Monthly Archives: January 2011

UNFAZED BY CHAOS Dolorean, Pt. 1

Back after a
four-year drop off the radar, Al James knows what he wants. Oh, and sorry kids,
but he claimed the band name first.




Al James, leader of Portland’s
long-running country folk-rockers Dolorean, concedes that there are few poorer
career moves in today’s gigabyte-paced music world than dropping off the grid
for four years – let alone returning with a new release shortly after a “band
of young hot Spaniards” drop a Pitchfork Best New Music dance record under
essentially the same name (Delorean).


“In the world of zeros and ones and memes, there’s pretty much nothing
worse,” James laughs. “But I don’t care.”


That zeitgeist-free sentiment, expressed without bitterness or Luddite
rancor, sums up the mindset percolating throughout The Unfazed, Dolorean’s fourth full-length and first since 2007’s You Can’t Win, released this week on the
Partisan label. It’s also what gives the record more zest than any previous
Dolorean release, though the music still hits all the band’s strong suits: honest
and astute narratives enveloped in James’ wistful, everyman vocals; simple but
elegantly textured arrangements where accents like pedal steel and fiddle
magnify the warm weave of keys, guitars and harmony vocals; and sneaky chorus hooks
that reverberate long after their run-time.


The music is still roots rock, but The
‘s palette has more and brighter colors (and way more electric
guitar). The 10 songs extend from the familiar – the sublime break-up kiss-off
“Country Clutter” and plangent folk of “Fool’s Gold Ring” – to the more assertive
country rocker “Hard Working Dogs” and two of the band’s more adventurous
outings, the slinky space blues of “Black Hills Gold” and near-hymnal “How Is


Just as decisive, there’s a sense of renewal both in the music and
lyrics that suggests The Unfazed is a
comeback record — though there was never any break-up to come back from. But four-year-waits
are geologic eras in today’s music strata. So low was Dolorean’s profile that
you could be excused for believing the band – James and original members Jay
Clarke (keys), Ben Nugent (drums) and James Adair (bass), as well as newcomer
Jon Neufeld (lead guitar) — had called it quits after their three-record deal
with Yep Roc Records expired.


And in a way, that Dolorean
had run its course. Band members had children, bought homes, and generally
behaved like an outfit that had given it a game shot, made some really pretty
records, and then got on with their lives. But that wasn’t the case, though you
pretty much had to live in Rose
City to know that.
Instead, the band lowered their expectations and got back to basics, a scaling
back that helped them rediscover the simple joys of making music rather than
conquering the world.


Blurt talked at length
with the always amicable James about the band’s recording and touring hiatus,
and his subsequent reassessment about where Dolorean fits in the ever-shifting
music cosmos. The songwriter elaborated on how the band’s turn inward – toward
friends, family, and hometown pleasures – resulted in more optimistic, though
still realistic, narratives, and generated more excitement in the studio.  He also discussed how, through that new
mindset, Dolorean has emerged rooted and renewed, and determined to remain unfazed
by anything the crazy industry side of music-making might throw at the band.




BLURT: Good to
talk to you again, Al. It was great to learn you were releasing another record.
Tell us what happened after You Can’t Win — did you make a conscious decision to step away?

AL JAMES: We’re slowly crawling back out of the grave. More than that,
we, and me especially, just needed to kind of catch a breath. I needed to check
my attitude and desire and interest level. We were done with the three-record
deal with Yep Roc, we’d worked really hard on those, made them in only about
four years, and did a lot of touring. So more or less we just needed to take a
break, and we weren’t in a big hurry to make the next record. It felt like we
could do it at our own pace. We took longer than I thought we would take, we
had about half of it done, but then we scrapped it and started over. So there
were a number of things that added up to the break. But I’m happy with it. For
us, we’re going to keep plugging away at our own pace.


 Three records in four years is a fairly
frantic pace these days; was there a level of burnout involved?

 I think for me the general
feeling was that the pieces that we had were not really working in harmony. It
felt like we were sort of fighting ourselves. I definitely wanted to finish the
relationship with our label, I feel like I gave them three pretty good
long-lasting records, and I tried to create every opportunity that I could and
also succeed when opportunities were presented. But it often seemed like all
the pieces weren’t fitting together well. So the general feeling for me was,
‘okay, I just need to stop, reassess, maybe form some new relationships, and
try and get the thing working a little more efficiently.’ Because if it wasn’t
going to work in a better way, with some better relationships, then it probably
wasn’t going to last, at least for the guys that I’ve been able to bring along
this far, and I definitely wanted to keep them involved.


 So you’re talking about the business end…

 Yeah, the business end.
Booking, or lack of booking, labels, press people – we weren’t all working
together, and it really takes everyone to kind of share the vision and the
excitement to get anywhere and break through the white noise, because there’s
just so much going on and so many people that do have that synergy going. We needed to capture it somehow, and I
think we’re getting that now. It’s great to have [publicist] Angie [Carlson] back
on the team, I love Angie – she worked so hard for us and she gets us, kind of
understands where we fit into things. I love working with Partisan Records, Tim
[Putnam] is an old friend, he’s always been a huge fan of mine, and believes in
me. So it’s like a great start over for us.


 Tell me about the time in between, regrouping
— what did that afford you from the creative side?

 We did a lot of fun things. We
sort of quit playing the indie rock clubs that are part of Portland’s scene, we
played them a little but got more involved in another scene that is just now
starting to cross-pollinate. I don’t know why, it’s probably this way in a lot
of cities, but the bluegrass, folk and sort of like jazz people, they don’t
always commingle with the stuff that’s viewed as ‘indie,’ whatever that means.
But there’s sort of this gap. We did two months of shows where we played once a
week at this club called the LaurelThirst Pub, and it just has a more
country-folk-bluegrass vibe, and our music had been getting further away from
that. We’d do two one-hour sets, from 6 to 8. One acoustic set, one electric
set, and we were drawing great crowds, and a lot of the time the crowds were
people that hadn’t been able to see us for a long time because we were always
playing in clubs where we went on at midnight. So people were coming after work
and grabbing a beer and watching us play for a couple hours. And for us, it was
a shot in the arm, a really, really fun atmosphere. And it was really fun to
learn how to play two hours worth of music. We don’t ever do that when we
headline, that’s way too much Dolorean for anyone. It was fun, really low key
and casual. That helped me loosen up and not take myself so seriously.

         In the meantime, we counted
like four or five babies were born, none of them mine. But everyone else is
putting down pretty serious roots here in town, and I am more or less, too. But
they’re doing it in maybe more tangible ways. For me, also, I explored the
other side of my life here in Portland,
because I was here for longer periods of time — reconnected with friends and
enjoyed some of that aspect of town. It was just feeling like you’re part of a
group of friends and community a little bit more. I think it was a good time
for us, definitely.


 Do you think the initial splash that Not Exotic made, considering it was a
small record from someone most people hadn’t heard, wound up as a burden? Did
you find yourselves having to live up to the expectations, in a business sense?

 I don’t think that really
crossed our minds, because I think the record was received well critically, but
it definitely wasn’t making anyone a lot of money. But [it fit in with] the
stuff going on then, just a little bit after the Iron & Wine stuff, even if
it really wasn’t anything like that. I think it was a pleasant surprise for
people. But we just, for whatever reason, never really found the perfect fit
for touring and booking in the U.S.  We had some great tours, the one with Damien
Jurado and Richard Buckner was a real memorable one, and we had some nice
strings of shows with Crooked Fingers – so we had some good ones. But then a
lot of times we’d be pretty far out in the weeds trying to tour on our own. So
I think that was also part of trying to release albums quickly and not thinking
about it too much. Once you do two or three, you’re just a band or a musician,
and either you make a good one or you don’t. So I don’t feel any pressure, I
don’t think anyone else did, either, because we didn’t make anyone any money,
really (laughs). If there was pressure, it was critical: To continue to write
good songs and arrange them in beautiful and intelligent ways. So that was the
pressure, and we continued to always have some good songs on each record.


 Why did you scrap half of this album?

 We didn’t scrap the songs, just
what we recorded. We got about half-way done, then went in to do the second
half, and it sounded so good, the energy, the takes that we had, the set-up,
just how we even arranged ourselves in the room. It was like two different
halves of an album, so we knew we had to go back and re-do the first half and
get the same energy. So we quickly booked some more time so we could keep
things at the level they were at. It was just a big difference, it would’ve
been like a slow side and a fast side, not speed-wise, just the energy. We were
really locked in the second time we went in to do tracking. It was pretty
unanimous, everyone knew it by the time we got the second batch of songs mapped
out and tracked. We listened and went ‘oh, we gotta go back, don’t we?’ And
everyone agreed, so it was an easy decision to make.


 So just re-recording them?

 Basically. We changed the
arrangements of some, too. At the time, we felt really good about what we got
down, and I’m sure there’s some good stuff in there, but overall it was just
night and day and we wanted everything to fit together.


 What about the songs on the EP (Anticipation Blues, released in November
2010)? Which session were they from?

 They were from the second
session, too. For some reason they didn’t fit for us. There was one song, “All
Over This Town,” that’s been floating around for a really long time. And
sometimes when you have those songs that you really like and you play them live
over the years, and it takes a while to get a good recording of them, by the
time you do, you’re kind of over it, you’re sort of sick of the song. It’s
still a fun one to play live, and we did an okay job recording it, but it’s
lost a bit of its luster over the years, so it didn’t make the final cut.


 This idea of rediscovering this other side of
yourself and the band in Portland,
being away from the fray — did it affect the songs that you wrote for this

 It’s funny, because in our
minds you get really sensitive to what you do and what you’ve done. So there’d
be like a drum fill that we’d listen to over and over, that Ben Nugent would
play, and we would be like, ‘oh, that’s just too extreme for us. That’s just
such a crazy drum fill.’ And it would sound like Rush or something to us. But
then when you get a little perspective and compare it to other things, it
sounds like us, it’s fine. It came from our heads and our playing. So this one
does feel like a Dolorean record. I think we had more fun in the studio playing
electric guitars, and Ben played sticks on the drums all the time instead of
brushes – and we were in a different studio set-up, where we had a big
isolation room for him. So I think the tempos picked up in good ways. I think
dynamically, because we had the sticks, we could dig in a little bit more, and
add more and more electric guitars than we’d been able to.

       I think some of the feel,
some of the subject matter – I’m slowly getting away from content that has to
do with failed relationships and that sort of thing. I’m working my way out of
it, maybe consciously. I’m trying to write about other stuff, even though that
seems to be a really big theme that is inescapable for me considering the three
or four records that are out there. But we’re moving in other directions,
slowly, but I think that’s kind of the way to do it. Small steps, incrementally.


 What would you say on this record is sort of
new narrative fare for you?

 I think “Thinskinned” is cool
in that the verses are very short, the chorus is basically one word, but I
think we ended up making a really cool song. It’s fun, but it still paints a
story. I think things are a little more economic. “The Unfazed,” that track in
general is not really too down-and-out, it’s a little bit proud and sort of
resilient. I think that’s a good direction for us to head in, and me personally
as a writer — to keep realizing how many good things are going on, and writing
about those. There’s always going to be a balance of dark and light in there,
but I think that’s just what I’m learning to do, is still tackling that
dichotomy, but maybe highlight the positive more. Where before I would maybe go
a little bit further into the negative.


 Do you think it’s harder to write a happy

 I think it might be hard to
write a real genuine one because I think there are always nuances to that
happiness that might be harder to explore, or communicate. It’s pretty rare
that we feel pure, ecstatic joy because in the back of your head you still know
that it’s always short-lived, or that the other shoe’s going to drop (laughs).
That’s just real life, that’s just truth. I think that’s the thing, is how do
you still explore that happiness but acknowledge that it might be sort of


 That’s the flipside as well, right? It sounds
as though you’re still exploring hardship and difficulties in life, but you’re
focusing more now on the part that says, well, it’s dark now, but it’s going to
get light later…

 Yeah, I hope so. The more I’ve
been thinking about it, the more I think that the biggest similarities that we
have with country music is not really in the arrangements, we have more pop
going on these days, but more in the feeling that if we write a sad song…I
think country is infused with that, ‘yeah, it’s pretty crummy, but it’ll be
fine, you’ve got family, you’ve this beer in front of you, these simple pleasures,
so it’ll be okay.’ So that’s where I’m trying to come from. If it’s something
on the dark side, there’s still an acknowledgement of, ‘yeah, you know, but it’s
going to be fine.’ It’s not just a pure blanket of hopelessness, of blues, that
sort of thing.


To be continued…


Tomorrow, in Part
2 of the interview, Al James talks about life in the Dolorean and Partisan
Records families, about some of his songwriting inspirations, about being a
Luddite, and more.

MYTH MAKER Syl Johnson

The soul legend ain’t
stopping anytime soon.




There are those who believe Syl Johnson’s reputation isn’t
commensurate with his musical accomplishments. And fortunately for the
74-year-old Chicago blues and soul singer/guitarist/producer-whose
fascinatingly long career includes the R&B hits “Different Strokes,” “Come
On Sock It to Me,”  “Concrete
Reservation,” “Dresses Too Short,” “Is It Because I’m Black?” and the original hit
version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”-one of his true believers is the
Chicago-based archivist record label Numero Group.


In October, Numero released a combination
four-disc/six-LP boxed set called Syl
Johnson: The Complete Mythology,
focusing on his solo career from 1959-1977
(excluding his already well-documented work for Willie Mitchell’s high-profile,
Memphis-based Hi label in the early 1970s, where he first recorded “River”).
Four years in the making, it includes 81 tracks from the Federal, Cha-Cha,
Tmp-Ting, Special Agent, Zachron and especially Chicago’s Twilight/Twinight
labels, where his hits like “Sock It To Me” and “Different Strokes” have gone
on to be sampled by a who’s-who of contemporary rap and hip-hop. The set also
contains a 52-page booklet, scholarly notes on his recording sessions, and
facsimiles of his two Twinight LPs, Dresses
Too Short
and Is It Because I’m


Johnson, by the way, is still very active touring and
producing. But he took some time recently to talk on the phone about his
musical roots. Born in Holly Springs, Miss., as Sylvester Thompson, he moved to
Chicago where he and his two equally musical brothers started carving out
careers in the lively 1950s blues scene. He worked with the likes of Elmore
James, Billy Boy Arnold, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells and Jimmy Reed.


“There was this [Chicago]
label Veejay, and I was there there making a session with Jimmy Reed,” Johnson
recalls. “He used to be a drunk and we’d wait on him to get his whiskey and
stuff and we’d be sitting round the studio. I was showing how I could sing, and
somehow Vivian Carter [the label co-owner] heard me and said to her brother to
get this young boy to sing. He told me to write a song, put it on a dub and
bring it.”


And Johnson, still known as Sylvester Thompson, did that.
Except, as he was walking down the city’s fabled blues-music center, South
Michigan Avenue, with it he saw another record company-a branch of
Cincinnati-based King Records, a black-music giant of the day. “And there was a
guy there named Ralph Bass and I gave him my dub-it was song called
‘Teardrops’. And he wouldn’t let me go. He said, ‘We’re King Records, a big
company; we have James Brown.'”


So he recorded it properly for King subsidiary Federal, and
then went on to record other sides for the company. While nothing became a hit,
the King experience was notable because the label’s president, Sydney Nathan,
ordered his name changed on the records. “He said, ‘Sylvester Thompson sounds
like a governor or something.’ So he changed it. He said that will be a stage
name-like B.B. King or Satchmo. So Syl Johnson it was.”


All these years later, Johnson has but one regret. “I
thought it should have been Sly,” he jokes.



The modern-day
Renaissance man talks music, collaborations, squatting (!), and what it’s like
to own a “badass easel.”




Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1971 and nowadays living in New
York, Joseph Arthur has been a professional recording artist since the late
‘90s when he became the first American to be signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real
World label. Since then he’s released seven critically-hailed studio albums and
– his most recent one was 2008’s Temporary
, released on his own Lonely Astronaut Records – and a slew of
not-merely-stopgap EPs, including four thematically-linked titles in 2008
alone. He’s also been the subject of a documentary film, You Are Free, and his song “You Are Free” gained international
attention when Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Chris Martin of Coldplay re-recorded
it as part of a Hurricane Katrina benefit project.


In some circles he’s known equally well for his work in
visual arts, and it’s unquestionably an understatement to label him as prolific
a painter as he is a musician. He began drawing and painting as a child, and
although encouraged by his mother to develop his talent, he never had any
formal art training. Yet over the years he’s had a hand in the creation of each
of his strikingly
designed record sleeves
, and with the establishment of his Museum Of Modern Arthur (aka MOMAR), he became
unique among the musical community for operating an art gallery where fans and
collectors could literally walk in and view his abstract renderings on canvas
and paper. MOMAR operated for a couple of years starting in 2007, but following
a dispute with the landlord of the building the gallery was housed in, it has since moved online and now does business as a so-called “virtual gallery.”


What’s more, on recent tours performing as a solo act (he
also tours with his band the Lonely Astronauts), he employs loops and effects
to create a full ensemble sound while additionally devoting a portion of each
concert to live painting – with a twist. Not content to merely set down his
instrument and pick up a paint brush onstage, during a song Arthur will set in
motion guitar and percussion loops then, holding a microphone in one hand and
his brush in the other, begin work on a fresh painting while singing the song.
In a sense, it’s as crazy as it sounds, but as you’ll learn from Arthur’s comments,
the process is a lot more complex than it may appear. (Worth noting: Arthur
sells the paintings at the conclusion of his shows, and he’s been donating 100%
of the funds to Haitian relief efforts. His current tour dates, including a
string of shows in Philly, NYC and L.A.
that kicks off this week, are listed at his official website.)


I talked to Arthur last year by phone just prior to his
embarking upon a solo music-and-painting tour. In the background were lots of
crowd noises and, at one point, the rumbling sound of what appeared to be an
approaching then departing subway train. Far from being distracted by the setting,
however, Arthur was as animated and forthcoming an interview subject as they





BLURT: Your work as a
visual artist is well known, of course, and the fact that you have been doing
these solo performances where you play music and paint onstage during the show almost seems to take that notion
to an uncharted level. And I understand that for your upcoming tour you’ll
continue to do the painting and playing thing?


the van’s [on the road] right now, in fact, carrying one of the baddest-ass
easels you ever saw!



 I’ve never heard of an easel described as


 [laughing] You know, it’s weird; I’ve never thought of an easel as
“badass” before. Except before this week! When I used to paint live, which I
did years ago, I’d do it on a big piece of plywood and just roll raw canvas on
top of that, then lean it against a wall. Then on the West Coast tour I started
using an easel, but it was kind of too small. So I made sure to get “the real
shit,” you know? So that’s what’s got me thinking of easels as badass!



 I watched a video
of you live on Seattle’s KEXP
painting and singing, and while we often talk
about artists marrying disparate disciplines I don’t think I’ve ever seen that
notion done in quite so literal a fashion as you. Is there a precedent for


 I don’t think so;
I’ve never heard of anybody singing and painting at the same time. I know that
people paint live [in front of an audience], and people obviously sing, but I
don’t think anybody else does both at the same time.



 If Ed Sullivan were still with us you could
fit right in with the guy who’s spinning plates and telling jokes at the same


 Yeah man, and put
some cymbals between my knees too – I’d be good to go! [laughs]



 Tell me a little about your background. I know
you grew up in Akron and then after finishing
high school moved to Atlanta
in the early ‘90s. Did you attend art school anyplace along the way?


 No, no, and I’ll tell
you this part: selling jewelry in Little Five Points [bohemian/artsy section of
Atlanta] was my
art school education. I met all kinds of artists and interesting characters



 Then if you don’t have any formal training,
when did you first become interested in painting professionally, and how did
that evolve for you?


 It’s funny; I was
dating this girl I Atlanta, and she invited me to go to a museum show in Alabama. And to me,
coming from Akron,
I thought of a museum show as something that would just be boring – you know,
Renaissance paintings or something. So when we went, it was Basquiat! It was a mind-blowing experience. This
huge retrospective of his work. And I had already been painting by that time,
my own kind of abstract stuff, but I didn’t know you could take that stuff
seriously. So that opened my mind a lot: “Okay, yeah, there’s an audience for this.”
And the fact that he was so amazing was inspiring to me too. Then I found out
who else was out there – Cy Twombly, Rauschenberg, de Kooning – and started
learning more about painters.

     Then you really
start to teach yourself through looking. It’s kind of the same way you teach
yourself music – through listening. Like when you first hear Bob Dylan and you
go, “Oh my God…” Then you start spinning off that and listening to other people
and you figure out how to write songs through listening. Same thing with

      It was
interesting, too, working on album artwork. Working in Photoshop with somebody
on album artwork and watching the way they would make layers, and put layer on
top of layer. That taught me more than anything else, because I thought, “Oh,
it’s all about layers. I get it.” It was like a lightbulb going off over my



 That’s interesting how something as
tech-specific and digital as Photoshop would be an influence on your physical


 Exactly. That’s the
point. It was from technology, and I could bring that into my organic work. It
was like attending a Master’s class. So I never went to art school, but I feel
like I had art school laid before me along the way. When you’re open to it, the
universe kind of provides, you know?



You just laid out the
parallels between a self-taught musician and a visual artist with no formal training,
the learning process. Yet people may tend to think of the musical arts and
visual arts as so wholly separate disciplines that they use different portions
of the brain, so to speak. Do you feel that the respective inspirations may
come from the same place?


 I do, absolutely.
That’s why I paint live, too, because I think of music in painterly ways, and I
think of painting in musical ways. It’s like how I was describing Photoshop:
when I made my first record, for the producer I would bring in these songs and
he would basically put these angular, crazy, fucked up things over the top on
them. And I was like, “Oh, I get it! You’re supposed to try to fuck ‘em up as
much as you can without destroying ‘em!” [laughs]
That’s how it registered in my brain, literally.

   And then of course,
there’s a line: the more you fuck it up
without destroying it, the better.
But then you’re closer to the line of
destroying it, and for some you will destroy it.

     For some, say,
James Taylor, that song’s destroyed. But then for others, like My Bloody
Valentine is the perfect example of something that’s almost completely
obliterated yet at the same time is this thing of shiny beauty that’s just
amazing, and that’s [Kevin Shields’] genius right there, that he could create
all those layers and textures and have this amazing thing.



 Have there been any instances where one of
your songs inspired a painting, or vice versa?


 Well, it’s hard to
say specifically that, “Oh, I looked at a painting I did and now I want to
write a song about the painting” or vice versa. I don’t know that that’s ever
really happened. But they inspire each other in that they spin off each other.
I guess that’s how they come together live. Particularly my live solo shows –
they’re kind of like an example of my home environment. Even to the point where
I loop myself and record myself in front of people [onstage]: that’s what I do
at home; that’s four-tracking. And then I also paint. A lot of times I do both
at the same time at home. You’ll work on music, and then you want to go do
something else but you don’t want to just go lay down or read a book because
your imagination is going strong, so [you go paint].



I was going to ask
how much time do you devote to painting versus music in any given day or week, but
you’ve got the best of both worlds while touring.


 In fact, on the last
tour I was selling a lot of paintings that weren’t necessarily live paintings
but ones I did at soundcheck. It’s almost like I go to paint “Factory-style”. [laughs] I mean, it’s possible to approach art in a cold way that I think
is really healthy for it.



 Why is that?


 I think art responds
well to when you kind of don’t give a fuck about it, do you know what I mean?
When you get all precious and ritualistic about it, “it” kind of shies away
from you. Almost like a girl you’re trying to date: if you worship her and
stuff, she’ll just go, “Ooh, get away from me!” But if you’re kinda casual
about it, she’ll like you – and the art will like you.



 We’ve just arrived at a good title for this
piece: “Playing Hard to Get with Art.”


 Oh yeah, exactly – exactly! The rules of seduction apply
across the board.



You’ve had a hand in
all your record sleeves, some of them displaying your original art and others
incorporating various photographers’ work – in the latter instances, the sleeve
credits suggest a collaborative effort, however. Is collaboration a positive
artistic value in your mind?


Big time. And more and more, recently, especially in music.
I’m almost more interested in what I would come up in a collaborative way with
somebody than on my own. That’s different from how I was, say, ten years ago;
that would have been the opposite, more like “I just wanna produce it myself
and play everything on it.” Like I had to prove something to myself, I dunno!
But now I like the idea of writing with other people.



Now, it’s easy enough
for you to work with a fellow musician, and even do it on the fly – say, with
Peter Buck or Ben Harper, who I know showed up at a couple of your West Coast
shows and sat in with you. If all else fails, whip out “Louie Louie,” that sort
of thing. But is that level of collaboration even possible visually, given that
painting is considerably more solitary an activity by nature?


 It’s funny, because a
painter friend of mine recently said she’d like to paint with me sometime, and
she does stuff that takes months,
whereas I’ll work on a painting for ten
So I’m thinking, jeez, I’d feel weird about ruining one of your
paintings! [laughs] You know? But
yes, it’s less of a natural thing for two painters to collaborate.

    But like I said,
I’ve definitely collaborated with people on Photoshop and stuff like that. And
[art designer] Zachary Larner on my early record sleeves; some of my favorite
ones are collaborations with him. [See 2000’s Come To
Where I’m From
for an example of Arthur and Larner’s sleeve design.
] So
yeah, particularly now in modern times, it’s possible. Photoshop in particular.



You don’t have to
worry about fucking up someone’s canvas in Photoshop – you can always return to
the source on the computer.


And you know, that’s one of the biggest challenges to
painting, particularly live painting: your tendency is to just keep going until
you obliterate what was in there in the first place, because it’s hard to
conceive that something “simple” can be great, as the mind’s nature is to go,
“No, I must work on it and think on it and really contemplate it for months and
months for it to be great.” That can be far from the truth, and with live
painting there’s no chance of that because you leave your mind no space whatsoever.
The mind is kicked out of the equation, and that’s what’s great about it.
Usually half the time I’m doing it I think, oh, this is terrible, it’s not
working, and this is an important show and I really wish this painting was
good… Then once I’m done and the show’s over and I go offstage and look at it I
usually go, “Wow, that’s pretty good…”



 Your mind is going one direction while the
muse is veering in a different direction?


 Yeah. The muse is
under the pressure of the audience. It has no time to let the mind beat it up
to the point where you sit down on the couch and get depressed! You’re in front
of a roomful of people where you’ve set up the uncomfortable situation of
“paint something that’s alive and that works” for them.



 You’re saying that it’s not like being able to
change the setlist in the middle of a concert.


 No! And you can’t say
to the audience, “I was just kidding! I know that there’s this badass easel
here, but just kidding about this, just ignore that…” You can’t do that.

     I wasn’t actually
ever intending to play and sing at the same time. The first time I ever did it
was in L.A. at the Troubadour a few years ago, and I was just gonna walk out
onstage, draw a little something, then say good-night. Maybe even more
artsy-fartsy than that, just paint a little backdrop at soundcheck, then work
on it a little in the show. That’s kind of how I did it. But the next day an
interviewer said, “Oh, so I hear you are painting and singing at the same
time.” Well, no, I hadn’t planned that. But the light bulb just went off that I
could. I was still self-sampling, so
I knew I could enter in a loop and sing and do it. I thought, “Oh my God,
that’s a great idea.”



 Earlier you mentioned a few artists that
inspired you. Is there any living artist that you admire who you’d like to have
the chance to work with?


 Well, Cy Twombly. I love him. I’d
like to meet him. Most of the painters I know about are dead. He’s alive, but
very old.



You may have stoked
some potential collaborative fires with the coloring book contest for your
recent Color Me Courageous art/coloring book too. [For the
competition, Arthur solicited fans to submit their own Arthur-esque renderings,
yielding an impressive field. The winner was a four-year old. Go here at Arthur’s
to see that and the runner-ups displayed gallery style.
] Some
of those paintings were hugely impressive. The opportunity for a kid to have
their stuff displayed in such a high profile fashion, to be associated with a
“known” artist so to speak, is beautiful. It’s fantastic encouragement – my
9-year old son has an outstanding art teacher who has consistently encouraged
him to develop his talent, and that’s important. A little encouragement can go
a long way.


That’s awesome. Yeah – the contest, the four year old that
won, especially. And a little encouragement does go a long way when you’re
young, for sure. I think as long as kids don’t get discouraged, you know? Like,
my mom, when I was a kid, would tell me, “You’re really good at drawing!” And I
would go, “Really?” Because my sister could draw realistic and I couldn’t; I
didn’t draw like that. I was more [abstract]. So I asked my mom why, and she
said, “Because your drawings have personality.” And I was, wow. That blew my
mind when I was young. And I just never stopped painting after that.



The MOMAR [the Museum of Modern Arthur, his
online virtual art gallery, which initially operated, starting in 2007, as a
physical artspace in Brooklyn until being ejected by the landlord of the
property] – tell me how that’s going these days. I would imagine you were
unhappy when you got shut down.


Ahh, well… to tell you the truth, not actually. I did have
pangs about it for months after it was closed. Then I had regrets: “Oh, we
could have done this…” But not necessarily about it remaining open. It ran its
course, and was open for two years. When we opened it our financial people were
like, “Dude, you’re not going to be able to keep this open for four months!” So
it had its great life and we threw some great events and I’m glad we did it.

     Plus it was hard
for me. I had to live illegally in the back of it; that was one of the ways I
could make it happen. That was rough.



 You were squatting in your own space?


 I was squatting for
two years. So you know what, I actually am relieved that I’m back to a private
lifestyle! [laughs] But it was good.
It was epic! A cool place, and it had a great moment. And hopefully maybe one
of these days I’ll get a chance to open something else up.



In talking to you, I
was getting the feeling that you’re always a step or two on the path to the
next source of inspiration or opportunity to create something different.


 You know what else
I’ve found out? Over time, things have a way of repeating themselves in this
weird way. Things have seasons in different forms. So I think you’re right. I
think MOMAR will open up in different form.



[Photo Credit: Danny Clinch]



Joseph Arthur tour
dates are at his official website.



BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DOLLAR (OR $20)? The New Music Patronage

Palmer, Gang of Four and Eric Bachman are among the many musicians taking their
business ventures to the people.




Not even a decade ago, the only pledge drives you would
really hear about were from listener-supported radio stations like WFMU, Jerry
Lewis’s Labor Day Telethon, PBS and your local school PTA’s bake sale. These
days, however, as a means to stay afloat in a rapidly capsizing music industry,
more and more music acts are turning to their fans to help them fund their
artistic ventures in the advent of such websites as Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, BandCamp,
ArtistShare and IndieGoGo. Taking a cue from the groundbreaking online
campaigns of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails to engage directly with their
fanbases, these sites provide a means for artists to help raise the appropriate
revenue to get their respective projects off the ground.


“IndieGoGo is based on the fundamental belief that bringing
new ideas to the community can be achieved in an efficient and democratic way,”
explains Slava Rubin, co-founder and CEO, in regards to his company’s goals for
the artists who work with them. “IndieGoGo is democratic; we believe that every
project or idea has a right to reach [its audience].”  


“We’ve always said that musicians should get reasonably paid
for what we do,” proclaims Gang of Four frontman Jon King, who along with his
bandmates utilized to successfully help fund their forthcoming
album Content. “But the new
model-where music is shared and downloaded for nothing, where traditional
record companies are doomed but where technology-based intermediaries like Apple,
who don’t invest a cent in talent and are making almost all the money-means
that it’s no longer possible to earn any money from recorded music.”


Dresden Dolls siren Amanda Palmer (pictured, above) has,
too, found good fortune by taking the online patronage route as well, making
over $15,000 in under three minutes following the announcement of her new EP Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of
Radiohead On Her Magical Ukelele,
through BandCamp at a minimum pledge of
84 cents. For Palmer, who has long been a most vocal critic against the greedy
practices of the music industry, this model is a perfect fit for artists with
realistic goals in mind.


“For a hardworking artist who’s not particularly interested
in fame, glamour and fortune but is, rather, invested in art and community and
making music on their own terms, the major label system is generally a
disaster,” says Palmer. “I think the most important focus moving forward should
be the attitude everyone is taking towards the exchange, since it’s becoming
more of a working class music economy. Now that the blockbuster structure has
fallen, musicians need to come to terms with the fact that superstardom isn’t
the goal-the goal is making a living wage.”


But where some can see music patronage as a proper means to
an end in these shaky times for the music business, there are a few who can see
the hairline cracks in the model that could prove to be troublesome as well. Case
in point are the financial issues that have encroached upon the otherwise noble
campaign of Venice Is Sinking, an Athens, GA-based indie rock group who funded
their new album, Sand & Lines,
through, but did not anticipate the problems on the
distribution end of things following their pledge drive (part of which was used
to help give back to the rebuilding of the legendary Georgia Theatre, where the
album was recorded and sadly was destroyed by a fire shortly thereafter).


“We’ve always been into Fugazi-style pricing, whenever
possible,” believes the band’s Lucas Jensen. “The problem that we have now is
that we set the bar too low, and now we’re accruing costs that we didn’t
anticipate, and we’ve also gone way late on delivering our rewards to our
donors, which can be downright embarrassing.”


Another issue that arose upon the discussion of music
patronage is the insularity of the strictly online-only venture, as brought up
by indie rock veteran Eric Bachmann, who funded his latest Crooked Fingers EP, Reservoir Songs II, through Kickstarter.
He has concerns about the lack of social identity in the action of online
pledge drives.   


“We have to be careful,” he warns. “It’s great that we can
reach all these people and fans from our laptops to ask them for money, but if
that’s the only way we interact then we are giving something up in terms of
community: everyone in their little pods writing little notes to one another
while never getting past a certain layer of communication,”


And while it has proven to be easy for artists with built-in
audiences like Palmer, Gang of Four and Bachmann to find success going the
online music venture route, smaller acts looking to establish themselves beyond
their own creative neighborhood might have more concern with this type of model
than good old fashioned “get in the van” style promotion.


“See, if it’s only your fans, friends and family members
that are donating, that’s great and everything, but it’s not like a successful
Kickstarter campaign is going to put you out there in front of any new people,”
believes Lucas. “Nobody’s gonna give you money who doesn’t know you these days
unless your project is super-unique-and, let’s face it, releasing your band’s
indie rock record is not particularly unique.”


Resources: Kickstarter (; IndieGoGo (; Bandcamp (; Pledge Music (; ArtistShare (



[Photo of Amanda Palmer: Gregory Nomoora]




As her Catching A Tiger tour gets ready to restart for the new
year, the songstress still has the musical world by the tail.




you just zeroed in on Lissie’s performance at the last 2010 Lilith Fair date in
Washington, D.C., you might have thought she was
performing in front of an amphitheatre-size crowd, not on a side stage in front
of a few hundred. Forget that temperatures and humidity both hovered near triple
digits on that August day; Lissie and her band gave all out head thumping, hard
charging, guitar banging performances as they worked their way through a
30-minute set.


is a nice crowd,” she said to the assembled group midway through her
performance. “We’re getting to evening now. I want to see some dancing. No


Lissie only performed at one Lilith Fair event and was one of the least
well-known performers on the Lilith Tour – which included such household names
as Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, the Indigo Girls, and Grace
Potter – she was arguably one of the Washington show’s brightest lights.


for the U.S.
she remembered to come home.


since June when her debut album Catching
a Tiger
was released in the U.K, her world has been full of sold-out shows,
musician jams and songwriting collaborations.


is going so great. It’s really, really thrilling,” she said from the U.K. just
before her Lilith performance. “I came over here last winter and did some
shows in London.
They went well but there wasn’t much buzz. Now my shows are sold out, they play
me on the radio, there are posters of my face all over the city. Really good
things are happening.”


to imagine a year ago the Rock Island,
Illinois native had just released
her Americana EP Why You Runnin.
Although that EP was lush, set to an acoustic/rock/indie folk musical
background, the debut album is even richer and more emotive.


that to her ever-growing musical prowess plus her collaboration with the two
producers she worked with on this album that was released in the U.S.
in August  – Jacquire King and Bill
Reynolds, who also produced Lissie’s EP.


insists on perfection in certain ways. I would sing and sing and sing and sing
until he thought he had everything he needed to work with. He wanted to push me
to learn and challenge me. He brings a total professional and credibility to
the project with his passion and how good he is at it,” she says noting
his multiple Grammy Awards. “Bill and I had been friends…and usually he liked
what I did enough that I would only sing once or twice. He said, ‘After you
sing it [a few times] you start losing the emotion’…Maybe there were a few
notes that could have been sung better, but the emotion is what he goes


easy to see how Lissie, as an artist, is something of a mix of those two
styles. She’s a perfectionist, writing new songs for the album even though she
already had more than 30 from which to choose. She’s also all about the
emotion, as evidenced by the clear passion she brings to her playing and


think sometimes even comes down to something like I love that song and I almost
think I have it but I haven’t done it quite right. That’s when I will put it
aside for the next album,” she says. “The truth, too, in talking
about it now is that I didn’t start out to make an album in a way I thought I
was being intentional and deliberate. I didn’t over think it. It worked


Lissie’s latest leg on the Catching A Tiger tour starts this weekend, on Jan 15, in Los Angeles. Tour dates at
her official website.



These late ‘70s, bike-humpin’, long-haired thugs
from Columbus, Ohio, were definitely a product of their



Back at
the dawn of American hard rock – circa 1969 or so, 1970 at the latest – you had
such eardrum-smackin’ dino-stompers as Grand Funk Railroad, Blue Cheer, Dust,
Sir Lord Baltimore, and other mono-browed cro-mags that roamed the dangerous
rock ‘n’ roll backstreets. Most of these bands took the blues-derived,
guitar-driven music of British dandies like Cream and Status Quo as a starting
point, ratcheted up the amperage to cerebellum-shredding volume, threw in some
fancy on-stage gymnastics like hair-whipping and broken-string flagellation,
and subsequently had their choice of the least skanky of their distaff
backstage admirers for a little extra-curricular activity once the spotlights
were turned off.     


While many
of this initial wave of hard rock heroes never made it to first base outside of
their limited geographical popularity (future cult band status notwithstanding),
the rare widespread success of a handful of like-minded chowderheads like Grand
Funk was proof to a generation of bar-hopping teens that fame, fortune, and
feminine charms were just three (loudly played) chords away.


Grand Funk
Railroad was hated by college-educated critics with a passion not expressed in
print again until the nerf-metal era of the mid-1980s; but while these
egg-headed rockcrit types were grooving to their George Harrison and Crabby
Appleton albums, the boys and girls were banging their heads in rhythm to the
fab new sounds of bands like Alice Cooper, Kiss, Angel, and the favorite sons of
Columbus, Ohio, the Godz.  


Not to be
confused with the hippie-dippie, psychedelic-folk noise terrorists of the same
name from New York City that recorded for the
ESP Records label, the Harley-humpin’ long-haired hard rock thugs from Columbus pursued a blooze-n-booze
swagger that was a universe away from the lysergic fever-dreams of their


Formed by
bassist/vocalist Eric Moore and guitarist Bob Hill from the ashes of the L.A. by way of Ohio
band Capital City Rockets (who recorded one ill-fated LP for Elektra that is
often considered one of the worst albums of ’73), the Godz simplified hard rock
into a white light blur of boogie-blues and feedback-drenched guitar chords.
Although the band toured with labelmates Kiss and Angel, as well as folks like
Cheap Trick and Judas Priest, the Godz never found much of an audience outside
of their hometown, and all but disappeared after a pair of albums that have
since achieved near-rabid cult status.


To be
entirely honest, the Godz never hooked the earlobes of the young, gullible rock
‘n’ roll fan because, well… they just weren’t really very good. Yeah, all the
pieces fit together like the well-oiled rock ‘n’ roll machine they brag about
being on “Gotta Keep Runnin'”; guitarists Hill and Mark Chatfield (who
would go on to play with Bob Seger) hit some smokin’ notes; and in Moore they
had a gravel-throated grease-n-grits vocalist to mangle their too-often misogynist
lyrics. And, as they say somewhere, therein lies the rub…while the band’s
hearty, Vikingesque four-part harmonies were years ahead of their time, their
shitty songwriting could suck a bowling ball through a vacuum-cleaner hose.


there wasn’t a decent word-wrangler in the bunch, the six original tunes on
their self-titled 1978 debut split evenly among three of the four band members,
Bob Hill effectively frozen out of the mix after penning the bulk of the
mind-numbing tripe that made the Capital City Rockets album the
critically-reviled diaper-candy that it was. Booze, bikes, broads, and
“rawkin roll” are the primary subjects found in the lyrics on The Godz, and while such lofty intellectual
fare strikes a chord with a bar/club audience jacked up on bottles of Old
Crankcase lager (4.1% alcohol by volume) and pheromones, it loses quite a bit
of gravitas when played at home on the crappy BSR turntable in your bedroom… not
a great selling point with a record-buying teenaged audience trying to figure
out whether disco or booger-rock is going to get them laid faster.   


Still, you
gotta give these Godz boys their props… by the late 1970s, when the band had
its coming out party, Southern rock had pretty much begun giving up the ghost
in favor of punk, funk, disco, and the heartland-bred arena-rock sounds of
Seger and Springsteen. The Godz managed to create a near-perfect musical fusion
of north-meets-south, combining the reckless hard rock energy of the Motor City
with the bluesy vibe of Southern rock, kind of a cross between Ted Nugent and
Molly Hatchet, with a healthy dose of Midwest rustbelt biker aesthetic thrown
in for kicks.   


The Godz starts off with the riff-happy “Go
Away,” a rollicking booger-rocker that sounds like a less-distinctive Jo
Jo Gunne, with squalls of ringing guitars, a neck-breaking backbeat, and a
solid tho’ unspectacular bass line. Played live, the song probably kicked
serious ass, and it sounds OK on the stereo today if you down a shot or two of
rotgut and let the guitars carry you away on a cloud of alcohol-inspired bliss.
By contrast, “Baby I Love You” is a real fart in the cookie jar, songwriter
Moore ripping off about half-a-dozen tunes from better artists, not limited to
Chuck Berry, Bob Seger, and the Rockets, the chorus alone pinching the infamous
“rock me baby” line that was chiseled in stone sometime during the
hieroglyphic era of rock ‘n’ roll, delivered here like a flaccid reminder to
move your clothes from the washer to the dryer.


The next
couple of tunes salvage the remainder of what was originally side one of the
album, the first of ’em, “Guaranteed,” rocking like a cross between
Status Quo and Lynyrd Skynyrd, machine-gun drumbeats matched by twangy vocals
and high-flying, razor-sharp guitars. The proto-metal jam “Gotta Keep
Runnin'” borrows a bit of the cowbell intro from Grand Funk’s “We’re
An American Band,” and pairs it with the locomotive redneck rock of
Blackfoot in the creation of a pud-pounding, steel-toed, junkyard brawl of epic
proportions. Moore’s spoken word bit in the
middle about how we’re all “rock ‘n’ roll godz” was ridiculous even
by 1970s standards but, once again, if you drop enough Quaaludes and chase ’em
down with enough rye whiskey, Moore’s
absurd ramblings hit your ears like a Shakespearean soliloquy.


Side two
of The Godz is a mercifully short,
albeit athletic three songs long, jumping off the turntable with the raucous
“Under The Table.” Opening with some sort of industrial drone intro
more suited to a Joy Division single, the song blasts your senses with a
pyrotechnic display of twin guitars that sound like BTO but smack your medulla
oblongata like Judas Priest. From the chaotic peak, the song devolves into an
ear-pleasing Southern rock jam with all four instruments intertwining to great
effect. “Cross Country” is a standard-issue, country-flavored rocker
with screaming guitar solos and a choogling rhythm that plays well to
Harley-Davidson enthusiasts on either side of the Mason-Dixon


undeniable highlight of The Godz,
though, is the album-closing cover of Golden Earring’s “Candy’s Going
Bad.” An unlikely choice in material (every other bar band at the time was playing “Radar Love”),
“Candy’s Going Bad” showcases the band’s instrumental skills while
removing the “ick” factor of their self-written lyrical turds.
Starting slowly with a blast-oven intro that is more industrial that anything Einstürzende
Neubauten ever thought of, the song unrolls in ways both predictable and
otherwise, with plenty of scorched-earth fretwork, an unusual and somewhat
syncopated arrangement, a blizzard of drumbeats-and-cymbals crashing down in
the back of the mix, and gangfight vocals reminiscent of the Dictators. The
song rocks harder and faster and with more energy than anything else on the
album, and shows what these lunkheads may have achieved if they’d had a
half-decent (and literate) songwriter on the payroll.


question, then, would be “are the Godz worth their cult band status with
hard rock and heavy metal fans?” The short answer: I dunno!? The Reverend
saw ’em perform once, way back in the day, and I remember being pretty damned
entertained at the time. Given my nutritious daily diet of psilocybin, pizza,
Stroh’s beer, and Jack Daniels during that era, however, I couldn’t reliably
bet my rockcrit reputation on the Godz’ onstage prowess.


The band’s
self-titled debut, produced by Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer, shows moments of
hard-rockin’ brilliance surrounded by trite period clichés that would be
repeated ad nauseum a decade later by a younger generation of similarly
shaggy-headed, Marshall-stacked cretins. That the Godz proved to be influential
far beyond their meager album sales is undeniable, and while they may have
rocked many a stage at the time, their trademark biker boogie-rock sound would
be pursued with greater success by bands like Badlands,
Jackyl, and the Black Label Society years down the road. Still, not a bad
musical legacy for a bunch of guys from Columbus….


Godz founder Eric Moore has an official website that chronicles the history of the band, and more. He continues to front the
band and a few years ago released the retrospective album
Eric Moore and the Godz:
25 Moore Years.



In which a Blurt reporter is pursued by the eccentric musician. You think you really know him, but you don’t.




“In 1977, a 24-year-old musician from Endicott, NY
released a wonderful, odd album, combining elements of pop, proto new wave,
jazz, avant-garde composition and electronic music, alternately sweet and angst
ridden, about the women in his life and his fantasies…” –  The New York


Peering out from under the covers, I flinch at the sun glinting off the
plant by the window. For the first time in over a week, it’s a bright
morning – no more rain. Rain is good – I don’t want to get out of bed,
where I’ve been tossing and turning for hours. Resentments and prayers
of entreaty take turns circling my brain. An occasional car horn or
piercing voice alerts me to how busy the world is, outside. Other
writers are turning in stories about musicians – about performance
artists, even — on the way to buying a cup of coffee. Other writers are
turning their stories in on time. I’m way behind schedule with this
one. And all this tossing and turning keeps ending with the same
conclusion: There’s no way to relate the story of Gary Wilson without
getting… well… personal.


I went to another of Gary’s shows a few weeks
ago and it was even more amazing than the last: The weirdest, funniest, porn-flick-soundtrack-meets-the-Mothers-of-Invention-in-a-lounge-with-baby-powder-all-over-the-floor-thing
I’ve ever seen. But there’s a limit, for God’s sake. ‘Cause afterwards, Gary’s tanked-up buddies
coerced me into the van with him and it was really, really scary – just these dark
eyes peering out from the depths of all this duct tape and toilet paper. Even
though I didn’t have a tape recorder he kept staring at me, saying all this
stuff about John Cage and New York and stories that ran about him in big papers,
God-knows-when. I just wanted to get out of the van. And anyone who’s into
truly alternative performers probably knows Gary’s story. For those who don’t, here’s a



Born in Endicott,
New York, Wilson had pet ducks that he took for walks.
He could play guitar, bass, piano, drums and cello by the time he was seven and
liked Dion and Bobby Rydell, who he emulated by getting his mom to curl the
front of his hair before he’d go to elementary school. At the age of nine he
was playing standup bass in the school band. He wrote his first song the next
year and started making recordings when he was 12. When he was in the eighth
grade he played keyboards for a band called Lourde Fuzz that recorded a single
and opened for The 1910 Fruitgum Co., and after the singer/songwriter for
Fruitgum bailed, Gary
was brought in as a replacement, but the other members decided he was too


In ’69 Gary
got into sound innovator John Cage. Upon contacting Cage, the 14-year-old was invited
over for several days of music discussion. Also big on avant-garde composer
David Tudor, Gary
pursued “experimental” ideas. After high school he made the move to Manhattan
but retreated within a few weeks to his family in Endicott, where he “fell right
into” playing lounge music, something Gary’s father had also done along with a
day job at IBM.


Gary started recording You
Think You Really Know Me
at Bearsville in ’76 but ended up finishing the
album in his parents’ basement. With intermittent backing by The Blind Dates,
it included “6.4 = Make Out,”  “Groovy
Girls Make Love at the Beach,” and “I Want To Lose Control.” Gary pressed and
distributed 600 copies between ’77-’79, in the process making one of the
world’s first true indie, alternative releases. (Cry Baby Records pressed
another 1,000 a few years later.)


People were sickened and/or outraged by Gary’s performances,
which included duct tape, bed sheets, fake blood, and milk. Some venues cut the
band’s juice to try and get it to stop. YTYRKM got some radio play, which encouraged Gary to
move to California
in ’78, hoping for a record deal. Although he wrote and recorded new work and The
Residents sent fan mail, after a poorly-received tour in ’81 Gary retired, essentially disappearing for
nearly two decades.  


Somehow, though, Beck had
discovered and developed a love for Wilson,
mentioning him in concert, at awards ceremonies, and on Odelay; he cited his idol by name on “Where It’s At.” And
it came out that Gary
had influenced the direction of Sub Pop. Motel Records hired a detective to
find Gary in
the early 2000s, which yielded nothing. He was eventually tracked to an adult
theater where he worked; he was also playing keyboards for a jazz combo in
Rancho Bernardo, near San Diego.
Motel repressed YTYRKM. After his
20-year exile, Gary returned to the stage at
Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.
Michael Wolk made a film, You Think You
Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story
, which documents Gary’s
exhaustive journey by rail from California
to NY for the show. Along with snippets of history and performance footage, it
reveals how Gary
and the Blind Dates got together, a tale involving a duck in Endicott with
which he was obsessed.


Subsequent releases are Forgotten Lovers (singles, b-sides, rare and unreleased songs) on Motel Records, Mary Had
Brown Hair
(Stones Throw), Lisa
Wants to Talk to You
(Human Ear), and Electric Endicott (Western Vinyl, September, 2010).



In my hurry to get out of the
van I made the mistake of giving Gary
my Facebook address. That’s when the weirdness started.


I get blindsided by comments
from out of the blue, with no bearing on the video I’ve shared or anything,
like “I saw Mary with John” or “I saw Mary dancing in Ocean Beach.”
I’m already being stalked by this guy who rides his bike by my house almost
every night – I can see his lights blinking up at me through the dark. And I
know he’s been stalking this other girl, named Julie, ‘cause she has a ring on
her finger now, and she shakes all the time, and says she’s really happy. And — oh, crap — why am I so turned on?


These tapes labeled
“originals just for you” keep arriving – on cassette (I’m not kidding!), and I
can’t send them back ‘cause the only return address is “Endicott After
Midnight.” Endicott, my ass – as far as I know, Gary
is right here in San Diego,
just a zip code away. Like I guess he thinks I’m going to talk to him if I
listen to his songs, which go in all these circles, usually about walking
around at night with some girl that leaves him under the trees or something, and
the names of the girls change all the time. Which is rather insulting – I mean,
he said right on the mix-tape he sent from a few years ago, Lisa Wants to Talk to You, that I have a
light in my eyes. And what girl doesn’t want to hear that? But then the next
song is about Linda, and he goes on and on about some bitch named Sandy.


Actually, the tape I got
yesterday was pretty amazing. But this is
what I have to say to you, Gary Wilson:
I am still not going to talk to
you. I give all your tapes to my boyfriend, who is trying to get a band
together! He’s in the basement right now, trying to replicate the way you open Electric Endicott with these sounds like
mice being tortured by being stuck in a keyboard – that’s pretty unusual. He
likes how you go from that into the title song, which combines a sing-song
refrain with these swirly keyboard tones and funky retro-sounding guitars that
would go really well with one of those movies that starts with a “pizza
delivery.” Very unusual, according to my boyfriend, whose name is Barry. He
laughs when I say, “Why would I want to be involved with this guy who’s always
begging girls not to break his heart and moaning about crying alone in his


Jerry and I stopped eating
our eggs for a minute when you went into “Where Are The Flowers?” – reminds us
of Frank Zappa if he dropped the superior intellectual pose and let us hear
what he and the other Mothers of Invention did for fun after eating some corn
flakes. It got us up and dancing, but it was an eerie feeling when lines like
“Kathy walked away last night/She told me that I was not all right,” poke
through the good-time bubble. Yeah, we’re still clapping our hands to that one,
but you kind of ruin the vibe by throwing in this noise that sounds like
Stockhausen – by the way, how did you do
? ‘Cause my real boyfriend, Danny, wants to know. He told me I have to
write to you on Facebook with these questions, ‘cause we really want to be your
friends. So here are the questions:


Danny and I: Id or ego? 

GARY WILSON: Perhaps a little
bit of both. 


Darwin or Adam and Eve?  

A little bit of both.

What is that big plastic thing sticking
out of your closet?

It’s my two favorite
mannequins (Linda and Mary) both wrapped in one big plastic bag.

Why did you walk away from me so
suddenly the other night?

I saw you dancing with my
keyboard player Joe Lunga (one of the Blind Dates) when you thought I wasn’t

Do you ever leave your room in the
daytime? ‘Cause I thought I saw you hiding behind the soul records at Endicott
Sounds last Saturday at 2 p.m.

Sometimes I leave my room in
the daytime to get a pizza or a roast beef sandwich.  You caught me in the
record store (near the pizza parlor) searching for the album “Runaround Sue”
recorded by Dion.

How did you get that cool sound on “Sandy Put Me on a Sick
Trip”? Joe and I want to steal it.

A lot of the sounds were the
end result of plugging the speaker output on my Wollensak tape recorder into
the microphone input of the same tape recorder.  This produces a lot of electronic
“noise” and chatter.  Tell Joe it wasn’t me.

How did you know that cool jazzy track,
“Kathy Kissed Me Last Night,” would make us sit down and hold hands, suddenly
remembering that time Barry broke my heart by showing up with another girl at
the dance?

The same thing happened to me
with Kathy. We were together at the W.J. Teener in Endicott (a venue in
Endicott that had bands playing on weekends) when Kathy reached over to me and
kissed me. It was fantastic. This happened shortly after I caught Linda
with Frank Roma. Glad you can relate to that song.  Kathy made me feel
happy for a while. This is why you and I held hands and cried with one

Where did you get the piano player on
“Kathy Kissed Me Last Night” and “The Clouds Cry for Endicott”? He sounds like
Bill Evans – is he available?

I released an instrumental
album (“Another Galaxy”) before “You Think You Really Know
Me” which featured a trio setting with me on piano and stand up
bass. There was a selection on the album (“Another Galaxy”) called “Softly
the Water Flows.”  The two piano trio instrumentals you mentioned above
bring me back to that point in time. I always enjoyed the instrumental albums
on ESP Records. 

If you like Endicott so much, why don’t
you go the hell back there and stop riding by my house on your bicycle at

I recently bought my house on
Bermond Avenue
back in Endicott. I will be moving back to Endicott sometime in the
future. I was born and raised in that house and now I will probably die in
that house. Back to my roots. Back to the cellar. I didn’t mean to bother you
when I drove past your house. It’s just that you remind me of Linda.

Did you think appearing on the Jimmy Fallon
show on October 27th would make me want to talk to you? It just made me feel like
I could walk to the store by myself without you lurking in the bushes. I’ll
never forget the night your hand came shooting out at me.

I hope I didn’t scare
you. I just wanted to touch you. I needed to know if you were real or
just one of my mannequins.  

Johnny says you need to stop writing
songs like “Secret Girlfriend” about me – it is about me, right? And not that
bitch Karen? And how do you get the guitarist and keyboard player to intertwine
with each other so perfectly?

Mary, the song is about you.
I can’t trust Karen and Linda anymore. Since I play guitar and keyboards on
that song, one hand knows what the other hand is doing. Thus, it is in perfect

Danny wants you to know that we’ve
almost got the sound of “Where Did My Duck Go?” down – as a matter of fact,
we’re singing it behind the house right now. Even if it’s incredibly catchy and
the backing vocals could fool someone driving by into thinking it’s some sort
of kids’ song, it’s really not that hard. We can do anything you can do.

I miss my duck since he went
away.  Did you find him near your house?  I was recently in Brooklyn shooting a video for that song and I had to slip
away for a moment because the song made me cry. I sure hope he comes back
to Endicott. He was a good duck.


Joe says I have to ask some “normal
questions” so you won’t be wise to us. What was it like, going on Jimmy Fallon
on October 27th?

Very exciting. NBC has very
nice dressing rooms. After the show, Rich Little came up to me and said
“I want a picture taken with you”.  I told Mr. Little that I had
been watching him since I was a teenager. He’s a classy guy and still one of
the best.

I heard you might be going on tour w/
Beck or NIN – what’s up with that?

I spoke to Beck’s bass player
(Justin Meldal) who plays with Beck and NIN about perhaps opening up for Beck.
Still trying to work it out – nothing confirmed yet.

Has there been an increase in album
sales as you’ve become better known, after resurfacing?

Sales have been steady since
2002. It changes each month. Some months are better then other months.


The Blind Dates seem to change fairly
often, but they’re always amazing, especially when you tackle the keyboard
and/or bass player for stealing “your girl” and he keeps playing with his head
hanging over the side of the stage. Who are they, again?

The Blind Dates (West coast)
are: Joe Lunga (keyboards), Butch or Charlie Bottino (bass), David Haney
(drums) and Ian Mcghee (guitar). The Blind Dates (East coast) are Vince Rossi
(guitar), Frank Roma (saxophone), Bucky or Gary Iacovelli (drums), Rick
Maturani and/or Greg McQuade (keyboards), Rick Iacovelli or Larry Wilson
(bass), Phil and Shauna Guidici (backup vocals). All the Blind Dates are
originally from my hometown of Endicott,
New York.



As you can see, Gary
wrote back to me, although it’s hard to know what to believe. But I don’t feel
any safer, and I want to know why he would say he loves me but then say
he’d go by my house ‘cause I remind him of Linda!
It’s like I walked into a trap with that “interview” maneuver… And I can’t stop
singing “Where Did My Duck Go?” It reminds me of five different things I can’t
quite put a finger on. Oh, shit – I
swear there’s a white and black-swaddled head moving around outside my window…


[Photo Credit: Mary Leary.
See also her photo gallery of Wilson and his band elsewhere on the BLURT site]




“In the Night” from Electric Endicott



Live in San Diego by Sean Francis Conway



You Think You Really Know Me trailer

LEFT 4 LIVE Clutch

The D.C. band’s
time is now.




never said we were a stoner rock band,” insists Neil Fallon.


right: his D.C.-based band Clutch transcends labels with their fusion of ZZ
Top-style riffs and pounding Deep Purple rhythms while harnessing the power of
bands like Monster Magnet and Masters of Reality to keep the Kyuss fans smoking
the sticky shit.  Although an advocate of
the legalization of marijuana, Fallon doesn’t partake. “I used to smoke a lot
of pot when I was younger. I quit because it didn’t fit my personality type.”


the singer’s support for legalization is more anti- government, punk rock
ethos, than it is for the love of burning down. “Growing up in the ‘burbs
during the Reagan and Bush eras listening to Bad Brains, Minor Threat and
Discharge,” according to Fallon, created an army of anarchists. “For government
to dictate to me that I’m not responsible enough as an adult to possess a
controlled substance like marijuana is ridiculous. It doesn’t sit well with me.
It pisses me off.”


friend Bob Balch of Fu Manchu praised Clutch’s musicianship and how envious
other bands are of their decades of “memorable riffs” in Clutch’s DVD on
Weathermaker (Clutch’s own label), Live
At the 9:30
. And If you caught
their amazing set at Bonnaroo (within minutes of Margaret Cho blowing Oderus
Urungus of GWAR onstage, or were fortunate enough to see them in Europe this
summer, you know Clutch brings it, in spades. 


2009, Clutch released their first on Weathermaker, Strange Cousins from the West further illustrating their organic
progress. This year and into next, they’ll be heating up the road supporting
the re-release of From Beale Street to Oblivion, possibly
their best work, noting their transition to straight up rock music. The
two-disc set features an additional live disc with tracks recorded from the
BBC. Originally issued in ’07 by the now defunct DRT label, when asked what
happened to DRT, Fallon drily notes, “DRT stopped paying bands.” Clutch forced
the label’s hand through legal wrangling, and lassoed their rights back after
soured dealings, which caused Beale Street‘s
temporary removal from record shelves in 2008. 
“It’s so much easier to handle it yourself these days,” Fallon adds. “It
makes no sense to me for punk rock bands to sign these 360 deals with the 1982
business model.”


Clutch line up has never waivered since the band’s inception: Fallon, Tim Sult
on guitar, Dan Maines on bass and J.P. Gaster on drums (with additional
musicians Mick Schauer on Hammond B-3, and Eric Oblander on harmonica), and has
developed a reputation as a “musician’s band.” 
But how do you account for Clutch having released nine studio recordings
and played for two decades with only marginal success until now?  Well, you can thank an army of groove-metal
heads, incessant touring, and Left 4 Dead
. Remember that commercial earlier this year? “Bang, bang, bang, bang! Vominos! Vominos!”  Yep. That’s Clutch.


asked if the popularity of the zombie-killing video game (featuring their song
“Electric Worry,” also on Beale Street)
had anything to do with their resurrection, Fallon observes, “It certainly
didn’t hurt any. It was part of the equation, I think. But touring has kept the
band alive. We’ll never sell a gold record. We never wanted to be ‘most likely
to succeed.’ And it took us a while to figure out that a lot of kids get their
music from video games. They’re not getting it from a 7″ at the local punk rock
store. That’s been dead for decades. But it’s almost an embarrassment of


lyrics possess a certain damning reverence in songs like “The Devil in Me,” and
Fallon’s demon-seed street preacher persona on stage is authentic. But when
asked if he’s a shy man, he doesn’t totally disagree. “I’m not so much shy; I
just keep to my own business. I’m not an extroverted person. Onstage, I don’t
get into some kind of Ziggy Stardust-mode, but because I get to do that every
night-I get to scream and holler and make loud music-it is it’s own form of
therapy. When it’s all said and done, I don’t feel like screaming and yelling


a personal level, Fallon seems content with his life. He’s renovating a house
(“You gotta watch the contractors every second”) and is happy at home. When
asked about his new son, you could hear the warmth and pride in his voice. “It’s
a wonderful thing, being a dad. I can’t believe it’s real. I think I’m gonna nickname
him, ‘The Time Bandit.'”

2011 YEAR BITCH Selene Vigil-Wilk

with a new album, the former 7 Year Bitch frontwoman isn’t ready to sweeten up
her music.




In the early ‘90s, 7 Year Bitch was one of Seattle’s best bands. They had a compelling
live show, fierce songs like “No Fucking War” and “Dead Men Don’t Rape,” and
the distinctive, snarling lead vocals of Selene Vigil. But after three albums
(two on Seattle-based C/Z, one on Atlantic)
and increasing critical acclaim, the group disappeared. What happened?


“A lot happened,” says Vigil-Wilk, now married to Rage Against The
Machine drummer Brad Wilk. “Valerie [Agnew, the drummer] moved to San Francisco, then Elizabeth [Davis, the bassist] moved
to San Francisco.
Roisin [Dunne, the guitarist] quit. We tried to replace her but that didn’t
work out so well. We fired our third manager. I moved to Los Angeles. We were no longer on the same
page any more. Drugs and alcohol were causing serious problems… the breakup
was brutal. But Valerie, Elizabeth, and I are back to being friends now, and
have been for some time.”


Since the split, it’s been largely quiet on the musical front for
Vigil-Wilk. There was a side project, Cistine, that consisted of one song
released on the Internet (“There was talk of starting a band but it didn’t pan
out”). But the desire to make music was never far away, due in part to the
instruments and 4-track that were a constant presence in the living room of the
home Vigil-Wilk shares with her husband, two sons, and three dogs. And after
completing enough songs Vigil-Wilk realized she had enough for an album – That Was Then, released on her own
label, Tuck & Roll Music


The album’s 10 tracks (lyrics by Vigil-Wilk and music co-written
with Matt Sherrod, with whom she also co-produced and split instrumental
duties) burn with an intensity that bites down on the first note and doesn’t
let up until the last. Songs like “I Brought the Rain With Me” and “Seattle” look back, while
“Soak” embraces the idea of immersing yourself in a new experience. “My hope would
be that people would see that this is coming from the heart,” Vigil-Wilk says.
“That they would feel or sense truth, and that they would tap their toe or nod
their head because they enjoy the music.”


Vigil-Wilk’s other new venture isn’t a surprising one for a former
health food store employee; she and her husband are the producers of Olade, an
organic, sugar-free juice sweetened with Stevia, a natural sweetener. “It came
about because a drink like this didn’t exist and it needed to exist – people drink
a lot of crap!” Vigil-Wilk explains. “Brad, being diabetic, can’t drink sugar
and I can’t stand artificial sweeteners.” And if Vigil-Wilk decides to tour (no
live shows are planned at present), it’ll fit in well on the tour bus. “It is
great as a mixer with vodka,” she says. “There’s less of a hangover because of
less sugar, and it has electrolytes.”


Credit: Leann Mueller]


He may officially be the pub/punk/new wave scene’s
quintessential “senior rocker” but he can still kick your ass.




Graham Parker burst onto
the music scene nearly 35 years ago. It was early 1976 – not the greatest
period in popular music – when Parker unveiled his critically acclaimed first
album, Howlin’ Wind. Featuring a
dozen songs that combined a singer-songwriter approach with an R&B edge and
a healthy dose of sarcasm, Howlin’ Wind was
an auspicious debut but just the tip of the iceberg. Before the end of the
year, Parker had released his sophomore set, Heat Treatment. He really hit his stride in 1979, however, with his
fourth studio album, the still-amazing Squeezing
Out Sparks.
Backed by The Rumour, Parker delivered a full album of taut,
tuneful zingers including the minor hit “Local Girls,” rockers like
“Discovering Japan” and “Don’t Get Excited” and the ballad “You Can’t Be Too
Strong,” about an abortion.


Not surprisingly, critics
went over the top about Squeezing Out
Between the comparisons to Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and the
fact that the times seemed to have finally caught up with Parker, it seemed
like he was on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. Strangely, however, that
never happened. Parker has in fact scored exactly one Top 40 hit in the U.S.
(the lovely “Wake Up Next to You” from 1985). He’s changed labels the way most
people change socks and he certainly never scaled the commercial heights of
either Jackson or Costello. But if Parker hasn’t had the hits they’ve had – or
experimented with different genres the way they have – he has arguably been
more consistent than either of them. He’s released albums pretty prolifically
for more than three decades. And if none has been up to the lofty standards set
by Squeezing Out Sparks, all have had
something to recommend them. And some, like the later Struck By Lightning, have been masterworks of a more subtle nature.


2010 turned out to be a
significant year for Parker. He released his 20th studio offering, Imaginary Television, earlier this year
on the Chicago-based label Bloodshot Records. And he unveiled his first-ever
concert DVD. Graham Parker & The
Figgs: Live at the FTC
captures Parker and his sometime-backing band at a
gig they played in Connecticut last April. The DVD includes GP classics like
“Local Girls,” “Soul Shoes” and “You Hit the Spot,” along with selections from Imaginary Television like “Weather
Report” and “Bring Me a Heart Again.”


BLURT recently had a
chance to chat with Graham Parker about his past, present and future.




Tell me about your latest album, Imaginary Television. It sounds like
this was a concept album of sorts. What inspired it?


I got some block emails
from my new publishing company from TV shows asking for writers to submit
tunes.  Inspired by the idea, I wrote and
recorded a couple of tunes but they were rejected. But now I was on a roll and
decided that if I wrote my own TV shows, I could then write the songs for them
and no one could reject them.  It worked:
hence, Imaginary Television.



Are there any TV shows that you admit to
watching?  I’m also curious to get your
take on reality TV.


I watch mainly opinion
“news” shows and nature shows. Glenn Beck is very funny and Rachel Maddow is
the best.  For actual news, I watch BBC America, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  I saw one of the very early reality shows way
back when and that was all I needed.  No
need to watch them anymore, although there were a couple of Ozzy’s shows that
were priceless. 




In addition to the new CD, you’re about to release
your first-ever live DVD. Tell me a bit about that. What do you enjoy most
about playing with The Figgs, who backed you on the DVD?


Actually, a live show was
released in 1982 when I was promoting Another
Grey Area
but that was of course in the days of VHS tapes.  There was also Rockpalast featuring me and The Rumour from the “70s — again, back
in the tape days.  So, yes, this new one
is the first on DVD.   But it has been a
long time since there’s been an official, professionally filmed show and I’m
pleased with the way this one came out. 
My new publishing company put the money up for it and it’s a serious job
with eight cameras involved.

       It’s obvious from the show that me and
The Figgs have some real connectivity now. 
There’s a very strong onstage vibe that comes across.  They’re a good bunch of guys.




I understand you and some members of The Rumour
recently performed together in New York City. What about The Rumour made them
such a great band?? Are there any plans to play with them again??


Bob Andrews, Martin
Belmont, and Steve Goulding were all in town to watch a screening of [my]
upcoming documentary, Don’t Ask Me
.  They decided to do a gig
the night before at the Lakeside Lounge, possibly the smallest venue in New
York, calling themselves “The Kippington Lodge Social Club.”  They invited me to come see the show, no
pressure to do anything, but…

       “Hold me back!” was my reaction.  So they did a bunch of songs and I joined
them for a few of my tunes.  Quite a
blast it was. The Rumour had everything going for them and were perfect for
what I was doing at the time.  I don’t
think there was a band operating anywhere at the time that were as good —
apart from Little Feat, of course.

       We don’t have any plans for the dreaded
reunion tour, however.  But maybe we’ll
do another freebie in a little venue again in the future, who knows?




In the late ’70s, you were often mentioned in the
same breath as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson – though you actually preceded
them both. Did you ever actually feel a kinship with either of these artists??


Well, they’re both
obviously excellent acts but I don’t feel a kinship with anyone, really, apart
from actual kin.  I’m a lone wolf.  Always have been.

It is, however, important
to note that I’d released two albums before these guys had record deals!




I understand there is a documentary about you in
the works called Don’t Ask Me Questions. Can
you tell me a little about that? Is there an actual release date for the film??


There’s no release date as
yet because the Gramaglia Brothers, the guys who made the film, are shopping
for festivals which often want an exclusive. 
If they don’t get that going soon though, it will be released on DVD
sometime next year, for sure.

       They’ve been gathering material for 10
years: interviews, live solo performances, me and the Figgs, as well as plenty
of archive footage.

The recent screening in
New York seemed to impress the audience very much.  I thought it would be boring but it wasn’t.



When people list your great albums, they often
mention Howlin’ Wind, Squeezing Out
Sparks, The Mona Lisa’s Sister
and one or two others. What do you think is
one of your best albums that perhaps didn’t get the attention it deserves??


Deepcut To Nowhere and Struck By
are up there in my view, although “attention” is a relative
term.  My fans know how good those
records are and generally rate them highly.




The last song on your first album (Howlin’ Wind) was “Don’t Ask Me
Questions.” On Imaginary Television, you
include a cover of Johnny Nash’s “More Questions Than Answers.”  There’s also a song on your album Deepcut to Nowhere that I like a lot
called “Blue Horizon” in which you say something like, “I don’t claim to
understand what any of it means.” You recently turned 60. Do you generally find
(like many of us) that the older you get, the less you know? And if so, are you
OK with that?


What I’m OK with is
getting into the cinema the other day for seven dollars instead of  $9:50. 
A sign said that I am in fact a “senior” now at age 60 and get to pay

       And I don’t know why I walked into the
kitchen just now.  I went there for
something but forgot what it was by the time I got there.  Does that answer your question?



[Photo Credit: Jeff