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  • Benoit Pioulard
    Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    Thomas Meluch is the mysterious, enigmatic experimental popstar Benoit Pioulard, whose debut album, Precis, appeared late last year. The album garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, and rightly so; the blending of soft, cold instrumentals with sweetly crooned pop songs just works in a mysteriously appealing way. The songs are soft and gentle, like gossamer wings. It's not surprising that the world's paid attention to this young man. I talked to him late last year, but was upset to learn that our tape had been garbled during recording, so I recently asked him some questions via email, based upon what I recalled during that chat.

    Tell me a little bit about how you started playing music. You started at a very young age, right?

    Indeed; my mom's life-long best friend is an accomplished piano instructor, so I began lessons with her around the age of 5. I stuck with it until I was about 13, and somewhere in those years I also picked up drums and guitar, on which I'm largely self-taught. Early on, too, I became obsessed with recording every odd noise I could find with the built-in microphone on my first tape deck, so I'd go out into the forest behind our house and hit and crush and scrape things with some cheap cassette tape running for no real reason whatsoever...once I got a 4-track recorder -I think I was 14 then - I moved up from multi-tracking by overdubbing on a dual cassette stereo and started making my first proper songs, which were almost all instrumentals. Throughout high school I made a few different CD-R albums
    for friends of mine (curiously it appears that at least one of them has been leaked..!) and by the middle of college I started recording on computers, which is also when I began applying the Benoît name to songs. Précis was technically underway a long time ago, since lots of the sounds come from some of those early tapes, and many of the lyrics date back to notebooks from high school; the bells that dominate 'Coup de Foudre', for example, were a discarded part from a 4-track tape I found that was marked "11/99". Things like this make me feel like an old man.

    Listening to Précis, I'm struck by how the vocals and the instrumentals flow together. Do you see >your voice and lyrics as merely another instrument in your catalog of musical tools?

    Very kind of you to say. I'm not in any way trained as a singer, and am still in fact getting used to my voice; it's been more prominent in some of the songs I've been working on since Précis, but ultimately yes, I consider the vocals to be equally as important as anything else going on in any given song. More often than not in the generation of a piece the vocal melody will appear to me first, though, so that most other parts are based around it; in that way I suppose the voice carries things along, but I do my best to weave everything together into a balanced array.

    You make music by yourself--do you do much live performance? When you do, what kind of setup do you use? Do you have a band, or would you put together a live band?

    It's been suggested more than a few times that I try and put together a band for live performance, though at this point a tour's not really an option for me, unfortunately. I have done about a half-dozen solo performances over the last year or so, however, which are generally comprised of lots of drone & ambience built from tapes and/or laptop and/or guitar, filtered through a couple of pedals. I'm hesitant to attempt a live version of the songs I record in part because I've lost track of many of my own guitar tunings (whoops) but more than that, I tend to think of my home recording process like painting, in that you wouldn't likely ask a painter to re-create one of his pieces before your eyes & with a limited palette. I also recognize that I'm not a natural live performer, except in some instances with the bands for which I used to play drums.

    You also recently graduated from college. What are your plans now? Did making music and releasing records on the level you're doing now ever figure into your plans?

    Just after graduating I also left a job I've had over 3 years, and am now living on some savings while working on new material and a few other little projects; hibernating, you might say. I'm planning a move to Oregon in mid-summer since I have several friends there and, having visited for a bit last year it feels like the right place to be. I've lived in Michigan all my years, so it's a pretty exciting prospect. As for the music, I never, ever expected that I'd be deemed worthy of a label like Kranky; recording has always been (and still is) a hobby to me, and I don't entertain hopes that it'll become a living by any means, but suffice to say I'm satisfied with how things are going at the moment.

    I also understand you are working on a book with musical accompaniment. Tell me a little more about that.

    Yes and no; I have indeed just finished a book of Polaroid photography - some of which is up on my website - with the intention of shopping it to a few independent publishers by springtime. The musical portion I considered has since turned into material for a future LP, so that part of the project will likely be scrapped. The photos are compiled from the last year or so, taken mostly in Ann Arbor and New York City with a cheap, old Polaroid 600 camera; I assembled the book in 'chapters' denoted by little chunks of phraseology that seemed to suit them, and the prototype copies I've put together are book ended and interspersed with various sorts of textured paper and hand-carved stamps. If anyone actually wants to publish it, though, I'm anticipating that that may be a bit too elaborate...

    Have you been surprised by how much the internet has helped bring you acclaim?

    I've been incredibly surprised that there's even acclaim to speak of, really. I was sure that Précis would completely slip under the radar, but they say word of mouth is the best advertising, and it seemed like a few people caught on to my music early and spread the word pretty well. I won't deny that, without the internet, the story would have probably been much different; bafflingly, some really high-profile blogs have had some nice things to say, which probably helps more than one might guess. And this is all despite that writer from Pitchfork calling me an 'idiot savant'!

    What's the last book you read?

    There's a wonderful, rather inconspicuous shop in Ann Arbor called Kaleidoscope Books and Collectibles, whose owner often has pretty strong recommendations; last time I went in there I bought a collection of short stories and the novel The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, both of which I've been enjoying lately. Malamud's got this way of describing incredibly complex emotions with just a few simple, elegant words that I find pretty phenomenal...and The Assistant left me, as all good books do, feeling both crushed and uplifted.

    What's in store for 2007?

    The next Benoît release is a 7" for Type Records that comes out at the end of February; I'm really thrilled to be working with them, too, as I think they're building one of the most consistently brilliant catalogues of any label out there. Other than that, I mentioned before that I'll be moving soon, but for now I'm keeping a low profile, working on new songs and catching my breath.

    Benoit Pioulard's debut album, Précis, is available now on Kranky

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:12 AM   0 comments
    The Hotel Alexis
    Monday, January 29, 2007

    Talking to The Hotel Alexis' Sidney Alexis, quickly do you realize that this is a man who is both talented and passionate about the music he makes. Though our conversation was brief, I really felt that the man's on a constant journey to explore his muse and to take his music to different levels of sonic perfection. The band's latest album, Goliath, I'm On Your Side, is a hauntingly beautiful and dark record, full of songs that are, in his words, 'sort-of' country songs, but with the added element of musical exploration--a vast departure from the band's critically-acclaimed debut record, The Shining Example is Lying on the Floor. Take a moment to listen to his music--just make sure you listen with headphones, to get the full spectrum of his band's gray-shaded musical stylings.

    I noticed that this album is a much darker record for you...

    (Skeptical) Much darker? Hmm...

    Well, it seems like it's a darker, more experimental record, with deeper emphasis on atmospherics.

    It's more experimental, for sure. But darker? I think the first record was pretty dark. I think there are elements that are certainly darker in on this record. But yeah, it's definitely a more experimental record. I think that, as a band, we've always been much more experimental than what was represented on the record. I think the first record was...I was trying to do a very specific thing. I was trying to make this dark country record that was pretty spare. But I think the new record more accurately represents the more experimental mindset of the band.

    Did you spend a lot of time in the studio this time around?

    We didn't spend any more time in the studio than we did the first time around, no. What we did this time is we went and took the tracks we recorded with Jim Reynolds at the Estate studio. He's got this great studio that's located on this old estate. It's a turn of the century kind of place. It's just one of the most amazing studio locations I've ever seen in my life. It's really beautiful. So we recorded three or four days with him, and then I took the tracks and I brought them home--which we didn't do on the first record--and that's where I think it became more experimental. I was able to take my time and do things that you could never do when you're on the clock and paying for a studio. So that's sort of where that came from.

    What I like about the new record is that...well, it seems like the first record was much more traditional; like you said, it is a dark country-ish record. But I was really more impressed with the second record, because it seemed like though you were retaining elements from the first album, you were intentionally messing with the formula, and you were delving deeper into the elements which made the first record darker.

    I think, on the first record, we just wanted to be pretty straightforward. I'm certainly not a purist in any way, so it wasn't like we wanted to do a traditional-sounding record. To me, I think it probably sounded more traditional than we wanted it to. I think there were places on the first record where it wasn't as traditional; those things were more lyrically than sonically. On the second record, we just wanted to tweak it a bit and make them sort-of country songs, but with a lot more atmospheric things going on in the background.

    That's what I meant in terms of it sounding darker. I've heard a lot of so-called "dark" country over the years, and when the first record came out, it didn't really strike me as a dark record at all; it's sort of a relative thing, my impression. But the new album, the darkness was most definitely a noticeable thing, and it was obviously more experimental--the fact that you have an 18-minute song ("Hummingbird/Indian Dog") smack dab in the middle notwithstanding! (Laughs)

    (Laugh) One thing I didn't realize at all, but it turns out to be kind of cool, is that because of the way iTunes works, it can't offer that song. It's kind of neat; you have to buy the record to get that song. I think it worked out rather cool that way.

    Tell me a little bit about that song. It is kind of an enigma among the rest of the record.

    That really does represent a lot of what we do live, and a lot of what I do on my own. I'll just spend hours and hours with a looping pedal. The album represents what we sound like live a lot more, as well as what I've been doing for years, in terms of making musical collages. We'll also kind of interpret our songs pretty liberally live, adding on longer passages and experimentations.

    "I Will Arrange for You to Fall" appears on the first record, and "I Will Arrange for You to Fall II" appears on the new record. Will this be a theme that will continue from album to album?

    I don't know. If you listen to it closely, you'll see it's the same as the first record, except we slowed it way, way down. It was a song I did for the first record, and then it sort of came together in the form on the second record. I don't know if it will be something that will continue, but I really like that idea of having a thematic continuity across albums. I really like the idea of serialized content.

    What will you be doing next?

    We're going to tour in the Spring; I think we'll do an East Coast tour, though right now I'm living in Seattle. I'm thinking we will go back east and do a tour. We may do some shows with Nat Baldwin, who is also on the label. I don't know if you've ever heard his stuff, but it's great. He plays upright bass, and he's been compared to people like Joanna Newsom, kind of freaky, weird experimental pop. He's put out two records on our label so far. I started the label initially to put out the first record, but it's really grown into a much bigger thing, and will be putting out more in the coming year. We also had this weird thing happen where we had a song appear on NBC's Crossing Jordan the night before last. They bought one of our songs from the first record, "The Comeback Kid." It was used in this bizarre scene where a little kid actually kills himself while the song is playing. (Nervous laugh) It was pretty disturbing!

    Did it work for the scene?

    I think it worked really well, yeah! I was surprised, and I was surprised that a song of ours would ever be on a TV show at all. It was pretty surreal, but it was definitely interesting.

    Does this open you up to wanting to do more soundtrack work?

    Oh man, I would love to do more soundtrack work. I've always felt like our music fit well with that sort of thing. But also, it seems like it's the way to go these days. It's hard for a band that does the things we do musically to get on the radio, so licensing is the way to go. It's one of the few ways to make money anymore.

    In a way, I'm kind of glad I missed out on your first record because, honestly, I like the second record a lot more. I don't think I necessarily would have been as receptive had I heard the first one.

    Really? So you like the second record more than the first? I'm glad to hear that, because...well, the first record was pretty well-received critically, and this one's been really mixed. For the first time, we've had some pretty negative reviews, and a lot more mixed reviews, which, in a way, is good. If you're doing something interesting, it's not going to be something everybody likes.

    Plus, you can't grow as an artist until you've had some bad reviews.

    I agree. At first, of course, I was the typical sensitive writer, so when I'd hear something negative, I'd feel a bit bad about it. Because you're never really sure yourself about how good you are. So when some people whose opinions I really respect come out and say they really like it, which evens things out. Of course, there have been some people who obviously just don't get it, the "Oh, how can you put an 18-minute song on a record?" types. That's just silly. Why the hell not?

    Goliath, I'm On Your Side is available now on Broken Sparrow

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:14 AM   0 comments
    The Canvas Waiting
    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Nathan Medina, leader of the band The Canvas Waiting is a quiet, thoughtful young man, a fact one doesn't find surprising after listening to the songs on their debut EP, In Search of Beginnings. The music is emotionally powerful and deeply spiritual, which, again, is not surprising, considering his deep faith and convictions. Talking to him was brief, but it was a pleasure to spend a few minutes talking to a young man with such deep conviction.

    When you guys formed Canvas Waiting, did you form out of a desire to make music or a desire to share your faith and the Christian message?

    That's a good question. (Thoughtfully) I would say it's a mixture of both. Everyone in the band, we all love music, and we definitely wanted our music to serve a purpose. One thing we didn't want to do, though, was to be a band that preached at people. Most of our songs aren't preachy; the songs are intended to make people think. There are definitely spiritual overtones to our music, but it's not so much of a converging factor. We're not out there to try to convert everyone who comes to our show, because we don't really feel like that's our place. It's more to present the way we see life and the way our faith improves our lives and it comes out in our music. So when people say, "are you a Christian band?" I try to choose my words carefully, because a lot of people within the music industry in general and our fan base--with their age group, if they hear the term "Christian Music," they automatically think "bad" or they think over-the-top, cheesy music. We would rather people listen to our music with an unbiased perception about what we are, and then maybe approach us again, and then examining who we are and digging a little deeper to find out what we're about, to see, "hey, they're talking about faith, they're talking about God in some of their songs." A lot of our songs are not Christian-based; they're just songs that we like. We've always been about music that inspires us and provokes thought. I'm a real introspective kind of person, and that is the kind of music I write. I wouldn't necessarily consider ourselves to be a Christian rock band in the generic sense of the word.

    That term "Christian Rock" is a scary term for some people...

    (Laughs) Yeah, very scary.

    Does it scare you?

    It doesn't scare me. I don't want to be ashamed of the fact that we have the beliefs that we have. Like I said, the stigma that is attached to that term, like being Christian makes you an elitist, that you're going straight to Hell if you don't think like us, that's not us.

    I have talked with some musicians, and over the course of chatting, it came up that they are Christian, but then, over the course of the interview, they'll get very apprehensive about revealing certain aspects of their faith. I think it's a sad testament to our culture and to our music business in general, that people can't openly talk about what they believe. People are afraid of stereotypes.

    I totally agree, I would never say, "don't mention anything in your article" or something like that. But some people, they fall for the assumption that faith is bad or that being a Christian artist means being over-the-top, and that the music is cheesy, or things like that. Ideally, I'd like for people to listen to our music as they would any other band. Our faith is an element, but it's not the only thing we're doing. I don't think my purpose is to preach through my music. I don't feel like that's what I'm called to do. I feel called to play music, and through the gifts we've been given, we can show who we are. The way I write my lyrics, it's a little bit subtle. That's the way I disciplined myself to write.

    I've noticed a lot of spirituality within emo in general. I look at bands like Copeland, Mae, or even going into the rock world, Switchfoot--these are bands who are deeply spiritual in their beliefs and their message, yet...they're not. In the confines of the "emo" genre--do you find it easier to write about spiritual matters within a style that's already emotional and confessional?

    It's not so much easier for me to write about spiritual things than secular things. For me, I guess...a lot of the music I write is more of a struggle for me. Struggling to find a place for faith and a place for the real world and fixing these two elements together, and most of the time, they conflict. It's more difficult than it is easy. For me, a lot of the times I find myself writing more somber type songs, where it's harder for me to write a song that's more worshipful, as strange as that may sound. I wouldn't say that it's easier to write about God than a girlfriend or any other sort of life issue. But since my faith and my spirituality is a pretty big part of who I am, I think those things actually tie into all aspects of my life.

    What I like about your songwriting is that your lyrics are personal, yet seem to be a cathartic experience. You have sadness and nostalgia, and you put your innermost feelings into your lyrics. I like the way these things just blend together, and they make for a pleasant yet thoughtful listen.

    Thank you--that's what we've intended to do. When we wrote our album--or at least the songs on there with the full band--we were all coming straight out of high school. We were heading off for college, leaving home, and moving on. All seven songs, in a way, are an album of how I dealt with that change from teenager into adulthood, that loss of innocence--things that naturally occur when you get out on your own and you start seeing things you've never seen before. It's a wake-up call. But I think these things are applicable to older audiences, too. That's something I've always wanted to have--a broad appeal, not just writing and playing for fifteen and sixteen year old high school kids. We'll have shows with 45-year old moms and dads, thirtysomethings, and they'll all say, "we love your music." I think a lot of bands would say, "Whoa, that's weird I don't know if I want that." But I try to write music that's not bound by an age restriction or appeal. Like, when you hear the term "emo," you think "high school." I don't want my songs to be bound to any age group. That broad appeal is something that's important to me--something that can connect with a large audience.

    The Canvas Waiting's expanded reissue of their debut EP, In Search of Beginnings, is available now


    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:56 AM   1 comments
    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Talking to Bradford Cox, the front-man for Atlanta's Deerhunter, one doesn't necessarily get the sense that this thoughtful and interesting young fellow is behind one of today's more interesting bands. Deerhunter's music is dark; it's dense, it's chaotic, and in a way, the aesthetic behind Cryptograms, their debut for seminal experimental label Kranky, is reminiscent of early 1980s, non-Depeche Mode/Erasure Mute Records. Think of bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, and you're on the right track. The album is split into two distinct sessions, as discussed below. Even more surprisingly, this young band is generating a lot of attention from places such as Pitchfork and other music blogs. Our talk was quite interesting, as you'll soon read--just as interesting as the music his band makes.

    I get the feeling that Cryptograms almost didn't happen.

    Yeah, that's true--that's very true. I don't mean to make it appear like it was the hardest, overdramatic production ever, but our wheels took a while to quietly start spinning. Part of it was that we wanted to make something that we felt would be something we put a lot into, instead of just putting out whatever comes out of us.

    An experiment in capturing a spontaneous session?

    The interesting thing about it is though there's some spontaneous movement and creativity on the spot, the songs were worked on and arranged beforehand. We still did it very quickly and we did it in an improvisational style, but we'd worked out in advance that we'd go in and play. It was an interesting experiment, but it was hard work. I don't know if we'll ever make a record like that again, because hopefully we'll never have to. At the time, we were broke. The reason we recorded it so fast was we couldn't afford it. Some bands have more resources for recording, but sometimes that can actually hinder creative impulses. See, we had to make really quick decisions; we didn't have time to make a lot of overdubs, and there's no editing. None. What you hear is what we did. It's like we played the album all at once in a room. I went back and added little elements here and there, but we didn't sit around thinking about things. We couldn't spend hours on a song to fix one wrong note. There are tons of wrong notes in there; there are bad vocal takes, but it is what it is, you know?

    I think those conditions add an element that wouldn't have been there had you had more time to work on it.

    Oh, I think so too, definitely. I think that's really important, because I'm not into perfection. I'm the opposite. I'm not into faking a performance. There's nothing on the record that makes me go, "Oh, let's go back and make it perfect!" One the second half of the record, I was really, really, really sick with the flu. I don't even know how I got through the session, to be honest! (Laugh) I kind of wonder, though, if me being sick and weak at the time actually makes the performance better, and would the songs have the same emotional feel if my voice had been stronger.

    From what I've read, you're into the live performance element, so a record like this seems fitting.

    Well, that's not completely accurate. Personally, I prefer working in the studio. Other member of the band, they'd probably say they prefer playing live. I'm more into song writing and song making now. Live performances, for me, are really hit or miss. Like, I'm either into it and I feel really good about it, or it's mediocre or kind of good, and I hate it. I'm really picky about live performances. It's really hard to get it right.

    On the first session on Cryptograms, it sounds like you were struggling to decide whether or not you were an instrumental or a vocal band, because there are a number of instrumental passages.

    It's interesting that you say that. First of all, there's not a single song on Cryptograms that didn't have lyrics at some point. Even the instrumentals--well, all except "Red Ink," that wasn't really one that had progressed, and "Tape Hiss Orchid," the little ambient interlude at the end. "White Ink" and "Providence" had words. We've never, ever considered being an instrumental band. I don't like instrumental bands, actually. I like a little bit of personality to be there. I like instrumental music, if it's done by individuals, and I like instrumental music done by some bands. It's kind of hard to explain (laughs). I'm not talking about jazz--there's some jazz I love. Ambient music is perhaps my favorite music of all. What I don't like is instrumental pop music and instrumental rock music, or post-rock. I never really got into that. In the case of our own instrumentals, we never really thought of it.

    Considering your feelings about making instrumental music, on listening to those songs as instrumental, did it surprise you how well they stood on their own?

    I don't know; I wonder, though, if we had planned the sessions, if we would have had those songs as instrumentals. We tried vocals on them, but I didn't like them. But I do like the way those passages make the record a lot more dreamy. At the same time, it was not a direction we'd naturally want to go. It was a one-time thing. I love making that kind of music, but I'm not sure that's a style we'd want to be associated with--instrumental pop songs. Does this make any sense? (Laughs) I'm always willing to try something once.

    What I liked about them was they added variety to your sound, as opposed to having an album of all vocals. And I agree, it does add a cinematic quality to Cryptograms. When you perform live, do you perform the instrumentals with vocals reinstated?

    We don't really perform them. Let me think...we've never performed "Providence" live, we've never really played "Red Ink" live. "White Ink," we do play live. And on the record, there are vocals, but it's more like processed vocal intonations, and they're samples, so we can't really do those live. But those songs--they never really developed fully.

    So would you say Cryptograms is a transitional record for Deerhunter?

    I wouldn't disagree with that, but at the same time, I have no intentions of thinking about this record when we start our next record. I'm not going to try to continue it thematically when we do the new record. I don't like it when bands do that, because it sounds forced, trying to recreate the moments of what came before. Then again, I have no idea what the new record's going to be like. I sort of know what I'd like it to be, but that's about it right now. I don't want us to be as desperate as we were on this record, though.

    Conceptually, you see Deerhunter albums as a singular artistic statement, and the album you have now doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the album that preceded it or anything else that might follow it.

    Yeah, that's exactly it. I kind of want each album to be a solid statement. To be honest, I wouldn't mind changing band names every album, actually. Our name is so insignificant to what we do. I didn't name Deerhunter and I don't even like it. It's not that I dislike the name, but I kind of like it, but if we could change the band's name for every record, I would, because I envision us making totally different-sounding records every time. But I'm not trying to force diversity; I just have lots of different ideas I want to try out, things I'd like to experiment with.

    It would seem that Kranky is a good home for you to have in terms of experimenting with musical ideas.

    Oh, absolutely! I can't think of another label I'd want to work with more. They're really good people; they're very open-minded about music. I know they're willing to check out my ideas; they're not interested in anything other than letting their artists make creative statements.

    Deerhunter's also generating a lot of "buzz" on the internet.

    Yeah, that's weird. I don't really know how that happened. I don't know how that stuff works. I don't think you can try and make it happen--it just does. We certainly didn't. With blogs and stuff, I don't know how they do what they do--I just know how to write and record songs. It's really weird, but it's nice, too. It's nice to hear people are excited about your music, and it's very encouraging.

    Does it even out the frustrations you've had?

    It does, but I have to say, I'm just waiting for the shit-talkers. (Laughs) I've read tons of bad stuff about our live shows, but in terms of album reviews, there hasn't been anything really bad, so I'm just waiting for some really bad reviews. I think bad reviews are much more interesting.

    I tell people there's a difference between some kid saying, "Man, this sucks!' and giving no reasoning behind their opinion, and saying, "Man, this sucks, because you can't hear the singer" or what have you.

    I almost like the idea of the kid who says something sucks and can't give an explanation a bit more. I'm way more interested in the less academic audience, the more gut-level reaction audience. I kind of dig it when people really, really hate us and talk bad about us and they don't have a good reason as to why. I don't know why, but I kind of get off on that. To me, it's gut-level, and it has no basis in anything intellectual. It's simply a base-bottom-level, almost primal reaction. I dig that. (Laughs) If a 15-year old kid thinks we suck or thinks we're totally amazing and is steadfast in his hatred or is overwhelming in his approval and can't verbalize it, that's really interesting to me, because we're looking at subconscious reactions here. These days you can sit down, read a ton of record reviews and blogs, figure out what those people like, and make a record based on that. People will react to that, thinking it's cool or not, based on totally arbitrary personal data. But that's not based on human reaction or human emotion. Like, I hate Philadelphia, because the time we went there on tour, it was raining and sleeting that day, and everywhere I went that day, it was freezing. I now associate Philadelphia with being cold and wet. But if we'd gone there when it was sunny and warm, I might love it, and it might be my favorite city in America. When I went to Portugal, it was sunny and warm and 72 degrees, and all I kept thinking was "Man, I want to live here, this is great!" and I didn't know anything about actual life there, or if I'd even be happy there. It was based upon an emotional reaction. It's a very personal status based upon being exposed to something new for the first time. I've seen reviews of our live shows by people who said listening to us play made them physically sick. (Laughs)

    A friend of mine's band, The Weird Weeds, once had a girl write in her livejournal that seeing them made her want to tear her eyeballs out. (Laughs)

    (Laughs) Isn't that a great review? That's awesome. I'm waiting for one that good!

    Deerhunter's Cryptograms is available now on Kranky

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:31 AM   1 comments
    Marnie Stern
    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    As stated below, there simply aren't very many badass guitar goddesses these days. There is, however, Marnie Stern, a New York-based guitarist whose music is as hyper and as all over the map as the music of many of the musicians listed below. In our brief chat, Ms. Stern allowed us to peer inside for a moment, and it was a very interesting revelation about this guitar goddess's background.

    You really shred on guitar! I'm impressed!

    (Excitedly) Thank you!

    Even though it's the 21st Century, there aren't a lot of really awesome women guitar virtuosos.

    Oh, I hate that term, "virtuoso." It's sooo embarrassing. (Laughs)

    Well, you just don't hear a lot of guitar goddesses, then.

    (Laughs) Oh, I like that term!

    What brought you to playing guitar?

    I wanted to learn when I was younger, and I learned a few chords when I was fifteen, but then I didn't play for a long time. Then, one day, I got this urge to get good, so I pretty much locked myself in my house--figuratively speaking--and spent three or four hours every day for ten years, practicing and playing.

    What prompted you to come back to the guitar?

    Umm...(thoughtfully) I don't know, really. I just had a drive. I wasn't very good at guitar, and I taught myself, so it just took me a really, really long time, and I kept plowing away at it every day.

    Were you inspired by any particular band or record?

    Yeah, this band Don Caballero, they're really amazing. Plus bands like Sleater-Kinney, Van Halen...

    So you weren't necessarily trying to be the next Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen?

    (Laughs) No, nothing like that. It's funny; I have a lot of patience for working on and learning my own things, but I don't have a lot of patience for learning other people's styles. I know some people will hear a record they like and they will study it and play along to it, but for me, it was nothing like that. I can't do that. And I think that's good, because I ended up creating and defining my own personal style.

    That impresses me, hearing you talk about just picking up your guitar after not playing it for a long time and just deciding to become good. The virtuosity of the music, it strikes me as the work of someone who has been playing guitar for a very, very long time.

    Hella also really changed my notions of music. I had always been a songwriter, and then I heard Hella, and I had never heard anything like it, and I was really drawn to it. And since the first record was just guitar and drums, it was really easy to pick out the guitar parts. So then I started playing with both hands and finger-tapping.

    Hella--they're like comrades-in-arms for you. They helped you out on this record.

    Yeah! That's been, like, the craziest part of this whole experience. They're my favorite band, and then one day I got a call from the drummer of the band; he'd heard my demo and wanted to work on the album with me. I was soooooo...unbelievably...excited! That was enough for me. I could die and be happy! (Laughs)

    This is your proper debut, but you'd been making music before this?

    Yeah. I've been in a few bands, and I've played shows and written songs for many years, yet for some reason, it just wasn't really my thing. Then I got ProTools and everything changed, because before that I'd just had a tape recorder, and I'd tape parts and try to play parts over it. Then I got ProTools and I could layer a lot of tracks, and that was great.

    One thing that struck me was that, in a weird way, the lyrics and the music...I have to say that, to me, the two didn't seem to it, like they didn't quite match up in sync. Is this something you've noticed changing in the way you write, since you've started focusing on playing guitar and becoming quite adept at it, that your songwriting style has changed?

    No, that was intentional, to have the guitar and the voice going in two different directions, to kind of have the voice serve as an instrument itself, to separate it and fill the space. But during this whole period of time, especially over the past four years, I'd been playing all the time, but I think when I let go of trying to be a peer with all these other groups...I realized you have to take risks and take some major risks in order to create something authentic.

    So you were striking out in your own direction.

    Yeah, and getting to the point where I wasn't embarrassed. There was a point in time where I would never have sung with the high voice. I never would have done that. But that's me, you know? When I did, the songs seemed more real.

    Playing this music live, is it a challenge for you?

    No, not really. When I first started doing this style, it was a bit difficult for me to play and sing without me looking down so much, and that was the main problem. Now, I just point my microphone down, so if I have to look down, my voice still goes into the microphone.

    How have people reacted to your music?

    I think pretty well--I'm sooooo excited! It's a strange feeling to go from nobody ever hearing your music and having no idea how it would be received and having to trust that it was good, to having people like it and tell me so and have the ability to hear it--it's just so amazing!

    Marnie Stern's debut album, In Advance of the Broken Arm, will be released February 20 on Kill Rock Stars

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:06 AM   0 comments
    The Earlies
    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Do you know how incredibly difficult it is to write a best-of list for a year, when you've just heard the best album of the next year? Such was the case when my ears were allowed to hear the second album (and proper debut full-length) of The Earlies, the brilliant The Enemy Chorus. I've loved this band for a long time, but even this record is a wonderful step in a different direction. Whereas the first few releases of this Texas-meets-England conceptual project were soft, delicately austere pop songs, the new album throws in a few new elements, such as beats and a bigger band, and mixes them all together in one long, continuous flow. But, then again, greatness was expected. John-Mark Lapham is a gentle, soft-spoken man, as befits the music he makes.

    I really love The Enemy Chorus, and even though it is your second album, it's your proper debut release. With the way you worked on your singles, how was the experience of working on the album?

    There were a lot of similarities. We sort of used the same work ethic as we did when we put together the first record. I think what made The Enemy Chorus a different experience was that now we knew what we could do this time. We had worked with all of the people who are a part of our live band and we knew what we were now capable of. Christian, our keyboardist, and Brandon, our singer, were a lot more involved this time, too. It definitely was a more complex dynamic in terms of energy and what we hope will come across in the live show.

    Were you centrally located this time?

    Nope! (Laughs) It was pretty much done the same way as before. Brandon is married and lives in Dallas. I was living in England for some of the time, and then was back in America for some of the time, so it was really a lot like the setup we've always had, geographically. We'd mail things back and forth--we're used to it by now.

    That takes me by surprise, to be honest, considering the electric energy and live feel The Enemy Chorus exudes. With this method of exchanging back and forth, there isn't always room to capture the feeling of working in a room together.

    We've never worked in a room together. I think between both albums, we got one track done together, and even then, it wasn't all of us. We just know how to do it now, and we make the most of the resources we have available. I don't think we could ever make an album any other way; I don't think we'd survive as a band if we all had to meet in one room and start hashing out ideas. I think our world would implode, actually. (Laughs)

    A lot of it has to be that there's so many of you.

    There's only four in the core of the band, so that makes the decision-making process a lot easier. We all tend to work on our own a lot of the time, so when we get together we each have ideas, and then others take them and do things with them. Everyone has their strengths, and they do what they do best and pass them on, and that works really well for us.

    When you started making songs together, was the idea behind The Earlies strictly a studio project, with no thoughts given to ever performing live?

    I think from the beginning, even from the very first single, Giles and I had a really strong vision as to what it would sound like live, and I think we both tried to mimic a live band on the first few records by getting together and discussing what we thought a live band would sound like, but, realistically, we didn't have the ability to play live, and we didn't even actually know who was playing with us, or how it would come off. Now, we are aware of what we can do, and we know who is going to be out there doing it, but we're definitely up a few layers from where we were at the beginning.

    When you started formulating the ideas for The Enemy Chorus, did you have it in mind that the album would flow together as one cohesive movement. In a way, it reminds me of the Earlies Secret Broadcasts you have composed.

    Yeah, as far as my own input goes, that's how I approached it, because I'm the one who does the secret broadcasts. It didn't even come across as much as I wanted it to. I would have probably had things overlapping even more, but I'm still happy with the results. When you start putting songs together, you start thinking about what will come before and after, and you start thinking of ways to segue things together and make it rich like that.

    What prompted the change from being a studio-minded project to becoming a live, touring band?

    I think it was just a natural progression. I don't think we had any choice, really. The live shows started coming together, and we'd get feedback, and it grew. It's an integral part now, as much as anything else we do. I don't think we would have survived or flourished had we remained a studio band. We needed to add that live element into our music, and I think it is a natural progression. I don't think there was a moment where we sat down and said, "I think we have to do this now." I think we instinctively knew we had to do it. Because of playing live, Brandon gained a lot more confidence and a lot more comfortable, and so he was able to put a lot more across with what he does. The first batch of songs we wrote, we did things in our bedroom, we did things on our own, and we just kind of left them as they originally were. We did that on this album, but then we went back and we listened to the songs, and we went back into the studio and rerecorded some of the tracks and added overdubs. That added a new element, a new layer to the songs, and a whole new dynamic as well. There's ore playing on it, whereas the material on the first album there was some playing, but then we looped it or we processed it and we didn't rerecord it.

    How much of a role did the auxiliary members of the band contribute to The Enemy Chorus?

    Every song is different. We tried to build on strengths and weaknesses, because we know what we can do now, so we generally give them a vague idea of what it is we can do now, so we generally give them a vague idea of what it is we want and then we play them the material. If we have something specific in mind for them to do, we'll get them to do that, or sometimes they will start improvising a bit, and we'll go in and structure that and chop it up and work it into the song. Each song is different, but they definitely added an invaluable part to our music.

    Has taking the band on the road proven to be a difficult task?

    Hmm, I don't think so. I'm not really the live guy. I'm the studio producer guy. Christian, he's the live-minded fellow who brought in a lot of the live members and got everyone on track, and he sort of formed our live shows into what they have become. It's really natural for him. He's been playing all his life. It is definitely hard work, though, to get everything together and get everyone organized and actually get things moving and on the road, and then to fly Brandon over or get people where they need to be. There's a lot of work in that, but it surprisingly flows rather well.

    So the main focus of 2007 is taking the show on the road?

    I think our tour starts in March. We're playing Paris in January, but then the tour is in March. Right now, we've only scheduled European dates, but we would like to do a US tour, probably closer to the summer, but we haven't scheduled anything yet.

    How has the reception been for The Earlies in the United States? I know that in Europe, they're much more open to variety, but what about America?

    We haven't really...I guess we've done all right here, but we've not really made any big headway in America. I think part of it was the fact that our album had been out well over a year before it was released here in the US. We didn't have a label deal, so all people had was import copies, and then when the album came out on Secretly Canadian, a lot of people who would have bought it already had it, and it was seen as old. We'd had a bunch of positive reviews for it the year before, so that kind of added to that opinion. We'll see how it goes for The Enemy Chorus. Everything's going to coincide this time around, so we'll see. You never can tell with some of these things. What might work well for one time might not work for another. But I'm not really worried about that.

    The Enemy Chorus is released today on Secretly Canadian

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:24 AM   0 comments
    Earlies Secret Broadcast!
    Every so often, from the Earlies' secret laboratory, a communiqué is birthed. These little messages to the world are experimental broadcasts in painted sound, and with the delivery of their new album, The Enemy Chorus, the world shall soon be privy to more of these little treats. We, however, were lucky to capture one of the first of these messages, and so we are proud to present to you with CHORUS 1. Right-click and save this little beauty, because it will not be around for long.

    This Broadcast is No Longer Available

    And if you download it, make sure and leave a message, letting us know what you think of it!

    Also, if you want a tracklisting, click on the comments below....

    Joseph Kyle and The Earlies
    Editor, Press Play & Record
    posted by joseph kyle @ 6:07 AM   1 comments
    The Autumn Defense
    Monday, January 22, 2007

    His soft, yet excited voice might not make you think of a man who has had a hand in making some of the best music of the 21st Century, but John Stirratt's role as a right-hand man to Jeff Tweedy cannot be denied. But we're not here to talk about that band today, for Stirratt is an accomplished musician in his own right. Just take a listen to his band The Autumn Defense, his longstanding project with arranger/producer (and now Wilco bandmate) Pat Sansone. The songs on the band's self-titled third album are gentle, well-orchestrated pop songs that sound nothing like his day job, or, in fact, of his previous rock-minded bands. With a soft, gentle southern twang, Stirratt and I shot the breeze, as casual and as easy and as relaxed as you would expect from this Southern gentleman's breezy, 70s-inspired Southern California-minded pop concoctions.

    Man, I gotta ask you this. Have you ever had the experience where, when you get an album by a band, and it just completely blows your mind away, to the point where it's all you really want to talk about, where you get so overwhelmed with the experience, all you want to do is share it with others?

    Aw, man, I know exactly what you mean. I don't have it happen all that often, as you probably do, but yeah, I totally know.

    I had one of those experiences today.

    Oh really? What did you hear?

    It's the new record by a band called The Earlies. They have a pretty unique story; they were two guys from Abilene, who befriended two fellows in England, and they started exchanging files over the internet, kind of like The Postal Service, but it grew into something bigger. Imagine a band like The Polyphonic Spree or Mercury Rev creating their music like The Postal Service, and you'll have a good idea of what these guys did. But for years, they made their music in total obscurity, releasing them on these super-limited ten-inch records, all of which had these amazing songs on them. They then compiled them as their "debut" album, but they're releasing their proper debut, The Enemy Chorus, on January 23rd, and it's mind-blowing.

    Really? Wow, that sounds awesome.

    It actually kind of ties in to something I wanted to talk about with you. Their first songs were very technical--you could tell that they spent an inordinate amount of time on them, and you could tell they were more of a studio project. But this new record of theirs, it's much more fluid and electric, because they're a touring band now, and their music is much more immediate. I went back and listened to Circles, and, to my ears, when I compare it to the new album, I kind of got that same feeling, that you had spent a lot of time working on the songs in the studio, and the resulting songs are much more immediate.

    Really? I'm glad to hear that, but I have to say that the opposite is the case! (Laughs) With the self-titled, there's definitely a lot more studio stuff going on; there's definitely a lot more post-production work and work done on them after the takes, but I'm glad to hear that it at least came across that way. It's funny, but Circles seems so session-y to me in a way, with a lot of live takes. This is the first time we've really had the chance to take our time on a record. I like both sorts of situations, though. There's something about this record where I kind of miss the immediacy of the earlier songs; obviously, there are songs on Circles I wish we could have done better, to give the record a little more longevity. I guess the first record we did was a little more produced than Circles. To me, after making records for a long time, I'm still working towards that perfect, magic connection sort of things on the songs, and that the takes are good enough.

    Between Circles and the self-titled record, in your mind did Autumn Defense become less of a side project and more of a full-on band?

    I've always looked at it like that, to be honest. There's always so much time to do things, even with Wilco, there's still a lot of time in the way things are being made. It's not like 1966, so you find yourself left with years to kill! (Laughs) But if you have any work ethic at all, you find yourself with a lot of time to make a record. I don't think living in the studio and working in the studio constantly is necessarily the best use of your time--I know! (Laughs)

    Was Pat on your first record?

    He was. He arranged it, but it was all my tunes. When I listen to it, even still, I'm struck by how much it shares with the second record in terms of feel, even though his songs aren't represented. The arrangements really come out and reflect his personality.

    Was The Autumn Defense a much more collaborative experience?

    It was a lot like the second record, but I guess I had more of the songs on there. I guess it's getting closer to a 50/50 split on the songwriting now, though. Yeah, there was a lot of collaboration. We are still waiting for that one album where we collaborate song-to-song. That' definitely what I want to do with the next record.

    With this album, I kind of had the feeling that the musicians are much more in tune with each other, as opposed to it feeling like a John Stirratt solo project.

    Oh, I'm glad to hear you say that. The musicians in the band have played with us for so long, and they're super intuitive. They're good at exploring the possibilities of what the tunes can be. The guys have been with me for six years. It's hard to believe.

    Do you think Pat's joining Wilco put you and him on the same level in terms of--well, I know when you are in a band like Wilco, you're on a different level with other musicians you might work with. With Pat joining Wilco, you and he are now come from the same place creatively, in terms of the experience of the "day job," as you will, and does that translate to being able to see eye-to-eye on the same level now, in Autumn Defense?

    I always could, I have to say. Pat wasn't so forthright in terms of songwriting; he was really mainly the producer and arranger. I have always looked up to him in that regard. I think, in terms of songwriting now, we are able to see eye to eye a little more. But his strengths in arranging have always been key to the band. We definitely spent a lot of time on string arrangements this time. It was something we have wanted to do for a long time, but we never really had the chance to do so.

    On the opposite side, do you plan to spend a lot of time on the road?

    We do. We are going to tour for about two months this winter. We're going to try to go everywhere in February and March. Getting out once a year, it's great. We got out last year for a little bit, just to try and play these songs live; it really was a lot of fun, and it did have a major bearing on what we put on the new album. It was a good exercise for us. But it's hard, with Wilco touring so much, we have to get in a tour before the next Wilco record happens!! (Laughs)

    I read that you didn't go out all that much until Circles came out, that the songs were pretty much born in the studio. Did you intentionally want to road test these songs first?

    We hadn't done much road work at all until Circles. But this last tour was also sort of to remind people that we were still a band! (Chuckles) It was just to get out for a string of dates, and it was great, just to present this new material, and also to see how much things would change in the songs after touring. We tried some new things and changed some things after we toured, because we liked the way they were after playing them live. That's another element that helped make this new album feel more like a band effort, because we actually toured the songs first.

    Is it a four-piece live?

    It was four, and it's five in Chicago--we have a sort of revolving group of guys who join us, different horn and pedal steel players--not necessarily the basic instrumentation. Our basic guys, our rhythm section, were there for all of it. Sometimes, we've played as a three piece, switching out bass and guitar duties.

    Other than touring, what do you have planned for 2007?

    After the touring, we're going to try and work on a new Autumn Defense record. When winter happens in Chicago, there's nothing else to do but record! (Laughs) We're going back to the studio in a hurry. The Wilco record is nearly done, too.

    Will there be another John & Laurie record?

    Man, I hope so! Laurie lives downstairs, so I don't have to go very far to find her! (Laughs) We'll see--we're on a roll with Autumn Defense, but we might try to find some time to do something on our label, maybe a single or something.

    Thanks, John!

    The Autumn Defense is available January 23rd on Broadmoor Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:01 AM  
    Math and Physics Club
    Friday, January 19, 2007

    A bit of an explanation. At one point, before we changed our name, I had toyed with a literary blog. It never took off, but this interview with Math and Physics Club's leader Charles Bert seemed to be the perfect opportunity to blend literature and music together. I think the interview turned out quite well, don't you? His band is poppy and literate and fun to listen to for those moments when you're curled up with a good book on a cold day, so why not talk about books? This interview's a bit more interesting than you might thing. You might just learn a thing or two. And why haven't you read a good book lately?

    What's the last book you read?

    (Slightly embarrassed) I wouldn't necessarily call it high literature, but lately I've been reading the Harry Potter books.

    Hey, that's cool! I'm of the opinion that reading is reading--it doesn't have to always be some sort of high-art literature.

    This is going to sound very twee, but the books are really fun and there's a lot of imagination to them, and I like that. They're an escape to read.

    What prompted you to decide to read them?

    It was really just curiosity, mainly. It's been such a big thing for a long time now, and I have a lot of friends who have read the series, and I guess I finally just caved in. We were taking a plane trip, and I thought, "Okay, I'll read it on the plane," and I got sucked into that world, and I started reading one right after the other. I think that's how it happened for a lot of people, though. It's an escape, but it's a fun thing to do, you know?

    Had you been avoiding them because they have been so popular?

    I don't really do that, but I just figured that they were kids' books. I kind of read whatever I feel like at the moment. I wasn't sure I'd be that interested in them, but I found them to be really creative, and it got my imagination going, and I like that!

    Growing up, were you much of a fantasy reader?

    I wasn't. In fact, I wasn't much of a reader growing up. I didn't really start reading until I turned about 30. All of a sudden, I felt like something turned on inside me, and that I should start reading more. The weird thing is, I've always loved books. That's the strange thing. I've always loved going into book stores, buying old books and classics, and I'd think to myself, "Someday, I'm going to read all of these!" (Laughs) But then something turned on inside me, and I started reading them.

    Who are some of your favorite authors?

    Honestly, I don't usually stick to one author. I do a lot of nonfiction reading, too. I'm a really big baseball fan, and I've read a couple of books by Robert Whiting, who writes about Japanese baseball, and I've recently read Money Ball, which is about the business side of baseball, in particular the General Manager of the Oakland A's. I'll kind of mix that sort of thing in with books like the Harry Potter series. Oh, I read Our Band Could Be Your Life before the Potter series. It's really cool.

    I've read sections of it, and it is indeed an excellent book.

    I read it to cover to cover, and even the bands I didn't particularly like, like Black Flag and Minor Threat--it was interesting to go back and read about them from that perspective. It was really interesting to me.

    Looking at your songwriting, it's very poetic. Would you say you were a poet before you were a musician?

    Songwriting and lyrics all come together. I didn't really write poetry before the band, and I didn't really pick up a guitar until I was in college. Really, melody has always been important to me. I just learned enough chords so I could get these melodies down that were in my head. Lyrics come later, and I always try to do justice to the melody. Lyrics are almost always the last thing I write, and almost at the last minute. I just try to make 'em work.

    I've always found it fascinating how excellent lyricists have often said, "Lyrics, they don't matter, they're secondary to what I'm trying to do."

    I know there are lots of different songwriting camps, and some people really focus on lyrics. Some write their lyrics first, and some really focus on the meaning of their lyrics. I'm definitely in the camp of where I come up with a few lines, and I try to come up with a melody, because I'm coming up with a stream of thought, and ideas will come into my head. The rest of the process for me is trying to serve the melody and not to detract from it in any way. I'm happy if I can come away from it and haven't done a disservice to the melody.

    Your lyrics are very narrative.

    I tend to just write things. They can come from emotion, but I tend to like lyrics that paint a picture. It's not so much telling a story as it is expressing images and emotions. I hope to try and pull those things out. Hopefully, by the end of it all, it feels like something rather cohesive. It's important to me to have something that other people can relate to. I'm drawing from my own personal experiences and other stuff that's born out of my emotions, and I hope it's something that's universal. I try to keep them fairly non gender-specific. They're not terribly deep' I think they're things people can relate to simply because they are about things they've gone through at one point or another. I've always sort of liked that, especially in my favorite bands.

    Like the Smiths?

    Yeah. The Smiths are definitely one of my favorite bands. We also get a lot of comparisons to The Lucksmiths. To be honest, though, I actually started listening to them pretty late, so I don't know if we draw inspiration from similar things, but they are one of my favorite bands, too. We share a label with them, and we wanted to be on Matinee. But when I started playing, I was listening to a lot of bands like The Housemartins, Beautiful South, Teenage Fanclub--a lot of pop bands like that. I always go back to that when I'm working on material in my head. Those are where my chord progressions are.

    What are your plans for the future?

    We just made a quick swing over to the East coast for the first time. We played a few shows in New York and an appearance at Popfest, and that was fun. We don't get to get out much, because we're all working and we have families. Our guitar player has a new baby girl, our drummer has a year-old kid, and my wife and I are expecting twins. It's really great, but it does hamper our ability to get out and tour and play shows a lot. Before the twins arrive, this spring we're hopefully going to get an EP out, to buy a little time and hopefully during my downtime, I'll be working on new material. I've got a handful of songs in the works right now, and I've got a few more ideas, and maybe we'll try to get an album out in the fall. Hopefully, we'll be able to play out a little, too, maybe hit select cities on the west coast or maybe make a four or five day trip here and there. A big tour of two weeks or more, it's probably not in the works for us.

    Now that you're having kids, are there any books you can't wait to share with them?

    Yeah! We've already started gathering children's books for a few years now. We've known that one day we would have a family. I love the creative side of children's books. We have a bunch of Dr. Seuss books and Where The Wild Things Are, too. For me, growing up, that was the book. Maurice Sendak, the author/illustrator, lives up here. I'm looking forward to the experience of sharing that book with my kids!

    Math and Physics Club's self-titled debut album is out now on Matinee Recordings

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:44 AM  
    The Finches
    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Carolyn Pennypacker-Riggs is in a giggly mood. But that's okay, because it's a Sunday afternoon, and life can't always be serious, can it? Her band, The Finches, make music that's simple and she tells stories that are pleasant, interesting, and, as her laughter would imply, sometimes light and fanciful. The Bay-area based duo have a simple aesthetic, and that's to make simple, enjoyable, pleasant music. I think they've succeeded.

    How did The Finches come together?

    We went to school together in Santa Cruz. We were friends, then Aaron graduated and then I graduated. Aaron was already playing guitar, and I had all these melodies in my head, and I kind of enlisted him in my efforts to get them out! We started with covers, and I gave him a tape of some rough songs I had recorded. He was on tour with his band Roots of Orchis. It's like the opposite of our band! (Laughs) They've got two bass players, no words whatsoever, and they scratch and sample live. Anyway, he listened to the tape on their last tour, and when he came back, he said he wanted to work with me on my songs.

    Is The Finches the first thing you've ever done musically, in terms of performing and recording?

    Yeah, definitely. Well...I did a senior project when I was seventeen, a little EP of keyboard music--you know those keyboard samples they have, with drum patterns and things? (Laughs) I used those. It kind of bordered on Goth! (Laughs)

    So you're not necessarily coming from a musical background, were you?

    Well, my parents were into music. My mom's played music her whole life, but not professionally or anything like that, and my dad, he's actually written a few musicals about scientists. (Laughs) That's also very amateur, but it was fun and I guess that sensibility influenced me as a kid. When I started, it wasn't such a technical experience.

    Your lyrics are also very narrative. Do you write your lyrics like poetry, or do you come up with a melody first?

    Often they'll come at the same time. It's really strange; I'll get a little idea while walking around or washing dishes or something like that, or a little phrase will come to me. Sometimes, it's even just the sound of words. I'll tape record 'em and listen back to them and then try to translate them, but I've written songs in all those ways. But it's easier for me to write when I have a melody in mind.

    I know there are some who consider themselves to be a bit of a poet, and they'll write their lyrics first and then put their poems to music, and sometimes you can tell these people's styles from listening, and I definitely picked up on the storytelling quality of the lyrics you've written.

    I'm usually not trying to cram a lot of words into any particular phrase. That's why you will hear a lot of "and's" and "oh's" -- those are little phrases I insert to help the story move along. It helps the music a bit--I hope! (Laughs)

    Well, in the 90s, there was the lo-fi movement, with the idea behind it being that the message and the emotion of the song is much more important than technical proficiency. I kind of had the feeling you're continuing that tradition--only better! (Laughs)

    (Laughing) Oh, really? Yeah, I can see that. We try to make it sound as good as we can, but we know our musical resources are limited, but we're not intimidated by that.

    So what are you working on now?

    Touring. We're leaving for a California tour on Friday, and it's only a week long. On February, we're heading out to the East Coast, and hopefully in April and May we can do a full tour. I dunno, though--I kind of want to go Japan and play! (Laughs) I went there for the first time in my life this August, and I really loved it, and I came back thinking, "I'd love to work out a tour over there!" We're going out this time by ourselves, and it's the first time we've done that. We're so excited! It's easy for us to travel; we just get into the two-door and go!

    Another aspect of your record that I really liked was the packaging. Did you do the artwork for it?

    (Excited) Thank you!! Yeah, I did. I actually studied art in college--music wasn't my thing at all. So when we got the songs together, I thought, "Wow, this is a really good excuse for me to create an assignment for myself!" It's nice, when I get tired of playing guitar, I'll go and do some drawing, and then I'll be satisfied and will go back and play guitar. It's a great way to work!

    In the future, do you foresee bringing the two worlds together?

    Oh, definitely! We're trying to figure out ways to do that. I'm thinking that making videos would be a nice way. We have an idea about creating this scroll, a rolling one with a super-wide print on it, and the video would be a pan of that long scroll while we play along. I don't know; it's all fantasy at this point, but people have told us that this kind of video is easy to make, so it seems more and more possible.

    You never know until you try!

    Exactly! (Laughs) That's our motto!

    Human Like a House, The Finches' debut, will be released on January 30th on Dulc-I-Tone Records


    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:49 AM   0 comments
    Editorial: Box Full of Records
    Wednesday, January 17, 2007
    A few days ago, I went through some old boxes, and I happened upon a small, compact box filled with a few CD's and other things. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten about this box, and while I knew of the contents, I had failed to remember its existence when I packed it up four and a half years ago. I took the box into my bedroom and decided to spend some time reacquainting myself with my past. Would the music inside still mean that much to me? Would it have changed?

    First was Crooked Fingers' self-titled debut album. I remember driving to Denver one May to see Eric Bachmann play by himself, and he played nearly all of the songs on this album. I had a tape of the show, and I spent a lot of time listening to it back then, and when the album came out the next year, I listened to it incessantly. Especially when drinking, which I did a lot of those days. When I listened to it after four and a half years, it was like finding cherished letters from a long-ended love affair; you remember the words even if you don't remember the letter. "A Little Bleeding" breaks my heart more now than it ever did back then, and it broke my heart a lot back then.

    The next record I listened to was On Earth to Make the Numbers Up by an obscure English indie-pop band, Fosca. Their music is literate and pleasant, and though I used to adore this album a long time ago, on this new listen, it didn't quite resonate with me like it used to. I think that's less the music's fault than it is mine; I've simply aged, and in so doing, I don't quite react to cheerful, smart, upbeat pop like this. There is one exception, though; the simply fantastic, no matter what age you are "Millionaire of Your Hair." It's a brilliant blast of Europop, filled with clever lyrics. Oh, and a subtle cello line that lifts the melody of "Be My Baby." It's a wonderfully inspired touch.

    I don't even want to discuss James' debut album, Stutter. Not because it's a bad record, but because I accidentally broke it less than an hour after finding it! It was a total freak accident; a small book fell upon it as I reached for something on the shelf, and it split nearly in half! I'm amazed by this frustrating incident, because the book barely touched the CD and it split so thoroughly! Oh well, I guess it wasn't meant for me to hear it.

    The Promise Ring's penultimate release, Electric Pink EP, makes an even stronger case for the band being one of the better bands of the 1990s. This EP found the band at a pivotal point in their career--towards the end. But there are four great songs on this record, especially "American Girl." I hadn't thought of this little record for a while, but finding it again was a pleasant little treat, and now it's on constant rotation on the record player at home.

    What took me most by surprise, though, was discovering the brilliance of Labradford's debut, Prazision LP. album. Now, back in those days, I liked the hazy, stoned-out psych outs of bands like Bowery Electric, Windsor for the Derby, Stars of the Lid, American Analog Set, Paul Newman, and Furry Things. (Yes, I do have a soft spot for Texas experimental bands!) But at the time, this record left me kind of blinky-eyed. I can safely say that I didn't get it. Too experimental? Too mechanical? Too weird? Maybe. I'm not sure, to be honest. But I do know I didn't dig this record. I do realize, however, that said sentiments were not felt at Kranky, for this record was their inaugural release. The label being ahead of its time and me being behind its time, at this point thirteen years later the record finally makes sense.

    So I spent this cold, rainy afternoon listening to records and perusing through my old print 'zines, Lois is my Queen. I find myself astonished by the reviews I wrote, the interviews I did (Ted Leo, pre-fame? The Clientele? Dismemberment Plan? Who's heard of these folks?), and the utter enthusiasm I had for music at the time. That moment in time, I'll never have it again. But I have these memories, these little collections and boxes full of reminisces and reminders of times gone by, people missed, bands loved, and memories made.

    What does this trip down memory lane mean? I guess it goes to show that time changes ones perspective on music. So many times, we fall deeply in love with records, and we think of them as love affairs we will carry with us our entire lives, only to set them aside, move on, and discover, upon returning to them, that the love affair was only temporary. It's a condition that's commonly called "getting older," but that doesn't always mean that one loses the affection of music that once meant something to them. Sometimes, it means you hear something in a different way, and you appreciate something you might not have appreciated at the time. Isn't it funny how things you once hate, they don't seem so bad after time has passed? Is it nostalgia? Maturity?

    I prefer to call it life. And what a great soundtrack!


    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:28 AM   0 comments
    The Inner Banks

    The Inner Banks is David Gould, of the roots-rockers The Bootleg Remedy, and Folksongs for the Afterlife, a gorgeous shoe-gazing pop band who released a wonderful record a few years ago. Combined, the duo and a core group of several others make music that sounds like neither; instead, The Inner Banks' music is lush, dark, atmospheric instrumentals with a hint of country darkness. It's a brooding sound, but when listened as a whole, the experience is quite breathtaking. Below, Gould tells us about the ethos of the band, what brought it together, and the ideas behind their excellent self-titled debut.

    Tell me a little bit about how The Inner Banks concept started. Were you working on this before you and Caroline got together?

    I sort of started it before I realized I was starting it. The Inner Banks project grew out of some things I had recorded on my own at home, almost as a reaction against the music I was playing with Bootleg Remedy, which was sort of my old-timey group. After I had about three or four sketches that I liked, I realized there might be some sort of autonomous project somewhere in there. I started having Caroline sing on some of the tunes, adding vocals in part because I loved her voice, but also because I wanted to see how certain things would sound. Then, before I knew it, that formula started to become an integral part of the sound as well. It wasn't until last summer, though, that I decided to add a couple of songs, put together an album, and call it a new band. Caroline and I had been living together for three years, and we’d been married a year or so. Everything's sort of morphed a bit, in terms of band identity. A lot of it changed as I started to finish the album, and as I started to figure out how to perform it live. By that point, Caroline was definitely a bona fide member.

    In terms of lineup, is the band just you and Caroline, or is there a solid band?

    It's the two of us, and we have a core group of about five. In addition to that, we have others. When we play live, we have string players and some brass players, but they sort of come and go a little more. A lot of the guitar players have drifted in and out, too. It's almost shaping up as a collective at this point! (laughs)

    Something I noticed--and correct me if I am wrong--ties into something you just said. I can definitely hear a progression in sounds throughout the songs. Some, like "Electric," have a folkier element to them. Others songs, like "Siberia," lose that element and are atmospheric, electronic sound scapes. Then you have the two songs with Caroline singing, and those blend the two elements together. Does this change reflect a change in the idea of what The Inner Banks should sound like?

    For whatever reason, the further you go back, the more instrumental the songs are, and the closer you get, the more prominent the vocals are. In terms of progression, not to talk about "folky" versus "electronic," I definitely had the voice grow more and more prominent. But in terms of the other thing you brought up...hmm, let me see. I guess I wasn't thinking about having one or the other. I think combining the folky elements with electric and electronic soundscapes was one of my founding principles, in a way, so that's why, if you listen to any one song, you don't really get a grasp as to what "The Inner Banks sound" is.

    After listening to it, trying to describe it is rather difficult to do; it just sort of floats around in this amorphic sound style, and when I listened again, I kind of got the impression that Caroline's vocals were added later on, as if they weren't necessarily part of the original vision for the band.

    There was definitely a fear early on, whether all these pieces would go together, or if there was a common thread running through them, and things like that. At some point I kind of flipped that around. Caroline was very good about that, in terms of encouraging me. One of the things that she would remind me about was to make an album that I would want to listen to. One of my biggest problems as a music listener is that I get bored rather easily. It's not like I have ADD or something, but if I go to a show or listen to a CD, even something that's really great, after a couple of songs, it loses me--sort of; I kind of feel like I've heard that song. Certainly, if there is a lot of sonic variety, I'll be right there, but the things I really enjoy, they jump around a little; not for the sake of being weird or anything like that. You hear that a lot in better band--they'll have something rather offbeat in their music; you'll hear a crazy instrument or sound. So I definitely started to be more open about jumping around with the music. That's kind of how dealt with that. Expanding on that, on when I started bringing in the voices--even great voices, when I listen to something, one song after another, to me it can lose its special-ness over the course of a listen. At first, I did want to do the record with the idea of a person who is only partially listening, where the instrumentals would gather the focus of the listener's attention, and they might not expect a singer, and thus it would be a surprise to hear someone singing. So even early on, we had that idea. I think that's what led us to working in a few songs with vocals, so that they would help pace the album.

    Plus, Caroline has such a really great voice. I loved her band Folksongs for the Afterlife. Are they still around?

    It is, but it's more of an on-and-off sort of band. It's definitely still on; she and her partner are still sending files back and forth, so…maybe. The new stuff's really good.

    So what's next?

    A couple of things. I'm sort of resting now, since we put the record out on our own label, on one hand I'm trying to get this record out there, but on the other hand, I want to start getting the next round of material out there. It's interesting, starting from scratch, even though now there is some band identity; we should have some idea of what the band is now. I'm curious to see how that goes. You definitely see people fall into this path, where they get something going and release or record something that they like, and when they get together later on, they react to those feelings, and they kind of wind up recording the same sort of song over and over again. I want to stay true to the project, but I'd like to get back into that space where I don't have any preconceived notions as to what it will sound like, even though it comes from the same band members. I'm foreseeing it being more collaborative this time around, now that I have a core around me of people who get it and identify with the style and my vision. Also, I'm working with Caroline on her new stuff, so that's fun, working together.

    How does it sound?

    If there's any new sound or influence that wasn't in the first few releases, it's a 70s singer/songwriter style. There's more piano, bigger arrangements...I dunno, though. You know how these sorts of things can be; you start with one idea, and finish with another. It's gorgeous, though; she's definitely matured as a writer, and though it's been a long time, it's definitely going to be worth the wait!

    The Inner Banks' self-titled debut is out now on Dag! Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:58 AM   0 comments
    The Postmarks
    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Christopher Moll is a man who enjoys delightful, slightly melancholy, breezy jazz-pop. Though the debut album from his latest project, the wonderful The Postmarks, has sent the blogger-types into a frenzy of universal love, this is not the beginning of Christopher Moll's career. No, in fact, he's been responsible for several other equally excellent (and criminally ignored) groups, See Venus, a proto-Postmarks band and Timewellspent, a duo making Eric Matthews-styled pop. For those who know, The Postmarks is a mere notch in the man's discography, excellent as it is. The chance to speak with him led me to discussing all three of these projects, and it is my sincere hope that this interview will serve as the catalyst for you to investigate them. The Postmarks may be the current next-big-thing, but it would be a shame to have these two equally as excellent bands continue to be overlooked. As for Moll, he's a quiet, unassuming fellow, and his charm and passion for music is reflected below as we discuss his past, present, and future.

    I've really enjoyed the debut, and something I did was I went back and listened to the See Venus and Timewellspent records, and, to me, there's a definite sonic continuum running between all three groups. Are you pursuing a particular sound? Is there a perfect sound you're trying to capture?

    I think you're always going to have the way that you write, in terms of ideas and chord progressions and such, but generally I like lush, well-arranged, cinematic music. That's something I definitely wanted to push forward with The Postmarks.

    It's just something I'm curious about, because you've had three different bands with three different lineups, and as the previous two groups only released one record, I'm just wondering if there's an ideal sound you're pursuing that you haven't quite hit upon with the people you're working with.

    I see what you're saying, but no, I don't think it was a case of that. Timewellspent is definitely not done at this point; we started working on some preliminary stuff recently. See Venus has run its course; the other members just wanted to move on. I don't think I was trying to be a perfectionist, though.

    Tell me a little bit about how The Postmarks came to pass.

    I was looking to do something new, and our drummer had also been working on some things. We sort of put together a new project and started to work on demos. I wanted to do something a little more cinematic and grandiose, something a bit less "indie" sounding, to be honest. Anyway, he had this girl perform one night, a girl he had heard and had was amazed by, so he had set it up for me to come by and check her out. I did and I was taken aback--she embodied everything I had envisioned for this new project of mine. I approached her, and it took a little bit of time for us to get on the same page, but when we did, it was great.

    Does she come from a jazz background?

    No, I think she's more from an indie-pop/lo-fi background. I saw her performing acoustically by herself, and we were just taken with the clarity of her voice and the honesty of her music. Lyrically, we discussed ideas about what we were trying to get across, and she fit in well. One of the reasons I write down Burt Bacharach as an influence is that the way she and I work right now, it's really been like my Burt Bacharach combined with her Hal David and Dionne Warwick. A lot of times, Burt would write the songs, and he would have an initial idea about what he wanted to get across lyrically, and Hal would go away and perfect it.

    On two of your three recent projects, you use a female vocalist. Do you see yourself as writing for a female voice, or does she write the lyrics and you handle the arrangements?

    I handle all of the songwriting...but I think it just sort of happened that way. I'm not opposed to working with men on songwriting, but it just kind of happened that way. See Venus was just more about the people I happened to be working with, and then The Postmarks came about when we stumbled onto Tim. I kind of knew what I was looking for, but I hadn't quite sorted it out, and then when she came into the picture, it all evolved into what I wanted to do.

    I find it interesting in that what you've created, it's very jazzy, and it seems like lately there has been a resurgence of bands making that same kind of Bacharach-inspired pop. When I listened to The Postmarks' debut, I was reminded not of something old, but of a contemporary band, The Bird and the Bee. They're also a new band with a record coming out the same day as yours, and they're on Blue Note. Like you, they too are a band that's floating around in the blogger buzz-bin.

    Oh yeah! It's really been shocking. All of the love we've received from CMJ onward, it's been a shock. I think anytime you work on an album, it's hard to keep sight of things like the world outside the studio. You get so immersed in the studio, you just don't know what's going on outside. I just worked hard on getting the music the way I wanted it to sound and that it's been so well-received, even before the record's out, it's just beyond my expectations.

    I can imagine, especially since the other two records that were similar in style fell through the cracks.

    (Amazed) And yet--and yet I got an email from somebody in Brazil this morning, and they said they loved the See Venus record and just wanted to let me know. So I wrote them back and said it made me really, really happy to hear that. I do feel like it unfairly fell through the cracks. Every once in a while, I'll get an email about See Venus or Timewellspent, and it's kind of shocking. As far as the jazzy aspect, it's something I've been into for a long time. I've always written in a melancholy kind of way, so that kind of thing has always caught my ear.

    Chronologically, Timewellspent was before See Venus, right?

    Well, actually, it was simultaneous to See Venus. We'd recorded at the same time the other band started. It was mainly my friend Casey's project. He had a space and allowed me to do the See Venus album, and in return I would work on his stuff when See Venus got to a point where we wrapped up work. I'm not somebody who can give 110% on any more than one thing at a time. The main thing about Timewellspent is that it's not my songs; he wrote them and I came in and embellished the arrangements.

    How was it to work with Andy Chase?

    It was amazing! It was amazing to have somebody you have a world of respect for then turn around and show you that same level of respect and admiration. Actually, he was a name that was seriously tossed around to help us out on the See Venus album. It didn't happen, but I always kept that in the back of my mind. I was looking for somebody to mix the record, so I took a gamble and approached him, and he fell in love with it. Still, in the beginning stages, I was only looking at him to mix the record and then I'd shop it around to labels myself. He said, "I don't know if you realize it, but I have a label, and though I've never really been interested in signing anybody, because it's mainly for the Ivy back catalog and other band-related projects, I'd like to release it." That was a perfect situation to be in, you know? To have somebody of that level totally behind us, plus to be the only band on the label.

    When you tour, is the band just the three of you, or do you expand the lineup?

    When we played CMJ, there were six of us. That was guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards, and vocals. One of the keyboard players switches over to guitar and gives us a fuller sound.

    Is Eddie Alonso (leader of Miami band Feathers) in the band? I’m a big fan of his work, and I can hear some elements of what he does now in See Venus.

    No, he's not. He's a great musician. I went to go see them at CMJ. There were only, like, ten people in the audience, but they were really good. It's always a weird situation, seeing your former band mates on stage. You kind of think you should be up there, too, playing a show. (Laughs)

    With the expanded lineup, do you think you have the live sound in the right way to translate your ideas to the stage? Or do you like to have a bit of leeway with your songs when you play live?

    With See Venus, we really took a lot of liberties when we played live. We thought it'll be what it'll be, and it didn't matter to us if a string line was played on a synthesizer. With The Postmarks, a lot of people who have seen us, aside from knowing that as a live band we're still a little green, they said it actually translated better than on the album.

    Was CMJ your first set of shows?

    WE played some shows around that, and the response we received was quite awesome. Andy had all his celebrity friends around there. Guys like Adam Schlesinger, Albert from The Strokes, guys from Marilyn Manson, and it was quite an evening! Andy kind of said that Adam loved it, and he said Adam is really hyper-critical of everything, so he walked away impressed. So I guess we're doing something right! (Laughs)

    The Postmarks is available February 6, 2007, on Unfiltered Records

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:20 AM   0 comments
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