Monthly Archives: April 2011

A CELEBRATION AND A REDEMPTION Kurt Cobain & Nirvana (Pt. 2)

We visit Seattle’s Experience Music Project’s extensive,
emotionally resonant retrospective on the career of Cobain and his fellow
grunge gods.

 

BY
GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

Ten days
after our Aberdeen and Olympia
sojourns [go here for Part 1] we reconvene in Seattle for the Member Preview of EMP’s
Nirvana exhibit Nirvana: Taking
Punk To The Masses
on April 15 (opening to the general public the following day).
Burckhard is again on hand, as well as the founders of the Nirvana websites
nirvanaguide.com, which offers a wealth of detail about every live Nirvana
show, and livenirvana.com, the most comprehensive Nirvana site on the web. We
meet at The Crocodile, where Nirvana played a secret show opening for Mudhoney
in 1992, though the club’s since been extensively remodeled (and is now
co-owned by Alice In Chains’ Sean Kinney). A huge Charles Peterson photograph
of Cobain looks down on us as we consume pizza and beer.

 

The Croc
is also within walking distance of EMP, and as we head over, we pass numerous
sites with Nirvana connections for me, adding to the nostalgic feeling of the
evening: one of the Rocket offices;
Bad Animals Studio, where work on With
The Lights Out
was done; the apartment where Novoselic lived, where we
repeatedly spent an evening listening to Cobain’s demo of one of his last
songs, “Do Re Mi,” over and over again; the site of the former Sub Pop offices
where the label first relocated after the grunge windfall; The Funhouse, a club
where Novoselic performed with Flipper (a show I reviewed for Blurt). EMP is on the grounds of the Seattle Center,
where Nirvana performed their biggest-ever Seattle show at the Coliseum (now Key Arena)
in 1992, and their final US shows at the Arena (now Mercer Arena) in 1994. In
between EMP and the Arena is the Memorial Stadium, built in memory of the Seattle high school
graduates who died during World War II, and most commonly used for high school
football games. Its dedication now has a new poignancy as I arrive at the
Nirvana event: “Youth hold high your torch of truth, justice and tolerance,
lest their sacrifice be forgotten.”

 

A VIP
function kicks off the night at 6 pm, with the less VIP members allowed in at 7
pm. In contrast to other openings, which have featured live bands, this event
will only have a few speakers and guest DJs. “I wanted to keep it low-key,” EMP
senior curator Jacob McMurray explains. “Obviously it would be bizarre to have
a cover band or anything like that. The focus is on checking out the exhibition
and having fun, and having drinks, hanging out with your friends.” We’re all
giddy with anticipation as we approach EMP, pausing to have our picture taken
by a sign directing which door to use, giggling like school kids.

 

After
checking in, you ascend the stairs to EMP’s galleries. A Charles Peterson shot
of Cobain crowd surfing at a March 8, 1991 show in Canada fills the wall beside
the stairs, accompanied by a quote from Peterson: “It’s when the band and
audience are melded into one that the true nature of what they were trying to
accomplish – the cathartic release of pent up angst and rebellion – reached its
chaotic fruition. I feel fortunate to have been there to capture that.”

 

The
Nirvana exhibit [see our photo gallery
here
] is in a somewhat narrow
space that used to house EMP’s “Northwest Passage”
exhibit. The low key lighting and ambient soundtrack created by Steve Fisk (who
produced a Nirvana session in 1989) give the space a dark, organic feel. The
cases for the exhibit are fashioned from a century-old elm tree that was felled
in a wind storm in front of the Grays River Grange, where Novoselic serves as
Grange Master. “So it connects the exhibition to the environment, but it also
has this tangential connection to Nirvana itself,” McMurray explains. “We’ve
really tried throughout the exhibition to have subtle reference to the
Northwest environment, so that the wood in the casework, some parts are smooth,
but some are kept rough – it has that sort of wooded feeling to it. From grange
to grunge!”

 

Hanging
from the ceiling throughout the gallery is a white mobile, using elements also
seen in the logo on the Member Preview invitation, as well the cover of the Taking Punk To The Masses book. It
neatly encapsulates Nirvana’s story: a microphone at the top, above a speaker
flanked by a bass and guitar, above a cloud, above a pair of drumsticks, above
two arrows pointing outwards, above a skull hanging upside that’s dripping with
what could raindrops, tears, or blood, depending on your interpretation.

 

“It can
be as symbolic as you want, or it can just look cool,” explains Jacob Covey,
who designed the logo. “Like Kurt’s lyrics – some people think they’re utterly
nonsensical, some see larger narratives. It was risky to do something that
doesn’t rely on the visual stereotypes of either grunge or punk, but when I
came up with the idea of icons building up the logo, Jacob [McMurray] and I
both felt like we’d found the look that we wanted. The skull is just a totem of
ROCK with all the baggage that symbol is loaded with. Really, it’s just a
stand-in for the human element. I tend to view that ‘blood’ as sweat, for what
it’s worth. More a nod to sweaty crowds or maybe flying off Cobain as he spins
on his head in that iconic Charles Peterson shot.” Even the type used in ads
for the exhibit, and the cover of the Taking
Punk To The Masses
book, is Nirvana-influenced, the same typeface as the
band’s original logo: Onyx. (At least according to some sources: In yet another
sign of how the tiniest detail in the Nirvana story is worthy of being
scrutinized, Grant Alden, The Rocket‘s
managing editor and chief typesetter, who did the typesetting for Nirvana’s Bleach album, insists it’s Bodoni Extra
Bold Condensed, as Onyx wasn’t available on his machine.)

 

Fisk’s
music fills the gallery, a spooky drone that surrounds you both above and
below. “The music’s deliberately supposed to not rock,” says Fisk. “And it’s not supposed to mimic or sound like
anything coming off the screens,” he adds, referring to the numerous screens
and kiosks throughout the gallery that have film and interview clips. “Notice,
this is in E, this is good old classic E,” he says, pointing to a screen
showing a clip of The Ramones chugging through one of their songs. “And my
music’s in D. The idea was that punk rock or grunge or whatever would be
playing in the space [via the film clips] would hopefully blend better if it
was all tuned to one chord. And the majority of the grunge music was all
dropped-D [tuning], which kind of works with E, kind of works with A. And
there’s no melody. There’s almost no melody in an hour’s worth of music.”
There’s also a subtler narrative at work in Fisk’s soundtrack. “At the top of
the hour there’s this guitar that hits and kind of resonates along the way,” he
says, a reference to both Nirvana’s sudden end, and their lingering influence.
“It’s 2011 and you can still hear it. And it’s still echoing and it’s still
bouncing around space.”

 

On first
entering the exhibit, you see the instruments from the classic line up of the
band: Cobain’s Mosrite Gospel guitar (which he was playing when the band first
performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in public, at Seattle’s OK Hotel);
Novoselic’s black Gibson Ripper bass, and Grohl’s Tama Rockstar-Pro kit. It
sets the stage for what’s to come, but they’re also the kind of obvious
artifacts you’d find in any exhibit of a major band. The real meat of the show
is further in, and is largely due to the connections McMurray was able to make
with the local community. “When I started out with the exhibit, I wasn’t really
thinking that we were necessarily going to have the involvement of the bands,”
he says. “I was thinking, worst comes to worst, I would entirely draw from the
material that we had in our collection. Which was pretty good to begin with.
But Krist and I got to know each other, and he was really interested in helping
out and I was able to go through his archives. And then also go through the
archives of Shelly Hyrkas [Novoselic’s first wife] and various other people.
And it became such a different exhibit, because all those people had just
really amazing candid photographs, and other documents, letters and things like
that, going as far back as 1983. And so, to me, it changed the whole focus of
the exhibition.”

 

As a
result, like the use of the elm tree for the cases and Fisk’s soundtrack, the
show that has a very personal touch. And it’s a show that couldn’t have been
done with such sensitivity anywhere else but Seattle. You see the pink suitcase Cobain
used as a drum on his first known demo, with the early band names “Skid Row”
and “Pen Cap Chew” scrawled on the front. A 1986 letter from Buzz Osborne to
Novoselic, lauding another Cobain demo: “Some of his songs are real killer! … I think he could have some kind of future in music if he keeps at
it.” Numerous candid shots of the band members – in t-shirts and jeans, loading
up the van for yet another tour; drummer Chad Channing lounging against one of
the lions in London’s
Trafalgar Square;
the band members sharing backstage desserts with Sonic Youth. A display
documenting a Halloween 1988 show, where Cobain is believed to have smashed his
first guitar, showing two pieces of the guitar, snapshots by Cobain’s
girlfriend of the show, a letter from a fan who attended the show and grabbed
one of the guitar shards, and interview and audio clips, including the moment
at the end of the show where you can hear the guitar being smashed. The
long-sleeved Sounds magazine t-shirt
Cobain is seen wearing in many 1991 photos. A photo strip taken in the instant
photo booth at Seattle’s Re-bar club on the night of Nevermind‘s record release party, the band members all crammed into
the booth, pulling faces, looking excited, happy, and very young.

 

The
interview clips alone would take hours to go through; you hear from Novoselic,
Channing, Dan Peters (the Mudhoney drummer who played one memorable show with
Nirvana and recorded the song “Sliver” with them), Dale Crover (the Melvins
drummer who also played on Nirvana’s first professional demo); producers Fisk,
Jack Endino, Butch Vig, Barrett Jones, and Steve Albini; Bruce Pavitt and
Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop; crew members Earnie Bailey and Craig Montgomery.
And that’s just the people with direct connections to the band; others
interviewees discuss the Northwest music scene and the alternative rock scene
that developed across the country in the ‘80s. One display features 20 albums
from Novoselic’s collection that he considers to be especially influential,
from Led Zeppelin to the Stooges, Flipper to The Smithereens, with interview
clips discussing each one. And there are also wonderfully playful moments, as
in the display where Fisk talks about the music scenes in Northwest cities from
Bellingham, Washington to Eugene, Oregon, at one point singing a jingle written
for an Aberdeen Federal Savings & Loan radio ad: “See those trees against
the sky/Northwest breezes blowing by/Life’s so full of good things/Life’s so
good!”

 

At the
end, you can sit in a small theater space where live clips of Nirvana run
continuously. In a little booth off to the side, you can record you own memory
of Nirvana, with the clip then slotted in to play between the live footage. In
a corner is a pedestal with Cobain’s collection of canned meat: Prairie Belt
Smoked Sausages, Gerber Chicken Sticks, and Armour’s appetizingly named “Potted
Meat Food Product.” It’s a nice humorous touch to find at the end of the story.

 

But on
this night, it’s difficult to get through the exhibit as the gallery quickly
fills up. Servers walk around with drinks and not enough food. Others pass out
bars of the official chocolate for the event, Theo organic and fair trade 70%
dark chocolate in a wrapper featuring yet another of Peterson’s photographs
(greedy collectors snatch up ten bars at a time). I manage to snag a limited
edition bottle of “Thoughtfully Made” Gimbal Gin made especially for this event
by Seattle’s
Westland Distillery; it’s called “In Bloom.”

 

There are
too many friends to catch up with, and not enough time; “It’s like a bizarre
high school reunion,” says McMurray at one point. As I walk around, I see Jack
Endino talking to Aaron Burckhard and Dave Foster (yet another Nirvana
drummer); Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt; Duff McKagan; former Sounds journalist Keith Cameron,
covering the event for The Guardian;
Nirvana guitar tech Earnie Bailey; Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil; Soundgarden/Alice
In Chains manager Susan Silver; Rocket editor Charles Cross; photographer Alice Wheeler (who shot the pictures on the
cover of the “Love Buzz” single); Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel.
Cobain’s mother Wendy (in attendance with his sister Kim) is seen talking to
her sister Mari (at whose home Cobain recorded his early demos) for the first
time in 17 years.

 

Guest DJs
for the night include Peterson and Pickerel, among others. But you don’t hear
Nirvana blaring through the common areas, instead, it’s a great mix of cult
favorites (“Ça Plane Pour Moi”) and local acts (pre-grunge stars The U-Men). It
is a night for hanging out, having drinks, enjoying being with your friends.
The VIP crowd was treated to brief remarks, but longer speeches are saved for
later in the evening. The night’s most rock ‘n’ roll moment comes when EMP CEO
and director Christina Orr-Cahall, thanks us for attending and then begins
thanking the sponsors. Standing in front of a large screen displaying not only
the Nirvana exhibit logo but also logos of sponsors like Qwest, Boeing and
Wells Fargo, she’s suddenly interrupted when Burckhard boldly ascends the stage
and shouts, “Corporate America still sucks!” Orr-Cahall is momentarily
non-plussed, but Novoselic neatly defuses the moment with a jocular “Shut up,
Aaron!” and Burckhard good-naturedly leaves.

 

King
County Executive Dow Constantine also speaks, with a credibility few other
politicians could manage. For while Constantine has worked with Novoselic on
various political issues, he also has bonafide rock roots, having been a DJ at
local college radio station KCMU, where his longtime girlfriend, Shirley
Carlson, was the first to play a Nirvana song on the radio (“Because it’s in a
book, I’m going to assume it’s true,” he jokes). So Nirvana was part of his
growing up as well, and he recalls falling in love with the band as he listened
to an advance tape of Bleach “while
driving in my parents’ hand-me-down Buick” and realizing “Holy smokes! Those
doofuses that hung around The Melvins were good!” It’s another sign of the
close knit feel of the Seattle
community; it’s hard to think of many other public officials who’d even know
who The Melvins are.

 

The most
heartfelt remarks come from Novoselic, wearing a brightly patterned shirt made
by his wife. After thanking those in attendance, he gives credit to his
bandmates. “I love Dave,” he says of Grohl. “He released a new record this
week. [Wasting Light] And it rocks!
And he’s out there and he works hard; he’s never lost focus. He’s carrying the
torch, and he’s out there, packing the arenas, speaking to people.”

 

And then
he speaks of Cobain, and to a greater extent than he usually does publicly;
perhaps a sign of how comfortable he feels here. “Kurt Cobain. Here was a man
who – he would never clean his kitchen or take out the garbage, or do those
kind of chores. But Kurt Cobain was not a lazy person. He was a compelled artist.
He excelled in any form that he wanted to do. Kurt, as you’ve seen in the
exhibit, was an excellent painter. He did cartoons. He was a sculptor. I have a
little sculpture of this writhing, weird spirit man [he did] … He had a
natural talent, and that’s what compelled him to share so many things with so
many people. I walk down the street and even tonight, people walked up to me
and said, ‘Nirvana changed my life.’ And I think that’s a testament to Kurt
Cobain’s vision … I owe him so much, I can’t even start. And so many people owe
Kurt Cobain.”

 

And
that’s why we’ve all gathered here tonight. Nirvana’s work touched us all, and
it still does. In his remarks, Constantine
expressed the hope that the exhibit would help people to put the tragedy of
Nirvana behind them, and appreciate their music and their influence anew. But
tragedy is the reason Nirvana’s story has such resonance. It’s the reason it
gets inside your emotions, digs in, and hangs on. Nirvana’s sad end is as much
a part of the tale as their hopeful, hardscrabble beginnings.

 

And it’s
the acceptance of the tragedy that truly allows you to get past it. The same
way that a scar always remains a part of you, but it gradually stops hurting.
It makes Nirvana: Taking Punk To The
Masses
both a celebration and a redemption. “People that are my age that
experienced everything, it’s time to say, ‘Okay, let’s look at this,'” says
Steve Fisk. “This is a cool thing. The crazy stuff’s out of the way, and the
band and the music continues to get influential.” Kurt Cobain’s last guitar
chord is still ringing out, the echo reverberating for many years to come.

 

 

[Check out official images from the EMP
display here.
]

1991 CLASS REUNION: Kurt Cobain & Nirvana (Pt. 1)

Our writer – who was actually
there in ‘91 – travels to Aberdeen
for a special Cobain unveiling and ventures once more into the Bleach.

 

BY
GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

In
Michael Azerrad’s Come As You Are: The
Story Of Nirvana
, the author recounts Dave Grohl’s arrival at Sea-Tac
Airport on September 21, 1990 to audition for Nirvana, noting how Grohl
attempted to break the ice with his prospective bandmate, Kurt Cobain, by
offering him an apple. “No thanks,” Cobain replied. “It’ll make my teeth
bleed.”

 

It’s an
innocuous enough anecdote. But for some reason writers can’t resist changing it
in the retelling. In Mojo Classic‘s
2006 special “Nirvana & The Story Of Grunge,” the meeting is said to have
taken place at “Seattle Sea-Tac,” with Cobain “cryptically” responding, “It
will make my teeth bleed” to Grohl’s offer (notice also the absence of the
contraction). In the version of the story that appears in the 2007 Foo Fighters
edition of Kerrang! Legends, the
meeting now takes place at “Seattle’s
Sea-Tac Club,” and, more dramatically, has Cobain “sneering” his response.

 

Aside
from the lack of basic fact checking (there is no Sea-Tac club in Seattle; Seattle-Tacoma
International Airport
is commonly abbreviated as “Sea-Tac”), it’s surprising that the original story
was changed at all, as it’s reported very straight forwardly in Azerrad’s book.
This is how myths are created, by changing a story little by little over the
years, until its relation to the truth is negligible. Once writing replaced
oral tradition, you could actually track the changes as they happened, and the
arrival of mass communication only speeded up the process. Nowadays I’m no
longer surprised at the wealth in inaccuracies in stories. I’m more surprised
that they get anything right at all.

 

And when
dealing with a major act like Nirvana, the temptation to mythologize, and thus
stamp a little bit of yourself into the story, is irresistible. And then it’s
only a small step to start grafting on elements that weren’t there to begin
with, in order to take the story in the direction the writer wants it to go.
When Rolling Stone wrote that Cobain
sang “Pain” in the chorus of the last recorded Nirvana song, “You Know You’re
Right,” it neatly tied in to the view of him as the doomed, tortured artist.
But in fact, as the isolated vocal track used in the game Guitar Hero shows, he wasn’t making such a grandiose statement at
all. He was simply singing “Hey.”

 

Nirvana’s
story is a constantly evolving one, with writers adding to and broadening it,
first in articles, then in books. And as the Nirvana era recedes further and
further into the past, retelling the story remains the only way to attach
yourself to it. Perhaps that’s the real reason for non-fiction writing; it’s a
chance to make a grab for a little reflected glory while hopefully creating
some glory of your own.

 

And 2011
is set to be a big year for Nirvana stories, not least because it’s the 20th anniversary of the release of Nevermind.
This past April 5, the 17th anniversary of Cobain’s death, a
commemorative statue was unveiled in his hometown of Aberdeen, an acknowledgement that the town is
slowly coming to terms with its connection to Cobain. And on April 16, the
retrospective exhibit Nirvana: Taking
Punk To The Masses
opened at Seattle’s
Experience Music Project museum, endeavoring to cut through the myth and simply
tell the Nirvana story through a wealth of artifacts and oral histories.

 

“Everybody
knows that rock star mythologized story of Nirvana, and that certainly has a
big presence in the exhibit,” says Jacob McMurray, the senior curator at EMP
who put together the Nirvana exhibit (and edited the accompanying book, Taking Punk To The Masses: From Nowhere To
Nevermind
, just published by Fantagraphics). “I mean, there are giant
beautiful mythologized Charles Peterson murals and broken guitars and stuff
like that. But on the other side, there’s lots of really candid shots of them
goofing around. I feel like for a lot of the Nirvana story, it’s become something
that has been distilled down into tragedy and sadness and drug addiction. And
certainly that was a part of it, but what was exciting for me was finding all
of these examples where they’re just being goofballs. My goal for the
exhibition wasn’t to tell Kurt’s story, it was to tell the story of the band.
Of which Kurt was a part, but also to tell that Nirvana story within this wider
context, of the broad evolution of punk rock.”

 

For me,
looking back on Nirvana’s history also means reliving much of my own. Nirvana
wasn’t just part of my life, they were part of my work as well. Covering them
was part of my job as a staff member at Seattle
music magazine The Rocket during the
years that saw the rise and fall of “grunge” (a word I first used in my review
of Bleach for The Rocket‘s July 1989 issue, and which I now can’t write without
putting in quotes as a gesture of irony). I’ve since written articles about the
band for numerous magazines, authored various books about them, and – full
disclosure – served as “Project Consultant” on the 2004 box set With The Lights Out. (A platinum record
award hangs on the wall for my efforts.)

 

So the
story has a strong personal resonance for me. I’ve been involved with this band
for half of my life, watching as my own version of the story gets disseminated
and rewritten. And out of all the writing I’ve done, perhaps my most valuable
contributions to Nirvana’s history were purely factual: listing the songs
recorded at the band’s first professional demo session in 1988 in their proper
order; presenting the correct setlists for the 1993 MTV “Live And Loud” show
and Nirvana’s final show on March 1, 1994; covering all the songs recorded at
the band’s last recording session in January 1994. You can debate the merits of
one Nirvana history over another, but a verifiable fact stands for all time.

 

And I’m
still drawn back to the story, still looking for ways to go over it again (on
April 8, 1994, I was writing a Cobain memorial piece for The Rocket; on this same day 17 years later, I’m still writing
about him). Which was how I found myself in heading to Aberdeen on April 5 to witness the statue
unveiling in the company of Aaron Burckhard, Nirvana’s first drummer.

 

***

 

When the
idea of a commemorative statue to Cobain was first mooted in the wake of his
death, there were mutterings of discontent from Aberdeen’s residents, skeptical about any
effort to honor an admitted drug user, not to mention their resentment at
Cobain’s occasional disparaging comments about the place. And even those close
to Cobain felt uncomfortable; the band’s bassist, Krist Novoselic, has always
expressed discomfort with the “idolatry” aspect of his friend’s death, writing,
“The deity part is not my concern; that’s for people who need the mystique” in
his memoir From Grunge To Government:
Let’s Fix This Broken Democracy!
.

 

But
enough time has passed, and enough tourists have trickled in to Aberdeen in search of
Cobain, that such rigid feelings are beginning to soften.

 

The
“Welcome To Aberdeen” sign at the town’s east entrance has been embellished
with a second sign reading “Come As You Are” in reference to the Nirvana song
on Nevermind (though a TV interview
shown on April 5 revealed that not all of Aberdeen’s
residents were aware of the connection). [Ed.
note: view our Aberdeen
and related images photo gallery here.
] Once they arrive, fans often head first to the Young Street
Bridge, a site that
provided the inspiration for the song “Something In The Way.” Typically, the
nature of that hangout has become a subject for debate, due to the fact that
Cobain originally told Azerrad, for a Rolling
Stone
story, that he “lived” under the bridge. Though he scaled that story
back to merely sleeping under the bridge “sometimes” in Come As You Are, some insist Cobain couldn’t have slept there at
all because the tide rises too high. It doesn’t; you can see by the water line
on the bridge supports that there would still be plenty of dry ground left at
high tide. A sign claiming that some of Cobain’s ashes were scattered here will
also surely become a subject for debate. But all accounts do agree it was one
of his hangouts, and given that both his childhood home, and the house where he
first jammed with the band that would become Nirvana are within a few blocks of
the site, he no doubt passed over and under the bridge dozens of times.

 

When I
first went underneath the bridge in 1994, it was a lot less accessible; you had
to skitter down a narrow path on the side, hoping you wouldn’t tumble into the
murky water of the Wishkah
River. Up where the
bridge supports meet the ground, visitors leave graffiti, while the less
respectful leave trash (beer cans are especially prevalent). The area
immediately adjacent to the bridge was rightly called an “eyesore” by Tori
Kovach, who lives next door. “I just couldn’t bear to keep looking at this pile
of crap over here, which it was,” says Kovach. “Brambles this tall, and it was
strewn with garbage from decades of abuse. And I just made up my mind one day
that I was going to start working on it. That was five, six years ago.”

 

Once the
area was cleared of brambles and trash, further refurbishments were made, a
result of Kovach’s curiosity about the number of people he saw trekking to the
bridge. “As I worked on this site, it became apparent to me that something was
special here,” he says. “I’d never heard of Kurt. Never heard of his music. But
I’d seen the graffiti under the bridge and I wondered, ‘Who was this guy?’ I
didn’t really like his music, not until I heard his Unplugged album. And that turned me on to who he was. And then as I
studied the man and learned about his family life, learned more about him, I
just figured, why not make a park dedicated to him? That’ll be my mission.”

 

And so,
visitors now find green grass instead of brambles, a table and benches, and a
gravel path leading under the bridge; on the bridge supports, a sign reading
“In Memorium: From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah” has been posted, in
reference to the live Nirvana album of the same name. There have been a few
hiccups; a plaque embedded in the ground with Cobain quotes drew complaints
regarding his observation that drugs will “fuck you up.” The “uck” has since
been removed. And the new statue, Kovach says proudly, will be the “pièce de
résistance” of the park.

 

On our
way to the ceremony, we stop at the home of Leland Cobain, Kurt’s grandfather.
As usual, Leland is entertaining Nirvana fans, who routinely arrive on his
doorstep, and send him letters and presents (when I examine a package of coffee
from Kaua’i that he’s been sent, he urges me to take it, saying, “I only use
instant!”). Today, a young man named Nicklas Makinen has turned up, in the
company of his father. Makinen, an artist/actor based in LA, is making his
first pilgrimage to the area, and admits to being “Blown away. I feel like I’m
flying!” by everything he’s seen. Makinen became interested in Cobain following
the release of Gus Van Sant’s 2004 film Last
Days
(loosely based on Cobain’s life). “Everybody kept talking about how I
looked like Kurt and all this stuff,” he explains, reasonably enough, given his
blue eyes, blonde hair, and slight beard. The 2006 film Kurt Cobain: About A Son made him a passionate devotee. “I got it
right as it came out, and started watching it, day in and day out and became
really fascinated with the story,” he says. “And since then I’ve been studying
him, thinking about him, talking about him, reading about him. And I realized
that Kurt is way more than just a rock star. He was an icon, he was a
messenger, he was a prophet, you know?”

 

Though
it’s rained off and on throughout the day, there’s a welcome break for the
statue unveiling. Instead of a bust, the statue is a Jag-Stang guitar, a
melding of a Jaguar and Mustang that Cobain created shortly before his death.
The concrete, steel-reinforced statue was made by Lora and Kim Malakoff, a
husband and wife team who once lived in Aberdeen.
“We chose the medium that we did because and we wanted to keep it more relaxed
and real,” says Lora, who saw Nirvana when she lived in Seattle. “Because that was the way Kurt was.
No polished shiny yuppie – there was no such thing as that for him. He was
real. And I spent a long time trying to decide how to make it more of a
memorial than just a big guitar. So I started going through his lyrics and
going through his lyrics, and I came up with the one from ‘On A Plain.’ And I
thought, ‘That is so beautiful, the words are just so beautiful. That’s what it
needs to be.'” The lines from the song – “One more special message to go/Then
I’m done and I can go home” – spiral up in a ribbon alongside the guitar.

 

A crowd
of around 50 or so turn up for the event, the reporters busying themselves by
interviewing Leland Cobain, Aaron Burckhard, and Aberdeen’s mayor Bill Simpson
before the unveiling (though not overly familiar with Nirvana’s songs – “Some
of the words I couldn’t understand, you know” – Simpson diplomatically adds “I
enjoy Kurt’s ability to play and make music”). Burckhard is especially pleased
by the attention he’s receiving. “Most of the reporters ask me, what would I
think Kurt would think about this?” he tells me. “And I said I think he’d just
laugh. He’d giggle. He’d just think it was a kick. He’d tell everybody, ‘Do you
believe this? They put a park there?'”

 

Afterwards
we make our way to the site of the first Cobain statue to be made in the area,
designed by Randi Hubbard soon after Cobain’s death. Hubbard had hoped a place
for her five-foot-six, 600 pound statue of a seated Unplugged-era Cobain might be found in a local park. But due to
public resistance, the statue was left in a corner of her husband’s business,
Hubb’s Muffler Shop. No one pays attention to us as we troop in, and lift a
black sheet covering the corner where the statue sits in a kind of purgatory.

 

The rest
of the day is spent chasing ghosts, as we take Makinen to see a few more sites
around town (“This is a billion times better than Vegas!” he enthuses). The
“Kurt Cobain” star in front of the former site of Rosevear’s Music Center,
another of the town’s recent nods to Cobain. The library where Cobain spent
much of his spare time reading. The alley where he once spray-painted graffiti
(since removed). The former site of Maria’s Hair Design, the beauty parlor
owned by Novoselic’s mother, also used by a nascent Nirvana as a practice space.
The former YMCA where Cobain briefly worked. It’s not the same town Cobain grew
up in – there weren’t as many empty storefronts on the main streets for one
thing. But Cobain spent the majority of his life here, and the fans continue to
be drawn to both pay tribute and try and gain a sense of how growing up in this
small, remote community influenced him. 

 

And we
wind up, unexpectedly, in Olympia,
where Cobain moved in 1987, and where he lived until the release of Nevermind. During the day, we’ve met up
with the owners of the apartment building where Cobain lived, and we’re invited
to see the tiny studio apartment he lived in. We’re then allowed into the
garage, used as a storage space, and now something of a mini-museum, with
posters, artifacts, and musical instruments. Burckhard immediately picks up a
guitar and starts banging away, oblivious to the guitar’s being out of tune,
and is soon joined by Makinen, and Anthony Smith, a Nirvana fan who’s traveled
across the state to attend the statue unveiling, carrying a guitar he won at a
show by the Nirvana tribute band “Nevermind” (which he has Burckhard
autograph).

 

As the
three jam together, Makinen’s father turns to me and says, “My son is in heaven
right now. I assure you, he is in heaven.”

 

To be continued. Tomorrow in Part 2, journalist Gaar, Burckhard and others go to Seattle and take in the Experience Music
Project’s retrospective exhibit
Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses. Meanwhile, go here to check out our photo gallery of images
referenced in the article above.

 

 

 

FIVE DECADES OF FUNK (AND COUNTING) Dennis Coffey

The Motown producer/guitarist was
– and remains – relevant, revolutionary, and massively influential.

 

BY CARL
HANNI

 

Fact one: You’ve heard Dennis Coffey,
whether you know it or not.

 

Anyone
who’s been listening to popular music in the last fifty years has heard Dennis
Coffey, whether they are hip to him by name or not. He’s one of a vast number
of players, songwriters, arrangers, producers, etc. who have been making and
shaping music largely behind the scenes, while their contributions are often
equal to those who achieve pop-star, household name status. And as anyone who
follows pop music closely knows, it’s often in the shadows and out of the
spotlight that a lot of the most relevant, revolutionary and influential work
gets done. 

 

Working
out of Detroit,
Coffey’s considerable career as a go-to guitar player and producer only
partially fits that scenario, though. While he spent a good portion of his
career either working in the studio or backing up others, he has also spent
quality time directly in the spotlight. Back in the early 1970s he scored huge
hits with his psychedelic funk instrumental classics “Scorpio” (check video
clip, below) and its follow-up “Taurus,” putting him out as a frontman on Soul Train, American Bandstand and other
pop culture programs of that era. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s he and his
then-partner Mike Theodore teamed up as Theo-Coff Productions, producing hits
for Edwin Starr, J.J. Barnes, Darrell Banks and many more act. Coffey also had
considerable success as a producer for the hits “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers
(1975), “Nice To Be With You” (1972) by Gallery and scoring the soundtrack for
the cultish Black Belt Jones in 1974. In 1972 he produced a true cult
classic, Cold Fact by Detroit’s
Rodriguez (re-released to great acclaim a few years back by Light In The Attic
Records). Coffey also released a string of solo records dating back to the
early ‘70s.

 

Fact two: Dennis Coffey pretty much
invented, and definitely perfected, psychedelic soul guitar playing. 

 

Although
Coffey’s work as a frontman/guitar ace and producer is his most high profile
work in the public eye, it’s his pioneering work as a studio guitar player that
might most likely be remembered fifty years from now. Starting as a teenager in
Detroit in the early 1960s, Coffey was already playing in bands in high school,
and quickly moved up to recording and working in touring bands before doing a
stint in the Army. He resumed playing after his return, eventually ending up
touring and recording with Del Shannon, The Floaters, The Dramatics, Jerry
Butler, the pre-Parliament/Funkadelic combo The Parliaments, early Rare Earth
and many others. In the late ‘60s he joined the Motown Records house band the Funk
Brothers and started recording a series of ground breaking records that, under
the direction of visionary producer Norman Whitfield, became era and genre
defining classics: “War” and “Ball of Confusion” by Edwin Starr (as well as The
Temptations’ versions), “Cloud Nine” and “Psychedelic Shack” by The Temptations
and more. The wah-wahed, fuzzed out, deeply impressive guitar on these songs?
That’s Dennis Coffey. Around this time he also released the first of eleven
solo records, Hair And Thangs

 

Anyone
who has heard those classic songs can recognize them for what they are: songs
that defined an era, an exciting time when music both reflected and shaped the
times, and songs like “Ball of Confusion” and “War” served a dual purpose as
both entertainment and a rallying cry for social change. Nothing like that
(outside of some hip-hop, London Calling and some more politically savvy punk) has really come quite so close to the
pulse of the times since then, although we clearly need a similar kind of
social/political connection now as much as we did back then. And Coffey’s
guitar playing on those tracks did more than simply lend them propulsion and
definition: it was the very sound itself, a dominant and memorable
characteristic of some of the most important music of the period. In short,
Dennis Coffey helped define the times. 

 

That’s pretty
heady stuff for a kid who started out playing country and rockabilly at
thirteen.

 

But Coffey
was lucky enough to live in Detroit, a city that (along with Memphis) arguably
produced as much classic music in the U.S. in the 1960s and early ‘70s as any
other, with no disrespect intended towards Chicago blues, New Orleans soul and
funk, San Francisco psychedelia or LA rock and country rock. It’s hardly
surprising that hard/acid rock meshed with soul in Detroit during this time, when you consider
that this was the same area code(s) that also kick-started a distorted,
over-driven guitar revolution via The Stooges and MC5. Coffey’s proximity to
some of the most vital music of the era put him at the perfect spot to make the
most of his talents; none of which would have mattered if his talents weren’t
as considerable as they indeed are. Along the way he penned and published a
book about it all, Guitars, Bars and
Motown Superstars
(2004, University
of Michigan Press). 

 

Fact three: Denny Coffey has a brand new CD
just out on Strut Records, Dennis Coffey.

 

The fine
folks at Strut are behind Coffey’s first solo record in close to two decades,
the self-titled Dennis Coffey. Over eleven tracks split between
instrumentals and vocal numbers with guest vocalists (Coffey doesn’t sing), the
guitarist sounds amazingly vital and tuned into the times. The new CD features
several of his patented psychedelic space rock instrumentals, like “7th
Galaxy,” “Plutonius” and “Space Traveller,” as well as a cohesive collection of
cover songs featuring some well chosen talent. Fanny Franklin of Orgone shows
up on a hard-charging version of Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Knock My Love,” Mick
Collins of The Dirtbombs and Rachel Nagy of Detroit Cobras totally own
Funkadelic’s “I Bet You” and Lisa Kekaula of The BellRays shines on the
soul-rocking “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.” Mayer Hawthorne, Paolo Nutini and
Kings Go Forth also show up and deliver. The tracks switch out between
soul-tinged rock, interstellar funk and hard-core psych, and Coffey sounds
fired up and tightly focused, his guitar playing as muscular and inventive as
ever. 

 

I recently
saw Dennis Coffey play two shows at SXSW, and he basically ruled. [Boy howdy to that,  says the BLURT editor. Go here for our SXSW
report, including our Coffey comments.
] One was a large outdoor show to a
huge, sweaty crowd; the other to a smaller but no less enthused club crowd. He
was joined for a few numbers at both shows by the NY based soul singer Kendra Morris, who added considerable sass and sex appeal to Coffey’s touring band.
Looking patriarchal and dressed head to toe in black, he projected a Buddah-in-black
sense of calm and cool. Not hipster, self-conscious/self mythologizing cool,
but actual, modest cool as it used to be lived and breathed by the likes of
Marvin Gaye and Muddy Waters. Those cats didn’t act cool, they WERE cool, and
Coffey has had a lifetime to absorb the glow of dozens of like-minded,
legendary individuals. Dennis Coffey can count himself into their
company. 

 

He
recently held forth for BLURT on things new and old.

 

***

 

BLURT: You started playing guitar
and recording while you were in high school. Did you feel back then that this
was going to be your life’s work? Did you envision being a professional
musician at that young age?

 DENNIS
COFFEY: No, at least not at first. My first session was when I was 15…it was
just an isolated event and I didn’t get paid. A year later, though, I
auditioned for a band called The Pyramids. They were a working band, doing
dances, etc. At the time I was making $15/week as a cashier at a grocery store.
Then I found out I passed the audition with The Pyramids and I could make twice
that only playing a couple of nights per week. From that point, I thought I
could make a living at it.

 

How did you first meet Motown’s Berry Gordy?

 I
met Berry
when I was very young. I was 16 and a partner of mine and I went to
Fortune Records and did a demo record called “Crazy Little
Satellite.” Devora Brown, one of the owners of Fortune, heard it and
told Jackie Wilson’s manager Nat Tarnopol about it…he heard it and decided he
wanted to sign us to a record contract. So, once we did that, he brought
us over to this guy’s house who was an arranger. That guy was Berry
Gordy. We ended up doing the session at United Sound with Berry and Nat there with
us.

 

Much has been made about the way
in which the recording studios in Memphis were
integrated in Memphis,
long before the rest of the city was in the 1960s. What was it like Detroit during the 1960s?
Were the studios there pretty much integrated as well? Did you ever encounter
any issues of being a white player in a largely black scene?

 Never encountered issues like
that. Like Memphis, Detroit’s studios were integrated in the ‘60s. There
were quite a few white players in the mix with the various labels and studios
in Detroit at
that time…myself, Bob Babbitt, Joe Messina, etc. We all worked a ton of
sessions with players white and black and never thought much about it. Up
here at least, musicians were just interested in who could play. It was
the same attitude at Motown. Berry’s
operation seemed to favor getting the best person to do a particular job,
without much concern for race.

 

In addition to being an
internationally known home for soul, R&B, blues and some jazz, Detroit in
the late 60s and early 70s was a hotbed of raw rock-n-roll from The Stooges,
MC5, Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, etc. Did you know all those other acts? Did you
play with or jam with any of them?

 I
knew some of them a bit. Myself, Melvin Davis and Lyman Woodard opened
once for the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom. That was during our psychedelic
period. We opened with a cover of “A Day in the Life” done our
way and the crowd loved it.

 

How did you first encounter some
of the guitar effects technology like the Fuzz Box that you became known for?

 The
first time I ever got that fuzz sound was sort of by accident, when I was with
the Royaltones. A tube in the amp came loose and the sound was all fuzzed
out and I thought it sounded great but the producer didn’t agree and took all
of that out. He thought it was a mistake.

         Later, a friend of mine from way back
named Joe Podorsek owned a store called Capitol Music. Joe used to call me
when he got anything new and interesting in, and that way I got to try a lot of
new effects. After that, when I got with Norman Whitfield, I was really
able to make use of that kind of thing and experiment with it.

 

Were Gordy and the folks at Motown
initially resistant to introducing new, harder and rougher sounds you were
bringing them into the smooth Motown Sound?

 I
don’t know for sure. I do know that Norman Whitfield was the guy within Motown
who drove that move into the rougher sound. He was the visionary. He
was listening to a lot of new artists at that time, like Sly Stone, and he
could see which way music was heading and he wanted the artists he worked with
to be a part of that. There probably was some resistance to that change,
but Norman was
a very forceful, dynamic personality.

 

Did you have the feeling at the
time that you were recording them that some of the topical classics that you
were playing on like “War” and “Ball of Confusion” were going to be viewed as
some of the quintessential music of the era? Did you feel like these songs were
part of a social movement, and not just “entertainment?”

 Absolutely we had that feeling. Norman was intentionally
going in that direction. He was my favorite producer to work with because he
let me experiment. I was the guy he relied on for that “new”
sound.  Also, it definitely helped me having played on those songs because
many of them were hits and that helped raise my profile.

 

You’ve obviously been widely
sampled by producers and DJs in the last couple of decades. Have you followed
hip hop over the years, both the technology involved and the music itself? Are
you interested in sampling and other digital technology?

 I’m
aware of the sampling of course. My son, who was a huge hip hop fan,
played a role in laying it all out for me, how often my stuff had been sampled,
who by, etc. The very first one I remember being aware of was Public Enemy
sampling “Get it On.” Clarence Avant played a big role in
making sure that I got compensated for a lot of that. I look at it as a
positive because it’s not really all that different than playing a session…
if the song is a hit, you gain visibility and credibility from having had a
part in it.

 

There’s been a huge upswing in the
next generation of soul and R&B artists getting their due in the last
decade or so, with labels like Daptone, Truth & Soul, Stones Throw and more
putting out lots of records and putting bands on the road. What’s your take on
the health and well being of soul music today? How closely do you follow it?

 I’ve
been more aware of it recently, as we were making this record. I worked
with and have played with several of the younger bands playing soul and
funk. I see a lot of young musicians that have gone back and listened to
the original stuff because it’s real to them. The players start jamming on
that music and getting funky, and it sounds right to them and to the audiences
they’re attracting. Funk seems to be getting rediscovered by young players
and fans from what I can tell and it reminds me a bit of when blues went
through that, when a younger generation went back to the original
music because it seemed better to them than a lot of what was going on
around them at that time. 

        I
just played a show with the band who’s been backing me, called Will Sessions,
here in Detroit
at a place called Cliff Bell’s. The place was packed for a night of raw
funk and the crowd really ran the gamut in age. There were older people
who remembered it all from the first time around, but there were also a lot of
younger folks in the audience, so I do think the music is connecting with these
people who are hearing it fresh.

 

Anything you’d like to say about
your new album on Strut Records, Dennis Coffey? Did this new one
come together over a long period, or pretty much all at once?

It came
together over about a year. My producer and my management team and I all
decided that what made sense was to make a record that went back to my roots,
but made it relevant to today by collaborating with some of the younger
players I was just talking about. I think we did that very successfully…
making a record that sounds classic but also sounds modern and fresh at the
same time.

 

What’s next for you?

 Touring…playing
for the people everywhere I can. We have a nice run of dates coming up in
June, capped off by an appearance at the Bonnaroo festival, then we go over to
Europe for a couple of weeks. We look to be pretty active through the end
of the year.  

 

 

Tour dates for Coffey – including
the recently added Bonnaroo gig – can be viewed at his official website.

 



LOOK TO THE SKIES Buffalo Tom

The beloved Boston band serves up the
comeback to their comeback and it’s aces all around.

 

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

It took Boston’s
alt rock heroes Buffalo Tom four years to record Skins, the follow up to their comeback album Three Easy Pieces. But to hear frontman and guitarist Bill Janovitz
describe the process, it’s amazing the album every ended up getting made in the
first place.

 

With nearly a decade lapsing before the release of Three Easy Pieces, the band – which also
includes drummer Tom Maginnis and bassist Chris Colbourn – was well out of the
record, tour, repeat cycle and had settled into other commitments like family,
jobs and pretty much day to day life as grown-ups. But somehow, the group
managed to get schedules aligned long enough to get a dozen or so tracks on
tape (or the 2011 equivalent of tape) and have finally put the album out on
their own label – a first for the band.

 

Janovitz, while waiting to get his hair cut recently, was kind enough
to take some questions from Blurt, discussing the current mindset of the band, the
status of the music industry and why it took him so long to finally record a
song with Tanya Donelly.

 

***

 

BLURT: You guys
just got back from a European tour right?

BILL JNOVITZ: Yeah, we did about two weeks or so – seven shows in
eight days, so it was pretty intense.

 

Are you getting
to play any of the new songs off of Skins to these crowds?

Yeah, some of the die-hards had picked up copies (of the album) that
week and we sold a lot at the shows. .. The songs that we’ve sort of been
concentrating on are “Guilty Girls,” “She’s Not Your Thing,” “Arise Watch,”
“Don’t Forget Me.” I’m reading the boards on the Web and
Facebook and a lot of people are talking about “The Big Light,” “Here I Come”
so it seems to be all over the map. I’m not quite sure ultimately what’s going
to pan out.

 

It’s obviously
been a few years since the last album came out, so I assume it’s been awhile
since you were last out on the road. Is it starting to feel like you’re getting
back to the routine of touring behind an album?

Well, we’re not going to be on the road for too long. We can only do
little jaunts. That two weeks (in Europe) is
probably going to be one of the longest times we go out. We’re going to do sporadic
shows. The west coast will be like five dates. You know, it’s not like we’re
going to hit the road for six week tours like we used to. I’m not sure if
that’s going to affect how the relationship has evolved or not.

 

Let’s talk for a
minute about the break between Smitten (1998) and Three Easy Pieces (2007).
Did you officially break up or were you just taking time off to try some
different things?

Exactly. We still kind of kept on playing through those years. We had
an A Sides record and a B Sides record and we sort of had a hit, well it was a
number one single in the UK, “Going Underground,” a cover of the Jam’s song for
a benefit record. You know these things kind of brought us into the early 2000s
and we kept playing around Boston
about once a year or so. It’s more like a break from the touring and recording
cycle… specifically from the recording cycle. I think it was sort of like a
soft breakup. But maybe from a marketing perspective it would have been wiser
to break up and then reunite like a lot of these bands are doing. It might have
been wiser.

 

When you got back
into writing and recording with Three
Easy Pieces
did it feel different at all having come off that tour, record,
tour cycle? I know it was the same three guys it’s always been, but a lot has
changed presumably.

It’s weird; years go by fast. We were all embroiled in other things
and with Three Easy Pieces we really eased
into it. It was sort of like let’s see if the band is still clicking. We know
we were still clicking in a live way, but that was kind of the impetuous for
doing the recording. We didn’t really have much time. We were doing it in Boston, so we sort of
just did a few songs at a time and whenever we could find time and rehearse and
write together, we’d go in, work on arrangements and record a few more. That
was the idea, but it ended up taking awhile. Summer comes and everyone goes
away. It’s not like we’d go away for four-to-six weeks at a time and make a
record like we used to do. It ended up taking awhile and there was a point
where I wasn’t really sure if it would ever be finished or not.    

 

Was that Skins or Three Easy Pieces you’re referring to?

Skins. You know, there
were a lot of starts and stops. Well, one big start and stop. We started on it
and it took awhile for us to get going and the momentum was starting to get
lost. We regrouped and said let’s get this thing done and it was still kind of
tough to find the time to do it. Our lives are not just the band at this point
anymore, and it used to be.

 

That’s a good
point. You were obviously all a lot younger when you first got together as a
band, now with kids and families are people’s priorities changing?

Yeah, definitely; Family, kids, jobs. The band, from an economic
standpoint, is hopefully a breakeven or slightly better situation. At this
point, we’re not making a ton of dough off of it. I think if we had shifted our
energy back into being a touring and recording band it might have ended up
being a viable living again, but we kind of gave up on that. The idea of making
it more of a hobby, well I shouldn’t say hobby; it’s more of a pure artistic
endeavor at this point. From that perspective, we don’t make decisions based on
touring and making a living and it sort of easies the pressure off a little
bit.

 

With only three
band members it seems like it’s a little easier to be democratic with an odd
number. Have the decisions, how long to tour, when to put a record out, always
come down to a vote?

Without a doubt. If one guy can’t do it, it’s not like we go out and
find another guy. It’s never been like that. There are times, within songs,
when maybe two guys feel stronger than a third about something, but that’s the
triangulation, that’s the benefit of the band. We’re all pretty easy going;
we’re willing to give the group the benefit of a doubt a lot of time.   

 

You guys have
managed to keep the lineup consistent for decades now. If that an indication of
how well the three of you get along?

At this point, it’s much more like brothers than band mates. You
remember spending those times together and it’s not always easy and you don’t
always get along, but you always assume that you’ll be brothers and be together
for the next holiday. There’s a lot of that analogy that works for me because
there’s a lot of getting older and forgiving a lot of things about your
siblings or your family and keeping the bigger picture.  If we had continued along, I can say I
wouldn’t have been able to stay in the band. It’s not so much a commentary on
the others guys, it’s just suck a freakin’ unnatural setting to be in. You
can’t make decisions about people when you are spending six weeks in a van
together for 10 years. It’s just a freak situation and no one can be judged on
how they will act.

 

With Skins, you had mentioned earlier that
you had started and stopped. Was any of the time in between due to the fact
that it just wasn’t working
?

No, it wasn’t really artistic, but more just a matter of logistics.
Stuff was going on with families and jobs; it was more of that boring kind of
day to day stuff. If one person is on a track and feels a certain artistic
momentum and the others don’t, it’s sort of tough. There was a time when it was
all for one and one for all and we were all in this sort of moving train, but
now were all on these different trains and try to connect every now and then,
excuse the metaphor, by the way. Just trying to get on the same wavelength is
not always easy and we don’t feel a need to put a record out every year. Even in
our heyday, it would take a year and a half to two years at least to get a
record out, so four years is really not that big of a deal to me. Everything at
this point, to be honest, is just sort of gravy. There’s something really kind
of nice about being able to put a record out when you want to, on your own
label, at your own pace.

 

What was the
decision behind putting this one out on your own label? Obviously the industry
has changed a lot since Big Red Letter Day and Smitten and I assume it’s just a
lot easier to put out a record on your own.

Yeah, I think that’s it. It’s sort of like what does a label offer us
at this point that we can’t do ourselves? The last label we did was a 50/50
deal with New West, which is sort of like a label for bands like us. (New West)
and Yep Roc and Merge, they do these 50/50 like deals and partner with the
bands and give you a nice advance. New West was a really nice label… But
ultimately they were very nice people, with a certain amount of money who
couldn’t do much. We hired an indie publicist, but we were laying out all this
cash ourselves and we were becoming more like this cottage industry that we
ultimately have become. So much recording is done at home now, you don’t need
so much brick and mortar distribution and so much of it is just in the ether
now so I’m not sure why we need to do a 50/50 deal. We have this cool tiered
deal with The Orchard (the distributor the band is partnering with) where they
put it out and do services based on what we need.

 

So you anticipate
doing this again in the future?

Yeah, I can’t imagine not being able to handle whatever sales we have.
There are some great labels I’d love to be affiliated with, but just because of
their roster, like an Anti or a Merge – great labels who put out records that I
love, almost everyone one of them – I’m not sure that they could do much more
with Buffalo Tom than we’re already doing with the current model.  

 

Tanya Donelly (The
Breeders, Throwing Muses, Belly) sings on the song “Don’t Forget Me,” off the
new album. Did you have her in mind for that song the whole time or did you finish
it and think, you know who would sound good on this one?

 It was more of the latter. Tanya
is almost like a sister to me. She lives really close by, our daughters were
born like weeks apart from each other, they’re almost like cousins they’re such
good friends; our families are really tight. I snag on a record Tanya did
awhile ago so it was amazing that it took this long for her to be on a Buffalo
Tom record. But Buffalo Tom records don’t leave a whole lot of room for
collaboration because there’s so much collaboration within the band. It’s not
like there’s a lot of room for guest stars to come in. With that song in
particular, I had written it and I didn’t even think the verse, which was
definitely written from a girl’s perspective, necessarily needed a woman’s
voice on it. But once it came to me, I was like how could she not be on this
song? This is made for her and low and behold she sounds fantastic on it and
now when I’m singing it live it just feels kind of false almost.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Crackerfarm]

THE LAST BANDIT Nikki Sudden

With his autobiography finally widely available and a
fresh trove of unreleased material in stores, the beloved late British rocker
is due a reappraisal.

 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

There
are cult acts and then there’s Nikki Sudden. Though spread across the globe,
his audience likely includes no one you know. Unless, of course, you’re on
personal terms with any of his famous friends and fans – Peter Buck, Ryan
Adams, Ian McLagen, Mick Taylor, Evan Dando, Jeff Tweedy, Nick Cave, Primal
Scream, Thurston Moore and Johnny Thunders have all worked with him, sung his
praises or just hung out. But even the most hip of your hipster friends is
likely to give you a blank stare if you mention his name.

 

If
we’re to be honest, Sudden’s lack of fame has as much to do with the
limitations of his talents as it does the shifting tides of show business. His
musical vision essentially begins and ends with T. Rex (the band that inspired
him to take up the guitar) and the Rolling Stones (his favorite band). Though
also deeply affected by Bob Dylan, the Faces, Johnny Thunders, the blues,
country, Motown and punk, his work tends to be a blend of rootsy rock drive and
glam rock swagger, proudly stuck in the ‘70s. It’s a blunt, honest sound that
often as not produced some sublimely soulful rock & roll – but even in the ‘80s
when Sudden hung out his shingle it was a style neither hip nor marketable.
(Even less so now, sadly.) The ramshackle quality of his voice, which often
couldn’t find the right key, let alone the note, has never helped, either – a
limitation of which Sudden was always perfectly aware.

 

But
that doesn’t mean his art isn’t worth exploring or celebrating. It merely
indicates that his is not a career begging for discovery by the masses through
a biographical tome. But here it is: the product of two years of writing and a
lifetime of diligent diary-keeping, The
Last Bandit: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Life
(Arcana Books; www.arcanaedizioni.com) tells the
Sudden story in the words of the man himself. It’s a tale likely to be familiar
to regular readers of rock bios, with all the sex, drugs, jams, showstoppers,
bombs, daring adventures and narrow escapes you’d expect or want. Though the
book (originally released only in Italy before finally securing a
release in the country of his birth) begins with a short chapter about Sudden’s
first band, the pioneering experimental postpunk band Swell Maps, he quickly
turns the clock back 30 years, detailing his parents’ marriage and his
subsequent birth. Moving through a childhood spent burying himself in British
historical fiction, the former Adrian Godfrey kicks his story into gear with
the introduction of Marc Bolan and T. Rex, his obsession with whom leads him to
the guitar, his personal style (Sudden never met a scarf he didn’t like) and
the decision to make music his life. With various friends and his brother
Kevin, soon to be better known as Epic Soundtracks, Sudden begins home
recording, developing his songwriting and musicianship and inciting the
creation of Swell Maps.

 

The
Maps years are likely the best-known of Sudden’s career, even though they
encompass the shortest period. Sudden goes over these years in fairly close
detail, at least as far as the vagaries of the band’s lifespan, and hipsters
who worship this seminal band will likely find these pages the most compelling.
But the Maps, like so many acts of its era, were too volatile to last, and it’s
not long before Sudden embarks on a music odyssey of his own. It’s here that
the formula kicks in: Nikki writes some songs, makes a record for a spurious
indie label owner, plays some gigs, meets and falls in love with a girl
(usually with connections to wealth or power) and travels around Europe getting
high (usually on heroin) and lying in bed with his paramour. And on and on, damn near to the point of boredom. It’s
almost preposterous in its single-mindedness – for Sudden, this is how a rocker
lives life, and the tedium never seems to occur to him. (It doesn’t help that
it’s apparent neither an editor nor a proofreader ever came within miles of the
manuscript – a lot of the redundancies would’ve been easily adjusted during
that process.) Given the constant references to drugs throughout most of the
book, it begins to read uncomfortably like the confessions of a junkie – worse,
a junkie who doesn’t realize how hooked he really is. When he stops mentioning
any drug intake – not coincidentally in the late ‘90s/early ‘aughts, when he
was at his most musically productive – it comes as such a relief that we never
question why there’s been a shift.

 

Fortunately,
there are enough nuggets between the constant bouts of drinking, drugging and
fucking beautiful women to maintain interest. The chapters immediately
following the Maps breakup paint a fascinating portrait of the early ‘80s
Birmingham rock scene, from the nascent beginnings of Duran Duran, whose Nick
Rhodes ran in the same circles as Sudden, to the sadly underrecorded
Subterranean Hawks and TV Eye, both of which featured Sudden’s likeminded
friend and off-and-on again partner Dave Kusworth and Lilac Time leader and
original Duran singer Stephen Duffy. (All concerned make a convincing claim
that TV Eye’s “Stevie’s Radio Station” is the basis for Duran’s “Rio.”) This is followed by Sudden’s first solo records,
the formation of the Jacobites with Kusworth, a dalliance with Creation Records
(whose Alan McGee meant well but never seemed to know what do with a Nikki
Sudden LP), frequent travels to America and Germany (where he would eventually
end up living) and numerous friendships and collaborations along the way.

 

While
Sudden easily waxes rhapsodic about this or that romance, he’s at his most
animated when talking about music. Whether singing the praises of Kusworth or
his brother, who gets a loving, honest elegy late in the book, gushing about
meeting Robert Plant or Ron Wood, detailing the making of 2004’sTreasure Island, the last LP released
during his lifetime and easily one of his finest, or talking about his favorite
books and records, Sudden’s prose takes on a passionate tone familiar to anyone
with more than a casual interest in music. And it’s these passages that
underscore the reasons why he does what he does: it’s not (just) the cocaine,
name-dropping and promiscuous groupies, but a pure love of picking up a guitar
and making a righteous noise. “Even though it’s unfashionable these days,” he
writes near the end, “I still believe in music, I still believe in rock ‘n’
roll.” Follow Sudden on his journey and you will too.

 

One
of the maddening mantras of The Last
Bandit
is that Sudden will mention the recording of a particular track, and
then follow it with the phrase “Maybe it’ll come out someday.” The prose
indicates enough unreleased material to fill up a box set, something venerable
British label Easy Action promises for later in the year. Fortunately, Sudden’s
old bassist John C. Barry has compiled Playing
With Fire
(Troubadour/Easy Action), a collection of outtakes that at least
covers the period of recording his final (and best) LPs Treasure Island and 2006’s The
Truth Doesn’t Matter
(completed shortly before his death in March of that
year). Amazingly, there’s barely a bummer in the bunch – as explained in
Barry’s liner notes, most of these songs were left off the records for reasons
other than quality control. “I Know You,” “Don’t Look Back” (the obligatory,
ahem, homage to T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong [Get It On]” that appears on nearly every
Sudden record) and “Hanoi Jane” represent Sudden at his rocking zenith,
channeling very spark of inspiration he ever gleaned from the Rolling Stones,
the Faces and Marc Bolan into slices of transcendent rock & roll.
(Bizarrely, Sudden wasn’t happy with this version of “Hanoi Jane.”) His ballads
channel the same spirit, resulting in the lovely but still gritty “Pirate
Girls,” “The Ballad of the Bellman Bar” and “The Last Flash of the Cavalier
Nation,” a tribute to his beloved Bernard Cornwell novels co-written by
Norwegian musician/Sudden disciple Einar Stenseng.

 

Also
included is “Happy Birthday,” a tune intended for Treasure Island that Sudden talks about at length in his book, due
to the presence of his father Trevor Godfrey on piano – the only time father
and son played together. Things start to get silly near the end, with a loose
duet with Captain Sensible on Iggy Pop’s “Kill City”
and a brief improvised boogie called “Kamikaze Karaoke.” But the gorgeous,
contemplative “A Thousand Years Ago” brings everything back home, taking one of
the most fertile periods of Sudden’s career gently into the good night. Despite
being an odds ‘n’ sods collection, Playing
With Fire
is a near-perfect way to introduce friends and rock & roll
fans to the Sudden mystique.

 

Also
released in conjunction with the bio is the solo acoustic LP Tel Aviv Blues (Earsay). Recorded in a
studio in the titular city during a brief tour of Israel in 2002, the album presents
Sudden running through new songs, a couple of older tunes and some favorite
covers. Obviously meant to be a demo session, some songs include false starts
and post-performance mumbling, but that adds to the you-are-there informality
of the album. Version of Johnny Thunders’ “Diary of a Lover” and the Stones’
“As Tears Go By” come off well, as does a piano-based version of Sudden’s
rocker “Liquor, Guns & Ammo.” Some of the fresh material is a bit gimmicky,
particularly the obviously improvised “The Girls Are So Pretty in Tel Aviv
City” and “Tel Aviv
Blues.” But other new tunes like “Out of My Dreams, “Edge of Autumn” and
“Cathy” reveal sturdy melodies and superior craft. A recording this stripped
down, not to mention well recorded, doesn’t favor an artist of Sudden’s uneven
vocal talents, but he acquits himself decently, though his wobbly performance
gives his version of eternal inspiration “Get It On” a strange lilt. More of
interest to diehards than casual fans, Tel
Aviv Blues
shows a side of Sudden often mentioned in the book but rarely
heard on record.

 

All
of this is a bonanza for Sudden fans, who will find the autobiography
fascinating reading. Skeptics should dip their toes into the waters of Playing With Fire first, before deciding
to dive into the wider, deeper ocean represented by The Last Bandit.

 

GENUINE HOUSEROCKIN’ MUSIC: Alligator Records Turns 40

Pure American roots music: a
classic creation myth. Only this one’s true.

 

BY TOM
CALLAHAN

 

Alligator
Records, the largest independent blues label in the world, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. And that is amazing when you consider that Chess
Records, home of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and headquarters of the postwar Chicago blues that became
the basis of rock ‘n’ roll, only lasted as a truly creative force for about two
decades. Other classic blues labels, like Vee-Jay and Stax, were around even
shorter periods.

 

But
Alligator has not only survived, it has prospered and kept the blues alive as a
creative force from the 1970’s on. Arguably, no label in history has had as
long lasting or consistent impact upon American blues. Yes, it recorded blues
giants like Koko Taylor and Albert Collins and Professor Longhair and James
Cotton. But the label has always been willing to take chances on younger, often
unknown at the time, artists whose concept of the blues might not fit any
classic style, such as Chicago, Texas
or Delta blues. The example of that now is artists like Anders Osborne, who was
originally from Sweden,
and JJ Grey and Mofro. Grey is a Florida
artist whose sound covers everything from Memphis
flavored R&B to swamp rock.

 

In other
words, Alligator was never afraid to take chances or piss off blues purists. It
reflected back in 1971, as it does today, the vision of its founder, Bruce
Iglauer. “I’d like Alligator to be seen as the label that both recorded the
blues tradition as it has been and is now, and found the artists and made the
records that would carry the blues into the future, keeping it fresh and honest
soul-healing music for contemporary audiences,” Iglauer says. “I’m trying to
make records that will be timeless statements. I definitely not interested in
making museum pieces.”

 

How
Alligator came into existence is a legendary story. There are few legends left
in a world where multi-media conglomerates dominate popular culture. But
Alligator is the real deal. Back in 1971, Iglauer, a 23-year-old blues fanatic,
was a shipping clerk for Bob Koester’s Chicago-based Delmark Records. He wanted
the label to release an album by his favorite band, Hound Dog Taylor & The
HouseRockers. Taylor was an 11 finger slide
guitar player virtually unknown outside of little bars in the Chicago ghetto. Koester wasn’t interested, so
Iglauer gathered up what little money he had – $900 – and decided to do it
himself.

 

“My dream
was just to record a single album by each of the bands I loved on the West and
South Sides of Chicago,” Iglauer says. “I never had dreams of out-of- town
musicians, of already famous blues names like Albert Collins, Professor
Longhair or Johnny Winter, or of 280 albums. I did dream of an employee so I
didn’t have to do everything myself.”

 

With a staff of only 15 working out of an old three
story house on Chicago’s
North Side, Alligator has the feel of a grass roots guerrilla operation that
would make any indie-rock label proud. But the label produced successful albums
that have sold well and received critical acclaim. Alligator recordings have received
three Grammy awards (as well as a slew of nominations), Indie Awards from the
Association For Independent Music (AFIM) and French Grand Prix du Disque
awards. Alligator and its artists have won many Living Blues Awards and over 100 Blues Music Awards, the blues
community’s highest honor.

 

The Alligator sound is not easy to pin down. It
encompasses Chicago blues, Texas blues, New Orleans zydeco as well as Southern soul
and rock ‘n’ roll. You name it, there is an Alligator album or artist who has
covered it. It is really American roots music. It views the blues not like
Dixieland jazz, which is genre whose best days are long gone, but as a living,
vibrant form of expression. The original and still slogan for the label is
“Genuine Houserockin’ Music.” On the liner notes to the recently released The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection Iglauer explained what the slogan means:

 

” ‘Genuine’ because the music we record is deeply rooted
in the blues tradition (even when it pushes the standard definition of blues)
and is created by musicians who have honed their songs not on synthesizers in
their bedrooms but in front of real audiences, responding to the emotional
needs of their listeners. ‘House’ instead of ‘theater’ or ‘arena’ or ‘stadium’
because our music is ultimately intimate, even when it is big and loud. It is
not meant to be presented. It’s meant to be shared between the musicians and audience,
like everybody in Florence’s
(a long gone South Side Chicago bar) shared the music with Hound Dog Taylor.
And ‘Rockin’ because it’s designed to move you. Most of Alligator’s records
will move your feet or your body, but we have tried to make records that will
move that other part of you-your soul.”

 

And in a business known for being cutthroat to say the
least, Iglauer has done something else unique: he has run a successful music
company and managed to create a tightly knit family atmosphere around the
label. When Alligator started, the glory days of the post-war Chicago blues were fading fast. Artists like
Koko Taylor had no record label. But when Iglauer finally gave in and signed
her, Koko rewarded him by becoming “the Queen of the blues” and stayed with
Alligator for the rest of her life, 35 years.

 

“Alligator Records, Bruce Iglauer, was what started my
career,” says Lil’ Ed Williams, a West Side Chicago slide guitarist who is the
nephew of the late great JB Hutto and has been on the label for a quarter
century. “I was only playing locally and only in little juke joint clubs and
really not that regularly. Bruce helped me to get known worldwide and he also
helped me become more professional in the way I presented myself. He and the
rest of the Alligator family treated me like family.”

 

Harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite’s career predated
Alligator by a decade. He recorded with Paul Butterfield in the 1960 and had a
hit record on Vanguard-another classic blues label whose lifetime was far
shorter than Alligator-but when Musselwhite came to Alligator in the early
1990, he saw an immediate impact.

 

“It was a huge boost to my career,” he says. “On my
first Alligator Release (1990’s Ace of
Harps
) it raised my profile world-wide: more shows, more pay, more
air-play, more fans. My entire career improved dramatically.” Musselwhite
concludes, “I don’t think anybody or anything has had a bigger impact on
keeping the blues alive than Alligator Records. And that’s the truth!”

 

After 40 years in business, Iglauer has no plans of
changing or slowing down. As to the future of the blues, he is guarded,
acknowledging that few younger artists have the charisma or creative force of a
Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. He adds,

 

“I continue to both nurture the artists who are with us
and search for new ones who have something fresh to say. I am sure that new and
future blues can’t just sound like old blues. The lyrics, the rhythms and the
attitudes have to be contemporary while at the same time having the tension and
release and healing quality that blues have always had. So we need some new,
charismatic and visionary champions of the blues. Some of them won’t be
perceived as blues artists now, but will be in the future. I feel I have some
visionary artists on the label now. I want more.”

 

The Alligator story is far from done. And that is good
news for blues fans everywhere.

 

 

Get
genuinely houserocked:
www.alligator.com

TWO’S THE CHARM Lenka

With her
sophomore release arriving in stores this week, the Aussie songstress aims for
the fans, not the awards.

 

BY NICOLE ROBERGE

 

As I catch up with Australian singer-songwriter Lenka over the phone,
it is 5 pm in Connecticut but 9 am in Australia where
she is, and she is relaxing on the beach. 
She has a lot to be excited about. 
She has just gotten married and is about to release her sophomore album,
“Two.” (Her 2008 self-titled debut album featured “The Show” which was a top 10
hit in over 10 countries.)

 

            She did have goals
when going in to make this album: “I was definitely hoping to make something
faster and more danceable. I’m usually in the mood for dancing myself and music
to dance to.  It was definitely a goal when
working with producers and instrumentation. 
I also really wanted to write some pretty simple love songs and get it
out there without being too complicated.”

 

            The last album, she
says, was heavier and she wanted to have fun with this album and just live in
the moment.  There were many songs that
she did not put on this album that were in that vein and a bit deeper, that she
says she will save for a future project. 
She also wanted this album to not only be a little more mature, and less
childlike than the last album, but “faster and sexier.”

 

            Lenka says that she
learned a lot from writing, recording and releasing her first album, especially
when it came to the studio.  “I learned
that it’s really important to be in control in the studio,” she says.  “I learned that pretty quickly on the first album,
within the first few tracks to take control. 
It can be confusing, with all the things going on that are technical. If
you don’t really ask questions and take control you’re not going to make any
decisions.  So I was really strong with
that.  And I think I learned with touring
what songs are fun to play on stage.  I
think with faster songs and less ballads, I found danceable fun tracks with
energy that the audience can dance to, and are fun to play on stage.  I wanted to do that again.  Both types of songs.”

 

            There is one specific
part of the album that is very unique and Lenka’s favorite part of the
album.  On the song, “Heart Skips a
Beat,” they recorded her real heart beat as the bass for the intro of the song.  Working with engineers, they researched the
best way to do that.  She jumped up and
down really fast to get her heart rate going, and then they used a strong
microphone on her chest while everything else was really quiet, and recorded
it.  “They actually had to slow it down,
it was beating so fast.  It sounds so
loud and beautiful.  That was the most
fun,” she says.

 

            Lenka added some
electronic elements on this album, and says that she was first inspired to do
that after hearing Bjork.  “We use more
than just instruments-beats on the computer, atmospheric sounds and instruments
on the computer.  I used to be quite
adverse to it.  When I first discovered
Bjork, I found that her album was really dancey and I fell in love with her and
her melodies.  It was such beautiful and
emotional music.  And made from the
computer.  It blew my mind a little
bit.  I took a while to get there.  I wanted to do acoustic stuff for a while.  A guy who did production with her and helped
her create it, worked with me.  Too much
is definitely too much.  It’s good to have
some acoustic instruments in there and a sense of warmness and humanness. A
little bit of balance is great,” she explains.

 

            Lenka has had the
opportunity to tour all over the world and says that part of her career has
been fascinating, especially if you are someone who likes to travel, which she
does, adding that the shopping, food and meeting new people are perks.  “I’ve had a great time meeting new people and
seeing new places,” she says.  “It feels
like I’m on holiday sometimes.  I am
actually working right now.  Audience
wise, Salt Lake City
is always really exciting.  New York is
fantastic.  The fans are cool and
involved all the way.  The audiences are
loud, not aloof like New York
seems to be.  All sorts of countries are
fabulous.  It’s always interesting in Germany because
they clap on the one instead of the off- beat. 
Some are crazy and drunk and out of control.  Some are quiet and polite and keep you on
your toes.  Japan
is amazing, Italy.  They clap and scream for 30 seconds, and then
they are quiet and don’t chat and then clap again after the next song.  They are very respectful.”

 

            As for her fans and
her new album, she is hoping for a good reaction.  “I hope that they love it!” she says.  “So far, the three songs people have heard
have gotten a good response.  On the
first album, people told me how my music got them through depression and made
them feel better or got them through circumstances.  A few songs are about that-moving through
hard times and getting the best out of life. 
I hope I can do that again.”

 

            She hopes that “Two”
takes her different places too.  “Besides
reaching the fans and going to their hearts, I hope it gives me the opportunity
to do more touring and feel more comfortable and secure as an artist and that
it will secure a place for me in music,” she says.  “The goal is not to win a Grammy or
anything.  Just whatever way the album chooses
to go, I hope it keeps letting me do the things I love.”

 

Please check out
our Lenka photo essay in the latest issue (# 10): it features candid images of
the musician at home, on the set of a video shoot, and from her wedding.

 

[Photo credit:
Guy Aroch]

 

 

THE POP PERFECTIONIST Richard X. Heyman

Armed with a new
double-elpee’s worth of tunes, the man with the miles-long resumé continues his
assault on indifference.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

There are some artists who are so steadfast in their
dedication and determination, they persevere in their efforts and create great
music, regardless of whether the world chooses to take notice. Richard X.
Heyman is one of those people, a man who’s accumulated an incredible canon of
vibrant melodies, ever-ready refrains, sumptuous hooks and the kind of songs
radio once craved, prior to the onslaught of American Idol-spawned pretenders
and drab, disposable wannabes. Over the course of the past 25 years or so,
Heyman’s garnered a remarkable reputation by virtue of a stunning series of
albums – both on his own and more recently as a member of his early, recently
reincarnated group, the Doughboys — that affirm a power pop template, but push
at the parameters of that often stylized sound. His latest outing, Tiers/And Other Stories pays double the
dividends, two complementary and thematic sets of songs that weave a continuing
commentary, beginning with his relationship to his wife, collaborator and
accompanying musician Nancy Leigh and concluding with his views on life, love
and pathways taken.

 

Aside from his remarkable musical talents – as always, he
plays practically every instrument on the two albums — the thing that emerges
overall is the fact that Heyman is an especially thoughtful and sensitive
individual, a man that spends several hours a day traipsing through New York neighborhoods
and leaving food for the animals that reside in this otherwise inhospitable
terrain. Likewise, the fact that he’s had associations with several major
record labels in the course of his career and now records under his own
auspices finds him neither feeling neither bitter nor betrayed.

 

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with this
remarkably prolific power pop pundit and talk about the new albums, his history
and Heyman’s views of life in general.

 

***

 

BLURT: First, the obvious question – why TWO new albums?
As opposed perhaps to a double disc?

RICHARD
X HEYMAN:  For many years I had
a Kurzweil electric piano.  One day a couple of keys stopped working, so I
took it into the shop to have it repaired.  When they opened it up, they
said the reason these keys don’t sound right is because the inside of this
piano is full of cat hair.  So they cleaned out the fur and it all worked
fine for a while.  Then more keys stopped working because, well, more cat
hair got in there.  I got tired of having it fixed, so I decided to buy
another piano, which the salesman assured me was impervious to cat hair.
 I bought a Yamaha electric piano with built in speakers.  This new
piano inspired me to play because a) all the keys worked and b) the built-in
speakers made it very accessible and easy.  I immediately started writing
songs on it.  The first one was “Hot On The Trail of Innocence.”
 Next thing I knew, there were close to fifty songs.  I kept saying
to Nancy, I think we can fit all of these on one CD, but I was just in denial.
 After trimming the selection down to thirty, I reluctantly realized that
it was gonna have to be two separate albums.

       
It really comes down to semantics,
whether this is two separate albums or a double.  The idea came from The
Beach Boys’ two-fer CDs.  Those were two albums repackaged onto one disc
with both original covers.  I just took it a step further and separated the
two albums.  I view this as a two-fer.        

 

How do these two albums differ musically and
conceptually?

The Tiers album is a pop opera, telling the tale of Nancy and
me meeting, splitting apart, her going to NYC from Maryland and me taking off to
Hollywood for three years.  Then I moved back to New York and we’ve been together ever since.  And Other
Stories
contains songs about our
life in New York, some mutual interests like our animal rescuing experiences,
our love of wildlife, the aftermath of September 11, 2001, losing some close
friends and family members, and the evaporating baby boom generation.  The
main concept musically is that these songs were mostly composed on the piano.
 I’ve been meaning to do a keyboard-based album for a long time, but
there’s not so much of a stylistic difference between the two albums. They’re
mainly lyrically different.

Word is that one of these albums is a
concept effort that details your relationship with Nancy. So are you the narrator of these songs
or did you create a fictional character to represent you?

Well, there’s always a balance.
 One could ask, is Bob Dylan the narrator of Blood On The
Tracks
?  Did Bob really shoot
a man named Gray and take his wife to Italy?
 And if he did, I think the police should
be looking into it.  This stuff – not to sound too hoity-toity – falls
under the umbrella of “art.”  And art is not real life.  Of course,
there is the old adage, write what you know, so there are usually elements of
the writer’s life incorporated in their work.  So I – the
singer/songwriter – am the male character in the story, which is based on my
recollection of what happened. Several songs are from the girl’s point of view.
 But they’re songs, not real life, though I did put a lot of heart and soul
into them.

 

From what we understand, the other album draws on your
love of show tunes and standards? Is that correct? That sounds a risky
proposition in these oh-so-hip and too trendy times… what do you think?

I do love many Broadway
musicals and, like my rock ‘n’ roll influences, those elements probably seep
into the soup.  I stopped chasing bandwagons a long time ago.  I
couldn’t name a top-40 hit from the last couple decades if my life depended on
it.  Truth be told, it’s the emotional release that drives me more than
anything else.

How long have these songs been
gestating? Are they all new tracks, written specifically for these two albums?

As I mentioned earlier, the
Yamaha piano sparked this writing spree.  The songs all came out in one
fell swoop over the course of a couple of months.  Pretty much in the
order they’re sequenced.  Except for the instrumental “Going For Baroque”
which is one of the first things I ever wrote on piano, and one of the songs I
played for Nancy the night we met.

 

When you are conceptualizing a new album, do you come
up with a ‘theme’ first and write the songs around that, or do you have the
songs and then figure out how they will fit together?

My past albums were
collections of songs I had written.  Some songs were brand new, others
could be several years old.  I would pick and choose songs that worked
together as an album.  This new project was the first one that was
actually theme oriented.  What happened was, after writing the first three
songs that kick off the Tiers album, I realized that I was subconsciously recounting the beginnings of my
relationship with Nancy down in Bethesda, Maryland.
 And from that point on, each song furthered the plot.  At that point
I knew I had to take it all the way out to L.A. and back to New York to
complete the saga.  I got so carried away that I felt the logical next
step was to write about our experiences here in New York,
subjects that are meaningful to the two of us.

 

You’ve made music in both the world of the record
labels and as an indie artist? Can you compare them in terms of your experience
as what it’s like to operate within each? What have you found to be the
advantages, disadvantages?

The big difference was lunch.  When
I was recording Hey Man! in L.A., people from the label would go out and
buy lunch and dinner and bring it back to the studio.  Now I have to walk
into the kitchen in our apartment and raid the fridge.  It’s nice to be
fussed over and catered to.  But the labels didn’t push or promote the finished
product like they said they would.  So that was frustrating.  I like
studios but I’m always worried about the clock and the cost.  Working at
home, there are no budget worries.  Our main concern is disturbing the
neighbors.  I’m always wondering, while I’m screaming my head off into the
microphone in my boxers, what the people in the bedroom above us must be
thinking.  Back before there were
state-of-the-art home recording systems like Logic Pro, and you had to record
in a proper studio.  And to afford a good studio was above most people’s
budgets.  So it was necessary to secure a record deal, just to physically
and mechanically make a decent sounding record.  Now you can match the
highest paid major label artist sonically in your bedroom.  That is a
major change.  Of course, unfortunately people can also clone the original
recordings for free.  But the cat’s out of the bag now.  We’ll just
have to wait and see how it all plays out.  Hopefully there’s still a loyal
audience for indie artists.

 

Give us an idea of some of your influences growing up
– the artists, bands and composers that initially inspired you to make music.

Having three older sisters,
I got to hear the music they were into as a kid.  They had various
boyfriends who would bring over records.  I remember hearing Dion &
The Belmonts, Ricky Nelson, early Beach Boys, James Brown, Ike & Tina
Turner Revue, etc.  My sisters would all watch American Bandstand after
school, so I got into that.  Then there were my parents’ records – lots of
big band jazz, Broadway musicals and Sinatra as well as a bunch of classical
stuff.  Some Gershwin…all kinds of music.  Then when I started
getting in bands, I was hearing a lot of The Ventures and other instrumental
records.  I always loved the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry, and later I
got into the blues – Freddie King, Magic Sam.  Then of course there was
top 40 radio.  Sam Cooke, Motown, Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys, The Four
Seasons… and then all hell broke loose!  The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stones,
Byrds, Kinks, Who, on and on.  I gotta say, in all candor, that one of the
biggest influences on my piano playing is Joni Mitchell.  As a matter of
fact, when I first started writing these songs, the working title for the
project was Gentleman of the Mountain, as an homage to Joni’s Ladies of the Canyon.  But nothing can top a great rock ‘n’ roll
record.  Rock ‘n’ roll hasn’t affected my life – it is my life.

 

How did you come to reform your early band, the
Doughboys? How did the reunion come about? Now that it’s a full fledged entity,
where is the divide between your solo work and your efforts with the band?

I used to tell Nancy stories
about the band I was in as a kid called The Doughboys.  So one day, as a
surprise for my birthday, she organized a Doughboys reunion.  She called
the original members and asked them to rehearse a set and to come to a New York
City club on the date she booked.  So I showed up and there they were,
ready to rock.  I get my rock ‘n’ roll jones from The Doughboys.  I’m
learning how to write garage rock style songs which is not really my forte, but
it’s a lot of fun.  And I get an incredible aerobic workout each time we
play.  Whereas these two albums are bedroom rock, genteel and hopefully
soothing.

You’ve had the opportunity to play with
some of your musical heroes – Brian Wilson, Peter Noone etc. — experiences
which you detailed in your book a couple of years ago – but out of all these
experiences, what are the two or three that stand out as life changing or life
affirming encounters
?

Playing drums for Link Wray
was a special experience.  That man basically invented the power chord,
back in the late 50’s.  It was exhausting but exhilarating, trying to keep
up with his energy.  It’s always a gas getting together with Peter Noone.
 He tells the most wonderful stories and is extremely smart.  And
what a great singer!  Better than he’s given credit for.  At one of the gigs I played with Brian Wilson, after “God Only Knows”, he
turned around and said “That was the best ‘God Only Knows’ ever!”  And then after “409”, he leaned back again and
said, “Great drumming, man!”  That was a thrill.

Your music is consistently brilliant –
melodic, packed with hooks, memorable tunes etc. – and yet the mass appeal,
wide ranging acceptance that is so clearly your due, has eluded you up until
now. Is that frustrating? How important is it to reach a wider audience?

Thank you for your kind
words; most laudatory.  Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of my
unpopularity have been greatly exaggerated. Who listens to my stuff and how
many is completely out of my hands.  Would I like to be on “MTV Cribs”
showing off my Lower East Side digs
and closet full of Beatle boots?  Perhaps, but I’m thankful for what I’ve
got and having good health is more important than anything.  But if you really want to know how I feel, listen to
“The Real Deal” on the Tiers album.

 

How would you sum up your career so far?

I look at it as more of a
vocation than what you would call a career.  But again, I’m getting into
semantics.  Being a musician was not a chosen profession, but something
that was apparently embedded in my DNA.  I don’t come from a musical
family and yet I instinctively gravitated to the drums at the age of five
before my feet could even reach the bass drum pedal.  I’m just glad to be
able to make music and still rock out.  But I’ll give it a shot – here’s a
quick summation off the top of my head.  Got signed to Bell Records when I
was fourteen with The Doughboys, put out a couple singles.  In my late
teens, I played drums with The Quinaimes Band, who were on Elektra Records, and
got to tour with Sly and The Family Stone and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue
at venues like Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden and the Beacon Theater.
 I went from that to forming my own band called The Rage as lead
singer/guitarist down in Washington, DC while simultaneously playing drums for
Link Wray.  This was in the mid 70’s.  Then I took off for L.A., which by the way is
the heart of the story of Tiers.
 I played drums with a country rock band called Cooper Dodge as well as
doing some solo shows.  Then I went back to New York
to reunite with Nancy
and put out my first single “Vacation” in 1980.  

        I started recording solo stuff in
earnest, beginning with my first EP Actual Size,
then the album Living Room!!, which
landed me a deal with Cypress/A&M
leading to Hey Man! on Sire/Warner Bros.  Cornerstone came out on Permanent Press Recordings.  As you
can see, there’s a pattern here.  So Nancy and I decided to start our own
label, Turn-Up Records on which we put out Heyman, Hoosier & Herman, Basic Glee,
Rightovers, Actual Sighs,
Intakes and now Tiers/And Other Stories.  Phew!  I’m summed out.

You’re such a prolific musician. How
many songs do you have remaining in the vaults?

There are quite a few
recorded but most of my songs are stored in my head, which has sprung a little
leak.  It’s alarming to forget a couple for every new one I’ve written.
 Since the Tiers project has been completed,
I’ve been raiding my old accordion file full of lyrics from songs I’ve
forgotten musically and setting them to new tunes, gearing up for the new
Doughboys album.  At a certain point I took an anti-demo stance.  I
was tired of chasing after demos, meaning trying to recreate the original feel
for the actual recorded version.  The problem is, there are only so many
brain cells to go around to retain all those chord progressions and melodies,
and a few float off to some other songwriter down the block.

 

 

A version of this interview also appears in the latest issue (#10) of BLURT.

THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I'VE EVER SEEN Ian Moore

 

 

In which our hero postulates
that being in a rock ‘n’ roll band is pretty fucked up.

By IAN MOORE

 

I could tell you the story about the night I slept in a
bloody bed from a murder the night before (the hotel manager had simply flipped
the mattress over).

 

I could tell you about the night when our song “Muddy Jesus”
(the closest thing El Paso had seen to an homage since Marty Robbins) caused us
to be mobbed on a seemingly quiet night in Juarez, and a mob morphed our
vaguely exciting identity to a much more thrilling one – Pearl Jam, over the
course of a few hours. We narrowly escaped before evading the head of the
biggest drug cartel in Mexico,
who wanted to pull us into a multi-day, locked-door party where we would be the
“guests of honor,” of course not allowed to leave until he declared the fiesta
over.

 

I could tell you some juicy, fucked up stories, but I would
rather rest my road-weary brain and simply wrap it around the 20+ years of
touring haze to tell you about the most brilliant, fucked up thing I have ever
done: sing in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

 

Being in a rock band is like permanently being a senior in
high school waiting for college to start. An endless summer of reckless
abandon, ambitious half-formed plans, and the promise of something much more
grand in the coming Fall that never quite materializes. Short-term glory
buttressed by seemingly endless stretches of monotony and indecision.

 

I watched as my friends grew up and seemingly went through
adult-forming school. They adopted different, mostly healthier, habits, and
faded into a gentler phase filled with adult conversations that seem formed and
appropriate for our age. Meanwhile I was stuck in endless conversations about
why The Teardrop Explodes matter (or don’t), why ironic dress and facial coif
had its place until a couple of years ago, and other forays into the minutia of
pop culture that truly should be mainstay thought for an 18-year-old, but are
more suspect when calling 30-year-old friends “kid” and still chasing down your
bartender friends for free drinks.

 

Being in a band is a youthful endeavor. It is amazing to
look out onto a packed room filled with attractive people who believe that
music can change the world. Unfortunately I believe the same thing as well?
When do you get the mailer that actually explains what the ‘grown ups’ are
supposed to really think? When do I get the insight that allows me to stop
being so idealistic and cash in on the collective sins of our species? I’m
stuck in this fountain of youth and it stinks of urine and folly. The kids are
splashing around, oblivious to anything but the importance of their play in the
cultural waters, long fouled and drained of meaning, each waterfall smaller
than the one before until the final drip is sliding out of the concrete orifice
of some suburban kid with X-ray vision specs that say “Google”.

 

Speaking of fucked up, what is it with drummers? Am I the
only one who finds it ironic that the very person that we rely on for meter and
time is completely incapable of simply showing up at the same time that all
other adults can? Of all of my drummers, and there have been many, I can think
of only one person who was capable of actually showing up at the time he said,
and he quickly got out of drumming and started trying to save the world by
selling eco building products to yuppies who needed a slight hedge to hide
their rabid consumerism.

 

If I had any sense I would have bought a stopwatch years ago
so I could keep a running tally of time wasted to gripe about in the golden
years. I do believe in irrefutable truths. I believe that humans are inherently
good and that we are all capable of change. Consequently I am repeatedly
dumbfounded as our drummer saunters towards the van, elegantly smoking, and
seemingly troubled by nothing, a good 30 minutes after our said departure time,
as we wait outside his house in
complete awe.

 

I keep waiting for this phase where I am bestowed some
flowing robe of knowledge and my acolytes surround me being filled by my vast
musical knowledge and discourses on integrity. I see that Willie Nelson has
released his book The Tao of Willie and is being considered for Sainthood by the Catholic Church, who are willing
to look past his phenomenal marijuana consumption. Meanwhile I am stuck in this
half-form, not able to speak of my rock ‘n’ roll exploits lest I sound like a
braggart, but considered smug and distant if I stay tightlipped when my younger
friends educate me on their new cultural bounty – a bounty that we pawned many
years ago to lighten the load.

 

Excuse me. Didn’t mean to sound bitter. Now, that’s fucked
up. I can’t think of anything cooler than playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

 

Did I mention heavy metal soundmen?

 

 

Ian Moore and the
Lossy Coils’ new album
El Sonido Nuevo is
out now on Spark & Shine. www.ianmoore.com

 

 

IAN MOORE – “LET ME OUT” and “CLOSER”

 

 

JUST A LITTLE BIT, IS WHAT YOU NEED Kids of 88

New Zealand breakout band mashes
up New Order, Pet Shop Boys, MGMT, and even some Goldfrapp – with electrifying
results.

 

BY GIL
MACIAS

 

Certainly,
one of the standout bands at SXSW was the Kids of 88. Not long after the
festival, a well-deserved buzz began to spread and it’s no surprise why. The
Kiwi electro/synth/pop/rock duo (Sam McCarthy and Jordan Arts) definitely knows
how to make some infectious and addicting tunes, and better yet, they put on
some killer live shows. Their electrifying debut, Sugarpills, is not yet available in the U.S., but it will be coming out
sometime this summer. In fact, the album is so ridiculously great, we highly
recommend that you lose all patience, let your temptation get the best of you
and just find but the import online—it’s that good. They’re like some sort of
blend between MGMT meets Goldfrapp, with a dash of Pet Shops Boys and New
Order.

 

In late
March, the guys did a small tour to start promoting the album and played their
first ever show in Los Angeles at The Satellite
in Silverlake, California. It’s a small intimate venue and
we were lucky enough to catch the show. Based on what we saw, it won’t be long
before they replicate the popstar status they have back in New Zealand
start playing larger venues here in the States. The guys know how to put on a
great show, get the crowd amped up and definitely ooze with talent both in the
studio and onstage. Sam’s energetic stage presence is impressive.

 

Before
the guys took the stage, we were able to talk to them about their album and
their experiences in the U.S.
so far. Both 23-years-old, Sam and Jordan were charming, laid back, instantly
likeable, and truly passionate about their music. 

 

***

 

BLURT: Your album was not
simultaneously released worldwide and has already been out for sometime in your
home country. I imagine some of the songs might be getting “old” to you by now
and you’re probably ready to move on and record something new. So in a way,
you’re hitting a reset button and starting to promote your debut album all over
again, which still isn’t even out here in the U.S. yet. How do you keep the album
fresh in your mind and onstage?

SAM: It
seems to be refreshing to me. The way I see it is, when you meet someone new
for the first time, you don’t go, “Oh God, here we go again. I got to tell them
everything I’ve told a million times before.” You just don’t have that approach
to meeting new people. When we’re playing to a new audience, it’s almost like
these songs feel like we’re playing them for the first time. Also, the types of
songs we have are really enjoyable to perform. There’s something about them
that’s slightly challenging. So next to that freshness, there’s also that
appeal of absolutely nailing the song as good as you possibly can each time.
There might be different aspects of the song that you kind of feel you need to
work on. So there are different aspects we always try to build upon. 

 

How have U.S. audiences responded to your
shows? We hear you blew away SXSW.

JORDAN: Really well, surprisingly. We’re
from the other side of the world so it’s crazy to think we can come here and
make people clap, smile, and talk about us. It’s an amazing feeling to have.

SAM: It
is. That’s also something refreshing in itself. I think you would really start
to get bored with what you’re doing if the people you were playing for aren’t
reciprocal. We are playing to new audiences and they are amazingly excitable,
so why would I even begin to think that this isn’t a good thing? So that’s why
we keep running with it. Going back to your question earlier about the reset
button—we are writing new songs as we go. We want to feel that we have
momentum as a band. But we’re proud of our catalogue and we totally don’t mind
still presenting that in front of people. As that’s going on, underneath the
table, we’re still writing new stuff and preparing it, and we can release that
as well. It almost gives you another chance to make a release and make another
impression.

 

How are audiences here in the U.S. versus
back home? Is there a difference in vibe or energy?

SAM:
People here are much better looking.

JORDAN: [Laughs]

SAM: Very
much so. The girls here are much tastier here than they are in New Zealand.
No, no, no. [Laughs] That’s only half
true. I find that they’re a lot more vocal.

JORDAN: Yea. They let you know if you’re
good or bad, where in New Zealand, they only smile or nod and you would never
know if you were good or not.

SAM: Yea,
you really got to win them over in an arduous fashion, where here in the
States, you kind of put your soul out there and present what you got and they
laugh it up quite quickly. Which is really nice, being a performer—having
someone who is really quick in the initial stages of the performance to get
behind you and enjoy it. That’s very encouraging.

 

Do you plan to add additional
tracks for the U.S. version
of the album or will it be the same as the New Zealand version?

JORDAN: There might be something a
little different but I think it will pretty much be what it is now.

SAM: It
will be true to the album. If we did want to release new songs on top of it,
then I think we’d hold off on them and release them in a different fashion. It
would feel like us as a band with more of a catalogue and these extra facets
that people can explore as opposed to combining them. You know, when you search
other band’s discographies on Wikipedia and they have the Japanese release, the
European release, the U.S.
release, and they’re trying all these different things. We just want to have Sugarpills as this physical kind of
entity that you just throw on the table and see how it goes and release stuff
thereafter.

 

I was really blown away by the
5-track Sugarpills EP. “Nerves” and
“Home” are amazing. Will these make it to the States too?

SAM: Yes.
We hope so.

JORDAN: Those tracks seem to be more in
the direction we’re heading in as well. They’re the most recent songs we’ve
completed.

 

They’re very mellow. I love what
you guys did. They all sound like some sort of cosmic lullabies.

SAM:
That’s a good way to describe them. That’s exactly what we were trying to
achieve. The way that our band came about was off the back of a couple of songs
that were definitely more upbeat, so when we came to release the album, we felt
that it needed to be very physical, energetic and engaging. I’m really into
albums that kind of have a current and particular theme throughout that still
have a bit of diversity in them. So that’s why it was really exciting when the
opportunity of having an EP came along. We could kind of just do what we wanted
to. We thought we could show people a different side of us and be a little bit
more worldly.

 

What’s been your most surreal
moment during your first U.S.
tour so far?

JORDAN: I think our whole trip to the U.S. so far, in the last week or
so, has been very surreal. We’re just sort of taking everything in and we’ve
met some amazing people and played with some amazing bands that we’d never
thought we’d play with.

SAM: At
SXSW, we were thrown into some pretty amazing line-ups. The moment we figured
out we were being added to the bill was when our manager sent us this email
with a list of our favorite bands and he just through our name underneath.
Those names on the list turned out to be the list of the bands we were playing
with at SXSW. So that was freaking us out.

 

What was it like touring with
Scissor Sisters?

SAM: That
was cool. It was amazing. It’s refreshing playing to a whole new audience. I
mean, let’s be honest, Scissor Sisters are a really festive sounding band. So
the audiences were pretty reciprocal. There were people in the crowd dressed in
full golden lycra suits and enough hair and make-up for the universe. For us,
we felt slightly more liberated as well. We exploded a little bit more when we
were playing. It was really fun in that aspect. And we hadn’t played to a large
size venue before, so that was also a massive step up.

 

Speaking of massive venues, where
would you like to see yourselves go in the U.S.? Is becoming one of the
biggest bands in the world or fame your main interest?

SAM: It’s
definitely not a fame thing.

JORDAN: It never has been.

SAM: I
think it’s because of our upbringing. In New Zealand, we have this kind of
self-deprecation that makes us feel quite comfortable. We’ll come over here,
and sometimes I’ll open a conversation with a joke that’s making fun of myself
and I notice people think I’m hard on myself. And I’m not doing that, I’m doing
it for my own enjoyment.

JORDAN: I think we play things down
quite a bit too. If someone comes up and tells us we did an awesome set I’ll
go, “Oh, you know, we could’ve done better.”

SAM: I
think what we really want to achieve here, if anything, is to be an outfit that
creates songs that are enticing and provocative both musically and in a
production sense as well—and still just as accessible as pop songs on radio.
I can’t say we’d ever be labeled as a true indie band. It’s not like we write
music that we don’t intend anyone to hear. At the same time, we do love pop
song format. We’re not trying to write Lady Gaga songs or these really big
banging tunes. We want to write songs people can approach in a friendly way and
take it however they want.

 

What decade of music would you say
influenced you the most? You guys are both young, born in 1988, grew up in the
‘90s, yet there seems to be a lot of influence from the early ‘80s.

SAM:  It is quite true to our name, I suppose.

JORDAN: Our parents used to listen to a
lot of ‘80s stuff. But I think, more recently, we’re influenced by more early
‘90s than anything else.

SAM: And
‘70s stuff. I find there’s kind of a correlation between a gap of twenty years
or so. Say for example, like a lot of early ‘90s psychedelic house music is
quite reflective of early ‘70s psychedelic. So we kind of work with those
things. I do like the ‘80s, because geographically, it was so diverse. You got
early ‘80s like Joy Division and very dark kinds of sounds, but then you got
very bright and jazzy late-‘80s Michael Jackson and these other progressive pop
productions. There are so many things to pick out of it, but it still has this
nostalgic edge to it people from our generation understand and look back on. I
think the ‘80s is a thing that would kind of sum up our band, but there’s so
much good music, that comes from the ‘70s and ‘90s, and also the ‘60s that
matter so much.

 

At what age did you know for sure
you wanted to make music? Any particular moments that sparked it?

JORDAN: I started off playing the pot
and pans when I was 8-years-old. I was literally in the kitchen, I had the
frying pan, the deep dish, and I would put the cooking paper over the crock pot
as drum skins. I was especially playing to my dad’s records. I guess that’s
where my rhythmic journey began. Then I started playing the drums for real
until I was about 18-years-old. I haven’t been on a kit for a while actually.
Sam and I met when we were about 13-years-old, so we’ve both grown musically in
a sense.

SAM: I
don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I said to myself, “I can’t do
anything else, so I think music is going to be it.” It has always been a
natural progression. It’s like something you start you play around with and it
just snowballs from there. And over the course of that journey, you start to
meet the other people, like our management and labels, and they solidify
everything for you.

 

You’re a duo and record all your
music in the studio, but use a band for live shows. Does your live band or
anyone else contribute to the writing or studio recordings?

JORDAN: It’s a bit different each time.
There’s about four or five of us that all bring different things to the table.
It’s quite interesting to see how someone can come in with a little idea and
watch it get blown up.

SAM: Say
for example, it could start off with me having a little loop or whatever and
we’ll build on the song from there. Or Jordan will have this rhythmic
thing that’s completely vibing and we’ll build melodies on top of that. We’ve
also got a good community of people we like to work with and it’s just whoever
is free that day. And it’s not really who is there that’s going to determine
how the song comes out, because usually they turn out pretty good in our own
opinion, but it’s also good to have the different dynamics because they bring
out the different colors and stuff and bring their own personality to it. So we
prefer it to be collaborative, if possible.

 

What would you say is the
strangest incident, personal experience or thing that ever inspired a song or
lyric you came up with?

SAM: Oh man,
there’s too many. Goodness gracious. We were in London one time and we were at our friend’s
place during the last day of a tour. And we were a little messy from all the
touring and our guitarist Luke was sitting on this couch petting a Labrador. His rap name is Clams, that’s his rap project,
and he’s this pretty hardcore kid, covered in tattoos, but a really nice,
smiley, good looking guy. Anyway, he’s petting this dog and we were trying to
come up with ideas, so we came up with this rap for his project, and it’s
called “Clams, Denim Jackets and Dogs.” And it goes, [Singing along with Jordan]
Clams [snaps fingers], denim jackets
and dogs, [snaps fingers] Clams [snaps fingers], denim jackets and dogs.
[Laughs] So, you can’t just sit down
in a studio and come up with that sort of crazy rubbish, but it’s the
spontaneity that adds to the idea, you know? So we try to put ourselves in as
many weird locations as possible.

 

I know you’re album is fairly new
and still not out in the U.S. yet, but have you started recording a follow-up
to Sugarpills yet?

SAM: It’s
definitely on the cards. We have really solid plans to make another album but
we wanted to see what was going to happen with the live band first. Last year,
we wouldn’t have thought that we’d actually be here. So when we get home after
a 3 week trip and find out we’ll be going somewhere else, we have to fill those
things into the schedule. Also, there are all those other positive things to
help build our career; you have to run with it. You can’t go, “oh no, I don’t
want to go play some shows in the States.” Of course you do. I think it will
come to a point where we’ve made some good dashes around the planet and we can
actually sit down and go, “Ok, now let’s do it, we’re ready,” as opposed to
doing it for the sake of doing it.

 

I know you’re a young band, you’re
both 23-years-old, but have you ever thought of how long you might be doing
this? Can you picture yourself like Keith Richards, still rocking out when
you’re older?

SAM: [Laughs] I don’t think if you asked Keith
Richards the same question when he was 23, I don’t think he would’ve known how
old.

JORDAN: He probably didn’t plan it.

SAM: We
don’t know. I think we definitely love the idea of production and studio
environments, just slightly more so than performing live. I think as you grow
old, you can only jump around and get sweaty so much. I think we would like to
head towards the direction of producing for other people and utilizing that as
a career as to just making music only for our band. I think we would want to be
a little bit more broad than just the music we were creating.

JORDAN: At the moment, we just want to
take each opportunity as it goes.

 

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