Days of Why and How: An Unedited Interview with The Kills

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When the Kills were first introduced to the world in 2002, they quickly seduced the rock n roll realm with their sexy swagger and an intimate onstage chemistry. What began as a transatlantic, tape-trade collaboration between newfound friends has since grown into world-renowned force to be reckoned with. The thundering pulse of programmed drum machines and an avant approach to electric guitars elevates the sound of a boot-stomping blues and stripped-down garage rock taking it to new creative heights. With five solid records,  (the fifth, “Ashes and Ice” released this past June), Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince continue to evolve, and while their core dynamic remains in tact, some things have changed.

While Mosshart spent her downtime returning to the studio and stage as the lead singer of Dead Weather, Jamie Hince spent his time soul-and-sound-searching on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and on the island of Jamaica while trying to mend the tendons in his hand. When these two separate paths led back into the studio, the duo brought very different batches of songs to the table. I caught up with Jamie Hince the week before the released of the latest record. The following is the unedited interview with exclusive live photos taken at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Enjoy.

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Hello is this Nolan. Where are you?

Im in Boston and we are finally haven’t a nice week of weather. Last week seemed a bit wintery.

Really? Oh god, I wish I had this interview the other day before I felt London, because I was trying to work out what to pack. It’s so odd when you’re going away for a month and going all over the place. Do I need a warm jacket? Do I need raincoat? I got this straw colored raincoat and now I wish I had packed it because it rains in Boston.

Where are you right now?

I’m in Atlanta. I woke up really early and went wandering around and I thought, “oh gosh, I really love Atlanta.” It’s great. I really like the vibe and right near my hotel there are three places that I’m really excited about going for food at already.

With the new record, did you come into the studio with songs individually or did you write the songs in the studio?

Yeah, we came together with songs. That’s always, at least since “Midnight Boom” and “Blood Pressures,” it was the same thing where we’ve come together with songs we’ve written separately and we’d get together when we thought there were nearly enough songs for a new record. Normally the way I work is I will come up with a load of things and just discard lots of them and concentrate on the ones I think really work and slowly develop them. When we got together I had about 8, 9, 10 songs and Alison probably had 38 songs. She writes in this beautiful explosion where she just puts herself in front of a mic and writes whatever comes out. Sometimes she goes through a stage where she’ll have 5 Neil Young ballads and then there will be 3 Krautrock songs. So it’s really good to sift through things like that. We sort of met up in LA for the first time and played each other what we had. We never really had a break from each other, but LA was the place where we sort of auditioned our songs in front of our engineer. Alison said “Oh we have lots of songs, let’s go,” and I sort of depressed everybody by saying “I don’t think we’ve got a record yet. I think we need to keep on writing.” So that’s what we did. We kept on working on about 8 of the songs that were going somewhere and then kept on writing.

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Did you find that when you came together you were bringing similar stuff, or was it so different that you had to hone it in?

It was really different. It was to the point that I was frustrated to be honest. I’m always going in search of something and trying to find the things that’s like “oh my god, this is it.” I always think I’m going to be super excited about trying to find a sound, find a blend… finding a secret almost. I’d literally, physically gone in search of it and that’s what going on the Trans-Siberian Railroad was all about, or going to Jamaica. It’s always about physically going in search of it. Also, when I’m physically in the studio, I’m desperately hunting for the things that going to be the theme for me. Much of my rhythms were inspired by dancehall and digital dancehall, dub and R&B sometimes. I wanted to make a record that was really forward thinking and not just a retro bizarre record– and then I met up with Alison and her songs were very traditional—bluesy, Neil Young ballad kind of things and it was frustrating to me because, “You’re not doing what I want.” And then it kind of dawns on me that because it’s my job to make these things work and make both of our things to sit right in one place– it kind of dawns on me that that’s what the Kills really was– my lunacy about trying to reinvent the wheel and trying to take guitar music somewhere else, and it’s Alison’s absolute confidence and how sure she is about whatever snapshot is in her life at the moment. Not having crazy changing influences in the moment like I have, but having influences rooted in the Velvet Underground, Charlie Patton, Captain Beefheart– the things she’s constantly inspired by. And that’s the blend, her consistent inspirations and my ever changing, crazy, whirlwind ones.

How was the Siberian Express? Was it as romantic of an idea as movies suggest? Did you bring anything back from it?

It’s like a working train really. It’s not like the Orient Express. It’s like a pedestrian train and there’s a lot of military on there returning from Moscow to their various Siberian villages. Gentry people going to camps and villages along the way. I would say a tiny percentage of the train were taken up by people like me who were doing this TransSiberian journey. I think there’s another version of it you can do on another train, but it takes about 3 or 4 weeks and you stop at places and you have a guide that takes you places and shows you what to do. That wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to ride this retreat where I didn’t feel stuck or stagnant and I was constantly moving.

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Did you get anything out of it?

Yeah, I mean I always go by that adage– I think it’s Flaubert… “You have to drink an ocean to piss a cupful.” It’s really true. I think he was talking about writing history, but it’s true with my writing. I don’t just write lyrics to a song. I always just write pages and pages and pages of stream of consciousness and that turns into prose which turns into poetry and then it goes back to stream of consciousness, and at some point I find things that I like and they jump out and I’m inspired to finish a song. And of course “Siberian Nights” was written on that train.

Did you guys do anything differently in the studio?

Our whole approach was completely different. We rented a house in LA, which was different because we used to just hide ourselves away in the middle of nowhere in Benton Park, Michigan. In LA we were excited to make a record in the chaos and noise of LA. I wanted it to be a change as life went on. I wanted to bump into people and have them come over and play… which happened, you know. We had Carla from Autolux play some drums and we had Homer who played on Amy Winehouse records. As opportunities arouse, we made the most of them.

How is your hand doing? Is it fully recovered?

No. I have about ten percent movement in my middle finger on my left hand, so I don’t use it to play guitar. It just hangs out stiff, flicking everyone off while the other three go change the dozen.

Were you or are you nervous that you’d never be able to play guitar again?

Yeah I was. One of the things that came out of it– one of the most impactful things– is I realized I’m really fucking positive. I just thought, “How am I going to make this work?” And part of that was considering I may not be a guitarist anymore. So I immediately started putting a studio together. I bought myself a 1968 Neve mixing desk, which was my dream come true. I knew I wanted to make a record using dub production, so I bought lots of gear like that: reverb units, echo. I just made myself busy by building a studio. I thought maybe I’ll just be a producer.

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So is your studio in London?

Well it’s a mobile studio. My mixing desk is a 10-channel desk that wraps up in a flat case and I have all of my compressors and stuff in another unit. Right now they’re in LA, but I always wanted it to be that if I to decide if I wanted to make a record in Jamaica, I could just fly my studio out there.

Would you say this record has taken on a more introspective feel? It seems to have a more tender feeling and the lyrics a little less wrapped in metaphor, maybe?

Yeah. It’s less cryptic. Being cryptic is easy because you can blend meaningless rock n roll clichés with code that means something and people will actually never know which is which, but they might hopefully confuse clichés for something meaningful. I’m not ripping up what we’ve done apart, I’m just obsessed with the way rock n roll music is gong and where electric guitar music is going. I’ve been obsessed with why it’s so retrospective and why it’s so referential and why its so stuck in the 90’s or the 80’s or the 70’s, but never trying to invent something new for itself like hip-hop and R&B, you know. One of those things was maybe I had too much time on my hands because I only had one hand, but I started thinking about lyrics and I wanted to write a guitar record that spoke to people in a language that I was proud of, that I understood, and that other people would understand– and not dip into the skulls and devils and that kind of shit, which has been a sort of staple industry for rock n roll music in one way or another.

Would you say the general dynamic of the Kills has changed?

Not really. I mean we’ve never really had a mission. I remember saying that in 2002 when we were doing interviews that I don’t think its really smart to make a mission statement or have a plan because when we started a band it was at the beginning of the cyber revolution which changed the fucking world. And it changed it so much that it was apparent even then that to have manifesto you were going to have a cult that was like the dinosaur. You know? It changed so much, capitalism was going to implode on itself back then and a new thing was going to work out. I think we’ve always just changed with what’s going on. People have always told us that we’ve done our own thing. Well, it doesn’t feel like that. It really doesn’t. It’s always when you look back and say, “Fuck, I always think we’re hindering ourselves by doing this and not doing that,” but I guess we’re proud of what we’ve done.

The single is a song called, “Doing it to Death.” You obviously don’t think you’re beating a dead horse when it comes to the band?

No, I don’t think that. It’s not a song about the band; it’s about constant pleasure-seeking. It’s about partying and addiction and having so much fun that it’s boring. You get so high that you’re low. That sort of shit. That’s “doing it to death.”

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The Kills live vs Recording? What do you have the most fun doing?

It’s funny because we always used to say, “We like them both.” One was a good anecdote to the other. These days the studio is my domain and it’s what I’m most excited about and the band’s moving forward in terms of writing new things. That’s what I’m most inspired by—that’s where my heart is… making new things. Also I’m the King in the studio. I’m the king of the Kills. I’m the boss and I like it. When we play live I’m completely usurped and Alison is the King or Queen or boss. That’s her domain. It works really nicely like that I think. I get more out of the studio, and for Alison, her place is the stage.

Do you guys still tour with the drummers in the background?

We have a different setup now. We have one drummer and we have Scott who is playing bass, keyboards, sub-bass and reverbs.

Would you say it’s a more live band set up?

Yeah, I guess. But we’ve always got heavy drum machine and sequencers. I never want it to be live where there’s no sequenced drum track. That’s what I love about it– it doesn’t speed up or slow down.

You guys seem to have an affinity for Boston. Last go around it was one of your only US dates, and this time you’re doing two shows in one week.

We always say that. The last time around we got really superstitious about Boston because the last couple of times it’s been the show that has completely woken us up and turned it up a gear. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea, but this time around, because we sold the first show out, we wanted to do a second night. There were bands playing the next night, but we were so superstitious and concerning that we decided to come back a few days later.

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Alex Ebert on his new “PersonA”: An Interview with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

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After witnessing Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Field perform live, you get an almost cultish vibe from the cast of characters… but founder Alex Ebert prefers the word “communal.” Earlier this year, this community of musicians released their fourth studio album– the first without Jade Castrinos, and their first in Ebert’s recently acquired Piety Street studios in New Orleans.

From record-to-record and song-to-song, the Magnetic Zeros’ sound varies immensely. Their recent release, “PersonA” is no different. From sunny 60’s psych-pop to somber, sensitive serenades, their music continues to run the course of emotions.

I caught up with Alex Ebert over the phone just before the album’s release. Below is the unedited interview, portions of which appeared in the Boston Herald. Enjoy.

Where you at right now?

In New Orleans.

That’s where you have your studio, right?

Yes.

Is this the first record at your new studio?

I mean not the first record ever, but the first record we’ve ever made there.

How did you decide on New Orleans?

I just wanted to move here. I didn’t know we were going to record here necessarily. I was having a kid and we wanted to move away from LA and I had wanted to move to New Orleans for a while. So about four years ago we just up and left and moved to New Orleans.

What’s the history of the studio?

Yeah, it’s called Piety. It’s where I am right now and where I live right now. It’s amazing. It was the Post Office for the Bywater Area, then it was the “Center for Retarded Citizens” for a long time. Then in 1994, I think, the Piety Street Studio started. Since then it’s been a mainstay and institution. Every day I am in it I’m just in awe. I was going to buy a house right down the street and found out this was for sale and got this instead. It was half-selfish because it’s a studio and I’m a musician but also because this neighborhood’s experiencing that typical gentrification, you know, and this particular building would be a lynch pin. Like if American Apparel bought it I feel like it would all crumble. That was the other reason. I allowed a lot of the graffiti to stay up and I guess I get in trouble for it. It’s a giant old building.

I’ve been reading that the approach was totally different on this new record.

Yeah, yeah. More or less we really tried to. We had always talked about being a communal entity that shares its money and all that, but I had always put in and written 80 percent or more of most of the albums and carried most of the weight when it came to the recordings and the writing and all that. Yet we had become a band that was capable and ready to take that step and making music all together. So everyone came with that in mind. Writing songs with ten people in the room can be difficult because it’s not like everyone can write all at the same time. Some people have to just sit there for quite awhile. It takes a lot of patience when someone is hacking away at chords incessantly. But that’s what we did and it was really great man. It brought us together and it really felt good. I think some amazing songs came from it. About half of the songs on the album we wrote all together.

So it was more spontaneous instead of everybody bringing something with them?

Yes, the songs that we all wrote together were all spontaneous. No one had brought any ideas in and we would just start playing and I would start arranging—everyone was arranging—but that was my main role. People would start playing something. Then someone else would start playing something and we’d say ‘okay,’ and started working through it. I mean we really have gotten so close together that there was no glass on the floor. There was very little ego in the room and rare that any ego popped up at all. We all sort of knew that the whole premise was the songs themselves and try and chase down little leads. And it was really fun man.

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The record title has an obvious double entendre there. Do you want to talk about that a little?

Yeah sure, I guess its sort of begging to be asked. It’s several things. It’s a transitional period in our band and from ourselves, and the death of one thing being the rebirth of something else. But probably more importantly for me is confronting this notion in an artistic way that a performance is a postured thing and everyday experience is the real thing. I, in fact, think it’s the opposite. Every time you’ve ever seen a show that you subjectively considered a great performance I would bet that that performer was probably relaxed and far more so than they are in real life. Allowing whatever it is to flow through them. When you go to an acting class, the main technique or methodology of method acting is relaxation. I remember the first time my mother took me to an acting class—she was a stage actress—and it was like being in a loony bin. I was 15 and I was totally shocked. Everyone was on the floor grunting and groaning and pretending to be a different animal and that’s all about losing your inhibitions. If you did that in the street, you’d get arrested. There’s a certain irony there that I experience in particular that this guy Alex Ebert is untrustworthy because of this idea that I’m wearing a mask onstage and the messiah thing– this persona. I just wanted to address that regardless of the name and that the band is not called Alex Ebert and the Magnetic Zeros. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was just a joke name. I didn’t mean anything by it. I in fact tried to change the name early on to something far more memorable and easy to remember, but the rest of the band loved it. It all came from a story I had written and more or less it ended up this presupposition that I was putting on a character when I was on stage. It’s not that that bothers me that the entire thing is postured thing. You can’t trust someone who went from IMA Robot to Edward Sharpe because those are just too different. I’m not Tom Waits and the band isn’t Tom Waits. We’re not a band and I’m not an artist that’s remotely interested in each song sounding the same, let alone an entire career where everything is relatively identical. I appreciate those artists and I love them dearly, but I don’t find it artistically fulfilling, not even on a single album, let alone a career. So yeah there’s all that.

The first time I saw you was at the Newport Folk Festival and there was definitely a cultish vibe about the band. You used the word communal. Then I read about the book and it seemed to add to the mystique.

It’s almost by happenstance, but the book and the cultishness of the band, as much as anything can be, is coincidental. Obviously my mind was on that kind of thing. Growing up in LA, which was an intentionally uncommunal city where they made it a sprawl and you don’t have pockets of community at all. You have to drive to a coffee shop. There are no neighborhoods. I mean there are some. You had Echo Park. You could call Silverlake a community. Venice is a community. But where I grew up in the valley there was very little in the way of that. My mother showed me this thing that I wrote when I was six that said, “Once there was a boy who had a crew” and the second line was “and he also knew Kung Fu”. It’s funny that she showed me that because I guess all I ever wanted was a crew because I didn’t have one. I didn’t have a community. That’s all Edward Sharpe is for me is. I wrote these songs with all of these parts because I had this idea of a crew, like a traveling band of troubadours and friends. That’s all it is. Not a cult, but a crew. I think it goes all the way back to that story I wrote when I was six, maybe even before that.

How does it feel to have a song like “Home” that has such staying power? Did you ever dream something like that would come to be?

I knew as soon Jade and I were making a demo of that– or singing over the demo I should say– I knew there was something. As an artist you look for these holes that you might be able to fill in culture. I instantly felt “wow, there is a giant hole that this is going to fill that hasn’t been filled for a really long time—for deacdes.” The un-ironic, un-darkened, un-tinted love song that isn’t overtly sexual and has a very naturalistic approach to a love song– and a back and forth at that. And that being said, it took years for that song to catch on. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that song on the radio. It wasn’t a radio hit… it was a cultural hit. And in fact, by the time it was a cultural hit big enough we tried to go to radio, but radio wouldn’t play it. Triple A would play it, but the big stations wouldn’t touch it. It didn’t sound like anything else, it had a lo-fi sound, and also back then no one else was doing it. By the time it was to go to radio and we did a campaign with a radio company that wanted to help the album had been out for four years and they were like, “we would but the albums been out for four years.” So it was an ironic thing. It was more than just a cultural hit. I mean I love it. I absolutely love it. I’m absolutely honored by it. Just the other day we were at dinner and someone came up to me and said, “My sister-in-law killed herself and we would sing “Home” together and it was one of the only things we could do where we would feel great.” There’s a lot of stories like that. People got married to that song or had their first dance. To be a part of people’s lives in some sort of integral way like that is pretty magical.

When you play it now, without Jade, what do you do? Obviously the audience wants to here that song.

I just sing it back and fourth with the audience. In fact we do it almost entirely a-cappella. I count on the audience to sing the whole thing and I’ll join in on the chorus. It’s sort of like a sing-along in elementary school. I sing the first line just to remind them and we all sing it together. The reality is, and always has been, that this is a universal song and it’s meant to be shared and it’s about the big YOU. It’s not about her and I. Her and I wrote it as friends. We weren’t together when we wrote that song. And yet we loved each other. To me that song is even more potent and much more pure now that it’s not actually a duet between me and1 person. It’s a duet between me and all of us together as one. It’s pretty special.

On the new record you seem to mention “Home” a lot too. Or am I imagining that.

Home does rhyme with a lot. It was started happening and when it started happening, I just let it happen instead of avoiding it. I don’t have a clear answer for you except I didn’t want to run away from what was coming out of my mouth.

You have been on the road nonstop, not to mention scoring movies? Now that you’ve had a kid, do you think you’ve finally found a place to be?

It’s interesting. In a way, yes. I have to modulate the intensity with which I create so I can spend time with my family and myself and not constantly be on the move. So, in that sense, yes. But I’m just getting my feet wet in that realm. I don’t even think I know what that’s like to let go enough to just be there and not have a creative impulse that distracts me from just hanging out. So I’m working on that. I’m working on trying to suppress that.

Do you sing to your daughter a lot?

Yes, and I love singing to her. And sometimes she’ll tell me to shut up, but whatever. It’s one of my favorite things. I started singing to her early on and there were some times, I wouldn’t say times were rough, but there were some great moments where she needed to be sung to and I’d have her in my songs and just sing to her. It’s nice, just making up songs and singing to her. It’s fun. She calls the band “the guys” and asks “where’s the guys?” It’s really sweet and the band has a bunch of babies in it too, which is great.

Did she participate on the record?

Not directly as I would have liked to. But certainly “Lullaby” is about her and every time I’d sing “Somewhere” she’d come in and start twirling around. We recorded the song for two months and then mixed and then I wrote lyrics for the next nine months with Nico We live in the studio so she was constantly coming in when I was singing that song… constantly coming in to bother me. It was great.

One Big Holiday: A Detailed account of My Morning Jacket’s 2014 Mexican Festival Fiesta and a Look Ahead at Next Year’s All Star Lineup

This past week My Morning Jacket announced that they will return to the Hard Rock Hotel on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera for a second installment of their epic and idealistic rock n roll getaway known as “One Big Holiday”. From  January 31- February 4th, MMJ will curate their south-of-the-border festival joined by friends and favorites Dr. Dog, Dawes, Band of Horses, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The War on Drugs and special deejay sets from the lovable Biz Markie. For ticketing and more details, go to http://mmjonebigholiday.com

As we get ready for the first great festival of 2015, let’s look back at the magic that came with the festival’s premiere earlier this year………

photo 3They planned ahead and they planned right. They came from all over. Many narrowly escaped the sub-zero temperatures of their hometowns and every one was somehow able to put a temporary hold on all the trials and tribulations of their typical workweek and head for old Mexico to attend a festival trying to encapsulate an ideal world within a song. This was My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday”.

Many months in the making, the newly unveiled Hard Rock Hotel on the Mayan Riviera played host to a four-day fiesta curated by MMJ. A rock and roll destination vacation for the adventurous, the all-inclusive stay-and-play festival was exclusive only to those who had booked the total experience. You could come and go as you pleased, but no one from the outside was allowed entry.

lj-1A strange and magical trip indeed, the Hard Rock seemed like a well-guarded fortress for great music. The event began on Sunday, and while My Morning Jacket was the only band scheduled to play that day, it didn’t mean the evening would be light on entertainment. Tearing through two sets totaling 2.5 hours, the show marked the band’s first show of the year and their first performance since Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit back in October.

Suspense built as the crowd gathered, and the dream became a reality as My Morning Jacket opened with the summoning song “Circuital”. Jim James took stage wearing south-of-the-border garb looking like some sort of Peruvian mystic. Stars filled the sky as the breeze from the ocean blew the band’s long hair horizontal like some sort of wind machine.

mmj-1-14“First Light”, another song from Circuital transitioned into the much older and now classic, ‘The Way That He Sings’ followed by a stellar and strange early-set cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”. “Heartbreakin’ Man” and “Evelyn Is Not Real” gave fans a sweet taste from the debut record while “Masterplan” was re-worked with a sinister alternate beginning. The epic “Steam Engine” ended with a comedown of shimmering keys and the drum blasts of “Smoking from Shooting” rang out like gunshots.

mmj-1-2After a brief intermission, the band returned and laid the groundwork for a more mellow mood with the tracks “Wonderful”, “Welcome Home” and “Slow Slow Tune”. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, a figure emerged from the shadows. It was Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead looking like a sun-soaked Samuel Clements (or Mark Twain if you prefer).

mmj-1-4The band had met and performed with Weir on last year’s tour with Bob Dylan and began in suit with “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” before running through two classic Grateful Dead tunes, “I Know You Rider” and “Brown Eyed Women”.

While My Morning Jacket refuses to understand their association with jam band culture, moments like these make it hard to ignore the connection. And I mean that in the best way.

lj-1-4After bidding farewell to Mr. Weir, the band ventured into a truncated take on their 24-minute track “Cobra”, merging it with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” and ending their 20-song performance with an especially fiery version of “Mahgeetah”.

mmj-1-3Excessive sun and open bars have been known to lead to arguments and general poor behavior, but this wasn’t your ordinary festival setting. Unlike most festivals, everyone was here for the same reason, to see a band that prides itself on peace and love and leads by example. It was Night Two and all was well.

Opening tonight’s show was a show-sharing favorite of MMJ’s– the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Performing as an 8-piece, the multi-generational New Orleans ensemble set the mood with a 15- minute ode to their fair city. With two tubas, a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums, keys and a saxophone, the band was dressed to the nines accessorizing with infectious smiles and an unmatched benevolence as they danced their way through their set and into everyone’s hearts.

mmj-1Ending an hour-long brass-wailing set, the PHJB brought out special guest Bob Weir who had played with the band years and years ago. Adding a guitar to the mix, they merged jazz and blues, and you could tell that the players were having as much fun as their audience.

My Morning Jacket was next, and while the night before had been filled with epic surprises, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they could continue to blow the minds of the masses. A true treat for fans of the early records, the band began with “The Dark” and “Xmas Curtain”, “The Bear” and a special treat, a cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. Unbeknown to some, “Rocket Man” was actually released as a teaser to their first record on a Little Darla Has A Treat For You compilation back in 1999.

lj-1-8After the fun yet sinister, falsetto-fueled “Evil Urges” it was back to the old days again with “War Begun”, “I Will Sing to You” and the ever-evolving “Phone Went West”.

Returning from a set break it was back in time with a devastating solo rendition of “Bermuda Highway”, “Old September Blues” and an extended version of “Picture of You”.

Fans of classic MMJ covers were then treated to the Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nothing” which was best played at Neil Young’s benefit with an all star cast on the day Lou died. Tonight’s, however, was nothing short of amazing as most of the crowd knew the words and sang along.

lj-1-6Bringing out their friends from Preservation Hall, MMJ continued with the creepy, mysterious “Holding On to Black Metal” and the robotic, disco-dance, omnichord-powered “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream”.

lj-1-5If you thought you’d seen the last of Bob Weir, you were wrong. Still in town from his shows last week he came out one last time and began with a chilling version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”. A true, true highlight, the song perfectly toed the line of evil and innocence. After Jim said that he’d been snorkeling with Bob earlier that morning Bob replied somewhat seriously, “Some of my best friends are fish.” Perhaps it was a pun.

From here on it was party time again as PHJB, Weir and My Morning Jacket continued the covers with nods to Chuck Berry’s “Never Can Tell”, Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”. As the special guests left the stage, the Jacket ended Night Two with “Gideon” from the album Z.

lj-1-9Night Three was an off day for My Morning Jacket, but they handpicked a wallop of entertainment. Mariachi El Bronx, a southbound detour and sideproject of the LA punk band, The Bronx got things started playing their first ever show in Mexico. Singing primarily in English, the backing instrumentation was the perfect compliment to an evening in ole Mexico. The horns blasted in a triumphant fashion while the deep-bodied guitarron hit the lows as the violin hit the highs and got the night’s mood in full swing.

mmj-1-10The Flaming Lips were up next and, as always, were a spectacle to be reckoned with. Changing gears from their confetti and crowd surfing in a plastic ball of positiviity, the band’s new stage presence has a lurking evil within it. The guitars were more piercing, the bass more bone-rattling, the visuals are more terrorizing, and yet the Lips still deliver that transcendent understanding. Flying the freak flag, Wayne took a jack-in-the-pulpit climb upon a mini-mountain with LED arteries flashing lights like rainbow blood flowing through the veins of the stage.

mmj-1-8Always gracious and constantly asking for the audience’s reassurance, Wayne dressed like an early spaceman, equipped with true Moon Boots and hair like a helmet. Merging new tracks with highlights from Soft Bulletin the band even dipped deep down rehashing “Unconsciously Screaming” from the vaults. The covers continued as Wayne dedicated David Bowie’s “Heroes” to Bob Weir.

mmj-1-7The Lips foraged on, and the focus was again directed toward the Beatles as the band belted out an especially psychedelic “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” followed by an especially dark and weighty ‘She’s So Heavy”. The emotional rollercoaster ended with the Lips’ signature majestic existentialist anthem “Do You Realize?”

mmj-1-11I’m sure Night Four must have been epic. Three days in and My Morning Jacket had yet to repeat a song– a true testament to their versatility and longevity. There is no filler. It’s all part of the whole. The total experience, from the friends to the fans, shows just how far the band has come. They’ve changed creatively and stylistically, never dismissing where they came from and never questioning where they’re headed.

As for this reporter, I wouldn’t see the final day. I didn’t question where I was headed either. I was headed back to Boston and back to reality.

FL

The Dirty Three: Some of the Greatest Stories Are Told Without Words

In their 20 years as a band, the Dirty Three have grown from a Melbourne trio to three separate respected entities spread across the globe, pursuing various other projects. Guitarist Mick Turner still lives in Melbourne, painting, performing solo and running the record label, Anchor and Hope. Jim White is in New York and is one of indie-rock’s go-to drummers for hire, touring with Cat Power and Bill Callahan. But it’s Warren Ellis that seems to be the busiest. As Nick Cave’s right hand man, Ellis is the violinist for the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, and also collaborates with Cave on soundtracks. On the recent and critically acclaimed, Lawless, the two not only provide the score to the movie, but also record under the moniker, the Bootleggers, backing up guest vocalists Mark Lanegan, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson.

Scheduling and distance can take a toll, but when the stars align and time allots, they form one of the most important, intense, instrumental acts of all time. Combining cinematic rock music with the sensibilities and spontaneity of jazz, the Dirty Three are known for their tumultuous ebbs and sprawling flows. With Mick Turner’s signature pluck-and-drone guitar stylings, Jim White’s tender percussive brush strokes and Ellis’ possessed and passionate attempts to tame his wild violin, the Dirty Three venture through stormy crescendos and devastating comedowns as if they were weathering a storm in some seafaring tempest. While their records and live shows have become less frequent, any opportunity to witness the Dirty Three’s live experience should not be missed. Check out the following exclusive video to find out why. Notice the leg kicks, the laying down, the sway, the plucks and his comical interludes which grace the introduction to each song.

The following interview with Warren Ellis was done over the phone from his home in Paris and the exclusive photos and videos were taken a week later at the Ukrainian Federation in Montreal, Canada in a rare and recent eastern North American Tour last month.

So, you haven’t toured with the Dirty Three for about three years or so at this point?

I think the last time we played was in New York. I think it was 2009 or something like that.

Since you have all of these other projects like the Bad Seeds, Grinderman and soundtrack work, have your priorities with the Dirty Three changed over the years?

Well, I never really had a plan at the start. My plan was just that I liked making music, and when we formed Dirty Three, I realized I met three people that would be good to create a language with. Then other things came along. For me it’s always been about creating a language and continuing my involvement in music. I didn’t really have a plan as such. I don’t approach things in a different way. I don’t have priorities and nothing ranks above anything else. Historically, the Dirty Three will always be the most significant thing because I’ve been at it the longest. I started it and didn’t come in half way through the story, so to speak. There’s something quite different about that, but that aside, I see everything I do in music as something of an ongoing involvement in the story. If I think otherwise, you start not working to your full potential and you start undermining the work that you do. If I’m doing something, I go into it with the same energy. I know in order to stay in it, I need to continue to be challenged, and I know things need to change for me. Certainly making a new Dirty Three record is as big of a challenge as to make soundtrack for a film in it’s own way. Each thing presents a new home for me. But it’s hard to juggle everything at the same time.

The Dirty Three are based out of three continents at this point as well, right?

Yep. I mean every band I work with is in three different continents. I don’t actually live near anybody I play with. The closest person I live near is Nick [Cave], and he lives a couple of hundred of miles away. He’s a train ride or a boat away. I don’t know if that’s indicative of my character or what it is. I don’t actually live in the same city as anyone I play with. It just means that when I get together with them, we have to go for it. There’s a foot in every country. The internet has changed things like that completely. I can work for a theater company in Iceland and send them material. With the Lawless movie, I overdubbed a Willie Nelson track in my back shed and sent it off. You couldn’t have done that that easily ten years ago.

So the Dirty Three have always remained a band and it’s just assumed it would get back together every few years to record and tour?

It’s always been ongoing. At any given time, one of us is doing something else. Jim is doing other things and Mick does other things and paints and things like that. I think we realized in the 1990’s that if we spent any extended periods of time, like most groups, you’d just land up killing each other. We realized after the first five years of touring non-stop that we had to have a break from it. Any longevity is directly attributed to the fact that we have so many other things going on. Like anything we do, we take this time and when it happens it generally seems to be a good thing that we had space in between. The good thing about the Dirty Three is that we all go away and do other things and we all come back and bring new things from those experiences and that informs what you’re going to do next. It feels like a very great place to be in.

The newest record starts out much more abrasively than other Dirty Three records. Is there a reason behind that?

Well, to be honest, we had problems trying to make this record. Every time we tried, it was so familiar to our previous work that it was depressing. I think early on we realized the reality of our limitations of being a three-piece group and instrumental. You learn very quickly about what you can and what you can’t do. You realize that when you know you’re doing something familiar that’s what you shouldn’t be doing. Rather than augment the group over the years, we’ve added overdubs and keep the basic spirit of it as a three-piece and see how far we can go with it– instead of becoming a 7-piece band– because that’s the only way you can change the sound and ideas. And that’s always been a challenge. And it was especially a challenge with this last one because I was so busy with Grinderman and the Bad Seeds and the film stuff. That was taking up more of my time, and Jim was out with Cat Power a lot. It just meant that everytime we did find a space to get together we weren’t necessarily working out and we were playing stuff that was familiar. When we would play live, though, it still felt like we had something to say and there was something urgent. When we looked and listened to the live show, we realized we should approach recording that way and get to the studio and get into the writing process. We tried to structure it more and more with the most recent records. The first couple of tracks with the new record for this session felt like we had gotten back into it. They are there as a statement of intent and they got us excited again. It’s been a struggle to make this record. Not like a struggle to cure cancer, but you know what I mean. I wondered if we had said as much as we had to say, but we made something that we feel real good about.

Does everyone bring something to the table in the Dirty Three, or are you the main ideas man?

People will bring in different ideas, but the Dirty Three has always been about the sum of the kind of characters. It’s really driven by the three of us and that’s what determines what happens. Even if someone comes in with a specific idea, it changes pretty quickly when the three of us start playing together. It’s taken over by the group if you will. Nothing is done individually. We are very much a group in the purest sense. It’s like the way Neil Young sounds with Crazy Horse, and the way Crazy Horse brings something else to the music. I’m not saying we’re anything like Crazy Horse. I mean that we are really a group and they are a group and they do what they do. Like some of the great jazz combinations, the Dirty Three is a sum of its parts and if you take away anyone from it, the group is going to change dramatically. We’ve always known with the Dirty Three that if someone wants to pull the plug on it, then it’s the end of the group. I wouldn’t see the point in continuing on if any of us left.

Does improvisation figure into recording and/or live shows?

Yeah, it does. Recording and live. If you know our songs, you’ll be able to recognize it. There’s always room for us to take certain liberties– whether it’s with dynamics or with speed or melodically. That was always the idea with Dirty 3—that we didn’t get stuck in that routine of playing. The thrilling thing about Dirty 3 in the beginning was that there was always supposed to be a certain liberty taken on everyone’s part. It’s very much about listening to what everyone else is doing. We don’t have the chops of a jazz band for instance, but we also aren’t stuck in the same ways that the traditional rock band might be. It’s certainly not fusion, but we wanted to have the sensibilities of the way jazz people play so it’s engaging to us. Otherwise we’d get bored.

You’re very vocal onstage in between songs, but your songs are instrumental. Have you ever had to restrain yourself from trying to sing or write lyrics?

No, I don’t really have anything to say. I don’t feel an urge to express myself lyrically, nor do I know how to write lyrics. This way I’m not misunderstood. The group is not misunderstood. You take it how you want to. I’ve always liked poetry when I was a younger guy and I used to like writing it back then. I’ve always been a person who follows lyrics occasionally. But it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what the words were to a song like “Brown Sugar”. When I did figure out what was going on it seemed even more incredible than what I though it was. But it didn’t bother me that I didn’t know what was going on. It made it a little more fantastic and even more magical. I’ve always found that when I engage in something in a more linear way that I’m less interested in it. I’ve never felt a desire to do that.

Do you feel there’s anything thematically linked or visually generated in the new record?

With us it’s different. I work in bands that have lyrics. With Grinderman I can see that there’s a narrative in there and I see that it happens to us as an instrumental band. We put down a bunch of songs and as they begin to consolidate and begin to form a bunch of songs, you begin to get an album where a narrative seems to run through them. It seems to be really important, but when you start grouping things, things just start to take on a world of their own. I’ve seen this with lyrics and without. I guess that’s just the way it works. A lot of times I’ll go in to the studio… some of the time… most of the time… all of the time actually,,, you don’t know if you’re going to get anything or not. You don’t know if you’re going to get an album or a couple of songs or whatever. So it’s all very much about discovery. It happens with the soundtrack work as well. The thing I like about that is that is means you’re open to change.

How does the soundtrack stuff happen? Do they show you parts and you work from that or do you just see the script and work on it without any visuals?

Generally what has happened is we read the script and we have discussions about what we want it to sound like. Each time I work on the soundtracks with Nick [Cave]. It has to be determined what we can play between us and certain sounds might be suggested. Then we watch parts of the film, some sort of first edit. It’s kind of different for each thing. For Jesse James we were meant to get a cut and we didn’t, so we had 15 seconds of Brad Pitt trying to fire a gun and we kept going “does this work?… does this work?” We’d already booked the studio and we didn’t have the liberty of a lot of time so if we’ve penciled in a date and we don’t have anything, we still have to do something. I think many of the major things were made without us seeing much at all. We recorded them and Andrew landed up using the rough mixes we made in the film. That’s the great thing about soundtracks actually– if it works, it works. Sometimes it seems like it’s taylor-made, but it’s not.

Nick did the screenplay for Lawless, right? That must have helped in doing the sound for that film.

Well it does and it doesn’t. He did the Proposition too, and I think he had certain ideas. But with the songs in Lawless, there are songs and a score. When he was writing the script we had discussions about dropping Ralph Stanley’s voice on top of these ramshackle versions of songs. Things always change and things don’t always work out. There’s a continuing discussion all the time and the great thing is if you leave it open anything can happen and always does. The greatest things are the surprises. The great thing about Lawless are the tracks that Ralph Stanley is on that he would have never done before. It’s kind of an accident actually the way that happened. We couldn’t get him to even sing in the key we played in, let alone the 4/4. He just wouldn’t do it. He did the song in a certain way. We had a Skype conference with him in Nashville and it was one of the most surreal and memorable moments I’ll ever have in my life. It was just unbelievable. The result of Hal Willner being involved enabled us to get some of the most incredible covers ever, certainly one of the greatest Velvet Underground covers I’ve ever heard—and one of the hardest songs to cover. I think historically what came out in respect with the Link Wray song and taking songs back to where there came from is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if you’ve heard them, but I think they’re extraordinary. I was sort of relieved to hear that Neil Young Americana record and it seemed like one of the first times someone has done one of those records looking back… and not just banged it out the same old way where you play with an acoustic guitar and that’s good enough. It was so fantastic to hear that and you could feel that. And you could hear Crazy Horse in there and the great thing about Crazy Horse with Neil young and the influence of them and those songs in there, I just thought it was fantastic and such a relief after all of these banged out things that people think you should do at a certain point in your career. And I think for me, those Ralph Stanley songs that he did [for Lawless] were just mind-boggling. To see him at work and for me to be told by a bloke that he likes his version better…to be told by Ralph Stanley [imitating Ralph Stanley] “Oh I like my version better.” It’s like, “you totally have a point” [Laughs]. It’s brilliant. It’s nice to get smacked around the ears.

Is there a new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record on the way?

Well, I can’t talk about that.

It’s been a pleasure to talk to you…

You too. I’m looking forward to the shows. Have you seen the film? You have the soundtrack? What did you think about it?

I think it’s great.

I think there are aspects that have just never been done before. It was interesting because Lou Reed came in and had a listen to the Ralph Stanley version [of White Light/White Heat] and there’s no band that has had a bigger effect on me than the Velvet Underground—and to see his reaction, the guy who wrote the song– was unforgettable. You realize then that you have really seen something and something really happened in a great kind of way. I think that Ralph Stanley stuff is just incredible.

You said you did a Willie Nelson song from your shed. Was most of the other stuff also from afar or did you all meet in the studio?

The soundtrack was done in LA. All of the scoring stuff was done in LA. There was about 40 minutes of score. But we only put the songs on the soundtrack. The Willie Nelson song is something Harvey Weinstein should take credit for. He really made it happen. I can’t really take credit for it. I just had to throw some things onto it that kept it more in line with the rest of the music because it basically sounded like boot-scooter music when I got a hold of it. It’s just one of those things where when you have a bunch of people involved in something… and you’re like fucking hell, you know. The other tracks were done in Brighton, like the stuff Mark Lanegan did. Then the Emmylou Harris and Ralph Stanley songs were done in Nashville and Hal Willner went there and he’s amazing at working with people. And he’s basically the only reason the Ralph Stanely stuff was possible… because people trust him, you know. He’s fantastic the way he can coax things out of people. He went out there and sort of took the ball in his own court, so to say. The Mark stuff was done in LA. The originals were originally for Ralph Stanley, but that wasn’t possible, so we needed a plan B. So we had versions that he sent to us to show how he sang them. He didn’t even listen to what we sent him. The great thing about that is that its so daunting to do something outside of your comfort zone and I can’t imagine how threatening it must feel for an 85 year old guy to get “White Light/White Heat” thrown at him. And to his credit, he took it to where he understood it and he took it back to a place where it could have come from… Fire and Brimstone… you know, he made it into a waltz.

Again, it was a great pleasure. Thank you for your generous time. Safe travels to you, and I look forward to your shows.

My pleasure Nolan.

Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light… Exclusive Interview and Live Video

Spiritualized records have a history of being some of the most intricate, complex and laborious undertakings in modern rock music. Conceived from the often medicated mind of Jason Pierce and translated to tape, Spiritualized’s musical journey has explored everything from psychedelic freakouts and overwhelming orchestral offerings, to gospel soul and epic etherealism. Exploring the sonic peaks and valleys of drug use complete with agnostic, religious allusions that seem to cry out for redemption, the band’s anxious buildups and triumphant crescendos sounds like symphonies for substance sympathizers.

Jason Pierce wasn’t easy to track down. He never has been. But at the last possible hour of the last possible day before deadline, he came through to talk about the recent release of his seventh album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light.

While his previous record was recorded after a near death experience with double pneumonia, Sweet Heart Sweet Light was written during another health scare, one he doesn’t like to talk about. This record wasn’t created with the help of illicit drugs like many of the previous ones. It was recorded under the influence of different substances—ones prescribed by a doctor.

Thanks to the kindness and access provided by Spiritualized’s management and the venue’s security staff, this interview is accompanied by exclusive live video and a few photos from their recent show at the Paradise Rock Club.

Without further ado… Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Jason Pierce……

What is the background story behind the cover art?

Wow. I wanted it to look like one of those medical logos. But most of all, more than making it look good on a 12” LP, I wanted it to look good on any scale, no matter how small it goes. I wanted it to look like a work of art. It kinda worked on each scale and it kind of looks like the Periodic Table as well, so it kinda worked.

It seems like an interesting choice to start with a 9 minute song. Was there any reasoning behind that decision?

No, it just kind of came out like that. With the record, I wanted to make the whole thing like a pop record, like the Beatles. Then halfway through I realized I didn’t really like the Beatles. Not that I don’t like the Beatles music, but I decided I wouldn’t like to make a record like that. The idea originally was to make all of the songs two and a half minutes so it would be about harmony and melody and not about that abstraction or distortion– but some of it just came about like that. You can’t really edit that down. In a way, with the album as a whole, all the songs lean up against each other and editing them down would have made them more fucked up than this freedom. All the songs lean against each other, you know?

How did the official music video for “Hey Jane” come about and was any of that your idea? Did the video give the song a different meaning in the end?

You know how that video came about… it’s how most videos come about. You commit to someone to make your video. We usually use the video money to have some fun like when we went to Mount Edna. But most of the times you commission someone to make something. And then someone makes it seem like it was their idea. But this time, I sent it out and people came out with their ideas. This time I hadn’t known what he had done and I let him run with it and I did the opposite and didn’t give him any input. My only input, if you can call it that, was to resist any further conventions of the record label to destroy what it was or to try and chop it down to vignettes. There’s all kind of restrictions.

Is it true that you scrapped the original mix of this record after you released promo copies?

No. You know I didn’t mix the record by sitting in a room and mixing the record. I started mixing it a year before I was finished and I was trying not to do any further recording and try and balance it. It wasn’t strictly mixing. But I sent out what I called a finished thing ahead of time to try and jump the gun. There’s so much importance placed upon lead-up time nowadays. It used to be you finished a record and had it out in the stores a month and a half later. Now, it’s 5 months ahead of time because magazine have 3 and a half months lead-up time, so they’re not writing about current affairs anymore– they’re writing about things that happened 3 and a half months ago. So, I figured we could get a jump on that and if I sent an early copy out for review, I could jump on tour right when I finished the record. And it kind of worked. Within a month I was on tour. There wasn’t a clever thought about it. I wasn’t trying to get a jump on journalists or trying to make a clever statement. Sometime down the line I said as a joke that people who review the record haven’t got the proper record anyway. Some people didn’t find that funny. Some people thought I was trying to make some clever point on the state on music journalism. I was just trying to get a jump on touring.

Is the record thematic at all to you?

Is there a thread through the whole record? Is that what you mean? Yeah, kind of. I kind of had a difficult time putting it together actually. Sometimes I think I just make a record to tour because I feel the need to get back on the road. I think that’s what is most exciting… when you’re not trying to tie it down and catch something and put it down forever and be able to hear it in 20 years time. There’s something exciting live when you’re pushing it and you’re within it, but you’re not trying to hold onto it. With this record, as I said, I was trying to make a pop record—I wanted to make something where you didn’t have to be hip to a certain style or music, you could just sit and listen to it like a collection of songs that really worked. My influences were Iggy Pop’s Kill City, Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart and Accelerator by Royal Trux. They weren’t albums that they were releasing into the stars or that would change music forever, they were just beautiful collections of songs. When I tried to put that down, it became very hard to make. Anyone trying to make pop music has nowhere to hide. Everyone knows the definition of pop music. You can’t hide in an abstract idea. I started thinking that the more abstract you go with music, the more you can start to say “oh you’re not really hip to this or you haven’t got the musical ear to understand this”. But with pop music, you can’t really hide behind anything. It doesn’t really come with a disclaimer.

How is your health these days?

It’s good I think.

Did your health problems affect your visions of songs and how you approached songwriting?

Yeah, I don’t know. They got in the way. The treatment was worse than the thing I was suffering from. I had to do the treatment, otherwise I was going to get worse. Really it was made under a whole set of conditions of what being cut off of drugs can do. And so that got in the way. I can’t really even listen to the record now because it reminds me of that time. And I’ve never really made a record like that before. I usually make records that make sense to me after. It’s weird because I haven’t really got a control record to compare with. I haven’t made a record that wasn’t made under those circumstances so I don’t know if it would have been made different, but I really think it might have been.

The last time I saw you play, you played stripped down with gospel singers. Is this going to be similar, or will it be a more all-out rock show?

It’s a similar lineup. I’d like to say it’s a sit-back show, but it’s a little more involved and still allowing the ideas of the new record. But I’d like to say it’s more pop. We’re traveling with the same girls who played on the previous record, but they’re not gospel singers, they sing pop music and they sing like Leonard Cohen or the Leonard Cohen singers. They sound more ethereal and spaced out. It’s not gospel anymore, it’s taken on it’s own thing.

You’ve always used religious allusions in your music. After the near-death health experiences, the Jesus references are still there. Are they any more realistic or are they still just reference points?

No. They never really meant anything religious. I’ve had trouble trying to explain this. It’s like “Heaven Sent Me an Angel”. It’s kind of a short cut in language. I read something this morning about the Beach Boys’ song with Brian Wilson. Even though it has God-reference in the title, the song has NOTHING to do with God. It’s about love. It’s like an economy of language. Really that’s my use of language. Having a conversation with Jesus, you know exactly what that’s about. It allows you to take things with few words to carry what the songs about. There’s no religion in these songs at all.

As far as touring vs. making records, which do you enjoy more?

Touring, always. I’m not trying to pin things down and hold onto things when I play live. You can push it around from the inside and make changes. I fucking hate making records, I really do. And it just gets harder. It changes the way you listen to music. It starts changing the way you listen to other people’s records. You get caught up thinking about what kinds of reverbs they’ve used. Once I get to playing again and I get on the bus, it all starts to make sense again.

When you guys play now, do you go back through the whole catalogue or are there songs you stay away from for any reason?

It’s not very thought about. It’s not really planned. We don’t sit around with a list of songs we can do. We play something and then we think about what leads into that. Nothing’s really out-of-bounds.

Your characters have names on this record, at least more so than usual. Are they based on real people

Yeah, but they’re a bit more fluid. I think there are about 3 Janes in there. There’s no single Jane.

Do you think your songs have turned into more of a quest for penance or redemption at all?

My songs? No, I’ve been trying to write pop songs. In making an album, you almost drain the songs of any substance. By the time I’ve finished the album, they almost have no emotional effect on me at all. It’s kind of wicked because I know it’s in there. I know that some of it really moved me and some of it had to be said like that. But now I listen to the album and I like the pop aspect of it, but I have a few chuckles after hearing some lines of it. But there was a time when the whole album and lyrics were important to me. But you can’t make records fast. I think most bands relinquish responsibilities and hire a producer who comes in with his own bag of tricks. I set out to make my own records. I have to learn it as I go along. I don’t write the finished song before we record it. I record enough ideas and add to it as we go along.

Dan Zanes and the Del Fuegos: Two Decades Later…

In the 1980’s The Del Fuegos were one of Boston’s most exciting up-and-coming bands. Exemplifying raw garage-rock in a pre-grunge era, the Del Fuegos combined country and punk, creating hi-energy pop-rock anthems. While controlling the local music scene, the band eventually broke through to audiences worldwide thanks to tours with bands like INXS, the Replacements and Tom Petty.

Founder and lead singer Dan Zanes would go on to become a Grammy Award winning songwriter for his family friendly songs, and earlier this month he reunited the notoriously volatile Del Fuegos for one more run of shows. The following is an unedited interview with Zanes about the now and then, and everything that happened in between. Enjoy

NG: So where are you living now?

DZ: I am in Brooklyn.

Do you still have an affinity toward Boston?

Oh yeah, when I lived there it was a jungle, but when we got back together that’s why we decided to do it in Boston.

When did you officially know it was time to breakup? I know you guys played a show last year, but…

Well, when Warren and Tom left the band after the third record. Even under the best of circumstances we were a tense and fearful group. But without them, things got more and more difficult and the lifestyle started to undermine everything. It was the first part of spontaneous combustion. There was another time when I made another record with Joe Donnelly and Adam Roth. It was probably never meant to be but when that record came out was right when Nirvana broke. We almost instantly felt like dinosaurs. By that point it was almost overdue. And it should have been, because if you look at it, everyone went on to do amazing things. It was an amazing way to waste our youth. We got to experience the “ups”, but we also got to experience the “downs”—and the downs were very meaningful. We all learned a lot from the art of it all.

I know you guys played last year, but why regroup now? Everyone seems to be regrouping. Are you in anyway trying to cash in?

No. I think I’ve actually had more fun with the band in the past year than I ever had before. But also, Kenny, who produced those shows, was willing and able to keep us going for a little bit. He connected with Frank Reilly who booked the Del Fuegos in the early days and is now one of the giants of booking agents, and the two of them put the tour together. We always wanted to do it, but we all have great day jobs and we never had the time to get the production.

Was anyone particularly hard to convince at all?

No one was hard to convince, but I think Tom, our bass player has the least amount of flexibility and has a very intense family life now. So he was the most challenging one. But he made it happen. That is a great thing. We actually just recorded an 8-song EP. We’ll have cds at the shows and have it on iTunes and all that jazz. We recorded it and mixed it and all that in a week and fleshed it out into a record to give something new to our fans. We’re really happy to be an oldies band. It’s a great rock n roll tradition.

Besides playing last year, do you remember your final show as the Del Fuegos and what was going through your mind knowing it was all coming to an end?

No, I don’t. I think I probably blocked it out of my mind. Undoubtedly it was a very painful experience. There were a lot of difficult years after my brother walked away… difficult for everybody.

Do you have any regrets about the old days?

No. There are a lot of things I wish I would have done differently, but there are more things that I think we were able to work through, and as difficult as it was, I think the universe… well, things happen for a reason and I don’t need to question it.

Looking back, how would you say the songs hold up overtime, and what would you say is the band’s legacy?

I think our legacy would be in our live shows. I think our recordings are incredibly dated and I don’t think any record should have that much reverb on it. When we did the third record, I think it was overblown and it was overblown to make up for weak songwriting. I think our legacy were the live shows. I think we had a lot of internal angst and I think we were able to work it out onstage.

Do you have any specific highlights you’d like to comment on?

I think the most memorable touring we did was with INXS. That was an eye-opening summer. We had never seen anything like that before. To see teenage girls going that crazy and to see band like that on the way up, getting so big, so fast, was a flash out of a real rock n roll story. And we got to see it right before our eyes. We were in a real good place that year, so we got to enjoy it while it was happening.

What prompted you to start doing family music after rock n roll and what did you do in between projects?

I went into hiding and turned my back on rock n roll entirely. I was just listening to gospel and bluegrass music. That was all I really cared about. I wrote some instrumental songs for some commercials and pieced together things here and there. When my daughter was born I had a solo record and was trying to think about what all ages music would look like. I was able to record something that I wasn’t able to find in record stores and made other kids tapes to hand out to their mothers. All of a sudden, no one cared about my solo record, but everyone wanted a copy of this cassette tape. And I had more fun doing it than I ever had in music before, so I stopped the pop music and went full-time into this family music.

How did that change your view of your early recordings? Was it in any way like repentance?

I was able to take my time with the Del Fuegos as music as a social thing and apply that to family music. I knew the value of live performance. A lot of people were curious. Here’s this guy going from rock n roll to family music. We’ll have to check it out. That really helped me.

How is it different playing in front of wild crazy adolescents in a rock band vs. playing in front of children and their parents?

Kids are everything I wanted to be growing up as an audience. Kids can have a wild dance party before lunch time. The whole idea that the Del Fuegos had was if the people aren’t dancing then it’s not even a gig. It was all about the audience being a part of what was happening. Kids are inherently uninhibited. They don’t need alcohol to loosen up like most adults do. The audiences are wilder now, but the underlying spirit of social music is the same.

Do you remember the music that was important to you as a kid?

Sure– Leadbelly. That was the model for everything I do now. It’s everything you need to know for a lifetime full of family music. The inspiration is all there, 100 percent.

Dan Zanes 20+ years later

I think I’ve become a better songwriter over time. I think the idea is the same. You dig down deep and add something emotional that means something to your audience and of course has meaning for me first.

And you have a daughter?

Yeah, she’s going off to college next year.

So as someone who grew up listening to your music as a child and now is at an age where she has probably grown out of that and now listens to what you used to play… how does she view your two distinctive musical styles?

I think there’s a fair amount of amusement. I think at times its kind of funny. She’s always been really supportive. But me and music is all she knows. She grew up with musicians coming in and out of the house all the time. Someone at her school told her about the Del Fuegos and she thought that was funny. It’s all kind of comical that we’re getting back together, but I think she appreciates that in life anything is possible. 

Scud Mountain Boys: Some Good Ole Country Folk(s)

When alt-country began to reach the height of indie rock consciousness, the Scud Mountain Boys of Northampton, Massachusetts went from being a blip on the local radar to a universally renowned band back by Sub Pop, destined for reverence, but limited by brevity.

Led by singer/songwriter Joe Pernice, the band possessed the smoky whisper of hushed vocals and backcountry balladry with the southbound twang and slang of steel guitars. Not only was their career cut short, but their breakup led to over a decade of bad blood and non correspondence. Now, almost 15 years since their last show, they are taking their unsuspecting fans by surprise and reuniting for a small run of shows.

Since the premature disbanding of the Scuds, founder Joe Pernice has recorded with his brother under the self-explanatory moniker, the Pernice Brothers, recorded solo records, written two novels and founded Ashmont Records in Dorchester. I caught up with Joe Pernice from his home in Toronto (where he’s spent the last couple of years) to figure out how the Scud Mountain Boys started, why they ended, and the inspiration behind their reincarnation. Enjoy the ride through the backcountry and backcatalogue of Massachusetts’ greatest alt-country band. Cheers!

Nolan Gawron: So are you living in Toronto now?

Joe Pernice: Yes.

NG: So who is running the Ashmont Records Empire while you’re gone?

JP: Joyce is still in Boston. I do what I do from here. We moved from New York in 2004 and I lingered around, but I’ve been in Toronto since 2005, so it’s been a few years.

NG: So I guess most importantly, why reunite the Scud Mountain Boys now?

JP: Well, for me, a couple of years ago, a friend of ours from Northampton died. There was a memorial and there was a big show. I started thinking about it and I figured, ‘hey I should play that show’ and put all of our band’s differences aside. He was a good friend of ours, probably our biggest fan and just a genuinely nice dude. For some reason I chickened out of patching it up. When the band broke up, it wasn’t a very good break. Lots of feelings were hurt and things were said that shouldn’t have been said. None of that matters now. We were all pretty tight friends and went from being tight friends to not speaking. I chickened out, but it didn’t leave my mind thinking we should reunite. It was really the death of our friend that was a catalyst for me thinking about it. I listened to the music for the first time and though it was really very good and maybe we should play a show just for fun. In my mind, it’d be a great reason to patch up with my old friends. You get older and stuff really doesn’t matter anymore. It took awhile. I mentioned it to a mutual friend and he broached the subject to one of the guys, Tom. He was really cool and we started emailing. It took awhile for people to warm up. We actually got back together because I was playing a solo show back in Boston in September and I had corresponded with Tom and a little with Steve. I was playing a show in Boston and knew they were living close by. I knew Bruce was in Oklahoma so I knew he wouldn’t get a chance. I didn’t really hear from Steve, but I heard from Tom who said he’d love to go and I said, ‘Hey if you wanna sit in…”. Then I was going to be in Boston the next day and so I wrote an email to him and Steve and said ‘I’m going to set up a bass rig and a few mics and here’s my setlist. I’m going to play these eight Scud Mountain Boys songs. If you wanna show up and play I’d love it, but if you want to drive on, I understand too. I knew Tom would show up, but Steve showed up too. Not a word of conversation in 14 years and we had a drink before and shot the shit and it was all water under the bridge. I was getting chills really. It was very emotional. These guys were my good friends and man, they sat in and it was like we never stopped playing. It was tight and moody.

NG: Will Bruce be on the tour as well?

JP: Oh yeah, we emailed him later that day. After that show I talked to the guys and said ‘let’s book a few shows. What the hell.’ Bruce said he was on board and we started booking the shows immediately.

NG: So no one was especially hard to convince?

JP: No, it was easy actually. It was a lot easier than I had anticipated. I am the one who split up the band. I was the reason that it ended. I wanted to do something else. It may have been harder for me to get the nuts up to do it or to get the courage. When I did, I can’t say how hard it was to overcome, but it was easy to get together.

NG: What were the other members up to between then and now?

JP: I’m not really sure. I’m not kidding when I say I didn’t say a word with them. Not a word. Tom still played in bands. He and Steven still play with Ray Mason in western Mass. Bruce played with a few different bands before he moved back to Oklahoma. Tom got married and I heard that he had a couple of kids. But I was not involved in their lives and they were not involved in mine.

NG: Do you remember the last Scud Mountain Boys show prior to you reuniting?

JP: I do…very well. It was July 24 or July 27, it was a Sunday at TT the Bears. It was our last show and I had peaked. I peaked.

NG: How would you rate your level of success back then? I remember being in Australia 10 years ago and seeing a magazine rate “Grudge Fuck” one of the ten best alt-country songs of all time. That seemed very odd to me being 20,000 miles away.

JP: Maybe a little bit, but I still don’t know how into it people were. We really weren’t making records for all that long when you think about it. I think our first record came out in 1995, even though we made it the fall before. And our second record came out in February of 1995. And then we signed a record deal with Sub Pop and released our third record in September of 1995. It came out April of 1996 and the band was broken up by July of 1997. So we weren’t a band with product for very long. For me I was a little detached in a way. I had already started feeling like I didn’t want to do it. I was uncomfortable playing the music live and I think my vocabulary was starting to increase. My next record was more orchestral and textural. I stopped reading press, but the reviews of Massachusetts were glowing. But press doesn’t mean people listen to the records.

NG: Growing or maturing as a songwriter, how do you feel looking back at the old songs and them holding up over the years?

JP: I think they do very well and I’ve continued to play some of them over the time. The band had a downer vibe and really slow. I tried to make my lyrics be poignant and I recognize that by playing with various people over the years since the Scud Mountain Boys that everyone has a unique contribution and all configurations make a unique thing whether good or bad. The Scud Mountain Boys, in my mind, made a very unique sound that was a very good one and I think that the chemistry really lent to the songs being successful.

NG: Where did the band’s name come from?

JP: Steven and I were playing during the Gulf War. We had just gotten together and we hung out at my house in western Mass. We worked together at a bakery; that’s how we met. We hit it off, but I was about to start graduate school and I wasn’t about to be a musician. And he was of the same mind because he’d played with a bunch of people. When someone says “let’s jam’ you don’t know what you’re getting into. It could be two hours, but they could be the worst two hours ever. We got together and hit it off. The first number we ever played was “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and we turned on the TV and the Gulf War had just started. So the term “scud” was everywhere and Steve…godbless him, came up with the name.

NG: Was it particularly difficult to get your recording rights back and release your old records on your label after being on Sub Pop?

JP: No, no. It was licensed to Sub Pop. They didn’t own it. It was like having a lease. The lease was up and because we weren’t talking to each other they were then out of print. No one could do anything with them until we reconciled. I had such a bad taste about it for a while. They were three records. People could burn them if they wanted them. I felt so beyond that. Sub Pop wasn’t going to pay royalties on that ever anyhow. So none of us were going to make any money on those going out of print… or staying in print for that matter.

NG: Are there any places you are especially excited to play? You’re playing in Boston at a new venue instead of an old favorite.

JP: In a way I’m really excited for all of these shows. It’s not a long stretch and we have no plans on what will come of it. I’m just happy to play music with old friends. I’m even excited to just go to western Mass and rehearse for a few days. Sitting around and playing like we did– It was always so casual. It was only after we were expected to tour as our job that I started to feel really anxious. Now I’m super-relaxed about playing.

NG: What do you do when you’re not playing music? Weren’t you teaching for awhile?

JP: That was a long time ago. I still have a publishing deal with Penguin in the states from my last novel and I’m chipping away at a new one. I have other projects. Currently I have a musical piece I’m working on and I’m collaborating with people in Canada in writing for television.

NG: Do you want to talk about the musical at all?

JP: Well, I’m sort of pitching it at a very large theater group… well they came to me. A theater company on Broadway asking me to pitch something. So I’m putting my treatment together and demo-ing a couple of songs. If they dig it I’ll keep going. It’s very exciting though—to have Broadway come after you.

NG: What do you think about the term “country” or what you did as country? Do you think you still play country even after the Scuds broke up and you continued on?

JP: When the Scud Mountain Boys were together we certainly recognized the influence of more old time stuff– certainly 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s country. It’s only when country went hairspray and the stuff that has survived that is considered mainstream country nowadays. I mean I love listening to it. When I’m driving I’ll put whatever the hot country station is and I love it because it’s horrible and it makes me laugh. The more crazy and Christian it is the better. It’s hilarious. I never considered myself part of that and never want to be. But if you’re talking about the stylings of old country music… certainly anytime the music I’ve made and the music of the Scud Mountain Boys, we touch on the country music that harkens back to an older time. I could listen to Charlie Rich and that’s country music. It’s phenomenal. I still consider myself someone who has no trouble entering into that. But I like the Buzzcocks too, you know.