Sunday, May 31, 2015

REVIEW: Stokeswood - "2075" EP - What Dreams Are Made Of

photo credit: Kasey Keown

While 2075, the name of Atlanta based Stokeswood's upcoming EP, set to drop June 16th might suggest a futuristic sound, timeless might be more apt. Contained in the hyper reality of tracks like 2075, Stop By, and Our Streets there are aural touchstones that step back into the lush 80's synth well of sounds and imagery. That musical genre that cleansed some of the punk and post punk grim away at the time also injected a fair amount of hope and inspiration into the culture while still asking those youthful questions about life. When you listen to the dreamy as hell beginning of Forget with that specific mix of percussive synth, staccato / bendy guitar lines, emotionally dense drones of sound and thumping beat it literally takes you back in time. As Adam Patterson's evocative vocals and pretty melody begin the song becomes as embraceable as your first tentative high school dance with that one person you hope will fall heads over heels for you (as you have already done for them). The snappy drum claps and lush down beats is melodramatic and fuses the whole sonic affair into something that could of existed in an 80's John Hughes film.

Stokeswood effectively finds a way to blend EDM with 80's ish romatic wave with indie rock and even dub step flavors. Their blendo sound feels like a mixture of bands like Ghostland Observatory, M83, Vampire Weekend, Bad Suns, Neon Trees, Cold Play and even old school 80's Mr. Mister and
Limahl (Kajagoogoo), The track Paperweight has a whimsical tone with a Euro pop underbelly and induces wide eyed wondering. Bloody History tosses in sharp edges into the dance beat. It is one of those songs that will get everyone jumping in time (in unison) with their fists in the air. The synth break is potent stuff. In Current, the guitar lines shine providing a wall of sound to offset against Patterson's vocal aerobatics. This song has the most pop indie rock feel and mixes up tempos and tones so well.

In the end, Stokeswood EP 2075 keeps you dancing while tapping into that deep well of hope, sense of exploration and deep day dreaming that exists in our childhood before those tangled fingers of cynicism crept around our hearts.
Robb Donker

2075 comes out on June 16th
The Album release party takes place on June 19th at Terminal West in Atlanta.

Acustica Break Out - "Give Me The Beat" (Ghostland Observatory cover) and a whole lot more

If I were traveling through Romania (it could happen), needed the warm comfort of a beer and made my way to a pub only to find a three piece outfit doing their version Give Me The Beat by Ghostland Observatory my mind would be perfectly blown.

As a matter of fact that kind of happened, in a way, as I was chilling at home with a cold one and wanting to hear some Ghostland Observatory on Youtube I did stumble upon Acustica. These guys are based out of Brasov, Romainia and do some really sweet covers including songs by Tom Waits (amazing), Eagle Eye Cherry, The Police, Johnny Cash and more AND while I have never featured a so called cover band before, these guys steep these versions in their own style with a lot of verve so I felt compelled to tell you all about them.
Robb Donker

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Is Wax Children Really Changing Their Name?? Say It Ain't So

photo by Carlos Garcia of 36nm

Wax Children.... hmmm??  When I first heard those two words together about 2 years ago the pairing peaked my interest immediately. Sounds so weird and even creepy. If you don't know, Wax Children is an LA band (San Gabriel Valley) that makes some very cool music. It is trippy, dreamy and sort of on the experimental side of things. These guys don't ride trends or conform to one particular genre. One of my favorite Wax Children songs is Binding the Bends from their 2014 release Angst. I liken it to Interpol, Radiohead and Pere Ubu smooshed together in a wonderful way.

SO on their FACEBOOK page not more than 8 hours ago they announced (?) mentioned (?) joked (?) that they were changing their name to Bela Lugosi. Guys, please tell me that this is NOT true. I love the name Wax Children. It is as weird as your music and I mean that in the nicest sort of way.

Check out Wax Children's music and learn a more about the band here: and don't pass up the chance to see them live.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reflections on Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta May 8th, 9th and 10th. Still Riding the High 17 Days Later.

The dust has finally settled and I am not referring to the dirt devils over the grass barren field at the Piedmont stage at the third annual Shaky Knees Festival but, rather, my messy life. A full 17 days after the event and I am finally able to share some of my thoughts. I apologize for being the last one to cross the finish line but I can tell you that even though so much time has passed I am still floating on a cloud of highness and not from the potent clouds of pot smoke literally billowing from the crowd at Mac DeMarco but from the positive high of the Shaky Knees Festival itself. It was lovely, crazy and even awe inspiring.

By any definition, Shaky Knees was a tremendous indie festival and a huge success. It also felt like a well oiled machine. Set times seemed to go off without a hitch. While there may of been some mechanical hiccups, at least the acts I saw overall had great support from the sound guys which is not always the case at large festival. At the end of the day (all three of them) I can say that the Festival for me felt pretty chill with moments of exhilaration and moments of being deeply touched too (more on that later).

Logistically, everything felt right. The stages were laid out a smart distance from each other and, while there were some hills to commandeer, the walk from any point to another was probably not more than 10 minutes.  Most stages had areas cordoned off for the vips who paid extra to be able to leisurely fill in on either side of the stage at any time so no need to park their asses early to get a good spot. Truthfully, at first, that bothered me. It felt so bourgeoisie and some of the performers took some friendly jabs at the vips while referred to us holding down the middle as the peasants.  While the thought of vip sections seems the total opposite of the indie / d.i.y. spirit (that I feel a kinship with) a rock festival has little to do with that world and I suppose that the $500 to $600 Vip ticket price kept the peasant price down to around $200 which is a steal compared to many similar such festivals. Still, often times those areas were not that full and not having them there would of allowed the die hard fans who braved the heat to secure good spots able to get a bit closer. Anyway, despite the free beers that the Vips enjoyed, as is usually the case, the peasants seemed to have the most fun. Another kind of odd feature in the stage set ups was the fenced in aisle that connected the photo pit and the sound engineers little island. Sadie Dupuis from Speedy Ortiz said she felt like a bride and groom would be walking to the stage. I kind of liked it because it created these convenient corners at center stage that you could lean against.

Prior to the festival, the mantra put out by Shaky Knees was all about the limited parking and not driving to the festival was strongly encouraged. The warnings did the trick and most people stayed nearby and took cabs or Marta to the fest. That left plenty of street parking for people like me who chose to drive in each day. The fest also spawned some enterprising pop up paid parking lots. Near the Dairy Queen on North Avenue two parking lot attendants played Strawberry Fields through their megaphone while trying to entice in some customers.

There were two entrances to the festival which undoubtedly alleviated traffic jams and the security did not go overboard in checking back packs and purses. Everything moved smoothly. The fest volunteers were super cool and helpful and thank God for the water stations. Centrally located and complete with attendants with smiling faces they made sure the masses were fully hydrated. Shaky Knees is the first large scale fest I have attended since moving from California last August. While I did not have entree to the photo pit I was surprised how little media seemed to be running around in there. In Cali, more often than not you are politely bumping elbows with all the photogs and at times it would get as crowded as the first few rows of the concert itself. Seeing the free flowing floor space at the Shaky Knees photo pit is in stark contrast to that paparazzi like free for all. That chill feeling really extended to the festival itself. It felt inclusive really. People of all ages attended and I would say the mid range age wise was probably 28-ish (or older) and maybe that is not surprising considering that part of the fest skewed toward's 90's/ early 2000's alt rock with era specific acts like Interpol, the Strokes, the Pixies, Mastodon, Wilco and Built To Spill. The age chasm was vast. Seriously, the youngest attendee was probably 3 years old and the oldest around 78. In fact, there was a fair share of older die hard couples who looked like they have probably attended hundreds of festivals in their day.

Having been to festivals where there was no shade in sight I so much appreciated the Shaky Knees site that encompassed a central park area as well as the parking lot off of the Civic Center. That parking lot was my least favorite area because the asphalt just seemed to absorb all the heat and any calming breeze seemed to stay away. The Ponce De Leon and Boulevard stages were situated in this hot zone. As I was packed in waiting to see Mac DeMarco (who I had met and chatted with very very briefly earlier in the day) the heat was downright oppressive and I must of been showing it because a sweet as hell guy in the Vip section passed me a 10 oz Coorslight. Saint Greg as he will forever be referred to, said "You really look like you could use this" and it was probably the best tasting beer I have ever downed. If that area was the most uncomfortable then the most chill venue was the gigantic field in front of the Peachtree stage. While the Vip section there may of been the largest, it only encroached on one side of the stage. The massive grass area which also contained a baseball field felt the most like a picnic area. There were groups of people playing Frisbee all three days, plus Hula hoop girls and hacky sackers. It felt like dozens of backyard parties taking place simultaneously. Backyard parties with killer entertainment. The outlining areas did have some trees and a lot of folks would sit in the shade and enjoy the scene while watching the acts on the two large jumbo tron sized video screens.

Taking a breather at Shaky Knees

Finding Shade at the Fest

Music fests are full of hard choices and this was especially the case at Shaky Knees as a lot of bands had the same set times. The following were some of my fav memories:

 Mac DeMarco:  The last time I saw Mac perform was at last year's Burgerama (in California) in front of probably 6000 screaming fans. The crowd at Shaky Knees was considerably smaller but just as enthusiastic. Mac and the boys were super affable and downright charming with their self deprecating sense of humor. The sound started off a little bumpy but the levels were quickly worked out. When Mac broke a string there was no guitar tech to remedy the situation but Mac plopped down on his butt and started re-stringing while the boys dove into an impromptu stupid funny version of "Yellow" by Coldplay. Their performance was like a huge stoner smile. Mac finished the set with "Still Together" and his now signature crowd surfing love fest. He was lovingly mauled, kissed, high fived and survived it all with a cigarette in his mouth.

The Pixies:  There are so many amazing artists making incredible music today and I can't help but think that a majority of them have in some way been shaped (whether they realize it or not) by The Pixies. Some artists are so intrinsically creative that they stir ripples in the creative consciousness, become part of the musical fabric in a truly deep way. Charles Thompson's (Black Francis's) genius has always given birth to such provocative poetry and dressed up by the rest of the Pixies, the sound, the feeling, the whole entity is pretty mind blowing. It is no wonder that their art rock inspired so many of my other top artists like Bowie and Radiohead. While I have loved and admired the Pixies music and their legacy I had never seen them live until Shaky Knees and the experience was so amazing. It felt like I was hearing these wonderfully weird songs for the first time. At times I actually felt like crying. I became fast festival friends with those around me and one guy, in particular, Lance from North Carolina was so stoked to see the Pixies. I would guess he was in his early twenties and many of those going crazy and singing along were about his age. That in and of itself made me happy. Besides being blown away by the sheer strength of the music, it was performed so incredibly well. To hear David Lovering live is to really appreciate his prowess as a drummer. The same goes with Joey Santiago and his unique guitar style. I know Pixies true believers will consider what I am about to say blasphemy but I thought Paz Lenchantin on bass was just incredible and she created a great vibe, great energy. Black Francis was on his game. There was a false start on "What Goes Boom" from Indie Cindy and he just tossed the song away, didn't start over but just went onto something else. It felt kind of awkward, like a tiny temperamental cloud burst or maybe in his mind the moment had passed and it was time to move on. There wasn't any drama involved. It showed a certain bravado. It was a fait accompli moment. No second chances and I respected that notion. In any event, Black Francis absolutely killed it. The Pixies killed it. Their Shaky Knees performance was my favorite musical experience ever.

Built To Spill:  If The Pixies are one of the pillars of Indie music they are on the art rock side then Built To Spill are on the hippie rock side, more organic, more green but also so incredibly important in shaping many of today's truly unique bands none more so than Modest Mouse. I had interviewed guitarist Brett Netson earlier in the week which was amazing and seeing him and Doug Martsch hit those sweet guitar sounds made everyone forget about the heat that day. They played a lot of classic songs and sprinkled in some new stuff off their latest album Untethered Moon including my favorite song on the album, "So" which was so incredibly beautiful. I had to pull myself away a bit early to find a spot at the Piedmont stage to see Interpol.

Interpol: If there was one performer who would surely not be wearing shorts in the heat it is Paul Banks. Interpol are consummate performers. Their music feels cool, almost muscular in tone due to Banks vocal performance. Post punk or New Wave or whatever, their songs sound timeless. The huge crowd sang along to all their favorites. Guitarist Daniel Kessler wore a full on suit and tie and did NOT sweat. How is this possible?

Fidlar: I have been covering and shooting these boys for years in LA. Somehow, quietly (or not so) and unbeknownst to me, Zach and the boys have blown up. Georgia went ga ga for these LA punkers and it was such a cool thing to witness, to feel. I mean Fidlar is always electric and kill it on stage but for some reason the ecstatic response from the crowd surprised me. I am so stoked for these guys.

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo (The Both): I have been secretly crushing on Aimee Mann for too many years to mention and I had seen Ted Leo and the Pharmacists at FYF in LA. I didn't know what to expect with both of them in this new incarnation.  It was like Aimee and Ted met in the middle to create a blend of mellow indie folk and kind of post punk pop. They sounded great and like great friends joking around and bringing conversation back to the stage.

The one and only Aimee Mann

Ted Leo without his Pharmacists

 Mini Mansions: I was eager to see Mini Mansions from LA mainly because of Michael Shuman. A multi-instrumentalist but mainly seen as the bass player (since 2007) for Queens of the Stone Age, he also played bass in Wires On Fire who I had the pleasure shooting as they "reunited" in 2013. Mini Mansions present their art pop in a new wave-ish sort of way and I love that. Some dufus who just didn't get it yelled "NICE fucking suits!"  He was so far away I doubt they heard his idiocy.

Metz: I love 3 piece bands that play heavy loud music and Metz does just that. The lead singer / guitarist Alex Edkins looks unassuming like he would work at Urban Outfitters or some record store until he cranks up his guitar. The drums and bass collide to make a grungy, garage, punk, noise rock mix. It is salt in a wound and it is great.

Speedy Ortiz: Sadie Dupuis' poetry is encased in a grungy kind of indie rock that can get quite complex, tightly woven with a roller coaster of half-step progressions and twisted guitar lines. Speedy played songs largely off of Major Arcana and their latest Foil Deer. They sounded awesome. So awesome in fact that their performance felt a little static. A little.

The Strokes:  Since the Pixies played right up until The Strokes start time (on day one) I could not stake out a place anywhere near the stage. In fact, I had to navigate through people everywhere. The Central park and surrounding areas, north, south, east and west was absolutely packed. Seeing them from so far was a little bit of a downer but they were electric as was the crowd response.

Dr. Dog: I had heard about the "Dr. Dog" experience from a true believer who could only say "They are sooooo good" and now I can finally relate. In some way the Dr. Dog vibe is like The Grateful Dead pressed through a Brian Wilson Pet Sound-ish filter.

Ride: There was a guy going nuts in the VIP section as we all waited for Ride. He was passionately pissed off that more people were not showing up to see the Oxford lads. He was screaming to all who would listen "This is fucking Ride maaaaan..... the best band in the world!" Then he babbled something about Radiohead and other bands. I must say, Ride did deserve a bigger audience (not that the crowd was that small) and they played an amazing set. I think the only reason there were not more people was that it was late on the last day and people were packing in to see Tame Impala.

Sooo many more Shaky Knees experiences. Halsey brought it. TV On The Radio played a cool set while mocking the drone that hovered over the audience. Bethany from Best Coast wished all moms a happy Mother's Day and Bob a happy birthday. They brought a big slice of California surf pop / punk to Georgia and I only wish they could of brought the cool California breeze as well. Ryan Adams is so genuine and cross blended genres to a huge crowd. Death From Above 1979 melted a lot of faces off as did Manchester Orchestra as did Mastodon. Wavves stirred in more California punk vibes and seriously have never sounded better. Palma Violets implanted visions of the Clash in my head... sounded a lot like them. Spiritualized long songs felt like lullabies as a blueberry Popsicle soothed my brain. Viet Cong were pretty rad and I had never heard of them until I saw them. Same with Kevin Devine. Surfer Blood was super chill. Haerts impressed everyone who saw them.

Shaky Knees was so incredibly immersive. My senses were so blitzed, so overloaded with creative sights and sounds that for days after I felt really really bored. It was so much fun and offered me memories to last a lifetime. I have no complaints except the fact that Brand New and The Pixies were playing at exactly the same time (why...... why Shaky Knees?). I am already looking forward to next year. Kudos and a thousand thanks to Tim Sweetwood and his army of talented folks who put on such a great festival.


Click On Here to Visit The Shaky Knees Pinterest Board

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday Morning Song: "It's Over" by Roses (official video) directed by Cassandra Hamilton

Roses make music that seem like it is forever frozen in a dreamy high school prom in a John Huges film and that is why I love them so much. The line "You have fallen in love with the sound of your own voice"delivered with a sharp icy Bryan Ferry-esque coolness sticks in my head as I listened to "It's Over" which I rediscovered after finding the video directed with a trippy flowery loveliness by Cassandra Lee Hamilton.


On a past blog post about Roses [A three-piece band from Los Angeles made up of Marc Steinberg (Lead Vocals / Keys / Beats), Victor Herrera (Bass), and Abe Vigoda's Juan Velasquez (guitar).] I described their music as a kind of dance rapturous mix of romantic new wave, indie pop and post punk sounds evoking a sense of nostalgia and high school crushes. Check out our interview with Roses here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Miss YOU Dave Already (tears) - Check Out Awesome Montage spanning 33 years as theFoo Fighters Play an Inspired Performance of "Everlong"

Alan Singer/CBS via Getty Images

Wow, just wow.... I cannot believe that David Letterman will no longer grace late night television. The man dramatically changed what and why we watch late night TV. He gave a voice to those of us who's view of comedy, society in general and politics is a bit askew. His sense of silliness, smart wit and comforting appeal drew us in. He was that crazy uncle who we would delight in seeing at Thanksgiving.

The very last show was unpretentious and traded genuine heartfelt emotion for the usual comedic fare though there were many laughs as well. It is said that Dave was comforted by the Foo Fighter's music when he was recovering from his heart surgery and the Foo Fighter's were the very last band to perform on his iconic show. They even cancelled a tour to do so.

Check out the crazy montage of past moments over the last 33 years as the Foo Fighters play an impassioned performance of "Everlong":

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Built to Spill, Interpol, Fidlar, Speedy Ortiz, Wilco, Avett Brothers, The Black Lips and more KILL IT on Day Two of Shaky Knees

 Day two at Shaky Knees was full of killer performances and killer heat. By far any breeze of any sort avoided the areas of the Ponce De Leon and Boulevard stages plus the fact that the ground there was asphalt made it tough. Still people hung in there and, for me, one of the best performances I saw as Built to Spill. Just amazing. There also seemed to be more people than day one which meant more dust, longer lines for food and drink but the rewards were many. Kudos to the best deal for comfort and nourishment - the killer Popsicles and God bless the water stations!!

Other killer shows: Interpol, LA boys Fidlar, Speedy Ortiz, Palma Violets, Wilco, Black Lips and the Avett Brothers. More in depth fest experiences later.

Off to day 3--
Robb Donker

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Shaky Knees Festival (Atlanta 2015) DAY ONE- On A Scale between I and 10: An ELEVEN-!!

Day one of the Shaky Knees Fest was pretty amazing. Sure you have to contend with the normal large rock festival annoyances like seemingly outrageous prices on food and drink, having shirtless sweaty people rub up against you in a crowded pit and navigating through crowds while simultaneously avoiding stepping into a pile of vomit-- OK, seriously that only happened one time (high five). Besides all that normal stuff, day one was an absolute stunner!

The flow and position of the stages and food sections was laid out nicely and I must say that the Shaky Knees App is so incredibly useful so download it if you haven't. This is an abbreviated post and I will write a more in depth post late about the bands I experienced but they were many. By far, the highlight for me was The Pixies set. Hands down a life changing experience. Mac DeMarco was as funny, charming and cool as he always is and did his now trademark crowd surfing (while smoking a cig) at the end of his set. Wavves has never sounded better, great set. Manchester Orchestra pretty much melted my face off.  Haerts played raw two manned garage blues rock and the crowd loved them. Halsey was very cool. Death From Above 1979 killed it. TV on the Radio shined as the sun shined back in their faces as a drone hovered over the audience. Surfer blood seemed super casual but played a great set. When the Strokes finished off the night, the Peachtree stage and surrounding areas were just a sea of bodies. Everyone packed in to see them and they did not disappoint.

Ooops! Got head out the door for day Two. OH, one more thing- a shout out to Saint Greg who gave me a cold beer!!
catch you later-
Robb Donker

Day one pics Facebook: here

Friday, May 8, 2015

Built To Spill - Untethered Moon Review - Brett Netson : Interview - Scavenger Cult Review - Shaky Knees Is Here

Today is the first day of the amazing Shaky Knees Fest in Atlanta and I am stoked to be attending all 3 days (hope to see you there). I had the pleasure of speaking with Brett Netson of Built to Spill who will be performing at the fest and I decided to post up my review of Built To Spill's Untethered Moon album, Brett Netsons side project EP Scavenger Cult and the interview at one time. So enjoy and go to the fest if you can! If you do get to go you will be making memories that will last a life time!

ALBUM REVIEW- Built to Spill- Untethered Moon on Warner Bros Records

Built To Spill is a bonafide indie institution and Doug Martsch and the boys latest offering Untethered Moon (and their first album since 2009's There Is No Enemy) only further cements their place in rock history. It is a deceptively dense collection of songs with all the dynamism that we have come to expect from Built To Spill and while I have always felt / heard / appreciated the upfront guitar elegance that shares that kindred Dinosaur Jr spirit, on this album (in particular) I felt the presence or faint ghosts of other inspired artists as well. On the opening track All Our Songs with the rabid tom tom beat and charged up reflections it is divine Americana rock in that R.E.M sort of way. I love the breaks and that old school guitar vibrotone / tremolo sound that reminds me of an ancient Sears Silvertone spring reverb.

C.R.E.B with it's 60's beat sway feels a bit like Mark and the Mysterians blended with the Smithereens. Another Day is a heady swirl, noisey, wistful with grunge rock bones. The somber tone of Some Other Song is a slow headbanger. The lead sounds penetrate and sound so lush. It will induce smiles and dreams. When the guitar mirrors the lead vocal you feel at once inspired to sing along. The slow dance that is Horizon To Cliff is poppy with proggy genes.Some of the beautiful lead melodies felt a bit like Be Bop Deluxe (Bill Nelson).  When I'm Blind is a ridiculously fun, disjointed, crazy jam. When you think it won't go any further it does and does again. Of all the songs on the album it sounds the most spontaneous, the most live. It is a dark sweaty smokey rock club of a song. Living Zoo with it's sweeping arc of tones, textures is inviting and pure Built to Spill. It beckons you, pumps you up, makes you dance.

My favorite song on the album, So, is absolutely beautiful in it's dirty sustains. There is nothing like the biggest bad ass dirty sounding guitar playing stunningly beautiful melodies and that is what you have here. When the heaviness falls head first into Martsch's sweet vocal melodies it is so engaging and lovely. It is Black Sabbath meets the White Album. The song induces true goosebumps when the lead lines wrap around you and when it suddenly erupts into full out pandemonium it is a blissful thing.

Untethered Moon is an album that might just take you back in your head. The sounds are embedded with life experiences, gnarly bruises, ennui, hope and lots of love. The more you listen the more you will hear things that will touch you.

Robb Donker

EP- REVIEW- Brett Netson and Snakes: Scavenger Cult

Brett Netson of Built To Spill second incarnation "Brett Netson and Snakes" are up on Bandcamp with a short but terribly bad ass EP called Scavenger Cult that you should check out. Play On almost feels like Tom Petty, that is if Tom Petty played heavy roots rock. It is like 70's rock with 90's post rock with 60 psychedelia as well. The death march, plodding nature of All Creatures Kill while feeling bruised and battered also is hauntingly beautiful. As cinema it would be a cross between a spaghetti western and a Rob Zombie horror flick and amazingly in it's guitar sounds it also has that Dark Side of the Moon quality. While from a feeling standpoint, All Creatures Kill might be my favorite song, the third track Sharpening Knives may be the most thought provoking. It has an unrelenting movement like a car driving at full speed but when the lyrics creep into your head it feels like that car is heading straight for a cliff with the brake lines cut. It is a noisey heavy track that seems to be about the industrial war machine, conflict, the dehumanization of people, the moral decay of government and America as a world salvage operation (cleaning up the messes we made).

Robb Donker

INTERVIEW with BRETT NETSON of Built to Spill

AP: I want to thank you for the opportunity to chat with you a bit.

Brett: awww, sure yeah....

AP: The new album is just killer. There are a lot of Built to Spill fans that have been waiting over five years for it.

Brett: (laughing) Yeah...

AP: The album has such a rich sound. It is so well engineered. I know Doug Martsch and Sam Coomis produced it but who engineered it for you?

Brett: They're were various engineers. I wasn't there for all of it that you know. A friend of ours from New York who plays in the band "Warm Air" - Travis at Serious Business Studios in New York, he engineered a fair amount of it.

AP: Well all involved did an excellent job.

Brett: Yeah cool. We focused on getting good performances with good guitar tracks.

AP: And the drum sound is so excellent and that tremolo or vibrotone sound on the guitar on "All Songs". It sounds so old school like a spring reverb on a Sears Silvertone or something.

Brett: Yeah- well that's just Fender, old Fender Stuff.

AP: The album is so varied. You obviously hear the Dinosaur Jr influence which you guys have always had but I think my favorite song on the album is "So" - It is so heavy, yet beautiful. It's like Black Sabbath meets The White Album.

Brett: (Laughing)

AP: It's really crazy...

Brett: Well, for me personally, that's my favorite part of Built To Spill when it does that trick.

AP: What does it feel like to be the enviable position to be one of "those" bands. I mean, clearly if it wasn't for you guys bands Modest Mouse or Death Cab and bands like that wouldn't sound the same because of your influence. That must be a pretty cool place to be.

Brett: Uh, yeah I don't know.... it might make me feel more awkward than good actually.

AP: You guys have had an amazing ride.

Brett: Cool yeah. Well one thing is for sure, is that we are very lucky to have been geographically where we were in the early 90's (laughing). That's all there is to it. Any band who were in that area who were any good at all and kept their shit together are probably still playing today, ya know and have a wide audience, that's how that went. So Modest Mouse, they were pretty good. They worked hard and now they are what they are now. I haven't really followed in quite some time so I don't know what they are doing but you know, you see them everywhere.

AP: Do you think the fact that you guys started in the early 90's before file sharing and all that, do you think that was a better time.

Brett:   Uh....., that's a tricky question. My first response would be absolutely of course. There is such a thing as the diminishing returns of technology.

AP: That's right.

Brett:  (laughing).

AP: And it's harder and harder for musicians to make money.

Brett: Yeah and it's just easy, I mean, yeah... just because you can doesn't mean you should. Also you may be getting in now because who knows what's coming next. That's whats interesting thing to me. It's a weird thing, it has almost become a patronage at this point through corporate patronage. That's how Modest Mouse made a lot of their money, TV commercials AND I am not a big fan of that myself sooo.... I prefer a direct relationship with the audience, the people who buy your music. Even a label is fine, ya know, because they can be doing all the selling business for you which would be great. I am not a big fan of selling myself either. But when you have a patronage system and bands get money for corporations making television commercials that's problematic and unsettling. And all the old Jello Biafra's in the world that taught us how to be musicians. I still take that stuff to heart. I'm not totally psyched on the online thing.

AP: It's a double edged sword- on one hand people can rip your music off easily but at least you can self publish (for people who are starting out).

Brett: Well that's true but it's also bad because it is so saturated with everybody else who may just be a casual hobbyist.

AP: The bedroom recorders...

Brett: That's fine but like if people really want to work hard, tough it out and go on tour, those people should be noticed instead of people spending everyday on the internet. It would be cool if the physical reality of bands playing shows only came towards the internet instead of the other way around where if you spend more time on the internet you get more people to go to shows... whatever (laughing). But, uh these things like Bandcamp are actually fantastic.

AP: As a matter of fact I was checking out your new project Scavenger Cult on Bandcamp. The music is unreal. I'm really enjoying it.

Brett: Cool... Thanks.

AP: The first track, "Play On" has that real Americana rock thing going.  It's funny, I was almost getting a Tom Petty vibe IF Tom Petty did really heavy ass rock.

Brett: (laughing) sure. Cool, I thought it sounds like Christian Death or something to me but that's cool that people get different things out of it.

AP: For sure. Music is like a sonic Rorschach test that people put their own stuff on.

Brett: Yeah

AP: And the second track has got that bruised and battered plodding heavy sound. Sounds like you had the drum kit in the middle of a huge empty warehouse at the back end or something on "All Creatures Kill" - I always think of weird things when I listen to music and I thought of a Spaghetti Western meets a Rob Zombie Horror Flick when I listened to that song.

Brett: (laughing) yikes, that's perfectly acceptable. That drummer is really good and the drum kit was actually by itself in a big room but.....

AP: What's interesting about that song, it has a Dark Side of The Moon quality too.

Brett: Wow... really?? Cool.... yeah that song,  I have been listening to a lot of underground metal stuff and it's just so beautiful and it's too late for me to ever learn how to play metal sounding guitar but I was really into trying to do something like that cuz there is a band called Mournful Congregation from Australia and it's just like this metal that is sooo beautiful and sad. It's the coolest thing.

AP: Going back to Built To Spill, that is why I love "So" sooo much because there is nothing more beautiful than a dirty heavy bad ass guitar playing a beautiful melody.

Brett: Oh Yeah sure.....

AP: I gotta talk to you about "Sharpening Knives"

Brett: Ok

AP: It's got this unrelenting movement to it and then when you start listening to the words, it is like a car heading straight for a cliff and then driving off of it because it's got some pretty heavy lyrics about the industrial war machine, you know and the dehumanization of people, turning people into numbers. What are the thoughts behind that song?

Brett: Well, that is what it is. For me personally, after a period during the Bush administration trying to be sensible and paying attention to facts when all that madness was happening. Any decent kind of person would think that facts would matter but now where we are now and especially living in Idaho. That song is post politics mobilize your tribe or your cult or your whatever and just get on with it and hope for the best. That's just talking to my friends.

AP:  Yeah it is...You gotta get on your soap box sometimes... it's important.

Brett:  That's not what it's supposed to be... I mean it's post politics. That's not even a soap box, that just like saying the obvious and get with it, you know. Post politics would hopefully be the last when there are no..... like fuck shit up and mobilizing, take what's ours, you know that kind of stuff.

AP: I like the line (from Sharpening Knives) "America's salvage operation" you know. Some parts of it you could apply it to, unfortunately any time because we keep getting in these messes but I was thinking for some reason about Vietnam when I was listening to a lot of the song.

Brett: Yeah, yeah totally. It's like that too, like we've been doing these same mistakes over and over again forever so which time do we fuck up so bad that it's gonna be the last time. Who the fuck knows?....... meaning extincting ourselves. I have the feeling it could be coming soon but I could be wrong. (laughing) I try to have a sense of humor about it and continue to just have a good time, a good kind of dark wild ass good time. I'm just tired of being mad.

AP: So how are you splitting up your time, I mean I am so looking forward to seeing you (with Built To Spill) at the Shaky Knees Festival but with this other side project are you doing a lot of live shows with that as well?

Brett: Well that's the thing, with Built To Spill we are doing so many shows this year.

AP: (laughing) Why don't you just have Scavenger Cult ( Brett Netson and Snakes ) open up for Built To Spill??

Brett: Cuz you know what? We were gonna do that but these days with corporate influence being what it is there was issues with insurance and workers compensation.

AP: What??

Brett: Which just started happening a couple of years ago we had to deal with that miserable bullshit! It ended up being a huge hassle. I was thinking about doing a tour in the fall with Helvetia you know Jason's band.

AP: It's weird that workers comp somehow stifles music.

Brett: It's the bigger corporate conglomerate owned venues. It's a miserable bunch of bullshit.

AP: You guys are still on Warner Bros. right so is there any pressure from the label to put out stuff or do they give you free reign to do what you want to do?

Brett: They've been so awesome. Again, you know I think Doug was so lucky to be where he was in the early 90's and dealt with the contracts at that point. You know bands had leverage because that scene was starting to make money. That community was being bought and there was major labels that wanted to buy "it" - so therefore you got a little bit of leverage and Doug did a fantastic job you know and some other people did a pretty good job. I, myself, Caustic Resin could of been up there but we just sucked (laughing).

AP: Sometimes the hippies win and sometimes the hippies lose.

Brett:  (laughing) We were too crazy, on too many drugs and too drunk. Doug did a fantastic job of making it work for him and for all his friends.

AP: It was a pleasure speaking with you and I hope I get a chance to meet you. Have a great rest of the day.

Brett:  Cool, Thanks man.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Album Review- Little Red Lung : Beware - A Kaleidoscope of Sonic Stories Traverse Time

The title track Beware from Little Red Lung's upcoming full length album of the same name opens with an ominous drone as a chorale of backing vocals quietly lift Zoe-Ruth Erwin's vocal performance to the forefront. Her presence is as powerful as it is pained and vulnerable. The opening track feels majestic, mysterious and a bit out of this world. It feels like a giant monster awakening and by the second track that monster roars.

That masterful second track is Porcupine Sheet and in my opinion is the signature track on this album but let's step back a bit. The kind of progressive rock that L.A. based Little Red Lung crafts has been mined before and like all great genres it will be mined again. This kind of music that conjures up flash and fantasy and has a pure melodramatic cabaret sense about it would fall into that baroque pop rock label or art rock with experimental rock around the edges. What makes Little Red Lung different than other forms of this musical genre is that they blend in such a mix of progressive rock, orchestral rock, glam and indie sounds. As I listened to this album I thought of Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, The Dresden Dolls, Radiohead, Flo and the Machine and more.  As Rob Hume's dirty bass opens Porcupine Sheet as a tortuous pound, Erwin's over modulated vocals take center stage.  As the time signature changes the song free falls as Ali Nikou's lead lines and Erwin's keys stair step down while John Broeckel highlights each emotional shift with such well placed drum fills. This stair stepping style is repeated throughout the album in spots giving the album a cohesiveness, making it feel like a concept album whether it is intended to be or not. Nikou's guitar work truly shines throughout this entire ambitious project but the melodies he teases out on this track truly captivated me.

Get on the Boat prances with a bottom heavy cello sound (I think courtesy of Hume's ultra heavy and effected bass). Dead Weight shifts from a kind of light free rock sound to a luscious half time chorus and back again. Rock opera comes to mind when I listen to the Bell Tower. It has an art rock appeal and some of the musical melodies made me think of The Beatles and the wide cinematic scope of a Cirque Du Soleil show. Other songs stir other flavors. Civilian Tiger has a mid-eastern sound with faint hints of Andalusian melodies. The musical break is so engaging and mesmerizing and gives away to a spartan intimate end where you only hear Erwin's intimate vocal performance (even if other sounds exist). This track is so encompassing and has such an arc to it's story that it makes you realize what Erwin and the boys have achieved here. This might not be a concept album after all. Instead, each song feels like a concept album unto itself taking you on it's own journey. Each song shape shifts into something else.

Our Ghost truly feels like a fable, like a movie could be written and based on this song alone. It feels like science fiction that is retro and new at the same time. Operate has a decidedly 80's New Wave Romantic feel with it's sultry catwalk cadence. A dirty fender Rhodes sound opens Bad Blood. It is a trippy art rock waltz and for me, inhabits this place between Dresdon Dolls and Muse (when they venture into the glam feel). "Beware" ends with Tightwire Spinning and something about it made me think of Lena Lovich circa 1979, at least the upbeat parts. Of course, it does not stay in that mode for very long. Zoe-Ruth Erwin ends the song and the album with yet another side of her multi-faceted vocals. She tends to sing with an almost classical presence and yet here strips that style completely away. In that instant I had the sense that any artful pretense fell away, like the stage actress removed her make up.

On "Beware", Little Red Lung spins a kaleidoscope of sonic stories that seem to traverse time and space. While my musical tastes are pretty eclectic, I can tell you that this kind of art rock has not been (as of late) my normal cup of tea. Over the last few years I have been steeping in the raw immediacy of proto punk, punk pop indie sounds, That being said, Little Red Lung's brew which feels as if it is spiked with absinthe is a trip well worth taking.
Robb Donker

In anticipation of Beware. Little Red Lung is releasing one track off the album monthly. Experience track one (Beware) below: