Monthly Archives: June 2014

ONE BRAVE MAN: Bobby Womack

Bobby Womack

“If you ain’t got no style, you’re in trouble”: A revealing conversation with one of the true giants of soul.

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

Ed. note: we originally published this interview back in January, the conversation between Womack and longtime contributor Bienstock having taken place around the time of the release of the soul giant’s comeback album The Bravest Man in the Universe, which was co-produced by no less a Womack fan than Damon Albarn. A few days ago, on June 27, the music world was saddened to learn of Womack’s unexpected passing, so in addition to our obituary for the artist we felt it would be appropriate to reprint the interview.—FM

Forget Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’d be a lot more fun to play the musical parlor game Six Degrees of Bobby Womack. During his more than 50 year career, Womack has touched just about every major classic rock and soul musician. He got his start performing with Sam Cooke, wrote The Rolling Stone’s first British 1 hit (“It’s All Over Now”), and went on to play with Sly Stone, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Janis Joplin and Elvis Presley. Branch out from there and it’s hard to imagine any musician he hasn’t influenced in some way.

As if that wasn’t enough, Womack also had a successful solo career, penning hits like “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” “Woman’s Gotta Have It” and “Across 110th Street,” which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. He was essentially retired when Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn asked him to sing on the band’s 2010 album Plastic Beach. That led to Womack’s stirring 2012 electronic soul comeback The Bravest Man in the Universe, which Albarn co-produced with XL Records head Richard Russell.

We talked with Womack as he continued a tour that has been interrupted periodically by health problems, but finds Womack’s voice as strong as ever.

 

BLURT: How did you hook up with Damon Albarn?

WOMACK: Damon called me and said “I’ve been trying to contact you. I got a group called Gorillaz.” I never heard of a group called Gorillaz. I told him, “Last time I was on the scene there was group around called The Monkees!”

When Damon called me and said, “Let’s do something in the studio,” I said, “Man, I haven’t recorded in a while. You might not like me. You’re judging me on what I did 20 years ago. A lot of things happened since then.”

He said, “You ain’t changed. It’s still there. You were ahead of your time.” We recorded. After the [Gorillaz] tour, he said, “Let’s go into the studio.” I kept denying him. I said, “I’m not ready for that. Music has changed; it’s so different.” He said “I’ve got great ideas.” He brought the electronic sounds. I ain’t trying to be 15 or 20, but I’ve got to realize it’s a new day. People are doing it a new way. I’m a trendsetter. I don’t follow nobody.

I started singing “The Bravest Man in the Universe.” He said, “What’s that?” I told him that one day Isaac Hayes called me and said, “I want you to write something for the Memphis Horns. They’re cutting an album and we need some material.” Nothing ever happened with it. It went in the closet. I was playing it and Damon said, “Oh man, that’s a great song. That should be the title of the album.” I said, “Are you kidding me? Do you know how old that is?”

He said, “It’s a great song. People will love it. The main thing is your voice. If it’s leading, it will cut through everything else.”

 

How did you feel about working on such an electronic record?

I could talk about old school. I’m still living. It’s new school. Some things will never change: feeling and being able to communicate with people. First, you gotta have a story, a true story. When you stay out too long, you burn out. You have to regroup.

 

Are you working on a new album?

We’re talking about it. Right now, I’ve been fishing around, dropping in and out of places. I just did something with Rick Ross. I cut something with Van Morrison. I’ve got an album already recorded that I was working on before I got with Damon. It’s really nice to compare vocals with different people. I worked with Stevie Wonder, Ron Isley, Rod Stewart. I tell them, “I always wanted to sing with you. Not to put it out. Just to hear how you and I project.”

Everyone has a story and a way of approaching a song. If you ain’t got no style, you’re in trouble. Every time you’d hear a Sam Cooke song, you knew it was Sam Cooke. Same for Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones. These people have a style, that’s why their music is still around.

 

Of all the people you’ve worked with, is there one who influenced you the most?

I always say Sam Cooke. But I would have to say my father. My mother asked me that before she passed: “How come you never mention him?” I don’t know. If it wasn’t for dad, I wouldn’t be doing this. He started us young and got us on all the shows. Then Sam Cooke. After that, Wilson Pickett. Pickett was real hot at the time. We both were Pisces. I remember him saying, “Let’s go to Atlantic. They’re going to flip out over you.” Well, they didn’t flip out over me. He said, “Let me record those songs. They’ll see Wilson Pickett, and right under that they’ll see your name.”

I thought he just wanted to record my songs. But he was right. Everything Pickett ever cut was a hit. He had that feel. I miss him dearly. I think about him all the time.

 

Why did you stop playing music for all those years?

I had been with so many artists and had gotten off into drugs. I had to get my life straight. I’d walk into a restaurant and if there were musicians in there, I’d walk out. The first thing they’d say is “I got something special for you.” I don’t want to be around all that.

When I looked and saw how many artists I grew up with, drugs have killed a lot of talented people. Talented people always have to go one step beyond to check it out and see what it is. Then they’re hooked. When I see how it has destroyed people, I said, “I’m getting away from the business. I want to sing for the feeling of singing, not hyped on something.” That was a big challenge for me to reach that goal. I’m proud of my life, the way I survived, the way I lived it.

DON’T MOVE, IT’S… Phantogram

Phanto 2

The synth pop visionaries roll onward across the planet, including a stop last week in North Carolina.

TEXT/PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PLUMIDES

With a mesmerizing laser light show, nu-techno synth pop visionaries PHANTOGRAM brought their Cocteau Twins-meets-Massive Attack brooding beats and haunting vocal stylings to the Fillmore Charlotte (NC). It was a balmy Wednesday night marked by an energetic stage presence and clever musicianship.

The Greenwich Village duo, sexy Sarah Barthel on vocals and keyboards (donning a Chrissie Hynde mop, and skin tight black and white paints) and Josh Carter on vocals and guitar, were accompanied by tour drummer Chris Carhart and keyboardist Nick Shelestak. The band played their more popular songs, “Don’t Move”, “When I’m Small”, “Fall in Love” and “Black Out Days” to the nearly sold out crowd of well over 1,000 screaming fans. They were promoting their latest album, Voices, which was released in February.

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Phanto 14

Phanto 10

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The band wraps its North American tour on July 9 (dates this week include June 29 in Tampa, July 1 in Birmingham and July 2 in Nashville), then will be heading to Europe and the UK as well as Austalia, followed by a return to the States Aug. 1 for the Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago. our dates at their official website: http://www.bandsintown.com/PHANTOGRAM

RESUMING BIZNESS… WITH A VENGEANCE: tUnE-yArDs

Tuneyards

Anything can still happen in the avant-indie savant’s gifted musical hands, as her new album and accompanying tour (dates listed here) are proving.

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

tUnE-yArDs’ 2011 album whokill was a surprise breakthrough, landing the band on the top of many year-end lists, including Blurt’s, where bandleader Merrill Garbus was named Artist of the Year. (Read our previous interview with her, “Taking Care of Bizness,” Dec. 27, 2011.) What followed was a year and half of touring around the world, collaborations with people like Yoko Ono and ?uestlove, and a role in the occupy movement, including one famous concert where Garbus led the audience from New York’s famed Lincoln Center to occupy Columbus Circle.

Once the cycle was done, Garbus took some much needed time off, where she traveled and tried to forget everything she knew about songwriting. The process led to her latest album Nikki Nack, which incorporates everything from Haitian rhythms to sing-song chants to ‘80s R&B. It maintains whokill’s sense of anything-can-happen whimsy, while also having its own unique identity. We talked with Garbus.

 

BLURT:Your career took off quickly after whokill . What was that time like?

GARBUS: Mostly it was being on the road. Like people say, “Success brings more work.” Do people say that? It’s “work begets more work.” If you do well, you get the chance to do more work. If the album does well, you get to stay on tour longer. [Bassist Nate Brenner] and I had been on tour since 2009. whokill came out in 2011. We just stayed on the road playing shows. We were traveling a lot. There was a lot of excitement and also a lot of exhaustion. Before this album was the first time in 10 years that I was at home resting. That felt like a reward. I had well-deserved time to rest and write new music from scratch, rather than whokill, which was written on the road

What did you get from the break?

Being a human again. It really was crucial. I didn’t realize it until now when I can look back and remember how I felt and how I was coping with being on the road. I was coping with the wonderful sense that people were enjoying what we do enough to buy tickets. That’s all great.

I learned what I needed as human to survive long term. I just turned 35. I was 33 then. It was time to think long term suddenly. In my 20s, there was no need to think long term. Who in their 20s thinks about when they’re going to die or retire? I reflected about what I wanted out of this. If you don’t assess what you want can get into a troubled place down the line.

Was it harder writing knowing that there were high expectations this time?

I actually think whokill was far more daunting in terms of the pressure of audience because the leap from [2009’s] BiRd-BrAiNs, which was me in bedroom with a tiny voice recorder, to a record label and an international release and the masses of people that come along with a label the size of 4AD, felt like a really big leap. I understood the expectations that were there this time, but I also understood what the experience would be of tuning those voices out. Nothing can kill creativity more than worrying about what people will think.

How was the writing process for this album different from whokill ?

I tossed my looping pedal. It’s back now. I used it primarily to write on whokill. On my first album it was the ukulele. I didn’t allow myself to write on either this time. I was thinking about the craft of songwriting and how I could get better at that craft. In January 2013, I went to my studio, keeping office hours as much as I could. I started from scratch, using whatever scrap of a musical idea I had that morning.

Writing with drum machines and starting with vocal melodies were two pathways I found this time, especially drum machines, which I didn’t expect to find so much creativity in. That informed the album a lot. tUnE-yArDs to me has been about imperfections and ugly truth and not making things sound too pretty. I thought drum machines would be too digital, too perfect. It was interesting to find a way that drum machines can reflect human imperfections.

You’ve talked about the need to be constantly moving ahead and doing new things. How do you continue to do that as your career goes on?

That was my question to myself. Going in and saying, “How do I push myself out of my comfort zone and how do I push music or pop music without injuring myself, hating myself and having the whole thing be an entirely negative affair?” The first way was to get rid of all the old crutches. That was a scary process. The second was to take lessons in what I thought I knew how to do – singing lessons, drumming lessons. I knew I had room for improvement. I took dance lessons. Like an athlete would train, I wanted to be taught how to use my instrument and my body better.

There were points where I went too far in the direction of, “I have to be innovative so I’ll make a long drum pattern that never repeats and try to make a pop song out of it.” Nate said, “Don’t do things to try to be different or prove you can write a different kind of song. Push yourself, but where’s the line where you’re pushing just for the sake of pushing rather than being true to the vision of the band?” It was helpful to have someone remind me I didn’t need to relate to what other people are doing, just push myself to a limit that felt good.

Do you see a theme on the album?

It’s hard to boil them down. I think a lot about the degradation of society; the crumbling of the infrastructure of society. That tends to be a huge fear of mine as we move forward with technology advancements and cities that are often too big for their britches. The cities we built up in the heyday of cities are not supportable based on the current economy. I live in Oakland. It was a very dynamic place. Downtown was thriving from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. It was abandoned not too long ago. Now it’s going through a revitalization, which also means gentrification and higher rents and pushing out people that are residing there. A lot of themes of the record emanate from living in an American city and in this particular city. “Water Fountain” and “Look Around” both have elements of that.

Another theme is the self-examination I was going through of, “How can I be a better person? How can I be a better musician and what does it mean to change? Can you bring on your own personal transformation?” The answer is probably no, but if you’re looking for it, you’ll find yourself in an appropriate situation.

Is that what “Find a New Way” is about?

For me, I feel a wonderful relief from the self-hatred that has colored my music in the past. That song is one that says, “This isn’t working anymore.” Using the whip on myself isn’t working. Maybe it used to get results, but it isn’t anymore. It’s just killing me slowly. The life of an artist is so rich and wonderful, but it’s also odd to have your personal experience spread around the world on blogs and articles. I always feel the need to share what’s honest and true. Not all my songs are autobiographical, but there are pieces of truth in them. I use words that are not just applicable to the microcosm of my world, but might reflect on other people’s world as well; songs that have a human truth to them, not just my truth.

 

Garbus’ tour for Nikki-Nack resumes in the UK and Europe any day now. Dates at her official website.

MAN, WE LIKE THAT! The Loudermilks

Loudermilks

With their earlier, next-big-thing band Lou Ford in the rearview but reconciled, North Carolina’s Edwards brothers take a swing at the musical piñata once more. This time around, they both feel, their aim is true.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

For years, Alan and Chad Edwards opened sets with their band, Lou Ford, playing “How Does It Feel?,” a swinging, mid-tempo rocker that drove a bright G chord down into E-minor mourning and blanketed it in swirls of gospel organ. “How does it feel, to have something real?,” the Edwards queried in their rich Georgia harmonies. “To have something true, to know it belongs to you?”

These were simple interrogatives, but loaded with complex answers about envy, skepticism, failure and redemption, and, like the band’s three long-players in the late-‘90s and early ‘00s, the song delivered on the promise of country commiseration and rock catharsis. (No Depression co-founder Peter Blackstock said the song “might be the best single track any N.C. twang act has committed to tape.”)

The Edwards brothers, as they kept proving over the intervening years, wrote really good rough-patch music. Their harmonized, tragic songs of life narratives and minor chord melancholy — derived from the brothers’ biggest influences, the Louvin Brothers and Big Star — worked as salve and balm, resolving through perseverance and hardening into resilience.

The music – which they dubbed Rural Pop for Yesterday People — worked in dark hues or light ones: as sad shuffles and barroom honky tonk or as feedback rockers and punk-fueled anthems. The lyrics were cliché-free and brutally frank, featuring accusations and regrets aimed at exes, friends, bandmates, the windmills of the recording industry and themselves.

But Lou Ford flamed out in the early century, having shed band members, possible label deals, fans, and once-high expectations along the way. There was a half-hearted, original line-up reunion in 2006, but the vault-clearing Poor Man’s Soul was just about the only tangible evidence that it had ever occurred. As the new century rolled on and the music industry changed into an entirely different animal, it felt like we’d heard the last of the Edwards’ brothers, musically speaking. And that seemed a shame.

Fast forward nearly a decade, though, and the Edwards are back with a new moniker — The Loudermilks —and a new self-titled LP which ranks as their best yet. Joined by former Lou Ford drummer Shawn Lynch (this time on bass) and drummer Mike Kennerly, formerly of Charlotte, N.C., Lou Ford contemporaries Jolene, The Loudermilks are ready to take another swing at this music thing.

“There’s just a lot of growing that you do over the years,” says Kennerly. “And now that we’ve all hooked up, to me it’s very easy for us to get together. We can agree, we can ruffle each other’s feathers a little bit, too. But in the end we all know what we want out of this group: we want to have fun, and we want to make a record we’re proud of and have people say, ‘man, I like that.’”

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The Edwards brothers grew up in Cartersville, Georgia, roughly half-way between Atlanta and Chattanooga. In addition to a near-miss with Sherman’s March to the Sea and claiming the first outdoor Coca-Cola sign (1898), the town was also home to the evangelist Samuel Porter Jones, whose Union Gospel Tabernacle at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville later became the Grand Ole Opry.

But Cartersville is mostly the kind of small town the young leave as soon as they can, though leaving it behind emotionally is another story. That’s the sentiment captured in the fiddle-and-pedal steel wistfulness of The Loudermilks’ LP-closer “Georgia Pines” and the disc-opening “Watch It Fall,” a pedal-steel accented shuffle about the unlikelihood of outrunning your own baggage and past. Those are the kinds of dichotomies that give the Edwards’ brothers songs their emotional heft:

“I miss the Georgia Pines, red clay and better times, the sound of a train coming through/Late at night on a long dirt road, south of no north I’ve known, the sunlight is long overdue,” Alan sings on the disc-ender, having acknowledged at the LP’s opening that, “With every ounce of strength I had, I just packed my bags and ran/ I just ended up alone, farther from home.”

They’re a pair of classic sounding country rock tunes, but the brothers weren’t weaned on the genre and took a while to come to the music their region is noted for. Growing up, the Edwards faced the musical limitations most small towns without college radio faced before the Internet. Limited to classic rock stations, Alan initially fell under the sway of metal, and remains grateful that he didn’t start playing guitar until he’d left and been exposed to better music. Chad, Alan’s younger brother by four years, spent his early musical formative years studying piano, singing in the church choir and “rabidly pursuing the weird music that I couldn’t get where I lived.”

Alan got out first, attending Liberty College in West Virginia and playing in a band whose music he says landed somewhere between the Pixies and shoegaze. After graduating, he joined Chad back in Georgia, where his brother was attending UGA. Alan was ostensibly there to go to graduate school, but within days of arriving he met members of Chocolate USA, an eclectic proto-Elephant 6 band led by Julian Koster and signed to Bar-None — and that was that for grad school.

The dream didn’t last long, though. Alan quit the band after the group’s second release, 1994’s Smoke Machine, as Chocolate USA was fracturing into several other projects (Koster joined Neutral Milk Hotel). The label’s lack of support, in particular, was a rude eye-opener for Alan that would color his view of the business in deep skepticism during the Lou Ford years.

In the late ‘90s, when the Charlotte-based Lou Ford popped up on the radar of regional neighbors like Yep Roc, Ramseur and Merge records, the band played label showcases and even made it to the meeting stage with the Merge brain trust. Nothing materialized, though in hindsight the Edwards – and Alan in particular – take some of the blame.

“I think we had the attitude, I know I did, especially from my experience in (Chocolate USA), that the label’s not your friend, and I went out of that experience into our own band,” Alan says. “I remember being a little intimidated honestly with Merge – not so much the other ones. I probably came off as more ‘fuck the industry’ because I was intimidated.”

Those ambivalent feelings and the Chocolate USA experience is the subject of the new record’s “The Plan,” an up-tempo rocker with Attractions keys and a barbed chorus worthy of the Replacements. “You always said we were gonna get what we deserve/but you never meant a word,” Alan sings as the band bashes away to the chorus with increasing intensity, “What about the plan? Could’ve been us, instead of them.”

In the end, the plan didn’t work out for Lou Ford, either. As the new century rolled over, the band released its strong sophomore effort, 2000’s Alan Freed’s Radio, on Cargo Records. But the San Diego-based label was more known for its punk rock catalog, and when Lou Ford toured the West coast for the release, the new record was nowhere to be found in the record stores.

Shitty distribution was hamstringing the band, because Lou Ford was racking up glowing reviews in publications ranging from Britain’s Mojo and Uncut to The New York Times and No Depression, earning opening tour slots for the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, and had a distribution deal with the leading European label for American country rock, Glitterhouse.

But the growing critical profile masked the fact that Lou Ford was disintegrating. Shawn Lynch had already quit over the band’s increasingly frequent gig flame-outs, and bassist Mark Lynch (no relation) followed shortly after. The internal sniping and bitterness no longer fueled just the songs, something which Alan takes responsibility for today.

“I was mad at our audience, and I’ve never been able to make sense of it,” Alan confesses. “On numerous occasions I just said ‘fuck you’ to the crowd and walked off. Shawn quit because of that, and Chad threatened to quit numerous times because of that. Because, and I can’t say it was the whole band, but I personally didn’t feel like I was getting the respect that I felt like I deserved, so I’d show my ass and they would threaten to quit.”

Soon enough, band members were coming and going with discouraging and tell-tale frequency. Whatever momentum the band had built behind Alan Freed’s Radio was grinding to a halt. So, too, was Lou Ford, and in 2002, with no fanfare, the plug was pulled.

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For Alan, the end of Lou Ford came as a relief. The pressure of being the front man and primary songwriter had exacted a hefty psychic toll. He began a family and started an audio business, and essentially retired from music. But for the younger brother, Lou Ford represented unfinished business. The band’s break-up coincided with the end of his first marriage, and Chad captures the darkness that followed on The Loudermilks’ haunting “Darkness of Hell.” Over a maelstrom of guitar lines and baleful organ chords, Chad cries “if hell exists, then this is it.”

“Lou Ford broke up, my marriage broke up the same week,” Chad says. “So the two things that had been the entire focus of my existence for the last three to five years or whatever were just gone. So I just channeled all that energy into writing songs.”

Chad wrote the song for Hard Times Family, the band he formed with Kennerly and Shawn Lynch in the aftermath of Lou Ford’s collapse. Though an LP’s worth of material was recorded, it was never released and the band simply never gained traction. But the experience proved invaluable for the younger Edwards and key in shaping The Loudermilks into a vehicle of equals.

“I’d never fronted a band,” Chad says. “I’d always been behind my brother, whether it was psychologically for me or just people’s perception.”

Alan, whom Chad had brought in to add guitar fills for Hard Times Family, also took something essential away from the experience – primarily the discovery that, in a band of co-equals, he wouldn’t have to bear the burden of being the front-man. In the meantime, of course, the music industry that Lou Ford had railed against underwent a healthy course of contraction comeuppance. With the ease of home-recording and digital distribution, the brothers could also record cheaply and without label support, and at a pace that fit their lives as family men and business owners (Chad runs a remodeling company).

And thus the Loudermilks were born, paying tribute to one of their influences with a name they gave themselves shortly before Charlie Louvin’s passing in 2011.

After dipping their toes back in the music waters via a few acoustic duo gigs, Kennerly, a strong time-keeper, came on board to whack the skins, and Shawn Lynch moved over to bass. Over roughly eight months, the band’s debut took shape in Alan’s home-studio, while old Lou Ford friends like Jason Atkins (keys) and 70-year-old former Nashville pedal steel whiz Joe Smith contributed key overdubs.

The resulting 10 tracks, split evenly between Chad and Alan songs, form the most concise and focused LP the brothers have released. Time will tell whether it catches on with a broader audience in this new digital era, though it’s certainly the band’s intention that it does. But the Edwards seem content to be making music again no matter the outcome. They may have lost sight of that at times in Lou Ford, but it turns out be to the thing that mattered the most all along.

Chad captures that epiphany on his soulful “Broken Record,” the LP’s emotional center-piece. Over rich organ washes, Lynch’s rolling bass lines, and tasteful guitar fills, the brothers harmonize as only siblings can while they debate whether to get back in the music saddle: “We can scrap it all and start again/We can let it lie and end up wasted/We could tell ‘em that they’re not our friends/But it isn’t true and I can taste it.”

With the new name and identity, the Edwards have even begun playing cuts from their Lou Ford catalog – something they were initially unwilling to do given the baggage that seemed to come with them. But in another sign that they’ve reconciled who they are now with what they were then, select tracks have worked their way into the set-lists.

“It wouldn’t have felt right to me to start a new band and now we’re playing old Lou Ford songs,” says Alan. “We felt weird about it. But they’re our fucking songs, and we’re proud of them, too.”

BEEFING THE BOOTS: Captain Beefheart Live in 1980

 

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A fresh bootleg from the Doc At the Radar Station tour suggests that this particular roster of the Magic Band might’ve been the best batch yet.

BY FRED MILLS

Does the world need a new Captain Beefheart bootleg? Sure ‘nuff ‘n yes we do! Granted, starting in the mid/late ‘90s a veritable flood of Don Van V CD boots started appearing, with the tour for the Doc At the Radar Station—from which the new Live From Harpo’s 1980 hails—in particular being well-represented. Over at the Beef-centric “Electricity” site you can check out a list of official and, er, nonofficial releases that have come out over the years.) But in general, Beefheart fans have been under-served over the years in comparison to other heavily booted artists like Springsteen, Dylan, Neil Young and even Frank Zappa. So pretty much any fresh Beefheart arrival is reason to cheer.

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Gonzo Multimedia’s Harpo’s, an audience-sourced recording newly unearthed, perhaps) from the Detroit club of the same name on December 11, 1980, inevitably begs to be compared to a 2000 Rattlesnake label release, the now-rare Live Paradiso, Amsterdam, Nov. 1 1980, and the is-it-legit-or-not Merseytrout (Rotter’s Club, Liverpool, 10/29/80) that the Milksafe/Ozit-Morpheus gang dropped around the same time. Both of those, frankly, beat Harpo’s in terms of sound quality. Live Paradiso in particular has a crispness in the high end and a relatively smooth bottom, along with extremely prominent vocals and decent instrument separation; it’s known that Paradiso show was taped for broadcast over the radio, and Rattlesnake reportedly got their hands on the original tapes (or at least a very low generation copy), ultimately producing the best quality version of an oft-booted show. Meanwhile, Merseytrout is a good audience recording that appears to have undergone some moderate remixing and equalizing to correct any shortcomings; as such, it’s the better product than Harpo’s, sonically. And all three shows have very similar setlists, so in that regard Harpo’s, which has a somewhat muffled and distant sound, is the least essential of the batch.

Paradiso

Merseytrout

But really, 1980 represents the best batch yet in terms of dynamic and, yes, I’ll dare to utter the term, professional playing. (The relative wealth of Doc-era live recordings, as viewed at the “Electricity” site, may bolster that assumption, in fact.) Beef sounds uncannily loose yet confident, barking and growling and hissing (wait’ll you hear “Hothead”) while the musicians plunge headlong into the fray. From the stutter-step boogie of “Ashtray Heart” and the angular, post-punk grooves of “A Carrot is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond” to the spazz explosion of “My Human Gets Me Blues” and the psychedelic melange of setcloser “Big Eyed Beans from Venus” this Magic Band definitely weaves magic. Beefheart was abetted on the tour by one of his strongest Magic Bands ever, in fact (some fans maintain is was the strongest by far), so if you have a hankering to hear the interactions of Eric Drew Feldman, Robert Williams, Moris Tepper, Jeff White and Richard Snyder (all but White are pictured in the photo at the top of the page), this one’s for you, bubba. Point of fact, if you are a live recording aficionado, you already understand how sonic deficiencies tend to dissipate somewhat as a show progresses; you get used to the sound after a few minutes and, if it’s a hot performance, you get caught up in it.

Some very nice liner notes by Jon Downes and pleasing sleeve artwork that presumably adapts (or at least references) original posters for the Detroit show round things out. So I would still recommend the purchase. It’s not for newcomers to the Beef experience, but for longtime fans, it’s definitely a gift.

Doc

SILK ROAD: Ned Doheny

 

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Smooth seventies soul-pop, as revisited by the estimable archivists at Numero Group, never sounded silkier.

BY STEVEN ROSEN

The Numero Group, the curatorial label which is as interested in reviving lost record labels and forgotten musical genres as unsung-hero artists, now makes a claim for the smooth soul-pop of the mid-to-late 1970s via a new anthology of the work of L.A. singer-songwriter Ned Doheny.

That’s not as weird as it may at first seem, given Numero’s love for deep, gritty soul and rock – it had luck last year bringing newfound respect to New Age music with archival recordings by California free spirit Iasos. And the recordings of the most successful 1970s soul-popper, Boz Scaggs, have held up fairly nicely, although he personally seems to have rejected that legacy in favor of something rootsier.

So Numero has put together a generous 19-track Doheny collection drawn from three albums he released between 1973 and 1981, plus demos. From a prominent family, Doheny fell in with the late-1960s Laurel Canyon folk-rock crowd, though he didn’t really fit, and had the first album released on their house label, Asylum, in 1973. Then on Columbia (Scaggs’ label), he got into Scaggs-style post-Motown, upscale-soul song craft and image (his 1976 album Hard Candy even bore a cover of him in a swimsuit, a la Scaggs’ original cover for 1974’s Slow Dancer.)

Maybe Columbia, which by that time had been trying to break Scaggs as a star for a good half decade, had decided to hedge its bets with Doheny. It gave him topnotch producer Steve Cropper and sophisticated arrangements featuring the Tower of Power horn section. But Silk Degrees broke through in 1976 and Doheny didn’t really matter much anymore. Cropper stayed with him for 1979’s Prone, initially just released in Japan at the UK. It, too, is represented in this package.

There are but two recordings from his self-titled Asylum solo album, plus demos of others. As a whole, they show a tuneful Eaglesy/CS&N/Jackson Browne approach (“On and On,” “Standfast”), but Doheny’s instincts –major-key uplift, catchy verse-chorus structure – are already pop.

The songs appearing on Separate Oceans from Hard Candy sound like they could be from Silk Degrees – in their very commercial way, they have the sincere and maybe misplaced romanticism of a young man looking for love (and a little sex) in a 1970s singles bar. “Get It Up For Love” and “A Love of Your Own (which Doheny co-wrote with Hamish Stuart of Average White Band) are good examples. But while Doheny’s voice has range, it’s also thin and struggles to make an impression over arrangements and background vocals that cover rather than showcase it. It’s also not consistently suave, a real drawback with this kind of music.

Separate Oceans also includes the demo recording of another track Doheny wrote with Stuart, “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me,” a sizeable R&B hit for Chaka Khan. The arrangement here, with the percolating bass and bubbly keyboard, sounds amazingly like Joe Wissert’s production work on Silk Degrees.

 Thanks to Numero for giving us such a thorough “Lowdown” on Doheny’s 1970s recordings. Interesting, but he was no Scaggs.

Ned Doheny product shot

DON’T CALL ‘EM PUSSIES: Masked Intruder

Masked Intruders crop

“We just wanna play love songs for the nice people,” claim the Wisconsin pop-punks. That, and break into your house while you’re not home and take all your beer and cheese…

BY JOHN B. MOORE

If The Ramones and The Beach Boys were locked up in a high security prison with nothing to do but harmonize, write love songs and plan their escape, they would sound exactly like Masked Intruder.

The pop-punk ex-cons from Madison, WI, each sporting a different color ski mask ‘cos, well, figure it out yourself (I ain’t no snitch!), have just turned in M.I., their second full length; a brilliant collection of odes to unrequited love and crime sprees.

Though the origin story behind the group is murky, we got Intruder Blue (he’s the one in the blue mask, in case you were wondering) to answer a handful of questions via e-mail recently. He powered up a stolen lap top and covered everything from Pussy Riot sharing their love of anonymity to crossing borders with an arrest record.

BLURT: How did you guys come together? Your bio says you are all from the Midwest, but there definitely seems to be a strong Jersey accent in a lot of the vocals.

INTRUDER BLUE: It’s not a Jersey accent. Lots of people make that mistake. Our accent is actually from prison, which is where we met each other and honed our pop-punk crooning skills. After we, uh… were released, we moved to the Midwest ‘cause that seemed to make sense to us for some reason at the time. In retrospect we probably shoulda gone to Montana or something, since nobody lives there and so there are almost no cops. We are currently based out of Madison, Wisconsin. Lovely town. Do you realize how delicious beer and cheese are? People just keep that stuff in their houses here. And they hardly even lock their doors!

You guys recorded with Matt Allison again for this one. Did you have a decent rapport having already worked together in the past?

Absolutely. We entered into the process as friends. We knew what we could expect from each other and how to push each other to do our best. You just can’t beat that kinda chemistry when you’re cutting a record. It’s a lot of work, and if you want to get something really good out of the process, you have to know what you are going for and how to get there. We definitely had that going for us as we entered into the making of this record, and we worked like dogs to make it the best thing we could possibly make. We’re stoked on it. Matt is too.

What’s tougher, being in prison or being a touring indie punk band?

I mean, prison for sure. Some indie bands do pretty well with the ladies. In prison, you pretty much don’t get to make out with ladies ever, under any circumstances, no matter how deep your lyrics are. So, if you like the ladies, I would go band over prison any day. Now, on the other hand, if you are more into hanging out with dudes, making tooth brushes into makeshift knives, impromptu pillow fights and the occasional riot, prison may be for you. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

Who in the band has the longer rap sheet?

Probably Red. This one time, he was arrested for stealing the same motorcycle three times in one week. It was all a simple misunderstanding… The dude that owned it didn’t understand how much Red wanted it, and the cops didn’t understand how to stay out of it and mind their own business.

Seems like the ladies in Pussy Riot have copped your look or was it the other way around? Who wore the hats/masks first?

We actually started before Pussy Riot, but I doubt they were trying to copy us. They probably hadn’t even heard of us ‘cause our demo had only been out for about six months at the time they started. I guess it is possible, though, cause of the Internet and stuff like that. But, who knows. The thing is, we don’t have that much in common with them. I mean, they’re political, we’re not. They’re girls, we’re not. They have the word “pussy” in their name, we don’t. They’re Russian, we’re American. They’re a very serious, very important movement. We just wanna play love songs for the nice people. They’re cool by us, though. For the record, we would make out with them anytime, anywhere.

You guys have plans to hit up Europe, Australia and much of the U.S. this year. What’s the best and worst thing about touring?

The best thing about touring is all the cool people you get to meet and hang out with. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of the musicians and criminals that we looked up to as kids and that we really respect. Also, another cool thing about tour: you get to eat a lot of snacks. The four tour food groups are Doritos, Cheetos, burritos and beer. The worst part is probably just the whole thing of having to look over your shoulder for the cops. But, that’s no different really than being home. So, there’s no real drawback. I guess that’s why we tour all the time. It’s awesome!

Given that you travel across borders with suitcases packed with four ski masks, do you ever have problems with the folks at customs?

Never been a problem. Here’s a little tip for getting through customs: sneak in. It’s not as hard as you think, seeing as how there are so many people going through every day. Plus, most of the people that work in customs are just bored out of their minds and don’t even care about their jobs. They basically want you to try and sneak something past them, even if they don’t know it. Just like prison guards. Sure, they pretend not to want to have to get into a tussle, but they love an opportunity to take their nightstick to some poor shlub’s dome piece. So, yeah, you gotta sneak in places. Trust me, it’s more fun than trying to get through by the book.

What’s next for the band?

We have a ton of tour dates in the US, Canada, the UK and mainland Europe. So, we will be pretty busy for a while making sure everybody gets a chance to see us. After that, who knows? I mean, we do, but we aren’t saying. Snitches get stitches.

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.3

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.3

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the third installment in our latest genre study, with Prong, Serpentine Path, Lord Mantis, The Oath and the eye-poppingly-monikered Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or here for the second, Pt. 666.2 — if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

 

Prong - Ruining Lives

One of the most perennially underrated metal acts around, Prong may not release albums as often as it used to, but when it does, ears should perk up. The hardcore-infused NYC troop scored a real return to form with its last record Carved Into Stone; new slab Ruining Lives (Steamhammer/SPV) consolidates its musical gains with even more potent songwriting. Bandleader Tommy Victor (who played nearly every note here) is an expert at adding just enough melody to keep tracks earworm-worthy, while still maintaining the band’s brutal strength and martial rhythms. New metal anthems “Absence of Light,” “Remove, Separate Self” and the thrashing “The Book of Change” raise the bar not only for the band but modern metal in general. Prong’s precision-riff blend of thrash, classic metal and hardcore has been tremendously influential on the metalcore and nü-metal hordes, but don’t blame Victor for that. Ruining Lives shows the no-longer-young bucks of the last couple of decades how to do that shit right. (Album stream here.)

***

Sweden’s Portrait takes inspiration from the galloping-down-the-mountain style of 80s metal warcries, blazing away like neither hair metal nor grunge ever happened. Crossroads (Metal Blade), the band’s third album, tones the Mercyful Fate worship down (though singer Per Karlsson’s abrupt pitchshifting still pays tribute to Fate’s King Diamond), but still proudly waves the flag for spread-legged, denim-wearing air guitarists everywhere. Old-fashioned? Sure – nostalgic, even. But the Scandinavians have an amazing ability to make the hoariest clichés sound fresh and exciting, and Portrait’s combination of skillful bombast and naked enthusiasm on “Black Easter,” “We Are Not Alone” and the epic “Lily” gives Crossroads a shiny new coat of crimson.

***

 

High Spirits You Are Here

Chicago’s prolific Chris Black (Dawnbringer, Superchrist, Pharaoh, Nachtmystium) knows a thing or two about 80s metal as well – check out You Are Here (Hells Headbangers), the third record from his one-man-band project High Spirits for a set of supremely melodic, lusciously rifftastic, shockingly lovelorn hard rock in a style pretty nobody plays anymore. Beautifully produced, plainspokenly sung and catchy as a cold, “I Need Your Love,” “The Last Night” and “When the Lights Go Down” would’ve ruled AOR radio in the Reagan Years. (Album stream here.) The dudes in The Skull, meanwhile, actually hail from that decade – the band consists of ex-members of the long-running doom institution Trouble. Unsurprisingly, the band’s debut 7-inch “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” b/w “The Last Judgment” (Tee Pee) sounds like vintage Trouble (though not Vintage Trouble) – roaring riff-boom with a shot of NWoBHM majesty and psychedelic atmosphere. Which makes it doubly odd that Skull singer Eric Wagner left Trouble because he wanted to expand his musical horizons.

***

SerpentinePath

Though named Serpentine Path and including ex-Electric Wizard bassist Tim Bagshaw (here on guitar), the band that’s created the magnificently ugly Emanations (Relapse) is essentially an Unearthly Trance reunion. The blackened doom of that highly underrated outfit roils in full effect here: leader Ryan Lipynsky grinds sorcerous sludge from his six-string and growls like a boulder-chewing troll stewing in hatred, while the rest of the quartet rumbles forward like a tank spewing oil smoke. “Torment,” “Disfigured Colossus,” “Systematic Extinction” – these ain’t ditties with which to sing your child to sleep. Speaking of nightmares, Sweden’s Vampire comes blasting out of the graveyard like a ravenous ghoul with its self-titled debut (Century Media). With a smidge of Motörhead, a soupçon of early Metallica and a whole lotta old school black metal, the fearsome foursome flails the hell into “Cellar Grave Vampire,” “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse” (nice Coffin Joe reference) and, of course, “The Bestial Abyss” with all the subtlety of an ax to the skull. This band must be a faceripper live. And speaking of leaving bloody skulls in its wake, Chicago’s Lord Mantis unleashes more angry demons from hell on its third album Death Mark (Profound Lore). Imagine an army of nihilistic locusts consuming the outer layer of the earth while pissing xenomorphic acid on the remainder and you have a vague grasp of the shrieking death sludge powering “Body Choke,” “Possession Prayer” and the beastly “Three Crosses.” It takes a lot of blackened hate to get noticed in the same year that fellow travelers Eyehategod and Indian (whose Dylan O’Toole guests) released definitive statements, but Lord Mantis leaves enough flesh between the teeth to hang with the big boys.

***

On its self-titled debut (Rise Above), Euro duo The Oath revels in two of heavy metal’s most essential concepts: the mysterious spirit world and the almighty riff. With a rhythm section borrowed from Kadavar and Angel Witch and assistance from Swedish luminaries In Solitude and Watain, Swedish guitarist Linnea Olsson and German singer Johanna Sadonis kick out the occult metal jams with a bluesy psychedelic edge, like Dio-era Black Sabbath recording in 1969. Click “Black Rainbow” and “Night Child” for some nicely fried, gracefully bludgeoning kicks – drag that the band has already split. Olsson’s fellow Swedes in The Tower travel even further back into the Retroverse on Hic Abundant Leones (Bad Omen/Prosthetic). The quartet’s blues-rocking proto-metal pares down to the basics of riff and rhythm, rattling “Adrenalawine” and “Lions at the Gate” straight into the stratosphere. (Audio stream here.) The ridiculously named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell rides a similar hog on its second LP Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em (Rise Above), subtracting a bit of Chicago and adding a smidge more Detroit. Shorter, sharper jabs a la “Happiness Begins,” “Do It Now” and, erm, “The Thicker the Better” play better to ASCS’s strengths, but longer slogs like “Returning From Home” and “Late Night Mornings” give guitarist Johnny Gorilla (ex-Gorilla, natch) more room to stomp.

***
WoFat

From the ancient lands of Ireland cometh Dread Sovereign, its thundering tread trampling the earth like a giant exploring his new territory after sliding down the beanstalk. On All Hell’s Martyrs (Vån), the Dublin trio errs on the mystical side of heavy-as-hell doom grunge, its tall tales oozing from some other, fouler dimension. “Thirteen Clergy,” “Pray to the Devil in Man” and “Cathars to Their Doom” give explicit nods to Old Scratch, but the deeper, creepier epic “Cthulu Opiate Haze” draws from the same disturbed mind that conceived the Necronomicon. Dread Sovereign’s dream evil thud aims to haunt your dreams as much as pound your heart. Dallas trio Wo Fat’s doom, meanwhile, comes in a far more psilocybin-soaked container. The band’s fifth album The Conjuring (Small Stone) picks up where its stellar previous LP The Black Code left off, as the catchy “Read the Omen” and the blue whale-sized “Dreamwalker” shoot bowel-rumbling heaviness through the heart of an exploding star. (Album stream here.)

***


On the appropriately titled Deafen (Domestic Genocide), Black Tar Prophet strips doom down to its thong underwear and dips it in the radioactive slime leaking from a nuclear power plant. Consisting of nobody but bassist Greg Swinehart and drummer Eric Dever, the band sounds like it’s lifting every classic slow burn Sabbath rhythm section track and cranking the amps past 11. Seriously, if you ever thought the first Sabs record would have been great without that annoying Ozzy and mix-hogging Tony Iommi, Deafen will tweak your fantasies hard –  “Ring of Buzzards,” “Hypomania” and the magnificent monstrosity “Back On the Nod” grimly revel in the sonic torture of helpless bass amps while a drum kit keeps up the snappy patter. Loud at any volume, Black Tar Prophet bass tones its way through your ribcage on its way to shattering your spine.

***

Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

 

WHY SO SERIOUS? Lykke Li

Lykke Li new

With a somewhat lackluster new Lykke Li album in stores, we opt to present, instead, this 2011 interview from the BLURT archives.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 Ed. note: Lykke Li has just released her third album, I Never Learn, to decidedly mixed reviews—unlike 2008 debut Youth Novels and 2011 breakthrough Wounded Rhymes, both of which notched commercial and critical acclaim. While the new record is full of the Swedish songbird’s trademarks, among them grand walls of Spectorian sound alongside more intimate girlgroup-tilting flourishes, all powered by Li’s angelic gospel vocals, it is in truth more of a continuation than an evolution. Commentators have also questioned her continued—some say relentless—pursuit of heartbreak-as-thematic-fodder; for while grey-hued inward wanderings have always been part of the musical landscape, as with life, a little sun must occasionally peek through the rainclouds. Here, though, the songtitles tell the story: “I Never Learn,” “No Rest For the Wicked,” “Never Gonna Love Again,” “Sleeping Alone,” “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” etc.

       Now let’s be fair here: some of pop’s greatest songs have charted the vicissitudes of the heart (the greatest one of all time being “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”). But every single track on this album seems determined to tell, in excruciatingly vague terms, how somebody done that Swedish gal wrong. To wit: “I’ll die here as your phantom lover/ I never learn” (from the 12-string powered title track); “Can you give me just another/ For that one who got away/ Lone I, I’m so alone now” (the grandiose, Gregorian chant-like “No Rest For the Wicked”); “I’m letting you go/ I’m setting you free/ I no longer love/ Head over heels” (Phil Spectorish girl-group ballad “Just Like a Dream”). Li even poses in a funeral veil in several of her new promotional photos, just in case you didn’t get the point she’s in mourning for… something. One wonders whether or not longtime studio collaborator Bjorn Yttling provided the kind of sage counsel this time around that might’ve lightened Li’s touch, or perhaps it was the mainstream urgings of Greg Kurstin, who’s served up schlock for the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Pink, being voiced too loudly. In any event, with a three-year break between albums you’d expect the artist to demonstrate both stylistic and psychic growth, neither of which is all that apparent on the prophetically titled I Never Learn. Instead, Li seems content occupying a musical comfort zone while spinning out tale after tale of heartache and woe. Here’s hoping next time around Li does learn, or that she at least finds some happiness.

       Still, even though we’re disappointed in the album, we remain fans, so please enjoy our earlier Lykke Li profile, below, conducted by contributing editor A.D. Amorosi around the time of the release of Wounded Rhymes. Pictured above is Lykke Li in 2014; below, how she appeared in promotional photos circa 2011. —Fred Mills

Style: "Portrait B&W"

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

This woman and I would get along just fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: I know your dad’s a musician and can gather what you may have gleaned from him. But your mum was a photographer. What did you learn there?
A: I got the ability of being photogenic from her as she took a lot of photos of me. That’s not about the vanity of looking good. I don’t think that I am. It’s just that I don’t want to die when I see the photos snapped of me.

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

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

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

What was different this time than last time in regard to her producers was that now, Li got the Swedes to herself as opposed to the spare moments afforded and accorded a newbie. “I had to forgo things on the first album as there was never enough time. Never. That was a very traumatic experience.”
Maybe if the three of those cats had stopped all that whistling they could’ve given Li an extra minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good on that.

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

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

She likes that sadness, alright.

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

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

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

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

 

Tour dates at her official website: http://lykkeli.com/tour

THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I’VE EVER SEEN: Brian Baker of Bad Religion

Bad Religion

You’re about to enter a world of pain. Since BLURT launched in 2008 we’ve asked musicians, comedians and authors to write about their most outrageous stories. They’ve really delivered the gross-eries – we have sex, scat, puke, violence and heart-wrenching tragedy among almost three dozen columns at BlurtOnline.com and in the print magazine. What follows another true story of seriously fucked-up events: it might make you laugh; it might make you cringe; it might even make you puke. Grab a bucket; it’s about to get weird. —As told to Senior Editor Randy Harward

HEY, THERE’S FUCKIN’ ARTIMUS PYLE!

 By Brian Baker of Bad Religion

When I was with Junkyard, we opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. That tour has enough stories for an entire novel in itself. One show was at an amusement park in Canada, I think. My memory sucks. The Internet would know this.

Do you remember when Lynyrd Skynyrd had their famous plane crash? Artimus Pyle was the guy that pulled the survivors out of the plane. He had a broken leg and he still walked a few miles to a farmhouse to find help.

So on the tour we were doin’, Skynyrd had two drummers: Pyle and Kurt Custer. And you know, in Southern rock, two drummers is not that weird. Anyway, Pyle decided to climb the lighting rig during the show. He was maybe 100 feet above the fuckin’ stage, and everyone’s pointing at him. “Hey, there’s fuckin’ Artimus Pyle!”

He wasn’t supposed to drink on that tour. But earlier he’d gone into our dressing room and drank all of [Junkyard singer] David Roach’s whiskey. So when Skynyrd came onstage, Artimus Pyle wasn’t there, or at least ready to go. That’s basically when they fired him. We watched him get fired from the band he saved from a burning plane.

Ed note: The ostensibly official accounts of the plane crash make no mention of Pyle’s monkey business as the reason for his dismissal. That said, we prefer Baker’s account. Punk legends Bad Religion released their sixteenth album, True North, last year via Epitaph Records.