Why: Gregg Gillis is going to make the crowd dance. As Girl Talk, Gillis masterfully integrates multiple songs from multiple artists from multiple genres into a single track. In fact, his last album, All Day, consists of nearly 400 samples. Because of the diverse, complex nature of Girl Talk’s tracks, everyone in the Float Fest crowd can expect to hear at least one familiar tune during his set, but it will be likely in a way they have never heard it before.
Fun Fact: The City of Pittsburgh, Gillis’s hometown, declared December 7, 2010 “Gregg Gillis Day.”
What: Dreamy Pop-Electronica
Where: Sun Stage
When: Saturday from 10:10 – 11:25
Why: Passion Pit is a socially conscious band that knows how to have fun. What’s not to love? Earlier this year, Passion Pit released their new album on Twitter in exchange for retweets that supported the #WeNeedScience Campaign, but it will officially be released next week. At the beginning of the month, the band tweeted out that the proceeds from the album will be going to the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research.
Fun Fact: Passion Pit’s first EP, Chunk of Change, was originally created as a Valentine’s Day gift for Michael Angelakos’s girlfriend.
What: Guitar Heavy Rock Trio
Where: Sun Stage
When: Sunday from 3:15 – 4:00
Why: UME’s frontwoman, Lauren Larson, is bringing her incredible stage presence to this year’s Float Fest. Despite her small size, she manages to fill stages with her ferocious guitar playing and strong vocals. When she was younger, Larson taught herself how to play the guitar. Now, she’s teaching other young girls to unleash their inner rocker through Girls Rock Camp in Austin.
Fun Fact: UME appeared on the South By Southwest episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.
What: Electronic Rock / Psychedelic Pop
Where: Water Stage
When: Sunday from 7:15 – 8:30
Why: MGMT is back! After waiting for over four years, we are finally getting new music from MGMT. Although Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have yet to announce a release date, they tweeted that their fourth album is complete. It is highly likely that MGMT will play some new tracks along with previous hits to mellow you out before high-energy artists, Cage the Elephant and Weezer.
Fun Fact: Sir Paul McCartney chose MGMT to open for him back in 2009.
What: Nerdy Rockers
Where: Water Stage
When: Sunday from 9:45-11:00
Why: Weezer is another Float Fest band with an album on the way. The group recently released their first single, “Feels Like Summer,” off of the upcoming Black Album. Weezer’s songs as well as performance are a perfect match to the fun vibe of Float Fest. This will be especially noticeable when the band plays one of their many hits from the past two decades.
Before an incredible performance at Stubbs in Austin Texas, JamFeed sat down with lead vocalist Kyle Morris and discussed all things music, song writing in the shower, and how the band transformed to what it is today.
From Forth Worth, TX. The original two piece duo (now expanding to a five piece) has been around since 2013, with the release of their first EP ‘Follow My Feet’. The band is back in the spotlight with their newly release EP ‘Bed of Liars’.
Upon arrival at Stubb’s BBQ Friday night, I was instantly taken to the back where I was greeted welcomely by the band. We all exchanged names while lead vocalist Kyle and I informally distributed a secret handshake upon first meeting. We sat down on one of the couches that hugged the wall and began chatting. Our conversation remained casual, as we spent the first 15 minutes just talking about one another. Within first impression, I was able to foretell how genuine of a soul Kyle is and how his personality shines write though his lyrics and music.
It wasn’t until about twenty minutes in when I decided I would finally record our conversations and construct an actual interview.
So, it was you who started the band?
Kyle: Yes, it was me and that one.
(Points to Cole eating at the table. He gives a head nod)
Kyle: We met in Keller and started the band. We basically were just an acoustic duo and had no clue how to play music. We were only seventeen and this was our first band. We had NO clue what we were doing but for some reason, we decided we were going to take it all the way. We basically were like, “Lets get huge, and make this happen!”
Did you even know how to play guitar?
Kyle: (laughs) No, we were SO bad! We didn’t know anything about time signatures. We would create songs that would slow down then speed up and then slow down again. It felt like nothing I was doing really connected. It wasn’t melodic. It was just terrible. But for some reason, there was something good enough that we kept investing 4-5 hours a day for years.
What would you do if you weren’t in music?
Kyle: Ah, I don’t know. I started out trying to go into business. I then switched to psychology and then to english. Eventually, I just dropped out to pursue music. It’s a tough question. I just honestly don’t know what I’d do without music.
(Kyle and I grew a little deeper (and a little off topic) with our conversation. He shared with me, his sister’s career path and how she’s helping the world by contributing to projects that build schools in undeveloped parts of India. We talked about all the beautiful, empathic people in our world that dedicate their whole life to helping humanity. This then drafted the next question.)
Do you feel your music helps the world?
Kyle: Yeah, I think so. I can’t remotely compare it to what some people do. I feel more like I can help people on a day to day basis by texturizing the emotions in their own life. Music is extremely cathartic to almost everybody.
Has anyone ever mentioned how your music helped them?
Kyle: Oh yeah. On my first EP, I wrote stuff that was extremely relatable about what it meant to be a human being. I asked a lot of extraterrestrial questions that individuals responded to. I had some pretty intense fans. A lot of them would have issues in their own life and always responded with a positive remark. I once had this big, biker guy approach me in Philly and say: ‘I just wanted to tell you, I was about to end my life but then I heard ‘Follow My Feet’ and I’m still here’ And he then shook my hand and just disappeared.
I was awestruck. The song I wrote in the shower in 15 minutes changed someones life!
Wait, you wrote it in the shower?
Kyle: (laughing) I did, yeah! I ran naked from the shower, sliding on the wood and tile, trying to get it recorded and written down. Only time that’s ever happened.
And do you think it’s the best song you’ve written?
Kyle: I think so. It was just the best advice I gave myself and I still come back to it all the time.
So, I noticed you currently only have two EPs. Do you not like full length albums?
Kylie: Music is just consumed at an exponentially rate now. Ep’s are almost just like fodder for singles. I’d rather just release little pieces that people can really dig into and love. Then, move onto the next thing.
Your new EP is different Were you reaching for a different style? Is there any style of music you’d like to write?
Kyle: We don’t have a genre really. We pretty much do whatever we want. We’ll write any song that sounds good. I don’t like putting anything off limits. If I like a genre and I write a song that sounds good, I’ll probably use it. A good song is a good song. I don’t want to write one song over and over because that would be the smarter thing to do. That gets boring and people can tell. I’d rather write something I like. We were just trying new things out on the new album and enjoyed what we produced.
(The rest of our time talking became totally informal as we just talked about life once again)
When 10:30 hit, the band hit the indoor stage at Stubbs. They opened their set with their hit single off their new EP ‘Your Love Could Start A War’. The packed room was spiked with energy, as they danced and sang along. The rest of the evening followed with a jumping mix of songs from both EPs before closing up with ‘Follow My Feet’; the fifteen minutes shower- made song that has found a place in everybody’s heart.
It was a sad departure but fortunately, Austin’s SXSW music convention will have the band following their feet back in town for six more shows before they depart on a cross country tour.
It’s been three long years, but now Band of Heathens returns to the spotlight with the release of their new record “Duende”.
Undoubtably, there is no better place to experience a band than in the the comfort of their hometown and an addition to that, no better place to conduct an interview than one of the starting dates of their upcoming tour. Thursday night, we were able to sit down with the two founding members and talk about Duende, their travels, and all things rock-n-roll.
It was 5:30 when I arrived at the Austin’s Mohawk. Walking in, I was greeted by several friendly faces and hands before a formal introduction to Ed Jurdi and Gordi Quist; lead vocals and guitar for the Austin band. Their southern hospitality glowed as I reached my palm out and made my own introduction.
We scaled a few sets of steps and found ourselves a quiet, little oasis away from the sound checks and background noises of fans entering the venue. We grabbed a corner seat, exchanged smiles, and proceed on.
So, How’s it feel to be in Austin Again?
Gordy: It’s nice, it’s been a long couple months. It’s good to have a home town show.
It’s been 3 years, right, since you last album?
Gordy: Since the last album, yeah.
And do you believe this is your best album yet?
Gordy: I think so. We always kinda think that when we make it. If we didn’t think that, we’d probably keep working on it. Ya know, you’re always trying to out do what you did before. I think we definitely made some new discoveries.
I love the title you chose. It’s awfully beautiful. Who came up with it?
Ed: We talked about it for a while. It kind of became a mission statement working with the record. We tried to dig down as deep as we could and find our purpose. We were just really trying to find where we’re going.
You think one word was enough to define it all?
Ed: Well, with anything else, that was a good compass. You start following the trail and it does different things. It was just a good jumping off point.
You’ve been through many line-up changes. Do you feel that has effected your sound at all?
Gordy: Yeah, the line-up changes happened 4-5 year ago. This band has been going as this unit for awhile now. But yes, definitely. Everyones personality of the band shapes the band. So when that changes, there is always a shift. But this band, for the past few years, has been honing in on the sound we have now.
Do you think this is the sound you’re set with for the future?
Ed: I’m not sure. I think it’s a good template to work from as a starting point. I don’t think we have ever set on anything as being a sound. It all comes down to the song. Whenever the songs comes in, it kinda dictates what happens.
Do you all contribute to songwriting?
Ed: Yeah, some of that. Some stuff is the whole band, and some stuff is more individually based. It’s a little bit of all the piles.
Do you have a favorite song?
Ed: Ummmm, I don’t really. We sort of make the records as albums. We look at them as a whole piece. If we take anything out of it, it would make it a different experience.
Gordy: Yah, it’s like if someone told you to pick your favorite child. It would be impossible, right? (laughs) Maybe not. They’re all cool in different ways. All the songs have a special place on the record.
Ya’ll have been abroad a couple times, do you get as big of an audience out there?
Ed: Yeah, it’s nice. It’s a totally different vibe over there. The people are quite a bit, more reserved. But audiences are really nice and respectful. They have great listening crowds in Europe.
Do you have a favorite place?
Ed: Amsterdam. It’s just an amazing city; It just the right size. It’s not too big, it’s not too small. You can navigate around it on foot, on a bicycle or on public transportation. The restaurants are great, there are great cafes, and museums are amazing.
Just the people. The people are very friendly and contribute a pleasant vibe to the city.
Over the years, we’ve probably spent a couple weeks there in total and always enjoyed it.
If you never did music, do you know where you’d end up?
Ed: Thats a good question. (takes a moment to ponder) Um, I honestly have never thought about it too often because I haven’t done anything else. At a young age, I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Gordy: I never had a false sense of security in whatever I was doing. There are always what ifs, but our mentality isn’t like that.
Anything you’d like to add?
Ed: I think we’re just really excited about this record and excited about playing this music with people. The band is in a really good spot right now.
Fast forwarding a few hours later, Band of Heathens sauntered on stage as cheers of delight exhaled through the voices of eager, Texan fans. The evening soundtrack was full of tunes from new and past albums; Debuting everything from “L.A Country Blues” from ‘One Foot In The Ether’ to ‘Hurricane’ from ‘Top Hat Crown & The Clapmasters’ to tunes from their new record like ‘Trouble Came Early’ and ‘All I’m Asking’. With each shift of song and vibe shadowed from the melody, the crowd transitioned back and forth from dancing to softly embracing.
The band continues on their tour performing a few more Texas dates before embarking up north and eventually traveling over to our neighbors across the pond.
Gazing amongst the countless construction cranes and newly built condos that clutter the skyline (or half-built condos, for that matter), it ain’t hard to tell that times are changing down in Austin, Texas.
What used to be a mid-sized college town and state capital is now the 11th largest city in the country, and the fastest growing big city by a fairly substantial margin. Austin is in the midst of a legitimate metropolitan boom, and everybody seems to want a piece of the next hottest thing the Lone Star State has to offer.
With an estimated 110 new residents moving to Austin per day, one need only try to navigate the city during rush hour to realize how perpetually backlogged the traffic has become. It didn’t always used to be this way.
“Do you remember when it used to be that if you’re a local you knew about Mopac and all the fuckin’ idiots took 35? Mopac used to be like a racetrack! Now it’s a hassle to get anywhere,” says guitarist Eric Tessmer about two of the busiest highways in Austin, Loop 1 (Mopac) and I-35, respectively.
Tessmer is a throwback to a time in Austin — and indeed, in the entire music industry — when a musician’s worth was tied solely to their ability to perform; when a band would routinely play four hour sets and think nothing of it; when fans would stroll into a venue despite not knowing the artist and end up staying the whole night; when bands would consistently tour year-round, even if they weren’t promoting a new album.
Many artists who I’ve interviewed have been hesitant to categorize their music, generally for one of two reasons: they either have a fear of getting “labeled,” or they have an “I can do it all” kind of ego that prevents them from staking claim to any one genre, oftentimes with unfocused results.
Eric Tessmer doesn’t have this problem.
He’s a blues rock guitarist through and through, one who has been working his ass off for upwards of 15 years to give fans goosebumps not only in his Austin home, but worldwide. He’s currently playing two separate Austin residencies: a solo gig the last Thursday of every month at Javelina on Rainey, and together with the Eric Tessmer Band Monday nights at Friends on 6th, where he is accompanied by bassist Gian Ortiz and drummer Rob Williamson. Tessmer also tours relentlessly both in the state of Texas and elsewhere, and is working on a series of three new EPs to be recorded within the next nine months.
My interview with Tessmer was the longest one I ever had at an hour-and-a-half, yet it didn’t even seem like an interview. His candor and humor were refreshing and more than welcome, as they emphasized the character of a man who has taken his successes and failures in good stride, with a graceful confidence in his abilities that rarely ever ventures into arrogance. He’s quick to show love where love is earned, and just as quick to call a spade a spade.
“You have this town, the so-called ‘Live Music Capital of the World,’ whose entire reputation is built on the backs of the musicians, and then at every turn of the hat you’re fucking the musicians over,” says Tessmer about Austin’s rapidly changing music scene. “Wouldn’t you think that soundproof glass would be a part of these building ordinances for all of the new condos downtown? You move next to Stubb’s and now you’re bitching about the sound? I feel like someone doesn’t have our backs here.”
Tessmer, who has been paying his dues as a musician in Austin since before the boom, sheds light on a dichotomy that unfortunately has begun to plague the growing city: the effort to incorporate new industry, capital, and the humans that come with it into a long-standing tradition of musical excellence. When freshly minted Austinites don’t know about (or care to know about) how ingrained into the city’s fabric the music is, coupled with an extremely lucrative real estate market that knows no bounds, some establishments are doomed to get left behind. Red River District hubs Holy Mountain and Red 7 will be closing their doors by October 1st due to skyrocketing rents, with the larger Austin Music Hall following closely behind to make way for a 28-story office building. Numerous other venues have been at grips with the city over noise and space complaints.
Still, Tessmer is optimistic about Austin’s future and points to his good friend Gary Clark, Jr. as an example of the type of potential and influence Austin-based musicians can still carry. “It’s funny, I have people hit me up all the time now like, ‘you know Gary Clark, Jr.?’ and I’m like, ‘man, I could tell you about drama we had when we were in our twenties,'” Tessmer laughs. “I love the fact that he’s doing so well, and it puts the city in a good spot. There’s nothing bad that can come to Austin musicians from Gary’s success. The whole world’s looking at Austin right now.”
Tessmer is also optimistic about the return of the legendary Austin blues club Antone’s, named after its late, great owner Clifford Antone who passed away in 2006. Tessmer has fond memories of both the club and of Cliff, and he hopes that the new version will do the Antone’s name justice. “Antone’s is the home of the blues, man, known worldwide,” he says. “I have high hopes for it coming back, but there’s something to be saidabout the old Antone’s being the feel of Austin, and that feel has completely changed. So I don’t know if it’ll be the same type of place… Austin visitors used to tell me, ‘I came to see 6th Street, I came to see the Stevie [Ray Vaughan] statue, and I came to see Antone’s, and that’s how I found out about you.’ If your club has that type of pull it creates a mystique around it.”
Now in his thirties, Tessmer can and will say what he wants about the condition of the music industry because he’s earned the right to do so with years of hard work and ridiculous talent on the guitar, both acoustic and electric. I myself found out about him through a friend who claimed that he was the best guitarist she’s ever seen live. After checking Tessmer out for myself, I have to agree with her. Peep the last 45 seconds of one of his patented face-melting solos below:
“The way I grew up, especially with my dad being a guitar player, was that the band has to kick the shit out of the studio record when they play it live,” says Tessmer. “That’s my mind frame… I want people to stop dancing and just watch because it’s so incredible.”
Tessmer has mesmerized crowds at any storied Austin music venue that’s ever mattered. He has thoroughly earned his stripes. You can’t help but admire someone whose appreciation for the historical significance of his craft drives his hunger to become better. He has a keen sense of music history and he shows love to his influences with unbridled enthusiasm, frequently talking about how so-and-so was the “greatest shit I ever heard,” or how such-and-such performance made him ask, “how is this sound coming out of a human being?!” One such experience alongside his father at a Pink Floyd concert left Tessmer especially in awe:
“I was 12-years-old. David Gilmour was playing ‘Comfortably Numb,’ the solo. There was this huge 40-foot disco ball in the middle of the stadium with all these spotlights on it, spinnin’ around and shit. Gilmour keeps playing and developing this thing, and then this disco ball just starts opening up like an iris… right then and there I was like, ‘I’m playing guitar for the rest of my life.'”
Next to Gilmour, Tessmer also cites B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix among his biggest influences. Tessmer’s father named him after the latter two (his full name is Eric James Tessmer). Already a force on the guitar, Tessmer has taken a note from the legends and decided to develop his voice in recent years.
“People connect with the human voice more than anything. I just started getting decent at singing a couple years ago,” he says. “Before, I viewed singing as a waste of time between my solos. I just wanted to play guitar. Now that I’m working on my voice I’m like, ‘man, I actually got a pretty good voice.'”
According to Tessmer, the best singing advice he ever received was from Nick Curran, who he saw perform for the first time at — you guessed it — Antone’s. “I got to be friends with [Curran] and I asked him if he gives out vocal lessons. He said ‘no, I don’t. Just sing from down here,’ (points to stomach) so I started singing from the gut and feeling it out,” says Tessmer.
With a newfound appreciation for his own voice and forever-refining skills on the guitar, fans are eager for Tessmer to release new material. He hasn’t released a project since 2010’s Green Diamond, which he claims is due to his perfectionist nature, hectic performance schedule, and do-it-yourself attitude.
“I have at least three people a day ask me when something new is coming out, and I’m like, man, it would already be out if I wasn’t so busy doing everything else. I design all of our show posters, send out all of the emails, everything,” says Tessmer. “Not having a current record inhibits touring because people always want something new, so I’m bustin’ my ass on these EPs right now.”
Perhaps one day Tessmer can concentrate on recording music and outsource some of his other work, but not until he trusts someone enough to uphold the quality standards that he sets for himself.
“I’m not a control freak, I’m a quality freak,” says Tessmer. “There’s people who could be doing stuff for me, but I don’t think they’re competent enough to carry out the level of work that I want done, and I can’t afford the ones who are competent enough… my goal would be to sit in my rehearsal space all day and write songs, but the reality is I’ll be sitting there playing and then all of a sudden think, ‘fuck, I gotta go handle this right now.'”
Nevertheless, Tessmer is intent on recording new music within the time-frame that he set for himself. As for his fans? They will continue to wait because they know what type of unreal, melt my face off type of shredding to expect from him.
“There are businessmen from out of town who will extend their weekend stay in Austin until Tuesday to check us out at Friends on Monday night,” says Tessmer. “It’s wild, man, to have that affect on the lives of people.”
No matter what the future holds for Austin’s music culture and musicians, Eric Tessmer is guaranteed a spot. His fan base is rock solid, he’s finally working on new material, and most importantly, he cares about the integrity of the blues rock tradition that he upholds each and every time he hits the stage. See for yourself the next chance you get, and until then, check out this live rendition of my personal favorite Eric Tessmer Band tune, “Draw.”
Kid Rock is rolling his way into trouble after a week of strange and negative publicity.
In the past week, he’s found himself at odds with angry fans insisting that he stop associating with the Confederate Flag after the removal of the flag from the South Carolina state house last Friday. During this same week, Kid Rock and the anonymous production company producing his latest music video were denied access to film in an Ypsilanti, Michigan women’s prison after the prison cited security issues.
Furthermore, Kid Rock even told Confederate Flag protestors in his home city of Detroit to “kiss my ass,” according to an article in Rolling Stone.
Most interestingly, he has aligned with three separate artistic identities over the years: a rapper, a rocker, and a country artist. In line with his more recent association with the latter, and his 2012 album Rebel Soul, he has adopted symbols of Southern pride and rebel America as part of his country/Southern rock character, despite his Motor City roots.
But how does his association with the Confederate Flag satisfy his former, but well-known identity as a rapper?
The Detroit native seemingly has conflicting identities — a rowdy rock and roll rebel, and a tough-talking, blue collar kid from Detroit, often represented by his multiple artist personas.
He starts with defending the Confederate Flag, the quintessential symbol of racism in America, only to add to the contradictory personas by attempting to rock out with a prison scene backdrop in an upcoming music video.
At the very least, it seems Kid Rock has offended the victimized population of his hometown, one he claims to proudly represent. The last time I checked, the people of Detroit (a Union city) who support his blue-collar, rebel attitude are likely not supporters of his recent affiliations with racist symbols.
He alienated and lost a group of his fans, and probably won’t be gaining any new followers of his increasingly unpopular opinions.
I’ve always considered my appreciation for Kid Rock to be a guilty pleasure; an on again, off again satisfaction I find in his ability to genre-hop. But supporting the Confederate Flag, requesting to film videos at women’s prisons and telling the hardworking people of Detroit to kiss his ass crosses the fine line between a rebel and a royal asshole.
It’s not a bad time to be an old man in the music industry. Paul McCartney has been spending time with Kanye and Rihanna; Bob Dylan, moonlighting as a nightclub crooner on his new album, and Tom Waits were featured in the final nights of the Late Show With David Letterman; the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercyhas been positively received by critics; Billy Joel is continuing his run as the first-ever music franchise at Madison Square Garden; Elvis Costello is hopping around England and the U.S. this summer and Sting and Paul Simon just finished their successful two year world tour in April.
The privilege of this age is that no one is seeking to tear you down anymore. More often than not, respect is paid to musicians who are still producing and performing material past the age of sixty. They can try and fail more easily and are rarely accused of selling out. Even if their later works do not completely hold up next to their classic hits, retrospectives and eulogies will be kind to the twilight portions of their career.
This is all to say that James Taylor and Neil Young’s latest works do not completely hold up, but do nothing to damage their respective legacies. They are fascinating and frustrating portraits of two old artists wrestling with the same question: what more do I have to say?
In Young’s case, quite a lot. One of the best protest songwriters of his generation, Young has never avoided the issues of his time. Living With War, his righteously indignant 2006 album, features the song “Let’s Impeach the President” and 2009’s Fork In The Road promotes Young’s interest in alternative automotive technology.
The release of The Monsanto Years (out June 30th) marks Young’s 36th studio album, which is both an impressive and exhaustive feat. Accompanied by the country-rock band Promise of the Real, Young goes after the titular agribusiness, Walmart and Starbucks with the vigor of a well-oiled curmudgeon. “The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell, Monsanto, Monsanto / So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with Monsanto, Monsanto,” he sings on the title track, with his scratchy, iconic voice still in fighting spirit. Those are maybe the most subtle lyrics on the entire album as Young paints broad strokes across each underproduced song. “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop” employs a lazy, whistled refrain, while “Rules of Change” sounds like an extended jam session gone awry.
While Young’s passion is as unguarded as it’s ever been, there’s no polish to his outrage. “People Want to Hear About Love” links autism with pesticides while criticizing the Citizens United and Chevron, but fails to engage rhythmically. It sounds like Young is just checking off an angry to-do list. There’s a rushed quality to the entire album, which was recorded from January to February 2015. It plays like an urgent, frustrated thesis that is still in the first-draft stage, or a passionate op-ed, which, come to think of it, may have been a more effective use of Young’s energy.
As Young has continued to attack the world head on, James Taylor managed to retreat from it. Taylor has kept busy in the twenty-first century, performing across the world and releasing a polite covers album in 2008. Before This World, released on Tuesday, is his first original work since 2002’s October Road. Taylor’s decision to return to new material has led, if Billboard is correct, to his first ever No. 1 album.
While his return to songwriting should be greeted with enthusiasm, a thirteen year absence has given way to some rust. The opening track, “Today, Today, Today,” is a safe reminder of his trademark clarity, while “Angels of Fenway” (go Red Sox!) reflects on his grandmother’s devotion to a heartbreaking team with pandering, yet delicate charm. “Montana” seems to mimic the melody of “Sweet Baby James,” but offers a sense of longing that seems appropriate after an extended absence from songwriting.
His great talent has always been tailoring music and lyrics to his uniquely aloof voice. There’s an anxious, provisional quality to his singing that always sounds, in his best works, concerned yet reassuring. His voice adds complexities to songs like “Fire and Rain” or “Her Town Too” that might not be evident when performed by other artists. Before This World is a reminder of his savvy technique, with minimal arrangements throughout.
Taylor and Young’s careers thrived in the early 1970’s but despite mutual respect and collaboration, they were thematically at odds with one another. Taylor was content on staking claim as the quiet, sensitive confessional; more accessible — if less poetic — than some of his contemporaries. Young meanwhile found success merging the personal with the political, and his catalogue features songs that are as wistful as they are assertive.
They also each lacked qualities that the other skillfully possessed. If Taylor never reflected the decade as effectively as Young, he managed to disarm audiences with a sublime eloquence and simplicity. James Taylor would have never written a song as haunting as “Ohio,” but Neil Young never quite knew how to write a reflective ballad like “Carolina in My Mind.” The 1980’s saw both artists struggle to stay relevant as folk-rock began to diminish from the culture. They survived and reemerged antithetically; Young widened his focus and kept getting louder while Taylor grew even more meditative and found new ways to stay quiet.
That simple truth remains in their newest works.
Both artists still understand how to earnestly reflect reality, but perhaps they could still learn a thing or two from one another. For all of its pleasant virtues, much of Before This World feels too introspective, and quickly becomes monotonous. Only towards the end, when the album wanders into a traditional Celtic folk style, do the melodies begin to feel engaging. One of the best songs, “Far Afghanistan,” is a cinematic look at a soldier’s plight and features a dark, pointed verse that reminds us of Taylor’s lyrical gifts:
They tell you a tradition in the hills of Kandahar
They say young boys are taken to the wilderness out there
Taken to the mountain alone and in the night
If he makes it home alive they teach him how to fight
Neil Young doesn’t have time for such sober poetry on The Monsanto Years. He’s too busy raging against the machine to infuse his purpose with a deeper spirit. In doing so, he ignores one of his greatest lessons: even Richard Nixon has got soul.
Jamestown Revival’s Jonathan Clay is no stranger to the music industry. The Magnolia, TX, born-and-raised singer/songwriter has been active as a solo artist since the release of his debut EP, 2006’s Whole New Me. From there Clay was able to sign a development deal with Atlantic Records and released his second project, Back to Good, in 2007. A third album, Everything She Wants, came in 2010 amidst various song placements for shows on MTV, ABC, and FX.
However, accomplishments rarely ever hold any real weight by their lonesome. What good is a dream come true if you can’t share that dream with your best friend — especially if that best friend is someone as musically inclined as Jamestown’s other half, Zach Chance?
Speaking with Clay (and briefly with Chance) on the phone for about half-an-hour, it quickly became evident that the joy of creating something meaningful alongside another meaningful person is the ultimate reward for the childhood partners-in-crime, who reunited to form Jamestown Revival in 2010. I could keep writing cliches about friendship, or I could let Clay explain why: “We just enjoyed playing music together a lot more than playing it apart.”
Five years later and the southern folk-rock duo find themselves in the midst of an extensive tour for their highly successful and critically acclaimed debut album, UTAH, which was released in September of last year. The tour has brought them in front of massive festival crowds at Austin City Limits (a homecoming of sorts for them), Coachella, and Wakarusa, amongst others, with an appearance at Lollapalooza on the horizon later this summer.
But as much as Jamestown appreciates the overwhelming love and support, they remain some of the most humble and grounded musicians that I have ever spoken to. Indeed, if I didn’t know anything about them, I very well could have mistaken them for a far less established group. Perhaps this ego-less approach to life is why they opted to forego the expansive studio budgets and bright lights of a big city recording experience, instead finding a log cabin high in the mountains of Utah to track the aptly-titled album entirely to tape.
The story of Jamestown Revival is really that of two best friends who help each other remain true to themselves, relying on and sacrificing for one another in the midst of a crazy musical journey through an even crazier music industry. Read on to hear directly from Jonathan (and at times, from Zach) about his thoughts on Jamestown winning iTunes’ singer/songwriter album of the year, why they don’t record while on the road, a preliminary release goal for their UTAH follow-up record, plenty of stuff about their current home of Austin — which they share with JamFeed! — and much more.
Interview by Julia Waicberg.
How did you guys get started as musicians?
Jonathan Clay: My dad played guitar, music was a big part of my household growing up. Zach’s mom sings and his dad played piano, so it’s something that is in both of our family lineages. None of our family members performed professionally, but music was on both sides of our families. We wrote our first song together when we were fifteen. At first we were friends, but then that friendship developed into a bandship. But we started as friends, and first and foremost, we still are friends.
You (Jonathan) had a solo career for awhile. Why did you and Zach reunite to form Jamestown Revival?
JC: We just enjoyed playing music together a lot more than playing it apart.
Who are your musical influences?
JC: Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, and John Prine are big ones. Everybody from James Taylor to The Everly Brothers to The Rolling Stones… a lot of classic music. We don’t listen to a whole lot of current music. Zach does a better job of listening to more current music than I do, but I’m a bit of a grandpa.
You call your fans “revivalists.” Where do you find your biggest fan base?
JC: Austin, LA, New York, Boston, and Chicago. I guess that parallels all of the biggest cities, but it’s where we have the biggest shows… We can rest assured that the fans are going to be there, and that they are going to have our backs.
You moved from Austin to California in mid-2011. What caused the move away from your home state?
JC: We just wanted to change it up. We wanted a change in scenery. We felt like it might inspire something, and that it did. It inspired an entire album!
You lived near Bakersfield, CA. What about that area allowed you to write so much of UTAH?
JC: I think it was just being away from home and feeling completely displaced. There was a longing for familiarity. And the mountains and the water were all new to us.
You guys have been touring for awhile now. What are your thoughts on recording while on the road?
JC: For us, if you’re tracking vocals and guitar for a song and you don’t finish it that day and you want to come back and finish it the next day, you’re not going to be able to get the same sound. You can never repeat. When you break down and then come back, you’re never going to get the same sound twice. And I think that holds true in a larger sense. For us, the album should really be one complete thought. It’s a really important thing. And I feel like it would introduce a bit of a disjointed quality if you were doing a couple songs in a studio here and a couple songs in a studio there. The whole cohesiveness of the album is a really important aspect of it — for it to read like a book from start to finish, for it to feel like a complete thought, and to feel like all those songs are of the same family.
Do you have any necessary touring rules?
Zach Chance: You can tell when people aren’t in a good mood. You know, when someone needs their space. There are some general unwritten rules, like if you’re lucky enough to be on a bus you need to be clean. But nothing too crazy. Everyone’s pretty respectful.
Is there anything you make sure to do while you’re on the road to take your mind off of music?
ZC: We always make a point to get some camping in. We really do enjoy the outdoors. You get out and collect your thoughts, even if you’re not writing a song about hiking. I think doing that, stepping away from your phone and the congestion of the city, is a really good place to figure out where your head’s at. So we try to make time for that. We’ve also gotten really into bowling.
What has been your favorite festival to play at?
JC: Being from Austin, I would say ACL. It was really cool. That was the first festival I had ever been to, just as a fan… That was five years ago. And then five years later, being able to play that festival, that was pretty special.
What is the next step in terms of your next album?
JC: Our plan right now is to finish a song or two by the end of the year and follow it up with an album early next year.
Do you have plans on where to record yet?
JC: No. We haven’t gotten to that part yet… Making an album is a team sport. You’ve got me and Zach, you’ve got our management, our band, our producers, our label (Republic Records). We have a lot of people involved and it will be a decision that we all make together.
iTunes named UTAH the Best Singer/Songwriter Album of 2014. How was that experience for you?
JC: That was really cool! You know, when you create something like an album, and you listen to it so many times during the mixing process and the recording process, you can’t even tell by the end of the process whether or not it’s good. So getting a little bit of recognition, it gives you some much needed approval and affirmation that what you’re doing is worth it, and that you’re not crazy.
Do you listen to your old music still?
JC: Oh, no. Once we’ve signed off on the final master, we don’t ever listen to it… It’s kind of like “Okay, I think I look okay in this picture,” and then “Okay, I’m done with this. I don’t have a need to look at this picture ever again.” Whereas, your significant other, you could look at them over and over. But when it’s yourself, it’s not fun to look at necessarily.
How do you know that a song is good and complete?
JC: It just has a bit of magic to it. And sometimes finding that bit of magic is really difficult, so when you find it, it’s obvious. Sometimes it feels like you’re digging for a needle in a haystack, and then all of a sudden you prick yourself. And then it’s obvious that it’s right there… When you get it, you just know. You just think to yourself, “Okay, that’s it.”
You guys are from Magnolia, TX, but lived in San Marcos and have been residing in Austin (for the second time) since late 2013. Your sound seems to fit into the Austin folk scene, would you agree?
JC: Yeah. And from a larger perspective, just Texas and southern music in general. Austin is obviously a very dynamic, eclectic place. There are so many different kinds of music, but I do feel like we took a lot of influence from the south and southern music. You know, Texas songwriters. Guy Clark and Willie Nelson, to name a few. We merged that with kind of our own inclinations and I guess this is what you get.
What is your favorite venue to play in Austin?
JC: To have a show at Stubb’s Outdoors — that’s the goal. That could be my favorite place. We’ve played inside at Stubb’s, but yet to play outside.
You’re playing at Blues on the Green in Austin later this summer. Have you played before, and are you excited about it?
JC: We’ve been to Blues on the Green before, but haven’t played. But we’re very excited. It seems like in the city of Austin, we’re legitimately building a musical home. It’s always been our home in the truest sense of the word, but now it’s starting to feel like a musical home as well.
What is your favorite national park in Utah?
ZC: Man… Utah is a well-kept secret. Zion is great. I’m pretty partial to Bryce Canyon, just because we took this backpacking trip there. I think we did 18 miles in a day-and-a-half and were covered in blisters, but we spent several days out there and had a great time. And obviously, Zion is awesome. Utah is amazing. And Park City, we always love getting up that way.
Follow Jamestown Revival on JamFeed to stay up-to-date with all of their latest moves, and if you’re in the Austin area be sure to catch them at Blues on the Green on August 5th.
The series finale of Mad Men is this Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Right now I’m going through the seven stages of grief, landing somewhere in between bargaining and depression. In an effort to keep this show alive, I’ve been re-watching old episodes (my favorite? season 5, episode 5, “Signal 30“), recounting classic scenes, and reading everysinglethingon the internet that I can find. I binged through the first season on DVD (remember those?) back in July 2008 and have watched every subsequent episode in real-time over the course of the final six seasons. I don’t know what I’m going to do without this show, but I figure I may as well play some small part in trying to keep it alive.
One of the many virtues of Mad Men is its commitment to finding distinct, credible, and compelling musical moments to accentuate many aspects of the wide-ranging territory that it covers. The 1960’s produced some of the most memorable music of the 20th century, but creator Matthew Weiner and his team found ways to capture the songs of that decade as they happened. This comprehensive guide shows how the vast majority of the song choices fit the timeline of the series, with a mixture of classic cuts and forgotten one-hit wonders sprinkled throughout each season.
Here are my ten favorite musical moments during the eight years of Mad Men. A few disclaimers: I didn’t include any songs that were not recorded. That leaves out “Zou Bisou Bisou,” Bert Cooper’s touching farewell, and an unfortunate moment from Roger Sterling. I also left out music from this final part of season 7, which include some veryfinetracks.
Oh and just for kicks, here’s my prediction for Sunday’s final ending credits song.
10. Frank Sinatra, “My Way” (season 7, episode 6, “The Strategy”)
Let’s begin with arguably the most famous artist to be featured on Mad Men. One of Ol’ Blue Eye’s last hits, “My Way” is used here to wrap up a moving conversation between the show’s primary characters. Their intimate dance doesn’t just symbolize the importance of their relationship; it also represents a passing of the torch from master to protege as Peggy crafts the perfect pitch to the Burger Chef.
Mad Men goes electric as Don recounts SCDP’s heist-like departure from PPL at the end of season three. The brash, pulsating guitar hook ushers the British invasion into the show and echoes Don’s public display of swagger and confidence.
8. Vic Damone, “On the Street Where You Live” (season 1, episode 1, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)
The first ending credits song of the series shows Don kneeling in between his sleeping children’s beds as Betty looks lovingly from the doorway. This syrupy Vic Damone cover is a classic from My Fair Lady, the most popular Broadway musical of the late 50’s and early 60’s. It’s the first glimpse into the home of this seemingly happy American family in the Ossining suburbs, blissfully unaware of the secrets and lies of their patriarch.
7. Chubby Checker, “The Twist” (season 1, episode 8 “The Hobo Code”)
This song comes during a pivotal moment in the relationship between Pete and Peggy. After a long day at the office, which included their second and final sexual encounter, she playfully twists her way over to him and invites him to join. He squashes her enthusiasm with icy control. Sitting alone and quietly judging her, he replies “I don’t like you like this.”
6. The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year” (season 7, episode 2 “A Day’s Work”)
I’m a bit biased since The Zombies are one of my favorite 60’s bands. Still, there aren’t many better songs you could ask for to end this episode, which features Sally quickly telling her father “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” as she heads back to boarding school. Don’s stunned, poignant reaction is followed by the affirming piano introduction. It gives us hope that the wayward protagonist just might be on his way to finally turning his life around.
5. Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart” (season 6, episode 10, “A Tale of Two Cities”)
Pete Campbell smokes a joint and, if only for a brief moment, joins the counterculture. Need I say more?
4. Jack Jones, “Lollipops and Roses” (season 2, episode 3, “The Benefactor”)
While Weiner often inserts songs that tie into the action of each episode, he will occasionally choose music that contradicts or subverts theme and mood. This episode concludes with a tense but ultimately successful dinner between Don, Betty, the seedy Barrett’s and clients from Utz. On their drive home, the alienated Betty begins to cry as this soft, charming ballad begins to underscore the tension in their relationship. “When I said I wanted to be a part of your life, this is what I meant. We make a great team,” she says, still largely ignorant of Don’s many infidelities.
3. The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (season 5, episode 8 “Lady Lazarus”)
Procuring this song cost Lionsgate, the studio that produces Mad Men, $250,000. This may have been a power play by Matthew Weiner to show that he would let nothing derail his creative vision. Regardless, the song thoroughly represents Don’s growing disconnect with the latter half of the 1960’s. He’s never been one to “surrender to the void.”
I’ve always felt that this scene could easily have been the final moment of the entire series (especially given the discovery in last week’s penultimate episode). What could be more profound than Don, for one of the first times ever, having an honest moment with his children as he shows them the tattered home where he grew up? The knowing glance that Sally exchanges with her father solidifies, to me, the most interesting and touching relationship of the entire series. The song perfectly accentuates Don’s ambivalent quest to sort through the “illusions” and realities of his past.
1. Nancy Sinatra, “You Only Live Twice” (season 5, episode 13, “The Phantom”)
From one Sinatra to another. This single was written for the 1967 James Bond film of the same title and it’s use here is fitting as Don Draper and Bond share many qualities — drinking, womanizing, and persuasiveness are a few that come to mind. This closing scene, which caps off the series’ strongest season, is structured perfectly with this full but quiet song from the very beginning as Don walks away from Megan and into the darkness. Shots of Peggy, Pete, and Roger show their own diverging paths before settling back on Don at a bar. He has “one life for himself and one for his dreams.” He is asked a pointed question but we don’t need to hear his response. We know that, like Bond, he is perpetually alone.
And here’s ten more that just missed the cut:
Rosemary Clooney, “Botch-A-Me” (season 1, episode 7, “Red in the Face)
Hindsight, foresight, insight. Sometimes living in the past is the most fun, and we’re going to embrace that.
In hindsight, Blood Sugar Sex Magik — an album released by The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1991 — is one of the greatest rock albums ever produced. BSSM was RHCP’s fifth studio album, but this single composition is what absolutely catapulted the band into full on superstardom.
Made up of Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals), Chad Smith (drums), Flea (bass), and John Frusciante (guitar), the band exploded in popularity with this album as it hit top numbers on charts worldwide. The Blood Sugar Sex Magik Tour had a legendary opening show in Madison, WI, which started a roller coaster-like party of stops across the world that solidified the band as a top live show. Way to always do things the best way possible you weird, brilliant Madisonians.
What’s truly beautiful and magnetizing about the entire ensemble is that BSSM caught all four musicians in a creative peak, in a moment of absolute inspiration, dedication, and passion that bleeds heavily through each and every song.
The amount of creativity and uniqueness splashed all over BSSM is an anomaly. It’s fascinating that an album so complex with punk, funk, and metal became so popular. It’s a weird concoction of sounds; so unique, but still widely popular with the masses. In fact, it was so popular that John Frusciante couldn’t handle something so good being so damn popular and soon after quit the band. What a hipster.
However, as amazing as the Chili Peppers were on BSSM, it was producer Rick Rubin’s involvement that made it take off the way it did. His mission was to make the Chili Peppers accessible, and he overwhelmingly succeeded. The band wanted a hands-on, knowledgable producer that they could lean on for help. Rubin had the ideal experience working with ‘multi-genre’ artists, and it was his ability to craft sounds together — unique sounds — that blew up a lot of bands.
Rubin started Def Jam Records in 1983 at only twenty-years-old, and through his pure ability to identify talent, curate music, and push musicians to create, he helped catapult bands and artists into the spotlight. His production discography says it all.
(Editor’s note: seriously, if you haven’t actually seen a full list of Rubin’s productions, click that link. It’s mind blowing to see all those classics together in one place.)
Rubin was heavily involved with the success of Run-D.M.C in the 80’s. He would mix hip-hop with heavy rock, creating a catchy sound a wider audience was more comfortable with. He brought Run-D.M.C and Aerosmith together in 1986 to create a legendary collaboration, “Walk This Way,” which blew up as the hip-hop-hard-rock anthem worldwide. He soon after started working with the Beastie Boys, and they are the perfect example. His talent for making things work on a large scale, but most importantly keeping the roots of creativity and uniqueness as a main priority, made musicians sound catchy but never plastic. Rubin was solidified as an ‘untouchable’ producer early in the game, and at this point no one questioned him. He already had that “you’re a genius” type of respect while he was still in his twenties.
Warner Brothers, RHCP’s label at the time, needed to sell records. That loud, punky, heavy sound RHCP were so good at was not going to stick. They needed a tailored sound, and they needed some control. That’s what Rubin did. He found a way to control them. That had its effects, and I’m sure it polarized the fandom, but he didn’t compromise their oozing artistic creativity. The amount of emotion and intensity coupled with inter-disciplinary sounds and rhythms led to the best rock album I’ve ever gotten a chance to get into.
This is a unique blend of beats, lyrics, melodies, and instrumental experimentation. The impeccable, innovative production and talent behind Blood Sugar Sex Magik is evident in every single track. The magic is that the ground roots were not compromised. The musical talent, passion, and creativity was not drowned out. None of it took a back-seat. These were creative artists who found themselves in the heat of the spotlight.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik depended on passionate participation from every single band member. Every piece is instrumental in making this album as good as it is. Let’s get into seven of the songs. I hope you all enjoy this complex array of the most talented and unique bass, guitar, raps, and loud ass drum beats that have come together in our time.
1. “The Power of Equality”
This intro — to both the song and the album — is on point. The song as a whole is an excellent example of what the composition of the album is going to be like — the chaos that turns groovy. The loud, funky bass lines, the prevalence and importance of every performer. It’s all here. All the instruments and the singing have an intense, “I’m the front man” feel. It’s chaotic. It keeps its intensity but eventually starts to smooth out, and that noise becomes a bit more melodic. This is true of many other songs and a good reflection of the composition of the album overall.
The bass is right in the middle of things for the majority of “Equality.” Flea immerses himself in the funk, but it’s hardcore and metal too. He plays around with complex bass lines. Check out the transition at 1:00-ish. The amount of love the bass gets in this song, and album, makes it very fun to listen to.
Anthony Kiedis talks throughout the entirety of “Equality,” and well, that’s what makes the song so good. His raps are endless and sometimes seem mindless, but he directs the flow and overall feel the entire time. He changes pace at times. He changes voices or he gets to the hook. He really is the leader and is a big factor in why Blood Sugar Sex Magik is so melodic and catchy. His lyricism and poetry were at a peak.
Every song on this album has one very interesting similarity. Each one has a piece within it where the band loses its structure (and loses control somewhat) and they jam the fuck out. Every one is different, but at some point in each one, usually hidden later in the track, they get freaky and the instruments push their limits. These breaks and jam sessions show the potential behind each of the talented musicians. The breaks lead into drum solos, a monster bass solo, and most times a weird, emotional shredding by John Frusciante on guitar. Check out right around 1:47.
2. “If You Have to Ask”
BSSM was recorded to sound like those older one-track mixtapes. Some of the song transitions are the most powerful sound breaks in the album. Love that shit. Shout out to Rick Rubin, he made this album so easy to listen to. The intro guitar riff in “If You Have to Ask” is gold. So groovy.
The tone is generally different between the first two songs. The composition, not so much. Loud and in-your-face bass line? Check. Bars on bars of dark, dirty raps? Check. Quick snare-heavy drum beats? Check. High-pitched, catchy, and funky hook? Check.
At this point, if you have to ask what this album is going to be about you’re never really going to know. If you are feeling it, you probably already turned up the volume for the next chorus and that fun ass hook. Just in time for that late jam session.
Right around 2:09 the jam starts. All the instruments start losing control. First it’s Chad on the drums. He speeds up at about 2:19 and starts banging on his set more than ever. Then it’s the guitar. Frusciante goes on a hard, grungy solo where he pushes the sound of his guitar to its limit. It’s whiny and intense.
This becomes really common. The guitar goes on rare, weird solos. You can feel Frusciante’s frustration through the sounds the guitar makes. Almost as weirdly, he casually plays with synths early on — check out the riffs he drops at 0:50 and 1:49 (this was in 1991)!
It’s as if the hidden jams, like the one in “If You Have to Ask,” are where the producer and band give each other permission to show glimpses of the ability and passion behind their instruments and crafts. They are all people that push the limits. Those unique and emotional moments are what make this such a good album for a lot of fans. The most impactful and prevalent are with the guitar. The heavy, groovy bass lines are also a staple.
3. “Breaking the Girl”
All of a sudden we are tossed into an acoustic song. Such a big change of pace. It really doesn’t feel like it though. It flows perfectly with the overall balance of the album. Rick ya did it again, you a genius! That’s what’s impressive about BSSM — all the details both from a top-level and a micro-level. That’s what makes it so fun to listen to.
Despite being an acoustic song, “Breaking the Girl” still feels so strong and in your face. Everyone participates heavily. There is so much energy in their instruments. It builds up minute after minute, and then it all erupts at 3:02. Those moments make this album legendary (4:06 too).
4. “Funky Monks”
That intro bass line. Pay close attention to it the whole time. If any dipshit teenager ever asks for more bass, jam this deep into their soul. Those are fun sounds, someone is trying to have a dance party.
Even though it’s not as loud as the bass, the guitar is on par the entire time. It’s so funky it almost sounds like a bass. Like a really high-pitched, strung-out bass. It’s such a different sound, it’s almost like the guitar is singing. It hits individual notes in a really unique way. Check out the riff between 0:40–0:50. The bass is loud, but this album is littered with guitar riffs that are out of this world. Fun stuff.
“Funky Monks” is no different than the rest of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. At 2:36 things change. Jam time. Bass takes the lead. Then there’s a spacey guitar solo, freaky stuff, eventually leading to Kiedis saying, “What are you lookin’ at?” And all instruments lose control.
6. “I Could Have Lied”
“I Could Have Lied” is quiet but powerful. Frusciante shows off his broad spectrum of talent, and it sounds like he could probably do well with a classical guitar. This is another much needed and perfectly placed change of pace, just like “Breaking the Girl.” It’s an acoustic song, mostly about the lyrics, but that didn’t stop every instrument from joining in and trying to make interesting riffs and sounds.
Shoutout to Kiedis’ poetry, that can’t be left unsaid. He was, and is, a truly great lyricist. His words had some depth, but they had even more flow. Rhythm oozes out of him. He knows how to drive lines and repeat words, and he has the most powerful choruses out there. His hooks stick, but they make you sing along with a lot of emotion. You don’t get Kiedis’ lyrics stuck in your head; you choose to leave them in there.
Don’t miss out on the guitar solos in this one, they talk right back to Kiedis. It’s an awesome back and forth between the two.
8. “The Righteous & The Wicked”
That bass line rattles my bones. What an intro, so iconic of this album. The way the guitar chooses to come in, all dark and distorted, is completely different than the quick, uppity sound it actually has for most of the song. It’s those changes in energy, pace, and tone that make the album so good. This track has so many breaks and different rhythms and pieces, it’s a roller-coaster of pace. The contrast in sounds is magical. It can get nauseating and confusing, or it can unleash that energy that makes you dance, sing, and feel the emotions of the musicians.
16. “Sir Psycho Sexy”
This song is too good. I like long, dirty ballads. Someone’s parent said that… uh, I mean… Parental Advisory. Yeah, that. Have fun with this track, it’s their equivalent of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but way more LA-raised, punk-kids from the 80’s who have seen some shit and want to see some more shit. This song has so many different parts. It seems like it’s meant to have fun with. Its makeup is like it wants you to let go and get into the adventure.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a masterpiece of talented musicians, visionary producers, and the revamped early-90s rock scene. These four artists created perfect synergy, and all pushed their abilities to make a sound that was not just musically complex but fun and catchy. Rick Rubin was the perfect leader and the ideal mentor to take these extremely talented, raw artists and curate them into an emotional concoction that reflected their inner beings and still let audiences get into the groove of the music. These songs have a beginning, middle (which gets hazy), and end. At the same time, they are extremely creative, unique, and emotional.
What made this album so successful is that every artist played a huge role. The bass is imperative, but the guitar riffs give it even more funk. The lyrics are filthy, and that’s key. The hooks are all so catchy but so fucking emotional.
I can’t pin-point what I like the best or who stuck out the most. That’s truly what makes it so great. This group was at a creative peak and nobody was shying away or simply riding it out. This group of Funky Monks were on a mission to jam the fuck out and I just wonder if they were present enough to realize the magic they made when it all went down.
Keep an eye out for a new album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers this year. I’m not expecting something as beautiful as Blood Sugar Sex Magik, but that’s perfectly okay, because 24 years later I’m still discovering new piano riffs, trumpets, guitar licks, and synths inside this album. Salute to ‘91 and the mental state these artists were in that year.
From 1997-2002, Kid Rock created and introduced the world to rap-rock, a genre defined by cocky slang, punchline-driven lyrics, and southern rock roots. It was angst-filled, rebellious, party music. Over a decade later, Yelawolf has reimagined the genrewith Love Story.
If Kid Rock is one of the kings of crossover, then Yelawolf is a prince. He’s known as a hip-hop artist, but his second album under Shady Records shows this country boy’s range. He sticks to his usual fast-paced flow, but the entire album is softened by southern charm ballads, soft rock elements, and an overall country vibe.
Kid Rock classics like “Bawitaba,” “Cowboy,” and the Eminem featuring“Fuck Off” catapulted the Detroit rapper to superstardom. At the time, it may have been a shock to hip-hop; a cocky new white guyout of Detroit claiming “I’m going platinum” on “Devil Without A Cause,” the title track from his genre-defining 1998 album (Which would ironically surpass platinum and go diamond).
Fast-forward to 2011. Yelawolf signed with Shady Records, solidifying his identity as a rap artist with validation from one of the best rappers of all time, his label bossEminem. Yelawolf’s Shady Records debut, Radioactive, put him on the map with tracks like “Let’s Roll,” which ironically featured vocals from his kindred spirit, Kid Rock.
But after four years on the label, Yelawolf is now returning to his Southern roots, showing maturation in his subject matter and a willingness to take risks within the genre. Similar to the way Kid Rock has evolved as an artist, incorporating more Southern rock revival and country vibes on his most recent albums, Yelawolf is becoming more experimental as well.
Love Story is reminiscent of late-90s Kid Rock during his rap-rock era.
Adding a rap-rock, bluesy tinge to the album is likely a natural progression for Yelawolf, having grown up in Alabama and Tennessee. Despite my genuine (and sometimes embarrassing) affinity for almost any music Kid Rock makes, I must say Yelawolf has beaten the genre’s best player at his own game with Love Story.
The best thing about the album is that the return to his roots feels authentic. Yelawolf has engineered a perfect blend of rebellious rap that is rich with southern slang androoted in country and rock and roll. And somehow, he remains grounded as the fast-rapping emcee that I fell in love with back when Trunk Muzik dropped.
Tracks like “American You,” “Fiddle Me This,” “Tennessee Love,” and “Whiskey In A Bottle” are the epitome of rap-rock, and noticeably reminiscent of Kid Rock jams like “Devil Without A Cause” and “Cowboy” — songs that feature solid guitar and piano melodies, harmony, and even a tambourine rattling in the background.
Overall, I give Yelawolf a huge thumbs up on Love Story — he delivers for his long-time followers and fans of his signature hyper-speed raps, but isn’t afraid to show his sensitive side and country roots, giving the album a new personal feel.
Any time an artist experiments with authenticity, I can’t hate. Love Story is a winner.
Earlier this month, I wrote about a rising band from Jacksonville, Florida, called Greenhouse Lounge for JamFeed’s Road to Euphoria Festival column. Dave McSweeney, bass, Zach Weinert, guitar and programming, and Ray Felts, drums, refreshed my interest in electronic music with their emphasis on live instrumentation.
Greenhouse Lounge incorporates electronic elementsinto their music, but the talented musicians can also improvise. That being said, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to speak with Weinert last month while the trio traveled through the south on their 2015 Particle Tour.
Zach spoke with passion and insight about the band’s progression, culminating with a metaphor so vivid it would make any novelist green with jealousy.
Did y’all meet in Florida?
Me and Dave met in Florida back in 2009 and we’ve been playing music since then. We met through a mutual friend. I was just kind of jamming by myself as a kid, 17 or 18, learning tabs by myself and getting the swing of it, know what I mean? Starting to understand the bigger picture of music as a unit. And then a buddy of ours hit Dave up and was like, “Yo, you should link up with this dude Zach — I think y’all could do well together.” We linked up and it’s kinda like history since then.
Ray is from Virginia, we met him at a festival in 2010 and he replaced our original drummer, who could no longer play because he’s constructing a venue called 1904 in Jacksonville.
Is there a story behind the name Greenhouse Lounge?
Our original drummer started building his bankrolls by selling hydroponics. He had a store called Urban Organics that he and Dave used to work at. We used to jam in the back of the warehouse of that specific store, hanging out, being creative and writing songs. That’s kinda how the name came about. We were just in the back of the warehouse, being ourselves, you know, writing good tunes, really vibin’ off of it, so we stuck with it.
Has your sound changed since the warehouse days?
Dramatically, yes. It’s kind of a weird process. You know it starts off as a hobby, for fun. Dream big — who knows what could happen. Eventually it worked itself out. Me and Dave were like, “Okay, we’ve got some shows lined up. Do we want to keep this progression going?” We decided yeah, so we stayed together and pushed through. Now we’re like, “Wow, we’re touring with Particle.” It’s amazing what a little bit of perseverance can do.
Other than that, our sound has changed dramatically because it goes from fun, doing what you want, and then getting serious and thinking about what our fans want to hear. Expectations rise. The sound changed dramatically as the band got more serious.
Is it hard to make the music you want to while trying to meet expectations?
It’s one of those hard work processes, I would say. You go to a festival, you hear a band, and there’s that full range of sound, in your face. It’s uplifting, just this big sound. To harness that big sound, especially in production, requires a lot of time, diligence and hard work, especially in engineering. We couldn’t just pay an engineer to come in and refine our sound; me, Ray and Dave have put in a ton of work to make our sound as big as everyone expects it to be. It’s almost like a competition, molding your sound to make it appropriate in the big leagues. That’s how the process starts. You go from goofing around to saying, “We’re really making strides now.” You have to understand mastering music, a good mix, drum programming, the whole thing. It’s overwhelming at first, but span it out over six years. Progression is inevitable.
How would you describe your genre now?
When we were a five-piece band we had more of an island vibe, way more chill. Then we said okay, time to get serious. Gotta trim the fat and decide who’s in it to win it. Me and Dave were in it hardcore. We narrowed it down and found Ray. We’re stoked about the progress we’ve been making. Our sound is definitely a live electronic number. We blend a three piece rock act with a DJ vibe — the party vibe of a DJ. We like to blend the two. You could call it fusion. Again, we don’t like to shelf ourselves in a genre. We like to do our thing, whatever we vibe with.
Tell us about your single, “A Real Mother For Ya.”
It’s funny, there’s a story behind that song. It was actually my mother that suggested that we remix that song. She was like, “Back in the early 80’s when I was in college, we were at frat houses and they used to hire this guy Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. We would party all night and he had this one song, ‘A Real Mother For Ya.’ I think y’all would kill it on a remix.” I was like, “Damn, mom came in with some heat! I gotta do it!” So we kept my mom involved in the process and she thought it was great. We’ve got a couple more lined up in that genre. We like sampling older artists, especially peculiar ones — nothing too obvious.
Do you all come from musical backgrounds?
I do not actually come from a heavily musically influenced family. Neither does Dave. Ray’s father is a trumpet player, but other than that no one else really influenced us to do music. We all came up together appreciating punk rock, 90’s style. Other than that, no musical history. It’s all by choice and passion.
How’s the Particle Tour going?
We’ve had great crowds. We’ve played in Philly, Richmond, Charlotte, and Raleigh. They were all packed shows with great fans. It’s an older crowd, we like it, more mature. Definitely having fun but not as in your face. As far as crowd response goes, at our first show, Philly, everyone was digging it. We always enjoy when people are enjoying what we put out. Jacksonville is going to be a great show. Everyone’s excited. On our day off we just rehearsed two brand new original songs that we’re debuting in Jacksonville. These two songs are especially different. We’re bringing back Florida breaks, that 90’s sort of 165 drum and bass tempo with a halftime hip-hop vibe. Added some horn sections in there. It’s cool.
I love your song “Beel.” Did anything in particular inspire it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wrote that song right after I got into a huge fight with my first girlfriend. She really hurt my feelings and said some really nasty shit about the band, blah blah blah, how it wasn’t going anywhere. It kinda hit me and then I wrote that song and Dave and Ray were like, “That’s sick.” Had to push through that one. Lot of emotion and anger behind that one.
Does your music vary with live shows?
Yeah, yeah. I produce a track that is purposely lacking in the frequency range that guitar and bass and certain drum elements wouldn’t be recorded in the track. So I make a blueprint for us to improvise on, pretty much every night. There’s a certain system we go by, chords and notation and such, but it’s definitely improvised, mostly. Like if we play “Beel,” that jam that you hear at the chorus, we always play that but we might do a variation on the end depending on how we’re feeling at that specific time on stage. That’s how we keep it fresh. We like to dabble with our own production.
With Euphoria Festival coming up, what are you most looking forward to?
We’re playing main stage on Friday, that should be cool. Never played in Austin; it’s actually my first time in Texas. I’m interested to see Yung Lean and the Sad Boys. On the side I produce sort of ‘Sad Boy’ music myself, so I’m particularly excited for that vibe. HeRobust is a good friend of ours, Paper Diamond. That lineup is stacked. There are some kings afloat. It’s gotta be Euphoria’s serious breakout year. They put in work on that lineup. I’m heavily impressed. Right when I saw Ghostland Observatory was booked, I was like, “Wow. These guys are dead serious.” Those guys are performers. They’re rockstars, 100 percent.
Who inspires you?
As far as influence goes, back in 2009 we really vibed with STS9. Me and Dave particularly liked the band, and that’s how we linked on a musical level. We both appreciate that smooth approach they have to live instrumentation and then blending electronic music as well. Other than that, I appreciate the art behind DJing and sampling. Really digging for gold, if you will, for what you can shell out through speakers. Everyone knows that feeling, when you recognize a song and it’s a completely different structure, but the a cappella is playing as well. It’s a fun flip. I’ve always been an advocate for remixing. It’s innovative, it’s new.
Are y’all on a label?
We are label-less. Labels are for cans, you know? It’s not like the old days where buying albums was the only way to get music. I’m totally fine not being on a label, but if a label is interested and we find one that makes sense and doesn’t suck the life out of the project, of course. Only if it makes sense. Right now we want to reach out to the west coast, get fully national. It’s a very saturated market. Plus we’re also working on making our record sound really big and beefy, in your face… as impressive as we can be before we attack in that manner. We want our first impressions to be huge.
We want to extend our network, and we want to make fire. The music world, it’s cold out there. The only way to survive is to make heat. You have to build a fire around yourself, and then everyone runs to you. “Here’s the hot stuff.” That’s how we look at it.
Spoken with the power and passion of a true artist. With such a vision, Greenhouse Lounge is sure to continue its successful climb to the top of the music world. The trio has new music on the way, along with continuous touring and a swiftly approaching appearance at Euphoria Festival in mid-April. Stay connected with Zach and the rest of the band through JamFeed, and watch out as the Greenhouse Lounge fire catches, spreads, and burns brighter with every song.
Desert Noises is a band from Provo, Utah, that has been impressively making their way into the music scene through tours and festivalsin the past four years. We caught up and played some pool with members Kyle Henderson, Pat Boyer, Tyler Osmond, and Brennan Allen before their Thursday evening show at Austin’s Stubb’s BBQ.
Lead singer and songwriter Kyle Henderson described their sound with a simple reference to the movie Remember theTitans,saying, “Yeah, Denzel [Washington] is amazing.”
Initially, I wasn’t sure how to interpret his obscure response, but watching them live made sense of it:they just want to be remembered for a powerful performance.
With influences such as Led Zeppelin and Modest Mouse, their sound can be described as modern rock, but they give you a feeling of safeness that causes you to close your eyes and feel as if you were at a 60’s psychedelic rock show.
Though they are rooted in the conservative town of Provo, Desert Noises is far from traditional.Their pursuit to become full-time musicians began with leaving established careers and jumping in a minivan, which they drove across the U.S. for their first nine tours.
Desert Noises is a collage of four unique musicians who come together to form a masterpiece, with soul and spiritual identity flowing from each member into each song. Brennan Allen keeps the rhythm on the drums and Pat Boyer brings influence from his blues background on guitar. Bassist Tyler Osmond adds an element of both funk and R&B while singing alongside Henderson. Ultimately, it is Henderson’s presence and passion on the microphone that ties the band’s sound and show together.
Their performance at Stubb’s included songs from their latest album, 27 Ways, which is definitely worth a listen. With lines such as “We could throw this paint on the wall, and find out where we belong,” from their song “Angels,” 27 Ways is a record full of evidence that Desert Noises is ditching their traditional past and growing into themselves through music.
When asked where Henderson’s lyrical inspiration comes from, he shrugged and said, “Everywhere…I believe we are the tool for songs to come through.” He definitely showed it on Thursday night. The expression and spirit of the show emphasized that Desert Noises not only writes lyrics, but that they also have a unique voice to be shared with the world.
Desert Noises has been offering their transcendent sound to their audience through various festivals, such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and frequent visits to major fan-sites that include Lincoln, Nebraska and Toledo, Ohio. This year’s U.S. tour finishes in March, but that doesn’t mean a rest for the band. With plans to move to Nashville, they only hope to continue growing and sharing their music with those who want to listen.
Desert Noises’ next stop is tonight in Philadelphia, after which they will continue to tour until they wrap things up back in Provo on March 27th.
Follow Desert Noises on JamFeed to be the first to hear about the band’s new releases and upcoming shows—you won’t want to miss the one near you.
Last week, Ron Weasley Ed Sheeran delivered an impromptu cover of “CoCo” by O.T. Genasis on BBC Radio 1Xtra. I watched the video and immediately sent it to my editor, Yunus Church. Here was our conversation:
Neal: I think I need to write about how awful this is. God. Gosh. Darn. Fuck. This is really bad.
Yunus: No way did this happen. I refuse to listen or even acknowledge it. This didn’t happen. (Editor’s note: Still haven’t listened to it, still won’t. Can’t risk the possibility of Sheeran’s voice intruding my turn up whilst bangin’ the original)
I want to talk about how awful this is, not because I hate Ed Sheeran but because I love covers. I really, really love them. I’m fascinated by why artists decide to cover certain songs by other artists. Are they paying homage to someone who has influenced their work? Do they have a new, interesting take on the song? Are they too lazy to write and need to add one more track to an album? Because of these curiosities, I will listen to almost any cover of any song.
But acoustic covers of hip-hop songs are problematic. There’s an entire conversation to be had about cultural appropriation, about how the only way to make songs like “CoCo” more accessible is to have a young white guy play them on the guitar. It’s a little unnerving to hear these kinds of covers because they place the singer so far outside the scope of the original work. It always comes off as slightly patronizing, as if the cover is revealing some kind of hidden substance that wasn’t there to begin with. Oftentimes the results, as is the case with Sheeran’s cover, are purely comedic, and there’s an arrogance in showing how ridiculous some hip-hop songs are when driven from their context. It’s a flippant type of white privilege. This doesn’t work when hip-hop artists cover pop songs. You would never hear O.T. Genasis cover Ed Sheeran. If you did, it probably wouldn’t sound funny.
Sheeran’s cover doesn’t sound funny either, only terrible. “CoCo” isn’t good to begin with (“Water whip, like I’m Nemo.” Excuse me?) but Sheeran doesn’t offer a compelling stylistic alternative. The cognitive dissonance of playing a song about cooking crack-cocaine as if it were merely a low-key Jack Johnson b-side is staggering in its absurdity. Sheeran has written about addiction before in his hit single “The A Team” so perhaps this particular song resonates with him. That’s the best excuse I can come up with for why this had to happen.
I don’t ever want to talk about this cover again, but I do want to talk about other ones. Specifically, what makes a good cover. In my mind there are three key distinctions:
1). The cover is an homage to the original in some way, shape or form, whether vocally or melodically, but usually not both. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery but you can’t just make a carbon copy of someone else’s work.
2). The cover is a complete and total reworking of the original, unique and even a bit audacious in its execution. However, it must make sense in context. Sorry, Obadiah Parker but “Hey Ya” is a happy song. It’s a feel good song. It makes you want to dance. You shouldn’t be sad while you’re shaking it like a polaroid picture. That doesn’t make any fucking sense.
In that spirit, here are a few of my many favorite covers, ranked in no particular order. Please share yours in the comments!
Isaac Hayes, “Walk On By”
My mother worships Dionne Warwick and I grew up listening to her early recordings, many of them written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Warwick, as Jean Monteaux once wrote, normally sings with “not a voice so much as an organ.” On “Walk on By,” however, she croons softly, allowing Bacharach’s shifting orchestration to take over. A brass section morphs into violins as backup singers punctuate Warwick with authority.
Hayes covered this song at the end of the turbulent 60’s and turned it into a 12-minute funk epic, complete with a roaring guitar and violent string introduction that finally gives way to Hayes’ smooth, haunting vocals. The vamp eventually speeds up so electrically, repeating and repeating itself with remarkable intensity that by the time it burns out abruptly and ends with a sad, simple drum solo, you’re still catching your breath. No one has ever turned Bacharach upside down quite like this.
Ingrid Michaelson, “Nightswimming”
“Nightswimming” is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands so I hold any renditions of it to a high standard (talking to you, Dashboard Confessional). It’s hard not to be impressed by Michelson here, as she uses a looper pedal to match her dynamic riffing. She pays reverence to the circularity of Michael Mills’ memorable piano motif while making the song indelibly her own.
Rufus Wainwright, “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”
Wainwright is best known for his cover of another Leonard Cohen classic, but this one is just as moving.The orchestra swells climactically at the end of the second verse and recedes gently under the power of Wainwright’s voice. This video is his performance of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” in the underrated concert documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, but I prefer the album version; the strings don’t overpower him as much. I typically have little patience for those who can’t separate Cohen’s poetic genius from the sultry depths of his vocal range, but Wainwright, one of the most gifted singers of his generation, makes this song feel profoundly urgent. Cohen’s version is direct in its simplicity, as if it were no more than a formal statement. Wainwright turns it into a confessional.
Cat Power, “Sea of Love”
In his excellent book Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, critic Daniel Durchholz writes that Tom Waits has a voice that sounds like it was “soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.” I always think of this quote when listening to Waits, and when you hear his gruff and demanding rendition of Phil Phillips’ doo-wop single “Sea of Love,” you know what Durchholz means. My preferred cover of this song, however, comes from the Atlanta born Cat Power, the vocal antithesis of Waits. Her version, famously used in the movie Juno, is melodically faithful to Phillips but stripped down to only a ukulele. This simplicity brings out the beauty of Power’s textured isolation. It turns the song from a cute Hallmark card into a melancholy plea for closeness. If you like this, check out the rest of the aptly titled The Covers Record, where Power pays strange and powerful homage to everyone from Johnny Mathis to The Rolling Stones.
John Legend, “Dancing In The Dark”
This one goes in the Cover Hall of Fame. My favorite version of it comes from Legend’s appearance in 2012 on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show. With some help from the Roots, Legend keeps the loose spirit of the original but with a strutting jazz arrangement that is more timeless. Other renditions, like the one above, feature a solo Legend confidently gliding along the ivory keys. Regardless of how he does it, Legend crafts this song into a more psychological exploration of longing.
I’ve always loved the lyrics to “Dancing In The Dark,” but Springsteen seems to fight against them, covering up the pain with dated, distracting synthesizers. Legend embraces it and allows the melody, and his soulful vocals, to convey a sense of hope amidst despair. He’s soft and sure, and understands that most men lead lives of quiet desperation.
When Beck won Album of the Year for Morning Phases at this year’s Grammy Awards, Kanye West, and I suspect much of America, was not thrilled. As you may recall, West began to walk onstage, as Beck was about to address the audience, before returning to his seat. At the time this seemed self-aware and charming but nothing is ever as it seems with Mr. West. Over the next few days we heard his thoughts on who the real winner should have been (hint: it starts with a “B” and ends with “eyonce”) and then we heard everyone else’s thoughts on Kanye’s thoughts and Beck’s thoughts on Kanye’s thoughts and everyone else’s thoughts on Beck’s thoughts on Kanye’s thoughts. There was lot of “thinking” going on.
At first, I didn’t think much of it (ha!). While West’s music may continue to surprise me, his behavior never will. I wasn’t offended. I like that he spoke his mind and criticized the Grammys. I agree that Beyonce should have won.
But what of Beck’s place in all of this? He isn’t just the object of another artist’s frustration. He’s also his punching bag. Say what you will about Kanye West but his voice matters. The strange irony is that maybe he did Beck a favor here. Maybe now more people will buy Beck’s album.
I know that Beck probably doesn’t care. After all, he didn’t ask to win. But I was unnerved by how comfortable he was in conceding to another artist’s point of view. He didn’t stand up for his album or his artistry. He didn’t challenge West to a deeper conversation about what makes one album better than another. His response to this controversy was a lot like his album: timid and humble, simple and gracious. It represented what rock music has become and the antithesis of what it should be.
I think Kanye West understands this reality more clearly than the Grammys do. Perhaps his new working relationship with Paul McCartney has made him look out at the broader landscape of contemporary rock. Perhaps he doesn’t like what he sees.
Whatever the reason is, I suspect his comments run deeper than petulance or stubbornness. They’re a challenge to both the audience and the industry. In essence, he’s forcing us to ask ourselves the question we’ve been avoiding for the last few years: does rock and roll matter anymore (should we drop the roll? Yeah, let’s drop the roll)?
The problem is two-fold. On the one hand you have record sales, which, while not nearly as critical as they used to be, are a good snapshot of cultural relevance. On Billboard’s Top 200 list for 2014, no American rock bands or solo artists are in the top ten. Only Imagine Dragons sit in the top twenty for their subpar debut album Night Visions. Otherwise you have a mix of pop, country, soundtracks, and the Duck Dynasty family. The Black Keys, both productive and critically admired, had their Turn Blue land at number 38. Jack White’s bizarrely angry Lazaretto placed at number 55. And Beck’s Grammy winner finished at number 60, behind three Now That’s What I Call Music volumes, two Lana Del Rey records, and something called Five Finger Death Punch (not to mention Beyonce’s self-titled triumph, which finished at a robust number 2 on Billboard’s list).
The other issue is less tangible but of equal concern. More and more rock music is becoming a cultural artifact, too reliant on history and the continuing quest to iconize some of our greatest artists to the point of redundancy. Paul McCartney, still vital at 72, has settled into the role of a glorified backup singer for Kanye, Rihanna and even Taylor Swift. Surprise albums from Beyonce and Drake have been well received, but when U2 does it, it’s a nuisance (editor’s note: to be fair… U2 kinda sorta… I mean… ah fuck it, it’s a great point, proceed). Like McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young are still testing their endurance, but are slowly drifting into the twilight of their careers. God willing, Prince will live forever, but there’s something unsettling about there being only one major black rock star we’re ever talking about. Ditto for Florence + the Machine. Where’s the next great female rock band?
The past overwhelms some of our most talented modern acts, who can’t hold court on their own without stepping back to let a more senior performer take the reigns. What the Grammys taught us is that Hozier merely exists as a warmup for Annie Lennox and John Mayer, one of the greatest guitarists alive and a commercial heavyweight (and, yeah, a jackass), who in turn is only required to back up Ed Sheeran, who then backs up Electric Light Orchestra. Beck can’t play solo on one of his own songs. If he truly had the best album, why does he need to share the stage with Chris Martin? To make him seem relevant?
The historical weight of rock music has suffocated audiences to the point where young artists are facing an uphill battle to find their place in a conversation centered largely around hip-hop, pop, country, and the Frozen soundtrack. Are there new rock stars out there who can energize the culture in the way that Kendrick Lamar has for hip-hop? Who can push the boundaries of their artistry the way Beyonce has? Where’s someone who isn’t going to take Kanye West’s shit?
Two weeks ago, Joshua Tillman, former drummer of the Fleet Foxes, released I Love You, Honeybear under his alias Father John Misty. A concept album, it’s narrative is a journey through the ecstasy and torture of love. Caustically self-aware, brash and unrelenting, it’s maddening in it’s complexity and, at times, rather difficult to get through. It’s also brilliant and, so far, the best album of 2015.
With a swelling anger in the timbre of his versatile voice, you can hear influences ranging from John Lennon’s trademark screams to Elton John’s signature bravado, but that would discredit the originality of Misty’s place in today’s landscape. His first studio outing, 2012’s Fear Fun,introduced Misty as a true outsider, sarcastically decrying Hollywood and fame with cocksure lyrics and a classic rock aggression.
Honeybear is clearly a more personal and refined effort. The aggressive, confusing poetry is matched with the soaring versatility of Misty’s stunning melodies. This puzzling contradiction works, creating a world that is hard to understand but easy to get lost in. On “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Cow,” the song begins as a whining, standard country ballad, slow and sure. “She blackens pages like a Russian romantic, gets down more often than a blow-up doll” Misty croons, idealizing his lover with sensual conviction. The perspective shifts in the next verse, as he now agonizes over the idea of other men flirting with her while he’s away on tour. The final lines are a firm instruction “If you try that cat-and-mouse shit, you’ll get bitten, keep moving” as the string section takes over and the guitar warbles in sad syncopation, hypnotic and bitter in it’s psychedelic state.
“The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” is a brutally cruel, extremely funny look at a failed romantic prospect – “She says, ‘like literally’ music is the air she breathes … I wonder if she even knows what that word means. Well it’s ‘literally’ not that” – while the tune is reminiscent of a slow, 60’s springtime love song. It’s Roy Orbison with a dash of venom.
The most divisive song on the album is “Bored In The USA,” which, depending on how you interpret it, is a manifesto of the fragile psyche of the common man, a referendum on capitalism, or just one long joke. It sounds like a downbeat, Randy Newman piano anthem, with soaring emotion in Misty’s voice. When he reaches the bridge, however, his various complaints about the education system and prescription drugs are suddenly echoed by canned laughter. This continues until the final notes and it slowly diffuses our understanding of the song. Who is laughing at Misty? Is he laughing at himself? Is he laughing at us? I’ve listened to “Bored In The USA” dozens of times and I couldn’t tell you what I really think of it. I’m not quite sure it works. But I can’t stop thinking about it and trying to decode it. It’s hard not to admire this kind of audacity.
Listening to Misty calls to mind a younger Loudon Wainwright, another singer with a bizarre, combusting onstage personality. His sensibilities tilt from the simplicity of classic folk tunes to weary, post-modern observations on history, fatherhood, and depression. His lyrics are deeply personal, affecting, and somewhat uncomfortable. But like Misty, Wainwright’s gorgeous voice covers the darkness. He knows how to make strange and sad music sound beautiful.
A more generous comparison would be David Bowie, who 40 years ago stretched the limits of artistic identity and defied convention with the sheer force of his talent and imagination. His Ziggy Stardust was as much an escape as it was a representation for what rock music could be: bold and promiscuous, with swagger and substance, fearless and full of love. Misty has the chance to reintroduce that kind of engaging eccentricity into contemporary rock. His attractive weirdness can serve his unique and provocative songwriting, much like it did for Paul Simon and even Beck, once upon a time.
If Misty is as good as he thinks he is (and I think he is), there will be missteps along the way. He could end up like Wainwright, enduring a consistent yet frustrating career. He may never end up on the Billboard 200 list or perform at the Grammys. But I don’t think anyone has a better chance of offering us new possibilities for the way we listen to and enjoy rock music.
“People in bands don’t have the kind of conversations people might think they have. The best things about being in a band are the things that are unsaid.” – Thom Yorke
“I’ve never felt like I had anything important to say.” – Noel Gallagher
In 2006, I visited China with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Over the course of several weeks we travelled much of the country while also stopping in Tibet and, briefly, Japan. I recall enjoying some places, disliking others, drinking too much tea, and feeling homesick. The World Cup was happening at the time and while the Chinese National team was not very accomplished, there was a profound sense of pride throughout the country, due in part to the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics. My cousins and I would wake up at odd hours of the night to watch certain World Cup matches and I remember seeing France upset Brazil in the Round of 16 at 5 am.
On one of my last days in Beijing, I bargained for a replica World Cup trophy from a street vendor outside of my hotel for what amounted to roughly $20. I decided that I would present it to my friend Louis Miller who, at the time, was the biggest soccer fan I knew.
When I returned to the United States, I rode my bike to Louis’ house to deliver the trophy to him. I rang the doorbell, he opened the door, said a very soft “Cool, man. Thanks,” nodded his head a bit and made some excuse about being busy and not having time to hang out. I was confused and bitter.
After that, we grew apart. I don’t recall ever seeing Louis again. I know that can’t possibly be true but if you don’t trust your memories then anything is possible.
I thought of this the other day while listening to “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis from their 1995 album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? This song was the defining anthem of my middle school years. If you had asked me at the time to create a trailer for the movie of my life (we all do this, yeah?), it would have been scenes of me running cross country, tee-peeing houses, and struggling to talk to girls set to the gorgeous wailing of Noel Gallagher:
When you’re 13 years old, the way you make someone care about the same things you care about is to never shut up about them. If it weren’t for Louis Miller, I would have never cared about Oasis. Over the course of a few months he managed to not only convince me that they were perhaps the preeminent rock band in the world but that they were, in fact, closer in scope to The Who or even The Beatles. He burned me a copy of Morning Glory, and I bought Definitely, Maybe and Be Here Now. I was impressionable and Louis could play guitar better than anyone else my age so he seemed like a credible authority. He had the conviction of a much older man.
Oasis had a different kind of conviction. The crispness of their vocals, punching each consonant with their rough, Manchester accents, brought a vitality I had not heard before. For the first time I could quantify confidence – an absent quality in my teenage years – as a tangible necessity for any great rock band. They were loud and proud, brutal and boisterous yet skilled enough to suit their vocals to smart melodies and catchy lyrics. I had grown up listening to the early records of The Rolling Stones, before Altamont and the 70’s brought a new kind of energy and agency to their music. But Oasis was distinct. They were all energy and agency. All bravado, all the time.
I suspect that my father was aware that my taste in music was subject to influence, so around this time he introduced me to another British heavyweight. Radiohead had just released Hail to the Thief and my father kept the album in his car for many months. Whenever it played in his Chrysler mini-van, I would usually grab the case and struggle to make sense of its cover. Designed by Stanley Donwood, it features words like “Security,” “Drugs,” and “Oil” in multi-colored, non-symmetrical rectangles and was inspired by roadside advertising in Los Angeles. It looks almost like a sad, political checkerboard and has always symbolized my difficulties with the band from Oxford. I could not appreciate the Orwellian analogue systems behind a song like “2 + 2 = 5.” I could not even understand what was being said.
“His voice is so high. Why is he mumbling? What are these noises?” I asked my father.
“I don’t know.” he replied, impatiently. “Maybe one day this will be your favorite album.”
This isn’t my favorite album. It isn’t even my favorite Radiohead album. And my favorite Radiohead album, Ok Computer, isn’t one I go back to very often.
I don’t really like Radiohead. This is problematic since I’m 24 and white and sometimes sad and live in Brooklyn. I should like Radiohead. But for reasons that aren’t quite clear, reasons like Louis and my father and album covers and the Gallagher brothers, I’ve always compared them to Oasis and felt I had to choose sides.
Objectively, the “war” is over and Radiohead has prevailed. This is due primarily to their longevity, consistency, and an overwhelming critical popularity. Scrutiny seems to elude them at every turn. They’re a tenured college professor at the University of Rock and Roll. Thom Yorke could roast a turkey on stage for an hour and Rolling Stone would probably call it the best concert of the decade.
I concede that I have a hard time arguing against the creative merits of Radiohead because, as someone who practices a different kind of art (theatre), I admire the ingenuity of their process. They’ve managed to reinvent themselves several times over their career with deceptive ease. They’ve gone from rock to alternative to electronic to an amalgam of different genres. In a sense, they’ve created their own genre and have done so without compromising the integrity of their artistry.
These are all logical reasons to like a band, but listening to Radiohead is only ever an intellectual exercise for me. I’m constantly concerned with melodic themes, wrestling with lyrical complexity and accepting the fact that a full listening experience may not be achieved on the first several attempts. At the same time, due in large part to the generosity with which they creditother artists, I’m aware of their wide array of eclectic influences: Sonic Youth, Charles Mingus, Queen, the Smiths. This awareness should make me respect Radiohead. But all it does is remind me of my admiration for these other artists even more. If I seem moody, play me the Smiths; when I’m feeling cocky, I turn to Queen; for some reason I like jazz when I’m hungry; and if I want non-linear lyrics why settle for Radiohead when I could listen to the Talking Heads or R.E.M. After all, what is “Karma Police” but a poor man’s “Losing My Religion”?
I realize this isn’t necessarily fair. I project these influences onto Radiohead more than is perhaps reasonable. But unlike these other musicians, they leave me searching for a clear identity. They have the appealing qualities of other artists I like but none of the deficiencies. They’re polite, principled, smart. I just don’t see any cracks in their shiny edifice. It’s not that I doubt their passion and sincerity. Only their humanity.
This has never been an issue for Oasis. They recognize their flaws and seem completely willing to accept them. As lead singer Liam Gallagher said, ”I don’t know what any of my tunes are about, they’re just out there. I’m not good with words. I just say the first thing that comes into my head.” Is some of their music low brow? Sure, but high brow rock bands aren’t really any fun. Radiohead injects more social and political content into their music, but Oasis has always felt more populist. They may have been snobs, but at least they weren’t elitist snobs. They may not be a serious band but no one could ever accuse them of pretending to be.
This is where everything becomes truly difficult: I appreciate art that is high brow and serious. I listen to Shostakovich and read poetry. I prefer Michael Haneke to Michael Bay. I’m even going to the opera next week. Damnit, I’m a serious man! Shouldn’t I love Radiohead? Isn’t Oasis just a bunch of over-amplified, ignorant nonsense? When people tell me they don’t like The Master(with a haunting score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), I explain that they need to see it at least three times before having an informed opinion. So why can I barely get through In Rainbows more than once? And I can’t knock Radiohead for ripping off of R.E.M. if Oasis did so more egregiously: “Morning Glory” is the insecure younger brother of “The One I Love” (to be fair, everyone in the 90’s was ripping off of R.E.M.)
Oasis broke up because the Gallagher brothers couldn’t find balance amidst their sensitive egos. Their petulance and complacency limited their overall potential. Radiohead has sustained success with each member delivering their own various side projects over the years. They’ve worked in tandem since the late 1980s and show no signs of slowing down. And Thom Yorke must get credit for understanding how diminutives work more than Toms’ Stoppard, Selleck and Brady. Isn’t that worth celebrating?
Twenty years ago, this was much more of a fair fight. When it was released in October of 1995 (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? placed Oasis at the top of the BritPop movement and would become the best selling UK album of the decade. While it will always be remembered for “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall,” I recently found myself more taken with other tracks like the the snotty but resolved “Some Might Say,” or the triumphant coda “Champaign Supernova.” You can feel the sense of longing in “Cast No Shadow” and admire the Beatles-like charisma of the playful “She’s Electric.”
Radiohead released The Bends the same year. Critically considered to be one of their finest albums, I’ve always viewed it as the band finding their footing for the first time. After the tepid respond to 1993’s Pablo Honey, a mix of indulgent grunge and self-consciousness(want to piss off a Radiohead fan? Talk about “Creep”*), the band rebounded with hits like “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” while Yorke combined his indelible falsetto with more arcane and less personal lyrics in songs like “Nice Dream” and “Sulk.” It’s easy to see how an album like this would inspire a new generation of British bands from Coldplay to Keane.
1995 saw Radiohead ready for lift off and Oasis at its apex. One was a rocket, taking flight; the other a meteor, crashing to earth. Oasis, still massively popular even in their fractured state, had seen their best days. Their follow up album, Be Here Now, is a stylistic mess; a record that, as critic Steven Hyden notes, “requires a dump-truck unloading a metric ton of cocaine directly into your nostrils in order to sound like a masterpiece.”
So why do I feel so loyal to Oasis even if I can acknowledge they are the historically inferior band? Why do I care so much about a bunch of British people I’ve never met or about Louis, a kid who was good at sharing music but bad at being my friend?
There are three potential answers to these questions, which I will share in order of most complex to most likely:
1). My therapist once told me that the reasons we sometimes hold onto the past is to protect our younger selves. We do this to shield us from the abuse or shame or paranoia we once felt; to not apologize for connecting to people who weren’t right for us or for cheating or lying to others; to feel secure about enjoying books and movies and music that we would never think about liking today. Our past is still very much a part of who we we are and how we think. It is important to respect and defend its integrity.
2). I texted my father for his opinion on the subject and he said it’s because I secretly wish I had a brother. Upon receiving this response, I literally stood up from my chair and verbally exclaimed “Brilliant!” But which Gallagher am I – Noel or Liam? It doesn’t matter, my father explained. “Either way you’d probably get into fights with him and break up the band.”
3). Because reality is based in fact and memory is based, at least partially, in fiction, and fiction is always more interesting than reality could ever hope to be. This philosophy was confirmed by Oasis when they released their sixth album in 2005. The title? Don’t Believe the Truth.
*(It’s no secret that there is no love lost between these bands. In terms of smack talk, however, Noel Gallagher will always be remembered for eviscerating Radiohead with this epic taunt: “No matter how much you sit there twiddling, going, ‘We’re all doomed,’ at the end of the day people will always want to hear you play ‘Creep,’” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2007. “Get over it.” Devastating.)