Monthly Archives: February 2017

Report: The 29th Folk Alliance International Conference

Logo

“Forbidden Folk” indeed: Held Feb. 15-19, the annual event was a veritable folk frenzy for the residents of and visitors to Kansas City – and a call to musical arms for the legions of Trump opponents as well. Scroll down to view a photo gallery.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN / PHOTOS BY ALISA B. CHERRY

Glance back fifty years and the idea of a folk music festival would bring to mind a gathering dominated by tie-dye, Birkenstocks and people who might otherwise find work as stunt doubles for Peter, Paul and Mary. In a sense, that’s still the perception for those unawares, but at the 29th Folk Alliance International conference held in mid-February in Kansas City, there was far more of a modern twist that many might imagine. While the old guard was duly represented, the encroachment of Americana and relevant rockers also dominated the proceedings. Hundreds of artists participated in the confab, both in the exhibition rooms of the Westin, the host hotel, and in three floors of guest rooms where beds were removed, presenters moved in and music performed until the wee hours of the morning. The latter scenario found this new brand of folk music anything but staid, more like a scene out of Animal House, where hotel corridors saw action akin to a college dorm or a frat house, and guitars, partygoers, posters and performers crammed every available nook and celebrated a succession of sounds.

If that cool vibe seemed to moot some of the cerebral sensitivities, the fact that the conference was subtitled “Forbidden Folk” allowed more than a passing nod to folk music’s legacy of protest and populism. Practically every speaker alluded to the need for rallying the masses in support of various causes that were perceived as being undermined by the new administration. Indeed, Donald Trump’s ears must have been burning, because while his name was rarely mentioned, it was all too obvious as to where most of the remarks were aimed. Billy Bragg’s rousing speech at the conclusion of the conference offered less praise for the music and bid more homage for the cause, eventually culminating in a fist pumping rally for union devotees. Those apolitical or of a different mindset might have felt isolated and alone, but there was enough solace to be sought in the music to keep participants applauding.

Indeed, there were plenty of kudos to go around. The first night of the festivities included an award ceremony that saw such luminaries as Sonny Ochs (Phil’s sister), environmental activist Si Kahn, iconic names such as Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Cockburn, Eliza Gilkyson and David Amram, storied singer and storyteller John McCutcheon, once jailed veteran of the Arab Spring Ramy Essam, and sitcom star-turned-singer Megan Mullally take the stage to give or receive awards, and occasionally share a song in-between. It was an inspiring evening, one that affirmed the music’s heritage and continuing trajectory while reaffirming the common bond of community that bound all the participants together. When Gilkyson spoke of the “disbelief and grieving” that seemed to have overtaken the nation in the weeks and months since the election, there wasn’t a soul present who couldn’t identify with the realities she was referencing.

The call to arms, then, was that the folk faithful needed to recommit to a protest purpose, the same mighty mission that prompted people to stand up against the Vietnam War and march en masse for the cause of civil rights. The need is, one speaker noted, more urgent than ever.

Still, for all that earnest intent, it was the music that really mattered. For the 2,600 participants from twenty countries, it took a full measure of devotion to endure hours of stalking hotel hallways in order to catch the scant half hour sets accorded to each of the performers. With showcases that went on until the wee hours of the morning — often until 4 AM and beyond — only the heartiest individuals were able to withstand the desperate need to run from room to room to catch a favorite artist, who often was playing at the same time as two dozen other favorite artists. Nevertheless, the opportunity to catch such stellar talents as Robyn Hitchcock, Tift Merritt, Amelia White, John McCutcheon, the supergroup of sorts Kortchmar, Postell and Navarro, Bobby Rush, Bruce Sudano, Caroline Spence, Cali Shaw, Carrie Elkin, Jonathan Byrd, Tim Easton, ` Chuck Hawthorne, Cory Branan, Dave Gunning, David G. Smith, David Olney, Plainsong, John Fullbright, Darden Smith, Ellis Paul, Beaver Nelson, Freebo, Greg Greenway, Heather Rankin, Kim Richey, Linda McRae, Matt the Electrician, The Once, Oh Susanna, Steel Wheels, Peter Bradley Adams, Ray Bonneville,  Robbie Fulks, Rod Picott, Romantica, Michael Fracasso, SONiA and Disappear Fear, Sara Watkins, Susan Werner, Tret Fure, Tony Furtado, Tom Freund, Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally Band, Tish Hinojosa, or the Wild Ponies, as well as such up-and-comers as Banjo Nickaru & Western Smooches, the Novel Ideas, Beck Warren, Beth Bombara, Ben de la Cour, Anne McCue, Patterson Barrett, Anthony da Costa, Brian Langlinais, Freddy & Francine, Harrow Fair, Kirsty McGee, Karpinka Brothers, Leland Sundries, Luke Jackson, Matt Haeck, Mark Huff, Renee Wahl, Son of Town Hall (with David Berkeley),The Soul of John Black, and Doolin’ made all attempts worthwhile.

(Whew… if you think that was a lot of names to observe, bear in mind it’s only a fraction of the several hundred artists that were there in attendance.)

Indeed, trying to catch every artist was futile, even despite the fact that most of these artists offered repeated performances. No matter. Folk Alliance served its purpose, binding past and present  and looking ahead to the future. Compressed over a mere five days in a single hotel can scarcely do it justice.

Kris Kristofferson @FAI photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry

DSC_0681

Ben Kyle of Romantica @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0710
Oh Susanna @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0763
Sara Watkins @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0768
The Steel Wheels @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0784
Tift Merritt @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0793
 
DSC_0800
Jonathan Byrd @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0810
Jonathan Byrd & the Pickup Cowboy @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0812
Patterson Barrett @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0868
Billy Bragg @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0906
John McCutcheon @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0909
Son of Town Hall @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0934
Tim Easton @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0937
Karpinka Brothers @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0942
Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
DSC_0945
Robyn Hitchcock @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry

FOLK ALLEGIANCE

Rod Picott @FAI2017 photo taken by Alisa B. Cherry
FOLK ALLEGIANCE

FOLK ALLEGIANCE

Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Performing live at Benaroya Hall, the veteran trib outfit covered all the expected bases while giving the Fab Four’s timeless music a unique feel.

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR  / PHOTOS BY PETER DERVIN

You can expect a lot of Sgt. Pepper hoopla this year, as 1967 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. At the time of its release, it was hailed as the greatest album ever made — a claim that’s been constantly picked over ever since, but that’s another story. As a prime artifact that epitomizes the heralded Summer of Love ™, the Sergeant still reigns supreme.

Sgt. Pepper was Paul McCartney’s idea of how the Beatles could reinvent themselves, and make an album without the pressure of being “The Beatles.” Which makes it a bit ironic to have it as the centerpiece of a Beatles tribute show. Rain is the premiere Beatles tribute band (they don’t call them “impersonators” any more) in the U.S., going all the way back to 1975 when they were based in Laguna Beach, California, and called themselves “Reign.” They weren’t a full on tribute band at the time, but did perform a lot of Beatles covers, which landed them a gig providing the Beatle music for the first feature film about the Fab Four, Birth of the Beatles (released in 1979, and for my money still a better film than Backbeat or Nowhere Boy).

Today, Rain is more of a brand than a band; there are various touring line-ups of the group. The band has grown and changed over the years, and I hadn’t seen most of the members of the line-up that played Seattle on February 21: Jimmy Irizarry (John), Paul Curatolo (Paul), and Aaron Chiazza (Ringo). I had seen Alastar McNeil (George) in Fourever Fab, a Beatles tribute act in Hawaii (a Beatle tribute artist can always land a gig somewhere), and I’ve seen Curatolo’s father, Joey, who’s also a member of Rain, playing Paul (like father, like son!). Also on hand was Chris Smallwood, playing keyboards discreetly at the rear of the stage.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Rain’s shows follow a pretty standard format. Open with the group in their Fab Four Mop Top suits performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. A couple of A Hard Day’s Night songs, and then we’re into the Shea Stadium concert and “Yesterday.” Then to the Sgt. Pepper era followed by The Beatles (aka “The “White Album”) and Abbey Road period. But with this show featuring Sgt. Pepper as the centerpiece — Rain performs the album in its entirety — some adjustments had to be made. And this is what made the show especially interesting, for band rejigged the set list to include some songs that Beatles tribute bands don’t normally play.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

The mood was set as you entered the venue; Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony, so the acoustics were great. Rain has the best production values of any Beatles tribute band, with an attention to detail evident even before the show begins. There’s a black-and-white backdrop featuring pictures of 1960s signifiers (a peace sign, a lava lamp) and images related to the Beatles’ history (a Cavern Club sign, an Abbey Road street sign). The pre-show music is drawn from the early years of the decade (e.g. “Stand By Me”). There are numerous screens built into the set, with clips showing Rain re-enacting Beatles press conferences, and used to good effect at the show’s start, when a clip showing an Ed Sullivan impersonator introduces the band.

The first sequence emulates the Ed Sullivan shows, right down to “applause” signs flashing at the side of the stage after each song. You get the expected hits: “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Though right handed, Curatolo taught himself to play bass left handed — so important to that visual image of the Fabs (he did swap to a right handed guitar when playing “Yesterday”). By the middle Beatles period, the band had started to loosen up, delivering hard rocking versions of “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper.” The screens flashed images tied in with each song (such as trains when the band sings “A Hard Day’s Night,” reflecting the train trip the Beatles make in the movie of the same name), along with vintage commercials shown during the breaks for costume changes (the one showing Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble taking a cigarette break drew the biggest laugh).

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then came a melding of the Rubber SoulRevolver and “White Album” period, which brought the first surprises. I’ve never before heard a Beatles tribute band perform “The Word,” and they rarely tackle “Eleanor Rigby,” due to its having no rock instrumentation. Rain did both songs, along with other less expected material like “Drive My Car,” “In My Life,” and, skipping ahead, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It was refreshing to hear a Beatles tribute band vary the “just play the hits” formula. The Beatles were a band with a fantastic catalogue — why not explore more of it?

McNeil’s star turn in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (a song which invariably brings down the house) brought act one to a dramatic close. The drum head on Chiazza’s bass drum was then changed to one emulating the drum on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and we were ready for act two, with the band naturally attired in the colorful costumes also featured on the album’s cover. (Below photo by Richard Lovrich; courtesy Rain)

RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles is a LIVE multi-media spectacular that takes you through the life and times of the world's most celebrated band. Featuring high-definition screens and imagery - this stunning concert event delivers a note-for-note theatrical event that is the next best thing to The Beatles.

Again, it was exciting to hear a Beatles tribute band play songs you never generally hear: “Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Good Morning, Good Morning” (complete with animal noises) Also, it was great to hear the entire album, not just the highlights you usually get in a tribute show. The album stands as the Beatles’ most imaginative work, as well as being one of their most musically versatile, and Rain clearly relished the opportunity to dig into the album start to finish. Though it’s a shame they didn’t take advantage of the Sgt. Pepper suits to perform “Hello Goodbye,” a song whose video also featured those iconic outfits.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Then it was back to basics with the late era stuff, including a singalong to “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back” and “Revolution,” and an encore singalong of “Hey Jude.” The band was first rate throughout. Curatolo seemed to have the most fun, mugging and pointing at the audience just like the real McCartney, while Irizarry looked increasingly like Lennon as the show progressed. McNeil was suitably laid back as “the Quiet One,” and poor old Chiazza only got one song to sing. Never mind. As a group effort, Rain delivers. And with a crop of new songs in the setlist, even those who’ve seen Rain before will want to check out the new show.

Rain tours the U.S. through April 23, 2017.

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

Live! @ Benaroya Hall

***

Setlist

Act One: “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “If I Fell,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday,” “Ticket to Ride,” “The Night Before,” “I Feel Fine,” “Day Tripper,” “Twist and Shout,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “The Word,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Drive My Care,” “In My Life,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Act Two: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,” “Fixing a Hole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Within You Without You,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lovely Rita,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise),” “A Day in the Life,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Get Back,” “Revolution,” “The End.”

Encore: “Hey Jude.”

***

Author contact: gaarski@hotmail.com, Twitter: @GillianGaar

Photographer contact: http://peterdervin.com (Copyright Peter Dervin)

BIGGER AND BADDER: The Godfathers

godfathers

The UK band may have bum-rushed the charts during the ‘80s and early ‘90s with their powerful brand of R&B-tilting punk, but on the evidence of a new studio album, there’s plenty of fuel remaining in the tank. Following the text, check out some recent live video clips.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Legendary British rockers The Godfathers could easily spend the next couple of decades coasting on Gen X nostalgia, hitting the festival and theater circuit every summer to cycle through an endless greatest hits set from Birth, School, Work, Death and More Songs About Love & Hate. But to quote band founder and front man Peter Coyne “We’re not dusty museum pieces!”

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s The Godfathers churned out one great album after the next, mining a sweet spot between punk rock and classic R&B. They band called it quits for a while, when Coyne tried to walk away from music and simply “just be a human being.” But normal life didn’t take and the band was back to playing music again. godfathers-cd

After a long time away from the recording studio, Coyne has reassembled The Godfathers and recorded their best album since 1991’s Unreal World. The latest, A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a clarion call to the world of rock, an album crammed with big guitars, strong hooks and soaring vocals.

Coyne, who is currently touring across Europe with the band took some time recently to talk about the

BLURT: It’s been years since you last recorded as The Godfathers. What got you to do it again?

PETER COYNE: Well, we did something in 2000 and took and eight-year break. In between that I didn’t want to be in any other groups and was quite happy just being a human being. So, I got a call from Kris Dollimore, who used to be in The Godfathers and was putting together a band, and I said, “I’m not really interested, to be honest.” I then said, “Well, who’s in it?”

“It’s Rat Scabies on drums and me on guitar.” and I said “I’ll do it. Just like that.” We did that for about a year. We were called The Germans, recorded a bunch of demos and did about eight gigs, but we never made proper recordings which I always thought was a damn shame. Then I got The Godfathers back together to promote (the anniversary of) our debut album, Hit By Hit, in 2008 and that’s how it all started again. (Below: “Rewind Time” from the new album.)

In getting the band back together, and recording that great live record (Shot Live at 100 Club) in 2010, did that show you that there was still an appetite out there for more from The Godfathers?

Definitely, because we were playing gigs all around the world and there was still interest in The Godfathers. There was a lot of love out there for the band. That was quite pleasing to discover, so we started it all again. (Below: classic early hit “Birth, School, Work, Death”)

You guys certainly have a slew of songs that go back decades, which fans still relate to. You could just as easily make a comfortable living, and I’d assume easier, touring solely off playing the hits. Why keep writing new music and record again?

I’m not interested, neither is anyone else in this lineup of the band, in reflective glory or trading on what we’ve done in the past as The Godfathers. I think we’ve made some fantastic records with the band: Hit By Hit, Birth School Work Death, More Songs About Love and Hate, Unreal World, that one’s that’s called “the Orange Album,” they’re the sort of classic Godfather recordings as far as I can work out, but we wanted to do something with this new album that’s a completely different sonic adventure. We didn’t want to do More Songs About Love And Hate, Part Two and Hit By Hit: The Sequel; Unreal World: The Follow Up. Not interested; No, thank you. We’ve done things like that before. Our job right here, right now is to make rock and roll for today and make it sound even better, if it’s possible, then we’ve done with the group in the past. We’ve got high benchmarks in this band, lofty standards and we don’t want to drop the load ever. And I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is a fantastic album. It’s a collaboration between everyone in the band, it’s not just me. birth-school

This is the first time you’ve recorded with a lot of the folks that are in the band now. Were there any rules or outlines about writing that you had?

Not really. The only rule was that all of these songs must be great, they must have something special about them. Writing came completely naturally. I’d done a lot of work with Steve (Crittall, guitar) and I’d just show up with a lot of lyrics to his studio in Soho, London and I’d explain what I thought was the best way to approach it. He’d turn around, have a think about it and then start working musically about what fit. We’d bat it about between the pair of us and within half-an-hour to 45 minutes we’d always have a great number we could work with. The same with Mauro (Venegas, guitar).

Over the past 10 years or so, a lot of younger bands have cited The Godfathers as a musical influence. Were there any bands that influenced this album when you were writing it?

Not really. I think we were copying The Godfathers, copying our own sound if you know what I mean. Everyone is influenced by someone. I think A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is influenced a little bit by The Stooges. I think musically “You and Me Against the World,” the finishing track on the album, borrows a little bit from David Bowie. Musically it was inspired by the death of David Bowie and lyrically from the fallout of Brexit and what’s happening at this moment.

It’s very pleasing that bands in the States, and in fact all around the world, are influenced by The Godfathers because we’ve definitely been influenced by the bands that came before us and it’s great to get that feedback from other groups. There’s a couple of American bands, Local H and Spoon have covered Godfather songs on their records and there’s that band Mars Volta that said that whole album (editor’s note: Noctourniquet) that was influenced by The Godfathers. That’s fantastic.

godfathers-live-isle-of-wight

I know you guys have started a tour in Europe. Any chance you’ll be in the U.S. now that the record is out?

I’ll be quite honest with you, we’re seriously looking into it. It is so expensive, you wouldn’t believe it, for British bands coming to America. It’s a lot easier for American bands to come to the UK. It should be no problem to get us to the States, but you’ve got to pay for visas, you’ve got to pay for flights. It’s incredibly expensive. We really want to do it though. We love to play live and with an album like A Big Bad Beautiful Noise you’ve got to hear this live. We’re not dusty museum pieces this is fresh rock and roll music that we want to deliver to people. We want to go back to the Motherland of rock music and deliver this to the yanks.

Top photo credit: Sean Robert Howarth / Live photo: Monty Strikes

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Jazzmenco by La Vienta

lv2

The El Paso jazz guitarists were an unlikely highlight of the Lone Star State’s music scene in the ‘90s, and with the album discussed here, they stormed the Billboard charts and nabbed a Grammy nod. Time to revisit—and to catch up, as well.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics, From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk, Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots, Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil, and Illuminated by the 360’s. Here’s our latest, a remarkable album, released in ’93, by a remarkable Texas-based jazz outfit that is clearly dear to our “Story Behind…” editor Levitt’s heart. Enjoy.—FM

***

La Vienta is a jazz group that formed in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. Founded by Mario Otero and Stefan Schyga in the early 90s the band was one of those rare occurrences in a town filled with either metal heads or Freddy Fender wannabes.  This was one of those cases where the right elements for success seemed to just coalesce out of the ether, like a freak thunderstorm in the desert beauty arrives and quickly dissipates from whence it came. Sometimes the right climactic conditions come together and all hell breaks loose, as it did when a young guitarist from Hildesheim, Germany studying music at UTEP of all places became friends with a local El Paso guitarist who together as La Vienta set the jazz scene on fire with their debut album Jazzmenco released back in 1993 for jazz label Telarc records.

With lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” or you’re smile you knew the band could bring the goods.  Here and on the rest of the album you could tell the band was working from a deep fondness for flamenco music. Their collective talent crossed like bridges over a desert wash blending flamenco guitar with a broader jazz sensibility to take the music to somewhere fascinating and uncharted.

“San Miguel” is more straight ahead flamenco with strains of Cuban piano that fuses well. Here drums, congas and palmas (hand claps) sparkle and give the song even greater heft.

“Spanish Invasion” is healthy mix of Pat Metheny and Carlos Santana. I appreciate the shifting of styles on this piece and the delicate fret work in the calmer moments of the song. It’s also a cool moment on the album that despite the dated sounding keyboards shows one of the many strands of creativity flowing through this duo.

“Paco’s Night Out” bolts out of the gate with its galloping beat, here the playfulness of the guitar playing dips and climbs over the pulsing beat, a great track to play as you drive up Transmountain Drive to catch the sunset.

“Skeleton Samfa” is a jazzy number that offers a great back and forth dialogue between Stefan and Mario. The tune which is stretched over a taught drum beat cut with some Jimmy Smith organ virtuosic embellishments will have you tapping your toes, and luxuriating in the positivity.

“Moroccan Face Dance” would have gotten the band in trouble had it been released in Trump’s America with its Mexican and Arabic influences or at least it would have had to been left off the album due to visa issues. Joking aside, this track is worth the price of admission alone, with its deft playing that’s infused with intrigue and romance, sailing in on tendrils of myrrh incense. The song then shifts gears with vocals and palmas and an electric guitar that just rips before ushering the flamenco guitar back into the mix. Stefan says, “[It’s] a song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.”

jazzmenco

Despite being a shade too early for internet promotion, Jazzmenco managed to climb to #17 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart and garner a Grammy nod for production. As with many big label debuts this record shows the abundance of talent the group would draw upon for subsequent releases. That said, there’s something vital and electric about this first album that later albums seemed to dampen down a bit, which is why over the last twenty years this record has remained on constant rotation in my life, providing me with a much-needed dip back into the beauty of the southwest, with its sun-bleached edifices and alluring smell of creosote permeating the air after a summer downpour.

I was able to connect with Stefan and Mario to answer a few questions about how Jazzmenco came about. These days besides teaching music, Stefan is busy recording his next solo record that will be out sometime in 2017. Meanwhile Mario is also still involved with making music and running a music school. Both of them still call El Paso home and while they aren’t currently playing together as a duo, the bond of friendship remains deep between the two.

Online: http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/La-Vienta/

https://www.stefan.us/bio

http://mariootero.com

Blurt: How did you guys start playing together?

Stefan Schyga: We met at the UTEP and heard each other play and thought it was cool to play together.  In those days’ lots of people just hung out in the hallways and jammed, it was a really cool situation.

 

Who came up with the name? What does it mean?

It is from a poem by Doug Adams.  He talks about a girl “and she moves like the wind and he called her La Vienta”.  We just always thought that the name was cool and different, and kind of described our south west style of music.

 

A German-American is not the first person you think of when it comes to Flamenco, how did you develop a taste for this sort of music?

When I was 16 I found a couple of Flamenco albums and fell in love with the music, even though my teacher later said they were horrible. I won’t mention any names but he was very popular in the US during the 60ies. My teacher then let me listen to some great players such as Ramon Montoya, Mario Escudero, Sabicas and many more. I was just amazed by what these players were able to do on the Guitar.  I also loved Classical Guitar but these Flamenco players were using all these cool and formerly unheard (by me) techniques.

 

How long after forming La Vienta, did you start to get interest from labels?

Mario had some good friends Keith and Muriel that were kind enough to finance the first album.  It sold like crazy locally, even outselling Michael Jackson during the Christmas Season. We decided to just send it out to some labels and had 2 labels jump on it.

This was pretty crazy, as one label guy told me: “This stuff never happens”. The labels were Higher Octave and Telarc. We decided to [sign] with Telarc. (Below: Stefan’s advance check in 1993 from the label.)

stefan-advance-check

Where did you guys record the album?

We recorded it here in El Paso at El Adobe a really nice 24 track analog studio, but Telarc brought in their Digital recorders.

I think they were Yamaha Digital 8Track recorders that you could chain together, kind of like the first ADATs

I know we did not have quite enough tracks since most of the recordings they used to do were live sets such as Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson.

This presented a big problem during the mix since the Engineer had to bounce some of the audio, such as congas and other percussion onto one track and we could not change those levels later.

Of the 14 tracks on the record, what was the oldest song that had been kicking around? What songs went through the greatest evolution in the studio?

I think the oldest song was “Paco’s Night Out”, a great song that Mario composed.  We added the drums and stuff so it sounded a lot bigger than we were used to with just the 2 guitars.

Also in “Moroccan Face Dance”, we added the Jaleos and Palmas performed by a Flamenco Singer who happened to live in El Paso. Mario also added some cool electric guitar so this song became a lot bigger sounding.

 

Before you guys entered the studio were the songs 100% ready to go or was there some major tweaking to be done?

We really had rehearsed them well, but there were still slight changes.  Before the session we had opened for Flora Purim and Airto Moreira and we played pretty much all of the songs with the full band.

 

What was the input of your producer Michael Bishop and what songs went through the greatest changes in studio?

Well, Michael was really not our producer but the Engineer.

The biggest issue that we had was that we were using new digital technology and had very limited tracks. So, some instruments were bounced to a track to save tracks and we could not go back and change individual instruments in the mix.  That was a real problem.  Telarc was used to more “live” recording than studio multi tracking.

 

How many of the compositions were penned by you and how many by Mario?

From the beginning, we decided to always do a 50/50 split. (Below: La Vienta with fan Billy Gibbons)

la-vienta-billy-gibbons

 

How many songs were recorded in total and who made the decision on which songs to cut?

We recorded 14 and fought for all of them, and Telarc worked with us.  There were issues such as string noise, but they did agree to keep all the tracks. I think this really helped the album to be a cohesive listening experience.

 

Of the tracks on the record who came up with the running order? Was lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” (Your Smile) worked to jazz radio?

Telarc had radio promoters and other people listen to it and they came up with the order.  We really did not know how any of this worked.  When we listened to the final order though we were happy with it.

 

How did the song Moroccan Face Dance come about?

I just wanted to write a song that combined Rock and Arabic/Flamenco elements with full drums. Can you say “Spinal Tap”? A song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.  I really enjoyed recording that song and Mario really whaled on that electric guitar!

 

When the record came out how was it received?

It did extremely well, much better than expected.  The album got lots of radio play with stations like KKSF in San Francisco having up to 6 songs on heavy rotation.  We got quite a few concerts out of it and did radio interviews etc.  Telarc promoted it with Sound Warehouse (a record store chain) and it jumped on the Billboard Charts!

 

When is the last time you listened to Jazzmenco and if you could change one thing about it what would it be?

I’ve been listening to the album for this interview. I don’t really listen to it.  Maybe once every 5 years!  I think we’d like to re-record it, but most artists feel like that.  It is a moment in time and that’s it. Some songs sound great and some songs well, Mario and I might have heard them differently. Sometimes we feel that our first self-produced album captures the feel better than the first Telarc recording, but then again the guitars sounded much better on the Telarc recording.

lavienta-surf-club

What formats was the album released on?

Cassette and CD.  I still have a cassette, what a weird thought.

 

Where did you first hear the final mix?

I think Mario and I got together and listened to it.  It was weird, because the mixes were done sending tapes back and forth to Telarc.  We were not present for the mix, which in the end was probably not a good idea.  We still liked it though, and I remember driving into LA and hearing it on the Wave ([radio] station), [that was the] coolest feeling ever!

 

What was the feeling when you opened the cd for the first time?

Wow, just pure excitement! All the work has paid off. Let’s see what happens.

 

Stefan, do you disown that haircut that graces the front cover?

The hair got even worse for the second and third albums!

 

Will there ever be a reissue?

Mario and I are currently researching what it would take for us to re-release the very first album. I think people might really like it.  We just have to be aware of publishing contracts etc.

 

When and where do you remember hearing that Jazzmenco was nominated for a Grammy?

We were actually just told after the fact, like yeah you guys were nominated.

 

Did you guys attend the ceremony?

Nope

 

After the nomination, what sort of venues did you play at and what artists did you perform with? Any Jazz fests?

Nothing much changed but we played gigs with people like Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Tommy Emmanuel, The Rippingtons the Ike Turner review etc. We did play some wine fests also in northern California. (Below: performing at a jazz festival)

lv-at-jazz-festival

How did the album sell?

I believe it was like 100,000 copies

 

In terms of sales do you remember your first royalty check you received from Telarc?

Yes, the very first one was actually an advance.  Still have a copy of it! As far as royalties I don’t think we ever recouped, at least to the statements we have seen.  We still have to receive a statement from Concord Jazz, but that has been our fault for not checking up on it.

 

Seeing as you’re of German extraction (Stefan) did you manage to pick up some coverage in Germany at the time?

We did actually pretty well in Europe.  I remember my former guitar teacher seeing the album in Amsterdam and not buying a copy!!!!  Got lots of radio play.

 

Did any of this make an impact in El Paso?

I think so, lots of people remember us, and I hope we helped to start some other groups.  We have a very vibrant music scene in our Border Town(s), this includes Juarez. Mexico.

 

Did the A&R people or other label staff get involved at all with pushing some creative ideas towards the band?

They let us record what we wanted, but then they started to push some of the tracks they thought were [going to] be more successful in radio play.  They also listened to radio promoters to check on the order of the songs.  All that input was really helpful for the project.

lvienta-beach

 

What was Telarc’s input on the promotion of this record? Did you have any issues with the publicity for the record?

Well Telarc had all the greats like Joe Pass, Al DiMeola and really did not have to promote them so much since [they’d] sell anyhow?

We kind of felt that Higher Octave might have done a better job breaking a new artist, but hey what do we know?

 

How soon after the record came out did discussions begin floating around for the next one?

Right away, since it sold so much (for a new artist), but now with a “real producer” etc.  That is a whole different story though.  I think our favorite album will always be Forgotten Romance.

 

Will La Vienta ever surface again for a new album?

Hey you never know!

 

Stefan, when will your solo record come out?

It will be released this summer (2017)

***

Below: Some of the group’s press clippings and billings.

 

press-democrat

great-american-music-hall

sonoma

copper-mountain

fairmont

billboard

 

RE-ANIMATED IN THE FUTURE NOW: Milemarker

milemarker2

The post-hardcore group, with roots in both the Chapel Hill and Chicago indie scenes, formed in 1997 and powered through eight glorious years before going on hiatus. They briefly re-emerged in 2008, then disappeared again—until now. And we’ve got the scoop on their new album, Overseas, and a whole lot more. The band is currently on tour in the west and then to the midwest this week.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY DAVID ENSMINGER

As the millennium unfolded, bands like These Arms Are Snakes and Milemarker felt like redeemers that cracked the egg-dome of punk norms. Emo had taken shelter in pop modes, math rock unleashed charmless vanities, street punk often felt sulking and rodent, but Milemarker felt like an expedition transmitting new frequencies. Their searing coterie of tunes, like “Signal Froze” (with its warped vocals, undulating electro vibes, and crackling rock’n’roll urgency) and dramatic “Shrink To Fit” (imagine Gary Numan meets Atari Teenage Riot), signify their crack post-modernism.

Instead of mustering play-by-numbers angst, thin protest, and soon faded disaffection, the stuff of teenage war cries, the music of Milemarker seems fermented in a nuanced analysis of the sensory-overladen landscape of late-capitalism and the information economy. Plus, they always feel shaped by prescient literary sources: William Burroughs, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard, and more. Hence, nothing in their music, lyrics, or composition is overtly stripped-down or bareboned; they offer no simple recitation of revolt. Instead, they approach tunes in a cyber-fiction way, creating scenarios, news dispatches, and memos from the digital edge, producing music that morphs and transcends.

Roby Newton’s (who also masterminded their light show) moody chromium voice fills tunes like the hypnotic “Food For Worms” as she excavates all the damage done to women in the world of dead, damaged, suicidal heroines and forced silence, when the best minds of a generation starve for their place in intellectual and cultural spaces: “The girl’s heroes have taken their own lives. We’re left with sewn lips and model lines. The place for us: we are seen and not heard.” She urges people not to take shelter in desultory destruction; instead, turn off the ovens, throw out the stones, shut off the gas, she infers, and don’t enact the tragedies all over again, like a vicious interlocked replication of breakdowns. It’s a call to liberate from the dire ends of Sylvia Plath and others, to crush the monocles of madness, and to fight omnipresent confinement, barriers, and censure.

Meanwhile, her tireless tidal waves of dark, distressing keyboard shape the erratic pull and push of “New Lexicon,” a prescient tune examining the idiom of conformity – the recited phrases learned by rote, never questioned or doubted, like pre-programmed, mass-recited Orwellian thought squelching all dissent and difference. Due to so many memes, jargon, and scripts emanating from the political spectrum, the song looks hard at how language can become no more than a glass paperweight dampening the flicker of free thought.

Yet, despite heady preoccupations, Milemarker can still unleash pummeling power and slanted rhythms, like “Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery” and the holographic punk of “Tundra,” which doesn’t feel a million miles from Kanye West (as does their urban dance-throttled “Idle Hands”) as it gnaws on incandescent keyboard riffs, the drums explode in sudden urges (from jazz-bridged syncopated asides to sheer fist-stomping smackdowns), and the slow, degraded guitar forms a distorted plumage. Newton and crew weigh in on the impending ice age – using the song as stretching harsh light to illuminate the impending eco-cataclysm bound to upset economies, military agendas, populace routines, etc.

Having taken a break since 2005, they have re-emerged, like nomads populated with new band members and up-to-the-minute visions. Overseas (released on the Lovitt label), with Monika Bukowska providing the unflinching internal roil and rhythm on the heaving beats on songs like “Conditional Love” (an electro-punk motif frosted with singalong punk propellants), is dancefloor odored and ordered, an electrifying emblem of punk hybridity.

Al Burian kindly offered to answer questions “haphazardly.” [Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared at the most excellent ‘zine Dagger, which not so coincidentally is helmed by our very own Tim “Dagger” Hinely. Many thanks to him and Mr. Ensminger for allowing us to share it with the BLURT readership.]

milemarker1

milemarker5

milemarker3

milemarker4

milemarker6

DAVID ENSMINGER: No doubt, members of long-lived bands come and go, line-ups change, etc., but now only half of the band remains at the core. Have you essentially re-imagined Milemarker, not just resurrected it … perhaps taken off the guardrails?

AL BURIAN: Milemarker always had a pretty shifty line-up; every record has had some variation in the musicians playing on it. And from the beginning, we always had an agenda of pushing boundaries, at least our own personal boundaries, of getting the people in the band to go places where they are uncomfortable. Dave and I wanted to do some new stuff with the band in 2015, so we found the other two people, Lena and Ezra, and immediately wrote a record with them. The band history gave us some sort of aesthetic range or parameter for writing– I guess in that sense the band as an abstract entity is the guardrails.

Your tune “New Lexicon” (which musically always reminded me a bit of …Trail of the Dead) is so apropos to this volatile era, this immediate strife. Was the song intended as a play on Orwell’s notion of language being an epicenter of control: “We don’t need big brother to enforce the new lexicon … we wrote it for ourselves.” Is the general public, and not just Trump, responsible for the emergence of alternative facts? 

.A lot of the dystopian science fiction elements in the bands’ past lyrics are becoming descriptive of current reality, which is not a very good development. It seems to me that this current administration is fundamentally different from anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.­ Though to be honest, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve been sitting in my apartment in Berlin, viewing the U.S.A. through the mediated lens of the internet. Of course, we are all responsible in some way for what is happening. With the band, and especially with touring in the U.S. now, I assume everyone in the audience is going to be aware of what’s going on; they don’t need a political analysis from us. Our agenda is to make music. That’s not meant apolitically: if I’m going to be optimistic, I’ll say hopefully that music can serve as a unifying force, maybe even communicate something fundamental and transcendent.

 

Another changing format that has become the de facto norm is “reality TV” (actually, scripted to the core), which the band presciently recognized on “Make Love to the Camera Obscura.” The line “what’s the point of doing anything if it’s not on camera” is eerie. People have shifted from mere consumers to endless makers of content. Does that appeal to you, in the “become the media” sense punks like Jello Biafra once espoused, but also trouble you?

That line is actually taken from Warren Beatty, spoken derisively to Madonna in the documentary, Truth Or Dare. But yeah, if “new lexicon” is Orwellian 1984, dystopia “make love to the camera obscura” is Huxleyan Brave New Worlddystopia. I think Huxley was closer on the mark in terms of predicting our present situation, although really maybe it’s kind of a gross melange of the two, with an authoritarian Big Brother presiding over a sheep-like hedonistic pleasure-centered society. The worst of both worlds! I think the song still holds up overall, social criticism-wise, although the line “you’re on camera an average of ten times a day” is out-dated: that was the average number of surveillance cameras you’d encounter per day in 1999. The number of cameras that capture you on a daily basis now is undoubtedly exponentially higher.

By the time you cut tracks like “River of Blood” for the last album– over eight minutes in length – had you become restless with post-hardcore routines? The lyrics seem pointedly political – the destructive machinations of government and war, but the song (called “math-core” by Pitchfork), seems restless as hell…searching.

“Rivers of Blood” was a pretty old song when we recorded Ominosity. It was written fairly soon after the songs onAnaesthetic. We were into longer songs at that point. As far as the lyrics, why do you say “but”? You can’t be pointedly political and restless as hell at the same time?

 

People tend to romanticize the independent networks of labels, indie publicists, and fanzine editors that formed the backbone of punk from the 1970s-2000s, etc., but the longer I chronicle the movement, the less transparent, and even less honest, it all seems. How would you describe dealing with the punk “infrastructure” (for lack of a better term)? Did we create an alternative commerce and ethos, or did we fail?

Punk led me to pretty much everything I know about as far as “alternative” or anti-mainstream ideas. It’s a conduit for all kinds of information and can lead you to all kinds of interesting places. But it’s only one way to get to these points, and it can lead you to some pretty dumb and nihilistic places too. The question of failing depends on what the goals are. We’re all only humans, and we exist in the framework of the current economic system; to feel like a new world didn’t spring out of your efforts is a beautifully idealistic standard to hold yourself up to, but maybe a little unfair to yourself. We’re all doing the best we can, for the most part. One thing I always liked about punk is that it embraces deviance generally. So there are a lot of freaks, a lot of scam artists and schizophrenics, a lot of bad thoughts, bad ideas, experiments gone awry. There are a lot of lonely people just trying to get attention. That’s all part of it, and part of what makes it great. “Succeeding” might be the wrong paradigm for thinking about it.

On the web:

www.milemarkerwebpresence.com

www.lovitt.com

Portraits of a Rock Band on Fire: Parquet Courts

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-4
“Fight back!” On February 11, the Artist Sometimes Known as Parkay Quarts stormed the gates of Atlanta’s Terminal West venue, ultimately selling out (the venue, not the band). And we were there.
Photo Gallery By John Boydston

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-3

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-17

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-11

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-6

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-15

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-14

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-13

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-7

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-8

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-12

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-10

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-9

parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-2

Bigger galleries of this and other curiosities in rock and nature are at jobo.smugmug.com
parkay-blurt-by-john-boydston-feb-2017-5

THE PHILLY KID: Dave Hause

davehause_lp3_090216-234

Despite living in California now, the punk/Americana artist is still very much a child of the City of Brotherly Love—and he’s got a terrific new album to prove it.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Born and raised in the city, it’s where he started his hardcore band, Paint It Black, and eventually his punk band, The Loved Ones. Hell, his first concert was The Hooters, and despite the rest of the world’s insistence that the City of Brotherly Love is all cheesesteaks and Rocky statues, you don’t get much more authentically Philly than a Hooters concert.

So, the fact that Hause – who as a solo artist now plays a perfect blend of punk and Americana – asked Hooters singer/guitarist Eric Bazilian to co-produce his latest shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. The album title? Bury Me in Philadelphia. (Natch.)

Released last week, on Feb. 3 via Rise Records, the album is quite possibly his best to date. Not an easy feat as both Devour and Resolutions, his other solo efforts, were praised by critics and fans alike. Hause, gearing up for a tour that will likely have him on the road for most of this year, spoke recently about the influence Philadelphia has had on him, the chances of another Loved Ones record and writing music after getting sober.

BLURT: I wanted to start out talking about how and why you got Eric Bazilian involved. I think he’s wildly underrated and was stoked to see you were working with him.
DAVE HAUSE: I totally agree, he’s vastly underrated, and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. Helen Leicht, the midday DJ at WXPN in Philadelphia, found out that my first ever concert as a 7- year-old kid was The Hooters at the Tower Theater, and introduced us. Eric checked out Devour and Resolutions and really dug the work I had done, and came out to the headline show I played in Philly for Devour. He played “And We Danced” with me and my band as part of the encore, and we kept in touch. When things weren’t working with the producer I initially started working with for this record, Eric was my first call. He loved the demos of the songs and we booked the time and within a few months, the record was done. It was pretty amazing.

I know you live in California now, but even more so then just the title, I can’t help but think that this sounds like a Philly record. How has the city influenced your music?
Philly is what shaped my whole perspective, my work ethic, the way I view the world. It took moving to California to understand how much of a Philadelphian I truly am, and that ended up being a big part of this record. It’s another reason why recording it with Eric in the Philly area was so crucial. The cover art is the sky above Roxborough, where I grew up, and ultimately that theme of figuring out where you’re from and who you are, no matter how far you run definitely makes its way through the album.

You started writing this record after getting sober, from what I understand. How did that change the way you approached writing it? Was it harder?
I wrote it over the course of a few years, so some of it was while I was still partying. I think the focus that came once I stopped drinking and using drugs was really pivotal to not only completing this record the way I wanted it to be, but also the 40 other songs I have that’ll come out over the course of the next few years. It really helped to have clarity and to get the hell out of my own way. There are more than a few songs I wrote about that topic that didn’t make the record, but maybe will see the light of day down the road. We’ll see.

Your brother also worked with you on this one, right? How did that come about?
Tim was taking classes at Temple University when Devour came out but was a little uncertain what he wanted to do. He played a few songs with me at the record release shows I did in Philly and it was really fun, and it got my wheels turning to take him on tour. His first tour was a 10-week trip of North America in the winter, which was insane. We developed a musical bond beyond any I had ever come across, and when I was having a hard time determining what songs would become this record, I just started collaborating with him and he was a natural, he came up with so many amazing lines. I look forward to writing more music with him, most of our collaboration was lyrical, and his sense of melody is so keen, that’s gonna be so fun to turn over that leaf. He’s a great kid, really is a personal hero of mine.

You put out a great record last summer under The All Brights moniker. Any chance you guys will record a follow up?
Actually, we recorded another EP that’s been done for a year. I think it comes out Memorial Day, 2017. It’s even more ridiculous than the last one, and marries my love of satire, making fun of California culture, punk rock and cartoon noises to an absurd effect. It was fun making those songs with my friend Matt (Wilson), we cranked them out really quickly with the rule that if it made us laugh, it stayed. So, stupid.

You also played some shows with The Loved Ones last year to celebrate the anniversary of your debut. Any awkward moments playing with those guys again after so much time?
I think the only awkward thing about that stuff is that you revisit who you were when those songs were made. I’ve grown a lot as a human, and I’m hopefully kinder, more compassionate, and have less to prove, so remembering some of that young arrogant scared guy is uncomfortable, but all in all it was nice to play and see that we all survived, and actually thrived, 10 years later. We had a blast.

Any talk about working on new music with them?
I have most of what could be a third Loved Ones record written, it really is just a matter of whether or not we all set aside the time to rehearse and record it. We’ll see. I don’t want to play any Loved Ones shows unless we were to make new music.

What’s next for you after this record comes out?
Touring like crazy. We do record release shows on both coasts, headline Europe, then do Canada. It’s really exciting, I can’t wait to get this band up and running and really see what we can do. I have a record’s worth of songs almost completely recorded already, we’ll see what we do with that, and then a bunch of songs written that I need to record in addition to that, so things will be busy. I’m not taking such a long break between records, I want to see if I can get on a few years’ tear where I put a lot of stuff out. Who knows, gotta get this one out first I reckon…

OPENING CEREMONY

lb-ihat

From the mid-ninetimes comes a dark tale, guest-starring Love and Rockets, Genesis P-Orridge, Rick Rubin’s haunted mansion, and a Dante-worthy conflagration…

BY KEITH JOYNER

After the heavy rains, an early spring balm fell over the canyon. The air was alien. I could see their shadows moving in the low light of the grand old house. I walked without purpose up the stone stairs in the vain hope of avoiding human interaction. In retrospect, I should have been more welcoming, though I was a different person in 1995, or at least I’d like to think so. One with less patience, and prone to snap judgments. And besides, my brief respite had been interrupted. What’s next? The question always loomed.

Daniel Ash had at least made the effort, inviting me out one evening along with his posse of rock n roll revelers. In typical fashion, I declined. I had only lived in the house on Laurel Canyon for a month when the members of Love and Rockets moved in. Meanwhile, I had recently completed a stint in Matt Johnson’s the The, was recording and playing club gigs with Marty Willson-Piper of The Church, and had just started a new band with David Newton of The Mighty Lemon Drops. Suddenly I was at the center of the universe when it came to ’80s alternative rock. Strange circumstances indeed.

I was charged with little more than ensuring the squatters didn’t return. After the renovation, the house was to become the headquarters for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label. My room on the second of three floors consisted only of an unreliable air mattress, a portable stereo and a digital clock. Hollywood glamour at its finest. But it was rent-free, and it bought me valuable time. On most nights, Kevin Haskins arrived in a very nice car to join his brother David Haskins (aka David J) and Daniel Ash for Love & Rockets jam sessions lasting into the wee hours of the morning. But tonight was different than most. There was a new arrival.

Inside the foyer, Daniel’s motorcycle was parked for the evening. After rehearsals he would usually padlock a chain to the door in order to thwart any would-be thieves. Following a cursory hello to David, I hastened to my room, but was stopped short by the figure descending the spiral staircase. David made the introduction. “Keith, this is Genesis.” She certainly made a first impression. Long grey dreadlocks framed a weary face that featured heavy, dark-encircled eyes. She wore a floor-length tie-dyed dress, and approached smiling, placing her hand weakly in mine. OK, perhaps not a she. At least, not yet. Androgynous, yes.

I had heard of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, but was otherwise unfamiliar with those seminal industrial bands. He was very polite, and there was a sad kindness behind his eyes. But there was also something rather intense about his countenance. This house already challenged my preconceived notions about the paranormal. Genesis P-Orridge’s presence could only stir the sleeping ghosts that lay dormant within its walls. That night, as I drifted to sleep, slowly deflating to the floor, I asked myself what in the world was I doing here? How did I end up living in an outtake of the film Withnail & I? It was time to take action. There were decisions to make.

Days passed, and turned into a week or more. Genesis was still there. I helplessly watched my bank account descend into dangerous territory. Soon I would need to find work, hardly the spoils I expected Tinseltown to deliver. Meanwhile, the songs emanating from the formal dining room downstairs were starting to take shape. David and Genesis were simultaneously working on something far more experimental. I was stalled, sleepless, incapable of a simple course of action.

Never fear. Tomorrow the universe will make decisions of its own.

Seven-sometime AM. A relentless unthinking buzz roused me from sleep. Had I set the alarm? I had no particular place to be. It was to be another day of waiting for nothing to happen. No. This was louder, more urgent. It beckoned from elsewhere in the house. An acrid stench filled the air. I sat bolt upright. Burning electronics, wood and drywall. I raced from my room to the top of the stairs. I could already hear the combustion.

I descended the stairs to find the dining room engulfed in flames. There, in the foyer, I encountered a frantic woman I had never seen before. She screamed, “The door is chained! How do we get out?” I calmly advised her to unlatch the window from the living room and get out quickly. “Go! And find Patrick!” Patrick was the other caretaker who lived in the detached studio under the outside stairs. I would wake the rest of the house. The fire was too far gone. Whether the motorcycle was there I don’t recall, but to contemplate the simple physics of gasoline and fire at this late date still gives me the chills.

I ran to the second floor again. The smoke became blacker and thicker. I stopped short to consider the paucity of my current state. For a brief moment I thought I might succumb then and there, but was quickly shocked back to the matter at hand. Who should I wake first? David and Genesis were at the opposite end of the second floor, and furthest from the fire. I devised a plan in short order.

On the third floor I found Daniel’s room and pounded on the door, shouting of imminent danger. Silence. I tried the handle. It was locked. Is he in there? I imagined the fire growing in size and creeping up the staircase, searching for someone, anyone to claim. I opened the window and crawled onto the clay tile roof. It was a long way down at the front of the house. I found a window. The curtains were drawn. Again, I rapped loudly on the pane. I tried to open it. It too was locked. I considered breaking it, but with what; my bare hands? He’s either a heavy sleeper, or he’s not in there. I remember saying aloud, “I’m sorry. I have to wake the others.”

Up and over the roof I went, trying not to look down. At the back of the house there was a better way down. The back yard was terraced, and I could jump with ease from one floor to the other until I was safely on the ground. I ran the length of the back of the house and circled to the front. “David! Wake up! The house is on fire,” I shouted. All the while, I thought of Daniel sleeping peacefully and unaware of his impending doom.

After several tense moments, David materialized at the balcony to his room, the lord of the manor, dapperly dressed and seemingly nonchalant about the situation. This really should have been his house. He belonged there. In that moment he was equal measure Howard Hughes, Jay Gatsby and Count Dracula. Somewhere behind him was Genesis in a panic. It was an easy way out, or so I imagined.

Meanwhile, I could hear the sirens approaching. Fortunately for everyone, there was a fire station at the top of Laurel Canyon where Mulholland crossed. I don’t recall if it was me or Patrick who unlocked the chain link gate just as the fire engines arrived. I imagine they would have driven straight through at any rate. The fire was quickly and expertly extinguished. Ultimately, there was only interior damage and the foundation remained intact.

I found a corner of the front yard to collect myself. I was covered in soot, dressed in what were likely my only good clothes left. I waited for news of Daniel, fearing the worst. Genesis had been severely injured. I couldn’t quite work it out. There were doors leading to the back yard. The fire hadn’t reached that end of the house. In fact, it had stopped at the top of the staircase at the second floor. Somehow he had fallen. He must have lost his footing. I can only speculate that he didn’t know the location of the fire and had tried to scale down the front of the house from his room.

Then, magically, he appeared, dressed in leather pants and jacket, his hair slicked back, sporting giant-framed sunglasses as if he were about to take the stage. It was impressive, and I recall being relieved and happy to see him. “You all right?” Daniel asked as he walked toward the gathering throng near the front of the yard at Laurel Canyon. It was quite the contrast given that I had last encountered him in the kitchen wearing cut-off jean shorts, a white tank top and the most massive white man’s afro I had seen in a good while.

I felt strangely happy and destitute at once, freed by the flames, and grateful in a way that I was now forced to start over. I actually looked forward to finding an apartment, getting a job and maneuvering toward a normal existence. The house had successfully expelled us all. The spell had been broken. We would all have to move on. And so ended my first strange episode in the City of Angels.

David kindly returned some of my belongings that he found in the aftermath. He included a nice letter as I recall. Still, I spent several years avoiding the subject unless pressed. Love and Rockets were forever linked to the fire, and I didn’t relish the idea of revisiting that moment in any shape or form. So when I was invited by a friend to see the band headline the now-shuttered Hollywood Grand, I didn’t exactly jump at the chance. I don’t know if it was resentment or blame that I felt, but ultimately it was of my own invention. I agreed to go. It was actually the first time I had ever seen them. And they killed it, opening with a searing version of “Ball of Confusion.”

There was something dark and hypnotic about my first days in Los Angeles. And it clung to me until that moment when the band played on. Truth is, I can hardly recall the feeling anymore from the safe haven of my Highland Park home. But I felt compelled to put “pen to paper” after all this time and relay my own version of the events. Currently, I lead a relatively quiet existence by comparison. But sometimes when the sun sets, I look west beyond the hills and imagine the shadows falling over the house on Laurel Canyon. It still stands, like a bulwark against time, striking the temporary inhabitants with unease. They will come and go. As for the house? It will likely always be there.

***

Keith Joyner’s band Seven Simons was recently chronicled at BLURT ( “The Time is Now, the Time is Yesterday“). The veteran Georgia musician’s  latest project is les biches, and you can find out more about that at his official website. Below, you can check out the les biches track “I Had a Thought.” (And incidentally, just to extend our kudos and credits here, above-mentioned L&R member David J, go HERE for details on his most excellent 2014 book on his earlier band Bauhaus, Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? Bauhaus black magick and benediction.)