Monthly Archives: October 2010

MOOG’D OUT! MoogFest, and the Legacy of Bob Moog

With the electronic
music/alt-rock festival set for this weekend in N.C., we pay tribute to the man
who inspired it all.




“He planted the


The “he” would be the late Dr. Robert Moog, and the seed he
planted was his signature invention, the Moog synth, which as most everyone
knows was instrumental in the evolution of electronic music – a bountiful
musical harvest.


The above quote comes from Dr. Moog’s daughter Michelle
Moog-Koussa, who as executive director of The Bob Moog Foundation
( is charged with furthering her father’s legacy. To that
end she’s spent the better portion of the past five years spearheading a series
of projects ranging from preserving and organizing the Bob Moog Archives (which
include vintage gear, personal notes and correspondence and hundreds of hours
of tapes); to a student outreach program designed to get kids interested in
electronic music and instruments; to the delightfully-named “Moogseum” which is
intended to display artifacts representative of the Moog legacy as well as
serve as a unique historical and hands-on resource for the public.


Although, it must be said, it’s equally clear that the
familial connection lends a personal element to Moog-Koussa’s efforts, too. As
she put it in a 2008 interview with BLURT, reflecting on her dad’s death in
2005, at the age of 71, and her subsequent decision to establish the
Foundation, “Immediately following Dad’s passing, thousands of people around
the world paid tribute to the effect that Dad had on their lives, both through
his instruments and through his warm, humble spirit. My father has a unique and
beautiful legacy of touching people’s lives through innovation, creativity and
human warmth. The Bob Moog Foundation aims to carry that legacy forward. As my
father would say ‘What’s not to like?'”


What’s not to like, indeed. This weekend, October 29, 30 and
31 in Asheville, NC, home to Moog Music, which continues to design and produce
in-demand electronic gear, there’s going to be a whole lot to like when some 50-odd musical artists descend upon
the artsy, bohemian-tilting mountain city and take part in a marathon Bob Moog
celebration that most observers agree marks the biggest musical event ever to
happen here. Full disclosure: I live in Asheville,
so I’m particularly partial to the city and its music scene; but I can recognize
a phenomenon when I see/hear one.


It’s dubbed MoogFest 2010 – official website is – and it represents the logical evolution for MoogFest, which had taken place
as single-night events in previous years in NYC featuring the likes of Keith
Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Money Mark, Jan Hammer, DJ Logic, Jordan Rudess of Dream
Theatre and others. If you’ve kept up with some of the BLURT news clips about
the event or entered in our ticket giveaway contest, you already know that this
year’s event features some of the biggest names in electronica and alternative
rock, performing over the course of the e three evenings and at multiple
venues. Among the artists: MGMT, Massive Attack, Big Boi, Girl Talk, Van Dyke
Parks w/Clare and the Reasons, Thievery Corporation, Jonsi, Caribou, Four Tet,
Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, DJ Spooky, Projek Moog With Brian Kehew, Nortec
Collective Presents Bostich + Fussible and RJD2. (Cee-Lo, originally announced as the
Sunday headliner, had to cancel due to a scheduling conflict, while just
yesterday DEVO announced they were postponing their current tour following an
injury sustained by Bob Mothersbaugh. As of this writing, Mark Mothersbaugh and
Bob Casale are still scheduled to attend and are reportedly planning to work up
some type of musical presentation.)  Shows
will be kicking off on a staggered basis around 6pm each night at the Asheville Civic Center,
the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and the Orange Peel Club, and the performances will
extend until 2:30 in the morning with late night sets at the Stella Blue club
and the aptly-named “Moogaplex,” established specifically for MoogFest.


Meanwhile, on Saturday and Sunday at the Moogaplex there
will be daytime workshops, interactive exhibitions and panel discussions
ranging from several synth history panels (one, titled “The Birth of the
Minimoog,” will feature early Moog collaborator Herb Deutsch and Moog Cookbook
keyboardist Brian Kehew) to performance demonstrations involving the Theremin,
Moogerfooger, the Moog Guitar and the Abominatron. Local independent movie
house the Fine Arts Theatre plans to screen a pair of documentaries, “Bouncing
Cats” by Nabil Elderkin & Red Bull Media House (Oct. 30) and “Moog” by Hans
Fjellestad, the latter offering a Q&A with Deutsch and DJ Spooky after the
screening. There wil also be an art display, “Synth: A Group Art Show Inspired
By Bob Moog,” featuring limited-edition prints for sale from a number of
acclaimed contemporary poster artists and graphic designers; proceeds will go
to the Moog Foundation. Leading up to all this has been a series of contests
open to the public including the MoogFest/ Remix Contest (Moving Temple
And Peripheral gets a DJ slot on Oct. 31 at one of the venues for submitting
the winning entry, a remix of Hot Chip’s “We Have Love”) and the Moog Circuit
Bending Challenge, in which three finalists will be selected to showcase their
soldering skills at the Moogaplex and compete for a grand prize.


Speaking of prizes: on Oct. 29, attending members of DEVO
will be presented the Moog Innovation Award by the folks from Moog Music. The
award “celebrates
pioneering artists whose genre-defying work exemplifies the bold, innovative
spirit of Bob Moog” and will also be accompanied by the presentation of a
special synthesizer to the band.


Says Moog-Koussa, of this year’s blowout, “I attended the
MoogFests in New York,
and they were one night, they were at the BB King nightclub and held about 500
people, and maybe four or five hours long. So I thought it sounded really
exciting since the musical possibilities for a weekend are huge. [Concert
promoters] Ashley Capps and AC Entertainment showed us they could fill up that
weekend with a great variety – Moog Music and The Bob Moog Foundation are both
supporting and partnering with AC in different ways, but it really was Ashley’s
vision. I’d have to give him 100% credit for that, and I personally feel like
we’re really lucky for him to have an interest in this and to be able to pull
it off so well.”


(View the MoogFest schedule of performances, panels and
workshops, along with locator maps of the venues and additional details on the
contests and more, at the website.)


“It’s going to be a
great weekend – I really think it’s just going to be epic.”


That’s AC Entertainment founder Capps speaking, making an
insider’s prediction about MoogFest. He’s been promoting concerts throughout the
region for more than three decades, including, not insignificantly, the annual
Bonnaroo Festival as well the smaller but no less critically acclaimed Big Ears
Festival in Knoxville,
where AC is based. So if the man uses a term like “epic,” pay attention.


“MoogFest has been in a state of evolutionary development
for at least three years or more,” Capps continues. “The idea is something I’ve
thought about and talked about with people for quite a long time. I’ve always
thought that Asheville,
with its support for the arts and live music in general, was the perfect
setting for a great festival. And MoogFest had a tradition [as] an event that
was being staged in New York City.
So with that existing MoogFest it took awhile to work through this idea that
rather than it being this one day event in New York, why not do it in Bob Moog’s
adopted hometown, the place where Moog Music is still churning out amazing new
instruments and developing new products. And invite people to this magnificent
city for the celebration. That’s really the crux of the issue, or at least the
real catalyst for developing the event.


“Certainly [with] the planning of an event, new
opportunities have emerged and certain ones we’ve been able to incorporate and
certain other ones we may have to wait a year or two before they become a
reality. But the scope of the festival that you see right now was planned from
the beginning. It’s complicated, and it’s very time consuming to put something
like this together, so the unfolding of the various elements, especially for a
first year event, is really just part of the process.”


In addition to the no-brainer aspect of staging MoogFest in
Robert Moog’s back yard, Capps cites the layouts and physical proximity of the venues
and the Moogaplex and the general “walkability” of Asheville as key to ensuring that the Oct.
29-31 weekend will be a success. “To this day I’m really excited about being involved
with Bonnaroo,” he says. “It’s an amazing event and I love outdoor music
festivals. But I’m also very attracted to these more boutique oriented
festivals that have a theme and take place utilizing indoor venues where you
can create different types of experiences for the artists and fans. Our focus
is on those details and trying to surprise people, not only with great music on
a stage, but [with] visual design elements too. [For MoogFest] we’re working
with some visual artists to try to transform some of these rooms into some
pretty incredible experiences visually as well. And we’re also limiting the
number of ticket sales so we can provide the very best possible experience for
everyone that we can.


“Also, one of the key components of making that experience
work for me, at least, is the walkability of the city: people need to be able
to experience the festival on foot, and Asheville
certainly affords that opportunity. And you’re right – the longest distance,
Asheville Civic Center to the Orange Peel, is not only merely a ten minute
walk, it’s a fun ten minute walk with
lots of fun stuff taking place along the way.”


On that latter point, yours truly can weigh in readily with
a “boy howdy.” To anyone reading this who is attending MoogFest and is not familiar with Asheville – which just
this past Sunday, was the subject of a glowing “36 Hours In…” profile in the New York Times – I’d recommend partaking
as much as possible of the local flavors while in town. The downtown area where
the official MoogFest events are taking place Friday through Sunday is
literally crammed with eateries, coffee shops, clubs and bars of all imaginable
persuasions, with the Lexington Avenue and Biltmore Avenue stretches in particular
providing plenty of touristy bounce to the ounce (record collectors: check out
the Voltage, Static Age and Karmasonics music stores). As Capps noted, it’s a
walking-distance city that won’t tax the ankles and arches unduly, and the
relative density should also play enabler to all you Gawker types determined to
play spot-the-musicians. Make sure you ask a bartender for a pint of Moog
Filtered Ale
while you’re here. Also, for those of you who get in on Friday, do
not miss the Friday night drum circle at nearby Pritchard Park, as it’s a
boho-bash par excellence suitable for upright citizens and visiting deviants


Too, depending on the length of your stay and how much time
you can allot to fanning out in the area, there’s plenty to do. A MoogFest
Pre-Party will take place Thursday night at The Southern (Lexington Ave.)
featuring a DJ set from King Britt, while an After Party will run Sunday night
until 4am at the Flood Gallery (on Roberts Street, in the nearby River Arts
District adjacent to downtown). Not far from the River Arts District is West
Asheville, also bohemian-tilting and home to a slew of restaurants, bars and
shops – notably, BLURT’s buddies at Harvest Records, easily the finest
independent record store in the region. Lastly, if you’re outdoors-inclined,
riding up on the Blue Ridge
Parkway to take in the views or hit a hiking trail
should definitely be on your itinerary, as the weather is generally beautiful
this time of year in the mountains, and as of this writing it looks like we’re
headed for a clear-skies weekend.


“It’s all a
celebration of his spirit and the technology he innovated.”


If you go to the Moog Music website you can read a fairly detailed
bio of Dr. Moog, a two-time Grammy winner. His story, in brief: from making
Theremins in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, he created the first Moog Modular
Synthesizer in ’64, and by the late ‘60s, following the success of Wendy/Walter
Carlos’ Switched-On Bach album and
the infiltration of the synth into the rock world, Moog’s invention had become
a cultural sensation; he eventually left Moog Music in 1977 to found another
company, Big Briar, soon moving his family to Asheville where he taught at the
University of North Carolina and continued to design gear, ultimately
reclaiming the rights to the Moog Music and Minimoog trademarks and changing
the name of Big Briar to Moog Music Inc. in 2002. (Moog was also an
accomplished keyboardist although he rarely played in public; however, a CD of
a 1980 performance was released earlier this month as a timely lead-in to
MoogFest. Read more about it elsewhere at BLURT.)


Yet perhaps the most revealing detail of the bio is the part
that reads thusly:


would R&B, rap and hip-hop be if groups like Parliament and Funkadelic
hadn’t used Moog keyboards? Where would rock and roll be if groups from Yes to
the Beatles hadn’t used Moog keyboards? Would jazz music have branched off into
fusion without Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea using Moog keyboards? And would
classical music have enjoyed such resurgence without Wendy Carlos and her
modular Moog synthesizer?”


Consulting the schedule of MoogFest performers, you can
quickly see the logical corollaries to those questions – the lasting impact of
Bob Moog is enormous. By way of acknowledgement Michelle Moog-Koussa notes,
“What we’re trying to carry on is that spirit, the way he impacted people’s
lives. Whether it was because they played the instruments or because they were
inspired by the music that was produced by those instruments. That’s what we’re
trying to move forward. [For example] at the MoogFest workshops and panels, we
have pulled from a lot of people from the Moog legacy to participate. Those
panels at the Moogaplex are a manifestation of our mission, to educate and
inspire people through electronic music. But that mission also sprang from what
Bob Moog was all about. So I think what you’re going to hear at MoogFest, it’s
all a celebration of his spirit and the technology he innovated.”


The Moog spirit, perhaps, can be found in the connections
the man made in his life and with his work – connections both literal (as in
circuitry), and spiritual. In 2004, BLURT contributor Steven Rosen interviewed
Bob Moog.
The documentary film Moog had
recently been released, and one of the comments he made to Rosen was quite
telling, both about his intellectual gifts and about his outlook on life:


“When I was a teenager, and a little bit before, I really
loved electronics,” said Moog. “I have a talent and a gift for making contact
with electronic circuitry. It’s a gift that enables stuff to come through you.
I don’t think I’m so smart or creative that it starts off inside my head and
then comes out.

“I think all us humans are capable of experiencing connections – engaging in
spiritual things like that. Whether or not we take advantage of that depends on
a lot of things. I found it through electronics, particularly musical


The obvious question, then, is how Dr. Moog himself might have
reacted to all the fuss taking place this weekend. It’s a question that
apparently been posed a number of times to Moog-Koussa during the run-up to the


“Someone asked me in an interview about what would my dad
have thought of all this,” she says, with a chuckle. “And I said, ‘You know, I
can’t really answer for my dad. He was a very unique thinker, and I can’t
profess to know exactly what he would think. But my suspicion is that he would
be a little shy-slash-uncomfortable with all the attention.’


“And that was not his nature in general, but when it came to
this type of recognition of this magnitude, and anything that hinted at notions
of celebrity, it did make him a little uncomfortable. Because he was very
humble, and he would describe himself as a ‘tool maker’ – a tool maker for
musicians. And I think that would be his first sentiment, a little unease. But
once he recognized what the event was all about, it’s really what he was all
about too.


He was all about the
, and he was all about music. 
This is what he worked to do; he worked to provide tools to musicians.
And here is the fruition of his work.”



Go here to read more of our interview with Michelle Moog-Koussa, in which she discusses the recent
CD release
Bob Moog Live as well as
some of what’s been cooking with the Bob Moog Archives.

MAD, MAN! RJD2 (MoogFest Pt.3)

third of our MoogFest artist profiles this week, the underground hip-hop DJ
takes the critical heat while laughing all the way to the bank… and ad agency.




For well over a decade, Ramble John Krohn, better known as
RJD2, has been in the business of making beats. From his late ‘90s salad days
behind the boards for the rap group MHz, who released some highly sought-after
12-inches on the sorely missed New York City hip-hop label Fondle ‘Em Records,
right on through to his recent receipt of the coveted ASCAP “Best TV Theme”
award for his opening theme to the AMC hit series Mad Men, RJ has embarked on a journey few can claim to enjoy in the
realm of underground hip-hop; but not without a roadblock or two along the way.
In 2007, his highly adventurous third solo album, The Third Hand, which saw RJ defect from the venerable NYC indie
rap label Definitive Jux to XL Recordings and venture into previously
unchartered pop territory that included singing his own songs, received less
than stellar reviews, most notably a rather heavy-handed piece on Pitchfork that decried the album as “an
unsettling piece of evidence that he’s lost without someone else’s pre-existing
sounds to extrapolate from and transform.”


However, 2010 thus far suggests that Mr. Krohn is having the
last laugh on his detractors. The
, his fourth full-length and inaugural release on his recently
established boutique imprint RJ’s Electrical Connections, finds the Ohio-bred DJ
intertwining samples and live instrumentation to strike a perfect balance
between the soulful art pop he pioneered on The
Third Hand
and the Bill Conti-meets-Lalo Schifrin beat science of his first
two solo works, 2002’s Deadringer and
2004’s Since We Last Spoke (both of
which he amicably acquired the rights for from Definitive Jux to release on his
own label, by the way). And while he does employ a host of guests to sing and
rap on the vocal portions of The Colossus,
namely Phonte Coleman of Little Brother, Neptunes affiliate Kenna and
occasional Roots singer Aaron Livingston among others, RJ also makes a defiant
return to the mic despite the critical razzes bestowed upon him a couple of
years ago, adding all the more flavor to one of the best albums of his ten-year

Earlier this year BLURT caught up with RJD2 for an
illuminating discussion about The
the launching of RJ’s Electrical Connections, upcoming projects
beyond the new album and being affiliated with the best damn show on television




At what point did you come to the conclusion that launching your own record
label would be the best viable option for you in this industry and why?


RJD2: I think, in hindsight, the Third Hand campaign was the tipping point. I had brought the
publicist who worked it into the fold. I had brought the videographer into the
fold who did the only video for the album. I routed the tour, and my booking
agent handled the setup. By then, it seemed like I was contributing at least an
equal amount to the record. I knew that if I could get distribution, I could
get the record out there properly. 




How are you running RJ’s Electrical Connections? Is it a one-man show or are
you looking to expand it enough to take on a staff?


RJD2: Well I have a label manager at my distributor, and I
have an assistant, and me. I plan on approaching it like this: see what the
revenue stream looks like and see if expanding the staff makes any sense. It’s
hard to say in this market whether more resources really equals more record
sales, or if a record basically “will do whatever it’s gonna do.”
Once I have an idea about that, then I can gauge it. But also, the other side
of the coin is that I don’t want to be touring forever; I am seeing the
oversight of the label as a way to “retire” from the road,
eventually. Even if it’s just managing the back catalog, hopefully it will
still generate revenue in the future. Who knows? 



Are you looking towards the new label as a means to just get your own stuff
out there or are you looking to house a stable of acts?


RJD2: Primarily for my own music. I am very reticent to be
anyone’s boss. If I come across records that I love, and need a home, then
maybe. But I think what is even MORE ideal is that the label becomes a vessel
for me to work on other people’s records, as a writer and producer, so that I
actually DESERVE to own a stake in the masters, instead of trying to navigate
that on a record I didn’t work on at all. 



Have you ever thought of producing an album with a singer a la Dangermouse’s current project Broken Bells with James Mercer
of The Shins? If so, who would you be into doing such a venture with?


RJD2: Actually, I’ve got a group I’m doing with one of the
singers on my album, Aaron Livingston. Same format [as the Broken Bells album]
and it is almost done. I’m pretty stoked on it, as it definitely touches on
some areas that are new ground for me. 



When can we expect to come out and does it have a name? What kind of music
would you consider the project to be?


RJD2: I’m really hoping we have it
out in 2010. But there’s a lot to release. We’ll see. I would say that it is
a continuation of what some call “psychedelic soul”: Rotary Connection,
Chambers Brothers, early Funkadelic, etc. It’s really all over the place. At
the moment, the band is called Icebird.  



What other projects can we look forward to from RJ’s in the near future
outside of your project with Aaron Livingston and The Colossus?


RJD2: There’s going to be a sort of modified version of an
instrumental Colossus album. That is
the next release. I have another rjd2 album finished after that, and at least
one side project album. So there’s a lot to get out there, at the moment. 



How did you go about choosing the guest vocalists that you feature on The
Colossus? Did you always have these folks in mind?

RJD2: I knew Phonte from years back. A mutual friend connected me with Kenna;
same with Aaron Livingston. I just started sorting the songs with the vocalists
I had on my list. Pretty simple.  




Was there someone on your list you were hoping to get on board but didn’t
work out?


RJD2: Oh, lots. I’m surprised more people didn’t ask this
question, really. Yea, lots. I cut a lot of material during those sessions, and
I reached out to a lot of people, not just singers, but producers for remixes,
instrumentalists, etc. to collaborate. Some of them didn’t get back to me at
all. Some of them would get back to me, and then kinda blow me off. The song “A
Son’s Cycle”, I had the concept for that song for a long time; there were two
different lineups for that song before the one that actually worked. But I was
talking to “name” rappers, and at a point I realized that if I
reached out to some underground kids (Catalyst, Illogic and NP), they might
have a little more interest in actually executing it. I was totally right, and
they killed it.    



In your opinion, what proves to be more of a challenge to work with as a
producer: Using a sampler or directing live musicians?

RJD2: Really anything that’s new. When I was learning how to
do a whole song on a sampler, that was tough. But figuring out how to write
charts and find performers, that was hard as well. Each was equally tough when
I didn’t have any experience doing them.



Of all the instruments that you play beyond the sampler and turntables, what
do you feel you are the most proficient at and why?


RJD2: At this point, bass. I just feel more and more
comfortable with it. My takes are usually really quick when I’m cutting bass.
And it is probably the funnest [sic]
instrument to play live, for some reason. It’s very small motions with very big
results. It’s like having your finger on a nuclear bomb button, pretty



How were you approached by the creators of Mad
for the use of the instrumental for “A Beautiful Mine” from your album Magnificent City with Aceyalone as the show’s theme song? Was someone a fan of yours over there?


RJD2: Really, it all just came through Decon (the label that
released Magnificent City). Lions Gate reached
out, and that was that. I don’t even know if “fan” is the right word,
probably more just that it was working for them, I guess. Well obviously it
worked for them (lol). 



Would “A Beautiful Mine” have been your first choice for the theme song? Why
or why not?


RJD2: No, but in hindsight, I can see why they chose it. I
guess I would have chosen something that i thought was a little less
“dense”, but it works surely. It has an immediate sense of drama



Have you received any other offers to score television and film soundtracks?
Is this something you would be interested in pursuing more in the future?


RJD2: Only one, for a horror film. I don’t think it’s gonna
pan out. It seems to be up in the air or something. DEFINITELY would love to
pursue [soundtracks] in the future. I listen to a lot of soundtracks from the
late ‘70s and early ‘80s: Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter and all that. Love
that stuff. 



BLURT:  If you were a musician back in the Mad Men era, what kind of music could
you see yourself playing?


RJD2: Probably some [David] Axelrod, spaced out
cocaine-laden orchestral funk. At least I WISH that’s what I would have



As a fan of Mad Men yourself, who is
your favorite character and what is your favorite episode?



RJD2: Ummm, aside from the fact that Joan is so unbelievably
smoking hot, I think Peter Campbell is pretty interesting. So is Peggy, though.
Favorite episode: the one where dude loses a foot at the party was pretty
awesome. And the one where Don gets drugged by the young kids was great, too. Can’t
pick one, the whole show is just badass.



What is it about Peter and Peggy that most intrigues you?


RJD2: It seems like their internal struggles happen closer
to the surface. Don gets great lines written for him. So does Roger. And Sal
and Betty’s internal conflicts seem to be effectively buried. But Peter and
Peggy both feel like they are on the verge of exploding at times. It’s very
exciting when they kinda do. 



Have you met any of the cast members of Mad


RJD2: NO! I’m mad. Where is my Joan introduction, Mad Men? Not cool.  



takes the stage of Asheville’s Orange Peel club Friday night, Oct. 29, at 10:30pm
as part of MoogFest (BLURT is a
proud partner of the event). His newest release is
Inversions of the Colossus, an “almost instrumental version” of The Colossus. Details on this, additional tour dates an
more at his official RJ’s Electrical Connections website.



[Photo Credit: Dan McMahon]

LONESOME, NO MORE Van Dyke Parks w/Clare and the Reasons (Moogfest Pt.1)

NO MORE Van Dyke Parks w/Clare and the Reasons (Moogfest Pt.1)


In the first of our MoogFest artist
profiles this week, the legendary composer/arranger tells why he wants to “feel
the pleasures of performance.”




Dyke Parks warms up with a joke. Upon hearing that his interviewer lives in
Pittsburgh, home for some years of his family, as well as his alma mater
Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), he states in all sincerity, “Not
many people know this, but my mother and father were in iron and steel.”




my mother ironed and my father stole,” he deadpans. After a polite laugh, he
adds, “What are you doing to me? I
set you up for that!”


He may
have arranged for the likes of Brian Wilson and Joanna Newsom, but clearly his
accomplishments haven’t given him the ego or the attitude that would be
expected of 40-plus year, jaded music industry veteran. Parks in fact is
excited to be leaving what he describes as the “monastic business” of studio
work and performing live in small venues across the country, which he is doing
through early October.


he has released five albums since 1968, beginning with the beautifully
ambitious Song Cycle, he never toured
to support them, and has only performed occasionally, often with just guitar
and bass accompanying his piano and voice. Now Brooklyn’s Clare and the Reasons
are backing him on a jaunt that will include a set of both older compositions
and new ones from a forthcoming album. At age 67, he clearly relishes the idea.
“I have an agreement with an agent that books you on the road. This is a new
thing,” he says. “I feel very much like I’m in show business. For the first


Clare Maldaur
Manchon, vocalist of Clare and the Reasons, shares his enthusiasm for jumpstarting
his performance career. “I’m so happy that we’re taking part in him being out
in the world and being more public with his music,” she says. “Because I’m
quite convinced that’s what he’s supposed to be doing, because it’s so


began working in California
in the early 1960s. (He mentions playing The
Jungle Book
‘s “Bare Necessities” as his first union job.) Besides his
numerous arranging sessions, one of the more infamous collaborations is his lyric
writing on Smile, the Beach Boys’ aborted
follow-up to Pet Sounds, which Brian
Wilson finally re-recorded released in 2004.


1968, Parks released Song Cycle, a
challenging album that incorporated numerous strains of American popular music,
together with the political unrest of the era, all blended in a dreamlike,
echoey production. Like most ambitious projects, it was – and still is –
largely misunderstood.

“When I
played it for the head of Warner Brothers, he said, ‘Song Cycle? Well, where are the songs?’,” Parks recalls. “Years
later, my daughter said, ‘Dad, you should have called it Song Psycho.‘ I said, ‘Yes Elizabeth, but the tuition is paid.'”


it continues to generate interest. The 33 1/3 series from Continuum Books,
which publishes chapbooks devoted to individual albums, published an
installment on Song Cycle earlier
this year. Parks also admits, sardonically, “I love the way Warner Brothers
keeps not being able to sell it so
many years later. It’s still in print.”




Clare Maldaur
Manchon and her husband/bandmate Olivier Manchon met Parks while living in Los Angeles and got him to
play piano on their 2007 debut, The Movie.
“They’re lovely people and great musicians,” Parks says. “It’s highly
theatrical, out-of-the-box music, which I enjoy immensely.”


fall, the Manchons each received calls from Parks suggesting they all play a
show together in Paris.
They agreed, and although they’ve yet to make it to the French city, they have
played several West Coast dates, as well as dates in Spain
and England.
“I never imagined that someday I would be called the – ta-da! – headliner in Barcelona.
Never thought I would have the good fortune to go there,” Parks says. “Then we
went to the Royal Festival Hall of London and we smoked their shorts there. We
worked hard. If you like watching aerial ballet without a net, it’s like that.
We challenge each other.”


never performed Song Cycle live because
it required a whole orchestra, making a large venue and some serious funding a
necessity.  (Next year, however, he will perform
his sophomore album Discover America in
a theater setting, complete with orchestra.) Recreating them with a smaller group sparked his interest but he wasn’t
sure what to expect for the first shows with Clare and the Reasons. When he
showed up in Seattle with only a bass part written out for the songs, it turned
out that he didn’t even need that. “Olivier told me, ‘No, no, we’ve got it all,
thank you.’ What he had done was gone through my records and just reverse-engineered
the whole thing,” Parks says. “He just wrote it down, absolutely flawlessly.
I’m going to kill him. He’s a genius. I can’t stand it.”


Manchon says her husband’s efforts helped to put Parks at ease. “It’s a great
experience for Van Dyke to feel like he doesn’t have to hold down all the parts
of the fort,” she says. “Meaning he can be more of a performer and worry about
delivering the song and the set.”

seems most impressive thing is the lack of pretension Parks has in regard to
hitting the road in a van. “I spent the last about 40 years committing myself
almost exclusively to studio work and then the undergarments of film activity
where I would work in scoring, television shows or B movies where I felt I’d
done an A job,” he says. “I put my kids through college and now I’ve realized
that this is one area I haven’t attempted.


arrange for a lot of artists, but the truth is, my work is alone. I want to hit
the road and feel the pleasures of performance. I want to go into a room where
there are people. I’m tired of being lonesome,” he says.


Van Dyke Parks, along with Clare and the
Reasons, will be performing together this week in Tallahassee, New Orleans,
Athens and Asheville – the latter appearance has CATR taking the stage of the
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at 10pm followed by VDP at 11 on Friday, Oct. 29, as
part of MoogFest, of which BLURT is
a proud partner. Dates and venues at Parks’ official website.


Credit for Van Dyke Parks: Roman Cho]


In the second of our
MoogFest profiles this week, the spudboys detail their improbable comeback and
discuss their recent album.




“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 Everybody 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 Everyone
. 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 Everyone’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 Everyone
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 Now.”


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 Everyone, 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 Everyone – 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?


DEVO plays MoogFest – BLURT is a proud partner of
the event – this week, appearing Friday, Oct. 29, at 8:15 at the Thomas Wolfe
Auditorium. The band is also scheduled to receive the Moog Innovation Award (previous recipients include Keith Emerson, Herb
Deutsch, Gershon Kingsley, Jan Hammer and Bernie Worrell) and will be presented
a special synthesizer from Moog Music.


Animal Collective member heads down to the swamp and goes a-croc huntin’ on his
solo debut.




David “Avey Tare” Portner, the 31-year-old founder & de
facto frontman of the courted Brooklyn-based troupe Animal Collective, has had
one busy year. First, he’s worked with cruelty-free apparel company Keep
(started by longtime AC friend, Una Kim) to design shoes that, sold at $75 a
pop and available March 2011, will benefit the Socorro Island conservation fund
(Animal Collective members Josh “Deakin” Ribb and Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox also
designed shoes for Keep). And now, on October 26, Tare will release his
long-in-the-making debut solo album, Down There, on Animal Collective’s
Paw Tracks label (as for his band, they’re in talks of a new album but haven’t
taken any action yet). Influenced by swamps and crocodiles, it’s a deeply
intimate first effort, despite its machine-oriented exterior.

Produced with Deakin’s help and recorded in a 135-year-old church, which
doubles as Animal Collective’s studio/practice space located in what Tare calls
“the Great Northern swamp” of upstate New York, Down There is a debut that, while as personal as any Tare-penned AC
record, comes from a darker and possibly more ominous place. The subject matter
is more morose (for example, “Heather in a Hospital” outlines his time spent by
his sister’s side in the hospital after she was diagnosed with a rare tear duct
cancer), and the music, while tinged with a bit of melody, is much more
jarring, the vocals creeping underneath Down
ascetic and numinous electronic currents. It’s a sonic marshland of
the layered and complex, the troubled and sentient – a record that, down to its
cover, which was taken from a photo of a crocodile skull Tare took while in Peru in
January, full embodies the gloom and obscurity of the swamps by which it was


And while it may not call on the same polished avant-garde
electro-pop that shot Animal Collective to fame, Down There stands
firmly on its own. Not only does it establish Tare, who was named NME’s Alt-American Icon for their The Rebirth of US Rock issue, as a solo
artist deserving of a concentrated listen, but it also peels back his layers,
further exposing the musical genius that lies beneath. BLURT recently had the chance to chat with
Tare about his solo debut, what influences his music, and why he was so drawn
to swamps’ conceptual existence.


BLURT: You’ve been performing and
releasing material for over a decade while in other groups. So why put out a
solo record now? Were there things you wanted to say that Animal Collective
wasn’t the right venue for?

AVEY TARE: I don’t really think I’ve
had the time to do it until now, to tell you the truth. I put a lot of time
into Animal Collective and, when haven’t been doing that, I’ve been trying to
take as much time to do other things as I can.  So much of what I and we
do in AC is inspired by experiences we have outside of just touring and playing
music all the time.  So if I didn’t have that, it would be hard to be
inspired to write new things.  But I’ve had more time this year, and since
we haven’t been touring, it felt like a good time.  I guess this record is
different than something Animal Collective would do, but I think that’s mostly
because I did it on my own and not with the other guys.


the approach you took in crafting Down
different than how you would approach an Animal Collective record, or
even the work you’ve done as Terrestrial Tones, and with wife/former
múm member Kria Brekkan?

Not really. All of that stuff feels really collaborative. I
guess I put a lot of input into AC in terms of songwriting but, after that, I
try and give up as much control as I possibly can. Similarly, with playing
together with [Black Dice’s] Eric Copeland [for Terrestrial Tones] or Kria, I
really think those records are based more on having a close relationship with
those people and being able to jam and create something together. With Down There, I wanted to create something
very personal and that almost had a bedroom quality to it.  I also wanted
to make something that felt like it was created by one person. It was different
with Down There because I didn’t have
anyone to bounce ideas off of creatively. And there was no one there to push
things along with other ideas.  And so, I really had to take my time. In a
sense, this was good because I wanted it to be relaxed. But it’s also hard
mustering the confidence to do something solo.  You have to really trust that
things sound good and feel good. I think that’s why I let things sit for so

 It seems like a
lot of outside forces influence the music you create – from films to traveling
to books. What attracts you to those mediums as influences?

I’ve always been inspired by film.  It’s so easy for me to get lost in
movies and so I spend a lot of my free time watching them. I can’t be as
critical of them as I am with music ‘cause I don’t know enough about the
process that goes into making them. So, in a way, I am more easily drawn into
them. For some reason, music feels like it should have a narrative in the same
way a movie or book does.  In the same way a movie presents you with a
very visual environment, in my head, music does the same thing.  It might
not translate the same way to everyone, but when I am making a song, I am
thinking a lot about the environment it takes place in and the characters
involved…etc. This doesn’t mean that it’s a piece of fiction because
usually songs are based on my personal experience. But I enjoy making music so
much more in this manner rather than just thinking about time signatures and
things like that.

was inspired by crocodiles and the swamp staple of old horror movies.
Why were you drawn to that vibe?

I think the swampy aspect of it pertains more to the
environment and the visual side of music that I was talking about
[previously].  In some ways, it was good
to be able to tie this into the emotional aspect of the music ‘cause I have
often thought a swamp is a good metaphor for the emotions I was feeling at the
time. I was a bit stuck in a rut so to speak and so that sticky swampy quality
worked with the songs and emotions.

 Other than a swamp’s dank nature, there’s
also a sinister, unworldly feel you can defined as almost spiritual. Would you
say that was also an influence on the record?

I like to think of the swamp as otherworldly – like ghost swamp or something
you would find in the afterlife.

 Did you intend for
Down There to come out super
electronic and very discordant? Or did it just come natural as you started to
flesh out the songs more?

I created it on electronic instruments, yeah, so I always intended it to be
more of an electronic creation. The songs came pretty naturally that way.

 Down There was created very organically.
For example, you said that over the course of nearly two years, you wrote the
melodies for the album in your head. How important is the organic process of
creating music to you, even though Down
is machine-oriented?

I do write a lot of my songs in my head before I attempt to play them on an
instrument but, for me, a specific instrument can be very inspiring.  I
feel like sometimes the less I know about an instrument, then the easier it is
to write what I think is an original song or something I haven’t done before.
 For example, it’s really hard for me to write songs on my acoustic guitar
at this point ‘cause I’ve written so many that way. For some reason right now,
working with electronics and sequencers made these songs feel very natural and
organic to me.

 While this record is just as personal as
what you’ve written in previous outfits, it’s a bit more lyric-driven, even
though it isn’t “very clear-cut” or “totally soul-bearing.” Why did you choose
to go that direction?

For me, most of the music on the record is actually less lyric-driven than
something like “What Would I Want Sky?” or “Summer Time
Clothes.”  I mean, the lyrics are important to me but they are mixed a bit
more within the rest of the sound, whereas in those other AC songs, the voice
sits on top a bit more.   I think this is probably one of the most
personal all encompassing pieces of music I’ve ever made.


 On the other hand,
the vocals have a more shadowy, ethereal quality, which seems like something
you were aiming for. Do you think recording the vocals in that way was
necessary in order to add to the swamp vibe?


 Down There isn’t very melodic or polished,
especially when compared to Animal Collective. Was it important to not have it
poppish or dreamy in order to get your thoughts across sonically? Or did that
lack of melody happen naturally because of the songs context?

Hmm, well I do think there is melody in there, but yeah, the emotions are the
driving force of anything I write. They’re purely based on what I’m feeling.
 Even with Animal Collective, I never think, “Is this poppy or
catchy?”  The songs are just what they are.  I either like them
or I don’t.


The acclaimed
singer-songwriter offers her Top Ten list of things she does for our planet on
a daily basis.




gross. I have to sound like a super-serious, self-righteous person, because
Blurt has asked me to write and recommend 5-10 things I do for the environment
in my daily life. 


came up with 101 things once. I promised myself that if I could come up with
101 things, I could stop wearing my environmental guilt like a hairshirt and
live my life.  Nice try.


here are the Top Ten, as it were, and yes, I’d recommend them.  But I also recommend laughter and happiness.



1.     Non-renewable water bottle.  I used to be one of those
people who re-filled a plastic bottle that I’d gotten at a club or on the
road.  I was still using a ton of
bottles. When I got a metal container, I didn’t use a plastic bottle for A
YEAR.  Not one. Maybe one.  I learned a few things, but most importantly:
tap water is not bad.  Some of it’s not
so stellar. But overall, even from the bathroom at a rock club in St. Louis, I
have gotten water that tastes like water. 
Conversely, I’ve drunk water from plastic water that tastes like all
sorts of leeched crap. Really, it always has.


2.     Composting.  You could argue that vegetable
matter just biodegrades at the landfill. 
It doesn’t. It becomes part of a giant toxic, corrosive  soup that has even more volume for all the
tomatoes and avocado skins that go into it. 
Composting actually does make your land better and your vegetables
bigger (when you spread it on your land). I’ve always composted very badly (yet
proudly), but my husband took it on like a science project and the best thing
to do is one layer of kitchen scraps, one layer of straw (not hay, which has
seeds), and a handful of dirt. And repeat. 
If you live in an urban area, your farmer’s market might collect it. I
used to bring it to Union Square in NYC. I froze my compost the night before
and it was just starting to thaw by the time I got off the subway.  Once it thawed and leaked. Not a good day for
that car.


3.     I don’t shower every day.


4.     I drive a fuel efficient car.  Not much to
add to this, but I’ll put in a plug for the TDI (turbo diesel injected) cars.
We get 44+ mpg and we can run on biodiesel which is evermore available,
especially in percentages (B20 is 20% bio-diesel, 80% regular diesel, for
instance). Not all efficient cars were created Prius.


5.     We recycle.


6.     I live in a pedestrian village.  Hey, why
don’t you do that?  You know, this
afternoon. Break up with your fiancé and move to a place where you can walk to
your post office, library, train, and daycare center.  I did an interview in Treehugger where I talk
about it, but it’s obviously not an option for everyone.


7.     We have a garden.  We used to have one with our
neighbors, and that was really great. 
Now we have our own and we have vegetables in our morning eggs, salad
for lunch, beans whenever, and whatever’s leftover for dinner.  I eat plenty of other stuff, too. I have a
terrible sweet tooth.  But my favorite
part of the day is going out and picking stuff from the garden. Or just looking
at it.


8.     Energy Star. It’s the sticker that tells you when appliances meet a higher energy
efficiency requirement. A big portion of making the world sustainable is in a
large, nebulous category called “green building”. Efficiency is bigger part of
this than having solar panels, but…


9.     We have solar panels.


10.    I try to do fundraisers and get involved in community projects. Getting involved with something you believe in community-wise, the smaller the
better, tends to have exponential benefits.  



is just too much anxiety in the world right now.  I love being involved in the environment.
It’s a stress reliever for me. I don’t want it to be a stress inducer for
someone else!


Dar Williams’ latest album is Many Great
Companions, out now on Razor & Tie.
Details, tour dates, and more at her official website.



“I don’t think the Slits
will ever die as a legend”: a previously unpublished interview with the punk
provocateur, who passed away Wednesday.




“You haven’t said yet how good I look on my website!”


A throaty chortle comes down the phone line. Ari Up is still
as merciless a tease as she was in 1976 when she and her fellow Slits would
bait journalists and audiences alike with their outré brand of distaff
punk. I have indeed consulted Ari’s site (, and I now inform her I
may download her photos to hang on the wall next to my copy of the Slits’ Cut LP – the one with the infamous nude sleeve.


Another burst of laughter. No teasing this time. I could
swear she sounds pleased.




It was November of 2004 and Ari was speaking to me from England, where
she was visiting friends and doing some recording. The occasion of our
conversation was the upcoming expanded/remastered re-release of Cut, due in January – in 2009 the album
would be reissued yet again as a two-CD Deluxe Edition – and the interview was for a feature,
“Girls Together Outrageously,” in BLURT precursor Harp magazine, for my regular “Indelibles” column in which classic
recordings got revisited and reappraised.


Cut, without a
doubt, qualifies as “classic,” and it’s long been one of my favorite artifacts
from the punk era. That three-girls-naked cover didn’t hurt, I suppose, but
Ari’s effervescent, provocateur personality played a huge part in that
estimation, too.


Now, as I write, it’s October of 2010, and Ari has just
passed away, on October 20
, at the age of 48 following a battle with cancer.
The unexpectedness of her death – unexpected at least from the outside – seems
all the sadder because not long after the Cut reissue arrived, Ari put the Slits back together for a well-received
reunion (I saw them play a rousing set a few years ago at SXSW in Austin) that culminated
in last year’s Trapped Animal album.
Here at BLURT we were proud to publish an interview with Ari exactly a year ago
in which she talked about working again with Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt, about
putting together the new album, about being a mother and more. Of her plans for
the future, Ari seemed wholly energized and optimistic, saying, “Next we’ve got
to have more tours and albums. We should really have a DVD. We must put our
music in a visual medium. I’ve got tons of old stuff. And I’ve also got tons of
stuff on tour that we did recently. We want to mix it up, sure.”


Sadly, she wasn’t able to fulfill those plans. By way of tribute,
then, we’ve got my original 2004 interview, most of which has never been
published, below; I think there’s a lot of detail about her back story and
insight into Ari’s outlook on life worth documenting and preserving. And take
particular note of the comments she makes near the very end, about having no
plans for a Slits reunion. Sorry, Ari, but in this case we’re glad you didn’t
keep your vow.


You can also read contributor Jennifer Kelly’s 2009
interview with Ari elsewhere on the BLURT site, and after you do, we suggest
you run to the nearest independent record store and purchase a Slits album or
one of Ari’s solo records. You’ll quickly discover what the fuss was all about.





Ari Up (real name: Arianna Forster) was born to rock. With a
concert promoter for a mother, as a child she met countless musicians — among
them, Jimi Hendrix, and later, members of the Sex Pistols. Drawn into the punk
vortex, at a Clash concert one night she met drummer Palmolive (Paloma Romero).
Looking the striking14-year old Ari up and down, Palmolive abruptly announced,
“Hey, I’m building a band – but it’s gotta be an all-girl band.”


“That was it,” says Ari. “The next day, I went to rehearsal.
We did ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’ The Slits were made.”


With the arrival of guitarist Viv Albertine and bassist
Tessa Pollitt (replacing original members Kate Korus and Suzi Gutsy), the Slits
quickly make a name for themselves. Not always a good name either, as
their modest skills, combined with a provocative stage presence, often drew the
scorn of the British press. “Oh my god, we were just eaten alive!” recalls Ari.
“And we were attacked onstage several
times too. It was insane, people storming the stage. Palmolive had to run for
her life with a snare in one hand and cymbal in the other.” As
wild-coiffed, ripped-stockings punks the ladies were targets offstage as
well. Ari once got stabbed while strolling in the streets of London,
and she remembers the cultural climate
in England
at the time as being akin to “a witch hunt. It was like medieval times: ‘Burn
them at the stake!’ Girls were safe when they walked around in the daylight in
a tight circle, but if we walked at night, or by ourselves, that was asking for


Yet the band developed quickly enough to land a support slot
on the Clash’s spring ’77 “White Riot” tour. Early evidence of the Slits’ edgy
charisma can be heard on The Peel Sessions CD, BBC recordings from ’77
and ’78. In particular, an embryonic version of future Cut track “Love
and Romance,” with its coruscating guitar, tribal beat and Ari’s proto-Bjork
squeaks, growls and yelps, is a 2 ½ minute adrenaline rush the equal of any
punk 45 of the era.


The Slits were approached by several labels but, sensing
they were viewed as an all-girl novelty, the ladies held the overtures at arm’s
length. Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm
McLaren actually managed the group for two weeks but got the heave-ho when it
became apparent he wanted to turn the group in to a female version of the
Pistols. “He wanted take our heavy bass sound out – which is what made us sound
so good – and told us the guitars should be out front,” Ari says. She further
notes that yet more unwanted advice came from none other than the Clash’s Mick
Jones, Albertine’s boyfriend at the time; he suggested the Slits overhaul one
of their quirkier tunes, “Typical Girls,” as a straightforward punk number,
“like a Clash song, smack-boom-boom-boom, one-two-three-four.”


Along the way the
Slits lost Palmolive, who Ari says was “really good in that crazy tribal
way of drumming” but couldn’t adapt as the band began exploring different
styles. Replacing her with future Siouxsie & the Banshees drummer Budgie
the Slits signed in ’79 with Island Records, receiving complete creative
control and the services of veteran reggae producer Dennis Bovell. That summer
they hunkered down in a rurally situated studio to make their debut.


Cut appeared on Island in September 1979 (in the
U.S., on Antilles), and while it barely dented the British charts its impact
over the years would prove enormous, the album getting ranked alongside such
postpunk statements as PIL’s Metal Box and the Pop Group’s Y. Key
track “Typical Girls” is a left-field classic, an angular, reggaeish number
featuring singsongy vocals, blues guitar and jittery piano played by Ari. The
LP’s avant-garde sound – part splatter funk, part tattered punk, and a whole
lotta dub  –  reflected a meeting of the minds with
producer Bovell, whose mad-scientist working methods were simpatico with the
Slits’ desire to broaden their palette. “For instance,” says Ari, “on the song
‘New Town” I’d say, ‘I want live, organic crazy percussion!’ And he’d get
inspired, take a matchbox and a fork and a knife as percussion – if you listen
to old dub albums, they’ve got toilets flushing, doorbells ringing, crazy


Matters of commercial impact aside, Cut certainly
made its visual presence felt: The sleeve presented the three Slits gals
as Amazons smeared head to toe in mud and clad only in pale loincloths. Some
reviewers who took note of the group’s socially-conscious lyrics (“Typical
Girls,” for example, is a hilarious putdown of female conformity) hailed the
sleeve as bold and laced with irony, while others accused the band of setting
back the feminist cause by years. Ari maintains, however, that the sleeve was
more afterthought than statement.


“We were supposed to have an album cover [idea] but we didn’t
think of anything. They were coming to take pictures, and we were in the
country and there was lots of mud everywhere. We were feeling kind of tribal,
so – ‘Fuck it! Let’s just roll around in the mud!'”


Following a U.K.
tour with jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, the Slits left Island,
surfaced for a spell on Rough Trade imprint Y, then subsequently signed with
CBS for 1981’s Return Of The Giant Slits LP, which ladled Middle Eastern
and Afro-beat elements into the punky reggae stew. But with myriad pressures –
no management, no money, next to no support system other than themselves —
conspiring against them, the Slits quietly called it a day in the early months of 1982.


think it’s because we grew on our own, without any help,” says Ari of the
split. “You’ve got these girls in a twilight zone going through stages and nothing
to hold it together. You have to develop and have somebody to say, ‘Okay, let’s
take it to this direction…’ Also, the ‘80s changed everything as well. The
music sucked: ‘We can’t deal with Punk, but New Wave is acceptable. So let’s go
with that – MTV, here we come!’ That wasn’t us.”


Post-Slits, Albertine went into film production, Pollitt
took up painting, and Palmolive, after a stint in the Raincoats, became a
Christian and moved to Massachusetts.
Ari Up spent time in Jamaica
as a dancehall singer and clothing designer and now splits her time between Kingston and Brooklyn,
where she performs with her band and is currently recording a solo album. In
2004 she appeared at the Morrissey-curated Meltdown Festival in London doing an all-Slits


“I don’t think the Slits will ever die as a legend,” she
says, with unmistakable pride. “It’ll be more like a Xena the Princess Warrior
type of legend. It never dies, it just goes on.”





The Complete Ari Up



first drew you to music? How did you become interested in making music?


ARI UP:  That was
never questioned. That was like from Day One, as long as I remember. Most
people can only remember back to about age 5, but I can remember to when I was
2. I grew up in a bohemian family, a background of being totally surrounded by
music, left to right. Both sides. All my relatives were artists, and my mom was
a promoter in Germany.
So I meet all these people I didn’t know – and didn’t care! Jimi Hendrix – so
what? This is a guy backstage that my mom was hanging out with, just another
guy, another musician – so what? So I grew up around music and musicians and
there was never any question of ‘Why?’ No, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s like I
was born to do it and that was it.


I understand you and
Palmolive met at a concert. What was the connection?


I remember it was a Clash thing. She didn’t look like the
audience or a fan. She looked ready to explode! She was ready to lead a revolution,
you could tell. She had a pig in her ear – not a real pig, but a pig earring,
which I thought was flattering at the time. I think we mutually walked up to
each other, because she probably knew I was ‘Ari, Norma’s daughter,’ which had
to do with that whole Sex Pistols ring because my mom was hanging out with the
Pistols. And I was looking like a little schoolgirl so I’m sure she didn’t look
at me thinking, ‘Wow, big revolutionary here!’ Cowgirl boots, long hair down to
my butt, a total schoolgirl hippie look. But it just shows that you overlook
that when you’ve really got the attitude. No matter what I wore that night, I
stuck out, like I was meant to be in a group, because she approached me: ‘Hey,
I’m building a band. It’s gotta be an all-girl band.’ And that was it, the
Slits were made. The next day, I went to rehearsal and we started singing a
song. Palmolive had wrote a few songs already but I didn’t really know them, so
we did ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’! [sings a few lines from song] So that’s how it
started. I was into drumming so I jumped on the drums too, but I knew Palmolive
was going to be the drummer.


 I came across an early live review from about
’77, written by a ‘Sharon Spike,’ and it wasn’t too favorable…


 Oh, we were torn down
by the press! [voice goes up an octave] Oooh! You think that they
were all like, ‘Wow, the Slits!’ No! Oh my god, we were eaten alive! But that’s
what legends are made of. Legends are always eaten alive when they first come


 Did that strengthen your resolve to keep going?


 Well, not
‘strengthen.’ It’s just that we made it a rule to say, look, what the fuck? We
don’t base our life around press or music business or the society we are in. We
base our lives on what we want to do as girls, and be free, and do the music we
want to do and to express ourselves the way we want. You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re
down now because of them…’ Or, ‘Get better because of them!’ Because if you’re
in a revolution, you don’t even think like that. ‘Fuck it! Fuck! Who cares!’
And you know, we were just lucky to be alive sometimes. We were attacked
onstage several times. The stage was stormed. Me and Palmolive and the first
unit of the Slits, when we were all girls, we went on a couple of gigs and it
was insane. People stormed the stage and came to attack us! Palmolive had to
run for her life with a snare in one hand and a cymbal in the other. A couple
of our friends who were kind of bodyguards for us tried to push the audience
back down from the stage – it was real rough.


 I lived in North Carolina when punk hit, and some of my
girlfriends who’d dress up kind of ‘punk,’ the minute they did that in public,
the way they were treated changed. Rednecks would harass them, make lewd


No! You experienced some of that too? You saw some of that? It was like a witch
hunt in England,
for sure. It was like the medieval times: ‘Burn them at the stake!’ Really, I’m
serious. If you had anything like boots, min dress, torn up stockings –
Madonna, later, sort of tamed it down and made it look nice and neat – when you
had anything like that and just looked the way you wanted, it was just –
‘Ohhhh!’ I guess girls were safe when they were walking around in a tight
circle – in the daylight, around everybody. But if we walked at night, or by ourselves
somewhere, that was asking for it. I got attacked with a knife. Somebody
stabbed me in the back. There were so many gangs in England in the time – the
skinheads, the Teddy Boys, the Mods, and punks were the least. You also had
this big John Travolta following – the disco, the Saturday Night Fever people. And one of those people stopped me. Here’s the irony, too: We were
always told in the papers that punks were violent, keep away from them, they
are the most violent! And who was the most violent? We were the least violent
out of all them people, you know? It’s almost funny.


 Journalist Caroline Coon’s account of the
Slits when the band went on the Clash’s “White Riot” tour was pretty vivid.


 Ah, Caroline Coon!
She was like a surrogate mother to me at the time…


The way she describes
the Slits on that tour is almost like you were the troublemakers on the tour. There’s a quote from Viv going, ‘We’re
not being nice little girls…’


 As far as in the
views of the bus driver, for instance, and what some of those people expected.
It was totally a fun time, though, and if we were being ‘bad,’ it’s not like
the Clash, who did the ‘bad’ stuff like throwing stuff out the windows and
destroying hotel rooms, typical boy stuff. But we didn’t do none of that. But we
were so offensive, whatever we wore, at the time, that just being ourselves, I
think, was enough to be outrageous. We were like girls are now, maybe – I
dunno! We didn’t have to do anything! We didn’t know that the driver had to be
bribed! He was just furious, really upset. Back then, there was no way – the
only guys who were supportive were in our circle, the punk people. Everyone
else outside, it was the same reaction. There was no ‘fifty percent’: ‘Oh,
maybe they’re okay…’ Either we were totally hated, or not, you know?


 What about audiences?


 They were… mixed, I
guess. I dunno. I was just like 13 or 14, and I think I really didn’t care if
the audience liked us or not. The basic thing was just to get on with the work.


 Do you remember going on the BBC to do your
Peel Sessions?


 Yeah, that was great.
He [John Peel] was really very laid back, very easy to work with, and he really
liked us as well. If more people were like him in the business I think a lot
more would get done. A lot more exposure, a lot more better stuff. Because
there was no ego with him. He was just into experimenting with new music. And
he was never offended by anything to do with what other people saw in us as
offensive. I would love those [sessions] to be re-released again since Cut is being re-released because they fit in with that album – some of the tracks
were remade [for Cut] in a different style later on, and it would be
nice to hear the old ones, the original versions. ‘FM’ for example sounds
really different, really ‘70s punky, mixed with – whatever. That guitar, the
way it sounds, totally raw – almost like one of those old rock bands mixed in
with our flavor, the tribal flavor coming on.


 You signed with Island
in ’78 – had your sound already begun changing by that point?


 I think we didn’t
want to be glued to or categorized, to be stuck in the stigma of what they were
labeling as ‘punk.’ I think we wanted to not be typical punk, and we also
wanted to grow. Musically we grew anyway. You get bored with the same style.
Somebody should have recorded us when they had the chance, ’76, ’77 – that’s
when the should have had an album out on us. But we couldn’t get stuck in that
time or that music.


 Why didn’t you sign with a label earlier?


 They weren’t really
pursuing us. People in ’77 who wanted to cash in wanted to make us a gimmick.
They wanted to rip us off and make a total gimmick out of us, or they wanted to
change our style. They didn’t want ‘us.’ They wanted something they could
recreate, and they would have changed everything. There weren’t any small indie
labels at the time, only those mega-big companies who only wanted to fuck us up
at the time.

  Island didn’t want
us in ’77 either. They wanted us in ’79, maybe because we’d changed by then,
and we were looking around then for a label that would suit our style. But back
in the day there was no way for us – women – to be allowed to be ourselves. And
with that name – the Slits…


 Malcolm McLaren approached you too?


 He did, he did. He
managed us for two weeks. He wanted us to be the female Pistols. I think a
manager shouldn’t try to be the musician, and he wanted to be the musician too
much – tell us how to play the bass. You know how our heavy bass sound goes? He
wanted to take that out: ‘The guitars are to be out there and in the front, not
the bass.’ Our heavy bass is what made us sound so good. In the early John Peel
session you can hear the heavy bass on it, but still with the punky loud
guitar. Malcolm wanted to take that out; he was complaining about that.


 Your vocals are as much a signature of the
band as anything else. Your tangents, the call and response, etc. What were
your influences? Any particular singers who…


 No, no, I totally
went off on my own. That’s why they sound like that! I wasn’t inspired by
anyone. I was too young. I listened to every music there was. I grew up with
all the hippie music, all the swing, the Frank Sinatra, all the classics. And I
loved all of the music. At the same time, I couldn’t relate to any of it
[regarding] my stuff. There was nothing there for me, so I just went off on my
own. Of course I listened to reggae as well and that inspired me, but I didn’t
sing like that. I gotta say, I just made my own style.


 I know the Slits as a group were big fans of
reggae. Why did Palmolive wind up quitting? Were her musical tastes diverging?


 No, I dunno if she
was quitting or if we all said it’s not gonna work. Because she was really good
in that one way of drumming – that crazy tribal [makes tribal thumping sound],
you know? She couldn’t do anything else. And if you listen to Cut there’s all kinds of different drumming on it. But there was only one style
that Palmolive did, and that was the style we had in ’77.


 How did Budgie join the band? Why didn’t you
get another female?


 I have no idea how
that happened! Good question. But there wasn’t any females! There weren’t any
female drummers at the time. There were none in the punk, underground and
reggae environment. Even now it’s hard to find them. We auditioned a million
drummers at one time and oh, it was dreary. So I think I wiped that chapter out
of my memory. Even one Jamaican guy played ‘Grapevine’. The drums on that is a
Jamaican drummer. But he didn’t stick with us; he could only do one style as
well, in the reggae style, funky, whatever.


 How did Dennis Bovell come into the picture?
What did he bring to the table?


 Because he worked
with Island a lot. He brought the sound to the table a lot. He brought a lot of
help. He was like another Slits member. There’d be things like, if we did ‘New
Town,’ for instance, he’d get inspired – like maybe I’d say, ‘I want live,
organic, crazy sounds – crazy percussion!’ So he would take a matchbox, and a
fork and a knife, and you’d hear those actual things, as percussion. The crazy
organ sound too. We were all like that, just feeding off each other.

      That’s how dub is created anyway. If you
listen to some of the old dub albums they’ve got toilets flushing or door bells
ringing and stuff. So I wanted to have some of that, definitely, on some songs.


 Who played piano on some of the tracks?


 Oh, I played piano on
‘Typical Girls.’ Just a little plinking around, nothing professional. I learned
a little bit when I was little.


 I can’t imagine you doing that song earlier,
like in ’79.


 Yeah, and we almost
didn’t do it in ’79, because Mick Jones was going out with Viv, and if it
wasn’t for Viv sticking to her guns we would have never had ‘Typical Girls.’
Mick wanted to change it, suggested, ‘Keep it straight, keep it straight!’ Like
a Clash song – straightforward, smack down, boom-boom-boom, one-two-three-four.
According to Mick Jones. But ‘Typical Girls,’ if you notice, is totally crazy,
like a jazzy, bluesy, crazy beat with all kind of shit mixed in.


 Who brought in ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’?


 Good question. I
don’t remember! We were listening to so much different music – obviously we
weren’t listening to punk. Or very little bit. And Viv was a fanatic about ‘60s
music, so maybe it came up by us listening to it and we just liked it. We took
it and made it our own – it’s not a Marvin Gaye joint no more. It became ours,
because if you do a cover you gotta make it your own, make it really stunningly
your own. Otherwise it will sound worse than the original. I sang it live –
sang it on the spot. I knew the lyrics and I was singing it live.


 Any memories of touring the States? I read an
interview with Tessa and she mentioned you hanging out in Death


 We toured in ’80 and
’81 – I think in ’79 we went down and had some gigs in New York. That [Death
Valley trip] changed Tessa for life! It gave Tessa that ‘desert
look’ she got – if you look at the Return Of The Giant Slits [sleeve],
it’s all inspired from that desert look we got in America, and sort of an
Arabic flavor too, because our music was sounding a little Middle Eastern.


 How do you rate Return?


 Rate it? Oh, I love
it! It’s another step in the evolution. It’s totally underrated. I think it’s
really different, and it brought us to a different stage again.


 You split up not too long after that. Was the
band already beginning to fall apart?


 No, I don’t think so.
Not falling apart, no. I dunno – I think it was too much ‘outside world,’ you
know? Outside pressure.


 Tessa admitted in the interview she’d gotten
into heroin too.


 Yeah, but there’s so
many bands that survive heroin. That’s no excuse to break up; lots of bands
have a heroin addict. I think it’s more that we grew on our own, without any
help, no management – it doesn’t help if you have no management! So you’ve got
girls on your own, way ahead of their time, and you’re just in a twilight zone
going through three stages – like the Pokemon! We evolved through three stages:
three evolutions, poof! poof! poof! just
like that! And had nothing to hold it together, nothing for us to hold onto
except us. And you can’t stand on your own two feet all the time just
like that for so long. You have to develop and have somebody to say, ‘Okay,
let’s take it to the fourth album now and take it to this direction, get this
label so we can get it on the road properly…’ Yo know? There was none of that.

       The ‘80s changed everything as well. The
‘80s were the yuppie, new wavey, totally opposite direction of us. Nothing
wrong with business; the music business is always ‘business.’ But the music
sucked in the ‘80s – ‘Okay, we can’t deal with Punk, but New Wave is
acceptable. So let’s go with that – MTV, here we come!’ That wasn’t us. And
that time was a bad time.


 Let me ask you the inevitable question about
the album cover for Cut: What went into the planning for that? What are
your memories of that photo session?


 We were supposed to
have an album cover but we didn’t think of anything! So we said, okay, let’s
just roll around in the mud. We were living in the country doing the album and
there was lots of mud everywhere, and we were feeling kind of tribal, being
stuck in the country since we were from London.
‘Okay, let’s just roll around in the mud. That’s a very tribal thing to do.’ So
we rolled in the mud as the picture people were coming to take pictures for the
album. They probably wanted something really slick. [emits evil cackle]
So we said, fuck it, let’s do something else – our way! And that’s what we did.


 Were you surprised at some of the reactions?
In some corners both men and women were reportedly outraged. I remember in some
reviews there was a dichotomy that emerged, particularly among women; some
people thought it was a wonderful, humorous and bold visual statement, while
others thought you’d set back the feminist cause 100 years.


 No, I wasn’t aware of
anyone being outraged. But that must be a real American view, right? It’s such
a fucking difference [between] Europe and America. We could debate that in a
book! America
is so sexually hung up; anything is taboo over there, even a slight breast.
Here in Europe, you go in a park in the summer
and everyone is laying in the grass naked and it’s like nothing. Nobody even
looks at you.


 When Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and
Blind Faith’s album came out, both sleeves had to be changed for release in America
because the British versions had naked women on them.


 Oh! That ruined a
good thing. What a shame. But there you go. Jimi Hendrix, the big legend, can’t
even say what he wants on his album cover without compromise. And here we are in
the ‘70s, these women, nothing like Jimi, just revolution punk girls, and we
decided to have artistic control. We wanted artistic control, which most
artists didn’t get at the time – which is probably another reason it took
forever to get a contract. We needed that artistic control.


 With the Slits, I take it that art always came
first, secondary to money.


 Oh yeah. Well, money,
there was probably something even before money, which would have been last. And
that was probably a big mistake. We should have tried to be a little more
commercialized to get out there. But that’s crying over spilt milk because we
were in those times, and you don’t know what might have happened if we’d done
that. Maybe Cut wouldn’t have been! Other things wouldn’t have been.


You’ve continued to
make music since the Slits, deejaying as well, and I understand you’re
recording a solo album too. What’s that like so far?


It’s sort of ‘continued Slits,’ the same type of thing,
except it includes a lot of dancehall, world music, hip-hop, dance, that the
Slits probably would have picked up if they’d continued – and still punky
reggae stuff. My band doesn’t have a real name yet, but I have a song called
‘True Warrior’ so some have unofficially called us The True Warriors. I’ll do
some more work on the record in New York in
the spring, and we’ll also be doing some touring and gigging, mainly in Europe.


And I understand that
earlier this year [2004] you performed at the Meltdown Festival and did an
all-Slits set?


The music sounded really current, right? If I was playing it
‘vintage’ I’d feel really old: ‘Oh, I can’t go through! It sounds so vintage!’
But it’s modern, really hard hitting and cutting edge. It was great to play it:
‘Ah! Okay, that makes sense. It’s fitting into the time, finally.’ That’s why I
don’t mind doing Slits songs, mixing them in as mine. It’s really just a
continuation anyway. In fact, they are evolving, getting better I think. But
it’s still the roots of the Slits, and it mixes in with my stuff perfectly.


There’s a great
saying in the States: “Don’t Kill The Legend.” But would you consider getting
the Slits back together?


No, no way. The old Slits are not playing anymore. If
anything I want to build a new Slits! I would never want to have it like a
reunion. I guess it’s easy enough if people are addicted to touring and music
and they got the fever, and if they don’t want to kill themselves, the next
best thing is that they join into a reunion group! [giggles] Poor
people. You got to think of the artist as well. When they do it they’re
probably not thinking about doing it for money. They just really can’t do
without the music they grew up with. But you’re right: ‘Don’t kill the legend.’ I’m writing that down in my book right

       I don’t think
the Slits will ever die as a legend in this case. The reunions of some bands is
that their reunion is doing what they were, already, and what they became. But
the Slits never fully became, never fully got out there at the time, never
fully got what they deserve – or what the people deserved to get. So every ten
years that go by with the Slits, it’ll be more like a Xena the Warrior Princess
type of legend; it never dies, it just goes on. And in a hundred years when
we’re all dead, they’ll dig up the Slits like some old Beethoven skeleton:
‘Ahhh! This is way ahead of its time! Listen to this!’ And they’ll treat it
like some classical music.



[Photo Credit: Angel
Cebellos. NOTE: according to Ari’s manager Jeff Jacquin the image comes from
one of the last photo sessions Ari ever did. “She loved these butterfly pics,”
says Jacquin]







acclaimed indie provocateurs make an unexpected, but not unwelcome, foray into
pristine pop. Frontman Bradford Cox explains.




Bradford Cox wasn’t exactly born to blend in. He’s afflicted
with the deforming disease Marfan’s syndrome, is prone to “pornographic
honesty” on his blog, and is inclined to cross-dress for Deerhunter’s raucous
live shows. But after accidentally blog-leaking two albums of unmastered new
material in 2008 and lambasting fans for their perceived disloyalty in
disseminating them, the blowback chastened Cox.


Hints of a quieter, gentler Cox were already in the air,
judging from 2008 Album of the Year-candidate Microcastle, an era-hopping sonic playground
dominated by rolling waves of psychedelic reverb and offset with tidy pop songs
of pulsing bass and coruscating guitar. Now, with Atlanta
neighbor Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective) producing, Halcyon Digest, released by venerable UK label 4AD, blends
new elements into Deerhunter’s already lush template while emphasizing its pop


Psych-pop vibes insinuate into the sunny thrum of bells and
jangly guitars on “Memory Boy,” as well as the more autumnal melody and
processed beats of “Helicopter,” while “Coronado” and “Revival” share a glam
pop feel (in dark and light shades, respectively). Previous echoes of Jesus
& Mary Chain narco-pop are confidently indulged with epic guitar fuzz on
“Don’t Cry” and “Fountain Stairs,” and Cox’s blend of skeletal instrumentation
and bedroom computer-muck takes a John Lennon (post Beatles) turn with dreamy
nostalgia like “Sailing” and “Basement Scene.” (The former’s meandering verses
are the album’s weakest link.)


“Desire Lines,” guitarist Lockett Pundt’s sole composition
here, opts for a harder-edged Swervedriver sound culminating in a three-minute
outro of guitar glory, and Cox’s trippier inclinations bookend the record.
Disc-opener “Earthquake” builds on an insistent backward-masked beat that has a
feline bass figure coiling through it, its rhythms buffeted by a sirocco of
synthesizers that surge and hiss. On “He Would Have Laughed,” tribal
polyrhythms form scaffolding for repetitive guitar and keyboard lines that
build into rich crescendos until an open-ended coda answers the song’s existential
questions with an emphatic “shut your mouth.” 


Cox says these songs are about the way people edit their memories
to construct versions they can live with. Acknowledging that suggests he’s
reached the maturity he’s often lamented never attaining. Halcyon Digest says Deerhunter has been there a while now.




Cox discuss the band’s new record, his influences, and the golden days of flyer


BLURT: If Microcastle was intentionally less autobiographical than Cryptograms, where does the new record blend into that spectrum?

COX: I think it’s easy for me to slip in and out of an
autobiographical mode of songwriting because I honestly just let the words
write themselves and there is never any premeditation whatsoever. So a song
like “Earthquake” can be totally based on a real memory for a second and then
go off on this weird tangent about someone’s train of thought as they are dying
of hypothermia. It’s all just a big psycho trance collage.



What was the inspiration behind the striking liner
notes’ look? How did that, and photographer George Mitchell’s work, fit
the “halcyon memories only” aesthetic of the album?

There is not really a “halcyon memories only”
aesthetic. In fact most of the album contradicts that by being, in hindsight,
pretty dark. The graphics just happen naturally for me. I have worked with
typography since I was about 12 and I just like piecing things together like
that. I think (Deerhunter drummer) Moses (Archuleta) originally suggested a
stark black and white theme with the artwork. He had a Swedish or Belgian
photographer’s work in mind. I saw George’s photograph and it just worked. It
had an immediate connection to the music, especially songs like “Basement



You asked fans to come up with their own posters
for Halcyon Digest — how has the old
school flyer idea played out?

I was very pleased at the response and how everyone who
participated approached it. Someone made a mosaic giant poster type thing and
covered the side of a building with it. There were pictures from all over the



Why did you turn to Ben Allen for these sessions, and did
it play out differently than the idea you had going in?

Ben lives right down the street from me and it was important
for us to work at home. I am very happy with the way the album turned out.


The new one seems
to have absorbed some of that great, hazy 4AD sound.
What, if anything, would
you say influenced Halcyon Digest?

Without sounding arrogant I can’t really name many
influences for this album. All I was listening to around the time most of these
songs were written was Neil Young and it doesn’t sound like him really. I love
4AD of course and am indebted to so many of those albums, but I wasn’t going
for a 4AD sound or any sound really this time around.



[Photo Credit: Drew Vanderbilt]




As a pair of BBC session sets demonstrates, whether in acoustic or electric mode, Dave Cousins & Co. were – are! – Britain’s
premiere musical gymnasts.




One of the
criminally-overlooked British bands of the 1970s, Strawbs successfully welded
folk roots to the era’s sturdy progressive rock framework in the creation of
some of the decade’s most exciting and adventurous music. Originally known as
the Strawberry Hill Boys, the bluegrass-oriented trio rode the England’s
infatuation with American roots music to a modicum of notoriety during the late
1960s. The band shortened its name to just ‘Strawbs’ when they made the
decision to pursue a wider sound with original material (instead of folk
standards), while a brief flirtation with legendary vocalist Sandy Denny
resulted in a single album that would remain unreleased until 1975, Denny later
leaving the band to join Fairport Convention.


frontman Dave Cousins has been the Strawbs’ primary singer and songwriter
throughout the band’s history, he benefited greatly by being the ringleader of
a revolving-door circus of various musical talents that have contributed
greatly to the band’s sound and legacy. Between the time of Strawbs’ self-titled
1969 debut and 1978’s Deadlines,
after which Cousins effectively retired from the business, the band featured
the efforts of such skilled members as a pre-Yes Rick Wakeman; guitarists Tony
Hooper and Dave Lambert (Fire); keyboardists Blue Weaver (Mott the Hoople) and
John Hawken (Renaissance); bassists John Ford (Hudson-Ford) and Chas Cronk
(Steve Hackett); and drummers Richard Hudson (Hudson-Ford) and Rod Coombes
(Stealer’s Wheel). Together, in various line-ups, Strawbs spun off a handful of
U.K. chart hits and a dozen acclaimed albums.


by the generous reception garnered by a Strawbs’ 30th anniversary reunion show
in London during the summer of 1998 – an event which gathered almost every
former member of the band for a raucous party – Cousins put the band back together
again when retiring in 2000 after 20 years as a radio executive. In the decade
since, various permutations of Strawbs have toured Europe, the U.S. and Canada,
‘Acoustic Strawbs’ (pictured above) performing, well, acoustic versions of
the band’s old material while ‘Electric Strawbs’ plays amplified arrangements of
this classic material. This 21st century Strawbs is nearly as prolific as the
original outfit, releasing better than a half-dozen live and studio albums this
decade, both revisiting old songs and spinning new tales on albums like 2008’s The Broken Hearted Bride and 2009’s Dancing To The Devil’s Beat.


From their
first appearance on the BBC as the Strawberry Hill Boys in 1963, through their
early history as Strawbs, the band frequently graced the British radio giant’s
airwaves. Universal Music, working with Cousins and the BBC, has compiled a
number of the band’s BBC performances onto two albums – Live At The BBC: Volume One, In Session is a single-disc collection
of performances on such BBC programs as Top
and Sounds of the Seventies circa 1968 to 1973; Live At The BBC:
Volume Two, In Concert
is a two-disc set featuring three complete concerts
broadcast by the BBC in 1971, 1973, and 1974, representing three distinctively
different eras of the bands.


Live At The BBC: Volume One, In Session offers up nineteen
studio performances by various permutations of the band, the earliest version
of Strawbs from December 1968, three songs that display the roots of Dave
Cousins’ transformation from folkie to a full-fledged rock songwriter with
folkish tendencies. While the performance of “The Battle” is chilling
in its sparse simplicity, the song is wordy and too dirge-like. With a lively
intro from an anonymous BBC Top Gear announcer, “Poor Jimmy Wilson” is much more entertaining, the song’s
energetic arrangement and odd meter providing a strong showcase for Cousins’
vocal gymnastics. Accompanied by lovely strummed guitar, the story-song shows
early on the songwriter’s charisma and talent. While “That Which Was Once
Mine” is lush and aurally enchanting, the performance itself is too little,
bereft of the spark that fuels the best Strawbs material.


A year
later, the line-up of Cousins, guitarist Tony Hooper, and bassist Ron Chesterman
appeared on Peter Sarstedt’s show to knock out performances of “Another
Day” and “We’ll Meet Again Sometime.” The former is a textured
bit of engaging baroque pop with welcome flourishes from Clare Deniz’s cello
and shared vocals, while the latter is one of the best from Cousins’
considerable songbook, a forceful example of psyche-pop with Hooper taking lead
vocals and Cousins providing backing harmonies. An outtake from the band’s
sophomore album Dragonfly, the song’s
bittersweet lyrics and passionate performance have made it a long-time fan


addition of drummer Richard Hudson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, as well as a
replacement in bassist in John Ford, would forever alter the Strawbs’ sound.
Writing with the potential of the expanded band in mind, Cousins would begin
exploring progressive rock musical themes beneath his fully-realized lyrics.
While the 1970 performance of “Song of a Sad Little Girl” displays
much of the magic of the band’s folk roots, the addition of Wakeman’s rich piano
tones fleshes out the guitar-driven arrangement. A 1971 performance of
“The Hangman And The Papist,” one of the most over-the-top of
Cousins’ lyrics, is from the Sound of the
program and clearly foreshadows the prog-daze to come in the U.K.
Cousins’ emotional vocals are used as a valuable instrument in their own right,
while Wakeman’s keyboards provide context and texture. The song is altogether
somber, given its subject matter, and comes close to being overwrought in its
fiery passion.


By late
1971, Cousins and Strawbs had reached an artistic peak that would result in
nine albums over the following seven years. This productive and moderately
successful period of the band’s existence is kicked off with dynamic 1971
performances of a pair of songs from the Strawbs’ upcoming 1972 disc Grave New World, their fifth album and
that which would bring them to America’s
attention, cracking the Top 200 albums chart. “Benedictus” is another
dirge-like song, albeit a much more intellectually-challenging one than
“The Battle.” Cousins’ almost-chanted vocals are laid atop guitar,
bass, and dulcimer and complimented by gorgeous piano flourishes by Blue Weaver
(replacing Wakeman, who had departed for Yes). The haunting “New
World” is a Dylanesque bit of social commentary featuring one of Cousins’
most chilling vocal turns and a darkly beautiful and altogether prog
instrumental backdrop that creates a stark atmosphere for Cousins’ apocalyptic


From here,
it was off to the races, the band’s progressive sound influenced by a creative
tension made by the interplay between Cousins, Weaver, Ford, and Hudson – all
talented musicians and songwriters mixing folk, rock, and pop in the
development of a totally unique musical style. The gang-written
“Tomorrow” is a tense, chaotic, hard-rocking ditty with raging
guitars, explosive drumbeats, and enough keyboard hyperbole to make Keith
Emerson blush in embarrassment. Ford’s “Heavy Disguise” was a hit for
the band, his radio-ready vocals fronting a lively guitar stroll, his
intelligent lyrics crossing folk with pop and dancing all the way to the cash
register. A 1972 performance of “New World,” the only duplication in
songs on this collection, varies from the previous year’s performance only in
that a slightly sparser arrangement drives home Cousins’ powerful vocals and


would upend again by early 1973, founding member Tony Hooper departing over the
band’s increasingly rock-oriented sound. He would be replaced by guitarist Dave
Lambert of Fire, a Pete Townshend disciple who, honestly, would add a
much-needed caustic edge to both Cousins’ folkish tendencies and the
thinly-disguised pop chart aspirations of Ford and Hudson. Live At The BBC: Volume One, In Session offers up a trio of
performances from this 1973 incarnation of the band, including what would
become, perhaps, Strawbs’ biggest hit in “Part Of The Union.” The
John Ford composition from Bursting At
The Seams
was part novelty song and part solidarity with the band’s working
class fans, the sort of old folkie British work song with cheesy pub piano and
chanted sledgehammer lyrics that the punters eat up, Ford providing a bit of
modern pop sheen to the affair.


Live At The BBC: Volume Two, In Concert opens with the 1971
incarnation of the band, the first true rock ‘n’ roll line-up featuring
Cousins, Hooper, Wakeman, Ford, and Hudson. The eleven-song performance from
the Paris Theatre in London shows the band’s enormous onstage dynamic and
charisma. The set opens with “The Hangman And The Papist,” the song fleshed
out with gorgeous instrumentation that creates an appropriately dark ambiance
for Cousins’ judgmental lyrics and powerful vocals. One of the most underrated
tunes in the Strawbs’ canon, “Martin Luther King’s Dream” was one of
John Bonham’s favorite songs, which would later lead to an advantageous
relationship between the band and Led Zeppelin. Here, the song is rightfully
delivered as a remnant of the band’s folk roots, with fine vocal harmonies and
a few tasteful keyboard flourishes.


Much of
the rest of this 1971 performance finds the band straddling the fence between
lilting melodic folk (“A Glimpse of Heaven,” “The Shepherd’s
Song”) and an awkward, forward-leaning rock sound (“The Flower and
the Young Man,” “Sheep”). The haunting “Witchwood,”
which would become one of the band’s signature songs as well as the name of its
independent record label, offers up plenty of arcane atmosphere with exotic
acoustic fretwork and sparse keyboards behind Cousins’ enchanting vocals. Wakeman’s
classically-oriented piano and keyboards are evident throughout these
performances, adding a bit of shading and energy to the guitar-driven verses.
The bluegrass romp “When You Wore A Tulip” harkens back to the
Strawberry Hill Boys with Cousins’ lively banjo plucking.  


An eleven-song
1973 Strawbs performance, also from the Paris Theatre in London, is by necessity split between the two
discs on Live At The BBC: Volume Two, In Concert,
but it doesn’t really detract from your listening enjoyment. The five songs on
the first CD include such heavy-hitting live faves as “New World” and
“Benedictus,” so the time spent changing the CDs (for those of us
without a carousel-styled player) provides a welcome respite from the band’s
high-energy performances. This version of Strawbs includes guitarist Lambert
and keyboardist Weaver in addition to Cousins, Ford, and Hudson, and they rock
like crazy on these live tracks.


shimmering guitar provides a fine backdrop for Cousins’ aching vocals on
“New World,” a song partially inspired by unrest and violence in
Northern Ireland while “Story Down” offers a bit of drowsy,
twang-guitar and a countryish sound not unlike Brinsley Schwarz if not for
Cousins’ strident, rough-hewn vocals. The stately, extravagant “Benedictus”
was tailor-made for Blue Weaver’s elegant keyboard accompaniment, Cousins’
droning vocals creating a simply mesmerizing ambiance that is supported by a
veritable wall of menacing sound.


into disc two of Live At The BBC: Volume Two,
In Concert
, and the continuation of the 1973 show, Ford’s “Heavy
Disguise” opens with its spry guitar-strum and hook-laden arrangement.
Ford’s vocals are distinctly different than Cousins’, warmer and more
radio-friendly, which probably led to the song’s chart success. Lambert’s “Bovver
Blues” is a rare novelty tune from the Strawbs’ catalog, with an affected,
exaggerated accent and working class hooligan lyrics. Another Lambert composition,
“The Winter and the Summer,” fares better, the song’s psych-pop roots
made substantial by baroque keyboard washes, jagged shots of guitar, and
Lambert’s wan vocals. The crowd favorite “Part of the Union” is
played for all it’s worth here, with a gang-chanted chorus, big martial
instrumentation, and audience-pleasing lyrics. Another of Strawbs’ best songs,
“Lay Down” closes the set with Cousins’ infectious vocals, clashing
guitarplay, forceful drumming, and a chorus that easily reels in the listener.


Live At The BBC: Volume Two, In Concert closes with a nine-song
performance from 1974, the newly revamped band line-up featuring Cousins and
Lambert along with newcomers John Hawken, Chas Cronk, and Rod Coombes –
considered by many to be the “classic Strawbs” roster, and that which
recorded Hero and Heroine, the band’s
highest-charting U.S. effort. There are a few duplications with the previous
shows, most notably high-octane versions of “New World,” “Lay
Down,” and “The River/Down By The Sea,” but there are also a
number of unique and striking performances here as well, many from Hero and Heroine. The Cousins/Hawken
co-write “Autumn” is a primo slice of prog-rock pedagoguery with Cousins’
filigree acoustic guitar playing at cross purposes with Lambert’s chiming
electric fretwork, Hawken’s imaginative keys supported by a subtle rhythmic
framework, and Cousins’ whimsical vocals sitting comfortably between the


reckless “Just Love” evinces a rockabilly heart within its proggish
soundtrack, Coombes hitting the cymbals particularly hard with a jazzlike
flair, assisted by his snare brushwork, Lambert’s rollicking vocals matched by
his nuanced guitarplay. Two side-by-side tracks from Hero and Heroine are mashed together here into a single inspired
performance; “Out In The Cold” is provided sharp, country-tinged
guitar and a bare-bones arrangement on top of which Cousins’ lays down his
emotional vocals. “Round and Round,” another Strawbs hit, reminds of
the cyclical nature of life with another contagious chorus and daunting
orchestral instrumentation that nevertheless manages to fuse pop and prog-rock
into a friendly performance. “Hero and Heroine,” the song, is a
larger-than-life epic full of fast-paced vocals, cascades of innovative
fretwork, swells of keyboards and drums, and oddly-phrased, albeit intriguing
fantastical lyrics.   


These two
volumes of Strawbs material from the BBC are more than a mere collector’s dream
come true, the albums also providing a valuable look into the band’s music from
another angle, resulting in great insight into the performance ethic and
artistry of Cousins and crew. There are surprisingly few duplicated songs,
considering that there are 50 tracks spread across the three CDs, a testimony
to the deep and satisfying well of Strawbs’ material. Bottom line: if you’re
already a long-time Strawbs fan, you’re gonna want to track these two albums
down and add them to your collection.  As
for the newcomer, while somewhat daunting, either of these two volumes would
make for a great introduction to this too-often overlooked band. Don’t let the
“prog rock” label put you off, because this is honest, creative, and
imaginative rock music made by one of the best bands of the 1970s.



Additional Strawbs reading at BLURT:


Sandy Denny & The Strawbs – All Our Own Work


The Broken Hearted Bride


Dancing to the Devil’s Beat

GREY AREA JJ Grey and Mofro


With a new album in
stores and a new tour just underway, the Florida
swamp-rockers have their mofro, er, mojo workin’ once again.




In JJ Grey’s Mofro cosmos, everything is what it is and
comes on its own loose, funky schedule. It ought to; Grey’s music is free and
easy. The most common metaphor used to describe it is the front porch, where
folks sip iced tea or whiskey and tell lies none of their fellow porch sitters
will call lies, and all-including a background chorus of frogs and crickets – agree
would make a fine Faulkner or Crews novel. That’s as analytical as they get,
and Grey likes to look at himself the same way, whether or not he has a new
joint to plug.


“If you look at yourself in the mirror [today],” he says in
a Floridian drawl, “and you see yourself three years later, you still look the
same. People say, ‘Oh my gosh you’ve changed so much!’ Shit, I can’t tell… I
don’t really notice it.”


Although JJ Grey and Mofro have their fifth album, Georgia Warhorse (Alligator), in stores
now, little has changed besides the men that make up Mofro. In fact, other than
Grey and good buddy, guitarist Daryl Hance, the lineup remains dynamic even as
their signature casual swamp-funk stays the same. And while Grey called 2008’s Orange Blossom the album he wanted to
make eight years ago (when Mofro proffered its debut, Black Water, on Fog City Records), “I feel pretty much the same way
about every record.”


The key, he figures, is that loose vibe. As long as nothing
gets too serious, the music will flow.


“The longer I go, the older I get, the less I try to be
clever,” Grey says. “And the more I try to stay out of my own way. I don’t try
to figure out how I’m gonna write or arrange a song. I just go to work-make
shit up.”


That is about the size of it. Grey says no matter the
record, it has old songs and new songs that came up while “mowin’ the grass or
drivin’ somewhere.” He carries a pocket recorder to document the song scraps
that float around his head and “then I leave them alone.” Later on, he returns
to the ideas in his little studio. “I see where it’ll lead. It might lead
nowhere. Then again, maybe it’ll lead somewhere.”


Typically they do arrive at a destination called done – or
as close as that gets in the Mofro cosmos. Contrary to that lax ethos, there’s
usually a bigger crowd awaiting the new stuff than there was before. They span
continents and contingents-blues fans, funk aficionados, roots music devotees
recognize an honesty in the immersive, soul-soothing music.


“To me, music is conversation,” says Grey. “And uh, I don’t
have to invent new words to impress anybody. I just tell a story. We’re all
usin’ the same words to tell stories-not just people writin’ music. And to me,
music is just an extension of that. It’s just more memorable because there’s a


“It’s the same thing with Georgia Warhorse. I just keep observin’ and keep lettin’ things
happen. When they happen, they happen. It’s kinda hard to nail down the one
thing for sure. When I’m on a roll, I just stay out of my own way and let it
ride itself out.”


“Gotta Know,” a twelve-year-old track on Warhorse explains a bit more about
Grey’s mellow approach. Written when he was a “kid” into such light fare as
quantum physics, the song contemplates known knowns and unknown knowns. “When
you start talkin’ about subatomic particles, everything’s in theory.” For
example, no one has seen an electron or proton, just their effects, yet we talk
about quarks – “things that make up electrons and protons. How are you gonna
talk about something that makes up somethin’ you’ve never seen?”


So you see, thinking about something too much is a fool’s
game. Isn’t it best to just let nature take its course, and marvel at its
wonders? Of course the answer here is yes and no – but as far as Mofro’s music
goes, that’s a marvel that needs no scrutiny.


“In the end, I realized all I was lookin’ for was answers to
questions that can’t be answered. I figured it out, even as an idiotic smartass
kid – the mind can’t understand these things.”


JJ Grey and Mofro
kicked off their latest U.S.
tour last week and you can view the tour dates at their MySpace page.


[Photo Credit: Darren Jacknisky]


[NOTE: This story originally appeared in the June 23, 2010
edition of Salt Lake City Weekly.]