Avid Kurt Vile fan that I am, I have been looking forward to see Kurt Vile & The Violators performing live again in my vicinity for the past six months now. The anticipation was made all the more glorious when the support act was announced: Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird. A veritable feast so to speak and I will of course let you know how this festive occasion turned out, so join me for a review and more blathering on Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov ’18.
It makes my blood boil a bit even though it should be Kurt Vile himself who is the judge on this, but this sticking the “slacker” label on him and “slacker music” on his work, is not quite right. Alright, there’s the guitar music with some of the obvious influences such as Pavement and the appearance of a drawling, goofy, long-haired, slackerly dressed person on stage…fair enough. But there is so much more to Kurt Vile and his music. Steve Gunn, former member of The Violators, and guitarist and songwriter par excellence, should know and in an interview he claimed that Kurt Vile just has it, that ability to write brilliant songs with ease. I do not know how easy it really is for Kurt Vile and his limited vocal range is both just that – limited and one of his trademarks. But on the other hand, if you ever took a closer listen and look at Kurt Vile, you will find a perceptive, witty and touching songwriter, an excellent musician and a down-to-earth, humble person, way beyond the lazy “slacker” label. Also he is an incredibly diligent musician which this year brought him to the brink of mental meltdown due to stress. Not only has he released an album full of the sweetest songs and toured with – it seems – perfect soulmate Courtney Barnett from last autumn on, he has been on the road himself for three years and managed to write and record songs for his new album “Bottle It in”. By no means is he bottling it in on this album, he is lyrically at his sharpest yet and it just seems to flow from his inner self unfettered. Musically he (with thankfully the support of his label Matador) is not restricted to churn out radio-friendly three-minute pop songs (not that there would be anything wrong with that) – the thirteen songs on “Bottle It In” are his lushest in instrumentation yet and the haziness of his four albums before “B’lieve I’m Going Down” has returned, but mostly in a much tighter way. Three of the songs hit the ten minute mark and over. A brave move and a self-confident one and certainly one that his fans mostly cherish. Much to discover then from the new album on this year’s tour.
The venue he played that night, November 2nd, Kantine, Cologne, Germany, well, it is a biggish one and as much as I of course am happy for Kurt Vile to go on to bigger things, I miss the intimacy of earlier performances. A big drawback to the venue is having two bars in there and the toilet facilities behind the stage, meaning there is constant squeezing through and movement in the crowd. Also the sound in front of the stage was pretty bad in my opinion, so I moved to the middle where it was fine and then to the back where much of the vibe got lost in people chattering.
That constant drone of talking and only the first five rows really being captivated also annoyed me during the faultlessly beautiful and magical performance of music scene stalwart Meg Baird (she of Espers, Heron Oblivion, The Baird Sisters with her sister Laura and as a solo artist playing with the legends of fingerpicking guitar style music) and harpist to the stars Mary Lattimore. Mary Lattimore has had a tremendously busy year too, not only contributing her evocative and experimental and just so right harp flourish to a host of albums, but releasing her solo album “Hundreds Of Days” (Ghostly International) which is sheer bliss and has personally helped me to relax, reflect and restart on many occasions since summer but then she went and finally did an album with long-time collaborator Meg Baird, the breathtakingly delicate and haunting and therefore aptly named “Ghost Forests” (Three Lobed Recordings).
We got treated to a fine set of songs of this album by Meg on acoustic and electric guitar and crystal-clear vocals and Mary on her enormous Lyon and Healy harp, “Harpie”, her looping gadget and keyboard. I am getting ready for any comments from behind as to what the hell this performance has to do with the guitar rock Kurt Vile is presenting later. Indeed Mary has been working with Kurt Vile for a long-time and the additions of her harp to the songs on “Bottle It In” range for many among the finest details of the album. But – at least the front bit of the audience – are captivated. My highpoint of Mary’s and Meg’s set was the unexpected delivery of Emmylou Harris’ “Wrecking Ball” which is absolutely chilling. Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird were present at the merch table for a long time during Kurt Vile’s set and afterwards and were very kind to chat to everyone and thanked everyone so nicely for their interest. Och, they’re just awesome.
But this meant also, that on this occasion there was no rolling the harp back on stage and Mary joining in on some of Kurt Vile’s songs. A pity, that.
Kurt Vile & The Violators entered the stage to a very warm welcome which they ever so humbly and sweetly accepted and went straight into the marvellously and ice-breaking “Loading Zones” of the new album. (If only the sound had been better…) Expert musicianship delivered all the way through the shortish set by Kurt Vile, Jesse Trbovich (bass, guitar, saxophone), Rob Laakso (guitar, bass) and Kyle Spence (drums), managing to unify the kids, the youngsters and the older generation in their appreciation. A large proportion of the new album was played, interspersed with some classics like “KV Crimes” and “A Girl Called Alex” from earlier albums. I was missing a couple of my personal favourites that might have pumped the lagging middle part of the concert a bit such as “Wheelhouse” but then again that might have to do with the fact that I was in the back at that time and the vibes did not catch on so much there. Then again, you can’t please everyone with a back catalogue like that. Many, many people in the audience had never heard Kurt Vile before his single “Loading Zones” off the new album but I always feel happy that other music lovers find older styles like folk and americana or blues to discover via a totally different angle. Happened to me too and Kurt Vile played a great part in that.
Are there any gobsmacking going-ons on stage? No, of course not. Kurt does not even say that much in between songs, being busy with getting yet another guitar or the banjo or the acoustic ready for the next song and that is perfectly fine with me. (Kurt Vile’s guitar rack made me cry with envy almost but then again, unlike him, I would not even deserve them half as much as him).
The band left the stage rather abruptly but did return and gave the fans “Pretty Pimpin” amongst others, the song that is probably his most well-known and caused a huge applause and whoohooing.
A very sweet “I love you all” from Kurt and smiles all round from the band and they were off.
As expected a great show from Kurt Vile & The Violators and supporting Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird. If I had anything to grumble about, it was, that the venue could have been better or more suitable in creating the right vibe. (Which reminds me: It is not very convenient to be asked outside of the venue for the photo pass en route to getting it! Also the fuss about photo passes by the venue was a bit over the top, considering that in the end there were three (sic!) photographers only on site. Yes, three songs only and no flash, got it a long time ago. Kindly, would the people with the mobile phones turn off the flash as well? And would the security man not propel himself at us a-roaring for making one more shot before the fourth song because I wanted just one photo of Kurt and the banjo? Well, I am sure the orderly was very stressed out with THREE photographers…). Enough of my bawling but the fans enjoyed Kurt Vile & The Violators and vice versa and that is the main thing! Rock on and thank you!
Josh Haden’s band Spain has had a long and winding career. Throughout the band’s existence their output of six studio albums, however, has had a consistent level of high quality. Their music is among the critics’ favourites, the fans are faithful. Deservedly so, as Spain is a band that offers genuine and heartfelt and well-crafted songs that never bow to trends, never try to endear themselves to the business and above all remain absolutely timeless. It is always mentioned that Josh Haden is the son of jazz legend Charlie Haden. Yes, Josh has immense musical pedigree, also on his mother’s side, even down to his grandparents and his triplet sisters Petra, Tanya and Rachel hypnotise with their own musical project The Haden Triplets. He also has talent, of course, and/or a gift for music. But more than three decades playing and honing his craft, he can by now, I think, maybe, also express it like this: Charlie Haden was the father of Josh Haden. I felt very honoured that Josh took the time for this: Spain’s Josh Haden – an interview.
Spain have just released their sixth album “Mandala Brush” on Glitterhouse Records/Dangerbird and I am looking forward a lot to have still hours of listening pleasure ahead of me as there is much to explore on their new oeuvre again. During the release, Spain were already on tour in Europe and you can still catch them in Germany, Denmark, France and Italy. I had never before seen Spain live and when they started off their set at Eupen’s Alter Schlachthof (thank you, all the lovely people at this wonderful venue and also Chris as tour manager and Judith for your help), it went like this:
The bottles of Eupener beer came in handy and were used for making hooting sounds that were repeated by the instruments, came and went and changed and it went all experimental and free jazzy and to my utmost astonishment, very magical, warm and above all inclusive and humorous and not a bit self-indulgent. Turns out to be a rendition of “(Korean letters) God Is Love” from their new album. At this point let me tell you who is on tour with Josh Haden: His sister Petra Haden on vocals and violin (simply wow, the violin playing and that voice, especially in the encore, the very famous “Spiritual” – I noticed, almost blue in the face, that I had been holding my breath and that there were tears trickling down my face), the versatile and expert and straightout great peformers Kenny Lyon on guitar (and melodion?), Shon Sullivan on acoustic guitar and keys and Jakob Hoyer on drums. Spain continued with a couple of renderings of their new album “Mandala Brush”, a bit of banter, especially on Mr. Trump (much more of that later in the interview), and many perfectly rendered classics from the older albums. Just go and see them live, for goodness’ sake, and be bewitched. After a French venue did so and Josh really appreciating it, he has ever since labelled Spain’s music as indie, americana, slowcore, free jazz (I think) for those of you who would like to place them somewhere. Well, Spain’s Spain and that’s more than good enough.
Now make way for Josh Haden. Well, and yes, I am almost interested how musicians or artists in general feel in the U.S. these days and Josh went for it. But other than that, lend him an ear when he talks about his new album, the music industry and a lot more right now in his own words:
Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you very much for taking the time, Josh!
Josh Haden: Thanks for having me!
OMB: Your band Spain is gracing Eupen tonight with a rare concert on the release of your new album “Mandala Brush”. I would like to go back in time a bit. You come from a musical family – it couldn’t get any more musical. Your sister Petra Haden is with you on tour, you have to more sisters who are musicians, your father was a famous musician and your mother is one too. Was there any point in your life and even if was out of sheer teenage rebellion where you said: “I am not going to be a musician”?
Josh: Well, not really. I have always been interested in music and I grew up with musicians, so it seemed pretty natural. But I also like reading books. I grew up with lots of books around and I also wanted to be a writer and I am still working on that. But so far the music takes up all my time.
OMB: There has been a point in your career, not a loss of interest in music from your side but hassle with the music industry, let’s put it this way. I read somewhere, it not only almost destroyed your livelihood but you did not find the energy to play. Is that true and how did you overcome that?
Josh: Well, this was a long time ago and I was much younger and I think I had a little bit too much pride and not enough willingness to compromise. I said to myself, if I cannot do it my way, I am not going to do it. I took a little time off and went to a school for writing. I wasn’t really happy there. Then this rap producer Dan The Automator contacted me and asked me if I wanted him to produce my record because I stilled owed a record to this company called Dreamworks that doesn’t exist anymore. That’s when I got back into music. It was really just a few years I did not do much music. Spain, the band, were the project I did put on hiatus for quite a few years. In ended that in 2001 and did not start again until 2008. The first record of the reboot, I guess you can call it, was not until 2010. So that was quite a few years.
OMB: Did you, during that time, look for musicians who would share the same goals, the same vision?
Josh: I would never be that lucky. It was a matter of musicians who could play well and had understood what I was trying to do and who were of the musician’s mindset…not every musician can tour. Not every musician has the personality that allows them to tour. Also money, having the budget for it…I am never out of ideas but I am constantly out of money. Money is usually the biggest hurdle preventing something from being released and being able to properly promote it and tour for it. So, musicians, you know, that’s always a process. There is nothing complicated about it. It is just finding the right people. Sometimes you think you found the right person but it turns out you didn’t and you have to find someone else. Not that there is anything wrong with that musician but it might not work in that particular project. That’s a process.
OMB: You are from California, a fairly liberal and progressive state. How do find it, living in the US at the moment?
Josh: Well, that could take a long time to answer. It is really worth everybody asking themselves that and give their own answer. I am me and I think to myself: How could anybody support dictators? Or people who aspire to be dictators? I ask myself that. Of course I don’t support politicians like that but there are people who do. There are quite a few and they have to ask themselves these questions too. It’s not just happening in the States – it is happening in Europe too. So, young people don’t get very good educations, they are not properly reminded of the lessons of World War II. You have people in America who really, really think that the Nazis should have won World War II and that’s the Trump supporters. Then you have people in Italy who feel the same way. What Trump wants…I don’t know if it’s Trump but definitely his supporters and people in his administration, when they say they want to turn the clock back to a better time, make America great again, what they are saying is, they want to turn the clock back to before World War II. They want to be in a place where there can be a dictatorship that runs the world. They feel if they don’t achieve that, it’s going to be “kaputt” for the world. It’s a consolidation of power because Conservatives believe, even though they say they don’t believe this, that global warming is going to shut the world down and the people who have the money and the resources are going to be the survivors. They are acting out of a survival instinct, at least in their mind. And if you are reading interviews with them, this is what they say, I am not making it up. Trump, ha, Trump, I am not sure, if he is intelligent enough to think about it in these terms. He’s like Hilary Clinton. I am not against Hilary Clinton. I support Hilary Clinton. He is like the kind of politician who will change his views. If he sees that the tide is turning in a certain direction, he will change his views. But a lot of his supporters like, Stephen Miller, I think his name is – that guy is scary. He’s like Himmler basically. And the guy John Bolton – this is just my opinion – but John Bolton who is now Secretary of State or something, I don’t even remember anymore, that guy is really scary. He scares me more than Trump does because he is sitting next to Trump and tells him what to do. (Sighs).
OMB: Like a puppet on a string…
Josh: He would not call himself that.
OMB: Of course not.
Josh: It’s possible. But you know, I really do think that…I am a musician and make living making music and recording and writing songs and trying to communicate stuff that I am thinking about in song and writing poetry and stories and putting them to music and touring and playing concerts and bringing that music to people, so I am on a different kind of thinking playing field. I wish that all kids, teenagers probably…every single teenager in the world including the Middle East and Eastern Europe and Africa and Antarctica, that they are required to either to tour as a musician or tour as a roadie or something that gets them out of their hometown and to see the world. Usually when people tour they have a perspective on other human beings and how other human beings live that they won’t get if they stay at home and just watch TV and listen to their conservative parents. Hopefully they won’t have conservative parents. I think there would be a lot of a different kind of atmosphere if every kid could have an experience like that. But you know, I tour and I don’t have to think about Trump and what’s going on. I get notices on my phone like everyone else and usually I am fine. But today, just an hour ago, I got this notice from The New York Times and it says: The US moves hundreds of migrant children to a desert tent facility in Texas in the middle of the night with no education and no access to lawyers. And that’s like…How can anyone support Trump for doing that? For not speaking out against that and saying: This is wrong. And that’s depressing. And then I think about my son and how would my son feel if he was taken from me? And I could just picture that and here’s hundreds of kids going through that. All kids are the same.
OMB: To some they are not. They are being dehumanised.
Josh: Exactly. They are doing that on purpose and this is going back to what Republicans want to do. The Republicans in the United States want to get rid of labour unions. If they get rid of labour unions, the next they want to do is to cut the employment age for children and they want children back in factories working for pennies. That’s completely what they want. That’s why we have cheap Apple products and cheap clothing because there are seven-year old, eight or nine-year old kids in Thailand or Indonesia and China working in sweatshops. We have laws against that in the States. The reason why is because of labour unions, because of socialism. This is another reason they are trying to consolidate power. They see the world is going to end, at least they think it is, and when overpopulation and global warming destroys half of the planet and half of the planet is habitable, we are going to be the survivors. That’s what they are saying and if we have seven-year old kids working in factories and putting stuff together and we don’t have to pay them anything, we are going to make even more money. That’s what they want. (Laughs bitterly).
OMB: As a musician, what has been the impact for artists? In what terms do you see the Arts being infringed, financially or culturally?
Josh: I would not say financially for me but the Arts in general, yeah, because there is less funding. A lot of times when we are in Europe we are playing in venues that are partially or entirely supported by the government. We don’t have that in the States. There is support for the Arts but with Trump in office it gets less. They give less money to the Arts because “why should we support the Arts? The Arts is critical of us. Why should we support something that is criticising us?” That’s what they think. Also, the religious Conservatives which is another big issue, they don’t want the Arts because the Arts are from Satan (laughs). That’s what they think. For me the biggest financial hit is from streaming music. But that’s just a reality. That’s got nothing to do with Trump. There was just a law passed in the States that ensures that musical artists will make more royalties from streaming services but I don’t really know.
OMB: On the one hand modern technology has been good for music artists as they can make their music, promote their music, get it all over the place without the big music industry. But on the other hand, someone is making money on the music and it is not them. That is not referring to say Bandcamp, but, er, the other big one.
Josh: Well, you know, it’s a racket. Music business was started by gangsters and the mafia and if a lot of money can be made with something, there is going to be graft and corruption. It is the same thing with streaming, only, instead of Warner Brothers, Columbia and Universal making all the money, it is Spotify and what are the other ones called…
Josh: Sound Exchange, the company that collects the money for Spotify streaming, in the States at least. It’s people who say, yeah, we can make a lot of money off artists. What could be better than this? We are making all the money. All we need to do is a little bit of coding. We have coders working for us and they can do the dirty work once we fix it up and then we make billions of dollars and we can go on vacation to Tahiti whenever we want. They are saying probably, the artists are screwed anyway. Artists are already happy working for peanuts. Let them be happy. That’s what they think. I guess to a certain extent they are right. I am happy working for peanuts because I don’t care about money. I am not doing this for money and …
OMB: Yeah but nobody else should be earning money on your music either.
Josh: But that’s the problem because if I worry about that, then I don’t want to make music. I don’t want to sit down and make music. I have my son. My time is already limited enough. When I am home, I only have a few hours a day when I can work on stuff. I don’t really think about it – too much. I have this list of things I need to address. With money that’s owed to me…
OMB: Then again everyone feels compelled to be on Spotify because it gets you publicity…I don’t have Spotify…
Josh: I like Spotify. I don’t support them but I like Spotify, the app. What I listen to on Spotify a lot is the new jazz releases. The technology does not bother me. It is just the …
OMB: The business behind it?
Josh: The business behind it. The disregard for artists. The attitude of the people who run Spotify and other streaming services. I have talked to them personally and I have had arguments with them and email exchanges and I am always right. And there are always wrong. But what can you do? They have got the power.
OMB: Your albums seemed well thought out. I would not go as far as call them concept albums but do you sit down and think about the album, what kind of atmosphere it should have and which song should go and which not, and a particular order to the songs? The albums seems so much in one piece. Some artists go as far as to think in A-sides and B-sides even. I don’t know, do you plan an album to be like that?
Josh: No. No, the closest I would come to this, is maybe having an idea for the artwork like for “The Blue Moods of Spain”, our first album. I really had a vision for the front cover. I worked on it really hard. I practised with a different photographer for a 7” that we put out in 1994 that was kind of a prototype for this “Blue Moods” cover. I worked on that very much and for it to come out the way it did, that took like a couple of years of work. But as far as the songs or the concept behind it…that was very much a collaboration between me and the producer. It’s not something I sketch out beforehand. Like, what songs do I have, what songs are the best ones? How do we narrow the best ones down. Then I might like a song that doesn’t really work for some reason. So, what songs work and what songs actually sound good once we record them? And you narrow it down like that. At least that’s how I work. For the new album…that’s another thing like: I have the songs but what’s the title going to be, what’s the artwork going to be? That comes just by messing around and doing research and thinking and looking at random things that come into my life. Choosing it, grabbing it and “okay, this works”. There are aesthetics to it but I am not strict about them. I like it to be permeable and – I don’t know what the word is – and…what’s the word…spontaneous!
OMB: That is probably better for the listener to start owning a song too. If something is left more open, a listener can feel addressed more and go, that’s me who he is talking about or I feel touched by that kind of instrumentation.
Josh: It can come either way. There are groups like Bon Ever who I really love, his lyrics, you have no idea what he is talking about. It’s poetry, definitely. They are lyrics and they are beautiful, but I have no idea what he is talking about! But then a word will come up in a certain part and I get, you know. So there is that kind of style and another style is Mark Kozelek who I toured with last year and listening to his lyrics which are very easy to understand and are super personal. Basically what he does is, he keeps a diary and he puts his diary entries to music. He talks about things that happened to him in his life in a very specific way but at the same time people love it because they can relate to it. Even though they did not have that exact same experience, it affects them. He is talking about the things he has learned from his life and it is the same kind of thing that everyone learns who lives long enough. That’s why people connect with his songs. That was really cool I thought.
OMB: You have come to the point where on your albums your lyrics have become more personal. On your last album “Carolina” you were connecting experiences of your family with bigger historical events or these events filtered through the eyes of your family. Did you want to do something similar on your new album “Mandala Brush” or did you attempt something totally different again?
Josh: Again I don’t really know. I don’t question myself how to create things or why. I just do it how I feel. I do have a basic idea which is I don’t want to do what I did on the last album. I want to do this certain thing and let’s see if it works. It might not work, then I have to try something else. “Carolina”, the last Spain record from 2016, and “Sargent Place’” which was from 2014, those two records were much more specific in addressing things that I was going through. The new album is more oblique, I guess, or amorphous. What I am singing about is not as…I could say what a song like “Battle Of Saratoga” from “Carolina” is about you know. The song is about my father. In the 1960s when he was addicted to heroin very badly and he was – this is just something I imagine he might have gone through – getting a gig in upstate New York for Christmas Eve and getting snowed in and not being able to get his heroin because he is in some little tiny town in New York and he can’t get back to the city. I could say that there are a lot of songs on that record and on “Sargent Place” where I wrote about something specific. But on the new album I don’t think there are any songs where I am talking about something specific and detailed. It is more like a feeling or an emotion I wanted to express. Or there is a song on the new album called “Tangerine” which was completely inspired by a movie called “Tangerine”. The song has nothing to do with what the movie is about. It is a beautiful movie called “Tangerine”. It came out maybe five years ago, I think. It is set in my town of Los Angeles and is about these transvestite prostitutes who work Santa Monica boulevard and it is like a Homer odyssian journey of these ladies who go from one part of Santa Monica boulevard to the other. It is such a great movie and it was shot on iPhone which isn’t such a special unique thing anymore. But after watching the director’s comments on the movie, I wrote “Tangerine”, the song. So there is something like that influenced by other art.
OMB: So it is more like a stream of consciousness?
Josh: Yeah, yeah.
OMB: You combine a lot of genres in your music. Sometimes it is hard for people to pin you down. They try Slowcore, whatever that is. I was told it is easier in the US to cross genres than in the UK for instance. Do you find it easier? Do find it easier to collaborate with musicians from other genres and what comes out of it is totally your own?
Josh: I would say I don’t think about genres and maybe that is one of my big problems in getting my music accepted. I don’t care about genres and people in general want genres.
OMB: Or the algorithms want genres.
Josh: Yeah, I don’t worry about that. I write my songs and cross my fingers that someone is going to hear them and listen to them. Even when they don’t want to listen and don’t want to hear and don’t want to care,I am still going to do it…You know, I was watching this show on TV with my son. It is this real estate show where people who are very wealthy show their incredible house. There was this guy, I don’t even remember his name. He is one of this techno guys – I don’t know his name. I was like “who is this?” and my son didn’t even know about him and my son knows a lot about new music. And this guy had a multi-million house in Hollywood hills. He was like 25 years old. Everything about this house was incredible. I googled his name and he is just some kid who makes electronic music. He’s been nominated for Grammys. I don’t pay attention to the Grammies, can’t remember the last time I watched the Grammies. But apparently he has been nominated multiple times. I listened to the music and it is not pleasant. It’s not creative in the sense of musicians getting together and being creative and trying to create something human, being social, being together. Experiencing what it means to be human as we are being human. I don’t know if that makes sense.
OMB: I don’t know. As in music making for the sake of it versus just selling any old stuff? It makes sense to me in that way: Too much money for a young kid and out of something that is out of the tin, no life experience, no nothing. Pretty thankful, my kids listen to different stuff, as yet anyway.
Josh: My personal feeling is, more power to him, I am happy for him.
OMB: Sure, if he is nice enough.
Josh: Exactly, if he is nice enough. If he is a fair and honest person, a good human.
OMB: Back to the genres… I don’t like tagging genres to my shows because I compile them according to how I feel and according to connections between the songs and they could contain any genre as long as there is a flow, a thread.
Josh: Yes, exactly.
OMB: Your new album “Mandala Brush”, there was one particular aim for it: You wanted it to be like a live recording, no fidgeting in the studio with the songs?
Josh: The idea came to me, even though it is not a very unique idea, when we finished touring for “Carolina” in 2016. My manager at the time wanted me to go right back on the road in the States. We don’t really have a lot of support in the States and I need to tour more there. I was like, you know, you know, er, … (Josh distracted because his sister Petra is checking whether is finally finished and he is making signs for her not to come in, poor Petra and Josh’s poor dinner getting cold…) … I don’t want to go back on tour. If I am going to make any headway in the States, what I am going to do is find a place where I can play every week once a week…
OMB: Oh, like a residency?
Josh: A residency. And develop my audience here first. You know, in the 90s when “Blue Moods Of Spain” came out, every major label wanted to sign me. I had Rick Rubin picking me up in his Rolls Royce, taking me to coffee and bookstore shopping and buying me books. I had the president of Columbia Records flying me out on a private jet to meet with them. I am not going to go into all the extravaganza that was put on me over Blue Moods, the first Spain album. The whole time I was thinking, you know, when we play in L.A., we don’t have an audience. Maybe twenty people show up to see us and ten of those people are just random off the street and they are just going to be talking through our whole set. And these guys want to offer me a million dollars to sign a contract. I was so young back then, I was, well, if they think it is the right thing to do, I am going to go along with it. That was really fatal for me, almost fatal. It turned into this war of wills between the record companies and it wasn’t about my music anymore. Once they signed me, Dreamworks, they didn’t care about me. They invited me to their Christmas party before they signed us and that was great, hobnobbing with George Michael. A year later I had signed with them and the Christmas party comes and they don’t invite me. They return my call in two seconds before I sign and after I sign, I disappear. They didn’t accept our record. Then they got sold and I had to hire a lawyer to threaten to sue them because they were in breach of contract. They owed me three hundred thousand dollars. It’s overwhelming to me. The lack of logic and the lack of reasoning that goes into the record business and the business part of it.
OMB: Yes, all that money and where’s the music in all this?
Josh: So, when I was making “Mandala Brush” or before “Mandala Brush”, I was like, okay, I am almost fifty years old and I am finally have a residency that is open-ended. I found the great people at Spaceland in L.A. gave me a tiny little place to play every week for over a year. We played and worked out songs and worked with different people and brought it together. After a year of that, we still had the residency but once a week was too much and we changed it to once a month. So it’s the last Thursday of every month we play at The Love Song Bar in L.A.. Now we had to record an album, it was past due. So I said, I wish we could record the album here at The Love Song Bar but that’s too technically challenging. We had great support from Glitterhouse Records in Germany and in L.A. from the US label Dangerbird. We went into the studio for a week with the same core band that’s been playing for two years at The Love Song Bar and recorded what we do at The Love Song basically. With a little elaboration, you know, some song were new and we had never played them before. Like “Tangerine”, that song with Petra and Maddie D on saxophone, that’s the core group that plays that song. I was like, okay, for ‘“Tangerine”, Maddie, can you come on this particular morning and record with us? That’s what we did. So it is very much a live album, the whole band in one room, more or less in one room, very few overdubs. In fact, I don’t think there are any overdubs on “Tangerine”. Couldn’t have been because everyone is playing live.
OMB: I think you can very proud of it. It’s an album you listen to on headphones and it just sounds perfect.
Josh: Oh, thanks!
OMB: Any younger band would have needed a lot of studio fidgeting for that and you with all your experience just get on and play it like that. The craft in there is amazing.
Josh: Thank you! It was funny, we had an assistant engineer, Roman – he is from Russia. He is an international guy, he travels as an in-demand studio engineer. And he was like, I can’t believe you guys record an album like this. Every project I work on is the band saying, every note has to perfect and has to be on time and we are working with a click track. You guys aren’t doing that. I never made an album like this before…And that is how they used to record in the old days.
OMB: Excellent! Thank you so much, Josh! You better hurry down to your dinner now!
No excuses, I told you about Hamburg’s Reeperbahnfestivallast year and let you know that and when it is happening again. Hope you were there and enjoyed it as much as I did this year. It is been and gone and it was superbe. That was Reeperbahnfestival 2018 like – to me:
For a dedicated follower of music, the Reeperbahnfestival on St. Pauli (yep, ON is correct), Hamburg’s famous harbour quarter, is heaven – and hell at the same time, especially when you can throw in a good dose of OCD like myself. It has clearly become what the festival has been modelled on: Germany’s, if not Europe’s answer to the US’ SXSW festival. This is where music’s movers and shakers, fans and makers meet up. I said it before but like to drop it in again, just for good measure: Face the impossible with nonchalance, you will and cannot do everything at the festival even if you only concentrate on the music side of it.
For me, additional torment was in store this year, as I could only make it to the Reeperbahn by Friday afternoon. By then, the festival had been in full swing for two and a half days already. Plus I had work commitments and quite frankly: Yes, I did get sidetracked in parties and chats, in drifting and laughter, in soaking in the atmosphere in general. But that is as good a feature of the Reeperbahnfestival as any. And then the storm hit: On Friday afternoon the festival organisers decided to close down the open air venues such as Heiligengeistfeld and the Spielbudenplatz. It was just too risky. The weather did peak up again in intervals but generally myself as loads of other people seemed not so inclined to walk a lot between the venues and stayed put. And yet, it was fabulous. Thank you Reeperbahnfestival!
Meeting up with my friend and colleague Sandra Zettpunkt at the well-trodden and established music venue Molotow, slapbang on the Reeperbahn, and missing each other because we used different entrances, we both enjoyed The Babe Rainbow’s set on Friday late afternoon immensely. The venue was packed, the audience was jumping, beer was consumed in large quantities already and was it any wonder, when an Australian band gave a tremendous and exhilarating and sunny and completely “down under” performance? Theirs is an amazing mix of funk and pop and psych and och, anything, melted into their version of Australian laid-back good feel. That was a brilliant start.
Time to eat, to snatch a drink and to wander around a bit and make our way to St. Michaelis, Hamburg’s landmark church, locally referred to as Michel. To be on time for Okkervil River‘s performance seemed crucial, as there was already a long queue. Stunned by the interior of this huge and impossibly imposing church, I almost missed the band turning up. Will Sheff did not look out of place under a painting of Jesus, albeit his brown suit and the glasses and greeted the audience warmly. Also clearly impressed by the church, he mentioned however, that on arrival, Okkervil River were dumbfounded because, hey, the acoustics are mighty and their set was not suitable at all for a big echoing space like this. Experienced musicians they are, though, they quickly adapted their set and everyone was treated too some classic early material, quite a few songs – to my delight – from their album “Away” – and then a few from the latest “In The Rainbow Rain”. The opulence of the latest album maybe did not allow for more songs in this environment. There was funny banter, a solo and acoustic excursion of Will Sheff through the pews of the church (even asking a dedicated fan for some lyrics he had forgotten) and some fantastic cover versions. A fairly long set for a festival and the pews became ever so hard to sit on and quite frankly I would have preferred a more intimate, more interactive environment for Okkervil River. But they left happy and so did the audience. The moment, a full moon was casting its light through one of the church windows to the sound of Okkervil River, is something I will never forget.
We got sidetracked to a party which was very enjoyable and pitied the people queuing up for Muse – the surprise act – for hours and missing out on so much. After all, not everyone got in, the venue was quickly full. Now, it is not that I have something against Muse (cough), but I was not too heartbroken to have to give their gig a miss. In all fairness, they were introducing the first songs of their new album and their live performance is said to be great.
Indeed we went for the packed and swaying and hopping Mojo Jazz Cafe to give Uns, a Berlin band, a listen. Fashion sense of the eighties combined with the Neue Deutsche Welle Sound of the same decade, huge dance and magic potential and a good laugh or two shared between the band and the audience inbetween made this very worthwhile.
The evening ended for us in the gorgeous Prinzenbar where Liza Anne and a very tight backing band (unnervingly all dressed a bit like little Playmobil builder figures) played her new sounds. I remember Liza Anne as a folksy, indie singer not unlike Sharon van Etten and was meeting the change in her music – now fast, loud, trashy, rocking – with quite some hesitance. Was there a commercial reason for this change? I would not approve at all, at all. But I had read beforehand that Liza Anne just wanted to get it out of her system, the anxieties, the depressions and clearly, the new songs were just doing that. Tremendously enjoyable.
Next day, more bands (don’t tell me what I missed out on, I cannot be everywhere at the same time because work was calling on top). Yes, I had a super time meeting everyone from work too, so happy as Larry, we were moving on much later than anticipated, to maybe see Metronomy. Fat chance, should have queued up for that some time ago. A great stint of Field Division, a band on of my favourite labels Bella Union, had been on my radar for quite some time and they delivered their Americana tinted cloud with silver lining songs with heart and soul. Check. Wonderful.
Something completely different now at Angie’s Nightclub, a venue of some disreputable distinction (no shit, Sherlock, on the Reeperbahn? You don’t say.) and quite the suitable backdrop for the seventies’ to eighties’ or rather plasticky clad Lomboy from Brussels. The front woman clearly has been all over the world and brought bits into her music from everywhere as well. The languid, francophile music kept everyone nicely on their feet and dreaming away. Oh yes, did I mention that? France was the country represented on this year’s Reeperbahnfestival. Yes, and I did miss Halo Maude who performed astoundingly according to Sandra. But here’s the plan: Forget the plan. After a short visit to the famous Golden Poodle Club, we galloped to Nochtwache, the cellar club of Nochtspeicher and were expecting a late night treat like last year, something wild and quiet and jazzy and trippy and got Chris Garneau. Now, I would have been happy with the announced Canadian singer-songwriter, indie folk to tone down after a long day and make me weep a little bit. But no.
Great guitar, great drums, but the somewhat whiney, keyboard accompanied songs of Chris Garneau did not do it for me (think Marc Almond, kind of). But that’s just me. The numerous visitors seemed to enjoy it whole-heartedly.
And shock and horror, that was it in terms of gigs. Plenty of parties going on still but the instrument cases were being packed. There is always a next year. I have told you so!
This past summer has seen the release of many a fine example of American Primitive Guitar music. Does anybody know what is supposed to be primitive about the nimble fingerpicking style? I do not. In today’s post I would like to warmly recommend to you three releases to be majorly impressed and touched at the heartstrings equally.
Furthermore I like to introduce a lovely small label to you, coinciding with a new release there. Then, to round it off and keep things balanced, some perfectly polished synth music will also be featured.
Gwenifer Raymond strives for perfection in seemingly everything she does and she succeeds. Not only is Cardiff-born Gwenifer an astrophysicist and very engaged in political and social affairs, she is a hugely accomplished musician who released her impressive debut “You were never much of a dancer” on Tompkins Square Records. At eight years she started to play the guitar, then played in punk bands later and ended joining the big players of American Primitive music. Listen to Gwenifer Raymond’s debut album and you know, she can hold her own out there. Her guitar (and banjo) playing and songwriting is in another dimension – the speed, the atmosphere, the warmth of her songs, between quiet and absolutely frenetic, aaaah.
Gwenifer Raymond’s first ever US performance took place at Thousand Incarnations festival where all guitar greats met and yet there was no hierarchy but great camaraderie. Glenn Jones was there too, of course, nowadays already a great influence on the younger players of the field as for instance John Fahey was in his generation. And more good news to come: Glenn has released another solo album on Thrill Jockey with the title (deep breath) “The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 & 12 String Guitar”. We must do without his fantastic banjo playing (“Spokane River Falls” of his last album “Fleeting” being a favourite of mine) but get treated with the sounds of the 12 string instead. Magically assisted in some songs by Laura Baird, Glenn Jones released another batch of songs that will accompany you for life, out on the road and at home. And still you will detect something new, however cosy they will start feeling for you.
You must have seen the name Nathan Salsburg popping up lately all over the place and if not, you will be bound to have heard his masterful guitar playing. Funny anecdote on the side: On the day of Offbeat Music Blog’s interview with James Elkington, James recounted how he knew Nathan as his wife’s childhood friend from Louisville and that he of course was aware that Nathan Salsburg is the curator of the Alan Lomax Archive at the Association for Cultural Equity and thus his knowledge is mighty and he is well able to share it, also as a radio presenter. What James did not know, that Nathan is a guitar player and then some. It speaks volumes that a man who plays fingerpicking style and changes tuning mid-play, who invents whole storylines for guitar music and can add his playing with ease to many a musician’s work (The Weather Station, Joan Shelley, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Wooden Wand, Jake Fussell, Red River Dialect for example) does all this with such apparent ease. But easy it is not what Nathan Salsburg presents, if easy on the ear. His third solo album is called just that – “Third” (out on No Quarter) – and you are invited to immerse yourself in a bit over half an hour of purest guitar music and be transported – to wherever you want to be.
Carla J. Easton
Through my friend and colleague Sandra Zettpunkt (and her absolute trailblazing trail (of music) finding golden nose), I came across Olive Grove Records from Glasgow and their wonderful Christmas compilation as well as their artist Jared Celosse. Thank you so much, Lloyd, from Olive Grove Records now to share with me the release of Carla J. Easton‘s album which I herewith highly recommend to you. “Impossible Stuff” will be out on October 5th. Carla was also the lead singer of TeenCanteen. More surprising facts: Howard Bilerman had a hand in the album – he is also the producer of Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’ and also Leonard Cohen and British Sea Power. Carla can be found on Belle & Sebastian’s How To Solve Our Human Problems – Part 2 EP AND she is involved in the making of a documentary called “Since Yesterday: The Unsung Women Pioneers Of Scottish Pop” by film maker Blair Young. Maybe you will have seen Carla J. Easton around as she is avidly touring and performing. Now for her new album:
Carla reveals that this time round, she is not censoring herself lyrically, letting it all out but in a way that hopefully listeners can relate to the lyrics and find something of or for themselves in them. She aimed for a big sound musicwise and simultaneously for spontaneous recording. Not easy to pin down her sound to a genre which actually in these algorithm recommendations times is a good thing, no? This a clever album without wanting to be, an anthology of music through the ages really and yet light as pop songs (as if it were easy to write a pop song) and gelled together by a warmth and roughness and directness that is Carla’s own.
Check this out, a charming little gem of a video with commented by no less than Aidan Moffat:
Shannon Alexander and Eric Smith hail from Seattle and together, as Static Shore, they release finest tunes combining Electronica, SynthPop, FuturePop and Indie Electronica, so far the genres. But moreover, relish in magic headphone moments when Static Shore let loose crystal clear, lush harmonies, layering, spiralling and danceable songs.
Their third EP ‘Embody’ has been released on August 24th 2018 and you can avail of it here.
‘Sun In My Wake’ is the first single that was taken from the album. Check it out here.