Wildcat! Wildcat! and the Shimmering Sounds of Summer– The Interview

WWIn today’s industry-driven musical climate, it’s very rare and all the more refreshing to see a band grow strictly through word-of-mouth and hard work. And if there’s any justice out there, you’ll be hearing a lot from Wildcat! Wildcat! in the near future. A Los Angeles three-piece (and sometimes more) featuring Jesse Taylor on bass, Jesse Carmichael on drums and Michael Wilson on keys, the players have known each other since high school, and while they’ve worked together before, Wildcat! Wildcat!’s musical journey began somewhat recently– and at first had no intention of becoming an actual long-term project. Beginning 2013 year with only a limited edition 7-inch and a few tracks on Soundcloud available to their listeners, the band continued to build a loyal hometown fanbase and performed well-populated residencies before hitting the road for SXSW. Playing eight shows in just four days, they quickly became my favorite discovery of 2013’s festival and became known around Austin as one of the festival’s hardest working unsigned bands. ww-1-11On record, Wildcat! Wildcat!’s sound is a sonic onslaught of majestic and perfectly polished pop electronica, providing an intensive listening experience made for both headphones and dancefloors. The twinkle of the keys provides a blinding, shimmering summertime feel, while thunderous drums and bass-led grooves culminate in three-part falsetto harmonies and addictive melodies leaving their fans hungry for more. ww-1-15 Wildcat! Wildcat!’s exquisite four-song, self-titled EP was released nearly a year ago on Downtown Records, with their first LP hitting stores last week. The band came through Boston this week and showed they still had that magic summer sound and a slew of great new songs. I caught up with Michael Wilson last year to talk about the band’s future as they got ready to play their first east coast shows. It is most likely one of the first interviews with the band. No, it’s not completely current, but it’s not outdated either. Enjoy, and check them out at https://soundcloud.com/wildcat-wildcat ww-1-13 Hey is this Michael?

Yes this is Michael.

Where are you at now?

We are in Indiana.

That’s a pretty epic journey from LA to Montreal.

Yeah it’s pretty nuts. It’s definitely the most gnarly journey I’ve ever had in a car. I think we did 32 hours straight the first day or whatever you want to call it. Stupid is probably what you would call it.

I caught you guys down in Texas and you were one of the best things I saw down there. I know you guys played a ton out there and were warriors at that festival.

Which ones did you see?

I saw the Sonos show and the Fader day party on the last day.

Those were really good shows for us. We weren’t even sure we were going to make it that far.

ww-1-8 So you guys were doing one tour and now you’ve totally changed to doing another tour.

Yeah it’s super intense in this business and things change so quickly and it’s funny because you usually have a while to make these “big” decisions, but then the big decisions all of a sudden need to be changed in like four hours. We had literally four hours to find out whether we wanted to change the dates or not, and it was really hard for us because even though we hadn’t sold a ton of tickets, we really appreciate people buying tickets early. It was really hard for us to play our own show, but we are basically trying to work out some other things. We basically created an email account specifically for that reason and so that people can reach out to us. We’re trying facilitate things so people can come see us quicker, maybe even to some of the Ms. Mr. dates.

When I saw you in Texas, you guys were a four-piece, but everything I’m reading about you only mentions three people. Was that just a rare occurrence?

No, as far as live goes it’s always been four and it will probably always be four because we don’t ever want to be a track-heavy band. We want to always play the music that you hear. There are really minimal background sounds that we put on tracks, but as far as main parts, when we’re on stage you’re never wondering where certain sounds are coming from. We always have a four-piece live, but as far as writing and producing and band decisions, it’s always been me and the two Jesses. We just hire guys out. It’s another tough situation as far as who plays and if they’re friends or not. Sometimes it can be bit sticky with that situation because it’s really hard to explain that situation. They’re in the band essentially and everyone sees them onstage and they’re playing the parts, but they’re not really in the band I guess.

There’s very little information about you guys out there, which is intriguing. It says that you guys have known each other forever and played in other bands, is that true?

Essentially, yes. I’ve known them since I was 14. We all pretty much met in high school. I had done a few isolated projects with them individually, mostly with Jesse Carmichael. I never really played with Jesse Taylor, but they had been in bands together, probably too many to count. They are on another level as far as knowing each other musically. They’ve been playing together forever and I just kind of jumped in there and started working from there.

What was the sound of their other bands? Was it at all similar?

No, it was way different. They were doing more traditional guitar and bass music. I don’t even think they ever had keys in their music at all. Maybe a few little shimmers here and there. I think that was just more my musical influence on them. I think its funny because we started making these songs and they were stems from some of my ideas, so there were no guitars, just keys. We’ve obviously thought about putting guitars in there and we’ve tried a few times, but I think it’s just fine as it is and we are happy how it sounds. I think when some people come to see us live they think we’ll be less than or not as good as a traditional indie band with a guitar on stage, but I think people are okay with us not having one.

ww-1 It’s cool seeing you guys perform live. Even though you have an electronic sound you’re playing actual instruments. When did you guys first conceive this project?

I think we played our first show Jaunary 31, 2012, so it will be two years in February. It was literally supposed to be just one show that we just wanted to play. We landed up putting out a couple songs before the show and it landed up being super-packed, which was really weird for us because we didn’t expect that at all. But sometimes these things happen with the internet these days. It’s good because there was a moment there when we had to decide if we were going to slingshot forward into very fast decisions like getting managers, getting agents and getting all these people onboard super fast and work on their time schedule, but we chose to kind of get to know ourselves and our sound and our band a little bit more. It felt a bit quick. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I think we are definitely benefiting from it because we know who we are as a band and what we’re going for and the trajectory of what we are about which is more or less gaining one fan at a time and making good albums, not just making good isolated songs. We want to make good songs, but to make them part of a collection.

When along the way did getting signed happen?

Actually it was just recently. It’s funny because we kind of went away. After we got on the scene initially, we went away to finish up our album. I don’t think that’s traditionally how you are supposed to do it because you can get off of people’s radars and finally when we had this demoed album out and we started sending them off to labels some of them were like “Hey you’re a new band, and we like your music a lot, but we just don’t know if the investment is there.” Which is fine. We didn’t want anyone to be half onboard. We were in limbo for a little bit and didn’t really know what we were doing. And even though it wasn’t necessarily what we wanted to do, Downtown had offered to do the EP and see how the partnership works and how we are together. So essentially it was a couple of months ago now. It’s an EP deal with and option for a full length.

ww-1-7 So you have a full-length ready, but you don’t know where it will end up?

I mean, it’s hard to say, but we are definitely wanting it to be on Downtown. We want to get our music out as quickly as possible. We don’t have that many fans, but the fans we have have definitely waited a while. We also move on as artists as well. We want to do a new album and write more. We basically want to take the path that would get the music out quicker. We had mentioned early next year like March or April and we’re really striving for that. We would love it to be on Downtown and things are looking good as far as that goes, but you never know.

Will the songs that have been out there, the ones on the EP, appear on the new record?

It’s pretty funny because a lot of people on the business side are wanting to put some of them out there, but we feel like we would cap it at one song. We want to give people new stuff and we are excited about the new stuff and not really worried about people missing the old stuff, especially because it’s on the EP as well. We don’t feel like we’ve extended ourselves and don’t feel like we can’t write more songs.

How many songs do you have ready to go?

It’s tough to say because there are alternate versions and depending on how we want the album to flow they can be switched out. Basically we have staple songs that we definitely know will be on the album.

ww-1-5 Are these your first ever east coast shows coming up?

Oh yeah, we were able to come out to New York and played a pre-VMA show and that’s the only time we’ve ever been on the east coast.

As far as songwriting goes, is it a unified effort or is there someone who does more than the rest?

Totally, we all have our strengths and the process is different every time, which we really like. We all trust the process enough to know where a song starts and if we stick with it til the end we know it will be a Wildcat song because it will go through all our filters and all of our individual musician gears and our talents are going to come out on that song. It’s pretty even and we all have our hand in each part of the song. If there was something of a starting point, the keys goes are on my end, the groove stuff with drum and bass is Jesse and Jesse and vocals and melodies are all of us.

Was it strange to play with only a 7” out and have all of these people coming to all these shows?

It was really strange because they started singing the songs that weren’t even out. They knew the songs because they had been to so many shows. And that goes with what I was saying earlier, people are so hungry for songs that people are coming to the shows just to hear the songs. They know them already. We know if we put it out that there’s going to be more of those people– maybe not millions– but people that want to come along to the shows and sing along which we are all about. We want to give our music and have people enjoy it.

ww-1-6 Are you guys all from LA or did you land up there?

Yeah, we all grew up in Ventura Country, which is like 40 miles north of LA. The two Jesse’s live in downtown LA now, and I live in Long Beach.

Were you able to quit your jobs?

Somewhat– it was a bit of a progression as far as that goes. Right now none of us have conventional day jobs. Every month getting money is different. We are by no means solely supported by music. There are different avenues we have to make money. It’s exciting, but it’s nerve-racking to not know how you’re going to pay your bills without the consistency of a job.

ww-1-3 Who is Mr. Quiche?

I don’t know. It was definitely a progression of writing that all of our songs have been. I think the vocals are definitely a process. He’s been a different person every step of the way to be honest. Which, to be honest, I kind of like that. I like songs that change their meaning, even for the artist. We’ve been changing as a band a lot even just over our past few years.

From what I remember you did 4-part harmonies.

Yeah, it’s definitely all about that and our group effort. It shows that everybody is equal and there are definitely songs where only one person is singing, but there are no songs where just one person is the lead singer. It just kind of fills the thing out. We are all really good friends making music and really participating in every ounce of the song.

As far as lyrics and background, do you start with the backing sound? Is one more important than the other?

Sometimes, especially working with some of my original ideas, there were really loose vocals or an idea, but there would be a larger arrangement before it. But recently there has been a little more of the opposite. With a lot of the stuff we are taking the lyricism of the song first and it really is different every time. That makes everything really fresh and exciting for all of us.

Is there are marked difference between recording a song and playing it live? Obviously you have less access to certain elements when you’re on stage.

Yeah, we kind of had to learn a lot of it. It was just a project that we were doing for fun and for ourselves and for us to listen to on our own and be excited about. It was just one of those things that at first we recorded the songs in parts and then we had to figure out how we are going to play it. A lot of the stuff is different live because there are too many keyboard parts and we don’t have enough hands to play all the keyboards. Parts need to be thought through, but I really enjoyed that because we really wanted us to really embody the song live in the performance and really wail and have a good time to make up for any different parts that maybe we can’t put in the song.

Do you feel like there’s a unified scene in LA? Do you guys feel that you have a lot of camaraderie with other bands?

To be honest it’s such a big music town that it’s just so hard to find that. We definitely have bands that we get along with and have played shows with, but there are so many. I think it’s almost more venue-based than promoter-based. They basically choose who they like, and in LA there are also huge booking agents booking huge bands that everybody wants to see. I wouldn’t say we’re part of any LA scene or movement or anything like that.

Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I’m so happy you’re finally coming east. It’s very exciting.

You should definitely come say hi. No problem. You were a very nice interviewer.


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.

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.

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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.