September 28, 2006

Growing "Color Wheel"

For fans of contemporary drone music, NYC duo Growing has always served as a serene yang to Sunn0)))’s sinister yin. Both bands love stretching one chord for as long as humanly possible and overwhelming listeners with low end and feedback in the process. However, they use this modus operandi as a means to opposite ends. The difference is made clear in their album and track titles: before putting either CD in your player, you can tell that “Friendly Confines,” the second track of Growing’s latest album Color Wheel, will be a much smoother listen than Sunn0)))’s “Cursed Realms,” which appeared on last year’s Black One. Nonetheless, both Color Wheel and Black One are watermarks in the bands’ respective discographies, albums that find them successfully experimenting in order to transcend a formula that could’ve quickly and easily become stale.

On previous albums, Growing’s songs were edifices that simply stated a theme and let it linger. On Color Wheel, however, the duo constructs and deconstructs its music in real time, producing for the first time songs that have beginnings, middles and ends. The first four minutes of opening track “Fancy Period” find Growing slowly layering one sound on top of the next: scintillating keyboards, sprinkler-like hissing noises, woolly clouds of bass, and guitars that make curlicues up and down the major scale. Shortly after the four-minute mark, the duo breaks the drone back down into its separate components, chopping each instrument up until it flickers in and out of silence, producing a vaguely percussive effect. This trick is repeated on penultimate track “Peace Offering.” Groggy, pitch-imperfect guitars are chopped into bits, scattered across the stereo spectrum, and disrupted by a bow mercilessly grinding against the strings of a double bass.

Color Wheel is also distinguished by some rather bipolar sequencing in the middle: the album’s shortest and least orthodox song (“Cumulusless”) is succeeded by its longest and most predictable (“Blue Angels”). “Cumulusless” barely qualifies as a drone: the guitars and keyboards are too staccato to have the trance-like properties that Growing’s music usually aims for. To me, it sounds more like Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” with the drums removed from the mix. “Blue Angels,” on the other hand, comes across as a 16-minute encapsulation of everything that the duo has done up to this point. It starts with a drone so radiant that it sounds as if it’s been beamed in from a faraway pipe organ. At the four-minute mark, the drone doubles in volume; the resultant over-modulation produces an array of phase shifts and overtones. The drone finally recedes during the song’s last two minutes, leaving in its wake a cacophony of fuzz guitars that blare like bagpipes.

Album closer “Green Pastures” demonstrates Growing’s newfound appreciation of the element of surprise. At the three-minute mark, the bassist plays a loud, grinding chord that sounds like he’s thumbing a hot cable wire. This chord abruptly retreats into silence, only to return every few seconds with even greater fury. This process is repeated for the next two minutes, until the song starts sounding like the aural equivalent of electroshock therapy. Even after multiple listens, “Green Pastures” never fails to make my hair stand on end. It’s hard enough to make an album that staves off boredom at every turn, especially when you’re a drone band. Growing pulls it off effortlessly with Color Wheel.

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September 27, 2006

Interview: Viva Voce

Portland, Oregon husband-and-wife duo Viva Voce have returned with a new record, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, which is their first for new label Barsuk. This record is a wonderful collection of instantly catchy yet musically impressive psychedelic rock, and unlike many spousal duos, their sound is larger than their lineup would lead you to believe. Just take a listen to a few of the songs and it's clear that these folk think large and record and compose even larger. With mellow and utterly beautiful moments like "We Do Not Fuck Around" and "Special Thing" (which has a vibe that's rather Lou Reed, if you ask me) fitting in nicely between tribal folk-rock numbers like "Believer" and harder psych-rock numbers like "When Planets Collide" and "Helicopter," Get Yr Blood Sucked Out is a varied and compelling head-trip of a listen. Best number of the record is the epic "So Many Miles," which mixes all of these elements into one loud, gloriously wonderful rock head-trip. All in all, a wonderful little record.

We were able to speak to Kevin Robinson, and though our funky little tape player kind of made part of the interview unlistenable, here's what he had to say:

Tell me a little bit about the recording process.

The recording process for this one was immediate. We didn't really deliberate a whole lot about it. Sometimes the danger of recording at home is you'll spend six months working with no one looking over your shoulder. So we kept everything very deliberate. We didn't obsess too much; we just went in and did it.

When you play live, do you perform as a two-piece, or do you expand your lineup?

We've toured as a two-piece for about four years, and we've just added a new member; her name's Kim Baxter, and we bring her out for a handful of shows. But yeah, the core is me and Anita, but it's nice to play with others. We could do the album by itself; it's not really a stripped-down two-piece construction at all. It's tricky, though. It's taken me about ten years to figure it out. (Laughs) It's a secret family recipe to how we get things done.

Seeing as this was your first record for Barsuk, do you think you used this opportunity to expand your sound?

Hmmm…maybe. Yeah, it is a new starting point, and I think we definitely thought we had something to say musically and lyrically, so it was a good foot to step out on with them. I don't think it was a conscious decision, but I think we were both ready to do something a little bit different.

September 26, 2006

Wolf Eyes "Human Animal"

Okay, let's just get it out of the way: Human Animal scares the crap out of me. Looking at the artwork, it's going for that whole "black" motif, and, as you'd expect, it fits quite well. That thing on the cover---I have no idea what it is, but last night, as I was looking at it, I turned away for a moved! I swear it did! It's going for that death metal sound, and by "death metal," I don't mean melodramatic songs about death; I mean beating you to death with a piece of metal. They aren't trying to glorify death; they're trying to be death.

But this is Wolf Eyes, after all, and for them, this sludge and drudge and violence and noise is not only par for the course, it's an art. And even for all of the scary moments and the general freakiness of the Wolf Eyes concept, it's hard to deny that theirs is not compelling music. It's like watching a head-on collision….from the point of view of the front headlight of one of the cars.

Enough about all of those things, though. Human Animal, for those who have no idea what Wolf Eyes sounds like, mixes the sound of percussion, sonic manipulation, guitar, and a ton of other things that I don't know how to describe (simply because I don't know what they ARE), and they throw these things together with lyrics that are disturbing, and they blend it all together in a way that results in very sick, very twisted, and very haunting music. Sometimes, they sound like Hell. Dante's Hell. Cacodemon Hell. Here, let's let you listen to one of their songs, and tell me if such statements are not without merit:

The Driller

Pretty scary, isn't it? Well, throw in seven more songs with such wonderful titles as "Rationed Rot" (which contains some pretty interesting poetry, truth be told), "Rusted Mange" (which sounds like Trent Reznor-in-real-Hell), and "Leper War" (which is just downright scary). For a kid who was freaked out in first grade when teacher played a "Sounds of Halloween" record, you can only imagine how I might take something like this. (I think I made a mistake when I listened to it at night, yet for some reason I think it might be even scarier when played during the day.)

Human Animal is a very disturbing record, and even if you have a tolerance for music that is scary and disturbing, this record still might be too much to bear. But for what they do, they do well, and it's hard for me to find fault with it. I'll just admit that this isn't something I can handle much of the time—and by "much of the time," I mean "ever."

Yet…yet…yet…I can't explain it, but I kind of dug Human Animal. Okay, so it scared the everlovin' crap outta me, but sometimes, you gotta be afraid. And Nate Young, man, more power to him for making this kind of music. How he does it, I don't know. Wait. Scratch that. I don't WANT to know. When it comes to freaky, demonic music that encapsulates the dark side, there's none more black.

The best part about it, though, is that being on Sub Pop, one secretly wishes that Wolf Parade fans might think this is a new record....

September 25, 2006

Interview: Lucero

Lucero's latest record, Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers is easily this Memphis band's strongest recording to date. After years of making sweaty, gritty, no-frills country-rock--and then touring the hell out of it--the band turned its focus inward, and in so doing, produced a record that's as much a progression forward from its well-developed sound, yet it cements everything that makes the band great. You'll read comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, but I don't think such descriptions are apt: lead singer and songwriter Ben Nichols has the ability to tell a story that moves your soul and gets you rowdy; whether he's singing about a girl that tore the hell out of his heart or simply telling a story about having a good time on a Saturday afternoon with his friends, he sings with such conviction that it's hard not to find some sort of common ground with what he sings. The band's fifth album is full of songs like that; lead single "I Can Get Us Out of Here" is a song many of you might have heard already, but it's merely one song out of a dozen excellent others. I'm personally fond of "She's Just That Kind of Girl," but I'm also totally into the classic-rock powerhouse of "The Mountain"—and yes, comparisons to Lynard Skynard aren't too far off the mark. Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers is a simply excellent record, and for those who say it's one of the best records of 2006, I have to say: I agree! The formula is simple, the songwriting is excellent, and though I know some might say if you've heard one Lucero record, you've pretty much heard 'em all, all I can say is: if the formula's this good, why change it?

We were fortunate to catch up with affable guitarist Brian Venable, shortly before they took off on their most recent tour. A confession, though; in the process of talking with this really nice fellow, our tape machine messed up, so what you're getting is a condensed version of the conversation. Still, it was a nice chat, even if every awesome thing wasn't fully captured…

It's the calm before the storm, isn't it?

(Laughs) You know, with every Lucero record, from the very first record, someone's said, "this is going to be a big record for you!" It hasn't happened yet, even though people have said that it would. So…we'll see. With each record, we seem to double our audience and hopefully, with the new one, we'll finally reach that goal of being able to liff off of our music.

A scene in your documentary Dreaming In America showed Ben being amazed at writing a non-personal song. Would you say there's more of that here?

Oh, definitely. Like, the first three songs on the album…Ben's an amazing songwriter; he's turned into this amazing writer, and the record reflects that. But you know, that's a natural process, growth as an artist. Our first eighty songs, all of those records, were all about personal stuff, like Ben wanting to get to know his grandfathers, getting heartbroken by women, having a good time with our friends. It's cool to hear him now, because he's an amazing writer.

Tell me a little bit about the recording process for the album.

It worked out really well. This is the first time we've ever made a record that felt like "work," in the sense that we simply focused all of our time on just recording. We'd work in the studio, which was in the basement, then we'd hang out in the kitchen, get drunk, whatever, record, sleep until noon, wake up, play all night. It was really, really fun.

How was it working with David Lowery?

Oh man, Lowery is amazing. His knowledge is just so…vast. Like, we'd be doing something, and he'd be sitting there, playing on the computer, and we'd think he wasn't really paying attention to us. He'd say, "Sounds great, I love that," and we'd think, "yeah, right." Then he'd start singing the song, or he would give us really intricate ideas and details, and we didn't think he was really paying attention! We were lucky, working in the studio we did, and the weather in Richmond wasn't too hot, so it really worked for us on a lot of levels.

Tell me a little bit about the business aspect of Liberty & Lament. It seems that, in terms of labels, this is the first record Lucero's made where things are calm in that regard.

It's great, man. We're able to make our music and release it and not have to worry about several aspects. Like, we made Nobody's Darlings without a label. With this one, we recorded the album earlier this year, finished it in June, and released it in September, and we didn't have to do anything with it after we finished it. Normally, when you make a record, you record it, finish it, and then have to wait six to eight months or more to release it. With this one, we could do it quickly, and get it out quickly. Sure there are other aspects about it that are more work, but it's cool when you're working at something you love to do.

I was amazed at how lush the new record is...

Yeah, that's definitely what we were trying to do. Like, with Nobody's Darlings, we made the raw rock record we'd always wanted to make. With this one, though, we kinda wanted to blend up the best elements of all of our four previous albums, take those things we liked best, and I think that's what we did, and I think it came out well.

So, what's next?

Oh, the usual—touring. That's what Lucero does. We're doing the US, and we're going to Europe, and, hopefully, back to Japan. Our two-record deal with East/West is coming to an end, and we're waiting to see what goes on with that. We've talked about maybe doing a live record, and we're trying to get our first three records back, and treat those records right. Other than that, we're just playing out.

Will the split with Against Me! ever come out?

Man! (Laughs) I don't know about that…here's the story on that. We were on tour together, and one of us probably said that'd we'd like to do a split, and then somehow, that gets reported as real news, and then it started coming up on news sites. Then the Jade Tree guys said, "we'll put it out!" and we were like, "uhhh…." Then it just kind of became our next record, even though we'd never really said anything about actually doing it.

Drunken in-joke gone way too far?

Exactly. Don't get me wrong; we really love those guys, but it was never seriously planned out, as we've both been busy and haven't had time to seriously consider it. It's our great, long-lost Lucero record that never actually existed. Maybe if one of us did three songs, the other would be prompted to say, "uh, okay, we better do those songs!" And maybe ten years from now, we'll have the time to do it! (Laughs)

September 21, 2006

Video: "Two Across the Mouth" by Boduf Songs

Though the album is not out until next month, this startling and haunting (and hauntingly beautiful) video is a wonderful taste of what you can expect from Lion Devours the Sun, the proper debut release from Boduf Songs, out October 30th on Kranky It's a record that is certainly one of the most beautiful records I've heard all year, and I'll definitely be talking more about this record in the future. But for now, fold your hands, turn down the lights, light a candle, and watch this beautiful film.

September 20, 2006

A question: What have you done today... make a person's day brighter?

respond below.

Reviews: Some Singles

I've had a few CD-singles and EP's that have been awaiting review, so I took a little time last night and gave 'em some spins, and we think you'll like them, so check 'em out! (Apologies for no artwork; Blogger is being wanky this morning!)

Some Singles:

Sunrise is the second single from Caroline Lufkin's excellent debut album, Murmurs. It's a gorgeous, simple song that is accentuated by her delicate, childlike voice and gentle, unhurried, delicate beats. Indeed, it does create an atmosphere that reminds a lot of a sunrise; in fact, if you listen hard enough, you'll hear crickets in the faint distance. The album version is about as close to perfection as you can imagine; the Logreybeam Mix, well…It's an okay number, but I'm not sure how I feel about a beautiful, perfect song like this should be made into a glitchy instrumental. Okay, it feels like a coda to the original, and I can accept it in that regard. "Everylittlething" is another Murmurs song, and the beats of the original are honed down and manipulated, and it actually works to the song's benefit; the original version's beats sounded a bit generic, but the work of DJ Poignant has turned it into a much edgier song. Still, Sunrise is a lovely little record that serves Caroline quite well. (Temporary Residence)

Andy Werth is a fellow from Seattle, and he makes pleasant, 70s AM-radio pop, similar in nature to folks like Paul McCartney, Christopher Cross, and, um, Bobby Goldsboro. The three songs on Back To The Sun are extremely pleasant, a mixture of piano and brass that works quite well, and there are some excellent harmonies, too. Really, this sound might be called retro, but it'd be a shame to be so dismissive of such a great record. There are only three songs, but they're of such an impressive nature, you'll not want more. My favorite has to be Back To The Sun, but, really, the other two numbers are equally wonderful. Seriously, this guy's music doesn't sound at all retro; it sounds like the real thing, and I've really dug the transport back to simpler times and the era of more sophisticated pop music. Werth is a fresh young talent that's worthy of your attention.

Hella's new EP, Acoustics, is a rather fascinating thing. For the hardcore Hella fan, it's nothing new; apparently, these songs were out and about in Japan some time ago. But for those not quite down with Hella, this EP is an interesting diversion. The duo took a few of their songs and recorded acoustic versions of them. A simple concept that's actually quite entertaining. Hearing the band take on their loud, intricate material in a stripped down setting is fascinating, and it helps to highlight just how talented and complex their material is. Plus, the songs are even more insane sounding. Just check out the 'unplugged' version of "Cafeteria Bananas" and tell me that there's nothing insane and complex about what they do. My personal favorite would have to be "Woman of the 90's," but, really, I've enjoyed the entire EP—and I don't even like Hella! (5 Rue Christine)

Alias & Tarsier's Plane That Draws a White Line is a nine-song remix collection built upon songs from the duo's debut album, Brooklyn/Oaklyn. For those who might not have heard the album (or who were slightly disappointed by it), then this is "EP" almost serves as an alternate album in its own right. Though Alias might be known for experimental hip-hop, what he and Rona Rapidas (AKA Tarsier) have created is more akin to straight-up trip-hop, not unlike the better moments of Massive Attack or Portishead. While moments like the title track remix by Boom Bip, the new song "Sleepy," or the funky Odd Nosdam version of "Ligaya" might up the pulse just a tad, the overall sound of the collection is mellow. Very mellow. Rapidas's voice is extremely seductive, especially on "9:24 Cigarette" and "Dr. C," and Alias's acumen with creating erotic yet gentle beats creates a record that is one of the more impressive records released this year. For those who weren't necessarily won over by the duo's debut album, this collection will make you want to reevaluate their collaboration, for it is a fascinating record and an album in its own right. (Anticon)

I really don't know what to make of Xiu Xiu's latest EP, Tu Mi Piaci. It's a cover record, and though it's intriguing in some of its choices, some of the songs sound…tossed off. The covers of Nina Simone's "He Needs Me" and Nedelle's "Blueberry Mine Shaft" are quite beautiful, and the cover of Bauhaus' "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" isn't bad, but it's not Steward's best. The Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha" should never have seen the light of day, and will people please stop covering "Kangaroo?" It's trite. Still, for Xiu Xiu's track record—one that isn't always consistent in quality--Tu Mi Piaci is a pleasant yet not particularly substantial diversion. (Acuarela Discos)

The Sharp Ease's latest record, Remain Instant is a collection of fine indie-rock, power pop, and just plain good songwriting. These ladies have been around for a while, but this is my first introduction to them, and wow, what a great band this is! Though there are comparisons to be made to other bands, their sound is one that is simply their own. I like the roots-vibe of their music; I mean, really, "Hands" rocks, but there's an earthiness to it that makes it even more pleasant. But when they want to be loud and raucous, they can; just dig the crunchy guitars of the title track or "Peoplewich," you'll be convinced that this is a powerful live band. This record is simply, utterly fun. (OlFactory)

5ive's latest EP, Versus, collects two songs, "Soma" and "Reso-1," from a split EP with Kid 606, coupled with two remixed versions of "Soma" by noise guru Justin Broadrick, aka Jesu. The songs—and their remixes—all follow the same formula: loud, heavy, dark, and long. (Well, not the first track; it's less than two minutes long.) Are the songs really that distinguishable? Not really. But try not to think of it like that, because taken together, the record flows almost seamlessly, the rising and falling guitars and noise sounding not unlike a day by the sea. Sure, the sound might tire some listeners, but maybe that's the point: loud music that seems violent can actually be quite beautiful, rewarding, and ultimately, relaxing. If that's the case, then they've proven themselves quite well. (Tortuga Recordings)

September 18, 2006

What Made Milwaukee Famous "Trying to Never Catch Up"

We reviewed this record way back in 2004, when this little album blew us away. It's since been reissued by Barsuk. I can't really add anything to what I've said before, so I'll just repeat it again:

Hmm, let's see: "What Made Milwaukee Famous." Another band from Austin, Texas. Another band with a bulky name. Another band that's mixing up elements of all different genres and creating their own sonic smoothie. Another band who's releasing their own music and giving the concept of independence a good name. Title taken from a Rod Stewart song. Could it be any good? Could it possibly exceed my expectations? Could it be a radically wonderful record that comes directly out of leftfield and then goes right back?

Yes. Yes. Yes!

This little band from Austin, Texas, has surprised the hell out of me. The first few seconds of "Idecide" had me thinking 'electroclash.' By the time we get to song two, "Mercy Me," I'm thinking they're doing the DC/Dischord/ postpunk thing, but then lead singer Michael Kingcaid opens his mouth, and he's got a slurry vocal swagger that sounds a bit like Morrissey and no one else. "Almost Always Never" then turns around and sounds like a sweet Jeff Buckley outtake. "Next To Him" then sounds like the Shins! Now, repeat this over the rest of the record, and you'll still not completely have them described.

Do you get what I'm getting at, folks? What Made Milwaukee Famous never ever ever sits still. You're never ever gonna pin Trying To Never Catch Up, so don't even bother. They go from loud to soft to sensitive to detatched quite quickly-and, it must be said, quite effortlessly. Such stylisitc variety might be the death of some bands, but like their local neighbors Single Frame, What Made Milwaukee Famous can pull off such a feat without ever once seeming like a bunch of indie-rock dilettantes. Perhaps they've learned the secret: if you slam your listeners with the best of all possible things, it's to your benefit, and you'll prove yourself to be the smartest kid in the class for it.

Try as I might, I've found it's impossible to pin down what What Made Milwaukee Famous sounds like. It's melodic, it's smart, it's intelligent, and it sounds like everything you probably like and nothing you've probably heard. Is this review a sign of lazy journalism on my part? I don't think so. Do I hope this review is the start of a beautiful relationship with this record? Heck yes!

Catching Up with Silber Media

This weekend was hot, sultry, steamy, stormy, rainy, gray, depressing, and utterly wonderful. I spent the weekend catching up on many of the wonderful new releases from Silber Media, a label that specializes in music that fits the descriptions mentioned above. In a way, their style seems to be the crossing point between the esteemed experimental label Kranky and goth/darkwave innovators Projekt. Sure, you might not be familiar with most of the bands on the label, but please don't let obscurity be a barrier to experiencing these wonderful records....

Plumerai is a bit of a different kind of band for Silber, in that it's a pop band. Okay, it's a pop band that's more influenced by Portishead, The Sundays, Lush, and other bands from that early-90s Britpop era. Not that they're Britpop, but they've definitely got that sexy, moody sound thing down. Res Cogitans is a four-song EP, but those four songs are so substantial and meaty, you're left both wanting more and feeling quite satisfied. I really, really dig the sexy singing style of Elizabeth Ezell. All four songs are interesting, and all of them are new favorites, but I really dig the seven-minute "Avernal" and the shimmery, should-be-a-hit "Illuminata." Great music, and hopefully the promises delivered here will be followed through next year with their forthcoming LP.

Alan Sparhawk's solo debut, Solo Guitar, is, indeed, a true solo release, as it only features him playing, well, solo guitar. This no-frills concept is also a no-frills collection, with songs that glisten in reverb, noise, and drone. Musically speaking, the music found here is not unlike the music found on Low's former label Kranky. Truth be told, the record contains two extremely long compositions, and the rest are short, brief numbers, but those songs are just as good, such as the opening "How The Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside." This is true ambient music; it simply falls and fits into the background, and you can easily forget that you're listening to a record while listening to it. It's also a very, very narcotic record; it's easy to slip into a woozy state while listening to it. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? It really depends on your point of view. Personally, I love it, even if there's really not a lot to say about it.

Goddakk is the project of Plumerai's Martin Newman, but it sounds nothing like Plumerai. monuments to a lost age a complex collection of dense, electronica-based compositions. For music that is seemingly difficult, it's also amazingly easy on the ears. The songs appear to be a blend of loops and guitars and synths, and even though the music is dense, there's a pleasure to be found within the soundtrack-like songs inside. Comparisons to bands like Aphex Twin and Coil are not without merit, though Goddakk never gets as weird as either. Best moment: the wonderful, Robin Guthrie-esque "Opened," which, appropriately, opens the record.

Vlor is Silber's This Mortal Coil-like supergroup, featuring members of the roster in collaboration with label head Brian John Mitchell. Joining him in the jam-sessions are Rivulets' Nathan Amundson, Jessica Bailiff, Aaartika's Jon DeRosa, Remora's Jesse Edwards, and Lycia's Mike VanPortfleet. The music found on a fire is meant to burn is mostly instrumental, all guitars, and fits nicely between the folk/rock/drone stylings of the collaborators. At times the music is rough, such as on "Houses Not Homes" and "New Machine," other times, it's extremely hypnotic, such as on "Wires" and the rare vocals of Bailiff on "Suncatcher" makes for a nice treat amongst the focus on instrumental acumen. This is mood music for the thinking man; it's never too dull, never too flat, even though it is mainly an instrumental collection. Best moment: the gorgeous ambience of "Days Like Smoke," where Mitchell and Mike VanPortfleet turn in a Lycia-like soundscape that's extremely lush and utterly beautiful.

September 14, 2006

It's Better If On Matinee: Three EP's of Distinction

For years now, the nameMatinee Recordings has become synonymous with intelligent, enjoyable and slightly melancholy indie-pop. They've also developed a reputation for releasing excellent EP's, and over the past few months, they've released three superb records, and it's simply time we told you about them. Cheers, as always, to Jimmy Tassos, for having the keen sense to release such wonderful records!

Like the best artists, The Lucksmiths can always be counted on when it comes to delivering a satisfying platter of beautiful, melancholy pop, and their latest EP, A Hiccup In Your Happiness, is no exception, as Tali White and company capture the sturm und drang of being a sensitive, intelligent, literate lover. "A Hiccup in your Happiness" is, of course, taken from their recent hit album, Warmer Corners. Like all other Lucksmiths EPs, the three extra songs aren't mere leftovers. Nope, these three numbers are all choice cuts, as White and company prove quite well. "From Macaulay Station" is a sad acoustic number, with White's voice ringing out from a minimal, acoustic guitar arrangement. "Rue Something" is only slightly more aggressive; it has a gentle lounge-act feel to it, with a nice, enjoyable arrangement. "To Absent Votes" is also quite mellow, but slightly more country-ish than the previous songs. White's singing here is lovely and romantic, as he recalls the hours after an election, but adding the heartbreak element that he does so well, making for a slightly unique political song! Of course, it's all par for the course with these fellows, and even though the EP came out back in the winter, it's gorgeous enough and pretty enough for Fall listening!

Lovejoy's new EP, England Made Me, takes me back to my college days, where I'd spend Friday and Saturday nights driving around the city, listening to Pet Shop Boys records and often winding up at a coffee shop or a bookstore. (No nightclubs for me--spare me, please.) The four songs on here kind of have a Trembling Blue Stars meets Tennant & Lowe feel to them that I really, really enjoy. In fact, "Are You Analogue or Digital?" sounds remarkably like one of Chris Lowe's fine B-sides like "Paninaro," "One of the Crowd," or "The Sound of the Atom Splitting." But comparisons to Pet Shop Boys aside, Lovejoy's pop style is quite impressive. Richard Preece's songwriting has grown tremendously over the past few years, and this is easily their best release to date. Plus, I just love his singining voice: it's very emotional, yet detached; his songs are cold, yet warm and reassuring. "Brightness Falls" has a gentle beat and Preece's singing simply exudes coolness. "In the Rain" is gentle dance-pop, and it's also a fine cover of a June Brides classic. But the winner here is "Made in England;" it's an epic as well as an epic beauty. It's hard not to be stunned by it, with its sad melody and pulsing drum beat. He's lamenting England, and he hints at missing something lost in the shuffle of modern society. This is simply a wonderful little release that hints at artistic maturity, and it sounds good on the stereo when you're driving to the bookstore on a Friday night.

Harper Lee is back, folks. Keris Howard and company have had a lot of people fawning over this little EP, and rightly so. It seems only right that a friend and collaborator of Bob Wratten's would carry on the Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars legacy. And man, He Holds a Flame is such a wonderful, wonderful song. It reminds me a lot of those wonderful bands. Appearing here in two versions (regular and extended), this song should have a place on your upcoming autumn mix CD's for your Myspace crush. The other three songs are good, and they all hold true to Howard's synth and guitar style, but man! It's really hard to beat that title track. It's a weeper—sort of—and it's very romantic; it's a letter to a woman that the protagonist realizes he cannot have, yet he refuses to burn that bridge. "I know you care for him times ten/But if you ever feel it's through/Remember, I'm still in love with you" is downright sad in its fatal, hopeless optimism. How could any other song on any other record with a song like that even compare? It can't. It's a shame, too, but I had to make myself not listen to those two songs, because I had to move on to the rest of the material. Those other three songs are really nice and are really gorgeous, especially "William Blake." It reminds me, in a strange way, of The Great Gatsby, with Gatsby standing out at night, looking across the harbor and watching the flashing light, calling him and reminding him of the impossible love that is just barely out of his grasps. The lyrics are very forlorn, not unlike that tragic story, and the faint beeping in the song entices you in the same way that flashing green light enticed Gatsby. The other two songs, "I Could Be Wrong" and "Rest Your Weary Head," are good, but they do pale slightly underneath the other three songs on the EP. Oh well, that's okay. Oh, and this is one of the best records of 200, and it makes me wonder how great the next Harper Lee album will be. Essential? Pretty close.

September 11, 2006

Interview: The Matches

When I first heard Decomposer, the second album by The Matches, I was instantly struck with a sense of intelligence that is sorely lacking in today's music. Sure, superficially, one might be reminded of bands like Hot Hot Heat or Stellastarr*, but scratch that surface and you'll find a band that is writing songs that are sometimes scathing but almost always critical—not necessarily of society in general (though there is a bit of that), but there's also a bit of self-criticism and complaint. It's an interesting mix, made even more interesting by the unique circumstances surrounding the recording process, wherein the band utilized nearly a dozen producers, including some rather big names in the punk community. That the record is on distinctively punk imprint Epitaph makes the band's story even more interesting, as they are decidedly not what you'd expect from the label, and it's something that Harris touches on below.

I had the opportunity to speak to lead singer Shawn Harris a few weeks ago, and I think our conversation was quite interesting. I'll let you be the judge of that. I will say, though, that Harris's enthusiasm for making music was quite apparent; he struck me as a young man who is excited to have the opportunity to do what he does, and utilizes his opportunity to the fullest, and the results of his passion prove it. Decomposer is a surprisingly wonderful album that I will examine in more detail soon, and it is one of this year's better releases.

Listen To: Papercut Skin

One of my habits when I receive a record is that I listen to it before reading the onesheet. What really took me by surprise was the number of producers who worked on this album, because Decomposer has excellent continuity, it has a very natural feel and flow throughout. I know it's a dicey proposition for a band to seek out multiple producers on the same album. Were you surprised by the results?

My familiarity with more than one producer on an album stops at something like a Jay-Z record. (Laughs) The thing about our project is that they were more than producers, that's the technical role these guys played on our record, but it's more than that; this record had a different project vibe from the start. Producers were invented by record labels that needed to tell their artists what to do, but some guy in a suit can't be the guy dictating the art, so there's this middleman between the label and the artists, often for falling-apart bands or messy fuckin' bands. We're a messy fuckin' band. (Laughs) WE have so many ideas, we're all over the place sometimes and we need somebody to kind of take over and give us some direction and hone our scatterbrained visions. But these guys are all artists themselves, so they've had the record label middleman guys and they weren't functioning in that role on this record. They were functioning as artists with us.

It seems like some producers see what they do as an art in and of itself, and there's some validity to that. But from what I've gathered with you guys, these producers took you under their wing, saying, "You've got your sound, let me help you polish it up," and it seems more of a "producer as mentor" role.

Yeah, that was definitely a huge element as to why we chose to do the record this way. One of the first producers to come through and help us develop and blossom the idea of doing Decomposer as this crazy octopus tour of studios was John Feldmann, who produced two Used albums and the Story of the Year album. The first two Used albums are two of my favorite contemporary records—they're really heavy, really melodic albums, just really creative. Feldmann tends to really push the bands he works with. After recording our last record in our basement, we were really curious to see if we could have somebody make us uncomfortable. The last thing we wanted to do is become comfortable with a sound or with a style of making music, or, for that matter, the parts we're able to play on guitar. What drives progress is the inability at the start to do what you are setting out to do. That's what drives a band to change and a band to evolve. I knew from stories that Feldmann is hands-on; some say overbearing. I heard stories of him in the studio with Story of the Year, and he is an intense guy. We met him on tour with Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish in Europe a couple of years ago. He was an intense guy then, yeah. Back then, he said, "I want to record you guys at some point, I really want to do that," but then he rather explicitly said, "don't fuck me around. If you guys aren't gonna be a band that has a 40-year career, I don't want anything to do with you." (Laughs) Right off the bat—wow!

That's intense! (Laughs) I'd imagine if I were in a band and someone said that to me, that would be mind-blowing.

Yeah, it was quiver-inducing, indeed! (Laughs) It took a while for the sessions to come about, and there as this fear, like, was he going to take our stuff and make it something…a watered-down version of us or something? However, I think he is one of the most inspired producers and inspired individuals that I've ever met. To have him take us under his wing, the most we could do was our best. We were struggling—and I mean struggling—to meet his expectations. Of all the sessions we did, his were, we were sweating that one out. I love the guy. He's vegan, and I'm also vegan, so I'd sit there in the kitchen and his wife would make the most amazing meals. In order to record with him—and the rest of the guys in my band are all normal carnivore guys—if you record with him, you have to sit down on his couch and watch the Meet Your Meat video, which is a PETA propaganda film, if you will, with slaughterhouse videos and such, and my god! It freaked me out. (Laugh) I don't eat meat and that upset my stomach. But it's a requisite thing for recording with John Feldmann. Yet how could you say no to this guy? He's offering to bring you into his house and record with you merely for points on the album. Of course you'd want to work with that.

He sounds like the kind of guy that, if he doesn't scare the hell out of you or scare you away, then he's really great to work with.

(Laughing) Exactly! It reminds me of a Karate movie, where some young, bull-headed kid gets a Sensi, ya know?

With a project this varied with producers, especially with big-named producers, I'd imagine a young band like you would have a moment where you think, "wow, I'm working with Brett," or "wow, I can't believe I'm working with Tim Armstrong!" Did you have that moment where you were overwhelmed by the reality of what you were doing?

We had our moment of flipping out with Brett when we signed our deal with Epitaph the first time. He came to our show, said he wanted to sign us, and like a day later we found him, sat him down, and said, (meekly) "Um, Brett…are you sure? We want to sign with Epitaph…but, um…we're not really punk. Do you want us to sign to Epitaph?" He said, "I don' fuckin' care WHAT you are, you guys are a good band, and I love you!" Wow! I think, definitely, that was kind of true when we showed up at Mark Hoppus's studio, because we'd never met him. I'd met him over the phone through Motion City Soundtrack, who did their last record with him. They gave him our demo and he called me up and he'd liked three of our songs, and he said "I got this one, this one, and this one, I hear you're doing a multiple producer thing, these are mine, so don't give them away!!" (Laughing) So we showed up at his house. To be honest, I'd only ever seen him on a music video, or in a magazine with no pants on, so it was a bit surreal! It was a bit awkward, too, thinking about what to do to impress Mark Hoppus, because we all know what his persona is like in the media, being a crazy, goofy dude who takes off his pants and slaps your forehead with his penis and stuff. So, upon meeting him, it's like, you tell yourself, do you jump in and just do that kind of stuff? (Laughing) That's not really us. So, we wondered if he was going to be bored with us, just four music guys. But as it turns out, he's a really nice guy. The first thing we did when we got to the studio that he and Travis Barker had just bought—no one had recorded there, we were the first ones—we put down our guitar cabinets in his hallway, and we dragged it across the floor, and (slightly embarrassed) we put this huge gash across his and Travis Barker's newly-laid parkay wood floor in the entryway. He didn't flip out about that! (Laughs)

The one big thing that comes out, though, in talking to you is that making this record was something of an experiment for you guys, plus it was also to keep the band's music vital and fresh, but ultimately, it sounds like you guys had a lot of fun making this record.

Oh, yeah! Believe you me, we stole tactics from every session that we're definitely going to need. We had some sessions, like, one producer would be a strong believer in the notion that anything worth hearing for a long period of time has a magic at the time of the recording, so beyond any other producers, he was adamant about capturing the songs live as a band. Hexum would be like, if I stopped singing, it'd be like "stop!" and we'd start over again, which was something we'd never done before. That's a recording style that's passed, with multi-tracking and ProTools and such, where you'd rerecord a drum track to tape and then you'd go in with ProTools and layer and do studio wizardry to a track. We did that also, though.

So you pretty much went through every kind of modern form of recording to make Decomposer. When I listen to the album, I hear four guys having fun in the studio, but I think what makes Decomposer more interesting and what attracted me even further to it was in looking at the lyrical content. It seems that underneath the good-time feel to your music, you're making some pretty biting social commentary about modern-day popular culture.

I figure we're starting with the politics of self and moving outward. (Laugh)

I read that you played Warped Tour. And my perception about one of the things you seem to be railing against—and this is my own speculation, and I wouldn't state this as fact—would it be fair to say that part of where you're coming from, would be, like, when you look out into the audience and you see a bunch of kids who are into a scene that promotes rebellion and nonconformity, yet they're all dressed exactly the same, and you know that when they leave the show, they go home and do almost exactly the same things. Is some of your commentary a reaction to that?

Yeah, I think that some of everything I do is a reaction to that. I won't put myself outside of that realm, though. A lot of the spite and disgust is aimed inward. I'm the exact same way, and I wish I could say I wasn't the same way, that I didn't go to Warped and didn't dress the same way like the people around me, a slave to my influences, but shit, I still am. Every time some time elapses, you wonder what you were thinking at the time! (Laughs)

Well, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. It's a natural characteristic of youth and youth culture, and I think that when you look back at youth culture—how old are you, by the way?

I'm 24.

Well, when you look at it when you're older…when you're in your twenties and you look at teenagers, you think "Wow, these kids really think they're being original and rebellious and creative, and they're not" and then you think to yourself, "I don't want to admit that I was like that myself when I was their age," conforming to the conformity of nonconformity. But, you know, when you get older, you realize, hey, it's okay. It's all a part of a phase, and it is what you do to break out of that trap which separates you from the crowd. Like, if you can show kids that staying like that for the rest of the life is the problem, not necessarily focusing on who you are at fifteen or sixteen. I'd imagine the commentary you guys make may be sarcastic or cynical but I think that, as a band, you guys would probably say, "Have fun with the culture but don't become a victim to it"

Right, or if you do become a victim to it …

Get out of it!

Not even necessarily that, I'd say, "Be aware of it." I think the worst thing to be is to have the wool pulled over your eyes. If you are self-aware of it, fuck it, have a good time. There is something to be said about brash, hasty, bull-headed, black-and-white thinking. There's a Billy Joel story, someone was asking him about the music he was making when he was younger, in comparison to the music he was making as he grew older, and he said that as he aged he gained a worldly temperament for everybody's views, and the music he was making when he was younger, back when he wasn't so well-tempered, he'd go off on things, he'd make hasty statements, being the angry young man. He said that he can't write "Uptown Girl" now or any of that brash kind of stuff any more. I'm a little afraid of becoming too understanding of any side of an argument. Sometimes it helps to be an idiot, ya know? (Laughing)

I'm glad you mentioned Billy Joel, because I noticed an influence in your style and your singing. With me seeing that, is it a correct assumption?

Yeah! I do admit I listen to Billy Joel. There's an influence coming from Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, that kind of stuff. Our manager gave me part of his record collection a few years ago and I really got into that. I identified with how they fit in with the music at the time with their contemporaries and punk—being on the melodic punk fringe of the scene at the time. I really identified with that.

Not knocking out bland songs with three chords and that's it, but using melody to make a statement that's just as meaningful emotionally as someone pounding out on a guitar.

Yeah, there's something subversive about them that appeals to me, things which I didn't find in a lot of punk and pop music as well.

Oh, all of those guys are great. Have you heard Aztec Camera?

Aztec Camera? (Curious) No. Tell me more.

Oh, man! Stop what you're doing and check 'em out right now! They're great. Their first album, High Land, Hard Rain? A classic. Roddy Frame, he made that when he was just a teenager, and it's impressive music. He's older now but he still makes music that's wonderful, because he's doing his own thing, and he's still making music. He's overlooked. Anyway, man, I've enjoyed talking to you, and I really dig your record, and I seriously hope you guys do really well.

Thank you, man!

September 07, 2006

Red Sparowes/Battle of Mice/Made Out of Babies "Triad"

Triad is a fascinating collection of dark, heavy music, and it highlights the work of three artists: Red Sparowes, Battle of Mice, and Made Out of Babies. All three bands are connected by sharing common members, as well as sharing the same label, Neurot Recordings.

The first band, Red Sparowes, is a group that's currently receiving a great deal of "buzz," but that's quite all right. From the two long-titled, heavy-handed instrumentals that are similar to Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, it's really easy to understand what all the fuss is about. Their songs are beautiful, quiet epics; both contain a cinematic element that I really like. Most impressive is "Buildings Began to Stretch Wide Across the Sky, and the Air Filled with a Reddish Glow," which is indeed as haunting and disturbing as the title would suggest.

Battles of Mice and Made Out of Babies are two vehicles for vocalist Julie Christmas, but both bands are quite different. Battle of Mice's music is dire, slow, and disturbing—not unlike what Red Sparowes does, only with vocals. Christmas sings with a little-girl voice that's reminiscent of Cranes' Alison Shaw, but she tempers it with a scream that's as piercing and as haunting as Kat Bjelland's. Both of Battle of Mice's songs are edits, and they do feel somewhat short, even though both go well over the five minute mark. Personally, "The Lamb and the Labradour" is the best song of their two, even though "Sleep and Dream" is equally disturbing. Christmas has a knack for singing in a way that's almost storytelling in nature; both songs could be called "goth" if that wasn't such an annoyingly stupid term.

Made Out of Babies, however, is a completely different beast. It's more of a post-punk/some-might-say-metal project, and instead of setting a mood with dark, drudgy accompaniment, with this band, Christmas is angry, the music behind her is angry, and it definitely stands in contrast to Battles of Mice. At first it didn't move me that much, but after a few listens, it started to really grow on me. "Proud to Drown" is a great song.

Though the packaging itself is impressive—originally, Triad was released as a lavish three-single 7" set—this record might not serve the already converted, as it provides a sample of Battle of Mice and Made Out of Babies' forthcoming releases this fall, as their selections also appear on their albums. Only the Red Sparowes' songs are exclusive; they are two live recordings taken from a radio broadcast. Triad nevertheless serves its purpose quite well, as it certainly serves as a nice introduction to all three artists.

Stream the entire record by clicking here!

September 05, 2006

Interview: Paul Burch

Listening to the music of Paul Burch is like taking a small step back in time without ever having to leave the comforts of the present. For years, he's made excellent, unassuming, unpretentious Country music; his music is with the music of the past sixty years, yet his songs never sound overly indebted to the past. When he's not delivering his own beautiful music, he's working with talented folk; some of this list includes Vic Chestnutt, Bobby Bare (both senior and junior), Candi Staton, and, most notably, Lambchop. His latest release, East to West, continues this trend, and includes such notable guests as Dr. Ralph Stanley and Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, who not only appears on the album, but also allowed Burch to record part of his album at his studio. But like his humble music, Burch is an interesting fellow, and I have to say that this is one of my favorite interviews of all time.

I implore you to visit his Myspace and check out some of his music. You'll be glad you did.

Listen To: Montreal

Compared to your previous records, when it came time to write and record East to West, was it a difficult record for you to make?

No, not at all. The writing is a little bit different every time, as are the mechanics of where I do it or how it comes out, but no, it wasn't harder to write. In a way, things get easier—I'm not sure why it gets easier; the worrying about it never ends—but there are less things I need to get out of my system. In some ways, it's getting a little bit easier, and it's a little bit more fun, because I'm less and less attached to forms that I am really interested in than when I started writing. I'm less inclined to try to write a rocker or try to write a ballad. The writing directs me more and more, and the writing tends to almost tell me or suggest instruments and rhythms. So it's always kind of exciting, and I'm not actually referencing other kinds of music.

How old are you, by the way?

I’m 40.

So by this time, you've found your sound and you've found your direction. It's just more natural for you to write songs.

Yeah…well, in away that's true and in a way that's not true. I never…that almost sounds like it's putting the older stuff in a different light…but it's all real life to me. I think the best way to put it is I hear my favorite music a lot differently than I used to. I almost hear it now the way I did when I was a little kid. Even though my hearing acuity has really improved and I can kind of tell sometimes what kind of equipment is being used, I try to avoid that and I try to listen to things on a more emotional level. Like when you're twenties, you start getting a little bit intellectual about things. You start thinking, "I don't want my life to not be like this" or "I want my music to not be like this. I want to avoid selling out." Or "I want to have a sound that's as cool or as exciting as this kind of artist I like." Hopefully you move on, and it seems to have worked for me. I know I still love Howlin' Wolf and Charley Patton and the early George Jones records, but I'm not always thinking about them. So what happens is that when I do hear them, I get a kind of a rush of excitement like I got the first time I heard them. You know, a lot of the great records I love, they were really quite strange the first time I listened to them. It's hard to get back to that point. One nice thing about playing music for a while is that if you continue, you get more sensitive and it becomes something that's much more personal.

The reason I asked that was because in reading your letter in East to West's bio, it seemed like you were dealing with personal frustrations about music and making music and about wondering if anybody was going to listen to it at all.

I think it was kind of time to get my ticket validated. It's like, every few years you have to get a new driver's license or a new library card, and you fire your hairdresser. It was kind of my time to do something. It wasn't that I didn't want to make music or write anymore, but I guess I had just reached a point I didn't know I was going to reach, where I just needed a different peer group to talk to, because a lot of the people I started out making music with, they simply weren't making music any more. They were so passionate about it once, but maybe they became more popular and it became a different kind of passion, but it was difficult for me to relate to it, relate to it on their level. There are some artists, like Laura Cantrell or Jon Langford, both good friends of mine, we have similar outlooks about how to do it, but it's funky when you're dealing with someone your age sometimes. I had this opportunity to put myself on the hot-spot with Ralph, and singing eyeball to eyeball with him and perform live, and after that went so well, it's just—validation is a big word, but it was sort of like he stamped my ticket and I could go on with the next run of Monopoly. (Laughs) It just made it a little bit easier; it was a nice pat on the back I didn't expect. Mr. Knopfler was the same way. He's interested in new music and he made a really nice gesture, but for me, it was like, "Hey, these guys are really good," and they've handled themselves really good, and in the big picture, many years from now, you can take anything from any of their records, and you're going to find something that's good, that might stop you in your tracks when you don't expect it.. So even if I never make a record that sounds like theirs or never includes them again, I know that we musically communicated once and from a professional level, that's pretty cool!

Today's music is so commodified. Musicians must be this and this and this and gets put into different pigeonholes. I've discovered in my last few interviews with people in their late 30s and early 40s—they all have a common thread, where at some point they wonder why they make music any more, since the music world is so geared to younger audiences. It seems the older you get, the room becomes smaller.

The business? I know very little of the business. It's like a shotgun; it's really scattershot, and sometimes the pellets hit me, and it enables some success in some ways. It's really, really strange. It is like a hall of mirrors, because things that seem big really aren't that big, and things that seem small are huge. Tom Waits just came through here on a little tour of the south, and his concert sold out in six minutes, (Amazed) for a 2500-seat venue. Probably you'd have met one in twenty people on the street who'd have heard of him, but yet…His picture in the paper was real fuzzy, whereas everyone else's photos are super professional! (Laughs) And I just thought it was great! For me, the excitement of seeing somebody like that—I didn't know what his stage was going to look like. I was interested in everything his show was going to give me, because his records are really interesting. It might as well have been like going to see Charley Patton or Howlin' Wolf or Robert Johnson in concert. There was such denseness to it that it was really like going to a show. If I went to see something that was a little more doctored, I could have probably guessed the setlist ahead of time and would have known what I was getting into and it wouldn't have been as fun. That's the long way of saying that it's always a tender time when you're in your forties. You either take another step, to make your profession really interesting to you, or, you know, a lot of people just burn out, or they split up from their wives or they do something that kind of falls apart. Luckily, I got through with a real passion to mix up my music a little bit more. But it does get a little bit lonely. It can be, sometimes, because the only other people who are in the position of making records are usually out on the road, so it's really nice when they dip out of the clouds and play some music for a little bit. You just can't meet people every day on the street who make a record, unfortunately. Not even in Nashville! (Laughs) Which is okay, too…

Nashville could use fewer musicians?

Nashville can really put people in a bind. I was really lucky because I just wanted to make records and in my age I grew up in the era where records were a great thing! It was like writing a book; it was something that was really exciting. If you have the passion to do one, then you'll have the passion to do two or three, if you could keep it going. But there are a lot of people who come here and they're just at wit's end. They have nothing else. For them, the idea of success is playing on a record, or touring, or something like that. It's almost like a drug. They're constantly chasing something that's just out of sight, that's just on over the hill. My ignorance was a large part of my success, because I had just one thing that I really wanted to do, and for me, that kind of lighted my way. I've done a lot of those things that people want to come to Nashville for, so, in that sense, I'm a "success," I guess. For a lot of people, it's like a little Hollywood. You can come here, and the first people you meet here are kind of the bottom-feeders. The first clubs you can get into are, too, and it's really tough, so if you don't have an idea, if it doesn't seem simple to you, it seems complicated, then your life becomes complicated as you move things around in your life to accommodate this wish, this desire you have to make it. You can see that in country music now. There are a lot of acts who definitely have talent and they can sing, but they're desperately trying to keep up with something that was never really there in the first place.

I was watching the news this morning, and they were announcing the CMA nominations, and they were playing some of the nominated music, and most of it didn't even register as "country" to me.

Yeah, that's a total, total mystery. And it's selling, you know. I'm really confused by it! (Laughs) But I never really considered myself…almost to be a country musician today, you're doing something that's kind of a commodity, and in a way, country music has set itself up to do that all the time. It's been trying to sell itself out since the 1940s. They brought Roy Acuff and Hank Williams to New York, trying to get them to play at Carnegie Hall, and to play at the top of the Four Seasons hotel, and it just never quite worked. There's always been somebody who's brought the music back down to its folk roots and its Southern roots, and I guess there will have to be somebody to do that again. It has just got to play out. Enough people around the world find a lot of inspiration in classic country music precisely because it was fumbling around and didn't know what was going to work. Hank Williams was considered a throwback and he was about to give it all up, too, when he had a hit with a vaudeville song ("Lovesick Blues") and if it hadn't been for that, he might have just died in Alabama, instead of in the back of a limousine.

I live close to Shreveport, and I grew up listening to KWKH AM 1130. It's living history, and even though I'm not a country person in terms of the music I listen to, I recently rediscovered the station. They play "classic country" now and it's just really amazing to hear the music from the 60s and 70s, and it still sounds just as fresh and exciting and interesting.

Yeah! Waylon and Willie probably had a lot to do with that, and people like Don Williams and Charlie Rich, there were some good people then. I guess it's kind of tied up in the South. In the 70s it seemed like country music had gotten to the point of being clich├ęd, but there was a lot of great music being made at the time. I enjoy some of that stuff much more now than I did then.

Yeah, me too, definitely. I was with my father recently and we were listening to the radio, and we turned it to KWKH, and we were just naming songs and talking about remember seeing them when I was a little boy being sung on Hee-Haw.

That was such a great show.

It really was. Sure, it seemed hokey at the time, but when you look back at it, it's hard not to think, "Dang, I wish there was something like that NOW!"

I wish there was, too! It comes across as being very sweet. It seems like everyone respected each other for being musicians—you don't get that same sense of camaraderie today. I think it's like publicist eat publicist eat publicist dog right now. (Laughs) It's pretty tough, and some of that cordiality, I'm not sure it's there right now. It might be, but it's not something that's touched me so much.

Do you think that sense of camaraderie from working with Ralph Stanley and Mark Knopfler helped improve East to West and your outlook on making music?

It invigorated my outlook on making music, yes. The songs would have been written; the songs were written almost in a fever dream. The writing didn't change because of them, but having them along—on previous records, I've always asked someone I admire to be on the record, because that kind of mixes up the sounds—but these guys were just so supportive. What was most inspiring to me was how they conducted themselves with me, with the musicians, and just how they dealt with their lives, you know. Just how they surrounded themselves with music and how they had handled their good fortune that came from a lot of hard work and a lot of time on the road. They were healthy, they were sharp, they were funny, and they were patient. They were not above giving me some advice, and they were not above giving me the benefit of the doubt. I'd say, "Let's try this," and they'd say, "Yeah! Sure!" (Laughing) Even if they had been jerks I'd have still appreciated where they were coming from, but the fact that they were so, so pleasant and had interesting things to say and were genuinely interested in what I was doing. Sure, it was invigorating! It's like, "Hey, my luck! Wow, I just did a session with Ralph Stanley!" Other people could have taken a session with Ralph, and he could have thrown a pen and said, "Well, it's not going to work today." Which, if that had been the case, it would have been all right, but it didn't! (Laughs) Yeah, you know, it's great! Like I said, my passport got stamped by some people who have been in Customs for a long time.

And it certainly must be exciting for someone who loves music so.

Absolutely! Those little moments are great. I mean, for them, they probably have those little moments all day long when they run into people, but you never forget someone who treats you nicely and you get something out of the meeting that you didn't expect, which is usually coming from yourself. Their music is going to last for a long, long time. And now I realize I hear Sultans of Swing everywhere! And I think to myself, "Well, Mark, he just made another dollar!" (Laughing) But that's pretty cool! If you take apart his songs even if you've heard them a thousand times, when you pick it apart you'll definitely find things about it that you hadn't noticed. Then, when you see these guys live, you'll realize they really handle themselves great on stage, and they're among two of the best people I've ever seen perform.

Do you plan on working with them in the future?

I don't not plan it, but you never know. I certainly try, but we'll have to see what happens. There's nothing official on the table right now.

Did you have any input on the new Lambchop record?

I was not, no. I love those guys, and I enjoy playing with them, but after Nixon they kind of just became a different band, personnel-wise, and they went from not touring to touring all the time. Although I think I've been on the last two, I haven't really played with them in years and years and years. That's just the fortunes of war, you know. They've had to be so busy, and I wouldn't have been able to play my music. I kind of was never a full member. I'd record and perform with them on occasion, but it was kind of a time when we were not that busy and it was a lot easier to just go over to the house and play some music. It's like a family. Since then, Kurt and I both have become more serious and impassioned about making records. But, unfortunately, you can't serve two masters.

Plus, it seems like Lambchop has always centered around Kurt.

I think everybody in the band has added quite a bit. The record I had a lot on and I remember most is Nixon, because Paul Niehaus, the pedal steel player, and I were playing a lot of R&B. WE had a little band where we'd play Booker T & the MG's and things like that. That's an example of how the musicians around you are doing something that influences what you do. Nixon's a great record, and I have fond memories of it, because I know it probably wouldn’t have sounded the same had we not been playing R&B on the side.

So what are you working on now?

What's next? I don't know. I've been talking about making a record…well, Jon Langford and I have been working on a new record for the Waco Brothers, and it's almost done, which we hope to be one of the twenty best rock records ever made. We thought that gives us enough room. (Laughs) And I'd like to help him make a record. I think he's a very busy writer and has a lot to offer, but I'd like to slow him down a bit and help him make one. He's done a lot of spoken word things and he's got a lot of stuff that doesn't quite fit with Rock & Roll, so I've got some new ideas for some new sounds on how to deconstruct what we both do, so I might use him as my guinea pig in my quest to make some Industrial-Country music! (Laughs)

Well, um…that sounds…interesting! (Laughs)

Yeah, we'll see! We'll see if you call back then! (Laughs)

Are you going to do any touring?

Yeah, you know, whenever anybody calls and tells me to go somewhere. I've done a little bit, and I wish I could do more. The records been really well-received so far, and I'm just hoping it'll be the little engine that could, that'll creep along for a while.

Considering how East to West came together, you might just be surprised.

I hope so! Maybe Oprah will call. That'd be fun! (Laughing)

One last question: in your liner notes, you tell people to listen to the Grand Old Opry. Have you ever played the Ryman Auditorium?

I have played the Ryman. I actually sang with Ralph at one of his concerts, but it went by so fast that I sometimes forget I played there. I've never been on the Opry, but the Ryman's a great theater. It's where I saw Wings, and I've seen a lot of great shows there.

So when you stepped on the stage, were you overwhelmed by the magic and the history of the place?

Honestly, I was so worried about remembering all the lines, and I think Ralph was, too. In fact we both skipped to the same verse and went to the same wrong verse at the same time, so we were both quite pleased with that. (Laughs) He doesn't sing "Little Glass of Wine" all the time, and we had decided, like, maybe a half-hour before that I was going to sing it with him. But it looks really good from that stage. I'd like another crack at it.

Maybe you'll get it thanks to East to West.

I hope so!