Monthly Archives: March 2012

A HIGH(ER) VOLTAGE The Mars Volta

The Omar
Rodriguez-Lopez of 2012 is a far different person than the rigid “Little
Hitler” who ended his first band over a decade ago. He tells BLURT why.

 

BY RYAN REED

 

Just as I ring up Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (the producer/arranger/guitarist
responsible for every proggy, schizophrenic second of The Mars Volta’s six
full-length albums), the restlessly creative boundary-pusher is – for the first
time in his winding, unpredictable career -preparing to take his first
baby-steps backward. He’s less than an hour away from his first rehearsal with
At the Drive-In, the pioneering art-punk outfit co-founded in 1993 by his best
friend and current collaborator, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and
guitarist-vocalist Jim Ward.

 

Rodriguez-Lopez isn’t much of a reminiscer, especially when
it comes to creativity. Not mentioning his work on multiple films, he’s written
and produced over 30 collaborative projects in the last decade, not including
his work with The Mars Volta, the critically acclaimed (and extremely
adventurous) band he created with Zavala after At the Drive-In’s 2001 demise.
For Lopez, “the process is the point.” The experience of creating
music, the challenge of pushing forward to wherever his muse takes him next, is
far more important than whatever the end result happens to be. So for many
critics and fans, the odds of an At the Drive-In reunion (at this point, solely
limited to a handful of live performances, including the Coachella Festival)
seemed as likely as a Beatles reunion.

 

But the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of 2012 is a far different
person than the rigid “Little Hitler” (as he was dubbed by his Mars
Volta bandmates) who ended his first band over a decade ago. In The Mars Volta,
in which he composes and arranges music for every single instrument, Lopez grew
to be a studio dictator, teaching his players their parts individually and
leading them through a blind recording sessions with no idea what the final
product would sound like. He was controlling, obsessive, possibly even a little
out of his fucking mind. Which, ultimately, has led to an endless series
of band firings (particularly on the drum throne) and a blindingly fast
creative speed that ultimately left Zavala, his longtime creative
partner-in-crime, with a sour taste in his mouth.

 

After finishing sessions for 2009’s dreamy, atmospheric Octahedron,
Lopez immediately began work on the next Mars Volta album, a series of
stripped-down, emotional (and slightly futuristic) tracks, which he promptly
handed over to Zavala. Under pressure from Lopez, and needing more time for his
heady lyrical concept to bloom, Zavala threw up his hands in frustration,
leading the duo’s first major point of creative tension. Eventually, Lopez
relented, giving the singer the time and space to finish the job properly – and
the result is Noctourniquet, the band’s finest, most direct collection
of songs since their brilliant debut, 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium.

 

These days, Lopez has a new outlook on life. Though Noctourniquet still reflects his studio dictatorship (or “the end of an era,”
as Lopez puts it), it’s an album exploding with emotion and sonic
possibilities. Lopez’ once furiously overdubbed guitars are trimmed to a
strikingly melodic core, the band’s sound now dominated by spacious
synthesizers, the pulsating rhythms of newly implemented drummer Deantoni
Parks, and Zavala’s robust voice, which alternates between angelic coos and
demented rumblings. Though he says the next Mars Volta album will be the
product of an actual band (one built on collaborative ideas and, you
know, fun), it’s easy to see and hear the fallen dictator’s openness
already.

 

***

 

BLURT: I know you were kind of the straggler when it came
to the At the Drive-In reunion, and I know Cedric was influential in convincing
you to agree. I’m wondering about why you agreed to participate – is it because
of your philosophy at the moment of being less controlling and more open to new
experiences in both life and music?

OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ: Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s in
line with just the way I’m experiencing life now – which is exactly that,
wanting to be less controlling and less hung up on stuff. And you know, it’s a
whole lot more lighthearted now because so many years have passed, you know?
And we’ve all talked for the past three years, and we’ve all become friends
again. And then somebody offers you work the way Coachella did, and you’re just
like, “Oh, well, why not?” It’s like the same way you were
mentioning. It’s like, I was the last one to get onboard, and Cedric was like,
“Get over yourself!” And just that one way of looking at it makes you
go, “Yeah, I guess that would be pretty cool – hang out with everybody
again and play those songs.” And now would be the moment to do it – because
I can’t see myself doing it at 40, and I’m getting there, you know? (laughs)

 

When I talked to you last year, around the time of your
solo compilation, we talked a lot about your relationship with Cedric and how
you guys came to that point of tension. I know you don’t tend to look back on
your work, but when you listen to the album or play these songs live, do you
hear that tension between you and Cedric, or do you hear the resolution to that tension?

No, I don’t particularly hear the tension just because the
tension happened afterwards, you know what I mean? Since these songs were
already recorded. The songs themselves remind me of a completely different era,
but as a whole, you hit the nail on the head. As a whole, as looking at far
away and not particularly the songs or the era but as a whole, as a finished
thing that is now coming out, it definitely symbolizes the revolution that
you’re speaking of. Because I know for me that that album is the last of its
kind, that I’m not gonna run The Mars Volta in that way anymore. That’s exactly
what it symbolizes.

 

There’s definitely a newfound emphasis on keyboards and
synths on Noctourniquet, which I find interesting because that’s
actually happening after Ikey (keyboardist Ikey Owens) left the band. I always
loved Ikey’s parts in the past, but they always felt a bit buried in the mix
and were never really the emphasis of a given song. Did you go in that
direction just to try something new for yourself, or were you inspired by
anything in particular?

It was really just to do something new. It was really just
what I was going through in the sense of realizing how my own totalitarianism
and my own obsessiveness of doing my band the way I wanted had sort of
alienated everyone close to me. So I started doing less guitar. What you have
to understand is that’s the reason why Ikey quit, for example: I write all his
parts, and he’s just sitting there playing. It’s not fun for him. It hasn’t
been fun for anyone in the band. They’re just used as puppets. It’s not like a
normal band where people get to hang out in the studio and everybody shares
ideas, and someone says, “I like that” and another guy says,
“Oh, I’m not sure!” And then you get to the mix or whatever. For 10
years, I just brought someone in, showed them their parts, and as soon as they’re
done, I kicked them out. They didn’t get to go to the mix, they didn’t get to
hang out, they didn’t get to do anything. So it hasn’t been fun for people.

        So after 10
years, I started to realize the fact that I was alienating all these people who
were kind enough to play my music for so long. So when I would get upset and
fire people, I would later realize I gave them no reason to be excited in the
first place, so of course it was going to go down this path. And so this time,
I just wanted to have more of an emphasis on these keyboard parts that I’d been
writing, and for whatever reason when I go to the mix, I always push the
guitars more – I guess because I literally played the guitars. And on this
record – Lars Stalfor (the band’s engineer, who also plays keyboards live) is
just a live musician. He didn’t play anything on this record, and neither did
my own brother (keyboardist-percussionist Marcel). I played all the keyboards
on this record. So this time, it was like, “Fuck, if there’s ever a moment
to do it and push the keyboards, it’s now.” It wasn’t because -t he
difference before, I pushed the guitar because I literally played it. I wasn’t
pushing the keyboards because I played them because again, I’d written all the
parts, so you’d think I’d want them all to be heard. It’s because the guitar
represents more of that old persona of myself, that old controlling person, and
that’s what it started to represent for me. And so I just chose to have those
lower in the mix and have them be less and strip them down. For me, it was a
symbolic way of sort of killing off that era.

 

The chorus to “Dyslexicon” is one of my
favorite Mars Volta moments ever. Cedric sounds so confident and powerful
throughout this album. Do you think simplifying the arrangements and being less
of a studio dictator has given him more confidence?

I think in his own life, he was going through things that
gave him a lot more confidence. Again, this record symbolizes the last of its
kind. I wasn’t any less of a dictator on this record. This record is literally
the nail in the coffin. This is the last record where we’ll hear how The Mars
Volta has been in the past 10 years, which is just my project, my thing. It
hasn’t really been a collaboration, which is what Cedric and I realized. It’s a
collaboration when you do something together. Mars Volta has always been: I
make these tracks, I write all this shit, and then I record it all and hand it
over to him, and he writes his lyrics. So in that sense, it’s more like a pop
act or a hip-hop act. Somebody has tracks, and somebody else sings on them. So
what I do is completely independent, with little to absolutely no input from
him, and what he does has little to absolutely no input from me. So I think for
both of us, and for him, knowing that this was going to be the last of its
kind, you give it your all. And plus, I think it’s reflective of what he was
going through in his life in that moment.

 

Do you know what he was going through at the time that
would have boosted his confidence?

He sobered up, you know? Something I did years ago – and
that’s something that gives you a whole different level of confidence.

 

There seems to be a lot of confusion and
misinterpretation from the press about Cedric’s lyrical concept for this album.
I know it has something to do with the Solomon Grundy nursery rhyme and
some Greek mythology. Do you have any personal interpretation of the concept?

I don’t. Simply again because it’s always been two things
that are done completely independent from each other. He writes his lyrics, and
I’ve never once asked him what a lyric means in our whole time writing
together. My job as a producer is to make them blend and make them seem like
one cohesive thing. So I know what you know – what he said. He was listening to
The Cockfathers, and I know the Solomon Grundy thing. There’s a big Scientology
thing, too, because he’s into that. That’s the stuff he’s into, and I’m into
other things. So I’m not exactly sure what the concept is.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Eliot Lee Hazel]

 

 

 

 

NOT JUST FIDDLIN’ AROUND Andrew Bird

The
virtuoso violinist returns with an unadulterated masterpiece.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Andrew Bird’s facility with a violin makes it far too easy
to overlook his brilliance with the instrument – not to mention his formidable
songwriting skills. Since first getting us to take notice of him as a featured
sideman with the Squirrel Nut Zippers in the late ‘90s, Bird’s solo work has
taken us from Mitteleuropa gypsy
flavors and Suzuki-method virtuosity to Stephane Grappelli jazz, Caribbean
island flavors, rustic Appalachian fiddle, sea shanties and contemporary
looping wizardry.

 

But those geographic destinations, as well as the genre and
era touchstones, only tell the most obvious part of the story. Take the lovely “Danse
Caribe,” for instance, off Bird’s twelfth and latest, Break It Yourself. Over the course of five minutes, Bird gets his
violin to play the role of a lonely pedal steel and mimic the eerie warble of a
Theremin, but he’s only getting warmed up. Soon he’s morphed his violin into a long-breathed
keyboard instrument like harmonium, then turns to percussive pizzicato for a
banjo sound that’s shadowed by steel drums until you can’t tell the two apart. As
the Graceland-like calypso beat drifts
toward the song’s fadeout, he throws off an Appalachian reel that slips
effortlessly into soaring virtuoso trills and runs.

 

As mind-blowing as the range of sounds is that he pulls from
his violin, what’s more impressive is that none of them come off as showy and
that they all serve the song. And like “Danse Caribe,” the 14 tracks here rank among
some of the best Bird’s ever done. Recorded to Tascam 8-track in the barn where
many of his songs typically first take flight in a solo setting, Bird for the
first time invited his band – Martin Dosh on drums, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker
and bassist Mike Lewis – to collaborate “instinctively” over a week of
rehearsals that wound up instead as a recording session and provided the tracks
with a palpable live feel.

 

Unlike the studio-polished tapestry of his last few studio
recordings, that unfussy vibe runs throughout this record and imbues the music
with the natural surroundings in which it was recorded. Whether it’s the contemplative
tango “Near Death Experience Experience,” the love-gone-sideways pocket
symphony “EyeonEye,” a twangy lullaby like “Sifters,” or the processed chamber
folk-pop of “Desperation Breeds,” you can sense the openness of Bird’s barn
studio more than any other record since 2003’s Weather Systems.

 

That’s key, and not just because you can picture evening
fireflies and big sky storm clouds, hear the crickets (literally, on the
instrumental LP-closer “Bells”) and the nearby Mississippi flowing past. It ties music into
nature, and that is Bird’s thematic home turf. On the opener “Desperation
Breeds,” his violin’s pizzicato beats and long, flowing lines turn to trills
that flutter like windblown butterflies over sun-dappled fields of wheat. With
that image circling in your mind, Bird establishes a favorite narrative theme
where science – often in the form of technological innovation — and human
endeavor merge until it’s practically impossible to distinguish between them.
Here, in this global warming “era without bees,” it’s desperation that
mankind’s hubris breeds as often as innovation, a reminder that the products of
our too-often shortsighted ingenuity indelibly shape us as well as our
environment.

 

But as bad as our relationship with nature is, we don’t fare
much better in our relationships with each other: “Lusitania” uses two
shipwrecks (the sinking of the Maine, too) as relationship metaphors; the
narrator in “EyeonEye” toys with the idea of breaking his own heart to test
Shakespeare’s “tis better to have loved and lost” dictum; on “Give It Away,”
the narrator urges a lover to hide in the hay with him away from the world and
its “worthless currency,” where the “foxes and field mice make their dens.”

 

But as often is the case on Break It Yourself, even our own inner monologues aren’t to be
trusted. The simple melancholic whistled melody and minor guitar chords of
“Lazy Projector” take to task “that forgetting, embellishing lying machine,” our
memory. It’s the same “drives you mad” faculty that the slashing fiddle strokes
and accusatory plucking in “Orpheo Looks Back” warn against. Even the island in
“Danse Caribe” – a metaphor for autonomy – is anything but positive despite the
sunny musical climes.

 

And that’s Bird’s best trick of all; tackling heady topics and
dark facts in the language of deceptively
simple folk-pop songs that make us smile more than weep. By the last two
tracks, he has taken us far afield only to show that we’ve never really left
our natural state. The processional “Hole In the Ocean Floor” reads like a
dream of various musical components that drift together so naturally you never
really notice any of the transitions or, for that matter, that the earth is
dying and we’re a part of the decay. And with the three-minute instrumental
closer “Belles,” Bird lays us down on a pillow of gossamer tones where bells
and violin and crickets are all indistinguishable, a paean to the close bonds
between our music and nature’s. That’s territory that few explore more
beautifully than Bird.

 

Andrew
Bird’s North American tour kicks off April 9 in Seattle. Full itinerary at his official
website.

 

[Photo Credit: Cameron Wittig]

 

DISCO VÉRITÉ Justice

The French electronic duo just wanna make you feel. They
kicked off a high profile North American tour last weekend.

 BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

One doesn’t
immediately think of serious issues when considering Justice. France’s arena
rock-worthy electronic duo – Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay – have spent a
decade refining their compressed distorted synth sound and choppily cut bass
lines for maximum dance floor effect. Certainly their hard dark first album
(the cross symbol †) and their latest release,
the softer sunnier Audio, Video, Disco,
both benefit from big bass and rock grandeur with but the sonorousness of
quietude to set them elegantly apart.

 

Yet, several weeks before the new
album is set to drop, reality sets in and the pair must consider the life
cycle. First, their close buddy DJ Mehdi passed away in September, killed in a
freak accident during a roof collapse. A little over one week after that, de
Rosnay and his girlfriend had a baby daughter, which sent Augé scurrying to London to be with the happy trio after the
birth.

 

“So far, we’re
good,” says Augé, his thick accent and friendly demeanor most prominent as he
talks about the light stuff of readying a live show that promises to be as
boldly unique as the tour following †’s release (and documented on the live DVD
A Cross the Universe). Push a
little bit more, something personal about his tumultuous month and his insight
into the circle of life trailing behind him, and he stiffens quickly. “I don’t
know… it is for me… nothing to comment about,” he says solemnly.

 

Shifting gears
quickly, this writer mentions how the decade of being Justice started with the
pair making tracks together for Musclorvision’s Hits Up To You compilation where each tune was meant to sound as if
it was designed for the Eurovision song contest. The compilation used two of
their songs, and one tune from Augé’s alter-ego Microloisir. Now that gets Augé
to laughing. “That was a pretty funny start,” he says.  “It’s would be tough to pick one thing that
was so great about getting together. We’ve been
really joyous since our start and
I think that reflects on our
music.” One thing he does focus on was the first time
the pair did drugs together. It was mushrooms. “Now that was
a rich experience,” he snorts.

 

Psilocybin and dance
music aside, Justice’s gents are cautious careful types. After they gained
notoriety for the dirty 2003 remix of Simian’s “Never Be Alone” and
were immediately signing by Ed Banger’s label, it took four more years to
release the debut album and another four years after that to drop Audio, Video,
Disco
. Augé claims that the pair gets drained by touring, doing tracks
for other artists and games and taking on the occasional solo effort.
“Actually, recording the new album took a year and three months, the same the
last album took.” Cautious perhaps not, but exacting, perhaps.

 

“We are never as
good as when we are together,” laughs Augé. “We just have to wait for the right moment.” Despite the
precise nature and hermetic feel of the two albums, the new AVD is far less so despite
its hearty level of programming. Once within the
walls of tracks like the epic
“Civilization” you can
hear the instinctual thrust, a raw-ness
at work.

 

“Thank you for noticing. It’s good that you feel it. We wanted to get rid of the production tricks, especially the ones we had developed on that first record,” says Augé, focusing on †’s
very distortion and overt compression that made it popular. The new thing is softer,
quieter and way more spacious than the crushingly electro-cramped first album.
“We wanted to make this record more loose and spare so to create a new kind of proximity to the music, for us and the audience. When we
make music, we are not over thinking it. We’re just trying to provide
something simple and with straight emotions. We always make music in a very naïve way.  We feel
nothing for over the top anything. We want no parody elements in our music.”

 

Justice,
according to Augé, think of Audio, Video, Disco,
as a modern
pop record without tricks, one
whose main concern is to make people feel. Whether it’s a sensation of melancholy, happiness or anger, Justice wants you to feel
it. To an extent, this is why the duo decided to record the new effort in a
basement without scads of equipment. They wanted it to be homemade
music. “We don’t have elaborate demanding needs for
space or equipment,” he says. “We spent a few months trading
old stuff for new older equipment. We didn’t have sound engineers approach the music. It’s just us. And we don’t know that much.”

 

Augé loves the
fact that they are studio rookies. If you know too
much about something in their estimation it sounds like it.
The sound then is un-instant. “You lose some personal style and freshness
when you are too good at something,” he says.

 

The softer
quieter spacious arrangements of AVD was certainly new to Justice. They wanted
to feel the air in the room, the air around the instruments. In order to achieve
that the pair had to change their way
of writing and working. Nothing cluttered. “For first
time ever, we used short samples in our arrangements that
made something sound twice produced. We wrote in a very classical way on piano, guitar and bass. We
kept the tracks arid and sparse so
to add layers of harmonies.”

 

Justice wanted to
balance the minimal production-“less in-your-face than the last record, but still assertive”-with maximal music. Pointless as it was to
do things the same way as they had on their debut album, Justice ditched the compressed
distorted sound that made it their aggressive “night time” album. “Instead we
made this new one our daytime disc,” says Augé. “Something open, airy, romantic and way more about a
country side than a dark dance club.”

 

An edited version of this story originally
appeared in BLURT 11.

 

 

[Photo Credit:
Paul Heartfield]

SEX, SPACE, PRIESTS AND GIRLS: Of Montreal

With the Athens band currently on
an extensive tour
, we present this Kevin Barnes archival interview from 2011,
originally published in BLURT #9.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

One of the things that happens within the collective life of
a singular pop star and an irksomely essaying journalist after several
interviews throughout many years is that a mood sets in; that of an ongoing
dialogue in which you get where a subject might go before you get to them, and
the flow always feels freshly conversational.

.

There are few places worth getting to (even fewer subjects
worth going with) that are more uproarious, delightful or fresh than where
Kevin Barnes may go. 

 

Since 1997 and from the start of his tenure as the often
sole and always central fountainhead for Of Montreal, Barnes has gone from
cherubic to chiseled; from writing quietly personal narratives to torrid tales
of imagined characters to self-centric emotionalism where sour and sad themes
pore dramatically over upbeat music. From sane to troubled to back again; from
single to married; from the foppishly literary Ray Davies-like innocent pop
prince of the Elephant 6 scene’s second watery wave, to the musky (better than)
Prince-ish king of his own brand of iconic, over-sexed, prog-glam-funk.

 

“You are going to hell for that
remark,” says Barnes, shocked but with a smile, regarding my Prince dis. The
sex, funk and glam thing-that he’s
cool with.                                                                                                                       

 

Maybe I’m overemphasizing Of Montreal’s present level of
purple passion and its furiously finicky funk. Maybe I’m overstepping my charge
toward Of Montreal’s
stature(s) and how divinely brash and contagiously abstract and moonage
daydreamy they’ve been within the last 13 years. Yet, over his ensemble’s last
few recorded efforts in particular, 2008’s Skeletal
Lamping
and 2010’s False Priest, Barnes
has grown into the bizarre immensity (or immense bizarreness) he only hinted at
on the band’s quaint but cutting 1997 debut Cherry
Peel
.

 

For the most part, this ever-blossoming
one-man-band-turned-gang-bang, has grown into a (Gay) parade worthy of acclaim, increasingly garish outfits and, on False Priest, adventurous jumper-ons and
collaborators such as Solange Knowles (Beyonce’s risk-taking sis) and theatrical
Afro-space-case Janelle Monáe, whose debut CD, The ArchAndroid Barnes co-produced and with whom Of Montreal will
tour this autumn.

 

Then again, Barnes doesn’t need more sartorially splendid
members in his band or partners in his madness to have a party. In this
writer’s estimation, he’s a shifter; a skin-shedding sort who can people the
circus in his head and the carnival from his loins with radically diverse
characters across many acts.

 

“I don’t know if I’d phrase it that way even though on some
level I suppose it’s sort of true,” said Barnes, before he started his brief
spring fling of tour dates to alert the world to False Priest‘s rainbow adventures. “I just don’t wanna ever repeat
myself and am always searching for new inspiration because of it.”

 

It’s liberation-musical and sexual and therefore
psychological and spiritual-that’s his biggest inspiration. That’s what brought
Barnes to this new place; a rebirth (or two), if you will.

 

After several Merseybeat inspired albums (including the ’97
debut and 1998’s The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy), and an
oft-reported bout of depression it was Skeletal Lamping that showed
off his love of classic funk elders. He’s not the first man or woman to be
saved by the funk. Yet, as a guy, he claimed he was less repressed; freer and
more sexual than ever before.

 

“It was a personal liberation that informed the art,” says
Barnes. That openness allowed inspirations such as Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and
Curtis Mayfield to flow through Barnes and his newest music. “I love that they
don’t restrict themselves creatively. They just let it all hang out.” That
level of funky freedom suits Barnes’ goal of making complex music just fine.
“Not complex in a math-y way but in an emotional, intellectual and soulful way.
The most important thing is to follow the creative muse that has a message for
you to deliver. Right now, the message it wants me to deliver is of a
homo-luminous funky nature.”

 

Sometimes, in his estimation, that hunting and pecking-the
search-gets him into trouble with friends and family who might, in his words,
find him difficult and moody. “I have the misfortune of being in a constant
state of emotional instability. My feelings about things and people change so
quickly and unpredictably. I don’t wanna be narcissistic or self consumed. It
is in my nature to be so, though. It’s hard to deal with. That’s why I tend to
keep to myself. “

 

Still, all and everything can be forgiven through art.

 

“If you make a beautiful record or novel or film people will
forgive your unfortunate passions and personality crimes,” says Barnes. “I
think everyone in the Of Montreal art collective knows that I’m not a bad egg.
At least I hope they do. “

 

If the magnificent False
Priest
is the result of the trouble he’s seen and the zeal he’s feeling,
all is forgiven.

 

*****

 

Months later I find Barnes on the road from Athens,
GA, to Jackson,
MI, and pose a question that many
a man, woman, artist and Talking Head has asked: well, how did I get here? And if I did move so far from my
beautiful house and my beautiful wife to something freer and franker, when
exactly did the aesthetic shift occur and how exactly did it reach into the depths of the soul-not music, but the self-so to free
one’s ass so that one’s mind would follow.

 

In previous chats, Barnes seemed slightly reluctant to
ruminate on the personal and psychological aspects of the freedom.

 

The touring he and Of Montreal have done within the last
five years comes into play; so do the places he’s gone to emotionally, onstage
and off. “I guess I’ve been pushing myself to explore deeper levels of my
psyche, just out of fascination for unearthed human potential. I think it’s
important for people to force themselves out of their comfort zones as much as
possible as that is the only way we can develop or evolve emotionally,
intellectually and spiritually.

 

And when? While some might point to the primal urges and
daring pop of 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are
You the Destroyer?
as the start of Barnes’ animal liberation, he sees the
aforementioned aesthetic shift occurring even earlier, with 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic.  That’s when he took complete responsibility
for Of Montreal’s creative trajectory: “I felt an incredible amount of freedom
and excitement, like being reborn. I’ve been riding that wave ever since.”

Though I shouldn’t put words in his mouth, I do: does that mean there are two
Of Montreals? There’s the Mersey
Beating Elephant 6 Of Montreal based out of Georgia and the Carolinas that audiences first
learned to love, then the one that appeared right after 2006 where
Space Is The Place right after you turn the corner from Minneapolis,
Philly and Memphis…

 

“We joke around about that-that it does seem like OM has gone through many different stages, not just from
a personal standpoint but also from a creative and stylistic standpoint,” says
Barnes. “I guess it all comes from the sort of mercurial nature of the creative
process and the bizarre personality traits of artists. It seems to be in most
artists’ nature to seek out the ‘new,’ so there are bound to be casualties
along the way. “

 

Barnes may never have realized that he’d split the
differences between his Of Montreals. He did know that he’d always make music-even
though, at age 14, he went through his sports phase and the idea of becoming a
professional football player. “Then I realized I was too wimpy for that and
switched to making music.”

Speaking of wimpy and music… the Elephant 6 Collective, of which Of Montreal rode
the second wave. The fluffy Anglo-inspired psych-pop seemed, at first, made for
Barnes: his softly confessional and post-dated lyrics, his warm dreamy
melodies, Yet Of Montreal was the least publicized or understood of the E6
acts. He must now feel justified in his choice of euphoric, cheerfully arcane
lyrics and preening pop music, because it is Of Montreal that’s lasted and
flourished into the present

 

“At the time of Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor
Control’s heyday we definitely felt a bit in their shadow, but it wasn’t a bad
thing at all, because the attention they received only motivated us and
inspired us. We truly loved them as people and artists. Still do…”

Barnes pauses. He hasn’t really thought about that scene and buds like Marshmallow Coast in some time. And he claims there’s
no nostalgia in his veins or brain, saying, “I tend to leave the past in the
past,” not considering the fact that his biggest influences at the moment might
be Kool & the Gang and Marvin Gaye.

 

“It’s funny for me to listen to our albums like The Gay Parade [1999] and Coquelicot [a/k/a Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse,
2001] ‘cause I can’t really believe that I made them. I’m so far removed for
whatever inspired those albums, it’s almost like someone else made them and
just credited them to me. I have almost no memory of being involved with them.”

Then the breakthrough: “I have almost become a completely different person.
Maybe I was abducted shortly after Aldhils
Arboretum
[2002] and given a new identity.”

It’s true. If you find pictures of Barnes in the old Of Montreal and compare
them to photos of the current collective ensemble, you won’t recognize him. So
many hairstyles and tony outfits. Or the bandmates, for that matter, as so many
players have passed through Of Montreal’s turnstiles. Then again, for the most
part, some of the early efforts like 1998’s buoyant The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy are but solo albums with long
names above the title.

 

Initially it was very difficult to find people who were
interested in the sort of anachronistic vision that Barnes had as a musical
youth. When he was still living in the south Florida of his childhood he didn’t really
know anyone who had a copy of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or the Kinks’ We
are the Village Green Preservation Society
or any of the albums he was
obsessing over. He says he never wanted to do music completely alone despite
the fact that his insularly iconic sound often states otherwise. “I knew that I
had to move somewhere else to find some like-minded people. It’s been very
important to me to have a great support group, to feel like I’m a part of a
collective of artists. It’s funny, ‘cause OM has become a collective in a way; the
live production consists of so many different elements and showcases so many
diverse talents, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”

 

Barnes’ brother David is Of Montreal’s art director and
creator of the records’ cover art and has been one constant in all this, an
extremely essential part of every album from a musical standpoint even though
he doesn’t play an instrument. To Kevin Barnes it is because David Barnes
doesn’t play an instrument that he hears music in a more abstract way than his
performing brother does. He doesn’t have a concept of the same musical taboos
that Kevin Barnes has as a composer. Rather, he appreciates music on a more
visceral and immediate level. He’s not looking for reference points or wincing
at perceived stylistic trends.

 

“[David] just absorbs it at face value-either it works for
him or it doesn’t,” say Barnes. “I definitely try a little harder than I might
because I want him to be amazed and blown away. He and Nina are the two most
important people to me as far as receiving feedback. As long as the two of them
love the album it doesn’t matter what any critic says.”

The other constant in Kevin Barnes’ Of Montreal is that women, not girls, rule
his world. From the idea of the woman he broke up with so to name his band, to
Nina his wife and OM bassist, to the recent deeply penetrating participation of
Janelle Monáe: it’s the ladies in the house that rule his roots, figuratively
and literally. “Yes, this is true,” Barnes admits freely without stifling a
laugh. “I’ve always relied heavily on the support and inspiration of the women
in my life; some incredibly talented and brilliant women. My wife Nina has
inspired me in so many ways, on every level of human consciousness and
unconsciousness. I rely on people to supply me with new stimuli and I
definitely feed off of the feminine influence and people like Janelle. It’s a
powerful and complex source of psychic information. I just try to absorb the
rather intense energy they deliver me and make something exceptional out of it.

 

Satanic Panic in the
Attic
, 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins and even a comedy tour between the married Barneses (!) surely made the most of
being a husband and wife in music and jokes; an indie Bizarro World Sonny &
Cher. But too, there’s been talk of Barnes having had a meltdown around that
same period, a time when Barnes was said to have been psychically and
psychologically disturbed. Without looking to pain him, pitch gossip or toss
dirt-rather, a means to cram to understand-did he genuinely feel as if he had
some sort of break-down or breath-through?

“I was definitely teetering on the brink of a breakdown for awhile there a
couple years ago,” explains Barnes. “It took me a long time to sort of regain
equanimity, or at least a tolerable level of madness. I am not the sort of
person that dreams about attaining tranquility or balance. That peace only
seems good for Yacht Rock…”- here,
Barnes quotes a line from Of Montreal’s “And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow”- “‘my mind is exploding with sloppy murders‘:
that’s my general state of being.”

 

To an extent, the breakdown//breakthrough may have worked a
treat for his lyrical output. There is a distinct and seismic shift from the humble,
mumbling personal narratives of his start (Cherry
Peel
) to the tales of role-playing oddity during the middle period (Gay Parade) to the post-Hissing Fauna sad, self-centric
emotionalism and flagrant sexuality often told through characters (e.g. “Georgie
Fruit”) even stranger than himself.

 

“I guess I don’t really second-guess my creative decisions,”
says Barnes, with surprising plainness. “I just follow the organic muse where
ever it wants to take me. I also follow Bob Dylan’s advice and don’t look back.
Whenever I do, it’s always a bit bizarre.”

 

Another pause. “You know, it’s hard to believe I was really
responsible for all those albums. I find that exciting, though, that I can
change so much and almost become a different person from year to year. I hope
it never ends. I hope I find myself at 60, creating a death metal album
praising the Republican Party.”

 

***

 

Two things come to mind while discussing chameleon-like
characterization and all the people he’s been and will become through Of Montreal.
The first is that despite all his talk of loving Kool & the Gang, George
Clinton and most importantly Marvin Gaye (“one thing I learned during this
strange journey is that I’m in love with Marvin, my spiritual and emotional
guide throughout the False Priest experience”), given all the electro, Afrobeat and Krautrock his music has taken
on since the early-Anglo Of Montreal albums, the most obvious influence on
Barnes has been David Bowie. From Kevin’s henna-hair to his razoring croon to
his gaudy outfits, to his glam guitars and attitude, loving the alien never
seemed more right. “Bowie
is a god-love him to death-he is the archetypal artist changeling,” says
Barnes. “He is like a father figure for me.”

The other alien in Barnes’ life is Janelle Monáe, the St. Louis-born,
Mars-heading singer/multi-instrumentalist/composer whose own super-egotistical
sense of characterization (“Cindi Mayweather”) is barely second to Barnes. After they met and formed a bond, not only did Barnes play
on and produce large bits of Monáe’s massive attacking majestic soul-opera The ArchAndroid, Monáe sang throughout False Priest and the two have created
their own inner space-oddity dialogue.

Allow me to repeat Barnes words:

 

“The most important and life altering gift that was
presented to me recently, was my introduction to the Wondaland Arts Society (Monáe’s
label and overall umbrella theory). There, my clone Tils Platform met Monáe’s
clone Cindi Mayweather at a ski resort that we were both transported to
accidentally by the controller’s sphere. Since we had to wait for the wolf
master to track them anyways, they started talking and discovered that we had a
lot in common. The information and wisdom that the W.A.S. has bestowed upon me
has directed my art focus in a beautiful way.”

Translation (almost):

 

“Well I first met Janelle at the Palace of The Dogs
and we just hit it off. We have a lot in common. Though I happened to write the
lyrics for ‘Make the Bus,’ ‘Enemy Gene’ and ‘Our Riotous Defects’ [his songs
that she sings on], she does write great lyrics and is an amazingly gifted
artist and mammal. There is a love affair right now between her W.A.S. and my
Apollinaire Rave collective, so much wild beauty is awaiting the world. The
thing I’m most excited about right now is our tour together, that and seeing
all the new species that this art union will sire.”

Helping to translate everything that is False
Priest
to the world is Jon Brion-a producer heralded for his smart and warm
complexity on albums from Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright. Getting Barnes to
tear off from the computers, put down the laptop
and record away from Of Montreal’s Athens home studio (they did it Brion’s
Ocean Way with his famously vintage equipment) altered Barnes’ idea of how
false his Priest would be without
letting it sound like Brion’s.

 

Brion had a vision, in Barnes’ estimation, that he could
transform Of Montreal recordings into something, sonically, much broader and
powerful than their previous albums.  “I
don’t really know why he wanted to help me do it, maybe to prove something to
himself, maybe to prove something to me, maybe just to be involved with
something he was excited about, maybe to earn some good insect karma,” laughs
Barnes. “All I know is that I trusted him, based on his track record, and he more
than fulfilled his promise. I can’t say enough good things about the man. Jon’s
is a saint in my eyes, and a damn good conversationalist to boot.”

Barnes’ notion of what False Priest would be came together last summer, after he’d written the wriggling,
ratcheting “Sex Karma” and had decided that he wanted to make a very funky and
emotionally ambivalent album. He wanted it to feel raw and confident and
complex. “I wanted it to encourage people to make love, boogie down and cry; to
cry about everything it means to be a human, but to see that there is hope.
That there is a possibility of a homo luminous evolution.”

 

The lyrics are funny, frank and rapturous
on songs such as “Strutter,” “Riotous Defects” and “Coquet Coquette.” Less
forthcoming but no less dreamy are menacing soul-jams such as “Hydra Fancies”-influenced
by Philip K Dick novels, and a love song for the W.A.S. celebrating friendship
and artistic partnership. “Like a Tourist” is a collection of snapshots from
his memory reel and a tour of Singapore
and Japan.
(“It’s a dance song about the transient life in a foreign land.  But I was extremely ill during that tour, so
that might explain some of the lyrics.”) The idea of the “False Priest,” save
for the notion of not following prophets, is unknown to him. He doesn’t
question things such as that. “Like, I didn’t think twice about naming an album
The Gay Parade; there is a voice that
just whispers to me, ‘This one will be called the False Priest,’ and I say ‘Yeah? OK.’ A good writer never gives up his
sources, but here’s a clue: sometimes when I say ‘she’ or ‘her’ it’s not
necessarily about a female.”

 

Ultimately, Barnes didn’t go into False Priest with a belief, a reason or a rhyme-well, maybe a
rhyme-beyond getting on the good foot and flowing sensually into the great
soul-jam beyond. “I didn’t really start working on False Priest with any real vision of how I wanted the completed
work to be,” he says coolly. “I just started writing under the influence of my
organic muse and followed it to the end. I learned a lot during this strange
journey-so much so I’ve got another twelve or more songs that didn’t make the
album. But I guess we can get into that in the next interview!”

 

Stay tuned.

FLASH-BACK/FAST-FORWARD: R.E.M., Austin, & Me

In which the No
Depression co-founder ruminates on all
things Pete Buck-ian, and more, with the annual SXSW festival as a gathering
point…

 

BY PETER BLACKSTOCK

 

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you probably know
that for the past year I’ve posted daily entries from three decades of logs
I’ve kept which document all the live-music
events I’ve attended. Over the weekend I began assembling what I’d post this
week, and for today, I selected the following entry, from 23 years ago in Austin, Texas.

 

***

 

March 21, 1989

R.E.M. with Robyn Hitchcock, Erwin Center

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies with Texas Instruments, Continental Club

 

It’s an evening that has loomed large in my memory over the
arc of my career as a music journalist. Among my extended circle of friends and
acquaintances in the Austin music scene of the
1980s, R.E.M. was special: They were the little band that could, four friends
who rose up from the Athens,
Ga., underground with a bunch of
great songs and a determination to make music their way — and it had worked.
Even if we might not be able to match their level of achievement, the fact that
R.E.M. had pulled it off gave us hope it could be done, and done right.

 

As a wide-eyed and aspiring young music journalist, I’d
grown up with them, following their gradual transition from clubs to small
halls and finally to the Erwin
Center, the city’s
largest venue. When I interviewed Peter Buck for a preview of the Erwin Center show in the
local daily paper, it felt like finally reaching the top of the mountain.

 

In some respects it was a bittersweet summit. Much as we
were all thrilled by the band’s success, seeing them with 10,000 other fans on
this tour behind their album Green was a bit different from the crowds
of a few hundred in the early days. It turned out that Buck had a similar take
on things when I asked him in our interview how it felt to be playing the
biggest room in town.

 

“Well, I’m really ambivalent about it, to tell you the
truth,” he said. “You know, I personally prefer playing in front of a
couple hundred people. But needless to say, that doesn’t pay the rent. And if
we were going to play for a couple hundred people, we’d tour from now until
about the end of the century and still not finish. So, you know, you’ve got to
be a little pragmatic about it.

 

“But, you know this kind of tour and the reception to this album is kind of freeing us up so that
the next tour we do, we can probably do what we want to. Play 4,000-seat halls
if we want to, do that for a week. We’re all getting a little bit older. We’re
certainly not as old as Pink Floyd or anything, but I’m not sure that I’m going
to want to tour for eight months of the year after this.” (Those comments
turned out to be a pretty fair reading into the band’s immediate future: They
didn’t tour at all behind their next album, Out Of Time, even as it
soared all the way to #1 on the pop charts.)

 

If interviewing Buck was a milestone for me, the icing on
the cake came later that night after the Erwin Center
show. March 21 was a Tuesday evening just two days after the third South By
Southwest Music Conference had wrapped up, and some wise booking agent had the
foresight to book Athens band the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies — a hometown favorite
of the R.E.M. camp — into the storied local venue the Continental Club (along
with Austin garage greats the Texas Instruments). Everyone pretty much knew
what would happen, and so we all hightailed it over to the Continental as soon
as the Erwin
Center
show concluded. Sure enough, in due time the R.E.M. guys drifted in.

 

Eventually I found myself standing by the water cooler at
the end of the bar next to Buck, and I introduced myself, explaining that I’d
done a phone interview with him a few days earlier. He seemed a little
surprised: “I’m not quite used to the idea of rock critics being younger
than I am,” he remarked. I took that as a compliment, but I also found it
an insight into how the band was transitioning from the role of upstarts to
that of statesmen. Perhaps they were becoming the new boss, but it was
reassuring to see that in fact they weren’t like the old boss. (Getting to know
Peter a bit better over the following decade, when we both ended up in Seattle, only underscored
that point.)

 

 

 

 

 

Fast-forward 23 years to this past Sunday night, March 18.
Another SXSW is freshly in the books, and Austin’s
hometown hero Alejandro Escovedo is holding court on that same venerable
Continental Club stage, joined by a cast of top-flight local musicians and a
pretty cool array of special guests, from Jesse Malin to Lenny Kaye to Rosie
Flores. Soon, Alejandro would call Peter Buck and Mike Mills up to the stage (view a clip of them onstage doing “Rockville” as filmed by Mario Escovedo); but for the first few songs of the set, as I’m over at the end of the bar by
the water cooler, I look to my left and see Peter, hanging out in the crowd and
taking it all in, back in his element with a couple hundred people in one of
those places where it all began. (Partial setlist pictured above.)

 

Suddenly I realized the significance of where we were
standing. I gave him a nudge and said, “You won’t remember this, but we
met 23 years ago in this exact same spot.” He didn’t recall at first, but
when I mentioned the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, that night came back to him.

 

A few moments later, he and Mills were onstage with
Escovedo’s band, playing the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” and
R.E.M.’s classic “Rockville.” It
felt like, to borrow the title of another of their songs, a perfect circle.

 

“I don’t feel like we’re leading any kind of parade or
anything,” Buck had said over the phone back in 1989. “But if maybe
the way we go about doing business is an inspiration to younger people, people
starting bands, that’s great. It’s nice to know that what you’re doing really
means something.”

 

[Peter Blackstock grew up in Austin
and worked for SXSW as its archivist from 1989 to 1997. He co-founded the
bimonthly roots-music magazine
No Depression in 1995 and served as its
co-editor until it ceased printing in 2008. He is not affiliated with the
magazine’s present website.]

DESPERATELY SEEKING KAREN Karen Dalton

Those who knew her tell the story of the doomed
folkie; plus, her intersection with the contemporary emergence of our “Golden
Age” of reissues.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

Dan Hankin, now a retired
school social worker living in Denver, fondly
remembers back to 1966, when he would visit Karen Dalton’s Colorado mountain cabin to play folk music
with her and Richard Tucker.

 

Another musician-friend, Carl
Baron would come up from Denver and spend time
with Dalton and
Tucker, too.

 

“She was a charismatic, very
powerful person – musically and socially – who could attract people like me and
Carl, very young men, and she would have us at her bidding,” Hankin recalls.
“We were very happy to be there. She was so entrancing, there was hardly
anything like it.”

 

She died in 1993, long after
separating and getting divorced from Tucker. But it turns out that, as Hankin
and Baron once found her so charismatic all those decades ago, others are
finding her to still be that way posthumously, thanks to ongoing reissues. An
old tape originally made by Baron in that cabin has just been released by
Delmore Recordings as Karen Dalton 1966. It is the fifth Dalton
recording to be released since the revival started in 1997 and the fourth in
six years.

 

 

 

 

 

Dalton, who was born and raised in Enid,
Oklahoma, had first moved to New
York to be part of the Greenwich Village
folk movement. By the time she left, still in the early 1960s, she had already
made an impact. Among those who found mesmerizing her bittersweet and
melancholy, soulfully introspective, interpretations of folk and blues
standards were Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Tim Hardin. She also was accomplished
at 12-string guitar and banjo.

 

She didn’t move, however, to
turn her back on folk music – Boulder and Denver comprised a sort of Greenwich
Village of the Rockies, with a Denver Folklore Center patterned on the famous
one in New York. So she was eager to make music with others once she arrived
and settled into a cabin in the ghost town of Summerville.

 

“I lived at that time in the
mountains in another cabin,” says Hankin, who himself had come out from Brooklyn. “These were in foothills outside Boulder, which
50 years ago were dotted with old and, for the most part, abandoned cabins from
the miners’ rush. I got here in 1965, and they were already here. A lot of the
cabins, including Karen’s, had no indoor plumbing, no running water, no central
heating. But an enterprising young beatnik could contact the owner of a cabin
and ask if they want to rent this, and it would be $25 to $35 a month.”

 

Dalton was maybe was too introspective for stardom in her
own time. She also maybe waited too long to record. Her two albums came late in
the folk-revival cycle – 1969’s It’s So
Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best
for Capitol Records and 1971’s In My Own Time more or less sank
like a stone.

 

The latter was produced for
Michael Lang’s new Just Sunshine label, as Lang was flush with the success of
producing the 1969 Woodstock
music festival. It had contemporary production and material for its time, with
such fine supporting musicians as violinist Bobby Notkoff, guitarists Amos
Garrett, John Hall and Hankin, and trumpeter Marcus Doubleday. Never much of a
writer, she covered Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Paul
Butterfield’s “In My Own Dream” and the Band’s “In a Station” in addition to
such traditional material as her signature “Katie Cruel.” She also recorded one
of Tucker’s compositions, “Are You Leaving for the Country.”

 

The rest of her life,
spottily documented after the latter album’s failure, is as mysteriously,
heartbreakingly tragic as Philip Roth’s American
Pastoral.
She left her idyllic Colorado sanctuary for rough-and-tumble New
York, lost contact with Colorado friends (Tucker had to divorce her by mail),
struggled with substance abuse, and eventually died of AIDS-related illness in
1993 at age 55. At the end, Peter Walker – the great raga- and
flamenco-inspired guitarist – helped take care of her as she stayed in someone
else’s guesthouse. Afterward, that cabin burned – with it, possibly, tapes that
she had been making throughout her later years. Few outside her small,
immediate circle even knew about her long, hard fall.

 

***

 

The current quest for old
tapes and recordings is spurred by the impact of her voice, now that it’s
finally getting heard. With its dreamily wavering sadness, many find her the
folk generation’s Billie Holiday, as Dylan called her in his book Chronicles.

 

It started with the 1997 U.S. (and,
subsequently, European) CD reissue of her first album. While that Koch Records
release created a ripple of interest, the breakthrough came in 2006 when Light
in the Attic brought out In My Own Time with
liner notes by Nick
Cave, Devendra Banhart
and Lenny Kaye. It was a major success for a reissue.

 

Stephane Bismuth, of French
reissue specialist Megaphone Records, then found old tapes from Colorado. He released
them in Europe and Mark Linn’s Delmore
Recordings issued them here. Cotton Eyed
Joe,
from 2007, was from a 1962 performance at a Boulder coffee house called the Attic. In
2008 came Green Rocky Road, home recordings from that same tape, which had been kept for
decades by the owner of that long-gone coffeehouse, Joe Loop.

 

Linn, like Bismuth, had
gotten interested in Dalton
after the Koch reissue of her first album. “I think there were a small group of
people looking for anything else out there for recordings, because it was such
a short mysterious story about her,” he explains.

 

Through contacts made during
his other releases, Linn found Baron and his tape from 1966. On this, Dalton performs traditional folk-blues material along with
Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” Tucker shares
vocals on several songs. But of particular note, she covers several newly
written compositions by her friend Hardin (“Reason to Believe,” “Don’t Make
Promises,” “While You’re on Your Way”). For a while in the mid-1960s, Hardin
rented a home in the mountains outside Boulder,
himself.

 

“What I remember is Karen and
Richard were having some big gig they were going to do and wanted to check out
how they sounded,” says Baron, who had come from Brooklyn for graduate study in
biochemistry, but had a 12-string guitar and loved folk. “I had a reel-to-reel
tape recorder and set it up. It was a practice session. I did start and stop
the tape quite a lot. At the end, I had to go to a slow speed because I didn’t
have enough tape left. It was recorded in mono with a single microphone on an
old Wollensak I used to have.”

 

                                                      
                            

It is most definitely a home
recording. But while the quality isn’t professional, the tape is bursting with
feeling. And it has an ethereal quality – you feel like you’re listening in on
a fragile dispatch from some utopian, countercultural Land of the Lost.

 

Tucker, who now lives in Bellingham, Wash.,
said he’s talked-out on the subject and referred this writer to a statement he
wrote for 1966’s packaging, but was
not used. Here is an edited excerpt:        

 

“I think often of the life Karen and
I had in Colorado
– it was certainly the best period of our
relationship and particularly of living in
Summerville… (It) was an old gold mining
town and all the old cabins were owned and rented out by an old mountain
couple. They lived and looked just like in
a western movie. Henry taught me everything there was to know about splitting wood. The house had cold running water, a gas cook stove, a
wood and coal stove for heat, and an
outhouse. Sitting in the outhouse you had a great view right to the top of Bighorn Mountain.
One night I burned the outhouse down. There
was a hot coal in the ashes I dumped in the outhouse to “sweeten” it.

 

“We bought two horses and a pony and
fenced in an area to keep them in.
Karen really knew horses and one of the ones she picked to buy turned out to be the fastest quarter horse in those
parts…”

 

They were close enough to Boulder for Tucker to work as a groundskeeper at the University of Colorado;
Dalton also had
occasional restaurant jobs.

 

It should be pointed out there is a
dissenting opinion about how wonderful a time it was. Abralyn, Dalton’s daughter from a previous marriage
(she also had a son), lived there for several middle-school years, and didn’t
like it. She eventually left to be with her father, an Illinois university professor.

 

“I wanted to live in a normal house, have my own
bedroom and have lunch everyday,” she says now. “It was no more comfortable
then than it is now. They were doing their own thing, even though everyone else
thought they were being weird and strange – those hippies up in the mountains.”

 

 

To say it is a time that won’t come
again is more than a writer’s device. The cabin burned down in a 2009 forest
fire.

 

***

 

Meanwhile, the search goes on
for more music by Dalton.
Mike Davis, owner of New York’s Academy
Records in the East Village and Williamsburg,
is hoping for a summer release of some 1968 tapes on his small reissue label.
His project started when her former manager brought in some records to sell and
mentioned that he had some old tapes of her.

 

 “We told him there had been a real resurgence
of interest in her,” Davis
explains. “He gave us the tapes, and I had them transferred professionally.”
The tapes, which Davis thinks were made in
preparation for her first album, include songs recorded with Hankin in a Colorado cabin, but also New York
studio tracks of Dalton
accompanying herself on 12-string guitar. There are also two New York tracks of her with a blues-rock
trio, featuring Blues Project’s Danny Kalb on guitar.

 

Linn meanwhile is considering
another release of her previously unknown early-1970s material, when Dalton was back in New
York City. Linn says that during this period Dalton
and Antonia Stampfel- who wrote songs for partner Peter Stampfel’s Holy Modal
Rounders – would spend time with Peter and a blind jazz pianist named Chris
Anderson in an apartment that previously had been the famous Jazz Loft, where
in the mid-1960s W. Eugene Smith had photographed and tape-recorded musicians
like Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk as they played after-hours gigs.

 

It was still miked when Dalton and her coterie
started to hang out later. After Smith died, the place was rented to a drummer.
“The tapes tend to have drums overloading everything else,” Linn says. “They’re
multi-tracked tapes and he sort of knew what he was doing, but probably
shouldn’t have also been playing drums. So there are lots and lots of tapes,
and probably there’s an hour’s worth of Karen.”

 

And he follows reports of Dalton tape sightings like a tornado chaser – an
early-1960s house concert by Dalton and Tucker
in Bloomington, Ind., reportedly was recorded and is
supposed to sound great.

 

Tucker may find himself
benefiting in other ways from the renewed interest in her. After he returned to
New York City, he formed a folk-oriented trio
called Richard, Cam and Bert that played local clubs and in Central
Park for tips. Warren Schatz, before he became a successful
1970s-era disco producer (Vicki Sue Robinson, Evelyn “Champagne”
King), took a liking to them and recorded a limited-edition album that they
struggled to self-distribute. It contains a version of “Are You Leaving for the
Country.”

 

“It’s a really nice record,
with pretty songs and beautiful harmonies that’s almost as if the Jayhawks were
around in 1969 and crossed with the Grateful Dead,” Linn says.

 

Tucker, willing to comment on
this, says: “I sure hope he does release it. He came over to my house and had
never heard of it and I played it for him. And he now has some other tapes of
songs not on that album that are very good.”

 

***

 

If there’s a lesson to all
this, it’s that nowadays there’s always a second chance – even posthumously –
for an earlier-overlooked musician to find her or his audience. Especially if
they, or someone they knew, saved their tapes and out-of-print recordings.

 

“It’s the golden age of
reissues in terms of the material being discovered out there and the number of
people who know how to produce it correctly,” says Academy Music’s Davis.

WELCOME SXSW 2012: Blurt Heads to Austin March 14-17

It’s the most magical
time of the year, natch…

 

BY THEE EDITORS

 

BLURT Magazine will of course once again be front and center
and attending the SXSW Music Festival in Austin Texas, from March 14-17,
2012.  Our editors and writers will be running around town during the week
to keep you informed of all things happening in Austin during the week.

 

We are extremely excited to announce our annual Day Party
along with our partner, Dogfish Head.  This year’s lineup at the Ginger Man pub is
completely insane, we are extremely excited to have all of these bands
participating and expect this to be the best year ever. We cannot stress enough
the important of getting to the venue early, as last year we had a line out the
door for over an hour all day long.  It will be difficult to get in so if
you push it and arrive late to enter in time for your favorite band’s
performance we cannot guarantee entry.

 

***

 

Here is the schedule
for our Day Party:

 

 

DOG FISH HEAD / BLURT MAGAZINE Present:

Our Annual Austin,
TX Day Party

Location: The Ginger Man Pub

Address: 301 Lavaca St (at 4th)

Austin, TX 78701

This event is FREE!

 

 

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14th

 

1pm – LA (from Spain) – www.facebook.com/laofficial
2pm – Kevin Devine – www.kevindevine.net
3pm – The Ettes – www.theettes.com
4pm – JC Brooks & Uptown Sound – www.jcbrooksandtheuptownsound.com
5pm – Cotton Mather (local Austin
fave) – www.thestarapplekingdom.com  
6pm – David Garza (local Austin fave) – www.davidgarza.com

 

 

 

THURSDAY, MARCH 15th

*Curated by Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Bros)

 

 1:15pm – Jon & Randy (intro – couple
of songs – praise to all involved)

1:20pm – The Upsets (featuring Tamineh
Geuramy from The Deadstring Brothers, Whitey Morgan, Mekons, plus member of
Junior Brown & Dale Watson’s bands)
2:15pm – Paul Burch – www.paulburch.com
3:00pm – White Mystery – www.whitemysteryband.com
3:50pm – Joe Pug – www.joepugmusic.com
4:40pm – Jon Langford & Skull
Orchard (The Mekons, Waco Bros, etc…) – www.jonlangford.de
5:30pm – Garland Jeffreys – www.garlandjeffreys.com
6:20pm – Rosie Flores – www.rosieflores.com
7:30pm – Deano Waco & The Purvs
(Waco Bros)

8:30pm – Greg Humphreys (Hobex, Dillon
Fence) – www.myspace.com/greghumphreysmusic
9:30pm – The Record Company – www.therecordcompany.net 
10:30pm – Jigsaw Seen – www.thejigsawseen.com
11:30pm – Loretta Bilieux & the
Dive Bar Pretties – www.lorettabilieux.com

 

 

FRIDAY, MARCH 16th

 

1pm – Parson Red Heads – www.theparsonredheads.com
2pm – Chuck Prophet (Green on Red) –
www.chuckprophet.com
  Modern Recording and Arbor
Ridge Studios present: New Sounds from North Carolina

3pm – The dB’s (Bar None Records) – www.thedbsonline.net
4pm – Django Haskins (The Old
Ceremony), Brett Harris, Matt McMichaels (Mayflies USA), Jeff Crawford, and
Skylar Gudasz – www.djangohaskins.com www.brettharrismusic.com www.myspace.com/mayfliesusa www.myspace.com/skylargudasz 
5:45-6:15pm – Amy Ray (The Indigo
Girls) – www.amy-ray.com
6:30pm – Peter Case/Paul Collins
(performing: Nerves, Plimsouls and The Beat songs)  www.petercase.com
7:30pm – Ken Stringfellow (The
Posies, REM, etc…) – www.kenstringfellow.com
8:30pm – Fan Modine (Modern
Recording & Arbor Studios Presented artist) – www.fanmodine.com
9:30pm – Onward Soldiers (Modern
Recording & Arbor Studios Presented artist) – www.onwardsoldiers.net
10:30pm – Jon Auer (The Posies) w/
Special Guest!-  www.myspace.com/jonauermusic
11:30pmVERY Special Guest!!! (Will
be released to the public the day of the show) 

 

 

SATURDAY, MARCH 17th

 

 1pm – Milagres – www.milagresmusic.com
2pm – Jim White – www.jimwhite.net
3pm – Hobart Bros. & Lil’ Sis
(Freedy Johnston, Susan Cowsill) – www.thehobartbrothers.com
4pm – The Wedding Present – www.scopitones.co.uk
5pm – Tommy Stinson (The Replacements,
Guns and Roses, etc…) – www.tommystinson.com
6pm – John Doe (X) – www.thejohndoe.com
7pm – The Bluebonnets (Kathy
Valentine from The GoGo’s) – www.thebluebonnets.net
8pm – The Defibulators – www.thedefibulators.com
9-9:30pm – Ricky Stein & Warm
Guns (local Austin fave) – www.rickystein.com 
9:45-10:30pm – So Long, Problems (local
Austin fave) – www.reverbnation.com/solongproblems
11:00pmVERY Special Guest!!! (Will be released to the public the day of the show)
12:00am – The Allen Oldies Band – www.allenoldiesband.com

 

***

 

We also would like to
help sponsor/promote our fine friends at Bloodshot Records and their annual
SXSW Showcase and Day Parties:

 

Bloodshot Records SXSW 2012 official showcase
Red Eyed Fly  (715 Red River)
Saturday March 17th

7:30-8:00   Deadstring Brother
8:20-9:05   Maggie Bjorklund
9:25-10:10   Cory Branan
10:30-11:30   Waco Brothers with Paul
Burch
11:50-12:40   Lydia
Loveless
1:00-1:50   JC Brooks & The Uptown
Sound

 

Bloodshot Records SXSW annual Yard Dog party (1510
S. Congress)

Friday March 16th, 2012 — starts crack-o-NOON

Sponsored by: Lagunitas, Blurt/Second Motion

 12:15-12:40  Southeast Engine (Misra artist,
Bloodshot distributed)
12:55-1:20    Valerie June  (Bloodshot friendly artist)
1:35-2:00      Deadstring Brother
2:15-2:40      Maggie Bjorklund
2:55-3:20      Cory Branan
3:35-4:00      Lydia Loveless
4:15-4:40      Rosie Flores
4:55-5:20      JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound
5:35-6:15      Waco Brothers & Paul Burch

A CHAT WITH CHUCK (& A BUSRIDE TO BOOT) Chuck Prophet

With an
acclaimed new album, Temple Beautiful, in stores and a tour underway, the singer/songwriter/guitarist
is clearly having the time of his life.

 

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

 

Ed. Note: On February 7, BLURT contributor Barry St. Vitus joined a gaggle of journalists
and hardcore Chuck Prophet fans to tour the Bay area by bus, then were treated
to a smokin’ live set from the Prophet band, abetted by musical guests Roy
Loney, John Doe and Kelley Stoltz. St. Vitus’ report is below, followed by an
interview with the man himself.

 

 

CHUCK PROPHET:
THE BUS TOUR OF SAN FRANCISCO

 

 

 

 

We were somewhere around
Broderick on the edge of the Haight when the drugs began to take hold.
Actually, it was just a communal bottle of Southern Comfort and some cookies,
but more about that later. It was almost 7:30, and a cheerful, anticipatory
group gathered outside the bus at the corner of 18th and Capp
Street, wondering what the evening held in store. We were the 60 odd, and
not-so-odd souls lucky enough to score a seat on Yep Roc’s big promo tour
launching Chuck Prophet’s new release, Temple Beautiful, based
entirely on San Francisco
and places special to him. The ‘temple’ was a short-lived punk venue located in
the old Reverend Jim Jones’ People’s Temple building where Chuck saw his first
underground music shows after moving here in the early ‘80’s.

 

 

Yep Roc Records Project Manager
and event organizer, Martin Hall, clipboard in hand, checked off names as we
piled aboard. He had to make some tough calls about who would actually be among
the fortunate to get a seat, and said later he was probably the most hated man
in the city that night. Most guests were fans that entered online, with a
couple of press flunky’s and a cameraman. After the passengers got settled, he
introduced our tour guide for this musical mystery tour, KFOG personality,
Peter Finch who took over the mic. As our merry group pulled off into the
warmish San Francisco night, he highlighted what lay in store, and apologized
that Chuck himself couldn’t join us. We were then greeted by the disembodied
voice of Chuck on the little monitors above our heads, welcoming us aboard,
then presenting a video he narrated about the album, with shots of various
locations and snippets of each song accompanying them. His inspirations covered
everything from his years living in and loving the City, to historical
characters and events going back to Barbary Coast days. It entered my mind that
in those days, we would have probably been slipped a ‘Mickey Finn’ and woke up
on a ship the next morning, far from land and being handed a mop to swab the
deck or manning a bilge pump below.

 

The beauty of San Francisco and
the Bay area has long been an inspiration to the romantic and poetic, as well
as boasting a reputation for its weirdness, pure outrageousness and
individualism, dating back to early Spanish settlers and the original ‘49’ers.
It’s also a place where social outcasts, eccentrics, musicians and artists have
long flocked to feel ‘normal.’ Some are lodged in the national consciousness,
others only in local legend. Although, in recent years, due to sky-high rents,
many have been driven across the Bay to Oakland, where a vibrant new scene has
grown. That said, we’re not like the rest of the country and damn proud of it!

 

 

 

 

As the video rolled on, we
realized we were on the Bay Bridge, heading out of the City. No one could guess
where we were headed, but minutes later we exited onto Treasure Island. We were
paying a visit to the inner-illuminated, 40 ft. light sculpture from Burning Man, called Bliss Dancer, standing there with an eye-popping view of the City
behind it. We disembarked and gathered around the statue, watching it slowly
change colors – red, to blue, to green or purple. Someone downloaded an app to
control the colors and gave it a test drive, to the delight of the crowd. No
one knew that the art piece was even there. Chuck just wanted us to see it.
After clambering aboard, we headed back into town. Peter told us an anecdote
while on the bridge of how, years ago, Chuck, kayaking under said bridge, came
upon a floating bale of weed, which he later turned over to friends and was
able to finance his first record. Peter also mentioned that even though the
album has its San Francisco theme, the city’s name is never used in any of the
songs. Interestingly, Chuck still plays his old Fender Squire Telecaster that
he was given when he joined Green On Red back in 1984 at the age of 18. 

 

Soon, we were cruising down Haight Street,
where we viewed a mural at the intersection of Octavia, and then we pulled up
across from the Central Haight Market, where we were told Janis Joplin bought
her Southern Comfort when she lived nearby. Peter told the driver to pull over,
jumped out, and ran across the street, returning soon with a bag and someone in
tow. He held up a big bottle of the syrupy liquor and presented to us famous
music writer and critic, Joel Selvin! The bottle was opened and passed back for
us to all have a symbolic slug from.

 

 

Selvin took over the tour
duties, regaling us with stories from those halcyon music-scene days; pointing
out a tiny park Jimi Hendrix once played in, and about Paul McCartney’s visit
to the Airplane house, where he turned them onto Sgt. Pepper, and they turned him on to DMT. He had borrowed Frank
Sinatra’s jet to fly up from L.A. Selvin related the story of how he was
actually on the scene that fateful night the Temple Beautiful
caught fire and burned down.

 

 

 

 

Next, we wound up the torturous,
winding road to the top of Twin Peaks, where, we were told, the album cover
shot was taken. Like tourists, we filed out to the overview, taking in the city
lights splaying out far below. Suddenly, guitars started strumming from behind
us, and, as we turned, there was Chuck, wife Stephanie and James DePrato
serenading us with “Temple Beautiful” from on top of a rock wall! This was very
unexpected, and our little troupe was dee-lighted to say the least. Afterwards,
Chuck and Stephanie joined us on the bus, James driving their car back down.

 

 

 

The mic was handed over to San Francisco’s punk
sweetheart, of Avengers fame, Penelope Houston, who presented a Top 10 List of
what Chuck was most fearful of going wrong with the evening. The Southern
Comfort helped the laughs come easier on a few of those. Soon we were rolling
down 16th Street, to the ‘heart of the heart of the city,” where
Chuck pointed out where the Albion Bar used to exist, and the basis for his “I
Felt Like Jesus” song, which played over the system next. The bus ambled on
down 16th to China Basin, where the old Seal Stadium once stood, and
Willie Mays played his first local baseball games. We ended up by AT&T
Park, at Willie Mays Plaza at King and 3rd, where we tumbled out and
gathered around Willie’s statue near a stand of giant palm trees, to hear Chuck
and duo play “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat.”

 

 

 Reboarding, we hit the freeway enjoying some
musical selections that Chuck had been inspired by over the years; The Flamin’
Groovies “Shake Some Action,” Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Want To Dance,’ Garland
Jeffreys “Wild In the Streets” and Fast Floyd’s “Frog Legs Man.” Before we knew
it, we were back where we departed from and told that it was finally party
time, to large hoots from the passengers!

 

 

We were led down the street and
into a small building, with a funky, arty anti-room, with a half a dozen
battered bikes sticking out of the wall, reminding me of the Ant Farm’s
Cadillac Ranch on old Route 66.  The next
room offered a table of food, (mostly hotdog things) and a keg of San Fran’s
finest beer, Liberty ale. Very cool autographed posters from Mission of Burma,
Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros and others lined the walls. The building was a band
rehearsal spot, also rented out for parties. The spacious back room was already
pretty packed from those denied a bus seat, but welcomed to the party.

 

 

 

 

On the small stage, Chuck and Stephanie joined
the rest of the band and lit into a scorching rendering of “Castro Halloween,”
lighting up the audience. Being that this was the release day for the album,
most attendees were hearing it for the first time. After a few more songs, he
brought up ex-Flamin’ Groovies vocalist Roy Loney to join in on “Temple
Beautiful” and then, to the delight of the crowd, launched into “Teenage Head,”
“People People” and “Slow Death.”

 

 

After a break, Kelly Stoltz
joined the band for a few numbers, then Stephanie Finch strapped on her guitar
and sang a couple she and Chuck wrote for her album, Cry Tomorrow, “Don’t Back Out Now,” and “Tina Goodbye.”  Finally, John Doe stepped forward and played.
It was closing in on the midnight hour after a couple more from Chuck, but the
crowd demanded an encore, so Chuck and company complied, rolling out a personal
favorite from his youthful days down South in Nixon country (Whittier), Iggy’s “I’m Bored,” for the
finale.

 

Not one sated soul stumbling out
onto the littered South of Mission street that night was feeling anywhere near
bored, as the music was great and the band (and guest members) was flying high.
Temple Beautiful is certainly a fine
recording, but I was really struck by how damn dynamic the songs were live.
Chuck and James, both stunning guitarists, were on fire that night. I’m pretty
sure that most of the attendees felt smugly self-assured that they had just had
the privilege of participating in a bit of San Francisco history themselves. An
event that scenesters who heard about it afterwards would be saying to
themselves, “Dag! I wish I could have gone to that!”

 

The whole thing had come to fruition
slowly as Chuck discussed with the label something to do on the release date.
The usual, pedestrian, release party was trotted out, but Chuck said “Naw, this
isn’t my first record,’ and ideas were floated and finally, the guided bus tour
idea was hatched, then fleshed out, involving many friends and colleagues to
pull it off. After all, this was Chuck’s love letter to his adopted hometown, and as he put it, “this record was
made in San Francisco, by San Franciscans about San Francisco!”

 

 Probably the only thing more they could have
done to put a fine point on it, the proverbial cherry on top, was to have
waited one more week and held it on Valentine’s Day.

 

********

 

CHUCK PROPHET:
THE INTERVIEW

 

A few weeks
later, while in the midst of a West Coast tour, Prophet took time out to chat
with BLURT about the new album, the bus journey, and more.

 

 

BLURT: Hi Chuck, I wanted to
first go back to your Green On Red days. Do you have a best memory of being in
that band?

 

CHUCK PROPHET: Uh, I couldn’t
particularly come up with any best memory….It was the best of times, it was the worst of times! Yeah, I mean it’s
easier to go on here (unintelligible),
but I remember it all pretty fondly these days. All of it.      

 

 I understand there wasn’t
originally a ‘concept’ for the Temple
Beautiful
album, the San Francisco theme, it just sort of fell into place?

 

 
I don’t know…I was writing songs, along with Kurt (Klipschutz) and we
were just hanging around my office, fooling around, and trying to write some
songs, and we looked at what we had down, and I kind of thought, it kind of
occurred to me that we had these songs that somehow, we kind of had a shared
experience of San Francisco, and all that stuff and the contradictions, and
after that I thought, oh, it’s a cycle you know.  You just try it, and we got excited about
it…it was never hard to come up with material, but, it just kind of exerted
itself y’know? I’d like to think we kind of paying attention and it just kind
of jumped out at us!

 

 So, at
a subconscious level, it was all in there? I was wondering what your thoughts
were on your Yep Roc San Francisco Bus Tour and Record Release Party. What
comments or feedback have you heard about it?

 

 Well, no, I just enjoyed the fact that I made
a record that wasn’t necessarily about me, although you can see San Francisco
through what was my kind of perverted worldview. The record itself is not
strictly a singer-songwriter kind of “I wanna get out of here, my girl-friend
is wrong, my complicated cold” kind of record. 
 I mean, it’s just some kind of
bonus that I didn’t really see coming….to get out and promote record, to have a
party, and go out and play behind the record! It’s not about me. A lot of
people helped make the bus tour. It’s what it takes sometimes to be able to
make those kinds of things to work. It’s fun to do new stuff. Well, it’s fun to
find new ways to do the same old stuff. 

 

 Well,
it was quite an evening. I had a blast! Nobody knew quite knew what to expect,
and the surprises you guys had lined up along the way, definitely were surprises… your appearance up on
Twin Peaks, Stephanie and yourself joining the tour, picking up music writer
Joel Selvin at Janis Joplin’s old liquor store in the Haight, all those little
things.

        Little Steven, on his Underground Garage radio show called the
title song one his “Coolest Songs in the World.” There is a major push behind
you now for the album, which has garnered glowing reviews from writers. Do you
anticipate that this will be kind of a breakout album for you?

 

 
Well, I don’t know what it is that I’m trying to ‘”Break out” of?  I think there’s this real misconception
people have about musicians, or whatever, that somehow everybody is always
looking to “break out.” I mean, I don’t know if I’m living comfortably, but I
haven’t had a job! I think that I
talked a little about this in BLURT when
R.E.M broke up, and uh, the thing is really not if you’re going to break out or
not break out, I think the fear for me is, you know, that I would have to stop.

        When
I say “stop,” I mean stop playing gigs with my friends, and kicking my songs
around, and getting a right sound and
trying to get it to behave, and turning it into records and pouring the songs
from beaker to beaker to try and trying to get some kind of credible
performance, to get paid, and all
that stuff. I mean, all that for me is what keeps me coming back. So, you know,
I don’t really have to focus on the next level, I mean, I can sit here probably
for a long time. I mean, if you’re lucky enough to get up in the morning and
you’re interested in what you’re doing, and lucky enough to have somebody in your
life to share it with, that for me is successful. You can kind of talk about the next level, I think people just
assume that you should be trying to do, to just continue along and be a hit or
go and get a job at Google or something!

        I’m telling the truth… you gotta try! But, I hear they’ve got good snacks
over there!

 

 (Laughs) You may be getting too old to
get in the door there any more. I don’t think they take anyone over 25 or
something. So, after 30-odd years here in San Francisco, what would you say
that you like best, and dislike the most about it?

 

 Well, the great thing about San Francisco,
apart from the diversity, the culture and, uh, the arts and the diversity of
races, and all these things….it can really open your eyes if you come from
somewhere else. But, I think the thing that freaks me out is that, for these
years I’ve got to live in the heart of the “money belt”! Really! I mean if you
drive around a bit, you don’t see different ads…like Albany, Scranton,
Cleveland. You don’t see Yahoo! billboards
every 300 feet. So, it’s interesting, what the people in San Francisco have
economically and what the people in the rest of the country have. It’s, uh,
rough to be out there and see what happened in the late ‘90s when the economy
got so white-hot and so many people were driven out, and the real estate blew
people out – lot of the fringe element were pushed out, and that’s pretty
disheartening.

        But, you know, there’s always a new
crop of excited weirdos on the next bus, trying to change the world, so it
continues to reinvent itself. But, I think that was a rough time for me to even
keep my band up, around that period. It was so hot, a lot of musicians were
forced out, a lot of fringe element couldn’t afford the rent, so, you know, a
lot of people migrated up to Portland – a lot of my friends actually! A couple
went down to Texas or Arizona. It’s pretty disheartening how white-hot the
economy got, around the time of the big Dot-com scare. I don’t look back on
that as a fun time at all! I think money makes people stupid.

 

 I think that’s one reason too,
why there has been such an increase in the amount of artists and musicians over
in the Oakland area now. The art scene is getting really hot over here in the
East Bay. If you were forced to leave San Francisco, is there someplace that
you can see yourself moving to, like the East Bay or Portland or Austin or
someplace? Anyplace come to the top of your mind, “Boy, I could see myself
living here.”

 

Oh, a trailer out by the Salton
Sea or something. Yeah, get a trailer out there by the Salton Sea. I don’t
know.

 

So, you’re doing a short West Coast tour now, then you’re going solo to
Europe, then back here, playing South By Southwest  (including on March 16, 2 PM at the
BLURT Day Party
), then back to Europe and England with the full band, for a
few shows?

 

More than a few shows. At least
a dozen U.K. shows, then we’ll be taking off on the Continent. I don’t
know…LOTS of shows!

 

 What
city are you most looking forward to playing in?

 

I really like playing in
England, I think it’s they’re the best audience in the world.  I mean going to gigs, get a pint and standing
around on a sticky black floor, and, and hurling insults at the band. It’s all
part of their culture! I think Minneapolis is a little like that, and Austin is
like that. We’re going to gigs where it’s engrained in people’s culture, so I
look forward to playing in England. I like going up North, and we’re playing
Brighton this time. I like it all.

 

 What’s
one of the worst things that have happened to you out on tour?

 

Uh, nothing that you’d want
found out… y’know?  (laughs) I’ve been
ripped-off, man – I mean, it’s just ridiculous. I can’t really begin to put that
into a spreadsheet.

 

 

Photo Credits: Main image at top by Charlie Homo; all others by Barry
St. Vitus

 

CLASS ACT The Original Sound of Cumbia

Doing things the
Quantic way – or, more accurately, diving deep into the archival waters, with
exhilarating results.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

Calling British DJ and archivist Will “Quantic” Holland the
curator for The Original Sound of Cumbia (Soundway) – which he undoubtedly is — does this marvelous set and him an
injustice. While not as exhaustive as, say, Buda Musique’s long-running
multi-volume Ethiopiques series
(which ignited world-wide interest in that country’s neglected funk movement),
this two-disc set of Columbian cumbia has the comprehensive feel of a much
bigger package.

 

Of course, it’s built around the obsessive geekdom
fundamental to any high-quality socio-historical music compendium. But bitten
by the cumbia bug, Holland wasn’t satisfied with cataloguing cumbia from afar
— time-wise or distance-wise, it turns out. So he moved to Colombia for five
years and did his crate-digging for old 78s, 45s and LPs in the flea markets,
cantinas and run-down shops where the music evolved. (The set’s subtitle — “The History of Columbian Cumbia and Porro
as Told by the Phonograph, 1948-1979” – tells all.) While there, Holland also
took up the accordion, cumbia’s central instrument, and formed his own band. He
even opened his own studio.

 

He was, to put a fine point on it, doing the full immersion
course, and that comes through consistently in this fantastic 55-song set.
Naturally the rollicking strains of cumbia – and its ballad-tempo cousin, porro
– defy any sterile look at the music anyway. But Holland’s fixation provides
the first-hand energy missing from some of the mummified treatises that examine
Third World music as though it were already extinct.

 

That’s decidedly not the case here. As Holland explains in
his thorough and sparkling liner notes, cumbia’s percussive
“shuck-shucka-shuck” rhythms can still be heard across the Spanish-speaking
Americas, from L.A. to Buenos Aires. Disc 1 traces the music’s origins amidst
the poverty of the Caribbean coast – heard in the 200-run lacquers of acts like
Orquesta Emisora Fuentes and Orquesta A. No. 1 — to its migration to the
country’s mountainous urban centers, where it soon became a national obsession
of the rich and poor alike. Disc 2 follows that evolution through Columbian
giants of the music like Tono Fernandez & Anibal Velasquez, Curro Fuentes
and Albert Pacheco, who helped make cumbia an international music phenomenon.

 

What strikes the listener is how great a variety there is of
what is such a fundamentally simple formula (of course you can say the same
about rock & roll). But just like looking closely at any genre, the
microscope of fandom reveals an almost endless range of sub-sets and style
differences. As Holland writes, “Cumbia is the fruit borne on a family tree of numerous coastal rhythms, each one
having particular importance in its respective region: puya, paseo, porro, gaita,
baile cantao, tambora, merengue, fandango, bullerengue, son de negro, garabato
.”

 

Even a casual listen reveals the depth, from the brass
band-flavored carnival stomp of Banda Bajera de San Pelayo’s “Descarga en
Cumbia” to the quick-step tempo and call-and-response choruses of “Sembrando
Café” by Alberto Pacheco Y Su Conjunto, both of which reveal the debt cumbia
owes to its African cradle. Elsewhere, some coastal tracks reveal their close
ties to Jamaican music, like the percussion-and-horns syncopation of “Cumbia de
Todos” by Guillermo Munoz y Conjunto Tipico del Magdalena, which could’ve
emerged from the studios of Trench Town.

 

It’s the diatonic accordion that came to be identified with
cumbia more than any other instrument, serving the same central role as the
acoustic guitar in Delta blues on simple tracks like the wheeze-and-beats of
Los Alegra de Valle’s “Samaria.” That connection is no accident, though. As
Holland writes, “As with the Delta blues, cumbia‘s
origins are awash in myth, romance and folklore, immersed in the cosmic depths
of South American indigenous culture.”

 

This being South America, though, the usual stereotypes
about the poor and their “indigenous culture” initially hindered the music –
the coastal regions were looked down upon, literally, by the proper denizens of
Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, the country’s three biggest cities. As Holland
notes, it was widely perceived that the campesinos should be cultivating their land and “not travelling to Medellín and back to
cut records.” In this respect, the earliest cumbia musicians were rebels and
pioneers – no wonder, then, as Holland writes, that “Andrés Landero, at the
time a young drummer in Los Gaiteros, went on to have particular influence on
The Clash’s own rebel, Joe Strummer.”

 

But just like what happened to the Delta blues once it
migrated, many tracks here reflect the changing times and are far more
elaborate affairs. Take, for example, the boisterous Big Band workout “Me Quedo
con el Viejo” by Cresencio Salcedo, whose chugging rhythms you can just picture
drifting into the steamy night from some packed local hall where Aguardiente
mingles with the sweat of dancers and the promise of flesh-on-flesh intimacies.

 

That’s the kind of life force that courses through most of
these 55 tracks. Holland writes of the project that it “seemed like I was
catching a last gasp of air from an older, simpler Colombia before the curtains
of modernity swept in,” but that, too, shortchanges what he’s done here. For
through his diligence and love he’s brought this marvelous collection alive for
future generations’ enjoyment and inspiration. That’s why, in the end, this is
a perfect collection for the both veteran and novice lovers of the cumbia
sound.

 

INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE Frankie Rose

“People that love drama more than calm
scare the shit out of me.”  – Frankie
Rose via Twitter @MissFrankieRose, August 3, 2011

 

BY RON HART

 

In this age
of crowd sourcing and aggregation moonlighting as news gathering and the
anyone-can-do-it aesthetic to music criticism in the wake of the blog, it has
been quite easy for the TMZ element of
trashy gossip mongering to infiltrate the integrity of the craft of rock
journalism. Frankie Rose knows the seedy irrelevance of this tabloid-esque end
of the hipster media complex all too well, unfortunately, as the dime-a-word
denizens of the Internet age seem more interested in the hype surrounding her
splits from the three bands with whom she served time as a member – Vivian
Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls – than her aptitudes as a formidable
musician and songwriter in her own right.

 

However,
this drummer for hire-turned-established solo artist has risen above the idle
chatter of the Tweeters, tweakers and twits gumming up the information flow for
the rest of us with the release of her brilliant second album, Interstellar (Slumberland). Recorded
last year with Fischerspooner’s Le Chev in a private studio called The
Thermometer Factory in the Park Slope section of her new homeland Brooklyn,
this California ex-pat eschews the C86 inspired girl group reverb of her 2009
debut Frankie Rose and the Outs for a
bigger, bolder sound that reflects upon her love for old school 120 Minutes-era alt-pop. Whereas her
previous LP was awash in a hazy melange of fuzz and feedback, the 10-song Interstellar finds Rose and Le Chev
embracing the artfully synthesized cleanliness of such ‘80s classics as The
Cure’s Pornography, New Order’s Substance and Spleen and Ideal by Dead Can Dance and interjecting it into the
singer’s unique brand of underground pop. Needless to say, if John Hughes was
alive and well in 2012, songs like “Gospel/Grace” and “Night Swim” might have
inspired him to develop a sequel to Pretty
In Pink
.

 

BLURT
recently had the opportunity to electronically converse with Miss Frankie Rose
in the days leading up to the release of Interstellar.
And where some publications aim to mine the dirt of her past transgressions,
what is revealed in this insightful-if-not-random conversation with indie
rock’s It girl is a smart, funny and witty young lady who is fully cognizant of
her past and ready to take on the brightness of her future as she waxes about
4AD favorites, spa days and the making of is sure to be considered one of the
best albums of 2012.

 

 


Frankie Rose – Interstellar by Slumberland Records

 

 

 

BLURT: Interstellar is said to be inspired by the sound of early 4AD LPs.
Were there any particular albums from that era of the label that directly
influenced this new record? Which ones and why?

FRANKIE
ROSE: There are too many 4AD bands that I grew up with and loved, I feel I
could give a long list, none of which have influenced me one more than the
other. I think this record comes from so many places I’m hesitant to pin point
one in particular. Here are a few that come to mind: Dead can Dance, Cocteau
Twins, The Breeders as well as The Amps, Stereolab, Bauhaus, Tones on Tail,
Clan of Xymox, Pale Saints, Lush…

 

No Ultra Vivid Scene?

UVS? I like
‘em. 

 

What prompted the change in direction
sonically for you, moving away from the lo-fi aesthetic?

I never
felt my last record was “lo-fi”. It was, however, very different
production from Interstellar. I
self-produced my first record, had a lot less time in the studio and wanted
everything to be moody and washed in reverb. I buried the vocals and the drums
were low in the mix.  From my first album to the second I learned soooo much. I now realize how more
things happening in the mix does not necessarily mean a bigger sounding record.
And also that sometimes space, being simple or even silence can make things
sound massive.

        For Interstellar, I knew I wanted a huge sounding record that was almost cinematic in scale. I
wanted big highs and lows, big drums and vocals up front. I also knew that I
wanted more synths than guitars.

 

The new album is billed just as Frankie
Rose. Are The Outs still a presence in your music in any case? 

The first
record was recorded in a very similar fashion as Interstellar. “The Outs” were a really supportive live
band and we had a really great time on the road. However, I wanted to go on and
do something different and I knew that I wanted to continue writing music on my
own, so it was necessary for me to switch it up.

 

What does the term
“Interstellar” mean to you?

It’s
introspective, it’s romantic and I think the name reflects what the songs are
about and how the album feels.

 

Do any of the songs on this album stem
from personal experience a la Adele’s 21,
or are they more random in nature?

A couple of
the songs reflect on personal experience, but for the most part I am not a very
sentimental songwriter. I find it hard to write lyrics that I think are good
when the heart gets involved. 

 

What are your thoughts on how much
Brooklyn has changed since you arrived to town? Are there any places that you
miss? Do you have any new favorite places? What was your first memory of
Brooklyn during your first month living here?

I love
Brooklyn. I am always sad to leave when I go away and am elated when I get
home. It has changed even in the five years I have lived here. My neighborhood
on the south side of Williamsburg becomes more gentrified everyday, which has
its good sides and bad sides. My first memory of being in Brooklyn was living
in a non-air conditioned apt and finally understanding what a real summer was
like.

 

Would you ever consider returning to the
West Coast? What are your thoughts on the music scene out there?

I will
return to the West Coast at some point. I am a Californian. And I can’t lie – the
East Coast winters make me blue. I’m not sure what the music scene is like out
there, although most of my friends in bands live there so I suppose it would be
like a homecoming…

 

Who are some current NYC groups you are
digging these days? Who should we be on the lookout for and why? I hear that
group DIVE you are playing with this month in New York is pretty cool… what
are they like?

Light
Asylum is pretty great, I am very excited to tour with DIVE, I have not heard
much, but I like what I have heard. 

 

I just read that your apartment in
Williamsburg was once a performance space where Kurt Vile and TV On The Radio
used to play. Were you aware of that when you took the place?

It was! MY
first band on my first tour ever played here also. This house was one of the
first DIY venues in Williamsburg. My house has been passed down to friends
though the years so I am happily one of the lucky people that is able to live
in this very special place. 

 

Having cut your teeth in three bands
prior to branching out as a solo artist, what would you say was the most
valuable thing you took away from those experiences that helped you come to
grips with your destiny as your own act?

I feel like
I’ve seen it all!  Having been on so many tours, I have had the best of
times and the worst of times. I learned the way to do things and the way not to
do things. It has not been graceful, but I feel like I finally know what I’m
doing.

 

Do you still get behind the drum kit
these days? Who are some of your favorite drummers and how have they shaped
your own rhythm method?

It has been
awhile, I’m really out of practice. I think the first drummer I ever
looked to was Palmolive from The Raincoats. Mo Tucker as well. I like drummers that
didn’t use cymbals. I don’t care for cymbals too much. 

 

As someone who seems to have such a buzz
in the music blog world, what do you think is the biggest misconception about
you that people are unwittingly reading out there?

Hmmmmm. I
have seen Interstellar referred to a
few times as “shoegaze”, which I think is inaccurate. I don’t
want people to try and fit this record into a box. 

 

What inspired the cover art for Interstellar?

I wanted
something streamlined and REALLY simple. I didn’t want the artwork to take on a
life of its own and imply anything. I wanted people to look at the record and
not know what kind of music it was.

 

How do you like being on Slumberland
Records? Do you have an album from their back catalog that you swear by?

I am at
home on Slumberland records. There are a few I would swear by, but Black
Tambourine’s Complete Recordings is
pretty hard to top.

 

What prompted the concept of your video
for “Gospel/Grace”? 

Oh wow! I
asked Hannah Lew, my good friend and ex-bandmate, to make it. I didn’t want to
be in the video, because I usually do not enjoy being on camera, but Hannah
swore she could do a portrait of me that would do me justice.  I was
hesitant but I think she did a great job. 

 

If there was an artist or band who could
lure you back behind the drum kit and join their ranks, who would it be and
why? 

Prince
because he is Prince… But then what would Sheila E. do?

 

I really enjoyed getting lost in your
Twitter feed. It is quite refreshing to hear someone who is so beloved by the
Pitchfork crowd talk about such everyday things as going to the DMV, Theraflu
and treating yourself to a spa day. What is it about the indie rock world that
makes people so averse to mentioning things in their life that might be
construed as mainstream or commercial, in your opinion?

I guess I
just don’t pay attention; perhaps other people have managers telling them not
to say this or that. But I just have me – well, me and my imaginary manager
“Stevedave”. 

 

My wife wants to know if you have a
favorite spa that you frequent.

Spa Castle
is pretty good if it’s not summer and all the little kids are in school. My
favorite was when my friend had a Groupon to “spa” which turned out
to be a Russian banyan in Brighton Beach. That place was nuts. It was hard to relax
with the 12 big screen TVs screening various football matches. Also we were the
only English speakers aside from Stanley, a former Israeli army officer that
insisted that he beat us with these hot bushes in the sauna. That might sound
really crazy, but it’s totally normal. It was a good time. I would go back.

 

Did you ever put something up on Twitter
that you immediately regretted?

Yes, all
the time. And then I erase it. 

 

What do you think about Bleecker Bob’s
being ousted from their longtime retail space to make room for a Starbucks?

In Europe,
I enjoy Starbucks because I don’t love espresso and it’s the only place to get
a drip coffee. In the States, however, I think we all could do with a few less
Starbucks. They should replace it with McDonalds. What we need is more
McDonalds.

 

Do you have a favorite ‘80s movie?

I have a
few… That’s a tough one. Brazil, I
think. It’s a beautiful and classic scary sci-fi movie. 

 

I read somewhere that you find influence
in
Arvo Part. What do you find most intriguing
about his compositions?

There is a
reason his music is all over movie soundtracks. It simple, it’s moving, it has
a lot of space. Everyone mimics his style; even metal bands rip him off.

 

 

Photo Credit: Lauren Bilanko

 

 

Frankie Rose’s spring tour kicks off in
early April. Tour dates at her official website.