Wednesday, July 31, 2013

INTERVIEW - Prima Donna

(Photo by Dawn Laureen)

Scoring the opening slot on the U.S. tour return of Adam Ant would seem to be almost any band's crowning achievement, but for L.A.-based rockers Prima Donna it's just another in a long line of amazing experiences that most bands would kill for.  The band's vocalist and songwriter, Kevin Preston, reached out via email from the road and talked about the band's (and his) experiences melting faces and the undeniable awesomeness of Iggy Pop.  

First off, congrats on scoring the opening slot on Adam Ant’s US tour!  How did that come about?

Well hey, thank you! Exciting stuff. He heard our latest record (Bless This Mess) and thought we'd be a great support band. 

Your songs have a very clear New York Dolls vibe….a nice mix of glam sleaze and huge pop hooks.  What are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  Who continues to inspire you musically?

When it all started, we were playing in a garage doing covers of The Sonics and X-Ray Spex. We're into so many things that it's hard to narrow it down. I will say that Iggy Pop is always with me. I love everything he's done, new and old.

“Bless This Mess” seems to be a more collaborative effort songwriting-wise than your previous releases.  What is your songwriting process like?  Do you start with a riff and build from there or do the lyrics come first? 

It's always different. There were some special moments on this record for sure. “Let the Games Begin” was pretty much written in the van on the way to Texas. I pulled out my notebook and we passed it around. Everybody jotted down a few lines. Same with “Puta, Te Amo.”  Except, we wrote that one in Spain.

Kevin, you also have served time in Billie Joe Armstrong’s Foxboro Hot Tubs.  How has the experience as a sideman informed your “leadership” of Prima Donna?

I love being just the guitar man from time to time. I get to watch the crowd more. Playing alongside Billie is always a learning experience. He whips the crowd into a frenzy every time.   

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

If people only remember one thing I've ever written, let it be “Feral Children.”

You’ve been given one “musical wish” – to work with any musician/songwriter/producer – who would you choose and why?

That's a toss-up between Prince and Iggy. To me, those guys are both untouchable, unstoppable, timeless & genius.

Other than the tour with Adam, what is on tap next for you?

Oh you know, just more world domination! We already have another European tour booked. I've been writing music like a fiend, so we'll start working on some of that soon...

Friday, July 26, 2013

INTERVIEW - Chris Connelly

A model of restless creativity and a vanguard in the industrial music scene, Chris Connelly has traversed the musical landscape and made some of the most honest and challenging music of the past 20 years.  With the breaking news of his upcoming full-length collboration with former Ministry/Revolting Cocks conspirator Paul Barker as Bells Into Machines, Chris reached out via email and shared some of his thoughts on his creative process, collaborating with a wide variety of likeminded musicians, and his role as an artistic hyphenate.

Chris, I am intrigued by the Bells Into Machines project – how did you reconnect professionally and personally with Paul Barker?  Was there a sense of nostalgia working with someone with whom you have such a history?  

Paul and I have never really fallen out of touch, though our work together has been minimal over the last few decades, it’s mostly because of not really living near each other, being busy with other things etc.  Paul is family, so there is not much hoopla between us about working together; that being said, this project is being done so far over the internet, we have actually not talked to each other about it! As far as nostalgia goes, I can safely say Paul and I are very ambivalent about that strange emotion…

Your work exhibits a wide-ranging creative restlessness – how do you find balance between your song-oriented albums with more avant/emotional works like “Pentland Firth Howl” or “Forgiveness and Exile”?  Do songs naturally group themselves into different albums or projects?

It’s a mixture of different things. I have a very finely tuned barometer, if you like, inside me which intuitively pushes me towards a certain path when I am writing. I think I am a very intuitive and physical writer, and whatever comes out is what comes out. The 2 records you cite: firstly “Pentland Firth” I have to admit was written during a period of intense homesickness; I was glad I was able to turn it into a piece of music rather than just moping around.  “Forgiveness” is one of 4 albums I did that were basically based on one long poem, at the time I was more interested in words with accompanying sounds, rather than song.  It was also the first truly political piece I did. As far as balance goes, it’s never a question of balance; I don’t think as an artist I feel personally that it brings a balance into my life - that stuff comes from elsewhere. It still feels to me the same as when I was a kid with blank paper and crayons - it’s always been there, sometimes I draw something I like, sometimes I crumple it up and throw it away.

You have a long and varied history of collaboration – what creative itch does working with others scratch? 

Not an itch, I am just genuinely interested in working with different people.  I think in my earlier days there was a lot of hit and miss, but that’s just the learning process. Nowadays, with nothing to prove, it’s a genuine pleasure for me, especially to write words to someone else’s music. I like where the music might push my train of thought.  When I write my own songs, a lot of the time the words and music are informing each other as I write, but when I am sent a completely new piece of music, written by someone(s)else, it’s a different approach.

The David Bowie influence has been present in your solo work since the Wax Trax days.  It seems only natural that something like “Sons of the Silent Age” would be an extension of that.  How do you approach a project like that, where you are in essence paying tribute to someone else’s work?

Same way as you might approach a play if you are an actor, or a symphony if you are an orchestra -  it gives me a lot of freedom.  These songs were not written by me, however, I am very intimate with them. It’s actually been a real life saver in terms of me learning new disciplines.  When I started doing it, I kind of had the idea that it would be easy because I knew the songs so well, but it’s given me new insights as to how brilliant of a songwriter Bowie is, and how good of a singer!  I have to do a lot of vocal exercises, almost on a daily basis, along with stretching and physical exercises. The other great thing is being part of a team - there are 9 of us, and I am a huge fan of teamwork. We are all working together - no one needs to compete to have their songs played!

“Ed Royal” was a charming first novel, based I would presume upon your upbringing in Scotland.  Any plans to continue writing fiction? 

I started to write another book, then I had a second child, then I just got very busy with music again and I kind of literally “lost the plot”!  I may do it again, I really enjoyed doing it, but part of the reason I did it was to try a new discipline. Having been used to songs and maybe long form poetry, I just wanted to see if I could do it, and it was an eye opener.  I learned a lot.

You mention having your second child…how has becoming a parent affected your artistic life?

Certainly it has affected this, but if anything it has made me more aware and more prolific, much more aware of time economy. I have to do most of my work very early in the day so I can join the human race at breakfast time. As far as perspectives go, it has maybe accentuated a humanitarian instinct in me that I feel had been dormant for many years.
You have weathered the rise and collapse of the “alternative” record industry and if anything you have become increasingly prolific.  To what do you attribute your longevity?  What advice, if any, do you have for aspiring artists?

I think that’s a tough question. It’s so personal in a way; the creative “scene” if you will is populated by people who are either creative or who are just dabbling. What I do is not a chore or a struggle; and what I mean is what I DO, the writing part, that’s the thing I have that is mine. Everything after that, the recording, releasing of product etc, is just gravy. Nothing can teach you that…it’s like being born with red hair or being double jointed or whatever; it comes with you, just be yourself. I found I have been increasingly prolific but that’s because I think I am “learning on the job”. The more I learn, the more I hone this skill I am lucky enough to have - it’ll stay that way.  Look at Francis Bacon, painting away til he died in his 80s!

Your “method” as an artist feels a lot like that which an actor goes through – is acting something that you have considered as an artistic outlet?

I don’t know about acting. I feel like “Sons of the Silent Age” is kind of a role, and the new album I am writing is very much little fictions. The methods may be similar, but I think it's just hard focused work that has to be done.

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

After writing, recording and releasing them, my music wanders off into the sunset - that makes me sound like a terrible parent! But seriously, I am only interested in what I am doing now.  When a record is done, I forget about it and move on.  Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of them, but they have no relation to my life. When I play gigs and have to learn them, I get really grumpy…I hate relearning old songs, so the record I am writing right now is my favourite!

On a personal note, the “Shipwreck” album connected with me at a very important time in my life and reflects upon mortality in a way that some of the best art does.  Any recollections from that time that are particularly salient or poignant for you today? 

Thank you very much for that grand compliment!!!  I was a very different person when I did “Shipwreck” in many, many ways.  So no, that was 20 years ago. It was, I remember, not a good time in my life, and I am glad something so creative came out of it.  And that band!!!  What an amazing band!

Besides the work with Bells Into Machines, what else is in the offing for you? 

Working on a new solo album with Matt Walker producing. He is in “Sons of the Silent Age” with me, and has been in the Pumpkins, Filter and played with Morrissey for years.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FIRST IMPRESSION: Heirlooms of August – Down at the 5-Star

Red House Painters fans rejoice – another of the fellows has released a stunning bag of sadness and it is glorious!  Heirlooms of August sounds just like the images its name evokes – hazy warmth, dusk and the regret of another season ending.  Former RHP bassist and primary songwriter Jerry Vessel imbues the eleven songs on “Down at the 5-Star” with all of the hallmarks of weathered Americana: truck stops, dusty roads, and women who remain enigmas and forever just out of reach.  Gorgeously produced by former American Music Clubber Bruce Kaphan, the album has an unrushed simplicity that reflects the concerns in Vessel’s lyrics.  Almost Hemingway-esque in their simplicity, Vessel couches the emotion of his songs in lyrics that seem almost generic at first but reveal layers upon repeated listens. 

And you will want to listen to this album more than once.  Vessel’s voice lacks the character of former bandmate and label benefactor Mark Kozelek’s, but the music is sumptuous without being cloying and the lyrics are heartfelt enough that anything that could come off as overly maudlin or sappy is given some leeway.  Kaphan’s pedal steel is all over this as well, weeping and sighing and adding emotional heft to Vessel’s songs.  Vessel may have a difficult time stepping out of Kozelek’s shadow, but this is a great second step and it is the equal of many of his bandmates’ other efforts after the demise of the Painters. Small victories.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

INTERVIEW - Dave Dictor (MDC)

I am always amazed by the number of punk lifers who continue to fight the good fight 30 years on from their inception. MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) were one of the earliest progenitors of hardcore and their ethical and passionate music continues to inspire fanatical devotion from even the most jaded punk fans. MDC mouthpiece and songwriter Dave Dictor talked with me about his career in punk and what keeps him going 30- some years later...and like everything he does, it oozes sincerity and humility.

A few years back you reunited the original line-up of MDC (minus departed bassist Mikey Donaldson) what brought you back to working with that group of musicians after being apart for almost 15 years?

Actually Mikey Donaldson joined us too between 2004 and 2009. It was a great feeling to be with these talented innovators and old friends. Mike was Deep Purple meets pre Motorhead ripping bass. Ron Posner is quite the rhythm ace craftsman himself and really really works at it. Alshivitz is a left handed Gene Krupa style drummer and picked up on hardcore as soon as he heard it. I've known Al from my teens.  The band went from a shaky Ramones/ Dead Boys sound in 1980 and overnight morphed into 1981 hardcore. MDC's debut album came out of it in 1981. Magnus Dominus Corpus came out of the 2004 sessions.

That’s one of the things that I have always appreciated about your music – though it’s played as straight hardcore, you’ve always seemed to have an appreciation of music outside that genre (your Cream cover, etc). Too few bands understand music as a continuum and become too focused on only ingesting punk or hardcore. Good music is good music.

You’ve been at the punk rock game for more than half your life.  How have you grown as an artist after 30-some years of writing and performing?  Who inspires you musically?

Well now truly I get it that I want do it without chemical substances and truly feel it and give it up to the crowd totally clean. Who inspires me, huh?  Lou Reed rocks me and Bjork touches my soul, and with Henry Rollins I appreciate his work ethic. He and Ian MacKaye were clean from the start. I like Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaak and K.D. Lang.  I like Keith Morris a lot of Circle Jerks fame. I like the kids in Daze and Daze from Houston and Dirty Kid Discount from Portland.

Keith Morris seems to be a pretty good model for how to grow old in the hardcore scene – he manages to maintain his passion for the art he makes and continues to push himself, but there is no posturing or pretending that he is still 20 years old. I think it’s important for age and experience to inform your art.

Sadly, it seems as if there will always be a need for bands like MDC in the world…politically and corporately, the US seems to be stuck in a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” paradigm.  What inspires you to continue performing?

MDC also goes social....“Dick For Brains”, “My Family Is A Little Weird”, “Kleptomaniac” and others ... not so straight forward political songs. I feel political and corporate structures are corrupt because somehow freedom meant freedom to corrupt with this money we bought the system we live in. They sell fear and waste and consumption. It does stink and it goes from crummy boss to even worse boss. More corrupt people ready to global warm, chop the last tree, pollute the last lake and kill the last Blue Whale. This inspires me to write and perform. 

What are your thoughts on GMOs?

I am terrified about Monzanto's plan to take over the world through seeds. I am very picky about what I eat. I grow my own sprouts and juice 3 times a day. The GMO plot is akin to the oil company's debunking science/global warming and Big Tobacco lying about cancer for 60 years.

You have been very actively involved in LGBT issues and early in your career took to task other hardcore bands for their homophobic lyrics and posturing.  What changes, if any, have you seen in the scene regarding acceptance of queer-identified individuals?

Being straightforward about being pro-acceptance/tolerant is what I always felt. I have had bi-sexual and trans feelings in my life. Punk had a very gay element in the 1970's pre-hardcore. Happy to say being homophobic in proper circles has become very taboo and enough people know enough people that people deal with it. Good. The scene has always treated me well and I was lucky to be from where the Dicks and Big Boys played in Austin, Texas. As Harley of The Cromags said to me once, “You might be a commie fag but you’re our commie fag”. He actually said that to 10 Jersey skins at CBGB's as they were threatening me. He then kicked him out of the club. We have history from way back in San Francisco.

It really is great that a lot of younger bands have taken cues from the Dicks and others in speaking authentically about their own experiences. It helps to overcome some of the stigma that some of the scenes (NYC early 90’s, etc) put on acts who didn’t espouse a hyper-masculinity.
Though I’m sure you’re not one for nostalgia, are there any particularly fond memories you have of touring or recording with MDC?

The first album was so well rehearsed and we never did a proper demo ... so we never knew what we sounded like. So when the first album was being recorded and it came out so strong, it was intoxicating. Touring Europe in 1982 with the Dead Kennedys and America in 1983 and 1984 with the Rock Against Reagan Tour was fantastic as well. Punk delivered to the streets free and outside. I thought the walls were coming down right then and there. I have loved touring with the Subhumans, Citizen Fish, The Restarts and Verbal Abuse in the past few years too. We've had a few runoff gigs with DRI and I like them too. I love La Plebe from the Bay Area these days. 

The band seems to be something you are lucky to have as a part-time concern…what is a day in the life of Dave Dictor like?
Well we slowed it down after a strong run from 2004 till 2011 (100 gigs a year). We have had some parental losses and private partner split-ups and people needed to catch their breath. We are doing 35 shows this summer with a tour to Australia and New Zealand. We plan on a busy 2014. My life is a little of this and a little of that. I started painting and am as I mentioned fanatical about sprouts and good vegan food.

A busy 2014? Any chance of a new studio album?

Eighteen songs are written and it’s been worked up this fall I guess. Thank you world for giving us the opportunity to do the music we have and the traveling we have done. Seventeen full European Tours and all over the place. Really humble thanks.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


(photo by Horse With No Name)

Moving on to life "after the PA", sonwgriter Matt Pond has released what might be his finest album yet, the fully-realized and downright poppy "The Lives Inside the Lines In Your Hand".  Via email, Matt eloquently and poetically discussed the new album and his process.  

You recently dropped the "PA" from your moniker (despite being the driving force and sole constant in the band) - does this represent a break from your past work? 

I think every album is a new definition. And at the same time, all these songs have to somehow work together.

The PA was like a tail I no longer needed. A simple evolution.

I write my music for and as a band. But people move on.

"The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand" is incredibly lushly produced and has some of your most immediate melodies yet.  What determines the production approach for a particular song or set of songs?  Was the intention to make a more "hi-fi" record this time out or did the songs simply lend themselves to this?

Drum sounds tend to dictate the fidelity of recording. We've realized we can go to studio and get great drum sounds and do the rest in a cabin or closet.

I wish I could take responsibility for the entire vision. Yet albums are like lives inside of themselves.

They take turns you'd never imagine. Lost voices, smashed headphones, last minute triumphs and inspiration.

I guess once I believe in the initial concept, the album begins to control me.

It’s obvious from both a songwriting and production standpoint that you put a lot of craft into your work.   What is your songwriting process like?  Do you start with a riff and build from there or do the lyrics come first?  How do you know when a song is “done”?

Songs come to me like dreams.

As life unfolds, I hum words in my mind. Most of these thought-tunes are terrible, self-mocking or sarcastic. But every once in a while the notes and the words match up. And that's when I grab my guitar and start the search.

I don't know if I've ever fully finished a song. There's always more -- or less -- to do.

Letting go is the name of the game. Now if I could apply this letting-go-ness to my regular life, I'd be golden.

You've been releasing albums for 15 have you grown as a songwriter and performer?  Are there things that inform your music now that didn't when you were younger?

I think I've become tougher. And that's everything.

It's strange to live a constantly criticized and reviewed life. The only way to do it is to be above the pettier parts.

And still, I don't want to be aloof or disconnected.

Balance. Every morning, every minute, trying to find balance.

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

There's a song called Amazing Life. I wish I'd sung it better on the recording. But I would let all the others go for that one.

I don't know how to be any more honest with my jams.

What are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  Who inspires you musically?

A sweet mixture of heartache and solitude. They tend to go hand in hand.

Distraction is the devil. I need to be alone in the woods.

I'll pace the wood floor. I'll feed some deer. And then I'll lose contact with everything and dive down into the music.

You've accomplished a lot in your career thus far - releasing nine albums, touring the world, film scoring - what haven't you done yet as an artist that you hope to do someday? 

Someday I'd like to grow tomatoes and just write words. If you poured a little whiskey on top of that and added the right woman, all my dreams would be realized.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

FIRST IMPRESSION: Robert Pollard – Honey Locust Honky Tonk

It’s got to be a bitch being Robert Pollard.  You write some of the most indelible melodies of the last 25 years….and then you decide to write about 2,000 more of them, releasing them at a pace that would challenge even those without a full-time job to keep up and keep track.  And you’ll never top the “masterpiece” that you recorded in a last-ditch attempt at escaping your day job almost 20 years ago, so you reform the “classic” version of that band and pump out 4 records in 16 months that sound kinda like the GBV of old but more approximately almost exactly like the stuff that has your own Christian name attached.  You can’t win.  Which brings us to “Honey Locust Honky Tonk”, another perfectly fine and intermittently excellent solo slab of Brit Invasion melodies, minute-long detours, and heart-on-sleeve balladry that is on par with what is expected of you. 

Much has been written about how “consistent” this album sounds (and perhaps that’s correct if your idea of “inconsistent” is an album of solo-recorded sonic belches and squiggles which was released the same day under the moniker Teenage Guitar!), but if anything it most closely resembles 2006’s scattershot double-album, “From A Compound Eye”.  Partly due to longtime collaborator Todd Tobias’ indistinct production and competent/”professional” accompaniment, there are few real highs but equally as few lows, and the good certainly outweighs the bad (and the “embarrassing” is entirely absent).  First single “I Killed A Man Who Looks Like You” embeds some of Pollard’s most straightforward lyrics in years in backing that wouldn’t sound out of place in a late-80’s R.E.M. record and “Who Buries the Undertaker” has a ridiculously catchy melody.  Finest of all might be album-closer, “Airs”, which sounds like the best track that wasn’t on GBV Mach II’s swansong, “Half Smiles of the Decomposed” .

It doesn’t all work – the brilliantly-titled “I Have to Drink” wastes its 43-second runtime and I think Black Francis might have a case for suing over the melody of "It Disappears in the Least Likely Hands (We Might Never Not See)" (seriously, try singing “Wave of Mutilation” over the verses!) – but he’s batting above average and there are some real gems throughout.  Pollard has hinted that Guided By Voices might be no more, and if that’s the case we could certainly do much worse than another round at the “Honky Tonk”.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

INTERVIEW - Jill Sobule

Wickedly funny and honest, Jill Sobule survived the major-label bidding wars (and subsequent neglect) of the mid-90's and carved out a path that has allowed her to put out some of her best music over 20 years into her career.  Reaching out via email, she shares stories about her early struggles in a male-dominated industry, her experience as one of the first artists to crowd-source the recording of an album, and the collaborations and musical challenges that continue to inspire her art!

Your songwriting seems to share a sensibility with folks like the late Warren Zevon - a sharp eye for detail, sardonic without being mocking; has your sense of humor always informed your writing?  How do you manage to hit emotional truths with your lyrics while still maintaining a satiric edge?

Funny you mention Warren. He along with John Prine and Loudon Wainwright were lyrical influences. They could say something really funny on the surface, but underneath...ouch! Or, Joni singing, "Dreaming of the pleasure I'm going to have watching your hairline recede my vain darling." As a kid I thought, “I want to write like that.”

You have a strong history of collaboration with a wide gamut of artists, working with folks as disparate as Lloyd Cole, Julia Sweeney and Arianna Huffington.  What value do you find in collaborating with others and what impact does it have on your own writing?  

Well, I get fidgety and bored easy, probably ADD. And that's tough being a solo artist. Plus, there is the fear of just doing the same thing over and over again. I love collaborating, and especially with really talented people who do completely different things than I do. I'm right now on tour with The Jill and Julia (Sweeney) show. She tells a story, and I come up with a song that has something to do with it. Last month, I was on tour with that young new band...Hot Tuna. For those that don't know them, they were members of the original Jefferson Airplane.

You were a VERY early adopter of crowd sourcing, creating your own website for the funding and release of "California Years. ". Can you talk a little bit about how that experience was?  What were some of the benefits and drawbacks to that model for you?

Yes, I was pre-Kickstarter. In fact, the guys who started Kickstarter met with me before they launched for advice and questions about my experience. Why didn't I start a business?!!  I got a ton of press and the campaign was a big success. I raised a ton of money.  But don't forget, it was before the recession hit, and before we began to be flooded by Kickstarter requests in our inbox. I have been gun shy to do it again, but I need to. 

You write from the female perspective fairly frequently and tackle difficult subjects with a frankness that comes across as wholly authentic.  What are some of the challenges that you have experienced in being a female songwriter and performer who is known for exploring gender in her songs?   Do you feel held to a different standard than some of your male contemporaries? 

At this stage in my life, I don't pay attention to it. I'm not in the top 40 young pop star world anymore. But, I have so many stories like...when I was trying to get a record deal in 1990. A guy from Epic said, “We really love you here, but we already have...a female singer-songwriter". In 1994, I was told, "I would love to sign you, but, this is hard to say... you are not the age we are looking for. It's a youth market, Jill". A year later I saw that same guy at some music industry event . He approached me and said how happy he was for my recent success with "I Kissed a Girl" and "Supermodel". I looked at him all confused looking and went into deaf old shaky granny mode, "Young man, do I know you? Can you find my walker for me?" Then I straightened up and told him that he was a big asshole. He would have never said that to a man.

This one is kinda personal - I absolutely LOVE "A Day at the Pass", your record with John Doe.  As a lifelong X fan, I can think of little better than your cover of "Never My Love".  How did the two of you hook up and what went into that album's creation?

I met John in 1997 opening up for acoustic X. We became fast friends. We recorded "A Day at the Pass" basically as an excuse to hang out with each other and tour. We are thinking about doing it again.

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

Hmmm, for some reason I love the Resistance Song. It was one of those very, very rare times when a song was written in less than an hour.

What's next on tap for you?     

I have been working on not 1, but 3 musicals! I am collaborating with fancy-pants book award authors on a project for Harper's magazine. And now on tour with Julia Sweeney. Check out our dates

Sunday, July 7, 2013

INTERVIEW - Jason Bieler (Owl Stretching/Saigon Kick)

He had one of the biggest hits of the 90s and all he got for it was his band thrown into the "hair metal" ghetto despite having more in common with Jane's Addiction than Warrant. Jason Bieler communicated from his Bieler Bros compound in south Florida to discuss Saigon Kick's reunion and his fantastic new studio project, Owl Stretching.

You have been mainly working behind the scenes producing and running your own label (Bieler Bros) and studio, but you recently stepped back behind the mic (and guitar) for your new project Owl Stretching…what made you decide to perform again?

I really just love making music and I have always been creating and tweaking stuff.  I guess calling it OS made it feel a bit more real.

It’s obvious from both a songwriting and production standpoint that you put a lot of craft into your work.   What is your songwriting process like?  Do you start with a riff and build from there or do the lyrics come first?  How do you know when a song is “done”?

It really is always different.  I can start with a beat, a lyric, a riff – it is never the same.  I never know when a song is done, they always evolve over time and take on new dimensions.

You reunited with the guys in Saigon Kick for some shows this past year, which seem to have been really well-received…can you talk about how that came about?  How did it feel to revisit that part of your career? 

We just wound up getting on the phone and saying if it is ever going to happen, now seems like a good time.  Everything fell in line after that and it was actually a lot of fun.  It was also nice to actually get along for once. 
I honestly feel that “Water” is one of the most underappreciated albums of the ‘90s and I understand that the creation of it was fraught with tension.  What lessons did you take from the experience?

Thanks, the “Water” record was actually a joy to do.  We were in Stockholm, one of my favorite places on earth.  Matt (Kramer, singer for SK) had left and we were living in this little bubble with no outside influence, so the gravity of Matt leaving was not really felt that much.  We just went in, wrote and recorded as it happened…I really loved making that record. 

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

It is really hard, especially for a writer like me because I mess around in so many genres.  If I answered it would be a lie – it is easier to point out the stuff I am NOT happy with!  J

What are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  Who inspires you musically?

So many amazing things: the Beatles, Queen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Jane’s Addiction, KISS, Ozzy, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Prince…and the list goes on and on…

 You’ve been given one “musical wish” – to work with any musician/songwriter/producer – who would you choose and why?

I guess the list above would be a good starting point, but I don’t really wish to work with them as much as I appreciate what they do. 

What’s on tap for you next?  Are there plans to tour Owl Stretching or is it simply a studio project?

I have been writing non-stop, so tons more Owl Stretching music in the pipeline.  We might do a few shows here and there but nothing set just yet.  I am continuing to develop the label with my brother and we have a few new artists that I am simply over the moon about. I also think Saigon Kick will be doing 10-20 more shows over the next year, so pretty busy overall.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Interrupting the interruption

So...a preview of what's in store when I get back:

- interview with Jason Bieler of Owl Stretching and Saigon Kick fame

- interview with legendary psych and power-pop demi-god Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies!  

And now back to your regularly scheduled holiday revelry...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bloggus Interruptus

I am going to be out of town for a few days, so unless something big happens no updates until Sunday or Monday...enjoy the holiday and be good to each other!

Monday, July 1, 2013

INTERVIEW: Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara

Canadian indie popstars Tegan and Sara have been making complex, emotional music together for most of their lives. Sara Quin was kind enough to chat with me via email about her songwriting and influences in advance of their Buffalo concert next Monday.  

You’re seven albums into a career that is almost 20 years old – how have you grown as songwriters and what keeps you motivated?

I think songwriting is like any skill, the more you do it the more accomplished you become. So, I never get bored of the actual process or results because I'm interested in the evolution on many different levels. I've always used music and art as a medium for my creativity and emotional evolution, so that is what motivates me!

Your songs come across as incredibly personal (though likely told from a narrator’s perspective) while also striking a universal chord with your fans.  Who are some of your influences as writers?

I admire Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton, Richard Ford, Lydia Davis, Leonard Cohen.

The production on your albums has varied from release to release and you have worked with some very disparate sonic architects as producers – Chris Walla, Mike Elizondo, Greg Kurstin – how do you decide what is the right treatment for a particular song or set of songs?

Often the collaborative process is a blind risk. You can tell if you are compatible before you begin work, but until you are actually in the studio its impossible to know what the results will yield. More often than not we've had highly satisfying experiences! 

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

I'm very proud of this new album. I think its modern and slick but also some of our more coherent and visceral work. In particular I love 'I Was a Fool' and 'Now I'm All Messed Up'.

What are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  Who inspires you musically?

I think I have a tendency to revisit the classics from my childhood. Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Bruce Springsteen, Kate Bush, Madonna. I appreciate good melodies and timeless lyrics so all of those artists do that for me. I feel inspired by the sonics of modern music currently. Beyonce, Robyn, Alicia Keys, The-Dream.

You’ve been given one “musical wish” – to work with any musician/songwriter/producer – who would you choose and why?

Right now I would love to work with Alicia Keys!

What’s on tap for you next as artists? 

Touring! Hopefully we'll also find some time to work on some collaborations or side projects as well, but primarily its all about hitting the road and performing live for our wonderful fan base!