October 31, 2001

Stereolab "Sound-Dust"

Stereolab's about ten years old now. Where did the time go? Certainly for a band who has crafted some of the more literate, intelligent pop music, time could be seen as a blessing or a curse. There's something to be said for longevity. In some instances, success comes to those who work hard, independently, and place their creative vision ahead of their desires for success--Charlie Rich, Guided by Voices, and Stephin Merritt come to mind. Others, however, suffer for their inability to die off--the Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, and Kiss, for example. It would be easy to take a half full/half empty argument with Stereolab--either the band has honed its craft to a fine point, or they've become so wrapped up in a "formula" that they've lost their edge. In fact, there have been some reviews of Sound-Dust that have been downright mean about the fact that they're still doing their thing after ten years--indicating that said reviewers have either never really liked Stereolab, or haven't really heard much Stereolab, or are just two dollars short of being stupid.

Luckily for Stereolab, Sound-Dust is a damn fine album. For the first time in their long, storied career, they have made an album that isn't bogged down in the heaviness of a single musical idea, or filled with mediocre songs or half-baked ideas. It's always been a telling fact that Stereolab's best albums to date have been their singles/rarities collections, simply because they are *varied* in sound, style, and vision. Sound-Dust is the first actual factual Stereolab album to sound varied in sound and vision.

And boy, does it sound nice! Sound-Dust kicks off with "Black Ants in Sound-Dust," a fun little song that documents Stereolab chanteuse Laetitia Sadier going through a vocal warm-up, and then segues seemlessly into "Space Moth," a long song that is in reality three lovely songs mixed into one. The first single for the album, "Captain Easychord" follows, and, again, follows the same idea of "start off playing one song, and then totally change songs in the middle." The first part of the song, ironically, shows a new influence---Ben Folds Five???? Yeah, shocked me, too.
"Baby Lulu" shows that they're still into that whole Space Age lounge music thing. Then, on "The Black Arts," the band shocks---actual singing! Not this song as Marxist-politic meets voice as instrument ideology. Nope, Sadier is actually singing an understandable, non-abstract lyrics. "I need somebody/I feel so lonely/Somebody to share my scarcity," she sings, with lack of irony, and actually showing, what's that? Emotion? When you listen to track ten, however, "Nothing To Do With Me," however--be prepared to laugh...with lines such as "Did you prescribe my daughter a shot of heroin" and "It's the bed-wetting thing that brought us here, doctor." It's easily one of the funniest songs in their entire career.

Of course,Sound-Dust is a pleasant document of a veteran band finally finding a balance between their experimental side and their pop-oriented side. Is Sound-Dust an indication that Stereolab is in a rut? Hardly. Like their previous albums, this latest Stereolab offering is genius in its own right. Sure, it's a slightly more simplistic genius than their last few efforts, but then again, if Sound-Dust were to continue the styles of their previous releases, that wouldn't be genius, that would be a rut. Critics be damned, this is Stereolab's best album to date.

--Joseph Kyle

October 18, 2001


Jam sessions. Being the music fan that I am, certain notions of jam sessions really fill my heart with glee. Who wouldn't have loved to have watched the fab four sitting around, jamming, stirring up their creative juices? Wouldn't you give anything to watch a young Jimi Hendrix Experience, or Radiohead, or Pink Floyd, or whoever happened to be your favorite band simply "rock out" whilst in the process of creating?

Of course, a jam session doesn't mean that the music will be good. The Beatles, for example: on the release of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, according to author Mark Lewison, they entered Abbey Road for a jam session, yet the two hours that were on tape were, by all accounts, amateurish and nearly unlistenable--and it's best not to even mention the "jam-session-as-movie" debacle of Let It Be.

On this album, the first part of Bella Union's "Series 7" (seven bands, seven records, seven songs, all instrumental) series, Gwei-Lo are jamming. According to the sleeve notes, this was recorded in a span of five days, and it sounds like it. I can't tell you much about Gwei-lo, but I can definitely tell that they like to make music that has a bit of atmosphere and occasional sound effects and samples. Most of the songs start off rather quiet and unassuming, and then build their way up into a large, cacophonous racket that's both pleasing and thought-provoking. Occasionally they'll throw in a few nice bits of experimentation, such as "Annoy," which ends with a loud, static-fed garbled wall of noise that sounds really nice. Other songs, such as "Don't Try (Hank)" and "Homework" are mellower, and slightly more jazzy in nature.

What makes Gwei-Io interesting, however, is the fact that there's a certain melding of sonic aesthetics going on. Seeing as Bella Union is owned by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, (aka 2/3rds of the Cocteau Twins) there's a definite flavor of the Twins' old label 4AD--and, more noticeable, their former label mates/protegees Dif Juz. It's also rather apparent that Gwei-Io have a few Chicago post-rock/post-jazz records in their record collection as well, and the blend of 1990's era Chicago scene meets 1980's era 4AD sounds surprisingly fresh.

Though I don't know much about Gwei-Io other than the fact that I read somewhere that one of their members died recently, Gwei-Io is a rather nice listen, and it makes me wonder what these fellows sound like outside of the constraints of this rather peculiar and unique label "series." After all, if they can make lovely, interesting music in the course of five days, I'm sure that the results of more time would be quite lovely, indeed.

--Joseph Kyle

October 16, 2001

AMFM "The Sky Is The New Ground"

When is emo not emo? Smart-ass answer is: "When it's good." Truthful answer is: "You should listen to music, not label it." Of course, when your record label gets named as one of the innovators of the style what can you do? Polyvinyl's just a record label run by people who like music and release things that they like and it's not their fault that emo gets linked to them. There's more to the label than just Braid, and AMFM aren't emo. (Oh my sweet lord, I just had a discussion about "emo" on my website....horseman number two should be along shortly.)

Anyway, AMFM has returned with four interesting little numbers that actually whet the appetite. If you like quiet, thoughtful, music, then Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell are making music for you, because the four little songs float in and out of your speakers, drifting from guitar riffs to electronic blips and drips and singing floating in and out of all of that. The Sky Is the New Ground isn't an instrumental record, but there's little distinction between the importance of vocals and instrumentals. "Every Start" stars off the affair, a quiet little guitar and electronic instrumental that without warning shifts into "Gone in Three," which splits its time between instrumental and vocal, and it shifts rather dramatically into "Mrs. Astronaut," which is full of starts and stops that you're following it like a cat watching a yo-yo. The closer, "All to Remember," is a sad, droning number that brings out their secret shoegaze roots.

The Sky Is The New Ground is an interesting little record that really doesn't seem like a four-song EP as much as it does one large, four-movement song. Some kids love these kids, and I can see why; they've got some interesting ideas going on here, and I'll be awaiting their next full-length record with open ears.

--Joseph Kyle

October 13, 2001

The Flaming Stars "Ginmill Perfume: The Story So Far 1995-2000"

I despise blues-rock. Can't stand it. It's too rock to be the blues, too not so very personal at all. To me, it's utterly self-indulgent, wrapped up in ME ME ME and how MY life is all screwed up and WOE IS ME, but it lacks the conviction that would make me believe that they've actually suffered. It's a style that has, over the years, become so generic, so harmless, it's an utter bore, falling victim of placing style over substance. Very rare is the modern blues artist who can actually sound convincing.

Weird, then, that British-based post-punkers have succeeded in being excellent modern adaptors of American Blues. Personally, I blame (in the most respectful way) Nick Cave for paving the road from hell, with bands such as Crime and the City Solution, the Gun Club, Jesus and Mary Chain, and The The. These bands all mixed up a wonderful stew of punk, blues, rock, goth, country and, to a lesser extent, rockabilly, to create a lovely, evil concoction best enjoyed by heartache.

Flaming Stars, proud sons of this tradition, have quietly produced a veritable cottage industry in their role of house band for the bar at the corner of Heaven and Hell. Though they have released numerous albums and singles for the past seven years, Flaming Stars have never released any records here in the United States, aka The Birthplace of the Blues, the Birthplace of Rock and Roll.
Ginmill Perfume: The Story So Far 1995-2000 seeks to introduce American audiences to this unknown source of misery and evil. It's not a greatest hits, nor a singles compilation, so for those of you out there who *have* heard of Flaming Stars and have their records, you'll probably want to peruse the tracklist and pass on this record.

Could darkness seem so intoxicating, so delicious, so...tantalizing?!? Flaming Stars are one of those bands whose obscurity is indeed a crime, as Ginmill Perfume indeed shows. Max Decharne, formerly of drunk rockers Gallon Drunk, knows a thing or two about misery, depression, and evil . As you listen to Ginmill Perfume, you realize that the man's life has been fully enriched and blessed with failure--and that's just the first five years!

As you listen, too, you hear a band progressively getting better, as life seems to get worse. The earliest tracks, such as "Like Trash," "Ten Feet Tall," and "Bury My Heart at Pier 13" all echo with a rockabilly-cum-blues beat reminiscent of the best of Jesus and Mary Chain. As you progress, however, you notice a darker, lusher sound start to develop, not unlike Lambchop meets Nick Cave. More recent songs, such as "The Last Picture Show" and "Some Things You Don't Forget," will definitely make you feel that their earlier recordings, while excellent the first time you heard them, are merely brilliant

Flaming Stars are a band that should not have to suffer with the neglect that often falls on small bands from Europe. Ginmill Perfume: The Story So Far 1995-2000 has fifteen reasons why. The noir racket---tempered with regret and failure, liberally dosed with a driving, often menacing, organ and percussion one-two punch, will provide you with all the mystery your life needs. Ginmill Perfume is the evidence of some sort of evil. Do you want to solve the mystery, or would you rather participate? Flaming Stars would prefer it if you did.

--Joseph Kyle

October 09, 2001

Bill Janovitz "Up Here"

What do you think of when you think of "alternative rock?" Do you think of the soaring guitars and "heartfelt" lyrics that really make you think? Though that the term is utterly worthless, Bill Janovitz is a definite veteran of those heady, "alt-rock" days. As leader
of Buffalo Tom, a band that always stood on the verge of making it, but always seemed to fall one short step of landing in the spotlight. Hits like "Sodajerk" and "Summer" were quite lovely, and deserved to be heard, but for whatever reason, Buffalo Tom's hard work for 15 years went unnoticed, while upstarts such as Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls capitalized on virtually the same sound and style and became household names. It's probably for the best, though, as both of those bands are considered the nadir of "alternative rock" and are a standard for mediocrity.

Up Here, though, finds Janovitz focusing on quieter, mellower, and more emotional sounds. Indeed, a few of the songs were holdovers from the Buffalo Tom days, for the simple fact that they were too mellow for Buffalo Tom. Most of the songs are very simple in structure, with just an acoustic guitar, piano, and occasional backing effects, creating for some rather sparse moments. Such minimal backing allows Janovitz's voice to illuminate the songs, making the lyrics resonate as he sings about lost love, the joy of love, the joy of parenthood, and the remembrances of younger, better days. Indeed, he takes the idea of "solo" record rather seriously; he played most all of the instruments on Up Here, and is occasionally backed by female vocals, care of Chris Toppin, who sang on his debut solo album Lonesome Billy, as well as his side project Bathing Beauties.

Up Here is a poignant, sad, yet satisfying album. Janovitz is a storyteller at heart; his voice echoes the tradition of such classic songwriters as Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, as well as a touch of more modern songwriters Mary Lou Lord, David Gray, Ryan Adams and Eric Bachman. If Buffalo Tom is Janovitz as alt-rocker, then Up Here is Janovitz as alt-country folkie type. For some reason, I keep thinking about Austin City Limits when I listen to this record, because I think that Janovitz would sound quite at home on there. With Buffalo Tom on indefinite hiatus, and his side project Crown Victoria remaining homeless as of now, with no immediate plans, it's good to know that Janovitz is far from idle.

Up Here isn't going to change your world. It's not going to make you go out and form a band, and it's certainly not going to be on radio play lists in major markets across the US. It's not going to be the soundtrack of your life. It's not going to be something teens run out to buy because it's hip. It's not going to languish as a curiousity of hip writers who need something obscure to praise in their year-end "best-of" lists. The only thing Up Here can do is be itself--a man singing the songs that mean something to him.

God bless 'em for that.

--Joseph Kyle

October 08, 2001

An Interview with Currituck County's Kevin Barker

While putting together issue #2 (of my now-on hiatus zine Lois Is My Queen) my computer died. Its power supply burned out. It bummed me out. I didn't cry, but I did enjoy the experience, the break away, and one of the records that I enjoyed during that time was the very odd self-released Currituck County LP. It's a broken thing...and in my case, it really was, as there's a long, though boringly short story about this, which revealed to me the true poverty some starving artists face. I also learned the true meaning of Spring, but that's an entirely fictitious other story. I got the lovingly sarcastic Kevin Barker, who also spends his time in the band Aden, who are poised to appear in the annals of indie rock history as Washington DC's saddest boys ever. You know, I could go on and on about the broken-machine folk sounds of Currituck County, but I'd be denying the record its wonderful voice, as well as the money of you hipsters who would be scared off, who would just simply buy it on the strength of Aden's name alone, without really knowing of the dangers yet to be found.....

So what's it like to be a member of Gen-X with credit so good, it's bad?

Great. Actually i just got a credit card--i guess working at a boring semi-well-paying job for 8 months gives me good standing in the eyes of associates national bank (a.k.a. The Associates---i feel like i just joined the masons or something.) anyways my first purchase was a bunch of blank tapes from target. though i should stop shopping there because of that devo commercial, which is almost as stupid as that internet company using MLK's "i have a dream" speech. what a bunch of jerk-offs.

Any truth to the rumors that your decision to stay at home on this latest Aden tour is because you want to make the perfect Aden album? If so, how does Jeff compare to Mike Love?

No, the truth is i stayed home because i thought it would be "irresponsible" to quit my job at that point. By the time i came to my senses andy (my noble and talented replacement) had already booked plane tickets.

"Suicide is painless." What's going on? Are you okay? Is this a subtle commentary about your life, Aden, or childhood dreams of wanting to be Radar?

No, just a passionate expression of my love for Henry Blake. plus, i think it's a great song, and i realized it totally worked with the chord progression of "intertwining hands"--thus a medley was born.

Is it true that Jeff is a real tyrant underneath that sad-eyed mopey indie pop facade? Is it true he got violent when told of yr Currituck project?

Not exactly---but once a Washington city paper article rather straight-facededly quoted me talking about how fred and i would beat up on jeff to get him to write sad songs. when i read the article i was like, "did i say that? OHH, right, i was joking."

But to answer your question, actually on the contrary jeff has been one of my most adamant supporters...without his urging i'd probably still just be fucking aroung on my guitar at home, or just taping home recordings for friends.

What makes ya want to get up in the morning?

Urrgh, that fucking alarm. one day....i swear to god.

Need some new batteries for your 4-track?

Actually that was an old walkman tape recorder that i used to use to tape emo shows back in like 94. after years of neglect, i'm surprised that it recorded anything at all. the recording devices i used on that LP were: that walkman thing, jeff's tascam 4-track, my korg digital 8-track, and one of those old flat rectangular tape recorders everyone had in the 80s.

Ever been to Currituck County? What's so great about it?

Yep. it's the land where dreams can come true and unicorns run wild with the wind.

Fuck the Smithsonian Institution?

I never said that. but after all it is a government institution now. i kind of wonder if harry smith came to them with a stack of crusty 78s now whether or not they'd tell him to go fuck himself. i was just applying to some crappy program assistant jobs though. but hey, buying folkways was a pretty good thing to do. there have to be some good folks working there. after all, where the hell else are you going to find that many free-to-the-public-every-day museums? another smithsonian/harry smith-related story--- a friend of mine, after reading that harry smith's paper airplane collection was donated to the national air & space museum, emailed na&sm asking if it was possible to view it by appointment for the public or for researchers and they basically wrote back saying "harry who? we have no record of owning such a collection." they totally were like, "paper airplanes? whatever." and pitched them in the trash i bet.

So when are you and Rob Christaensen, Mark Robinson, Trevor holLand, and Butch Willis going to go into a studio and get really weird?

Uh... well, i prefer to get weird on my own recording devices and only use outside help if i want it to NOT be weird (i.e. upcoming full-length, which shall be recorded by mark greenberg in chicago). plus, do those guys need to do anything different to be really weird, in or out of the studio? i think not.

Is it also true that you are recording a song that will involve you selling your plasma but on the morning you do the transfusion you plan not to eat beforehand, so as to give yourself a drugged, slurry vocal style that can only be created via blood loss?


---Joseph Kyle

The Dismemberment Plan: An Interview

On their most recent website, Dismemberment Plan lead singer Travis Morrison posted a very open, very general, and very scathing letter to the major labels of the world, and saying, in no uncertain terms, what their problems are. It was a very interesting and highly insightful message, and it reminded me of my own interview i did with the Plan boys back in 2000, sitting in their warm van, talkin' about their then-recent label hassles. It was quite an interesting chat, and I enjoyed speaking with them. Originally, this ran in the debut issue of Lois Is My Queen, but I felt it was worthy of inclusion here. Late last year, they released their fourth album, Change, to much well-deserved praise and critical acclaim.

So, how's it going?

Travis: Pretty good. Tour's really well...Usually on tours, at this point, I will have had a night where I completely detest making music and life and so far, in 11 days, there hasn't been one of those. So, by my standards, that's pretty good.

Maybe tonight's that night?

Travis: Uh....thanks! (laughter) (laughter from Joe Easley, drummer, who had been sleeping in the back seat)

Hey, I just got dumped, so I'm Mr. Negative. (laugh) So, what happened with Interscope? Was it just that you guys got caught up in the whole merger thing and were just a casualty of that?

Travis: (yawning) Yeah. I really wonder how things would have gone down had the merger not happened and I wonder what the different result would have been but yea they really became a really different company and as such...it's almost kind of weird to say that this company that signed us "dropped" us. It was kinda more like the company that signed us forgot about us. Like pod people or something.

So, when you signed, did the label make a lot of promises to you or was it just like, "hey, we could work something out together where you can develop artistically," or were they pushing you to be like the next thing?

Travis: It was pretty low key. I don't think there was any real objective. I don't' really know what kind of success was envisioned on the part of the people that run the label. There was a great deal of attraction towards one particular song that we had on the second record and I could take a leap and say that they saw us as a potential Beck or a potential Talking Heads or any one of your "arty" pop bands throughout history that have made records that have both challenging and out there material and more accessible material....but that's me. That's what I would figure the major label saw us as. I don't know. So, you know, to a certain extent, it was taken very slowly, one step at a time I think...well, you know, there were TWO steps, there was one step and then it stopped. (laughing)

Joe: more like that unforeseen cliff that suddenly appeared! !

Travis: We were like.. (mockingly cautious) "ok..now...move very slowly...ok there ya go! Great!....next!" Yeah. (laughing) I think i can say by fact this is gonna sound weird, but certainly, there were factors. Like, our recording budget, which was fifty thousand dollars, was PLENTY of money by indie label standards, but not for a band like Smashing Pumpkins, or, say, even Rufus Wainwright, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his record., so when they spend that kind of budget on us, I think they were looking at us as a long term, low-yield investment, the opposite of N'Sync.

Something that could be developed over time, and pick up that "cult following" status, like, say, Phish or Built to Spill.

Travis: I think they thought more of it like "feed 'em a little dough every year and they wont break the bank, and, hell, maybe they will get a hit" (laughing) I certainly don't think they had the five year plan for the Plan, or even a five day plan.

But, I guess, to be a little fair to Interscope, they were always a little more edgy. I mean, they did sign Brainiac.

Travis: Yeah, totally--like with Brainiac, you know, it's weird. no one ever did nail down what major they were gonna sign to. People at Interscope really, really claimed that it was gonna be them, so I wouldn't be surprised, but there were also people at Elektra who claimed "I thought they were signing with us" and I think that Brainiac might have ripped a page out of the Girls vs. Boys' "toy with the majors" rulebook. But, yeah, they were certainly very, very interested in Brainiac. But then, they also had like Clawhammer, Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, and....you know, they had seen a LOT of success with Primus (amazed). I mean, Primus is a WEIRD fucking band! It boggles my mind that that band sells so many records!

Joe: (mumbling, from the back seat) Who would have ever thought that gay funk metal band would ever....

Travis: (laughing) The singer sounds like a cartoon duck! His bass playing sounds like a cartoon duck! They'd probably make the drum playing sound like it if they could!

Yeah, it's a weird band to be on a major label.

Travis: Well it's a really weird band, to see the kind of success that they've had. Yeah, I mean, I think they might have seen us as a potential Primus (laughing).

Joe: Great, now I get to be the duck!

Travis: Yeah, but they {Interscope} did have an edgy side to them and they were a well rounded company. Now who is to say that that's the best business model? I think that perhaps it would be better for that record label to just concentrate on massive hit records for--and I don't wanna say anything that puts those bands down--but bubblegum, you know? Assembly line made music that is meant for the lowest common denominator. I'm not saying that I don't enjoy some of that music---I really like Ricky Martin! Someone's gotta.

It's "pop" for a reason!

Travis: Yeah, exactly! Popular! (laughing)

That's what people forget about the word "pop"!

Travis: It's like what Madonna always said in interviews, when asked about what she thought of "alternative" music, she'd say, "what do you mean, music that isn't good?"

Alternative to what? Pearl Jam is number one, and alternative to what?

Travis: that's a very good point. Like, you know, some of these "alternative bands" sure are popular.. So I mean, yeah, they became a different company, and they did jettison a lot of their...although, again, Limp Bizkit certainly is edgy, Limp Bizkit is not easy listening. Umm I find it impossible to listen to Limp Bizkit, although I do love "nookie!" (laughing) So I mean, you know, I think one important thing that you have to remember is that there were too many bands signed to major labels at one point. The gold mine that came out, after the CD reissue type of thing..it was a one shot deal, and the record industry lived it up, signed all these bands and thought it was really fun, but eventually that had to end. Too many bands were on majors, you know? and you know, a lot of those bands that moved to majors probably would have been better served by staying on an indie and maybe selling 70,000 records which, if you sell 70,000 records on an indie label, you make a good chunk of money. You don't have to have a day job. If you sell 70,000 records on a major label, then, you know, they are bringing in a outside songwriter, cuz you're in trouble.

You know, it's funny, listening to your record, and then listening to other bands in the same boat, like Spoon, you almost have to wonder if the joke is on the majors, because not only is this like the best stuff the band has ever done, but you think to yourself, you could hear this on the radio.

Travis: Well, you know, that stuff is so hard to predict, though. You never know. You can never really have an idea. I mean some of our songs could be on the radio that are on this record, but here's what you have to remember about that. We are seeing that from our vantage point, we're people that are really into like a lot of underground music. I think the thing to remember, as someone whose tastes are like our own, they can hear a band like us or maybe the Promise Ring, and think, (excited) "Boy, these guys are like the ultra! They are the poppiest! They will sell a million, billion records cuz they're so POPPY!" and then you put us on a major label, and then normal people hear us and they are like, (valley girl accent) "dude...this is weird!" (laughing) Everybody used to think that Shudder to Think had these great melodies and got a great singing voice...but jesus christ! Shudder to Think is the weirdest fucking band to ever walk the face of the earth, and no one was ever gonna listen to them. And there are more obvious examples than that. The Promise Ring have said in interviews "Look...Davey can't sing! we are a very, we're like a very underground pop punk band...what normal people would be into us?" From our vantage point, we may think that it is just the poppiest damn thing to come down the pike, but it's just cuz that is our little perception, looking from a very arty plateau. I really have no idea what the kids in the parking lot in Peoria would think of it. I can imagine it would be like "uhhh, whatever"

You never can know with a band. Like, I always hated Sunny Day Real Estate, I never cared for them, but now they are somewhat huge.

Travis: Yeah, but would they sell that much more if they were on a major label? I tend to think not, but i dunno. I think bands like that need to be on labels the size of Sub Pop.

When you signed, you got a fifty thousand dollar recording budget, and for an indie band, that's a large chunk of change. When you went in to record this record, did you go in with the idea of "we have got this money, we might as well as utilize it" or were you more like "let's try to make the record that we would have made had we done it on DeSoto in the first place?

Travis: Nope, we spent every cent of it! (laughing) We actually had to kick in a tiny bit of money on our own in the end, but we spent all fifty thousand! It's like the Peter Principle. You know, the more time you have to do something, the longer you wait to do it all at the last minute. We still ended up pushing the deadline, pushing the money. I think the money mainly went towards taking the time to focus on the performances, to get them spot on, to the degree that was never possible on an indie label. You know, for indies, when you finish recording, you literally have got only like four or five chances to get the song done, and then on the fifth time, you just have to say, "Yeah, we meant it that way." When you on a major label, you can actually say, "no, that's not how we meant it, we actually want it to go this way." Certainly, I do think for all of us, like when you are a musician, when you're a young musician, you have this part, you play it, and sometimes you think, "Well, i have to fix this or that" but you don't really think too much about it. Then, when you get into the studio, you record it, you hear the first playback, and then you go, "OH NO!!!!" (laughing) You are in such denial! On a major label, with the money we had, we had the time where we could have that moment of denial, and THEN really nail some things down. And, certainly, as a singer, there were always those moments where I was telling J. "oh, no no no, I meant to mispronounce it that way," and it was like, "Well, that's too bad, because we are gonna fix that now!" and boy i hated it at the time, and I did not like how the record sounded at the time, but now I thank J. Robbins for whipping my ass because I can now totally see how he took the songs away from our greedy little mitts and made them stand up on their own. I mean, we didn't use our fifty thousand dollars to hire turntable players or a string section. It was pretty much to take the time to really focus and make the record as tight as possible.

So was their any label intervention at the time you were recording, like, "hey, guys, polish this up, we really like this for the single?"

Travis: No, I think they'd already started to forget about us! (laughing) To be totally honest, our main A and R guy was the VP of A&R, who is now the VP of everything at that company, and I think he obviously knew that the deal was going down, and he had much better things to worry about. He had already slopped us off to some lower level A&R people, like we hadn't talked to him directly in months and months. He would say things to the woman who was managing us, like, when we were talking about a release date, and we didn't know what was going on, he would say things like, "you know what, I tell ya what, I got a three day weekend this weekend, I'm gonna sit down and really listen to the record" We had recorded it like a month and a half before, so he wasn't like "man, I can't wait for the Plan record to come!" (laughing) So, no I think because he was obviously worried about this big earth-shattering merger, why would he be worried about, "i think you need to cut this bridge out so that we can really make this sellable?" I think he knew that we were dead wood.

So, did you guys know about it? Did you have any feeling about it coming?

Travis: No. I think I read about it in the paper or something. I can't remember how I found out, but I know a lot of employees found out that way. Jason, how did you hear about it?

Jason (Caddell, guitar/keyboards): Certainly not from Interscope, that's for damn sure. It really seemed like just the upper echelon of management, probably even above the vice president level, like the president, CEO's and their handlers actually knew for a fact it was going to take place. A lot of people lost their jobs without any warning at all, but that's how things at that level work.

Travis: So, no, no feeling, but there never is. There were probably only three people at that company who were involved in it, probably the guys that founded it, Wally, Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine. A lot of people lost their jobs throughout the whole thing.

I guess the thing that makes the whole story amazing for you guys is that you were lucky enough to get your record.

(Silence, followed by looking at each other and nervous laughs)

Or is that another story...??

Jason: Yeah, that's probably another story (laugh)

Travis: I think we were lucky enough to have the wisdom to carry on with our lives, and uh, uh...

Joe: We have the tactical skills to bust in, become a SWAT machine, to enter in, and retrieve our masters unscathed, and release them on an independent label!

Travis: Joe is gifted with the skills of martial arts, and I knew a lot about nautical infiltration, cuz they have a lot of explosives...I tell you what, Michael Penn was fucked, he's been doing all this survival stuff in Montana, but where's that gonna get him? See that is how we handle questions that we are a little afraid of! (laughing) But I'll put it this way, everything didn't get completely nailed down, but we were such a fly in such a big pool of ointment, I don't know what we would have had to have done for them to care.

Well, it's good that you guys have the record out...

Travis: Yeah, it's great that you're alive as opposed to dead! (laughter)

Jason: Yeah, we pretty much escaped pretty well from this whole mess simply because people over there aren't staying. I mean, from what I've read, even the Stings and the Sheryl Crows are over there saying, "well, what about me?" But there is SOOO much chaos over there, all that bureaucratic insanity, that people that still have deals with that conglomerate are fucked, I mean there's not going to ever be any hope for their records being released, or they will just poorly supported or poorly deployed or whatever.

Travis: I think that one major way that we are lucky is that we come from an underground punk world where there is a very developed social network and a much more developed sense, where one would do it at a weird...

Joe: A storage space in Lubbock? (laughter)

Travis: Yeah, like, that "yeah, it can just be my hobby if i want" kind of level, and that's got its downside, but one of the upsides to it is that some of the people who are like the kind of people who move to LA, get a record deal, and do a lot of things that they are supposed to do it in the industry, they don't play here (pointing to the warehouse) , they don't have this kind of big family to fall back on, so that when they get dropped they just freefall, they dont have anywhere to land.

Jason: Or they just get another major label record deal.

Travis: They don't have the resources to kind of just shrug at the whole thing. Like, there used to be one guy in this band called School of Fish, who had written 43 songs and they kept telling him "no, thatÕs not a hit single, go write another one."

Is that the guy who just died recently?

Travis: (blankly) What? The lead singer of School of Fish died? Maybe it all just got to him (laughing). (interview devolves into conversation of recent celebrity deaths, including, at this time Tom Landry, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and Charles Schultz) Anyway, that guy from School of Fish, after the whole merger thing was over, he was kind of whimpering, "look, can I have my songs and just go away?" and the label was like "HELL NO, those our OURS, your 43 unsellable songs" so yeah, I guess that would kind of induce arrhythmia in anybody, yeah, but I didn't know he died! Really? How? Suicide? Holy shit!! ( it was health related, not self inflicted--ed.)

So,what's in the future?

Travis: Touring, touring, touring!

Put the loop on, write, record, play,

Travis: Yeah, it kinda got stuck there for a bit with that whole, um, you know, label thing. We're a band, ya know. We've been working on our flashpots for the....

Eric (Axelson, bass/keyboards): No! You told him about that? SHHhhhhh!!!!

Travis: Well, can't do it now! Sorry, Lubbock!

--Joseph Kyle

October 07, 2001

The Shins "Oh Inverted World"

There's this great album by the Beach Boys, better than Smile, better, almost, than Pet Sounds. It's called Beach Boys Today. It's an important album, for it is a definite sign of the band's transition. For starters, there's isn't a single car song or surfing song on it. The first side of Today contains a song or two that are "fun" in the youthful sense, but are far from the standard Beach Boy fare. It's enjoyable pop-rock. Flipping it over, though---whoa, man, talk about KILLER! The songs are a lot darker, mellower, and much lusher than previous Beach Boys records, touched with a "wall of sound" that would quickly be seen in full effect in the next year. Maybe it was the pot that he was consuming every day, as well as the mental illness that was starting to set in, but whatever it was, side two of Today is clearly one of Wilson's most beautiful creations, though it's sadly neglected in favor ofPet Sounds. When listening to the album, you'd think that each side was from a different album--the styles are that different.

Thirty-five years later, a band called Flake Music decided it was time to change their style, to break away from the lo-fi indie rock they had been playing for nearly a decade.
Instead of simply changing their style and alienating their fans, they decided to change their name entirely. Instead of a change to baroque pop, the band has looked to both the skies and to the past for a sound that is troublesome for those who want retro, and retro for those who don't care for "retro" music.

Whatever your stance, you can't deny that Oh, Inverted World is anything but a major pleasure. Borne from the New Mexico heat, and seemingly tempered on the surreal, The Shins have created "a luscious mix of words and tricks," as they say in "Caring is Creepy." And Oh! Oh! what kind of lyrics those Shins boys have, too! You like oblique? Oh, Inverted World has them in droves! In fact, there are too many to list here, and besides, if i were to list all of my favorites, I'm sure I'd be venturing into copyright violation.

Oh, Inverted World is a short record, barely 33 minutes long, but the band's strengths can be found in the fact that they're super-talented, write great songs without pretension. Oh yeah, and it's a great day when a band can sound like both Brian Wilson and Mike Love. And, since they write such lovely, deep, and thick music, by the time you get to "New Slang (when you notice the stripes)" the song at the middle of the album, (and a lovely folk ballad to boot) you'll think you've listened to an entire album already. I know I did. And everything else was oh-so beautiful. Oh, Inverted World is one of those rare albums that is deserving at all the praise heaped upon it, and is a record whose beauty is so simple, that description of its beauty is pointless. Just go buy it already!

--Joseph Kyle

October 06, 2001

Rami Perlman "girlmusic"

New York's been producing folk-rock singer-songwriter types for quite a while now, and Rami Perlman is the newest installment of this phenomenon. Know what? It ain't bad at all. Sometimes I wince at artists who play all their instruments, but Perlman is a talented young man, and plays quite well, and is joined by some talented people here and there, including Mighty Mighty Bosstones god Nate Albert on occasional guitar. Perlman's got a soft-spoken voice, and at times reminds of Badfinger, Emmit Rhodes, and, more modernly, A Don Piper Situation. Elliott Smith, and Clem Snide. And, as it needs to be said--all of these are love songs, but he's not whiny. So it's okay.

"Take for Granted" kicks off the set, with Perlman crooning about slowing down and appreciating life a little bit more. "Boy of Your Dreams" finds Perlman singing to a girl who's just left him, and, yet, at the end, there's a little surprise about the character--he's not a sympathetic one, yet you feel one and the same. "Kiss on the Bridge" a loud, yet sad love song; with full band backing and more awesome guitar playing from Nate Albert. "Falling For You" is the only moment where I wince; buying a slurpee just really doesn't work for me in the context of an acoustic love-ballad, especially one that's quite lovely besides that moment, though I like that moment near the end where the full band breaks through. "I Know You" continues that acoustic love song trend. girlmusic closes with "Scared" a lo-fi country song that sounds a lot like Eef Barzelay.

Mr. Perlman, you've got some talent! I'm glad you sent this CD. It's really made me smile. As I can tell, you've got some good ideas, and girlmusic is an excellent start. My advice to you would be simple: get a band, go on tour. I like the acoustic stuff, but these tracks I'm sure would simply smoke with a full band backing. Maybe you could convince Nate Albert to leave those Bosstones and be one of your promisers, because he plays some great guitar.

girlmusic is a promising debut from someone who I'm sure will be featured in "ones to watch" columns in Rolling Stone and Spin, and, for once, those columns will be right on. Seek this little self-release out if you can; it will be worth the trouble.

--Joseph Kyle

October 02, 2001

The Shins "Oh, Inverted World"

There's this great album by the Beach Boys, better than Smile, better, almost, than Pet Sounds. It's called Beach Boys Today. It's an important album, for it is a definite sign of the band's transition. For starters, there's isn't a single car song or surfing song on it. The first side of Today contains a song or two that are "fun" in the youthful sense, but are far from the standard Beach Boy fare. It's enjoyable pop-rock. Flipping it over, though---whoa, man, talk about KILLER! The songs are a lot darker, mellower, and much lusher than previous Beach Boys records, touched with a "wall of sound" that would quickly be seen in full effect in the next year. Maybe it was the pot that he was consuming every day, as well as the mental illness that was starting to set in, but whatever it was, side two of Today is clearly one of Wilson's most beautiful creations, though it's sadly neglected in favor ofPet Sounds. When listening to the album, you'd think that each side was from a different album--the styles are that different.

Thirty-five years later, a band called Flake Music decided it was time to change their style, to break away from the lo-fi indie rock they had been playing for nearly a decade.
Instead of simply changing their style and alienating their fans, they decided to change their name entirely. Instead of a change to baroque pop, the band has looked to both the skies and to the past for a sound that is troublesome for those who want retro, and retro for those who don't care for "retro" music.

Whatever your stance, you can't deny that Oh, Inverted World is anything but a major pleasure. Borne from the New Mexico heat, and seemingly tempered on the surreal, The Shins have created "a luscious mix of words and tricks," as they say in "Caring is Creepy." And Oh! Oh! what kind of lyrics those Shins boys have, too! You like oblique? Oh, Inverted World has them in droves! In fact, there are too many to list here, and besides, if i were to list all of my favorites, I'm sure I'd be venturing into copyright violation.

Oh, Inverted World is a short record, barely 33 minutes long, but the band's strengths can be found in the fact that they're super-talented, write great songs without pretension. Oh yeah, and it's a great day when a band can sound like both Brian Wilson and Mike Love. And, since they write such lovely, deep, and thick music, by the time you get to "New Slang (when you notice the stripes)" the song at the middle of the album, (and a lovely folk ballad to boot) you'll think you've listened to an entire album already. I know I did. And everything else was oh-so beautiful. Oh, Inverted World is one of those rare albums that is deserving at all the praise heaped upon it, and is a record whose beauty is so simple, that description of its beauty is pointless. Just go buy it already!

--Joseph Kyle

Piano Magic

4AD was perhaps the most distinctive, most aesthetically strong labels of the 1980s. Sure, the label has only had two worldwide "hits," ("I Melt With You" and "Pump Up The Volume") but many of their artists retain a certain level of respectability and influence that most could only wish for: Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, the Pixies, Throwing Muses and This Mortal Coil all made names for themselves, and are still seen as influences on modern "alternative" music.

Then, the 1990s happened. Somewhere, the label faltered. As the times changed for the industry, so did the label. The Cocteau Twins left the label. A distribution deal with Warners, while getting older 4AD records into the American market, seemingly ended in failure. Although the early part of the 1990s would produce excellent artists such as Heidi Berry, Belly, His Name is Alive, Red House Painters, and Lush, the latter part of the 1990s found the label faltering rather dramatically. By 1997, their roster of original acts had virtually disappeared, save for various members' solo albums. New artists, such as Gus Gus and Tarnation, had their moments, but seemed to be missing a certain magical spark. Then the label really started to falter when they decided to focus on electronica. Making this story even sadder was the fact that there are labels that are doing a better job in finding and releasing atmospheric, electronica/esoterica acts.

Enter Piano Magic. A UK-based collective, whose membership has always been a revolving cast of musicians and thinkers. In a way, not unlike 4ad flagship This Mortal Coil. Being the first new 4AD signing in two years, and knowing how the label has become rather quiet in the "new artists" department, curiosity leads one to wonder about this new signing. It must be pointed out, however that "new" is not an apt term for Piano Magic; unlike the other groups in 4AD's history, they have already established a name for themselves, having released several albums and numerous singles on various other labels.

Son del Mar is a single piece; untitled as such, divided into six untitled movements. Information about the recording are saved for a small, tiny column of information. The CD itself is devoid of artwork or printing, and the cover itself is merely a print on cardboard. There is a list of credits about the film Son de Mar a Spanish film that most will not see. How, then, can this rather nondescript album be poised to ring in a return to the glory days of yore?

Because this record is utterly beautiful.

It's a simple answer. For the first time in ages, 4AD has released an album that simply is more substance over style. This record soars high, and follows in the tradition of such luminaries as Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and Harold Budd. It's been eons since they've released an album that's intent on lifting the listener to a higher level of being, creating mental pictures while caressing the listener with aural ecstasy. There's no level of pretense here, as found in other electronica acts that the label dabbled in. And finally, it's a soundtrack to an imaginary film, except this time, there's a real film. It's one of those cinematic kind of records, and it's worth your time to seek out. Son de Mar will not only make you anxious to hear their follow up album that's due this winter, but will make you want to seek out their other releases. If, after listening, you feel like you've been feeling like you've been missing out on something, it's okay, because you have.

--Joseph Kyle

October 01, 2001

An Interview With Tim DeLaughter, continued

Last week, Tim talked about Tripping Daisy and the origins of The Polyphonic Spree.This week, Tim reflects upon the nature of the
Polyphonic Spree, and what lies ahead.

Looking to the future of the Polyphonic Spree, it's obvious that something of this size and nature, it's not going to be a conventional band, and it wouldn't seem possible to go out and do your thirty day tour like you could with Tripping Daisy.

You know what? I've had people come up to me, and they tell me, "well, you know, you're not gonna be able to play out, let alone be able to rehearse with that thing." Well, we've played out nine times now, we've made it to Austin, thanks to Grandaddy, because they liked us from when we opened for them the first time. We sent them the record, and Jason [Lytle] loved the record, and then he asked us to play the Austin shows with them, which gave us that opportunity to go to Austin. I don't think we would have been able to make it to Austin if it weren't for Grandaddy-- we wouldn't have gotten there that soon. It took us a lot to get down there, because they already had the club booked, they can pull a crowd. It cost us nearly one thousand dollars to go down there, because we had to charter a bus togo down there.

But ya know what? I'm not ruling anything out. I always talk to everybody. I tell them "you know, we're all gonna take a little ride here, some people may be on for the ride, some may not, but it looks like this is going to continue to go on, so just put that in the back of your head, and let's see what we can make happen, feasibly make happen." So I don't really know, but as for now I'm just going along with it, and it continues to go.

So who knows? I think that everyone loves playing this music together. We click as a band--believe it or not, twenty-four people actually click as a band. I think we have a really good shot of continuing this.

Even though at times you're running around in there like a chicken with its head cut off? I was watching you in there, interacting with the band. Is it like parenting? You know, even though you're intervening when the child does wrong, you love every minute of it?

Well, I am a father, a boy and a girl, Stella and Oscar, and I have another one on the way. I kinda always played the daddy, even in Tripping Daisy. It's just some kind of a role I've always taken. I feel really comfortable in that position. I feel at ease in that position and I feel I'm competent in that position. It tends to work, especially with this group of people. I mean, you saw what it was like to try to do a sound check, if there's not some sort of organized procedure to go through, you'll have total nonsense chaos.

Yeah, it's not like Tripping Daisy, where you go to a club two or three hours before a show, you run through a sound check for thirty minutes, and then go have a beer before the set. And I can tell that you actually enjoy it, panic inducing though it may be.

Right. I love it, I do! It gets kinda tense there, but I really like that side of it.

Gives you a chance to be more creative?
Yeah, and it just gives me a chance to see something become more organized, you know, and to see the fruits of your labor when everyone gets on that same page. That's exciting for me.

So are you working on kicking it up a notch with this record, to try and get a bigger deal?
Um, we have had some people that have called us, it's just now starting to get out there. In fact, the senior editor of Magnet just called us at the store two days ago, asking "I've been hearing nothing about The Polyphonic Spree except for good things, and as a senior editor it is my job to find out what exactly is going on down there! Can you send me a record and some stuff?" (Laughs) There are some also people at V2 Records that have expressed some interest, as well as some big management company called Atlas/Third Rail, like, they might be coming down here.

I don't know, though. To tell you the truth, I've had my experience with larger labels, and at the time, when I was going through it…well, I've been through the best of times and I've seen the worst of times. I've had my heart broken by them, and I've also loved being with a major label. At the end of the day, I'd love for Good Records....we've got our own little in-house label that we started on our own with Polyphonic Spree, and we released a couple of Tripping Daisy records under the name Good Records, and I'd love for this to take hold, but like I was telling you earlier, we don't have the manpower and the organization and the finances to take it to that next level. So I'll definitely entertain anything if people come up with money, you know. I make no bones about it, it's all about the money on that particular end. The music part, I know how to keep it separate, but if you're gonna want that, I have no qualms about saying, yeah let's talk about money to do this.

Oh, I agree, you have to have money to live, and you’ve got kids to feed.

Exactly! I'm 35 and now, it's no longer "It's not about the money, it's about the art, man." I'm always gonna do that, and I've always done it.

Others have done it, like the Flaming Lips.

Yeah, exactly, they've done a beautiful job. They've had people who have believed in them, and they note that the executive turntable has turned and yet have been able to stay there, and I applaud how that whole situation has worked out, because I don't know of any other band that has been able to do that, to be able to stay as creative as they want, and not have the dilemma of "oh, you're gonna have to sell this number of units, and you're gonna have to do this and this and this." They've completely left them alone, and I thought Tripping Daisy was in that position when I had Chris Blackwell signing the band, and the owner of Island Records was telling me, "Don't worry Tim, it's gonna be alright." And that's why we went with them, because we thought, "Golly, everything's great," but then it turns out to be a freaking nightmare!

At least you got three or four years out of it. You didn't get a situation like Spoon, where you release a record that everybody loves, and then boom! You find yourself dropped immediately.

With Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb, a lot of people liked that record, and then, my god, as soon as it came out, they dropped it. I mean, no one really knows about Atom Bomb. For a couple of weeks, it was out, then it was dropped, and that was a real sour note, because I think as a band, that was one of our best records You know, for a band that can get to that point where they can call it But, hell, I don't know, I really liked our last record, and I loved The Tops Off Our Heads, and that one was just an improv record.

That record brings me back around to the layout of The Beginning Stages of The Polyphonic Spree. Was it from that idea [of The Tops Off Our Heads] where you didn't give your songs titles, you just let them flow into another to create a whole composition. Was that something you were meaning to do?

Man, you know what? I don't know what you'd call it, but they all get really frustrated, and to maybe, it's a little bit like, there's something that's kept me from giving titles to them. The only reasons we have "titles" on the set list is so that these people can know what the hell we're gonna play. For some reason, I haven't chosen a reason to title these things, and I ask myself, if it's laziness, but for some reason, I really don't have a good honest answer for ya.

One of the issues I would have been concerned with would have been people thinking, "Oh, are these songs left over from Tripping Daisy." Like, here's a fresh start, you don't need to know the names, you let the songs speak for themselves.

Yeah, but these songs are definitely all new, none of them were ever inspired by Tripping Daisy or were ever even a part of Tripping Daisy. I just kinda went way off on the other side. Actually, most of the songs on the record were written in about a week, believe it or not. I had a couple of ideas, but I had to put it together quickly because I had that show.

It's this band that basically makes it happen. I'm just kind of the force that makes it possible for all of us to get together and play. These guys, I'm playing with some of the best talent that I've ever been around in my life, and I've been doing this for a long time. Since the third grade I've been playing music. I'm playing with some of the best musicians who improvise and also have theory that I've ever been a part of. They have taken stuff that I've come in with, in its simple little arrangements or chord changes on guitar, they've added their parts to it, and they make it what it is. It's simply them writing their own parts, by improvising their parts with me, and going "Yeah! That's cool!" or "God, that's awesome!" or "My God, that's great!" and then we get off on what we are doing and then we do it.

That record was really put together kind of quick, and we recorded it in three days, and I was used to spending two months on a record from being on a major label. It's like, "we did that in three days, and it sounds fantastic!"

Does it make you wonder, "Gee, wonder what we could have done back then?"

I was talking to my wife Julie about this, yeah, we were spending crazy amounts of money on a record!

But it was a different time.

Yeah, it was different times, and you're kinda young and its all new.

And as you've got the money there to play around with, you might as well use it.

Yeah, and they're encouraging you to do this. They don't tell you, “You don't need to do this," they want you to spend this amount of money on hiring this person, or they want you to be in this studio for some weird reason. It makes perfect sense to them, but, (Emphatically) My God! I'll never do that again, especially when I went down here to Dallas Sound Lab and in three days, we make this record, and when I put it up to the rest of my records, it sounds great!

So would you work with the other guys of Tripping Daisy again, or involve them with the Polyphonic Spree?

I've thought about it, hell, there are four of them in this band! (Laugh) Jeff was the first drummer of Tripping Daisy who plays percussion. Brian was the second drummer, is playing drums, and Mark plays bass, and myself. The only two who aren't in it are Ben and Phil, from the latter part of Tripping Daisy, who came in for Atom Bomb, and, of course, Wes, but I believe he's here with us. (Pauses) As far as people, I miss those guys, I miss the musical exchange, I miss playing together. I miss it, and I'll always miss it. (Reflective) I miss Tripping Daisy, man. It was a great band. I loved it. (pauses)

But this is something new, the world is wide open now at this point with Polyphonic. I love how it looks, man. I love the people in the band, I love how we've just stumbled on each other! (Laughs) It's hard to put four people together, to get that chemistry for a band, much less twenty-four. It happened, and it's going great.

It sounds like it's been accidental up to this point.

(Laughs) Yeah, exactly! Many of these people are volunteers. I didn't know any of these people beforehand, that's what's also kind of weird, and I still don't know them, they don't know me, and they don't really know each other, either. It's not like a band of four where you spend a lot of time together; we don't really get that luxury because everyone has different time schedules and all that. But it's pretty amazing how musically we've all hit on the same page.

It's definitely a very beautiful record.

Oh, thank you very much! I feel the same way. When we were doing it, man, I was like bawling when we would rehearse. Just to have something, when you're playing with people you've never played with before, and then right off the bat they start playing these beautiful melodies to what you're putting out there, and they take something that you have created in stick figure form, and then they put all these beautiful clothes on it. It is just an amazing kind of feeling that I've never ever experienced. I never felt the experience I've gotten with this band with Tripping Daisy. Tripping Daisy was sort of more excited and high energy, but this is more of a deep emotional kind of feeling with these people. I think it does translate on this record. I think something really cool happened here.

So when should we expect The Middle Stages of the Polyphonic Spree?

The Middle Stages? (Laugh) We've got enough right now to probably go into a Middle Stages. We probably need three or four more sections that are on the back burner, that we haven't really started yet, but I think we'll be ready pretty soon! No one really knows about this record; I'd like to get it out to a few more people, so that by the time they get it, I'd like to have this next one ready. Right now, it's just people who have been hip with it, and word spread around town, and things like that, but as far as the rest of the nation, and the rest of the world, no one's heard of the Polyphonic Spree. I'd love for them to check it out.

It would be a shame if they didn't.

(Quietly) It sure would. I think they would be missing out. I love it, man. It's a good feeling, and I think something like that is missing out there.

An Interview with Tim DeLaughter

It didn't seem like it was going to be a good interview. On my trip to Fort Worth, I'd spent more time in a truck with no air conditioning that was safe, and my body was striking back. I was hot, stinky, and achy. I was surprised that I even made it from my hotel. At the sound check, Tim was busy; technical difficulties seemed to be the issue of the moment. Even though he had lots to do, Mr. Tim DeLaughter, late of Tripping Daisy, currently masterminding the Polyphonic Spree, was nothing short of living up to his reputation for being one of the nicest men in Dallas. In dealing with his musicians, he seemed less of a musical genius trying to hammer his artwork out, but more of a fatherly type, trying to teach his kids how to ride a bicycle.

Tim DeLaughter was the vocalist and one of the musical masterminds of Tripping Daisy, an alternative rock band that scored some air play in 1995 with "I Got a Girl" and "Piranha." Their debut album, Bill, was a regional smash, and spent much time in this writer's Walkman in those early, seemingly endless golden years of the alternative-rock revolution. It seemed as if Tripping Daisy were gonna make it after all.

It wouldn't last. Major labels have different interests than artists, and Tripping Daisy, whose commendable successes weren't successes in the minds of their label, suffered, with their label ignoring what many consider their best album,
Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb. The band was dropped and, sadly, came to an end in October 1998, when founding guitarist Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose.

The loss of best friend, label, and band would normally spell the end of the line for the careers of most artists. Instead of looking backwards to the past, DeLaughter looked forward, and with memories of the past in mind, decided to expand on ideas that might not have seen the light of day had life not been rough. Thus, the Polyphonic Spree was borne—a project that resembles nothing of the former Tripping Daisy, aside from Tim's distinctive singing. For those who have not experienced Polyphonic Spree, it is an orchestra of sound--literally--that focuses on the power of life. Whether or not the adversity that Tim suffered at the end of the decade and at the end of the millennium is the direct motivating factor is best left to speculation.

It wasn't looking to be a good interview. Tim was justifiably preoccupied with the show, of which he had every right, especially considering that the opening act was a wedding. Yes, a wedding--a very beautiful wedding. Even though at that time he probably had other things he should have been doing, he took the time to sit with me --hot, stinky, and barely alive me--and shoot the shit. DeLaughter is a humble man--one who seems to want to celebrate life. Whatever it is that motivates him, The Polyphonic Spree is, quite simply, the most beautiful, moving, striking projects these days. A band that, while musically complex, is very simple in its approach, message, and direction. Looking inward never seemed so beautiful; self-indulgence never seemed this essential. Seek out their debut album,
The Beginning Stages of The Polyphonic Spree at all costs--you will be uplifted.

So, I was driving into Dallas, and "My Umbrella" came on the radio.

Really? (Tim beams proudly) Wow.

I can still remember getting Bill on tape. When was that, ten years ago?

Yeah, it was. (Laugh)

Anyway, so as I was sitting in there, watching you in there, I wonder, did it ever come into your mind, then, that ten years later, you'd be at a theater leading a visual arts performance?

(Laughs) No, I had no idea...I was..ten years from then? At that particular time…my god! (Laughs) It was a different world, it wasn't quite as big as it is now. I didn't really know where. I was all about Tripping Daisy, and trying to get delay on my voice, and things like that and I was more like "God, if I can get my voice to sound like this" and that's pretty much what I was into at that time. (Laughs)

So, the Polyphonic Spree didn't come about from some sort of childhood vision or concept?

(Laughs) No, this didn't really come about until later on down the road, in a later chapter of Tripping Daisy, the post-adolescent stage, and I'd thought about it after listening to certain records and things like that and how nice it would be to have such a broad base of music.

One thing I've noticed about your history and looking at Good Records
[Tim's record store] and listening just now, one of 'em has to be Grandaddy, right?

Grandaddy? Hmm, well, you know, I didn't really get into Grandaddy until The Sophtware Slump. The way I've always found music, I've never really sought it out, but it's more like people turn me on to it, or I'll be like, "Wow! What is that?" But the Polyphonic Spree, it had already been discussed but did not have a home yet, wasn't even a band yet, and Chris [Penn, manager/robemaster/all around nice guy] got me this opportunity, because I'd told him what I had been wanting to do. It was after Wes' death [Wes Berggren, Tripping Daisy guitarist who died of a drug overdose in October 1999] I'd had a good year and a half off, I was still in a funk about it, still dealing with it all, and it was kind of a big deal. This was something I wanted to do, and i couldn't really make the commitment to it, though I had a name, and I had an idea of what I wanted to try to put together with a couple of people, but nothing really to kick my ass to make it happen. Then I went and saw a movie, that animated dinosaur movie by Walt Disney, which isn't a very good movie at all. (laugh) but, for some reason, I walked out of there saying "Yes! Okay, I'm gonna do it!" Cuz Chris offered me the slot to open for Grandaddy. I had to get it together. I had two weeks to put this band together. It was just an idea with some songs but, nothing put together!

I went to the store and said, "Chris, ok, I'll do the show." So he tells them, it's advertised "The Polyphonic Spree" but there is no band! (Laugh) So I had two weeks to put this thing together and make music. But I really did see it in my head of how it could feasibly happen, and that's why I really committed to it, even though I'm not familiar with the other world that I've encompassed myself with of this kind of music, the classical world. There's the symphonic side of this band...the terms and the theory, I'm really not that hip on, but I knew if I could find players who could improvise with me, then I knew we could communicate that way.

Getting back to that "funk" you mentioned, was Polyphonic Spree a reaction to that stuff, with Wes' death and the end of Tripping Daisy?

I think that, towards the end of Tripping Daisy, in those last few years, I was itching to try something different. I loved Tripping Daisy, and it was like the baby and something I'd grown up with and a part of my life, and I never could see myself doing two things at once. It was either going to be full-throttle Tripping Daisy or full-throttle something else. I can't split myself up, or I couldn't see splitting myself up; Tripping Daisy deserved all. But I really wanted to do that, but it wasn't going to happen with that band.

One thing I have noticed personally is that I couldn't envision you doing what you're doing with Polyphonic Spree, with Tripping Daisy, because of the whole image thing, this just doesn't seem like it was something that the Daisy could do.

Yeah, it couldn't. It wasn't gonna happen, it couldn't have happened. It went as far as it could possibly go. It could have gone further, I think. (Pauses) I don't know; I'm starting to admit to myself that, after some time has passed, Tripping Daisy was definitely coming to the end of the line, you know, and for some weird reason, Wes decided to go ahead and end it. There was an undercurrent there that it was time, that it wasn't there anymore. We were still doing it, we'd released our own record, and Atom Bomb, we were so proud of that record, we felt that record really captured us, even though we got dropped and no one ever really heard that record. That kind of surmised the whole career of Tripping Daisy. The best was yet to come, yet it never really came.

I was talking to Chris earlier, and I was telling him that I never really got into Tripping Daisy because the only thing I'd ever really heard after Bill was "I Got A Girl" and "Piranha" and not really sure if they were necessarily the best representation of what you were doing or who you were.

It was definitely the best representation. As far as our pop sensibilities in the mainstream world, that was the best it got. It was a snapshot, like all records, man. IT depends on what you want, because, really, you know every band wants to make it big, but yet it's the nemesis after it happens. It seems like you're trying to get away from it.

Like if you go play a gig, but your audience just really wants to hear those one or two hits.

Yeah, exactly! But you've always wanted to have that. Every band wants it, but once they've got it, they're like "Well what do we do with it?" That was our period to go through that, and we all wanted it. I wanted it more than anything. So we got it, and then it was like, "OK, there's just way too much focus on how this is the way that you are" but in actuality they were just watching a growth period, just on a lot bigger scale.

Yeah, because I know if you hear a song over and over and over, there's the tendency to think "they're the band that just do this song." I remember seeing reviews of Firecracker, and they all seemed to say "This is a good record, except for that one song!" (Laugh)

Right, I know, I read 'em! (Laughing) I remember thinking, "wow!" But that song, "I Got a Girl," whew, it made us some money, it took us all over the world, I mean, it did a lot of things, it was fun, and I had a great time.

But it must be like, you're proud of your child, but you do have other children! (Laugh)

Exactly! Cuz there's more... (Singing)"there's more to the picture than meets the eye." There was, but that's all that people had focused on. But there were also a few people who had been on from the very beginning and were just watching what was gonna happen. We had a loyal base there, a really solid base, both in our fan base and the critics. Then we had some people who just jumped on for certain records and then jumped off. It was a valid, valid band, man. (Pause) (Quietly reflective) I love that band, and I love all the records, I'm glad we were a part of the pop rock world, and we were, and I think we were truly significant.

If you look back now, you realize it could probably never happen again. I remember when I used to visit Dallas, right out of high school, it was a different world. Hell, when you turn on the radio now, it's not even the same.
Yeah, I know. It's weird. You know that you're getting older when you are able to reflect back on it. I mean, we're talking ten years ago when we started that, when that came out, when Bill came out. It was really weird, Tripping Daisy kind of had an agenda. That agenda was my agenda, of, like, "OK I really wanna take this to the next level," and get really big and huge and dominating.

And then just getting really weird on everyone around you?

Yeah, just like going for it! And this band, it's the complete opposite. It's kind of happened organically where it was an idea of a sound, to put this band together, and then to accomplish that sound. It wasn't really an idea of, "OK, well, we'll put this band together, and then we'll go to this level, then the next," at all. It wasn't like that at all. This band has clearly created its next step by what it creates behind it. You know, the sound, people are affected by it, so we have to do another show. For me it was just kind of a---I really wanted to get that sound across. Going back to that effect that I was talking to you about earlier, that was my main thing. I always wanted my voice to sound like ten people!
(Laugh) And I would always say that in the back of my head, "What if I had ten people singing my lyrics at the same time?" So I've kind of always done that part since the very beginning. My first effect was singing in a fan because I like the way it sounds, when it goes, EEENNNOOOOOWWWW, and it just comes back in slapbacks. That was when I really discovered I liked the thickness of vocals.

(Glimpses at Tim's Enon shirt) And then you had bands developing the same ideas at the same time like Brainiac--just being really really weird.

(Excited) Right! Yeah...Brainiac...oh man! But they... the controlled chaos with that band was just...


Yeah! Unprecedented. Nobody's been able to do it. Hands down they were the freakin' BEST, man. They were clearly their own, man. Those records are just like living proof, there was nobody out there doing that or has ever accomplished it since...

Orange Cake Mix "Harmonies & Atmospheres"

Some artists are simply doomed to obscurity, it seems. No matter what they do, they'll just never surface above "cult" status. Maybe it's a self-imposed fate, or maybe they simply can't get that lucky break they really need. Maybe they're just not very good. Whatever the case, these doomed souls eventually do one of two things. They'll either give up, or they'll simply carry on, with no concern about their fate, status, or popularity--often creating a protective shield around their creative spirit as they delve deeper into a self-imposed creative exile, shunning the rest of the world.

Jim Rao's been doing his Orange Cake Mix thing for several years now, and he's been marching to the beat of his own drum machine. From the confines of his Connecticut home, he's been making records with the same amount of proficiency as Bob Pollard. Unlike Bob Pollard, though, Rao's style is simply lo-fi pop, with a dash of atmospheric dream-pop and a little light shoegazing--that sounds not unlike a rougher version of Durutti Column. The man's got a huge, impressive back catalog of albums, singles, split releases, compilation appearances and cassettes--and most of them are good, if not excellent.

In the recent year or two, though, Rao's outflow of music slowed. Last year's album, A Shadow of Eclipse on the Moon, was a brilliant, lo-fi masterpiece. Limited-edition split releases with such bands as Wookieback and Knit Seperates were fair, but they didn't live up to his one truly brilliant moment. I began to wonder if Rao had simply started to back off, or if he had started to make a move towards giving up. Thankfully, Rao simply hasn't given up on us--he's simply been focusing on his music. Harmonies and Atmospheres is his first full length album in a year, though it might have slipped under the radar, were it not for North of January, who rescued this album from its very limited pressing on Rao and his wife's own CD-Rom label, Twilight Furniture.

"Enough about the history," I'm sure you're thinking, "what about the album?!?" Harmonies and Atmospheres finds Rao in a more experimental mood. If you're familiar with his style, you know you're getting lo-fi, with a hint of new wave and a touch of Factory goodness, and that's much the case here--except it's a cohesive, beautifully flowing album, with sonic waves crashing gently against each other. Harmonies and Atmospheres also finds him in a more instrumentally-minded mood, as he does very little singing, except for the occasional dreamy crooning, such as on "Way Out There."

I'm kind of glad that Rao's not singing much on this one; his voice isn't his strongest point, and when he does sing, it instantly makes me think "Durutti Column." Not that such things are bad, mind you; it's just that, like Vini Reiley and Brian Eno, singing isn't his strong point. Plus, with all of the interesting music going on behind him, the singing can be distracting. Kept at a minimum, though, his voice becomes another instrument, and that is a different story. Listen to "Safe Inside Your Sky," and you'll hear what I mean; his singing is simply an instrument in a greater melody, and the words float into your mind.

Overall, this is Rao's mellowest, yet most experimental, record. At times, Harmonies and Atmospheres doesn't sound like an Orange Cake Mix record. He's clearly studied from the book of Eno and Reiley, but at times, he's clearly his own genius. In "June Moonbeams," there's a female Oriental singer, and I'm not sure if its sampled or if it's a live track, but it sounds great, too. That's the nice thing about an Orange Cake Mix record. You know you're going to get a certain sound, but at the same time, you'll always be pleasantly surprised. This is clearly Rao's best album to date, and like his previous album, I'm already waiting to hear what he'll do next.

---Joseph Kyle