Category Archives: indie rock

Chubby Knuckle Choir sizzles at Reunion Grille as (temporary) trio

IMG_20130608_203847_692I saw a really good concert the other night from my favorite local discovery, The Chubby Knuckle Choir. They played in Cedar Park at a place called Reunion Grille. It was a nice, open air venue, with little kids running around. This time it was a trio, with Rory Smith on percussion and vocals, Tres Womack on guitar and vocals and Dave Gould on stand up bass. Singer/percussionist Perry Lowe and singer/stringed instruments of various kinds player Slim Bawb couldn’t make the gig, which was scheduled on short notice.

As always, they were great live, although they were performing in the trio configuration for the first time. It was good music and they kept it fun. This time they were also promoting their self-titled debut CD. Go see them live and get yours there if you get a chance. If you can’t, you can get it at CD Baby.com.

I had a nice visit with the band during the break. Interesting to hear them talk about their musical influences. Rory surprised me with his knowledge of classic rock groups — the same ones I listened to when I was a teenager. Dave Gould surprised me by saying he once saw demented carnivalesque Attic Ted perform, one of the weirdest acts in the Austin area and one of my faves.

The band has been playing a lot of gigs in New Braunfels lately, making an impression on the out-of-state tourist crowd. They’re still playing there a lot this summer, with more of a Texas crowd.

Catch the Chubby Knuckle Choir live if you can. You can hear some of their music and see their upcoming schedule on their Reverbnation page.

Upcoming shows include:

July 19 – Oma Gruene’s Secret Garden in New Braunfels at 2:30 p.m.

July 21 – Gruene Hall in New Braunfels at 5 p.m.

July 27 – Reunion Grille in Cedar Park at 8 p.m.

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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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Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ – has it really been 20 years?


I remember the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” like it was yesterday. I was driving on a little country road with my brother, listening to a rock ‘n’ roll station out of San Antonio and this strange song blasted out of my speakers. I was stunned. I didn’t know whether I loved it or hated it. I couldn’t even say exactly what kind of music it was, couldn’t make out all the words. I just knew it was powerful. And it was the first time in ages I had heard anything like real rebellion in a rock song.

It arrived just in time. I had little or no interest in what the top 40 pop stations were playing and had spent the last 5 years or so getting sick and tired of what passed for heavy metal.

Growing up in rural radio hell, metal and hard rock were about as “alternative” as I could get. I heard new wave in the early ’80s and liked it, but punk rock completely passed me by. There were no stations that played it. I asked a classmate in high school once what punk rock was and he thought Kiss might be a punk band — way off. None of us had a clue.

Hard rock and metal seemed rebellious to me at the time, because the songs flouted the norms of the day and because you had to get in the orbit of San Antonio or Corpus Christi to hear it, or hang out with stoner friends. If the preachers didn’t like AC/DC or Van Halen they had to be cool.

Over the years though, rock ‘n’ roll got more and more mainstream and just didn’t satisfy. All the songs about partying and chicks started to come across as bland and boring, awful ballads began to predominate. At some point it became clear that the main point of rock ‘n’ roll had become, not melody, not attitude, but commerce.

I was always jealous of my mom’s generation. Even when it wasn’t obvious, the music back then had a rebellious streak. Songs protested the Vietnam War and mainstream culture, promoted free love and hinted at drug use and pushed musical boundaries. I used to love digging my uncle’s old albums.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a whole class of exciting music being created, from the ’80s through the ’90s. Punk, hardcore, British and American postpunk, industrial. There were bands that pushed the envelope — The Pixies, Mission of Burma, The Meat Puppets, The Minutemen, Butthole Surfers. The thing is, it was all underground. I never heard any of it until years later.

Nirvana took all that stuff that had been bubbling under the surface and created something that was at once familiar and full of hooks — and subversive as hell. Their music was powerful stuff and somehow it managed to crack the mainstream. It changed the way I listened to music, and it changed the music business. Suddenly bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains ruled the airwaves. It made the ’90s into an exciting time for music.

Nothing good lasts forever, alas. Singer Kurt Cobain fought his demons and lost, killing himself in April 1994. And gradually the grunge music revolution ended. Music became less and less exciting and the bands less creative. It was about commerce once again. It’s a shame Kurt wasn’t able to keep it together. His heroin addiction got the best of him and I don’t think he ever came to terms with his popularity. Trying to do something different and underground and having it suddenly turn huge time and again. Wanting to be a rebel and at the same time be a rock star. That plus the heroin — mostly the heroin — did him in.

It’s a damn shame, but I think if he hadn’t been so tormented, he wouldn’t have made the music he did.

We’ve been waiting a long time for another revolutionary figure of his caliber to turn up in music. There is a lot of awesome music out there, but is any band or musician likely to turn everything on its head the way Nirvana did? Is it even possible with the music industry’s current state? Not sure. I’m definitely open to the possibility. In the meantime I reckon I’ll keep digging around in the underground. That’s what gave us Nirvana in the first place, and where the most interesting art and culture has always been.

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The Casualty Process debut EP available for free download

The Casualty Process, my favorite indie rockers from Iran, just released their debut, a 5-song EP called (Un)even. Right now you can download it for free on their website. There’s also a donation button in case you’d like to send a little love their way. Their music, in case you haven’t heard it before, is edgy electronic rock, influenced by the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Apparently the new EP has been quite popular — so popular in fact that the site got overloaded for a while yesterday. Everything seems to be working fine today.

Check out my previous article about The Casualty Process and the related band, The Plastic Wave: Great indie rock from Iran (You didn’t think Iran had any of that did you?)

Also, the Casualty Process is currently on tour in the U.S. (I hope they stop off in Austin at some point). You can see some of their live performances on their Vimeo page.

Here’s a performance featuring Saeid Nadjafi (aka Natch), Shayan Amini, and Shirley Ho in the role previously filled by Iranian female vocalist Maral Afsharian in The Plastic Wave.

The Casualty Process – My Clothes On Other Bodies from The Casualty Process on Vimeo.

 

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Great psych rock from Houston – the Tontons (discovered via Foulpeony)


Great tip from Austin blogger Foulpeony.

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