by Grady Mitchell | Vancouver trio Girlfriends And Boyfriends have released a new, long-awaited single called A Flower. It’s a dark and plaintive track that embodies modern New Wave, complete with splashy drums, reverbed guitar, and grim, sonorous vocals.
Although they’ve developed that signature New Wave style, the band began very differently. When guitarist Pete Panovic founded it, everything was straight Brit Pop. “All the songs ended up sounding like Oasis,” he says. Bassist Grant Minor joined in 2007 in response to a Craigslist ad, and most recently Adam Fink joined after the original drummer left the band. With the lineup now solidified, they’ve dived headlong into New Wave and post punk.
They’re not the first band to revitalize a past genre, although they’re among the best to do so. Bands like The Smiths and The Cure played on the radio when they were kids, and now, decades later, they’re emulating the New Wave heroes that shaped their early tastes in music. It’s not the first time New Wave in particular has boomeranged back around, the band says, citing the slew of covers done by nu metal bands in the late 90s.
So why won’t New Wave just quit? Simple, the band says: it’s just great music. They also consider the New Wave era the golden age of producing. It hit the perfect balance point when technology allowed for a cleaner sound without completely erasing the human element, before songs were programmed to a beat and polished to death. “There was still a realness to production in that kind of music,” Grant says. To recreate that realness they linked with Vancouver producer Felix Fung, who specializes in just that.
Felix, the band’s “fourth member,” was critical to the darkness and longing of A Flower. “It’s a personal song,” Grant says, “it’s about a failed relationship. Nine out of the ten songs on our record are about failed relationships.” So what’s the tenth about? The band starts to laugh. “Social media!”
The new record is finished, though we most likely won’t hear it until early 2015. In the meantime, however, they say we can expect another single soon. To support Girlfriends And Boyfriends and explore their sound, visit their Bandcamp.
by Grady Mitchell | Vancouver quartet Frankie, comprised of singer/guitarist Francesca Carbonneau, keyboardist Nashlyn Lloyd, bassist Samantha Lankester, and drummer Zoe Fuhr, have pioneered their own new genre based on their distinctive style of dark, folky music. They’re calling it “twinkle rock”.
That’s not to say everything in the Frankie universe sparkles. The delicate beauty of Francesca’s voice and the intricately woven instruments masks the dark core of their music. “It’s kind of like when a dream interferes with a nightmare, and all of that happens in one song,” says Zoe. The collision between those two extremes – the immense possibility of dreams with the nocturnal tortures of nightmares – is where twinkle rock happens.
In various ways, almost every Frankie song embodies this. Powder, despite its light and airy instrumentation, lays out an emotional spiral and some none-too-healthy methods of coping. The frantic pace of Someone Once mimics the story of mental decay it spins, just as the steady, forbidding rhythm of Painted Birds amplifies a tale of romance gone dark.
Formed in December 2013, the band has faced most of the challenges arrayed against a new act, compounded by the stereotypes facing an all-girl group. “You have something to prove,” the band agrees. Most common is the genuine, post-performance surprise that audience members show at their live shows. But those kinds of reactions just motivate them to work harder. “We can’t just be cute up there,” says Nashlyn. “We have to be good.”
The momentum they’ve built over only six months is a testament to that, and shows no signs of slowing. On Saturday, July 26th the band will play a show at Sitka on West 4th. They have two festivals scheduled later in the summer: Edge of the World on Haida Gwaii on August 9th, and another at Ponderosa Festival at the end of that month. After that, they plan to hole up for the Fall and get an album done. For more from Frankie, check out their website.
by Grady Mitchell | On August 2nd at The Electric Owl, Vancouver quartet Shimmering Stars will offer a sneak peek of their second album, Bedrooms of the Nation, coming out August 13. Compared to their first record, Violent Hearts, Bedrooms is a vast, howling sound. Guitars are stacked atop each other – sometimes fifty tracks on a single song, says guitarist and singer Rory McClure – to build a swirling hurricane noise. This change of direction throws back to the band’s early days. Before it was an album, Bedrooms of the Nation was the group’s original name, back when they played louder, brasher punk.
The Stars are fascinated by the music of the fifties and sixties, particularly the gap between what the artists sang and how they lived their lives. Acts like The Beach Boys spun some wonderful harmonies, but their lives were anything but. “The parameters around pop music at that time were very limiting,” Rory says. “You couldn’t say what you actually felt or were experiencing if it didn’t conform to pretty traditional themes. So I was always curious: what would they write if they were actually free to write about what they wanted?”
Probably something a lot like a Shimmering Stars song. The sock hop influence shows up in the blended harmonies and bouncy melodies that appear in even the most shadowy tracks, a sort of through-line piercing the noise. Even when a song like Shadow Visions launches into a thunderous third act, it’s guided by a jaunty guitar line and a ghostly bah-bah-bah backup vocal. Much like the night sky, there are speckles of light among the dark (if you’ll forgive a guy a True Detective reference). Mixing pop techniques with experimental elements is nothing new, they say. They point out guys like Frank Black and Kurt Cobain who built experimental sounds around a core pop sensibility. “I think no matter how dark or noisy the music gets,” drummer Andrew Dergousoff says, “Rory’s got a secret, guilty pop affiliation.”
“You can indulge the fringe styles,” Rory adds, “but it’s got to have a melody.”
Lyrically, things are as dark as they were on Hearts, but the songs take an angle more philosophical than personal: “Things that expand beyond my own, sad-bastard experiences,” Rory says. The mood lightens as the album progresses, culminating in the cathartic closer I Found Love.
The addition of bassist Elisha Rembold allowed Brent Sasaki to switch to guitar (his playing style, according to his bandmates, “has been described as ‘nervous piano.’”) Not only did that free them to write chunkier songs, but markedly improved their live performances, too, the band agrees.
That’s something you can decide for yourself on August 2nd. Until then, you can hear a few tracks off Bedrooms of the Nation here.
by Grady Mitchell | On Thursday, June 19th, The Shilohs will be celebrating the release of their latest, self-titled album with a show at Fortune Soundclub. The jaunty, jangly twelve-track record – a time-capsule throwback to 60s and 70s pop – combines the work of three talented songwriters – guitarist Johnny Payne, bassist Dan Colussi (who founded Scout’s Soundtracking column), and guitarist Mike Komaszcuk – alongside drummer Ben Frey.
It’s rare to find a band with songs that sound so wildly different and yet all, somehow, perfectly their own. The guys lean on no tropes, and you’ll never experience deja vu with a moment you swore you heard just a couple songs back. That diversity comes from the triple-threat of lyricists and their variety of styles. Johnny’s songs are typically more personal stories, he says, while Mike’s are more philosophical, and Dan’s fall somewhere in between.
The lyrics are written solo, but a Shilohs song doesn’t become a Shilohs song until it’s brought to the studio and everyone puts their mark on it. Even then, each track has a final, even more rigorous test: touring. Back home some songs may get canned altogether while others get overhauled, but only after surviving the gauntlet of live shows will they make the album. For this record the band wrote almost 20 songs before narrowing the count to twelve.
Thursday’s release party will also feature a performance by COOL and a set by Big Tiny. In July, the boys embark on a tour across the US with The Fresh & Onlys. For more information, visit their site.
by Grady Mitchell | Greg Bevis believes that pop music can and should challenge listeners. Decades ago, artists like Elton John and Fleetwood Mac were able to make hugely successful pop music that also had substance. These days, besides a few exceptions, that’s clearly not the case.
When Greg says pop music can be challenging, he doesn’t mean in an esoteric or bizarre sense. He simply believes a pop song can have more going on that a catchy hook (which abound on Holy Oker tracks). That idea took shape during his time at Toronto’s Humber College, where he studied jazz. Humber, which offers students access to a studio, is also where he began writing and recording Holy Oker songs.
Greg thinks certain records demand repeated listenings. “My favourite records I didn’t love until the third time I heard them,” he says, citing Jeff Buckley’s Grace as example. When you spend time with a song, Greg says, it’ll reward you with quirks and secrets. He pulls up Otis Redding’s Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay for me and points out a one-time piano lick that starts at 2:08 and ends three seconds later. Tiny moments like that can make an entire record for him.
The depth in Holy Oker songs comes from the dichotomy between the upbeat instrumentation and the forlorn lyrics. Greg describes them as “dark but hopeful.” He pictures a song as a house that a listener moves through; some rooms are close and dark, others are open and bright. “If it’s too sad, nobody’s going to listen to it,” he says. “But if you disguise it with a pop melody, it’s sneaky. I like that.” It asks more of the listener, but the rewards are greater, too.
In between scoring films and recording a second album for his other band, Bear Mountain, Greg will release a Holy Oker single in September on Boompa Records. To learn more about Holy Oker, visit his website.
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 | I like to consider the four lads of B-Lines to be my personal professors of punk rock. Through many conversations across the Zulu Records counter I was tutored in the historiography of K.B.D. comps, introduced to the rarest of Vancouver punk 7″s, educated in the intricacies of Italian bootcore versus Swedish ragna-stomp, and so much more. Upon hearing of the B-Lines’ show with weirdo punker No Bunny (have you seen him play town? He performs wearing a demented/deformed bunny mask and not much else, and it’s great) it seemed a no brainer to have these guys share some of their favourite tunes as of late. What they’ve offered us below is a nice mix of the completely obscure (to me at least) along with some Stones-cold classics…
Angry Samoans – Lights Out
“We steal all of our ideas from this band.”
“Bored teenagers make the best music.”
Mekons – Where Were You
“A perfect song written by some dudes who probably didn’t know 2 chords a year before.”
The Rolling Stones – Citadel
“Do you remember a few years ago when garage 7″ers would sell for obscene amounts of money? Jay Reatard records would go for like $50. Not a solid long-term investment. Red Cat turned down all that crap. I did however trade in a bunch of bad 90s pop-punk 7″ers for this Rolling Stones record. Thanks to the Muffs for standing the test of time!”
Rhino 39 – Hurry Up and Wait
“Rhino 39 are lost classics of LA punk. Scotty plays them to death in the van on tour!”
The Mansons – I Died Four Times
“An Australian KBD rarity that Scotty has and loves.”
Gang of Four – I Found That Essence Rare
“This sounds like a party song.”
Psychic TV – The Orchids
“Bruce and his wife Marya wanted this song to play when they got married, but they forgot to get a quality mp3 of it. Someone played a low quality youtube video instead, probably this very one. It didn’t really have the intended effect. Next time.”
Sroeng Santi – Baa Baa Buam Buam
“Bruce is in school right now. He can’t listen to songs in English while he reads, so he’s been listening to this instead.”
Should you find yourself toe-tapping to these songs, consider heading down to the Electric Owl tonight (November 19th) to see our favourite sons play with the aforementioned No Bunny, Audacity, and Hunters. Tickets can be found at Zulu and Red Cat, and also at the venue.
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.
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.