Category Archives: indie pop

Dandy Warhols rock Emo’s Austin

Last week I finally got a chance to see the Dandy Warhols, one of my all-time favorite bands. Avant garde yet catchy, nice and psychedelic. I saw them at Emo’s in Austin in the company of some good friends.

One of my friends referred to them as the coolest-looking band on the planet, and he could be right. They don’t do a lot of jumping around on stage, they just look really cool. As cool as they sound. I sort of get the impression of lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor as someone who’s been around and seen and done pretty much everything, kinda  sleazy, druggy and wise.

The Dandy Warhols are still on tour. Check here to see if they’re coming to a town near you.

Didn’t manage to get a decent photo with my cellphone, alas, but check out this video of my favorite Dandy Warhols song. They killed on this one.

 

They also had some really kickass songs that I hadn’t heard before, many from their new album, This Machine.

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SXSW 2012 final wrap-up

Finally got some free time to finish talking about the rest of my South By Southwest experience… Lots more interesting music on Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17.

Friday, March 18 finds

On Friday I went to the free Eye in the Sky Collective party at Shiner’s Bar at 5th and Congress. I only saw one band there, but it turned out to be pretty impressive. Sorne performed these tribal anthems that really got folks excited. The singer had a high, powerful voice. There were two percussionists in the group. For one song, he got the audience to divide into groups of “Vulcans” vs. “Romulans” and get them to perform a chorus. Sounded pretty cool.

Here’s an example of what they sound like (It’s the song with the Vulcans and Romulans in fact):

By the way, the Eye in the Sky Collective bears looking into. It’s an organization working to establish a new business model that works for both fans and artists. Just off hand, it makes me think of John Pointer’s Patronism. If you give them your e-mail address you can get 28 free tracks. Sounds worth it to me…

After listening to Sorne, I had an inexplicable feeling that I should leave the bar and go wandering outside to see what I could see. (The fact that I had no bars on my cellphone inside Shiner’s may have had something to do with it.) It was a good decision, because I saw the coolest act, playing on the street. Gouda Music – a group featuring Ghanaian xylophone player  Kwame Kponyo Wadada. Apparently there are different lineups, but on this night he was accompanied by a cajon drummer and another guy playing a kind of rasp. They were busking at the corner of 6th and Trinity and had drawn quite a crowd.

Here’s a video I made with my cellphone:

I love surprises like that. It’s part of what I like best about SXSW. There was another world music group on the street Saturday night, playing some kind of Caribbean music, but I didn’t get to stick around and wasn’t able to find out more. If anyone got to see more of them and knows their name, let me know.

Saturday, March 18

We started the day at a free party at The Belmont (305 W. 6th), sponsored by an app called Tabbed Out (you got a better place in line if you had it on your phone – lots of us were downloading it while standing in line. Mine didn’t download all the way, but they let me in nevertheless.)

Best bands I heard there were Bright Light Social Hour and Cuckoo Chaos.

Austin-based Bright Light Social Hour was quite like a throwback to the best music of the ’70s, doing hard rock, funk, and even throwing in some disco. A few times I was reminded of Grand Funk Railroad. Just one of those powerful, balls to the wall rock groups like I grew up with.

Next was a group called Kids These Days from Chicago. They are kind of a jazz-hip hop group, quite young. At first I wasn’t feeling it, but finally they got into a groove and I started digging their sound. They did a song kind of mock-fighting with the crowd, “Shut the Fuck Up,” and put their young female keyboard player on lead vocal for a really kickass blues song. They’re young, but I think they could be going places…

Cuckoo Chaos

Next up was Cuckoo Chaos from San Diego. I actually discovered them while playing a mix on the MySpace music player (might have to give MySpace a second look – they found me some seriously good tunes) and was looking forward to them. They do a kind of African-influenced pop-rock in the same vein as Vampire Weekend. I liked their sound and their tunes. The guitar player had a way of producing harmonics from feedback that reminded me a bit of Gang of Four. Definitely a band to check out further.

Not only did we get to hear free music at The Belmont, we had plenty of free alcohol. I could’ve stayed there all day, but we had another party we wanted to get into later. This was quite a party though. It looked like the party your parents were always afraid you were gonna have whenever they went out of town. Lots of drinking and dancing. And I might as well throw in my bathroom story. By late afternoon, the men’s bathroom looked like it had been hit by a very unsanitary tornado. I went in and there was a very drunk guy standing there with a roll of paper towels, going, “woo, woo,” just swinging it around. He comes up to me and goes, “You think I should get that guy?” pointing to someone taking a leak at a urinal. I said, “That would be totally up to you.” So he went up and wrapped paper towels around the guy’s face. The guy turned around and said “what the fuck?” and drunk guy threw the roll of towels onto the wet floor and left. I decided to use the stall so no one could sneak up on me. I sure feel sorry for the janitor…

Sometimes it’s good to let someone drag you into a place you wouldn’t have gone otherwise, and sometimes it’s good to throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.

To my surprise, one of the biggest highlights of the evening on March 18 was the Thre3Style show, a free event sponsored by Red Bull including major acts Erykah Badu, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Crystal Method. It turned out to be mainly DJ music and a lot of hip hop. Not something I would’ve expected to enjoy. But enjoy it I did. I decided to give in and get down. It was a hugely popular event – at one point, security guards had to keep people who didn’t get in from pushing the fence down. (The only real downside to the event was actually the Red Bull itself – I hate energy drinks and the only alcoholic beverage choices were Red Bull & Deep Eddy vodka or beer. Also not a huge beer drinker.)

I enjoyed Erykah Badu and The Crystal Method. (I’m gonna have to dig out my copy of Vegas.) I also enjoyed the DJ sets more than I would’ve expected, especially a DJ who called himself Big Once, Dan the Automator, who at one point was accompanied by an excellent singer (and I believe actress as well) named Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Badu did an interesting set, accompanied by a host of producers who refer to themselves as the Cannibinoids. The music was a kind of techno-hip hop, with a lot of rich visuals on the LCD screens. Psychedelia was a major theme, and everyone including Badu had names that sounded like names of illegal substances. The highly rebellious theme, along with the trippy visuals, made me think of cyberpunk. Points to Badu for doing something unique, but frankly I enjoyed it better toward the end of the set, when she performed some of her old songs from the ’90s.

In between sets, there was plenty of music to keep people dancing, a beach ball for people to toss around, and at one point, giant eyeballs. It took a while for me to realize there were cameras in them, flashing views of the crowd on the LCD screen. I only managed to graze a ball once, never got a good solid whack on it, but it was fun trying. There was also enough pot smoke in the crowd to nearly give me a contact high. A community joint came through my part of the crowd in fact – I let it pass me by, but still, thanks to whatever generous person it originated with.

We later went down to check out the madhouse that is 6th Street at the height of SXSW. It’s just barely controlled chaos. They close off the street, which fills completely full of people, desperately trying to cram in as much party as possible before everything ends. From the rooftops were laser beams, some of which fanned out and had smoke billowing through them, making interesting patterns. It’s crazy, all those people crammed together, but kind of an impressive sight.

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State Shirt embraces digital world – you can steal his tunes but you’ll probably pay up


I just completed an interview Ethan Tufts, an LA-based musician who goes by the moniker State Shirt. He had some interesting things to say about his music and his career strategy.

I love his songs, often melancholy and sometimes very catchy. I’m a sucker for effects like loops and reverb and he makes great use of those. Any time I make a playlist of “atmospheric” songs, several of his invariably wind up on it, alongside My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain and Slowdive. He was one of my first discoveries when I frequented TheSixtyOne a couple of years ago. (He was also one of the ones, like me, who got the angriest when they killed the social part of the site and cut off artist-fan communications.)

His latest album, Let’s Get Bloody, would’ve been a good candidate for my best of 2011 list if I’d found it in time. It has some great songs. “Disappointed,” “Let’s Get Bloody,” “Suffer Someday” and “Crush” are particular favorites.

He also has some interesting, forward-thinking attitudes toward the music industry. In an age when media companies appear to be in a frenzy to stamp out piracy and other indie musicians are struggling to find ways to make money from their music, he actually has a “steal all” button on his website, as well as an option to pay. (I “stole” the mp3s and bought the CD.) He also encourages other artists to make remixes of his songs. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, he likes to race cars.

I’ve read that your stage name comes from your hobby of collecting and wearing state promotional shirts from around the country. Do you have a shirt from all 50 states yet?

Not yet. I’ve set some arbitrary rules for my dumb state shirt collection. I really only like state shirts that feature nature scenes or animals. And they can’t have the name of a city or a landmark. It needs to be a true state shirt. So I’m missing quite a few. I’ll be be sure to scour the bargain racks at all of the dirty truck stops on my next tour.

You were popular on TheSixtyOne back when I was active on the site – before the redesign that removed most of the social media aspects. You were also among the most militant critics of the change. You gave them the finger in a profile pic and wrote a protest song. What’s your perspective on that site, two years later?

Well I didn’t exactly give anyone the finger. I was more really just baffled by their marketing decisions and how they were okay with upsetting so many people. It’s not often that you see a company that has a product that people really like just completely disregard and abandon their entire user base. Looking back I’m actually a little embarrassed that I got so mad about it. Though I am really glad I wrote the song “61 Ways” because of it—it’s become sort of a multi-purpose protest / break-up song.

In other interviews, you’ve named some rather aggressive bands as influences – Fugazi, Helmet, Drive Like Jehu, hardcore punk, etc. I’m hearing a bit of Depeche Mode, maybe some shoegaze acts like Slowdive, maybe a bit of Red House Painters. How did those hardcore influences get transformed into the atmospheric pop you’re creating now?

I really have no idea. I listen to a pretty wide variety of music, and on occasion will get into the heavy and more aggressive stuff. I’ll even record some hardcore-ish tracks from time to time, but it rarely sees the light of day. For years I’ve been threatening to record a cover of every song on Helmet’s Meantime but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe next year.

Part of it may be that my songwriting process is so odd and random that I never know how one of my songs is going to sound until it’s finished.

What music inspires you today?

I’m totally in love with the band Subtle. It’s not that often that something so unique comes along. I’m so surprised that not more people have heard of them. They’re incredible. I’ve also been kind of reverting back to stuff I listened to back in the 90s. Lots of Sebadoh. Funny story, for about a year I actually lived two houses down from Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh when we were both kids. He was several years older than me and stole my Big Wheel tricycle. But I got over it and listen to Sebadoh way too much.

I’ve also been getting inspired by many of the undiscovered and semi-discovered artists on YouTube. Amongst the glut of terrible ukulele songs there are some incredibly raw and emotional performances.

I hear a lot of pathos in your songs. How autobiographical are they? Are they just an outlet for you, a kind of catharsis?

I had a pretty normal childhood. A pretty normal life too, actually. Never was addicted to heroin. Didn’t live on a commune. Wasn’t molested. Not an alcoholic. Most of my friends would probably describe me as pretty easy going, and even positive. But I’ve always struggled with an obscene fascination and preoccupation with death and dying. There has always been this underlying, unillumated hopelessness that I’ve never been able to escape, and that I’m pretty good at hiding. It makes its way into most everything I write. It’s not rational. And I feel like if I ever were to seek professional help, I would be diagnosed as clinically, undoubtedly normal. But that never gets rid of the underlying desire to crash into the center divider just to see what it feels like to die.

I think it’s interesting that you seem to zig when the music industry zags. The industry is putting a lot of political muscle into stamping out piracy. You on the other hand, have a “steal this album” option on your website. How is that working? Do enough people pay to make up for all the “stealing”?

Piracy is like gravity. It’s always going to exist, no matter what laws are in place to stop it. Musicians have been incredibly lucky over the last many years to have had formats where you can affix music to a tangible object. Now that music is virtual, piracy is so easy it’s essentially unstoppable. And I don’t care. I’ve decided to stop fighting gravity. Piracy is awareness. I don’t want to make money selling plastic discs.

In terms of supporting my career, I’ve focused my attention on licensing. Many of my songs are licensed for television, film, and commercials. I’d rather work on partnerships with filmmakers and companies that I respect, which will subsidize my music for my fans. Though I will say I’ve been very lucky that many of my fans buy my music. I don’t really know how many people steal it, but enough people pay for it to allow me to continue to be able to make music.

What do you think the future holds for musicians on the Internet?

It’s the same game that it’s always been—to make a living making music—but now the barriers to entry are gone. The lack of barriers doesn’t mean it’s any easier than it was back in the record label days. It just means the rules are different and the gatekeepers are different. There are no templates or formulas for success.

Musicians are finally becoming part-time marketers. But I hope that the marketing side doesn’t overtake the music side. Like the constant attempts to capitalize on viral trends as a method to gain awareness. There are only so many YouTube parodies that you can listen to. I don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy for your art. I’m guilty of this as well, I once made a remix song out of the Slap Chop commercial. I hope it becomes more about creating new, innovative and mind-blowing art rather than crap where the marketing is more important than the music. It is a fine balance though. If you don’t market your music, no-one is going to hear it.

Which do you think is more of a threat to musicians, piracy, or bills like SOPA or PIPA? (And now the treaty being pushed by the industry, ACTA.)

I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask. I want people to pirate my music. I encourage it. I don’t give a shit if anyone pays me for an mp3. I want music licensing and carefully chosen partnerships to subsidize my music so I can give it to my fans for free.
 
I understand you’re into racing. What do you race and have you won any trophies?

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to get into such a ridiculous and insanely fun hobby. I race something called a Spec Miata—it’s basically a near-stock Mazda Miata that has been converted for road racing. I’m an incredibly average race car driver, though I did somehow manage to finish on the podium four times. If you’re in Southern California, drop by one of our road courses out in the desert. You can usually find me towards the back of the field, trying to keep from wrecking.

Where can people hear your music? Do you make it available to streaming sites like Pandora or Spotify? I understand some indie artists have decided they don’t get a fair shake with those services.

All of my music can be downloaded for free on my website, stateshirt.com. It’s also available on iTunes and most music sites, including Pandora and Spotify. The payout through those sites is tiny, even with a decent number of plays and downloads. Though it doesn’t bother me at all. Services like Pandora and Spotify are the new radio. I view them as a source of exposure and awareness, not cash money.

This is one of my favorite songs off the new album:

And here is a live loop performance of the title track:

Ethan makes frequent use of Twitter: twitter.com/#!/stateshirt
You can also find him on Facebook: facebook.com/stateshirt
And check out the official State Shirt website: stateshirt.com

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SheLoom’s debut, Seat of the Empire: perfect pop for the Digital Age


It took me a while, but I finally got hold of SheLoom’s Seat of the Empire. That’s been on my to-do list ever since I discovered them back in the old days on TheSixtyOne. Back then they were called Loom. I think they ran into another band by that name and had to make a switch. SheLoom is one of those bands that didn’t exist before the Internet, a trans-Atlantic collaboration between Filippo Gaetani, an Italian, and Canadian Jordon Zadorozny. The duo creates lush Beatlesque pop that reminds me at times of Skylarking-era XTC.

As soon as I heard “Sink or Swim” on T61 I recognized Jordon’s influence. He was the lead singer of a group called Blinker the Star. That group’s August Everywhere has been a perennial favorite of mine for several years. Seat of the Empire has a similar appeal. Great sense of melody. Great production.

I enjoy the whole album but the first three — “Seat of the Empire,” “Bolero” and “Sink or Swim” — really start things off with a bang and “All for Love” is a hell of a finish.

Apparently Filippo and Jordon have deemed their collaboration a success, because they are already working on a new album, according to their website, SheLoom.com. I will probably still be into this album when their new one comes along.

You can order Seat of the Empire from CDBaby. Or buy the digital version via iTunes. Personally, I would go with the physical artifact. Love the cover art.

Also, check out Blinker the Star’s August Everywhere if you get the chance. I can never stop pimping that album.

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Tune-Yards – Whokill: not just another Graceland homage

Just got several really good CDs in the mail. Immediate gratification is nice, but so is that feeling of anticipation, waiting for something to turn up in my mailbox.

Tune-Yards – Whokill

This is the sophomore album from Tune-Yards – one of my best discoveries from my set of unofficial South By Southwest shows back in March. I like the album as much as the show, if not more.
It’s odd, funky, upbeat and at times really beautiful.

Merrill Garbus, singer and multi-instrumentalist, really has a unique vision as well as a great voice and a great team of musicians. Loops, ukelele, plenty of percussion and a definite African vibe. My reaction when I first heard her weird yodeling and drumming at SXSW was, “What the hell is this?” Then it sunk in: She knows exactly what she’s doing and she is brilliant.

When an indie rocker makes music with an African influence it usually reminds me of something I’ve heard before – like Paul Simon’s Graceland. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love that album and Vampire Weekend.)

Whokill doesn’t really remind me of anything. The African influence is there (I know Garbus studied music in Africa for a while), but it doesn’t really define the music; it just sounds weird, unique, and very good. Catchy even. It’s indie rock, not some kind tribute to an African style. Yet it doesn’t come across as a fusion. It sounds natural, like Garbus is just writing what she feels, not trying to put an ethnic spin on the music.
Every song is a winner, but “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and “You Yes You” are my favorites. Very funky. The album’s hits if anything can be a hit nowadays.
The delicate lullaby “Wooly Wolly Gong” is also growing on me. Really beautiful. Makes me think of Modest Mouse.

I’ll talk about the other CDs in my latest batch after I get through covering Elgin’s Western Days Festival, which will keep me busy for a couple of days, but I’ll go ahead and list them now: SheLoom – Seat of the Empire, Figli di Madre Ignota – Fez Club, Balkan Beats 2.

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Doleful Lions – beautiful ballads for the zombie apocalypse

Doleful Lions Jonathan and Robert Scott

Make fun of old horror movies all you want, but if you saw one as a child, it stuck with you didn’t it? There is a lot of emotional power in those images — just as there is in a well-written pop song. Combine the two and you really get something special. Nothing demonstrates that better than the music of Doleful Lions. I’ve been fascinated by the group for years. The title track to The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! is a perennial secret weapon in my Halloween playlists.

Doleful Lions frontman Jonathan Scott lives in Plano, Ill., about 50 miles west of Chicago. The band started in Chicago in the mid-’90s and relocated to Chapel Hill, N.C. for several years. It  includes Jonathan on guitar and vocals and his brother Robert on bass. The brothers will give their first Doleful Lions show in two years on April 22 at the Abbey in Chicago. They just completed a new album, Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out of Prison, which should be released soon — hopefully by summer. They are working on yet another album for the Jesus Warhol label and have numerous albums available on Parasol Records.

I spent several hours over the last couple of weeks visiting with Jonathan about his music, his influences and his outlook on life.

Zombies


“We are all zombies waiting to have an apocalypse,” said Jonathan, when asked about the significance of B horror references in his songs. Jonathan believes Americans are being distracted by trivialities from a creeping fascism — much like the future described in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — and disaster is bound to be the result.

“I feel like everything is a horror show. I think that B-Movie horror is a good barometer for what is going on in the world. I think we are pretty much all programmed and I think that eventually that programming will destroy everyone. I mean people are actually entertained by Dancing With The Stars, which to me is a sign of being a zombie. Most people could care less about the government taking away your rights. They have a big screen TV so who cares? It is totally Brave New World.

“It’s by design. They want us to be all preoccupied with our jobs and our rent and paying for food they know that if we are worrying about that we won’t question them taking our freedoms. People’s lives are hard, ’cause that is what they want, so we don’t question anything. We watch Dancing with the Stars when we get off work cause we can’t be bothered with what is really going on.”

His lyrics are a way of expressing his horror at the world’s problems and dealing with his struggle with bipolar disorder. They also spring from a heartfelt love of old cinema and science fiction — and growing up with access to a damn good video store.

Musical Beginnings

MusicMissionary: “Would you mind telling me how you got into music?”
Jonathan Scott: “When I was 4 is when it started. My parents had an old Realistic stereo they never used and they had a few records and I discovered it and learned how to work it and started listening. I remember they had Abbey Road, Beatles 65, Beatles VI, some Barbra Streisand record and Creedence, but once I discovered the stereo I stopped going outside to play. At that time we were living in Memphis and Elvis was huge so I went to K-Mart and bought Elvis 45s and The Eagles, John Travolta, Shaun Cassidy – you know, the popular stuff in the mid-’70s.”

MM: “Osmonds…”
JS: “I didn’t have any Osmonds, but when I was in kindergarten Kiss was huge and I heard Kiss Alive II and the music scared me and Gene Simmons scared me, but I really loved it.”
MM: “I actually had a Donnie & Marie album. Don’t tell anyone.”
JS: “Oh, that’s okay, I don’t think you should have to be responsible for any record you owned until maybe when you reach high school. I had a lot of pretty lame shit, I had the John Travolta record and really loved it. This song called ‘Easy Evil’ – I loved that song. I read a few years ago that Jim Gordon played drums on that song.”
MM: “Only Travolta song I remember is ‘Gonna Let Her In.’”
JS: “Yeah, that was the big song from the record but I liked the B-Side. That was the A side. I don’t know I was 4. I thought it was good haha.”

Hardcore Punk

MM: “So what about playing music. When did that start?”
JS: “I got into hardcore when I was in high school and really wanted to play in a band ’cause my friends had started playing music. I didn’t play an instrument, but I could sing okay, so my first year of junior college at College Of DuPage I put an ad up looking for a band that plays in the style of Husker Du/Bad Religion or the Descendents and this guy Jason called me and we eventually started a band. We were really bad.”
MM: “What year would that have been, about?”
JS: “This was in 1990. There were a bunch of bands in suburban Chicago doing similar stuff and we eventually got in contact with a lot of people in bands.”
MM: “Did y’all make songs or do covers?”
JS: “We did all originals but we did do a Mudhoney song and a Minor Threat song. It was fun though.”

Cinco de Gatos

Jonathan Scott in his post-hardcore days with Cinco de Gatos

MM: “So anyway… You left off doing hardcore and singing but not playing. When did you start doing that? You play guitar, right? Anything else?”

JS: “Yeah well, when that first band broke up, I moved to Chicago and my roommate [Dan Panic] played drums for Screeching Weasel and Jason – the guy that was in my first band — lived like a block away, so we decided to start playing, even though I had only been playing guitar for like a month. We were called Cinco de Gatos and I had to learn to play pretty fast, but we spent most of that summer rehearsing and played our first show in January of 1995. At the time, we had this dude named Ryan who had played drums in this band called Gauge playing second guitar. We did our first show and we were so bad Ryan and Dan quit that night.”

MM: “You say you moved to Chicago. Where were you before that with your first band?”
JS: “In the suburbs. We were based in the Downers Grove area.”

JS: “There was a suburban hardcore scene out there. Tony Victory lived down the street in Downers and had shows at his house all the time and now he is Victory Records haha.”

MM: “What kind of music were you guys making?”
JS: “It was really influenced by Fugazi and the stuff on Dischord Records. Also the bands on Lookout and stuff like Jawbreaker. There were a lot of bands like that at the time.”

From post-hardcore to indie pop

MM: “When did you start to develop your current sound? I’m hearing Beatles, Beach Boys, some shoegaze maybe… Very different from the kind of music you’re describing.”
JS: “Well, at the time when I was playing in Cinco I was getting into stuff like Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, obviously the Beatles, the Byrds and then the UK stuff like My Bloody Valentine, Ride. I was way into Elvis Costello too, but by the end of that band I had completely lost interest in playing post-hardcore or emo or whatever you want to call it and I wanted to play stuff like what I was listening to. Plus Bee Thousand by Guided By Voices came out in ’94 and I got that and I said ‘Screw this band I am in.’ So I bought a 4-Track in 1995 and wrote a bunch of pop songs.”

MM: “Normal pop songs? As in, not about Satan or werewolves or sci fi?”
JS: “Oh no, these songs were love songs. You know, guitar pop stuff, and with Casio keyboards — real twee stuff. I played it for Jason in Cinco de Gatos and he hated it. So I knew I was onto something.

“I have to tell you this story: When my first album Motel Swim came out, DL’s played Chicago. I was living in Chapel Hill at this time, and I played the album for my childhood friend Kevin Smith. Kevin had come up with me and been into hardcore and stuff, and I played him Motel Swim and he said ‘Dude this is the most uncool record I have ever heard.’ I felt like I had accomplished something ’cause that is what I was going for. Haha.”

MM: “So, what was it about pop songs and being uncool that was cool to you?”

JS: “Well, I had been playing in punk rock bands or hardcore, emo whatever you want to call it. Power pop is uncool at least in my circles and I really wanted Doleful Lions to be completely different from the Chicago emo shit that was going on at the time. I felt no connection to that stuff at all.”

MM: “What was it about emo that you hated? Too whiny?”
JS: “No, I just didn’t really feel an emotional connection to it — which is weird considering it is called emo — it always seemed contrived to me. I didn’t feel that music at all, but I felt stuff like Beach Boys and Flamin’ Groovies. I mean I remember where I was the first time I heard ‘Shake Some Action’ but I can’t say the same about the first time I heard Fugazi.”

Horror Movies

MM: “The main thing that has fascinated me about your stuff has been the pairing of lush pop and B horror imagery. Can you explain why you like that combination and why you like B horror movies?”

JS: “I grew up loving B movies so much. My brother and I used to watch all that stuff all the time. There is a song on the new album called ‘Julie’s Video’ which is kinda a tribute to this video store my brother and I used to go to, it is what I know so I figured I would write about stuff I know, which is Lucio Fulci movies.”

MM: “Why B horror and not ‘art’ horror?”

JS: “Because I relate to stuff like Gates Of Hell and Dawn of The Dead more than some art house movie. I think it is probably because I am a suburban kid who had access to a really good video store.”

MM: “It seems like you have a thing about zigging when others are zagging if you know what i mean. Finding uncool things and making them cool…”
JS: “Yes, there is a song on the Rats Are Coming The Werewolves Are Here called ‘The Contrarian,’ which is about myself haha.”

MM: “The B horror movie thing is a perfect example.”
JS: “Yeah, taking horrible movies and putting them in a literary context… I mean The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! is a horrible movie! Almost unwatchable. But Andy Milligan’s movies are charming and I would much rather watch that than Inception or something.”

MM: “How did you get into that stuff and what made you want to make songs about it?”
JS: “Well, I have been into horror movies since I was a kid and never really grew out of it, and bands like the Misfits and the Cramps have done that sort of thing before, but not really a guitar pop band at least not at that time really.”

MM: “That’s what I found so striking about your music. Pretty sounding music, but the titles and lyrics are like Night of the Living Dead. I love juxtapositions like that.”
JS: “Yeah, I do too. The new record is even more pronounced with that type of thing. The lyrics on the new record are pretty hateful and violent.”

Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out Of Prison

The forthcoming Doleful Lions album has a rather controversial title, though not everyone will get the reference. (I had to look him up myself.) Indie musicians have a hard enough time getting attention that a bit of controversy probably won’t hurt, and it might help.

Beausoleil is doing hard time for the 1969 murder of music teacher and associate Gary Hinman. Beausoleil said he was trying to collect money from Hinman, who was said to owe money to Charles Manson (yes, THAT Charles Manson) for selling a bad batch of mescaline that had in turn been sold to some rather pissed off bikers.

Beausoleil was also a musician and aspiring actor who appeared in some B horror movies and wrote the soundtrack for a movie called Lucifer Rising that he would’ve starred in if he hadn’t gone to prison. Beausoleil wasn’t involved in the Manson Family’s “Helter Skelter” murders, but his affiliation with the Family has most likely kept him from getting paroled.
Jonathan doesn’t condone what Beausoleil did and thinks he deserves to pay for his crime. But he also thinks it unfair that the man’s cultural contributions are forgotten and that he seems to be paying for murders he didn’t commit.

“I think Bobby Beausoleil should pay for his crime, which was murder, but he should not be lumped in with the Manson family ’cause he was never a part of it. Vincent Bugliosi said that Bobby was a part of the Manson family but he wasn’t. He is what I would consider a genius musician and he deserves a fair parole hearing.”

The album title has already garnered a bit of attention.
“Actually I got a message from Bobby Beausoleil the other day about the record from his wife,” Jonathan said. “She was really appreciative. I wanted to let her know we are not planning on breaking him out of prison. We just wanted to acknowledge the musical influence he has had on us. And she told him about it. I guess he got a kick out of it.”

Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil is going to be a very dark album, as you might gather from the video of the title track, which contains scenes from the Kenneth Anger film, Lucifer Rising.

MM: “Tell me about your new album. You said it’s very dark.”

JS: “Yeah it is. I kinda gave up on everything last year. My girlfriend who I lived with I caught cheating on me. She was having an affair and I basically stopped caring about stuff. So the album is really dark and hateful.”

The song “Funeral Skies For Burst Patriot” is a good example of that darkness. Jonathan explained that the lyrics are about a fictitious assassination of right wing pundit Glen Beck. It is also inspired by Peter Gabriel’s “A Family Snapshot,” a song that tells a story from an assassin’s viewpoint.

“Like I said this is a pretty dark record,” he said. “I actually was a little hesitant to put the song on the album after the AZ congresswoman got shot.”

It’s a beautiful song, despite the subject matter:

Mental health issues

Jonathan said he has bipolar disorder. He describes himself as “crazy,” but he is functioning — earning money, paying the rent, making music. He isn’t taking medication right now and says smoking weed “does the trick” without the side effects prescribed drugs gave him.

MM: “Maybe the album [Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out of Prison] is a kind of exorcism.”

JS: “Well I am bipolar and it is a lot about me not dealing with being bipolar. I stopped taking my medicine last year. I got tired of being so asleep so with this record this is me totally nuts.”

MM: “Do you want me to edit that part?”

JS: “No, I want people to know how I am. Don’t edit it at all.”

MM: “OK. Totally your call. I know some people are private about that.”

JS: “I am not. I want people to know I am bipolar and I am doing okay.”

Jonathan has uploaded numerous Doleful Lions videos on YouTube. You should also check out the Doleful Lions’ Facebook and MySpace pages. And you’ll want to hear the Doleful Lions back catalog. Jonathan will start releasing those albums soon on Bandcamp. Check the Doleful Lions Facebook page for updates.

UPDATE: The deal with Parasol is off. The new album will come out in digital format on the Jesus Warhol label and Jonathan is shopping the album around to other labels for a CD release. Find out more about the planned release and the blowup that nixed the Parasol deal.

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Filed under indie, indie pop, indie rock, interview, music, pop, psych, rock, shoegaze, Uncategorized, video

Pickering Pick’s tuneful English folk is a Sparkling Thing

Singer-songwriter Pickering Pick

Singer-songwriter Sam Pickering Pick is a man after my own heart — a man in love with words, words sung and words written. Setting his words to music, he paints beautiful pictures and tugs at the heartstrings. I also love his sense of melody and his guitar work. Low key and humble as he is, I think he has huge potential among folk music fans and beyond.

Originally from England, he has been living in the United States for eight years and now makes his home in Sacramento, California. Though his singing accent is a bit soft, he notes that his “speaking voice is just as English as ever.”

Sam has made nine albums to date, plus two EPs. His latest, The Boy in the Back, was just released this year. He is in the process of remastering his other albums in his home studio.

Though I find his guitar work quite beautiful, Sam doesn’t consider himself a hot shot musician. Lyrics are his main focus. “I played guitar and a bit of piano growing up, neither one particularly well, I might add. I’m really not a ‘good musician,’ and I’m just lucky to have long fingers and a sense of rhythm, so that fingerpicking a folk guitar is relatively easy for me. I have always been much more about the words than the music, so Paul Simon and obviously Dylan had huge appeal for me.”

I recently asked Sam what he thought of British singer-songwriter Donovan since I get a bit of a Donovan vibe off his music.

“You know, Donovan is an interesting one,” he said. “A couple of his songs are spectacular, but often I think he’s a bit too sweet for my taste. His fingerpicking is lovely, though. I love that scene in Don’t Look Back where he’s playing in a room of Dylan groupies and Dylan is just really mean to him, but Donovan plays much better. I think the English folk singer I most identify with is probably Cat Stevens [aka Yusuf Islam].” He is also a big fan of English folk singer Richard Thompson.

Sam recently turned 32. He grew up in a town in England called Cheltenham “in the Cotswolds, in the south-west Midlands.” He describes Cheltenham as a “posh town with posh schools, but lots of problems”

Sam himself did not grow up in a posh family, but his father is a notable figure in the music world. David Pickering Pick is a record producer and serial studio-builder who built studios from the ’70s up to the present. Musicians recording in David’s studio include Luther Grosvenor from Mott The Hoople, The Vigilantes of Love, Decameron and Bill Mallonee. “I think Judi Dench was there the other day doing some voice work. Anyway, a lot of English folk royalty over the years…” His studio company is FFG Recording.

“I grew up in Cheltenham, went to school, listened to all my dad’s old folk records from the mid- ’60s through the early ’70s — he gave me a whole stack when I was about 11 or 12,” Sam said. While his friends were listening to Guns ‘n’ Roses, Sam notes, “I grew up on James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan. Later on, there was Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Incredible String Band, etc., but earlier on it was the American folk singers I adored.”

After leaving school, Sam went to London to study architectural history. “Around that time, my first year, I wrote the songs for The Attic Tapes, and recorded them with my dad producing at his studio,” he said.

Sam moved to the U.S. in 2002 after meeting an American girl in London as a 20-year old. He and his wife married in 2000 and recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. They have two children, a 7-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. He has been a stay-at-home father since their son was born.

Sam’s sister Sera recently made some very nice videos of him singing in his home studio. “Sparkling Thing” may be my favorite from the new album:

I’ve always loved “Unseen Hook” as well:



Visit Sera’s Youtube channel to see the rest.

Below are some of the topics Sam and I covered during a recent interview, including RateYourMusic, Bandcamp, TheSixtyOne, LastFM, and his dream of becoming a published novelist.

RateYourMusic

I discovered Sam on RateYourMusic, an amazing website that has grown into a thriving community with a very impressive database of albums and artists. Like me, he was one of the early members of that site back in 2002. I beat him there by just a few months.

“It was a tiny website back then,” he said. “It’s amazing. I’m so happy to see it turning into the resource it has become – one of only a tiny handful of extraordinary truly social media.”

MM: “Me too. [Site owner and creator] Sharifi is such an amazingly awesome guy. Sort of Zuckerberg’s good twin.”

Sam: “I owe him a HUGE amount. Seriously, w/o Sharifi and RYM, I wouldn’t have recorded all the albums I did. And I wouldn’t have reached the people I have reached.”

MM: “I certainly wouldn’t know about you. Or about tons and tons of my favorite music.”

Sam: “He’s on top of my Christmas card list for sure. RYM pretty much changed my life musically.”

MM: “How so? Just by giving you a venue and some networking?”

Sam: “Well, let me see… First of all, it opened up my eyes and ears to a whole world of music I wouldn’t have discovered, which influenced and changed me as a musician. Then, importantly, it provided a platform for me to experiment with listeners. I had played live in London for a while before moving to California, but I never had the feedback I got from RYM. Then, of course, the viral nature of a social website like RYM made distribution of my music very easy in way I had never imagined… I mean, RYM was not conceived as a venue for unsigned/under-the-radar musicians to upload their music, right?”

MM: “From my understanding it was an experiment, to create a database others would contribute to. That part definitely works.”

Sam: “But with the help of [RYM users] Matti, Kevvy, Jon Bohan and a few others, and tremendous support from many more, I was able to use the site as a personal musical forum.”

MM: “It’s an amazing database at this point.”

Sam: “Probably the only one of its kind – almost too complete! Lots of very anal music fans with too much time on their hands… I used to think I was a music geek, but now I know otherwise.”

MM: “There are levels of geek.”

Sam: “I am low-level for sure.”

Aspiring writer

Growing up with a music producer for a father had a big impact on Sam, but he has another passion: writing.

“Music was everywhere when I was growing up. Musicians of all kinds in and out of the house. I used to sit and watch the sessions from time to time, but I don’t remember ever thinking I wanted to be a musician. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I wanted to be a writer and that has never gone away.”

He has written two novels and would love to become a published novelist, but notes, “music is just as much a love of mine.

“You know, writing is just enormously satisfying. The writing process — I get a huge kick out of it. I finished the last novel this summer, right before i started working on The Boy in the Back and when I was done, I felt bereft.”

His novels cover a variety of subjects, including wasted youth, anxiety, sexual tension and murder. His last book was a comedy, which he refers to as “fluffy teen fiction, like Gossip Girl.” He pitched it to some agencies but didn’t have any takers. “I used to work in book publishing, so I know how it works. New authors never get a look-in. Only established names. You have to know someone or be someone.” But he notes, “people will continue to seek out good writing.”

He has toyed with the idea of giving his books away through digital downloads, the way he does his music. “There’s a way it could work. For the Kindle generation.”

Bandcamp

Like other indie musicians I’ve spoken with, Sam is a big fan of Bandcamp.com, which lets unsigned artists stream, give away and sell their music. “I never made anything from my music until I put the albums up on Bandcamp,” he said.

In fact, during our interview, he interjected, “Cool! Someone just bought an album on Bandcamp! While we were chatting. What a coincidence…”

Sam still thinks the website could be better: “It is really cool — but it isn’t perfect. It’s not a cohesive site. There’s no ‘web.’ It’s like a stack of pages, but no cross-references. So one artist is pretty much isolated from all the others and there’s nowhere for fans to comment on artist pages.”

MM: “Yeah, I’ve noticed that. It’s like each artist has an independent website, which is cool in a way, but not very lively for the music explorer.”

Sam: “Exactly exactly exactly. Great for me as an artist, not as a consumer.”

But speaking as a blogger, Bandcamp is pretty doggone convenient as it lets me embed songs and albums like so:

 

Live performances

Sam isn’t currently doing live performances, but doesn’t rule them out in the future. He is a bit stage-shy, but while in London he performed in some important folk venues. “I even played the 12-Bar on Denmark Street one time, probably my most prestigious performance,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking but well-received.” He explained that Denmark Street is “pretty much the epicentre of folk music in London and the UK, and the 12-Bar is the focal point — a live folk club for acoustic artists.”

He finished building a proper home recording studio last year and wants to get comfortable in it. “I am not opposed to playing live, but having been away from the live scene for so long, it is hard to know how to get back into it again,” he said. “I’m not keen on open mic, but i do appreciate that listeners want to see their favourite artists playing ‘in the flesh.'”

TheSixtyOne

I’m the one who talked Sam into joining TheSixtyOne.com. I was gratified to see how quickly he formed a bond with other folk musicians and found his audience. I was a little embarrassed later on, when the site changed into its current artist-unfriendly format, stripping away all those social networking tools. I’m relieved to find that he still thinks his time at T61 was well-spent. His songs are still on the site, though he isn’t seeing much activity there.

Sam: “T61… well… You introduced me to it and I was very excited at first.”

MM: “Yeah. I was trying to win a quest. The Evangelist or something. Plus I thought highly of your music and I thought you would do well there — and you did.”

Sam: “I had had a long hiatus from writing and recording, but something kind of clicked and I was excited about writing again. That was amazing — to be able to be involved in the process, watching people respond to my songs. It was very addictive.”

MM: “It was quite a supportive environment wasn’t it?”

Sam: “The charts, and the front page, etc., the comments I received were encouraging.”

MM: “Yeah. your fans rooting for you, trying to get you on the home page, helping you strategize.”

Sam: “And then, boom. It just ended.”

MM: “Your songs are still up right?”

Sam: “I guess — I never go there any more. Wouldn’t know how to get rid of them.”

MM: “I would leave them. The more places, the better.”

Sam: “I don’t disagree.”

LastFM

Sam also enjoys the popular music website Last.fm, which gives him valuable exposure as a musician. “I have a good relationship with Last.fm,” he said. “They’re good people.” He admits the site isn’t perfect, but is still a fan.

MM: “They’ve got issues too. That duplicate artist thing is a mess and a half.”

Sam: “Oh, yeah, that’s true. There were a couple of Pickering Picks last time I checked… One’s a Sam Pickering Pick I guess. But the communities and groups are cool.”

Speaking of which… A quick Internet search will come up with quite a few Pickering Picks.

Sam: “Ha ha. There are a few notable Pickering Picks. Thomas Pickering Pick is probably the biggest. My family were all famous surgeons. Surgeons to the royal family, etc.” (Gray’s Anatomy was co-written and edited by Thomas.)

With a bit of luck and perseverance, I’m betting that one day, Sam Pickering Pick the musician will be the first Pickering Pick folks think of when they look up his family.

Check out Sam’s website, listen to some of his songs and maybe send a little love his way. I think he deserves a few bucks at the very least for the musical gift he’s given us.

http://pickeringpick.com/

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Filed under folk, indie, indie pop, interview, music, one to watch