Monthly Archives: August 2011

MULTITASKING MUTINEER Tommy Stinson

From the
Replacements to Guns N’ Roses to a new solo record aiming to help benefit
Haitian kids, the dude has had plenty on his plate over the years.

 

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

It took seven years, but Tommy Stinson – probably best known
as the plaid-suited, spiky-haired young bassist for The Replacements – has finally
followed up his 2004 solo record Village
Gorilla Head.
On the bright side, that’s only half as long as his current
group – Guns N’ Roses – took to complete Chinese
Democracy
.

 

Stinson deserves to be cut some slack though, as he’s had
plenty on his plate over the years. Along with his commitments to Guns N’
Roses, he’s also the bassist for that other great Minneapolis institution Soul Asylum (former
scene mates to the dearly departed ‘Mats).

 

Despite housing songs that have been hanging around
Stinson’s head for years One Man Mutiny (Done To Death Music), his latest solo record, is incredibly cohesive, comprised
of 10 tight barroom rockers with just enough punk influence to show he’s not
close to mellowing out yet. 

 

Stinson
plans to donate a large portion of the proceeds from One Man Mutiny to Timkatec, a nonprofit that houses and educates
homeless children in the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti.
The school also benefitted from an auction he held last year, a benefit that
brought in more than $50,000.

 

 

Now that the record is finally coming out, Stinson plans
some solos shows over the next couple of months, before likely heading down to
South America with Guns N’ Roses and then back on the road to support a new
Soul Asylum record.

 

He took some time recently to speak about the new album,
touring with Guns and whether The Replacements will ever play again.

 

***

 

BLURT: It’s
been about seven years since the last solo record, and I know you’ve been a
little busy…

TOMMY STINSON: A little busy, yeah.

 

Have
you been planning on doing a follow up to that first record all along?

I’m always planning on doing some sort of record with some
of my songs, but it always takes a backseat to other things I’ve committed to.
But I’m always writing and putting stuff on the backburner until I’ve got
enough to make a record. The last six, seven years have been a little too long.
I think the goal here in the future is to make them a little closer together so
that I can actually build on it and tour and shit like that.

 

So had
you been sitting on a lot of these songs for awhile now or are most of them
pretty new?

I’ve been compiling things for awhile and some of the songs
go back to the old record. Like “Come to Hide” is one that we had since the
last record but just didn’t make it on for some reason. I compile songs as time
goes by and try and pick the best lot when I’m finally ready to commit them to
a record.

 

Your
fiancé sings on a few of these songs doesn’t she?

Yeah, a bunch of them. That’s one of my favorite parts of
the record right now is that it adds a whole melodic aspect to the record that
I’ve never had before. I’ve been looking for that. You know how The Kinks’
records always have a female background vocal in there and I’ve always liked
that sound.

 

Did you
know all along that you were going to want to include her vocals to the songs…

Yeah, I did. It took us awhile to figure out how it was
going to work out and then it kind of started happening.

 

One
song in particular that really stands out is the title track “One Man Mutiny”.
Do you mind talking just a bit about where that came from?

Yeah, it kind of came from a goofy experience in Europe. It was almost in jest the way it came up. It came
from a conversation with me and one of the managers of Guns N’ Roses and we
were all talking about a bus call and there was some dissention in the ranks
about the bus call and blah, blah, blah and I got lumped into this argument and
I just kind of came up with the phrase, “next time you guys come up with an
argument, don’t lump me into it, I’m a one man mutiny.” I thought, you know
what, I’m going to have the lyrics before we get to the next town and as it
happened I had the lyrics by the time we got to Brussels. I thought how fitting to come up
with it, write it and play it with a couple guys from Guns  who were around and had nothing to do for a
couple of days.

 

Mentioning
Gun N’ Roses, you’ve obviously been involved with some big bands: The
Replacements, Soul Asylum, Guns N’ Roses. When The Replacements fell apart,
what made you decide to go back and get involved with some other big named
bands versus just go it alone?

They opportunities kind of presented themselves at the right
time. The Guns things happened as The Perfect (one of Stinson’s
post-Replacements bands) thing was falling apart because the label was going to
totally screw up the release and shelf it. By the time we did that and kind of
had our hearts broken… I tried the Bash & Pop (another band) thing and that
was such a beast and everything over that course of time was so taxing that I
just said, “I just kind of want to play for someone right now.” And the Guns
thing came up sort of magically out of nowhere, and honestly it was sort of
like a dare to even go to the audition. Axl seemed like he had a really good
idea and was backing it which was cool.

 

Obviously
it took a few years to work on the record (Chinese
Democracy
took about 15 years to finish) and then you toured the word. Any
idea where the band is heading now? Are you working on any new music?

We’re going to go to South American in October – I think. (Laughs) I think that’s happening. There’s
some dates coming up and then I’m not really sure where it’s going to go from
there. I’d like to think that maybe there’s another record coming that we’re
going to work on, but there’s certainly a bunch of material that’s sitting
there that we could finish and probably get another out there. I’ve sort of
been out of the loop, doing my own thing for awhile so I won’t get back into
that until September.  

 

Let’s
talk about your record again. I’m interested to find out more about the school you
are donating a portion of the album sales proceeds to. How did you first hear
about the
Timkatec
school?

Basically what happened for me is I had the same feeling
(after the Haiti
earthquake) that I had after Katrina hit. Although when Katrina happened I
donated money to the Red Cross thinking that was the right thing to do and
found out later that was probably the stupidest thing to do because the bureaucracy
probably ate that money up. So when the earthquake in Haiti happened I really wanted to
do something, but I didn’t just want to sit on the sidelines and throw money at
it.

        I decided to
get involved and went down there and saw the school and kids and said I’m going
to try and do something to help these kids out. So I raised some money through
an auction… a little over $50,000 when all was said and that’s worth a fucking
couple hundred dollars to that school. It helps them a lot. I want to have
another auction, but in lieu of having one ready by October, I thought why don’t
I just donate some of the proceeds of this record to Timkatec. That will keep
them in the public eye and hopefully I can beat what I did with the auction,
with my record… There are a lot of places that need help and I just choose to
focus on Haiti.

 

You
went there and actually visited the school?

I went there and saw the school, saw the kids and everything
else. It was a life changing experience to say the least.

 

Let’s
talk about Soul Asylum for a minute. Did you just finish up an album with the
band?

We’re finishing it up. I think the next thing to do is have
it mixed, then see who is putting it out. I think there are a couple of things
in the works that I’m not at liberty to talk about but hopefully it will be out
by spring.

 

And
will you tour when it comes out?

Yes, we definitely will.

 

In
reading the new Bob Mould book he makes it very clear that Husker Du will never
get back together again. I get a sense that the door to The Replacements was
never completely closed. Obviously you and Paul (Westerberg) left on better
terms than Bob and his band. Do you ever anticipate getting back together to
play some more shows?

You know, we never rule it out. (Laughs) We just don’t ever do it!

 

Are you
still in contact
?

Oh yeah, yeah. Paul and I spoke last month. We talk every
now and then about this that and the other thing. Usually fucking small talk,
but it’s there if we want to do it. 

 

LIBERATED: CSS

The Brazilian band
conquers its “Spanish phase” (and bad bosses) on
La Liberación.

 

BY SELENA FRAGASSI

 

“It’s going to happen at some point,” says Lovefoxxx. The
pint-sized and always colorful singer of Brazilian jungle pop quartet CSS lets
out a soft chuckle into the phone receiver, giving away the irony of her inside
joke. “All the big pop artists go through their Spanish phase: ABBA, Madonna,
Toni Braxton. And we like to think this is ours.”

 

Of course, this is not the first time CSS has borrowed from
the influence of a Top 40 pop star. After all, the band’s name – CSS is an
abbreviation for “Cansei der Ser Sexy” – is in homage to Beyoncé, a translation
of the bootylicious singer’s declaration that she grew “tired of being sexy.”
But to compare the troupe’s third album, La
Liberación
, to, say, Evita is a
bit off the map.

 

“Okay so with us things are always a bit distorted,”
Lovefoxxx finally admits, “our Spanish song [the title track] is actually a
punk rock song. We have Spanish guitars in ‘City Girl,’ but it has nothing to
do with Spanish influences. Oh, but ‘Ruby Eyes,’ that was inspired by some
dialogue from Volver [Pedro
Almodovar’s film].” Soon this dissertation becomes dissected into something of
a mismatched Picasso, but that’s the great thing about CSS – there’s not just
one way to look at them.

 

Even looking at the album title, the first one named in the
band’s native language, for some sort of clues becomes a bit tricky. “We didn’t
pick it; it came to us,” Lovefoxxx declares. “We were going back and forth with
different ideas for the title and when this name came up, we stopped and said,
‘This is amazing.’

 

“When we were making this album last year, we were in a
really good and positive place,” she continues, pointing to internal problems
during the time of Donkey, CSS’s 2008
release that brought with it a deluge of collateral damage from poor management
decisions after wild international success began with their 2005 eponymous
debut, helped by the iPod single featurette, “Music is My Hot Hot Sex.”

 

“I don’t think it’s too relevant to go back to all of that
drama again,” Lovefoxxx cautions before divulging, “we went through some really
bad management on the first album and that touring cycle. And as a result, we
were left with many, many problems that we had to solve.”

 

And solve they did, branching off from long-time label Sub
Pop Records and signing a licensing agreement with V2 outfit Co-operative Music
for the new album, which was released jointly by V2, Co-operative and Downtown
Records.

 

“One benefit was that we had plenty of time to make this
record,” says Lovefoxxx, noting that La
Liberación
was started in February 2010 after a nearly year-long creative
hiatus during which time each of the five members was living around the world,
Lovefoxxx DJ’ing in various cities and bassist Adriano Cinta fostering a
soundtrack company, the studios of which were used to make the new album. “We reworked
songs countless times to the point where they’d have completely different
lyrics and melodies. If we didn’t love them 100%, we’d change them. In the end,
these are all songs we really like.”

 

 

MP3:

 

 

Within the mix is disco dub opener “I Love You,” Rasta-rave
number “Echo of Love,” the hyper catchy first single “Hits Me Like a Rock”
(featuring Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie), riot grrrl anthem “Fuck
Everything,” and the jazzy standout “City Girl,” which features a
perfectly-timed horn section… and a revealing backstory.

 

“I always wanted to belong to the big city, to the
metropolis,” says Lovefoxxx with a tone that lets you feel some distant
skyscraper scratching at the surface of her wanderlust voice. “When I was 13 my
brother really did move to New York
City. He went there to practice Aikido and was living
in a dojo. I remember the first weekend he was there, my parents and I called
him and I asked him, ‘how is the city?’ and the first thing he told us was that
everybody walks really fast.”

 

Having outgrown her small town outside the district of Sao
Paulo, the singer remembers how inspired she was by the story of the marathon
pedestrians of NYC, a city that still gives her butterflies every time she visits.
So, she adopted their habit. “I started walking really fast too because I
thought people would look at me and wonder, ‘Oooh, who’s that girl, where is
she from?'”

 

Where she was actually from, people bullied the young
fashionista for her now trademark outlandish getups and hairstyles. “I used to
wear really crazy outfits and have big hair and people would go out of their
way to mess with me and scream things at me out of their cars,” she says,
invoking the lyrics of the song’s chorus, “and all I really wished is that no
one would give a shit and not care.”

 

Yet people do care, albeit now in a good way. With CSS
conquering not only album charts but the minds of impressionable young fans,
Lovefoxxx is that globetrotting trendsetter she always aspired to be. Just take
one look around the crowd at a CSS show and the neon jumpsuits, facepaint and
asymmetrical hair are dead giveaways; although the hipsterettes who will
undoubtedly rip through thrift stores and American Apparel racks in advance of
the band’s upcoming tour are going to be in for a surprise. Lovefoxxx has gone
… boy-ish.

 

“At this moment, I have a more masculine outlook,” the Peggy
Noland accomplice confesses. “I’ve been wearing the catsuit for such a long
time, and I thought it was a good time for me to get rid of them and wear
something else. So I’m going back to my roots. Shorts and T-shirts, what I wear
normally. And you know what, it feels really good to play in jean shorts and
band T-shirts. I’m no longer a slave to the one-piece.”

 

She may have seen La
Liberación
of the catsuit, but Lovefoxxx recalls it wasn’t so long ago that
she was shackled to fashion when working for yet another bad manager – at a
large department store.

 

“I had to take photos of the clothes and crop them and
upload to the store’s website. But the people there were really boring and bad –
like the guy who stole our money.”

 

And so instead of actually working, Lovefoxxx would punch in
and log online, updating her Fotolog
page
and interacting with its community. “I would spend the whole day on
the Internet, commenting on photos and thinking of really smart things to say.
Many people that I’m good friends with today I met on there. I even met Ed from
Grizzly Bear on Fotolog!” In turn her own page brimming with images of found
objects and portraits of girls and dogs became wildly popular, even though
Lovefoxxx herself admits, “I don’t know why it became so famous.”

 

Although she still photographs with her Yashica G4, Lovefoxxx
suddenly turns her attention to video, saying that the next step for the band
to conquer after La Liberación would
be to take further artistic liberties
with a DVD, but in only a way CSS could love.

 

“Like recording a show, a really crappy show in someone’s
living room.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Andreas Konrad]

 

 

CSS will begin a North
American tour on October 1 in Vancouver
and tour through the end of the month. Go to the band’s official website for
the list of dates (and downloads of exclusive tour posters).

 

BLURT-BACK: WELCOME TO HOLLYWEIRD The Weirdos

Great songs, a great
look, great photos, great graphics, a great show:
in 1977 the L.A.
upstarts kick-started the west coast punk scene.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

[This is an expanded
version of an article that originally appeared in
Harp magazine in 2007. – Ed.]

 

It was uttered: “I
wanna kick in the radio/ I wanna bomb the record store/ I say-destroy all
music!”
And with that little bit of 1977 nihilistic ‘tude called “Destroy
All Music,” powered by churning Who/Dolls/Clash guitars, coronary-inducing
drums and seething vocals, the Weirdos delivered an American punk anthem as
enduring as “Anarchy in the U.K.” was in Britain.

 

Inspired early on by performances by the New York Dolls and
the Stooges, the Weirdos – Cliff Roman (guitar), John Denney (vocals), Dix
Denney (guitar), Dave Trout (bass), Nickey Beat (drums) – formed in Hollywood in early ’77, penning
such colorfully-titled punk epistles as “Destroy All Music,” “Teenage,” “A Life
of Crime,” “Why Do You Exist?” “We Got the Neutron Bomb,” etc., and wielding
their crude three-chord ditties like billy clubs.

 

 

 

 

“You know, we pretty much kicked off the local punk scene in
L.A.,” says
Roman now. “The scene actually evolved around the early Weirdos shows. For us,
it was great and we were much admired and respected. We were the only local
band in 1977 that could draw a sizable crowd. We wrote our own material,
designed our look, and created our own posters and art; we were a little bit
wary of the punk label and wanted to differentiate ourselves from other bands
in the scene back then. But we met many talented, creative people, doing a lot
of shows with the Zeros, Dils, Nerves and Germs. We played the Masque, Starwood
and the Whisky. Later we did shows with the Plugz and the Screamers. Devo
opened for us when they first came to L.A.
and we played the Hollywood Palladium with Blondie. It was an exciting time.”

 

And Weirdos concerts were events unto themselves, to say the
least.

 

“Our first few gigs were at the Punk Palace.
The Punk Palace was wherever we did the shows.
First at S.I.R. studios, then at the Orpheum Theatre. At first we played
without a drummer. Then we were introduced to Nickey Beat by Phast Freddie and
Nickey joined us for a show at the Orpheum Theatre where we played with The
Germs and The Zeros. That show was undeniably the first local L.A. Punk Show
ever. It was a tiny theater, 99 seats, and the place was packed because word
had got out about our band. The Damned were there as well as Greg Shaw from
Bomp! and Rodney Bingenheimer, the local DJ from KROQ who played the latest punk
records from England.
The Zeros came up from the San Diego
area and we met The Germs at the Bomp! Records store a few days before the
show. The Germs couldn’t play a song – Darby Crash started throwing peanut
butter around, and they got thrown off the stage! The Zeros played a great set.
We finished our set with Captain Sensible playing guitar with us for an encore.
Greg Shaw told me later that we made history that night.”

 

(In L.A.
in the late seventies, punk shows could also be dicey affairs due to local
officials’ tendency towards heavy-handed responses. “The police never bothered
us,” notes Roman, “but I was down at the Masque one night when the police came
down and stopped the show and made everyone leave. People got arrested and some
were beat with batons.  There were some
shows when security guards would stop us mid-set to try to settle down the
crowd. It didn’t work. It was pogo mania back then.”)

 

 

 

It’s likely the Weirdos’ visual aesthetic (“deconstructed
thrift store day-glow abstract expressionist rock-a-billy chic,” quipped one
reviewer) was probably as key to their popularity as their music. Punk zines
like Slash and Search and Destroy regularly put the zoot-suited,
chopped-and-coiffed miscreants on their covers, and whenever the mainstream
media came trawling for typical “zany-looking” punks, the Weirdos invariably got
the photographic nod – they were one of the first L.A. combos to be featured in
Time, in fact. Yours truly, publishing his own fanzine at the time, called the
Weirdos “the face of West Coast punk” in a review of the “Destroy All Music”
three-song seven-inch.

 

That single, originally released by Greg Shaw on his Bomp!
label, was reissued in 2007 by Bomp! as part of the Destroy All Music CD, which adds a mini album from ’79 and four
early demos; a photo-stuffed booklet and detailed liner notes tell the band’s
story in images and words. Says Roman, “Greg was a big supporter of the Weirdos.
We did our first single, ‘Destroy All Music,’ with him. Kim Fowley wanted to
sign and produce us, but we decided not to go with him. He was involved with
The Runaways at the time. Phast Freddie came to all our early shows and wrote
about us for his fanzine Back Door Man. Then we did
our second single ‘We Got the Neutron Bomb’ on Dangerhouse. They were the new
local cool label that was run by and for the local musicians.

 

“I really like Destroy
All Music
CD because it is chronological. There is our first demo, which
starts with ‘Teenage’ and then it’s the same tracks as our Bomp! single. In
some ways it sounds better even though it’s pretty raw. The magic is definitely
there. Also, on this record is our Bomp single and mini LP Who, What, When, Where, Why [originally released in 1979] in their
entirety for the first time on CD. The contrast between the early work and
later work is interesting, too. The later work was us in the studio, sort of doing
our own Sgt. Pepper’s. We were
overdubbing and experimenting, rather then pushing the record button and
playing live. I think it still holds up. We were pretty amazed at how good it
sounded when Dix Denney and I remastered the tracks.”

 

 

 

As strong as the recordings were and as powerful as the band
was live, however, the Weirdos were unable to make much headway outside
the West Coast touring circuit. By Roman’s reckoning, as 1981 rolled around the
punk scene had changed dramatically; reckoning that their band had run its
course, the Weirdos opted to bow out. Since then they’ve reunited several times
with shifting lineups. The Condor album appeared in 1990. (Roman: “That’s a great record and there are some
magnificent tracks there. Unfortunately it’s out of print.”) A version of the
band also toured nationally in 1989 with the Circle Jerks, and that was
followed by the 1991 retrospective Weird
World
, which has been their most popular title over the years and frequently
appears on punk best-albums lists.

 

As recently as 2004 the Denney brothers mounted yet another
reunion tour featuring Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss and Skulls drummer
Sean Antillon, while a 2006 tour of England with the Damned was aborted
after just one show when the Denneys’ mother passed away. “The Weirdos are
pretty much done now,” says Roman. “They haven’t done anything since. I didn’t
think it was the true Weirdos since I was not part of that effort. But I
certainly respect them for their great talent and choice of material – songs I
wrote!”

 

Meanwhile, for Roman’s part he’s moved on from his punk
past, working as an educator and middle school administrator since hanging up
his axe. Yet he still holds fond memories of his “Hollyweird” days and doesn’t rule
anything out.

 

“We had it all: great songs, a great look, great photos, our
own great graphics, and we put on a great show. When I last played with the
band our set was 20 songs and lasted for almost two hours! So you never know – anything
can happen.”

 

THE WEIRDOS SELECTED
DISCOGRAPHY

 

*Destroy All Music (Bomp!, 2007). Original “Destroy All Music” 7″ (Bomp!, 1977) and Who What When Where Why? 12″ plus
unreleased demos of “Teenage,” “Destroy All Music,” “A Life of Crime” and “Why
Do You Exist?” Remastered 2007 by Cliff Roman and Dix Denney; liner notes by
Roman and Mick Farren.

*We Got the Neutron
Bomb
EP (Dangerhouse, 1978)

*Who What When Where
Why?
12″ (Bomp!, 1979)

*Action Design 12″
(Rhino, 1980)

*Condor LP
(Frontier, 1990)

*Weird World
1977-1981: Time Capsule Volume One
(Frontier, 1991)

*We Got the Neutron Bomb:
Weird World Volume Two CD
(Frontier, 2003)

 

 

RISE… AND SHINE The Latebirds

They may hail from Finland, but the music’s all about
Americana. Album and tour both hit these shores next week, Aug. 30.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The songs ring with the authority of Americana anthems.
Hints of Springsteen, Petty and Mellencamp reverberate throughout. Taken in
tandem, it provides the rallying cry of heartland homeboys. Except… they’re
not. The Latebirds hail from Finland, which, by any measure, seems an unlikely
breeding ground for a sound so entrenched in roots rock sensibilities.

 

The Latebirds’ third and latest LP, Last of the Good Ol’ Days has found a Stateside release courtesy of
Second Motion Records and while it marks the band’s American debut, the
individual members aren’t exactly strangers to our shores. Drummer Janne
Haavisto and future Latebirds organist Matti Pitsinki were performing with
Finnish instrumental outfit Laika and the Cosmonauts at South By Southwest in
1999 when they met singer/songwriter Markus Nordenstreng and guitarist Jussi
Jaakonaho, with whom they subsequently joined forces.  Bassist Mikko Mäkelä
was recruited for some New York gigs a year later, and when Pitsinki was
officially added to the line-up in 2005, the group finally coalesced. Various
members have spent Stateside time studying and gigging, but the American and
Anglo influences left an indelible impression on them all. Further proof
resides in the fact that the new album bears a bonus disc called The Woodstock Sessions, featuring
stirring covers of “City of New Orleans” Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live Is To Fly”
and Kris Kristofferson’s “In the News,” which features the author himself
contributing vocals. The five song set — which also features two compatible
originals from Nordenstreng — was recorded at Levon Helm’s Woodstock studios
and, in addition to Kristofferson, boasts contributions from Benmont Tench,
David Rawlings, and naturally, Helm himself.

 

Blurt had
opportunity recently to speak with Markus Nordenstreng and ask about the
Latebirds’ origins, influences and everything else that inspires them to take
flight.

 

***

 

BLURT: Can you give us a brief synopsis of how the band came together? Did you
guys always have similar instincts and influences?

 

MARKUS NORDENSTRENG: I made my first solo
album (Moody) back in ‘98. Latebirds
guitarist Jussi Jaakonaho played on that record but the rest of the guys joined
later. When I was invited to play at South By Southwest in ’99, we didn’t have
money to bring my backing band at the time. After hearing that Finnish
instrumental legends Laika & The Cosmonauts (featuring current Latebirds
drummer Janne Haavisto and organ player Matti Pitsinki) were playing in Austin
that year as well, we decided to ask if we could join forces. About a year
later my old pal Mikko Mäkelä joined us for a couple of gigs in New York and
this essentially is how we became the band we are. The Latebirds was officially
born in January 2001 so it’s our tenth anniversary, which is kinda hard to
believe. Time flies…

 

 

Based on the Woodstock Sessions bonus disc alone, it’s easy to assume you’re strictly Americana, but in fact,
the full album suggests that Americana is only one additive in your sound.
There are also traces of Springsteen, Mellencamp, Posies… So question is –
how did you soak up all these divergent sounds and styles living in Finland?
What is the musical vibe over there?

 

Finns are generally known to be quiet, moody,
melancholy, even brooding at times and most definitely hard-drinking just about
all of the time. I guess this is very understandable – after all, the winters
up here are cold and dark. In December we only get 4-5 hours of daylight, and
if you go up to Lapland there’s hardly any daylight to speak of. And in the
summers the sun literally never sets. So if we’re a little unbalanced, Finnish
weather is to blame! Finnish cult film director Aki Kaurismaki has captured
some of these basic Finnish characteristics in his films. Our culture is
definitely very different from the rest of Scandinavian countries; we tend to
use a lot more minor keys in our folk music and our artists are way more
introverted than the Swedes are, for instance. And there’s BIG demand for black
metal (music that is)! And then there’s the famous Finnish tango that CNN once
covered…

 

 

That certainly seems like an eclectic mix.

 

The Latebirds are not your typical Finnish
tango nor metal band for sure. Then again, we have been told that our music has
a melancholy, dark vibe.  As individuals we are definitely quite different
from your average Finns. Our organ player Matti was an exchange student in
Virginia when he was a kid, so that’s how he got hooked to American sounds and
perhaps that’s also where he got some of that very witty sense of humor of his.
Janne, our drummer, spent a lot of time in Austin in the early ‘90s playing and
recording with many local artists and even considered moving there full time at
one point. Jussi, our guitarist, is one of the funniest guys in the world and
he’s also one of the most successful Finnish record producers in the past 15
years or so. And Mikko was the guy who first played me Tony Joe White and Arlo
Guthrie records back when we started playing together in garage bands around
‘94.

        Your
observations are right though. It’s not only American music we love and I think
that comes clear when you listen to our records. We all love ‘60s and ‘70s
English rock and I would say The Who has influenced our new album just as much
as The Band has. And it’s hard to escape the

Beatles or the Stones influence, even if you
happen to come from Helsinki. We also listen to a lot of world music these days
– from Fela Kuti to Vishnu Bhatt…

 

 

You seem to have made a ton of musical connections – Levon Helm, Kris
Kristofferson, Ken Stringfellow, the Wilco guys, Minnie Driver, Benmont Tench
all sing your praises. How did you make these connections and recruit them to
play on your album?

 

These are all happy accidents like most great
things in life. Levon Helm loves Finland (The Band played in Helsinki in the
‘90s), so when we recorded our previous album near his house in Upstate NY, he
invited us over and told us we should come back and record some day…so that’s
that.

        Stringfellow
I first met in ‘96 when Posies played in Helsinki and I keep bumping into Ken
all the time. The Wilco dudes I met around the same time – ‘96 or ‘97 when
Wilco played in Dublin while I was studying there. I got to know Ken Coomer and
John Stirratt then, and later I became friends with the rest of them, including
Nels who plays on our new album. Their current drummer Glenn’s wife Miiri is actually
half-Finnish, so there you go! We’ve toured with them a bunch over the years.
Minnie Driver hung out at Jim Scott’s studio while we were there recording the
album and insisted on singing one harmony part and it sounded beautiful. In
return, we introduced her to Finnish vodka! Benmont was a fan of Laika &
the Cosmonauts so that’s how Janne & Matti got to know him and later he
became a Latebirds supporter. It was thanks to Benmont that Jim Scott heard our
music and wanted to produce us in the first place, so we are extremely
thankful… and it was amazing recording with him live in the studio, which is
how we cut Last Of The Good Ol’ Days,
live in the studio, including lead vocals for the most part.

 

 

Is it a challenge for a band from Finland to break through? Finland
isn’t exactly in the heart of the music biz. Have you encountered any
resistance or prejudice from mainstream music fans who don’t get what you’re
trying to do?

 

It’s a challenge for sure, but then again
isn’t it just as much of a challenge to be in a rock band in, say, Iowa
City…? At least it’s more exotic to say we’re from Finland! Besides, compared
to Iowa City, Helsinki has a lot of music biz to offer. All major labels have
offices in Helsinki…

 

 

When you sing, there’s no hint of an accent. It sounds like you were
born in the American heartland. How do you achieve that? Do you sing
phonetically. One gets the feeling that English is your second language.

 

I grew up in Tanzania where my mom taught
journalism in the ‘80s. I started international school in Dar Es Salaam when I
was six years old, which is why I speak fluent English today. This has had a
huge impact on my life. When I first heard Springsteen at eleven years old, I
actually understood what he was singing about. Most of my friends were more
keen on getting their ears soaked in WASP and Iron Maiden records, and I think
partly this had to do with the fact that they had no clue what these dudes in
tights were singing about. Then again, I could be wrong…

        I
also spent one semester in Austin Texas in the early ‘90s when my dad had a
teaching post in the university over there. And Austin is a big Americana town
with lots of roots music everywhere so you couldn’t help hearing folks like
Willie Nelson and great TX songwriters like Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt.
In the mid ‘90s I went to study communication in Dublin, Ireland, but hardly
went to any classes, and studied songwriting instead. What an inspiring
environment Dublin is for a songwriter!

 

 

Yet, Americana really informs much of the sound.

 

My first introduction to rock music came from
Bruce Springsteen when I was eleven years old and that’s when I got plugged
into the great amp of life, as they say. I became a big fan of American popular
culture, from Jack Kerouac to John Coltrane, from Hank Williams to Bob Dylan,
from Paul Auster to Patti Smith, from Peckinpah to Scorsese, from the MC5 to
Snoop Dogg, from Mother Maybelle to Marlon Brando. I think there is a common
thread all along.

        In
the past ten years I’ve spent lots of time in the U.S. – not only touring or
recording with the Latebirds, but on my own as well. I prefer spending my
winters in Southern California instead of Southern Finland for sure…

 

 

You guys played the Grand Ol’ Opry. That’s quite an accomplishment. How
did that gig come about? What was the reaction? And what was it like?

 

We opened for Wilco at the Ryman and what an
honor indeed. It was one of the greatest nights of my life. People really
seemed to love us there. We got a standing ovation in the end, which apparently
is rare for any unknown opening act, much less a Finnish one. Believe it or
not, that very same day, while flying from Austin to Nashville on Southwest
Airlines, we bumped into Kris Kristofferson for the first time. Then three
years later, we ended up recording with him. Life is strange sometimes…

 

 

Is this your first American album? How did you get the deal with Second
Motion Records?

 

Yeah, we’ve had a good bit of bad luck in the
past. We’ve toured and recorded in the U.S. pretty much throughout our
existence and we’ve come very close to signing deals with some fairly big
labels but then something has always gone wrong.

        Our
deal with Second Motion was yet another great accident. My friend Ken
Stringfellow [of the Posies] mentioned we should get in contact with [Second
Motion President, and Blurt publisher] Stephen Judge, and then it turned out that we know a lot of
the same people and have similar goals. We’re also friends with the Glenn
Dicker and Tor Hansen from Yep Roc/Redeye, which is distributing our album.
Laika & Cosmonauts were on Yep Roc – Janne and Matti from our band have
known Glenn for over 15 years.

 

 

What’s next?

 

We plan to take over all major American
markets and rock you relentlessly! [We are doing a U.S. tour] once the album
comes out. And there’s talk of touring North America again in the fall. Let’s
see how it all maps out. We’re very optimistic and excited. We just got back
from playing a festival in Holland last week and the band is sounding tighter
and more dynamic than ever.

 

 

Blurt caught the band earlier this year at SXSW in Austin. Go here and
here to check out the staff comments and photos.

 

Latebirds U.S. tour dates:

 

Aug 30 – PHILADELPHIA PA, World Cafe Live
Sept 1 – SOMERVILLE MA, Johnny D’s
Sept 2 – BROOKLYN NY, Knitting Factory
Sept 5 – CHICAGO IL, Martyr’s
Sept 7 – LOS ANGELES CA, Bootleg Theatre
Sept 9 – HOLLYWOOD CA, Amoeba Music Instore
Sept 10 – SAN FRANCISCO CA, Great American Music Hall

 

 

[Photo credit: Markku Lahdesmaki]

RAIN’S PARADE papercranes

A fleet of friends
helps Rain Phoenix
make
Babies. Check the
sexily-mysterious videos, below.

 

BY SELENA FRAGASSI

 

Smack dab in the middle of papercranes’ recent album, Lets Make Babies in the Woods (Manimal
Vinyl), is a regaling trumpet solo. A stoic salute to the unwavering vocals of
band commander Rain Phoenix, the horns on standout track “Dust Season” are even
more curious when you consider the soldier behind it: Flea – as in the Red Hot
Chili Peppers’ bassist.

 

“It’s not necessarily what he’s known for but I knew he
loved playing trumpet and was in school for it at the time,” says Phoenix of
the long-time friend, an acquaintance of her late brother River, who she joined
on tour as a backup vocalist before pursuing her own songwriting. “It’s
interesting how you don’t necessarily approach somebody knowing why until
they’re there.” In actuality, Phoenix’s
belief in her intuition, from artistic collaborators to a fine-tuned recording
process, helped make Babies an even
more impressive and introspective reproduction than her first-born, 2006’s Vidalia.

 

 

 

 

 

“The only thing I was sure about on this record is that we’d
experiment,” she says, “and I didn’t second guess it, even if it made me feel
vulnerable.” Phoenix
was so strict about the stream of consciousness process that a newly formed
team of co-conspirators (among them, Plexi/Sweethead’s Norm Block, Jenny O.,
For Squirrels’ Andy Lord, and even guest cellist Dermot Mulroney) were not
allowed to bring their work home with them at the end of the day.

 

“I didn’t want anyone to have the track and listen to it to
come up with a part. I wanted them to just walk in, hear it, and play what came
to their mind,” Phoenix notes of the inaugural papercranes recording sessions,
held in a friend’s garage in L.A. “It was less about the smoke and mirrors of
what you could do, and more about the soul of the song, regardless [of whether]
it was defective somehow.”

 

Lucky for Phoenix,
her Babies turned out to be a perfect
delivery.

 

 

Go here to read the
BLURT review of papercranes’
Babies album.

KORT: OUTSIDERS LOOKING IN Kurt Wagner & Courtney Tidwell

This time around, the
alt-country mavens decide to work within Nashville traditions.

 

BY STEVE KLINGE

 

Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell have deep roots, both
biographical and musical, in Nashville, but until now they’ve kept an ironic
distance from “country music.” Wagner has led Lambchop down paths tangential to
classic country, but he’s been more likely to subvert clichés than embrace
traditions. Tidwell, who was born into a family deeply ingrained in Nashville’s
music industry, turned toward dark and stirring folk rock on 2006’s Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up. But
with KORT, they become partners in the tradition of Conway & Loretta or
George & Tammy, sharing and taking turns in the spotlight on Invariable Heartache.

 

“To me, it’s just an extension of both what I do and what
Cortney does, and who Cortney is and who I am,” says Wagner, from a Nashville
studio where the two were working on a new single. “Despite joining forces
together to do something else, we were able to actually look at country music
more directly, which both of us had not done individually.”

 

“Country was appealing to me again, after so many years of
distancing myself from it,” adds Tidwell. “It was really fun to make, and to get
back into the country thing again, realizing that good country exists.”

 

Invariable Heartache is a collection of covers mainly from the catalog of Chart Records, the
Nashville label run by Tidwell’s grandfather (and Grand Ole Opry member) Slim
Williamson, A&R’ed by her father Cliff Williamson, and home of her mother,
singer Connie Eaton. The originals were recorded between 1963 and 1975. Cortney
grew up with them, playing the 45s on her record player as a kid. Wagner knew
none of them before the two started exploring the hard drive full of the
out-of-print Chart archives. The pair, along with their KORT cohorts (including
many Lambchop regulars), play the songs as classic country weepers, with a few
joyful oddballs thrown in. Perhaps what’s most odd about the album, though, is
that “it is pretty straightforward stuff,” says Wagner.

 

“There’s nothing tricky or ironic about it or clever per se.
It’s really done with the purest of intent. I’ve kinda noticed that happening
in other types of current music that I listen to, and I’ve been reading about
it a little bit. People aren’t afraid to be a little more straightforward and a
little more direct about the stuff they make and the kind of sounds they respond
to.”

BLOODSHOT IN DENMARK Maggie Bjorklund

The Danish pedal steel player taps her Seattle and Tucson
connections and steps out solo.

 

BY NICK A. ZAINO

 

It is somewhat rare to see a
pedal steel onstage at your average rock club in America. It’s an accent instrument,
associated most specifically with country music. It’s even rarer in Denmark, where
Maggie Bjorklund grew up and where she is still based. It was years before she
was even able to meet someone with a pedal steel she could buy.

 

“I had to come to the US, because we are about three people in Denmark who play this instrument,” she says,
speaking by phone from Seattle.
“The Danes aren’t really used to incorporating that sound in their music
because it’s just not a commonly played instrument.”

 

That makes her 2011 debut, Coming Home (Bloodshot), that much more
remarkable. Bjorklund studied classical piano as a child and didn’t find
country music until she came to America
to study guitar. “I felt like it was such an exciting challenge to play that
kind of guitar that I just fell in love with it,” she says. “That’s what I had
to do, was to play this. That’s where I started listening to the music.”

 

Bjorklund, who is often hired
as a side musician, composes primarily on pedal steel. Home is rich with the instrument’s swooping, swelling sound (the
instrumental “Wasteland,” “The Anchor Song) and even a few things more cold and
unexpected (“Falling”). “I just go with the little, interesting ideas,” she
notes, of her writing methods, “and say, hmm, that was an interesting sound I
made, what can I do with that? It’s such a good feeling to just explore.”

 

Bjorklund is a regular in the
Seattle scene through producer Johnny Sangster,
whom she met in Denmark.
She tapped several Seattle
staples, like Jon Auer and Mark Lanegan, to sing on Home and write their own lyrics. (“I was extremely happy with what
they came up with, because I couldn’t have written that. I think it adds a
different kind of depth to the songs.”) In addition, her back-up band includes Joey
Burns, John Convertino, and Jacob Valenzuela from Calexico, whom Bjorklund met through
Paul Niehaus, their pedal steel player. “Pedal steel people,” she says, “when
they see each other, it’s like we have to talk to each other, all over the
world, everywhere we go.”

THEY’VE GOT THE POWER Ponderosa Stomp’s Girl Group Extravaganza

With Ronnie Spector,
La La Brooks of the Crystals, Lesley Gore, the Angels, Maxine Brown and more on
hand, NYC was awash in a Wall Of Sound.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

Lincoln Center and Ponderosa Stomp, the New Orleans-based
non-profit dedicated to honoring unsung heroes of rock ‘n’ roll and its
tributaries, did more than just offer a nice tribute with its She’s Got the
Power concert and symposium honoring girl-groups of the early 1960s. (The free
concert occurred on a sizzling Saturday evening at Lincoln Center’s
outdoor Damrosch Park Bandshell; the symposium was in a cool, air-conditioned
atrium.) The full name of the event was Ponderosa
Stomp Presents: She’s Got the Power! A Girl Group Extravaganza.

 

The presenters may have come up with a format and a line-up
for a concert tour as successful at reviving and reclaiming aging 1960s
recordings as Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tours have been. In this case, the music in question would be the imaginatively-produced
and -written, and passionately sung, American pop-rock of the early 1960s. To
some extent, Broadway has been keeping it alive with musicals like Jersey Boys and Leader of the Pack, but this show worked better.

 

One can easily see a full-sounding, loud but sensitive Wall
of Sound Orchestra – of the kind on display for this show – backing a bevy of
singers who were part of the original movement. And also as occurred at Lincoln Center, a choir of background singers –
voices arranged by Toni Wine (who at this show also took a dreamily
introspective solo on a song she co-wrote back in the day, “A Groovy Kind of
Love”) – could help the featured singers achieve maximum impact with the sometimes-forceful,
sometimes-heavenly beauty of the material.

 

And this show offered the kind of still-powerful singers who
could anchor such a tour in Ronnie Spector, La La Brooks of the Crystals,
Lesley Gore, Maxine Brown and more. (Alas, Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las and
Darlene Love were not at the Lincoln
Center concert, but one
would hope a first-class girl-group tour would include them.)

 

This wasn’t really an “oldies” concert. It was never
sentimental or kitschy; it sought to educate its audience and honor its
performer. The event’s title came from a non-hit single by the Exciters called
“He’s Got the Power” – and the Exciters (with original members Brenda Reid and
Lillian Walker Moss) were there to offer it, along with “Tell Him” and “Do Wah
Diddy.”)

 

The subtle change in title from that Exciters song to the Lincoln Center event – he to she – encapsulated
the deeper meaning of what was going on. While most of the era’s girl-group
songs were about their need for boys, this show was out to view those songs as
part of a time, a scene, when women competed as equals in shaping the artistry
and the business of youth rock. To underscore that, He’s Got the Power included
a tribute to the late Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich, who with
ex-husband Jeff Barry wrote many of the hits that came out of Phil Spector’s
Philles Records and its Wall of Sound productions – “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He
Kissed Me,” “Be My Baby,” “I Can Hear Music” “River Deep Mountain High” and
more. She was also a studio background singer and vocal arranger, and had a
girl-group of her own (the Raindrops).

 

Highlighting Greenwich’s
role gives intellectual heft to trying to untangle so many of these songs from
the grip of Phil Spector, a man fondly regarded by few these days because of
his treatment of women. That latter point was brought home during a symposium
panel honoring Greenwich,
when participant Seymour Stein – the owner of Sire Records – opined that
Spector didn’t belong in jail for the 2003 murder of an actress. “Whatever
happened was an accident,” he said, with little support from an audience that
mostly ignored him. The most interesting fact to come out of that particular
panel was that Greenwich
considered herself a “writer with a sound” – someone whose written works were
intrinsically connected to the production value of the recordings. Her sound?
The streets of New York.

 

The daytime panels were fascinating. In the first, featuring
members of the (white) Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”) and (black) Exciters, the
latter’s Lillian Walker Moss recalled integrating Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl
while on tour with the Beatles in 1964. Her group (along with Clarence
“Frogman” Henry, an African-American singer) was told they couldn’t play the
date because the Bowl was segregated. But the Beatles said they wouldn’t play
if black acts were excluded. “We thought, ‘Wow, we must be some incredible
group if the Beatles said they’re not playing if we’re not playing,” Moss said.
(The Beatles also demanded the audience not be segregated.) 

 

The concert drew some big-time fans. Steve Van Zandt did an
introduction, Paul Shaffer played on stage, and the band – called the
Boyfriends – featured Lenny Kaye, Ira Kaplan and Gene Cornish (of the Rascals).
Jeremy Chatzky, music director for Ronnie Spector’s exciting band and a
bassist, supervised the sterling overall sound. The concert was divided into
two overlapping parts. In the first, which had its own intermission, a parade
of acts sang their hits. It went fast, although the three headliners – Ronnie
Spector, Gore and Brooks, did get more time than the others. In the second part
of the show, most of the acts reappeared in a tribute to Greenwich,
even though Greenwich
songs were included in the first part.

 

Ronnie Spector, who has rebuilt her career by playing her
sublime 1960s Philles recordings with a band that offers horns, string sections
and background singers, was consistently top-notch during “Walkin’ in the
Rain,” “Baby I Love You,” “I Can Hear Music” and even a snippet of Amy
Whitehouse’s “Back to Black.” Gore’s set was a little bit slick, but it did
feature one of the earliest Top 40 hits with a feminist undercurrent – “You
Don’t Own Me.”
It maybe was an anomaly at the time, but it’s a historic marker now. Knowing
it’s her strongest, she saved it for set’s end and the strength and clarity of
her voice reminded the audience the song foretold the future.

 

Brooks, who was just 15 when she sang on Crystals hits in the early 1960s, has had a
struggle trying to be the standard bearer for that Philles Records’ group’s
legacy, as Ronnie Spector has become for the Ronettes’. She’s gotten a late
start, having lived abroad for many years. The Crystals had several girls who could sing
lead, and they were never promoted as stars the way Spector was. And two of their
biggest hits – “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” – were actually
Darlene Love tracks infamously and cavalierly released under the Crystals name by Phil
Spector.

 

But she has a few things going for her, too. She’s tall and
physically fit, able to do bends and splits on stage in her tight bellbottom
slacks. Her voice booms out with breathtaking authority. Also, she’s a New
Yorker, and her between-song raps have a Brooklyn-accented sass that instantly
makes her a hometown here.  Her set
before the Greenwich
tribute warmed up with “There’s No Other” (and she credited fellow Crystal
Barbara Alston for the original lead), “I Wonder,” “Little Boy” and “Girls Can
Tell.” And then “Da Do Ron Ron” thundered.

 

In the first half of this part, it was thrilling to see so
many of woman, more or less marginalized by rock history and the music business
today, get a chance to perform – however briefly – under optimum conditions
before a couple thousand devotees. Age has, obviously, sanded off the
youthfulness of some of the voices, but not the emotional commitment. And they
sang out, with pride in their songs and for their event. In some cases, the
singers took turns on stage backing each other.

 

Among highlights: Margaret Ross of the Cookies (“Chains,” “I
Never Dreamed,” and “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby”), Barbara Harris of
the Toys (“A Lover’s Concerto” and “May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone”), Nanette
Licori of Reparata & the Delrons (“Whenever a Teenager Cries”), and Louise
Murray of the mysterious one-hit-wonders Jaynetts (“Sally Go Round the Roses”).
Also, Beverly Davis reprised a marvelous Carole King-Gerry Goffin song she
recorded in 1965, “Let Me Get Close to You,” and dedicated it to two artists
who also recorded it, Skeeter Davis and Alex Chilton.

 

Two singers whose hits had less girl-group-sound trappings
than the others also got a chance. A wheelchair-bound Arlene Smith of the
Chantels, who predated the early 1960s heyday of the sound, dressed
spectacularly in a sequined violet coat, blasted out “Maybe” so powerfully you
felt a chill on a 90+-degree day. And Baby Washington received strong support
from back-up singers on her ethereally delicate, one-of-a-kind “That’s How
Heartaches Are Made.”

 

Somewhat singularly, Maxine Brown, who recorded for Florence
Greenberg’s important girl-group label Scepter/Wand, sounded changed and much
more adult while doing the introspective “All In My Mind” and “Oh No, Not My
Baby.” And she went far into gospel territory with an extended, grippingly
dramatic version of “We’ll Cry Together” that earned gasps and cheers for its
sermonizing quality.

 

The purpose of the Greenwich
tribute, the concert’s final act, was to remind everyone of her songwriting
contribution. Really, by now, everyone was aware, so it was like a fireworks
display after a winning ballgame, a glittery and sparkling way to salute the
end of a marvelous good time. The Exciters did “He’s Got the Power,” Gore
performed “The Look of Love” and “Maybe I Know,” Ronnie Spector closed the show
with the anthemic “Be My Baby” but also did “Chapel of Love,” which she had
recorded first but was beaten to the Top 40 by the Dixie Cups. And Brooks
rousingly took on Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High,” surprising herself
with just how much earthly grit and heavenly escape she could find in the
classic.

 

Now, if an enterprising booker/concert producer can just get
this on the road, it might be one of the best tours of 2012. It’s such a
pleasure to hear these songs – and see these singers – treated so well.

 

 

 

ON FIRE Lykke Li

It was a long cold lonely winter
for the maverick Swedish pop chanteuse but things have definitely been heating
up this summer.

 

BY A.D.
AMOROSI

 

Right before
I interviewed Lykke Li – Sweden’s
sumptuous nü-queen of tortured Spartan lovelorn pop – a video clip for a song
of hers, “Untitled” spooled onto the internet. With nearly no musical
accompaniment and done up in beautiful silvery halide black-and-white, the
whole thing appeared like a Warhol screen test with Li as a high-cheekbone Nico
type staring into some undefined distance. That is, until she started stabbing
the ground with feline distain.

 

This
woman and I would get along just fine.

 

To find
that the track doesn’t appear on her latest album Wounded Rhymes seemed odder for a woman who has made no bones (at
least sonically, from her 2008 debut Youth
Novels
) that she’s shied from pop promotion. That first CD, though laced
with young heartbreak and toothy poetry and buzzing keyboards all contained by
shaded-sun-dappled melody, was airtight-cold Swedish pop with the aid of Björn Yttling,
of Peter Björn and John, at its boards. Whether Lykke Li was or wasn’t grasping
for a brass ring with the obvious lot of hit songs such as “I’m Good, I’m
Gone,” “Hanging High” and “Dance Dance Dance” isn’t
the point. That ring dangles. You take it or don’t. Besides, who doesn’t align
themselves with the Twilight film
empire with her own take on vampy pop (“Possibility,” New Moon soundtrack) unless you’re going for the gold, ghoulish or
otherwise.

 

Which
brings us to that odd, out-of-nowhere video and Wounded Rhymes. Is moving away from the obvious so to toy with our
emotions, her promotion and more? Seems like it.

 

Recorded
again with Yttling at studio spaces between Sweden (which she hates because it’s
cold) and California (near the desert, which she loves because it’s hot), the
record is another tale of another relationship gone sour, with but a greater
sense of discord in its melodies, some primal heft in its rhythms, a darker
ambient sway to its arrangements, and a cocksure ache in her broken singing
sensibility. That’s not to say all of the bust-ups on the record are singularly
isolated to the poison pen, love-lettered or girl-group style. Li sings about
losing innocence, spirit, self, hope, power and dignity throughout the
un-pretty yet catchy proceedings. Hell, she may even have lost a car and a watch
on Wounded Rhymes‘ deepest crevices.

 

But
really, it’s all about boy or girl trouble on “Ladies Love” and “Unrequited
Love” and such.

When I joke with her that perhaps maybe she shouldn’t date after this for a bit
she laughs one of those laughs that in reality is the exasperated chuckle of a
subject that’s ready to punch her interviewer right in the schnozz.

 

Then
again, the connection from Sweden
where she’s hanging at present isn’t so great. Neither is the weather.

 

“It must
be my circulation because I’m always freezing,” say Li with a brrrr somewhere in the great mountain
hall that is her home. “I’m so fucking cold in this country. I don’t like tight
enclosed spaces either.” She doesn’t “arg” out loud. It is implied.

 

Implied,
too, is the noir desert vibe captured for posterity through the saunter and
sway of Wounded Rhymes – itself a
heated sultry benefit of having recorded in Echo Park CA
(at least some of the CD) and hanging in the deserts immediately outside the
county line.

 

“The
desert and nature is so overwhelming – in a good way.” She perks up in reaction
to the sunless grey of Sweden
versus the warm green and gold of America’s left coast. It’s hard for
her to make a musical commodity out of the heat and the swelter, other than how
it suited her frame; warm bones, warm beats, who knows?

 

“It was
just so fucking hot it was great and radically different than my usual
experience. It wasn’t so much sensual than it was magical.”

 

Before
you get magic, sun or busted-up new blues such as “I Know Places” and “Silent
My Song,” you got to figure out how she got so wounded. Especially when,
anytime you see a slip written about her, the gal sounds so chuffed and
unhappy.

 

“I guess
I’m happier in the beginning of a project than the end,” she says, this time
with near-perk. “It’s only then that you have all these possibilities in front of
you.” She sounds emboldened and excited and not so much the glass-half-empty
Lady Li that I expected.

 

“When you
can dream and everything is ahead of you, that’s really something. I like being
done as well. There’s mystery that lies ahead in that next step. It’s just that
middle time, when things are the most painful, where I go over the edge.”

 

Let’s
move away from the edge. Question shift.

 

 

Q: I know your dad’s a musician
and can gather what you may have gleaned from him. But your mum was a
photographer. What did you learn there?

A: I got the ability of being photogenic
from her as she took a lot of photos of me. That’s not about the vanity of
looking good. I don’t think that I am. It’s just that I don’t want to die when
I see the photos snapped of me.

 

 

Li’s
beauty is undeniable. But funnily enough, my Nico comparison stems from the
notion that Li, like she, hides in plain sight and obscures her wan features in
shadow. That’s perhaps why she dreamt of being a movie star or a footballer.
Anything but a pop star.

 

“All I
ever wanted to do was get away,” she says, when asked about starting the
recording process for the new record. She was feeling exhausted from the
never-ending world tour that came before and after Youth Novels dropped. “I’m always… looking… to stay true to the
moment that I’m going through, but I was feeling drained.” Big pause. “You
know, you start off hungry, a young girl, dreaming to get away. I never had
dreams of being a pop star. I just wanted something to change. But then you
wind up changing your whole life and then you want to escape from that too.”

Li lost
me there. Anyone who eschews the feeling of being hunted and busy with money
attached to the carrot on the stick gets no mercy from me. What does serve,
however, as a potent end to her muddled sentiment: when she took that break – the
first one she claims to have had in two years-she says she became a shell. “I
didn’t know what to do. The only thing I love to do-only thing I know now how
to do – is to sing and write. So it was back to work in the immediate.”

 

What was
different this time than last time in regard to her producers was that now, Li
got the Swedes to herself as opposed to the spare moments afforded and accorded
a newbie. “I had to forgo things on the first album as there was never enough
time. Never. That was a very traumatic experience.”

Maybe if the three of those cats had stopped all that whistling they could’ve
given Li an extra minute.

 

This time
out, everyone was on and there for the sole Lykke Li experience. Live musicians
playing mostly live (with a few overdubs) late into the Swedish night so to
capture moments such as “Rich Kids Blues” as hard and as raw as possible.

Immediacy is what she craves. “You lose so much along the way when you overwork
things,” she moans. “I was listening to some of Bob Marley’s demos the other day.
Why did they have to polish those? Why do they slick up some of the very best R&B
songs? After this, I want to make something rawer still; set an immediate mood
and a stark situation and live by it.”

Other than raw power and late nights, the other inspiration for Wounded was all things psychedelic and
hypnotic. Things that draw you in, then suck you up. “The type of sound where
five minutes has passed and you don’t even know what’s hit you or how long
you’ve been hit by it. I like that. I also think a lot of blues inspired me.
The repetitive thing where you don’t need to change a melodic or rhythmic
line.”

 

She likes
that the new songs can stay with one feeling, one grind and one groove – one
nation. Thinking about all things psychedelic, there’s none better for her than
to have taken in the sights and the sounds of fantastic LA. Yet don’t mention
the traditional sources of such psych (the Doors, perhaps) to her; she doesn’t
really go for it. Still, the melodies are brooding. The chords are often minor
and descending. There’s noise and discord, and the whole process is more
downbeat than sunshiny, as the last one was. Less sugar. More salt. Less syrup.
More blood. Heart’s blood at that – it’s darker.

 

 

Q: The first record’s heartbreak
was all yours. How about this one?

A: Yes.

 

 

Oy. Is
she too trusting, or too much the hopeless romantic to keep her heart from her
sleeves? “After this last experience,” she giggles, “I think I learned some
real lessons. Also, I feel as if that the heartbreak on this record isn’t just
limited to a singular relationship.”

You can break your own heart. You can disappoint yourself. You can tear
yourself into a million pieces. With that, Wounded
Rhymes
isn’t just about a lost love and a bruised heart. It is about the
loss of innocence, of youth and of hope. Despair is the rule but the game has
changed. It doesn’t just sit in a chair. On a song like first single “Get Some”
it isn’t about losing oneself to sex. It is about gaining or losing power – over
someone.

 

“It’s
about empowerment and motivation over someone-to avoid more problems.”

Good on that.

 

“It is
also about the power of being an entertainer and being entertained, ‘Get Some’
is. People expect certain things from you.”

 

“Sadness
is a Blessing” has a few angles in dealing with loss. It connects to what
William S. Burroughs called the algebra of need or even what Mel Torme sang of
as glad to be unhappy. “There’s a sadness that falls into place that is as
strong a feeling or scene though the object is gone,” she notes. “You wear it.
You own it. It becomes its own entity. You do not want to lose that sadness. It
becomes the only thing you have left of that past scenario that it replaced.
You look forward to it.”

 

She likes
that sadness, alright.

 

The song “I
Follow Rivers” is about how desire can pull you to certain places and not just
those involving drugs or sex. So that’s sad. And “Rich Kids Blues” is where you
find yourself in certain situations where you should be happy and you are not.

 

“You
start analyzing and analyzing,” says Li, no fan of analyzing herself. Rather,
despite her chain of fools that she suffered but for that moment, she is solid
at analyzing others. She is a good judge of people, outside of the
relationships that sunk – or rather raised-the bar on her two recorded
projects.

 

“I’ve
been through a lot of things. I can analyze myself and know where my
insecurities lie. I think I can do the same with others. I have, since
childhood really, had a tendency to see all people as children. And I can see
the little person in each and every one of us.”

 

The
rhymes may be wounded but her heart and head are in the right place.

 

 

An edited version of this story
appeared in issue 10 of BLURT. Lykke Li’s European tour continues this weekend,
August 20, then moves to Singapore
and Australia
starting on September 21. The next leg of her North American tour kicks off
November 5. Dates can be found at her official website.

 

 

THOSE SONS OF BITCHES Neil Hamburger

Some folks just don’t like the standup comedian.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Despite a spell of
tuberculosis Neil Hamburger, America’s
Funnyman, remains upbeat. “But thaaaat’s my…” He can’t quite get the whole catch phrase out, but it could be because at
this stage in his career, he’s keenly aware of how such lines become hackneyed.
So talk turns to the vinyl debut of his classic lost album.

 

Clearing his throat, the
legendary entertainer clears his throat and asks, “What is it?” Why, it’s Hot February Nights (Drag City),
the 33-minute set from your tour with Tenacious D! “Oh, yeah. Okay. That was a
classic. It won several awards.” Isn’t it also his most confrontational
performance?

 

“That’s what some of the
critics say,” says Hamburger. “They say that the audience [wasn’t] on board.
I’m just trying to make people laugh and forget their problems, you know?”

 

Unfortunately, he sometimes
doesn’t get the opportunity because younger audiences are too “souped-up on
Mountain Dew or Diet Mountain Dew. They have no manners, and no grace. They
start yelling out the four-letting words and emitting the foul odors and just
behaving like assholes.” Here are three scenes that earn his ubiquitous
utterance, “Thaaaat’s my life!”

 

***

 

Costa Mesa, CA

I’m telling a joke about
Terri Schiavo… And this guy rushes up to the stage and starts yelling every
name in the book at me-“How dare you tell a joke like that? My dad died of
cancer!”-and pretending like he’s gonna throw a punch. I said, “Terri Schiavo
didn’t die of cancer, and the joke had nothing to do with cancer or with your
dad.” And he, again, screams at me. So I had to throw a drink after him… You
can’t let these people get away with it.

 

Camden, NJ

Onstage with Tenacious D, 10,000
people in the crowd, wearing a tuxedo-and this son of a bitch throws some
french fries at me and [ketchup] splatters all over the tuxedo. This gets a
round of applause, but I’m on the road; I can’t get the tuxedo cleaned. The
next night at Madison
Square Garden
I had to soak the tux in water… If the tuxedo is wet, then the whole thing
looks black and you don’t see the ketchup.

 

Charlottesville, VA

I must’ve had a dozen or so
new jokes that [nobody] would have heard, except some prick, some asshole,
posted last night’s show on YouTube and these two creeps memorized all the
punchlines and [shouted them] ahead of time. So I threw all three drinks I had
right in their faces. Finally I had to dispense with the jokes altogether just screaming
every word I could think of that is a synonym for “loser.” For “asshole“, for “vermin“… at these pricks.
So then, I left the stage…and the owner of the night club says some fans really
wanna get a photo with [me]. And he opens the door and it’s these two sons of
bitches! I slammed the door right in their faces.