Monthly Archives: June 2012

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT Codeine

‘90s slowcore pioneers
have their complete oeuvre revisited in an impressive Numero Group box. Members
Stephen Immerwahr and John Engle explain.

 

BY RON HART

 

Since forming in 1989, New York’s Codeine have been barnacled as
one of the founders of the head-scratching subgenre known as
“slowcore”. But the impact frontman/bassist Stephen Immerwahr,
guitarist John Engle and drummer Chris Brokaw (later of Come and replaced by
Doug Scharin in 1993)  levied on the
world of underground rock during their four short years together transcends any
snarky music crit slugline.

 

Armed with a sound that melded the abrasiveness of such
post-hardcore icons of the 80s as Squirrel Bait (whose chief component,
guitarist David Grubbs, was a contributing member of Codeine), Moss Icon and
Bastro with the reverberating melodies of early Creation Records into a
hypnotic glide that moved like a deadly cottonmouth against the current of a
lazy river. Such seminal acts of the modern age as Mogwai, Pelican, Explosions
in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós all harbor a healthy dose
of Codeine in their bloodstreams, indelibly evidenced in the construct of
Numero Group’s masterfully crafted box set chronicling the group’s complete
recorded output.

 

Beautifully designed by Chunklet publisher Henry Owings and supplemented with extensive liner notes that include
testimonials from such pals as Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming
Lips, Dean Wareham, Matador Records chief Gerard Cosloy, Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan
and the aforementioned Mr. Poneman among others, When I See The Sun is the definitive word on Codeine. This 6LP/3CD
monolith gathers together the entirety of the group’s recorded output for Sub
Pop, 1991’s Frigid Stars, 1992’s Barely Real EP and their 1994 swan song The White Birch, all gorgeously
remastered from the original tapes and teeming with a treasure trove of
b-sides, alternate takes, covers, demos, Peel Sessions tracks, compilation
obscurities and live cuts that expands each title by at least double its
initial length. 

 

Only a thousand copies of this limited edition set were
pressed, but When I See The Sun is
well worth the hunt and the small fortune for the trio’s most ardent fanbase.

 

 


Codeine – Kitchen (Demo) by Biz 3 Publicity

 

 

 

 

BLURT: Does the
“slowcore” or, even worse, “sadcore” handle burn you up as it
does your old label boss Jonathan Poneman in the liner notes to the box set?

STEPHEN IMMERWAHR: I didn’t like it but it’s amusing, and it
was good to have ‘zines/magazines/people talking about us as something both
“new” and coherent. And there’s some truth in them too. Codeine
really wanted to use slow tempos as a _means_ for the feeling and impact of our
songs. (And we were never so big that we were constrained by our own or anyone
else’s expectations from those silly labels.)

 

How did you initially
come up with the sound of Codeine back when you first got together? What were
your touch points? Who were you trying to emulate or were you actively seeking
to break new ground?

Things I had in mind included the minimalism of The Jesus and Mary Chain
(especially their b-side, ‘Just Out of Reach’, and not the re-recorded version
on Barbed Wire Kisses) and the soul of Dusty Springfield (who I love now just
as much as I loved then). And specifically not the histrionic singing and
thumpety-thump of grunge. (That made Sub Pop picking us especially cool).

What inspired you to revisit your
catalog now?

The Numero Group forced us to confront ourselves circa 1989-1994! It turns out
that Ken Shipley of Numero is a huge Codeine fan — in fact, he lied to his mom
to go see what was the last Codeine show of the 20th Century (Santa Rosa, CA in
July 1994). Numero has done a lot of esoteric and rocking 60s-70s soul
reissues, and now they’re also thinking about 1990s, starting with Codeine.
Don’t blame us.

What propelled you to go with Numero
Group for this reissue campaign instead of your old label, Sub Pop?
 
Numero’s mission is reissues that they care about, Sub Pop’s mission is music
now (which was us then). Numero came to us and worked it out with Sub Pop: it’s
very cool.

What do you believe to be the most
significant change in independent or underground rock, beyond the dawn of the
Internet of course, since Codeine was active on a full-time basis?

Rock Camps for Girls and vegetarian food being much easier to find?

Of all the bands who cite Codeine as
inspiring the root of their own sound, who do you feel cuts closest to the
cloth, or rather, who are you most proud of from the litter of sonic children
you guys have conceived?

I’m flattered that bands find inspiration in Codeine’s music, especially when
it’s deeper than just swiping a few stylistic moves. But it’s really difficult
for me to hear resemblances, and we can only take credit and blame for what
we’ve done. Most of what I listen to these days is raw black metal and Akiko
Wada (Japanese soul singer extraordinaire).

Where did you play your first gig and is
there a good story behind it?

The band happened because Sooyoung Park of Bitch Magnet (and later of Seam)
invited us to open for them in Boston at the Middle East in July of 1989. First I had to talk John
into playing and then we asked Chris Brokaw to play drums because he lived in Boston and had a drum
kit. John and I had even played with Chris before that, I just knew him a bit
at college.
JOHN ENGLE: Our first show had maybe four songs that made it onto record. Our
set included a hardcore song and a Neil Young type song, in which I had a
guitar solo. These later got replaced by proper “Codeine” songs, but
they are included in the box set.

What was it about the drug codeine
itself that prompted you to name
yourselves as such?

IMMERWAHR: I had a lot of headaches as a teen, and liked the resulting detached
state too. Hard to explain but it’s a feeling that seemed to work with the
songs. And it’s a good band name.

What was your favorite club to play
around NYC back in the “good old days” and why?

CBGB’s! It was the club with the best PA system: nice, loud, clear. And a house
engineer who treated bands with respect. Headlining there, which we did twice,
made me really proud.

Where does Codeine plan to go from the
release of When I See The Sun? Has
revisiting this material inspired the band to head back into the studio?

It wasn’t the joy of playing or of recording that made Codeine have to happen,
it was to serve the songs. So new recording isn’t going to happen and that’s a
good thing. We’ve been working together on the reissues and rehearsals in great
new ways but it’s doubtful I’d be doing this well if it was about new songs and
recordings.

In going through the unreleased and rare
bits to add to the expanded versions of your three albums, was there any
material that struck a particular chord in you all that maybe didn’t initially?
 
ENGLE: It’s nice to hear some of the Steve songs in the singer/songwriter vein,
pre-Codeine. He actually played the guitar back then, which he almost never did
in Codeine.
IMMERWAHR: I was telling John last night that I learned three new things from
listening to the tapes: that Chris recorded a guitar track on every song we
recorded with him in addition to playing drums, that I was having serious
cognitive difficulties in 1992, and Doug’s drumming is even more powerful and
amazing than I remember.

 

What band would you
yourselves like to see reunite and why?

IMMERWAHR: The Jam.
I’m both happy and sad that they’ll never get back together. Just last month I
dreamt that John and I had to learn This
is the Modern World
in its entirety because Chris needed to take a break
during the Codeine sets.
ENGLE: Whenever Steve tries to remain in the shadows during this reissue
process, I remind him that nobody would buy a Jam reissue that only featured
Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler. That always gets him involved.

 

 

An edited version of
this story appears in issue #12 of BLURT.

SIFF-TACULAR: The Seattle International Film Festival 2012

Paul Simon, Paul
Williams, Bad Brains, Charles Bradley, Ginger Baker and, ahem, Anonymous were
among this year’s choice offerings.

 

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

Over the course of 25 days, from May 17 to June 10, the
Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) screened over 270 features in venues
both in Seattle
and surrounding areas. As such, even seeing a film a day only allows you to
scratch the surface. According to an informal poll of passholders (hello Fool
Serious!), at least 40 hardy souls saw 100 or more films; BLURT’s final tally
was somewhat less. Here’s a recap of some of this year’s highlights. Along with
a fun fact: though SIFF says it’s in its 38th year, it’s really the
37th – some bizarre superstition led them to skip using the number
“13” during the actual thirteenth year of the event and go right to “14,” thus
forever confusing those who calculate dates from SIFF’s inception in 1976 and wonder why SIFF is actually one
year younger than it claims to be.

 

 

 

 

SIFF was one of the lucky fests that got to see Under African Skies: Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey on the big screen instead of a tiny television set. Directed by noted
documentarian Joe Berlinger (Metallica:
This Monster Lives
and the Paradise
Lost
trilogy), the film chronicles the story behind Paul Simon’s landmark Graceland album. Its success upon its release in 1986 was matched by the controversy of
Simon’s breaking the UN cultural boycott by recording part of the album in South Africa.
Simon faces a number of his critics in the film, and it’s clear he still
doesn’t get it. He feels that since he’s not a racist, and opposed apartheid,
why shouldn’t he be able to work with whatever musicians he wants? Overlooking
the point that it wasn’t his fight, and exceptions
to a boycott only undercut the boycott. But time has also mellowed the critics,
and everyone now agrees there was some worth to Simon’s work with the artists,
especially when he brought them out on tour, thus putting the absurdity of
apartheid before a worldwide audience. There’s plenty of concert footage and
interviews (both archival and current), making this a well rounded look at the
subject, and one that should please fans of the album in particular. The film
is available as part of the new Graceland reissue, and as a standalone release on
Blu-ray.

 

 

 

 

Fat Kid Rules The
World
was one of SIFF’s delights, actor Matthew Lillard’s directorial
debut, based on K.L. Going’s young adult novel of the same name. The lumpen Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is a miserable high schooler whose
suicide attempt is thwarted by the
scruffy Marcus (Matt O’Leary), a drug addled, if hyperactively friendly,
musician who slowly but steadily pulls Troy
back into the land of the living. The film’s locale was shifted from New York to Seattle,
which undoubtedly helped the movie win over a hometown crowd, but it was more
than just civic pride that made this one of SIFF’s hits (with an additional
screening added to the schedule, and also making the “Best of SIFF” program
that runs the week after SIFF has officially finished). The film looks at
adolescence without condescension, manages to tug on the heartstrings without
overt sentimentality, and avoids crass humor for the sake of getting a cheap
laugh (well, at least aside from the vomit scene). And, most importantly, shows
how punk rock can save your life (Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready also wrote the
film’s score). At the film’s first Seattle screening Lillard was thrilled by
the crowd’s response, inviting everyone who worked on the film to get on stage
(over 30 people trooped up), and shared a few anecdotes (he might’ve been
forced to play Troy’s stricter-than-thou dad, had William Campbell not signed
on at the last minute). A recent campaign on Kickstarter was successful in
raising funds to help in the film’s distribution, and promotional events tied
in with this summer’s Vans Warped Tour are planned. Check out the film’s
website and Facebook page for more info.

 

 

 

 

Paul Williams Still Alive is less a documentary about the legendary singer/songwriter and more about the
relationship between Williams and director Stephen Kessler. Initially,
Kessler’s something of a pain; hounding a clearly disinterested Williams,
cutting him off in mid-interview, making lame jokes about his lack of
experience as a documentarian. It’s something of a frustrating experience for
those who came expecting to learn about Williams’ work, as he’s rarely asked to
talk about it. Instead, the film evolves into a look at celebrity, and how
outside perceptions (in this case,
Kessler’s) can be way off base; “He’d have been happy if I’d been living in a
trailer,” Williams jokes of Kessler. In fact, Williams exudes a natural grace
and clearly comfortable in his own skin, seen performing the occasional show,
and putting in a lot of time as a substance abuse counselor, having been clean
and sober for over 20 years. Though he walks out on Kessler when he’s shown a
video of a talk show appearance when he was clearly flying high, Williams
agrees it was important to keep the clip in, for if it’s a painful reminder of
where he’s been, that pain is undercut by the fact that he also knows it also a
moment from a past he will never return to, being both stronger and wiser. And as
someone who had posters of both Phantom
of the Paradise
and Bugsy Malone (which both feature scores by Williams) on my wall during college, I took
advantage of Williams’ appearance at SIFF to geek out myself, with Kessler
kindly taking a photo of me with the man. (Note to Paul: please don’t do a
remake of Phantom of the Paradise.
Please. Just don’t).

 

 

 

 

At least Paul Williams never got physically violent with his
director. Whereas poor Jay Bulgar gets hit in the face with a cane by the
subject of his film, Beware of Mr. Baker,
about life and times (some might say crimes) of Cream/Blind Faith drummer
Ginger Baker. The irascible Mr. Baker mostly limits himself to doling out
verbal abuse the rest of the time, hectoring Bulgar about his “fuckin’ awful”
questions, berating him for being an ignorant American, but nonetheless
conceding to relating his life story for the first time director (who finagled
his way into Baker’s life by falsely claiming he was on assignment for Rolling Stone; it wasn’t until after Bulgar
got his first interview with Baker that the magazine then agreed to run a
story). Bulgar then doggedly rounds out the tale by getting interviews with
most of the folks who’ve crossed paths with Baker over the years, not only
including musicians (Eric Clapton,
Charlie Watts, Steve Winwood, and Carlos Santana, to name a very few) but also
Baker’s long suffering wives (in another interview Johnny “Rotten” Lydon hails
Baker as a genius; but he didn’t have to live with him). It’s a searing portrait
of a gifted man plagued by self-destruction every step of away.

 

 

 

 

Then there are the bands that never got their due. Bad Brains: A Band in D.C. charts the
career of the legendary hardcore act that never could catch a break, due to
astonishing runs of bad luck and, as the films goes on, the mental health
issues of leading singer H.R. But the band has managed to persevere, still
playing shows, with a new album said to be in the works (but don’t hold your
breath for its release). There’s plenty of live footage making the case for why
the band remains important, as well as interviews from the band members,
producers, fellow travelers like Ian MacKaye, and unabashed fans like Dave
Grohl.

 

 

 

 

A happier story is told in Charles Bradley: Soul of America. The film is a tale of redemption, and how one man’s unflagging faith in himself
and his talent led to his finally making his recording debut at the age of 62
with the album No Time For Dreaming.
Bradley rose out of poverty to become a cook, also working part time as a James
Brown impersonator. After being seen by Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records, he began working with Daptone artists as himself, not “Black Velvet,” his
stage name for his James Brown act. His fiery, impassioned R&B instantly
found an audience, with Rolling Stone lauding No Time For Dreaming as one
of the 50 best albums of 2011. Yet Bradley remains remarkably down to earth,
even humble, clearly grateful at the extraordinary turn his life has taken, but
with the sadness of the hard times he’s endured never far from the surface. For
anyone wondering what the fuss is about, the film’s live footage explains
better than any piece of journalism ever could.

 

 

 

 

The Savoy King: Chick
Webb and the Music That Changed America
also makes the case that the jazz
drummer didn’t get all the acclaim due him; more people are perhaps aware of
his discovering Ella Fitzgerald than of his own work in the field. The film
seeks to redress the balance, but the filmmakers are hampered by the lack of
archive footage of their subject. And even though well known actors provide the
voiceovers (Bill Cosby as Chick Webb, Janet Jackson as Ella Fitzgerald), the
film’s straightforward approach keeps it a bit dry; in fact, a secondary
section on The Savoy Ballroom which better integrates archival footage and
first-hand interviews, momentarily steals the spotlight from Webb’s story.

 

Once upon a time, the Doe Bay Fest was a weekend event held
every August at the Doe Bay Resort on picturesque Orcas Island, Washington,
where the faithful gathered to groove to the likes of The Head & the Heart,
Damien Jurado, Lemolo, the Maldives, without any of that pesky corporate
sponsorship that gloms on to such occasions. The documentary Welcome to Doe Bay may capture a turning
point in the course of the event, simply by focusing a camera on it. No,
corporate sponsorship is not about to usurp the beloved festival. But its
popularity is such that when tickets go on sale they sell out in minutes,
leaving the producers of the fest in something of a quandary. Since they’re
dedicated to keep the event on a small scale, how to maintain a freshness and
keep it from stagnating? And what do you do when the roar of those clambering
to gain access gets too loud to ignore? The film’s interviewees don’t tackle
those dilemmas, but it’s clearly on everyone’s mind; how can you keep an event
“cool” once the outside world discovers it? It will be interesting to see what
happens with the festival in the coming years; in the meantime, if you weren’t
able to snag a ticket, the film is loaded with great concert footage.

 

 

 

 

The internet is a tool that can be used for good or ill, as
is quite aptly demonstrated in We Are
Legion
: The Story of the Hacktivists. The film is a fascinating
look at the “Anonymous” collective, those folks who frequently wear the Guy
Fawkes/V For Vendetta masks in
public, and merrily hack/disrupt various websites in private (Scientology and
Paypal have been among their targets). There’s also some history on other
renegade online groups (Cult of the Dead Cow, 4Chan). Several members of
Anonymous, as well as other hacktivists, are interviewed, revealing that the
reasons for their activity vary greatly; some are mostly interested in making a
political statement, others are just seeing what they can get away with –
meaning their critics can’t really tar them all with the same brush. Not that
that matters to the authorities; as the film also makes clear, a growing number
of hacktivists are being tracked down by the FBI and now facing prosecution.
Yet the internet genie is certainly well out of the bottle, meaning that
questions of ethics are only going to increase – and the time to think about
them is sooner, rather than later.

 

 

 

 

Director
William Friedkin received SIFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award this (Sissy Spacek
was honored with an Outstanding Achievement in Acting award), and brought along
his new film Killer Joe to boot. The
film is based on Tracy Letts’ stage play of the same name (he wrote the
screenplay as well), and was slapped with an NC-17 rating for its nudity and
extensive violence (as Friedkin told Celebs.com, “It just freaked out the
ratings board”). The plot concerns the hit man of title and his involvement
with a depressingly scuzzy family, with a few sexual kinks thrown in to make it
more “edgy” – because seeing someone getting their face bashed in with a can
apparently isn’t over-the-top enough for the kids these days. It’s billed as a
black comedy, but the laughs become increasingly thinner due to the characters
being basically unlikeable. Friedkin himself was far more likeable during the Q&A:
his favorite movie is Citizen Kane and he modestly doesn’t think he’s made a film nearly as good; he never, ever
had any interest in doing sequels, and turned down the chance to do Exorcist 2; the film he’s proudest of is
Rules of Engagement, and saying it
was “like going to heaven” to work with actors like Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel
Jackson. He further revealed that his approach to directing was “to create an
environment for everyone to do their best,” and dismissed the auteur theory of filmmaking as “bullshit.”

 

 

 

 

For the first time in SIFF’s history, locally shot films
both opened and closed the festival. Your
Sister’s Sister
, now open in select theaters, is the latest work of
Seattle-based writer/director Lynn Shelton, and, like her previous film Humpday, deals with the nature of
pretense – characters who seem confident on the surface, but are plagued with
insecurities underneath. The plot is a (mostly) verbal three way between Jack
(Shelton staple Mark Duplass), mourning the death of his brother, who’s sent by
his friend Iris (Emily Blunt) to spend time alone at her father’s cabin – the
kind of picturesque island that well-off folks always seem to own. Except that
Iris’ stepsister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is also using it as a retreat. And
Iris herself can’t stay away. Add some Tequila, take away any potential
distractions (there’s no phone, TV, or internet), and you know it won’t be too
long before the emotional unburdening begins. In some ways, the characters are
so self-centered they’re insufferable (Hannah stoutly defends her not eating
butter by pleading to an “emotional allergy” to dairy products). And the
ending’s a bit too convenient. But the characters’ fallibility also makes them
very human, giving the film a warm and natural feel.

 

 

 

 

 

The closing night film, Grassroots (which opens in theaters this week) is based on a true story, when Seattle
writer/activist Grant Cogswell decided to take on incumbent Richard McIver in a
race for Seattle City Council. It was a wildly improbable move; City Council
incumbents are generally easily re-elected in Seattle, and Cogswell had
absolutely no political experience to begin with. But after he drafts in his
friend Phil Campbell (a former writer at Seattle weekly The Stranger), their idiosyncratic approach to politics gains them
a surprising groundswell of support. It was a surreal experience for a hometown
audience to see American Pie‘s Jason
Biggs as Campbell (Avatar‘s Joel
David Moore is the hyper-kinetic Cogswell, while Cedric the Entertainer is a
terribly serious McIver), and everyone loved the in jokes (“Fired from The Stranger? How low can you get?”) and surprise cameos. But will it
translate to a larger audience? Director Stephen Gyllenhaal hopes the film will
serve as something of a wake up call: “Politics has always been brutal. The progressives – I’m one
of them – thought electing Obama would solve everything. It didn’t. Now we have
to grow up and not be stupid. That’s the real reason for making this movie, it
says we all have to jump in and help with this process called democracy.” You
can’t say better than that in an election year.

 

 

Previous BLURT Coverage of
SIFF:

 

2008:
/features/view/42/

2009:  /features/view/393/

2010:  /news/view/3837/

2011:  /features/view/919/

OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY White Hills

The duke and duchess
of dissonance dissect their most concentrated collection of chaos yet. Hawkwind
and Spacemen 3 fans, be very, very afraid….

 

BY RON HART

 

“I think that we cross many genres with people. Some
people think we’re too experimental, some people think we’re too rock,” proclaims
White Hills frontman and resident guitar guru Dave W., during a particularly
perfect spring Sunday in New York’s Central Park and sitting alongside his
longtime partner bassist Ego Sensation. “But I think that there are people
within all kinds of genres that kind of like us, which is fortunate for us cuz
we get to play a lot of eclectic things. Its better for us in the long run, makes
it more interesting.”

 

Regardless of what you call the torrential sheets of
electric space this Brooklyn duo has been
creating since the mid-‘00s you cannot deny the power that exists between this
duke and duchess of dissonance. And from the sounds of the duo’s latest release
on Thrill Jockey, Frying On This Rock,
the Hills harness every ounce of that mojo to unleash their most concentrated
collection of chaos yet: five epic jams that define their smash-up of Spacemen
3 at their loudest and Doremi Fasol
Latido
-era Hawkwind more so than anything else they’ve conspired yet.

 

In addition to Rock, the band has also seen the re-issue of
their previously out-of-print 2007 album Heads On Fire on the British
label Rocket Recordings as well as a vinyl-only release of their mammoth set at
the 2011 Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, which will hit stores on July
24th through Outer Battery Records.

 

BLURT was the lucky recipient on the other end of that conversation
between Dave W. and Ego Sensation on that fine afternoon in Central
Park. Here’s what went down amidst the squeals of happy children
frolicking in the adjacent playground and the faint barks of the pack of family
dogs vying for alpha status at the dog run in the distance.

 

***

 

BLURT: They call you
space rock: what do you think of that?

DAVE: Ehhh. Well, I’m the one who called it that from the
beginning, because that is how I think of it. It’s expansive music, and I
didn’t want to call it “psychedelic”. I didn’t want to call it
“indie”. To me, it’s about space. It’s about getting lost. And even
though the music is intense, I think there are very introspective kinds of
feelings to the music, and it draws you in and allows you to just kind of take
off in your mind. It’s a release. I have no problem with that term. I think too
many people are afraid to peg what they do, like ‘I don’t wanna say I’m this, I
don’t wanna say I’m that.’ And then they get pissed off when someone pegs them
as something. You gotta just say what you are.

EGO: As concise as you can be.

DAVE: I’ve always looked at what we do as like a modern
version of Hawkwind. What was Hawkwind at the time? They were a bunch of dirty,
scummy punks playing loud, aggressive space music and so we are just upholding
this tradition in the modern day.

 

How did you come to
working with Julian Cope’s drummer, Antony
‘Antronhy’ Hodgkinson?

DAVE: Julian actually introduced us to him back in 2006.

EGO: It was the first show we played over in England
opening for Julian Cope. We couldn’t bring a drummer with us, and so Julian
introduced us to Antony
and he played drums for us. So we’ve known him a while, yeah.

DAVE: And we’ve collaborated with him ever since.

 

So Julian Cope was
one of your early champions, yeah?

DAVE: He was the first.

 

Do you know how he
discovered White Hills?

DAVE: The first White Hills record was something that I
recorded myself. Both of us were playing in different bands at the time, and I
was really frustrated with the lack of movement and not doing what I wanted to
do. So I just recorded this record, and when it was done I said to myself, ‘If
someone is gonna like this, it’s gonna be Julian Cope.’ And so I sent it to
him, and he really liked it and ended up releasing it.

 

On Head Heritage?

DAVE: No, he’s got this label that he runs every now and
again called Fuck Off and Die. It’s just CD-Rs that he puts out.

 

But Antony isn’t the one who plays on Frying On This Rock?

DAVE: Yea, it’s this guy Nick Name. He’s been touring with
us, and did this album. But Antony, on this record, he and I mixed it together
and he did a lot of treatments. It’s like the song “I Read a Thousand
Letters”, that synth stuff in there. He did that stuff. The vocal
breakdown in “Song of Everything”, he was the one that treated the
vocal with that delay, pitchshifting kind of thing. It was great working with
him in that regard.

 

I understand for Frying, you brought songs into the
studio with you. But was improvisation still a prevalent factor in the music?

EGO: This time when we went in we definitely had a set that
we were doing. It was fairly worked out. But there was some experimenting.

DAVE: Like that song “I Read A Thousand Letters”, it
was something that we had been working on, it wasn’t totally set. And then when
we were in the studio that day, I really didn’t like the way that the drums
were happening, so I just told Nick to think of the song completely different.
And he came up with that killer drum part right then, which made the song
totally different from what it was before.

 

How much do synths
come into play with White Hills?

DAVE: Synths are on all of our records. I have some vintage
Moogs at home. The interesting thing about Moogs are is that they’re voltage
controlled, so if you are working in a space in which the outlets aren’t
voltage regulated, there’s surges of electricity that go through the machine
that causes it to do things that wouldn’t happen if it was plugged into a
normal outlet. That’s just happenstance.

 

So I’m sure there’s a
lot of interesting ways you come up with the different effects that are
prevalent in your music.

DAVE: Both of us use a varied amount of pedals. Depending on
your volume structure, and how you are throwing things into something to tweak,
those things are just chance. I don’t think either of us really set out to try
to get something like that, it just happens.

EGO: One example from the last record, Hp-1, when we were recording and at the end of, I can’t remember
what track, Sezula and I started playing the hand-in-hand piece, and the sound
of the bass–I was using a slide–and it sounded really cool and I wasn’t ready
to stop playing and then we ended up creating a new song out of that.

DAVE: There’s only three of us. You listen to the sound on
the record and it’s massive and the way that recording is, people think, ‘Oh
you can make anything sound massive.’ I mean, you can. But one thing that
people say to us when they come and see us live often is, ‘Oh man, I can’t
believe three people can make that much sound.’ What you hear on the record is
fairly representational of what you can expect live.

 

You worked with
Martin Bisi for this new record as well. How did that come about?

EGO: We worked with Martin a few years ago working with a
friend of ours who had a project with him. Dave was playing guitar, I was
playing drums at the time. And so we met him then, and Martin had his own
project that he was doing–a solo album–and he asked me to work with him on
his cover art because all of his songs were about different women and he wanted
to do different visual depictions of all the women for his cover art. And so I
worked with him on that. Martin is a really amazing person to work with. He has
such an ear.

DAVE: And through those things, we both just became friendly
with him. The last three records we did were at Oneida’s studio, the Acropolis. So when it
came time to do this album, I really wanted to change up with overall sonic
feel of the record, and thought of wanting to step it up a notch and work with
someone who had 30-odd years of experience.

 

Do you have a
favorite Martin Bisi project, as fans?

DAVE: Any of the Sonic Youth records he did. The Swans
stuff. I mean, the guy does so much. He really is an amazing person to work
with, because he just thinks of things that a lot of people who are engineers
really think of.

 

What live format do
you prefer, outdoors or in the club?

DAVE: I read this interview once with Budgie from Siouxsie
and the Banshees. And the question was, “What guitarist over the years did
you like playing with the most?” He was all like John McGeoch, the guy who plays on Juju and Kiss in a Dream
House.
He was in Magazine as well as the last lineup of Public Image Ltd. He
was saying that everywhere that they would play, John would sit there in the
space with his guitar and walk around the stage to find the exact points of
where he could get the feedback that he needed to get in order do certain
parts. So then when they were on stage, during a certain part of a song, he
would be at a certain place to get this thing and he said it was just amazing.
Budgie said he worked with no other guitarist that could do what that guy did
and knew how to work how he played within the space. That philosophy is very
influential for me in the context of where we play.

 

Are you a fan of people
taping your shows?

DAVE: I’m a stickler of not wanting everything out there.

EGO: And sometimes the sound is just sub par.

DAVE: Last April, we played the Roadburn Festival. We’d
played it once before, and when we were playing it this year they approached us
about releasing the performance. And so I was like, “Sure”, because they
record everything and I thought it would make for a great live release. We
played a 75 minute set that night. And when they sent me the source tapes, I
didn’t think that just listening to it gave the feel of what the actual
performance was. So I said to them that I didn’t want the entire thing
released, so I chose what I thought was the best parts of the performance and
instead of doing a double album we just did a single album.

 

Roadburn is known
primarily as a showcase for underground metal acts. Do you have a kinship with
that world?

DAVE: Well, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson of Sunn O)))
have been in contact with us. They’re both fans. They saw us at ATP, the last
one they did at Kutcher’s. And Greg came up to us afterwards and was like,
“Man, I see a ton of bands and it was so refreshing to see you guys play
because so much stuff is such crap.” Personally, I don’t see the
“metal” in us.

EGO: But I think some people do.

DAVE: Yes, there are a lot of people who consider us to be a
metal band. I think people like to–as much as they don’t think they
compartmentalize their lives–they feel some kind of comfort with living within
compartments. So if someone identifies themselves as a metal head and listens
to White Hills and thinks of it as metal music, that’s fine to me. I don’t
care.

 

For more
information on White Hills, please visit them at  http://whitehillsmusic.tumblr.com/.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Chris Carlone]

 

 

DEMONIC DREAM POP W/BLURT’S BEST KEPT SECRET #19: Wolf Ram Heart

Channeling a host of influences ranging from
the Beatles and Pink Floyd to Echo & the Bunnymen and 4AD Records, the Columbus combo is still
thoroughly modern.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

  The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept
Secret”: it’s Wolf Ram Heart, from Columbus,
Ohio. This makes our 19th BKS selection since commencing the program of spotlighting new and
under-the-radar artists back in 2008.

 

The group is described in its bio thusly: “Wolf Ram Heart is
an American pop group whose members are split between the Appalachian foothills
of southeastern Ohio and the urban metropolis
of Columbus.
This is a band bent on marrying art with popular music. Retro-futuristic best
defines their sound that straddles neo-psychedelia and dark art synthesizer
pop. The music is an all encompassing hybrid of pop’s faded echoing
sensibilities, molded into a modern space, and created in a sound that allows
these hauntings to occur and transform.”

 

 


Betrayal of Hearts by wolframheart

 

 

 

That description
just about nails it, and I’ll just add that the group additionally slots in
wonderfully with the contemporary dream-pop movement (Beach House et al) while retaining a visceral
originality that suggests a cinematic approach to songwriting. An eventual
liaison with Hollywood
seems all but inevitable, given the widescreen vibe and rampant eclecticism;
these folks seem to share a sensibility with veteran film scorers as diverse as
Ry Cooder, Calexico and even director David Lynch. With one album to date,
2011’s Betrayal of Hearts, and kudos
from a press chorus that includes Magnet,
Under the Radar
and The Big Takeover
one journalist rightly called it a “headphone masterpiece” – the potential for
the future seems equally wide open.

 

The band: David James – Vocals, Guitar, and Keyboards; Jessica
Barnes – Vocals, Bass and Keyboards; Ryan Stolte-Sawa – Vocals, Violin and
Keyboards; Eric Buford – drums and percussion; Rob Cave
– keyboards. BLURT proposed an email interview to get the full scoop, and the
offer was quickly accepted.
Meanwhile, you can visit the band at the official website or the Wolf Ram Heart
Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT: First of all,
what is the origin of and/or meaning behind the band name? Does this refer to
the trio of demons of ancient lore and the subsequent law firm of Joss Whedon
lore? (Thank you, Google.)

DAVID JAMES: I think we have done a hell of a great
promotion for the Wolfram & Hart wiki page this past year. I’m a big Joss
Whedon fan, it’s a play on words and it just sorta fit. I suppose it’s nice
that it was drawn from something more legitimate than all the seemingly
hundreds of bands that came out with animal names in last couple of years
because it was trendy.

       We always get a
least one person per show who will come up to me afterwards and ask if I’m a Buffy or Angel fan.

 

Tell me a little
about when and how the band came together, and some of the members’ previous
musical endeavors, backgrounds, influences, etc.

JAMES: I’m the main songwriter and I also produced and
recorded the album. Jessica, Eric and I all took part in Betrayal of Hearts while Rob and Ryan joined more recently and have
filled the voids in the live set. I met Jessica and Rob through Craigslist,
probably like most people these days. We asked Ryan to join us on violin for a
couple of shows and eventually talked her into staying, and Eric and I have
been in multiple bands together in Dayton and Columbus over the years.

        Influences: The
Monkees, that’s what got me doing this thing. I was turned onto the show at an
early age when I was stuck in the hospital going through major surgeries as a
child. Later, through songs like “Words” or “Love Is Only
Sleeping,” I became aware of reverb and that touched me on an deep emotional
level. In my teens it was then so easy to get hooked on albums like Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper, Odessey and Oracle,
and Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Being
a child of the eighties I now find myself more and more mixing these things up
in my mind, like Phil Spector and The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen and Scott
Walker or Donovan and Gary Numan. My lyrics could easily be traced to a
fondness for Syd Barrett and Robert Pollard.

 

RYAN STOLTE-SAWA: I grew up listening to all kinds of stuff –
‘60s folk like Joni and Neil Young, lots of renaissance music, and lots of ‘80s
albums with really high production values – Gypsy Kings; Steely Dan; Jennifer
Warnes’ collaboration with Leonard Cohen, “Famous Blue Raincoat” – my
childhood is full of that music. I’ve played in all kinds of orchestras and bands.
Warren Ellis is a bit of a hero for me.

I have a hard time finding “pop violin” artists I
admire, so it’s been really rewarding to get to know his work with the Bad
Seeds.

 

JESSICA BARNES: My childhood soundtrack was singing along
with the Beatles, Monkees, and Michael Jackson cassettes. As I grew older, I
embraced music from the Pixies, Velvet Underground, and David Bowie. Working on
Betrayal of Hearts made me return to
those early influences with a new ear, particularly to Paul McCartney’s
phenomenal bass playing. It challenged me to create bass lines that weave
together movement and presence.

 

Betrayal Of Hearts took a year to record, and you self-recorded it
on your big farm. How do you feel those two elements informed the evolution of
the album?

JAMES: Being able to work in the country without a clock or
any pressure in silent and beautiful surroundings equaled much emotional and
creative freedom. When you record in a professional studio you almost always
have to make compromises. This was the first time I had the chance to do
everything the way I wanted without other hands interfering with the vision. At
the same time, it can be a double-edged sword because you have too much time
and you can find it hard to let things go and say they are done.

 

The terms
“4AD” and “dream-pop” have been used several times in
reviews or descriptions of you and
the album. Possibly not so coincidentally, those are also terms cropping up
elsewhere these days, such as with bands like Beach House. Fair? Accurate? Helpful?
Albatross?

JAMES: I think it’s valid. We are a hard band to categorize
and that’s entirely on purpose. The approach in my mind was to create pop songs
the way the Beatles used to do it. “Penny
Lane” vs. “Strawberry Fields,” “We Can Work It Out”
vs. “Paperback Writer.” True diversity – not just the lazy same song, same
sound or same formula over and over again. I really have to get out of my head
sometimes and be someone else to do that. When you hear the record I hope you
can tell that someone put the time in to create something special. 4AD was
known for their mood and atmosphere and I think everything we do happens within
those parameters, so I can easily see the comparisons and it’s always
flattering.

 

Describe the band
live. How do audiences respond to you? Do you have to have racks and racks of
gear to reproduce your sound for the stage? Massive light show?

JAMES: Visually, I think we run into the same issues that
most other bands of similar genres have run into since the early days of Pink
Floyd. Going out for the night to a club and seeing a band that makes you too
glazed over and relaxed is a problem. You have to counter that with something
stimulating to keep people engaged. Putting lights or projections on stage
usually works for us. I always enjoyed seeing bands like Broadcast integrate in
the visual aspects to their live set.

        Musically, it’s
always a challenge for us to reproduce what you hear on Betrayal of Hearts. Some songs may have up to 35 layers of
different instruments or sounds on each. At first we were using a laptop on stage with some backing tracks but after
awhile it felt too rigid and stale. Then eventually we got lucky and found a
keyboardist who could cover so many bases in the sound that we did away with it
all and now we enjoy the experience much more. Honestly, I use to really hate
it. In the end it’s just art and you wouldn’t expect a painter to go around
city to city in front of a crowd every night, painting that picture exactly the
same. It just can’t be done – who would want to?

 

STOLTE-SAWA: Wolf Ram Heart stands apart from a lot of other
pop projects I’ve been in because it’s more about creating atmosphere than
performing songs. In that respect it’s a lot like an orchestra, where there’s a
lot of demand for big waves of strings to support the other melodies, so I draw
on that part of my repertoire. There’s a lot of room to move around, so I do a
lot of improvising on-stage, which is fun.

 

Biggest milestone or
success to date?

JAMES: Last March during SXSW our record leaked online and
we got to see this huge flood of activity around it that I’ve never experienced
before. We saw some people from Europe and Russia posting links on music blogs
about it, Last.fm lighting up with plays all over the world from people
downloading it – it was all happily overwhelming. It was nice, all I wanted was
someone to hear it.

        I have no
delusions, I know I’ll probably never make any real money doing this now.
That’s not what I’m in it for, so at that leak point I was already squared
away; now it’s all plus. I saw us on a few German and Russian year-end 2011
lists last year which was fun and funny.

 

What are some of the
more significant aspects of the Columbus
music scene? Can a working musician make a living being based there?

JAMES: I don’t really follow the music scene in Columbus much anymore
because me and Jessica both live in the country now. I think of us more like
the wise sage that floats into town on occasion and asks for change. If there
were ways to make a living in Columbus
doing music, I would be scared to see what that would entail. Probably
something to do with weddings or playing Nickelback covers to a crowd of drunk OSU
students during pledge week!

 

Lastly, what’s on the
horizon for the band?

JAMES: We are playing the NXNE Festival June 13th and 17th in Canada
and currently we’re in preproduction for the next record that will be out
sometime in 2013. Betrayal of Hearts seems to still be gaining momentum so we’ll keep promoting it till the end of
the year. We hope to have a vinyl release of the album out in the near future.

 

 


Mansions by wolframheart

 

 

THIS AIN’T NO DRUM CIRCLE Man Forever

Inspired
by
Metal
Machine Music to get real gone, Oneida’s
Kid Millions looks for the musical “surface patterns” others might miss.

 

BY MIKE
SHANLEY

 

Two drummers are seated on either side of one snare drum at
center stage. Behind them, left to right, stand a bassist, two keyboardists and
a guitarist. All the lights are out in the backroom here at Gooski’s, which is
often the case during shows at the Pittsburgh
dive. The bright fluorescent lights kill the mood. Things might feel a little
claustrophobic, but Man Forever hasn’t started playing yet. This is only the
beginning of the tightness.

 

At three minutes after midnight, the two drummers – Kid
Millions (known best perhaps as a member of Oneida) and Tony Paterra (of the
Pittsburgh-based duo Zombi) – begin playing single stroke rolls on the lone
drum: Budda, budda, budda, budda.
They’re not really in sync but they aren’t exactly out of sync either.

 

This will continue for about the next 30 minutes, the first
four of which will be unaccompanied. Their attack doesn’t change, and it
occasionally creates a strange overtone that’s easily confused for one of the
other instruments joining in.

 

When Mike Bonello’s (Dirty Faces) bass joins in four minutes
later, it alternates between two notes, which get held for long, unspecified
periods of time, creating a fuzzy, thunderous foundation. Three minutes later,
the keyboards worm their way in. Chris Cannon (who will perform later in the
evening with his band Raw Blow) plays the woodie, Oneida-speak for a vintage
organ housed in wood. He too works with a specific set of notes, while Dave
Kadden (of Invisible
Circle and the only non-Pittsburgher
onstage besides Millions) adds more textures. A couple minutes later, Jim Lingo
(Centipede E’est, Midnight Snake) starts doing the same thing on guitar.

 

The melodic instruments create vibrations that shift from
fast to slow, something that’s only apparent when giving the music full
attention. All the while, the drums underpin it all, pounding away with no
variation.

 

Kid Millions (aka John Colpitts) has been involved in some
spacey, heavy and somewhat psychedelic music as a founding member of Oneida and, for one
album, the really heavy White Hills. But Man Forever exists in a strange gray
area where that kind of music finds a strange bedfellow with minimalist
composers. It’s easy to quip “this ain’t no drum circle,” but even using that
negative metaphor as a reference point can’t begin to prepare your ears for
this. Ironic, too, that he has described “Surface Patterns,” the name of the
piece, as a meditation that tries “to replicate the experience of looking at
the surface of a river as it approaches and cascades over a waterfall.” It
sounds more like a churning machine.

 

The idea came to Millions after seeing a performance of Lou
Reed’s Metal Machine Music recreated
by the chamber group the Fireworks Ensemble in 2010. “It sparked a number of
different dormant ideas that I had. I read the notes on the Metal Machine Music performance about
how Lou Reed made that album. He tuned his guitars strings in fifths and leaned
them up against amps so there were layers of feedback that resonated in
interesting ways.

 

“So there was that idea. I had remembered talking to Brian
Chase [of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs] about tuning drums to just intonation, very
carefully pitched drum tunings. And I thought all this stuff might work
together. I could do a noise album with acoustic instruments. So that was what
was going on in my head. That’s how it came about.”

 

After two albums on the vinyl-only St. Ives label, Man
Forever moved to Thrill Jockey this year to release Pansophical Cataract. Like the previous albums, it features two
extended works, including “Surface Patterns,” which he edited down to 18
minutes in order to fit on one side of a record. The second piece, “Ur
Eternity,” starts off in a similar fashion, sounding almost like an alternate
take of the first track. Eight minutes in, though, it really overloads when a
combination of rack tom, floor tom and two kick drums join the fray, which
continues for another 10 minutes. The album features a four-drum lineup, with
bass and two guitars (one played by Yo La Tengo’s James McNew). Millions does
double-duty, playing the woodie himself.

 

On this tour, though, he’s been playing with different
people each night, many of whom are going on instructions taken from a video he made describing how
the various instruments work in the music
or talks prior to
taking the stage. He’s also decided to limit the band drummer count to two. “I
think it’s more interesting with two. It’s easier just to have the rhythm seem
crazy,” he says. “I want them to be out of sync. In sync is not interesting to
me.”

 

So far the only challenge has been to make sure the hired
guns understand how the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. “One
thing that’s hard is to get people’s heads wrapped around it on that level, is
to make them [realize the performance] is not about them,” Millions says.
“That’s the discipline thing. It’s about the sound. It’s not about an ego
driven thing. That’s the dream and the hope.”

 

A similarity to Terry Riley, as least in execution, is
something Millions doesn’t dispute. “I wanted it to be like a punk version of
that,” he says. “To make it like a bit odd where I’m doing this stuff in a rock
context with rock musicians, typically not people who are familiar with this
kind of music. Or they’re familiar but they might not ever do it, and to just
make that head space into the performance. That might be surprising or yield
surprising results.”

 

He laughs casually when asked if a performance requires a
good deal of discipline. “There’s really no choice in the matter. You’re just
playing until 30 minutes is up,” he says. “The discipline is staying steady and
even. And I really hope the musicians are also being disciplined because it’s
not supposed to be about the individual. And some people get into how their
part is changing things, and they might assert themselves more. And it’s not
meant to be that way.” 

 

Millions also realizes that most audiences might not be
prepared for music like this to ambush them. “I’ve contemplated doing a
preparatory statement: ‘Hey, we’re going to be playing a 30-minute piece,'” he
says.” Some people are like, ‘Yeah, you should totally do that.’ But I don’t
know if that’s really necessary. I like people to not know. That’s the
intention too. And people can decide to check out. They can just fuckin’ [say],
‘This isn’t my shit. I’m gonna go have a beer.’ And a lot of people do.”

 

If it sounds abrasive, you’re right. But if you think this
is too much, you should’ve been at Gooski’s in February when a lineup of Man
Forever performed “Surface Patterns” with four drummers rolling away on two
snares. Your intrepid reporter was not mentally prepared for that performance
and was one of the audience members that got restless and wandered out to the
bar area after about 10 minutes. The intrigue however, never wavered.

 

Tonight, I’m there for the duration. At roughly 12:32 a.m.,
when Kid Millions raises his sticks in the air and brings them back onto the
snare for the final crash – the signal for everyone to stop playing – I’m the
one who immediately starts whooping.

 

Man Forever is currently on tour. Check dates here.

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Joshua Bright]

TRUST YOURSELF… AND GET A GOOD LAWYER (OR NOT) – Pt. 2

 

Veteran musicians, from Jorma Kaukonen, Corin Tucker, Allen Toussaint, Hubert Sumlin, Brian Wilson and Mike Watt, dispense career advice – and a helluva lot more.

BY JASON GROSS

We continue our wide-ranging inquisition – please go here to read Part 1. An edited version of this also appears in the current print edition, issue number 12, of BLURT. And this fall, in issue 13 and online, we’ll have our next installment, featuring the likes of Holger Czukay, Amon Tobin, John Hiatt, Bernie Worrell, Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, Ian MacKaye, Jon Langford, Bert Jansch, and others.

***

 

ROBERT SCHNEIDER (The Apples in Stereo)

Like anything you do in life, whether it’s music or a job or whatever you do, you wanna do something that when you’re old and look back on this and say ‘yeah, we did that, my friends and I!’ And you wanna do something that you feel good about. Strive to do something that’s meaningful and special to you and to your friends and your local scene, your age group and your world. Try to do something that involves your friends and the people that you have around you, as opposed to going and seeking out the business or contacts. Do things with the people that you know, who share your influences and your life. Do things with the people that you like and that you love. Try to challenge and stimulate each other and… compete (laughs) in a creative way. That’s the sort of environment that great music comes out of.

As far as how to make it in the music industry goes, it has to more to do with things like luck, charisma, looks, savvy, people skills, that sort of thing than one would like to think. But it doesn’t have EVERYTHING to do with that. The mainstream world requires the most generic factors to all be in place to speak to the largest number of people. You can have certain factors and not others- maybe you have great charisma, not great looks. But you sort of have a balance of things to make it, so to speak. But that world isn’t the world that you want to make art towards. You can’t control your looks or your luck (laughs), things like that. These are things that are inborn traits. You can’t really expect to get too far by focusing much on them. You want to do something that’s great. You want to do something that stands out.

I would say, chose obscure heroes. Don’t follow the faces that are on the magazine or on TV. Don’t follow the names that are on everybody’s lips. Chose heroes that are outside of the norm or that are, at least in your area, are not at the top of the pile.   By the time you’ve heard of these people who have had their trajectory to get to where they are, the thing that they’re doing well, by the time it reaches the mainstream, it’s not played out exactly, but it’s approaching its peak of potential (how great this thing can be). You wanna chose special heroes who are different. Take Tesla over Edison. Take Brian Wilson over… there’s so many great people from that time, it’s hard to think of who to compare him negatively! So just take Brian Wilson!

He was my musical hero, especially when I was younger. I would argue the Beach Boys over the Beatles. The Beatles were the big influence on pop and psychedelia but the Beach Boys are the best. This is always my argument. I’m not saying that it’s true. I’m not sure that I agree. But the point is that I had an obscure hero. Brian Wilson was the leader of a top 40 band in his generation. In my generation, they were just old-fashioned, stripe-wearing…. They were tame and passé seeming. But they weren’t! In fact, they were the most vital, strange pop band that came out of their time. There was something to be explored there.

So, listen to music deeply. Don’t listen to what’s on the surface. Don’t listen to what’s easily available. If you like something, you’re young so you’ve only heard of the Doors or something, you haven’t heard a lot of psychedelic music, then dig deeper to find out about the thing you’re in to… what they were listening to and what scene they came out of. Then dig deeper- see what they were reading or see what kind of art they were into or the kinds of films that happened at that time. Or if you’re into modern music, maybe you start out by being into heavy metal or something, but you dig deeper. You read reviews and stuff and you keep up with other young bands. Not keeping up with the main scene but you sort of keep up with the underground scene.

So, listening deeply, having obscure heroes, that kind of stuff is the sort of thing I would say.

Oh, the other thing is, cultivate primitive skills. Don’t focus too much on having fancy musicianship or fancy recording skills or anything like that. Don’t focus too much on polish, ’cause polish comes with time anyway. You can’t unpolish something that’s been overly polished.

I have a mild theory actually that pre-recorded music in the time before music was ever recorded, that musical performances had a much wilder and stranger quality than anything we could imagine. And that as soon as musicians could start hearing themselves and hear what they had just played, they could correct it. And then they could listen to the recordings of the previous generation and get better than that and better than that until the current state of incredibly tight musicianship and recording. I don’t just mean now but at any given time. It’s going to be tighter than it was before. 20 years from now, it’ll be like ‘woah, 2011… stuff was so raw then!’ (laughs) But the point is that there’s this rawness and this lack of skill that’s lost from music that was probably really special back when it existed. So I would say, cultivate primitive skills! (laughs)

What’s ‘good’ is what sounds like other stuff and is acceptable and you might be able to pass off as being professional. That’s good, sure. But what’s GREAT is completely disconnected from what’s professional. It does not matter! It does not matter if the painting looks realistic. You take some property of what is widely accepted to be good and you tear something apart from that and you do something that’s almost ugly but your goal is to do something meaningful and special and means something to the people you know and to other people like you, like your friends, as opposed to the people on the larger scale that you can’t know. I guess that’s really the best thing that you could really try to do with making music. It’s the sort of thing that will always keep you making fresh music. If you’re a popular recording artist and you’re trying to relate to what people think you should be like or to other popular artists, you’re writing for this alien audience that you don’t really understand. You should really be writing for your neighbor or for your girlfriend or the individual people right around you that you hope to impress.

I actually would probably say all of that long, stream of winding, slightly-disconnected stuff to a young musician if they approached me. I probably have!

 

JORMA KAUKONEN (Hot Tuna, Jefferson Airplane)

I think the only advice I would have is what helped me. First of all, you’ve got to love what you’re doing. And obviously those young people who pick up an instrument love what they’re doing. I think that has to come first before any desire to be “a successful professional.” Because out of the people that play music, there are not that many that actually make it a profession, but there are many, many great players in the world. So I think just to love it, to be able to be un-self-conscious about your playing, to be able to be critical of yourself but not hyper-critical, have realistic expectations, and just look forward to sharing your music with other people.

 

HUBERT SUMLIN (R.I.P.; Howlin’ Wolf band)

I would tell them to listen to and learn from old people, like I did when I was coming up. I listened. Wolf was one of them. In that period, me and James Cotton grew up together. We didn’t talk that much about nothing more than music. But with Wolf, he was showing me the tricks of the trade, where everything is, about this deep blues. And I knew he was a blues man and I knew that he had to know because he had it in him. He had it in his soul.

So he used to tell me, “Son, I’m gonna tell it like it is.” He said “Look, I’m gonna show you something… I know you don’t know this stuff.” Little by little, I knew because I played this stuff.” And he said “you know who I’m gonna give it to?” I said “Me!” He said “Yeah and you know who showed me? Charlie Patton was the one who showed me.”

He’d get up to the road house where Charlie Patton was playing. It could hold about 10 people and it was set on cement blocks. He’d have to go close to the house but it was too small to go in (ED NOTE: Wolf was a huge guy). So he would come there and the people would be dancing and they would be about two feet from Charlie Patton. He said that he (Patton) missed his head by about four inches! And he said “man, I could FEEL it!” So he said that Charlie Patton got him by the hair and said “Young man, you’re ain’t gonna move. I’m gonna see to that! You’re too young to see me and you’re determined to be out here. Where you’re mom?” And Wolf said all he wanted to do was to show him what he was doing. He said that he did. He started playing “Saddle My Pony” and Wolf (later) recorded it. I mean, he (Wolf) showed me how to play it later on.

From then on, Wolf left me alone on the guitar and he put me in the front of the group. I was really thinking about nothing except but just the guitar. (laughs) I would be thinking about what he was saying about Charlie Patton. So that’s why I came up and I tell the youngsters that’s coming up. I know they heard the music from somewhere. They done heard these old numbers these old people made. But these young people keep coming around and I’ll be so grateful, lord have mercy. When I see them come to the band stand and grin with their mouth open… And I love what I’m doing and if they wanna do what I’m doing, you ain’t got nothing to do but to want it, to get it! You can do it!

You know, these blues are a thing that you ain’t gonna be surprised about because you know about it. Rock and roll and everything is the blues. It came from the blues, all of it. All of this rock stuff and even rap. This is why the blues is the hardest thing in the world to play, to some people, but not everybody. If you want it, it’s there but it’s hard. In anything you do, you better have some soul. You hear me? (laughs)

 

ALLEN TOUSSAINT

Well, I would say for one thing, practice, practice, practice and I don’t only mean the piano. I mean all good things. Practice, practice, practice. Believe in what you’re doing and believe in your ability to do it. Surround yourself with good people. Read positive articles on people in your field. And anything that appears the slightest bit negative, cast it aside before you go all the way through it. There’s nothing to accomplish with negativity. And be about what you are daily and I would even suggest to even make a note if not daily, then weekly on what are you doing toward whatever goal you think you might have.

I would think that whatever you’re going to present to others, make it your very best presentation and not leave it up to their own imagination that “I know that this is insufficient but I know that it’s an idea.” Try and make it, whatever you present, suitable for framing. The very best you can do.

And also, you have to have some trust because there’s a lot of mistrust. But if you really have integrity that comes across, good companies want to deal with you. So don’t be reluctant and mistrust things because you hear so many rumors. Trust is very important.

And keep a good attitude in your mind, in your presentation and in everything that you do. A good attitude helps to sell everything else.

 

CORIN TUCKER (Corin Tucker Band, Sleater-Kinney)

My advice to this person would be that… I think they should do a year of studying and mentoring and developing their music before they do anything else. And I say this because I think that having that experience in a place like Olympia, Washington was something that taught me so much about performing, about being a musician and about the work ethic and the self-discipline it takes to accomplish your goals over a longer period of time. I’ve read some other people’s biographies over the years and I think having that development time at the beginning of your career can be really important to work towards being a performer and really understanding what it is that you love and what you really desire to do.

So this is 14-point plan for this young person! (laughs) A young person needs to get a job to pay the bills. This young person needs to make a list of their mentors or their heroes, hopefully in the hypothetical scene that this person lives in, that play music often. So they’re going out to the cheap shows that they can afford but they’re going out every week and seeing these people perform over and over and over again. So the small shows, the small venues, the things that are happening… Not necessarily the flavor of the month but the performers that this person admires. They go and see them a lot and study what makes these peoples’ music interesting and what draws these peoples’ fans in and why you think they’re a good performer. What about their songwriting do you admire? What about their career do you admire? So they’re setting their mentors.

And usually I think that part of being a young person is that you can be a fan (laughs). You can hang out at these places and (say) “Oh my God! I love your work!!” That plays a lot better at 18 than it might in a couple of decades so take advantage of that and hang around. And get to know these people and… find out about them and just study them.

While this is happening, this young person needs to also start performing themselves. This means at somebody’s party that somebody’s having- you volunteer to play a couple of songs. You jump up on an open mike. You play coffee shops. You perform all the time that you can and you have to be ready to develop that thick skin where someone will come and tell you, “You know… I don’t think you really have that great of a voice” or “I don’t like your songs” or “you sound like so-and-so!” You’re going to get that and you’re going to have to develop a way to make it constructive in a way.

And while you’re sort of developing this thicker skin and you’re working on developing how to taking this criticism, my advice to this young person is (to) also develop a way to deal with stress that doesn’t involve overindulging in drugs and alcohol, because this is something that is going to come in handy if you do make it big five years down the road and you’re on some really big tour. If you’ve spent this year that I’m advising, of working on self-discipline, if you find a way to de-stress, to meditate and to focus for a big performance that doesn’t involve drugs and alcohol, that’s going to be a really good skill to have in your career. So that’s another tip.

So while you’re doing your year of study, here’s another assignment. You need to study the music business. You need to understand how it is that people, artists that you admire make enough money to live off of, whether it’s how much touring they do, how many records they sell or in this case…. I don’t know, downloads, whatever people do! (laughs) If they are doing commercials, if they have some other kind of publishing deal. You need to figure out how people these days make money and figure out what would be your strategy to do that and what you’re willing to do and not do within that context. Whether or not you’re willing to do a McDonald’s commercial- that’s something you should ask yourself.

OK, so while you’re doing this year of study and you’re playing every show you can do and you’re hanging out and you’re setting your mentors, you should also be developing your material and you should be developing your contacts. When you go to these shows over and over and over again, in this scene or whatever you’re in, you figure out who owns this place you’re going to, who owns the venue and then who books the venue. So you start to understand how people get these gigs you’re going to. You develop a friendship. You say “hey! I love this venue and who books the bands?” “Oh, this is Sherry… Sherry books the bands…” “Oh, Sherry, I love the bands you’re booking.” And you develop those contacts with people if possible. I know that sounds totally unrealistic in a city like New York (laughs) but in Olympia and even in a city like Austin, Texas, I think that developing those contacts is totally plausible.

So, ‘do this for a year’ is my advice. And then, go for it! (laughs) And so once you’ve done this year of studying and developing your material and you feel like you have an hour’s worth of material, whether it’s your own originals, some covers you’ve been playing… You’ve been busking in the street, playing coffee shops, doing whatever. Hopefully, you’ve gotten feedback and you’ve gotten some advice from people. And if you gotten some people interested in what you’re doing, hopefully that will start to lead to some bigger gigs. And then the next step is to tour. Ad nauseam! (laughs) So I guess that’s my plan.

 

MCCOY TYNER (John Coltrane quartet)

Search within yourself to find your own sound, your unique voice. Everyone has one, you just have to find it.

 

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III

Go into real estate! Marine biology!

I’ve been technically in the music business or earning a living on the periphery of the music business for about 40-something years. The other question I’m often asked is, how has it changed? I don’t think it HAS changed very much.

What I did was I stopped listening to other people’s music. That’s just my own psychological, paranoid make-up that causes me to do that. The thing is, you have to be noticed, I guess. I think that’s probably still true. In my own case, I had to create a kind of presentation which was… everybody had long hair and was wearing bell bottom pants. So I wrote Brooks Brothers clothes and got a short haircut. It sounds kind of silly now but in a way… even if you’re good, you have to somehow be noticed, and I imagine that’s still true. So, work on your presentation, kids!

As far as the vagaries of the business goes, there’s so many pitfalls and there’s so many more people doing it than when I was starting out in the late ’60’s. Now, people make records in their houses- they don’t need recording studios or record companies. Do they?

Q: It depends how involved they want to get in the process- if they want to do promotion, production and such by themselves.

I’m still trying to think of pieces of advice. “Hang in there”? How about that? “Don’t give up” or… “Walk away from it!” (laughs) Everybody’s got their own personal… I don’t know if it’s karma or whatever, but they’ve got their own battles. Again, I can only talk about my situation. When I was starting out, male singer-songwriters with guitars… record companies were interested in signing them. I think that might have something to do with the fact that Bob Dylan was in retirement at that point- he was in Woodstock, he had the motorcycle accident. So the companies were looking for someone to fill that vacuum. So guys with guitars, James Taylor, John Prine and me and David Bromberg and Leo Kottke and Leon Redbone and Steve Goodman… we were getting record deals then but I’m sure it’s a completely different ball game now.

So I guess you have to figure out what’s going on and how you can separate yourself from the pack and get a good lawyer! (laughs)

 

MIKE WATT (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Stooges)

I think the fundamental thing is trying to find your voice, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s spiel or bass or painting or writing. I’d say for all kinds of artistic expression, you gotta try and find your own voice. All the things out there are tools and a lot of that’s common ground but you use them to define your persona, your character and that’s really important because that gives you perspective to share through arts. It’s not saying that you’re better than somebody but that you’re distinct. Everybody has an innate distinction and somehow you have to bring that through your artistic endeavor. That can be tough, especially when you’re learning- you emulate a lot of heroes and just people that are doing enough for you to copy. (laughs) But you can’t let that smother the thing that makes you yourself. And so, I think that’s always a struggle, even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, and to keep going as well as going inside and finding out what makes you yourself and put that part into the expression.

That’s not really much from a business perspective. Raymond (Pettibon) talks to me about craft versus art- it’s kind of different. I think I kind of know what he means. To be a sustainable musician? I was talking more about the marketplace of ideas. (laughs)

Actually I think it helps unless you’re an emulator, you just pick up on the number one song and just copy that and can be very successful. (laughs)

With the business, as far as that can become a sustainable endeavor, jam econo! I mean, we had to, there was no other way. But it was funny, at Columbia (Records), my product manager would want me to have talks with the younger bands because they were in that situation and there’s still a bottom line, and more maybe. But people would get oblivious to that, just ride on the rock rollercoaster. They didn’t have to worry about it but you always do. Jamming econo is getting by with what you got. I think you have to have perseverance. You have to believe in yourself and keep going, keep pushing.

It’s really hard to come up with some kind of formula. You look at all the experiences. I have people on my radio show to talk about music and how they started as a kid because I think everybody has their own road to get to where they are and it’s OK. I don’t think there is one way to do it. We came from the econo way and most people hated the scene, so we got kind of insular. So we came up with some strange things like dividing the world into gigs and flyers. (laughs) So I guess we were very pragmatic in some ways even though the music was pretty uncompromising. The music we did mainly for us and then it was kind of a voice for people. But our friends were doing the same thing so it didn’t seem TOO lonely of a thing. All of those people we toured with and gigged with, they’re all pretty uncompromising. We also worked at other jobs, doing other things to support ourselves. The DIY thing. You know, that goes back to Walt Whitman. He published “Leaves of Grass” himself and he did shit like write letters to newspapers under another name, (saying) ‘hey, you gotta check out this! I hear it’s really good!’ Thoreau wrote a good letter about it so he put it on the back cover of the next edition and Thoreau got all mad. We’re talking the late 1800’s. Somebody once told me that the only thing new is you finding out about it! (laughs)

So, as far as advice like that, I try to serve as an example… so why did you do that session ‘Game Show Lady’ (with Kelly Clarkson) if you’re being uncompromising like this? Actually, they let me try anything I wanted to when I went in there.

You gotta somehow hold on to your integrity but I think that’s tied in too with this finding your own voice. I think it helps everybody else too because, like I said, in that scene, the other cats were doing that and they gave us confidence to try too. So I don’t think it’s so self-centered in a way. There would have never been a “Double Nickels on the Dime” without a “Zen Arcade.” But we didn’t copy that. So you’re still in there with your peers but part of it is bringing something to the table. As a writer, you probably read a lot and absorb a lot but you can still write original pieces and I think it’s the same thing with the music stuff too. The first person thing- the thing that makes up your personality. We all have different experiences and stuff like that. And genetically too, if you look at the thumb print, there’s just differences. Somehow, you bring that out. It’s tough. There probably shouldn’t be an easy way to do it. It should probably be hard. Econo recording, music equipment, that can be solved and it’s more accessible but this other (aesthetic) struggle is always gonna be a tough one but I think it’s worth it.

Trying to find the inner voice. It isn’t easy but it’s worth it. It makes the whole fabric more rich. Harmony can be strange but dissonance is too, but it’s a chorus and we all join in together on this kind of thing. I just think you’re out there competing, so maybe that’s what sticks out, is the personality. Unless people are looking for puppets, then pursue the puppets and be the emulator! (laughs) The Xerox machine. There’s always some kind of negotiation of compromise but… (sighs) probably in the arts, it’s not like a bridge where it has to stand up. The abstract about our thing, you don’t have to try to truck over it. The situation is safer to go crazy, a little bit, or get wild. There’s no guarantee because that’s one of the areas where people can still pick what they like and maybe change their minds. All you can do is make it and put it out to there, which is good. You can’t make people like it. I guess you can trick ’em.

But your average guy getting into music… I don’t know. I think that’s kind of in the minority, people with those kinds of abilities. So you’re better off going with your own vision, whatever that is.

So I get asked this a lot and I think ‘how did someone like you do this?’ which I don’t think is a bad thing. D. Boon was into the inclusive, not the exclusive. He was ‘one band for every block.’ At the end of my gigs, I say ‘start your own band!’ And it’s kind of carrying on that populist notion.

 

PAUL WELLER (The Jam, Style Council)

I would say get yourself a good lawyer. I would say keep on keeping on. Don’t let too many people sway your opinion. And as much as you can, be strong of mind and be tenacious as much as you possibly can. And do what you feel is right, what you feel is in your heart. And I would also say ‘listen to as much music as you possibly can as well.’ In no particular order anyway!

 

SWAMP DOGG (aka Jerry Williams)

The first thing I would do is tell them to study as much as they can. Learn theory and all of the other little things that goes along with playing your instrument, which by way, I don’t. And I would tell ’em to start sitting in wherever they can sit in, with all types of musicians, whether they be jazz, rock, blues, funk. See if they can sit in. Go to clubs and so forth, until they develop their style, until they find out what they truly want to do. And after they discover that, then they should put some sort of aggregation together that fits in good with what they are doing and start going to clubs and playing until they can get discovered. That’s basically my advice.

(For the business side of things): I would tell them not to look to get rich quick. Don’t base what you’re doing, your business, on what Bon Jovi is doing. I’m just using Bon Jovi as a point of reference. But if you want to be in the music business, one thing for a fact is you’re going to get screwed, so get ready for it! You’re not ALWAYS going to get screwed but if you go to guys who can make you happen fast, these guys will screw you. But… they’ll get you to where you’ll want to go, so what price are you willing to pay? And after you get to where you want to go, then you can shake these people loose. I’m not saying ‘go with gangsters’ or ‘go with con men.’ I’m just saying… your everyday executive, when he sees that he’s going to be able to make an extra buck, then hey, he’ll fuck you. He might be one of the nicest guys in the world when he comes from behind the desk.

I would tell them to start their own publishing firm but learn about publishing – it’s more than just a fucking word. Learn what it does. Learn what you can do with it. And learn where the money comes from. Know where the money comes from.

And when they get ready to record for somebody… well, it depends on who they recording for. The first time around, the company’s gonna call the shots unless they have played and played and played around the country and build such a heavy name that the company wants them bad. But if not, they’re going to more than likely have to take the offer that’s on the table. Get a lawyer so you don’t get TOTALLY, totally fucked. That’s about what I would tell them on the business side.

 

BRIAN WILSON (The Beach Boys)

I would say ‘well look, if you’re going to write a song, write the song. Don’t write half of it and then quit.’ You know, ’cause a lot of people are lazy. They won’t finish what they start. Like someone will read part of a book and then lay the book down and not finish the book. Same with music. You know, if you start a song, write the whole song and then follow through with your vocal.

 

TRUST YOURSELF… AND GET A GOOD LAWYER (OR NOT) – Pt. 1

TRUST YOURSELF… AND GET A GOOD LAWYER (OR NOT) – Pt. 1

 

Veteran musicians, from Ian Hunter, Exene Cervenka, Lemmy and Chuck D to Patterson Hood, Girl Talk, Oderus and Brian Wilson dispense career advice – and a helluva lot more.

BY JASON GROSS

Imagine that you’re a seasoned artist, approached by an eager young musician pleading “I’m just starting out, what’s the best advice that you could give me?” Over the last two years, we posed this situation to a wide-ranging group of well-known performers (including a few now sadly departed), spanning genres and decades, wondering what they’d have to say.

Often enough, this exact situation happened to them, so many of them came prepared. Plus, their answers said a lot about their own attitude towards their work and their lives. So what did they have to say? Read on and find out.

An edited version of this also appears in the current print edition, issue number 12, of BLURT. And this fall, in issue 13 and online, we’ll have our next installment, featuring the likes of Holger Czukay, Amon Tobin, John Hiatt, Bernie Worrell, Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, Ian MacKaye, Jon Langford, Bert Jansch, and others.

***

 STEVE ALBINI

The simplest way to explain success in music is that people as an audience respond to people who are doing something that’s genuine and (something) that they’re almost obsessed about. Every successful musician that I’ve ever encountered has exhibited a kind of mania about what they’re doing, and also an imperviousness to outside criticism or influence. I think both of those things are really important. You should trust your instincts about what is good and what is bad and why you’re doing what you’re doing. And don’t look for validation outside yourself for stuff that only you are going to be ultimately responsible for. I think the search for external validation tends to weaken most artistic impulses and… one thing people respond to is a sort of sincerity and intensity of intent. So if you genuinely want to do something, don’t let anyone dissuade you from doing it precisely the way you want to do it. That would be my first bit of advice.

My second bit of advice would be ‘don’t sign anything.’ There’s nothing that anyone can do for you under contract that they also (can) do for you on a normal human agreement, just on a personal level. And any time there’s a contractual relationship between an individual and a corporation or another individual who has a lot more resources, the contract is really only of use to the party with more power and more money, because the party with more power and money can afford to spend the time and energy to wage war in court to enforce the terms of the contract. But the weaker, less wealthy party can’t. So there’s no advantage to an individual or a band for example signing a contract with anyone who has more money and more resources than you. The contract can only be used as a weapon against you.

The other advice that I would give a young musician is to not to try to force your aesthetics. By that, I mean, you should stick with people that you know and like and trust and whose taste matches up with yours and who are into all the same things as you, because if you try to force yourself to work in styles or idioms that you’re not conversant in, you’re going to make clumsy mistakes. Whereas if you continue to pursue those things that you’re innately drawn toward, then those things are gonna be more completely known to your person as you’re exploring them in art. So, don’t try to be a duck when you’re actually a chicken- just revel in the fact that you’re a chicken. I mean, we’ve all heard horrible reggae versions of songs and things like that. That impulse to try to branch out into areas that are not your natural area of expertise is untreatable in terms of when people are searching for inspiration but generally speaking, things are going to go smoothest and you’re going to be most rewarded by sticking with people and things that you already have some sympathy with and that you already have some commonality with.

 

FRANK BLACK (Pixies)

I do get asked that question occasionally by a young up and coming musician and I always tell them all the same thing. I just tell them to just go play gigs- whatever gig you can get and play as many of them as you can because it’s really the precursor to recording. I know that modern technology has made it available and easy for everyone to just go and record and make your own opera. And I think it’s great that we have all of these new tools but… (sighs)… It’s all in kind of a vacuum until you go and be in front of people in the ancient way, until you get up around the campfire and tell your own story and sing your own song or do your own dance. You really have to do that. That’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years. And so if you’re just making music in your bedroom or in a recording studio and then releasing that in the world, I just feel like there’s a disconnect there that… people really need to try to avoid that. And then once you perform in front of people and you have some sort of relationship with those people, I think then you do better when you go and do a studio recording. So I always encourage people to just get out of their bedrooms and go play gigs. And if it’s for just their friends or whatever, just find some bar or nightclub someplace and go play, play, play, play, play. That’s the path. For me, anyway. And I LOVE studio recording. I could do it all day, every day. I love it even more than performing live. But really, performing live in front of people, for me, that’s the path. That’s the truth.

 

GLENN BRANCA (composer)

My advice tends to go more in the direction of something negative than something positive. My advice would be more along the lines of ‘how bad do you want to do this?’ ‘How much do you need this?’ ‘Is this the thing that dominates your life?’ ‘Are you willing to sacrifice absolutely everything in your life?’ And when I say ‘everything,’ I mean absolutely everything for this one thing that you want to do. And I think that most people don’t. I think that there’s a lot of people that THINK that they want to do something but they don’t realize just what you have to do in order to be able to do it.

I do my work because I love it- I loved it starting when I was very, very young. I decided when I was very young, it was what I wanted to do. And there was never any question whatsoever in my mind about what I wanted to do. And even when it became very hard and I had to say to myself ‘this really isn’t fun anymore, I’m not really enjoying doing this… am I going to keep doing this?’ I had to give it some thought. I was still young enough to decide to do something else. But when I thought about it, I realized this is what I’ve always wanted to do. This is what I still love to do. And just because it’s become very difficult and there are a lot of barriers to get over and I’m totally broke (laughs) and I’m giving up everything I have to do and it’s also such hard work, do I still really want to do it? And I decided ‘yeah, I do. It’s worth it. I want to do this.’ There’s an image in my mind of something I want to create and this is important enough to me to put up with all the crap that you have to put up with.

There’s no way that someone who’s dreaming about going in to music, or any other field, could possibly understand what it’s like when you actually get there. And there’s no way that you can tell somebody something that they haven’t experienced themselves. It’s completely abstract to them.

It’s the way it’s always been for me. I have to experience something before I can understand it. Even in school, I had to figure out something for myself. It required a reason to understand something and to figure it out for myself and then it made sense. If someone’s giving you advice about things that you haven’t experienced and that you don’t understand, it’s entirely abstract. It’s meaningless. It doesn’t connect with your own life and with what you’re thinking about. When I was in school, even all the way back to second grade, the teachers would write on my report card ‘Glenn’s a dreamer.’ I would have to say that at the time, that was considered to be a pejorative. It certainly wasn’t something that my parents wanted to see. It certainly wasn’t something that my teacher thought was a good thing, that I would sit there, looking out the window and not paying attention to what she was saying. But the fact is, I was thinking! And being a dreamer (laughs), having fantasies is an extremely important part of being a creative artist. If you don’t have these fantasies, then what are making? What are you basing your creations on? There are a lot of people who want to be composers but they don’t really know what they want to do, so what they do is they imitate other people. And that can work, to a point, but I can’t imagine that being very satisfying. And I can’t imagine that it, for the most part, produces very interesting work. I think you need to imagine something before you can bring it out of your head, into the world. I’m saying, if you’re not that kind of guy, then you probably shouldn’t be in this at all.

If you’re going to choose to dedicate your life to something, it better be something that you really enjoy. Your motivations shouldn’t be things like fame and money. Yeah, there are a few people that make it with that kind of a motivation. Maybe they’re good hustlers. Maybe they know how to kiss a lot of ass. But that’s not really going to work for most people. You have to actually want to do the thing itself. You actually want to have to make something. You want to bring something to life. That is going to be what’ll give you the drive to get through the really hard times.

And most of it is really hard and it just gets harder. That’s the other part. You talk to anybody and if they tell you the truth and I mean absolutely anybody at all, no matter how successful they are in their careers, they’ll tell you that it doesn’t get easier. And this is a tough thing to swallow if you’re a young person. I mean, one thing that kept me going when I was younger was that I always thought ‘once things to get better and I start to get a little more money, things’ll get easier.’ And that’s not the way it works. It actually gets harder. As far as the work itself is concerned, you find yourself competing with yourself. If you’ve already done a lot of good things, your next thing has to be better or at least as good! That’s hard! (laughs) That’s basically where I’m at, at the moment. If I’m competing with anybody, and I’m not actually a competitive person, it’s with what I’ve already done. And you can’t go back and repeat yourself or at least that’s not the way I think anyway. I always want to move ahead- do something new, do something that’s even more interesting, something that comes even close to what I imagine that I have in my head.

It gets that much harder, but every other aspect of your life gets that much harder. It’s harder than when you are 40 than when you were 30 and it’s harder than when you’re 50 than when you were 40. That’s just the way it works. I don’t know how that’s going to help someone who’s young and has wild dreams about how wonderful their life is going to be. Sorry, it ain’t gonna work out like that. (laughs) Is that what you wanna tell people? But on the other hand, you don’t want to lie to them.

 

EXENE CERVENKA (X)

I think that I want to speak to young girls and women on this, because enough information is directly towards young men.

I would seek out Girls Rock Camp. It started in Portland about seven years ago. It’s all over the world. It’s all over the country. It’s spreading like crazy. It’s women working together with young women and girls to teach them how to play, for them to teach each other how to play, to start bands, to learn that it isn’t just where you go to shows and watch the band. You’re not just a girlfriend to a guitar player anymore. You are the director. You are the producer. You are the editor. You are the writer. You can mix a record, you can write a song. And I think the most important thing is to do that because I think that makes it normal to play music. When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old and go out and see bands, it’s all guys, guys, guys, guys, guys… and right away, you think your role is as a spectator. So I think it’s very important for young girls to get involved in playing this music early. And the Girls Rock Camp is an excellent organization to get involved with.

Q: You’ve worked with them before, right?

I am working with them now, right. They’re just opening in L.A. They’re all over- they’re (in) Austin, Tennessee, Portland, Denver, Sweden, London, you name it. Brazil, Canada, all over.

Q: They’re doing it here in New York too.

Yeah, in Brooklyn I think. Well, here’s the thing… I thought about (this) because people DO ask me this stuff all the time and they always ask me for advice. And I always say “don’t compromise.” But you gotta compromise, you know? I can’t tell someone how to be an artist. There’s no one piece of advice. But what you’re doing is great because there will be many pieces of advice for people and that’s great. And that’s why I want to focus on girls. Thank you!

 

STEVE CROPPER (Booker T. and the MG’s)

Don’t ever give up on your dream if that’s your dream, if that’s what you want to do. Basically, don’t give up on it. It wasn’t easy when I came up and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and was very lucky. But I can IMAGINE how much harder it might be today. Knowing what musicians have had to go through, not being able to find a manager, not being able to find a record company that would even listen to ’em (laughs).

And there’s what we call in the last 10 or 12 years ‘garage bands’ and they wind up developing or creating their own fan base strictly on the Internet by releasing stuff… and just really relying on live gigs basically, because I guess some of ’em have figured out a way to get paid for some of their music, and of course, the same thing happens with record companies. But a lot of young musicians have been able to build an enormous fan base just on the Internet, so I admire those guys. I was fortunate enough to not really have to do that (laughs). But I wouldn’t be able to tell them how to do that, but I’ve heard stories and so forth.

If somebody asks you just a question, that’s different, but if you were auditioning somebody and you didn’t think they were very good based on what you know and your past or whatever, you still don’t want to discourage people. I mean, you can tell if somebody (laughs) doesn’t have much of a shot at it. And that happens. And it’s funny, I have older people come up and say ‘oh, I played with this group and I played with that group and I know your music and man, I would really like to sit in with you tonight.’ And you go ‘well… OK.’ And then (laughs), you realize that they might as well be beating on a box or something! They don’t know the music.

I had that happen to me recently. Without naming any names or even what the function was, it was a very important fundraiser and I had rehearsed the day before with a band. The bass player came up to me and said ‘so-and-so is gonna play with you tonight because he really knows your music.’ Well, I was already pretty happy with the guy I already had ’cause I taught him what I needed him to do, right? ‘Well, this guy really knows your music!’ And so we go on live on stage and we’re up there and da-da da-da da-da and I keep hearing this and that. And I look over and the piano player is lookin’ at me, going ‘what happened?’ And I’m going ‘I don’t know- this guy came back in the trailer and he said he knew my music and the bass player said he knew my music.’ He didn’t know it at all! (laughs) You know, it’s like… he wasn’t really old enough to know my music. He probably just heard it or something. But those things happen. You try to help young musicians.

Basically, you could say what this album (‘Dedicated‘) really is about… it’s not honestly not about Steve Cropper. I was very lucky, Jon Tiven and I were very fortunate that when we reached out to friends of ours, they just jumped on board and said ‘man, that’d be fun. That’ll be great. Let’s do that. Can I sing live with the band? Can I do this, can I do that?’ So basically, this album is about bringing attention an old group from the ’50’s, the Five Royales, but really it’s really about educating the young generation, to give them one more shot at listening to stuff where roots came from and why they’re here and why their parents listen to music and maybe why they were born. You never know.

There’s always a new generation and we’ve been saying it for years… When we played behind Eddie Floyd, the original “Knock on Wood,” Eddie Floyd who’s 73, 74, I always said ‘we’re doing this for the new generation!’ And he wants to keep that song, “Knock On Wood,” just as fresh today as it was whenever we did it because he wants to educate the new generation, whether they do it or not. But there’s a song that’s been covered god knows how many times and it’s been fairly successful. So if this album helps at all to get some young attention… ’cause all my friends say ‘oh my God, I love it’ ’cause it reminds them of when they grew up in their college days or whatever, hearing that kind of music.

       (Business advice): (laughs) It’s interesting… When I say ‘don’t give up,’ you gotta keep batting at it and hopefully… It’s really difficult on your own. You gotta have somebody ‘tooting your horn.’   You’re workin’ on your music and trying to write songs and be creative and all that. You gotta have a guy that’s willin’ to go meet up, to call on the phone, to put your name out there, to try to set up situations either with record companies or management firms or clubs or whatever it is. You really need somebody who can help do that for you. It’s very difficult to do both, I would think.

If you’re good, if you’re really good, you’re gonna get noticed somewhere. And then sometimes, there’s guys that are TOO good. You know? They’re too good for their own good. In other words, they’re so technically correct that they overshoot the system and they’re not as creative commercially as they could be. Even jazz has to have some sort of commercial soul to it or people just won’t pick up on it.

I’ve always though music is really selling energy. There’s only so many notes on a piano and there’s so many notes in the system that I think many, many years ago, somebody said ‘you could not write another eight note melody that hadn’t been done before somewhere.’ The computers at least said that. So, I think it’s about selling energy. That’s what makes people get up and remember and wanna sing along and have fun. I’ve always been a feel-good music kind of a guy. That doesn’t mean that there’s not room for all kinds of music but it has to have some sort of deep meaning and feeling to it. It’s gotta be more than just the notes.

 

CHUCK D (Public Enemy)

I would say that the word is digital. Learn everything you can about the music business. They’re 47 or 48 different categories but it’s all reachable using a smart phone. And when you actually get into the recording business, there’s areas out there that you can engage yourself in that doesn’t really take more than you leaving your personal space to be involved. Maybe that’s the beginning of a long process of somebody comprehending the difference between the recording business and the music business. It’s two different things.

For an artist, I would give them various levels of advice, depending on what they do and who they are. For example, if a rapper comes out and they say ‘I’m making beats,’ I would say ‘try to transcend that into making music.’ And if they say ‘I’m making songs,’ then I’d say ‘you record your songs, why don’t you also have use visual, audio aides so it would behoove you to probably shoot a video for every song because people in the last 25 years, they’ve been accustomed to seeing music first before they hear it.’ SO when you have a person who says ‘I’m going to make a recording,’ I say ‘well, you’re going to have to make an audio recording and you’re going to have to do your best to master the art of visual recording because they’re both the recording.’ This is how we perceive music in the last 25 years- video-audio, not audio-visual. I try to make a clear distinction and understanding that if you want to get into the music business, it’s one thing. The recording business means that you have to be really adept to the process of recording sight and sound.

If you’re really aware and you study the history of the recording business, you would know that right now a record company is like a hologram- it really doesn’t exist. It’s just banking on a promotional system that everything you hear and see with a record or video, they’re nothing more or less than infomercials. So I tell people, you start as your label. And you learn and start to understand the process and you talk to people who have evolved into the act of recording and also the key areas and then, be able to refine musicianship of some sort, then you’ll find out that the record label is you. And then you try to actually relate to people with like interests. And this is a good way for somebody to start.

Now for an artist, being your own label is like a person having a suit on or a set of clothes. Being an artist out there in the digital world is like being naked- you got to dress yourself for your surroundings in a way that make sense. Anybody that comes into the music and recording business and thinks that they’re going to come for money, I tell young people all the time, never chase the money. Make yourself valuable and the money might chase you. But you gotta have a passion and a love to be actually really efficient at something and that’s what’s going to place value on you. Value doesn’t come from you yourself- value is going to have to come from everything that you learn, that you have to adapt to putting into your craft. Everybody comes in with some talent- the job is actually turning that talent into a skill, which will work for you whether you’re awake or asleep or dead even!

 

GIRL TALK (aka Greg Gillis, mash-up DJ)

First, a big thing is understanding what you want to do. There’s many different angles you can push music and I think they’re all valid, whether you wanna be a studio musician or a pop star making a bunch of money or be in a punk rock band and tour basements and make no money or whatever. You just need to understand what you’re into before you get into it. From my angle, I grew up doing a lot of music where money was never a goal or really hasn’t been an option. So I think when you’re working within that world, you just learn to have fun with it. The whole point is just to get together with your friends, to put on these performances and just engage a crowd and challenge people. I think if you’re really trying to make an impact on the musical landscape, and you look at any band doing that these days, you have to have to risks with it. If you’re just going to mimic your heroes, no one will probably pay that much attention to you. You really have to take your own specific angle with it. So I would say, don’t be afraid to alienate people and don’t be afraid to be different. And if people are hating on what you’re doing, that’s probably a good sign that you’re on the right track of doing something interesting. I think a lot of bands start off with aggressive stance against something if they’re gonna go on to do something special.

       (Business advice): I’d say now with young musicians, you hear a lot of stuff about the music industry dying and it being a tough time for the musician industry, which is true from a certain perspective. I think that’s more of a major label perspective. I think on the flip side, on the more underground level, actually the music market is very saturated and it’s difficult to get out there. But at the same time, the potential IS there and you pretty much see it every month, with a new band coming along and getting noticed. The big thing is just getting your music out there. Most bands generate buzz now by giving away their music for free, at least initially. You can eventually go on to sell a CD or make money with shows or selling T-shirts. But I think right now, the big thing is getting the buzz going. I think any new band you’ve heard about in the past five years has done it that way. It’s rarely the situation anymore where people tour and get a good reputation and then all of a sudden, they eventually break through. It’s really that word of mouth on the Internet. It’s important for a lot of people to understand how that works and where their music could fit in on the Internet and where the fanbase could be and who they wanna push it on and really get it out there. When people start talking, that’s when things happen.

 

GWAR (Dave Brockie aka Oderus Urungus)

Dave: I would say ‘get involved in something other than music immediately!’ (laughs) I mean, with music and especially musicians being digitalized and inter-webbed and sampled… it’s pretty terrifying for a young musician, especially somebody who’s really good at playing music and then you listen to music that’s out there and it’s just this big electronic, sampled jumble of styles. It’s almost impossible to know what to even work on to be part of what music is going to be tomorrow.

But nevertheless, the same things will always hold true- work your ass off, practice all the fucking time. And most importantly, make sure your drummer is not an asshole. Very important! You will waste YEARS of your life fucking around with drummers that are assholes. Because they set the beat for the band, they tend to think that they run everything, even when they’re actually one of the most cut-off members of the band because they sit there behind all these fucking drums- you can’t even see ’em anyway.

The super, most important thing about a young musician coming up, besides practicing and having a true love of music, is working with people that you ENJOY playing with. (There’s) so many bands that are so great and don’t last but a couple years because the people in ’em basically hate each other. Sometimes that dynamic can work really well- just ask Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. But more often than not, it’s just gonna make you miserable. So find some friends of yours that you love to jam with and jam with ’em every goddamn day. And that is the best way to have success in rock and roll.

 

Oderus: The only reason that I got involved in rock and roll is so I can do drugs and have sex with legless midgets.   I don’t know anything about music and I’ve never been accused of being a musician! I don’t really know anything about that stuff. I just rely on the rest of the band to make me look good!

 

PATTERSON HOOD (Drive-By Truckers)

Do as much of it yourself as possible. Be absolutely as self-contained as possible. I actually HAVE given that advice a lot. I’ve even been asked to speak in classrooms at a business program here in Athens. They get me to come in there about once a year and speak to the class. That’s pretty much my mantra with them. Before you hire a booking agent, book your band as long as you can stand to, and even longer. I hated that, more than any job I’ve probably ever done in music. But I booked us… You’re still playing door deals in dive bars, you can do that yourself. You don’t need an agent to do that. Book yourself ’til you outgrow the places that you can book yourself. And then, and only then, will you be able to attract a booking agent that’s actually worthy giving over ten percent of everything you make. Otherwise, this is ten percent of that door deal- that’s the difference between gas money and getting home at night. And so until you can get a booking agent that can put you at somewhere like the Fillmore or somewhere like that, do it yourself.

Don’t sign a record deal until you’ve put out records yourself and sold as many of them out of the back of your van as you can possibly sell. (laughs) Because you’re not gonna get a deal worth a shit unless you just got teen-idol good looks. And if you wanna be packaged that way, go for it. That’s a different career and I don’t know anything about that. But if you play in some band and you write your own songs, do it yourself. Manage yourself. Book and learn how to do it. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll fuck up. At least, you’re not playing someone 15 percent to make those mistakes and fuck up.

And don’t get a manager that’s your buddy. If you have a buddy that’ll help you for free, for beer money, that’s one thing… And I’ve made all those mistakes at one time or another. Fortunately, I made a lot of them (mistakes) before I started the Drive-By Truckers. I had this other life before this life! (laughs) And I made every mistake in the book during that one. This band has kind of benefited from all the kinds of mistakes I’ve made in my tweens. So this band hasn’t made as many mistakes- we’ve made some new ones. And we’re still making mistakes but at least they’re new mistakes and not the same old ones.

Q: Any aesthetic advice for someone who’s a songwriter?

Be very self-critical. Be brutally honest with yourself because somebody down the line will be. And they may not know shit but they’re still gonna be brutally honest with you. If you’ve already asked yourself those questions and it’s passed muster, then you’re gonna be better equipped to deal with it when somebody else asks those questions. If a line you write might sound like it’s a bit of a cliché, mark it out and write a new line. Replace that line. I’ve learned that one the hard way at times and I’m sure I will again. Sometime even being brutal, you’re still gonna fuck up there. It’s a hard job but the less fuck-ups, the better.

Likewise if you’re playing in a club, there’s a lot to be said for being entertaining. (laughs) I don’t know how to teach that. I don’t know the tangible rules of that. When we first started this band, it was sort of the opposite of all the bands in the mid 90’s and the big trends. It was, I guess you could refer to it as ‘the shoegazers’ (I kinda like that term). And we weren’t. We were very unique when we started. There wasn’t a lot of bands… maybe Guided By Voices was kind of taking the same approach, though their music might be a long way from our genre or musical level. As far as their stage show (though), there’s a lot of common ground between what we were doing and what they were doing at that time. I didn’t even realize that until I saw ’em. They really put on a fun show but I think we really put on a fun show (too) and I think we still do. Some people might be critical of that aspect of what we do. I think overall, the fun aspect of our shows always works as a nice counterpoint to how dark our songs are. A lot of times, our subject matter can be pretty dark. I write what I’m interested in and a lot of the things I’m interested in are the more noir aspect of things (laughs) and I like a good twisted, dark story. Or sometimes I’m interested in that aspect of human behavior- why somebody tries to be a good guy and does something so terrible. That aspect always interested me so that’s where a lot of our material comes from. But it’s always kind of tempered by the fact that you can go see us in a bar or nowadays in a theatre, even in an arena… it’s a celebration. It’s a very fun show. I think that has served us very well.

 

 IAN HUNTER

I can sum it up in one word: desire. It beats everything else.

 

LEMMY (Motorhead)

I would say, make your own mistakes.  There’s no advice that I could give them that would be relevant to their career ’cause my career is different. The things that I experienced, they will not experience.  Half the things that were problems for me no longer exist.  The things that they will come up with, I have no knowledge of.  The future will.  So you just have to wing it and do the best you can.  You have to try to be your own best friend and your own lawyer.  The only advice I could give them is to get an independent accountant. (laughs)

 

CHARLES LOUVIN (R.I.P.; The Louvin Brothers)

I guess the first thing to say is ‘good luck!’ Then I’d ask ‘what do you do? Are you a songwriter, musician, singer?’

For a songwriter, you’d want to know that Sony Music is the biggest publisher in the world. So if you’re a writer and you want to get your songs heard by other artists so that they might record your songs or make you some money, then you would want a big company. There’s a lot of fly-by-night companies that don’t have offices, and don’t have secretaries or song pluggers, so you don’t need to be with them. You need to be with a company that has all that and they’ve been doing this for a long time and it looks like they’ll be in business for more than your lifetime. That’s the first thing that you should hunt for.

For a singer, I’d want to know if you listen to the radio today and you hear what’s on the radio. If you feel like you can be that good or better, then I would recommend that you continue. But there’s not much country music out there because everybody’s doing rock and roll and calling it ‘country.’

But there’s so many different ways to get into this business. One of them is money and you’ll need a quite a bit of money to sustain you while you get your songs recorded and the money starts coming, which would be a year and a half after you started publishing songs and you started getting any royalties. Record companies stay a year behind and publishing companies stay six months behind so that’s my best advice I could give you, is to take your songs to a large company and see if they’d sign you on as a writer. And if they did, then you would write songs and turn them into that company and they would try to get them recorded for you. And of course, you could try also too. You could go to artists with your songs but you have to have a publisher if you’re going to make any money on ’em.

Q: So you’re saying that if you’re a singer, you also recommend writing your own material too?

Oh, absolutely. If you don’t write your own material, then if a record company signs you, they’d have to hunt material for you. Most of ’em are loaded up right now and… they say that they are… but if you write your own songs, you stand a 75 percent better chance to get a recording deal than if you don’t write your own songs.

Q: So what if a guitarist asks you for advice, what would you say?

You better be damn good if you’re a guitar player ’cause there’s a bunch of good guitar players out there. And they’ve got all the sessions tied up. If you record in Nashville, any record company will want to get to the A Team. They call it the A Team- that’s the best musicians that there are there and they call a certain person, it would be the top name on the list and say ‘what’s the chance on a certain date that you could record? I’m recording and I’m hunting musicians.’ That’s the way it’s been done.

For performing, you can’t just get up on a stage and sing, sing, sing. A lot of people would just as soon hear you talk and tell little stories as you would if you just sing. They like the singing but a joke now and then kind of breaks the monotony of the singing. It’s just good to do.

 

GENESIS P-ORRIDGE (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV)

(laughs) I would say “do something else!”

It depends on what they want to do. The whole music scene is in a state of flux, as you know, ’cause of the Internet. There’s a whole generation that’s grown up believe that they have an absolute right to steal the music of anybody they want to steal from and they don’t seem to understand the impact that it’s been having. There’s a lot of mid-range bands, like us, who’ve given up touring because it’s not worthwhile. People don’t go to concerts in the same way. They go to REALLY big ones Lady Gaga or they go to little tiny ones where it’s friends. But in between, there’s not that much and it’s shrinking.

The only place where it’s traditional is really the Lady Gaga, mass-produced, hip hop, sort of neo-dance music charts. And if you want to do that, you have to sell your soul and basically accept that whatever you imagine… I mean, you don’t have to have a message, that would be terrible. You shouldn’t have any moral scruples. You should probably have a business manager before you have music to write. I know I’m cynical but that’s what it is. And really, it’s all fake. So, if that’s what people want, I know nothing about that world… (laughs) except it’s not one we want.

If they actually feel they want to make music because it’s a passion, and they want to take it further than just playing to friends in small clubs, then they have to think really, really hard because… it used to be that by touring ’round and ’round, you could eventually, inevitably build up a loyal following, like Green Day did, and build up so much pressure on the industry that they have to take notice of you. Some people have been lucky doing that on the Internet with downloads, but usually they get swallowed up really fast. It’s usually things like Justin Blieber (sic) or whatever his name is. But if they don’t have a message, then you have to wonder why they want to play music.

So, my advice would be (to) go home and think really hard about what it is that you would like to see different in the world. If there’s something you could feel so strongly about, that you’re prepared to suffer and sweat and sleep on floors and live in little vans, cramped and drive for 28 hours to play to 100 people in Croatia or something.   And if you’ve got a message and a belief in that message, then do it. But otherwise, do something else! (laughs)

To be continued. Tomorrow, in Part 2, we get more of the straight dope from those who know. “Take Tesla over Edison,” indeed….

 

 

TOPPLING THE STATUES Tu Fawning

On
their sophomore platter the Portland musicians chart pure expression – and also find the ultimate liberation. A west
coast tour
begins this week.

 

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

The brainchild of Portland musicians Joe Haege and Corrina
Repp, Tu Fawning arrested the attention of a lot of listeners with a debut
praised for its romantic darkness as much as its musicality. The tarantellas
and tangos that comprised 2010’s Hearts
On Hold
– “haunted parlor songs,” was a reviewer-phrase reiterated by many
— were pulled off with the same lived-in vitality as those of progenitors like
Cave and Waits, names that also appeared with regularity in reviews.

 

It was an impressive debut, one whose promise seemed already
fulfilled largely due to the chops the four veteran multi-instrumentalists
compiled in their previous bands. But heard now through the filter of the
band’s stunningly singular follow-up, A
Monument
(City Slang), it’s clear the debut and its sonic footholds were
merely a stepping stone to the band’s own sound.

 

By their own admission, Tu Fawning’s members were only feeling
their way through the dark of semi-familiarity on the debut. Haege and Repp began collaborating on Repp’s last solo
record, The Absent and the Distant,
around 2007. Liza Reitz joined them on tour for that record, playing shows all
over Europe. Toussaint Perrault solicited both
Reitz and Repp’s help on his own solo album around the same time, while
contributing horn parts to Haege’s band, 31Knots. Once Haege and Repp began
writing songs as Tu Fawning, their musical fates all intertwined.

 

But it wasn’t until after
touring for Hearts On Hold, and
beginning work on A Monument, that Tu
Fawning found its voice. And what a voice – driven by lusty rhythms and
punctuating percussion so dynamic and musical it creates its own textures to add
atop those generated by shoegaze reverb, vintage synths, horns and strings and
other exotic instruments, the songs sound modern and yet elemental, engaging
but also mysterious like the hidden-from-view statuary on the cover art. Throw
in Repp’s gorgeous vocals narrating themes about emotional honesty and the
legacy of one’s true self, and you have one of 2012’s most intriguing listens
so far.

 

BLURT chatted with Haege,
one of the record’s chief architects, while the band toured Europe. (Tour itinerary here.)

 

 

 

BLURT: Congrats on the new record — you guys are in Europe right?

HAEGE: We are. We’re in Berlin right now.

 

How do you guys go down in a place like Berlin? It would seem custom-built for Tu
Fawning’s darker music…

In a lot of ways, it is. We
do really well here, actually. Also, our label (City Slang) is from here, so
that doesn’t hurt either.

 

Do you think it also has something to do with the similar
climates the music is made in? Not exactly the same, but Northern and nippy.

Yeah. I think it’s also
something to do with the sensibility, the lifestyle as well, almost more than
climate – but climate and lifestyle tend to cross over sometimes.

 

In the press I’ve read you guys have talked about coming
at this record from a different approach this time, a more cohesive, trusting
one – how did it manifest in the studio?

Well, the biggest
difference for us was we had a little bit more of an idea about what the hell we
wanted to sound like. That was a huge achievement. The last record we didn’t have
as much of a focus on that, mainly because we wanted to try and be very
spontaneous with it. And I think we succeeded with that, and made something
that led us on the path of what we were trying create, as far as a sound. And
then, by the time Hearts on Hold was
done and we had time to look at it as a whole, we realized, especially after
doing some touring, where our strengths lie.

        In a lot of ways, it just really changed
from there, where we got more and more aware of what those strengths were and
we pushed our own boundaries a little bit and realized that – I don’t know,
it’s a hard thing to put into words, just the process of realizing what you
become when you are different people in a room, and then even within that, the
different things that we would bring to each other. For me, coming from the
other bands I’d been in, mainly 31Knots, playing with different people that are
maybe focused more on melody as opposed to musicianship and trickery, it really
was a whole new experience for us.

 

I can imagine – it’s certainly a different sound than
31Knots. Do you think that unfamiliarity on the first record led you guys to
fallback positions that you all were comfortable with? The dark, ‘haunted
parlor songs’ they talked about?

We love dark music, and we
love major key, kind of soft, warming music, too. Like anything, though, it’s
like, once you’ve done it – ‘okay, we did that, let’s try something else.’ But
at the same time we just kind of found what it is we were doing, so we didn’t
really want to do some abrupt
about-face. We wanted to challenge ourselves by refining, as opposed to re-inventing before we even knew who we were.

 

Right. That’d be a lot stranger if you’d come out with an
LP of polkas or something….

Yeah, or speed metal or
something.

 

You did most of it at Type Foundry in Portland, right?

Actually, we did about half
there and half at Tiny Telephone (studio) in San Francisco with Jay Pellicci, the drummer
of 31Knots, he’s an engineer there. Then Type Foundry in Portland and recorded with Adam Selzer. Then
we did the final overdubs with Justin Harris from Menomena, up at his house. One
of the big things for us was that every step of the way we worked with people
we’re friends with. That really made a huge difference. There was no one
involved in the making of the record that we didn’t know. I personally had
worked with all of them in some creative capacity before — except for getting the record mastered; I’d never worked
with Toby Weinberg before — so that was really comforting, as cheesy as that
sounds. It just felt like we were making another record, in a spiritually
logical way. Corrina had recorded her solo albums almost all entirely with
Adam, and then Corrina and I had recorded there, and I’d recorded there with
different bands of mine, 31Knots being one of them, and then we did a tour with
one of his bands once, too. So, yeah, because of the scene in Portland and the studio we became just super
comfortable with him.

 

Let’s talk about this idea of monuments – how does this
fit in throughout the record?

It was mainly Corrina’s
first impression and lyrical idea for the record. She and I bounce a lot of
ideas off of one another for lyrics throughout the process of working on an
album. And she was just really struck by that image, that visual. So when she
explained it to me, it resonated pretty well. For me, it took on a meaning of a
million different things. She and I have been playing music together and in separate
projects for a long time, and it’s been something that we feel really attached
to – this notion of your body of work is kind of a monument in a sense, and
your dignity and your grace as a person is a monument, and really wanting to
stand behind that. With that even being the main meaning, there’s a million
other very vague and ambiguous allusions to it – and she’s got her own personal
meaning of it as well.

 

I notice in some of the songs there’s a lot of tearing
down going on – “Bloodstains” and “Build a Great Cliff,” it’s almost like a
refrain in those. In the latter I even thought of Saddam’s statue coming down…

(Laughs) I wish I could say we were that political, but…

 

Well, it doesn’t have to be him, but an idea about the
impermanence of worldly monuments…

Oh, yeah. There’s something
with monuments, too – they can be a forced way for people to be forced to
remember something, whether they want to or not. That can taint your
prospective on what’s important just because it has a monument.

 

So the record is more personal, then, more about your own
personal monuments…

That’s a huge part of it.
Wanting it to be the life that you lived, and the wounds you get along the way
that you lick and keep going. That’s kind of your monument in a way – like a
bloodstain can be a monument, the blood that you spilled. But also, yeah, the
flipside – the irony of spilling blood that in theory is around for a long
time. There’s just this element that we really wanted, to capture humanity. It’s because, yes, we love fashion,
we love aesthetics in general, and it’s easy to get lost in that world – but
for all of us that stuff is merely an artistic little playground, and at the
end of the day if you’re not conscious of who you are as a person and how you
carry yourself in this world, and just being aware of others in this world,
you’re kind of doomed. That’s literally what we’re doing, when we try to evoke
this darkness in our music — it’s more so talking about that spiritual void
when people aren’t in touch with themselves, or they’re doing great harm to
others out of being so out-of-touch with themselves.

 

So can we see dark music being a way of navigating those
dark areas?

Completely. Whenever
Corrina gets asked something in that arena, that’s the first thing out of her
mouth: Playing the dark music, and engaging in it, is exactly what keeps her
light and kind of bright in life. All of us, we’ve had our own demons in life,
but we’re fairly lighthearted in our day-in, day-out life. The music itself is
a way to exorcise the build-up that can happen in someone.

 

When you’re in the process of writing these songs, does
it change anything knowing that there’s this great voice that’s going to sing
them?

Oh, god, yes. That was the
main reason that I have to say I kind of pushed her into starting another band
with me. I really, really love writing and composing music and just having this
voice around that was amazing — yeah, it was a huge payoff. And for me, a lot
of the ideas I had with 31Knots were just hard to pull off because I wanted to
have this voice that was near-angelic. I really pushed her to explore that
quality of her voice a lot, and it’s something that I’m really thankful to work
with.

 

Tell us about the striking cover art – the wrapped up
statuary, for instance?

There are a lot of things
going on with that. It’s a monument, but it’s vague as to what it is. And we
liked the heavy-handed notion of the album cover, having ourselves on there and
this pretty obvious lyrical metaphor represented on the cover – we just thought,
‘fuck it, there’s something really timeless about that.’ That played into this
whole overall aesthetic thing we love about what we’re trying to do, which is:
We really are obsessed and love music from every genre and time-period we can
think of. So we try to cram it all in, yet do so with this weird refined angle
to it. Once I saw the image that was shot, I really felt we’d done this lost,
late-60s album cover that I really adore.

 

Because the music is different this time, what are some
of the things you’ve heard this time around in your circles? This one is harder
to put a finger on, that’s for sure…

I can’t say we have heard
any one thing – some of the songs we hear sound like ‘swampy blues,’ a little
bit of girl group vocals. But beyond that we haven’t really gotten anything. And
of course in the U.S.
that can be the curse of everything; they can’t put it in a box, so most people
can’t get into it. But we haven’t really heard a specific sound that we’re
doing, and I think in a lot of ways that’s what people, if they do like it,
that’s what they like about it – it covers so much ground. To me, that’s kind
of the last frontier to music-making. The great thing about it is that it’s
frontier that can go on forever. Now we’re in this phase of just these combinations
of so many different aesthetics and styles that it’s all in the artistry of how
you put it together. I realize that some people may not like what they view as
bastardizing of styles, but for me I really love stitching it together in this
way where it’s really hard to see one particular fabric stand out. When you go
to a museum and you see a certain painting, and it doesn’t really have any one
element that really makes it great, but when you step back and look at it all,
just the way it gels and comes together – that’s kind of a driving force for
us.

 

And these days, it’s almost like the museum itself, or
the whole cumulative collection, is the yardstick…

That’s true. It’s kind of
like having a romantic-era painting and an impressionistic post-modern painting
all crammed into one.

 

When you guys are just hanging out and listening to
music, is it like four very different musical viewpoints, or is there also some
overlap?

There’s a healthy amount of
overlap – probably more than in some bands, probably less than others. But for
the most part we all have such broad tastes that we have a lot of grey area
that we can dip into and find some area of common interest. The biggest thing
I’ve learned playing in bands, and with this one in particular, is that sometimes
it just takes a while to find that way in which you’re going to combine a
couple of ideas that make sense or that appeals to everyone’s aesthetic – and
that’s difficult. That was really hard in the beginning, and I think it’s a lot
harder for really young bands, too. They’re just like, ‘ah, that sucks, that’s
dumb.’ Maybe sometimes it’s just not gotten right away. It’s something that
takes patience sometimes and you have to just have an idea, then deconstruct
it, and then put it back together. Or record a jam at a practice and just sit
on it for five months and then take this completely unrelated idea and try and
to plug it in and see if it gets to that goal.

 

How long was the recording of this record in light of
that, then?

Well, technically, three
weeks – but in a lot of ways it was a lot longer. I pretty much started working
on sample ideas as soon as we were done with the last record.  In fact, some of them from the last record
didn’t make it on there, so I worked on them for this record. I’m basically
always cataloging ideas and riffs and parts. I’ll hear Corrina play a guitar
part, I’ll record part of it and then hold onto that idea and slowly work on it
and then when I feel like it’s ready I’ll bring it to the others. In fact, it
was kind of the 11th hour this time around that Toussaint brought a
couple ideas to the table and we were, ‘god, these are great – let’s rearrange
these songs and do ‘em this way.’

 

Which ones?

“Anchor” was one that we
really just had the end drum-beat and the melody for the “to complete my place”
part, and that was pretty much all we had. It sounded good, but then he came in
with this distorted conga recording and this synth sound, he recorded it on his
four-track,  and it just brought in these
aesthetics that we really wanted, so that was exciting. And then “To Break
Into” was another one. He had this like three-year-old drum-machine thing he
recorded on another four-track, but didn’t have that four-track anymore, so he
played it on a new one and it was a slower speed, so it came out really dirty
and slow. Then he had an acoustic guitar over it, and I just fell in love with
it so I sat with it by myself for probably six months, and just worked on this
singing idea and the lyrics.

 

It seems like you four could literally go anywhere next.
Is that part of the excitement for you guys?

Oh, completely. As dorky as
this sounds, there’s a lot to it in that we want to wave the flag of, ‘yeah,
we’re older, and we’re playing in a band, and it’s fun as hell because we know
how to avert some of the pitfalls of writing with bands when you’re younger.’
Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. And our taste in music has grown so much – it’s not
like we just got out of punk rock and discovered country music. Toussaint
collects dancehall and reggae 45s, and Corrina’s been listening to old time
music from the 20s for 15 years, and I’m kind of a classical nerd – yeah, it’s
a whole different pile of things that we get to draw from. And there’s never a
dumb idea, we’ll try anything. Sometimes it doesn’t capture
any magic, but we don’t have a scene or credo, ‘well, it’s gotta sound like
this.’ No, you just have to find your own voice in it – that’s more important.

 

It sounds limitless, and that sounds exciting.

Yeah, but that could be
dangerous too.

 

So maybe we will hear that speed metal record from you
guys?

Polka speed
metal…

THE BOY WITH THE WILD SMILE Epic Soundtracks

A new career overview
of the late British rocker is so well programmed that it may very well be the
definitive Epic Soundtracks album.

 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The late Epic Soundtracks – born in 1959 as Kevin Paul
Godfrey – may be best remembered for his participation, beginning in the late ‘70s
while still a teenager, in a slew of experimental underground bands of some
renown: Swell Maps (with his brother Nikki Sudden), the Jacobites (ditto),
Crime & the City Solution and These Immortal Souls (both with Australian
icon Rowland S. Howard). But a certain strain of discerning fan reserves
adoration for the trio of piano-based pop records the
songwriter/multi-instrumentalist recorded in the ‘90s with famous friends from
Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, the Lemonheads, Primal Scream, the Chamber Strings
and Thee Hypnotics in tow.

 

On Rise Above, Sleeping Star and Change My Life, Soundtracks took the confessional singer/songwriter
model of the ‘70s and updated it for the self-conscious indie ‘90s, ditching
any contemporary irony and simply writing and singing straight from his heart. His
unexpected death in 1997 (and that of his brother, also executor of his estate,
in 2005) delayed the production of a well-deserved compilation record, but Wild Smile: An Anthology has finally
arrived via the Troubadour/Easy Action label.

 

Subtitled “The Best of…,” disk one lifts tracks from the
three studio records released in Soundtracks’ lifetime, plus Good Things, the Kevin Junior-assisted
demo session that constituted his posthumous final album. Simply put, it’s an
excellent selection of songs that well demonstrates his heart-on-sleeve pop. Deceptively simple confections like “Farmer’s Daughter”
(whose main character reappears in “Emily May [You Make Me Feel So Fine]”), “You
Better Run” and “Wishing Well” reveal a student of pop music who can channel
his inspirations (Brian Wilson, Alex Chilton, Carole King, the Monkees) into
music that sounds most like himself. Intricate mini-symphonies like “Fallen
Down” and “Big Apple Graveyard” indicate more ambition than Soundtracks is
usually given credit for, with an attention to detail that belies the raw
emotions on display. Ballads like “There’s a Rumour,” “Sweet Sixteen” and “Waiting
for the Train” tend to strip down to little more than voice and piano (or
guitar), giving the listener no barrier between Soundtracks and what he’s
feeling.

 

Diehards (and there is no other kind of Soundtracks fan) can
quibble about song selection – indeed, the exclusion of “She Sleeps Alone”
seems puzzling by any measure. But, given the one-disk limitation and the
generally smart selection, it’s difficult to argue that “The Best of…” doesn’t
deserve the appellation.

 

 

 

Disk two collects twenty-three rare and unreleased tracks,
from studio demos to alternate versions to concert cuts. For familiar songs,
there are live songs played solo (“Meet Me On the Beach,” “Something New Under
the Sun,” an a cappella “Don’t Go to
School”), instrumental mixes (“She Sleeps Alone,” “Hear the Whistle Blow,”
“House On the Hill”) and intimate takes on favorite covers (the Beatles’ “I’ll
Be Back,” an especially fevered reading of James & Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your
Puppet,” a version of the Monkees’ “I Wanna Be Free” with Nikki Sudden
associate Max “Lizard” Edie on vocals).

 

All very fine, but it’s the passel of unreleased songs that
really get the blood pumping. “King of Everything” is a delightful pop trifle,
“Midnight” a lovely piano instrumental, “I Have Seen the Light” a gentle
ballad, “I Wish I Had a Girlfriend” a fragile balance of sweet honesty and
uncomfortable confession. The snarky Sleeping
Star
outtake “Teenage Heart” appears in two different versions,
instrumental and vocal, as does the amiably goofy “C’mon Daddy,” once sung by
Soundtracks and again as a hidden cut sung by its co-author Evan Dando. The
stark, plaintive ballads “Fade Away” and “Unfaithful Arms” are noted as the
last two songs Soundtracks ever wrote, taken from his final gig. The disk
officially ends with the earliest track: “Jelly, Babies” is a minor-key
psychedelic pop song written by Soundtracks, sung by Robert Wyatt and released
in 1981. Though tracked by rejects and ephemera, disk two is as strong and
enjoyable a listen as the compilation of official releases on disk one.

 

 

 

It’s unfair to assert that this set is all the Soundtracks
one needs – his catalog, slim though it may be, is rich enough for neophytes to
hear and pick their own favorites. But Wild
Smile
is so well programmed that it may very well be the definitive Epic
Soundtracks album, and with a discography as consistently fine as his, that’s
truly saying something.

 

Ed. note: I try to
keep to a minimum my intrusions in the BLURT writers’ narratives, but in this
instance I can’t resist noting (in addition to seconding everything the good
Dr. Toland says above) that Epic was also a delightful human being in person. In
the late ‘80s I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with him before and
after a These Immortal Souls concert, and the conversation was a non-stop
barrage of pop culture referencing, record collector geekouts and ale-powered
geniality. May he rest in peace. – Fred Mills

 

21ST CENTURY BOYS (MEN) The dB’s

Thanks to their lifelong
bonds, the Tarheel janglepop heroes are back.

 

 

BY MICHAEL BERICK

 

1982. Back then, Olivia Newton-John and her sweatband were getting
“Physical” and Michael Jackson unleashed Thriller.
It was also the year that the dB’s – four North Carolinians living in New York (Peter
Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder and Will Rigby) – released their second album,
Repercussion.

 

The record didn’t impact pop music like “Physical” or Thriller did, although the album has
long been revered by power pop junkies and ‘80s college rock aficionados for
its invigorating mix of melodic hooks, witty lyrics, Everlys-inspired harmonies
and quirky arrangements. After its release, co-frontman Stamey departed the
dB’s but the band soldiered on. With Holsapple in charge, they released two
more critically-acclaimed but commercially-overlooked albums; eventually the
years of small clubs and opening act slots (including R.E.M.) took their toll
and the group called it quits in 1988.

 

Now after all these years, the original dB’s quartet is back with a new
album, Falling Off The Sky (Bar/None). “People could have been born,
had children, gotten married and divorced by the time this one has come out,”
jokes Holsapple on the phone from his home in N.C., while also admitting that
he honestly didn’t expect to see the day that there would be a new dB’s album.

 

This recording,
however, didn’t exactly “fall out of the sky.” Despite Stamey’s early departure
from the band, he stayed close to his old friend, Holsapple. The duo came
together in 1991 for a mostly acoustic album, Mavericks, and then reunited for hERE aND nOW, which came out in 2009.

 

By the time of
that record’s release the seeds were already planted for a full band effort.
While doing some solo recordings in New
Orleans, Holsapple did a tune, “World To Cry,” and
after listening to it, he recalls thinking, “Who does this sound like?” He
played it for Stamey, who also thought of it as a dB’s song. “It seemed like it
would be worth considering,” Holsapple shares, “if Will and Gene were
interested… because you really don’t get any better than that” – and Holder and
Rigby were.

 

In 2005, the
band was asked to play some shows, including a sold-out Bowery Ballroom concert
in their old New York City stomping grounds. Holsapple found the experience
exhilarating. While he was expecting to see fans from “back in the day,” there
also were a lot of younger fans there – “people who may or may not have been
born when our records came out the first time around… We find that we have a
lot of people who love the dB’s, maybe more now than ever.”

 

It was also
around that time that the group started to do some recording. Stamey recalls
that they had done a quick session that year and had several subsequent
sessions, “usually around Christmas or New Years,” before hunkering down in
2010.  The early recordings took place at
their old Hoboken haunt, Water Music Recording studios, although the bulk was
done at Stamey’s Modern Recording in the Raleigh-Durham area.

 

One of the
reasons that it took so long for the band to get back together was that for
years that four weren’t geographically convenient to one another. Stamey was in
North Carolina; Holsapple lived in Los Angeles, then New Orleans;
bassist Holder has a mastering lab in Weehawken,
N.J.; and drummer Rigby, who’s part of Steve
Earle’s band, spent years in New York, Nashville and Cincinnati.
Holsapple, however, moved to the N.C. Triangle area a few years back, while Rigby
also returned to the same locale recently, which made getting everyone together
easier.

 

Despite their many years
apart, the recording went smoothly. “The proof of a true friendship is not
seeing each other for awhile and picking up as though you just had the
conversation minutes ago,” Holsapple states. “We did have that. We still all
know how to play together. Gene and Will can still weave and dip like slalom
experts, and Chris and I still do our thing with the guitars where we support
each other and can allow each other to fly where we need to.” Stamey cites the
importance of the Holder and Rigby’s roles to the band’s music: “The two of
them, together in the studio, make the sound of the band-Peter and I just
decorate it with some guitars and words.”

 

It helps that the four speak,
in Holsapple’s words, “marginally codified Winston-Salem-ese” as they grew up
“loving the same records, knowing the same people, going the same places and
learning the same music.” He has known Stamey since junior high and they started
playing in bands together since their early teens. Both men have great respect
for each other. Holsapple calls Stamey “without a doubt my greatest mentor,” while
Stamey states that “my respect for him, musically and personally, has never
diminished” over the years.

 

Although they are often linked
together as a creative team, Holsapple and Stamey actually write separately and
then bring them to the band. Stamey describes the recording process as being a
“little like the non-touring Beatles records were made. Peter and I would play
a song a few times, go over the chords, then we’d go out and cut versions of it
with all of us until we got one we liked.”

 

While Stamey or Holsapple
wrote 11 of the disc’s dozen tunes, both emphasize significance of Rigby’s
contribution, “Write Back.”  Stamey
explains that the recording had been “a bit safe” but this shaggy-but-summery
rocker “opened up the door,” while Holsapple adds that “I am starting to think
that he may be the best writer among us.”

 

 


The dBs – That Time is Gone by DJ Dan Buskirk

 

 

dB’s fans won’t be surprised
by what they hear on Falling, from
Holsapple’s spirited garage pop numbers (“World To Cry” and “That Time Has
Gone”) to Stamey’s more wistful, slightly psychedelic offerings (“Far Away And
Long Ago” and “Collide-oOo-Scope”). They didn’t want to surprise people and do
something, as Holsapple jokes, “completely embraces electronica.” Both Stamey
and Holsapple respect the good will that they created with their fans. “I think
the dB’s have made some people happy… maybe even exhilarated for 3 or 4 minutes
at a time.” Stamey states. “I’m proud of that ‘manic pop thrill.'”

 

They also wanted to
acknowledge that 30 years has passed and answer the question, in Holsapple’s
words, “What does a dB’s album sound like in the 21st century.”

 

The songs on Falling frequently touch upon the
passage of time as titles like “That Time Is Gone,” “Before We Were Born” and
“Far Away And Long Ago” suggest. With the members now in their fifties, the
foursome have all grown up a lot over the years. Holsapple admits that they are
not the smart asses that they were in their younger days. Consequently, instead
of a sardonic relationship tale like the early band gem “The Fight,” this new disc
boasts a more contemplative, complex look at relationships, such as on “She
Don’t Drive in the Rain Anymore,” a song about Holsapple’s wife and children
evacuating from Hurricane Katrina that both Stamey and he point to as being a
special track.

 

Because of their numerous
recording sessions over the years, the band had accumulated a wealth of
material. Wanting to keep to keep the disc at a traditional album length, they
spent a good deal of time selecting songs that fit best together while also revealing
some variety. “We still are kind of classicists enough to believe in the concept of an album,” confides Holsapple, “and having it
be a full listening experience.”

 

While a lot of band reunions
seem to be aimed (at least partly) on a big concert or catalog cash-in, the
dB’s reunion feels more about it being four old pals getting together to play
music again. “We will make a record because we want to make a record,”
Holsapple insists. “We have no illusions of mega-stardom,” adding that if a TV
ad or soundtrack placement arises that would be great, but, “We’re glad to be
alive, still friends and making this music.”

 

(This story originally appeared in issue #12 of BLURT.)

 

Below: The dB’s live in Austin (with Mitch Easter
subbing on bass for Gene Holder) at this year’s SXSW, March 16 at B.D. Riley’s.