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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Tell Us How You Really Feel

It's hardly news in Burlington that the Vacant Lots are blowin' up. The garage-psych duo have had quite a run of late, touring the country with the likes of Spectrum, dropping by showcases such as SXSW and the Austin Psych Festival, and signing to hip indie label Indian Summer. For TVL, it has been a very good year indeed.

But it seems in the midst of his wandering, TVL founder and front man Jared Artaud may be souring on the scene in which his band cut its teeth. In a recent interview with music website Rock Edition, Artaud offers some provocative words on the Queen City and its music scene. Here's an excerpt:

Rock Edition: What’s the music scene like in Burlington, VT?

Jared Artaud Jared Artaud: It’s a small city with a big scene: a lot going on, but not a lot happening. In the 4 years I have been in Burlington, I have always tried to get the most out of this city, but I am continually disappointed. There is a lot of activity locally, but not a whole lot that is drawing me out to experience it. There is a lot of mediocrity in Burlington. I think there is a great amount of comfortability and conformity here that I don’t correspond with. Honestly, I feel pretty detached with the scene here. [There are] not a lot of people making music that I like seeing live either. I spent my first year here going to everything, every show, every night. It took me a year to find a drummer to play with!

It’s equally difficult to invite other bands to come and play here, with a low attendance rate and excitement surrounding live shows. I think the greater disappointment with the Burlington music scene is this unspoken notion of, “Well, they’re playing this Friday night, but I’ll catch them next time they play.” How does a local musician make a living with that kind of attitude? That really doesn’t work for me. There are also only a few cool venues to play. Consequently, the scene gets old pretty quick, if you know what I mean. It’s a city that has great potential but continually disappoints, because there is so little really happening here, [and so few] bands that are really saying something. Do you know what I mean? That’s the kinda sad truth of the small city.

We play so few shows here, mostly just incorporating the shows into our future tours and not doing a lot of one-offs. Maybe one to two shows a year, tops. The funny thing, too, is people are always asking, “When are you playing here next?” You tell them you are playing next week and they don’t show up! So why bother at all? I’d [prefer to] just concentrate on writing, recording and developing my ideas, rather than worry too much about when or if we should play here soon. There is also a continual trend with bands leaving Burlington for bigger cities. We’ll see what happens.

Curious sentiment from a guy who said this in a 2009 interview with Seven Days:

The Vacant Lots circa 2009 “There’s just something about Burlington,” he says. “I really believe that a revolution is necessary and that we need to redefine our values and explore new roads. I believe that art can pave that road. And I really believe that is happening here.”

Artaud points to the wealth of artists and musicians, new and old, currently combating what he calls “the decay around us.” When asked to be more specific, his eyes light up. “There are some really great bands doing things here that weren’t happening a year, two years ago,” he says. “There’s a revitalization of spirit. Rough Francis, Blowtorch, Nose Bleed Island . . . these are all people who are expressing in this new light for our generation.”

In his RE interview, Artaud didn't air any grievances we haven't heard before. Disillusioned local musicians have been grumbling about the perceived limitations of the Burlington scene for decades — often blaming fans, as if a packed house is a birthright in BTV. We're not Brooklyn or Austin or Portland. And, for better or worse, we probably never will be. Still, Artaud's apparent change of heart is interesting. Maybe the scene really has diminished in the last two years — at the least, it is always in flux, and ebbs and flows constantly. Maybe for Artaud, Burlington has simply lost its lustre. It happens. Or maybe tasting the riches of higher profile scenes has just made ours seem provincial and plain by comparison. Or maybe Artaud is dead on and Burlington needs a kick its artistic ass. Still, one can't help but wonder how TVL would have fared without the support from bands such as Rough Francis and Blowtorch, and the Burlington scene at large that embraced them in their early days and helped put them on the map. Whether he's right or wrong, as TVL continues its ascent, here's hoping Artaud remembers that.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rejected Headlines: Philip Glass

Writing snappy headlines is hard work. No, really. It is. Choosing a handful of words that both grab the reader's attention and impart some clue to what a story is about can be an exercise in madness. And especially in a pun-friendly environment like 7D, there is a fine line between clever and precious.

This week's edition features a story I wrote about composer Philip Glass, an enigmatic and intimidating figure if ever there was one. Given his stature, his body of work and the general direction and tone of our interview, deciding upon a headline that worked was especially challenging. There was a lot of brainstorming involved. And a lot of bad ideas. What follows are some of the best — by which I of course mean the worst. Feel free to add your own in the comments. 

- "The Imaginarium of Dr. Glass"

- "Art of Glass"

- "Breaking Glass"

- "Blowing Glass"

- "Wait … Philip Glass Scored Candyman 2?"

- "Shards of Glass"

- "A Brief Interview with Philip-fucking-Glass"

- "Minimalism: High Art, or Intellectual Masturbation?" 

- "The Glass Menagerie"

- "Minimalism: … "

- "Philip Glass: the Polka Years"



Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Tasty Leftovers: Arthur Brooks

Once again, ace freelancer Matt Bushlow checks in with some spare parts from his story on trumpeter Arthur Brooks appearing in today's paper. These "Tasty Leftovers" are part of a continuing series Bushlow is writing for his own blog, in which he shares some extra bits and pieces from his various freelance projects, including for VPR and, of course, Seven Days. This is his second such post for 7D, and his third in the series overall. Take it away, Matt. [Ed-DB]


Arthur Brooks About two weeks ago, I interviewed trumpeter and composer Arthur Brooks for a profile that ran in today's issue of Seven Days. Brooks studied music at Antioch College in the late 1960s and later worked with two pioneers of what was called the New Music, or free jazz, movement: pianist Cecil Taylor and trumpeter Bill Dixon. It was Dixon who brought Brooks to Bennington College in Vermont, where he taught for nearly 25 years before retiring in 1997.

Our conversation spread out over decades - from the October Revolution in late-'60s New York to Dixon's death earlier this year.

As these things often go, I couldn't include everything in my profile of Brooks. Luckily, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I can include a few of my favorite excerpts below. Enjoy.

On music as an art form:

"There are basic questions that I feel have to be addressed if you’re trying to do music as an art - as an art form. And that is basically, what is music? Where does it come from? And that’s personal. For me, that’s a personal pursuit. There are spiritual and philosophical aspects of it, and that to me is what the finest music manifests - those deeper areas. It doesn’t matter what form. It can be classical, it can be country, it can be folk. If the person doing it has a certain amount of integrity and you can hear that soul element, that’s what does it for me. I’ll listen to heavy metal if those people are tapping onto that basic core...."

Explaining why he describes his music as "country" music:

"Go down to the lake. Look at the water. And listen to it. Listen to what you see. God, up here in Vermont you’ve got these mountains that have their own shapes and rhythms, and along with the rest of everything else going on.... One of the exercises I used to give my students was for five minutes a day, no matter where you are, stop, focus all of your attention here [points to ears] in what you hear, and let it extend your hearing as far as you can. And let it absorb it, be aware of it. Go to the woods, go to the lake. "

On his mentor Bill Dixon's involvement in the October Revolution, a protest of clubs by free jazz or "New Musicians":

"Bill was also the architect of what was called The October Revolution.... Its design was to boycott all the clubs and festivals to get a better deal for the New Musicians. [John Coltrane] was a part of it, Cecil [Taylor] was a part of it.... Again, the model had already been set by the post-Modernist painters in New York. When they - Rothko, Kenneth Noland, [Robert] Rauschenberg - couldn’t get their work into regular galleries. They said, “Okay, we’ll pull our stuff out and we’ll make our own galleries.” And they kicked ass. [Laughs] They made it happen. Of course, they had some very wealthy patrons, too. We never really got that.

On playing with Cecil Taylor:

"I was kind of intimidated with playing with Cecil’s Unit, because the music is so high, so technically demanding in a certain kind of way, at least the rehearsals were, but when we got on the gig, it was [makes a “takeoff” sound and motion with his hand] pew! Cecil’s sets last for an hour, two hours, and I said, “I don’t know if I have the chops for this.” And it would be this whole universe of sound open up, and you’d be there watching yourself play and the horn is playing itself, and Cecil’s just in front of you, behind you, on your side, above you [makes more sound effects, like Cecil is zipping around him while he’s playing], just urging you on.... And we’d finish and you’d think, wow, you’ve been playing maybe 10, 15 minutes - maybe 30 - [but it was] two hours. And you finish and you can’t say anything because you’re so high. It’s amazing. And every single time I’ve played with Cecil, it’s been that way. ... And that’s what I aim for. That’s what I want, is to reach that state where the music is just revealing itself. To me, at its best, that’s what you do: You become the instrument. You put yourself in position where you become the instrument."

On where he believes the music comes from:

"I probably come from a Sufi concept of what sound is: That sound is one of the elements of the soul, that it’s the connection between heartbeat and the soul; that music is a very other-dimensional manifestation of being. I think that’s why it moves us so much, because it transcends us. If one can believe that - even if one doesn’t believe that the heart is propelled by something other than massive chemical reactions - that the heart is connected to this stream of energy that exists, that stream of energy, to me, is music. That’s why I love nature so much, because that’s a more authentic stream of energy, a less man-made stream of energy."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Easy Being Green

Aaaand we're back! For at least a day or two. Then we're going away again for a few days because I'm moving … But then we'll be back again! And better than ever. As far as you know.

Anyhoo … this is relatively apropos of nothing, but in chatting with Bucket Hingley from the Toasters for a Q&A running in tomorrow's paper (to preview tomorrow's Metronome show!), I asked him if there were any younger up and coming ska bands that had caught his ears of late. I've been in a nostalgic kinda mood recently, particularly when it comes to my checkered first love, ska. Buck mentioned a few bands that were new to me, which you can read about tomorrow. After checking out the handful he suggested, one in particular stuck out to me, Indiana's Green Room Rockers. Check 'em out below. (And yeah, I know. Dude's a little pitchy. But it's still a cool tune, methinks.)


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Tao of Tao, Part 2

And without further ado, part two of my two-part conversation with Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, this time around focusing on art, philosophy and the curious importance of Nirvana. Check out part one here.


TaoSeegerBand SEVEN DAYS: You said that you're hesitant to call yourself an artist. Why is that?

TAO RODRIGUEZ-SEEGER: Well, because what we do is kinda commercial. And I guess I feel like art and commerciality don't mix too well. I'm sure there is an inevitable co-existing that they have to do. Otherwise, how can we continue to do it? But it always makes me a little uncomfortable when people call us "artists." "Commercial creators," I prefer. Of course it's not as graceful.

7D: [Laughing] No, that's a bit of a mouthful.

TRS: People like to call us artists, and I guess that's OK. I just don't feel very comfortable calling myself an artist. There is artistry in it, for sure. But there is also artistry in motherhood. And cooking. And yoga. But would people call a mother an artist? Doubtful. But they should. The great mothers of our time have created the artists. So why aren't they the artists? It's a semantic quibble and I don't argue it with people when it comes up. But I do think about it. "Is this really art?" "Is Michael Jackson truly an artist?" Or was he?

7D: I actually think he was.

TRS: So do I. I would have to say Michael Jackson actually was an artist. He brought commercial pop music to a really artistic level, at times. Not always. But when he did that first moonwalk on MTV, that was pretty rad, right?

7D: Sure, but was that art? He also forever revolutionized the way music videos were done and what they could be. I'd say that was pretty artful.

TRS: Yeah. And I would say Madonna was even more of artist than Michael Jackson, because she pushed people's assumptions about women, sexuality. I guess that's what it is. Art should make you think, and it should make you a little uncomfortable. Not really uncomfortable, maybe. But a little bit. Because without that level of discomfort, it's harder to get the brain pushing in a new direction than it normally would. People are lazy and they don't want to make leaps of faith. Sometimes it takes someone thinking outside the box and doing something a little weird to make people go, "Oh wow. I never thought of that. It makes me feel uncomfortable. But I think I like it." So yeah there is an argument to be made for what we do as art, for sure. But I don't think it's safe to assume that all musicians are artists.

Continue reading "The Tao of Tao, Part 2" »

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Tao of Tao, Part 1

As mentioned in this week's upcoming Soundbites column, a Q&A I recently conducted with songwriter Tao Rodriguez-Seeger unfortunately wouldn't fit in the music section due to space limitations. However, in the wild and woolly expanse of the internet, no such constraints exist, meaning I can offer you the full, (mostly) unedited transcript of our conversation, rather than the heavily condensed and edited version that would have appeared in print.

In this case, that's actually a very good thing. Because as I found out, in the Seeger family the apple truly doesn't fall far from the tree. And Tao is every bit the engaging, witty, insightful and eloquent person you might expect the grandson of legendary American folk songwriter Pete Seeger to be.

So, in advance of the Tao Seeger Band's performance at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Friday, here is part one of my interview with Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. Part two will appear Wednesday.


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SEVEN DAYS: So, I hear through the grapevine that you play a Creston guitar.

TAO RODRIGUEZ-SEEGER: Fuck yeah, dude! Why wouldn't I? Those things are incredible.

7D: Agreed. How did you find out about Creston?

TRS: It's funny, I've never met him. We talked on the phone and I get his emails with all his new toys. But we've never actually met. I think we're actually gonna meet for the first time at this gig, because he said he's gonna come, which is gonna be awesome.

Anyway, he built a bass for Zack Hickman, who plays bass in Josh Ritter's band. And at the time, he was playing bass in my fiddler's solo project. And I admired the bass. And I said, "Where'd you get that thing?" [Chuckles] And he told me the story. So I called Creston and was like, "Hey, can you make me Bruce Springsteen's Telecaster?"

And he laughed and said, "Well, you know, it's not a Telecaster. It's an Esquire." Which I didn't know.

7D: Me either.

TRS: Anyway, he said he'd love the challenge and he built me this beautiful guitar out of Vermont butternut. It's my main guitar now. I used to be all about acoustic guitars and now I'm all about this electric guitar. I hardly ever play acoustic guitar anymore.

7D: That wasn't the guitar that cracked at the inauguration, was it?

TRS: No. The guitar that cracked at the inaugural was my longtime, sweetheart 12-string guitar made by a good friend of mine, Bruce Taylor, who's been making guitars for my grandfather for years. I had that guitar repaired actually, and I'm still playing it. I mean, Obama signed it. "This land is your land, Barack Obama." I kinda have to play it, don't I?

7D: I think you do.

TRS: I put it on the wall for about a year. And I was sort of, "What do I do with this guitar?" It's this heirloom now and I've never really been into heirlooms. I feel like people who buy Stradivarius and put them on the wall … that's sacrilege. They want to be played. So I had it repaired and actually just took it Colorado with me, which was more of an acoustic-y affair. But the band that's coming with me to Burlington, that will be a loud electric affair.

Continue reading "The Tao of Tao, Part 1" »

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Nocturnals Play on Rooftop!

What's crackin', Solid State? I trust you're all enjoying yet another edition of Jazz Fest.

Speaking of which, I caught two pretty killer shows over the weekend. I dig into both shows a little bit in tomorrow's column, but the Parker Shper-led yoUSAy Placate at Radio Bean on Friday with local sax colossus Bryan McNamara sitting in was absolutely scorching. If you've yet to catch them, I'd recommend it if only to witness the sheer awesomeness that is drummer Phil Melanson. Holy hell, that guy is good.

Saturday, I dropped by the alley at American Flatbread for an early evening set by Anna Pardenik and the Holy Smoke-Off, who might just be my current favorite local band. For the uninitiated, the group is kind of a pared down spin-off of the rambling Vermont Joy Parade that made the rounds at Bonnaroo last year. AP&HSO boast a similar vagabond aesthetic and mix vintage jazz tunes with Pardenik's own indie folk(ish) originals. Also, they have a musical saw. (BTW, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to see music at Flatbread. That alley is really cozy. And as a friend pointed out, the stage kinda looks like it belongs in a nativity scene. Nifty.)

Anyway, here's some random stuff for your Tuesday afternoon:

The big news of the day is of course that Grace Potter & the Nocturnals are playing a free show, not on a rooftop, but on the Church Street Marketplace at 5:30 p.m. to celebrate the release of their new self-titled album, which comes out today. Say what you will about GPN — and I have — but giving a free outdoor concert in your hometown is still a pretty swell thing to do for your fans.


Less swell is how Yeasayer's recent free show at Governor's Island in NYC went. Apparently, the unprecedented deluge of hipsters descending upon the ferry to the island evolved into the seventh circle of hell, leaving those who made it stranded on the island, and thousands who didn't stuck on the shore. On the plus side, it led to this hilarious blog post from Village Voice music ed Rob Harvilla, which chronicles the experience via random Twitter posts. 


There hasn't been much written about the eTown Radio Show at the Flynn MainStage tomorrow, which seems odd given that the lineup features Anaïs Mitchell, Allison Moorer and Steve friggin' Earle. In fact, I had a recent email exchange with a pretty savvy local musician who had no idea Earle was even coming to town. In part, I imagine that's because the show's organizers scheduled it smack in the middle of Jazz Fest, making it easy for local press to overlook. Also, I haven't been able to touch the show, press-wise, because my brother, Tyler, is in the house band. Something about conflict of interest. Whatever. I'm pretty sure Ty gets paid the same whether anyone shows up or not. And really, this is all just an opportunity for me to remind you that I interviewed Earle last year. Moving on …   


BTW, if there's time after the eTown show, I plan to stop by Manhattan Pizza to catch The Persian Claws, The Fatal Flaws, and these guys:

Jacuzzi Boys - Smells Dead from John McSwain on Vimeo.


Last but not least, here's a shameless plug for a 7D sponsored event, also on Wednesday: The Cooler at the Firehouse Plaza at 6 p.m. The cocktail party will feature music from Queen City indie band Villanelles, who will have just wrapped up their live recording session as part of Burlington City Arts' Jazz Lab project.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Roger, Wilco

When I interviewed J.C. Brooks of Chi-town's J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound for last week's issue, we chatted about a video the band had recently shot for their killer cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." For those of you not industrious enough to go seek it out for yourself, here's that vid, and a friendly reminder/nudge/kick in the pants that the band will be at the Monkey House tomorrow (Wednesday) night. Enjoy.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Live Like a Refugee

Sierra Leone's Refugee Allstars are in town this week, preparing for their upcoming US tour, which begins at Higher Ground on Wednesday. The band, touring behind a new album, Rise and Shine — their first for Charlotte label Cumbancha — will make a special appearance at UVM's Ira Allen Chapel on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. They'll be showing clips from the award-winning 2005 documentary film about the band (trailer below) as well as answering questions about their lives, their story and, of course, their music.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

For the (Pete) Best? The Deep Cut, Part 2

(Editor's Note: And now, the dramatic conclusion of my interview with ex-Nocturnal Bryan Dondero. -DB)

SD: Not to dredge up and "he said, she said" stuff, but I am curious as to how it all went down.
BD: To be fair to Grace, what happened between us is a personal thing;. But I also felt a sense of holding her accountable. And that's where I've been struggling. Because someone says something, you don't necessarily have the right to go spreading it around and throwing mud and trying to get vengeful. And that's not my style.

The one thing that bothered me, and I still don't know that I completely understand it . . . and these are her words, and the ones I feel justified in holding her accountable for, is that she said something along the lines of, "Bryan, you have so much integrity. You are integrity personified . . . and that scares the shit out of me. Because I feel like I might have lost mine." Those are pretty much her words exactly. And I was like, "What? What the hell does that mean?"

But for what it's worth . . . whatever. That's for her to think about. I think I understand what in essence she meant by that. There's one way just to take it at surface level. But there's another way to take it as someone who has known me for five years to say something like that . . .

I don't know that  she completely understood why she said it and what she meant by that. And I don't know that I completely understand some of those things that she was saying. But that's for her to decide.

SD: Do you feel you were forced out?
BD: It felt a little forced. There was pressure. Not pressure to quit, pressure to make a choice. Pressure to say, "This thing that you stood for is no longer going to be that. And I'm forcing you to choose whether or not you're willing to accept what this is going to become."

Continue reading "For the (Pete) Best? The Deep Cut, Part 2" »

For the (Pete) Best? The Deep Cut, Part 1

(Editor's Note: What follows is part one of the full transcript from an interview I recently conducted with ex-Nocturnals bassist — and occasional Solid State contributor — Bryan Dondero, concerning his recent decision to leave the band. Excerpts of the interview appeared in today's music section (3/25). Part two will appear on Solid State tomorrow. -DB)

SEVEN DAYS: So, what the hell happened?
BRYAN DONDERO: (Chuckling) It's hard to digest what happened. I think in some ways I saw it coming. In other ways I feel like I was completely blindsided.

SD: Then this wasn't an amicable split?
BD: Not necessarily. But when is a split ever amicable? Anybody who says they split amicably is full of shit. It's never easy. It's never, "Oh, this was was the best thing that could have happened!" Bullshit. I've been thinking about that word "severance" a lot lately. I like that word, to "sever." And that's kind of how it feels.

I felt like I was put in a position where I was basically being forced to make a choice. And that's what I wrote on my website. I don't know if you saw that quote. One thing I've learned is that it's better to make a choice and make the wrong choice than to not choose and face the consequences of not choosing. That's worse.

SD: Are you worried you might have made the wrong choice by quitting?
BD: I hate using that word too. It's not quitting. It's withdrawing. It's leaving.

I started taking Aikido recently, and I've realized that withdrawing is not quitting. You know what I mean? It's a different thing. Literally the last class I was taking we doing some bokken work, the wooden sword. And the instructor was showing this maneuver that he's . . . you'll have to pardon me. I'll have to show you visually. (Stands) He was standing, and as the person was attacking him with the sword, he's doing this. (Steps back with his right leg, turning his torso) So he's withdrawing. He's moving out of the way of the sword so that it sweeps here (motions across his midsection). And this hip (pointing to his left hip) is going forward. So he looks like he's withdrawing, but his front hip is moving this way (toward the attacker). It was cool. I mean, he's like a magic Jedi, so he can hold sword here (at his hip) and then he just let his hands go and his body was holding the sword into his opponent's body. So . . . that's kind of how I feel right now (laughing). I feel like I'm doing that kind of maneuver. I'm not running and ducking. I'm not coming at anybody with a big hammer to beat the shit out of them. I'm kind of just doing that, which is sort of how it feels right now.

Continue reading "For the (Pete) Best? The Deep Cut, Part 1" »

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Life of Death; A Q&A with Bobby Hackney Sr.

As promised in my column yesterday, here's the full transcript of my recent interview with Death — and, of course, Lambsbread — drummer Bobby Hackney Sr. I hate repeating myself, so if you need background info on why this is cool, just read the effing column already. But I'm sure you already have, right? Right.

Unfortunately, the Luddites at Drag City — the label that is re-issuing all of the Death recordings in February — have asked that I not post MP3s of the original material . . . even though the Freeps did yesterday. I guess the label thinks that actually hearing a few tunes before you can buy them is somehow a bad thing. How deliciously 2005! However, they didn't say anything about pointing you in the direction of where I found them. If anyone asks, you didn't get this stuff from me, OK? And when the album comes out in February, do everyone involved a solid and buy the damned thing. You won't regret it, I promise.
Anyway, I don't often demand that you go see shows. But if ever I were to insist upon mandatory attendance, it would be to see Bobby Hackney Jr.'s band Rough Francis playing Death this weekend. You have two shots, Friday at 242 Main and Saturday at The Monkey House. If the band is half as good as their old man and his brothers back in the day, it should be pretty epic. Plus, you can say you were there when Burlington out-hipstered Williamsburg with music created by three Detroit teenagers more than thirty years ago. Put that in your skinny jeans.

But that's enough from me. On to the interview!

DAN BOLLES: It's remarkable to me that this stuff has essentially been forgotten about for the last thirty-plus years. What does it feel like to have your son revisit music you made before he was born?
BOBBY HACKNEY SR.: It just kind of blew our minds. We had really thought that this was something that was just a slice of our lives, that it was that time, you know? . . . It was just something, that chapter, that we thought was over when we left Detroit.

My brother, David, he was the leader of Death. He always held this resounding faith that the world would someday here this music. We all believed at that time that we were playing some really pretty good rock and roll. But we weren't trying to "predate" anybody or be the first first to do anything. We just wanted to be a good Detroit rock band. That's all we were thinking about. So for this to come out and for [people] to find about about it . . . I mean, we were sort of in the world of reggae and blues, that type of music. So  we weren't really in touch too much with what was going on in the underground rock scene. So fo our kids to dig this up . . . I get a call from California one day and it's like, "Dad, do you realize they're playing your old music at undergroup parties?" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" It all hit us by surprise.

DB: You've mentioned being influenced early on by R&B and reggae, so I'm curious about when or, rather, how the rock influence entered into the equation.
BH: Well, this was before the reggae influence. But living in Motown . . . you can't live in Detroit and not be into R&B and the Motown music. We started out in 1971 as a funk band. We did a little  bit of backing up for some soul singers in Detroit, but we all . . . well, rock just kind of exploded on us. And we started just going to a lot of concerts. Iggy and The Stooges, MC5, Bob Seeger, Grand Funk Railroad. And we'd see some of the bigger acts that would come into town like Zeppelin and The Who. Being in Detroit at the time, you just had a feast of any kind of music that you wanted to get into. And we just got into the rock and roll. And David just didn't look back.Death_tammyhackney

DB: I stumbled across some MP3s of the original 45s on the web, so I've actually heard a couple of the original tracks. To the casual listener, they really sound like they could have been recorded in Williamsburg earlier this year. But they predate the retro indie-punk thing by a good thirty years.
BH: Yeah. That's what we were told. But we didn't know!

DB: So what was it specifically about that rock influence that led you to make music that, in retrospect — and without hyperbole — really seems to have been ahead of its time?

BH: It was kind of a three-part element. David was the main catalyst. Being a guitar player in the early Seventies, how could you not be influenced by Jimi Hendrix? But we liked the power trios. There was something about Grand Funk Railroad, who lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There was something about The MC5. There was something about Iggy and The Stooges — even though Iggy was fronting the group, he still had a power trio backing him up. I think that's really where the rock influence came from. There was a lot of crossover in Detroit, you know?

And I think that's what it was really all about. We were just really into rock and roll. We liked the clothes, we liked the hairstyles, the music, what the music was saying. And this was a period of massive protest and consciousness. So I think we just really tuned into that to, you know? I mean, being in Detroit, having seen the '67 riot and all that. And rock music was a huge part of all that. So it wasn't really hard to be influenced by rock and roll.

DB: How did Bobby Jr. come across the old recordings?
BH: It's funny. We had been trying to tell him . . . when Bobby was born we had changed the name from Death to The Fourth Movement and were doing this Gospel-rock thing. And he was too young to really remember that. He really more remembers the reggae thing [Lambsbread]. When David went back to Detroit he left me and Dannis here just being a bassist and a drummer. And we were kind of doing some exploring into either keeping the rock thing going or doing some other things. And our involvement with the University of vermont — we were woking and going to school part time. So during our involvement there, I ended up being a DJ for a little while at WRUV. There was a whole crew of people from that time who went on to do some great things in the community. In particular my friend Jay Strauser who was doing Trenchtown Rock and bringing people like Peter Tosh and Bob Marley inbto town. And that's where a lot of our reggae influence came from, jusrt meeting all these reggae stars and going to those shows. It didn't take a rocket scientist to do the math: This music loves the bass and drums, were a bassist and a drummer. People seem to love reggae, you know?

We were still dabbling into the rock. Because once it's in your blood . . . but we did go full tilt into reggae. But we thought that the Death thing  was just something we'd sit and talk of fondly. But we never thought there would be a big interest in what we were doing. We got sparse airplay in Detroit and there were circles of people who knew about what were doing. And we did a lot of garage show. But we just thought it was a chapter that was over. We'll just go on.

So Bobby, he grew up seeing more of the reggae. But we used to tell him, "You know we were in a rock band," when he  started liking hardcore and punk rock. When he started learning how to play, he was playing with his friends and I used to tell him all the time, "You know, me and your uncle, we played rock way back in the day." And he was like, "Yeah, yeah Dad." But we never really sat down a had the whole gist of what Death was all about. We thought OK, we've moved on. It'll be something that everybody will  be fond of, like a family heirloom or something. Every once in a while we'll say, "Hey, look what we did. look what we used to do." And we can laugh at the clothes and the hairstyles.

My son Julian was in California and he calls me up and tells me that they're playing old Death records at these underground parties. So Bobby went on a couple of websites and dug up this whole thing about these collectors trading the records and one guy bought one for $800. And I was like, "Wait a minute. Are you sure you're talking about the right band here?" I almost fell out of my seat. And then to find out that we had predated a lot of the punk bands that were doing anything like that. That's something that really took us by storm. I mean, we were just trying to keep up with bands like The Who and Iggy and the Stooges and MC5. We weren't thinking about "hey this is a new thing called punk rock!" Nobody had even heard of punk rock then. If you had said "punk rock" to somebody back then, it would have been an insult! "What do you mean Punk? You calling me a punk?!" We didn't know what we were doing, except fot the fact that we just wanted to be a good Detroit rock band. 

So Bobby informed us about it. I can be thankful to my son, because I always tried to convince him to play more worldly-type music or reggae music. And they were adamant about playing hardcore. But it was probably just in his blood. And I put it there and didn't even know it! I just didn't know what I did, you know?

DB: So have you heard Rough Francis yet?
BH: I haven't. I'm going to hear it for the first time tomorrow night. I know that they've been practicing. And they've been telling me, "Dad, I hope that we do the songs justice." And I'm like, "I'm just surprised that you're doing them." So I'm just looking forward to it like everybody else is, just to see it.

One last thing is that I want to be sure that people realize that none of this would have happened without David. He was our mentor. Not only getting into rock and roll, but to getting into music. And it goes way back.

My dad sat us down in front of the TV and made us watch the beatles the night they came on "The Ed Sullivan Show." He told us then, "I want to you boys to watch this, this is history in the making. America is never going to forget this." And he literally made us sit in front of the TV and watch it. The very next day, David went out into the alley and found an old guitar that somebody had thrown away and he took some nylon or some thread or seomthing and made some strings for it. He was always the one that really influenced us to become a band and to play music. And throughout this whole thing, it's that his name is honored. It's really a testimony to his faith and to his dream that all of this is happening right now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fun with Interviewing

Hey, Solid State. How's it hangin'?

This evening I'm participating in a panel discussion at UVM put on by Alaina Janack from WRUV. The topic is "The Art of Interviewing" — or something along that line, anyway — and will feature some other pundit-types from various media sources. I'm typically not a huge fan of doing these types of things, especially at colleges. More often than not, you end up speaking to a room full of apathetic students who couldn't care less about who you are or anything you have to say. Or maybe I'm just a crappy public speaker . . . hmm. I guess there's a reason I make my living behind a keyboard. But I have high hopes for this one.

Interviewing has been one aspect of this job that has consistently scared the shit out of me. As such, it's a skill I've worked very hard at improving upon. But like any skill worth having, my interviewing prowess is a work in progress. So I'm really curious to see what other folks who regularly conduct interviews have to say about the subject, and also to field questions from kids just getting started. It should be pretty cool. And it's always good to have an opportunity to take a step back and speak objectively about what you do. It often helps to put things into perspective, at least for me.

On that note, this morning my editor sent me an interview with Village Voice music editor Rob Harvilla, conducted by Academy for Alternative Journalism fellow Ling Ma. The piece is part of an ongoing series published by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) called "How I Got the Story," which profiles writers who won first-place 2008 AltWeekly awards — our version of the Grammy, or at least the Juno. (Note: 7D writers Ken Picard and Suzanne Podheiser both won top prizes this year. This writer did not . . . sniff.) 

Harvilla has some provocative things to say about his approach to the job, and the distinct peculiarities of music criticism in general. Personally, I was shocked — and a little tickled — at how closely Harvilla's sentiments mirror my own. Check out the snippet below. And read the entire interview here. It's a good one.

LM: How have you seen your style of music criticism evolve over the years?

RH: Oh, I'd like to think I've improved. Honestly, it's pretty frivolous. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, but you know. 

LM: Something I've noticed in your reviews is that you do more than just evaluate how a band sounds; you also try to entertain the reader.
RH: I think that most people, like my parents, don't have much experience or interest in music criticism. For people like that, who just like music, they don't react so much to me saying, "It was fiery; it was energetic." They're not persuaded by adjectives. It's more engaging to them if you can describe the people, the atmosphere, and even the weather; if you can sort of set the scene. So I think it's more important to do that than straight criticism. 

LM: How do you describe sound?
RH: I think over time rock critics have come up with their own lexicon. There are words we use that no other person in any other profession uses. "Angular" is always a good one. Most of the time, what you do is just draw an outlandish analogy to some actual physical objects. It's a really strange form of creative writing, and it definitely lends itself to overwriting. It's a weird way to make a living.

No doubt, Rob. No doubt.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fear & Loathing In Milton: Full Transcript

Canadian-born songwriter Bruce Innes has had quite a career. He performed hit singles such as "Mr. Monday" and the famed Vietnam war protest song "One Tin Soldier" with his band The Original Caste in the late 1960s. He wrote and recorded with artists such as Ian Tyson, John Denver and Joni Mitchell. And those illustrious associations are but the tip of the iceberg. Innes' credits also include work with iconic oddball Ray Stevens ("You could never write a song too silly for Ray" he says); outlaw-country badass Waylon Jennings ("a quiet guy"); and legendary comedic actor Leslie Neilsen ("Kind of a hound. All he did was chase women"). And believe me, the list goes on.

Seven Days recently caught up with Innes by phone from Milton in advance of his upcoming Vermont performances, which feature a blend of music and stories from his remarkable career. We chatted about music, protest songs and, of course, his good friend Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote about Innes in his landmark novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

SEVEN DAYS: Did you ever imagine that the lyrics to "One Tin Soldier would be as relevant today as they were in the Vietnam era?
BRUCE INNES: Actually, Dan, what happened was, one of the guys, Brian Potter, who was from London England, a songwriter over there, had just got through reading Lord of the Rings. So he started out with those sort of storytelling lyrics. Really, we had no idea to start with that it was sort of an anti-war song. But when we released it, it was right in the middle of the war and it became sort of an anthem.

It was a mixed blessing in lots of ways, because the country was really divided. It's hard to imagine now, but t here was a huge contingent of people who thought it was anti-patriotic. It was not like it is today. I mean, it really caused a lot of trouble. Lots of radio stations banned it. You'd think you'd get lots of letters saying "Oh gee, what a nice song," or whatever. But we had lots of letters saying things like, "Why don't you go back to Canada, you son of a bitch?" That sort of thing. So it's sort of a mixed blessing in that respect.

SD: It's like a precursor to Fox News.
BI: Yeah. Exactly! And you know, we were just trying to sing and play. So it was interesting.

SD: Given that many of the people in charge of our current military conflicts are products of that generation, do you feel the lessons of the Vietnam era have been forgotten?
BI: I do, in lots of ways. Every time we read about another one of our young people being killed . . . we seem to be fighting in a place where we're not wanted. It kind of  reminds me of the Vietnam war in lots of ways. You wonder if maybe we're doing the same thing all over again. It's hard to know.

SD: It almost seems as though antiwar songs have become a sort of campy, nostalgic cliche. Do you still believe in the power of protest songs to affect change?
BI: I don't know if I have, actually. One thing I think it does do is to get people talking and thinking. I was thinking the other night about Crosby, Stills & Nash's song "Ohio," about Kent State . . . That got a lot of people thinking. And of course, at that time I was close friends with Hunter Thompson and he was very anti-war and very anti-establishment. I think those kinds of things got a lot of people talking.

I think protest songs get people talking. I don't know that they change a lot of people's minds. I don't know that I've ever changed anybody's mind, quite frankly. But I think they do get people talking and thinking. And that's a good thing.

SD: How did you come to know Hunter S. Thompson?
BI: Well, when I was in college, the only way I could pay for my education, was I played and sang in bars. I went to the University of Montana and I was playing in the Gun Room at the Finlen Hotel in Butte, Montana, one summer and Hunter came up to do a story on the mines for the Wall Street Journal. He was a stringer for the Journal, and he had just gotten out of the service. And so he was there fr a month and we quickly figured out that we were the only two sane people in the town of Butte . . . although it may have been the other way around.

We really had a wonderful time, a great lifelong friendship. And I ended up going to California with him. And that's how I met John Denver. He was the house singer at Snowmass while I was the house singer at Aspen. And Hunter really talked me into coming to Aspen. We were friends for a long, long time. All the stuff he wrote about me in Fear and Loathing was only 50 perc . . . 40, er, 30 percent true.

SD: I should hope so! Tell me something about Hunter that most people wouldn't know.
BI: He loved volleyball. He was a really good athlete. he always had a volleyball net up in the yard at Woody Creek, on Owl Farm. We played a lot of volleyball. He was a good athlete and I think as his health deteriorated in later years that really contributed to him being depressed and maybe ending up the way it did.

But he had a great sense of humor. Absolutely great. One time I was at home in Canada and he called at 4 a.m. and woke my mother and father up. He asked to speak to me and I went to the telephone and heard this huge explosion on the other end of the line. It was a gunshot. And Hunter yells, "I got the bastard!" And I said, "What do you mean? An intruder?" And he he said, "No, my typewriter. Nobody could write anything with a piece of shit like that."

I don't think my parents ever recovered from that.

SD: You've worked with an incredible number and maybe more interestingly and incredible variety of artists. Who were some of your unexpected favorites?
BI: Well I've been doing it a long time, so that kind of counts for something. But unexpected . . . maybe one was Ray Stevens. You could never write a song too silly for Ray. I just loved the guy. When he first recorded a bunch of my stuff, it really helped me. That was sort of an unusual thing, because I"m not much of a country guy.

With "One Tin Soldier" we had a little record label called TA Records. And the other artists on the record label were Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, so I worked wit Seals & Crofts quite a bit. And they were really unusual. Very talented. But quite a bit older than I was at the time and really, quite unusual. They wrote songs that, until they moved to Warner Brothers, that no one would really pay much attention to. It was a unique experience. Great musicians.

SD: You sang on "Rocky Mountain High"?
BI: Yeah. I sang backup on that album. John [Denver] took me to New York when he was recording it and, I don't know. He was really a fun guy. A guy that if you'd known him, you'd really miss him. Just one of those really, nice, really talented people.

SD: I bet. You mentioned that you could never write a song too sill for Ray Stevens. What about Leslie Neilsen?
BI: Ah yes. I had a variety show in Canada for a while and Leslie came up a and was a guest a couple of times because he  was a Canadian guy and was a bigger star up there than he was here at the time. This was before he'd done all of those ridiculous movies. He was really truly a funny guy too. But he was a hound, you know? All he did was chase women. It was amazing, because he was kind of an older guy and I kept thinking "Holy mackerel! It's a wonder nobody's shot this guy." You know? But he really turned out to be a big star.

SD: I'm a big baseball fan. So I thought it was interesting that you were involved with L.A. Dodgers great, Maury Wills.
BI: I was. I was working at a little bar in Spokane Washington and he lived there when he was a shortstop with the Dodgers. And he came in and heard me and said, "Gee whiz. I love to play and and sing. And I just broke Ty Cobb's base stealing record and people are asking me to come and make appearances and I don't know what to do." So I wrote him nine little baseball songs and gosh, we traveled all around the world. Mostly it consisted of him playing the banjo and both of us singing. And then he signed baseballs (laughs). He was a great guy. But don't ever get in a snowball fight with him. He'll take the top of your head off. Unbelievable arm.

SD: How did he take the Dodgers' loss in the playoffs this year?
BI: You know I haven't talked to him since. But I think he's probably not happy about it.

SD: I bet. It seems like you've hung out with two-thirds of my personal heroes. So I have to ask you about Waylon Jennings.
BI: I first met him in Lake Tahoe years ago. He had a folk group called Waylon Jennings and The Kimberleys. And he was actually a folk singer. And he was good, I'm not kidding you. The Kimberleys were like, three girls and they were good. Then he sort of got country after that. I really thought he wrote good songs. A really good singer. But his health was crappy for a long time. You know, he was a diabetic. And that's, you know . . .

I admired him a lot. He was a quiet guy. You'd think, you know when you read about he and Willie and Kris Kristofferson, you'd think he was this really crazy outgoing guy like Hunter. But he wasn't like that. He was more of an introspective type. A great talent. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lost Politics: Full Transcription

Tomorrow's edition of Seven Days features an interview with Thee Silver Mt. Zion co-founder Efrim Menuck. As so often happens, the confines of the print edition require that conversations such as this one be trimmed down to fit the physical limitations of the space. Thanks to the unceasing wonders of the Internet, no such constraints exist in the blogosphere. So you, loyal Solid State readers, get to check out the interview in its entirety. Enjoy.

PS- If you haven't bought tickets to this show yet, you really should. Like now.

Lost Politics

A Conversation with Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Efrim Menuck

Tick Tick Presents: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band with Oak and Greg Davis & Friends this Friday at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington, 8 p.m. $12/13/15. AA.


The members of Montreal’s Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band have passionate social and political beliefs, reflected by an equally passionate fan base — even though their music itself is rarely explicitly political. Seven Days recently spoke with SMZ co-founder Efrim Menuck about politics, misconceptions and a certain ad for the TV show “Lost,” in advance of their upcoming Burlington performance.

SD: TSMZ is often tabbed as a “political” band. But that seems to be a designation you bristle at.
EFRIM MENUCK: For the most part we get broadly cast as a political band or anarchists or openly idealistic. There are all sorts of generalizations made about us, and I think that’s what I bristle at. We don’t conceive of ourselves as activists or political. We just think of ourselves as formed, grown-up human beings who choose to write songs that sort of address the mess that the world is in. There aren’t any statements we’ve made that are contentious or anything. They all seem to be plainly held truths by most people. You know what I mean? I don’t know why people feel the need to characterize us as “political anarchists” or anything. But it’s really far from the truth.
    It’s frustrating too. There was a time — I mean, it seems like forever ago now — where, like a lot of people, we were sort of on the margins of the anti-globalization movement and going to protests and stuff like that. There’s a level of politicization that happens in that context that we were definitely a part of. There were references made in songs, specifically about those types of movements.
    It’s frustrating at points too because there are a lot of people [for whom] that whole milieu is alien to them. You’re trying to write songs that are kind of nuanced, but it’s kind of specific. It can be frustrating feeling like you have to give someone a sort of like “International Protest Movement for Beginners” spiel or something.

SD: Does that have anything to do with 13 Blues being the first album for which you’ve included lyrics with the liner notes?
Smzbymarkslutsky_4 EM: There are a lot of people who like our band for whom English is not their first language. So we mostly wanted to put the lyrics somewhere so people who didn’t speak English that well necessarily, would have a bit of a chance at understanding what was going on. So I posted a bunch of the lyrics just on the Internet for that purpose. And when this album cam out I just told [Constellation Records] “This time, there’s gonna be a lyric sheet.”

SD: You’re often pointed to as the “leader” of the band, but that’s not entirely true. It’s more of a collective process isn’t it?
EM: It is absolutely a collective process. We’ll start with a handful of riffs . . . there’s very few songs where I’ll come in with chords or lyrics ready, you know? There’s maybe three songs like that in the history of the band. But for the most part we’ll start with a handful of riffs until some sort of rough structure is there. Then we’ll start adding counter lines and melodies and things. Then, really late in the process, I’ll start writing words and sort of roughing them into the song. It takes us about a month of serious work to get a song together, because we’re all stubborn and have this strange writing process.

SD: And they’re all pretty epic songs. Like, ten-plus minutes.
EM: We’ve tried to write shorter songs. I guess it’s maybe not a strong point for us. We sort of need that much runway. We’re self-conscious about it, so we try to make it as concise as we can.

SD: Not to get political again, but have you been following the US presidential election?
EM: Yeah. yes I have. Mostly though because it’s ridiculous theater at this point. It’s like evidence of everything that’s wrong, not just with your political system, but with political systems of all the wealthy industrialized nations. It’s like watching a train wreck.
    There’s no truth there. The way it’s spoken about. The way arguments are contextualized and framed, it’s clear that it’s the cable news networks that are running the show. They have a vested interest in continuing specific narratives and they’ll just spin things however they want to.
    It’s frustrating, and I can imagine it’s even more frustrating for an American. Somewhere there’s some sort of policy discussion going on. But you’d be hard-pressed to find it.
    It’s sad too because it socializes politicians to this sort of dull grey fog. Obama got a free pass for a while because it was such a novelty that there was a charismatic dude running for office who spoke off the cuff a bit. It’s sort of like what happened with Dean too, although he wasn’t too charismatic. But [Obama] is like a totally different dude now. So I don’t know.
    At the same time, whoever gets elected President is going to be at the reins of a train wreck. I don’t envy that person.

SD: I promised a friend that I’d ask you about how “Tho You Are Gone I Still Often walk With You” came to be used on the ABC show “Lost.”
EM: Every year we get offers to license music for movies, television shows and advertisements and we say “no, no, no, no, no.”  We turn down like tens of thousands of dollars every year because it’s either a piece of a song that we really have an attachment to or that we know other people have an attachment to. Or what they want to license it for is something that we just find heinous or boring. And so this “Lost” thing came in and there’s some people in the band that watch that show. And also it’s a little ten-second chunk of a song that none of us feel any attachment to.
    We talk to people after shows; we’re an open band that way. And in all of the touring we’ve done, no one, no one, has ever brought up that song as something they’ve liked or was important to them. So it was really like a perfect storm of “OK, like, what the hell?”
    It’s been interesting because our engagement with the music industry has always been incredibly pragmatic. You know what I mean? We try not to fuck people over and we take every decision that we make very seriously and we don’t grab at the easy quick money ever. What it comes down to is that it was a perfect storm of mitigating factors. It was ultimately a pretty easy decision to make and a pretty easy decision to justify.
    The other thing is the ad screened for a total of one week. That was the deal. We got some e-mails at the beginning, before the ad even screened,  from outside fans who were obviously “Lost” fans because they were on ABC’s  website going through trailers. They were like “What are you doing?” And it’s like well, dude, you’re obviously way more into the show than any of us are. Those were sort of the only questioning e-mails we got about it. And then Pitchfork picked it up . . .
    So much of what gets written about us is that we’re hardcore anarchists and that we’re lecturesome. So you start with that and then we sell ten seconds of a song to a “Lost” ad and it’s like “Ha ha! Fucking sellouts.” And it’s this boring narrative.
    At the same time, we know that there are lots of people who are fans of what we do who expect us to maintain this hard line, sort of absolute negation of anything corporate. So for those people, we’ve had conversations after shows about this stuff. I mean . . . again, we’ve been pragmatic in our approach with the entertainment industry. And we’re also, first and foremost, working musicians and prideful of that.
If you actually want to get into what our political stance is, that’s the sloppy little plank in our platform. We’re prideful and take playing music seriously as a trade, like any other trade. We expect and we demand that musicians get treated with respect and don’t get exploited.
    It was a fairly easy decision to make and I don’t think it’ll happen again in the career of this band. If it weren’t for the fact that it was like a piece of music that we didn’t feel any attachment to and no fans seem to feel an attachment to, it never would have happened. And if it hadn’t been a program that some people in the band actually watch on televisions that don’t even have cable. So yeah, that’s the long story.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Homecoming — Full Length

Greetings Solid State!

Today's edition of the paper featured a portion of an interview I recently conducted with Gabby and Burette Doulgas of  The Cush. Due to space limitations, I was only able print about a third of the conversation. What follows is that interview, in its entirety. Enjoy!


There’s been a noticeable void in the Burlington music scene for the last six months or so as Gabrielle and Burette Douglas of psychedelic rock outfit The Cush retreated to the sunny climes of their home state of Texas for the winter. Long one of the area’s most revered acts, the return of these particular snowbirds is a welcome sight, particularly after yet another long, cold and eerily quiet Vermont winter.
    Seven Days recently caught up with the husband and wife duo at Muddy Waters Café in Burlington in advance of their homecoming gig this Thursday at Higher Ground.

SD: You guys were doing a lot of recording Texas, so when can we expect the new album?
BURETTE DOUGLAS: We don’t know. If we get set up here [Burlington] in time . . . it just depends on how much we get done. If we get enough done, it might be a full record. Or we might do an EP and the hold on to the rest.
    We have a residency tour next month; we’re doing every Tuesday at Pete’s Candy Store in New York City and every Wednesday at The Fire in Philadelphia. And we have some fill in dates in between.
    So we’re gonna do that next month and then back on the recording, concentrate on that and have something by the fall. We have about 30 minutes of music right now.

SD: What’s the lineup nowadays?
GABRIELLE DOUGLAS: Our friend Cody Lee is playing drums with us. He’s from Texas. He played in our old band for about seven years and went over to England with us. It’s been going great. It’s a three-piece so far.

BD: The band’s been morphing for the last few years it seems like. But it’s always like that.

SD: That must have quite an effect on your music.
BD: A little bit, you know. At first we were real worried about it. We used to be a five-piece. And then we were a four-piece with keyboards and stuff. The biggest thing was playing as a three-piece without the keyboard parts.
    The first time we did it, it was for people who had seen us like a million times and they were like “Oh man, the three-piece is my favorite.” So that was reassuring.

GB: Especially in Dallas-Ft. Worth, our friends there have been with us through so many different phases and they were like, “with the three-piece there’s nothing missing. It sounds just as full.”
    Any time you have more members and then break it down, it pushes you in a creative way to figure out how you can play the melody that might be missing.

BD: It puts the songs across in their most basic form. Which is good. You can definitely hear the singing better. We’re trying to concentrate a little bit more on creating sounds with harmonies.

SD: So are the recordings in that stripped-down kind of vein?
BD: A little bit. While we were there [Texas], we recorded drum tracks and they had a piano. So anything we wanted piano on . . . right now it’s kind of piano heavy.
    We have other songs that we’d never recorded with The Cush that we’re going to do up here. We’d like to record Steve [Hadeka] on some stuff because he’s never been on one of records and he was with us for a couple of years.
    I don’t think it’ll be “stripped-down.” I don’t know, there’ll probably be some stuff that’ll still be . . .

GD: It’ll still have all the ear candy.

BD: Right. You know how it is. The record’s one thing and the live show is a little different.

GD: The thing is that it’s happened naturally. Every time we get ready to record, we never have too much of a structured idea of “this is how it’s going to sound.” It just evolves.

BD: I thought the last record was going to be pretty random. There were some songs that I thought didn’t really fit in. But I got out-voted. But then in the end, they really do fit in.
    So right now, we’ve recorded all these ideas that we’ve had. And listening back, it’s kind of all over the place. But by the time we’re done, it’ll be pretty interesting.

SD: How does the scene in Dallas-Ft. Worth differ from Burlington?
GD: Well, one thing is that everything is really big there. We came from Dallas and there was definitely a big music scene there, at the time. But it’s real spread out.
    Here, you’ll walk down the street and you’ll be like “Oh, I saw that guy playing at the Radio Bean last night.” You kind of know who does what and it’s a small small enough place where you could go up to someone and say, “Hey, do you want come over and do some recording?” It’s really cool. There, not really so much. It’s more clique-ish.

BD: There’s not a community there, like there is here, the overall support. You have that in cliques and certain groups. But it’s such a big place, it’s hard for people to come together.
    It's pretty competitive out there. We went back to the places we used to play, like 10 years ago in Dallas. It was crazy. All the stages are really big there, so you have places about the size of Higher Ground, but you'll have 10 of those in like three blocks. And it's like that in Austin too. So it's definitely real competitive for bands to get gigs.
    We went there and that whole part of time is all closed up. The scene just dried up. There's little pockets . . .

GD: We had noticed that before we left. We used to live right around the corner from those places and right before we left, it was changing. And we weren't too interested in the vibe. We'd experienced Texas, Austin . . . and we really like the Northeast. So, going back, it was really reaffirming in a lot of ways.

BD: Dallas got less cool and Ft. Worth got a lot cooler. There's a lot of good bands, that's for sure.

GD: South by Southwest was amazing. Austin still seems to be the place. But it is very competitive.

BD: Texas is so big that it's kinda like its own country. So for a lot of bands, just to be a big band in Texas is a big deal because it's a lot of space to cover. And there's really nowhere else to go. Oklahoma City, New Orleans, anywhere else you're gonna be on tour . . . and we've done that. So be up here, to be able to play in other large cities that are really close is a good thing for us. And it still is.

GD: And with the price of gas, it's going to make touring that much more difficult, especially in Texas.

SD: I've actually been wondering when you're going to start seeing effects from that, seeing fewer bands touring because they simply can't afford gas.
BD: I mean, this May, we're going to have to stay in New York instead of coming back to Vermont each week, because that's like $200 bucks each time.

SD: That's a sad commentary when it's cheaper to stay in NYC than to come home. But you guys were able to tour to and from Texas?
BD: We toured down with Ryan [Power]. He was going to visit his brother [in Arkansas], so it was a good way for him to get out of town. Ryan is pretty much a permanent member.
    We played a few bars, but we played a lot of collectives. And those places are always the best. They pay you better, it's more supportive. It worked out really well because between either him or us, we knew people in every town. We didn't make any money, but we definitely paid our way down there. And we played a little bit while we were down there.
    Basically the tour back up was we could either drive up. Or we could drive up and play shows.

GD: St. Louis was cool. There are quite a few folks out there that know us and were there to see us. They found us on MySpace and had been fans for a couple of years.

SD: Ah, the wonders of MySpace!
BD: It's interesting to see, the whole MySpace thing. We've been around since the '90s and it's a lot easier now. People already know you, they already know your songs. That's really neat.

GD: Every place we played, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Columbus . . . there was a really good reception. People bought CDs, they knew who we were.

BD: And, on the way down, we played DC and got an e-mail from this guy, Luke Erickson, who was interested in managing us, which we've been waiting on for years. He's from Vermont, but he just got a job with Gold Mountain Entertainment which manages folks like Steve Earle, Band of Horses and a lot of other good bands. He asked us if we need any help.
    We didn't even meet him until South By Southwest. We'd just talked to him on the phone. But he had some ideas for us and has been working some things out. It's been a big help, but it's something we needed like, two years ago.
    We had that distribution deal with Undertow and they distributed our record. But that was about it.
    We're trying to just build our own team. We can record our own records. Indie labels don't have any money. And we have friends on major labels and the labels are telling them that they're not going to do anything special. So what's the point?
    Everybody wants to be independent now, so if we can just build our own little team . . .

GD: Before, not only were we creatively producing the music, but we were trying to promote the band too. And that's a lot of work. We both have day jobs and it's like having a second job. We just knew that if we stuck with it, one day we'd have a pool of people. And that's happening now.

SD: You guys spent some time in England last summer. Any plans to go back?
BD: A label in England, Sonic Cathedral, is going to put out a single from out last record and maybe a new song, we're not sure. That's going to come out this summer and we'll be on a compilation at the end of the year.
    Going to England was cool. We sort of broke into this whole underground psychedelic thing that I never really knew was out there. It's a pretty big scene over there. It's totally different from what you would expect. It's not all druggy or whatever. It's about cool art.

GD: It reminded me a lot of Vermont, actually. There's a community there. there's artists supporting artists and spreading the word about each other.. There's a couple of festivals that want to have us back in July and we want to book some shows in London. But we understand that it's really expensive to do that so . . .

BD: We paid our way to get over there the first time and we knew that if we went it would help open some doors, which it did. But we'll see what happens.

SD: So are are you guys glad to be back?
GD: Yes!
BD: Absolutely.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Godspeed, You Black Emperor

Casey Rea will be leaving Burlington in roughly one week — or as Casey might say, not fuckin' soon enough. I'm not sure that he planned it this way, but I do find it curious that the week he and his lovely wife Brooke chose to fly the coop is the one week that I'd likely have too much to write about in my column to publicly acknowledge his departure . . . Or maybe he just doesn't like jazz. In either case, shrewd move my dark friend — but you ain't getting off that easy.

I've known of Casey for some time, originally as the the guitarist for local metal heroes Rocketsled, then later as the quintessential record store guy at Pure Pop. It was there that I had my first real encounter with the man, the myth, the legend that is Casey Rea.

About four years ago, I wandered into the dank music Mecca to all things hipper-than-thou, looking for a birthday present for my younger sister, Ariel. At the time, she was particularly enamored with a certain cheesy songwriter named Mason Jennings, who'd just released a new album which, for the life of me, I couldn't find anywhere in the store. I'm typically not the type of person to ask a clerk a for assistance unless it's absolutely necessary, and what follows is a perfect example of why.

I approached the counter and asked an attractive young girl if she knew where I might find the record in question. Puzzled, she turned to the man in black behind her and asked if they had any left in the store. Looking up from some sort of paperwork, a pained expression crossed his face. "Bleccchh," was all he said before turning around and exiting the store through a door in the back.

I ended up buying the album at Borders, and Casey, you were right. The album was totally bleccchh.

I won't bore you — or piss off Casey — with fawning flattery. But I would like to say thanks. What we do isn't easy and Burlington has been very lucky to have an advocate — and critic — of your considerable abilities. I truly do have some big black shoes to fill.

Also, on behalf of Burlington, I'd like to say, Fuck The Washington Post.

I'm kinda broke, so this is all I could do as a parting gift, but I think you'll like it.


Good luck, man

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Full Avey Tare interview.


Here's my complete interview with Avey Tare of Animal Collective, which appeared in part in the Wed. Nov. 29 issue of Seven Days. What made the print edition was edited for space, and in some instances, clarity! But now you can enjoy the unexpurgated version.

Avey will be appearing with his wife Kria Brekken (ex-mum) at the Firehouse in Burlington on Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m. Greg Davis will also do a set. Click here for contact info.

Listen to a live performance from Avey & Kria here.

ME: To my ears, your music has grown increasingly rhapsodic. Is beauty a part of your overall aesthetic?

AVEY: I'd say all the things I like are aesthetically beautiful. Really, that means they achieve something very individualistic, and enhance senses and feelings that maybe wouldn't normally be on the surface. There are a lot of different kinds of beauty and that’s definitely translated into my music. Take for instance the film Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To me, its very beautiful; visually, stylistically, etc.. I think chicken bones, human skulls and bloodshed can be beautiful when viewed in a certain light.  But I’m not really a dark, macabre person or into violence at all. Those things don't linger in my day to day life.  Kristin [Kria] doesn't understand why I like films like that.  But to me its about separating them from reality. I just feel like life would be boring if there was only flowers and love. I realize this doesnt really translate into a stable reality, but music is part non-reality to me.

ME: How does working as a duo compare with creating with a band?

AVEY: In a duo it’s important to not let things get too complicated, and let the music come from the two people that are playing rather than trying to overdo things. It’s sometimes hard for me to keep things minimal, so I really like the challenge. I really like minimal music, so I try and embrace it as much as I can when playing with fewer people. 'Cause it's harder when you are playing with three other people.

ME: How did you begin writing/performing with Kria?

AVEY: Initially AC asked Kria to play piano with us while we were recording Feels, 'cause we had been talking about including more piano on an album for awhile, and she is real sweet at the keys. I think we all had a really great time. But beyond that, we started playing lazily in an apartment I had in Paris last summer. I had been living and recording with my friend Eric Copeland there, 'cause we needed a break from New York summers, as they can be brutally hot and disgusting. I was taking time off from the Animal Collective bros, 'cause Noah [Lennox] was about to have his baby, Nadjia. For awhile, Kristin and I were really only able to see each other in between other things  — she was still playing in mum at the time — so we made plans to hang for a month. It seemed really easy and laid back to spend time in our flat just playing acoustic guitar, smoking hash and that kind of thing. Earlier this year she decided to move to NYC, so we started recording a bunch of the songs we wrote in Paris. In April, we were asked to play a small show by our friend Eyvind at this great place in NYC called The Stone, which
I don't think many people know about. We did a similar thing this summer in Reykjavik. Since we really like to travel together it made sense to do a small tour and try to play some shows in other places. So here we are. I've always liked Vermont, by the way.

ME: I’ve had the pleasure to hear a live set from you two, and I love how intimate it sounds. Could this be a reflection of your personal relationship?

AVEY: There's that, and also just the process of making our music, which usually happens in an apartment. Perhaps on record it might come to be a bit more produced, but I think the intimate quality will always be important. I will always like transportive music, so that remains an element, too.

ME: Your earliest work was less centered on song form than some of your more current output. Do you feel you’re gravitating toward a new melodic center?

AVEY: This gets said about AC alot, and though I do know what you are talking about, I think our early recorded output really reflects a time where we were focused on learning to play live together. When you're playing with other people I think you really have to let everyone shine, otherwise it usually seems forced or controlled. I think Spirit They're Gone is one of our more melodic releases, personally. But that's just me writing those tunes and not a group playing.  After releasing that, we wanted to experiment with sounds and forms and feel how it was to really play together and work more with iprov. Just to see what would happen if no one took the reigns but the melodies were still there. Melodies have always been somthing that Noah and I love writing, 'cause at least for me personally, I'm not a virtuoso on any instrument. So I've spent alot of time on writing melodies and translating them in interesting ways. I guess with AC records like Sung Tongs or Feels, Noah and I have gotten a little more confident about structuring our songs with each other or the other dudes and letting the melodies provide structure to the song. Whereas as for awhile, we'd just let the structure make itself.

ME: Animal Collective has garnered a great deal of acclaim in the last few years. Has this affected you or your bandmates creative process?

AVEY: It hasn’t, really. It’s always been really important for us to focus on the current music we’re making and not let it be affected by anything other than what’s going on in our lives. I don’t even read what people say about us anymore, ’cause usually I don’t agree with it anyway. I’ve enjoyed making all of our records and am proud of all of them, although I can see why a group of people may prefer some to others. In a perfect world, a large amount of people could find ways to appreciate records by Family Fodder and Folk Rabe. Or even something more concrete like Luc Ferrari or Black Dice. But in truth, most people would rather hear the Beatles, and I know it. But none of us have been disillusioned by any hype we’ve gotten. I think we’ve always wanted to make new and interesting music, music that we would want to listen to, and explore new territory, ’cause that’s what keeps it fun and interesting. We always hoped to have as many people as possible appreciate something about what we are doing, but it was never a goal to have lots and lots of people into us. We would change what we want to do to win more people’s attention.

ME: Did you ever expect that kind of attention for your work?

AVEY: I personally try not to expect anything and just hope for the best. I think as long as a person enjoys and believes in the music they are making, or anything they do, then they will be happy. At least as far as personal achievements goes.

ME: The first time I heard your music I honestly felt like it was playing inside my head. Is it that way for you?

AVEY: A friend of Kristin and mine were just talking about how original ideas like melodies, etc. are things that are just floating about in the ether around us and they get picked up by people who are sensitive to them. I guess if you believe in things like Jung's concept of universal consciousness — which I do — [Casey's note: me too] then perhaps what you're saying holds some truth. I don't know where the melodies I write come from — they just pop into my head. I think [Yamataka] Eye from the Boredoms said that music is something that's always happening around us and that musicians just tune into it and bring it into the physical realm.  Any musician that's had the experience of playing with others and found something magical happening knows what I'm talking about. There are a lot of ways to look at it; we could spend an entire interview on this topic alone.  If anything it makes our world seem to have more possibilities, and makes you think that creativity and the imagination is a lot more important then people give credit to in their day-to-day lives.

ME: One thing that I enjoy most about both yours and Kria’s music is that it sounds very organic, even when there are production accoutrements. How do you achieve a balance between raw feel and arrangement?

AVEY: I think it's just a matter of letting the music stay human.  Some bands practice and practice 'til all the notes are perfect and they never miss a beat. There are groups I like that do this, but it really doesn't interest me as far as playing goes. It can be equally as fun or interesting to let the music run wild and not have so much control. It's the same even when we have added ear candy; we try and let it flow with us and not be stuck in some program where it always has to start at the same time or do the same things.

ME: For one reason or another, I've been asking a lot of artists about spirituality in music. I hear it in your stuff, but I can't seem quantify it. That's not a bad thing. It's kind of like waves lapping, or something. How do you feel about it?

AVEY: In a lot of ways, I'm a spiritual person, and I do believe in the spirituality of music. But for me, it stays on a very personal level. I think a lot of times people use words like "shaman" and "spirituality" and "mystical" to describe our music, and, while I for one am interested in all of those things, most of the group isn't really. Well I mean, it's not that they aren't, but we don't sit around trying to come up with new shamanistic techniques or discuss spirituality.  We're really just four guys interested in making some special sonic music. I think some of us are still trying to figure out where spirituality fits in our lives. I think that music can just be very spiritual on its own, without speaking about it in any way. There's something about starting to play and losing all sense of everything physical around you besides the sounds.

ME: Plenty of music journalists have lumped your work into catchall categories. Does that ever annoy you?

AVEY: Sure it does, but that's just the way it is. I don't think that process will ever be changed, and if it helps anyone out there locate us or find a way into our world, then I ultimately don't mind. Honestly, the "freak-folk" thing is a big joke to us and all of our friends at this point. It's funny that journalists are still using that term, but what can you do?

ME: Is there anything that you've heard, seen or experienced lately that has inspired you artistically?

AVEY: It sounds cheesy to say, but I really try and let everything be some sort of an inspiration. Otherwise, I'd probably start getting very angry or jaded, or maybe even bored. Off the top of my head? I just saw Black Dice and they are always an inspiration to me.  Also, I recently went snorkeling in Australia. You sometimes forget how powerful the current of the ocean is.

ME: What would you like to do musically that you’ve yet to attempt?

AVEY: I'd definitely like to make a record without guitars. Other then that, I think it's just about searching out what I haven't found yet.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Stopgap post.

Later today, I plan to post audio excerpts from my conversation with Built to Spill's Brett Netson. The band rocks HG on Sunday.

I may offer more such clips in the future. That way, you can be privy to some of the weird shit that happens in interviews — like Jolie Holland singing me a Willie Nelson song. Which really doesn't come across in print.

But now I'm at work, where my editing software isn't.

By the by, you might notice today's Seven Days is a little different, layout-wise. Let me know what you think.

And finally, Jenny Lewis is such a doll. Here's what's on her iPod, courtesy The Onion.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Built to Spill his guts.


Just got off the horn with Brett Netson, guitarist extrordiaire of Built to Spill — long-time faves of mine. Netson goes all the way back with them. Although he sometimes isn't in the band, he's played on every one of their records that I hold dear.

Cool dude, laid-back, no BS. We talked a lot of geeky shit about amps, which he also builds. I told him he should buy my '74 Fender Super Reverb, which, at this point serves as a coffee table in my studio.

There was also a good bit of bitchin' about today's mainstream rock. Suffice it to say, emokid1987 would not approve of our conversation.

By the way, I made up that last handle. But I'm sure there's a little brother on the Panic! at the Disco message board with that very username.

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