Monthly Archives: January 2011

SEX BOMB Har Mar Superstar

With a new residency
beginning this week at L.A.’s
, we tip our hat once again to the hardest working man in show biz.




Somewhere between Prince, Stevie Wonder and Ron Jeremy
exists Sean Tillmann, the 32 (almost 33, on Feb. 6) year old singer and sex bomb known as Har Mar
Superstar. Sure, to some he’s Sean Na Na, and to some audiences the soul funk
brother routine he’s wrought is funny. But as Tillmann (the songwriter) and Har
Mar (the singer), that’s where the last laughs come in. Tillmann’s written hit
singles for Cheetah Girls and Jennifer Lopez and would’ve written one (“Tall
Boy”) for Britney Spears. She didn’t take it, so the artist Har Mar Superstar
did for his more recent excursion in sensuous blue eyed soul, 2009’s. Dark Touches. Tillmann also got a
special call from Drew Barrymore to be in her directorial debut, Whip It as a roller derby coach. “Musicians
have a lot of down time,” says Tillmann. “I’m just lucky enough to fill mine
with interesting, weird, and random things.”





“I was in junior high when HMS started-I signed up for
karaoke, gathered up a hundred or so kids to watch me sing the Bee Gees
“How Deep Is Your Love.” I knew the song like the back of my hand, so
I nailed it. A light went on in my head and I turned up the performance. I
needed to turn it up. It got sexual. I focused on a child eating a corn dog for
a while and then turned my energy to her mother. I fucking killed. The crowd
went nuts. I got banned. Har Mar Superstar was born.”



I have a million different names and alter-egos I work
under. Sean Tillmann, Har Mar, Sean Na Na, Blood Flag, Leggs Benedict, and
Hamburghini. I have different names for different projects because they are so
different musically. I don’t want to confuse people.



Sean Na Na in particular is my Elvis Costello-esque pop/rock
band. I play guitar live in that band too. If I threw one of those songs on a
Har Mar record it would be a real head-scratcher.



I just like having fun, and I guess I have kind of a short
attention span.



I find that my music encounters as much hate as it does
love, but maybe that’s me being hard on myself.



I wish I was hanging out with The Time as a child. That is
my total fantasy.



I loved Purple Rain as much as Sesame Street when I was
growing up. I spent hours and hours inside headphones two feet from the
turntable listening to Prince and Michael Jackson over and over again.



Michael Jackson’s Thriller was definitely the first album that I totally devoured. I was suckered in by
that baby tiger and the love never stopped.



“Tall Boy” got rejected by Britney Spears’s
management. We just submitted the track. I wasn’t surprised by the rejection
because at the time they were trying to keep Britney wholesome. This was
pre-baby, pre-K Fed, and pre-head shave.



Oh, “Tall Boy?” If Britney had a single glorifying drinking
tall beers and fucking at the time it would have been all over.



“Save the Strip” may be reminiscent of Timbaland’s
productions. Timbaland is amazing, but there was no parody there. I would
definitely love for him to call me up. I think that collaboration would still
be amazing.



Between The Handler and Dark Touches, I wasn’t sure if I
was going to make another Har Mar album.



The “I Got Next” contract was born in Detroit. After a show I was hanging with a
girl I found super attractive. She seemed up for it, but she had a boyfriend at
the time. I made her sign an I Got Next contract. I showed it to my friend Ben
Blackwell [Dirtbombs], and he loved the idea. He was like, “That needs to
be a song on the next album,” so I made it one.



“Girls Only” is an anthem for girls of all ages. From
slumber party to the twilight years, all ladies can relate.



I get really antsy in between tours, projects, and
showers… basically all of the time. I spend a lot of my down time in movie
theaters. I LOVE matinees. I live for them. I also watch a lot of HBO series
box sets. There’s nothing like nestling in for a ten hour marathon of Deadwood.

BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #14: Drunken Prayer

Portland-powered Americana with a dark,
soulful and – dare we say it – intoxicating twist on the genre.




Drunken Prayer, the latest pick in our long-running Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret” series, is the brainchild of Morgan Christopher Geer, who
first pinged the national radar while woodshedding on the fertile musical scene
of Asheville.
During the first half of the previous decade his group The Unholy Trio
(featuring members of Freakwater and future members of Reigning Sound)
terrorized club stages on a regular basis and that band also earned a degree of
notoriety after appearing on Bloodshot Records’ 5th Year Anniversary
compilation with a twisted cover of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.”
Definitely ‘tweren’t your mama’s brand of Americana,
that’s for sure.


Geer subsequently relocated to the Northwest (following a temporary
sojourn to Cali), where he started putting together a new combo, and by 2007
he’d released the Drunken Prayer album on the Deer Lodge label, followed in 2009 with the Drunken Prayer… with Sam Henry live EP (Early Grave). He performs under
that moniker both solo and with a full band, having collaborated at various
points with musicians having a collective resume that includes the Breeders,
She & Him, the Wipers, Beck, Eels, John Lee Hooker and Elliot Smith – and
his live appearances are by all account raucously anarchic displays of primal
roots-rocking (with no shortage of punk-sired aplomb).


In fact, when Drunken Prayer initially came to the attention of yours
truly, I was smitten enough by the band’s self-titled debut to wax enthusiastically
for Harp magazine:


Straight outta
Portland, Ore., by way of purgatory and a few county jails is Morgan Geer, who
with his lapsed Baptist cohorts fully lives up to the bandname. Geer gets right
down to the genuflecting with “I’m Gonna Lay Down in Front of My Lord,” a
stately, horns-and-slide-guitar number that’s one part the Band, one part
The Night and several parts sinner’s
remorse. Later, in the woozy, Bad Seeds-in-New Orleans noir waltz “What Made Me
Kill,” Geer tries to blame his misdeeds on the booze ‘n’ pills, and his
flophouse braying almost makes you want to take pity on him. Almost. Because by
the time the band plows into a twang-glam-punk, positively murderous, version
of Leadbelly staple “Take This Hammer,” you start to get the sense that Geer
likes his sinnin’ – a lot. Upright citizens, drop to your knees and utter a few
prayers of your own if the band comes to town. This Geer boy, he’s bad news.


So I was doubly excited to get the good news that Geer has been hard
at work on a full-length, tentatively titled Into the Missionfield, that he plans to have out sometime this year
– about time, considering the massive potential he’s demonstrated thus far. As
you’ll read in the interview below, he’s injecting his new material with a dose
of upbeat soul – his arrangement for the oft-covered traditional number “Ain’t
No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” for example, is markedly different from most
versions that people are familiar with – in a clear quest to broaden and
elaborate upon his core sound. Of the new tunes he played for me, a lot of
stylistic ground gets covered, with standouts including “Ain’t No Grave,” the
Latin-flavored/accordion-powered “Never Tends to Forget,” the riotous, Nuggets-worthy garage-rocker  “A Neat and Tidy Grave” and a sassy, almost
poppy (!) number called “You Walk as if You Have Somewhere to Go.”


Keep your eyes peeled, then, for new Drunken Prayer, and meanwhile, check
out his official website as well as his MySpace page and Facebook page for
additional details, tour dates and song samples. (There’s also a YouTube clip
below, following the interview, featuring Geer and the band doing “Ain’t No
Grave.”) He’s one of the good ‘uns,
trust us.



BLURT: What were
some of your early formative experiences and influences, from records to
concerts to… ?

MORGAN GEER: My mom taught me how to play
guitar. I used to listen to The Beatles Live
at The Hollywood Bowl
, The Stones’ Get
Your Ya-Ya’s Out
and 50,000,000
Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong
and wanted to learn how to play for myself. I really wanted to play bass, but a
guitar is what we had. Then I got a simple 4-track recorder and started
experimenting. I was a latch-key kid, so the 4-track was my chief companion for
a while. I’ve remained insulated ever since.

Later I would play drums at our house which was directly across from the
student center. Guys would hear me practicing while they were outside hanging
out, and I was eventually recruited to play in a few of the college bands.
There were quite a few students from Athens,
GA at the time when that scene was
really getting interesting. Much of that vibe rubbed off on my high school
self. I got to see some amazing underground, avant-garde rock and roll and performance
art in a lot of dingy basements. That had an enormous effect on me.


Tell us a little
about the pre-Drunken Prayer era.

The first serious group I joined was The
Merle. We were loud and listened to a lot Black Sabbath, Butthole Surfers and
all the Sub-Pop bands. We recorded a decent demo but never put anything down
that matched our live show which could be pretty outrageous.

After that, I met bassist David Wayne Gay during a stint in a country
group out of Asheville, NC, called White Heat. He in turn introduced
me to drummer Lance Wille. The three of us formed a band called The Gold Coats.
We were later dubbed “The Unholy Trio” by a local writer and that name stuck.
Through Dave’s band Freakwater, Bloodshot Records got a hold of a cover of
Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise we did
and put it on a compilation. The song was a result of having a few leftover
studio minutes to burn, I never expected anyone to hear it. We toured with
Freakwater down to SXSW for a Bloodshot showcase on the back of the song. An Austin filmmaker put it in a hilariously creepy video.
Dave and Lance are now the rhythm section for The Reigning Sound.

I play some of the songs from this period as Drunken Prayer too.


You started
putting Drunken Prayer in California in 2006,
right? How and when did you make the move to Portland?

After I moved out of Asheville,
I started re-evaluating. Up till then, I’d been fairly passive artistically.
Drunken Prayer is closer to my own voice.

I knew Northern California wasn’t where I
wanted to be. In the meantime a friend, another southern expat, from Athens, GA, invited me to
come up and visit him in Portland. He thought
I’d like it and I did and stayed. That weekend was the last time Mt St Helens
erupted. I took that as a sign. Portland is a
lot like Asheville so it’s not really that much
of a stretch. After I got here it wasn’t that hard to then find musicians who
were sympathetic to the sound. I fell in with crowd at The Deer Lodge recording


How about the Drunken Prayer album in 2007? What went
into that, and how was it received?

Within about a year I had the first CD
done. I was listening to Amazing Grace by Spiritualized, Tom Waits’ Mule
and Saturday Night, Sunday
, an album of duets with Ralph Stanley. Pearls and Swine” was the first song I wrote when I moved to Portland. “Take This Hammer” was fun. I adapted the lyrics
from the Leadbelly song to this heavy, galloping song I had. We did the same
thing with “Ain’t No Grave” on this new record.

One Contemporary Country leaning blog described my lyrics as “challenging”
but I took that as a compliment so I can’t really complain. I’m glad to have any
kind of impact at all.


Then you released
a live EP in 2009 with Sam Henry [drums] and Miss Audra [keyboards] – thoughts
on that?

Audra and Sam Henry are two of the most
gifted natural musicians I’ve worked with. They really raise the bar. The EP’s
a field recording of a show the three of us did in the parking lot of Centaur
Guitars here in Portland. I’m not sure we knew the show was being recorded.
Rich Peterson at Peregrine Sound does great remote recording and we played
really well that day so we decided to put the thing out.  We made the packaging ourselves, individually
assembling woodblock covers that our friend Mike Lund did on recycled


I understand that
your live lineup can take very different forms with different musicians, and
you also do solo shows under the Drunken Prayer name?

In the past few years I’ve gotten deeper
into Eels, Will Oldham, Magnetic Fields, Mugison and others that are pretty
unbound by traditional structural norms. You never know what you’re going to
get and as a fan that’s pretty exciting. The folks who play in Drunken Prayer
are collaborators. Whether it’s just me and the pedal steel or a big six piece
band it’s still Drunken Prayer music.


What are your
thoughts on Portland in general? It’s got a reputation for having a highly
competitive music scene – can a musician make a living there without having to
take a day job?

Drunken Prayer doesn’t fall neatly into
any specific genres so we’re able to play in a lot of different situations and
circles. I think we stand out for that reason, at least amongst the musicians
we do.

        If you play
bass or drums you can get a lot of work in Portland but that’s probably true of
most places. It’d be pretty tough to make a living just playing music here but
there are a lot of close-nit neighborhoods and most have their own couple of
music clubs, so you could make the rounds. It’s really easy to get around in Portland without a car. The public
transit system is exceptional and the town is beyond bike and pedestrian
friendly. I think that adds to a healthy live music scene. You don’t have to
worry about driving. 


What’s next,
then? You’ve got a new album in the works…

The new album features some crazy talent.
There’s more of a focus on rhythm on this album. I have three of my favorite
drummers playing on it: Jose Medeles from The Breeders and Scott McPherson on
loan from She & Him (they also jointly own Revival Drums in Portland), and
the great all-around drummer Anders Bergstrom. They all mesh so well, it’s hard
to tell who’s who if you don’t already know which of them is on which track.

It’s shaping up to be more of an upbeat soul record compared to the
sound on the first one, which is ironic, 2010 wasn’t the happiest year of my
life. I’m the worst person to describe my own music but expect horns and
fiddles and UFOs. I’m excited to get this one finished to start on the next.
I’m going through kind of a prolific period.


“Definitely the songs.” And the
voice, too. Paying tribute to the late country legend.




When Charlie Louvin passed away
, Jan. 26, at the age of 83, from pancreatic cancer, one of country
music’s most distinctive voices was permanently silenced. By way of tribute,
then, we present the following story that originally appeared in the April 2007
issue of BLURT predecessor
Harp magazine. At the time of publication, Louvin
had recently released an acclaimed new solo record on the ever-prescient Tompkins Square
label and was enjoying a latterday career resurgence that would yield several
more albums and introduce him to an entire new generation of music fans. – Ed.


been doing his songs for years. And Jack White and the Raconteurs have recently
worked the song “The Christian Life” into their set. He’s toured with Cheap
Trick, Cake and the Detroit Cobras, all of whom admire him. Isn’t it about time
Charlie Louvin himself took a crack cementing – or at least celebrating – his
legacy with a new record?


Rosenthal, owner of Tompkins Square Records thought so, but he’s found out that
just because he knows and worships Louvin doesn’t mean everyone else does.
“That’s the main challenge,” Rosenthal says. “A third of the people revere him
and are excited. A third of the people don’t know who he is, really. And a
third of the people thought that he was dead.”


As his
new self-titled album shows, Charlie Louvin, the surviving half of country music’s
Louvin Brothers, is a long way from expiring. Backed by luminaries from the
rock world such as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Elvis Costello and Alex McManus of
Bright Eyes, as well as some of the more jagged personas from alt-country
including Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (aka Will Oldham),
Louvin’s back with a rich and relaxed new project.


flattered by the attention, the famously reticent and humble Louvin is
hilariously polite when asked what he really thinks about all these young bucks
wanting to be a part of what he and Tompkins Square hope will be a comeback


yeah it is very different from what I do…” he says, pausing to chuckle at his
own backhanded praise before finishing the thought, “but then everybody’s got
to find their niche, I guess. It would be a real dreary world if we were all
the same.”


While he
may not really relate to rock musicians, he does relate to their fans, thanks
to his opening slot on the 2003 tour featuring Cheap Trick and Cake. He also hopes
to lure a few into listening to his record.


crowds were very aware. I never went anywhere that the people didn’t know what
I was doing. Naturally I’s scared shitless before the shows ever started. I was
thinking, what are you gonna do when you get out there,  start singing what some people call ‘redneck
music’ and the people start saying, `Hey, we didn’t pay to hear this shit,
let’s get that off the stage.’ I never did come up with a decent answer of what
I would do. But no sir, it never happened.”


Louvin was once a kind of rock star in his own way. Back in the fifties he and
his brother Ira formed the most famous brother duo ever to work in country
music. The Louvin Brothers (the family name was originally Loudermilk) had 12
singles chart from 1955 to 1963 until they acrimoniously parted ways. Ira, the
high tenor, died two years later in an automobile accident in Missouri.


Charlie has had some success as a solo artist, occasionally reaching the top
ten of the country charts with tunes like “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “See
The Big Man Cry,” it’s the Louvin Brothers material that now looms ever larger.
While they started out singing gospel, recording for both the Apollo and Decca
labels, it’s the duo’s secular material that continues to resonate most.


Louvins entry into the rock world began with Gram Parsons, who brought “The
Christian Life” to the Byrds’ Sweetheart
of the Rodeo
sessions. He later recorded “Cash On The Barrel Head” on his
second and final solo album, Grievous
. Parsons protégée Emmylou Harris had an early hit with “If I Could
Only Win Your Love.” In the 1990’s, Uncle Tupelo and Southern Culture on The
Skids both covered, “Great Atomic Power,” the Brothers’ paean to the nuclear
age. In 2004, Livin’ Lovin’ Losin’: Songs
of the Louvin Brothers
, a Louvin Brothers tribute record that featured,
among others, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and especially Emmylou Harris and
Rodney Crowell (on a transcendent version of “My Baby’s Gone”) won a pair of
Grammy Awards. It’s this steady building of influence that led to Charlie
Louvin’s latest project. Yet according to Tompkins Square’s Rosenthal, Charlie’s
still not quite aware of his own legacy.


“You have
all these people from Bright Eyes and Lambchop on the new record, and yet he
doesn’t have a full understanding of the alt country world. He doesn’t really
get that. Charlie is so much fun for me because he doesn’t necessary even have
a handle on the scope of the Diaspora of the music that’s been heeded out there
because of what he’s done. It’s just not his way to spend his time connecting
all the dots and figuring out how influential he is.”


first saw Charlie Louvin several years ago in Albany, New York.
After spending more than a decade at Columbia/Sony Records in promotion, artist
development and sales and marketing, Rosenthal struck out on his own and founded
Tompkins Square
in 2005. One of his first acts was to reach out to Louvin. He emailed the
musician’s website, asking if Charlie would be interested in recording for his
label. Several months went by without an answer.


he says with a laugh, “I got an answer that just said: ‘I’m interested. Charlie


adds that he had a concept for the record: “I didn’t want a record of all
Louvin Brothers songs. I thought it would be nice to have a collection of some
key Louvin Brothers songs that should be remembered for all time and also tunes
that inspired him and his brother, and that’s why we came up with a short list
of material by Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, the Delmore Brothers.”


member Mark Nevers, who’s engineered albums by Calexico, Will Oldham and the
Silver Jews, was brought in to helm the sessions and also facilitate some of
the guest appearances. After the list of possible songs came a wish list of
guests that got whittled down as scheduling nixed some artists (among them,
Beck) and added others (Tom T. Hall and Marty Stuart, both friends of Louvin).


also picked two songs, an obscure but gorgeous Carter Family tune, “Grave On A
Green Hillside” (which he sings with Tift Merritt) and “Ira,” a tune about his
brother that he co-wrote with Trent and Tim LeClair. While making cool records
that critics and alt-rock kids should love is all well and good, Charlie is
looking at this project in simpler terms; more along the lines of, say, gettin’


gone way beyond most record label owners,” Louvin says. “He actually picked the
songs that he thought I oughta cut. He said, ‘If you’ll cut these, I’m sure we
can get them played on college radio. And if you play college radio, you can
work the university. There’s a lot of money to be made there. Lester [Flatt]
and Earl [Scruggs] got rich off of colleges… after the Beverly Hillbillies.’ So
we have great hope.”


Rosenthal, the thought of doing modern material, a la Johnny Cash doing Beck’s “Rowboat” and Soundgarden’s “Rusty
Cage,” crossed his mind, but in the end he decided against it. “It’s kind of a
choice that you make. There’s a million songs that Charlie could bring a lot of
life to. He’s made records in the past where a producer has given him a song
that’s kind of left field and I just felt like it was a little bit unnatural. I
don’t care for the puppetry that goes along with giving Charlie Louvin a Marilyn
Manson song. I didn’t think it was necessary.”


The final
guest list for the project included a healthy cross section of alt talent.
Along with the artists mentioned above, Eef Barzalay (Clem Snide), Mac McCaughan
(Superchunk) and Dan and Tracy Miller (Blanche) also make appearances. The
house band assembled to back the sessions features among the players Lambchop’s
Tony Crow (piano) and William Tyler (guitar), Earl Scruggs’ grandson Chris (guitar),
Chip Young (who played with Elvis Presley; on guitar) and Dennis Crouch (Johnny
Cash, Elvis Costello; upright bass).


Overall, Louvin’s
voice is in remarkable shape for a man approaching 80. It’s also remarkable
that a man his age has made an album featuring that voice front and center. On
some tunes, like “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea,” which is billed a duet with Bright
Eyes’ Alex McManus, you can hardly hear the guest.  There are also times, however – in “Blue Stay
Away From Me,” for example – when he tries to stretch too far and ends up
showing his age. Speaking of age (or better yet, being ageless), longtime
Louvin pal George Jones adds vocals to two tracks, the Bill Anderson-penned “Must
You Throw Dirt In My Face” (which was the last Louvin Brothers hit) and a fun
stroll through “Waiting For A Train,” a tune by the so-called “Father of
Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers.


Costello takes a verse and duets on a chorus of what was undoubtedly the
Brothers’ most transcendent bit of harmonizing, “When I Stop Dreaming.” Louvin was
in Nevers’ studio in Nashville
when Elvis cut his vocal track and clearly came away impressed by what he


are so many big time rock groups that cut their musical habit on Louvin Brother
material, that I’m just thrilled to death,” he enthuses. “I wanted to
congratulate Elvis on being the father of twins. I called his management the
other day. I was hoping for a phone number where I could call Elvis personally
but I didn’t get it.”


the Brothers tune that’s best known among the alt-rock crowd is “Great Atomic
Power,” cut here as a chugging, midtempo gospelized duet between Charlie and
Jeff Tweedy, plus (in the choruses) Mark Nevers’ two daughters. In the
background after each chorus there’s a guitar squall meant to suggest an air
raid siren. Says Louvin, “It kind of scared me when I heard ‘Great Atomic
Power.’ I called Mark’s office and said, ‘You’re gonna have to mix this again
cause you’ve got a hell of a feedback on the choruses.'”


highlight is “Ira,” the new song Louvin wrote about his brother just for this


It’s well
known that despite being brothers and possessing the ability to sing
otherworldly sibling harmonies  Ira and
Charlie were very different people, starting with the fact that Charlie was a
teetotaler and Ira wasn’t. Talking about the song “Ira” veers the conversation
towards the real life model. Gone now for 41 years, Ira Louvin, the peerless
high harmony and volatile bad temper of the group, was the embodiment of the
title of his 1965 solo album, The
Unforgettable Ira Louvin
. Capable of amusing schemes like the famous tire
fire and cardboard devil on the cover of the Brothers’ Satan is Real album, Ira could also be a nasty drunk about whom the
tales of anger and woe are legendary. Charlie volunteers that his brother was
“getting his ducks in a row” when he was killed. 


hard for brothers to get along, ‘cause one brother don’t like the other brother
tellin’ him what to do. So Ira and I had an agreement that I would take care of
the business and he would take care of the music.


“But it
wasn’t our conflict like that that caused the Louvin Brothers to not sing
together after August 18, 1963. It was simply… liquor. I just didn’t know how
to handle a drunk. I still don’t today. I won’t allow it in my group. I tell
them, ‘I don’t care if you soak in a bathtub full of bourbon, when you show up
for the date, I don’t want you to smell like it or act like it. And if you do,
I’ll unload your equipment and you can get home the best way you can.'”


What’s best
about Charlie Louvin is that the guests
are there just for color. Louvin, who in many ways was just as big a character
as his brother was, is not drowned by all this alt-country, alt-rock firepower.
Rosenthal agrees, saying, “It’s Charlie’s record. It’s Charlie’s voice and in
some cases it’s Charlie’s songs and that’s where it’s at. It’s a credit to him
that he was open minded enough to want to do it. I think older artists, it’s
kind of easier for them because they know who they are. You don’t have to
convince them of anything.”


One thing
Louvin is convinced about is the reason why the Brothers’ music has lived on, and in fact grown larger and more influential
with the passage of time. This is not an honor that most country stars of his
generation can claim.


believe that the life of the Louvin Brothers is definitely the songs. They say
something that a lot of people can associate with, either when they’s young or
when they got too old to enjoy it. So first and foremost, it starts with the
song. And then when you’re born and raised in the same house, you can never
find anybody [else] that their dialect and their way of thinking is the same as
yours. And that’s why.


and I never let the publicity go to my head.”


Credit: Alan Messer]






SHAME SHOW HOSTS Abraham Levitan & Brian Costello

Our worst moments,
revisited in song.




There’s a reason radio shows like This American Life and books like Mortified or Kick Me (by Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig) are
so popular. By sharing others’ emotional scars they put ours in perspective,
allowing us to smile at them instead of cringe. Baby Teeth frontguy Abraham
Levitan is combining such confessional therapy with music in “Shame That Tune.”


A live game show set in Chicago’s The Hideout and co-hosted by
author/musician Brian Costello, Shame
That Tune
finds audience members airing hideously awkward incidents from
their lives. Levitan immediately spins these into songs, in a genre determined
via a spinning wheel that features 11 styles of music plus one audience-chosen wild
card. It’s utter genius.


“Well, we’ve only had two shows so far, so we’re still
scraping a little bit [for stories],” Levitan admits. “Fortunately we have
friends who are total hams.”


In the first show Baby Teeth drummer Peter Andreadis talked
about attempting to kiss his middle-school crush. He’d landed on Metallica, which
Levitan calls a “perfect match” since Andreadis’s get-psyched mantra was “Taste
death, live life.” Another insta-gem was one guy’s tale of being dragged from a
rowdy high school party by his heavy-handed father. The wheel clicked around to
The Smiths. “There were so many ‘mean-daddy, vulnerable-kid’ moments in the
story,” says Levitan, “I could hear Morrissey singing it already.”


So far the response is “amazing” as Levitan reports belly
laughs and double the first show’s attendance. Long-term, he hopes to attract Chicago
Bull Joakim Noah-“he seems like he’d be down for it.” He also plans to document
Shame That Tune for “future
generations and/or species.” For now, that’ll mean YouTube videos but a
compilation CD or DVD may pop up. (Visit Shame That Tune on the web here.)


SOUL FIRST Daniel Lanois (Pt. 2)

More of our
conversation with the legendary producer.




Superior/Rollins Band/Pearl bassist Blake recently had an in-depth discussion
with his friend and collaborator Lanois, who discussed everything from working
with Dylan, U2 and Neil Young, to his own band Black Dub, his recent memoir
Mining, and his theories about recording. Go here to read Part 1. (Pictured above: Lanois and Blake onstage.)




BLURT: Let’s talk
about your tools of the trade.  You’ve
got your 1953 Les Paul Goldtop and your Vox AC 30’s.   Do you have any favorite pedals and
microphones you like to use?


started using very few pedals.  In fact,
on the last tour, I was only using my delay unit.  I was using this little Korg that does repeat
echoes and modulates.  There’s a few
boxes that do that even a Memory Man will do that.  So, for my own playing, I find it’s best to
have that one device.  It just makes for
a better tone.  On this last tour,
Marcus, I brought two tweed Fender Deluxe amps from the late 1950s rather than
a Vox because my Korg has two outputs. 
It has a dry output and an effect output.  I really enjoyed the twin amp technique which
we miked to stereo.  It’s a really good
sound.  I think every bit as good as a
Vox and about 10 % as loud.  A Vox can rip
your head off!


  It can! (laughs)


  Or the bass player’s
head off if you point it in the wrong direction! (laughs)


  Oh, I love it!  (laughs)  Do you have a favorite vocal microphone for
recording for, say, Bono or Trixie?  They
belt it out when they sing!  They are
known to be really loud singers.


  Yeah, for a belter,
a Shure Beta 58 is a good friend.  The
good thing about a dynamic mic, like the Shure Beta 58, is that you get natural
isolation.  So, you can get right up on
those mics to sing which means you don’t have so much of the instruments
bleeding in, which can make a junky sound. 
So, I highly recommend the Shure microphone for that.  We used that on Neil Young’s record.  All the rocking tracks, he sang in a 58.  For the acoustic tracks, where there’s not so
much volume interfering with the vocal, I like to use a Sony C-37A.  It’s a tube microphone from the 1950’s. 


  Is that the microphone you used with Bob


  It’s the one I used
with Dylan, with Emmylou Harris and, mercifully, with Neil Young.  It’s a great tube mic, that has a big capsule
sound and the thing that’s nice about it is that you can get right up close on
it and it does not break down.  Sometimes
those German mics, like the U 47, can’t handle that kind of closeness and moisture
and just stop working. 


  You’ve worked with so many great musicians
and artists over the years like U2, Dylan and Peter Gabriel: who would you work
with again?  Also, there have been other
artists that you’ve tried to work with like Mick Jagger and Robert Plant which
didn’t work out.  Why didn’t that work


  I did some demos
with Robert Plant which were meant for a Robert Plant/Alison Krauss
record.  Alison, unfortunately was not
feeling well and couldn’t make the session. 
Robert turned up and we did some songs with him.  We wrote some songs together and recorded
them.  There are four of them that turned
out great.  The Plant/Krauss record never
happened so those songs are sitting on the shelf.  We may rekindle that fire because three of
them are real standout tracks. 


  So, your collaboration with Robert Plant may
still happen yet then?


  It could still
happen and there’s even been an in-house interest in inviting Robert to be a
guest singer on the next Black Dub record. 
Maybe we can use a couple of those tracks.


  That would be cool!


  That would be cool
because Black Dub is a collective.  We
welcome input from people.  Maybe the
next Robert, if he doesn’t mind the idea, would be a guest on a couple of


  You have to tell me about Mick Jagger.


  I was going to make
a record with Mick but it was my turn to get ill.  I got sick and I couldn’t fulfill my commitment
to Mick.  We tried a couple of
times.  Years ago, I met Mick in the late
1980s with a view of working on a record with him at that time.  That didn’t come together.  It was more about scheduling then.  And then, more recently, I was ill.  Our time will come.  He’s a great singer.


  Is there someone you would love to work with
that you haven’t worked with yet?


  I used to say Neil
Young to that question but I just made a Neil Young record, so, there it
is.  Maybe if we resurrected Miles Davis
and Jimi Hendrix. 


  Is it true that Jimi Hendrix is a huge
influence on your guitar playing?


  I love Jimi
Hendrix.  I think he was the greatest we
ever had. 


  Do you try to emulate some of Jimi’s
production techniques for your own records? 


  I love the production
on Hendrix records.  So, they are a point
of reference for me.  Those records are
viewed as so pure without too much outside interference.  But on studying Hendrix productions, there’s
a lot of layering.  There are a lot of
emotional layers and sonic layers.  For
example, “All Along The Watchtower” has got pretty striking acoustic guitar
playing.  You don’t think of it with that
but that’s what it has upon closer inspection. 
That kind of [sings “ching ching
ching,” imitating the guitar intro
There’s something resonating there. 
I don’t even know if it’s Jimi playing it.  Did you ever hear that Dave Mason was
involved in this?


  Yes, I’ve heard Dave Mason and even Brian
Jones from The Rolling Stones was reported to have played guitar on that track
Actually, that’s a Stones recording
technique that a lot of people don’t realize. 
For instance, in “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, there’s an acoustic
guitar underneath the electric guitars as kind of a bed underneath of it
all.  So, that’s exactly what you’re
talking about.


  Yeah, having a
secondary instrument in unison to the main part is a technique that I like to
use.  It’s an old Nashville technique
where the bass player and the left hand of a piano would be playing the same
line.  [Starts singing a walking bass/piano riff]  It’s like a written part and you don’t really
hear the piano part.  It’s like a big
truck in the bottom end.  We use it on
the Black Dub record, on “I Believe In You.” 
There’s an electric guitar that shadows the bass part.  It took a long time to do that because it’s a
complex bass part. 


  Yeah, there’s some amazing bass playing on
the album.  How important to you is bass
in the mix in all the records that you make?


  Bass is very
important to me.  Funny enough, as a kid,
I didn’t get very good bass sounds in my early recordings.  I always felt bad that I didn’t know how to
do it.  Then, I had a chance to work with
Rick James and then I realized the economy of a bass part.  I like a bass part that’s well written and
that’s not smearing the whole track and which then can be turned up quite
loudly in the end.  You don’t need to add
too much more if you have a great bass part. 
Then, the role of the guitar could be harmonizing with the lead


My bass sounds got from being the worst to the best!  (laughs)  I was so determined to get it right.  I started studying records… a lot of them
from New Orleans.  Once I had a great
education, I was able to pursue the bass and succeed with it. 


  On the new Neil Young record, the bass
frequencies blow the listener away


  Yeah, the Neil Young
record has got great bottom.  That’s a
bit of trickery, Marcus.  We used one of
those cheap DJ machines that give you an octave.  We put that on Neil’s guitar, which has two
outputs.  His three bass strings come out
of one output and three top stings out of the other.  So, by isolating the three bass strings, I
was able to send that to one of those DJ boxes. 
But, the DJ effect box didn’t track everything.  Maybe 60% of it was great and the rest was a
blur.  So, where I had the “blur
problem”, I cheated a little bit, I went to my Moog Taurus pedals and
supplemented whatever that was not tracking properly from the DJ box. 


  Do you have a favorite song off the Neil
Young record


  I’m pretty proud of
“Walk With Me”.  Structurally, it was
something I was involved with quite a bit in an arrangement for Neil.  In fact, the song begins halfway through the
performance.  I lopped off the front of
the song.  Then, I included those lyrics
in the back end, where the back end goes into this secondary chapter; where it
goes into a shuffle.  It’s just something
that I hit on with my dubs, this little shuffle thing that Neil loved and he
encouraged me to go the distance.

       I think
sonically, my favorite track is “Someone’s Gonna Rescue You”.


  Why is that?


  I think that’s where
we really got the balance of the vocal and the guitar right.  First of all, all of the vocals and the
guitars are live.  There are no vocal
overdubs.  So, part of the challenge is
having your amps cranked up to ten but getting a nice developing on the
voice.  That was one of the last tracks
we recorded and at that time we had just found a “sweet spot”, isolating the
amps around the corner of the foyer and in the other room, on the padded
rug.  So, if we had to do it all over
again, I would start it with that sound and go from there.


  How did the concept of recording just Neil
and his guitar come about in the first place?


  It was only ever Neil
and his guitar as a concept.  He called
me to record him doing ten acoustic songs and to film him because he liked the
Black Dub films that we had up on YouTube. 
So, he saw excellence in our work. 
He called and said, “Hey!  Could I
tap into the thing you’ve already got going?” 
I said, “Sure, no problem.” 

        The two
acoustic songs on the record, we recorded on our first get together under a
full moon.  That was a three day session.  The acoustic songs are “Peaceful Valley
Boulevard” and the other being “Love And War”. 
We got them tracked very early in the project and I’m very proud of them
sonically.  They’re great songs.


  Is that one of Neil’s things, to record under
a full moon?


  Yeah, Neil likes to
record under a full moon.  So, we did four
full moons.  And, of course, in between
the full moons, I added some of my sonics, my dubs.  But, his performances were all done under a
full moon.  He knows, historically, those
have been productive times for him.  If
the moon has the power to move the sea and the tide, then it probably does
something to our innards.  I just
followed his intuition and gave it a try and he was right. 


  Does a lot of your work in the studio and on
stage involve intuition and playing off of each other?


  Lucky for us, in the
record making world, we can change the direction of the ship quite well.  We’re not operating by blueprint or
architectural designs.  All we know is
that we want to make a great record.  So,
if the byproduct seems more interesting than what we’re going after, I usually
shift with it. 


  Let’s talk about different studios that
you’ve had over the years; from Teatro to your current one in Los Angeles to
the one you’re now working on in Toronto. 
What’s the latest with the one in Toronto?  Is it finished?


  I’m standing in the
Toronto studio, talking to you right now. 
It’s pretty much done.  Now, it’s
down to finding sweet spots.  There’s a
little decorating to do.  I want to put
in a nice bar. 


  Can you describe your new studio?


  Yes, it’s an old
Buddhist temple.  It’s an “L” shape on
the main floor, which is where we currently have our equipment.  It has an archway from one room to the
next.  The main room has a very tall
ceiling.  The light that comes through
there is very beautiful.  So, there’s a
shape that shows up on the wall.  It’s
kind of like a sundial.  It’s got a lot
of spirit in it and that’s what drew me to it initially.  I thought if it was good enough for the
monks, I would give it a try!  Then,
there’s a same “L” shape on the lower level, which is the basement level.  That might be the most dense sounding part of
the building.  I may end up with a studio
down there.  But, at the moment, I‘ve got
a studio on the main floor.  I have transportable
equipment in there, which my studios always have.  I like to move thing around to the project at
hand.  It’s private.  I want to make it a very musical place for me
and my friends and I want it to be a good hang as well. 

       The studio in
California, the El Teatro, might have been my favorite studio because it was
massive.  It was an old theater, an old
cinema house.  My engineer, Mark Howard,
and I took out a bunch of seats in the middle and built a riser stage.  So, all of our equipment was on stage.  The cool thing about having seats was that we
could invite an audience over.  We had a
screen and I had my motorcycles in there. 
I really believe in keeping all of my equipment plugged in and ready to
go as we spoke about earlier.  So, that
was kind of the ultimate studio.  I tried
to find a cinema in Toronto but didn’t so, I went for the Buddhist temple.


  What happened with El Teatro then?


  I was only renting
for El Teatro so we were there for four years. We started and finished Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind record there.  We did Willie Nelson’s album [titled after
the studio] there.  We did the soundtrack
for a film called Slingblade there.  Then my partner, Mark, wanted to go to Los
Angeles and start his own thing.  So, we
packed up and that was that.  But it’s
still for rent!  (laughs)


  You mentioned Mark Howard.  Would you consider him your secret weapon?


  Mark Howard is
resourceful.  That’s what’s great about
him.  He can do great studio set
ups.  For example, I wanted to go to
Mexico a few years back and do some work down there.  So, Howard drove an eighteen wheeler down
there and set up a studio for me in the mountains.  It was pretty amazing.  He’s a good road dog.  He’s got that kind of experience and
know-how.  He can throw something
together in an afternoon.  Beyond his
capacity as a set-up man, he’s very qualified with sounds.  He surprises me with set-ups.  Even without any input from me, he’ll dial
something up. 


  We can’t do an interview without mentioning
Brian Blade.


  Yeah, Brian Blade is
a bad man on the drums.  We just came off
the road and we’re reviewing our films and recordings and I’m reminded all the
time on how great he is and how dedicated he is.   The churchman… he’s everyman really.


  As a bass player, when I play with him, he
makes me play differently.  He’s that


  I noticed that,
Marcus.  In a good way, yeah?


  In the best way possible.


  I find that, maybe
in the way the you feel when you play with him, I can back off a little bit and
not feel that I’m carrying all the weight for the group.  You can hit on a nice, long note and enjoy
the ride.  I think when you’re not trying
so hard, then it becomes more musical. 


  You mentioned that you are working on films
from your tour?


  Yes, we have a
simple technique on the road.  Our
cinematographer, Adam Vollick, travels with us. 
He’s on stage with us and he puts the lens at what he sees as the most
interesting moment on stage at a given time and that gets projected on screen,
above us.  That’s really good for people
a little further at the back because they can’t see idiosyncratic details of
somebody’s handwork or Brian with the sticks. So by having that up on the
screen rather than disconnected visuals, the audience feels like they’re in on
the story.  They don’t mind Adam up there
because he’s serving them.  I think it’s
a very inclusive angle on things.  Then,
we come home and we have a film! 


  Video along with audio has always been very
important to you, right?


  We come home with a
film.  We use a technique that’s pretty
fascinating.  We come right off the stage
with our microphones and plug them into our own preamps that we carry on the
road.  It’s a box, maybe an 8U High
preamp.  That gives us 16 preamps.  So, the mics plug into those preamps and
those preamps plug into my Radar recording system.  Then, the Radar patches into the house
console.  So, we don’t need a [mobile
recording] truck in the alley or other people to be recording on a separate rig
or anything.  The chain of events from a
mic to the listening console that we use, gives us a multi track
recording.  So, any given night, we have
multi track recording and a film.  It’s
very, very economical. 


  I can’t wait to see the finished product.


  Yeah, I think you’re
going to like it.


  You seem to be constantly searching.


 The creative process
is a searching process.  You’re always
looking for something that you haven’t done before.  As innovative spirits, it keeps you asking
questions about possibilities.


  Do you think your motorcycle accident made
you think more about searching than you have previously? [Lanois was in a very serious motorcycle accident
last year, while in the middle of working on
Le Noise.]


  The motorcycle
accident has certainly made me aware about mortality.  I was right in the wings of mortality!  Then, you come out of that and realize how
special life is.  You take nothing for
granted.  I want to play every note like
it’s the last note I’ll ever play.  I
want to be doing significant work .


  How are you doing now?  Was it difficult for you to travel?


  I’m doing okay.  My rib cage in the back, just below my
shoulder blade, is pushed in about an inch and a half.  My bone broke and it never sprung back
out.  That was pretty terrible for a long
time because I couldn’t lay down.  Those
broken ribs were like knives cutting into me so I had internal bleeding.  Even to this day, when I lay down, it feels
like there’s a lump inside of me.


  Did it affect your guitar playing at all?


  No, because all the
weight of the guitar is on the left shoulder.


  Finally, you said in your book, that Chris
Blackwell likes the records that you and Eno produce because they have soul but
your sonic experiments are hard for him to digest.  Do you think that soul and experimenting vs.
being commercial is a constant struggle for you?


  I’m still dedicated
to the cause of mixing machine with flesh. 
Whether that be with beat boxes or things like that.  I think if you start with soul, then,
whatever you try to frame around that, should work.  Soul first, and then go from there. 




Thanks to: Margaret
Marissen, Adam Vollick and Keisha Kalfin.


Marcus Blake performs
with Mother Superior, Rollins Band and Pearl (just to name a few); he
additionally has a series of interviews with record producers in Spanish
magazine Popular 1. Contact him at the Mother Superior website.


Black Dub’s
self-titled album is out now in all fine record stores and digital outlets
Soul Mining: A Musical Life,
the book by Daniel Lanois and Keisha Kalfin, is published by Faber & Faber.


SOUL FIRST Daniel Lanois (Pt. 1)

An intimate
conversation with the legendary producer, who talks Dylan, U2, Neil Young, his
own band Black Dub, and much more.




I met Daniel Lanois at a photo exhibition for charity in Beverly Hills a few years
back.  The night before I met him, I was
watching the making of Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking
album on TV.  Being one of the
many fantastic albums that Daniel has produced and played on over the years, he
appears all throughout the documentary. 
It’s funny how these things happen. 
One night, I’m watching Dan on TV and the next night, I meet him.  We had a nice conversation when we met.  I couldn’t help but ask him about working on
Peter Gabriel’s So album,
particularly on “Don’t Give Up”, Peter’s duet with Kate Bush.  He told me that that was originally going to
be a duet with Peter and Dolly Parton! 
And so began a friendship with a “you learn something new every day”
moment each time I am with Daniel.


Anyway, at that meeting, I invited Daniel to a show I was
playing with Rollins Band at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles, the following week.  To my utter astonishment, Daniel came to the
show!  Even more astonishing, Daniel
called me and my Mother Superior compadre, Jim Wilson, to come over his place
and make some music with him shortly after! 
How Lanois saw the compatibility of the way we make music with Rollins
Band to the way he makes his own music, I’ll never know, but I am thankful he
took a chance on us. 


Fast forward in time a bit. 
We’re at Daniel’s house once again. 
Daniel pulls out a Christmas card that Bob Dylan sent him.  He opened it up and it simply said, “From one
searcher to another.”  Then, it struck
me, Lanois is a searcher.  He titled his
new autobiography Soul Mining: A Musical
(recently reviewed at BLURT) and I know exactly what he means by


From his early work creating sonic landscapes with Brian
Eno, to making some of rock n’ roll’s most endearing music with U2 beginning
with the Unforgettable Fire in 1984
to 2009’s No Line On The Horizon (not
forgetting the absolutely legendary, multi million selling, Grammy award
winning albums, The Joshua Tree, Achtung
and All That You Can’t Leave
), Lanois leaves his indelible mark on each project while never
detracting from the fundamental sound of the artist.


It’s impossible to go through all of the man’s work at one
time.  His career covers so much great
music: from the aforementioned U2, Peter Gabriel & Bob Dylan to albums that
he’s produced and played on by The Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Willie
Nelson and Neil Young (to name just a few), to his own work, beginning with the
stunning Acadie album to his new
band, Black Dub’s recent release, (reviewed here) with gems like the Slingblade soundtrack and Shine along the way. 


Let’s not forget the man kicked Bob Dylan’s ass to make his
two best albums since Blood On The Tracks:
Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind!


So I won’t try to interview Daniel about each work of
his.  If you want to know about that, get
his book. Instead, I prefer to talk to him as a friend like I’ve always done. Only
now, you’re in on the conversation…




BLURT: What is being
a producer to Daniel Lanois?  Also, is
there a sound that you try to go for with each production and a sound you try
to avoid?


DANIEL LANOIS: At first it was survival.  I had a recording studio, at first, in my
mother’s house when I was a kid.  But, I
had to make a living, so, I started helping people.  I found that people appreciated my help
because I cared.  I cared about my
business.  I cared about their work.  I cared about everything.  That seemed to be what people responded to
the most in a work relationship with me. 
Most of the guys on the street can record but I think because I care so
much and I want the best for them and the best for me, that’s what makes me
different.  That’s what’s it all about
for me.  I didn’t want to be a record
producer, I didn’t even know what that was. 
I just got called that along the way. 


  Did you consider yourself more of an engineer
at the beginning then?


  I never used any of
the terms.  I don’t even like
“engineer”!  That title is as if I serve
engines or something!  I just thought of
myself as a guy who did everything.  I
was able to work on arrangements.  I was
able to record and mix.  I was able to
supervise artwork.  I was able to deliver
a 1,000 pieces of vinyl.  It was a


  So, you were involved in the process of
making vinyl, too, in the early days?


  Yeah, we had a
relationship with a vinyl company in Toronto.  We would get 1,000 pieces of vinyl for “x”
amount of money and I would do different kinds of artwork in color or black and
white for different prices.  So, we had
an “all in” package.  That was kind of
fun because it taught me about business as well as making music.  As we know, it all runs in tandem, you can’t
just be a brilliant musician and pay no attention to how you’re going to pay
the rent.  That’s how it started for me.

        In regards to
the second part of your question, about my sound, in Toronto
and in the southern Ontario
region where I grew up as a teenager and where my studio was, all the studios
were quite the same.  They were all
clean.  They had a grand piano… maybe an
organ but that was it, no other instruments. 
No microphones left out, nothing else. 
The regional tendency was to strip everything down and neutralize the
console so when the morning session came in then, they wouldn’t have any of the
junk from the session from the night before. 
There weren’t that many great records coming out of Toronto. 
I was wondering what that was all about and then I realized that the studios
had no sounds, they just had equipment. 
So, I decided to do it like Motown, where they actually had a
sound.  I had a permanent drum kit
already miked up and a good bass rig and so on. 
So, I went up that street because I saw it as a window of opportunity.  They [people who recorded there] had
instruments and I knew what I was doing so I started collecting instruments and
building sounds.  So, when people walked
in, they didn’t even have to bring their own rig. 


  Much like when I come to your place to record
or play music with you these days. 
You’re ready to go!


  Yeah, that’s it,
Marcus.  It’s the same thing.  That philosophy has never waivered.  That’s what started building my sounds.  I actually had a sound when everyone else
didn’t.  So, I thought that was a
natural. I just kept rolling that way and it evolved from just instruments and
sound stations.  It evolved into sonics
on a console.  I refined that considerably
when I had a chance to work with Brian Eno. 
The way we would do it was that we would have lots of effects going on
all the time but we weren’t just monitoring the effects.  I routed the effects back to two tracks of
the multi track and monitored that. 
Meaning, that at any given time, if I pressed “record” on those two
tracks, I was able to capture the sound of the day.  And having captured it then, it’s there
available to me for mixing.  The other
thing that can happen is, those mixes that are already printed can now be put
back through the chain of effects and be reprinted again on two other tracks
and, this is where it gets really interesting, you start to get voltage control
oscillation on top of voltage control oscillation and that’s when effects get
more interesting and more musical.  You
get interesting harmonic results and so on. 
So, I’ve been using that technique ever since.  I don’t just listen to effects, I print


  So the sounds almost play off of each other,


  Yes, the sounds
almost take on a life of their own once you start challenging conventional routing
of effects.  Just to give you an idea of
the most pedestrian effect, let’s put a little reverb on the vocal.  So, you put a little reverb on the vocal but
it’s likely going to be quite fluffy and something you’ve heard before.  But if you take that and put it through vco,
it then goes into a delay and then gets floated and equalized so, the chain of
events in the routing then can start to get musical.  It’s a hard thing to describe.  It leaves us open for the unexpected. 


  Is that what you always strive for?  The unexpected?


  In a given work day,
there will be surprises.  Some of them
will be effect related.  Some will be
sonic related.  Somebody will come up
with a riff or a beat that’s not part of the plan of the day and often, those
are natural beginnings to new ideas.  I
pay attention to them.  I document them
and remind people of them.  We
essentially build own menu of unique ingredients from the immediate team. Some
great songs have come from that technique. 
Just to use an example, in the U2 recording process, we had a great drum
beat that Larry Mullen had played from a song that we had moved away from.  We didn’t think it was going anywhere but the
drums were amazing.  We decided to
nurture those drums and build a song on top. 
We came up with this production for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m
Looking For” which was one of their big songs. 
So, the drums were unrelated to the song itself.  The drums had magic in them and that’s always
a good place to start from.  I usually
don’t move ahead with the process if magic doesn’t already exist.  I don’t wait for magic to come in the back
end or the mix.  I always start with
something remarkable.


  You’ve been known to edit pieces together to
make a master take.  For instance, you
did that for “Duo Glide” from Here Is
What Is
(Lanois’ film/audio documentary on a year of his music making
life).  Did you do any of that for the
Black Dub [Lanois’ new band with singer
Trixie Whitley and Brian Blade on drums
] album?


  The Black Dub album
has drums that were recorded in Mexico.  Then, I replayed all the instruments and
built a song on top of it called, “I Believe In You”.  And then, you were with me playing bass at a
concert at Massey Hall in Toronto.  We did a version of “Ring The Alarm” that
night.  I took those drums, and built the
Black Dub version of that song.  There
was fire in those drums.  They were
isolated enough from the other instruments; it made them viable.  So, that’s what happens. I think there’s no
substitute for getting it all at once in the studio, but I do use a bit of
studio trickery and magic if it works in favor of the project. 


  Let’s talk more about Black Dub.  How did the whole concept of Black Dub come


  I had in the back of
my mind that it might be nice to serve a top notch singer.  I’m talking about someone who has the gift of
powerful vocal delivery and I think Trixie Whitley has that.  I met her in Belgium.  I was a friend of her father and was aware of
him [singer/songwriter/guitar player Trixie Whitley is the late Chris Whitley’s
daughter].  Chris was a writer/great
singer/guitar player.  So, I was aware of
the family talent.  So, when I bumped
into her in Belgium,
she let me hear what she was up to and I thought she had a great energy and
spirit.  So, I invited her to test out a
couple of songs and there wasn’t any pressure and they worked out well – and I
thought maybe it’s time to put this collective together called Black Dub. 


  With Trixie doing the majority of the singing
for Black Dub, did that free you up to concentrate on your guitar playing?


  Yes, I quite like
serving a singer with my guitar.  I can
really feel it onstage.  I can harmonize
with her and hold back when she’s singing and when she stops singing, I can
lash into a supportive melody or some kind of riff.  It’s pretty cool; actually, it reminds me of
some of the soul bands I saw as a kid where the singers are really going for
it.  They were lean, mean and there’s not
a lot of clutter on stage.  We’re
essentially a trio, musically, and Trixie occupies the center with her
vocals.  It’s pretty great.  I like it a lot. 


  Where do you see Black Dub going from
here?  Do you see it evolving in any way?


  Well, we’re
obviously going to be touring.  We just
did our first tour. 


  How did that go?


  It went great.  We just did the east coast of the United States.
We had a lot of fun.  We’re going back
out early in the new year and then we’re going to be doing festivals as well
through the summer.  We’re already
talking about doing the next Black Dub album in Jamaica. 


  You have a place in Jamaica, right?


  I have a place in
Negril.  That’s my main residence.  There’s something amazing about that
apartment.  Jamaica is a place that has a lot
of poverty and I think there’s something special about those self entertaining
societies.  When there’s not a lot of
money to go around, someone will start something at a roadside party.  They will have a party, put up a P.A. and the
next thing you know, the whole town will go for it.  If we did that here in North
America, we would be shut down because we don’t have a

       It’s funny how
sometimes a third world country will afford more freedom than the more
developed countries.


  Do you think you found a happy medium between
making your own records and making records for others?  What is it that you wanted to bring out
differently with Black Dub than with the other records that you recently worked
on, like Neil Young’s Le Noise?


  The Neil Young album
has a lot of dubs in it.  The name,
“Black Dub”, came partly from my appreciation of dub music from Jamaica.


  Oh yeah?


  Yeah, there’s this
new dub technique, which is sample based and it really shows up on the Neil Young
record.  I think the Black Dub record and
the Neil Young record run in tandem somehow because I’ve noticed historically
with my work that any given pocket of time will produce a body of work that is
related between a few different artists.


  Kind of like The Neville Brothers album,
Dylan’s album and your own Acadie album? 


  Exactly like
that.  Yellow Moon with the Neville Brothers and Oh Mercy with Bob Dylan and my first record.  So, that’s an example of this course as of
events when I was working with Eno in the early ‘80s.  We had a scene going, making ambient records,
then we brought that to Dublin
to first work with U2 and some of that sound spilled onto the Unforgettable Fire record.  So, that’s human nature, that’s
evolution.  Looking at movements and
scenes at a given time, there will be a synchronicity even if it’s an idio-synchronicity. 


  What do you want the reader to take out of
your new book, Soul Mining?


  I’m hoping Soul Mining will be an inspiring read of
a young, hopeful person chasing their dreams. 
Beyond specifics of our line of work, I think anyone who’s interested in
chasing an idea will draw something out of the book.  It’s an against-all-odds story.  It’s the story of the rise of a young kid,
embracing skills and so on.  So, it’s
really a lot about skills moreso than chance encounter. 


  The cool thing is, you even talk about some
of your skills in the book.  For example,
in chapter 15, you talk about multi tracking and explaining that and going
through different recording techniques with Eno.


  Yeah, I mention that
skills are very important and developing them doesn’t happen fast
particularly.  I think you have to devote
at least five or ten years to a particular craft to be the best at it.  If you want to be the best, at least I do, I
wouldn’t just turn up at an invitation without thinking I could pull it off or
bring something to the table.  I have a
very high regard for skills.  I think a
great time to develop skills is during the teenage years.  So, if somebody is lucky enough to have found
something they love when they are ten years old, for example, and go after that
for the next decade, you come out at twenty years old as an incredible


  Yeah, that and a genuine love for the
instrument or singing or whatever you do.


  Yeah, it’s a
sacrifice really.  When I think back, I
loved playing my instrument as a kid. 
There were not a lot of garnishings in my teenage years.  I was more impressed with developing my
skills than taking up horseback riding or karate or something, which a lot of
people do but when you get to be twenty years old, you might not ride the horse
anymore or you don’t practice martial arts. 
Those, I regard as garnishings and that’s terrific, except that if you
want to be the best at something by the time you’re 18 or 20, I think that
teenage time should be spent at skill building.


To be continued


Marcus Blake performs
with Mother Superior, Rollins Band and Pearl
(just to name a few); he additionally has a series of interviews with record
producers in Spanish magazine Popular 1. Contact him at the Mother Superior



A new album finds
the beloved avatars of the nü-folk-rock in transition – and fully in command.




Their appeal is undeniable.


In over ten years, Portland’s Decemberists – frontman Colin Meloy,
guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk, multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee,
bassist Nate Query drummer John Moen – have accumulated a fiercely loyal
following. It’s a fanbase that, through sheer commitment and desire, has
familiarized itself with the ins and outs of both the band and its music. Given
that, there has still been some question over how those fans would react to the
Decemberists’ newest record, The King is


Released this week, The King is
the group’s sixth studio album and third for Capitol Records, is an
intentional and inspired departure from the rousing complexity of 2009’s
song-cycle, The Hazards of Love. But
if that platter was a sprawling epic then The
King is Dead
is a return to roots. Much like their 2002 debut Castaways and Cutouts, and 2003’s
follow-up Her Majesty the Decemberists,
The King is Dead imparts an assured
simplicity that, while intrinsic and inornate, is quite fervid in its appeal. From
the gleaming, harmonica-laden opener, “Don’t Carry it All,” to the somber,
bare-bone quiet of closer “Dear Avery,” it’s steeped in the rustic countryside,
in the old American West – an omnibus of unvarnished canticles that draw on
equal parts idyllic folk balladry, steadfast rock, and doleful country influenced
by the likes of Neil Young, Gram Parsons and R.E.M.


According to 37-year-old bassist (and father) Query, the ten tracks that
appear on the album – seven of which feature revered Americana
singer-songwriter Gillian Welch and her musical partner, Dave Rawlings, and
three with R.E.M guitarist Peter Buck – were chosen by Meloy and
Grammy-nominated producer Tucker Martine, who also worked on 2006’s The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love. It was apparent from launch what handful of
songs was to make the cut but the others, such as the sunlit ‘70s-rock inspired
track “All Arise!”, were picked based on the vibe it projected.


“[‘All Arise!’] had such a great, sort of laid back feel,” he says,
speaking from his home in Portland.
“It sort of pushes the record to a folk-ier, country-ier direction, which kind
of sits nicely with some of the other songs.”


Unlike The Hazards of Love, The King is Dead resembles more of a
catalog of songs rather than an unremitting romance of thespian swells and
sweeping bravura – or, rather, a technically challenging piece that fit
together like “a big puzzle.” It’s not that they aren’t cohesive, Query
explains, as much as they work just as well when taken on their own.


“It was more about creating a soundscape to go with these songs,” he
says, clearly pleased by the way the album turned out.  “It just seemed like the songs made sense to
approach [them] without over-thinking it, just let our more Americana, rootsy
influences shine through instead of trying to create this really specific


But this simplicity that The
King is Dead
fosters is far easier to absorb than it may have been to
craft. According to Query, while some tracks on the record came together rather
quickly, others were more challenging than anticipated due in part to seeking
an appropriate balance between the simplest “possible approach and the most


“The hardest part about playing and recording music,” he continues, “is
knowing just how little to add and just how much to subtract when you’re trying
to strip it back because playing the simplest possible part could be really
boring but playing the most interesting [part] can end up just sounding dull
and over-thought. It’s a really tough middle ground to find.”


“The songs were pretty straight-forward, pretty easy to learn how to
play, but then it’s a matter of getting just the right energy on tape, captured
in a way that’s compelling. That is a lot harder to do than it sounds.”


Still, for whatever stark contrast there may be sonically, The King is Dead, is unequivocally
Decemberists, already finding its way to no. 1 Most Viewed and no. 1 Most Recommended
on NPR Music’s “Exclusive First Listen” full-album preview. But it’s not just
in Meloy’s lyrical use of nature’s elements, whether arcane or bucolic. (One
example: on “Rise to M,” Meloy sings, “Big mountain, wide river /  There’s an ancient pull / These tree trunks,
these stream beds / Leave our bellies full”.) Nor is it in the band’s trademark
scores and intones of splendor and twang. The similarity to the Decemberists’
previous works, instead, lies in The King
is Dead
‘s foundation, be it less clearly defined.


Where their 2004 single, “The Tain,” centered on an Irish myth, 2005’s
Picaresque took from Spanish prose, The Crane Wife rose from an olden Japanese
folk fable, and The Hazards of Love was
based on English folk tunes, The King is
finds itself evoking “the concept of the barn.” This, which Query
calls the “meat of the record and sound,” derives from where the five-piece
crafted their latest effort: in a converted barn on the 80-acre Pendarvis Farm,
owned by Sherry and Scott Pendarvis, located on the outskirts of Portland in Mt.
Scott. According to the
bassist, while there was no isolation between instruments, they found
themselves sequestered from the world outside, rainfall and wintry air swathing
the remote homestead, unable to “just pop home” or leave for an hour, an easy
feat when working in a “professional” studio. (Some members apparently did
return home every night while others found camp on the farm a few nights.) And
when you weren’t in the midst of recording, he says, you were either in the
room, mute by requirement, or outside and not involved.


“It’s quite beautiful out there. There were horses,” Query reflects,
with warmth. “It helped set the mood for doing some of the more pastoral


“I feel like we were more relaxed than at a usual recording session,”
adds Jenny Conlee, remarking on the farm, which is home to the Pickathon Indie
Roots Music Festival. “It also helped from being distracted by everyday things.
Once we were out there, it was all about the record and nothing else.”


These hushed, tranquil, and gorgeous moments were also captured on film
by Los Angeles-based photographer Autumn de Wilde from the Impossible Project
in the form of 2,500 Polaroids (“It really was the impossible project,” says
Query. “Taking 2,500 Polaroids takes for-ever but it turned out really cool and it was a genius idea.”) When the pricey deluxe
edition of The King is Dead is
purchased, these limited edition photographs will be available exclusively online
at, along with a one-of-a-kind portrait from the series, a
72-page hardcover book featuring 250 unique Polaroids by de Wilde and
illustrations by artist and Meloy’s wife, Carson Ellis, The King is Dead on 180-gram white vinyl with a special cover, and Pendarvia DVD, a 30-minute short film about
the album’s making.


According to Conlee, recording in the country was an established dream
of sorts, long discussed among the Decemberists clan. So when Meloy approached
the band with a batch of “very rootsy, stripped down tunes”, it only felt right
to take to a barn for recording. (Query says the frontman first brought the
songs during The Hazards of Love tour
in 2009, and they played several of them live during that time.) The whole process,
from inception to mastering, took nearly five months, with close to two months
spent on daily dedication and the rest adding “extra bits and bobs” periodically.
During their time at the barn, R.E.M.’s Buck, who Query describes as “a really
interesting guitar player,” recorded his parts as well. Later on, Welch and
Rawlings recorded their contributions with producer Martine in Los Angeles.


Conlee, who, along with Query, Funk, and violinist Annalisa Tornfelt,
another contributor on The King is Dead,
play in the neo-bluegrass/folk outfit Black Prairie.  She says she was “very honored” to have Americana icon Welch on
their album. “We got to have [her] sing with us at our [November 18] appearance
on ‘Conan’ last month. She is an incredibly warm person, and a lot of fun to do
music with.” Query concurs, saying, “She’s such an amazing singer. Her and Dave
Rawlings’ harmonies are incredible.”


For Query, who played electric bass for the entirety of The King is Dead – an instrument, he
states, that helped him get “into the moment” – his parts can either mirror instrumentation
Meloy lays down on his brainstorming demos or arise viscerally from jam session
gatherings and visionary discourse. For the album Query feels he took more of
an “instinctual approach,” one in which he tried not to over-think and “just
kind of go for it, get into the energy of the songs” because, as he offers,
they were “easy for me in the sense [that] a lot of the songs demanded really simple
bass parts, but parts that come from the tradition I’m really familiar with,
like classic rock [and] country. It was fun for me.” He adds, with modesty,
that the idea was to serve the songs and not overstate: “Playing bass is really
just about not getting in the way. It’s just about making the songs feel right
and sound right.”


As for The King is Dead itself, any process of comparison/contrast that occurs has already been
anticipated by the band. After all, when something is produced that is as expansive
and intricate as the critically-acclaimed The
Hazards of Love
(a song cycle Mojo applauded
as “spellbinding” and a “great romantic adventure”), it’s difficult not to mention The King is Dead‘s divergence, which Query describes as “shorter”
and “more digestible.” And, according to Query, people are struck by the difference – at least that’s what the band has
determined from early reviews.


But the perception of critics and devotees, and whether they compare
it or take it as its own entity, is not something he, or his bandmates, can – or
should – worry about too much.


Concludes Query, “I feel like we’re at a point where we are getting a
lot of attention and we’re been around long enough that people are likely to at
least give a listen to a new thing we put out. Some people are gonna love it,
some people are gonna hate it.”




The expanded
reissues of two key albums find the seminal Americana band returning to the nest for a



Mark Olson seems like the kind of guy who’d be fun to hang
out with. Chatting on the phone from his home in the idyllic realms of Joshua
Tree, California,
he offers a ready laugh and no hint of feigned humility when describing the
devotion of the diehard devotees who have consistently pressed him for news of
a Jayhawks’ reformation.


It’s no surprise, then, that he betrays some sense of
relief, not to mention satisfaction, while noting that those same fans have
plenty of material to satiate themselves with these days, delivered in the form
of the reissues, bonus tracks and previously unreleased material that have
flooded the cyber shelves of late. It’s manifest in the re-release of the
band’s first two discs (the eponymous debut, better known as The Bunkhouse Album and their sophomore
set, Blue Earth), an ample anthology,
Music From the North Company, and
more recently, the well cushioned updates of their inarguable classics Tomorrow the Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall (all courtesy
Sony/Legacy). And that doesn’t include a steady stream of individual albums
from the group’s two prime collaborators – a choice that includes Olson’s solo
output, his efforts with the communal combo The New Original Harmony Creek
Dippers, co-conspirator Gary Louris’ individual efforts and work with the super
group of sorts, Golden Smog. Then too, there was Olson’s and Louris’ long
awaited 2008 reunion, Ready for the Flood,
a collaboration that found the two men reconvening in the studio for the first
time in nearly 15 years.


If that last album laid the seeds for a full fledged
reunion, then the welcome return of the expanded versions of Tomorrow the Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall effectively clinched the deal. Word was that Olson and Louris had reconvened
the other Jayhawks responsible for those landmark efforts and laid out plans to
tour and record a new album. Naturally, BLURT seized on the opportunity to talk
to the amiable Olson and get his impressions about the Jayhawks’ flight from
their formative days in Minneapolis to their subsequent signing to American
records, the two albums that would become their signature statements, and the
return to the nest for a band rightly credited as boosting the arc of roots
rock and Americana.




BLURT: Were you
surprised when after so many years carving out your niche in Minneapolis,
suddenly you found yourselves in L.A. working with a big name producer in
George Drakoulias and a bunch of top flight session players like Nicky Hopkins
and Benmont Tench? That had to seem somewhat surreal.

MARK OLSON: I recall it very well. Actually, it was
something that we had worked for, so we just hoped that it would put us on the
next level. We had been seven years in Minnesota
making those two records and while we were working at our jobs, and our goal
all along was to find someone to put out our albums. So when it happened, we
were very anxious to get out to California.
That was American Records and they gave us the opportunity to record in their
studios and they brought in those other musicians to play on the albums. So it
didn’t seem like a dream at all. It was something that we had worked very hard
for. I don’t know how many years the band had been together, but it had been
together for quite a while. We wanted to go to Europe
and play there and we got the opportunity to do that. So it worked out very


 It seems with the wealth of re-releases and
bonus material that’s appeared in recent years, there’s more material now then
there was during your formative years.



 So does this signal a full-fledged revival of
the Jayhawks? You and Gary have been working together quite a bit in the past
few years.

 Well yeah. In fact,
we’ve already basically made a record. It will be out in a couple months, but I
don’t have all the details to give you, but as far as the music is concerned
it’s done. We’re also going to do some shows around these reissues and then
were going to do some shows for the new album as well down the line.


 Other than you and Gary, are any of the other
original members involved?

 It’s basically the Tomorrow the Green Grass group that will
be touring. It’s Karen Grotberg on piano and Marc Perlman on bass. Tim O’Regan
will be on drums. He’s on the Tomorrow
the Green Grass
record and the three albums that followed.


 With the rotating cast you had on the drum
stool up until that time, it was almost like a Spinal Tap scenario the way you
guys used to go through drummers

 I know. Blahhhh.


 Hopefully they don’t blow up like they did in
the movie.

Right! (laughs)


 A lot of people have credited the Jayhawks as
being that link between the original country crossover bands like the Byrds and
the Burrito Brothers and the current crop of Americana outfits. Do you see yourselves as
having played that role?

 Well, there was us
and two other bands that fit that description at the time. There was a group
called Souled American that was based in Chicago,
and then there was Uncle Tupelo, and we got to know both of those bands. In Minnesota there wasn’t
anyone else doing exactly what we were doing. It was mostly thrash, so at the
time we were part of the rock scene, there was this loose country folk kind of
singing that we found playing in some bars and such.

        There was a
lot of musical outlets to go see these groups and a lot of record stores and
such, so we investigated bands like the Byrds, the Burrito Brothers, the Everly
Brothers and obviously, we enjoyed all that music. So we were a little bit
rebellious. It was great music. Who wouldn’t want to sound like Sweetheart of the Rodeo? It was fun… it
had an interesting element to it… a touch of the philosophical.  And then there was Bob Dylan and Neil Young
and it all seemed so obvious. It was good music and we wanted to play good
music.  We were listening to these songs
and we thought it was long-standing music that would last a lifetime. And I
think we succeeded in emulating that because people have had this revival of
interest in our group, so to speak. We were just a little out of time. And
maybe we were a little too esoteric or something? That’s all I can think when I
consider that people didn’t want to come see us as much as they wanted to see
some of the other groups. We were a little too esoteric.


 That’s an interesting point, because you guys
were birthed in Minneapolis,
a city known mainly for hard core music up until then. Were you considered
oddballs back then?

Oh yeah. When we were playing around the bars, yes we were.
There’s no way to get around that. We were trying to do something different.
We’d go out and play and we wanted to do something that would last. That was
our goal from the get-go. We wanted to be able to quit our jobs and play music
for the rest of our lives.


 Still, you were the one that left the band
originally and said you didn’t want to do it anymore. Do you regret that

 Let’s turn down the
violins now! (laughs) I was with the
band for over a decade and I came to a point where I wanted to do other things
with my life, and I was able to do that. The band had an incredible life and it
went on. Gary and I actually started getting back together ten years ago. He came
out to where I was living and we wrote a song together and we did some tours
together over the past ten years and we did a record together, and now we’ve
done another record together, which I guess you can call an official Jayhawks

        So in
retrospect, I guess you can say that by leaving the band, it didn’t upset the
balance of the band as much as him and I slow-poking it over the past ten
years. (laughs) I just became aware
of that. Being in communication, playing on and off over the past ten years, we
never made an official Jayhawks record, but now we have and it will come out in
the next few months. We’ve done a lot of touring together over the last three
or four years off and on, but as far as the full band, they all had their
moments where they got to a point where they were looking to move on too.

        So it just
happens, you know? So as far as regretting anything, it doesn’t do any good to
regret anything. I just look forward most of the time. I’ve been kind of the… I
don’t know how to describe it… it’s been sort of a gonzo journalist, songwriter
kind of journey. I’ve done an album pretty much every year whether anybody’s
heard it or not. I’ve always put my thoughts down on paper and put the music
down on CD and have managed to tour all over Europe and America pretty
much every year. So my CDs have been at the merch table and I’ve been pretty
involved in playing music the whole time. 
It’s just not on a national PR level I guess.


 The New Original Harmony Creek Dippers
certainly made their mark…

Well I don’t know about that… (laughs) But I did manage to release all those records and make
music all those years and I continue to do it.


 Are the Creek Dippers ongoing in any way,
shape or form?

Well it goes on in the sense that I put out two records on
my own and two of the people that were involved in the Creek Dippers are still
playing with me – Mike and Ray – and I still see Victoria when I’m back in
Joshua Tree, and we encourage each other with the music we’re doing, and that’s
it. There’s not an official group that tours around anymore though.


 When you and Gary reconvened in 2005 [they toured as “From the Jayhawks: An Evening with
Mark Olson & Gary Louris, Together Again”
] and
later made the duo album, was there any thought of bringing the other Jayhawks
back into the fold with you?

Well we did the duo record between the two of us and at
that time the so-called “Mystery Demos” had surfaced and each of us had been
playing acoustically. I think we just wanted to make an album that reflected
how we wrote songs, which was just two acoustic guitars and two vocals. That’s
how we did that and that led into a tour of Europe
and that led into this. We had to do that first, and again it meant spending
some time at the merch table and people coming up and asking when the Jayhawks
were coming back. (laughs) And that’s
what we decided to do.


 So it sounds like you just got sick of people
asking when the band was reconvening and you just went “Alright already!”
Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of unreleased material hitting the store shelves
lately. It was great that you decided to re-release the Bunkhouse album. That was a tough one to find.

 That’s come out, there’s been a box…
it’s overwhelming really, the amount of material. It makes me think of
something though. There are people who are fans. They’ve followed us throughout
all these years, but for a lot of people, there were only a couple of years in
their life when they really listened to the material… during the time they got
married, during that time they went to college or whatever. And they really
only follow a band over one or two albums.

       There aren’t
many people, that I’ve found, that follow a band. The amount of albums that’s
been released between the Jayhawks and the Creek Dippers and the various Jayhawks
offshoots, like Golden Smog, must be up in the 35 range and somebody who’s
going to digest that amount of material, that must be one of their major
interests in life. This type of music and hanging around record stores. There
really aren’t more than a hundred people in each town who are like that,
probably less, probably less than 50 or something like that… so for the people
who are going to come to our shows, they really got into it on one album. They
know the songs very well – they got into Hollywood Town Hall or Tomorrow the Green Grass — they
want to hear those songs when they come to our shows. But hopefully they’ll
want to hear our new album too. But I think it’s impossible for them to know all the songs we played over our entire
life. It means something to us because we’ve been playing these songs
practically our entire life, but that’s just sort of a general lay of the land.


 In the interim, though, between all these
reissues, it’s almost as if you have three or four new albums to play off of.

 (laughs) When we got back together we
played like three or four songs off that first album and we found out they
worked really great live. There was so much energy on that Bunkhouse record. We had this drummer – all of our drummers had a
different feel – but this one had a kind of hellbent Creedence Clearwater feel.
He was just really intent on pushing things, and all that stuff works really
well when you’re playing them live. That was a different time, when we played as
a bar band, and then recently we’ve played as an acoustic duo, so we’ve
experienced a lot of different music together. Gary and I definitely haven’t
had a musical path together where we found a sound and we stuck with that and
the people wanted to hear it over and over. Both of us have explored a lot of
things as we’ve been going about playing music. I think that’s to our credit in
a way.


 It’s interesting that you soaked up some
obvious influences in people like Gram Parsons and the Everly Brothers, but
then, like the Beatles, you took a different turn when people might not have
otherwise expected it.

 We also had some crazy influences like
the Holy Modal Rounders, the Fugs… We were guys that hung around record stores
and listened to a lot of different kinds of things. I love the holy Modal
Rounders. I love the idea of throwing things out there, all kinds of crazy
lyrics. I don’t know. There are so many different styles of music out there, so
if a person wants to sit down and write a song, he can talk about what’s inside
of him and try to play it in his own way, ya know?  It’s just… I think that’s why it’s so hard
for some musicians to relate to the business side of the music where they have
to maintain certain styles, like where Nashville
has its style and there’s just not a lot of room to take off in different
directions. It seems a little like a cookie cutter — that’s the way the world
is — so you just go on in your own way. You try to find a way to do these
things that excite you and make you happy.


 You guys always seemed to be able to defy the
notion of sticking to a formula…

 Yeah, well we
haven’t really been able to defy it. When the fans flock to the merch table,
they all want to know when the band’s going to get back together! (laughs)


 But now the band is back together!

 It’s like a natural thing. Like what I
tried to explain about the idea that there are people that only listen to one
or two records. That’s the way it’s going to be. My mom and dad would
constantly listen to Bridge Over Troubled
and they didn’t go around listening to everything by Simon and
Garfunkel. That record was good enough for them. They didn’t go back and examine
early Simon and Garfunkel, Sounds of
… No, Bridge Over Troubled
was it and that was on the turntable for one year straight! That’s all they needed. Whenever they felt
like hearing, on went that one album. Here comes the song “Bridge Over Troubled
Water.” Here comes the singing. That’s all they needed out of music. That was
my parents. They weren’t looking for much more than that. That gave them the
feeling that they wanted to have from music and when they went to church, the
Lutheran church, it wasn’t a high intensity musical environment over there. (laughs)


 That’s the beauty of these reissues. You’re
giving the fan another visit to the albums they loved, but you’re expanding on
that experience through the bonus tracks, the demos and all the unreleased
material that accompanies them.

 Well, yeah, they can
sit around and listen to it, but it’s quite a lot to digest if you think about
it. If someone were to go out and get the box set, the Bunkhouse record, and all this other stuff and listen to it all, I
got to hand it to them. There’s a lot of stuff on there! Like, whoa!


 Is there more material from the vaults that’s
worthy of release?

 I think that’s it, that’s the document
done now. I think that anything else would be redundant. I think there’s maybe
only four songs left worth even considering. I think we put out everything that’s
worth hearing.


 When you guys go out on tour, are you going to
delve into any of these obscurities?

 That’s been a
discussion. We have a set list that we all know, that we all worked up last
summer that includes a couple of them, like “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” Leave
No Gold,” “Up Above My Head” – the basic ones like that. Getting into a lot of
the other stuff in a set that runs an hour and a half, or two hours… the thing
is though, we have to hit on the basics, the basic songs on those other albums,
so we can’t just play a bunch of obscurities. (laughs) We’re going to mix some in, that’s the idea and we have a
list of some of the ones we’re going to try to tackle.


 This is, after all, the current product… at
least until the new album comes along.

 That’s the idea.
We’ve been looking over a list of seven now, so we’ll see how that is. Between
the ones we already know, that would be eleven obscurities. So you tell me, if
we go out there and play eleven obscurities, what are people going to say? If you
do 24 songs, that’s a lot of songs!


 The good thing is that these bonus tracks were
sprung from the sessions that birthed the parent albums, so they weren’t
totally out of whack…

 No they weren’t!
They all work as songs. It’s just a matter of do we want to pull it off. Now
you’re in on the discussion. What do we want to pull off to make room?
Something’s got to go off the main set list that people know and that we’ve
rocked out for years on.


 Are you planning to do a show where you play
an entire album and focus the set list on that?

 Well, that’s what
we’re supposed to be doing on this upcoming tour. We’re going to be doing that.
We’re playing double nights in Chicago and New York.


 So where are you residing these days?

 I live in Joshua Tree, California. I’ve been here a long time.


 Are you ever haunted by the ghost of Gram

 Ah, not really. It’s
an entirely different experience for me than those days. I guess they used to
come out here and space out and walk around under the moon. When I came out
here, I met an old master carpenter and he helped me fix up two houses, so mine
has been a little more of a building experience than walking around spaced out,
waiting for some kind of muse. My experience hasn’t been one of muse searching.
It’s been one of the hardware store. (laughs)
So that’s been about it, so there hasn’t been any ghost of Gram haunting me out


 Yet Joshua Tree always seemed such an idyllic
place, especially in those early cover photos that adorned the Creek Dipper
albums with you and Victoria…

 Well, it was and we
enjoyed that. But at the same time, we were trying to be pioneers and fix up
our house. It was a wonderful experience. Incredible really. We’d take off for Europe. We’d go from this, to being out there and we’d record
everything ourselves, and we’d tour on trains. We had a really nice time. It was really living. That’s
the only way to describe it.


 And now you’re entering another phase, sort of
circling back to the beginning

 I’m just lucky I
have another phase to enter! I don’t know what to say really. People want to
come and see us play! I’m going out there to do it. No bones about it. People
really want to hear these songs and see these reunion shows and I was really
shocked! Every time we kick into one of these songs, they just seem to love it.
They want to hear us play and I want to be a part of it.


 [Photo Credit: Steven




Frontwoman and Blurt blogger Otep Shamaya recalls a debauched night of
sex, drugs and handcuffed homophobia.




Let us begin with the conspicuous.



The gypsy life of a
political rock poet is a strange and savage odyssey that billows  through an infinite multiplicity of exotic and
sometimes erotic dimensions.


Yeah, it’s tough.


What follows is an honest
account of pure Gonzo-de Sade. I write this not only to set the record-oh,
pardon me, I almost wrote straight, but that’s completely contrary to what I’m
hoping to do. Yes, this will corroborate my legend (as an outlaw wordsmith and
armor-plated, gold emblazoned sex god) but also shine a bright light on those
that cry “ABOMINATION” the loudest. If you find adult intimacy lewd,
threatening or offensive, stop reading now. This is not for emotional amateurs.
It  will not be a delicate retelling.


It all started when two of
my closest friends, Adam & Eddie (two chiseled Abercrombie effigies from
West Hollywood), invited me to their soiree house in Palm Springs. I was single at the time, bored,
and needed a break from LA.


I arrived on a Saturday
morning with a serious jones for fun. The house was quirky and manicured with
animal hedges. Eddie beamed, “The realtor said Madonna used to have secret
parties here in the ‘80s”. Adam whispered, “He’s such a little  starfucker”. Eddie shushed him and we headed
for the pool. I wrote little haikus and read Bradbury while the boys played
Marco Polo and drank sangria. Around 8:30 we went dinner and they introduced me
to a new friend, we will call Anita, a striking redhead with an enchanting smile.
Next to her was a persnickety looking fellow gulping mouthfuls of gin and
chatting up Adam. This boozing Republican (we will call Ted) railed on about
the “Teabagger Movement” and told cornball jokes like, “How do you make a
blonde laugh on Saturday? Tell her a joke on Wednesday.”




My attention was on Anita.
She was charming and intellectual. She had just quit her job as a PR person for
an unnamed political personality and was searching for meaning in life. Her
passion, she said, was sculpting. Ironwork mostly. She had some success with local
galleries back in Connecticut (where she was
from) but was still trying to find her place in the California scene. I suppose she was feeling a
bit insecure. Who wouldn’t? We shared a few quips on the cannibalistic nature
of the art industry and I felt our souls click.


After dinner, Ted was so
sloppy that my guys offered to drive him home. Anita didn’t care. She and I
dashed off to see her studio. Her pad was a swell ranch style home restored to
its Sinatra-era glory. The back of the house was floor-to-ceiling glass with
French doors opening up to a tropical deck and beautiful pool.


She poured some wine and
set the mood. We flipped through a book of Ellen Von Unwerth’s photography and
flirted a bit, then moved to Anita’s studio. Dark and muddled, most of her
creations were brightly painted knock-offs of medieval torture devices:
handcuffs, neck chains, and gynecological contraptions that looked absolutely
terrifying. I smiled politely, she winked, and I suggested we sit on the deck.


The sky was clear and the
moon beamed brightly. The warm desert air carried soft scents from the
manicured flora.


After a tense moment or
two, our eyes met, I brushed her red locks aside and we kissed. Her mouth on
mine, fingers and hands, heavy petting. We moved inside to the couch, she flipped
a switch and the fireplace bloomed. I sat back and she swayed like a cobra to
the music in front of me. I smiled as she pulled a leather bag from beneath the
coffee table, and unzipped it…..slowly.


She plucked a small
vibrator, a box of whippets, a nylon cord, and a bottle of lube from the bag.
She sucked on the vibrator as she removed her jeans. No panties. My eyes widened.
There it was: the dreaded “meat curtains”. Long, discolored lips and lots of
fur, it looked like a bearded duckbill. Oh well, I liked her, so be it.


She slid the small
vibrator inside her and pressed my face deep into her drapery. She started
grinding and spitting insults at me, “You dirty cunt. Eat it!”


I pulled away, “You okay?”
She flashed a plastic smile and said, “Yeah. You?” I nodded yes, and she pushed
my face back into her. The words flowed again, “You bitch. Fucking filth. Eat
it good.”


I pulled her to the couch
and she flipped on her back. She giggled, “Tastes like strawberries”, and
poured half the bottle of lube over her naked legs and drapery.


My fingers teased her here
and there, she moaned and her body tightened. She whispered, “Baby, don’t
stop”, and slid the nylon cord around her neck and pulled it tight. She grabbed
a few whippets from the bag and inhaled the gas. She roared, “Faster, come on
Fag-bitch! Do it!”


I stopped and said, “Seriously?”
She moaned, “Don’t stop, baby. I’ll be quiet.”


I sighed and went back to work.
She inhaled huge gulps from the whippet and pulled hard on the nylon. The veins
in her neck bulged. Her face turned purple. My fingers and tongue kept working.
Her body quivered. She looked like she was about to blackout when she released
the nylon, took a huge breath, then another shot of gas, pulled the nylon tight
again, and locked her jaw. Her eyes bulged like an insect. I stopped again, she
screamed, “NO! GO!”


She grabbed the back of my
hair and pulled my face to her pelvic bone. I could see the end of the tiny
vibrator pulsing inside her. The lube was everywhere, slapping across my arms,
into my eyes. I resisted her grip, the roots of my hair plucking like harp strings
one by one.


She roared like a mighty grizzly,
purple face, tight nylon, screaming foamy nonsense. Her body stiffened like
stone, she screamed “FAGGGGOT!!” and the tiny vibrator shot out of her like a
bullet and thwacked me dead in the eye.


I fell to the floor and she
squealed in excruciating orgasm. A few moments of weirdness passed and she snorted
a laugh and jumped on me, “Bull’s-eye!” She nuzzled to my neck and whispered,
“You little devil, just look at what you made me do.” She plunged her tongue down
my throat and we made our way to her bed. She curled like a panther after a
kill. I sat back and nursed my swelling eye. I heard a click and turned to see
she had handcuffed herself to the bed with one of her medieval creations. She
tossed the key to me and said, “C’mere and fuck me, Sodomite!”


I sighed, and she said, “Oops,
sorry”, and made that “my lips are sealed” sign over her mouth. I grabbed a
shirt from the dresser to wipe off the sex spatter and saw a framed photograph
that made my blood run cold.


It was a photo of Anita,
at a protest, with the Westboro
Baptist Church
holding a sign that read, “GOD HATES FAG SEX”. Just out of frame was someone
else with a sign that read, “FAGS BURN IN HELL”. It looked a lot like Ted.


She laughed nervously, “Oh,
don’t worry about that, I just did it for the job. My old boss wanted b-roll of
the protest. It doesn’t mean anything.”


I looked at this woman handcuffed
to the bed, wild sexhair, naked from the waist down, still quivering in the
wake of orgasm. Then my eyes dropped back to the photo: Anita holding that
horrible sign as high as her arms could, caught mid-scream, yelling at some
blurred couple rushing by her and this monstrous group.


I quickly dressed in the bathroom
and dropped the handcuff key in the toilet. Anita called after me but I was
done. I walked out of the house and rang a cab.


I arrived back at Adam and
Eddie’s just in time for breakfast. The smell of omelets and bagels filled the
air. I walked into the breakfast nook and saw Adam, Eddie and… Ted the
Republican, all in matching robes, sipping coffee and sharing a newspaper.


Ted tugged at the robe
collar to hide the swarm of hickies around his neck. I poured myself a glass of
orange juice, sat down, and grabbed a section of newspaper.


Nobody spoke.


They didn’t ask me how I got
the black eye.


I didn’t ask them about
the matching robes and hickies.



This article was originally published in BLURT #9. Otep Shamaya is a 2010 GLAAD nominee, frontwoman
for rock group OTEP, a writer, activist, and reprobate who resides on the
jagged edge of Plasticland deep in the recesses of beautiful Los Angeles, CA. Read her
BLURT blog at

UNFAZED BY CHAOS Dolorean, Pt. 2

We continue our
with Portland
songwriter Al James. New album
The Unfazed is out this week on Partisan.




BLURT: How have
you managed to keep Jay and Ben and James in the Dolorean fold?

 AL JAMES: I don’t ask anything
of them (laughs). It’s a real fine
juggling act where I try to make them understand that it’s very important for
them to be part of this, and that I want them to be, as much as they can with
families and careers and mortgages, and that they are always on the A-team. If
they can’t do something, I never freak out because they know they’re wanted and
I know they want to participate as much as they possibly can. And we’re lucky
in Portland,
there’s a ton of incredible fill-in people, so if we have to get someone to
fill in, fine. So I try to keep it loose, and give them a lot of ownership – I
don’t put too many constraints on anybody. I never tell anyone how we’re going
to play or arrange a song, and I rarely make us practice. Everyone’s so
talented and good, I just try to channel the energy when we do get together and
be a little bit of a leader. But everyone gets in tune really quickly because I
think playing music with people that you like has become for them less of a
job, or more like a treat, because they’re torn in so many directions with,
like I said, family and career and stuff. So when we do break away and get a
couple hours to rehearse or play live or record something, it’s back to being
fun and really enjoyable for everybody.


 Had it not become fun? Or how would you
characterize it?

 It was never horrible or
anything like that, I don’t want to paint that picture. We were just on this
path of doing things, and once you get going you don’t really know why you’re
doing some things – someone offers you a show and it’s with somebody who’s
supposed to be a good band, so you rush up to Seattle or wherever to do it, and
you didn’t have that fun of a time, but it was something you were supposed to do. ‘Why are we doing with
this? Why do we keep dealing with this local promoter that we can’t stand, who
never pays us well? Why are we getting yelled at about a MySpace page by this
person because it’s not updated?’ We just needed to take ownership and do things
on our terms. I don’t want to paint a picture that it was horrible or that bad
– it’s never been horrible. I think in order to keep those guys interested and
involved creatively and emotionally, we have to kind of take ownership of it
and feel like it’s ours.


 How does Partisan Records play into that?

 It’s great. They offer us a lot
of freedom, but they’re very realistic. It’s not like they have blank checks to
write or anything like that. But they’re just supportive of really practical
ideas. They put their money in the right places. I’m beyond the age where I
want to own an eight-passenger van and drive it around anymore – who wants to
do that? So they’ll help us rent a van for the upcoming tour, little things
like that. Let’s spend some of our tour support money so that our drummer can
pay for a babysitter while he’s gone for 10 days, or offset some of his costs
for childcare. Really practical, kind of no-brainer things that a lot of people
don’t do. I think it shows me that they want us to succeed, and reap some of
the benefits that we’ve been working for almost a decade. They offer plenty of
money to make a great a record – maybe compared to our old budgets, this was
quite a bit smaller, but if someone gives you a certain amount, you’re probably
going to spend it.


 Well, we all know the Axl Rose story, so…

 Right (laughs). Partisan is just a great fit. They’re very easy to
communicate with, they’re having some success, they have a diverse roster, and
they have nice relationships with people who sell the records physically. They’re
on top of it with the digital stuff, too. They’re doing a nice job.


 Let me ask about the title, and the
significance of “Al James the Unfazed, Jay Clarke the Unfazed,” etc., in the
liner notes – it’s almost like a patronymic.

 Yeah, to me it just comes down
to working at your own pace, and understanding that, as musicians creating
together and individually, we’re going to have a long life and career where
most of us are constantly being creative people and making music, and helping
other people with their music. So it’s just a statement of purpose and,
hopefully, un-shakeability – there’s pretty much nothing worse that you could
do than to take three years off, have another band of young hot Spaniards make
a dance record that’s a Pitchfork Best New Music pick, and then come back and
release an album with a similar name, different spelling. In the world of zeros
and ones and memes, there’s pretty much nothing worse that you could do, but I
don’t care.


 So, you are truly unfazed…

 Yeah, how could you care? What
does it matter? The people that have been with us have been very loyal, very
patient. We’re just as un-photogenic as ever, but our record is as good or
better – I think better – than the other ones, so it’ll be fine. It’s not
totally a statement against “digital world,” because that’s not the enemy, but
it’s never been more chaotic and noisy. But that’s fine, you just have to deal
with it, you can’t put your head in the sand. You just go, ‘that’s fine,’ and
go the way you want to go.


 That may be the wisest route these days,
anyway, in terms of longevity.

 I think so, and I admire people
that do. What everyone’s learning is that there isn’t only one way to do it, and
to sort of carve your own path. Certainly there’s a lot of different ways to
fail and flail, and there’s certain things I’m not going to ignore,
technology-wise, messaging-wise, social media-wise. I’m not going to dig my
heels in and fight against things that are pretty much just helpful tools. But within
that you can still do things in a way that is your own. I guess that’s what we
hope to do. Most successful acts out there right now, it’s just their different
way of doing it – it might just be slightly different, but there’s a lot of
ways to do it.


 Being a Luddite is a lonely cause these days,
I guess.

 (Laughs) Exactly. Even people
like Michael Hurley, here, who’s one of my favorites, a legitimate, old-time
Greenwich Village folkie who’s had a long and amazing career, has one of my
favorite websites on-line. And he knows how to deal with it and update it. He’s
not an idiot, he has to get people out to his shows and have people know when
and where he’s playing. There are a lot of great tools, but even within that
you can put your own version of that out there, and that’s what we hope to do.

       It’s crazy. I follow this
thread to these kids in L.A., MellowHype, they’re like a young N.W.A., some of
them are pro skaters and stuff, they’ve put out like 10 records last year, you
just rip ‘em off their website, and they all can make videos. For them, it’s
perfect. Their first show in London, they sold
out, their first show in New York,
they sold out, just through all this other stuff. Obviously for us, that’s not
our thing. For us, you find out the ways the folks that are following you want
to connect and the ways that you’re comfortable connecting with people, and you
build a little bit a bridge that way.


 Let’s talk about your writing some more — you’re
a big reader, were there any things that affected the writings of these
narratives, or are those separate entities for you?

 The books that have really
stuck with me these last few years, I’ve read a lot of Richard Ford, his short
stories in Rock Springs, those are
some of the best short stories I’ve ever read, I can’t believe how good those
are. I love Willy Vlautin’s novels, he’s from Richmond Fontaine, a Portlander.
He’s a good friend, and it’s very odd, every time I pick up one of his books I
go, ‘well, he’s a good friend, so you will probably like it and be pulling for
it for to be good,’ and that’s never the case because it’s flat-out amazing.
His stuff is very direct and simple, but images and parts of the stories will
just stick with me for weeks and months. I try to read a little bit of everything
that people will throw out in front of me, some for fun, a lot of noir and
crime I’ve been reading lately just because it’s fun. I almost feel guilty when
I read now. But I would say Willy’s stuff is a good reminder for me how simple
language can be and still have a lot of impact. You don’t need to pull out the
thesaurus – that’s how his writing feels to me, it’s almost conversational, but
it’s very intelligent and totally thought-out. I love his style. Every time he
has a new one I’m begging for him to give it to me before it comes out.


 I noticed “Country Clutter” made NPR’s Song of
the Day a while back — on first listen that one really stuck out, for me, too.
Can you tell me about the genesis of that song?

 That was written for a close
friend of mine – this sounds like I’m lying, ‘this friend of mine’ – but it was
written for a friend and it was painful to watch what them go through what they
were going through. They were just going through the ringer, and I thought,
‘let me write a song and give you some words to take some power from,’ so
that’s where it came from. I haven’t gone through a break-up like that in a
really long time, but there was someone close to me that was, and the emotion
there was definitely real. It was kind of a like a gift for someone else;
‘here, let this sort of give you some words, some power, some emotion, because
I know you’re sort of tapped out from this whole process.’


 What about “Hard Working Dogs?”

 That one was fun. If you were
going to look at the spectrum of all the Dolorean songs from the lightest to
the heaviest, I guess that would be one of the most dynamic, and
electric-guitar heavy ones, we’ve done. That one feels more like, as I said,
upbeat, on the ‘things are kind of weird and hard but things are pretty good
overall’ side. The most important parts of that song are the bridges that talk
about hard-working dogs, and just seeing experiences all the way through,
accepting the bad as well as well as the good. Basically, it’s just a
perseverance song; do the right thing as much as you can, be good to other
people, in the end you can sort of win out. It sounds like an inspirational
poster of sorts, but I like the idea of hard-working dogs and living life to
the point of the exhaustion. A lot of the images in the verses are, ‘out late,
up early, going for it 100 percent,’ and all the good and bad that that


 Well, how about “Sweet Boy” — that seems like
a really honest look addressed at the narrator’s self. Slightly ironic perhaps?

 I think there’s some irony. It
ties into “Thinskinned,” too, as far as the concept that the narrator might be
easily molded and pushed around a little bit, and maybe a little overly
sensitive. A song like that definitely comes from a pretty honest place. It’s a
neat point of view for me to write from, there is a little tinge of irony. That
one was really fun because we weren’t really getting it, we were running
through all these different versions and then I quit playing electric guitar
and just sang, and let Jay take the lead on piano. For some reason, we hadn’t
mentioned this in the arrangements, and I just said, ‘this is like a John
Lennon song, just let the playing sort of be that way.’ And I thought
especially the way the piano and drums locked in on that it just feels like one
of those more simple Lennon ballads, piano, drums, bass. You only get a few of
those really fun takes in the studio, the rest of the time it’s really hard
laborious work, and that was one of them where we’re we cracked the code and
it’s fun when that happens.


 What about “Fool’s Gold Ring?” Is that song
related to the music industry at all?

 No, but that could work
(laughs). It’s more about somebody basically only giving part of themselves to
a person or an experience or even a friendship, and that’s been something that
I’ve really explored and experienced a lot more when we were finally home for a
long time. When you’re passing through town because you’re touring a bunch, you
can be kind of non-committal to friendships, to experiences, because you’re already
looking ahead or getting back into the swing of things. That one touches a lot
on trying to be fully present in relationships and friendships and experiences,
and just being 100 percent there in that moment. That’s something I’ve learned
a lot more how to do the last few years.


Go here to read
Part 1 of the interview.