Category Archives: Interviews

WEDDING PRESENT’S DAVID GEDGE ENTERS THE ‘BIZARRO’ WORLD

This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly March ’10.
 
 
During 2007, David Gedge joined the minions of semi-famous indie rock artists (Pixies, Primal Scream, and The Cult) re-creating classic albums in a live setting for a generation once removed. When his renowned British band, the Wedding Present, celebrated the 20th anniversary of their stunning post-punk debut, George Best, the Leeds-based crew gained an audience of younger heads poised to discover one of the most resilient rock troupes in the last quarter century.
 
 
Still going strong accruing large cult status in America, these legendary English rockers have now decided to revive their more melodic, less brazen second album, ‘89s enthusiastic breakthrough, Bizarro, with local shows at Maxwells in Hoboken (April 10th) and Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom (April 11).
 
  A pre-grunge guiding light one small step below the Pixies, the Wedding Present’s exuberant chain-like guitar-jangled drum-beaten attack could be seen as a natural progression from The Fall’s unbridled punk-drunk frenetic intensity. Fronted by Manchester-raised Gedge, whose half-spoken Brit-accented baritone gurgle hurls idiosyncratic inflections, these amazing three-chord wonders grew into a more emotionally expressive outfit over the course of ‘91s moodier Steve Albini-produced Seamonster and two eclectic Hit Parade sets (collecting all their double-sided ’91 singles in order).

Perhaps taking lessons learned from the Pixies, the Wedding Present steadily developed a bouncier pop step and heightened insouciant flare to hedge against the elevated lovesick melancholia their next few full length recordings fully exposed. Seamonsters’ dissonant sonic rumble, “Lovenest,” and murkily feedback-drenched flange, “Carolyn” (plus Hit Parade’s scoffed-up revving of the Monkees’ breezy “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) also deployed a headier grunge-informed pounce.

“Actually, Seamonsters was recorded months before we knew grunge had hit big. The reason it sounds that way is grunge producer, Steve Albini, whose work on the Pixies breathtakingly wonderful Surfer Rosa I’m a big fan of,” Gedge admits. “We were probably trying to get away from the jangly Velvet Underground sound and become rockier. That ambition and Albini’s skills made it sound like one of the early grunge records – very aggressive, very intense.”

Thereafter, ‘94s Watusi widened Gedge’s musical range further, placing acoustic 6-string and piano into the scratchy circular lullaby “Spangle” and debonair ballad “Gazebo” while utilizing climactic multi-part harmonies for joyously surging Farfisa-based chant “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah.” Furthermore, he burns down the house on ass-shakin’ spitfire scrum, “Shake It.”

Gedge claims, “Watusi was a very strange album in a way. A lot of folks don’t like it. It’s different – a sidestep away from the wall of noisy guitars. It was more pop with a nod to retro ‘60s pop, surf, and a cappella. It’s experimental in many ways. But I don’t want to make the same album over again like some bands. That’s stultifying.”

Although ‘96s Saturnalia paled in comparison, wispy-voiced euphony, “2,3 Go,” and soothingly uplifting postcard, “Montreal” are topnotch, offering a convenient holding pattern.

Along with ex-girlfriend Sally Murrell, Gedge took another sidestep with the equally rewarding band, Cinerama, whose ’98 debut, Va Va Voom, brought an orchestral restraint to melodic flights of fancy. Then, ‘05s Take Fountain, originally slated as Cinerama’s fourth album, became Wedding Present’s triumphant re-entry, re-igniting the excitingly fast-paced 3-chord scurry of yore. Three years hence, the rampaging follow-up, El Rey, further substantiated Gedge’s prolific career.

“By Take Fountain, Cinerama had changed. The first album was very poppy, reliant more on keyboards and orchestration than guitar. They evolved into more guitar-based music, which I love.” He adds, “That filtered its way back into the arrangements. It went back to our original Wedding Present sound. We did a London session with the late John Peel for BBC radio, came in as Cinerama and they said, ‘David, it sounds more like Wedding Present.’ We used to have string sections and trumpets, but went back to just guitars. People would’ve been disappointed if it was a Cinerama LP. It created confusion so we switched back.”

Never losing focus on what’s most important – making aggressive music out of a few concise chords and well-constructed arrangements – Gedge continues to get sheer joy creating a harrowing frenzy. His splashy guitar assaults, bolstered by rail-bending bass and rat-a-tat drum patter, are easily digested, if oft-times skewed by quirky dissonant reverb.

Presently splitting time living in England’s southerly coastal town of Brighton and oceanic California haven, Santa Monica, I spoke to the inimitable Gedge during a snowy winters’ day in February.

How’d the European George Best tour go in 2007? Why didn’t you do American shows like you will for Bizarro?
  DAVID GEDGE: In ’07, our label in England wanted us to do a 20th anniversary re-release and mentioned the idea of playing the whole album live in its entirety. Honestly, my first reaction was ‘no.’ I’m more of a forward-thinking musician not dwelling on nostalgia. But everyone I spoke to said, ‘You got to do that. It’ll be brilliant.’ I’m now glad we did it. It’s quite surreal putting yourself back two decades, forgetting all you learned afterwards. You remember yourself as a naïve youngster. It was natural to do Bizarro next. We didn’t do George Best in America because it didn’t have the popularity of Bizarro, which was a better album.
I thought Bizarro and Seamonsters showed great restraint. There’s a bunch of reserved retreats countering the hard rocking stuff.
 
 
 
We just improved. When we did George Best, we were a young band with only a few songs. There was no plan. By Bizarro, we were in a position, by playing more concerts and recording more songs, to gain experience. We matured a bit and put newfound skills to work and became more imaginative and substantial.
 
 
There are three singles collections, including Singles 1995-97, that offer a perfect clearinghouse. Did those singles all make the British charts?
  Yeah. They did. We share the record with Elvis Presley for most hits in a single year. All twelve from Hit Parade made the Top 40, which Elvis did in ’57. He obviously sold a lot more. (laughter) But in this current downloading environment, people are going back to the way things were in the ‘50s, when singles were the main medium. Maybe the LP is dying. CD sales are way down. Originally, I’d play my mothers’ singles pretending to be a discjockey.
What are some of your favorite singles from back then?
Stuff by the Everly Brothers and Bill Haley. I’d play the Beatles to death. Then, in the ‘70s, I discovered Queen and Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel.
 
If you didn’t have such a British singing accent would the Wedding Present have been bigger in America?
 
People’ve said that. But I’ve heard others say we’re not English enough. David Bowie’s very British sounding but became very successful in the States. It’s not the quality of music you make, but instead, being in the right place at the right time or having a hit on a film or big label affiliation.
 
 
 
“Don’t Take Me Home Til I’m Drunk” from El Rey certainly retained the ecstatic charge of yore. But “Santa Ana” had a fresh dramatic fervor confronting the usual hit-and-run blasts.
 
 
I suppose the early stuff is more personal and intimate. But the drama came later on. You move on and change as a songwriter. Certainly a lot of the bits on George Best I’d change now. Currently, I’m writing lyrics for a new album. The first half of my shows will have new and old songs. The second half will feature Bizarro. I have a deadline to get these songs prepared.

RICHIE HAVENS RETURNS BUT THERE’S ‘NOBODY LEFT TO CROWN’

Humble aged-in-the-wool folk artist, Richie Havens, continues to provide inspirational guidance for “Freedom”-bound post-hippies as well as a newer generation of earthy philanthropic college students and their forward-thinking progressive elders. Havens became legendary after performing a mammoth 3-hour opening set at Woodstock, the historic 3-day summer of ’69 event in Bethel Woods that shook America’s foundation. Brought in by a local farmer’s helicopter and forced to extend his set by over a dozen numbers while other musicians were flown in, he came to represent the magical spirit of Woodstock, revitalizing its transformation from mere spectacle to universal phenomenon.

Havens may have existed under the radar for decades, but legions of fans keep him eager to entertain at small to midsize venues cross-country. Since his most earnest songs stand the test of time and the intensity of his improvised shows never wavers, this courteous native New Yorker has survived to thrive.

Before moving to Greenwich Village in ’61 to become part of the burgeoning folk scene, Havens had been a ‘50s street corner doo-wop vocalist and gained minor recognition in the Mc Crea Gospel Singers. Though his self-titled ‘65 debut and better ’66 follow-up, Electric Havens, would garner local acclaim, it was ‘67s Viet Nam-addled masterpiece, Mixed Bag, that propelled him. Written with activist actor, Louis Gosseett, Jr., its glowing highlight, “Handsome Johnny,” loomed as a timely anthemic war protest.

All of a sudden, underground denizens fell in love with his idiosyncratic charcoal-stained baritone rasp and virtuoso dulcimer-styled open-tuned acoustic guitar strumming. Extemporaneous Woodstock jam, “Freedom,” summed up an entire generations hopes and dreams. By ‘70s Stonehedge, Havens’ entire back catalog had dented the all-important sales charts.

During the early ‘70s, Havens’ record company, MGM, offered him a boutique label, Stormy Forest Records, where the keen artist would go on to sign poetic DC pianist Bob Brown, Dylanesque Canadian folkie, Bruce Murdoch, and California singer Kathy Smith. Though these artists unfairly struggled to find aboveground footing as the small label went under, Havens maintained credibility, releasing such fan favorites as ‘71s The Great Blind Degree, ‘87s Simple Things, and ‘04s Grace Of The Sun.

Besides being an established singer-songwriter, Havens’ sharp interpretive abilities are renowned. His distinctly modified versions of classic Beatles tunes rank high alongside British white Soul shouter Joe Cocker’s renditions. His ’70 album, Alarm Clock, contained the lone hit single, an insouciant take on George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” recorded live at DC’s Cellar Door with rhythm guitar, bass, and bongos. At Woodstock, his tranquilized execution of Lennon-Mc Cartney’s LSD-inspired “Strawberry Fields Forever” practically received canonization. Plus, an electric piano-assisted take on existential Fab Four liturgy, “Eleanor Rigby,” sufficed as Mixed Bag’s chilling closer.

His solid thirty-first long-player, Nobody Left To Crown, is proof positive that the enduring Brooklyn native has not only persevered, but continues to grow musically, taking on today’s societal ills the same way as always, with guitar and pen.

Havens’ latest endeavor seeks understanding, fairness, and refuge in the modern world through a lighter form of rebellious sociopolitical upheaval. And he still prospers when lending his husky melancholic timbre to other artist’s compositions.

Cello glissando counters the precise 6-string shuttering guiding The Who’s defiant “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and subtle acoustic charm underscores portentous ballad “Say It Isn’t So.” Civic Jackson Browne-penned requiem, “Lives In The Balance,” renders similar ominous fare. Solemn Gospel organ drones through the otherwise playful strut, “(Can You Hear) Zeus’ Anger.” But there’s hopefulness coming ashore on gently melodic beat-ticking endearment “Hurricane Waters” and deliberating samba, “The Key.” The celebratory “Standing On The Water” places gypsy violin in a semi-Vaudeville setting to good effect.

“Rock and roll is, in and of itself, folk. My generation’s an important keeper of the noise,” Havens’ explains in a confidently jolly tone. “I don’t look back, but some songs I’ve played for thirty…forty years.”

Then, he half-jokingly advises, “But it’s only because my generation is the best looking generation. The wonderful thing is, I don’t have to explain it because I don’t know what I’m doing in the first place. You just gotta remember the songs.”

I had the privilege to spend an hour on the phone with the soft-spoken-ring-fingered white-bearded bald-headed 69-year-old legend during late January, 2010.

 

Where does American society go from here? President Obama broke the color barrier but everyone still has doubts, concerns, and distrust about the government.

RICHIE HAVENS: There’s gonna be a movement. Transparency is gonna wreck the hidden talents of most politicians. Constitutional changes are gonna be tried. When we think of voting, we think nationally. But the Democrats and Republicans only fight for their own constituencies. For profit people get government positions. Our information systems aren’t people voted in, but brought in by each party.

You take on The Who’s rebellious anthem, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” on Nobody Left To Crown. Yet our country still struggles with corporate and political corruption and greed. Instead of monopolies, we’ve secretly got equally rancid duopolies, such as dual cable providers, who only compete against each other and limit choice.
   

You’re right. But youth are learning that by putting Obama in power, their votes actually count and that’s captured some of the places that should’ve been carried forth before.

Going back to the Woodstock Generation, what permanent positive changes have you been most proud of?
    

The big one is voting. But you can’t put a finger on the youth because they’re now trying to work across nations instead of just state by state. When kids find out they’ve been duped, snooped, and slooped, they can impose change without waiting for grownups to say it’s OK.

However, many kids are lazy passive-aggressive types unwilling to be riled up by politics.
 

 

 

You have outlined what I call a ‘Huggie.’ Puppy dogs who can’t go out on their own, but that’s what a puppy does. He goes down under the wire and gets to go because he has hardened. Once his mind is into it, he won’t be refused.

 
 

 

Were you intially inspired by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and the ’60s folk movement? 
 

 

 

Oh no. Dylan and I once shared a manager (the legendary Albert Grossman), but we were contrary. I started as a Brooklyn doo-wop singer and was brought into the Greenwich Village folk scene by that muscle. (laughter) Nina Simone in the ‘50s was very influential. I got to play with her later on. I was so happy I could’ve died and said, ‘Yippie!.’ I got something from her as a younger person.

That was my uncle’s music beyond my mothers’ time. We were on a Ford Motor hootenanny with Herbie Mann and Mongo Santamaria. That was the music playing in between what we were doing. We spent ten days at St. Johns College in DC. This guy from Ford was wrangled and took this caravan cross-country. Then, we went off to different universities. We got to our seventh school, went down the road to make the next one, laughing like hell because everyone’s a great joke teller. All morning we’re making up funny stuff. We stopped at a gas station and in the background I hear a noise. ‘I think the president has been shot.’ Everyone started laughing over another joke. So I reached over and turned the radio knob and heard Kennedy was assassinated. That shut down our caravan. Not one club was open for ten days after the death. The quietude and disbelief. Several clubs went broke. That’s also when this musical triad met. Miles Davis and John Coltrane and other Jazz artists broke out and rock and folk got big. You had folk music at Newport with Dylan. In Europe, Donovan was breaking out. So many things went on at the same cross line.

Tell me about Bethel’s Woodstock Museum.
 
 

 

 

It was opened in 2009. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen a place like that, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – which looks Mickey Mouse in comparison. This magical place. They used it to show what rights people gained by the Woodstock Generation. They brought out a timeline from 1940. It actually showed how the constitution changed. They even built one of those Wolf Trap (educational arts program) places for this.

Nobody Left To Crown strikes a chord with its divergent stylistic oeuvre.

I’ve had albums I’ve made – I knew what I wanted to say and knew what I wanted to happen. I wrote them. Yet I only learned two of the songs. They are the glue to my time change. Everything I do is trailing me, for sure. That shows people and artists that this spirit is just beginning.

MC PAUL BARMAN RETURNS HIGH ATOP ‘THOUGHT BALLOON MUSHROOM CLOUD’

We’re hanging out at MC Paul Barman’s lower Manhattan apartment listening to Beatles tunes on a secondhand disc player his chatty son, Felix, commandeers. Barman shows me a mint condition vinyl version of urban fiction mentor Iceberg Slim’s defunct masterpiece, Reflection, and forthrightly comments, “Iceberg was a master of the English language and pulp novels. His verbing nouns were brilliant, economical, and descriptive. He was slick talking, had depth of feeling, and a large personality.”

The same could be said of egalitarian Ridgewood, New Jersey native, Barman, a savvy Brown University-educated rapper, humorist, illustrative artist, and now, Househusband Records proprietor.

It’s been seven years since Barman dropped fascinating linguistic labyrinth Paullelujah, due to family obligations, part-time jobs, and music-related art in the interim. But he’s come back stronger than ever on ‘09s epic-sized Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud.

“My structural layering, triple meanings, and speed of rhyme are intended for longevity and nourishment. It’s not available for surface clarity. The consensus was Paullelujah followed up (2000 debut) It’s Very Stimulating with talking Blues and word Jazz in an attempt to make a more emotionally wide ranging work. Although at the time I wasn’t good at it,” the modest erudite rhyme master quips. “I’m better at doing serious works now then with Paullelujah.”

An ambitious artisan, Barman enjoys setting his audience up for the unexpected, whether through music, on-line sketches, handbooks, resplendent limited vinyl, or the intriguingly prismatic Buck Moon Kaboom Mixtape. A nimble-tongued jester that could hold court with anyone, he’s shown appreciation for satirical cartoons as well as underground comic book legends R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar.

Despite some serious-minded apparitions spread across Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud’s comprehensive oeuvre, Barman’s jollier tunes in collaboration with long-time hip-hop pals, Prince Paul (ex-Stetsasonic architect/ celebrated artist-producer) and MF Doom (Brit-born KMD protagonist/ rapping metal-faced Nuyorican poet), retain an instant like-ability easing mainstream access. The former helps out on spry ‘70s-styled pop charmer, “Get Along Gang,” commissioned by American Greeting Corporation for a cheesy revamped TV show that never came into fruition but wouldn’t feel out of place next to the Banana Splits’ catchy “Tra La La Song.”

Meanwhile, Doom’s featured on playful dual rhyme scheme, “Hot Guacamole” (initially titled “Bullocks,” abandoned for Paullelujah, then snuffed again by Doom’s euphonic cuisine enticement Mm Food). The playful teaser, utilizing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s jaunty “Down On The Corner” (Mushroom Cloud’s only obvious sample), gets equaled in insouciant splendor by snazzy Barman-Doom accord, “Go Sane,” a suavely posh New York-bound springtime chime.

In actuality, Barman’s not only returned to collect some “Props,” he’s here to snub ‘hate to laugh novelty acts’ and take a stance against hardcore rap’s compromised commercial gimmickry. But he’s not above snickering lowbrow slapstick a la the genitalia-connected triad bounding therapeutic injunction, “Get Help.”

His chameleon-like stylistic proclivities match his burning desire to delightfully transform and cleverly modify each successive endeavor undertaken. “Aids” jokes aren’t off-limits, even when Doctor Joyce Wallace’s involved. Yet “Drug Casual-T” seems grimly sobering. Barman’s prismatic propensities prove positive.

“My favorite logo is (cable network) Nickelodeon. They’ve created a recognizable brand that changes all the time through font and color. It’s aspirational,” he imparts.

 Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud was originally available via your website, www.mcpaulbarman.com, November ’09. There’s now limited vinyl and a listener’s manual (lyric book).

PAUL B: I liken the slow role out to an egg with some shit and feathers still stuck to it. We were so constipated with this project we practically had to give the chicken a C-section. It’s using the working title for Paullalujah, but with the crucial chorus containing the words in “Science,” wherein I’m not only rhyming about splitting the atom but also doing so in Morse cadence, which is long and short syllables that spell out Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud underneath other words. That’ll be the subject of YouTube’s “Pellet #2,” where I’ll explain how this rhythm/ rhyme operates. Another working title was Tears Of Joyalso not the greatest title. In retrospect, I should have called the album The Moon. It’s simple and relates to the songs and fits on YouTube’s 16X16 square pixal thumbnails of album covers; the graphic adjustment which I’m still working on.

You’ve squeezed so many diverse ideas into a single hour disc. It’s impossible to figure it all out in just a few tertiary listens.
 
 
 
 

 

 

Nobody rhymes like me. I don’t even rhyme like me. I don’t repeat what anyone, especially myself, has done. DJ Qbert is constantly twittering good words of advice like ‘just as a rolling stone gathers no moss, a focused artist deflects both positive and negative criticism.’ All I cared about was talent, vision, point of view, originality, directness, expression, and innovation. One day someone will notice I worked with total unknowns that were the most famous people in the world.

Point being, I have to contradict myself because L.A.-based Open Mike Eagle, part of Project Blowed at the Bay, whom I’m gonna work with, has a song on his “Another Roadside Attraction” EP, called “The Financial Crisis Song,” a tight edu-tainment rhyme about the bailout debacle. His understanding of the information in a really tricky lyric is in some ways what I tried to do with “Oil,” “Radiation,” and “Owl Pellets,” which in a way, may not be different than the KRS-One songs inspiring us.

Do you feel like an appreciable underground artist rising up against today’s trendy fashionistas?
 
 
 
 

 

 

When it comes to fashionistas, the underground is a losing proposition. We grew up wanting to be the first to hear Nirvana. When they blew up, people weren’t as attached to them, even though that didn’t take anything away from their records. Then, there’s the Dead Kennedys. Even if their music wasn’t what it was, the name of the band alone makes sure you’d never get divorced from underground status. You could root for the underdog as a kid and get attached to that, but then you believe only underdogs are valuable and shoot yourself in the foot in life. However, I have no interest in fashion, be it underground on not.

…As Paul wears his dress pants with yellow army boots, jacket, vest, and hat that don’t match. (laughter)
 
 
 
 

 

 

If fashion is about surfaces, of course, I have no interest. It’s not that I’m in opposition to fashion, it doesn’t (come into my radar).

Did you ever feel your abstract lyrical twists were too sharply worded for the proletariat or possibly over regular people’s heads?
 
 
 
 

 

 

Regular people are smart and don’t like to be spoken down to. The fast food proletariat is gonna fall apart. Have you seen the new study saying Monsanto corn, which is all corn AND most food, causes organ damage? It’s genetically engineered to do well with a certain herbacide. Point being, strategy and creativity have very small overlap so I don’t have a choice about what I do.

You deal more with serious social issues
and less with hilarious sexual innuendoes on Thought Balloon. Has your perspective matured since being married with two sons or have you seen too much bad shit in the world?
 
 
 

 

 

Both. (laughter) Also, I don’t only have to use my own ideas anymore. I can collect things that appear to be the truth and throw them in the mix.

Do you still think ex-prez Bush knocked down the towers on 911?
 
 
 
 

 

 

When I said that I was convinced there was an order to not send planes to intercept the terrorist planes in illegal airspace. My understanding was it’d require a presidential order not to send planes to knock those planes out of the sky. Did Bush knock them down? I don’t know.   

Tell me about Beer, the loose musical collective you and famed movie director Michel Gondry (animation/ piano/ optigan) put together.
 
 
 
 

 

 

It’s just us – not to take anything away from the fabulous collaborations. It’s a mind melt and we’ve hired awesome musicians. Gondry wanted to call it Beer Machine, but I just wanted Beer. We should do shows with Can. (laughter) “Leafbird” is a new kiddie song. There’s a few unfinished.

Weird Al Yankovic does the horror-filmed ‘weird owl’ outro for “The Moon” (featuring deep-voiced dramatist Master Ace). Have you discussed doing any future projects with popular musical satirist, Weird Al?
 
 
 
 

 

 

Nas did an unauthorized biography of Rakim that was brilliant and blew a lot of heads back. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be crazy to do one with Weird Al. So I researched him and put it together in similar format to a beat that could be a cousin to the Nas song and I did that years ago. I also reached out to him when his parents died inexplicably (in a car accident). Incredibly sad. Then I sent him the song. He said, “That’s awesome.” But it needs updating because I did it after Al’s Poodle Hat and before White & Nerdy. It exists on my Buck Moon Kaboom. I also did an interview with him for Village Voice. I wrote an unauthorized KRS-One bio. It was actually Gondry’s first assignment for me to translate into rhyme – what I call Rhyme Slating. I’m working one for Joe Strummer and Obama as well.

The emotionally compelling tracks ending Thought Balloon, beautiful moonlit sonata, “Divorce,” and post-recession reflection, “It Can All Be Taken Away,” seem to reminisce about the struggle to survive.
 
 
 
 

 

 

But it ends positively with marriage. It’s about my parents divorce and the triumph over that. We take everything for granted. We make art ‘cause life hurts.

Will you sign artists to your boutique label, Househusband Records?
 
 
 
 

 

 

But who’d sign with me when I won’t sign with anybody. (laughter) Grand Royal Records were great taste makers… I’d love to write for people like King-Goffin did in the ‘60s. We’re making kid’s books and elaborate lyric books for Househusband Books & Media. The label will involve me, but not always as performer. Also, I have dreams of overseeing other people’s projects. Maybe tweaking rap demos with some outside direction to bring it up a few notches.

-John Fortunato
 
 
 
 

 

 

NOAH & THE WHALE GO MAJESTIC ON ‘THE FIRST DAYS OF SPRING’

Promising London-based indie folk purveyors, Noah & The Whale, led by composing guitarist Charlie Fink, deliver fragile romanticism to love-starved minions. Alongside Rain Machine (the solo premier from TV On The Radio’s lead voice, Kyp Malone), Noah’s Whale shows goodly restraint rendering their lovelorn retreats for the terminally pained.

For well-regarded ’08 debut, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, Fink’s Whale offered oblique tenderhearted sentimentality merging twee-pop charm with low key anti-folk sensitivity.

Whimsical hand-clapped whistle-bound ukelele-based affectation “5 Years Time,” briskly strummed Mexicali-horned anodyne “Shape Of My Heart,” casual Sufjan Stevens/ Pedro The Lion knockoff “2 Atoms In A Molecule,” fey music box tranquilizer “Second Lover” (duping Jonathan Richman’s nerdy insecurities), and hastening Neutral Milk Hotel-like sing-along “Jocasta” reached aboveground audiences abruptly. They got to headline Manhattan’s respected Bowery Ballroom and Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg to great fanfare.

Dropping any cognizant twee tendencies for more pastoral settings, ‘09s serenely pristine The First Days Of Spring intimately narrates a wondrously melancholic seasonal love cycle. Besides its poignant titular opener, there’s gingerly neo-orchestral serenade “Our Window,” despair-clad urge “I Have Nothing,” and lonesome halcyon gusher “My Broken Heart.” Romantic relief finally comes midway through with “Love Of An Orchestra,” where Classically-trained choir, the Exmoor Singers, alleviate the pain and increase optimism by uploading church-worthy harmonies into a rousing devotional anthem.

Though highly accomplished and truly ambitious, it takes a few listens to fully appreciate The First Days Of Spring’s ethereal subtleties, but the experience ultimately proves rewarding.Though Fink has no permanent residence (“doing the nomadic thing at the moment”), he dreams of life in the rural countryside, bluntly stating “My songs are not set in the city. Maybe that’s part of why they sound like they do.”

How would you compare this album to your debut?

CHARLIE FINK: It’s difficult to say. It’s different in many ways. For me, it’s just a gradual process. The changes that happen, happen slowly, bit by bit. People who’ve heard the records back to back say it sounds like a different band – almost. But I think the seeds from the new record were sown on the first record.

What initially inspired you to pursue music as a vocation?

The first stuff I listened to was my mother’s Buddy Holly, Beach Boys, and Bob Dylan records – a mixture of Classic pop with folk. My initial passion for music probably came through her. It has always meant something to me. So I started playing and writing – it was a natural thing.

You’ve brought up Dylan, who may be a great literary source. Did you learn compositional structure in school?

No. Not at all. When I first started writing music, I was 14. More than anything, I was interested in melody. I used to go to a CD store where I used to live and they’d sell packs of 10 CD’s for 5 pounds. There were bands you never heard of that the store was trying to get rid of. I’d buy them, look over the lyric book and write their lyrics to music without hearing the songs. Later, I got interested in the lyrical work. But it was never taught to me. I just naturally got interested in that. I guess Dylan is the lyricist I appreciate most. Also, poets and films.Noah & the Whale make reference to the film, The Squid & The Whale, and its director, Noah Baumbach.

How does your bands’ moniker tie into your muse?

(laughter) I think it was just a film I liked and as a band the name was cool to put together – a nice collection of words. It kind of suited what we did – more in the past – that mood and the ring of it.

Spring concerns breaing up and perhaps, peaceful resolve. Will your next full-length endeavor be thematic?

 Definitely. I’m always trying to capture something about my life at the time of writing. So I guess the next album will probably be reflective of the next period of time. The one thing I don’t want to write about is being on tour. I’ve got a few songs done for the next album – different material.

I see your music as being neo-Classical folk in the guise of indie rock.

The band did start as a folk trio with me playing acoustic and my brother on stripped down drums with Tom Hobden on violin. We made fairly simple folk songs. As we progressed and wanted to do other things, we kept the violin and some of the instrumentation, which gives it something unique. Because it had those foundations, whichever way it went, it was always gonna have something different about it.

You use the four seasons to narrate a relationship that spirals down then swerves to upwardly uplifting. Where’d that come from?

The one thing I reference during it is English poet, T.S. Eliot. He has a poem called The Wasteland. ‘April is the cruelest month breeding lilacs out of the dead land/ mixing memory and desire.’ Spring is the season of new hope, but also, if you come into it with a melancholy mind, it could be painful instead.

Are you familiar with Tindersticks work? They revel in comparable soft-focus acoustic settings.

I never really listened to Tindersticks, but you’re not the first person to make that comparison. Their stuff I’ve heard I really liked. But it wasn’t an influence. I’m investigating them more now.

You’ve also done production work for part-time Whale singer Laura Marling’s Alas I Cannot Swim. Have you produced anyone else?

I’ve done a few English artists and I also produced our new record. I’m looking to hook up a few projects for next year. There’s one guy – I’m not sure what he’s calling himself. A bunch of things. So far I’ve only done solo artists. I want to do bands as well.

Tell me about the film that coincides with Spring. Did you do the camera work and editing?

I wrote and directed. I had a small team of people working with me. It’s a companion piece for the record. It’s a complementary, different narrative from the one on the album. It’s not the same. It’s not like R. Kelly’s music. There’ll be a Q & A film screening the day before as well in New York at a piano bar.

What contemporary artists inspire you the most?

I don’t know how much these influences come across on the record, but I’ve been listening to Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden, Nick Cave’s Boatman’s Call, and Wilco. Classical artists like Franz Liszt and Dmitri Shostakovitz are inspirational.

Will future arrangements instrumentally expand outward or be given less ornate settings?

I always like the idea that songs could evolve and change. The recording isn’t the full stop. We always try to interpret songs differently live. I don’t necessarily stick to the arrangements we’ve got. At the moment, they’re transforming into heavier guitars playing string lines. I like doing them stripped down as well – like “Blue Skies.” There’s no one set way. We’ve never done two consecutive tours where we sounded like the same band. With this project, the entire focus was on thematic songs. I was basically trying to write a 45-minute setting rather than 10 songs 5 minutes each. I tried to do an album that proved the whole is greater than the parts. A lot of albums now are more about the individual songs – which isn’t a bad thing. But I wanted to unify these songs.

-John Fortunato

 

DEERHOOF’S DECEPTIVELY COMPLEX ‘MILK MAN’

FOREWORD: Deeerhoof has managed to spread out its semi-avant experiments over several prodigious  albums. Though co-guitarist Chris Cohen left to concentrate on his own band, The Curtains, whose ’07 release, Calamity, collected an eclectic array of proggish psych abstractions, Deerhoof survived as a threesome. ’05s Runners Four and ’07s Friend Opportunity proved to be just as pertinently irresistible as the bands’ predeccesors. I spoke to Cohen in ’04 to promote Milk Man. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

 

 Unafraid to challenge melodic preconceptions, extraordinary San Francisco experimentalists Deerhoof possess the ambition, ability, and abandon needed for cultivating unexplored territories. Without compromising integrity, the cordial quartet’s ‘04 venture, Milk Man, places their skewered ideas and dissonant incongruities in more conventional arrangements.

Contrasting ‘03s critically praised step forward Apple O’ by being less reliant on recurring themes and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s piercing soprano chirps, the deceptively complex Milk Man deconstructs rhythms, rhymes, and rhapsodies while keeping a keen eye towards reaching uncharted futuristic dimensions.

Helping Deerhoof investigate non-conformist undertakings, skillful guitarist Chris Cohen (Curtains/ Natural Dreamers) has quickly established himself as a fierce counterpart to fellow axe bender John Dietrich. Now living outside the Bay Area in Central Los Angeles, he persuasively crystallized the combo’s secure foundation.

“I originally saw Deerhoof play in early 2000,” Cohen recalls. “We still perform songs from (‘96s) Menlo Park. The first guitarist, Rob Fisk, left by (‘99s more song-oriented) Holdy Paws.”

Gaining solidarity amongst Deerhoof’s core sector, the quietly reserved Cohen permanently joined the evolving troupe for Apple O.’ Though initially interested in drumming, at age eleven Cohen’s sister rented an electric guitar. When she went to summer camp he began fiddling around with it, figuring out chord progressions for the Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone” and an unspecified Sex Pistols song.

“My dad worked in the record business as a talent scout for A & M in the ‘70s,” Cohen confirms. “He collected soft pop and middle-of-the road music from ’68 to ’78. My parents were into Broadway musicals and Classical, but also Edgar Winter and the Rolling Stones on the hard rock side. My dad’s world at work was the Carpenters, Herb Alpert, and “Theme From Young & The Restless.” We got a gold record for that.”

While Cohen was in formative band the Curtains, one of their members unexpectedly departed, allowing Matsuzaki and Deerhoof founder Greg Saunier (drums-keys) to collaborate live on a few short numbers. The successful endeavor provided convincing evidence to refurbish Deerhoof’s theretofore revolving lineup. Dietrich, who’d started the Natural Dreamers as an instrumental two-piece with Cohen, was already a guitar fixture by ‘02s respectable breakthrough, Reveille.

Just as Apple O’ was recorded spontaneously in one day and mixed over weeks, running the gamut from quietly spare to full-on instrumental dalliances with Cohen’s stereo-separated six-string on left speaker and Dietrich’s to the right, the precision-guided Milk Man was pieced together instinctively using highly versatile well-refined material. Meanwhile, Matsuzaki’s submissively fragile utterances expanded beyond mere angular lullaby anxiousness to sweltering panoramic immediacy, adding more expressive tonal variance on Milk Man. The ace in the hole, Japanese-born Matsuzaki is a precociously uninhibited diva whose quirky caterwauls, cadaverous quivers, and cozily coquettish quavers endearingly inhabit Deerhoof’s art-damaged abstractions.

Cohen claims, “Satomi’s always been into music, but had never been in a band. She may have blown harmonica in school as a kid. She moved to San Francisco to be closer to a music community. She was friendly with local band Carolina Rainbow – whom she translated for. To get a visa, she went to film school.”

Indeed, Frisco’s freeform atmosphere and loose-limbed ambiance inform the deviating fundamental vestiges probed by these shrewd conceptualists.

“It’s hard to get a full perspective, but San Francisco, like any coastal city, has many cultures bringing new peculiar ideas. There’s a lot of fog and hills,” he says before making a comparison to the glittery City of Angels. “L.A. is totally flat open desert, causing certain moods (to be conjured). It’s more desperate. My girlfriend believes San Franciscans are self-righteous liberals who think they are so much better educated, but there is a definite insularity. When I was younger, I thought local band Thinking Fellers Union were part of a cool experimental art-rock scene.”

Undoubtedly, Milk Man embraces such cerebral investigative whims. Yet despite being somewhat sophisticated in approach, each divergent vignette retains an accessible veneer. The neo-Classical “Giga Dance” precariously flirts with King Crimson-Soft Machine-Renaissance prog-rock ambience until a short pipe-whistled shanty passage crosscuts icy Sugarcubes-evoked melodicism. Bleating satellite probes prod the percussive bass-throbbed operetta “Desaparecere” and grisly guitar scrapes counter tingling chimes on the solemnly askew “C.” Resoundingly blissful interpolating glistened cosmic transience, the radiantly ceremonious “Rainbow Silhouette Of The Milky Way” grasps for twinkling stars with stammered piano plunks and mallet décor.

A hook-filled sparkling gem with goose step guitar repetition and a darting stop-start reflux; “Milking” may be Deerhoof’s greatest bid for commercial acceptance.

Cohen expounds, “We thought people would like to revisit “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” with computer generated samples. Trumpeter Leo Smith played one note we pasted into a little melody. We wanted to make an easily likable song. We use it as a climactic concert closer.”

Perhaps Cohen’s variegated record collection offers evidence of his own stylistic diversity, even as he clears out undesired vinyl debris.

“I’m looking for stuff to get rid of,” he laughingly suggests. “I enjoy Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music. He was an avant-garde trumpeter who did a Big Band album with a strange folk bend. Betty Carter is a wonderful singer and King Sunny Ade’s records are stunning. I want to play like him. In Nigeria, he’s the master. I have a lot of his one-off weird African releases. I also like Top 40 hip-hop radio. That’s the most groundbreaking music being done now.”

He continues, “There’s the Casual Dots, whom I’m really fond of. They do what we try to do with guitars – basic musical pleasures – scales and intervals presented plainly. And I love the new Bobby Conn record.”

As for his bands’ near future, the youthful savant advises, “Everyone in Deerhoof is into doing something that comes natural, inventing our own homemade system that makes sense to us.”

SLITS PIONEER ARI UP REVIVED AS ‘TRAPPED ANIMAL’

FOREWORD: Innovative German-born Brit punk, Ari Up, sadly died just months after our interview on October 20, 2010. She suffered from an undisclosed illness and is survived by three sons, her mother, and stepfather (legendary Sex Pistols guitarist Johnny Lydon).  RIP sweet angel.

 

Trailblazing ‘70s punk combo, the Slits, paid the cost to be the most revolutionary female band in a male-dominated subculture. Having the innate ability to dress up artless guitar debris with minimalist dub-reggae rhythms, the innovative lasses were initially violently attacked and verbally assaulted because their rudimentary approach leaned towards Jamaican rude boy juvenility, seemingly at odds with the snotty nihilist rebellion the Sex Pistols’ ilk possessed.

Undoubtedly, the Slits also upset moshing neo-Nazi Oi! boys hooked on violently chanted three-chord thrashers and therefore unwilling to accept the daring damsels who were distressingly labeled unwelcome meddling interlopers.

Sheer determination kept the Slits alive and the fact they shared the same philosophical values with a few obliging ‘so-called’ punks helped the weirdly detached forward-looking vagrants from becoming flash-in-the-pan enigmas. Instead of fading into obscurity, they set the foundation for a plethora of feministic crews such as South Bronx no wave beacons ESG, Swiss post-punk pilots Liliput, Brit-punk activists Delta 5, avant-funk lesbians Bush Tetras, and commercial pop charmers the Mo-dettes.

At age 14, Munich-born London-raised Ariana Forster became Ari-Up, lead singer of a formative group shaped by drummer Paloma Romero (now known as Palmolive). Though Palmolive left early on to join equally determined female coterie, the Raincoats, bassist Tessa Pollitt (a diehard reggae fanatic like Ari-Up) and guitarist Viv Albertine soon rounded out the impressionable trio. Meanwhile, Ari-Up hustled for money and lived as a squatter away from her bohemian family of dancers and musicians.

Though Ari’s grandfather was a “super-rich” publisher controlling Germany’s mighty Des Spiegel weekly magazine, the “tyrant” suppressed his flamenco-informed belly-dancing wife and blackmailed daughter, Nora (Ari’s mother), who’d soon promote Jimi Hendrix (amongst others), manage ‘70s Classical rockers Wishbone Ash and Taste, then marry Sex Pistols vocalist, John Lydon. Nora used her humble government-assisted domicile as a retreat for traveling musicians her daughter, Ari, would easily befriend.

The Slits first real breakthrough happened during 1977, when they opened for burgeoning punk ambassadors The Clash, Buzzcocks, and Subway Sect. Their provocative vagina lip-informed handle was nearly as audacious as the title of ‘79 debut, Cut (insert the letter N before T for proper repulsiveness). Furthermore, the titillating threesome posed nude for the front cover, coated in mud wearing only loincloths. By now, the Slits had begun to fruitfully articulate the same oppressive cultural deprivation as the Pistols-Clash-Damned triumvirate, but in a less clamorous manner.

With its carefree childlike whimsicality and crudely underdeveloped tunes, Cut bled streetwise do-it-yourself ethos into primitive-sounding tribal manifestos. A desolate Eastern-flavored 6-string figure, knock-knock percussion, and tinny cymbals back Ari’s self-destructive anecdote on the otherwise temperate opener, “Instant Hit.”

Indirectly, the Roches curiously quirky multi-harmonic playfulness infused the silly “So Tough.” Dub-styled discontentment “Spend, Spend, Spend” and deliriously screamed diatribe “Shoplifting” retained unfinished demo-like splendor. Throughout, Ari’s operatic vibrato reveled in amateurish enthusiasm.

Appearing during the early New Wave uprising, ‘81s equally raw Return of the Giant Slits EP may’ve felt out of place amongst the shinier gloss hitting underground airwaves, but its mischievous precision-guided snipes held up better. Haranguing sociopolitical message, “Walk About,” criticizes the treatment of indigenous Australian aborigines and probably gave Ari the motivation to live amongst the naked bow-and-arrow hunters of Borneo’s Dayak tribe before splitting time living in Brooklyn, New York and Kingston, Jamaica.

Ari took on the persona of singer-dancer Medusa thereafter, becoming a Kingston-based ‘80s hip-hop dancehall denizen who’d soon front famed British dub producer Adrain Sherwood’s New Age Steppers. She’d mother twins with a marijuana-dealing spouse and receive plaudits from loyal minions, some of whom thought she might’ve died over the years due to presumed inactivity.

But Ari’s Slits are back and better than ever, boasting a terrific lineup including Hollie Cook (Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook’s daughter). Developing a more universal lyrical appeal less dependent on provincial sloganeering, ‘09s Trapped Animal (proceeded by a belated ’05 solo debut, Dread More Dan Dead) preserves the past while engaging the future. Busier arrangements and tidier production give each track brighter resonance.

Welfare, social injustice, and food stamp programs still concern Ari, as she deals with grownup “Issues” and downplays “Peer Pressure” with animalistic jungle yelps atop Latin-tinged piano and ska-influenced horns. Clanking percussion, dotted sax lines, and flittering flute suit reggae-fried call-and-response entreaty “Ask Ma.” And working class rave, “Partner Fom Hell,” benefits from an echoed melodica that intimates reggae great Augustus Pablo.

Onward, reggae toaster “Babylon” never lacks authenticity and “Reggae Gypsy” peculiarly leans towards the contemporary gypsy-folk of Gogol Bordello and Devotchka. Perhaps perky schoolyard howler, “Pay Rent,” best defines the Slits musical and cultural conviction, blurting out ‘we don’t wanna follow fashion’ in all its triumphant subversive glory.

After the Slits broke up, you took on the moniker, Medusa, and became a dancehall queen. How’d that turn out?

ARI-UP: I had an album, Dread More Dan Dead, which was invigorated by Kingston reggae and dancehall – a hybrid. It was under the Ari Up name but during the Medusa period. People wondered if I had died because the Slits evacuated this planet after two albums and seemed stuck in Siberian exile. That’s what happened to me, too. I was written off, but continued the revolution in isolation in Jamaica. I had given partial birth to the punk explosion but got more involved in the reggae revolution. The Slits were always a mixture of what we were seeing and feeling. They were thirty years ahead of their time. But I’m still a paranoid artist not making shit financially. (laughter)

The new album title, Trapped Animal, seems to indicate that despite all your rage you still feeling like a rat in the cage.
 

 

 

Definitely. That sums it up in one edited snippet. I have empathy for the underdog, whether societal, political, or money-wise. Humans are trapped like animals in many ways. “Issues” is based on a real experience of emotional abuse and “Ask Ma” is a bit tricky. Women created the men that are the ones we love. But mothers are sometimes to blame for how their sons act in a relationship. I’ve never been about segregation. When men are abusive and act like assholes they’re relieving anger on their wives because of a bad relationship with mothers. Anything that triggers that emotion is not good. Single moms are not the ideal situation.

Did you grow up feeling like the “Reject” described on the album?
 

 

 

I never felt like a loser despite the Slits struggling and being sabotaged by some people. We were rejected by society. But that’s why the media labeled us punks – degenerate losers. The media used punk before we could come to grips with the term. I remember Joe Strummer of the Clash at the Roxy club being turned off by the term. We never had low self-esteem.

How’d it feel when the Slits became largely influential for many up and coming indie artists?
 

 

 

People were influenced in a nice way. They gave credit and never ripped us off. They took our inspiration and created their own sound. The Slits have a unique sound anyway that’s hard to label and harder to duplicate. The Raincoats got Palmolive and intertwined our sound with their own. Siouxsie & the Banshees would never admit being affected by us but their tribal rhythms are similar and they took our drummer permanently. Later, bands like Hole were tributary. I heard Courtney Love called her band Hole because of the Slits. The riot girl movement, both apparently and transparently, paid big tribute on the TypicalGirls website. We have to be grateful for them keeping the Slits contemporary. But Madonna should’ve said something. She always rides on people’s coattails. She has admitted to being influenced by Blondie. But I don’t see why she couldn’t say she looked exactly like a tamed-down diluted version of our guitarist, Viv, after she went to one of our gigs. She could’ve worn a t-shirt to advertise us. The lace, torn-up dresses, ripped stockings with boots, hair ribbons…

What about ample-breasted Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, whose underage naked body found its way into various publicity shots courtesy of Cut’s album cover.
 

 

 

That was a typical Malcolm Mc Laren stunt. He managed us for a couple disastrous weeks. He was such an abnormal control freak. He was not a nice personality. He wanted to turn us into gimmicky female Sex Pistols. Then, he leeched onto Bow Wow Wow and, later, the hip-hop breakdance bandwagon. That’s cheesy.

-John Fortunato?

OS MUTANTES RETURN FULL FORCE ON ‘HAIH OR AMORTECEDOR’

OS MUTANTESAdmirable anti-fascist South American hippie, Sergio Dias, gained international acclaim fronting Os Mutantes, rebellious bossa nova-based folk surrealists whose ceremonial Beatles-influenced Tropicalia clashed against politically-empowered authoritarian traditionalists during Brazil’s turbulent late ‘60s uprising. The Sao Paola-raised Dias, alongside percussionist-brother, Arnaldo Baptista, and female singing counterpart, Rita Lee Jones, helped devise an enduring musical style rooted in their country’s cultural heritage and inspired by contemporary absurdist pop.

Credited with being unintentional innovators of cut-n-paste technology, a sample-based technique utilizing electronic affects and tape loops made fashionable by ‘90s hip-hop heads, indie rockers, and bhangra tenets, Os Mutantes have been gloriously resurrected as a newfangled septet under Dias’ direction. Joining him on ‘09s kaleidoscopic elixir, Haih or Amortecedor (after several post-Mutantes ‘80s solo records) are fellow ‘60s Tropicalia rivals, Tom Ze and (to a much lesser extent) Jorge Ben. Together, they’ve updated, modernized, and redirected Tropicalia’s melodic sun-dazed ebullition and trenchant sociopolitical ambitions.

Highly inventive and endlessly lauded, Os Mutantes originally suffered at the hands of Brazil’s oppressive government, which imprisoned, then exiled to Britain in ‘69, esteemed activist musicians, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. In fact, Gil-Veloso’s rejoicing tribal affirmation, “Bat Macumba,” may best represent Os Mutantes, as its distorted guitar bluster, punctual rhythmic core, and catchy titular chorus coalesces past strategic ideas with newer studio elements.

Strangely, amidst Brazil’s chaotic unrest and in spite of suffocating military crackdowns, sinisterly hallucinogenic mantra, “Ando Meio Desiglado,” translated as ‘I feel a little spaced out,’ became their biggest Brazilian hit, despite surreptitiously illustrating marijuana’s narcotic uplift.

OS MUTANTES - COMPReintroduced via David Byrne’s culturally diverse Luaka Bop label, fabulous ’99 compilation, Everything Is Possible!, definitively captures the distended trio in all its early resplendence. Cryptic bedevilment, “Ave, Lucifer,” and phase-shifting sub-aquatic fugue, “Dia 36,” defy easy categorization. “Baby (1971)” finds redheaded temptress, Rita Lee, purring suggestively above Spanish guitar and cocktail lounge piano. On “Fuga No. 11,” a two-part neo-Classical orchestral, her reverberating multi-tracked coo reaches angelic heights. Elsewhere, a blistering Electric Prunes riff anchors “A Minha Menina,” an enchanting hand-clapped Trini Lopez knockoff entwined with “Peppermint Twist” shout-outs. And the entire ensemble goes percussive on electric-guitar injected escapade “Cantor De Mambo.”

Os Mutantes fans acknowledge ‘72s Mutantes E Seus Cometas No Pais Do Baurets was inspired by Santana’s Latin rock pyrotechnics. A few follow-up releases, continuing through to ’78, leaned evermore towards prog-rock ‘til Dias pulled the plug and began a prolific solo career beneath American radio’s tenuous narrow radar. Spurred to reunite by a new audience that included Beck and the Flaming Lips, Dias’ newly transformed Os Mutantes began appearing live in ‘06, receiving rave reviews.

OS MUTANTES - HAIHListening to Haih, it’s easy to relish these morphed mutants unexpected reawakening forty years beyond their Sixties commencement. Commanding cinematic opener, “Querida Querida,” offers fiery rock-driven six-string combustion and a busy cymbal/ hi-hat groove to juxtapose the silent-loud acoustic-electric exchanges permeating musty catacomb, “Teclar.”

Operatic gypsy folk diva, Bia Mendes, quick-spits rhymes opposite Dias on delightfully obtuse circus-like Vaudevillian scamper, “2000 E Agarrum.” Chanted organ-droned samba, “O Careca,” poses as smooth Jazz fusion and lovely summer retreat, “Anagrama,” sung by Mendes in a windswept mezzo-soprano, betters sentimental campfire lullaby “O Mensageiro.” Wispy soul-injected calypso, “Neurociencia,” gives salsa a psych-induced boost.

Beginning with a pithily offbeat version of “New York New York,” the rapturous South American crew held court for a sold out Webster Hall audience, October ‘09. Their captivating musical celebrations were delivered in a fun loving smiley-faced manner wherein the combo felt completely at ease.

Dias, the delighted, ripened, 58 year-old minister of Tropicalia, jokingly blamed the audience for demanding his reunion and comeback tour “thirty-five years later.” Dressed in scarf, long black coat, and knee-length boots, Dias strummed acoustic guitar, got electric for a few psychedelicized moments, and urged his minions to “get high” and enjoy some music.

Chipper harmonic exchanges between Dias and Mendes brightened the melancholic sentiments. Her operatic theatricality, wide-eyed facial expressions, and sassy sensuality deepened lounge-pop relaxants as well as surreal Beatles-informed rock. A few swaying bossa nova ballads drifted gorgeously into floral sun-parched romanticism. They even saluted Prez Obama with a catchy Latin cha-cha.

I spoke to Dias a few days after Os Mutantes’ invigorating Webster Hall show.

You’ve never lost your political edge. Clarinet-fluttered espionage blues investigation, “Baghdad Blues,” takes Saddam Hussein to task.

SERGIO DIAS: We always talk about things we see. The idea we had with Scheherazade and 1,001 Nights was basically what Baghdad was beforehand, flying carpets and all. Then you have so much destruction and ugliness. It’s a big loss to have Baghdad’s culture, the cradle of mankind, be devastated. I understand what it’s like in dictatorships because I was in Brazil. But the US has lost world respect since the Kennedy coup d’etat. When he died, Brazilian students went home from school for three days of mourning. I was 12. That’s the respect America was given. This wouldn’t happen now due to the overseas American policies. The fears and troubles America went through after World War II with Stalin and Communism pushed people to react. Brazil’s a sub-product. The coup d’etat we suffered was staged by Brazilian military and American government. America was unprepared to deal with a Cuban crisis the size of Brazil.

I understand the fear during nuclear proliferation but Baghdad’s not that kind of threat. The Gulf War is sadly more economical than political. Oil. Sometimes you’re accepted by another country, but America can’t force that. It’s worrisome due to negative antagonistic aspects. Everyone wants to be respected and America’s in a tight position. At the end of Haih, we merge the US, Russian, and Brazilian National Anthems to remind people how it was when the US had a match in terms of the world chessboard. Kennedy blockaded Cuba, snubbing Kruschev, who helped stop Nazi invasion but wanted foreign missiles. Much was at stake. There was a world threat. Now, I don’t think force is the best way to spread idealism.

Almost coincidentally, Dylan went electric when Os Mutantes concocted ‘60s Tropicalia. These revolutionary maneuvers were, at first, misunderstood. Worse, Brazil’s government exiled several promising artists.

 

Dylan’s problems weren’t as menacing as being tortured, getting deported, or my father being arrested working for a politician. Viet Nam was difficult, but men drifted into Canada as protest. In Brazil, if you insult the government, you die. After the Cold War, America had to deal with this crescendo of nuclear power, guns, and war. My first Casio organ was $200 but the price of technology came down. It’s the same with weapons. It’s not healthy how Israel is armed against Arab states. Third World countries need stability and look up to America’s leadership. When America thwarted the French Revolution and rid the grip of Britain, Lafayette returned to France and Jefferson’s ideas got deeply rooted in the French community. It created history much like ‘60s music did.

What’s “Samba Do Fidel” about? Its Latin percussion, vibes, and plinked piano create a red-hot Cuban rhythm.

 

We were in Miami when Fidel Castro fell ill. So there was a party happening. In reality, the song’s about the Brazilian government. It’s more political-oriented being that football still runs the country. They have elections the same year as the World Cup. It’s like a circus.

Explain the silly impromptu ditty you did about Obama at Webster Hall.

 

Obama’s already part of Brazilian folklore – Obama superstar. The poor guy just entered the kitchen and he has to cook with the instruments he’s been given. It’s great and liberating, an Afro-American in power. But so far, we have no idea what he wants to do. So I sang, ‘Obama, oh please, help us.’ There’s starving Third World people. What’s he gonna do? It was spontaneous.

Where’d you find exhilarating singer, Bia Mendes?

 

I’ve known her for 20 years. She sang backup for Rita Lee but lacked the license to kill which I gave her. I had to push her to center stage where she shines. It’s beautiful to see someone bloom in that way.

Her counterpoint on “2000 E Agarrum” is truly remarkable.

 

It’s an answer to “2001,” a song we did with Tom Ze. He’s my new partner for this album. We decided to do “2002.” When I counterpoint her, I’m invoking bossa legend, Dorival Caymmi, Brazil’s BB King. It’s a very famous trademark song of his so it’s a big collage.

What were Tom Ze’s general contributions?

 

The lyrics. I met him in 2006 when we did our first comeback Brazilian show. We invited him onstage to do “2001.” He’s very active and we became like peanut butter and jelly – one of my best collaborators. When we started in the ‘60s, I was 17. There was a huge seven-year age gap. I wouldn’t know how to talk to him. That’s no longer an issue. Songs flowed easily.

Where’d the title of the album, Haih, come from?

 

It’s Shoshone Indian language for raven. I wanted to get a raven as a pet to best my cat, who thinks he’s the center of the universe. I was checking if it was possible to get a raven but I think they’re an endangered species. So I stated making jokes about the raven idea. When it comes down to putting together an album cover, I was watching the Lewis & Clark Expedition. And this Shoshone girl who was saving all these diaries had a father named Lightning Crow. So this got tied together and one day while playing in the States, I was joking about transforming into a raven – letting out a loud caw. The band was cracking up. So it became an identity. Ravens are so close to the magical and mysterious. It has a lot to do with Os Mutantes. The LP originally had a butterfly, but that didn’t have the punch of the raven.

Was Gilberto Gil a mentor?

 

He had the Brazilian traditionalist style whereas Os Mutantes were into rock and roll forged through Tropicalia and technology. In terms of contributions to the movement, he was more tropical sounding. Gil’s a genius and probably enabled me to do a song like “2000 E Agarrum” due to his influence. On the other hand, he now plays electric instead of acoustic. It’s like a marriage. Who influences more, the husband or wife?

How much of an influence were the Beatles?

 

Beatlemania was very strong in Brazil. First time I heard “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” I immediately cut my hair like theirs. I wanted to be a Beatle and was in love with their amazing music. George is my Beatle. It took five tries to watch Concert For George. I was sobbing. He was part of my life that went away. An artists’ life is hard, being bombarded with so much. People expect so much then suddenly you’re dust like George Harrison or Ray Charles. Why didn’t the world stop when Ray Charles died? He invented Soul. His rendering of the Beatles “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” were perfect. Paul Mc Cartney must’ve been on his knees thanking God for Ray bringing those songs to earth.  

Word has it your mother was a concert pianist. Did she put you on your musical path?

 

Yes. We were cradled on Classical music. She was one of the best pianists I ever heard. She was the first woman to write a concerto for piano and orchestra. My father was a great poet and tenor opera singer. So my brother and I were always surrounded by the greatest Sao Paolo musicians and their culture.

Has Brazil’s social system improved since the Sixties?

 

Business fixed a bunch of problems, but socially we still have forty years of catching up. We were in the Middles Ages for years. There’s no democracy. Just the legacy of a corrupt government. It’s ugly and awful to see the new generation deal with this. But for three generations, Brazil was basically shutdown. Brazil needs to be freer and more honest despite economic problems. Culturally, piracy and the internet have ruined the record industry – which stopped the monopoly of twenty people in Rio De Janeiro. They had determined what people listened to. But payola still exists. The legacy of Brazil needs to be revitalized. We have to regain our identity and pride. We cannot accept the image being shown of police shootings and political turmoil. The mess must be cleaned up or politicians will continue manipulating votes. The Sixties gave us small seeds of what things could’ve been like if we were more loving instead of egotistical.

 

?-John Fortunato

 

JEMINA PEARL HOOKS UP WITH FELLOW PET ON “BREAK IT UP”

JEMINA PEARLRocking all over America since age seventeen, contentious bad-ass punk diva, Jemina Pearl, hit the ground running in the now-defunct Be Your Own Pet before hijacking their drummer to co-compose a few tunes as lead guitarist in a solo venture she only hoped would satisfy loyal minions. The oldest daughter of churchgoing Jesus-worshipping hippies whose father played in a local rock and roll band, Pearl’s cutesy snot-nosed tomboy image and volatile onstage disposition proceed her.

Drawing listeners in with prudently smoothed-up pop gloss while saving her best stripped-down punk gunk for closure, Pearl’s wide spectrum of songs show off a versatility only hinted at in her former band. Using glam-rockers Lou Reed, David Bowie and Suzi Quatro as well as ‘60s girl group pioneers, the Shangri-La’s, for inspiration, her impressive debut, Break It Up, gains mainstream viability due to Iggy Pop vocal collaboration, “I Hate People,” a combative snip circumventing novelty status thanks to Pearl’s vicious misanthropic sneer.

JEMINA PEARL 'I HATE PEOPLE'Piss and vinegar run through Pearl’s coarse veins on pissy fuck-offs such as “Undesirable” and loose-y goosey glam slam, “Selfish Heart.” Similarly, ‘black tears’ stain her pale face on the guitar-rumbled “No Good.” On the more sensitive side, innocent love trinket “Heartbeats,” melodic pop charmer “Band On The Run,” and leathery black-hearted Joan Jett-enticed decree “Looking For Trouble” manage to ‘cut a little deeper.’ Meanwhile, “Ecstatic Appeal” could easily pass for a coquettish Go-Go’s new wave knockoff.

But it’d be unfair not to mention co-composing multi-instrumentalist John Eatherly, whose resourceful musical designs bolster Pearl’s venomous words of wisdom. As Be Your Own Pet’s mightily frenzied stick-handler, Eatherly provided raucous bottom end to Pearl’s rascally rampaging raunch. For Break it Up, he brought in fully formed song ideas perfectly suited for possible paramour, Pearl. Look at it this way. She’s sly seductress Mae West on a bender and he’s the guy willing to serve toxic potions to his bold gal pal. So come out and see ‘em some time.

JEMINA PEARL 'BREAK IT UP'?

It seems as if you put the most conventional tracks up-front for greater accessibility while the greasy punk-snarled fury Be Your Own Pet dwelled in reinforce the albums’ backend.

JEMINA: We just tried to figure out a good flow.

JOHN: That way the kids will keep on listening. It may be more accessible. We were listening to a lot of ‘60s pop, getting into Classic ‘60s pop formulas for structure and hooks. That, in itself, was somewhat mainstream.

JEMINA: We’re really happy with it. We’re not necessarily gunning for a bigger audience.

Fervent confessional opener, “Heartbeats,” relies on ‘60s-styled drum rolls and conventional love song etiquette.

 

JEMINA: I feel that’s more ‘70s-oriented. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile and she hadn’t seen me play since Be Your Own Pet and saw us play and said, ‘Dude, it’s really awesome. You finally got to do all the stuff you love that you couldn’t do with them. It totally sounds like glammy ‘70s rock.’ That’s what it sounds like to me more than ‘60s pop. Maybe it’s a combination of ‘60s pop structure and orchestration with glittery David Bowie/ Suzie Quatro affectations.

Your latest songs seem more heartfelt, sensitive, and mature. Are you more in touch with your inner feelings?

 

JEMINA: Last year was really gnarly. The best way to deal with fucked up shit is to write about it so the lyrics dealt with messy situations I was in. Maybe it’s more heartfelt. But I wouldn’t say it’s prissy shit.

You got label colleague Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth’s guitarist, to lay down some licks for “Band On The Run.”

 

JEMINA: Thurston played noisy backup guitar. He broke a string on that song and I said ‘Go get yourself another string.’ He said, ‘Why? I’ve got five more.’ He played the guitar up and down without the broken string. There’s not a lot of Thurston soloing. It’s like his version of a solo.

JOHN: He’s wandering around surfing the guitar.

How does John Agnello’s production on this solo project differ from what Steve Mc Donald (of Redd Kross) did for the Pet records?

 

JEMINA: Steve jump-started me to work on this record. After Be Your Own Pet broke up, he told me not to sit on my ass and to start writing. We grew up with Steve, but working with John was nice. We started at square one. He let us do what we wanted to do but tried to rein us in whenever it got too… He tried to keep us in check.

There’s a sassy contentiousness that seems to follow you wherever you go. You project black-hearted drama onstage.

 

JEMINA: I don’t know if I love controversy. I’m trying to be true to myself. I stick to my guns and don’t let people fuck me over. Like the time at Mercury Lounge (fronting Be Your Own Pet), that guy was heckling me, being mean, and came up onstage and I said, ‘What’ve you got to say to me now?’ He’s like, ‘I love you.’ He leaned in to kiss me and I said, ‘No!’ I slapped him across the face and then he proceeded to grab me. Immediately, the boys used their instruments as weapons. The club didn’t throw him out though. I have a tough girl image from growing up in a rough neighborhood. It’s not the same now. But drive-by shootings, transvestite hookers, and crackheads burning down houses were my favorite hits. But I’d rather not paint a sob story.

Does “Nashville Shores” touch upon your old neighborhood?

 

JEMINA: No. It’s closer to the airport in South Nashville with an amusement park and water park on a sandy lake. It’s really white trashy. Our bassist used to work at Nashville Shores as an alligator mascot one summer. It’s a joke to write a song about accepting the fact of where you grew up. You grow up hating where you live and just want to get out of there. Once I actually left, I thought Nashville wasn’t so bad.

Why’d you move to Brooklyn like a large percentage of well-known underground musicians recently have?

 

JEMINA: I always loved New York.

JOHN: We already had a bunch of friends here. It’s amazing. It made the most sense. There’s always something going on and I like that I don’t have to park. Everyone I work for is up here.  

“So Sick” is a virulent snipe I thought may’ve been a delectable Pet leftover.JEMINA: We were listening to the Plasmatics one night and thought it’d be fun to write a song like that. Also, I fucking hate having to have a computer to check e-mails. Now, everyone wants me to do a blog and twitter. Everything sucks! YouTube stars and modern life is gross and nasty. When we play shows, everybody’s so busy taking pictures with digital cameras instead of actually having fun enjoying the show. There’s so many great pix of ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s artists. But now it’s a clusterfuck of immature people who buy cameras and think they’re a photographer. That’s my mini-tirade. It’s great that MySpace made music so accessible. But there’s also such a downside. It clutters up the atmosphere – not to sound elitist and snobby. It takes away the mystery.

“Selfish Heart” is a two-minute punk slammer that seems totally impromptu.

 

JEMINA: It was pretty much written in two seconds. John had a guitar part reminiscent of Devo and I started to come up with a melody quickly about a dude I was dating. Those songs are usually my best.

Did you get to meet Iggy Pop after he added vocals to “I Hate People” in a separate Miami studio?

 

JEMINA: I met him in 2006 at an All Tomorrows Party festival Thurston curated. He was really friendly and said he saw me in Spin. He knew about Be Your Own Pet – which totally blew my mind that my hero knew me. I was more than a blip on the radar. He was my dream guy to work with. Then Thurston and Kim sent him the song and he sang on it. We didn’t sing together, which was bittersweet, because I didn’t get to sing in front of my idol on the same room.

In general, how do the arrangements differ from Be Your Own Pet?

 

JEMINA: We have more freedom. There was a strict sense of formula. Sometimes when one person stepped outside the line in Be Your Own Pet, someone would be ‘What was that?’ We wanted a wider variety. Now, there’s only two heads.

JOHN: I wrote a lot on tour with them, accumulating a bank of songs. Musically, I had all these new ideas figured out and Jemina wanted to use them.

 

-John Fortunato

KYP MALONE’S RAIN MACHINE TRANQUILIZES TV ON THE RADIO

RAIN MACHINE 2Though he’s known for spreading surrealist sociopolitical surreptitiousness in Brooklyn’s praiseworthy TV On The Radio, bespectacled wooly-bearded natty-haired singer-guitarist, Kyp Malone, strove to delve deeper, mining tearful expressions of the heart under the stormy nom de plume, Rain Machine. But it took the urging, benevolence, and planning of respected producer, Ian Brennan, to get Malone’s solo project as Rain Machine off the ground instead of staying on the backburner forever.

 

As a youngster, Malone studied violin and viola, developing a liking for printmaking and drawing along the way. He initially encountered fellow Pittsburgh native (and future loop sampling partner) Tunde Adebimpe prior to heading westward seeking artistic exposure in an unheralded ‘90s improv duo. Then, by sheer happenstance, the two were reacquainted at a now-notorious Brooklyn coffeeshop around 2000. He quickly hit it off with Adebimpe, whose specialized art skills led to a job shaping ‘claymation’ characters for MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. Together with producer Dave Sitek (guitar-keys-loops), the versatile and talented threesome decided to put their musical interests first and foremost.

RAIN MACHINE 1Creating harrowing apocalyptic symphonies-of-the-damned, TV On The Radio first found firm footing with ‘04s evocative Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Its daringly prophetic doom and gloom brought about an abstruse caliginous rage fueled by murky African tribal rhythms, righteous spiritual marches, and densely hazed urban prog-funk. Majestic intoxication, “Staring At The Sun,” the glaring ritualistic threnody that put the band on the proverbial map, offered funereal post-911 prog-funk transcendence.

Upping the fuzzy sonic dissonance while broadening the scope of their brooding cavernous fugues, ‘06s Return To Cookie Mountain continued to expand outward, traversing a wider emotional landscape. Eerily creeping through perplexingly off-kilter beats, strobe-light electroclash jittering, and spastic contrapuntal cadences, this sanguine second set sought rejuvenation. Malone’s involvement and influence increased, as he helped refine and reshape Sitek and Adebimpe’s ‘piecemeal collaging’ by opening up the arrangements – which, at times, recalled the downbeat psych-pop of Brian Wilson’s Smile (whose echoed church harmonies get indulged).

On the precipice of worldwide indie-rock acclaim, the extended trio came back even stronger with ‘08s awe-inspiring Dear Science. Reaching ahead of euphonic post-millennial futurism, TV On The Radio proved the frothy underground hyperbole was completely palpable. Jazz-induced brass and string sequences adorn the fleshed-out harmonic interplay and luxurious textural flourishes of their best fully formed well-integrated tunes. Never mired in over-intellectualized avant experimentation, the heroic coterie, guided by Sitek’s scrupulous production, made soul-licked Gothic chamber pop transmutations that were surprisingly accessible and highly palatable. Polyrhythmic highlife communiqués by Fela Kuti-derived Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra distend the fierce symphonic dramatics. Brashly anthemic turnabout, “Shout Me Out,” stumbles into frenetic blissfulness.

A modicum of fame allowed Malone to step out in ’09 and properly promote Rain Machine’s fervently self-styled obsessions. Over a tribal percussion stomp, commanding opener, “Give Blood,” could be utilized as a commercial endorsement beseeching people to provide life-affirming crimson juice for necessitated transfusions. A bit of an up-front departure considering the more introspective fare that follow, this highly accessible epistle may divulge an overall thematic directive – united we stand, divided we fall.

The ghostly loneliness and profuse sorrow of “Love Can’t Save You” hearkens back to Syd Barrett and Nick Drake’s early ‘70s sobbing serenades, or perhaps, the beleaguered folk confessions of contemporary loner, Bon Iver. Inasmuch as that’s true, Malone nonetheless does what comes naturally, whistling in the dark on protracted discharge, “Desperate Bitch,” and draping forlorn mandolin across closing 11-minute mantra, “Winter Song.”

 

Soaring to penetrating operatic heights, Malone’s falsetto sweeps counteract intermittent husky baritone rasps and sporadic cackling yaks. Testing his highest vocal register during passionately riveting ballad, “New Last Name,” he then grasps angelic bliss on candlelit acoustic sentiment, “Driftwood Heart.” Another heavenly neo-soul grovel, “Hold You Holy,” adds church organ and flatulent horns to the tambourine-shaken guitar-dribbled sanctity. There’s always an air of despair guiding these outward expressions of inner pain and the struggle to retain faith in an oft-times cold-hearted world. As if to stress the point, his emphatic six-string strumming unleashes pervious pent-up frustration on slow-building caustic lamentation, “Love Won’t Save You.”

Malone believes TV On The Radio has the potential to expand their creative wizardry even further beyond conventional boundaries. And it seems imminent that the triumphing troupe will soon have another go-round in the studio. But he also admits to having a large back-load of ideas and material readied for another possible solo jaunt.

In your estimation, how does Rain Machine differ from TV On The Radio?

 

KYP: TV On The Radio is five people. All our ideas go back and forth between one another, going through different filters to end up being what it is. Most of it is pretty consistently reliant on lots of samplers, drum machines, and processors. The Rain Machine record is one voice with not nearly as much resources behind it. I feel it may have more reliance on traditional instruments.

It certainly is more organic. I also felt there was a threadbare theme of love loss or grief-stricken tension.

 

If there is and you’re getting that, it’s fine. That wasn’t necessarily my intention. But I’m sure there’s some of that. I’ve experienced love loss, sadness. It’s a disparate collection since the songs are from different time periods. Some recent, others old. I hope they reflect where I was at different times.

The lyrics are usually contemplative and deeply personal instead of sociopolitical like some of TV On The Radio’s fare.

 

Yeah. I find that no matter who does what in TV On The Radio, it reflects on all of us. The fact that I can write a song and people credit it to Tunde and some lady journalist will credit his songs to me… Beyond frustration, it also seemed like I wasn’t just speaking for myself. It’s like the band is saying it. By degrees, it tempers how you write things. But in the Rain Machine situation, I’m only speaking for myself.

The minimalist acoustic and mandolin settings show off your rangy voice.

 

I’d have to state overtly that I couldn’t feel more fortunate to be a part of TV On The Radio’s creative family. It’s afforded me a great deal of opportunity, creative growth being foremost. Often, I’m always so busy in past years touring for records in loud venues. And the idea of having to scream over the music is becoming less appealing. I like to scream sometimes, but I wanna do it for emphasis and not just ‘cause I can’t hear myself. The idea of doing something simpler and quieter was super-appealing.

“Love Won’t Save You” and “Winter Song” are like melancholic requiems. Did it take awhile to get those long-form songs to gel or did they grow out of extemporaneous thoughts?

 

Both of those songs I’ve been playing live for awhile, especially “Love Won’t Save You.” The lyrics were always improvised and they remain so. That’s just the version that’s on the record. I’ve stayed flexible with it since I wrote it. It’s still coming together by degrees. I was writing with a friend for another project and having a hard time getting anything done. After one writing session she went home and I had a show that night and I didn’t want to play all old songs so I had that as a new song. It didn’t take long to assemble – very quick.

“Desperate Bitch” seems to sum up some of the fears and hostilities bottled up inside since you versify ‘naked and blue in front of you with castration fears’

 

(laughter) That’s an older song. I didn’t want to put that on there because I didn’t want to tilt the record too much towards negation. I also needed to get that one, which was in the live repertoire, on record. That came together well before I had an idea to do a record. That kind of vulnerability made it fit more now. Also, I was broke at the time, having a hard time paying rent. I had to leave my apartment, getting lunch bought by friends, and telling my daughter’s mother to please just be patient because it’s gonna turn around. That song was born out of that frustration.

Some of the record seems influenced by Prince’s mid-‘80s nocturnal sound.

 

I definitely listened to Prince a lot as a kid. It was a tie between him and the Smiths for time logged listening to records. I’m sure he’s in there both consciously and unconsciously.

Did you take any inspiration from Antony & the Johnsons? Antony’s latest work had a spare emotionality featuring his voice front and center in a similarly reserved manner.

 

I have not heard Antony’s most recent record. But I will say he’s an incredible talent. His voice I love. If I’m in any way in his company creatively, that’s a compliment.

What did Ian Brennan’s production add to Rain Machine?

 

He was fundamental in making it come into existence. Otherwise, I’d only be talking about making a record and dividing my time to do other things. I was performing in L.A. for some concert series. He was in the audience and heard me play two songs then found me through different channels and cold-called me about making a record. He booked studios, got me a plane ticket for California, and facilitated everything. He got all the instruments I’d requested and was super-patient and open-minded. No egoist.

How did you manage to keep your minimalist songs from going adrift when a few went over the eight-minute mark?

 

Maybe I can’t answer that. In my mind, it’s not hard. At my best, I have a pretty good ability to concentrate on things. Considering how long it takes to read a book, make a kid, it’s beyond market consideration because they need two to three minute songs before going to commercials. But there’s a lot that could be done in that constrained time construct. Smokey & The Miracles, as far as the ability and brevity, Motown made tons of phenomenally inspirational songs. But I don’t know, I listen to John Coltrane’s Live In Seattle, Alice Coltrane’s Transfiguration, and Pharaoh Sanders’ Karma. I know all the parts to those recordings because I’ve listened to them a lot – 15 to 18-minute pieces. I feel I could be inside those songs in a way and become transported by them. I also find them compelling. I hope I’m succeeding at keeping people interested instead of moving the needle forward.

-John Fortunato

 

WHITE RABBITS INVESTIGATIVE TRIUMPH: ‘IT’S FRIGHTENING’

These days, Brooklyn’s filled with an influx of experimental rock bands traversing all across America to get there before the magic runs out. Since the late ‘90s, many talented and variegated musical artists have seemingly come out of the woodwork, or more likely, the red-bricked apartments of Williamsburg – Manhattan’s cheaper alternative conveniently located just across the Hudson River. Currently residing in or around the Kings County hotbed are internationally renowned indie bands such as Animal Collective (Baltimore), The National (Cincinnati), Liars (Australia/ Los Angeles), Black Dice (Rhode Island), Hold Steady (Minnesota/ Wisconsin), Fiery Furnaces (Illinois), and Grizzly Bear (East-West).

Originating in the Show-Me State, the White Rabbits ‘07 debut, Fort Nightly, took a rhythmically fascinating post-new wave approach to winsome pop and scored points with underground pundits. On top of that, the high-rising Missouri-bred outfit convincingly spiked their charming melodies with well-placed orbital baroque piano whirlwinds, exotic South American dance beats, and scant Gypsy-flamenco sashays. Guitarists’ Greg Roberts and Alex Even, alongside keyboardist Steve Patterson, share vocal duties, using their collective moxie to move from cockeyed whimsy to ebullient buoyancy with an organic fluidity rarely seen. Curiously love-struck lyrical revelations prove to be dramatically moving, tearing at the heart with an enormous sentimentality perfected and refined by “Leave It At The Door,” the ghostly dirge closing ‘09s triumphant return, It’s Frightening.

Friends since kindergarden, singer Greg Roberts and main drummer, Jamie Levinson, grew up in the same St. Louis neighborhood and shared a freshman dorm at University of Missouri. The duo cut their teeth in crappy mid-‘90s ska bands during the reggae-influenced style’s third wave resurgence, claiming post-punk icons the Specials and Style Council as early inspiration. Before joining White Rabbits full time, Levinson moved to Chicago, played in a few bands, then attended graduate school at Madison, Wisconsin, becoming the young combo’s initial manager while Roberts and his Midwest clan settled in Brooklyn.

WHITE RABBITS - FORT NIGHTLYThough they had trouble getting off the ground and finding decent gigs, the White Rabbits worked hard at the beginning to get Fort Nightly proper indie exposure. Levinson added a great pair of hands to finish the album, helping the surging sextet strategize and conquer. As sweeping three-part harmonies abound, the guiding tambourine-shaken rhythm quickens the pulse of strolling roundabout, “The Plot” (recalling quirky ‘80s Brit-pop champions, XTC). A piano-based tango groove hexes the climactic multi-harmony swoon enriching Cabaret-darkened “Kid On My Shoulders.” And a busy Afro-beat gallop consumes the sanguine vocalizing on “I Used To Complain Now I Don’t” (where Beirut’s Jon Natchez plies ska-derived sax to an unearthly delight with an arty Talking Heads penchant).

WHITE RABBITS - IT'S FRIGHTENINGReturning two years hence, the White Rabbits have gained confident, increased conviction, and fulfilled their initial promise. It’s Frightening gives percussionists Levinson and Matthew Clark a more prominent role also afforded new bassist Brian Betancourt. A thunderous Burundi tribal stomp raids the bewitchingly sumptuous mantra, “Percussion Gun” (with its blistered guitar riff and ominous piano). Heightening the tension, sweet-voiced ascensions hover above the kick-drummed tambourine-slapped rumble, “Rudie Fails.” Bastard Latino hybrid, “Company I Keep,” offers a slow and sensitive bossa nova provocation while “The Lady Vanishes” indirectly recalls Beatles knockoffs such as Badfinger and Squeeze in its own unique way. A true cornucopia of well-defined musical ideas linked to, but never forged in, the recent past, give It’s Frightening a commanding presence its still-vital predecessor, Fort Nightly, more than hinted at.

Making the jump from the rural agrarian countryside of Columbia, Missouri to the musty city congestion of Brooklyn, the White Rabbits have made serious headway navigating their way through New York’s latest cultural evolution.

I spoke to Levinson via phone from Asheville, North Carolina, where his band had just completed a gig the hot August night before.

What growth has the band experienced since the debut, Fort Nightly, came out?

JAMIE: We did nothing but tour for two years when the debut came out. We’d been living together in a loft. It could be tough being in close quarters traveling with a band 75% of the year. But we cut our teeth on the road. We felt we were just playing a Wall Of Sound hitting as hard as we could every night. When we got done, we wanted to space things out a bit so everyone could hone in on what they felt comfortable with. That’s the attitude we took into the studio for the writing process of the second record. We wanted to streamline and not be balls-out every time.

I agree. “The Salesman” and “Leave It At the Door” are transcending. On the other hand, the staggering Burundi percussion keeps the momentum intense on a few choice cuts.

Oh yeah. In fact, the working title for “Percussion Gun” was “Burundi.” That’s how it ends up on the set list.

“Rudie Fails” also benefits from the African-styled rhythmic flurry.

I actually used to work in Chicago record store, Dusty Groove. They have a website too, specializing in hard-to-find global music that was largely responsible for putting tropicalia back on the map with David Byrne. It was a very informative time for me to be around that music, absorbing it all day. Steve majored in playing Jazz drums. Everyone has a studied past with different rhythms. When we get together, it’s a very democratic songwriting process. A lot of that filters out. If there’s a beat someone knows, he passes it down to the rest.

White Rabbits music seems based on simple rock settings, but I can’t find specific referential sources – maybe Radiohead on “Lionness” and “The Salesman.”

We could do worse than be compared to our ironic label mates, Radiohead, who put out In Rainbows on TBD Records. Around the time we were making the record, there were a few touchstones the band agreed upon, especially while driving around – The Clash and The Beatles. There’s so much economy in what they put across.

We concerned ourselves with being good at our craft as songwriters. We’re just trying to learn to be concise. With our first record, we put our influences on the table, but the new record – which we tried to not make as weird – was influenced by noisier elements and tried to be more experimental. Also, working with Spoon’s Britt Daniel was a great experience. He helped hone in on what we wanted to streamline and get across tempered with straight-up pop songwriting.

What did Britt add to the overall sound?

His involvement was organic. We toured with Spoon for a month-an-a-half and befriended him. He put out some classic rock records. We thought he’d be a good choice since he’s a musician instead of a traditional producer who’d take over the session and mold everything. We demoed the summer of ’08. He was in Portland. We sent demos he’d check out and bring in ideas – but he never took the reins. He put us first and encouraged us to experiment. He’s such a great gage of if it’s good or bad. When we’re unsure of an idea, he built up our confidence.

Is there a semi-thematic flow threading It’s Frightening? Are the songs more introspective?

It’s more personal than Fort Nightly. We wanted to make a complete piece where you don’t need to cherry pick. We consciously mixed the record with Mike McCarthy, who’d worked with Spoon. He’d gifted at creating a classic vibe-out headphone experience. We wanted the songs to be an experience unto itself instead of two singles held together by weaker fare.

Why use the title It’s Frightening?

(laughter) I like fairly ambiguous titles. We looked at a few in an all night session. In the wee hours of the morning, we picked it. It seemed cohesive. We keep songs open-ended so people could put themselves inside it.

Why move to New York City to find success? How’d the change of scenery make the band better?

There’s a limitation on how far you could take it in Columbia, Missouri. We were up for the challenge going to a place where we were unknown looking to make ourselves heard. Everyone packed up with the thought it was something we’d work for. It allowed us to get practice space without disturbing neighbors. A move to New York could tear a band apart. It’s stressful. But we made it through the hard times.

How’s the live show gotten better?

We tried to re-think new versions of Fort Nightly’s tunes, turning things around and on its head. Experiment – this is what we do 24/7.

-John Fortunato

ROCK PLAZA CENTRAL THRIVE ‘…AT THE MOMENT OF OUR MOST NEEDING’

Captivating Toronto-based singer-guitarist Chris Eaton brings a refreshingly spontaneous literary perspective to Old World Anglo-folk. As Rock Plaza Central’s principal songwriter, Eaton approaches each full-length studio album as if it’s a bittersweet novel. His evolving lineup, extended beyond its formatively minimal cello-banjo mode, helps celebrate each sad homecoming and broken hero with similarly sullen nautical retreats.

At particular intervals, Eaton’s crackled nasal baritone squeal brings to mind warped folk-blues dilettante, Michael Hurley, or hauntingly bedeviled lost soul, Syd Barrett. A more contemporary model would be Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, whose impishly melancholic naïf-like inflections render analogously obtuse affectations. Yet in comparison, Eaton never appears as weirdly eccentric or willfully unapproachable as these indispensable above-mentioned gurus.

On Rock Plaza Central’s intriguing ’07 breakthrough, Are We Not Horses, the crafty Canadian crew, who’d been locally popular, reach a pinnacle. Triumphal horns, solemn cello, and lavish tambourines invigorate uplifting devotional highlight “My Children, Be Joyful.” Enlightened antediluvian retraction, “Anthem For The Already Defeated,” morphs gypsy-cultured Vaudevillian tragicomedy into horn-blurted Depression Era New Orleans Jazz. Though Eaton’s terse allegories fit in neatly alongside early Modest Mouse, the Decemberists, and Port O’Brien, he’s less likely to look ‘to the sea’ for oceanic metaphors. When he does dally in maritime allusions, as on horn-blurted xylophone-tinkled mantra “When We Go We Go (Part II)” and Celtic-derived banjo-led coronation, “Our Pasts, Like Lighthouses,” the results are equally engaging.

Although not intended as an epistle to the current worldwide economic meltdown, ‘09s conceptually-designed verbosely-titled …At The Moment Of Our Most Needed or If Only They Could Turn Around, They Would Know They Weren’t Alone seeks temporary relief in an unpredictable universe. Affirmative paean, “Oh I Can,” the striking lead track, pushes aside leery proletariat discontent for cautious egalitarian optimism as Eaton’s troupe chant the titular refrain above rustic banjo, sly Mexicali horns, and a big bass-drummed bottom.

On the other hand, Eaton could be downright plaintive, sounding off on the steely-eyed, violin-glided, beat-driven accusation “(Don’t You Believe The Words Of) Handsome Men” and begging for salvation or yearning to receive absolution elsewhere. He’s ‘lost his way’ and pleads to ‘find my way home’ on caterwauled trumpet/trombone-drenched lamentation “Holy Rider,” then retrieves the guileless charm of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon for brooding requiem, “(The World Is) Good Enough.”

I spoke to Eaton via the phone, June ’09. At the end of our conversation, I found out he, like me, is a serious craft beer enthusiast as well as music fan.

 

Were you originally a coffeehouse artist doing solo gigs?

CHRIS EATON: I did a few open mikes but hated it. I’d book solo shows opening for bands and ask their members to play. It was built on improv and gave room for fooling around and having fun. Once, I asked two band members to join. They were sucked into Rock Central Plaza – including their songwriter. Before that, I never had the same band for more than two, three shows. I grew up in a place where step-dancing and fiddles were the rage and tried to escape that. But you can’t get rid of early roots. Luckily, my singing got better.

What’s with the Rock Plaza Central moniker? You’re not generic arena rocking hair metal lunkheads.
 

 

 

I always wanted to be, but I’ve always liked acoustic instruments. That’s the problem. (laughter) The bands’ first incarnation was guitar-cello-banjo in ’95. The banjoist dubbed us RPC as a joke and it stuck. Sometimes you end up with a stupid name instead of the pretentious one.

Who were early influences?
 

 

 

A popular ‘90s Canadian band, Rheostatics, whose Melville and Whale Music certainly influenced me because I realized you didn’t need to have a normal voice to be in a rock band. But our band has totally separate influences. We don’t agree on much. The Rheostatics may be a meeting point. Having toured a lot in the past few years, the bands’ musical tastes have shaped the way I write – which is interesting. Now I’m coming across all this Classic Rock from American radio. Most Canadian stations cycle through the same few hundred songs.

You have a sharp literary sense.
 

 

 

I have a Masters in English. In high school, everyone in Canada was forced to read The Chrysalids. It’s a sci-fi post-nuclear war story with mutants. I found a copy recently, leafed through it, and realized how much Are We Not Horses was influenced by it. The opening scene feels like the album should’ve been its soundtrack.

Do you find common ground with antediluvian Anglo-folk enthusiasts the Decemberists, Modest Mouse or Port O’Brien? They’re more seaworthy lyrically.
 

 

 

I think we’re just from different oceans. They’re from the Pacific. We met Port O’Brien on Monolith tour. I’m from New Brunswick – the Maine of Canada. So I’m also from an ocean. A lot of our songs are about leaving an out-of-the-way home and discovering how to be someone by going to a big city, then wondering if that’s the right choice.

“Oh I Can” brings forth Brit-folk-styled positivity. But “Handsome Men” seems to mock good-looking guys picking up girls with stupid pickup lines.
 

 

 

You’ve been around the music industry enough to know some of those handsome men. (laughter) The whole industry side of music bothers me. Plus, you have all these politicians relying on good looks and big smiles. Also, the William Faulker novel, Light Of August – in more of a literal way. It’s story line comes from a girl who’s been knocked up by a guy claiming he’ll get a job in the next town and never comes back. Her family’s furious. Some lines are literally from that. I’ve just seen There Will Be Blood, an amazing film influencing part of that song as well.

There’s a wavered uniformity connecting Horses to At The Moment.

Before those albums, we did The World Was Hell To Us (from 2003). Horses was the sequel with a similar story but no horses. We introduce a new villain, or hero, every sequel. Similar themes come up in At The Moment, but it’s not a thematic continuation. Before that, I did a debut (‘97s Quantrum Butterass), took a hiatus to find a real job, and all of a sudden, my books were getting published and a few CD’s came out.

How’d you decide to stick with acoustical, as opposed to electrical, musical settings?

There’s something about acoustic instruments that just sounds better. We’re using more electric as we go and fucked around with distorted mandolin, especially on finale, “The Hot Blind Earth,” where there’s a really high squeal. There’s a richness to that. You get a certain emotionalism with a bunch of people sitting around playing acoustically.Sometimes your wailing baritone crescendos remind me of Syd Barrett’s solo endeavors. When I was a kid, I had a friend who was into Pink Floyd and the songs that connected with me were Barrett’s.

Too bad he became an acid casualty and died in obscurity. Are you touring with the same people on At The Moment?

It changes from time to time. We have guys who played on Horses that didn’t want to tour anymore and sometimes come out. The Horses lineup is generally touring. A five-piece recorded Moments. The drummer has kids so we use another person. One is steadier and rockier, the other, more volatile. When we played Austin’s South By Southwest in ’07, he had cymbal stands that kept sliding down and the hi-hat wasn’t working at all. So he stood up mid-set and launched the hi-hat, the whole stand and all. Then he came forward and gave this big spiel about why anyone should care about South By Southwest. He’s often done five-minute rants that are interesting where we play behind him.

-John Fortunato

JOE HENRY OUT TO GET ‘BLOOD FROM STARS’

JOE HENRY - BLOOD FROM STARS Branching out beyond reflective folk-based singer-songwriter to artful Jazz-affected rhapsodist, multi-talented acoustic guitarist-pianist Joe Henry’s a roving chameleon who has become entrusted producer for several veteran singers. Fact is, the unrivaled Los Angeles transplant refined and redefined his widening artistic profile over the course of a dozen evolving albums while commendably reintroducing respectful aged-in-the-wool vocalists who’d been unfairly neglected in recent years.
Finding solace wherever he roams (then calls home), Henry’s developed a deeply engrained Americana perspective reflected in his keenly broad lyrical observations and even-keeled temperament, slowly gaining access to a laundry list of reputable musicians from across the country. Esteemed crooning Civil Rights activist, Harry Belafonte, and venerable Delta folk-blues pianist, Mose Allison, Henry’s latest clients, benefit from the same minimalist studio technique previous high-profile customers like soul singer Bettye Lavette, ‘60s folkie Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and New Orleans funk legend Allen Toussaint, found integral regenerating their dissipated careers.

 

JOE HENRYFollowing three formative, conventional folk-leaning albums, the affable Henry attained a higher profile when alt-Country architects, the Jayhawks, offered backup for ’92 breakout, Short Man’s Room, and ’93s even better Kindness Of The World. Jazz titans Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, who’ve ‘blown’ on a few solo sessions, left quite an indelible mark on Henry, as subsequent sets (‘99s Fuse, ‘01s Scar, and ‘03s Tiny Voices) delve into the type of eloquent Jazz he’d soon fully explore.

 

 

By ‘07s Civilians, Henry became a raspier crooner whose intimate JOE HENRY - CIVILIANSinterpretive abilities, evocative character sketches, cautionary intimations, and shadowy candlelit sonatas sharpened his investigative poetic conviction. Seeking restitution along the trail to contentment, he acquired an unconfirmed taste for Leon Russell’s maudlin heart-on-the-sleeve drawl, sometimes adapting Bob Dylan’s crusty sonorous croak as a reliable tactical device utilized best on grievous battle-scarred requiems. Beat-thickened dirge-y lament, “Time Is A Lion,” handily articulates mortal’s hard luck survival. Dour rumination, “Our Song,” decries America’s Yellow Alert state through a Willie Mays encounter at Home Depot and may be Henry’s most powerful political tune.

Cut from the same cloth, ‘09s valiant Blood From Stars features what Henry called “oddly translated Country-Blues” reanimating long-gone traditionalists Willie Mc Tell, Robert Johnson, and the Carter Family. August studio ace, Marc Ribot, a studied flamenco guitarist, once again adds poignant textural nuances to Henry’s romantic orchestral meditations.

Introspective down-and-out cocktail lounge threnody, “The Man I Keep Hid,” sets the somber tone, creating a slumbering moodscape anchored by a slowly evolving New Orleans piano arrangement interweaving fat Louis Armstrong trumpet through sullen sax and sweet clarinet. Withered and weary broke-down Blues forecast, “Death To The Storm,” continues the funereal march as Ribot’s clipped 6-string lines hang in the dense post-midnight air. Even more harrowing (and elementarily similar in stylistic approach), grievous anecdotal portrayal, “Bellwether,” refuses to surrender even as the end draws near.

Drawing from many musical wells, Henry’s sad-eyed slow-grooved acoustical wanderings retain a liberating thoughtfulness aimed straight at the heartland. His rich legacy, not yet fulfilled, may include future film scoring.

 

Are many of your song ideas based on fictional characters?

 

JOE HENRY: There’s all kinds of life experiences happening around us. You don’t have to reference your own particular narrative. To a degree, like Woody Guthrie famously claimed, ‘All you could write is what you know or see.’ But I don’t think he meant you could only write about your own life experiences. Instead, you could only write about what you’ve invested yourself in to feel empathy or sympathy for. It doesn’t have to be your own story to give legitimacy to the point of view. As humans, no matter how diverse we are, we all grapple with the same problems and expectations. It doesn’t have to be a downer to address these things. But those are common threads snaking through everything we do. How do you live vibrantly when you know there’s gonna be an end upon death.

A melancholic Prohibition Era sententiousness inhabits Blood From Stars.
 

 

 

That’s because I can’t play fast. It’s true. I write a lot of the piano, but I don’t know enough to play briskly. In truth, the songs people go back to historically are the melancholy ones. “One For My Baby” will outlive “Good Day Sunshine.” It’s very human to spend very little time celebrating our successes and more worrying over the tiniest things gone astray. From an artistic standpoint, I’d be first to admit I’m not depressed. It’d be disingenuous to claim my life’s a struggle compared to anyone else. I’ve been surprisingly successful and have a wonderful family I’m deeply devoted to. But what struggle reveals in humanity is interesting as an artist.

Besides Bob Dylan, have you tried emulating songwriters or novelists for source material?
 

 

 

At the beginning, you’re emulating whoever’s a mentor. The longer you do it, for better or worse, you develop your own vocabulary. I have a funny accent I’ve been told. I was born in the South, came of age in the Midwest, lived in New York and now Los Angeles. That’s corrupted my original speech pattern. I’m helpless to be conscious of it any longer. As a writer you get visited upon by any number of influences. You could initially keep track of how one has changed the color of another. At a certain point, it’s impossible to see that within a perspective. I find myself frequently inspired by art that has nothing to do with what I do for a living. I don’t reference other songs while I’m at the crossroads working on a piece in the studio. It doesn’t offer a new vantage point. But I may very well be revitalized and rejuvenated in a moment of artistic crisis by seeing a great movie or painting or read a great short story.

The plasma-gleaned galactic title, Blood From Stars, evokes many abstract meanings.
 

 

 

It came to me over the course of the work. I’m loath to attach meaning. I had an intrinsic response to it the same way I did to the photo cover or an image or line in a song. If I muse on it, it may refer to our desire to imagine some ethereal distant future and trying to embody it. People have short lives to make sense out of existence looking to the heavens. We try to make something real or concrete out of the imagined.

Is this album more thematic than past endeavors?
 

 

 

All my records are thematically connected within themselves. My desire’s to make a record that operates as a whole just like a movie instead of a collection of disparate, unrelated scenes. There’s definitely an overall environment that runs through. I’m past the point of touching every base on a record. I’m providing what the story needs, not a comprehensive evening’s worth of entertainment. If you need something upbeat or downtrodden, put something else on. I don’t worry about creating the right peaks and valleys. I want to form an arc.

Do you allow the experienced Jazz musicians to dictate the mood?
 

 

 

Most of the musicians I’ve worked with frequently. There’s an unspoken bit of communication. To a large extent, I’ve dictated a tremendous amount of policy to the overall sonic atmosphere by inviting those people to a room. Everyone involved with the exception of pianist Jason Moran knew exactly what I was after. They know what excites me about the process. I’d never show up at the studio with something, in my estimation, that wasn’t fully realized. But I take tremendous delight putting my songs in front of people to see where they could go. I have no interest in having a preconceived notion of what’s sonically possible. Nothing makes me happier than when a song – within a few takes – identifies itself as being whole other than I’d imagined it. It makes me think the song had enough character to dictate its own policy. Then, I’m quite enthralled. I’m always encouraged by improvisation and generous creativity within the song structure. That’s your greatest resource as a record maker. I could go back to the demos if I get stuck, but why would I limit Marc Ribot? I want to hear what his contribution might be. I wanna hear Jay Belrose illuminate a song.

What was the most difficult arrangement to flesh out due to its complexity?
 

 

 

It’s about finding a way in. I don’t make fleshed out demos that suggest what the ensemble should sound like. I make the most basic demo just so I’ll remember the song. I don’t write music. Musicians know the basic song shape, words, and how many verses there may be. I’d much rather discover, mutually, in real time, what we sound like and where the songs may go as an ensemble. I love bringing in creative musicians and getting a take as early into the discovery process as possible. There are many loose threads hanging and nobody’s doing anything by rote. Everyone’s listening intently to each other. The only song we might have changed for awhile was “Channel.” I’d just written it days before the session. I wrote it on the airplane coming back from New York. There’s a certain simplicity to it as a piece of writing. There’s a guitar figure that drones through it and a certain rock tonality to the chord changes that’s different from many of the other songs which might be more Tin Pan Alley in structure. The trick was to find a way to play that still sounded a little unhinged or floating off the ground. I’ve never been interested in playing a rock song like a rocker. I’ve never referred to myself as a rock musician. Even though I was referencing a rock tonality the same way I reference a Jazz tonality but would never pretend to hold myself up as a Jazz musician. There’s certain strengths in those musical vocabularies. I tried to make “Channel” as dream-like as the other material – true to itself but authentic to the whole piece. It got strange and unmannered – past the point of anything easily readable. It was very abstract, loud, and messy before landing in a way that maintained the simplicity of the writing but was appropriately unhinged and had enough weather in the room.

“The Man I Keep Hid” inadvertently blends Doctor John’s New Orleans voodoo funk, Leon Russell’s pop accessibility, and Tom Waits’ old timey rasp into a tightly wrapped shroud.
 

 

 

That’s a song we didn’t discuss at all. I played a demo of it on guitar with everyone standing around. It felt more like Reverend Gary Davis Country-Blues the way I knew how to articulate the guitar changes. I didn’t want it to be driven by guitar though. Everyone went to their places and that was a first take. No conversation except when I said when it gets to the break, whatever has happened before it, it should sound like Fellini’s “Satyricon.” Then we just played the song. The engineer was still moving microphones in the drum room and you could completely hear the door slam. There was no point to go beyond that. We played it once more for fun. But it was appropriately widescreen from the beginning.

When I originally interviewed you a few years back, you said you were hoping to work with rap vet Dr. Dre. Was that just a lark?
 

 

 

I have not been able to do so. He’s one of the people who said no to me. I don’t hold it against the good Doctor though for being unresponsive. He makes great sounding records.

As a producer yourself, you’ve worked with some heavyweight Blues and folk artists. How’d that come about?
 

 

 

Every scenario’s different whether finding myself in a studio with Solomon Burke or Bettye Lavette. I’ve done four full projects and a couple straggling things with Allen Toussaint. That’s a life-changing relationship that continues. Historically, he’s a producer’s producer. It’s humbling to continually work in his services as a producer. Even in the simplest conversations I come away with something even if it’s intangible. He’s unique and remarkable. I first met Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in ’87 and crossed paths on tour in Italy. I happened upon him unexpectedly when I was working on the soundtrack to Tom Hanks film I’m Not There while working with several other artists – John Doe, Richie Havens. I asked the director if I could do something with Jack Elliott. He has a longer history with Bob Dylan professionally than anybody. Bob began by emulating Jack’s interpretation of Woody Guthrie. So I brought Jack into my home studio to do a track. in the course of the day I compacted the idea of what it would be like to do a full record with Jack – what concept we’d need to lead us to the right songs that he hadn’t done before but would be authentic to him – not to rehash anything.

-John Fortunato