"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


chalkiest night stuck in the throat
we bark like dogs to croak like frogs and publish our blogs til the internet clogs
confessional juggernauts guard their towers with meek bluster and lie to the coward crowds "I'm yours. I'm not yours."
yellow eyes in the city built against inspiration and pity
too many cataclysms to get high off
your triumphs are chemical like your accolades. so if you feed yourself right you ain't got to go nowhere but up and if you claim yourself with admitted fear, but resolute... you can't leave home. because over there, that's your space too.
your enemies are only real if you sit waiting for them

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ethereal Beasts: 10 Questions with Pop Pistol

Dreaming shifting prisms: George Garza, Alex Scheel, Jorge Gonzalez. Photo: Alvin Alderete

Humble, thoughtful, and active in the community- San Antonio's Pop Pistol represent the ideal of the citizen-artist... An aspiration sadly absent from your average ambitious indie band's to do list. This particularly refreshing quality is present in all that Pop Pistol does- from the music and its accompanying visuals to their tireless work promoting and organizing in the SA art/music scene. They released their sophomore LP Animal Prisms on October 26th, on their own imprint Mitote Records, and are now touring the Midwest in support of that lush and meticulous piece of mesmerizing electro-tinged indie rock (see my full review for SA Current HERE). Amid a storm of local fanfare and events, and as they prepared for said tour, the guys were kind enough to humor some questions I had about their work and motivations/inspirations. Read their earnest, heartening and (in some cases) shaman-like responses below. Also... Stream the luminous and voluminous album, dig some of the mind expanding visuals for it and (since you'll definitely want to) buy it from them at their Bandcamp... 

You deserve the listening adventures and they deserve your support!

1. In addition to being something important for your droves of dedicated fans, I hope this interview will be a chance for many others to fall in love with Pop Pistol: the entity and the music. For those readers especially, tell me about the history of the band.
George: Alex and I are cousins, and we met Jorge in high school. We were in a band named Roma for a few years before starting Pop Pistol in 2005. We started out in an old motorcycle shop owned by a friend's grandparents. We helped convert the space into a short-lived DIY live music venue called Black Lion. We recorded an EP there, which barely saw the light of day, though there are some copies living in Monterrey, Mexico where we had our first out-of-town show. We released Angelus in 2008, but were not yet really aware how to properly promote a new album, so it went seemingly unnoticed until a review in 2009 which was one of our first important pieces of earned media. Since then we have released two more EPs, Shadow (2009) and Disappearing Edges (2010), and we re-released Angelus on vinyl earlier this year in a limited 300 run. We began touring in 2010 and since have spent our trips in the Midwest, occasionally traveling to perform in New York. In these last four years, we've really established ourselves locally, not just by playing shows, but we're also involved in community organizing and are part of a local music coalition called Local 782. Our involvement in grassroots organizing has opened our eyes in a lot of ways and we see our role developing. Our music may not be political, but it continues to evolve and revolve around themes of both spirituality and humanity, which is definitely influenced by the work we do. 

2. Pop Pistol has a reputation for being one of the hardest working bands around. Talk a bit about where this insatiable drive comes from and the different manifestations of it in the daily life of each band member.
George: Our drive is based on our relationship with each other. We are brothers and we are committed to this project. Also, we are energized by performing and connecting with people. We're excited by our own adventure and we work hard to make the ride enjoyable. In a deeper sense, we believe that there is power in music and art to transform society and we live in a world that needs a lot of change. These ideas keep us moving forward. As a band, perhaps the work we do is pretty typical. We write music, we record, we perform, and we promote. Aside from that, we also have day jobs, side gigs, and volunteer with several non-profits.

Jorge: As an independent artist, especially a musician, there’s a heavy emphasis on self promotion. Long gone are the days of getting “discovered” by a music scout and signing a major recording contract. As music listeners and creators we try to be adaptable as we feel it promotes growth. We are working class musicians that hold day jobs with the goal of eventually having our music sustain our living. There isn't much room in our budget to hire outside help like a publicist, booking agent, promoter, etc. So we took it upon ourselves to be students of the different aspects of the “music business”. After enough practice and guidance from those we work with, the band duties become second nature and flow with our daily life activity. In turn, I feel we've benefited greatly from this type of  direct work ethic. We've been able to establish incredible relationships with our local media, venue owners, fellow musicians, fans, and collaborators. The productivity also helps greatly in adding to the sense of worth you have for your art and the role you play in your band. Our intentions become stronger and shine in the art we create and promote.

Alex: I work to make things better...

3. As a follow up to the previous question, what does success look like for Pop Pistol? If there is any one of our wonderful SA bands poised to go the route of Girl In A Coma, it would seem to be you guys... What does that mean to you?
George: For me, the goal is simple: to travel and play music with my best friends, hoping to capture audiences and connect with people. Just being able to live life to the fullest in that sense, with the band as my vehicle, self-sustaining; that is success. We're already successful. The mainstream rock star dream is not appealing. Celebrity is not desirable nor do I care to be rich. I can see our recognition on the rise, and I feel that it comes because people respect what we do and how hard we work. Girl in a Coma sets the standard around here for dedication and hard work, and we admire them and take notes on how to be pros. Still, I feel that we will obviously have our own paths, but I think I understand what people are trying to say when they make comparisons. 

Jorge: Success for me means to have sustained happiness that can be shared with those around you. Our music is our vehicle and has given us incredible life experiences that have shaped me into a better person. We set attainable goals for ourselves and continue to reach them. As long as we stay on that roll, goals such as paying rent, traveling, and reaching broader audiences with our music will come to fruition. We continue to learn so much and are inspired by our peers everyday. Girl in a Coma definitely helped in lighting that fire for us and we hope our influence does the same for the next great act to rep San Antonio to the rest of the world.   


4. Released October 26th, Animal Prisms is your second LP and follows up 2011's superb Disappearing Edges EP... What have you learned, recording and songwriting wise, from earlier efforts that helped you in making this new record? What's the same and what's changed?
George: One of the main reasons we were able to record this album ourselves was because of the accumulated studio experience we have. Mostly we were confident that we could do a good job mixing the record and bringing out textures the way we wanted to. The process was humbling because even though we had an idea of what we were doing, making that reality took a lot of trial and error in the studio and many more hours than we had imagined. 

Jorge: We applied all the knowledge and experience gained from past recordings into Animal Prisms. Our rehearsal space (laundry room) was converted into our personal hub for recording with mattresses and blankets hung on the walls. Alex fortunately had collected and invested into recording equipment over the years and with the help from friends who lent their gear, we were fairly well prepared. Though many of the songs were solid once we started, the rough edges were worked out and we were able to complete each thought. With the benefit of having the tracks accessible and mobile, Alex was able to work on each song at his leisure. Soon his leisure turned into countless hours editing, experimenting, and mixing. At times we’d run into hurdles- but in the end the hours of attention and love shows in the final product. 

5. Speaking of Animal Prisms- it is a wonderfully intricate album full of psychological ruminations and explored fears, drowned in a sound that’s both crunchy and ethereal, accessible and complex... Please discuss the musical and lyrical themes of the album. And what is the significance of the album’s title in relation to these themes?
Alex: When each song is made, its places and ideas and connections to any other outside song are not yet formed. They just grow from a word or rhythm or bassline into something with leaves and flowers. The words come out in tongues in the beginning but don’t string out into ideas until the last moments of creation. That being said, I feel like making songs in this way is like a magic ritual. They bring to the surface shadow or unconscious ideas that I can sense people around me are or will go through soon. You can make a song and 8 months later all the ideas in the song are singing to what is taking place and you realize what the song was created for. In many ways that's how all the songs are and how the art is. The main themes I would imagine are death and all the characters that inhabit that world as well as growth and all the reaching out that happens in that world. But there are things that come at you in angles like trying to connect to another person through Love or empathy. Trying to connect to yourself in the same way, but feeling like a very isolated creature in the process. There are a lot of underground feelings in the record I try to convey with sub-frequencies and there are a lot of infinite celestial spaces I try to shine to with ultrasonic animal sounds and synths. The album was created to put in front of the mind the experience of being inside this world and feeling it all with the distractions of the buzzing world around. The name is an idea that came from watching people at a party. Everyone was talking in small circles and looking around the room. I felt everyone as two people one talking and the other wandering around their thoughts and fears. Everyone seemed isolated from each other and hard to truly see, like a bunch of spinning prisms that are blurring the light they put into the world with the chatter they must produce to be interesting in this world. The animals are the changing personalities we inhabit throughout our lives and days. We change our entire physiology according to the emotions and environment we are in and if you focus on those things you can see how vast the changes are in the people around and in yourself. So I guess the idea is, we are all fuzzy little chameleons.

Alex and the Universe. Photo Courtesy of Daniela Riojas

6. Pop Pistol has always been a positively magnetic live experience. How do you incorporate the best elements of your recorded sound into the live show and vice-versa? Is that process more or less difficult with the new material?
George: We've used a sample pad that Jorge uses to trigger loops or specific sound bytes to try and recreate the recording as much as possible. The dual side to this approach with our style gives us room to breathe and we can make the live performance more captivating. We were definitely striving for more layers in this recording and it's exciting to introduce these new samples live. 

Jorge: Many of the song ideas begin on Alex’s computer with sounds and samples he creates. After we jam them live during practice, some of those sounds become vital for the integrity of the song. All the “keeper” samples are added to my drum pad and we rehearse performing them live. For this album there are more of those triggered sounds than past releases. The live performance, experience, and audience is the icing on the cake. 

Alex: I think this time around we were able to produce the sounds we wanted without too much studio glossing or manipulation of things. The drums were recorded with 4 mics so they sound like Jorge vs a “perfect drum sound”. We used our own guitars and really pushed the levels of the the core instruments to get "our" sound which does have a lot of soft hanging cloudy things but mostly gets its momentum from the power of rock instruments.

7. Album and show artwork seem to be very important to Pop Pistol. What role does album art play in the process of making a record for you and how would you compare your view with the current trends towards irony or ease? Additionally, can you elaborate on what you see as the connection between the visuals and the music.
Alex: Making the album art started before making the album. On this record I started drawing again and wanted the hand to be a very strong part of the work. In the past I created much of the art using only the computer, which does give a very powerful clean look to things but it seemed limited in its chaos. I started drawing these creatures in surreal quantum environments and it gave me an immediate sense of pleasure and I knew I found something that could be very Pop and also very spiritual. The album art is a wonderful design process because it starts with a square canvas, which gives it the potential of great balance and power. I must have gone through 30  different designs before I found one that felt like an album cover. It took a few months of drawing and putting together and scrapping and starting over, but I think in the end I found what I was looking for. The Deer was one of the first drawings I made so I felt like it led me to the forest of all this creation. The gold has many meanings to me. I see it as quantum light that you absorb and store till the end...

I’m not too aware of the album cover trends. I do see a lot of doodles and handwritten covers with cute mountains and animals and old pictures with white letters on them and a bunch of recurring themes that seem to box in artists. If you are an indie band you must have teenage doodles as your artwork and you must have a crazy death logo for your band if you want to be a metal band. Or you have to be clean if you use any electronics. I guess that's just the way it is. We are a part of that too. Our album covers do the same things as everyone else's... Describe sound. Indie music is irony laden and sometimes it fits, but I think people should stop using preset looks and sounds and instruments. You don’t have to be a replica of what you like. I’ll love you anyways...

The visuals give you dream material you can swim in while you hear the music. They paint an environment for the music and put you in the right headspace... For me visuals expand what we are doing into another dimension and hopefully fuel people's imagination and describe many ideas which we ponder. I sense an evolution of thought occurring and use this band to reflect it with every flyer hand tour poster and video and album art. I hope to fan the fire.

Sheel's Art for Animal Prisms track "Coyote"

8. I’m genuinely interested in how artists and thinkers influence other artists and thinkers... As such, I’d like to know what Pop Pistol reads and/or listens to. What artists of any type do you guys take inspiration from and in what ways do you see them affecting your unique musical output?
George: Just started reading King of Trees, but some books that stick with me are The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten, The Four Agreements, 1984, Farrenheit 451, Brave New World. How those affect my music other than The Music Lesson is hard to say, but they must shape me as a person. Musically I am pretty open minded as far as listening goes. Recently I've been listening to ReadNex and Third Root. Tonally, I want to capture the feel of Rock, R&B, Funk, Soul, Hip Hop, and all types of dance music. If I had to name actual players having an influence on me today, I'd say Simon Gallup, Colin Greenwood, and Chris Wolstenholm. 

Jorge: About the same time we had our group moment of committing to this band and music, I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Both left me with an energized sense of self-empowerment and outlook on daily life. My musical listenings fluctuate but always seem to lean to the groove heavy styles of funk, soul, disco, trip hop, latin, etc. But I credit my Hispanic upbringing, which included a heavy dose of cumbia, conjunto, and Mexican traditional songs, for my desire to make people move with music; both physically and emotionally. Most recently Pandora has been a great resource while local radio keeps me on my toes on what’s coming out of our community.   

Alex: I’ve been into Allen Watts and Krishnamurti and Bruce Lee and James Dean and Bjork and Jean Michel Basquiat as personal thought-heroes. I look up everything they do and try to find out all I can about their methods. I feel connected to their thoughts and try to continue the work that they were into. I don’t read much, but I do listen well. Musically I’ve found some great things and try to capture what they are presenting me. Artists like Mulatu Astatke and Tricky give me many great lessons on beats and scales. James Blake, Flying Lotus, and Dntel show me how much the environment of sound matters. Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke show me how avantguard can still be extremely catchy and Philip Glass and Brian Eno show me how to slow it all down,while Hendrix and Buddy Guy show me that Guitars are beautiful ways to convey your heart. And Nina Simone, Kate Bush, Jeff Buckley, and Bjork show me the power of the voice and how to stretch and cooh it. Mostly I’m into occult ideas and try to thread them through pop culture and see what comes out on the other side of that rabbit hole.

9. I always feel like the things artists could see themselves doing if they weren't artists are very telling with regard to how they approach their art. If each of you weren't busy making Pop Pistol into the force of nature that is has become, what do you think you might be doing with yourselves? 
George: I like to think I'd be more involved in community organizing, creating videos, continuing my education, studying linguistics. 

Jorge: Haven’t asked myself that question much in recent years. I’ve been having way too much fun chasing dreams! I work independently in landscaping/gardening and would enjoy continuing on that path. I’d also like to explore a field that facilitates the sharing of useful knowledge.

Alex: I DON’T know. I wouldn't be thinking of things in the same way. I would try to create art but I don’t think there is a universe that I wouldn't be making music in . If I had more days within my day I would be studying ancient history and plants and doing architecture and studying ancient medicine and looking for extra-solar planets- but who knows...

10. For mostly ineffable reasons, y'all seem like the right folks to ask this question: what is the meaning of life?
Jorge: Be rich in happiness and share the knowledge with others!

Alex: I don’t know yet. I got close once but I had to slap myself for being so naive to think I was close to knowing. I just try to work all I can and learn every day and try to stay busy being born...

POP PISTOL: facebook, website, youtube, bandcamp, twitter

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Go Moonly on the Sunning Earth

Image by Pilar Zeta

the sweat in the words is the shimmer of sweat in the steel.
everyone goes savage minding buzzing flies
while the meat sits rotting.
that sun- eye of a misunderstood God, root of a
belabored fruiting, death
of autonomy growing and pulsing...
has been patient with our consumptions and assumptions.

    so go learn about the Greeks
  while the dog holds her leash.
    go topple the system
  while your families dream of water and mattering.
    go climb your ego
  while the mountains forget figuring you out at all.

the chatter outlining your boredom is the reason the birds sing.
I drive myself crazy deciphering a handshake
while forgetting my oldest name.
our Earth- mother of infinity's dreams, slave to
the definitions of imbeciles, cosmic-sized
mote of flourishing dust...
has harvested baskets of war from lush fields of peaceful chaos.

    so go peek at the body
  while the soul becomes a cliche.
    go write down your theories
  while her smile is decayed by static.
    go pinch from the tiny pocket
  while all the gifts of reality turn to sand at your feet.

disregarding even a blade of grass is disregarding yourself.
we understand what happens by the racing moment
while what it might mean in the eternal moment goes unconsidered.
this moon- daughter of emperors and addicts, marker of
the truths crawling in darkness, receptor
of sleep struggles ignored...
has forgiven without appeal to antonyms or averages.

    so go broadcast special
  while evolution molds everything from one clay.
    go pour drinks on death's head
  while it lives drunk in your blood.
    go sleep off those pesky (constructed) mistakes
  while your heart pumps in time with the perfection of the multi-actuality of now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Into Ghostly Distances: 10 (err... 9) Questions with Simon Joyner

Simon Joyner (Photo by Micheal Patterson)

Time and gone distance have a way of reducing the immediacy of human feelings to quiet voices in the dusk of another warm evening falling. Omaha, Nebraska's Simon Joyner makes songs that seem to sit perfectly still in this dusk- even when they're full of angst, worry or frustration. All the movements and adornments on his latest work Ghosts, for example, have a hushed way of approaching the listener... polite but blunt about all the time we don't have to waste. Joyner's thirteenth album, and definitely one of his finest, Ghosts is rife with emotional texture, gnarled and dilapidated sonic settings, and lyrical spryness (intuitive, heartfelt, detached, sharply luminous, magical). It both stands out and blends in, among the other living snapshots in Joyner's 20-year recording gallery.

See my full review of the album (for KINDFORM) here.

Joyner was recently kind enough to humor some of my questions about his work, its inspiration(s), and his stance on being mentioned alongside his own heroes- the result is a necessary supplement for any listener with more than a cursory interest in the songwriter, the man and his music. Read that below and stream a few of Ghosts' standout tracks. And go get the album... If you're a fan, it will surpass all of your expectations... If you're new to Simon Joyner, I assure you it will be the first of many you'll want to have in your collection.

1. Ghosts is your 13th proper album, released in your twentieth year of recording... looking back and looking forward, how do you see it in the context of your other musical efforts? Especially for readers who are hearing your music and learning of you for the first time, talk a little bit about your development (what you've discovered) as a songwriter and recording artist over the course of these albums and years.
I guess I don’t look at all the records in a linear way, as part of an evolution (though I can see how the case could be made for that way of viewing a “career”), but more as individual projects existing in their time and place only. My goal with each record I make is to serve that batch of songs and whatever is in my head at the moment. Whatever preoccupations require further meditation, I guess. I rarely think about a record after it’s released, especially vis-a-vis the next record or the one that came before. So, with Ghosts I believed the songs I was bringing to the project needed to be approached a certain way and set out to create an environment and recording process that would facilitate that approach. With the other records I did the same. Some times I wanted to work with certain people in a studio environment to force a burning the candle at both ends creativity out of a limited time commitment, to see what could be drawn out of us from that approach. Other records were labored over many months. Other records mostly solo, recorded at home, with just a handful of musicians coming in after the fact to ice the cake, to dress up the skeletons, etc.... It always depends on the time and the songs themselves.

Consequently, I think there is no proper entrance point for someone hearing about my music and wanting to dive in. There will be folks who hate Ghosts but loved Out Into the Snow and vice versa, and so on with any of my albums, I think. It goes to show how important little degrees of change are when it comes to subjective information; poetry, music, fine art, whatever it may be. If I hit fewer blue notes, slid around a little less vocally, and trimmed a bit of dissonance, it might increase my audience substantially in a given population, perhaps decreasing it markedly among the more avant garde contingent. I can’t think about stuff like that and ultimately, it can’t matter. I make my music, and by definition, it can be whatever I want it to be at any given time, and that changes sometimes by little degrees and sometimes by greater degrees according to whatever the project at hand happens to be and what I think this particular song cycle needs. I’m pretty sure that after every record I’ve made, I’ve thought it was the best I’d done. So, I don’t have a perspective on the albums other than viewing them all as projects I was completely immersed in while I was making them. I don’t think I could release a record if I didn't think it was somehow better than or doing something different from all the others. 

2. Speaking about Ghosts specifically, what was the writing and recording process like? After many listens, it's hard for me to imagine a more appropriate title- what is the significance of the title generally and with regards to the song cycle? Who/what are the ghosts you're singing about?
I write a bunch of songs and revise them and re-write them until they’re basically presentable to other people. Then I make a recording of demos and give them to the band and we start rehearsing and working on arrangements. It’s a ways down the road before we get around to recording as the songs continue to develop through the process of adding other creative influences and working out ideas together as a group. With this record, that was the case for almost all of the songs. I threw “If It’s Alright with You (It’s Alright with Me)”  at them unrehearsed while we were recording because I wanted it to be even more loose and spontaneous. But generally, that was the approach. Recording-wise, we set up in my large warehouse space, spread out, using a 16-track reel-to-reel machine I borrowed from Conor and some nice mics and other gear from ARC Studio and other musician friends, combined with our stuff, and were able to get a nice warm recording sound without being in a studio. The warehouse environment meant we could record anytime according to everyone’s schedules and no one had to take much time off work, etc... We got the basics done live over a couple long weekends and then after that we just messed with the songs as time allowed, bringing in people one at a time to add this or that. A lot of the overdub recording was done by Chris Deden and I experimenting on songs when no one else was around. 

The title refers to people who have died and their stories, as well as the stories that exist around their death due to how the living deal or don’t deal with it. In writing about the lives that intersected with them when they were living and are left altered now that they are not, you end up with multiple ghosts, living and dead. I am not who I was at various times in my life and I think of all of those people I have been as ghosts. On the cover of the record I have pictured friends and family, living and dead, all in some previous incarnation, so to speak. There are no recent photos of me but there are several of me from different points in my life. I made the band give me pictures of themselves from the past, as long as they believed they were fundamentally different then than they are now. I have also worked in a few photos of influential ghosts, artists whose work “haunts” this album! I don’t want to be sued so I will leave it to others to investigate the cover art for themselves. The idea of the cover was to create a “sea of humanity” feel, where the past and present, the known and unknown, all exist side by side on contact sheet strips as if they were all photographed at the same time. In this way, a photograph of my daughter can be seen next to a photo of my grandmother at the same age, that kind of thing. Time is so fluid and life is so incredibly short, you know, and people aren’t who you think they are or want them to be, they are always more than you think they are and only occasionally who you want them to be, like a clock that is only (or always) right twice a day. This isn’t any fault of theirs, it’s our mistake, expecting consistency out of something so messy and mutable. I think about how the light of the microscope changes what is being observed to render it unknowable.

Photo by Zach Hollowel

3. You went through Kickstarter to 'crowd-source' the funding for the finalizing of this project... Please talk a bit about your experience with that. What do you see as the social and artistic value of Kickstarter and other avenues like it?
I knew this would be a double album and being an artist surviving on the largess of small, independent labels, I thought I’d give them all a break, and not ask them to fund this expensive project. It certainly could have been done traditionally but I thought about the financial burden of doing it and really didn’t want a single entity to have to shell out for the whole thing, especially given that I’m a little particular about artwork and packaging and wanted it to look and feel a certain way. The benefit of the Kickstarter model is it allows the people who usually support my music indirectly (by buying the records in a store which paid a distributor which paid a label which shelled out all the initial investment) to move into a direct support role and pay for the record themselves. Ultimately, that’s where the record is ending up anyway (in their hands), so it’s just a nice way to cut to the chase, for one thing, and do so in such great numbers that no one person’s initial investment in the record jeopardizes their life in any way. If 200 people donate an average of $50, that’s not going to hurt them, but it adds up to $10,000. If a small label has to pay $10,000 to put out a record, they might be hurting for awhile or holding off on other projects while something recoups, you know? 

So, this model really facilitates art and does so with very little risk. The other benefit it provides is getting the artist back into a more human relationship with his or her supporters. Art becomes less mysterious and foreign, artists can be viewed as just like you and me, and that’s a positive thing, I think. It sort of cuts the stilts off the stage and gets the pedestal hoppers down here with everyone else. The work a person does might be exceptional but there isn’t generally anything more special about them as people. I’ve met them, I know! So, the crowd-sourcing puts the artist in a place where he/she is asking for money directly from people who support his art, and that subtle shift changes the dynamic in a way that benefits everyone, I think. I know that I enjoyed communicating directly with supporters during the Kickstarter campaign. Hearing from people who appreciate what I do is always encouraging. It’s easy to write and record in a vacuum and put it out there without knowing if anyone is hearing it or thinking about it. Just as performing in front of people can affirm that you’re not strictly doing this for yourself, the Kickstarter model also provides that connection. For some artists, knowing there is an audience is extremely important. But of course Emily Dickinson and Jandek did alright too.

4. The Simon Joyner legend is a series of half-spun yarns and word of mouth from diehard fans who long for the type of rambling life that seems so deeply embedded in your music. There is, of course, a long history of artists of all kinds seeking and finding inspiration on the proverbial road. Please talk a little bit about your various travels and how the land and the characters have become a part of your songs and your worldview.
Freedom is in the mind, really, and an idea that seems to distract from what people’s actions say they really want. Or, perhaps, it’s just mis-named. When Cohen’s character says “I have tried in my way to be free” in the song "Bird on a Wire", I think that that “freedom” is about choosing where you rest and how you surrender. A bird rests on a wire, people stop somewhere and do something for however long, etc.... That’s being free, choosing under what circumstances you will surrender. I think people are mostly adrift, wanting to anchor, not wanting to ramble at all. Distance and disquiet loom in characters who anchored in the wrong place at the wrong time, you know, John Cheever protagonists and the like. 

I’ve been no different throughout my life. The rambling we do is all searching for meaning and beauty and staving off and then embracing inevitable disasters that both disrupt and infuse everything with that meaning and beauty. So, we want the worst to happen and we want to avoid the worst that can happen for the same basic reasons. The road itself is not so important. It can be a convent or a prison or a Kerouac jalopy or whatever. Self-reflection and desire and investigating whatever mystery moves you can be done without going anywhere. I have enjoyed all the traveling I’ve been able to do and will continue to do it all my life, whenever I can, but I’m not driven to travel for the same reasons as some of the characters in my songs. I am not necessarily suffering from the same delusions about freedom, I guess I should say. I don’t think an unhappy person can go to the ocean and be happy. Seeing more geography is not necessarily the answer when a person can travel all over the world and still be anchored in the wrong place.

5. As a follow up to the previous question; your life (and thus your work) is obviously not wholly defined by your travels... Tell us a bit about your personal story. I'm not just concerned about elements that are closest to your music but also elements that are closest to your heart. For instance - and I think this is important for all artists attempting to remain so while 'growing up' - what role does domestic life play in your creation/inspiration?
Domestic life is as important as anything else, I’d say. It’s part of the whole picture and if you’re interested in writing about people in any kind of three-dimensional, universal way, you have to know something about what makes people tick or what kinds of things motivate them. Family is one of the things that motivate people to act in certain ways so of course it’s important. I’ve been married and divorced. I am married now and have three children. I wrote about married and divorced people before I was married or divorced, with as much information as I was able to achieve through serious observation, just as I’ve written from the perspectives of many characters regardless of whether or not I shared the same views or had the same experiences. You make it up but you make it real by paying attention to what you’ve seen and heard. Having a family and being directly involved in a variety of complex relationships is just working with more information than I had before, but it doesn’t change the process from a creative standpoint. If anything, it makes me lazier as an observer, taking things for granted. Domestic life and my commitments here have more of an impact on the logistical aspects of my creative life in that I rarely tour or spend very long away from home when I do tour. That kind of thing. But that’s where my priorities are for my everyday life. Having a family may make me more acutely aware of the passage of time than I already am, I guess, and that certainly works its way into my creative process, as heard on this new album.

6. For me - and this is not at all to take away from the power of your songs as a whole - lyrics are a huge part of what draws me to your music. You are poetic and direct, mystical and realistic, passionate and stoic, personal and universal... All at once. What is your lyric writing process like? Who do you consider some of your biggest influences in the realm of lyric writing and/or the literary arts?
Thanks, that’s nice of you to say. My process depends on the song and what it’s trying to say. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to write a song about, a problem I want to write about. So in those cases I try and think of a scenario that would work to illustrate it, and from there I imagine the characters and so on downward, starting with big idea and ending up with smallest details like dialogue and the color of someone’s hair, etc.... That’s the harder way to go about it and not very fun because it’s really making something tangible out of something completely abstract. More often than not, a song develops in the reverse. I start by writing down a piece of dialogue I overheard or a single line comes to me that rolls off the tongue just right. Some little detail which I then work around until a direction starts to emerge and eventually the idea or problem becomes apparent later in the process. Often the line I began with is in the middle of the song and I’m building in both directions from the center. Sometimes as the direction of the song takes shape, the original line is discarded or changed to say something else, having served its purpose to get things rolling. This way starts out messier and more aimless but generally gets fine-tuned through multiple revisions. Both ways of writing songs end up at the same place, being revised and fine-tuned, but the processes are very different.

I’m influenced by everyone from Cole Porter to Hank Williams to Patti Smith to Bob Dylan to Mike Watt & D. Boon to Woody Guthrie to Peter Laughner to Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. You know, songwriters like Phil Ochs and Kris Kristofferson and Townes van Zandt and Joni Mitchell too, of course. Peter Jefferies, Neil Young, Chris Knox, Alastair Galbraith. These are just some of the people who spring to mind but really, it’s anyone who knows how to write a song. 

7. As a bit of a back porch academic, I have always been very interested in the philosophical, mythological and religious references in your songs... Where do these come from? What, to you, is the value of these kind of allusions in music? If philosophers were baseball cards, who would you definitely want to have in your collection?
They are just reference points or signage in a song. If you allude to something people know the story of, that allusion or reference can do a lot of the work of conveying meaning for you. You allow people to bring their own knowledge of this or that to the line in question and put that information with the other information given to go a little deeper into the song. Some might say it’s cheating! It’s a tradition in storytelling at any rate and if used in a nuanced way, really great. Some poets like T.S. Eliot have so many allusions that there’s a page of footnotes for every few stanzas. I think it gets a bit much and in a song, it should be used in a way that doesn’t begin to call attention to itself. You should be able to get the point of the song without knowing any of the references or catching any of the allusions, but if you know some of them then it’s just more information to use when thinking about the line or the song. Having grown up when and where I have and given a decent education and a secure enough home life to retain a lot of it, I make use of those characters and stories from the bible or from mythology or from literature and pop culture. It’s just more tools in the toolbox. I know that a lot of people know the story of Icarus or Prometheus or Cain and Abel or will bring a certain amount of their own knowledge of Christianity and the idea of original sin to any apple references, for example. It’s fun to use the knowledge you have to make a song more interesting. That’s how I look at it anyway. 

If philosophers were baseball cards, I’d want David Hume in the collection.

Photo by Sara Adkisson Joyner

8. Those who are most acquainted with your work (myself included), who are also fans of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, place you more firmly in their lineage than a whole host of acts that have been referenced as such by various media outlets...  How does that grab you? Pleasure, pressure, or indifferent?
It’s a flattering comparison. I am humbled by their best work, of course, and strive to work at that level whenever I write. It’s tough. This isn’t false modesty but I rarely feel that I’m even in the same building, let alone a hundred floors below them in the tower of song. To have anyone really believe I’m in their pack somewhere blows my mind. I’m not sure how to feel about it. If you want brutal honesty, hearing that kind of thing more often than not makes me think twice about the person who said it. That’s how distant their lead seems to be.

It’s funny, I have this thing I do when I’m done writing a song and I think it’s really good. I pop in my DVD of Don’t Look Back and I watch that scene where Donovan plays his "A Song For You" tune in the hotel room and then Dylan says something like, “wow, nice song, man, that’s a good song....HERE’S MINE” and then he plays "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue". You know the scene, it’s excruciating to watch. Then I think to myself, if it were this new song of mine that Donovan had sung instead, how sorry for him would I feel now after "Baby Blue" finished? Would I feel just as bad? Would I feel even worse? Would I think he did pretty well under the circumstances? That’s the barometer. I just want to stay in the hotel room and not feel like shit after that exchange. I’ve thrown away hundreds of songs that way. Other songwriters need to throw away hundreds of songs too. Raise the bar and try much harder. If people think I’m competing at that level, what has probably kept me in that hotel room is just knowing and fully appreciating what I’m up against.

9. Speaking of your legacy... What’s next for you? Recordings? Writing? A quiet retiring life (haha)? Adventures? You’re twenty years in and have made an inestimable mark on the songwriting world - one that will certainly only strengthen with time - where do you go from here?
Dunno. I’ve got some writing left to do. I’m basically a young man.

SIMON JOYNER: facebook, twitter, website, ba da bing records, discog
For more on Simon and Ghosts see: HERE (NPR) and HERE (Dusted).

Is It Sun?

Sunbathing by Beth Hoeckel

We genre-jack our biggest changers, smile-smacking the sweetest strangers and alienating the saddest maintainers. All shoot high for spectrum Hollywoods and disrespectful spectral nations built into the feet of feeding demons fondling fetal demons. Notated daydreams coming out full with sheen and expectation of sun and God and kitty. Woven width of operatic darkness, fertile in the tomorrow aspects and vacant for the million years. Who hasn't, having hoped, stopped thinking for peace and joined ranks with rage? Yet... Even the tsunamis, superbugs and all our dashing death-weighted giants are just reflection pools. We just wiggle our noses and laugh when the universe gathers details of doom at the doors of our sandcastles.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest MIX: Bodega Pop

Bodega Pop is a unique blog by a dude (Gary) who thankfully does what folks like me might want to do but would never have an ambitious enough ear for (let alone time or patience). Searching bodegas and out of the way tiendas and bazaars for CDs from all over the world that one might never encounter anywhere else, Gary has populated Bodega Pop with a world's worth of strange and beautiful personalities and sounds from everywhere. I asked him to make a special mix for Learn to Labor and to Wait and, in the first of what I hope to be an ongoing series showcasing what my favorite music blogs have to offer, he has graciously delivered the manic and astoundingly diverse mix below... A mix that is as far-flung as it is immediately arresting. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I do.

"When Jamie asked if I’d create a guest mix for learn to labor and to wait, I knew immediately what I wanted to do: a country-by-country sampler of some of my own personal favorite sounds snatched from bodegas from my hometown, Astoria, Queens, all the way west to Portland, Oregon. Every mix I’ve posted to Bodega Pop since I launched the blog two years ago has been themed, typically by country of origin or genre, so this was a chance to put together something far-ranging, multiethnic and chaotic—much like the borough I call home.

Though I’ve previously posted all but a couple of these songs as part of other full CDs or mixes, I took the time to re-rip each one of them at 256 (variable rate) kbps. I allowed myself only one song per country—a fool’s task—and though none of these songs can be considered “representative” of the culture that produced them, I stand by these choices as each being worth multiple listens. In addition to the track-list below, I’ve detailed where each of the CDs from whence these songs were ripped were originally purchased.

Thanks, Jamie, for asking for this, and I hope you and your visitors here find as much pleasure in this fabulous and astonishing music as I have over the years."

—Gary Sullivan, Astoria, Queens, August 2012


BODEGA POP MIX for Learn to Labor and to Wait:

01 Ani Rushe Rexhes Kush O Ma Ka Pa, Fatmire Breçani, Albania
Found in an Albanian bodega on Church Avenue, Brooklyn

02 Mansitha Ma Rahet Men Bali, Cheb Hasni, Algeria
Scored at an Algerian bodega on Steinway Street, Astoria, Queens

03 Jebo Vladu, Edo Maajka, Bosnia
Plucked from a Bosinian bodega on 30th Avenue, Astoria, Queens

04 Achi Yei, Mar Mar Aye, Burma (now Myanmar)
Burned onto disc for me by Zaw at Thiri Video in Elmhurst, Queens

05 My Honey, Carlinhos Brown, Brazil
Purchased in a Brazilian bodega on Steinway Street, Astoria, Queens

06 Unknown Song, Unknown Cambodian Artist, Cambodia
Procured from a Thai-Cambodian market in Portland, Oregon

07 想郎, Zhao Xuan, China
Discovered in a Chinese video store in Flushing, Queens
08 Triste Recuerdo, Hermanas Juarez Villamar, Ecuador
Bought at an Ecuadoran bodega on Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens

09, Nar, Hakim, Egypt
Rescued from the Nile Deli on Steinway Street, Astoria, Queens

10 Shemanena Fetaya, Alemayehu Fanta, Ethiopia
Acquired in an Ethiopian café in Washington, DC

11 Marouchka, Arthur H, France
Obtained at a street fair on 60th Street, Manhattan

12 Stin Athena, Paidi Thavma, Greece
Lucked upon at a Greek music superstore, 31st Street, Astoria, Queens

13 Floating on the Sea, Ketchup, Hong Kong
Special-ordered from a Hong Kong video store in Chinatown, Manhattan

14 Dil Cheez Kya Hai, Asha Bohsle, India
Grabbed from Raaga Superstore in Edison, New Jersey

15 ’A Carulina ’e Napule, Gilda Mignonette, Italy
Gotten at an Italian music store on 18th Avenue, Brooklyn

16 ポルターガイスト, Kojima Mayumi, Japan
Gleaned from an Asian media store in Chinatown, Manhattan

17 Mush Qasah Hay, Fairuz, Lebanon
Snagged at a Lebanese grocery on Steinway Street, Astoria, Queens

18 Casablanca, Cheba Maria, Morocco
Fetched at Princess Music, Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn

19 Slim Fit Maggie, The Semi Colon, Nigeria
Recommended to me by someone at at Blessing Udeagu Copy Shop, Corona, Queens

20 Mawan Te Dhiyan Ral, Surinder & Prakash Kaur, Pakistan
Wrangled from a Bollywood video store on Lexington Avenue, Manhattan

21 Koniec Kryzysu, Pustki, Poland
Happened upon in a Polish music store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

22 Mama Guela, Tito Rodriguez, Puerto Rico
Picked up from a Puerto Rican bodega in Morningside Heights, Manhattan

23 Time of the Moon, t.a.Tu., Russia
Extracted from a Russian media store in Corona, Queens

24 ¿Que te pasa?, Crowd Lu, Taiwan
Secured from an East Asian media store in Chinatown, Manhattan

25 Fashion Yuk Ja-Luad, Rungpetch Laemsing, Thailand
Snatched from a Thai curio store in Chinatown, Manhattan

26 Kume Dusersin, Oguz Yilmaz, Turkey
Nabbed at Uludag Video on Avenue W in Brooklyn

27 Огонь И Я, 5’Nizza, Ukrain
Latched onto in a Russian media store in Corona, Queens

28 Khuc Hat An Tinh, Phuong Dung, Vietnam
Hauled away from a Vietnamese media store on Argyle Street in Chicago

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Universe in a Night: 10 Questions with Last Nighters

Every night is last night. (Photo by Michael David Garcia)

If you're like me, you sometimes like your indie rock with a little intimation of the dusty distance... A little woozy cowboy saunter... A little of what country songwriting icon Jerry Jeff Walker is getting at when he sings about old men and Texas bars and the blurry neon of a man's desire to hang on all night. Sound about right? Enter Last Nighters.

I've said quite a bit about this San Antonio indie rock quintet for the SA Current HERE and HERE. They have a debut record out called Animal Room, which you can download/stream HERE or below. It's an album that's more than worth your while- loaded with youthful urge and tight pop-rock arrangements with a Texas tint. Last Nighters melding of familiar styles and explorations of heady yet simple harmonics are refreshing and leave us wanting more than this short (8 songs) album has to offer. Rest assured, Last Nighters are a band beginning... A band that got born and now comes looking for the universe inside your head. I asked them a few questions recently, to find out how they came to sound so youthfully exuberant yet so wise- below are those questions and their collective answers. Download the album, read up and be on the look out for Last Nighters at a venue near you. If you aren't sold after a few listens to Animal Room, you will be after you catch their enchanting live set.

1. Animal Room, your debut album, is a short yet richly populated piece... The kind of concise and careful product one might expect from a 'seasoned' outfit. What's the Last Nighters story? And, generally speaking, how does the collaborative process work for y'all?
Well first of all I'd like to say thanks! Those are very awesome compliments.

The story of Last Nighters begins in the summer of 2010. It started out as a recording project between Niem, Kendall, and I (Rob). Kendall and I had been recording, and touring nationally with a band called Trainwreck for three years previous. I was playing drums in Trainwreck, and Kendall was playing guitar, as he does now in Last Nighters. The Trainwreck sound could be described as a southern/country rock band. It was a great experience and we thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it, but creatively, Kendall and I didn't feel like it was the style of music we wanted to be playing. So we gathered up our recording gear and started writing compositions and jams, if you will. The ability to be able to multitrack record as a writing tool helped us write more thoughtful, and carefully placed arrangements, and is such a key element to how the collaborative process works for us. We were able to write together without having to be playing at the same time. We could sit back, and discerningly decide what we should play and how to fit parts together. Structurally, it started out as just ideas and then as time progressed the songs would start to take shape, have dynamic, and would of course, have lyrics. All this preliminary writing would take place at night, so the next day we could say "Hey! look what I wrote last night". So the initial compositions would be the result of a series of "Last Nighters" if you will. That's where the name came from. Niem, Kendall, and myself are responsible for writing and arranging Animal Room. Once we decided to start playing live shows, we picked up a bass player, Nick Federico and Last Nighters' first drummer, Jeremy Morales. Although Niem, Kendall, and I wrote and arranged the album, Nick and Jeremy did record all of the drum and bass parts on it. We wanted their style and flavor to be on the album, rather than it being just a product of the three founding members. Nick and Jeremy were very quick to learn the songs and put their own personality into them, which was great. Bringing our current drummer, Alex Alarcon, on board was great too. He picked up where Jeremy left off and has kept things perfectly consistent, without a hitch. We're very happy to have him on board, he's a great friend and a great musician

2. Following up on the previous question, what can you tell me about the tracks on this album? What was the writing, recording and production like for Animal Room?
Well, as I mentioned before, the songs all started out as one or two ideas before being completely constructed into songs. Sometimes we'd write a little part with one instrument, and then completely compose just that one little section with all of the active instruments and we'd say "ok, that sounds like it could be the verse of a song". So from there we'd see what that could lead into and we'd start writing and composing the next little section of the song, which for the sake of example I'd say would be either a pre-chorus or a chorus section. So for the most part, our songs were carefully composed and arranged section by section. It sounds tedious and time consuming, which it is. But we are just very keen on writing thoughtful arrangements. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we were all in band (marching, jazz, orchestral, symphonic) for a great percentage of our lives. We've seen some good arrangements in our time.

As far as recording and producing the final album that everyone gets to hear, myself and Kendall engineered the whole thing, and we all collectively produced it. Some bands enjoy an outside opinion, but for this record, we really just wanted to test our production chops. I've payed a great deal of attention to all of the elements and nuances of a lot of great albums, past and present. I always have done that, even before I knew I would be making an album. So taking note of what the things are that make those albums sound great, as well as what I didn't find great, helped on the production end of things. Ultimately, we wanted it to sound like a band was actually playing the songs for you. The room warmth and the space really had a lot to do with that. But we also definitely wanted a lot of carefully placed nuances and layers of different colors and textures to be in there as well, which is something I expect from an album listening experience. For a listener, the album experience has to be different from the live experience.

3. Your band bio begins with the proclamation that "Last Nighters are one with the universe"... Please put your music in the context of that statement. What inspires and underpins the creative efforts and directions of the collective (and or individuals in the band)?
Being one with the Universe for us means that we're tapped into everything and appreciate all of it. I suppose in that sense, empathy is a huge thing for us. Being able to relate to everything and everyone in the universe is very important to us, just as people who are part of it. We want to work with everything, not against it. That goes with people, nature, the cosmos, etc. It's all very important, and everything moves in rhythm. I suppose in conjunction with our music, being one with everything is important because a little bit of everything is in our music. It's not just one thing, you know? So I think (I hope) everyone can find at least a little bit of themselves, or things they are familiar with or have experienced in our songs.

4. In the realm of music, what do y'all listen to? Who are the Last Nighters biggest influences and in what ways do you feel those influences are manifest in your songs?
Well, we definitely listen to everything under the sun, that's for sure. Alternative, chillwave, witch house, acid jazz, latin jazz, classic jazz, folk, bluegrass, indie rock, house, hip-hop, french house, psychedelic, surf music, etc. It's hard to really break things down into genres like that. More specifically, a lot of the bands we listen to and are influenced by are: Radiohead, Yeasayer, Real Estate, Air, Animal Collective, Wu Lyf, Phoenix, MGMT, Tapes n' Tapes, The Walkmen, Supertramp, MF Doom, Air, The Raconteurs, Maynard Ferguson, The Postal Service, The French Kicks, Victor Wooten, Gardens & Villa, Kings of Leon, Jaco Pastorius, A Tribe Called Quest, Toro Y Moi, Wild Nothing, Washed Out, Wilco, Fabulous/Arabia, Barrington Levy, The Shins, My Morning Jacket, The Cure, The Arctic Monkeys, The Moon Invaders, The Black Keys, Neil Young, Caveman, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound, Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Local Natives, LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes, TV On The Radio, Modest Mouse, Vampire Weekend, The XX….Ok, I can, and already have gotten a little carried away.

I think one of the bigger manifestations of our music, is all the music that we've made in the past. Niem, Nick, and I are all classically trained trombone players. Kendall is a classically trained saxophonist, and our past drummer (Jeremy), as well as our current drummer (Alex Alarcon) are classically trained percussionists. We've played all types of different arrangements in our time, on instruments other people may not choose to play. I think that adds to the diversity of our music and to our ability to mesh well together in an ensemble.

5. What is the importance of lyrics in what you're trying to do with your music? Any literary artists in the band?
Lyrics are very important to u. I'd say that they are equally as important as the music itself. Niem and I are the lyric writers for Last Nighters. We want to be empathetic with our lyrics, as if we're speaking to someone that we've never met before, but are really happy to talk to them. In a way, that's kind of a true statement, that is, we want our listeners to not ever feel alienated by our lyrics because they're too complex, or because the vernacular is too extensive.

6. In my review of Animal Room, for the SA Current, I mentioned that the album has a distinctly southern feel to it... A little properly executed twang, if you will... What are your feelings about place in your music and in music generally?
You know, interestingly enough, our stance on "place" in our music has always been somewhat of a "we're all from the same place" approach. As in we're all from Earth, or to go back to a previous question, we're all from the Universe. Personally, I've spent time in many different places all over the world and so have the other guys. So I definitely draw from all of that. But at the same time, we've all got some Southern roots and maybe that has a little bit to do with that twang you hear. Or maybe it's because Kendall and I used to be in a Southern Country/Rock band. That was our scene for a few years. I guess what I'm saying is that the twang isn't necessarily intentional, but I'm definitely happy with it being an organic product of the music that we make. It's like, I enjoy the sound we've created, and if that's part of it, then that's great! Even if I've never really noticed it before or didn't put it there on purpose. It's really cool when people notice things like that, things that I wasn't even aware of. That's why I love hearing outside feedback.

7. As you know, I found out about Last Nighters because I was lucky enough to find you playing during Monkeyfest. The live show is full of energy and a fairly infectiously good-natured confidence... What do you consider your strengths as a performing band and what would you like to improve? Also, especially for those that haven't seen Last Nighters play yet, what's the relationship between what we hear on record and what we can expect live?
I'd say that one of our biggest strengths is that we're all best friends, you know? We all live together and see each other every day. Music is just one of the languages we all speak fluently to each other, and that really helps our stage performance. Also, practice has never really been a bad thing for anyone! I suppose that's really easy to do when we all live together as well. But really, we're all just so genuinely happy to be up there, performing for people, and sharing something with them- I feel like that's a really positive thing.

As far as improvements go, I'd say our segues could be cooler. They're not bad, a little stage banter here and there. But I'd like to be able to play 2 or 3 songs, with some sort of musical arrangement leading from one song to the next. Then I'll stop, talk to everyone in the audience, do a little banter, and then group the next 2 songs together with that musical segue, and so on. It's not even an issue of me not wanting to talk to the audience, or that I feel like I'm bad at it, I just think that musical segues are awesome! Also, I'd like to start running our own vocal effects live (delay, reverb, chorus). That's not a hard thing to do and we have all the necessary equipment, we just need to practice with that thoroughly so we have all of our settings figured out exactly for each song and it's not a nightmare for the sound guys.

What you hear on our album is pretty similar to what we play live, although not too much so. Our album is constructed to have a lot of sonic detail, colors, textures, and nuances. Our live show still has all of those things, but I think the main point of the live show, is to accent the energy, the musicianship, and synergy that we have as a band. To show listeners that we really ARE the band that you listened to on that record. It's loud, it's live, and it makes you want to move your body (It makes us do that, anyway).

8. What can we expect over the next few years for the Last Nighters? Tell me a little bit about your ambitions as a band and as individuals.
Short term, Last Nighters will be doing 2 tours in the US. 15 days on the West Coast in December, and 25 days on the East Coast in March. We want to prove how hard we are willing to work and just how professional/serious we are about what we do. That will really make a good impression on the various agencies and record labels that we're communicating with. Last Nighters definitely want to be a career band. That is to say, we would like that to be our career and not just something we do on top of having day jobs. Having representation is a big thing for us. I went to school and studied the music business. I also have a lot of experience as a previous career musician. So, over time, I've learned a lot about the industry and I definitely don't want to be the sole entity that represents us. It's crazy to think that the 5 of us could do all of the work that a management agency, booking agency, PR firm, publishing company, and marketing company (record label) could do for us. Those entities can help us make Last Nighters a career band. And, you know, a lot of people cut that sort of thing down, saying that it's not real, or genuine. But honestly, I think it's great that there are companies and agencies that make it possible for musicians to just be able to play music and do what they love without all the stress work of having to manage themselves as a business and make a sustainable living.

9. To partially revisit the idea of influences and musical taste, what are some local bands that y'all are into? Anybody y'all would love to play with or collaborate with?
We love our local music scene! Some of our favorites (and friends) include: White Elefant, Cartographers, The Lost Project, Deer Vibes, Lonely Horse, Disco Wasteland, The Hawks, Sugar Skulls, Pop Pistol, HGP, Cure for The Radio, Deep In The Heart, Hacienda, Blowing Trees/Tiago Splitters, The Offbeats, The Way The World Ends, etc… I'd honestly love to play with any of them, really, and already have played with most of them except for one or two. We'll eventually play with them all though, I'm confident.

Collaborations are great, and I'd love to/currently am collaborating with Mikey and Devin from Deer Vibes, Nick Long from Lonely Horse, and Kyle Cooper from Cure for the Radio. But yeah, honestly I'd enjoy collaborating with anyone really! Speaking the language of music with other really cool musicians is just awesome.

10. Is it true your mind is an aeroplane?

LAST NIGHTERS: facebook, bandcamp, website

Monday, August 13, 2012

Blooming: DUSU Mali Band

{{Portland, OR}}

Djembes ringing through the sand halls of saltwater souls expatriated- which belong to bodies planted in family soil. If temper can rise to peace, then perhaps nations can sweep tsunamis aside. Perhaps we all sat on the same rug of Earth when we learned the original stories and smiled upwards radiating the desire to participate and to understand.

Perhaps metaphysics and quantum blah blah blah take summer seriously too and the weight of needing to accomplish even a semblance of existence is ha ha ha...

In Portland there's so much growing and knowing without knowing. I watch the plants wilt here in Texas and am furious- for a second or two, musing about how much Africa has been exported and how much of its heart I remember from all the trials before these trials and dances before these dances.

If you really look, you can see your true reflection far more clearly in a running river than in a glassy pond.

Find them: HERE.
And don't wait to DL the album. It's been out for over a year and it's free (and freeing).

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Yet Again"

In the funny way life has of posturing itself over the blankest canvas of the notion of "is not", our imagination plays life back to us as it happens; in sepia tones with archetypal nodes sticking out everywhere into the mist of considering and relating to.

Anticipating the beginning of time just seems ridiculous from among the currents... as if you've been given the right to deposit your precious panic for order into the general bank of the vast unknown. Was it your father or mine, staring out that window into the countryside of the 1970's? Was it a sister or a leftover mother who comforted you on sidewalks? Is it philosophy or faith when I shake my head into mirrors muttering "I'm OK, I'm OK"?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thems the Breaks: 10 Questions with Chuck Kerr (BAD BREAKS)

"We promise, this won't hurt." Bad Breaks: Chuck Kerr, Alex Wash, Marcus Rubio, Ryan Teter

The incestuous San Antonio "indie" music milieu (as depicted in this handy Venn diagram) manages to be mad fresh and diverse, despite errrybody being in errrybody's band. Chalk it up, I reckon, to the players' wealth of creativity coupled with musical intuition and (for many) formal training. The Bad Breaks project, and its first fruiting the Bad Breaks album, is headed by multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Chuck Kerr, who has had his hand in some of SA's best musical projects over the last 3 or 4 years. With his whole life up until now (he's 28) being filled with music, particularly drumming and various collaborative work, Chuck has developed a hyper-keen sense of musical movement and song form- both of which are hallmarks of this album. There's a night-crawling, smoky-room-surveying, almost groove-surfing cockiness to these songs... a sense of busy darkness alive with possibilities, but never chaotic. These elements spring in part from Kerr's jazz roots, but this is far from a jazz record. Bad Breaks is full of shifts in tempo and genre, organically rhythmic at its core and singularly precise in terms of arrangements and lyrical content. With this debut release, we are treated to a cool and calculated brand of chameleon-like indie-pop... a slightly formulaic sound that's familiar enough to endear itself quickly and deep enough to reward and move you after many listens. Check out my review of the album for the San Antonio Current HERE and buy the album HERE. Below: read the text of my email Q&A with Chuck, stream the album and watch a video of Bad Breaks performing. Lastly... PLEASE get yourself to 502 Bar for the Album release show this Saturday (8/4/12)... there will be plenty of face-melting to go around.

1. I feel like you’ve ‘been around’ the SA music scene for way more years than your young age would seem to allow... How long have you been playing in bands? Who have you played with and what efforts, in terms of albums or bands, are you proudest of?
I’ve been playing the drums since I was about 3 years old, and I’m 28 now — so I’ve been playing music for roughly 25 years. I’ve only been in the local rock music scene since 2008 though. Before that I was more interested in playing jazz; I led a jazz quartet in college and later was a core member of the SA Jazz Workshop with Jordan Pollard, Andy Peck, and Curtis Mayfield. The SAJW was all about writing and performing original tunes and unique arrangements; we’d do Coltrane and then turn around and cover Radiohead. Fun stuff. Around that time I met Marcus Rubio, he was at the height of his Gospel Choir of Pillows phase and when he needed a new drummer I basically shoved my way into his band. Back in 2010 I started playing with Chris Maddin (of Blowing Trees) at the Broadway 5050 on Wednesday nights, doing indie/classic rock covers — which eventually morphed into the live album cover shows we did and the recent Tiago Splitters album. Most recently I joined We Leave at Midnight and have been playing drums with Nicolette Good. Somebody once said that I must not be very choosy about who I play with since I gig with lots of different bands, but the opposite is actually true — these guys are all really talented musicians, otherwise I wouldn’t be there.

2. As a kind of follow up to that question... Bad Breaks is the first (to my knowledge) release of songs you’ve written... You spend a lot of time helping other people make their songs sound great from behind the drums... How did this project come about? Tell us about the roles and contributions of the players as well.
I’ve always been interested in songwriting and I learned a lot about how chords and melodies work studying jazz at at St. Mary’s University. I used to write songs for the SA Jazz Workshop, and some of them had structures more similar to pop than modern jazz. Jazz and improvisation is still a big influence, but I’ve always loved rock and pop music, and after playing with Marcus Rubio for a while I started getting ideas for what would become Bad Breaks songs. I like playing other people’s music, but Bad Breaks is an outlet for my own ideas and musical values. 

The original 2009 incarnation featured Marcus on bass and Jackson Albracht (Cartographers) on guitar. I sang and played drums and keys, often at the same time. This was the “larval stage” of the band, we did a handful of shows before Jackson resigned to concentrate on Cartographers. By this point I was starting to work on newer, “better” material (some of which made it to this record) but didn’t want to rebuild the band until I found the right people. About a year went by and when Alex Wash arrived in SA to play keys for We Leave at Midnight in 2010, I knew I had at least one “right person” for the group. Marcus was game to play if he could switch to guitar. Ryan Teter (Mission Complete!) rounds out the quartet on bass. Each person has a deep skill set — formally trained, fast learners, good improvisers, endlessly creative. And they have great instincts for knowing where they fit into an ensemble. 

In Bad Breaks, I write all four instrumental parts during the demo stage (Garageband is my best friend), but it’s kind of like a screenplay — it needs good performers to make it “sing.” Like a good TV cast, I’ve been trying to write to their individual strengths more and more.

3. As a drummer, what do you feel distinguishes your approach to a song newly forming? What sensibilities do you think are unique to your approach? What is your relationship to songwriting? How long have you been at it and who has taught you the most in that arena?
I usually think about rhythm before melody and harmony. I’m really hardwired for groove and “feel” — the pulse of a particular song. Sometime I get an idea for a drum pattern or bassline, and I have to find the melody and chords that complement it. Other times I get into a melody or a chord progression and have to find the beat it goes to. But I think that’s how it happens for most people, probably. 

As a composer, I do try to make the decision of how a song “feels” early on, though — like, what kind of character it will have. Each song should feel like a unique thing, and not just different chords and words. A lot of potential songs don’t make it past this stage, they’re either retreads or they lack one of the three things — values, I guess — I am looking for in a song (solid rhythmic feel, strong melody, interesting chords). I like to think I’m getting better at songwriting (or at least better at recognizing when I have a dud on my hands), and I’m really happy with how the songs on the debut LP work together. Some of them are from as early as 2009 (“Victoria,” “Seppuku,” “Chapter and Verse,” “Only Distance”) and the newest song is “The Way Things Are,” written late last year and recorded at the last minute. Maybe there’s an evolution there, but hopefully they share the elements I want in a good song.

I picked up some formal knowledge of composition from my professors in college, particularly Dr. John Rankin, Audra Menconi, and Cecil Carter. I think other big influences are the musicians and bands I love — listening to songs over and over to figure out why they’re so “good.”

4. The material on Bad Breaks has a very sharp and definitive sound; it’s crisp and only dreamy when it needs to be. What would you say are the key elements of the Bad Breaks sound? What/who are some of your creative inspirations?
I think you can trace back a pretty clear line from Bad Breaks to artists like Spoon and Elvis Costello, definitely. Both bands have really, really strong rhythm sections — Jim Eno’s slow and steady drive in Spoon, and Pete Thomas’s explosive yet tasteful drumming with the Attractions. I also appreciate both bands’ stripped-down, no frills 4-piece lineup: guitar, bass, keys, drums. I think that’s the bare minimum you need to get a wide range of textures, colors, and sounds. These bands can go big but also go small, which is something a larger group can’t do as well. Paul Simon is also a big influence, mostly his incredible melodic phrasing and willingness to experiment with genre when the song calls for it. 

I hope that Bad Breaks songs are always built on a solid, distinctive “feel,” coupled with a strong melody and colorful chords. This is a really vague set of criteria, and I’ve been trying to experiment with touching on different genres but keeping those elements intact. Like, there’s an obvious difference in genre between the Talking Heads-style rock of “Chapter and Verse” and the smooth ’70s pop of “The Way Things Are,” but hopefully they still touch on the core values that make up a “good song.” The diversity there isn’t just tourism — I love David Byrne as well as Daryl Hall.  One thing I love about pop/rock records of the late ’70s/early ’80s is that is they often covered diverse tempos and emotions. I’ve seen so many bands — successful, popular bands — that have two settings: “angry” and “sad.” They also have two tempos: “medium fast” and “fast.” There are so many different emotions you could work with, and so many different tempos and grooves, and I want to continue exploring these in the context of the four-piece band.

5. Lyrically speaking, what are some of your concerns? Do you feel like lyrics are central to your songs or are they more like secondary adornments?
I tend to think about lyrics late in the game, after the groove, chords, and melody has been roughly worked out. I usually make up some phrases during the demo stage, trying to find words and ideas that fit the character of the song and are evocative without being too specific. Some of these end up sticking around, but a lot of them change — often from performance to performance, sometimes on the spot. I never sat down and wrote the lyrics for the songs on Bad Breaks, most of the words just kind of came out during the demo stage and then were refined over time. I am not sure why this works better for me, occasionally I wish I was like those songwriters who can sit down with a blank paper/screen and craft lyrics like poetry. But when I try it, I feel like I can get too clever/wordy for my own good. Something about that feels contrived to me, and some of my favorite lines were pulled from my subconscious during rehearsal or a gig. I even almost called the album Automatic Writing — how “psychics” claimed to channel the words of spirits — but that was way too hokey for me.

6. I must say... With a bunch of good SA music coming out this summer; Bad Breaks has some of the best hooks and refrains. What importance do you place on this aspect of lyric writing and in what order (choruses first, verses first, willy-nilly, etc.) did you compose these songs?
Most of the songs follow verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure, just by their nature as pop songs. I think a lot about how jazz tunes are structured, usually with an “A” section and a “B” section (or bridge), and then that form gets repeated. I feel like after the main “idea” is stated (the first verse and chorus, or “A” and “B”), I’m free to expand on that form and try to take it somewhere unexpected and build tension. “Won’t Come Home” has a short first verse and a long second verse, with a long instrumental bridge. “Something True” and “Good For Me” have extra-long choruses. “Keep My Promises” is all verses, with only one short bridge in the middle. “The Way Things Are” has long verses, and the “chorus” consists of long “oohs” to build maximum tension before bringing the verse back. So the songs follow verse/chorus up to a point, and then I try to have fun with it. 

7. With respect to the previous question, is it natural for you to express yourself in your lyrics? I know you do quite a bit of writing in other modes... do we take your lyrics as personal explorations or as the domain of the Bad Breaks “speaker”? 
It really isn’t natural for me to express myself in lyrics — probably why I end up thinking of them so late in the process. Without getting too specific, much of the lyrical content on Bad Breaks comes from thinking about people I know/knew, and some of it is personal and some of it just kind of fits the mood of the song. In regards to who the “speaker” is, most of the times it’s “me,” but occasionally it changes perspective suddenly. Sometimes this was 100% intentional, other times I only figured out who was “talking” after the fact. “Won’t Come Home” and “Good For Me” are two songs that are more like conversations than just one person’s point of view. But I didn’t start writing with that in mind, they just sort of came out that way. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m trying to say — or if I’m even saying anything, really — until after a song’s been written and performed a few times. 

8. The epically-stacked Bad Breaks album release show is on Saturday August 5th 2012... What other performances/projects do you have going on in the near future... will you be focusing more on Bad Breaks with the album out or letting it lie and focusing on other musical ventures?
I’m really stoked for the album release show — I was very lucky to get bands I admire to share the bill with us. Blowing Trees has been on hiatus for almost a year, and this is their first big show with their new trio lineup. They are going to debut brand-new material and I can’t wait to hear it. Education is another band that’s done a lot of great work in the past couple of years and they are all really cool guys. Their last record, Age Cage, is really great. The Rich Hands are an up-and-coming group that came to my attention through the San Antonio Current’s 2012 Music Issue readers’ poll. I’d never heard of them until they were voted Most Underrated Band, and after looking them up I was impressed by their ’60s garage-pop and high-energy live show. 

My goal is to play some more Bad Breaks shows this year, promote this record as much as I can, and see what happens. Maybe a mini Texas tour before the year is out, up I-35 to Denton and back. I’ll still be drumming with WLAM, Chris Maddin, and Nicolette Good, and I want to stay open to new collaborations if it looks like it could be something special. If anything, this first album has only increased my desire to start recording a follow-up as soon as possible. Once I get another batch of songs into shape I’d like to take another crack at it.

9. I always want to ask this of people who have strong abilities and passions for multiple artistic modes: how do you feel the visual and musical arts are linked in your mind? Does your activity and/or inspiration in one mode inspire or feed the other? If you’re going to be locked in solitary confinement for a month, do you take your art supplies or your drums?
I think the “visual” and “musical” parts of my brain are linked, and for some reason I know more than a few graphic designers who also play drums. Maybe it’s because design is concerned with form and visual patterns, and playing drums is all about form and rhythmic patterns. I think the sound of Bad Breaks definitely inspired the album artwork, which I designed around photos by photographer extraordinaire Josh Huskin. The music is minimal and bold with few frills, so the jacket design followed suit. There’s definitely a connection, but beyond that I have no idea, honestly. 

Solitary confinement for one month? I’d bring the drums. At the very least, after a month of practicing 12 hours a day I’ll have developed insane chops.

10. To end on a - possibly - lighter note... If I try to get philosophical about the band name, all kinds of interesting things come to mind. Sometimes, I know, these things have meanings and sometimes they are more arbitrary or of necessity... What is the significance of the name "Bad Breaks" to you?
The name "Bad Breaks" came to me a few years back and I liked it because it could mean different things to different people. The actual, very uncool origin: a bad break is a kind of typographical error (as illustrated on the album cover). In 2009, I hadn’t seen Breaking Bad yet (haven’t had cable in years), so back then if anyone asked me if I was paying tribute to the show I had plausible deniability. But Netflix changed all that and I am now just as hooked on the adventures of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman as everybody else. Now when people ask if it’s a shout-out to the show I say, “No ... but did you see last week’s episode?!” 

BAD BREAKS: facebook, twitter, bandcamp, chuckkerr.com