Monthly Archives: September 2015

THE ART OF TRUST: Des Ark

Des ARk crop

On her first record in nearly five years, Aimée Argote’s ruthless brand of songwriting shines through. To reach that goal, though, she had to do some letting go and allow the instincts of some other musicians to assist.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

The same adjectives show up in every story about Aimée Argote’s Des Ark – “raw,” “emotional,” “honest” — and they’re going to appear in this one, too, make no mistake. Raw truths (see?) are such a part of what Argote does in song that their presence is not just requested, but required. That’s down to her music, of course. Over the course of a decade-plus now, few songwriters have proven as adept and willing as Argote to fillet open the human heart in such excruciatingly honest detail, and then take those examinations to such quiet, lonely corners and cathartic heights.

Her latest release, the jovially titled Everything Dies, is out officially Oct. 2 on Graveface Records. If this were the pre-digital days when labels could afford the occasional apropos promotion, this one would come with its own pack of Kleenex. In track after gorgeously luscious track, through the turmoil of electric guitars and percussion or the plangent chords of her forest cabin piano, Argote opens her heart and by doing so takes dead aim at ours.

And she wastes no time with the bloodletting. Lead track “Peace to You, Motherfucker” is ripe with the contradictions that Argote, a sexual assault survivor, feels towards relationships of any kind. Over funereal acoustic guitar patterns and haunting piano, she sings, “If i ever have a lover who finds my pain/oh i will leave his ass in the fire & the rain/because a man who knows & still he stays…/that ain’t no man who you’d want around.”

Even on the LP’s brightest track, above, the sunny yet wistful “Don Taco & His Hot Sauce Toss,” issues of trust, anger and abandonment flit in and out of the banjo picking and sing-along choruses. And on “French Fries Are Magical,” over heartbreaking eBow sustain and finger-picked acoustic, trust transforms into oxygen—“why can’t i believe until you believe in me, why can i not breathe until you breathe into me?”—as Argote’s vocals evolve from suggestive whisper to desperate demand.

But at the end of “Ties,” a richly textured rocker excoriating abusers no matter their chemical excuses, Argote concedes, “i wish i didn’t give a fuck about the ties that bind /the blood, the guts, even little paper cuts/these are the ones we love.” And it’s that willingness to delve into these contradictions with ruthless honesty that stokes Argote’s songwriting.

But Everything Dies, coming nearly five years after Des Ark’s last one, the fiery Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker, nearly fulfilled its title by never seeing the light of day. As she’s done whenever she’s had a batch of songs ready for recording, the North Carolina native test drives them solo on WXDU, the eclectic Duke University owned non-commercial radio station. Most of this record’s nine songs have been floating around since 2013 on Live at WXDU Vol. 3 (her third volume of these super-demos) available at her Bandcamp page.

Argote’s plan was, as per, to flesh them out shortly afterward in the studio with Des Ark—a band made up of essentially whomever is available to play and chip in. But this time the songs’ journey to tape was far more circuitous than in the past. First, Argote’s parents were diagnosed with cancer one after the other, sidetracking music entirely for a year. Then followed an abortive attempt to record everything herself, before the songs eventually wandered through seven different studios, from her Triangle home base to Richmond, Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin. At the latter, a fecund week-long session with Jordan Geiger (Shearwater/Hospital Ships), Taylor Holenbeck (The Appleseed Cast) and Thor Harris (Bill Callahan/Swans) fleshed out the LP’s enveloping textures with everything from bowed vibes and clarinet to lap steel and synths.

Blurt chatted with a gracious and clearly relieved Argote over the phone from her Pittsboro, N.C. home on the eve of the LP’s official release. She gave us the 411 on the trials and tribulations Everything Dies went through, as well as what she’d learned between albums about collaboration, patience and priorities.

 

Des Ark 3

BLURT: Congratulations on a beautiful record. This really is an emotional rollercoaster, I’ve wound up wiping away a tear or two over the course of listening to it the last few weeks. But it’s got to be cathartic for you, too, right? Or do you ever think, ‘screw it, dance number!’

ARGOTE: Oh, that’s great! Sometimes you have to push people to do that. I’ll let you know when I have a Weezer cover band just for that purpose.

Some of these songs have been around a while in various iterations, like the WXDU versions; how come this one took a while?

I do those, they’re like demos, live on the radio, just me and acoustic guitar. But it’s funny, with this record I did one of those but wasn’t in a place in my life where I could really make a record for three or four years. And so those songs have just sat there. The intention is always to just kind of bookmark them on that radio recording, and then come back later because things really kind of open up and take on new meanings when you put them in the studio. So I always want to do that with my songs, but it’s been a little bit funny with this record because a lot of them I recorded on that last ‘XDU thing with the full intention of going into the studio soon after and making full studio versions. But then they just sat there. I just didn’t have time, really.

This record was really difficult just because both my parents had cancer in the last few years, like back-to-back, so I moved back to North Carolina to help out with that, and music took a real back seat for me just because my family was my priority and I didn’t really want to put a time limit on how long I’d be here or what kind of support I could give them. So there was no band that knew the songs, everything was just up in the air. So when I decided to make the record, I thought I’ll just go to (producer for Wilco, Beck) Brian Paulson’s house and just do everything myself; I’ll start with these little acoustic things and just build atop them, little by little, all on my own. And we tried doing a couple things, but it was a total disaster for me. I realized I would never, ever, ever get this done if it was just me and my own brain trying to push myself forward.

So my friends had a studio just in their bedroom in Austin, and I knew a bunch of people that lived there, or near there, like in New Orleans and stuff, and I was like, ‘let’s all just meet in Austin for a week and try and knock out as much as possible in this bedroom.’ And so that’s what we did—we all met there for a week in Austin and though our friend Thor (Harris) played drums on a lot of it we didn’t have a way to record a full drum set, so even that was really complicated—like trying to record one drum at a time: ‘Let’s do the kick-drum track, okay, now the snare drum.’ It didn’t really work out, but I have a friend in Richmond with a studio and he is an amazing drummer, Jonathan Fuller, so we went and recorded more drum tracks with him and then some friends of mine went out of town and they had a studio in their house so I did my background vocals while I was pet-sitting for them.

So I think there ended being seven studios. I listed six, but there was one studio I even forgot to put in the credits. I didn’t exactly have a budget, and I left my label in the middle, so everything was recorded on favors and ‘I’ll pay you when I figure out what I’m doing’ kind of thing. But it all worked out in the end, it just took forever. It’s kind of like, ‘yeah, I want a glass of water.’ And you think, ‘sure, a glass of water, that seems super easy.’ But you’ve got to put it in a glass that’s completely shattered in pieces all over your yard, and you’ve got to go find all those pieces and then glue them all together and then the very last step is getting the glass of water, which you thought would be the first step—it was sort of like that! I always felt I started, so I had to finish, but every time I started a new part of it, I felt like, ‘aw, shit, there’s so much more to do!’ But I just kept going. Little by little I just chipped away at it, and it’s finally done and I kind of can’t believe it!

And yet you end up with this record that’s lush and rich and doesn’t show any of the shards…

I am a little worried about it because when I listen to it, I hear that—I hear all this anxiety. And our records have always been like that, we’ve always had to kind of piece them together because there not really a band, but never to that extent. So I don’t hear it as a finished product, I hear it as a 100 different stages. So it’s nice to hear that from you—I’m glad that it’s coherent to other people. I’m not there yet.

Since those demos typically signal you’re going in the studio, and this time they didn’t, did the songs change meaning for you over that time?

Absolutely. Totally. When you’re facing death of the people who raised you, and there were some other deaths of people I was really close to or sicknesses, and I was really sick for a whole year—I think in some ways I finally experienced some of the things that I had sung about but hadn’t gone through. I think a lot of people in this world would choose not to play music in those circumstances because there is too much shit going on in their lives—they just can’t leave it. And I always felt it was my job to tell those stories, sure, for a lot of what’s happened to me, but a lot times for people who didn’t have an outlet to communicate those stories to a larger community. And I think I ended up going through a lot of those things, and again, when you’re facing the death of two people who created your world for you—the scale of importance and where you place certain things gets completely jumbled up, and it’s very different at the end of this record than it was at the beginning.

It’s funny—I also had time to let go. I typically don’t write songs until I’m through the other side of whatever the experience was: I experience it, then I go through the stages of grief or anger or whatever I have about it, and then a couple years later I get a song about it. And I just sort of wait for them, and they come. It’s never while it’s happening, though. And I wrote those songs after a lot of those things had happened, then gave it another few years before I recorded them—it allowed me to approach the song in a less sensitive state, and that allowed me to experiment with them more because I wasn’t as sensitive about where they would go.

It was funny, there’s this one song on there about something that I hadn’t felt emotional about for years, I just had really let it go, it didn’t affect me. And then I got in that vocal booth, and it was one of the very last songs we did, and I started bawling. It was crazy! I’ve never experienced that before in my life. It just triggered something, and I wasn’t even thinking about that person, I wasn’t sad about that person that the song was about—I just got so sad about what it feels to go through a break-up (laughing, nervously), and it wasn’t even about the person I was singing about. Just remembering – aw, man, going through break-ups SUCKS! And I got really sad in the vocal booth just over the experience of a break-up in general.

Which song?

It’s called “Snake Stuff.” It was so funny to have this totally emotional reaction to my song, but it wasn’t about the experience I was singing about. It was just how I think anybody else might feel emotional when they listen to a Des Ark song—they’re just putting something else in it, it’s not what I’m writing about. And it happened to me on my song—it was so bizarre, and I had to take like 20 minutes to recover, like, ‘I have no idea why I’m crying right now, I’m not thinking about the lyrics as they happened in my own life, but I’m just really sad right now.’ [Below, listen to a live version of “Snake Stuff”]

That’s kind of what music’s supposed to do, though, right? When it’s heartfelt and done well, make that connection to us?

Yeah, well, I kicked my own ass there. Usually when I’m writing a song and I know it’s done, I’ll just burst out crying. It hits some emotional nerve and it becomes this really physical reaction. And then I know, ‘cool, it’s done, I know it’s good, I got it.’ It’s going where it needs to go. But it’s because I’m really connecting with the thing I’m…it’s a lot like licking a battery, you’re like, ‘okay, I know this is going to hurt—blurgh—okay, that hurt.’ Looking for that feeling and when you get there you know you’ve got there. And that happens to me every single song I write: If I don’t cry at the end, if I don’t have that physical—ack!, you know it’s gotta get out kind of thing—then it’s not done unless it makes me really bummed. And it wasn’t that at all—it was completely different.

What did you learn different in the interim about the arrangements? Because this record sounds different than Don’t Rock the Boat

A lot of it is that I played with incredible musicians, and there were half of those songs with a rock band and then the other half it was me kind of piecing stuff together with somebody here and there helping out. Like, I don’t play drums, so I don’t have a drummer. This one, that week in Austin was really amazing. I’d never had an experience where I sit around with a group of people and listen to some skeleton of a song and just talk about it—like, what do we want it to feel like? I always am typically guiding that process. I know that I want it to make you feel like your babysitter just quit, or whatever. I mean, I know the emotional phase, but I’d never really got to sit down and talk about my songs with other musicians. I do that in a live setting, but I’d never really done that to that extent in a recording setting.

And they’d all heard them before, right? The demos of them?

Yeah, I sent them the radio demos, ‘hey, this is what we’re doing, and I want it to get crazy in this area’ or whatever. So that was really cool, I think when your songs are a lot of times so personal. I think I’ve always made bands with a really large sense of control over how it works sonically. Like writing all the guitar parts that everyone plays, and really kind of directing things to, well, maybe like to an annoying level to the people in the band. But I had to let go. I had to trust other musicians to really do their thing.

And I had never done that to that extent before, and so I think that that’s a lot of it. I went through that experience at the beginning where I tried to do it all myself and I couldn’t, and I really had to face that. And that was really hard – I always thought, ‘oh, I can take on that project, sure, no problem.’ And then I definitely couldn’t, and in order to finish the record, I had to trust these wonderful musicians.

Des Ark by Marc Krause

Des Ark plays Mercury Lounge , NYC, on October 8th. More dates tba—check the official website.

Photo credit: Marc Krause

 

 

AND THE LORD DID SAY, LET THERE BE TWANG: AmericanaFest 2015

americana-fest

From a down home journey to a far afield celebration of seminal sounds and styles: Music City USA becomes Americana Ground Zero once again, from Sept. 15-20, and our man on the ground in Tennessee was there once again. And hey, it was powered by Nissan – what’s not to like!

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN / PHOTOS BY ALISA B. CHERRY

Like most festivals worth their weight in wristbands, the Americana Music Festival and Conference, held every September in Music City, Nashville Tennessee, demands lots of choices. There are so many conflicting concerts and events in fact, that it’s a challenge in itself trying to decide which shows to see and which have to be dropped by the wayside. It’s made all the more difficult due to the fact that one might wait a lifetime to see many of these artists. Because this is Americana after all, performers from throughout the world flock to Nashville to be a part of the proceedings. Oftentimes, the festival stages host musicians who would be reticent to appear anywhere else. Where else can you find Robert Plant sharing the stage with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter like they did last year, or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band celebrating their 50th anniversary with the likes of Vince Gill, Jackson Browne, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Rodney Crowell as they did just last week.

The answer is, of course, nowhere else. [Below: Patty Griffin]

Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin

And that’s the lure of AmericanaFest. South By Southwest may draw the masses and thrive on diversity, but here in Nashville, the emphasis is on American music, albeit often performed by artists from outside its native realms. It is, in so many words, an abundance of riches. Which often means that for every artist one is privileged to see, there are likely two or three others that have to be forfeited due to competing showtimes. Nevertheless, that’s the cost of sheer sound extravagance, and if nothing else, AmericanaFest has that in abundance.

AmericanaFest began unusually early this year. Where it typically kicks off on a Wednesday, this time it got an unofficial start on the preceding Sunday courtesy of a photo exhibit by the renowned photographer to the stars Henry Diltz and a special guest appearance from the former Mrs George Harrison/Mrs Eric Clapton, Patti Boyd. The festival still had not officially kicked off the next night when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band shared their half century celebration at the Ryman, running through all their classic tunes and recounting the transformative event that was their gathering of past and present music legends on the landmark album Will the Circle Be Unbroken. With the aforementioned superstars in tow, and braced with back-up from Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, it was a night of music and memories in a spectacular setting. Suffice it to say, it was well worth the three hour drive each way from Knoxville on the far east end of the state.

Jim Lauderddale

Two days later we returned to Nashville, encamping ourselves downtown on a street marked by such quirkily-named establishments as the Cook Out and Dang It Cell Phone Repair. Unfortunately, there was no time to frequent these establishments because of the rush to the annual Americana Music Awards, a star-studded affair celebrating the best the genre had to offer, complete with one of a kind performances and abundant awards handed out to those who have both served the style well and those who promise to continue the trajectory into the future. Think the Academy Awards with a bit more grit and a lot less pretence. Hosted by the always dependable and generally unflappable Jim Lauderdale (above) — known for great songs, a wealth of record releases, perfect hair and, in the words of one participant, “the wit of Regis” — the ceremony featured an all star ensemble led by perennial band leader Buddy Miller and special honors accorded to Don Henley, Ricky Skaggs, Los Lobos, the Mavericks, Lucinda Williams, Sturgill Simpson, Buffy Saint Marie, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. As held in the sacred confines of the Ryman, it was once again a night to be cherished.

Mavericks2

Nevertheless, it was only the start of five days of extraordinary concerts and memorable encounters. There were those that were greatly anticipated — an interview with Don Henley at the Country Music Hall of Fame that found the sometimes taciturn Eagle opening up on his influences and inspirations; an intimate radio performance at the Sirius XM studios by the always affable Ray Wylie Hubbard and his various special guests; a live concert at the legendary Music City Limits, featuring performances by Whitehorse, Shemekia Copeland, Joel Rafael and the Mavericks (above) who, having been accorded Group of the Year honors at the awards ceremony the night before, offered a sensation performance the night after; an open house in the always hospitable environs of Compass Records; various luncheons and gatherings hosted by contingents from England, Australia and Canada; and a wealth of workshops and panel discussions that catered to those who weren’t inclined to sleep in late after an evening of festivities the night before.

Doug Seegers

In fact, the nightly prowl between the dozens of venues Nashville has to offer is the traditional high point — with the emphasis on the word “high” — for the majority of the AmericanaFest attendees. And that’s where the aforementioned dilemma comes into play. We opted for performances by Buddy Miller and Marc Ribot, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites and Ry Cooder, and the Hillbenders’s spellbinding bluegrass take on Tommy at 3rd and Lindsley; Richie Furay doing an all too abbreviated set at the Station Inn; a revved up J.D. McPherson, a beaming Josh Ritter and a sometimes grumpy but ever transcendent Glen Hansard at the Cannery Ballroom; and an inspiring set by Doug Seegers (above) who, having been rescued from poverty and discovered late in life, is now best described as the reincarnation of Hank Williams St., and Gretchen Peters (below), whose sublime set typified a lyric from one her songs, “The cure for the pain is the pain” at the Winery.

Gretchen Peters

Still, for all the anticipation, it was the discovery of those bands of whom we were unfamiliar that provided some of the greatest satisfaction — the Show Ponies, a young group from California making their first visit to Nashville (“I can’t believe they let us play here,” they proclaimed); the remarkable loops and harmonies of Whitehorse; the transcendent British Band The Dreaming Spires, Australia’s Henry Wagons (below), Halfway, Oh Pep!, Emma Swift and Raised By Eagles; Canada’s Tim Chaisson, Amber McLean, the Dead South, The Small Glories and star in the making Whitney Rose.

Henry Wagons

That list of star power doesn’t even include the many cameo appearances spotted over the course of our five days there — former Poco drummer George Grantham at the Richie Furay show, Lowell Levinger — Banana of Youngbloods fame — touting his new album at the Aussie showcase, Grant Lee Phillips looking on at that same event, legendary producer/musician Jon Tiven checking out the Canadian performers, Mary Gauthier chatting in the hotel coffee shop, and Robyn Hitchcock not only seemingly everywhere, but also on hand at Rawlings and Welch’s studio when we were invited for a special visit (Thanks Dave!). And was that Richard Thompson making an exit at the Winery? With that individual sporting the same trademark cap, it sure looked like it may have been. [Below: Welch & Rawlings]

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

A visit to the amazing Country Hall of Fame brought other cameos of sorts, represented in the trademark costumes belonging to the decades of iconoclastic legends who created the seminal sounds of country music going back nearly a century. Exhibits devoted to Sam Phillips of Sun Records and Bob Dylan’s early encounters with the Nashville studio scene were especially enlightening, but one couldn’t help but be awed by displays of Gram Parsons’ legendary Nudie suit with its embroidered marijuana leaves, and the boots and dress Emmylou Harris wore on the cover of Elite Hotel. I found myself gazing at those particular items in utter fascination.

As always, the rousing McCrary Sisters took over the festivities on Sunday morning with the traditional gospel brunch. As they sang their sacred standard “Let It Go,” one could take the song’s meaning in several ways. It would be hard to let go of the incredible encounters AmericanaFest afforded, but knowing new opportunities await next year always brings some special comfort.

As for the music itself, ultimately it was Richie Furay who best summed up the sound he helped invent with Poco and the Buffalo Springfield. “We played rock n roll songs with country guitars,” he sang on his song “We Were the Dreamers,” culled from his recent album Hand In Hand. “We paved the way. Now its just music… nothing less nothing more.”

After a week at Americana, one gets the definite impression Richie may be selling it all short. [Below: Rodney Crowell & Don Henley at the awards ceremony]

Rodney Crowell & Don Henley

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Lee Zimmerman is Contributing Editor at Blurt. He lives in Tennessee where he likes his beer strong, his horses stronger, and his music twangy.

 

IN A HOPSCOTCH STATE OF MIND: The 2015 Hopscotch Music Festival

 

Held Sept. 10-12, and once again in Raleigh, NC, the big names included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dwight Yoakam, TV On the Radio, Chelsea Wolfe, Pusha T, Roky Erickson, Battles, X, Ought, Tycho and Godflesh. We sent two veteran Hopscotchers to the event, and now they have settled in to talk about it for us. We also have Wall’s visual slideshows for each night, below.

BY PATRICK WALL AND CORBIE HILL

Last weekend, the Hopscotch Music Festival turned six. For three days, every September since 2010, Hopscotch has occupied most of Raleigh’s venues with music that runs the gamut from accessible garage-rock to abrasive experimental noise, with all shades in between. This year there was a little less experimentalism and a little more EDM, and downtown Raleigh was packed with festivalgoers — venues had long lines early in the evening, and sidewalks were clogged with revelers from early evening until well after midnight.

There were highlights and let-downs, sure, and it rained like mad Thursday night. Still, BLURT sent music writers and veteran Hopscotchers Patrick Wall and Corbie Hill to cover it. What follows are their conversations from the weekend:

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Slideshow, Day 1:

HOPSCOTCH 2015 — THURSDAYDAY ONE

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

CITY PLAZA, 8:51 P.M.

CORBIE HILL: Godspeed You! Black Emperor just played … a song? Two songs? It’s hard to tell where their songs start and stop. It started raining.

PATRICK WALL: There was rain. Rain came down. I’d like to say it cleared out the crowd, but it didn’t.

CH: It revealed the people that wanted to be here.

PW: Programming Godspeed on a City Plaza stage, who’s that for, anyway?

CH: It’s for people who will stand in the rain to see Godspeed… What Patrick and I were emailing about before is that this is a weird thing to put outside. I actually feel like this is the best thing that could happen to this set, is that it could get rained on.

PW: It fits the music so well.

CH: What I’m trying to say is the sky’s an impatient Godspeed fan. The sky mistook crescendo number one for crescendo number 15.

PW: Get to the point, Canadians! (laughs) This is a band that you put them at Fletcher [Opera House], this is a packed house.

+++

CITY PLAZA, 10:08 p.m.

CH: Matching the predictable joke, Godspeed You! Black Emperor played for, what, two and a half hours?

PW: At least their allotted time plus. I think our last communique was something like 8:45. [Ed: He was close!]

CH: [My friend Andy and I] have seen four bands and this band three times.

PW: I have seen four bands and this band three times. I was thinking to myself, I’ve only seen four bands. At 10 p.m. on Thursday, this is probably the lowest number of bands I’ve seen since the first Hopscotch. I can’t tell if I’m in a slump or I’m just choosing my spots better.

CH: That’s a good thing to think about. At this point, we are Hopscotch veterans, six years each.

PW: I guess. That’s something, I suppose.

CH: Or maybe it reflects poorly on us and reflects some sort of stubbornness.

PW: I did stick it out through the rain during Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

CH: Andy and I went and there is a little tent over a Mini Cooper and we squeezed in, sitting on the Mini Cooper, practically, under this little tent that was hardly keeping us out of the rain…. I wonder if Godspeed is going to play a 48-minute encore.

PW: (laughs) One could only hope.

CH: So I guess we should talk about hopes and dreams for the evening.

PW: I guess it’s about that time. You guys are going to see Acid Chaperone at Deep South.

CH: Who we know nothing about, which is part of the draw.

PW: I know the drummer; he’s in Octopus Jones. From what I know about it, it’s very kraut-y, very psych-y, instrumental, which is right up my alley. But I want to see Solar Halos at Pour House.

CH: It’s almost a pick one or the other situation.

PW: That’s the beauty and the ugly part, I suppose, of Hopscotch, is that you are kind of forced into some hard decisions. For me, I don’t live in the Triangle. I don’t get to see a band like Solar Halos very often. Then again, I don’t get to see a band like Acid Chaperone, also a Triangle band. So there are choices that need to be made. Some of them are difficult and requires splitting sets. I can’t stay for all of Solar Halos because I want to see Phil Cook at Fletcher Opera House, and I want to see Mamiffer at Kennedy and Sannhet at Lincoln.

CH: And those are on top of each other.

PW: They overlap.

CH: I have a three-way overlap between Jenny Hval, Mumdance and Lydia Loveless. Jenny Hval is going to be tough to get into at Kings.

PW: I think so. Battles is going to be another tough one to get into, but that new Battles record is really good.

CH: So what’ve you seen tonight?

PW: I don’t go into Hopscotch with a lot of must-sees. That said, I did not want to miss Jake Xerxes Fussell. I loved that record he put out in January. I love most anything Paradise of Bachelors puts out. That record, in particular, is great. The record, William Tyler produced it and put together a crack team of Nashville guys to produce it. But Jake Xerxes Fussell and a Telecaster and a small Fender amplifier is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

CH: I saw Some Army. I saw the end of their set, and they have a very good record coming out, which is a shame because the songwriter and singer, Russ Baggett, just moved to Alabama. So basically this record they have been working on for years and that they Kickstarted and everything — you know, back when Kickstarter was a thing people did — is finally going to come out when the band is not completely viable any more. They did great. It was Lincoln and the bass was weird and the kick drum was mixed obscenely loud, but they did great. They closed with a kind of a swinging, gentle, easy song that closes on this brutal, accelerating, accelerating, accelerating kraut-rock crescendo. At that point I was glad the bass drum was mixed so obscenely loud, because it just became a wash of noise.

PW: I feel like I need to interrupt you here, because we’re still sitting at City Plaza. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is breaking down and people are still trying to induce Godspeed You! Black Emperor into an encore, which is the exact opposite of what I thought would happen at a Godspeed You! Black Emperor set at City Plaza, outside.

CH: I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve been working out my analogies, and they are the Beatles of this whole post-rock thing, or the Who, or the Stones.

PW: They absolutely are.

CH: For people who like their music moody and indrawn and protracted and all those other adjectives, these guys laid the foundations. There are people who will stand in the rain and cry while they play.

PW: At the same time, up until last year, they were relatively inactive. This isn’t a reunion tour, per se, but, at the same time, I think you can kind of extrapolate this to the rest of the City Plaza headliners. There is a bit of a nostalgia factor to it.

CH: Oh, totally.

PW: Godspeed’s seminal records, your F#A#∞ and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven ­— those records are 15 years old now. TV On the Radio are much more contemporary, but TV on the Radio was putting out their important records when I was still doing college radio. Dwight Yoakam is a country iconoclast, but you pair him with X and it’s hard not to look at those as — I don’t want to necessarily say nostalgic choices, because I don’t think Hopscotch is going for the nostalgia market a lot of festivals go for.

CH: We’d have the Pixies here if they were.

PW: We’d have the Pixies here, we’d have… yeah, I can’t think of a better analogy than the Pixies off the top of my head. I’m flustered. I don’t think it’s unique to this year. I’m looking at the City Plaza headliners from years past. We’re talking De La Soul, Public Enemy, The Roots.

CH: Flaming Lips. Oh my god, Guided By Voices. They’re like the ultimate nostalgia act. I feel like they were formed as a nostalgia act.

PW: The first couple of years, people lauded Hopscotch for how experimental it was, how weird it was, how boundary-pushing it was. The first couple of years, it was weird as hell. When you put the City Plaza headliners against that, this is easily the weirdest headliner they have had. It’s not like they played it safe. Public Enemy is not playing it safe with a City Plaza show. Mastodon is not playing it safe.

CH: Mastodon in 2014, I would posit, has been the best City Plaza headliner set. They were amazing.

PW: I would go with the Roots in 2012.

CH: Good pick, good pick. They are a crack squad.

PW: They’re a late-night squad now.

+++

BLOUNT STREET PARKING DECK, 1:47 AM

PW: We just saw Battles.

CH: We saw Battles, but my delightful 3-year-old is going to need somebody up and active and conversation-ready at about 7:28 in the morning.

PW: That’s why they invented coffee, Corbie.

CH: Usually I get out of bed between 7:08 and 7:12. Tomorrow I’m going to sleep in an extra 13 minutes! Because, when all is said and done, I will I have stayed up until 3:30 in the goddamn morning.

PW: It’s the challenge of Hopscotch for the working parent.

CH: No kidding. Every progressive year, as my children get older and more intellectually complex and emotionally developed, it’s what makes this more of a challenge for me, to be, like, “Do I really want to be awake that late?” As good as this is — I mean, I am not going to lie. I have had an excellent time at this here festival. It’s the strongest Thursday in several years.

PW: I did not even try to get into Jenny Hval. I audibled Jenny Hval for Lydia Loveless, and that was a very good idea. Lydia Loveless is five-foot-nothing and just sings these great alt-country songs with this crackerjack backing band and a really great pedal steel player. I’m a sucker for a great pedal steel player. She’s this absolute spitfire. She’s introducing this song and kind of deadpans, “This song is about getting fucked in your car.” How was Jenny Hval?

CH: Maybe we showed up at the wrong time, but it looked like a sketch comedy show making fun of experimental music. I’m not even talking clever sketch comedy; I’m talking Portlandia. We get there and the vocalist is standing in the middle of the stage, and she’s kind of doing this moaning, whimpering, crying thing, and then the rest of her band — there’s three or four of them and they’re all wearing nurses’ outfits and matching blonde wigs and grubbing around and pressing buttons on stuff. I appreciate a clattering kind of collage approach, but it just seemed slapdash and self-aware. There was no cohesion. We lasted about two minutes…. Battles was great, but Lizzo was just amazing. I want to open up with something we noticed earlier, right after our last conversation. The acts on the schedule are color coded, and one of the colors represents “urban,” and she was color coded as “urban.” For so many reasons, that is the worst genre signifier.

PW: She is described in the festival guide as, and I quote, “Born in Detroit and raised in Houston, Lizzo seamlessly bounces between rap, indie ballad, and R&B in her latest trap-based hip-hop collective, Girl Party.”

CH: And that is all true, but this was like if the Fly Girls went on a vengeance spree. It was fierce, it was badass. And she had these two dancers who had a lot of choreography and a lot of it was improv and some of the craziest acrobatic twerking I’ve ever seen.

PW: Every once and a while I miss that kind of discovery at Hopscotch. With these stages set up as they are and so genre-specific now, the stage at Lincoln was kind of the weirdest one all night. You had indie rock early with Some Army and Mac MacCaughan, but then you have Sannhet right in the middle of that. I saw Sannhet, and it was amazing — this gigantic, industrial post-rock using these aluminum guitars and basses, the drummer’s set is right up front. It’s just this assault on both eyes and ears; they’ve got strobelights flashing, they’ve got floodlights coming from behind them. “Oppressive” is a good way to put it. It’s very dry; it’s very 1981 kind of industrial music, guitar and bass tones, but with a big, hard-hitting kind of drummer instead of a drum machine. Then you put that with Battles…. When I think of the club headliners, Hopscotch has built a reputation on being experimental and being boundary-pushing. A lot of the headliners obliterate the boundaries or are relatively unclassifiable. You think of something like Death Blues or even Califone from a couple of years ago. Battles, I think, is a group like that. There’s polyrhythms, and there’s really smart things going on.

CH: And there are the crazy, complicated effects that they understand so well that they can control the chaos and give the impression that it’s uncontrolled chaos.

PW: To that effect, a lot of those effects are, at times, almost comical. Perhaps it’s just my bias as a guitar player and someone who likes effects pedals, but with effects pedals you don’t want someone to know you’ve stepped on an effects pedal. You want your guitar to sound like a guitar. I think for Ian Williams and Dave Konopka, if their guitar sounds like a guitar, they’re doing something wrong.

+++

Slideshow, Day 2:  

HOPSCOTCH 2015 — FRIDAY

DAY TWO

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

CITY PLAZA, 6:52 p.m.

PW: Let’s recap a little bit from yesterday before we get into today.

CH: It was pretty late when we spoke last night and I was pretty wiped out. But, hey, I got plenty of sleep, rolled out of bed at 8 a.m., ready to roll. So what have you processed about last night, since last night?

PW: I think what has dawned on me is that Battles seemed to warp my perception of space and time, Lydia Loveless was spitting fire, Phil Cook got his Ry Cooder on with the Southland Mission stuff. I hesitate to say I was pleasantly surprised with that set, because I know Phil Cook’s work and I know he’s done Ry Cooder tributes before and this is a very Ry Cooder-ish project with Southland Mission, but the last kind of supergroup show I saw at Fletcher Opera House was Matthew White and the Spacebomb Orchestra, and that kind of fell flat for me. But Phil Cook did not feel flat. Fletcher is a seated venue and probably within, like, 30 seconds of Phil Cook starting, he could tell that the audience wanted to get up and move around, so he said “feel free to get up and come to the stage.” And almost everybody did, which is uncommon in a seated venue like Fletcher.

CH: Their ushers tend to be very serious about sit in your seat and behave yourself.

PW: What about yourself?

CH: I’m looking at my list of the 12 festival bands I saw last night, and if I had to pick one essential set, it would be Lizzo, who I sang the praises of last night. She was a force of nature, her entire crew was on-point, the choreography was magnificent, the message was this realistic, super-confident, real world feminism. I thought it was delivered beautifully and to a welcoming crowd. She was a very gracious performer, was obviously enjoying herself, was enjoying her crowd. Andy and I had just come from a bunch of rock shows where everyone was so well-behaved and everyone was following the rules. We needed something that was chaotic; we needed something that had more blood flowing through it than it had carrying capacity to handle, and that was it.

PW: For me, that set was probably Mac MacCaughan. I’m still in awe of that guy. He seems to retain that kind of teenage riot spirit from when you’re 16 and you’re picking up your guitar for the first time and you’re starting a band, and you have that exuberance.

CH: Let’s talk about tonight.

PW: There’s always one night at Hopscotch that’s a difficult night where, you get to 11, 11:30, and there’s just a logjam. I remember Saturday last year was that day for me, and it’s Friday for me this year. This is overly ambitious of me, and I will be both impressed and surprised if I do this: Between 11:30 and 12:30, I’m angling to see 10 bands.

CH: I have eight circled in that same span. I’m running into the same thing. You’ve got Jenks Miller, who we just ran into, and Rose Cross and Father and Mitski all at the same time, all three of whom are exciting for different reasons.

PW: In the same time slot, I’m excited for Tombs at the Pour House.

CH: I don’t have them circled because it had to stop somewhere. It’s worth saying that Hopscotch, yet again, is the same weekend as a massive debutante ball. So as we have these festival crowds and loud rock bands, we also have these people whose outfits cost more than my mortgage every month, just strutting through, looking incredibly uncomfortable and incredibly out of place and annoyed that the little folk are upsetting their party. It amuses me to no end every year. This is the sixth year. It almost feels like there’s a passive-aggressive battle between the two and, as a lifelong Southerner, and as a descendent of poor Southerners, I appreciate that.

PW: As a carpetbagger, I maybe don’t have that perspective, but I’ve definitely noticed that. There is a culture clash, especially as we get further into the weekend.

CH: We are seeing our betters momentarily inconvenienced. That’s about all we can do to them, so we’re gonna do it.

+++

CITY PLAZA, 7:58 P.M.

PW: Tycho has now lost power twice.

CH: Each time, they roll with it. They don’t get visibly upset.

PW: Which is very commendable, because it seems there is no contingency plan.

CH: Correct, because it takes a long time to get everything rebooted. I don’t know, I’m no electrician, but you can’t just plug it back in. They clearly don’t have a contingency plan.

CH: Can anyone picture the riot if Dwight Yoakam loses power a bunch? [Ed: Not sure if I have ever heard the terms “riot” and “Dwight Yoakam” in the same sentence!]

+++

SOUTH STREET AT WILMINGTON STREET, 11:11 P.M.

CH: We just came from Tashi Dorji at Kennedy Theatre. Kennedy Theatre is running a little behind, and he played a set that was short and dense and essential. We’re back on time now, and I appreciate brevity — not because I think “Oh now, we need to get back on time!” but when someone says all that they came to say in that span of time, that is an essential and rare skill.

PW: It was such a transfixing set as well, watching him coax these sounds out of the forgotten parts of the guitar, coaxing these very non-guitar tones out of a standard jazz hollowbody guitar.

CH: This is something that dawned on me while I was watching him play: I realized I’ve actually known him for quite a while. I just didn’t put two and two together that this is the same guy I used to work with 10 years ago. I remember seeing him play then as well, and what dawned on me tonight was that a lot of people understand how to play the guitar, but he understands the physics of the guitar.

PW: Yeah. And I think that a lot of the more satisfying sets that I’ve seen so far at this Hopscotch have been guitarists who do that sort of thing, whether it’s Jake Xerxes Fussell or Tashi Dorji or Nathan Golub, even — who had kind of a Daniel Bachman, Jack Rose kind of feel to him, but not in a primitive way. It was very refined. Very traditional, but without feeling recidivist or cloying.

CH: It’s refreshing when a person can approach the blues in a way that is interesting and emotional. I mean, to be able to coax emotion back in the blues in 2015, that is remarkable.

PW: That is uncommon.

CH: What else have we seen since City Plaza?

PW: We’ve seen quite a lot, actually. I was a big fan of the couple of songs we saw by Ace Henderson.

CH: Very confrontational. Very take-no-prisoners, but a party at the same time.

PW: Very take-no-prisoners, but not in an antagonistic kind of way. There was a lot of call and response more than in-your-face grandstanding. I was a fan. The kid’s got a good flow. The DJ he had with him was good.

+++

BLOUNT STREET AT HARGETT STREET, 1:37 A.M.

PW: Day two, donezo.

CH: We just walked out of the Pour House, where Old Man Gloom is playing a long, long set. They’re a very good metal band. An all-star outfit, in fact.

PW: This is a metal supergroup. You’ve got members of Converge, you’ve got members of Isis and now Mamiffer, in Aaron Turner’s case. When you talk about the trap of nostalgia, Hopscotch has largely avoided that by avoiding the bands that are on the reunion circuit.

CH: Old Man Gloom is in no way, shape, or form a tribute to itself, so it avoids the trap.

PW: This is not the Pixies. And you said Pusha T is already done.

CH: He finished about 1:15 a.m. I felt like he would keep going after last call.

PW: I was kind of thinking that as well. I was hoping to make my way down there after Old Man Gloom. I stopped off to see Steve Gunn and Black Twig Pickers, which was excellent. I love Steve Gunn a lot, man. As a guitar player, he’s one of my favorite modern guitar players. He’s so mutable at what he can do. He can do the kind of Grateful Dead-y, Fairport Convention-y, folk rock-y, vaguely hippie thing very well. He does the avant-garde thing very well. He does the old-timey folk thing very well.

CH: And he can do stuff that even verges into free jazz, and very capably. None of these directions is a hobby.

PW: Before that, I saw Natalie Prass. I kind of felt like I stood around here maybe a little too long to see Tombs and Mitski. I thought I would miss Natalie Prass, and I’m glad I didn’t, because I walked in right as she was starting a Janet Jackson cover. “Any Time, Any Place,” which is a great Janet Jackson song. She absolutely killed it. It sounded like a Janet performance with a live outfit. She had the Spacebomb Orchestra with her. Most of those guys came with Matthew White a few years ago. She has an amazing voice and letting that take center stage, and oftentimes I think it’s overlooked in music that can be adorned with those kind of flourishes. She had some horns, she had a really great guitar player and a bass player and a Wurlitzer player, but I feel like that, after a while, can be a little too much and take away from the focus, which I think should be Natalie Prass.

CH: Speaking of slimming down, I felt like Mitski was a little too slimmed down. It was just her and her guitar and it was very delicate and very beautiful, and there was so little of it. Her set was so short.

PW: It was! It was extremely short.

CH: She was one of the ones I was looking forward to a lot. I feel like as delicate and intimate and personal her music is, I want more of it. By the time she was done, I was just starting to get on her wavelength. I don’t think she gave us time to join her wavelength, which is a shame because she’s a fantastic songwriter and singer.

PW: I certainly agree and I wonder how much of it is — she was at Tir na nOg, which is an Irish pub and there was a standing rock ’n’ roll crowd. I wonder if she would have fared better at Kennedy Theatre or Fletcher Opera House. It almost seems like solo performers, like it would be daunting in a place like Fletcher. Jake Xerxes Fussell fared very well there. Angel Olsen, two years ago, was great. I feel like it can be done.

CH: I guess the only other thing I want to talk about is Pile.

PW: I thought Pile was excellent. Very much a Chavez vibe, and I am always OK with bands that sound like Chavez.

CH: I love their stamina. They summoned this phenomenal amount of energy instantly, and it transferred. There was a good crowd. There were not a lot of people, per se, but it was people who were going to move with it and be into it and appreciate it for what it is.

PW: I feel like as we get later and later into the festival, especially a festival that is a marathon like Hopscotch is, seeing a band like that is refreshing. I certainly caught a bit of a wind after that.

CH: I did too. It has faded.

PW: Old Man Gloom kind of tidal-waved that out of me.

CH: So let’s each make one prediction for tomorrow, the more outlandish and unlikely, the better.

PW: X comes out and joins Dwight Yoakam for a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.”

CH: Chelsea Wolfe becomes a born-again Christian midway through her set.

+++

Slideshow, Day 3:

HOPSCOTCH 2015 — SATURDAY

DAY THREE

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

CITY PLAZA, 7:20 P.M.

PW: We’ve survived we’ve made it here to day three, which is a good thing.

CH: Right now X is playing “The Free World,” and I’m having a strange flashback to back when I used to be a Pearl Jam fan and I saw them in 2004 on the Vote for Change tour and they brought out the actor Tim Robbins and covered this song with him.

PW: Oh, wow.

CH: Pretty much.

PW: I literally have no response to that.

CH: For those of you who are reading this, Patrick’s expression I can only describe as befuddlement.

PW: It is befuddlement, bemusement… I am bamboozled.

CH: X is doing great.

PW: We ran into this last year with Death. X, at this point, is very much a legacy band. X’s reputation rides on the fact that they were very active in the punk scene in Los Angeles in the early to mid 1980s, and that’s why people know who John Doe is and that’s why people know who Exene Cervenka is. Much like Death last year, I think that’s reflected in the crowd.

CH: These people are very pleased to see X and X is very pleased to play for them.

PW: Absolutely. That’s possibly a slight on X and a slight on Hopscotch, I suppose, but at the same time, if you’re a band, you want to play in front of people who are excited to see you. To wit, I saw Locrian earlier in the day at one of the day parties, at Neptune’s, and I remember seeing Locrian a couple of years ago at maybe the first Hopscotch.

CH: It was the first. I was at that set.

PW: There were a handful of people to see Locrian in the middle of the day, and I bounced between that and the Friend Island set at Pour House, and it had Nick Sanborn from Sylvan Esso doing a solo set, Jenn Wassner from Wye Oak doing a solo set, it hat Loamlands playing, Grandma Sparrow was hosting it. That was capacity all day. I was surprised not only how easily I got into Neptune’s, but also how sparsely attended a band like Locrian was. But I met up with a friend of mine who was very excited to see Made of Oak and very excited to see Tushka. We had lunch and I said, “you know, I really want to go see Locrian.” And she’s not a metal person, but she saw it and she was blown away by it. I felt really good about that. One of the things I like the most about Hopscotch is the day parties. I feel like in the first few years, and Allison Hussey touched on this in INDY Week this week, was that day parties were a way to mitigate some of the harder decisions to make in the nighttime sets, and they aren’t like that anymore.

CH: Like the Churchkey party: It’s become its own thing in of itself. It’s not so much related to Hopscotch as it happens at the same time.

PW: Or, full disclosure, your day party called Let Feedback Ring, that’s become very much its own thing.

CH: To that end, I’m part of the problem, because when I and the other Let Feedback Ring organizers talk, it’s about what can we do this year, what did we not do last year, what can we change? It’s related to “How do we improve upon our presentation?” rather than “How do we engage with the greater Hopscotch bill?”

PW: Exactly, and I feel like, especially as the years have progressed, the day parties have become a more integral part of the festival from an attendance standpoint as well. I remember the first few Friend Island parties being relatively sparsely attended, and they were a boon for me, because I remember seeing Collections of Colonies of Bees at a day party and saying, “OK, I’m freed up now to see another band at night.” Now I feel like there’s almost as much competition within the day parties.

CH: Something I’m noticing with Hopscotch itself is that things are running very smoothly. I wonder if that is a sign of success or decay, or how do we read this?

PW: My kneejerk is I say, good for them. Let’s use Pusha T as an example for last night. The fact that Pusha T went on on time and ended at a relatively early hour is remarkable to me.

CH: It’s funny because I caught Pusha T’s encore and still had time to see Old Man Gloom play what felt like 80 songs.

PW: I had the opposite experience, where I thought I would have time to see Pusha T. I hustled and saw Pile and Old Man Gloom, and by the time I got there, you were texting me, saying “Pusha T’s encore is over, I’m on my way.”

As far as things going smoothly, I feel like we have to talk about, especially in context of this festival, is the number of cancellations this festival has incurred. Cancellations have happened with this festival before, but in the past they have been very day-of. I remember Big Boi was supposed to be on the main stage a couple of years ago and canceled the day of. Action Bronson canceled the same year.

CH: And then there was G-Side, which basically broke up the week of the fest. That was a letdown, because I adored G-Side.

PW: In terms of this year’s festival, this festival lost one of its big draws in Deerhunter, which was replaced by Ought, from Montreal, which was a set I liked and which put out a record that I liked but which does not have the same cachet that a band like Deerhunter has. The most recent one is Hopscotch had its improviser-in-residence cancel; Owen Pallett backed out the festival yesterday. To Hopscotch’s credit, I feel like Hopscotch always does very well with replacing people that cancel with something that is more or less equivalent. They replaced Owen Pallett as improviser-in-residence with Greg Fox, drummer for Liturgy and Guardian Alien, who is a great improviser. He sat in on a couple of sets. Then they replaced Owen Pallett’s festival set with Waxahatchee. To Hopscotch’s credit, they’ve done well with adequately but quickly replacing them, which speaks to the cachet that Hopscotch has as a festival. Iron Reagan replaced Eyehategod. But they lost City Plaza headliners. They lost club show headliners.

CH: Large club show headliners.

PW: They lost their improviser-in-residence. This has been a rash of very big cancellations for this year of Hopscotch.

CH: But Hopscotch seems to have responded like Tycho did, with a kind of smile and a “stick with us, we’ll have it worked out.”

PW: That’s something Hopscotch has always done very well with.

CH: Want to talk about what we want to see tonight?

PW: One of the things we both have is we both have Boulevards.

CH: Yes. Boulevards is a local guy, Jamil Rashad, who exudes style. Very talented funk R&B guy. Early 80s Lionel Ritchie kind of thing. I appreciate the hell out of the fact that he does that in a way that is not cloying and doesn’t romanticize it. No, he makes radio music, very appealing radio music in that vein. The sheer fact that he gets that this requires style. He recently released a music video where he had two guys in cars Tokyo drifting in circles around him while he stood there with his arms crossed as if it was no big deal. This guy is magnetic and I am very, very jazzed about his show.

PW: He’s somebody I’m very excited to see tonight. I think the thing I’m most excited about this evening is … I mean, we’re listening to X right now. After X is Dwight Yoakam. What I’m immediately doing after seeing some of Dwight Yoakam is immediately going to Fletcher Opera House to see Prurient. Think about that transition — going from a seminal punk band like X, a country iconoclast like Dwight Yoakam, and a huge, abrasive noise act like Prurient. Where else can you see that but a festival like Hopscotch? Hopscotch very much rewards eclectic tastes. It absolutely rewards diverse tastes.

CH: I’m curious about Daniel Romano. I like what I’ve heard from him. With Chelsea Wolfe, I love what I’ve heard of her records. I’ve been listening to her records since her first one came out in 2011 or whenever it was. But — and here is the clincher — I am prepared to be let down. It might be a letdown, and that’s OK.

PW: I have seen Chelsea Wolfe before and I have been let down. I was also not as big a fan of those records as you were. My absolute cannot-miss of the night, though: I really like that Clark record that came out last year, so I am very excited to see Clark and I am looking forward to getting blown away by blown-out bass.

+++

WILMINGTON STREET AT BLOUNT STREET, 11 P.M.

PW: Prurient was this absolutely brain-melting noise set. It was in Fletcher Opera, which is an unusual place to put a noise act, but he had no problem filling that room by himself. We both saw Boulevards.

CH: He came out there and he just owned the crowd. I know so few locals with whom a crowd is putty in their hands.

PW: I know few national acts who can do that. His biggest asset is easily his charisma. The DJ he had with him was great and served as a great hype man as well, but he doesn’t even need one. He has to be the coolest motherfucker on the planet. I am convinced of that.

CH: [Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh] is also where I saw Lizzo, and she was charismatic and she was a dominant stage presence and she turned it into a dance party.

PW: That’s what you have to do at CAM. The sets that I saw that were amazing at CAM were Boulevards, Thee Oh Sees — just people that exude that kind of energy that it’s impossible not to move to. Otherwise, even if people are moving, is very stale. And then we came here to see Microkingdom. There are several other things I could have gone to and I made the decision earlier in the evening to go almost against type. I’m just going to go for what seems the most fun.

CH: I think that’s a good way to close it. I’m looking at King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard as a potential closer just because it’s a big, goofy, psychedelic mess.

PW: This will be the first year, possibly ever, that I did not close out the festival seeing a brass band. They did not seem to program one this year, which is fine. It makes me a little sad that I’m not going to do that, but it’s very unique to me.

+++

MARTIN STREET AT HARRINGTON STREET, 1:31 A.M.

PW: Day three is done. Hopscotch 2015, in the books.

CH: We closed it out with Goldlink.

PW: I realized at some point, I think it was when I was watching Clark, that I made a subconscious effort tonight to see, after Dwight Yoakam, as little having to do with guitar as possible, at least as far as playing guitar in the way in which people usually play guitar. I saw Microkingdom, and Microkingdom had a guitar player, but not in any way, shape, or form what you would call a normal guitar player.

CH: It was almost like free math. It wasn’t free jazz.

PW: Exactly. There was a definite free-jazz influence to it.

CH: It was clangy, and harsh at moments.

PW: It was exactly what I wanted to hear at that moment, but they’re not a traditional guitar band. The point being, I could have seen many, many things, and at some point along the way, my brain said “You know what, man? You saw a bunch of guitar yesterday. Let’s not do guitar.”

CH: For me, as I mentioned earlier, I had four acts circled and not a lot else, and that gave me a lot of freedom. I saw all four and I enjoyed all four. I felt like the freedom really helped. I got to see a lot of good music without feeling like I was going all over the place.

So I want to talk about Dwight Yoakam and I want to talk about Daniel Romano, also a country artist. He’s a very good country artist, I was impressed. But I want to start with Dwight Yoakam. I grew up in rural North Carolina. As people around here tend to call it, I grew up in “the rest of” North Carolina. I will say Dwight Yoakam, in the six years of this fest, is the first headliner that the rest of North Carolina is likely to know who he is or care about. It would have been Big Boi if Big Boi had shown up. Big Boi would have been in that same category of, people I grew up with might have heard of him. That was remarkable to me.

I started the night at that stage and I saw Dwight Yoakam and I enjoyed it. It was really satisfying to hear “Streets of Bakersfield” live. What I appreciate is that he is not a legacy act. He has been putting out music this whole time. He was a new one out that is good, that people like, so “Streets of Bakersfield” is right there alongside stuff that just came out, and it is seamless. It’s not like “okay, we’re going to take it back!” It’s like, “here’s another song.” And I thought that was quite good.

PW: My only complaint about Dwight Yoakam is the complaint I have about every single City Plaza headliner this year. It’s that there was no photo pit. In the case of TV on the Radio, they let 25 photographers in, and that’s it. There were probably 50, 75 of us lining up. The bigger problem is they didn’t tell us until the show started. The show started and the security guards say “Oh, by the way guys, we’re not letting anybody in.” I feel like that is a communication error that could have been handled a lot better.

CH: I saw Chelsea Wolfe. I like her records but, for some reason, I felt like live it would lack something. But it was elemental, it was moody, it was brooding, it was atmospheric. There was a smoke machine, the stage was backlit, and they just moved with patience and grace through these just funereal dirges. It was heavy and loud and thick but with all that space and the haunted atmosphere, it let the folk side breathe. There’s this undercurrent of “The woods are haunted, and you will not survive.” The fact that that could be communicated, that level of elemental darkness, in a live setting, it was great.

PW: I have seen Chelsea Wolfe before. I also though going in, “okay, there is going to be something missing. It’s going to be relatively naked and not impressive.” It was not – I saw Chelsea Wolfe and I would go as far to say Chelsea Wolfe was bad when I saw her. But that’s good. I’m glad you saw that…. I had Clark circled. There was neither a line for Clark nor Zs, and Zs was in the Hive, which was awful. Possibly because they were running almost an hour late. It’s the Hive, it’s a sardine can.

CH: I’ve never been in there aside from Hopscotch, but just from glancing at the menu, it strikes me as the place someone goes for fancy, weird cocktails.

PW: Not the place where one would see a free-math band like Microkingdom or weird experimental like Zs.

CH: Or, in the case of the other night, pure noise. What a weird room for noise.

PW: Zs, what I saw was good. They had Greg Fox, who stepped in as Hopscotch’s improviser-in-residence when Owen Pallett bailed. It was good, but there are times, especially in Hopscotch’s smaller venues, when the room is totally to the detriment of the performance. I feel like the Hive is one of those rooms. I got uncomfortable and I left and I came down here to Goldlink.

CH: The last one I want to talk about is Daniel Romano. I’m not familiar with the bands he was in, but I do know he had a career in indie bands and matured and went back to country, and the press materials say what they’re always going to say, that he grew up on country.

PW: Of course.

CH: So I’d heard the record and I liked it, but in my mind I was all “Oh, authenticity, blah blah blah, does he really own this music?” It’s overthinking. And I went in there and I sat down and I was lucky that there was a place to sit and it was a really good place where I could see the music and it was very well-written country music.

PW: So what was your count this year?

CH: I’m pretty sure that I saw 35 festival bands, plus I think about 11 at the day party I threw with my friends. In fairness, I’m not counting those, so I’m going to go with 35 festival bands.

PW: My overall count is I believe 52, which is about average for me.

***

Ed: thank you, and goodnight, dear readers. Special thanks to the Hopscotch organizers for making this happen. And go HERE if you want to read Patrick and Corbie’s conversation about the 2014 Hopscotch fest, published last year at Charlotte’s Creative Loafing weekly.

 

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots

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“Frausdots was just a name that my brother and I used for Frosted Flakes in the ‘70s”: Beachwood Sparks’ Brent Rademaker reflects on his eighties-centric 2004 side project and how it coulda, woulda, shoulda…

BY TIM HINELY

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics and From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk. All of those were penned by our man in Beijing, Jonathan Levitt. So…the hits just keep coming, folks, with the very special, and—shall we say, under the radar—gem created by the enigmatic Frausdots, as told to our best bro, blogger and bootlegger, the equally enigmatic Tim Hinely. —FM

***

In 2004 Sub Pop released a record titled Couture, Couture, Couture by a mysterious band named Frausdots. I knew who was involved because I think I had gotten an email from Ric Menck of Velvet Crush saying I should hear this record and that it was going to be a monster. The group apparently involved Brent Rademaker, who at the time was in country-rock heroes Beachwood Sparks and was previously in the noise pop band further (among others). Frausdots was essentially the duo of Rademaker and Michelle Loiselle though, as you’ll read below, several other folks played on it. As soon as I put the record on I liked it instantly, with its dark, brooding songs and it sounded a lot like a lot of the U.K. acts that I liked in the ‘80s. As you’ll read below, those were big influences on Rademaker.

In fact, it seems like the band proudly wore their influences. One could hear echoes of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure as well as The Chameleons UK — in fact, Roger O’Donnell from the Psychedelic Furs/The Cure played on the record — with its icy synth work, stoic bass lines and vocals straight out of a song from a John Hughes movie. The frist line from opening cut “Dead Wrong”, where they clip some lyrics from America’s “Horse with No Name” had me even more curious.

At the time both AllMusic and even Pitchfork gave it solid/positive reviews but as mentioned earlier, the record seemed to sink without a track after some initial excitement.

Anyway, I’ve always kind of felt like the album sank without a trace and didn’t get it proper due, so I emailed Brent and wanted to see if he’d answer some questions about what the making of the record was like and he agreed.  Here, in his words, is the making of Couture Couture Couture…

BLURT: How did the idea for the band come about?  

RADEMAKER: Out on tour with Beachwood Sparks and the Shins, Jimi Hey (drummer) was really getting into the post-punk music I had on tape. The music of my late teens especially the Chameleons…so we dreamt up a new band that would play music from 1980-‘85 we even started incorporating some of the sounds into the current Beachwood songs on stage (chorused out bass and static drumming) I think the first name was The Despair Gazette.

 

At the time were you living in California or Florida?

I was living in Mt Washington in Los Angeles.

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Had you know Michelle Loiselle for a long time?

I actually knew her sister Mary from the new wave clubs of Tampa in the early to mid ‘80s; Michelle was more into hard rock and metal. Michelle and I became friends when she was working for BMG publishing where further was signed. We became friends then.

 

Do you remember the initial songwriting sessions and/or practices?

We had one practice with Jimi and it sounded great really dynamic and exciting …very Script of the Bridge….but it never went beyond that and I ended up making a demo of 5 songs after hours at the studio where I was composing commercial jingles…I have a vague memory of the first writing sessions where I came up with a song called D.I.E. I was really excited and made a great demo but never captured the same feel upon recording it with a band…too bad it was great song. Ariel Pink had the demo and really liked it… I played the song recently for him in a hotel in the desert…

 

Was the nod to the ‘80s pre-planned?

Yes for sure. I was kinda thinking what a record woulda sounded like if I we woulda done it in ‘84 before I got into all the Byrds and Country & Western…you have to understand, musicians, ALL of them, there’s always inspiration from somewhere (we are just a little too skilled at dialing in our influence). I mean if you listen I’m singing in my own voice but the inflections are slight but they are there and it’s Mac, Ian C. even a nod to J. Cope (compare the outrw to Dead Wrong and the intro to “Culture Bunker” by Teardrop Explodes…it’s a nod).

 

What kinds of stuff were you listening to for inspiration?

The same stuff I grew up on: Cope/Teardrops/Bunnymen/Chameleons/Care/Cure especially the Wish LP which Ben Knight and I wore out on a Tyde tour the year before…there was also an element of folks like Jackson Browne and Poco etc. going all striped shirt and skinny tie and pastel blazer…that kinda of California record.

 

How did the producer Jimmy Sloan play into it all? What ideas did he have?

He had amazing gear and a studio in the hills that looked down on LA and he was very supportive and encouraging and I think without him it might have sounded way more ‘80s. He added more of a timeless element to the production…he was really patient and supportive to a point especially with my personal problems. At the time I was a bit prickly about it, but now I’m happy with the classic elements he brought to it (guitar tones and vintage gear). But in an all-time karmic Larry David type situation I got myself together, totally clean and focused to finish the record, but Jimmy and an AA buddy of his refused to believe I had it together no matter what I said and we had a falling out…I guess I deserved it but not then…it’s funny now…it was kinda funny then as well…surreal. He just sent me a friend request of FB so I guess we are good now. I’m glad; he’s talented, and honestly the recording is top notch!

 

Who came up with the name, Frausdots?  

That was a name that my brother Darren and I used for Frosted Flakes cereal in the ‘70s. I just changed the spelling to make it more German and cold sounding.

 

And the album title, Couture, Couture, Couture…what does that mean?

That was Michelle’s input we started conceptualizing the fashion side. Which is cool but looking back I shoulda paid more attention to the music. I was kinda fucked up and partying a lot at the time of making the LP…I think in frustration one night I yelled “Couture, Couture, Couture” – I didn’t even know why? It was cool that fashion models picked up on the titles and themes…it even was used in “America’s Next Top Model.”

 

Had Sub Pop planned on releasing it from the get-go or did they need to hear the recordings first?

Tony Kewiel from Sub Pop heard the 5 song demo and seemed to really like it and I signed a one off deal.

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What do you remember most about the recording of the record? 

The first session with Ric Menck had some excitement to it. He understood the song “Dead Wrong” from the get-go and played it perfect I remember playing the roughs back to him and he said “It’s gonna blow minds!” That was a fun day, a good memory. Hanging with keyboard player Carl Tapia in between recording and both of us being so giddy when Roger O’Donell from the Cure agreed to play on a couple of songs. That felt cool…Wearing our overcoats… Watching the massive wildfires burn from way up in the hills was something that stuck with me…added to the gloom.

Whose idea was it to put the lyrics to the America song on “Dead Wrong?”

I just sang it, I always really liked “Sister Golden Hair” better..I ended up paying them 5% of the royalties to that song and that was a bit of money as that song was used in a bunch of TV shows.

 

I felt like “Fashion Death Trends” should have been a huge hit……did you? Same with “A Go-See.”

I can see why they didn’t become hits but.junkie anthems rarely become hits.

 

From your perspective, how was the response to the record? Did you guys do any touring or play some individual gigs?  

I put two versions of a live band together and played quite a few shows…I was surprised by the response especially as most people knew me from a country band…But in fairness to the guys, I didn’t lead very well. Too bad, it coulda been killer, they were great players with great attitudes. As far as the response it seems my personal problems delayed the record and by that time the ‘80s revival had hit. Too bad; I would’ve loved to be the ones to introduce the kids to this music. I think Interpol did a good job at it though. The response was tainted.

 

Is there anything you’d want to change about the record?

I wish I would’ve paid more attention to the bass parts. I played most of the guitar on the record and that was fun but I neglected the bass parts and that was my main instrument. I know EVERY Joy Division and Bunnymen bass part there is and I just played it all down in one take…bass is such a crucial instrument in that era of music…too bad that’s karma again I guess. Also maybe the cover for sure I had GREAT concept but it didn’t get done. But as far as the music, it’s dangerous to explore those kind of feelings…as I still make music today and you don’t wanna second guess yourself while doing it or think too much…

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Is that a shot of Los Angeles on the cover?

It is…I guess it’s kinda cool after all…but you shoulda seen what I wanted….much darker. I’d like to see it on a 12″ it’d look cool. J Mascis was lobbying for a vinyl release a while back, but nope.

 

Anything you wanted to add about the project or the record?  Anything that I didn’t ask about?

If you look at the list of musicians you’ll see a lot of my friends made incredible contributions but it was Hunter Crowely, the drummer from Brian Jonestown Massacre, a dude I only knew casually, that made the greatest contribution of all. He played on all of the songs but one and was SO SOLID and everything he did was perfect…he NAILED IT…it was like he had played those songs for years. I was lucky he came into the studio that day. I just wanted him to play a Pete de Freitas type beat on one song “Contact” and he just kept whipping through them song after song and he refused to yield…awesome! A lot of folks don’t realize his contribution because he didn’t play live with us…check out Contact or Broken Arrows…he’s a monster!

Thank you so much…I never really think about what went in to making this record only the crazy circumstances surrounding it and my life in those three years…I’m really glad you like it…that makes it all worthwhile.

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This story originally appeared in slightly different form at Dagger zine, which coincidentally is run by Tim Hinely.

 On the web: Sub Pop www.subpop.com

Beachwood Sparks www.thecalmingseas.com

 

IN THE HANDS OF THE FANS (Pt.2): Captain Beefheart

Captain_Beefheart_in_Toronto

Ed. note: a few months ago we ran a contest here at the site giving readers a chance to win that awesome Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972 4LP box set that Rhino released. (Earlier our reviewer enthused at length about the box, calling it “a loving tribute to a modern American master… every short, sharp, shocking note an essential ‘un, no lie.”) But there was a catch: to enter the contest you had to submit a Beef-related story, anecdote or appreciation, or at very least, a compelling reason why you deserved to win. We received a slew of entries, many of them apparently from readers that didn’t bother reading the terms of submission (they only sent their name and mailing address). Several, though, were corkers, including the winning one by Chris Besinger, who penned a pretty awesome poem in tribute of the good Cap’n. His poem is reproduced below, along with a handful of our other favorites that we feel confident all you staunch Don Van Vliet fans out there will appreciate. Incidentally, the Radar Station feed at Twitter is a pretty sharp source for all things Beefheartian so check it out.  -FM

CaptainBeefheart_SunZoomSpark_LP_Box

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The Nose Knows, by Chris Besinger

I’m a big Beefheart fan and so I wrote a poem inspired by him for my submission…

 

Drive on, drive on though thankless night

His body, his thick bumble-bee body bouncing

Moustache twirl the girl in the brown ribbon dress

On a boat skywise blue miles in song

A-patter, the ball with all his might, textures oh and how

On the pattern with a glass of squid-ink wine

Say finger-yes with the touch-see goes to ears

In a sound-o-phonic extra horo-scopic.

Top hat man, with guitar man, with drumbo man

Desert music. Bush music.

Crows who talk, stalk, walk, and follow the top-hat man

Hiccup voice of the old man

In smoky x-ray world atomic world fragment world

Repeating world O soul

To become too sensitive and yip!

She asked her mother why, why would the top-hat man

With the periscope radar hold, would sleep like a

Ship, sleep like a rose, rose like a fish

Fix like a nose

The nose knows said the top-hat man

Behind his excellent Moto-Vator-Ampl-i-Tude Box

That snake had found, click-clackd on

Trees, a vision. O that old fool

Old crow cried to the momma heartbeat to the

Daughter

And soon with lighted glory the crow

Caw, the dog barked, and all the plants

In the desert danced to the song of the top-hat man.

 

***

The Beefheart BBQ, by John Wesley Coleman

Captain Beefheart to me is the opposite and very nature of whats going on in the world today. He is not the TV show “The Voice” or “American Idol” which are garbage soul raping cash machines; instead he is those bombings and tornadoes that shake our lives or beautiful sketches of loneliness. It is real motherfucking rock and roll meets art meets your ears ends in freakout. Everything in Captain Beefheart is pure awe inspiring music. It’s my go too, when I’m burned out on my musical endeavors.

So much I wanna throw a BBQ and DJ his records and have bands play tribute to the legacy of Beefheart. Call it Beefheart BBQ!

 

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The Real O.F., by Peter Whitney

Abba zaba meat dream of an octafish fast and bulbous , wisdom from the captain before most of us learned to listen with open ears to the imagination of what music might be. Opening up the mind to the surreal in music before punk, post punk , no wave and noise rock were even heard of. Beefheart was the forefather of much of what was to follow.

 

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The Detail’s in the Email, by Lawrence Chigi

Here is my entry for the vinyl giveaway. I mean really, check out my email address! Love everything about Mr. Van Vliet and the music he put out there for everyone. [Ed. note: the writer’s email is CaptnBeefheart@(redacted).com

 

captain-beefheart

Photo Credit: Leahtwosaints (2009, via Wikimedia Commons). Go HERE to read our special Beefheart feature that was published on April 1, 2010; and HERE for our 2010 obituary of the good Cap’n.

***

Previously in our “In The Hands Of CaptThe Fans” series:

Tori Amos, “Out of the Darkness”

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Gallon Drunk’s “From The Heart Of Town”

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Into the gutter you’re gonna roll, lads! In which England’s James Johnston outlines the making of his rawk noir band’s 1993 masterpiece. “A lot of what we listened to had a sense of urgency, and intensity,” he notes, of the group’s influences. One might apply the same description to Gallon Drunk’s music…

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock and Roll by The Cynics. And—the hits just keep coming, folks, with another one of BLURT’s all-time faves, Gallon Drunk.

Gallon Drunk managed to find themselves in 1993 as one of a select group of bands that were being heavily promoted by the British music tabloids on a weekly basis. Their initial musical output of 7-inch singles and EPs on Clawfist records was assembled into the compilation Tonite…The Singles Bar that was eventually released stateside on the Rykodisc imprint back in 1991. The music blew a hole through the Manc stranglehold on the music charts and stretched the musical canvas in the opposite direction of the rising Brit Pop movement.

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The band, which at the time of this recording consisted of James Johnston, Joe Byfield, Max Décharné, and Mike Delanian, had up to this point managed to create a sound that was cacophonous, loose, and sounding like a train about to derail. Saturated in ‘40s noir imagery and informed by a ‘50s musical sensibility, the music was a punch in the gut, and a brilliant statement completely out of lockstep with the flood of talentless hacks NME and Melody Maker were serving up weekly to an unsuspecting public.

Gallon drunk cd

In 1993 From The Heart Of Town was released in the US on the Sire label. I remember because I was working at my college’s radio station at the time and recall that one of the Warner promo people had sent a poster of the album to the station. One look at the cover with the streaks of headlights coursing through a street in London and I knew that the record would be something special. The large black sedan racing off into some dangerous part of town is the perfect metaphor as the album straps the listener in for a ride to the dark heart of London. This isn’t the music of people stumbling towards their local doner kabob pit of hell, or making their way back on some late night bus to King’s Cross. Instead this music is like a full bottle of whisky placed in front of you at the bar, a remnant of a sexier time like the nightclub in the French Connection. As you make your way through the club towards the cigarette girl and give her a kiss, you head back to the bar and slowly sip your drink as you focus on the criminal element that seems to be conducting business right under your nose.

Gallon Drunk’s From The Heart of Town is like a film full of long takes, with extreme long lens shots, and with a muted color palette. This is music for people who’ve made their way down a dark alley in the middle of the night and lived to tell the tale.

“Jake on the Make” starts the proceedings off with tremolo-distorted guitar, a tight snare beat, and flashes of banjo, before the track takes on a ghoulish stomp augmented by some macabre organ and piano. The track is terrifying and filled with lyrical gems like, “I can hear the ice in the drink he just bought.”

“Arlington Road” keeps the venomous urban vibe alive, with a seething bass line, and some killer sax and horns, which voices the sounds of the city: the cars, the squeals of brakes, the oil mixing with water in potholes, the urine soaked porticos, the seedy hoodlums hanging out under a flickering streetlight, the smell of fried food and the vagrant gypsy life.

“Keep Moving On” with its old timey saloon style piano, offers a false sense of calm, as Johnston in a rather hushed voice lets out his vitriol towards an ex-girlfriend by singing, “good riddance to bad rubbish” The singing is restrained and evokes a bitterness that is tempered by an acceptance and sarcasm that we’ve all found ourselves having when people try and suck us dry.

“Bedlam” is the car chase scene in one of those late 1960s Cadillacs. The music propels the listener as we careen around sharp turns and trade paint with the other cars on the road. The scraping of metal against metal producing brightly colored sparks, people running for cover, the near misses, blinding headlights, kids in the cross walk, and then sensory overload as you ditch the car head on into a wall.

“You Should Be Ashamed” is quite possibly the most beautiful song Gallon Drunk ever committed to tape. The song exists in a paregoric haze, wrapped around a sinister bass line, and tremolo saturated organ, which serves to inform a world in which concepts of good and evil have been pitted against one another ending up in a biblical judgment of the songs protagonist.

Of course it’s not all noir imagery that the music evokes. Take the final track, “Paying For Pleasure,” which closes out the record with a piece that would’ve been at home in The Good The Bad The Ugly. (Johnston admits, “It’s certainly inspired by Morricone.”) Here Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach are at Bill Carson’s grave and the union gold is within reach—or is it?—as we zoom in on the eyes of all three. It’s a dazzling cinematic end to a record that has managed to keep the femoral tension high from the very beginning.

I was able to track down James Johnston [below, back in the day] to remind us of what it took to make From The Heart Of Town, as he says, “Good to do it now before everyone forgets absolutely everything!” Johnston, who currently lives in London with his wife Nicola, has been busy working on the latest PJ Harvey record and is slated to tour with her in 2016. He will also be touring with Marianne Faithful towards the end of 2015. There will be another Gallon Drunk record but as Johnston states, “I’m very happy with our last album, The Soul Of The Hour, so quite content to give it a year before the next one.” [Go HERE to view Gallon Drunk’s official website.]

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BLURT: At what point did you decide that it was time to go into the studio and begin work on From The Heart Of Town?

JAMES JOHNSTON: It would have been Nick Brown at the UK label Clawfist, based on Portobello Road that would have suggested the date for recording. We’d been touring a lot and didn’t have much material ready. We were still out playing the first album and early singles live rather than rehearsing or writing new songs.

Enlighten us about how the band worked back then—did you come up with all the music and lyrics or did the band flesh out the music in a practice space or studio?

Apart from the very early stage of the band, the lyrics always came last, once the songs were already recorded with a rough guide vocal. I used to like setting the lyrics within the mood of the recorded track rather than the other way around. Almost everything was decided in the studio. I’d come in with the plan for the song, usually scribbled out as a sort of “map”, sometimes done the morning of the session or the day before. One exception was the bass and drum verse part for Arlington Road that Max, Mike and Joe were playing at a sound-check. I recorded it on a Dictaphone, added the main guitar riff and stuck the organ chorus part in later. “Jake On The Make” was literally a snare loop, then I sang the song form over it, after which we filled it in. More like a colouring book. I think I was basically either too undecided or embarrassed to explain the whole thing beforehand. Most of it was done like that.

How many songs did the band enter the studio with?

We’d rehearsed “Bedlam” for a couple of hours that was it.

What happened to the songs that didn’t make it on the album?

We definitely didn’t have any spares. It was enough of a struggle to fill an album as it was. All the B-sides were done subsequently.

How many were merely sketches of yours? (I read back in 1993 that you used to walk around with a recorder to jot down various lyrical inspirations etc.)

That was mostly how we worked. I used to carry a Dictaphone around as I walked around town at night, and record anything that came to me. Lyric ideas, tunes, riffs etc, then try and figure it all out the next day at home. Mostly it would be traffic noise and garbled sounds. The recording of a tannoy  announcement-calling for Joe Byfield to come to “C-Deck”- was done on the Dictaphone while we were waiting for a ferry from Portsmouth, so that went on the record.

Tell us about the initial sessions for the record. And did you make any changes based upon those initial sessions, i.e. change direction on some of the songs arrangements etc.?

Mike and I recorded two tracks in Camden first. “End Of The Line”, and “Paying For Pleasure”. “End Of The Line” felt a bit too much like the first album for me, and I wanted to take it somewhere else. “Paying For Pleasure” is the instrumental at the end of the album. It’s a bass feeding back, and organ drone, and then I stuck the acoustic stuff over the top, banjo and harmonica. That definitely felt like a blueprint sound for the album, a lot more space, more trippy.

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How did the name of the record come about?

After the main recording at Elephant Studios in Wapping we were still short of songs, so “Not Before Time” was recorded in Clapham somewhere. I remember taking a break and going for a walk trying to think of a unifying title for the record and it sprang to mind, and as most of it was about city life, London specifically, it seemed like a good idea. Quite romantic, and also quite ‘Live From The Talk Of The Town’.

What’s the story that the album tells to listeners?

There’s definitely no coherent story that I can see, but if it feels like there is then that’s perfect. It’s mostly songs that reflected our lives at the time. Places and people I knew. But an album can take on a world of its own, and I think that one does. There’s a very unifying feel, and that’s helped by the title, the artwork, the whole thing. That was all a very conscious move.

The album has a very cinematic grainy film feel to it. Were any of these songs licensed for any films that you know of? (To me I always felt “Paying for Pleasure” could soundtrack scenes from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.)

Hey, thanks. It’s certainly inspired by Morricone, as anyone can hear! [But] hardly anything was licensed from that album. We also had the most useless publishers at the time, so no surprise there.

Given the cinematic feel to the band’s music, and given the fact that you worked in a film ephemera shop, what were some of the films that influenced you back then and continue to influence you now?

It’s very hard to remember. I can’t think of many films that directly influenced the actual records, maybe things like Man With The Golden Arm, Touch Of Evil, Eraserhead, and endless ‘60s obscurities with great soundtracks that Mike Delanian loved. One of my favourite soundtracks is from Walkabout.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Maybe “Arlington Road”, I still think “Bedlam” still sounds great too. [Below: listen to exclusive live-in-Chicago versions of both songs]

How was the album recorded—because it has a very raucous “on” vibe about it.

“Bedlam” was live. Otherwise it was usually bass and drums with a guide vocal saying “chorus coming up”, “get ready to stop” etc. Sometimes a very loose live guitar at the same time. We wanted it sloppy and loose. Hardly anything was cleaned up. Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbert album was a big inspiration. It was mostly done at Elephant, which had a big live room. The Pogues used it a lot. It’s right next to the river in what was then still quite a spooky area of old warehouses. We’d take endless pub breaks in The Prospect Of Whitby pub next door that overlooks the Thames. When the tide’s out you can walk down on the bank of the river, it was a very atmospheric place, it still is. All that fed into the recording and the general vibe in the studio, and speed I’d imagine had a lot to do with it too. Apart from the panic of trying to come up with stuff it was mostly a lot of fun. I think the studio had a pool table too, amongst the semi-functioning keyboards and amps all over the place.

Then we asked Terry Edwards in to add some brass on a few of the tracks, something we’d wanted to do for ages. Usually the distorted organ took the place of where I’d imagine brass parts. That really finished the sound of the thing, along with the backing vocals.

What was the set up in the studio like and were there limitations that you and the band had to work around in order to get the sound you wanted?

We basically wanted it to be big and reverby, but with quite sparse instrumentation, at least that’s what I imagined after doing “Paying For Pleasure.” A bit Big Star Third, or the spacey sound of the first Suicide album, that sort of thing. As I said, it had a big live room, and a very laid back atmosphere, so it was actually perfect.

How did Phil Wright approach the recording of these songs? Did the band clash at all with some of his suggestions?

Phil did the live sound for the band, so he knew us very well. It was mostly a matter of getting any ideas down as quickly as possible when it came to overdubs, do them quick and keep them loose and scrappy, then drench it all in plate reverb. He managed to keep “Bedlam” fairly dry thank god. A lot of his job was getting the stuff out of us, vocals in particular, encouragement and enthusiasm. He was a great person to have in there, and he got a great sound, exactly what we were after. He also played on the record, adding the string parts to “Loving Alone”. He found some Pogues drum samples that we dropped in on a couple of things, single hits, ideas like that.

What were you reading back then and what was happening in your life that gave rise to some of the songs on the record?

I used to like Celine, Martin Amis, Nelson Algren, Rimbaud, some of that might have fed in. Life felt quite chaotic, a lot of touring. Some of the songs we were about people we know, like “Jake On The Make”, or places we went to such as Arlington Road  in Camden, there was a pub there not far from where Joe lived, and we went there a lot. In the days before mobiles (at least for us) you could receive incoming phone calls from behind the bar, which made it sort of an office.

There’s an intensity to your music that seems informed in part by Link Wray, Henry Mancini and bands like the Cramps as well as American Baptist music. What’s your take on things?

A lot of what we listened to had a sense of urgency, and intensity. Howlin’ Wolf, Suicide, The Stooges, the first two PiL albums, those would have still all been a big inspiration at the time. As well as Nina Simone, The Staple Singers, Furry Lewis, Lee Hazlewood, Alex Chilton, Archie Shepp, Morricone, stuff that wasn’t rock that fed into the more atmospheric feel of the record. We’d got a lot of the dense noise out of our system by that point and two and bit years of doing it live.

Tell us about some of the instruments and amps you used in the album sessions.

All our own instruments were very junk-shop standard, or bought at markets. A lot of useless guitars that were only good for a one-note overdub, stuff we’d accumulated. Mike had a Marshall for the bass, it might have even been a guitar amp. I had a Fender twin, there were lots of other amps in there, but I can’t remember what we used. They had a Hammond organ, so that got used, and two pianos—including one with a great out of tune barroom sound, with felt with drawing pins on the hammers. We had a lot of percussion too. Joe had an army of maracas.

“You Should Be Ashamed”: how did this song came about? How did you rope Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier into singing on the track?

We knew Laetitia from playing gigs, and hanging around in Camden, so it was an obvious choice, and really nice of her to do it. She had the perfect voice for it. The song lyrics were partly based on a poem by Geraldine Swayne, and the music and arrangement was scribbled down the morning of the session, based on rough idea I’d had a day or so before. All very quick.

How much freedom did Clawfist give the band when it came to the running order of the songs and the artwork? Any idea how much the sessions for the album cost in total?

Total freedom, that all came entirely from the band; they were great in helping make it happen. I’ve no idea how much it cost. I doubt Elephant was particularly expensive, but it all adds up, as always.

What was it like when you and the band listened to the final sequence of the entire album for the first time? Where were you all at the time?

I can’t remember if it was in the studio, maybe as late as when it was mastered, as everything would have been done at home on piles of cassettes. I do recall that it took ages to get it just right, as always. At least it had an obvious opener, and a very obvious closing track.

Where was the album release party held?

Er, album release party? Never been to one in my life.

1993 was the peak or nadir (depending on how you look at it) for labels to release limited edition EPs double CDs, LPs including a free 7” single, or poster etc. Did you like that so many editions and formats were being peddled to people? Did you have any say as to what formats and what songs would be used?

There was a limited edition with a free live EP. We would have ok’d the tracks going on there. I’m still not convinced it was a great idea as it took away from the focused atmosphere of the main album. To be honest, we were mostly on tour and not really aware of what was going on with other people’s releases. Personally I’m not so interested collecting per se, so didn’t give that sort of thing a lot of thought.

At this time I recall Sire getting involved in the stateside release—looking back, was this helpful to the band to all of a sudden be caught up in the major label machinery? Did Morrissey—who was on Sire and a major fan of your music and whom you opened for— help lay the groundwork for this interest? (Personally I got the sense from the people who promoted the record to college radio didn’t quite understand what they were dealing with.)

Seymour Stein was directly involved in signing us, he was a legend from the 70s, but his influence was on the wane, and mostly the staff at the label didn’t back the record at all. We were on tour in the States for months supporting Morrissey at huge venues, and did one interview. So it was pretty hopeless.

What are your memories of Stein? What do you feel compelled him to sign the band to the label?

He seemed great, I only met him a couple of times, but he had such an amazing history, so it was great to meet him anyway. Apparently he was watching us at a festival in Finsbury Park with the guy that signed Babes In Toyland, who said to him, “You must sign these guys, you won’t sell a lot of records but you’ll get your place in heaven”. I hope he was right about the second bit.

What sort of A&R sweet nothings do you remember being dangled to lure the band to the label?

None at all, we were signed for very little, so they cared even less. Someone grandly offered us free back-catalogue CDs at the New York Office. Aside from that, the usual recoupable wasting of money on limousines from the airport to meet them. We got some cheapo Sire watches in the post for Christmas before they predictably dropped us.

Did you have any misgivings before you signed with a major label, given that you’d built up a lot of cred with Clawfist and Rykodisc in the States?

It was mostly out of our hands—things were chaotic and simply weren’t there. I’d have been more than happy with Rykodisc as our label for From The Heart Of Town, or any number of great indie labels instead.

How did the record end up doing Stateside versus the UK?

I’ve no idea at all, we never got any figures from anyone in the UK or the US. We did some big supports in the States, so that must have helped, but the American label couldn’t have been more disinterested. Definitely the wrong label at the time.

Tell us who shot the cover image? What part of London is that?

Steve Double took those. He worked at the music papers in the UK. He and Steve Gullick took most of the shots of the band at the time. The cover shot is Shaftsbury Avenue in the West End on London, literally the heart of town. I used to work just off there in a movie ephemera shop, and “Jake On The Make” is set around there—in Soho.

What was it like to be nominated for the Mercury prize?

We were probably on tour when all that happened; we were in the States a lot after the release. I’ve no recollection of it at all. A knighthood would have been nice instead.

What did John Peel think about the record? What tracks was he most fond of?

No idea, really, we weren’t around to listen. He only gave us one live session, and that was for the first record, so I don’t know why everyone always goes on about how he championed the band.

I’m always curious how the excessive hype from NME and Melody Maker affected bands that were caught up in it?  What was it like to see yourselves constantly mentioned in these rags and were you able to tune it out?

Some of the coverage was fairly trashy, so you have to take it at face value, but anything that helped get us out there and get people along to the gigs was extremely welcome. The M.M. photographer Steve Gullick’s still a very good friend and a fantastic artist, so we got to meet some decent people too.

G Drunk 7

Did all the press and expectations that were being placed on the band at the time inspire you, terrify you or were you indifferent to them?

I’d say it was probably a combination of all three, depending how things were going. It was mostly a sense of urgency, needing to come up with stuff, getting it down. You tend to drop off the map a bit when you’re making a record.

I’m assuming given the complexity and variety of instrumentation that several songs had to be stripped down in a live setting? I know for songs like “Jake on the Make” organ seemed to fill in for the horns. What other accommodations had to be made to render some of these songs in a live setting?

That’s why Terry ended up playing live with us, and then joining the band full time on brass and sharing keyboard parts with me, so mostly we managed to keep a lot of the instrumentation, but with a less spacey sound. It was a lot more full on live. We tried to rerecord “Push The Boat” out after playing it live for a while, but I preferred the more open dubby sound of the studio version.

Has the entire album ever been played live?

We used to use the last track, the instrumental, as an intro tape, and we had slides of all Steve Double’s photos as a back projection, so you got the feel of the record. We played most of it, but the whole album has never been performed live.

When the album came out whom did the band tour with? Also, at the time were there bands that Gallon Drunk were actively trying to promote to open your shows?

Early on we played quite a few supports with Stereolab, Lush, God and a few others. We supported The Cramps a couple of times in the U.K. Around the time of From the Heart Of Town we did the long Morrissey support tour in the States as a four piece, then we did a very long European and U.S. tour with PJ Harvey, and by that point we were a five piece with Terry in the band. We were [doing] our own headline tours in between all the support tours, hence being away so much. On our own tours it tended to be local supports, apart from an indie package tour with Therapy? and Silverfish, where we all swapped headline every night. We did the same later with the Dirty Three on a long European tour.

When the band played live shows after the album’s release, what was the song you’d open most with?

We’d play the “Paying For Pleasure” track from tape, then go into something off the album like “Arlington Road,” or if we needed to we’d just crash in with “Some Fool’s Mess”.

What was your drink of choice back then?

It’s pretty hard to remember exactly what went on as it all eventually blurs into one endless backstage situation. We didn’t have a fancy rider, so we would have been stuck with beer mostly, sometimes we’d get a bottle of Jameson’s, or vodka.

I remember seeing your concert at the Cabaret Metro back in 1993, and remember the whole band were well dressed (suits and dress shirts). Did you require members to adhere to a certain international man of mystery/casino jewel thief look?

That was the end of a long tour supporting PJ Harvey, I’m surprised we had anything left to wear at all by then. Like the instruments, it might have looked slick, but it was definitely a budget style, like we’d got the Pogues’ old suits from a charity shop. We certainly didn’t suit more rock gear anyway. I loved the way Joe used to come on stage with all his maracas in shopping bags.

Opening for Morrissey I have to ask: was the crowd ready to hear a band like Gallon Drunk? Was there ever a hostile crowd you had to contend with? I ask this because except for 1992’s Your Arsenal, where Boz Boorer seems to have coopted a bit of the Gallon Drunk sound for the opening track “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side,” the rest of Moz’s repertoire seems vastly different.

I’ve never heard that track, but I’m sure Boz was totally capable of finding it for himself—but maybe we had an influence, who knows? The Morrissey crowds were huge in the States. We never had any outright hostility, usually a mix of total disinterest and pockets of people going nuts. At the Hollywood Bowl there was total silence after one track, then a lone distant jock-type voice yelling out “You guys suck!”—that was pretty well-timed and amusing. I only remember it because we taped it.

Since then, going back to the States and meeting people who saw those gigs, I’ve spoken to loads of people that loved those shows. We were allocated about 15-20 minutes every day, so it must have been quite a surprise for people at the time to get this short blast of noise before the main band.

When all was said and done did the band make more money from their live shows or from the sale of this album?

We made nothing from either, it all went back into a hole.

Gallon Drunk now

23 years on what does this album mean to you? Where do you place it amongst all the albums the band has put out? [Above: Gallon Drunk now]

My favourite Gallon Drunk albums are From The Heart Of Town, and The Soul Of The Hour, the last one that came out in 2014. They mean the most to me.

How hands-on were you with the reissue? Will an LP reissue be coming out at some point on, let’s say, heavy weight 180-gram vinyl? I say this because I have the original From The Heart Of Town LP and the quality seemed pretty thin.

The reissue was on Terry’s label, so I was very hands on, finding all the extra tracks and period photos etc. There’s no plans to put it out on vinyl, maybe at some point it’ll happen. Right now I’m more focused on what’s happening next.

James Johnston by Steve Gullick

Where do you call home these days? [Above: Mr. Johnston now]

I live in London with my wonderful wife Nicola, around Lambeth North, very close to the river.

Are you still playing with the Bad Seeds?

I don’t play with the band anymore, I left around 2008. I was in the band for a few years, playing on Abattoir Blues and Dig Lazarus Dig. Abattoir Blues is a really good album, so I was lucky to join around then. I played with the band on a long U.S. tour in 1994 too. I met Nick through my brother Ian who wrote Nick’s biography Bad Seed.

You are playing on the new PJ Harvey album? Did you write any of the material? Will you tour with her?

All the songs on the record are written by Polly. It’s going to be a fantastic record, and the touring will be next year, 2016. Very much looking forward to it.

Do you play with any other bands, and in the interim between Gallon Drunk releases, where else besides PJ Harvey’s new record will we be able to see your musical input?

I’ll be on tour with Marianne Faithfull late 2015, probably into 2016, and although I’m working on some other material, I doubt it’ll be out before the PJ Harvey tour, so we’ll see how it all goes.

Gallon DRunk soul cd

What’s next for Gallon Drunk as we approach the end of 2015?

We’ve had records out a lot recently, two of them with our wonderful label Clouds Hill that are based in Hamburg, and where we now do all our recording, so there’ll be a year off before the next Gallon Drunk [official website is HERE] one gets recorded. Terry and I are [both] working with PJ so that’ll take up a lot of time. I’m very happy with our last album, The Soul Of The Hour [pictured above], so quite content to give it a year before the next one.

***

Special thanks to James Johnston and his label for all the photos and the tracks. Check out some more music below, a live-in-Chicago version of “You Should Be Ashamed” – it’s an exclusive from the band, incidentally.  Above photo of Johnston now by Steve Gullick.

A VERY SPECIAL WORLD: Lee Hazlewood and “Lee, Myself & I”

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Thank God for kids that love obscure things! I never thought anyone would pay attention to those records, and it’s a good feeling. It makes me feel like I really did get to do what I wanted to do.” So said Lee Hazlewood at one point, and thanks to biographer/memoirist Wyndham Wallace we are privy to more of The Bard’s sayings—not to mention too many candid moments to list—in a delightful new book.

BY FRED MILLS

Maverick songwriter, singer and producer Barton Lee Hazlewood passed away on August 4, 2007, having been born on July 9, 1929, leaving behind a legacy of eclectic—and sometimes eccentric—albums, chart-topping productions (most notably for Duane Eddy and Nancy Sinatra) and near-mythical exploits that are the very definition of a “life lived to the fullest.” Along the way he amassed one of pop’s most dedicated followings, nary a fickle fan to be found among it, the kind of folks who, upon coming across a long out of print Hazlewood album in some thrift store or flea market would scoop it up on sight regardless of whether or not they already had it; because for collectors, Hazlewood vinyl is the analog equivalent of bitcoin, varying wildly in value from one month to the next yet constantly in demand on the underground market and therefore eternally a viable commodity—particularly when it comes to negotiating an exchange for another Hazlewood record that one hadn’t yet acquired. (In that regard, owning multiple copies of his titles can come in rather handy. I speak from experience.)

As Calexico’s Joey Burns, himself a Hazlewood fan and collector of some international regard (his band contributed to the 2002 tribute album Total Lee), put it in a 2007 interview with the Los Angeles Times published shortly before The Bard’s death, “He’s just really creative, and his personal story is very intriguing. And all his classics, they kind of go somewhere. There’s some kind of journey happening with the story. It’s a very imaginative place…. You can tell there’s some drama. And I love his more obscure stuff too. He’s very abstract and kind of out there at times, and a freak, and that’s what my friends and I all love about them. He’s out there.”

Lee-Hazlewood

He was out there, that’s for sure. At the time of his death Hazlewood was on the tail end of a latter-day career revival that saw the reissue, by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s label Smells Like Records, of several of his albums from the ‘60s and early ‘70s along with the opaquely-titled 1999 comeback album Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! And Me…; the aforementioned tribute rec, which in addition to Calexico featured the likes of St. Etienne, Jarvis Cocker, Lambchop and Tindersticks; a handful of enthusiastically received concerts in England and Europe (including one in Germany in 2002 which can be downloaded for free HERE); and several more “new” releases comprising early demos, a concert disc and freshly-recorded material (2006 swansong Cake or Death). Given the man’s reputation for being somewhat prickly, if not downright combative at times, it’s entirely possible—no, absolutely likely—that he would have taken issue with the notion of a career “revival” since to his way of thinking it was just one long illustrious journey, with all its attendant ups, downs and in-betweens, stretching back to the ‘50s.

Which is certainly any artist’s prerogative. Because more often than not, when we speak of a musician who’s “disappeared from view” or has been “operating under the radar” what we really mean is that we haven’t been paying much attention, or didn’t even know where to look. Speaking personally, I can testify to not following the Hazlewood trajectory myself all that closely for a period of time; this despite the fact that when I first discovered his solo records around the middle of the ‘70s I instantly became a fan and actively started backtracking and seeking out such, er, out there gems as 1966’s The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, 1967’s Lee Hazlewoodism – Its Cause and Cure, 1973’s Poet, Fool Or Bum and, of course, his long-playing debut from ’63, Trouble Is A Lonesome Town. The Smells Like reissue campaign served to revive my appetite for the man’s singular musical vision, as did Cake or Death even though its arrival was accompanied by sad rumors (subsequently confirmed) of his being in poor health.

2012, however, brought yet another, equally improbable, Hazlewood revival, courtesy the diligent, passionate collectors and archivists at the Light In the Attic label, who have offered bonus tracks-laden reissues of several key titles along with a must-own anthology (The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides 1968-71, featuring hugely informative liner notes from one Wyndham Wallace—remember that name) and a pair of eye-popping box sets (You Turned My Head Around: Industries 1969-1970, a six-disc singles box; There’s A Dream I’ve Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966-1971, which contains no less than four CDs and four DVDs, three of which are made up of MP3 and WAV files covering the entire LHI output, some 300+ songs in all). Here and there sundry other labels have also got into the Hazlewood reissue game, in particular focusing on LPs to capitalize on the current vinyl resurgence, and even though some of them are no doubt of dubious legality, they all add up to making this a wonderful time to be a Hazlewood collector. Also worth noting: somewhere in the middle of all this, a musician/producer named Charles Norman (brother of late Christian rocker Larry Norman) decided he was going to re-create Trouble Is A Lonesome Town, track-by-track, using the vocal talents of some of his friends: Frank Black, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, Pete Yorn, Eddie Argos of Art Brut, Courtney Taylor-Taylor from the Dandy Warhols, and Guards Of Metropolis’ Kristin Blix. As Norman told BLURT in an interview promoting the project, he had found a copy of the original LP in a thrift store in Norway some years earlier, but as he didn’t own a turntable at the time he left it in the hands of a friend. “Later,” explained Norman, “he was playing some records and he put on this one record and I was really getting into it and said ‘Whoa, what is this?’ He said, ‘This is the Lee Hazlewood record you bought.’ I was pretty happy to make the double-discovery; I bought it once, forgot about it, and discovered it again. It was a pretty cool record.”

Cool indeed. But I’ll give you some cool. A few months ago London-based Jawbone Press published Lee, Myself & I: Inside the Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, a 250-page book by German-based/England-born journalist Wyndham Wallace that might be characterized as one part Hazlewood biography, several parts Wallace memoir, and innumerable parts character study. It’s nigh-on impossible to convey just how entertaining the volume will be for anyone with a fondness for Hazlewood, whether born out of a love for his work with Nancy Sinatra (“These Boots Are Made for Walking” is always near the top of any fan’s list, natch) or simply harbors an intermittent appreciation of the man’s own output. If you are a devotee—as I am—if Hazlewood in all his prismic glory and funhouse mirror contradictions, not to mention a lover of music books, it’s among the most captivating page turners you’re likely to encounter in this lifetime. I read it cover to cover over the course of a single weekend, and upon completion I tweeted my appreciation to Wallace (@WyndhamWallace) that it might even be the best music memoir I’ve ever read; he promptly tweeted back his thanks but suggested that it’s possible I haven’t read enough memoirs, to which I assured him, oh yeah, I’ve read a few of ‘em over the years, brother…

Lee Book

What makes the book so unique, so arresting?

Well, for starters it has as its main topic one of the most, shall we say, colorful personalities ever to grace a concert stage, marshal recording studio or hold court at a drinking establishment. Hazlewood had enough stories to make up ten lifetimes, and Wallace was able to get quite a few of them—some well-worn but absolutely essential for the retelling, others heretofore previously obscured by time, circumstance and legal statute—down on the record. That Hazlewood could be a larger than life character is a given among aficionados; given how at times during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s he attained a certain Zelig-like quality only adds to the myth. Elvis Presley championed early on by a young deejay named Hazlewood? Check. Producer, and accomplice to the pioneering of reverb as a marketable guitar sound via Duane Eddy and “Rebel Rouser”? Check. Mentor to Phil Spector and that future producer’s vaunted Wall Of Sound via Hazlewood’s Trey label? Check. Producer of almost-supergroup offspring outfit Dino, Desi & Billy, along with producer of outright superstar offspring Nancy Sinatra? Check. Champion of future alt-country avatar Gram Parsons via his signing of Parsons’ early group International Submarine Band for their Safe At Home album, despite that group’s failure to hit the public radar until Parsons’ after-the-fact prominence? Double check. Proponent of Hollywood’s premiere sex kitten Ann-Margret as a viable pop singer (for better or for worse)? Double-D check! I’m tempted to include an apocryphal tale I heard once, of Frank Sinatra chancing upon Lee and Nancy blasted on LSD and getting naked in his swimming pool, and subsequently putting a Mafia hit upon his daughter’s companion which prompted a swift relocation to Europe, but perhaps that’s stretching my narrative credibility just a bit… although with Hazlewood, “print the legend” doesn’t seem to be all that unreasonable.

Another compelling element is the essential nature of the story being told here: you can’t go into it without at least some knowledge of Hazlewood’s career (“Boots” is eternally destined to work its way into the first few sentences of any Hazlewood discussion); and of course you know before taking up the book that he died at the age of 78 from renal cancer, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there’s not going to be a happy ending to it. With that in mind, though, it’s still a success story, the proverbial “redemption” crucial to such notions evidenced by the actual publishing of it in the first place, because as Wallace himself puts it at book’s end, “Lee may not have chosen to be my subject, but I like to think he would have approved of what he inspired… Sometimes he would tell me things before adding, with a grin, ‘and don’t put that in your damned book!’” That is, Lee, Myself & I isn’t the kind of mass-audience publication typically greeted by yet another Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Springsteen, Led Zep, Pink Floyd et al volume (or, heaven forbid, some quickie jack-off aimed at exploiting some current social media explosion by Katy Perry, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Drake or Miley Cyrus). Think of it, instead, as the literary equivalent of a Hazlewood compilation, each chapter a key track (or, keeping in mind the story-telling aspect outlined previously, a choice unreleased number) aimed at painting a broader picture of the artist in a specific context—here, the context being the Hazlewood of unguarded moments in the presence of the author during that so-called career revival. If you think I’m reaching here, then maybe you should know that Wallace deliberately gives his hand away by breaking the book into two main sections titled “Side A” and “Side B” with each broken up into four chapters. And hey, I do know that an eight-song album doesn’t sound like much. Maybe 30 minutes at very most, right? But Wallace also includes a revealing “Author’s Note” at the end, followed by “Lee Hazlewood 101: An Inevitably Incomplete Guide to the Vocal Recordings of Lee Hazlewood,” which is basically a selected discography, so with those as “bonus material” you’ve actually got quite a nice little Hazlewood retrospective here.

But without a doubt, this tome’s irresistible selling point is that it represents the fan/collector/aficionado’s ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy: author Wallace was magically transformed from fan into associate, then business partner, and then ultimately an intimate. This is no small detail—let’s say you discovered Captain Beefheart at some point and through a series of events found yourself corresponding with the good Mr. Van Vliet (hello, PJ Harvey, you lucky gal!), and then doing publicity and marketing work for him, and finally hanging out—maybe even drinking—with him, and helping him coordinate all manner of creative and business matters? Here you can insert your favorite artist for the just-rendered scenario… All of us have, at some point, wondered what it would be like to have a celebrity or star as a friend or drinking buddy, but very few of us actually get to live out that fantasy. Wallace did.

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Lee, Myself & I begins with a 27-year old Wallace meeting the 69-year old Hazlewood for the first time, at a New York hotel in 1999. Hazlewood, it turns out, has been, as Wallace writes, “a hero of mine for the best part of a decade.” (His initial exposure to Hazlewood had been a Rough Trade Singles Club 45 by the Tindersticks that features a drawing of him on the picture sleeve and is additionally dedicated to the songwriter.)

“Hi,” says Wallace. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Hazlewood looks Wallace up and down. He’s not impressed with his new UK publicist. “How the fuck old are you? Thirteen?”

Well, with a greeting like that, only direction one can go is up, right? Improbably enough, an actual friendship blossoms between the two. For his part, Hazlewood, who’s seen his share of sycophants, assholes and just plain incompetent idiots over the course of 4 ½ decades in the music business, eventually decides that Wallace can be trusted and is actually a nice chap. Wallace, meanwhile, is simultaneously thrilled and challenged, determined not to let his hero worship get in the way of doing a good job helping market the man, whose Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! And Me… had just been released and, as he had been, er, operating under the radar for a number of years at that point, was actually willing to engage in at least a modicum of promotion for the record. Wallace was even able to convince Hazlewood to return to the concert stage, although as he is quick to point out, the singer seemed far more concerned about how much he would get paid for his efforts than the actual performance.

Publicists typically take on clients for single projects—say, the roll-out of a new album, with maybe a couple of months follow-up and perhaps handling press for the ensuing tour. Occasionally, though, the artist winds up staying with the publicist for subsequent efforts, and a genuine relationship, though on paper “just business,” inevitably evolves over time. In Wallace’s case, he goes on to become Hazlewood’s drinking partner, his confidante and, ultimately, his manager. This is no small matter, because as suggested previously, the man could be downright difficult. I suspect that when I refer to Wallace as “long suffering” with regard to Hazlewood he might not disagree.

But it also was a deep and abiding friendship—Hazlewood even had an affectionate nickname for Wallace, “Bubba”—with all the attendant highs and lows that comes with any long-term friendship. Wallace’s casually intimate anecdotal style here is perfectly suited to his topic, for Hazlewood himself is a walking collection of anecdotes. There’s the one, for example, about the time he turned down Cynthia Plastercaster’s invitation to, ahem, be “cast” following his chart success with Nancy Sinatra: “It certainly wasn’t my morals,” he confides to Wallace. “I’d just be afraid I’d be walking down a Los Angeles street one day and there’d be a sign: Ten Lee Hazlewoods. One Mick Jagger. I just couldn’t handle that…” Or when, as a teenager, he was accused by a policeman of stealing tires from a gas station, but his father declined to let the cop inspect the car trunk after young Lee swore he hadn’t done it: “The one thing you didn’t dare do is, you didn’t lie to my dad. And the cop knew it…” Or how in the ‘60s he was able to slip things past censors thanks to their penchant for only reading lyrics literally; Sinatra’s “Sugar Town” was actually about taking acid (he’d seen kids at a club eating LSD-laced sugar cubes), while the line in “Boots” about “you’ve been messing…” was an overt reference to sex (“messing” turns out to be a synonym for “fucking” in parts of Texas).

The book traces the pair’s friendship through Hazlewood’s decline and death, Wallace setting numerous scenes that are priceless for any Hazlewood fan, such as when Hazlewood is in rehearsals for his appearance at Nick Cave’s Meltdown Festival in ’99 in London and Cave, incredibly, comes off as stilted and borderline dismissive when he arrives to meet Hazlewood; or, at what will turn out to be his last birthday party, Hazlewood is sitting in his lounge chair, the center of attention (Nancy Sinatra literally sitting on the floor at his feet), wearing a teeshirt that proclaims, I’m not dead yet.

Spoiler Alert: Their final scene together, though, will put a lump in your throat. Wallace is at Hazlewood’s house, preparing to go catch a plane back home. Sensing that Hazlewood is nearing the end, Wallace wants to hug him goodbye, offer a bunch of emotional things he’d been planning to say, but when the time comes he’s utterly lost for words and has to settle for just exchanging good-byes and shaking hands. Three weeks later he gets an early-a.m. phone call. He sees the number and realizes it’s Hazlewood’s wife Jeane. He instinctively knows why she’s calling.

The book concludes with Wallace attending a memorial party for Hazlewood in Phoenix, with friends and family and of course Wallace toasting the man, telling tall tales, looking at his photos and listening to his music. Just like any other celebration or wake, right?

Well, maybe… but this is Lee fucking Hazlewood we’re talking about. There was nothing even remotely “just like any other…” with regards to the man.

Likewise, there’s absolutely nothing about this delightful book that’s just like any other memoir…

***

[Below: author Wyndham Wallace]

Wallace

Lee, Myself & I on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leemyselfand

Jawbone Press: www.jawbonepress.com

Wyndham Wallace: http://www.wyndhamwallace.com/

 

 

YES, SIR: Alan White

Alan now 1

On board through myriad ups and downs—including the recent, tragic death of a bandmate—for over four decades the Yes drummer keeps a positive rhythm. He’s currently on tour through mid-September and looking forward to the group’s annual Cruise to the Edge seafaring celebration.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Like most drummers in better known bands, Yes’ Alan White tends to keep a fairly low profile. Indeed, after 43 years with one of the most successful bands on the planet, White’s work speaks for itself. He’s only the second man to sit behind the skins for the group in its nearly half century of existence, joining them following the departure of founding member Bill Bruford and just prior to the release of Close to the Edge, the album that would change their fortunes forever. It was a hectic debut to say the least; a mere three days after Yes recruited him, he was already on stage with them for the first date of their new tour.

Then again, White was no stranger when it came to shifting assignments. His various stints have included roles with Joe Cocker, the Alan Price Set, Ginger Baker’s Airforce, his relatively obscure prog-rock ensemble Griffin (not to be confused with the better known prog-rock ensemble Gryphon), and, most famously, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band with whom he appeared at the famous Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969. To date, White’s discography includes more than 50 albums, including a single solo effort, 1976‘s Ramshackled, and at least two by Beatles alum — George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Lennon’s landmark, Imagine.

Blurt caught up with White on a July morning in his hotel room in Lancaster Pennsylvania as the band were preparing for their latest tour, which encores November 15-19 with their third annual ocean-going excursion, aptly dubbed The Cruise to the Edge. Naturally, it will be different this year due to the death of Chris Squire just this past June. Nevertheless, White spoke openly about the effect on the band, Squire’s replacement on the road, Billy Sherwood, and his own illustrious past association with two of the former Fabs.

BLURT: It seems like Yes is constantly touring. What keeps you going at such a fervent pace?

WHITE: I don’t know. The band and the music represents the ‘70s and I guess that in one’s mind you want to keep the Yes name going to keep that high standard of musicianship and then carry it forward. Before Chris passed away, it was his wish that we persevere. When he got very sick, he called me and he called the others in the band… he was very optimistic about the future and he hoped to be back on the road by spring. So we said, ok Chris, but when you have something like leukemia you’re going to be out of action for at least a year. And even after you get the treatment, at age 70, it doesn’t bode well for the future anyway. They actually did get the,leukemia out of his body, but it weakened his heart so much, he never did recover from it.

 

At some point, did the band convene and suggest that maybe it wouldn’t be possible to carry on? That maybe a recess from the road was in order?

It was shocking to everybody, especially for the band but also for the fans. But Chris wanted us to keep moving forward with the Yes name and to carry the Yes banner. Billy Sherwood was a friend of Chris’ and he grew up with Chris as his mentor, so he knows the bass lines and his harmonies and so he had those down to begin with. And Chris wanted to Billy to take over in the interim. Initially he just wanted him to do this next tour that we’re planning for right now. And then he was planning to go back. But unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

 

Aside from your upcoming tour, you have your third fan cruise coming up. Are you excited to be undertaking that voyage once again?

It’s quite enjoyable, yes. The fans like it and they appreciate the band taking the time out to do something like that, I think. There’s a multiple choice of venues of the boat and we get our choice of which bands are included.

Yes poster

So you actually curate the cruise then?

Well, the promoters give us a list of the bands he would like to see participate and we give him a list and we kind of come to a meeting at the end.

 

Does it take a lot of planning in terms of logistics to be set up onboard a ship for seven days?

Not really. We can do as much as we want or as least as what we want. We usually have a separate area of the boat that we can go to so we’re not being hounded all the time by the fans and the public. It makes it a lot better for us, let’s put it that way.

 

Are you able to circulate amongst the fans at any time?

Yes, we do. We go out and talk to the people out there and go for a beer at the bar with certain people or hang out with other musicians. But we’ve always got a place we can retreat to.

 

Yes is clearly one of the hardest working bands in the biz.

Considering we’ve been doing it for 45 years, it is pretty amazing. In fact, just today, I have another interview in about three minutes and I’m unpacking as I’m doing them, and then we have a rehearsal later today, and then we drive to Connecticut. So it is a pretty hectic schedule after all.

Yes

There have been no shortage of live Yes live albums lately, including your latest, Like It Is. Are there plans for a new Yes studio album in the near future?

We’re just getting over the loss of Chris, and getting our feet back on the ground and kind of working through the mechanics of this tour. Then we’ve got a tour next spring in Europe and possibly next summer, I don’t know about that yet. We’re just going to take it slowly and easily and then when the time is right, we’ll think about recording another album.

 

Billy had played with the band previously in various permutations, had he not?

He played with the band in the ‘90s and Billy and I had a band together with Chris, and then when Chris wasn’t involved anymore, we had a band called Circa. My commitment to Yes became to much at that point, however, that eventually I had to leave Circa even though Billy stayed on.  (Below: Circa live)

What has the transition from Chris to Billy been like?

I suppose it was like my role when I first joined the band. Eventually I’d start changing things here and there, so that’s really what made it interesting for me.

 

Let’s talk about that for a minute. When you joined Yes in 1972, replacing Bill Bruford, was it difficult for you to adjust, given their distinct time signatures and the ambitious melodies. Was it intimidating in any way?

Not really. I was in my own band called Griffin for a number of years prior to joining Yes, and they played the same sort of interesting time signatures and lots of different styles of music, like classical, jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ Roll and Roll. I found it an easy transition.

 

You were also in the Plastic Ono Band.

Yes, I was. (Below: L-R: Klaus Voorman, Alan White, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Eric Clapton)

Plastic Ono

That must have been a memorable experience. There was that famous gig at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival where you Lennon, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voormann literally had to learn your set on the plane ride over.

With Yes, I had to learn the entire repertoire in three days, and the same thing applied to the Plastic Ono Band. I got a call from John Lennon, and he said, ‘Can you come and do a gig tomorrow in Toronto Canada. I hung up the phone because I didn’t really believe it was him, and then he called back ten minutes later and I nearly fell on the floor when I realized it was really John Lennon. I actually thought it was a friends playing a joke on me. But when I realized who it really was, I said of course. He sent a limo and I met them in the airport. [Below: clip of the Plastic Ono Band in Toronto; the camera primarily focuses on Lennon, but White can be seen (sort of) starting at about the 2:20 mark]

Had you known him previously?

I had known him about two years previously. I played on the Imagine album and did “Instant Karma” single with him.

 

How did the association with Lennon begin?

It was interesting really. I had gotten a call from Mal Evans who was the Beatles roadie and he said, “John wanted me to call you and tell you to get your drums and get down to the studio now! John wrote a song last night and he wants to record it today and and release it next week.”

So we went down and it took us the better part of one day and we put the song together and it was a very quick turn-around. After that, he invited me to play on Imagine, which I did. George Harrison was also hanging around the studio and he asked me to play on All Things Must Pass. So I ended up playing on all those amazing albums.

 

The drums on that particular song are so distinctive. Your playing was really an indelible part of that record. Did Lennon give you free reign on that arrangement?

Yeah, pretty much. He played the song for me and I came up with an idea for the drum part. And he said, Alan, whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it. I was really interested in playing rhythms and then I experimented with this different metre and that’s exactly what emerged.

 

***

Go HERE to read our tribute to the late Chris Squire, along with the Editor’s special remembrance about growing up in the ‘70s with the band as a soundtrack.