Tuesday, December 22, 2015

INTERVIEW: John Baumgartner (Speed the Plough)

Your new album, “Now”, is tremendous and not only evokes some of the bite of the classic work of your first iteration, but sounds like a natural extension of the dreamy drift of the albums that you have put out since reforming more than half a decade ago.  Can you tell me a bit about its creation and how it came together?

Well, it was put together from two sessions of recording in the spring of last year and the spring of 2015. We started off with six songs, mixed them and began to think about an EP release. But we were still rehearsing and playing out and found that folks had new things to add to the mix. So we worked up Cindi’s song and Ed’s song and a few more and decided to head back to the studio. It might seem like it was a little piecemeal, but it was just an organic process for us. In some ways, it’s very nice to make music with no set plans and no deadlines.

You have welcomed not only your own son, Mike, into the band but also now have John Demeski playing with you (father, Stanley Demeski, played in the band on 1991’s classic, “Wonder Wheel”).  How has incorporating this new generation impacted your writing and the sound of the band?

To a casual listener, I’d say the thing you’d notice is a higher energy level, as represented by some of Mike’s songs. But Michael and John have a really solid grasp of our catalog, the more acoustic side of Speed the Plough, the different time signatures, the more diverse instrumentation. As far as the writing, well, this album features contributions by four band members. And, while we’re all different kinds of songwriters, we think there’s a certain Ploughness to the approach.

“Now” also marks the first record put out by the legendary Coyote Records in over 20 years.  It must have been a thrill working with Steve Fallon again!

It’s like coming home again. It was just serendipity. Steve was never just our “label guy” or the guy who ran Maxwell’s, he’s been a dear friend for more than 30 years.

It’s obvious that you put a lot of craft into your work.   What is your songwriting process like?

I can’t speak for everyone on this, but I imagine it’s kind of similar to my experience. Songwriting, for me, is “riff” driven. Whether it’s a chord progression, a melody line, a lyric idea, it usually starts with a small, simple thing and you build from there. In my case, I’ve never had one of those fevered dreams where a song comes to you fully formed. It’s more like a melody fragment that pops into my head while I’m driving to the grocery store and I just hope i can get home quickly enough to jump on the piano and see if I can work it out.

I am fascinated by bands that reform after taking time away – what it takes to reconnect personally and musically, the impact of time and experience. What has changed for you as a creative unit this far into your career?  How do you stay inspired to create?

As much as the band has changed, personnel-wise, many times over the years, I don’t think anything’s really changed all that much. When we started with The Trypes in the early 80s we thought switching out players into different configurations was just a natural thing to do. You find the right people to do what the music calls for at that point in time. And that applies to our “hiatus” in the early 2000s. A bunch of us – me, Toni, Marc Francia, Dave Weckerman, Glenn Mercer and Stan Demeski – got together every week to play, pretty much for ourselves. Sort of a woodshedding thing for different songwriters. So when the kids urged us to resuscitate STP it seemed like we hadn’t missed a beat. They reminded us that we had some songs that people should hear again.

Oh, and inspiration comes from what’s in your heart. I hope I don’t ever get to the point where that runs out.

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 think most songwriters would point to the last song they wrote, and there is a certain sex appeal that accrues to your latest love. For me, the songs I’ve written that I love the most are probably the ones I find hard to play these days. The songs I worked so hard on so long ago, that were so idiosyncratic, that challenged my limited keyboard skills. That said, it’s probably “A Plan, Revised.” One of the first I wrote. Totally simple. Tension and release.

What’s on tap for you next?


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Photo by David Gross

You bill yourselves as “America’s favorite two-man power trio”…how does that work?!? Additionally, and probably more germane to our readers, how did you come together and decide upon such a minimalist set-up?

That description, “America’s favorite two-man power trio” was given to us by a local radio DJ Big Dave on KRUSH 95.9 where we live in Sonoma County. It came about because when we would play a show, people would always say that it sounded like there were more than two people on stage. I use a small amp and Matt plays just one drum standing up. We have a small set up on stage yet we still achieve a big sound.  Added to this, we do have an honorary third member in longtime friend and engineer Karl Derfler who has done all of our recordings and many live gigs - so because of him, we really are a two man power trio!

Matt and I had played music together in the nineties in a band called Pawpawblowtorch.  After that band broke up, we continued as friends but we were not hanging out so much since he lived a half hour’s drive further up north.  We both live in Sonoma County about 50 miles north of San Francisco. I had the idea to start playing music again just to give us a reason to hang out.  I hadn’t been a guitar player in a band - I had always been a bass player, but i had found an old guitar amp at a garage sale so I went ahead and bought a beater guitar and called him up. Matt didn’t want to haul around his drums anymore and we thought maybe he might play a cocktail drum kit. We got together and while he was busy figuring out how to rock out on one drum while standing up, I was messing around with different tunings to find a way to get a bigger sound for our simple set up. While we were doing this we sort of developed our sound. 

Your debut record covers quite the gamut of covers, ranging from Lieber and Stoller to the Stooges and T-Rex and displays not only great taste but also a very solid map of rock’s “back alleys”.   What makes a song stand out as something that would benefit from the “HUGElarge” treatment?

Thanks, we have a pretty broad and diverse taste in music. Because we were getting together just to have fun, it was just easier to start playing covers of songs we really enjoyed listening to when we were first getting into music. I guess the “back alleys” you mentioned have always been appealing to us. We have played together for quite a while now and have played lots of songs that sometimes, for one reason or another, we are not able to make work for our style - because we felt something was missing, or something more was needed to pull it off. One exception to that was when we tried 96 Tears - the Farfisa organ intro has such a big impact on the overall sound that it was a challenge for us to get it to work.  We gave it a bit of a psycho edge because the lyrics sort of beg for it, and found that audiences dug it.

You’ve joined the illustrious ranks of bands like Iron Maiden and Guided By Voices by having a craft beer named after you (the HUGElarge Sound Czech Pilsner from Russian River Brewing Company) – how did that come about?

I’m going to let Vinnie Cilurzo the brewer himself answer that if that’s okay?  Vinnie: “The first time I saw HUGElarge was at our pub for a multi band show we did early on.  Instantly they became one of my favorite bands and still are to this day.  Shortly after that show they played again at our brewpub and as I was watching them I thought to myself that I should make a beer in their honor.  I immediately thought of a classic Pilsner.  My thinking was that a Pilsner can be every bit as hoppy and flavorful as an IPA if done right.  Additionally watching Bob and Matt play I thought how can two guys make so much great sound.  This is why I compared them to a Pilsner. When a Pilsner is done right you think the same thing, you look at this light straw colored beer and say there is no way this beer is full of flavor.  But when done right a Pilsner is every bit as flavorful and thus HUGElarge Sound Czech Pils was born.  We've made it a few times, all in conjunction with shows at the pub."

To show our gratitude, we wrote a song for him appropriately called, “Vinnie’s Beer”. It is our new single and is available as a download only.

You are both longtime session players – what is your most memorable recording session or touring experience? 

It’s true that we have been in tons of recording sessions with various bands over many years, but we are not session players (hired guns) so to speak. And to be honest, recording sessions are not exactly an exciting thing to talk about, well, maybe Michael Bloomfield talking about sneaking into a session and ending up playing on Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”.  But for most, sessions usually start enthusiastically but can quickly become tedious affairs, depending how many players are involved.  We really enjoyed the sessions for this album. Karl and I have been close friends for many years and so I am extremely comfortable working with him. These sessions were quick and not overthought. We always have a great time working together.  Matt and I have rarely had to do more than a couple of takes of anything that was recorded.

Touring is a different story and I’m sorry that Matt isn’t around to chime in because he was a founding member of San Francisco’s American Music Club who were considered an early influence on post-rock. He quit the band in the middle of one of their tours in Europe!  For me, picking one most memorable touring experience is difficult because it will usually about the different people I have met and remained friends with along the way. I do remember playing The Troubadour in L.A. and sitting on the sofa in the private room upstairs and reflecting on all the great artists who sat on that sofa - Nina Simone, Richard Pryor, Elton John, who made his U.S. debut there, Joni Mitchell made her debut there, Neil Young… Tom Waits was discovered there during the amateur nights and Lenny Bruce was arrested there!

You leave a very distant sonic stamp on the songs you cover. Let’s say you’ve been given the opportunity to have one of your own compositions covered by an artist you admire – who and why?

Ty Segall is one such artist.  We dig his albums and think he has an amazing ability to capture the sound and vibe of bands from the original garage era.

Boxers, briefs, or balls-out?

Wait, you didn’t ask Henry Rollins that.

What’s on tap for the band next?

We just played a show at the Russian River Brewing Co. to celebrate the newest release of HUGElarge Sound Czech Pilsner. And we will soon be joining Karl to record a track for a compilation record to be released later in 2016.  And we will continue getting together to play and just to hang out. Thanks!

Friday, October 9, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: Glenn Mercer - Incidental Hum

It helps to check expectations at the door when approaching Glenn Mercer’s surprising and delightful new solo lp, “Incidental Hum”.  Sure, there is a bit of the urgent jangle of the Feelies’ leader’s work with his main band, but these are instrumental pieces that show off Mercer’s compositional prowess first and guitar heroics second.  Composed and recorded alone, the twelve originals here create an aural travelogue of sorts, name-checking places whose image, essence or memory inform the sounds that Mercer confidently coaxes from his guitar, synths and other assorted instruments. The Western motif of “Yuma” perfectly encapsulates the arid feeling of its titular Arizona namesake, while “Mobile’s” chugging and squealing guitar pays tribute to the rich and greasy musical legacy of the region, equidistant to Muscle Shoals and New Orleans.  This is music steeped in tradition, highly academic while maintaining a practitioner’s heart and muscle.

Even more fascinating are the trio of cover songs that close out the record.  The languid synths and sleigh bells “Over the Rainbow” sound like one of R.E.M.’s early-aughts b-side explorations and bleed into a church-organ indebted cover of Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”. Best of all is the murky, extended concluding cover of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” – when Mercer’s squalling and unhinged lead cuts through the drum machines and rhythm at the 3-minute mark, it is nothing short of thrilling, and is evidence why he remains an inspiration to indie rock guitarists to this day.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Photo by Andreas Werner

Wilson Pickett.  Alex Chilton. B.B. King.  Frank Black. What do these musical giants have in common?   The guiding production hand and songwriting skills of Jon Tiven!  Coming up through the trenches of writing reviews for the likes of Rolling Stone, Tiven got the itch to write and record and has worked for forty years behind the scenes on many of your favorite records. Tiven was kind enough to respond by email to discuss his latest album with Steve Kalinich, what inspires him and the song that bought him a house...

I understand that you and Steve Kalinich wrote roughly 700 songs for your new album, “Every Soul Has A Voice”.  It’s such a beautiful, soulful record – there are moments of profound, almost ecstatic joy while also maintaining a very humanist streak throughout.  What was your songwriting process like?  How did you possibly whittle down which tracks made the record???  

Stevie sends me a lyric fairly regularly – when we’re anticipating a project it’s rarely less than one a day, sometimes more – and as long as I’m not actively engaged in producing a record, I am spending my time writing and recording musical pieces.  I marry what he does to what I do with as little compromise on either of our parts so each of us is allowed maximum creativity.  When it came time to pick out the songs, we had a few from the distant past that we’d earmarked for the album, but tried to take our final choices from the most current creations.

Your partnership with Steve has been very fruitful.  How did you and he get together and when did you realize that this particular partnership was so fertile?  What does each of you bring to the mix?

Thanks, I was thinking it was at least low-carb vegetarian.  P.F. Sloan introduced him to me.  I don’t know which of us he was trying to get taken off his hands, but that part didn’t work – he still talks to both of us regularly. I bring the musical pot-smoking free-being with a family, he brings the carefree 9and drug free) bachelor point of view.

You are incredibly prolific and have had an almost “Zelig”-like presence in the career of many seminal rock, soul and blues bands (the Rolling Stones, Big Star, Steve Cropper, Wilson Pickett)?  What attracts you to particular artists as collaborators?

Their talent.  I would hope what attracts them to me is the same…few have accused me of getting by on my charm and good looks.  Not to say that I am charmless and ugly, but I usually save my best self for my friends and my recordings, so those who don’t know me and meet me casually may find me irritating and unlikable.  There’s only so many hours in the day, and I get tired of smiling and don’t want those ugly lines on my face.

Alternately, what are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to? 
I have a wide variety of musics that I like.  What they have in common is their greatness, intelligence and soul.  I love stuff that some people might find incompatible: Otis Redding and Jim Carroll; the Move and B.B. King.  I am less drawn to straight pop, but I try to keep an open mind.

You came to writing, performing and production from the world of music writing and criticism. How did your background in rock writing inform your creative spirit? 

I got to see just about every performer I wanted to and got to meet many of them.  That gave me tremendous insight as to what kind of lives they led, so when I was forming my idea of what I wanted my life to be, I had a very educated way of approaching this.

What continues to inspire you?

Artists of all ages who continue to dig deep within themselves to create greatness.  I find most contemporary music dismiss-able, but there are exceptions – Dylan LeBlanc is one of my current favorites.  When I was forming my own musical persona I had a much bigger palate to choose from.

You’re probably as renowned for your production work as you are your songwriting and have been behind the boards with some incredibly notable musicians – what are some of your most memorable production experiences?    

Producing B.B. King and Wilson Pickett was like a dream. Totally off the scale.  Steve Cropper is always a joy and I’m very fortunate to have been able to work with him as much as I have.  Chrissie Hynde was a treat, as is my neighbor Bekka Bramlett.  Frank Black and I have a created a body of work together that is extraordinary and the making of those records were always full of beautiful challenges.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to work with such greats, and for forty years I have had the privilege.  Pretty great. 

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?

Outside of my work with Stevie, if I had to pick one I think it would be “River Of No Return”, which I wrote with my wife and lyricist Keith Reid and was recorded by the Jeff Healy Band on their first record.   And not just because it is my biggest seller!  I love Keith’s words, and my Semitic blues sensibility was fully formed when I came up with the music – not to toot my own horn or be too self-analytical, but that musical style I have had great success with, the harmonic sense of it is pretty definitive and unique and this is a great example.   And it bought me a house.  

What’s on tap for you next? 

I’ve produced a solo record for Stevie Kalinich that’s outstanding – duets with Black Francis, Bekka Bramlett, Dylan LeBlanc and a few others. And I’ve got to find me a label for that.   So, if you know any, send them my way.

INTERVIEW - Mary Lou Lord

Mary Lou Lord has been around the block...after a decade spent dealing with things that would make most humans crumble, she is back with the delightful new album "Backstreet Angels", a collection of covers and originals that shines a light on what it means to persevere.  Knee-deep in preparation for her first visit to Japan, Mary Lou was kind enough to reflect on her collaborators, working with her daughter Annabelle, the Boston-area busking scene and the wish that Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith (two friends of hers) could have found their way into collaboration...

Your new album, “Backstreet Angels”, is a really beautiful collection of songs and your first new album in over a decade. Parts of it were recorded oceans-apart with Australian musician/producer Maryanne Window while others were produced more locally at Sonelab and Bang A Song studios. What made you decide to get back into the studio and how did the record come together?  

I originally decided to do a Kickstarter. I had just gotten GarageBand and had a few songs in the can, and thought it was going to be an easy (and mainly) acoustic project. My friend Billy Ruane had just died, and he was perhaps my best friend. I was also coming out of loss of a three year relationship with someone, as well as going through a foreclosure. So, my thought with the Kickstarter, and the album, was to keep "moving forward". I needed to put myself up for the challenge, otherwise, I might have never gotten out of the black fog I was in. Putting myself up to the challenge of doing that album gave me "hope". And it also was a way for me to see if anyone was still interested in my music. It was a great way to litmus that.

One of the things I was most struck with is that your daughter Annabelle sings lead on album stand-out, “I Feel Better”.  You must be so proud of her, and there is something very profound about the passing of the torch to a very literal “next generation” of singer-songwriter.  What was that experience like for you, as a mom and a musician?

Yes, daughter Annabelle was 13 when I initially began this project.  I was in Denver at a performance and I checked my computer and there was an mp3 sent to me by someone. I listened and it was a young girl doing the Beatles' version of "Till There Was You" on a ukulele.  At first it took me a couple minutes to get my head around the fact that it was my daughter! She hadn't let on to me how much she had been practicing, nor, that she had begun to sing. I was knocked out by this. She's 16 now and she's become a great young writer. Her guitar playing is wonderful and her singing style is sensible, non-dramatic, and most importantly honest. I'm beyond happy that she took part in the making of this album, and I think it was good for her to learn a lesson in perseverance, persistence, and patience. Through me showing her or telling her about music that I like, it really gives me back the spirit of hearing something awesome-for the first time again.

You have always covered a lot of others’ material on your albums, but balance that with very focused and well-crafted originals.  Some of these collaborations have been career-long (Nick Saloman from the Bevis Frond, for example), but you seem to keep finding new artists who inspire you. Where do you find inspiration these days and how do you choose which songs to cover?  

I've never been an artist who has to write as a means to express myself, or some kind of cathartic experience. I think I find that kind of joy in the "sharing" of a song I might find or discover. Where some people only want to write a song, my passion is finding songs that fit exactly what I too might feel, and then, either share them, cover them, or simply pay the songs themselves the honor of being the best listener I can be. There is a very silent art and half of what makes a great song "do" what it should "do", is when the listener connects with that feeling. Listening might be the most "silent" thing, and no one gets a trophy or a medal for "listening" because it is invisible, but it's important. And some of the songs that Nick from the Bevis Frond has written are some of those songs that affected me profoundly. Just amazed me in their craft, structure, in either the lyrics, melodies, guitar playing, and even his singing. It comes from a place of honesty. And it was naturally a good fit when we would team up somehow-I was already a big listener of his songs. I still love his music.

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

Yes, it's funny that you say that songs are like children. I suppose that when making a record, it's like their wedding day. There's a lot of preparation that goes into it. Then you take the picture, and they go out into the world. They will have their own experiences, and you won't be there. So, you try your best to make sure they are the best they can be. I guess if I could pick only one, it would most likely be "Western Union Desperate". I like that one. And now, “My Buddy Valentine” - it's just a great song, and I loved having the experience of writing with both Nick and Maryanne on that one. I love that we'll always be connected through a song. You know?

There has always been connection between you and Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith, two artists who impacted your artistic development and life in very meaningful ways.  Both were the subjects of documentaries this year (“Montage of Heck” and “Heaven Adores You”, respectively).   I was wondering if you had seen either and what you thought of them?  More generally, is it difficult as an artist to separate yourself as a fan when you have a relationship with someone whose work has such an impact on you?

Yes, it really still amazes me that I did know Elliott and Kurt as people, as friends-and thankfully, before they got famous. I did see the montage of heck movie, and I thought it was great to see all those lovely home movies and photos of Kurt when he was a child. I was sort of shocked at how much old footage there was actually. That was late 60's early 70's. Before the video boom of the mid-late 80's. It was all on Super 8. It was clear to see he was beloved as a child. It must have been very tough on him to lose that type of Camelot - yet have all that happy child footage constantly reminding him of how it "was" during that happy time of innocence. Maybe he always wanted it to remain that way and went back to childlike expressionism and never fully developed as a grounded person because of that stunt in a mature growth. Possibly he saw a happy return when he had his daughter. It perhaps connected him back to his own childhood, but alas, in order to protect her, he knew he finally had to grow up. Maybe it was all too much for him. I haven't seen the Elliott Smith movie yet, but I'm sure it's lovely. Elliott and Kurt were a lot alike in many ways. In my heart, one of my biggest wishes is that Kurt had lived long enough to have met Elliott. Elliott was either in Portland at the time, or just about to be back in Portland. I know that had Kurt met Elliott, he would have adored his music. And in my biggest fantasy, if they had met they could have made a side-band together. Elliott could have shown Kurt so many things - where Elliott's whisper was from the same place as Kurt's screams, if the two had connected, it would have been one hell of a band. I also think that they could have been two people on the planet that understood each other as friends, more than most.

You’ve been very vocal and active in the Boston area speaking up in defense of “busker’s rights”, a tradition that has long been a vibrant part of that city’s street culture but which has had wavering political support over the years.  You yourself came up in the scene…is the fight to preserve performing on the streets triumphing? 

Performing on the streets was great. When any new artist begins, they need some kind of support while they practice, being, learn the instrument-this stuff takes hours and hours. I started late in life, and it was a time when I had to somehow make money. So, with busking, I was learning my craft, while getting supported for doing it-at the same time. In other words, if I wasn't busking, or anyone else for that matter, they will have to become a waitress or something in order to live. Busking allows for freedom, and allows the ability to work on your art at the same time-as well as gives a person one of the main ingredients in persisting, which is "hope". I will always fight for this right. It was very good to me, and has been for thousands and thousands of people.

You’re heading off soon for a tour of Japan, which I have to imagine must be really exciting! Is there a plan to tour your record stateside?  What’s on tap for you next?

Yes, I'm going to Japan for the first time. I'll be there in early October. I'm very excited. Somehow “Lights are Changing” found its way onto a popular soundtrack to a popular young people's show called "Terrace House". My song is wedged in between the likes of Taylor Swift, Black Eyed Peas, and Weezer. Again, it's the Bevis Frond song, "Lights are Changing". It just goes to show the timelessness of that song, and the fact that, well, it's a great song. It's one of those songs that could have been a hit. But, somehow, I'm kind of glad it wasn't. The song will remain timeless and have plenty of spins left in it. Music, great songs, should be like that. And in your earlier statement about songs being like children, well, with that foster child (haha), it will be a nice reunion, and the tour will be a reunion of sorts as well-whether in Japan or stateside. I go where the music brings me.

REVIEW: Swervedriver @ Waiting Room, Buffalo, NY

Noise can be a funny thing.  Frightening. Painful. Exhilarating. Sometimes a mixture of all three.   When Swervedriver descended upon a sparsely-populated Waiting Room for its explosive Tuesday night show, it was decidedly this last property that was in effect.  Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge, abetted by new-ish drummer Mikey Jones and a stand-in bassist (longtime 4-stringer Steve George apparently sidelined by the demands of new-fatherhood!), brought the noise in a righteous fashion.  The hits were in abundance – “Rave Down”, “Duel”, “For Seeking Heat”, classics all – and rarities dotted the set (like “the Birds” from 1995’s unreleased-stateside “Ejector Seat Reservation””). The new material from this year’s stellar “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You” nestled nicely in between these chestnuts.  Played with passion and volume, new cuts like “Autodidact” and “Setting Sun” stretched out and roared with an immediacy that was sometimes absent on the album.  Franklin’s Jazzmaster should be a registered weapon – the massive chords and silvery sweeps he coaxed out of it were palpable (perhaps only topped by Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis in terms of being physically blown back by the sound), and the array of pedals in front of him and Hartridge were struck frequently and with aplomb.  

The fans in attendance (all seemingly part of the close-knit Buffalo-scene) lapped it up, but hearing (and feeling) the throb of “Never Lose That Feeling” and an astonishingly-great version of “Last Train to Satanville” as an encore made you feel like this wasn’t simply another show, but rather a “moment”.  The euphoria of heads bobbing in unison as the band worked through the protracted breakdown in “Satansville” was what I imagine an effective church sermon is like – communal, enveloping and a direct link to something primal and bigger than the self.  The crowd may have been on the smaller side, but the love for the band was big and the sea of smiling, blissed-out faces indicated that something transformative had been witnessed that night.   

Friday, July 31, 2015

INTERVIEW: Chandler Travis

Photo by Susan Leach

You have been collaborating with David Greenberger for almost two decades now, and obviously you’ve developed quite the simpatico working relationship (your new collection IS subtitled “The Comfortable Songs of…”)!  How did you and David get together and when did you realize that the partnership was so fertile?  What does each of you bring to the mix?

We got together in the early 80s (guessing '80 or '81 -David's better at pinpointing this sort of thing), and despite being asked this question a time or two recently, and even having asked David as well, I can only guess that we may have met somehow through NRBQ, who we both loved (and love, and remain close to.) Certainly, the first time I remember hanging out was at his apartment in Brookline, MA (suburb of Boston), and we hit it off in part because the places we lived in were similarly filled with vinyl and whimsical ephemera, and we probably both had/have odd senses of humor (at the time, David frequently rubber-stamped his mail with something that said that whatever he was sending had originated with "David Greenberger, World's 183rd Greatest Artist". I guess we we were both kind of stuck up like that.) 

The new “Bocce and Bourbon” collection covers a lot of ground over its 19 tracks – flirting with everything from XTC-ish pop to zydeco.  Thrillingly, the album still holds together as a singular statement.  How did you determine which songs from your and David’s collaborations to include? 

Wow, zydeco, you think? Cool! I wonder if the cut you're hearing as zydeco is "Graciously", (Ed. note: it is!) which I hear more as soca; I usually much prefer zydeco, and have a couple songs that might fit that bill better coming up. And, like you say, always happy to rip off XTC, who I love (and hate to see MIA lately, but that's life, I guess. Check out "Village of the Damned" and "Weasel, Don't Be Mean" off "Llama Rhymes" for even more bald-faced XTC thievery.)

As to picking cuts for this one (and thanks for the kind words!)), pretty much just picked the ones we liked best, along with 7 new ones and a last -minute re-arrangement on "Air Running Backwards"; of course, the new ones are our favorites, generally -they're always so cute when they're babies!)  

You are incredibly prolific – recording with numerous musical ensembles, constantly uploading new songs and demos to your website; it’s probably a difficult thing to nail down, but what inspires you to create?  Alternately, what are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  

I guess I'm prolific, but doubt I'm incredibly so - it really adds up to writing an album a year or so, so that's not that unusual, unless you factor in the general lack of demand, which just makes me look foolish! So, don't. Thanks.

The inspiration, well, I don't know, I've just always been lucky enough to get little melodies floating around in my head, as well as an occasional lyrical idea that's tantalizing, and the idea of trying to realize the result effectively never ceases to fascinate me, for some reason. I always think people who are obsessed are very lucky, and I'm grateful to be on that list.

I'm a huge listener, with music touchstones galore, including the very fine initialed bands already mentioned (NRBQ and XTC), and the Kinks, Beatles, Beach Boys, Who, Monk, Ellington, Randy Newman, Caetano Veloso, Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Deerhoof, Of Montreal... never ends. Yay! 

I’ve been told you have some crazy music-related stories from over the years…what’s the weirdest or most memorable one you can share? (spare no detail, no matter how small or salacious!)

I don't know who told you that, nothing could be further from the truth. 

There was that one time I was walking in Venice, Italy, with George Carlin, Brian Wilson, Pablo Picasso, and their identically dressed monkeys, and we decided to get hookers and go to basketball game, but... maybe it wasn't Picasso... it was so long ago... 

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?

For some reason what popped up in my mind was "Picnic Ape", a song I wrote with longtime drummer / recording colleague Rikki Bates and eventually released as the Incredible Casuals (though it was really just the two of us)... maybe it was the Picasso reference, as it's definitely one of my more abstract songs; originally released on a Sub Pop, cassette, I think, and then as a single on Eat records, with a Duplex Planet version on the B side (the Duplex Planet being David Greenberger's wonderful magazine that features interviews with nursing home residents). It's one of the only things I've ever been involved with that sounds amazing every time (most of them sound cool sometimes and bad others, but fuck modesty, this thing rules!), and the Duplex is an equally revelatory reading experience. 

What’s on tap for you next?

Next up is "Waving Kissyface, Volumes 1 and 2", Volume 1 by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic and Vol. 2 by the Chandler Travis Three-O - a great, fat, dripping wad of fun for me, at least! (As always the rest of yez are essentially on your own, but with my warmest personal regahds.) 

Thanks for playing! 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

INTERVIEW: Melora Creager (Rasputina)

Hurtling back after years out of the limelight and a devastating identity theft incident, Melora Creager, main creative force behind the cello-driven Rasputina, has bravely released what might be her most personal album yet.  Short but sweet, Creager was kind enough to repond via email and share some insight into her ordeal and the impetus behind her art. 

The new Rasputina album, “Unknown”, was born out of a particularly traumatic time for you and is the first album of new music in almost five years.  Unlike previous releases, this was recorded alone and quite literally “under the cover of darkness”.  First of all, thank you for sharing something so personal – it’s a very beautiful and singular work.  How did the experience of having your online presence hacked impact the writing and recording process?

I was out-of-my-mind paranoid, but felt compelled to make this record. There are parts of ourselves that are powerful, yet hidden. I got to know that part of me as if she was a different person. I couldn’t have made this record without her.    

You’ve welcomed Carpella Parvo back to the group who departed after your debut to take care of medical issues.  Given all that you have been through, it seems like a nice way of “closing the circle” with your past.  How did you and she reconnect? To a broader point, do you find yourself pulled by nostalgia, or is the past usually best left there?

 Lately, I’ve been closing circles and opening new ones. I’m not pulled by nostalgia. I’m into ‘the now’ and the future. We reconnected through the internet of course. Had lost track of each other long ago. I’m so glad she’s back.

Last year, you helped to curate an art series on your website dedicated to memorializing the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death (and, by extension, all of those lost to suicide).  I was curious if you had watched the recent “Montage of Heck” documentary and if so, what you thought of it?

I haven’t seen it, but it sounds interesting.

It’s reductive (and probably not terribly helpful) to point out that you are a strong female artist that is working independently in tandem with but also outside a very male-dominated system. You have, however, reclaimed strong female figures of the past through your costuming and storytelling and it’s something that your audience seems to connect with and expect from Rasputina.   Do you feel a responsibility to represent the feminine in your work?   Why do we have such a tough time discussing gender in relation to female artists and their work? 

I don’t feel a responsibility to the feminine- I feel it’s my natural purpose— put forth strongly without thought of doing it otherwise. It’s what interests me, what I like, and what interests others, men and women alike.

Your songs cover quite a wealth of ideas, from the historical to the fantastic.  Having been at this the better part of 20 years now, what inspires you to continue to create art? And if you could communicate with your younger self, what advice if any would you give her?

Art is all there is to do. I don’t watch tv or the internet. There’s no shortage of ideas- just shortage of 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? 

Always the latest album’s material. Then soon after, I can’t listen to it. No special favorites of my songs.

What’s on tap for you next? 

Loads of touring until November. I’m always making new releases on my website. Just released an album of early cassette demos. Virtue video series to make. Fa La La II. A covers collection. That’s about it. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: Wake Up Lucid - Gone With the Night

Burbling up from Silverlake, CA, Wake Up Lucid delivers a sharp, 30-minute rush through the past forty years of scuzz-rock on their latest ep, “Gone With the Night”.  Produced by the Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone, the band shares a sensibility and sonic bloodline with Cardamone’s band…the guitars are in the red ala “Raw Power” and the band alternately rushes and lurches down musical back alleys that are redolent of their So Cal surroundings.  Ryan Baca’s voice, ensconced in the maelstrom of opener, “White Collar Love” (itself a nicely Stooge-y groover) strangles notes in all the right ways…he imbues lines like “Done too many drugs, and now you don’t feel anymore…and all you want is more” with a perfect amount of weariness and understanding.  The night’s going to go on forever, and even though you’re long past the point of this being fun, you’re gonna ride it out. 

Nine-minute juggernaut “Get Fucked” sums up the band’s aesthetic nicely: “Give us something real, something we can feel.  Or get fucked”.  Baca’s guitar’s pulsating notes bounce and wah-wah back and forth over his cousin Ian’s lumbering bass as other cousin Jamie bashes away on the kit. If it sounds a bit too similar to X’s “My Goodness”, I don’t see that as a problem.  Wake Up Lucid have all the right influences and make simple, powerful rawk.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

INTERVIEW: Henry Rollins

Photo by Heidi May

Rollins.  Henry fucking Rollins. This is usually the place where I write out some flowery description of the artist and her/his music, but if you aren't clued in to the cultural devastation that this man wreaks across multiple media platforms, then a couple pithy lines aren't nearly enough to do him justice.  Henry was kind enough to take time out from shooting one of his new projects to answer some questions about his wonderful podcast "Henry and Heidi", fighting nostalgia, and how the Bad Brains blew away the Damned back in '79.  Brief, honest, no bullshit...enjoy...

First off, thank you for the “Henry and Heidi” podcast.  Your dynamic with (assistant) Heidi May is so playful and affectionate – as a public person with some fairly strong and iconic imagery attached, the interplay between the two of you and the history you share is really “humanizing”.   What was the impetus behind going into podcasting and taking this tact with it? 

She’s no assistant. She’s the boss. She runs all my stuff. I have different companies and have a hectic schedule. She manages all of it. The podcast was Heidi’s idea. What you hear is how we are with each other. There is really nothing beyond that. I tell her a bunch of stories that never make the stage and she wanted other people to hear them, so she said we were going to do a podcast.

You don’t strike me as a terribly nostalgic person – has it been challenging to revisit certain times of your life or particular stories from your past for the podcast?

No, not really. It’s history to me. So, I recount it as best I can. I think there is a big difference between being able to recall it and wanting to be back in it—that, I have no interest in. I am interested in what’s happening now and what’s happening next.

You are a lifelong music obsessive and your radio show on KCRW has shown off the eclectic nature of your collection.  You honor your influences but also pay heed to emerging artists. With everything you have on your plate, how do you keep up with new music? 

I pay attention to labels, I take suggestions from people, I go exploring for music. The internet is really great for that. If there is a label I like, for example In The Red, or Castle Face, I check out all the things they put out.

Something that I have long found fascinating (and that you speak at length about in a recent episode of the podcast) is the inspiration that your high school teacher Mr. Pepperman had on your personal development. It’s a powerful story and potent thing to recognize that someone other than your father can influence the way you navigate “becoming a man”.  Why do you think that young men have such a difficult time exploring the influences on their masculinity? 

I wouldn’t be the one to ask. I have never considered that they do. It could be that they don’t want to seem like they are not “their own man” or something. I think some men are ashamed of the insecurities of their youth. I think all that stuff is excusable. You’re young, you’re figuring things out. For both males and females in American society, there is a lot of pressure to be this or that. It can lead to distortion. My parents were busy people and didn’t know what to do with a hyperactive, difficult child. So, I looked for other role models.

As a polymath and someone who tends to utilize the little free time you have to take on new projects, how do you find balance?  Is there an area that you haven’t ventured into yet that you wish to explore?

I don’t have much balance. I ricochet around the room. I go way into this and then way into that. I can’t think of anything that I want to do but have not yet done. There are countries I want to go to, that kind of thing but I have no desire to have kids or something.

A bit of a personal connection:  I first saw you back in the spring of 1991 in Rochester, NY opening for Jane’s Addiction.  I was intimately familiar with Black Flag at the time, but was largely unaware of your work with the Rollins Band and it really blew me away.  Do you remember having any similar experiences, where catching an opening act made you a fan for life?

I remember watching the Beasts of Bourbon smoke Nirvana in Sydney many years ago but I was already a fan of the Beasts. I watched Van Halen destroy Ted Nugent in 1978 or ’79, that was pretty incredible. The Bad Brains stood their ground with the Damned at the Bayou in DC in June 1979, that was probably the one. The Damned were great, of course but the Bad Brains was like nothing any of us had ever seen before.

I know that you have largely taken creating new music off the table, but you recently admitted that there are certain collaborations that, should they come to fruition, might entice you to write and get behind the mic again.  Without breaking any confidences (and as a completely fictional academic exercise), who would constitute your “dream” backing band?

I can’t think of anyone because I don’t have any ideas for lyrics. I have it in my mind that all that’s behind me. Once I get an idea like that in my head, it’s pretty much stuck. For myself, I only see my youth and progress in music. When I was a younger person, I was living a life in music. If I did something now, it would be a visit. That’s too lightweight for me. I guess that’s it, I don’t do lightweight anything. I am either all in or not at all. There is not one thing for me to do in music that I have not already done.

What’s on tap for you next? 

I am in the middle of a television show and a film, both shooting at the same time. After that, I will be working in another film that I co-wrote the screenplay for. It is a film that has a live band playing along with it. I will be working on some of that production stuff over the next two years. I have shows starting to fall in for next year and I am trying to get another book edited in time for December. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

INTERVIEW: The Sun Lions

Photo by Jess Hodge

The Sun Lions are not a household name, but they should be. The young band out of the Boston area, simply put, make powerfully melodic rock n' roll.  Riding high off the release of their debut full-length, "Whatever's On Your Mind", singer-guitarist Pete Schluter reached out via e-mail to talk about the band's influences, working with hotshot producer Justin Pizzaferrato, and the importance of getting off your ass and getting out to experience live art.

You’re from the Boston area and have been playing around there for the past few years – how did the band come together?  

Mike and I have been playing together in different incarnations since we were in high school. The Sun Lions as they are constituted now started writing original music back in 2009. We were living in Vermont and so broke we had to share a bedroom. That's when Mike picked up and woodshedded the bass, which he had never played before. 

We eventually ended up back in Boston, where we recorded demos and played only one show until our other guitar player left the band to go back to VT. The show was at a place called Tavern at the End of the World and it was so loud bottles were falling off the bar and we got asked to turn down by the management about 50 times during the set. We would just go and pretend to touch the volume knobs on our amps but not really move them. We actually practice about a block from that spot now, so it all comes full circle.

After that, we weren't seriously playing much for a little, just living life as working stiffs until we got the itch again and started a Chuck Berry/early rock n' roll cover band called The Images. We played around Boston a lot until our drummer Kevin moved to New York and my brother Ben, who played guitar, went back to college. Ben and Kevin played on an LP of original music we recorded as The Images that was released in 2013 and served as the seed of what we sound like now.

Jeff, our current drummer, is a coworker of Mike's at a dog-walking business, and he had seen us play shows as The Images, so when our old drummer moved away he stepped up to the plate and filled in. His style is much more heavy and modern sounding than what we had before, so we quickly realized we should stop playing old covers and move towards our own sound.

We realized we had to change our name from The Images once we started gigging playing original music because it is literally impossible to do a google search of "The Images". Try it sometime! This is an example of a lame but practical reason to change a band name.

Jeff was actually the one who suggested that we change our name to The Sun Lions again, because he saw Mike wearing an old Sun Lions shirt at work and just assumed it was some cool band he had never heard of. We've been gigging as the Sun Lions again ever since.

Your full-length debut album, “Whatever’s On Your Mind”, just came out and it’s stellar!  You worked with Justin Pizzoferrato at Sonelab recording it…how was that experience?

Thanks man! Recording with Justin was amazing, he is an awesome guy to work with. We've been lucky to work with some great engineers, and the one thing they all have in common is they know how to keep the session moving forward, without getting bogged down in the minutiae too much. You really have to pick and choose which battles are actually important to the essence of the record, and which are "six of one, half dozen of the other". 

Since this was our first record, we wanted the arrangements to be very close to how you would hear things live. Everything you hear from the rhythm section and actually a lot of the guitar solos were recorded live, all three of us playing together in a room. Justin did a great job capturing our live sound, but making it "bigger" in a cool way. He's also just a genuinely nice dude and owns a lot of sweet vintage fuzz pedals, so he's cool in our book!

Your songs are really melodically well-developed.  What is your songwriting process like?

Mike and I write all the songs (we're hoping Jeff will pull a Ringo someday and come up with his own "Octopus's Garden", but we're still waiting). Our process is that we usually write songs individually, and when they are mostly formed show them to each other. From there we will help to edit and arrange the other's songs, or suggest minor lyrical changes or things like that. Sometimes one of us will be searching for a good bridge and the other will have an idea lying around that works. 
As far as writing the songs on an individual level, we have mostly similar approaches. We usually get the music or riffs first, with a snippet of lyrics on a line or two, then the melody suggests how the lyrics should come out. Since Mike plays bass he tends to write in a more riff-oriented style, whereas I'm usually thinking about chord progressions and melody.

As everyone always says, the best songs are the ones that come out almost as fast as you can play them. For instance, you write a three minute song in about ten. We have a few of those, which really are gifts from the cosmos when you can get 'em, but you'll have to guess which ones they are!

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

It's hard to speak for the songs that I wrote myself, since you tend to easily lose perspective on how it sounds to others. If forced to make a "Sophie's Choice", I would say that "Ride" was a nice surprise, because we recorded a demo of it just before going into record with Justin and it kind of fell flat. We rearranged it in a major way just days before recording it for real, so I was a little nervous about how it would sound. But it came out better than I hoped.

With the songs on this record that Mike wrote, I'm partial to the song "Sammy". It's really three songs in one, and is just a lot of fun to play. Originally it had an intro riff that apparently sounded exactly like a Mumford and Sons song, but luckily Jeff is familiar with a lot of terrible music and caught it. We really dodged a bullet there.

Not to do too much “trainspotting”, but I hear shades of older bands like D-Generation, Samiam, and the Doughboys in your music. You also seem to share some similar sonic space with other, newer, “local” bands like California X and the Young Leaves.  Who inspires you musically?  What are some of the musical touchstones that informed your musical education or to which you keep going back?

It's funny you say that, because we are always being compared to bands we've never heard of and then end up checking out those bands and being like, "these guys rule!" It happened while we were recording with Justin, he compared us to a band called the Marked Men, who we had somehow not ever discovered. Now I really like them. 

Those bands you listed are all cool, and I see similarities, but I wouldn't say they are really influences or that we listen to them that much. Although the first time we ever played in NYC we played with a band called Slonk Donkerson who compared us to the Doughboys, who again, we were not cool enough to know about yet.

I grew up a total Beatles freak and love classic power pop like that and Big Star, but I also love bands like Buffalo Tom, Pavement, and Polvo. So I'd say we tend to be compared to any band that brings high energy to songs that are at their core very melodic. I think it's the energy that gets us compared to a lot of punk bands, even though we would never categorize ourselves that way.

"Local" bands like California X, Pile, Ovlov (RIP), Kal Marks, Potty Mouth, Speedy Ortiz, Gymshorts, Rough Francis and others definitely inspire us to do more, since they are all very DIY in nature and prove that if you bust your ass, you can get your music out to people that really do give a damn. 

You released “Whatever’s On Your Mind” as a name-your-price download through your Bandcamp page (https://thesunlions.bandcamp.com/), which would seem to facilitate as many people experiencing the music as possible.   What are your thoughts on streaming and the “free” distribution of digital music for up-and-coming bands?

Since we are not on a label, we have the terrible, terrible freedom to pretty much do whatever we want. Our philosophy about downloaded music is that it has no value, in a monetary sense. Not to say it is worthless, as a matter of fact I listen to music online a lot to discover new bands. It just has no value, as in $. Once it's there online it's a struggle to force people to pay for it. So we've found that the best way to put downloadable music online is to put it there and let people pay what they want. That way a lot of people take it free, but others put in upwards of $20-40 sometimes. 

Physical music is different and should always be paid for, because it's a real, tangible piece of art that also happens to cost bands a buttload to produce.

We always say that if you download our music, even free, we are thrilled about the fact that you care enough to do that. But the real way to keep the music community vibrant is to go to a show! If you download our music, or any band's for that matter, go pay to see them live and say hello, get to know them. Be a part of it. Buy their physical records or tapes or T shirts or whatever. Spread the word. Next time your friends are planning on an all-night Netflix session, drag 'em out into the real world and bring them to see that band you love who gave their music to you for free. It can all be a beautiful circle, we just have to be motivated.

What’s on tap for the band next? 

Up next, we are planning on recording a handful of music videos over the summer, which we haven't done before. Then in mid-late August we are playing a string of shows all over New England and NYC with some cool bands for the release of our album on vinyl, which we also haven't done before (release on vinyl that is). In between we are going back to Sonelab to record a new 4 or 5 track EP. We also are sitting on a new single that is all done, and will be released sometime this summer. Onwards and upwards!