Saturday's Somewhat Useless Post about A Good Record
Saturday, September 29, 2007
You know, I really cannot recall much music from the year 2000. Nothing really stands out for me, save for one or two records. It was a delicate time, that; it was the end of the Clinton era, and more importantly, it was a few years from the time when "indie" made the god-awful transition from business model to a musical genre, exploited by corporations and name-dropped by idiots who wanted to suddenly be hip. Ah, but one record stands out, the last truly great rock record, All The Falsest Hearts Can Try, by Denton's favorite prolific drunkards, Centro-Matic! Will Johnson and company really, really hit a home run with this record; it was hard-driving college rock for a post-Archers of Loaf world. And yeah, they got compared to the Archers (and Guided by Voices), but, really, Will had been doin' his thing for a long time before that. It is, from start to finish, a non-stop, beer-soaked, cigarette-smellin', dirty-as-hell-from-a-night-of-drinking good time of a record. Oh, and I'm happy to report that the samples provided for intrepid visitors of their website will be graced with the best songs on the record, as you'll hear below. These are songs for turning up and rolling the windows down and for just, well, cruising your ass down the highway at a rate of speed that is five to ten miles above the posted limit. Just listen for yourself, why don't ya? And I guarantee you this: you will be singing along with their tunes!
Bis. The Vaselines. Talulah Gosh. K Records. 1993. Twee Kitten. Heavenly. These are some of the things I am reminded of when listening to the music found on Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, the debut EP by Cardiff's Los Campesinos!. Those are good things I mentioned, and, yes, these Welsh kids really fall into that legacy of too-cute, too-smart indie-pop. I like this young group a lot--but, really, how could I not like them? I feel a little smarter when I listen to them, I definitely feel a bit younger when I do, and doggone it, they're just...FUN! Like the fun I had talking to Aleksandra, lead female vocalist, the day before she and her band ventured to North America, their first destination in their plan for global domination. Like their music, our conversation was all a bit of a shambles; someone (namely me!) had trouble working the telephone, accidentally hanging up on her not once, not twice, but thrice! But she took it all in stride, and was as giddy and as giggly as you would imagine, considering the music she and her friends makes.
What really stands out to me about your music is how rickety and chaotic it sounds, yet it holds together in a really cohesive way.
It is all a bit raw, isn't it? (Laughs). Basically, what happens is Tom will come up with a demo and then we'll all bring a lot of stuff in with us and put it all together, just experimenting, trying to make it sound right. We want to get a big sound, and we want it to sound quite exciting. When we were recording these songs, we were always adding stuff to them as we went along, and I think that's why it does sound so chaotic. There is a lot going on. There is seven of us, after all! (Laughs) With seven people it's easy for it to get chaotic. I hope we manage to do it in a good way, though! (Laughs)
To me, it doesn't sound like a seven-piece. Were you seven at the time of recording, or did members gradually join as you went along?
When we first started up, there weren't many members; when we officially became Los Campensinos! there were seven of us.
Forgive me for asking such a trite question, but what is the meaning behind the band name? How did you come up with it, and does it have a special relationship with your purpose?
It was one of many suggestions, and we really liked the way it sounded. Neil, he speaks Spanish, and he came up with a few possibilities, and we heard it and though, "wow, that sounds quite nice!" Then we added the exclamation mark because we're punctuation mad! (Laughs) I believe the name means "The peasants" or "the ruralists." We don't really attach much of a deeper meaning because we don't consider ourselves peasants! (Laughs)
I'm sure you've gotten a lot of comparisons to Bis...
We get a lot of comparisons, and I think Gareth would be quite pleased to hear you compare us to Bis, because I know he really loves them. It's been really flattering to ge the comparisons we've gotten, because we're fans. We're often fans of the bands we're compared, and that's really flattering. I do hope, though, that we manage to have a sound of our own. Obviously, we take influence from a lot of bands, so it's only normal to hear comparisons. But I am hoping our originality and personality starts to come through in the future, though.
Actually, we're off to Canada tomorrow! We're flying out there and will be recording the album over there. We're going to be there for three months. It's actually a bit of a crazy busy day for me here--I've got to pack for my journey! (laughs) We're working with David. We worked with him on the last two singles; four of the songs on the EP he mixed for us, so we know that he works for us and what we want to do. It's going to be a crazy adventure, I just know, and we're really, really excited to start working with him. We'll be playing in America as well, so we're excited about that, but we really don't know what to expect.
Thanks to Pitchfork's glowing review, I'm sure you'll have a good audience.
Oh, you think so? Hopefully, we won't disappoint anyone. (Laughs) That review was so sweet and amazing. I don't think any of us could have anticipated that. You should have seen us--we were all stunned and amazed. We've been excited about playing in America, but we've had no expectations that we'd get this far. For me, it's unbelievable. Honestly, I--I can't fathom the fact that we're actually flying out tomorrow, and we will be away for months and recording a new album. Once we get there and it gets started, I'll be able to look around and think, "wow, this is amazing!' (Laughs)
Los Campesinos!' debut EP Sticking Fingers Into Sockets is available now on Arts & Crafts
In this initial installment, we will be talking to artists about the music that influenced them, and in so doing, presenting a little taste of what inspired them. For the first installment, I've spoken to Keith Canisius, of the wonderful Danish band Rumskib. You may or may not recall, but it was his band's debut self-titled album that made me want to write about music again. Once you check out his influences, go check out their music, and enjoy what you hear! I'm sure you will.
Howard Jones was probably the first artist I was into. At the age of 5, I especially liked the Human's Lib album, which still is an incredible album. I remember watching his videos on TV in the winter of 1984 asking my parents if I could have a Mohawk hair-do like his.
The album has great nostalgic value for me, because it's a major part of my musical childhood. It's hard to choose a favorite song from the album, because I found almost all the songs on the album are wonderful. I still like them.
I think I liked the song Equality best. I simply loved the Synth figure in it. It still sounds awesome. Overall the album has great melodies, great Synth & intelligent pop structure – Great fashion!
I have a brother ten years older than me, so I was lucky to hear a lot of great electro pop bands from that period: Depeche mode, Human league, B52's, Devo, Van Halen, but Howard Jones was probably my favorite in those very early years of my life.
A couple of years ago, I discovered Kraftwerk thru my brother. I remember their first single from the album Cinema Café, "Boing, Boom Tschak" because it was played on TV. The video was very special in 1986, because it was a 3D computer animated video. The music and band were very cool--very different and exotic. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before, and it was very good. The band had a simple, confident and special style, but still maintaining classic pop elements and melody. And what 8 year old boy doesn't like robots?.
I started playing Guitar at the age of 13. When I was a teenager, I was listening to a lot of Metallica (Justice for all) & Guns 'n roses (Appetite for destruction). It was probably good old Eddie Van Halen that made guitar interesting for me at that time. I think I was kind of geeky--staying in my room pulling the whammy bar and practicing tapping all day long on the guitar before I even could play a song. I think some family members were glad when I moved my amp to an outside room!
I still like the old Van Halen stuff and listen to it once in a blue moon--like when I'm drinking with the boys!
In high school, I started to make new friends who also loved music. I started listening to a lot of indie-rock. I remember listening to Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, and I thought it was fantastic how they used their guitars, tuning them odd, playing noisy and wild, but still creating great songs with good guitar riffs, melodies & atmosphere. I guess the attitude and style they had was appealing as well being in the age we where in (18). A friend played me My bloody valentine, but I didn't like it at the time. Runners up – Early Suede, Mew, The Cure, Blur (Park life)
As the internet started to blossom, I started discovering bands on the Internet. Some sites had links to similar artists, so you could learn about others like them if you found one you liked.
It was wonderful! I used to take what I called "internet trips", where I just went from band to band. One day, I stumbled upon The Cocteau twins.
I think the first song I heard with them was the opener from Heaven or Las Vegas. I remember being totally amazed by it. The melodies and vocals sounded from out if this world, beautiful and exotic. The guitar sounded like something I had been searching for myself, but never had heard before. They sounded so dreamy, but still kind of intense and direct.
Robin Guthrie would just repeat these simple kinds of arpeggio riffs and it sounded totally awesome, I thought!? But the vocals carried it to even much higher places.
I soon had all their albums and ep's and used to play them for myself while drinking wine, sitting by myself listening quietly and thoughtfully to it before going out with friends.
I had just moved to a new and bigger town with some good friends, so it was a special feeling of freedom that summer of 2001, listening to those records and starting a new life.
I don't think I really ever found a band since those days I liked as much. But I still get surprised once in a while. Serena Maneesh are creating some of the best music these days. It's psychedelic, it's dreamy, it's shoegaze, it's in your face noisy rock and yet so sensitive and melodic.
It's strange being compared to bands you never listened to (Curve, Lush, Slowdive ect.) putting out an album. So hopefully there are still lots and lots of music to discover out there, Joseph!!
I could've mentioned lots of bands, but these artists had a great impact at certain ages and periods of my life.
I've recently enjoyed the hedonistic pleasures of a wonderful camp dedicated to the naughty--a traditional tease historically known as burlesque. Lest you think me a cad, I direct you to the wonderful pleasures of Camp Burlesque, a short documentary that follows the lascivious exploits of spicy Eastern temptress Erochica Bamboo and her company of lovely, voluptuous, and buxom ladies. These beautiful women have the power to make a gentleman smile, and though theirs is an erotic art, their pleasures are strictly R-rated. Though the location of this wonderful paradise is never revealed, one cannot help but want to find this mysterious oasis of pleasure. The film captures a two-week escapade in the life of the camp, cumulating in a big, wonderful burlesque show, which I might add is sorely lacking. Not that there's not laughs, but their show really could use Neil Hamburger. He'd be perfect as emcee, and his comedy stylings would really be appropriate, especially as he's gone blue. Then again, who knows--maybe America's Funnyman doesn't want to sully his wholesome family entertainment reputation? I know he's a lot funnier than Gorilla X, but then again there's more cheesecake than gorilla on the film, but maybe Gorilla's funnier than his cameo leads us to believe?
But it's not all raunch within the walls of Camp Burlesque--it's wonderful music, too! The sounds of the camp are as lovely as the ladies who keep the show going. There's some wonderful rock and roll offered by Velvet Crush--their song, "That Thing That You Do (To Me)" is, in my mind, one of the band's best songs. My thinking that is not influenced in the least by the lovely lasses shaking their asses to it in the film...but it sure doesn't hurt! Another highlight is Big Sandy's Hawaiian beach love song" 46-24-46," a beautiful Hawaiian ballad that sounds like a long-lost Stephin Merritt composition. There are some other lovely songs by a number of other bon vivant types, some names of note include Matthew Sweet, Peter Case, and a secret cameo by the greatest gadfly of them all, Emperor Burlesque himself, Mr. Bob Dylan! And you simply cannot beat the lovely instrumental pleasures of the Camp Burlesque house band, the Martini Kings! If you like your women sultry, your dancing sexy, your music intoxicating and your drinks fruity, then consider a stop at Camp Burlesque today--it will leave you saying "Va-va-voom!"
Philadelphia's Pissed Jeans' Sub Pop debut, Hope for Men, caught me by surprise. The quickest way to cure burnout by a thing is to find something that reminds you of why you initially loved it. Such was the case with Pissed Jeans; theirs is a sound that is intense and hard, but it also possesses a devil-may-care attitude. You may recall a few other Sub Pop bands that possessed that kind of attitude. Yeah, you might say that Pissed Jeans kind of has a "Sub Pop sound." But so what? Theirs is good music; Sub Pop happens to be one of the reasons I love music. How could you not love something that positively reminds you of why you fell in love with music almost, um, two decades ago? Talking to drummer Sean McGuinness was a real treat, as you'll soon read. His powerful drumming is a highlight of Hope for Men, but he's a very down-to-earth dude who loves music. Our conversation could have gone on longer, and we did ramble on a bit more than the following interview. Seriously, these guys are great--what more needs to be said than that?
It's nice that I'm speaking to you, because Hope for Men has some really powerful drumming.
Oh, thanks a lot, man!
Something I've noticed is that when the drums are in the forefront, it invariably seems that the creative process for that song or album was a very spontaneous one. Was that the case for Hope for Men?
Yeah, I'd say about half and half. Brad and I wrote about half the record over six months, and the other half we came up with pretty spontaneously in the studio. We wrote about three or four songs in there and I think they came out really well. That's not to say we didn't do lots of planning; we just do it. I don't think you can really have a band without a level of spontaneity. What's the point of collaborating with people if you can't play off of each other's ideas? To me, it wouldn't be worth it.
Some bands have one or two primary songwriters who introduce the songs to the rest of the group, and then others are more open in the creative process and they write the songs together as a band. How does it work for Pissed Jeans?
We do a lot of jamming. I'm not an original member of the band; when I joined, about a week later, we had a deal for a Sub Pop seven inch. So we went in, banged it out, and then we thought, "Um, we better get working on an album." We had a definite goal in mind for an album; we wanted to have ten songs. The first song we came up with was "The Jogger." There was a definite spontaneity at the time. "Fantasy Time" was also written really fast. The guy who was recording us said he had to take a break to go to the post office. Right as he went out, Brad came downstairs and said he had an idea. So he played it, and we said, "Let's slow it down" and he was into that. We started playing it and had it completed in two takes. So yeah, there's definitely an amount of spontaneity--especially when we play live. I don't think we've ever played a show that's gone smoothly. (Laughs)
That sounds like fun, though!
Oh, it's completely fun! But it's stressful as well. Because even though you're wanting to have a wild and crazy time, you still want things to go well, and you want to put on a great show.
To me, some bands' records are completely secondary to their live show. And when I heard Hope for Men for the first time, I thought, "I bet these guys are freakin' amazing live," because of the structure of the songs.
(Laughs) Thanks, man! I think it's cool you think that. We, when we play live, we try for our best, and shit always goes wrong.
But in retrospect, aren't some of those shows where nothing goes right and things seem like a disaster, aren't those some of the best?
Well...I wouldn't necessarily say "best." But they are memorable. We played a show in DC where our bass player wore nothing but his bass, and after two songs, the power went off on the stage and was out for fifteen minutes. So he just stood there naked, awkwardly, wondering what to do. (Laughs)
(Laughs) I have a feeling people in bands don't really remember shows where everything goes according to plan, where everything goes right. It's like a normal, uneventful day of work. (Agrees) Now, I'm an old bastard, and when I heard your music for the first time, I instantly thought of twenty years ago, because what you do reminds me a lot of the Sub Pop-era of two decades ago. Forgive me if this is a subject you're sick of...but did that sound cause Sub Pop to be attracted to you, or you to them, or was that not even a consideration for any of the parties involved?
We do get that a lot, yeah, but it wasn't a conscious thing. But I honestly have no idea what attracted them to us, because I was new to the group and that kind of happened before my time. The story I've heard is that our guy Andy, who works there, listens to a particular WFMU show every Thursday night. He missed it one week and looked up the playlist for that show, to see what he'd missed. He saw our name on it, and he said to himself, "Man, I really gotta check them out; with a name like that, I HAVE to hear what they're about." He looked us up, listened to us, and lo and behold , three months later, we're on Sub Pop. I hadn't even recorded anything with the band when we'd signed. When we went out to Seattle, they were all into us and really super-supportive, and at first I kinda thought they were blowing smoke up our asses. After three days, though, I started to believe them; I really liked them, and it was really cool to realize, "Hey, this amazing label, they're really into us and want to help us out!"
I find it kind of ironic; Pissed Jeans is tapping into a style that Sub Pop made famous twenty years ago, yet the label now is more known for releasing and producing softer, gentler music, so you guys might seem like a throwback.
I don't see ourselves as a throwback. (Pauses) It's very hard for me to be objective about my band. I view it in a way where I...(pauses) I just really like playing music. I'm really, really fortunate to be included with people who think about music the same way I do. I've played in a bunch of bands, and not all of them have been amazing, but most of them have been, by my standards. I really love to play the drums. When I joined, I didn't have any notions in mind, other than to play music.
You must get that Sub Pop/grunge question a lot.
Yeah, we do. Some guy actually asked me, "What's it like to be the second coming of Mudhoney?" That's flattering, but really, I don't see the comparison. I dunno. When I was in high school, I had this theory that punk and hardcore would be circular. I just think that art--ideas come around, and new ideas today are simply derivations and reinterpretations of ideas from the last time that sound was being made. It's about taking influence, building upon your influences, and making something new and fresh.
That question must get tiresome. But hey--at least I didn't ask you about your name! (Laughs)
No comment, eh?
Yeah, yeah, I know, that "what does your name mean" question is one of those things a good journalist must not ask. But hey, I'm not a journalist. I'm just a guy who simply likes music and likes to write about what he likes. And, honestly, I've been burned out and have been on a self-imposed hiatus for about six months now, due in large part to taking a job that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with music. But when I started to come out of my funk, I found myself gravitating towards music that I loved when I was younger. What made Hope for Men so great was it reminded me of a period of time when I really loved music, when I first started getting into music. So when I hear "A Bad Wind" or "Scrapbooking," I hear Mudhoney, but screw it, man--Mudhoney's a great band!
Wow, that's really nice to hear. You know, we were in Seattle, meeting with Sub Pop, and we saw Mark Arm, but what do you say to the guy? We were in Seattle for a few days, and we were hanging out with everyone at the label, but man, I was trying to come up with something to say to him. What do you say? "What was Kurt like?" Can you say to the dude, "Hey, could Mudhoney play a show with us?" And then Brad just blurted out, "Hey, when can we play together?" And Mark just smiled his big smile and enthusiastically said, "Whenever you want!" I was sooooooo freaked out when he said that! Fuck yeah, I'll play with Mudhoney! Bring Soundgarden back from the dead, and we'll totally play with them--shit, that's great music, it fuckin' rules! You know, dude, if there's any musical club to be in, it's this one.
You're not just in a club, son; you're on a label with history.
I totally agree, man. I'm lucky. It doesn't matter how well the record does or how much money it makes or how many units shift or any of that non-music business related bullshit. I'm having a fantastic time. This is a fun band to be in. I am playing with people I love, and the people behind us are the best we could have for our band. I'm lucky, man. Completely lucky. I'm fortunate, and I tell myself that every day.
Great Lake Swimmers: Live From The Church of the Redeemer EP
Friday, September 14, 2007
Admittedly, I've never been moved that much by the recorded work of Great Lake Swimmers. Their records are pretty enough, but they lack flair, and ultimately I didn't think it was that impressive. Their recent album has earned a fair amount of critical acclaim, but, honestly, I haven't been interested. But I downloaded their recent free five-song live EP anyway, and my first response was, "Wow! They found their flair!" The five songs found here have a depth and an atmosphere not found in their recorded work. Tony Dekker's voice sounds especially haunted and angelic in a live setting, and I have to admit I'm impressed. With the addition of a minimal band backing and the gorgeous use of pedal steel, Great Lake Swimmers makes up for its stylistic commonality by sounding downright moving live. My personal favorite is "Moving Pictures Silent Films," but the rest of the songs found here are just as good.
I had never heard of London-based experimental trio Rameses III until perusing the Important Records website, when, in the process of wanting to hear a clip from the new Piano Magic record, I inadvertently clicked on their mp3. What a happy day it was for me! I fell in love with what I heard and quickly ordered their record, Honey Rose, having never heard another note. It was a risk, but a risk worth taking, and considering it's a I haven't been able to find any of their previous releases, but I take it that this EP is a bit of a departure for the group. Instead of being songs, the record is arranged in a series of six themes, set around filmmaker Jon Spira's short film Suityman. If the film is anything like the music, it's very, very beautiful. The music here is slow, quiet, and though not entirely instrumental, the gentleness of the melody seems to be the important element the listener should focus on. The music borders on classical and ambient but it never really declares allegiance to either style. To be honest, the themes flow together and while beautiful on their own, they really sparkle when listened to with the other five. This humble release is well worth seeking out, as it's easily one of the prettiest records of the year.
Though the Kurt Cobain art-documentary About a Son has received a mixed reaction, it's hard to fault the excellent soundtrack. In a way, the soundtrack says way, way more about Cobain's tastes and style than anything else could. Cobain was a man who loved music, and this soundtrack reflects not only his diverse tastes, but also captures the young, burgeoning Seattle scene. In fact, the whole thing feels less like a compilation and more like a mix tape--and an excellent mix tape at that. Featuring many of the songs and bands Cobain often wrote about in his journals or talked about in his interviews, it's nice to finally put his musical love in context. Plus, it's nice to finally hear Half Japanese on the same record as David Bowie, and it's a scream to hear CCR and Mudhoney together as well. I kind of like the fact that there are sound clips of Cobain talking about his music and insipriations, too.I don't know if it's the mix tape Cobain would have made, but it is close enough, and it's a pleasure. If you already own all of these songs, man, then that means only one thing: you get it.
Like the rest of humanity, I can lucidly recall my September 11, 2001. While today shall be filled with reminisces and other forms of tribute, I would like to pay tribute to a record that suffered from the cruel irony of that day's events and its role in my day.
At that point in my life, I was preparing to start Mundane Sounds. In fact, I had planned that day to register the domain name; my computer at home would not connect to the name registration site, so my plan was to go to the university library and do so there--after washing my clothes, grocery shopping, and washing my dishes, of course.
Of course, I never made it there.
I spent almost all of my day in front of the television, trying to make sense of it all, and worrying and waiting for the next horrific event to happen. Thankfully, that next thing never took place. That day passed as quickly as molasses, yet it passed quickly. At some point, I checked my mail, though I can't seem to recall doing so.
In my mailbox was a package from Amazon. I had pre-ordered a record that had been released that day, Departure Lounge's Jetlag Dreams, a seven-track album in Bella Union's Series 7 instrumental series. When I took the package out of my mailbox, I didn't open it--I wanted to get back to the television, for fear of missing something important.
The title didn't register with me as ironic, but when I opened the package, I was...shocked. The artwork for the record disturbed me, not for anything shocking or repulsive, but for the sheer appropriateness to the situation in New York City. The cover features a jetliner shadowed by a sunrise. Making it more disturbing is that the airplane is flying away from the sunrise--on what looks like a beautiful, clear morning.
The music inside the record took root in my memory, in a place I choose not to think about. Beautiful, gentle, funereal instrumental music--how could that not soundtrack a tragedy? That it appeared on the day--that horrible, horrible day--what more can I say about it? How could I possibly begin to relate how "Runway Doubts" plays in the slow-motion replay of the day? Would you be able to understand how "Equestrian Skydiving" encapsulates for me the sound of fear as the sun went down in a remote West Texas town? Of course not. And I doubt I would be able to appreciate your connotations, but indeed, on that day we shared the common feeling of dread, confusion, sadness and fear.
As for Jetlag Dreams, I quietly put it away, in hopes that ignoring its existence would, in some small way, help me to forget what happened. I think I wrote a review of it, but I really cannot recall. I find beauty in its sad refrains and gentle melodies, and, strangely, an innocence For me, Jetlag Dreams will always be a record of respect and remembrance, and the soundtrack to an unforgettable day and undesired memories.
I am a sucker for a painful piano ballad. Hence, I have quite quickly developed a love for New Buffalo's new album, Somewhere, Anywhere. Sally Seltmann sings as if a heartbreak will simply destroy her, yet she sounds as if she’s callous and numb to yet another heartache. It’s a strange dichotomy, true, but it works. Unlike her debut album, Somewhere, Anywhere is stripped-down, vulnerable, and ultimately a moving and emotional work. The album’s standout track, "It's True," feels like an answer to the Beatles' "She’s Leaving Home," and is a painfully beautiful--if not ultimately enlightening--ballad of empowerment.
In your album credits, you mention using a nearly century-old piano. It's an interesting fact, because the overall tone of Somewhere,Anywhere seems older, more antiquated, and a bit more mature. Do you think using this instrument helped set the mood for the creative process?
Oh yes, I think so. It's a very old, beautiful instrument and though I don't think it necessarily influenced my lyrics, it did affect the production tones I was going for. I love the wooden finish of the piano, too. It's just so beautiful. I wanted this record to be quiter than my first album, a bit more frank than my first album.
One thing that struck me was the lyrics have a deeper, more personal tone--almost cathartic.
I wanted Somewhere/Anywhere to be gentle. I wanted the production to be softer, and I wanted the focus to be on my lyrics. And I wanted the sound to be a bit more fragile, a little more delicate. Was it a hard task, making simpler, softer arrangements?
Yes, very. It's funny--sometimes the more instruments and drums and other parts you lay on a track makes writing a bit easier, because you're working with pieces that can make a whole. With the way I wrote for this record, I had the idea I wanted it to be really simple, just me and my songs. It was extremely difficult to do. It's hard to write sometimes, because you think, "oh, it's just guitar and vocals." It's hard to make things sound good at first if you're not used to it. Making songs be more about the performance than the arrangements. Sometimes it's harder to make something simple than to make something complex--that's very true.
The one song that really resonated with me was "It's True." To me, it sounds like a reply to the Beatles "She's Leaving Home." It's an empowered song, and I take it to be about personal strength. It's also my favorite song on the record.
It's a deeply personal song, related to how I was reacting to a situation I was involved in at the time. To me, it was the key song of the album; I wanted to base the whole record around that one song. When I go to see an artist play, I am more drawn to them when they're more emotional and more open about their feelings, or at least write a song that has a lot of emotional depth. It seems more real. For me, that's "It's True."
What is the, ahem, strategy of Strategy? From talking to Paul Dickow, the strategy seems to be record, record, record, followed by manipulate, rethink, reimagine, and rerecord. It's said a good writer should always rework a first draft, and a good writer must always edit. Why wouldn't this theory work with musicians? Well, Dickow highlights just why such work ethics are beneficial. For years, he's made music by himself and with others, and his latest work, Future Rock is a wonderful collection of intelligent instrumental music and, yes, dance music. Here, he tells us a little bit about his creative processes. It's an interesting read.
Several of Future Rock's songs are built upon other songs you've composed in the past. Do you, as an artist, believe a song is ever really finished? When you compose, do you constantly reevaluate and revisit your songs after you've reached a point where you thought you've "finished" them?
Yeah, I do. Once a song is officially released, I'll think, "Well, it is what it is." When I compose, I compose in stages, and I can endlessly recycle that idea, but I have to tell myself, "Stop! You have to finish the record!" And if I feel the song isn't really finished, I might take the most compelling part of that composition, strip it down to that element, and make a whole new composition out of it. So that song, had it gone into that other trajectory, and if I'd not had to finish it by a certain deadline, might be what the original idea would have evolved into had I had more time to work on it. Or, I'll have a song that's a really cool, really heavy track, and I'll redo it in an ambient version. There was even a time when every singe track I wrote would get two treatments: one that was really ambient, and one that was much fuller and compressed, or more beat-driven. I would let a song develop all of these different expressions. The way to satisfy that problem of nothing ever getting done was to do different versions of it and let it develop into something different, so that every song could play out the many different possibilities I knew I could pursue. Not every song is like that, though. A lot of songs start off hard, but they actually come to a logical conclusion, and aren't really that complex.
What you describe sounds like it could be frustrating. Are you a perfectionist?
I don't know if I'm a perfectionist. I think I just have a hard time knowing when to quit! (Laughs)
You could wind up sitting in the studio for days...
Sometimes it's hard to get anything accomplished in one sitting. I almost sometimes don't start working in the studio because it's so hard to stop. I know I don't have much time to devote to it, so I just don't get started. But there are times when I am not like that; I'll plug everything together, open up my work, and see where things are at; I'll listen to the things I've previously done and it'll inspire me to do something new rather quickly, and then I'll start to hone in on that creative zone.
Do you find that the same applies to Nudge, or when you're working with other musicians in the room?
When I'm working with Nudge, I give up my sense of leadership, to an extent. It's a lot more about letting the group do what it does, because what they do is a bit different than what I would do, so I'm able to contribute with that vision in mind, and I don't have to make it sound like it's completely my vision. Instead, I'll sit back and listen, and I'll contribute this little noise here, or I'll add what I see is a logical progression here and there. It's not completely selfless, but it's a much more self-effacing thing. With Nudge, I'm composing things that are a lot more minimal, and the music we make is a lot sparser. It's not often I work with them, though, and the "competition" I have in terms of songwriting isn't present with Strategy. When we get together, Brian and Honey have often developed the chord progressions or the melodies, and I add the embellishments. That's not to diminish my role at all, but a lot of times my part is collaborating on that, or I give them ideas on where things they've already done could go next. That's a different way of working, playing around with others, and it satisfies a different part of my brain.
Is there a particular song that has vexed you, that you've yet to finally perfect in a way that satisfies you?
Hmm...I'd have to think about that. (Pause) I feel like there is some material I've always wanted to pursue a little further. The last song on the record, "I Have to do this Thing," has already had two versions, and I still feel like I have to do another version of it. I find it interesting, though, that it keeps on wanting to grow and change. But that's not really vexing for me. What I find vexing is when I have a fully formed song or idea, and that one little idea is out of tune or out of sync with the rest of the song, and it just won't fit or be fixed. It'll leave me unsatisfied, a lack of conclusion on a tune.
"I Have to Do This Thing"--ironic title, based on what you said.
(Laughing) Yeah, it is ironic. I've never thought of it that way, but it seems funny now that you mention it.
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