Monthly Archives: June 2010


Fresh off a tour that
found her band opening for the Dead Weather, the distaff rocker has a
conversation with moi.



It’s hot as hell in The Ettes’ rehearsal space/recording
studio/Coco’s attic in Nashville, Tennessee, so we’ve offered singer/songwriter
Coco Hames a brief respite, down in her dining room, where she’s typing this at
her computer, to discuss, among several things, the band’s upcoming fourth
studio album.




HAMES: So the summer’s finally here. Happy summer.
HAMES: And to you as well.

currently recording The Ettes’ 4th studio album?

Yes, that’s right.  We don’t have a label for it, or
distribution or press set up or anything like that, but we’re recording it
now.  Basically, if we have the time, we like to demo first by ourselves,
giving Jem [bass] flight hours on production, then with Liam [Watson, Toe Rag
Studios] properly, in the studio, for the official LP.  We never spend
much time or money on recording, and this method is why.  And I’m playing
the drums on the demos. Because I don’t know how to communicate drum sounds
with words.  Do not be fooled; I cannot drum.  I mean, that’s not
totally true, I have rhythm, I just can’t move my upper body in tandem with my
lower body.  I cannot dance.  Often I have trouble walking. 
Thank God for Poni. [see current issue of Modern Drummer Magazine].


having heard some of those preliminary recordings… you know what I’m going to
ask next, don’t you?

I’m pretty sure.

you toured with the Dead Weather in the US in the Spring, like, last month?

That’s right.

Because, you know, there sounds like there’s a lot of influence here

Let me stop you right there, just for a sec.  This is
why I agreed to come down here and talk with you; normally I get into the
creative mindset, production, and I stay there, I don’t let anything interrupt
me, so… you’re welcome for the face time.  I think that tour with the
Dead Weather was awesome, great crowds, great venues, great bill.  We were
a really compatible match, musically.  I mean you’ve got Allison pulling
mad shapes, howling around like I never really heard (or was interested in
hearing) her do with the Kills, also a good band, also a good match with The
Ettes, I think.  Then you’ve got Jack, the wizard, the genius, the man,
the maverick, you know, as far as I know, writing and arranging all the
songs.  Dean and LJ, you know, finally, this BAND… I mean, it just
seemed like the perfect outlet for Jack to have huge heavy drums and spooky
guitar and organ, and that bloodhound of a bass sound LJ gets… it’s like, the
perfect storm.  I watched almost every show; they are mesmerizing. 
The talent, the depth… the lighting!  Leif, the lighting engineer, I was
going to have seizures and I was going to be happy about it.  LJ’s bass
tone MOVED the air around me in, um, where was that, Albuquerque.  It was consistently loud,
intense, wonderful.


do you think you took any inspiration from that tour?

Absolutely.  It recharged us, all of us.  Energized us.  We were
so impressed and we enjoyed watching them and listening to the songs, the
execution, the musicianship.  I remember seeing the White Stripes in 2004
or so in LA and turning to Poni and saying, “We either need to get much
better or quit.”  I’ve always been a fan of Jack’s particular brand
of interpretation and presentation.  I completely lack whatever aesthetic
genius gene he possesses, but musically I understand a lot of what he’s communicating. 
I feel it.  I jibe with it.  So yes, seeing this project, where
everyone seemed so free to be THEMSELVES to the limit, you know, that was
impressive as all hell.  SO impressive.  I have to use this forum to
recommend to everyone: go see them.

hearing you say you definitely took inspiration from the shows and performances
themselves, but what about the songs?  Did you have a favorite song or did
any element of the songs themselves move you or stick with you?

That’s a good question.  Um, to be honest, I didn’t
really know what to think when this project was initially unveiled.  It
sounded, you know, exactly like the outlet or project it IS, but I didn’t know
if it would work.  I’m such a fan of ALL of the members of the Dead
Weather, in all of their various projects, I was afraid to hear the
record.  When Horehound came out, they had a launch party and
secret show at Third Man Records [Jack White’s record label and HQ], here in Nashville.  Poni and
Jem went.  I stayed at home and watched a shark documentary.  It’s
the musical, aural equivalent of meeting your heroes, isn’t it?  That’s
what it felt like, and I was scared.  I still haven’t heard Horehound,
actually.  I shelter myself in that way; I am the exact opposite of a
music fan or record collector.  I listen to the same 150 records over and
over again, unless I see or hear something myself on the road that moves
me.  But yeah, their songs… Jack to me is a very nearly infallible
songwriter so whatever songs they were doing on stage every night, I loved
every minute of it.


stepping back a moment from the incessant and myopic Dead Weather references what,
do you think – as of June 1, 2010 – has influenced this undeniable change in
The Ettes’ sound?

Most definitely the addition of Johnny (lead guitar). 
He’s freed me up so much, because I’m not really a lead guitar player, I’m a
rhythm guitar player; any riffs I attempt sound like Billy Childish if you gave
him Junice’s tiny doll hands.  I’m not a shredder, it’s not in my nature,
but I LOVE lead guitar.  I love listening to it, I love seeing it
performed.  It fucking RULES.  I love blues, I love metal, I love
guitar.  And so does Johnny.  So considering I am a tyrant about
structure and about keeping things tight, I’ve got this interesting push and
pull with Johnny, what he can offer the band musically, in the studio and on
stage.  He’s got the skills and I’ve got the shiv; I can shank him on
either end of his performance, it’s a great addition, a really fun new element
for us.  I mean, you have to understand, I don’t give a fuck, we’re a
self-contained unit and what we do is created and expressed by us alone, and I
can just tell you honestly, it’s exciting and liberating to have a shredding
guitar player in the band, available to take a song one way or another, one way
this night, another way this night.  I love it.  I love you, Johnny.


the first question I’ve asked where you’ve verbosely responded with multiple
curse words.

Well, you shouldn’t really use adverbs, just kind of as a rule. 
But yes, I know, I get really ramped up when I talk about guitar, I love
shredding, for real.  And I love metal.  I mean it, I’ve read Lords of Chaos, I know about Scion, I’m friends with Brendan Small, ask

will ask him.  And you’ll look stupid if he doesn’t say, “Oh yeah, I
know Coco.”  But didn’t you have the
guitar player of all guitar players, Greg Cartwright of the Reigning Sound, who
also produced your last album (Do You Want Power – 2009), play lead
guitar on most of your last album?

Just remind him that we used to do “The Tomorrow Show” and drink
together in LA where he first told me about this project Metalocalypse and I didn’t believe him.  Yes, Greg contributed more than just guitar on
that album actually, because he helped arrange the songs and he even co-wrote a
song with Jem on there.  Greg shreds with both hands, and he’s a
lefty!  But Johnny is more of an integrated member of the band, we’ve been
touring together since September, and when I wrote these new songs, I had him
in mind for sure.

So, forgive me, for a music writer these things are quite difficult to
understand but… if you already added a lead guitar player last year, m’kay, why
do these new recordings
for your fourth album sound so different from those recordings?  M’kay?

Well, let me speak very slowly so that you can make sure you’re getting the
words down, and then hopefully once you have the words inside your mind, you
will be able to self-arrange as you neurally need to and then understand
them.  Writing with space for Johnny in mind opens up a whole sonic airspace
that gives room for Jem to counter with some riffs HE’S been wanting to do, or
Poni [drums] a new wavelength to pound out a new or counter rhythm, or gives me
inspiration to sing differently or in a strange harmony with what I’ve already
written… it’s basically like we were three tracks before, and now we are four
tracks.  And there’s a lot you can do with one extra track.  That’s a
recording reference, by the way.  You can Google it if you need to, it’s

So basically, you just want to state for the record that you had all
these songs written before you toured with the Dead Weather and via this June
2010 interview are officially preempting and pre-acknowledging any and all
journalists and bloggers who cite that tour as an influence and mass-consumer-aimed
reference point when your 4th album does come out?



another front entirely, what can you tell us about the album you and the other
band members recorded not long ago in Nashville
with Greg Cartwright?

You are speaking of Strychnine Dandelion, the debut album from The
Parting Gifts a band we are in with Greg.  It comes out in September on In
The Red Records, and we’ll be performing it at Goner Fest in Memphis.  It started as a one-off 45
that Greg and I were going to do together.  I was supposed to write a song
and he was supposed to write a song, and then we were going to do a 45. 
It turned into 15 songs, and we recorded it at the same studio where the Ettes
did Do You Want Power here in Nashville.  Patrick
Keeler from the Greenhornes and the Raconteurs played drums, Poni played drums,
Greg played drums, Jem played drums.  Jack lent us timpani, the Get
Behind Me Satan
timpani, which was totally rad.  Lots of awesome
drums.  Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys dropped by and played some
guitar, that was awesome.  And this hipster chick string trio came by, and
this really cute pianist dropped in, his name was Kai… it was Music City USA
in action, man.

you out on tour when Nashville
got flooded? What did you return home to?

Yes, we were somewhere in Texas. 
It took us forever to get home, all the roads were shut down.  When we got
here downtown was totally underwater.  The whole town was shut down. 
It was pretty serious, a lot of classic gear got destroyed, people lost their homes. 
A friend lost his whole studio.  People are in FEMA trailers.  It’s
not over.  We did a clothing and food drive at our local bar, we’re punks
with big hearts.  The town really came together to help people who were
affected, I was proud to be a part of a community where people just so
willingly rolled up their sleeves and helped strangers, it’s still going on.

recently returned to your old stomping ground of L.A. to attend a wedding – were people coming
up to you and acting all “wow, rock star!” at you?

Kind of.  I mean, I hate weddings, HATE them.  I do not behave, so
that’s probably what people usually “wow” at, you know.  I also
do not know how to dress like a normal person, and I see no reason to try and
learn how to.  So I stand out like the freakish sore thumb I am. 
It’s okay, I am used to it.


— in one long, grammatically incorrect “sentence” — would you like
to make sure is known about The Ettes when this is published later this month?

That we’re not a girl group, or any kind of “Be My
Baby”-ass beehived throwback band (that schtick gets hella old), we’re
just a band, a rock band, we’re not rich kids, we’re just rockers, Poni and I
love ’90s hip hop and both wanted to be Fly Girls, we’re all fiercely loyal
friends and are secretly really funny, just witness Poni in interviews, or
Johnny, at Foobar, or anywhere you see him, I take most of the credit for
writing all our songs, but really just read the liner notes and see how many
Jem’s actually cowritten, I say it’s like 90/10 but really it’s more like
75/25, though he’d say 60/40 and be WRONG, and for reference I do think
we sound more like the Cramps [good ol’ Rolling Stone did call
them “the new Cramps” back in 2008 – Ed.
] than the Go-Go’s, but we didn’t
tour with the Cramps, we toured with the Go-Go’s, and we also tour with artists
as disparate as Girl Talk, Kings of Leon, the Black Keys, The Gossip, Greg
Cartwright and, you know, the Dead Weather.

Thank you, Coco.  Now you get on
back up into that sweltering attic and finish your record, you scamp! (
self on tush

You got it.



This is the first in
our new series of artist-originated stories “The Blurt Auto-Interview” (with
apologies to late, great rock zine
Trouser Press); collect ‘em all. Meanwhile, see
THE ETTES live at Goner Fest 7 in Memphis September 24th with The Parting Gifts
– their new band with Greg Cartwright whose debut will be in stores around that
time via In The Red Records –  and
elsewhere on the road this year.


More Ettes at BLURT:


2009 feature: “Power Ball”


Review: Do You Want Power


Review: Danger Is EP


Coco Hames’ Blurt
Blog: “Look At Life” (June entry: “Santified and Girli-fied”)



The latest in a long, venerable line of New Jersey blue-collar
rockers crafts one of the great rock albums of the year. An interview with
frontman Brian Fallon.




In three years,
The Gaslight Anthem has gone from being just another tattooed punk band from
Jersey to the closest thing this generation may have to The Clash thanks to
brilliantly memorable songs, lyrics that read like working class poetry and a tendency
to dig deeper than Blink 182 for musical influences. The four-piece from New Brunswick have just
released American Slang (SideOneDummy), their best record to date and one of the great rock albums of
2010 (punk or otherwise). The band: frontman/guitarist Brian Fallon, drummer Benny
Horowitz, bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosamilia.


Fallon spoke
with BLURT recently about writer’s block with the new record, why a solo career
is likely not in the cards anytime soon, and jamming with Springsteen (okay, he
said very little about playing with Springsteen, but not for lack of trying on
my part).




BLURT: One thing that struck me about
listen to this new record, as did 2008’s The
‘59 Sound
and the record before that, these albums all sound different from
the one before, this one in particular. So is your sound just evolving
naturally or is it a conscious decision to make the albums sound different?

think the biggest thing with us is we kind of started a band because we love
music and also almost in reaction to all the other bands we’d been hearing. I
think the worst thing a band can do to their audience is just regurgitate the
same record over and over again.  For us,
we look at bands like The Clash and The Rolling Stones and the big thing is
that every record sounds drastically different and I think that’s part of just
growing and searching. You always want to find the next thing. You don’t want
to just rest on your laurels.


When I spoke with you a couple of years
ago before the last album, you cited as musical inspirations for that record (The ‘59 Sound) Roy Orbison, Tom Petty
and even Adam Duritz. Did you rely on different musical influences when you
were putting together this one?

Oh yeah,
drastically different. For this one, the old influences weren’t even brought up
at all. We had to start from scratch and we didn’t really look at anyone for
influences for this one honestly. We kind of just looked at ourselves and what
we wanted to do.


Was there a particular sound you were
going for? It sounds a little more rock than punk rock. Am I reading too much
into that or did you guys try to go for more of a rock sound? Were there
certain bands you were listening to that may have had some kind of influence?

We didn’t really
consciously strip anything away. We were listening to a lot of English Blues, a
lot of Derek and the Dominoes and a lot of Rolling Stones, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. We wanted to make a record that people could
dance to – not a dance record – but have something in the lyrics that they
could relate to. We didn’t want to go out there on energy alone.


How long did you guys work on this

I guess we
worked on it from November to early March, from writing to pre-production to


You’ve obviously got a few of these
records under your belt so far – did it go pretty smoothly or did you find it a
little harder because you’ve already covered a lot of topics on your other

I think this one
was harder because of what we were trying to accomplish. When you know what you
want it to sound like, you can write a song and hold it up to others to see how
it compares, but we were trying to figure out what we were about so we didn’t
have anything to hold these songs up to. We had to trust our guts on this one,
which is particularly hard to do.


Was there a particular song that you were
surprised made it on the record because it was so hard to work on?

It wasn’t
necessarily difficult to work on, because we had like 20 songs and the ones
that didn’t make it made themselves known right away. Me and the drummer (Ben
Horowitz) have a really good sense of what is working and when a song is not
going to work and we’ve had that since the beginning, so we sniff those songs
out pretty quickly. But it was difficult to make in the sense that we had to
step it up. We all had to learn to play that much better and not just play
these big open chords as hard as we can.


That actually brings up an interesting
point. You’re first album (Sink or Swim, 2007)
came out on a small indie label that few people outside of Jersey have heard
about (XOXO Records), so it wasn’t like you had a lot of pressure from the
beginning. But at this point, not only do you have a rabidly strong following
you’ve got critics that are praising you as well because of the last record. Is
it harder pressure wise knowing all these people are watching you now?

Yeah. This was
incredibly hard. I intended to start writing in June when we went on a really
long European tour. I knew we were going to be on tour for two months in a row
and thought I’ll have it all written and we’ll have a ton of time to practice.
Lo and behold that didn’t happen. I sat down to write song number one and I
couldn’t write anything. I thought, “What is going on? Why can’t I write anything?”
I usually can get a song done in 20 or 30 minutes. I tune in and pull the songs
out of the air and put it on paper and that’s kind of the way it comes. But
this time I was just stuck. I felt so alone. I never had a record that I knew
people were going to listen to. When we did The
‘59 Sound
, we knew a certain amount of people would listen to it, but not
many so it was ok if we flopped, but this record people are going to buy it and
it’s a lot of pressure. We got off the tour and I said to myself, “We can’t
write records for other people.” I have to write records for myself or I might
as well go back to doing car work or construction and somebody else can be my
boss and tell me what to do.     


Despite what you were expecting, you did
have a ton of people check out The ‘59
and I don’t think I saw a single negative review of that record.

Yeah, I don’t
claim to understand that. It’s bizarre.


 So, living next to Jersey
and being a big Springsteen fan I have to ask you about him. You guys had a
couple of opportunities to play with him at some festivals in Europe
last year. What was that like? Having talked to you in the past, I know you’re
a big Bruce fan as well.

You know what’s
kind of bizarre? It’s just been very diluted for me. It’s almost like I’ve
spent so long talking about it that I don’t even know… It’s like I haven’t had
any time away from it to think of it. Everyone asks me about it. I’d love to
just be able to give you a real insightful view about it, but I haven’t even
had time to just sit back and think about it because I’ve been talking so much
about it. It’s almost like (the experience) wasn’t mine. Unfortunately I don’t
have anything new to share about it.


You guys had Dicky Barrett (Mighty Mighty
Bosstones) sing on The ‘59 Sound.
Anyone you guys would love to record with in the future?

Um, I don’t
know. It would kind of have to be a natural thing. I’d love to sing with Tom


You did a few solo shows last year. Do
you have any plans for more of those or to put out a solo record?

No, I think
usually those happen because someone ropes me into it. One of my friends will
be like “Hey, can Gaslight play a show at so and so.” And I’ll be like, “no…
argh, I’ll do it.” It also recently comes from a desire to allow kids in some
form to be very close to us, play the kind of venues where you can reach out
and shake hands and talk to them, which you can’t really do in these bigger
venues. I just don’t have anything outside of this band to say. I want to run
this band through its course. If this band is ever not around then I can look
into it, but I just don’t want to leave this band for anything else, especially
not a solo thing. It’s just so cliché.


Do you ever get nervous doing those shows
knowing that you’re not backed by your band?

Totally. Its
mind numbing. I don’t like those shows for that aspect. I don’t have anybody to
talk to; I don’t have anybody to feed off of; it’s just me and that’s it. I try
not to do those that often.


Certainly you guys have been through a
lot as a band in the past few years. What do you think was the biggest thing
you’ve noticed changing since Sink or
came out?

Our whole lives
have changed. We’ve become a traveling band and this is a real job right now. We
don’t have a place that we feel like home. You’re out there for so long and you
feel ungrounded. It’s like you’re just floating in the great wide open
sometimes. You learn to be comfortable where you are. The fact that we’re in a
band full time is a huge change. It’s an awesome change, but a huge one.   


[Photo Credit:
Ashley Maile]



“IT’S US AGAINST THEM” The Black Crowes

The Robinson Brothers took on the music industry – and won. Meanwhile,
the latest leg of their 20th anniversary tour kicks off this week.




Gone are the days of acid. The
Black Crowes have picked up the fiddle.


Which is not to say that the
band-formed in 1989-can’t still rock. They can. Lead singer Chris Robinson is
just sticking to mushrooms these days.


“I think the more gentle
supplement of psilocybin is far more easily manageable in my forties,” he says.
“Taking acid is like planning a vacation to Europe
or something. Who has the time? It’s a little bit pushy, that drug.”


It’s been almost twenty years
since Robinson,, brother Rich (guitar) and drummer Steve Gorman-the core of the
Crowes-emerged from Atlanta, Georgia on Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings
with “She Talks To Angels” off debut album Shake Your Money Maker.
Channeling the Band, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, Money Maker went quintuple platinum in the U.S.
alone, yielding the first of six Billboard 200 number one singles like


Twenty years, seventeen tours,
seven studio LPs and something like 20 million albums sold-plus all the
management lawsuits, narc arrests, and finally the break-up at the turn of the
century, after Columbia dumped them and they couldn’t stand each other-the
Crowe coda came straight from Almost Famous (2000) when Chris
Robinson wed actress Kate Hudson, had a kid and divorced. Roll credits.


On Aug. 31, the Crowes released
Before the Frost … Until the Freeze, a ballsy, experimental, bad-ass
roots double-album: half rocking jams and half hootenanny. Gone are the days of
acid. The Black Crowes now dabble in mandolin.


And goddam, if it isn’t good.




“We burned ourselves,” Chris Robinson
says, at his home in Topanga Canyon,
CA. There’s a tipi in the back
yard and 5,000 records on the wall. California
sunshine streams through the place. “Columbia Records was a fucking joke. Us
being at Columbia
at the end of the ’90s, then we go to V2 which is just another horrible joke.”


He’s talking about what led to
their 2001 hiatus, comeback in 2008 with LP number seven Warpaint, which
in turn led to this new album on their own Silver Arrow label.


“I wouldn’t chalk it up to
stupidity, I would just chalk it up to naiveté,” he says. “When Shake Your
Money Maker
came out, the sheer fact that that record sold seven million
records at the time was beyond our world. We just figured ‘Shit, man, you know.
Someone gave us sixty grand to make a record and then we can go on the road,
and I guess we’ll just move back to Atlanta and work at a record store, and
drink too much and get bitter … ‘


“And then this other part of it
took over, which was, on a personal level, strange-when you dream maybe of
being a rock star and then you get to be one, and you realize it’s really not a
very exclusive club. There’s a lot of douchebags that get to be rock stars,
too. I thought it would be more like The Beat Hotel with Ginsberg and Burroughs.
You’re like, ‘No. It’s Faith No More.’ Great. I fed the machine for years. It
was like, ‘Holy shit, these grown adult businessmen are making tens of millions
of dollars off us every week.’ It’s really blowing our minds and all we want to
do is get deeper into the groove and figure it out and write and play and get
high and be free and do all these things. And we’re making these horrible
business people millions of dollars and you wonder. Then you finally wake up
and go like, ‘Ohhh! This is a big game. This isn’t about us, man’.”


When Columbia dropped them in 1999, the Crowes
bounced to V2. “It’s the same old story. The guy who signs you is the president
of the label. You sign. The week before you go into the studio, he goes to
another label and you’re stuck with a bunch of douchebags who only see you for
what you could maybe generate them income-wise.”


Relations inside the band
weren’t much better, he says.


“It’s pretty much why we put
the band down for those years the early part of this last decade. The thing
about my brother and I is-we love each other very much. We just don’t like each
other, usually.” [laughs]


Long-time guitarist Marc Ford
along with a half-dozen other musicians entered and exited the orbit of Chris,
Rich, and Steve.


“I spent a very dark period of
my life in the late ’90s with those kind of things, because I just truly felt
sick in my soul about, ‘The thing that I love the most is the thing that is
making me so unhappy.’ And as a musician, the other thing is then you just
always have the ability to escape through drugs. More hard drugs, you
know-alcohol and coke and heroin and things like that. They don’t really bring
anything to your consciousness or your scene.


“You’re masking how much it
hurts. And by the time you’re in a real working rock and roll band for over a
decade, no matter how much you love each other, you never break down and stop
and say, ‘Guys, I’m hurting. This isn’t right.’ You just kind of have that,
‘Fuck it, we’re too tough to die’ kind of mentality. It doesn’t matter how
sensitive you are on the inside, those things don’t come out in terms of the
group scenario. It’s just like, ‘There’s the dates. We’re going to trudge on.’
And that hurts as well.”


The band parted ways and it
wasn’t until 2005 that music drew the Crowes – who were all doing solo projects
and touring – back together to perform. Dates with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page


“The only way we can really
communicate is through music and I don’t even think-I wouldn’t even get New
Agey and say it’s a healing thing. It’s like it’s truly the only thing we have
in common. We’re on the same page when we’re making music,” he says. “I think
now we’re way closer to what we both feel is compatible.”


So they got together in Woodstock in 2008 to
record Warpaint, which they released independently on Silver Arrow. It
was a critical hit and commercial success, and a crucial phase change occurred
in the band.


“I think having Warpaint debut
in the top five Billboard [200] album [chart] was shocking. There’s no music
business and we did it ourselves,” he says. “Warpaint and saying, ‘Fuck
it, we’re doing it ourselves’ has been the best thing that ever happened.


“It’s a counter-culture trip:
rock and roll. It is us against them. And I don’t trust people in suits
and I don’t like lawyers and I didn’t like A&R people and I didn’t like
anybody who called records ‘products’ and that shit. These people, they’re not
like us. They’re not artists. They’re not weirdos. They’re not misfits. They’re
not outcasts. They’re playing the game and we weren’t interested in competing.”


Warpaint led to another
big tour: the foundation of the Crowes’ longevity, and the thing to which they
attribute everything they have.


“That’s where you’ll make the
connection with your audience, and hopefully-we all have growing pains-but
hopefully, they’ll stick with you because you weren’t full of shit,
explains Robinson. “I’ll go out and run into someone who’s like, ‘Dude,
tonight’s my 95th show.’ You are fucking kidding me.”


“I’ve played with them,” says Warpaint producer Paul “Strange Boy” Stacey, who met Robinson through Oasis, and
toured with the Crowes. “It’s as strong as it gets.”


Energized by the Warpaint tour,
Robinson conceived of something more grandiose. “Maybe it is because I’m 42
years old and I’m obsessed with records and vinyl and stuff,” but he made a
decision. The Crowes would write and record a double-album live in three weeks
flat. It would be rootsier than ever. The only question was “where”?




February in Woodstock involves frost and freezes, and
producer Stacey was the first to arrive on the 20-acre property owned by Levon
Helm from The Band. Out in a woody field next to a large, bass-filled lake
beneath Overlook Mountain, Helm had built a famed wooden
and locally quarried bluestone barn, held together with wooden pegs. The barn
fits 200 and is decked out with Apple G5s and MCI Analog two-inch 24 tracks,
Fender Rhodes pianos and tube amps. It’s where the world’s best musicians come
to Ramble.


Stacey’s first order of
business was attending a famed Ramble, a traditional, late-night hootenanny
from the days of traveling minstrels and involving much booze, bawdy lyrics and
dirty dancing. “I had to drive home that night and I didn’t know what my name
was on the way back to the hotel,” Stacey says. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I
hope I don’t get pulled by the cops because I don’t know what my name is’.”


Helm  has resurrected the Ramble with world-class
musicians like Larry Campbell, plus guests like Elvis Costello, Dr. John,
Emmylou Harris, and, yes, Chris Robinson, who in August 2008 had a similarly
smashing good time. “I got there and it just hit me like a ton of bricks,” he
enthuses. “‘Holy shit, this is the place. This is exactly what we are talking
about.’ This homegrown event and Levon’s personality and the music that he’s
been involved with-it’s all together in the barn there in Woodstock. It’s set up for it. You can have a
couple hundred people but it’s also a studio setting. And that really bowled me
over. ‘Wow, this is it. It’s right here.’ The next day we drove over and hung
out with Levon and told him what my idea was and he was like, ‘Well this is the
place to do it.’ And he was fully on board. ‘Ya’ll come on. When ya wanna do
it?’,” he says. “We booked the time and sold the seats and we were ready to


Stacey had just five days to
prep a barn for a nonexistent album by one of the world’s biggest rock bands,
which would be performed live. “It’s just like, ‘Oh, shit, we’re making a
record and we don’t even know what we’re doing.”


The brothers Robinson flew in
the next week with rough songs at the ready, because material has never been
the band’s problem.


“The music always takes care of
itself. It’s the brothers,” says Stacey. “Are they getting on? Are they getting
off? Are they fighting today? All that stuff.”


The two worked on rough tracks
and Stacey emailed sketches of the work to guitarist Luther Dickinson, bassist
Sven Pipien, and Gorman, who were all scattered throughout the continent.


“We don’t need three weeks rehearsal.
These guys are good enough to pick this up and to have it become a piece of
them to express themselves,” says Robinson. Adds Stacey, “There’s hardly any
bands that can do what they do. I kept saying, ‘People are coming to see you do
this live. Are we going to have enough?’ And of course there always is.”


The next week, the full band
spent five days learning a dozen new songs for the weekend’s show. “Talk about
people who have made ADD really work for them,” is how Robinson puts it.


Their looseness – backed by
years of experience with each other – is integral to the sound, says Stacey. “They
do it in their gigs. They do sound checks and sometimes just run four new tunes
very quickly that they kind of hardly know. But when it comes to the gig, they
play them like they’ve known them for a while. They have this authority and
commitment that you expect from great players. They don’t freeze up. They don’t
get lost or scared.”


Still, the night of the show,
Stacey recalls that they looked as nervous and jittery as he’s ever seen them.
“Before I left the dressing room I said, ‘If I was a fan of this band, which
I’m not, but if I was a fan, this would probably be the most exciting and the
most incredible experience for me. Watching you, as a fly on the wall in Levon
Helm’s barn.'”


Robinson gave a little speech,
defusing the tension by calling the experience experimental and occasionally
stopping songs after a mistake, and laugh it off. “The first one of course was-‘Does
everyone know what we’re doing?'” Robinson laughs.


But 20 years of Crowes kicked


“It’s not a click-track type
thing,” says Stacey. “It’s a movement of meter between those three guys. And
they have that instinctively as a normal conversation. People should appreciate
it more.”


The show opened with Rich
Robinson playing sitar on “Aimless Peacock,” a studio-quality jam made more
phenomenal when the audience erupts into cheers on the final note. Guitarist
Luther Dickinson plucked prior to Warpaint” from the North Mississippi Allstars, delivers intricate finger-picking and
soulful one-off solos, and even plays mandolin. Bassist Sven Pipien throws down
on the doghouse bass. The legendary Larry Campbell-master of all stringed
instruments-also graces the sessions. The mood swings from rock to blues to
boogie to country to bluegrass and back with Chris’ lyrics hinting at the
baggage they all carry. “All the mythology is in there. Everything we’ve been
through as a band.”


The Black Crowes pegged it the
first weekend, but they learned twelve more songs and did a second weekend of
recording live anyway. These recordings comprise much of the double album. “The
second weekend was just more relaxed and broad,” says Stacey. “It has more



“Who’s done a record like
this?” he muses. Stacey knows of no one else that could have pulled it off like
they did. “They definitely put themselves in a corner of real risk. They took a
huge risk. The one thing about that band is that they do that anyway.”


“This era, and what we’ve been
doing the last couple of years,” Robinson says, “I’ve never felt more
fulfillment and satisfaction, creatively and socially and in a business sense.
It’s a dream come true for the kind of vibe, the kind of freedom of expression
and also the recognition of what we are.”


So, gone are the daze of acid.
Clear-headed, the Crowes are messing with the dobro. And yes, it’s only rock
and roll, but we like it.


[This article originally appeared in the 8th issue of BLURT.
The Black Crowes are currently on their 20th anniversary tour and
recently released an acoustic career retrospective,
Croweology. In August they’ll also commence the “Say
Goodnight to the Bad Guys” tour that will conclude in December, after which a
“lengthy hiatus” is planned. Details, tour dates and more at]



Duty. Now. DEVO

It’s a matter of
rebranding: our resident mongoloid plays ball with the spudboys.




“Same as it ever was” is a lyric that David Byrne used to
describe the future-past of a life to come and a life well lived. It held the
anticipation of what was next as well as something of the feelings, great and
lousy, of what once was.


DEVO certainly know those sensations. Even before that
aforementioned talking head  left design
school, two Kent State students from the Akron Ohio area – Gerald Casale and
Mark Mothersbaugh – had begun their own art project in-or-around 1972, based
fancifully but forcefully on twists on Darwin’s theories of evolution, the
breakdown of communication prevalent in their generation, the future of
technology in music, film and performance and utilizing the corporate
advertising world in which make new brands and graphic realities  based on all those ideas. Mothersbaugh and
Casale grabbed their brothers, several cheap analog synthesizers, some
industrial plastic jumpsuits and the hermetically sealed world of DEVO was born
into the pre-punk era; all angular guitars, robotic punchy rhythms, splintered frenetic
synth sounds and chicken-choked squawky vocals.


That last detailing of musical qualities should sound
familiar to fans of DFA production, Ting Tings, Hot Chip – everything
electronic, jerky and now. DEVO
innovated, pure and simple. But I digress. DEVO made hits and made misses and
by 1990 had petered out in terms of making new music.


DEVO didn’t so much as break up as they evolved into other
projects – Casale into video production, A/V based as busting and solo music;
Mothersbaugh into painting, running his own production and composing and
recording soundtracks for everyone from the Nickelodeon network, Pee-Wee Herman and Wes Anderson.


DEVO still played gigs, solidly and with delicious potency,
and thankfully kept the seeds of invention at the ready and willing to sprout –
what with the fact that DEVO  has now released
its first full-length in 20 years, Something
For Everybody
. This, after re-releasing deluxe reissues of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Duty Now for the Future and Freedom of Choice, re-signing with
Warners, running an internet campaign where fans chose the album’s final tracks
and hooking up with New York City
based marketing group Mother to produce satirical videos and ads about
marketing and changing their Energy Dome flowerpot hats from red to blue.




When I caught up the happily excitable Casale, I mentioned
how I’d witnessed a dozen or so live performances since the group’s 1990
disappearance from the market place (to say nothing of having witnessed them
live at least (30 times during their heyday – yes, I’m a fan). Remarkably, DEVO
was more potent a live act than I had remembered them in their initial glory


“People don’t know us as a live band, but anyone who came
and saw us within the last few years got how mighty we are,” says Casale. For a
band who (then) strictly played the songs of its past, they didn’t come across
like an oldies act. Their epic weird forcefulness showed that DEVO was alive.
From that power, a desire to make new material certainly sprung up.


“We always enjoyed playing – it’s just that at a certain
point Mark turned his back on the business,” claims Casale, the DEVO-tee that
always seemed more driven to reunite that his partner/pal. According to Casale,
getting un-DEVO-ed for Mothersbaugh included not wanting to collaborate on new
music or going through the meat grinder of the way music was put out.


DEVO stayed on the sidelines and watched the music business
implode and the functions of record labels dwindle. “We didn’t see a new
marketplace no matter what came across our collective desk,” laughs Casale. “We
heard lots of talk and hot air about MySpace and sponsors and funding or how
bands could go to LiveNation and AEG and get an advance on a hundred shows. But
it all turned out to be pie in the sky.”


What turned thing around for Mothersbaugh and DEVO was the
music the band was asked to write and compose for the Dell XPS M1330 laptop
campaign as well as renewed connection with Warner Bros., the famed label that
released DEVO’s biggest albums.  


“The Dell thing excited us -especially when it made a splash
in the marketplace,” says Casale, of the Teddybears-produced music. As for
Warners (who also took notice of the Dell/DEVO success) it was simple and
practical and honest: the label owns DEVO’s back catalog and masters for perpetuity.
When Warners heard that DEVO wanted to put out new music based on the success
of the Dell campaign, they stepped up with marketing money. “It would serve them
as much as it would us. It just made sense.” It was logical to DEVO because
marketing is everything to them. In a cultural music-scape where sound has been
devalued perceptually yet released in droves. DEVO needed an aggregator. “We
wanted someone to make you fucking care. Marketing is everything. It tells
people who you are why you are and that we’re here and now.”

Nobody is more here and now than Mother, the New York City-based ad agency, who
happen to be the coolest in the biz. Mother is Mad Men times 1000 with sharper
lapels and pointier shoes. “And they get us,” laughs Casale. “They’re Dada –
totally on the cutting edge of playing with the energy and the ideas – of being
in the ad business as well as being ad busters.” DEVO loved Mother’s tongue in
cheek aesthetic. “When we sat down with them they didn’t think any of our ideas
were crazy. They went further.”


Casale won’t detail all the caustic hilarity planned for Something For Everybody’s marketing,
They’d like that to surprise its audience. The same is true – to an extent – in
regard to new DEVO music. So the question became, since they had this jerking
electro crank since 1975, what should DEVO keep and what should they throw out?


“We can’t pretend we’re someone else or we would fall flat,”
claims Casale. “We can’t pretend we’re MGMT or the Kills. We can only be us. So
we had to decide what US
is the good US and what of US is the sucky part that we should throw out.” DEVO
went back to the drawing board and embraced the old analogue sounds that they
came up with in the first place and brought to the marketplace of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“That’s the sound that all the next generation bands didn’t grow up with but
love NOW. All the bands that cite us as an influence are intrigued by those
sounds and romanticize them like LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. The good thing
is we love their music. But we weren’t going to try to do their music.”


What DEVO did on Something
for Everybody
was reproduce the mechanized humanity of their past and throw
it – sonically and lyrically – into the present. Highlighting the idea of the
driver behind the wheel of a hybrid car looking with great paranoia for a highway
sniper in “Don’t Shoot I’m a Man” shows both old world DEVO nervousness in a
contemporary setting. So, too, does the beat down of “What We Do” and “Later is


In all actuality, it’s as if DEVO picked up after the
snap-crackle-and pop of Freedom of Choice and recorded this new record. DEVO took what they did then and brought it to
this new place.


“Right – we just wanted to remind bands and audiences that
we did us first,” says Casale with a
hearty laugh. They were also careful to not fall in to self parody either.
“Look, we knew what to expect to hear from listeners and critics – what’s great
about DEVO is that they’ve been around forever; a recognizable brand. What’s
bad about DEVO: they’ve been around forever and they’re a recognizable brand.
And they haven’t put out new music in twenty years.”




Something For Everybody, then, is a matter of rebranding. Part of that, too, came from its
collaborations with the likes of Teddybears, the cats in the Dust Brothers and
weirdest of all, Santi White (aka Santigold). DEVO, with the exception of
working with, say, producers Brian Eno and Ken Scott weren’t collaborative
types – they didn’t play well with others in both a literal and figurative
sense. There was a conscious choice amongst them to not be hermetically sealed
when it came to the new album.


“What did DEVO never do – play ball. We just dropped down
from a spaceship, hand you something then go away. This time the mission was to
not to that.”

I throw a few song titles at Casale in the hopes for some sort of Rorschach reaction:


Q: “Fresh”
A: “It is.”

Q: “Don’t Shoot, I’m a
A: “Our plea for non violence ala Rodney king (laughs) We live in such an
inhumane world getting direr all the time. We’re in a constant state of paranoia
and fear. This song is us diffusing it.”

Q: “Human Rocket”

A: “That’s the one
song I can’t comment on – the one tune Mark had in a lock box all to himself. I
had a ton of ideas when I heard it for arrangements but he said no.”

Q: “What We Do”
A: “It’s our definitive statement on the human condition.”

Q: “Later is Now”
A.: “It is. That should be on our blimp that we fly over America. Look
at the BP oil spill. Talk about the chickens coming home to roost. That’s the
eight million pound gorilla.”

Q: What’s more
exciting for you guys to do – the
Colbert Report or Regis & Kelly?
A:  “DEVO has always had the high and low
aesthetic – the bottom trash and the lofty. Those two things two days in a row;
Stephen’s the high DEVO and
Regis & Kelly is as low as DEVO goes.” 



Other than its banner rebranding and the idea of going
backwards to fine future footing, the biggest question with Something for Everybody – at least for me
– isn’t how this album and set of television shows go; it’s where does DEVO
head to from here. If the new album slices time and picks up now where Freedom of Choice left off, can this
band keep going? Is this DEVO built for speed?

“We’re at the starting line,” says Casale, wondering himself about that very
question. “I think it could be. We honestly have to see if anybody cares. I
would certainly like to do it again.”

And if DEVO had to stop – truly stop – Casale even has an idea for that in some
sort of Vile Bodies Evelyn Waugh fashion. “I’d like to call the farewell album Back to the Cave and I have just the idea
of how to get back. The record would be a totally black CD with five pairs of
lenticular eyes just blinking – staring out at you from the darkness. It’s 1975
again and each of us is in our old apartment in Akron. Each of us has one instrument, with
one weird effect and we just jam – no overdubs – like you heard on, say Hardcore DEVO. How’d that sound?”

Great. But how do you do rebrand from there?






STRANGERS IN MEMPHIS Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train

In 1989 the famed
indie director  – accompanied by Joe
Strummer, Tom Waits, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and others – set out in search of slices
of Authentic America.




Had Jim Jarmusch not already used the title Strangers in Paradise for his second
feature film, it might have been just as perfect for quite a few of his ensuing
films. With some key exceptions in the eccentric New Yorker’s filmography (most
recently, the underappreciated The Limits
of Control
), the auteur has locked his camera down in Mythic America, a
place that exists in films and songs, and to a much lesser extent, reality.
It’s a riff on the American dream, filtered through pop culture, nostalgia, and
eventually, disillusionment.


Everybody (except for Johnny Depp’s Native American guide,
Nobody, from Dead Man) is a foreigner
in this America,
at least figuratively speaking. American, immigrant or just plain visitor,
these characters are tourists rummaging through the country like music junkies
diving through record store bins. Looking for what they either ignored or never
before knew to search for.


If Mystery Train is not Jarmusch’s best or most satisfying film, it is, without a doubt, his
most focused in horning in on Mythic America. Set in a version of Memphis,
Tennessee constructed more a dash of fact and a whole lot of fantasy (Jarmusch
had never been to the city before writing the script), Mystery Train goes out in search of slices of Authentic America in
the divided, decaying heartland.


Away from the anesthetized, skyscraper-laden downtown
(literally relegated to the background), Jarmusch finds the “real” Memphis in shambles,
haunted by the ghosts of Elvis (explicitly) and Martin Luther King Jr.
(implicitly). He bookends the film’s three interconnecting narratives with
Elvis’s famous version of “Mystery Train” at the opening, and Junior Parker’s
original rendition in the closing. 


Jarmusch is never so coarse as to overplay his hand (Paul
Haggis he ain’t), but the racial tension is certainly, most strongly in the
third story, “Lost in Space”, but also glimpsed in subtler ways: The film was
shot before the original, then-decrepit Stax Records building got torn down
and, years later, converted to a museum. Sun Studio, at that point, was already
a well-scrubbed tourist attraction.


We visit the latter studio in the first segment, “Far From
Yokohama”, with a Japanese couple (Masatoshi Nagase and Youki Kudoh) making a
pilgrimage of sorts to the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Playfully bickering
over who is the real Memphis
star (Carl Perkins vs. Elvis Presley), they are filmic descendants of Breathless stars Jean Seberg and Jean
Paul-Bellomondo: lovers, defenders and imitators of pop culture.


In “A Ghost” and “Lost in Space”, the burden of Elvis weighs
heavier on the characters. Stranded in the city for one night, an Italian woman
(Nicoletta Braschi) sees The King’s ghost after a run-in with a seemingly
dangerous character (Tom Noonan, positively chilling) who spins her a yarn
about the giving the singer a lift one night. She later meets and rooms with a
chatterbox (Elizabeth Bracco) who is leaving her husband, whom everyone calls “Elvis”
(Joe Strummer). 


Strummer’s character is consumed (and perhaps, fueled) by
Elvis and all things Memphis
in what is both the most amusing and gravest of segments, dragging his friend,
Will Robinson (Rick Aviles) and brother-in-law (Steve Buscemi) in for a wild night,
the ends of which we have already heard echoing in the previous two stories.


The connecting device in all three parts is the seedy, Arcade motel where all the involved parties spend the
night. The desk team played by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (jumping from the Stranger in Paradise soundtrack right
onto the screen in a splashy red suit) and Cinqué Lee (brother of Spike,
dressed as a classic bell hop) are a holdover from another era, like much of
their immediate surroundings.


Mystery Train is,
thankfully, not a self-serious film – Jarmusch gets his point across by ambling
around playfully. He has a documentarian’s eye for detail (especially for a
city he had never visited before). The answers come largely in the visual and
aural clues (read: a cracking soundtrack featuring Rufus Thomas, who has a
brief cameo, Otis Redding, who does not, and Elvis Presley, whose spirit drives
the film, to name a few), and that’s when they come at all.


It’s a film about exploration, which is kind of Jarmusch’s
thing, so don’t expect a thesis on American in the vein of Nashville,
another great film about another great American music town. With the train and
the visitors it brings, you drift in to Memphis,
and then, drift out.


Special Features: This
is Criterion, and considering that Mystery
is a fairly new film in the larger scheme of things, the transfer is
unsurprisingly gorgeous. Jarmusch and cinematographer Robby Muller went with a
very natural color palette, with the splashes of red and fluorescence tying the
film to Muller’s earlier work on Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (double feature anyone?).


Just as important, especially for this film, the soundtrack
is crisp and punchy in mono. Home theater nuts may not like it, but mono makes
sense over stereo in terms of preserving the original musical recordings.


As for special features, Criterion does a solid job for a
one-disc offering from a director who doesn’t do commentary tracks. Instead,
the centerpiece of the extra materials is Jarmusch’s 64-minute Q & A,
recorded last January. The writer/director takes questions from fans, and he
answers each to the full extent. There’s a lot of interesting back-story given
(yes, Tom Waits is more or less reprising his role from Down By Law on the radio in Mystery
, and other burning questions answered). For my money, it’s better
than your average commentary spiel, and significantly more digestible in one


An original documentary on the Memphis shooting locations
and excerpts from the documentary Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me round out the set, in addition to a couple essays covering the cinematic and
musical aspects of the film.


Which is all very informative, but maybe Jarmusch has a
point in refusing to do a traditional commentary track for his films. It’s all
right there, in the film and the records that inspired it.


JUST WALK AWAY, RENEE: Renee Fleming Vs. Barb Jungr

Two famed vocalists
attempt to give the New American Songbook an upgrade. Only one of them turns
out to be successful, however.




There really is no way to sort out whatever the New American
(or, maybe, Post-Rock Singer-Songwriter) Songbook is unless musicians who are
not performing/recording songwriters cover the compositions of those who are.
Especially needed are covers by those with trained voices, who can reveal to us
how memorable a song’s melodies and lyrical concerns are when stripped of the
vocal idiosyncrasies (or just plain limitations) of the composition’s


This is an old-fashioned concept, but we depend on such
singers to bestow legitimacy on pop tunes. With good reason. The financial
rewards of songwriting are so great, and the difficulty of filling up an album
so burdensome, that even the best songwriters compose and release a lot of
junk. And then marketing and hype take over, and who knows what will last and
what will be forgotten in year or two?


Presumably, Renee Fleming should know. An esteemed operatic
soprano, she’s already well-versed in the classical music that has lasted for
ages. (And she showed good taste in a foray into jazz and pop-leaning rock with
2005’s Haunted Heart.) So, when word
got out she was going to try to add mature-adult meaning to contemporary
indie-rock (and a few older selections) on Dark Hope (Decca;, there was reason for optimism. After
all, to take a very different kind of voice as an example, isn’t that what
Johnny Cash did so successfully with his American
He singled-handedly made Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” a New American
Songbook classic.


But does Fleming actually understand these songs? More
important, does she like them – enough to offer producer David Kahne some input
into the right kind of arrangements for her? Kahne is a respected rock
producer, from Romeo Void to Regina Spektor, but producers need to understand
their artists. Listening to the cheesy, elevator-music string-and-synth
arrangement on Fleming’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (a song not in
need of any more interpretations, at any rate), or the dated Laura
Branigan-style dance-pop of Muse’s “Endlessly,” and you wonder what kind of
instructions he had. Did Fleming just say, “Eh, whatever…”?


One asks this because it’s unclear how interested she is in
this project. As has been widely reported, Metallica’s management company came
to her with the idea. (That’s almost as strange as Gene Simmons managing Liza
Minnelli in the 1980s.)  Rather than find
songs fully suitable for her voice, Fleming lowered her range to handle the
chosen material. But she sounds outside it, turning Band of Horses’ “No One’s
Going to Love You” into something trivial and coming off disinterested and in a
hurry to finish on Death Cab For Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body.”


This album is more boring than kitschy – it’s no Pat Boone In a Metal Mood. Actually, one of its
kitschiest songs – The Mars Volta’s “With Twilight As My Guide” – is one of the
best, as she cuts loose to hit some high notes and Kahne finds a Goth-meets-Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show arrangement
to match. She also infuses Duffy’s “Stepping Stone” with some excitement when
she starts letting notes ascend like Jeff Buckley could do.


Fleming is 51, so one guesses she’s familiar with Jefferson
Airplane’s “Today,” Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your
Eyes” – all of which she covers – when they were FM-rock radio stalwarts in her
formative years. (“Hallelujah,” while from the 1980s, never really caught on
until spotlighted in Shrek and by
Jeff Buckley.) She seems comfortable
with them, but the unsympathetic arrangements weigh her down.


Whether or not anything here ever enters the New American
Songbook as a classic (“Hallelujah” already has), it’s doubtful Dark Hope will have much to do with it.


But Barb Jungr’s interpretations of songs by male
songwriters on her new album The Men I
: The New American Songbook (Naim
Label;, is going to
matter – a lot. This 56-year-old British song stylist brings the same kind of
warm, elegant clarity and effortlessly compelling dramatic intonation to her
singing as Emma Thompson does to her acting, and instantly establishes anything
she does as important.


Her background is varied – she is a songwriter and has
recorded tributes to other song stylists, like Nina Simone, Edith Piaf and
Elvis. But as a steadfast believer in alternative-cabaret, she has been
especially devoted to interpreting contemporary singer-songwriters in a
nightclub setting, with its emphasis on subdued and elegant, piano- and
string-based arrangements.


On The Men I Love, she uses that approach to show how much additional meaning (and musicality) can
be gotten out of songs by the likes of Talking Heads, Neil Diamond, Dylan,
Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Todd Rundgren, Bread and others when removed from
their familiar voices and arrangements.


That’s not to dismiss the originals – “Once in a Lifetime”
had a wonderful electro-tinged rock arrangement that has itself stood the test
of time.  But listen to Jungr slow it
down, almost to a hushed intimacy, caressing syllables rather than jerking them
the way David Byrne does, lowering her voice to state, “My God, what have I done,” like a confession. You will be moved by
the song as if it’s brand new.


The Men I Love isn’t searching for hipster cred in its song selection as Fleming’s album can
be accused of. Not with Bread’s “Everything I Own” or Diamond’s ancient “Red
Red Wine” (joined with Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”). Rather,
Jungr chooses songs because she believes they deserve a long musical life. Her
version of the David Gates-composed Bread song is straightforward, a good
chance for her to demonstrate the softness in her voice in its higher range,
and showcases the song’s stately simplicity.


She is also neither rock sentimentalist nor ironist. The
appeal to her of “The River” and Simon & Garfunkel’s anti-nostalgia “My
Little Town” is in the poignant melancholy of their stark portraits of America’s dying
industrial age. And she nails it.


“The River” always had one of Springsteen’s best bridges
(“but I remember us riding in my brother’s car…”) and Jungr handles it with
tremendous empathy and insight, without choking up or losing control or doing
anything that could be interpreted as playing for  listener sympathy.


“My Little Town” is a particular revelation, with its
opening piano chords sounding like tolling bells, because the song is so
underrated. When Simon & Garfunkel released it in 1975, part of a
short-lived reunion, it seemed like Paul Simon was trying to ruin the
excitement of the “comeback” by writing a downer song about a lifestyle he
didn’t know or like. But Jungr makes it so real, and the piano’s jazzy twists
emphasize how sturdy a melody the song has.


These two songs, Jungr’s interpretations establish, belong
in the New American Songbook not because they carry on the traditional song
craft values of Cole Porter or  Irving
Berlin, but because they told the truth. They got it right. And Jungr, as one
of our very best contemporary song stylists, indeed gets the truth out of
them…as she does with everything she sings.


[Photo of Renee
Fleming (L) by Andrew Eccles; Barb Jungr (R) by Steve Ullathorne]


OUT OF THE SHADOWS Teenage Fanclub

The Scottish band’s three
songwriters talk about their roots and influences, their unusual collaborative
process and their first album in five years.




“Sometimes you wake up and you want to be Link Wray and
other days you wake up and you want to be Burt Bacharach,” says Norman Blake of
Teenage Fanclub.


Blake is one of the band’s three songwriters, the one who
wrote “The Concept” and “Mellow Doubt,” and he was wrestling with a question regarding
the essentially cool thing about his more than two decade old band, how they
combined some of power pop’s prettiest melodies with blisteringly loud guitar
distortion. The song in question, the single “Hang On” from 1994, starts in a
firestorm of feedbacky soloing, then resolves into a verse that has some of the
Byrd’s knack for easy, closely harmonized tunefulness.


“We never really planned anything, we just did what came naturally,”
observes bass player Gerard Love, when asked the same question by email. “I guess
we all
really liked the energy of distorted guitars
matched with a catchy melody.”


Role models? Inspirations? “Husker Du were probably the best
around in the late 1980s, but we were also really into things like Dinosaur Jr,
Jesus and Mary Chain, early My Bloody
Valentine, Half Japanese, Beat Happening and
Sonic Youth,” says Love. “Growing up, just about everyone we knew liked
the more melodic side of punk; The Buzzcocks, The Undertones and The Ramones
were all massive in the west of Scotland.”


The song “Hang On” is 16 years old now, but Teenage Fanclub
is still at the task of balancing exquisite pop and noisy exuberance. They may
be, on the margins, a little bit more serene on their ninth album Shadows (Merge), than in the days when they opened Nirvana’s Nevermind tour. Still,
odds are that all three songwriters wake up, now and again, on the Link Wray
side of the bed.


Teenage Fanclub emerged out of Glasgow in the late 1980s, formed in a
fertile pop-infused post-punk scene encapsulated on the NME‘s classic C86 compilation and represented by bands like Orange Juice and Fire Engines.


Both Blake and Raymond McGinley were already playing
together in the Pastels when they started a new band called Boy Hairdressers. “We
made one record and then broke up,” says Blake, “but we decided that we wanted
to keep making music.” The two of them were too broke to record until
McGinley’s neighbor passed away, leaving him a refrigerator and a washing
machine. They used the money to make a cassette recording of what would become A
Catholic Education
, their first album as Teenage Fanclub. Through Stephen McRobbie of the Pastels, they got the record
to Gerard Cosloy, who agreed to put the record out on Matador.


“That’s pretty much how the band started — from making that
cassette,” says Blake.  “I think we made
the record before we had played any live shows. Why wait around?”


The band went on to achieve success in the 1990s with a
string of releases on highly regarded Creation Records and a major label deal
with Sony in the U.S. Kurt Cobain was a fan. Liam Gallagher named them the
“second-best band in the world.” “Ain’t That Enough” from the 1997 Songs
from Northern Britain
became the band’s biggest hit, reaching 17 on the UK
Singles Chart.


Songs from Northern Britain was the band’s commercial
peak, but they have continued to make music. Their ninth album Shadows,
released this spring on Merge Records followed the same collaborative process
as their earliest work, with all three songwriters – Blake, Love and McGinley –
bringing in songs.


“We write individually but whoever writes the song will
produce and oversee the studio construction of it,” Blake explains. “So, for
instance, if Raymond writes a song, he’ll come in with his song and then he’ll
play his song and then he’ll have a basic idea for an arrangement and then
we’ll listen to it and express ourselves and then it will develop from there. So
we write individually but the songs can develop and change once we’re in the


The songs come to the studio with their basic structure
intact. The actual writing happens away from the boards, in a variety of
settings. The single “Baby Lee” for instance, was written by Blake at a
songwriter’s workshop in honor of the poet Robert Burns.  


“What they do is they have eight musicians who are based in Scotland,
and each day you peel off with a different person or a group of people and you
write songs,” Blake explains. Four days into the workshop, after writing
intensely all week, Blake woke up with the melody for “Baby Lee.”


“I went walking with a guy called Ziggy Cameral, who plays
in a band called Phones, they’re part of the Fence Collective, and a woman
called Sue Mangal who plays with Vashti Bunyan, and we wrote the lyrics
together in about half an hour,” he adds. Blake played the song at the
workshop’s Friday night closing, then again, from time to time, when he played
solo acoustic sets. When work began on Shadows,
he pulled it out again “and the guys said, ‘Yeah, that works, let’s have it.’  So that’s how that song came about.”


Love’s song “Sometimes I Can’t Believe in Anything,” which opens
the album, came from an entirely different place. In the months leading up to
the recording sessions, Love had been spending time with his large extended
family. “When we were away, in the middle of nowhere, recording, I was thinking
about home a lot; what home was and what it meant to me,” he says. “Lyrically, ‘Sometimes’ is about those brief
moments when you’ve felt completely satisfied in your position, you want for
nothing, everything is exactly how it should be and life is utterly beautiful.”


“I wanted the music to be really open and simple,” he added. “I
think there are just two chords all the way, with a suspended bass note through
the verse which, I think, gives it an air of clarity, maybe a sense of


McGinley’s “Today Never Ends,” arose, by contrast, from
contemplation of the past. “I’ve
always thought about the past,” he says. “I think it’s a result of me having a
good memory, and the older you are the more past there is. But I’m aware that
contentment comes from what you do today, not from past experiences or planned
future activities, hence the ‘Today Never Ends’ thing.”


song took much of its shape in the studio, in collaboration with shadow Fannie
Dave McGowan. “This song is a good example of the creative process,” he adds. “We’re
in the studio discussing how to record this song. I say to Dave, ‘What do you
fancy playing on this?’  Dave says, ‘Pedal steel?’  I say, ‘Yeah,
okay.’ And that’s it.”


me creativity is as much about letting things happen as it is about having
pre-planned ideas. There is no right answer. If we’d recorded the song the
following day Dave might have said ‘piano’ or whatever and it would have been
completely different,” says McGinley.

One factor that influenced the way that these songs came out
was the simple fact that Teenage Fanclub was recording in the UK this time. Their last album, Man-Made, was recorded in Chicago with John McEntire.
They simply couldn’t bring all their instruments and equipments with them, so
the record had a stripped down sound to it. This time, they loaded a full truck
of instruments and hauled it all to Leeders Farm in Norfolk.


“We had, particularly, lots of small electronic keyboards, as well as
the usual array of electric and folky stringed instruments and a couple of nice
new shiny glockenspiels we picked up in Cologne
on the last tour,” says Love.  


“We thought, we’ve got all this equipment. We should use
it,” Blake remembers. “So we had many, many more overdubs on this record and
more harmonies going on.”


always says that it’s often the case that rather than being the result of
meditative sonic pontification, the sound of a record is defined to a certain
extent by which instruments you have lying around, or which pieces of gear work
when you switch them on,” says Raymond McGinley. “You know, ‘Oh, the vox organ
isn’t working, let’s use the Casio…’ or whatever. We had more musical ‘stuff’
around this time so the arrangements are more dense because we could play with
that stuff.”


to home, the band also had access to long-time collaborators like Dave McGowan
or folk fiddler John McCusker, who created all the string parts.

Yet while the album has its own distinct feel, Love says that it’s part of a
continuum. “I think all our music is part of the same
story, so in a sense everything is a continuation of day one. It’s a slow
evolution. I think our tastes have broadened through the years, and although
we’re still very much influenced by the same things, we have a deeper awareness
of textures and subtlety and I think our records have become richer as a
result. I think we’re better players now, but I imagine our earlier records
have more energy.”


Meanwhile, Blake recognizes that, even if the band isn’t on
a major label anymore, even if its commercial success is modest, he and the
other members are lucky to still be making their “minor songs in a major key,”
as he sings on “If I Still Have Thee.”


“I was thinking about our place in the world, that line came
to me,” he recalls. “I think we’re lucky that we’re still making records. We’re
touring. I’m standing in a lovely venue in Edinburgh at the moment. We get to do that.


“But you know, in the overall scheme of things and life in
general, a band doesn’t really mean very
much at all
. So yeah, it’s about that.”  



[Photo Credit: Donald Milne]



Ed. Note 2019: I want to make it clear that the essay, below, that McInnes wrote for us as part of our “The Most Fucked Up Thing I’ve Ever Seen” series was done years before his involvement with the loathesome alt-right white supremacist group the Proud Boys. In 2019, however, I would never provide him or any other hatemonger with a public forum – which is not censorship, but rather, an editorial call. (In similar fashion, had he submitted something back then that discussed topics similar to the Proud Boys’ ideology, I would have simply rejected it on the grounds that it was not relevant editorial content for Blurt.) The reason, however, that I haven’t just taken the easiest path and simply deleted the story now, is that after-the-fact censorship is, at the very least, very problematic for anyone who believes in the First Amendment, and as a journalist, I firmly believe in freedom of speech. And I’m also uncomfortable with so-called “cancel culture.” So to anyone doing a search on McInnes who lands on this page, please understand that we in no way support or condone McInnes, the Proud Boys, and white supremacism. But I do believe in maintaining as complete an archival record for Blurt as possible – the good, the bad, and the ugly.


New waver raped by fly, gets pregnant…


That’s Robert on the left. I have a place in Costa Rica that’s had various caretakers over the years. My favorite would have to be a funny little British man named Robert Dean. He was best known as guitarist of the new romantic band Japan but he also played with everyone from Sinead O’Connor to Gary Numan. I loved to get drunk with him and hear his amazing rock stories like when Gary Numan insisted his brother join the band and fake play the saxaphone or the time Numan got scurvy on tour after exclusively eating McDonald’s plain hamburgers every single day. Robert saw the Sonics play when they first started and even went to a Beatles concert when he was 12. I could talk to that guy for days. Anyway, after Japan peaked and played the Budokan, Robert looked down and realized he had become a total cokehead with zero grasp of reality. Not one for half measures, he chucked that entire life into the toilet and moved to Montezuma where he became a world-renowned bird expert almost over night. The dude is extreme. Bird watchers write down every bird they see and try to outdo each other by discovering rarer and rare birds. Robert decided he was going to outdo them all by spotting a keel-billed motmot. This required lying motionless in a swamp for 24 hours and staring at the same tree with binoculars. It worked. He called whatever Bird Society you call and after tough questions like, “Are you sure it wasn’t a blue crowned motmot?” Robert Dean was in the history books as one of the few people to see the “electron carinatum” in it’s (ever decreasing) natural habitat. There was only one problem. While he was sitting in that festering bog, a fucking botfly laid eggs in his forehead. The botfly is one of the most disgusting creatures imaginable and it reproduces by sneaking eggs on to a mammal’s skin (usually cattle) until a larva gets strong enough to crawl into a pore. Are you puking yet? The larvae then lives there for about a month eating the fat around it and getting strong enough to turn into a bug and come out the same hole it came in. When Robert came back and explained to me what the lump on his forehead was I screamed so loud the jungle exploded with scared birds. I was fucking hysterical. “How are you standing there telling me this?” I yelled incredulously. “If I had a fly fetus in my head I would carve it out immediately and then have 10,000 showers.” Seriously, can you imagine there was an insect larva under your skin right now? You would bite it out without hesitation. Robert however, was nonplussed. “I don’t really notice it” he shrugged. The only time he remembered he was harboring a motherfucking infant in his head was when it would move around every few hours. He’d hold his head and wince for a second and then happily move on. “Robert!” I’d stammer, “It hurts because it just ate the area it was in and it’s moving over to a new spot. You are being eaten by a parasite you asshole. Do something!” I don’t know if he was just enjoying seeing me squirm or he enjoyed feeling his own head squirm but I was determined to solve this revolting problem. My girlfriend was coming in a few days and I knew I wasn’t going to get laid if my friends were pregnant with insects. I sat him down at the local bar and after a few Tequilas, broke it down. “Robert” I told him calmly, “Do you realize, if you let this thing incubate and eventually fly out of your head, YOU WILL BE ITS MOTHER!?” This gave him pause, thank God. “Your progeny on this earth will be a HAIRY FUCKING FLY!” I added. While this tiny moment of sanity gripped my friend, I got a local farmer to convince him to suffocate the thing by covering the whole area with Vaseline – that’s what farmers do to their cows. “All right, why not?” Robert conceded like I was suggesting he give Diet Coke a whirl. This is when things got really gross. Robert went to bed with a big blob of Vaseline on his head and woke up with a dead abortion hanging out of his forehead (I just gagged remembering this). The larva had tried to make a break for it but suffocated halfway out of Robert’s head. It was huge and fluorescent pink with thick, black, coarse hairs jutting out of its back and it made me do hollering dry heaves that went, “HwooooACH! Huuuh. Huuuh. Whoooo. WuuuuuACH!” As I stumbled around the room trying to not faint, Robert smiled and pulled the larva out. It made a quiet “schlooop” sound that was so gut-wrenchingly nauseating, I ran out to the lawn and vomited on the grass. Then, without looking back, I ran from the house like it was incredibly haunted and didn’t come back until very late that night. The next morning I got in the shower and was beyond horrified to discover Robert’s dead son lying on the floor. I lept out and ran over to him completely naked and soaking wet with my eyes bulging out of my head. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” I asked. “How could you not BURN that thing? It’s lying on the shower floor. What were you thinking?” Robert didn’t understand what I was so freaked out about and answered the question totally literally. “I don’t know” he said casually, “When I saw it, I looked down and just thought, ‘There you are. You’re there.’” I swear that’s what he said, “There you are. You’re there.” I exhaled, shook my head and got a towel. Then I opened a beer and went out to the porch to try and digest the fact that I had an alien living in my house. I have met a lot of eccentrics over the years but Robert’s botfly apathy is something I will never even begin to comprehend. Soon after this, he moved to the nearby town of Monteverde because it was better for bird watching. The last I heard he got into body building and had become gigantic. Like I said, the dude is extreme. Gavin McInnes’ new photo book Street Boners: 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes is in stores May 27th and can be ordered here.


Gavin McInnes is the
co-founder of
Vice magazine and
author of the publication’s extremely popular
The Vice Guide to Eating
Pussy and The Vice Guide to Anal Sex.
He subsequently started the Street
Carnage company. You can track his ongoing contributions to popular culture at
the Street Carnage site (hint: fast forward to his “Hating Hipsters” section)
as well as his YouTube channel.


WE NEVER LEARN Eric Davidson & the Gunk Punk Undergut (Pt. 2)

If you were on the
garage-rock scene circa 1988 – 2001, these bands might have been your life.




More of my interview
with Eric Davidson, frontman for New Bomb Turks (pictured above) and author of
We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001. To read Part 1, go here, and also check out our gallery of photos and
gig posters
plus Davidson’s own blog.


BLURT: You contend
that most of this had run its course by the time we got to the
Stripes/Strokes/Hives neo-garage phase of the early ‘00s. Do you see any signs
of regeneration? For example, Pat Todd, from the Lazy Cowgirls, has the Rank
Outsiders and Dead Moon’s Fred and Toody Cole have the Pierced Arrows that are
doing well, both groups clearly carrying the torches of the earlier bands. The
Gories and Oblivians reunion tour last year went so well that the Gories just
announced they are going for it again.


DAVIDSON: Yeah, I think maybe I alluded to that earlier. In
fact, one of these reasons we decided on doing this book now was that it was
obvious that by mid-2000s, trashy sounds were slithering back into the indie
world via Hives, Black Lips, Clone Defects, Goner Records, Florida’s Dying,
etcetera. So many uber-trashy punk labels are out there now; and everyone wants
to jump on the vinyl bandwagon that all these bands effortlessly rode like a
Big Wheel for years. And I think I did mention in the book that many if not
most of these musicians are still active in music, like the ones you mentioned,
and Cheater Slicks, Dirtbombs, Reigning Sound, Jon Spencer, and on and on. Tim
Warren still runs Crypt Records; Larry Hardy has In the Red.

      Oh, New Bomb
Turks reunion gig at Bell House in Brooklyn on
June 26, by the way – and our drummer is RJD2’s drummer. Take that, smug Pitchfork stereotypers. 


You approached Jack
White for an interview but only received a bizarrely obtuse “statement” from
him concerning Edgar Allen Poe. Why do you think he wasn’t interested in cooperating?
Do you think he got wind that you were also talking to some of his detractors?


“Got wind”?! I made the fatal mistake of trying to be open
and honest, and sent him ten basic email questions; I said, answer however many
you want, or not. And I addressed right off in the intro note that I had talked
to Billy Childish, Jim Diamond [the Detroit producer who had a lawsuit against
White thrown out of court] and Long Gone John [of Sympathy Records, who
released the White Stripes’ early records but subsequently had a falling out
with White and lost the right to continue repressing them]. He could imagine
what they had to say. So if he’d like to address any of that, I would like to
get both sides. I tried to be fair and open. He decided to compare himself to Edgar
Allen Poe, via a book excerpt I think was swiped offa Wikipedia. Oh well.
Apparently money, fame, and a hot model don’t fix everything.

      Dave Crider,
Estrus Records head honcho, didn’t want to do an interview, but he simply sent
me a nice note saying good luck, but explaining that he wasn’t into rehashing
the past. And that’s cool, and classy.


How about telling our
readers a little about the New Bomb Turks and your ups and downs along the way?
You’ve got a classic story in the book about dealing with Jim Guernot, from
Time Bomb Recordings, who you characterize as “the model of the alt-rock era
‘cool A&R guy'” – I’m sure that will strike a chord among other musicians.


Ah, Guernot was alright. He was what he was, as they say. He
was pretty straight-forward with saying he wants his bands to tour until they
drop – a sure way to get the band you just gave a big advance to increase their
drug use and break up.

      Anyway, New Bomb
Turks guitarist Jim Weber and I met in a dorm at Ohio State,
friends right away, big music fans, Jim started playing guitar, we had a
college radio show, etcetera. We went to club shows like three, four times a
week; Columbus’ scene was the most active in Ohio in the ‘90s. And
early on, 1987-90, we noticed that our fave local bands – Gibson Bros., Great Plains, Scrawl – were either sort of slowing down
or touring. And new local bands were just “eh.” Some good ones, for what they
did, which was mostly in the Buttholes/Sonic Youth/grunge-y vein.

      But we just
wondered why the only bands in town that would say they liked “punk” were the
baggy-shorts skater straight-edge types who only played with other like-panted
bands. So Jim and I literally would say stuff like, “Why don’t we start a, uh, fun band? Is that so weird an idea?”

      “Ups and downs
along the way” could take another book. And you can read some of them in We Never Learn, of course. But…

      Ups: First few gigs, feeling like we’re
coming together. First gig at CBGB.

Crypt calling us and wanting to sign us! And just meeting
and hanging with the whole Crypt brood; especially hanging in Hamburg with Tim and Micha Warren… Recording
the albums.

      Meeting fans all
over, and remaining close with our two boon Frenchie pals, Jean-luc and Gilles!
The first Euro tour, and the second with the Devil Dogs. Touring with many of
our favorite bands – Teengenerate, Supersuckers, Gaunt… Shit, all the Euro tours; and Japan and Australia! I was never even on a
commercial jet until our first tour of Europe
in 1993. The 1996 three-week Euro tour with Red Aunts – our A&R guy at
Epitaph Europe was excited, as there were finally bands on the label he liked,
so they promoted it well; and hanging with the Red Aunts is too funny to go
into. Like rolling singer Terri down a hostel hallway at 4am in a shopping cart

      On tour,
flirting at after-parties with girls I’d probably never see again, and reveling
in the beautiful pathos of that…

      Any show in
Green Bay, Austin, Cleveland, and even NYC, because the crowds aren’t as disinterested
as people say; and even if so, we could bum around NYC for a day and blow money
at all the great record stores and slice joints – many of which are gone, of

      Mainly making
great records and sharing good times with my four best friends. Hanging onto
girlfriends along the way, well…

      Downs: Honestly, not too many. I mean when
you decide you want to pursue an artist’s life in America, you know you’re in for an
economically bumpy ride. So maybe I could’ve stashed away a bit of our “huge”
Epitaph advance, and today I could buy a used Ford Escort. With some sweet
flame stripes on the side!

      Having to boot
original drummer Bill Randt after our 1999 Australian tour really sucked. I
won’t go into details, but we were justified in doing so. It just sucked for
all the usual reasons. But then getting Sam Brown to join was an uber-UP, as
he’s such an amazing guy, amazing drummer, nice, hilarious, and a fine holder
of secrets. The last Epitaph album, and first with Sam – Nightmare Scenario (2000) – is probably my favorite Turks record.
Then, I thought that even up to our last official breaking up tour in late
2002, I honestly felt that we were as good live as we’d ever been, so it felt
good to go out on a high gear!


The Turks do occasional
reunions shows. What are the chances of a new record or full tour?


We officially broke up at the 2002-2003 New Year’s Eve show
in Cleveland
with the Dirtbombs and Bassholes. Since then, we’ve decided that as long as we
feel able to, we’ll get together a couple times a year to play some kinda
special show, like an invite to a Euro fest or a friend’s wedding or something.
We’re all still friends and somewhat musically active, so it’s not hard to whip
up a couple practices and get out there and yalp. But it’s kinda doubtful we’d
have the time or inclination to come up with and record some new tunes. Maybe a
covers single or something, who knows…


Name three events
that you feel stand out as clear milestones of the era you document in the


This is WAY too tough, and three ain’t enough, but… (1) The
Bad Musick Seminar in NYC, 1988 – Tim Warren’s piss-take on the ol’ New Music
Seminar festival. But with Thee Mighty Caesars, Raunch Hands, A-Bones, Rat
Bastards, and an uber-drunk Tim bouncing around an abandoned midtown warehouse,
it kind of kick-started whatever I think I’m covering in this book.

      (2) Me seeing a
Replacements poster on Jim Weber’s dorm room wall, and striking up a chat.
How’s that for self-importance! But if that’s too groan-inducing, how about the
Gories first trip to play NYC in 1989. Or Billy Childish
inspiring/digging/writing back the Mummies and recording the Devil Dogs all
around the same time, circa 1989. Or the Dwarves’ “HeWhoCannotBeNamed is dead”
controversy that either showed the simmering trash-punk world had some growing
steam to piss off a big label; or that self-styled cynical trash-punk fans
could have the wool pulled over their eyes too; or simply that the Dwarves put
out one of the best albums of this thing (Blood,
Guts & Pussy
, 1990, Sub Pop), and made it even better with piss-taking
Sub Pop’s fame, making grunge – at least in one strata of the alt-music world –
not the only game in town.

      Maybe Jon
Spencer Blues Explosion’s sheer, undeniably amazing live show ultimately
getting them opening slots for Beastie Boys and playing Lollapalooza and such,
as that helped spread the word on the Crypt/In the Red/Sympathy world to rote
“modern primitives,” trendy Euros, and mall alt-rockers. People sometimes
forget how great they became live while sticking with labels like In the Red
for some of their releases and bringing bands like Cheater Slicks and such onto
their own gigs. Not too many bands in my book got into the pages of GQ, and on Spanish TV shows, and stuff
like that. Not that things like that are always THE goal, of course. But bigger
mags and opening slots for huge bands were solid ways (in the pre-internet
world) to get younger kids to hear these kind of violent sounds. 

      In a weird way,
the Andre Williams record, Silky (1998, In the Red) is important because, as backed up by the two-thirds of the
Gories, it was a kind of trash super group (not necessarily good or bad, but a
sign that there is a kind of scene capable of creating such a monster); and it
really, totally kicked in the now standard preference for greasy roots R&B
in the previously often honky-heavy garage-punk world.

       (3) Either the release of the first Killed By Death compilation in 1989, or…
The Hives and White Stripes success/fame and subsequent contractual flaps: bad
for the principals involved on a personal level; but proof that the garage-punk
rumblings that had been going on in the ‘90s had found a way to bubble up via
actually good bands; then proof that getting to “the top” can mean lots of
bullshit like contractual flaps; and then instigated a kind of sonic backlash
via the Memphis-Detroit-Chicago axis that is still producing nasty garage-punk
today. Both the Hives and White Stripes surviving it all to make more good
records, which was not always the case with hit “trend” bands of the past.


Who, to you, were the
three most important Gunk Punk bands?


Eegads! Well, if I must,
but I’m making it longer, in relative chronological order…

      Various Billy Childish groups
consistent, unrelentingly trashy recording and honesty.

      Lazy Cowgirls – Whipping up all raw
American roots music fast-like before most did, before hardcore even.

      Pussy Galore – Template-setting garbage
noise leap forward for garage punk.

      Dwarves – They made the perfect rock ‘n’
roll record, Blood, Guts & Pussy, and had probably the best overall live evocation of the We Never Learn icky ethos.

      Gories – Mick Collins says it best in
the book – essentially, when he heard all those lame post-Nuggets comps’ ads say “Wild, primitive garage rock!” then he
bought them and they were jangly folk, he said they decided to make records as
wild and primitive as those comps claimed. And did!

      Supersuckers – No one really sounded like the Ramones, the Saints, and Motorhead in 1990. Burped out a great sense of humor while
living and playing within the often self-serious grunge central, Seattle.

      Mummies – Along with the Gories, truly
reiterating the “anyone can do it” stance. The disgusting stained mummy outfits
as a retort to the dress-up surf revival going on around them was a nice touch.

      Devil Dogs – Being one of the best rock ‘n’
roll bands ever, playing every show with sweaty urgency, and having Andy G
hilariously spout off at all the jerks in the audience, yet winning them over,
all make up the general savoir faire of gunk punk.

      New Bomb Turks, natch  – Mike Lavella said to me, “I don’t know how
you’re going to write this book without saying what a big deal your band and
that first album was on the scene.” So there, I said it here. Ha!

      Oblivians – Their informed roots and
extremely well-written songs – blasted sloppy through a revived sense of trash
after early side-projects – made them a kind of garage punk 7″ tidal wave era
cresting point, that washes down on bands to this day, where their reunion gigs
are selling out in a few days.

      Teengenerate – Ditto, only WAY trashier
even; maybe the most explosive live act of this whole thing.

      HivesVeni, Vidi, Vicious was a truly great, catchy-approachable album
that yanked a lot of this book’s aesthetic chutzpah into the charts, which has
never been easy. The Ramones couldn’t even do it!

      Clone Defects – The Defects – whom I
used to help sneak into Detroit area shows and watch piss people off around
town before they formed – knew their garage-punk shit, and then ate it again,
shitting it out as a cosmic mind-bending meal for another generation, I

      Black Lips – Similar job as the Clone
Defects, only more Replacements drunk-winkers than Crime acid-eaters.


One final question
then – bonus question! With my advance copy of We Never Learn came a 20-song promotional CD of bands featured in
the book, whereas regular consumers will have to be satisfied with a download
code for the tracks. Potential eBay gold for collector scum like me?


I’d assume the vinyl bootleg that will hopefully be spawned
soon will go for 10 bucks; the CD the same in 5 years when we’re all clamoring
for “vintage” CD players… Har.

      I do want to say
that there are unreleased tracks on that comp – and the previously released
tracks are pretty damn rare too.






WE NEVER LEARN Eric Davidson & the Gunk Punk Undergut (Pt. 1)

If you were on the
garage-rock scene circa 1988 – 2001, these bands might have been your life.




Where were you in ’92? It’s a fair question, and think
carefully before answering, because if your answer even tangentially involves
invoking such terms as “Seattle,”
“grunge,” “Nirvana” or – worst of all – “alternative,” then this story ain’t for
you, pal.


For me, in 1992 I’d landed in the desert where for the next
decade I helped operate a Tucson,
Ariz., independent record store.
During that time I experienced firsthand, as only a record store clerk can
experience, the alterna-ascent and its subsequent crumbling; and having already
lived, musically culturally speaking, through the tail end of the ‘60s and all
of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I’m confident in my assertion that for the most part the
‘90s were an aesthetic wasteland. Ask me sometime about selling Limp Bizkit CDs
to scary-looking shaved-head dudes and their skanky girlfriends… but I digress.


There were, however, occasional glimmers of hope that always
managed to pull me back from the do-a-Cobain precipice of despair, and it now
does my aging ticker and cholesterol-clogged arteries good to learn that I
wasn’t quite as alone as I sometimes felt. To wit: the just-published book We Never Learn (Backbeat Books), by
journalist Eric Davidson (CMJ, Village
etc.) – some of you may also know him as the frontman for the late,
great, and occasionally reunited, New Bomb Turks.


We Never Learn is
subtitled “The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001,” and you won’t be surprised to
learn that the tome takes a good hard – if sometimes freewheeling, and of
necessity (considering the topic) sprawling – look at what was going on outside
the mainstream. And by “mainstream” we are indeed talking about alterna-rock
and its crummy variants and not Madonna, Aerosmith or the Backstreet Boys. Make that under the mainstream – an alternative to “alternative.”


As the subtitle suggests, the book takes up the tale in the
late ‘80s following a quick recap of some of the musical events earlier
the decade. Davidson points out how the critical consensus
has typically been that the eighties were rock’s worst decade, a notion
probably as much eye-of-the-beholder as anything else (see my own
assessment of
the nineties, above), but there’s no question that a lot of what went
down did
make things ripe for a new rock ‘n’ roll rumble along the lines of
1976-77. We
Never Learn
ends, more or less, with the neo-garage movement of the
‘00s – White Stripes, Hives, Strokes, Jet et
– and notes, accurately, that by this point the music scene had
too fragmented to support a bonafide, lasting “movement.”


In between, We Never
road trips from Cleveland and Davidson’s home base of Columbus over to Detroit
and New York; down to Pittsburgh
then out to Clackamas, Ore.;
across the Pacific to Australia
and Japan, then across the
Atlantic to England, Germany and Sweden; and myriad map-dots in
between. Boy meets girl; girl won’t sleep with boy; boy forms band to impress
the girl; girl still won’t sleep with the boy so he records a 45 and his band
goes out on tour; band gets ripped off by shady club promoters and fly-by-night
record labels but still has a whale of a beer-swimming, living-room-crashing
and (on occasion, at least) nubile-poking good time; band breaks up; repeat


Oh, almost forgot – band gets to dress up like total
lunatics if it so desires, as this quote from a member of the Mummies, about
their pre-show ritual of donning mummy attire, so vividly illustrates:


“We were getting
dressed, but there weren’t any dressing rooms. So we’re in the alley behind the
club, fucking freezing, getting into these wet stinky, cold-as-fuck costumes.
When we started, we actually wrapped Ace bandages, and then we realized that
took too long. So we sewed stuff onto pants and shirts. So here we are getting
dressed in the alley… We carried a can of Lysol with us. We suit up,
spread-eagle, and one of the guys would spray us down… It’s not like the next
morning you want to go to a Laundromat. You want to go to a record store.”


Now that’s entertainment.
Really, you had to be there. But if you weren’t, We Never Learn is the next best thing.


And Davidson, from his twinned perspective as a collector of
both vintage and contemporary punk rock records and as a touring and recording
musician – the New Bomb Turks were, happily, one of the era’s semi-success
stories, having formed in Ohio just as the ‘90s were dawning and lasting
through 2002, in the process cutting records for such tastemaker labels as
Crypt, Sympathy For the Record Industry, Get Hip, Epitaph and Gearhead – is
eminently qualified to tell the story. He rounds up many of the usual suspects
and then some, eliciting choice quotes (and in some instances printing,
verbatim, entire Q&A sessions) from the likes of Crypt’s Tim Warren, In The
Red’s Larry Hardy, Sympathy’s Long Gone John, Billy Childish, Jon Spencer, Blag
Jesus of the Dwarves, collector Johan Kugelberg (of Killed By Death punk compilations and Matador Records fame), Greg
Cartwright of the Oblivians/Compulsive Gamblers/Reigning Sound, Eddie Spaghetti
of the Supersuckers, Nicholaus Arson of The Hives, producer Jim Diamond, fellow
journalist Byron Coley (who also pens the book’s Foreword)… the list is nearly


As is the list of bands who get their 15 minutes’ worth of
retroactive fame in We Never Learn.
Just to name a few who, not so coincidentally, are also included in a handy
appendix listing Davidson’s picks for the Top 50 singles and Top 100 albums of
the era: Cosmic Psychos, Death of Samantha, Gories, Lazy Cowgirls, Dead Moon,
Teengenerate, Cheater Slicks, Gaunt, Gibson Brothers, Reatards, Doo Rag, Devil
Dogs, Prisonshake, Pussy Galore, Muffs, Bassholes, Mono Men, Raunch Hands and –
yours truly’s fave outta the whole batch – Union Carbide Productions.


(Ironically, one of the bands featured prominently, and
rightfully so, is the White Stripes, whose contributions to the punk-garage
scene are enormous, but whose frontman, Jack White, essentially turned down
Davidson’s request for a brief interview by instead sending back a cryptic
manifesto involving Edgar Allen Poe.)


At times the names of Davidson’s correspondents and the
bands being discussed tumble off the page like magnetic alphabet letters being
violently shaken off a refrigerator door, leaving the reader to try to make
sense of the resulting jumble of reflections, anecdotes and descriptions.
That’s okay; having been neck-deep at the time in this whole scene myself,
writing about the bands as they were happening and also, as record buyer for
that Tucson store, stocking their 45s, LPs and CDs, I reckon that the anarchic
pace at which We Never Learn reads is
a pretty fair approximation of how events were actually unfolding in real time.
I mean, I seem to recall how in just one memorable two-week stretch alone I got
to see Prisonshake, the Lazy Cowgirls, Southern Culture on the Skids, the Cosmic
Psychos AND Stone Temple Pilots… whoops… well, you get my point.


Granted, with just a few exceptions, nobody caught up in all
this got particularly rich or famous. But nobody fully expected to, either.


“The concentration
[was] on action,”
explains Davidson, in his Prologue, “and for that, these acts ultimately released an intensely impressive
mountain of music, toured like mad with a perseverance and revived desire to
entertain (in the face of hardcore punk’s serious scowl), and engendered the
kind of slobbering fan loyalty usually reserved for Kennedy assassination


Come to think of it, maybe the ‘90s didn’t suck all that
bad. It takes a book like this however, to excavate the silver lining from the
charred detritus of the decade, pardon the fractured metaphor. Much like
Michael Azerrad’s crucial volume Our
Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991
outlined an
earlier milieu, We Never Learn offers an invaluable secret history that
by virtue of its pre-Internet origins was in danger of remaining secret. Here’s
hoping that more folks gradually come out of the woodwork to get their stories
down on paper (blog?) along with a steady stream of reissues to ensure that the
actual music doesn’t get lost in a labyrinth of dusty garages, attics and


Speaking of resurrecting the music, included with the book is
a card containing a download code that will nab you a free 20-song compilation
of choice songs, several of them (by the Dwarves, Cheater Slicks, Cynics, No
Talents and New Bomb Turks) previously unreleased live or demo tracks. Most of
the tunes have never been digitized before, so consider the We Never Learn anthology a tossing down
of the gauntlet. Who’ll step up to the plate next?


I traced Davidson to his digs in Brooklyn and, resisting the
urge to get all “oooh, Brooklyn, how trendy – are we talking Park Slope?”
on him, I took a ride down memory lane with the fiery singer-scribe. Check it
out, and after you’re done, hop over to (1) our gallery of selected images from
the book; and (2) Davidson’s blog, which is loaded with
even more extended looniness (that repro of a late 1990’s Guitar Wolf gig
setlist – scrawled in Japanese, no less – is pretty ace) along with loads of
essential supplementary gunk punk info.




BLURT: First of all,
why a book that essentially covers the ‘90s milieu NOW? With Alice
In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Third Eye Blind,
Soundgarden, etc. all back in the news, we’re rapidly approaching ‘90s burnout


DAVIDSON: Har! Yeah, forget all the Mummies, Rip Offs,
Oblivians, Gories, Teengenerate, and New Bomb Turks reunions! (Did we mention
the Pixies for the millionth time?) Well yeah, you probably need at least 15
years away from something to gauge “import.” And 1988 was 22… But “import”
wasn’t what I was after so much as stories of thrown bottles, fast records, and
European bands with miniskirts. And lord knows crap like Alice in Chains got nothin’ to do with the
inspiring scrounginess of the We Never
landscape! Plus, walk through Williamsburg
and you’d swear it’s still 1987 anyway; yes, people wear acid washed jeans and
think Paul Simon’s Graceland is good. It’s a 1987 mom paradise… so I’m way ahead of the curve.


You don’t have to
sell me on the importance of documenting it. But if the proverbial Martian
landed and wanted to know what all the fuss was about, what would you say to
convince him that these were groups that mattered and that their stories need
to be told?


“Mattered” is too loaded a term, and I’m not one to say. Of
course I think all the bands I covered in the tome put out more than one great
record, and might and/or already have slowly wormed their way into the
underbelly of the underbelly of the trashiest guitar bands out there – Black
Lips, King Kahn & BBQ, Jay Reatard, Times New Viking, No Bunny, Spits,
Cheap Time, Human Eye, Baby Shakes; all the trash punk labels that have revived
the vinyl 7″ of late – Goner, Criminal, I.Q., HoZac, etcetera; and on and on.
For those who know this stuff, no justification is necessary, just more fun stories
of thrown bottles.

      But for those
outside of that bunch, I do think if you grew up in or are a general fan of the
1990s alternative rock explosion thingy, this book gathers stories of many
bands that floated just below the hype radar, and have stories of that
skimming-by world that would interest you. Lots of wild rock stories in
general. And by the end of the book, some somewhat known bands tell their major
label tales – Muffs, Rocket from the Crypt, Nashville Pussy, Jon Spencer,
Supersuckers – and it all ends with the White Stripes/Hives/Strokes/Jet
“neo-garage” trend of the early 2000s that sprung from all the ‘90s gutter
garage punk action.

      As far as trying
to determine “influence,” again, I wouldn’t be that presumptuous. Except to say
that with the digital age, delineating musical influence will be much more
complicated than it used to be. I remember buying the first Velvet Underground
reissues in 1985, and thinking – since none of my friends knew much about Lou
Reed, forget the Velvets – like, “Wow, a major label is reissuing these
records; R.E.M. and U2 are covering them; and it’s like 20 years after they
formed!” It took a looooong time for “lost” bands to make their way through the
tape trader/college radio/grumpy record store clerk pipeline… and aside from
the cool sounds, that time and effort also added to the bands’ presumed
visionary importance.

      Today, hep blogs
trip over themselves to be the first to find that great lost band – usually
just typing the name into Google – that they’ll then instantly post an mp3 of,
before another blog finds the next band in the next hour. And these could be
bands that put out two great singles in 2006. Not to say that that is any less
important or meaningful to the person posting those songs or whatever. I’m just
saying that as genres, fans, and the loss of defined record labels and ideas of
a “hit” or “bomb” disperse throughout the digital ether, nailing down a few
bands that made an impact will be, well, just different. So who fuckin’ knows?

      Plus, in America, things
usually “matter” based on sales; and if that’s your bag, this ain’t the book
for you.

      As for the
Martians, I’d start with explaining Little Richard first… 


In your prologue you
state that “an identifiable and marketable genre name” for these bands hasn’t
yet been coined – and then you turn around and coin it: Gunk Punk. Care to tell
us the origins of that term?


“Action punk” ain’t bad… From the start – and part of that
particular passage you mentioned was one of the first things I scribbled out
for the book, sans the “gunk punk” term – I didn’t want to shove everything
into one genre tag, since you know how bands hate that. “Hey man, you can’t
define me, man!”

      I respect that.
But that was slowly happening over the writing/editing process anyway. Now I
know – beyond the guitar-bass-drums-lead singer set-up – that this is a fairly
diverse group of bands. I made up the “Gunk Punk Undergut” subtitle a long time
ago just because I thought it sounded fun. I love me some rhyming alliteration!
But the editor convinced me that beyond the people who will already know this
stuff, you kind of need to cobble so much together into some kind of narrative
or connective idea/term. And gunky sounds about right. All the bands, no matter
the diverse tempos, stage presence, or attitude, all put an emphasis on trashy
sound quality, loose playing, sweaty stage show, and musical roots in garagey ‘50s/’60s/’70s
stuff, with less regard for ‘80s hardcore – which most “punk” bands in the late
‘80s/early ‘90s would’ve said they mostly grew up on. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Black Flag.)

      So yeah, it’s
strange, but I think Byron Coley did an amazing job in his Foreword at
conveying the “what the heck” impetus of trying to label all this, uh, gunk.


I relate your book a
lot to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could
Be Your Life
– was that an inspiration?


Yeah, of course, total inspiration! As was Please Kill Me, and in another weird
way, My So-Called Punk. The author of
that book is a totally nice guy, and it’s a decent-written thing. But it
covered so many bands I thought were – while nominally and briefly “popular” –
totally inconsequential, forgettable, and dopey. Admittedly, the author was
just trying to show where the 2000’s mainstream definition of “punk” – Green
Day, mascara, and Hot Topic – came from, and covered the pop-punk world. I’m
sure it will outsell my book tenfold.

      But all the
recent “punk” books and documentaries inspired me, because most all of them – NOT
Our Band Could Be Your Life – seem to
jump over most of the ‘80s and all the ‘90s to just name Nirvana as bringing
punk to the mainstream. As if that was the point of punk in the first place.
That might be because the people writing those histories are even older than me;
and let’s face it, the 1990s were not that long ago (despite the internet’s idea of “generational”); and most of the bands
in my book did not dent mainstream charts.


What do you think
were some of the more significant parallels and differences between the
experiences of the bands in Azerrad’s book and the ones in yours?


Needless to say, all the bands in We Never Learn benefited from the DIY template that was nobly set
forth by bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, etcetera. I hate when old dudes,
especially old musician dudes, blow hard about the “In my day, we used to have
to walk 20 miles, with our gear, to play for frozen pizza rolls!” So I
consciously kept that kind of bitching in mind and out of the book – I hope.
It’s true that cell phones and wi-fi laptops might’ve alleviated a lot of
sitting around, planning cancelled gigs, or thumbing rides out on the flat tire
tour road. I thought that topic would be a much bigger part of We Never Learn.

      But really, when
I asked bands, “How could today’s internet technology have helped the band…?” the
tales weren’t too interesting: “Eh, I guess having a cell phone woulda helped”
was the usual brief response. Though of course I think there is a thread
underneath a lot of the stories in the book that current young’uns might
identify as “Whoa, that musta sucked!” Promoting your band via Facebook,
MySpace, email, et al is much easier
and direct than spending hours and afternoons running around town stapling up
fliers and having disgruntled shopkeepers or other local bands tear them down
the instant you walk away… And I do think home recording via ProTools and such
will make “forming a band” a much different proposition. See: Wavvves, Kurt
Vile, etcetera.

      I will say that,
compared to the Our Band bands, during
most of the ‘90s, clubs were more amenable to booking bands that played
originals and noisier music. Most of the bands I interviewed that began their
musical work before 1988 mentioned how the clubs in their towns only wanted to
book cover bands, and they had no place to play besides house parties.
Basically no bands that formed after 1990 said that. The idea of VFW halls,
abandoned warehouses, or some buddy’s basement as completely suitable places to
play a gig were becoming an accepted norm for bands and audiences; so finding gigs was probably a little easier.

      Also, the
relatively larger amount of money in the major labels around the late-‘80s (CD
heyday) and early/mid-‘90s (alt-rock explosion and boom) meant that
bands that got signed were getting decent advances and a little tour support –
both of which are simply gone and never coming back in the music industry except
for obvious huge pop stars.

      Those things are
sort of connected parallels and differences.

      Obvious differences
would be that there were many, many more indie labels to choose from for these
bands; 4-track recording became more accessible; and the 7″ became more popular
again in the early-‘90s, and so you could find out about how to get one made a
lot easier. I remember when I first starting meeting local bands in the mid-‘80s,
if one had a record coming out, it seemed impossible, some magical dream,
wondering where the giant pressing plant may be hiding on some hill in Croatia
or something. The whole process was so divorced from everyday reality. Now,
it’s an icon sitting next to the “Drunk Friend Pix” folder on your laptop.

      Also, the indie
labels’ importance became greater on a larger level, not quite as cloistered as
in the early-‘80s. Like Entertainment
coming to Columbus
in 1994 and doing a four-page spread on “an indie scene!” (Ironically, I was
just told that EW would probably not review my book because “1990s indie
punk is not a mainstream enough topic.” Isn’t “indie” a pop culture buzzword
these days?)

      All that said,
for the majority of the bands in We Never
, that money I mentioned that was floating around was floating around
the major labels; and most clubs were
still dicks about guarantees and such; soundguys still weren’t patient with
our, uh, less obsessive musical expertise. Insurance was becoming a bigger,
more expensive problem – a concern when booking Gunk-y bands. Your band could maybe get a decent guarantee because
even if no one came to your show, they’ll come to see the NOFX or Butthole
Surfers show later in the week, so the club would make their money. (I realize
I’m relating this from a standpoint of my band being on Crypt and Epitaph, so
having a little name cred helped when booking shows. I can’t speak for every single
band.) But that didn’t mean the promoter wouldn’t leave before you finished
your set, or the huge bouncer got in the way when haggling afterwards. Us punks
were still the gutter bums coming around for our government cheese. “Perceived”
profits of that era often meant clubs and labels thought they should be making
more off of you – y’know, that band that just got “paid” with 20 tour copies of
a single. Plus, there weren’t a lot of trust fund kids in this scene to
buttress the lesser bands, like say, oh, at Dischord Records. (Hey-o! I kid, I kid!)



To be continued…
tune in tomorrow for part two of my interview with Davidson, in which he talks
about the contemporary trash rock scene, his bizarre interaction with the White
Stripes’ Jack White and the career arc of the New Bomb Turks, plus a checklist
of key bands and events marking the gunk punk milieu.


Go to our little gallery of We Never Learn photos and gig posters right here at BLURT.


[Pictured above: The Mummies (duh)]