If you’ve been reading us for a while, you know we love our festival previews. With Bonnaroo coming this weekend, here’s our picks to click, starting at he bottom of the lineup and working our way up. I’m going to skip the top of the bill since I assume you know who these Springsteen and Beastie Boys fellow are….
Zee Avi- I already posted her brilliant Morrissey cover. Here’s her single and another great cover (Interpol). Amazing voice proving you don’t have to be loud to move me, despite what you’ve been saying about me.
Phoenix- Their new album is terrific and this band will certainly make the transition live.
BrakesBrakesBrakes- For those about to fall asleep, we salute you…
Alberta Cross- They ignore my plaintive cries for an interview, but I still love them. I could post a video of every song they’ve ever recorded and you’d be impressed. I’ve chosen my favorite song despite it not being a true “video”. It might be the most heartbreakingly beautiful song I’ve ever heard. What a joy it would be to see them live.
White Rabbits-The kind of band that ought to be blogged about every single day by the cool kids. I was on the fence until I saw this performance on Letterman. What do we learn from this? They must be amazing live, hence our Bonnaroo recomendation.
The Knux- Silly? Yep. Fits the mold of most of the bands we like? Nope. Breaking news: I don’t listen to alternative 24/7. Love this song and I’m not apologizing for it.
St. Vincent- Oh the hype. But in this case, it’s justified. Check out this rehersal video and realize that this is how good they are when they aren’t even really trying. Imagine the Bonnaroo-goodness! Annie Clark is an amazing talent, worthy of the adulation.
Jenny Lewis- She is the lead singer of one of my favorite bands and as you can see from this Coachella video, she is amazing on her own. Another of the great singers at the festival this weekend.
Gomez- Why isn’t this band one of the top 5 biggest alternative bands in the blogosphere? Did they pass on going bowling with Stereogum? I saw them in Dallas last night and was blown away. Technical ability- A+, Songwriting- A+.
Bon Iver- As I progress through this post, my heart continues to sink as I look at this amazing roster that I’m missing. I envision walking the grounds carrying a box of kleenex, crying at the beauty and the majesty. Bon Iver, you’d make me weep with joy.
Tremendous video from Jools Holland’s show
Band of Horses- I’m going to stop here, although their are bigger names on the top of the bill. For me, this would be the perfect way to end the weekend. A band who’s music I hear everywhere (commercials, movies, tv shows, the soundtrack of my dreams) and who really should be running their own country by now by virtue of their amazing ability to craft songs. Dude, we elected an actor and a cowboy. Could BOH do any worse?
The brilliantly named Ringo Deathstarr are an Austin-based band who need to be on your radar. They’re the ADD cousins of My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary chain, crafting three minute bursts of noise-bliss that will shred your ears and leave you asking for more.
After numerous line-up changes, the one constant is singer/guitarist/mastermind Elliott Fraizer. The band (well, actually it was just Elliot) completed one EP in 2007 to rave reviews from indie mags everywhere. Kip Berman from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart name checked them in an interview and the buzz has steadily increased.
With a new line-up and a new album being recorded, we thought this would be a good time to touch base with Elliott and get a finger on the pulse of Ringo Deathstarr.
As you know by now, I like to add a few videos to each interview so that you can listen to them for yourself. Their reputation for being MBV-loud, makes finding videos to post a bit of a challenge. Turn these up to 11, flick the light switches on and off to get a good strobey effect and dream on.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
TDOA: In recent interviews you’ve talked about the lineup changes and the
more colaborative writing process. Do you sense a change in the sound
or style of the band as a result?
EF: The sound is still the same vibe, but yes it is changing. But, nobody wants to do the same album over and over.
TDOA: After doing the bulk of the work on the EP, do you find it
difficult to loosen the reigns and let other musicians influence the sound?
EF: It just depends on the song. Sometimes I have the whole song already mapped out before showing it to the band, but it is great to have everyone writing, ’cause we like variety. I only did all the work on the EP because I had to, not necessarily cause I wanted to.
TDOA: You wear your JAMC and MBV influences on your sleeve (thanks for
not being as coy as most bands!). The U.S. generallly missed the boat
on these bands when they were in their heydey. Do you think bands
like RD can capture the American ear this time or do you have to go to England to get your just dues?
EF: I think that with the success of A Place To Bury Strangers and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, that people are perhaps ready for the noise pop dreamy sound. I think the reason it didn’t catch on a long time ago was because of GRUNGE. Right now, I think it works because people want more interesting guitar sounds than the same old rock n roll. I think electronic music is popular because, to a lot of people, the sounds are more interesting that just a guitar and a drum kit. But when they hear more unusual guitar sounds, it attracts interest, I guess.
TDOA: We’ve been extolling the virtues of Austin on our site for a while. Any thoughts on why the Austin music scene appears to be so vibrant?
EF: Because it’s so easy to be in a band here. I mean, its like saying, “Why is the acting scene in LA so big?”
TDOA: What influence did bands like Sixteen Deluxe and some of the older Austin bands have on you?
EF: I was not here when Sixteen Deluxe was around, but I met the guitar player, Frenchie, in 2002, and I have only recorded with him or at his studio ever since. What a dude!
TDOA: The lead singer of The Horrors gave an interview in NME recently in
which he suggested that Facebook, MySpace and music blogs should be
blown up because they’ve created a plethora of bad underground bands.
How do you feel about the internet as a marketing tool? (BTW, not
trying to lead the witness here, even though we’re “part of the problem”).
EF: It has its ups and downs. I agree about the tons of bad bands, but if you are a good band, it makes it so easy to get heard. It is hard at first to convince the world that you’re not just another shitty band. One of my favorite books is “Our Band Could Be Your Life” by Michael Azzerad, and the bands in there didn’t have the internet, they just toured a bunch and put out lots of albums, but they made a big impact on lots of people’s lives.
TDOA: How did you connect with Pains of Being Pure at Heart and can you tell us about your experiences with them at SXSW?
EF: Kip, the singer, had mentioned us in an interview or something so that’s how I found out about them, so we just contacted each other, hung out in New York when we were there, and they are just great. We played CMJ with them, but at SXSW they had 50 shows a day so we couldn’t play with them.
TDOA: We talk to a lot of bands that struggle to get publicity, record
deals or spots in festivals. Can you share your secrets on how RD has managed to be a part of SXSW?
EF: After we released our EP and it got good reviews we applied to SXSW and got in. I guess you just gotta be doing something that people want to hear. When I first started this band, friends would tell me that it was a stupid idea, but after 3 years it finally paid off. I guess some bands just give up too early.
TDOA: When will we see some new music from you guys? Any plans to tour this summer?
EF: We are recording an album now, but we have no money so it will take a while. We have a couple of releases coming out at the end of the summer in the UK and Japan. We will tour at the end of the summer I suppose.
Holy Guacamole, there’s a lot going on in TDOA! Interviews, promos, inquiries from people who want to see TDOA in other mediums…Oh yeah, we probably should post something too.
Better late than never, here are the best songs we heard released in May. Click on the name of each band if you’d like to find out more. Interviews with some in the future. Last month we asked for your feedback on this feature. We got some great tips (Loving Gliss! Thanks for that tip.) and tried to get interviews with the bands people seemed to love the most. How about you? What are your favorites amongst this list? Who did we miss?
UPDATE: Due to the tremendous amount of traffic and response this post has generated, I”ve decided to add a quick introduction/interpretation. The purpose of this entry was to complain about the lack of scope that other music sites seem to be exhibiting. It was prompted by reading an article on Grizzly Bear’s favorite emoticons on a website that will remain nameless. There have been a zillion great albums released this year and there are som many signed and unsigned bands out there that are compelling and who need the publicity. My own lack of interest in the Grizzly Bear album, doesn’t indicate that it’s not without merit; it’s just not my cup of tea. The following article was intended to “shock” people into thinking about their tendancy to blindly follow music websites who don’t make an effort to cover new and exciting music. And with that…
I want to like the new Grizzly Bear. It’s certainly part of the “if you’re a blogger, you must like this album” newsletter. TDOA has developed quite a following and I’m thrilled with our daily traffic, the musicians that follow us and the ease with which we’re able to get interviews. Is it commercial suicide to hate on the album that most people will put in their top 10? Or is it worse to pretend to like an album that you hate?
Definition of MOR via Wikipedia: “MOR (Middle of the Road) music is a commercial radio format. Conceived as a format that would include music of almost universal appeal due to its… gently inoffensive sentimentality, it is often the format of choice for doctors’ offices, waiting rooms, department stores, and other public and semi-public places of business. The combination of the music’s largely unchallenging, decorous quality and its association with being piped in to places one is compelled to remain has drawn the format its detractors. The term “middle of the road” is used pejoratively by genre-specific music aficionados to describe musicians who avoid “edgy” (innovative) material, and who calibrate their musical appeal to blandness. These are people who probably also like… singers who avoid the sexual tug of the blues, and the glorious noises of rock and hip-hop in favor of tremulous expressions of chaste emotion”.
Since our inception, we’ve questioned why people become make less adventurous musical choices as they get older. The consensus from musicians and writers we’ve interviewed seems to be that as our lives become more complex, we prefer music that doesn’t challenge us. It’s easier to listen to music we’re already familiar with or to ‘bland’ music devoid of strong emotion. Our brains are taxed with the pressures of life and the last thing we want to do is listen to music that expresses anxiety or requires deep concentration or contemplation.
Music blogs have redefined the music industry and should be proud that they have provided an invaluable resource for people who are interested in music. But what happens when the bloggers get older and less adventurous? Stereogum, Large Hearted Boy, Pitchfork and a few of the other “cool kid” blogs have been running for a few years now. Think about their musical choices over the past year while you read the definition of MOR.
Stereogum’s review of the new Grizzly Bear album included this line: “At its heart, it’s an album about the space and place between loved ones, which the band alludes to quite literally: “In the end you’ll never find … Will I return to you, will you return to me” (on the opening “Southern Point”); “I told you I would stay” (“Two Weeks”); “I can’t get out of what I’m into with you” (“All We Ask”); “If it’s all or nothing, then let me go” (“Fine For Now”); “They’ll try to keep us apart” (“I Live With You”); and on.” Lyrics like this would have been fodder for some great zingers on Pitchfork a few years ago. Now they quietly sip a cup of tea and tell you that this is the best record of this year. Grizzly Band are great musicians, but so was Steely Dan. Some of the most emotional, challenging records in history have been made by bands who freely admitted to just learning to play their instruments. We frequently talk about bands losing the trail after they become ‘fat’ from success and make boring and bland records. Veckatimest would be perfectly happy playing in your dentist office, barely noticed. The repetitive phrasings, the sugary ‘ooow waaah’ background vocals remind me of Tears For Fears.
Why are we prasing this band as experimental or innovative? Well, it’s because the cool kids are getting old. I’m sure Grizzly Bear are nice people, but personally I don’t like cold oatmeal. Challenge me. Make me cry. Make me think.
Remember that American band that made more quality records than My Bloody Valentine? ….Of course you don’t, loser. That’s why Sixteen Deluxe didn’t play Coachella and isn’t sitting at the top of the “I wish they’d reform” list of everyone working at NME. MBV made one incredible/genius/to-die-for record. Sandwiched on either side of it, was a passable first record and decades of failed promises and money grabbing tours. If you tell me I can only take one bands’ shoegaze music, I’d take Backfeedmagnetbabe, Emits Sparks and a bundle of good ep’s on the desert island without a second thought.
In the 90’s, Austin was the home of Trance Syndicate Records. Run by King Coffey of the Butthole Surfers, they sheparded a scene that no critic wanted to invest in because they’d already bought their tickets to Seattle. If you can track down a copy of the amazing ‘Cinco Amos’ compilation you’ll find punk music that shreded with a passion unmatched on either coast. You’ll also find the shoegaze brilliance of Starfish, Furry Things and….the leader of the pack, Sixteen Deluxe.
We tracked down bass player Jeff Copas (who tracked down the rest of the group) and were treated to more than a manual on how to set your analog Boss chorus pedal to stun. You can read lame interviews with bands like Art Brut, who are in the business of getting you to buy their records (fail!) or you can read the story of band that has nothing to gain, other than to offer a cautionary tale of major label savagery. We often ask new bands if they’re worried about being cast aside once the hype dies down. The next time you read the ‘shrug’ answer from one of these bands, remember this amazing tale as told by Sixteen Deluxe.
TDOA: The Austin scene seems like it’s moved forward in lurches. There were some other great bands around the same time SD existed and there seem like a bunch now. Did you find the “scene” to be supportive at the time? Although the bands at the time had a wide variety of styles, did the Trance bands hang out?
JC: I think the Austin scene moved ahead quite dramatically during the time we were active, due to a kind of critical mass that had been bubbling under the surface since the mid-late ‘80’s. What Trance did was really crystallize the whole scene – for every local band on Trance, there were half a dozen others that were mining the same territory. There were a lot of Ed Hall-type bands, a lot of Crust-type bands, a lot of loud, psychedelic acts in general…and Trance skimmed the cream of the crop, so to speak. They provided a national and international platform for a style of music that had pretty much been local and underground up to that point. There weren’t any Austin-based labels before that time that had any kind of similar impact beyond the region.
It was a little different for us, because we were like the freshman class, getting to hang out with the cool seniors. Before Sixteen Deluxe, I sold t-shirts for Ed Hall and volunteered at the Trance office, stuffing envelopes and going to the post office; Carrie first met King when she interviewed him for a university paper she wrote on Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty”; and we all had our minds blown in various ways by the Butthole Surfers as impressionable youngsters. So we were approaching the whole thing from the perspective of young fanboys and girls. We never had any illusions, and still don’t, that we were peers or equals of those guys; we looked up to them. Ed Hall, in particular, were very crucial to our development – we shared a drummer, Lyman Hardy, at various times, and when we first started, our stated goal as a band was to open for Ed Hall at Emo’s. That was, quite literally, the extent of our career goals circa 1994. Those guys mentored us right from the start, and we all admired them (still do, in fact).
Later on, with bands like Furry Things, Starfish, and Trail of Dead, we definitely socialized, played gigs together, toured together, etc., but there was more of a rivalry going on, I think. We had rather quickly become the name band for the label, and those guys were all, quite rightly, looking to make a name for themselves, and they were sick of hearing about us everywhere they went. We were sick of hearing about ourselves, after a while. So, there was some sniping and jealousy, but all in all it was good-natured, and I think it pushed everyone to play better, louder, weirder. But Trail of Dead, in particular, we had a good relationship with – Chris and I saw them very early on, when they were still a two-piece, at Electric Lounge. One of them threw a glass beer pitcher at the audience, chaos ensued, equipment was smashed. We were standing there watching, laughing, thinking, “these guys really know how to put on a show”. The music at the time was secondary to the confrontational theatrics, which can be really refreshing sometimes. And Chris approached them pretty quickly about recording. We were just starting to set up a proto-studio situation, and Trail of Dead was one of the first projects Chris did (their first self-titled album on Trance). We toured together, and got to see them develop as a powerful live act…and see them infuriate a few soundmen along the way, which was always entertaining. And they created this incredible sound, and made a great record. We were on Warners by that point, and it was really important to us at that time that we try and continue that local tradition of helping out younger bands.
We had benefited greatly from a lot of help from people in the scene early on. Our first two recordings were produced by Trance veterans: Cherubs front man (and ex-Ed Hall drummer) Kevin Whitley essentially produced “Backfeed Magnetbabe” (uncredited, listed as “cheerleader”…but much of the record is his concept); and “Pilot Knob” EP, which was engineered and produced by the guys in Crust in their studio. And a lot of film and video people, many of whom had worked on or appeared in “Slacker”, were really supportive and helped us out with making the “Idea” video and doing films at shows. We also had a lot of fans in the gay and lesbian community – our first club gig was at a lesbian bar, Chances, and we played house parties put on by our queer friends. Randy “Biscuit” Turner, of the Big Boys, was really supportive, we played shows together with his band, Swine King, and he really inspired us. So we were kind of adopted early on by all of these artistic, eccentric, wonderful people, and they really helped spread the word very quickly about us.
We were very fortunate at first, in that a lot of people were really hoping that we would succeed. We had a shocking amount of support locally, from the press, the clubs, our friends and fellow musicians…it seemed like “hype” to some people, but it was pretty genuine. Trance seemed, to outsiders, much bigger than it actually was: there was no master plan, or marketing guru behind it; it was organic and word of mouth. Naturally, there was somewhat of a backlash – even before we put out the first album – but we always laughed that off. People around town calling us “rock stars”, and here we were working at the hippie co-op, stocking groceries…
Babyheadrush (early mix)
TDOA: Your sound resembled the music that was coming out of England at the time (MBV, Ride, etc.). Did you feel like the American press and music industry was prepared for an American band trying to capture what was clearly a successful formula?
JC: In a word: no.
Everett True, who was a writer for Melody Maker, and helped introduce Nirvana to the U.K. and Europe, came to Austin in 1995 for SXSW and covered the Trance (non-SXSW) showcase. We got to hang out, over cheap booze and late-night shenanigans, and he was the first writer I was aware of to point out the obvious, Anglophile connection to our sound. Prior to Everett, most writers referenced the Flaming Lips (who were indeed a big influence), or the usual Trance stable. But after the Melody Maker piece, we started seeing more frequent references to MBV, Ride, JAMC, et al, and that was further solidified by Charles Aaron in SPIN, who was an early champion of ours. Outside of those guys – as influential as they were – most American writers would commonly fall back on the cliché of “Chick Singer = Chrissy Hynde / Debbie Harry / Breeders”, ad nauseum. Not that all of those references aren’t valid on some level…but it didn’t tell the whole story, in terms of musical inspiration.
As far as the music industry goes…they were searching for the next Nirvana, or something. In America, I don’t think the shoegaze formula was necessarily viewed as “successful”; MBV hadn’t exactly set the country on fire (outside of those of us lucky enough to see them on tour in the U.S.), much less Ride, or any of their impostors. I think most of the labels that were looking at us were thinking to themselves, “with a little work, they could be the next Veruca Salt. Or, Nirvana. Either way, we get rich.”
In all honesty, when we started, we had a very simple formula: Cheap Trick meets MBV. Guitar rock and power pop was always equally important to us as psychedelia and shoegaze. We were successful musically when we struck a balance between the two, but eventually things got out of whack.
TDOA: SD covered Eno’s ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ on Backfeed Magnetbabe. At the time, covering an Eno song was a pretty radical concept. Can you tell me about the genesis of the cover?
JC: The first two Eno records were something that Chris, Carrie, and I bonded around very early on, and were very important building blocks of our sound. We understood those records on a chemical and musical level…probably due to listening to them on chemicals, of course.
Carrie had just come from playing in a band project that covered “The True Wheel”; she and I had been roommates a few years before the band, and Taking Tiger Mountain and Here Come the Warm Jets (and Big Star 3rd, for that matter) were in permanent rotation around our house. And when we met Chris and started talking favorite records, that one came up. You know how it is – you make an instant connection with someone that way.
I’m pretty sure the idea for the cover came from Chris; we started out, the three of us, doing quiet rehearsals in the living room at his house in south Austin. Chris had figured out the chords, or at least a raw approximation of them – I don’t think we ever played it “correctly” – but we came up with our own take on it. It is definitely meant as an homage to someone who opened up our musical brains and re-arranged things a bit. I think he’s really underrated as a pop songwriter.
For the three of us, Eno was a lingua franca, a way to communicate ideas about sounds in ways that were hard to verbalize. Learning that song, delegating the guitar parts, the dynamics, etc., laid the foundation for a lot of what came after. Covers are handy that way – if you’re short on original material, and it’s a new project, you can get a pretty good idea of what a band is going to sound like. And, we went on to open just about every gig for a few years with that one. It’s a nice way to break the ice.
TDOA: Warners put out one record during the bands’ existence. Can you tell us about the experience? I remember being pretty disappointed that it didn’t seem to change the amount of exposure the band got. I’d also be interested to know how King reacted, if at all.
JC: We signed to WB in October 1996, after what seemed like the longest dalliance with major labels in rock history. We started getting major label attention before we even left Texas, in early 1995, when we had been a band for all of nine months. Dave Jerdine, who was the producer for Jane’s Addiction, and had engineered My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, was a producer/A&R guy at Atlantic, and various people from that label had been following us around all throughout the summer of 1995, which we spent on tour behind Backfeed. We thought it was funny, of course…we were on tour in my $1500 van that burned a quart of oil a day, making $100 a night, and happy to be doing so…and Atlantic people would show up at our gigs, offer to put us up in hotel rooms, and pay for dinner for us and whatever friends we had tagging along. Which, in all honesty, we were happy to take advantage of, as $100 a night will get you a parking space and a hot dog in New York City. We thought it was all a joke, and that it would all be over by the time we got home.
It wasn’t. They kept calling us after we got home. Me and Chris were working at the hippie co-op, stocking groceries, and we would hear over the PA every day, “would a member of Sixteen Deluxe please pick up line 1”…And we’d answer the phone, and it’s the president of, like, Atlantic Records, or Warner Brothers, or Slash Records, etc…we were actually getting in trouble at work, because we were spending too much time on the phone playing music business…
We had a couple of trips out to Hollywood, meeting with Atlantic and Capitol and A & M, and God knows who else. We asked a lot of questions, got a lot of wrong answers, and spent as much of their money as we could. We really felt no shame about trying to swindle some of these people out of as much as we could get away with. It wasn’t their money, anyway – they had ripped it off from the record-buying public, peddling their horrible crap, so he had no qualms about some good old income redistribution. We knew we had something they wanted, and we just didn’t see any reason to give it away.
But we kept running into a guy at Slash Records who we really liked. Randy Kaye, who sadly recently passed away, had been at Slash Records since the early days of LA punk, and was friends with the Germs, and people like Joan Jett and Deborah Harry. He seemed like a good match for us. But he was leaving Slash and going to Warner Bros., where he would oversee bands like Built to Spill and Grant Lee Buffalo. We liked WB already, because the Flaming Lips were there, and they had nothing but good things to say about it, and they had artists like REM and Robyn Hitchcock. So, what’s not to like?
And then…Steven Baker, the president of WB, the guy who signed REM to WB for $80 million, flew to Austin to attend our drummer’s birthday party, and regaled everyone with stories about following Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers around in the early 70’s and seeing Television in 1976. I, for one, was impressed. These guys, it seemed to us, were just as cool and tasteful as any indie rock person; they just had more money. Ha.
What we didn’t know was that behind the scenes, WB was committing suicide. Mo Ostin, the legend of Warners, had just left in a huff, and his deputies (like Steven Baker) were on the way out. Rule number one in signing to a major label: make sure your A&R guy’s boss, and his boss, are still going to be around when your record actually comes out (there’s some good books written about this chapter in American music history.)
After a year of this kind of cat and mouse game, there was simply too much pressure to ignore the offers. At one point, we were offered $1 million, cash, to sign to a certain label that shall remain nameless, with the catch that they would own us for 7 albums, and possess total creative control over every aspect of our careers. We found ourselves hanging out with Rick Rubin, riding around in his Bentley, and being chased around Texas by the president of Slash. We didn’t sell out so much as we just finally gave in. We thought, “maybe if we sign with one of them, they’ll leave us alone and just let us make music.” That may sound self-serving, or hopelessly naïve, but it was honestly how we felt at the time.
So we chose artist-friendly WB. It was the smallest deal out there, money-wise, but the biggest in terms of total artistic freedom. We had complete control. And in all honesty, the folks at WB treated us great, and never once interfered with any decisions we made. They worked really hard for us, got us great press, and gave us pretty much whatever we asked for.
What soured the relationship, and doomed Emits, was the fact that we had internal problems eating away at us. I won’t go into the personal details here, but we had to cancel a co-headlining tour with Spoon in the spring of 1998, which included a bunch of record promo stops and radio work. They stopped working on the album and cut off any future tour support. It was just a business decision on their part, cutting their losses, but it was a rather cold-blooded lesson in the realities of major labels for us. It was unclear at that point, three months after the record came out, if we were even going to be a band at all, much less tour and promote the record. I wasn’t so much concerned with the record at that point as I was with seeing all of us just survive during this time. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it actually was a matter of life and death.
We did eventually re-group, and toured throughout the summer with basically no support from the label, but more out of a sense of personal obligation, and a desire to keep moving. We had a record out, and we were going to tour one way or the other, and we had secured some great dates with Jesus and Mary Chain (which was an incredible experience) and Swervedriver.
Towards the end of ’98, when WB wasn’t returning our calls, and the management there was in flux, it was clear the relationship was doomed. Randy was completely MIA. Rick Gershon, who is the world’s greatest publicist, was the only person at the label still taking our calls. But, thanks to our smart lawyer, we did actually have a solid two-album deal. Rather than record another album for them that they were probably going to deep-six as soon as it was pressed, we asked to be let out of our contract, which included a guarantee for one more record. So, in addition to Emits Showers of Sparks, we were actually paid to NOT record a second album. And we used that money to build a studio, record “The Moonman is Blue” EP, and continue touring and recording for the next year and a half.
As far as King goes…by 1996, our relationship was in decline, but not by any intentional choice of ours, to be certain. His band was finally experiencing real success: 1996, of course, was the year of “Pepper”, the biggest hit in the Butthole Surfers’ career. And, as a result, he just wasn’t around as much, and neither were we. They toured relentlessly, and we were constantly on tour as well, and that didn’t leave much time for face-to-face conversation (and no e-mail or cell phones…for most people at least). And the fact was, everybody knew we were destined to jump ship; it was just a matter of when, and how.
During the peak of all of this major label madness, before we signed with WB, we recorded the “Pilot Knob” EP, with the guys in Crust. It was a way for us to forestall the decisions that were looming, and get back in the studio, and see where we were going next. We paid for the recording, and wanted to tour behind it, so we offered it to Trance, with the assurance that we would tour behind it through the year, but then after that, it was obvious we were going to finally sign a deal. Not surprisingly (from my perspective in 2009), Trance turned it down. But at the time, that decision hurt us all in a way that we weren’t quite prepared for. No doubt those guys had been hurt as well – they were hearing about us in the local gossip columns, and fielding rumors left and right. I’m sure we had become more of a burden to them than they wanted. We had become this monster they had helped create, and I think they were a little embarrassed by the whole thing at that point.
At one point, we tried to get King to “demand” some kind of payment from whatever label was going to sign us. We offered to sign something that says “we are signed to your label” (because all Trance deals up to that point were verbal), so they could cash in on us.
But King, being the kind of person he is, wouldn’t have any of it. He refused to take money from a band in that kind of way. He could have named his price for us, but he didn’t. There are very few people in the music business who are that ethical. He’s an exceptional person, and we could have used more of his advice and his experience. But things were happening so fast, and we were really kind of lost, looking back on it. I think we all wish now King had just slapped us around a bit and set us straight. But, it was hard – he was having what looked to us like great success at Capitol. So, why not sign to a major label? It was difficult to take advice on the evils of major labels from someone who was having exactly the kind of success on a major label that we were hoping to have. I’m afraid our naivety on that topic really knew no boundaries.
Hype is a crazy thing. It sets an expectation that few bands are ever able to achieve. Southern California’s Henry Clay People take the hype and the endless comparisons and respond in the most logical fashion. They have fun. A quick trip through YouTube, shows a band whose live shows have gotten looser and more passionate with time. With an impressive list of invitations to the best of this summers’ festivals, prepare for the hype to reach supernova intensity. Listening to their music leaves you with the feeling most people must have had when they heard Born To Run for the first time. Vocalist/Guitarist Joey Siara took a some time to let us take the pulse of one of America’s fastest growing bands’.
TDOA: The band has been compared to an amazing list of bands (Pavement, Replacements, Clash, etc.). Have you gotten an opportunity to meet any of these bands that you clearly admire?
JS: Hmmm… I’ve never met anyone from those bands. I did get a chance to meet Jim Eno from Spoon this year at SXSW and I have a been a big time Spoon fan for quite a while. He was a very nice guy. Sincere and down to earth. I have heard horror stories about “meeting your idols” but so far so good.
TDOA: Some bands eschew comparisons, because they feel it pigeon-holes them. How do you feel about being compared to other bands? When you sit down to write new songs, do you consciously steer away from song elements to try and avoid the comparisons?
JS: I’m fine with being compared to other bands. It’s unavoidable. You are what you eat right? I have no qualms about writing songs that are influenced by the bands I listen to. The problem comes when bands pull too much from only one or two of their influences. As long as we listen to a lot of music, then the tunes should reflect that.
TDOA: Is the music business approaching a point where major labels have ceased to become the driving force in getting music to the masses?
JS: I wish I knew more about the business side of things. I’ve grown up with idea that major=bad/ indie=good but I don’t think things are that cut and dry. Both majors and indies can provide artistic freedom. Both majors and indies can screw over bands. The music world is changing. Fleet Foxes are on SNL. Who would have thought that possible 25 years ago? I can name loads of my favorite bands that will probably never see any major label release, yet I know about them, lots of people know about them so somebody is doing something right.
TDOA: Do you still strive to be signed by a major label and how do you think the demands of a major label might impact the band?
JS: I would probably prefer an indie label. More my style. I don’t see us a major label band at this point.
TDOA: Tell me about the writing process. Are The Henry Clay People a “jam” band in the studio or do you walk in with pretty structured songs?
JS: Usually, I write some chords and have some structure and then take that to the band. We play it through, maybe tweak it bit. Then if it’s “good enough” it becomes a song and I probably end up writing lyrics.
TDOA: While you’re recording, do you put any thought into how the songs will be performed live?
JS: For the most part, I like the recordings to be kind of a document of how the band is live. We’re not too big on “producing.” Anyone with a ProTools rig can make their songs sound big and produced these days so I think that it serves us well to just try to get across a “live” feel on record. We track 70-80% of the stuff live in a room together.
TDOA: What do you enjoy more; playing live or playing in the studio?
JS: Whichever we are NOT doing at the moment. We’ve been on tour for a few months this year so I am dying to get into a studio and start recording. However, it is pretty much guaranteed that while in the studio, I’ll get frustrated with something and want nothing more than to be up on stage. In general I think playing live is our thing.
TDOA: There are so many great bands coming out of Southern California right now. What’s interesting to me is the diverse sound of the bands. You get the almost British sound of bands like Darker My Love or She Wants Revenge, while THCP fit into a completely different genre. Traditionally, a “scene” produces like-minded sound (Seattle’s grunge, the Athens GA- REM sound, etc.)Any sense of why the SoCal sound is so diverse right now?
JS: I think that it has to do with LA being a city of transplants for the most part. My brother and I were born and raised in suburban SoCal and not until I actually moved out to LA did I truly realize the pull that the city has. When people move here they bring whatever influences from whatever places they are coming from. Jonathan our bassist is from Texas and Mike our drummer is from Georgia. I like to think that they add some regional flavor to the band.
TDOA: You’re playing a few great festivals this summer (including Lolla and ACL). Any bands that you’re excited to see?
JS: Lou Reed at Lolla. I am a big fan and he is truly an icon. There are tons of bands that I’m excited to see but he tops it all.
TDOA: Do you prefer the grandeur of playing to a large festival crowd or the intimacy of the (relatively) smaller venues you’re playing now?
JS: I grew up going to shows in small clubs and I’m certain that’s where I’ll always feel the most comfortable. There is something special about the claustrophobia of small venues, being trapped in a sweaty room together with other people for the love of music.
We got such a strong reaction to our streaming a song by The Big Pink, we felt it was our obligation to track ’em down and bring them to your desktop. Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze are the London-based duo responsible for all the uproar. Milo runs the Merok label which has released records by Klaxons and Crystal Castles, yet makes music that we think far surpasses those highly touted groups. In February they won the Phillip Hall Radar award at the NME awards show for Best New Act. Combining great visuals with a brilliant nod to the great post-romantic bands (read OMD. Yeah, I know. Look it up…) of the 80’s. In my world, their most recent single, “Velvet” would be the song of the summer rather than whatever dreck No Doubt or Katy Perry will release. Milo took a break from recording their new album to answer a few questions…
TDOA: After hunting down as much of your music as I could find I was struck by the density of all of your songs. Can you talk about the songwriting process? How much of this is tweeked in the studio or do you come in with a pretty set arrangement?
MC: We write all of it in the studio , but things do tend to come alive once we play them live — things become more powerful after we play it live.
TDOA: Can you talk about what instruments you and Robbie play on record and how you make the transition to playing this music live?
MC: Robbie plays guitar and bass on the demos and I guess cause we can’t play drums that’s where the programming element comes into it. We create the huge walls noises by putting a synth through our pedal boards and recording it for about 20 minutes then listening back to it and find bits of drones that we like then looping them up and from there just building, building tracks and tracks of noise. Live we have a full band – 5 piece ..
TDOA: Velvet reminds me of early Orchestral Maneuver in the Dark. Did that era of music provide any influence on your music?
MC: No – I don’t know them really. Around the time we wrote ‘Velvet’ we were listening to a lot of Otis Redding and the Pumpkins are never to far from the top of the pile of vinyl next to record player
TDOA: How do you balance running Merok with the increasing demands on The Big Pink?
MC: Easy I have a great team around Merok now .. aka the merok wrecking crew
TDOA: What are your expectations for Glastonbury? The British press seems so polarized when reviewing bands; it’s love ya or hate ya?
MC: I know exactly what my expectations are for Glastonbury and (it) has nothing to do with the British press. It is and has been ever since I started going to Glasto about having as much fun as possible without frying your brain and walking around caked in mud chanting with the hare krishnas. Know your limits, but still push for your personal best .
TDOA: How important was winning the Phillip Hall Radar Award to you?
MC: I’m not sure how important it was personally to me, but I guess it’s been really good for the band.
TDOA: 4AD has such an amazing history. How did you come to be with the label? What kind of support are they giving you and with what limitations?
MC: They came to our first single launch party and brought TV on the Radio with them. They were the first label that we met that didn’t talk in corporate jargon and had open hearts and good record collections.
TDOA: Visuals seem to play a big role on your website, myspace, etc. Is this a product of either you or Robbie, or is it a collaboration with the label?
MC: I do all of that. It’s just stills and images from movies or the internet of bands, artists, films, etc that I like and I guess they translate visually what we do musically.
TDOA: I read a reference to you recording new music. When will we see a new record from you and can you tell us how it sounds versus the material we’ve already heard?
MC: We are at Electric Lady in NYC, now recording. In September, the album will drop hopefully.
The Dumbing Of America is a site dedicated to commenting on bad music, culture and politics in an effort to educate the masses. TDOA endeavors to fight back by providing a constant stream of great music, with frequent interviews with the best musicians in the world.
Past interview subjects:
We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Living Things, Asteroids Destroyed My Stereo, Bullet Treatment, Crocodiles, The Bronx, Jaydiohead, Minipop, Circle Jerks, Diehard, The Chameleons, Bambi Slam, The DeBretts, The Boxer Rebellion, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, An Horse, Simon Reynolds, Darker My Love, No Age, The Soft pack, East Hundred, Loney Dear, Captain Sensible, Warpaint, Calla, Art Brut, Home Video, The Big Pink, Gliss, Sixteen Deluxe, Ringo Deathstarr, LR Rockets