Monthly Archives: January 2017

TIME & A FEW WORDS WITH… Alan White of Yes

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Tempus fugit when you’re having fun—the virtuoso drummer on Yes’ past, present, and future.

BY BILL KOPP

Progressive rock heroes – and 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees – Yes are embarking on a short, 10-date tour of the Southeastern USA in February 2017. A continuation of the band’s popular “Album Series” of concert tours, the performances will feature the group’s 1980 album Drama plus Sides One and Four of the sprawling 1973 album Tales from Topographic Oceans. The tour kicks off with a February 3 show at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Western North Carolina.

The “Album Series” is a relatively new approach for the enduring British band founded in 1968. Beginning in March 2013, Yes concerts featured performances of complete albums from the group’s deep catalog. The band would take to the stage and run through an entire album of material, start to finish (sometimes, as in the case of performances of 1972’s Close to the Edge, they would play the songs in reverse order). The first albums to be performed live in their entirety were Close to the Edge, Going for the One (1977) and 1971’s The Yes Album. The group’s 2014 tours featured 1971’s Fragile along with other songs. The 2016 tours featured the first complete performances of Drama, considered on its original release as a major musical departure for the group. By Summer of ’16 Yes was performing half of Tales from Topographic Oceans (specifically, sides 1 and 4).

Since its inception, Yes has gone through myriad changes. In fact – if one wants to get picky about it – the 2017 Yes lineup includes no original members. Allow me to explain in as concise a manner as is possible …

Yes was founded near the end of the ’60s in London by bassist Chris Squire and vocalist Jon Anderson. The remaining three members – guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford on drums – would each subsequently leave the band; both Bruford and Kaye would return at various points, but a full Yes personnel chronology would be mind-numbingly intricate; consult Wikipedia if you really must know.

Jon Anderson left for the final time in 2004; he currently tours with two other Yes alumni, guitarist Trevor Rabin and keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman. Chris Squire – the only member to have participated in every Yes concert and album up to that point – passed away from leukemia in 2015. With Squire’s passing, the sole founding member of the group was gone. But the current lineup of “new” members is anything but new. Guitarist Steve Howe joined in 1970; drummer Alan White took over for Bruford in 1972, and has played on every Yes release since Tales from Topographic Oceans.

The other members of Yes all have substantial history with the band. Keyboardist Geoff Downes came on board for Drama back in 1980, and rejoined as a full member in 2011 (he’s also been a mainstay of the closely related progressive/pop group Asia since its founding). Bassist Billy Sherwood is unique in Yes world in several ways: he’s one of only two Americans (current vocalist Jon Davison being the other) in the group; Sherwood has been in and out of Yes – in both official and unofficial capacities – several times beginning as far back as 1991. It’s worth reminding oneself that 1991 was more than a quarter century ago.

And with the exception of a medical leave during the group’s 25-date Summer 2016 tour, Alan White has been behind the Yes drum kit for every show since a concert in Dallas, TX on June 30, 1972.

White didn’t simply appear out of nowhere back in ’72; his impressive résumé already included work with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Denny Laine’s short-lived group Balls, and stints with former Animals keyboardist Alan Price as well as a brief tenure in Ginger Baker’s Airforce. Through absolutely no fault of the preternaturally good-natured White, most of those projects had run aground in disarray. But the drummer remained undaunted. “I’ve always been very positive,” White tells me during a late January 2017 conversation. “If things fall in place around you all well enough, I don’t complain about much at all. I just get on with performing, and go in a straight line forward. Things come and go around you.” That resilience has served him well during his 45-year tenure with Yes, as he’s seen the band endure – and thrive – through countless changes in style and personnel.

Yes’ original drummer Bill Bruford approached his craft from something of a jazz and improvisational mindset; in fact his stated reason for leaving Yes – already known for its intricate and demanding musical arrangements – was to pursue an even greater musical challenge with King Crimson. But even then, newcomer White was no slouch himself.

White provides some context. “Prior to Yes – and in fact for quite a few years while I was doing all of this other stuff – I had my own band in the English countryside that actually played a lot of prog style music.” He says that the music was in a style not wholly unlike Yes’ approach. “So I tried – when I got into Yes – to incorporate the rock and roll style along with knowing how to do the jazz things. I combined all of that into a fusion type of drumming that went along with a lot of Yes’ music.”

Looking back upon his entry into the band, White recalls the challenge of joining the band on the eve of a major tour of America. “Getting asked to learn and play the whole repertoire in three days was quite an exciting challenge for me,” he laughs. “One I’ve seem to overcome.”

When I interviewed Chris Squire in 2011, he recalled that time as well. “I was never sure it was going to work out when Alan first came in,” he told me. “But after awhile, he did so well that we melted into being the new ‘engine room.’”

For his part, White recalls that he seemed to get it mostly right onstage in Dallas. “Chris said, ‘That was great! We were all sweating bullets, because you didn’t really have enough time to learn the songs!’” He notes that while Bruford had played drums on the then-new album Close to the Edge, even he had never attempted to play the demanding material live. “I was experimenting to the point of how it would work on stage,” White says.

White and Squire quickly developed a close musical rapport, one that did indeed serve as the engine room that Squire described. White says, “When you play with somebody for 43 years – or even for 20 – you get to know how each other play so well, you kind of know what they’re doing before they do it. It’s an unwritten thing.”

Shortly before Chris Squire passed away, he made clear his wish for Yes to continue without him, and hand-picked multi-instrumentalist and longtime musical associate Billy Sherwood to take his place as the group’s bassist. For his part, White has a long musical history with Sherwood, both in and out of Yes; the pair have played together in Circa, a side-project band. White has also played on many of the various tribute albums Sherwood has produced and recorded.

White brushes away any suggestion that Sherwood’s bass playing requires a significant change in the way he plays drums on Yes songs. “You know what? Chris was Billy’s mentor. Billy studied Chris a lot through his life from an early age,” White says. He knows what he’s getting with Sherwood. “We were just in Japan together, doing a Yes tour,” White recalls. “Billy turned to me one day and said, ‘I’m 51 now. And I’ve known you since I was 19!’”

Asked to name his favorite song and/or album from among the 21 Yes studio releases he’s played on, White launches into a long list, jumping forward and backward through the catalog, naming songs and records from most every year and incarnation of the band. “You could go on forever,” he laughs, and he means it. White does make special mention of “Ritual,” the 21-minute-plus track that makes up all of Side Four on Tales of Topographic Oceans. That track features a long and memorable – and exceedingly musical – drum solo from White, and it’s a centerpiece of the February 2017 tour. “It’s really exciting to play,” says the 67-year-old drummer.

White’s long tenure with Yes has seen him take a major role in creating the band’s enduring legacy. But he takes accolades in stride. Case in point is his reaction to the recent announcement that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – long viewed as hostile toward progressive rock – will be inducting Yes in its next annual awards ceremony. “Yeah, well, it’s funny enough,” he says, noting that an artist has to have been active for 25 years before they’re eligible. “And it’s been almost 25 years since that happened for us.”

He continues on that point. “Fans have been saying for years and years, ‘I can’t understand why you guys are not in there!’ I talked to the guys in Rush when they got in; I was down at the ceremony in 2013. They said, “I can’t understand how we’re getting in the Hall of Fame when we modeled all of our music on yours!'”

Yes begins its February 2017 tour in Cherokee, NC, followed by a headlining/hosting spot on the five-day Cruise to the Edge floating festival. Once back on dry land, Yes will play a string of dates in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Future – but as yet unannounced – plans call for a Yes summer tour, a South American series of dates, and, says White, “possibly doing another album in the studio after that.” As the group heads toward its 50th anniversary in Summer 2018, Yes shows no signs of stopping.

You may also enjoy Bill Kopp’s 2016 interview with Yes’ founding member Jon Anderson

 

FAREWELL TO… Game Theory’s Gil Ray

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1956-2017 R.I.P. Ace drummer also manned the kit for the Rain Parade in recent years. Above photo by Robert Toren.

UPDATE 1/29: Gil’s wife Stacey wrote a moving comment on Facebook, noting that she struggled all week to find the right words. Ultimately, she found the perfect words.You can read it HERE.

By Fred Mills

This one, for obvious reasons to anyone who visits the BLURT site on even an irregular basis, hurts more than most. Gil Ray, erstwhile drummer for ‘80s power pop legends Game Theory, passed away on January 24 following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was only 60, and he leaves behind an extended family of fans, friends, and fellow musicians that, even as I write this obituary, is grieving as heavily and publicly as any artists I can think of from the recent past. Just one visit to Gil’s Facebook page will confirm the outpouring of sorrow, accolades, and remembrances. Many have also posted pictures of Gil from over the years, and one friend also posted an image that I’m taking the liberty of reposting here, because I think it sums the man up in ways I could never match:

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I suppose you can peruse his overall bio readily enough at his Wikipedia page, which summarizes his long career, which started in Charlotte, NC, in the late ‘70s, hit an early peak in the mid ‘80s on the West Coast after he joined Scott Miller’s band Game Theory, and after a spell resumed, as drummer for Miller’s subsequent outfit, the Loud Family. He also embarked on several side projects, additionally cutting a wonderful solo album in 2006, I Am Atomic Man!

Then in 2012 he was tapped for kit duties in the Rain Parade, and enjoyed renewed fame alongside his fellow Paisley Underground alumni. BLURT’s own Jud Cost documented a particularly memorable 2013 concert in San Francisco that featured the Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, the Three O’Clock, and the Bangles.

On a personal level, I feel compelled to add that I’m eternally grateful to have reconnected, if on a long distance level via Facebook, with Gil during the past six months. Whenever I got to see Game Theory back in the day, he and I would chat and catch up on North Carolina goings-on, especially about Charlotte since I was living there at the time. (He was clearly the hometown hero when GT came to Charlotte, with old friends coming up, hugging, asking him what he’d been doing aside from the band, etc.) As it turns out, Gil had seen some of the Game Theory coverage that yours truly and fellow GT fanatic Michael Toland had been diligently publishing here at BLURT. Among those clips:

Dead Center” album review, 2014

Nighttime of The Season” feature, 2015

Lolita Nation” bonus track MP3, 2015

Unreleased Live ’88 track” MP3, 2015

The Big Shot Chronicles” album review, 2016

Then there was a piece written last year by Jason Cohen and featuring exclusive photos by Robert Toren. It concerned the band during its Big Shot Chronicles period, and for some reason I decided to title it “This Band Could Be Your Life”—yes, a nod to the classic Michael Azerrad book about the alt- and college-rock era in the ‘80s—because Game Theory seemed so emblematic of what a lot of us, from fans to writers to musicians, experienced during that time. Below is one of Toren’s photos that he so kindly shared with us.

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Gil seemed particularly surprised and proud that his old band commanded such reverence among both his fans and his peers, and he expressed his appreciation to me for remembering him and his bandmates so fondly.  And after we had reconnected after all these years, he popped in from time to time with an observation, comment, or anecdote regarding something I’d posted at BLURT. A passage from the Cohen piece involving Gil now stands out in my mind, and by way of tribute, I’m going to repost that section here. Meanwhile, to Gil, all I can say is—you are already deeply, permanently missed, and while I know this is a cliché that gets uttered all the time, at least we still have the music and the memories. As I type this, I’ve been spinning GT music for the past hour. I never get tired of it. Please say hello from all of us here to Scott Miller when you run into him…

By Jason Cohen, from “This Band Could Be Your Life” article: In the fall of 2012, The Rain Parade announced that they’d be getting back together to join the Tim Lee 3 at an Atlanta benefit show for Lee’s Windbreakers compadre Bobby Sutliff, who’d been in a bad car accident. The Rain Parade’s Matt Piucci posted on Facebook that they needed a drummer, prompting both Lee and Dan Vallor (the other co-producer of these reissues) to send separate Facebook messages to Ray, who hadn’t played live in 12 years.

He got the gig. “It was one of the best things a 56 year-old guy could have dreamed of,” Ray says. “We were meant for each other. Some of the best shows I have ever been involved with were the Rain Parade shows. The fact that I was a former member of Game Theory made it even more special. Worlds collided in a fabulous way.”

I’d gotten to know Tim and his wife, Susan Bauer Lee, both on the Internet and IRL, when they started playing in the Tim Lee 3 around 2001. When the Sutliff benefit was first announced, I tweeted that I wished the Dream Syndicate and the Rain Parade could follow that up by playing SXSW with the Windbreakers and Game Theory. When the Three O’Clock reunited to play Coachella 2013, I fantasized out loud on Twitter about Game Theory following suit (and more than once). So when the Lees heard from Gil about Scott’s death, Susan knew I’d be almost as heartbroken as she and Tim were, and sent me a Twitter DM.

Losing Scott in the social media era–balancing public virtual grief with private grief–was “one of the most messed up things I’ve had to deal with, ever,” says Ray. “I did not know how to process and handle my loss, his family’s loss, and his closest friends’ loss…on Facebook.” This was especially true in the days before Miller’s death became public knowledge. That ended up happening during the Three O’Clock’s April 17 show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, between the two Coachella weekends.

“I knew it was going to be a very emotional night,” says Ray. “Before the band went on, Matt showed me his phone. It was now public knowledge. We hugged each other and cried. I looked up and a large part of the audience were staring at their phones. I will never, ever forget that. It was the most emotionally charged moment of my adult life. This was the new world. This was social media. This was fucked up. But I made it through somehow.”

Then the Rain Parade came to Texas to play Austin Psych Fest. It’s a show I wouldn’t have missed in any case, but now it was also something of a wake. It was where I needed to be to feel Scott’s loss, but also to temporarily fill the void. And it was where Ray and his Rain Parade bandmates needed to be to expel their own grief at high volume. A show of strength. An offering to the rock’n’roll gods. One more for St. Michael.

“The audience knew,” Ray says. “They gave me great respect, and we played what Matt called ‘our most punk rock’ set ever. It was healing, for the moment.”

Below: Gil and Suzi Ziegler performing at a 2013 memorial for Scott Miller. Via Wikipedia: By Lwarrenwiki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34079211

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THE INSPIRATION BEHIND… Michael Fennelly’s (Crabby Appleton) “Go Back” (1970)

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Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). Now we dip way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly.

BY TIM HINELY

At this stage in the game we probably don’t have to tell you that the early ‘70s was a breeding ground for the genre we’ve come to know and love as power pop—Big Star, the Raspberries, and the Nazz being just three of the more prominent progenitors. Count L.A.’s Crabby Appleton—vocalist Michael Fennelly (late of Millennium) plus a group popular on the local scene called Stonehenge: Felix “Flaco” Falcon (percussion), Casey Foutz (keyboards), Hank Harvey (bass), and Phil Jones (drums)—among those icons, too. Although the group managed to land insistent, hooky Fennelly composition “Go Back” in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970 and tour nationally on the strength of their eponymous Don Gallucci-produced debut album, the couldn’t maintain their momentum and wound up splitting following the release of their poorly-selling 1971 followup, Rotten to the Core. Fennelly would go on to a lengthy career as a songwriter and solo artist, and we recently caught up with him at his home in Portland, Oregon, to take a quick trip down memory lane to the “Go Back” period—and a musical legacy that’s still cherished by power pop fans across the globe.

BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song? 
FENNELLY: There wasn’t a particular incident or person as inspiration. I wrote songs all the time. Sometimes they were personal, and sometimes they were attempts at commercial placement. Some songs seem to write themselves. Go Back was one of those. Sitting playing my big old Gibson acoustic 12 string. Stoned. Out it came. Probably took less than a half hour.

  Any idea how your long-time fans feel about it (ie: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
It’s the song more people know about than any of my others. A lot of people really liked it upon its release and many remember it fondly and comment how it was among their favorite of the era. So, in some respects it’s a fan favorite, although people who are familiar with my catalog over the years might have other choices for their faves.

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Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later? 
After Crabby Appleton, I didn’t play “Go Back”. Many years later, in the ‘80s, my bands would include it – sometimes as an encore. It was fun to revisit.

Is there anything about the song you’d change? 
Nope. It came out just as it should have.

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Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
“Go Back” was among songs I’d written before Crabby Appleton. We worked up our version in rehearsal. When we recorded it, producer Don Gallucci suggested the keyboard be a Farfisa Organ. It was a nice suggestion, I think. When we ran into problems was when we were close to finished mixing the album, and Don felt strongly that Go Back should not be on the album. He’s been involved with heavier concept album stuff (Touch) and though the song was too light and kind of bubblegummy.  Of course it did have elements of that genre, but I felt they were well offset by the minor-to-major changes in the chording, and the power of the overall sound. I also felt VERY strongly that “Go Back” was to be Crabby’s hit. We got in a shouting match in Elektra’s VP’s office over it. I won. [Below: Fennelly’s original demo for the song.]

How do you feel about it now? 
I like the song – I like Crabby rendition of it. And I feel a fondness for it as my one-hit wonder. Having a song and record that many people know and love is indeed a wonder! And “Go Back” opened all sorts of doors for Crabby and for me. It got us on American Bandstand [watch the performance, below), and had us playing arenas and pop festivals. We used to hear it come on the radio as we were driving to gigs across the US. That was a thrill.

I’ve attached the original scrawled lyrics, and a link to the original pre-crabby guitar/voice demo.

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IN LONDON YOU CAN CELEBRATE… Punk London

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Punk rock’s 40th anniversary (and other rock revolutions) brings a variety of exhibits and events that salute punk rock in London but do they contradict punk’s anarchistic philosophy?

TEXT & PHOTOS BY MICHAEL BERICK

Back in November, Joe Corré, the son of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, made of very public burning in London of punk rock memorabilia that was estimated to be $6.25 million? Do you remember hearing about this? Corré’s gesture was prompted by his disgust over the citywide Punk London celebration and his actions resulted in many debates over whether Punk London was just a capitalistic marketing ploy or a sincere salute to this important cultural movement. (The complete name is Punk.London: 40 Years of Subversive Culture. Note the “dot” between “punk” and “London,” incidentally.)

These questions were in my head when I visited London at the end of December, and the answer that I came up with is “yes.” Punk London represents both an establishment commercialization of the anti-establishment punk rock movement along with providing useful reminders and insights about what it was all about.

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Although Punk London’s main events were in 2016, some are lingering into the new year. Since one of Corré’s complaints was how punk rock has become a brand like McDonald’s, it seems fitting that London’s Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (www.museumofbrands.com) has a small (basically three display cases) exhibit, “The Graphic of Punk” (closing Jan. 29). Displaying a collection of ads, posters, magazines and comics, the exhibit shows that the punk rock didn’t shy away from publicity or commercialism. McLaren started the Sex Pistols in part to promote his clothing store so it could be argued that punk rock, particularly in the way McLaren used the media to the Sex Pistols famous/infamous, was branded from the very beginning.

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Along with an eclectic array of vintage memorabilia, this exhibit also highlights the influential graphic artwork created by Jamie Reid. Described as an art student and anarchist, Reid is credited with coming up with the cut-out letter, random note-style artwork that became one of punk rock’s iconic looks.

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The Museum of London’s (www.museumoflondon.org.uk) just closed “Punks” exhibit also was a small – basically a hallway that connected one gallery to another – but it presented a rather unique perspective on the city’s early punk rock scene. Rather than focusing on bands or their memorabilia, it looked at the people who were the punk teens of the ‘70s, and who they are now. It was quite fascinating to read the impact the music had on these kids’ lives, like the anecdotes about the girl who gave musicians haircuts in a club’s women’s bathroom or the boy’s whose 999 design wound up as the band’s logo on one of their albums, as well as seeing how they are now. It was a type of small-scale, but powerful, exhibit that would be nice to see more of in museums.

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Going from tasteful museums to something actually tasteful, London’s W Hotel (www.wlondon.co.uk) is serving up an imaginative variation of afternoon tea. Although it might be antithetical to what “punk” was all about, its “Anarch-Tea” does upend English traditions in its own way, as well as offering some wonderfully tasty confections to enjoy.

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The cordial W staff will set you up at a cozy table and bring you tea (or, since you’re by the hotel bar, you can order something alcoholic too), and they then deliver the special Anarch-Tea treats. You will get five desserts, along with four “Gang of Four” finger sandwiches, all served as on a tiered cake stand cleverly made from old vinyl albums. It is best to go on an empty stomach because the pastries are a scrumptious indulgence. anarchtea01

The most traditional item is the jam-filled scone called, naturally, “The Jam.” There is also “The God Save The Queen,” which is a checkerboard cake topped with a sugar crown, and “The Mohawk,” a skull-shaped raspberry mousse sporting a bright blue (and edible) Mohawk. The two other sweets also feature colorful edible accessories. “Shut Up – The Strangers” is a frozen raspberry parfait resembling a big pair of red lips that are “sealed” with a (yes, edible) zipper. Hard-core choco-philes, meanwhile, will love the “Going Round In Circles – Alternative TV,” a dark chocolate roulade dotted with silver “studs.”

If you have visited London, you know that walking tours are a prime tourist activity. Not surprisingly, there are several music-related walks, with the Beatles being a popular subject. London Walk (www.walks.com) has several Beatles tours as well as the broader themed “Rock ‘N’ Roll London Walk,” which hits sites related to the Who and Pink Floyd, the Clash and Oasis. You can even do a punk-focused walk. “The Original Soho Punk Rock Tour” (www.flipsidelondontours.com) is a much-praised two-hour jaunt around the legendary Soho neighborhood, where clubs like the Marquee and Roxy clubs once stood and other place important to groups like The Jam and Sex Pistols.

The question of when commemorating rock history shifts from being presented as a cultural movement into something that is more of a commercial product also rears its head at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (www.vam.ac.uk/). The esteemed museum is presenting an exhibit entitled “You Say Want A Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (through Feb. 26) that is yet another look at the glorious times known as the Sixties. (Below photo and the photo at the top of the page from the V&A exhibit.)

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The large, ambitious exhibit covers a lot of ground, examining not just music but also touching on fashion, film, literature, politics and other social movements. It is a lot to try to condense into one show, and perhaps too much. Some important issues – like gay rights, women’s liberation and radical politics – are given rather cursory looks. There is a heavy emphasis on the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, whose histories are pretty well known already. A room about rock festivals is dominated by a big screen showing clips from the Woodstock film, which people can watch while laying on artificial grass (and making it awkward for others to look at the room’s displays).

Not surprisingly, the emphasis also is on the English side of the story. So instead of talking about Rolling Stone Magazine, you get learn about the underground magazine Oz and its serious, yet sometimes comical, obscenity trial. Similarly, instead of focusing on Andy Warhol’s pop art crowd, the exhibit spotlights Swinging London’s pop art and fashion, which allows you to find out about Michelangelo Antonioni’s great film Blow Up and the tragically short career of pop artists Pauline Boty.

By the end of the massive, and massively informative, exhibit, you may be understandably exhausted, but try not to breeze through its final gallery. Besides some fun looks at Sixties’ consumerism and a too brief look at architecture and design, it also addresses the two main World Expos from this time-period, Montreal in 1967 and Tokyo in 1970. It’s illuminating to read about hopeful utopian spirit behind these projects, which often get ignored in the typical nostalgic retrospectives. Similarly, there is a flag display, which may seem like a head-scratcher until you read that over 50 new countries were established between 1955-70. Flags were designed to stand as a visual symbol of these new nation’s existence and a statement about the era’s revolutionary times, just as you could say the “Revolution 9” or “God Save The Queen” were.

(Below: the Nashville Room wall poster, w/punters, natch.

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A FEW QUICK MINUTES WITH… Todd Fancey

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The New Pornographers guitarist talks about his new album, writing for television, disco angels, and more.

 BY TIM HINELY

If you know his name at all it  is probably as being the low-key guitarist for Canadian popster’s New Pornographers but Todd Fancey has an alter ego (sort of). He’s released a handful of records under his last name. Yup, Fancey. While the New Pornos add some more glitter n’ drive to their pop confections Fancey heads back to that blighted decade known as the 70’s where he gleans inspiration from those AM radio pop records that his parents might’ve played (start with David Gates’ Bread and head westward). On his latest record,  Love Mirage (out this week, Jan. 27, on his own  Stoner Disco label) he goes a few steps further…..further into the world of soft pop and even disco. Cuts like “Baby Sunshine,” “Disco Angel’ and the title track and too shiny for words. We caught up with Todd and asked him about his long absence, the new record and who he’s currently digging on right now.

BLURT: 10 years is a long time since your last full-length , Schmancey. What have you been doing?

FANCEY: Aside from touring and recording with the New Pornographers I did a few songs for television – most notably “That One Night” with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupinsky for the “Dinner Party” episode of The Office.  I also watched a few prospective solo albums collapse under the weight of their own mediocrity as I learned how to do a lot of the editing and recording myself.  I started Love Mirage in 2015.

,How did the songs on Love Mirage come together? Was it 10 years of working on them?

Some of the songs on Love Mirage are remnants of the aforementioned failed projects that I tried to get off the ground artistically.  Luckily a romantic break-up or two came along in the interim to give me a more focused lyrical direction!

Did you do anything different in the studio this time from previous records?

Yes I did a lot different things in the studio this time, using an actual producer- Allan Rodger.  He wanted us to try and attain what he calls “supermarket grade” which means keeping the sound friendly and warm at all times….that was the goal!  I got similar advice from my friend Gary Mallaber who drummed on Steve Miller’s hits.  Gary plays percussion on the album.

Tell us about “Disco Angel.” Where’d the inspiration from that one come from?

Disco Angel was inspired by the way people used to “waltz” in the disco-era to a song like Kiss’ “Beth” or “Sharing the Night Together” by Dr. Hook.  Basically two people slowly turning around to the music under the mirror ball…just an excuse for polyester to bond.

Will you be touring for the record at all (specifically the states)?
I have no plans to tour the record at the moment.  I wanted it to be a truly studio album like the am radio stuff of the ’70s…faceless music with no worries about how it would be done live.  Not ruling it out though.

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Is the New Pornographers still keeping you busy?

Yes the New Pornographers is keeping me busy, we’re going to release our new album in the spring and there will be lots of international touring.

Who are some of your favorite current artists?

I can name at least three modern recording acts that prove stellar music is still being made: Tame Impala, Neon Indian, and MGMT.

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THE RUMBLE IN BEIJING: Vieux Farka Toure

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On January 15th at the Yugong Yishan Club, the African guitar legend – and son of the late Ali Farka Toure – rocked a packed house to wrap up his Asian tour. Our man on the ground in Beijing was there, camera in hand, and ready to document the occasion. Following the video and the text, also check out his photos from the show.

By Jonathan Levitt

Two nights ago, the Blurt Beijing team consisting of myself and Zhou Jialin made our way through Beijing’s smog choked streets to the Yugong Yishan rock club in central Beijing for a rare treat of a concert that I felt I had to share with the Blurt readership. Vieux deserves every accolade thrown at him. He is the true heir to his father’s musical legacy. Vacillating between traditional Bambara songs, blues, and more rock oriented workouts, Vieux cuts a commanding presence on stage. The concert which lasted for about an hour and forty-five minutes, spanned both his older material as well as a few new songs. The near-capacity crowd shook their asses to the beat and hung on every note that Vieux coaxed from his guitar.

This was the final show of the Asian leg of their tour and you could tell because everything seemed to have a relaxed flow about it. Hell, they even sold the calabash drum to the highest bidder at the end of the concert! The following day, Vieux flew back to Mali where he’ll remain until April when the US tour begins in earnest. This is one show you won’t want to miss.

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A little of my own background for Blurt readers. When I worked for Rykodisc records in their international promotions department in 1995, I was fortunate enough to be invited with my then boss to travel to NYC to watch the late great Ali Farka Toure give a free concert in Central Park. After the show, I went back stage to meet the legendary guitarist. It was truly an awe-inspiring moment, that I continue to cherish. Talking Timbuktu was the album they played and to this day it remains one of my favorite records of all time.

Filmed by Jonathan Levitt and Zhou Jialin exclusively for Blurt Magazine. If you’d like to use this video, feel free to contact Levitt through Blurt. Special thanks to Vieux Toure and Marshall Henry. For more inforon Vieux Farka Toure visit his website at http://www.sixdegreesrecords.com/1971…
or http://vieuxfarkatoure.com . This concert film was shot on the mighty Nokia Lumia 1020 and edited on Adobe Premiere. Below, check out photos from the same show.

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(Vieux Farka Toure and Jonathan Levitt)

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(Toure and Zhou Jialin)

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(bassist Marshall Henry)

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(Zhou Jialin’s tattoo)

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(hand stamps from the concert)

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ACOUSTIC CHURCH MUSIC: Steve Gunn, Lee Ranaldo, Meg Baird

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The holy altar of the Winooski United Methodist Church proved to be the perfect setting for the three guitarists’ metaphysical musical mantras. Above: Steve Gunn.

BY JENNIFER KELLY / PHOTOS BY BRITTAIN SHORTER

Three guitar players — two known primarily for acid folk, a third a veteran of noisy alternative-nation skree — convened in a blue-lit church off the main drag in a scruffy-but-gentrifying Vermont town for a night, and it was magic.

Meg Baird started off, seated on a stool, cool and unmoving as she played her eerily beautiful acoustic tunes. No hint of the Heron Oblivion keener here, nor of the battering drums of Watery Love, she stuck largely to material from 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light, limpid, lucid cascades of guitar coursing like water through the air waves, her clean, high voice soaring effortlessly towards the rafters. “I Don’t Mind” came first, folky jangle intact, but minus the spectral slide of the record. It was gorgeous anyway, its soft vocal melodies curving flute-y arcs in the air and closing in a whispered, “When the night reaches out, I will be there, I don’t mind, no I don’t mind.”

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Baird dipped back further into the catalogue for agile, light-fingered “The Land Turned Over,” which intersperses bluegrass-y twang into its guitar architecture and a country warble into Baird’s phrasings. “Mosquito Hawks” wandered closest into rock, with its slow, baroque finger work, punctuated by booming chords and strident, dissonant runs, while “Don’t Weigh Down the Light,” was, as you might expect, luminous with swelling light, guitar notes dropping like rounded beads of water into the stillness, Baird’s voice soft but piercing, exactly the way you’d expect a shaft of moonlight to sound if it sounded at all.

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Lee Ranaldo went next, also bringing an acoustic guitar but putting it to louder, more anarchic use. Loops, pedals and, in the first song, a bow, elicited squalls of thunder from a succession of unassuming wooden instruments. Close your eyes, and it might have been Sonic Youth. Ranaldo played songs from an album he’d just recorded with novelist Jonathan Lethem writing lyrics, so none of the material was familiar. The first cut, the one with the bowing and massed (and massive) overtones, was a Lou Reed-ish spoken word travelogue type of thing redolent of open highways and mind altering substances. “Let’s Start Again” felt more like conventional rock (the opening guitar bit reminded me of Neil Young’s “Old Man”), but it blossomed through looping and layering into a powerful, transforming racket. You wanted to check to make sure it was just one guitar still. (Though not always the same guitar. Ranaldo was the only one of the night to bring a rack of instruments and a guitar tech to keep them in tune.)

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There were a couple of other new songs, one called “Circular” about the repetitiveness of daily life, another called “Electric Trim” with some more impressive feedback, and a composition called “Uncle Skeleton,” which moved from goofy country to blistering noise and, somewhere in there, broke out that “face bone is connected to the neck bone” ditty. Overall, the new material seemed a bit less indie rock, a little more sound experimental than his last solo album. I only wrote down R.E.M. once, and I had just jotted down Velvet Underground (bullshit reference, by the way, all it means is rock with some buzz around the guitars) when he closed with a cover of VU’s “Oceans.”

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Steve Gunn closed with a low-key but wonderful set that seemed both effortless and really difficult. Only when you watch him do you realize how much he’s doing with his long elegant fingers, how quickly and precisely he moves them though complicated chord changes, bends and pull-offs. When you listen, it all sounds supremely laid back and day-dream-y, but as Yeats said about something entirely different, “we must labor to be beautiful.”

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It was “Night Wander” right off the bat, Gunn executing the glittering runs of Television-like notes in between terse verses about black cats and nocturnal rambles. Gunn seemed to be in a contemplative mood, as he introduced “Old Strange” (from 2013’s Time Off) as a song he’d written when an old friend disappeared; he was just as lost now, he admitted, on the eve of the Trump inauguration. The song is a slow, drone-y blues, a remnant of days when Gunn was primarily known as a guitar picker, but it had an undercurrent of angst as he played, the sharp starts of guitar like yelps when someone pokes a bruise. “Milly’s Garden” may have also had a Trump-ish undertone. When I interviewed Gunn a couple of years ago, he explained that it was inspired by a religious neighbor who kind of freaked him out. The line, “Your faith is savage, and your mind is damaged, you’re halfway home,” resonates in an eerie way now. Two songs from the new album, Eyes on the Lines came after, “Ark,” breaking its chiming chords and murmured folk jams for some guitar shredding and even a little bit of wah, and “Park Bench Smile” with its spiraling, baroque guitar figures, the song that welcomes you in, then pins you there, eyes pin wheeling to the psychedelic patterns that you see.

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Perhaps because he was in a church, Gunn got to reminiscing about the last show his father had attended before passing away, at what sounds like the chapel at First Unitarian Church in Philly. Gunn went over to say hi, and noticed his dad had a beer in his hand and asked how it felt to be drinking a beer in church for the first time. Mr. Gunn countered, “This is not my first time.”  And with that, Gunn launched into “Wildwood,” a song at least partly about summers on the Jersey Shore, and sad and sweet and folky as the story he told.

I was a little disappointed that the three artists didn’t get a chance to jam together, as they did at other venues, certainly Chicago, later in the tour. But maybe the thing to remember is not that their show at a little church in a little town in Vermont shut down early, but that it happened at all.

Photos courtesy of Brittain Shorter of Winooski’s Section Sign Records – a big BLURT thank-you! www.sectionsignrecords.com / www.soundcloud.com/sectionsignrecords

Link to the concert promoter: https://www.facebook.com/WakingWindows/

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PAINTING OUTSIDE THE LINES: John Abercrombie R.I.P. 1944-2017

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UPDATE AUG. 24, 2017: We just learned of Abercrombie’s passing this week, on August 22. According to a statement issued by his label, ECM:

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the great guitarist John Abercrombie. One of the great improvisers, he died on August 22, after a long illness.  He will be much missed, for his sensitive musicality, his good companionship, and his dry humor which enhanced many a session.   He leaves behind an extensive discography which will be studied as long as people continue to play jazz guitar.”

BLURT extends its deepest condolences to Abercrombie’s family and friends. In tribute, we humbly re-publish the below interview from January of this year. – Ed.

 

UPDATE JAN. 19: We just learned from Abercrombie’s label, ECM, that the musician, in his early 70s, has been hospitalized with pneumonia. All currently scheduled tour dates have been canceled for the time being and we will republish this interview when rescheduled dates are announced. And our heartfelt prayers and support to Abercrombie, his family, and his fellow bandmembers.

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With the recent release of a retrospective of his first Quartet and a new album from his latest four-piece (pictured above),  plus an extensive U.S. tour looming, the jazz guitar legend talks about his long, celebrated career. Tour dates follow the interview.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When talk turns to great jazz guitarists, certain names always come up: Jim Hall, Barney Kessell, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield. Though not the household name of his predecessors and peers, John Abercrombie belongs in that pantheon. Steeped in the traditions of Hall and Montgomery while constantly stretching their boundaries, Abercrombie brings a perfect balance of technical skill, soulful feel and fertile imagination to his projects. That balance has earned him four decades’ worth of gigs with everyone from Gato Barbieri, Gil Evans and Billy Cobham to Charles Lloyd, Jack DeJohnette and Kenny Wheeler.

But it’s as a leader in his own right that’s truly put Abercrombie on the map. During a 40-plus stint with Manfred Eicher’s ECM Records, Abercrombie has recorded in many different contexts, from the fusion of his 1974 debut Timeless and the orchestral electronics of 1989’s Animato to his guitar duets with fellow ECM mainstay Ralph Towner and his reimagination of the organ trio in his mid-90s record with Hammond master Dan Wall. That’s not to mention the ethereal dynamics of Gateway, his collective with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, and his late ‘80s trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Peter Erskine.

It is Abercrombie’s quartet work, however, that is perhaps most celebrated. Recently collected in the three-disk box The First Quartet, the records made by his first four-piece band – with pianist Richard Beirbach, bassist George Mraz and drummer Peter Donald – represented a step forward for his musical vision, and his return to the quartet format in the 2000s with Johnson, drummer Joey Baron and violinist Marc Feldman was hailed as some of the best work of his career. Debuting in 2013 with 39 Steps, Abercrombie’s latest foursome with Baron, bassist Drew Gress and old friend Marc Copland on piano continues the guitarist’s upward creative arc. Up and Coming, the band’s new album, comes on the eve of a U.S. tour, and is one of Abercrombie’s most tasteful and imaginative works.

We spoke to Abercrombie the day before Christmas Eve about the album’s creation, his early development as a musician, and more.

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BLURT: Congratulations on Up and Coming. It’s a beautiful recording.
ABERCROMBIE: Thanks a lot.

How was the recording experience for that album?
It was very relaxed. It was just four musicians, the engineer James Farber and, of course, the producer Manfred Eicher. It was a very quick session. For some reason it just seemed to zip on by. A couple things we recorded, when we listened back to them, we didn’t like them, so we didn’t use them. We didn’t belabor it and so we wound up with what we wound up with. So overall it was very relaxed. We did it in two days. We mixed it on the third day. Manfred is very fast. We mixed it in about four hours and then it was done. I guess all I had to do was come up with titles. Sometimes it’s easier to write the song than think of what to call it – you just write the song and it doesn’t necessarily have a meaning to you. It’s not about a sunny day or a pretty girl – it’s just a song and you don’t know what to call it. Sometimes you just have to make up funny titles, and every once in a while something just comes to you that seems to suit the song.

I’ve often wondered how people who aren’t writing lyrics and choruses come up with the titles for these things.
It’s tricky. You go through a lot of possibilities. Everyone does it personally. Some people like very fantastic titles or romantic titles. I tend to like titles that are sort of tongue and cheek or might have a couple of meanings. Like “Up and Coming” – there’s two meanings to that title. It has a melody and chord progression that ascends, it’s kinda going up – it’s coming up, actually. Since it’s a new cd from this band, I had to call it Up and Coming. Sometimes there’s reasons and sometimes there’s not (laughs)

What’s your favorite song on the album?
I like the second tune on the record “Flip Side.” It’s very short. It’s a rehearsal take. We didn’t even know we were being recorded. We were just running the tune down and getting on the same page, and we did a few more takes. Manfred said, “You should listen to this other take,” which we didn’t know was recorded, because we played the tune from beginning to end and we took solos and it was a little on the short side. But I think it’s one of my favorite tunes on the record. Then I also like the thing called “Sunday School.”

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When you sit down with a group of musicians, especially your current quartet, do you know which direction the music is going to go, or do you just go in and it just comes out when you start performing?
I have a basic idea of how I want the tune to go – approximately what kind of feeling I want the tune to have rhythmically. I usually have basic things like the feeling, the tempo, maybe – other than that I don’t put in a lot. When I write these things, I just put sketches on paper. It is the song – it’s got all the melody, notes and chords. I guess most of the rhythms and the melody are close, but I’m in a hurry and I jot them down and I don’t make the rhythms or the melody exact. I just get them on paper so I have something to show somebody. And then they say, “Well, how do you want this melody phrased?” Then I will say, “This is how I kinda hear it.” Because if I play the melodies by myself, I can play them any way that I want. I’m not trying to play them with somebody. Then we usually run the tunes down and I’m always wide open for anything a musician, especially these guys, would have to say about the tune in terms of how to perform or not perform it. If somebody said a really negative response to the tune, I don’t want to force the tune on somebody. I’ll save it for another time.

Do you ever have that?
No, I’ve never really had that, but I’ve had tunes that I felt that way about. After I’ve performed them or rehearsed them, I’ve said, “Yeah, I’m not as crazy about this tune as some other tune.” So I just don’t play it. So I’ve got maybe about ten tunes like that, sitting around that never got recorded and hardly ever get played, but every once in a while I’ll play one of them.

Just to see if you still feel the same way about it?
Yeah. If you leave time, you might actually realize, “Well, this is actually a pretty good song. I don’t know why I didn’t like it in the first place.”

You’re grounded in the jazz tradition, but you’re also constantly pushing the grounds of what that means. How do you achieve that balance between having one foot in the tradition and the other always going in your own way?
I think the traditional part of it comes from what I experienced when I first started to play jazz. I didn’t start out playing jazz. I started out in the late 50’s playing rock and roll – listening to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and all these people. When I first heard jazz, I decided I wanted to play that. I went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston and was listening to music, hearing live music, playing music and that’s where the traditional part got formed, and in those days that’s all there was. There wasn’t fusion – music hadn’t started to melt together in this big pot. Basically I wanted to become a jazz musician and that’s all I put my time into. I didn’t listen to rock and roll. I didn’t listen to Indian music, but that came later in the 60’s. People started listening to all that music, so I thought there must be something to it. So I jumped on the bandwagon and started listening. I found myself playing in a lot of fusion bands and then later, free bands and bands that did ethnic music. They mixed things up a lot and I kinda lost track of the jazz, but I was starting to develop something else. I was playing folk music, I was playing rock music, different kinds of things. I think that early experience of playing different types of music opened my head up and made me start to mix things together and try to find new or other ways to play anything.

Those days if you wanted to play jazz guitar, you could go to a recording of Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell or Jim Hall or Tal Farlow and there was a reference point on how to play that music. But when I started playing in these situations I was getting involved with, there was no reference point really for guitarists. People were writing their own music and you just had to fit into it. When you have to fit into something that you don’t understand and you’re just trying to make it work, you come up with interesting chord voicings, techniques, sounds. This is where the more far-reaching aspect comes in.

My first real love is jazz. If I had to say this one thing, I’d say I like jazz. Mostly I like from the 60s on. I like the earlier jazz a lot, too, but I don’t listen to it a whole lot, so I tend to listen to Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Coltrane and Jim Hall. The people that were on the scene and making newer music when I was coming up.

This current band is on its second album together. But you’ve been playing with Joey Baron and Marc Copland for a decades. How did this particular band of players come together as a group?
I’ve known Marc the longest. I played with him back in the early 70s when he was playing saxophone with Chico Hamilton’s band. Then Joey I met in California – when he moved to New York, we would get together at my house and just improv and do jam sessions at my loft in New York. The band before this one was with Mark Feldman playing violin and Joey Baron and Marc Johnson, and I had been playing with Marc, so he was a logical choice and then I just called Joey Baron and he was totally into it, and that became a band for five years or so.

When I decided to start this new band, Marc [Copland] and I had a relation playing guitar and piano. I had recorded on several of his little projects. So I said, “Let’s just try this and see what it sounds like and feels like.” So we got our agency in Europe to set up a tour. We hadn’t planned on particularly recording it. We were just doing a tour, just having some gigs and some fun. Manfred came to a gig we got in Switzerland. After the set he just came rushing up and said, “We must record this band.” I said OK. I enjoyed it, but I hadn’t thought about presenting it to him as a project, particularly. I didn’t know how it was going to work out because it was the first time we were all playing together in this configuration.

Drew Gress came about largely because of my affiliation with Marc Copland. Marc knew Drew from a period when Marc lived around Washington and Baltimore and that’s about where Drew went to school. So Marc introduced me to Drew and I immediately liked the way Drew played. I found it very refreshing. That’s why I put these four people together for the tour. When Manfred got very excited about the music, then we got serious about it, and then I said, “I’ll write some tunes. I’ll write some things and as soon as I have anything that looks decent, I’ll get in touch with you and we’ll try to set up a record date,” and that’s what happened. That’s when we did 39 Steps.

Is this group giving you something that previous groups didn’t?
I used to have a piano quartet way back in the late 70’s with Richie Beirbach and George Mraz and a drummer named Peter Donald, and they recently reissued the three recordings of that band. So I have had this instrumentation before, but since then I’ve gone on to mostly piano-less groups. Although I have worked with Hammond organ, which I like very much. But I think one of the things I get from it is having the support of a harmonic player like Copland. He’s there to support me, so I can play off of the sound of the harmony as well as playing off of the bass and drums. I can hear the notes I choose against the harmonies and that’s something I really like. Even though it would seem like the guitar is the main upfront voice of the band, it’s not really that way. I feel everybody is a little more equal in this band. I like the interplay and the way people listen, and I think the new record really captures that. I think it captures it maybe more than [39 Steps]. There’s some very interesting things on it. Maybe more interesting for me than an average listener, because I know how the songs are constructed and I hear funny things going on, and guys interacting and leaving certain things out.

One place, we actually forget where we were in the tune, but we left it that way. Nobody was lost, the tune didn’t fall apart and it sounded really good, so we just left it. But there’s a couple of spaces where you can’t tell who’s playing, but it sounds nice. We’re sort of trying to decide who’s gonna take the reins now and we’re all sort of holding back a little bit, and so I do it. That’s in “Up and Coming” – there’s these little spaces. It’s right after the piano solo. You’ll hear this little pause where I think Drew is probably gonna jump in because he starts to play something that sounds like he’s gonna take a solo, but then he backs off. So I come in and play something and he thinks I’m gonna play a solo and I’m just sorta accompanying him, and about a half a chorus goes by where nobody is really in the foreground, and then all of the sudden then I say, “Well, I better take it, because I don’t think Drew is gonna take it.” It was very relaxed. I wasn’t angry. I knew if it did fall apart, we’d just do another take. It’s no big deal. Listening back to it, I thought it sounded pretty cool.

Those are the things that make music sound human.
You make what might be construed as a mistake, but it’s really not. You’re listening so well, and there’s such a democracy in the whole thing. I’m waiting for him to play, he’s waiting for me to play, so “After you, my good man, you go ahead.” It’s being polite, too, and very aware of the other people and what they are contributing, and trying to allow that to happen. So it’s not just playing the same way every night. It always comes out a little bit different, which I thought was always the point of this music anyway.

Especially when you’re improvising on a tune, you have something that most classical musicians don’t do. There’s a composed piece of music and they just to interpret it and express it, which is great, but they don’t improvise on a Beethoven sonata. But we do. We improvise on these structures and songs that I set up or Marc set up, so we have to really know how the harmony and melody and rhythm of everything is working, because we’re using all of this when we improvise, which is tricky.

You’ve had a very long association with ECM records as both a leader and session player. What makes ECM special and why have you stayed with them for so long?
They’re special because Manfred is a real producer. He’s doesn’t want you to play just something that’s going to be popular or try to fit into a current type of music. He wants you to play what you play, and he’s always been very encouraging to me and supportive of me. I did my first record in 1974, so that’s quite a long time. One of the reasons that I stay with ECM is that I know I’m going to get to do what I want to do, pretty much. I have to take advice from Manfred from time to time, and I’m willing to do that. But I know I’m gonna get basically to do what I want to do with the musicians I want to do it with, and it’s gonna get recorded beautifully and be beautifully presented. I don’t think that would happen with any other [jazz] label, because there’s not even that many labels left. Most of the labels around are small, and don’t really have the bucks to do stuff.

I know most of the younger musicians now do everything themselves. Which means they have complete control over what they do, but as far as them ever making any money from it? It’s pretty iffy. You need to have the recording to try to get work so that you can play and keep doing what it is that you’re doing. That’s how I look at the recordings – they’re sort of like documents, but they are also passports to work. People see a new recording and they say, “Oh, this guy has made another record, wow!” And when it’s new, there’s more excitement. People tend to listen to it more and then you get work, hopefully.

Speaking of some of your ECM compatriots, I spoke to Jack DeJohnette just about a week ago. When I first starting listening to jazz around the mid- to late 80’s, one of the first three or four jazz albums that I bought was Gateway 2. That was a huge influence on my jazz listening and one of the reasons I’ve been so fond of both your music. Do you think there might ever be more Gateway music at some point in the future?

I don’t know. I would like to think that there could be. If we could all just find a period where we are free at the same time and want to do it, it could come together very quickly. All it would take would be a short rehearsal, some ideas for tunes, and going in to record it.

I haven’t been in touch very much in the last few years with Jack or Dave. We’ve all been doing our own things. Jack is usually doing a million different things. I’m not really quite sure what Dave’s band is doing right now. I think the last I heard it was with Kevin Eubanks. Similar instrumentation with my group, except Craig Taborn played electric instruments a lot. We started out when we were probably in our late 30s, and now we’re considerably older. It would be nice to come back and do one more before we’re no longer here. Maybe if I speak to Jack, I’m the sure the topic would come up.

You’ve played with Gil Evans, Chico Hamilton, Billy Cobham’s fusion band, John Scofield, Charles Lloyd, Kenny Wheeler – all these amazing musicians. Outside of your own records, what was the most memorable musical experience for you?
Playing with Gateway and Ralph Towner was memorable. I really loved playing with Kenny Wheeler, because I just loved his music, his playing. His compositions and Ralph Towner’s always struck me as being sort of perfect. They influenced me a lot – when I first met Ralph, I tried to write compositions like he was writing. The same when I met Kenny and I realized I had a strong connection to the way they played and wrote.

Charles Lloyd was a great experience for me almost from the opposite point of view, because Charles gave me so much freedom. His compositions were usually pretty simple for the most part, except “Forest Flower” is really a tricky tune, and I think it’s his best tune. He just had a lot of these very open little tunes that didn’t have a lot of harmony or a lot of stuff to do on it, and so there was no instructions for me. I figured out a way to play behind him and he liked it. I found it a great experience and that came later in my life – I was already in my 60s. Maybe I was in my late 50s. Billy Higgins was the drummer at the time, and he was probably as old as Charles. Then we had Marc Johnson, who was the baby in the band – he was the youngest guy and he was already in his 40s. But I had a lot of freedom in that band. That band taught me how to use that free aspect of not being told what to do and just figuring it out. I loved Charles’ sound and the way he played. It was very natural for me to play with him. It didn’t feel like a hard gig – it immediately felt comfortable to me.

You’ve played with all of these giants and icons, and now do you feel like one of the giants yourself?
No, I never feel that way. I just feel like I’m a good musician who’s been around a long time. I’ve been really blessed by meeting Manfred Eicher at ECM and being able to have played all these years with all these tremendous players. I don’t see myself as anything other than a good guitar player who wants to get better and still has things to do. I never think about that aspect of it at all, but I know that there are people that are influenced by what I’ve done. They tell me and I’m really appreciative when people tell me things like that, but it kinda goes in one ear and out the other. I appreciate hearing it, but I don’t want to dwell on it, because it’s not that important to me.

What younger musicians do you listen to now? What more recent musicians have impressed you?
There’s so many good guitar players now. There’s Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mike Moreno, Peter Bernstein, who’s a little bit maybe older than some of those guys. Ben Monder, and this guy Gilad Hekselman – I’ve heard him play on Youtube, I’ve never heard him play live. Lage Lund – I did a recording with him and Peter Bernstein, a tribute to Jim Hall that came out about three months ago called Inspired. It was done under Artistshare, which is the label that Jim Hall was recording for before he passed away.

I’ve heard all these guys. Some of them live, but most of them on recordings. I don’t get a chance to go in [New York] and hang out and listen to music. I’m about an hour and fifteen minutes north of the city, so by the time I drive in and park the car and then come home, it’s a long trip for me, so I tend not to go and hear a lot of people live. Craig Taborn really impressed me. Chris Cheek, some of these young saxophone players. Chris Potter. There’s a few Chrises. There’s a lot of players that I’ve heard. If you told me their names, I would probably say, “Yes, I’ve heard them play,” or “No, I haven’t.” Some people you just don’t get around to hearing.

Compared to when I came up, the young musicians are better than we were. They’re more equipped. They’ve been around more music, they’ve been exposed to more music because of the internet and the speed of everything. They’re kind of like whiz kids. They learn and develop very fast. Whereas my generation learned more slowly and we developed slowly. I think that’s the big difference. They’re better than we were, and that’s good, because they should be. That means the music is getting better. I’m all for it, just as long as they don’t take away my gigs. That’s the nice thing about being older and established. They can’t really take away my gigs, because my gigs are mostly as a leader or with special projects like Gateway. There’s no way they can take that away from me.

You’ve already accomplished a huge amount in your career. What have you not done yet that you’d still like to do?
This is something a lot of jazz musicians always think about doing if you talk to them. I’d always like to record with a real orchestra, and I have, but not on my own project. I did a thing once with a composer named Vince Mendoza. We did a thing with the London Symphony. It featured Kenny Wheeler and me and a couple of other English musicians, and Mike Brecker was on it. But I did it live in a studio in London, and it was such a thrill to play with the orchestra – with the strings especially, just to hear the guitar with strings.

I think Manfred would be into it if he trusted the composer. He’d have to know his work. I did another project with Mendoza, and we wanted to use a small chamber orchestra, but Manfred didn’t want to spend the money at the time because he didn’t know Vince was such a good writer. So we wound up doing it with synthesizers. It’s a record called Animato. It came out 20 years ago. It’s a very nice record and we used Jon Christensen from Oslo to add a rhythmic input to it.

But what I would like to do would be with somebody – it wouldn’t have to be Vince, but I would think of him first – but somebody that could really integrate a small chamber orchestra around a guitar/bass/drums trio. We would play improvised sections and with the orchestra – but not a huge orchestra, maybe just like a chamber orchestra. Charlie Parker always wanted to record with strings and he finally got to do it, and I think a lot of jazz musicians have that hidden fantasy of recording with an orchestra. I’m no different. I would love to record with a small chamber orchestra but with a trio, so I could still play jazz and improvise. I’d have the bass and drums to support me in that, and I’d have the orchestra to color everything. That’s one thing I’d like to do.

IN CONCERT

January 21 – Cambridge, MA @ Regattabar

January 24-28 – New York, NY @ Birdland

January 31 – Washington DC @ Blues Alley

February 17-18 – Denver, CO @ DazzleJazz

February 19 – Portland, OR @ Portland Jazz Festival

February 22 – Saratoga, CA @ Café Pink House

February 23 – San Francisco, CA @ SFJAZZ (ECM@SFJAZZ II)

RETURN TO THE DESERT: Rich Hopkins & Luminarios

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The timeless desert rock sound that Hopkins pioneered in the late ‘80s with the Sidewinders is revisited anew, with breathtakingly beautiful results.

BY FRED MILLS

Houston-by-way-of-Tucson musician Rich Hopkins has never traveled too far afield from the vaunted desert rock sound that he pioneered way back in the late ‘80s with the Sidewinders; the Arizona outfit was profiled by yours truly as part of BLURT’s “College Rock Chronicles” series not long ago. Yet throughout his lengthy career he’s consistently explored new themes and sonic textures, perennially restless, yet at times optimistic, even metaphysical, and ultimately eager to explore that duality of nature. With umpteenth album My Way or the Highway (released via Hopkins’ label San Jacinto and Europe’s Blue Rose; it follows 2014’s Tombstone and 2015’s Enchanted Rock), he seems to have attained a state of balance—grace, even.

This comfortable-in-my-skin quality typically occurs only for veteran artists who’ve seen career highs while going through the occasional personal low, along with the inevitable humility-fostering slings and arrows that come with operating under the public microscope; at some point they realize that the ego drive of youth is ephemeral, while the stability of alliances and relationships is eternal, and that in turn helps feed the muse.luminarios-1It should be noted that the Sidewinders still reconvene a couple of times each year—they’ve been a welcome addition to several of BLURT’s SXSW day parties in Austin each March—but Hopkins’ primary focus these days is his solo work with Luminarios (above), which include his wife and fellow songwriter/singer Lisa Novak along with a number of veteran Austin and Tucson musicians, all of whom have an instinctive empathy for where he’s coming from—which is to say, the desert.

Indeed, …Highway is both a literal and mental travelogue, commencing with the part-recited/part-sung “Angel of the Cascades” (a haunting ballad aglow in humming organ and a “Sweet Jane”-like guitar melody, it’s about a magical trip to Mexico that Hopkins and Novak undertook) and culminating in the elegant, urgent “Walkaway Again” (whose rich vocal harmonies, gentle rhythmic pulse and descending chord progression make it a direct descendent of Hopkins’ Sidewinders material). In between, there’s the brash, Crazy Horsian “Gaslighter”; the cosmic cowboy twang of “If You Want To”; a windswept, Latin-flavored acoustic guitar instrumental titled “Lost Highway” that could easily soundtrack a road-trip scene into Mexico; and “Chan Kah,” a somber-yet-lovely midtempo number subtitled “A Mayan Love Story, a Story of Creation” that builds to one of Hopkins’ patented guitar crescendos.

Hold that thought: Throughout the album, echoes of the Sidewinders’ oeuvre can be heard, although the Luminarios never do this in a forced or calculated manner. Hopkins has always had a signature guitar style, part Neil Young/part Mike Campbell, along with a comfort zone of familiar chord progressions that serve his songs well; it’s an expansive, anthemic, deeply melodic sound that fans have come to love and can spot within a few seconds of a song’s beginning. Structurally, for example, the 7-minute “Gnashing of Teeth” will remind listeners of the ’winders eternal “What She Said” (from 1989’s Witchdoctor), while “Want You Around” has the same brisk jangle vibe that marked much of that earlier band’s material—although Novak’s creamy lead vocal lends the tune an unexpectedly blissful undercurrent, too. (Mrs. Hopkins just might be Mr. Hopkins’ secret weapon these days.)

With My Way or the Highway, then, Rich Hopkins hasn’t so much “returned to his roots” (a clichéd term if there ever was one) as he’s embraced anew all the core elements that earned him a devoted audience in the first place. It’s quite possibly the strongest, most consistent record he’s made since 1994’s powerhouse Luminarios album Dirt Town, which itself represented a personal manifesto, cementing Hopkins’ musical style in the wake of the Sidewinders’ then-recent demise (as the Sand Rubies, due to an enforced name change that’s detailed in the above-referenced Sidewinders story).

And it also represents, in addition to those desert rock sounds, a thematic celebration of Hopkins’ deep, abiding love for the Southwest. From the cover art, which depicts a near-empty, impossibly straight highway aiming off into the vanishing point, to the booklet photos accompanying each song’s lyrics (among them, some beaming Mexican kids, a close-up of ocotillo cactus in brilliant full bloom, and a red-dirt desert punctuated by rocky outcroppings), it’s also a visual personal statement, one that is guaranteed to make anyone who’s every fallen in love with the desolate beauty of the desert achingly nostalgic.

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Of that last point, I can offer personal testimony to how much this record makes me miss that sun-kissed region. Rich, you were largely responsible for my moving to Tucson all those years ago, where I enjoyed a pretty great decade-long run. I’m gonna get back there one day, too. Meet you at the pueblo? Maybe even down on Santa Maria Street…

“Can’t believe we gotta leave this place

Think we saw the Angel of the Cascade

Think we met an angel

Yeah… you’re everywhere that I go

In everyone that I know that I will be there.” —from “Angel of the Cascades”

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Listen to more of the Luminarios’ music at Hopkins’ website and at the band’s Bandcamp page. You can also preview the new album at CD Baby. Above: vintage linen postcard of ocotillo cactus blooming.

I THINK I’M FALLING… Aberdeen’s John Girgus

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The L.A. pop auteur brings the noise!

BY TIM HINELY

John Girgus is no household name, but in the world of indie pop music this ultra-talented musician made his name as one of the leaders of the Los Angeles-based band Aberdeen, his and Beth Arzy’s brainchild. That band was one of the few American bands signed to the UK label Sarah Records. Just being on that label would give a band legendary status among many of Sarah’s ardent fans. Aberdeen came, went, came again and then left us, but left us with some beautiful, excellent recordings (which you’ll read about below). In addition to that band Girgus has played with…well, a ton of folks. His latest musical project is the melodic-yet-occasionally-haunting Legendary House Cats; they can be fun, too. I’m assuming that Girgus has a job though, for some reason I picture him as this guy who doesn’t work and hangs around a studio all day with music filling his head and then it all comes spilling out in whatever instrument he happens to be picking up. This isn’t to imply that the guy’s lazy or anything, on  the contrary, he’s got an obsession and he has to get it out. I also picture him not sleeping much either (again, music filling his head). We flew Girgus in on the private DAGGER jet and stuck a mic in front of his face. He was equal parts guarded and forthright, but mostly the latter. He also brought croissants for the very hungry staff. Take it away, John. (Ed. Note: this interview originally appeared in Dr. Hinely’s most excellent ‘zine, DAGGER.)

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Did you grow up in Los Angeles proper? If not, where?

Not at all, I grew up in the Coachella Valley, pretty much every city out there, Palm Springs, Yucca Valley, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indio, also for a short time in Long Island, NY. I’ve lived in LA for about 17 years now. Most of my adult life.

Was music big in your house growing up? What was the first instrument that you picked up?

It was on in the car a lot, but I don’t know about any more or less than anyone else. Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, The Beatles, were popular on the 8-track, Billy Joel, Jethro Tull, Paul Simon, were the cassettes, then of course later they’d let us listen to our tapes, probably a bad idea. There were audio systems in the house, but they weren’t really centerpieces. The car was probably where most of it was played. Nobody played instruments or anything though.

The first instrument I had, was a Casio PT-82. (I just looked that up.) It’s a tiny little 25-micro key keyboard, with a built in speaker, that had what they called a ROM-Pack which were like data cartridges that had MIDI versions of like “Greensleeves” with instruction in the form of LEDs that followed the keys. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved it. A few years after I forgot about that, I got a bass guitar. A short scale Cort, an inexpensive beginner. That was to play in a band.

How did you first discover different music? Was it punk first? New wave? Power pop?

I remember being in Vancouver once, as a kid, and hearing the radio and feeling bad for them because they had this grating, third-rate sounding music playing, clearly tell was inferior to the radio back home, (probably mostly slick power ballads at the time). A few years later I heard the same song again, listening to a borrowed cassette copy of “Standing on a Beach” in a whole new way, of course. Punk and all that eventually followed, I bought and sold records trying to reconcile changing tastes, probably same as anyone, but The Cure always had that place. They started it.

Also, I hate power pop.

When you first began writing songs who were you influenced by?

A lot of friends at the time, bandmates, as songwriting largely collaborative. A lot of the time, it was just making up riffs or having parts written on one instrument, kind of half-songs, and you’d form words as part of the music and all that. I’d be bringing my Steven Severin lead bass riff to a guy who was mostly listening to “…And Justice For All” and another guy who maybe into thrash, sometimes you’d just create with only the direction that was directly before it, luckily we were creative enough where that didn’t get in the way too much.

I had maybe one friend who really wrote songs a little later on. By that time, I was working out my own ideas and arrangements much more realized via drum machine and 4-track. I was also listening to the shoegazers, Cocteau Twins, many of the Sarah bands, some of the more obscure Creation bands and songwriters. There were a lot of jazz chords in that, anyway, the one friend of ours, Aron Alcala, a very encouraging, talented songwriter (who actually played briefly in Aberdeen), was very into jazz and noise in addition to melody and alternative music. The introduction to a jazzier chords in addition to the open chords I’d been using, that was pretty instrumental.

I still don’t even know if I write songs. I think what I write are more like themes or something. They can be songs, but I don’t walk around singing songs strumming the guitar at parties either. I sit and listen more than anything.

Was Aberdeen your first band?  If not tell us about your first band?

No, but sort of. Aberdeen was part of an evolution of bands. My first real band was with the guys that I just mentioned. We didn’t even think to do covers, we just started playing our own ideas. Sort of jamming, but more just collaborative writing. That band was called The Void, which was my terrible 14 year-old idea of a name that came from Siouxsie & The Banshees “Love In a Void”. I have a tape archived. I’ve thought about cleaning it up and posting it… maybe I will now! It’s mostly instrumentals recorded live into a boom box. It’s very rudimentary, but also kind of diverse and weirdly ambitious.

How did Aberdeen come together as a band? How did you first meet Beth?

That band did really get up to much besides the Chris the drummer, and Ryan the guitarist’s garage. Maybe like one backyard party. I think Chris got into more important things and Ryan and I just kinda kept playing, trying to write, hanging out. I started learning guitar more. I was getting more into punk, him metal, but I don’ think either one of us owned or operated a distortion (or any) pedal. Everything we wrote was pretty twee. About then I was hanging out with another friend who had started playing drums, Frank. I met Beth probably shortly after that, about the same time I was giving up on trying to sing.

Beth just walked up to me in high school one day with her best friend. There was a total of about a dozen goth kids at the high school, so we all knew of each other at the least. She was one of the more extroverted of the bunch. At some point she told me she wrote poems and wanted to sing in a band. I remember actually trying to write music to a few poems. It was pretty awkward, but when we did the music first, it was much better. I guess we all talked eventually and agreed to give a band a try. It was pretty random,s in terms of music tastes, but pretty much nothing else to do, so I think we just committed to the idea, made it work. And again, the first thing we did was start writing. That would have been Ryan, Frank, Beth and I in Frank’s folks’ living room (later garage), which is now a beautified desert sidewalk.

That band, Beth called Black Star Carnival, which she took from the Primal Scream song, but if you weren’t familiar with early Primal Scream, it sounded like some sort of goth circus act. We actually played out a lot. We’d recorded in a few local studios and some Aberdeen songs were actually written at that time. Another nice kid named Ryan joined on guitar, we got into a bigger sounding thing, a pedal or two, as shoegaze was happening. He actually gave me my cassette copy of “Loveless”, because he didn’t like it. I got a lot of records that way. I remember Chris actually re-joining the band briefly when Frank left, but eventually everybody lost interest and it was pretty much me and Beth. I had a guitar, a 4-track, and a newly acquired Boss DR-550 Dr. Rhythm drum machine. Beth picked up the bass and renamed the band Aberdeen, which had actually been one of our songs. We didn’t so much come together as a band, but kind of fall apart into one.

How did the folks at Sarah Records contact you about wanting to release your records? Were you guys over the moon?

I think Beth and Matt were already writing. She’d sent them a demo (maybe one of our infamous “Prong tapes” even). They may have even been written via fax at that time, so… probably fax! Beth had moved to Los Angeles by then, I was living in Indio, where I did most of the writing and recording for those songs. Beth called me on the phone, at a job I hated, both to tell me she’d sent the tape, and that they liked it and wanted to do a single. I was pretty over the moon, yeah. It gave me a lot of hope.

With Sarah Records, was it hard being an American band on a U.K. label? Those bands doing tours over in England, I’m sure you wanted to be part of it.

In all honesty, I barely felt a part of it at all. Beth was much more social, she’d write to everyone. I’d seen a few nice ‘zine reviews, but she kind of gave me the impression we weren’t one of the beloved bands. Like Sarah’s step-kids, one of ‘the later bands’. Maybe that’s true, maybe time has been kind, it still surprises me when I hear someone say we were amongst their favorites. I think she also spent a lot of time in the chat rooms and message boards later, too. I was never into that, really. I still don’t feel like a part of it. The only connection I really have to it is the music itself.

There were a few instances, like getting a fan postcard from Keith Girdler of Blueboy. It would have been great to be a part of those tours, but I barely knew they were happening. When any of the bands would play here, we’d get a call and usually the opening spot which was nice. We played with Heavenly and Boyracer, probably the only bands brave enough to make it to the US. Learning about the rifts was fun. We assumed they were all friends, and had been doing a Brighter cover “Half-Hearted”, when we opened for Heavenly at the Crocodile Lounge in Santa Monica. After the set pretty they all walked up to us, super nice, told us they loved the set… except they “could’ve done without the Brighter cover” and we’re like “you don’t like Brighter?” and they just pointed thumbs down and pulled faces!

Did Aberdeen break up in between the Sarah Recordings and 2002’s Homesick and Happy to be Here or did the band exist the whole time?

The first one is correct. That was a real break up. A relationship break up. The relationship was not good and by then it was pretty unbearable. I wanted to do the band still, but we weren’t writing, we weren’t finishing anything, Sarah had just announced their end, we were just playing shows around LA which kinda sucked back then, a revolving door of bandmates, like surrogates filling an imaginary space. There was no way the band was going to survive that kind of break up. She recorded “Marine Parade” mostly on her own, for a commitment to March Records’ “Pop, American Style”, but that was pretty much it for a bit.

I moved around a few times after that and pretty much quit music altogether. When I moved back to LA in ’98 I was playing in a few different projects, revisiting those Aberdeen tapes, and started reaching out. That was about the time what would become “Homesick” began to develop.

Why did you decide to release It Was the Rain: Lost Recordings 1993-1995?

I felt like I had to. Those tapes are some of our most important recorded material. Somewhere there are faxes from Matt (Sarah Records) giving us production notes about the studio recordings of “Byron”, basically telling us to find what we lost from those “demos”. Sarah did nobody any favors. They’ve passed on demos by Pale Saints, Manic Street Preachers, favorites amongst my favorite bands. What he loved about our music was contained in those recordings. Our friends loved them. I didn’t just set up a couple mics and track an existing band. That’s how I made and probably still make music. The song is written on the chromium oxide! Those recordings kind of are Aberdeen.

There were some cool unreleased songs too, that I thought deserved to see the light of day, like Jenni and Adam’s songs. Those don’t really exist anywhere else, but I just thought they were great. Adam’s “Self Evidence” is the only one I added instruments to. We did that in a night on Moog and guitar, so it seemed like a nice close to add a little bass and a synth and kind of be like. . . this is sort of where we were heading at the time.

The masters though, they were full of noise, degrading in storage, the multi-tracks in danger of physical damage. The ideas themselves fragile in their only existing state. Trying to keep them safe was becoming a burden. I found a Marantz 4-track recorded in a pawn shop for $100, it had 4 outputs and did multi-speed, at about the time I had a pretty nice but very old Pro Tools rig which has nice sounding inputs. I just digitized everything from my drawer of tapes. I was also starting to get into the newer more up to date recording rig I have now, which has some pretty slick noise, mastering, and mixing tools. I tried a couple of the songs that were finished and previously mixed, just cleaning up noise and mastering mostly. It started to work really well and sound really nice. I just got caught up in it, as I do when a project starts to work, and finished it in a couple weeks. I had everything we did, some songs that were missing for years, all pretty reasonably listenable. I booked a day to master with Uly Noriega’s studio The Laundry Room, but that turned into 2-3 days of mixing and mastering. At that point there wasn’t much choice, really. Everything else had been on Bandcamp anyway.

The entire program ran pretty well over an hour, so I thought a cassette would be a nice souvenir. The songs were recorded onto cassette, they were originally distributed on cassette, and then remastered on cassette. I did a shorter version on CD later, because so many people complained about the cassette, though!

I guess, I just don’t want the very existence of my music, being so vulnerable to fate or chance. With Aberdeen, at least, I’ve always thought that if I didn’t take the effort to keep the music out there, nobody would.

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Tell us about your current band, the Legendary House Cats. When and how did it come about?

It’s a solo project. I just didn’t want to name it John Girgus. It will probably end up there eventually, but I like having the name to apply when needed. My most recent effort, a cover of The Softies “Hello Rain” for “Constant and True: The Songs of Rose Melberg” is credited to John Girgus & The Legendary House Cats. A remix might be credited as “Legendary House Cats Remix”, where a collaborative credit, I can just use my name. Starting up a new project is difficult, I’m just trying to connect myself to my efforts over the years, and have some fun with it.

It was kind of this or nothing. I’ve started, driven and played in a good few bands. It always gets to a point where it becomes almost physically impossible to continue making music. When the idea is built around collaboration, it’s very existence is so delicate. I was working with a few bands a couple years ago, and I just saw a lot of bad decisions, a lot of energy selling the song, not so much writing it. I realized at one point I couldn’t do anything about it. I could put so much work into it, but the outcome was pretty much a pattern and a pattern I recognized a little too well! I just was like “if you keep doing this you’re the idiot”. My goal has always been to make good music, relatively consistently and that was just never happening. I hate the idea of working solo, it’s scary and difficult. It’s not the ideal situation to me, but I’d rather do that then not make music, or have some weekender, jam day and beers thing or conducting someone’s stalled ego train. Music has never been about ‘hangin’ with muh buds’ or any of that. It’s just what I do.

The focus lately has been more on composing for TV, ads… work. The artist thing is really secondary to that. There are projects I still want to do, there are songs I want to finish, but like, the idea of being this age, and thinking you’re going to make a record and it’s going to be big, doing all this set up, spending money on PR, social media content, the whole a band identity, it just feels a little vain. Nobody really cares. It’s the music that’s important. I’m happy posting songs on the internet for now, if I get any cool offers, I have a vehicle. I can take shows, I can contribute to comps, do remixes, collab. The Legendary House Cats isn’t trying to be a poster on a teenage wall, it’s a way for me to work with a degree of stability.

Tell us about any bands I might be missing in between Aberdeen and the Legendary House Cats.

“Well, let’s see. First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. . .”

From ‘96-2000ish there wasn’t too much. I played in Timonium for a minute. Later in about ’99 I played bass in an alt-rock band called Gingersol some people know. I didn’t make it to any recordings, though.

In 2003, I was actually in Trembling Blue Stars as Aberdeen served as Bob’s band for several shows. Later in 2007 I played guitar on “The Last Holy Writer”. 4 people saw those shows, but there are some clips on Youtube.

After the Aberdeen single “Florida” was released in 2004, it didn’t make much sense to pursue. I had actually started working on songs on my own, but there was just no support for those songs and I lost confidence pretty fast. I had met Ale Cohen then, Marcos of Languis, an Argentine electronic duo with a recent addition Stephen Swesey, who was in Tristeza. They needed a “fourth mind” and I signed up. We managed to get one EP, well regarded by a few people at least, “Other Desert Cities”. Shelflife re-released it on 10″ a couple years back, that’s worth checking out, I’m sure there are a few left. There were a lot of creative moments. We even scored an room at The Los Angeles Natural History Museum (which they let us record in the building, after hours). Ale has most of it released his label Simballrec’s Bancamp page.

Towards the end of my time with them, I had started writing and recording with a youngish singer, a co-worker form a job I had briefly at the American Apparel Factory in Downtown LA. It started as this this sort of charming, hipster, weirdo pop, eventually called Spider Problem. We made a pretty good racket playing live LA for several years, eventually opening a short tour for a reunited Germs (Shane West was a friend of the singer). We’d evolved into this four piece rock thing, eventually playing what would become these notoriously physical, even violent stage shows. It was novel, it brought us attention, but the music suffered though, and the recorded output leaves a lot to be desired, unfortunately. I was actually kicked out of the band while working on an album that we never finished. Almost like two different bands, they fizzled out in a very forgettable scene here. That band upset a few of my friends, but it was strange because the people who knew me from there… they’d never heard or cared about of any of my other projects. The earlier recordings are still on iTunes, but here’s little relevance for them now. It was a pretty good chunk of time, but you could probably skip it.

Somewhere in that same time I had a job playing bass for a guy named William Tell, who was a member of the band Something Corporate. They wore flip flops. I ended up on a lot of fangirl Myspace pages, a music video, some Youtube live clips and I think some of my production made it to at least one released recording; a song called “Break” written but ultimately rejected for the Will Smith movie “Seven Pounds”, I think.

After that, Chris McRitchie and Dave McKay and I started the band Non Ultra Joy. Chris’ band Big Stone City had hit a wall, and Dave’s band Driveblind (who were actually from Aberdeen, Scotland) they were on Geffen, but also had some big personnel problems. I’d been writing with Chris for years, and Dave had played in William’s band with towards the end. We had a shared work ethic, various frustrations, and a hankering to rock. They let me bring a keyboard. We made 2 EPs, but I think it was a really bad time to be playing rock in LA though. Everything was going “indie”, which at the time meant putting a bunch of drum kits at the front of the stage and chanting in unison over sample triggers. I’m very proud of both of those EPs. They are both on Bandcamp.

That would all be up to around 2011, where I also briefly joined an electric ukele driven elevator jazz inspired ensemble that did mostly covers called Sartre’s Lobster with Dave Lewty who was in called The Cheaters, Steve Harvey of Medium Medium and a singer named Amy Archibald, who went by The Soothsayer for one-off cover of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” for an episode of True Blood (I am credited to Dick Isreal). Gary Calamar, the music supervisor got us on the soundtrack for that season, but a collaboration between Nick Cave and Nico Case beat us for the episode. Kind of a flattering defeat. . .

There’s other projects I’ve got on record out there… various collaborations with a producer named Colin C. Allrich, who puts all his music his label called Confusion Inc. (also has a Bandcamp), his aliases include Slighter, Horrorfall, usually very electronic/industrial. We’ve had a fair amount used in TV too.

In 2012-13 I’d produced for a few bands that are probably better known in the current LA scene, Paper Pilots, Tennis System, some album demos with Western Lows. I did a single with The City & Horses, called “Youth”, I’ve been a fan of Marc’s since we were Myspace friends. I did an official remix of The Who’s “Eminence Front” with Gary Calamar and Willie Aron, C.A.G.E., we called it. The Calamar / Aron / Girgus / Experience! Although I’ve kinda given up on the idea of producing, I’ll still produce solo material for Chris McRitchie, which you can hear on his Soundcloud, and I’ve been working recently with a singer named Christopher Mowodd of the LA band The Mo-Odds on something, still in very early stages. We just recorded recently at David Newton’s. Dave and I have also worked on a few TV cues recently. I’ve got a couple remixes out for Tracy Shedd and Jimmy’s Band & The Beat, one more coming for the band Skytone via the ever supportive Wally of The Beautiful Music label.

Sometimes I work on multiple projects a day. I usually prefer to just define it later, but that can lead to a lot of scattered projects. I’ve tried to maintain pages for that, but even I have a hard time keeping track. With producing or collaborating, people don’t always credit you as they should, releases get neglected, bands just die, and even Allmusic, and Discogs doesn’t work. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few projects.

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What are your top 10 desert island discs?

“Strange Free World” Kitchens of Distinction

“Seventeen Stars” The Montgolfier Brothers

“I Could Live in Hope” Low

“Endtroducing” DJ Shadow

“The Sound of” The Hit Parade

“Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the” Sex Pistols

“The Top” The Cure

“Thursday Afternoon” Brian Eno

“Poor Fricky” East River Pipe

“Master of Puppets” Metallica

 

Who are some of your current musical favorites?

I don’t listen to too much new music. I recently bought a few newer releases for a DJ gig I didn’t get to play, maybe they’ll work here. “Open Your Eyes” by School of Seven Bells, Cigarettes After Sex, on recommendation of the guys at Third Outing (who I’ve written for), The Radio Dept. is really nice.

I’ve been doing mastering work for a band called Lemonade Kid from the UK. I have to listen to their songs for days at a time, I don’t mind it a bit either, you could check them out.

Any final thoughts? Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?

Thanks for taking the time to put the questions together. There’s a few words out there about the band out there, They aren’t always accurate. Although it’s difficult and this is probably the last interview I ever want to do, it’s nice to get the chance to talk about.

Also, I hate power pop.

BONUS QUESTION:  Being in L.A., who is the biggest celebrity that has shown up at one of your gigs?

I played in this one guy’s band (much more actually), and I know Emma Stone came to at least one show because she was going out with the dude’s friend, teen pop star Teddy Geiger, who I think was actually playing drums that night. So I actually kinda knew her, and kinda got into it with her friend Martha MacIsaac (I looked that up), the “blowy j” girl from Superbad, who she brought to see us at the Silverlake Lounge. The were both under 21, and wanted to hang out inside the bar like any normal Hollywood star would probably be allowed to do, only the Lounge at least at the time, was run by dudes who probably didn’t care so much, so they’d just do their usual ID rounds before doors. I was like, “look, just stay in the back until doors so we don’t all get kicked out and can’t play” and she’s like “ugh, who is this annoying idiot”. Then again, I played on Carson Daly once, too. . .

BONUS QUESTION 2- What’s your all-time favorite fanzine?

I know, more doctors prefer DAGGER than any other brand of ‘zine. I trust science.

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