Monthly Archives: November 2012

SWEET SMELL OF… Yeasayer

It’s a fragrant world
– literally (check the album title) and metaphorically – for the Brooklyn indie heroes.

BY SELENA FRAGASSI
Two years ago, blog aggregator The Hype Machine claimed thatBrooklyn indie group Yeasayer was the most
blogged about artist of 2010, a feat even frontman Chris Keating had to question.
“How is that possible when there’s Kanye?” he laughs, when we catch up over the phone as the band traverses Europe on its latest tour. While Keating claims to have read some of the online material, he admits the only thing he found shocking in the posts was the really bad grammar. “I would have loved to have seen something crazy written about us, like that I have a fetish for small animals or something.” Instead, most outlets-online and print-have done little but lavish heaps of praise on the relatively young outfit, whose first two
experimental releases, 2007’s All Hour Cymbals and 2010’s Odd Blood, set the trajectory for becoming one of the premiere faces of modern music. This year, the group (Keating, founding members Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder as well as Jason Trammell and Ahmed Gallab) returned with third album Fragrant World (Secretly Canadian), a release markedly darker than their earlier pop-infused albums.
Named for a dystopian concept of a world with no smell and as a consequence less memory (since the two are scientifically linked), the title hints at Keating’s mindframe when piecing the album together. His writing is just as bleak, focused on front-page issues of environmental crises, apocalyptic fears and a historical figure named Henrietta Lacks who is the cornerstone of the album’s first single “Henrietta.”

Yeasayer – “Henrietta” by Secretly Canadian
“I heard the story originally on a radio program a couple of years ago,” Keating recalls as he relays the story of Lacks whose death from cancer in the 1950s led to a host of medical vaccination research using her cell material. “The medical world was using her genes over and over again, manufacturing a deceased human. It was very upsetting yet very moving to me.”
Moreso when Keating discovered Lacks was from his town of Baltimore, making the issue hit closer to home. It is here that he first met bandmate Wilder years ago; and as the two remained close, they regrouped with college mate Tuton in New York in 2005. The rest as they say is, well, history.
“It’s been a good progression,” Keating notes of the band’s path to stardom belying any talk of Yeasayer’s so-called breakthrough moment at the glorified 2007 SXSW showcases. “We often joke about how we played this so-called great show but then for three tours after that there was nobody coming to our shows.” Yet that’s just the way he wanted it to happen. “I’m very distrustful of any band that makes it big overnight and doesn’t go through these growing pains of having to play for nobody first.”
In the beginning, it took awhile for people to grasp on to the band’s eclectic sound, self-described as “Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel” music.
“When we started out, we knew that we wanted to embrace a lot of different influences and try out different things; many bands try to rip off something from the past and that’s just kind of played out to me. I like
the originals, I don’t need new ones,” he says.
In a way everything about the band has been original, from its marketing tactics (randomly snail mailing out 200 copies of the “Henrietta” single to fans across the world) to its dazzling light shows, which Keating has referred to as being close to a “religious experience” live.
“Light art installations are some of the most powerful stuff I’ve ever seen,” he says, “and in the same way I want to make music that is just as unique or startling or at the very least engaging.” And if the blogs
are to be believed, the rest of the World is catching on.
[Photo Credit: Mikeal Gregorsky]
A version of this story also appears in issue #13 of the print edition of BLURT. Yeasayer wraps
up its US tour tonight at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina, then heads to the UK
next week. Tour dates here: http://www.yeasayer.net/tour/


Yeasayer – Fingers Never Bleed (Enclave Remix) by enclave


Eyes Wide Open (Yeasayer remix) by Gotye

IT TAKES A PRISM Beth Orton

Pour a little sugar on
her: the British folk/jazz chanteuse returns after a six-year layoff.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Norwich,
England’s Beth
Orton has been the queen of wispy folk-tronica for so long that you almost
didn’t realize that she wasn’t there for a minute. The softly shredding Brit,
famed first for her work with electro producing boys William Orbit and the
Chemical Brothers, was so much a part of our steady musical diet – between
1996’s Trailer Park to 2006’s Comfort of Strangers – that her break
went without much notice, as if she paused between breaths in a sentence. Her
first release in several seasons, this autumn’s Sugaring Season, felt like just that: a freeing gentle gasp.

 

That’s not because Orton’s tensely coiled words and open air
arrangements aren’t noticed or noticeable. And that’s not to say she wasn’t
missed, even if she didn’t much miss the music business.

 

“At least not the interview process,” teases Orton during
our transatlantic chat. Instead, her tender web-spun voice, her deep
bass-driven tones, and her sense of domestic lyrical turmoil are so
conversational we thought that she was simply clearing her throat.

 

Why she took time away from recording and touring has no
simple answering according to Orton, a lively chatter who jumps at every chance
to plumb her depths and to laugh at
every step. “It’s a very deep question if you think about – why didn’t I make
music for some time,” she say.

 

There’s a daughter named Nancy, a son named Arthur and a
husband in folk musician/singer Sam Amidon, to start. She wrote fewer songs
with those responsibilities.

“I just kept
putting it off if you want to know the truth,” she says matter-of-factly. “I do
feel as if the time away was useful, though I couldn’t truly tell you why,” she
laughs. “I did have a record deal in place (with Anti-) for a while now so I
actually could have made a record two years ago. I guess I just didn’t want
to.”

 

She used to want to. A lot.

 

Her initial rush of success well pleased Orton, Not because
she got cold hard cash for her klatch of trip-hop induced songs pushed along by
a voice so ethereal angels cried when they heard her. It’s because she wanted
to break through; she wanted to dazzle people quietly. “I remember the
experience of being heard with Trailer
Park
and that’s what was most extraaaaaaaaordinarrrry.” she jokes. “That so
many people could be so unquestioningly interested in what I’d done and might
have to say that it was mesmerizing. It was as if I could take the piss and
everyone was fine with it.”

Other than making the music and knowing how audiences appreciated Trailer Park, its stripped down jazzy
followup Central Reservation and her
somber Daybreaker, she doesn’t recall
much more about the rushed-by decade than the music itself. Her life story has,
in her mind, become dislodged with countless versions of that time at career’s
start flying at her like glow sticks at a rave. “A lot of that part of my life
has become a blur and I don’t have my story down pat enough even if some people
in the press seem to,” she giggles. “There are so many different perspectives
that I haven’t settled on one good one. But I do enjoy that I’m open to
interpretation.”

 

While discussing the idea of interpretation, your humble
narrator gives Orton his view of her lyrical style, one that slips through
reality and dream, fact and fiction, with lots of breast beating soulful
moments of personal exposition – but not too breast beaten. It’s true of her
past stanzas. It’s true of Sugaring
Season
. At first she’s not too keen on my take that her lyrical mien is a
mess mixed up in one bowl and served up elegantly.

 

“My gut reaction is to disagree,” she sighs dramatically.
“But on the other hand,” she announces, “it’s a viable option
especially when you consider that writing this new record has been like being
in a prism – that’s a P R I S M and not a P R I S O N – in that there’s so many
angles through which I’ve looked at things.” What Orton always wants to do is
find the truth. Yet what she has found throughout the last many years is that
there is never only one truth. “It would be so much nicer if it was that but it
isn’t that, is that? Then again, I quite enjoy exploring things from different
sides. I did it with my life and my children – why not with songs?”

 

Writing songs for Sugaring
Season
was like a slow spinning of that prism while sorting out her
subjects and sharpening each angle. Willing to accept
other people’s angles with pleasure, she says that she’s found herself immersed
in the business of her last two producers, Jim O’Rourke (of Sonic Youth fame)
who handled 2006’s Comfort of Strangers and Sugaring Season‘s Tucker Martine,
the one-time producer of The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and Laura Veirs.

 

“The biggest challenge was finding how to do the thing I
love and move onward,” says Orton. “Anyone who would help me do that was OK by
me.” With immersion a two way street, she thought highly of O’Rourke’s
everything-done-in-two-weeks take on the album making process. “Writing,
recording, mixing, no overdubbing; he’s a bit of a genius, Jim is.” As for
Martine, Orton calls him a different beast than O’Rourke, talented and
immediate but more interested in beauty of the music than the process of the
heated rush. For Sugaring Season‘s
jazz folksy feel she imaged the sound of Roberta Flack and Pentangle’s earliest
albums in her head and went from there. Having jazz-bos like guitarist Marc
Ribot and drummer Brian Blade made the jazz side easier without ghettoizing the
process to a skiddlee-bop drop dead jam. String arranging maximum minimalist
Nico Muhly and viola player Eyvind Kang brought a classical gas to the Sugaring proceedings. But it was a song that Orton had brought in on an acoustic
guitar demo that co-composer M. Ward added a piano break to that made
“Something More Beautiful” as epically soulful as any later period Aretha
Franklin-at-Atlantic song could be.

 

“The whole record really was about serendipity in that you
weren’t exactly certain as to what would happen next,” says Orton. “Most of the
songs had been gestating for several years, two and three at best. But
“Something More Beautiful” was even older.” For the most part, save for the
interaction of this new crew of musicians, her slate of Season songs hadn’t changed much from their first versions. Neither
did “Something More Beautiful” until she played the track for a friend. “‘Come
on with that,’ my friend said. ‘That song screams for some soul,'” laughs Orton,
who then built “Something More Beautiful” up with the band in the studio and
snagged from. M. Ward a simple piano bit that made all the difference.

 

“I dangled the bait and they drove it home,” says Orton.
“That’s why it’s so important to have feedback, encouragement and
interpretation.” She stops when she says that last word, considering what we’d
discussed earlier.

 

“Oh yeah… interpretation.” 

 

 

 

Beth Orton will be
touring Europe and the UK
throughout November and December. View tour dates here.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Jo Metson Scott]

STILL COOL AFTER ALL THESE YEARS Richard Barone

The Bongos founder replays
his seminal classic
Cool Blue Halo two and a half decades after its live debut.

 

BY
LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Richard
Barone proved himself a pioneer of sorts when, in 1987, he took a momentary
detour away from his former band, the Bongos, and walked into New York’s Bottom
Line armed with a mostly new batch of material and a couple of accompanying
players from outside Rock realms to perform a set of songs that would later be
released as the landmark album Cool
Blue Halo. The
effort would prove a landmark of sorts, a recording that would initiate the
subset known as Chamber Pop and continue to prove its mettle some 25 years
later.

 

The
success of that album would eventually cause Barone to leave the Bongos — a
power pop outfit that helped establish the viability of the Hoboken New Jersey
musical scene, one which also spawned the equally influential dBs and
Smithereens — and carve out a respectable solo career that led to other
individual outings, a prodigious stage and studio producer resume and
currently, a tenure at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. At NYU the
latter assignment came about as a result of a well received 2007 tell-all, Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth,
a definitive guide to understanding how image and allusion tend to permeate Rock
‘n’ Roll realms.

 

Barone’s
currently focused on a pair of projects, the expanded re-release of the
original Cool
Blue Halo, and
perhaps more significantly, a double CD/DVD set that captures
the 25th Anniversary Concert that brought the same cast of musicians together
last May at the City Winery in New
York City. Retracing the original set list — one that
included choice covers (“The Visit” by Marc Bolan, David Bowie’s “The Man Who
Sold the World,” the Beatles “Cry Baby Cry”), a handful of retooled Bongos
songs and, naturally, his first crop of solo entries — the package was
expanded to include other material, a behind the scenes documentary, a book of
essays and some surprising cameos from the Band’s Garth Hudson and renowned
producer/musician Tony Visconti.

BLURT recently took the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Barone, who talked
enthusiastically about the project, the original effort and what’s transpired
in his career ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

BLURT:
It’s really hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the original release
of Cool
Blue Halo.

BARONE: That’s
why I don’t believe in time. It doesn’t seem possible to me either that it’s
been 25 years. It was really Jay Frank at the record label that brought up the
idea of the 25th anniversary when I was at South By Southwest last year. He
came backstage and asked me what I was doing to mark the anniversary. I really
hadn’t thought of it. In a way, it was a wake-up call to the fact that it had
been that long.

 

Was
this album always special for you?

Yes, and there
were a few reasons why. For one, it was, of all my albums up to that point, the
most spontaneous. I tend to be what you might call a studio geek. I look the
idea of overdubbing in the studio and creating the studio experience. But this
album was done in just one evening, and the mix took place over just one
weekend, so the album took only three days to make, instead of three months. So
that was always special for me in that it had a spontaneity that you can’t get
any other way other than doing it the way we did it. We approached the new
album — The
Cool Blue Halo 25th Anniversary
album — in the same way, because I couldn’t think of any other way to do it
since that’s how the music was made originally. There was a lot of
improvisation on it, a tremendous amount of spontaneity throughout and I wanted
the musicians to play the music how they felt it. Because of that, we only did
a minimum amount of rehearsing before taking it to the stage. That was the same
way we did it 25 years ago.

 

So
did the songs all come back to you?

Yes, they
did for me because I perform quite a lot and these songs have whirled their way
into my sets over the years. So I can do “I Belong to Me” because I’ve done it
over the years and in many different styles. The songs are pretty much in my
blood, so it wasn’t a difficult thing for me. The interesting thing was the
Marc Bolan song that I covered. It’s a love song to an alien from another
planet. That’s why I picked it. (laughs)
I can relate to that in some weird way.

 

How
do you relate to that?

Some
people I meet are very much like aliens… something along those lines.  And we’ll leave it at that (laughs).

 

Are
you referring to a significant other?

Well, all
of my significant others are like aliens to me at some time or another, But
really, I love Marc Bolan and I love his imagery and that’s why I picked that
song. It’s deeply romantic but the setting is extraterrestrial, so I thought
that was unique. I know that was the one song of Marc Bolan that I had never
heard covered by anyone else. As was, at the time, “The Man Who Sold the World”
by David Bowies. I loved that song and the only other time it was covered
before I did it was by Lulu, the British pop girl. She did it in ’71 or ’72. It
had been more than a decade until I did that someone else had touched it. And I
had never heard anyone do the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry” either. On the original
album, I tried to do songs by three of my influences and people I loved, and I
wanted to cover songs that no one had done before. That was my goal.

 

Was
it always your idea to record the original Cool Blue Halo live?

Yes, because
of the musicians I had on that album, Jane Scarpantoni and Valerie Naranjo. The
rest of us were kind of pop rockers, guitar-playing guys. Jane’s capabilities
were more in the classical sense, perhaps more avant-garde. Her playing covered
a lot of ground. Valerie was also more of a jazz musician and she was all about
world music. She was well-versed in African rhythms and so forth, so I wanted
them to just let loose and play and I thought the live stage was the best place
to let that happen, instead of trying to overly analyze it in the studio. It
was always planned as a live performance that we would be record, and a lot of
those songs I never recorded in the studio.

 

It’s
funny, because one never really thinks of Cool Blue Halo as a live album per se.

And we
mixed it that way, especially on the original. This new one has a little more
of a live flavor because the audience knew the songs. When we first did it, you
could here a pin drop while the songs were playing, because people had never
heard them before. On the new recording, the audience knew the songs and they
knew when the solos came in and they applauded. So we left that in. We decided
to let the audience be heard because they were great, and they become part of
the song.

 

How
did you bill that original performance 25 years ago? Was it like, “Richard
Barone performs his new album?

One of my
friends is New York
radio personality Vin Scelsa, and he presented me in a show at the Bottom Line.
He’d do live performances for his radio show and he’d have two or three artists
on the bill, so that night it was just Richard Barone on Vin Scelsa’s show. That’s
how it was recorded originally.

 

So
there was no particular set-up?

Nope. Just
a lot of new material. There were Bongos songs, but they didn’t sound like
Bongos songs… Like “The Bulrushes.” It’s pretty primitive. There’s no
backbeat, not even on the entire album.

 

Were
people prepared for that? Because they knew you from the Bongos, were they
expecting to hear more of the band’s music?

Absolutely.
That was the late ‘80s and the Bongos were still active. We were still playing
large venues around the time I made this album. So I think people were
surprised. I don’t think they had any idea about this album. But I also think
they were thrilled afterwards. I write about that in the book that comes with
the box set. I wouldn’t say writing my essay was agonising, but I really had to
think about what it was like to make this album and I was trying to remember
all the elements about how it came together. There were a lot of surprise
elements. And I think that helped a lot because it was so different than what
people expected from me. There was no Rickenbacker guitar, there was no snare drum,
no bass, and it wasn’t really a pop rock concert. It felt more like a chamber
concert.

 

And
it kind of set a standard for some things that came after… the whole chamber
rock genre for example.

That
phrase was coined in the review of that album for Rolling Stone. That was the first time that
phrase was used. Chamber Rock in quotation marks.

 

Were
these songs written specifically for this album, and did you always have these
arrangements in mind?

Thank you
for asking! At that point I had been writing songs for the Bongos for almost
seven years and I always wrote those songs knowing it was a point of view of a
group of guys. The views and emotions that in those songs had to cross lines, and
they had to represent all the guys, not just me. It was very rare in the Bongos
albums that I was able to get very personal. So when I did “I Belong to Me,” it
was a starting point. All of them were. “I Belong to Me” wasn’t just about
independence in a relationship, but independence in a band, specifically the
band I was in. So these songs had a lot of meaning for me on different levels.
The Bongos songs I chose also had meaning — like “The Bulrushes” — because I
thought, let’s get back to Biblical times here. That was a good starting point
on the timeline for me. And ending the album with “Numbers with Wings” was a
really good way to end the album because it was really spiritual. And in the
middle, it’s the journey. I had a dream where Marc Bolan asked me if I was
making an album or just a collection of songs, and I woke up and remembered
that. He had already been dead for ten years, but he was always on my mind, and
one of my favorite rock personas. So that stayed with me. And that’s when I got
very specific. I had the benchmarks in those three covers and in the three
Bongos songs. And the new songs I had were sort of dispersed between those
pillars. I wrote them from my own point of view without the filter of the band.
That’s what those songs were about for me and that’s what that album was about
over-all. Getting to the heart of the songwriter. When you’re in a rock band,
there are so many ways to get lost. One way is in your writing, because you’re
writing for the audience or for the band and not from your own point of view.
And that’s what this was all about. It was on an indie label and the Bongos
were still signed to RCA. So it was also a freedom from the corporate scenario.
Everything sort of went through the filter of RCA records. So this was not
through that filter. I could write in “Flew a Falcon” about kissing a guy
without anyone telling me I couldn’t or shouldn’t.

 

Is
that what led to the Bongos’ demise?

We were
still doing concerts for many months throughout the release of Cool Blue Halo, large scale shows too.
But then this sort of took off internationally, so I went to Europe
to promote it and that’s when the schedule became impossible. I was touring
with Suzanne Vega, and I was on the road for two years with this album, and
during that time, all the guys in the group started doing different things. It
was a very gentle parting. There was no arguing or disastrous scenes or embarrassments.
We’re all friends. We’ve done a few benefits. When it’s right, we’ll get
together for a special occasion.

 

Any
talk of making a reunion album, like the dBs did recently?

Anything
is possible. We’ve never had a problem with that if the time is right. Actually
there are several unreleased Bongos albums, so putting them out could very well
happen. That wouldn’t be a problem. One was a concert that was recorded for RCA
in 1985 and it’s a great album.

 

How
did you meet Tony Visconti?

Well, we
met many times over the years. I met him when I did a 12 inch version of a T
Rex song called “Mambo Sun” in ’80 or something. Tony heard it and called me
from England.
I wanted him to produce the Bongos when we got signed to RCA. Tony wanted us to
record at his Good Earth studio in England
and we wanted to go, but RCA wanted to keep us where they could watch us in New York. So they
wouldn’t let us to so it. And Tony told them that that is where he produced, in
his own studio, and they couldn’t come to terms and work it out. So we stayed
and Richard Gottehrer produced us. So Tony and I finally met when Tony moved
back to New York
in the late ‘90s, and we were both on the bill at a T Rex tribute concert. We
started talking and then we started writing songs together. And those songs
ended up on the Glow album. That was a real labor
of love to do that album with Tony.

 

 

 

 

It
seems like you’ve worked with a lot of amazing people.

I’m very fortunate
to have worked with many of my heroes, besides great pals and friends. Many of
them have been my mentors from afar.

 

How
were you able to get yourself into those circles? You’re work with such a
diverse cast of characters.

(Laughs) It is diverse. I think it’s
because I put myself out there and I like meeting people. I do a lot of
different types of shows and I work with a lot of actors. When I did my book
tour in 2007 and 2008, Joyce Dewitt appeared as me, the reader of the book. I
played guitar and accompanied her as she read from my book. It was pretty cool.
I just get around and I meet people. I’m not shy about asking people to
collaborate because I love to collaborate and I think most artists like to as
well.

 

You
produced Liza Minnelli. That must have seemed like an unusual collaboration.

I love
Liza. I did a project with her with a big band and I produced it and it came
out great. When we did it live in the studio, I brought in the big band because
I knew she was a great live performer.

 

It’s kind of interesting how a lot of artists are revisiting
their earlier work – The Who are touring behind Quadrophenia,
Peter Frampton is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Frampton
Comes Alive, Ian Anderson recently did a sequel to Thick
as a Brick, and here you are celebrating a milestone of your own.

I was just listening to “5:15” from Quadrophenia last
night. I was at a club and they were playing it really loud and I was singing
it quite loudly too. One thing I think is interesting about revisiting those
old albums is that the meanings change. For The Who, it was originally about
the Mods and the Rockers days. For me it was interesting to go back to my early
twenties and my views and emotional state of mind at that time and think about
what has changed and what hasn’t changed, especially the way I approach
relationships, the way I talk about myself and the other people I’m talking
about in those songs. It’s really an interesting and emotional journey to go
back to now, and I think for anybody going back to their earlier work, you
really see it through different eyes. For me, a lot of it was, wow, how did I
know I would feel that way, because a lot of it is how I feel now as opposed to
how I felt then. I often wondered what advice I would give my younger self, but
it’s actually my younger self giving me advice for the future. It’s like that
phrase, if I only knew then what I knew now. It was emotional for me, doing
those songs again with the same musicians.

 

The next time you went into the studio following the
release of Cool Blue Halo, did you find it a
bit intimidating to have to top it? The bar was raised pretty high at that
point.

That’s
why I didn’t try to duplicate that album with my next one. Primal
Dream
was a rock album. I brought in the same musicians but I added drums and bass
and Ivan Julian from Richard Hell’s band on guitar. And I made a loud rock
album. All of the albums I’ve made so far have been quite different from each
other, and one of the reasons was just like what you just said. I didn’t want
to feel I had to top myself or copy myself in any way. I like for things to
stay different. As a solo artist you have more leeway to do things that way.
When you have a band, people expect the band sound. You expect REM to sound
like REM and you expect the Bongos to sound like the Bongos, or the dBs, or
Soundgarden or Coldplay or whoever. But as a solo artist, you do have the
ability to change and I have made a point of exploiting that to the fullest.

Take an artist
like Neil Young. He’s not always well received, but just the fact that he did a
record like Trans was pretty cool. I always admire artists
that go out on a limb. Lou Reed is one of my favorites. Not only do I know Lou,
and he’s taught me a lot over the years – even though he doesn’t realize how
much he’s taught me – Lou has always impressed me with the variety of work that
he does. He’s always been super gracious to me.

 

So what’s next for you now? Are you going to take this
album out on the road?

I have been performing a lot actually, especially in the New York region – New York,
New Jersey, Connecticut
– and rediscovering the state of New
York. I’ve played near Woodstock and some small towns upstate,
sometimes solo, sometimes with one or two other musicians. I’m always
performing in some way, and somehow and I think I will be touring with this
album. And some of it may be solo because that’s another way to hear these
songs.

 

 [Photos credit: Mick Rock. Top – Barone and Garth Hudson; middle, Barone and Tony Visconti.]

THE DUDE IN 2012 Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges by Mike Plumides

The celebrated actor/singer/activist talks Lebowski and Crazy Heart, music and politics – and his role with the “No Kid Hungry” project.

BY MICHAEL G. PLUMIDES, JR.

Foraging through the carnival-esque streets of Charlotte, North Carolina during the opening ceremony festivities of the Democratic National Convention, it occurred to me that I didn’t recognize my town anymore. On my bicycle I traversed the once familiar byways to find CNN had invaded the EpiCentre with its moniker erected on the side.  I contemplated I was actually in Atlanta or even New York as people bustled and newsmen reported on the street corners. It was alien to me.

Not one to overly reminisce (well, maybe…), it had come to mind that the old warehouse on 5th Street,  once home to my legendary 4808 Club where the infamous GWAR obscenity arrests had occurred in 1990, had been leveled and is now paid parking.  In the blink of an eye, the city had grown up with all the unadulterated commerciality of any metropolitan area. The Daily Show was
taping live in the Queen City as was Colbert, Tom Brokaw was rushed to the hospital after mistakably taking a morning Ambien, Chris Matthews was broadcasting live, and Scarlett Johansson was somewhere. Even more enthralling, one of my all-time heroes, Jeff Bridges, was performing songs with his band “The Abiders” in the middle of Tryon Street.

I originally thought I would approach this article with an attempt at some sprawling New Yorker type shit as any tragically aging hipster turned political pundit would – but my page count and subject
matter were not only prohibitive but cautionary. Although my charge was to cover the events that transpired at the convention, this article’s focus is primarily representative of a legendary man; a man who is truly a priceless piece of Americana. In my opinion Bridges is, and has been, a quintessential example of an American Patriot: An entertainer, philanthropist, devoted father and husband, Jeff Bridges truly is “The man for his time and place.”

 

BLURT: First, let’s talk about the new record on Blue Note you recorded last year.  You worked with T Bone Burnett on your self-titled album, Jeff Bridges

JEFF BRIDGES: T Bone and I go back maybe 30 years.  We worked on a movie together called Heaven’s Gate. Kris Kristofferson starred and he brought along a lot of his musician friends – Ronnie Hawkins, Norton Buffalo, and T Bone. And you can imagine having all of those great
musicians there. We played a lot of music together. We had a wonderful time and we remained friends all these years but had kind of lost touch.

 You have collaborated with Burnett on numerous occasions, for instance on the Crazy Heart film and soundtrack. Did you usher T Bone into the Coen Brothers fold on The Big Lebowski and is that how he garnered the attention and later collaborations with the Coens?

We hooked up again when T Bone was music supervisor on The Big Lebowski. I don’t think I
introduced Bone to the Brothers.  It was just a coincidence. Crazy Heart came down the pike and originally I turned it down. Although it was a good story, it needed music, so I sent the script to
T Bone to see if he had any interest in it and he said, “If you’ll do it, I’ll do it.” So I said, “Okay, let’s go.” The movie, Crazy Heart, was dedicated to Steve Bruton.  He died shortly before the movie came out. “What Little Love Can Do” off the latest album is a Steve Bruton tune.  But Steven wrote a lot of the songs from Crazy Heart.  “Falling and Flying” is one of his.

 There’s been some reference to the newest album; that it’s “gloomy” and “slow”, even a
bit “dirgy” which, to me would reflect dissatisfaction of some kind in life.  But with all your successes in film, art, photography, and now music – let’s face it, you are a pop icon – you are “The Dude.”  Although your persona is one of melancholy with a hint of realist-positivism, do the songs that you contributed to the album reflect that tint of sadness you possess?

As a human being I have my dose of melancholy as we all do. You know, it’s funny.  Even when you’re at the top of your game it doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time.”Falling Short” is an old song but one I can relate to. It’s about never quite hitting the mark. Being obsessed with perfection and sometimes that desire can keep you from enjoying life. “Everything But Love” was written by my old friend, Johnny Goodwin.  We go back to the fourth grade.  It talks about what an
incredible thing love is.  You could be on top of the world and if you don’t have love, you’ll be wanting and hurting.  “Tumbling Vine” is an up song, in a way. It speaks to my thought process.
I’m what I would call Buddhistly bent. I kind of lean toward that philosophy.

 A review of your live set on Austin City Limits by Ain’t it Cool News described the show as “good-time music-hand-clapping, toe-tapping and yee-hawing.”

That doesn’t sound so melancholy. (laughs)

 There are your obvious influences: Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles. What about more obscure influences such as Frank Zappa, or Dr, John?

I was sort of a Captain Beefheart fan over Frank Zappa. Leonard Cohen is a great poet.  I love his stuff. My buddy, John Goodwin, I love his stuff. I don’t listen to a whole hell of a lot of music. I have an iPod. I don’t text, or use Facebook, or tweet, or anything that sophisticated.  I do have a website though.

You know, you being from Charlotte, I’m surprised you didn’t ask me about my North Carolina
connection.

 And what is that?

Well, one is I was in a film with Gary Busey, another actor-musician, called The Last American Hero, about the life of Junior Johnson, the race car driver. The other is Benji Hughes, man. He’s a wonderful cat. I love his music.  He sang back up on my album.  You should check out Love Extreme on iTunes. I had a wonderful time hanging with him at the convention.

 You know, someone said that to me at the DNC. I mentioned Benji in my book, Kill The Music.  Okay, I have to ask you a serious question.

Oh, wow. Go ahead.

 Do you really hate the fucking Eagles?

(Laughs heartily)
That was a character I played, man.  No, the Eagles have made some good music and I don’t hate them.  But every time I see one of those guys at a party around town they give me a dose of shit.

 

You perform some songs from Crazy Heart – a film you won your first Academy Award for. But Rolling Stone referred to you as a “Cleaned up ‘Bad Blake’ or a ‘Dude with ambitions beyond the bowling lanes’.”

That’s not so bad, is it? I don’t see that as a dig.

 You touring with The Abiders, and as your good friend, Sam Elliot narrated in Lebowski, “There’s a man for his time and place”… you are doing so with a few secular purposes, one being “No Kid Hungry” – which I think has really raised consciousness about hunger in America.  Expand on your different roles as an entertainer, a philanthropist, a musician, but mostly as an American.

Basically, I consider myself a product of nepotism.  My father, Lloyd Bridges, was on a television
show in the ‘60s called Sea Hunt. If you’ve ever seen it you’d see a little chubby kid. That was me.  I grew up in the entertainment business, and all the other actor’s children were becoming actors. My father helped me get my first break.  When my acting took off in my teenage years I was still interested in music. It was my dad who told me stick with acting.  The great thing about acting is you get to use all sorts of different aspects of yourself. I’m glad I listened to my dad because he was right.

But as I got older I started thinking about being not only an American but a citizen of the
world, man.  An Earthling, you know. And my dad brought home a book one day called, The
Family of Man
, a photographic essay that looked at all the different people of the world as a big family. I started thinking how we’re this little speck out in space and all this fighting doesn’t make any sense. That’s when I realized we’re all in this together and we should try to make it a good trip
for all of us. That train of thought led me to my hunger work with the “No Kid Hungry” program.  In America we have sixteen million kids hungry. It wasn’t a matter of how to end hunger, but to
create the political will to make it a priority.  I just felt that safety net they talk about was starting to get holes in it.

In Esquire you said, “Live like you’re already dead, man. Have a good time. Do your best. Let it all come ripping right through you.”  So, is politics next? Do you have any
political aspirations?

Not really.  I’m best used outside of politics, but I went to both the Democratic and Republican
National Conventions because I felt American children going hungry is a non-partisan issue.  I was happy to find that the Chairman of the Governor’s Association informed me both the Republicans
and Democrats are all on board. Governor O’Malley from Maryland and I jammed together at the School of Rock (at the NC Music Factory in Uptown Charlotte).  We rehearsed and we were
supposed to play but it rained on us so it didn’t happen.

You know that you have 1257 fans on Facebook for you as a “write in” for President in 2012.

Really?

The slogan at the top of the page is, “They say America is becoming a third world country, but, like… that’s just their opinion, man.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s an accurate quote (laughs).

What about a Clinton/Bridges ticket in 2016?

Oh, God.  That would be something, wouldn’t it?  Only in the movies, man.

 Interacting with the politicians at both conventions, what have you learned first-hand
about the political process? My guess is you’ve met a lot of “Big Lebowskis” stealing from the little “Urban Achievers”?

You got to hand it to these guys, you know? Politicians, people willing to get into that game it takes a lot of courage and a lot of heart. Just like every aspect of life there’s corruption, but there are those that are really good people. I had dinner with the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and he was inspiring on the hunger issue – it was heartening that he was so supportive.  It gives you a feeling of hope when you can talk to guys like that. When I heard about Paul Ryan’s plan to cut food stamps by a hundred billion dollars over the next ten years, I thought that was a bummer, man.  We had to get motivated.

So, I’m throwing all these ham-handed Lebowski references at you. But didn’t you just reunite with your cast mates in New York? 

That was a kick off for The Big Lebowski Blu-Ray release at Lebowski Fest. We all got together and we were interviewed on stage in New York. It was wonderful seeing everyone again. I have a film coming out with Julianne Moore next year called Seventh Son.

And your Thunderbolt and Lightfoot co-star Clint Eastwood stole the show at the Republican National Convention.  I think it was a publicity stunt for his upcoming film release, Trouble with the Curve. Care to comment?

That’s one of the great things about being in the movies.  You get to work with people with
all kinds of “opinions” as The Dude might say.

Speaking of past co-stars, she won a Golden Globe and a SAG award recently for her role as Constance in American Horror Story, also recently received an Emmy for her role.
Describe what was it like when you first laid eyes on Jessica Lange in 1975 for King Kong?

Oh, God.  She was and still remains a wonderful woman inside and out. She was gorgeous. In that
movie, King Kong, playing the airhead was so far away from her, actually.  She was a smart person and a talented actress.

Have you thought about doing television?

I’m open to anything. I wouldn’t rule it out.

You’ve got a thing for blondes.  You are married to one. And they are a big inspiration for you. Your daughter even has a new album, correct? Jess Bridges?

Jess has an album that’s up on iTunes.  She’s been my assistant on the last three movies I’ve been in.  We shot the last one in Vancouver. We ended up playing a lot of music together.  Jess liked it so much she stayed two months afterward to record some music. They’ve got a wonderful music scene up there.

My niece, Alexandria’s favorite movie is True Grit.  Of all of your films, give me
your top five and why?

Oh man, that’s gonna be hard. I’ll just mention my favorites, the ones that come to mind.  The Last Picture Show, that stands alone.  It sits there all by itself.  Great performances by Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, and Sam Bottoms.  Sam was great – he passed away recently. The cast was wonderful.  It’s films like Picture Show that have a home movie quality to me.  Lebowski, True Grit, it’s always great to work with the Brothers… Crazy Heart, Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King with Terry Gilliam.  I’ve made some great movies, man.

Do you have any advice for filmmakers, musicians, photographers, writers, or artists
in general?

You’ve got to just do it. There’s so much fear involved in life.  That’s why you’ve got to be afraid
and then do it anyway.  Follow your dream.

Michael G. Plumides, Jr. is the author of KILL THE MUSIC, about his experiences in music during the moral hysteria of the PMRC years available on Amazon.  Also a filmmaker, Plumides’ concept, GHOST TREK, is in development.  Plumides recently contracted with Morgan Creek Productions as a Creative Consultant on “Clive Barker’s Night Breed”.

NIHILISTIC SEA SHANTIES AND BUSKER JAMS FROM THE SUBWAY TO HELL Alvarius B.

The Sun
City Girls’ younger Bishop brother has his twisted ’98 classic
remade, remodeled and reissued.

 

BY RON HART

 

Since crawling from a scorpion hole in the Arizona desert
nearly 35 years with his brother, guitar great Sir Richard Bishop, and late
drummer Charles Gocher as the Sun City Girls, Alan Bishop has been rubbing the
American music landscape rawer than hamburger meat. Though getting his
start as a card-carrying member of the Phoenix skate punk scene alongside the
likes of the Meat Puppets and Jodie Foster’s Army, the younger Bishop sibling abandoned
the conventional idea of the scene’s anti-establishment ethos early on and he
and his fellow Girls began to infuse free jazz, tape loops, surf guitar and a
smorgasbord of Middle Eastern, Northern African and Southeast Asian musical
elements into their seemingly bottomless cache of material. They conspired
musically from 1984 until Gocher succumbed to his valiant battle with cancer in
2007, putting an immediate end to the group as an active entity. 

 

But as a solo artist, Alan Bishop really lets his freak flag
fly, especially whilst recording under his Alvarius B. moniker. And perhaps his
most definitive statement as an act under his own accord is his second
eponymous full-length from 1998, which now enjoys a long overdue makeover
courtesy of the SCG-helmed Abduction Records label.

 

 


alvarius b. – alvarius b. (album preview) by experimedia

 

“I think its fair to say that in AB we have the most inspiring and
wholesome, cussing, violent and truthful music interpenetrator of the psychic
Realities that has probably ever graced this fair and fucked land,” hails
former Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance in his impassioned liner notes for
this two-CD revamp of Alvarius B, first released as a limited edition
vinyl 2LP set back in the day. Truer sentiments could not be expressed better
in the context of the original 39 tracks, a twisted cache of nihilistic sea
shanties and busker jams from the subway to hell that pushed the boundaries of
public tolerance to the limit, evidenced on tracks like “Blood Baby”
and “The Great Fuck Inaccessible.” This updated edition of B. adds
six new bonus tunes from the initial recording sessions, done between the years
1994 and 1996 on a portable tape recorder in Seattle, Washington.
Judging by the sound of disc one’s buggy “Insect Dilemma” and disc
two’s “Crackled Witch,” with its “brainwashed skulls in a
shrunken pot,” the extra material is as equally damaged as any of its
final cut counterparts.

Alvarius B. is a masterpiece of apocalyptic
death folk that is indeed not for the faint at heart, with all of its
avant-garde discordance and vulgarity. But if you have the abstract gumption to appreciate the kind of ravenous
deconstructionism Bishop brought to the table in spades here, this is up there
with and the 1990 Sun City Girls classic Torch of the Mystics and
his brother’s Salvador Kali as a must-own addition to your music
library.


 

TIME GOES BY SO QUICKLY The Distractions

A 30-year layoff
hasn’t dimmed the Mancunian post-punkers’ enthusiasm or talent.

 

BY DAVE STEINFELD

 

This past summer, while thumbing through an issue of Uncut one night, I noticed a very short piece about a band called The
Distractions. I had to read it twice to make sure it was the same band I was
thinking of and that I wasn’t imagining things. Blessed with an excruciatingly
limited discography and no members who went on to big things, The Distractions
were obscure even in their native England.
But to a small but rabid group of fans, this Manchester
quintet was considered one of the great lost bands of the New Wave era. As
recently as last year, I looked for news about them online and found very
little, which led me to wonder whatever happened to the band members.

 

What a difference a year makes. This item in Uncut said
that a new album by The Distractions was imminent — more than three decades
after the last one! I was stunned.

 

For the uninitiated… The Distractions were part of the late
’70s post-punk scene in Northern England.
After a few singles and the wonderfully titled EP You’re Not Going Out
Dressed Like That,
the band released their one proper album, Nobody’s
Perfect,
in 1980. The disc featured 14 songs and covered a broad musical
spectrum. “Waiting for Lorraine,”
the opener, was an angry song about unrequited love in the form of an
unreturned phone call, a theme revisited later on the album, literally, in the
track “Still it Doesn’t Ring.” Other highlights include “Looking
for a Ghost,” which UK journalist
David Quantick once aptly described as
“the greatest sleepwalking nightmare ballad ever,” and a rocking anthem of
independence titled “Untitled.” Most of the tunes on Nobody’s
Perfect
were written by guitarist Steve Perrin, some in collaboration with
singer Mike Finney. But a couple were penned by second guitarist Adrian Wright.
The Distractions were rounded out by a rhythm section that may have had the
best names in all of rock history: bassist Pip Nicholls and drummer Alec
Sidebottom.

 

Nobody’s Perfect was loved by almost everyone who
heard it — but unfortunately, few people did! There are various theories as to
why The Distractions never made it, ranging from the fact that a little band
called U2 was signed by the same label (Island Records) around the same time; to,
as another UK journalist, Ian Cranna
once wrote, “bands fronted by overweight and bespectacled singers were not
the stuff of which legends were made.” Whatever the case, The Distractions
weren’t long for this world and Nobody’s Perfect remains one of the
ultimate “cult” albums of the post-punk period. Ironically, the
band’s best known song didn’t even appear on the album. The wonderful single
“Time Goes By So Slow,” released in late 1979 by the tastemakers at
Factory Records and a popular track on college radio here in the states, was
their (relative) moment in the sun, an incredibly sad lyric married to an
infectious melody.

 

Unlike some stories in rock and roll (say, that of The
Tourists, an English band who came up around the same time as The Distractions
and had very marginal success but whose singer was one Annie Lennox), this tale
doesn’t have a happy ending — at least in the sense that the band members did
not go on to achieve greater success after their breakup. None of the
Distractions ever became a household name and most of them currently have day
jobs. In this case, the happy ending is simply that three decades and change
after Nobody’s Perfect, they’re still alive and well, and indeed they
finally released their sophomore set, The End of the Pier, in late
August.

 

The band’s current lineup finds Finney and Perrin joined by
Nick Halliwell, Granite
Shore guitarist,
owner of Occultation Recordings and catalyst for the reunion; bassist Arash
Torabi of The June Brides; and drummer Mike Kellie, whose extensive resume
includes stints with both The Only Ones and Spooky Tooth.

 

In contrast to Nobody’s Perfect, The End of the Pier, while
still a Distractions record, is a more concise, unified album. There are only
10 songs this time around. Also unlike Nobody’s Perfect, the subject
matter of these songs isn’t quite as varied. Throughout End of the Pier, there’s
a sense that time is short; indeed, the first line on the album is “We’re
running out of time.” (Incidentally, Finney sings the hell out of that
song, “I Don’t Have Time,” in a voice that recalls World Party leader
Karl Wallinger.)  This theme is echoed in
tracks like “Too Late to Change” and “The Last Song” which,
appropriately, closes the disc. Even the title of the album can be taken as a
reference to time running out. These days, it seems, time doesn’t go by so
slow.

 

The Distractions celebrated the release of The End of the
Pier
with exactly two live dates, in the Manchester
borough of Salford. This may seem
strange but the fact is, it’s miraculous that these dates happened at all. The
band members no longer live in Manchester
these days; rather, they’re spread throughout England,
and Perrin is based in Australia. So
it was no small feat for them to come together for these gigs. This writer
lives in America and wasn’t lucky enough to attend either of the Salford dates
— but I was lucky enough to be the one to write about them on these
shores, a result of seeing that short piece in Uncut and then tracking
the unassuming Mike Finney down online. For this piece, I spoke with Finney,
Perrin and Halliwell, all of whom were great interviews. [Pictured in the
photo above, L-R: Perrin, Finney and Halliwell.]

 

 


The Distractions: The Summer I Met You by OccultationUK

 

 

 

BLURT: Tell me a
little about what each of you was up to during “the 30-year break” —
either musically or otherwise.

 

STEVE PERRIN (SP): It was actually
two 15-year breaks as we played together for a while in the mid-1990s. Apart
from that, my only involvement in music was briefly working for an independent
record label in Italy in the late
’80s. Otherwise, I’ve spent more time writing academic papers and a PhD thesis
than I have writing songs. It’s good to be writing songs again.

 

MIKE FINNEY (MF): I had a band
called the Secret Seven straight after The Distractions in 1983, but it was
short-lived. [Later that year], I recorded a vocal track for the first Art Of
Noise single. It was originally called “Close to The Edge,” but came
out as “Close to the Edit.” 
I’m the Edit!

     I was [also] in a band called The First
Circle, with Alex [Sidebottom] as drummer and some of Mancunian band Dr Filth.
Sort of country-rock, as was the vogue in the mid-‘80s. Then I stopped singing
until Steve and I restarted The Distractions in ’95, stopped again and
restarted in 2010. In the meantime, I am currently employed as an International
Trade consultant for the Croda Chemical Group. A global company but UK headquartered.

 

 

Nick, you’re credited
with getting The Distractions back together even though you weren’t a member of
the original band. Tell me a bit about how that happened — how you got Steve
and Mike to agree to another album and perhaps what The Distractions meant to
you in the first place.

 

NICK HALLIWELL (NH): The
Distractions have been one of my favourite bands since 1978; beautifully
crafted songs and one of the all-time great singers. I wrote something about
them on the Granite
Shore website, Mike
contacted me [and] then put me in touch with Steve. I was bemoaning the fact
that one of the finest English singers of our generation had made so few
records and Steve said, “You’ve got a label. When it makes you a million,
stick him in a studio.”  I suggested
I could spare a few hundred quid straight away [and] asked him if he’d write a
couple of songs. [Steve] conferred with Mike, then got back to me saying, “I’ll
be in the UK in June!” So I
booked a studio. At some point along the way, the two of them told me it’d be a
Distractions record – that had to come from them rather than from me. We
recorded the Come Home EP
in Liverpool in two days in June 2010,
having met for the first time at the studio. Hearing Mike sing the song I’d
written for it was a very special moment.

        The next logical step was an album.
Steve wrote about half of it and sent the demos to me, I chipped in with a song
(Wise”), then [we] came up with a few more between us. It was
important to have something cohesive, so Steve and I worked together closely. I
tried to pick up on the themes he’d established in his songs.

 

 

Tell me how The
Distractions first came together and also a bit about what the music scene in Manchester was like during the mid to late ‘70s.

 

SP: 
Mike and I met on a college course and he kept
singing, so I suggested that we form a band in an attempt
to shut him up. That worked — but only briefly. We were messing around for a
while but when punk started to happen, it gave us an outlet as a number of
small clubs started to put on punk nights.

        It was a very small scene in Manchester, though — I would guess no more than 100
people to start with [and] very incestuous. We found a bass player because Pip
applied too late for the job with Buzzcocks.  So Pete Shelley passed
on [his] phone number to us.

 

MF: Steve and I met at college
in 1975 in Stockport. We were on the
same course on day release. We used to go to the pub afterwards and I would
sing along to the jukebox – Buddy Holly, Roxy Music, Elvis, whatever was
playing — and Steve said we should start a band. He says it was just to shut
me up but I think it was because he could see the girls in the pub swooning.

 

 

Mike, who are some of
the vocalists who you count as inspirations or personal favorites?

 

MF: It’s quite a mix, really. My
very early childhood favorites were Elvis, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin,
followed by John Lennon (“This Boy” is still a favourite). Then
somebody played me Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Sam & Dave, Levi
Stubbs [and] Sam Cooke and I knew what they meant.

 

 

On the new album, The
End of the Pier
, several of the songs deal with aging, the past and/or a
sense of time running out. Coincidence or not?

SP: 
We finished recording Nobody’s Perfect on my 23rd birthday so all
the material on there was written between the ages of 20 and 22. When I started
writing songs for The End of the Pier, the one thing I knew for sure was
that I couldn’t pretend to be 22. Having said that, I wasn’t initially sure
what the album was going to be about. Most of the songs came from musical ideas
and a couple of them started out with completely different sets of lyrics. Then
I had a conversation with Nick about Mike’s voice in which one of us — I can’t
remember who — said that if we were going to record him at his best, we had to
do it now as the voice changes due to bodily developments. That seemed to spark
something off and all this stuff started pouring out.

Also, it was a conscious decision to
make an album with a coherent theme as Nobody’s Perfect doesn’t have
that; it’s just a collection of songs we had at the time.

 

MF: We’re older and time is not
getting any longer.

 

 

 

 

How were the recent
gigs in Salford?

 

MF: Fab! Thoroughly enjoyed the
gigs. It was great to see so many friends, a lot of whom I hadn’t seen for 30
years [and] also seeing Steve as I only see him once a year.  My 10-year-old son was wearing my silver
jacket that I hadn’t worn since playing [New York City
club] Hurrah! in 1980. He got onstage to prove it! Both my sons got to see me
do what I love most and I never thought they would, so [that was] a huge bonus.

        Apart from those few ’95 gigs, we
hadn’t played since 1980. We did “Time Goes By So Slow,”
“Waiting for Lorraine,” “Leave You to Dream,” “It
Doesn’t Bother Me” and “Valerie” together for the first time in
32 years. It was a good feeling. Joni Mitchell was half right: Whilst you don’t
know what you’ve got till it’s gone, you don’t really know until you
have it restored.

 

NH:  Everyone I’ve spoken to has been very
complimentary and it feels like an achievement in retrospect. I’ve been mixing
the recordings and we’re astonishingly tight considering we only had one short
rehearsal the day before. The current line-up has one hell of a rhythm section
in Arash Torabi and Mike Kellie, Steve and I have an uncannily shared sense of
timing and Mike was on jaw-dropping form.

 

 

What are the other
three former Distractions (Pip, Alec and Adrian)
up to these days? Also, is it true that Adrian
was the writer of “Time Goes By So Slow?”

SP: Yes, Adrian
wrote “Time Goes By So Slow,” but whoever designed the label [of the single]
got the credits the wrong way round and we’ve been trying to sort that out for
years. He’s not involved in music anymore.

        Pip continues to do solo stuff which
can be heard on MySpace. Alec leads the Republic of Swing
samba band, which is a serious live proposition.

 

MF:  I haven’t seen Pip for 15 or 16 years but I
believe that [he] is living in Warrington
(between Manchester and Liverpool). I haven’t seen Ade since way back in the ‘80s,
but I spoke to him briefly in ’95 when we had a get-together to record [some
songs and do] three or four gigs. Three songs that came out on the Occultation Black Velvet EP were from that
time. He was contacted again in 2010. Whilst he still didn’t want to be in the
band, he sent copies of some live recordings, which we enjoyed hearing again.

 

 

One of my favorites
from Nobody’s Perfect is the opening track, “Waiting for Lorraine.” If you would, tell me a bit about the
inspiration for that or any memories you associate with it.

SP: 
In Manchester, the early punk
scene was closely tied [in] with the gay scene largely due to the fact that
only gay clubs would let in unconventionally dressed individuals. If I remember
correctly, I had three consecutive girlfriends who decided after a relatively
short time in my company that they preferred women. This left me rather
confused but at least I got a song out of it.

 

 

Any plans for the
immediate future — either as The Distractions or individually?

 

SP: 
We’ve tentatively talked about a third — and probably final — album.
It has a working title and I think I know what the subject matter is but
nothing is actually written yet. I’m guessing that Nick will make a Granite Shore album first on which I’m
hoping to do some backing vocals.

 

MF: No plans individually, but
I’ll be happy to do some more with the boys if [they] are available.

        Neil Storey, the man behind Hidden
Masters, was the press officer at Island Records all those years ago. Me and
Steve have known him since 1979 and he’s been a fan and friend for a long time.
He plans to release a retrospective of The Distractions next year with all the
old records and some unreleased stuff he’s found in the Universal vaults. I
can’t wait to hear them!

 

NH: As far as The Distractions
go, it’s up to Steve and Mike though I’d love to do another album. I’m now
working on a Granite Shore LP, I’d also like to do some more producing and
there’s Occultation Recordings to run. We’re reissuing the Wild Swans album, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years,
next year, with a vinyl version at long last, and there are a few other
projects in the pipeline.

 

 

What was it like
recording and performing together again after more than 30 years?

 

MF: The recording seemed very
natural. After Steve left in 1980, well…it was never really quite right when he
wasn’t there, so we just picked up where we left it.

 

SP: It felt completely normal. It’s
the rest of life that feels pretty weird!

 

 

 

 

WHY SO HEAVY? Metz

Because
there’s “something missing from a lot of music nowadays, that physical
reaction,” that’s why. The Canadian combo wants to
feel it – and you will, too.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

These days, when someone says a band is ‘80s influenced, you
can already see the asymmetrical haircuts and hear the robotic voices and Human
League synthesizers. That’s not the ‘80s the members of Toronto’s
METZ are
interested in. The hard-driving yet melodic punk of their self-titled debut
(Sub Pop) looks back to Nation of Ulysses, Public Image Ltd. and Bleach-era Nirvana. Or you could just
describe it in one word: loud. We talked with singer Alex Edkins about how they
got their eardrum-busting sound, their raucous live shows and what other punk
bands simply don’t get.

 

 

 

BLURT: People
talk about you as saviors of punk. Can you live up to that?

EDKINS: I feel like that’s a little bit pushing it. Toronto has a long history
of punk and great music in general. We’re a continuation of that. We’re happy
about anything positive that anybody says about us, but we’re not trying to
live up to anyone’s crazy expectations, just our own.

 

What
are your expectations?

Our expectations are to keep doing what we’ve always done:
make music in an uncompromising fashion. We don’t set out to please anyone. We
just set out to please the three of us. If we can stand behind the music,
that’s all that matters. It’s a bonus if other people like it too.

 

The
first thing everyone notices about METZ
is how loud the band is. Why so heavy?

I’m not totally sure. It’s not something that was
premeditated; it just happens that way when we get in the same room together.
All of us came from a punk rock place. Growing up, that’s what we were
listening to and the shows we went to. There’s a certain amount of that in all
of us. If we’re going to get technical, some of it comes from the fact that
Hayden (Menzies), our drummer, plays in a fashion that is one volume. It’s
necessary for us to crank the amps up or we’ll be drowned out. That’s the
boring answer. The better answer is that it’s all we know how to do, all we
want to do, and it serves the songs. They can’t be turned down or the point of
it is lost.

 

And
that point is..?

There isn’t really any bigger point than three guys making
music for the love of it. We’re not trying to prove anything. We’re doing what
feels natural to us. We love to do it. The volume and energy of the live show
is just us having a good time.

 

Are you
the kind of kid who grew up banging on everything you saw?

I think so. There are pictures of me at four or five, and
I’d be sitting on the couch with my dad’s record player with headphones on. I
was a bit of a record nerd my whole life. To this day, I tap on things like any
musician. I’m banging on things constantly.

 

What
were you listening to on Dad’s hi-fi?

Mostly the Beatles. If I had to pick a band that’s my
favorite, that’d probably be it.

 

A lot
of your fans would probably be surprised to hear that.

I know it’s not a cool answer, but it’s an honest answer.
Through my whole life, that’s the band I got the most enjoyment from. I can’t
say I listen to them as much now, but I did a lot when I was younger.

 

Is
playing loud and fast a good way to cope with Canadian winters?

I think so. I grew up in Ottawa. It’s a government city. It’s a little
sleepy at night. There’s not much nightlife so a lot of people decided to make
music to keep themselves occupied. I lived in the suburbs. Me and my friends
would be in the basement all day playing just to have something to do.

 

 

Originally,
METZ had a
bigger sound. What made you decide to strip it down?

It just naturally happened. We used to have more complicated
song structures. We were messing around with electronics and samplers. It felt
more natural to strip it back. It was more fun to play live as well. We decided
to work with just our three instruments and see how far we could push those
instead of making it overly complicated.

 

As much
you’re known for being loud, there’s also a lot of melody in your songs. What
songwriters do you admire?

I don’t think I could even pick. We’re just big music fans
in general. Our record collections go anywhere. We’re really into good
songwriting and hooks. With this album, we started to focus on having a happy
medium between the noise and the feedback and good song structures and
songcraft. We’re equally as interested in that as we are in creating a racket.

 

Do you
think other punk bands don’t understand that?

Sometimes in heavy music it’s more about the riff than the
song. Nowadays, the three of us don’t listen to much heavy music. It’s more
about good songwriting. There’s not too much of that in punk or heavy music.
It’s out there, but it’s rare.

 

What
was it like playing with bands like Mission of Burma,
Mudhoney and Archers of Loaf? Was there anything you learned from them?

We feel really lucky to have had the chance to do that. We
would have been in the crowd regardless, but it’s nice when you get to share
the stage and meet them. All I can take away is that these guys are genuinely
nice people doing exactly what they want to be doing. They have a certain
approach to music and a certain realness you can’t fake and can recognize right
away. We want to model our band after guys like that who are doing this for so
many years and haven’t wavered in their commitment or the quality of their
music.

 

Can you
put the live METZ
experience into words?

It’s loud, in your face and fun. Hopefully there’s a lot of
movement in the crowd. We want people to move around and have a good time. The
songs seem to call for a certain aggression that comes out when you play. If
you don’t play them that way, it doesn’t sound right to us. It’s not a
theatrical show. We just rip through the songs and play the shit out of them.

 

It
seems as much physical as musical.

Absolutely. That’s something missing from a lot of music
nowadays, that physical reaction. I want to feel it. There’s nothing better.

 

An
edited version of this story appears in the latest issue (#13) of BLURT.

 

[Photo Credit: Bobby Reis]

 

 

ATTENTION: HEADQUARTERS The Monkees

The Pre-Fab Four – now
Three – return to the stage to celebrate their breakout album and their lost
colleague.

 

BY MICHAEL BERICK

 

Daydream believers will have their dreams come true this
month. The three surviving Monkees – Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz
– are touring together for the first time since 1997, and for their first
American tour with Nesmith since 1969. (It starts this week in California; view tour
dates here.
)

 

The occasion of this tour is bittersweet celebration. These
concerts will be commemorating both the 45th anniversary of the
band’s hard-fought-for Headquarters album
(the first record where they played their own instruments) and the passing of
their beloved bandmate Davy Jones, who passed away earlier this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a recent conversation, Dolenz revealed that the guys
had been talking about doing this 45th anniversary tour even before
Jones’ death, but it was the Los Angeles private memorial service where tour
talk fell into place. While chatting with Nesmith and Tork in a corner of a
room, Dolenz said he made the suggestion: “Well, you guys want to start a
group?”

 

The idea of a memorial concert in Los Angeles evolved into
doing one in the cities where Jones had family and friends (L.A., New York and
London), which then snowballed into a 12-city tour. “We aren’t calling it the
Davy Jones memorial tour or anything of that nature. It sounds a little weird
to me,” Dolenz explained, while adding, “[Davy] will certainly be remembered in
a very special way. The fans will be very pleased I think with the way that we
pay our homage to him.”

 

(below: Dolenz &
Tork today)

 

 

 

 

On this tour, the band naturally will spotlight a number of Headquarters songs along with performing
classic Monkees hits like “I’m A Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Last
Train To Clarksville.” The concerts will also feature a wide of Monkees tunes
as well as utilizing plenty of video and other multi-media elements, which is
something that fans have enjoyed at recent tours.

 

(below: Nesmith today)

 

 

 

 

According to Dolenz, the Monkees’ enduring popularity is
because they “really touched a nerve. It really has become quite an important
part of the American cultural landscape.” He was quick to give credit for the
work to the songwriters, TV writers, producers and the other behind-the-scenes
people who helped make the Monkees “into something bigger than the sum of its
parts.”

 

 Dolenz offered two reasons for the generation-spanning appeal
for the Monkees TV show. On the show,
the band was not famous; unlike, as he pointed out, the Beatles in their
movies. “They were famous and we were
always trying to be famous. That is a
real important distinction, because the kids around the world back then – and
even today – who are struggling to start a group in the basement, can identify
with the struggle.”

 

He also noted that the show’s comedy had a timeless quality.
“The show was not satirical or topical. John Lennon once said it was like the
Marx Brothers. The comedy did not date, like I Love Lucy or The
Honeymooners
– the humor is just the human condition. You can watch it to
this day.”

 

The sense of timelessness also forms the central core of
Dolenz’s new album, Remember, which
he introduced recently at a special listening session/press conference in L.A. that BLURT attended
(see story here). It’s a collection of cover songs resonating personally with
Dolenz. The concept, he explained,
came about after he started telling stories about music that meant something
special to him. Selections include his Monkees audition song “Johnny B. Goode”
and “Good Morning, Good Morning,” which was the first Beatles recording
sessions he attended.

 

 Some songs are ones he recorded while a Monkee (“I’m A
Believer,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Don’t Ask For Love” and “Sometime In The
Morning”) and some are tunes he nearly recorded.  The old Bread hit, “Diary,” Dolenz revealed,
was a song that had been offered to him in the Monkees’ waning days. “And I
turned it down like an idiot. I didn’t think I should be doing a ballad at the
time.” He also stated that the power pop classic “Sugar, Sugar” was
figuratively the straw the broke the camel’s (or in this case, Nesmith’s) back.
The Monkees rebelled against their producers over recording this tune – Dolenz
said it wasn’t so much the song as the control over song selection – with
Nesmith threatening to quit and Dolenz jetting to England where he met the
Beatles.

 

 Whether a Monkees track or not, Dolenz and his producer
David Harris have done an inventive and extensive job in reinterpreting these
songs with vastly different arrangements. Dolenz describes “Diary” as having a
Coldplay-like vibe, while Dolenz’s own “Randy Scouse Git” now possesses a
heavier, more ominous vibe.  As a result,
this is a covers album that sounds familiar yet different.

 

This new Monkees tour, however, will rely on more familiar
renditions of Monkees’ songs, although Dolenz noted that during rehearsals that
he to teach Nesmith some of his own lyrics. “He hasn’t sung these songs in 40
years,” Dolenz said with a laugh. Still, he described the rehearsals as going
great, exciting him about this new tour – particularly with the opportunity to
once again share the stage with Nesmith.

 

“I love playing with him.” A multitude of Monkees fans also are
loving the fact that Mike, Peter and Micky are playing together again.

 

THE OVERACHIEVER Ty Segall

How
many recordings and tours can one man tackle in a single 12-month span? This
Bay Area guitar monster – his profile in ascendance – has a pretty
good idea…

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“It was kind of an accident. I didn’t really mean for all
three records to come out so close together,” admits Ty Segall, about a very
busy 2012, a year in which he released three full-length albums of new material
Hair, a collaboration with White
Fence’s Tim Presley; Slaughterhouse,  a full-band record; and Twins, a guitar-heavy solo album just released by Drag City. “But
the reason I wanted these three records to come out was that I genuinely
thought they were different things,” he added. “If there were three solo
records this year, I would worry about it, that’s too much. But there’s only
one, and then there’s the band record and the record with Tim. They’re three of
the most different sounding things.”

 

Segall has been a force in the Bay Area garage pop scene
since his self-titled, one-man-band debut in 2008 on John Dwyer’s CastleFace
label.  Along the way, he has released
roughly a dozen albums, a pile of singles (recently compiled on Goner’s
double-disc Singles 2007-2010), and
cassettes collaborated with Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, Mikail Cronin and others –
not to mention touring relentlessly (see link for tour itinerary at the bottom
of the page).

 

Still even as one of San
Francisco’s most prolific, productive musicians,
Segall couldn’t pull off his 2012 triple-play alone. He wrote Slaughterhouse with his touring band – Mikail
Cronin, Emily Rose Epstein and Charles Moonhart – while jamming out its tunes
in a practice room and, later, a studio, and sharing lyric-writing duties with
Cronin. Hair, too, was a joint
effort, with Segall bringing in two songs, Presley three and the two of them
writing the remainder together. Only Twins came about through the painstaking, time-consuming process of solo songwriting.
Segall says he worked on it for six months, on and off, first demoing songs
with a guitar and provisional lyrics, later fleshing them out with bass, drums
and lots of guitar.

 

 “One of the goals of
this record was to make it a guitar heavy record,” says Segall. “I had never
done that before.” And, indeed, Twins is uncharacteristically shreddy and riff-centered, with three and four guitar
parts layered over one another in some tracks. That’s a big shift for an artist
who came out of Southern California’s
skateboard punk scene and revered bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains.    

 

 

 

 

Lately, though, Segall says he’s into “heavier rock music,
like 1960s and early 1970s stuff. Blue Cheer and Hawkwind and Sabbath and
Hendrix and Cream, those are all my favorite guitar sounds. I got really into
kraut-y stuff. Noisy stuff.” Segall also discovered a pedal called Fuzz War,
whose buzzy, metallic, distorted blare quickly became his go-to guitar sound.
“That’s like my favorite pedal ever,” says Segall. “I wanted to use it on every
song. So I kind of wanted to go for that.”

 

As he has for every record since 2009’s Melted, Segall turned to Eric Bauer to help him record Twins, cranking out the tunes in Bauer’s
Chinatown basement studio, and experimenting with the many sonic devices
available there. “Eric’s got a lot of ideas about sound,” says Segall. “He’ll
get a new chorus echo chamber, and we’ll throw that on. Or he’ll get a new
compressor, and he’ll be like, let’s try this thing out. So he’s really a great
guy to work with. He’s always throwing ideas back and forth, and he’s a great
guy to toss ideas off, too.”

 

Twins is
about duality, the idea of split personality and the interplay of light and
darkness. It’s dedicated to San
Francisco, Segall’s adopted
home and, he says, a prime example of the theme. “San Francisco is amazing, beautiful. It’s probably
the most beautiful city on the West Coast. But at the same time, it’s such a
dark weird place that has a history of mental issues, drugs and psychedelia.
When the sun is shining, maybe 20 days out of the year, it’s an unbelievably
positive place, but a lot of the time it’s cold and gloomy. So, I think that San Francisco has this
really unique split personality. There are extremes here.”

 

Segall worked mostly alone on Twins, but Moonhart did turn up to play drums, while Brigid Dawson
of Thee Oh Sees made a guest appearance on “The Hill,” which is the album’s
first single. Dawson
sings the introduction, a very pretty, closely harmonized folk interval that
runs into a buzz saw of psychedelic guitars about 20 seconds into the
track.  

 

“That song started out as a mellow song,” says Segall. “The
demo of it is an acoustic song, so I decided to see what it would sound like if
I sped it up and made it electric. And then I couldn’t sing the opening part
very well. It was all right, but it was missing something. I had been talking
to Brigid for a couple of years about doing something together.”

 

Dawson’s band
is one of a tightly knit collection of combos that live and work in San Francisco, frequently
tour together, play on each other’s records, and just hang out.  Segall did his first-ever tour with Thee Oh
Sees and remains close to the band’s founder, John Dwyer. “John’s the best.
He’s like my big brother. He’s the guy you want to go to first if you have a
question about music. He’ll always be the guy to tell you to do it or not, or
lead you in the right direction.”

 

Adds Segall, “[John] has been doing music for so long, and
always under the radar. He’s so happy to be putting out records and touring and
doing the Ohsees now, but I think back in the day, he had to work a lot harder
for a lot less. He deserves everything he’s gotten and more. Thee Oh Sees should
be one of the biggest bands in the world. I think they’re one of the best live
bands around.”

 

As San Francisco
outfits like Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys, Sic Alps and Segall’s band get to
be more popular, they are on the road more and together less. Big group shows
in San Francisco
are rarer now because it’s hard to get all the players together. Still, Segall
says he connects regularly with this musical fraternity, grabbing tacos with
Dwyer or getting coffee with Mike Donovan of Sic Alps.

 

“To be honest, if I didn’t have these guys around, I don’t
know if I’d be doing what I’m doing at all,” he admits. “John and Mike help
keep me going. It is a very isolating, weird lifestyle, but these guys have
been doing it for so long and they’re so positive about it. It’s pretty cool.”

 

Segall won’t be releasing three albums in a year again any
time soon; in fact, his plan for 2013 entails a six month lay-off from touring
and one new recording. (Not counting
In the Red’s January reissue of Reverse
Shark Attack
with Mikail Cronin.)  “I
just want to take a moment and collect my thoughts,” says Segall. “And then I
was planning on working on one record for an entire year. Trying to make it the
best record I could do.” 

 

An
edited version of this story appears in the current print issue (13) of BLURT
as part of our contemporary garage rock
scene overview featuring, in addition to Segall, the Fresh & Onlys, Sic
Alps and Thee Oh Sees. Ty Segall just completed a US
tour and commences a UK and European trek on
November 7, running through early December; he then tackles a week-long series
of west coast dates Dec. 11-18 to be followed by yet another North American
tour starting Jan. 23. View his full itinerary here. Did we mention he’s an
overachiever?

 

 

[Photos credit: Marty Perez]

 

THE POSSIBILITY OF TRANSCENDENCE Dan Melchior

On the
harrowing yet hauntingly beautiful
The Backward Path, Melchior pays tribute to his wife Letha
while trying to make sense of the impermanence of life.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

 

“This album is for Letha,” says the back cover of The Backward Path (Northern Spy), the
most personal and introspective Dan Melchior album yet. Letha, if you haven’t
been following along, is Melchior’s wife and sometime band member, who has been
struggling with cancer these last couple of years. The two of them have been
engaged in a draining battle against health insurers and medical
establishments, drug providers and the deadly disease itself.  There is a very good article about exactly how
daunting the last two years have been for them at Indy
Week
, and if, after reading it, you feel that you want to help, there is a PayPal account set up to defray
Letha’s medical expenses.

 

Melchior wrote and recorded The Backward Path during a time when his wife was becoming
increasingly sick, a time when it must have become clear that he might lose her.
As a result, the album is very serious, at times, quite sad, and also touched
by a kind of mysticism.  There are seven
instrumental interludes tucked between verse-chorus songs, which seem through
abstraction, muted noise, fleeting bits of beauty, to suggest the impermanence
of life and the possibility of transcendence.

 

 


Dan Melchior – All The Clocks from The Backward Path by Northern Spy Records

 

 

The songs in between are also full of existential angst –
though leavened with a dark humor. “I have known the emptiness,”
sings Melchior. “It wasn’t my kind of thing. It made me nervous with its lack
of jokes.” Yet as he faces this emptiness,
here and elsewhere on the album, he can’t seem to stop himself from cracking
wise. Who else, spinning abyss-ward in a “Dark Age Tail Spin” would stop to
wonder where his copy of The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks had gotten to?  Who
else, in contemplating the rush from past to future would pause to ask,
venomously, if a few bullet trains and the internet were all we were going to
get from the future? 

 

Melchior is serious even when he’s joking, but he turns
especially, brutally, so late in the album, on “Waves.” The song is, musically,
layered and beautiful, full of space-wandering electronic blips, ghostly traces
of blues guitar and piano, strangled bits of C. Spencer Yeh’s violin. The
sounds themselves come in waves, one running aground, another rushing over it,
the next gathering itself just out of hearing. Melchior sings over all this,
contemplating the emptiness lying
ahead somewhere and the exhausting struggle it will take to get there. “Still
you want to breathe, you don’t want to shut down, you don’t want to get buried
in dead thoughts,” he murmurs.

 

The
Backward Path
is a lovely, extremely moving demonstration of
exactly how a person can go on, not ignoring what’s going on, but not being
beaten down by it either, and continuing to make art from the rawest of raw
materials.

 

The
Letha Melchior Rodman Cancer Fund: http://melchiorfund.blogspot.com

 

Letha’s
Happy Hospital Funtime Blog! http://lethashappyhospitalfuntime.blogspot.com