A collection of songs by a bunch of folks who hang out on the internet talking about music. That may or may not involve me. Enjoy.
A collection of songs by a bunch of folks who hang out on the internet talking about music. That may or may not involve me. Enjoy.
Lydia Loveless is an impossibly precocious 21-year old reminiscent of an early Neko Case — if Neko had been using amphetamines. Growing up in “a small weird town” outside Columbus, OH, she turned to music as a teenager and hasn’t looked back.
Loveless’s sound is in-you-face-twangy with a punk sensibility, but what really catches your attention is her witty, wry, irreverent songwriting and delivery. On “More Like Them,” she sings about not fitting in with the other kids because she’s emotionally stunted (I just need to get laid; why can’t I be like them?) . On “Steve Earle” she hilariously tells a story of being stalked by the country troubadour ( I keep asking Steve, would you please introduce me to your son?).
Loveless is on tour now supporting her album Indestructible Machine and will be at The Hotel Utah Saloon tomorrow, November 4th at 9pm.
Keep your eye on this little one.
The Horrible Crowes are the side project of The Gaslight Anthem’s lead singer Brian Fallon. It’s pretty easy to note that as a side project, the new band isn’t standing too far apart from the ground laid by The Gaslight Anthem in the last handful of years.
The Horrible Crowes first album, Elsie, is more somber, introspective and fuzzy – inspired (per Fallon) by PJ Harvey and The National’s latest outing. Strip away the Springsteen sounds and the punk edge of a Gaslight album and throw in a few more overt references to Fallon’s Christianity and what you have is a lovely, swirling album that tells a story of love lost.
The story of Elise may be about a breakup; it may be about a death – I can’t tell, even after peeking at the lyrics. It beautifully spins a tale that intentionally blurs the lines between love and madness, loss and death.
The album is immensely listenable — dark but ultimately resting on Fallon’s two great talents — storytelling and rock and roll.
It’s the anniversary of my birth. It’s my first California birthday. It’s an occasion to be pensive, nostalgic, reflective, optimistic.
I made this mix to capture that. Somewhere between being sad at getting old, being joyful for the moments that I get, and being thankful for still being alive, is this.
A bunch of months ago, at my messy desk at my old job, I had a teeny post-it note getting knocked around that said “Will Phalen.” This typically meant that I wanted to follow up on a musician, which I was generally too distracted to do. Another handful of months later, I got an email in my inbox from the fine folks at Grape Juice Records with a comp including one Will Phalen.
Since then, Will and I have been emailing and he was kind enough to share with me his new solo album, which I adore. But he’d pretty much already won me over with the line on his website: “Country music for people who live in the city.”
Will was kind enough to answer some questions I thought of while listening to his new solo album Holy Ghost / Gold Coast over and over again. A live version of the album and some more information are included below.
Well, my first Stereo Addicts album, Visions and Revisions, started out as a solo effort, but along the way I began working with my friend, Andy Gulotta, and then we brought in a bunch of friends to do the record, and later a band was born out of that. So this album is kind of like coming full circle. I’ve been working in the band situation with the Stereo Addicts for about four years and that has been great. But a couple of years ago I moved to Chicago and the rest of the band stayed back in Milwaukee. It’s not very far away, but even that short distance changes the dynamics within the group, and it also changed the way I wrote songs. I was alone much more than I was with the band, so naturally some of the music I was writing just worked better as a solo effort.
I’m still getting a feel for what people think, but so far it seems like most folks who’ve heard the new songs are enjoying the mellower vibe. I’m enjoying it, so that’s good.
“Candycane Mountain” sounds like such a classic to me, or maybe it just reminds me of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain”, which I’ve always loved for its overt sentimentality. Was that intentional? (There is some famous other mountain song I am forgetting, right?)
The allusion is definitely to Neil’s song, but also to the old-timey classic “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, both of which I’ve always loved for their child-like imagination, which is really just beautifully surreal and weird. When I wrote the lyrics for my song, I decided to go as far in that direction as I could, and that kind of set the tone for the whole record. I like to think of myself as a surrealist (at least as much as any Midwestern kid born in the 80s can be a surrealist) and that’s typically what I go for with my lyrics. Plus, I’m just completely inspired by Neil Young at all times. So those two loves just came together in this tune. In one of the verses I talk about “cinnamon girls” which is obviously another image I borrowed from Neil. I mean, what is a Cinnamon Girl?! I don’t know, but I’d like to meet one.
I love the track “Even Though”, but it’s so sad. (“Even though I know I can’t bring you back I’m gonna try to find a way…I’m gonna try just the same.”) What can you tell me about that song?
That is a sad song. I’m not exactly sure where it came from. I mean, the images in it are taken directly from the room I was sitting in the day I wrote it. It’s the same place where I wrote almost this entire album: a small, one-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. It’s like Chicago’s wealthiest hood: six-million-dollar brownstones line the streets. But I was staying in this tiny shack of an apartment so it was kind of an ironic juxtaposition — which is what inspired the song’s title track, by the way. Anyways, the images of dusty floors and all that just describe the room I was in while I was writing. But that’s not what the song is really about.
I’ve found that as I get older and as my life gets a little more stable (at least in terms of my relationships with the people I care about), I’m not always moved to write as much material from my own personal, autobiographical experience. I guess my life just isn’t that interesting anymore! Or at least, I find it more interesting to write about people and situations that aren’t necessarily my own life. So I observe what’s going on in the lives of my friends and the people I meet, and I use that for material. I’m also writing a lot more fiction than I ever have and that has been a bit of a breakthrough for me, personally, because I never thought of myself as a storyteller.
What was this question about? Oh yeah: “Even Though.” I guess the simple answer is that, aside from some of the imagery that sets the scene for the story, I don’t really know exactly what it’s about. And I think that’s okay sometimes. The seventies band Mountain has a song called “Theme From an Imaginary Western.” I guess “Even Though” could be a theme from an imaginary breakup or maybe something even sadder than that. The chorus says, “Even though I can’t bring you back I’m going to try to find a way.” I don’t really know where that person has gone, but it seems like where ever it is, it’s pretty far off.
How much of this album is a love song or a breakup song?
Gosh, I don’t know. I haven’t gone through a breakup in about ten years, so I don’t really think it’s a breakup song. Although it might be a breakup song about someone else. Yeah, let’s say that. It’s a breakup song about someone else.
When I look back at the songs I’ve written I can see that a lot of them aren’t necessarily about breaking up and they’re usually not your typical love song either. For some reason, I tend to write more about longing: longing to be with someone, longing for a new reality or at least a new way to live your life. If I had to pick a theme for this record, I’d say it’s about that.
This album to me is that of a less sad Damien Jurado. Does that make sense to you? Who are your influences at this point in your career?
I like that. I listened to Damien a bunch in college and I saw him play once in Madison. I think he’s great, but I wouldn’t call him an influence. Instead, I’d maybe say that guys like Damien and I share some of the same influences.
As I mentioned earlier, Neil Young is one of my primary influences in just about everything I do when it comes to making music. Not that I always want or try to sound like him. But I love his approach to making music and making art. And I love the fact that he seems to do what he wants whenever he’s moved to do something. That was something I thought about a lot when it came to releasing this album without the Stereo Addicts. I never set out to make a solo album, per se. But once these songs were recorded I realized I actually had something worth sharing with people — regardless of who played on the record.
In a similar way, Bruce Springsteen was an artist I thought about when I was putting this album together. He recorded his Nebraska album (which is his finest work, in my opinion) as a set of demos for a prospective album, but when he was done with them he decided that there was no point in redoing the songs: the demos became the album. That’s very much how this project worked for me.
But on a purely musical level, the songs on this album were greatly influenced by guitar players like Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges as I sought to explore a part of my guitar playing that I hadn’t recorded or performed yet. And then there’s other Wisconsin artists like Bon Iver and Corey Chisel who have been very inspiring as they’ve attained some real admirable successes with their art and their careers of late.
What’s going on in the Midwest that it’s churning out all this great music? I thought you were all supposed to be very polite and milquetoast.
Ha. We are very polite! I’m not sure about milquetoast, but maybe that’s how the rest of the country sees us. Your question brings up a good point: there’s a lot of very cool music coming out of this region right now, and I’m really excited about it. Without getting too pedantic, I think one thing that’s happening is the decentralization of the music business is making it possible for artists who aren’t in New York, Nashville or L.A. to make a name for themselves and the places they come from. But on another level, I think there’s a genuine movement going on here to define and shape a Midwestern aesthetic in music. I know it’s something I think about a lot, and as I listen to the songs by my fellow songwriters from Wisconsin and Illinois and Minnesota I hear it in their lyrics and in their sounds too. I think many Midwesterners would identify themselves as “real” or “down-to-earth”, and I think that’s one thing that comes out in this music. Not everyone can relate to Lady Gaga or Black Eyed Peas. That’s music that is definitely more about transformation, and extravagance and escaping the reality we’re given. Which is cool. That has its place. But that’s not for everyone all the time. So I think people relate to the “down-to-earth” sensibilities of Midwestern artists working right now. When so many aspects of our lives have become virtual and completely disconnected from tangible reality, sometimes it’s nice to listen to music that’s about real connections and real relationships and real emotions. I think some of the Midwestern artists you’re referring to do a good job of that.
What have you been listening to, and what artists would you recommend to people who like this album.
Well, for the past year, while I was in the midst of putting my album together, I was also producing an album for a songwriter from Chicago named Musikanto. Mike Musikanto is a guy I met around the time I was moving to Chicago and he’s become a good friend and collaborator. He asked me to work with him on his next record and we spent about nine months recording songs with his band and our friends from the Chicago folk rock scene. I’m a huge fan of the songs on his new record (and would be even if I wasn’t involved in it). The album is called Sky of Dresses and I think it’s going to turn some heads this summer and fall as he rolls it out.
Aside from that, I’ve been listening to a record by a guitar player from Niger named Bombino for the past couple of months. On the surface, you’d think this guy has little to do with the kind of music we’re making in the Midwest, but I think it shares a similar vibe. His music is very laid back and soothing, but there’s a grit and an edge to it that feels very real and very cool. I love his voice and I love the sounds he gets from his guitars. Also, the new Gillian Welch album. I was waiting for that for a long time (like 8 years or something ridiculous like that) but she’s one of my favorite artists ever and this new one is a great album.
What are your plans after the album is released in July?
My first plan after the album release is to get married in August! My lady and my muse, Anna, and I are finally tying the knot in a few weeks and then we’re going to run away and explore southeast Asia for a little bit. But when I get back from there, it’s going to be full-steam ahead as I try to share this new music with as many people as possible. I’ve got one more show in Milwaukee next week (Sunday July 31st for the WMSE Backyard BBQ) and then I’m out. But I definitely hope the Fall will bring some opportunities to travel with the new music and spread it around. I’ve enlisted the help of a couple friends from Chicago to play the record live. Russ Mallord, who is playing drums and shakers and all that stuff. And Chris Anderson is playing guitars. Chris is a really talented songwriter in his own right: his project is called Old Fashioned War, and he’s coming out with a new record later this summer that a bunch of us worked on. With those two guys playing, the songs sound even better than they do on the album, so I’m really excited for people to hear it all happen live.
You can listen to/see the live album here from Audiotree.
You can get all the info/music you want from Will at his website.
I, for one, hope to see Will on the west coast soon.
The most exciting recent addition to my life recently has been the sun (the sun!). Here are some other new things that make me happy, or a little confused at times.
Yes, I’m pushing The Roadside Graves on you again. This Tuesday, July 19th, they release their new album – We Can Take Care of Ourselves, on Autumn Tone records. The album was inspired by the novel The Outsiders. Having never been an estranged adolescent male, I’m not up to speed on the significance of this book, but you can read a review over at Citizen Dick or read about why lead singer John Gleason reads comic books on Captains Dead. (Pre)order the album here.
My favorite Canadians are releasing their third full-length, Days into Years September 27th on Paper Bag records. The single they released, “Northern Air”, is part of my newest mix linked below. I’d forgotten I had this single till I heard it playing on shuffle in my apartment and had one of those “I have really good taste in music” moments (you have those too, right?)
This is a band whose songs I either adore or can’t stand. Somehow, their new single off the forthcoming self-titled album due out Sept 20th on Hometapes, manages to bundle the love/hate into one song. Also not loving the Atari art.
I enjoyed the hell out of Inter-Be once I got around to listening to it last year. I can’t say this new single off Garden of Arms (Sept 6th on Jagjaguwar) is the direction I would have chosen for them, but I’ll withhold judgement.
I got pretty burned out on this guy’s voice last year, but this new tune – released as part of the Adult Swim Singles Series (whatever that is) – is great. Also, you’ve got to love the song title. Bless you, Sweden.
To ease back into things here, I made you a little mix from California. The construction of said mix is mediocre, but it’s a little sample of what I’ve been listening to. Download the zip file here.
1) Hit ‘Em Up Style – Carolina Chocolate Drops
took me a while to catch up to the buzz on this one
2) I Still Believe (Acoustic Demo) – Frank Turner
3) The Valley – Okkervil River
one of the best albums yet this year – sounds like their edgier old stuff
4) Yes, I’m Cold – Chris Bathgate
random midwestern goodness courtesy of my buddy PlowboyPDX
5) Wait So Long – Trampled By Turtles
not real sure how that got in here
6) Thunder Rail – Austin Lucas
incredible talent, lovely new album
7) Swim Club – The Cave Singers
second best of their three albums
8 ) Northern Air – Elliott Brood
auspicious sign for their new album slated for September
9) The Only Reason That I Know – Doc Dailey
I don’t have enough words for how much I love this album – buy it
10) Alone In This Together – Star Anna
great talent - in line for song of the year
Taking a road trip towards my favorite city and some of my favorite people. Not a road trip, a relocation. After a decade in Portland, I say goodbye – and some less choice words – to a city that never quite felt like home. And say goodbye and thank you to friends that made me feel like I could never leave because the nest was so warm and comfy (no choice words).
In the last few weeks, when people have asked me what I’ll miss about Portland, I’ve had one answer: my friends. If pushed: the music scene. Or, more accurately, the ability to walk into a show and know at least five people in the room.
I thought by now I’d have written a more profound and thorough missive about my time here, and have made you a mix that reflected the last ten years, and my growing up here, from 22 to 32.
That may or may not happen. It might be a several-disc series.
In the next seven days, I will say goodbye to friends who have seen me through pieces and chunks -or all- of the last decade, and in doing so, become family; drive a U-Haul with my cat and my closest friend in the cab; arrive in the Bay Area to squeeze my baby niece/goddaughter and drink wine with her parents; move into a new apartment in a neighborhood I’ve never seen; and start a new job.
So forgive the silence on this blog for a few weeks. I’ll be back. I’ll be out of the rain. And we’ll talk then.
Thanks for reading.
Ha Ha Tonka is four scruffy dudes from the Ozarks, most of whom wear cowboy boots. The band is named after a state park in their native Missouri. Ha Ha Tonka make –well– the kind of music I like. Rootsy, foot-tapping indie rock infused with traditional instrumentation and admiral harmonies.
Their third full-length album, Death of a Decade, will be released in a week, on April 5th, on Bloodshot Records. It’s an album that continues to honor their geographic roots in a self-conscious but respectful way, while showcasing a more rounded, mature sound than their earlier outings. Thematically, the album addresses the inevitability of growing up. Musically it’s less blatantly country or southern than 2009′s Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South. It’s likely to gain them a broader fan base, building on the one they are creating through relentless touring.
They are playing the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland tonight with Hoots and Hellmouth and Kasey Anderson. Seattle, they’ll be at the Tractor tomorrow.
Alexander Hudjohn American Aquarium Austin Lucas Black Prairie Broken Social Scene Dolorean Drive-By-Truckers Elliott Brood Feel Bad For You Frank Turner Frightened Rabbit Glossary Horse Feathers Joe Pug Juniper Tar Kasey Anderson Lucero Megafaun Micah Schnabel mp3 Mumford and Sons Nathaniel Rateliff Okkervil River Peter Wolf Crier Phosphorescent Pickathon Portland Portland Concerts Portland Shows Richmond Fontaine Roadside Graves Root Jack Star Anna Steve Earle The Bird List The Cave Singers The Decemberists The Gaslight Anthem The Maldives The Moondoggies The National The Sadies The Tallest Man on Earth The Wooden Sky Video