Monthly Archives: May 2011

POP GODDESS Shalini

Following a breakup, a brilliant
EP and a relocation to Chicago,
the distaff rocker is gradually getting her groove back.

 

BY FRED
MILLS

 

It’s
risky to presume autobiography on the part of songwriters who routinely employ
metaphor and character sketches. Still, listening to Shalini Chatterjee’s
fourth solo release, the 6-song EP Magnetic
North
(Paisley Pop), the inevitable conclusion is that someone’s gotten
their heart broken, what with such lines as “I sense a change,” “you don’t want
me around” and – most pointedly – “betrayal… desertion… heartache set in
motion.”

 

Point of
fact, someone did get their heart
broken; Magnetic North is a chronicle,
if at times more veiled than those lyrics just quoted would suggest, of the
dissolution of Shalini’s marriage to North Carolina producer-musician Mitch
Easter. Judging from her comments over the course of a couple of interviews, it
wasn’t an easy breakup; in addition to the domestic union, the two of them had
performed with each other onstage for years, and the musical union apparently got
severed with an abrupt degree of finality. She ultimately decided to cut her losses:
in a followup email recently, Shalini wrote, “I moved to Chicago a few months ago. Things got even
weirder and worse. I had to get out of the South.”

 

The indictment
laid down in the  first paragraph, above,
comes from the tune “Walking Ghost of Death,” a rip-snorting slice of power pop
that sounds like a sweaty collision between the Breeders and the Plimsouls, and
it’s emblematic of how exposed-nerve emotion can elevate a song from just
“good” to “great.” Elsewhere the Shalini band conjures distaff images of
classic Dream Syndicate (“One of One”) and psychedelic Cheap Trick (“Echo”).
Translation: kickass music – or music to kick someone’s ass with.

 

Meanwhile,
Shalini seems to be adjusting to life in the Windy City,
where she’s already begun performing solo (the photo above was taken at a
recent Red Line Tap gig) and recording new material. “Things have kind of
slowed down again,” she noted. “I am working on new songs for a new full length
I want to call Cake + Flames. Just
have one demo recorded so far, but it is a start.” Pop fans, you have been
notified.

 

***

 

BLURT: It’s been over three years since your last record The Surface
and the Shine
– and I know that there has been a lot going on in your
personal life as well…

SHALINI CHATTERJEE: A lot! Three things in
particular. I started a non-profit called Revolve Film + Music Festival. It was
a tremendous amount of work, to start a non-profit and festival. It came
together really well, and of course I had some help. Unfortunately, we received
official non-profit 501 (c) (3) status from the IRS just as the economy
toppled. So Revolve can’t be my official job. Maybe one day. 

        Second one: I was trying to deal with the
death of my father in law, my friend and advocate Ken Easter. He died on May 8,
2007. I got to be with him at hospice when he passed away. He knew he was
dying, I could tell, and knew what was going on around him, although he was
checking out. It was a particularly slow death. He was kind of hanging on but I
felt like I was really with him. During the week he was dying, we opted to
go play a show in Richmond.
We just knew he wasn’t going to die quite then. 

        Then
my marriage with Mitch fell apart as he became disinterested but would not talk
to me – only act out. The sadness and frustration, and anger, fueled the songs
for Magnetic North.

 

Magnetic North has a decidedly tougher edge than much of your previous stuff, both
musically and lyrically, with some pretty raw emotions on display – including
some very pointed lyrics.

Maybe I have taken a turn and am writing more
autobiographically. A lot of my songs before this were fiction, even written
from different points of views that would come into my head through dreams or
whatever. This EP reflects the fact that some people wrecked my life and had
fun doing it, showing off for each other and using the studio as a stage for
their machinations. “Walking Ghost” tells the story of how deeply painful
betrayal is. The lyrics are pretty plain. It refers to life being physically
painful and hardly bearable so that I didn’t feel alive exactly. 

 

It appears you whipped the record together pretty swiftly – true?

Yes! Thanks to Chris Garges, who really should
have been credited as the producer. He brought some items with him from Old
House, in Charlotte,
and got things rolling really fast. We cut basic tracks to all the songs in a
few hours. We three played live. Jane Francis hadn’t joined yet [so] Shawn
Lynch was on bass and did guitar overdubs – he did all the lead guitar except
for Tim Lee’s excellent guest guitar on “Echo.” What a guitar player Tim is.
Unbelievable. The Tim Lee 3 were on tour, and he just stopped by while Mitch was
mixing, got out his red Telecaster, and put that part down. It makes the song!

        Anyway,
no reviewer yet has pointed out there is no Mitch lead guitar on this record.
Mitch played no guitar. That is
significant. He wasn’t on the recording session and I had no idea if he’d have
anything to do with the record at that time, October of ‘09. He has said he
would record it on analog 8-track, but when I booked time, he would have his
assistant Sidney Dixon call to cancel. It happened so many times, I asked Chris
and Shawn if they wouldn’t mind going to another studio, and they were
agreeable. 

 

To backtrack a moment, following
the release of The Surface and the Shine as
well as Mitch’s Dynamico the two of you did a good bit of touring, often
as each other’s opening act. How did that arrangement work out and evolve?

That arrangement worked fine because we kept a
few things straight. Mainly, I knew he was the main draw. I almost always
opened for the M.E. combo and I would intentionally keep my set short, 6-9
songs. People seemed to enjoy these shows. There was some magic and momentum in
the fact we had completed records in the same year, 2007. Both records had been
worked on for years. I started mine in 2005 and Mitch included songs he wrote
and recorded in 1991 at the Drive-In. I was aware his record was much more
anticipated, but I still appreciated the fact that there were still some people
who were interested in my music and songwriting. One day I got an email from
Jamie Hoover [producer, and member of NC
band The Spongetones
] congratulating
me on my songwriting and harmonies on the record. I wrote most of the backing
singing parts so a compliment like
that from Jamie made me feel like less of an amateur and more of a pro. 

        When
the EP came out, there was less playing together as Mitch had kicked me out of
the band on Jan. 23, 2010 via text message, three days before a Tuesday night
show at the Garage [Winston-Salem]
on Jan. 26. I thought it was so preposterous that after 10+ years I was
dismissed for no good reason, I went to the show and saw them play as a 3-piece.
It took the drama and the heaviness out of the situation.

 

How about the Shalini band? I assume Mitch is not involved…

Mitch is not in the touring band. Last summer
after the EP, it was mainly me, Chris, Shawn and the Fabulous Jane Francis on
bass. I really liked Shawn’s lead guitar playing. That was my favorite version
of any band I ever had. They sounded so pro and were so much fun to hang out
with, all of them. We had a couple guests on the July Athens/Atlanta shows:
Chris’s intern, Daniel Grimmett on lead guitar who was great, and Scott Craggs
from Boston on
bass, also Chris’ friend. Scott mastered the EP and liked the songs so much, he
learned them. I was flattered he liked my music so much! Daniel was in his
twenties but not annoying. Quite the opposite, and a good traveler and live
player. I am going to post some DVDs of us playing that Erock Drewes took, and
you can see both Daniel’s and Scott’s natural stage presences. And Chris is
always a top-notch pro. That was a good band. 

 

 

Crystal ball question: what does the future hold for you? Touring and
recording plans?

I wish I had a crystal ball! Do
you have one? [For my next record] I am playing everything but drums,
and have yet to get a new touring band together. I plan to go out and play as
much as I can, as always.

 

You’re on the Paisley Pop label, out of Portland, now – by my way of thinking, one of
the pre-eminent indiepop labels on the planet.

As with all my releases, I asked
Jim Huie if he’d be interested and he was. I really like everything Jim has
out, and we have the same sensibilities. If I lived in Portland, we would be bar buddies swapping
Big Star bootlegs. 

 

On a different note: you’re approaching your 20th anniversary as a recording artist, and you’ve been playing since the mid ‘80s.
Has the motivation, songwriting, etc., changed for you over the years?

My college band Kissyfish in Madison, Wisconsin,
did some worthwhile recordings on 4-track from 1987-1990 which were sold on
cassette in the ‘80s, but we didn’t try to get reviews or have a real career or
anything. My commercial career would have started with Vinyl Devotion in 1992.
So you are right, it is almost 20 years.  I wanted to play rock music
since the age of three. I really didn’t have an interest in anything but music.

        Writing songs comes easily only
occasionally. It is so hard right now with all the upheaval and disorientation,
post-divorce and moving to a huge new
city in a different part of the country, negotiating
dog visitation, etc. It was always hard work for me. I write a lot of really
bad songs no one hears, to get a few good ones that have something to them. I
don’t put any “filler” out. 

 

What do you do when you’re not making music? What kind of advice would
you give someone just starting up a band?

I have a background in business writing,
project management, that sort of thing. I sometimes work as a technical
marketing writer on the side. I think it is just as hard to be a working
musician as when I started out because I have remained largely unknown. If I
had a breakthrough of any kind, it would be easier now. The climate has always
been tough. I get booked now because I have been at it for so long, and at
least have critical, if not commercial, success. People seem to like the
songs. 

        If someone were just starting a band, I
would tell them to stay focused on what they want to achieve and not listen to
everyone else. Also to not get too embroiled in people who generate drama,
because then there will be no music. Keep your mind on your songs and
practicing, and it will be easy and fun when you play out. Do not waste time on
internet lists or made up charts. That has nothing to do with music.

        Know that you are not going to make
money at this. If you want to make money, go be an investment banker. 

 

[Photo Credit: Daniel Locke]

 

 

BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #15: Preachers Son

The luck of the Irish; how to channel Led Zep,
Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen; and… the bed Michael Jackson slept in?!?

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

As previously
announced, the latest selection in our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”
series
of new or under-the-radar artists is Preachers Son, from Dublin, Ireland
– our 15th BKS, in fact, since commencing the program back in 2008.

 

Preachers Son
comprises multiinstrumentalist/vocalist Brian Hogan (also bassist with Meteor
Award-winning band Kila) and drummer/vocalist Emmaline Duffy-Fallon (late of
Engine Alley, who also notched considerable acclaim in the early/mid ‘90s). The
name refers to Hogan’s father, who was a singer and a preacher, incidentally.
They got together in 2009 and quickly started picking up press for their
hi-nrg, at times atmospheric, at other times rootsy, sound, which the musicians
themselves describe as being “like a David Byrne, Scott
Walker collaboration, or Queen’s greatest hits circa 1980 vs Morrison Hotel. A Led Zeppelin / Leonard
Cohen crossover sort of Johnny Cash, Duane Eddie, Bowie doing Talking Heads
kinda thing.”

 

It’s
a truism that one should never trust an artist to describe his or her music,
but in this case – wow. Among the key tracks dotting their spectacular Dave Bascombe-mixed
debut Love Life and Limb (released
last October) are “26 Years,” which does indeed suggest the improbably Led
Zep/Cohen blend (due in no small part to Hogan’s impossibly deep, resonant
voice); first single “X For Sandra,” which marries Bowie drama to a kind of
Exene/John Doe vocal parry-and-thrust vibe; “Should Have Been Gone,” a
minor-chord, strings-powered country twanger which taps the aforementioned
Johnny Cash influence; and “Lipstick,” a moody, swampy slice of gothic noir
featuring guest vocals from Gavin Friday. And wait’ll you hear their raucous,
street rumble of a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”
(Duffy-Fallon takes lead vocal on that one, natch).

 

The
band is reportedly a dynamo in concert, frequently joined on stage by guest
musicians including Tabby Callaghan (X-Factor), Kieran Kennedy (Black Velvet
Band, Hothouse Flowers) and Shane Fitzsimons (Lisa Hannigan, Damien Rice, Paddy
Casey). Here’s hoping we can get them over to these shores in the near future.

 

More
recently Preachers Son unveiled a new video for the track “Time of Life.” It was directed by BAFTA
award winning Neasa Hardiman, art direction by IFTA award winning Anna Rackard,
director of photography Daniel Balteanu, edited by Nathan Nugent at Screen
Scene and shot at Dublin’s
Hello Operator studio with an eclectic cast of 30 performers spanning the ages
of one to seventy eight years of age. Check it out, below, following our
interview with the band. Meanwhile,
you can get more details on the band and hear song samples at their official
website
as well as their MySpace page and Facebook page. They’re one of the
good ‘uns, trust us.

 

***

 

BLURT: First
of all, Brian, could you tell us a little about your musical background,
including your preaching/singing father who I assume was an influence, about
KILA, and how things are standing with that band and your brother Lance?

BRIAN HOGAN: I
started off with a Doors album, a Queen album, a tennis racket and a mirror. My
brother Lance had been in a band for a couple of years, so as soon as I got my
first electric guitar…. they put me on bass. I was eleven! We gigged around Dublin and soon after my
dad conscripted us into his own outfit. With my father’s band, including my
brother, cousin and sister, we gigged around Europe
at various Christian festivals, which afforded me many experiences, not all
good, but experiences never the less!

        My first professional gig was with a
country band, then, after a brief time in animation and various bands with
various successes, I joined Kíla and saw the world. Nine albums later we have
taken a well needed break for everyone to get on with their own projects – my
brother Lance is involved with several film soundtracks and some of the others
have solo projects too.

 

How about you, Emmaline?

EMMALINE
DUFFY-FALLON: I started playing drums when I was 14 years old. Up till then I
had been raised on classical music, having studied cello and piano from the age
of 7. I was becoming a teenager, I needed to hit things, so drums it was; cellos
don’t take much of a beating.  I joined
my first band Engine Alley at fifteen, auditioning in my school uniform! We got
signed to U2’s label Mother Records and went on two years later to record an
album with Steve Lillywhite which was a great experience – plus, he plays a
great game of dice. I have played in about six other bands as both a member and
as a hired gun.

 

How did the
two of you meet and start to collaborate musically?

BRIAN: I knew
about Em, as did every other musician in Ireland – she was the hot drummer
from Engine Alley and I was very interested in her. As was every other musician
in Ireland!
Later we met up in a funk band, The Pussy Assed Mutherfuckers, and engaged in
each other’s talents. When I was demoing some songs I had been writing, I
needed a hot drummer and asked her if she knew any – joke! – so at last we
hooked up, and what goes on in the rehearsal room stays in the rehearsal
room… except the music of course!

 

EMMALINE: I met
Brian and we clicked.

 

Since both
of you were already familiar to the public when you started, was it easy
getting Preachers Son off the ground and landing gigs?

BRIAN: Sometimes
it was and other times not. We’ve started from scratch, but saying that the odd
door has opened due to our past experiences, but honestly… like every new
band there is the element of paying your dues. With ten phone calls you get one
that lands a really great opportunity but that’s the business. It’s a question
of looking for ways to get yourself out there, promote the band, the music and
not to get defeated.

        The early gigs were small affairs – and
still often are – in well established low key venues, acoustic sessions where
the crowd are loyal to the venue and that particular night. We’re playing
bigger venues now, which we prefer, but sometimes just guitar and drums in a
very acoustic setting is real sweet. However, we are happiest when it’s loud.
Recently we were invited over to Canadian Music Week in Toronto
and played two really cool rock clubs with our full loud show, but on the other
hand we were brought over to Italy
for a cool indie festival where we played an acoustic set.

        It’s really important as a band to be
able to easily adapt to the musical environment.

 

Tell me a
little about the album – how it came together and the musical guests.

I’d been
writing for years, making various recordings along the way. In 2008 I just
decided to take the bull by the horns. I set up shop in the ballroom of my
great friend Marina Guinness where several Kíla albums had been recorded.
Emmaline and I had been playing together with TPAMF, and with the obvious
chemistry I asked her to join the project.

        I met Gavin Friday through a mutual
friend who was working with him, and when arranging my version of Doctor Millar’s
song “Lipstick” I thought his voice would add gravelly drama. I loved
it when he came on board. Liam Ó Maonlaoí I’ve known and played with for years
with Kíla and there is no one better on Hammond and cool vibes. Kieran Kennedy
I’ve also known for years and he had played some gigs with Preachers Son. His
Les Paul, Marshall
stack and “Son of a Preacher Man”… a terrible beauty was born!

        Song-wise, they’re all my babies, but
there’s something special and visceral about “Should Have Been Gone.”

 

What’s the
response from the public and the critics been thus far? Any famous fellow
Irishmen – Bono, for example – that have signed on as fans?

I think the
response to us has been great everywhere, though crowds do differ per country.
In Spain and Italy, for
example, they let you know if they’re into it pretty soon and if they’re with
you they’re with you. In Ireland
and England
they generally need a couple of pints before they commit emotionally… or
move! But then they’re the best. In Canada, they really like to rock
and roll so they were really responsive. Overall, press-wise it’s been very
positive, which is great.

        Everyone wants a nod from Bono. I’ve
met the chap and he’s a dude, but I don’t think he knows much about Preachers
Son, although he admired my father who interviewed him on his religious radio
show many moons before U2 were big. I know many people in the biz over here – some
are friends and some ain’t! I met Mother Theresa once but she was more into The
Carpenters…

 

How about
plans to come to the U.S.?

We’ve both
spent time in the States and love it, it’s a very big and diverse place.
Earlier this year we teamed up with a guy in LA who is actively shopping our
music for placements. It’s very exciting but we can’t give any more details about
that just now. Touring would be great and it’s on the cards. We shall see what
the gods offer us, U.S.-wise.

 

What’s in
store for the next record?

The second
album is shaping up just grand and we’ve loads of material ready with a couple
of songs being written as you read this. This album is much more of a
collaboration with Em and I. We’re also excited to be working with three-time
Grammy Award winning engineer, producer and mixer Marc Urselli, who’s based in New York City. Work
starts in Ireland
this June. Also, our most regular guest and guitar hero Tabby Callaghan is very
involved in the next album and the three of us have been working the new
material together at gigs and in the studio.

 

I’m assuming both of you are native Dubliners – has being from there been a help, a
hindrance or otherwise?

I live in the
inner city of Dublin,
it’s great and vibrant. I suppose Dublin is
where most of the music business exists in Ireland and is great for rehearsal
rooms, studios, venues etcetera, which makes it easier to pick up gigs or meet
other musicians. So definitely, an advantage growing up here, but these days
you could probably do just as well anywhere in Ireland. It’s a small place.

 

EMMALINE: I was
born in Dublin
but now live in the Wicklow countryside. Had too much of city life and felt
like I needed fresh air on tap and green grass as far as the eye could see. It
suits me and I’m not in any hurry to move to another city anytime soon.

 

Tell me
something about Ireland
or Irish bands that our readers might not know.

BRIAN: Well…
“The Irish talk in riddles, so as not to commit to having to know about a
thing, but to still have the facility to talk expertly about it.” But maybe
that’s not surprising. Bands-wise, people tend to leave famous rock stars alone
over here, whether they like it or not! Bono and his famous mates frequent his
local bar usually unmolested, some movie stars too. That’s why many have come
to settle here or take time out.

        I believe there is a regular tour set
up where you get to see the four poster bed where Michael Jackson stayed for
several months a few years back. I’ve sat on it – it’s very bouncy.

 

 

THE BLURT BOOK EXCERPT: New Prince Biography

Taken
from
Prince: Chaos,
Disorder and Revolution (published by
Backbeat Books), this exclusive excerpt joins Prince on the eve of his
Purple
Rain ascent.

 

BY JASON DRAPER

 

Chapter 5: Baby I’m a Star

 

In 1983 Prince was still, as The Time’s Jimmy Jam put it, “at the
point where he wasn’t yet a superstar, but was right at the point of doing it.”
What Jam and everybody else wondered was: “What’s your next move gonna be?” As
it turned out, Prince’s next move was to do what David Bowie did with Ziggy
Stardust
: write himself into fame.

 

Prince was (and is) an
avid film fanatic, so it’s no surprise that he had long courted the idea of
making a motion picture of his own. The man who stamped his dominance over the
recording process with the words “Produced, Arranged, Composed, and Performed
by Prince” would naturally have wanted to exert a similar authority over the
other main avenue of popular entertainment. He would also have noticed how
Sylvester Stallone had turned himself into a superstar with Rocky in
1976. Six years later, when Prince first began to consider making a movie, the Rocky franchise was into its third installment.

 

According to drummer Bobby
Z, Prince was “fascinated with the camera,” and had already started taping
rehearsals and concerts and filming short skits. He had begun to come up with
the basic concept for Purple Rain as far back as the Dirty Mind period.
During his Controversy tour, Prince had started to film his shows for something
called The Second Coming, which would intersperse concert footage with
dramatic elements. In the end the project was scrapped, but he returned to much
the same concept for the Sign “O” The Times concert movie a few years
later.

 

By the time the second leg
of the Triple Threat tour in support of 1999 began in February 1983,
Prince had taken to carrying around a purple notebook in which he wrote down
ideas for the semi-autobiographical movie that was beginning to form in his
mind: Purple Rain. He wasn’t yet a superstar, but did have some
leverage. He had told his managers at Cavallo Ruffalo & Fargnoli that if
they wanted to hold onto him beyond the imminent expiration of his contract
they had better get him a movie deal with Warner Bros. “I want to star in the
movie,” he told Bob Cavallo. “I want my name above the title and I want it to
be at a major studio.”

 

Unfortunately for Cavallo,
Warner Bros. Pictures wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of pumping heaps of
money into the pipe-dream project of a mid-level singer with only a handful of
hits to his name. If he wasn’t able to carry on making hit records, the company
reasoned, he wouldn’t be able to attract the sort of crowds a major motion
picture needs to make its money back.

 

“There was no precedent
for this,” tour manager Alan Leeds recalled.
“Rock’n’roll stars with a couple of hit albums did not make major movies. Let
alone somebody from the black community having the gumption to do it in the
mainstream.” Before it was to agree to such a deal, Warners needed proof that
Prince was the star that the movie was supposed to turn him into.

 

Thankfully, Prince still
had the full backing of the head of Warner Bros.’ music division, Mo Ostin.
Although no distribution deal had been secured, Ostin put up $4 million of the
label’s money to get the ball rolling. Having been given at least something of
a green light, Cavallo and his colleagues went out in search of a screenwriter.
They soon found 46-year-old William Blinn, who had won an Emmy award for his
work on the Roots television show and was an executive producer of Fame,
which had just completed its second series.

 

By the time Blinn was
introduced to Prince, the movie concept had formed into something that centered
on the incestuous Minneapolis music scene and
recalled Prince’s early struggle for success in bands such as Champagne. Blinn found Prince less than
willing to communicate at first, making his attempts at writing a treatment
(for what was then known as Dreams) rather difficult. “Casual
conversation is not what he’s good at,” Blinn later said. “He’s an enigma. He
wants to communicate but he doesn’t want you to get too close.” After gathering
together “12 to 14 pages” of ideas Blinn flew out to Minneapolis to watch the March 15 Triple
Threat show. Later that night he went to Prince’s house, where it became clear
to Blinn that the singer was on “an honest quest to figure himself out. He
saved all the money on shrinks and put it in the movie.”

 

He very nearly didn’t get
the chance. After the Triple Threat tour came to an end, in May, Blinn moved
out to Minneapolis to start work on the project – only for Prince to start
canceling meetings or walking out of them. Blinn came close to withdrawing from
the project altogether when the singer left a meeting at a cinema after 20 minutes.

 

“You’ve got a rock’n’roll
crazy on your hands,” Blinn told Steve Fargnoli. “I know he’s very gifted, but
frankly, life’s too short.” With that Blinn got on a plane back to Los Angeles.

 

Whether or not Prince
realized that he was to blame for Blinn’s departure or simply didn’t want to
see his dreams crumble is unclear, but the singer quickly called his
screenwriter to apologize for his behavior (which he blamed on stress). Blinn
returned to Minneapolis
to give the project another chance, at which point Prince played him some of
the songs he had already written for the movie on his car stereo. “Behind the
strange combination of shyness and creativity,” Blinn realized, “he is very,
very bright, quite gifted, and quite professional…not always what you find in
the rock world.” Dreams was finally becoming a reality.

 

While Blinn worked on the
script, Prince carried on writing new songs and rehearsing them with a new
line-up of his backing band, now known as The Revolution. Wendy Melvoin
replaced Dez Dickerson, who had left to pursue his own music career after
informing Prince that he was no longer happy with the theatrical direction in
which the music seemed to be headed.

 

Another new addition was
Alan Leeds. Having joined the Prince entourage as manager of the Triple Threat
tour, Leeds was given the job of overseeing
the various projects Prince was currently involved in, which now included much
more than just writing and recording music. Prince & The Revolution, The
Time, and Vanity 6 were all busy rehearsing in a warehouse in St
Louis Park, Minneapolis.
They also took acting classes three days per week for three months under the
tuition of drama coach Don Amendolins.

 

Although each musician’s
screen role would essentially be an extension of his or her own personality,
some seemed more cut out for acting than others. According to Amendolins,
Morris Day had “natural abilities” that the others lacked; Denise Matthews
(Vanity) was “lazy”; and Prince was “very, very good. He’d flip right out of
his persona and be whatever character he had to be.” Perhaps surprisingly, he
also seemed to take direction better than the rest. An even tougher job fell to
choreographer John Command, who had the job of condensing years of dancing
training into a few short months.

 

***

 

Everything seemed to be on
the up. Prince had first served notice of this most famous of backing bands on
the cover of 1999, on which the words “anD thE rEVOLUtioN” are printed
backward within the “i” of his own name. He debuted the now formally named
Revolution – which would later become almost as famous as Prince himself – at
Minneapolis’s First Avenue, the club that would become the focal point of what
was now called Purple Rain, on August 3, 1983, during a benefit concert
for the Minneapolis Dance Theater Company, raising $23,000 in the process.

 

The show marked the live
debut of guitarist Wendy Melvoin alongside longstanding Prince sidemen Bobby Z
Rivkin (drums), Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman (keyboards), and relative newcomer
Mark Brown (bass). Such was Prince’s faith in this new group that he recorded
the entire concert with a mobile truck, which yielded no-fuss backing tracks
for “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain.”

 

While the music was going
from strength to strength, and Prince was happy with his most talented band
yet, problems beset the film. William Blinn’s Fame television show was
picked up for a third season, so he decided to quit work on Purple Rain,
leaving Minneapolis for good after handing in his first script draft on May 23.
It took Cavallo Ruffalo & Fargnoli until September – just two months before
shooting was due to commence – before they found a new writer-director. The man
in question was Albert Magnoli, who came on the recommendation of director
James Foley, but whose previous experience as a director was limited to a 1979
short entitled Jazz.

 

Although Magnoli wasn’t
interested in rewriting Blinn’s script, he had an auspicious first meeting with
Prince’s management team. “Cavallo asked me what kind of story it would be if I
was to make a film with Prince,” he recalled. “I just started telling him a
story off the top of my head, and in that ten minutes I had outlined the
concept of Purple Rain.” Even more promising was Prince’s initial
reaction to Magnoli. “We sat down, I pitched him the concept, and the first
words out of his mouth were: ‘You’ve only known me for ten minutes, yet you
tell me basically my story. How is that possible?'”

 

Magnoli’s arrival might
have helped, but the project still refused to run smoothly. Prince’s current
side-projects, The Time and Vanity 6, were supposed to be playing his rivals in
Purple Rain, but as both groups were essentially Prince puppets, they
were becoming reluctant to co-operate. In April, Prince had fired the two main
musical talents in The Time, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, while keyboardist Monte
Moir had left of his own accord after the sacking, leaving only singer Morris
Day. Replacements for Moir, Jam, and Lewis were all found in the shape of
bassist Jerry Hubbard and keyboardists Mark Cardenez and Paul Peterson. But The
Time didn’t have much longer to run, as Morris Day made it clear that as soon
as Purple Rain was finished, so was he. Not only had Prince undermined
his power within the band, he had also begun making it more obvious to the
public that the Jamie Starr/Starr Company credits were actually pseudonyms.

 

“When people came to
realize how big a role he played in some of these projects,” Alan Leeds
recalled, “they started to lose a little respect.” By the time a third Time album
Ice Cream Castle, named for a Joni Mitchell lyric – was released on
Independence Day 1984, the group had ceased to exist, despite the fact that,
ironically, they had been allowed to play their own instruments this time
around. (Undeterred, Prince had already started to assemble a new group out of
the wreckage: The Family.)

 

Vanity’s role in the new
project was also problematic. Hurt by the relationships Prince continued to
have with other women, Matthews became addicted to drink and drugs (“I did [drugs]
on the sly,” she recalled, “but nobody tried to stop me”) and embarked on
affairs of her own. “She was a competitive pistol,” according to Alan Leeds,
and “wasn’t about to let Prince’s desire for control sentence her to the
confines of her room.” For his part, Prince – whose preference tends to be for
more demure ladyfriends – quickly became weary of her attitude. Nonetheless, he
had her written into the Purple Rain script and began to work on a
successor to Vanity 6. Then in August 1983, during pre-production of the
movie, she left the project, possibly over yet another pay dispute. Depending
on who you believe, she either quit or was sacked.

 

Still looking to cling
onto her fame, Matthews retained the name Vanity and recorded two solo albums, Wild
Animal
and Skin on Skin, while also starring in a handful of movies.
All the while her drink-and-drugs lifestyle continued to spiral out of control.
When she started dating the notorious rock lunatic Nikki Sixx a few years
later, his equally wild Mötley Crüe bandmate Tommy Lee was moved to remark:
“There’s something really crazy about Vanity.” Describing their first meeting
in his autobiography, Sixx himself recalled: “She opened the door naked with
her eyes going around in her head. Somehow I had a feeling we might just hit it
off.”

 

By the time she reached
her thirties, having smoked crack cocaine for years, Vanity found herself
temporarily deaf and blind. She suffered kidney failure (having already lost
one kidney), internal bleeding, and a stroke, and spent three days on a
life-support machine. After miraculously surviving this ordeal, she renounced
her Vanity days and became a born-again Christian. She now runs a ministry in Freemont, California.

 

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, Prince and
director Albert Magnoli needed to find a replacement for Vanity as quickly as
possible. After auditioning close to 1,000 women in Los
Angeles and New York,
Prince settled on 22-year-old Patricia Kotero. Despite turning up to audition
in her “baggiest sweats,” as she later put it, she was practically the mirror
image of Vanity, proving that in Prince’s world, no one was indispensable.
According to Magnoli, she was also “very sweet and tremendously accessible,”
which to Prince no doubt meant that she was malleable enough to fit the role.
“Do you believe in God?” Prince reportedly asked her at the audition, and then:
“Are you hungry?” Kotero answered “yes” to both. She was quickly rechristened
Apollonia and given the job of leading Susan Moonsie and Brenda Bennett in the
renamed Apollonia 6.

 

Kotero found Prince
difficult to work with. “There was a side of him that was just a tyrant,” she
later claimed, noting that he made her keep the fact that she was married
secret so that fans might believe they were romantically involved. It has also
been rumored that Prince demanded she eat and drink only candy and herbal tea –
just like him. “He wanted to make everyone clones of himself,” she said.

 

As Prince soon discovered,
however, Kotero might have had the look, but she wasn’t the greatest of
singers. With little option but to forge ahead, he soon began to take songs
away from the Apollonia 6 album, either to record himself (“17 Days,”
“Take Me With U”), repurpose for another imminent side project by Sheila E.
(“The Glamorous Life”), or hold onto until a suitable act came along (“Manic
Monday,” which he donated to The Bangles after meeting Susanna Hoffs in 1985).
All that remained for Kotero to sing was a sequence of lightweight pop tunes,
such as “Sex Shooter” and “Blue Limousine.”

 

***

 

Purple Rain began shooting on November 1, 1983, giving the cast a few weeks to
complete the outdoor scenes before the bitter cold of a Minneapolis winter crept in at the end of the
month. Not all of them were finished in time, however, so some members of the
cast and crew were flown out to Los Angeles as
indoor shooting continued in Minneapolis.
Mo Ostin’s $4 million was beginning to run out, leaving the whole team in
desperate need of major financial backing if the project was going to be seen
through to the end.

 

Bob Cavallo and Steve
Fargnoli went back to Warner Bros. Pictures, and this time were able to
convince the company of Purple Rain‘s worth – just as cast and crew were
celebrating at the movie’s wrap party in Minneapolis at Bloomington’s Holiday Inn
on December 22. Although a few scenes had to be re-shot in Los Angeles on December 27, post-production
on Purple Rain could now begin in preparation for its theatrical
release.

 

A perfectly orchestrated
promotional campaign meant that when Purple Rain opened on July 27, 1984
it brought in $7.3 million in just three days. It went on to make around $70
million in total – reportedly more than ten times the cost of production.
According to Albert Magnoli, the movie’s excellent opening weekend meant that its
distribution needed to be stepped up several gears. Having initially planned to
show the movie in 200 theaters, Warner Bros. now decided to present it on over
900 screens across the USA.
Following the word-of-mouth success of the Controversy and Triple Threat tours
and the May 1984 single “When Doves Cry,” the release of the Purple Rain soundtrack
album raised anticipation for the new movie to fever pitch. The summer of 1984
was set to be Prince’s season. Anyone who hadn’t yet seen him live clamored to
get a look at Prince in action; those who already had were eager to relive the
excitement.

 

In the two decades since
its release, the Purple Rain movie has become dated on a number of
levels. That it helped define the 80s is without question, but in so perfectly
capturing the zeitgeist it also came to exemplify so many of the decade’s worst
cliches. There’s the big hair, the new romantic clothes, the obligatory
topless-woman scene, in which the hapless Apollonia is asked if she wants to
“purify” herself in Lake
Minnetonka; there’s also
an awkward moment where Jerome Benton throws a stereotypically loudmouthed
ex-lover of Morris Day’s into a dumpster. (When challenged by MTV about the
movie’s alleged sexism, Prince admitted: “Sometimes, for the sake of humor, we
may have gone overboard.”) Even the editing techniques that once helped tie the
visual experience of Purple Rain to the fast pace of MTV aren’t quite so
dazzling as they once were.

 

As an insight into
Prince’s psyche, however, Purple Rain is indispensable. The Battle of the Bands trials surrounding rival acts The
Revolution, The Time, and Apollonia 6 are based on Prince’s early days as a
struggling musician in Minneapolis, during which
time he played in Champagne
on the same club circuit as Flyte Time. The scenes work not just as dramatic
construct but also as a tribute to Prince’s hometown and the people who helped
him in his early days.

 

Most of the characters and
musical acts in the film – The Revolution, The Time, Apollonia 6, and even
First Avenue club owner Billy Sparks – use their real names, and are
essentially extensions of themselves. Prince plays The Kid, a
semiautobiographical construction with an almost magical air. He seems to have
the ability to appear and disappear at will, whether on side streets, on his
purple motorcycle, or in scenes such as the one in which he seems to vanish
when Apollonia turns to compliment him on a performance.

 

In 1996, Prince told Oprah
Winfrey that the most autobiographical part of the film was “probably the scene
with me looking at my mother, crying.” Although Albert Magnoli later suggested
that the part where The Kid’s father warns him never to get married was based
on something Prince once told him, the singer himself was adamant, in a 1985
interview with Rolling Stone, that “[the] stuff about my dad was part of
Al Magnoli’s story. We used parts of my past and present to make the story pop
more, but it was a story.”

 

Even so, the career of the
father in Purple Rain – an abusive failed musician named Francis L. – seems
to echo that of Prince’s real father, John L. Nelson. Prince has never spoken
about exactly what went on behind closed doors in his family. But given that
his parents divorced when he was young, and that he then became estranged from
his father for lengthy periods (and even made overt references to child abuse
on record), it would seem that his was not a particularly happy childhood. That
the specter of physical abuse lingers in The Kid’s relationship with Apollonia
– and that he even envisions his own suicide after his father attempts to take
his own life – suggests that Prince was playing out something of an Oedipal
nightmare on the big screen.

 

The New York Post review
of Purple Rain noted that, in The Kid’s world, “women are there to be
worshipped, beaten, or humiliated.” Most other reviews of the movie, however,
were content simply to revel in the “affirmation of [Prince’s] versatility and
substance” (Miami Herald); his “taste for androgynous appeal” (Philadelphia
Daily News
); or the fact that the movie “reeks of unadorned sex” (Detroit
Free Press
). Perhaps the lack of armchair psychology in these reviews is a
reflection of the two-dimensional nature of the movie, in which Wendy and Lisa
are simply the girls of The Revolution; Morris Day – a “full-fledged young
comedian” in the eyes of noted critic Pauline Kael – relaxes into a pimp
persona; and Apollonia serves as the eye candy.

 

Albert Magnoli might have
tried hard to invest some feeling and motivation into the characters, but the
parts audiences tend to remember are the performances. Purple Rain might
not have aged all too well, but the musical segments remain as incredible as
they ever were, particularly those by Prince himself. He manages to wring every
drop of emotion out of a character who, elsewhere in the movie, seems moody,
inarticulate, and self-obsessed.

 

One interesting aspect of Purple
Rain
is that, although Prince’s parents were both black, The Kid’s mother
is played by Greek actress Olga Kartalos (one of only two professional actors
in the movie, the other being Clarence Williams III, who played Francis L.).
This was in part another example of Prince’s efforts to blur the truth of the
story, but it might also say something about the light-skinned singer’s
attempts to appeal to a mixed mass audience. Having tasted mainstream success
with “Little Red Corvette,” Prince was keen to follow up with something simple
and bombastic and cross right over – just like Bob Seger, whom Prince kept
crossing paths with on his 1999 tour.

 

And so Prince wrote
“Purple Rain,” a guitar-led anthem that builds from a simple chordal opening to
a huge crescendo with strings, almost five minutes of guitar soloing, and
Prince’s most impassioned vocal performance to date. The song became an instant
lighters-in-the-air classic and helped the accompanying album sell 13 million
copies in the US
alone.

 

The Purple Rain soundtrack
album still stands as Prince’s biggest-selling record. After knocking Bruce
Springsteen’s Born in the USA off the top of the Billboard 200,
it remained at Number One for 24 weeks. It served as further evidence, as Bob
Cavallo put it, of the fact that Prince was “vitally interested in music, but
also in success.” Perhaps the most obvious example of Prince’s ability to meld
creativity with commerciality was the leadoff single, the ethereal pop
masterpiece “When Doves Cry.” The opening guitar riff roots the song in rock,
but the overlapping vocals, complex drum-machine patterns, and complete lack of
bassline came from somewhere else entirely. (It was all too much for Warners.
According to vice president Marylou Badeaux, the label’s initial response was:
“What kind of fucking record is this, with a bunch of strange sounds?”)

 

The rest of Purple Rain served as the best evidence yet of the power of Prince and his arsenal of
strange sounds. The opening “Let’s Go Crazy” is perfectly pitched, beginning –
as does the movie – with church organ and the words “Dearly beloved, we are
gathered here today …” before launching into an uninhibited dance track. Its
promises of a mixture of sexual freedom and salvation carry the message that,
if you follow Prince, you’ll be free to do whatever you chose.

 

The album also contains
one of Prince’s most heartbreaking ballads, “The Beautiful Ones.” Written for
Susannah Melvoin, twin sister of guitarist Wendy -whom Prince had met in May
1983, while she was still in another relationship – it builds around gentle
synths and slow drum patterns to the coy question: “If we get married, would
that be cool?” Having concluded that you always lose the beautiful ones, Prince
lets go for a moment of pure passion, screaming relentlessly to his unrequited
love.

 

The pacing of the album is
exemplary, with each of the ballads offset by uptempo dance tracks. “The
Beautiful Ones” is followed by “Computer Blue,” a track constructed out of
driving drum loops and dolphin-like squalls of guitar. The emotional intensity
builds on “Darling Nikki,” with its stop-start synths and backward messages
that God is coming, and “When Doves Cry,” before peaking on the final three
tracks – “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain” – all of which
segue into one another, as recorded at the First Avenue benefit show.

 

While most of Purple
Rain
seemed to replace the crude sexuality of old with a more subtle sensuality,
one song in particular landed Prince in hot water. Prince had already written
songs about oral sex and incest (“Head” and “Sister,” both included on Dirty
Mind
), and even declared his intention to “fuck the taste out of your
mouth” on 1999‘s “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” But when Tipper Gore
(the wife of future Vice President Al Gore) heard “Darling Nikki” – in which
the “sex fiend” title character “masturbat[es] with a magazine” – playing in
her daughter’s bedroom she was suitably encouraged to form the Parents’ Music Resource
Center. Gore’s
organization led a crusade to clean up popular music, one of the results of
which was the introduction of Parental Advisory stickers. It also drew up a
list of the “Filthy Fifteen” – the most offensive records of the time. “Darling
Nikki” headed the list, with the Prince-penned “Sugar Walls” at Number Two,
suggesting that the PMRC had been far too outraged to dig any deeper into
Prince’s back catalog.

 

***

 

From Prince: Chaos, Disorder and Revolution, (c) 2011 by Jason Draper. Published by Backbeat Books, an imprint of
Hal Leonard. ISBN: 978-0-87930-961-9. $19.99. Reprinted with permission. www.backbeatbooks.com

 

RAM ON (SLIGHT RETURN…) Dave Depper’s Paul McCartney Remake

The in-demand Portland sideman decides it’s time for a reappraisal of Macca’s greatest
album.

 

BY TIM HINELY

 

You might not know Dave Depper by name but he has
collaborated with many of the Northwest’s finest
bands (The Decemberists, Blue Giant, Mirah,  Loch Lomond, Norfolk
& Western, etc.) so plenty of musicians in that northwest town certainly
know his name.  It seemed that Depper got to a point where while he
didn’t mind playing sideman, he really wanted to do his own material and more
importantly, a record. He didn’t have an album’s worth of original songs,
however, so he did what anyone else would do: he re-recorded Paul McCartney’s
classic 1971 Ram record.

 

Oh yes he did: The Ram
Project
, now out via the Jackpot label (www.jackpotrecords.com).

 

Per the press sheet, “using a couple of guitars, a keyboard,
a Rickenbacker bass, a borrowed drum kit, one microphone and a laptop,” Depper
pieced it together in a month recording at home (something he had never done
before). Oh yes he did. Other than some vocals by Joan
Hiller, it is all Depper. Some people will moan that it is not an original idea
and while it is a note for note copy it is still uniquely Depper. In place
of woodwinds and strings you have squealy keyboards and Depper’s Brit accent is
certainly charming. The opener “Too Many People” is rich in melody while “3
Legs” adds a bit more grit than Macca managed and though it’s missing the noisy
segue, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” swoops and shifts just like the kooky
original. “Dear Boy” sounds nearly perfect (like maybe what Elliott Smith might
have done with it). And what else would you expect on the front cover but a
cartoon drawing of Depper holding the horns of a… cat!

 

Sir Paul, you’ve been served, the ball is now in your court.

 

***

 

BLURT: I guess the
obvious question, why this record?

 DAVE DEPPER: Well, I’d already made up my mind to
cover an entire album, note for note. The goal was twofold:  a
personal challenge that would test my abilities as an instrumentalist and
vocalist, and also a crash course in recording a record at home, which was
something I’d never done before.

        For some
reason, “Ram” occurred to me pretty much from the beginning. It’s such a weird,
varied record – it’s not like being able to recreate one song would necessarily
mean the rest would automatically fall into place. For instance, “Too Many
People” features a very technically challenging guitar solo, “Dear Boy” has a
vocal arrangement that would make the Beach Boys’ heads spin, and “Monkberry
Moon Delight” involved shredding my vocal cords to pieces. I knew that it would
be something of a triathlon of a recording project.

        Also, I feel
like McCartney’s solo work gets some critical short shrift, and while you could
never call anything by an ex-Beatle truly “obscure,” part of me wanted to
celebrate this great, bonkers little record that most people I know have never heard.

 

 Was there a certain
point when this record came to you? Like light bulb going off? Had you thought
of covering other records (“Hmmm… maybe I could do Slanted and Enchanted or…?”)?

 There are reports of me wandering around on New Years’
Eve 2009/2010, drunkenly declaring that I was going to re-record “Ram,” though
I honestly have no memory of this. And no, I never considered doing another
one. “Ram” was the first record I thought of, for sure.

 

When you told
friends/music collaborators what your idea was, what was their reaction?

 Most people were overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been a
sideman in lots of bands    in Portland for several years, and people have
been bugging me to do something of my own for a while. I don’t if this is
exactly what they had in mind, but I think it all worked out okay. Funnily
enough, the only words of discouragement I got were from my friend Colin Meloy,
who simply said “don’t do it.” He was totally joking, but ever since I hit #1
on the Billboard charts, I like to rub it in his face. Oh, wait…

 

It sounds pretty note
for note; was that the idea?

 Oh yeah, for sure. The goal was to recreate the record
as exactly as possible. Any deviation from that was a personal failure.

 

Were the any
instruments you wish you had access to that you didn’t?

 Well, obviously, I wish that I knew how to play
strings and woodwinds so that I could have recreated the orchestral parts on a
few songs without synthesizers. Also, I only had one microphone input, so I had
to record each drum one at a time, by itself. That was extremely
time-consuming. I’ve since upgraded the studio!

 

After it was released
were there any imperfections that you were like, “Darn, if I had
only….”?

 You know, it was such a labor of love that I kind of
enjoy the little quirks here and there. I can hear myself growing as a
performer, and so I don’t really mind the little bits where things didn’t
quite work out. However, I do have one major regret: I was too lazy to recreate
the noisy segue between “Uncle Albert” and “Smile Away.” That will haunt me for
the rest of my days!

 

How has the overall
reaction been so far? Any reviews trash it?

 I’ve been quite surprised – the reaction has been
almost uniformly positive. [Ed. note:
Please count us here at the BLURT penthouse among those thumbs-up, Mr. Depper.
]
I mean, I’m under no illusions that what I did was great art, or anything like
that. It is, at heart, a novelty record. Once done with great love and respect,
but it’s just covers, man! So, I’ve been quite bemused to find that there’s
actually people buying and listening to it.

       Ironically, the
only truly negative review that I’ve seen was from a blog devoted to cover
songs, called CoverMeSongs. However, the review was really well done, they made
a very good point, and I totally agreed with it. It basically said, “This is
just Ram done by a guy that can’t
play or sing as well as Paul McCartney. Why would I want to listen to this
instead of the original?” That is a question I can’t answer! Here’s the review:
http://www.covermesongs.com/2011/05/review-dave-depper-the-ram-project.html

 

Isaac Slusarenko,
from Jackpot Records, has some connections – think Sir Paul will ever hear it?

Man, I hope so. I kind of a have a multi-pronged attack
going on, trying to get this record to him. If anybody out there has a
connection to the man, please let him know about this!

 

 

ONE + ONE = TWO Manchester Orchestra

Shakespeare,
spirituality, and simple math… any questions? Frontman Andy Hull supplies the
answers.

 

BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA

 

“You know what I
always say? ‘I’m a victim of my own loudness. It’s not my fault. I speak with passion.
I don’t mean for my voice to be this loud.'”

 

That’s Andy Hull,
the 24-year-old frontman of the revered Atlanta-based four-piece Manchester
Orchestra. It’s meant as a joke, as a way of neutralizing naysayers of his boisterous
Southern self. But there is more than a grain of truth in it. He does speak with passion. And while listening to him discuss Simple Math, the
outfit’s third full-length (released May 10 on Columbia and Hull’s own label,
Favorite Gentleman Recordings), you get the sense that’s the only way he knows
how.

 

It’s not surprising,
then, that like other Manchester Orchestra records, Simple Math’s strength
doesn’t lie in his distressed intones or the driving rhythms and powerful
build-ups of bassist Jonathan Corley, guitarist Robert McDowell and keyboardist
Chris Freeman. It’s in the restless intensity of Hull’s anguished and exposed
lyrics-his “artifacts of memory and the story telling of it.” It’s in the way
he crafts almost-Shakespearean missives strewn with biblical references that give
voice to the discord of being. An example of this, mentions Hull, is a line to
his wife, Amy, from the beautifully sorrowful “Leave it Alone” that
references the plagues & curses of the Bible: “If we end up alone / a
plague on my head and a curse on our home.”
“It’s basically saying ‘If we
can’t do this, then I hope the rest of our lives are miserable,'” says Hull.

 

But these spiritual
allusions aren’t indicative of a Christian rock band status (they’re not, if
you didn’t know). Sure, Hull has faith, be it ever-changing and “very, very
small” at times. And yes, he does believe in God. But to call Manchester
Orchestra “Christian rock” would be to pigeon-hole their haunting beauty, to
heedlessly confine the poignant ubiquity of their work. If anything, says Hull,
they’ve proven they’re more than that by now. “I don’t think anybody could be a
Christian because I don’t really know what a Christian means. That isn’t said
in the Bible,” says Hull.

 

What these
overwhelming citations to religion, spirituality and the Bible signal, then,
are intentional and unintentional lyrical ticks. “My spirituality influences me
the way ‘Modern Family’ influences my humor,” admits Hull (the Manny character
is his favorite, by the way). “It’s a big massive part of [my life] and I can’t
not write about that.”

 

It’s an influential
reality that also drives the core of Simple Math. Described by Hull as a
conceivable “dueling conversation between my wife, God, and myself,” Simple Math traces the fallen protagonist’s steps through a beginning, a
struggle, and a fight, missing only the “final battle prize” apex. “That [line]
conceptually is the album. That’s what the narrative is,” the frontman says.

 

He expands on this
notion by pointing to a verse in “Pale Black Eye”: “I don’t have yours or
mine but I don’t hurt you like I use to / Amy, you must be tired because when
you sleep, you sleep alone…Goddamn, I’m tired of lying / I wish I loved you
like I use to.”
Who those words are directed to in this shattering, raw
track, Hull doesn’t know, even though, during its conception, he knew who he
wanted and didn’t want it to be. It could be towards God, his wife, or his
bandmates. It could be about touring, or how his love for God, and his wife,
has faltered. “That’s a really heavy line regardless who it’s about,” says the
24-year-old. “It’s all really uncomfortable.”

 

If you had to
describe Simple Math in one word, it would be “uncomfortable.” The
breadth of emotions Hull emanates throughout the record, whether it’s through
something as deeply personal as “Pale Black Eye” or the grief-stricken
out-of-body narrative of “Apprehension”-a song about a miscarriage through the
father’s eyes-is terribly unnerving. But maybe that’s the point. Taken
together, Hull says, Simple Math’s vision is one of penance, of starting
“afresh late for our band, accept [the past] and then bury it.” It’s a
story perspective that, during the writing process, inadvertently elevated the
record from a mere collection of interlocking songs to a sui generis concept
album built on lyrical and anecdotal symmetry that improve over the record’s
sonic course. “It’s not the easiest thing for a new listener from the very
beginning to listen to because each song intentionally gets better as the album
goes on,” says Hull.

 

This vision,
however, wasn’t always so clear. Initially, finding it was difficult because,
as Hull says,  he changed “in literally
phrases” – from entitled to broken – throughout the writing process. At first,
it was him playing the victim, a position he believes he’s had the tendency to
take with previous Manchester Orchestra efforts, such as 2009’s illustrious Mean
Everything to Nothing
–a record he crafted at 21-years-old and three months
into marriage. But it then turned into the opposite, into him seeking and embracing
forgiveness for his mistakes. “[Simple Math] is far more like, ‘Oh, OK,
I did something wrong’,” says Hull. “I’ve always had to learn stuff super early
in life lyrically, and it’s kind of caused a bunch of anxiety and weird stuff
along the way…The whole record has to do with learning a lot.”

 

So what were these
mistakes, and what did he learn exactly? Thinking, with a self-centered
brashness, that he’d working in a band, touring, marriage, and personal
responsibility all figured out. He admits those are parts of his life he’s
“neglected for a few years” (“Not in some gnarly way. I didn’t
have a black weekend or get crazy,” Hull makes sure to clarify). And then
he began to question who he was and how he was affecting those around him.
“All those things that I thought were other people’s faults, maybe they
are mine,” he says.

 

“The way I live
and grow is kind of a fast-paced version than what we’re writing,” he
adds, “so during the album, it was like ‘I don’t need to say anything bad
about my wife. I don’t feel anything bad about her.’ It was more of an internal
‘Well, what are you doing right now?'”

 

It’s heavy load to
carry for a 24-year-old. Then again, Hull isn’t your average 24-year-old. After
all, this is the same man who, when 17-years-old, was on tour with Manchester
Orchestra and home schooling himself. And this is the same man who was
told in the pre- and post-marriage counseling that what he and Amy were
experiencing doesn’t happen to others until decades well into marriage (he
chocks that up to “not wanting to prolong things,” discerning the
issues now rather than later). Still, while he acknowledges his old soul
trapped in youth, there’s a humbled worry in his confidence. “I believe a
27-year-old knows a little something more than I do no matter what I’ve gone
through,” confesses Hull. “And that’s the issue. I’m kind of battling my age.
I’m in my early 20s, what the hell am I worried about all this shit for? Man, I
can’t really look at it in a certain way until I actually aged, which is a
bummer for me.”

 

“I used to get
offended by people who said they have years on me. I’m like, ‘Fuck that’,” Hull
adds, a chuckle curbing his loaded words.

 

But does physical
age really matter when you’ve lived a momentous, exhaustive life before even
greeting your mid-20s? Not necessarily, says Hull, but, almost expectedly, he
has an addendum: there is a difference between knowing and feeling,
between personal growth in a 24-year-old and personal growth in a 28-year-old.
“I realized I gotta write what I know and if there is something new that I
know, I’ll write that,” he says. “I definitely feel there aren’t a
lot of 24-year-olds who’ve been married for three years [and] running their own
business since they were 17 but it doesn’t necessarily mean I know more than anybody.”

 

These
self-realizations are just a part of his cycle of growth, where he’ll stop
writing for a chunk of time and absorb every bit of his environment, emerging
renewed and just a bit smarter about life. But as much as Simple Math is
a rebirth for Hull, it’s a rebirth for Manchester Orchestra, who is currently
on tour with Cage the Elephant and An Horse through June, respectively. There’s
a reflective heaviness in every moment of the record – a previously untapped
musical energy that’s a “far new direction” for the band. For Hull,
they’ve never sounded like this before, and while he hopes every record is a
“rebirth of some sort,” he admits he’s never produced anything he
likes or is proud of as much as Simple Math.

 

All these intricate
thoughts and emotions that blanket Simple Math, from the frustration to
the contentment, are defined most by its title track. Another
out-of-body narrative – this time about a hypothetical affair – “Simple Math” interweaves
the details and maintenance of infidelity with spiritual doubt. While Hull is
faithful to his wife, never having once cheated, he feels that if he ever did,
he’d have to reevaluate his beliefs because “it’s all tied together.”
“Everyone has those thoughts. Everybody has these gnarly weird impulse
feelings,” says Hull, “and with that, [it] parallels the question of ‘Does my
fidelity reflect my spirituality because if I do in fact fuck around, doesn’t
that mean that my whole kind of construction of my truths, doesn’t that go
away?'”

 

“‘Simple Math is truth. One plus one is two. You can’t argue with what’s right and what’s
wrong.”

 

[Photo Credit: Ryan Russell}

THAT CRAZY PINK MONKEY BEAT Kid Congo

The legendary Gun Club/Cramps/Bad Seeds guitarist –
oh, the stories he can tell! – finally lets his freak flag fly as a frontman.

 

BY MIKE SHANLEY

 

For most of his
musical career, Kid Congo Powers has been the guy to the left of the spotlight.
Of course, one can’t expect to get a lot of attention in bands fronted by the
likes of Jeffrey Lee Pierce (The Gun Club), Lux Interior (the Cramps) and Nick
Cave
(and the Bad Seeds). Still Powers made his presence known, both as a songwriter
and a raw-but-right guitarist. Since his work with Cave, he’s played in a few
groups, most notably Congo Norvell, with vocalist Sally Norvell. But he was
never a frontman, until necessity called for it.

 

“Everything kept
falling aside and the only thing left was for me to be the leader of a band,”
Powers laughs when thinking about more recent projects. “It kind of happened
that way without thinking about. Suddenly – oh, I’m the bandleader.”

 

The band in
question is Kid Congo Powers & the Pink Monkey Birds, who will release
their second album, Gorilla Rose (In
the Red) in May, following a series of five limited edition 7″ singles earlier
this year. Far from a reluctant frontman, Powers sounds like a charming lounge
lizard on the album, setting the atmosphere at a wild level, which continues in
live performances where he slays the audience with his witty banter when he’s
not slaying with his open-tuned guitar stylings. If he has any misgivings about
being a frontman, they aren’t visible.

 

Part of his
renewed inspiration came when he saw his old bandmates the Cramps in 2006. It
had been a dozen years since he had seen them, and the performance thrilled him
the same way they had nearly two decades prior.

 

“It’s completely
primitive but it sounds like a million bucks, and it sounds like it came from
Mars,” he says, recalling the show. “How can something this simple be so out of
this world? That whole experience, at that point when I was starting this new
lineup, was completely inspirational. I said, ‘Now I know my direction. I know
where I’m going.'”

 

The course was
charted but it would take a tour that same year for the Pink Monkey Birds to
solidify. Bassist Kiki Solis had only played with Powers briefly, and drummer
Ron Miller was enlisted on a verbal recommendation from a friend after the
original drummer couldn’t travel. A second guitarist was ousted on the eve of
the tour due to substance abuse issues. Powers says that an early date on the
tour at Pittsburgh’s
31st Street
Pub, the trio began to take shape. “Me and the bass player had played very little
together. Neither of us had played with the drummer, and we were playing in Pittsburgh
with hardly any practice, really, making it up. But it was actually great, and
we’ve stuck together ever since. It was a really great gig!”

 

Back in the Steel
City
last February, the band (now with guitarist/keyboardist Jesse Roberts) played
like a well-oiled machine. The stomper “LSDC” might not have more than one
chord to it, but just like the Cramps, Powers knows how to make it sound like a
million. Their set also includes the Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy” and “Sex
Beat,” as well as the Cramps’ “I’m Cramped.”

 

But it wasn’t
psychobilly or punk blues that Powers wants to play with the Pink Monkey Birds.
“With the drummer, I thought, ‘Wow, you drum just like the guy from the
Meters.’ And the bass player – ‘Wow, you play just like a Motown bass player,'”
he says. “From that came the idea: Let’s just make some really rhythm-based
stuff.”

 

Dracula Boots, which came out
in 2009, was inspired by the Meters’ funky grooves, but Powers also brings up
some musical inspiration from his past as he discusses the album. “I was very
influenced by Chicano rock in the ’60s. Thee Midniters were a big, big
influence. My sisters used to go see them when I was a kid. It wasn’t until
years later that I listened to them and everything became very clear. They were
a wild, exciting band.

 

“So the idea of that was a big influence
on the last record. What I really love about music is something that is really
exciting. What kind of music propelled me to think it’s exciting? R&B-laced
psychedelic soul… shouting but with a Latin flavor.”     

 

While Dracula Boots contained a number of
tracks that could have been spontaneous jams, Gorilla Rose has more diversity, jumping from dance music to garage
rock to a collision of spoken word and girl group harmonies vocalized by guys.
The latter style describes the brief but dense “Our Other World,” in which he
depicts two true stories from his youth. “I’m writing a memoir about being a
teenager, and I’ve been doing cut-up theory like Brion Gysin or William
Burroughs, taking things out of my book and making them into lyrics,” he says.

 

An employee of
the Peaches record store chain as a teen, he witnessed Rick James’ reaction to
Parliament’s Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin
the Tail on the Funky)
, which mocked James on the cover. “Rick James came
in – he probably went to every record store on Hollywood Boulevard
where he could make a public scene,” Powers says. “He had his bodyguards grab
all the record and break them all and told us to throw them in the garbage. And
they paid for them.”

 

The other part of
the song, which gives it its name, describes the turn of events after he and
some friends saw the Cramps in 1978. “We decided we were going to New York. We’re not
going to get left behind,” Powers says. “So we decided to take the Greyhound
Bus – five punk rockers from LA in all our crazy colored hair, drugged out,
freaked out glory. So we were like, ‘This is our other world. We’re in the world, but it’s not the world
that everyone else sees.'”

 

“Flypaper” is
also based on true events, without coming out and saying who “the witch
herself, clothed in a black velvet cape emblazoned with a rhinestone peacock”
is.  The story, delivered in Powers’
understated rasp, comes from the time the Gun Club recorded their third album The Las Vegas Story in the same studio
as Stevie Nicks and her entourage. “They’d come in every night, roll out of
their limousines,” he says. “They’d block all the bathrooms because they were
sitting in there doing coke all night.”

 

While the whole
recording sessions aren’t detailed in the song, Powers remembers one moment
fondly. “One evening, Jeffrey Lee Pierce was sitting in the television lounge
room. And he had seen a rat – it was probably just a mouse but he said it was a
rat – in the room. Stevie Nicks walked in and he just
started screaming, ‘There’s rats in here! I just saw one! Rats! Rats!’ And she
just freaked out and turned on her platform boot heels and rushed out of
there.”

 

When it comes to
Pierce’s self-destructive behavior, which eventually did him in at the age of
37, Powers doesn’t mince words, but he says he doesn’t feel the same bitterness
that many of Pierce’s associates displayed in Kurt Voss’ documentary Ghost on the Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey
Lee Pierce and the Gun Club
. “It was kind of like, wow, this is a Jeffrey
bashing session,” he says of the film. “These people are still disgruntled that
Jeffrey ruined their careers and the band could have been so big. And he was so
fucked up. DUH. Who do you think you
were dealing with in the first place? I was always very aware of who I was
dealing with.”

 

Having grown up
and started the Gun Club with Pierce, Powers remembers the talent that fueled
his friend’s creativity. “He could write songs like nobody’s business. We made
a bunch of good records. The shows were not always so successful but the
records were,” he says, laughing again.

 

Three decades
later, the same sense of wild abandon still runs through Powers’ blood,
especially when he talks about playing with the Pink Monkey Birds. Looking back
on that first Pittsburgh show in particular, he says, “It was like this is
going to give me all the room to make noise or just be Kid Congo and freak out
on guitar and do spoken word poetry… In other words, don’t restrain yourself.
Let your freak flag fly and love what you’re doing, and see what happens then.
I’ve been making records with that motto ever since.” 

STRAIGHT SHOOTERS Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet

As evidenced by a new singles
collection, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Doug Sahm & Co. vastly
expanded the notions of “garage” and “Tex-Mex.”

 

BY REV.
KEITH GORDON

 

Although
long respected by critics, hipsters, and historians for their important place
in rock ‘n’ roll history, only belatedly has the Sir Douglas Quintet begun to
receive its props for expanding the 1960s-era garage-rock vocabulary beyond
retro-Elvis crooning and faux Fab Four harmonies. While the band was originally
put together by Houston producer Huey P. Meaux as a Cajun facsimile of an
amalgam of British Invasion bands, left in the hands of the capable Doug Sahm
and friends, the Sir Douglas Quintet became something else entirely.

 

The
original Sir Douglas Quintet recorded a handful of songs with Meaux, scoring a
Top Twenty hit in 1965 with the Tex-Mex flavored classic “She’s About A
Mover.” Fleeting fame would follow, met by a string of good, but not
particularly successful singles released by various Meaux-owned labels,
culminating in The Best of the Sir
Douglas Quintet
album, a collection of the aforementioned flotsam and
jetsam. When the band was arrested for marijuana possession after returning
home to Texas from a 1966 European tour, Sahm got out of jail, broke up the
band, and took off to San Francisco, followed shortly by the Quintet’s
saxophonist Frank Morin.

 

In
California, Sahm saw the light and formed a new version of the Sir Douglas
Quintet with friend Morin and a bunch of guys who subsequently came and went. Playing
regularly around Frisco, the band signed with a Mercury Records subsidiary, and
recorded a true debut album in 1968’s Sir
Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues
. It’s at this point that our tale takes
off and the era documented by Sundazed’s The
Mono Singles ’68-’72
begins, the album collecting all 22 songs – 11 singles
total, with B-sides – released by Mercury and its subsidiary labels during the
stated period.

 

While
these songs have been compiled before – most notably as part of the 2006 box
set The Complete Mercury Recordings,
this single-disc set places them firmly in the spotlight all by their lonesome
selves. Whether you prefer the mono or the stereo versions of these songs is a
matter of personal taste, really – I find myself on the fence, liking the mono
versions of some songs better, the fleshier stereo mixes of others – the groundbreaking
nature and entertainment value of the songs is beyond argument. As a rabid Doug
Sahm and Sir Douglas Quintet fan, I’m happier than an armadillo in the sun to
have multiple versions of all of these classic tunes.

 

The Mono Singles ’68-’72 begins with an atypical
pair of 1968 singles, “Are Inlaws Really Outlaws” and “Sell A
Song.” The former is a muted, Stax Records/Southern soul jam with bleating
horns and conversational vocals, while the latter is similar to what Delaney
& Bonnie would be doing later in the 1960s, Sahm’s R&B torch vocals
supported by Wayne Talbert’s gospel-tinged piano and scraps of guitar until the
song devolves into an improvised instrumental work-out with jazzy horns. Both songs
are interesting in a curious, prurient, historical context but neither is
indicative of the sound that the Sir Douglas Quintet would later innovate.

 

By late
’68, Sahm would have a reconstituted Quintet in place with his old friend Augie
Meyers on keyboards, where he belonged, and then the band really started
cooking. “Mendocino” was the result of the new band line-up, the
song’s Tex-Mex flavor enhanced by Meyers’ buoyant keys, Sahm’s understated
vocals, and a melodic hook large enough to hang your hat on. The song cracked
the U.S. Top 30, blew up even bigger in Europe, and put the Quintet back on the
international stage. The B-side was the wistful “I Wanna Be Your Mama
Again,” a mid-tempo slice of Texas soul with Sahm’s lonesome vocals, some
inspired piano-play by Meyers, and just a touch of psychedelic swirl creeping
in around the bluesy edges of the song.

 

“Mendocino,”
the hit single, would subsequently spawn Mendocino the album, which in turn would yield a couple more minor hits. The first was
the yearning “It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down,” a great example of the
emotionalism Sahm could bring to a song with both words and vocals, the music a
mix of horn-driven R&B led by Morin’s tasteful tenor saxophone and
Texas-flavored blues-rock. The flip side was the jaunty “Lawd, I’m Just A
Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City,” another homesick ode about life
in bad old San Francisco that is as alt-country in sound and texture as
anything to follow by the Byrds and/or Gram Parsons.

 

Sahm
missed Texas something awful during his stay in the Bay area, and it made for
some great songs. The other single from Mendocino was the wonderfully wry blues-gospel-rock hybrid “At The Crossroads,”
a slow-paced ballad with chiming organ and as mournful a vocal performance as
you’ll ever hear. Sahm’s verse “you can teach me life’s lesson, you can
bring a lot of gold, but you just can’t live in Texas, if you don’t have a lot
of soul,” is pitch-perfect in its yearning, the sentiment punctuated by an
elegant score of descending piano notes. Turn the single over and you have the
equally delightful “Texas Me,” a fiddle-driven country tale of Sahm’s
move to Frisco, a mid-tempo rocker with plenty of twang and an undeniable yen
for life back in Austin.

 

Somewhere
during all of this, Mercury released the non-album single “Dynamite
Woman,” a swinging little number with gobs of Cajun fiddle, Meyers’ steady
Farfisa work, Sahm’s vocals almost lost in the mix beneath the spry
instrumentation. “Too Many Docile Minds” picks up, musically, where
“Dynamite Woman” left off, adding a bit more melody to the
arrangement but otherwise sounding very similar. Why they were left off the
album is anybody’s guess, ’cause both are fine performances.

 

Reunited
with producer Meaux, the Sir Douglas Quintet would release Together After Five in 1970. The album’s lead-off single was the
mid-tempo Tex-Mex rave-up “Nuevo Laredo,” an ode to the Texas border
town that features a recurring keyboard riff, joyous blasts of
Mexican-influenced horns, and more than a little mariachi flavor. “I Don’t
Want To Go Home” is a contemporary 1960s-styled country ballad that would
have been at home in either Texas or Tennessee. It’s right about here that Sahm
veers off course, The Mono Singles
’68-’72
offering a pair of Nashville-born singles that Mercury released
under the “Wayne Douglas” name in an attempt to crack the country
charts.

 

Although
both “Be Real” and the Music City remake of “I Don’t Want To Go
Home” are fine examples of old-school country featuring some of the city’s
best session players – folks like pedal-steel maestro Pete Drake and honky-tonk
pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins – both were a little too raw and, well,
dated to appeal to then-contemporary country radio’s sophisticated
“countrypolitan” audience that placed a premium on slick production
and slicker appearance. Sahm returned to the Sir Douglas Quintet for 1970’s 1+1+1=4 album, from which were released
a couple of singles, “What About Tomorrow” a relatively-unremarkable
country-rocker and “(I Found Love) A Nice Song” a bluesy ballad with
jangly piano-pounding and a dynamic vocal performance by Sahm, with just a
little nuanced guitar thrown in for good measure.

 

To be
honest, Sahm’s return from Nashville to San Francisco seemed to only prolong
the inevitable homeward journey, and the subsequent handful of single releases
seemed to be a catch-as-catch-can mixed bag of styles. “Catch The Man On
The Rise” is a bluesy rocker that walks a path that Joe Cocker would
sprint down couple of years hence, while the psychedelic tropes of “Pretty
Flower” seems an unnatural fit for the Lone Star State transplant. Sahm
finally gave in and went back home to Texas in time for 1971’s The Return of Doug Saldana, a welcome
return to form after the middlin’ country-rock of 1+1+1=4.  Tex-Mex ruled the
soundtrack to the autobiographical “Me And My Destiny,” a great
folk-rock song with deep roots in the multi-cultural Texas music tradition that
Sahm cherished and, indeed, helped popularize.

 

The B-side
of “Me And My Destiny” was a heartfelt cover of Freddy Fender’s 1959
regional hit “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” which, perchance, would
launch Fender’s country music stardom during the ensuing decade. Delivered
straight, as a 1950s-styled soul burner, Sahm’s version is very cool with
emotional vocals, a swinging horn line, and piano flourishes all around. With The Return of Doug Saldana achieving
mixed commercial results, the Sir Douglas Quintet would call it a day.

 

Sahm
appeared as a drug dealer in the 1972 film Cisco
Pike
starring Kris Kristofferson, offering up the pro-drug song
“Michoacan” for the movie’s soundtrack. Released by Mercury as the
last Quintet single, the jaunty Mexican-flavored number is a mid-tempo polka
featuring Meyers’ familiar Farfisa and Sahm’s playful vocals. The B-side,
“Westside Blues Again,” is a bluesy, smoldering R&B tune that
features a great, growling Sahm vocal and scorching fretwork complimented by
Rocky Morales’ 1950s-styled tenor sax riffs.

 

Doug Sahm
would launch his solo career with 1973’s acclaimed Doug Sahm and Band, recorded with what remained of the Sir Douglas
Quintet, including Meyers and future Texas Tornados bandmate Flaco Jimenez. It
was a testament to the esteem that his fellow artists held Sahm that he was
able to enlist talents like Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and David Bromberg to appear
on his solo debut. Sahm would continue to create and record essential and
creative music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both as a solo artist and with
the more commercially-successful Texas Tornados. Although Sahm would later resurrect
the Sir Douglas Quintet name on occasion, he’d never break as much ground as he
did with these 22 songs recorded over four years.   

 

20 GOING ON 14 Tyler, the Creator

Is the Odd Future rapper an amoral asshole, or
just a dumb kid? Based on his tedious, mediocre major label debut, probably a
little of both.

 

BY STEPHEN M. DEUSNER

“Fuck Bill O’Reilly.”

 

In their fairly short
career, the members of L.A.’s hip-hop collective
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kills Them All have been fairly prolific, releasing scores
of free mixtapes, remixes, one-off tracks, and a solo album by de facto
frontman Tyler,
the Creator. Even with that prodigious output, odds are you’ve probably read
more about them than you’ve actually heard them. Before even releasing an album
on a label, the group has inspired hundreds of thousands of words in
thinkpieces, essays, and reviews, many of which incorporate double-jointed
critical contortions to explain and in some cases defend the group’s violent,
misogynist, often morally disgusting lyrics. Can their musings on murder and
rape – often directed at pregnant women – be written off as adolescent
confrontation and rebellion, or are they serious about such brutality? Will Odd
Future grow up to regret their behavior (like the Beastie Boys), or will they double
down on the darker elements of their personae (like Eminem)? Are they the
saviors of hip-hop, or a cancer on the art form?

 

I’ve been living with Tyler, the Creator’s
major-label debut, Goblin (released,
incidentally, on Eminem’s label Interscope), for awhile now, and I admit I have
absolutely no idea how to answer any of those questions. On one hand, Odd
Future seem to capture a particular strain of adolescent abandon, apathy, and
angst, which paints their unsavory lyrics as the postmillennial equivalent of
kids telling grosser-than-gross jokes.

 

On the other, they’re
amoral assholes, calculating their offenses as a means of achieving popularity
and prestige; Goblin debuted at
number 5 on the Billboard album chart
this week, for whatever that’s worth. Perhaps the strongest handle we can get
on them is this: Their provocations are more palatable when the production is
inventive, when the wordplay is clever and surprising, when the ideas give
critics and listeners something to think, write, and argue about. We can
distance ourselves with analysis and commentary, which means they’re only
excusable – and then, only barely – when the music is not just good, but
impossibly exciting. Judging from Tyler,
the Creator’s major label debut, Goblin,
they’re just not there yet.

 

“I’m a fucking unicorn / fuck anybody who say I’m
not.”

 

Goblin is actually the second album from Tyler (real name: Okonma), a hyperactive
twenty-year-old with a penchant for tube socks, ski masks, and 666s. His first
was 2009’s Bastard, a self-released
collection of tracks that stoked the hype around Odd Future and led to the deal
with Interscope. By now, he’s obsessed with his own fledgling celebrity, so
rhymes about his critics and detractors now sit uneasily alongside his rape
fantasies and self-loathing tantrums, creating a tedium of unwarranted
defensiveness and meta confusions. “Hey, don’t do anything that I say in this
song,” he declares at the beginning of “Radicals.” “If anything happens, don’t
blame me, white America.” From Tyler, the Creator, it’s a ridiculous PSA: Is he
being serious, or is that a jab at anyone who would attack him for his violent
content? In the end, he can’t make it mean both, so it means neither – nothing.

 

Throughout Goblin, he carries on an imagined
conversation with his therapist (also played by Tyler through a distorting
voicebox). For him, music is a form of counseling, an exploration of ego via id
that dismisses psychiatry but leads to a particularly grim album finale. Tyler
complains about his absent father, but it’s always the same talking point, with
no sustained self-exploration. He describes himself as suicidal, but it’s more
a shock-value fixation than a real mental state. Ultimately, Tyler wants it
both ways: He craves your attention but not your judgment. He thrives on
spectacle, but shuns accountability. He throws out unbelievably repulsive
imagery, which he chalks up to his youth – as if that, or anything, could be a
reasonable excuse. He’s 20 going on 14, which is not so much empowering as it
is pathetic.

 

As a rapper, Tyler is
adequate but never revelatory, without the mind-bending flow of Eminem or the
snarling aggression of other West Coast rappers to dilute his offensiveness.
It’s not always a pleasure to hear his voice, which may be the point. He even
admits his shortcomings on the title track, telling his therapist, “I know I’m
not a great rapper, but on the whole, I’m pretty cool, right?” But it just
feels like another excuse, a deflection, a lowering of expectations so Tyler
can exceed them.

 

But he can be canny and
witty when he needs to be, even if he works almost exclusively in short,
quotable couplets. Instead of hashtag rap, it’s Twitter flow: no sustained
thoughts, just punchy outbursts in 140 characters. Occasionally, Tyler gets a
good line or two, as on “Tron Cat”: “I’m awesome, and I fuck dolphins.” The
line is meaningless in itself, but it suggests some clever wordplay: not just
the weirdness of man-dolphin sex, but the “and” that suggests that being
awesome and fucking dolphins don’t necessarily overlap. In a different life, he
could have been an amazing surrealist rapper.

 

“What you think I record it for, to have a bunch of
critics call my shit horrorcore?”

 

With its dank sound and
subtle tweaks, Goblin suggests Tyler may
be a better producer than emcee. His work with Odd Future – he has produced
almost all of the group’s output – has given him an intuitive grasp of how
sounds and beats can bolster the impact of his delivery and even sell a line
that might fall flat otherwise. On Goblin,
the tense complaints of “Yonkers” sound all the more self-annihilating for the
abrasive sample and tense beat, and on “Tron Cat,” a thick synth swell conveys
a fevered, unsteady emotional state. In the video, he hangs himself at the end
of the song, but it’s clear the music pushed him to it.

 

What Tyler lacks, however,
is range. He sets almost every song here at the same midtempo and in the same
claustrophobic tone, which is fine early in the album but grows tiresome with
each track. The album never lets up, and especially since Tyler doesn’t really
bother with choruses or hooks, it quickly becomes repetitive and tedious in the
most self-indulgent way possible. Even the infamous chorus of “Radicals” – “Kill
people! Burn shit! Fuck school!” – sounds like a chore rather than a cry of
freedom and defiance.

 

“I’m not a fucking role model / I’m a 19-year-old
emotional coaster with pipe dreams”

 

And yet, it’s hard to
dismiss Tyler and the rest of Odd Future, not for their offensiveness and
especially not for a dearth of talent. The Ramones used to sport swastikas
onstage, yet quickly grew tired and embarrassed of such hollow provocations.
These guys could do the same. Or not. Any attempt to think about Odd Future
leads inevitably to overthinking Odd Future, and perhaps that is the secret to
Tyler’s power and appeal, especially to critics who love something meaty to
write about: On Bastard and
especially on Goblin, he makes you
question every single aspect of the music, which is perhaps a way to usher
hip-hop back to its earliest days, when it was at its freshest and most
unpredictable, when its entire odd future seemed open to possibility. Tyler
puts these songs over by sheer force of will, which may be at the root of all
hip-hop, if not all music.

 

On the other hand, Goblin is so mired in hip-hop’s imagined
past-the comical boasts and nonchalant violence of gangsta rap, the
claustrophobia of horrorcore, the rapt self-absorption of the underground – that
it comes across as a heavily reactionary work: it’s more about the common past
than the odd future. But what’s the point of so many contradictions, except for
their own sake? Goblin is so
mathematically calculated that it playacts the baring of Tyler’s soul rather than actually baring his
soul.

 

So perhaps the most
intriguing and frustrating aspect of Odd Future is that after so much music and
so many words, we don’t even know who Tyler,
the Creator is. Worse, he doesn’t seem to know, either.

 

 

MAKING OUR NEW NORMAL Antietam

With the release
of
Tenth
Life, Tara Key and Tim Harris show there
are options to fading away or burning out.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

Two of your trio’s members have recently slipped past 50. The other
one’s over 40 and has a toddler. Your band’s been around 26 years, and its
modest sales seem inexorably linked to the inverse of your records’ critical
kudos. Your audiences, while never exactly robust, are getting older and
smaller. You tour less in an age when touring matters more. Each new face on
the hip-new-thing carousel is a reminder that rock & roll is supposed to be
the domain of the young.

 

Most bands with less longevity have bowed out quietly and turned to
other pursuits when the signs all point in this direction. So what do you, Antietam, do? You defy common wisdom like you’ve always
done. You release the aptly titled Tenth
Life,
one of the most ferocious and feral blasts of punk-inspired guitar
rock in your esteemed catalog. And with it you prove yet again that great music
doesn’t give a fuck how old the people making it are.

 

“One of the really cool things about this band is it’s going on beyond
when most bands have myriad reasons to break up,” says Tara Key, the Les
Paul-wielding guitar dynamo of Antietam. “It’s
gone beyond having nine lives.”

 

Adds Key’s husband and Antietam
bassist Tim Harris, “Usually, if you’ve been together 20 years you’re playing
the hits you had from the first couple of years and revisiting that. There are
some other bands around like us now, but not too many where we, at least, think
we’re doing our most vital material now.”

 

Talking to Blurt over speaker phone together from their Manhattan apartment,
Harris and Key embody the animated excitement and nerves musicians of any age
feel leading up to a new release. What most impresses Key is the fact that they
now have a “second wind” and are not, say, like the Rolling Stones, doing it
simply because “you’re in a position where you’ve been rewarded with the money
and the support to do it forever if you choose to.”

 

Oddly, given Antietam’s punk
pedigree, Key has even found inspiration in bands like the Stones, too. She
remembers fighting her way up front at a ’75 Stones gig in Louisville, getting
sprayed with Keith Richards’ sweat, and feeling like she’d been passed a
metaphorical baton. She even took something fundamental away from Richards’
recently released autobiography: If you rock long enough, you find it
impossible to separate it from your identity.

 

“I don’t doubt Keith is a lifer and doing it for really soulful
reasons,” she says. “I don’t know that he knows what else to do as well as he
does. I feel that way for myself. When I started playing punk rock, it wasn’t
like I thought, ‘oh, what an interesting career choice.’ It was like, ‘finally,
this is a way to express myself,’ and that’s never changed. You get to the
point where you do it because it’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”

 

Of course there’s a chasm between the luxuries – figuratively and
literally – Richards enjoys and Antietam’s
hardscrabble efforts to put out their music over the years. Keef’s never had to
work a day job as a librarian (Key), or hustle freelance editor work (Harris).
And slumping CD sales probably haven’t put too big a dent in the Stones’ bottom
line like they have third Antietam member Josh Madell, who when he’s not
pounding out beats runs the underground music-friendly and all-round awesome
Other Music record shop in Manhattan.

 

Struggle, in other words, is second nature to Antietam. Key and Harris have been playing together since
they formed one-half of Louisville’s Babylon Dance Band in the early
1980s.  Their current band emerged from
the ashes of that outfit in 1984, first as a double-bass quartet, during a
brief relocation to Hoboken
before they moved on to their current home in NYC . They released their
eponymous debut in 1984 and followed it with 1986’s Music From Elba (the latter began a five-record stay on seminal noise-rock label Homestead
Records), then made good on their brief Hoboken stay
by enlisting soon-to-be life-long friends Ira Kaplan and Georgia
Hubley of Yo La Tengo to produce Antietam’s third album, 1990’s
Burgoo.

 

 

Madell joined in time for 1991’s Everywhere
Outside,
even though he wasn’t officially old enough yet to get in half the
clubs Antietam played at the time. Before the
mid-point of the decade, Key and Harris would release another Antietam
record (Rope-a-Dope, arguably their
best, in ’94) and two solo Key
records (Bourbon County in ’94 and Ear & Echo in ’95), as well as the
Babylon Dance Band collection, Four On
One
in ’94.

 

During that stretch, the band’s sound morphed from its college
rock-like beginnings (think a dBs-inflected Pylon, or a Southern rock-fringed
Feelies) into a controlled maelstrom with Key at its center. Riding waves of
fuzz and feedback like a blend of Neil Young and J Mascis, Key’s guitar
whipsawed through the thick rhythmic torque of Harris and Madell, while her
vocals – Exene Cervenka’s spring-tight snarl alternating with Kirsten Hersh’s
nerve-wracked caterwaul or confiding whisper – slipped into the cuts like salt
or salve.  Despite their increasing
ferocity, Antietam songs didn’t stray far from
sympathetic melodies or near-pop hooks – think Flip Your Wig-era Bob Mould and you’re in a similar area code.

 

Yet Antietam never got close to Young’s iconic status or Husker Du’s
seminal standing, let alone the hipster popularity of like-minded ‘90s indie
rock peers (and shredders) like Dinosaur Jr. or Built to Spill. It was
puzzling, frankly, and in their review of Rope-a-Dope,
CMJ Music Monthly simply asked, “Why
the heck isn’t Antietam famous yet?”

 

It didn’t help matters that whatever momentum they had dissipated when
Antietam didn’t release another record until Victory Park in 2004. There were reasons, of
course, for the decade-long silence: Homestead
put out its last record in 1996, leaving the trio without a label; the fathers
of both Key and Harris passed away during that stretch as well. Increasingly,
the band was referred to in print in the past tense. 

 

But Antietam’s fallow era wasn’t
devoid of activity. The trio recorded most of a full-length in ’97, but
scrapped it. Key teamed up with an old friend, Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo,
for the first of their two compelling all-instrumental records, 2000’s Dark Edson Tiger, and the pair played All Tomorrow’s Parties in
2001. (The second Rizzo/Key collaboration, Double
Star
, came out this year to near-universal praise.) Work began on the songs
that became Victory Park, too. But Key concedes it was a
time of professional recalibration, too. 

 

“Through the 90s, it was a sweepstakes of who’s going to be on a major
label now that Nirvana’s on a major label,” she says, confessing that she got
caught up in the “velocity” of the times. “You think your life is going to
change, getting swept up in that and having a couple of meetings with music biz
lawyers, which I probably handled more like a hayseed than what they were
looking for.”

 

Without a label or its resources, and with the major label brass ring
out of reach, taking a step back – “press pause,” Key calls it – wound up
laying the groundwork for Antietam’s… well, sure, why not: Tenth life. Victory Park, recorded in a beach house at the
Jersey shore with Tara Jane O’Neil at the controls, streamlined the band’s
sound, toning down the fuzz for melody without eliminating Antietam’s
urgency. 2008’s Opus Mixtum was a
sprawling 26-track, three-LP/double-CD set that tapped into all facets of the
Key/Harris/Madell sound, from laid-back, spacey instrumentals and quiet ballads
to thundering rockers, high-velocity punk, and Feelies-flavored indie pop. 

 

“What we did was we taught ourselves how to record,” Key says of the
band’s time away from the new-release light. “We bought good mics, we bought
gear, we took responsibility for our own sound. 
So even though there wasn’t something aurally manifested from that time,
we were working hard to get to the point where we could not have to rely on
people giving us money or giving us opportunities and do it for ourselves.”

 

Harris adds that it was “natural for people to think that we didn’t
exist, but it actually wasn’t true at all. We were together, practicing,
recording and writing through all that time.”

 

It was, in effect, a return to the band’s DIY beginnings in the
post-punk Petri dish of Louisville where Antietam first learned to swim upstream. In that flaccid
rock era of Frampton, Skynyrd and Boston,
punk rock was openly loathed when Key, Harris and some of their peers first
embraced it.  Harris even recalls a
fellow musician getting punched in the face “on purely aesthetic
considerations.”

 

“They just wanted to beat you up if you were playing music that was
too fast,” he chuckles.

 

That vitriol, though, had a galvanizing effect for Key and Harris, who
first formed Babylon Dance Band in 1978. Nor were they alone, which was kind of
the point. Group-ostracizing offered at least camaraderie for kids who’d been
feeling ostracized all alone. For that reason, punk rock became far more than
just a new music genre for many outcasts.

 

“It was all the freaks in the community on the same raft together,”
Key says. “It was ‘oh, man, I found a place that welcomes everybody who’s not
of this typical fabric here.’ And that’s really intoxicating to find something
that special, to finally feel like, ‘yeah, I felt weird my whole life, but out
here with all the weirdoes we’re making our new normal.'”

 

It was that sense of no rules-adventure mingled with
what-the-fuck-are-doing? fear that fired the imaginations of Antietam and its peers
(among them acts like Endtables and Blinders) and influenced a Louisville scene
that would shortly birth the likes of Squirrel Bait, Slint, Rodan, Will Oldham
and a host of other like-minded outsiders. 
But those first brave baby steps belonged to Key, Harris and their comrades
in an era when musicians put a premium on virtuosity — something anathema to
kids just picking up their first guitars.

 

“When we did it, it was really like, ‘Oh my god, you’re really going
to do this instead of go to Law school? You’re really not going to go to the
graduate school you got into?'” Key says. “I don’t mean to glorify it, but it
was a pretty big leap of faith especially when you weren’t somebody who’d been
playing in blues-rock bands for five years. Now, it’s almost like you can go to
your high school counselor and say, ‘I want to have a punk rock band,’ and
they’d be, ‘well, that’s good, here’s some data on how you can network to do
this and this.'”

 

And now in the internet age, with music sales plummeting for everyone,
the playing field has leveled to the point where Harris says the “gestalt has
come back our way, and we’re just trying to do better what we’ve always been
doing.”

 

If there’s one advantage the young have, of course, it’s time. But if the
kind of punk/DIY-influenced rock Antietam
makes is typically fueled by youthful exuberance and hormonal angst, this trio
finds equally intense fire and urgency in the passing of time. (“You’re dealing
with a palette of loss,” Key reminds.) And like a crafty veteran ballplayer –
let’s go with Jason Kidd, since it’s NBA playoffs-time and he’s a badass, too –
Antietam may not be able to play the rock
& roll release-and-tour game like they once did, but experience and skill
has made them sharper than ever.

 

“The ship sailed for me on worrying about how many records we sell or
how much money we make,” says a defiant Key. “Frankly, it’s not going to change
whether I do it or not, as long as I can physically and mentally do it. My main
concern now is to take the vast opportunities that are presented with the
internet and find a way to target the people I know might like us if they heard
us. Nobody is putting a gun to any of our heads to keep doing this; it’s just
what I do, who I am. Short of having a stroke and forgetting everything I know
about myself, that’s not going to change.”

 

Harris puts a neat bow on the conversation by citing a line from the
song “Numbered Days,” the fire-breathing opener from Tenth Life and a perfect capsule of Antietam’s mindset: ‘Say
goodbye to foolish things, these are numbered days,’ which you could take as,
‘oh, I can’t rock out anymore, I have to think about these other things,'” he
says. “But you could also take it as, ‘it’s really important to rock out.’ “

 

Antietam has been proving
that for a long time, and seems intent on continuing to do so for the
foreseeable future.

 

[Photo Credit: Dawn Sutter Madell]

FIXING A HOLE (TO STOP HIS MIND FROM WANDERING…) Blake Sennett/The Elected

No longer a
reluctant rocker, the former guitarist for Rilo Kiley guitarist opts to give
The Elected another term.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

At the peak of their popularity, Rilo Kiley appeared to have it all:
indie credibility; the backing of a major record label; a cozy relationship
between the two musicians who were at the helm; a seemingly unlimited reservoir
of good songs and a wealth of internal talent and a bright future still ahead
of them. Then, for reasons unknown, it all fell apart last year. The two
principals went their own ways – Jenny Lewis to continue her career on her own
and Blake Sennett… well, he simply faded away, quitting the music business in
disgust to pursue film writing and directing. His stint with Rilo Kiley had
clearly come to an end, and even his ongoing side project, The Elected, had
been abandoned along with it.

 

“I just started thinking music sucks and music people were insane,”
Sennett says now, reflecting on those difficult times. “The situation we all
had been in had become unmanageable.”

 

Given that pessimistic perspective, it seemed highly improbable that
Sennett would ever re-enter a recording studio, much less wholly commit himself
to making music with the passion he had before. It took the dogged persuasion
of his friend and engineer Jason Cupp to coax him back into the studio. Nothing
was planned, and no songs were ready and waiting. The process was organic in
the truest sense, but eventually it all morphed and became Bury Me In My Rings, a lush, surprising effusive effort that marks
a new peak in Sennett’s storied career. Although it’s essentially a solo album
– he played the majority of the instruments and then recruited Cupp, his former
Elected band mate Mike Bloom, and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis to further flesh out
the arrangements – it’s both instantly accessible and effortlessly engaging.
Songs such as “Babyface,” “Look At Me Now” and “When I’m Gone” provide a steady
pulse and a snappy refrain, while shimmering ballads like “Born To Love You,”
“Jailbird” and “This Will Be Worth it” show off Sennett’s sensitive side and
proven pop prowess.

 

Sennett recently took time to chat with BLURT from his home in L.A. The conversation
covered several topics that clearly remain top of mind — among them, the cause
for Rilo Kiley’s implosion, his decision to revive the Elected, and how he
recharged his passion and found both inspiration and enthusiasm in the process.

 

***

 

BLURT: So Blake,
now that you have a new album in the offing, what are you doing to herald its
release?

BLAKE SENNETT: At the moment I’m working on this music video and I’m
trying to write the treatment. And I’m finding it’s hard to do.

 

Didn’t you just
complete a treatment for a screenplay? A music video should come naturally, no
?

Yeah, but this is different. I have to define what the song is about,
and how the video is a metaphor for the song’s subject. So it’s kind of like an
interview or something. It just doesn’t come naturally.

 

Don’t artists
just hate having to explain their songs?

Yeah. I think that’s tedious and difficult to do.

 

The music should
say it all, right?

Yeah, hopefully. But every song’s different. Some are more descriptive, and
some are more narrative. This particular song, “Baby Face,” is a real strong
narrative… like, “Oh, this thing happened like this” and so it doesn’t leave
much room for the imagination.

 

On the album you
play practically all the instruments – it comes across as a very rich
production.

I wouldn’t say I played all the instruments. I’d say maybe 80 percent of them. I don’t want to take credit
for everything, but yeah, I do play a bunch of stuff.

 

The first thing
we have to ask is why you opted out of Rilo Kiley? It seems like the band had
finally achieved a big break-through. You were a major label, getting all this
attention… So why walk away?

Well… it was pretty dysfunctional in general. It was a pretty negative
scene. Relationships were eroding. Ultimately, that’s probably a Jenny
question.

 

But you’re the
one that walked away. Jenny’s continued on her trajectory and you left the
business.

Yeah, I stepped away, but not just from Rilo Kiley. When I decided to
quit the biz, Rilo Kiley was already over.

 

So the obvious
follow-up question is: what prompted your return to music?

Ummm, I guess what made me decide to return was a spur of the moment,
impromptu decision to go back to it. My friend Jason called and asked if I’d be
interested in doing some recording,  and
I explained I didn’t have much stuff to record, and what I did have was pretty
old and not all that interesting to me. So he said, “Let’s give it a shot
anyway and just go and have fun.” And sure enough, after about a week of
working with him, I felt re-energized. I left because my feelings had been hurt
and I was kind of depressed about the last musical endeavor that I had been a
part of, and I guess I felt – what’s the word? – I guess I felt disillusioned.
So when I came back to it, I began to think, “Oh, music’s not that bad.” I was
blaming music for something that wasn’t music, as an art form’s, fault. It was
a by-product of relationships that had soured, or been overworked, or had been
the victim of overexposure. I think you can have overexposure in any
relationship. That’s pretty common. You get sick of each other and it isn’t fun
anymore.

        So I found when there
was no one to disagree with, it was pretty awesome and it was fun, and in fact,
it was pretty great. I thought it would be great to keep going. So we sent out
the songs to a couple of labels, and Vagrant was the first one to say, come in,
let’s do it. We didn’t actively pursue them, but that got us excited enough to
just keep going. So we did as much as we could, and I played as much as I
could, but eventually it took its toll on me. God man, this is starting to
sound like a broken record – literally! 
I thought, I can’t play drums like I’m hearing them in my head, and
there’s some instrumentation I hadn’t been considering, so let’s bring in some
people, some of my friends, who would suggest things that I wouldn’t think of.
Bringing them in became the next course of action.

 

So what
instruments did you actually end up playing? Our advance copy doesn’t give the
credits.

No, the actual album doesn’t give the credits either. I thought it
would look like self-aggrandizing. You know, like “Drums – Me! Guitar – Me!
Everything – ME!

 

On the other
hand, Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren did records all on their own. In a sense,
you were following in a grand tradition.

Paul McCartney is incredible, but he also doesn’t have the smallest
ego in the world. I didn’t necessarily want to go through all that ego tripping
again. We did that on Rilo Kiley records. When I read record sleeves, I really
like extensive liner notes and to read the lyrics… but I don’t need to see
every single person who played every single instrument. I played a lot of
guitars and keyboards and ukuleles and bass and things…

 

You’re being
modest but we’re still impressed. And what about the material? Had they been
around awhile?

Almost all of them were created for the record. Most of them were
recorded right as I was writing them, and they didn’t have any real essence
early on. We worked up a few chords and played a drumbeat and created the final
song piece by piece. But there were also a couple that had been lying around.
“Look at Me Now” had been hanging around for years – that one was just sitting
there – so yeah, there were a couple like that.

 

This sounds like
spontaneous combustion.  And the record
being so lush and full-sounding belies the fact that it practically started
from scratch.

Yeah, I think the trick with things like this is in knowing just how
far to go with it. So hopefully we stopped before things got irritatingly lush
and sounding too grandiose. I tried to pull back on the stuff when I needed to.
There were certain songs that didn’t call for too much ornamentation. I think
it was an exercise in recording and producing just as much as it was an
exercise in songwriting. It was a different kind of songwriting in a sense. I
really liked it. It was a fun and very interesting way to work, in most cases
anyway.

 

Even though you
signed with Vagrant, Sub Pop had been The Elected’s home for several years. Was
there any thought about going back to that label?

I considered it. We spent time with the label up in Seattle,
but I kind of liked the idea of being with a label that was in my city, which
is Los Angeles.
That sounded exciting. I really liked the people there and I really clicked
with them because they were great guys, but I just didn’t want to belabor the
point. Maybe Sub Pop didn’t hear the demos. Maybe they didn’t like them. And as
much as I liked Sub Pop, I never truly felt at home there anyway. So it seemed
more interesting to go with a new label. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to make a
Sub Pop kind of record anyway. Does that make sense? I didn’t set out to make
the kind of record that’s swamped in reverb. I think there’s a certain kind of
thing that Sub Pop does really well, but I don’t think this record is it, so I don’t
think that label would have been the right home for it… if you can see what I
mean.

 

This record
doesn’t necessarily sound like the first two Elected albums either
. There are certain nuances that distinguish
it from those earlier albums.

Yeah, I think the first two Elected albums, particularly the second
one, are a little more self-conscious, a little more aware of themselves. On
the first one, I was just kind of having fun. I didn’t necessarily know if it
would ever come out or if I would self-release it and sell it myself. So for
this third one, I tried to be as honest and truthful and as open as I have ever
been in any recording process. I tried not to make it sound like it was pointed
to anything, and if that meant it was going to be terrible, then it would be
terrible. One of the things I think I’ve learned in making music is that the
only thing you’re guaranteed about art in general is the process. The rest you
can’t control. But the process you can more or less control, especially if
you’re a solo artist. So I wanted to make sure the process was gratifying and
honest, and that I could walk away from the process feeling that it was
artistically fulfilling no matter what. Does that make sense?

Yes, very much so. But wasn’t The
Elected more of a band project before, as opposed to simply you carrying it
mostly by yourself?

It was always sort of a solo project, but my friend and guitarist Mike
Bloom had always contributed quite a bit and he contributed on this too. He
came by and we spent the last two weeks working on it together – him, me, Mike
Mogis and Jason. He definitely contributed to it, but he wasn’t there the whole
time like he had been in the past.

 

Was that scary?
Was it weird being back in the studio, after you had walked away?  And did you feel like you had to live up to
the high expectations you had created with the earlier Elected albums, not to
mention with the success you had attained through Rilo Kiley?

No I didn’t feel that much pressure. I didn’t want to feel pressured.
I wasn’t up against anything. I wasn’t competing with anyone. I just wanted to
be sure I made something that felt meaningful. As silly it as that sounds, I
think this record was what was true for me. It was honest, and what just
happened. I didn’t want to point it in any direction it didn’t want to go.

 

What’s the state
of your screenplay at this point. Has anyone expressed interest?

I’m working on the rewrite now. 
We’re talking with some people, so sort of… but I don’t really know. (chuckles)

 

Is your future
now firmly committed to music, or are you going to multitask and try to work on
music and film simultaneously?

I’m literally digging a hole in my backyard with my phone on a headset
as we speak. So I guess I’m multitasking now.

 

Digging a hole? Really?

Yeah, I gotta lay a post in the ground.

 

You’re
denigrating the whole image of being a rock star, Blake. One would think you’d
have someone to do that for you.

Maybe I’m not a rock star (laughs).
I guess I can multitask after all. However, I think as an artist, it’s
important to focus your efforts. I certainly want to focus on this record, but
I also have a hard time sitting still. I’ll work on my screenplay and try to
direct the movie and work on that kind of stuff, while also working on my
music. I’ll try to do it all at once.

 

Living in L.A., how do you fit into
the local music scene?

If there’s an L.A.
music scene, I’m not that aware of it or a part of it. I’ve never felt plugged
into an L.A.
music scene. The first Rilo Kiley record came out on a Seattle
label and the second one came out on an Omaha
label. Maybe there is something of a scene here. There always seems to be some
sort of evolution. I grew up in a show business scene.

 

You were a child
actor…

Uh huh, yeah. So I guess that’s always in my blood. But maybe I’ll
start trolling the Pacific Ocean with a big
goddamn net to try to fish the plastic out of the ocean. Maybe I’ll do
something meaningful like that someday. But until then, I guess I’ll just keep
goofing around with illusion for a while, and stick with storytelling.

 

That’s why we
asked about that L.A.
connection. It seems like you’ve been a part of that show business culture your
entire life, with the acting, then the music and now by writing and directing.
One would think you’d thrive in that culture.

Oh, I do thrive in that. I’ve always had a strong imagination and the
only thing I’m really good at is playing pretend. I couldn’t tell you how to
sell cars or balance a budget.

 

It’s great that
you don’t have to worry about all that now. By the way, how’s that hole coming?

I made a lot of progress! You were like my post hole digging muse!

 

If we had known
you were doing that at the beginning of our conversation, we would have shared
some words of motivation. Maybe like, “C’mon man, you can get past those rocks…
dig deeper!”

Well, you said the record was great, so that was all the motivation I
need.

 

It’s almost like
in the movie “The Godfather,” where you wanted to escape from the music scene,
but somehow it kept pulling you back in.

Yeah, I was like Pacino.

 

[Photo Credit: Lauren Dukoff]