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

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

Review: iamamiwhoami "Kin"

Released June 12, 2012 on To Whom it May Concern/Cooperative Music

Speaking to a group of writer's at the university I attended, poet Barbara Ras once said "poetry is not about meaning, it's about mystery." Through that lens, iamamiwhoami is as poetic as it comes. Originating in 2009 with two anonymous youtube uploads, which circulated quickly among music journalists/bloggers, the iamamiwhoami buzz centered first around an unknown artist or artists. By mid-2010, the mystery about the artist's identity was lifted - at least in part - when it became clear that the woman singing in these otherworldly videos is Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee. The light shed on this one most mysterious factor only seemed to magnify other mysterious elements like the surreal imagery in the videos that go with every song and the cryptic lyrics. Knowing, finally, who was behind these wonderfully organic electronic compositions turned out to be something of an anti-climax. Who else is involved in this multimedia affair? What artistic purpose does all of this secrecy serve and how should we contextualize these dope songs within that purpose? At the end of the mystery: the mystery.
A few years of anticipation in, Kin was released this summer to somewhat - considering the quality of the music and the once magnitude of the buzz surrounding Lee's frustratingly-named project - absent fanfare. Belying it's tepid reception, this is an expansive, dark and fully-realized album of warm electronic music - filled with philosophical musings about the value of love and relationships, the things that chase us through our nightmares and domestic ennui. The arrangement on these throbbing, slinky and surprisingly earthy songs is such that you could be tempted to dismiss Kin as over-blown pop (as if pop is a dirty word!), significantly less interesting when divorced from the video element of the project... but consider the outrageous patience and driving force of "Sever" (above), consider the powerful and sparse lyrics that refer to social anxiety with a deep sense of longing and separation, consider how "Play" (directly below) can be so jarringly peaceful and sassily mystical, consider the clubby yet dream-pop menace of "In Due Order" (at bottom), consider the value of the the other-ness that iamamiwhoami plumb with such earnestness. The moody electro-trip-pop make-up of the songs on this album is not terribly experimental, but it need not be. In simplicity of form, iamamiwhoami find plenty to explore.

Feverish and dreamy, eloquent and blunt, vastly dark and blindingly shining, violently serene... this album challenges assumptions about electronic music, the avant garde, and the depth to which you can explore your own nightmare publicly without becoming an objectified and commodified symbol of yourself. The nine tracks on Kin, and the videos that accompany them on the audio-visual release, are perfect for the deliriously slow, fan-blade watching moments of summer and they'll be perfect for watching the winds of winter gather. You can compare this project to The Knife, Bjork, Portishead or whoever you want- but none of them (and not many folks at all) are making music like this, with this stony and stubborn neuroticism (eroticism too for that matter). And when you add in the consideration of the videos which are at once alien and filled with nostalgic and familiar symbols and moods...

There will be times to dance and there will be times to think and over-think dancing and thinking. All in all there's a time for everything... and now is iamamiwhoami's time.

if you're digging further for the rush
- out of touch -
mind the descent: profound, grainy and harrowing.
it's always only a chase through
your head
when slowness ends up in frightened speed.

if you won't follow yourself through the woods
there's always a darkness that will.

you're gonna have to get used to this.
you've made the decision to marry the night
because he looks so much like your father;
asleep beneath his beanstalk, 
cuddling a revolver
with bullets carved from original stone.

For more bewildering tingle and info see THIS informative webplace.
Dig THIS "interview" with Bullett Media.