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  • Harvey Danger
    Wednesday, February 28, 2007
    Ahhhhh, Harvey Danger! You may remember them from such pop hits as "Flagpole Sitta" and...well...nothing else. See, back in that heady year of 1998, they were part of a very brief Power Pop revival, one that included bands like Third Eye Blind, Semisonic, Fastball and Vertical Horizon. Yeah, yeah, if you're old enough, you remember those songs, and you'll remember how they were overplayed. But if you go back and listen to them now, you'll discover something rather shocking: these songs are excellent. These bands wrote great songs in spite of their one-hit wonder status--and Harvey Danger was no exception.

    But like these other bands, Harvey Danger's post-hit story is a little bit messy, and as you'll soon see, it caused the band to split. After releasing
    King James Version, an excellent record in every sense of the word, the band split, simply because...well, no one knew that they'd released a new record. But a well-received ten year reunion show prompted the band to consider reforming, leading them to record Little by Little.., the band's best record to date. It's a wonderful album--and to prove how good it is, they decided to give it away via download. It's a radical move, and one that's reaped them a great deal of attention--and rightly so. As you can see, Nelson has a lot to say, and it's an honor to present this brief but extensive interview with the man himself. It's insightful, it's telling, it's entertaining, and it's one of my favorite interviews to date.

    If we could look back for a moment, what happened with King James Version? Could you describe some of the hassles that you had with the label at the time, and were these things responsible for Harvey Danger's break-up that followed?

    The short answer is that the music business happened to it. Though I could tear open all the psychic wounds that have covered over that period in my mind, I think it best just to say that we signed up with the wrong label. Though, in all fairness, it wasn’t really their fault, exactly—not at first, anyway. Around the middle of 1998, when everything was going great guns with “Flagpole Sitta” and all we as a band could think about was how eager we were to get off the road, spread our wings, and make a new record (remember that Merrymakers was recorded in 1996, so by then it was very old for us), we started hearing about how some beverage company was buying some record company and how there was going to be some kind of merger or whatever. We thought very little of it because, frankly, we were too busy pretending that we weren’t really part of the music business because we preferred Pavement to Sugar Ray. But then, as we were making the second record, finally, in 1999, after 8 solid months of touring, the merger happened, our label was dissolved, and we had to spend almost two years wondering who owned our contract, which label would work with us, and, ultimately, how to get dropped so we could just put KJV (which we were and are fiercely proud of) out on Barsuk. It was a miserable time, easily the worst I’ve ever felt—all that success, tainted though it was by the cheapness of the inevitable one-hit wonder associations, felt like the big league dues we had to pay before we could drop what we felt like was a much more impressive and meaningful work on the world of “Flagpole” listeners/radio programmers/all-purpose haters. But it was not to be. By the time all the legal bullshit finally got sorted out, it was Fall of 2000, the radio and MTV had completed their transformation into Limp Bizkitry, and no one wanted to know about little HD anymore, industry-wise… which would have been fine if we hadn’t just spent so much time and effort immersed in that industry. It was just too heartbreaking, and none of us had the stamina to continue. We did a bit touring and got a lot of excellent press, but the prevailing sense was that the world had no idea KJV had even come out. Though it has gone on to be a legitimate cult record, and that is deeply gratifying, the anticlimax of its release was really what killed the band’s spirit. The body followed about seven months later. It was really sad.

    What prompted you to rekindle the Harvey Danger torch? Was there a particular moment that made you think, "it's time...the world needs us!"?

    I wish I felt like the world needed us! No, it’s way more like we decided that we needed the world, or rather, that we needed each other. There arose a shared conviction between me, Jeff, and Aaron that we still had work to do, that we could power through the angst of the past and make better music together than we could separately. That was all. I had worked with both Jeff and Aaron separately through the three years we were broken up, writing songs, sometimes doing impromptu performances with friends (I hosted a variety show called “All Things To All People” in Seattle for a couple of years, and we did a lot of stuff there). It was only a matter of time (and much, much hemming and hawing) before we all three tried to get some stuff going. Then, when I was in the throes of making my putative solo record (more on this below), we decided to take a couple of the songs we’d been working on into the studio, just for a day, just to get them down. They were “Wine, Women, and Song” and “I Missed It,” both of which wound up on Little By Little… (the latter is on the bonus disc). It just felt amazing and right, the way it hadn’t felt for years—either on my own in the studio or for the last few years of Harvey Danger. There was chemistry again. Ira from Nada Surf played drums. It was the day before The Long Winters were leaving on another tour, and I spent the whole time listening to those two songs. When I got back, I was pretty much resolved that no matter how we decided to do it, no matter what we called it or what form it took, the three of us were musically involved again. Fortunately, Jeff and Aaron felt the same. The 10th anniversary show we played in April of 2004 was what clinched it. It was an amazing sense of communion with the audience and each other, a line around the block, TV cameras, waterslides, laser tag, the whole thing. People flew in from all over the country. It was easily one of the highlights of my life. Though I’d met a lot of people while touring with the Long Winters who’d told me bashfully how much they missed Harvey Danger, and how much they loved King James Version, it didn’t really click until that night that there was a real audience out there who had a meaningful connection with the work we did, and not just the one song. Still, we decided to take it slowly. It wasn’t until we hooked up with Michael Welke, our new drummer, that it really made sense to get serious. The new record was an extension of the enthusiasm we rediscovered for playing together.

    In visiting your fan forum, it seems as if your loyal and longtime fans are quick to dismiss 'the hit' and are even quicker to point out that there's more to Harvey Danger than that one moment seven years ago. Looking back, is it tempting to be dismissive or cynical about the success of "Flagpole Sitta?"

    The fear isn’t that we’ll only ever be known for one song; that’s pretty much a certainty, since the circumstances that brought us to the national stage are unlikely ever to repeat themselves. The issue is that “Flagpole” belongs to the world (which, as The Smiths remind us, won’t listen) and the rest of the songs belong to us and the true fans. I think it’s the same with any band that has had a similar experience, but perhaps a bit more pronounced with us because “Flagpole Sitta” is kind of a stylistic anomaly among our other stuff—and certainly our new material. It’s always a little more satisfying when someone develops a relationship with the songs you know they had to seek out, whereas basically anyone in the world might have been exposed to “Flagpole.” With all that in mind, I’ve really come to terms with that song and its success. It’s well put together, catchy as hell, and it still makes me chuckle to think it was ever so freaking huge, since I still think the words are kind of subversive, at least for the commercial airwaves. And a surprising number of very cool people have expressed their admiration for what the song is really up to. Though I still have to leave the room most times it comes on the radio or jukebox or whatever, I’ve also started to enjoy playing it live—mainly because we now don’t have to do so every time we perform. There’s nothing like a hit to light up a room.

    Have you been tempted to pull a Jacob Slichter and write a tell-all biography about your music biz experience? And, um, why haven't you? (Slichter is the drummer of Semisonic, who in 2004 published a very telling and often hilarious biography, So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star?)

    It was actually Jake’s book that made me put away the 75 pages of detailed notes I had compiled with just such a project in mind. Not necessarily a tell-all, but a memoir. He did a great job with that book of his—though, it was really interesting to read his version of certain events at which I was actually physically present, and how different my perspective on them was (we toured with Semisonic for 3 weeks in ’98 at our mutual career peaks). I don’t know. It could happen. I sort of feel like making an effort to put all that stuff behind me rather than re-dredging it might be a more fruitful enterprise. Still, I appreciate the thought, and the tacit vote of confidence that comes with it.

    From the very first notes of "Wine, Women & Song," it's obvious that Little by Little... heralds a new direction for Harvey Danger. Was it intentional that you made a mellower record--one with more intricate arrangements and a newfound prominence of piano--or were you just as surprised to find that this was the direction your muse decided to go?

    It was definitely intentional on my part. I’d been trying to convince Jeff to play more piano for years, since “Pike St./Park Slope” had come together so nicely. He was reluctant, I think, because he associates it with his pre-rock period (childhood lessons and such). I just think he comes up with great, expressive piano parts, and that it would be interesting to try something different from what we’d grown accustomed to as a young band. It felt like a good challenge to confront. The main thing, though, in terms of the overall feel is that most of these songs were written in the living room of my apartment (where the piano lives), and therefore have a necessarily mellower sound—the sound of an apartment, where you can’t play too loud without pissing off the neighbors, as opposed to our previous records, which were written in basements and practice spaces, where you kind of want to piss off as many neighbors as possible. We’re just not like that anymore--though maybe we will be again. I know I’ve found myself reaching for This Year’s Model quite a bit lately, now that we’ve made our mellow, stately melodic record. The next batch of songs will likely be more rock.

    The reasoning behind your decision to give away Little by Little is quite intriguing. At what point did you decide on such an unusual (at least for a much more well-known band like Harvey Danger) method of distribution? How has the reaction been so far; how many copies have been downloaded so far--and do you think this decision's helped?

    The idea was hatched after we played a big successful showcase at SXSW just after we’d finished the record. We just couldn’t escape the conviction that none of the standard issue modes of being a band made sense to us. We don’t fit on majors and we don’t really fit on indies. We can’t do extensive touring, we’re not young and hot, and there’s weird baggage attached to our name. In addition, there’s the discomfort when working with labels of meeting other people’s expectations—even reasonable ones—and more to the point, their schedules. The main issue was that we wanted people to hear the record in a timely fashion, money be damned. We also reasoned that no matter what we did, we’d have to figure out some way of dealing with the—let’s call it skepticism (for charity’s sake)—that always plagues bands who try and make comebacks. The guys in Nada Surf dealt with it by 1) making their best record to date, and 2) touring their fucking asses off. We felt like we’d done #1, but for a variety of personal reasons, simply could not commit to doing #2. All of these factors were part of the decision. It also just feels weirdly right. And Jeff is a computer nerd, so he has really enjoyed masterminding the whole operation (with a little help from his friends). The key issue: We wanted to remove all obstacles to people hearing the record and developing a relationship with our music and our band. Working backwards from there, it wasn’t too hard to arrive at a free download model. Best of all, it seems to be working; by the time this gets printed, we’ll probably be sitting with around 100,000 downloads or so. And the hard copy version is also selling pretty well, especially in Seattle. We’ll be doing a bit of touring next year, so I guess that’ll be the real test, but for now, everything seems to be in its right place, to coin a phrase…

    It's also rumored that you have a solo album waiting in the wings. What's the story behind that, who did you work with, and will it see the light of day any time soon?

    In the three years that Harvey Danger was broken up, when I wasn’t busy touring with The Long Winters, I began no fewer than four solo or collaborative projects, all of which are in some stage of near-completion. They are, in no real order: 1) Sean Nelson and His Mortal Enemies—a collection of songs I’ve written alone and co-written with Peter Buck and Aaron from HD, and recorded with members of Centro-matic, Little Grizzly, and Okkervil River. Robyn Hitchcock also makes a cameo on one of the songs. 2) Nelson Sings Nilsson—an album of Harry Nilsson covers I’m making with Steve Fisk. 3) Society of the Golden West—a robot pop collaboration with Fisk and John Goodmanson (and just to give you a sense of how long we’ve been dicking around, this project actually pre-dates the Postal Service). 4) The Vernacular—me and Chris Walla making rock songs. I have no idea if or when any of this stuff will ever see the light of day. It’s complicated.

    (At the risk of tooting my own horn, I’ve also been doing a lot of session work as a harmony singer. In the past few years, I’ve appeared on three Death Cab for Cutie records, as well as two by the Long Winters (duh), and one each by Nada Surf, The Decemberists, and Robyn Hitchcock. More to come. It’s really fun.)

    Looking back over your experiences from the last eleven years, what advice would you give to young musicians and bands?

    My/our experience is so bizarre that I kind of don’t feel qualified to give much advice. What I will say is that no force can destroy a band that knows what they want and who they are. It’s difficult sometimes to believe that the clichés of music can pertain to you, but they really can (and in many cases, they probably already do). My advice is to show up on time, keep challenging yourself, don’t ask/wait for anyone else’s permission to record or tour, and generally aim for self-sufficiency, because that’s the only thing that ends up being truly satisfying. And always bet on black…

    Final question: so where have all the merrymakers gone?

    Where, indeed! I think I saw them heading to your mom’s house...

    Thanks, Sean!

    This interview originally appeared in Mundane Sounds on October 13, 2005

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:29 AM   0 comments
    Graham Lindsey
    Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    Graham Lindsey's music is haunting and beautiful. It's steeped in the traditions of Country, Folk, and Americana, but he never really sounds like either one. Instead, there's a quality of his music that feels almost funereal, as if it's the voice of the past coming back to remind you of your ultimate destiny. It's hard not to be affected by his songs, and from the first moment you experience him, you'll definitely be transfixed. I know I was. He just recently released his second album, Hell Under the Skullbones, which was an impressively maturation of the sounds he delivered on his debut album. For our talk, we got him to talk a little about his past, and a little bit about the making of music. It's an enjoyable read, and it's one I certainly do enjoy.

    I know about your previous past as the precocious drummer for preteen punks Old Skull, and then you released your solo debut in 2003, but what were you doing in between? Were you making music on a regular basis?

    Not really on a regular basis. I was a member of Old Skull for two years. I quit them in 1992, I believe. So between then, during those eleven years, I was playing in punk rock and emo bands here and there, playing my guitar, songwriting a little bit. Around 1995, I started to do my first real stand-out shows, with acoustic guitars, bass, more punk rock stuff with me solo. I did that for a few years, but then I just stopped. Between 1997 and 2001, when most of the stuff on Famous Anonymous Wilderness was written, I was just by myself.

    I know you have a punk background, but was there a moment that made you decide "I want to do something different musically," or was it a gradual change?

    Yeah, in stages. In stage after stage and level after level, a lot of musicians go through that sort of thing. I was really, really young at the time I was going through that, and I wanted to hear something different, and I wanted to do something different, and I thought that I could do it. So I think it was just a gradual build, to the point where I dropped electric guitar for acoustic guitar.

    What prompted you to release a solo album?

    I guest just writing the songs I had written. I had about seventy or eighty songs written between a two year period. I narrowed it down from those songs I had to the eleven that were on the debut. I guess I didn't have anything else to do with 'em, but I just didn't want to sit on 'em, either. I felt I had to get 'em out after having them around for a few years.

    So you decided to take that plunge.

    Yeah—kind of like vomiting! (Laughs)

    During the time you were writing the songs that became your debut, were you playing out live?

    Here and there. During the formative period, during those years where I was screwing around, I'd write two-bit songs on acoustic guitar, just kind of feeling it out, getting my bearings. I was playing live quite a lot. Then I wound up moving down to New Orleans, then after that to Brooklyn, then Nebraska—pretty much all one right after the other. I guess I gained a lot of material for the later songwriting I was doing in 2001 to 2003, just from all the experiences I was having. So I wasn't really playing live all that much. Oh, I'd do a few shows here and there, playing for twenty people, most of which were friends of mine, that kind of thing. But at that point I wasn't interested in the whole economic monster that is this business. I just wanted to get my songs out there. I feel now it is important for an artist to keep that monster at bay, and to realize that you are a songwriter for the song's sake, not for the money or the comfort.

    I also noticed that the songs on the new record are a bit more arranged, and there's a band, whereas the debut was just you with a guitar.

    There were some songs with a bit of additional instrumentation on the first album, but I deliberately wanted to keep that paired down, due to the background of the writing of the songs. I don't want to say I had a strict vision for what I wanted to do on that first album, but I know what I wanted and what I didn't want with this latest album. Me and Steve Deutsch, my engineer and producer, we were much looser with our ideas; we thought, "Wherever these songs take us, let's follow it, and let's not have such a deliberate tension on the songs." Whether the finished songs are "better" or not isn't up to us; these songs are what they are. I didn't want to replicate Famous Anonymous Wilderness note for note, either. There's a tendency for artists to piggyback on past successes, and they wind up putting out the same album time and time and time again. That's boring.

    How did you meet up with Morris Tepper and Van Dyke Parks?

    That was pretty much courtesy of Steve, who's been situated centrally in LA for a long time, and he's worked with a lot of musicians throughout his career. He either had personal relationships with them, or he knew a guy who knew them. WE went through with someone who was a little out of reach, and then someone else. A name would pop into our heads, and I'd say, "well, you know, Morris Tepper would sound great on this song, with the pattern this song has, let's see if we can get ahold of him," and, sure enough, we did! It all pretty much came together that way.

    I'm sure you were impressed, working with these two legends. Were there any things you took away from working with them, in terms of musical ideas?

    They brought something I wasn't deliberately looking for. But it was very exciting hearing them, you know? Especially with Van Dyke Parks—he brought something much more musical to the song, more ideas than I had originally heard. Ultimately, working with them, it helped my songs, it was a whole "What if?" scenario that really worked out.

    One thing I've always been struck by is the arrangements. They're very nice, and they're kept very simple and basic. When I was visiting your Myspace site, I listened to a few of the live tracks you have posted, and basically I could tell no real difference between the live and the studio tracks, because of the stripped-down nature of your songs. Is that part of the reason you tend to write more minimalistic arrangements?

    Yeah, exactly! I like to, when I write…when an artist is on a record, it's different from an artist live. I know that I'm – I don't want to say that I'm let down, but I'm definitely not interested when an artist, during a live performance, is replicating every single sound verbatim that is on their record. I think the whole idea of music should transcend the musical exercise. As far as minimalism, this latest album, it's not as minimal; it's more arranged, and it has more layers and textures. But when I perform solo, I try to fill it all in. I don't want to be the pussyfoot folk singer up there. I try to fill in that space that's natural with solo performers, there's a ferocity that's.. (inaudible) But I do like the minimalist approach, and with me, that's what music's been about all the time, when I'm sittin' on the porch, or strumming on a guitar, that's the tendency about how I make music. I don't want to be puritanical about it, though. (Laughs)

    Considering you come from that punk background, with what you do, the quiet but powerful emotional nature is equal to the emotional rush of what punk is about.

    I've spent 15 years annihilating my ears, listening to punk rock. I still do it! (Laughing) But the real primitive punk rock, the three-chord, bam-bam-boom-boom chords of punk rock, it's three or four instruments playing, and to me it's arguably comparable to one big acoustic guitar. I think of what punk rock has gone through now, but also to me as an artist playing acoustic guitar, the loud and big sounds can't quite compare if you're really focused on one little guitar.

    To me, it's not how loud or insane you can play, but it's how you can bring yourself across lyrically as well. I think if punk rock is partially emotional, if you see people going batshit insane on the dance floor, I think you can get the same kind of mental emotion by having your lyrics up front and having what you say be the focus.

    Absolutely. It's ripping the song out of the artist, then ripping the artist completely out of the song, and then letting the listener carry it on. To me, that's what makes sense. The music that's affected me most in my life has done that. I think it works across the board, no matter what genre of music you like.

    One final question: how does it feel—and I don't make this comparison because I think it's clichéd…

    (Nervous laughter)

    I think you know what's coming next… (Laughter)

    Of course I do! (Laughs)

    How does it feel to be compared to Bob Dylan? Everybody I have played your music to says, "this guy sounds just like Bob Dylan!" I know on some levels you have to ignore that element—I know I do, because I don't think, "oh, this guy is trying to sound like Dylan," because it's just the way you sound when you sing.

    Right, well, good for you! (Laughs) But going back to punk rock for a little bit—during the heyday of indie-rock ten years ago, you'd go to a show and you'd hear of a band that was coming through. If you'd never heard of 'em, you'd ask people what they sound like, and people would say, "oh, they sound just like Fugazi," because at that point Fugazi was one of the big bands, and there were people trying to emulate Fugazi's style or what have you. That comparison didn't mean shit to me. It didn't tell me anything. I think it's laziness. It's irresponsible and it's dangerous for any artist to deliberately go about trying to sound just like another artist. It truly is dangerous and not responsible for a music lover or a critic to indulge in the tendency to equate an artist with another, and that's as far as they go, with nothing more than a few seconds to determine or go further into a band than just a few notes into a song. It's like saying, "what's the sky like?" "Oh, it's black" without mentioning the stars. It tells you nothing. You miss the point of what the sky is about.

    So, what's next?

    Next, I'm going to be touring in the Netherlands and Europe this December, and after that hopefully a tour of the US, or at least a West Coast tour, and writing the third album, of course.

    No plans for an Old Skull reunion in there?

    Uhh, I hope not! (Laughter)

    Graham Lindsey's latest album, Hell Under the Skullbones, is available now on Spacebar Recordings. (This article originally ran November 6, 2006, at Mundane Sounds)


    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:45 AM   0 comments
    Okay's Marty Anderson
    Monday, February 26, 2007
    Marty Anderson had been involved with two Bay Area bands, Dilute and Howard Hello, before being diagnosed with a serious form of Crohn's Disease. The disease, for those who don't know, is a seriously intense and incurable intestinal disorder that is an excruciatingly painful disorder that causes a lot of misery and discomfort. It has been an intense illness for Marty Anderson, a young man struck with this disorder and forced to rearrange his life. His life for a time involved much speculation as to whether he would be alive or dead by the next day. It's a tough way to live; very intense, and most of us cannot begin to imagine what his life must have been like. Thus, his life now consists of living to an IV machine, difficulty eating and a lot of pain.

    Where it would be understandable for even the toughest person to give in to their pain and suffering, in the face of his illness, he decided to do what he does best: make music. He wrote songs to describe his pain. When he finished them, he formed a new project, entitled Okay. Earlier this year, he simultaneously released his debut albums
    High Road and Low Road, two sonically similar but entirely different records. They're quite beautiful, and could easily be some of this year's best releases. It wouldn't be a surprise if they were. These records defy simple description, and simply overcome the listener with emotions, tears, and, ultimately, a newfound respect for this thing we call LIFE.

    Wise beyond his 27 years, Anderson spoke to us a few months ago, and it was a pleasure. Seek out his records. You won't be disappointed.

    Why the decision to make two albums and release them simultaneously? I know that there was some discussion that this was going to be a concept album, or that both albums were concept albums tenuously, but would you care to discuss the concept behind each one?

    Well, at first, it wasn't going to be a "concept." It was just, I just kept recording songs and they eventually, I noticed that they were very, they came from two different places as I was writing them up with different mindsets, so basically it's just a different mindset behind each album, I have a different approach lyrically to the same subject.

    Or, more specifically, each album is different thematically is different; though the theme might be same, there is a difference between the two, except on a much more levels.

    They are the same sonically and dynamically, and that was on purpose. Low Road is more of a...I don't...I don't want to say "pessimistic," but it kind of became a more negative approach, or not a life-affirming approach whether it's a focus on the world or yourself. I wrote it more trying to face the punches and trying to make it about the attempts to overcome giving up.

    So High Road is optimistic and Low Road is realistic?

    Yeah. As I said, I have said that to my friends, who have difficulty with it not being optimistic, I say, "Well, it's not pessimistic, it's just truthful." I went through a lot of things, and I was kinda going back and forth like that, and when I was in one state I'd write a song one way, and when I was in another state I'd write it in another, and I just divided it up, I compiled them, all the "good" songs and all the "negative" ones. We were going to do a double album at first, and then we just decided to release them individually.

    To me, I wouldn't necessarily say they're optimistic or pessimistic, I would say matter-of-fact. They're very honest, because when you're dealing with a serious health issue, you have to be realistic about it, but at the same time you don't want to be pessimistic, either.

    Yeah, it's kind of like deciding, are you going to take steps to get better, or are you just going to say, "Okay this is my life, and that's it?" I'm definitely taking a step forward with this. I feel a million miles away from those records, though, those were done years ago.

    So, Okay is a major part of your therapy?

    It is completely necessary, which has become apparent just in the last few months. The last time I went into the hospital a few months ago, it really, really bad, and I was in really bad shape. When I got out, I had this new idea, I told myself I was going to get a band together and I had this energy. Within a month, we played four shows, and then all of these people came out, all of these articles were written. Before that, I was bedridden for, like, a year. It's been a strange event, the last couple of months. The ten milligrams extra of whatever medication I'm taking, there's not enough to explain what has happened. What I think it is, is having all my friends around me. I have a nine piece band, and every single person in it is like one of my best friends, so I think having that in my life has kept me going.

    The albums themselves, were they all you?

    The albums themselves, everything was me. I used to be in a band called Dilute, so I've been playing with those guys for about twelve years, maybe longer, maybe shorter, somewhere around there. It's basically them at the core of this band. I basically took a break from Dilute, and the band kind of broke up, but it's just a break, and that's when my health was not great, and that's when I started to do the Okay songs by myself, because I couldn't do the band. Now that I can, I'm trying to recreate that sound, and I realize it misses something.

    The albums it's beautifully complex, but they're downright simple in their approach, and that's what struck me. I guess when you're dealing with such a complex matter, it's the only way to approach it. When you wrote these songs, were you consciously writing about your health, or is it something that when you look back now, you say, "wow, the subject matter really came out and I wasn't even thinking about it when i wrote it?"

    Oh no, never. I'm always very conscious about what I'm writing about...and..well, no, that's actually not true. It's more like I have a very specific critera before I call a song a song. It has to resonate with my truth, which is usually, like when I wrote those, it was about me being bad, sick and isolated--but it also has to resonate universally, with everybody. Everybody can't relate to being sick in a small apartment and not being able to go out, but they can relate to being in this country. To be honest, I think they're really similar; it's really easy, you just change "body" to "country," it's very easy. But for me, it has to be personal, and it has to be my truth for me to actually be able to play it live, for me to actually be able to do it for real.

    They're definitely a very real set of records. Before you released them, were you concerned that maybe what you were releasing was too personal?

    Yeah. Oh, yeah! I released a double record a few years ago and gave it to my friends, and that was more personal then, and that was just kinda to tell them where I was at. This, I took it a lot more seriously, I took it a lot farther, the way everybody reacted to it, they really thought I should put it out, I kinda thought I should put it out, but I hedged for a long time, because it out there. So I knew that if I put out a press release, it's gonna have to say I'm sick, or else I'll just have to lie to every interviewer. The other articles that have come out, we had a write-up the SF Weekly, it was so descriptive, about how I have to go and change my IV. That is a little bit hard for sixty thousand people to read, walking around the East Bay, but I'm getting used to it. It's easy for me, because if I don't tell the truth, I get anxious, and I feel like I don't know who I told what, so I just tell everybody.

    It's that honesty that makes the records a lot more real and resonate with a lot more people.

    It's been getting more press, and that was somewhat deliberate, too; I did try to make something much more accessible than anything I've done. The responses...have been crazy. People have really connected to it, but for me, it was just a lifeline, it was what I had to do to stay around.

    Seeing all of this positive reaction is somewhat surreal.

    It's very surreal. In just six months, it's all been happening really fast. I mean, I'm not complaining--it's different, different than laying in bed all week.

    It's probably helped your health in ways you really can't appreciate just yet.

    Yeah. I'm trying to appreciate it all that I can, because it's amazing..

    It's one of those things where you can't feel the love, but when you look back later, you'll think, 'wow, all of these people around the world, they responded positively to my records and wished me well, even if I couldn't be around them to hear them say it directly." That would have a healing affect.

    Yeah, it's a full circle with these records. When we played our CD release show, I never really thought I'd be able to sit, and I did that and I felt good. I told everybody, if I was to put them out, I wanted to get somebody to say that it changed their life and I wanted to get somebody angry. Really get angry. Like, "who the fuck does this guy think he is, this is the worst shit I've ever heard in my life!" And I got both! (Laughs) It was a great sensation. It was exactly what I wanted. It surpassed what I thought it would be completely.

    I did notice both spectrums, and the interesting thing about the negative reviews was that absolutely none of the reviews mentioned your illness and it's possible the reviewers didn't even know you were sick, or that what Okay was doing is autobiographical.

    I think negative reviews are fine and completely necessary. I can't remember a Kubrick movie that didn't split the critics down the middle. The idea of press, I think it's a natural thing for any truth to be criticized. I mean, if it's true, it has to be criticized. But I wanted to prove it to myself, and that's what I got.

    (At this point, the recording becomes difficult to understand, and static garbles a conversation about Howard Hello, Dilute and his previous bands)

    How is your health right now? Has there been any improvement?

    My health is confusing, as usual. I'm still on the IV, but I'm working to get off of it. I'm trying to eat more. My basic problem's much more painful to eat...I'm working hard to get to the point where I'm eating enough so they can say, "Okay, you can get off of it." So that's what I'm working on, I'm trying to find the right food, trying to lower my stress level. Like, another thing, I'll have an argument with somebody, and then, in like three hours, I'll throw up. That's not normal. That's not how normal people handle things. And yeah, that makes me sensitive in every way and that's a drag, but I've been getting a lot better, I've been meditating every day.

    Do you think Okay has played a large part in your health getting better?

    Definitely. Absolutely! If I didn't have this support and this love in this tangible way, I don't know what would have happened for me.

    Are you currently working on new Okay material?

    Oh, we've got a whole record ready! (Laughs) It didn't take long.

    Was this more of a collaborative effort, or you by yourself again?

    I pretty much wrote of the songs. We changed a few of them up, some friends had different ideas and we changed them up, but I pretty much wrote them. I got excited just to play a G Chord when Jay (Pelucci) was in the same room and he hit the drums and I started laughing! (giggles) I was so excited. But I brought up the whole record and everybody learned it.

    How different is it from Low Road/High Road, or is it the same thematically and sonically?

    Thematically, I think it's...I've been a lot more positive lately. The last ones were, to play the devil's advocate, like "ohhhh my god, it's all over, it's all shit, blah blah blah," but I just want to have a balance with a record. For this, I'm hitting for a non-duel philosophy on life and that's what I'm talking about now. I'm not interested in the duality of illness. I mean, how could I not be, with all the positivity around me?

    One thing I realized from Low Road & High Road, even though they are depressing at times and very bleak, there's also a glimmer of humanity and of hope; you've got this moment NOW to record the song NOW, so let's appreciate the time that you have NOW.

    Exactly. The new songs are exactly talking about that: "You're going to die, but how? You're still alive right now, you're still alive right NOW." I mean, enjoy it, because this show might be our last show, because you don't know. I don't know. I'm just happy that people are coming over to play music with me for twenty minutes, then being able to go out in the sunshine.

    Looking back now to you at seventeen, when you started making music, do you think your illness has changed your appreciation for life?

    Oh, absolutely. I can't imagine my life without it. It affects your relationships, it affects your activities, it affects my family life and career, it affects everything. It's who I am. But I was writing music then, and I don't know...(puzzled) I don't know where I would be, if I'd be playing music, because I wouldn't know of the places it's taken me and to help me see it as more than fun ...I don't even know if I'd be alive without music.

    If it's the thing that saved your life, you can't turn your back on it.

    I tried, I tried therapy and didn't have music and I wasn't getting healthy, and I realized I needed it to get healthy.

    Your muse wouldn't let you go down that easily.


    I tell people about your records, about how they moved me beyond...I just can't put into words how I've been moved by them. I mean, it's sad, because it's very pessimistic, and yet it's optimistic, and it's a reaffirmation of life in the face of death and disease and illness and tragedy.

    Yeah, but I look at it like this. I wasn't trying to find an answer. You're at a crossroads. You can go forward or move backwards or stay where you are. It's not about saying "this is the answer." Like on High Road. It's not like I'm trying to say this is the journey, because I'm still going there.

    Noticing that there was a time when you didn't know if there was going to be tomorrow, and to me that's what comes through, about being at that point, that peak, and wondering if this is it and you are looking back, or hoping that you have another chance. It just seems like, "am I gonna die tomorrow and, if I do, what was life about?" It's about the realization of the beauty of life in the face of death.

    It's like, all of a sudden, so many of the things that bother you, they don't. And forgiveness, it's not difficult, it doesn't have the the hardness to do as it did before. And you look back and you say, "wow, that's what life is about. Kindness is what life is about. Forgiveness is what life is about. It's so obvious!" And when you make decisions based on that, that is what love is, and it's the most miraculous thing.

    This interview originally ran in Mundane Sounds in July 2005

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:33 AM   0 comments
    Stupid Saturday Surveys: Joseph Kyle
    Saturday, February 24, 2007

    In the tradition of every cool little fanzine ever, I decided that, hey, why not have a little bit of fun? So I devised this fun little survey with silly questions, and thus the "Stupid Saturday Surveys" were born. I've got some fun ones lined up, but hey, let's start with me, shall we? We shall!

    1. What was your first taste of Rock and Roll?

    Hmm, I'd probably have to say it was Blondie. My childhood was spent in the 1970s, but Blondie was a pop/rock crossover that really appealed to me. Plus, she was old enough to be my mom. Maybe there's some sort of Freudian thing at play there?

    What was the last song you downloaded?

    Not a song, but I downloaded the second installment of the Earlies' Secret Broadcast series.

    Ever courted someone via mixtape? Did it work? Is there one song that you'd always include for wooing purposes?

    Oh, of course. Did it work? I'm single right now. Do you think it worked? As far as songs, one or two would always make it on the first initial "I like you" tape. Guns 'N Roses' "Think About You" was one. Another was True Love Always' "Secret Static." That's such a great song! I wish I could find that True Love Always album. I'd also usually include something sweet like Heavenly's "C Is The Heavenly Option," too. If I were really into her, and I felt confident of feelings, I'd include Tripping Daisy's "Sonic Bloom." It's such a beautiful song.

    What's your favorite Will Oldham song, and why?

    Right now, it's "Untitled" from the Hope EP. It's the one about making a cake. Because I'm making a cake today, and it gets me in the mood. Plus, it's sort of a bizarro-world version of "Macarthur Park"

    What song do you really want to cover next?

    I have no musical talent. But if I did, I'd probably cover something nice! I'd probably cover that True Love Always song.

    Last book you read?

    I read a lot of books--after all, that's my thing! But the one I'm currently working on is The End of Racism by Dinesh D'Souza. It's very interesting; it's very enlightening, and it's really, really deep.

    How do you like your eggs?

    With cheese, white pepper, a touch of cayenne, a hint of onion, and corn tortillas.

    Socks--cotton or silk?

    Silk, baby.

    The one TV show you can't miss?

    Though I'm really not into the Idiot Box, I can't resist the campy charm of Ugly Betty. I think it has something to do with being an impressionable youth and discovering the scandalous photos of Miss Vanessa Williams.

    Favorite quote?

    "If someone shows you who they really are, believe them." -- Maya Angelou

    Who's the one person you'd love to have brunch with, and what would you talk about?

    I'd love to have brunch with beautiful, intelligent, funny woman who's totally cool and is willing to talk about anything. Yes, I'm desperate, but not serious.

    What's currently in your fridge?

    Food. Stuff to make pizza. Orange juice. Bacon. Chicken.

    You have the floor--is there anything you want to say?



    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:09 AM   1 comments
    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    When you listen to the music of Cougar, you're going to find your mind in a more relaxed state. Seriously, when I listened to Law, the debut of this heretofore unknown quintet, I found myself shedding the stresses of the day in a rather quick-like fashion. Further listens--when I was in a more alert state--led me to discover that if you listen hard enough, you'll hear things in their music. Things like: people wadding up paper. Television sets. Heavy breathing. Things that seem accidental are, in fact, are quite intentional, as revealed to us by Cougar's percussionist, D.H. Skogen.

    In perusing your bio, it seems you have a pretty extensive philosophy behind your music. Could you tell me a little bit about how the band came about, and did the band form as a result of that philosophy?

    We didn't actually realize until a little while ago that four of the five members of the group met in Richard Davis' Black Music Ensemble. That was the first time we ever came across each other, but we didn't really start making music as Cougar until some time later. We got together in our guitarist Trent's basement. We were just lpaying around with ideas and things like that, but it became pretty clear early on that we were becoming a group, and that we wanted to keep it short and simple, in a way. There's not a whole lot of noise in our music. Then, when Scott Pauli got involved with the art design, it seemed like it complimented the record really well, and the aesthetic started to become, "Blur the lines between organic and inorganic."

    Was the Layered Collective born about this time?

    No, the Layered Collective's been around quite a while, way before Cougar. The first time Layered really came together was with the YoungBlood Brass Band, which we're involved with, and they've been touring for about eight years. They did a record with a label in New York, and then they sort of started Layered. Also, Youngblood was doing a lot of work, and we decided to put it under the Layered Collective umbrella. Other people came on board, and all of these different things were added to what it did, and Cougar actually became Layered artists through my connection with YoungBlood.

    Listening to Law, I get a sense that the recording was very spontaneous? Was it, or was it more meticulous?

    A lot of the sound ideas are structured, and the sounds we used were born through spontaneity and experimentation, but the song ideas and melodies were premeditated. But a lot of what I did percussion-wise and production-wise was stumbling around a bit, and finding the sound I wanted to produce a synthesized sound. Part of the margining together, whether it was a sampled sound or a live sound, was that we wanted it to sound modern and produced, yet we wanted it to have a more organic vibe. We did a lot of hitting different things; we'd crumple paper up, hit metal canisters--that sort of thing, just trying to find the natural sounds we desired.

    To me, it seems like you're approaching the creation of music from a yin/yang perspective. When you think about a lot of instrumental music, you find that it has a tendency to be very cold, very mechanical, very technical, and very clean sounding; it's detached from the natural elements of an imperfect world. It seems like you want to blend the mechanical elements with the natural, imperfect world.

    Yeah, definitely. Also, we approached the music backwards, in a way. We were formulating all these songs and ideas and kind of had an idea about what we wanted to have the final record sound like; we had an idea of having it like one long musical phrase, and then bring the songs in as necessary. We also knew we had some ideas that we wanted to slip underneath the larger picture. There are some improvisational ideas floating around beneath the surface of the record. We knew we wanted to slip those inside, because if there's a lot of struggle going on, it would sound a bit too electronic and mechanical. We did the best we could to tow the lines between the two, to have it coming out sounding like both.

    In some ways, I'm reminded of Glenn Gould's recordings. One of the big controversies of his career was that he would record and perform these drop-dead gorgeous interpretations of classical compositions in radical, unfamiliar ways, but at the same time, he would absolutely confound critics because on his recordings or in his performances, you would hear him coughing, breathing heavily, and even singing along. On the first few songs on Law, I noticed that alongside these beautiful melodies, you could hear people talking and a television playing. Was this something planned, or was it happenstance?

    It was planned in the sense that we wanted to keep in anything that added to the atmosphere. There were a few times--and I'm thinking of the song "Interracial Dancing"--on it, Aaron's breathing is really loud; he's shaking this bottle that had water in it, and his mouth was rather close to the microphone, so his breathing made it onto the tape. There were some times later in the record where we were recording in Trent's basement and he had a lot of things down there that we were moving around in this small space, so there are little things like that. There's a very open sound to the record; one song, I'd started packing my cymbals upside down, upon a linoleum floor. I played them with mallets, but I was letting them rock on the floor and band upon the linoleum randomly. That kind of thing informed both sides. It helped put a form and structure that was basic and simple and understandable--even kind of poppy. We wanted to borrow things from the spectrum of new music and put them in a context where people who know nothing about experimental music can still enjoy what's going on. I teach a high school drum line, and we'll get parents who are, like, fifty years old and have no knowledge of post-rock or any kind of progressive music, but they've heard Law and they think the music is rather amazing. They're not in tune with it being experimental music; they simply enjoy it for what it is, and they aren't concerned about musical theory.

    One of my own frustrations with a lot of experimental music is that some feel that if the music isn't painfully complex and it's not off-putting to a casual listener, then somehow you've failed, and you aren't truly "experimental."

    The sense I get in modern music is that if you do anything without a trace of irony, then you're suspect. Some feel that musical compositions shouldn't be soothing or beautiful simply because they are. They feel like you should do something that is homage to something else, and you should be wistfully ironic. Instead of simply being, some feel like it should be something more. That's why a lot of music I like doesn't get much attention. Music I like, such as West African percussion, or even some music from New Orleans--which is what Youngblood is rooted in. Music that's pure, it's natural, it's enjoyable, and it's devoid of irony. It's celebrating life. I think the idea of celebrating music without some kind of art theory is important. You don't have to have a Ph.D in theory to enjoy music, and you don't have to prove that you're intellectually sound to make beautiful music.

    Cougar's Law is available now on Layered

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:33 AM   0 comments
    Richard Swift
    Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    My chat with Richard Swift was, well, swift. An international phone call for fifteen minutes might not seem to be enough time to ask everything I'd wanted to ask of the wonderful Mr. Swift, but surprisingly, we had a lot to talk about in terms of his excellent new album, Dressed Up For the Letdown. In comparison to his previous release, 2005's double-CD reissue The Novelist/Walking Without Effort, Letdown is a stripped down, stark, honest, and at times quite humorous collection of pop songs. That it's also a bit of a concept album about the darker side of the music industry, well, that makes the record even more fascinating. I'm quite happy that I had the few minutes I had to chat with him, and I think his comments are insightful and interesting.

    Is Dressed Up For the Letdown a conceptual album about the darker side of the music industry?

    Yeah, kind of. I certainly was going through a lot of bullshit with the music industry at the time I wrote it, so yeah, it's definitely my journey over the past four or five years, although I wrote it in the last year and a half. (Laughs) But yeah, it's definitely a critique of the business and the state of the world I see.

    Does a lot of it date back to before you were with Secretly Canadian?

    Yeah, it does. Some of the songwriting does; some of it was…you know, thinking about it, I think I had almost completed most of it concurrently to signing with Secretly Canadian. Actually, Dressed Up was one of the cards that I played to get the deal with them. (Laughs) It's kind of funny; as soon as I finished the record, by that point I had really sort of stopped giving a shit for the most part, and then things just kind of picked up. Literally, within days, essentially, I'd thrown up my hands in frustration and I said, "Well (sigh), let's see what happens." Then Secretly Canadian called a few days later, and life started to go up for me there.

    Wow, that's amazing. It's a great story, considering the frustrations you'd had.

    I certainly don't regret any of that time. I would never want to go back, because I had some serious mental problems for a few years, and now I'm better. I'm back, I'm healing, I've got some good labels releasing my records---records I don't have to change at all, records no one has a say in except for me. Realistically, it's why it took me a while to sort my label thing out, because I wasn't what certain labels were looking for. Certainl labels were offering me total shit deals, yada yada yada. Everyone has a routine; now mine's worked out, I've stuck with it, and things have sorted themselves out.

    It seems less of a "I hate the music industry" theme than it does a call to focus on one's own musical ability.

    Yeah, that's certainly true. I don't think much of the record industry--I hate to use the term "necessary evil" because I don't really believe in that concept, but yeah, there would be no point for me to bitch about the record industry. I'm just pointing out things. There was a day and age where people like Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Neil Young--man, Neil Young was a fucking pop star! He was a huge pop star back in the day! People either forget about that, or they just don't know. In this day and age, stuff like that is really impossible to find in "pop." There are guys who are kind of on the fringe, like the folk and the freak-folk scene--but they don't touch sincerity, pop appeal, and the weirdness of Neil Young. We live in a day and age where a person like Neil Young coming along is highly unlikely. In talking about my album, I think I was--I can't say "proven wrong" because I kind of had things work out in the end. I don't think I'd want to make a record that was just me all bitching about the record industry. I think the record finds me reaffirming myself, defining my principles, and sticking to it. There's obviously frustrations that come along when you're doing work you think is good and you take it to people who say "It's great, it's wonderful, but if we could do a couple of remixes, tweak it here and there, do a really nice rock video, and if you cleaned up your look and your shit, it'd be even better." I got a lot of that bullshit. I wasn't going to budge on any of that. I wasn't going to. I make my records a certain way, I want my songs to sound a certain way, and nobody is going to come in and mess with it.

    "Richard Swift is an artist. Richard Swift is not a whore."

    (Laughs) Exactly. That's the thing. If I was in it for the money, I certainly wouldn't be on this end of the music industry. People like me aren't making loads of money. I'm to the point now where I am able to pay my bills and pay my band and can live from just writing songs. That's...pretty rare. I'm fortunate.

    The one song that really stuck with me was "Artist & Repertoire." Was it based on actual things A&R men told you?

    Well, in a way. Not just for myself, either; I think it's true for hundreds of people in my situation. Some A&R guy isn't going to tell you that you sound a little trebly in the second chorus. They say things like, (phony-sounding voice) "Oh, the looooook…..the look isn't quite right. Let's tweak it here and there, make it better." I just waded around until I caught up with labels that not only would put out my records, but would put out my records without changing anything. None of it. The artwork, none of it. None of the sound, nada. "Artist & Repertoire" is based from my experience, but I don't think I’m unique at all. Not just in the music industry, too; there are people who do great things but get shot down by uncreative people who think they know how to do it "better." It's a frustration, and it's very trying on you.

    I think Dressed Up for the Letdown is a record an aspiring musician should listen to.

    Oh? Cool, man. When I made The Novelist, it was kind of a private lesson to myself. Letdown is a bit of a warning letter, in a way. I think it's pretty encouraging, too. At the time, I was grappling with life or death issues. I was going through anxiety and panic attacks that were lasting months and months and months, and I went through massive bouts of depression. It was a really dark time. The record is kind of about dealing with that shit and sticking to my guns, and not giving up my principles. I think if you've got it, you've got it, man. I think if you have to work too hard at it to make it happen, it's not really there for you in the first place. I kind of knew the whole time that it would work out. It was just a matter of being patient. But I'm not unique in what I've gone through. People have gone through this sort of thing since the beginning. There's always been the struggle of the artist versus business and how the two can coincide and coexist, or if they even can at all.

    Personally, my point of view of it is if you want to play the game, you cannot complain about what happens to you.

    Yeah, you've got to know what you are getting yourself into. I think everybody comes into the business a little blind. I'm kind of glad I went through the things I did, because now I have a perspective on it all. My relationships with two wonderful record labels and the music industry is pretty healthy. I'm very thankful, and I feel rather fortunate to have such a great group of people helping me out, but at the same time, if the label dropped me tomorrow, I don't think I'd be too heartbroken. I'd be bummed, but I'd keep going, and I'd still have my career. I'd still make music. That's all that matters.

    Richard Swift's Dressed Up for the Letdown is out today on Secretly Canadian

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 11:32 AM   0 comments
    Explosions in the Sky
    Friday, February 16, 2007

    By now, Explosions in the Sky need no introduction. They've made a name for themselves in a quiet, soft-spoken way that seems quite odd when you contemplate the grandness of their music. Speaking to Christopher Hrasky was about the same. But most importantly, in the chat that follows, he discusses not only the making of the band's latest album, the excellent All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, but also about life in general for a band whose album has been highly anticipated. It's an interesting insight.

    I'm happy to talk to you today. I used to book Munaf's proto-Explosions band, Satori, in the late 1990s. Were you in the band?

    I was not part of that band, no. I know it was Munaf's, and I think...I think Mark was in it?
    I'm not too sure about that.

    Yeah, I was thinking about that this morning, and I kind of thought it was Mark, too, but that was so long ago, and I remember they went through several lineup changes. The last time I saw Munaf was right after you had recorded How Strange, Innocence. He was extremely excited about his new band, and he said, "Oh, man, Joseph, I want you to tell me what you think of my new band!" and gave me this Cd-R of the record. I know that probably seems like a million years ago to you guys now.

    (Laughs) Yeah, wow, that was seven years ago. That's cool, though!

    I know it's been a few years since your last proper full-length, not including the Friday Night Lights soundtrack. Was the delay due in part to the unexpected success of the soundtrack?

    No, not really. The last record came out in late 2003, and for pretty much all of 2004 we toured, and there was a month where we worked on Friday Night Lights. So most of 2004 we spent on the road, and we didn't really write any new material. In 2005, for the first few months, we were just burned out. We all felt like we needed to take a break for a few months. We started writing in the spring of 2005, and for most of those eight or nine months, we worked on our music, but we weren't really happy with the results of it at all. We were working, but it took us some time to finally create some music that we felt worthy of recording. It was just sort of a self-imposed creative hiatus more than any external forces keeping us from writing. We were just writing stuff that we thought was just OK, but ultimately wasn't good enough to get us back in the swing of things.

    A friend of mine's band, Zykos, toured with you guys during the Friday Night Lights era, and he said the audiences coming out to see you during those shows were amazing, selling out shows based largely on that soundtrack.

    Yeah, there definitely has been an increase in our audience because of that record. We can tell from the emails we get and the comments we get on Myspace. I think it was the way a lot of people heard of us for the first time, especially people who wouldn't necessarily seek out weird, independent rock bands, not because they wouldn't respond to it, but because it's just not something they'd know about.

    What I wanted to ask was that after the success of the soundtrack, did it change your approach on the material you were working on, in that you realized that you had a much larger audience now?

    We realized that, and it's definitely something we think about, but once we actually started writing songs, that aspect doesn't play into it so much. Obviously, we want to make music that we hope tons of people would like, but if they don't, they don't. We mainly make music that the four of us feel strongly about, and it's our hope that people will like what we do. It's strange, but I feel like this record is probably less accessible than the last one. It's a bit harsher in terms of sound. We fully expect that there will be those who get this record and will say, (mock indignation) "Well, uh, I like the old stuff better!" (Laughs) That's fine. We don't feel that way, but that's fine. We definitely think about the audience size, though. We realize when we set up tours and we're playing shows in bigger venues, and we definitely realize that a change has been going on, but in our day-to-day lives, it hasn't really had that much of an impact.

    You're still just four guys from Austin.

    Yup! We're just trying to write music we like, and I think that's the only way we want to have it. There's not anyone breathing down our necks for anything; we're on an independent label, a really strong label that is not going to be pushy about us doing certain things. We can do what we want, and, ultimately, that's the end of it. It's good.

    How was the experience of working at Pachyderm Studios?

    Oh, it was pretty awesome! It's very beautiful out there. It's 40 miles south of Minneapolis, and it's really in the middle of nowhere. It's surrounded by forests; there's a house to stay in, and you walk down a lovely path to the studio. It's really, really nice. It was a bit like being at camp! (Laughs) We'd walk around and explore if we were bored, and we could record whenever we wanted.

    What time of year were you up there?

    We were there in August, so it was really nice to get out of Austin in August! (Laughs) The weather was really nice; it was really cool, enjoyable weather, and there were some weird storms that were kind of exciting, too.

    Did you write a lot of material up there?

    No, we'd written it before going up there. That's generally how we've done all our albums. We don't like to spend much time in studios. We're pretty intimidated by recording, actually, just because it's pretty nerve-wracking. WE don't really like it that much, because it's sort of terrifying. We try to record live as much as possible, and we have long songs, so we try to have at least five minutes of a ten minute song done. There are things that come up, like someone will say, "Oh, let's add this part here, over this section,' but normally we have it all pretty much mapped out by the time we record it.

    Did you experience any paranormal activity at Pachyderm?

    (Laughs) Nope. We've heard that there are ghosts, but we didn't actually see anything. A big snake got into the house, and that was pretty terrifying, but there were no poltergeists. I think if a ghost had showed up, we would have been out of there immediately! We're cowards. We wouldn't have thought twice about running home.

    You make dark, ominous, haunting music, but you gotta draw the line somewhere! (Laughs)

    (Laughs) Yeah, exactly! Exactly! Anything ghastly appears, I'm outta there. I was scared enough by that giant snake!

    Anyway, there's a remix album of the album. How did that come about? For an all-instrumental rock band, a remix album seems a unique approach. I haven't heard it.

    Yeah, it really was. We had never really thought about it before. We are friends with Four Tet, and that's his specialty, remixing. For a long time he talked about remixing our music, but we never took that idea seriously. Then the label said, "Man, we should do a remix record." The remix record itself will be packaged in a special version of the record, which will mainly be available only at independent record stores and not the Best Buys or Borders. The idea behind it is that since we've gotten a bit bigger and our records can be found at places like Best Buy, it's sort of a way to get people to visit smaller stores to get our record. We're really happy with the results of the remix project; in fact, I find myself listening to the remix disc more than the actual album! (Laughs)

    Do you find that these reinterpretations of your music shed new light on what you do?

    Yeah, it actually has. It's really cool hearing the way people put things together. Most of it sounds totally different, and one of the remixes isn't even a remix at all. A friend of ours recorded a cover of one of our songs using acoustic guitars and bells, and it's really beautiful. I think the remixes showed us and opened up different possibilities for us. I think, "Wow, I never would have thought of approaching it that way," and I'm really curious to see how this project will influence us in terms of how we write songs from now on. It's been really, really interesting, and it totally sheds new light on our music.

    Since you've become a larger act and are playing bigger venues, will you be doing more in terms of production of your live show, like films or multimedia?

    We're not going to do any of that. It's going to stay the four of us and our amps. I like to think that we hold can hold the audience's attention and get by on our music alone. Yeah, I think for some bands, like Flaming Lips or Sigur Ros, they are all about the show, and are amazing live. For us, I think we just kind of want to be up there with our amps and just play our songs, without any extra tricks or gimmicks.

    You strike me as the sort of fellows who are very much into the purity of making music.

    Yeah, it's very important to us. That is one thing we definitely talk about when we write our music. We just want it to be the four of us writing and playing on our own record. On the new album, we didn't bring in a string section or things like that, and we could have, if we had wanted to--but it's just the four of us playing our songs live, with overdubs here and there. That's our focus, really. Our European label is like, "oh, we want to put out a DVD about the band" and things like that,, but we're not really interested in things like that. We release albums and we play shows, and beyond that, that's really it. There are certain things that suck about making music, but when I step back and look at it, I think, "man, we have nothing to complain about." We're basically living our daydreams.

    Explosions in the Sky's latest album, All Of a Sudden I Miss Everyone is released February 20th via Temporary Residence, Ltd.

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:40 AM   0 comments
    The Besnard Lakes
    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    The music of Besnard Lakes is big. It's big, it's sparse, it's cold, and it's Canadian. Well, it's Canadian in the sense that it's big, it's sparse, it's empty, and similarities between it and Neil Young are not accidental. Or at least I think their music is Neil Young-like. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you, but truth be told, it's hard not to hear Mr. Young's influence on their music. Nor is it hard to ignore the downright amazing harmonies, the utterly beautiful string arrangements, and the grand, cinematic and reverb-drenched melodies found on the band's second album, The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse. Comparisons to the Beach Boys, My Morning Jacket, and other bands of that sort can also be made to the music found therein. Jace Lasek, the man behind the curtain, is an interesting fellow to talk to. When we spoke, I'd just accidentally broken a CD, and though I was having a stressed-out day, he was jovial and friendly and made the day a little more pleasant.

    ...Are the Dark Horse is your debut for Jagjaguwar, but it's actually your second record. I wasn't able to find much information about your debut. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

    We pressed it ourselves, in a small press run of 500 copies. It sold out, actually, but it never got picked up by a label, except in England, where it was put out on Earworm. That's the only place that still has it.

    Sonically, does the new record pick up where the debut left off?

    The first record was a little more ambient sounding, though it had a little bit of reverb and went on a little longer, but it was still kind of epic sounding. Dark Horse, by comparison, is way more pop, with more traditional pop stylings in terms of vocals and melodies.

    So did Besnard Lakes start as a studio project?

    Not really. It sort of naturally took that route, because I own the studio we use. It started off as a band. The original lineup of the band split up, and at that point Olga and I decided we were going to make a record at the studio, and we worked together on the record and we liked what we did. We kind of did the same thing with the new album, but the main difference is we had a few other people, minor players at the time, that helped us expand our sound.

    Listening to the record on headphones, it's amazing to hear how it expands in ways you don't normally get from the first lesson. Did you spend a lot of time in the studio working on it?

    We spent tons of time on it. Since I own the studio, we could track and track and track the album for days, and we spent a lot of time adding little nuances and embellishments.

    To me, it's very simple, yet very complex music.

    Yeah, that was sort of the point. The first record was a little more prog-rocky. This one, I still wanted to retain some of that quality, yet make a record that's more poppy/rockish in nature. Like you said, I like the idea of putting headphones on and listening and getting more and more out of it when you listen closer. Plus, it's a bit easier to perform live.

    Was taking the band out of the studio something you wanted to do?

    Yeah, definitely, but at the same time, it's a little hard for us to figure out how to do live what we do in the studio. The first record, I don't think the way we toured it was successful. I was trying to fine-tune live what the songs sounded like on the album, and I think I wound up annoying people. (Laughs) We would tour with giant amps and when we would get to where we were playing, we'd set up and the music would overwhelm the vocals. On the record, the vocals were buried, and you couldn't hear them anyway. When people go out to see a band, they really want to hear the singing, and we came off as a massive wall of unintelligible sound. Some people, some people said it was cool, but the majority of people who came out, you could tell they were grumbling about us. (Laughs) For this record, we decided to take a different approach. We went to combo amps instead of 4 x 12's, and we turned down the stage volume quite a bit and worked more on our vocals; we worked on our harmonies, and when we started doing that, we started to get a really good live show, and we became more of a live band. I've always wanted to be a live band, to be able to translate these things live, on stage. With this current lineup, they are all really accomplished players, so they were able to translate the most important parts of the record. Obviously, we can't play everything, so they're able to bring together the most important parts of the record.

    Live, is it the six of you, or are there additional players?

    There's the six of us. Usually, when we play around here, it will be the core six: three guitars, organs, bass, drums, and we'll also have a choir of girls and a small string section, or a small horn section, or a combo, like violin and horn. Usually, that's just here in Montreal where we are like that. But it's really, really cool when we can do it like that. WE couldn't really take that full combo on the road, though, but those arrangements sound excellent.

    One of the most impressive aspects of the new record is Nicole's arrangements.

    Oh yeah, she's amazing! She's a modern composer, and she's totally accomplished. Right now, she's writing some things for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Her compositions are played on the radio here; they're played on the CBC and around the world. She's really, really incredible. The cool thing about her is that her arrangements are strange. They aren't typical, "let's do this in sync with a guitar line," types of things. Her work really adds a dimension to the record.

    When you wrote Dark Horse, was she a member of the band, or did she come along after and add her arrangements?

    Olga and I wrote the music together in the studio, for the most part. She was just sort of playing keyboards, and she said, "Do you want string arrangements for the record?" I gave her a song I was working on, and two weeks later she gave me some arrangements she'd done on her computer, and they slayed. It really helped; I'd kind of run out of ideas about what to do on some of the songs, and she came along and added her element on that song, and I knew I'd want to have her come in and have a go at the arrangements. I think it totally turned out well.

    I notice that a lot of the songs deal with the theme of leaving or departing--even the cover, with a horse running away on it. Were you trying to capture a theme of transition?

    When I write--and I can't speak for Olga--I like to write about espionage. There are a lot of references to spies in my songs. There's a bit of mystery, and a bit of darkness. I have a character in mind when I write my lyrics. It's a retired spy who becomes very lonely, and he's dreaming about his former life and running around the world on all sorts of adventures.

    Sitting on the sideline, watching life pass him by.

    To me, that's kind of sad, and I can use that metaphor to relate to everyday people. That sense of leaving a world you love and know so well is sad, but that's life.

    Besnard Lakes' The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse is released February 20th on Jagjaguwar

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:12 AM   0 comments
    Monday, February 12, 2007

    I love the music of Aqueduct. It's thoughtful, it's clever, it's hilarious, and it's always good. Their previous album, I Sold Gold has been on constant rotation in my stereo for nearly two years now, and it's still a keeper. David Terry's newest batch of songs, entitled Or Give Me Death, all have the same catchy quality, but it's a bit different. Softer? Gentler? Perhaps. You'll notice the songs retain the pain, but the music behind him is simply drop-dead gorgeous. It's a bit of a shock, at first--but it's still Aqueduct. Talking to Terry was a nice experience, too; we had a fun chat. Oh, and after spending all weekend listening to Or Give Me Death, I just gotta's flippin' brilliant!

    Tell me about recording Or Give Me Death.

    It's kind of like another self-produced kind of affair. I worked with a drummer, Matt Pence, down in Denton. He basically played all the drums on the album. So then I took it home to Seattle to work on it, and I mixed it with a guy who is up here in Seattle, Jason Holstrom. We kind of mixed it at his home studio, and we kept it a pretty DIY affair.

    When compared to I Sold Gold or your earlier work, Or Give Me Death is a much more lush and fuller-sounding record. Was this a more collaborative effort with the people who make up Aqueduct?

    Not really. The live band I had set up, between the last album and the new record, some of those guys went on and did other things. So now I'm playing with basically a whole new band, with the exception of Matt Nader, who played on the record and who has played with me for a while now. It was really kind of another mad scientist project.

    You seem to prefer working alone?

    (Laughs) Yeah! I did work with an interesting guy named Charlie Smith, this big band leader. While mixing the record with Jason, I got turned onto his work; he'd heard my demos, and he met with me and said, "I know a lot of professional horn and string players, and I can write out arrangements for them, I can bring them down and we can record it for you." That was a whole new element, a new piece of the puzzle. That definitely brought out the lush sounds, the sound of real instruments versus my keyboard patches of strings and horns.

    Did you spend a lot more time working on the arrangements and the songs than you did for I Sold Gold?

    Yeah, definitely. I spent a lot of time recording the record, and I definitely spent a lot of time going back and fine-tuning things. Working with Charlie and Jason, they were really helpful from a production standpoint. They'd thin it down to the simplest core, and we'd see what we could get away with putting back in. We recorded so much music, and it's kind of funny what ended up on the master copy, versus everything we recorded. It was definitely a more collaborative effort from the production and mixing standpoint.

    The album is, I have to say, a darker, more emotional affair, with some rather bitter lyrics. Was it a cathartic experience?

    (Laughter) Ya know, not as much as I Sold Gold; that was much more of a personal record for me. But yeah, definitely the selection of songs--the end result we came up with, it kind of went down this natural progression. It's odd because it's less personal for me; it's more just my thoughts on the world, an attempt to capture how I see things and how I feel about things around me.

    To put it simply, to me it sounded like a break-up album. Were you trying to send a message with the record? You got something on your mind that you're trying to say, Mr. Terry?

    (Laughter) Not really, no. I find it interesting to hear that, because I'm sure it's going to sit that way with people. You get to be the first person to ask me that. I know I'm going to hear that question a lot! (Laughs)

    Was it more of a case where you wrote all these songs, put them together, and though you weren't necessarily conscious of a subject matter, you were surprised that, thematically, they link together?

    Yeah, a little bit. I probably wrote twenty songs for this record, and looking back over some of the ones we cut, this one ended up seeming more like a concept record, like you said, subconsciously. But damn, it felt good, so we went with it.

    You sound happy; you don't sound like you're going through some desperate, dire trauma right now. It doesn't seem like you're suffering for your art's sake. (Laughs)

    (Laughter) Maybe I should start answering the phone for these interviews, like, (really depressed, sad voice) "Hello..."

    Maybe you should be more aloof, dress up in black, perhaps. Practice your misery!

    (Laughter) Now there's an idea! Scare off the journalists with my demeanor, yet win their sympathy with my plight.

    Well, I'm glad I got to you first, before the questions I asked became really annoying! (Laughter) I did an interview the other day, and I kind of felt bad for the guy, because I got the sense he was tired of answering questions--any questions. Yet it's difficult being the interviewer, because you want to ask certain things, and you really have no idea if they're the same things he person you're talking to has answered a hundred times already.

    We should do a funny, six month follow-up interview, where you ask me these same questions, and then we'll see how down my schick is, and what I'm saying.

    (Laughter) interesting idea, sir!

    (laughter) Uh-oh, I dare you to take me up on it.

    Don't taunt the lion, buddy. Don't taunt the lion! (Laughter)

    Aqueduct's latest album, Or Give Me Death will be released February 20th on Barsuk

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:29 AM   0 comments
    Nicole Atkins
    Wednesday, February 7, 2007

    I had not heard of Nicole Atkins until I received her debut EP, Bleeding Diamonds. This record is brief, but it's very substantial; it introduces you to Ms. Atkins' world--and what a world it is! Her songs are haunting, beautiful, and slightly innocent--I say "slightly" because the songs are darker than their innocence would lead you to believe. When I spoke to her, she was on a photo shoot on a North Carolina farm, and I am glad she took some time to speak for a few moments. (I have no idea if the above photo was from the session, by the way.) Her debut album, Neptune City will be released in a few months, but for now, let's let her tell you a little bit more about herself...

    Tell me a little bit about your musical background.

    I really don't have any musical training. I got into a lot of classic rock bands when I was young--things like Traffic and Cream. Then I started getting into a lot of older country music thanks to my grandma, and a lot of psychedelic rock from my uncle. He had a lot of things like the Nuggets series. I started playing in bands in the seventh grade, and after I graduated from college, I started writing my own songs and playing solo around the anti-folk scene in New York. I wrote some songs and recorded them as a demo with my friend David Muller--some of them appear on the EP--and then I got a band to help me play live, then I got a lawyer and got signed! (Laughs) It was actually a long process, but it felt like things started happening in a really lucky way. (Laugh)

    Did you come from a musical background?

    Nope! Actually, I'm the only person in my family that plays music. I am also an illustrator. Nobody in my family makes art or music, though they all appreciate it. I started playing piano when I was nine, and I had all of this Led Zeppelin sheet music, and my teacher insisted that he could not teach me how to play that. So I learned how to play "Hot Crossed Buns" instead. (Giggles) He quit on me, so I started teaching myself by ear. My mom's brother passed away when he was 13, and when I was 13 I found his old guitar in our attic and I taught myself how to play.

    Where are you from?

    I'm from Neptune, New Jersey. Which explains why we're doing a photo shoot in rural North Carolina! (Laughs)

    It's weird, hearing that you have a country background. It's not something I would have gathered from listening to the EP.

    I try to incorporate it more in how I sing instead of the way I sing. I like to do the old-style crooning; it's much more fun and a much more expressive style of singing.

    Plus, I like the dreamy atmospheric elements of your songs.

    Thanks! We were trying to get it as overly dramatic as possible. (Laughs) WE wanted to make it psychedelic in a way, but with a dreamier quality.

    Considering this EP is a teaser for the full-length, tell me a little bit about the debut album. How does it sound?

    It's similar to Bleeding Diamonds, but it's a lot bigger in the arrangements. We had a full orchestra to do everything, so it's bigger, much more orchestral. It's still very dreamy, but there are a couple of more upbeat songs on the record, and they have a kind of a Motown vibe.

    Who did you work with?

    We worked with a man named Tor Johanssen, who is based in Malmö, Sweden. He did some Cardigans records and the Franz Ferdinand record. He called me up and said, "I want to make a really, really creepy circus-rock record with you." So I said okay!


    Yeah! He was talking about how dolls and children are creepy yet beautiful. I found the sentiment right up my alley. So we put it to practice. Like a soundtrack to an Edward Gorey film! (Laughs)

    You mentioned how you create illustrations. Will the album be more visual in terms of artwork?

    Yeah, it's very much like a story. A lot of the artwork will go along with the album. Plus, we wanted to make it like a dream world--something you can put on and listen to straight for forty-five minutes. It's going to be called Neptune City.

    With that title referencing your home, is the album nostalgic?

    Yeah, it's a suburban fairy tale. (Laughs) Neptune City is like a run-down town from the 1970s. Plus, the music is similar to the early 70s sound. The lyrics--everyone always remarks on the nostalgia thing, but they're not really that nostalgic. It's about things happening now. I made them in a very visual way. I try to make my music as visually pleasing as possible. It makes things better, don’t you think?

    Nicole Atkins’ debut CD Bleeding Diamonds is out now on Columbia

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:43 AM   0 comments
    Tuesday, February 6, 2007

    The world is full of singer/songwriters. Los Angeles has even more than that. Surprisingly, some of them are really good. One of them is a man who goes by the mysterious moniker AM. My first experience with his music was hearing an mp3 last year on the South by Southwest website. I enjoyed it very much, and the same can be said of his debut album, Troubled Times. Last year was a rather good one for him; not only did he release his debut album and tour the country, but he also received many year-end accolades and made appearances in several "best of 2006" lists. No surprise there. Chatting with him was nice; I have a feeling 2007 will be even bigger for him. Or, at least, that's my hope...

    2006 was a pretty productive year for you, wasn't it?

    Yeah! It was full of great things. I can't complain at all. It all started with KCRW, who started playing my songs before the album was out, and that led to the LA Weekly music awards giving me a singer/songwriter award, and then KCRW brought me out to South by Southwest. That's when I got signed, and from there, that's where things started happening. I'd recorded the album on my own, and I'd wondered what I would do with it. Then KCRW got a hold of it, and they really liked it, and they started pushing it, then TV shows and movies started using my music in their soundtracks, and it all started to build momentum in a natural way.

    You're originally from New Orleans, and that's a rather musical city. What prompted you to leave there for LA?

    I think I needed a change. At that point, I'd lived in Louisiana for a long time, and I got to thinking, "Well, I want to try something else." I've always had this fascination with the west coast, with the vibe and the weather. I didn't know how long I'd last out here, but I just wanted to see what was going on out here. So I knew LA was going to have a lot of musicians, and I knew I would be in good company, with lots of other people doing what I do, so I just packed up everything in my car and came out here. It was pretty naïve, to be honest with you. I didn't really have any dreams of grandeur; I just wanted to see what I could do, to see if I could make it making music.

    Have you been successful so far?

    It's been a gradual build. It hasn't been an overnight success; but then again, I don't think that exists for most people. What's good about it is it's happened in a true and natural way. I've put my music out there on the table; people have come to it, liked it, and have worked to help me get it out there more. It's been a real natural progression. But mostly, it's been about people liking my music, and because they like it, they want to share it with their friends, they want to come see me play, they want to put it on the radio or in their films or on their TV show. They just want to get the word out.

    When you go to LA, you're obviously entering into a sea of artists and talents, and I'd imagine there are a lot of singer/songwriters to be found there. Is it frustrating, knowing that you're operating in a city where there are hundreds--if not thousands--of other artists doing exactly what you're doing?

    I think that's the case with everything in music today. I think there are more bands and musicians out there than ever before in the history of music! (Laughs) Seems like everywhere you look, there's another band. So I don't think that's something specific to Los Angeles. One thing that made it--I won't say "easier," but it made things probably a bit more comfortable, but I found this place called the Hotel Café, which was, at the time, starting up a bit of a singer/songwriter scene. It was a nice little place to go where I could formulate my sound and get my music together, but also to get friendly support. It was good to have that. It was good to have a little place to go and have a central location, you know, a place to go and see people and say, "Hey, what are you workin' on today? How are you doin'? How do you do this? What do you think of this?" It's a nice meeting ground, a nice place to meet other musicians, as well as make friends. It kind of reminded me of what I think it must have been like during the Greenwich Village days. But yeah, I think anybody would feel overwhelmed when they move to a new city, and certainly I did. In terms of being one of the many singer/songwriters in LA, I think that's more of a worldwide problem! (Laughs)

    Were you surprised to find an earthy, homely, friendly community scene in LA?

    Yeah! Community isn't something you necessarily think of when you think of Los Angeles. But I've received more advice from other musicians than anybody else, though. It's because we're all in it together, and, plus, I think it's the nature of where the music business is heading anyway. It's getting harder and harder to get paid in the music business these days. I think artists are banding together in every sense, because we all know how hard it is. It's not worth it to be so single-minded and competitive. It's too hard of a business to be like that. You help people out and they'll help you out, and that's the way it should be. It's a good way to be in general, though. It's the way we should all be living.

    I understand you're about to do something with Greg Laswell. Is it something he's working on with you, is it something you're working on with him, or is it a secret project at this point?

    Well, I don't want to say too much about it at this point. We do plan on going in and recording a song together, just because we respect each other's work. There's been talk of doing a little tour together. We've started a mutual, respectful relationship! (Laughs) I don't want to go into too much detail, because it hasn't happened yet. But I really love Greg's work, and hopefully we will do some things together, and when we do, I'm really looking forward to it.

    Have you completed your next record?

    I have, actually! I'm mastering it next week, and that'll be it! It'll be finished. We're looking to put it out this summer, and I'm really looking forward to that. Meanwhile, I'm still touring and promoting Troubled Times for the rest of the spring, and then I'm going to jump right in on the second record. I'm not even going to waste time by stopping to breathe. I've been working on it for the past year; I've practiced, recorded, and toured, all while working towards this record. Now it's finished, and I'm super excited about it!

    How would you describe the new material?

    It's a lot more organic sounding. There are no synthesizers; it was recorded in a live setting, where the band played all together, and there are few overdubs. We did record everything on two-inch tape, so the music has a nice, warm feel to it. I really wanted to harness the warmth of each instrument. There's a lot of raw piano, raw organ, and we wanted to keep it really spacious. It's sparse, raw, and warm. It's definitely going to sound a lot different from the first record, and in a good way. I'm moving into a new phase. My first record was basically recorded in two apartments, and then we went and put drums on it later on. It was pretty much done just by me and Jamie. I played just about every instrument with the exception of a few things. This second album is much more communal. Wouldn't want it to sound any other way!

    AM's Troubled Times is available now on his website


    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:22 AM   0 comments
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