Monthly Archives: April 2013

TIME TO GET ILL: Psychic Ills


Catching a contact high with Brooklyn’s best psych band.


 Collecting rock art, winding up in jail while touring with the Butthole Surfers, road tripping across China and appreciating New York City avant-drone forefathers The Godz are just some of the talking points covered in conversation with Tres Warren, frontman for the Brooklyn-based nouveau head rockers Psychic Ills. Yet in spite of such out-there interests and experiences the band, rounded out by members Elizabeth Hart (bass), Chris Millstein (drums), Scott Ryan Davis (Guitar) and Scott Davis (keyboard), has shed some of the harsh experimentalisms of their earlier works to give way for their most ear-friendly album to date in One Track Mind. Working alongside underground rock icon Neil Michael Hagerty (Pussy Galore, Royal Trux, The Howling Hex) in the producer’s chair, the Ills peel away the raga-drenched dissonance enough to reveal their chops as rock songwriters of the highest order as their Spaceman 3 fixations manifest themselves into something closer to an unholy union of The Dream Syndicate at their most out-there and Munki­-era Jesus & Mary Chain. One Track Mind is currently available at an indie record shop near you. (Below” “One More Time.”)

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 BLURT: How did you acquire 13th Floor Elevators songwriter Powell St. John for the cover art of One Track Mind?

TRES WARREN:  I bought a print of that piece from Powell a while back.  If I ever have any money, which isn’t often, I like to buy art from musicians.  I have a painting from Bobby Beausoleil and some other odds and ends.  Anyway, I always liked the piece.  It’s called “True Happiness” and when I asked if we could use it for our record, Powell and his wife Toby were nice enough to give us their blessing.

What is the Beausoleil piece you bought like and how did you acquire it?

 The piece is called “Odin’s Eye”—he painted it for me.  I have spoken to him off and on in recent years after buying a couple prints from him through his wife Barbara, who sadly has recently passed away.  I’m a big fan of his music and am glad to have seen the re-issues happening.

Have you ever attempted to purchase one of Captain Beefheart’s paintings?

 No way man, but if you’re buying, I’m in.  I’m really too broke to have bought the ones that I did, but I don’t regret it.  I love Beefheart, though.

Going back to the cover for One Track Mind, did you give Powell free reign on the concept or were the skulls something you specifically had in mind?

 It already existed as a work of art.  I like the skulls, some people read it as a dark thing, but I like how they seem like their laughing or smiling at each other.

 Is there a particular favorite lyric or song St. John wrote for the 13th Floor Elevators you can recall?

 All those songs are great.  I’ve always liked “Monkey Island” the best, however:

Living on Monkey Island baby

Right in the middle of a zoo

Living on Monkey Island

Pretending to be a monkey, too

How do you interpret those lyrics in your own mind?

 I don’t know, maybe living in the zoo of life—aping the other apes?

What inspired you to seek out Neil Hagerty to work with you on this new album?

 I like his music and I wanted someone else to help me break some habits.  The timing was just sort of a coincidence.  I had talked to him about it before, but the timing wasn’t right then.

What is your favorite era of Hagerty’s career?

 I like a lot of Royal Trux records, but lately I’ve been listening to his first solo record, Neil Michael Hagerty again.  To me it has a solo artist/songwriter kind of vibe, but it’s got a lot of dimension that stretches it beyond just that.  I don’t try to figure out his systems, I just like the loose framework of his songs.  I like the playing too.

What is it about the first Neil solo album that most appeals to you?

 I just like the songs.  They’re rooted in a lot of stuff that I’m into, but have their own thing going on that doesn’t adhere to anything.  They can get pretty far out while still having a pop sensibility.  That’s a combination that a lot of things don’t have, and if you try for it, you probably won’t get it.  Whiplash in The Park and I Found A Stranger are my jams on that record.


How do you feel his input enhanced the outcome of One Track Mind?

 I like his back up vocals on “Might Take A While”.  I recorded those back ups and asked him to re-sing them, and I like him doing them more than me.  I also like the weird guitar stuff he put on “I Get By”.  I like his mixes of the songs, too.

What was the trickery involved in his guitar work on “I Get By”?

I don’t really know.  I play some rhythm and lead and there’s a break and an outro that he played on.  I don’t really know what he did, but I like it.

What other outside producers would you be interested in working with in the future and why?

 I’m on a Terry Manning kick lately, so I’ll say him.  I like a lot of records he’s worked on and I like his solo record Home Sweet Home.

What is it about Home Sweet Home that most appeals to you? What are some of your favorite Stax and Ardent albums he worked on?

 I’m just a sucker for this country-rock/blues-rock stuff and I like it even more when it’s a little weird, and that’s what’s going on, on that record.  I got to him through all the early ZZ Top records.  I’ve been trying to find the Furry Lewis record that he recorded.  I need to further investigate the Stax correlation, but speaking of Stax, I’ve been listening to this Don Nix record that came out on Stax/Enterprise called ‘Hobos, Heroes and Street Corner Clowns.’  It’s worth a listen, and if you don’t know him, he wrote ‘Goin Down’ made popular by a lot of other people like Freddie King, Leon Russell and J.J. Cale.  I think that song was an inspiration for ‘One Track Mind.’

Really dig the increased role of guitars on One Track Mind. Was that a conscious decision on the band’s part for these songs to be more riff-oriented than your previous work? What guitarists do you feel have real estate in your DNA?

 I’ve played guitar for a long time.  I spent a while trying to convince myself I wasn’t a guitar player, then I gave up and decided to just do what I know how to do.  I like a lot of guitar players, some recent favorites have been: James Burton, Ralph Mooney, Brij Bhushan Kabra, Mance Lipscomb, Ron Asheton & Bo Anders Persson.

What led to the Moon Duo split 7-inch? Are there plans for any future collaborations with your sonic peers? 

 I think that was suggested by Caleb or Taylor at Sacred Bones, but we were all into the idea.  We knew each other from playing shows together and we remixed a song of theirs for their Mazes Remixed record.

How do you approach a remix from the Psychic Ills POV? Have you had any more offers to remix other material?

 I just listen to the song and try to give something new to it.  I just did a remix for this cool band from Chile called Föllakzoid.  I don’t have anything else planned, but I’m open to it.

         We don’t have any collaborations planned.  We’re just going to tour a lot and then work on some songs I have in my back pocket during the down time.

Regarding that killer cover of The Godz’ “Radar Eyes”–how did you first get into that band and what album of theirs would you recommend to first time listeners?

 I can’t even remember the first time I heard The Godz, but I’ve loved that song in particular for a while.  I hope we did it justice.  They’re an interesting band, if I was recommending them, I guess I’d say go with the first one, Contact High With The Godz.  Jim McCarthy also has a cool solo record called Alien.  It’s more of songwriter type album, I like that one a lot too.

What do you believe is most interesting about them?

 I’m not an authority on them, but I guess they cover a lot of different territory.  Y’know you’ve got a song like ‘Down By The River’, that is this amazingly simple hypnotic folk song and then there’s also songs like ‘Riffin’ where they’re doing Lyndon B. Johnson impersonations—there’s a lot in between too.

Do you have any good road stories from touring with the Butthole Surfers?

 Well the road ended in jail outside of El Paso, how’s that?  I don’t really want to elaborate, but since you asked.  But the Butthole Surfers were great to watch and to hang with every night.

Would love to hear all about your trip to China. What did you have a chance to check out while you were there?

 China was pretty amazing.  It was a real interesting place. We did some walking around Beijing because we were there for a few days.  We saw the Forbidden City and the Lama Temple, but the rest of the time we were just traveling in and out of cities before and after shows.

How was your music received?

 It’s hard to say.  I don’t really know how it’s received when we’re not in a foreign country.  But every place we played was really cool and all the people that came out or that we played with were really cool, regardless of how much they knew going into it.

Did you discover any cool new bands on a local level over there?

 There’s a lot of music going on over there right now particularly in Beijing.

        There a cool bar there called XP that has a variety of cool rock and experimental music happening every night.  From what I could gather, it seemed to be the meeting ground in some ways.  We saw a lot of cool music there.

 How is music such as the kind you make accepted in that country on a cultural level?

 It seems like a lot of people are just excited about music happening, so on that level, it seemed like people were into it.  They have a pretty young music history in some ways.  You don’t go to a flea market and find stacks of vinyl, because they weren’t pressing it and they weren’t allowing it in from other places.  People weren’t doing bands until the last 10 or 15 years, so in some ways anything is fair game, which makes it sort of cool to be young and forming a band.  They don’t have history to be concerned with.

[Photo Credit: Samantha Casolari]

The band is currently on tour in Europe. Check tour dates at the Sacred Bones label website.



From southern popsters Seven Simons to a stint with The The and an almost-stint with the Church, guitarist Keith Joyner has always been about taste and restraint. His latest outfit should be the one to bring him to wide acclaim.


In an alternate universe Keith Joyner is an acknowledged guitar hero, positioned somewhere between Nels Cline and Johnny Marr on the greatness continuum; in ours he remains largely unknown, though he has had a few tantalizing stabs at broader recognition.

 His first band, Seven Simons, shared a manager with R.E.M. (Mr. Jefferson Holt) but, despite releasing two excellent albums—Clockwork (1988) and Four Twenty-Four (1991)—and touring with The Fixx, they failed to gain traction outside their native Southeast. In 1993, in what must have seemed a massive coup for the young musician, Joyner replaced Johnny Marr in the touring lineup of The The, hopscotching the globe in support of the hugely successful Dusk album. Unfortunately, this incarnation of the band never made it into the studio. A couple years later he was tapped by Marty Willson-Piper of The Church to serve as a live replacement for that band’s other guitarist, Peter Koppes, who had recently quit. Joyner and Willson-Piper rehearsed rigorously, but the proposed tour was scrapped and Koppes returned to the fold shortly thereafter. Mr. Joyner returned to his semi-obscurity.

If there is any justice in the world, The Sound of Leaving—Joyner’s latest release with multi-instrumentalist Chris Candelaria under the Twinstar moniker, and released on their own Commercial Suicide Recordings imprint—ought to finally raise the profile of this unsung virtuoso. The album’s qualitative improvement over its predecessors owes much to the duo’s maturing songcraft, yet I would be remiss in not giving some credit to the impressive supporting cast, which includes David Newton of The Mighty Lemon Drops, Joe Higgins of AM Radio, Chris Carmichael (a sometime collaborator with Allison Krauss), David Roland, and Erin Barnes. Sonically this dream team aims for a sweet spot between the baroque pomp of Tears for Fears and the loping groove of Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac.  (The current touring band lineup, as listed on their Facebook page, inclues Joe Higgins, Johnny Joyner and Michael Ashton.)

 To these ears, that is pure win. (Below, “The Man They Came For” video, directed by Sean Fawcett and Joyner.)

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Twinstar seem drawn to the quiet spaces these days. Apart from a few notable “rock” moments, the album generally forsakes distortion and bombast in favor of strings, layered guitars, and exquisitely crafted melodies. This musical warmth adds color and shape to lyrics that are, at their best, evocative and alluringly open-ended. A general theme of ambivalence—particularly of the spiritual variety—pervades throughout, as exemplified by the following snapshots: “What will ensue will endure / all the more reason not to choose” (from “Can You Walk Away with Nothing?”); “I’m still not sure what I know” (“Nowhere); “Curse on the heart, Belief in the lie / These are the myths you’ll seek to defy” (“A Shadow Path”); “Lucifer could never invent this mess for the rest of us… I’ll die wishing  I knew where the answers were” (“Young Junk”); “So I took a torch to the fiction that follows the truth” (“The Traveler’s Dream”); “So much for truth and honesty / I’ve found my illusion” (“Sold”).

You get the drift. He’s losing his religion, and finding it, and losing it, and so on. That’s a fairly universal sentiment and, married with the music, it comes across beautifully here. But Joyner’s writing is not without its weak spots: occasionally the sublime gives way to the cold and stilted. Those moments are fleeting, however, and even when they occur, the earnest and soulful musicianship (along with Joyner’s newly confident singing) keeps the wings from icing over.

 This current iteration of Twinstar anachronistically places craftsmanship and melody at the forefront. Their songs are pop of the best sort: superficially buoyant yet also, for those listeners who wish to dig deeper, emotionally and intellectually engaging. Additionally, the production has a pleasingly organic feel—though this may in fact be an illusion; according to Joyner, the album was recorded entirely “at home,” so it’s likely it was tracked digitally in ProTools or some similar application. Yet perhaps because of the talent of the musicians involved as well as the intimate setting of its creation, the album channels the analog warmth of a bygone era. The Fleetwood Mac comparison seems apt here; like that band’s pivotal records from the ‘70s, The Sound of Leaving will almost surely continue to sound great decades after its creation. But will anyone be listening? Perhaps that’s beside the point. Beauty loses none of its splendor if shared by only a few.

 Twinstar band



BLURT'S BEST KEPT SECRET #21 - The Bonesetters

All the way from Muncie: on their debut album Savages the up-and-coming Indiana rockers make good on the Midwest dream.


 The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s the Bonesetters, from the Indianapolis area (technically, Muncie, Indiana). This makes our 21st  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: “They don’t necessarily sound like a lot of bands but they fit well in the Midwestern construct of talented groups crafting a complex sound out of relatively simple ingredients. Sparse guitar melodies, both plugged and unplugged, are appointed with spartan rhythmatism, unexpected instrumental counterpoints (mariachi trumpet, keening violin, gentle vibes, wheezing harmonium) and a quiet sense of Indie Rock urgency on Savages, Bonesetters’ full-length debut from late last year. It’s easy to understand why Muncie loves Bonesetters, it’s harder to understand why they don’t play here all the bloody time.”

 The young band, spearheaded by Dan Snodgrass, got started in 2009 and have been steadily amassing a regional following, particularly following the December ’11 release of Savages. When they popped up in our Sonicbids folio, we quickly gravitated to their earthy-yet-atmospheric sound, which in addition to the above-referenced vibe, brings to mind such BLURT faves as My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Lord Huron, Tame Impala and the Avett Brothers. Yes, if that sounds like a mashup of roots-rockin’ Americana and shoegaze-tinged dreampop, run with it. Pardon the unsolicited hype, but what the hell: the more we listen to these guys, the more smitten we become.

 According to an email from Snodgrass, “We are doing a 7″ this spring and a split EP in the fall with our buds Hotfox. In between we’ll be working on the follow up to Savages.”

 Below, read the email interview we conducted with the band recently, and also check out their official website or Facebook page for additional details as well as song samples. They’re one of the good ‘uns, trust us. (Bands, go to to submit and have us review your materials for feature consideration.)


Dan Snodgrass – Singer/Songwriter, Guitar; Vocals
Sam Shafer – Trumpet, Songwriter, Vocals/Keys/Guitar
Cody Davis – Drums
Drew Mallott – Bass, Backing vocalist
Joe Fawcett – Vocals, keys, Violin

(Below: “Savages” and “Bruises” at Lounge)

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BLURT: First of all, what is the origin of and/or meaning behind the band name? Any doctors or orthopedists in the band?

SAM SHAFER: The band name was already set before I was around but I’ve always liked it. I explain it as a bonesetter being a predecessor to a modern doctor or chiropractor – so a healer. I have always found music to be especially healing. I think of our music in that way and I hope others do as well.
        DAN SNODGRASS: I just really liked the name. I did a stint as a solo dude for a few months and went on the road for a week. The backing band needed a name so I figured that’d be a good one. That was a completely different project, but the name stuck with me. I like the idea of healing, especially through sound which is the closest form of touch. No one in the band has mended any ligaments that I know of, but I’m sure if there was a dire need for it we could give it a good shot.

Tell me a little about when and how the band came together – what are some of the members’ previous musical endeavors, backgrounds, influences, etc.? And for Dan specifically, as the principal songwriter, what inspires you, and what do you think makes this band unique?

 SAM:  I first saw Dan play with the first incarnation of the Bonesetters at The Village Green Record Store in Muncie. There was a mandolin, a saw, a drum kit and of course Dan on acoustic. I immediately was struck by Dan’s vocal delivery, it has so much presence. We met afterwards and had some beers at Moe’s Tavern that night. I suggested that trumpet would be a welcome addition. We became fast friends and working with Dan is almost effortless. Many times I’ve gone to Dan with some chords and within minutes we have a song worked out for it. I still have my demo of “Savages” which was only the intro/verse, upon bringing it to the band we had a song hammered out in a half-hour.

        The members in this band have become my best friends and in many ways, family. Dan, Cody, and I live together. Drew lives about a 5 minute walk away and Joe lives a block away which is where we practice. In the studio last month, while others were tracking, Drew and I discovered that we are both are at the same level of mastery of GoldenEye on Nintendo 64, which to me is almost as unique as a fingerprint. Cody and Joe are both amazing cooks, I was joking the other day that, “if this doesn’t work out we could have a killer restaurant” and I was serious. Dan has this strange obsession with comic books and showed me this one called “King City” and it’s an absolute gem. I can’t imagine not being with these people, there’s nothing we couldn’t do.

        DAN: This band has had many incarnations and many members kind of coming and going. We started mainly as a folk outfit, then slowly turned toward more rock sensibilities. Right now we have a pretty tight outfit. Drew (our bassist) has played in several bands from Muncie and Indy in the past, as has Joe (our violinist). This is the first band Cody has played drums for.
        Everyone works to write the songs and we all work so well together, so I don’t know if “primary songwriter” is a mantle I hold. Sam and/or I will come up with a chord progression, generally, but Cody has come up with some things for vocals or lyrics. We all are represented by our parts, and unified in our sound. It’s a mixed bag that I think works really well as a musical statement. E PLURIBUS UNUM, and all that.  Each part inspires some other part in the band and that shapes what we do, where we go, and where we are capable of going.

How about the making of your Savages album – where did you create that, and how did it evolve?
SAM: Savages was an exciting time for us all. I was just about to graduate. We lived together in a house on Main St in Muncie just blocks from our favorite watering hole “Savages.” In many ways it is an homage to that time in our lives and the hops (I mean hopes) and fears of the future. It was recorded in Frank Reber’s basement studio by our dear friend Jayson Homyak in about a week. Mixed by the ears of Tyler Watkins and mastered to sweet warm tape by Sean McConnell.
        DAN: It was very interesting. I’d worked on recordings for other people in studios, but this was my first time with material for a band I wrote for. We did live tracking for beds and overdubbed sooo much of the record, each day there were new ideas for little parts that could coast into others or create a wall. I love wall-of-sound style records like All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, or Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Just throw everything at the wall and see what picture it creates.
        The studio is really where I feel most comfortable. The songs that we recorded for the first record had been around for over a year, and the amount of creativity that happened in the studio was probably the peak we had for those songs in that entire time. The initial strikes are great but, when you can build something more out of what you had, you can make it so much better! Or I guess that can go the other way, too, and polish a turd. God, I hope they weren’t turds. Haha!

Who the heck is Shaun Gannon, and why are you singing about him? (The song “You Are Shaun Gannon” is one of the highlights of Savages.) Are we talking the street fighter or the culture blogger/author/poet?

SAM: Shaun Gannon is a poet friend of ours. To me his style would have been perfectly at home with the beat poets. He has a poem entitled “I am Shaun Gannon” in which he shouts “I am Shaun Gannon” followed by prose over and over. i.e. “I am Shaun Gannon and my heart is a pile of needles left out in the sun.” (There is a YouTube video of this here: Our song is titled “You Are Shaun Gannon.” We considering calling the first album “You are lore, you are free.” From Dan’s line “O Shaun Gannon were you shot from a cannon? you are lore, you are free.”

        DAN: He’s really a great guy, and a great friend of our old bassist, Ryan Rader. They were in a poetry group with Dan Bailey, Jeremy Bauer (our old saw player) and Joe McHugh called “Death March”. I wrote this about the time I met Shaun and the imagery is inspired by the greatly odd and profound representation of himself he has in his poem. He is a lightning bolt that strikes wherever he happens to be that day.

One thing that struck me listening to the tunes on your Sonicbids EPK was how they had such a seamless blend of ‘70s-tilting powerpop and contemporary dreampop. But I’m curious to know where YOU feel you fit in, and how useful are these kinds of pigeonholing efforts to a young band in the larger context?

 SAM: When asked, I usually say “rock and roll.” We have heard many comparisons to music that we do listen to and stuff we’ve never heard of. For example, of the bands you mentioned I have only heard of Tame Impala and Calexico. I think the biggest things we have tried to accomplish are: 1. Trying to make music that will stand the test of time and 2. What we want to hear. Obviously people have a need to categorize music – especially in print or conversation. As for us, we are still growing musically every day.
        DAN: I agree that we’re firmly footed in rock and roll, now. We get compared to some great acts, and that’s always flattering. Really, Sam hit it on the head, we’re making music we’d like to hear and perform. If that’s music other people would like to listen to, as well, that’s fantastic! We’ve been called some far out stuff by fans and blogs, though, too. It’s funny, because one week we sound like “rock fused with folk” the next we’re “post-rock”. We must be a hard pony to pin down.

Describe the band live. How do audiences respond to you?
SAM: I think Muncie/Indy is still our real fanbase and we usually have a great turnout here. Everywhere else is kind of up to the night. Sometimes we play to 10 people (counting bar staff), sometimes it’s a full house. What has really struck me is the generational accessibility. I have had people much older be so gracious about our music to me. Also we had a young girl with her mom at the Murat come up to have us autograph her album after the show. Autographing an album is an awesome feeling, but very strange – we are modest guys.
        DAN: I’d say the band live is pretty tight and uniform, we know each other very well and I think it shows. My favorite reaction was in Cleveland when we were playing at Brite Winter Festival last month, and this older gentleman was gyrating in his chair to the music while his little grandson danced. That was pretty funny, and I think an illustration of what Sam said.

Biggest milestone(s) or successes to date? Biggest disappointment(s)?
SAM: The free Indianapolis weekly alternative newspaper called NUVO gave our record a glowing 5 star review IN PRINT! I saved about 20 copies for myself and family….

Biggest disappointment for me personally was forgetting my keyboard when we opened the main stage at Midpoint Music Festival last year. I could just feel something was wrong the whole drive there. We changed the set-list to accommodate my huge mistake and it wasn’t too obvious. Though I did play one of our songs “Day of the Dead” on guitar for the first time on that stage.

        DAN: Man, so many for me. Opening the Main Stage at Midpoint was amazing, as was Brite Winter Fest this year with nearly a full venue to play to. We’ve gotten to work with some amazing people and do some pretty great things over the past few years. I’ve been disappointed sometimes, but only if I forget lyrics or something. Even then I laugh it off. If you see me laughing on stage that means I just did or said something wrong, haha!

Tell us a little about the Indianapolis/Muncie area music scene. Is it supportive and nurturing of original independent music? Can a working musician make a living being based out of Indianapolis?
SAM: Indy is an awesome place to be musically. There is a great pool of musicians and bands as well as a culture that is really serious about live music. As for the infrastructure, I sometimes miss Muncie dearly. Ball State was very nourishing of arts and music, we played on campus many times. In Muncie, you can bike anywhere in ten minutes or less whereas everything in Indy is about 25 minutes away by car. We are fortunate to live in Fountain Square just next to downtown which is a very cheap place to live and therefore attracts a lot of musicians and young professionals. Sometimes we make a little money at shows but not for the bills. All band money stays with the band for equipment and booking on Sonicbids. We’re saving for a van right now. We all have day jobs.
        DAN: MOKB, Cataracts, A-Squared and a whole bunch of other promoters bring some amazing acts through town, too. Indy is growing so fast when it comes to the arts. I went to college (briefly) in Indy, and I disliked it because everything is so commute driven. Everything seemed gray to me. Moving back to the city some years later, I feel like the community has greatly improved for the arts and everyone is lifting everyone else up. It’s a good time to be in Indianapolis right now!

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

 SAM: The horizon looks bright for us. We’ve been talking about serious national touring when our lease is up in August. We recently did a weekend in Ohio hitting Cinci, Columbus and Cleveland which was a blast and my first real experience on the road. We met some really great people and stayed with bands we played with on the way. We stayed in a beautiful old German church in Cinci with a full pipe organ and were able to practice in the sanctuary. In Columbus I was blown away by the bands we played with, “Cliffs” and “Comrade Question” and we are trying to work out some shows with them in Indy. In Cleveland (after a drive through the worst snow/ice/crap storm I’ve ever driven through in my life) we played Brite Winter Festival in a double-shotgun style art gallery. It was an ingenious setup with one band playing one side while the other loaded in and sound-checked. To top it off they put us up in the Hilton Gardens! We fully stocked the mini-fridge with beers from Great Lakes Brewing Company. We hung with our pals “The Bears of Blue River” and stayed up until the pool reopened at like 5 or 6 to swim in our underwear! We’re now booking a week tour to NYC and back for May.

        Our new recordings will be finished in a few weeks though I’m not exactly sure on the format. I still like the idea of a split 7″ with “Hotfox” – those guys are immensely talented and close friends. We have 6 solid songs down and at least 2 dozen in the works to cull from for our next full-length. My car is down to the radio so I listen to demos at work while making pizzas.

        DAN: Recording wise, I think we are going to put out these latest recordings with Rhed Rholl Recordings out of Nashville – not sure exactly which format for that right now, as an E.P. I’m booking shows like crazy right now for us, and working on new songs to hopefully record this summer for a full length release sometime next year. I’m constantly busy with details on our projects, so that’s good! Hopefully, when our lease is up in August we can become vagabonds of sound, but currently with no van it may be safe just to save up over the next year, and tour every chance we get on weekends or one week trips.



The TX-born, NC-bred, Brooklyn-based songwriter shares a few thoughts on the collaborations that resulted in Traveling Alone.


 As the title of her Yep Roc full-length debut suggests, Tift Merritt is something of a wandering soul. Throughout Traveling Alone she sings about people searching for a place to call their own. In separate songs, she describes people who have “a taste for traveling alone,” “driving without destination,” and waking “on this foreign shore,” while admitting “I’m still not home.”

 It’s not like hopefulness is absent here, however. In “To Myself,” Merritt confides that “I want you to myself…you know I want you to stay.” And a sense of optimism grows in the following tune, “In My Way,” when she asserts, “One day I’ll never be lonely/Oh yeah, it will be something.”

 These feelings of seeking and finding happiness are wonderfully encapsulated in “Sweet Spot.” This superb, and central, track reveals not only her lyrical themes, but also exemplifies the musical “sweet spot” Merritt and producer Tucker Martine, who also helmed her last album, See You On The Moon, achieve here. Making excellent use of a stellar supporting cast (guitarist Mark Ribot, pedal steel player Eric Haywood, drummer John Convertino, bassist Jay Brown and keyboardist Rob Burger), Merritt and Martine craft a captivating sound that is warmly organic yet embellished with subtly vibrant sonic textures. For example, Ribot’s forceful but never florid playing (check out “Still Not Home”) particularly fortifies Merritt’s bittersweet Americana.

 Merritt’s alluring twang-soul vocals — laid-back, lilting and lightly bruised—suggest at times Emmylou Harris and Iris Dement, and she hits an additional high point during a duet with Andrew Bird, who plays a Roy Orbison-like role on “Drifting Apart.” Throughout the disc, Merritt sounds relaxed and confident which nicely balances the sense of uncertainty that her lyrics hold. Filled with straight-from-the-heart vocals, emotionally honest lyrics and sophisticated roots-based arrangements, Traveling Alone recalls Harris’ landmark Wrecking Ball — and stands as Merritt’s long-awaited breakthrough album.


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Blurt: How did Traveling Alone come about? Did you have a set of songs already or did the songs evolve more during the recording?

TIFT MERRITT: This album started out as a tiny seed that had no idea what it was going to be.  I think you have to start writing without a destination in mind.  That’s much more honest. I’d rather let the work speak and announce itself.

        At a certain point, I knew I wanted to make a record live off the floor with a really great cast around me, in part because I didn’t have a ton of cash on hand and mostly because that is what is most interesting to me right now as a musician – performance, being in the moment, not hiding, not prettying things up.  I wanted to try to hold my own that way. (I never go into the studio without a lot of songs in my pocket.  I do think you need to leave a room for magic, but writing is something I don’t do off the cuff.)

 Was there one song in particular that served as a jumping off point for the album?

  “Sweet Spot” was something of a declaration of purpose.  Though there are times where reaching and stretching are very important creatively, but this wasn’t that moment.  I wanted to make a record that was very comfortable in its own skin, raw and real.   And have that be enough.  Then at some point, I wrote Traveling Alone, I thought ok, I think I know where I’m going now.  Things came into focus.


Did you have specific objectives when you went in to record these songs or did you go in open to where the sessions would take you?

There’s always a leap of faith that you have to take wholeheartedly. We had 8 days.  I wanted to make a performance record.  I wanted to create a world where the listener felt like they were in the room with us and overhearing a really special moment.  I wanted to have really special people around me.  I wanted to not try too hard, feel very real and comfortable.  That was our plan and we kept to it.   The rest was up to the moment.

 This is your second straight album with Tucker Martine as producer; what did you like from See You On The Moon that you wanted to continue and what new directions did you want to explore?

Tucker brings out the best in people – he is gentle and kind and lovely.  He really paid attention to my demos.  I’m not sure anyone had ever done that for me before so lovingly. This time we had the limitation of time and the point of view of making a performance record.  With Moon, we wanted to build out from a guitar, not immediately assume that a song called out for a band treatment. 

The music has a very interesting sound that mixed spare qualities with sonic textures? Was that something you wanted or something that resulted in your collaboration with Tucker Martine and the backing musicians?

There were a lot of great tones going on and a lot of respect for open space.  The open space was like a member of the band. There was some heavy duty listening going on from everyone —


 What did the other musicians – like Marc Ribot, Jay Brown, Andrew Bird, John Convertino and Eric Heywood – bring to the recording?

 It’s hard to put it into words how much they brought.  Everyone played with so much heart and you can hear that on the recording.  They listened so deeply.  They really gave of themselves.  The feeling, the groove, the open space. They met me where I was trying to go and took it all even further.  I can’t thank them enough for that.  It is a truly extraordinary group of folks.  The sonic world would not have been complete without any one of them.  It was an incredible musical conversation and such a supportive family. When you play with such soulful musicians – there’s nothing else like it.   

 Traveling Alone was recorded in 8 days. How much rehearsal time did you get to do with Martine and the other musicians?

I practiced those songs every single day for a really long time.  I wanted to be very way deep down in it before we got in there. Eric & Jay & John & I had toured together for a long weekend.  (I’ve played with Jay for 15 years and Eric for several years so that helps too).  The first time we rehearsed, I saw the new songs stand up and walk on their own – I was awfully relieved.  Then my car broke down on the way to the gig!  My dad picked us up on the side of the road and everyone just laughed about it all and pulled together.  I had a good feeling about it all after that weekend.  And of course Tucker and I talked about songs for a very long time.


 The themes of traveling and searching weave throughout the album. Were these themes that you wanted to deal with or did they surface more after the fact?

Traveling definitely emerged as a theme, but I don’t brand themes on the songs’ foreheads before they are born.  Themes happen naturally as you mull what you are mulling.  The question of how to make meaning in the world is a constant with an ever evolving answer.  Being an artist or a musician is a constant kind of traveling.  Being really alive is a constant kind of traveling.  I like the idea of traveling alone as a way to talk about inner life without sounding like a big jerk.  Grit, cowboy towns, worn out leather as opposed to something lost in the ether.

 Are you looking forward to playing the album live?

 I’m really excited to play these songs and be a musician and wear out some strings and dig in a little out there. I’m really excited about how the band is sounding.  I’m really proud of this record. 

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I just finished a collaboration with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein which comes out [this spring] spring, called Night.  [Due March 13 via Sony Masterworks, it contains classical compositions, Merritt-penned tunes and traditionsl country/gospel numbers] We collaborated on a concert to find where our musical worlds meet.  I’ve learned so much from her.  She’s made me better.



An edited version of this interview appeared in issue #13 of BLURT. Tour dates here:




[Photo Credit: Parker Fitzgerald]



MESSIN' WITH THE KID - Samantha Crain

Drawing from her own experiences, an intuitive singer/songwriter goes face to face with her own Kid Face.




By the time she was a mere 22, Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain could already claim an impressive resume, one spurred on by the critical kudos accorded by an EP called Confiscation and its striking follow-ups, Songs in the Night and You (Understand)  And while it may be tempting to focus solely on her heartland roots and think of her solely as simply another wistful troubadour, Crain is way too savvy to be typecast so easily. For starters, she possesses a voice of unusual dexterity, one that can shift and soar as circumstances dictate. For another, her songs possess an urgency and emotion that veer from the cryptic and to the compelling.


Kid Face, Crain’s latest offering and her third full-length effort to date, released this week on respected NC indie Ramseur, finds her in an autobiographical vein, accompanied by a sound that stirs her template and adds a new edge and intensity in the process. According to Crain, she experienced a certain catharsis as a result of writing and recording the material. “I think most of my songs, from the very beginning, even the fictional story ones, have an anxious and rattled sound to the vocal and lyrical content,” she affirms. “That is plausibly because I, like many other songwriters, poets, and painters, use art as an outlet and for therapy, a method to delineate their emotions and thoughts. With ‘Taught to Lie’ (a track off the new album), that song took only an hour or so to write, but the ideas, the theory, the inklings behind those words, were the result of two or three years of self reflection and examination.”


Nevertheless, Crain wasn’t alone when it came to capturing the sounds she heard in her head. Anne Lillis, a member of Crain’s touring band for the past two years, was invited to assist with the writing and also played drums and percussion. Daniel Foulks added the string parts, Kyle Reid supplied the various guitars, John Calvin Abney played keyboard and synth, while Brine Webb contributed bass. John Vanderslice, an accomplished solo artist in his own right, produced the set.


While she took her time in rumination, Crain also claims that there was a certain amount of spontaneity applied to the creative process. I can’t say that I ever find myself preparing for an album,” she suggests. “I make the album when I have the songs and the conviction to record them. The biggest difference in the actual recording process was that I didn’t make demos. Most producers want demos before you come into the studio, but John didn’t want any. He preferred that we went into the studio without any partisan pictures of the outfits the songs would wear.” 



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Crain’s decision to record an album of an autobiographical nature did require some special consideration however. It’s telling that her bio finds her confessing to being “too normal” to inspire anything that might result in something special. And while it might be argued that most truly creative artists can never really be considered “too normal,” Crain stands by her assertion.


“It depends on what kind of artist you are I guess,” she suggests. “I feel like everyone has the capacity to make art, and there are more artists walking among us then we may think, so in that respect, I do think I’m pretty normal. I mean, I wait tables for half the year when I’m not touring. The touring and making records part might not be normal, but the struggle to pay bills, the family troubles, the bouts of despondency… all that is normal. I think I just thought I always had to be doing something new for people to start paying any attention.  And maybe that’s so, but I’m not an innovator, I’m not in the vanguard.  I’m a remixer — someone who takes pictures and thoughts and sounds and words, throws them into the blender of my brain, and out pours songs that I think are somewhat familiar. And I’m alright with that.”


Crain says she takes her time when it comes to formulating her material. So while her songs may have come quickly early on in her career, these days, they’re the product of careful consideration.


“I’m a magpie of sorts,” she insists. “I have hours of hummed and plucked out melodies, and stacks of journals and folders with pictures, clippings out of magazines, pages ripped out of newspapers, scrawled out thoughts and ideas. The longer I do this and the busier I become, the more I have to make sure I capture the inspiration when it comes, and then I have plenty to work with when I can finally sit down and piece it all together. It isn’t as simple as just sitting down with a guitar and waiting for the hand of God to reach down, although my early songs sometimes felt like that was the process… like I could just sit down and write a whole song in 30 minutes. Although it probably was the whiskey, not the hand of God.” 


Ultimately, Crain’s goal is simple. “I just hope people can relate to the songs,” she muses.  “I know with making an autobiographical album, there is the chance that the universal element can be lost, so I just hope that I was able to connect.”



FIRST NATIONAL MAN - Michael Nesmith

Songwriter and guitarist, cultural visionary and godfather of the music video… oh, and a member of a little ol’ band called The Monkees: currently in the middle of a U.S. tour, the legendary artist was interviewed by our resident Nez freak.



For a guy who just turned 70 a few months ago, Mike Nesmith still has a youthful glow as he makes his way onstage, decked out in a black suit and armed with a 12-string acoustic guitar. Long gone are his sideburns — and to be honest, most of the hair in general. And one other thing is in short supply during his first solo tour in two decades: little more than a passing reference to his tenure in the Monkees.

       Granted, he’s opening the set with “Papa Gene’s Blues,” which appeared on the band’s self-titled debut. That uptempo country shuffle featured guitarist James Burton adding some punchy lead guitar lines after Nesmith’s command, “Play, magic fingers.” Although he has the excellent Chris Scruggs (grandson of Lester) doing some impressive guitar and pedal steel work in his current band, keyboardist Boh Cooper takes a more sedate solo in a version that moves much slower than the original. And while Nesmith announces “Blues” as one of the first songs he ever wrote, he makes no mention of the “band” that made it famous.

    (“Different Drum,” live in Chicago)

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   In the grand scheme of things, Nesmith’s tenure in the Monkees represents three years out of a 50-year career. So, while it would be nice to hear “Circle Sky” (from the band’s unappreciated Head soundtrack) or “Sunny Girlfriend,” he took care of that last fall, when he finally embarked on a brief reunion tour with surviving Monkees Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. Now is the time to focus on his solo albums (more than a dozen), including some solid country rock with the First National Band. The current set runs the gamut from “Joanne” (with a falsetto that proves that his voice is still is fine form even if he occasionally talk-sings through other songs) and “Different Drum” to “Rio” (the easy-going calypso with the groundbreaking video) to “Grand Ennui,” which rocks so hard that Scruggs broke a string during his solo.

        In Pittsburgh, the early portion of the set almost feels a bit like a Pink Floyd performance, with a reliance on slow tempos and the pervasive swell of Cooper’s keyboards. Paul Leim’s electric drums leave a little something to be desired. Nesmith reads from the iPad attached to his microphone stand, setting the scene for each song, (since the “songs play like little movies”), usually involving a man and woman in or on their way out of love.

        Yet while the set-up might have wear thin, Nesmith and his four bandmates gain momentum as the set proceeds, climaxing with the encore of the First National Band’s “Thanx for the Ride.” Not only is this one of the best-written songs of the evening, it features a technological trick that adds to the performance: the late Red Rhodes’ pedal steel solo from the original recording was played in time, along with the band.

 [Full concert, Santa Cruz]

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Nesmith handled interviews via email in the weeks leading up to the tour. In keeping with the focus of the tour, he willingly spoke at length about his whole career, and was less elaborate when asked about the Monkees.

 BLURT: When was the last time you did a tour (aside from the tour you did last fall with Micky and Peter)?

NESMITH: ’92 was the last real tour, I think.  

 Your lyrics often have an almost philosophical bend to them that’s unique for rock or country music. (Song titles like “Propinquity”; lyrics like “Imagination’s empty/it’s bereft of what’s in store” [“More Than We Imagine”]) What inspires that? Have you read a lot of philosophy? Is it metaphorical?

Words and music run through my head most of the time — very nice to have them — and most of the time I just listen and write down what seems salient and new to me. Songs are also a great way for me to express affection, so I try to understand and use the feelings as they arise. This sometimes makes for sweetness, sometimes for thoughtfulness, and sometimes silliness. I never know. I just follow the songs along.


Was music always something you wanted to pursue full-time, or did it just happen while you were doing something else?

The former. From the first time I heard music I have never heard anything else. So it is the informing element of all thought for me — even literature, prose and narrative sing a silent song to me as I read them. Same for speeches, conversation and the sounds of nature — it is one continuous symphony. It also makes for great dreams :). 


Who were your early inspirations? What was it about their music that you really liked?

Oddly diverse: Prez Prado and Bo Diddley, Henry Mancini and Jimmy Reed, Jimmie Rodgers and Marlene Dietrich, and on it goes, one great musical mind after the other. Absolutely all over the place. No rhyme or reason. No end to it. No final arbiter.


The website stated that you did some session work for Stax/Volt. What was that like? Who did you play for?

That is lore based in half-truth. I visited Stax once and jammed a little with the band. Nothing more. 


Has country music always been a big part of the music you wanted to play? I heard one of the singles by Michael Blessing [Nesmith’s pre-Monkees stage name] — “The New Recruit” — which seemed to be more of a folk/protest song. And I know you were checking out bands like the Modern Folk Quartet back in the ‘60s.

I like country music, especially the blues nature of it and later the rock element. But I don’t see the lines of genre. I never know one from the other until I am way off in the margins.  Sometimes I will start with your “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and end up with Tito Puente. Don’t ask me how I got there. But it’s always a “top-down/tune-up” trip.


By the time you started doing albums with the First National Band, there were other groups playing “country rock.” Did you feel sort of an allegiance with Gram Parsons’ solo work or the Byrds?

No, I hadn’t met them and hadn’t really heard them. I was up to my neck in Monkees and FNB was the first step out of that. So John Ware and Red [Rhodes] and John London and I locked ourselves away and learned all these songs that had been laying around. I had no notion of country rock. See above.


What did you think when Dylan did Nashville Skyline?

Didn’t hear too much of it. Johnny Cash played it for me the one time I listened all the way through and he loved it. 


How much touring did you do either by yourself or with the First National Band in the ‘70s? What was it like? Was it a feeling like “now I get to show what I’m really about”? What were the audiences like?

FNB was tough. Lots of ridicule and outright laughter at us as we played. It was hard traveling. No approbation—quite the reverse. Taught me a lot.


Do you keep up with current people playing country or country-rock? It seems like it’s come full circle in a way because there are bands affiliated with underground rock that are inspired by mellower music from the ‘70s. Do you follow this at all?

See above. I can’t tell country rock from Pink. And I can’t tell Pink from Bollywood—except they all sound different and I love all of it.


How often do you get a chance to write new songs?

I write a little every day, and the music plays in my head non-stop. 


Do you have plans for a new album on the horizon?

Always, although there is probably no such thing as an album anymore and likely never will be again.


There’s a whole other side of your career – with your work in video, executive production of films and as an author – which doesn’t always get recognized. How did all that come together? Are you the type of person who always has a number of ideas in your mind at once?

Yes. The directions of thought are infinite—as far as I can see whichever way I look. Sometimes an excursion down these avenues are just like a walk in the park — to relax and enjoy the surroundings—sometimes they turn into a music video or Elephant Parts or MTV. Right now all roads seem to intersect through the net and beyond. 


How did the tour with Micky and Peter come together?

We decided to do it. 


What made it feel like this was the time?

Feels like the end game —a resolution of sorts—and feels like it makes people happy. Does me. 


Do you have any stipulations about doing it (ex: songs you wouldn’t do, onstage shtick)?

No— just a standard of excellence. 


How were rehearsals like? Extensive? Just like riding a bike?

Arduous and long—getting back up the curve. Lots of fun. 


Do you think that, with those shows, you’re able to say, “I’ve done a Monkees set. That’s it.” Or is the door open for future possibilities with them?

Always open.


How much did those performances make you decide to mount this tour?

Not at all. Before the Monkees concerts I did a UK tour that sold out and caused promoters and agents here to offer to put together a solo US tour.


One review mentioned that this was the first time “Daily Nightly” had ever been performed live. When you worked it up for the shows, did you try to recreate the feel of the original or just focus on the composition itself? Did it bring back feelings of the mood on the Sunset Strip?

No, Mick and I were just fooling around and it was fun to play and funny to do. So it was in the show. 


Speaking of the mood of that era, how did you feel about Lyndon Johnson when he was president? Did the fact that he was from Texas have any impact on how you viewed him?

I was very unhappy about the Viet Nam war. It was a real conflict for me because I felt a lot of compassion and sorrow for the fighters. I lost a close friend there. One day he was sending letters and cheery, the next he was gone when his chopper was shot down. I blamed LBJ for the continuance of that war — but this was before I came to understand that politicians have almost nothing to say about anything. They are like leaves on a raging river. I have released LBJ and the others.  


Is there anything about your music or your career that you’d like to add, or anything you don’t get asked about that you’d like to mention?

No – it’s a moving picture. Changes all the time. 


Nesmith’s American tour concludes this week in Alexandria, VA. Tour dates at his official website.



Music vets Oliver Ray (Patti Smith Group) and Winston Watson (Bob Dylan), along with compadre Chris Sauer, reprise the notion of Arizona desert rock in their own vision.


 To hear Saint Maybe tell it, the ancestry of rock ‘n’ roll extends well beyond music.

 Somewhere in that ancestry is the first Neanderthal to paint on a cave wall, the forgotten wisdom in old peasant sayings, the ladder to heaven from Jacob’s dream and also the rock he laid his head upon to sleep.

 Saint Maybe exists in that space where the sacred and the profane meet, in that yearning to find elements of the divine in every day life.

 “The idea is sometimes just to spiritualize things in a way, to ritualize and strive to create a space of reverence for the mystery of everything. That’s definitely the lyrical theme of the record and perhaps of our band,” says guitarist-singer-songwriter Oliver Ray. “It feels like we’re meant to play together, just chemistry wise and it’s not always like that.”

 Saint Maybe’s own ancestry passes through a pair of rock ‘n’ roll’s iconic pioneers – Ray played guitar in Patti Smith’s band and Winston Watson drummed for Bob Dylan – and the band’s debut record arrives with both the accumulated decades of experience playing music and the spark of a new creation.

 “It’s one thing to step into something that’s already made. It’s another thing to shave the sheep, spin the wool and make the thing that you’re going to step into and go out into the world and that’s what we’re doing with this,” Ray says.

(Below: “Someday All of This Will Be Gone”)

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An eight-song, 45-minute album, Saint Maybe’s Things As They Are (just released on limited, gray-marbled vinyl from Tucson’s Fort Lowell Records) is a triumph, along with Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill one of the top psychedelic rock records of the year. During an after-hours chat at Café Aquí, the coffee roastery just south of downtown Tucson that Ray operates, Ray, Watson and guitarist Chris Sauer talked about Saint Maybe’s roots, how coffee informs songwriting and what the band seeks in live performances.

 “We feel like part of a lineage somehow with those people that we played with, or our common references, and it’s almost like a perennial philosophy of rock ‘n’ roll,” Ray says. “There are certain bands where this one spirit flows through and it’s this same thing even if it doesn’t sound the same. This one feeling that I get from seeing live shows, I don’t get that seeing live shows much now. So, it’s like OK, let’s try to do that ourselves, let’s preserve that and keep a certain tradition of music alive.”

 Ray spent 1995 to 2005 playing in Patti Smith’s band. On tour, he met Watson, who played with the Dylan band from 1992 to 1996. Fast forward to 2009: Ray had left Smith’s band and learned the art of coffee roasting in Guatemala; after jamming with old pal Sauer in the Vermont/New York band Psycho Needles, he ultimately convinced his fellow guitarist to move to the Arizona desert.

 The pair went to see Tucson’s annual Wooden Ball show at Club Congress and noticed Watson drumming with the desert blues-rock combo Greyhound Soul. Ray and Watson hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, but fondly remembered when they’d bonded, the two young kids on those A-list tours.

 “That was in a way the birth of the band without us really knowing it, that night,” Ray explains. “I’d passed through Tucson in 1991 and said ‘This is a cool town, I bet I’m going to come back here.’ It was weird, I always thought I was kind of fated to be here and I probably put that in my sales pitch to Chris, sold it as this kind of place where something mystical was happening.”

 Most of the songs on Things As They Are are ones that Ray had been working on for years, starting in Guatemala when he was “processing everything that I’d gone through in the 10 years before.” The publishing name Ray picked for his songwriting, Hierophany Music, reflects that intersection of the sacred and the profane and the life those songs get from Saint Maybe stays true to his vision.

 “What I love about the band and why I feel this is a band, is [the record] actually did come out the way I imagined it would and we didn’t have to communicate about it or calculate it. It wasn’t a struggle. We’ve really been trying to stay out of our heads, not saying ‘We played it this way last time’ or ‘It sounds like this on the record.’ That just shrivels stuff,” Ray says. “The way that we work is kind of like an anarchistic band. We’re very respectful anarchists of each other but we do what we want to do.”

 Saint Maybe plays a feverish type of psychedelic rock built on twisting and slashing guitars and an insistently propulsive beat. They borrow from the great bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s that took to the stage every night in pursuit of something new and fresh, all while looking out at the unknown horizon. Ray calls the band’s debut a “love song for the end of the world.”

 The record came together over two years, with Saint Maybe using the best Tucson has to offer, including Craig Schumacher (Neko Case, Calexico, Iron & Wine) contributing keyboards as well as producing in his Wavelab studio. Also on the album are French-born jazz guitarist Naim Amor, singer-songwriter Tracy Shedd, and bass players Thøger Lund (Giant Sand) and Chris Giambelluca (John Doe, Jackson Browne, Andrew Bird). In between sessions, the band toured the East Coast and California and opened for Patti Smith in Mexico and Los Lobos in Tucson.

 “When I opened up our record, it brought me back to when I was a kid and I brought home Houses of the Holy or something,” Watson says. “When the records came in, I couldn’t get it in my hands and on the platter fast enough and after all that’s been done, that’s pretty big payoff for me. Handcrafted anything now is what everyone is just dying for, and we have that.”

 The band’s name comes from a comment by a friend they jokingly call the “band rabbi” – even though none of us are practicing anythings,” Ray says: “Saint Maybe and the Church of the Second Chance.”

 “It seemed perfect for us at that moment in time. We like Saint Maybe because it’s that sacred and profane mix, which is the same thing with rock ‘n’ roll,” Ray says. “It’s not like going on a meditation retreat, but there is the same amount of possibility of transcendence or ultra-presence or whatever you want to call it. Rock ‘n’ roll can deliver that too.”

 Sauer says that even from the band’s first show (at the now-defunct Red Room venue), he had a sense that things were unfolding, that the band wasn’t playing to make something happen, but rather playing to let something come out.

 “There was a sense of organic presence that was pretty tangible right from the beginning and that’s exciting because no amount of rehearsal will bring you to that,” he says.

 “There’s a shamanistic element to rock ‘n’ roll,” Sauer says. “Forty thousand years ago, there were some people in some higher part of the cave and they were beating drums and dancing around fire and bugging out and the people down watching them started bugging out because they were bugging out and here we are now playing on stage. We strive for that.”

 Watson says his experience in Saint Maybe stands out because of his greater personal investment in the band. Playing with Bob Dylan or Alice Cooper or Warren Zevon had a different feel.

 “I literally had no place to put all my feelings and stuff, and in Oliver’s case these are visions I was invited to color and take my end of it. Contributing to it [is] what kept me up at night. Not everybody does that,” he says. “In the other stuff, it’s so important, there are so many people watching and wondering how you got there and you have this responsibility. When you try to negotiate that, it’s not natural and it’s not your friends and not what you’re used to, but people are counting on you so you go and do it.”

 Watson finds that in Saint Maybe, he can communicate in his own voice, which makes the band and the record more of a personal triumph.

 “When we were playing in Mexico City, I remember looking up, just for a split second, stepping out of character and being a fan from behind my drum kit, which isn’t what you’re supposed to do when you’re responsible for keeping the screws turning. It’s just the way the light was hitting everybody and how beautiful it was. It could’ve been anybody – but here we are, the little band from the desert, communicating with a bunch of strangers. It was an affirmation that whatever it is I’ve been trying to communicate my entire life is still kind of working.”

 For Ray, it was his other passion, roasting coffee, that let him understand Things As They Are just represents a moment in time, not the sole testament to his band and songs. Getting Café Aquí off the ground – complete with its custom-built roaster Simone (named after Nina Simone) – meant some letting go for Ray.

 “It’s been really helpful, amazingly,” he admits. “This is the first record of my own songs that I’ve put out and had to be responsible for. I’ve been thinking about this stuff for two decades almost. I’m a little hesitant about releasing stuff, a little creatively uptight and insecure.”

 “That simple act of turning the sign from closed to open, opening the door and roasting the coffee and letting it go out the door informed for me the whole process of making the record.”

(Below: Live at Club Congress in Tucson)

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He’s also a songwriter, guitarist, banjoist, bandleader and antiques dealer. You got a problem with that?


Otis Taylor plays the blues, but his songs don’t deal with the tribulations of romance and the desire to cut loose on the weekend. Over the course of 13 albums, including When Negroes Walked the Earth, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs and Recapturing the Banjo, Taylor has taken an uncompromising look at racism, slavery, poverty and America’s violent past, but he doesn’t consider himself a protest singer. “I’m a storyteller,” he says. “People are starving and people got lynched, but I never tell people what to think about it. I just tell the stories and let people draw their own conclusions. A good song can convey the story and emotion with very few words. I like people to use their imagination and add their own images to the songs. I’m like a painter that sketches out a picture and lets the viewer see things for themselves. That said, I don’t trip about making money. That frees me and allows me to give people a direct expression of my views.”

 Taylor’s latest album, My World Is Gone, revolves around seven songs about the plight of our country’s Native American population. It was inspired by a conversation Taylor had with Mato Nanji, the extraordinary guitarist that leads the Native American blues-rock band Indigenous. “I was talking to Mato backstage at a Jimi Hendrix Tribute concert and, when I asked about the world of Native people, he said: ‘My world is gone.’ It threw me for a loop and I knew I had to write about those four words. It was a very heavy thing to say, way beyond, ‘My girlfriend left me.’ For him, his world was gone – literally. I’d already started working on an album, but those words changed my direction.”

(Below: “My Rain Is Gone” live)

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For many years, Taylor made his living as an art and antiques dealer, specializing in Native American art, so he had his own life experience to draw on. “I’ve been to the Pine Ridge reservation and Seminole reservations in Florida. In a manner of speaking, the reservation is everywhere. My wife went to a meting of the Denver Historical Society and learned about the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, one of the few songs [on the album] based on a specific event. Most of the songs, like “Lost My Horse” or “Never Been to the Reservation,” could be about anybody.”

 Last year, Nanji and Taylor played together for two days at Taylor’s annual Trance Blues festival, so they were ready to work when the sessions for My World Is Gone began. “I’m also the producer, so I don’t bring in anybody into the studio that I’ve  never jammed with before. I have to set up things correctly, so all the sounds come together. Mato sings better than me and plays strong lead guitar; he wanted to play every [instrument.] I let him steal the show; it was quite an experience.”

 The band played together live in the studio, but Taylor wouldn’t say much more than that about his production technique. “Nobody records like me, so I don’t want to divulge anything, but it doesn’t sound like a song till I put all the parts together. I do the arrangements, but there’s always input from others. It’s all done in the moment; that’s why records have a live feel.

 “I shoot for emotion, not technique. When I make records, I imagine playing for people that are hearing music for the first time. If I make a mistake, I keep it, because mistakes take you to other places. If it’s a mistake made with emotion, then you can’t work around it or correct it, because it will change your direction.” Taylor pauses to laugh. “I ramble on like a crazy man when I talk about my technique. The biggest challenge, is when you mess up, you have to talk to yourself. It’s not a good situation when you’ve just told everyone else what to do, and you can’t do it yourself, but there you are.”

 Many of his regular collaborators rejoin Taylor on My World Is Gone, including cornet player Ron Miles. His cornet meshes perfectly with the sound of Taylor’s banjo, producing instrumental harmonies with a warm, full tone. “One of the things I do well is create bizarre instrumental combinations. No one would think a cornet would sound good with a slide guitar and banjo, but you just find the best musicians you can and let them play together. If I see a great musician, I use him. Ron’s been on my last five albums.”

 Taylor is always looking for new ways to express himself musically, so My World Is Gone includes Congolese guitar rhythms on “Gangster and Iztatoz Chauffeur” and “Green Apples.” He also uses what sounds like bluesy bent notes on the banjo. “They’re not bent notes, but pull offs,” he explains. (Pulling the finger off of a string after it’s plucked to produce a second note.) You can slide a bit on the banjo, but it’s mostly pulling off notes. I wanted to get a John Wayne meets spaghetti western feeling. I also did a waltz. I like doing unexpected things.”

 Taylor has been dealing with the unexpected for most of his life, never content to go from A to B when there’s a whole alphabet of possibilities available. “My dad loved be boppers and jazz musicians. I can remember him walking around at the Monterey Jazz Festival talking to all the jazz cats he knew. He was friends with a lot of musicians. They used to party together and I had a brother who went to jail for selling heroin in the 50s. I’m the black sheep of the family, completely straight: no drugs, no alcohol or anything.

 “My mom had a ukulele that I tried to play. I broke a string and went to the Denver Folklore Center to replace it. It was a music store, record store, music school and hang out for folkies. I walked in, just a little black kid, and they took a liking to me. I used to go there every day after school. They celebrated their 50th Anniversary last May with a big concert and I got to play at it. It was where I bought my first banjo.

 “Why banjo? I have no idea. I didn’t even know it was an African instrument until ‘96 or ‘97. I just liked the sound. I had no idea that I’d make a living playing it, or that 45 years later someone would ask me why I picked it up. I have no fuckin’ idea. I do remember I was 15 and it felt right. Today the Home Banjo Company has a banjo named after me and the Santa Cruz Guitar Center has an Otis Taylor guitar. It’s quite a compliment.”

 During his high school years, Taylor took his banjo with him wherever he went. He used to play it while riding his unicycle to school. “Looking back, I realize it’s a weird thing to do, but I didn’t think so at the time. I thought I wanted to be a circus clown for a while, but I didn’t follow up on it. I got the idea from a guy named Crazy Joe who used to ride [a unicycle] around the Folklore Center. He was a body builder and hung around at coffee houses. I don’t know what happened to him. They called him crazy because he rode a unicycle. It was easy to become infamous in those days.”

 Taylor was a fine singer as well as a folk guitarist and banjo picker. When he decided to pursue a career in music, he put his banjo and guitar aside. For about a decade, he played in various blues rock bands, including The Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band and the Otis Taylor Blues Band; T&O Short Line, with future Deep Purple guitar god Tommy Bolin; The 4-Nikators; and Zephyr, one of the most popular bands on the Denver/Boulder scene in the 70s. “Those were the years when everybody was into the blues,” Taylor recalls. “I was a lead singer and played Melodica and maracas. There was no point in playing guitar with a guy as good as Tommy (Bolin) around. I played bass in Zephyr and moved to England for a while.” While in London with the Otis Taylor Blues Band, he was almost signed to a record deal, but it didn’t pan out. He eventually quit the music business and became an antique dealer for most of the next 20 years.

 “I still played banjo and guitar and wrote songs,” Taylor says, “But my wife never would have married a traveling musician. I’d play around the house or for friends, but wasn’t playing in public. The music business and the performance business is different and people get it confused. If you’re a songwriter and perform your songs, you’re suddenly doing business, but songwriting is just something you do.

 “To me, songs are like dreams. I start messing with the guitar, or sing in the shower in a semi-conscious state, and a song comes to me. Usually without a lot of words, but I don’t have to write six verses to get an idea across. A couple of sentences will tell you what a song is about. During the hard touring years, I wrote a lot, but I got burned out. I thought I’d take a break and not write any more, but then a song would come to me.”

 Eventually, Taylor played some of his tunes for his bass playing friend Kenny Passarelli. “He told me I had to make a record.” Taylor wasn’t sure, but the response to a one off gig at a small Denver club with Passarelli on bass and guitarist Eddie Turner. was so positive that more gigs followed. Eventually. Taylor went into the studio with Passarelli producing and made Blue Eyed Monster for his own small label, Shoelace Music. “It was just me, Kenny and Eddie and we only made 1,000 of ‘em,” he says. The album got rave reviews and led to When Negroes Walked the Earth, also on Shoelace. Critics raved about his songs and performance style, leading to a deal with Canada’s Northern Blues Music and a songwriting fellowship at the Sundance Film Festival.

 “You go to Sundance for three weeks and study with five different composers and they tell you how to write music for movies. I was putting in 12 and 14-hour days. It’s intense work. You see movies, hang with film people all night, and do it again the next morning. They told me I could make it, if I moved to LA. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to go into the film composing business. Besides, I don’t read and write music.”

 Since his return to performing, Taylor’s released a steady stream of albums and keeps up a comfortable touring schedule. He also brings the blues to the attention of young music lovers with a blues in the schools program called Writing the Blues. “When my little girl was in school, her teacher asked me to play for her class. Turning it into an ongoing Writing the Blues program was my wife’s idea. If the kids write a blues song, they’ll be more likely to remember the music. It gets the kids into the blues and gets the blues into the kids, so it’s a win-win situation. I tell ‘em you don’t have to be an eccentric artist to write a song, or be high or drunk. You can be an accountant and write beautiful songs; you just have to have something to say. I tell ‘em to write ‘I get the blues when…’ and they fill in the rest. Whatever makes them sad or frightened. One kid once said, ‘I get the blues when my fish coughs.’ I was jealous I didn’t write that. At the end of the lecture, the kids perform with me. I play and they get on stage and sing. Sometimes I pull the teachers and principals up and I give ‘em a hard time. I give them the blues and the kids love that.”

[Photo Credit: Len Irish]

THE SINGLES SCENE V: Blurt’s Indie 45 Roundup

THE SINGLES SCENE V - Blurt's Indie 45 Roundup

Welcome! Drop your housekeys in the foyer bowl and join us for another session of pleasuring one another, and featuring the thickest, firmest 7-inchers around…


 Five is a good number, right? Not like you guys have been counting or anything, but I surely have been. Yes, this is the fifth installment of BLURT’s “The Singles Scene.” I had folks writing me who were bummed because they thought it was a swinger’s column or something. Sorry to let you down there. Yeah, those folks may have been horny chumps, but you know what each and every one of them told me? That they have a record player and still buy vinyl! Come on, you don’t want these fools beating you out, do you? Of course not… so read the reviews below, drag some money out of your pocket and buy Buy BUY!



“Time Being” b/w “Sidewalk Tree” (Rating: 7 out of 10)

(Pravda Records)

I had never heard of this Chicago quintet before but they released three 7’s all around the same time and all on Pravda Records. This is the first one and they seem to hearken back to a time , perhaps in the late ‘70s when bands like The Cars, The Shoes and Cheap Trick as the a-side has hit single written all over it while the flip, “Sidewalk Tree” slows it down a bit and thus makes a perfect b-side. All on red vinyl, too.


The Garment District

“Nature-Nurture” EP (6)

(La Station Radar)

This is the latest project of Jennifer Baron who was previously in both Saturnine and the Ladybug Transistor. I was excited to listen to her debut cassette Melody Elder when my then infant child pulled the tape out of it. These four songs are heavy on the synth work and trippier than Haight St in ’67.  The Sonic Boom remixes “Nature-Nurture’ while the two songs on the flip, “Miraculous men” and “Vigor” both stun too. The vinyl is among the thickest (physically) I’ve ever seen.


Goodly Thousands

 “Honest’ b/w “I Wish” (8)


 Shelflife’s Ed Mazzucco travels the globe to find the best jangle pop out there and he found this trio in the small Irish town of Dundrum.  Singer/guitarist Colm whips out sprightly guitar jangle while the rhythm section of Aaron on drums and Darren on bass (no last names folks) are having a blast keeping up. The a-side is a real fist-pumper while they slow it down on “I Wish” and get a bit, dare I say romantic. Nice.


The Purrs

“Rotting on the Vine” b/w “You, the medicine and me” (7)

 (Fin Records)

 I’m glad to see a label not afraid to release (several) 7” singles as the Fin label has been doing. This Seattle foursome has apparently been around for a decade and while I’ve heard previous stuff, they’ve definitely improved. These two songs are heavy on the psych though the former I catchier while the flip is darker. Love me that clear vinyl, too.



“20th Century Bricolage” EP (9)


 Australian louts (who probably don’t appreciate being called louts) who seem to love guitars and well, they’ve got a fan in me. If bands like Fucked Up, Union Carbide Productions, Electric Frankenstein, The Stooges or The Hellacopters turn your crank then this will spend as much time on your turntable as it has mine recently. My favorite of the bunch is “Bullhead” though the three others are nearly as great.


Red Dons

“Auslander” b/w “Mauvaise FOI” (9)

(Dirtnap Records)

 Two superb melodic, mid-tempo punk cuts form this bunch I had not heard of before but definitely want to hear more. The A-side, “Auslander” just, kicks and kicks some more while the b-side, had some wired n’ wiry guitar work that electrocutes me every time (in a good way). Not surprised, being on the Dirtnap label and all; Ken Dirtnap’s got golden ears.

 Bored Spies

“Sumer 720” b/w “Gerbil E” (9)


 Trans-continental post-rock supreme: that would be the Singapore-Seoul-Arizona axis of sonic serendipity as forged by Cherie Ko (Obedient Wives Club), Sooyoung Park (Bitch Magnet/Seam) and Orestes Morfin (Bitch Magnet). This limited edition teaser for their as-yet-untitled debut album and an appearance at the Primavera Sound fest spotlights Ko’s winsome, C83esque warble and spanglysparklycool fretwork while her compatriots shuffle behind her with an empathetic, elegant grace. Don’t miss the B-side (title translated above; technically, it should be rendered in oriental characters), a brief but heartrending slice of femme-pop supreme. (—Fred Mills)


The Slow Poisoner

“Macabre” b/w “The Green Chair” (6)


 San Francisco’s The Slow Poisoner is a regular renaissance man. He writes, he draws and he, of course records plenty of music. He’s a one-man band who immensely talented and dance to the beat of his own drum.  Opener “Macabre’ is nice and reverby (opening lyric: “Your glass eye flies by night…”) while the flip adds a bit more groove and spook. As it says on the insert, recorded live to Ampex 350 all-tube 2-track. Top that, hipster!


Unholy Two

“Cut the Music (I’m the Nightstalker)” b/w “Razor” (7)


 It’s always a good sign when you’re not sure what speed to play the record at (I sure hope 45 rpm was the right one). Thus record is so overloaded with jacked-up noise that I got nervous playing it at home, alone (I also still sleep with a stuffed animal). Remember in the late 80’s when bands like the Lonely Moans, Surgery, God Bullies and many others were releasing 7”ers to die for, well, add these guys named to that list.


Useless Eaters

“The Moves” EP (7)

(Jolly Dream)  www.jollydreamrecords.blogspotcom

 This came out way back in the year of 2011 but hey, it’s on white vinyl, I like the band name and Seth Sutton, writer of these four jagged n’ jerky tunes is probably a nice guy (and even if he’s not, it’s on white vinyl). “American Cars” was good (not great) but the title track is awesome with some serious Morse-code guitar while the two songs on the flip, “Proper Conduct” and “Plague is Vague” woulda been my song title of thee year in 2011 had I heard it then) both bring the noise righteously.


Wild Nothing

“Shadow” b/w “Feel Me Now” (8)

(Captured Tracks)

 Jack Tatum was once one of the fiercest NFL players ever; he then settled down in Virginia and formed this dreamy, pop outfit. The a-side, “Shadow” was the best songs from last year’s Nocturne full-length, while the flip, “Feel Me Now” starts off moodier and murkier then slips into dreamy territory and with that, I’m going to bed. G’night folks.



Emotional (and synth-based, duh!) evolution, the indie-rock way.


 New York-based five-piece band Caveman might be one of the most subversively –named groups out there today. While there’s a heavy synth-presence on their new, self-titled album, it doesn’t exactly scream, knuckle-dragging and fire-inventing. In fact, the way in which lead-singer Matthew Iwanusa, guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti, drummer Stefan Marolachakis, bassist Jeff Barrell and synth-man Sam Hopkins employ the moody blankets of sound are far more current than they are retro-vintage or even futuristic. Typically, it seems as though a synth-tastic album usually leads the listener into the New Wave-past or soaring into a Tron-like future. Not here. Not with Caveman, in this case.

 Speaking over the phone with Marolachakis recently as he diligently spread the word of his band’s fine new offering from the tony confines of New York City’s Ace Hotel, the time-keeper made no-bones about the vital flexibility of the synthesizer’s role in the creation of Caveman’s music.

 “It’s really a gateway to an incredible amount of emotions and states-of-mind,” he says. “Like most other instruments, the synth’s a mirror of the person playing it. I mean, it can obviously help create the feel of certain time-periods, but it’s more useful in expressing what the player wants to say at that moment. The synth can really widen the mood, and it’s super-expressive.”

 In keeping with the theme presented by his band’s name, Marlachakis feels as though instincts and unearthed parts of the brain played a major role in the creation of the record’s often velvety, dream-like aura.

 “The goals of what we wanted to convey emotionally were more subconscious,” he explains. “I think about making music as carving out a space where someone can go to different places on different days, depending on how they feel. Because of that, there are ebbs and flows to our music.”

Indeed, a widening of mood and broadening of sound is apparent on the follow up to the group’s well-received 2011 debut, the splendidly melodic CoCo Beware. As mentioned, the synth is prominently featured here, but Carbonetti’s guitar – which at times, gets highly, and effectively shoegazey – swirls its way around the record to augment the various shades and textures which make the new album a cohesive success. According to Marolachakis, a bit of simple, musical geometry helped in giving the new record a grander scope than their debut.

 “We recorded the first album in [producer] Nick Stumph’s basement studio,” the drummer says. “It was a single, small room, and then we put out the record and started touring. It was on that tour where we started stretching out the songs and seeing what sounds we could make. We realized we liked bigger sounds, so for this record, we went with Nick to a much bigger room [New York City’s Rumpus Room] to accommodate what we wanted. We had a good combination of ideas that had already been fleshed-out, some bones to other songs, and then some songs were born in-studio during recording. We got to try things out to our heart’s content.”

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 Much of the material for the new record sprang from the time the group has spent together of the past year and a half. The vocal harmonies are tighter than before, which required a greater confidence in all-voices involved. Perhaps more importantly than any instrument in the studio, the group used their familiarity with one another to add to the album’s personality.

 “I can’t help but think,” Marolachakis says. “A lot of this record is the by-product of the band spending so much time together on the road since our first record came out. For so-long, we were basically together for 24 hours a day. We learned more about one another’s instincts and we got more practice under our belts. It’s funny to think about the term ‘harmony,’ because we value that musically, and we’re all good friends that sing together, which really makes sense in that way.”

 As is the case with any buzzed-about young band releasing their second album into the fickle, and often-harsh blogosphere, the pressure to produce a high-quality product the second time around is much greater than anything before the debut album, which was recorded in practical anonymity. Some bands purposely switch-up styles, or undergo line-up changes between the first and second albums. To be certain, it’s also not unusual for a band to simply stay the course completely, so as to not upset the delicate balance between artistic and commercial success and failure.

 Forward progress in the musical life of a band is rarely a concrete object where analytics can trace whether a band is successfully evolving or not. Perhaps a band doing something similar to what it’s done in the past and simply sounding better is enough proof of creative progress. Just as they gained confidence and learned more about one another’s abilities while on-tour, for Caveman, the physical act of progressing stems from gelling during that fruitful time together on the road.

 “It feels like we’ve matured,” Marolachakis says. “For us, I’ll again say that getting a lot of road-time together was a key factor. We got to know our instincts and styles. The more we played the more possibilities we caught onto when it came to future records. It was great being on that first tour for months and then going right into the studio to try some of those new things we learned.”

 When pushed to detail a specific song or element on the new album that a listener will be able to decipher as true, unmistakable positive progress, Marolachakis again points to more intangible elements that were present during recording. While such items won’t provide the listener a road-map to the tighter, evolved Caveman sound, the results of the group’s togetherness is plain to hear, regardless.

 When studying a scientific chart of how man has evolved from an amoeba into the modern Homosapien, there’s a systematic sense of logic evident in the process. Even a Caveman, however, can acknowledge that with art and music, such practical thought isn’t really applicable.

 “I don’t think there are any specific, isolated moments on the new record that show obvious growth,” he admits. “But the types of takes we were getting in the studio felt like we had been playing together for a long-while. It’s just an inspiring feeling to get together with the guys and play more an put new ideas together, just to see what happens.”