Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday is Soul Time!

I hadn't realized it until recently but Black Friday has become a kind of mini Record Store Day. You can see the full list of releases on the Record Store Day webpage.

The main thing that caught my eye was a limited edition Sharon Jones album, Soul Time!, which purports to represent the funkier side of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (does Sharon Jones have a side that isn't funky?). It's an odds and sods type compilation featuring some previously released singles, b-sides, compilation tracks, as well as studio versions of some previously unreleased live favorites. Two of my favorites are a very funky cover of Shuggie Otis' "Inspiration Information," and the Christmas song "Ain't No Chimneys In the Projects." "Chimneys" is far more than a Holiday novelty song, as it beautifully recognizes and honors the struggles and sacrifices made by a working, single mother to make Christmas a special for her daughter.

Luckily my local record shop had a few copies on LP (somehow buying Sharon Jones on CD seems wrong). The packaging is beautiful and the record was nicely mastered at Golden Mastering and well pressed to standard weight vinyl. Despite the disparate sources, the whole album holds together nicely. My only complaint? Where is their blazing cover of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)"? The small print on the cover calls this "Vol. 1," so hopefully it will show up on Vol. 2. 

Soul Time! is limited to 5,000 copies on LP and 20,000 on CD, so get up, get out, get into it, and get yourself to your local independent record store.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Paul Weller Album, Sonik Kicks, Due March 26th

With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, I think we should all take a moment to be thankful that Paul Weller is alive and kicking and still making relevant music in the year 2011.

Paul Weller will release a new solo album, Sonik Kicks, on March 26th, 2012, and his management has kindly made a preview track, "Around The Lake," available for download. 

"Around The Lake" has a heavy psychedelic feel to it with Krautrock overtones, and in my opinion it sounds like Paul could still teach some of these young kids a thing or two about how to rock out. Paul hasn't sounded like an angry young man for quite some time now, but we can be thankful he doesn't sound like a toothless old geezer either (unlike yours truly, who will be thankful if he is able to digest turkey this year rather than being spoon-fed gruel).

I get emails all the time from established and new acts asking me to post a track, and I rarely judge the music interesting enough to post here. (That's not to say the music is inherently uninteresting, it just usually doesn't catch my ear). This is different. Check it out, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Second Chance At Big Star

If you missed out on scoring a copy of Omnivore's test pressing version of Big Star's Third on Record Store Day, you have a second chance. Omnivore has 500 copies pressed on clear vinyl available for sale exclusively at their web store. The price is steep (in my opinion) at $60, but that is much less than you would pay for a copy on eBay.

I was lucky enough to score a copy in store on Record Store Day, and I don't remember paying that much for the black vinyl version. But I know many were not so lucky, as this was one of the most in-demand Record Store Day items ever (and for good reason). I can practically hear the wailing and teeth gnashing of vinyl hoarders who camped out on Record Store Day about the unfairness of it all. Don't shoot the messenger, I'm just passing along the news to those who might be interested.

This an amazing album and package, and the sound quality is outstanding. It's hard for me to imagine a fan of Big Star not wanting this in their collection.

I also see that Omnivore has a CD and "digital LP" of Richard Thompson's long out-of-print instrumental album Strict Time available for pre-order. I wrote a bit about this album a while ago, and it is gratifying to see it returning to print after having been unavailable for too long.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Time To SMiLE

After a forty-four year gestation period, Capitol records will release the Beach Boys' SMiLE Sessions tomorrow in a variety of configurations ranging from a two CD set, a two LP set, a box set with five CDs, two LPs and two 7" singles, not to mention a super-deluxe set that includes your own personal SMiLE surfboard signed by the surviving members of the band.

How much SMiLE do you need? Since I don't surf, I settled for the two LP set (my local record shop had a few copies out early). Sides one through three are the album as it has been pieced together by Mark Linett and others, and side four presents a few alternate stereo takes. I know some people derive great pleasure from listening to various tracking sessions, demos and alternate versions of songs, but I am not one of those people. Personally, I am very grateful to people like Mark Linett for doing the painstaking work of editing this material into something coherent.

From what I understand, piecing together the finished product in ProTools was an incredibly arduous task, so it is no wonder that Brian gave up in frustration in 1967 with only scissors and tape at his disposal. Much has been written about Brian's deteriorating mental state in 1967, as well as resistance from certain factions within the band, but in my opinion what it comes down to is the fact that the music in Brian Wilson's head in 1967 was about forty years ahead of the technology necessary to complete it.

Much ink has been spilled about SMiLE over the years, and the release of something like a complete, finished version will no doubt spark much further conversation: Is this really what Brian would have released if had finished the album in 1967? Would the album have been hailed as a masterpiece or received as a curiosity? Would it's legacy loom as large if it had not had the aura of "lost masterpiece" surrounding it for so many years? How would the Beatles have responded to SMiLE? What would it's influence have been had it been released in 1967? Would we have still had to suffer through the Doobie Brothers and Journey, or might popular music have gone in an entirely different and more interesting direction? As fun as it is to speculate about such things, I'll leave debate about questions that can't possibly be answered to others.

I do have a couple things to say.

First, the vinyl pressing of this album is exceptional. That is not always the case with Capitol, but they wisely outsourced the cutting of the vinyl lacquers to Chris Bellman of Bernie Grundman mastering, and Chris is one of the best in the business. I don't know where the lacquers were pressed, but vinyl quality itself is also excellent, virtually free of surface noise and pressed (on center) on heavy weight vinyl. The packaging is absolutely beautiful, and the set is also reasonably priced at around $25 (less than average for a 180 gram double LP). I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending the vinyl version.

Second, I just want to say that I am so happy for Frank Holmes, the artist who created the cover image for the album, to finally have his work available the way it was meant to be seen. I talked to Frank a few years ago about the SMiLE artwork. Frank is a lovely and diplomatic person, but even after the passage of so many years I could hear in his voice how heartbroken he was about the fact that Capitol destroyed the covers they had printed up for the album. I did not detect a hint of bitterness in Frank, but he still sounded devastated by that loss. I don't know how he felt about the fact that Brian went with different artwork for Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE in 2004, but I'm glad that his legendary album cover is now actually, finally, an album cover. I hope Frank has a big smile on his face today. I know I do.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Les Baxter - Ritual Of The Savage (Le Sacre du Sauvage)

This one was certainly worth it for more than just the album cover. But what what an album cover it is. Take a moment to appreciate the composition: a modern couple donned in formal attire embrace in a garden framed by large "primitive" idols. But take a closer look at the couple. Are they embracing, or is the woman rebuffing an unwanted advance from her male partner? Perhaps she is trying to control her mate's savage instincts. Or perhaps he simply failed to set the proper mood for their romantic interlude. If only he had played his copy of Les Baxter's Ritual Of The Savage for her, the evening might have ended differently. Should Baxter's elegant exotica have failed to arouse her inner savage, he could always have pulled out his copy of Jackie Gleason's subtly titled, Music To Change Her Mind.

Gleason's album is a sophisticated variant of what was known as "mood music," soothing instrumental takes on standards such as "Dancing In The Dark" and "You And The Night And The Music." But why should the desperate bachelor of the 1950s turn to Les Baxter's mix of melody and jungle rhythms for romantic help?

The genre of "exotica," of which Baxter's album is arguably the first album-length example, is a complex cultural phenomena that I could not hope to unpack here. If I really wanted talk seriously about exotica, I'd have to touch on Freud, Social Darwinism, colonialism, and the specific post-war historical circumstances in which the genre became popular. But, fortunately for you, I do not want to talk about exotica seriously.

Instead, I would caution against taking an album like Ritual Of The Savage too seriously, as the exotica genre was surely full of a lot of tongue and cheek humor. For the hipster of the 1990s (yours truly included), the rediscovery of 50s exotica provided a welcome respite from the increasingly humorless onslaught of grunge. But not all of the revivalists may have been aware that the progenitors of the genre were in on the joke as well.

Consider this Capitol Records promotional document for Ritual Of The Savage (subtitled, no doubt in a nod to Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Sauvge) from 1951 that I discovered on the I'm Learning To Share blog:

Capitol Records magazine promo for Les Baxter's Ritual of the Savage LP, 1951.
Sourced from I'm Learning To Share blog. Click to enlarge.

The premise is a parody of the Hollywood "excursion" films that were popular during the 1930s, with Baxter as "Serge Drek" who guides steel wool heiress Griselde Kittle (Dottie O'Brien) into the heart of Africa in search of her missing sister, who may or may not be the fabled White Goddess (Gisele MacKenzie). Clearly no one involved with this album was taking the concept too seriously at the time.

Fortunately, a highly refined sense of irony is not necessary to appreciate the music contained in the grooves of this record. Kitsch value aside, the melodies that adorn such compositions as "Quiet Village," "Jungle Flower," and "Kinkajou" are gorgeous, and the propulsive African-style percussion really does create a sense of excitement that is missing from much of the other "mood music" of the period. Highly recommended. The album is available for download at the usual places, as well as packaged as a CD-twofer with another Baxter album, The Passions, on the Rev-Ola label.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Latin Love-In

Maybe some people could pass on picking up a record with a cover like this, but I am not one of those people.

This one was worth grabbing for more than just the cover. Tony Mottola was a very sensitive guitar player (he did a number of recording dates with Sinatra, and was a member of his touring band in later years). The orchestrations are brash and over-the-top in typical Enoch Light fashion. If you are not too hung up on the idea of "good taste" this is a very fun album to listen to.

As far as I can tell this was never issued on CD, but somehow it is available on iTunes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Update On YepRoc Soft Boys Underwater Moonlight Reissue

Some time ago I posted news that YepRoc would be reissuing the Soft Boys' 1980 classic album, Underwater Moonlight, on LP. At the time I passed along information in good faith that was provided by YepRoc via email that turned out to be inaccurate, and I feel a responsibility to set the record straight.

At the time of my original post in November of 2010, the LP release had been delayed, and YepRoc passed along news from Robyn Hitchcock that explained the delay and described the recut version. After having purchased the LP, it is apparent to me that the information provided in that email does not describe the final product that YepRoc brought to market. The full text of that email is provided below:

Hello dear vinyl-hunters,

Many apologies for the delay in getting the latest A Can Of Bees and Underwater Moonlight out to you. The LP test-pressings were sent over for Morris Windsor to check (as he has both a record-deck and ears that work well) and he felt that the cut was inferior to the originals (which he also has). We had been mastering from the 1993 DAT tapes, as the best reference source for these old recordings.

However, in the course of our conversations, Morris discovered an original production master (copy of the original mixes) of UM deep in his attic. This transpired to have the long-missing version of Old Pervert that graced the 1980 release of UM, amongst this uniquely surviving set of 1/4" mixes. This was like finding an ashtray in a pub these days: enchanted and wicked. So Morris FedExed (yes, it's a verb) the tape to the management office in LA where Richard Bishop (who had released the original UM 30 years ago on Armageddon Records) had the tapes baked. They go into a kind of pizza oven to prevent the ferric oxide falling off like liquorice.

At this point we decided to re-cut A Can Of Bees from a pristine vinyl copy. This was supplied by Geoffrey Weiss, a long-term music supporter in the quagmire of showbusiness; Geoffrey also kindly supervised the cut, along with Richard. The re-cuts were FedExed back to Morris who pronounced them very good. Morris is not given to hyperbole, and I have always favoured his judgement, when he gives it, over my own.

YepRoc have patiently waited for the improved LPs, and done their best to reassure anxious purchasers of these items who paid for them a while back and have seen nothing yet for their money. If you are amongst them, please again accept my apologies on behalf of the former Soft Boys, and I hope that the quality compensates in some way for the delay.

Best wishes from the old country,

Robyn Hitchcock

Unfortunately, the LP that I bought does not match the description above. First of all, the LP was cut in mono. To my knowledge there has never been a mono mix of this album (it was after all recorded in 1980, not 1967), and all previous issues of the album, including the original pressing on Armageddon Records (ARM 1), are in stereo. Second, the version of "Old Pervert" on the YepRoc reissue LP is the not the original one described in the email, but rather the "disco" version common to all previous Underwater Moonlight reissues.

I have no idea what happened here, and I won't speculate, but it is easy to conclude something went very wrong with this reissue based on this evidence alone. I attempted to contact YepRoc for answers to some of the questions raised by these problems, but received no response. The relevant portions of my email to YepRoc are reproduced below:
Dear [Redacted],

Back in November of 2010 I posted an item on my blog, Flowering Toilet, promoting YepRoc's then upcoming LP reissue of The Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight:

After having purchased the LP, I feel the need to post a follow up, because it appears to me that the version of the LP that YepRoc has released does not match the description that Robyn offered, and that I passed along to my readers in good faith.

There are two major issues with the YepRoc LP reissue that I regard as extremely problematic. First, and most importantly, the LP is in mono, not stereo. Given that Underwater Moonlight has never been previously issued in a mono version (and the fact that it was recorded in 1980, not 1967) I have to assume that this is the result of a mistake. Second, the version of "Old Pervert" is the "disco" version of the song that is common to previous reissues (Glass Fish, Ryko, Matador), not the original version of the song that appeared on the Armageddon LP in 1980, and that Robyn indicated would appear on the YepRoc LP.

I am hoping you will be able to answer the following questions so that I can pass along the answers to my readers:

1) Why is the LP in mono, not stereo?
2) Why does the "disco" version of "Old Pervert" appear on the YepRoc reissued LP instead of the original LP version as promised by Robyn in his email to YepRoc customers?
3) Was the LP, as released by YepRoc, in fact cut from the production master that had been in the possession of Morris Windsor and is mentioned in Robyn's email, and was this the version that Morris pronounced "very good"?
4) Does YepRoc consider the LP, as released, acceptable? If not, what steps, if any, are being taken to rectify the situation?

I am reluctant to post anything on my blog that is either critical of Robyn, The Soft Boys or YepRoc. However, given that I passed along what appears to be inaccurate information to my readers, I feel duty-bound to follow up on my previous post, and I cannot in good conscience not mention these issues in doing so. I wanted to reach out to YepRoc for information before addressing the issue in the interest of fairness and in the hopes that I can pass along accurate information this time. ...

Pete Bilderback
Flowering Toilet

I sent this email to multiple contacts at YepRoc on September 8, 2011, but have not, as yet, received a reply.

I would like to apologize to any of my readers who may have bought this reissue on the basis of the information I passed along. Again, I did so in good faith and with no intent to deceive. I am as disappointed as anyone that this reissue did not live up to YepRoc's promises. I would also like to apologize for not posting an update sooner, but it was my sincere hope that these issues would be resolved by YepRoc, making any complaints about this reissue unnecessary.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Barrett Martin Talks About The Screaming Trees Last Words

Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin.

I recently had the privilege of talking with Barrett Martin, the former drummer for the Screaming Trees who has issued the Trees' Last Words: The Final Recordings on his own Sunyata label. In addition to being available for download at the usual places, Sunyata is currently taking pre-orders for the CD. If you pre-order from Sunyata, you'll get the CD in September, a month before the street date.

Barrett was driving into Sacramento while we chatted, and I was impressed by his ability to discourse intelligently about music while doing something else. Perhaps his multi-tasking skills should not surprise me considering that in addition to being a drummer, he is also an upright bassist, composer, visual artist, music Professor, and an an ordained Zen priest in the Soto tradition.

Barrett's drumming has been much in demand over the years, he did stints with both the Screaming Trees and Seattle grunge-rockers Skin Yard, and he has also drummed for R.E.M., Mad Season, Air, Luna, The Twilight Singers, Queens Of The Stone Age, Stone Temple Pilots, Victoria Williams, Greg Olson and others. Lately he's been known to play in his own, jazz-oriented project, The Barrett Martin Group, as well as the Seattle area bands Visqueen and CoBirds Unite (featuring Pure Joy/Flop frontman Rusty Willoughby).

Me: From what I understand the material on Last Words was recorded in 2000, is that right?

No. Let's see, we started in the winter of '98 and finished in the summer of '99.

Me: Okay, so it was recorded a little earlier than I thought.

Yeah, we did our last show in June of 2000, but the recordings were done well before that. They were kind of like demos for what would have ended up being another record. But we recorded it on 24 track machine onto two-inch analog tape. It was state-of-the-art recording at the time. So they're really just sophisticated demos.

Me: And what were things like inside the world of The Screaming Trees at that time?

Barrett: It was actually very good. Everybody was clean and sober. We kind of knew that it was the end of the line. But we had this last batch of--actually twelve songs--there are two outtakes that Van Connor is going to release on his new label next year. He's got a singles club, and he's going to release the two outtake songs through that. But we knew we had a good body of new work and we wanted to document it, but it was kind of for posterity's sake. There was a little bit of shopping the demos to try to find another deal, but that never materialized. So that's how it ended.

And when you went back and pulled those out again, was that this year?

Yeah, Jack Endino and I were working on my solo record, and I decided to pull the tapes out. We were in a studio with a two-inch tape machine--which is increasingly hard to find by the way--and I said "let's pull those tapes out and have a listen." That was January of this year. We had to bake the tapes in an oven to make the tape pliable again. There's a certain temperature and technique, and Jack knows how to do that. And when we put them on the tape machine the sound quality was actually quite high. So he cleaned the heads and we rolled it onto a hard drive right then and there. We put everything on the hard drive and then we worked from that.

And how did your impressions of the material, listening to it in the year 2011, how did they differ from, or meet, your expectations based on your memories of those recording sessions? 

Barrett: My personal opinion on rock and roll is that it has really degenerated over the last decade or so. People don't write good songs anymore, or they're just so eccentric and quirky and proprietary that they don't resonate with the general public  in the same way. And so--I'm a person who listens to a lot of music--I'm actually a music Professor now, and I listen to music from all over the world, and I still listen to modern rock and roll and punk and all that stuff. But when I listen to the music of the 90s, with the Screaming Trees just being one example, I like the way the Screaming Trees wrote songs. I like the classical approach to it, the good rhythmic and melodic ideas, the sophisticated lyrics, and approaching the song as the high art form, with the band as the interpreter of the medium. I think that it holds up exceptionally well, and actually in a weird way it's a little more appropriate now because that's really the best way to do it, and I don't hear a lot of bands doing that anymore.

Me: For me, I didn't realize how badly I needed to hear something like a new Screaming Trees album in the year 2011 until I actually heard it. And when I did, I heard a lot of those qualities that I think I had been missing, so I think your observations there are spot on.

Barrett: And I don't think the Screaming Trees were the greatest band of the 90s by any means. But I think what the Trees did was we wrote really good songs and put the priority on the song, and just recorded the song as a rock band. And that is a different approach than what people do now with electronics and [inaudible]. People don't really focus on writing great songs anymore, the approach seems to be more along the lines of "let's make a weird sounding record and claim to be inventing something new," but the classic forms are being forgotten.

One thing that I've noticed is that with the success of the Flaming Lips, who are a band that I actually used to really like quite a lot, and who came out of a similar milieu as the Screaming Trees, but at a certain point everything they did started to become heavily conceptual…


Me: …and the songs, to my ears, started to become secondary to these concepts that are kind of precious in my opinion.

After the Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots album, which was a concept album, and kind of odd, ironically after that they've become more popular. So [laughs] I don't know what the formula is.

I think you're seeing a lot of people following that model because it was successful. When something does become popular, people follow it. But I think part of the problem is, because of the success the Lips have had, that we've seen a lot more conceptual type projects, and solid songwriting has taken a back seat to that.

[At this point, Barrett wisely declines my invitation to blame the Flaming Lips for everything that is wrong with our current "post-rock" malaise.]

Last Words has gotten a lot of positive press, but even within the favorable reviews I've seen complaints about the sound quality. How do you feel about that?

I've seen a couple reviews that say that, but I don't really know what they're talking about, because this is analog tape recording, and that's kind of what it sounds like. I think it's actually a pretty "hi-fi" sounding record. And I don't particularly like records that sound shrill and brittle, as so many modern pop records do. I don't really know where that ethos came from. I think it has something to do with digital recording, but I'm quite happy with the sound of the album. Everybody in the band thought that this was a good, meaty sounding, analog record.

The whole thing with reviews too, to be honest with you, I don't take reviews very seriously, even the good ones. Because one of my mentors, Peter Buck from R.E.M., told me a long time ago, "don't even read the reviews because it's one guy, or girl, on a particular day, and it's their very particular opinion." So of course you want to get good reviews, but if there are a few bad ones…whatever. It's really never influenced me in the kind of records I want to make.

To my ears the album sounds fantastic. Maybe it doesn't meet some people's expectations of what a rock album should sound like in the year 2011, but most [new releases], in my opinion, sound pretty bad. As you say, they sound hard, they sound brittle, and they're often compressed to the point that there's no dynamics. Maybe that's the sound that people expect now, but I find the sound of Last Words to be phenomenal.

Barrett: Well it's also mixed by Jack Endino, and he's an incredibly good mixer. You know, he mixes as many records as he produces. And I think you're right, modern digital production has made records sound very shrill and brittle and high-end. I guess if people are listening on their little ear buds, they can't hear the full bass spectrum, or all those fat midranges anyway. And actually the best review I read was the guy who said "my definition of a good record is that you can turn it up louder and louder, and it will sound better and better. And bad records are the ones that the more you turn them up, the more shrill and painful they are." And he said the Trees record is one you can just crank louder and louder, and you hear more and more.

Me: Yeah, that was me.

Barrett: Oh, you wrote that. I didn't know that was your review.

Yeah, that's okay. Yeah, I think so many things today are recorded, mixed and mastered so that they can jump out at you at a low volume, but they become painful to listen to if you try to turn the volume up. And that's unfortunate, because I don't think you can get the full rock and roll experience at a low volume. Volume and dynamics are important elements in rock music.

Well, I'll tell you for this record, the albums we were listening to when we mixed it, for reference, we were listening to Physical Graffiti and Who's Next. Jack has a stack of CDs that he puts on as sonic reference points. That was the kind of sound we were going for and those were all analog, two-inch tape recordings.

Yeah and those are the kind of records that came with a note that said "This record is meant to be played LOUD."

Right, right, exactly. And there's a whole ethos to that approach, and it's a classic ethos. And that's what I'm talking about, people are forgetting the classic foundations of how to make great rock records. And what they're making are these shrill sounding, disco, rock, pop conundrums [laughs].

Me: One thing I've always wondered about is how hard was it for you to come in and replace Mark Pickerel, who was someone who had his own very unique style of drumming, and who had been with the band since the beginning. How was it for you to step into that seat, and how do you think you changed the band's sound?
Set the wayback machine to 1988. The Screaming Trees before Barrett Martin:
(L-R) Mark Pickerel, Van Connor, Gary Lee Connor, Mark Lanegan.
Barrett: Well, first of all, Mark Pickerel has been a friend of mine since the mid 1980s, so actually it was a pretty easy hand off. And actually Dan Peters from Mudhoney had been playing drums in the interim between when Mark Pickerel quit and when I joined the band. But I didn't try to sound like Mark. I just played the way I play, I never tried to alter the way I play to try to fit the Screaming Tress' sound. I think what happened is the Trees were at a point where they were ready to evolve to a new sound. They had all these new songs that were in a very early development stage, so when I stepped in, I just kind of naturally blended with them. And those were the songs that became the Sweet Oblivion album, which was the big breakthrough album. I think it was a combination of the fact that I'm stylistically different than Mark Pickerel, and the way that I interpreted their songs, it was just a really natural occurrence from both sides of it. So there was no problem in the hand off at all.
Me: Another thing I've wondered about is the fact that there was quite a time-lag between Sweet Oblivion and Dust, what happened during that period?
Barrett: The main thing that happened was that we spent a solid two years on the road promoting Sweet Oblivion. And then we came back to Seattle, and the label was pressuring us to make another record. They wanted us to capitalize on our current success and parlay that into the future. So we had been working on songs on the road, but contrary to what people think,  the road is not so romantic. It's actually kind of hard to write songs on the road because you're dealing with surviving on the road, and playing a show every night. And you're usually exhausted and there isn't a huge amount of time to dedicate to writing songs.
So we started to record what we now call "the aborted album" in the early winter of '94. We were working with Don Fleming producing and John Agnello engineering. And they were great guys, they were the same people who did Sweet Oblivion, and it worked for that record. But these sessions just didn't have the same spark. So we scrapped everything, and then it took a while to get George Drakoulias because of his schedule, so we weren't able to start making Dust until '95. So we had two years of touring, a year of trying to record, and then finally getting George onboard, and it took three and half years before the record was done, and by the time it came out it had been almost exactly four years to the date since Sweet Oblivion was released.
Me: And in that time in between a lot of younger bands managed to kind of cash in on the grunge craze. And unfortunately, not a lot of the bands who had been around and were either contemporaries of Nirvana, or even--like the Trees--predated them, not a lot of those bands managed to walk through the door that was opened up. How frustrating was that?
Barrett: You know, it isn't really so much frustrating as it is the way the major labels work. There are always a handful of bands that break through with a new sound. It usually happens about every five years. And you have these larger twenty-year cycles where you have major musical movements. And the major labels just figured out how to capitalize on what the Seattle indie/alternative bands--and not just Seattle, there were bands from New York and Chicago who were doing the same thing--but the major label thing is to take a cool new sound and just water it down and make it commercial drivel, and then surprisingly more people buy that. The more mediocre and watered down a product becomes, the more people buy it. And it's not just in music, it's in literature, it's in film. The dumbest, most poorly-written scripts end up being the biggest movies.
Me: Yeah, there's certainly exceptions to that, but as a rule you're probably right.
Barrett: Yeah, the exceptions are the outliers that are anomalous success stories, and you can't really explain why. Like Nirvana's Nevermind, which now has its big 20th Anniversary, that's a perfect example because that just came out of nowhere.
Me: Well, but it didn't exactly come out of nowhere. There had been a lot of bands building that scene up over the previous years, and the Trees were one of the bands who contributed to that. And it wasn't just them, there were a tremendous amount of bands building up underground recognition for that kind of music, to the point were a David Geffen would even be interested in it. Nirvana was the band that kind of blew things open, but there were a lot of bands that built the foundation for what they did.
Barrett: It came out of a garden of creativity, but what I mean is that that record sounds radically different from any Seattle record prior to it. It's this huge sonic and songwriting leap.
Me: Yeah, it was interesting to me because this all happened just after I graduated from college. I had actually booked [Barrett's previous band] Skin Yard when I was in college.
Barrett: Where did we play?
Me: This was at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.
Barrett: Yeah, we did a lot of college gigs.
Me: You may not remember this one specifically. But I didn't get the kind of turnout I was hoping for at the gig, and it was a little discouraging. And frankly we met with a bit of hostility from certain corners of the college, in particular the frat boy crowd didn't seem to approve of the kind of music we were trying to bring to campus. And then I remember the next year--I went back to visit the school after I had graduated--and Nevermind was blasting out of every frat house on campus.
Barrett: Right, well frat boys are not known for their progressive thinking, but they'll certainly jump on the coattails of something that's already in motion. What I remember from those Skin Yard tours, and we more of a weird, arty kind of band, and we never had any of that commercial crossover. But that's a good example of a sound that precedes what will later come. I did two years of touring with Skin Yard, and we just lived on the road in our little van, playing college gigs and staying at Motel 6's all over the U.S. and Canada.

Me: Yeah, you guys crashed on my floor, but one of you had to go sleep in the van to make sure your gear didn't get stolen.

Barrett: Yeah, one guy always had to stay in the van because of the equipment. But when we went to Europe in Winter of '91, we did tours with Nirvana right after Nevermind came out, and that was the last tour we did, and then we broke up. But when we played in Europe, we would play to a thousand people a night at our own shows. Nirvana was even bigger, but Europe was always more embracing of the new sound. Americans always seem to be a few years behind.

I remember talking to you guys at the time, and you were ecstatic because your latest album, Fist Sized Chunks, had sold 9,000 units. And I was pretty dumb about these things at the time, and I though "Wow, really? 9,000? Is that all?" [laughs]

Barrett: And what's ironic--actually I didn't play on that record, my first was 1,000 Smiling Knuckles, but I toured behind Fist Sized Chunks--but what's ironic is that selling 9 or 10,000 records now is a lot for an indie label.

Me: Yeah, it was a lot for an indie label back then too, and there was probably only a brief period of time where those wouldn't have been considered really good numbers. But you were definitely the drummer on that tour. I remember it well because the auditorium you played in had really high ceilings, and you seemed to be delighted to be able to take the drum sticks and toss them in the air as high as you could and catch them.

[Laughs]  Yeah, that was my "trick," to see how high I could toss the sticks. When the Trees were finally doing the big stadiums in the mid-to-late 1990s--Lollapalooza, stuff like that--we would have lighting rigs that were 30, 40 feet high, and I would try to get the stick up into the lighting rig. I'd say I caught it 75% of the time, and 25% of the time I missed.

You didn't miss at this show, and you didn't miss a beat either, which was what really impressed me.

Really? The great thing is, people love it when you catch the stick, but if you drop it, they kind of love that too.

I thought that was a lot of fun... I should probably let you run, but I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, so thanks a lot.

Barrett: Thank you so much, and thanks for booking those shows way back in the day.

Well it was my pleasure, I always had a lot of fun doing that.

You're a true believer in the movement, even twenty years later.

Me: Absolutely!
The back cover of my Skin Yard "Start At The Top" 7" signed by Barrett,
Jack Endino, Daniel House and the late Ben McMillan way back in the day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Barrett Martin

I just had a great chat with former Screaming Trees drummer man Barrett Martin about the Trees new release, Last Words: The Final Recordings and other topics. I'll post the interview here soon. In the meantime, I wanted to pass along word that the CD is now available for pre-order from Barrett's label, Sunyata Records. If you pre-order from Sunyata you'll get the shiny silver disc in your hands a month before street date and be the coolest kid on your block.

R.I.P. - Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan and Earl Weaver after game one of the 1979 World Series.
Orioles great Mike Flanagan was found dead near his home this past Wednesday. The Orioles pitcher, executive and broadcaster was only 59 years old. My heart goes out to his wife and three daughters, and all those who loved him.

I'll refrain from further commentary until more of the facts surrounding his death are known, but this is very sad news for all Orioles fans. Really it's shocking news that I'm still working hard to process.

In the meantime, read this 1991 Baltimore Sun column by Ken Rosenthal begging Orioles management not to deal Flanagan to the Mets at the trade deadline. It gives you a good idea of what Flanagan meant to the franchise and its fans. Later that year Flanagan pitched the final outs at Memorial Stadium.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Screaming Trees - Last Words: The Final Recordings

The Screaming Trees have a "new" album out. Last Words: The Final Recordings documents some recently mixed demos that the band recorded in 2000 while looking for a new record deal. That new deal never materialized, the band broke up, and the recordings sat on the shelf for eleven years until former Trees drummer Barrett Martin and producer Jack Endino mixed the songs this year. Martin has released the album through his own Sunyata Records label. At the moment the album is only available as a digital download, but CD and LP releases are reportedly in the works. It's currently available for the low, low price of $4.99 at Amazon, and if you don't buy it I'll never forgive you.

I first became aware of this release because my buddy Adam forwarded me a middling review of the album from Pitchfork. Typically, if the dudes at Pitchfork are lukewarm on something it turns out I love it, and this album is no exception. I suspect that if the Trees had been a big influence on The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Animal Collective, or best of all, Kanye West, their music might sound more relevant to Pitchfork tuned ears. But the Trees did something that is absolutely unforgivable from the perspective of your typical Pitchfork reviewer; they rocked. Righteously. And for some people that is just an inherently uncool thing to do.

The Screaming Trees did not create clever deconstructions of popular song forms, instead they embraced heavy, psychedelic rock, and pushed their music to its absolute limits while working squarely within the rock aesthetic. If that does not sound intellectual enough for you, maybe the Screaming Trees are not your kind of band. Personally, I love them, and I think this new album can stand proudly alongside Buzz Factory and Sweet Oblivion as one of the finest of their career.

You'll have to forgive my enthusiasm. I may be a little biased. I watched the Screaming Trees play to an audience of 12 people at a crummy club in Harrisburg, PA back in 1991. (At least four of the people in attendance that night arrived in my car.) If the Trees were disappointed with the turnout, you would never have known it from their performance. It sounded like they made up their minds that even if there were only 12 people in the audience, those 12 paying fans deserved to have their worlds' rocked just as surely as if there were thousands in the club. A few nights later I saw them perform a sold-out show at the old 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and while they were again fantastic, I think they might have actually rocked harder that night in Harrisburg.

What does that mean? Maybe nothing, but I just like to tell the story because it gives you an idea of what a great, totally committed band the Screaming Trees were.

Most of the other reviews I've read of Last Words have been positive, although they invariably criticize the "warts and all" sound quality. Personally, I think this album sounds great. Yes, it's a touch murkier sounding than their Epic recordings, but it sounds cleaner than anything they released for SST or Sub-Pop. That's more than good enough for me. The album lacks the distracting little production flourishes that producer George Drakoulias brought to their final Epic album, Dust, but to my ears that is a good thing. It's long been my opinion that bands are far more likely to ruin an album through over-production than by leaving things a little on the raw side.

I have a simple criteria for whether an album sounds good or bad. If you constantly find yourself wanting to turn the volume down, you have a bad sounding album. I don't care about clarity, or subtle layering of textures, if my impulse is to turn the volume down, there is something wrong. By contrast, if you constantly find yourself adjusting the volume upwards, you have a good sounding album. By that standard, Last Words is a great sounding album. Every time I play it, I keep cranking the volume.

Nearly as important as the crankability factor, Last Words does not sound like a collection of random demos and left-overs, but plays start-to-finish like an honest-to-goodness album, with subtle shifts in tempo and mood. The songs are uniformly excellent, and Mark Lanegan's singing never sounded better. He had four solo albums under his belt at the time of these recordings, and the added depth of feeling he brings to the material is evident on such songs as "Ash Grey Sunday," "Revelator," and "Black Rose Way." Likewise, Van Connor's guitar playing sounds much less restrained and mannered than it had on 1996's Dust. Barrett Martin's drumming is well-served by the mix, and (as always) is incredibly engaging and propulsive. Meanwhile bassist Gary Lee Connor gets in some catchy bass patterns as well as helping keep things grounded. In addition, there are guest spots from Peter Buck and Josh Homme that thankfully never get in the way of the group dynamic. The Screaming Trees may have been nearing the end of their storied career, but Last Words does not sound like a dying gasp from an artistically spent force. If anything it sounds more vital in 2011 than it might have had it been released in 2000.

I really cannot recommend this album highly enough. I know this "review" is little more than fanboy drivel, but I am a big believer in not pretending to be "objective" about subjects that one's life experience makes it impossible to be objective about.

**UPDATE: For those who still love shiny silver discs, the CD now is available for pre-order from Sunyata Records.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

R.I.P. - Bubba Smith

I can't say I remember him playing for the Baltimore Colts, but I do remember his Miller Light commercials, and my Dad talking about what a great defensive lineman he was.

"I sure hope those horses can swim." That was pure comedy gold.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

"Ain't nobody coming that ain't already here" The Blackfire Revelation Story


I was mightily impressed by the super-heavy, sludgy sound of New Orleans' Blackfire Revelation, who have recently issued their self-titled album digitally. Formed in New Orleans in 2003 by singer/guitarist J.R. Fields and drummer Hank Haney, the group released an EP, Gold and Guns On 51, in 2004 on their own Southern Reconstruction label, and the EP was later re-released by Fat Possum Records. In 2005 the band undertook a long international tour with New York noise rockers Unsane, then not much was heard from them until this year, when their self-titled full-length album appeared as a digital release. The album was actually completed back in 2005, but Fields decided to shelve the project. The reason for the delayed release is a fascinating story in itself, one I had the chance to discuss with Fields recently.

J.R. Fields onstage in France with Blackfire Revelation.

Blackfire Revelation has gotten some rave notices in the underground metal press, and rightfully so. But I think their music has the potential to appeal to those outside the metal audience as well. Fans of Blue Cheer, the MC5, the Stooges, Soundgarden and Green River will find plenty to appreciate in Blackfire Revelations' heavy, sludgy, Southern gumbo.

I had a blast talking with J.R. Fields about Blackfire Revelation, the city of New Orleans, life on the road, as well as Hurricane Katrina and its impact on his life and his band. Blackfire Revelation may be on hiatus now, but the music they made shouldn't be forgotten, nor should what the band went through to create it.

Me: I like both your releases, Gold and Guns On 51 and the new one Blackfire Revelation, but it's not the first music that comes to mind when I think of New Orleans. It sounds a bit more like Detroit 1969 to me.

J.R.: Well, the reason I live in New Orleans is because New Orleans is the freest city in North America. You can pretty much do whatever you want down here, whenever you want to. And I think that comes through in the music. Aside from it being kinda bluesy and kinda Southern, New Orleans has a big influence on what I do. It's raw down here. It's gritty. It could fall to pieces at any time. I feel like a lot of that comes out in our music.

Me: I've never visited New Orleans myself, but I've heard the same thing from many people, that it's the freest city in America.

J.R.: People here have a lot of freedom. You go other places and it seems the farther North you go the more rules there are. You can't drink in the street. Bars close. Down here you're left to self-control, and that can either make you or break you.

Me: It doesn't sound like the kind of place where you have to work hard to fit in.

J.R.: Yeah. I feel like a lot of people down here really aren't concerned with fitting in. We're kinda just lost down here in the swamp. It's really disconnected from the rest of the states. I can tell you from being in a band, versus maybe bands from L.A. or San Francisco, or New York or Boston. We have to drive a full day to pretty much get to any other major market, which would be Austin or Atlanta, which depending on traffic can take up to ten hours to get to either of those cities.

Me: I think, as someone who lives in the Northeast, that's hard for me to relate to. I live in Rhode Island now, and I'm just a few minutes from Providence, and that's just 45 minutes to Boston, and just a few hours to New York. Everything here is very compact, so we have different conception of space here.

J.R.: Right, and if you're a band from up there, you can kinda be a part of the scene in all those towns around you. You're just a few hours from a number of major cities there. Whereas down here, we're a little more isolated. And I think that lends itself to making the bands down here just kinda do our own thing.

Me: Before you formed Blackfire Revelation, I understand that you were in film school at University of New Orleans. What led to you decision to leave school and start a band?

J.R.: I was just sick of college and all the other bullshit. Up until a certain point, I always did what I was "supposed" to be doing. But I worked on a few films, commercials, stuff like that, and I realized I didn't want to be in college, and I didn't want to be in the film industry. What I wanted to do was play in a rock band and travel the world doing crazy shit.

Me: Is that where the "Revelation" in Blackfire Revelation comes from?

J.R.: Actually, Blackfire Revelation, the name, it actually came from a dream that I had right around that time. I had this dream, and there was this fire that was burning black, and the sound that it was making was the sound of tape hiss. And the fire didn't necessarily "speak" to me, but I guess it did, and it told me "Put your faith in music, and follow that, and everything else will fall into place." So, I had a "blackfire revelation," so the next day I thought it would make sense to call the band that.

Me: So you guys put out the Gold And Guns On 51 EP on your own and then on Fat Possum, and then you went on tour with Unsane in 2005, right?

J.R.: Yeah, we did a lot of shows. Over the course of a year-and-a-half we did probably 70 to 80 shows with Unsane in the U.S. and Europe.

Me: And that tour coincided with Katrina hitting. What was that like?

J.R.: Aw, that was crazy, man. You know, my birthday is August 27th, which was two days before Katrina hit. And we were actually playing a show that night in Hickory, North Carolina. We had seen in the news that a hurricane was coming, and we were kinda worried about it, but there had been hurricanes before, and usually they blow a few people's roofs off, and knock a few trees down, and some people stay and some people go, but a few days later everything is business as usual. So we didn't think that much of it. 
J.R. Fields of Blackfire Revelation
But we played the show that night, and we then we went back to our hotel afterwards. We checked in around two or three in the morning and we flicked on the T.V. and just saw this behemoth monster that was Katrina just looking like it was about to swallow up the city. And right then we literally just took a shower and went to the front desk to check out and go home. So we left right then and made a beeline for the city. But when we got to Meridian, Mississippi the roads had been converted and all lanes were headed out. They weren't letting anybody into New Orleans. So that kinda started several months of us moving around. We lived in Atlanta for a while, we were in Jackson, Mississippi for a while, we were in Memphis for a while, and we were in Oxford. We could only sit back and watch it play out on T.V.

Me: It sounds like it must have been a surreal experience. It's hard for me to imagine. You must have felt at times like you didn't know if you'd ever be able to go back.

J.R.: Yeah, we didn't. What a lot of people forget is that during the first days, after the city started filling up with water, they were saying on the news that it could take a year for the water to drain out of the city. So everything was really up in the air as to when we would get to go back and if we would ever get to go back. Which is a weird spot to be in. That's a situation that [laughs] you never expect to find yourself in. It's strange when they tell you your city is "closed until further notice." And especially for me, my dog was still in the city, and of course I had friends that were still here, let alone the few worldly possessions that I may prize were still in New Orleans. It was definitely a really strange time.

Me: Did you feel like you had become Wandering Minstrels from the Middle Ages or something?

J.R.: Well, I think maybe we felt like that already being on tour for so long. We were already wandering minstrels if there ever were any. But it's definitely weird just being vagabonds. For a while there we'd just play a show to make a few bucks. Luckily for us the guys from Fat Possum kinda took us in. We went to Oxford where they have a studio with a trailer out back. So we'd just hang out and watch the news and wait to hear something about when we could go home. It was crazy.

Me: I have to ask, was your dog okay?

J.R.: Yeah, he was. It's actually a funny story. He was at my wife's apartment (or my now wife's apartment, she was my girlfriend at the time). She lives above her shop (she has a retail shop here in New Orleans). When they looted Wal-Mart, she went over and grabbed one of those forty-pound bags of dog food. And she took two bins and dumped the food in there, then filled up another bin with five or six gallons of water for him. So she locked him in the store with the food and the water, and he actually saved her store from being looted, because he'd be in there barking through the window. Then after four or five days one of our neighbors was able to get in through a back window and he took the dog. And then he would patrol the block with the dog and a shovel and run off looters.

Me: Wow. [pause] How are things in New Orleans today?

J.R.: They're good…for some people. If you drive around New Orleans, uptown and in the French Quarter, and the older parts of the city, it looks like nothing ever happened. But if you venture into the Ninth Ward up into Lakeview, you'll see buildings that look like the storm just hit them yesterday, and it's been five years…There are still people moving back every day. Maybe they moved away, and now finally have the money to come back, or are just now getting their insurance money. I tell people all the time my son, who was born after Katrina, someday when he drives around New Orleans in fifteen years, he'll still be driving by bombed-out houses from Katrina.

Me: I think that's likely. I grew up outside Washington D.C., and when I was a teenager driving around the city, I'd see sections of the city that were still damaged from the riots that took place after MLK was assassinated a year before I was born. Parts of the city still looked like a war zone all those years later. So those kinds of scars can take a long time to heal.

J.R.: It's going to take a long time. And that's assuming that it doesn't happen again. I ask people all the time as a trick question, "Did you see the press conference where the Mayor and the Governor declared the levees are fixed and it's safe to return now?" But the truth is, that press conference never happened. People were allowed back, and we're still here now, but the levees could break again. There are still major infrastructure problems in this city. We're pretty much just riding this out on luck and the hope that we don't get hit by a storm of that magnitude again.

Me: Do you feel like New Orleans has been forgotten?

J.R.: No, I don't. New Orleans isn't the only place that has this type of shit. If nothing else, I think people should realize that the earth is a dangerous place to live. Look at what just happened in Japan, look at the floods in the Midwest, look at the fires in Arizona. Pretty much anywhere you live there's shit that Mother Nature is going to throw at you, and at the end of the day you really can't depend on the government or anybody else to come fix your problems. The best you can do is to deal with whatever blows Mother Nature deals you the best you can.

Me: I want to talk a little bit about your new release. The album was completed five years ago. Why was there such a delay in releasing it?

J.R.: I basically just shut down the operation. I came back after Katrina, and I wrote that record between October of 2005 and January 2006. Then we recorded the material and did a few tours, but then I just shelved the material to focus on some other things that I wanted to do. I just kinda rediscovered it a few months back, and I feel like it's something that deserves to be out there.

Me: I agree. How did that post-Katrina environment effect your songwriting and the sound of the record?

J.R.: Well, listening back now…I didn't listen to the record at all for three or four years, so listening to it now, I almost feel like I'm a third party. Which is an interesting thing to be able to hear your own music like that. Listening to the lyrics, I feel like every song, either directly or indirectly, states my anger or frustration at what was going on at that time. In the song "Diamond In The Rough" there's this one lyric that says, "Ain't nobody coming that ain't already here." I feel like that was how we felt at the time…here we are buried in bullshit, and the only people who were going to dig us out was ourselves.

There are a number of other lyrics that I feel like touch on the shit that was going on then. And listening to it now, I get comparisons all the time where people say "Oh, this album is so much heavier and angrier than Gold And Guns On 51." But it was a heavier and angrier time.

Me: Absolutely. And I think for me, as a listener, and maybe this goes straight to what the role of art should do, but it really hits you on a visceral level. It makes you feel that in a way that is hard to experience, or at least is a different experience from watching images on T.V., as horrible as those were to watch. I feel like the music on this hits you on a gut level and gives you a different way of processing those events and that environment.

J.R.: Yeah, and you know at the time I didn't say, "I want to make an angry rock record about all this frustrating bullshit." But listening back to it now as a third party, it kinda sounds like that. There are a lot of references on the record to Heaven and Hell. And that really doesn't have as much to do with religion as it does with the fact that anyone's environment at any given time can be Heaven or Hell. And at that time it was a toss-up as to which New Orleans would become, or if it would even survive or not.

Me: Absolutely. And I think it's a better album for not being an intentional, literal statement about post-Katrina New Orleans. I feel like a lot of times when people try to do that kind of thing, it doesn't really work.

J.R.: Yeah. The only song on there that's literally about Katrina is the opening track "Flood." That's the one song on the record that is really directly about the bullshit that was going down. So yeah, like you're saying it's not entirely literal, but it did help me process what was going on at the time.

Me: Do you think that you maybe needed a little bit of distance from it before you were able to put it out there for other people?

J.R.: I think I did, and I think I needed distance from music as a whole at the time. Which is why I've been on break for five years. For a two or three year stretch there we were either on the road or in the studio, or at home busting ass so we could either be on the road or the in the studio. So toward the end of that run there was some other shit I wanted to do in my life, so I had to lay it down to do that.

Me: What are your future plans for Blackfire Revelations, if any?

J.R.: Well, Blackfire Revelation, I'm not gonna say it's over. But Blackfire Revelation, to me, is what I do with Hank. I have a new band that I'm working on now called The Snake and Pony Show. And chances are that any future recordings or live shows I do will be with that band. I'll still play Blackfire Revelation songs, but as far as moving forward it'll be with The Snake And Pony Show.

Me: I'll keep an ear open for that. In the meantime, how can folks get the Blackfire Revelation material? I know it's on iTunes, where else is it?

J.R.: It's available at all major digital music retailers; iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Zune, eMusic. I'm pretty much just doing a full on digital release.

Me: Any plans for a physical release, or will this album only exist online?

J.R.: Just online. It'll probably just stay online. At some point in the future I might like to do a vinyl release if that makes sense financially. But for right now it's just digital.

Me: Well, I hope people get a chance to hear it, because I think it's music that shouldn't be overlooked, and it shouldn't be forgotten, so I'm glad you decided to go ahead and make it available.

J.R.: Well thanks! Like I said, I may not perform as Blackfire Revelation anymore, but if anybody wants to hear those songs, they can come see me live… And I'm hoping to have a Snake And Pony Show record out by the middle of next year.

Me: Well I'm looking forward to hearing more from you, and thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me today.

J.R.: Well thanks for calling and take care.
J.R. Fields.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This Years Model - U.K. Edition (1978 Radar Records)

I found a nice U.K. copy of Elvis Costello and the Attractions' This Years Model on Radar Records on my birthday this year. With its "misprinted" title and color reference bars (which were part of Barney Bubbles' original conception for the cover), I always thought these looked way cooler than the U.S. Columbia edition. I'm told the U.K. version sounds better as well. 

The run out groove on side one says "Special pressing No. 003 Ring Moira on 434 3232 For Your Special Prize" and side two says "A Porky Prime Cut." The record is in excellent shape and it was only $10. I've wanted one of these for years, but never saw one at a price I wanted to pay. Another nice find at In Your Ear Records!

This Years Model - U.S. Edition (1978 Columbia Records)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anyone Else Trying Out Spotify?

I just got my invite to try Spotify and installed it on my computer at work. I'm still trying to figure out what the limitations are. I just listened to a few songs from Bert Jansch's Toy Balloon album, and right now I'm listening to Davy Graham's Large As Life And Twice As Natural. At one point the program played about 30 seconds of some rap song, which I guess they think I might want to buy. Not sure what I think overall, but at the very least it seems like a good way to preview full tracks before making a purchase decision.

Anyone else in the U.S. trying Spotify out? If so, I'm eager to hear your impressions. I would also love feedback from any readers in the U.K. and Europe who have more experience with Spotify. What do you think of Spotify?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Harrow & The Harvest (Before and After Coffee Staining)

This is what my copy of Gillian Welch's The Harrow & The Harvest looked like before coffee staining it this morning:

Here is what it looks like now:

As you can see, the staining gives the cover more of an aged look, but more importantly brings out the natural grain and beauty of the all cotton paper. I like that Gillian and David have left it to their fans to both complete and customize the artwork.

I did not have any Tanzanian Peaberry coffee handy, so I used a bit of extra Goya espresso that I brewed this morning. Since espresso is such a dark coffee, I added two parts water to one part coffee.

Did I mention the music yet? It's a fantastic album. I wish we didn't have to wait eight years for it, but it is beautiful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Harrow & The Harvest - How to Coffee-Stain Your Album Cover

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings show you how to coffee-stain the cover of their new CD, The Harrow & The Harvest:

I think it's pretty cool that so much love went into making the cover of their new CD. They have another video up describing the process behind the production of the letter-pressed cover at Aardvark Letterpress.

Most of the online images of the cover I've seen don't look very much like the actual printed cover. Here is what mine looks like (pre coffee staining).

If I work up the nerve to coffee stain my cover, I'll post an image of that. I realize Gillian says there's no wrong way to do it, but I feel like if there is, I'll find it. Perhaps I need to track down some Tanzanian Peaberry coffee? Would it be wrong to stain a Gillian Welch CD with Goya brand espresso? And what about tea? Would tea-staining be totally against the rules?

Also, from Gillian's website:
A Note About Vinyl

First and foremost, we want all Gillian fans to know that we at Acony Records love and appreciate vinyl, and we realize how important it is to release this album and all of Gillian's albums in this format. Though it is not available at this time, we want to thank you for your outpouring of support for this format and we promise that at some point in the future, all of Gillian's albums will be available on vinyl produced to the highest of standards. Thank you for your patience!
No word yet on whether the record covers should be coffee stained or not. You'll need more coffee to do it, of that I'm sure.

Friday, July 15, 2011

New York Times: Vinyl Revival Article

I ran across this interesting vinyl revival article on the New York Times website:
''The records -- even on my old turntable -- sound much better, much more like live music,'' said Mr. Ciaramella, a patrolman who pounds out power chords in a rock band when he is not pounding the beat. ''With vinyl, you feel like the band's right in front of you sweating it out. And with CD's, it's like you're in a sterile scientific lab and there's no emotional connection to what you hear. And then there's the full-size album cover art.''
Mr. Ciaramella is not alone. Vinyl records are back in vogue, thanks to an odd alliance of veteran musicians, college-age alternative rockers, rap fans, dance club disk jockeys, recording engineers and audiophiles who have helped revive and strengthen a format all but given up for dead by the musical mainstream.
In the past few years, sales of new vinyl have grown as more LP's have become available. Fifty of the Top 200 albums in a recent issue of Billboard were available on vinyl. 

I thought that sounded pretty similar to a lot of the recent articles I've read about the resurgence in vinyl sales. Then I noticed the publication date on the article.... May 7, 1998. This may have been the very first "vinyl revival" article. Thirteen years later and the format is still reviving.

I also noticed that the article was penned by Michael Fremer, who has probably done as much as anyone to aid that reviving process through his staunch advocacy for LPs and high-quality vinyl playback in the pages of Stereophile, as well as on his website musicangle and elsewhere.

dos - number eight (video)

This is the new dos video that Kira mentioned in our interview.

I picked up dos y dos on vinyl yesterday, and am happy to report it sounds excellent. It's a fantastic pressing (flat, quiet and definitely pressed on-center). It's been pressed on a lovely purple colored vinyl, and not just any old colored vinyl, but special "high-quality European COLOR vinyl"...ohh, la, la. The album was pressed at Pallas in Germany, who has a well-earned reputation for pressing some of the best vinyl records in the world. It also comes with a download card that gives you access to the entire album in MP3@320kps, because even the finest European colored vinyl sounds lousy in the car.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

dos y dos

Today marks the release date of dos y dos the fourth album by the two bass guitar duo of Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, etc.) and Kira Roessler (Black Flag). It's the first album Mike and Kira have released together since 1996's Justamente Tres on Kill Rock Stars, and the second since their marriage ended in divorce in 1994.

I had the opportunity to speak with Kira about the new dos album and the collaborative process involved in creating it, while also touching on more intangible topics like the nature of commitment. Kira told me that when she was in Black Flag the band's motto was "whatever you do, do it all the way," and it's clear that Kira still lives by that creed, even if the amount of time she has to dedicate to music is now limited by her busy and successful career as a Hollywood dialog editor.

Kira Roessler and Mike Watt.

Kira was very open and easy to interview, but there were times when I could hear flashes of the fierce competitiveness that no doubt served her well as one of the few women in the macho L.A. hardcore scene of the 1980s. She has also clearly used that fierce competitiveness to her advantage in collaborating with Mike Watt, and to push herself to become a better songwriter and bass player.

It took Kira and Mike a long time to develop the songs on dos y dos, and it is easy to hear how much care, thought and passion was put into the album's exquisite arrangements. As Kira says in our interview "There's love, there's hate, it's all in there." It's the band's finest hour so far, and the album can stand proudly alongside anything either Kira or Mike have done in the past. 

Me: You and Mike have been doing dos for over 25 years now. What is it that keeps the two of you coming back to this configuration of two basses with occasional vocals?
Kira: Well, I think basically the same thing that started it. We are both so much bass players first. Take away dos and we are [still] such bass players through and through. So for us to play together, that’s the instrument. We're not going to suddenly jump instruments. I've been known to say that people who leave the bass and play guitar are traitors. So that's just me.

But you start with that. You start with the fact that we're bass players through and through. We compose on the bass without any real feeling that [the instrument] hampers our ability to compose. And then you have the fact of just our chemistry, if you will, and the relationship, which has gone from a fascination, through a marriage, through a level of commitment that regardless of marriage and the difficulties of that kind of relationship, there is a pretty deep connection that just doesn't quit.

So it keeps coming back to this. You know, a band is like a marriage, and I think our ability to commit to that is the same thing that made us commit to the marriage. And there's no…I almost can't imagine what it would be like without it. It's a lifelong commitment, just like it is to the bass guitar. Dos is a tribute to the bass guitar, and…the best possible way to do what I'm trying to do.

Now there's all this new stuff added on to it, like the fact that I've learned to be so much better at my craft because of dos. And that just reinforces the desire to keep doing it.

Me: In rock music the bass is typically an under-utilized melodically. Why do you think that is?

Kira: [Laughs] I heard Mike say an interesting thing the other day. He almost implied that it was to keep the power of the bass out of the mix. In other words, that the bass can be so powerful that you have to kind of keep it squashed.

But I think that, just like as I was saying, just as there is a chemistry in our band there's a chemistry in all bands, and often times it is closely connected to who composes the songs and who does the writing. And traditionally that is the guitar player. They tend to be the leaders of the band, the ones who are planting the seeds creatively. I would say, for myself, when I'm playing in a rock band with a guitar player who's written a song, I think it's completely inappropriate for me to try to stand out. The best bass line for the song he's written may be one where I am completely understated.

I often say that one of my favorite bass players is Dusty Hill, because he always does what's exactly right for ZZ Top. He's not necessarily showing off his prowess and his technical skill, he's just doing what's right in the context [of the song]. And I think that is what a good bass player does…you know, [acts as] the grout between the tiles.

Now that doesn't mean it's limited to that. It's just that, as you said, traditionally that's what rock has done. You have a guitar player who writes a line and you have a bass player who either can't, or won't, step all over it to show off their skill and prowess. Occasionally you do, and those aren't my favorite bass players.

Me: For me, with any instrument, when I feel like someone is doing something to show off their technical prowess, it's a turn off.

Kira: Yeah! Exactly! To me it comes down to the emotion. There's no emotion in being fancy-pants and playing a bunch of notes. There's emotion in feeling what's right, and that could be very minimal, and very much full of space and holes. So if you're too busy filling up all the space, you're taking away emotion a lot of times.

Me: Yeah, I definitely agree. But on the other hand, there are some notable exceptions. To name the big one, there's Paul McCartney, who obviously tends to contribute a lot melodically through the bass guitar.

Kira: But he writes the songs!

Me: Yes, exactly.

Kira: Again, when the bass player is the songwriter, and you do see that…[take] Mike's rock bands [for example]...what he does solo wise is the same thing. His bass lines are much more melodic, and are much more important to the song when he is the songwriter. So I think it comes back to that a lot of the time. If the person has any restraint, he's going to allow the song to be what it is, which means deferring to the songwriter. If the drummer writes the song, it's the same thing as far as I’m concerned.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about your new album dos y dos? What was its genesis, development process, recording, etc.?

Kira: Sure. This record has been a long, long, long time coming. [Laughs] ... That's for a number of reasons, including the more obvious ones like the fact that Mike is an incredibly busy man, and that I work very full-time for a living. So the amount of time that can be applied to the composition of songs at times is hampered. And the composition is the part that is extremely difficult in the case of dos, because to do it right the spaces and the interplay has to be worked out, and nuanced, and massaged. We can't just pull from our traditional bag of tricks. We have to go iteration after iteration to struggle with how to compose the song in such a way that the interplay is there, and so that the songwriter—whichever of us it is—can get what they are trying to get out of it.

So these songs have been evolving for 15 years, basically. The cover song on there, "No Me Quiero Mas," a Selena song, was one we started playing years and years ago. There are a couple of songs that date back maybe even farther.

Oftentimes, when I'm the composer I will write the seed of Mike's part, and he will modify it and make it his own. And when he writes the song, he typically leaves it open for me to write a part, and then we go around a few times on it. But, to make the point clear, the composition is complicated; the obstacles have been numerous in terms of composition.

Now the cool thing is, the upside has been that in the last few years we both have ProTools in our house. We both have the capacity—and he has a studio in his home—we can record one song at a time. The last record, Justamente Tres, we had to get the whole set together and go in and record it in just a day or two.

Me: That was something that I wanted to ask about specifically because, obviously, so much has changed within the music industry, both on the recording and distribution end since the last time you released a record. The previous records you recorded at [Ethan James' studio] Radio Tokyo. And this one was done in ProTools in Mike's home studio, correct?

Kira: Right. That’s correct. What happens is, in a demo kind of way, we can send the material back and forth...It's kind of like the way we did the first record. When we did the first record I lived in Connecticut. We would send cassette tapes back and forth in the mail to compose the songs. Now we send digital files back and forth, and work on the songs that way. And I can work on the songs at 6:30 in the morning, which is what works for me. And he can work whenever he works, and we can evolve the song. And then I go down to his studio to do the actual recording which, as I was saying, is actually the smallest aspect of it.

This time [the process] took so long that there were songs we had to go back and re-record because the sound on the later songs was so different from the sound on the earlier songs. And we wanted the sound of the record to be consistent from top to bottom, so we went back and re-recorded some of the earliest recordings.

Me: So far I've only heard an MP3 preview of the album, but I was very impressed with the sound quality. And I went back and listened to the first two dos records that were recorded in a proper studio, and I think I actually—and not to put down Ethan James at all—but I liked how the new album sounds better.

Kira: It does [sound better]! And it's interesting that you mention that, because I went back and did the same thing recently. Someone who was doing an interview asked for a couple of our old songs to hear, and I brought some of them up. And I was surprised to hear the same thing. Part of that, as I've said, [is because] a lot has changed for Mike and I since then. We have better tools now. My current bass sounds better than what I was using then. We have very good preamps down there that we're recording through.

You know, people can argue the analog digital world, but there is so much more to it than just that. So you've got this issue of top-to-bottom, how my fingers hit the strings, what kind of strings they are, what kind of bass it is, what kind of preamp it is, etc., etc. So it's not Ethan James per se, but how it went from our hands to Ethan…

Me: Right. I think a lot of times people get hung up on that analog digital divide either because it's something that feel like they can understand, or because it's the kind of binary divide that people seem to be attracted to. But you're right, there really is so much more going on than that.

Kira: Frankly, I don’t think most people could hear the difference. [Laughs] I really don't.

Me: I think you're probably right.

Kira: If you take a good quality recording of both, and give a person some good quality headphones, or speakers, and sit them in front of them, and do a compare and contrast. You know, your audiophile, your top 1% audiophile is going to hear the difference.

Me: Yeah, but…Steve Albini might take issue with both of us on this point.

Kira: [Laughs] He certainly would! And I would be happy to argue with Steve! I've recorded a record with Steve, and I take issue with some of the ways that he does things too…He's a good example of what I'm talking about. His strategy in being an engineer or…producer is very much to let the band hang themselves, if that's what they're going to do. Ethan James let dos sound the way dos sounded, and Albini would do the same. And Mike and I, given that we had this environment, this song by song crafting, had the ability to overcome some of the mistakes that we might not be able to overcome if we were to work through someone like that. Because we have to figure out what's working and not working and hear it back, hear what we're doing right, hear what we're doing wrong, take it away, come back.

Me: I'm intrigued by the title of the album for a couple of reasons. One of the things that the title brings to mind for me is dancing (as in "swing your partner dosey doe.") Was that a connotation you had in mind on any level?

Kira: [Laughs] No. Dos y dos equals quattro, and it's our fourth record. We have this sort of thing going with the records being somewhat titled after the number, and this one is our fourth. Our last record, Justamente Tres, was we thought going to be the last dos album, so we thought it was going to be "just three." So no, the dancing tie in I don't think was really there, but mathematics, the Spanish mathematics, absolutely.

Me: So maybe this is your mathematical background creeping in?

Kira: Well, Mike actually gave it the title, so I take no credit.

Me: The reason that it brings to mind dance for me is because, having listened to the album, there is an almost dance like quality to it. I'm thinking of dancing that involves partnership, and what you have is a similar kind of musical partnership. There's been a conversational quality to all of the dos albums, but with this one, to me, there is almost a dance-like quality to it. Not dancing as in going out clubbing--I'm thinking more along the lines of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers--there is a certain fleetness of foot to this album.

Kira: Well that's kind of what I'm saying about the interplay and composition, and I think Mike and I are getting better at it. You can hear this evolution of us being able to execute what we've been trying to do all along, which is that interplay, that fleetness of foot and lightness without getting bogged down in the fact that we're using these heavy low-end instruments. [We want to] still have the full frequency that the instrument is capable of, but without stepping all over each other. Which is a good dancing analogy too, that's when it doesn't work, if you’re stepping on each others' toes.

So we have to somehow compositionally work around each other, and I think we're both getting better at that. And we fight and struggle with that. You don't know how hard it is! And he's constantly, even more than me, saying, "no that’s too busy, we're stepping on each other." So we're constantly stripping things out of it, and it's weird to keep pulling stuff out until it feels like there's hardly anything left. But that's the exercise from the beginning when we're throwing stuff at each other; it's an editing process, we keep pulling stuff out until it has that sort of lightness to it.

Me: Listening to this, when I close my eyes, it was almost as if I could picture Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the dance floor because of that very quality that you're describing. I think it's remarkably well done from that perspective.

Kira: Well that's cool because that is what we're going for. I think we're getting better at it, and I think it has made me a much better bass player when I write for guitar music, or other music, because I've learned to be better at finding the spaces. I've learned to be better at not stepping on the guitar player's toes. It's also really helped me in my teaching. I do some bass lessons, and when I have students who aren't just starting out, I work really hard with them on not writing just the obvious, traditional, bass lines in their rock music, but actually stretching the limits a little bit and finding spaces and leaving holes. So it's become a big part of how I think, and play bass regardless of dos.

Me: Another thing I noticed about the new album is that it was much harder for me to tell your playing and Mike's playing apart. On the previous albums usually I could listen and say, "okay that's a Mike thing," or "that’s a Kira thing," but here there is a fluidity and seamlessness between the two of you, and the way that you exchange ideas, that seems a bit different this time.
Kira: [Laughs] That's funny, because I think we do play differently. I think one of the things that's better—and I think that is a better thing that you're describing—is that the sound of our basses are better, and they match better, and we're better able to…take care of the sonic qualities, and make sure everything sounds balanced, and that nobody stands out too much one way or another, good or bad. We wanted it to sound more like interplay than competing. But it is in some ways still a duel as well. [Laughs] I mean it's war! I don’t know if you can tell, but it's war!
Kira and Mike go to war!
Me: I can hear that too. But mostly I hear an exchange of ideas...
Kira: There is! There's love, there's hate, it's all in there. But what I meant by that is that we are obviously in really different places in our lives. Mike plays all the time, every day, hours and hours a day he's playing on stage. And I'm fighting and battling all the time to find half and hour before work to play my bass. So I can't slide. Ever since I was 6 and I had a big brother, and we both played piano, there's been this vicious competitive streak in me, that just says that I can't show that I’m not as much. When I joined Black Flag, it was the same thing. I [felt I couldn't] show that because I'm a girl, I'm weak. There's this constant thing of not wanting to show any weakness. It's probably a huge character flaw! But I also try to benefit from it and use it as motivation, because just recognizing it as a character flaw doesn't necessarily make it go away.

Me: Do you know what Ginger Rogers said about dancing with Fred Astaire?

Kira: No.

Me: She said, "I did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels." [Ed. note, I misattributed this quote to Ginger Rogers, it was apparently first used by cartoonist Bob Thaves in his comic strip Frank And Ernest.]

Kira: There you go! And I'll just say with hands half the size of Mike Watt!

Me: Right! But that is something that's interesting. I mean, playing with Mike Watt, you've obviously, despite other demands on your time, you've kept your playing at a very high level. Playing with Mike Watt, that's like stepping onto the tennis court with Pete Sampras or something. You can't be out of practice and hope to keep up.

Kira: It's challenging. It really is. And I of course, my personality is such that I feel the competitive aspect a lot more than Mike does. I think it's hard for Mike to imagine being on the other side of the tennis court. And I don't think he is necessarily enforcing it, or creating it, it's just there. Luckily I have all these years of fighting this battle, so I practice a lot. We have a dos gig coming up and I'm practicing all the time. Mike's hands are in shape already. All he has to do is remember the parts. I have to get my hands stronger and more mobile, as well as remember all those parts, because I don't play dos all the time. It's interesting. We'll get together and practice, and my biggest challenge often is the implementation, and his will be to remember his parts. He has a million other songs in his head that he has to push aside. And I have the problem of just getting my fingers to do what I'm telling them to do.

Me: Well, in my mind, and I'm sure the mind of anyone who's followed your career, you have nothing to prove. But it sounds like you still feel like you do, like that hunger is still there.

Kira: Well, it's like you said, if I'm going to get on the tennis court with whoever…I just can't let up. It's not so much about proving myself as it is that I can't go out on the court without stretching, or not have done as much prep as I can do. I don't want to go out there and look like I'm not even trying. So there's this feeling of I have to do my part. And, yeah, there's a part of me that worries I won't succeed. I literally work 60-hour weeks. I literally have these huge obstacles in the way of just being prepared as best I can to be on the other side of the tennis court.

Me: Your main job is as a film dialog editor, correct?

Kira: Right. Dialog and ADR [automated dialog replacement].

Me: Do you like that?

Kira: I do. I'm paid well. It's something that is sometimes, but not always, creative. I've worked my way up in this field and had some career success, which is affirming. The problem with that is that in the old days I had big breaks between projects, and now those come fewer and further between. The pain of success is that I keep getting offered great work, such great work that I feel I can't turn it down, even if I might like to have a break. So even if I can maybe afford to take a break, I can't turn the work down because it's such a great opportunity. So things are going really well in that way, but that also makes it harder to find those little breaks to do more music stuff. But I do like it, and I've had some success at it, which is that job satisfaction that we all want.

Me: Absolutely, and I've seen some of the projects you've worked on, so it's obvious to me that you've risen to the very top of your field. How hard was it for you to transition into a career away from music?

Kira: Well I've never done music for a living. So maybe that's helped. My last quarter at UCLA was after I was asked to leave Black Flag, so I had to get work right out of school. I was in computers for 11 years, because that's what I studied. This wasn't on my radar at that time. So I was working in the corporate world, and not really enjoying it that much…and then I met someone who was running a really small sound house who my brother was doing some composing for. So in a musical context, because they asked me to do some bass work, I met this guy, and we got to be friends, and I started begging him to hire me at the absolute lowest level. I took a three quarter pay cut just to start at the bottom and work my way up in a new field. But I've always worked, and it's always been a struggle to balance that with playing bass.

Me: It's interesting because back when I was kid in high school and buying independent releases by bands like Black Flag or the Minutemen, I think I had a very unrealistic idea of what the financial situation was like for bands in that position. As far as I was concerned, I was buying these albums at the same record stores where you could buy a Bon Jovi, or whatever, record. I knew those bands weren't making Bon Jovi money, but it wasn't until I read Our Band Could Be Your Life that it fully dawned on me just how financially deprived that lifestyle actually was.

Kira: Yeah. And, you know, it hit me pretty early that I didn't want to be another starving artist because I have an older brother who sort of chose that route.

Me: That's Paul [Roessler]?

Kira: Yeah. And so I had a little sense that that wasn't the life for me. And I had already been doing it. I was at UCLA working my tail off, and then touring. So for me keeping those balls in the air was almost normal. I mean, I was in high school and gigging and staying out all night. I think my brother and I almost have opposite philosophical ideas about this; for me it doesn't take away from my artistic integrity that I go to school or work, and he had this attitude of if you're a true artist you dedicate your life and soul to it, even if you starve. I always believed I still existed in that realm even if I couldn't always be holding my bass.

Me: Not having been blessed with any artistic talent whatsoever, this has never been a dilemma for me, so I suppose it's hard for me to relate to. But there has always been something about the "starving artist" ideal that struck me as...I don't know…adolescent.

Kira: [Laughs] Well I understand that, and yet there are people who truly believe that. My brother truly has some, and we know others, painters, where there's a disconnect that almost makes them unable to go and work. And they think of themselves as literally not having the capacity to do that. Now, I agree with you, there are times when I say "Oh come on!" And yet we know that through the ages there have been artists who just bled and sweated all over their art and couldn't do anything else.

Me: Oh yeah, absolutely. And God bless those people, and I believe the world is a better place for having them in it. So what I said wasn't meant to denigrate anyone, it's just that it's a hard mentality for me to understand fully.

Kira: And it is for me too, because it was never how I wanted to live. But, if when I finished school, if I was still in Black Flag, I would not have started to work. That was the only time where I was ready to try that. At the time I considered what I was doing at school as a backup plan.

Me: So when you were in Black Flag, you did see that as a potential lifestyle?

Kira: Well, to give it some context, [the attitude in] Black Flag was "whatever you do, do it all the way." That's what my tattoo means to me. That's what I believed. So I did believe that's what it would take to continue on in Black Flag. And I had made the decision that I was going to give it my all. I didn't think of it, frankly, as a forever thing. I just thought, "I'm going to give this a chance." Because my time at UCLA was killing me. So I liked the idea of finally just getting a break from that, and committing to Black Flag full time without school hanging over all our heads, affecting our tour schedules, which was a pain in the butt.

So giving Black Flag my full effort seemed appropriate and right. Was it how I wanted to live? Not necessarily. But I was at least going to give it a chance, because I hadn't yet. UCLA was sucking me dry. And it was sucking Black Flag dry too, because of our tour schedule. We were doing miserable tours, because to accommodate my schoolwork we could only tour in the winter and summer. And the best time to tour is in the spring and fall. But I had to maintain a certain number of quarters at UCLA to maintain my student status…

Me: What do listen to these days, especially in terms of new music?

Kira: Jeez, new music! I like the new Melvins. I don't even know if it's their newest one anymore, The Bride Screamed Murder. Recently I've been listening to things that have been around for a while, but hadn't been on my radar. So it's kind of embarrassing to admit…

Me: I don't think that's anything to be embarrassed by. That might have embarrassed me at a certain point in my life, but not now.

Kira: Yeah, but some of this stuff has been around for a long time. One of my recent absolute favorites is The Evens, which is Ian MacKaye's band with his wife [Amy Farina]. They've been around forever, but I just hadn't checked them out. I really love some of these smaller bands, which is not surprising since I'm in a two-person band. The Evens are a two-person band, Mates Of State is another two-person band I really like. Although I recently saw video of them on stage, and they had a bunch of other people on stage with them, and I was like, "What the hell? I thought you were a two-person band!" I love them.

I like Latin music. I like Albita, who's a Cubana singer. I listen to her a lot, as well as Shakira when she does not her crossover stuff, but her Columbian roots music. I listen to Spanish radio mostly when I'm driving on my very short commute to work.

I've got a list of things that I'm constantly trying to check out. I have two nephews who are in their 20s, and they're a little more in touch, and they make suggestions all the time. They turned me on to Bright Eyes, who I really like.

Me: Back to the new dos album, I see that you have a vinyl release planned.

Kira: Yes, I have it in hand. We have CDs and vinyl, and there will also be download capability. Everything is being released on July 12th. We have a record release party scheduled in Pedro. We have a video, which will be exclusively premiered at the party, then we'll make it available elsewhere. It's fun because it has been so long, and like you said, because there are all these new technologies, and at the same time there's a resurgence of interest in vinyl. So we're having a good time promoting a new album, we've got a couple of gigs coming up. But we're happy to give this album the love that it deserves, despite the demands on our time. He's in Europe, but he'll be back in time for the record release party...

Me: I should probably let you go, but I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to talk to me...I think you and Mike have created something really special with this new album, and I hope this interview will help bring it some of the attention it deserves.
Kira: Well thank you very much for taking your time out, and I enjoyed the interview.