Steve Gunn on instrumental vs. lyrical songwriting for Time Off, shaking the habit of “shy singing,” and meeting ODB in the parking lot of Grateful Dead show.
Steve Gunn is in a particularly good mood today for two reasons. Firstly, his second “songwriter” record, Time Off, recently debuted to particularly glowing reviews, bolstered by his celebrated cameos opening for and playing with Kurt Vile and the Violaters, and secondly, we’re at one of his favorite Polish restaurants, Lomzynianka, on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. Like his music, he’s low-key and gracious, taking time to carefully answer each of my questions. Time Off is the kind of record that patiently waits for you to catch up to it, and when you eventually do, it creeps into your consciousness, due to his evocative six-string work as much as the meditative tone the record sustains throughout. Steve and I sat down over pierogies—boiled and fried—to discuss square dances in Virginia, his songwriting process, and the unlikely similarities between the Wu-Tang Clan and the Grateful Dead.
Gary Canino So you grew up in the suburbs in Pennsylvania?
Steve Gunn Yeah, it’s a Western suburb of Philly, probably ten miles out. It’s called Lansdowne and it’s part of Upper Darby.
GC Your record comes out tomorrow.
SG Yeah, it’s been a long time coming.
Deerhunter discusses automatic writing, Monomania, and setting the record straight on Connie Lungpin.
“Keep him in the bathroom! We’re not done yet.” Bradford Cox yelled as I entered the hotel room where I’d be interviewing Deerhunter in just a few moments. On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this week, Cox, dressed in drag and covered in fake blood, tore through his band’s latest single and album title track, and prominently displayed what looked to be his own dismembered fingers. I was the last of a series of interviews they had done that day. The band was understandably worn down.
Monomania, Deerhunter’s fifth album, is described in their press release as a “nocturnal garage” album, and the description couldn’t be more apt: peaked guitars and distorted vocals evoke such classics as The Stooges’ Raw Power and Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives in equal parts. From “Dream Captain”s bratty wreckage of a melody, to the serene middle jangle of “Monomania,” every song has the immediacy of a sort of punk rock Everly Brothers cover band, a far cry from their more abstract breakthrough, Cryptograms. Sitting down with the members of Deerhunter, I successfully avoided Cox’s infamous interviewer ire and discussed their recent lineup change, the writing process of Monomania, and the mysterious masked man they’ve been bringing on stage with them.
“You’re not hiding in the bathroom are you?” his press person asked a few minutes later. I emerged. The interview began.
Gary Canino I really enjoyed your performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night. Who was your friend on the side of the stage with the tape player?
Bradford Cox (lead vocals, guitar) Paul! He’s the greatest guy.
Moses Archuelta (drums) He actually messed that up though, it was amazing. He forgot to rewind the tape—
BC I made this cassette, like these motorcycle sounds that are on the record, but Paul was so spaced out by the cosmic NOW of the idea of satellites and shit…he’s a great kid. He’s been with the band for a long time. He’s kind of like our little brother.
BOMBlog talks to singing drummer Neal Morgan, who’s played with the likes of Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom, about his remarkable new solo album IN THE YARD. Listen to his new single and check out his Mixtape after the jump.
When I found out that Neal Morgan, best known as the drummer (both live and on record) for Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom, was opening for Bill Callahan, I was in disbelief.
“What an ego on this guy!” I said to my friends. “The drummer gets to open SOLO for the real deal? Who does this guy know?” I expected a Tommy Lee-routine, complete with a drum solo mid-air. Or maybe it would be something like Fred Armisen doing his Jans Hanneman routine.
But, to my legitimate surprise, Morgan’s incredible opening set was just singing and drums (and about 30% of it was a cappella). Now, he is following up his astounding work on 2010’s Have One On Me and last year’s Apocalypse with his second solo record, IN THE YARD, out January 24th on Drag City. Last month I caught up with him fresh off a European tour with Callahan to discuss his drumming technique, dealing with noisy crowds, and his other plans for 2012.
GARY CANINO I understand you just returned from Europe?
NEAL MORGAN Yes, it went great. Playing those songs is such a special honor and so fun for me. And I was able to open a few of the nights, which was great.
GC The first time I saw you perform was opening for Bill Callahan, in Greensboro, NC. That seemed to be a rough show for you, people were talking, there was a security alarm that kept beeping during your a cappella parts that seemed to be messing with your singing. Are audiences in Europe more polite?
NM I’ll say first that I don’t necessarily find people talking over an opening set to be impolite. Well, maybe I do. I guess it all depends. It seemed like people were there to have fun, they were drinking and catching up and that was an incredibly loud room, so I wasn’t at all upset or thrown off by the talking. There were moments when I did a few things up there that corralled the talkers, and that can be interesting during a set that is a lot of improvisation. But you asked about European audiences—I guess I would say that I’ve had more talking over my sets in the states than in Europe, but I don’t know, the sample size is fairly small.
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Nate Kinsella talks about his project Birthmark’s new album Antibodies and shares some soon-to-be classic cute animal videos.
Nate Kinsella, perhaps best known as the MVP of Chicago’s Make Believe (he played keys and drums at the same time!), is preparing his third solo album, Antibodies, under the moniker Birthmark. Though he’s currently based in Brooklyn, NY, the album was recorded in his home state of Illinois, where the recording sessions were funded through Kickstarter.com (Antibodies impressively met its goal of $5,000 last June). Antibodies is lush with strings, marimba, horns and everything else, oscillating in tone between the fragile experimentalism of Arthur Russell and the epic, rhythmic pop of the first couple Peter Gabriel records. With some Steve Reich in there papering over the cracks. I met with Nate in Greenpoint’s McGolrick Park to talk about his approach to composition, how he got started playing drums and keys at the same time, and the persistent and pervading influence of Charles Ives on his music.
Gary Canino Has playing in other bands helped you realize exactly how you want to approach Birthmark, where it’s now 100% you?
Nate Kinsella It’s weird, it makes it easier because I know what the process is like: write an album, record it, release it, tour on it, etc. . . . but without a group of people behind you with their own motivations, you’re really relying on yourself for anything to move forward at all. I could decide tomorrow that I don’t feel like putting any more energy [into Birthmark], but in a band, that doesn’t really happen. Well, it could if I was really stubborn and decided I wanted to end a project! It’s gratifying in a different way when you’re by yourself. When you’re doing solo stuff, it’s just so much closer to you because you’re behind every decision, so if something seems like a bad idea, you have no one to blame but yourself.
John Cale discusses tour drama with with Eno and Ayers, hip-hop comedy, and what it takes to cover Nico.
At John Cale’s performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week – the legendary Welsh musician and producer (most known for his stint in the Velvet Underground) – I was struck by how casual the man seemed performing a lifetime of material. He walked out on stage, blew through his 1970 orchestral-rock classic Paris 1919 with precision, and then returned to the stage to play a set of challenging and obscure (even for Cale) material. It was clear that for Cale, this second half of the show was the focus: “Hedda Gabbler,” “December Rains,” and several other songs from his most recent album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, proved to be the centerpieces for the night, as the sprawling (and often challenging) orchestral pieces filled the Gilman Opera House. The most audible reaction of the night was very obviously reserved for “Venus in Furs,” with loud cheers greeting the lone appearance of Velvet Underground material. I recently spoke to Cale about the concept for this show, his bizarre one-off 1974 tour with Nico, Brian Eno, and Kevin Ayers, and There’s Something About Mary.
Gary Canino With previous Paris 1919 shows that you’ve done, the second half of the show has been devoted to Vintage Violence. However, the second half of the show I saw at BAM last week was half Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood material, and half Sabotage-era material. What was your concept for the show?
John Cale Over the years I’ve been trying to add new songs every time we do it, to really take advantage of the fact that we have an orchestra. If we could only have an orchestra every time we want… so we did three or four new tunes the other night. This time we owed the new record some support, so I added some orchestral versions.
Jennifer Herrema weighs in on her art work, fake reunions, Black Bananas, and sweating the Fiscal Cliff—and the Meatloaf/Gary Busey fight.
Jennifer Herrema’s artist’s residency at the New Museum—called “She’s Crafty”—featured the influential frontwoman—formerly of the legendary Royal Trux, currently leading Black Bananas—and several artists taking turns reimagining the storefront window of the New Musuem’s bookstore (several of the items in the window’s storefront are for sale and are, presumably, going to be part of her new Feathered Fish clothing and jewelry line). I met Jennifer on the street, where she immediately asked if I’d like to do the interview over a few glasses of wine next store at the Bowery Diner, along with two of her peers: musician Lizzi Bougatsos (of Gang Gang Dance) and videographer Jess Holzworth. It became clear pretty quickly that Jennifer was one of the least intimidating or pretentious artists I’d ever met. Even those questions that I was a little wary of asking, she answered with total ease. When I asked if she was going to the fake “Royal Trux” showNeil Hagerty’s low-key performance of Twin Infinitives that happened at St. Vitus last month—that, at the time, was only a few days away, she told me she was flying out that night, but gave me her own take on it. I think “The Needle and the Damage Done” was playing as we were seated at the diner. This appropriately loose and laid-back conversation followed.
Gary Canino I wanted to ask about Royal Trux and Virginia. I went to school down in Charlottesville, and have always heard rumors about the ’91 show at Trax . . .
Jennifer Herrema Yeah, I love Charlottesville, it’s just a nice place to live. Conducive to getting shit done.
GC You recorded in Virginia too, right?
JH Yeah, we owned a 15-acre farm with a studio built in. In Castleton, Virginia, right between Culpeper and Little Washington, out in Rappahannock.
Andrew Cedermark’s unique perspective on sauerkraut and writing lyrics for his forthcoming album Home Life.
I first met Andrew Cedermark over four years ago, somewhere on the Corner in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was a first-year studying at the University of Virginia, and his former band Titus Andronicus was on tour, playing in town that night, and my old band was opening for his old band. Even though quite some time had passed since he lived in town, word had spread that we bore a resemblance, and initially, that’s all we had to talk about.
Four years later, the resemblance is all but gone with the passage of time, and now, we have a lot to talk about. Home Life, his second album, comes out next month after a long gestation period, and it delivers a more polished set of the early promise that Moon Deluxe suggested. His guitar heroics detonate nearly half the tunes on here, and when you sift through his pages of lyrics, it’s only the heavy words that come to mind: regret, remorse, loss, and regret again. But who ever listened to John Phillips, Tim Hardin, or Roy Orbison for the happy stuff? And weren’t Sinatra’s last words, “I’m losing?” Andrew and I met at the Polish restaurant Lomzynianka on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to discuss the last four years of our relationship.
Gary Canino In your recent interview with SPIN, you said the album was titled Lean on Me, but I see it was recently changed to Home Life. What’s the story behind that?
Andrew Cedermark Yeah, that was sort of unfortunate. It was going to be named after that Bill Withers song, but Sawyer [Jacobs] at Underwater Peoples, who studies intellectual property law, got cold feet in the 11th hour and didn’t want to get sued, and this is supposed to be a good, nice, fun thing, and it would have made it not that if Withers came and sued us, though that would have been a good story. You can even have [Home Life] written on your knuckles.
Angel Olsen on writing a song in twenty minutes, playing with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and the difference between recording a 7 inch and an album.
If you go see Angel Olsen headline—that is, the crowd is there to see her—you’re going to encounter The Angel Olsen Phenomenon. This is where the audience’s collective pair of lungs gets sort of vacuum-sealed, or maybe replaced with packing peanuts and silica gel packets, and all of their focus is squarely directed toward Angel and her band. Read any review of one of her shows and you’ll find someone describing the same thing. I know I’m not imagining the Phenomenon because I also know that the human race isn’t categorically polite—they leave each other at bars without saying goodbye and they have loud conversations in the bathroom and most notably will talk through every show they go to . . . So what I’m saying is, for the air in a room to actually vaporize, a performance has to actually have intensity, it has to actually have some sort of emotional impact or value or purity. Leonard Cohen used to cut concerts short if he felt at all that the performance “wasn’t getting off the ground.” Angel and company get off the ground regularly.
I should note that this happens the old-fashioned way, not with antics, pantomiming, pyrotechnics or posturing; just put her and her songs and her voice and a venue together, and it happens. I met with Angel before a show, and over chocolate cake donuts, we discussed recording, Russell Crowe, and the nuts and bolts of songwriting.
Gary Canino I know playing your songs with a backing band is still relatively new for you. How does it work, do you bring your songs to them and work out arrangements?
Angel Olsen Yeah, everybody kind of suggests different things and if it doesn’t end up sounding the right way, we can change it. But it’s especially cool with the older material, because they can really bring new life to it.
Tim Heidecker discusses his second soft-rock album with Heidecker and Wood, his online beefs, and blurring the lines between his various public personae.
“Will someone say something that is funny or interesting?”
An exasperated Tim Heidecker, in a rare stand-up comedy performance last week, was climbing through rows of seats at the front of Bowery Ballroom, begging the audience for a bone. Part of the appeal of Heidecker is his myriad of characters, whether he’s playing a pathetic film critic in the online series On Cinema, a pathetic television cooking host, or in this case, a pathetic stand-up comedian, who’s homage to bad standup falls somewhere between Andrew Dice Clay, Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton, and Tim Allen. Last week, his set revolved around catchphrases like “Gravy Baby!”, the differences between people who choose Pepsi and those who like Coke, and riffing on audience member’s names. (“Rich? Well, you gotta be ‘rich’ to live in New York City these days!”)
Heidecker & Wood features Tim—and frequent collaborator Davin Wood—playing a character once again, this time a ’70s singer-songwriter. This might be the reason that the project is so incredibly misunderstood. Heidecker & Wood has confounded critics and fans of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job alike, and though their music is a homage to soft-rock FM radio heyday of the ’70s, the project is not a parody at all, but rather a songwriting project, a fact that has proven to be very confusing to some. I spoke with Tim recently about the process of making a second album, the context of this second Heidecker and Wood release, and his various online beefs.
Gary Canino You’ve mentioned before that your first album, Starting From Nowhere, wasn’t really connected from song to song. Some Things Never Stay the Same sounds more like a thematic piece.
Tim Heidecker Oh, that’s nice to hear. I think that might have to do with the songs being written more closely together in time. I was thinking of a certain kind of sound, and we had gone into it thinking it was going to be a heavier record, and didn’t want to get labeled as a soft rock parody band again.