains strong.

 

Smither really is that kind of guy, whether you know him or
not. He introduces himself casually-“It’s Chris”-and warmly. He’s a happy, comfortable
guy, so the idea that he’s not as famous as he should be just slides off his
back. “‘How come you ain’t famous?'” he says, with a dusky laugh reminiscent of
his trademark singing voice. “I don’t know… I was just sorta out of circulation
for about a dozen years.”

 

Those years came after his first two albums, 1970’s
coincidentally titled I’m A Stranger, Too!
and 1971’s Don’t It Drag On (originally issued on Poppy Records, reissued in 2002 on Tomato). “I was
basically drunk for 12 years,” he says in his bio, “and I somehow managed to
climb out of it. I don’t know why.” He resurfaced in 1984 with It Ain’t Easy (Adelphi) and took seven
years to release his fourth album, Another
Way to Find You
(Flying Fish) before settling into that cozy two-three year
recording cycle. Since then, including 2000’s Live As I’ll Ever Be (HighTone) and the long-awaited release of the
lost 1973 album Honeysuckle Dog (Okra-Tone,
2005), he’s doubled his output and played 100-150 shows per year.

 

He’s prolific, now, and his work has been covered by Bonnie
Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Diana Krall. He’s landed tunes in films
(for 2007’s You Kill Me with Ben
Kingsley and Owen Wilson) and scored a short (1997’s The Ride). Author Linda Barnes made Smither the favorite songwriter
of Carlotta Carlysle, the heroine of Barnes’ mystery novels (St. Martin’s Griffin) and Smither’s
own short fiction has been collected, along with that of Jim White, Low’s Zak
Sally and Maria McKee, in Amplified:
Fiction from Leading Alt-Country, Indie Rock, Blues and Folk Musicians
. One
figures Smither should have a higher profile-but unlike his contemporaries John
Hiatt (also a favorite writer of Raitt, Harris and Colvin) and Lyle Lovett, Smither
consistently flies under the radar.

 

“I’m doing really well,” he says, audibly smiling. “I don’t
brag about it or anything, but I’m in a really comfortable position; I can work
as much or as little as I want. But you’re right: Nine times out of ten, people
will say “Chris who?” They won’t say that about John Hiatt.”

 

Yet they share the some of the same rabid, rapt fans, connoisseurs
of what Smither calls “listeners’ artists.” They sit on a stage, often alone,
and tell stories with words and notes coaxed from a guitar that, like a
sidekick, was there for every moment and will attest to the veracity of the
tales-even the embellishments. We fans are content to sit still in their seats
and let the music do the talking. We hang on every word of our good friend’s
account of his whereabouts since last we met.

 

If the song “I Don’t Know” on Time Stands Still is any indication, he’s cool with his station.
There’s a line, a reworking of words uttered by his daughter Robin, that rings appropriate
for him: “How could I be nowhere if I’m here today?” Good point, eh? He has a
career, a record deal, that wizened, raspy voice and a bottomless wellspring of
songs. Could be a lot worse.

 

“All I can do is try to be better than I am. But having said
that, right now I’m actually a lot better known than I ever dreamed I would be
ten years ago.”

 

SONG HUSTLERS Baby Teeth

The Chicago combo learns to stop swinging for the
fences.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

 “I think originality is really overrated,”
says Baby Teeth’s Abraham Levitan. “Everything comes from somewhere, and the
sooner you can get over the idea of trying to reinvent the wheel, the better.”

 

That brisk blast of
musical realpolitik from the Chicago retro-rockers’
frontman informed his “52 Teeth” blog project, wherein Levitan and band posted
a new, fully arranged song each week for a year. They then chose some to
re-record for Hustle Beach, Baby
Teeth’s third full length and an irony-free homage to the ‘70s of Thin Lizzy
and ELO, and the 80s “hair metal and Circus magazine”-era that Levitan came of age in.  

 

If most musicians shy from discussing their influences, Levitan’s
blog revels in connecting the dots between eras, sonic styles, and cadgeable
riffs and melodies. “Being forced to do a song a week really helped me get over
the glamour of swinging for the fences,” he says. “After a while I felt more
like a cobbler, or a welder…which is probably a good headspace to be in.”

 

Blurt asked Levitan to
choose his three favorite tracks that didn’t make the final Hustle Beach cut (all can be heard at 52teeth.wordpress.com).

 

“All
That I Can Do” –
“A story about the sad clown, a
favorite lyrical trope of mine.  Maybe not the most original songwriting
in the world, but it feels very organic to me.”

 

 

“Indian River” – “This
was a really fun Southern-rock genre experiment.  I’m not surprised that
my band mates didn’t go for it, but I just love that Allman Brothers feeling,
and I can’t shake it.”

 

 

“Lose
My Head” –
“This song was rejected out-of-hand
by my band mates due to a too-obvious theft of the guitar line from ‘Just Like
Heaven’ by the Cure.  Funny… I wasn’t even thinking about that when I
wrote it.  Anyway, a good dumb pop song that maybe somebody younger and
prettier could have a hit with.”

 

 

Abraham
Levitan previously penned an installment in Blurt’s recurring artist-authored
feature “The Bully Pulpit.” Go here.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Miriam Doan]

 

 

THE BLURT BULLY PULPIT: The Echo Falls

The Grateful Dead are
OK: singer-songwriter Alex Mandel recalls crushing an icon’s musical tootsies.

 

BY ALEX MANDEL

 

Stepping on Jerry
Garcia’s Toes

 

I was driving through the snow-covered Sierra Nevada
mountains near Truckee. A succession of songs
emerged from the shuffle: Bon Iver, Elliot Smith, Iron and Wine, Gary Jules,
Fleet Foxes. It took me a while to register the next song, though it fit right
in. It was “China Doll” by the Grateful Dead. I suddenly recalled the time I
had stepped on Jerry Garcia’s toes.

 

 

I went to see a movie in San Rafael with a friend when I was 12, and
we spotted Garcia and his family. For some reason we decided to sit in the row
in front of them. I was wearing my black “Screaming Jerry” t-shirt. I stepped
on a foot stretched under the seats. As I apologized profusely, Garcia said,
“It’s OK man, it’s OK.” I can hear that distinctive, slightly nasally voice
even now.

 

 

I got to thinking about the Grateful Dead, recalling songs
that I really liked and how much some of these recent bands reminded me of
them. How many Dead songs talked about the Blue Ridge
Mountains, or featured a digression into free-form improvisation
before returning to the tune, or climaxed with a transcendent four-part
harmony? Had the listeners who enjoy these newer acts checked out the Dead’s
music? Or had a critical consensus been formed early on, influenced as often as
not by extra-musical considerations, and never really been examined? I resolved
to write down some notes about what had originally appealed to me about their
music, and how they had influenced my own musical attitudes.

 

 

 

Dead Words

 

 

As I reread through the lyrics of the Grateful Dead, I found
many of them unique and compelling. But you don’t need to take my word for
it. 

 

 

Bob Dylan’s latest studio album features collaborations with
Robert Hunter, best known as the primary lyricist for the Grateful Dead.
(Dylan’s last sustained songwriting collaboration was on “Desire”, more than 30
years ago.) If Hunter’s words are good enough for Dylan, that should say
something.

 

 

Very early on, Jerry Garcia recognized he was a musician but
not a lyricist, and enlisted Hunter, a poet and songwriter in his own right.
Garcia’s decision initiated a writing partnership that lasted for decades, and
produced a massive and diverse body of lyrics. (Bob Weir, the band’s other main
songwriter, formed a similarly productive partnership with John Barlow). The
Dead’s songs are populated with saints and prophets, outlaws and gamblers,
storytellers by open fires, talking Devils, and three-time-losers with a last
shot at redemption. In other words, they inhabit a similar territory to the
lyrics of Dylan, Robbie Robertson, or Robert Johnson, or many of the folk songs
you might find in a compilation by the Lomaxes or Harry Smith.

 

 

Gateway to American
Music

 

Years later, the main thing I appreciate about the Dead was
the amount of great music they revealed to me, through their voluminous covers.
Garcia was promiscuous when it came to great songs, and he also had great
taste.

 

 

Over time, they opened my mind and ears to Country (Merle
Haggard, Johnny Cash, Don Rollins, Hank Williams); Folk (Alan Lomax’s “Sounds
of the South”, Elizabeth Cotton); Blues (Lightin’ Hopkins); Bluegrass (David
Grisman and Tony Rice); and a bunch of great older popular songs, like “Lucky
Old Sun” (my favorite rendering is by Ray Charles). I bought Ornette Coleman’s
“The Shape of Jazz to Come” after Garcia guested on one of Coleman’s albums.
(Free-form improvisation was a central part of the Dead’s shows, and years
later Coleman sat in with them.) One day, after hearing an old bootleg of the
Dead playing the Fillmore with the Beach Boys, I picked up a used Pet Sounds LP
at the Marin City flea market. (The flea market is
now a mall.)

 

 

Inspired by these covers, I scoured my parent’s record
collection, discovering treasures like The Band’s “Music From Big Pink”,
Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” and CSNY’s “Déjà Vu” (Garcia played pedal steel
on “Teach Your Children’) – each of which remains one of my favorite albums to
this day.

 

 

It is hard to think of another band who embraced so many
different genres. Looking back I feel fortunate that they provided me with an
education in the breadth and depth of American popular music.

 

 

In Miles Davis memoir, Miles,
he uses compliments sparingly, especially for pop acts. Even Bill Evans’
post-Davis work is damned with faint praise. And yet he writes positively about
his conversations with Garcia and the Dead. 

 

 

The original music of the Grateful Dead was as diverse as
its influences. Early 6/8 psychedelic largely improvised freak-outs like “The
Other One” in 1968 quickly made way to muted folk-rock gems like “Black Peter”,
“Friend of the Devil” and “Attics of My Life” in 1970 – a dramatic
transformation. (What happened? Perhaps Music
from Big Pink
.) 

 

 

Their early to mid-‘70s output –“Workingman’s Dead”
“American Beauty”, “Wake of the Flood”, “From the Mars Hotel”, “Blues for
Allah”, and Garcia’s solo records, “Reflections” and “Garcia” — contained some
great songs. These are the records that most closely remind me of the recent
wave of largely acoustic acts.  

 

 

I love the incredibly slow tempos of songs like “Ship of
Fools”, “China Doll”, “Stella Blue”, “Wharf Rat”, and the mixolydian melodies
of “Birdsong”. The Dead had the confidence to perform these long, slow
minor-key dirges about fragility, morbidity and death, sweetened with harmonies
that sometimes fell flat — but when they hit them, they soared. 

 

 

Business

 

 

The Dead’s business model was revolutionary; they provide an
early model of self-sufficiency. They weren’t solicitous of success, didn’t
race off to L.A.
like countless other acts, they remained headquartered in the San Francisco Bay
Area. They started their own record label and their own studio. They built a
direct relationship with their audience. They toured incessantly. They didn’t
rely on major labels, radio play, or press – their albums were regularly
panned. They allowed their fans to tape shows and share their music —
eventually using an early version of the internet – a business model which
seemed radical at the time, but now seems inevitable. They played different
sets every night, and drew from a deep well of originals and covers, which they
rotated over the years, and played differently each time. In short, they did
things that a working band today that wants to try and make a living, and
control their destiny, probably ought to consider.

 

 

 

Recalling the Dead

 

Perhaps time plays tricks with memory until all that’s left
is the good stuff. I spent hours looking for a single version of “The Other
One” I could recommend, and failed. I realized the version I’d been hearing in
my head – with its perfect combination of Phil Lesh’s syncopated bass fill,
Garcia’s modal improvisations, and a collective climax – might not exist. My
mind had grafted countless bootlegs together to create a personal ideal of the
song.

 

 

Who was that 13 year-old in a tie-died shirt and
Birkenstocks lugging a Nakamichi tape deck, a pair of shotgun mics from Radio
Shack, and a 4-pack of Maxell XLII-S cassettes to the Greek Theater? Reenacting
scenes from Carlos Casteneda while backpacking in Desolation Wilderness?
Working his way through the Dead and Dylan songbooks with some acoustic guitars
and a couple of friends? As awkward as some of those memories may be, I can’t –
as Thomas Pynchon memorably wrote in “Slow Learner” – exactly 86 this guy out
of my life, can I?

 

 

Turns out, with the calming benefit of distance and time, I
don’t want to. The years I spent listening to the Dead formed a lot of the
musical attitudes I still hold. It marked the foundation of an education in
American music that continues, in various forms, in fits and spurts, to this very
day. And it probably helped me appreciate this latest wave of acts who may as
well have stepped on Jerry Garcia’s toes, whether they realize it or not.

 

 

Alex Mandel is the songwriter
in The Echo Falls. The band: Mandel – vocals,
guitar; David Brandt – drums, vibraphone, vocals; David Arend – double bass. Their
self-titled debut album was released on November 17. Details, tour dates, song
samples and more can be found at the group’s MySpace page.

 

 

THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I’VE EVER SEEN Ike Reilly

The Chicago raconteur and roots-rocker does his
duty as a good neighbor and gets a tale out of it.

 

BY IKE REILLY

 

Fucked up
only means one thing to me. Drunk, stiff, wasted, loaded, pissed, plowed, tanked,
gone, shit-faced, stoned, pickled, primed – you know what I mean, right? 
It means three sheets to the wind, you had one too many, you’re in the cups,
you’re plastered.

 

So, I
came home late one night a couple of months ago, and my neighbor Darwin was lying
on the sidewalk between our houses. It’s actually my sidewalk but he can touch
his door if he happens to be lying down on my sidewalk.  I was surprised
because the old guy doesn’t leave his wife much to go out now since he got
pinched driving drunk a while back. I knew she’d be pretty upset if he was out
getting tanked-up again, so at first I thought maybe he had been jumped.

 

When I
got down to check him out, he had what I thought was food or something all over
his jacket. It turned out to be food all right, but it had already spent the
evening in his stomach before it made its debut on the front of Dar’s Member’s
Only. There were some strong odors, too, familiar yet unpleasant – brown liquor
and a fresh shit.  

 

I helped
him up, and we got up near the side door.  I felt him up a bit but I
couldn’t find his keys so I had to bang on the storm door, and, when I did I,
could feel the recoil in Dar’s body as we heard HER footsteps coming closer to
the door. The light came on, the door was unbolted and swung open, and, as SHE
put her hand out to grab him, he reached into his pocket quickly, pulled out a
twenty-dollar bill, and she snatched it and then yanked Darwin into the house!
I thought the exchange of money was kind of weird at that time of the night for
a married couple… didn’t know if it was some kind of role playing shit, or if
maybe he had to pay her a fine if he was late. It left me uneasy, and I thought
I’d ask him about it when I saw him next.

 

I ran
into Dar a couple weeks after I found him in on the sidewalk.  He was
sitting in his car, waiting for his wife Leticia to come out of the salon. He
smiled wide when he saw me and said he didn’t remember that I helped him to the
door until he looked me right in the eye right there and then outside the
salon. He thanked me and I told him to think nothing of it but that I did want
to ask him why he handed that money to Leticia.

 

“Oh, the
money,” Dar said. He went on to tell me that when he puked on his jacket at the
bar he knew Leticia would discover just how many drinks he had had and she’d
likely kill him.  So he concocted a plan. A 90-proof plan to cover his
drinking. He told Leticia that he did indeed stop in for “one” drink but that
actually a really pissed-up fella at the bar puked on him and in fact gave him
ten dollars to have his Member’s Only jacket professionally cleaned. As proof
to this incident Darwin said he flashed the ten-dollar bill as soon as he
realized that Leticia was closing in on him.

 

I
laughed, thinking that it was something more torrid than that, but then I
remembered that it was a actually a twenty-dollar bill that Darwin gave
Leticia, not a ten spot, and I said, “Hey Dar, you told Leticia that some drunk
puked on your coat and gave you ten bucks to have it cleaned but I saw you give
her a twenty not a ten. What did ya tell her when she saw that it was a
twenty?”

 

Darwin
said, “I told her the drunk fella shit in my pants as well.”

 

The Ike Reilly
Assassination’s new album
Hard Luck Stories is released this week on Rock Ridge Music. Song samples, tour dates,
etc. can be found at Reilly’s MySpace page. The band appears tomorrow night,
Nov. 25, at First Avenue
in Minneapolis.
Also, as previously reported, Reilly has being doing weekly podcasts at his
official weebsite in conjunction with
Hard Luck Stories.

 

[Above: Reilly
(center) with bandmates Tommy O’Donnell, Ed Tinley, Dave Cottini and Phil
Karnatz.
]

 

 

 

 

NOT JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM EAST L.A. Thee Midniters

Commercially
marginalized in their time, the ‘60s garage/soul ravers finally get their due.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

You can hear their influence in the likes of King
Khan & the Shrines and Reigning Sound, not to mention such rock legends as
Los Lobos and the Plimsouls. From vintage R&B and psychedelic soul to
raveup garage and multi-culti Latino rock: Thee Midniters, a little ol’ band
from East L.A., had it all down and then some,
and though they never really broke nationally, to crate diggers and ‘60s
aficionados they remain legendary and among the toppermost. Thanks to the smartly-packaged
four-CD boxed set Complete: Songs of
Love, Rhythm & Psychedelia!
(Micro Werks) the group’s recorded legacy
now gets a shot at a larger appraisal beyond the admiration of collectors.

 

Who were Thee Midniters? As outlined in archivist Richie
Unterberger’s incisive liner notes (Unterberger previously did an in-depth
profile of the band in his 2000 book Urban
Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries
of ‘60s Rock
), the Chicano band formed in East Los Angeles while most of
the members were still in high school, playing the covers of the day at the
usual teen dance parties, eventually graduating to the recording studio where
they cut their first album, 1965’s Whittier
Blvd.
, which contained a pair of regional hits, the title track – “a warped
mutation of the Rolling Stones’ ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’,” is how
Unterberger describes it – and a rousing cover of “Land Of A Thousand Dances.”
Armed with the killer instinct and soulful lead vocals of Willie Garcia (a/k/a Little
Willie G
, who’d go on to work with Los Lobos, Ry Cooder, Los Straitjackets and
others) and possessing an uncanny ability to both channel and transcend their
influences, Thee Midniters served up a heady stew, one that was primarily rock
and soul-based but occasionally spiced up with touches of their
Mexican-American musical heritage (although to this day the surviving musicians
will insist that they were not playing
Latin rock per se; they just happened to be Latinos who
rocked).

 

Observes Lobos’ Louie Perez in Unterberger’s liners, “Thee
Midniters didn’t stay in one predictable place. They were willing to push the
envelope of what was expected by a band that was from East
Los Angeles… [They] were the best band around at the time. They
became our Beatles; all the stuff that was going on in Beatlemania, we
translated into Midniter mania. It gave young kids who would eventually become
musicians like myself inspiration to pursue a career in music.”

 

It’s not hard to hear why, based on the four complete LPs
and assorted B-sides and rarities represented on Complete. The first album primarily comprises cover tunes,
standouts ranging from the swaggering R&B of Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind
Of Fellow” and street-corner group the Concords’ smooth “Come Back Baby” to the
aforementioned “1000 Dances” and signs-of-the-times rockers “Slow Down,”
“Money” and “Johnny B. Goode”; anyone who grew up on this material can picture
him- or herself crowding down front at the local high school hop, freed for an
hour or two from parental constraints and cutting loose while going through the
rituals of teenage courtship. The bonus material (seven songs) yields its own
trove of gold, including a swinging “Heat Wave” and a two-part live version of
“1000 Dances.”

 

1966’s Thee Midniters
Bring You Love Special Delivery
, though, is where things start to heat up.
Still dominating the setlist are covers, notably smoking takes of “Do You Love
Me,” “Good Lovin'” and “Gloria” (the latter has a punkish vocal snarl and
angular guitar attack that very nearly tops the Van Morrison/Them original)
plus the obligatory soul outings (“When A Man Loves A Woman” passes the
audition) and at least one stab at pure schmaltz (“Strangers In The Night,”
which no doubt was strategically deployed at those dance hops to melt the hearts
and part the thighs of sweet young things). But with torrid originals like
“Love Special Delivery” (penned by Garcia and bassist Jimmy Espinoza, it’s on
fire with surging horns, a Who-worthy rhythm section and searing lead guitar;
I’m betting King Khan has heard this a time or two) and funky, loony R&B
raver “I Found A Peanut,” you get a clear sense of how rapidly the band was
evolving. There’s also an astounding band-penned instrumental among the four
bonus cuts titled “Thee Midnite Feeling,” which with its cinematic/psychedelic
funk vibe demands to be covered in the modern era by the Budos Band or the
Dap-Kings.

 

Sure enough, with the stage duly set, on 1967’s Unlimited the band comes out firing masterfully
with all guns. Opening track “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” may be
remembered by most as a Solomon Burke tune subsequently covered by the Rolling
Stones, but here it’s a throbbing, churning, hormone-drenched garage anthem
worthy of any Nuggets or Pebbles collection that totally
demolishes the Stones’ version. And this time around the LP primarily consists of
originals; no slight to “Devil With A Blue Dress”/”Good Golly Miss Molly” (an overwrought
take of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” is best ignored), but with such gems as
brown-eyed soul weeper “Making Ends Meet,” the jaunty, swinging “Cheatin’ Woman,”
Yardbirds/Sonics pastiche “Welcome Home Darling” and horn-powered, Latin rock instrumental
“Chile Con Soul,” it’s a real head-scratcher to think that Thee Midniters never
really notched any significant national chart action. A whopping eight bonus
tracks round out the disc, notably the rambunctious, speed-rapping (in Spanish)
mariachi rocker “The Big Ranch (El Rancho Grande)”; the Mexican folk-flavored
“The Ballad of Cesar Chavez” (two versions, one in English and one in Spanish);
and a track that Unterberger rightly pegs as “one of the greatest
R&B-grounded garage rockers ever waxed,” the positively riotous – but unerringly
groove-driven – “Jump, Jive, and Harmonize.”

 

Hell, that song alone is worth the price of admission to this box.

 

Thee Midniters’ swan song came in 1969 with Giants, a kind of odds-and-sods affair
released in the aftermath of Garcia’s departure from the group. By this point
the inability to make much headway beyond their SoCal base of operations was
taking its toll; Thee Midniters recorded for a pair of regional operations, the
Chattahoochee and Whittier labels, that suffered from limited distribution, and
for some reason the group’s management passed on a chance to ink a deal with
RCA. Still, Giants has its share of
wonderful moments. Some material is reprised from earlier releases, including “Whittier Boulevard”
and a live “Land
of A Thousand Dances.” A
five-minute instrumental cover of “Walk On By” is revelatory, its part-spiky/part-lush
horn charts lending a twinned edgy/sensual feel that, had the tune been
released a year or so later, would have been perfect for the soundtrack of a
Blaxploitation flick. And original “Breakfast On The Grass,” though somewhat
anomalous for the band, is a classic slice of psychedelic pop that might have
found a home on Top 40 radio; peace, love and flower power, anyone? A final
single, included here among the three bonus tracks, was recorded by the band in
’69, a defiant yet buoyant Latin rocker titled “Chicano Power” that ranks
alongside Santana and War. Speaking of which, also included is the previously
unreleased “Baila Cinderella,” a Spanish language Hubert Laws cover that, with
its lead guitar and Latin percussion, makes for a satisfying Santana
doppelganger.

 

Each original album is presented as a tri-fold digipak
featuring reproductions of the original sleeve art plus images of rare 45s and
track annotations for the non-LP material. The four digis along with
Unterberger’s liner notes are housed in a handsome 5″ x 6″ x 1 ½” box, making
it an artifact that no self-respecting fan of Thee Midniters’ oeuvre will want
to pass up – it’s not for the iTunes crowd, although individual tracks are
clearly worth cherrypicking next time the urge to make a garage-tilting mixtape
strikes. The collection was compiled from “best available” vinyl sources,
meaning that in places you will indeed hear surface noise and minor pops and
ticks, but don’t let that deter ya: think of it as your personal gateway to an
authentically recreated experience.

 

Star rating note: If
pressed to assign a starred rating, out of 10 I’d be forced to give the
caveat-minded “8.” Let me say that on purely musical and archival terms, this
deserves a “9” and possibly even the full “10” monty; it’s that invaluable. And
the packaging, as suggested above, is pure collector catnip. Unfortunately the
compilers opted to include, in lieu of a booklet, a 16-panel, 9″ x 19″ fold-out
poster that features credits and liners on one side and a photo montage on the
other – and the photos on that are
criminally obscured by large red lettering that reads “Thee Complete
Midniters.” Budgetary concession or otherwise, it was a bad call, hence the
“8”: having to unfold the contraption whenever you want to check the liners and
then fold it all back together in order to place it back in the box is a bit
annoying, and over time those liners will additionally wind up with a series of
text-obscuring wear lines, which will be even more annoying.

 

Casual consumers might call this much ado about nothing, but
Complete: Songs of Love, Rhythm &
Psychedelia!
ain’t aimed at casual consumers. My guess is that anyone who’s
read this far is already frothing at the mouth – or at least experiencing a
mild case of Pavlovian drip. So with the above caveat duly noted, l will still
advise, and wholeheartedly, to run,
don’t walk, to your nearest record emporium, and purchase on sight. Those
already in the know will cheer, and newcomers will find a whole new universe
opening up to them. Señoras
y señores, start your low riders…

 

 

 

 

 

COMING UNWIRED Githead

Fasten Your Seatbelts and Prepare for Landing: Colin Newman
and Malka Spigel Talk Git.

 

BY WILSON NEATE

 

“Githead is like a bastard
child,” says Colin Newman. “No one expected it to happen, no one
expected it to come along quite the way it did, and it certainly wasn’t planned
for longevity.” Nevertheless, the charmingly named band has assumed a life
of its own, taking its first tentative steps on the Headgit EP (2004) and the debut album Profile (2005), asserting a unique, self-assured identity with Art Pop (2007) and now coming of age on
the mature, fully realized Landing (Swim).

 

Githead was originally conceived
in 2004 by the Wire front man and his partner Malka Spigel (the former Minimal
Compact bassist) for a performance at London’s ICA as part of their Swim~
label’s 10th birthday celebrations. They initially envisaged the group as a
guitar/bass/drums trio but enlisted longtime friend Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner,
as a second guitarist and opted for a drum machine (later replaced by Spigel’s
Minimal Compact bandmate Max Franken). While the bandmembers’ individual
pedigrees have drawn considerable interest to Githead, their CVs have also been
a double-edged sword: although their previous and concurrent work generates
curiosity about the group, it inevitably colors perceptions, leading people to
view Githead as a side project, with all that that implies – something
supplementary, less important, a break from their real work.

 

Newman and Spigel bristle at this
notion, emphasizing that Githead is a band in its own right. What’s more,
Newman feels that countering those narrow perceptions is very much part of
Githead’s raison
d’être: “Githead is about challenging
preconceptions about what artists who’ve been around for a while can actually
do, and Githead very quickly felt like a band, so it’s not really fair to call
it anything else.”

 

Newman and Spigel characterize
Githead’s evolution as strongly organic and detached from their other work,
focused precisely on the possibilities of starting from scratch, albeit with
extensive résumés. “The idea of beginning from nothing is what excites
me,” explains Spigel. “We developed like a new band, starting from
zero with our first album.” Newman agrees: “We started with
absolutely nothing. We had no audience, no reputation, no nothing. We were just
a collection of individuals. And people come to the band because they like what
we do together. It really is a band. The whole thing has been developed
together. That’s what we hope to draw people in with. We don’t have anything
else to offer. We’re too old!”

 

Of course, given Newman’s high
profile with the still-active Wire, those who see Githead as a side project are
most likely to view it in relation to his other group, something that’s a
source of frustration: “The worst thing that can happen is that people
hear Githead and think it’s a Wire side project and say, ‘Oh, well it’s not as good as Pink Flag.’ Please. In America there’s a default perception that
Githead is a Wire side project. I hope people see it for what it is. It’s not
‘Colin Newman is taking a break from Wire.’ It has fuck all to do with that.
It’s just a band. No one’s asking Animal Collective about the other bands
they’re in. People should accept the thing for itself.”

 

Naming the group Githead was one simple, playful way of
making that point and underscoring its separateness from Newman’s other band.
The very British, essentially untranslatable insult, githead, is a million miles away from the austere, inscrutable Wire (although humor is an integral part
of Wire also). Spigel elaborates: “Some of my favorite bands, like My
Bloody Valentine, have rubbish names, but you kind of forget the name. We
didn’t want to sound too clever, and there’s so many good names taken already
anyway. Robin made a joke and called Colin a ‘githead,’ and it kind of stuck.
We didn’t give it more than 30 seconds’ thought, really.” Newman expands
on this: “You could have a name that’s so pretentious: you’ve got ‘that bloke from Wire’ and ‘that Scanner bloke.’ But
it’s totally rubbish, the name. What do you expect us to be called? ‘Poésie
Électronique’ or something?” As Spigel recounts, certain people outside
Githead shared Newman’s assessment of the name’s moronic quality: “I
remember Bruce [Gilbert] from Wire coming to our first gig. He said he liked
the gig but that the name was absolutely rubbish.”

 

Above all, Githead’s distance from
Wire is unmistakable in purely sonic terms; ironically, Newman often invokes
Wire as a reference point, if only to highlight that contrast. To him, the core
difference lies in the creative process: “It’s two very different bands.
They’re like chalk and cheese. Wire has always had stuff written for it. I’ve
always been one of the main writers in Wire, even going right back to the
beginning. I’d bring a song that was more or less finished and demonstrate it,
and then the band would learn it and we’d make the arrangement between
us.” In the case of Githead, a few songs have been developed by Newman
independently, but most are generated by playing together, a process that’s
much quicker than Wire’s usual approach: “We can work very, very fast in
terms of how we put things together,” Newman stresses, “and unlike
Wire, Githead ‘free playing’ gets from inspiration to construction very fast.
Githead can go from zero to something very quickly.”

 

While Githead’s sonic identity is
generally a discrete one, some cross-pollination is unavoidable and Wire fans
will have previously detected some familiar Newmanoid signatures creeping in
here and there — something that’s not lost on Spigel. “When we do
Githead, we do it together, so it’s obviously Githead, but in the past, there
were points where I got paranoid about Wire and Githead sounding too similar,
mixing the two, because Colin can’t help doing the sound that he does.”
Newman provides an example: “The track ‘All Set Up’ on Art Pop could be a ’70s Wire song,
although the bassline is a Malka bassline, not a Graham one. And it’s even more
economical than Wire. It’s exactly the same chords on the verse and chorus.
It’s terrible! I was like, What? I’m
surprising myself at how moronic I can be!” Spigel continues, “I get
paranoid — not because I don’t like Wire but because you want to have your own
individuality and be seen as your own personality.” And Githead’s own
personality certainly comes across on Landing,
which Spigel considers a definite turning point for the band: “On Landing we cut away from that crossover.
And that’s intentional.” Newman concurs: “There’s nothing there that
you could really compare with Wire.”

 

But Landing‘s
distinctiveness doesn’t come just from putting distance between Githead and
Wire; there was also a deliberate break with elements of Githead’s existing
sound. Spigel describes a conscious effort to “find ways to subvert how
things have been done in the past.” And Landing had to make a quantum leap from 2007’s Art Pop because Newman had blithely gone around telling everyone
how brilliant it was going to be — long before it was even finished: “Six
months ago I told people, ‘Watch out — the next Githead album’s going to be
fucking amazing!’ And I had nothing to base that on. There was just a sense
that if it all came together the way it could come together, it would be
fantastic.”

 

The band made good on Newman’s promise. Landing is unquestionably their most
compelling album so far, melodically richer and more textured, the songs
showing a greater sense of space. There’s a very natural feel to much of the
material: the strongest tracks seem effortless and unforced. Newman attributes
this characteristic in large part to Spigel, who defined the album’s guiding
principle: “Malka thought we should make an album that went in a more
organic direction. We allowed it to develop more.”

 

Earlier Githead recordings showed a
fondness for the work of ’70s German artists experimenting at the interface of
electronic and organic musics, but that aspect is even more pronounced on Landing, especially in its stronger
motorik impulse and its fluid, gliding guitar textures — traits that gesture
back to NEU! and Harmonia. Even so, Newman and Spigel are reluctant to talk
about influences. “It’s just a mixture of everything we ever liked, all of
us, and put together,” offers Spigel quite reasonably. They do give a
couple of clues, though. Spigel reveals that Landing‘s “Lightswimmer” was recorded after watching a
documentary on Hawkwind, quickly noting, “The music had nothing to do with
Hawkwind, but something about the feel of how they played.” Newman
suggests another, slightly left-field connection: “The opening chords of  ‘From My Perspective’ remind me of the New
York Dolls’ ‘Personality Crisis'” — adding, with his tongue firmly in his
cheek, “and the album’s all based on Hawkwind. Also, I think that maybe
the Sweet have been one of our major influences. There was someone I was at
college with who wanted to be the bass player in Wire before Graham joined and
his opening line was, ‘I’m in a band that’s been favorably compared to the
Sweet.’ “

 

However, the couple is more forthcoming
about younger artists who’ve impressed them, particularly in the live context.
When asked for recommendations, without missing a beat, they immediately say
“Holy Fuck” in unison: “Machines and humans playing
together,” enthuses Newman. “I’ve never seen anyone do it like that.
I never knew you could do it.”

 

Talk of machines and humans playing
together turns the conversation to the role in Githead of Robin Rimbaud —
whose creative alias, Scanner, as well as his artistic practice, has blurred
the lines of difference between the individual and his chosen technology.
Whereas Newman, Spigel and Franken mostly maintain their familiar musical roles
in Githead, Rimbaud is in largely uncharted territory. As an electronic artist,
he’s never been known for his work with conventional musical tools, but, as
Spigel points out, he’s always had rock ‘n’ roll aspirations: “When he was
a child he used to play guitar in front of the mirror doing rock ‘n’ roll poses,
and suddenly with Githead he found himself in a band playing the guitar; it’s
the dream he had as a young man. So it means something to him — and he
practices more than any of us.”

 

Newman comments, ironically, “Well,
hopefully he’s got over that by now,” then adds, in a tone somewhere
between disbelief and mild disdain, “Robin actually reads guitar
magazines!” According to Newman, he and Spigel have had to keep Rimbaud’s
inner axeman in check as Githead has evolved: “Withering looks when he was
doing rock ‘n’ roll poses were helpful. Also, the whammy bar is illegal in Wire
and I don’t think it’s allowed in Githead either. Robin is discouraged from
doing any whanginess — anything that
looks like he’s playing the guitar.”

 

Ultimately, a measure of how far Githead
has come with Landing is the change
in terms of its perceived relationship with Wire. If there was any concern
about Wire’s sound spilling over into Githead, Landing may have initiated some reverse influence, as Newman
explains: “With the next Wire album, I very much want to do something
that’s quite similar to how we did it in the ’70s, because I’m bored with the
cut-and-paste method of production. It’s not new any more. I really want to try
what it’s like to have words, write a song with those words, go to a band, have
them play it and work out their arrangement — how does that music strike you,
how should you play on hearing that?

 

“That thought process is partly driven by
Githead, where the recording process is about getting the uniqueness of the
combination of the individuals — and that’s really what interests me most now
in recording. It’s not about making the perfect pop record.”

 

TIME WILL GROW THE WISER Get Up Kids

Reconciled
and reunited, the influential pop/punk combo is ready to look forward.

 

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

Granted, they may have been partially responsible for
helping unleash emo on the masses, but The Get Up Kids also managed to churn
out a handful of stellar records in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. 

 

After a 10-year run, the band called it quits in 2005 in the
wake of a not-so-amicable split. Sometime last year though, rumors of
reconciliation started to pop up on fan sites across the Web. On a collective
(and rare) field trip to see a Spoon show (former Get Up Kid Rob Pope now plays
bass for Spoon), the rest of the Get Up Kids decided that maybe the years apart
had given them more perspective, allowed them to grow up a bit more.

 

Hanging out led to a practice session and an eventual
surprise reunion show at a Kansas City
club in November 2008. The band has since embarked on and survived a European
tour and is about to trek across the U.S.

 

Singer Matt Pryor, who also fronts the New Amsterdams,
recently put out a solo record and has recorded two children’s albums. He spoke
recently about the decision to get the band back together. 

 

And to be fair, they were always more traditional indie rock
than emo.

 

***

 

BLURT: So
what was it that brought you guys back together? I did an interview with you
earlier in the year and you were obviously elusive about the band getting back
together
.

PRYOR: (Laughs)
Honestly, enough time has passed that we’re getting along with each other again.
When we ended it was kind of a dark time and we weren’t getting along that
well. Through the years, every time we see each other it just got a little bit
less stressful and then finally we all went to a Spoon show  – because Bobby  plays in Spoon – and we were hanging out and
it was kind of like ‘this isn’t weird at all anymore.’

 

How
long ago was that?

It was April of last year I think. So we were all cool with
hanging out and started talking about doing this. It just kind of grew from
there.

 

When
the band ended it, I assume it was safe to say you never thought you’d be
talking about a reunion?

Oh, absolutely not. I was done with it. I was over it. I was
ready to move on and leave this behind.

 

So why
do you think it was finally time to get back together?

It sounds really clichéd to say, but we started this band
when we were in our teens. Everyone’s older; everybody’s got a little more real
life behind them.

 

Was it
odd at all to play that first reunion show in Kansas?

It wasn’t odd. Not for me, at least. It was odd the first day we went into the studio to rehearse. I said
to myself, “I’m going to bring a cooler full of beer and see what happens.” But
it went really well. And when we played the [Kansas] show, I think the crowd was actually
more nervous than we were.

 

Has it
been weird touring together?

Not really. It was weird the first time we got together to
play, but we just did two and a half weeks in Europe
and it went really well. It was kind of trial by fire at the beginning. We were
all crammed in a tiny van going across Europe
and we very easily could have gotten on each other’s nerves, but it went pretty
well.

 

So is
this a one-time thing or is the band officially back together?

I guess we’re back together. We all have other things going
on, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy and Bobby is in Spoon, James still tours
with New Found Glory and My Chemical Romance and everyone else has stuff going
on outside [the Get Up Kids], but we have already been working on some new
stuff.

 

 When do you plan on releasing that new stuff?

We’ve definitely been writing new material. Next year is
pretty busy. I think Spoon is going to be touring the early part of next year
and I think I’m doing another solo record next spring. I’m not sure what the
other guys are doing, but we’ll have to find some time next year to maybe put
some stuff out.

 

You
guys were one of the bands that got labeled emo early on in the ‘90s. Did that
term ever bother you?

We got tagged as an emo band in 1996, so you get used to it,
but we never embraced it. It’s kind of stupid because all music is emotional.
We get associated with whatever happens to be the marketing term was at the
moment.  I just think it’s stupid. People
can call us whatever they want.

 

As long
as they keep coming out?

(Laughs) Yeah.

 

Vagrant
Records just re-released Something to
Write Home About.
Do you plan on re-releasing more of your older records?

No. I don’t think we’ll be re-releasing anything else
anytime soon.  To be honest, re-releases
are always weird for me because I always want to look forward. Really the only
reason we did this was it gave us an excuse to get back out on the road and
tour.

 

So next
time you might have some new material as your excuse to tour?

Exactly.

 

The Get
Up Kids’ 1999 classic
Something To Write Home About was reissued in September on Vagrant as an
expanded CD/DVD “10th Anniversary Edition.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

POWER BALL The Ettes

The sultrysexycool
garage trio is comin’ to your town. Gonna help you party down, in fact.

 

BY ROXANA HADADI

 

The Ettes do not give a crap about what you think.

Frontwoman Coco Hames, drummer Poni Silver and bassist Jem Cohen don’t get
bothered when other bands on the road with them fight amongst themselves, bitch
about how hard their lives are and complain like bickering children. They don’t
get riled up about critics who struggle to define their sultry, raw,
half-Ramones, half-girl-groups sound, which they very simply label “beat-punk.”
And most importantly – and most viciously – they’ll rip you apart if you every
try to control them.

 

“I don’t need somebody to tell me what to do or how to
write,” Hames, the group’s feisty, glamorous and exceptionally strongly
opinionated lead singer says. “If we had started when we were really young, on
a major label with all this money, I wonder what would have happened. But we
started on Sympathy [for the Record Industry], with no money and nobody telling
us what to do. Starting there and having a degree of success with that, you can
say, ‘I don’t really need anybody.’

 

“It didn’t occur to me that someone would tell me what to
name my album, or what to wear or say in interviews, but as it turns out, a lot
of bands are run that way, probably because it’s less stressful for the band
just to be told what to do,” she adds.

 

“It’d be cool if we were like that, but we just can’t act
like that,” interjects Cohen, the trio’s sole male member and the one who
succeeds in playfully pushing all of Hames’ buttons.

 

“Oh yeah, it would be cool to be a puppet,” Hames fires
back.

 

“It would be great, if I could stomach that,” Cohen smirks,
and it sounds like the exchange is one that’s happened time and time again in
the world of the Ettes: Hames says something bluntly and openly, Cohen lightens
it up, the two of them spark at each other and Silver stands back and giggles
while it all goes down. (Oh, and round one: Cohen.)

 

There’s a comfort here that can only be born of too many
nights clustered together onstage, too many days driving long hours to get to
the next show (and picking up furniture at thrift shops along the way), too
many recording sessions spent ripping through tracks that sound like if The
Ronettes hung out with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy and got hit on by Johnny
Rotten. Or, as Hames likes to describe it, “the ‘Peppermint Twist’ mixed with
leather and New York City and the late ’70s.”

 

And there’s a kind of familiarity that comes from an
us-against-the-world mentality the group has developed for years – bred after
Hames and Silver quit their jobs in film production and fashion design ,
developed while they toiled with Cohen on albums such as Look at Life Again Soon, the “Danger Is” EP and the current Do You Want Power and slightly mellowed
with a bit of mainstream success – like their sold-tour with Kings of Leon
earlier this year, the just-completed tour with Juliette Lewis, and a track on
the soundtrack of Drew Barrymore’s much-hipster-hyped directorial debut, Whip It!

 

When looking back on how it all started, Hames can’t help
but feel it’s been a long time coming – from when the band moved separately
from New York to Los Angeles in 2004, without a thought given to their friends’
or families’ doubts, and to when they slowly began to realize how much they
weren’t prepared for.

 

“We didn’t know anybody – our parents aren’t famous, we
don’t have a trust fund, we don’t have money, we don’t have an in to the music
business and we had no clue what to say when people asked about our music, ‘Who
do you think is going to listen to that?'” Hames says. “And we’re like, ‘Shoot,
we didn’t think about that.'”

 

But when the band’s reputation eventually reached the ears
of Long Gone John, the creator of label Sympathy for the Record Industry, their
luck began to turn. Cohen is quick to point out, though, that he’s convinced a certain
picture of the group – with Hames in a Lolita-esque black velvet babydoll
dress, holding a tambourine – had a lot do with John’s interest.

 

“I fucking hate that picture,” Hames says. “That dress I’m
wearing has no back to it; I found it on eBay, and it like, became this icon.
And people to the show and it’s like, ‘We don’t look like that.’ I’m not a
babydoll, Poni has lots of hair –

 

“Every single listing uses that picture,” Cohen cuts in.

 

” – I don’t think any of us could look less like that
picture,” Hames finishes firmly. (Round two: Hames).

 

And not only could the group look less like that picture,
they couldn’t fundamentally be less
like it, either. While Hames stands in the forefront of the portrait, looking
semi-vacantly tart-like as Cohen and Silver stand somewhat uncomfortably in the
background, this trio is all about an even playing field. Though they banter
back and forth like competitive siblings (Cohen’s an often target: Hames calls
him “old man” more than once, and Poni boasts of throwing water bottles at him
when he’s “being an asshole”), they’ll defend each other with a kind of fierce
protectiveness.

 

“There were a couple of shows that – if we had the ability
to do it – we played in a straight line, and invariably, the focus is on me
because I’m singing,” Hames says. “I’m not a reluctant frontman – I’m not a
shoe-gazing whatever – and I really enjoy performing a lot, but I also really
like the people that I’m playing with. My drummer is not one I need to hide,
and my bass player isn’t one playing root notes.

 

“I would get bored if I were the only one,” Hames continues.
“It’s a little smorgasbord, and sometimes I feel like – if we play with other
three-piece – sometimes I feel like the singer is doing a lot of fucking work
to put the attention onto them. It would probably be a little easier if the
rest of your band was a little more remarkable. I certainly don’t mind sharing
the spotlight – I think it’s cool to have such a good band.”

 

Combine that kind of professional devotion with actual
personal affection (all three Ettes live on the same side of Nashville, hang
out together often, “basically never stop drinking,” according to Hames, and
want to “import all the cool people in the country” into their city, Cohen says)
and you’ve got a group that swears they’ll stick together to the end, no matter
how erratic their schedule gets. And with their most recent release, Do You Want Power, produced by Reigning
Sound mainman Greg Cartwright (who also plays on it) and out now on the Take
Root label, and plans for a new tour and record coming soon, that
unpredictability is sure to come into play again.

 

“In the next six months, we’ll probably move again, but we
have this fantasy that we’ll stay in a town,” Hames says. “But then comes the
next tour and the next move and whatever, and then we’re gone again. I don’t
know where it will be.”

 

And then – with a promise that we’ll all hang up the phone
at the same time and a countdown to prove it (“one, two, three, go!” Cohen
chants) – the Ettes are off, striding away into the great, underground unknown.

 

Coco Hames also blogs for Blurt. You can read
her column “Look At Life” here. She also penned an installment in our way-popular
recurring feature “The Most Fucked Up Thing I’ve Ever Seen,” which can be
viewed here.

 

BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #7: The Vivs

The Beantown power
poppers give the classic distaff sound a run for the money. Sexual tension
optional.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

The BLURT staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids Best Kept Secret”: it’s Boston area quintet The Vivs. True to the
hometown tradition, the two-gal/three-guy combo is steeped in rock ‘n’ roll
classicism: one hears clear echoes of distaff-tilting power pop a la Holly & The Italians, Blondie, Bettie
Serveert and fellow Beantowners Throwing Muses and Juliana Hatfield, but there’s
an additional, enticing, litany of influences brewing too, ranging from the
angular punk of Television to the brainy sonic extrapolations of Yo La Tengo to
the vintage garage and pop of the British Invasion.

 

The Vivs initially appeared on the scene in the late ‘90s
operating under the name Edith and recording the 2000 album Outfit. No long afterwards, however, the
group went into hibernation as family matters (see below) beckoned. When the
decision was made to resume operations, they decided to make the name switch
and start completely anew. The lineup consists of: Karen
Harris – Guitar/Vox; Terri Brosius – Keys/Vox; Matt Magee – Guitar; Jim Collins
– Bass; Scott Rogers – Drums.

 

The resulting Mouth To
Mouth
(Let’s Records), recorded with local music legends Eric Brosius
(Tribe) and David Minehan (The Neighborhoods), was issued in September to much
local acclaim, and all predictors are that with a little push and a little luck
The Vivs could become one of this year’s under-the-radar breakouts on the national
scene.

 

It’s not hard to hear why, based on the recorded evidence.
“Waking Up” has a Beatlesque quality; if Patti Smith had teamed up with George
Harrison, it might sound like this. “Eiffel Tower” is full of desire and
longing and wanderlust and boasts one of the best femme-pop hooks since the
heyday of early ‘80s New Wave. Trainspotters will geek out over the rock-cult
namechecks dotting the anthemic “Take It On the Chin” (“Tom Verlaine singing
‘See No Evil”; “Jonathan Richman lives on the… astral plane”; etc.). And “(You
Should Have Seen) The Other Guy” – currently featured on the BLURT music player
elsewhere on this page – has, amid its buoyant hooks and soaring Harris/Brosius
harmonies, a twinned grace and drama that’s impossible not to fall for. Sings
Harris, in a voice that’s defiant yet vulnerable:

 

If you think I look
bad,
you should have seen the other guy.
You think this is so sad,
but you can’t remember why.
I have a gnawing feeling
this is not the way to go.
Which tangle of voices do I listen to?
I don’t know.

 

It’s an utterly inspiring moment, and as a music fan I’ll
confess I’m having a hard time getting this and the rest of the tunes out of my
head. Mouth To Mouth has both an
immediacy and a sleeper-like quality, and I’d urge anyone with even a passing
interest in the artists and styles I’ve been describing give the band a listen.
They’re among the good guys, trust us on that.

 

You can investigate further at their MySpace and Facebook pages. Meanwhile, Harris and Magee agreed to sit for the proverbial BLURT
grilling session…

 

***

 

BLURT: What were some
early musical inspirations? When and how did Edith come together?

 

Karen: Mission of
Burma, Scrawl, The Feelies, The Kinks, The Pixies, Neil Young, Marianne
Faithfull, Sandy Denny, Graham Parker.

 

Matt: Most of us
were in a band called Edith before, at some time or another. Terri was in the
Boston band Tribe back in the ‘90s, and guest starred in Edith. Now she’s all
the way in.

 

Edith released Outfit in 2000 but then went on what
your bio calls “breeding hiatus.” Was it strictly due to the personal things
being tended to, or was there a conscious feeling of having done all you could
do as Edith at that point?

 

Karen: For me, it
was both. My daughter was born in 2001, my son in 2003. Music climbed not just
into the backseat, but the wayback. Then, as my kids – and Terri’s; her
daughter’s the same age – got around to needing me less, I turned one day to
the guitar, like “oh yeah-you. I like you.” Especially after I had a couple
mini-crises; songwriting’s very handy, then. So, I nose-dived back in- 4 songs,
then 6, then 10. And The Vivs happened.

 

Matt: For
my part, it was during Outfit that my breeding hiatus got started. And it
wasn’t so much a need to end doing Edith as it was a need to focus on doing
some other things: be married, buy a place, have kids, work a lot.

 

Why come back under a
new name if the band had most of the same members as before?

 

Matt: I
think having Terri full-time in the band really does change what the band is,
the way the music sounds, the dynamic between the members. So it feels
appropriate to me that we have a new name.

 

Karen: Yup. Vivs.
Vivir. Or a coupla girls.

 

Tell me a little
about the album. I’m also curious to know how Karen and Terri work together as
vocalists. And what did Eric Brosius and David Minehan bring to the table?

 

Karen: I bring
Terri a song. She laughs at the lyrics. She sings pretty things and plays her
piano. Then, Matt does his special stuff. Then, everyone’s in. For the CD, Eric
Brosius – Terri sleeps with him… Okay; they’re married. But still… – produced the CD and guests on guitar. He really is
patient and true and knows what he’s doing, in addition to being a long-time
friend and musical buddy.

 

Both he and David Minehan, who engineered and also plays
some guitar, have no aural fatigue whatsoever in the studio. They can listen
1000 times to the same piece of a song and never get lazy or cranky. We really
benefited from Eric’s work at Rock Band (he’s the Audio Director there); his ear
is just weirdly wise. And he’s a diplomat, even though he’s always right.
During one tracking session, he came straight to the studio from the airport,
where he’d just flown in from Abbey Road studios doing the at-the-time
top-secret Beatles: Rock Band thing
with Giles Martin, etc. Pretty funny stuff; good stories.

 

In fact, David, Eric, Terri, and Matt – all very funny
people. Lots of bad sexual jokes, breaks for stupid YouTube shredding and scatological
moments. All dumb and good. And Dave and I have crushes on many of the same
underdog songs – like “Another Girl, Another Planet,” that Only Ones song).

 

Regarding Terri and I: We live a few houses down from each
other, our kids are best friends, and we’ve known each other for a couple of
decades. I love what she does. She’s crazy, and I love her. We’re so different,
and we trust each other completely, musically and otherwise. But she’s a
complete tramp – did I mention she slept with the producer? But don’t print
that.

 

No problem. Biggest
successes to date? Biggest failures? Plans for the immediate future?

 

Karen: Making it – to me, that means literally making it: making the CD. That’s as good
as it gets for me. Plus my kids, who have really no super-ego to speak of yet –
no bull; no “polite” – like it. I like that. In the car, for music, they ask
for one of three things: Mouth to Mouth,
Marquee Moon, and anything from
Mission of Burma.

 

Matt: Being named a “Best Kept Secret” by Blurt is certainly a big success! It really
means a lot to us.

 

Karen: Yup. That,
too! And nice press from really nice people, like Jonathan Perry. Future – maybe
an East Coast mini tour. Gigs. Another CD.

 

What are some of the
pros and cons of being a Boston band? Is it an insular scene, or do bands work
together? It also has a reputation for having very, very tough audiences, but
my impression is that fans there can be very, very loyal as well.

 

Karen: Lots of
music lovers here; lots of bands. And I might be so insular myself that I can’t
fathom otherwise, but it seems like there are little satellites, friendly ones,
more than a critical mass/scene. It’s all just weird projection, anyway, right?
And I don’t know if it’s just being a little older or having lower standards or
what, but I find people here really pretty nice and decent. It’s true that
sometimes crowds hold their cards a little close, but then afterwards,
invariably, they’re nothing but sweetness and enthusiasm and support.

 

And it’s funny; no one dances in Boston. I think it’s one of
the Blue laws. But scene-wise, no real horror stories, at least not this
decade. There was a universally hated band here in the early ‘90s who were
almost comically asshole-ish to everyone, especially other bands. But even
then, that was something for the rest of us to laugh about together as we gathered
stuff to hurl at them…

 

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

 

Karen: I’m a high
school teacher, which I love about exactly as much as I hated my own actual
high school experience. Which is a lot. And I love this band.

 

Matt: We’re really enjoying having a Facebook page. It’s been this unexpectedly cool
way to interact with people and gain fans. Karen, Terri, and me all are
administrators of the page, which means we each get to be the voice of “The
Vivs” on the wall.

 

Lastly, I count 3
guys and 2 gals in the band. Where have I seen that hormonal balance before… oh
yeah: any tales of Fleetwood Mac-style intrigue you can share with the readers?

 

Matt: If
you’re asking about sexual tension, well, there’s plenty. And I’d be lying if I
didn’t say I’m the source of a lot of it. Karen and Terri are constantly vying
for my attention, and I just keep stringing them along.

 

Karen: True.

 

 

 

BLURTING WITH… Margaret Cho

The comedienne gets Guitarded
with Blurt.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Last March at South By Southwest, Blurt corralled Margaret Cho on the back patio of the comedy club
Esther’s Follies. Although she was part of a bill that included ten other
comics, Cho strolled in with a guitar case. The night, at least for Cho, was
about the music – namely the songs that will comprise her musical debut, Guitarded. Although not due until next
year, some songs, such “I Cho Am A Woman” and her duet with Grant-Lee Phillips
“Eat Shit & Die,” are available on iTunes and MargaretCho.com,
respectively.

 

***

 

BLURT: Where do your
musical aspirations come from?

 

CHO: I’ve been doing my own comedy/music stuff since 2003… I
went on a couple rock tours and I really felt like I wanted to play [instead
of] sing to tracks. There’s something that’s not that gratifying about singing
along to a CD, you know? It’s really exciting to play your own music. So I
thought, I’m gonna do that. Now I’m
learning, trying to figure it all out.

 

So all this time
you’ve harbored a latent singer/songwriter?

 

That’s the kind of music that I like, like the people I’m
writing with on the circuit are Patty Griffin, Jill Sobule… That’s who you
think of when you think of singer/songwriter, so this is really exciting. And
then I’m writing with some different people like John Wesley Harding, Jon Brion…
It’s really an amazing list of people. I don’t know enough about music to be
able to compose it, so I always ask people who really do understand it to help
and teach me, so, it’s really wonderful.

 

I read that you
exchanged MP3s with your collaborators.

 

Usually they’ll send me an MP3 with their idea of what the
song should be and then I’ll learn it [on guitar], and then I’ll send an MP3
back and I’ll go, “You mean like this?” And sometimes they’ll send like chord
diagrams, ‘cause I don’t know the chord. So I can totally learn at least two or
three new chords from everybody. I love it.

 

Do they leave your
lyrics intact?

 

I kind of understand rhythm, so it’s usually very minor
changes, like, it’s just like an “and” or a “the.”

 

Was your first song
the Prop 8 protest song?

 

Yeah… I wanted to write – it was kind of like what really
got me playing, the thing that kind of pushed me in that direction. I was very
upset about Prop 8 passing in California, which is the outlawing of gay
marriage, so I wanted to do a protest song ‘cause there were all these rallies
going on. And I wanted to sing; I thought it would be cool if I could sing – and
“I can’t play guitar but I’m gonna.” So two days before, my brother-in-law
helped me [write and learn to play] the song: “Well, you do this chord and this
chord. If you know this chord and this chord, then you can make the song.” He
taught me C. That was the big chord that I learned. ‘Cause I already knew like
G and A and D. He taught me C and that was like the key to the song, so that
was really cool.

 

How has your playing
progressed?

 

I’ve gradually gotten better at guitar. It’s still a
challenge but I want it so bad. I have a callus builder in my purse. It’s like
this grip thing; I do it all the time, trying to strengthen my fingers. And I
have an amazing guitar teacher who is like my guitar God. So she – her name is
Vicky Genfan. I worship her. She lives in New York and I live in LA, so we have
kind of a long-distance, like, teacher thing. And then I get a lesson from
everybody I work with.

 

What was your first
guitar?

 

My first guitar was a 1963 Hofner, beautiful, red paisley,
like, just badass, gorgeous vintage electric. I played that a lot when I first
got it but then I started feeling like I started to get more of an acoustic
kind of vibe.

 

Do you still get the
urge to dial up the volume and rock out?

 

Yeah, wailing on it super-loud was really fun. It’s such a beautiful
– it’s like an orchestra in your hands, you know? The power of it is undeniable.

 

Would you like to be
able to play widdly-widdly-woo solos?

 

Oh, I’d love to. I need to learn all that, but I need to
learn finger-picking first. I’m not even there yet.

 

Are you gonna record
“Old Miley”?

 

No. You know, I feel bad for Miley Cyrus now, especially
after the whole Radiohead thing. I felt bad. I really hope she doesn’t destroy
Radiohead ‘cause I really love them.

 

Who’s in your record
collection?

 

Well, I’m crazy about A.C. Newman’s new record. I’ll be
premiering a song tonight that I wrote with him. He’s such a Brian Wilson, you
know just like, pop [genius]. The song that I’m gonna do, it’s called “Your
Dick.”