by Daniel Colussi | San Francisco is undeniably a rock ‘n roll city, steeped in the lore of Bill Graham’s legendary concerts series, the Grateful Dead’s all night jam outs, the Dead Kennedys violent re-appraisal of the rock ‘n roll form, and so on.
More recently, however, the city’s been home to the strong reign of Nuggets-inspired garage rock. One exemplar of this was Sic Alps, a band with an aesthetic that brought together a demented form of 60′s pop with wobbly home recordings and a preference for sudden, unexpected jolts of guitar mangling and noise. It was an interesting and original amalgam that stood on its own feet, confident and forward thinking in its re-appropriation of traditional pop tropes.
The band featured a revolving cast of players through the years, but it was primarily helmed by Mike Donovan. Then Donovan abruptly closed the book on Sic Alps and announced a solo record, Wot. While Sic Alps records often sounded slightly demented and held together by duct tape, Wot is a surprisingly traditional, Americana-influenced affair that expresses its left turns and hooks with a more obvious maturity.
I recently caught up with Donovan and spoke to him about balancing the old ways with the new…
Tell me about the first Mike Donovan solo tour. The band is Eric Park and I. We made the record together and we’re playing a couple acoustic guitars through amps. William Keihn, who did the cover art for the record, is on the drums. Most of the overdubs on the record are just a bass drum or a tambourine, so we’ve kind of fleshed that out a bit more with a snare drum and a weird kit with some bongos and a bass drum turned on its side, and an old box and stuff like that. We’re doing it with overhead mics. We’re not doing the close-mic’ed drum kit thing. It’s sounding really great and I’m really happy with it.
So you made this record with your friend Eric Park, and you had this old band together called Yikes. Do you have any reflections on that era of playing with him in the early 2000′s versus now? Yikes was a band that was very chaotic. I loved that band. It was just kind of hard…I think it was John Dwyer’s most misunderstood project. There would be like twenty people who would come to our shows and just be like, What are you doing? (laughs). It didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
William Keihn has done a lot of great record covers that I recognize. How did he become involved in the live band? He’s a visual artist who does show posters in San Francisco and he’s done record covers, too, like Ty Segall’s Melted cover and the cover for Wot. But basically we were just broing down and he was just an obvious choice as someone to play with.
This approach is in contrast to the Sic Alps’ touring method, which was to bring your own PA and have this monolith of gear. This is different. Yes, it’s definitely a pretty minimal set up. It’s been fun.
So what prompted this turn towards something more acoustic and stripped down. Was it spontaneous? Not really. During one of the Sic Alps tours I reached out to Eric Park, who I’d played in a band called Yikes about ten years ago. I said, hey, we should play some music together, and he’s always been in bands that were noisy and pretty far out; always noise rock or whatever you want to call it. But when we got together we ended up talking about what we’d been listening to and it was all Bobby Dylan and country western music, so we decided to try to make music like this together and all the songs kind of headed that way.
How long was the gestation period for writing this album and the recording? It was probably three or four months, and then we recorded the record in February. The record has been finished for a while. We did a lot of practicing the performance of the record and I’ve never done that before. So that was really fun to just work really hard on preparing the playing of the record, and then going in and just nailing it all down in one go. We played all the guitars at the same time in one room. And I’d never done that before. Sic Alps was always layered one track at a time. I guess the Sic Alps recordings were always piecemeal, whereas this was much more of a ‘live’ recording. That’s why it sounds so together compared to the Alps stuff.
I’m a big fan of the Pangea Globe 7″ and I definitely got into Tronics through that. I’m wondering if Tronics mainman Zarjaz had an influence on your solo approach? Oh, cool. Yeah. Maybe, you know, maybe even the next stuff we do might be even more influenced, not even consciously, but maybe the next stuff may be more like that. We actually got to play with Zarjaz in London. He came up on stage at the last Sic Alps show in London and we did a cover of Shark Fucks. It was insane.
Do you have any Zarjaz anecdotes? Do you keep in touch with him? Yeah. He’s great. He’s a really far out dude, a soft-spoken gentleman. Super smart and very thoughtful guy. We talk on the phone sometimes even though we’re in different countries. He’s a unique individual.
Sic Alps toured quite a lot. Will you be touring a lot for Wot? I’m going overseas for a bit and the guys are going to meet me over there in a few months and we’ll do a tour over there. And in the meantime I’m going to some solo shows in New York. Same kind of thing. Take it easy a little bit this year.
And what does the future hold, recording-wise? We have some stuff in the bag already. We have some songs that Barrett from Sic Alps recorded. And some of that stuff will be used for the next record. Down the road a bit I’m planning on doing recordings with the guys I’m with now and with Barrett and some other folks. Looking forward to doing that.
The last thing I wanted to ask was why you decided to put the Sic Alps thing to bed. What is it about officially ending Sic Alps rather than carrying it on that appealed to you? We weren’t even going to officially end it. I was going to make this solo record and we were going to keep going with Sic Alps. But then I just decided that it’d be nice. I mean, there was a bunch of changes happening with me at the time and I was interested in more change, I guess. And it just seemed like a really good time to end it in terms of logistics…in terms of the whole story in respect to everybody who’d been in the band and where we’d gotten to. We were really happy with all that and it just seemed nice to have a happy ending.
Ending the story rather than dragging it out. Yeah, for sure. I think that’s important when the story ends and we reached a point where it seemed like a good time to end.
Well, I’m hoping you make it up to Vancouver soon. That’d be cool. I will. I’ll try to make it happen.
Daniel Colussi is the Music Editor of Scout Magazine and a contributing writer to Ion Magazine. A veteran employee of Zulu Records and tuneage aficionado, he DJs on an infrequent basis (about four times a year) and is a musician around town who plays in several ensembles.
by Daniel Colussi | King Khan And The Shrines is what happens when a dozen or so punk, soul and RnB freaks get together and throw their tastiest licks into a big black melting pot. King Khan is the shaman/cook who stirs the pot and adds the mystery spice, or something like that. In truth, Arish Ahmad Khan has been toughing it out in various scuzzy garage rock projects since the mid-nineties. To wit, The Spaceshits were hardly known and barely understood during their time but have since gained legendary status, while King Khan & The BBQ Show put out a sound that was truly something special. Khan is a showman in the classic soul tradition, and to see him backed by a most potent and deadly band is a definite spectacle. Their most recent album – Idle No More – is the result of six years of serious mental toil. Khan left planet Earth for a while, but then he came back and he gave us his most focused, moving record. I reached him at his home in Berlin shortly before his recent Vancouver show to discuss the bizarre and tragic circumstances of this album’s creation…
Can you tell me about the titling of the album Idle No More and your empathy with that movement? Well, when I was a teenager two of my best friends were Mohawk Indians and I used to actually seek refuge at one of their houses when my dad would kick me out of the house. I spent a little bit of time on the Mohawk reservation. I guess when I was in The Spaceshits we had fans from the reservations near Montreal, and it was like a lot of these juvenile delinquents loved what we were doing. I guess in some ways I learned a lot about how to be a fierce punk rocker from that community. And one of my best friends was Mohawk and he actually passed away two years ago, about a year after Jay Reatard had passed away. In fact, one of the songs is kind of a requiem to him and also to Reatard. It’s called So Wild on the record. During the recording process of this album I was reading about the Idle No More movement, and it was really heartwarming to see indigenous people rising up, especially knowing the background and the conditions of what a lot of the reservations were like. And I was kind of shocked because any Canadians or Americans that I would try to talk to about Idle No More, they didn’t have any idea that this was even going on, so I thought that it would be a good shout out to them. I wrote to them, too, and asked for permission to use it and they were totally into it. It’s been pretty cool actually, because these newspapers all over Europe and America have been asking about it or have looked into it. I’m really happy to spread the good word.
Spreading the good word, sure, and this album maybe has a different tone than the earlier Shrines albums. There’s a lyrical heaviness to this album which is, I guess, based on this really intense process that you went through with yourself. There’s like…moments of really good things that happen and moments of pure pain, and I guess all that chaos going on at that time spun me into this kind of madness. It started off in a kind of funny way, with me and Mark Sultan in Australia playing for this festival that Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson had invited us to perform at, which was mind-blowing in itself because I admire those two people so much, and just to know that they listen to what we do, and to invite us to play at the Sidney Opera House…it was really amazing. And at the same time I’d been touring so much, and I’d actually been jailed twice before that…it was just icing on a really greasy cake! And then while I was hanging out there I wasn’t sleeping and I befriended a homeless aboriginal guy and wanted to start the Black Panthers with him in Australia and brought him to meet Lou and Laurie. I was definitely kind of going crazy. It didn’t help that I’d lost three of my best friends and I’d never grieved properly, so there’d be moments of talking and suddenly you just start crying. A lot of crazy stuff was going on. And eventually me and Mark had this big falling out. We played a couple more shows but then in Korea we had this huge falling out where I had to take refuge in a Buddhist monastery.
And how did you end up in the monastery? You just wandered in? I was just not part of the world anymore and I wanted to get away so I walked into this huge monastery and I waited at the door for the head monk and then when she sat me down it was really pretty crazy because I looked insane. I had nail polish and these mystified, crazy googly eyes. And she sat me down and heard what I was telling her, that I wanted to quit everything and start again. You could imagine at the same time I was writing these letters to my family, telling them I was going to quit everything and become a monk, so my wife was obviously pretty concerned. And then I showed up at home with a blonde mohawk looking stark raving mad. In a lot of days there was this synchronicity; when I had the first huge freak out in Korea it was the same time that my friend Jason, the Mohawk I was telling you about…he died that same night. I shaved a Mohawk on that day, but I didn’t know he’d died. I guess in a lot of ways, in retrospect, we were spiritual twins. We were born on the same day. He had a black snake tattoo on his chest and I did, too. So it felt like a big piece of me had passed away. From then on it was basically a plummet into…my family intervened. One of the people that really got into my head at that point was my sister in-law, the actress Rose McGowan.
Oh yeah? Weird. Yeah, it was really weird. Her sister married my brother. But I was writing these mass emails to my family and she was writing back saying, You know you’re just having this maniac, mad episode, a lot of people have this, especially artists. You should seriously go get yourself checked. That was the one person that really got into my head. So with her guidance, I went in and then it was a few years of heavy drugs and chemicals that basically…I describe it as burning down the viking ship! During that process you start to really learn what are the most important things in your life, the people that you love the most. And then after a couple years of really having to shut off from everything, the song Darkness crept into my mind. Before that I was in a vulnerable state where I didn’t know if I could do music anymore, let alone be what I was because I was sort of wiping the slate clean. But after that song Darkness came out I felt this confidence again…to continue. And then slowly the album slowly took shape over a period of about two years.
So it was a protracted recording process? With The Shrines it’s always tough to get everyone together to do stuff, but it really took almost five years. We started piecing songs together. Some of them were older songs that we just never tackled. But once Darkness had been birthed, the rest of it seemed a lot easier and it felt like it was ready to take form.
One song in particular that really struck me was Of Madness I Dream. I thought it was really sweet song and a lovely way to end the album. It seemed like almost a summation of your experience, maybe. What can you tell me about that song? Thank you. Well, that song, I mean…I’ve always said that music in general is for me a very spiritual thing and ultimately the power it has is to be able to transform pain and agony and torture into something beautiful. So in the process of making music I’ve always kept that in mind and tried to be a vehicle to allow pain and suffering to turn into something else. So with that song especially it really felt like a light was shining out and I was receiving the lyrics. I gotta say, I feel like it was a weird gossamer. Not to get religious, but it felt like something was being said to me. It’s amazing how simple everything can be at certain points. With the right words, it’s amazing…
Daniel Colussi is the Music Editor of Scout Magazine and a contributing writer to Ion Magazine. A veteran employee of Zulu Records and tuneage aficionado, he DJs on an infrequent basis (about four times a year) and is a musician around town who plays in several ensembles.
by Daniel Colussi | Through various internet and real, physical world travels, I always come across new and interesting songs. These six are the latest that’ve particularly piqued my interest, demanded my attention, and reassured me that future is still bright for human expression through recorded music. There’s no theme to the selections. They’re just tunes that have cut through the recent fog to lodge themselves in my brain…
Omar Souleyman – Wenu Wenu
The title track from Souleyman’s forthcoming Four Tet-produced studio album is a characteristic slow burning banger that snakes its way into the listener’s craw and wraps itself tightly around the brainstem. Souleyman, you’ll remember, is the Syrian Dabke legend turned Kurdish/Arabic singer of choice for all of us in the Western world, which is to say that most of us could not name any other Dabke legends…
Mike Donovan – Do Do Ya?
This charmingly lo-fi video is the perfect accompaniment to Mike Donovan’s, uh, charmingly lo-fi music. He’s ditched the extra baggage of being a Sic Alp and now he’s free to swagger the countryside of own mind with a knapsack full of acoustic strumming and the occasional electric-boogie lead guitar.
Widowspeak – True Believer
And speaking of the fog that’s descended on the city every morning of recent memory, Widowspeak’s beautiful and hazy music has never felt more apropos. Utilizing the simplest elements of a beautiful voice and a couple of chords, they create an out-of-body vibe that’s well suited to long walks through the mist.
Quilt – Arctic Shark
Quilt offers the perfect jangly rejoinder to the mellow guantlet thrown down by Widowspeak. If the latter’s approach celebrates disembodiment, Quilt offers a somewhat more lucid account of life’s mysteries; gentle on my mind and easy like Sunday morning, but with a lyrical density on par with The Critique of Pure Reason. I like.
Cass McCombs – Name Written In Water
The king of musical understatement and lyrical profundity delivers the goods as only he can. This is a song that seems breezy at first but reveals layers of interpretation with every listen. Dude even sneaks in a 2000 year old quote without seeming the least bit pretentious. McCombs is back!
Magik Markers – Ice Skater
And now for something completely uncharacteristic…. Magik Markers have always dealt in unbridled sonic sprawl. They’ve mocked EQ levels, trashed the stage, threw eggs in the faces of us all. And we loved them for it, but seasons change. Ice Skater is obviously a winter song, meant to prepare listeners for the imminent chill. When it comes, make like the Markers (and Joni) and skate your way warm.
by Daniel Colussi | King Tuff is Kyle Thomas and he’s a true rock ‘n roll dreamer from Brattleboro, VT. Readers may recall that Thomas has been on the Soundtracking pages before, upon the release of his second, self-titled album. Said album is a blast, but there’s just something especially magical about his first offering, Was Dead. Initially nothing more than a collection of home recordings self-released in 2006 on CD-R, this album has subsequently been re-released over a dozen times, truly taking on a life of it’s own. Most recently, the brilliant and prolific Burger Records released the definitive version with 180 gram vinyl, laminate covers and a full colour poster. Rejoice! Was Dead is thirteen gems of weirdo, incredibly catchy glam pop. It’s Cheap Trick hanging with Television…weird but innocent, or something like that. Thomas did something so right with it, and we’re all better off for it. Read on as he offers Scout some perspective on this most magical of creations in advance of his Commodore appearance this Friday night.
Was Dead has slowly taken on a life on it’s own. According to my research, it’s been released in 13 different formats/editions/pressings. It has made a very long and slow creep into the world. Aside from the fact that the songs are fun, awesome, and amazing, why do you think this album has continued to garner so much love from the world? It came from a genuine place. I think it strikes a teenage chord that everyone can relate to.
Tell me a bit about the spirit of writing/recording of it. Any particular motivations/inspirations floating around in your head when you laid down these tracks? It’s definitely about coffee and sex and having fun. I really just wanted it to sound like lasers.
Is it a drag to play some of these songs that are so old? Is it a drag to talk about this album so long after it was created? I still love playing all these songs. I’ll play them for the rest of my life. I have a bit of a hard time remembering making the album, so it’s hard to talk about because the details are blurry.
What’s Li’l Smashy’s (Thomas’ Mom) take on Was Dead? Smashy is a huge supporter of King Tuff. But mostly she just wants to know what I want for dinner.
Tell me about being a night owl and recording songs at 4am. Why do you think that works for you? Because there’s no distractions. I feel like the only person on earth at 4am. It’s an otherworldly time of day.
You’ve been touring steadily for the last couple years. Tell me what you like and dislike about touring. What are your favourite off-the-highway breakfast chains? Cracker Barrel vs Applebee’s vs. Waffle House, etc… Touring is the greatest job on earth but it can also drive you mad. You have to keep a positive mental attitude or else you’ll crack. I dig Waffle House. Steak ‘n Shake is good, Skyline Chili, Whattaburger…it’s all good and shitty.
Tell me about Brattleboro. Are you still living there or have you officially moved to LA? I live in LA. The Brattleboro vibe is similar to every small town. Everyone knows each other. It’s very mellow. Something magical lurks underneath…
What’s next for King Tuff after this tour? Recording and relaxing.
King Tuff plays the Commodore Oct. 18 with Wavves, & Jacuzzi Boys. Tickets at Zulu & Red Cat.
Daniel Colussi is the Music Editor of Scout Magazine and a contributing writer to Ion Magazine. A veteran employee of Zulu Records and tuneage aficionado, he DJs on an infrequent basis (about four times a year) and is a musician around town who plays in several ensembles.
by Daniel Colussi | Scout Niblett’s music is a breath of fresh air. It’s too primal and grunged-out to be called airy, but listening to the raw, jagged sounds of her albums over the years has consistently freshened my palate. Sometimes you just want to kick out the jams, and for over ten years Emma Louise Niblett’s music has explored vulnerability, exorcism and knuckle-dragging-riffing as a means of pure expression, using plenty of fuzz and distortion in the process. It’s not music that’s going to be tapped to sell iPods or Volkswagens (though Stella McCartney found use for one song), but ten years, six albums, and many singles later Niblett has carved her own niche somewhere along the outer borders of indie rock. Her newest album, It’s Up To Emma, does not disappoint. I reached Niblett as she vacationed in Norway . This is what she told me…
First of all, tell me about how the cover image of It’s Up To Emma came about. Was that a spontaneous cover or does it tie in with the content of the album? Well, the cover wasn’t intended to be a cover. It was just a photograph that got taken in a photo booth. But when I looked at it and was starting to work on the record already I thought, Oh that looks like it could be the cover! It just seemed to fit in with the songs on the album.
Is it fair to say that this is kind of a breakup album? Or is that reductive? Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. The songs kind of write themselves really, to be honest. I don’t really ever sit down and try to write songs about particular things in my head, I just kind of let out what’s been going on in my life. And I was going through a break up and though I wanted there to be songs about other things on the album there just wasn’t anything else coming out. Every song that I’d written in the last two years was about that situation. Kind of…yeah, it’s just what happened.
Tell me about writing songs. It’s interesting if you say that a song just comes out of you and your not directing it about a specific thing. How does a song happen for you? Well it’s not very…it doesn’t happen on a regular basis, it happens quite sporadically. And it usually happens when some sort of emotional build up is going on and I kind of just take myself away and give myself space to just play the guitar or the drums or whatever. And then through the backdrop of the music comes vocal melody, and then after playing them sometimes straight off the bat lyrics will literally pop out. And then there’s a level in which I just keep doing that until a song actually emerges. And then there’s obviously some editing going on, like Oh that doesn’t sound that great, what could I say instead? That goes on afterwards, but the actual atmosphere and the intention of the lyrics, their psychology, is always coming out without me doing much.
One song that I really enjoyed was the last track on the album, What Can I Do? It’s a great album closer, it’s an epic, beautiful song. Tell me about that song in particular. That song was one of the ones that – well, the recording process in general was completely different than any other record I’ve done because it took a long time. It took seven months from going in the studio to actually me finishing the mixes at home. It took months to do. And that song was one that every time I went into the studio I would add more to it. And it was usually vocal harmonies or…I actually did the guitar solo at home, because we started out with someone else trying to do the solo and I didn’t really feel, I wasn’t happy with it. So I decided to do some E-bow solos in the studio and then I went home and replicated the same notes just at home and put them in the mix afterwards. That song was one of the ones that evolved every time I went in. So it ended up becoming quite epic sounding which it wouldn’t have if we’d just done it in a few takes in the studio. And originally it had no drums on it…the drums were added really last minute.
That’s really cool. I was going to inquire about the guitar solo in that song because it has this cool Robert Fripp/Brian Eno quality to it that’s really pleasing. The strings are nice too. Did it feel like an album closer to you while you were working on it? I think when it was finished it, because of how it evolved. And it homed into this kind of epic sound that I thought, this has to be the last song.
I watched your video for Gun the other day and I enjoyed it more than I usually enjoy music videos. It really grabbed my attention. Well, the concept was that I knew I wanted to be Snow White (laughs) and I knew that I wanted to dress up as Snow White and I wanted the video to be really light hearted. I wanted there to be a huge contrast between the visual element and the song. Basically, I tried to do something that was really set up where people were handing me the different parts of the costume to put on, but it was so set-up that I just couldn’t…I’m not really an actor at all and I’m actually quite self conscious when I know that people are watching, although I’m not like that on stage at all. So that idea didn’t work. So the next day I decided to completely scrap that idea and get my friend to film me as Snow White in downtown Portland. I just wanted to see me in an environment where people were going to react to me randomly. So I didn’t feel like I was being filmed, it felt more that what was being filmed was other people watching me. So that was the idea, and luckily, accidentally, completely randomly, there was a Cinco De Mayo festival going on that day with all the fairground rides and kids going completely crazy because they were seeing Snow White. All of this stuff was completely random and thank God we went on that day and were able to capture all that. It was a lucky accident.
OK. Last question: what is Spooka music? (Laughs) Well me and a guy I was playing with back on the first record, we found music genres kind of hilarious. We were looking up what emo went, I mean we knew what it meant, but we were fascinated that there was this uniform for certain bands that play a certain kind of music. So we wanted to make up a genre and act say that that’s the genre that we are (laughs). So we came up with this word spooka, but it really didn’t catch on!
Scout Niblett with PG Six and Jody Glenham at The Cobalt, Friday Aug 23rd.
by Daniel Colussi | The music that gets played on my stereo is deeply affected by the weather. Two weeks of sunny days has meant a steady flow of Grateful Dead live bootlegs. How perfect it was to speak with Jesse Lortz on a rainy day. Lortz is the man behind Case Studies, and this is definitely music that falls under the rainy day category. Lortz was previously one half of Seattle garage rock duo The Dutchess And The Duke, who’s succinct folky-garage was bouncy and instantly pleasing, although lyrically dark. Case Studies is a full on retreat into darkness. Lortz’ second long player, This Is Another Life, is a purposely downer record for sure, a beauty of a dark ride. But then we all get depressed once and a while, and most of like to listen sad songs once and a while too. The bad news: this weekend calls for rain. The good news: Case Studies plays the Cobalt on Sunday. I know where I’ll be waiting out the rain.
So Case Studies is kind of an amorphous entity as far as touring goes. What’ll your band be for your show at the Cobalt? I’m not really actually sure because the guy who plays lead guitar and site doesn’t have a passport (laughs), so we’re going to have to try and wing it at the border and if he can’t get across then we’re going to have to reformat because the songs are pretty guitar-heavy now. But in the very least there’ll be drums and keys and bass (laughs). I don’t really know what it’s going to end up being!
You’ve toured a fair amount doing Case Studies as a solo thing right? Do you like the band format better? This is actually the first that I’ve done this as a band. We’ve done two shows so far, and it’s sounding really cool and interesting. It’s a totally different sound than just me. It was just easier to tour by myself and do shows by myself because I wouldn’t have to organize band practice or guitar players’ passports, you know? But it’s just kind of boring for me. It got to a point where it’s just kind of boring to play by myself.
Given the songs and vibe of Case Studies, do you like doing these songs live over and over? Is it a drag? It’s a total drag (laughs). It’s like the whole reason you write a song is to get past something or solve a problem. And then, theoretically, you solve it by making the song, but then to have to relive it over and over through performance…it’s almost counterintuitive.
Does that make you want to write some songs with a different tone? Yeah, actually I just wrote a song about fire the other day. We’ve got a show tomorrow at this art space. Arturo Medrano, who’s done some of the sleeve art, is going to be in town and the title of the show is Staring Into A Dying Fire. And so that was a really great, evocative line and I wrote a song based on that, I guess. And you know having a full band takes the song out of the realm of…even though the content is the same it makes it more entertaining, more fun.
Playing with a band gives it a bit more of a feeling of release? Yeah. I’m a big fan of the Gris Gris records.
Tell me about recording with Greg Ashley. He’s a wonderful person in a very unique way and also ridiculously talented. As far as anecdotes, I don’t really know. Any of them would be embarrassing for both of us, probably!
I’m not looking for dirt or anything, but what’s the dynamic between you two? He’s just a good foil for you in the studio? Yeah, I trust him a lot. And I admire his work. It’s been really influential on mine in terms of what you can get out of an arrangement or an amount of instruments. And he’s not going to let you leave the project with a half-assed piece of work. He wants you to have the best song you can have. And I trust his taste. He’s great.
You’ve got a Vancouver connection in that Sweet Rot put out a 7″ for you and you made the cover art of a Sex Church LP. So what’s up with you and our rad city? I’ve known the guys in Sex Church for ten years probably. I mean, before the internet and stuff you really had to latch on to anyone you met who had similar taste as you. So there’s a lot of relationships that’ve kind of survived the internet. I’ve done artwork for Sweet Rot over the years and Jeff is great. They’re all good guys and I really like being up there. Everyone I know up there is really supportive.
I’m aware of you’re love of Richard Brautigan. Have you seen the massive new biography Jubilee Hitchhiker yet? Yeah, the William Hjortsberg biography? Yeah. Actually, my girlfriend works at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle and they hosted a reading from Hjorstberg, so I actually got a signed copy of that book and I just started reading it the other day.
Case Studies with Nerve City and Sex Church at The Cobalt Sunday August 18th.
by Daniel Colussi | Alex Bleeker’s main gig is playing with Ridgewood New Jersey transplants Real Estate, a band that specializes in a very distinct kind of autumnal, melancholic pop music. Real Estate are great and I love them, but when Bleeker surrounds himself with The Freaks a different spirit takes hold, something ancient and unbound. They’re privy to something special. I’m talking about the timeless magic that occurs when people get together and let the music take over. That’s what Alex Bleeker and The Freaks are about, continuing a lineage that goes beyond fashion and nostalgia. And I think that’s what Alex is like as a person, too, because despite my efforts to tether Alex to being a Deadhead or How Far Away to being a break up record he always outplayed me simply by being honest and forthright in his answers. Imagine what happens when this guy straps on a guitar! Alex Bleeker and The Freaks have the songs and the chops and I expect them to slay the Astoria on tonight (Friday). Between now and the show take a minute to meet Alex Bleeker.
I understand that How Far Away was a labour of love. Why did it so long to complete? Yeah, well…I was doing it in the middle of heavy touring for Days which wasn’t really ideal so there are a lot of different people that play on the record, there are three different drummers. It was a pretty disjointed recording process, but then I was able to do a final push a get a lot of the final stuff done because Real Estate came off tour and I had more time to dedicate to finishing the record. It was not ideal for me, honestly. Any album that takes two years to make – I think that’s sort of ridiculous. It’s like my Chinese Democracy*. You lose some sense of cohesion of that much time, but that being said I think we did a good job of pulling it all together because I did have that dedicated time at the end of the process.
It plays cohesively to my ears. And feels somewhat thematic. It’s got a kind of morose vibe… The biggest mistake I made was letting that one-sheet go through! My friend Sam wrote that and I love him and I like his writing and I trust his opinion, but it was almost his reading of the record, not actually mine. Which I thought was cool, because when I read it I took it as how Sam hears the record, but I guess I didn’t realize how much of an impact the one-sheet has on all the press that gets written, particularly to the point where some people just copy and paste it to their blog or their website. So what Sam actually says is that this is not a break-up record — that’s what he says, but everything that’s been written about it is says that this is a break-up record! I guess because when you says that something’s not something then you’re automatically saying that it is something. It wasn’t a conscious theme; I didn’t want to make a song-cycle, thematic record about the end of a relationship and moving forward, but there’s some of that in there for sure. I won’t deny it. But that wasn’t the idea of the record. A lot of people write about that kind of thing all the time. My first record is all sad love songs, for the most part. So I don’t see it as a break-up record, as if I was trying to make a Blonde On Blonde kind of thing.
So the record took a long time and a bunch of different people played on it. What about this current five piece touring line up? Does this feel like the definitive Freaks line up? Yes, I finally found it. The band right now is the band. It came together in January. We were almost there – four fifths of us were in – and then we swapped out drummers and everything really…we just knew after that. So this is really the first time that I feel like we’ve got a real band. It’s not just me and whoever I scrape together, which is what it was for a lot of years. I feel really good about that because we can practice and change and work on new songs together and the next album will be this band working together. We get along really well and we play well together. It feels really good.
So you’ve been able to stretch out at shows and feel it in the songs? Yeah, yeah, definitely. We play to the circumstances of the room a lot. We played in a bar next to a bowling alley in Detroit a couple of nights ago and so we did a rock show with pop songs. And then we’ve had other shows where we stretch out and see how far we can push this one song in a certain direction that we’re already moving in. There’ll be improvisational passages where we can go a little further, a little deeper. There was a great show in Chicago that I mentioned, a packed sweaty warehouse and it was a total party and the people were enjoying what we were doing. Every room is different, and in this band it’s really fun because we can play sort of differently depending on where we’re at. In Denver we’re playing a sort of non-traditional venue, it’s more of a bar/restaurant, and so it’s like we’re on from 10 until 1 in the morning, but we’re all really excited about it. We’re going to stretch out every song; we’re going to play every song we know. That kind of thing keeps it really exciting.
That’s cool. I feel like there’s not a lot of bands in the general indie-circuit-milieu nowadays that can play that way show to show, adjusting to every room. And that kind of leads in – I don’t want to harp on this too much – but I understand that you’re something of a Deadhead? Yeah, I’m a really big fan [of The Grateful Dead] and that’s where that ethos comes from a bit. It’s not really something exclusive to the Dead. I’m just really into them at this juncture in my life, so it’s fun to lean on that a bit. And it’s fun because treating each show as something unique and a different experience is equal parts Grateful Dead and Velvet Underground to me, or Neu for that matter.
Ok, quickly tell me about interviewing Lindsay Buckingham — that must’ve been pretty awesome. It was insane. It was amazing to talk to him. I got this opportunity through a friend and it was incredibly surreal because I’m a big Fleetwood Mac fan and also a Lindsay Buckingham-solo fan also, so it was really cool to talk to someone like that who’s so mythological. But he was really cool and down to earth on the phone and not condescending, not shocked to listen to a young person. He was self aware and down to earth at the same time. It was great for me to do that.
Alex Bleeker and The Freaks with The Shilohs and The High Drops at The Astoria Friday August 9th. Tickets at Zulu and the door.
by Daniel Colussi | A month or so ago I called Tim Presley to talk to him about his new White Fence record, Cyclops Reap. I actually woke him up even though I wasn’t calling all that early. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised as this is a guy who’s put out six full length albums in three years and toured North America and Europe several times in the same time frame. He probably just needs some rest. It was Hair, a collaborative album with fellow West Coast rocker Ty Segall, and its accompanying tour, that introduced Presley to a wider audience, but many were probably semi-confounded by the two volume collection of ramshackle garage rock and sonic gewgaws that Presley followed up with. I’m talking about the cryptic sprawls of Family Perfume Volumes 1 and 2 (I’m a fan of both). Presley’s newest record – which he’s supporting with a show at the Biltmore on Monday – is a much more concise and easily digestible affair. Cyclops Reap may even contain a few bonafide college radio hits (I haven’t checks the charts). Regardless, it’s undoubtedly his best offering thus far. I was pleased to rustle Presley from his slumber to discuss this excellent album and the insanity-inducing tour that follows. Attendance at his show on Monday is highly recommended.
(Waking Tim up and discussing whether to call back of just start the interview…)
I guess you’re not really a 9 to 5 guy lately are you? Well, I have been. I’ve been through all that.
Cyclops Reach is receiving really kind words all over the place. A lot of reviews are calling it the best White Fence album. Why do you think that is? That’s cool, I know what they mean. I think people are saying that because it seems a bit more cohesive. And I forget that there are people out there who like cohesiveness in their music. I totally forget about that shit, you know what I mean? People said that Family Perfume was a stringed-together thing and I kind of understand what they meant but what’s funny is that I think that’s a really together record. You know what I’m saying? But if you’re going off the basis of a Beatles record, Rubber Soul or something, the new White Fence record is more akin to something like that because it’s song, song, song, song with maybe not as much weird stuff going on.
You think some people found Family Perfume 1 and 2 difficult to process? I think so. I always expected those two records to be a slow burn. Maybe the Hair record with Ty got a lot of eyes on the White Fence records, so maybe people wanted something more cohesive. Maybe people were weirded out.
Was there a different approach going into this one, and that’s why it came out different? It’s just how it came out.
But I think there’s more. Weren’t you going to put out an album of leftovers from Family Perfume and then you ended up just writing a whole new album? Alright, where do I even start…I was going through a lot of tapes and stuff that I’d done since the first White Fence record. And then I thought, some of this is pretty good and maybe I should just put out a tape, nothing big. Not a lot of reviews or anything, not the whole review game and write-up gamut, etc., you know? Just a tape of a bunch of unreleased songs that didn’t make the records, because there’s a lot. So I was going to weed through that and take out the best ones. Like, the B-team you know? But meanwhile, as I’m doing this, I’m still writing and recording new shit. And then I had the new “best of” stuff in a separate file, in it’s own folder. And I was like, oh, this is way better. And then Dwyer from Castleface wanted to put out a record and I gave him a bunch of songs and he gave me some notes on what ones he’d want to use, and I came back to him and said that’s cool but there’s no way I can put out something without putting out this song. I kinda went back and forth. I needed to balance out the record because I’d be damned if I put something out that’s more of a singles thing, you know? I need it to have some kind of cohesiveness in my own mind. I like listening to albums from start to finish, you know what I mean?
This is kind of a recurring thing with you – you send your friends a bunch of songs and sort of let them guide what tracks will form the album. Because I know you told me the same thing when Family Perfume 1 came out. Yeah, I don’t know why. I think it’s because I’m so inside. I’m literally doing this every second of the day, you know what I mean? It’s crazy, so I have no opinion on a lot of them. I think I kind of know…I kind of came down to this science where if I have to re-listen to this song a lot then it’s probably not good. It’s kind of weird. To put it in basketball terms, it’s almost like if I can no-look-jump-shot-it then (laughs) then I know it’s a good one! Whereas if I have to keep coming back to it too much then I know that maybe it’s not working out. I know that part of the deal with White Fence, and from what you’ve said yourself, is that you’re always working steadily on all songs, all the time, everyday.
So is there a specific process there? Do you finish one before the other? I’d say mostly it’s like there’s a couple open and I guess that’s what the whole Cyclops Reap concept is about. It’s like I have a bunch of these songs kind of open and they could be finished whenever I say they are. And that’s kind of like the Cyclops as the one with both the vision and as the harvester. The harvester’s vision. And Cyclops’ were known for making swords, they were blacksmiths. Not to decode the record title…I just feel like I’m in there making shit all the time and then I have to harvest it all up into something that’s presentable for people.
Tell me about having Castleface put out the record for you. It seems like a natural fit. Yeah, that’s the cool thing about this whole White Fence thing. Between Castleface, Woodsist, some of these labels that don’t really do a contract, it’s cool. It’s like the cool-dudes club or some shit, I don’t know! I just know that no one’s out there to fuck each other over at all because everybody knows each other, and that makes it a cool thing. There’s a lot of trust involved, but I trust these people. I know where they live! (laughs).
So are there still multiple White Fence cells that you call upon to play in different regions of the world? Or is there now a legitimate single line up? It’s whoever who can do it, a syndicate of sound, yeah. (laughs). I mean this whole thing was designed as…I wanted to record music and that’s all I wanted to to do. And then it turned into a live thing. And I wanted it just to be a fun thing. It gets tricky with booking all these tours and shows. I’d say there’s a couple people who are pretty core at this point.
So how do you feel about it right now, before all these tours start? (Laughs) I don’t know. It’s the weirdest thing. Anyone who’s in a band knows it. It’s fun but there’s a part of it that’s pretty crazy. It can drive you insane. And then you get home and you kind of want it again.
White Fence w/Jessica Pratt & Muzz play Aug. 5 at The Biltmore. Tix at Red Cat, TM & the venue.
by Daniel Colussi | My pal Mark Richardson hipped me to Texas/NYC outfit Parquet Courts when he selected the band to kick off an exclusive mix for this very column. Said track, Master Of My Craft, piqued my interest, and further investigations into this twitchy, lyrically ambitious band have yielded many rewards. In the roughly six months since their very fine Light Up Gold album was released the band has toured pretty much non-stop. The album has received rave acclaim and they’ve won over a lot of new fans, myself included. Key to Parquet Courts’ appeal is their marriage of nervous, bouncy punk rock with surprisingly dense lyrics. It makes for a refreshing, satisfying listen. The brevity and urgency of these songs – none of which crack the four minute mark – betrays the depth of what’s troubling the minds of lead songwriters Andrew Savage and Austin Brown.
Stoned And Starving’s title recalls any number of Wavves’ throwaway songs, but it’s actually an existential confession from soul wandering the empty streets of Queens. N. Dakota is musically laidback and cyclical, but lyrically packed with enough tossed off observations – of among other things, toothpaste, going on holiday, and the vastness/emptiness of the USA – to form a solid novella. No songs overstay their welcome, and when the album’s brisk thirty minutes are through you’ll likely play it again.
I’m pretty enthused to hear some new tunes from these guys, some of which were debuted recently on NPR World Cafe. Their headlining show on Friday night at the Electric Owl will be their first Vancouver appearance and is as guaranteed a good time as you’re ever going to get in this topsy-turvy world. Struggling with David Foster Wallace’s unfinished tome? Give yourself a break and come have a beer with NY/TX’s finest.
Parquet Courts w/Naomi Punk (Seattle) and Devastator at the Electric Owl, Friday June 14th. Tickets at Zulu, Red Cat, Electric Owl and Timbreconcerts.com.
by Daniel Colussi | It’s been two long years since Toronto’s Hooded Fang last played Vancouver. During this time they’ve overhauled the line up, dropping some members and shedding the glockenspiel-twee of their earlier incarnations for something a little darker, a little more ferocious. The Hooded Fang of today is a leaner beast, one that revels in amp buzz and out-of-tune guitars. All of these qualities are well-evidenced on their delightfully trashy, melodically ambitious new LP, Gravez.
This is my kind of album, one that clocks in at an easy thirty minutes (I love short albums) but which is nonetheless packed with enough ideas to make any lesser band’s career. This is hooky, literate lo-fi basement music; it might even be punk rock but it’s ultimately quite unnecessary to apply the usual reductive journalistic genre identifications because Gravez has its own feet to stand on. Ode To Subterrania speaks to my ill-fated time living in a mouldy basement suite off Commercial Drive. Bye Bye Land is lethargic pop with an air of detached weariness a la Mellow Gold, a tip that’s beloved to me. Even Pitchfork has taken notice (never a band thing). Check them out when they come to town this weekend.
Hooded Fang play the Media Club Sunday June 16th. Tickets at Zulu, Red Cat and the venue.
by Daniel Colussi | Sweden-by-way-of-Argentina folkie Jose Gonzalez made a pretty big splash during the aughties with his two solo albums, Veneer and In Our Nature. Those records found Gonzalez in melancholic folkie-form — a modern day atheist Nick Drake. Surprising to everyone, this was only one side of Gonzalez’ musical identity. With Junip — the powerhouse trio he fronts with buddies from the 90s Swedish hardcore days — Gonzalez veers way to the left of the folk-idioms. Junip is a versatile unit, a band as comfortable locking into trance krautrock grooves as they are sunning themselves under the Tropicalia-sun. On their wonderful self-titled second album the band moves all over the places, dropping catchy New Order hooks, embracing noise and abandon – but most significantly the band proves itself to be very much it’s own thing, something refreshingly distinct from Gonzalez’ solo work. In particular drummer Elias Araya shows his presence as a real monster behind the kit, propelling the band to extremes that Gonzalez’ solo work never attempted. I spoke with frontman Jose Gonzalez about the self recording the new Junip album playing with his old buddies, and his roots in Swedish hardcore. Njuta!
Where are you right now, Jose? I’m back at home in Gothenburg, Sweden. I just came back from a European tour. How was the tour? Great, great. Two weeks around mainly Germany and UK. It’s been really nice. And how were the new Junip songs received? It was really good. A lot of people are already singing along with lyrics. And I think many of the new songs…we’re happy with them and they suit themselves for live shows. I think the album is slightly better than the last one for live shows. So that’s cool.
I read the the new Junip album came about through the group jamming, and forming the songs through listening back to recordings of the band jamming. Is that true? Yeah, that’s basically the way we write. The way that we’d describe it I guess it would make it sound like we’re a jamband (laughs). But no one goes to the studio with a finished song, so we always start from scratch together and basically press record after we start it or after we find something that sounds nice. It’s a mixture of trying to have sounds together with chord progressions, melodies, right from the start. So yeah, recording onto a computer and picking out the stuff we like the most and continuing with those until they are finished songs that I can take away for a while and form the lyrics on my own.
Did you test the new songs out live at all or were they fully formed and finished in the studio? It was completed in the studio. We’ve tried to do that before, to test them live, but I think that with the last full length and this one we tried them out in other ways than live. We’re like a studio band in a way. We’re six on stage to play these songs live. We just produce and don’t think about how to do it live until later.
Both the Junip albums were recorded by yourselves. What are the joys and challenges of recording yourself versus using an outside producer? Well, I mean we have an outside producer – Don Alhsterberg – on both albums. And the way we work is that we try to do as much as possible on our own because it’s fun and because it feels a bit more rewarding when you’ve done something on your own. Basically our rehearsal space is like a lo-fi studio and once and a while Alhsterberg would come by and listen to our demos and tell us what to change and what to add and how to make things better. And he gave us hints on how to EQ things, and how to set up the mics. Other bands would probably write the songs in another room and then bring them into the studio and try to make them sound as good as they can be, but we think in terms of the sound from scratch.
Junip is a band that has a lot of power compared to the music you make on your own under your own name. So do you enjoy making louder, almost heavier music? Yeah, definitely. Especially now and when we were on tour it was fun to do the soft stuff with Junip, with nice harmonies, but then to bring it up to, for us, pretty loud and noisy. It doesn’t need to be that way but it’s fun now that we’re able to do that.
Musically were there any particular references points that you drew from when you were making this new album? Or is that not important? It wasn’t that important. Only when we got stuck I sort of sent inspiration lists. But, in general, we didn’t get stuck that many times. It’s not that important as long as everything is working. In general, if a song sounds good, it sounds good to all three of us. But looking back, many of the inspirations that we have are Nina Simone or Marvin Gaye mixed up with music that is more synth-based, or Brazilian music with the production that has acoustic guitar and flutes and percussion.
It’s interesting that Junip generally has a unanimous agreement of what sounds good. Yeah it’s not always the case, but many times it’s like that.
The three of you have been playing music since he late 90s, right? Basically, we’ve been together for a very long time but we haven’t been active for all that time. It was ’98 that we started, but from 1998 to 2003 we did maybe twenty shows and a 7″ ep, so (laughs) not that active! And before that me and Elias had played in a hardcore band, so we’ve known each other for a very long time. It wasn’t until 2008 that we started to write the first album that we started to take it more seriously, setting aside time in our calendars to work just with Junip.
Is there a particular dynamic to how this band works? You’ve known each other such a long time – do you share responsibilities pretty equally or…? Yeah, I mean it’s become a bit like when we’re producing, whoever wants to do something can do what they want. But there’s sort of a division of labour. I’ve written all the lyrics and vocal melodies on my own. The rhodes and organ is always Tobias and Elias always brings the drums. But production-wise its always a bit mixed. I’ve been playing percussion or a bit of bass, synthesizers. It’s a bit mixed. Style-wise, we come from slightly different points of view and it became a bit clearer with Tobias did most of the production for Your Life Your Call and I did much of the production for Suddenly.
Is there a lyrical theme or approach that defines the album? So basically I took each song and wrote a lyric to it, letting the music dictate what I wanted to write about. There is no overall theme but there are many songs that deal with changes in life in relationships or other issues where…I dunno, life, death! (laughs). Changing moments. So there are exceptions. I think So Clear is different and maybe Baton too. So yeah, it’s all after construction when you try to find a common theme for all the songs.
I’d love to hear about your old hardcore band with Elias. What was it called? So Tobias’ band was called Ultimate Concern and me and Elias’ band was called Renascence.
I had no idea that you had a background playing hardcore. Yes, I used to play bass. It was between ’93 and ’98.
Did you ever put anything out? Renascence released a 7″. Ultimate Concern released I think an ep. And we did some other recordings but we never released them properly so it’s not strange that you didn’t know (laughs).
Junip play the Rio Theater June 4th. Tickets at Zulu, Red Cat and The Rio, plus Scout has a pair to give away. Here’s what you need to do…
TO WIN TICKETS TO THE JUNIP SHOW…
1) “Like” Scout on Facebook if you haven’t already.
2) Follow @scoutmagazine on Twitter and retweet the following: I’m fixing to win two tickets to @junip_music via @scoutmagazine http://wp.me/plxHU-hWf
The winner will be chosen at random late tonight, so cross your fingers.
by Daniel Colussi | There’s a ridiculous amount of top notch music created in Vancouver and much of it exists on a slim periphery of the city’s entertainment industry. We’re blessed to live in a city that’s willing and able to incubate some fairly cerebral stuff (I think, for example, of how Nu Sensae were long-nurtured here and are now embraced way beyond our borders). For a lot of music-folks, it’s the city’s capacity to accept and nurture weirdo art projects that makes Vancouver such a supreme city to live in. That it’s undeniably beautiful here doesn’t hurt either.
I do not partake of any No Fun City-type whining and I’m not framing this in terms of a partisan culture war between art and commerce, but there are indeed occasions when it feels like spaces for Vancouver’s marginal goings-on don’t have a chance to operate, let alone grow and develop. This is all to say that I was very disappointed to hear that an especially promising new gallery/studio and show space was recently shut down without warning. As many readers are already well aware, this space was called John, and for a two-month stretch that passed by all too quickly it was home to 13 artist studios, a performance space, a gallery, as well as a printing press and video/photography studio. There was also to be an accompanying John magazine, a kind of party organ for artists, writers and performers, however closely or loosely involved they were within the space. Alas, one of John’s organizers informed me that he arrived at the space on April 29th to find an eviction notice and the locks changed, the landlord apparently having received pressure from the city to shut the space down.
I had the pleasure of taking part at one of their first events and I was duly impressed by how well organized (and so discreetly!) John was operated. Art spaces are rarely run with such care and efficiency, and so this space really struck me as something different. Its organizers were pretty ambitious and received a lot of good reaction to their initial efforts which all took place in a very short time.
Simply put, John showed a lot of potential as a multi-purpose space, a spot where music, art and print could cooperatively interact. It’s too bad that it’s gone, but its organizers are planning on relocating and rebuilding in a new space. For John, and for the city as a whole, I hope that this the closure was just a bump on the road of a briskly maturing city.
by Daniel Colussi | Since discovering them sometime in Junior High School, Black Flag has held a kind of otherworldly, god-like status to me. I’ve read and re-read Rollins’ tour journals. I listened and re-listened to Damaged. The intensity and heaviness of their music totally spoke to my teenaged self, but at the same time it was completely beyond my comprehension. They were so angry, so jacked up on their own anger, and so heavy about being Black Flag. They were the most badass band of all time, ever, except maybe for Black Sabbath (hard to say). So it’s perhaps fitting that the heaviest band of all time would pull off something that’s never been before: reunite two times, concurrently, as two distinct and unrelated entities that don’t even like each other.
It’s like this: Greg Ginn – who we all accept as the originator/leader/soul of Black Flag – is touring as Black Flag with Vancouver’s own Ron Reyes (Chavo Pederast) on vocals, plus two other dudes no one knows. But wait, there’s also this thing called Flag, comprised of Chuck Dukowski, Keith Morris, Bill Stevenson, and even Dez Cadena, plus one dude no one knows. If it’s all a bit confusing, maybe a diagram will help. Personally I have no gripes about all these guys reuniting and playing the old songs. And frankly, even if it’s all just a cash-in it’s still cool because lord knows these guys never made any money back in the day. But what does trouble me is the Sophie’s Choice-like decision that’s forced upon fans. On the one hand, there’s Ginn’s Black Flag. The fact that Ginn is in the line up makes this version of Black Flag appear totally legit, and yet Ginn’s playing on his own pedigree when he slags Flag as a poseur cover band. Because Flag features four foundational BF alumni all playing together, and they seem to be legitimately psyched on getting the band back together, man. At this point, an amicable, super line up of Ginn + Flag seems unlikely…
Whether or not you care about Black Flag reuniting will depend on certain things, like your age, your feeling towards 80′s hardcore, and your willingness to accept these aging rockers as they are now and not as they were in their prime. Whatever your allegiance, Ginn and Reyes are playing Vancouver in July and that’s for sure going to be a great show. Regardless of the cross-band drama, I highly, highly recommend that you commit a full hour of your life to the little seen Super 8 document of Black Flag’s final 1986 tour, a film by Dave Markey entitled Reality 86′d.
It’s Black Flag on their final legs. The hair is long, the jam’s are long, everyone’s really burnt out, and no film better shows the inanity and pathos of being in a band on tour. Enjoy!
by Daniel Colussi | Angel Olsen has a commanding voice. Even through the crappy pinhole speakers of my Macbook Pro her voice comes across like a wave. The Chicago singer has done time in Will Oldham’s Babblers (a pick up group that covers Kevin Coyne and the Mekons at house shows/pajama parties) and she’s released some small run cassettes and 7″s. But it’s on her recent full length, Half Way Home, that Olsen really shines. The songs on this album possess a sincerity and directness that not all singers are capable of, much less without crossing into schmaltzy bathos. This music almost sounds beamed in from a previous age. The effect is transfixing, as if Olsen is playing a private set for you in your living room. That’s her over there on your couch, with a guitar and a bottle of wine, just telling it like it is. She’s is actually totally nonchalant in conversation, seemingly just happy to have a break from her day job of making sandwiches at a cafe counter. Her first Vancouver show – at the Media Club later this month – should be a good one. Readers, I give you Angel Olsen…
Tomorrow is the start of a pretty big tour for you. You’re touring up the West Coast, over to the UK, and then back to the East Coast. Have you toured a lot? For my own music, not really. I went on an East Coast tour in November and then I went to the Netherlands in September when the album came out. I’m trying to plan more tours on my own, for my own music. But for the last few years I’ve toured a lot with Will Oldham, which is a totally different experience.
Back in Chicago what are the cool spots you like to play? My friends own a cafe in Chicago and I’ll play there, just solo sets or whatever. I like the smaller bars. I think they have way more charm. There’s a place called The Burlington in Chicago that’s been around forever and they just opened up a back room that’s awesome. It’s really mellow. There’s another place called The Hideout that’s really cool. But yeah, I like playing in bars, which is a bit weird because you’d think that someone who plays solo a lot would like intimate situations. But I think that bars can be intimate. You go see someone play and you buy a drink. I’m not turned off by it.
I’ve been listening to Half Way Home and it’s really nice. You have a really strong voice. Something that I appreciate in particular is that your voice is pretty much unadorned. So much music today masks the singing in dollops of reverb and delay. My first album was super lo-fi and not really well done, and going from that to working really hard on making things sound good has been a really good step for me (laughs). But I prefer playing live. It’s just more…I feel like I’m having fun, too, and I’m not just giving my record to people and saying, “See ya!”
So it’s a little more immediately satisfying? Yeah, totally.
When did you start singing? I dunno. I’ve pretty much being doing it since I was a little kid. But trying to seriously write songs, I didn’t start that until I was 15 or 16. I think I’ve always wanted to be a performer, definitely.
Your singing is really strong and it’s got a really classic quality, almost like someone from the 50s or 60s… I think I draw from a lot of different singers. I really like Spanish music. I really love Amalia Rodrigues. There’s just something about it that really moves me. And I also like The Miracles and The Everly Brothers. I like a lot of old music and I know my music has a kind of nostalgia to it and I don’t really mind that it does because I don’t think I’m writing in the same way that they would’ve written back then.
What was the first cassette or cd you bought when you were a kid? I think it was a Mariah Carey CD or maybe Boyz II Men (laughs).
How does it feel to have your music get this much attention? Interviews, kind words from The New York Times, etc. Is it unexpected? It kind of feels weird. It’s kind of unexpected. We were talking earlier about how Half Way Home is really kind of dry and you can hear my voice, versus my first album which was drenched in reverb, a rainshower of reverb. I wasn’t sure if everyone was ready to hear something so dry because everyone likes that comfortable distance, you know? I don’t really want to listen to what someone is singing about. I’d rather listen to this zoned out music. And I was just kind of like, well I don’t know if people are going to like this at all but we’ll see. I mean, I played a show in Los Angeles last January and I didn’t expect anyone to be there. And it was full of people and I thought, “Who are these people? I have no idea why they’re here!” It’s a strange experience, but not a bad one. Before I was just over here making sandwiches, living my life. It’s surprising but it’s good.
So it gets you away from the sandwich counter for a little bit. Yeah, I can stop making sandwiches for a minute!
Angel Olsen plays the Media Club on Sunday, Apr. 21st. Tickets at Zulu, Red Cat and the venue.