VOL. 9 NO. 1 ISSUE 116 FALL 2014
FOXYGEN MNDSGN and KNXWLEDGE MARIA BAMFORD • LA HELL GANG DAM FUNK and GEORGE CLINTON SLOWDIVE • VASHTI BUNYAN JUNGLE FIRE • GAVIN TUREK
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FOXYGEN Chris Ziegler
LA HELL GANG Chris Ziegler
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JUNGLE FIRE Dennis Owens
GAVIN TUREK Kristina Benson
MARIA BAMFORD Kristina Benson
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KNXWLEDGE sweeney kovar
GAVIN TUREK by GRACE OH
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FOXYGEN Interview by Chris Ziegler Photography by Ward Robinson
Foxygen’s Fonda show in August felt like a record release, although their new album … And Star Power (Jagjaguwar) isn’t out til October. But they still broke hearts, rules and certain bones during a set of songs that pried new life out of some of the best albums of the 70s. Like the Stones or the Stooges, the Ramones and Todd Rundgren, Fleetwood Mac and 10CC, even Beefheart and Sparks … it was a real Old Grey Whistle Test kinda night, complete with rampaging backup singers, flashing lights and matching turtlenecks. And it was the ideal introduction to … And Star Power, a glam-punk-pop-rock double album that sounds like its own pirate radio station. Foxygen founders and multiinstrumentalists Sam France and Jonathan Rado met between shows at their Dream Star studio in the San Fernando Valley, where the bulk of Star Power was recorded after painstaking research into … say, the exact sort of drum effects used on Low. (Select Star Power guest spots were done on location at …. say, the Beverly Hills Hotel, to better capture that sense of dissipated 70s decadence.) They speak now about the world they came from and the worlds they want to create. At your Santa Ana show in August you autographed an onion and threw it into the crowd. That hasn’t left my mind. Do you often autograph vegetables and hurl them at a bunch of moshing teenagers? Jonathan Rado: It was the first time we’d thrown an onion in the audience, but it was also the first time we’d ever had an onion available in the backstage area. I mean, it wasn’t like there was a sandwich bar. It was a bunch of fruit and cookies and an onion. We were like, ‘What the fuck are we going to do with this onion?’ It’s a one-off experience. It’s just like a perishable thing, too. It’s not like you can keep that. It lasts for five days. But you should have a rotten onion that all the autographs are peeling off anyway. What do you think was the defining moment in the history of Foxygen? I’d say your big plan to hook up with the producer Richard Swift. Everything seems to follow that—getting signed, getting albums out, and so on. You wrote a song for him and he came to your show in New York, right? JR: We went to his show. And that one night altered the entire course of your life. JR: Absolutely! More than any other night of my life. He couldn’t have come to our show because we didn’t know how to play
a show—or organize a show. I think I told you before how we played maybe five shows in L.A., and one was at the Whisky. Yeah, those were our first five shows—at the Whisky or at our high school. And the Whisky just wanted money from the tickets. And we liked the Doors, so we were like, ‘Cool, the Whisky.’ We’d have like ten people on the stage. It’d be weird fifteenyear-old kids making psych-rap and then a metal band. And that would be the show. A fuckin’ Guns ‘n Roses-sounding band. Or we’d play at our high school talent show. Did you win? JR: I think we won the talent show. People liked us at our high school. That was our fan base. It never extended beyond that. We were making music for almost six or seven years before we signed. For like thirty people. Sam France: Either family or a tiny world of fans. JR: Kids we went to high school with. They knew Foxygen before we were cool! You went to the same high school as Linkin Park. JR: And Hoobastank and Incubus. And Reese from Malcolm in the Middle. How did you not become a rap metal band? 7
“I feel like if you’re going to go farther and h should get more and more experimental. And they should always be more polarizing.” SF: That’s our friends’ band Dub Thompson. They did follow the roots of Agoura a little more. Why didn’t Foxygen turn out to be a gonowhere punk that stopped when you went to college or something? What made you think that making this kind of music was something that was … possible? JR: I have no idea. We realized we wrote some good songs and then wanted to record them. And then it kind of just happened. I don’t know. We’ve been making out albums for so long that it just seemed like we’re going to make other albums, give it to our friends, and that was it. Like we’ve been doing this forever. There was no, ‘We’re making it.’ It was never a thing that we even cared about. It’s just, ‘Let’s just do this and … yeah, then we’ll do something else’. What was everyone else in school doing while you were making Foxygen? SF: People were starting to date in high school ... JR: Playing sports, doing homework … You say that like you didn’t do any of those things. JR: I didn’t do any of those things! SF: We were making kick-ass records! I feel like you guys are in a strange place in L.A. cuz you never came up making friends through the years of shitty shows on like a Tuesday night to no one. You went from your house to Richard Swift to signing and doing big shows. It’s like you skipped a grade. SF: We only did one tour before we met Richard Swift. JR: It was me in my car, which my grandma gave to me. It smelled like my grandma. Everyone would smoke weed and everyone would smell bad, and so it’d smell bad for one day and then go back to grandma smell. We organized a tour with the help of our friend, Alexander Laurence. Alexander was an early part of the band in high school. I was wearing a Brian Jonestown Massacre shirt and he’s filling in for his friend who ran a newsstand across the street from Canter’s Deli. He was like ‘Hey, cool shirt!’ I told him about Foxygen. He was on board when were 15 and then we kind of lost touch and then when the label contacted us, we were like, ‘I guess we should put together some sort of tour so they can come and see us 8
play or something.’ So Alexander helped book it from Washington to California, and that was our first proper tour. There was still nobody at the shows. It took us three years after that to figure out how to tour properly but that was our first experience—playing shows as a band and not just having people ignore our performances. What happened at these shows? Was it recognizable as Foxygen? JR: Our shows early on were very … We had all of our friends doing just nothing. They were just standing on stage. If our friend didn’t play anything, we’d be like, ‘Take this triangle.’ We had our friend Tom wear a bear suit. Then my girlfriend Jackie kind of had like Little Red Riding Hood or something. We practiced for one day, and the band was really loose and we’d fuck up. That would be the show. It would always fall apart towards the end, you know. But we had this one show I was proud of. We had a CD player so we played stuff in between the songs. At the end of the show, we had this thing we arranged where we all get shot on stage. So there were gunshots and people fell over. Everyone on the stage would die in the end. Then this angelic music would come up and we all rise and take a bow. At the end, we covered ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ But Sam sang it in fake Spanish so for the whole 6-minute song, and then, ‘Like a Rolling Stone, how does it feel?’ And that was it! I feel like Brian Jonestown Massacre really inspired a lot of … for lack of a better word … ‘freak bands.’ You know? JR: Yeah. I’m a little bit ashamed to say that we discovered them because of Dig. I remember that Sam had his mom cut out this newspaper clipping of the movie: ‘This is one is about rock music, you might enjoy this.’ We had no idea what it was. It was playing on the Sundance channel. We watched it, and it was fucking mindblowing for us. Probably the reason why we started Foxygen was the Brian Johnstown Massacre. Just seeing Anton doing everything himself in the studio. That was really inspiring. Before that, we’d been recording at home but we didn’t realize other people did that—or that home recording was a thing that you could do. But just seeing someone do that really opened us up to that. And there’s so many amazing
quotes—as 15-year-old kids we just walked around saying, ‘You broke my fucking sitar, motherfucker!’ It made us want to really get this sitar. I begged my parents to lend me some money to buy a sitar. And maybe two years ago, I borrowed a friend’s sitar for like a day. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, my parents were right!’ They were like, ‘You’ll play it for a day and then you’ll be done.’ Totally right. Where were you coming in contact with music before that? JR: I had a turntable before the turntable revival. I’d go to Goodwill and just buy records cuz I thought it was fun. That led me to find out about Amoeba and going there and buying tons of records. What were your criteria? JR: Lots of colors! Super super colorful imagery and drawings. SF: We probably liked Zappa and the Mothers of Invention so much early on just cuz of the album art. Why did you record your new album Star Power yourselves? Is that what happens after Richard Swift—you’re just ruined for other producers? JR: Well, we knew how we wanted it to sound. And we didn’t think that working with a producer would maybe take us in a direction that may have—I mean, it might have been fine, but we just knew what we wanted to do. I think working with Richard Swift was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. But other than that one experience, we’ve never worked with other producers. And it would have taken so much money and so much time. This record was going to take so long to do. We knew that. Paying someone for that long seems insane. I mean, also .. you’re right. If it’s not Richard Swift, I don’t know who I’d work with. He’s the ultimate producer. He’s Christ-like. Is that cuz of facial hair or personality or …? JR: All of the above. It’s like the first girlfriend you’ve ever had. Then twenty years down the line, you’re married and you have kids, but you just can’t get that one out of your mind. But Sam and I come from a home-recording kinda place. SF: I consider some studio recordings like home recordings. Big Star Third. Bowie, Eno— JR: All the Rundgren records. We made
records in our bedrooms for ten years. It’s inspiring to listen to records totally made in a bedroom. Why? JR: The idea of not having to hear anyone else’s opinion! You’re completely isolated. Some things you can do in your house you can’t necessarily do in the studio. You can spend a lot of time on it. There’s no one charging you day to day. And it’s sort of fun to have limitations, too. Sam will write something, I’ll write something. ‘Here’s an idea for a verse and a chorus.’ Or more often than that, ‘Here’s two choruses.’ And we’ll just short of shove them together. That’s why there are weird time changes and changes in feel. It’s combining two minds. SF: We have a psychic thing, after being together so long. We know exactly what we’re going for. JR: With me, like my strong suit is playing instruments or arranging. Sam is an amazing writer, an amazing singer, and an amazing musician as well. But I think it’s more raw when he does his stuff. And with my stuff, it’s more like a straightforward song. He’s more unhinged so when we compile the things together, he has a straightforward core with something unhinged going on over it. Are you the Bowie and he’s the Iggy? Or is that too reductive? Are you the Eno and he’s the Iggy? JR: I think I’m more like the Eno. He’s more like Bowie. Does that work in a home-recording environment? JR: This last record was the opposite. We tried to make the epitome of a homerecorded record. All our inspirations were records that were homemade. In certain respects. Some were more legend than true— like McCartney. SF: Tusk—that was the seed at the beginning. JR: The best double album ever. Or maybe Something/Anything. SF: Tusk and Something/Anything were the bookends. JR: They could be deceiving home recording records that were recorded in studios … but we wanted to have that feel. And our next idea is a studio record, like a true L.A. record. INTERVIEW
have a career that lasts longer, your records d if you want to go in a different direction,
Didn’t you record a bunch of guest vocals at the Beverly Hills Hotel? That’s fairly true to L.A. JR: Most of the guest appearances were done at [our home studio] Dream Star. We started from scratch with Tim [Presley of White Fence]. He’s on ‘Brooklyn Police Station.’ We did it live. He played bass. Sam played drums. I played guitar—guitar I eventually erased because if you have Tim Presley, you don’t have to play guitar on songs. With Bleached, we had finished that ‘Star Power’ track and we had this hope of getting Stevie Nicks to sing that part on ‘Star Power II.’ They’re like ‘Star Power!’ We got Bleached to do it because we figured that would be second best. Did you tell them that? That’s kind of a compliment—second only to Stevie. JR: I think we actually did tell them that! We recorded that in the bathroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Apparently, Sam just lived there for like a week or two. Apparently, housekeeping would come and change the sheets and stuff. They thought it was so cool that he was recording. I wanted Paul McCartney to play drums on it. We actually reached out to his people. We got this e-mail back that just said, ‘Paul doesn’t do guest appearances.’ One sentence. He guested with the Beach Boys. I guess he’s changed his policy lately. JR: Yeah, exactly! Well, after 40 years, he doesn’t need to. He’s never heard of our band. So that didn’t work. Who else? Kim Fowley was the big one. I still want to work with him. We didn’t get Rundgren. We didn’t really necessarily ask, but it was discussed. He might have been on the album. I’ve heard he likes our band. We couldn’t offer any money or pay for flights. He was in Hawaii and I don’t want to do too much email back-and-forth stuff because I’m not that into that. It would be really fun to bring him back in this tape environment. You should crowdsource studio sessions with 70s icons. And people can pay more to like hang out and watch through the studio glass. JR: I’d like to see that. Have you heard Adrian Young? He did the Delfonics record with the guy from the Delfonics. And it’s amazing! They put him back in the 60s, like all the music is accurately that time period. INTERVIEW
And his voice hasn’t aged and it sounds … It’s like the best Delfonics record. It’s amazing. That’s the ultimate dream for people like us. I feel like artists should progress in their careers. In a way, I respect Rundgren. He’s gotten way crazier. His records nowadays are almost weirder than they were in 70s, but maybe not in the best way, but they’re still weird … I feel like a lot of artists have plateaued. I feel like if you’re going to go farther and have a career that lasts longer, your records should get more and more experimental. And if you want to go in a different direction, they should always be more polarizing. Why do you like polarizing art and artists? Like of people are into Fleetwood Mac but they don’t always take the extra steps to get into Skip Spence. What about you? JR: The music that feels like it has personality is often written by people who are maybe a little off … or something? I think that you can hear those things in the music and it makes a more emotional connection. I feel like it’s something that you can pick up on without even knowing it. Whenever I discover like a new artist, or something that’s an older record, I always download whatever record they made in 1976, 1977 or 78. Those records to me are always the most fucked up. Any great artist from the 60s made a really weird album in the late 70s. Why was 76 and 77 was such a lawless time for music? JR: Probably cocaine. People didn’t know how bad it was yet, you know? You mean the cocaine or the world at large? JR: Both! What do you think about getting tagged as a retro band? I think what Foxygen is doing is a lot more complex then just copying something. SF: I get it but I think anyone who analyzes the band for more than a second—or who is even remotely interested—will quickly see past any image that has been projected. JR: We’ve been doing it so long. A lot of stuff that comes out that’s kinda retro or throwback-y seems like it’s formed just to be retro. SF: As opposed to people who wanna recreate an effect from the 60s or 70s or something … we kinda wanna do that on a
modern conceptual level. We’ve made tons of different music, but then 21st Century came out—the one people know. That was a campy vibe at the time, and now some people will think this vibe is cooler, and some people will think it’s complete shit and we’ve lost our minds and are on drugs! Really? On drugs? JR: Without a doubt. Where do you think you fit in to L.A. now? Have things changed since the isolation days? SF: We’re hermits! I realized that when we play all these fests: ‘Holy shit, everyone knows each other!’ We don’t hang out with anybody. I could really play up this ‘pitiful’ angle if you want? SF: I like that approach! We are pitiful. Post-pitiful! What kind of stuff is floating around your head for the next record? JR: The next one is already written. It’s an orchestral record. Like a Disney soundtrack. Hopefully Van Dyke Parks can do a few arrangements. He’s really expensive, so just two or three songs. I want to get Randy Newman to do a few as well. Is that in some ways what powers the band? Creating these opportunities for collaboration and experimentation? JR: Right now it’s because we’re able to get in touch with people. We’d always wanted to do that back on our records but that would never happen when we’re fifteen. But now that we can actually do that stuff, it’s amazing to be able to just … email. And we’re always going to come up with concept records that we like to do. All of our records are kind of concept records in a way where we set like a frame, like a world for it to take place—and as of lately, the idea of who would be best to do this with? I think that’s really fun. A lot of bands make an album, and then tour, and then make an album and then tour, and make an album … but neither one is different. It’s just like, ‘Here’s an album, here’s a tour, here’s an album, here’s a tour.’ The album sounds a little different, but they’re in a tour and they’re playing those songs. We want to create a different world every single time, like a constant state of reinvention. Which could eventually turn disastrous. People might get sick of that.
I could see you deliberately over-reaching—like ‘let’s make one of those spectacular failure albums because that’s our concept now.’ JR: Yeah, and I think, in a way, that’s kind of what Star Power is. In a way. We’re definitely looking at a lot of failure records. What do you want out of being in a band? It seems like the Foxygen is about creating these worlds and the music that goes with it. JR: Absolutely. I think that there are a lot of people who are in bands because they have a lot of passion for music. They want to be in a band and then they would reach some sort of level but maybe they can’t sustain. They can do this thing that they did really well. That got them the buzz, but then after that, where do you go? Because they’re not able to reinvent. With Foxygen, it kind of started out in a way that allowed us to do more. I think it’s just the nature of the band. Maybe people just want to hear another 60s record or something, but I think that for the most part—with the last record and this record—there’s no way that you can think that it’s stayin the same. It just seems natural that we would do something else, and then something else after that. But having it be in the same world is important to us. I don’t ever want to get to a point where people are just rolling their eyes, you know? Do you have a social message? That can help people roll their eyes. JR: No. Don’t litter! There really isn’t like a social message about Star Power. It’s pretty carefree. We’re just taking that time period and just trying to make something new that would fit. We have been making music for so long—I’m pretty sure we could do anything. FOXYGEN WITH TIJUANA PANTHERS, WHITE ARROWS, GAP DREAM AND MORE ON SAT., OCT. 25, AT THE THIRD ANNUAL BEACH GOTH FEST AT THE OBSERVATORY, 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA. 12 PM / $40 / ALL AGES. OBSERVATORYOC.COM. FOXYGEN’S ...AND STAR POWER RELEASES TUE., OCT. 14, ON JAGJAGUWAR. VISIT FOXYGEN AT FOXYGEN.BANDCAMP.COM 9
LA HELL GANG Interview by Chris Ziegler Illustration by Jared Pittack Chile’s La Hell Gang let it bleed on their very first release—on their 2009 debut Just What Is Real, some lucky someone carved HELL GANG into his chest and took a photo for the cover. Turns out that it was an exact fit for the music, which was like Ron Asheton helping Spacemen 3 discover another way to the other side. After that, however, La Hell Gang seemed to fade away. Drummer Ignacio “Nes” Rodriguez devoted himself full time to his BYM (Blow Your Mind) label, which uses a custom lacquer cutter to produce shortrun psych albums that match a Burger Records-level cult following to Creation Records-style taste, and guitarist/singer KB began his also-awesome Chicos de Nazca project. But out of nowhere this fall came Thru Me Again, a new Hell Gang record on Mexican Summer—deeper, darker and happily hellish, although this time no one cut themselves up for the new album cover. La Hell Gang will be doing their first U.S. tour this fall and Nes emails us from BYMHQ in Chile. What happened the night you made the cover for the first Hell Gang LP? Who’s the lucky person who carved up their chest? Ignacio “Nes” Rodriguez (drums): Wow, that was awesome—actually KB the guitar man do it himself in front of mirror. It represented a lot of what we were doing that time. Very ‘knifey’ music and style of life. KB still has the Hell Gang mark forever. We were digging a lot of garage and rock ‘n’ roll stuff so the blood, screams and loud music was the motivation to make that kind of ideas. So how much blood have you spilled for the sake of art? Not so much. Sometimes Sarwin gets very into the live gigs and he start to spill blood from his fingers. That’s usual. What exactly made your lives knifey? And your music? How was La Hell Gang was living on the edge? In music it’s kind of simple and minimal construction, like using the minimum elements to create and to perform. In those years almost all the new bands were using tons of FXs and production. It was more show than real music. In life, it’s kind of the same—take the risk! Make the desicion and the determination to get something! And for us as well—not to get involved in complex relationships. Like KB said, flow as much as possible. Everything flows. It’s living in the edge with the minimal supplies, just the necessary food and things for living. And to try to make risky things. The new record, it’s kind different frpm the first one, same as the third one is gonna be different for sure—not for the press or for the attention of the mass. Who are the members of La Hell Gang? Did La Hell Gang come before BYM, or did BYM come before La Hell Gang? In Hell Gang we are three. People has passed thru the time, but always there are collaborations. In the begining I first started BYM. I was working with two bands, Vuelveteloca and Föllakzoid, with their first LPs. And someday in a yonki house was KB’s first band Cindy Sisters, Watchout! and Föllakzoid playing. I was playing drums for Föllakzoid dudes that night and all the three bands were astonished with each other. After that night the first words of KB were, ‘We should play now together—let’s start the next week...’ 10
Next week we were in a awful rehearsal room and KB brought Sarwin who was supposed to play bass. That first days playing the three of us were awesome—full jam, too much flow. In that place took form the first LP. Now we are in the same line up—a trio. Why did you settle on ‘Hell Gang’? Were you just picking the coolest English words you could find? Nothing was too much thinked. That year that we met each other and start to play on the new year, from 2008 to 2009. We went to Valparaiso, a big party and everyone was crazy in the street, and we have a encounter with Watchout!’s drummer. He was totally pissed off, and he saw us with leather jackets and very filthy and said, ‘Hey, look—that hell gang!’ We took that name. And the sound also suggest the name. What happened to get La Hell Gang playing out and making music again? I was under the impression the band was on hiatus, maybe? And suddenly—a new LP on an American label! After we made Just What Is Real album, we played a lot—did a bunch of gigs and a friend Ivan Daguer (Yellow Moon Distro, Pasta Base Records) was living in New York and he expand all the music that we were making at BYM— Hell Gang included. Plus the fact that Pink Reason was playing in Chile at that time—we play with him as support musicians and when Kevin come up to U.S. he was trying to get us to U.S. for a tour. He showed us Mount Carmel and other chances to tour, but we were like waiting for some big bands or thinking to go with a superb band, and we passed on that chance. And then we all start to slow down and we split energies. Then KB starts Chicos de Nazca project, and I start to work in BYM stuff 100% and Sarwin is finding his way. There are many songs that we recorded in that period that are in tapes waiting for the release. It was about two years from that—til the moment that we start to play again with full new vibes. The recording was not easy. We recorded in 3 moments—in the summer, fall and winter—and made a final cut from the 3 sessions. After the album was complete I didn’t want to release it on BYM, cuz we feel that we need more expansion. And Mexican Summer listen to that recording and liked a lot!
The new album seems to have less of a Ron Asheton feel and more Anton Newcombe— what changed in between? We tried to expand more the sound after the first album. The first recordings were very raw—no effects, almost no overdubs. Then KB start to use more colors in the guitar, more overdubs in the studio, a little bit less of knifes and guns. We were listening to a lot of Sundial, Darkside and also classic 90s such as Primal Scream, first Verve stuff, Spiritualized … We start to ‘shoegaze more the 13th Floor Elevators vibe.’ This new one also got a darker mood, maybe a different than the first one—like underwater state all the time, more dreamy-dark vibe. We are in another state of mind right now, in another moment of life. More stories has passed through all three of us. Less impulsive ideas, more thinked ways. Why is this kind of music what you connect with—what draws you to these kind of ideas? Or maybe—what does psychedelic mean to you, and how do you live up to that with your art? It’s funny that so many people now use the word psychedelic for almost everything, like everything it’s psy here, psy there!? But for us it’s not that literally, it’s more a way of life— more a mystic way, and that influence in the music that we made … but its not necessary psy music! Now the bands that we work with, and Hell Gang itself, use and mix a different kind of styles and moods. It’s more a hidden message, not so in front of you face. You said Hell Gang has ‘more a hidden message, not so in front of you face.’ Probably you don’t wanna say what the message is if it’s hidden, but what kind of people do you think Hell Gang most speaks to? And why do you want to keep it a little secret? What is lost when things are just obvious? To literally lose the magic? Yes, maybe—it speaks to people who don’t really take it too serious to live in this world. Maybe one message could be different for people that are creating their own cool world? Why did you decide to sing in English? What made that an interesting artistic choice for you? It’s more familiar expression—for KB, it’s more easy to say more things with less words. The flowing of the English words together are
more likely for us, I think—it’s a worldwide language. With only couple of words you can say much more, or express yourself more. For us, it’s a way of expressing ourselves. We dig bands where the lyrics are an important part of the art that they try to expose—War on Drugs or Kurt Vile are two projects that we like in that way. But for us, now, it’s in the other way. Still, we are still developing our sound. What are La Hell Gang songs about? To me, they seem very impressionistic—like the overall ‘feel’ is as important the lyrics. But they also seem to set little scenes or tell little stories. And they also seem to hit some pretty important topics in life – love, death, loneliness and happiness. They talk about many things of life—not so deep, but in a simple and zen way. Some talk about a sort of come back to the road with Hell Gang, some love songs, like messages to different women. And also simple solution to apparently difficult questions in life that many people get crazy about. Like what? What’s a Hell Gang solution to a problem I probably have? Ha—I don’t know which exact problems do you have, but there is 100 ways to solve or move forward. We always think that we try to don’t have any expectations at all, just see the opportunity and move to that space. Listen the songs—if not, you are gonna be let down. We don’t take too seriously all that is happening right now with Hell Gang cuz if something goes wrong, the same thing happens: we gonna be let down. It’s like a permanent state of drug depression, a dependence on the glory ... How did you first come in contact with the music of the Stooges, Spacemen 3, etc.? You mentioned Napster and the Internet before—is that what happened? And you also mentioned Hugo, the old producer of Sun Dial. How much of an effect did he have on the kind of music you would end up making? Internet obviously gave us a bunch of info. I start to dig a lot of music when Napster and Soulseek start, cuz at that time almost no music was imported in Chile—only the pop stuff. That was the only way. After that we met Hugo … he was an important dude who show INTERVIEW
us very good and inspiring music, Spacemen and Sun Dial included, but lots of rare psy music that’s very hard to find. He brought that to Chile when he came from London. What are some of the Chilean records that you feel paved the way for BYM and La Hell Gang? Who do you look back on as your ‘ancestors,’ and why? There is a lot of Chilean bands from the late 60s that I dig a lot, and all in BYM but not necessary inspire us musically in Hell Gang— inspire us maybe cuz they played also music directly influenced from the music that was happening in US at that time. A lot of psy, rock ‘n’ roll, beat and folky jam music, singing in English and making great art covers. And obviously pressing vinyl records in the Chilean pressing plants—bands like Vidrios Quebrados, Aguaturbia, Los Macs, Los Blobps, Kissing Spell, Escombros, Los Jaivas ... and lot of unknown bands that are very difficult to listen cos there are almost no records left. After that period there was a BIG empty time that almost no bands appear—until the 90s. Where do you feel BYM fits in to the history of music in Chile? You spoke before of the rebuilding that came after Pinochet. Do you feel you’re part of that? We will see in the future the impact of BYM. Luckily we start in this era cuz 20 years ago it would be a hard almost impossible task. We came just after that rebuilding of Pinochet. We now work with some bands that start in the 90s when it was difficult to grow and produce music. Now everyday the music industry in Chile its growing cuz people see us making records, going on tour, catching the attention of press outside and more musicians and people involved are making the same and coping in a good way. And it’s good for all here in Chile. You talk about the generation between you and the Pinochet years as a ‘big empty space.’ Do you remember those years when you were young yourself? I dont remember at all—I start to remember almost when Paul McCartney came to Chile in 1993. One of the BIG live shows after all that period. A few years before Iron Maiden couldn’t play cuz people think that they were real satanic people—imagine the minds of the people in that time! So the 90s were all too precarious. Only the transnational labels could afford recording studios or manufacture records. All the indie world was relegated to a backyard place. And we are proud to release fantastic records like Yajaira’s Lento y Real LP and the Ganjas stuff. What is the BYM home like? It’s an old monastery, I know, but I can’t picture it. Where exactly do you live? What do you do all day, and what do you do at night? BYM house is in the territory of a religious monastery. It’s not a church, it’s a house— very old, buildt with some noble materials which help a lot in the recording! In the first days we were living and working in the second floor house, mixed between work and life— difficult, but now the second floor is only for work, like the studio and space for bands who came to play to Chile. Like Cave, Blues Control, Psychic Ills … and the first floor is for living. Hell Gang members, Holydrug Couple dudes, and some artists living down12
stairs. Mostly all day it’s for work, night it’s for sharing—make some fire and talk about life. Where did you get your lacquer cutter and how has that affected the growth of BYM? What does the ability to do your own shortrun vinyl pressings allow you to do? I get it from some mystic place—a secret place!—and it has helped a lot in BYM productions. We control our stock and can make limited releases. That’s a very unique way of work. I don’t know where would I be without it. Maybe doing more cassettes and pressing records? But now it’s an important part of BYM development. Where else do you record? You talked to me before about going mobile out in nature. Yeah, in the past we recorded almost all the first albums in outdoor places—the beach, the mountains, country-farm house. Outside the city mostly. We brought all the equipment that was strictly necessary, the reel recorders and went out some days working exclusively for the records. We made the first album from Hell Gang, the EPs from Holydrug Couple, Follakzoid [Sacred Bones Records], the Watchout! second album [Flashbacker, reissued by Permanent] and they were some awesome days. Not only for the benefit of the music but also cuz we were knowing each other and making the brotherhood that we maintain to this day. What three records do you hope to find over here when you do this first US tour? I dont know—now you can get every record everywhere. Mexican Summer release a record from Fraction that is awesome, like religious rock, great packaging also. I hope to listen the new Ty Segall and Foxygen records. I listen some of Manipulator and notice that not so many people made good reviews but I like the exploration of his music. Foxygen catch my attention—the production of the record is interesting. Also the new record from Zig Zags, what a great rock band! I saw them last year and was great. Waiting for Endless Bummer too! What’s something about life and music in America that you hope to see for yourself? I hope to see the awesome landscape thru all the time—we are in car all the way! Getting the good vibe of all the guys that knew our music, getting a new inspiration to bring to Chile … it’s like a beginning of real good new times to come for Hell Gang. We hope to create part of the new record up there, and would record in the return. Beside all the bad reviews and things that most people said in the world, the U.S. always will be a good example for us in music and ways of doing the right things. LA HELL GANG ON SAT., NOV. 8, AT PERMANENT RECORDS, 5116 YORK BLVD., HIGHLAND PARK. CONTACT VENUE FOR TIME / FREE / ALL AGES. AND WITH GUESTS TBA ON SUN., NOV. 9, AT LOS GLOBOS, 3040 W. SUNSET BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 9 PM / $10-$12 / 21+. AND WITH THE MOLOCHS AND MORE ON FRI., NOV. 14, AT 4TH AND VINE, 2142 E. 4TH ST., LONG BEACH. 8 PM / FREE / 21+. 4THSTREETVINE.COM. LA HELL GANG’S THRU ME AGAIN IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM MEXICAN SUMMER. LAHELLGANG.BANDCAMP.COM.
Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films featuring
Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500 Luna) Tom Verlaine (Television) Martin Rev (Suicide) Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces) Bradford Cox (Deerhunter)
Created in celebration of The Andy Warhol Museumâ€™s 20th Anniversary, this multimedia performance event unveils 15 never-beforeseen 1960s films captured by Andy Warhol, featuring Marcel Duchamp, Edie Sedgwick, Donovan and others. Five songwriter-composers perform live original scores to these unseen celluloid gems from one of Americaâ€™s most iconic art-makers.
Fri, Oct 24 Royce Hall 8pm
MARIA BAMFORD Interview by Kristina Benson Photography by Ward Robinson Poster design by Jun Ohnuki
Maria Bamford has the unique gift of being able to make you laugh, cringe, and cry all at the same time. Before her breakout role as lawyer/actress/methadone addict DeBrie Bardeaux on Arrested Development, Maria Bamford had already produced her own web series, released an acclaimed Christmas special, was the first woman to perform in two half-hour Comedy Central Presents specials, and recorded two albums. Her work is funny, uncomfortable, and political, and she interrogates topics such as mental health care, poverty, capitalism, depression, sexism, and religion by quickly inventing and then discarding a small army of characters and voices. In her latest CD, Ask Me About My New God, she is a snotty waitress, Paula Deen, her sister Sarah, a disillusioned millennial, a child in need of mentorship, a hipster named Dave, and a candidate for her neighborhood council. She joined L.A. RECORD to talk about gas station cuisine, the best place to get a coffee in Highland Park, and a shadowy man known only as ‘The Wolf.’ On your last album Ask Me About My New God, you have a bit about living off gas station food—since you’re a local, what’s the most gourmet gas station in Eagle Rock? There’s a laziness factor that comes in, so it’s whatever is on the right side of the street so I can pull in. I don’t even know the names of the gas stations. On the 2 entrance going north … I wanna say it’s a Mobile? What they have in there that I’ve used are the potato chips that are artsinal potato chips. They’re fancy. Not the crap ones. Like kettle-cooked but the first ones that were kettle-cooked, like blue cheese and sea salt. I really should give you the actual brand name. I think the fact that you’re an artisinal potato chip person is revelatory. I appreciate what they’re doing. I try to eat healthier. I could eat a Pringle but I understand that that’s not food. So I eat actual food. For protein, you can get a cheese and peanut butter cracker. The fluorescent orange crackers. Or the ones with fresh cheese inside. I’ve never tried heating those but … the great thing about gas station food is there’s no cooking involved. It’s just pure—straight-to-table! Gas-station-to-table! A Slim Jim is also a good source of protein, and now you’re saying, ‘What’s your vegetable or fruit?’ And that of course is Spicy V8. What I use as roughage … I’m not sure what category it is, but it works as well as kale. Which is Red Vines. Red is a fruit. Yes—it’s red for sure. Do you ever have the sesame seed snacks—the impulse buy at the gas stations? I always feel kinda proud of myself when I eat those. And that’s the extent of my cooking. Or if I do get an actual sandwich, I try to get one from the bottom back of the pile cuz that’s gonna be the freshest. But sometimes I don’t even have time to look at the date and I’m just grateful for whatever gets in the mouth. What kind of culture shock did you have to shake off when you moved to L.A.? And why did you settle down in Eagle Rock? I was surprised L.A.seemed so beautiful! I guess I had a fear of it. I thought it’d be really dark. Like Batman’s Gotham City or INTERVIEWS
something. But it’s beautiful and green and the freeways—which also painted a scary picture—were much better designed than ones in some of the Midwest. It felt very safe. And so many flowers! It was just very pretty. I still feel that way. I lived in Los Feliz and I loved it and loved walking around, but I had the opportunity to perhaps buy a house? I looked in Los Feliz and couldn’t afford anything, so I looked in Eagle Rock. I did not make a wise financial decision in that I took a second mortgage and I was underwater a bit, but now I’m over the water and everything is fine in retrospect. Though I have to say when I thought of Eagle Rock, I felt disgusted. Disgusted? Cuz it just felt too far! And people weren’t hip enough or something? There wasn’t enough gelato. There still isn’t, frankly. But now that I moved here, I have friends in the neighborhood. I have my coffee shop where I know at least five baristas. I dunno if they know my name but I know theirs! I enjoy it a lot more than Los Feliz. There was a lot of turnover with baristas there. Here, less turnover. Is it Swork? It’s Café De Leche. [whispers:] it is a great café. Gerardo is my favorite friend there and he’s so nice. He’s not only brought meals for potlucks to my house but he helped my boyfriend move. You have a bit about putting chalk out for people to draw in front of your house, and you said they drew a bunch of dicks. Did you continue putting chalk out after that? Oh yeah. Right now there’s … let’s see, three full packs of 16 ready to go. And I think I’ll put another out while we’re talking cuz why not? I really appreciated the dicks. I thought that was perfect. The next thing that happened is it starting being used for ads. People would put their phone number up and down the block for like a personal trainer. My boyfriend tried to call the number to get a personal trainer but couldn’t get a response. It felt very … mysterious. And now there’s a drug user … or I’m not sure if he’s a drug user, but his name is Fernando and he’s almost always drunk and he lives in the woods. They call him
the Wolf. He lives in the woods in a house. I guess he has family nearby but chooses to live in the wild. And he comes by and if there is any chalk he will make a million eyeballs. He will make eyeballs until there is no chalk left. I gave him a sketchbook with some drawing stuff so he can have the pleasure of making eyeballs whenever he wanted. I thought that was wonderful he was making things, but he’s also into destroying. He fights the shrubbery in the neighborhood. All these bushes that are smaller than he us. So … he’s kind of a pussy? Why don’t you take on that tree, buddy? See how far you get! My friend and I went to go talk to him, and my friend was like, ‘Do you want to get some help?’ But he’s gotten help many times before and he’s not interested. He’s the Wolf! He’s the Wolf, friend! He can’t be controlled! You were a lifelong violin player before you were comedian—you even used it in your act at the beginning. What made you retire from the violin? I did comedy with the violin cuz it’s sort of like a good prop to have. It felt sorta like something to hide behind. When I came to L.A., there were two other women doing violin with their comedy, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the perfect excuse … to stop!’ Wouldn’t it be kind of discouraging to have this little niche and then find out that your niche already has two people in it? At that point I was just grateful. Playing the violin … I didn’t ever really love it. It was something I could do but it wasn’t a true passion. I tried to pick it back up like ten years ago. I thought, ‘God, I put so much time into this—wouldn’t it be this great thing to do again?’ But I tried and I’m not into it. There’s only so much time in life. You gotta do exactly what you like doing. I like trying things—I’ll go horseback riding three times! But I’m not gonna do it for three years. What was your act like during your first year here in L.A.? The same stuff—my family, relationships … it might have been slightly more obtuse cuz I’d take the violin and play it between jokes. I did impersonations of my mom, or people
from my high school or my hometown. And then everything fell apart as it tends to sometimes happen. I moved to L.A. and I didn’t know how to support myself financially. I was living in Koreatown and I couldn’t pay rent. I just … didn’t know how to have a job? I had food service, which I was terrible at. I got into this support group and they said, ‘Well why don’t you get a Bachelor’s degree and temp?’ So I did temping and that really helped. And shaped a lot of my material. I like your stuff about soul-sucking office jobs. It’s relatable. There’s something I love about an office job. I wasn’t good, but I liked to get a task and complete it. It’s not like waitressing, which at least for my brain was so chaotic and emotional. You see the looks on people’s hungry little faces and … oh God! Just such anguish! ‘DO YOU HAVE MY TOAST!? I JUST WANT SOME TOAST!’ ‘No—I don’t know—I can’t!’ I’m a little too introverted to do that well. Maybe now I could do better? I hope I’d be better. It’s hard to say. I haven’t been tested. When I was starting in L.A., it was a much smaller scene than it was now. There just wasn’t as much audience or interest or anything in comedy. There was a boom in the 80s and everyone was into it and there were tons of comedy clubs and I missed that. When I started it had completely fallen apart. Why did you move here if the comedy scene had fallen apart? I had a job doing Star Trek characters. A touring show. I’d thought about going to New York City and I realized I didn’t have the personality for it. I couldn’t handle any sort of perceived slights. If someone told me to shut the fuck up, I worried that I would. For years at a time. At least in L.A., even if people are fake, it’s fake friendly. And people aren’t being fake … it’s just a long way to drive. Everybody wants to say yes to things and meet people. So … there was comedy here and I thought my dream was to be on a sitcom but I wasn’t ever able to figure that out. I tried getting into it and it didn’t work out. 15
Were you a Disney mascot with Spock ears? Like characters who go to a very low-rent Spinal Tap thing, like a technical support convention in Las Vegas—I’d walk around the convention center with the Klingon and the Vulcan in our own makeup. We did our own makeup, which was not very professional looking. I was a Deep Space Nine character which I guess lends itself to a young lady wearing a tight costume and high boots. The important parts of the character were the high boots, the tight costume and oh yeah … the large stuffed bra. The big bazoombas are also an important part of the Bajoran race. So I did that and it was the highest paying job I’d ever had. ‘Oh my God, this is wonderful!’ I felt like I’d done everything I could do in Minneapolis. I didn’t know what else to do so L.A. seemed like a great idea. You have so many great voices for your characters—do you have a ‘Maria Bamford’ voice when you want to do … you? Did you see that movie Lake Bell did about voiceovers? Where she wants to do like ‘in a world …’ but they won’t let her cuz she’s a woman? Yeah, and one of the outtakes is a girl asking [in overpowering California accent] ‘Do you know where I can get a smoooothie? Can you just tell me where the smooothies are?’ And Lake Bell turns around like [in ultimate highpitched California accent] ‘Oh Goooooooood I can tellll youuuuuuu …’ And I’m sure I sound just like that. I know my voice is irritating to some people. I always had a baby voice. Or like that Adam Carolla thing, where he says whatever age you sound, that’s when you were molested—I’ve heard that. My sister has the same voice and she’s a physician for God’s sake! And a life coach, isn’t she? Or something spiritual? She’s a shaman! Which takes pretty big balls as a white woman to say, ‘Guess what? I’m a shaman too!’ But it’s kind of awesome cuz I really admire how brave she is. She lives in a very small town in Minnesota and it’s a hard sell! People are not buying it. And I think, ‘Gosh, that takes a lot of courage.’ She went to India to do the Kumbh Mela—a spiritual thing, where every few years like four million people show up—and she was trying to tell some yoga people there about her beliefs and they were like, ‘Uhhhhhh … that’s crazy.’ But it’s very easy to have courage in L.A. when people are sending each other energy all the time for $100 an hour. I hope I don’t sound like I’m making fun of her cuz I do admire her a lot. She has much more courage than I do. But you go up on stage in front of thousands of people—millions on TV— Mmmmmmmm … I don’t think so. That’s very detached. It’s a very controlled environment. Maybe someone will yell out, ‘Shut up! You suck!’ For sure they say that on the Internet. But otherwise it’s very powerful. You are louder than everybody. You’re in a spotlight. You’re just given a lot of legs up from anybody who might criticize it. Maybe when people say ‘women aren’t funny,’ that’s part of it. Like it’s a position of power, and they’re uncomfortable with that. 16
Of course I can’t speak for other people— whatever you find funny, you find funny. I don’t care. If you don’t like, turn it off. That’s the great thing. But I wonder about that. I’m a heterosexual white female lady who was raised in the Midwest, and when I’m at a show, I do that thing where I look to my boyfriend to see if he’s laughing. I don’t know if you’ve watched women watch a show. Women kind of look to their boyfriends or can look to men in the room, if it’s a room full of heterosexual men, to see if they’re laughing. And to see like, ‘Oh, is it OK that I’m gonna laugh?’ I was trained to be pleasant and agreeable, so even if I don’t understand what a comic is talking about, like masturbating into a sock, I’m gonna laugh. Everyone else is laughing and he’s laughing, so I’m gonna be a good sport. Where I think men might be more brought up in our culture to be like, ‘Well, I don’t know—I don’t know if I think that’s funny!’ I dunno if I’d call it ‘discerning.’ Maybe ‘judgmental’? And it’s a cultural thing, too. Now I’ll look for this next time I watch a live show, see if the ladies kind of just check in with the men. More than the men do. And you know, women aren’t necessarily heard. You think of something and say it and nobody hears it, and then somebody else says the exact same thing and it will be heard. I think they even did studies on that. It’s a decibel and a biology thing, too. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. Something I noticed about myself when I listen to your comedy is that I’ll laugh and then go, ‘That’s true.’ Like the line about being in the bad area, and you see the sign for a multinational corporation and it’s as comforting as seeing a church—‘Thank god for Bank of America!’ That’s so uncomfortable, but it’s true. Or ‘I’m not rich, but I have a lot of private property that I don’t need and I don’t share with others.’ Why are these these deep uncomfortable truths at the core of so much of your work? The joke you said about the international conglomerate glowing … I was in Tijuana in this little neighborhood outside the city and I was genuinely feeling kind of like … ‘Ih, I dunno any people there … it’s gonna be OK, right?’ And then I did see some crazy American corporate logo and somehow I felt better, and I was like, ‘Why do I feel that way!?’ That somehow I’m OK, but all these other people living here in horrible conditions are kind of fucked? You know—you’re back in a known area. Like every town has the same thing. Every town has an Applebees. I get awful sad about that. I’ve also seen a lot about your comedy being negative, but it makes me feel good cuz it’s negative—maybe I’m negative, too! I’m so glad! That’s good! My brain does go super dark. And there’s mental illness in my family—in everybody’s, I think! There’s a lot of suffering in the world, and for a majority of people on the planet, life looks almost intolerable. Very unbelievably difficult. It’s funny cuz I like to do those jokes but I dunno if I always like to see those jokes! I think of someone like, ‘I just wanna hear about peanut butter and how it sticks to the roof of your mouth …’ And I love jokes like that,
too, where it’s genuinely just silly and funny. I don’t know if it’s always so great to be suckerpunching people in the stomach. ‘Get ready, you guys! You thought this was gonna be a fun Friday night? Well, FORGET IT! We’re gonna talk about CHILD LABOR LAWS! But it’s gonna get interspersed with funny things so it gets all WEIRD! And you’re not sure whether or laugh or cry!’ I’m not sure how I feel about that. Or I feel a little bad about that. Like if someone comes to my show and I do 20 minutes on suicide and they’re like, ‘ … but it’s my birthday.’ Oof. I feel terrible! I try to tell people. I always say before the show, ‘If you’re here with a friend or on some recommendation and you suddenly realize you’re in the wrong place, please …’ I use an example. My parents took be to see that movie by Spielberg, War Horse. ‘Oh, it’ll be so great! We saw the play, it was so wonderful!’ And at least when I saw it, it felt like 14 hours of a beautiful gentle horse struggling through barbed wire. And so I tell people, ‘This may be your War Horse.’ And if that’s the case, do what I did. Take yourself to te lobby and buy yourself a treat. You’re so considerate. Well, it’s all self-serving! Also with comedy clubs, the reason I feel there’s heckling is cuz the way it’s set up. Like it can be really fun to have audience interaction—I’m no good at it, but … the audience is lit and you’re lit as well, so they can’t leave without feeling self-conscious. It’s an awkward situation and I understand why people react with hostility. And they’re also forced to have a couple drinks. Or not forced, but … encouraged. So like you had a weird talk with your spouse and you’re like, ‘I’m stuck here for 60 minutes wasted in a chair feeling uncomfortable while they’re going on about their opinions about Palestine?’ There’s no reason to suffer in a comedy club. Why must they suffer? What happens if you go too far? There’s no way to know! I just did Bumbershoot up in Seattle and I felt bad cuz that was a more generalized audience. A super-liberal artistic goofy artistic crowd, but they didn’t know exactly what they were gonna see on the show and my stuff … might not be everybody’s thing. Like everything might not be everybody’s thing. So I felt like there’s nothing you can do at some point to save it. If it’s uncomfortable and going poorly, you can call it out but sometimes people are still pissed! And for good reason—it’s OK to have whatever feeling you have at an event. I dunno how to … fix anything! I really don’t. I felt some sad moments that weekend and I was like, ‘OK— well, OK. Just provide the service. Provide the jokes. Put it out there.’ I was gonna try new material and I’d been walking around the city trying new things to myself, and I totally chickened out and just stuck to more familiar jokes. And I went, ‘Boy, I wish I were better!’ Or at least a stronger, different person. I’d like to become a better comedian who could make ANYONE laugh! You make a lot of people laugh! With the internet. The internet helps you find your people. I’m so grateful for that. That’s the only reason I have a career—cuz of the net. People find out exactly what they wanna see. It’s just wonderful.
When you did DeBrie for Arrested Development, how did they explain her to you? They just said, ‘You’re a methamphetamine addict!’ She was trying to get clean. There wasn’t too much explanation. I didn’t feel like I did much of a character. A lot of it was myself. Turns out I’m not that far off from a recovering methamphetamine addict! Or a lawyer? Yes—she’s also a lawyer. And former actress. That was so fun! I’ve had the chance to work with Mitchell Hurwitz, trying to develop something. He’s such an ubercreative, organized and lovely person. It’s amazing! For the few days I worked on Arrested Development, like 16-hour days, he was cheerful and knew people’s names and … yeah! When someone has to improv at like hour 12 he’s open to anybody’s ideas. Really wonderful. He’s an excellent boss! You’ve got a lot going on now, too, don’t you? You’re just back from a table read. A voice over for Golan The Insatiable, which may or may not end up on TV but they got the OK from Fox for more episodes, and I like doing those. It’s all earning—as a small business owner, it’s so important to have a healthy cash flow! I went to an event for Cards Against Humanity at a gaming convention in Seattle and they have a pretty beautiful business model. They’re giving so much back to the world and the community. I wish I knew more about that! It’s very shocking, a lot of fun—like Apples to Apples but much harsher! You can make your own cards on their site if you don’t have the money to buy the game. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s delightful!’ It makes you think, ‘How can I do that?’ I want something accessible, like ‘Tell Yourself Your Own Maria Bamford Joke.’ I’ll type it out for you and you do it back to me. Or someone can type it to you and you can say it—like if I’m trying out jokes and I’m not funny enough to deliver it myself. Even better! Oh my gosh, I will tell your jokes! I’m not really funny. I’m like office funny. I would totally like to do that! Would you mind if I stole your idea? I’d be so excited if you did! That’d be great. It’s providing a service and it takes the impetus off me of writing something. They already have the concept and whatever they said is funny, and I’d just be seling it to the greater public at large. Oh my God, I love it. I’ll try and think of a good test joke but it’s a lot of pressure. If there’s any way I can put more pressure on you, let me know? No, no—no pressure! MARIA BAMFORD WITH TENACIOUS D, CHEECH AND CHONG, MARGARET CHO, NORM MACDONALD, JANEANE GAROFALO AND MANY MORE ON SAT., OCT. 25, AT FESTIVAL SUPREME AT THE SHRINE AUDITORIUM, 665 W. JEFFERSON BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 2 PM / $99-$250 / 17+. FESTIVALSUPREME. COM. VISIT MARIA BAMFORD AT MARIABAMFORD.COM. INTERVIEWS
Hypnotic and endearing, Ringgo Ancheta’s music is built on hip-hop, funky R&B and a few splashes of ambient experimentalism and free jazz for good measure. An adopted son of L.A.’s sprawling beat scene, Mndsgn has been quietly flourishing on Bandcamp, enjoying a direct line of distribution to his fans for a few years. That line is getting upgraded thanks to the good folks at Stones Throw records. Mndsgn is part of a new horde of beat makers coming into the house that PB Wolf built that includes underground heavyweights like Knxwledge, Ras_G and Samiyam. Mnd’s ST debut Yawn Zen was just released in late August, and finds its author crafting the finest in mellow moods—even getting on the mic to show off his singing chops. Mnd and I spent a weekday morning vibing out in his Highland Park home, bouncing back and forth between memories of life on the east coast, his progression from a Fruity Loops beat maker to meditative musician and just how it feels to be accepted into the muchheralded west coast beat community. I was born in the States. I grew up mostly in South Jersey, which neighbored Philadelphia. Growing up there was really bland. I didn’t realize how bland it was until I got to travel and get out of there. It’s a small town and there wasn’t a whole lot of cultural awareness. Super straight-edge suburban community. You really had to use your imagination to not lose your mind. Was there a Filipino community there? My family was part of a small minority as far as Filipinos were concerned. There were alot of Italians in South Jersey—it was a predominantly white area. It wasn’t that common to see Filipinos. I mean, it has its small pockets. But if you compare it to places like Los Angeles, it doesn’t even compare. Did you play any instruments when you were young? Well—I was born in San Diego. I was there until I was about maybe five or six. Halfway through 1st grade I left and finished that school year in Jersey. I still remember those years. It was way more diverse. You can look at it as more ‘exotic’ than a place like South Jersey. I spent a lot of time with my uncle and my cousins who lived not too far from Clairemont Mesa, the neighborhood where I lived. They were in Paradise Hills—that place is hood as shit. I almost died in a drive-by. I remember that so vividly. The neighborhood they lived in had drive-bys all the time. It’s a trip that I can vividly remember that … it must have been that traumatic. I just remember being out in the front porch and just seeing this truck coming down the road just blasting. My oldest cousin, my uncle’s son, he had to grab me and threw me in the house. Everyone in the house was crouching down, like it was routine. Aside from that, that uncle tried to start bands around there. He was always interested in pursuing some musical endeavor whether he was playing something or managing a band. He was involved. His garage had a bunch of instruments. I would always just go straight to the drums and I remember feeling like, ‘This is dope!’ At such an early age that is so potent. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of music they were playing. I don’t remember that. I had a thing for playing the drums. I would stack pillows and bang them out like they were drums. I’m sure if I grew up playing the drums I’d probably be a drummer right now. When you moved from San Diego did you have access to instruments in Jersey?
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At 26, producer and beat-maker Glen Boothe boasts the kind of deep discography more common with musicians twice his age. But a casual perusal of his Bandcamp page is the first indication there is very little common about young Knxwledge. Soft-spoken but certainly not passive, Knx has maximized the online outlet with over 50 label-less releases since 2009. Operating within his own realm, he’s won over audiences with soulful lo-fi tracks that expertly mesh YouTube samples, rap-remixes and R&B flips. His ‘proper’ releases have come courtesy of labels like L.A.’s Leaving Records and Ireland’s All-City Records. His next project in physical form will see the light of day via Stones Throw. I skyped with Knx to take a look back. The usually private producer shared stories about growing up in New Jersey and going to church everyday, the importance of having a catalogue, the Myspace era and what effect Jay Dee had on an adolescent Knx.
KNXWLEDGE Interviews by sweeney kovar Photography by Theo Jemison
My pops was born and raised in Jamaica. He came over in his mid twenties. My mom’s just from New Jersey, from Central Jersey. We kinda travelled. We used to go visit my grandparents in Jamaica. I went three or four times when I was younger. I can remember being over there pretty vividly. Jersey is weird, man. White people and shit. Growing up in Jersey is kinda sus because I grew up in the hoody part but then it became not-so hood because Jews came in and took over that shit. I’ve never had to sum up that shit before. You know how out here all those blocks between Melrose and Beverly are predominantly Jewish? It’s pretty much like that over there in Jersey but there’s mad synagogues everywhere—new huge joints. That didn’t happen till middle school though. We moved away. They actually bought my parents crib and we moved outta that town. That’s when I started that young wrestling life at school. Jersey was cool. My mom’s parents lived there. They were from down south, Alabama and shit. My mom’s mom’s sister had a church and I grew up in that church, playing instruments and learning all my music. All my feels right there. So you grew up with music through the church? Man, this nigga House Shoes just sent me an Instagram of a laundromat called Yung Laundromat. Y-U-N-G Laundromat. Anyways, this is the thing yo: literally since I could walk, I was in the church. My mom was pretty heavy in church. My dad wasn’t so much at the beginning. We went to church so many days a week, pretty much five days mandatory out of seven until I moved out. After school was sports till like six or seven and then after that straight to church till like 11. Then you gotta wake up at six for school in the morning. It wasn’t five days of full blown church, like church on Sundays. Sunday was mass or Sunday school. Monday was choir rehearsal … you’re a kid, you don’t have a choice. You’re in the choir. When you’re older you lowkey don’t have a choice either. You’re in the adult choir. Tuesday is weeknight church—you know what that’s about. Thursday is like that, too. Friday or Saturday … for some reason when I was younger my mom and dad offered to clean the church. So my whole life, 18 or 19 years, I had to go every weekend and clean the church with my family. Eventually, after I finished cleaning, I would go ham on all the instruments. Some of them got beat up over the years, so they would buy new instruments and I would take all the old stuff. I eventually got that little arsenal set up.
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KNXWLEDGE FROM PAGE 19
What instruments did you gravitate to? Drums, of course. Off top. We had a full-blown band style so actually first it was organ because it was a full-blown organ with the keys and the switches— Damn. With the big ass pipes? Nah, not with the pipes but with everything else. The bass pedals were everything. I definitely remember mashing on them and the drums too. Every time I’d get on the drums my parents would hear that shit. They would be cleaning downstairs while I’m supposed to be vacuuming upstairs. It’d be fucked up. Every time I’d get to banging on the drums it would be a wrap. Where did you have time to hear music that was not in the church bubble? I used to do the radio thing. I used to get these 120-minute tapes. They would record the church every Sunday—actually on weeknights, too. They would record the choir and the preacher talking and solos and testimonies. They still do that. I used to take those tapes and let the radio rock for an hour. I remember thinking that I wished I had an automatic flip-and-switch recorder. I’d usually do the oldies station, and we had a bunch of gospel tapes too. My dad brought a joint that looked like a Tascam 4-track but it wasn’t—it had pitch control and a regular tape player. He brought mad dancehall tapes and VHSs from Jamaica. Those blank tapes, I’d have to go back through them shits on my walkman on the way to church in the whip. That’s all I really had. I didn’t have internet until junior year of high school. Most of my hip-hop was radio shit. Your dad had a shop in Jersey, too—right? Yeah, that was pretty serious. For some reason he had all this ill gear. It was all that Malcolm X type shit… Cross Colors. He had these huge cylinder tubs full of clothes. I didn’t know where they were coming from, to tell you the truth. There is this spot called English Town in Jersey. This was before my dad was going to church with me and my moms—he used to slang clothes. My mom would be there working with him, too. It was only on Saturdays. We used to be there hella early in the morning and we had this spot inside this building—it was a swap meet. Straight-up flea market joint. I just remember that and this egg and sandwich INTERVIEW
spot. They had this hot roasted peanut joint— it’d smell like peanuts in the whole building. I used to live off them shits. I swear that’s why my protein is crazy. That’s why my nails grow crazy. In a week my nails be Wolverine-style. Protein levels ridiculous. How were the first beats you were making? Well, I was off them karaoke machine styles. I would have to pretty much track that shit out in a few different tapes. I straight up had a tape for keys, a tape for bass and so on. I had to record each straight through with no metronome. Well, I had the drums going. I’d record everything and I also had a super weak version of Cubase. I had Fruity Loops, too, but for some reason I had to track it out. You’d play everything out part by part? Yeah, pretty much—and then have to piece that shit together and hope it matches. There’s no warping so you gotta hope that your timing was right. That was pretty much the beginnings. This is when I first started figuring out how I was gonna record this shit and how I was gonna get a computer because that’s what you needed to get that catalogue started. You can’t just fuck with these CDs. I was getting over the tapes and CDs. I need to get photos of all the tapes and recordings I left at the crib. My younger brothers destroyed my studio— it’s so wack. My drums, my keys—destroyed that shit. The weakest. Those fools are crazy. They didn’t really grasp instruments note-wise at first though they both know how to read music now. The second oldest plays the drums now—nasty. That fool could probably play for people. The other dude plays guitar nasty too. Anyway, I had a copy of Fruity Loops 4 and I used that shit forever. Niggas was just starting to hack they life out. I was living across the street from this white kid … for some reason I always had these white kids that I knew that were straight hackers and could get any software I needed. I had a dude in middle school and I had a dude in high school that showed me everything about Windows and everything about Mac, like cracks and shit. The dude in middle school lived directly across the street from me and the dude from high school ended up with me in this computer tech class that we took over like … six times. We were only supposed to take that twice, if that. I still talk to
that fool. I was just talking to him earlier about not eating McDonalds ever again. How was life after high school? I know you tried college for a bit. I was just in the beats. I know my parents hate my existence for that college experience. I mean, it wasn’t that bad. Student loans are on my heels for a couple of grand but what the fuck is a couple grand? It’s thousands of dollars—they’re not getting that shit until I’m up crazy, fuck outta here. These niggas is so dumb. You’re gonna send me three things of mail a day? So fucking annoying, it sucks that they have my address. Don’t even print the name of the school. You didn’t even hear that shit. It was the worst school. That shit was ranked like the worst school. It was savage. Long story short, I made the majority of the early bandcamps in that one year—from not going to class and smoking the most weed. I did not smoke before that year. The weed pretty much opened my chakras that year, 2006 or 2005. Not even just that but actually real life. Not being with the parents and just experiencing real life. When did you first hear Jay Dee? I feel like his influence in your music played a pivotal role in the early stages. The question of life. Ima have to say probably late ‘98 or ‘99, as a young adolescent youth, still a young child. It was through the Pharcyde shit. I saw the Spike Jonze video, the backwards joint. Then I started hunting, started Napster-ing, searching. That young Janet remix, man. I remember I had found that on one of those radio tapes. And ‘Fantastic’? After a lil’ nigga heard ‘Fantastic,’ it’s a wrap, straight up. What did that do to the beats? That made everything have to get warm. I had to start working on that mix. That made me actually just think, after I saw how much shit he had—it’s all about the catalogue. You gotta have heat on top of heat, non-stop. You have to be creating non-stop, obviously. I just started stacking. Stacking these ideas and getting to these loops before these little swagger jackers could. Eventually everything is gonna end up on Youtube. It sucks but it’s what it is. The productivity started when I could finally start working these computers. My mom’s computers
man, I broke so many of my mom’s desktops—so savage. Just from trying to download beats and programs. It’s funny because back in the day there wasn’t that many record stores in Jersey. The only thing that was heavy heavy in Jersey was tapes—that’s why I had lots of cassettes. My record stacks were not even that crazy. My dad brought some from Jamaica but it was only so many of those. Myspace put your boy on somewhat. My man Tom came through with the label bars. Lots of people though—it’s crazy. I remember Dam [Funk] left a comment on Stones Throw’s Myspace and then he had that remix, that Baron Zen remix. I just found some screen shots from back then recently. I literally talked to everyone back then. Fuckin’ Steve [Flying Lotus], Sam [Samiyam], [House] Shoes, Ringgo [Mndsgn], Teebs, All-City. How did that first record Klouds end up on All-City? My man Olan, my Irish father. That’s my mans. I don’t even know what that fool heard and he was just down, off top. Niggas only had like four songs up on the personal page. That was the first piece of wax. I straight up just wanted something to roll up on. That fool Olan made that shit come true. After a show in San Diego in 2008, I came up here to L.A. and linked up with Teebs. I just asked him if he was down to do the cover. That dude sent me like mad options and alternatives. It was crazy to have him do that first joint. I thought he was just gonna send me a sketch of an idea like ‘I’m working on this’ but he actually sent me a few. On the second go around it wasn’t so. It’s all love though. What was the reaction from listeners? It was whatever. It’s not far from the reaction I get now. I never cared about that shit. I knew off top fools were gonna hate as hard as it possibly is to hate. I just try to crank them beats out. KNXWLEDGE’S ANTHOLOGY IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM LEAVING RECORDS. LOOK FOR AN UPCOMING KNXWLEDGE RELEASE ON STONES THROW SOON. VISIT KNXWLEDGE AT GLOOF.BANDCAMP.COM. 21
MNDSGN FROM PAGE 18
Nah—I mean my cousin would have a small 61-key Casio, you know those regular-ass portable keyboards. I do remember always jamming on there and hearing the relationship between playing two notes at the same time. I didn’t know anything about music at that time, in elementary school, I was just hitting notes and shit. I didn’t know that they were chords. That’s another early memory of music. In middle school my sister’s boyfriend was a huge church guy. He played the organ for the church. Him and I were really close. He would teach me songs they would play. He was teaching me crazy gospel runs that I probably can’t even begin to remember. He was opening me up to gospel shit at an early age. I’m pretty sure that somehow subconsciouly affected the music I was going to make. That shit was tight. I was going to church with them, too—being the only couple of Asian folks when everyone else was Black. They were so accepting though. It was tight. When did you start using samplers? Did you go to software first? I was definitely birthed from that Fruity Loops era, when that shit was beginning to be an accessible thing. Anyone that wanted to make music could go and download that shit. That was later in middle school—8th grade to 9th grade. My older brother was already fucking around with that shit and it was only natural for me to try to do what my older brother was doing. I always picked up everything he did. It was a good feeling finding Fruity Loops. I’m sure it could be compared to when a kid picks up a skateboard for the first time and he skates and keeps doing it and he loves it. It’s a fresh feeling. Music is something that was always there from the beginning—when you find the tools to make that it’s definitely empowering. It definitely kept me out of trouble growing up. With the early version of Fruity Loops I would just fuck with the stock sounds. I wasn’t really sampling, I didn’t understand the concept of sampling back then. I was very heavily influenced at that point in time by Dr. Dre, whether it was The Firm album or 50 Cent’s first album. I guess I was emulating that. Even when I’d hear a song where he sampled, my young understanding was like, ‘He played all that shit.’ So I’d try to replay or cover … maybe not cover but do my own kind of bassline like the one I heard. In the beginning it was all software synths—mad cheesy sounds. All that shit’s on the internet somewhere. I’ll show it to you but I’m not posting that anywhere. My first couple of beats are on the internet on Soundclick. Remember Soundclick? Yeah, Little Brother had that Soundclick skit on The Listening. You’re part of a generation that has had a deep relationship to the internet. When did you start finding like-minded musical folks online? Myspace, man. I definitely gotta give it up to Myspace for the networking aspect. I dont know if you remember but you could search local bands by your address or zip code and 22
you could see cats from whatever genre you were looking for. I definitely came across cats through that. My brother was always scouting, too. He was rapping and producing with my cousin and their homies. They had a little crew called Oblique Kitchen. The tape I dropped by the same name was an homage to them. I was eventually a part of the crew but it was right around when most of them stopped doing it, so it was just me and my brother at that point. What was your relationship to hip-hop at the time? Music videos, man. My brothers and my sisters and I would watch music videos during that prime time when dope hip-hop shit had music videos on TV—I grew up on that. Of course, always listening to what my brother was bumping was a huge influence. Also in fifth or sixth grade I started B-boying. That was my second love. My first love was drawing, my second love was B-boying. Right off the bat that’s an element of hip-hop. Even before that my older brother Darryl and our cousins would be doing graffiti—not tagging but pieces. It was all there, music, art and the dance expression. I was doing all that shit and didn’t even really realize it. B-boying really brought me closer to that realm. My brother and my cousin were B-boying and it was just a thing, like skating. I was a style head. I wasn’t doing a lot of power moves. I never gave myself a chance to learn the foundation of power moves but I could always bust and do some technique. That was my shit for sure. I was looking up to a lot of cats from out west too, watching VHS tapes of battles. Maybe even from that point on I was thinking I might need to come out here. When did you learn music formally? Maybe junior or senior year of high school I took a music theory class—just basic shit. Fuck … that shit was hard, man. I was in a room full of cats that were either in bands or the school band, cats that played instruments. My only background was making beats on Fruity Loops. I didn’t know what I was getting into: ‘Music Theory? Yeah, let’s do it!’ It was fucking dope though, man. I learned what chords were and chord progressions and keys and scales. All that shit is so crucial. Whatever you’re doing, know the fundamentals. As many rules as you can learn, you can eventually break them. That class cracked my head. There were a few more courses on theory when I went to recording school in New York in 2007—the Institute of Audio Research. It was a nine month program, a technical school for audio engineering, making beats, mixing, mastering and all of that. That was right after high school. Everyone was already in college and I felt that pressure to do something. I didn’t have enough money to move up there so I was commuting from South Jersey to Manhattan five days a week for nine months. That was six hours of travelling a day, three hours up and three hours down. I was taking
some dumbass way to get there. In retrospect, I could have went to Philly and taken the Chinatown bus and taken less time. I was living in Pennsauken at the time with my sister and there was a nearby train that went to Trenton and from there I’d hop on the New Jersey transit and go to North Jersey and take a Path train into the city. Three trains, three hours. What would you do on the way up and the way back? Yo, those were some really introspective times. Obviously I was listening to music but you can only listen to so much music. You can’t just indulge all that time. So I’d sit there and straight-up reflect, looking out the window. It was those times. It was kind of culture shock for me coming from a small town and going to that big-ass city. I learned a lot, though. Tell me about the beginnings of Klipmode—the crew that was you, Knxwledge, Devonwho and Suzi Analogue. I would just be on forums, not even just Myspace but other shit like Future Producers. I was young with other cats that were doing the same thing and we’d all just nerd out on these forums and beat battles. That was another way that I’d connect with other cats. I think somehow Knxwledge found my screen name—I’ve actually never asked him this— and he just hollered at me one day. He knew another cat that I was homies with. Originally I thought he was from Europe or some shit but when I found out he was from Philly I was like, ‘Aw shit—let’s link up!’ At that time we were both on that Dilla phase. There was this big Dilla awareness around. We geeked out over that and it brought the rest of us together, Devon and Suzi. We all just ran into each other on our individual paths. Devon had come out to Philly in 2008 and he was staying with Knx. At that time he was already talking with Knx and Suzi, them three already knew of each other through the internet but he was a little bit of a stranger to me. We had never really kicked it up till that point. When he came out, we started vibing and playing each other beats and shit. We kept in touch and then it just kind of felt like … fuck it, let’s make something out of this. We never really put out much material as a group. It was more about having the support system of a crew. It also seems like Klipmode was something very symbolic of that time. The Klipmode era was also around when Bandcamp started popping. What was it like when you guys started selling your music directly? That shit instantly proved itself—just to be able to get that money directly from fans. It wasn’t cracking when we first started using it. I forget how we found out about that shit. It must have been Knx or Devon. I heard it from one of them. We did these 3P’s or threetrack EP’s as an experiment and cats were buying that shit. Alright, it works. It was super-convenient and it wasn’t long until everyone caught wind of how effective it is. There is still a percentage taken out but it’s so much
more direct than dealing with a label. I was starting to get really comfortable with that. I could see myself sustaining myself through Bandcamp. It became a reality like, ‘I can pay rent with this shit.’ Being content with that also birthed other opportunities. Maybe the universe was like, ‘Nah, it’s not just that—you can do this too!’ Sure enough, all these other opportunities came up. Labels weere hitting me up. I mean, I’d had opportunities to put out music with different cats throughout the years but at the same time it was mellow doing it myself. It’s rewarding and tedious at the same time—but rewarding to know you’ve done it all yourself. Just to experience that on your own definitely gave me an insight to how these labels run their shit—maybe how they should run their shit. When did you first move out here? I tried in 2008. I left my job. I had a few hundred bucks and it seemed like something that was possible. I came out here and I was staying in Huntington Beach. I didn’t really know anyone. I went up to L.A. once during that trip. I was on the West Coast for a month and a half on that trip. I went up to L.A. once to play a show. That’s where I saw Dibia$e for the first time. He wasn’t even playing a show. He was just outside, next to his Jeep bumping shit. Everyone was gathered around his Jeep vibing like, ‘Fuck what’s going on inside!’ That was my first experience with anything L.A. beat-related. The show was in Little Tokyo at the 2nd Street Jazz Café—I think it was a beat showcase. At that point it was just straight ignorant. You had your laptop or some cats didn’t even bring a laptop—they just had a CD. You’d stand there onstage and they’d play the CD. It was cool at the time. All that mattered to me at the time were dope beats and hearing some dope shit. That was 2008 and I came back in 2009. That time I stayed in Hollywood. That’s when Klipmode played our first show. We all played beat sets. From then on, I had to come back every year just to try it. Every time I came back I had the intention of staying. I had a one-way ticket but eventually I’d run out of money or I couldn’t find a job and I’d be like, ‘Fuck, I gotta go back.’ It was crazy dude, hopping back from coast to coast. I still go back to visit my family that’s there and I could not stomach the thought of having to move back. No disrespect to that place but sometimes you just vibrate differently in different areas. There is nothing wrong with going somewhere and staying there if you feel at home. South Jersey is definitely not for me. Much respect to cats that love it out there, that’s wassup. If there was a community out East like there is here, would you be more open to moving back at some point? I feel like there is a nice community of likeminded cats in Brooklyn that are coming together and very much remind me of what was happening in LA a few years ago, like in ‘06-’07. I feel like that’s happening in INTERVIEW
many places around the globe. Whether it’s east coast or wherever, if I’m gravitating towards it I’ll be more inclined to want to stick around. Brooklyn for sure has a good community that has given me somewhat of an incentive—if I ever were to need to move back, I could probably post up there. Or Richmond, Virginia—there is a lot of talent there. It ain’t no New York City but there is a lot of talent there. Enough talent for me to weather the seasons. You moved out here at a point when the beat community was becoming The Beat Community. What has your experience been like? It’s been amazing. We all embrace each other over here. There is a lot of camaraderie that I feel is so crucial when you’re trying to come up as any kind of artist. If you’re in community with people that is so powerful to keep you going and make your dreams come true. I think that’s so important—to be part of something. It feels amazing to have that sonic family where we can all vibe off each other. It definitely keeps me going. Out of Klipmode, only you and Knx stayed in Los Angeles. You guys both are also coming into the Stones Throw fold at the same time. You share a musical brotherhood. It’s tight, man. One could argue whether or not this is all a coincidence or if it was meant to happen. I’m definitely glad and it makes sense, looking back and looking forward, it all makes sense. It’s definitely a testament to having faith in what you’re doing. We just both kept doing what we wanted to do without regrets, full force. I feel like it’s paying off. I feel like I’m going in the right direction. It’s dope. Were you reluctant to let go of your independence and sign with someone? Yeah. I had to think about it. Do I really want to do this? I could put out anything at anytime and I had to seek no approval. I didn’t have to wait to do this or that. There was no middle man. I liked that. I guess that’s why I was so happy with it. I had full control. It was definitely a compromise when I decided to go with a label. I had to weigh out the options and make sure it was worth it to sacrifice that. What made sense about Stones Throw? Just on the strength of being part of that legacy. You can’t go wrong. I guess I’ve definitely thought of what if I didn’t take the deal and just kept doing my thing. That would probably have been cool too but I can’t go wrong over there. I’ve been such a fan of it for so long. The people they’re showing interest in … I see that they’re going in a certain direction. Like Knx, Ras_G and even Samiyam too. Yeah, I like the direction they’re going in right now. I wouldn’t choose to be a part of it if I didn’t believe in that. Tell me about the album, Yawn Zen. It’s a lot mellower than I anticipated—almost rebelliously mellow. INTERVIEW
I think aside from it being something that I personally made, the mellow shit should be out there with the high-energy shit. It’s all the same. You can dance to anything. I think these young listeners out there need some balance. There are lots of cats killing it on the high-energy tip—there’s plenty. There is no harm in providing balance and making something that’s going to contrast. It’s all part of the experience. You don’t want to oversaturate it. If we’re all painting a picture together with the music that we make, play your part. We’re all together in this. I’m not trying to add too much color where it’s not needed. I feel like there’s not enough good mellow music put out on a major outlet. You’re also doing vocals on this album— something you’ve done for a minute but haven’t pushed. Was it the Stones Throw album that made you feature vocals more? The body of work was completed before I signed with them actually. It was originally supposed to be a Leaving Records cassette and I had it on deck and ready to go for a minute until the final decision was made on the ST thing. I had been doing vocal tracks every now and then. I wasn’t recording too much of it, but I was interested in experimenting with it. I was comfortable with seeing how it sounded. I had a few of them—that’s why there’s only a few of them on the record. I’m still doing mostly instrumentals at this point. I compiled a few and they all sounded like they were neighbors and I felt it was best to put it out now before it developed and evolved into something different. These songs are from a time period and from a particular way I was experimenting with my vocals. I just wanted to let go of that. The tape Leaving just put out, Surface Outtakes, has more recent vocal stuff. Even then you can hear subtle differences in the way I’m approaching how to harmonize. Tell me about using your vocals as a musical tool—since you’ve been using software for so long. I feel like it’s so much more direct. We’re using our vocal chords every day. If you’re playing the piano or guitar you’re not usually using your body that way all the time. You’re talking all the time though. Something like singing can come very natural, especially if you have an idea of pitch and know the notes—it can be so much more direct. Sometime it even helps to record yourself humming something because you’re channeling from a direct source and you’re not thinking about how you have to structure your fingers on a fret. It’s a direct flow of an idea. It’s dope. I want to get better at it. I’m trying to remain humble and stay in my lane. There are lots of cats around me that are repping it hard. I want to do it justice and find my own range and even expose my weaknesses in it. I think that might even be the reason that people fuck with my vocal shit because there is a sense of innocence and honesty in it. I’m not trying to be some crazy soul singer—I’m not trying to front on that.
When you first started performing what was it like rocking a show with a computer? There was some initial backlash towards this generation of beat makers—sometimes people were being accused of just playing beats off a laptop onstage. That was pretty much what I was doing for a very long time—essentially DJing these beats I made. I did that for a minute and eventually I had to switch it up. It wasn’t as fun and it seemed super repetitive. I also felt like I wasn’t challenging myself and I needed that. The live performance is so different compared to being in the studio. You have to treat that as a separate project because the recording should just be a preview of what you should expect at a show. It’s always a work in progress. I’m always experimenting with different ways. I still haven’t found something that I feel is my default. I feel like it always depends on the setting I’m playing in. I’m definitely getting more comfortable with straying away from just playing tracks. I’m still trying to find my range in singing live, too—it’s all very exciting man. I’m stepping into new territory. It seems like you’ve spent some time mastering one realm and you’re growing into another. Yeah, if you’re doing something long enough I feel that’s inevitable. It gets to the point where you have to make a choice. You’re either going to keep growing or you’re just going to stay the same and potentially get bored of it and might even just stop doing it. It’s also been proven to be good for my health to make music. If I was going to continue I had to entertain myself first and foremost—feed my soul. How interested are you working with rappers? For some beat makers the progression is to work for vocalists and often times exclusively just rappers. I’m open to it. I’m not trying to hunt down anyone particularly. Right now I’m probably more open to vocalists more than anything else. What I’m making now is more and more musical and open for harmonization rather than some rhymes. Cats these days are throwing rhymes over anything. When it comes to considering an MC to work with, I obviously have to fuck with it—not just because it’s going to be over my shit. I have to be really selective. I can’t say that I’m trying to work with rappers these days but I’m still open. I just have to have the music for it but right now I have more music for vocalists I feel like. I haven’t been making too much rap shit. Isaiah Rashad, I fuck with his shit. He was trying to holler and get some beats but I feel like I get more out of songwriting. There is just so much more that goes into it than just rapping over a beat. Is it because you want to be producing a record more than giving someone a beat to two-track some raps over? Yeah, definitely. Cats are killing it with the two-track and that shit’s tight but I need to be more involved in the process. I feel like
it’s easier to be more involved with a singer, though at the same time it could be a similar process. You could send a singer a track and they’ll kill it and send it back and it’ll sound good. You’d never be able to tell whether we were in the studio or not. I guess there is some argument there but still I feel there is more openness between the two parties when it’s a singer and producer. There is more of an intimacy rather than just being like, ‘Here you go, rap over this.’ I’m not going to tell someone what to rap about or how to rap. I feel like I should never do that. Whether it’s a singer or a rapper, it’d be tight if I didn’t have to do as much instruction. If we were vibing on the same wavelength. I feel like singers—at least the ones I’ve come across—are super open. They’ve just been open to everything, like, ‘Yo, let me know what to change.’ In my experience there has been more of a collaboration with singers. A rapper has never hit me back with some shit like, ‘Yo, what part of the verse do you want me to change? Should I do it more hard or more soft?’ With a singer, you’re working together because it’s seen as more of a musical arrangement whereas rapping is usually seen as more of the MC’s idea and his delivery and the beat is secondary almost. Do you ever see yourself doing something completely analog? Most definitely. I would like to move in that direction. I’m using more outboard gear than I have in the past. More classic keyboards and even just using the presets. I use it because of the nostalgic element—I want those sounds I heard in the 80s and shit. I definitely want to start using less software as I continue. I feel like I have to constantly keep exploring unexpectedness. I try to throw myself off and snap out of phases. I tend to do that often. I have a phase that will last two weeks then I’ll want to fall back on something that’s totally different. I feel like that’s a form of exercising. You’re playing with different parts of yourself, really. If that’s what it is, why not experiment without filter? What you’re saying right now reminds me of what you were saying earlier—the flowing aspect of B-Boying and drawing as something that attracted you. The music also has a bit of a meditative feel. Where do you feel in the flow most? Definitely when I’m making the music. It has to convince me. If I feel like it’s not a solid representation of my honesty then I’ll be less inclined to keep working on it. If I’m zoning out and it feels good, that’s enough for me to keep working on it. That’s what I would want for the listener too. Those are my intentions, to put you in a trance that feels good. I guess that tends to come off as meditative. By any means necessary—loops, beats, whatever gets you there. MNDSGN’S YAWN ZEN IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM STONES THROW. VISIT MNDSGN AT MNDSGN.BIZ. 23
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As the story goes, Slowdive was the band built up by the British music press and then torn down just as quickly by music writers tired of shoegaze (“the scene that celebrates itself”) and drawn instead to grunge and Brit pop. But twenty years later, they’ve been discovered (and re-discovered) by their fans and spawned a wave of bands influenced by their impressionistic sound and sublime albums like Souvlaki. Neil Halstead joins us to talk about his favorite onehanded pianist and the joys of surfing in Southern California. You’ve got a lot of affection for the concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his arm in World War 1, but who went on to commission famous composers to write him piano pieces for left hand only. What draws you to him? Neil Halstead (guitar/vocals): I’d read a book about the family. It was a fascinating kind of story. There were like five brothers, and one of them was killed in the first World War, the other one committed suicide, Ludwig became a famous philosopher … and Paul Wittgenstein lost his arm and became a circus act, really. Although because the family had quite a lot of money, he was able to get these commissioned pieces. They were a very well thought of family in Vienna at that point. They would have these famous musicians come and play at their house, and all that sort of stuff. They were in the scene. I just found the whole story fascinating, so it ended up working itself into a song. If your left arm was chopped off, who would play the chords for you in Slowdive? I’d probably just have to take up piano. As a one-armed pianist? It would be treated piano. You could probably do that with one hand and your feet. I think it’d be pretty tricky to try and play the guitar. Now that twenty years have safely passed, what kind of shoegaze haircut can you say aged the best? Rachel’s haircut probably aged the best. I don’t think it has changed much. Those ridiculous bowl haircuts … it is very hard to carry that off when you’re forty years old. It was hard to carry off when you’re twenty, too. But you did it. It was much easier. I’ve still got it cut in sort of a fairly thick head of hair. It’s weird looking at those pictures now. Those were ridiculous haircuts. You literally said, ‘Give me a bowl haircut, a Beatles cut.’ We all just wanted to have Beatles haircuts and Byrds haircuts. I think they’re closer to Byrdss haircuts than the Beatles. That’s hard to pull off in middle age. Early in Slowdive’s history, you wrote a letter to Brian Eno asking him to work with you—and he did. Did you send out fifty letters to fifty different artists and hope one would say yes? Or was he the only one? He was the only one. We’d never worked with a producer until that, but we were all huge fans. Someone at the record label had—at least offhand—said, ‘You guys should do a track with Brian Eno, or try and get Brian Eno to produce your next record.’ We thought we’ll write him a letter and just see if we can do it. He came back to us, and surprisingly he claims to have heard of the band, so … He didn’t end up producing, but we went into studio with him for two days and worked on a whole bunch of stuff—really just sketches. It 28
was him recording guitars and treating them. The idea was to create these ideas. ‘Scene’ was one of those, and ‘Here She Comes Now’ was another. One of the things I found interesting was that he was interested in capturing a particular moment, which I don’t think he would be particularly about. The first thing he did was pull a clock off the wall in the studio and say, ‘Look, I’m going to record each idea for ten minutes.’ In essence, he wanted to capture something that was just a very rough idea— before he got too familiar with it. I liked that cuz we were pretty young and I suppose we instinctively react that way in the studio— cuz we didn’t have enough time to fully work things out anyway. It’s something I look back on now when I’m in the studio—particularly if you’re recording other people, it’s a good kind of producing. The first thing people do when they’re feeling their way is often the most interesting. Then you start editing yourself, and you start formulating a part which becomes less interesting. Do you use his Oblique Strategies cards ? A friend of mine has them in his studio. While I was doing records with my friend Mark Van Hoen, we did records—the dance group Black Hearted Brother, which came out last year on Slumberland. We did use his Oblique Strategies for some of the tracks on that. They’re helpful, except sometimes I feel like, ‘I don’t like that one—I’ll pick another.’ If you’re going to play, you can’t cheat. What really happened with the battle between Slowdive and the British music press? The narrative now is that the press built you up and tore you apart. I think that is the correct narrative. Right up until the second album Souvlaki, we’d get good reviews. Our whole thing was built around the press. We’d only done three gigs before we signed a record deal, so it wasn’t like we’d built an audience ourselves. The audience came purely because we got good reviews in NME and Melody Maker. But then there was a huge backlash against us. I think what happened was grunge and Brit-pop kind of came along and the British music press instantly moved into that kind of scene. The way they operated at that point was godlike, really. They held so much sway, particularly in England. I don’t know if it was ever the same in America. I think we probably fared a bit better in America at that point cuz there wasn’t such a monopoly on the music press there. In England, it really was down to what Melody Maker or NME said. They really were the taste-makers at that point. Unfortunately, we fell out of favor with them, and it became quite hard work after that. They’d done it to a whole load of scenes before, and they did it after. I think that was the height of their power at that particular point.
SLOWDIVE Interview by Kristina Benson Photography by Debi Del Grande
Let’s say they loved Pygmalion—what would have happened if you’d kept going ? Hard to say, really. I think it was quite a divisive record within the band, as well. Nick and Christian weren’t really that interested in the direction of that particular record. Simon had already left the band before then. In all honesty, it felt like a natural end for the band. I suppose if we’d have had a form of support … I think we did feel quite unloved at that point. We peaked with Souvlaki in terms of record sales and stuff. The audience was becoming more selective. I think we were disheartened. We were dropped by Creation. I don’t think there was much question of us carrying on after that. We all felt like, ‘Well, that’s probably it for the band.’ It’s strange to think about it now, but we were twenty four, we’d done it for six years and I think we were all just a bit sick of it. Sick of feeling … It was very disheartening to put out that record and for it to be really just totally ignored. No one really understood it. I remember there was some confusing and confused reviews that came through. They weren’t even nasty—just kind of reviews that were like, ‘Well, what the fuck are they doing?’ In some ways I do think that record was probably a little bit ahead of its time. I think if it had come out two, three, four, five years later, it would have been understood a bit more. It was accepted more in the world of electronic music than it was in the guitar terms. Brit Pop was pretty much at its height at that point. When we started, I think we were influenced by My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins and Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. We were sixteen, seventeen year old kids, and those were our influences. That was kind of what we were aiming for. We were super into Pink Floyd and the Beatles. Velvet Underground. A friend of mine had Nuggets on a cassette, and we used to play it in my car all the time. I never really knew what the bands were. You just had a bunch of garage bands from around the 60s, doing crazy psychedelic music. We always felt we were making psychedelic music—that was our touchstone in terms of where we felt we were coming from, and the bands that were influencing us as well. Now a lot of bands are influenced by Slowdive—how does it feel to have this wave of sort of contemporary versions of Slowdive? If I’m honest, we’re not really particularly aware of that. I think we’ve become more aware of it since we formed the band and we realized that there is generation of kids that are influenced by a whole bunch of shoegaze music, as well as probably electronic music or laptop kind of stuff, as well. I like the fact that all these bands take these different influences and do their own thing with it. I don’t think we feel like we’re old masters or anything. We feel lucky that there’s still young kids coming to the gigs. Initially, we didn’t have much of an idea for our reunion: ‘We’ll play a few gigs and it will probably be full of a bunch of people our age who were into it the first time around.’ Which would have been fine. It’s been an eye opener for us to see there is quite a healthy kind of scene for that sort of guitar music—or music with that kind of atmosphere. You’ve said that if you were going to take Slowdive songs now and treat them as new songs, they’d be very different. 30
A lot of the thing about the Slowdive music is about the production. They’re still songs, but they’ve been treated in a way the vocals are obscured and … You could have recorded them as acoustic tracks. I’ve been making acoustic music for ten years. I’d probably turn them into folk music, which would probably be a shame! After Pygmalion we sort of ground to a halt and we split up, so I went traveling for a little while. I was in Israel, staying in hostels. My girlfriend was working out there at the time and I was traveling around. I remember really clearly being in the hostel and the guitar came out, and people were playing songs. I’d already told everyone I was a musician, so naturally the guitar came around to me at some point, and I realized I couldn’t really play a song on an acoustic guitar. At that point after Pygmalion, which was an electronic record with a lot of it made using samplers and sequences, I wanted to try to reconnect with music. Learning how to play acoustic guitar and to play songs that way was my way of reconnecting with music at that point. It kick-started Mojave 3. For the six years we did Slowdive, everything was filtered through effects pedals. And that was the way we created the songs. Although, as I said, they were pretty simple songs—but they would be created out of this atmosphere, and would always be played in strange tunings, so I’d never know what chords they were. When we got back together and tried to remember how to play the songs, a lot of it was Nick, the bass player, saying, ‘Actually, the root note was this that I was playing on the bass.’ We couldn’t really remember the tunings on a few of the songs. Nick would be like, ‘I’m playing a C here,’ and I’d be like, ‘I had no idea that was a C.’ We were technically not very good musicians. A lot of it was an instinct for tuning the guitar to a point where you could play what you could hear, but you wouldn’t necessarily know what exactly you were playing. You learned how to surf the first time you came to L.A., didn’t you? Yeah, in 1991, I think—the first time I was in L.A. I end up in Huntington Beach for a few days. The first time I went surfing. It changed my life. I’m still surfing now. I’m surprised you learned in Huntington Beach. It can have a huge locals-only vibe. We didn’t go down near the pier. We just went down on the beach somewhere, and its fine. I’ve not surfed at Huntington in a long time. That was my first one in and, yeah, it does have a bit of a heavy reputation. When you came out for FYF, did you surf? I didn’t have time. I was hoping to try and get away in the morning on the Saturday we played, but we had to do a sound check at eleven so it kind of scuppered that. Apparently the waves have been as good as they’ve been in a long time. I’m coming back out in November, so hopefully I’ll get in the water. GOLDENVOICE AND FYF PRESENT SLOWDIVE WITH LOW ON SAT., NOV. 8, AND WITH THE TYDE ON SUN., NOV. 9, AT THE THEATRE AT THE ACE HOTEL, 929 S. BROADWAY, DOWNTOWN. 9 PM / $30-$40 / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. VISIT SLOWDIVE AT SLOWDIVEOFFICIAL.COM.
VASHTI BUNYAN Interview by Daiana Feuer Illustration by Alice Rutherford
Not many musicians have been the subject of anthropological research papers… But then again not many folks abandon civilization to live on a horse and buggy along the outer limits of the English countryside (see “The Counterurbanisation of Vashti Bunyan”). In 1970, Vashti Bunyan recorded Just Another Diamond Day, which chronicles her search for pastoral life beyond the cities, traffic, and the material world. Bunyan didn’t just write about being connected to nature—she threw away her shoes and lived the dream. As it goes with some of our most beloved music heroes, more than thirty years passed before her songs were unearthed and appreciated, prompting Bunyan to write her second album, Lookaftering, which was translated into lush, beautiful, orchestral music. It was a great triumph but, even so, Bunyan did not have full creative control. She was left with the wish to create a record herself from bottom to top. For the next seven years, Bunyan immersed herself in learning to make music on computer, which truly gave her freedom of expression—something we often take for granted. This has culminated in her new album, Heartleap, a serene collection of tunes that instantly transports the listener to the most tranquil part of their imagination. We took this opportunity to ask her for job advice. Did you play all the instruments on Heartleap? Not all of it but I did play most of it. I arranged the string parts on a keyboard and then it was transcribed for real strings. Since you don’t write music, how did you compose it? [whispers] The computer did it. It was fantastic. I can’t actually play the piano either but I can play notes on a keyboard which then I can then change into violins, flutes, oboes, whatever I want—on the computer—and it will write the score for me. And I can then hand that score to a real flute player, they can record it and then I can edit it all together. Some of the time, although I had the real strings playing, what I had made on my computer didn’t sound quite the same, so I mixed the two together. Some of the strings are me faking it and some of the strings are real. I did most of the guitar parts myself and a lot of the synthesized sounds, which I did on the keyboard and made them into the sounds I wanted that no human could probably replicate. The sounds that all sort of slide into one another. I had a good time experimenting—a good, long time. Were you much of a computer person? I was. When Diamond Day came out, I got royalties for the first time ever, after thirty years or whatever, and I got a Mac and a MIDI keyboard. I first started with a program called Cubase. There was a course at the local college in music technology and I tried to enroll in it and they said I could not—I was too old. 32
That’s not cool. I know. I was completely devastated and so angry and determined that it was probably quite a good thing. It made me go into it myself and learn for myself and I got very interested in what the possibilities were. Obviously even now after ten years or so I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with music technology. But I’ve always found it fascinating and being refused access really repelled me. In the 1960s, what were your frustrations with regard to being allowed to give input on what was done with your songs? When I was making my first recordings back in the mid-1960s—the singles, five years before I recorded a full album—I was just supposed to turn up, sing, and go away, and I had no input. I didn’t like that at all. I really wanted to have access to the equipment. It all looked so romantic to me. But no, that was the producer and the engineer’s job. And it was pretty much the same when I went to do Just Another Diamond Day. I had already turned my back on music because I found it so frustrating and difficult. Then the opportunity came to record the songs on Diamond Day. The same thing happened. I thought it would all be very different but Joe Boyd, the producer, took all the tapes away to America, mixed it and mastered it, and sent me what he’d done. And that was it. I didn’t have any way of saying can, you know, ‘Can you take that violin out?’ He wouldn’t listen or you were too shy?
A bit of both. It was a year from when we recorded to when I heard it again, and ... well, I had a baby in between and that sort of changed my vision of the world. I probably didn’t think I had any way of changing it. He sent me the mastered version. He wasn’t sending it to me to say, ‘Is this OK?’ So thirty years later it was re-issued. In those thirty years I didn’t have anything to do with music at all. I was so ... I don’t know about discouraged, but fed up that I couldn’t make myself heard. A lot of it was my fault. I didn’t push for what I wanted in the studio. But I didn’t know what he was going to make of it. The songs on Diamond Day that were arranged by Robert Kirby, who was Nick Drake’s arranger ... I think, and thought at the time, that they were exactly what I wanted—almost orchestral chamber music. Then Joe brought in other musicians who were folk musicians. I had been on the road for two years. I didn’t know who they were. A lot happened in those two years of music. Exactly! I was completely clueless. I didn’t know who Nick Drake was. To me he was just a beautiful boy in black in the room. If I had been more aware, I would have done things very differently. But if you had been more aware then you wouldn’t have ended up on the adventure you took instead. Exactly. Thank you. Yes. Most people are too afraid to get lost or forgotten if they go off and do something like what you did.
Go off on a horse and buggy to the outer edges of Britain? Yes, definitely. What people will say or what their family will think… Well, it was a complete abandoning of everything familiar and comfortable and into the unknown. Maybe my courage at that time was all about that and not really about challenging a music producer. Now looking back, I see the album was very much of its time. And it was meant to be a document of that time and the things people were able to do at that time, like take off and walk a horse down the roads of London. It wasn’t that peculiar. It was somewhat peculiar but it was possible to do. Nobody would say, ‘Hey, it’s not safe to walk a horse through London traffic.’ We were all much freer to carry out our ideas whether they were crazy or not. You literally were driving a horse and buggy down the streets of London. Yes, we were! But now there are a lot more rules. It wouldn’t be possible to do what we did then. I remember the horse lost a shoe. And we didn’t know that much about horses at all. We had to look for a blacksmith. We were in the middle of London. The Whitbread Brewery still had these huge shire horses that were pulling their barrels from one place to another and the at the place where they kept the horses they had a blacksmith. I had no shoes on. I was wearing my grandmothers pink crepe nightie and pretty much not much else. It was in the summer and I was walking down Kensington High Street in my nightie—well, it wasn’t my nightie, it was my dress. To my grandmother it was a nightie! —taking a black horse to Whitbread Brewery and not thinking anything of it. I was just so completely in the moment. It never occurred to me that I was making a spectacle. It was like that the whole journey. We were making pictures like that and were very unaware of what we looked like or how we were to other people. We were very much in our own vision, which is what the Diamond Day songs really are. They were a vision that we were going towards. Not the reality, which was trucks going by. You had to keep the whimsy in the music to keep the vision or the purpose alive. That’s exactly what the songs were for, to keep us going. I wasn’t ever thinking of recording them. I hadn’t met Joe yet. The songs were for us. And then someone was like, ‘Hey, let’s get that wagon lady to record some music!’ Yeah! I don’t know what they thought really. I think Joe was completely bemused by what we were doing. He was a Harvard boy. He thought it was all romantic. And it was romantic. The muddy days. The endless rain. It’s amazing. To go on a journey where you have to struggle to survive. To willingly really commit to that. What does it mean? What is the driver? The solitude, half-starving, the elements ... and it isolates you from the rest of society pretty much. I remember going by rows of houses and looking in windows and seeing people in their warm, dry, safe homes. I would think, ‘What am I doing?’ But I was so completely into what I was doing that I actually didn’t want what they had. I was quite happy to live wild. And when
it came to actually settling down and having kids, it took a long time to reintegrate with normal life, or conventional life. I think that was quite hard on my children. They were different to everybody. Were you trying to raise them with certain principles? I was and it was very difficult. I don’t think it was right, particularly. I didn’t want to isolate them. I was hoping to give them a better idea of real life than I had grown up with myself. I wasn’t trying to protect them from awful things. I grew up in London. It was post-war. My parents were very protective. A lot of my breaking out was to try to find out what was really happening from the ground upwards. I wanted to give that to my kids. A sense that it’s not terrifying to have nothing. It’s not terrifying to be out in the wild and not have very much. But then as they got older and I evolved, we got much more integrated, especially when they had to go to school. How were you offering a different experience? I let them run. Especially my oldest son. I was very unrestrictive. I trusted him to know what was safe and what was unsafe. And he was brilliant at that, not getting himself into trouble. He learned about the physical world. At three years old he was walking around Ireland with a very big horse to take it grazing. I didn’t think anything of it. This little person with this great big horse. So the kids lived on the wagon? The kids were on the wagon. It was a new wagon we got in Ireland. It was bigger and it had a stove in it. The original one was six foot by three foot. The Irish wagon was great. And Lief traveled in that as a little boy. Then my daughter only did a bit of travelling in the wagon. But the wagon was always in our life. It was always with us wherever we went. And the horses as well. So they had a lot of education in looking after things. More responsibility. They had to grow up very quickly. My third child was born after all of that, when we were much more conventional. Lief was fifteen. My daughter was thirteen when Ben was born. I moved to the city when Ben was five so he was a completely different person. I love to see the differences in them, but they have all grown into wonderful people, all very different. Should I be worrying about my retirement right now? Should I just take an office job? No. I couldn’t. And that’s what my kids tell me. ‘You’ve made it so that we can’t do that. Because we didn’t see you do it. So how are we going to take a normal job?’ I guess we have to have a framework to work against. My youngest son has been asking me, ‘Why do we have to be unique? Why does being in our family make me feel like I have to be different? Why can’t I be ordinary? Why can’t I be normal?’ Life is probably easier if you aspire to be ordinary. I find it hard to be guided by ‘Is what I am doing making me money?’ It is a worry and that’s why people take a job for a salary. I think that’s what human beings do. They go out to see what other human beings are doing and gather an overall picture and then choose what they want to do. But you are given a very limited canvas as you’re growing up. There were schools I could have INTERVIEW
sent my kids where they were allowed to run free but I didn’t think that was fair either. I didn’t want to limit their experience. Did you have to give up a part of yourself and your ideals to accept not living in a wagon anymore? Yes, I did. But if I hadn’t had the children I think I would have carried on that kind of life much longer. Seeing how difficult it was for them to integrate with other kids, socialize with other kids, be around the world as it is. I felt that I couldn’t do that to them. A lot of my friends moved to communities where there was no outside influence at all, growing up without TV and all that. I wanted them to have a straightforward life after we got out of the wagon days. They went to school. School did it. I could have homeschooled them if I had wanted to carry on the ideals that I had collected along the way but I didn’t think it was fair to them. At some point they would have to come into the wider world and it would be such a shock. I witnessed friends of mine doing that and it was terribly hard for the children to grow up into integrated, socialized, happy people. Isn’t it weird what that says about the world we live in? Yes. That it gets you in the end! That’s kind of depressing. It kind of was at the time but I also thought this next generation, if they could see from another direction ... like my kids growing up in a completely different way, if they could see it then maybe they could be part of the change in the evolution of people. And they are very ... well, thoughtful people, and that’s what I wanted really. To try and have kids who would then go on to have kids and make it better. Like furthering a ripple. Exactly! That’s very good. I think there’s a parallel between the returnto-nature generation that you were part of and people now trying to live within the system yet just outside of it. Buying a camper and moving to the woods. It’s really hard to know what to do. My oldest son—he grew up in the wilds, in the hills. He still longs for that wilderness. He often thinks he should sell everything and run to the hills and live free like I did. But he can’t do it. But why? Because he lives here with his wife and they have a home. They have ties to the world, their child has school, he has his workshop with his motorcycles—once you’re established, it’s really hard to get in a camper and move to Oregon or go live in Topanga. Especially when there’s a child who is settled in the world. People do it. And I have a fantastic respect for those who pick up and say ‘I want something else’ and leave it all behind. Like I did. And just go. But it can have quite an effect on children. It’s hard to know what to choose to do to make it better, or to remove yourself from what you think is a toxic environment. Do you choose your health or do you choose your welfare? I live in the middle of a city now, in Edinburgh and I often think that I’d like to go live in the wilds again. At the time you were living wild, so to speak, did you ever think you would return to civilization? INTERVIEW
Never thought I would. It was a gradual progress. With the children going to school, that made me have to get to grips with what I would have called the real world. Lief was nineteen and had already come to California when I moved back to the city. It wasn’t because I planned ever to go back to the city. But I fell in love with my lawyer. He was my lawyer, now he is my husband. When did your relationship with [adventure partner and lover] Robert Lewis end? After twenty-two years. We stayed together more or less through a tumultuous relationship. After fifteen years we found the place of our dreams and settled down. We found this beautiful place in the hills of Scotland and spent ten years restoring it and loving it and lots of people coming to live there and work with us. Then Robert left because he fell in love with a TV actress and went with her to live in London. I stayed at the farm with my littlest child, who was four. Then, two years later I fell in love with my lawyer who I had known for years and years. We stitched our families together and moved to Edinburgh to a completely totally different life. But what it led me to was ... COMPUTER. The rest of my life opened up. I found out that Diamond Day wasn’t lost. That people were talking about it. There was a bootleg of it. It took me another three years to get it reissued on CD. Were you reluctant to open up that part of you, after so many years away from music? I was terrified. But what did it, which was another difference between the old time and the new time, was the person in the publishing company who had the publishing for Diamond Day. He said he found all these old contracts and what was it about and could I send him the album to hear? And I said, ‘No, I don’t even have a copy.’ But I found someone who did have a copy and made a tape and sent it to him. He called me and said he liked it. That’s the first time anyone had said that they liked it. Family, friends, nobody had said they didn’t like it. But nobody said they did. This was 1997. Then it took us ages to track down the rights and who the recording belonged to. And Paul, the man who liked it, formed this little record label and put it out on a CD. Neither of us expected anything to happen. And it suddenly took off. What you were saying earlier about a different generation that wants to go back to nature or who actually have a different look at life ... that is very similar to that look that my generation had in the late 1960s. Devendra Banhart amongst them—there were those who could hear something in those songs that resonated with that desire to get free of it all. They understood it. This generation understood what I was doing way more than when it originally came out. It was dismissed in its day as messing around for kids. It wasn’t. It was a document of a time and a journey and a desire for a different kind of life. As I realized slowly that people were actually understanding it, it was amazing. That is what made me pick up the guitar again. It was that feedback that I never had. I just assumed that it was rubbish. So I couldn’t play the guitar anymore. I thought I was a failure. It’s sad because playing music is personal— it should be for the person playing it. And that was taken away from you.
I felt bad about it. What kind of a person am I that it takes other people saying that it’s alright before I can carry on with it? Why is that important? A committed artist should carry on no matter what anyone else is saying. I was just too affected by the silence. All I could gather from that is that it wasn’t any good and I wasn’t any good. So when the door opened, it was extraordinary. It led me to writing songs for a second album thirty-five years later. Did it come quick or did it take time to get back in tune with your creative self? It took time. When my last child left home, I had all this time and a big space that was empty. Empty nest syndrome is a real thing. It’s a real grief. I filled that space with music. One of the first songs I wrote is probably one of my favorites. It’s called ‘If I Were.’ I really enjoyed putting that together. I made all these demos and didn’t know what to do with them. Until I met, through Animal Collective, the Fat Cat label. In the meantime it was Devendra that got his friend Gary Held to put it out in America. And it was Fat Cat who introduced me to Max Richter, who lived in Edinburgh. So how did you feel about the album you made with Max Richter, Lookaftering? I would never have made Lookaftering without Max. We co-arranged it and we worked very hard together. This was a huge step for me. To be working with a producer who listened to me and was incredibly patient and put in beautiful parts. We were going to coproduce it but in the end it was pretty clear that he was the producer. His ideas and his luminous feel for the music made it what it was. I love what we did together and also the other musicians who were on the album. They were all special in their own way. And getting back with Robert Kirby—he came through and played. It was brilliant. I think Max said afterwards, ‘We should make a new one soon.’ But I didn’t have any new songs. It took me seven years. I started writing two years after Lookaftering and it’s taken me all this time. During that time I was looking for someone to produce the next one and learning more and more myself about recording music. It occurred to me gradually that this was something I needed to do for myself and come out of the shelter of other people and try to stand on my own feet. That’s how it started in 1963—just writing songs with a guitar and trying to make them my own, and they would get taken to different kinds of areas of music that I possibly didn’t want to go into. But I did, because it was romantic with the Stones producer—it was fabulous with Joe because he seemed to understand what I needed to do. And then with Max, to have his musical brain. Me, I can’t read or write music but he has since the age of four. But I wanted to see what I could do for myself and to try and get the orchestras that are in my head out there and to have the time to do it. If you go into a studio there’s such a time limit. You’ve got to get it done. And then you can fool around with afterwards, but I wanted to do the editing as I went, and put layers and layers down. It took me so much time, and all the time learning, but I really enjoyed it! It was frightening because I didn’t know if what I was doing was good or not. I didn’t have a person to feed it through. It was in the last year that
I worked full time on it. I did a tribute to Nick Drake that Joe Boyd had arranged, and I saw Robert Kirby again and he did a beautiful arrangement of the song ‘Which Will’ with just strings and I sang it. Then we were talking and I mentioned I had all these songs. I went to London and gave him the recordings I made. And he was so excited. He wanted to bring in all these live instruments and I just knew that it was going to be wonderful. I was eager to work with him again and do what I really wanted to do. And two weeks later he died. It was completely devastating. I knew where things were going and then suddenly he wasn’t there anymore. And he was such a lovely guy. It was a real grief. I didn’t do anything with the songs for two years. I could hardly look at them. Then I realized what if I thought about it like, ‘What would Robert have done with the strings?’ and try to find it for myself. Then I did the arranging for all the songs. Except for ‘Across The Water,’ which was improvised at a rehearsal. I had a fantastic time realizing that I could get those orchestras out of my head—well, the string sections anyway—and do it myself. Did the computer enable you to make the album your way? It allowed me to free myself. I was very aware when making the record with Max that he didn’t want me to use any electronic songs. He wanted all of it on real instruments. I had many people saying I couldn’t use those sounds—‘You have to use musicians.’ But why? It was still me playing it? And if I manipulate the sounds, it is still me doing it. It is not the computer. I love that there are sounds that cannot be replicated by a real human being. I like mixing them together and making something that could only be made that way. When I go to play live it will be very different! But this is a recording. It is not a recording of a live performance. It is a recording of a lot of different layers all put together. The person who did the final mixing said it was like painting. That I had done a bit here and there and then put the final bits on top. It’s a huge freedom to work with a computer and to manipulate and to be able to go back and change things. I spent hours doing it. With headphones, of course, so no one could hear the messes I was making. It felt like a huge freedom to me to be able to work that way rather than have to go do it in a studio in a short amount of time. Do you think it will be your last album? When I finished it and Fat Cat had the final version at last ... they gave me a deadline in 2008 and then in 2010 and then I came in in 2014. Then they started talking about the next album and I was like, ‘I am not doing this again! It’s taken me seven years of my life!’ But I don’t know. It may be the only album that I make like this. I will continue making music but the album format is quite a tyrant. You have to have a certain amount of songs that are a cohesive collection. I would like to write music just for the sake of it. And you can! Right—now I can. VASHTI BUNYAN’S HEARTLEAP IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM FAT CAT. VISIT VASHTI BUNYAN AT ANOTHERDAY.CO.UK. 35
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JUNGLE FIRE Interview by Dennis Owens Illustration by champoyhate
Jungle Fire is as much a community as it is a band—a family of funky Afro-Latin-influenced musicians who have collaborated with or supported top-rank performers like Celia Cruz, De La Soul, La Santa Cecilia, Myron & E and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. Of course, anyone who’s heard (or danced to) their heavy-hitting 45s needs no further introduction. Now Jungle Fire prepares to release their full-length debut Tropicoso, which draws from cumbia, salsa, Afrobeat and more to put together a relentless selection of floor-fillers. They speak now with Good Foot DJ and Free Moral Agents’ bassist Dennis Owens. What first inspired each of you to pick up your instruments? Michael Duffy (timbales): My mother. She’s a dancer. She needed drummers for her dance class. They quit on her last minute and I ended up getting into it. That’s the path that started for me. The long path. Joey Reina (bass): I think it was getting out of class. In fourth grade they had an orchestra and if you want to join, you get to get out of class for whatever that period was. All my friends are doing it, so I got into it playing the violin and I started to like it. When I started playing the upright bass, that was it. I loved it. But it was originally to get out of class. Perfect rock and roll reason right there. What was the first piece of music you loved as a child? JR: I’d be embarrassed to say that. Top Gun soundtrack. Kenny Loggins. Nice. Right into the Danger Zone. JR: It was the first band. I was so hyped. I remember I was like, six or seven when I saw that. I was first conscious of it, like, ‘Oh, that opening song was awesome.’ Yeah, that was the shit. I remember being a little kid, seeing Top Gun. I was so stoked. Tom Cruise all looking bad ass—when you’re a little kid. He gets the woman at the end. JR: Everything about that is, for a kid, is awesome. So, goddamn it—Kenny Loggins. Don’t print that. MD: For me it was Saturday Night Fever. My mom was dancing and teaching disco lessons, INTERVIEW
so I was going with her to those classes. It was such a compulsive beat. I totally dug it. It got me started, and I’m still playing that beat. What’s your current favorite music? JR: Current, well—same with you, probably. There’s not a lot going on currently that I’m really into that would be our contemporaries. I do like listening to L.A. scene as far as— Boogaloo Assassins to me are doing really great things. It’s just the older music. That’s what I really dig into. I like all the New York stuff, all the Truth & Soul stuff. Obviously, Daptone is great. Anything on Stones Throw I pretty much eat up. Aside from that there isn’t much happening right now I’m really into. Just digging into the stuff from the past. We constantly find so much new stuff, and the pas, you know—it inspires you so much. MD: Especially nowadays. There’s so many labels and there’s so much stuff being re-released now. It’s unbelievable how much is being unearthed now. Stuff that even ten years ago you’d never, ever believe. You couldn’t even conceive of it. JR: Guys like Numero Group. Even like Egon, those guys are constantly unearthing gems. Even things like Analog Africa, Sublime Frequencies—Sublime Frequencies has been around for a while, but just the fact that stuff’s getting more popular now and there’s more of an audience for it is insane to me now. It’s been pulled up. MD: A lot of good things, like Joey was saying, are in our own backyard. Boogaloo Assassins, I’d even say bands that are coming out of East
L.A., like La Santa Cecilia and Quetzal. Those that are genre-mixing like us, but maybe more in a roots-Mexican way. I think that’s all feeding us equally. I share the same sentiment as Joey—when it comes to funk, and when it comes to Latin funk, I prefer the older stuff to what’s happening now personally. I think it’s why we have this band. Joey and Steve Haney and Jud and Patrick Bailey … all those guys that are record digger people inspired the rest of us in the band to go with that. I wasn’t a record digger—I wasn’t searching for anything. I grew up with a lot of different music, but through those guys, that’s been a really good portal to kind of see what happened before we got into this and be aware of it—so when we’re making the music, we’re kind of hyper aware of what we’re putting out to the people instead of randomly throwing stuff out there. Who brought in the covers to the band? You do kind of a cover of a cover. You do the Phirpo Y Su Caribes version of Fela Kuti’s ‘Let’s Start’—‘Comencemos.’ Then that ‘Los Feligreses’ by Luis Santi y Su Conjunto. I didn’t know that was a cover when I first was hearing your new album. You guys made it into a new song. I loved your version, and when I heard the older version, I thought that was great, too. JR: Miles Tackett can be credited for that. At the time Jud—one of our guitar player—was playing with Breakestra, and Miles was like, ‘Oh man, you should check out this tune.’ And he got us hip to that. I found out that was reissued by Egon on one of the Now-Again
compilations of Florida Funk. That’s the Cuban cover and we heard it and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to do this.’ In the original cut, the drums are so far back. They weren’t the mainstay. It’s such a good tune we decided to put our spin on it. Beef it up, use the drums, get it like a little heavier for the hip-hop heads or B-boys. It turned out great. Got to thank Miles Tackett. MD: He’s been saving that one for a while. How did you guys find each other? MD: It’s a great story. There was a practice space in North Hollywood called Third Encore. Joey was in [room] K, I was in I, he was in a band called Simple Citizens and their singer—or rapper—heard me practicing one day and knocked on my door. Relentlessly. Would not stop. I think I was practicing timbales. I was practicing loud as fuck. He kept knocking, and then I opened the door, like, ‘Who the hell is this?’ He’s like, ‘Hey, man. You sound really good in there. You should come hang out with my band. We could use some percussion.’ That introduced me to Joey and Jud and just over the years, we developed a friendship. I played on a couple of their side project cuts playing percussion. He called me one day and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this thing down in Chinatown and I want to put a Latin funk thing together’ and we had talked about it. Then it just came to fruition and I showed up and played. We didn’t rehearse, just jammed. Afterwards, I remember saying to him, ‘I got a couple friends. I think if we’re going to do this, you should include them.’ 41
JR: Duffy was really instrumental in it. On the funk side, I knew the guys I wanted. Like: our drummer, Sam, my buddy Jud playing guitar, Pat Bailey, also on guitar. When it comes to the Latin, the percussion, especially the horns—that’s where Michael stepped in. He was deep in the salsa scene here in L.A. so he knew the percussionists, which really had to be on the plane with the horn players. When that all came together, that’s what formed us. MD: We needed guys that weren’t just salseros—let me be very clear on that. There’s a lot of great salsa musicians that don’t know how to play with funk musicians. The guys that I chose to put in the mix, I knew they would be open to not being into the traditional situation, and be willing to maybe not play as much or not be super duper traditional. We brought Steve Haney in, who was the first guy to come in and play congas, and then we brought in Alberto Lopez and the three of us just jelled immediately. And we had Sean Billings on trumpet and Otto Granillo on trombone, and originally Sam Robles on saxophone, now replaced by David Moyer. The chemistry we have as nine people, or ten people, to me is unreal. It was a social experiment because Latin guys—or the guys up front—don’t really beat down Joey and the guys in the back. ‘Oh, you’re not playing in clave, or you’re not playing traditional.’ We just try to make it work. I think that’s why we’ve been successful. I think that’s why people really dig it. They get something they’ve never really seen. Three percussionists and a horn section up front, with this slamming backbeat and groove behind it that is relentless that doesn’t stop for forty five minutes. There isn’t anything I can see that’s current in the scene that’s comparable with it. It doesn’t happen. Funny you mention that. The one thing that struck me about you guys, when I first heard your music, was how strong and assured the sound was right out of the gate. When I first heard ‘Comencemos,’ I was like, ‘… man.’ There’s a lot of good bands out there, but they don’t come together so fast. Even if you listen to early Daptone, during the Desco era. It was good, but it definitely morphed into something even better when it got into the whole Daptone thing. But with you guys, right off the bat with your first two singles—A and B side, totally strong. As a DJ, that’s a rare thing when I can play any of your songs and it’s equal. I don’t have to worry about it. As someone who’s out there throwing it down to try and make people dance, you guys came out strong right out of the gate. MD: Credit has to go to the rhythm section on that one. To Joey, Jud, Sam and Pat, because they had been building a strong rhythmic base … what, ten years before we even started? They had worked very hard—diligently—in that practice room where I was, building this digger sound. They could quote stuff, they could call records out, they could repeat those records and play them very authentically. When we put the band together, that was such a force that everything else around it … we just attached to it. I think, as a DJ, that’s why people love our stuff. The bass and drums and guitar are everything you want. Everything else is icing on the cake. 42
JR: That was the purpose of the band originally, too. And it still is—we’re making music for DJs and for B-Boys and for dancers. That’s why everything is strong. We want everything to be as strong as possible, rhythmically. That’s the thing. In a lot of groups there’s a lot of parts that are meandering. Sometimes you hear a lot of things you know, okay, maybe they could have done that better—cut that down in length, or whatever. Listening to your new album, it’s eleven songs, kind of two interludes … thirty five minutes, sure and to the point. That’s lost nowadays. Keeping it short and sweet. Getting on to another subject—I read the list of bands and performers that you guys have played and recorded with and Stevie Wonder was at the top of the list. MD: That was Steve. Steve Haney did a Presidential Inauguration with Obama. And did a couple other shows with Stevie. Stevie expanded the band to add extra percussionists and Steve was chosen as the extra of the extra percussionists. It was a huge honor for him—a life changing experience for him. Who played with Celia Cruz? MD: That was Sean. Our trumpet player. He played with her right before she died. It was her last traveling American band. Wow. That’s intense. Which one of you guys played with Del tha Funkee Homosapien? JR: That was me. Like Duffy said, we had a hip hop group in late ‘90s, early 2000s that we were doing. We did a show in Tacoma, and there was a agent there that did a lot of work with Del and some other guys. They were doing a series at Yoshi, it’s in San Francisco, and they needed a backing band, and he was like, ‘If you want to do Del’s, all those classics live … ?’ Yeah, of course. We did all the classic Heiro joints. That was so fun. Del is so on point. It was a good show. I consider your music very cinematic. If you could work with any director on a score, who would you choose? MD: Tarantino would be perfect. Or Robert Rodriguez. We’d be perfect for both of them. JR: They have that gritty flavor—that’d be a dream. They would have to be them. MD: Robert would be mine, just because I lived in Austin before I came back to California. He was around a lot, super nice guy, super talented. I respect him—his work ethic is like no one I’ve ever seen. What is your favorite sound track? MD: These guys turned me on to a lot of that stuff. Like we were on a van ride in England, we were playing DJ. That was the kind of thing to pass the time going between city to city. So everyone passed their [phones] around, plug it in, plug it in. I remember Sam plugged in all that David Axelrod stuff, which kind of, for me, ruined me. I love Earl Palmer, but I had no idea he played on a lot of that stuff as a drummer. I’ve been living with that since that trip. Man, you know, we were talking about … with soundtracks, back in the day, it was like the soundtracks really defined the movie. Now, it’s kind of in the background. As much as people hate him, I’ve got to say John Williams is one of the best. He’s iconic.
MD: Yeah, you know—that kind of vibe. I even liked all the Stanley Kubrick stuff. Cape Fear—oh my God, that opening sequence is unbelievable. That’s up there. Some of the Kubrick stuff, it’s so good. You guys recently played some shows in England. How’d that go? MD: Unbelievable. Far beyond my expectations for a band with two 45s, no record deal, never toured … and to be having an opportunity like that to go over and play multiple cities and be so well received! Pretty much all the shows were well attended and people were ready to get down. It was hugely successful. JR: Just the venues, all around—they ranged from sixteenth century farm houses that we played at to the oldest cathedrals in the U.K. to a modern venue. Every place. I’ve never been to Europe. This was my first time and it was a blast. Europe’s the shit. I toured there a few years ago, and I didn’t ever want to tour the U.S. ever again. JR: That’s a big part of Zach’s sentiments. It’s weird. They’re so accommodating. They helped us with all our gear. We never had to load anything most of the trip. The promoters, all the sound engineers, the stagehands, they all were so friendly and happy we were there. MD: So were the DJs—the DJs that were in the major cities, like we got in Manchester with Craig Charles. Open arms. Come down the station. Hang out with us. Played his night. He was super onboard. Up top, with a mic the whole time, watching, commenting. Snowboy. Same percussionists, yeah, he was a percussionist. A huge fan. And as a DJ, he’s legendary in London. He sat in with us, and loved it and we ended up meeting, the percussion section, ended up meeting hero after hero—Karl Van den Bossche, who was Sade’s long time percussionist, Brand New Heavies’ long time percussionist, sat in with us at Bristol and just was tripping out over us. For me, it doesn’t get any better than when your heroes totally look at you and respect you. And say, ‘What you’re doing, I’ve always wanted to do. I wish we could do that here.’ JR: In London, we had the homie Shawn Lee. It was so fun. Every stop was something new and exciting. I’ve seen you perform some shows withguest vocalist Jamie Allensworth. You guys have any plans to do recordings with him? JR: Totally. Jungle Fire is instrumental, so our LPs will remain instrumental. But we definitely want to do 45 one-offs. Our big plan next is to cut some forty fives with guest vocalists and show that side. Do stuff that caters more toward the vocalists. More melodic, more cinematic, like you said. We have a couple lined up that we’re going to get on 45. Once Tropicoso is out for a while. Now that you’re on Nacional, you’re now label mates with Ana Tijoux, Los Amigos Invisibles, Manu Chao, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Bomba Estereo. How do you guys see yourself fitting in with these acts? JR: It’s interesting, actually. We had a meeting about what we would do with them. Like with the Latin Alternative scene, they were really interested in what we could bring as being instrumental and being a cross pollination of
funk and the Latin and the Afro stuff. What we’re hoping to learn is to cross pollinate that. Maybe do some collaborations with them. We are instrumental, so it’s perfect for pulling in other singers, or MCs. Have them bring a different flavor to the band. MD: They open up roads for us to also get to Latin America. That’s a huge thing. JR: Introduce a new audience. That was the whole point of what I just said. Introduce a new audience. We do appreciate the B-Boy support we had, and all the funk support, and the scene support. But it would be nice to get a whole new audience built out of being represented by them. MD: You know—you’re a DJ, man. Hip hop is huge, that beat-driven culture is huge across the board. There’ s been tons and tons of great Latin rap artists that have borrowed from the American side of things. I think that same audience is in tune with the good stuff that’s on the label. Bomba Estereo is huge in South America. They’ve got that cumbia rap thing. The heart of what they have is this traditional cumbia thing, which is exactly what we have too, in some of our music. Some of those traditional rhythms turned a little bit on its ear. They can get us into that market and expose us to those people that would love that stuff. You guys are rooted in an older style, but the way your sound coalesces sounds contemporary. It doesn’t sound retro. Somebody can listen to it now, even though it doesn’t sound super clean and super polished and and sanitized or anything—but it sounds punchy. It’s raw. JR: That was, again, a very intentional thing. A lot of old records, they weren’t made to bang on a stereo system. Drums were never really that present. They sounded great tonally, but they were never that present. We really wanted to beef the sound up. Which, modern days is a big thing nowadays, drums and … All the while still keeping it as gritty as possible. Yeah, the beat culture was a big influence on putting us together. The Beat Junkies and like … in the 90s, that’s what we listened to, so we wanted that influence in it. For sure. MD: The version of ‘Comencemos’ that is on that record … when we were cutting that record, we put that break in there. Steve Haney said, ‘We need this break in here, so that DJs like Cut Chemist or Numark buy two copies, or we’ll give them two copies and that will be a thing that launches us as a band.’ I remember being in the studio and I remember him really fighting for that. In the version that’s on the record, we let it sit longer. We introduced the batá drums, which are Cuban folk drums. I play a little roll on the timbale and the beat drops, and that beat drops heavy—which always makes those hip-hop heads nod. We’re very conscious of that as a band. We know that a big part of our sound is this great rhythm section that can bang out those hip-hop beats, especially Sam, being that great of a drummer. And then, like Joey was saying earlier, those records in the past weren’t banging like that. On the percussion side of it too, it’s lost in the back. Congas were sometimes over on the left side of the speaker, you INTERVIEW
could barely hear them, they’re all jacked up. Not with us. We made all those rhythmic elements—we made that stew happen right in your face. You can hear them, you can grasp at them. They’re not polished. Too polished. We still want it gritty and rugged and you know that’s part of Sergio, who has been engineering our stuff and it is a great part of our sound. Sergio Rios. JR: A guitar player from Orgone. They run a studio in North Hollywood called Killion Sound. They have it locked, tonally. They do all the Orgone stuff, they did the whole rhythm section for the Lions, they did the Boogaloo Assassins record, our stuff. MD: Mexico 68. JR: Ikebe Shakedown. Monophonics . He has a very distinct sound that’s just— Basically that’s the Colemine catalog. JR: Pretty much. MD: I think that’s how we got introduced to Colemine—it was through Sergio, wasn’t it? JR: It was through Monophonics. But he’s responsible for a bulk of L.A.’s sound, for sure. Does he record analog? JR: He does. He runs the tape, pretty much all rhythm section goes on tape, and then we balance digital like the horns and overdubs. But the majority is tape. You need that sound. MD: That punch, especially for those drums. The saturation. There’s more and more performers, producers and bands nowadays that are drawing from older styles of music—whether it be rock, funk, soul, various forms of Latin and South American music, African styles, even hip hop and electronic music. Why do you think that is? JR: Because there’s a formula back then that was just so good. Like you said before in the beginning of the interview, there’s a formula of things being played with purpose. It’s also tonal. Back then they didn’t have fancy equipment or fancy instruments. They usually had pretty janky instruments that had this great tone that you don’t have any more. Things were made differently back then and they were preformed differently back then. Arrangements were much simpler, especially drummers. They didn’t play as much as they do nowadays. Everything is very purposely done and aware of what’s being played. That’s why nowadays we listen back, and you’re like, ‘Aw, it’s so good.’ There’s that time, that era, they really knew how to put out good songs. Good song writing. And good tones. MD: Also they were crews. You had your Muscle Shoals, you had your Stax. You had your Philly sound. And that was way more than just about getting paid. You were a crew. You lived in that town, you ate the food in that town and you absorbed everything around that town. That was all an essence of your sound. That’s why all these certain areas had their moments. Like I said, Muscle Shoals had its moment. You never realize how many funky music came out of that scenario with four country white boys. Or the Philly sound, what developed there, or Stax, or even L.A. happened when Berry Gordy moved Motown out to Los Angeles. Everything had a sound, and I think why everyone goes back to that is INTERVIEW
those guys were making records seven days a week. Guys from Motown, they were showing up like a factory. They were assembling good stuff and they were playing well together. It wasn’t just about, ‘You sit in the booth cut a drum track.’ Everybody’s on the floor making music. Drummers, like Joey said, couldn’t play a lot because if they overplayed, it would ruin the arrangement of everybody who was sitting in the room. There was such a purpose to get a clean arrangement done because you had six sides to do that day before you went home. Everybody’s so individualized now. You got your computer, you’re in your little room and you can record one at a time. It’s hard to get that sound any more. Why do producers go to that and chop it up? Because again, all of the energy that was created with those crews—legendary crews. We’ve had so many good ones. They’re starting to come back. We’re seeing that stuff with Monophonics, they have their crew. Orgone crew and us. Guys who are really committed to sitting in a room and working out— making good music. Do you see yourselves in that lineage? As maybe being able to be like a, dare I say, like a Wrecking Crew type of band, or what they did at Motown and … JR: Yeah—I think there’s a very cool thing happening with the East Coast, West Coast, and even the Midwest right now is like ... Obviously the East Coast having its roots in soul, and Daptone, those guys, they’re very much doing that with all the projects they’re doing, and they’re doing an amazing job at it. On the West Coast, too, it’s starting to revitalize. We have Breakestra, the front runners, for sure they started all in L.A., of bringing back the sound. You have us, you have the Lions, you have Orgone, Boogaloo Assassins, Ethio Cali too. We’re all resurrecting and adding new flavors to these old sounds. I think what all the bands you mentioned are doing right now is all high quality stuff and I believe that … like the group that did the album with Mulatu, Heliocentrics. London. They’re a U.K. based band. That’s why I went back earlier and asked you about working with other vocalists. I don’t see why you guys couldn’t do the same thing and help these older artists put out stuff that sounds great now. That Mulatu [Astatke] record with Heliocentrics was great. Really good. I guess they just did an album with Orlando Julius too. MD: For sure. I think everything will come to us now that we have this opportunity—a bigger opportunity—to showcase our stuff. Colemine was an amazing opportunity to get our music out to the world. We hope that with Nacional it’ll even be a bigger push. How it’s all worked out with this band, we’ve never pushed for anything. We just stay committed and on task to go on one day at a time and making things happen. If that opportunity comes—like Joe Bataan—we want to do it. I really want to do it with Joe. He’s a legend. He’s had a lot of bands come through the West Coast and they’re good. I think we would do better. We love his music and we love him.
With you, there’s a younger energy too. JR: It really helps these guys out. That’s what they had back then, but they don’t have that now. There’s a lot more young players now who really understand the style. Which is a really interesting thing about this era. Which I think is awesome. And the younger listeners also understand that, too. I’m sure when Syl Johnson had Breakestra back him up not too long ago—same exact thing. You heard all these records and these samples, but to hear him being backed up by a band like Breakestra, it had that punch— Miles knew how to bring that music to life again, and it was so cool to hear. It’s great. We would love to do that. MD: You got to have someone who’s going to spearhead that, and we’re lucky we have Joey and Steve Haney to spearhead those projects and be conscious how to play with those artists and play the right way with those artists. You need to have that in your band. It’s a democracy to a point, but you need to have someone, and they’re kind of the yin and yang of this band, for me personally. When you guys started Jungle Fire, was this considered a side project? JR: Oh, totally. When it first started, it wasn’t even a side project. It was a one-off project. We did it for Soul Sessions. It was fun, it was cool. We played like two and a half songs, maybe. That was it. Then I just hear from people after the show, ‘That’d be fun if you did it again.’ So we played a couple more shows, and it was still a very loose project. It got to a point where it became a focal point for all of us. We saw the potential in it. But it was a side project, for sure. Is this your main band now? JR: That’s the thing too—we all have other things going on. It is a focal point for all of us. We enjoy it, but there’s just so much to be played. We’re all involved in different projects. We do come together and we come together for Jungle Fire. It is a main idea for all of us. MD: It was putting out that first 45. That’s what kind of sealed the deal. Seeing the relationship of Steve and Joey coming together and working together to organize it. Organize it from him, on the rhythm section side, and Steve with horn ideas and percussion ideas— once he got in the band it was a unifying element to take it to the next place. You have songs with names like ‘Chalupa,’ ‘Tokuta,’ ‘Culebro’ and ‘Snake Pit.’ What’s your process for naming instrumentals? MD: For ‘Tokuta,’ it’s two rhythms that came together. ‘Chalupa’ is a Columbian rhythm, that’s what it’s called. Those names came from the drums. ‘Snake Pit’ was what—Patty B? JR: Right. That’s our guitar player, Pat Bailey, they call him Snake. The song, when we wrote it, had the guitar in the forefront. And plus his rehearsal space, we call it the ‘Snake Pit’ because that’s his thing. Just an inside gag thing. Maybe Slash will have something to say about that. ‘Rompecuero’— MD: It means to break the skin. In salsa terminology, especially in the sixties and seventies, when the conga player or timbale player or bongo player would take a solo, you would hear banter in the back. ‘Rompecuero,
rompecuero,’ like, ‘Play so hard you’re going to break the skin.’ That’s where that came from. We’re all—in the percussion section—have a lineage, a history, in the salsa music scene here in Los Angeles. There’s always going to be that element of that coming through, that energy of rompecuero coming through the back. Especially when we solo. Especially when it’s so absolutely hundred percent. JR: It comes through when these guys solo— it’s a force, man, when the percussion starts. Anything the public doesn’t know already? Any secrets?Are there any musical skeletons in anybody’s closet? MD: I was the drummer in K-Fed’s band when he went out solo. So you have a very intimate knowledge of ‘Popozao’ or what? MD: I did. I was in his band when he came out. My ex-wife, at the time, was Britney Spears’ manager, and still is, and he wanted to put a band together. He had a budget. I wasn’t working at the time, and she said, we need to pay the rent and I said, we need to pay the rent. I did the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the Tonight show with him. What songs did you do? ‘Popozao’? MD: No, we didn’t do ‘Popozao.’ I don’t even remember the name of the song. I do remember this. I never got paid so much to rehearse one song in my entire life. We did the one song on both TV shows, and we locked out Center Staging for a week to rehearse one song. The band was killer. The band was actually very, very good. At the end of the day, I’ve had some crazy gigs in my time, as we all have. A lot of the guys who’ve been side men, but that’s my main skeleton. JR: You know, I got to say, luckily I don’t have one because I haven’t played a lot. I’ve never really played music professionally, so I’ve always just had our bands. As you know, having your own bands, you just love them. MD: But that’s the important thing with those guys—they grew up together. Jud, Sam and Joey, so they had that innate thing. When we put this together, you can’t build that with individual sidemen. The front ensemble, percussion and horns are sidemen to the core. But the backbone of this band is guys that grew up playing together. That, to me, is the most important thing in this band—is those dudes grew up together. We would not sound as good as we sound without that. Absolutely. A hundred percent. JUNGLE FIRE WITH CAFE TACVBA, CALLE 13, LA SANTA CECILIA, ANA TIJOUX, AJ DAVILA AND MANY MORE ON SAT., OCT. 11, AT SUPERSONICO FEST AT THE SHRINE, 665 W. JEFFERSON BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 2 PM / $49.50-$63 / ALL AGES. SUPERSONICOFEST.COM. AND WITH GUESTS TBA ON FRI., NOV. 7, AT THE RECORD RELEASE PARTY FOR TROPICOSO AT THE MINT, 6010 PICO BLVD., LOS ANGELES. CONTACT VENUE FOR TIME AND COVER. 21+. JUNGLE FIRE’S TROPICOSO RELEASES TUE., SEPT. 30, ON NACIONAL. VISIT JUNGLE FIRE AT JUNGLEFIREMUSIC.COM. 43
GAVIN TUREK Interview by Kristina Benson Photography by Grace Oh Makeup by Melissa Tolentino Wardrobe by Liz Montecastro Ever since Gavin Turek was a kid she wanted to be a performer, attending L.A. County’s High School of the Arts to study dance. After playing Deena in Dream Girls, however, she realized what she really wanted was to sing—looking to Diana Ross and Donna Summer as inspiration for her own disco-inspired electronica. She has since collaborated with TOKiMONSTA, Com Truise, and Rye Rye, and released two singles (“Suffah” and “Remember”) from an upcoming E.P. She speaks now about her obsession with Giorgio Moroder and why it’s important to force people to dance. When I saw you at Echo Park Rising you had a song where you were like, ‘Don’t fight it, get up and dance!’ Do L.A. people need coaxing to get up and dance? Obviously! People have gotten so much better at my shows compared to earlier shows, where people stared at me the whole time and didn’t know what to do. Now the banter with the crowd—the song isn’t about not fighting the urge to dance, the song is about not fighting the urge to fall in love—but in that context it works so well because people are like ‘Oh, OK! Don’t fight it!’ And they start to get loose and feel like they can be free in the moment and free for the next fifteen minutes that I’m singing and dancing and being ridiculous. L.A. is so cool—everybody is too cool for school, everyone has to keep this grand facade all the time. So it’s hard to break that line, to cross that line, to break that wall. That’s my purpose! Every time I get up on stage I want people to feel free! I want people to dance to escape their realities for 45 minutes! Your songs are very open to multiple interpretations—like how you just said ’Don’t Fight It’ is about falling in love, but it’s also about dancing and so much other stuff. I’m real—I talk about real things for sure but I but it behind some fun music. Diana Ross once said that she hopes that every one of her performances feels like a celebration. I love her! I feel the same way! I approach every performance—honestly—like it could be my last! And that’s how I treat it—this is an amazing opportunity that I can live, that I can dance, that I can sing, and this needs to be exactly a celebration cuz who knows what’s going to happen. Where do you fit into L.A. music? That’s the cool thing about L.A. right now, there’s so much incredible music going out and there’s quite a scene! I always enjoy going out and seeing live music in L.A., I’m always fueled by that and there’s so many artists that are still like on my level that I respect a lot, but as far as where I fit in … I love disco! But I’m kind of wedged in-between, I guess, and that’s why I’m able to perform live so much with different people.
I have so many great disco clothes I could wear if there were more disco-oriented clubs! Clothes that look cute but are this suffocating synthetic material. Right? They don’t breathe at all, and you’re dying of heat, but they look so cute! But I think it’s coming! I love it. I think there’s room for everyone in L.A.—obviously there are women who are just killing it, doing their thing, and everyone is occupying their own space. Everyone is filling a void, let’s say! And I’m really excited to be the happy girl that plays disco music and makes people dance. That’s what you’re going to get from me. I didn’t come from a rough background. My parents are super supportive, I have a great family, I’m a pretty joyful person, even in general when things are going awry. So I want to keep on giving that. I think there’s a place for that. Paul McCartney just took over Dodger Stadium—that music lives on! People want to feel good. They want to feel good about themselves, about who they are, their bodies—I want to kind of give that. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some emo music—I went through my Elliott Smith phase, but I’m pretty clear in my mind what I want to do and what kind of feeling I want to bring people. I’ve experimented a lot with genres, and I’m inspoired by different kinds of music, but taking that approach has kept me … in terms of my performances, if you came to a show a few years ago you would have heard more indie rock influences but the same feeling. As I’m cultivating my sound, the feeling remains the same. Which I think is super important. A minute ago you said you want people to feel good about themselves, and particularly, to feel good about their bodies. There’s a lot of pressure on dancers especially to have a certain shape. Absolutely! The pressure started pretty early for me and I guess it intensified a lot because I was going to the L.A. County High School of the Arts and the dance program was pretty rigorous—pretty ballet-intensive and pretty modern-intensive. Ballet’s never been my strong point. I know I’m not big, but I’ve never had a body like a classical ballerina. There was a ton of pressure. I have a lot of memories 45
that I’ve probably suppressed! I had a ballet teacher that told me I gained weight, and I think I was like 12 years old. And her background, her culture—that type of expression is totally normal and not meant to be offensive at all. But you’re like, ‘Oh, crap—I need to be on a diet, like a legit diet. And I’m 12.’ I’m not in the dance community like that any more, and I’ve taken the pressure off myself in that context because I’m just not pursuing dance in that way. I don’t think I’d be happy. When did you start identifying more as a performer or a singer than a dancer? My senior year of high school. I got into musical theater and I wasn’t as secure about my voice. I was pretty insecure about my voice and then I got cast as Deena in Dream Girls, and so that really helped my confidence and taking a chance because that was just such a dream role. If I could play any role on Broadway, that’s my role! It was so much fun and that’s probably when my obsession with Diana Ross intensified because I was studying her. That gave me a lot of confidence and pushed me over the edge. I’ve always known I was a stronger performer than a technical dancer. That was pretty obvious to me and my teachers but they respected the fact that I was a performer. They nurtured that. Around that time that I was like, ‘I can pursue singing! And music! And incorporate acting and all that!’ Why did you decide to write your own songs? What did you think you needed to say that wasn’t being said? I don’t really feel like I’m saying something that hasn’t been already said. I don’t think that what I’m writing is that profound, not that this dumbs it down or makes it any less siginficance. When I first started writing by myself for a musical type of project, I was definitely influenced by relationship crap, whch a lot of people can relate to. So it was very therapeutic at that time, and what I released last year—called The Breakup Tape—was pretty much me making happy music out of a bad situation—which is always good for me to do! That wasn’t my motivation, that I needed to say something that wasn’t being said. There are definitely other writers and other musicians that communicate more of their political stances in their songs and talk about certain injustices, and I think they occupy that need in music so … well, I don’t really try. If it’s natural and it comes to my mind then I’ll write about it. I let my experience fuel the writing and see what comes out of it. I listened to your Giorgio Moroder mixtape and thought, ‘How is she going to find room for her vocals?’ But you did it! Oh thank you! Yes, there’s a lot going on! I did it just because it was such a challenge and it was fun for me. It’s a personal exercise whenever I do those mixtapes because it’s very challenging to write to something so classic. After I recorded the vocals for that, I had a harder time mixing the vocals in because most of that material was recorded in the 70s. Totally different time, space and technology—that was a bit of a challenge. With the Moroder mixtape—it seems paradoxical to me that you do work that you’ve described as personal when you’re singing over music made before you were born.
Writing is always personal. Anytime I’m writing lyrics over whatever content I’m getting, whether it’s mine or a fully-produced track, or a really old amazing piece of music from Giorgio Moroder, I go at it with the same approach. I want to tell stories, make people happy, I want to be honest. It’s very personal cuz I write everything that I sing, whether I’m writing for Moroder tracks from the 1970s or experimental stuff. When did you first get into Moroder? Me and my sisters have always really been into Donna Summer, and I don’t know when it was that I put two and two together and realized who was behind all that music, but it wasn’t that long ago. This song will blow your mind and I didn’t do it on the mixtape because it has vocals on it: ‘I Want to Rock You.’ My sister sent it to me one day and I was like ‘What is this? Who is this?’ That song is so contagious and classic and just epitomizes what I like best about Giorgio Moroder. I haven’t seen him live yet, which is not good at all! I was actually planning to go to the Hollywood Bowl show and then it got cancelled. But I did a show last year at the Echo, and during the show, I noticed a group of a little bit older people than usually tend to come to my show. And they all looked the same, and they were all together and like really excited. They’re really into it and I’ve never seen them at a show before. After the show, they were so nice and so excited, like, ‘Gavin, we love you, we found your mixtape, and we’re Giorgio’s family.’ His family members! They were super Italian, and they were beautiful! Have you ever gotten to work with him? Giorgio? Yes—are you guys on a first name basis? That’s promising! No, I’m not—not at all! I hope! It hasn’t happened yet, but I would freak out if it did! You’ve said you have an on-stage persona, but that your onstage and offstage personas both have the same intentions—what are the intentions and why don’t they change? I’m not a people pleaser. I do really care about people’s emotional states—I tend to know what I want pretty quickly and I’m not afraid to articulate that, and I guess on stage I tend to be like that too. So whether I’m on or off stage, I do my best to make people feel comfortable and hope they leave with a joyful disposition. Sometimes this takes sass but it’s always worth it! Get up and dance, tell your neighbor, ‘Don’t fight it!’ Maybe that goes hand in hand? Maybe you have to force people to be happy. ‘You’re going to dance, you’re going to clap your hands, and you’re going to like it!’ Some people need coercing! It’s tough love! And I’m all about tough love! Myself and giving people tough love! I think it’s healthy. GAVIN TUREK WITH THE HAPPY HOLLOWS, THE RELATIONSHIP AND MISUN ON SAT., OCT. 18, AT GAVIN TUREK’S HALLOWEEN DISCO PARTY AT THE VILLAGE, 1616 BUTLER AVE., LOS ANGELES. 6 PM / RSVP AT VILLAGE-STUDIOS.COM / 21+. VILLAGESTUDIOS.COM. GAVIN TUREK’S ‘PRIDE’ IS AVAILABLE NOW. VISIT GAVIN TUREK AT GAVINTUREK.COM. 47
KYLE MULLARKY of THE OLD PUMP HOUSE by WARD ROBINSON
EDITED BY D.M. COLLINS
50 52 61
THE INTERPRETER: PEAKING LIGHTS Chris Ziegler ALBUM REVIEWS ONE REPORTER’S OPINION Chris Ziegler
EDITED BY NIKKI B.
DAVID BOWIE IS Daiana Feuer
GEORGE CLINTON Dam-Funk
CURATED BY WARD ROBINSON
EDITED BY RIN KELLY
THE OLD PUMP HOUSE J.P. Bendzinski
68 COMICS CURATED BY TOM CHILD
PHOTOS 70 LIVE EDITED BY DEBI DEL GRANDE
WISDOM 74 L.A. WITH WHITE ARROWS
Curated by Chris Ziegler Photography by Alexandra A. Brown
Peaking Lights is husband-and-wife duo Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes, two kindred spirits who make layered, ethereal soundscapes at the fringe of rhythm, atmosphere and Broadcast-style psychedelia. On their newest record Cosmic Logic, out October 7 on Weird World/Domino, they give us 11 blissed-out tracks, engineered and produced by the band. They joined us to talk about some of the records—drawn from a collection that’s got all the good stuff—that inspired the creation of Cosmic Logic. LAFAYETTE LEAKE & BAND “LET JESUS IN”
THE BALLROOM “BABY, PLEASE DON’T GO”
“An incredible gospel track—only vocals and piano. The power in her voice is insane—completely moving and haunting, absolutely crushingly beautiful. It’s a traditional gospel cut but the way she delivers her slightly smoky but youthful vocals with the simplicity of the raw and loosely tuned piano is mind bending.”
“Scorcher psych drum madness. It starts of kind of normal with this round robin vocal chant and disintegrates into a pummeling rhythm with a whirling feedback boiling underneath. It’s hard to believe that everything this songs achieves happens in under five minutes. You could listen to this for hours.”
KETEMA ENDECHAW “CHEKOLATA”/“BEDIRON KEMESEW” (KAIFA, 1975) “Radical Ethiopiques soul track with all the groove (plus ten!) that one would expect from the rolling syncopated style of Ethiopian soul mixed with jazz dashes. Really killer tracks both sides—festive party music and lead vocals backed with several back-up singers’ tracks that seem like they’re recorded live. That’s part of the magic—you actually feel like the back up singers are ten feet behind the lead vocalist. Fully groovy stuff!”
“PIT BULL” (riddim) (DAWGHOUSE, 2006) “This is not Pitbull the pop star—it’s a totally insane half-digital half-Nyabinghi simple rhythm in a dancehall style via Jamaica. There’s not much to this. It has really moving and heavy bass and makes you want to bounce and snake around all at once. It’s one of those pieces of music where the power is in its simplicity. I have a feeling this track was lifted by a prominent artist and became a hit song here in the U.S. two times over.”
CAV. E. CIPRIANI “ATIBREIE” / “YEWYEN ABEBAIE” (EMPORIO MUSICALE, 196?)
“Another killer Ethiopian record but this one is less in the realm of Ethiopiques. Apparently these tracks are traditional tracks. The rhythms are killer. It’s a festive vibe with a raw recording. It’s stripped back from the soul and jazz influence and has a heavy syncopation, with many vocalists chanting and celebrating together. This music makes you want to move in its own way—an almost perfect mix with La Gatta Cenerentola’s ‘Coro Delle Lavandaie.’”
DAVID AXELROD “THE LEADING CITIZEN” PART 1/2 (DECCA, 1972)
“Awesome funky jazz track, with great vocal hooks. Completely entrancing and moving. This track is a groover. I mostly jam ‘Part 2’ in mixes as the track is fully geared up by then. The chant-y vocal and cosmic funky jazz are in full effect—gets your body movin’.”
ARIF SAG “DIMBILLI” (TURKUOLA, 197?) “Radical Turkish psych. Actually, I think this is somewhat of an accidental psych record. Amazing break beats, wild guitar—an incredibly catchy instrumental.”
LIDDEL TOWNSELL “ACID HOLE”/“DUB CONTROL” (TRAX, 1988)
“Really great deep tracks. It’s been a staple for many years. This just sounds classic. The vibe of it is dark but moving psychedelic tranceinducing wildness slapped by a 303—just killer house tunes!” INTERPRETER
(WARNER BROS., 1967)
LEN BOATMAN “THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY”/ “THE LIGHTHOUSE” (DEEP SEA, 1971) “Extremely heavy loner psych from Gary, Indiana. I found this record in a 15,000 piece collection I bought. There was a lot of great stuff in there but this was the biggest WOW. I’ve tried to track Len Boatman down but there’s no trace. The loose interpretation of any song structure suggests an incredibly fried mind. This is definitely not music for everyone. It’s a total downer but also just filled with truth and heartfelt struggle. The only information I ever found was a small blurb in a 1971 Billboard magazine that read something like ‘Len Boatman of Gary, Indiana, announces his new record label Deep Sea Records.’ And that’s all.”
JUDY FREEMAN & BLACKROCK “HOLD ON” / “WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES” (RCA, 1971) “Straight-up burner soul track! She belts it out! The recording is crisp and clean and the drums and bass are driving. A killer dance tune! This is a bit early for disco, though I feel that this is one of the really early tracks from early 70s soul that displays those elements of disco in the making. That’s kind of my favorite thing in music—when bands or artists are searching for a new sound up to right when it gets developed, and the energy is raging.”
STEVE KNIGHT “ROBBER MAN” (RIDIM FORCE, 1986) “Killer digital track! His voice is on point, with killer lyrics over the World A Music riddim. A really powerful tune! This is what you want to hear at sunset or sunrise fully grooved out.”
CULTURE PEE “RAIN RAIN” (REALITY, 1988) “Heavy-hitting digital dancehall tune! Very up-beat vibe and a fully crushing tune in any dancehall set. The rhythm programming is ace! The three different cuts on this are all heavy and great dance party tunes—the groove on this is locked down!”
LA GATTA CENERENTOLA “CORO DELLE LAVANDAIE” (EMI, 1976)
“Here’s a legendary one! This has been mixed and mashed—the track ‘Coro Delle Lavandaie’ is a rhythm monster! It’s taken from an opera and this is the scene where all the womyn are washing laundry, and the rhythms are supposed to be them going up and down on the washboards—purely epic!”
DALLAS “AIN’T NOTHIN NEW UNDER THE SUN” (BAYWEST, 1988)
“An awesome mid-tempo boogie cut. Something about this record … it’s just the vibe. It’s really belting, both musically and vocally, and it’s got its hooks and is catchy—don’t get me wrong! But this just has an essence to it. The synth lines are loose, the vox have an edge, it’s funky ... a real unique one!” 51
ALBUM REVIEWS BROCK POTUCEK
THE ABIGAILS Tundra Burger
Songs of Love and Despair—their 2012 release—and this year’s Tundra make for two albums by the Abigails and two places where a man can find himself in a predicament if a bottle and a loaded pistol are close at hand. Unless, of course, things are getting better and better, and for Abigails’ Lee Hazlewood-ian main man, Warren John Thomas, things are getting better. Songs of Love and Despair was round one, with a handful of gems like “Satan Taps My Head” and “Black Hell” that drove people to scream out requests by name at the Abigails’ third show. They were songs that were rough around the edges, but instant classics none the less. Round two is Tundra, which is a little more refined, a bit more polished, built around the words and music of a man who is coming into his own but still reflecting on his past. When it comes down to it, Tundra is a record animated by the spirit of a man who can’t do any wrong in the eyes of those by whom he is loved. I say: buy it! —Frankie Alvaro
an amazing campaign a few years back and played by Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols on his radio show. But fans have been waiting since around 2009 for this full length, and the reason for such anticipation is simple—Afternoons write great songs. With all the anthemic glory of the Magnetic Zeros or Arcade Fire melded with the chaotic electronic sounds of MGMT— and with welcome and authentic emotion—saying ‘yes’ to Afternoons is easy. This is a great rock ‘n’ roll story, five or six years in the making, including breaking up at least once or twice and hating life on the way to loving it. These are the stories that make up the lyrical landscape of Afternoons, but which are also important to who this band is and where they come from. While the songwriting on this album might be its strongest trait, the production quality of Say Yes is just as powerful: it’s undeniably well-produced and arranged, as well as exceptionally executed. Whether the giant opening number or the brooding, Noah and The Whale-like “Bored Teenagers”—in which we are given the beautiful, melancholic line, “You’re just staring at the wall / pretending that nothing else happens / and waiting like bored teenagers”—Afternoons are confident, adept and aware of what they’re doing in every song here. With radio-friendly hooks and honest lyrics, Afternoons were worth the wait. —Daniel Sweetland
AFTERNOONS Say Yes Eenie Meenie
Afternoons’ song “Say Yes” has been around for more than a few years, famously used by Obey in ALBUM REVIEWS
BUSDRIVER Perfect Hair Big Dada
Busdriver is the king of L.A.’s avant garde hip-hop scene, which means that his albums are
JARED PITTACK COURTESY BAND
been declaring whole categories of music defunct all year. Duck, you suckers, for here are four excursions into dense mid-70s studio funk worthy of Mandrill, Rasputin’s Stash, Charles Wright or any other original slickster from the Golden Age of Getdown. Don’t expect a lot of jamband patchouli or cosmic nod-off, since this outfit draws its fire from the old original loose-limbed instrumental R&B of the Stax-Motown 60s, a genre now so commercially dead you only hear it at all anymore on old vinyl played after midnight in five-buck cover joints the LAPD could raid at any given second. This, admittedly, is a hell of a lot of effort just to keep memory of King Curtis alive, but Baast puts in some cold sweating too, especially on the 22:34 “Dimension,” in which the ghost of Miles Davis rises to wail. Long live funk, be it dead or alive. —Ron Garmon
Dimensions Ubiquity Orange County / Long Beach outfit Baast unlimbers this funky hand-grenade at critics, multimillionaire rockers and all the rest of the Internet rabble that’s
always far more exciting than anything else attempting this kind of iconoclastic rap. Over the last seven studio releases, the Project Blowed veteran has kept the genre fresh with beats based on discordant be-bop riffs and more esoteric words than an SAT prep class, all while collaborating with elite beatmakers from Daedelus to Danger Mouse. On Perfect Hair, Busdriver continues on his rampage to inflict knowledge and new sounds upon his listeners—a mission that holds even more value as rap and pop continue their fusion into one. Swapping up-front jazz motifs for darker synth beats, Bus uses this new batch of songs to confidently take shots at the messy meanings of mainstream hip-hop, all while staying true to his signature spastic flow and unpredictable humor: “Where is hip-hop going? What did hip-hop have for breakfast this morning? Does hip-hop have the body type to pull off that outfit?” he inquires on “Bliss Point”. There are dozens more knowingly smirk-worthy moments on Perfect Hair—the chorus of “Eat Rich” simply chants the delightful double entendre: “I’m so hungry, man, I could eat the rich”—but the standout might be the single, “Ego Death,” which turns cameos from Aesop Rock and Danny Brown into an infectious but ambiguous call to arms—“We can make this better/ Or not / Yes we will”—that reflects the endless variability present in hip-hop today. —Sarah Bennett
ALBUM REVIEW SUBMISSIONS
GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW Ms. One EP SomeOthaShip
The illustrious Georgia Anne Muldrow’s rap EP, Ms. One, is vibrant. The listening experience was so rewarding that upon reflection I actually found myself feeling glad and mad—and I’m glad GAM exists. She’s a living bridge between J Dilla and Stevie Wonder. She brings a kind of musicianship that cannot be learned to whatever her medium may be, whether a drum machine or her own voice. She is soul in the most fundamental meaning of the word. On this EP she flexes her oratory muscles (read: rapping) in a way that usually takes a backseat to her singing or production. The project’s production is handled strictly by Copenhagen’s Krisonetwo, providing a soulful electronic thread tying all five tracks together. With the expansive diction rap’s metered verses allow, Ms. One makes room to examine serious subjects with honesty, style and a sense of humor. Verses examining the portrayal of black bodies, encouraging disassociation from the ego and lambasting culture-vulture studio thugs are delivered with joy. This isn’t just dope rap, it’s healing— through the fonk. —sweeney kovar
L.A. RECORD invites all local musicians to send music for review—anything from unreleased MP3s and demos to finished full albums. Send digital to fortherecord@ larecord.com and physical to:
P.O. Box 21729 Long Beach, CA 90801 If you are in a band and would like to advertise your release in L.A. RECORD, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAVE VAN PATTEN
Destroy the Country Cleopatra 53
Is a live album essential for both the artist and connoisseur? More often than not, the answer is no, as live albums typically contain songs better executed on studio efforts and are often born of contractual obligation, behind the scenes writer’s block and/or relentless touring schedules. Yet there is good reason why certain groups like the Gun Club were relentlessly bootlegged by their fans—their shows were always unpredictable affairs where every song seemed to take on a new life through front man Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s erratic command. He’d improvising with his avant-garde swamp-punk guttersnipes like a true band leader, cueing the band with howls or even more feral subtleties frequently dictated by his mood(iness), playing to or sometimes declaring war on the crowd. Destroy The Country is the first authorized version of this sought-after 1983 Italian bootleg, and sees the group at their scorching best right, just before their high point—between Miami and Las Vegas Story, with what many claim is also their definitive line-up of JLP, Kid Congo Powers, Patricia Morrison, and Terry Graham. It is, in fact, the best live document of the band, on par with the band’s only official live release, Danse Kalinda Boom. The songs are from their first three albums, but presented here in what may be a preferable format for those who prefer the louder, more raucous side of the group—on Destroy, they take a serenely mournful song like “Brother And Sister” and put it through JLP’s meat-grinding on-stage exorcism. The highlight of this disc is undoubtedly its version of “Preaching The Blues,” with a swelling free-jazz intro that renders the song almost unrecognizable from its original form, collecting itself momentarily in archaic chicken-scratch guitar before exploding into cowpunk cacophony. Whether you use this album to clear your head or clear a room, it is effective in every sense— it showcases all the reasons why this group remains so immortal. —Gabe Hart
JUNGLE FIRE Tropicoso Nacional 54
I always like records with intros cuz they prepare you for what you’re about to hear, and on Jungle Fire’s full-length debut, the intro sends you into a murky percussive jungle deep in the heart of Africa. The first cut on the album “Comencemos” hits heavy—it’s a Fela cover with drums upfront, beating away at a feverish Afrobeat-funk pace. I saw Jungle Fire at last year’s Funk Fest in Long Beach and caught a few of their funky delicacies, which were definitely a departure from the offerings on this record—but I like the new direction. “Tokuta” has a Nigeria 70 sound to it and is worthy of play at one of Fela’s weekly Shrine parties, while the cut “Firewalker” has a cool Afro-disco vibe with a driving bass line and short-but-sweet drum breaks. The title track “Tropicoso” launches with some African percussion and guitar then snaps right into a funky soundtrack style perfect for a movie where Richard Roundtree (from Shaft in Africa) chases down the bad guys. Solid grooves intertwine with classic Afrobeat feeling, heavy syncopated drums and percussion that doesn’t miss a beat, and the tight compression on the rhythm side combined with strong horn arrangements makes Tropicoso a force to be reckoned with. If you’re a fan of this style or just dig funky sounds with a pinch of Afrodisco, you should add this to your collection of tasty tunes. —Rodi Delgadillo
are Roc Marciano and Barry White. The latter provides—with his classic baritone—bookending commentary on transitioning from a life devoted to the street to one dedicated to music. Roc Marci adds a dash of flashiness to Ka’s stoicism, stealing the show on “Fall Of The Bronze (New Iron)” with a fantastic Coming To America reference. 1200 BC is cerebral hip-hop. The balance struck between the tonalities of the music and Ka’s delivery is meditative at times. The MC fires off finely crafted oneliners with grit and a soft-spoken delivery that implies there are more memories from where one anecdote springs. Even the humor is deadpan: “Years” ends with a line about juicing at a farmers market that is somehow still a bit unnerving. I hesitate to reinforce the myopic “write only what you live” belief system but Ka’s lyrics are imbued with the potency of lived experience. —sweeney kovar
KEVIN MORBY Still Life Woodsist Records
DAVE VAN PATTEN
KA & PRESERVATION 1200 B.C. EP self-released
Brownsville’s Ka finesses his words with the precision and subtlety of a master sushi chef. His disciplined and economical bars, along with DJ Preservation’s ominous backdrops, build an intensely captivating image of a particular shade of New York on 1200 BC. This EP marks the first time Ka’s ventured outside himself for production on an entire project and man, does Preservation deliver. The beats are cold, dark and sublime. Minor keys and minimal drums create the twilight for Ka’s cinematic meter. The only guests
Kevin Morby’s new album starts out with a very nice finger-picked intro and some dark Leonard Cohen by way of M. Ward vocals drenched in reverb, with a lovely but simple melody and this image: “In my time, in my time / I was a dancer.” As the album goes on, the concept of the dancer returns more than once, and much like this album, it’s a concept that seems very personal. If you were a fan of Kevin’s earlier work with the Babies or Woods, you know Morby can’t help but write some of the catchiest hooks in indie music— like, “Here we go again / here we go my friend,” from the opening line to “The Jester, The Tramp, The Acrobat.” It’s such a simple line but coming from Morby, it takes on new and endless meaning. Morby’s true talent is his ability to walk the line between melody and art, between catchy and novel—and much like Bob Dylan or Lou Reed, he’s is a story teller of the highest caliber. This album is a natural next step in what has already been a very solid series of albums across the many projects he has been a part of over the years. It’s not only the best thing he’s done yet,
but one of the best folk rock albums I’ve heard in quite some time. Still Life is really a painting, a beautiful portrait of a songwriter truly coming into his own—and a man with more than a few great stories to tell. I feel like every release he puts out is better than his last—how good is this guy already and how much better can he get? —Daniel Sweetland
KING TUFF Black Moon Spell Sub Pop
King Tuff’s Was Dead was one of those blasts from the beyond that you only hear every decade or so, a record that came out of nowhere to annihilate every bedroom band in the country. His self-titled follow-up splintered his busted, demented glam into a dozen different yet coherent pieces. But on Black Moon Spell, Tuff is fully committed to the darkness. This is the record we all wanted—a potent round of all-out rockers packed with Bolanisms and Tuff’s own love for the muck and monsters that populate our weird lives. “Black Moon Spell” opens it all with the kind of gut-churning, slow motion riff you’d want to hear while racing down a dusky desert road. “Sick Mind” rides up right behind with more squealing guitars for Tuff’s ode to a favorite perverted girl. “Madness”—a dedication to both the horrors and wonders of our insane brains—stomps along as if in lockstep with Bonnie St. Claire’s “Clap Your Hands.” Single “Eyes of the Muse” extracts some of the more popish elements of the last record, but not without passing it all through Black Moon Spell’s gantlet of riffs. —Miles Clements
THE MATTSON 2 Agar self-released
The Mattson 2 have been crafting their particularly studied sound for a few years now, but this brilliant jazz duo’s newest release is a perfected version of everything that they’ve ever done. The album begins with the definitive “The Peaks of Yew,” in which we experience gloriously looped and droning keyboards while the twins explore the space between with shimmery guitars and nimble drumming. (If you ever wondered what surf-y jazz sounded like in space, this is it.) The album continues into shorter and more direct songs, with brilliant guitar playing albeit less obvious exploration—more an example of what can be done emotionally within a steady structured. And although they’re still epic, “Dif Juz” and the third track “Pure Ego Death” are less show-y than the opener. But fourth and final song “Agar” showcases everything genius about this band, shifting from sporadic riffing into a beautiful melody and back. The Mattson 2 are not just adept musicians but arrangers and writers, as well, unlike you’ll ever hear again. The album ends with some of the strongest jam sections of the whole half-hour of exploration, and with “Agar” we hear a true connection between these two brothers— which demonstrates just how good they are. This is music, pure and from the most sacred places. Agar is an album of utmost perfection— everything this band has tried to do over the years, delivered exactly how they’d always wanted. —Daniel Sweetland
MEATBODIES Meatbodies In The Red
Chad and his band Meatbodies are part of this new psych punk scene that is taking over southern California, a beautiful community where every band is connected in some way to the next, linked in one way or another to contemporaries like Wand, Fuzz, Ty Segall and countless other great bands. It’s this family connection, similar in so many ways to the New York punk scene of the mid 70s or the grunge scene of the late 80s and early 90s, that has led to such a heavy output of stand-out ALBUM REVIEWS
singles and limited cassettes from so many of these wonderful Southern California bands—whenever one of these bands releases a new fulllength, it’s almost always worth taking note of. Meatbodies have blown away any of their previous releases with this newest album—it’s more focused and confident, possibly because creating a band and losing the solo project idea led to a more focused and destructive force. This new self-titled album stands out for in its sense of chaos but also its maturity, with dense production and a more controlled reverb-ed sound. The guitars are as crunchy as ever but polished in a new way, and the melody in the vocals has never been as so good as it is here. They’ve always been known as a great live band, so one can imagine how good these tunes would be performed in person. Meatbodies are on their way towards some form of destructive collapse—and that’s totally a good thing. —Daniel Sweetland
Home Everywhere Captured Tracks Medicine was a band from Los Angeles in the first half of the ‘90s, a principal American contributor to shoegaze. Any press from the time noted how guitarist Brad Laner arrived at his “signature” guitar tone by running it through a 4-track cassette recorder, which, along with singer Beth Thompson’s breathy vocals and the pulsing drums of Jim Gooddall, made for an abrasive cousin to contemporary English bands. The common thread linking Medicine to bands like Ride, Slowdive and the Catherine Wheel was that each flipped the script on their forebears—where before effects supplemented songs, these bands had songs centered around if not outright inspired by their effects. Or at least that’s what it sounded like then. Twenty years later, will it still? On Home Everywhere, their second album in three years after an 18 year absence, Medicine are still driven by effects, but arrive in
places the band would have never visited in the ‘90s. The results range from ethereal to jarring. As before, those seeking conciselycrafted songs and crisp, clear sonics need not enter the world of Medicine. But nor should those seeking only to reminisce about the loud old days slouching in darkened clubs with cigarettes dangled just so and hands too forlorn to be lifted from pants pockets. Home Everywhere leaves that well-trodden territory behind. The album begins with “The Reclaimed Girl,” which features, among other surprises, a B section crafted with a nod to Sgt. Pepper. “They Will Not Die” transplants the requisite vocal dreamscape somewhere toward the tropics. Near the end of this nine-song, forty-odd-minute album, “Its All About You” returns the band back to something like its original form. But then, just when the album appears settled in safe territory, the concluding title track—which clocks in at 11:27—offers something of an album coda, revisiting the varied realms the listener has just explored. Instead of a simple redux, this is an album designed to satisfy tastes from the anarchic to the otherworldly, from the rote to the unexpected—it’s for those weaned on the cacophony of shoegaze, but whose tastes have branched out. Whether it succeeds depends to a great extent on the same things Medicine has always demanded—whether the listener agrees with, or at least, can understand, its particular sonic choices, here including seemingly random (or at least randomized) rhythmic and melodic breaks as well as interruptions of electronica and other unexpected experiments. The jury is still out on whether those choices always work—but this is an album that merits several more listens. —Josh Solberg
Miles “Music Man” Tackett has been a prominent member of the L.A. music scene for over fifteen years now. He’s one of key figures in L.A.’s funk revival movement and is credited with organizing and starting up several popular weekly club nights, including the Root Down and Funky Sole, and is also a renowned DJ and record collector. He’s mostly known, however, for his work as one of the frontmen and founders of Breakestra, in which he played the trumpet, bass, and cello. The band formed in 1997 as a decade-bending live ensemble that played covers of the famous funk, soul and jazz breaks sampled by early progenetors of hip-hop. For the first time though, his talents as a guitarist and singer-songwriter are featured on a debut solo album, The Fool Who Wonders. The eleven-track independently released LP, recorded at New Tilt Studio in L.A., is not so much on the funky side but instead shows a more mellow contemporary style of blues-based soul-jazz. The soothing soulful sounds would be perfect for a sunny afternoon by the pool with an icecold mojito or chilling out with a glass of wine at a candlelit supper club. There are hints of 60s folk and psychedelia throughout, but with a distinctly modern touch. “Just What I Need” is definitely one of the cooler songs on the album and is followed by my favorite track, “Everything, which has a groovier, more upbeat rhythm. His masterful cover of “Everybody’s Been Burned” is another gem with a lounge-y vibe that offers an unexpected take on the original by the Byrds, while the title track—just like you probably expected from someone with Tackett’s credentials—will make you want to get up and dance. —Desi Ambrozak
The Fool Who Wonders Root Down
MNDSGN Yawn Zen Stones Throw
In a world awash with three digit BPMs, good mellow is crucially needed. Enter Mndsgn (Mind Design for newbies), the East-Coast-born, West-Coastliving producer and pop-locker. Upon landing on the smoggy shores of Los Angeles, Mndsgn was quickly embraced by the forward-thinking beat scene and the incubation of his talent went into overdrive. A few shows and a couple releases later, Mnd secured a deal with local legends Stones Throw. Yawn Zen is his first LP as a shooter for the squad. Rebelliously mellow, it’s an experiment in feeling fucking good. Magic hour vibes abound as Mndsgn keeps the head nod factor ubiquitous without getting too turnt. He’s vocalizing prominently on the record too, something previously reserved for private bedroom performances. Heads will get a tickle out of his ATCQ nod, I’m sure. Though he’s not a born Angeleno, many of Mnd’s tracks are sonic photographs of LA. You can almost feel the Pacific’s breeze or see the burnt orange of dusk showering the hills of East Los. —sweeney kovar
“Luv w Luv,” kicks off on an upbeat note—the drums creating a sunlit scene while the vocals wrap themselves playfully around wellplaced glitchy effects. As the song develops through its layers, it shifts into a minimal outro, spilling into the bass-driven opening of “Cut Off.” This second track highlights Muhsinah’s production skills as she transforms a vocal sample to weave around her own singing. The third track, “Under,” is perhaps the most distinct and captivating of the set, with vocals taking center stage, accompanied by pianos and electronic layers. This minimal composition showcases the emotional depths of Muhsinah’s vocals, as well as her production skills—it’s a beautiful build-up and sense of texture. With final track, “Okay,” the EP ends on a light note and a drumbeat programmed to get one’s body grooving in the light, whether solar or neon. Albeit less experimental than her collaborations with the Foreign Exchange or Flying Lotus, Muhsinah’s M demonstrates she’s got something unique to offer as an individual artist standing her own ground. —Stephen Jungc
MUHSINAH M EP self-released
Released in the midst of the August heat and this California drought, Muhsinah’s M is the result of five days of solitude in her Virginia home. This grammynominated vocalist takes center stage as producer, songwriter, and singer, without the familiar help of Nicolay and Phonte from The Foreign Exchange. Described by Muhsinah herself as a “sonic mood ring,” this four-track EP takes the listener through an “electro-organic” journey through artistic solitude and its effect on creativity. Muhsinah manipulates timeless organic frequencies with layers of Technicolor/ electronic production to carve her own space amidst the current of R&B-inspired electronic soul music. M’s opening track,
OTIS BROWN III
The Thought of You Revive/Blue Note A seasoned sideman, Otis Brown III makes a statement with his debut album The Thought Of You. It’s modern jazz without tokenism or hybridization, and there are no concessions made over the hour-long experience. The record is cohesive but each track is it’s own trip. The title track is split into a trilogy of jams, with bookends that feature fellow New School jazz cat Bilal. Otis Brown’s own wedding makes an appearance on “The Two Become One (For Paula).” The left-field surprise comes in the form of a home-run remake of a Shania Twain classic. The players are all top-notch. Robert Galsper’s piano sounds sublime and mature. The brass and reed sections are 55
Big Star Radio City Stax
The sophomore LP from this fabled Memphis gumdrops is often cited as one more reason you can’t tell shit about pop music from pop charts. Dropped by Ardent, subsidiary of legendary R&B powerhouse Stax Records, Radio City failed to make much headway upon first release 1973 but few of the parent label’s other acts did either. Stax bet heavily on the Temprees and Inez Foxx to make up for loss of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and went home shirtless. This LP (along the later singles of Rufus Thomas, Shirley Brown’s “Woman to Woman” and the Bar-Kays’ “Holy Ghost”) represents the company’s last hurrah. Here we find the late, great Alex Chilton still dedicated to making Big Star a commercial and artistic force comparable to his old band the Box Tops. The songs include such influential classics as “O My Soul,” “Daizy Glaze” and “September Gurls,” each a gorgeous, heartshorn flashback to Rubber Soul and the sunny optimism of the mid-Sixties. This kind of doomed romantic idealism has its votaries, but the main thing to remember is the “doomed” part. Heard today, freshly remastered and with no distracting bonus cuts, Radio City has the wistful charm of exhumed love letters, every line telling of an urgently sought Forever seized and squeezed into a shimmering Now. If rock ‘n roll ever does actually die, I predict it will shuffle along wrathlike for at least a decade more, a copy of this record clutched in phantasmal claws. Notes by Mike Mills of R.E.M.
Bedhead: 1993-1998 Numero Group This retrospective box set includes remasters of this Dallas-based indie act’s three studio albums plus two sides of EPs, outtakes and assorted yada. Bedhead’s 1994 debut, WhatFunLifeWas, is a sweet piece of dark psychedelic bombast maintained at a golem-like momentum over eleven unusually sophisticated songs, much in the manner of a mid-period Monkees LP for the Ibogaine set. Most critics retroactively deem this sort of thing “shoegaze,” but that genre label had
already worn to irrelevance by 1996’s Beheaded, a record whose charms are so resolutely ephemeral one must listen to it at least twice to make sure one hears it at all. While critics kept comparing them to Jesus & Mary Chain, it seems obvious this band was pioneering a version of slowcore, right down to the excruciatingly inceleritous “Losing Memories,” which clocks in at 2:58 but seems to bend time and space to a Hawkwindian eon. Transaction de Novo (1998) grinds the Bedhead experience to a Dodge Veg-o-Matic halt before the whole enchilada melts down like a Salvador Dali piano. The album winds up with “The Present,” a hypnotic seven minute dirge recalls George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity?” stripped of its Phil Spector bangles. As is often the way with multi-volume sets, the miscellany disc is where the real goods are found, with material like “I’m Not Here” and “Inhume” worthy stuff indeed. This set is the entire works on an underrated 90s band and well worth the time and money.
Come On Die Young (Deluxe Edition) Chemikal Underground Like the Bedhead set, this gigantic 15th anniversary reissue of this long-lived Scottish post-rock act’s second album is a diverting, epic-length slog through more and slower combustion. Even Mogwai’s fans grant this not music to pump anyone’s fist to, except maybe the opener “Punk Rock,” an illustrated speech by Iggy Pop that opens with the deathless line “Punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and heartless manipulators” that pretty much sets the tone of what follows. With their studio noise and abrupt fadeouts, tracks like “Helps Both Ways,” “Year 2000 Non-Compliant Cardia” and “Chocky” give the impression of a random dial around Radio Hellscape. In this bracing and relentless context, “Waltz for Aidan” is a jewel indeed, “Oh How the Dogs Stack Up” the tune the RCA Victor mutt died of and “Christmas Steps” a peerless Morricone pastiche. Pay no heed to the bunkum this is some kind of Sonic Youth knockoff—both bands tap a mainspring of experimental guitar music first charted by the likes of Glenn Branca and Henry Flynt. EP sides and alternate versions make up the vast remaining bulk of this two and a halfhour set.
lush and sharp. Otis’ own drums are incredibly dynamic, able to be simultaneously tender and assertive. This is also post-hip-hop jazz—interludes that combine production techniques by Berklee professor Raydar Ellis with live instrumentation hint at terrains where the two genres may meet that still lay untouched. Even beyond that, the way I hear the bottom end mixed on the record makes me imagine a musician that grew up with hip-hop. This shit knocks. The Thought Of You wastes not a note. If you have even a passing interest in jazz, do not do yourself the disservice of sleeping on this one. —sweeney kovar
PEAKING LIGHTS Cosmic Logic Weird World
This L.A. duo’s fourth album is bright techno-pop that brings to mind what Klaatu might’ve become had a robotoid Karen Carpenter actually joined that long-departed Canadian spaceprog show instead of merely turning their “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” into her last hit single. A song like “Telephone Call,” with its perky melody and battery of loping mechanical rhythms, is like jukebox music from the very end of the American Bandstand era. Beyond New Wave, there are trace elements of dub, satire, electro-funk, icy Salsoulstyle disco and what passes for house music these days, each not so much ripped from their contexts as reconfigured as responsible geek fun for a new heavily medicated order. “New Grrls” is an honest-to-Kim Wilde disco protest tune and “Tell Me Your Song” is a finale worthy of the Free Design. The music industry is in what may or may not be terminal agonies, but local music itself is humming along like such tomorrows don’t count. —Ron Garmon
TERRY MALTS Insides Slumberland Records
Calling all punk fans! After nearly a year’s wait, the San Franciscobased punk-rock trio, Terry Malts is finally back with a new four-song EP entitled Insides. Like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, Malts’ new tracks still feature the group’s signature thunderous blanket of punk-y C86-style guitar sound. But here, Malts’ Nathan Sweatt, Corey Cunningham and Phil Benson introduce a new element to some their tunes—catchy pop hooks. Listeners can find them in embedded in the EP’s cheery first track, “Let You In.” In this power-pop ballad, the kind of one you would blast on the stereo while speeding down the coast, Benson muses “I used to be so down, I’d lay around in bed/I’d play dead.” “On Grumpiest Old Men,” Cunningham’s contribution to the collection, strong harmonies and memorable refrains reign supreme. Malts’ third track, “Don’t,” is where we find the strongest the band’s heaviest punk guitar and drum riffs. Fans of the genre will adore this Ramones-y track. Capping off the EP is a faithful cover of New Zealand’s Chills’ forgotten 1984 gem, “Hidden Bay.” Perhaps this would have been a great opportunity for Malts to make their unique mark on the tune, but it’s still just a treat to get a glimpse of this band’s influences. Insides is a playful, punky experimentation with the best of pop music. —Emily Nimptsch
THE RENTALS Lost in Alphaville Polyvinyl
For the last 15 years, there has been a gaping, Moog-shaped hole in my pop-loving heart that only The Rentals could fill. Since 1999’s Seven More Minutes I have tried to fill my cravings for cutesy boy-girl harmonies and ooo-eee-ooo keyboard riffs (made popular by 1995’s Return of the Rentals) with Rentalsinspired acts like Reggie and the Full Effect, Motion City Soundtrack and even Passion Pit, with little success. Enter Lost in Alphaville, the supposed actual 2014 return of the Rentals, which though a solid effort from a secure lineup of pop music veterans unfortunately also bypasses the much-missed magic of the band’s original forte of ‘90s indie rock. On the band’s long-awaited third album, founder/creator/main songwriter Matt Sharp (of former Weezer fame) again proves he can write great, clean pop songs full of power chords and major keys, though here they are much more loaded, thicker and textured with arranged distortion, as if
heavier with the weight of time. And actually—‘time’ is a theme that continually threads itself through Lost in Alphaville, which makes sense since the tunes came out of Sharp’s 2009 Songs About Time project. But without the project’s artistic context—it was a year-long multi-media effort, during which albums were released in thematic chapters— the music feels forced and the lyrics (“There’s really nothing more beautiful than the thought of sound / It wakes you in the morning, it walks you home at night when no one’s around,” for example) trite. Accompanied by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius on vocals and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney on drums, Sharp attempts to update The Rentals’ resume with some sophistication—but to be honest, all we really want is more happy, zippy, nerdy, cutesy, deliciously sweet and immature songs about love and summer girls and depression that doesn’t last forever … okay, please? —Sarah Bennett
L’Amour, Romantic Times Light in the Attic Skepticism is healthy when it comes to dealing with cult artifacts, especially those that have inspired as disproportionate an outpouring of verbiage as L’Amour, an obscure 1983 folk LP by the Canadian singer-songwriter known as Lewis. Discovered in an Edmonton flea market several years ago, L’Amour has since built a devout internet following, paving the way for the inevitable deluxe reissue treatment. All of which is business as usual, save for the fact that Lewis happens to have a story that’s more fascinating than most outsider artists: it begins with the mystery surrounding his identity and expands with curious rumors about bounced checks and possibly ALBUM REVIEWS
Wayne Interest Innovative Leisure Wayne Interest, the third fulllength release from L.A.-viaLong Beach Tijuana Panthers, seems very simple and straightforward—at the beginning. The first three songs work in the genre-blending pop-surfgarage-punk sound for which the Tijuana Panthers are known, and each track makes you want to get up and move, especially “Cherry Street.” But then the style subtly starts to change with “Dark Matter,” and then some
very interesting and, at times, even conflicting elements begin to emerge. Many of songs on Wayne Interest are still hardhitting, uptempo and poppy, but Tijuana Panthers still manage to pack in some other very surprising elements. They’re taking risks that make this fourteen track LP different from anything they’ve done before. The energy and intensity is exceptional, and each member shares lead vocals, changing from scream-y and full of teen angst to deeply monotone, deadpan and restrained. The production was done entirely by Richard Swift, with all the songs were recorded in his Portland studio. “Nobo” and “Car Crash” are two of my favorites, each with a mellow, washed-out and dreamy sensibility. “Money Jar” and “Time” are also very unique, mixing in elements of 80s new wave—a nice transition to a cover of the Buzzcocks “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” one of the staples of their live set. As a whole, there’s a warped 1950s vibe with a Mickey and
fraudulently-obtained luxury cars. Oh, and he seems to have disappeared for several decades without a trace. If it seems too good to be true, that perhaps says more about the field of oddity-obsessed boutique reissues in 2014 than it does about Lewis. In a time when almost any recording dredged from the tributaries of obsolescence can be branded as a “lost classic,” the distance from anonymity to a trendy sort of fame is narrower and more dubious than ever. It’s hard to overstate, then, the significance of the Cult of Lewis’ origins in the democratically-cultivated, largely forsaken world of blogspot mp3 sites. From obscuro institutions like Mutant Sounds to the niche libraries of countless obsessives, the organic age of file-sharing not only provided a crowd-sourced alternative canon of its own; it established, through social interactions, the central narrative tropes of today’s reissue market. Namely: the imagining of storied but forgotten pasts, the re-imagining of the fringe artist as forgotten genius, and the re-casting of the music junkie as hero-archivist. Those coming to L’Amour post-meme-ification with high expectations will likely be befuddled that the winner of the 2014 retromania sweepstakes is in actuality one of the vaguest, haziest documents in the world of vanity press records. That’s not to discredit its charm— Lewis’ crooning voice is as heartfelt as it is untrained, and over warm piano chords, his tight-lipped intonations somehow create specific moods even when their literal meaning is neither apparent nor audible. On “Cool Night in Paris,” he affects a bluesman vibe that’s convincing enough to pass as a facsimile of your troubadour of choice. Still, many will be wondering what the fuss is about. One guess is that with so little contextual information surrounding it, L’Amour offered an opportunity for listeners to engage with music in as close to a vacuum as possible. If so, it’s not surprising that many have imbued L’Amour with both their personal meaning and incessant wave of speculation bordering on fan-fiction. The act of decoding L’Amour has become a de facto
Sylvia-esqe twangy feel throughout. Swift does an excellent job highlighting the more subtle and stranger aspects of their sound, creating cohesion between songs and a flow that guides you through starkly contrasting influences. —Desi Ambrozak
TRANCE FARMERS Dixie Crystals Leaving Records
Trance Farmers, the project of “chicken wire soul singer” Dayve Samek, is aptly named. It’s dazeinducing, for sure, and dirty
layer in the experience of the music itself. No matter what his musical ambitions were, Lewis’ appeal lies within a larger conversation about semiotics. So when a second record, the heretofore unknown Romantic Times was discovered earlier this summer, its significance was greater than being a collector’s holy grail—it was a vast and sudden expansion of the primary sources of the Lewis mythology. At this point, the story became too strange to ignore, even to those who had resisted L’Amour. Like any intriguing second act, Romantic Times both adds details to the picture of the artist while obscuring him in new, frustrating ways. The opening ballad “We Danced All Night” is a thrilling rewrite of “Strangers in the Night” as a Blade Runner-style ballad starring an ersatz Bryan Ferry in full-on veranda serenade mode. The companion piece is the equally brilliant “So Be In Love With Me,” where a stabbing synth pad sets the stage for some of Lewis’ most theatrically melancholy vocals ever. But as a whole, the record isn’t pleasant or warm in the way L’Amour is—it’s more notable for its seemingly prescient aesthetics than it is as a quasipop document. But that may be the best way to understand the record—as another text in the narrative. Conventional wisdom says that whatever Lewis meant, means or will eventually mean, “the music will live on.” But what does it say that we now know that one Randall A. Wulff —still alive and well, apparently— wants nothing to do with his overblown, accidental cult of personality? It’s not that it’s up to Wulff to decide what Lewis means. If anything should be clear, it’s that this episode represents the formation of a new archetype in a culture that turns cult into currency. But when next year’s model comes and goes, L’Amour will continue to stand as a monument over which no one, not even its author, can claim ownership. —Sean Manning
“I like supporting underdogs,” said John Casey Connelly as we sat down for our interview. His enthusiasm was palpable, and the truth behind his statement was clear. John, along with his friend Gawby Moon, runs a roving showthrowing collective called Mountair. Since 2009, they’ve held a ton of events around town, highlighting freaks, experimenters, and outliers. We talked about the history of the group on the cusp of its fifth anniversary party, a three-day-long extravaganza at Pehrspace featuring Gorgon Zoloft, Protect Me, BERU, 3D projections and a lot more. John started Mountair after returning home to Tujunga from college in Olympia, where he was compelled by the sense of community amongst showgoers: “There were a lot of house shows. I remember a particular show in a garage—a bunch of kids rocking out and Calvin Johnson was hanging out and nobody made a thing about it. There was just this vibe...” Back home, however, he didn’t find the same warmth. “I immediately started a band,” he said. “We would go to all of these shows, at Pehrspace, at the Smell, all around L.A. We tried to get shows, but we couldn’t get shows. We felt like we were on the outskirts of everything. I found a dire need for more openness and a warm-hearted feeling, so I decided ‘I’m going to put on a show in my parents’ garage. We can’t get a show, so let’s put on our own shows!’” John named the venue Mountair after the street it was on, and that first show featured a mix of friends and people they’d met on Myspace. He didn’t intend to have more, but stranger walked up to him after the show and said, “I felt so much warmth from this show, when’s the next one?” After a few more house shows he branched out, building a scene at nonparental venues, collecting a cohort, and eventually becoming a booker at venues that once seemed inaccessible. Today, his band Ghost Noise has no trouble finding gigs. Yet John retains the inclusive ethos that inspired the first house show. There are no real musical boundaries: I saw a Mountair night once that brought together a goth band in witch hats with an L’Trimm-styled hip hop outfit and an all-male fivepiece unironically influenced by Billy Joel. That hodgepodge worked, though—it was united by spirit. “Mountair was never really about the ‘cool’ people,” John says. “It was always like, ‘Let’s book these weirdo kids who can’t get anyone to pay attention to them.’ I remember this band from Lawndale, NOYES, these three teenagers. And the drummer came up to me at the end of the show and thanked me and said that this was the first show they’d ever played. They’d been a band for a long time, but no one had ever booked them. And that’s why Mountair exists.” Five years on, the collective is in flux. They have dreams of finding a permanent venue, but they continue bumping into the predictable brick walls that keep underground artists from making things like that happen in L.A. In the meantime, they hope to find collaborators to help the cause. According to John, “If anybody wants to join, we’ll welcome them with open arms. If you want to show up at one of our little meetings and propose an idea for an event, we’ll work on it and make it happen.” So, underdogs: reach out to Mountair at facebook.com/Mountair. 60
enough that it could’ve been pulled right out of the ground. On debut album Dixie Crystals, Samek sings largely indecipherable words over hazy, meandering tunes that blend elements of freak folk, lo-fi psychedelia, and early rock n roll radio to create a unique sound that avoids easy categorization. “Lone Star” rolls and pulses and feels like the sonic equivalent of driving stoned into a desert valley at sunset, “Fume” sounds like a dream you might have after a day of binging on Elephant 6 bands, and the whimsical and soaring “Dream Train” features vocals that somehow manage to recall both Syd Barrett’s bounciness and Sid Vicious’ snarling cadence. But while the vibe is good, Dixie Crystals is a tad underwhelming with some lulls that promise more than they deliver. “Whiteout” plods along on a one-chord groove until it’s punctured by a catchy riff that screams “new adventures” but then just goes away. The psychobilly-esque “Betty Bop” is stifled by muddy production that may have been achieved—I can only speculate—by recording with microphones wrapped in wool blankets. And on such a short record, it’s disappointing to hear filler like the instrumental collage “Gas Can” instead of actual songs. Overall, Dixie Crystals provides a pleasant if not particularly fulfilling half hour of listening. That said, it’s a promising debut that establishes a diverse foundation upon which Samek will surely expand in the future. —Geoff Geis
TY SEGALL Manipulator Drag City
On Manipulator, Ty Segall’s multiple personalities—garage destroyer, glam lover and effortless shredder—have finally coalesced into one supreme being: a glitterdipped alien with riffs that kill. Manipulator is an extraterrestrial radio tuned to the decadence of the ‘70s, like if T. Rex had sat in
on Funhouse or Space Ritual. Album openers “Manipulator” and “Tall Man Skinny Lady” could stand on their own as a killer 45, with wheezing organ and howling guitar orbiting each other as they zip past planet Bolan. “It’s Over” and “Feel” channel Segall’s turn in Fuzz. Both are heavy as hell, primordial tunes that hit with the force of a few dozen meteors. And just in case you forgot how to live, Segall reminds and instructs you on “The Faker” and “Who’s Producing You?” Even when limited to a scant two and a half minutes, Segall knows exactly how far to send each song (take “Susie Thumb,” for example) spiraling off into the jammy, untethered beyond. Segall has been so prolific that it’s become all too easy to miss the hits. But Manipulator is vital, a record that by all means should be in the collections of anyone with a pulse. —Miles Clements
accompaniment and continue to ring true all the way to final twopart track, “God Alert.” “Leave It Alone” is also oe worth a mention—it feels more polished and radio-primed than any other work in their repertoire. Reverbheavy guitars and pulsing synth give a dreamy quality to the track before it fragments into jagged and crazed choruses. The rest of the album is solid, and consistently committed to its three apparent thematic elements: death, sex and religion. If the essence of In Bardo is “rebirth”, then it’s a fitting title indeed. —Audra Heinrichs
Banana Cream Dream CS Burger Records/Lolipop Records DAVE VAN PATTEN
WHITE ARROWS In Bardo Votiv
Los Angeles’s White Arrows is a band happily stuck at a musical crossroads, working to seamlessly integrate elements of electronica, pop, garage, tribal rhythms—aboriginal rhythms, to be precise— and more into a rhythmic concoction able to reach beyond the most committed club kids. On their debut, 2012’s Dry Land Is Not A Myth, the band produced the album themselves with minimal outside help. It showed. But In Bardo, the band’s sophomore album produced by Jimmy Messer (AWOLNATION, Foreigner) gets it right. The buzz surrounding the premiere of their newest track “I Want a Taste” long preceded even the release of the album itself. It’s a slight departure from their uniform up-tempo, pop-infused tone, and evidence of the band’s maturation. Between whirring bass and wildly surprising guitar interlude, it’s a showcase for the strong vocal harmonies that slice through the
Wyatt Blair’s Banana Cream Dream is the best rock record to seep out of Southern California in years. It’s infectious and lighthearted and fun, an album with that rare ability to shake you wide awake with its own contagious energy. “Sweet Operator (Talkin’ On The Telephone)” has a kind of hard glam vibe, what L.A. RECORD management described so precisely as a dream scenario in which the Sweet was assigned to one of the Equals’ most potent rippers. There’s a current of power pop here, too, like the Beat or L.A.’s underrated Pop. “Girls!” was a standout even as a demo on Burger’s heartwarming Kitty Comp and now it’s a fully formed earworm that will have you struggling to keep quiet as you bop along in your head. “Ba Ba Ba (Life’s a Bitch)” should rightfully be a 45’s killer B-side. And for once the laugh track (“Ladies Man”) will actually put a smile on your face. Banana Cream Dream is out now on cassette and CD, but this is a record that deserves so much more than to be chewed up in a 20-year old car stereo. Buy this to encourage the LP pressing we all wish existed. —Miles Clements ALBUM REVIEWS
At Best Cuckold Sub Pop I like this record for the reasons people say they don’t like it—it’s confusing, it’s kinda gross, it’s not what they expected (or not the ‘unexpected’ they wanted) and it doesn’t sound enough like the Avi debut. So good job, Avi—love that song about eating the dog you ran over! Not that this is a truly alien kind of album. Instead, it’s Avi refined and focused and fully committed to the kind of make-it-look-easy songs that lift (and lifted) him right to the top of a genre where the celebration of qualities like idiosyncrasy, fearlessness, and intimacy inadvertently enable many instances of “I’m unfortunately not afraid to suck at playing and singing— care to bone yet?” The best moments here recall Neil Young, Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy) and let’s say Emitt Rhodes, since it might be a bit much yet to push McCartney and since Emitt was down to get dark. (“Oxygen Tank” really hells it out here—wild ending.) “Two Cherished Understandings,” “Overwhelmed With Pride” and especially “Won’t Be Around No More” drift into despondent Neil territory (see his “Too Far Gone,” a real stinger) but along Avi’s own diagonals, where history and dreams and desire all fragment on contact, and even psychically gentler songs like “Found Blind” come with moments of breakout/breakthrough. (Not to mention the welcome, weighty shred-out at the end of “Memories Of You.”) There’s something about collapse and connection happening on this album, in the themes and in the music itself, but it’s subtle and never named. That’s another thing Avi does well—he makes it seem easy, and sometimes he makes it seem accidental, too. But I have to think that there’s nothing on this record he didn’t put there for a reason. Related: I’d like to think those bright white pants on the cover are a nod to Dennis Wilson’s outfit on the cover of Pacific Ocean Blue, which is another great album by a man trying to figure out how he fit into the world.
Corners Maxed Out on Distractions Lolipop Saw these guys live and kept thinking of Zounds—dark, desperate, aggressive, cynical and British. And each of those adjectives is at work on this superlatively produced LP Maxed Out, which is the kind of luxurious listen you get when the band includes a bunch of studio guys all on the same misONE REPORTER
sion. But it doesn’t sound like Zounds very much. Instead, Corners are somewhere between blacked-out and black hole across a set of goth-punk-wave songs a la 154 Wire, Joy Division, Xymox, Xmal and early Cure. Corners understand how those songs were put together, which involved a lot of disciplined less-is-more-ism, and so Maxed Out is a spare, stark and complex album. Final track “Spaceships” is an uncharacteristically guitar-led song—most of the rest of Maxed is synth after perfectly recorded synth and relentless martial basslines. (“Caught In Frustration” for an unsettling example.) A consistently sophisticated, considered album with bursts of anger or exhilaration timed like a horror movie.
You’re Dead! Warp Cosmogramma was of course like … THE FLYING LOTUS RECORD, but now I listen back to Cosmo’s limitlessly ambitious finale “Galaxy In Janaki” and think about how “Galaxy” would be a quiet moment on You’re Dead! Dead is gigantic, dense, right at the edge of overwhelming—a maximal fusion suite where the Kendrick Lamar vocal hooks burst out of nowhere like a pyramid in the jungle. There’s so much communication happening that somehow human language becomes sort of hallucinatory itself—or a better way to put it is that there’s so much intense expression coming through You’re Dead! that nothing sounds normal anymore. Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis’ Agharta and Get Up With It and even David Axelrod’s high concept albums seem like ancestors, although as Dead ascends to an end there’s a very Planete Sauvage moment or two. (“Obligatory Cadence.”) And collaborators like Lamar, Snoop, Brandon from Metalocolypse—even Herbie Hancock, and even Thundercat, whose Apocalypse albums seem like preludes to You’re Dead!— ultimately just melt in and the music. Thunder, lightning, fire, darkness—it’s all part of the same storm here. If Cosmogramma was a journey, You’re Dead! is all revelation. Just look at the cover—it’s a record about opening up to everything.
foxygen ... And Star Power Jagjaguwar I’ve said it before—and perhaps too often— but Foxygen’s new … And Star Power sounds how the inside gatefold of Rundgren’s
Something/Anything looks. Which is: Home Taping Man! Triumphant amongst his machines! Lit from without by the light of Accomplishment Without Supervision! (By the way, if you already knew what the inside of that gatefold looks like, just get this record.) They’ve always been ready to reincarnate the good parts of their record collections— Kinks, TV Personalities, Dylan—but now there’s way more records in play, and the result is nerd feed of the highest order. Tusk and Suicide? Metamorphosis and Tiger Mountain? Oar and Street Hassle? The Idiot and Plastic Ono Band? “Rumble” and “1969”? That’s even the same song, man—same way they clone the Ramones into the Stones on the should-be-endless “Brooklyn Police Station.” And lemme roll you over one further cuz Foxygen knows how to read just as well as they know how to write. All these echoes of Rad Records Past come attached to Foxygen’s own endlessly imaginative ideas, making songs that seem like they fell perfect and done right out of the night sky. By design, this record is made to be messy—channelswitch transitions, blurry fade-ins and fadeouts, songs that sometimes stumble drunk and happy into each other … it’s like tuning into Planet Ziggy Stardust on the pirate radio network from the Who Sell Out. But under the smeary makeup and the tape hiss, these are very real songs. Star Power is exhausting but exciting anyway—alive with that weird and crazy joy that comes from discovery, whether it’s what kind of good things came before or what kind of good things you yourself can do now. Keep it coming!
A Signed Piece of Paper Female Fantasy Coomers (of Harlem, probably one of the more underrated bands on Matador) returns with his second solo-ish album Lace Curtains, set in a semi-imagined L.A. somewhere between Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Warren Zevon’s Gower Avenue and soundtracked by Gary Wilson’s Blind Dates and a pack of wolves. (Listen to ‘em howl on “Kali.”) Augmented by the erstwhile multiinstrumentalist and engineer Dan Bush, Signed Piece of Paper is a variously debased (“Be Good,” where Coomers sounds so blown out) outsider take on Hollywood Babylon then and now, delivered in several levels of deadpan—even the music has a weird detached sort of feel, like a band performing music according to a set of instructions. But through overwhelming force of personality, it all fits together, from blurry punk (“Saint Vitus,” where “the 60s ended for me / when I smoked PCP”) to Amer-indie subway-guitar clatter (“Pink And Gold,” where “she might be a junkie / but it’s impolite to assume…”) to the Lou Reed-isms or R&B street-funk or disco-y moves on “Glass of Sand.” Strangely, although it’s explicitly (and sometimes implicitly) about L.A., this sounds and feels like one of those New York records that came out right before or right after punk—when hardcore characters heard about this new music with no rules and figured that was all they needed to know to roll tape. It’s unique, inventive and pretty damn human.
Celebration of Taste Melters A new one from Melters and it does just what name of the label promises—Violent Change is like a Descendents record left out in the sun. Basic breakdown is side A is awesome punk-y songs submerged in successively more corrosive levels of distortion, and side B is successively songier waves of distortion, finishing with some Phil Ochs lyrics (possibly recorded straight through the ouija board) and the Swell Map-py “Blended Mix,” which rocks like a gunboat in the estuary until it finally fades out in a puddle of bubbles. So side B: the meltdown. And side A: the playground, especially if we’re talking about the rides that are rusty and bent. Here Violent Change make dub mixes of punk songs, waving the faders up and down and pouring reverb over vocals in the kind of mad-genius way that makes a mess into something … well, a little bit genius, or at least charismatic and unpredictable and interesting all the way down to the component parts. (Chilton, A.: “Flies On Sherbert.”) Hits are “Faster,” probably the most fascinating and fucked rocker here, and “Malleable Love,” which somehow finds the exact halfway point between U.K. proto-punker Twink and U.S. art-wreckers the Twinkeyz. But lots more movement in the ooze, like the speaker-gnawing overcrankery of “Micro Flesh”—haven’t heard anti-fidelity like this since Jonathan Halper stained two songs on to film for Kenneth Anger—and the mutant Teenage Fanclub (or mutant Tony Molina, a Melters label alum) feel on “I Was Never Young.” Nice little record. First part makes me feel up, and the rest makes me feel dwwwooooooo ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooojnwnw nwnwnn,af,fds.f..
BROWN SABBATH “Hand of Doom” EP Ubiquity This is the Sabbath cover side-project of Latin-funk band Brownout, and this is the teaser for their LP—and so this is also a shot to see what a funky Latin Sabbath would sound like. Turns out you can’t really fuck with these songs too much, since we all know them so well and since they were written so tightly in the first place. Or to put it more simply: this is a time to do some sacred duty. “Hand Of Doom” has Alex from Black Angels singing and the horn section carries the weight of the first chunk of the song, but then they really dig in when he gets to, “You’re having a good time, baby …” “The Wizard” is the winner here—heavy from go, horns serving the riff, and singer Alex Marrero really inhabiting some Ozzy. Then the percussion is hammering away and there’s a trumpet lead in the middle to light up the song. Instrumentals for both—for DJing indoors or other more restrained environments—and “The Wizard” is most ready to get the public in one of those, “Wait, is this SABBATH?” moods. Which is the plan, right? 61
GEORGE CLINTON Interview by Dam-Funk Illustration by Nathan Morse Call it destiny, fate or simply the way things should be, but the Long Beach Funk Fest’s pairing this past Labor Day of George Clinton and Dam-Funk made it seem obvious—why not ask Dam to interview George Clinton? 4,000 words later, this is the result: a true meeting of the minds between two generations of funksters as Clinton prepares to put out a very anticipated book and preside over the induction of the actual Parliament Funkadelic Mothership into the Smithsonian Institution! As Dam says below: get ready to go deep. L.A. RECORD hit me up so instead of talking to a normal editor, you’re talking to somebody who knows about the funk as well, and been following it and waving the flag like yourself. It’s an honor again, brother. So I wanted to start off by mentioning we been following your music for years, all the great things you’ve done sonically and stylewise – so how do you feel about the state of funk in 2014? I’m telling you, you’re gonna hear in another 6 weeks—we got our first Funkadelic album in 33 years! I got a book coming out the same time: Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? And it’s also the first single off the album. Like you mentioned Sly Stone … he’s on at least 5 of the cuts. To answer the question, I feel great! Funk is—it’s time, it’s always been here. Hip-hop kept it going forward, electronic music kept it going forward, and now we gonna stick our nose back in there! Deservingly so. Name some musicians you’re working with on the album and on this current tour. All the people who are family is there. I got El DeBarge, Chico DeBarge, Scarface, Kim Burrell, Sly Stone … Funky Homosapien, Del, he’s on there. I got Tracey [a.k.a Treylewd] my son— That’s a bad dude right there. The track ‘Personal Problems’ he made back in the day is incredible. He’s all over this record! His son Trizay is all over the record. My stepdaughter is all over the record—you know, I got married recently. I heard a rumor you hooked up with Steve C. Washington [of Slave] again. I’m always working with Steve! The Parliament album is coming out right after this. You’re gonna hear a lot of him on that! Believe me—this album’s got 33 songs on it. And each one has their own story to tell. And will it be on wax as well? As well! As well! I’m sitting in the hotel with a turntable that plays wax only—it’s so good to hear that music played right there. The warmth … you don’t forget it, but you feel good when you hear it again. I understand. Who’s handling the artwork on this particular juncture? Pedro Bell did the album and Overton Lloyd did the book. On the road, my granddaughters they’re on the road with me, Tracy and them are on the road with me.
So over the years, George, you’ve blessed us with different eras of funk, sonically as well. What made you emphasize the importance of the ‘clap’ being turned up louder than other songs in the 70s? I don’t know, that was one of those moments—that was on ‘Flash Light,’ and that was also the first time a synthesizer did the bassline. That gave us the concept of ‘1’ being so hard, with the bassline being like— Bernie was playing and Larry Graham— and the funkiest thing would be to add the backbeat in there kinda like Motown would do with the tambourine, or they’d beat on something to make the backbeat really hard? I thought on ‘Flash Light’ since the bass was first time on a synthesizer and the ‘1’ is always emphasized, we know that … let’s give ‘em a backbeat of ‘2’ that was so hard when you run your hand across the record, you’d feel a lump on the record. Nice. I intended for the bass and the handclaps to be abnormally loud. That’s phenomenal. It really influenced a lot of dancers too at that time. A lot of the pop-lockers, especially on the West Coast, they would pop to that clap— —they’d LEAN on it! Especially like on ‘More Bounce To The Ounce.’ By the time we did ‘Flash Light,’ ‘One Nation’ and ‘Knee Deep,’ we had it perfected. So when we did ‘More Bounce,’ even Roger [Troutman of Zapp] didn’t know what I was talking about cuz we’d loop something and then he’d start sampling that. We looped that first little piece off another one of his songs and made that the groove—and then had him play. And he didn’t know what … to him was just a jam, but we colored it so much with his Wes Montgomery jazz licks and all kinds of things he did on his show that had been incorporated in the groove— you couldn’t hurt that groove, I don’t care what you put on that. That groove was so definite with that bassline and those handclaps. And to clarify for the readers, that was a Mothership thang right? That whole Zapp first album. That was the Mothership, that was P-Funk? Roger was to be our first artist of substance on the Uncle Jam label. We did ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’ for him, we got him a deal—we were like, ‘Just make up a name!’ ‘Zapp.’ And we drew that album cover right in the studio.
With ‘More Bounce,’ I just knew we were on such a roll. There wasn’t no doubt that record was gonna do what it did. It was a phenomenal jam and it influenced a lot of musicians just to go harder on the next level of funk. It was such a great moment and it stands the test of time. Is it correct Bootsy Collins was on drums or is that a wrong fact? That’s not … It was Roger’s brother [Zapp Troutman] who played drums on that. Not Bootsy. It’s that same loop that starts ‘Funky Bounce.’ All I did was take it off of there and loop it. There’s a lot of funk urban myths out there. That’s a good one to clarify. Around then you’d got into the label Uncle Jam, and that was very influential— That’s what Roger was supposed to come out on. That’s what separates everything. When he didn’t put out … you know the one with ‘Grapevine’ on it? That’s when everything fell apart. That record was done for Uncle Jam’s, and he ended up taking it to Warner Brothers. After we had paid for it. Things like that happen and get twisted in the sauce sometimes, but the most important thing is it came out and we all know your legacy is all over it. You’ll hear all the details of those stories in the book—all of that is part of the book. All what happened with Roger, Bootsy, Parliament Funkadelic and it’s still going on to this day. You’ll hear a lot about it in the news in the next two months. All the way to Supreme Court. What’s the title of the book, one more time? Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? It goes like [sings]: ‘Brothas be, ‘Yo like George, ain’t that funkin’ kinda hard on you?” / I was hard when I started, gonna be hard when I get through.’ Yeah, yeah, yeah—that’s what I’m talking about! We’ve been getting great reports of the live shows—are you guys using electric sound claps at the shows? No, we used to do that five or six years ago. It’s a hybrid of everything, all the music that comes through us. We do ‘Testify,’ like the original version. It’s such the hybrid, it’s almost like theatre. People have plugged into it in a way that we don’t even understand. We usually know the crowd, but now it’s like bubblegum! Bubblegum gangstaz! 63
Old people acting like teenagers! And then you got teenagers acting like older people of that time! You got a lot of teenagers there, hiphop or otherwise, there’s something going on in the media—throughout Europe, at every show, was filled up. We used to be on top of shit, we’d beat people up—we’d beat people to death! Now we’re trying to play catch-up to their expectations! What was your reasoning behind the way you progressed into space topics? And the universe? And those concepts you incorporated as you went forward from the mid70s and the 80s? Where did that influence come from? I was a Trekker. I liked the Star Trek! It was from the psychedelic era of the 60s, and you’d travel a lot in like that Orion zone, with the Dogons and all the different tribes that say they come from different planets. So all that stuff, all that information … you mix it up with some R&B. After we did Chocolate City, and made the experience of a black man in the White House—which we got—we felt back then we said why stop at the White House? Let’s go into outer space! Black was hip. To this day, it’s still the dominant groove. With hip-hop being around the entire planet. Every country has its version of hip-hop. And that is the epitome of blackness! When you can play the dozens and become a billionaire … fuck the dumb shit! Forget all we think we know about what’s right, wrong, cool, all that shit! We just only realized that we ARE that power! We just got to catch up to our own cuz it is already THERE! It took the ghetto to get it out into the raw. We played the dozens for a reason all our life. That was so we didn’t have to kill nobody for calling us a name. So for some reason, talking shit has made everybody … whatever that groove is! Have you read that book Mumbo Jumbo? Check it out—by Ishmael Reed. It’ll give you the essence of what I think funk is, and that groove that makes us talk shit, ditty bop, hip-hop, be-bop, whatever we wanna do, doo-wop … whatever, ‘swag,’ they call it now. Everybody walk with a swag. But that groove … everybody wants some of it. Of course—when you talk about the blackness of it, it’s really important that you stay and maintain that aspect of it because— That’s what I’m talking about! The blackness of it. That is all that that is. And we are more ashamed of it ourselves, a lot of the time. While other people be snatching it up! I guess we might have to put a cover on it cuz rhythmically we can get ridiculous! That’s why we can say super ridiculous shit and show that it can be done groovy and still be stupid as hell! Like ‘Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad’ … that’s one of the most beautiful love songs we ever did! But we just messed all over it beautifully. Got you—it’s a beautiful stink! Frank Zappa used to do the same thing. Miles Davis … all those ones who just wanna do something so different, they break all the rules and just go anywhere! That’s why we love you. The visions you gave us and the concepts really made us dream and think more and further. That’s why I touched on the space aspect. Even though you said we get stupid on it, it was 64
very smart at the same time. From a lot of funkster’s perspective ... you really did go deep. Some of it comes from saying, ‘I don’t even know myself!’ I don’t claim to know what the fuck I was talking about, but I must’ve been thinking about something weird, whether it was Star Trek or overemphasizing things I’d seen in the 60s or whatever … I just put ‘em in the pot! They came over as my theories, but they sound pretty good to me now! Before I always considered it clowning, and I think it’s best that I did cuz I wasn’t into no talking about it. Just what if? If that’s the way it is, so be it. I just didn’t get involved with it other than bring it up. My thing was, ‘Think! It ain’t illegal yet!’ My job was to make you think about it! I ain’t go no point of telling you how it is—so long as myself, I don’t think I know! You never experienced anything in person? Oh yeah! That’s my own … whether it was hallucinations, whether it was high, but I’ve experienced things when I wasn’t high that I know was not of our everyday normal shit and I’ve talked about that. The light coming out of the sky that covered me and Bootsy? Definitely, for like three minutes, the thing happened—over the space of about two or three miles—and the light ended by hitting the car and rolling off the car like mercury out of a thermometer. Yes, I’ve experienced things! That’s what I want to know—do you feel or remember that you’ve been actually talked to or contacted by some higher force? No, but Bootsy and I both figured out we lost all of that day. We got to somewhere between 9 and 10 in the morning, but when this thing first saw us, it was like clear day light. And in less than two minutes, we got off the highway. And the light we saw again came down through the trees, and the third one hit the car and the streetlights were going off and so was the car in back of us. But no lights should have been on anywhere— cuz the first one we saw was in daylight! We didn’t pay any attention to making logic out of it. We just got outta there! And it took us ten years to think about. We left Detroit at six in the morning, takes about four hours to get to Toronto … what was the streetlights doing going out? And when I got to my house, my daughter said, ‘You all look like you’ve seen a ghost. Gimme a kiss cuz I’m about to go to bed!’ We never questioned none of that for ten years. Around what album was that? Check this out—it was right after we finished mixing Mothership Connection! Amazing! That’s what I’m talking about, the mysteries we don’t pay attention to! We weren’t about to even play with that! I was doing enough drugs not to wanna … I didn’t need no real paranoia! I could live with paranoia I bring on myself by getting high, but if I have to deal with something I ain’t got nothing to do with … I can’t take the blame for that! George—do you believe there are other life forms or a higher power than us in the universe to this day? Oh come on—oh shit, you know it! That’s without a doubt. Me too.
There’s a supreme being somewhere. We may call it different names, different this, it may speak this language or if you’re supreme you’re speaking all. I don’t see why we should find it hard to understand there’s got to be something somewhere. We can relate the logic and reasoning but it starts somewhere. Whatever that somewhere is, is that supreme entity. Do you believe there is empowerment in funk and the ideology of funk music? For us? Oh yes—music itself has that healing thing. And groove music specifically. You find it in church, all kinds of things, and that is the essence of funk. When you pick up a tambourine and jam. You can do basic, do the best you can and funk it—that’s where funk starts. Yeah, it’s a healing thing, a powerful thing. I never wanted to be leader of nothing! I’m a fan of the funk myself. It’s too good to stop and tally in one spot for a day! So I like the funk and I like to funk. I’m dealing with this myself in my era as I record and try and keep the funk alive: was there any competition or lighthearted competition with other artists? For instance Earth, Wind and Fire? [laughs] Yes! Yes, definitely. With Earth, Wind and Fire particularly. Right when we got Chocolate City out and it was just beginning to do … alright, they wouldn’t let us play a couple of gigs. That’s cold. So we did Take It To The Stage, we said it! As opposed to being mad at ‘em about it. We were goofing with ‘em about it. That’s what hip-hop was doing. Playing the dozens with a different cadence. It was definitely about a punchline and making people laugh at you. Did you ever become cool—or that’s probably too harsh of a description, but did you all ever leave that competitiveness alone? We never did it on that stage—it just drifted off. We did it only on the record. We never did it on the stage. If we wasn’t headlining, we’d get off two or three minutes before we were supposed to. We knew that one from the 50s and 60s when you’d have five groups on a show. You learn that respect really good when the headliner gets his spot—you try and make sure the headliner works, and the headliner makes sure yours works. Don’t start compete cuz otherwise the headliner gonna turn them others down on you, and you gonna take all the time on them, and that’s what a lot of ‘em ran into. What I called trying to be Sly Stone. Most of em didn’t know how to do that. Sly Stone and Miles Davis are the only two muthafuckas I know that can be on stage and be like ‘cool rude’ and people like it. They was qualified and good and people’d say, ‘Told you that muthafucka wasn’t coming!’ and pay that money to go see him! Everybody can’t do that! I used to tell Rick, ‘Come on, man, you cool but you ain’t Sly, man!’ Rest in peace to him—did Rick James ever do shows with you all? Were you all cool? We was cool—he was always end up mad about Bootsy or somebody. But he auditioned for us in 73 or 4? Before he went to Motown—Jeffrey Barnes who took him to Motown had us when we did our Invictus album, Osmium. He’s the one who found Rick James. Rick’s from Buffalo, you know. Mike [Hampton]’s wife is from Buffalo. He was part
of that family. He auditioned, and that’s what he’d always tell me—‘You flunked the audition with the funk!’ and he’d crack up. What did you guys think about Prince when he burst on the scene? And before you answer that, I did a record with Steve Arrington, and I was riding around with Steve and he was telling me that when ‘Sexy Dancer’ came on the radio when him and the band were on tour, everybody just looked at each other like … silent. They just couldn’t believe it. They looked at each other like, ‘Well, the game is about to change.’ How did you feel? Pretty much the same. We knew that he was beginning to be that. I didn’t know what to think when I first heard it, but we’re the ones who took it to the stations in Detroit—Electrifying Mojo who was the one that broke it around the world. So we knew that it was gonna be the shit. He was like one of us—he’d get on the side of the stage and watch Bootsy. You knew he paid that much attention and to this day he’s still a bad motherfucker. He has a lot of respect and a lot of love for you and P-Funk and all the cats, and it’s good to see him AND yourself still out there representing this, man—I’m telling you, George, there’s a lot of us out here that really do believe in the precedents you laid and we really respect everything you done. I never want you to ever think as time goes on that people just went super-nuts over only hip-hop. There’s still a lot of young cats that follow funk. The album covers, the posters, the music—we still ride around to that. It needs that. The time always flips. And there’ll be a time when they need a new batch of that. They gonna need musicians to play that with one finger! That’s a true point. Over the years, I think more people would be doing funk if the stuff wasn’t taken out of school and the instruments being taught— —right! Trust me—we got to find new ways of making that schooling available. Kids need that. And are there any updates on the Mothership being put in the Smithsonian? All of this is leading up to the Smithsonian when the Mothership will be displayed next year—the album, the book and the Parliament album is all leading up to the Mothership at the Smithsonian. And/or us at the Supreme Court with this law case. OK, I’m gonna let you go to your doctor’s appointment, but we won’t mention that— No, put that in there! I want that in there! I’m going to get my medical marijuana! Alright brother George—keep funkin’, man. We love you. Peace! My pimp hat just fell off! OK, man! GEORGE CLINTON’S BOOK BROTHAS BE, YO LIKE GEORGE, AIN’T THAT FUNKIN’ KINDA HARD ON YOU? IS AVAILABLE ON OCT. 21 ON ATRIA. VISIT GEORGE CLINTON AT GEORGECLINTON.COM AND DAM-FUNK AT STONESTHROW. COM/DAMFUNK. BOOKS
THE OLD PUMP HOUSE AND KYLE MULLARKY Interview by J.P. Bendzinski Photography by Ward Robinson
Even if you’ve never heard of Kyle Mullarky, you have probably heard his work. The one-time member of the Shore has spent the past few years of his life involved in and recording bands like the Abigails and the Growlers in a Topanga compound-slash-studio-slash-homeand-habitat-for-animals called the Old Pump House. The homebuilt studio is almost a living portrait of the contemporary beach rock scene he inhabits—there’s even a pile of surfboards waiting at the ready for recording artists, visiting friends and local well-wishers. Kyle speaks now about his love of music and the kind of special things that only happen after 3 AM jam sessions. Kyle Mullarky: So, yeah—I just handed you the new Abigails record. We did this all up here in Topanga. The way that it kind of goes down here is you get in and record at the moment and not really think about it. It goes fast. There’s not much of analyzing of the music. Some people don’t like it: ‘Why are you moving so fast?’ And I’m saying, ‘It’s fine. That’s your first idea? Let’s move on and then come back to it and see if we like it later.’ And usually, the first idea is the best. You know how it is being a musician, right? So here’s what I got going on: I’m mixing, I record. I mixed TV and film in the past. I was also signed to a major label in the past. It was a band called the Shore. Now I’m at the point where I’m most excited about having bands up here and staying on the ranch. How did you get into recording? The Grand Elegance needed somebody to record them, and I just got into it. Years ago. Then I came back to it and said to myself that I wanted to do this as a career. I talked to an old producer, Rick Parker, who did BRMC, Beachwood Sparks, and Brian Jonestown: ‘Can I intern for you or something?’ ‘Yeah, of course.’ We did a couple of records. Then I jumped in with a couple of other guys that were doing TV and film, CRAFT/WORK
and I mixed two shows. That went for a few years doing TV and film and on the side was writing songs, starting the Abigails and doing the Growlers’ stuff. The studio is built off of the mixing from the TV and the film. It morphed into more of the band stuff once I moved to Topanga. What made you want to build this studio yourself? To be experimental and make more music and be able to have people come up and write together. I just did a record with Dante from Dante Vs Zombies. Was it the Neo Globs record? The Neo Globs, yeah. I had all these songs previously recorded. I don’t know what I was going to do with them. They were punk songs and I’m saying ‘I want to make a punk record.’ Finally Dante came up and we worked it out and he sang on it. We played at Ashley’s Bar in Long Beach. We also did a secret show with Ty Segall up here in L.A. at the Melody Lounge. Then we invaded Echo Park Rising—Dante Vs Zombies were headlining the main stage and we came in and put a siren on. We had these suits on and had these big Neo Globs signs. We played three songs and people loved it, so we encored two more. How did you get into music?
The Growlers were a band for 13 years. It stemmed from those days. But then it evolved overtime to being a bigger thing. Maybe once I got a paycheck from the Shore, when I signed to Maverick ... that was when I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m a musician because I’m being paid for it.’ But the real sort of passion comes from just loving all types of music. I’ll make country music with Warren, and make punk music with Dante and then make whatever with the Growlers—or write disco songs. You’re a musician. You hear something you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s really creative.’ You sit down and you want to keep playing and you keep writing music. My favorite instrument is the bass. I played guitar for years and then I started playing bass. And it was like, ‘Yeah, I just want to play bass from now on.’ You can control the vibe of the song much more than with a guitar. If you’re doing an upbeat song, you could set the tempo and you could keep it moving. Or if it’s a country song or something, you could just hold it down. It’s just very controlling. It’s kind of a band leader instrument, which fits me. What brought you to Topanga? It’s got to be Chris [Badger] from VUM. He was living up here by himself in a trailer. I’d
come up and I’d be like, ‘This is amazing.’ But I thought it was so out of reach. Then it just kind of happened. It wasn’t premeditated. The name of the studio is the Old Pump House. Because this is actually an old pump house and the well’s right there underneath the floorboards. If we need water … I don’t know if it’s down there, but we can get it out if we got a pump. When did it become a studio? As soon as I moved up here. I had a studio in Venice, and it was cool. We recorded the last Abigails record there. A Shore record. But it didn’t have what this place has. It was nowhere near just like having a pig— I was going to say ... I noticed there’s a lot of different animals here running around! We have three dogs and a pig and a family—two kids. That’s another great thing, too. You know sometimes how it will get pretty dark with bands? It might not here cuz there’s so much young life going on. The house is an old hunting lodge—a hunting cabin. We’re the third family to live there over 90 years or something. It’s a special place. It’s two acres. The house is pretty rundown and old, but it serves its purpose. It’s always being built. It’s our third year and it’s always evolving. 67
“I don’t like taking away too much from the original performance because the idea gets lost. That’s the most important thing—the original idea.” What’s the most interesting that’s happened here while you’ve been recording? Or awkward thing? Or weird thing? We’ve had good dance parties. There’s always a point at night where we stop working and it turns into fun time. We’ll watch movies and put on records. ‘We’ve worked long enough—let’s stop doing this. Let’s call it and let’s just have fun.’ And we’ll listen to records and be jamming and whatever. That’s usually where it gets too loud for the neighbors. Does it ever lead back into the recording? If you guys are having a good time, is there a certain instance like, ‘We got to get back to the studio’? It happens. Sometimes we’ll turn on the computer and fire it up. Some of the best songs here are recorded like at 3 in the morning. Especially with Warren and I, we’ll both be up having fun, and it won’t seem too crazy. I’ll play an organ and he’d be singing. There’s a song ‘Space and Time’ off that Abigails record where it was 3:30 in the morning and I’m sitting here on the organ doing the chords and he’s singing into the microphone. That’s how we recorded it. Usually he gets the guitar or whatever. But at that moment that’s what was working. And that’s the whole thing. You never know with the song. I think a lot of the studio is also good for song development. Where you’re creating new ideas and you’re taking stuff to a different place. With the Growlers, we did all this pre-production here. We wrote songs and we did all the changes and all the progressions and all that. It turned out just the same way we did it here, but they re-recorded it in the studio so it wasn’t too much different. It’s just a different recording. One day those demos might come out. So the vibes come from here? Definitely. Definitely a whiskey bottle more than a regular studio. How do you think your location and studio affect the sound of the records? The thing that affects it is people come up here and stay. It’s hard to get off the mountain. You have some drinks and then we’ll record and obviously there’s tons of space around here to stay. The Growlers did 24 songs up here, demos and stuff. We had tents set up in the backyard for the band and a trailer for the guitar player. Brooks, the singer, he slept in here. It’s one of those things where you can just keep working, and it’s a real easy sort of atmosphere. Minimal distraction. And cellphones sometimes don’t work up here. It’s hard to just stop 68
by because it’s so far away. You got to call and be like, ‘Are you around? Let’s do some work.’ Why do you feel like people want to come record here? It’s a unique sort of experience where you have open-ended recording options. I have three tape machines, but I also have the highest form of ProTools with a lot of available tracks and pretty cool reverbs—spring reverbs and analog delays and stuff like that. If we just want to come in and knock out a bunch of ideas, we’ll do it real fast digitally. But if you want to lay in like how we did the Abigails record and get all super tape with it, we could do a whole bunch on tape. If you were to record a whole band … where does that happen? Because the space— Yeah, it’s a single room. See that white box out there? There’s an amp inside there and there’s a cabinet inside there. Then there’s just this old basement here. That’s isolated. I got the bass amp over there. I’m not too particular on being cautious about the bleed. I like having extra noises in there, the interesting weird sounds of some guy walking out of the room and shutting the door ... and you hear the bass bleeding out of the drums or the guitars, or the scratch guitar bleeding on to the vocal track. You capture the vibe, more than making it sound like a perfect mix. That’s happened a lot on the Growlers’ Gilded Pleasures record. That happens on everything actually. What projects have you worked on here? I’m mixing a Little Wings record, which is Kyle Field. He did a bunch of records on K. He’s a great guy. He lives up in Malibu. And his new record is super good. It’s organic. It was recorded up in Big Sur, and we’re mixing it here. He just comes over and brings his parrot. Everybody brings their pajamas and stays over. The next thing that I’m doing is happening this week—a Kim Gordon and Alex Knost experimental noise project. I also mixed Methadone Kitty and the Daily Dose. How do you approach mixes like that? You sit back and listen to all 15 minutes of the track and see if it’s meant to be or if you need to remove things or edit. I don’t like taking away too much from the original performance cuz the idea gets lost. That’s the most important thing—the original idea. CONTACT KYLE MULLARKY AND THE OLD PUMP HOUSE AT KYLEMULLARKY@YAHOO.COM.
JOHN TOTTENHAM COMICS
COMICS Curated by Tom Child
EMANUEL FARIAS / kilgoretroutmaskreplica.tumblr.com 69
LIVE PHOTOS FALL 2014 The Bixby Knolls August 2014 The Echo
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Foxygen August 2014 The Henry Fonda
Mariachi El Bronx August 2014 Exposition Park
Le Butcherettes August 2014 The Roxy
Antemasque August 2014 The Roxy MAXIMILIAN HO
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club August 2014 The Observatory
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Jurassic 5 July 2014 The Greek Theatre
La Sera August 2014 The Observatory
Ty Segall August 2014 The Echo
The Diamond Light August 2014 Satellite
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Liz June 2014 The el Rey
Crystal Antlers August 2014 The Roxy
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DAVID BOWIE IS
AND VIVIEN GOLDMAN
Interview by Daiana Feuer Illustration by Luke McGarry Right now, touring art exhibition ‘David Bowie Is’ is making its way from its origin in London to museums around the world. It encompasses his entire career, from costumes and famous photos to a collection of his own handwritten lyrics and drawings. It’s enough to make any David Bowie fan cry diamond tears and inspire those not inculcated in the cult of Bowie to become true believers. A documentary about the exhibit will soon hit about 100 U.S. theaters as well. It’s fucking awesome and hopefully you will see it if you can’t see the exhibit in person. We decided to consult self-declared Bowie scholar Vivien Goldman for her expertise on the man, the myth, the legend. A pioneer in her own right, Goldman is a musician (see “Launderette,” produced by John Lydon and Keith Levene), a renowned journalist who came up in the golden age of 70s music writing and the punky reggae underground of the UK, and friends with Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, too. She is now an educator, and recently taught a course on Bowie at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU. I’m speaking to the official Bowie authority! Yes indeed. I speak as a Brit—a person from that generation that was absolutely formed by David Bowie. David Bowie is an incredible unifying factor among all the disparate youth tribes of Great Britain. He was a few years older than me so I was in the prime teenage years. I remember being completely transfixed by hearing Space Oddity and the world opened up for me. It was incredible, living as the smallest kid in a fairly religious Jewish family. Just those first notes of ‘Space Oddity’—the mystery, the compelling quality, the sense of alienation, the sense of escape. David Bowie has continued to transfix because you can’t stop looking at him. That sums it all up. Did you like the David Bowie Is documentary? It’s an extraordinary piece because there’s nothing else like it. It makes you wonder: are there any artists other than David Bowie that one could do such a broad exhibition about, delving into so many media with such originality and passion? One of the amazing things about studying David Bowie is the longevity. It’s a study in how to sustain as an artist and carry on finding a way to access a well of inspiration. By chance his new material came out when I was teaching my class. To see an artist extend like that, retaining a voice, always adapting to new sounds and zeitgeist and situations, not even adapting but encompassing somehow ... it’s very inspiring. It’s interesting that we’ve reached a point in time in which the new generation of youth will probably first encounter 80s Bowie, not 70s Bowie. That’s closer to the era they draw from. Interesting. They don’t start with Ziggy? I think they probably start with ‘Heroes.’ That’s a very good insight. I have to say it was ‘Heroes’ that arrested me when I was watching the documentary. I know the footage so well, so I was like, ‘OK, I will answer an email during this part,’ but then I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen—off of David Bowie—yet again! This man is really it. He’s got that compelling star quality. I love the love with which the film was made. You can tell they were sitting around a room endlessly beavering away, kicking around ideas about how to present this material. The detail is very impressive. 72
A: it’s extraordinary that David Bowie kept his old sketches. B: it’s impressive how they brought them to life—his unfulfilled dreams. He could see them animated. Bowie lovers, we remember the costumes, don’t we? To have close up looks at those costumes—I was gasping when I saw the one from ‘Ashes To Ashes,’ the harlequin. It was an incredibly textured and intricate couture piece—a symbol of the depth of artistry with which he always approached his work. For an artist to deserve scholarly study, he’d have to be more than just a hit band. Oh my goodness, yes. It was so great teaching David Bowie. It was like a highway, say, where there was lots of byways and side roads that I think are incredibly enriching. From his involvement with Tibet and Buddhism to his involvement with German expressionism to his interest in existentialism. So many of the major thought arenas of the latter 20th century coming into the 21st—he explored some of the most important and fruitful ones. It was great to be able to talk about Bertolt Brecht with the students, for instance. He’s always been something of a bookworm, right? He’s very much a books person notoriously. But I’ve never met him. I wanted to try to get him to visit my class but I understand why he’d want to retain his mystique. He did not drop in, but Tony Visconti, who produced much of Bowie’s music since the ‘Space Oddity’ days—he came in and it was fantastic. Why Bowie? Why devote so much intellectual attention to this particular figure? I’ve been teaching at Clive Davis almost since it began in 2005. They call me the Punk Professor. I initiated the punk course, I’ve taught a reggae course and an Island Records course and I’m about to teach a Bob Marley course and a Fela Kuti course. All those things are things I’ve lived through. I worked very closely with Bob Marley and Fela Kuti so I’m able to communicate their point of view, having spent a lot of time with them and knowing a bit the way they think and their attitude. But Bowie was different. They suggested I step out of my comfort zone, and Bowie was the only one for me. So many alluvial layers of David Bowie to explore.
What was it like growing up on Bowie? I’ve had to think about that a lot because of this course. So much of it was reliving my past. It’s like that with David Bowie if you’re English. There’s a thing, like with the royal family. Whether you love it or hate it, everybody has somebody of about their age in the royal family who has been an Other—a mirror growing up in their own circumstances while you grew up doing your thing. And so it is with David Bowie, because his career was so extensive—looking at his career brings up whole chunks of your life. I remember being around ten, brushing my hair in the bathroom of my parents’ flat, and hearing on the transistor radio, ‘Space Oddity,’ and the haunting mysterious phrases sort of beckoning and opening the sense of possibility. Here was a guy who would rather stay in space. He could cut himself off and throw himself over the edge into the universe and leave everything he knew behind—reinvent himself, create possibilities. It was all thrilling. He wasn’t the first to embrace the notion of being an outsider. How did his message speak to you in a way that was new? When I was a student I remember the incredible impact of Ziggy. My fellow students got this incredible release and expansion of their identity, and more confidence in their identity. Whether they were straight or gay, which is a whole other issue that he helped open up at the time. When they painted the lightning streak on their face, and made their clothes more fanciful and whimsical and colorful and bold, it helped them develop as people. David Bowie gave a big sense of release to people who felt marginal. Did you see him play? I’ve actually never seen him live! I saw him in the early 2000s. He was a clean sharp attractive man. Not such a freak. It’s interesting you should say that. He was a pioneer that paved the way to today, where in the West, gender rights are more liberal than ever. People in the generation that he came out of would not have dreamed it possible— coming out of the 60s when there was this gender fluidity in the air and men were like peacocks, strutting about. There was this famous interview with Melody Maker where he
declared, ‘I’m gay!’ and caused a huge commotion. And then the show where he got down on his knees and pretended to give a blow job to Mick Ronson’s guitar—and yet of course he was always clearly bi and exploring himself. Then as a man he has this fantastic working marriage, where he found a woman who has such respect in the world and remade herself in an even more intensive way than he has. If you know Iman’s background, she could have been another body in the desert, as it were. That’s quite uplifting, to see people find a happy relationship in their mature years with someone who appears to be their equal. Maybe I’m romanticizing but we like to imagine such things and take inspiration. Not that there was anything wrong with his wild exploratory years—it’s a nice arc to see. You came up in music, you make music, did PR for Bob Marley, do journalism, and transitioned to education. Why was it worth it to dedicate your life to music? I’m about to teach a course in music journalism at Rutgers, so I’m having to think about this question. Music’s role has been somewhat diminished or altered in the youth culture of today. When I was growing up, we didn’t really have access to TV and even radio was dodgy. Music was all we had. Now it’s more diffused. But no matter whether people talk about how it will be delivered and how much it will pay, at the end you can’t take away from music being a vital human urge. Before the music industry started ... a friend of mine moved to a village in Ireland and she had the most fun—she would go into a pub and people would be playing music and singing and laughing. That was our birthright which got sidetracked into being an industry. Music became the preserve of certain people and certain people were elevated into stars. But no matter what happens in the industry, no matter how people can control the means of production and the projection of their image and whatever ... at the end of the day music is something we need. And music will always be there. DAVID BOWIE IS SCREENS ON TUE., SEPT. 23, AT VARIOUS L.A. AREA THEATRES. VISIT VIVIEN GOLDMAN AT VIVIENGOLDMAN.COM. FILM
in the trailer, and he can drive over the border himself with the weed he has on him. I know so many bands that have fucked up for South L.A. RECORD has decided take advantage of a tiny bit of the 50,000 by Southwest because they have been locked up years worth of accumulated creative wisdom floating openly through and missed all their shows. Texas police do not the city and so we are starting a column where you can send in fuck around. One of our band members was arrested in South by Southwest—not for weed, The best way I say is to let them go. I didn’t questions and we will get you answers from the people who made but for something else. Luckily it was after our appreciate what Los Angeles had to offer un- the best records in your collection. Now instead of wondering what last show and we had a day just to hang and til I moved somewhere else. I moved to other Ras_G would think of your love life, you can actually find out! Send he got arrested for breaking into a party that places and then I realized the geography of future questions to Kristina Benson at email@example.com. L.A. someone was playing in. It was a nightmare. Los Angeles is really beautiful and unique and RECORD guarantees nothing but the absolute reality of all answers. Security arrested him because he tried to run there is no other place really like it. Somefrom them when he tried to kick him out. They times it takes leaving to get some perspective. This issue we talk to Mickey Church, singer and guitarist of L.A.’s were being super aggressive with him and were I went to NYU, and I felt like—I love New White Arrows, who have just released their particularly philosophical beating him up, and he swung back, and secuYork, and I still love New York, and I would rity knew the cops. It’s like a good ol’ boy town, new album In Bardo. definitely live there ... but while I was there I and they’re not happy that all these foreigners got super claustrophobic and the walls started are coming and they are expecting you to do closing in on me, and I just never felt alone when I was in my of complete lies. Like it says he had to work after school to something stupid like bring in drugs because they want to arapartment. Sometimes I’d feel alone when I was walking down buy groceries for his family when he worked at the family rest you. Don’t give them any reason. Broadway with thousands of other people because the lines are business so he could buy himself video games, and that he so blurred. You’re living above where you do everything else grew up in a shitty gang-infested neighborhood—he grew I have a lifelong obsession with entropy that dates back to and there’s no real escape from that. When I moved back to up in Hancock Park and got a sweet new car for his 16th childhood. It began when I read the warning label on a L.A., which is where I was born, I started going to the beach, I birthday. His parents know and don’t care, so should I rat bottle of Drano. The idea that time and elements, both natstarted surfing, I started going on hikes—all things I took for him out to the colleges, or does it even matter since basi- ural and unnatural, are slowly grinding everything down granted growing up here. Geographically speaking you have cally everyone is lying on their college essays these days? to nothingness continues to be fascinating and terrifying rural mountains, the beach, dense city, and anything that a —Tim in Westwood to me. But I don’t even think it’s a fear of death—I’m more huge metropolitan city has to offer. hung up on the idea of any sort of permanent state being That’s par for the course. It’s preparation for job competition. futile. I constantly struggle to impose order in system beThe person next to me at work often chews with his mouth Everyone lies on everything. As long as you can’t check it out, yond my control. I would love to be zen about this but I’m open and it’s revolting, I can hear him smacking on his there’s nothing you can do. And if your job isn’t to weed out honestly more bothered by the fact that I can’t create an food from across the office. How can I politely tell him to what is and isn’t real ... well, you can choose not to take the gig island of stasis (an oasis of stasis?) in the sea of noise than I chew with his mouth closed without offending him? am about my life being probably a good chunk over. How if you don’t feel comfortable with it. —Angelo in Orange County do I unfuck my brain? —Boot Knife, Compton My band recently held auditions for a new bass player, and There’s some people in my family that have this. They’re very we found this guy who is absolutely amazing, has reliable sensitive about people chewing and it’s a horrible sound for transportation, has great taste in music, and shows up to I don’t think your brain is necessarily fucked. This is kind them. I looked it up and it’s a disorder—if that like really an- rehearsal sober and on time. Fairly unheard of, right? Any- of a philosophical question. And to be more Zen about it noys you and drives you crazy, that’s an actual disorder that way, after practicing with him for a couple months, I have is to just believe that the lines are blurred, and that’s bapeople have. Misophonia. So I would just say ... it’s not going learned that he’s basically a total racist. I talked to the rest sically what you’re saying—that the lines between beginto matter what the person is doing. It’s a condition you have. of the band and they said it was OK because he’s half Mexi- ning and ending and natural and unnatural don’t exist. can, but I’m not sure. Are you automatically not racist if So the longer we’re on this earth, as chemists create and My boyfriend is in a really shitty band and he’s making all you’re half Mexican? What should I do? regulations become lax, there’s no way of knowing. So kinds of poor life choices because he thinks this band is go—Mark in Koreatown instead of driving yourself crazy as to why these things ing to go somewhere, but it won’t go anywhere because it’s are, just kind of choose your path based on your own set crummy and their songs aren’t too good. Should I be hon- Don’t let him talk in any interviews. of ideals. If you want to live off the grid and plant your est with him and tell him his band blows? Or should I just own fruits and vegetables and kind of create your own keep it to myself and hope he’s going through a phase? My band is going on a Southwest tour in a couple weeks haven, then do that But if you’re going to subscribe to —Mary in Silverlake and I’m worried that one of the guys is going to try to take Western beliefs with a mixture of whatever other beliefs a bunch of weed with him. He promised he wouldn’t but you want to, everything is at your fingertips—especially As far as poor life choices, I’d say don’t become another cli- I don’t believe him because he promised that last time we in a metropolitan city. You can see an Eastern doctor if che. But if your boyfriend is artistic and he’s got his heart set went on tour, and it turned out he had a bunch of weed on you don’t want Western medication. There’s a balance in on something, I’d say be supportive as long as it doesn’t affect him. Not cool. Everyone else in the band keeps telling me it everything. And it’s kind of the title of the album—In your livelihood. And you know ... sometimes shitty bands go will be fine but I’m still worried. What should I do? Bardo. It’s a liminal state, a transitional state ... basically somewhere. —Amy in Echo Park the afterlife is achieved, not something you succumb to. You have to earn the afterlife in what you do in your life. I get paid to help rich kids write college essays. One kid re- It will not be fine. The Texas border is the worst. Tell him if So you’re doomed to existing until you’ve done those cently emailed the first draft of his essay to me and it’s full he wants to bring weed, he can rent a scooter, put the scooter things that you need to do to achieve the afterlife. A friend is considering ditching L.A. for a smaller, lamer city in the Pacific Northwest. Is the grass really greener? What is the best way to convince someone of L.A.’s greatness? —Wyatt in Long Beach
Cultivated by Kristina Benson
MNDSGN - KNXWLEDGE - MARIA BAMFORD - VASHTI BUNYAN - DAM FUNK - GEORGE CLINTON - SLOWDIVE - WHITE ARROWS - JUNGLE FIRE - LA HELL GANG - BOOK...
Published on Sep 22, 2014
MNDSGN - KNXWLEDGE - MARIA BAMFORD - VASHTI BUNYAN - DAM FUNK - GEORGE CLINTON - SLOWDIVE - WHITE ARROWS - JUNGLE FIRE - LA HELL GANG - BOOK...