Category Archives: interview

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, 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:!/stateshirt
You can also find him on Facebook:
And check out the official State Shirt website:


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Filed under electro-pop, indie, indie pop, indie rock, interview, music, Uncategorized

Teen singer/songwriter Josie Charlwood throws Internet for a loop

A couple of years ago when I used to frequent a certain social media/music promotion website, I would occasionally run across submissions by a group of teenagers from England called Escape Route 36.

At first I didn’t pay much attention. Teenagers with a band, how good could that be? But soon I began to notice Josie Charlwood, the female lead singer with the flaming red hair. She could really belt ’em out. It was shocking to hear such a powerful voice coming from such a small package. I thought, this girl is going places.

After hearing some of Josie’s recent solo work, I think I was right. Just 17, Josie is already developing a devoted following on the web with her videos, which demonstrate her use of loop pedals and a powerful set of pipes. Her songs include covers of bands like MGMT and the Gorillaz, as well as originals.

I just interviewed Josie via e-mail and got some great answers:

You’re 17 now, is that correct? How old were you when you realized you had musical talent?

I am indeed 17 at the moment but turn 18 this July. I never touched an instrument until I was around 11 – I have my cousin to thank for that. She’d just got into singing and I wanted to do the same! Instead of buying the karaoke machine I desperately wanted, my Dad insisted he’d teach me the chords to any song I wanted to sing so I could play along on the keyboard. He indeed did this and that is how my interest in piano and singing began.

How did you get involved with Escape Route 36? Can you give me a few details about the band – who the members are, what they’re up to now, etc.?

Escape Route 36 was essentially a project we started in our school days to help inspire all of us in terms of the music. At school I had a tough time with music in general (I think I can speak for the boys too) as we were never really given the encouragement when it came to performance and/or creativity. In contrast to this, the band was a great thing which we all enjoyed and helped me at least get through exams and stuff. The ER36 project started when we were all 14/15. The boys were all from school too and we’re still great friends, even though we’ve taken different paths. I’m not sure if they would all want their names mentioned but I can tell you one’s going into photography as far as I know and one into music production (specialising in Dubstep).

How long did you work with ER36 and when did you start recording solo?

As a band we worked together for around 2 years I think. Things changed when we left school and wanted to concentrate on other things. It was however a great experience for me (and I hope the boys too) and I learnt a lot about performance, arrangements and working as a team on the whole. After the “No Divider” album I obviously wanted to keep recording and experimenting with my originals. The first single was “The Mirror” with two of my good friends sessioning; Dan Hardingham (drums) and Blyss Gould (bass). Shortly after this (and a few other tracks!) I really got into filming for Youtube; this is when solo stuff became more prominent for me.

Why did you decide to use looping and how do you see that process developing as you create new songs?

I first got into looping after being massively inspired by singer-songwriters Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall, both well known names now! I’m all for trying new arrangements and looping was something I’d never tried so I decided to give it a go. People sometimes ask me if I’d had “lessons” as such; this never happened. In fact I bought a BOSS RC-30 loop pedal back in April 2011 and just began experimenting. I paid a lot of attention to how loop artists break their tracks into parts. After a week or so (and some serious practice) I filmed my arrangement of “Electric Feel” by MGMT.

How is working on your own different from being in a band?

It’s very different. When working with a band you have so many ideas to share and compromise with, which always results in new things. You also have people to share the music with and that’s such a good feeling. However, it can also be hard work and a lot harder to arrange compared with a solo gig. With solo rehearsals you can put in as much or little as you want, whereas with a full band everyone has to be fully focused else it won’t go anywhere.

Do you still collaborate and if not is that a possibility for the future? What about working with other musicians?

Of course, I love to work with other musicians! I’ve made tracks like “My Life Begins Now” and “The Mirror” where I’ve done live session work with other musicians and that’s been great. I also have a growing interest in the electronic music industry and have collabed on several tracks with Dubstep/DnB producer Filthzilla, who is a very close friend of mine. Both of these things are ongoing projects and I am always eager to work/share ideas with new musicians.

What has gigging been like? Have you been able to perform live very much? Does your age complicate that because of age restrictions at clubs, etc.?

I love gigs, but in the last year or so have done very little. I’ve sung at a couple of small events but have mainly been concentrating on exams – I’m sitting my A Levels at the moment and want to get this right! There will always be time for gigs in the future. The amount that I’m doing at the moment age isn’t really an issue and I should be 18 by the time I get back into serious gigging.

I understand your parents have been involved in the music business. Could you tell me a bit about that? I think your father sang and is your manager now and your mother also was a singer?

Erm, well Dad [Toby] is now a producer (formally a chartered accountant) and Mum [Annie] a music teacher at the local Primary School. They have both been musicians for a while now, in fact they met through playing in a band together. Dad now runs the independent record label, which all my music is released through.

How did your parents influence you musically?

I think my parents are the reason I’m so into music these days. They have always supported my growing interest, right from the start. Dad essentially taught me most of what I know about harmony and theory and was my main teacher when learning keys. I never really had formal piano lessons. The only instrument tuition I’ve had was singing lessons for just less than a year, a few years back. My parents are still so supportive and I learn new things from them all the time, whether it’s based around guitar, piano, or music technology.

What bands have influenced you most and who are your current favorites?

This is a hard question! I really am into such a wide range of music. For looping, Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall. For songwriting, so many artists inspire me. I’m really into funk and love music from people like Stevie Wonder and bands such as Steely Dan. I’m a great Genesis fan too – we had their albums in the car for a bit when I was younger. In terms of more recent bands I enjoy alternative music such as Porcupine Tree, Bloc Party and Everything Everything. There really are too many artists to list.

Do you have an album in the works?

Indeed I do! It’s on my list of things to get done (alongside my A Level exams and driving test). At the moment it’s more about building my portfolio, especially online – gotta keep the Youtube channel active. However, I am working on an album to hopefully be released this year.

What are your long term plans? Are you going to make a career out of this? Are you thinking of getting signed to a label or would you rather stay independent and release music digitally?

I am definitely looking into a music career whatever the case, but I’m still unsure of what I want to do. I’ve got myself a degree placement in London, beginning this September and plan to come out with a full music degree before I really decide what to do for the future. Until it (hopefully) becomes a career I am in no rush to be signed to any label nor make any money out of my art. However if I could eventually make a living out of what I love, that would be amazing.

It looks like you’ve got a growing fan base on Youtube and recently got some nice attention from Reddit. Is the Internet your primary source of marketing? Do you think you could do this without the Internet?

The internet is definitely the reason my music is “out there.” I’ve been able to build an active online profile essentially from home, whilst still concentrating on my education and other things. It’s great that people are enjoying my music from all over the world! At this age especially, I would not have achieved that otherwise.

I’ve noticed you get a lot of comments about your hair. Is it more pro or con? (Heard enough redhead jokes yet?)

Haha, this is the first time that question’s come up in an interview. I get plenty of redhead jokes, but I don’t mind them. People are always going to find something to comment on, after all. I like the colour of my hair and it makes me more recognisable too! Someone stopped me in a shop in Chichester and said “excuse me, are you Josie Charlwood?” Could just be my point of view but I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened if I were a brunette. Overall I don’t think there are any “cons” to being a redhead, except being terrible at hide and seek.

This cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” may be my favorite performance so far.

She also has some great originals, such as “Better Days.”

I’m kind of glad she didn’t get that karaoke machine.

Josie essentially uses Youtube as her home base. Check out her Youtube page for lots of cool videos. You can find her band page on Facebook.

She distributes music through Bandcamp and iTunes.


Filed under interview, one to watch, pop

Doleful Lions new album update: no more Parasol deal, digital release soon on Jesus Warhol, CD version tba

Last week I interviewed Jonathan Scott of the horror-infused lush pop group The Doleful Lions once again about his upcoming album, Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out of Prison. His plans have changed since the last time I interviewed him in March. At that time, he said the album was nearly finished and would soon be released on the Urbana, Illinois label Parasol Records.

Well… There’s been a change of plans. He just finished the album, but it won’t be coming out on Parasol. He and Parasol had a bit of a falling out, to put it mildly (there is talk of legal action and Jonathan’s brother Robert quit the band out of disappointment with the label) and it will now be released in digital format on the Jesus Warhol label. He still has the option to release a CD on another label and has been shopping it around. He’s got yet another album almost in the can.

Jonathan believes Let’s Break Bobby Beausoleil Out of Prison is the best album of his career. I’ve heard it and I agree it is very very good.

The digital album will be available soon on JWR. I’ll post another update when it’s up.

Since mylast post about the Doleful Lions has been among my most popular – people keep clicking, probably to find out when the album will be out – I figure I owe people an update. And if you haven’t read that post yet, check it out. Jonathan gave me a hell of an interview.

MusicMissionary: So how do people get the digital album?

Jonathan Scott: They can go to and it will be avaliable there really soon, Colin [Colin Lipe, who runs the label] wants to have a try at mastering it and we need to finalize the cover and stuff but it should be up in the next couple of weeks.

MM: Can you tell me about what happened with Parasol in the first place? When we left off it was good to go. You were just waiting to hear back.

JS: Oh yeah that blew up in a big way, I talked to them in january and kind of had it out with them, I just voiced my concerns with them and the guy I was talking to said and I quote, “you are being a cry baby bitch.” Also when I called there the guy that answered didn’t even know who the Doleful Lions were. Mind you I have put out 7 albums with them and been with them for 15 years.”

So I thought we left it good after the argument and we agreed that we would talk and keep in contact, so I e-mail them a couple of weeks later and nothing. Then more time passed and I was getting pissed that they weren’t talking to me. You have to understand about 8 years ago the guy that worked there at the time told me in your next bank statement you will be in the black and we will owe you some money, because of the iTunes and e-music sales, so 8 fucking years go by and no statement no contact practically. So when I started asking some questions, not even “Pay me!” or anything just asking if they were interested in putting out this record, I heard nothing.

On top of the fact that they had not sent me a bank statement in 8 years. I don’t even know how many records we have sold with them, really. I have no clue. So when I didnt hear back from them, I got mad and a little drunk one night and left some pretty angry messages on their Facebook wall. So then they blocked me from their Facebook and never talked to me again, until finally a guy that used to work there was trying to broker something between us. But Parasol basically told me in their last e-mail: you better get a lawyer.

MM: Have they had a personnel change?
JS: Yes massive personnel changes, the people I used to talk to there who I had a good relationship with left.

MM: So where are you now with the album and with the Doleful Lions? I assume you’re not giving up? You don’t seem like the type.
JS: No way haha. I will never give up, I mean I understand why my brother quit it is hard, it is hard to not really have good things happen when you work hard on a record for a year, but what else am I gonna do? I have been doing this for 15 years I already have the next record written I am not gonna let those people at Parasol make me quit, I am gonna get the rights back to my music from them and carry on. I am not stopping, I will probably be 65 and putting out the 20th Doleful Lions record on some unknown format not yet invented.As long as I can write music I will continue making music. I love it too much.

MM: Sounds like a good way to take it.
JS: Even with all this bad stuff, my favorite thing in the whole entire world is sitting down at my 4 track and coming up with stuff and listening back to it and thinking wow that is pretty all right, I still get freaked out when I come up with stuff. I wonder where it comes from. I still feel like that 5 year old kid listening to Kiss 45″ wishing I was Ace Frehley you know?


Update to the update: Jesus Warhol deal is also off. Jonathan just posted the album himself on Bandcamp. You can get the album here.

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Filed under interview, music, Uncategorized

The Chubby Knuckle Choir: roots music from a country that never existed – but should have

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Ever mix foods that don’t sound like they should go together and find out they really really do? Like peanut butter ‘n’ banana sandwiches? Sounded weird at first, but trust me, it’s a combination that was meant to be.

I recently discovered a musical example: The Chubby Knuckle Choir, a band with a funny name and an even stranger combination of styles, with members from Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Elgin, Waco and Liberty Hill.

It’s almost impossible to pin down their sound. Americana doesn’t quite do it. Blues, bluegrass, country, rockabilly, Cajun, R&B, funk… They’re all part of the mix. It’s such a weird combination of styles, but it sounds rootsy and natural, like folk music from a country that never was, but should’ve been.

The band has five members: Rory Smith of Elgin on vocals and percussion; Perry Lowe of Bastrop on percussion; Tres Womack of Waco (formerly of Bastrop) on guitar and vocals; Slim Bawb Pearce of Cedar Creek (by way of Sacramento, California) on mandolin and other stringed instruments and vocals and Dave Gould of Liberty Hill on string bass.

The percussion is a bit unusual, with Rory pounding on congas, scratching on a frottoir (rub board) and at times a Jew’s harp given to him by his Swedish mother-in-law. Perry plays a Brazilian box drum known as a cajón (that doubles as his chair) and an African drum called a djembe.

Each member brings something into the mix — styles, instruments and songs. Tres adds a country music flavor. Slim Bawb adds Louisiana and bluegrass influences (although he’s from California). Rory and Perry contribute R&B, funk and soul. Dave Gould, who also plays in the Watts Brothers Band, brings his skill on the bass fiddle.

“People compare us to the Gourds, but I think we’re more unique,” said Tres, who helped kick start the band. He hosted  an open mic night that featured Rory and a CD release party where both Rory and Perry turned up to sing harmony. They enjoyed working together so much a musical relationship was born. In time they picked up Slim Bawb Pearce and Curtis Farley (the previous bass player).

“Tres, Rory and Perry had been playing together for a while and they needed a picker,” said Slim Bawb. “I played some slide mandolin and we meshed really quickly. It’s fun to play in this band. We have a lot of harmonies and you never know what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of improvising going on.”

Slim Bawb moved to Cedar Creek from Sacramento five years ago. Before he became a transplanted Texan, he spent 20 years with a group called the Beer Dawgs, which was inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

Curtis, who owns Twisted Twig Studio, is still involved with the band on the production end. He came up with the name Chubby Knuckle Choir while poking fun at the musicians’ middle age spare tires and chubby hands. The musicians were having a jam session and singing harmonies. “Curtis was picking on us and said ‘y’all look like a chubby knuckle choir’ and the name stuck,” Rory said.

Rory and Perry chose their percussion instruments for two reasons: 1) their cars weren’t big enough to hold trap sets and 2) they provide rhythm without overwhelming the vocals.

Tres also liked the idea of using those instruments to make the band’s sound more unique, and offset his strong country influence. The frottoir was a nod to Slim Bawb’s Cajun influence.

“What makes it work is we all like each other,” Rory said.

The Chubby Knuckle Choir has had its share of local success, performing at South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They have also opened for Austin musician Guy Forsyth, former member of the Asylum Street Spankers at Nutty Brown Café outside of Dripping Springs.

Most of the time they perform at the Lumberyard in downtown Bastrop or in Quoffer’s in Elgin, but they also play in other venues around the state and are slated to play in Elgin’s Hogeye Festival next October.

They are not trying to become a national act — although they are open to possibilities if they somehow strike it big. “We’re all at that age where we have responsibilities,” Rory said. “Perry has a couple of toddlers. If we get a following that’s great, but  it’s not on the agenda. We just love what we do.”

The band is working on songs for the debut studio album, which should be finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can buy CDs of their 11-track album “Live at the Lumberyard” for $10. E-mail

The Chubby Knuckle Choir’s next show is at the Lumberyard is 8 p.m. Friday, June 10. The band will perform at Quoffer’s at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 23.

This one may be my favorite:


These are quite impressive as well:


It’s Always Something

The Live Experience

I caught the tail end of one of their shows at Quoffer’s bar in Elgin and went to see them again a few weeks ago in Bastrop in a really cool venue called the Lumberyard (it actually used to BE a lumberyard).

The audience was a mix of old and young who from time to time got up and danced. The band obviously a small but dedicated following (that recently grew by one).

Their set list featured some great original songs, along with some inspired covers. “Freakshow,” “It’s Always Something” “Farmer’s Tan” and “Ethylene” were among my favorite originals.

They did excellent covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the gospel standard “Jesus on the Mainline” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Venue owner Jeff Brister joined the band on trumpet during “Ya Ya.”

Another highlight was Storytelling, a band tradition. Band members take turns telling stories from one concert to the next. The stories are supposed to be true. Rory told one about raccoons taking up residence in his attic.

Every story ends with “and I heard a song on the radio,” followed by a cover song. The one that night was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Never expected to hear a bluegrass version of that, but it really worked.

Very entertaining live show. I’ve been looking for a band to fill the empty place in my soul left by the breakup of the Asylum Street Spankers and I may have finally found it – right in my back yard.

Check out The Chubby Knuckle Choir Reverbnation page for announcements of upcoming shows.

And here’s a sample of their live performance:


Filed under alt-country, blues, country, folk, indie, interview, live show, one to watch, r&b, review, roots, Uncategorized, world music

Pure art: Joanne Gabriel and the true meaning of success

When I think of pure art for art’s sake, one of the first people I think of is a young woman from France named Joanne Gabriel. I met her in the good old days of TheSixtyOne when fans and artists could actually get to know one another and become friends.

She is extraordinarily prolific. Some of what she produces are songs in the traditional sense. Others I would describe as flowing ambient soundscapes, full of texture, the kind of music that makes you feel and dream.

Many of her songs feature wordless vocals and she has a lovely voice. She isn’t trying to get famous, she’s just doing what feels right to her. She isn’t afraid to experiment and just play what comes naturally.

Joanne also puts out music under the name Caterwauler and makes “catcore” music featuring her cat Mojo. Mojo sounds scary and makes my little flowerdog growl 😉

I recently interviewed Joanne and learned some interesting things about her craft — and other things, like what a “belly name” is.

She has a ton of songs and albums available for free on Bandcamp. This is a good one, featuring a couple of my favorites — “So Be It” and “The Other Side.”

Artistic schizophrenia? 

MusicMissionary: Why do you release some songs as Joanne Gabriel and some songs as Caterwauler? Are you joined by other musicians as Caterwauler or is it for aesthetic reasons?

Joanne Gabriel: Artistic schizophrenia? For me the answer is not as simple as you could think. I took the artist name Joanne Gabriel when I started playing solo gigs. I felt I needed an artist name to help me playing the role of the-best-of-myself on stage, because I was shy and not very self-confident. Gabriel was my “belly name” : a kind of tradition in my family was to give the babies a name they would keep throughout the pregnancy time, until they were born and got their real name.

Everyone thought I was a boy, they called me Gabriel, teased me with this story when I was a kid, and I took the name back when I was older. Then I wrote my first songs and played them live. Soon the audience started to consistently make comparisons, and it was daunting. For instance they screamed “Hallelujah” for the curtain call. I’ve always found Jeff Buckley very impressive. They also called me Archangel Gabriel.

It was quite embarrassing and someday I felt I couldn’t take the responsibility for this comparison anymore and changed my name for Caterwauler. I also refocused on the kind of indie stuff I was performing in band before discovering improvisation. So maybe changing names increased my artistic schizophrenia. I was looking for my style and didn’t know how to handle the disparity of my tastes in my own music.

I guess at some point I was confused enough to split my songs into two categories as if I had two distinct styles or musical personalities. It took me some time to realize my work was a whole and that this way of doing things reflected deeper things than the will of splitting experimental and indie stuff into two different projects. It was all about self-confidence, accepting myself as an artist and accepting how people perceived me.

I took my Joanne Gabriel name back in 2009, released some of the many songs I had kept for myself until then on, and the feedback and support I got there helped me a lot to cure my schizophrenia. I even realized my experimental stuff tended to be more successful than the songs I was proud of/satisfied with…

So at the moment I think I’m done with the Caterwauler project, but who knows… I like aliases anyway, and borrowing names to attempt things I wouldn’t do otherwise.

MM: Are you joined by other musicians as Caterwauler or is it for aesthetic reasons?

JG: No, I’ve stopped working with other musicians (meaning as a band or on a regular basis) when my 7th drummer left the band some years ago.

Well, that’s not exactly how it happened but I was really bored of spending months working on a project then having to start from scratch again because one of the musicians left. So I decided to become self-sufficient, bought crap e-drums, and started recording my stuff on my own while pretending my skills on all instruments were high enough to do so. No aesthetic reasons, but with time I got to like this way of working, at least this avoids incomprehension and conflicts.

MM: I gather that at least at first, you did sort of use the two names Joanne Gabriel and Caterwauler to separate your music by style. My impression from a sampling your offerings on Bandcamp is that your Gabriel material is a bit more experimental and your Caterwauler stuff has more traditional song structures. Is that accurate?

JG: Yes, at least for the stuff I’ve released. The categorization is much less coherent in my private folders on my computer. Sometimes I had issues deciding what project a track belonged to, and in the end it happened more and more frequently. I’ve even released some of my tracks under one name then changed my mind later and put the song into an album released under the other name.

For instance “Opening all gates” was first released as a Caterwauler song. That’s why the video my friend Viktor Alexis made for it is still tagged Caterwauler, though the song is featured in a Joanne Gabriel album. It’s a quite experimental track. And I have tons of tracks I’ve never released that don’t clearly belong to a category.

All the Introspection albums for example : they are raw compositions, written like a diary or photographs of my everyday life, and I never meant to release them. So I don’t even know in what folder I should put them. There are 7 Introspection albums : sounds, structures and level of experimentation correspond to the mood I was in when I wrote the songs. Some album sessions lasted a few days or a few weeks, others a few months.

Most of the tracks I’ve released online belonged to a session before being gathered in an album. “Excerpts from the lost opuses” is a collection of the most successfully completed tracks of 7 or 8 sessions. The only albums that are the result of a dedicated session are “Almighty” and “The battle for the return of mirth and goodness” (the latter one has never been released).

Lately I’ve realized I tended to categorize my stuff not according to the structures or the genres but rather to the emotions. Some tracks, like “Won’t anyone save me” had a “Caterwauler structure” but a “Joanne Gabriel emotion.” Soon it became impossible to keep this logic when I put together an album. Now I almost always work according to themes or topics.

When a theme inspires me, I create a folder on my computer, give it a name that will become the title of the album, and when a track suits the theme in terms of emotion I put it in the folder. This way, I can open several sessions at the same time and work on several themes. It’s much more convenient and less confusing than releasing stuff under two names.

Here’s one from her alter-ego Caterwauler — there are quite a few of those as well:

Music: the language of emotion

MM: A lot of your music I would classify as “dark” as well as quite lovely. Does your music provide a kind of catharsis for those feelings? (It’s interesting because you come across as very cheerful in conversation.)

JG: Thanks. For me, making music and writing songs is a compulsive thing. There is a catharsis, but most times it’s not the purpose. The purpose is the feelings, the emotions. They’re like a second language, a universal language. Emotions and feelings are the same all over the world. Sound is a perfect vehicle for emotions.

To play their role as a language, touch the listeners and deliver their message, emotions have to be fully rendered. Therefore they have to be fully (and genuinely) felt. I’ve learnt not to conceal my feelings while performing music : on the contrary, I use them. In a way, music is the frame and emotions are the colours.

The wider the emotional range is, the more heartfelt the music is, the more chances you have to make contact with a listener. It happens when someone identifies something he has felt himself someday, or when the emotion is compelling enough to echo in someone’s heart. Transmitter to receiver ; you just have to be tuned on the same frequency.

Feeling low or depressed doesn’t prevent me from being inspired, and as lack of inspiration is the only thing that stops my compulsive writing, my tracks reflect my feelings. On a few occasions I’ve deliberately rekindled some dark feelings to arouse catharsis. Also, in order to be more convincing when writing with directions given by a collaborator, or for a film soundtrack.

I’ve sought catharsis with songs about nightmares and agoraphobia. But mostly, my tracks seize the moment.

Musical influences 

MM: Who are some of your biggest influences musically?

JG: Influences, hehe. I like that you specify “musically” There are tons of artists who influence me, and the way they influence me and the impact they have vary. I have “phases.”

To name a few I never grow tired of : Jeff Buckley, who’s been very important for the shaping of my vocal approach and also for my solo performances in gigs. Sunny Day Real Estate, Trail Of Dead, The Waterboys, Swervedriver, NIN, The Dead Can Dance, early Genesis, Simple Minds until “Street Fighting Years”…

Howard Shore’s soundtrack for The Lord Of The Rings also played a big role, and I regularly listen to U2 and Fear Factory. Otherwise I’m fond of gospel and negro spiritual, and Schubert’s Ave Maria always moves me.

These are the biggest ones but many unknown musicians and friends also deserve to be called influences at some point.

The true meaning of ‘success’

MM: Do you hope to someday earn a living from music so that you don’t have to have a day job?

JG: No

MM: What sort of success have you had getting your music out to the public?

JG: have no clue what sort of success I’ve had. I’m not even sure how to define success. Once I was playing a gig and there was this punk guy, pretty drunk and laughing all the time. It was an open-air concert, in the street, and it was probably the only reason that made him stay.

I started a song, and suddenly he stopped, began listening, and moved closer to the stage. His facial expression changed. The smile disappeared and I found myself looking him right in the eye. He was listening to my lyrics very carefully (he was probably the only native English speaker in the audience).

Then I could read “you’re crazy” on his lips while he was making the cuckoo sign. In this song I was addressing to all the persons I had loved in my life and who had died. Obviously it touched him more than he expected to. I finished my concert, talked with a few persons in the audience…

He was sitting on the floor and was crying. I left him alone (I had noticed he was drinking a lot during the concert and I guessed it added to his turmoil). But I saw him later, just before leaving.

He said : “Thank you, you’ve touched me. I’ve been moving from places to others for a very long time, I have no ties, but you made me feel like settling down. I was trying to escape but now I want to face the things that scare me. But I don’t know how to do it…”

I was really moved. I took his hand, and I told him : “Just do it, you’re strong enough to do it.” There was nothing else I could do or say. He was expecting this answer, he needed it, and at that moment I was the one who was supposed to deliver it. When I left he looked relieved.

I think that was the moment when I realized the importance of the messages an artist can send to his audience, and the responsibility he has. I never knew what happened to this guy after the gig but this encounter has left its mark on me.

When someone asks me a question about my “success,” the first things that come to my mind are this anecdote and a few others, like people coming to me after a performance, with tears in their eyes, saying “thank you” and vanishing in the crowd, or just hugging me.

I guess that’s what success is for me: being able to make contact with a listener so we understand each other and share something. Even if it seldom happens, with only a few persons, and lasts a very short time.

Soundtrack works

MM: I understand some of your music has been used in soundtracks?

JG: Yes. I first provided Viktor Alexis with songs he used in his films, then he introduced me to his friends Chicken Chris and Jean-David Izambard, and I worked with them. They are still regular collaborators : they “pay” me by making videos for my tracks from time to time. Most of the songs they featured were created before the films though.

So far the only soundtrack I specially wrote was for Chicken Chris’s short film Welt, a sci-fi fantasy tale. It was a great experience. I also recorded several tracks for Viktor Alexis’s adaptation of Le Horlà, but he kept only one for the actual soundtrack.

Lately, Annie Huntley featured a collaborative track with Softspace in videos aiming at increasing public awareness of endangered species, like the Orange-bellied parrots. Annie is studying a Masters of Natural History Film-Making, and she’s extremely committed to protecting wildlife in Australia. I’m delighted this could happen. Having my music featured in wildlife documentaries is an achievement, and the fact it’s endangered species means a lot to me.

Also, “Loin du regard” has been used in a very poignant short film by Will Sheridan, and Stéphane Piter asked me to cover Walking In The Air by Howard Blake for a fan project on Michael Mann’s film The Keep.

Studio vs. Live

MM: How often do you play live and how does your live music differ from what you produce in the studio?

JG: My last live performance was for a “Headphones Festival” in 2008. At the moment I don’t play live at all. When I was at my peak in term of frequency, I was playing live at least twice per month, at most four times. Regarding the difference between live music and what is produced in the studio, it totally depends on the kind of band or project I play in. I’ve played indie rock, punk, metal stuff with bands and it sounded pretty much like what was written in the first place.

But I’ve also performed a lot of solo gigs, and there was a large part of improvisation. So each time I played it was a different version of the produced songs. Most of the music I perform alone is improvisation based, even when I record. I change the patterns of my effects pedals all the time and never remind to note them down, so I never have exactly the same effects when I perform a song. And for some tracks, I don’t even define a structure before recording.

I already tended to record this way when I put together my very first tracks with a multitrack recorder. Later I attended an improvisation course in the Conservatoire of Nancy for one year, and it almost became a rule. If the improvisation fails and I’m not satisfied with the track, I simply put it aside and record another one. Now I’m digging a new way of performing live. I used to play with two looping pedals, build vocal and guitar loops in real time and play different versions of already existing songs or improvise new ones.

For the kind of stuff I’ve recorded lately, I would need more than two loopers and I still have to figure out how to bring in more instruments. I have to try a few things and see what I can handle.

FAWM = great way to kill writer’s block

MM: Could you tell me what FAWM is and why you participate in it? FAWM = February Album Writing Month. It’s a challenge where you have to write 14 songs in 28 days. The first time I participated was in 2008. It was only for the challenge.

I hadn’t recorded anything for a very long time and thought a deadline would help me. The same year I also participated in 50-90, 50 songs in 90 days. That’s a lot, but that’s what made me discover the concept of the “second wind”, which is the answer to the second part of your question.

To explain what I mean I will simply quote a blog post I’ve made after last FAWM:

“The second wind is one of the most pleasant and awesome things I’ve experienced throughout my creative course.I would take part in this kind of challenges only to get the second wind. Many musicians are skeptical about the validity of events like FAWM where you have to force creativity and, on top of that, have a deadline.

“For my part I love the process, because you have to let loose. When I start a FAWM my aim is not to write 14 good songs ; it’s to write songs, even crap songs, so as to put aside all the things that block my inspiration.

“When at last I manage to get rid of all the useless considerations, like ‘is there a better way to play this?’, ‘should I really submit a song that shows how poor my drumming skills are?’ and so on; when I stop spending hours on a song I don’t like because I have no clue how to make it sound better, and when I give up trying to force myself to write songs that are “different” and don’t sound like me; then comes the second wind: inspiration is here, near at hand, simple and natural, the songs flow because somehow the lesson has been learned and the way I should work is accepted.”

Mojo and the Catcore revolution 

MM: Hey you know what? I just realized I’m not done with the interview. You have to tell me about Mojo the Cat.

JG: Haha, Mojo the Cat! Indeed it was missing. Here’s my attempt to answer but I confess it’s really tough to explain, especially in English (I still have issues explaining it in my native language).

Well, as you may guess he’s my cat. I got him and his brother Prâna when they were only one month old, and I had to replace their mother (Mojo couldn’t feed by himself).

They grew up with instruments all around them and were accustomed to music. I had this bad habit : I never cut my guitar strings ends, and at some point Prâna used to spend 20 minutes a day “playing the guitar” ; he seized a string end with his claws, held it with his teeth and released it so it would hit the other strings above the nut and produce a tinkling. He also “sang” while I was playing the guitar, and looked pretty inspired when the song used a D chord. At that time I found this funny, I recorded him but never went further. Mojo wasn’t interested in the guitar and didn’t sing at all.

It all began after I lost Prâna a few years ago. I used a sample of Mojo’s babbling in a Caterwauler song then played it to him. I didn’t really pay attention to his reaction, but soon after he started pestering me each time I was recording vocals. He whined, pulled at my trousers, and stopped only when I gave up.

I thought he hated my voice (quite appalling). One day during FAWM 2009 (my second one), I was chatting with my FAWM friend Kevin Reid and we were exchanging old songs. I sent him a few cat samples and he asked me if he could use one. I said “yes of course, but you have to credit Mojo on FAWM.”

On the site you can credit a collaborator and link to his profile. I created a profile for Mojo The Cat, at first with no other purpose than the joke, but soon the idea grew on my mind. I recorded a short track, trying to be as feline as possible in my approach, looped some babbling and pasted them in it. That was the first Mojo song.

Comments poured on the site, they were hilarious and I took a liking to the joke. I completed the challenge with over 14 “catcore” tracks. Only Kevin knew I was behind the profile until I released a collaborative track between me and Mojo at the end of the month. “I would trade all my catnip for chicken wings” was a very important track, it changed the whole project into something serious because it was the first time Mojo took part willingly… and live.

He had spent the whole month listening to the tracks I was producing with his babbling, enjoyed listening and stayed close to me the whole time, providing me with more meows, purring that I immediately used in new tracks… So in the end I really paid attention to everything he did while I was putting together the tracks, trying to guess if he liked them or not, putting him on the keyboards to get nice cat solos or presenting him the mic with the hope of being able to record him in real time.

I guess the process of hearing his voice in different musical structures excited his interest. He’s very smart and he also loves playing to the gallery. The catnip song opened a door for us. I found his reaction intriguing and wanted to see more. He obviously understood the process of recording, the purpose of microphones and loved listening to himself.

After FAWM 2009, the project largely evolved, turning into a real experiment on the one hand, and a completely new artistic approach on the other hand.

During the treatment of Mojo’s voice in songs, I realized a cat’s voice suits music perfectly : it is deep and warm, strange and beautiful, especially when some reverb or delay effects are applied to it. Also, a collaboration with an individual who hasn’t got the same language as me, the same capacities as me, but who can get involved in an activity so that we share something and have fun together is an amazing thing to do.

Moreover we both learn and acquire, be it techniques or behaviours. When he hears himself he winks (it’s one of the things he does when he’s happy), and sometimes he sings while a track is playing. I sing the catnip song for him from time to time, a capella, and he answers me like in the original recording. It’s stunning. During FAWM 2010 Mojo forced me to “lend” him several songs that didn’t belonged to his project and recorded vocals for alternate versions. In FAWM 2011 he hacked one of my songs by singing live on it during the recording.

These are some of the many reasons that turned the Mojo project into a big thing, but there are others. On FAWM several persons copied the process and posted catcore tracks featuring their cats.

The feedback we got there was very interesting, as people reported they played Mojo’s songs to their pets.. They also said that their cats were either conquered, either scared, but all appeared to be responsive to Mojo’s music. Besides, Mojo’s new brother Mantra often tries to copy his brother and to reproduce the same meows when he hears one of his songs. Maybe it’s a new form of music for pets? I’m still experimenting from this point of view.

At the moment I’m trying to adapt the project to the gained capacity to record Mojo live instead of looping samples, and to his tastes. I seriously think about shooting videos to witness his behaviour.

Since I recorded his first own tracks he completely stopped pestering me when I record vocals. Sometimes he claims the mic (and I seize the opportunity) but he usually leaves me alone when I work outside his project style, unless he really likes the song and feels like contributing.

The way I feel towards him and the music I make for him is a little strange: I feel like I’m a kind of tool, an extension for his creativity. I perform what he can’t perform by himself due to physical incapacity, assuming he would perform this kind of things if he could. Musically, he’s not responsive to everything. He enjoys experimental stuff and loves indie tunes with coloured harmonies. Otherwise it depends on his mood. I could define him as a punk-hipster cat, though he’s very wise in the everyday life and looks more like an Aristocat.

Most probably he’s a genius on the cats scale, the kind who opens doors, vanishes when he hears us calling the vet, can count (as long as it’s the number of chicken wings he is allowed to eat) and even knows a few words (french equivalents of “mum”, “no”, “yes”, “lamb”, “up”, “meat” and “I love you”). When my mother calls me he rushes in the room as soon as he hears the ringing. She always asks to speak to him and he purrs in the speaker and rubs against the phone. Animals can be very intelligent, you can teach them a lot of things and if you pay attention you can develop their creativity as well.

The last thing I will say about this project is an anecdote that moved me a lot. During last FAWM, I got this message on my wall from a fellow fawmer, Max: “You know what, Foppe (copycat) left the house December 1st on a freezing cold day and never returned. 13 years old, always on my lap and we don’t know what happened. I’m so happy I did that track last year with him, it means a lot to me now. Without you and Mojo I would only have the pictures of our dear family member, now I’ve got a song with him. Thank you for that.”

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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.


“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.


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

Amarillo native Kevin Fowler rocks the country wordplay

Country music isn’t my main music, but it’s definitely in the mix. Amarillo native Kevin Fowler is one of the reasons. He writes songs with an awesome twist that all the best country songs have. Great wordplay, stories and humor. “Don’t Touch My Willie,” a song about not letting a girl play his Willie Nelson CD on the first date, is just classic. I have heard he also puts on a great, high energy show. I’m about to find out for myself on Saturday. I interviewed him for an article in the Dec. 8 Elgin Courier, and he comped me a couple of tickets. I can’t wait. Details on the blog afterward of course.

Courier article is posted below:

Country singer Kevin Fowler to rock Coupland Dance Hall, Dec. 11

Country singer Kevin Fowler has played his share of big venues, but it was the small dance hall that kickstarted his career. Fowler will perform at the Old Coupland Dancehall on Saturday, Dec. 11 as part of his Deck the Dance Halls holiday tour. Doors open at 8 p.m.

“That’s one of the bars we started out at,” he said in a Friday interview. “Coupland was one of the first places to give me a chance. For the holidays, we wanted to go to all the dance halls where we started.

“When I was a kid growing up in Amarillo, my dad  listened to Buck Owens and we watched Hee Haw on Saturday nights on TV,” Fowler said. “I grew up in a country household.”

Fowler, who played with the Austin-based heavy metal band Dangerous Toys for a while in the ’90s, is known for his rockin’ attitude as well as his knack for a clever turn of a phrase, with such hits as “Don’t Touch My Willie,” “Ain’t Drinkin’ Anymore,” and “Cheaper to Keep Her.”

As he grew up, Kevin started playing in bands and began looking for his own music. He was drawn to rock bands like AC/DC and Van Halen.

He still loves rock ‘n’ roll and says he went to see Judas Priest perform twice in recent years. “When I go to a concert, I want to see a show,” he said. “Rock bands know how to put on a live show.”

For that reason, Fowler wanted his country band “to have a really rockin’ edge to it. Into that soup, throw a little country.”

At the same time, he can’t resist the urge to write songs with stories and wordplay — the kind of songs country is known for. “Country music is really about the lyrics,” he said. “Rock is more about the melody. A lot of times you can’t really understand the words.”

As he started out his career, Fowler became a guitar player for hire and performed both country and rock. “I became dedicated to becoming a songwriter,” he said. “It was a slow evolution to try and find my own thing.” Fowler said the high energy country that he became known for “just turned out to be the songs I wrote.” Fowler likes the diversity he finds in today’s country music scene.

“Nowadays, country is kind of a catch-all for different kinds of music. It’s changed. You don’t have to be Merle Haggard. Anything goes in country music nowadays. That’s kind of cool.”Fowler said he loves the Texas music scene. “It’s all about the fans in Texas. Going to a show, it’s a very one-on-one relationship with the fans and musicians. The fans get to hang around and get autographs,” he said. “You don’t really do that with a lot of the national country artists.”

Texas also lets him put out the kind of music he wants to make. “You can do your own thing down here,” he said. “Anything goes as long as it’s good.”

Fowler released a collection called Best of… So Far on Dec. 7. It features 18 tracks, including four previously unreleased songs. He also has a studio album in the can, which will be released sometime next spring.

Edit: I see a lot of people searching their way into this article and they might want to know how the show was. Here’s my follow-up from after the show.

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Filed under country, interview, Uncategorized