Forty years on, a new album reflects a classic simple mindset. Frontman Jim Kerr explains. Watch a complete 2018 concert by the band, below.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Forty years is an extraordinarily long time in the music biz, especially given the fact that the public always seems fixated on the latest sensation at the expense of those that have come before. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part, holding to a continuum is a challenge at best, and all but impossible at worst.
Given that fact, credit Simple Minds for staying true to a sounds and style and that’s shifted slightly over the years, but never followed any fashion other than their own. They’ve had their hits — “Promised You a Miracle,” “Speed Your Love to Me,” “Alive and Kicking,” and, most notably, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” — but have also maintained their integrity through a consistent flow of new releases and a steady succession of tours and high profile performances that have secured their presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Though typecast at times as New Romantics, dance devotees, Celtic mystics and powerful pundits of anthemic proportions, they’ve always remained true to their muse, wherever it takes them.
The longevity is even more impressive given the seemingly constant change in musician membership over the years, a steady shift that’s left singer and songwriter Jim Kerr and guitarist, multi-instrumentalist Charlie Burchill as the only constants. Indeed, the band’s new album Walk Between Worlds, released in early February and their 19th studio album to date, finds a sonic merger of past and present, emerging as one of their best efforts of recent times.
Blurt recently had the opportunity to speak with Kerr from his home in Scotland. Amiable and expressive, he was all too willing to share his thoughts about the band’s past, present and future. (Below, watch the band’s recent Berlin concert.)
BLURT: Congratulations on the new album, Mr. Kerr. Tell us a bit about what went into it.
JIM KERR: It’s the result of a head of steam that we’ve been building up over the last five or six years. I felt buoyed by the success of Big Music, the last real studio album we did, and I was further propelled by that. When we finished our last tour, we had a spare week or so, so we used it to our advantage to see what we had on hand. We always have a backlog of stuff, and before we knew it, we were up and running. In between, we also did an acoustic record. So everything came together over a year and a half.
The new album finds a spirit of optimism. Song titles like “Magic,” “In Dreams,” “Sense of Discovery,” and “Utopia” suggest that you haven’t given in to despair.
I think we do have an ability to transcend. We are in a bubble, this musical place that just makes us feel good. There are still things to consider. We are parents and grandparents and we have to believe that there’s something more. We have to believe that a lot of this stuff we’re experiencing now is cyclical.
How then have you managed to maintain that momentum for four decades?
We love doing what we do, and we appreciate the good fortune we’ve had in doing it. We have never taken it for granted. We’ve not always been on top of the game for 40 years, but then again, when you do something for 40 years, there are periods where you’re not always on top. Some records maybe don’t quite fulfil that promise. And when you do it for 40 years, it’s much more than a career. It becomes part of your life, and subject to all the other things that are a part of your life. We may be luckier than many, but nobody gets a free ride. (chuckles)
With all your ups and downs, how do you maintain your mindset when you find yourself in a bit of a slump?
For us, it all comes round again, and in the last few years, the band has been an absolute priority. Even when you feel like you’re beaten up, you can learn certain things about yourself. You don’t want to keep doing something simply because you don’t know what else to do. You’ll end up like a punch drunk boxer. It’s more like, hang on, the wheels may have fallen off, but let’s try to get them back on. Let’s see if we can get the engines going and get this thing on the road and take it as far as we can. That’s what we’ve done for the last six or seven years. We’re all about maximizing this thing that we have here. This is just what we do, this is who we are.
Speaking of which, your first hit here in the States was “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” your contribution to the John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club.” Ironically, it was one of the only songs that you didn’t write yourselves.
It was strange indeed. We had had success in other places, but not the States. College radio was great and we did well in some places like New York and L.A. but we weren’t getting mainstream radio play because we hadn’t had a hit, that big time radio play. We were starting to think maybe it would never happen. Our record label A&M came to us and all but admitted that they had failed. So they assured us that they would push our next record properly, but that in the meantime they needed something new. We tried to tell them we didn’t have anything prepared at that point. So they said, “There is this thing. This guy called John Hughes wants to use you in his film, and we’ve got the song for you. We objected and we made it clear that we only record songs that we write.
How did they convince you?
They insisted that the song they had in mind was written for the script. And when we spoke to John Hughes, he was a lovely fellow. So Keith Forsey, who had written the song, came over to visit us and told us how much he loved the band. He hung around and watched us while in rehearsal and became like our best mate. Finally he said, “Why don’t we take a crack at this thing and we’ll get the record company off your back? So we said, okay, and then we came up with those la-la-las and all the hey-hey-heys, and elevated it with that big sound. The rest is history.
Is it ever a challenge to maintain the signature sound that your fans expect, while also keeping your creative urges intact?
It’s not easy. If you’re a band of a certain vintage, you’ve got a certain style that you’re known for. With every album people will say, make it a classic Simple Minds album. But so too, they’ll tell you to make it sound contemporary? So there’s the contradiction. By definition, they’re telling you to go back to the past, but also insisting that it should sound like something new. You want to show off the DNA, but you want to be able to keep it fresh. The easiest thing would be to do the same old same old, but no way could we do that. We would be bored. So you have to do those things in right measure, and always fit things in the right boxes at the same time.
Doesn’t that mean that you’re constantly looking over your shoulders?
As soon as a record comes out, it’s judged in comparison to the earlier albums. But you just have to accept that challenge and tell yourself we’re going to do something great. At the end of a project, the outside world will let you know what it thinks. So you become more aware of your past and learn to reconcile with it. You do your best on it and then move on.
Even so, Simple Minds has seen a steady shift in styles over its 40 years. How do you view that transition?
When people ask me to describe Simple Minds, I have to ask, which Simple Minds? Are you referring to the New Romantic thing, the dance band, the stadium rock outfit, or our spiritual side? Maybe you mean the band we were back during the MTV years. The interesting thing to me is that we have that diversity and it’s a credit to the guys we worked with that they could play with such diversity. We managed to try all those things, but never lost our identity. It always seems to feel like Simple Minds. So when people come to define us, I’d simply say Simple Minds is a great band. It makes great music. They make music of their time.
After 40 years, that’s quite an accomplishment
When you’re in a good place and you have a clear run, you go with it. On the other hand, as you get older, you can’t guarantee that everything is going to pan out, or that you’re going to have the energy to continue. When you get a clear run, you have to get as much work done as you can knowing that other things in your life may eventually take priority. You never know when there’s going to be a parting in the road or even a bend in the road you weren’t thinking about.
Are you nostalgic? Ever find yourself reminiscing about all the history that’s behind you?
I’m nearly 60 and at this point in life, one does tend to have an internal dialogue about where you’ve been and where things are now. That does lead to a certain kind of nostalgic. I never wish for things to be as they were, and I’m grateful, because it would seem a little forlorn. Yet at the same time, I feel these are the good times. I still look forward to what’s over the hill. I enjoy so much of what we do and I still love performing love. We had some great ups and we had some great downs, but we always manage to roll with it either way.
The Big Takeover (#81) The human wind-up toy Jack Rabid hits issue 81 and I don’t think he plans on stopping anytime soon. This time around it’s got cover stars Slowdive plus interviews with Pixies, Roger Shepherd from Flying Nun Records (!!!!), Chrissie Hynde part 2, Art Bergmann (from Canada’s Young Canadian), Grizzly Bear and more and lots of more including short takes and holy brick of reviews.144 pages. Some folks’ bible so write to Father Jack. www.bigtakeover.com
Casting Couch (#5), Austin, TX’s Miranda Fisher had been doing her cool garage punk zine C.C. for the past few years but sadly, as she mentions in this issue it is coming to an end. She’s stopping CC to focus on ……a Temptation zine! OK, so I’m bummed about the former but happy on the latter. Still though, she goes out with a bang in this final ish That has interviews with The Cowboys, Andy Human, Adam Smith, Mordecai and more plus reviews, pin ups (sadly not one of me) and a pull out poster of Beta Boys. Sad to see this one go…. firstname.lastname@example.org
Everything’s Swirling: a Galaxie 500 Fanzine This is a cool little half-sized zine out of the UK dedicated (by uber fan Andy Aldridge) to Galaxie 500, the great Boston band that broke up in 1991 (or thereabouts…Dean went on to form Luna and Damon & Naomi formed ….yup, Damon & Naomi). It’s got random pics, pieces, articles, etc. and a cool silk-screened cover. Reminds me a little of Bus Stop, the Belle & Sebastian zine from several years ago. If there’s any left Andy will be happy to send it to you via carrier pigeon. I hope there’s another one soon. http://www.fullofwishes.co.uk/
New Wave Chicken (#7), This is a cool little rag (another half-sized) done by a gent named Steve Hart out of….Hawaii. Not a hotbed of zine activity but then again, maybe it is, who knows. This ish is dubbed “The baseball and Ramones Issue” so Steve knows what I like. Pieces on little, minor and major league baseball plus some records reviews and lets not forget our boys from Queens. Da Bruddahs. Drop Steve a line and send him a few shekels for a copy. You won’t regret it. email@example.com
Nonstop Diatribe (#2- Fall 1994) Yup, you got that right, issue #2 from …well, nearly 25 years ago. Jen Matson put out here first issue of NSD in ’91 ro so and it was a terrific issue (Hamish Kilhour, the Go Betweens, etc. etc) and apparently she had this issue written but it never came out. Well, here it is and it has more Go-Betweens love as well as interviews with Tim from Stereolab, Gedge from The Wedding Present, Robert Scott of The Bats and Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3.There’s also reviews, letters, some comics and more plus…well, it just looks great,. http://nstop.com/shop/
A kosmiche, psychedelic, improvisational slab of genius, spread across four beautiful clear vinyl sides, announces the arrival of a visionary new outfit from the Old Pueblo.
BY FRED MILLS
Trees Speak, hailing from Tucson, Arizona, is visual artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s musical persona, formerly of Blind Divine and Crystal Radio, and here joined by Michael Glidewell (Black Sun Ensemble), Gabriel Sullivan (XIXA, Giant Sand), Connor Gallaher (Myrrors, Cobra Family Picnic), Damian Diaz (Human Error), and Julius Schlosburg (Jeron White Acoustic Trio). They consider themselves more of a “sound laboratory” along the lines of early Can—crafting long, live-in-studio improvisations, then editing them in the studio, adding effects, and more—than a straight-up rock band.*
Although that’s not to even remotely suggest that these cats won’t rock the fuck out, because like the Krautrock greats of yore, Trees Speak can shift instantly from a luminous, ambient electronic shimmer to a pounding, pulsing, powering wall of sound. Trees Speak, released this past December on the Cinedelic label, home to numerous electronic and experimental Italian artists (including several film soundtrackers—Ennio Morricone’s Eat It is among the label’s catalog), and distributed in the U.S. by Forced Exposure, is the group’s debut, and to these ears, at least, it is utterly unlike anything that the Old Pueblo had produced to date.
Side A is highly instructive. The ominous “Soul Machine” kicks things off on a heady Neu!-esque motorik note before yielding to a percussion segue leading the listener directly into throbbing, electronics-splattered drone territory, “Black Butterfly” and “Atomic Heart.” This in turn gradually turns into a series of restful, melodic passages via harmonium and nylon string guitar—although “restful” may be a misnomer, or at least misleading, since there are also some abrupt glitchy effects as well as some strange background vocal samples. The side concludes with the track “Trees Speak,” which synthesizes all of the foregoing into another moment of motorik magnificence—the key here being the use of repetition for both texture and dynamics, whether within the context of a minimalist or a full-arrangement composition.
One could similarly describe the other three sides, but it wouldn’t really do the music here justice. If the core elements of Krautrock appeal to you, along with the notion that genuinely transcendent psychedelia always is rooted in the improvisational aesthetic, then you won’t be able to resist this remarkable debut. I found myself playing certain tracks over and over—the aforementioned “Atomic Heart,” side B’s lengthy, aptly-titled “Spirit Oscillator” (which sounds uncannily like Can’s classic “Mother Sky” in places), the sizzling/searing uneasy listening of “Unconscious Through Control.” A single synapse-snapping composition, “Shadow Circuit,” takes up the entirety of sides C and D, split into Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, recalling at times fellow Tucson bands The Myrrors and Black Sun Ensemble in all their mystic, lunar-worshiping, Lower Sonoran glory; during the song, heady bursts of kosmiche guitar dart hither and yonder as if they were desert creatures engaged in their nocturnal hunts, only to be frightened back into their burrows by predatory rapid-fire percussion and zooming electronics—and then the cycle begins all over.
There’s a palpable sense of time standing still while Trees Speak performs, like standing on the floor of a rock venue, the lights turned off with only red LED lights on amplifiers for illumination, and simply letting the music wash over you. I realize that these tunes are the product of post-performance editing and tinkering, but they were also originally created live over a five-day period (at Sacred Machine Studio and Dust & Stone Studio in Tucson), and to their credit, the musicians retained that live feel for the finished product.
For you vinyl fans out there, the photo below should be all the motivation you need to scoop this up while it’s available: 2LP, 180-gm. clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, plus a 12” double-sided print, five 5” postcards, and two stickers. An artistic beauty, courtesy Diaz. And only 250 copies were pressed, so don’t sit ‘cos if you do, you won’t be able to spin.
* I usually refrain from quoting a band’s press info at length, but in this case I think it’s wholly appropriate to let them state their musical manifesto directly. It’s spoken like true Tucsonans: “Our intention is to create music with an unrehearsed minimalist approach performing simple beats, riffs, and sequences that take one inward. We attempt create a sonic environment to set one’s mind free and to become aware of the nuances of tone, melody, and structure. We organize our recording equipment with the same approach, in a transparent manner. Our recorded performances are never rehearsed. Our belief is that a brilliant rehearsal is a lost opportunity to capture a magical moment. We are chasing the mystery of music and tone. We let the musical performance sculpt its own destiny and create imperfect perfection. Our tool of creation is the anxiety one feels when they are unrehearsed or prepared for a performance. We believe this approach brings us closer to the authentic self. The result is genuine music without an agenda that captures the unfiltered spirit.”
The gifted NYC duo talks about the band and how they communicate musically, their forthcoming new album, what it’s like to be working musicians in New York, and more. Also check out our exclusive live-in-studio video, below, as well as some choice audio that the band kindly provided.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Dadalon are a New York jazz group that I happened to catch by pure happenstance a few weeks ago on the Lower East Side. When they took the stage, their music immediately resonated somewhere deep in my soul. Alon Albagli, guitarist for the group, sounds like a young Bill Frisell, creating heightened states of awareness with his cyclical looped guitar work that builds and builds until there’s an intense emotional payoff for the listener. Daniel Dor, drummer and keyboardist for the group, is able to infuse a rhythmic playfulness into each song that is both supportive of Alon’s guitar playing and propulsive at the same time. The music is an intimate conversation between two friends that is beckoning for you to join in.
Check out “D Major” courtesy Dadalon, who have provided the track as an exclusive to Blurt:
Indeed, it’s the conversational aspect of the music, cut with a euphoric dreaminess, that had the crowd at the Rockwood Music Hall mesmerized and in a state of positivity. Over the next few days, this feeling that I’d come across NYC’s best kept secret was hard to shake, so I took it upon myself to interview the group and film a few numbers out at their studio in Brooklyn for Blurt readers.
I guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about these guys in the future. For now, check out the video below; the interview follows immediately afterwards. For more info on the band, visit their Facebook page.
Dadalon: Live at Vibramonk Studios in Brookly, Feb. 15, 2018
BLURT: When and where did your band first get together (how did you guys meet)?
Daniel: We met at a Jazz workshop back in Israel when we were kids, then met again 10 years after at The New School University. We’ve been making music ever since, and DADALON was born in 2016 as a way of taking our friendship into a more intimate musical [project].
What made the two of you decide as young kids to join a jazz camp?
Daniel: We were both huge jazz nerds growing up, these workshops were profoundly educational, they were an opportunity for us to study with some of the musicians we admired.
Why a duo?
Alon: Daniel and I have a similar taste in music and a really close friendship for so many years. When he asked me if I want to do something together it was clear that it will be a duo project. That way instead of hanging out all day anyway, we might as well write some music and play shows just the two of us. We were led by a strong feeling that this is worth pursuing.
Stylistically, which artist or artists have had the greatest influence on your playing style?
Daniel: As far as playing with DADALON is concerned, one of my main ideas was to keep a punk rock quality to the playing, and not having it be lost to and become cerebral. Besides a long list of Jazz drummers that I’m inspired and influenced by, such as Jack Dejohnette, Jorge Rossy and Justin Brown, there other a lot of other artist which I wish to capture their essence in some way, like Kristian Matsson, Tom York, Adrianne Lenker, Mozart, Bach, etc. I wouldn’t presume to actually know what they are really about, but the impression these people leave on me is profound, so I wish I could play drums like they sing or write.
Where are both members from? In what ways has this influenced the band’s musical sensibility?
Daniel: I’m from Tel-Aviv, and Alon is from a suburb nearby. Tel-Aviv has a very diverse musical environment, as cosmopolitan as the city itself. Perhaps that is the reason why when I think of DADALON’s influences, there are about a hundred different styles of music that come to my mind.
Why and when did you guys leave Israel? How did the two of you end up in NYC of all places? Did you come here at the same time?
Daniel: Alon moved to NY in 2008 and myself in 2010. I imagine we probably left for similar reasons. Mine had to do with a need to expand musically, as well as learning new things in general. Back in Tel-Aviv, every street already had at least 30 stories attached to it, and so familiar narratives which I had about myself were hard to let go of. It was as if I was constantly reminded of who I am and where I’m from. I prefer leaving these questions more open, so a career that involves traveling made sense, as well as relocating somewhere so diverse like New York. Jazz music was the trigger as far as choosing New York as a new home, but I believe the underlying reasons were more emotional and [still] to be discovered.
What bands have you played in prior to Dadalon?
Alon: I worked with artists such as Ari Hoenig, J.views, Daniel Zamir, Janelle Kroll, and many more. Daniel has played and toured with Avishai Cohen Trio, Matisyahu, John Patitucci, Yotam Silberstein and more.
How would you classify the music you create?
Daniel: I’m sure there’s a chord we can find that’ll answer this question better than I can. I’m thinking of a D major7(add4).
What’s on your turntable as we speak?
Alon: Lately we have been listening a lot to Big Thief (Capacity), Frank Locrasto (Locrasto) , as well as “Vaporwave” artists such as ESPRIT. I’ve also been obsessed with the Brad Mehldau solo piano music (10 Years Solo Live).
Alon, what sort of guitar do you play? Can you tell us how you came up with your rig set up?
Alon: I play a Gibson ES 335 from 1979, have been using it for a while and it works really well for DADALON cause of its big sound and a lot of low mid-range. For the pedal board I had to come up with a set up that allows me to play low bass parts and looping options. Most of the interesting sounding effects come from the Eventide H9 and the Helix LT by Line-6 and combinations of both, using presets that I’ve build over time.
You have a new album coming out; where was it recorded and who produced? Will it be self-released or on a label?
Daniel: Yes, we have an album coming out really soon. It was recorded at Vibromonk Studios in Brooklyn. We both produced it, and it will be self-released.
When will the album be officially released and will it be for sale on Bandcamp?
Alon: The CD will be coming out mid-March, and it will be up on sale on BandCamp, iTunes, and [other platforms].
What did you guys release prior to this?
Daniel: This is the first time we both release an album under our own name, although we both play on other artists’ recordings. For example, Alon can be heard on Jviews’s The DNA Project or Yacine Boulares’ Ajoyo, and I can be heard on Avishai Cohen’s From Darkness, NOA’s Love Medicine (alongside the great Pat Metheny) or Yotam Silberstein’s upcoming album, which I just recorded on!
Tell us about some of the individual songs and the musical direction you were aiming for on the new record? Is it just the two of you or were there other musicians called into record?
Daniel: For me, the first song on the album, “D Major” (listen to it at the top of this page), sets the album on a path filled with mountains, valleys, wormholes, and a bunch of love making. The bridge of “D Major,” which leads to the final chorus, was originally part of a song that I wrote for my mom’s last record, so childhood feels like a big part of this first album. Creating music that feels intimate has been an aspiration of mine throughout this whole process, bringing people into my room in Brooklyn, my last breakup, my dreams, the things I’ve lost and the things I found that meant something to me. I trust Alon with all of these, and so much more. While I know our [intention] is to create music that feels inclusive, it felt right to have no one else involved in the writing/arranging process. The only collaborators on this album are Nate Wood, who mastered the album, and Jacob Bergson, who mixed it.
Have you guys toured outside NYC?
Alon: We’ve toured Israel on our last visit, and [our] first international tours are being coordinated as we speak.
Who are some kindred bands either here in NYC that you have an affinity for?
Daniel: Luckily, we are a part of a few different musical scenes here in New York, so we affiliate ourselves with lots of Jazz artists, as well as new Folk artists, Vaporwave artists and Drone Music. Our current NYC heroes are my friends from Big Thief, the wonderful Joanna Sternberg, the amazing Nitai Hershkovits, and others.
What’s the hardest thing about being a band in NYC?
Alon: There are not as many places to play as one would think. We’ve decided to have one venue we call home, called Rockwood Music Hall, and play there monthly. That way we can come up with new stuff between each show and experiment. It also keeps it interesting for us in regards to trying out different set lists and songs.
There’s an emotional directness to your music, that I found easy to connect with and yet it ended up stirring all of these complex emotions in me. Is this a common reaction that people have to your music?
Daniel: Thank you, I’m glad the music resonated with you. One of the things that meant the most to me so far while performing with DADALON has been the similarity I noticed between how I felt while writing my part of this music and the feedbacks we’ve been getting. To my ears, what you’re describing about your own experience sounds very similar to my experience throughout the writing process, which took place at a time when the idea of writing music that’s compassionate is something I wanted to consider. I want to be able to be direct and emotionally available in music, and not be manipulative. Stirring people’s feelings is a very sensitive subject, so I try to take that very seriously when we play, and feel like Alon is an amazing partner in that regard as well.
I found it pretty intense seeing the two of you communicate musically on stage, tweaking a knob hear and freeing up a hand to play the keyboard, while using the other hand to keep the beat. What’s it like performing where you have so much to control and think about at the same time while trying to harness your emotions?
Alon: We rehearse as much as possible because we wanted to get to that exact point, where we don’t have to think about it and just play and feel the music. As part of our practice session, we’ve just been repeating the same parts many times until we had enough of it, drank some water and then did some more of it.
What do you guys hope to accomplish in 2018?
Daniel: In 2018, I hope to continue writing and developing our repertoire, as well as exploring more ambient musical journeys, which we’ve been delving into in the past few months. The idea of real-time ambient compositions speaks to us both. Also, getting our debut CD out so it can be shared by more people is another goal for 2018.
Below, watch a brief clip of the band performing last year in Tel Aviv.
This maestro’s not your typical electric bluesman, either. Live at Toronto’s Cadillac Lounge on Jan. 29, the Ellis trio blew out the sky. Following the review, check out a selection of smokin’ audio and video.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERIC THOM
I don’t know about you, but my measure of a professional musician is measured by the degree of what the artist invests into a show, regardless of audience size. Tinsley Ellis plays for his fans – and, given their elevated expectations, he simply doesn’t mess around by ever calling it in. Such was the scenario on a very snowy night in Toronto as Ellis, drummer Erik Kaszynski and bassist Kevan McCann ripped a tidy hole in the ozone above this smallish club that, nonetheless, teemed with potential. Sixteen songs later, that potential was realized, convincingly so.
Local hero Al Lerman (Fathead) began the night with a set of mostly self-penned acoustic blues supplemented by his smile-inducing asides, adding the zest of his superior harp-playing to songs like “A Few More Miles To Go”, Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go” and a head-turning closer in “You Sure Look Fine To Me” – a tribute to mentor Sonny Terry.
Tinsley Ellis arrives with much critical acclaim, yet true fans justifiably think of him as being light years beyond the narrow category of blues-rocker that seems to dog his hefty catalogue. Guitarist, singer, songwriter and force of nature behind 20+ releases, Ellis channels everyone from B.B. and Freddie King to Muddy Waters, Carlos Santana, Robin Trower, Robert Cray, Rory Gallagher and Peter Green across an equally diverse choice of guitars, each with their different voices. Everything that goes into the Ellis blender comes out distinctively Ellis-like and, given his rich, southern heritage, it’s little surprise you’ll find clips of him onstage with the Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Albert Castiglias of this world. Part of the thrill of seeing him live is the fact that you’re never really sure ‘which Tinsley’ you’ll get in a live setting as he has so many points to draw from. On this occasion, Tinsley and band came on strong, sporting the powerful lead track off his latest album (Winning Hand). “Sound of a Broken Man” might well be the quintessential Ellis track, its mid-tempo groove setting up his trademarked, razor-sharp leads, well-matched to his equally emotive, rough-hewn vocal rasp. Divided into two sections by searing solos, Ellis leans into his trusty wah-wah pedal, turning something old into something new again. In no time, this meaty trio had driven up the room temperature.
Jumping directly into “The Other Side” from ‘09’s Speak No Evil, Ellis’ tough guitar lines, again offset by his throaty baritone, provided the trio something equally solid to bite into. “Saving Grace” from the new album, provided an opportunity to slow things down considerably – when Ellis’ creative fretwork shines its brightest and works best with his surprisingly soulful vocals – the song assuming a definitive Trower-esque vibe. Clearly in warm-up mode and suffering from some laryngitis, Ellis’ vocals were uncharacteristically rough in the top end, yet he soon regained control for the balance of the show, evidenced in his powerful take on Mel London’s Chicago classic, “Cut You Loose” (Storm Warning) – encouraging the audience to clap along with his jaunty, amped-up version.
Tracks from Storm Warning continued with the muscular “To The Devil For A Dime”, stretching it out to showcase Kazynski’s fat drum sound while adding more wah-wah back into the mix. More Storm Warning with “A Quitter Never Wins” proving, once again, that Ellis’ 6-stringed ferocity is at its best when things slow down, allowing him time to dig deep with equal parts shred and simmer – the song’s blistering solos offering a warming antidote to the wintery bluster outside. Cue Tough Love’s upbeat “Midnight Ride” – a boogie with a lighter touch – as stinging leads worked to offset Ellis’ lack of top-end vocal range. Problem solved with the jaw-dropping rendition of the delicious “Catalunya” – a Latin-tinged, Santana-esque show-stopper from Ellis’ all-instrumental Get It! – that proved one the evening’s highlights. As he is also a longtime Freddie King fan, “Double-eyed Whammy” from ‘89’s Georgia Blue proved the perfect vehicle for his lower-register growl as the rhythm section dug deep and Ellis offered one-handed solos, spellbinding, single note sustains and leads triggered by altered tunings. Another showcase tune was “Gamblin’ Man” from the new release – its slow pace setting up a solid, heartfelt vocal performance and more standout solo work which, at one point, conjured the effect of crying sounds from distant seagulls. Despite missing the substantial B3 contributions of keyboardist Kevin McKendree on the album version, there was zero compromise in what was presented live – reminding all that the caliber of sounds generated by this three-piece sounded like so much more.
Without so much as a break, Ellis underlined his role as the last of the southern gentlemen by asking if the audience would mind if he switched over to a satisfy an acoustic request or two on his National Steel. Incredible – would we mind? Buoyed by the crowd’s favorable response, Ellis told insightful stories of meeting Muddy Waters, B.B. King, James Cotton and almost meeting the darkly intimidating Howlin’ Wolf – again, to great audience response, rendered all the more special given that Ellis seemed honestly surprised by the positive reaction. A rousing version of Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” chased Burnett’s “Little Red Rooster” and, because he seemed to be having so much fun on this acoustic sidebar, the newly-anointed King of Just One More added his own “Shadow of Doubt” from Moment of Truth, teased with plenty of slide.
Without skipping a beat, the band returned to an electric barrage with Live! Highwayman’s title track, a wah-wah-driven boogie that pushed Ellis’ vocal to the breaking point, quickly redeemed by the hearty, harder-edged “Pawnbroker” from ‘89’s Fanning The Flames. The ensuing encore coaxed a stirring version of “Rockslide” from ‘09’s Speak No Evil, bringing the evening of inventive, smoldering guitar, bass and drums to its inevitable climax. There was nothing more for these talented players to do but to absorb their well-earned drinks and meet ’n’ greet the party faithful before heading back out into the snow to make their way on to Chicago.
Make no mistake. This is not your typical night of electric blues – and far from anything as restrictive as that imposed by the ‘blues-rock’ category. Tinsley Ellis is nothing less than the many influences and styles he continuously and rigorously morphs into what has become his own very personal, inimitable identity. Forever the music fan, Ellis’ natural discovery of British invasion blues and his deep love for America’s original blues heroes joins his southern heritage and natural affection for southern rock, soul, r ’n’ b and country. Add this to his impressive arsenal of self-penned originals, a studied blend of multiple guitars each possessed of their own distinctive voices in addition to his own and, adding in a sea of imaginative effects, you’ve just had a night to remember.
Ed. note: Ellis has been dealing a winning hand for several decades now and he simply gets better and better – I say this as a longtime fan who used to see him at the tiny-but-venerable Double Door Inn in Charlotte, NC, way back in the ’80s. It’s eternally gratifying to know that he continues to tour and record and make fans across the globe. (-FM) For tour dates and more: http://www.tinsleyellis.com/
The Philly wunderkind behind the beloved Photon Band talks songwriting, pop and punk, the Lilys and other fellow City of Brotherly Love bands, and upcoming plans.
BY TIM HINELY
Art DiFuria first came on my radar in the mid-‘80s when I saw him in a band called Tons of Nuns on stage at the Kennel Club in Philly. He seemed kinda like me, a “normal” punk (no mohawk, leather jacket, etc.) but I noticed his choice of footwear was cool. He had slippers on which I thought was about the most punk rock thing you could do (I wore mine in public a few times after that and got some odd looks/comments). A few years later I saw him in Uptown Bones and remember him being the same guy in Tons of Nuns and made a mental note. Fast forward a few years (early/mid-‘90s by now) and I had left the east coast for the west coast and began hearing rumblings of a band called Photon Band who began releasing singles in 1995-ish (yes, the Lilys, who Art played with for a time, have a record called Eccsame the Photon Band and as far as who inspired who well……read below).
The stuff I’d heard by Photon Band seemed to be a real inspired stew of whatever was/is in Art’s head at the time. A wiggy blend of psychedelic rawk with illegal u-turns all over the place. The stuff is good. On paper it could seem like the workings of a shot-out guy whose brain was addled by Clorox and Pop Rocks who lives in his mother’s basement and jams for jams sake, but no. These are honest to goodness songs by a truly talented songwriter and regarding Photon Band there’s more to come (again see below).
I shot Art some questions and he was more than happy to spill the beans on his childhood as well as what Philly band should’ve made it (also what was was more hardcore, the Ardmore, PA or Exton, PA scene). Thanks so much to Art for really making this interview come to life (or “Pop!” as the kids say). Take it away….
Where did you grow up? Was it in the city of Philly or a suburb?
I grew up in a place that was basically “nowhere,” culturally speaking: Exton PA. Its redeeming quality was that there were endless woods and creeks out there. It wasn’t as developed as it is now and so you could get on your bike and just ride or walk forever, and just think and dream.
Did your parents or any siblings influence musically?
There was always all kinds of music playing in our house. We had this gigantic TV / Stereo system with this posh turntable and huge speakers. On Sundays, after church and before the Eagles games, my dad played a lot of Perry Como, Al Martino, and of course Sinatra. Hearing those big, fluffy recordings on a deluxe stereo was mesmerizing, even though the music wasn’t really my thing. My mom could play the piano, too. We had one in our house (which is now in my huse!). But my sisters were the biggest influence. They would eventually take over the stereo from my dad by whining about the old goombah music and they’d put some Beatles on. Of course, in my little kid mind I was like “holy SHIT, what is THIS?” That was all a huge influence. My sisters are older than me by 7 and 10 years and they could both play guitar. The one closer to me in age majored in music in college, so she was always talking about music all through junior high and high school. It was the early 70s, so it was a very folky thing that she and my oldest sister were into, that whole heaviness-with-an-acoustic-guitar scene was very big then. And our local Catholic church, trying to be hip, dispensed with the organ and had a “guitar group” play the hymns. 10 or so teenagers looking wholesome on the outside but seeming a bit fiendish below the surface, as all teenagers do, was really cool to me. I was really little and hated going to church already, but I did like the sound of the guitars being tuned as we walked into the church. In my little kid mind I associated the big crucifix over the altar with the sound of guitars being tuned. It seemed ominous, like there was something profound about to happen. My sisters also had the first three Monkees albums, which made an indelible impression on me.
Do you remember the first record you ever bought with your own money?
Well, my folks were giving me records from an early age. They gave me “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” in 1973 and I had my own little turntable to play it on. I wore the grooves out on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce and also the Raspberry’s “Go All the Way.” My first purchase, I remember very well because it pissed off my dad. I bought “The Who Sing My Generation.” I had become obsessed with them because I had seen footage of Townshend smashing his guitar and Keith Moon going nuts on drums. I had just seen the commercial for The Kids are Alright on TV on a Friday night and was supposed to do some yard work for my dad on that Saturday. He gave me the money in advance of the work because he had some errands to run. Then my sister invited me to go to the mall with her. Of course, I ditched the yard work and went to the mall and spent the money without having done any of the work. When I came back with the album my dad was waiting for me. Man, the tongue lashing that followed was intense.
Where was your first punk show? Love Hall? Somewhere else? Who played and what year was it?
We could get to Philly pretty easily on the R5 and by the early 80s, we were taking it upon ourselves to do so. The “other” record store at the mall, called Grand Records, was way better than the establishment one, Sam Goody’s. Grand Records actually carried the SST catalog, which was my entre into punk. I had Land Speed Record and The Punch Line because of that store. You could buy buttons and patches there that said “The Jam!” and “Fuck Art, Let’s Dance!” on them. They also had a little bulletin board with show posters and flyers. It was mostly new wave stuff, all pink and day-glo, about shows at the old Latin Casino, which had been renamed Emerald City. But one day, there was this black and white “xerox” flyer for a show at Love Hall with Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen. I had to go! It said that Love Hall was on Broad and South so I knew I could find it easily. I went by myself. I was scared shitless, this 16 year old kid with a new buzz cut so as to not look lame, wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and combat boots just purchased from I.Goldberg’s. I scuffed them up on purpose right after I got them so they didn’t look too shiny and new. I was a LONG way from home. Once I got there, I didn’t talk to anyone. I just made myself invisible and watched the whole thing happen. Those bands were way better than I could have ever imagined. I left that show with a whole new concept of music. I think I went to see the Born Again era Black Sabbath that same fall and there was no contest in my mind as to which show was the real thing. But there was nobody at my high school that could relate to my Love Hall experience. They were all either wishing John Bonham hadn’t died, or to decide whether or not Rush’s Signals was a betrayal or a master stroke. Those are valid pursuits, too, and I didn’t become a punk overnight, or ever, really; becoming one narrow thing seemed dumb to me. But I did become a huge fan of it because of those bands.
I first saw you in Tons of Nuns in 1985 or maybe ’86. Was that your first band?
I had played in cover bands in Exton, which is how I learned to play “live” instead of just playing along with records at home. But yep, the Nuns was my first real band. It started as Bernadette Rappold on guitar, Brian Sussman on drums, and Mike Logan (aka Spayce Mann, who currently plays with Brother JT) on bass. Then Mike decided to bail and Bern switched to bass. That sort of became our identity, that trio. And that was how I learned to play guitar in a trio: trust the other two.
What was next, Uptown Bones? How long did that last?
Between Tons of Nuns and Uptown Bones, there was Holy Smoke. Tons of Nuns started to feel too kooky, too gimmicky. I could’ve stayed in it and slowly changed that, but I had my head up my ass. It started to feel like it wasn’t growing, but that’s probably because I wasn’t willing to give it a chance. So I told those guys I wanted out. They stayed together and got Bill Rudolph to play guitar. He later founded Rotgut and then Rear Admiral. They also got a really great guitarist named Dan who could play circles around me. Brian and Bern turned the Nuns into a much better band after I left. I think my leaving gave them a burst of energy, like “we’ll show him!!” And it was probably a lot more fun for them without this pain-in-the-ass brooding perfectionist around who wanted things to be more serious. When Mike Logan heard I left the Nuns, he wanted to jam again. We were very tight buds and quickly got songs together with a drummer named Jay Jurina who was also in Sky Grits. We felt like Holy Smoke had no limits; we used to do long instrumentals, ballads, really fast stuff, heavy Sabbath sounding tunes, you name it. And we had a lot of gigs in a really short time during the spring and summer of 87. But then Mike left Philly without really explaining why. Jay and I tried to keep the band going, but I was really thrown for a loop. I had lost my best friend and didn’t know why. I sort of blamed myself and thought, “well, all I’ve really done is start this kooky band that got better after I left, and then started this other one that wasn’t good enough for its co-founder. I must suck at this.” So I decided to lay low and not be a front man. I went to see the Uptown Bones whenever they played. They were guys who came to Temple a year after I did. They were a spunky little band with super spazzy energy. Plus, they were tight with Eric DeJesus (the Raw Pogo on the Scaffold / Easy Pop Art guy, and eventual best man at my wedding) who had been showing me his poems and stories which were so fucking excellent I couldn’t believe it. They were, in my mind, a “real rock band.” And I could see right away that Rich Fravel, the singer, was probably the best front man I’d ever get to play with. We all sort of spoke a language that nobody else understood. We were like a little scene of our own, wherever we went. When their original bassist Scooter drifted away from them, I stepped in. We started to click right away. That momentum lasted from the spring of ’88 through to our last tour in France in the summer of 93; two full length albums, three tours, and a bunch of singles. But then, we grew tired of each other and could see that it wasn’t going anywhere. We opted out.
Tell me about your involvement in the Lilys? Had you known Kurt previously? How long was your tenure in the band?
I had been messing around with this totally spontaneous band called the Psychic Enemies. It was me, Wayne Hamilton from Suffacox, and Simon Nagle, future Photon Band drummer. We purposefully avoided writing songs. We would jam for hours and never repeat a riff. We’d show up at gigs and do the same. But after awhile, we just couldn’t sustain it. Somehow, all that freedom felt like a dead end. So I was sort of putting word out there that I was looking for a gig. I had my hand inside a turkey on Thanksgiving eve 1993 and Bryan Dilworth and Mike Lenert came up the stairs of my warehouse and said “you’re playing in the Lilys.” I had heard In the Presence of Nothing and Amazing Letdowns and was pretty impressed. And I loved Bryan and Mike. So I said “yes.” We had a gig in DC like a week later. I didn’t know Kurt when I joined, but we instantly got along and had all sorts of things to talk about. I thought the Lilys were set up to do a lot more than we did. We had three songwriters and access to two cool recording studios in Philadelphia because I had my own 16-track and the drummer, Dave Frank (who had been in the Wishniaks) was co-owner of Studio Red with Adam Lasus. I figured we would just be recording our White Album for the next 15 years or so, you know? At least, that’s how I wanted it to work. But it wasn’t my band, and so I respected Kurt’s way of doing it which was to stay true to whatever his inner ear told him to do with his songs. That usually didn’t involve us.
Am I missing any bands in between? Did you do a stint in Robert Hazard & the Heroes that we don’t know about?
Ha…never hung with Hazard or the A’s or the Hooters, heaven help us. But I did play with a lot of other bands. I can’t remember them all, but here are the main things: I played with Baby Flamehead, which was such a breath of fresh air for me, such a pleasure. From about 94 to 2010 when I moved to Savannah, I also played either guitar, bass, or drums in a bunch of John Terlesky’s projects: Suffacox, Vibrolux, Brother JT, and even late period Original Sins. In the mid-2000s, I also played drums for We Have Heaven (Eric DeJesus’s band) and Ex Reverie. The latter is Gillian Chadwick’s prog vehicle. I loved those drumming gigs so much. I was sad to have to bow out of Ex Rev especially, because I had too many other commitments.
How/when did the Photon Band come about? Did you have a vision for it?
Even though I pulled back from being “the guy” after Tons of Nuns, I couldn’t stop the flow of ideas for songs. It seemed to be on the increase. Sometimes, they were so complete when I’d hear them in my head or dream them that I thought it was a cosmic phenomenon of some sort, like there are songs flying around out there in the ether and they choose people. And for some reason I was receiving more and more songs. I had been amassing cassette tapes of song ideas. At the same time, I’m really into astrology because my mother had been into that when I was a kid and it fascinated me. So I picked up this astrology magazine and there was an article in it by a woman named Barbara Hand Clow stating that since around 1962, the earth had gradually been entering into this band of photonic matter that would ultimately encompass our world and blow consciousness wide open. It made sense to me because I felt like that was happening to me. “Photon Band!” I thought. “If I ever start a band, that’s what I’ll call it and anything I write or record will go under that name. Its identity will be that it encompasses all the variety that comes out of me.” At the time, I was in the Lilys and my hopes for that band to become a vehicle for me and Mike Lenert as well as Kurt was dissipating. I left in late ’94 and told Kurt I wanted to start my own band under the name Photon Band. It was an amicable parting. He named the next Lilys album to honor that idea. That Lilys album, Eccsame the Photon Band and the first Photon Band single, “Sitting on the Sunn” came out at around the same time.
I know in the Photon Band you play all or most of the instruments. Did you learn all of those as a kid or pick them up along the way?
I taught myself guitar. Bass wasn’t hard to do after that. And drums came together just by sneaking behind the kit before practice, during break, and after practice and getting a few minutes in here and there. I love playing drums but man, if I don’t keep practicing, the next time I sit down, the drop off is more severe than it is with either bass or guitar. And whether it’s live or in the studio, I really need Jeff Tanner there. His ear understands where I’m trying to go better than anyone I know. His approach to playing bass is really important. And when we were a four piece, what he was doing on guitar was starting to take on its own identity that was re-shaping the songs. As far as drumming goes, Simon, Brendan, and Patrick have done all the best drum parts on our records. It’s only very occasionally that whatever I’m able to do on drums has worked better than them. I’m lucky to have had those guys as willing foils.
Is Photon Band still going? If so what’s next?
Yes. Since I moved to Savannah, I still record, and we still gig, though much less frequently. Pure Photonic Matter Volume 1 came out in 2013 and Songs of Rapture and Hatred came out in 2015, thanks to Nod and Smile Records. We did release shows for both and a few gigs before and after. In fact, from the fall of 15 through the fall of 16, we played three gigs. I think those three gigs were the most we played over a single year’s span since I left for Savannah. But then I had to finish this book I’ve been working on for quite some time. The publisher was getting antsy, so I had to put the music aside. The next thing will be two albums; one will be the next installment in the Pure Photonic Matter series. Another, probably done around the same time, will be an album of very long songs, sloppy, poppy, noisy, and primitive, with lots of jamming (think White Light White Heat). I’m also putting together a live album from all of the recordings I’ve got from over the years. And I’m going through all of the old DATS and cassettes. There are a number of songs that I’ve earmarked for another album of singles, comp tracks, and outtakes album: Our Own ESP Driven Scene:part II, I suppose. But I’ve also discovered a huge number of tunes that are either finished or nearly finished that I never released, plus also totally different versions of some of the songs that have come out. So over the next few years, I’m going to release an archive of sorts, probably on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
How did you land in Savannah, GA? Are you involved in any kind of music/art scene down there?
I’m an art historian. I was teaching at Moore College of Art and Design in Philly but started looking around for a better gig. The money there wasn’t great and there was quite a bit of dysfunction and acrimony between faculty and administration. I got a very good offer from Savannah College of Art and Design and off we went. The job, raising two kids, and going forward with my plan to publish the work I had been doing on a sixteenth-century Netherlandish artist named Maarten van Heemskerck have effectively kept me from getting out and involving myself in the scene down here. But now, I have basically taken care of Maarten (that’s the book I mentioned above). I feel like there will come a time soon when I can start saying “ya know any good drummers?” or “ya need a guitar player?” I’d like to get something together down here, another three-piece, sort of a Photon Band South. But what I’d also really like to do even more is just become the guitarist for a really good, no nonsense rock and roll band where I don’t write the songs.
Who are some of your favorite current bands?
Weeding through the shit to get to the good stuff requires time, doesn’t it? It’s good that there are some nice places to hang out here in Savannah that let their younger staff choose the music, otherwise I might have no idea. Some of the Ariel Pink I’ve heard, I really like. The Dear Hunter has made some albums I like and so has Ty Segall. But those are by now, pretty old, right? I like bands that do interesting things with guitars, so I really loved the first Garden State album, also pretty old by now. I haven’t heard anything by them since then that suggests that they’re still committed to weaving together guitar lines the way they did on that first album. Sheer Mag’s guitarists do that really well! On Dead Waves have some good songs, and I like everything I’ve heard by Bass Drum of Death. I really like that song called La La La by Hoops, too. It’s a never-ending quest, isn’t it? There are plenty more bands who have a song or two that blow my mind: the Wavves, the Panic Buttons, Suzi Chunk, Eagulls, to name a few.
What are your top 10 desert island discs?
Oh shit! Okay…
Neil Young: Time Fades Away
John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
Stones: Beggars Banquet
Stooges: Fun House
The Who: Live at Leeds (the expanded version, because it has more tunes on it)
Stereolab: ABC Music
Flying Burrito Brothers: Gilded Palace of Sin
MC5: High Time
Rites of Spring
That’s nine. Then I’d lay the following four albums on the floor, have someone mix them up, and pick one blindfolded:
Sun Ra: We Travel the Spaceways from Planet to Planet
Mr. Airplane Man: Come on DJ
Thenew Ty Segall album
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Pig Lib.
Any final thoughts? Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
Hmmmm…well, to close the loop on the Mike Logan / Spayce Mann story, all these years later, he came into JT’s orbit and now he has the role that I once had in JT’s band. We’ve reconnected and it feels so good to have that whole thing come full circle in such a cosmic way. It’s not just that we understand each other. We reconnected because he’s playing music with someone whose music is dear to us both. That’s our shared musical DNA, the stuff that resonates with our souls, determining our paths and bringing us in contact with the right people. That’s cosmic.
BONUS QUESTION; What is one Philly band that really shoud’ve made it?
I know the popular answers are Ruin and the Electric Love Muffin, and that’s definitely true, especially the latter. The Muffin were so important for a lot of people, especially me, and they were as good as, or better than, any of their contemporaries. But in a better world, the real answer is either the early period of the Original Sins, or F.O.D. There’s no question that of all the bands of my lifetime that the industry missed, they sure did blow it with the Sins. JT should have a huge audience. If the industry was less shallow, either the Sins or JT would’ve “made it.” And to me, F.O.D. are the Experience, the Who, the Minutemen, the Sex Pistols, and Sun Ra’s Arkestra all in one brilliant three piece. I don’t think there’s a live band that can touch them.
The original indie pop prodigy holds forth on everything from the current state of the music industry to Mark Lanegan filling in for Siouxsie Sioux and Johnette Napolitano to, naturally, his addictive new album, Fresh Flesh.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s been more than two decades since Jonny Polonsky put out his stellar indie pop debut, Hi My Name is Jonny. Since then, he’s added one interesting chapter after another to his life’s work. He’s toured and recorded with a slew of diverse musicians over the years that seemingly have no obvious imilarities, everyone from Neil Diamond and Pusifer to Audioslave and Johnny Cash.
All the while, he’s continued to put out his own records, including his latest, Fresh Flesh, a smart, fun rush of British Post Punk and Polonsky’s fantastically addictive wry wordsmithing. A spur of the moment recording, Polonsky and crew spent all of two days in the studio recording Fresh Flesh, but the result is anything but slapdash.
Polonsky was kind enough to trade some questions back and forth over e-mail recently.
BLURT: This album sounds a bit different than some of your other records. Was that a conscious decision?
POLONSKY: This album really just fell together almost by accident and had no premeditation at all. I had put a band together, we worked up a bunch of new songs and were playing lots of shows in Los Angeles. We were offered free studio time, and we took it.
You have to work with what you’ve got in any situation, no matter the limitations of time, money or materials. That’s something I learned from David Lynch. We had two days to make the record. I knew we could just go in and play our live set and it would sound good. Because we had such little time, I knew it wasn’t gonna sound like The Joshua Tree, so I went into it knowing it would be kind of loose and raw. No click tracks, no auto tune, no drum edits. Just lay it down and smack ‘em yack ‘em.
We recorded all the songs, most of them first takes; I did a few overdubs, most of the vocals were one or two takes, and bada bing – a bouncing baby record! At the time I was really into a lot of English punk and post punk bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, X-Ray Spex… and also really liked how smooth and dreamy some of the Horrors’ records sounded, particularly Skying. That was the general aesthetic – hopefully not the general anesthetic, for those of you still with me… But it wasn’t really planned. It’s more like looking in your fridge to see what you can cobble together for a meal.
I like making records where you really labor over everything too, but this way is a lot of fun because you don’t overthink anything.
I’ve been a fan since the first album and, while I love that you aren’t constantly writing the same album over and over, I still listen to Hi My Name Is Jonny all the time. It’s been decades since you first worked on that one. Do you still identify with that record or is it just too different from where you are now?
It’s a corny analogy, but true, that it’s like looking at old photos of yourself. You know it’s you, you remember how you felt back then about certain things, little details about your life and personality… it’s you, but it’s not you anymore. I still have tons of great memories and a lot of fondness for those songs and that record, but it feels kind of faraway now. Every once in a while, I’ll do one of those songs if I’m doing a solo show and someone wants to hear it, but it feels like I’m covering someone else’s song.
Kevin Haskins plays on this new record. You had mentioning getting into a lot of post-punk; was/is Bauhaus a big influence on your music?
I love Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, and Tones on Tail. They’re all really imaginative bands that know how to create a mood, and not paint themselves into any corners. They get labeled as goth for obvious reasons, but the music is really diverse, dynamic and multi-dimensional.
Kevin and I first met a few years back through Zander Schloss. Zander was the guitar player in Joe Strummer’s first solo band, post-Clash. [Also a member of the Circle Jerks and Weirdos, along with a respected indie film actor. —Strummer Ed.] When I was a teenager, I bugged Zander on the phone and would send him tapes of my stuff because I loved his guitar playing. Still do. Anyway, Zander had set up a tribute show to Joe Strummer. Kevin and I were part of the house band. We did one or two more Strummer tributes over the years, and I also played on a horror film soundtrack that Kevin scored. He and I became buddies over the years, and I was real excited to have him play on that song—he gave it the perfect extra lift.
Lovely guy and great drummer. Poptone [Haskins’ band with Bauhaus’ Daniel Ash] is awesome too. I saw them last year and they were great.
Did you always envision Mark Lanegan for the voice over the intros “Solar Child”?
Actually, I initially wanted a woman to do the intro. I put out feelers for Siouxsie, Diamanda Galas, and Johnette Napolitano, but didn’t get anywhere. I love Mark Lanegan, he’s a huge hero to me. Incredible singer, great writer. A mutual friend connected us, and he agreed immediately. Wouldn’t let me pay him, either. Pure class. Gargoyle was one of my favorite records from last year. [Lanegan songs] “Goodbye to Beauty”… “Old Swan”… forget it.
You started out in the music business in the mid’-‘90s—obviously a very different time than now for the industry. What are some of the pros and cons of where record labels are now?
Honestly, I really haven’t had anything to do with a record label in years. But the benefit of being on a label is money, if they have it (duh). Making records can be expensive, touring is very expensive, publicity is very expensive. The downside is if they don’t want to spend that money, then what’s the point of being involved with them? Unless you are fortunate enough to be hooked up with some really smart, visionary people who can offer more than cash—like good ideas, clout, new adventures, red wine, dark chocolate, hiking, no hookups… I’m so sorry! My Bumble app just went off.
Anyway, the benefit of doing everything yourself is total freedom of expression. The downside is you have to find a way to pay for everything, and you have to find a way to reach your listeners. You just have to be crafty, frugal, patient, and have realistic expectations.
Any plans to tour when the record comes out?
There are a couple shows planned for Los Angeles. [Polonsky performed Jan. 29 at Love Song Bar and Feb. 9 at Hotel Café; the video above and the photo below is from the latter gig, courtesy of Polonsky’s Facebook page.] But nothing on the books after that. I’m working on some ideas to get us on the road.
What’s next for you? Are you working on or with anyone else?
I’m not working with anyone right now. I haven’t done any work as a side musician in several years. I love playing with other people, but I really want to concentrate on my thing. I’ve got lots of new songs. I’ve been doing some recording with a drummer friend, but I don’t know what will happen with those tracks, we’ll see.
I’m also doing a bunch of recording at home. I’ve got a couple albums’ worth of good songs, we’ll just see where it all lands.
A Blurt Boot Video Exclusive: Simon Bonney & Bronwyn Adams (Live NYC) 5/14/2019 WARSAW
Filmed by Jonathan Levitt. Check out Bonney's latest record "Past, Present, Future" http://smarturl.it/SimonBonney
A Blurt Boot Exclusive: Psychedelic Furs "Only You and I" (Live Costa Mesa CA 7-19-18
Tribute: Tony Kinman (R.I.P.) and Rank And File - Video from "Long Gone Dead"
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea