Monthly Archives: June 2011

THE ‘T’ STANDS FOR TALK T-Model Ford

The nonagenarian
bluesman and skirt-chaser tones it down.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

They don’t make ‘em like T-Model Ford anymore, but the
ninety-something Mississippi bluesman was built to last. “I’m doin’ fine so far,”
he drawls. He must be, ‘cause how many nonagenarians can still drink Jack
Daniels every night? “I don’t drink that too much,” he corrects. Oh say it
ain’t so, T. Your tolerance is the model by which tall blues tales become
legend.

 

Whew-he’s just slowin’ down some. “I just sips it, here at 90.” If he’s careful
about what he puts in his body, it’s by choice. “It’s gotta be whatcha eat
[that determines how you feel],” he says. “I drink coffee, eat them biscuits,
cooked egg… That’s about all I care about.”

Don’t forget the ladies. T-Model is outspoken, and his top topic is sweet young
things… but he’s curbing those appetites as well. “I still like the ladies,
but I’m not doin’ nothin’ with ‘em now. I done married another woman.” He and
Stella married last April, and he wooed her by “just sit down and playin’ my
git-tar for her.”

 

That’s a power T-Model continues to wield over his audience,
especially the fairer fans, as he promotes his recent live album, “Taledragger” (Alive). “Yeah,” he enthuses. “I go to play my
blues and they go to dancin’.” They talk sweet to T-Model, too, and hug on him.
“I’ve seen some naked women in my lifetime,” he muses, “and I was man enough to
stand up like a man.”

 

At that, he talk-sings a shout-out to them. “I’m a man(g),
and I’m a rollin’ stone. And all these little women, I say hello.” He notes
that Stella is giving him the evil eye from across the room. “Sometimes my
woman thinks I’m rappin’ to ‘em, but I just talk.

APOCALYPTIC LULLABIES Alina Simone

With a new book, a new
album and a new baby, the Ukraine-born musical nomad finally settles down – for
now.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

By the end of Alina Simone’s engaging new memoir, You Must Go and Win, you come away
pretty convinced that the 36-year-old musician has slept on her last
out-of-town floor, played her final sparsely attended gig, and garnered her
last “underappreciated” critical kudos as an indie artist.

 

“I just had another interview where the interviewer said the last
chapter left her wondering if I was going to do anything ever again musically,”
Simone says a few weeks before the simultaneous release of her book and new
album, Make Your Own Danger. “The
chapter was actually a lot darker when I first wrote it, and a lot more of a
manifesto of ‘I’m done with indie rock.’ But I stepped back from that a bit and
softened that.”

 

Simone’s largely under-the-hipster-radar musical career, fleshed
out in often hilarious detail in the memoir, varies from the typical
independent musician’s mostly in the eloquence with which she writes about
navigating that world. Her background, however, is a different story and
anything but commonplace.

 

Born in the Ukraine, Simone grew up in Boston’s suburbs after her
parents moved to America, her father having little choice once the KGB
blacklisted him for “refusal to cooperate.” After graduating from art school,
Simone pursued her music career while living in some of the U.S.’s most fertile
musical scenes, including Austin, Carrboro, Hoboken, and now Brooklyn. But she
has always been drawn to her parents’ homeland, and typically spends part of every
year in Siberia, a region she admits to becoming obsessed with.

 

Musically, Simone captured her restlessness in her 2007 debut full
length, Placelessness. She followed
that with the Russian-language Everyone
Is Crying Out to Me, Beware
, her 2008 covers tribute to samizdat Russian
folk punk icon Yanka Dyagileva, who died under mysterious circumstances in
Siberia in 1991. That record received praise across the spectrum, from The New Yorker to Pitchfork.com.

 

Simone wrote another set of songs while living in North Carolina
that would eventually become Make Your
Own Danger
, recorded with most of the same musicians she’s been
collaborating with since Everyone.
The 11 songs comprise her most lush, fully realized set yet, strings and horns
creating what she calls a “soft plush blanket” to contrast with raw guitars and
narratives that burrow straight through to harsh emotional truths. The music
encompasses the flavors of the various locales she’s called home, from Russian
folk and Austin troubadour blues to Piedmont twang and Brooklyn indie rock.
What unites it all are Simone’s unflinching lyrics and a vocal style capable of
channeling the most visceral Shannon Wright or broken Chan Marshall.

 

Whether this highly deserving record finally translates into
bankable acclaim for Simone remains to be seen, but the dichotomy of making it
as critically heralded indie musician in the Internet age provided plenty of
fodder for the memoir. In fact, just as the recording for Make Your Own Danger finished, Simone received a book offer from
Farrar-Strauss and began work on the book, published under the pop culture
imprint Faber and Faber. In a savvy marketing decision, Simone decided to
release both simultaneously, requiring that she sit on the finished record for two
interminably long years.

 

But now with both book and music finally ready to see the light,
Simone talked to BLURT about the new record, her excellent memoir (reviewed
HERE) and her music career as she strolled through Brooklyn’s streets with her
three-month-old daughter.

 

***

 

BLURT: Congratulations on
the new record – what’s changed with this one?

ALINA SIMONE: I kind of expanded my palette in terms of
orchestration. Using horns, a lot of strings – there were some on Placelessness, but they were more
deliberately used in the Yanka album and maybe more prominent. I really kept a
lot of that band for this record. My trumpet player has become part of my band
that I perform with live, and I use the same string player, too. I really liked
that new direction of becoming more orchestral, becoming less like a
rock-stripped-down, almost demo-sounding thing – that’s what my early records
sounded like. My first EP [2005’s Prettier
in the Dark]
and first full-length record were much more kind of riot grrrl-y.
Maybe punk-influenced. Then I moved into a direction where the sound is more
complicated. I hope to have the same emotional impact, but I wanted to use more
instruments, and make things more lush and dense in getting there.

 

  You can
hear that, too – it’s very visceral.

 Visceral is the word I was
looking for – the impact that I wanted. I didn’t want to make it easy listening
background music by any stretch. But at the same time I was chafing against the
limitations of just me and my guitar, or me and my guitar and some drums and a
lick or two on electric guitar. Which was pretty much my first album.

 

  You
talk about these lush textures but you have these really raw emotions in the
songs. The songs seem to reflect that contract, too – “Beautiful Machine,” “Sun
Kissed Slashes,” “Apocalyptic Lullaby. Was that on purpose?

 That’s interesting about
the titles. I hadn’t noticed that myself. That’s what I wanted, though. A soft
plush blanket. It’s really important to me that my music convey emotion and
have that visceral impact. For better or worse, I’m sure some think it’s
melodramatic, or the kind of music you can put the whole album on and get into
a kind of groove and just have it on as you do various things, but my intention
is to do the exact opposite: To yank people out of that complacency and force
them to pay attention.

 

  Tell me
a bit about the title, then – there’s a great line in the title track about
“danger makes us feel close.”

 Growing up in the suburbs,
it was just something I noticed — that my friends and I grew up in this pretty
boring place, beautiful but boring with not a lot to do, so kids went out of
their way to introduce danger into their lives, literally. I grew up in the
suburbs of Massachusetts, but I’m sure it’s common everywhere, the Midwest,
California, wherever. A lot of the quote-unquote problems that kids have, a
measure of them anyway, are things they seek out themselves. Out of boredom,
some sort of self-destructive impulse – and I certainly did that myself.
Looking back it sort of startled me how many of my problems were self-made.
They really weren’t things that were imposed externally by my parents or
society or anything. They were just because I was itching for life experience, itching
to become an adult and a more complicated person as quickly as possible. So
that’s sort of the genesis for that song. I’m not sure that philosophy
translates into a theme for the whole album, it doesn’t carry through every
song, but I thought it was a striking title track and decided to name the album
out of it.

 

  Tell me
about Vladimir Zimakov’s artwork; it’s very striking and you use it in the
book, too. Did you give him the songs, or just general direction?

  I did give him some ideas,
I think the same spiel I just gave you about making your own danger and why
it’s the title of the album. At first we came up with the idea of having little
syringes and knives raining down out of the sky, but it was just too literal.
What I was getting at was even more psychological than that, and not so
literal, so we actually took that out. So it really was closely based on that
bit of reflection that I just gave you. But I think Vladmir’s a great artist
and I really trust him, and I trust his instincts enough because I work with
him so much. My way of doing things is to find people whose aesthetic judgment
I really trust, in terms of musicians and cover artists and producers, and give
them as much room as possible to do their thing. I find it only gets worse when
I give them really specific instructions. And that’s why I so rarely change who
I work with. I’ve had the same producer, Steve Revitte [Liars, Beastie Boys,
Black Dice], for every single album, since my earliest demos.

 

  You
certainly end up with happier employees when you don’t micro-manage.

 Yeah, it’s so much less
stressful for me, because I hate managing people, trying to get them to match
some internal vision that they can’t possibly access anyways. It’s better if
you don’t have expectations, get someone really talented and let them have it.

 

  I got
the feeling reading your book that you were close to being done with music and seemed
headed into writing full-time. Did the writing of the book affect the
songwriting, or vice-versa?

 The record was done for a
long time – there was probably a little overlap, but for the most part the
album was in the can, or the songs were written and orchestrated at the very
least. So the writing of the book had no influence on the songwriting – maybe
vice-versa. I just had another interview where the interviewer said the last
chapter left her wondering if I was going to do anything ever again musically.
And the fact is I knew I was going to release the album because I knew it was
done. I couldn’t go record it after I wrote that last chapter, so it’s not that
I’ve gone and recorded a ton of music since I wrote that. The last chapter was
actually a lot darker when I first wrote it, and a lot more of a manifesto of
‘I’m done with indie rock.’ But I backed off of that and kind of softened it.

        I think what I was
trying to say was that now I’m in my 30s, but in my 20s I had that same vision
of indie rock success that I think all young, hungry bands have, that sort of
Pitchfork model: You tour a lot, you try to play festivals, you try to get good
reviews in places like Pitchfork and NPR and other important taste-making sites
and magazines. You know, live as indie rock band – sleep on a lot of floors,
drive a lot, and hopefully make a career and a little bit of money out of it. I
think what happened was I reached this point where I started to consider all
the trade-offs I was making by pursuing that full-time, or as full-time as I
could, and I talk about that in the last chapter: ‘I’d like to have kids and
I’d like to spend more time with my husband,’ and I just decided I wanted to do
things in a different way.

        I love making music,
and I’ll never stop, but the question was do I continue to make music for
public consumption? And what happened was I separated those two things in my
mind. When you’re in your 20s it’s really important to be heard, to hopefully
get to the next level, make a career out of it, etcetera – and after I’d done a
lot of the stuff that I’d wanted to do, I started thinking ‘well, I want to
have a good life and I want to be happy and I want to make music — what
aspects of it make me happy, and what aspects of it make me unhappy?’ I started
decoupling those things and realized I don’t give a fuck if Pitchfork likes my
album this time, I don’t want to tour the whole country and sleep on floors and
not see my family. I just made some decisions and realized I want to do it my
own way. If that’s not a very impactful level of activity or acclaim, then that’s
fine. I just play shows when I feel like playing shows and I can put out music
when I feel like putting it out, and I can put it out in whatever way I want
to. Whether that means with the full package of publicist and radio promotion,
etcetera, that contemporary musicians usually get if you’re really trying to
recoup your money or make a career out of it, or just put it out. You have a
lot more options with the Internet.

        That part I didn’t
discuss in the book because I didn’t want to get too specific about my shows
and my record and my finances — there’s levels of minutiae there that aren’t
interesting to anyone but me — and I wanted to make sure it translated and was
somewhat relatable to a broad audience. So in talking about these things a lot
of that chapter was the realization that I’m mostly a studio musician. I’m not
in love with being a studio performer. I don’t enjoy it. I suffered from really
bad stage fright for most of my life, and though I don’t have it now I never
got to the point of just loving being on stage or craving any of that stuff.
And it got to the point, ‘I don’t really have to do it if I don’t want to.’ I
just don’t.

 

  That
would be especially true if you wind up with a writing career that pans out,
too – it’d help with the music as well, wouldn’t it?

 That would be my hope. It
would be an interesting quote unquote, ‘platform.’ If I could kind of, through
the backdoor, get new listeners through my book, which I really would hope to
do. Ultimately you’re trying to get people to fall in love with you, right?
Your person, your sensibility. And the more people you can get to fall in love
with you, the longer a career you’ll have. So I very much hope it works out
that way. But my point was that even if it doesn’t, I’m not going to go back to
doing indie rock success in that same way.

 

  Well,
it’s changed already, hasn’t it? You said you wanted to have children, and now
you do…

 It would have been really
cool to end the book with finding out I was pregnant or having the baby, that
would’ve been a really interesting final chapter. But I’d handed in the book
before that happened. It’s great and I love being a mom, it’s something I
wanted to do. I was increasingly feeling the tension and incompatibility of
that desire with the lifestyle that I’d been living. And in fact, even just to
get pregnant I had to stop traveling, and I wasn’t doing that much traveling
but enough where it was a problem. So I was basically, ‘okay, I’m not going
anywhere anymore.’ It just kind of shows how destructive it can be – ‘oh, I’ll
just tour a little, SXSW one month, something in the Northeast the next month.’
And before you know it, you’re still living that life where you can’t pursue
other goals because it’s just difficult when you’re away.

 

  So when
were the songs done and when did you start writing the book?

 The songwriting happened
when I lived in North Carolina – I’d say that was the dividing line. A lot of
the songs are about missing New York, because I’d moved to North Carolina from
Hoboken, but I was always in New York and all my friends lived in New York, so
I considered it living in New York. And you can see the influence of that in
some of the songs: I was playing autoharp, I was playing strum-stick, and I was
listening to a lot of regional music. I had a drummer from Mount Holly for a
while [Editor’s Note: Robert Childers, of
Charlotte groups 2013 Wolves and Overmountain Men
] – he didn’t play on the
record, but he did one tour with me. I love him, I even went with him to some
really country bars in like South Carolina and opened for (Robert’s father)
David Childers, and I would play a lot in those little towns around Charlotte
with Robert. Robert was off the grid, not on email, not on Facebook, and he’d
never heard of Pitchfork, and I was
like, ‘I love you.’

        He introduced me to
a lot of cool country music that I’d never heard of, and he is deep into the
music of his region. He’s quite a historian, and I started listening to stuff
that he gave me, and listening to stuff together on tour, and that song “My
Love Is A Mountain” is my version of an updated coalminer’s song. I was also
listening to a lot of Alan Lomax stuff at the time, too, which is why the
percussion is so chain gain-y in that song. I was just trying to take these
Appalachian traditional instruments and do some modern stuff with them, like on
“Glitterati” with the autoharp – a modern sounding song but using all-acoustic
instruments: Cello, autoharp, drums. That’s really Robert’s influence and my
time living in the South, which was for me a foreign environment – I grew up in
the Boston area. So that’s when the songs were written, around 2007 before I
moved back North. It’s all so blurry.

 

  When
did you decide to write the book, then? What was the whole book proposal
process like?

 This is going to a bit of a
shock to you, but there was no book proposal and I never decided to write a
book. What happened was an editor at Farrar-Strauss (Ed. Note: Eric Chinski) heard
my music on Pandora, and really liked it, and wrote to me and asked if I’d like
to write a book. I shit you not, that is what happened.

 

  So, the
Internet does work!

 Yeah, it really does. I
actually wrote to the founder of Pandora [Tim Westergreen] and I explained what
happened and he wrote back and said ‘I love getting letters like that, thank you.’
Because it really was thanks to Pandora. The editor had his on-line radio set
to a P.J. Harvey channel, and my music came up and then he went to the
now-defunct Virgin Records in Union Square and bought my albums, and listened
to them a bunch and then just wrote to me.

        I really did think
he was a crazy person at first – ‘do you realize I’ve never published anything
or written anything other than songs?’ Inevitably that question comes up in
interviews – ‘why did he do it?’ – and he should tell you because I really
don’t know what possessed him. All I know is what he told me, but he could
explain better what his thinking was in giving a singer who’d never written
anything a book deal. But I didn’t even have to write a book proposal –
literally, I just gave him 10 pages of writing.

        He did coach me a
lot, though. At first he wanted me to write a novel, a fictionalized account of
what the book turned out to be, but I think that’s because publishers were
really leery of memoirs at the time because of James Frey and Margaret Seltzer
and these scandals, all these folks that write stuff that turns out not to be
true. I think they were shying away from that at the time and they really
wanted me to fictionalize things but I just wasn’t good at that. Especially from
my life – make up something new from scratch, maybe, but take your life and
throw in some things that didn’t happen to you? I was really very bad at it. So
he just told me eventually to just write what happened. And as soon as I did
that – great, he took 10 pages, showed it to his boss, and then I had a book
deal.

 

  How
long did the whole process take?

 A year and a half.

 

  It
sounds like you’ve ended up right where you wanted to be to some degree…

 Well, let’s not sugar coat
things too much – you could also add that I make no money, outside of the
amount I made for the advance for the book, and it’s not like I was in a great
bargaining position there either. And making music is still a ‘losing money’
proposition, it’s hard to break even let alone make money in this climate. I’m
deep in the red on this album – and the red is bad, right? It hasn’t come out
yet, but I spent more on it than I had on any other record, I paid for it
myself – it’s still not a lot, but I recorded it for $6,000. But I’m putting it
out myself for the first time; I was always on labels before. It’s quite a jump
in terms of investment for me. So it’s a big question mark – will it recoup?
How will it do? I have no idea. It might just all be a wash – who knows? But I
definitely don’t feel like writing an addendum that says ‘and the rest of my
life is perfect…everything is great!’

 

  When
did you decide to piggyback both together?

 I decided that. It was
frustrating to wait on an album that’s been done two years. I’ve never done
that before. The problem was if I release it now, two years ago, and tour and
do everything, I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to record an album that
good again before the book came out. It was either wait a long time and just sit
on it or just release the book and the album separately. I decided to do the
uncomfortable thing and couple them together.

 

  You
read so much today about bands and musicians making their bank, such that it
is, by sales of merchandise and special packaging rather than CDs – this seems
like an ideal means…

 That’s why I did vinyl;
I’ve never put out my own record before, but the decision to do vinyl was
exactly that, to invest in the packaging and make it a keepsake and an
art-piece. It’s really striking in vinyl form. There were some marketing
decisions made in coupling the book and music together, I thought it would make
me stand out. Not a lot of people release a book and an album the same day. And
in a crowded field when you’re releasing an album yourself, you need all the
arrows you can get in your quiver.

 

 

Go here to read John
Schacht’s review of Simone’s book
You
Must Go and Win.

 

[Photo Credit: Matthew Spencer]

NOT FREAKY, NOT FOLKY Vetiver

Fronted by Andy Cabic, the San Francisco band makes pop music, period.
Any questions?

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“When a critic calls Vetiver a leading freak folk
band, that, to me, immediately marks them as not knowing what they’re talking
about,” says Andy Cabic, the band’s singer and songwriter. Yes, it’s true that
Cabic once lived in the same house as Devendra Banhart, that the two sometimes
wrote songs together and that Banhart sang on the first Vetiver album. It is
also a fact that Cabics’ band was included on the genre-defining compilation Golden Apples of the Sun and played on a
2004 tour with Banhart and Joanna Newsom that was memorialized in Kevin
Barker’s documentary The Family Jams.

 

And yet, there is nothing remotely folky about
Cabic’s fifth and best album, The Errant
Charm
, a landmark of understated, electronically-enhanced pop
Adds Cabic, “I’ve never really thought of us as a folk band and I never
really felt any affinity for the tag freak folk, either. “

 

Cabic founded Vetiver shortly after moving to San
Francisco in the early ‘00s. The band’s self-titled debut, released in 2004 on
DiCristina, certainly had some folk elements – prominent banjo, cello and viola
parts, for one thing and the presence of both Banhart and Newsom for another. Yet
by the second album, To Find Me Gone,
more standard rock instrumentation began to make clear that Vetiver was, in no
way an Americana outfit. Two covers albums linked Cabic’s art to a raft of
1960s and 1970s singers, some well-known, others obscure, and Tight Knit in 2009 further reinforced
the lucid pop purity that Vetiver had long tended towards. This year’s The Errant Charm (Sub Pop) continues the
trend towards extremely well-made and polished, yet laid-back pop songs. The
primary influence this time, says Cabic, was the Go-Betweens.

 

“I’m a big fan of 16 Lovers Lane,” he confesses. That
album made a big impression on me as I was doing this record. It had a bright,
trebly clarity that I wanted… with more chords on the guitar and more
keyboards.

 

“I also loved the writing, the melodies and how
succinct they were on that record in particular, but through all their
material.”

 

To realize this sound, Cabic
worked with Thom Monahan, who has produced all five of his albums as Vetiver.
The two met when a friend passed Monahan an early Vetiver demo. “I had just
moved to NYC and I drove around listening to these four songs over and over,”
said Monahan. “I called Andy up kind of out of the blue just to tell him how
much I loved the music and we found out as you do from time to time that we had
more connections than we realized. Both in terms of friends and appreciation of
certain records. Andy is still the only person I know that is into some of the
most loved but less travelled valleys of my record collection.”

 

Together Cabic and Monahan have
honed a sound that they jokingly call “Vetiverb,” or as Monahan explains
it “a warmth and low mid frequency thing that we both really search for.” But
for this album the process was slightly different. Both Tight Knit and To Find Me
Gone
were recorded more or less live with a full band right from the
beginning. But for the Errant Charm,
they started more modestly, just the two of them, and Cabic wasn’t even sure he
had enough material for an album

 

“I had two or three, maybe even four songs. I
didn’t have the feeling that I had a record,” Cabic admits. Still, once in the
studio, the two of them began playing around with the tunes that Cabic had,
scrapping some and creating others from scratch. After a week or two, an album
started taking shape.

 

Because Cabic and Monahan began without a band, the
earliest tracks were recorded with just a drum machine. “That gave us something
to keep time with as we were building the songs,” Cabic says, “but it also
allowed us to shape the drum sound any way we wanted. A lot of times when we had
the drum machine, we would play it through a speaker and re-mic it to allow it
to occupy a certain space.”

 

Cabic found himself liking the drum machine sound
and wanting to keep it even after Vetiver drummer Otto Hauser became available.
Many of the songs on The Errant Charm have both programmed drums and live ones.

 

“Hard to Break,” for instance, layers a full-band
sound over the skeleton that Cabic and Monahan had created. “That’s the oldest
song on the record. That’s the one that we have been playing live for the
longest time,” says Cabic. “But before we went to record in New Jersey, we set
up a P.A. and played all the demos through the PA and played along to them. So
everyone could get the tempos set and we could make sure the parts were
working.”

 

The demo, though, was quite different from the live
version, adding a slight bossa nova lilt to what had been a more
straightforward drum-kit rhythm. “So, we changed the beat a little bit, about
two days before we tracked the song. I was really happy with how it turned out.
It’s an example of how the live drums accommodate the drum machine.”

 

Perhaps because of its studio
origins, The Errant Charm also makes
extensive use of keyboards, including a Roland Juno, a Hammond organ and a Moog
and a stack of old synthesizers.

 

“Andy and I have been doing
remixes under the name Neighbors off and on for a few years now and there’s a
Juno 106 at my place that always seems to come alive when Andy plays it,”
Monahan says. “I do a lot of programming at my place so the synths are full of
sounds when you sit down and Andy just takes them further and coaxes sounds out
of that Juno that kind of take me by surprise. He’s a fiendishly great synth
player.”

 

He adds, “My room is set up with
different stations so I have a spot with a Mini Moog and a few other things and
Andy plays the Juno, and Arp Quadra and sometimes my Rhodes… it sort of always
seems to start from there.”

 

It’s more the amount of synths than their presence
that distinguishes The Errant Charm,
Monahan explains. “There have been synths on every record since the first in
one way or another and we both dig a lot of electronic music so it’s an easy
transition between worlds for both of us. And we managed to use EVERY hardware
synth in the studio on the new record. Maybe the biggest change is the amount
of synth bass that shows up, and the drone elements are much more prominent.”

 

For instance, you can hear three or four different
kinds of keyboards in “Can’t You Tell,” one of the album’s breeziest tracks,
which borrows a drum beat from Canadian alterna-rockers Len’s 1970s-inspired
chestnut “Steal My Sunshine.”  Sara
Versprille plays many of these keyboards and sings. The remainder of the band
includes Bob Parins on pedal steel and bass, Daniel Hindman and Otto Hauser on
drums.   

 

The Errant Charm is an exceptionally pretty album,
quite possibly the best in Cabic’s five album string of winners. The songwriter
himself seems very pleased with how the tunes came out. “Having not begun it
like I usually did, feeling like I had a record, I didn’t know that it would
all fit in together,” he says. “But now that it’s done, I like that there’s a
little bit of everything in it. There are some of the poppiest songs that I’ve
done so far. I like that there’s more jangle and there’s a sunnier feel. That’s
sort of where I’m at right now. That’s what I like to listen to, so I’m just
happy that I was able to have that find its way in my songs.”

 

Yet you can divine a little bit of frustration in
the lyrics to “Faint Praise,” a quasi title track near the end (it contains the
phrase “the errant charm”) that picks at the scabs of cult songwriter-hood. “Don’t
let their smiles bring you down/faint praise is all they have found/for you
now…” he murmurs in his clear, quiet voice, and you can almost hear him bracing
for a lukewarm reaction.

 

“The world likes to be lifted up. They like a
rousing chorus and an anthem,” he says, when the conversation turns to a
certain music board that has never had much good to say about Vetiver. “I like
to write songs that I think I’m going to want to play and not get tired of them
for a long time. Whatever it takes to get noticed in those circles…I don’t
worry about that. I just try to write songs that have some depth and subtlety.”

 

[Photo Credit: Alissa Anderson]

 

 

 

 

IN LITE SYRUP Heidecker & Wood

The musical comedy team makes sweet honey from AM
radio gold.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Once music reaches a
popularity apex, it wears out its welcome and becomes lame. In time, it sneaks
back into our good graces in stages: ironically cool, retro cool. Finally, it
reaches a level just north of cool, but perhaps south of its original esteem, where
irony and nostalgia factor in, but not guilt. See: 1980s pop and hair metal.
And now: AM-radio gold, aka 1970s soft rock, recently championed by the likes
of David Vandervelde, Rilo Kiley, and now Heidecker & Wood.

 

Heidecker is the Tim in Tim and Eric, Awesome Show Great Job!,
and Davin Wood is the show’s composer. Fans of the Adult Swim comedy see where
this is going. “[1970s soft rock] is kinda fun, trying to figure out how to make
all those sounds and that mood, that vibe,” says Heidecker. “But you can laugh
at it and love it at the same time.”

 

So on Starting From Nowhere (Little Record Company), the duo-joined by
Rilo Kiley’s Pierre de Reeder and Jason Boesel-weaves a smooth soft rock
tapestry, using natural and romantic wonders, fretless bass, major seventh
chords. And, of course, they gently apply the absurdist humor that fuels Awesome Show. Heidecker agreed to do
some breezy soft rock free-associations on the genre’s musical and metaphorical
charms as well as its noteworthy hits.

 

***

 

What constitutes a good soft rock tune? “Obviously, there’s a good side to being technically
proficient… A great vocal that’s possibly a high, angelic, male voice, and a
good rhythm track that just feels like sitting in a comfortable chair.”

 

Moustaches: “Pedophiles.”

 

Christopher Cross, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can
Do)”:
“Oh, yeah. Just saccharine-y.
Great tune, great song. It’s so caught in its own arrangement. It’s so dated by
the way it sounds.”

 

Boulevards: “Cocaine.”

 

Steely Dan, “Hey Nineteen”: “Steely Dan’s great ‘cause they have this funky, ‘70s
Fender Rhodes kinda sound. It seems like it could really be pussy music, but
lyrically it’s always really kinda snarky and smart.”

 

Muskrats: “Uh…
vagina.”

 

 

 

BATTLES’ CRY Battles

The New York genre-busters
are back as a trio, and in full attack mode.

 

BY KENNY HERZOG

 

There are plenty of rock bands out there following the beaten path,
but not too many still breaking the mold. Or at least without deviating wildly
from the genre’s native instrumental triad of guitar, bass and drums. Which is
precisely why music fans justifiably lost their minds when New York supergroup Battles unearthed 2007’s
monster debut LP, Mirrored. Without
pre-meditating the results, foursome John Stanier (drums), Ian Williams
(guitar), Tyondai Braxton (guitar/vocals) and Dave Konopka (bassist) maxed out
their palate of sounds and arrangements available, creating an album that was
singular and comprehensive, eclectic and astute. Basically, it was the past
half-decade’s great American rock ‘n’ roll freakout record.

 

Fast forward to 2009, and as the group is wrapping up their sophomore
bow, Braxton departs to pursue his own ventures, leaving the remaining members
embattled to say the least, and potentially screwed at worst. But Stanier,
Williams and Konopka stayed the course and relied on what brought them such
acclaim to begin with, gathering and re-configuring the bits and pieces that
remained in Braxton’s wake and assembling a bigger, better machine. And on the
resulting Gloss Drop (Warp Records), the
sum of their parts has emerged triumphantly like Voltron or Robocop, but with artillery
of algorithmic guitars, jazz-fluent percussion that’s mean like a gorilla and
flourishes of steel drum and other ebullience that makes the album a study in
both contrast and chaos. 

 


Ice Cream (Featuring Matias Aguayo) by BATTLES

 

 

They’ve also got the significant contributions of friends such as
Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye and Gary Numan fleshing out nearly half of Gloss Drop with Battles’ most lucid
vocals yet. And just before they hit the world’s roads for their standard
massive tour, Stanier took a few minutes to give some insight into life after a
key bandmate leaves, and being just about anything but a jam band.

 

***

 

BLURT: With Tyondai
no longer in the band, does that make you the de facto frontman?

JOHN STANIER: I think we’ve always been kind of anti-frontman. So
that’s just a big, flat no.

 

Well, there has
been a fine tradition of drumming band leaders.

Genesis….

 

The Romantics, the
Eagles….

The Romantics, yeah, of course. But couldn’t you say that Joe Walsh
was the frontman for the Eagles as well? I think the Eagles only because [Don
Henley] sang “Hotel California.”

 

Whatever the new
division of labor, it is a very different band in some ways, but seems intact
in many other areas. Was it just a matter of adjusting and responding to the
challenge?

I wish that it was that simple. It kind of sucked. I feel like we were
so late already, and we kind of instantly turned into a three-piece, came back
to New York
for a week and didn’t talk to each other for a couple days. And then we got
together, drank a lot of beer and just turned around and went back up there and
continued on. The thing about this whole record and making this record was
time. There was no time whatsoever. There wasn’t any time to even sit down and
have this important meeting with the three of us. There wasn’t any time to
think about, “Well, do we want to make an instrumental record, do we want to
find a fourth person now, do we want one person to sing the whole record?” We
were like, “Well, there were these four songs that need vocals, so let’s call
some people and worry about how we’re gonna do all this live and all that
later.” We were forced to totally act on instinct and totally reinvent
ourselves overnight, and there was no time to sit around and dwell and things
or wonder if we’re gonna be able to pull this off or if people are gonna like
this…. The last drop of my blood [went] into finishing this record.

 

And as it turns
out, the addition of more realized vocals helps give Gloss Drop more of a loose, playful feel than Mirrored.

The playful, lightheartedness of the record is definitely by accident.
It’s not like we sat down and [said], “Wow, everyone’s bummed out and depressed
so let’s make this really fun-sounding record.” It sort of just came out that
way subliminally. I think if anything we took an extremely negative situation
and turned it into a positive one, and maybe that came out of the music. But
there’s a lot of anguish in some of those songs too.

 

So would you say
that, all told, it’s an especially moody record?

Definitely. We were in an extremely moody, dark place making it. And
there was no time for us to sit around and listen to records together and get
new influences and stuff like that. You’re forced to dig really deep down inside
and use influences from maybe 20 years ago that you never used. Being in that
position reminds you of why you’re doing this in the first place. I wish that
it wouldn’t be in these particular circumstances, but it definitely was like,
“OK, yeah, this is why I’m doing this.” Having it happen naturally without
overthinking stuff is a really interesting, cool thing.

 

It also feels
like a much looser album structurally, whereas Mirrored was a very precise, carefully sequenced and bookended
project.

I know it’s a horrible, vague, lazy answer, but a lot of it just came
out the way it did, and I feel like we were lucky with that. But I will say
that it was a total unified creation. We were all definitely on the same page.
The two guys from [recording studio] Machines with Magnets, Keith Souza and
Seth Manchester, played a super big role, much more than with Mirrored. [On] Mirrored, we were
really well rehearsed, we had the majority of the record written before, we
rehearsed it in the rehearsal room and we road-tested it. We went up there and
everything was kind of analog, we set up in the big live room, they kind of
just pressed record, the typical way of making a record, whereas this was the
total opposite of that. There were no songs for us to rehearse beforehand, and
we had to scrap everything and start from scratch, that’s when they really came
into play. There was a lot of playing stuff in different rooms and recording
the drums a different way. The mission was on. We were doing 14-hour days, we
were sleeping in there. We slipped into this trance-like state. And that’s what
I mean-it was reminding me this is definitely why I do this.

 

So by necessity,
was the recording of Gloss Drop informed
in equal parts by the throw-it-against-the-wall attitude of the first EPs and
the professionalism of Mirrored?

I don’t know if it goes back to the EPs. I definitely think that the
evolution of this band is pretty apparent. If I listen to the EPs, I think
they’re great, but wow, we were such a totally different band back then. We
didn’t know each other, we didn’t know what we were doing. The whole history of
this band is this very slow-moving, organic entity. We didn’t start the way
most typical bands start. It wasn’t necessarily an art project, but it was kind
of simmering for years and the EPs came out of that. And then there was Mirrored, and [Gloss Drop] is taking it up a notch from there.

 

One way that fans
have described your sound as it’s evolved is that you’re essentially rock’s
greatest jam band for people who don’t like jam bands.

I don’t know. That’s fine, but I thought jam bands kind of jam. We
definitely do not jam.

 

I think it’s more
a reference to the dense experimentalism of the band, and how it might be
easier to latch onto than your usual exploratory artist.

That’s cool. A lot of my friends, they’re totally honest, they’re
like, “I like elements of Battles does, but I like those elements so much that
I get something out of it seeing it live or listening to the records.” I’d
almost rather have the ear of a total wide variety of people that are like,” I
like this. I don’t know why I like this, but I do like it a lot. I like some
songs better than others” than people who are just gonna buy every single note
you put out blindly. I literally have had people say to me, “It’s weird. I
never listen to this kind of music, ever, but you’re the only band.” That’s
amazing, that somehow, something that we’re doing is reaching this person that
obviously, looking through their iPods, normally would not be into the music. I
don’t see why you can’t push some boundaries and make something
forward-thinking and not have total fun with it. Nine times out of 10, it seems
over-analytical and considered really serious music. I think that’s why I’m
glad we’re not an instrumental band. I think it’s fine, but after a while, you
sort of get stuck in this instrumental band world. And sometimes, instrumental
band equals serious, instrumental band equals jazz. I would never want to be in
that position. I’m a rock guy at the end of the day. I want to have fun.

 

So as an example,
you wouldn’t want to be classified in the vein of a band like Tortoise.

Well, you said that, I didn’t.

 

And with Gloss Drop, at the end of the day, you
probably came out with a record similar in tone and attitude to what you’d have
made anyway?

Yeah, I totally agree. Again, we did not do this on purpose. It all
just came out that way. I think a lot of it is because of the situation we were
in, and it certainly wasn’t just the lineup change. There were other, really
significant factors that came into play in the last year and a half. It was a
very difficult time, but I do think that it somehow came out in that manner.

 

It also doesn’t
sound as if Tyondai’s departure was super acrimonious, even if it did create a
sense of urgency with the record itself.

Of course not. I can’t candy-coat the situation. It sucked, it was
horrible, but once again, there just wasn’t any time to even dwell on that. We
played in Japan
first, and that was the first time we played as a three-piece, and we only
rehearsed for two weeks. We haven’t been able to relax for two seconds.  There were a couple of times on this tour
where I was like, “Man, I can’t believe we’re even doing this.” In retrospect,
I guess I’m glad there wasn’t any time. We’d probably have abandoned the
recording, we’d still be sitting here, we’d be totally broke, and the record
wouldn’t come out until 2015 or something. So we had to do this, and we did.

 

You’re not
worried about an emotional or physical crash in a few months?

No, because we got that out of our system already. I think it’s fine
now. We’re pushing it with the stuff that we’re doing, but I feel like I’m so
happy with the record, I’m really happy with the video that we did, Japan was awesome, all the shows in Europe were sold out. So that sort of buffers any
emotional crash. We already experienced that upon completion of the record.

 

****

 

Battles are
currently on a UK
tour and will be on the road into the fall. Check tour dates here.

11 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT… Jessica Lea Mayfield

The Bonnaroo-bound singer-songwriter digs the Waffle House,
hawt guys,
and Trailer Park Boys – and
she will shoot your ass.

 

INTERVIEW BY RANDY HARWARD

 

I have a half-boxer, half-lab named after Elliott Smith,
and a black cat named after Doyle Lawson. I got their names tattooed on my
wrist, spur of the moment with a cute guy, [in] hot pink and red.

 

I love Foo Fighters and the band Alabama. Two flawless studio bands that
crank out perfect records … If you don’t like either artist, then you just
think it’s cool to not like popular things.

 

I keep a loaded shotgun by my bed, motherfuckers! I
frequent local gun shows with my daddy and I love shooting guns.

 

I do folk art paintings of myself, monsters and owls. I
took an interest in painting when I became friends with Scott Avett and he was
working on the artwork for the vinyl version of With Blasphemy So Heartfelt.
I intended on it being the only cover, but there was controversy over his
artwork and to end arguments I used an owl I painted.   

 

One of my favorite living songwriters is my brother, David
Mayfield. His first single “I Just Might Pray” is a song I gave him. He added
lyrics and some of his magic. I wrote the song about my crappy ex-boyfriend,
William McCuan, who is now in prison for being a moron.

 

I don’t watch TV, and only have Internet on my phone, so
talk radio is my main source of news. I really enjoy hearing the local people
call in and give their opinions. I haven’t called in yet, but I’ve considered
it.

 

There are a few TV shows that I like, one being Trailer
Park Boys
, two being Dexter (OMFG he is so hawt) and The
Riches
, which I’m pissed was canceled.

 

I go through phases of being unrealistically boy crazy. My
dear friend and guitarist Richie Kirkpatrick (of the awesome band
Ghostfinger) summed it up best by calling me a “Man’s Lady” (like the opposite
of a ladies’ man).

 

I own a three-bedroom farmhouse in Kent, Ohio.
My guestroom is red, white and blue, with pictures of American-themed things
like NASCAR and Abe Lincoln. My dad built six bunks on the wall so I can house
my band friends when they come through!

 

I am most happy when we are in the vicinity of a Waffle
House. I like to start my day with dry raisin toast, black coffee and a few
Diet Cokes. I also put into the jukebox “Special Lady,” “Waffle House
Hashbrowns (I Love You),” and matchbox twenty’s acoustic version of “Push,”
maybe even some Rob Thomas and Santana. And then “Special Lady” a couple more
times.

 

If you insist on buying me a drink, I’ll take two fingers of
Jack Daniels with no ice. Or a Bud Select 55.

 

Mayfield’s second album Tell
Me, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, is out on Nonesuch.

 

 

OVERACHIEVERS ANONYMOUS The Ladybug Transistor

For the Brooklyn indie-rockers, change is always constant, but
that doesn’t deter them from pursuing their ebullient intents.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Consistency is a relatively rare attribute in pop music realms,
given the public’s fickle tastes and the challenges involved with holding a
band together for any reasonable length of time. That makes the Ladybug
Transistor something of an anomaly, being that they’ve been at it for
approximately fifteen years, devoid of widespread acclaim and plagued by
ongoing changes in their core line-up. Yet even in the face of such daunting
dilemmas, the band has maintained a remarkably high standard, one that fails to
find them faltering or easing away from an exacting intent.

 

Singer and songwriter Gary Olson has been the band’s sole constant
from the very beginning, recruiting members as needed and sharing players with
such like-minded combos as Essex Green and the Great Lake Swimmers whenever
it’s called for. The group has expanded its canon with an ever increasing
number of beguiling outings, most boasting such vaguely exotic names as Marlborough Farms, Beverly Atonale, The Albemarle Sound, and Can’t Wait Another Day and, in what was likely a rare
moment of repose, one simply titled Ladybug
Transistor.
 
Their penchant for lush,
exacting arrangements, tastefully honed with brass, strings and Olson’s
fondness for wistful reflection, finds the band taking a similar stance on
their newest offering, Clutching Stems,
a grab bag of intoxicating melodies that preserves the band’s rich elegiac
tradition. Recorded in the wake of drummer San Fadyl’s untimely passing in
2007, it finds the band – currently composed of Olson (vocals), Kyle Forester
(keyboards), Julia Rydholm (bass), Mark Dzula (guitar), Eric Farber (drums) and
Michael O’Neill (guitar) – recharged, rebounding and as expressive as ever. As
intoxicating as ever, it conveys a jubilant first impression that lingers long
after.

 

BLURT recently asked Olson and Rydholm to share their thoughts on the
new album and to offer some thoughts on the band’s progress so far.

 

***

BLURT: First off, an obvious question:
What exactly is a Ladybug Transistor?

JULIA RYDHOLM: A band on the run.

GARY OLSON: It’s a transistor radio shaped like a Ladybug…an old ‘70s
thing.  A quick Google image search would return more photos of the radio
than of us. At the time, we wanted to join the ranks of other great bands
named after insects 

 

 Please give us some examples of your earliest
influences.

GO: Kevin Ayers, Soft Machine and a lot of that Canterbury sound.  The Fall, Sarah
Records, Kraftwerk, Spacemen 3.  Those we’re the early days.  

 

JR:
I think we all share an early and deep appreciation for textured melody and
layered atmosphere originating from disparate influence, be it jazz, prog,
classical, big band, classic, new wave, experimental. All these voices find a
role in the musical conversations of our songs.

 

 Your trajectory
hasn’t been an easy one, and yet the quality of your music has remained
consistently high and exceedingly melodic. With all the personal changes, how
have you managed to keep carrying on?

JR: With open hearts and heartfelt enthusiasm for
collaboration. Gary
and the studio at Marlborough Farms are important constants, of course. No
matter the constellation of the at-the-helm personnel though, there is a
prevailing sense of good-humored, melodic curiosity lending momentum and
threading us all together in the present and connecting us with the past.

GO: It’s taken a lot of luck I reckon. Ladybug
has never had much large scale success… there was no big flash. We have a
small loyal base that has contributed lots to our longevity. If we had suddenly
become enormous, it would have ended quickly.  For the scale of what we
are doing, we all have time to do things outside of the band… non music things
which makes coming back to Ladybug to stay fresh.  I can also say that we
honestly enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a good group dynamic now that
we’ve matured.  We are more of a happy family and close friends.

 

 When did you realize that you could actually make a career
in music and that perhaps you wouldn’t have to rely on a day job?

JR: We all have multiple lives… not day jobs, per se. Music
education, studio work, philosophy degrees, art education and publishing
careers all play equally vocal roles in our daily routines, and have throughout
the band’s history. Quite frankly, the cast of this project throughout time
boasts a really nauseating list of overachievers. Though schedules have often
created quite a balancing act, such dimensional lives nourish ideas, keep us
energetic, and engender an open sense of what is possible. The
many-spinning-plates keep us on our toes, to be sure!

GO: A lot of us have other work outside of Ladybug.
 Me with recording jobs, Kyle teaches music, Julia is in the book
publishing industry, Mark is an arts educator and Eric has his philosophy
studies.  There was a time when I dreamed of being a full time musician
but I’ve realized over time that I need other things, other interests to keep me
happy.   That balance has helped keep us around for a while.  

 

 Is there some central principle that guides
you forward, in terms of your music, your creative urges, your mantra etc.?

JR: Um, follow you, follow me? No, that’s not really true. I
was just trying to find a suitable Genesis song to quote.

 

 Very good. But seriously, how do you keep from repeating yourselves?

JR: Playing with new members always keeps voices and points
of inspiration refreshed for sure. We’re also eager students, both technically
and historically. Everyone seeks out new music and new skills for
consideration. That certainly keeps our shape shifting.

 

 Do your albums germinate with a concept in mind or are they driven by
the material?

JR: They mostly germinate with the sentence, “We should
probably try and make another album.”

 

 So who writes the songs? Is it a singular operation or is there
collaboration involved?

JR:
A skeletal melody and arrangement is often singularly proposed, but the
dimensions of a song takes shape collaboratively from there.

GO: It’s often assumed that since I’m the vocalist
that I also write the songs, but it’s really a collaboration. These days,
I often require a songwriting partner to get ideas off the ground.  Our
friend Mark Dzula, who has become more of a part of Ladybug, started sending me
some pieces he was writing with my voice in mind.  A lot of those made it
to the new album.  They would start as demo sketches with room for me to
add vocal melodies and lyrics. Then the band would come in and we’d fine-tune
a lot of the arrangements. We were fortunate enough to road test a lot of Clutching Stems before we began the
album, which really helped the recording process.  

 

 Who comes up with those exacting arrangements?

JR:
An army.

GO: We all do. Kyle has been doing the strings and
all of the lovely frills for the past two albums.  

 

 Given the complexity
of your material, what are the challenges of replicating the music live?

JR: Preserving all the vital vocalizations without starving
or suffocating the arrangements.

GO: It would be great to have strings, harpsichord,
oboe and dancing backup singers at every show, but all of those arrangements
are playable on guitar, piano or organ, so we make it work.  I’ve been
doing some touring and playing Ladybug’s material solo and the music is even
adaptable to that very stripped down kind of situation.  

 

 So tell us about the new album. Despite those buoyant arrangements, the
songs seem somewhat sobering. What inspired the lonely tone of the new
material?
JR: I think there a profound lyrical mood of dilemma
throughout the album. Many of the songs describe attempts to make sense of
things that are not by nature very easy to make sense of – love and loss,
particularly.

 

GO: Maybe I’m writing a little
less about mountains, the sea and the park these days and trying to capture
some pure emotion. There are more people in the songs these days rather than
trees.  

JR: “Life Less True” is a significant song for me. That song was one
of the first ones from the new album to take shape. The lyrics and music
capture an accurate feeling of the search and catharsis that accompanied that
moment in time.

 

 You’ve accumulated an impressive catalog up
until now. Are there any of your earlier albums that you can point to as
significant points in the band’s trajectory, albums that were major musical
milestones as far as you’re concerned?

JR: I think they were all significant points in the band’s
history. They all have meaningful context, stories, and senses of evolution.
Most important, they are all labors of love.

 

 So what lies ahead? What goals are there to be
accomplished? Dreams to be realized? Tours to undertake?
JR: My prescription is simple. Keep calm, carry on. I think our
goals are generally quite modest. Hmmm, it’d be fun to play a larger festival
or two. We tend to hide out on the margins. If I am dreaming big, it’d be a
thrill to play a show with a lot of guest brass and strings.

 

 

 Fair enough. So by way of conclusion, what is the one question you’ve
never been asked?

JR:
There are heaps of questions I’m very relieved that we have never been asked.

 

[Photo Credit: Kenji]

 

 

A GOD AND A MONSTER Gary Lucas (Pt. 2)

On working with
Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, on composing film scores and his Jewish
heritage, plus future plans.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

We continue our
discussion with guitarist and composer Gary Lucas, whose band Gods and Monsters
recently released their latest album The
Ordeal of Civility. Go here to read Part 1 in which he outlined the dynamics of
the group and the making of the album as well as his connection to legendary
Czech band The Plastic People of the Universe.

 

BLURT: OK, the
Beefheart stuff: I know you saw him very early in your guitar playing career,
like ’70 or ’71. Where were you aesthetically when you saw him and what changed
about you or your playing after that first show? Funny aside – I met him at a
show in New Jersey where he grabbed me and brought me backstage to draw me as I
was wearing an insanely loud red suit. He kept calling me the “red devil”…
Oddity, or everyday occurrence?

 GARY LUCAS: Yes, he
would have liked your suit and would have liked to draw it. That was totally
normal!

        I was drawn to
his music first, but the whole thing came together after seeing him perform
live in NYC at a little club here in Manhattan
called Ungano’s in early 1971. Ungano’s was a little club on West 72nd Street that was only around for
a year or so. It literally changed my life. I thought to myself, “If I ever do
anything in music I want to play with this guy.” It was that inspiring and
life-transformative. The thing of it that got me was that it was so
unconventional, powerful, artistic, and humorous. I wanted to be part of that
free spirit. To me, it was like running away to join the circus.

 

How exactly did you
go from seeing him in 1971 to playing with him in the mid-‘80s? And what was it
like working with Van Vliet – especially in the studio – other than radically
demanding? I’m not looking for dirt. I’m looking for joy

 I basically
interviewed him  for Yale’s radio station
a few months after seeing him and bonded with him over the phone and later in
person when he came up to play at Yale. He was enormously warm and friendly and
charismatic. I stayed in touch with him then and made a point of going to see
any show of his in proximity to New
Haven for some years after that. Then I lost touch
when he lost his deal with Warners and made those albums for Mercury.

        But then he
came to my hometown Syracuse in spring of ’75 with Zappa on the Bongo Fury tour, and I met him backstage
at the end of the show [and] took him out for midnight ribs at an underground
barbecue pit in the black ghetto – in a guy’s backyard; it was “Tobe
Erwing’s Barbecue,” and Tobe was packing heat in his apron. And there and then
told him if he ever put the band back together I wanted a chance to audition
for it.

        “Why
didn’t you tell me you played?” he asked me. Well, I didn’t think I was
good enough, but I had secretly been practicing his music, so… the time felt
right. He invited me to audition in Boston
after another Zappa show that week and that was it. I was in. It took a few
years to realize, though, as I had a ticket to go to Taipei and work for my old man for a couple
years, which I acted upon, as he was rather vague as to a timetable or a plan
of action at that point. And then I contacted him few years later. Eventually
he invited me to play with him in 1980

 

I’ve heard that he
composed in a manner closer to a painter and a sculptor than a musician.
Discuss please, if you can. And tell me how you think it affected your
compositional skill up through to the present.

 Yes, he did exactly
do this, by either whistling, scat singing, or playing parts himself on piano
and sometimes on guitar, bass and drums – and then having you tape his
“through-composed” compositions and learning them note for note, tic
for tic, mistake for mistake. Though he didn’t believe there were any mistakes.
Like Allen Ginsberg said, “first thought, best thought.”

        He then would
further sculpt these parts, modify them and edit them and put them together in
an assemblage – kind of like a collage, or sometimes it would feel like a
free-standing mobile spinning in air – and alter them further surgically in
rehearsal so that by the time we hit the recording studio these were very
meticulously played parts which he had drilled into us and which we reproduced
like a well-oiled machine, with no improvisation whatsoever allowed. He then
would record them and go back in and put a melody or spoken word vocal line on
top and also harmonica or sax – and on these parts, he of course was allowed to
improvise. We were the canvas that provided the support for him to fling his
own paint on, like an action painter.

 

 What the heck
made you want to manage him? Did you have that skill set? Do you manage your band now?

 I never wanted to
manage him! I just wanted to play with him. Managing him was his idea! But after my then-wife Ling
and I went out to visit him in the Mojave Desert – where I was instructed to
apply his “Exploding Note Theory” to his guitar solo piece
“Flavor Bud Living” which you can hear on Doc at the Radar Station,
and which put me on the musical map – he rang us up and begged us to manage
him. Why? “I don’t trust anyone else!”

        And as I loved
him – we both loved him – and wanted to help him, we agreed to do so out of a
sense of trying to help an artist we thought wasn’t getting a fair shake in the
world of music and who deserved to be better known. I told him, “I am not
really a manager, you know,” and he said he understands but that he
believes and trusted we could do a better job of it then anyone he’d had
previously.

        And in fact,
as difficult as it was, I am very proud of the job I did for him in that
capacity:  including setting up his last
US and European tours; setting up the publicity for his last two albums by
getting all the important critics and writers in NYC to come over for listening
parties at my apartment, including Lester Bangs (who gave me the best
compliment of my playing career up till then: “Which part are you playing
Gary, the top or the bottom” he asked after hearing “Flavor Bud
Living.” “No Lester, that’s me playing both parts simultaneously, in real
time,” was my reply); getting him on David Letterman twice; getting Ice
Cream for Crow
going as an active recording project with Epic Records since
no one at Virgin Records had informed Epic A&R that Beefheart was still an
active group on their roster – ridiculous, as there was a Virgin/Epic imprint
in the US; getting the “Ice Cream for Crow” video made and then
getting into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art when MTV
rejected it as “too weird”; getting Don on the cover of Musician magazine and then profiled in People magazine.

        I was recently
on a panel at SXSW where someone remarked that “everybody who knew Don
managed him at some point or another.” Well, I let the remark go in passing,
but I’d really like to know what those reputed “managers” actually did for him. So did I have that skill
set? Ling and I tried to do the job as best we could, which wasn’t easy,
especially with a difficult artist like Don, and I’d like to think I rather
rose to the occasion when he asked me to do this for him solo when Ling and I
split up.  It was a dirty job, but
someone had to do it. 

        And yes I
manage my own band now, by default – for the same reason.

 

You were an integral
participant in getting him art exhibitions in Manhattan. You ran tributes to his music
before he passed. He really got under your skin in a good way.

Yes, I think Don has had a beneficial and lasting effect on
me in a good way, especially on my sense of irony and overall world view. As he
was able to see so clearly through the games people try and run on you, and
that really rubbed off on me. But I especially adored his sense of humor, and
have tried to keep that whimsical side within me. 

        And what I
remember the most and prefer to recall rather than any particular negative
incidents, which various Magic Band members have exhaustively harped on in
books in a rather “sour grapes” tell-all mode – I mean, why did they
stick around him for all those years if he was so bad? – would be his
overwhelming sense of humor and enjoyment of life and the natural world around
us. That was precious.

 

 How does that
feeling compare to the one you have for Jeff Buckley whose career you launched?

 Well that’s a whole
different kettle of fish, and I would hate to make comparisons. Jeff was one of
a kind and the most gifted young musician I have ever worked with and the best collaborator I’ve probably had to
date. But I knew Don Van Vliet a whole lot better as a person, and spent a lot
more time with him, and had a much closer bond in the period I worked with him.
I loved Jeff dearly though – that’s for sure.

 

 Do you think it
is a positive thing that Sony keeps re-re-releasing Buckley’s past work? I know
that “Mojo Pin” and “Grace” were but two of your compositional collaborations –
it seems impossible to believe that more stuff may be in hiding.

I don’t know. I haven’t paid much attention to their
re-releases except to note that I seemed to have been summarily
“disappeared” out of their official narrative of Jeff’s career,
particularly on the three Grace box set
re-issues which Sony issued – and why three?. Which, except for the pro forma
inclusion of my name in the writing credits for those two songs and the
inclusion of Jeff’s special thanks list from the original Grace album where I am cited for “magical guitarness,” there
is not a mention of my name nor a photo of me in any of the critical essays
that come in the booklet or any real presence in the videos included with any
of these reissues. Which hurt me.

        I mean, the
very first note of the “Grace” album is my guitar, in the clear, on
“Mojo Pin.” I wrote the original music for the first two songs on this
album – they began as my solo guitar instrumentals “And You Will” and
“Rise Up to Be,” which became “Mojo Pin” and “Grace,”
respectively, after I sent them to Jeff and he added lyrics and vocal melodies
to them. I composed the basic harmonic structure and building blocks of these
two songs, which are considered anthems in the Buckley canon. There are people
all over the world who believe that Jeff wrote the guitar riffs that are the
basis of these songs. I guess that’s the impression that the “powers that
be” wanted to foster by leaving me out of the liner notes. Not very
charitable, is it?

        As far as reissues,
I really don’t know if Sony have anything left in their vaults.  But I have hours of good stuff , including
five as yet unreleased songs I co-wrote with Jeff that are killer, some as good
as Grace I reckon. Also cassette
mixes of Grace that Jeff sent me from
the Bearsville sessions that are superior to what they eventually decided to go
with on the Grace album.

 

 Are you an easy
collaborator? Early on in your solo career I may have thought of you as happily
isolationist.

[It] depends on whom I am collaborating with. With Jeff, and
also with the Indian vocalist Najma Akhtar with whom I made the album Rishte a couple years ago for Harmonia Mundi and which went to #4 on the World Charts,
it was so easy, as I could give them both finished guitar instrumentals and
they would return with perfect vocal melodies and lyrics that fit like a glove
over them, I didn’t really have to do anything else! With other artists it
hasn’t been so easy all the time.

        But I like
collaborating, of course I do! There is no better feeling than hearing the
fruits of a great collaborative effort, as you know that the work you mutually
created is most likely bigger and better than what you could have accomplished
on your own. When I heard the playbacks of the demos for “Grace” and
“Mojo Pin” I knew these songs would shake the world! And I don’t
think my own efforts to have finished them solo without Jeff would have
resulted in such world-beating songs.

 

You’ve worked within
the Festival of Radical Jewish Culture, you did a live soundtrack to The Golem, there is a song on the new
record, “Jedwabne,” that I know from a Polish neighbor of mine with the last
name “Jedwabne” was a  particularly
vicious atrocity toward the Jewish community. Tell me a little bit about that
song – and please tell me a little bit about your connection to your religion.

Well, I am very cognizant of my Jewish roots and proud of my
heritage – I was really happy, for instance, when Natalie Portman stood up and
denounced John Galliano recently for his anti-Semitic remarks. And I began
referencing this side of my spiritual upbringing in music early on as a solo
artist, first with a performance at the Berlin Jazz Fest on the 50th
anniversary of Kristallnacht – basically, the beginning of “open season”
on Jews in Germany in 1938 – with the performance of an improvisatory piece
called “Verklarte Kristallnacht” (which
translates as “Transfigured Kristallnacht
“) after the Schoenberg piece
“Verklarte Nacht.” It went out over WDR national German radio and stunned
the audience into silence before they responded with an ovation.

        So I would say
I was a very early innovator on this scene, and in fact told John Zorn about my
performance at this same Berlin Jazz Festival where he was playing with Naked City.
Several years later Zorn came out with a piece entitled
“Kristallnacht”!  My, my…

        A year or so
later I composed a score for The Golem with my childhood friend keyboardist/composer Water Horn, and I have since
performed with this film all around the world in a solo version, in Moscow, St.
Petersburg, Sydney, Melbourne, all over Europe, the Venice Biennale – and in
Prague, of course. I recorded two records for Tzadik in Zorn’s Radical Jewish
Culture series which some feel are my best albums.

        “Jedwabne”
is the story of my family on my mother’s side who were wiped out in a massacre
of the Jewish community there in July 1941 by their Polish neighbors. Which is
why I have no surviving relatives on my mother’s side in Europe.
In 2001 the then-President of Poland
invited the surviving Jedwabne relatives back from all over the world for an
official government apology ceremony and I traveled to Poland
representing my family. It was a very painful experience to confront the past
like that, and in fact, in Jedwabne itself, there were hostile town folk
glaring at the procession of Jewish survivors as we marched  through the streets of the town to the
remembrance ceremony, but incredibly worth it. I met some wonderful people
there including the Polish Jewish film maker Slawomir Grunberg, who made a
documentary about the events of the pogrom and the official apology ceremony.

 

 

 

        I subsequently
wrote the song to encapsulate my feelings about it and memorialize the tragedy.
So that people would not forget about what went down there, ever.

 

Talking about your
live soundtracks for a minute – what sort of stretch for you is doing those
things? I’ve witnessed a lot of different artists doing such – from a pipe
organist in an old department store doing Metropolis to the guys from
Luna doing the Warhol shorts. It’s a tough haul. You seem particularly
attracted to the idea, what with the Spanish Dracula and Jose Mojica
Marins’ This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse.

 Well, I find it
relatively easy and fun as I was steeped in film soundtracks and also horror
and fantasy films and literature from a very early age. I used to project 8mm
horror films such as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, This Island Earth and
Bride of Frankenstein in my basement for the neighborhood kids when I
was about 8. I later created original musique
concrete
soundtracks with Walter Horn – to tape, in fact to frighten trick
or treaters on Halloween! And my earliest score for a film was for a Rod Serling-narrated
documentary titled Aquatic Ecology in
1971.

        Plus, I like
to improvise, and that is the secret to my accompanying films with my solo
guitar scores, that these scores I perform live are 50% composed and 50%
improvised, which keeps them fresh as I never play them the same way twice.
Through very intense, close-watching of the films I try and commingle with the
spirits of the dead actors on screen and personify them through my guitar
playing. And I love working with films, as they are basically like having a
reliable partner who will never let you down.

 

How does the new Gods
and Monsters record breathe live – especially now that you are already on to Cuba with
Haydee and Suylen Milanes and recording there? Is Gods and Monsters  live ever embracing of that Cuban sound? Are
you cross-pollinating the vibes or is keeping it all in separate boxes key to
the Lucas oeuvre?

 I am keeping it in
separate boxes for the time being, but that is not to say I wouldn’t bring
Suylen and Haydee into the Gods and Monsters fold in the future. It’s just
easier for now to record this project in Havana
with the cream of Cuban musicians.

        As far as how
the new album songs breathe live, well, we have been breathing them live for
some time now and it feels just great. I hope to be able to bring this music in
front of more audiences this time out, but again am hampered by the reality of market
forces, as there is no tour support available and I refuse to run my band at a
deficit at this stage of my career. Let’s hope your good words and support from
the media in general this time out will enable people to check out and fall in
love with this album, which will hopefully drive sales and enable us to tour
more widely and attract bigger audiences.

        And if not, I
will just keep on keeping on, on to the next thing. I’ll always keep running
Gods and Monsters, though. I love these guys, and I know how good my music
sounds with them playing it.

 

[Photo Credit: May Lee]

 

MONSTER MASH Gary Lucas (Pt. 1)

Whether fronting his
own Gods and Monsters band, scoring films or collaborating with other musical
giants, the guitarist remains a Renaissance Man, period.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Guitarist and composer Gary Lucas is a monster. And a god,
too, in accordance with his one-time position as Captain Beefheart’s lieutenant
and Lucas’ long held wily post-punk ensemble Gods and Monsters. Though that band
has at one time included vocalist-turned-saint Jeff Buckley and (now) Television
drummer Billy Ficca, Modern Lovers bassist Ernie Brooks, and Talking Heads
keyboardist Jerry Harrison (who also produced the band’s long lean grandly
anthem-filled The Ordeal of Civility, issued last month by Knitting
Factory), it is Lucas who wildly diverts the Delta country blues and Fripp-ian
red howls into something avant-guarded yet boldly melodic.

 

Yes, Lucas likes a nice song and a gently swinging rhythm
(check out the melodies he co-wrote for Buckley like “Grace” and “Mojo Pin”) as
much as he likes bombastic askew noise. Lucas also loves the song of the pogrom
and the concentration camp, what from the heartbroken “Jedwabne.” Lucas likes
to compose for silent films, likes to keep up with all that is Bohemian – and,
most of all, talk. Oddly enough, we did all this talking on May Day….

 

***

 

BLURT: When I think
of you and all that you’ve accomplished sonically and historically the first
thing that comes to mind is that you are still somehow under-appreciated and
undervalued.  I’m not talking about the
mainstream or even necessarily the critical elite. Do you think that comes down
to the adventurous choice of music you’ve chosen to make? Or are you the shy
and retiring type?

GARY LUCAS: Not at all. I tour all over the world both solo
and accompanying films, sometimes with other musicians and singers depending on
the project – I love to perform live! It’s my joy and favorite thing in life
probably. My main stress is when my live gig schedule slows down. And I am more
than eager to get this particular manifestation of my music out in front of
people and in their ears,  but  I have been hampered over the years with
promoting the band by the pitfalls of 
“the business”; i.e.,  unreliable booking agents, unadventurous
programmers, labels without resources to properly promote and publicize my
work, etc. But basically lack of money – it’s damn expensive to run a working
band, especially with players of this caliber who all have families and expect
and deserve to get paid decently.

        Couple that
with a faltering economy that doesn’t much support adventurous musicians unless
they can be guaranteed to put a certain number of “asses in seats” – not
my description of my audience, by the way – and it’s tough sledding out there,
not just for me but for ensembles in general doing non-mainstream music. It’s
certainly not for lack of me trying to get out there with the band. I go
through this every time I release a new album no matter what it is. I know I
may confuse people with the dazzling diversity of my music but I totally
believe in everything that I create, and feel that it is definitely “user
friendly” – not really forbidding and “too avant-garde” (with
some exceptions here and there, like my total free jazz collaborations). And I
believe that my band music would be embraced by more people if they ever got to
get to hear it, i.e., have a chance for it to escape through the net of
“the filters” that be – booking agents, promoters, media door keepers
– and the dense noise created by millions of other folks hustling their product
over the net now.

        I think my
band would be a lot more popular for sure if it was more widely publicized and
promoted.

 

 Has anyone ever tried the streamline the “Gary
Lucas” ideal? Has any awful rock artist ever tried to get you to be their axe
man?

 Yes, but I  have refused these offers so far. They
basically wanted me to put my own career on hold stop putting my own albums out
to work with them. Which I think is bullshit. I will leave names out here to
protect the guilty.

 

How did this most
recent version of Gods and Monsters come together? You started G and M with a
revolving door policy but seemingly landed Brooks and Ficca in what looks like
permanent positions?

 Ernie Brooks has been
in there since about 1994-95, shortly after he moved back to NYC from Paris. And Billy Ficca
came in when my last drummer became unavailable for one too many shows – about
2003. I really like these guys and will continue to work with them as much as
possible in the future. Ernie has really been a wonderful enthusiast and
believer in the group for the longest time. As has Jason Candler, my sax player
and all around sonic ears, he joined around ’98 but I’ve known him since the
‘80s when he was a DJ on WNYU and a very early media supporter who believed in
my work. Joe Hendel has been in the shortest time, on trombone and keyboards,
but again, here is a guy who was a fan of my group since he was in high school
and in fact sat in with us several times on stage while he was still in high school!

        They are all
awesome players. I still will ask other musicians to sit in with us from time
to time but I like these guys a lot and I like this line-up! These are the
cats! We’ve been through so much together.

 

 Were the new
guys chosen to suit what has turned out on The Ordeal of Civility to be
a brasher, less spaced-out, less jazz-rocky sound – or did playing with them
live bring out a harder blunter side to compositional éclat?

 Well I still love
that spacey jazz-rock sound too, and these new guys like to play it also – the
only difference this time out is we left most of those type of tracks off the
new CD  but they are available for
download on the digital version of the album!

 


Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro–Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters live by garylucas

 

        I preferred
this time out to make the cd a more concise statement concentrating on my
songwriting.

 

Did you compose
and/or record the majority of The Ordeal of Civility any differently
than you have any other album of yours or theirs?

 Yes, I was more
meticulous and methodical with the tracking thanks to the input of producer
Jerry Harrison, who also played on the album. He is a great guy and wonderful
player whose sonic expertise was brought to bear to help fashion a record that
would be competitive in the marketplace sound-wise and production-wise. The composing
of my songs, though, I would say was still done as before with the exception
that Ernie contributed some lyrics to “LuvzOldSweetSong” and the
writer David Dalton the lyrics for “Lady of Shalott.” Otherwise I wrote
the songs on my own in my usual manner – some had been around waiting for the
chance to be recorded for some years, and some were hot off the synapses.

 

I like Harrison as a producer. Why did you like him as a
producer – at least for Ordeal? What about him made Jerry perfect for
the CD?

 He thinks big and
knows how to sculpt mixes of very complicated music into a unified sound
field/statement. I loved his work with Talking Heads as a player and his
productions of his own band, as well as groups such as Live.  He likes my songwriting as well. So does his
friend David Byrne, who was very complimentary about the band when he visited
us backstage a few years ago at the Knitting Factory, along with Vaclav Havel.
And as we had some real epics on this album, particularly “Jedwabne”
and “Chime On.” I thought he’d be just the man for the job.

 

How do you know when
a set of writings is yours/theirs/ours? What determines a project’s
destination?

 I guess I just go
instinctually on my inner feeling of when the time is right to unleash a song
on the world on an album of mine. But I definitely write the songs lock stock
and barrel.  I am very single-minded as
the leader, guitarist and songwriter of the project, and I just try and make
these songs as exciting and ecstatic as possible from my writing viewpoint. I
compose them in solitude; I don’t sit in a studio and “jam with the
lads” to compose them. 

        If the
resulting songs don’t really satisfy me, I discard them for the moment and move
on to the next, or wait till I have the chance to properly refine them some
more. I want these songs to be as perfect as possible in terms of pleasing me first and foremost; I don’t really
take the notion of the invisible sea of consumers/existing fan base out there
into account in the composing of them, that’s for sure. If I did I would feel
like a total whore, and I already went through that with my former day job in a
previous lifetime, thank you very much. 

        I didn’t get
into music with the idea of making millions, quite honestly. Look at the
choices of the projects I have pursued outside the band, and the people I have
collaborated with over the years and also produced. None of these were at all
obvious choices – I mean, Chinese pop from the 1930s anybody? To name but one
manifestation of my work. Surprisingly enough, that album [2001’s The Edge
of Heaven
] may be my best-selling album to date. It was re-issued last year
on Knitting Factory and we are doing an expanded production of it with
vocalists I auditioned in Shanghai last summer
for our premiere June 10th in Amsterdam
at the Holland Festival.

 

You were a radio DJ
early on. What type of music were you playing?

 English psychedelic
rock and a few other favorites. In fact I had a radio show on WYBC at Yale
summer of ’73 every day for 5 hours titled “The Sounds from England (and
other Delicacies)” whereby I played fairly obscure English psych tracks I
had collected, mostly on import, as well as a few other non-British goodies
such as Can, Captain Beefheart, and Tim Buckley. Funny. as I wound up working with
both Don Van Vliet and Jeff Buckley, and jamming with Michael Karoli.

 

How did you get
involved with the Plastic People in the first place and how will that
relationship continue? I interviewed Vaclav Havel’s principle translator not
too long ago when his most recent play Leaving made its US debut, and we
talked about Plastic People. You name came up, though I can’t remember exactly
why.

 Well, I am Bohemian
from birth on my father’s side, and I always loved these guys’ music – I met
some of them in 1988 when Giorgio Gomelsky organized a tribute to the Plastic
People at the Kitchen. [Later I] jammed with the spin-off band Pulnoc live in
NYC, which came out some years later on an album that was released in the Czech
Republic. I loved playing over there too and have done so many, many times,
most recently a few months ago with the poet Pavel Zaijek, the front man from
another Plastic People-related group, DG-307. He founded his band with the
Malla, the late leader of the Plastic People.

        I have met Vaclav
Havel several times and am pals with the former Czech ambassador Martin Palous,
who commissioned me to arrange Czech classical music for solo guitar for a
concert at the Czech Embassy in DC a few years ago for the 14th Anniversary of
their Velvet Revolution including music of the Plastic People. This should be
out as a vinyl album later this year on Faust Records based in Prague. [Listen to a track from the album here.]

        I am playing
with the Plastic People again at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan German this
August and am really looking forward to it. They really like my work and most
likely gravitated to it both because of my Czech ancestry and the fact that I
had played with Captain Beefheart, a big hero of theirs and Havel’s. I also
have worked all over the world over the years playing a live soundtrack for the
1920 silent film “The Golem”, a Czech Jewish legend which I have
performed quite a few times in Prague. Every time I play in the Czech Republic
I feel like I am coming home.

 

To be continued…. In
Part 2, tomorrow, Lucas reminisces on working with both Captain Beefheart and
Jeff Buckley, shares his thoughts on collaborations and film scores, discusses
his Jewish heritage, and more.

 

[Photo Credit: Michel del Sol]

THE MOTOR CITY IS BURNING Flogging Molly

With Detroit’s economic  and social woes as a metaphor for America, on
their latest album the Celt-punk rockers
deliver an emotional  masterpiece.

 

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

As a working class band, blending punk rock and traditional
Irish roots music, you’d be hard pressed to find a more appropriate town as
your base than Detroit.
 

 

The Motor
City was probably hardest
hit by the recession that decimated even those supposed recession-proof cities.
So, no strangers to struggles, Flogging Molly front man Dave King and his wife
and band mate Bridget Regan (fiddle) – a long time Detroit
resident – summoned the rest of the band from all corners of the globe (literally)
to take up temporary residence in Detroit
to start work on their latest record, Speed
of Darkness
.

 

The city certainly left its mark on the record, 11 songs of
anger, despair, uncertainty and ultimately a sliver of hope over the economic plight
of millions. Look no further than the fifth track, “The Power’s Out,” for the
vitriol that corrupt industries, selfish executives  and flaccid politicians have inspired (“The
power’s out, there’s fuck all to see/The power’s out, like this economy/The
power’s out, guess it’s par for the course/Unless you’re a bloodsucking leech
CEO”). 

 

The record, the band’s fifth, not counting a handful of
brilliant live albums, is also the first on their own label, the just-launched
Borstal Beat.

 

Fresh off a tour, that’s about to start right back up again,
King spoke recently about the record, the city that inspired it.    

 

***

 

BLURT: I know that
you and your wife live in Detroit
part time. Living in that city, it’s particularly hard to ignore what’s the
country has been going through economically. Was it your intention from the
very beginning to focus this album on Detroit
and the situation there or did that just happen after you started writing?

 

DAVE KING: Well, we started writing the album between Ireland and Detroit
and we thought it would be a good idea to use Detroit as a base, because the band lives all
over the place. We just started writing and you couldn’t get away from it.
Between Ireland and Detroit, they’ve been hit
really, really badly. Even the neighborhood we live in, you walk the dog around
and you see so many vacant houses and it’s really sad. I’m a musician, so
unfortunately I don’t have the answers for something like this, but as a social
commentary, I think it’s important for us as a band to talk about this.

 

As someone who grew
up there, what have been you’re wife’s reactions to seeing her hometown falling
on such bad times?

Yeah, our house is still in the same area she was born,
Green Acres. It’s just very sad; it kind of reminds me of when I was a kid in Ireland. Growing
up in Ireland
was really depressing, then the Celtic Tiger came along and now that’s been
declawed. They’ve built like housing estates in Ireland, but now they’re just these
shells sitting there, not being finished.

 

Are you starting to
see things finally get better in Detroit?

Well, honestly we haven’t been here a lot because we’ve been
touring since January basically, but I don’t see any improvement whatsoever
yet. The house next to us was all boarded up, but now the boards have been
removed, so maybe someone has moved in. The taxes that people have to pay in Michigan are ridiculous
as well. That’s another reason why people can’t afford their houses here. It’s
not just paying their mortgages; it’s having to pay their taxes as well.

 

Lyrically there’s a lot
of anger obviously just based on the subject matter. Do you see it that way or
is there some optimism there as well?

To me it’s an album that has hope. Lyrically there is hope.
I mean things are bad right now. We meet people at our shows from all walks of
life and people are having a hard time. I can’t get away from that and I don’t
want to get away from that.  I want to look
at this album in 10 years and say “thank God that period is over. We got
through it.” It is an optimistic album. The title is just about how quickly
things can change.

 

This is probably your
strongest album thematically. Was it harder to write or easier to write when
the songs all had a common thread?

If you had asked me a month or so before we started writing
if this was going to be an easy album, I don’t know what I would have said. We
have such a different mindset when we are on the road, so we come home, we take
a break and that’s when the writing comes in. Knock on wood, when we get
together to write things move along very quickly.

 

How did the rest of
the band take the news of relocating to Detroit
to write this one?

One of the things that’s good about this band is that we are
very focused on what we do. Like when we record the album, some of the best
albums come about when we’re all living in the same space while we’re recording
and going into the studio together in the morning. I think we tend to work
together better like that.

 

The album hasn’t come
out yet and you just finished a stint of shows on the road. Do you plan to tour
a lot once this one officially comes out?   

Yeah, we will be. I can honestly say John until the end of
the year at least.

 

At this point is it drudgery,
having to spend so much time on the road?

Oh, no, no. We’re very fortunate as a band. For example last
year we headlined a punk festival in Blackpool, England one night and the next night we
headlined a folk festival in Belgium.
So we played with Richard Thompson and the Chieftains and the next night we
played with Motorhead.  For a band to be
able to do something like that is quite incredible and we’re grateful to be
able to do that.

 

You worked with Ryan
Hewitt (who also produced The Avett Brothers and Red Hot Chili Peppers) on this
one. Was this your first time working with him?

No, second time. He did Float as well.

 

Was it easier now
that you know each others’ styles and how you work?

We work pretty well together with Ryan. He’s an exceptional
man when it comes to recording. What we never used to do before was get several
backing tracks down, but with Ryan it was one a day. You’d start with a song in
the morning and by the end of the day it was done. It was a really good way of
working and you really got to know a song better that way. It was very focused
and that’s what we need. We have seven people in this band and it’s easy to
lose focus.

 

Where did you go to
record it?

We went to Ashville,
NC [to Echo Mountain Studios]. It
was amazing, absolutely beautiful. The people there were so nice. If anybody
needed anything you’d just put the word out. If Bridget needed a fiddle, she’d
have 12 fiddles the next day to choose from. 
It really was an incredible experience.

 

This is also your
first record in a long time not on SideOne Dummy. You started your own label
for this one didn’t you?

Yeah, we decided to reinvent ourselves a little bit I
suppose you’d say; take on a little bit more responsibility for what we do and
hopefully bring on other bands.

 

Have you already
started looking at other bands to sign?

Yeah. Well obviously we’ve got to get this record out first,
but we have our eyes on a couple people that we really, really like. There’s
this fantastic band from San Diego
called the Drowning Men. We’ve had them out on tour with us and I’d love to
work with them.

 

Is there anything
about running your own record that surprised you?   

 It’s a lot more work,
absolutely. The amount of people that have to be involved in getting an album
out is quite a lot. We’ve got so many people behind the scenes with this band
that do so much work. There’s a lot of people doing the blood and guts work. It
is a lot of work, but we’re lucky to have it, you know. We’re lucky to be in
the situation that we are. We could be a band at that stage where no one is
coming to see us anymore and thankfully we’re not. So we’re extremely grateful
for it.

 

It’s exciting to hear
that you guys are looking to sign other bands. 
  

Yeah, there’s so many great bands out there, great live
bands that don’t get a chance to go on tour and get their album out. It’s not
as easy as it was and if we can do anything at all to help, that’s great.

 

There’s one more
question that I’ve been holding on to for about a year and a half. You put out
a video online about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) awareness awhile ago
and I was really interested in how it came about. My father is a vet and has
PTSD and on a personal level I was surprised and glad to see you talking about
it.

 Well, a friend of me
and Bridget’s, back in Ireland,
unfortunately took his life and it affected us… we just couldn’t believe it.
One night he was in the pub laughing over a joke and the next day he’s dead and
I think in Ireland
there’s a stigma about suffering from depression. You just never go to talk to
someone about it. It stems from there, and we have so many military fans who
come to our shows. It’s so weird you should mention this because the day before
yesterday, at our last show on this tour, this solider came up to us before the
show and said that that video saved his life. He came back from Iraq and was
thinking about committing suicide. I met a lovely girl after a show and she
said “you guys took care of me.” We play music, you know, and to have somebody
say that to you. Music can make a difference and I think in these times between
humor and music, they’re probably the only two things that get you through it.

       So, yeah, it
does make us proud. We want to be that band. We’re not just popcorn, we’re not just candy. We’re a real working class
band and we’re surrounded by working class people. That’s what we’re about.