The Caretakers Play ‘Daddy Laughed’

Listen to this track by 60s Greenwich Village-meets-60s-British-Folk-scene trio The Caretakers, actually a group of musicians from Hamilton, Ontario.   It’s ‘Daddy Laughed’, a song about childhood memory, and sourced from the band’s EP of the same name.  The track also appears on their full-length debut Unfinished Thoughts.

In our  21st century, when war and greed are still very much active when it comes to the shaping of our times, folk music that connects us to our own experiences, as well as finding commonalities in the experiences of others in other countries, is still very potent.  Bandleader and songwriter Jeffrey C. Martin (vocals, guitar) understands this very well, and along with his bandmates Lena Montecalvo (vocals, percussion), and Norm Van Bergen (vocals, 12-string guitar), we’re reminded that this musical connection is still very much alive.

Among other things, I spoke to Jeff about songwriting, the importance of community among musicians, about causes, and about how art and political engagement can still converge in a more jaded and media-overloaded time.

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The XX Play “Islands”

500px-xx_album_cover-svgListen to this track by Mercury Prize-winning R&B flavoured, with 80s post-punk overtones, British quartet, more recently a trio, the XX.  It’s “Islands”, as taken off of their acclaimed 2009 debut XX. Here’s the thing, good people: when a band lists Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, and Rhianna along with the Cure, The Kills, and the Pixies, you’ve got to sit up and take notice.  I mean, the very idea!

But, here’s another thing.  There has been a long tradition in the history of British rock music that holds a particular importance on R&B, in whatever form it may take. In many ways, as unique as this band is on the current musical landscape, this crossing of musical boundaries into the world of pop R&B is just a continuation of this tradition.

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Carolyn Edwards Sings ‘Leave’

Listen to this track by L.A based singer-songwriter and orchestral pop purveyor Carolyn Edwards.  It’s “Leave ” (AKA “Leave This Alone”), a tale of love just out of reach, and taken from Edwards’ 2005 eponymous Carolyn Edwards. The album captures the feel of late 60s pop from Bacharach/David, Jimmy Webb, and Carole King.

It doesn’t take a medium to detect the spirits of Judee Sill and Laura Nyro floating into and out of  this tune.  You can also tell that Edwards is happily aligned to that chapter of pop music history, while giving the songs room to breathe in a modern context.  With this one,  a song about how longing and yearning to commit to a loving relationship is often met with the barriers of another’s baggage, the themes are decidedly timeless.

I spoke to Carolyn about classic pop songwriting, crowded stages, ‘getting signed’, and finding balance  …

The Delete Bin: This song, “Leave ” is cinematic, with little girls dreaming of impossible things, and men who are too afraid to fall in love. How much does the act of storytelling come into your songwriting process in general?

Carolyn Edwards: It depends on the song. Some of my songs, like “Leave” and “The Argument” tell a specific story, whereas some of my other songs like “Beauty Wasted” rely more on a series of images to create a certain mood.

DB: The late 60s classic orchestral pop sound is a clear point of the musical compass for this song.  What is it about that aesthetic that most attracts you?

CE: It’s part of my musical DNA. I was raised on the the Monkees, the Partridge Family and all those fantastic AM hits of the early 70s, as well as the pop standards and musicals from the 30s and 40s. When I was about 13, I became obsessed with the Beatles, like most of us have at some point. Nowadays, I’m attracted to bands like Belle and Sebastian, Magnetic Fields and Arcade Fire who often employ that orchestral aesthetic.

DB: Apart from a song like the Lennonesque “Soul Peeler”, your music is centered around the piano, which is a less traveled route in indie music, it seems to me.   Do you see the use of the piano becoming more popular for the indie crowd?

Carolyn Edwards’ former band 3D Picnic

CE: “Soul Peeler” is a much older song, which explains its guitar-driven sound. I co-wrote it with the former leader of my old band, 3D Picnic, around 1989. It appears on 3D Picnic’s album Sunshine and Cockroaches released on Cargo in 1990. I played both guitar and keyboards in that band, as well as writing and singing lead on some of the material. After that band broke up in 1992, I formed a band called Spindle [ed: not to be confused with the band based in Bellingham WA, of the same name] with bassist Greg Mora (who was later in the band Fluorescein). Spindle was very guitar-driven, and I didn’t play keyboards at all; I sang lead and played rhythm guitar.

In retrospect, that decision seems odd to me, because my rhythm guitar playing is somewhat limited, whereas I’m an accomplished pianist. I think I was just trying to be a 90’s rock diva with a guitar; it was fun for a while. The move to piano seemed completely natural to me, since it’s the instrument I know how to play really well, and I’d gotten the 90’s rock diva thing out of my system.  As far as whether or not piano will become more popular for the indie crowd – I have absolutely no idea what the whims of the indie crowd are. One of the nice things about not doing music for a living is that I can be selfish about it, and create music solely for my own enjoyment, on my own time, without worrying what the current trends are. Of course, the downside to that is that my next CD probably won’t come out for another 10 years!

DB: You’ve surrounded yourself with a number of supplementary players in order to achieve your sound, calling yourself a ‘benevolent dictator’.  How does this set-up translate into a live setting?

CE: Very precariously! I don’t play out live very often, but when I do, it’s usually in the lounge of a French restaurant in Echo Park called Taix. Space for the band is very tight – elbows are poked into faces, heads are in danger of being struck by guitars, cords are tripped over, drinks are spilled, etc. And there’s no stage to speak of; we are at eye level with the audience. This can be both good and bad – it’s an intimate audience, I can make eye contact with them and see that they’re enjoying the show; but there are always a few drunk, loud people at the bar who aren’t watching or listening; that can be distracting.

DB: Tell me about the business of arranging the songs, which it seems to me you’ve put a lot of emphasis on, given the use of strings along with traditional pop instruments.

CE: I will often have specific melody lines and harmonies that I want, and I fortunately work with musicians who are nice enough to play or sing them for me. For example, I wrote the middle string/horn section of “Factory Moon,” and the intro to “Secret Monster,” which Probyn Gregory (from Brian Wilson’s band) played on various brass instruments. I’ll also often hear specific bass and guitar lines in my head. But then there will be songs where at least part of the song is open to interpretation, where I’ll either give the musicians a loose idea of what I want, or I’ll ask them to come up with something on their own.

The co-producer of my album, Steve Stanley, came up with some nice touches, such as the sleigh bells on “Beauty Wasted” and suggested the mute on the trumpet for “Solace.” Probyn, came up with the horn line on the verse of “Secret Monster,” as well being an insanely talented musical guru in general, offering sage advice.. Heather Lockie from Listing Ship wrote a fantastic string chart for “Leave” and played all the strings. And Nick Walusco (the mix-down producer, also from Brian Wilson’s band) added the marxophone and jug bass to “Monica” just for fun, when he was working alone in the studio. I ended up loving it!.

DB:You’ve got a background in music publishing, and therefore a unique perspective from seeing things on both sides of the desk.  What have you picked up from that background, as a songwriter and working musician?

 

CE: I’ve learned that I can make a living from music publishing, but not from my own music. I tried for years to make a living from music by embarking on the “getting signed” route. It’s what bands did in the 80s and 90s, before the Internet changed how bands can market and distribute their music. If I had all the money now that I invested in bands over the years, I’d have enough to buy a house! But it was also a great learning experience, and I don’t have any regrets about it.

DB: And as far as the whole ‘getting signed’ thing went, what were your experiences?

CE: My former band, Spindle, was very close to getting signed to Interscope around 1992. We had a devoted, hardworking A & R guy from the label who tried his best, but Tom Whalley and Jimmy Iovine ultimately passed on the demo. I’m proud that we even got that far. After Spindle broke up, I really wanted to settle down, have a steady career that I genuinely liked, and not have to lug my equipment to rehearsal three times a week. I’d turned 30; it was all part of growing up. Working full time, while constantly rehearsing and playing late nights in clubs, wasn’t rewarding anymore. I had no time to do normal, fun things in life that everyone does, like go hiking or out to movies with friends on the weekend.

DB: How did getting off the traditional ‘getting signed’ treadmill affect your life and approach to making music?

CE: It was really nice to not have that band obligation hanging over me, and when I started playing music again, I enjoyed it more than I had in years. I’ve learned that the struggling artist scenario does not suit my personality very well. I’m really sort of a square and not very bohemian at all, at least not in lifestyle. Music is a luxury to me that I do in my limited spare time, and I try not to take it for granted.

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For more information and music, check out the Carolyn Edwards MySpace page.

You can also ‘Like’ Carolyn Edwards on Facebook.

And remember to buy the album Carolyn Edwards on CD Baby.  You can even download the album or songs from it through Rhapsody

Enjoy!


 

Commerce Performs “In Your Bones”

Listen to this track by four-piece Tennesseans who have been dubbed Commerce – Matthew Little on vocals/guitar/keyboards, Ethan Henley on bass, Tim Rufenacht on guitars, and drummer Josh Shores.  It’s one of the offerings, and my favourite, off of their recently released 6-track EP What Happens Now.  The EP is a harbinger for a forthcoming 14-track record coming out in the fall of 2010 called Things I Say Versus Things I Mean.

This band formed in 2008, after a series of personnel shifts.  They immediately commenced writing and recording together. And with this song, you get the sense that a number of disparate sources are being pulled in to create something unique.

When first exposed, my reference points were latter day post-punk inheritors such as Modest Mouse with a bit of Grandaddy, too.  On this track, this is largely due to the moody lushness of the arrangement, and the call and response vocal, which peppers the song with echoey and vaguely menacing background interjections, all undertaken by singer/guitarist/keyboardist Little, and in contrast to his deadpan lead.

The band cite influences all over the stylistic map, perhaps exposing t the diversity of music scenes current in the American South as a whole, a region from which these guys hail, specifically Johnson City TN. Yet with Spoon out of Austin TX, REM out of Georgia, and the Flaming Lips out of Oklahoma City, among other examples,  the American South has been proven to be more than just a heartland for the roots of modern rock music over the years. As evidenced by the music from this band, it remains to be a hotbed of intricate, emotionally engaged rock music that pushes towards the future rather than just in reference to the past.

For more information about the band and more music from them, check out the Commerce band MySpace page.

Also, you can follow Commerce updates on Twitter, as well as joining the Commerce Facebook page.

Enjoy!

The Delgados Play ‘The Light Before We Land’

the_delgados_-_hate_amazon-comListen to this track by symphonically-minded indie quartet from Hamilton in Lanarkshire, Scotland.  It’s the Delgados with their cinematically sweeping “The Light Before We Land” as taken from the band’s 2002 disc Hate. The song opened that record, and was also featured in the filmed anime series Gunslinger Girl.

Between the late 90s and early 2000s, a strain of rock music that suggested the scope of film music and the edginess of indie music was a noticeable trend on both sides of the Atlantic.  This strain is typified by The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Lambchop, Goldfrapp, Black Box Recorder, and others which perhaps enjoyed greater initial success in Britain.  Somewhere in there, the Delgados etched out a niche of their own, with a nod in the Mercury Prize running in 2000, with their album The Great Eastern.

The Delgados. Image courtesy of Toni Blay.

This song, the opener to the follow up to that album, Hate, rides a similar melodic tailwind, with vocalist Emma Pollock’s voice sounding ethereal and resigned against a sumptuous musical backdrop, at times as jagged as it is refined. This is parallel to a similar contrast lyrically, with Pollock’s sleepy vocal conveying imagery that suggests clouds passing over a waning sun. This is the portrait of something once bright, now faded; a relationship, or perhaps a life.

Despite the obvious high-quality of their output, by 2005, the Delgados were over as a formal unit. But, Pollock, Alan Woodward, and Paul Savage continue to work in tandem with their Chemikal Underground label, as well as solo careers for Pollock and Woodward.

For more information about the Delgados, investigate the Delgados MySpace page.

Also, visit EmmaPollock.com

The Pearlfishers Perform “We’re Gonna Save The Summer”

Listen to this track, a Brian Wilson-meets-the-Turtles pop creation from classic Scottish pop outfit The Pearlfishers.  It’s the sunshiny summer anthem “We’re Gonna Save The Summer” as taken from the 1999 album The Young Picnickers.

In the 90s, it seemed that Scotland was the place to be for sun-soaked, Californian pop hearkening back to the mid-to- late-60s.  Between Teenage Fanclub, the Cosmic Rough Riders, Mull Historical Society, and this band, the Pearlfishers, you’d never guess that this resurgence of melodically emphatic pop was being made in a region of the world where it rains so much.  Maybe it’s the rain that inspires the imagination to write songs about sunshine, and about chasing away ‘all of the dark clouds’, metaphorical and otherwise. It’s just a theory, and one from someone who lives in Vancouver, too.

This strain of pop music evokes a sort of mythical sonic world where Bacharach/David reign supreme, and Jimmy Webb, The Turtles, the Beach Boys, and the Association serve as courtiers. By the 90s, it had captured the imaginations, and ignited the talents of pop bands in Northern Britain, complete with a handle on presentation, and arrangement clearly aligned to it.  This is a big sound, lushly utilizing pop instruments, shimmering vibes, and lots of gently interlocked and gauzily rendered harmony vocals, complete with Wilsonesque ba-ba-bup-ah’s.

With this tune, it seems that a certain sense of self-awareness is at work here.  And yet this song isn’t a pastiche or a parody. This song, and other songs on the record off of which it comes, contains lyrical contrast that demonstrates dimension and artistic depth. But, on another level, a listener can experience this tune at face value, too; as the sound of summer itself, and one that never ends.  It is pure pop music anyway you slice it.

The 90s emptied out into the 2000s, and the pop landscape as a rule got a little less sunny, tonally speaking it seems to me.  Yet, the Pernice Brothers, Richard Hawley, and many others on either side of the pond took up this same musical mission as the Pearlfishers.  In this pop music world, it feels like the summer could actually be saved, just by singing about it, even if those dark clouds are referenced just as often.

To find out more about the Pearlfishers, head on over to the Pearlfishers MySpace page to see that this tune is only one of many that will brighten your day.

Enjoy!

Lisa Germano Sings “The Dresses Song (You Make Me Want to Wear Dresses)”

Here’s a clip of indie-folk violin go-to-girl, multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter Lisa Germano.  It’s the heavily ironic “The Dresses Song (You Make Me Want To Wear Dresses)”, a tune taken from her 1993 disc Happiness.

Lisa Germano, (image courtesy of Charlie Carvero)

Lisa Germano is a sought-after side musician, having played with artists as diverse as John Mellencamp (that’s her violin on Mellencamp’s 1987 The Lonesome Jubilee album, for one), Indigo Girls, Neil Finn, Iggy Pop, Eels, and David Bowie, among others. But apart from her work as a valued supporting player, Germano is known as a songwriter in her own right, often crafting songs and albums which trace the human experience while being both pop-accessible with adequate tonal shadows added for good measure.

There are some songs that take a couple of listens before the levels of meaning found in them are revealed.  This, for me, is one of them, a song that seems to be a straight up love song about being made to feel feminine, which actually holds quite a few undercurrents about giving oneself over to be defined by another.  Germano’s use of a sort of bluegrass-meets-indie-guitar jubilance  is what really pulls a fast one here.  I love this type of contrast, of course; a song that seems happy, but isn’t, or at least may not exclusively be in either the happy love song or the song of despair camp, but perhaps both at once.

The idea of safety and contentment in this song, being a part of someone else’s “castle”, and enjoying the experience of not having to think (“you make me think about nothing/And it feels so good like that”) in a relationship is something that one can’t help but feel is the portrait of dependence, rather than liberation.  Yet, Germano doesn’t spoon-feed us.  The song is still marked by a duality between the tone of the music, and the open-endedness of the lyrics.  Maybe this is about a person who has found happiness.  And as such, the relative nature of happiness is perhaps what’s really being discussed here as something not to be judged from the outside.  Or perhaps, the exact opposite, with happiness being achieved at too high a cost.

Of course, she recorded another version of the song, which betrays more of the latter kind of darkness, just by adjusting the musical tone.  Perhaps we’re meant to hold two different versions of the intent of this song with our interpretive listening brains, too ; that  a song can be about being in love, and be about being doomed to allow one’s identity to be subsumed at the same time.  As such, this is a song which revels in shades of grey, just as life itself does.

For more information about Lisa Germano, check out LisaGermano.com.

Enjoy!

Buckman Coe Performs ‘Give Up The Fright’

Listen to this track by Vancouver-based folk-soul proponent Buckman Coe, AKA singer-songwriter Rick Buckman.  It’s “Give Up The Fright” as taken from his debut LP Latest Waking released in March.

The record centralizes Buckman’s interests in classic singer-songwriter traditions across the pop music spectrum, evoking the spirits of Jeff Buckley, and Nina Simone. To my ears, his music also presents a nod to the legacy of John Barleycorn Must Die-era Traffic, and Blind Faith in “Can’t Find My Way Home” mode, too. Based on this, if you’re a regular to this blog of mine, you might be able to tell why this song caught my attention.

After being approached by his promotions company, I spoke with Rick about songwriting,  his involvement in the local music scene, and in his first experience in the dreaded music business …

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The Delete Bin: First of all, thanks for talking to me, Rick.

Rick Buckman: Thanks for the opportunity man!

DB: Let’s talk about your sound. The mixing of genres is a challenging thing to do while maintaining one’s own voice as an artist, it seems to me.  How do you strike a balance between pulling from those artists that inspire you, and the effort to find yourself as an artist?

RB: Freeing oneself from the constraints of any definition, will enhance you as an artist. I have always just played what felt right and created the emotion or mood I wanted. My songs have often emerged from a feeling and groove, and usually bear some resemblance to several genres at a time. Sometimes I draw from genres I don’t even listen to at all, like country! I have no inclination to listen to country but the feeling of old country songs can have an incredible amount of soul.

The artists that have most inspired me have themselves crossed genres and created something new and familiar at the same time. For instance, Nina Simone’s jazz-classical crossover in Love Me or Leave Me was probably the first such cross-over, and arguably the grooviest. The idea of melding genres offers unlimited variations and my lack of formal schooling has often resulted in me creating my own interpretations. I have always defied categorization anyway, and really people have no idea where I am even from – I could be from anywhere.

I draw from my influences in a musical sense but also in terms of their spirit and what they stood for. I love the suffering strength of Nina Simone, the spiritual conviction of Bob Marley, the jester in John Lennon, and the angelic quality of Jeff Buckley. I am not particularly like any of them, but I believe this world needs to feel their presence in some way. As long as I’m capable of channelling these icons or archetypes in way that clarifies my vision, I’m open. As long as the music I create can carry the stories I want to tell, and I can fully step into the theatre of performing my songs, then I must trust that I am on the right path and in balance.

DB: You’re a graduate of ecopsychology and clinical counseling.  Yet “Give Up the Fright”  doesn’t seem to be polemical or academic.  Is this something you consciously avoided when you sat down to write it, and other songs?

RB: As soon as things get too philosophical and academic, people go right to their heads. I don’t just want to engage people in their heads, I want to connect with them on a more emotional level. In the way you could see a foreign film and feel what the actors are going through though you have no clue what’s going on. Once I can tap into universal shared experiences, then the lyrics will have roots from which they can draw life.

In my songwriting I tend to create stories based on the common twists and turns I see in our lives. I blend a bit of autobiography with fiction in order to convey a feeling or idea, and I use plenty of lyrical imagery and metaphor. “Give Up the Fright” is about the unconditional acceptance of both light and dark aspects of one’s lover, but singing about this ideal of Love has a much greater impact on people when they can relate to the emotional tone the lyrics create. I compose like this because it feels good and makes the song richer.

DB:  The record was made in your apartment, with a batch of songs that you had worked on while in school in Colorado.  And you’ve recorded in stairwells for natural reverb on occasion, too. How important is the informality of these situations to how the songs come out?

RB: It’s wonderful being able to record and mix at home! I can enter into the world of sound at any time day or night. I can experiment and try different approaches – like going into the stairwell with a couple mics at 3am –  and not be locked into something done at the studio. It makes for a very personal journey that really suits this album. In a way these songs are like an invitation into my apartment for dinner and music, which does happen quite a bit actually. I’m a big fan of hanging out and jamming, and the most intimate performances of my songs have often been in such informal gatherings. I like how these songs were produced in a way that captures that feeling of being home.

DB: Soul music and folk music are often thought of as being entirely separate, and yet I hear traces of both in your music. Where do you think this false dichotomy of the two traditions comes from?

RB: Perhaps it’s a cultural and historical thing. Folk could be considered as having it’s roots in Europe and Soul has African American roots. But to me they can be very similar because they are often the music that speaks to people’s actual experiences and people are essentially the same. But we forget this and we also tend to forget how intertwined our histories are. Music is just a part of that and it evolves, too. Folk, bluegrass, country, jazz, blues, soul, and rock & roll all influenced each other throughout the 20th Century.

People feel more secure, however, when we have categories to help make sense of the world so we create false dichotomies all the time, it’s what we tend to do. Playing with the streams of different traditions and finding the common ground between them moves our cultures closer together. We should maintain the traditional roots, definitely, but this years fruits are always on the branches we’ve grown.

DB: In terms of the local music scene, and the recession that makes for a  more competitive landscape, is there still a sense of community among local musicians vying for an audience?

RB: There is a good community of artists in Vancouver, and I don’t feel we’re competing for audiences because of the recession. We’re competing because so many folks are putting on good shows and Vancouver isn’t that big of a city. There’s a small degree of separation between people involved in the cultural scene here, but our artists and our community, in general, could still benefit by working more closely together, sharing resources and supporting each others efforts.

I always want to see more cross-pollination, and I try to do my part collaborating on shows, and bringing together different artists from different groups of people. Vancouver is developing a good ethic around this, and I think it’s getting better and better, and can make us resilient to recession.

DB: You’re a practitioner of yoga as well as being a musician.  How does this contrast your involvement in the notoriously un-Zen nature of the music business?

RB: Yoga is about union and balance, and is a discipline that involves the mind, the body, art and sound, and is about creating harmony. It is especially important for musicians who have to ground themselves after the highs of performing and and have to keep their wits about them to make it in the business. I admire artists who are making it out there and have sustained long careers by practicing very yoga-like ideals – namely that of steadfast focus and dedication, maintaining their health, keeping their ego in check, and probably being slightly detached from the ridiculous aspects of the industry.

Since the music industry can be so un-Zen, it’s all the more reason for musicians to be more Zen. And, now more than ever, we can shape the business culture as the old paradigms of the music industry crumble. I am very inspired by artists such as Michael Franti, for instance, who fully embraces his role as yogi musician and encourages a more conscious and compassionate world. For me, it’s all about artists choosing positivity and using their art to elevate awareness and happiness, and thereby direct the trajectory of our history.

DB: Thanks again for talking to me, Rick!

RB: Thanks Rob for the great questions!

***

Buckman Coe is performing upcoming dates in the Vancouver area:

5/27 – Café Montmarte – Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
6/18 – Rhizome – Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
7/30 – Komasket Festival, Vernon, British Columbia, CA
8/20 – Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia, CA

In the meantime, to hear more music, check out Buckman Coe on MySpace.  Ans be sure to visit Buckmancoe.com, too.

[disclosure: I’ve been put on the guest list for the show on the 27th – really looking forward to it!]

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Perform ‘St. John the Divine’

ted_leo_and_the_pharmacists_-_the_tyranny_of_distance_coverListen to this track by guitar art pop boffin Ted Leo with his rotating line-up from Washington D.C,  Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.  It’s their echoey and feral “St. John the Divine” as taken from their 2001 record The Tyranny of Distance, a tune streaked with post-punk, power pop, and noise pop.

The Pharmacists are a vehicle for Ted Leo’s interest in punk rock, guitar pop, reggae, dub, and experimental textures.  What stands out for me on this track is the barrage of imagery, all about contrast of dark and light, and about detail as spoken in a voice that practically doesn’t take a breath.  This song spills out, culminating in a squall of noisy guitar that matches the intensity of the lyrics in equal measure.

The song may or may not evoke the image of St. John on the island of Patmos, where he was exiled for his religious convictions.  It was here that John purportedly saw the Revelation, as recorded in the appropriately titled Book of Revelation.  Certainly this song has something of an end of the world quality about it. But, it also aligns itself with the idea of John The Revelator, a key figure evoked in early gospel and blues, and in folk music in general.

This is an interesting idea, that indie music or modern experimental pop can be just another way of expressing the same primal iconography that is found in the American folk songbook.  Instead of a dusty, sepia-toned texture of a world long gone, the suffering saint is repositioned here in the clothes of the modern day, ultimately showing that human spiritual turbulence is largely the same, even if the milieu has shifted.

For more information about Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, check out TedLeo.Com

Enjoy!

Extra Plays ‘Free In Time’

Listen to this track by L.A-based pop classicists Extra.  It’s “Free In Time”, a crunchy feast of a pop tune taken from the band’s 2006 album FR Double E. The band is set to appear at the CD Release show of fellow L.A band Radar Brothers on March 26th, 2010. Find out more about that event on clubspaceland.com and catch them live.

FR Double E was recorded solo by singer and multi-instrumentalist Jim Mills, although a full band was assembled afterwards under the Extra banner. The players consist of Anita Morand is on bass and melodica, Aaron Criswell is on “galactic” guitar and treatments, and Jon Niemann is on guitar, keyboards and effects, with Mills on drums and vocals.

I talked to Jim about this song, about Extra, and about the writing of lists …

***

The Delete Bin: Hi Jim, thanks for taking time out for the interview.

Jim Mills: Yeah, to me this is a great thing. I’m not on a label. You’re doing me the favor.

DB: First, where did the name Extra come from?

JM: It was just a good, simple name that had never been taken. It’s like Yes … or Traffic maybe. Just a solid, positive name. And I wanted to force myself into a situation where I always had to do more, give more. Like that poster that came with the album, to be a little ambitious. I think the name reminds me to do that.

DBYou recorded F R Double E on your own and you expanded the line-up afterward with permanent members. What initiated that decision?

JM: I’ve always had trouble finding people to play with. Even when I was young, in high school, we were always one or two people short of having a real band. This led to me, like, singing the bass line while I’m drumming, or trying to play a keyboard and bass at the same time, stuff like that. This was probably really good for my own skills. Also, I don’t like telling people I don’t like their ideas, you know? So when I got around to making this album, I just did it myself. But you know, once I did the album, I wanted to play the stuff live. When you’re sitting on something you think is really good, you want to bring it to other people. So I got friends of mine that I knew I could get along with, and did the band that way. For all my tendency to be alone, I’ve always liked bands, and once I got these people on board, I just feel like giving them equal billing.

DBIf you’d fallen in with a band earlier on as you were developing as a musician, how do you think that would have affected your trajectory as a songwriter?

JM: That is really hard. I think I’m just now coming to where I might be able to really work with people. I used to think I was going to get into a Lennon/McCartney-type thing, but that’s just the archetype. Everybody thinks they’re going to be The Beatles at some point. But either I never found the right person or I could never let go enough to really collaborate. I don’t think I had that much to offer because I was too self-conscious and not really confident enough. I was too impressionable. Now, I think I am more confident. Maybe now I could really collaborate with someone.

DB: Do you think it’s important for band members to present a unified creative ‘front’ in order for the music to come across?

JM: We were talking about bands the other day and it seems that bands are like a cult or “group think”, and sometimes a band will get going on a good thought process and be really good, like these awesome, real quartets like The Who, and The Beatles, early Pink Floyd , 10cc, where everybody is contributing and still is an individual.  ABBA is another.  And I just named all my favorite bands. It’s no wonder I wanted a group like that. But most “group think” ends up being fucked up. I don’t know, I was never comfortable in a group trying to collaborate, but I always had a fantasy about being in a band like Traffic, just at peace with one another and hanging around on the hillside as a group of equals.  I actually met Jon at a Traffic tribute show. He was playing piano and I was doing percussion, like the Jim Capaldi part, and we got to know each other that way.

DBWhat fed “Free In Time” lyrically and stylistically?

JM: Lyrically, there’s a whole story behind it which is kind of embarrassing I think but… Basically, a friend of mine and I both landed an audition for a famous rock musician.  I think we both felt we didn’t do very well, and you know, we never heard from the guy so I guess we were right.  But while I was sitting over at his house, I was thinking how much cooler I felt sitting with him and commiserating, and how much more rock and roll we were than the guy we were trying out for.  It kind of made an impression on me. So when I got this nice power pop song going, I used that idea for it. It’s like an affirmation for us and everybody who’s listening, being happier and cooler and freer than all those people who get you down the rest of the time.

DBDid you feel that “Free In Time” played a role in helping you to frame the rest of the album in some way?

JM:  I realized that pretty much all the songs had to do with freedom or trying to feel free of the outside things that get to you. And “Free in Time” seemed like kind of the distillation of that, because it’s a pure rock song. That’s what rock is good for: just going, to hell with everything that isn’t this music right at this moment! Half of the song doesn’t even have any singing.  It’s just us getting our feelings out on our instruments. It’s one of the best parts of our show for me, just being able to get my head down and play and not having to sing or try to be anything. Everything that needs to has already been said, it’s just time to fucking play, right! So it’s kind of like the title track. Maybe you picked up on that. “F R double E”, that line came from a Pretty Things song.

DBYou draw from a musical era that placed a lot of importance on the sanctity of the LP. In this age of song-by-song downloads, how does this affect the way you approach songwriting and production?

JM: I always write lists out of all the songs and try to come up with song orders, even before the songs are completed. I just like playing around with lists. I don’t think about downloads or worry about people turning off the CD before they get to the end. I just order the album the way I know it has to be for posterity. I still do “Side One” and “Side Two” — it’s just how I think of it. And if they never hear “Free in Time” ’cause I put it last on the album, well it makes sense ’cause it’s about them anyway! If I started thinking about downloads or how the songs all have to stand on their own, I mean, these are the thoughts that could ruin your music if you let it.

DBComing out of Los Angeles, a geographical region with so many established pop music traditions, how much pressure was on you to hold to or veer away from those traditions when establishing a sound of your own and making the record?

JM: I’ve never been afraid of copying a sound if I like it. I realized a long time ago that I could never quite get it right anyway. Sometimes I have to record a song as quickly as possible just to know if the song is working. So it always comes out like me anyway even when I’m strongly influenced by something or totally trying to copy something. I’m not worried about it not beingme” enough. So I wouldn’t hesitate to copy a sound if I wanted to. But that being said, I think most of my influences are British artists anyway.

DB: My ear agrees with that. But I also hear some Brian Wilson, and even some Todd Rundgren in your stuff.

JM: Well, I kind of think of those guys as honorary British people anyway. I know that doesn’t make sense.

When I think of British music, I guess I think of songs and songwriting and structure and ambition, and not really having any roots except maybe in classical music or theater, so the music is very conscious. This is how I’ve always been. I like American music and stuff with roots I guess, but I can’t really write that way. I think in terms of songs, melodies, and the lyrics being just right. A couple days ago, Anita and I were talking about the difference in meaning between … it was between “and” and “but” in a song I wrote, and “and” sounded better but “but” was absolutely the meaning I had in mind. I had to go with it on principle. I remember reading about Edgar Allan Poe and how he worked for ages getting the words just right, just coming up with the word “Nevermore”.

DBHow important is the awareness of where inspiration comes from to you? Is it important that the listener get a sense of it as well?

JM: I know where each little idea comes from, but no one else has the same reference points, so what I think is a direct steal from something, somebody else will see it a different way. That’s why it’s hard to describe your own music because my reference points are meaningless to someone else. Either they’re obscure or I pick up on something they don’t hear or whatever. I get inspired by fades sometimes, just the speed of a particular fade on a record. It totally puts the song into a particular perspective when it fades really fast. But that’s meaningless to someone else.

DB: It seems like so far, all the bands you’ve talked about have been old bands. What new bands do you like?

JM:  I’m honestly always afraid people are going to ask me this. I like friends’ music more than the stuff that’s out there. I think Flaming Lips have it about right, the right level of fame and influences and everything. They can be weird and their fans really appreciate it. I respect them, I like how sincere they are, but I don’t really listen to it, you know! A lot of bands aren’t really into songwriting, I don’t think. I mean, they think they are, but they aren’t really. There’s something wrong. I don’t know. I shouldn’t say that. It’s easier for me to focus on my pantheon and try to write something maybe almost as good as that than to look at modern bands and go through feelings of superiority and jealousy and whatever.

DBYou were able to make the record however you wanted, without a label and the marketing engines that have traditionally gone along with it. In the light of this, do you feel you have more or less control in terms of getting your music out to new fans?

JM: I have more control, but don’t know what to do with it. It’s all on me now. “Do whatever you want!” But what am I supposed to do? It’s a mixed blessing because you are completely free, but it’s also now your own responsibility. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. It ends up that all I can do is just focus on doing more music — just do my own fantasies, ’cause that’s the only thing I know how to do — and just hope more and more people start to notice it.

DB: Is that what you mean in [opening track] “Forward to Mono” when you say “I am music and that’s all I know”?

JM: Basically, yes.

DBDo you find that bands without labels such as yours are more likely or less likely to form a community or a scene with each other?

JM: Probably more. Here in L.A., there is always that sense that something could happen, that you might be discovered, so I think there is a tendency for people to stick to their own a bit more. I hear stories of friends in Chicago with much more of a fun scene with everybody interacting. I think the clubs are the most responsible for whether there’s a scene or not. When there are a lot of clubs and a lot of opportunities, there’s more likelihood of a scene. Right now in L.A., there only seems to be a few any more, and some of those aren’t even that easy to get shows at. A couple of bands I know and I have talked about starting a club ourselves and just playing there all the time like a residency.

DBSince you’ve recorded an album on your own, and have since formed a permanent band, is there a process that you’ve got in mind for the next one to account for the shift in dynamics?

JMOne of the things about being my age is that I already have a big backlog of ideas and projects. I don’t write that prolifically, but I still have a few albums’ worth of stuff I want to do. My next project is trying to clear a lot of that stuff out. It should be two or three discs of stuff, just kind of a wholesale clearing out of ideas. I think it’s going to be really amazing, it could be the best thing I’ll ever do. It’s like my life’s work, you know. I’ve been collecting this amazing stuff for 10 years. The first album just scratched the surface really. So, I’m working on that, but Anita also has songs she wants to record, very different stuff, almost like mini-movies. And there is some new stuff that is starting come out. I think I will work every which way, sometimes by myself, sometimes with the band, and there’s plenty for everybody. I’ve just finished working on Aaron’s solo album [“Elaborate Noise” by Dream Apes], and Jon and I are working on his stuff too. The hardest part is just organizing your time and doing it all.  I have tons of lists.

DBWhat does each band member bring to the Extra table?

JM: Jon is like me, very into playing music but sort of impatient. We’ve had a few sessions where I just come over and he plays me something he’s working on — these intricate things with guitar and keyboard patterns — and I just play drums along to it. Neither of us wants to go for more takes. But it all sounds totally together. Sometimes we’ll just jam with electric piano and drums, and just follow each other and improvise these songs with bridges and everything. No words though, but like the songs are playing themselves.  I think we’re just getting it out.

Aaron is different. He really is super-patient about music. When he was doing his album, after I did the drum parts, he worked on his stuff for months, with all these overdubbed guitars, then cutting things up, doing a bunch of different mixes. Then I started to get involved again and commenting on things and listening to mixes — and then he would do more mixes and more layers of guitar. And we finally got to a finished product we both liked, but he did a lot of work of mixing and tweaking.

DBI gotta know. What is the ‘galactic’ guitar that you’ve described Aaron as playing?

JM: Well, in Extra, Aaron plays in my style, which is more like Paul McCartney-type lead playing, but he has a tendency to play kind of mind-melting psychedelic guitar, so when I was thinking of credits, that’s kind of how I think of him.

DBAnd Anita?

JM: Anita is like a totally different kind of person. She’s totally ingenuous. When I met her, it took time to realize she isn’t cynical really at all. She’s almost like a dog. Like, loyal and nice! That’s part of her personality. And her take on music is from some other place. She doesn’t have normal influences like The Beatles and everything. She’s a bit younger so maybe that’s part of it. But she just has a different take on everything.

DB: How do Anita’s songs differ from yours?

JM: The way she approaches music, besides loving Black Sabbath, is writing songsthat are more like these little movies. We’re trying to get these songs down.  They’re never about feelings or anything — like, my stuff is all my thoughts inside me — her stuff is all stories about washed-up old movie stars, or a guy down at the pub, or she has this one about about watching the Altamont footage. Things inspire her and become part of her inner movie or something. She doesn’t have to write about her feelings ’cause she’s not screwed up. She doesn’t like emotional women singers. Or power pop, to be honest. Same thing!

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For more about Extra, check out the Extra MySpace page . Also,  to hear more tracks from the band, consider the Reverbnation.com Extra profile.

And of course, to buy F R Double E, go to the Extra official website, www.extra.org, or CD Baby.

Enjoy!