Sun Kil Moon: Mark Kozelek Tells it Like it Is


Mark Kozelek has been making solid records since the mid-90’s– and his recording career has been anything but by the book. From his early work in the Red House Painters to bouncing back and forth between the Sun Kil Moon moniker to a solo project under his given name, his hushed voice has always defined his sound and the quietude of his instrumentation has become even more delicate since he moved on to a nylon string guitar. He’s even made whole records of cover songs, one of AC/DC deep cuts, and another of quality Modest Mouse gems.

Despite his prolific past and the continued greatness of his rapidly growing discography, it’s only recently that the “taste makers” in the music press mafia given him his due credit. And it’s come at what may seem like the strangest of times. Recently Kozelek has become exceedingly honest, almost uncomfortably so. His lyrics have begun to read like journal entries, delivered with a nonchalance, void of typical phrasing, rhyme scheme and verse-chorus-verse formula.

On his latest record Benji, Kozelek writes about two relatives that died from exploding aerosol cans (… yes, two), watching “The Song Remains the Same”, listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dogs”, his first sexual encounters, sucker-punching a kid in grade school, his reaction to Newtown, and even going to see Postal Service and realizing that he’s going through a midlife crisis while watching his old friend play in a new band. In a way he seems as though he’s letting it all out there, to anyone who cares to listen. And in ways it seems like he played the biggest joke on his listeners and he unexpectedly succeeded. Mark Kozelek has always surprised and delighted. He’s always kept us guessing. And it’s great to see that the world is finally following along. Below is the brief Q-and-A email that Kozelek graciously answered mid-tour in August. Since then he’s gone on to offend much of North Carolina by calling them hillbillies, and wrote a really interesting song with an even more intriguing song title and chorus, “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock”. You can listen to it for free on Kozelek’s website, . Get ready for a Kozelek Christmas record set for November, and in the meantime enjoy the interview.

NG: How often do you play with a band vs solo nowadays? And do you prefer one over the other?

MK: I’m currently in Malmo with a very much-needed night off on a band tour. I like both solo, and band. Solo is nice because it’s logistically less headache. Band stuff is complicated… all of the organizing that comes with it… but when you’re onstage with a band and everything is clicking, it’s pretty uplifting and worth all of the bullshit. Solo is also very nice – it’s more of a 1-on-1 experience. At my roots, I’m a solo artist and overall prefer playing solo.

The last time I saw you, you played in complete darkness with very few candles as your only light, is that a situation you prefer?

Yeah, I don’t like too much light. My shows are usually 2- to 2 and 1/2 hours long, and the heat from the light dehydrates me, make me sweaty and uncomfortable. I also don’t like movement in the light because nylon string guitar is a temperamental instrument. The lights changing cause temperature changes and mess with the guitar tuning.

In this day of reunions, do you ever get offers to reunite the Red House Painters? Do you ever consider? It seems some people have the “if the price is right mentality?”

We have never received 1 offer, and I wouldn’t take it if we did. SKM is doing just fine. That’s where my heart is, and I’m doing A-OK financially.

Were you surprised at the way Benji was received? Was it weird that people say you’ve found your voice or hit your stride after all these years of solid records?

I think if Pitchfork would have gave it a 5.1 and said it was middle-aged ramblings about dead uncles, people would have jumped on that boat and agreed. People have no minds of their own these days and believe whatever the internet tells them to believe. A 25-year- old girl recently told me, “you finally made a masterpiece”. I said, “baby, I’ve been making masterpieces long before Pitchfork existed.” For some people, music history started 5 years ago.

How do you decide on a performance setlist? Is there a mood you feel? Does it remain the same or similar? Are some songs off limits? Is there an art to the order or do you just wing it?

I play whatever I’m inspired to play. Currently it’s material from 2012 onwards.

How do you view the results of starting your own label? Has the freedom made you release more? You seem like your more prolific than ever? Are the ideas flowing that fast or are you releasing as much as possible because you’re not at the mercy of a label’s schedule?

It’s a combination of a lot of things. Yes, labels held me back to some extent, but I also took my time, with songwriting, recording. But it’s like a guy who works in construction– when you first start, you pay attention to all the details– after a while, you just build fucking houses. I make records. That’s just what I do. Some people do this, some do that, I live and breathe music. I go to bed with music in my head.

Why Caldo Verde?

My favorite soup.

You’ve done a bunch of live records? What makes a live show good enough to release? Do you record all your shows? Do you know going into a show that you’re going to release it or does that come later?

I record live shows from time to time. I release many of them for free, as incentive for fans to buy music directly. It’s easy to record solo performances. If the elements come together– the EQ, no digital distortion, performance is good, it might get released.

Do you have a good memory? It seems like a lot of these topics happened a long time ago? Does something trigger the memories to put them into song? Something that made you say, ‘oh I have all these memories why hide behind metaphor, let’s lay it all out there?’

Ah, hard to explain. When you get older, you just start realizing there is no guarantee you have another 20, or even 10 years left. You think about the things that shaped you. I felt the need to pay respect to my roots in this record… to tell both my mother and my father that I loved them, in song.

Now that you’ve gone the autobiographical route, is it hard to consider writing a song that is just pure fiction or covered in a veil of verbiage?

I just write. I don’t think about it. I just respond to my surroundings and my feelings and I write.

I’ve always meant to ask you… you’ve written many songs about others, and Mojave 3 wrote “Krazy Koz” about you. What do you think about that song?

It’s catchy.

How do you differentiate between Sun Kil Moon and Mark Kozelek? 

Ughh… Dude I’m in Malmo on a day off.  I’m really tired…

You seem to lay it all out there? Why do you want people to know your life and does that make it awkward at all? Do people tend to identify with you through your tales, or less so now? Did you in any way think people were ready for truth or was it just something that changed in your songwriting.

Ughh… Man, I’m getting sleepy….

I saw you played Newtown, what was that like? Have you ever played shows where it went from just playing songs to having to play a show to people that you wrote a song to that was so serious?

Newtown is in September. I won’t be playing ‘Newtown’ when I’m in Newtown, just like I don’t play Alesund in Alesund. That would be cliché.

Thank for your time. I’m in the middle of a tour and this is the best I can give you.

all of my best to you,




Indians: Denmark’s Søren Løkke Juul

BG-1-3For Denmark’s Søren Løkke Juul and his band Indians, the process of getting a record deal was anything but typical. When 4AD contacted him about making an album he only had 2 songs ready to go.

After a decade of playing keyboards in various bands back in Copenhagen, Indians was Juul’s way of stepping out of the shadows and writing his own material. Once he signed to 4AD, Indians went from personal project to an official solo band.

On his debut, Somewhere Else, released this past January, Juul plays every instrument creating layered compositions that combine shimmering keys and delicate acoustic guitars with heavy-handed drum machines and pensive, reverbed vocals. It’s folk music set in a foreign territory of somber soundscapes and dreamy atmospherics. It’s electronic music with teasing tempos that toe the line of danceability, but rarely cross it.

I was lucky enough to to interview Juul twice this year—once in person at SXSW and once over the phone as he prepared for his recent US tour. Both interviews are included below.


April 2013

So is this your first US Tour?

No it’s already like our third. The first time I was here was in April [2012] and I did a few shows in New York, a session in Seattle, then flew to Vancouver and opened for Beirut and then flew to LA and played four shows there.

How long have you been recording versus touring?

It was actually a mixed process because when 4AD contacted me I had only 2 or 3 songs. I didn’t even have an idea myself that I wanted to make a record. I was just spending my time making this music. It’s been a mixed process; every time I would make a new song I would send it over and get their opinion.

How did they find out about you?

Blogs, I think– music blogs and stuff like that. I had one song and it was very busy touring music blogs around the world.

Is English your first language?

No, it’s Danish.

Bands I know from Copenhagen all sing in English. Is that typical?

We have a lot of Danish bands singing in Danish, but to me its pretty natural for me to sing in English. I think the English language is easier to express yourself and I like traveling and I like the idea of sharing my music with people. If I was only singing in Danish, I think I would only be able to share with Danish people. Here’s an opportunity for sharing with people all around the world.

Did you play all of the instruments on the record?


Do you tour on your own sometimes or do you always play as a band?

This tour is actually the first tour with the band. Last year I toured as support for other bands, so it was only possible if I figured out some kind of setup on my own. I would always prefer to bring a band though.

Is the band from Denmark?

No, Laurel is from Portland Oregon and Hillary is from New York. I had never met them, they were recommended to me by the label. I have two people I play with back in Europe as well.

So you said you made each song one-by-one. Do you think they link together at all or did the sporadic process change the mood from song to song?

It’s been a process of recording and telling stories about what’s happening in my life so it’s natural to tell stories like that. It’s not fiction. Writing song by song I was in a position to record each day and wake up early and spend all day in the studio.

I’ve seen you play 3 shows already at SXSW, how many are you playing overall?

I’ve played 7 and then I have one tomorrow. I don’t know though, this feels normal.

Does that make it hard with such a busy schedule? Do you find yourself worn out? Do you feel you have limited energy from show to show?

I’m not worn out before a show. Yesterday we had three shows and I was prepared for all of them. Of course I came home and I was very tired. In a situation like this with lots of bands and lots of noise and people, you don’t have a lot of time to worry about that and you don’t have much time to set up which can be very stressful. I feel like when you play a concert and you don’t have time for a soundcheck you just have to work with you got.

What’s the music scene in Copenhagen like?

It’s very good. There are lots of bands. More and more bands are making it out of there and I think it’s because people have been making independently for about ten years now. They don’t make music to get popular; they make music for a human need. That makes it real. There are a lot of bands in Denmark that make really good records because the whole music industry changed their position to make music for the music.

Have you thought about what next or how long before the next record?

I still write and I have an idea for the next record. I don’t think it’s going to be different process. I still want to do it myself, but I just need quiet time to make music. I have new songs ready and I have a lot of ideas of how I want the next thing to be. I hope to make a new one too, but I can’t promise anything before it’s there.

July 2013

Tonight. I basically go straight from the festival here in Denmark and fly to New York tonight.

Tell me again about being signed. You only had a few songs. Is that true?

Yes, yes it is. I think I only had two songs before 4AD contacted me and asked if I would be interested in making a whole album. I was like “Yes if you want to work with me then I will try.” First of all I was really surprised that a label like 4AD wanted to put out an act that never had done a record before. In the start it was a lot of pressure, but I had to forget about the pressure and do what I like to do and enjoy myself making music. I was really, really excited about the opportunity to work with 4AD.

How were people able to hear your songs before the record came out?

Basically there were not very many people who had heard the songs because I had made one song and made a small video for it and shared it on my Facebook page to get some response from my friends.

Were you performing live before the record came out or is the record what led you to take the project from a personal level to a performance setting?

I’ve been in different bands for ten years as a keyboard player, but I had never played an Indians concert before. The first show was in February last year and I remember I only had 8 songs to date to play at that show.

Where did the name Indians come from?

I think it’s about sharing and making music and it’s part of nature. We all need music. We are all born listening to the heartbeat in our mom’s stomach and that’s the first time we hear music. It’s so close to our nature and in a way it’s a celebration for Indians in general. We are all natives from somewhere and I think it’s beautiful to have a simple life so close to nature.

You seem to tour a lot in America. Do you perform as much in other parts of the world or do you feel like you have a bigger reception here?

I think that we have been touring a lot in the States, but things have been coming a lot in Europe too. America is a big country, so there’s a lot of work and opportunity when you go there. There are a lot of venues to cover.

When I saw you in Texas you had to women playing with you. Are you playing with the same band this time around?

Actually that was just for that tour. I’ve been playing with two guys in Denmark sometimes, but at the moment I am playing by myself without a band. It works really well, it’s easier to get around and it’s much cheaper.

How does the live show compare to the record? When you were playing as a trio there was a big sound and three people playing at once? Does playing solo make it hard to sound as big? Or do you even think about playing songs like on the record at all?

I think sometimes you have to change things. Sometimes things work really well on record and it doesn’t necessarily work out live. Sometimes you have to build different arrangements for the songs to keep it intense. It’s different.

So with you playing solo, what is the live setup like?

I’m looping stuff and I’m playing a synthesizer and a piano. So I’m pretty busy. It’s not like an acoustic show. It’s still a pretty epic sound live. I try to have as many elements on the record as possible when I play live.


Have you had time to start thinking about or working on a new record?

I have some new songs and recently at a show in Denmark I was asked to play a longer set than normal so I played three new songs.

Do you have an idea when you might have a new record ready or is it too early to tell?

Hopefully within a year. I hope. I hope. I spend as much time as I can trying to figure out new stuff and writing new songs.

When you made your first record you made songs one-by-one. Do you think your songs will be different this time around? Are you approaching songwriting differently now that you have more experience playing solo? Have your experiences on the road made their way into your work?

I think it’s different because the story that I’m telling with that old record is a new story now. Now my new songs are about traveling around and the people I meet and places I have seen. My new songs are about what’s going on right now.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin: When A Name Means More Than Ever

When the band chose their name back in high school, they never had any intention of making a political statement. Thirteen years later, however, recent events have brought them closer to the man in question than anyone could have dreamed.

BG-1-12After being specially invited by the Boris Yeltsin Foundation, SSLYBY became the first American band to ever play and headline Old Nu, Russia’s largest winter music festival, this past January. But that’s just where the story begins.

Taking their memories home with them, the band immediately returned to their attic studio in Springfield, Missouri to start writing and recording a new album. The resulting  ‘Fly by Wire’, was released yesterday, and the results are filled with rhythmically ripe tracks of sentimental revelry fit for the last rays of summer. Taking bits of Russian imagery from the people, literature and art they internalized oversees, the record soars and swoons with lush melodies, hushed harmonies and catchy-as-hell, gentle pop gems.

I was thankful to catch up with Phil Dickey, one of the band’s founding members, when they played their last tour leading up to the album’s release.

BG-1-11I had the pleasure of listening to the upcoming record and it sounds amazing. I noticed in the photo there are only three of you. Did you lose someone along the way?

Yeah, one of our guys, John Robert Cardwell left the band so we did the record as a three-piece. There have always been multiple songwriters in the band so it didn’t change anything as far as writing or things like that.

I immediately noticed that you mentioned the Russians early on, and I thought it was strange you were finally talking politics. Then I read further and saw all about your recent trip to Russian. You’ll probably have to answer this a lot coming up, but can you talk about how that all came together?

Yeah, as far as the song referencing, there’s a Nick Lowe lyric that goes “discussions with the Russians” which I thought was catchy as hell so we used it. That’s going to be the title of our documentary as well. Last summer we were contacted by the Boris Yeltsin Foundation in Yekaterinburg, Russia. I thought it was horrible joke and I thought one of my friends was messing with me. We figured out that it was a real thing and the Boris Yeltsin Foundation was sponsoring a big music festival in Yekateringburg where Boris Yeltsin began his political career and they wanted us to be the first American band ever to play at this, the biggest winter and music festival in Russia. And along with that,  as far as the planning, we were already planning on going over and the US Consulate heard about us going there and we were the first American band playing this festival so they wanted to work out a program with an English speaking school in the same town where we would interact with the students and it would be a cultural exchange. They named us Cultural Ambassadors for a day—which we are all putting on our resumes. We did a rock show at the festival and then we did an acoustic show at the school. It was insane. We ate lunch with Boris Yeltsin’s friends and his personal translator at an elementary school. We ate borscht and they gave us 7 bottles of vodka. We were followed around by a national news crew the whole time and they made us perform Boris Yeltsin’s favorite song on the spot. We had to learn it by listening to an iPod and then immediately perform it. A lot of the stuff that happened we couldn’t make up. This should be a children’s book at the very least.

BG-1-5Did you have to bullshit your way through where the name came from and the significance of it? Did you get freaked out that they would see it didn’t mean as much to you as the person you were asked to honor?

We were always worried about that because the band name was not political at all. We’ve never endorsed his policies. He did seem like a good and decent man. The band name is more of a commentary on that, not about anything political. But we were worried about that. There were a lot of things going on, they have some tension over there. For some reason it never came up though. I think it’s such an anti-political thing to play your songs—especially love songs. We’re not talking about peace or justice; we’re just talking about having a crush on someone. We’re just trying to be crappy Beatles. That’s why I think it made sense that we should go there and play at a school and meet all of these important people. I think there’s way more power in art or something that’s not as political now. That’s why you can really just get along with people because you’re not trying to be weird or have an agenda.

So was this an outdoor festival in Russia in January?

No, it was inside. It was a really major complex. It didn’t make sense to us because it was a Russian building. It seemed like a multi-plex with the stage and theater. The next thing was in the gymnasium at the school and we were inducted into their gymnasium Hall of Fame, which was really strange. And we looked out the window and little kids were cross-country skiing at recess.

So did you start making the record as soon as you got back?

Immediately. I was kind of going crazy, I was itching to write and get these songs down when we got back. We’ve been super fortunate and band that gets to play music and travel, which is very fortunate. But you seem to lose the plot when you start thinking about popularity and the business side. This really was the true moment where we thought this nonsense band name in high school connected these words that we put together and our whole art project somehow got us to Russia and connected us to these foreign leaders and the US Consulate. It was the one time in my life when I thought “words have power; art has power.” It sounds cheesy, but I think it’s something. It says something more powerful than you can say politically. People get along when they’re talking about art or music. That’s why we wanted to do it right away. We were sleep deprived and jetlagged, but we went up to Will’s attic as soon as we got back.

BG-1-10Would you say the experience led you to into the music, or did it inspire you to just write the next thing?

It kinda made its way into everything on the new album. We have some Russian imagery in the artwork. We toured Tolstoy’s museum and Tolstoy’s’ house– the whole experience, whether it was Russia or not. We were kids and we thought of Boris Yelsin, and now we’re adults going to his land and his town. Some of it is reference to Tolstoy, his books, Anna Karenina, or taking the 747 flight to Russia– and some of it is just the feeling of magic to Russian art and the Russian people we met who were so helpful.

BG-1-2Even though you guys are recording yourself again, it seems as though there’s a little more to the overall production on this record. Would you agree?

Yeah, as far as production-wise, I think this is the first time we’ve ever really thought of ourselves as producers. It doesn’t really matter who plays the parts because we can all play guitars and drums. In the past it was playing the song like you would be playing it at the show. This time we really tried to break it down. We were listening to Fleetwood Mac records and wondering why Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar sounded so smooth. We were breaking stuff down. We’ve approached it more like a producer, but also within the circumstances of our band. We were in Will’s attic and I don’t think producers work in people’s attics. We took that role on ourselves. Each song had a different place we were coming from. We were just trying to make the parts dance together and sound simple and also like it could be played on your sister’s cassette player. We wanted it to sound really warm.

Is the production like a nice reaction to coming after the record of demos and B-sides?

Yeah, the example I thought of was thinking of Lindsay Buckingham… probably doing an insane amount of drugs, but recording in the nice studio and then taking the recordings from there and re-recording them in a bathroom. And doing vocals laying on the floor. Even with access to a million dollar studio, it can still sound better in the bathroom. Studio’s can be really stale and it’s more interesting to work with your own materials and your own place that inspires you.

You guys were pretty young when you started the band. Have you noticed a change in your songwriting style or subject matter?

Topic-wise, no. I just turned 30, and I want to resist that idea of “oh they made a mature album and they’re really committed now. “The lyrics have always kinda stayed the same about having a crush and being in love and positive, bored energy and movement.  If anything, we don’t want to sound like we’re 30. It’s not like now it’s time to add strings and sound really mature. I think that would be a sad day for everybody.

Do you have a lot of the new song ready to go on this tour, or are you just going to use the time between to work them out live?

We’re building the ship as we sail. We have no master plan. We’re just focusing on learning the new songs live and testing them out now.  Ungreatest hits or Greatest Emissions, depending who you ask.


After seeing so much of the world is it refreshing to go back to a small town, or do you get restless these days?

We grew up there and there’s something about that place and it will always be home. We kinda love it there. There’s a great community and I like underrated and under the radar. I think it gives you a chance to do things, whereas in big cities all the ideas you have about art and culture are already being done and there are probably people with a lot of money doing it. Where we are from there’s a chance to try and make your city what you want it to be like, and hopefully it can be that place. It seems like now things could go either way.

Drunk History: An Interview with creators Derek Waters and Jeremy Konners

dw2What began as a single short film for Derek Waters’ comedy act would eventually grow into an internet sensation picked up by “Funny or Die”. Now, seven years later, Waters and co-creator/director Jeremy Konner are bringing their “Drunk History” to Comedy Central (Tuesdays at 10pm).

Gathering comedic friends and notable fans, Waters and Konner film drunken narrators as they tell enthusiastic historic tales warped by inebriation and then reenacted by A-list celebrities resulting in true hilarity. While it’s hard to imagine that the participants are actually that drunk, Waters assures us that everything, even the vomiting, is the result of unscripted excess.

In their Comedy Central debut, “Drunk History” hosts some return guests, but also add a new echelon of A-listers. Jack Black and Michael Cera are back, and alongside Dave Grohl, Bob Odenkirk, Lisa Bonet, Bill Hader, Kevin Nealon, Aubrey Plaza, Winona Ryder, Fred Willand and Owen and Luke Wilson, the all-star cast takes on stories about Elvis, Nixon, Nader, Lincoln, Mary Dyer and the Kellogg Brothers among others.

I was lucky enough to catch up with comedian Derek Waters and director Jeremy Konners (separately) on the phone to discuss the past, present and future of their hilarious “Drunken History”. Below are the unedited and exclusive interviews that transpired.

Derek WatersPart 1: Drunk History: An interview with Derek Waters

Are you excited for the premiere?

Very excited. Very excited. I finally hear from parents, you know? No, I’m just kidding, I’m very close to my family, I hear from them every day. I hear more for them now.

I saw you talk down at SXSW, but could you reiterate how this thing came to be? Was it really just supposed to be one web episode until Jack Black contacted you?

Yeah, it was 2007 and it’s only intent was to be for a live show I was doing for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade called “LOL”. It was my own show and I was trying to show videos. I figured it was better to make people laugh than to put it online. It was right when the internet was being judged by hits over comedy. I’m still a snob, but I was a bigger one back then and I was hesitant whether people would accept just that. I sent it to Conan and the Daily Show in hopes that it could be a monthly sketch. But nothing really happened until we put it on the internet and it got on the front page of YouTube and then Jack Black who knows Jeremy Konners the director, he saw it and said ‘I always wanted to be Ben Franklin’. And that was that. So basically what you said is true. But those were the specifics. You can’t really turn down Jack Black. Why would you?

How did the show come together after all these years? Did you just keep pitching it around?

Well, it never really… people always said what about a “Drunk History” show, and I said it’s not a show, it’s a five minute idea. I never want it to get old and I know what it is. So I thought, well what is it going to be like? What if it’s me going across America trying to understand our country? But that didn’t feel right, so we just broadened the world so it’s just a history show. We’re trying as hard as we can to tell you about history; it just so happens that it’s slightly altered. But each episode is about a certain town and there’s a thru line between three stories and the idea of broadening the world of history so its not just about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Now there can be stories about Elvis and all kinds of new worlds. And we can do all stories now if we set the bar here.

How many States did you make it through?

Well what do you mean by that?

How many States do you touch on in the show by wanting to do it as a travelogue from city to city?

We did 7 cities, and the season finality is about the Wild West. But there’s Boston, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, San Francisco. We’re still working. Oh my god, are we still working? Holy Shit, we have got so much to do. But it’s gotten through a lot of different stages. Comedy Central is the best and they had the best response to the pitch. Anytime you have something, especially if it’s your own project with your friends in your backyard and it becomes semi-popular, I don’t know many stories where people have said ‘Oh I got to do what I wanted at that big network’. Comedy Central has allowed us to stick to that tone where it still feels like you’re with your friends in your backyard making little videos… there are just more movie stars.

dw4Yeah, how did you get such big names? Are these people all your friends? How did the A-list cast come to be?

It was craigslist, that’s all it was. It’s tough times out here right now. No, I knew some of them, but we had a casting director and we would dream a little dream and be like ‘Oh man it’d be cool if Jack Black and Dave Grohl would do the Elvis story’ and they would be like ‘ok here you go’. There’s no real way to say how this all happened, because I still don’t know. I mean, we got Luke and Owen Wilson to play the Kellogg Brothers, I’ve often thought I’m in the Make a Wish Foundation and I’m about to get really bad news. It was very surreal. Most of them, if we didn’t know them, we knew they had an interest in Drunk History or wanting to do it. I guess a lot of people know it’s a lot of fun or they have people who work on it and know it’s a lot of fun and really laid back, so everyone wants to be there and it’s a really rare place to be when you’re working.

Who do you play in the upcoming season?

I’m the host and then I play random parts throughout the series in every episode. I pop up in little parts here and there. I will play Davie Crockett in the season finale, which is probably my biggest role. I don’t want to give away the ending and what happens to me. [Laughs].

When it’s being filmed are you guys drinking or are you fictionalizing what it would look like if you were drunk?

When we’re shooting the reenactments? Never. I mean, definitely in the narration, but when we shoot it we , no—I don’t mean, no that wouldn’t be right—I mean, no we don’t because… There’s the drunk part, but then there’s the other part. I always think of it as ‘man we really want to tell this story so here’s the footage we have and here’s the footage we have of this drunk person’. The comedy comes from trying so hard from something that is so ridiculous that people try and take it seriously. There’s a preview we just put online of Winona Ryder getting hung in the 1600’s and a car drives by in the background. Those are my favorite things that happen during the show. The mistakes. The purposeful mistakes.

wrIn Texas you said you were going to get audience members to help out with the story ideas in each destination. Did that still happen? Is that how the story ideas came about or is it all you guys?

The on the road stuff was more about interacting with people about their towns and getting their reactions about the subject. The stages of filming were we had researchers and we would all dig through books and everything we could find and figure out which towns we would go through. Then we would assign our favorite stories to our favorite narrators out here, shoot them and then based off of our favorite stories, we would go on the road. Doesn’t that sound hilarious?

It’s hilarious that you have researchers only to blur the research.

Here, find something really good so someone can forget it. [Laughs] The people that do get assigned the stories DO have interest in it. I wouldn’t let someone do a story that they wouldn’t want to do. It has to be like ‘oh, oh, oh, oh’, or ‘oh my gawd I had no idea about that, I want to learn more’. There has to be a genuine passion about it, where mixed with alcohol is especially funny and hard for them to articulate why they love it so much.

sw6Who are some of your favorite portrayals of characters in the upcoming season?

MMM, so many. Jason Ritter, I call him the master of Drunk History—so good. He plays my favorite character, Stetson Kennedy. It’s in our Atlanta story. In our Atlanta episode we have a story about J. Edgar Hoover vs. Martin Luther King and we have the invention of Coca Cola, America’s favorite soft drink. Then this one, Stetson Kennedy, who in the 1940’s is the man who came closest to taking down the Ku Klux Klan. It’s really, really cool. He joined them in the 40’s and infiltrated them and learned their secrets and tried to learn a way to fuck with them. Back then radio was a big entertainment facility and “Superman” was the biggest show and “Superman” was looking for a new villain, so Stetson called them and said ‘I think I found a new villain for you; I infiltrated the Klan.” They loved it, so each week Stetson Kennedy would meet with the Ku Klux Klan and called the people at the “Superman” show and each week Superman would take down the Klan with the exact actions that were actually happening within the Klan. All these guys got freaked out and dropped out at the end because their own kids who loved Superman were running around the neighborhood dressed as these really stupid villains known as the Klan and making fun of them. That’s a story where I think it’s fun to get people drunk and have funny tales, but I want stories like that that are true where I’m like ‘holy shit, how do I not know that story?’

If you guys are not drinking during the filming, how do you guys get in character?

Getting in character? I don’t know. Hold on, you know the narration part is the drinking part, right? The reenactments are sober. You’re saying because the people are acting drunk? I don’t know how to answer that.

Does Comedy Central impose any limits on what you say or do? Any quality control if you will?

The only quality control is we have a medic with us when we do it. Luckily having a little more money we have a real medic that stays there so every narrator is taken care of. It should be noted, that every narration is done at their homes. They’re always in good hands. Comedy Central was very good at keeping it in the same light. I don’t think anyone will say you guys changed what used to be good about this. There’s more puking, which I love, but it’s remained true to what the original web series was. It looks a little prettier though.

Is all the puking real?

Oh yeah! Do you know that it’s real.

No, not really.

It’s 100% real. The narrators are completely drunk and the reenactors are completely sober. It’s okay, it’s confusing, but that’s how it goes.

So what does the medic do?

She’s just there to make sure everything is okay. She has a breathalizer. Hilarious, right? A breathalizer! But they’re in their home, so they’re okay. It never gets too crazy. And all the narrators are my friends.

dw3What are your favorite drinks?

Um, Zima. 

But that’s hard to find nowadays.

It is. But I’m an oldie. I have to go to the vintage store to find it. Yeah, I’m going with Zima. I don’t have favorites.

Do you have tips for drinking etiquette?

Man, don’t drink. I don’t know. For this show—I would say it helps when you’re passionate and when you hold back bullshit, but as soon as you realize you’re repeating yourself, stop! As soon as someone you’re with says ‘you already told me that’, you go ‘okay I’ve had enough. I think it’s time to stop.’ And whenever you think you’re hilarious, you should probably stop.

Do you have any drunken regrets?

Jesus, Nolan. My God! I don’t think I can… How about drunken achievements? Well this is my only drunken achievement. No I don’t have any drunken regrets.

Well that’s good.

Yeah that’s alright. You should get a quote from my therapist though. Ask him about that.

Is there anyone you tried to get before the show that you were not able to?

Well yeah, I wanted Marilyn Monroe… um, yes, but I don’t wanna say their names because it will make them seem like they didn’t want to do it. A lot of it was scheduling. I mean also, if you’re an established actor and someone says do you want to make $0 for one day’s work for a comedy show called “Drunk History”. If you’ve never heard of it, you think where is the evolution of television going. On paper you’re just picturing a bunch of jocks running around and puking, so I understand if people don’t want to do our show in this first season.

Is there anyone outside of the show that you’d like to share a drink with?

Yeah, Eddie Vedder. Yeah, I drank a little bit of wine with him once, but it was too weird to even… sometimes you love someone…like you love Santa Claus, but you’re kind of scared of him too. But Eddie Vedder.

Well thank you, I really look forward to the shows. Congratulations man.

Thank you Nolan, I really appreciate it.





Drunk History Part 2: An interview with Director Jeremy Konners

So you were co-creators with Derek?

Yeah, we started it together and we turned it into a television show together.

So what is your role as director on a show like this?

The role of the director is a lot of initial research and vetting of stories, and figuring out which stories are great and which stories will make great “drunk histories”. We’ll go to an interview and Derek will interview someone and I’ll sit behind him with the camera making sure everybody stays on point… because drunk people tend to veer off the path a little. So, I’ll make sure everyone is telling a story correctly and that we’re going the right way and when we get back it’s very collaborative. Me and Derek have to figure out how to edit these five hour monsters into an elegant drunk history. All of those aspects are collaborative. We don’t write it, but we write it through editing it. That is something that the narrator is responsible for, as is Derek and the narrator and the editor—to make it coherent with just the right amount of incoherence. And then once we get on set its much more of a director role.

dtDo these stories get warped off the cuff or do you guys know the way you’re going to take them? Or does the drunkenness allow the story to take its course?

We absolutely allow the stories to take their course. We go in with a plan and the plan goes out the window immediately. What’s been funny and interesting in this process is that people who are funny and know the story very well, they are very ready to tell the story. Before the story they do the research– which they should– they brush up and read over their books. We think we know how the story is going to go—but no. We sat down with [the person] who was doing the Scopes Monkey Trial. We sat down and said “tell us about the Scopes Monkey Trial” and he says, “it’s all bullshit. It’s all propaganda.” And we said, “well what’s the story?” and he says, “it’s all propaganda to bring tourists and to sell trinkets.” But it’s the trial of the century and he says, “no it’s all propaganda and it’s a metaphor for McCarthyism.” So we told the story that he told us. Which is more factually correct. Inherit the Wind is not the Scopes Monkey Trial. It’s an inherent retelling of the story with and agenda. And it was not our agenda. We’re very open to how stories are told and who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. I think we’ve done some really cool episodes. We deal with the Haymarket riots in Chicago. We have the story of Ralph Nader’s rise to fame when he took on GM. We have the fact that we have Watergate from someone who knows who Mark Phelps is and we know who Deep Throat is and we do the story on him.

Did you find yourself having to “can” any footage because people were TOO drunk?

There’s a lot of unpredictability. People are drinking excessive amounts. We have never pushed people to drink to their physical limit. That is not our interest. We like people getting drunk and telling stories– they don’t need to get sick and they don’t need to pass out—but, it sometimes happens and we have to roll with the punches. The great thing is when people throw up they feel great. If there’s a moment when people are getting sick we always think well, in five second they’re going to feel a million times better. I like to say that is it very strange that people are getting drunk and sick on television, but if everyone at home who was getting drunk was talking passionately about history, it would be an awesome world. So, I’m alright with this. I don’t think it provokes bad behavior, I think it’s a cautionary tale.

So when this first came together was this something that came together randomly when hanging out and you thought ‘let’s film this’?

Yeah, we were hanging out a lot and we were friends and we were making a lot of shorts together and Derek came to me and said I was talking to my friend Jake Johnson and he was talking about Otis Redding and he was really wasted. And we thought it was really funny and we could get someone wasted and have them tell a story and reenact it. I said “that’s fucking great, let’s do it”. But you know what, it didn’t go so well the first time. It was a mess. He didn’t tell any of his story. It was boring and it didn’t work. Then we went over to our friend Matt Gaglioti’s house. We got there late, so he already had way more than he thought he was going to have. He was getting pretty tipsy and he asked “Can I tell you about Alexander Hamilton”? Then he literally goes on a 4 and a half hour rant on Meritocracy. He would be like “Do you know what Meritocracy is?”. And we are like “yes you’ve told us, please tell us there’s a way to weave this into the story”. And like magic, he told the story about the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and it was so amazing the way he did it. It was so simple and funny and the way he said Hamilton called his wife and family. Everything he said had us crying laughing. We had to bite our lips because he was so into the zone and his eyes were closed. We were like little kids at the back of the teacher’s classroom and we didn’t want to snap him out of it. He told it so quickly. What happened with the first one, he told us so quickly as opposed to the other ones, which have lasted hours. We knew we were onto something the second we left. I was such a huge History Channel guy. I love that stuff, but I love it and I was so excited to make fun of it, because MAN it takes itself so seriously.

Describe the setting… You go to the narrator’s house? You drink together? Who knows when it’s time?

Well we’ll ask them to have a couple of drinks before we get there. It is a requirement that it is their booze. We’re not feeding them booze. They’re drinking their own drinks. We’ll get there and because of camaraderie we’ll have a drink with them so they feel comfortable. It’s a strange thing to have a film crew staring at you when you’re getting drunk. But yeah, we’ll hang out and eventually start filming. Derek will go around with them and ask them about pictures on their wall and get comfortable with them.

sw5Have you ever been unable to perform the roles of the director because you have had too much to drink?

I have never indulged too much. I waited for the wrap party to indulge too much. And then I caught up. At the wrap party I was a mess. It was embarrassing.

What are some of the more outrageous or interesting cues you give to actors while they’re playing the roles?

They only thing that I’ve had to do is make sure that people tell the historic parts of the story. Like one person told the story and then started talking about his thoughts on circumcision for an hour. Which really happened. At a certain point I’m like “Hey let’s make sure we get the end of that story because we could easily walk away and not get that story.’ I try not to direct them to change how they are acting. You just try to get them to talk about certain things.

Have you ever had to scrap a story because it wasn’t funny or outrageous enough?

There were stories that we filmed before television, yes. We were very lucky because we have been able to incubate this show for 7 years before having a television show, so we know what works and what doesn’t. Someone would say ‘I know everything about Garfield. Let me tell you about Garfield.” And they would start saying all of the facts and about his life and they knew everything and about every war. But at the end of the day it was a list of facts and not a story. After filming a few of those we had to make sure to that the stories are great, but it’s such a weird thing to have your friend go through with that and not have a finished product for them.

So needless to say you probably don’t do this in your drunken spare time any more.

It’s not what we do in our drunk spare time anymore, but it is the same amount of fun. We haven’t lost that. It’s the same show. Comedy Central has been great. It’s still all the things that we love. It could have very easily been one of those things that was once one thing but then got bigger and everything changed. And then everyone would hate it because it was bigger and everything changed. Everybody can hate it, but it’s the same thing that it always was.

wrDo have anything that sticks out when you were filming where you said “this is genious, this is gold”?

Aha. Ha. A highlight… it was pretty crazy working with Alfred Molina. We were in this incredible theater downtown. He was having so much fun. Having Alfred Molina say, “This is so great. This is so much fun. I love this.” It was really a surreal moment and it had taken on a whole new level that I had never ever expected.

The Band Who Helped Define Punk and Refused to Live Within Its Confines: 40 Years of the Stranglers


While punk rock veterans and astute audiophiles are no strangers to the Stanglers’ punk pedigree, the band feels as though they’ve never received their due respect in America—to the point they even started ignoring us.

Their new record, “Giants”, was released in the US this May, but has already been out in Europe for a year. And their North American tour, which starts next week, will be their first in 17 years.

If the Sex Pistols gave a snarling face and attitude to the genre while the Clash and Ramones would go on to define its boundaries of sound, the Stranglers’ legacy lies in their longevity and diversity. They preceded the previously mentioned bands, and their music never stopped— it only progressed.

With a career spanning 17 records and closing in on 40 years, perhaps the term “punk” is just too simplistic and vague to describe the band’s vast catalogue. Their sound has always been far more complex and diverse than the three-chord, two-minute anthems of their contemporaries. With classics as disparate as the bass-heavy rumble and crass spoken-word, “Peaches”, to their sinister harpsichord waltz, “Golden Brown”, the Stranglers’ never subscribed to a specific attitude or formulaic sound.

I was lucky enough to catch up with founder/songwriter/bassist JJ Burnel over the phone to preview his recent North American tour. Cynical and smart, his attitude provided the perfect and appropriate repartee for a seminal punk pioneer still hacking away at socio-political boundaries. For the privvy, the punks and the poseurs alike, I give you JJ Burnel.

So the new record comes out next week in America. Is it already out in Europe?

Yes, it’s been out in Europe for a year.

Wow! Why was there a delay for it getting to America?

We didn’t consider releasing it in the States until people asked us if they could release it in the States and North America. We’ve accepted and we’ve accepted to come and play in North America as well. I’m not sure which came first. And for once we’ve accepted.

Why is America still the last frontier for you guys? Why has America been off the grid?

Well we’ve just been doing other things you know. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve toured the States and we’ve been offered a few tours, but we didn’t feel ready for it or didn’t feel like it. And now we do. The band is very strong at the moment and we’ve been breaking records all over the UK and we’ve just been asked to do the BBC London Proms, which I don’t know if you know about…

I was just reading about that actually.

Yes, it’s quite a big deal over here actually. We feel in a good way and accepted to come over to America. It’s not the be-all end-all, you know. Also we’ve never really busted our balls in America. It’s wonderful and we’re very excited to come over to the other side of the pond. 

Do you remember the last time you played America?

I think it was 17 years ago.

Wow, do you remember any specific times from Boston or New York?

No, I remember I have played in America since then. I played with my friend Pat DiNizio, a member of the Smithereens, an American band. And he invited me to do a tour with him. It was a good education for me and I must say I learned a lot from that bloke, but no its exciting and so long ago, it’s almost like I’m a virgin.

[UNINTENTIONAL] Is it harder? Is it a bigger commitment to go on tour you’re your drummer being over 70 and your ages?

Well, you are being very diplomatic, the drummer Jet doesn’t travel with us any more. He plays with us occasionally, when his health can stand up to it. But for instance these past two UK tours, which were quite extensive, he was only able to come in for a few songs. The fans and the band are very happy to see him but he’s not really part of the touring party. To be diplomatic as well, he… well… he lived the rock n roll lifestyle a bit too much. The rest of us, we’re fine.

Did the Stanglers ever officially break up or was there just a periodic break?

We have NEVER ever split up. We have continuously been busy, but we have had 6-12 months sabbatical because we had other things to do. There is life outside of the Stranglers fortunately, and that’s what gives us our freshness and zest to continue. You don’t live in a musical vacuum. I think you’d have nothing to say. Plus, we been learning and absorbing different influences past and present along the way. I’d hate to think we were on an assembly line, you know?

Right. You guys are continually grouped into the category of punk. Where do you think you fit into the punk rock lexicon, and is that too simple of a word to describe the band?

Well, the term is interesting because it has meant more for us over the years. The first time it was used it was a bit of a broad church, I think the first time I heard it used was 1975-76. I’m not sure if that was the reason we were the first band asked to play with Patti Smith in Europe or the first band ever to the play with the Ramones in Europe, but the term quickly got ambushed by fundamentalism, and it started to describe a much narrower field than I was able to accept. Joe Strummer of the Clash used to come see us regularly when he was in a rhythm and blues band and certainly the Pistols were coming to see us before they started their bands. I’m not sure if we really subscribed to their philosophies, but certainly we were slightly ahead of the game, and of that whole generation of bands we were definitely the first. I hate to interject, but we’ve actually outsold the Pistols in the 70’s. But we didn’t do the big American thing. We didn’t want to do 9 months in America. That wasn’t our agenda.

What does “Freedom is Insane” [the title of a track on your new record] mean to you?

“Freedom is Insane” is… have you heard it?

I have, yes.

Generally speaking it’s about the West and how it supposes its vision called democracy, and it imposes it on the whole world, when it actually isn’t appropriate. We’ve taken 2000 years to get to something we call “approaching democracy” and however, people in other countries have no concept of it and it breeds a kind of mischief that we are sort of inheriting now. I mean attacking in Iraq and Afghanistan, did it really make the world a safer place? I don’t think so. We impose this Western vision on the world by force of arms and we harvest the results. I don’t think it’s well thought out. So, freedom is insane. I’ve put myself in the position of an Iraqi veteran who is on a desert island and who does not want to be liberated. We thought they were going in as liberators and they were thought of as conquerors or invaders. There are heavy losses of life as well. I think the invasion of Iraq was more revenge of the Twin Towers more than anything, and of course American public opinion was in favor of it and the Allies were in favor of it, but they didn’t really think it through. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that is how it is. It’s like Robinson Crusoe, but the opposite—he doesn’t want to be liberated.

Would you say this is one of your more political albums?

No, it might be for you, but no. I’m not trying to ram it down people’s throats. The Stranglers have always written about the world that we live in. I think that it’s our right and prerogative. If the world was just a bedroom where I was fucking, or a blingy thingy, it would be appropriate that way. But we have a “world view” like anyone. Even a cab driver has a “world view”, and no one’s “world view” is less valuable than the next man’s. Maybe some are less informed, but we try to stay informed and have an opinion. We try to approach it in terms that people will listen to it. I wouldn’t say we are more political than usual on this one though.

Is it strange being defined by charts and singles? Has it changed in Europe like it’s changed in America– for the worst?

In the past it was, but now the charts mean ‘fuck all’ right now. I don’t know who they serve and they have less value than ever right now. We managed to sell out more than anyone else in the UK last year and this year without getting really any huge chart action or even being played a lot. Maybe there’s some sort of resurgence in underground, or maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that people can find out and access music in different ways now. They’re not spoonfed anymore. So if we don’t get much radio play and people still know about us, it must reflect something else. Also, people don’t necessarily want to be spoonfed. Some people do, but more inquiring minds want to find out from themselves.

How did the US release come to be? Is this a different record label?

I believe it is. And yes, I believe they did. This last album for some strange reason had the best reviews ever in the history of the Stranglers from Day 1. So, I think a few people must have sat up and taken notes outside of the places it was released. We had a very successful European tour and also doing 15 different countries, so someone may have noticed.

What do you feel about the rebirth or re-education of a song based on movies like Snatch? I know much of my generation found out about you through “Golden Brown” when it played such a key part in a movie role. What do you think about the cultural impact of something like that on your past career?

I think in a roundabout way you’ve sort of answered your own question. Don’t you think?

Yeah, but is it something that you’ve noticed too?

Yeah, I mean it’s great from my point of view, but a song, which has been hugely successful all over the world, gets recycled. I mean lots of songs get recycled. If you have a song that’s obscure, it has less of a shelf life. But if a record that’s slightly successful or highly successful then it gets played. I mean the dictatorship of the airwaves and the commercial imperative kind of obscures the fact that there’s a lot of talent out there that doesn’t get played. There are a lot of artists out there struggling to make a living and maybe even to be heard. And it’s not even a reflection on the quality of their output, it’s on the powers that be that dictate what gets played and what gets get exposed. Of course I’m pleased that a song like “Golden Brown” got played in a movie like Snatch. I wasn’t even aware that the movie had been released in America… it’s great.


What does the cover of the new “Giants” record signify to you?

Well, you have seen the artwork?! Well if I tell you I will have to kill you [laughs]. Is that an option? You don’t really want me to spoonfeed you anything? You wanted a shortcut.

What do you think the Stranglers legacy is and will be?

Well that’s what the French call nominalism…”bellybuttonism”. It’s something that I really don’t spend any time thinking about. But it is perhaps something that journalists and commentators will mire over if we’re lucky and talk about. But we’re still alive and kicking, so the legacy can wait a bit longer.

What do you do when you’re not focused on music and the Stranglers?

I teach in London. I am the chief instructor in the UK of Shotokan Karate. I also love to ride my motorcycle around the UK and Europe, because I can. But the Stranglers are quite busy. Last year we played God knows how many countries– maybe 20 countries. The fact that it’s taken all this time for the US to seduce us back is more a reflection on you guys than with us to be honest.

Did you headline the last time you were in the US?

Yeah, we headlined, but I think it’s a bit pretentious for some of the small places we played. Some are a bit bigger than others, but it’s such a vast country, the U S of A—some places you are virtually unknown and some places you are hailed as a star. Especially when you haven’t really worked it so much, every state is almost like a different country isn’t it.

Thanks I look forward to the show. Thanks for taking the time.

Oh thank you very much. Hey, do you know where we’re playing in Boston? What’s the venue like in Boston? Do you know remember or heard of the Rat? Or is it still going? Because that is very first place we ever played the first time we played America. Look it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.

Well I look forward to seeing you.

Well we’ll be there. So if you’re not there I reckon you’ll be somewhere else.

Mouse on Mars: Interplanetary Electronica

Mouse on Mars

The rockers don’t know what they are doing or how they are doing it. The dancers are often perplexed at a seeming lack of structure. And the deejays couldn’t and wouldn’t dare venture into such dangerous territories. And all the while, despite their experimental endeavors, Mouse on Mars intrigue music appreciators of all types.

This German avant-garde electronic band is an especially eclectic outfit that can’t possibly be grouped into any specific category. Their discography ranges from ambient chill-out to abstract bombastic sonic onslaughts—and most times a combination of both. Deconstructing source material and rebuilding it piece-by-piece, Mouse on Mars juxtapose obtuse oscillations with anxiety-filled clicks, clangs and hisses, provoking chaos, just to tame it later and massage it into a blissful soundscape or straight up dance beat.

I was blessed to catch up with Jan Werner over the phone from his home in Germany for an interview to preview their recent North American shows. Together with collaborator Andi Toma, Mouse on Mars have covered more sonic landscapes than most other electronic outfits and Werner’s descriptive mission statements about the band’s sound are some of the most profound and poetic that I have ever heard—not bad for someone whose first language isn’t even English.

The photos and videos that follow are exclusive from the band’s February show at Great Scott in Boston, Massachusetts.



Is Jan there?

Yup, I’m on the phone. Hi.

This is Nolan from Boston. Is this an okay time to talk?

Yes, It’s a perfect time. How are you Nolan?

Not bad, how about you?

I’m good. I’m on the couch.

What time is it over there?

It’s 10pm. People are sleeping. The street is calm. It’s nice. mom-1-4 It’s freezing over here, literally.

Yeah, here too. I think its -20 Celsius here. I don’t know what it is in Fahrenheit.

When’s the last time you toured the US?

The last time was a really long time ago– 2006 or 2007– much too long.

So, you went 6 years between records, yet you released 2 records within a couple of months. Was that due to a wave of inspiration or was there a preconceived timeline in your minds made it that way?

We’re just timing things. We have a very special approach with timing where people prefer a predictable schedule. We are kind of free for a few years and then suddenly have far too many releases at once. If you think one way or another we might not go that way or we will. It’s all part of our path. We want to keep the unpredictability and that transcends our touring and release schedule. But we haven’t been unproductive. It’s just that we didn’t make any records. It’s not that the band split up or anything. mom-1-2The records are vastly different. Did you foresee the path ahead of time or did you have different ideas going into each one?

Parastrophics was basically a record that we had five years in the making and WOW was obviously a record completely out of the moment and a few weeks in production. It’s much more casual and actual and contemporary. I think that’s basically the concept. In ways those records are blending together basically where Parastrophics is basically a riddle and a map or a house of leaves, where WOW was about a much more immediate expression of a feeling and a moment that in an instant takes everything that would need reflection or need a sentence or even a word to express would be a waste of time. I feel like Parastrophics Is the complete opposite of WOW. Parastrophics is really rhythm encrypted and has edges and angles for a type of situation. The way those records back each other up and belong to the same sound and same cosmos describe the same planetary system relationship of sound and size of sound and sound material.

Back when I last saw you in 2001, you guys used a lot of live instrumentation and were said to use a lot of live instruments in the studio. To what degree has that changed? Do you record and perform primarily digitally now? Is it mostly computer based now?

It’s a good point actually. We use a lot of computers and programs nowadays because computers and software have become so incredibly complex and flexible in different ways and various ways, and definitely we’ve become more interested in software these days than with real instruments. It doesn’t mean that we’ve thrown it completely overboard, but I have to say that the computer possibilities are especially attractive—especially as a group who grew up with computers and digital technology where there’s no better time than now. It’s in all of our genes and we’re bathing in technology at the moment. Even in the visual way we work with computer generated visuals and we bring a video beamer, which makes the live situation more complex than if we would have brought instruments. The way we produce music is with controllers and a few hardware things that we still have, but less than if we had a hard band in a more traditional way.

How do songs change from recordings to a live setting, and what part does improvisation play live and on record?

Improvisation for us is important because it makes us aware of the moment. It means more to let go and try different directions. If you were to just reconstruct songs the way they were on the record or on paper, it would just be repetition of a formula that we don’t fit good in. Which leads me back to your first question. It doesn’t fit our rhythm or our behavior. We have to have the possibility where things are cut or stretched– the dynamic range has to be maximum for us to even be interested in what we are doing. This is what triggers our attention, and what translates live to an audience. That’s why it makes sense for us to play live—this tension. You never know what you’re going to get at the end of the night, but we know we’ll get through it and it’s the experience you have after all these years. You don’t know how it will work or what will happen. mom-1-3How does being a duo (like you’ll be on this tour) change things? Does that change the sound and setup entirely?

Yes, it changes the sound quite a bit. Working with our drummer and singer, he has a laptop linked into our laptops and we send sounds back and forth and we change his drum sounds and trigger new sounds. I would say the duo thing is even more immediate and even more improvised because its quicker and throwing out different interests to what each other is doing. Also, standing next to each other live at the table is definitely different to the other live setup where we’re spread out. It’s definitely different, but I can’t say what it’s like in the audience. I’ve never seen Mouse on Mars live [Laughs]. I don’t know how different it is in the end, but I know how I feel and I know how the duo thing has a more immediate and punchy sound and it is more driven and more improvised and chaotic at times. Is it more electronic sounding at times? Yes, it’s probably more electronic sounding at times.

Were you guys really born in the same hospital on the same day?

Yeah, that’s what we say. I have no memory of it at all. I think my earliest memory is of age 4 and I don’t remember Andy until later. So we are kind of like twins, you know?

Is there something that each of you bring to the table when you’re recording? Do you each have different strengths that are different from each other, but come together as Mouse on Mars?

Yeah, for sure. By making music together and the different ideas—sometimes I think we are so different that I think I don’t understand at all what the other person is about or why they want to do things that way. Sometimes I think there’s a massive discommunication between us, which is actually very creative I think—trying to figure out what each of us wants on a track and that, for some reason, creates part of the sound. That is one of the recipes of why we’re still working together. None of us understand what each other is doing. I can’t tell you where Andy’s music energy is coming from. I know he’s infinitely musical and incredibly restless and manic and he seems to have an infinite sound supply and idea supply, but then again each of us could do a record on his own. I could do a record on my own, and so could Andy.  He’s not dependant on me. But, either way we come together and create Mouse on Mars and it’s really different and it’s just so tense and it’s such a challenge for us. The music we’re doing together is a massive challenge– one of the great life challenges that we have at some point. You meet and you realize that this is really dangerous. If I hang out with this person I will end up in a mental hospital—it’s dangerous and you enjoy that. It’s a bit like what happens when you very deeply fall in love with a person. You see this person and you think I’m falling and I’m falling endlessly. You want to escape it, but you’re also hyper-attracted to it. And that is what happened musically with Andy. It’s kind of weird, but it’s endless. You start making music with this person, but there’s no end to it. Coming back to your question, I can’t tell you that Andy is very good at making a crazy bassline, or that he’s the weirdest hi-hat wizard you ever met. He’s just so great at everything and he can do whatever he wants to and it’s great. But it’s not so much his or my talent. It’s what happens when we sew these qualities together and see this massive music monster appear and we feel like we’re fighting it and we feel like Jedi knights and we’re fighting this beast of sound. This is our job and this is our task. Sometimes I feel like… like right now, I am at home and I have a nice home and I have a beautiful wife– she is traveling right now, she is an artist, she’s also quite busy at times. But when we are together at home it seems like the perfect world. And I don’t want anything but to be hanging out with my family, but when Andy’s calling I know we have to go on tour or we need to do something in the studio. When that happens I know I need to face the world and I know I need to go and fight this beast of doing music… and I know that only Andy and I can do it. I’m so sorry, I know. I’m so sorry. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, and my kid is crying and wife won’t let me go, but I can’t help it. I have to do it because this Mouse on Mars thing is back out there and the only people who can contain it are Andy and me; and that’s our job.

mom-1 Well, that’s one of the greatest answers I’ve ever heard in the course of interviewing. Do you prefer playing live or recording—or does it not really matter to you?

Um, well, we started in the studio. We started there and you never lose touch with that. I think the studio is our home and it’s really the source of where this Mouse on Mars thing comes from. We do enjoy playing live and we are very curious people and we like to strut around and each of us have our own paths in ways, but we are like cats in ways as well, playing live fits that attitude pretty well. You just go up there and see what happens. You create your music, and it was new and it was fleeting and then it’s gone. It was just for that moment. You don’t have to struggle at how you would record a track properly or how you would master, or which tracks will go on there. You just throw it out there each night and turn your back on the club and leave. It’s great. iI’s fantastic. The studio, though, it’s there everyday and it’s really like a dungeon. But again, this is where we started and this is still our home.

What happens if a computer crashes onstage, and has that ever happened to you?

Um, KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK, it’s never happened. But it would have been a nightmare, even from the very first gig. The computer isn’t just a sound producing machine, it really links the elements together. We’re using MIDI and we’re still linking through MIDI and these days its also processing the visuals which are happening in the moment and which are computer generated and different each night. Yeah, it’d be a nightmare if that happened, but at the same time, it’s life. If it were to happen it would be worse to have a stroke though, right?

I remember when Nobekazu Takemura was playing with you live and his computer crashed and he just got up and left the stage. The show was over.

Yeah! Wow, crazy! That was probably the only time we have ever played together, ever. I can’t believe you remember that. Maybe we had a gig in Japan?

This one was in Austin, Texas in 2001.

Wow! Crazy! Who else was playing, do you know?

I think it may have been Tortoise headlining.

Yeah. Absolutely. That can happen. We can still find a way. We have two computers and even if one would crash, we could just work and do something else with the other computer and find a way. We could find something to do…maybe a song contest with the audience or….

Do you ever consider the danceability of songs when you create them, or does that not matter to you?

To be honest, we have no idea. Our mind is very concerned with every person and individual. So, even if you play a show for a lot of people, for us all of the people out there are different. If were trying to make them dance we would assume that each one does their own dance. We would have to say “Everybody dance now” [laughs] which is already happening. We wouldn’t start a concert and say “everybody dance”. We don’t know how each person responds to what we’re doing and if people dance they do so for their own reason. Each person might start dancing at their own set point—we wouldn’t want to synchronize people, so we don’t think about what track would make people dance. We only know which tracks make us move and get us excited. We don’t have a recipe, though. Like if we said let’s put in a drum roll here. I know people can do it. I know deejays who know exactly when to make the drop and when to bring the bass back in. Plus, we don’t really think in track terms. We think more in story terms. Each song has a narration and has its peaks and ups and downs and comes back together. Each track is really a story, or a drama rather than a set of codes. People usually dance though, and we are happy about that. But if they don’t, we are not sad.

What is the state of the iPhone App that you’ve been working on?

Oh, don’t mention the iPhone App; it’s a nightmare. No, the iPhone App is going great. We are also working on an iPad App for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be coming together. This iPhone App is just the nicest project and is coming together really well. The person who coded it, Peter Kern, he is really just a great person. We kind of have a demo version together and in a couple of weeks we should have it ready. The biggest thing for us is to get this iTunes store running. It’s something that we are really bad with. You need all of this legal stuff and accounting stuff, so for that reason we need a bit of help. But once we have out iTunes store up and our own account, we can throw the App up there and people can download it and use it. I don’t know how long it takes for things like that to happen with applications, but it might be another three months and it will be in the store.

But do you think that over-simplifies what you guys do, or the effects that it creates? Does it give someone too much power who doesn’t know the technique? Is it cheating?

I see it as part, not of the bigger picture, but I see it an element within the picture. This App is definitely something that doesn’t substitute for a whole track. It is obviously a very specific element that you can dip your head into and you can really dig deep in that element and trying to explore it, but it won’t provide you with a full thing. For us it was really important to consider this as an instrument instead of a full production platform. It’s not like you throw in a couple of beats and then you throw in a bunch of synth sounds and then you put the track together. Also, some people won’t be able to use this at all. It can drive you crazy. It is really a thing of its own. It’s an uncontrollable device within its own right and I think for that I think its great. I think it’s super that you can have it on a phone and it’s cool that it’s simple. It’s important to realize we are not trying to do something complex in a simple way. It doesn’t pretend anything. It just stands there naked and tells you look, “I’m just a simple instrument and if you give me too much information I just produce a massive amount of feedback”. But if you just want to come up with sounds you’ve never heard before and find your way, then you are right. That’s what it does.

South By Southwest: In Our Year of the Lord 2013

wrist bands-1

It was 80 degrees and I was lakeside sipping $5 margaritas in the warm glow of a sunny Austin afternoon when I received a photo of the terrible weather back home in Boston. Deep in the heart and soul of Texas, I was on location, on assignment and pretty much on vacation for the Lone Star State’s yearly festival of musical madness, South by Southwest.

SXSW started early this year, but despite the extra day and even more venues, the growing number of bands and fans were already overwhelming Austin, providing an increasingly difficult itinerary. Press passes aren’t what they used to be and it is quite easy to get stuck in line long enough to miss a few hours and a few acts. It’s important to have a few backup plans, and not to be discouraged when your first choices fall through. After all, the festival is supposed to be about discovering new talent.

6th st-1

The freaks and the fashionable parade the streets from noon until the early morning hours, making people-watching alone worth the price of the plane ticket. I joined the masses on Tuesday looking for something new, and I quickly found it. Making my way to the Paste Magazine/Newport Folk Festival’s showcase, I arrived just in time to see the start of Hooray for Riff Raff’s set. They were news to me and the female duo (sometimes more members) from New Orleans played a riveting stripped down set of country-tinged blues combining cover songs by Billie Holiday and Fred Neil as well as a slew of originals. Alternating between acoustic guitar and banjo, backed by a fiddle and the occasional toy piano, their set seemed perfectly at home on the front patio of the rickety old house now known as the Blackheart Bar. Not only will Hooray for Riff Raff make their debut at the Newport Folk Festival, but they found out just hours before their set they will be the opening act for the Alabama Shakes upcoming tour.


From there it was on to Viceland to catch the Skaters’ Austin debut. The buzz around them, combined with sharing a bill with Wavves and Japandroids created a line of about 2000 people snaked around the block. It would be my first letdown… but not my last.

After watching a few songs from the street, I decided to make better use of my time and headed over to the Mohawk to hear the Danish band, Indians. A three-piece consisting of more keyboards than people, the band combined layers of loops, Moogs and a brain-rattling drum pad to create dreamy, slightly dancey music while Enya-like atmospherics and the Copenhagen croon of lead singer Soren Juul filled in the empty spaces.

Looking to for some more traditional rock n roll, I drifted off to The North Door to catch Vietnam. After taking the past 5 years off, Michael Gerner is back with a new six-piece lineup and a new record, but their sound remains the same. Dark, lengthy and often druggy narratives are delivered without traditional verse/chorus structure and set against a heavy shimmer of blues guitar riffs.


After seeing the line for Jim James a couple blocks from the entrance. I decided to go back to my hotel and rest up for Wednesday. It was going to be a long week.


The first thing you learn at the festival is of the numerous unpublicized daytime shows that go on throughout the week. Whether planned, secret or last minute, there are hundreds of shows that go on throughout the week at SXSW with the sun still up. They provide you with a chance to catch those acts that you might otherwise miss– not to mention the fact that these gigs are often accompanied by free food and drink. This makes the days extra long, and the unforgiving Texas sun does not help.

Waking early, I headed straight to Club de Ville, one of my favorite old haunts, as the Austin band Feathers took stage. A five-piece comprised of four women and a male drummer manning an electronic drum kit, Feathers wore tall heels and looked like the Runaways years later and sounded like a gothic Pat Benatar.


Heading to Main and Jr., previously the staple venue known as Emo’s, I was surprised to catch Indians, again. It would be show #2 of their 8 shows of the week. Back in the day, bands usually had only one official nighttime showcase and played as many daytime shows as they could. Back then three shows was a lot, now bands play as many as ten shows in a week and it’s not out of the ordinary to catch a band several times on your sonic quests.


From there it was off the too Austin Convention Center. A multi block, 4-floor maze filled with just about every facet of the music industry at any given time, every day, talks and trade shows are hosted as part of the festival. While they might not be the most popular or promoted events of the week, I decided to take on two in a row. The first was “Drunk Comedy at SXSW”. The internet sensation that became popular on Funny or Die, will now be a new series on Comedy Central. On hand were the hilarious Kyle Kinane and creator Derek Waters. With tallboys in coozies, they were in character as they talked about the conception of the show, confessing that it was originally only supposed to be one video short until Jack Black asked if he could be Ben Franklin. The rest is history… drunk history.


From there it was up a few floors to see Devendra Banhart. Pretty and polished he sat and played a handful of songs with his signature falsetto warble and intriguingly absurd banter like wishing everyone a Happy Halloween or commenting on how Audrey Hepburn “emotes”. A strange and large business meeting room show, this was a very strange place to witness such an avant-folk-weirdo.


Even with a press pass, sometimes you need to jump through hoops to get into certain shows. And Nick Cave was one of them. I had won a raffle of tickets for definite entry, the only stipulation being that I had to arrive before 7:45. After regrouping at my hotel, I was on the shuttle bus back to town, and all was well until the British dude in front of me complained that the driver had missed his stop. Heading back uptown in a detour, the shuttle rolled into town at 7:40. After a short sprint to the venue, I made it, shall we say, in the “nick” of time. Mr. Cave and the Bad Seeds were scheduled to take the stage at Stubbs Amphitheater while the sun was still up—a strange and rare occurrence. But, as expected, he stalled until the darkness fell and opened with a few tracks from their new record as the smell of BBQ lingered in the air. Almost possessed, he brought life to the quiet new tracks on the band’s recent release and followed them up by an epic run through his some of his best work. “From Her to Eternity” was followed by “Red Right Hand”, “Jack the Ripper”, “Deanna” and “Stagger Lee”. While much of the band is new, the Bad Seeds complimented Nick’s stage presence with tense reserve, all except violinist Warren Ellis who has, in time, become Cave’s maniacal right-hand man. I knew going into the show that Nick Cave was too big to report on, but it turned out to be one of the best shows of the week.

nick cave-1

Next up was the Love Inks, an Austin band whose single, “Black Eye” has been in constant rotation in my headphones for the past year. A modern day girl-group with fuzzy reverb, the band backed up the sound on their record with remarkable poise.

love inks2-1

For the remainder of the night I decided to post up at the pop up venue, Hype Hotel for what should have been an excellent lineup. The Orwells kicked things off and after noticing the X’s on their hands, I learned that everyone in the band is a teenager. They didn’t look it, and they didn’t sound like it. Sure, the lead singer had a bit of Jim Morrison’s snotty angst, but the band played well… until they were told it was their last song. The guitarist told the soundguy that they had been lied to about their set time provoking the lead singer to swing his microphone around smashing it into the cymbals before sending it into the crowd. After a physical altercation with the soundman, they left the stage for good. It was a rock n roll moment that you don’t see very often anymore… for better or worse. It almost seemed like a media ploy, but that might just be the cynic in me.


Whether it was the Orwells’ fault or not, the sound would not be same for much of the show. Cords were busted, sets were delayed and the sound went southward. The anticipated Phosphorescent shined despite the ordeal. Seven members deep and with two keyboardists, their sound was fleshed out roots rock with an expressive backwoods voice. Making it through most of the set without complaints, they also threw their mic after their last song. What in the world was happening here?


Things would only get worse as the well-recorded Foxygen landed up playing an awful set with the leadsinger sounding like an out-of-tune and out-of-work showtune crooner. The sound and showmanship would only return as Jim James closed out the night with a shortened set. Fun, energetic and far from his My Morning Jacket sets, James and his band brought the audience a great set with some amazing surprises. Leave it to that man to always give it his all. It was a night that combined the crass with the class.

jim james-1


Today a HUGE show was scheduled at Willie Nelson’s Ranch, 30 miles from town, and every year, Willie takes the time to hold a charity event, drawing people from SXSW to his farm, but drawing people away from the music at hand. And usually Willie isn’t there. I wasn’t allowed to go, but all day I longed to see the extravaganza. What could be more Texas than being on Willie’s ranch?!

It was Day Three at SXSW, and everything on my itinerary was louder, harder and heavier than the days before. For anyone seeking solace in cerebral modern day psychedelia, this was surely the place to be.

Starting at the Thrasher/Converse Party at the Scoot Inn early in the day, I was happy to find I was one of the only members of the press at the party. Yes, the show was somewhat of a secret, but with such an eclectic mix of some of the festival’s most sought after acts, I figured word would have gotten out.


With skateboarders grinding on a half-pipe next to a relatively small open-air venue, this daytime party provided some of the best acts under the hot Austin sun. Bleached took the stage around 2pm and rocked the crowd with a hard and tough bubblegum take on pop-punk girl group music.


King Tuff followed an hour later, and with a full band in tow, he superceded the sensitive sounds of his recent record with a more aggressive, more intense and heavier psychedelic set that put his recent release in a new perspective.


Chelsea Light Moving was up next. The new band fronted by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth with Sunburned Hand of the Man’s John Maloney on drums, their recent debut came out last week on Matador and is most reminiscent of Moore’s 1995 record, Psychic Hearts. Thurston arrived fashionably early in a laidback style, entering the venue on a bicycle and riding it through the audience just before taking the stage for soundcheck. Combining his alternate tunings and surrounded by Marshall stacks, Moore and company combined Sonic Youth’s pastoral and intricate riffs with heavy drowned out pedal stomps and intensive guitar solos. Proving he’s one of the greatest guitarists of all-time, Moore’s combination of sensitivity juxtaposed with harsh, high-decibel 6-string serenades provided the perfect dynamic to coincide with his poetic meanderings.

After giving into the elements, I returned back to town around 9pm. Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion), Stevie Nicks and Dave Grohl were all scheduled to perform tonight—not together of course. With the long lines and my general lack of interest, I skipped the “hot ticket” shows and headed to East Austin for some more psychedelia. Once considered the wrong side of the tracks and a home to artists looking for cheap studios, I was surprised to find East Austin as a hotbed of cool. It’s a tale as old as time, but I never expected it could happen so quickly in Austin. This week East Austin would prove to be worth its weight in heavy metal.

Just a few blocks beyond this newfound center for up-and-coming greatness and unfortunate gentrification, I found my way to Hotel Vegas. With a retro neon sign lighting the landscape, I headed inside to catch some of music’s greatest and heaviest sonic surprises. With four stages, I bounced back and forth, catching a sampling of sounds. The Go, a longtime Detroit-based garage band, has only gotten better and heavier since former and future famous member Jack White left the band.  MMOSS, a New Hampshire bred/Boston-based band combined acoustic guitars and ethereal drones, often summon the sounds of early Floyd on record. But more notably their live show has brought the flute back to the forefront of the rock n roll frontier.

Running to the Mohawk, I was finally going to catch SKATERS. Sounding like that guitar driven magic of the first Strokes record, the band gave you something to move to, but also something to think about. Combining angst and disaffection but also channeling driving guitar rhythms and rocking fun, SKATERS continued to make a name for themselves.


Though I had just missed Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow at Hotel Vegas earlier in the evening, I was able to catch them a few hours later at their second showcase of the night. Combining an awesome name with spaced out male and female vocals against a bed of deep driving guitars, and chugging rhythms, they evoked a speedier and grittier My Bloody Valentine.

Seeing just how many shows I could catch within the hour, I continued on to Maggie Mae’s where the Seattle band Kinski was still spacing out. I’ve been bearing witness to Kinski’s heavy and heady rumblings for almost a decade now, and they always deliver. Combining searing and soaring guitars with spacey solos, the band played songs from their recent release on Kill Rock Stars and brought a slight darkness to the overlit and well-stocked cocktail venue.


Finishing the night at Red Eyed Fly, I caught the Generationals who have continued to grow in sound and popularity. Recording as a duo and performing this tour as a four-piece, the band combined rock and electronics to produce a sound that combines the old with new



Growing weary of the constant lines and the lack of sleep that came with noon til 2am non-stop music, I rolled into town, still in search of the greatest thing I hadn’t heard. And I think I found it. Making my way to Sonos Studios, I waited in a long line for about an hour, crossing the threshold just in time to catch Wildcat!Wildcat!. After the first few minutes of their set, I knew I had found a new musical sensation to write home about.


The band took the stage with two keyboards, bass, live drums and 4 mics. A live band with an electronic sound, the four-part vocal harmonies that fluctuated from falsetto to natural voice created an added warmth to already summery sound. This band was having fun; they were humble, and they were hardworking. They would eventually play 10 shows in their 5 days in town. Each time I saw them they carried the same graciousness and modesty that they had the time before—pleasing the ears of new audience members each time. Upon investigation, I saw that although the band has played music together before and known each other forever, the Wildcat!Wildcat! project was created only in the last year, and with only a 7” to their name, this was surely the band to watch, and the band that will go on to make it.


Running to the shit show that is 6th street, I hurried to catch another Indians’ show at Peckerheads. Playing the same great set in perhaps their most grimy, unheralded show, I was happy to interview the band on the street corner a few minutes after their last note. Sharing smokes, I spoke to Søren Løkke Juul about his unexpected signing to a label and the fact that he had only written two or three songs before being signed. Surely a genuine and kind musician, he was on show 6 of 8 and surely overworked. I thanked him for his time and know I’ll see him in the near future.

After trying to take in a few shows in the early hours of the nighttime showcases and being shut out by impenetrable lines, I joined up with my famous and favorite writer friend and mentor, Luke O’Neil. Also bummed about the current claustrophobic state of SXSW, we took to the city’s few cocktail bars and got some rich foods and expensive mescal at Peche. If there’s one thing we knew as much about as music, it was the craft of cocktails. And they did it right. Luke even taught the bartenders how to make his new and favorite creation.

To give you a sense of the strange state of affairs at SXSW’s move from up-and-coming bands to bands of all rank and file, we passed a crowd of people on the streets that even reached and crowded each level in the multi-deck parking garage across the way to see… Third Eye Blind! It was perplexing. But to be fair, after giving it a quick laugh we immediately started talking about how we actually found a good deal of goodness in the band. Still it was strange that they were here… now.

After splitting up, I ran over to Club de Ville to catch the last few songs of Youth Lagoon. Yeah, you know them, and so did I. But I figured it’d be a good way to end the night.


My day started at the Filter Party at the Cedar Street Courtyard, and besides brief taco truck trips, this was the place to start and stay… all day. I never saw that “Free BBQ” that they advertised, but I did see a great set by San Cisco, a decent performance by K.I.D.S., and excellent shows by Wildcat!Wildacat! (again), and Surfer Blood who ended the weeklong daytime shows at the venue.

When the sun went down I decided to make it a point to see some foreign showcases and headed to the two floors of Maggie Mae’s for the Austrialian BBQ Showcase. There was no BBQ here either!?– and after the huge lines to get in got through the door, the crowd hardly filled either of the venues spaces. The opening bands were hard to get into, and after a few minutes by the band The Beards, it was obvious that this was a novelty act. They wore beards, of course, but their songs were ONLY about beards. The laughs were only possible for about a song and a half. I have no idea how this act made it all the way to Austin from Australia for that.

It seemed best that I head back to Hotel Vegas. Their 4 venues would again play home to the best in strange and psych and was promoted by Burger Records who manned a makeshift record shop under the tent. I don’t know if I had a sign on my back saying to walk into me or if people were honestly that tanked, but it was an arduous experience.


Many of the bands all week at Hotel Vegas were repeats, and welcomed ones at that, but I tried my best through confidence and consequence to see the bands I hadn’t seen before. Teenage Burritos were great, but that name cannot be taken seriously.  In fact, it was the amazing set by Pangea that proved to be the best surprise of the evening. Talk about surprises, the band wasn’t even published in the printed or online schedules. Nevertheless, word must have gotten out because it would go down as the wildest show I’d seen all week. This was not for the weak of heart, but that was the point. Switching speeds between punk and heavy rock, they were always loud and very energetic. And the fans gave as much back as they were getting. Fists in the air, slamdancing, moshing, crowdsurfing and throwing beers in the air, this tiny space became filled with a contained and maintained brief party riot. At one point a speaker even started swaying about to fall. This is what rock was and should be about. I bought a record. It was the best I could do.


From there it was on to see the Royal Baths. Friends and former members of Ty Segall, I was first intrigued by the band based on their nearly perfect name of their record, “Better Luck Next Life”. I had bought this a year ago based on the name alone, and for some reason was a bit discouraged to see their live act as sparse and unaffecting as their record.

royal baths-1

Not knowing what to do now, I ran over to see Kid Congo. A former member of Gun Club and the Bad Seeds, his band’s uniforms proved more interesting than the music. Was it back to see Warlocks? Pharcyde? George Clinton? No, I headed to the most beautiful hotel in town to catch Boston’s own David Wax Museum play their roots blues in one of their most cushy settings.

Instead of looking for the best way to end my night, I decided getting in the hotel shuttlebus line might be the best bet of all. On the way to the queue, I saw Smashing Pumpkins play from a closed down street with everyone else who didn’t get in. It made me wonder, has it gone too far? Sure seeing a few old school Pumpkins songs was great, but most people couldn’t even get in. They even made the gate JUST high enough that you couldn’t really see them. Plus, Prince had played a show earlier, with special privileges given to people with Samsung Galaxy phones who also had to do an intricate scavenger hunt.

Have big names and big business made SXSW something better? Or as many bands and fans continue to question– has SXSW become a distraction and unnecessary next step for a festival built on showcasing the new and the worthy? There are more #hashtag big and small business options per square foot than I’ve ever seen in my life. Long gone are the days of walking the streets of Austin with a printed schedule and a highlighter. In an atmosphere that is already all about sensory overload, technology ruled SXSW this year. Parties were announced via Twitter, there was an app for schedules and oftentimes when you got to the shows, most of the audience members had their heads down to text or tweet. Smart phones made people dumb. Business was business as usual, maybe ten-fold, but fans would also become a product of the biz. Even if no one cared, the texts, the tweets, the FB posts seem to seep into the same social fabric that made SXSW what created its true value. Now, technology has become so self-indulgent and pointless that the fans have gone the way of the industry—bored, disillusioned and self-important without a true value outside of themselves and what they think is important to others. I watched industry people sit at their own showcases, bashing the bands that thousands came out to see. I was asked by a management company if I played that night. When I said “no”, they responded, “Good!, I represent all these bands on this showcase and it would have been awkward otherwise.” Well, that’s awkward enough for me to know people aren’t doing their jobs. And I’d hate for that person to be my manager.

One thing is for sure, despite the long lines and overpopulation of a relatively small town, the city of Austin has adapted to the yearly influx incredibly. What began as an event with less than 1000 attendees in 1987, now claims upwards of 20,000. Streets are blocked off, there’s a general order and a surplus of information. Much has changed since my last trip to SXSW. Pedicabs flood the streets, bars have changed their names, temporary venues spring up and business is thriving. There are food truck trailer parks and makeshift marketplaces, and even a whole string of bars on Rainey Street that until recently was completely residential. Austin may be the coolest town in all of America, but while it may seem like it’s whole existence leads up to this week of international influx, I think that Austin is fine on its own. I think if I lived in this fine city, I might seek refuge elsewhere in the month of March. I love this town. I love it. SXSW may have brought it to the rest of the world’s attention, but that doesn’t mean the city appreciates the rest of us. Regardless, this cool town seems cooler to the rest of the world for SXSW, and there’s no denying it’s importance. But won’t it be better to be here on an off month?!

Despite limited shows on Sunday, Saturday was essentially SXSW’s grand finale. By Sunday morning, all of the people flooding the streets would either be in cabs or already at the airport. I always try to stick around a little longer to enjoy the town for what it is, a first class city—and perhaps the coolest town in America.

As for me, I decided to stay a couple days and recover from the over-expenditure of serotonin that had begun messing with my emotional stability. It had been a week full of Lone Star beer and Shiner Bock. A week of BBQ, taco trucks and huevos rancheros. A week of northern eyes focused on the southern dress codes. I had witnessed so much and yet I had still missed so much. And I’ll probably do it all over again next year.