donderdag 31 januari 2013

Bish Bosch. Scott Walker

You can listen to 'Epizootics!' here.

Starting this review I promise to seriously listen to one of the most strange records that I ever sat through from beginning to end. What to make from this collage of sounds, pieces of text, weird effects? The way the album starts seems designed to repel. Dark, ominous drones, pulses that are unleashed on the non-suspecting listener. Over the drones Walker proclaims lyrics, while snippets of instruments come in to and go out of the mix. ''See you don't bump his head'' is beyond a traditional song, but just a stepping stone to the rest of the album.

'Corps de blah' is a collage that vaguely reminds me of 'Suzy Creamcheese' kind of Frank Zappa songs, but only in the most polite way. The funny thing is that in fragments of the song Walker does allow us to hear what the song would have sounded like if he'd aimed for a more conventional record. It makes me wonder how these songs started. Just on a guitar or piano? After which the song must have been deconstructed, cut up, glued, instruments recorded but for the better part left out and others added at the most surprising moments? It must be something like this as I can't imagine coming up with songs this way out of the blue.

Scott Walker broke through in 1965 with The Walker Brothers: 'Make it easy on yourself', followed in 1966 by their greatest hit 'The sun ain't gonna shine any more'. All in a very Phil Spector wall of sound like production and Scott's deep, theatrical voice. In 1976 there was a comeback album with the hit 'No regrets'. Scott, born Scott Engel in 1943, resumed his solo career, that he had started in 1967. Bish Bosch is his fourteenth solo album but only his third since 1984. His voice has grown older and is less strong, half of the time not really singing, but declamating or singing like a priest in church. Frail, like his image in recent pictures I found on the Internet. There's a similarity to Lou Reed's faded voice here.

If I'm honest I do not enjoy Bish Bosch, but a fair guess is that this album is not here to please. It does impress me, in a way 'Kid A' impressed me, but I have almost never listened to that album again. This music confronts and overwhelms. It is music that demands the highest form of concentrations to acknowledge what it is that is going on. The album as a whole is too much for me to sit through all in once. The songs are soundscapes over which we hear Walkers voice. A passage in 'Dimple' is moving, there, when the second voice comes in. The mood is directly destroyed by a harsh, sharp-edged digital sound. To change again to accompaniment by jazzy drums only to be exchanged very soon by an acoustic guitar. Short images of the song 'Dimple', the song that could have been that is, and then the soundscape sets in again estranging the listener, confusing, alarming. In 'Tar' a sound like two swords connecting makes up the main rhythm, all other sounds or instruments seem like the have nothing to do with what Walker declamates. Aliens to the song, but allowed in anyway.

The song that resembles "a song" most is the last, ninth, song on Bish Bosch. 'The day the "Conducator" died (An Xmas song) is bare, but almost seems like a "normal" song after the sonic experimentations we have heard in the eight songs before it. The sleigh bells are all around and the end will sound very familiar to all familiar with Christmas, as if Scott Walker makes up for all that went on before.

Bish Bosch could not be further away from the songs of Scott Walker that come by on radio stations every once in while, with 'Jacky' and 'Mrs. Murphy' as most well known solo songs. Bish Bosch is too far out to look at as pop music, for entertainment, but it is very special. With compliments to his record company for the audacity to release an album like this in these days. I will not play Bish Bosch often, but, yes, I am an experience the wiser and left behind in awe.

Wo.

You can order Bish Bosch here


or here


woensdag 30 januari 2013

Psychedelic pill. Neil Young & Crazy Horse (2)

You can listen to 'Ramada Inn' here.

It's time to bite this pill. Like the doctor says: "It's good for you!" Listening to the last effort Neil Young and his long standing colleagues Crazy Horse proffered, 'Americana', I was not in the mood for another one. I didn't get past the first three songs. And then friends started telling me that you better start listening. They even bought tickets to the Ziggo Dome show later this year!

O.k, o.k, I put the album on my iPod and while biking from the city centre to the suburb I live, the same song was still playing. WTF?!, how long can a person drift back? Again I put Psychedelic pill away and was prodded again. So I've bitten the pill, several times now, and can only state that Neil Young & Crazy Horse are in great form on this album.

Having bought 'American stars and bars' in 1977, that makes it all in all a long time that I've followed Neil Young through ups and downs, country, grunge, electronics, rock and roll, rock, ballads and what not. When an artist is around for so long, competing with his older work becomes nearly impossible. There will never be another 'Like a hurricane', but a song like 'Ramada Inn' does compete with 'Cortez the killer'.

On Psychedelic pill Neil Young lets his electric guitars hoot and howl like in the days of old. Long, dark, distorted guitar solos in lower and higher registers grace the album. Fans of the electric Young are not sold short here. Listening to the album does take some tenacity as the already mentioned 'Driftin' back' clocks at nearly half an hour. Two others do 15 minutes plus, the reason why this double album holds only eight songs.

In 'Born in Ontario' Young looks back on his youth, before everything started for him circa 46 years ago, after moving to L.A. 'She's always dancing', only 8.30, is a melodically strong song, with a bit of a toss away lyric at first. The guitar playing and solos are a delight to listen to. There's always a new effect to try out and mix with others. 'For the love of man' is a rest point in the guitar noise. It's one of those songs that bring Neil Young's voice to the breaking point. There are a lot of people out there, ununderstandable but true, that can't stand his quivery voice. This song makes me understand why and still it's quite good, tacky but good. A bit out of place also, as the listener notices when the last power house of the album 'Walk like a giant' starts with guitars, whistles and all. Young starts exploring his fret board long and hard.

Taking Psychedelic pill in as a whole, it still takes some effort to get through 'Driftin' back', but once I'm past the first half our, I can only conclude that Neil Young & Crazy Horse have made a monumental album. Thanks for alerting and prodding me, guys!

Wo.

You can order Psychedelic pill here


or here


dinsdag 29 januari 2013

Silver age. Bob Mould

You can listen to 'The descent' here.

Bob Mould has been making records for thirty years. With Hüsker Dü, Sugar and under his own name and I have missed every single record up to Silver age. That makes it possible for me to listen to the album with fresh ears as if it's his first one. (And now I can back paddle and peruse his previous work at leisure.) If anything, Silver age reminds me of another album, that was my first while the band was around for 20 odd years, Social Distortion's 'Sex, love and rock and roll' (2004). Mould has the same melodic punk rock magic and a sneer like Mike Ness.

On silver age one prejudice is taken away directly. Even in silver age it is possible to punk rock loud and with pleasure, as many a band is proving out there. Bob Mould steps on the gas, puts his legs in Status Quo mode and rocks out. There are guitar layers all over the place, left, right and over bass and drums played by Jason Narducy and Superchunk's Jon Wurster respectively. This is a guitar record and Mould lets us know it. Rhythm guitars, arpeggiated, a lead guitar, solo's, muted and almost all at the same time. Layer after layer was recorded to create a great guitar wall of sound over which his rough sounding voice is mixed into the middle there of. Caressed and enveloped by guitars as it were.

Silver age holds ten new songs that are over by 38 minutes. Exactly long enough to want to play the album again. More would definitely have spoiled the effect. As a whole the album is slightly monotonous, minimal variations in tempo and attack, as overall it's loud guitars that dominate. As such the album is not reproducible on stage, as a trio. Because of the relative short play time, the strengths of the album clearly show.

Another record comes to mind, Dinosaur Jr's 'I bet on sky'. As a whole Silver age has more of a pop feel to it. The compositions are more free flowing, invite more to sing along to. Like Green Day, but this album is harsher on the whole, but the quality in the songs do remind me of Green Day's best songs. In which Social Distortion out-did Mould with songs like 'Reach for the sky' and 'Footprints on the ceiling' in 2004.

Silver age does not have one song that totally stands out, positive or negative. It's an album to enjoy as a whole, no matter how strange that may sound in these days of shuffle modes, but that's the way it is.

Wo.

You can order Silver age here


or here


maandag 28 januari 2013

Hobo's lament, EP. Larry and his Flask

You can listen to Hobo's lament here.

Larry and his Flask is a welcome guest on this blog. Since the band's two shows in the Q-Bus in the spring of 2012 they have featured four times and all, including an interview with Jamin Marshall. Now the band returns with a new EP, with songs in part showcased in the shows. Songs that promised a lot. Let's see if that promise is fulfilled.

Now knowing the band, there is no longer the element of surprise. On the one hand the surprise of the live storm cooked up on stage and on the other how good the band is on record also. In that sense Hobo's lament delivers. The energy and diversity is there, the surprise switch of strings to horns and the general quality of the songs.

Larry and his Flask has this unique quality to mix right out punk, with blue grass and jazzy lead guitar antics. Let's hear it for Ian Cook here! His incredibly fast licks and solos are impressive, good and fun to listen to, whether they are up front or in the accompaniment. This mix of electric with the acoustic does not always go together as far as I'm concerned. It is this mix that makes Larry and his Flask stand out to any other band I know. There is The Hackensaw Boys and Pokey LaFarge in the acoustic realm and Dropkick Murphys -and many others- but no one does it exactly like these guys from Bend, Oregon. Added with the enormous amounts of energy thrown in at live shows, it ought to be a winning combination.

The title song stands out most on Hobo's lament. The song is somewhat slower and less wild, but has this beautiful switch to a great, melodic refrain in which the band let's it rip with the break on. The rough sounding guitar in closing song 'So long' is mixed with a sweet sounding voice and a rough trombone. Without this edge, the song could have come from the 1950s, in a version by Pat Boone or Frankie Laine. 'My name is cancer' is a personal cry from one of the band members. 'Closed doors' and 'Big ride' have that typical Larry and his Flask kind of rocking and swing, with the odd mood swing here or there. While 'Swing' brings out the horns in great form, lending a Mexican mood to this up-tempo song.

Again the cover is graced by a signature painter Randi Hobbs. In a while all fans will always recognise a Larry and his Flask cover. A good partnership this is. A Tarantino like hobo graces the cover of this EP.

Hobo's lament shows the world that Larry and his Flask is a force to reckon with. A great consolidation of where the band is at present. The way the band mixes energy and speed with harmony singing and attractive melodies remains a joy to listen to. Watch out for them as they tour through Europe this spring. This is a show you do not want to miss.

Wo.

You can order Hobo's lament here.

zondag 27 januari 2013

Celebration day. Led Zeppelin (2)

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Rock and roll'.

Met de dood van drummer John Bonham kwam in december 1980 een einde aan het bestaan van Led Zeppelin. De band die tussen 1969 en 1975 de rockmuziek definitief veranderde was sinds de opkomst van de punk in de tweede helft van de jaren 70 al zwaar van de leg, maar kwam de dood van haar drummer nooit meer te boven. Decennia lang werd er geschreeuwd om een reünie van led Zeppelin, maar meer dan een samenwerking tussen zanger Robert Plant en gitarist Jimmy Page leek er niet in te zitten. Tot de avond van 10 december 2007. Als eerbetoon aan hun overleden platenbaas Ahmet Ertegun stonden de drie nog in leven zijnde leden van Led Zeppelin, naast Robert Plant en Jimmy Page ook bassist John Paul Jones, op het podium van de O2 Arena in Londen en nam John Bonham’s zoon Jason plaats achter de drumkit. Naar verluid probeerden ongeveer 20 miljoen mensen een kaartje voor het concert te bemachtigen; nog altijd goed voor het Guinness Book Of Records. Uiteindelijk konden slechts zo’n 20.000 mensen het voor eenmaal herenigde Led Zeppelin aan het werk zien tijdens een volgens de overlevering memorabel concert. Hoe memorabel het concert daadwerkelijk was kunnen we 5 jaar na dato dan eindelijk met eigen ogen zien, want de al jaren geleden aangekondigde box-set Celebration Day ligt nu in de winkel. Celebration Day verschijnt in een aantal versies, maar omdat de prijsverschillen niet overdreven groot zijn, zou ik gaan voor de meest complete versie die bestaat uit 2 cd’s en 2 DVD’s. Op de eerste DVD zien we het complete concert. Het is allemaal smaakvol gefilmd en het geluid is prima. Ik heb meestal zelf niet het geduld om een concertfilm helemaal uit te zitten, maar het reünie concert van één van de grote bands uit de geschiedenis van de rockmuziek moet je minstens eenmaal gezien hebben. Ook de bonus DVD met  een documentaire over de voorbereiding en de repetities is zeker de moeite waard, al is het maar om eens te zien wat er komt kijken bij een concert van deze omvang. De hoofdmoot bestaat voor mij echter toch uit de twee cd’s met de audio opnamen van het concert. Natuurlijk is de tracklist niet helemaal onomstreden en natuurlijk hoor je hier en daar dat de heren inmiddels op leeftijd zijn, maar is dat erg? Persoonlijk vind ik van niet. De 2007 editie van Led Zeppelin klinkt in ieder geval een stuk geïnspireerder dan de band in de laatste jaren van haar bestaan (vergelijk het maar eens met het zouteloze Knebworth concert uit 1979 dat deels is te zien op DVD uit 2003). Wanneer je Celebration Day vergelijkt met Led Zeppelin in haar beste dagen klinkt het allemaal wat minder rauw en explosief, maar hier en daar is de wat subtielere invulling prachtig. Een band op leeftijd herken je over het algemeen het best aan de zanger. Het bereik van Robert Plant is inderdaad een stuk kleiner dan in zijn jongere jaren, maar persoonlijk vind ik Plant op Celebration Day geweldig zingen. Als ik moet kiezen tussen de live-plaat die Led Zeppelin in de jaren 70 uitbracht (The Song Remains The Same) en Celebration Day kies ik absoluut voor de laatste. Het moet genoeg zeggen over de kwaliteit van Celebration Day. In 2007 probeerden 20 miljoen mensen een kaartje voor Celebration Day te bemachtigen, maar viel slechts 0,1 procent in de prijzen. Vijf jaar later is Celebration Day gelukkig binnen ieders bereik.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt Celebration day hier bestellen


en hier

zaterdag 26 januari 2013

Wild geese calling. Johan Borger

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'When the lighting strikes'.

Het is dit jaar (2012, Wo.) eerder regel dan uitzondering; kwalitatief hoogstaande platen van eigen bodem. Ik zal me dan ook niet nog eens verbazen over het grote aantal platen van eigen bodem dat dit jaar deze BLOG heeft gehaald, al is het maar omdat ik van Johan Borger eigenlijk niet anders had verwacht. Borger debuteerde bijna twee jaar geleden met het bijzonder fraaie Sometimes; destijds een van de weinige releases van eigen bodem die een plekje op mijn BLOG wisten af te dwingen. Met het onlangs verschenen Wild Geese Calling laat Johan Borger horen dat hij sinds de release van het in kleine kring bejubelde Sometimes alleen maar is gegroeid. Het in de eigen woonkamer opgenomen en knap in elkaar geknutselde Sometimes was destijds een oase van rust. Johan Borger liet zich op zijn debuut voornamelijk beïnvloeden door Amerikaanse singer-songwriter muziek uit de jaren 60 en 70 en had een voorliefde voor ingetogen en soms bijna fluisterzachte songs. Het bleken stuk voor stuk songs die je heel snel dierbaar worden en die vervolgens ook dierbaar blijven. Voor Wild Geese Calling verruilde Johan Borger zijn woonkamer voor een oude boerderij. De plaat heeft hierdoor net wat meer een bandgeluid dan Sometimes, maar de verschillen tussen beide platen moeten zeker niet overdreven worden. Dat is wat mij betreft goed nieuws, want het unieke geluid van Sometimes was nog lang niet uitgewerkt. Wild Geese Calling laat zich uiteindelijk beluisteren als Sometimes deel 2, maar is zeker niet meer van hetzelfde. Johan Borger heeft zich de afgelopen twee jaar verder ontwikkeld als singer-songwriter en laat als zanger (meer kleur en emotie) en als songwriter (mooiere verhalen en meer memorabele songs) de nodige groei horen. Ook op Wild Geese Calling maakt Johan Borger tijdloze muziek met vooral invloeden uit de folk en de country en domineren de stemmige en vaak behoorlijk ingetogen songs. Deze zijn net wat mooier ingekleurd dan de songs op Sometimes en ook de variatie is net wat groter, waardoor Wild Geese Calling duidelijk aan kracht wint. Net als Sometimes doet ook Wild Geese Calling me met enige regelmaat denken aan het werk van de door mijn zeer gewaardeerde Amerikaanse singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne, maar ook wanneer ik eventueel aanwezige chauvinistische gevoelens onderdruk, vind ik de platen van Johan Borger beter, al is het maar omdat ik zijn stem mooier en prettiger vind. Het is al knap om in een overvol genre als dit met een plaat op de proppen te komen die op de aandacht weet te trekken. Het is nog veel knapper om een plaat af te leveren die vervolgens ook nog eens diepe indruk weet te maken. Johan Borger doet dit nu voor de tweede keer in nog geen twee jaar tijd en overtreft ook nog eens het zo geprezen debuut. Sometimes werd uiteindelijk een van de mooiste singer-songwriter platen van 2011. Wild Geese Calling zal in 2012 menig lijstje aan gaan voeren. Als gerechtigheid bestaat tenminste.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt Wild geese calling hier bestellen.

vrijdag 25 januari 2013

Music from another dimension! Aerosmith

You can listen to 'Sweet Jesus' here.

Having seen an announcement a while back that Aerosmith had a new record out, I did not imagine writing a review on it. And here I am. Old rockers never die and they rock hard as sixty somethings.

Aerosmith is around for over 40 years. The first odd 17 years went straight past me. It was not a band that got a lot of attention over here. And then there was 'Rag doll' and not much later 'Walk this way' with Run DMC. It wasn't until 1993 that the band really broke over here, undoubtedly because of the great videos, but also because 'Get a grip' was at least for 50% a great album. After that the band slowly faded from my attention as the last studio album was from 2001, 'Just push play'. And then I heard Music from another dimension!

Not unlike ZZ Top on its last album 'La futura' (click here for our review) Aerosmith seems to do just what it is good at. Write a good and dirty sounding rock song and embellish it with some horns or girls singing in the back ground. For the rest it's Aerosmith rocking hard and making it sound as good as possible.

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry are a set of musical twins that can't go without each other. Not unlike Mick and Keith. So how much of the reported strive is real or PR, I leave others to speculate or write a good biography on. Tyler's performance is a mix of Jagger and Morrison, but his voice has that fine rasp that lends itself perfectly for rock. It may have some traces of all those years on the road, but is in fine form on the new cd.

As always the list of collaborations where songwriting is concerned is a long one. Familiar names, Diane Warren, Marti Fredrickson, Desmond Child and Jim Vallence are all present, but the less familiar band members all have credits on this record. Even drummer Joey Kramer's son! This all leads to a dynamic record that all in all was about six years in the making, an extremely long time, but Aerosmith can be happy with the result. Music from another dimension! is plain fun to listen to. And perhaps something of a wonder if I take in the extremely long period it took to conceive. Especially because it sounds like the band had fun.

The back ground is extremely tight and in great form. Joey, Brad and Tom lay down a foundation that allows Joe Perry to strut his stuff. His characteristic playing is all over this record.

A ballad like 'What could have been love' sounds a bit to forced in finding another 'Crazy' or 'Amazing'. Not that it's bad, but it doesn't spark like the ballads on 'Get a grip'. This could be a Joe Cocker song and may be a few years from now. Too neat and polished. On the other hand the rockers contrast better this way, so the song does have a good function as such. When the dirty guitars of 'Sweet Jesus' kicks in with the drums, I'm remembered that I'm listening to the right album. Especially when the tempo goes up. Riff away Mr. Perry! The duet between Tyler and Carrie Underwood in 'Can't stop loving you' is a lot more naturally flowing, so loads better. Aerosmith always holds this inner contrast in it, hard rocking and sweet U.S. like rock ballads.

The only thing I can really find against the record is that it could have been two songs less in total, but, hey, I just start it at another point and that's fixed.

So, all in all a great rock record by veteran rockers Aerosmith. It seems like they have a future, despite the fact that the band members may have forgotten that somewhere in the past ten years. Low down and dirty and produced well at the same time. What more can I ask for from a band that's around for 40 years?

Wo.

You can order Music from another dimension! here


or here


donderdag 24 januari 2013

Dark side of the moon. Pink Floyd

You can listen to 'Dark side of the moon' here.

Dark side of the moon was not my first Pink Floyd album. That was ´Wish you were here´ in December 1975. I thought this so good, that I wanted more and asked for Dark side of the moon for my birthday a week later. It grew into a trip that I´m still on over 37 years down the road.

To start confessing, I´m not a fan of the early Pink Floyd. Syd Barrett doesn´t agree with me and the unstructured music the group made before ´Atom heart mother´ is wasted on my ears. ´Atom heart mother´, ´Meddle´ and ´Obscured by clouds´ were all target practice that led to 3,5 brilliant albums in six years´ time. To me it´s not surprising how well Pink Floyd does in the yearly Top 2000 list of Radio 2. To a lot of people my age, mostly male I guess, this music made an imprint on our existence, that is there for life.

Dark side of the moon offers adventure, avant-garde, heavenly melodies, experimentation and beautiful guitar solos by David Gilmour. All in one on two sides of dark, formerly shining, vinyl. The film 'More' shows in part the making of Dark side of the moon. The most fascinating part is that Roger Waters unpacks a box from which a new musical instrument materialises. A, then, totally new synthesizer. All through the film he's twiddling with the knobs. What is he doing? Till it becomes clear that from all this twiddling the spacy, futuristic sounding, 'On the run' is being created, purely from twiddling knobs, finding out what this piece of machinery is capable of. The production, the sound, the singing, the musicians and singers they hired to help make the album, all are impeccable. Enhancing the album to the greatest heights imaginable in music. In other words, close to what heaven must look like.

The moods that Dark side of the moon takes the listener through is fabulous. "Quiet desperation is the English way", Waters sings in 'Time', but the emotions evoked by the non-text singing of Clare Torry is not exactly quiet desperation. The intro of Rick Wright's piano playing on 'The great gig in the sky' is. The contrast between the perfectly normal piano playing and the exalted singing is so enormous and still so fitting, that I´m effected and impressed every time I hear it. The same goes for the two final songs, 'Brain damage' and 'Eclipse', that go from madness to resignation in the matter of minutes.

If we also allow for two of the best Pink Floyd songs on the album, 'Time' and 'Money' as well, it becomes clear that as far as I'm concerned Dark side of the moon is a total winner and one of the best albums ever made. 'Time' is a fairly slow song, but has this funkyness hidden deep inside of itself in the way the guitar is played by Gilmour. 'Money' is a classical monster hit, that never made the charts. The song is so good. You can wake me up to listen to it any time. It holds the first of Gilmour's classic guitar solos in which he goes all out in a few separate solos. And lets not forget the sax solo of Dick Parry.

'Money' is a, certainly for Pink Floyd standards, extremely groovy song. The start with the cash register and money sounds, is very original. Fully fitting the grove that the band lays down, jazzy, swinging, pumping. Delays on the keyboard and guitar, repeating licks. The guitar mimicking Roger Waters' voice. The driving sax solo leads up to the first guitar solo in double time, changing the groove in which Gilmour shows his blues licks and downwards runs that is a staple of his best solos. The second part is more relaxed, before the band goes into double time again for the glittering finale of the solo. Gilmour never played better than in 'Money', 'Shine on your crazy diamond' and 'Comfortably numb'.

If anything, Pink Floyd was still a band. Rick Wright delivers the beautiful, relaxed, 'Us and them'. A 'A whiter shade of pale' quality song, without Bach so prominent in it. (Just listen in the back ground!) Beautiful arpeggiated notes by Gilmour and more sax by Dick Parry. When the noise erupts, it is with so much style and class, leading the listener into a World War I scene of leaving the trenches, killing many. And the song slips back into tranquillity.

Dark side of the moon is a monument that will be there for all time. Like Beethoven's 5th or Vivaldi's 'Four seasons' and Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode'. An album full of classical influences, a stapel of symphonic rock. Too bad that after 1979 nothing anything matching came out of these four musicians. The band was clearly more than the individuals. Where several others their age have made lesser and better albums, some even masterpieces, since, Pink Floyd is left with the integral shows of Roger Waters that tour the world for three years. I'm glad I got to the the Dark side of the moon show in 2006. Maybe I should go to 'The wall' this summer, before it's too late.

Wo.

You can order Dark side of the moon here


or here


woensdag 23 januari 2013

Interview with producer and Yonder Music president Missy Davis Jones



Interview with Missy Davis Jones for WoNo Magazine and WoNoBloG

by Wout de Natris

© WoNo Magazine 2013
 



How would you like to introduce yourself to the readers?
My name is Missy Davis Jones, and I live in Florence, SC. I am originally from NJ, but also lived in Los Angeles for eight years before I moved here to be close to my husband’s family. My husband, Ken, and I own a recording studio called Southern Harmony Recording here in town, as well as the record label Yonder Music. I’ve always been passionate about music, and I’ve dabbled in many facets of the industry since I was a teenager (band photographer, band merch buyer/manufacturer, the list goes on) but really found my niche when I started producing and developing some of the local talent in this region of SC. 
 
What made you start a record company in days of copying and the Internet?
Sheer stupidity and madness? HA! Actually I’m mostly driven by the fact that there is abundant, world class talent right in my backyard that deserves to be heard by music lovers all over the world. South Carolina has limited opportunity and resources for singer-songwriters, it’s hard to get anywhere without relocating to larger markets like New York, Nashville, LA, and Atlanta. But I felt the level of talent here was too incredible to waste, and decided to do something about it. We’re more of a holistic artist development agency than a traditional label, and that allows me some latitude in terms of finding different ways to seek out opportunity for my roster.

What are your expectations?
The recording industry is really struggling to figure out how to make money. I do not expect to solve any of those problems – I mean if Warner Brothers can’t figure it out, what makes me think I can, right? My only real expectation is to make great records, and I think we can, and do, accomplish that. I’d also like to not go so deeply in debt that I lose everything we have worked for over the years. But if I can break even eventually, that would be fantastic. I understand that without great risk, there’s no great reward. I told James Scott Bullard (one of my artists) that you have the rest of your life to make money, but only a short window of time to make history. I guess I expect to make something memorable, or at least that’s the hope everyone involved with Yonder has – to create something special and beautiful that will outlive us all.

You come from a completely different industry and switched to music. When did you get the inspiration to work with musicians and produce records?
That’s not entirely the case. I do have a day job right now that’s totally unmusical - I am in sales, for an American company called Monster.com. It’s very unglamorous, but it funds the recording studio and label, and is basically one of the best jobs you can get in Florence, SC (this is a small town!)  But when I lived in Los Angeles, I was a band merchandise buyer for the music based retail chain called Hot Topic. So for a very long time I was eyeball deep in the Los Angeles music industry. Not to toot my own horn, but I always had a knack for spotting talent, which was a large part of my job at Hot Topic – to figure out what the next big thing was going to be. The merch business is not exactly the same as the record business, but I learned enough to get me started from close friends who ran indie labels and managed bands. When we moved to South Carolina we decided to open a recording studio. My husband had a home studio in Los Angeles so it was a natural progression to open up a public location here in SC…in LA we had equipment but never could have afforded the overhead. The label was conceived out of the fact that we saw so much talent coming through the door at our studio, that it was just impossible to ignore. I believe Stephanie Fagan called it kismet, and it really was…it just all came together in this really cosmic way. The studio, the singer-songwriters, and the studio musicians are what make the label possible, it’s very much a Stax type model we have here at Yonder. As far as production goes, I’m still very new to it, but I am an organizer and a wrangler by nature, so I just sort of stumbled into the role. For many years I worked on the outset of the creation of music, and I was definitely a music business person. I was attracted to production as a way of being a part of the creative process, really wanting to get my hands dirty in all aspects of making a record. My husband engineers, and I was envious of the deep connection he had to the music as it was being made, and I wanted to be a part of that. We make a great team in the studio, I’m not sure I could do this with anyone else.

What is the story about the label’s name, Yonder Music?
It’s because we’re making music waaaaaay over yonder…here in little old Florence, SC. We’re far away from the traditional “music industry” – bucking the system a bit but I think that makes us unique and special, and gives us a family vibe.

Distribution seems a challenge to me, looking from the outside, for a small and starting label. Is the Internet, paradoxical as it may seem, a blessing for a start up?
Absolutely! Nobody wants to distribute a tiny label in South Carolina with a bunch of unknown artists. Without the internet it would be impossible to get exposure. My husband always says, “Nobody wants you, until everybody wants you.” With regards to a big distribution deal, I figure around the time it becomes necessary, it will also become very possible. Internet radio, online bloggers (like yourself)...social sites, Pandora, Jango – these have all been intergral parts of building an audience for Stephanie’s music. We’ve been very fortunate, Stephanie’s record was well received and got many positive reviews in the online music community.

I’ve always read there are two kinds of producers: recorders and influential. My hunch was you are in the latter category, which was confirmed by Stephanie Fagan. How do you know or feel what a bare song needs?
As you said, producers all have a different ways of doing things, some are incredible musicians and songwriters in their own right (like Brian Eno and Alan Parsons), many are recording engineers (like Tom Dowd) that cross over into production – but that’s not me, so I suppose that puts me in the influential category by default. It’s my job to help the artist present the music in a way that it tells a story, and that has a consistent vision – to help create a true “body of work.” I like album rock - I am not a fan of pop singles. I actually learned how to create a cohesive body of work as a photographer, and also as a merchandiser – it’s the same concept of presentation, only you are applying it to music instead of visual mediums. I talk to the artists about what they are trying to convey – we have conversations about influences and what inspires them. We talk about concepts, and may decide something like “this song sounds like driving in the car with the wind blowing your hair” and it’s my job to arrange the right performances and instrumentation that will inspire that sensation when we hear it. Functionally speaking, in the studio I am the coach, the editor, the embellisher, and the organizer. I’m also a quality control person, which makes me a killjoy sometimes. I’m the one making you sing it again, “this time with feeling” haha! I’m also the one going through the bassline with a fine toothed comb, making sure there are no mistakes, or saying “you know what this song needs? Vibraslap!” It’s hard to tell someone that a song they wrote doesn’t make the cut for the album, or that their performance was weak and they need to step it up. But all my criticism comes from a place of love! My artists call me Mama Bear, if that sheds any light on my production and management style. I’m nurturing, but also tough. My artists trust me and know I share their goals. If I think something can be done better, it’s my job to speak up and say something so that we’re making the very best record we’re capable of.


You wrote that you work with a set of musicians. What are their roles in the creation of a record?
We have access to world class studio musicians in Florence, believe it or not. Like I said, it’s very much a Stax or Motown model. We connect a singer-songwriter with a group of musicians who help us execute the vision. These are really versatile guys, true professionals who can play anything from jazz to country to blues, gospel, rock and bluegrass. They work on projects for the label, but are also our go to guys for hire on tons of projects Ken works on at the studio that I do not release. The main three guys who played on Stephanie’s record had been playing together since the early 80s: two brothers, Ray and Timmy Berry, and bassist Steve Hamilton. They would play twenty different tempos and arrangements if I asked them to, until we found the sound we were looking for - they were incredibly good sports! Structuring Stephanie’s music was a lot of work because we started with these little acoustic demos that didn’t always have intros or solos or bridges, and created really big songs out of them. And much of it was done with just me and Ken and the musicians, because Stephanie was in Germany during the major recording sessions. We had practically the whole town pitching in on that record, different background singers on each song, a few different guitarists. There were so many notable performances: John Bazen who played an amazing dobro part on “Prodigal,” Tommy Hatfield who played all the lovely pedal steel work, Chris Cottros (who is Terri Clark’s touring guitarist) really saved us on a couple of songs where we were struggling to get the right guitar part. There were so many amazing players, and that I think contributed to all the special little moments and surprises on “Heart Thief” – it’s like a little Easter egg hunt catching all of them. On the flipside, James Scott Bullard has an excellent group of guys he plays with in his live act: bassist Kevin Singleton (who is my rock on many projects, I don’t know what we’d do without him!) Jeff Springs plays pedal steel and guitar, lead guitarist Tyler Roberts who is frick to JSB’s frack, a very talented organist (who also works with Stephanie) named Justin Banks, and a very talented drummer named Adam Brown. These guys are all total superstars in our local scene, we basically have assembled a supergroup. JSB’s new album will be very different from Stephanie’s because they will have played his new songs together many times prior to coming in to the studio to record. They will know their parts, so it will just be a matter of tweaking the arrangements, getting the best performances out of everyone, and embellishing with percussion and overdubs. That’s very different from “Heart Thief’ which had almost no pre-production work – all the parts were formulated and arranged IN the studio. Thank goodness we own a studio, or else it may have been the most expensive record ever made! It was like my “Chinese Democracy” sometimes I never thought it would be done. 

What is your own musical background as, at least I imagine, that you need to know about music to be able to assist artists in creating or translating their music from the home/practice room to the studio?
Well, I’m no George Martin, that’s for sure! I’m just a lousy pianist and an ok singer. I used to be able to read music, but I am very out of practice. What I think I have to offer is the ability to understand the artist’s vision - really zero in and “get it” in terms of their point of view, and come up with a plan to execute it. You don’t need to be an orchestra conductor to do that, especially if you are surrounded by others who have those talents. I can say to a great session player “I want it to sound like X,” and they can do it without me having to explain it in super technical terms. While I am not a technical genius, my general musical knowledge is pretty deep and wide, so I have a lot of reference points. For example, if I tell my husband “I want the guitar to have so and so tone” he knows what guitar and amp and preamps and effects to use to create that. I don’t need to know how to technically make that happen, I just need to know what I want and keep coming up with good ideas to make the songs better. I have always been a ponderer of music; I don’t just listen, I examine music from all angles…conceptually, emotionally, historically – what were the influences and where were these guys coming from when they made this album? I think I apply that thought process to my production style. One of my most famous lines when we were working on Heart Thief was “make it sound like ponies!” Of course studio musicians hate that sort of direction haha, which is why I rely very heavily on my husband. He’s an excellent musician with a far greater technical vocabulary than I have, so he helps me translate that to the gang in a way they can work with. I’m getting better with my production lingo though, I can communicate more clearly to the musicians now than I could two years ago when we started Heart Thief. I think at first it was a lot of “I don’t know what I want, but that’s not it.” So in other words a whole lot of try this, try that, how about this or that, until I heard it and said BINGO! After some practice now I can say with confidence that I want a Wurlitzer on this song, without having to listen to twenty different other piano and organ sounds first. 

You worked with Stephanie Fagan. What did you recognise in her music, that made you want to release a record?
Well her voice is a dream, first of all. It’s so warm, full, and earthy, and every tone that comes out of her mouth is just sumptuous. Her voice is familiar but also very unique, we toss a lot of comparisons around, but in the end she’s Stephanie - she’s not intentionally emulating anyone else. Her lyrics are outstanding, just honest as hell. She puts thoughts out there that most people would be uncomfortable confessing to. I like emotionally driven lyrics, I’m not extremely interested in anything too political or that has an overly detailed story line (contemporary country music does that too often.) At the same time, I also get irritated by intentionally vague lyrics…obscurity for the sake of being artsy. Stephanie tells you just enough to convey the emotions without getting so detailed that you can’t imagine yourself in her shoes. She’s also very clever, without being pretentious: for example “Two Strangers” really knocked me out when I first heard it. “Don’t know how I’d sleep at night with your warm breath against my shoulder, if you were my man. If just the thought of you, can make the ground shake, oh honey, heaven help your hands.” The idea of desperately wanting someone who you’ve never touched and can’t have, it’s ages old, but she makes it new with the way she spins it. There are absolutely no clichés in Stephanie’s lyrics or melodies, that’s why it was so important to make sure the music had just as many unexpected treats, and surprises.
  
The instrumentation on ‘Heart thief’ is very diverse, making the album delightfully diverse. Was this more inspiration or blood, sweat and tears?
A little of both, maybe? We wanted to give each song it’s own special voice – treat them like individual pieces, and some took longer to take shape than others. Some songs, like “Prodigal” were a piece of cake and came together quickly – in the matter of hours. Other songs like “Spring” were an absolute nightmare. We didn’t figure that one out until the wee hours of the morning during the last week of production. The timing on the intro was so off that we added a triangle to help create the illusion that the song was in time, when it really wasn’t. There was no click track, no count off…poor Chris Cottros was pulling his hair out trying to lay that intro down over Stephanie’s scratch guitars. The horn players were laying down their parts at 2-4AM, and I was so delirious I wanted to cry. I was practically useless – those poor guys! When Stephanie went in to lay down her final vocals she had trouble figuring out where the melody had run off to, it was just so drastically different from the way she played it…I had to sit in the booth with her, and cue her on when to come in. So that was a beast, for sure. But in all honesty that is now one of my favorite songs on the record. There were times when we were trying to intentionally push a song in a particular direction, and that approach tended to backfire. We did best when we said “ok let’s just try pedal steel on this” and then we let the pedal steel player come in and do their thing. The players truly contributed a lot to each song’s feel. Like I said, I’m not Phil Spector, I am really new to this role…but it seemed to me that my job was to assemble the team, pick the players, and communicate the vision as best as possible. I don’t want to micro manage the session players too much, or the engineer. Like, I’m not going to tell a seasoned pedal steel player how to play his instrument, that’s just insulting. It works better and you get a more unexpected and special performance if you just let your players have an opinion and play what they think sounds right. I’ve never been let down by doing it that way, and some of the most magical moments on the record came out of that approach. But really, we just hammered away at each song one at a time until we found the magic combination of instruments. I know there were a few times when Ken and Stephanie thought I was bonkers for wanting to put a certain instrument on a track, but it would usually turn out better than everyone thought. I do seem to have a knack for that particular aspect of production. And I also knew when to stop - I don’t think the record sounds overproduced…which is a small miracle considering how much time went into it!

What are your ambitions over the coming period and what records can we expect?
Well next on the agenda is a Gram Parsons tribute EP by James Scott Bullard & The Late Night Sweethearts and also featuring another artist I’ve been working with named Rebecca Morning. After that, is the full length James Scott Bullard & TLNS record I was talking about. Then we’ll be going back into the studio with Stephanie Fagan, to record an EP to be released this year, followed by a new full length record which will most likely to have a 2014 release date. Her next record is going to return to more of a folk sound, in the vein of her first record “Ideas For Your Earbone” more so than “Heart Thief.” Many of her new songs are very sweet and romantic – she’s in a different place than she was when she wrote “Heart Thief” and the new record will show a drastic change in her lyrics. But she’ll always be clever, and always have that voice of hers so never fear! I think in order for an artist to continue being relevant a drastic change in direction is necessary. In the early discussions we are having, we’re leaning in more of a Celtic Folk/British Folk/ meets bluegrass direction. So think of Natalie Merchant singing for Mumford and Sons, or Sinead O’Connor singing for Old Crow Medicine Show, for lack of a better description. Also with Stephanie back in the States, I believe she will have more to contribute to the production decisions, and we are likely to co-produce the next record. I have a few other artists I’m keeping under my hat for now, some are very young and I don’t like the idea of making a record until they are 18…everyone deserves a childhood out of the public eye. Mostly I just want to be able to afford to keep things going and keep making great records. We want to put Florence, SC on the map! There’s something in the water here that just breeds amazing musical talent, and we want to tell the world about it.

dinsdag 22 januari 2013

The Lumineers. The Lumineers

You can listen to 'Flower in your hair here.


In the first minute of the first song 'Flower in your hair' I had already heard about 50 direct references, in the music and the way the singer phrases certain lines and that in a song that turned out to be no longer than 1.50 minutes. And the song is fun too. Conclusion, totally unoriginal and another limb to the new folk revival that broke big with Mumford & Sons, a band I still haven't made peace with, if I'm honest here. And here I'm writing on The Lumineers. Is there something wrong in the universe?

The Lumineers is a trio (with two touring members) consisting of Wesley Keith Schultz singing and playing guitar, Jeremiah Caleb Fraites on drums and Neyla Pekarek on cello and vocals, based in Denver, Colorado. Doing some research on Wikipedia, I found that this band is already huge in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., selling out Shepard's Bush Empire and now on to the Brixton Academy.

I'm not surprised as The Lumineers is totally in-sync with what is popular. The unavoidable Mumford, but also Of Monsters and Men that is growing larger by the day and Edward Sharpe and friends, that I can't even really tell part from the Iceland based band. And I like The Lumineers a lot better than Mumford. The only way I can explain it, is that The Lumineers sound like they mean it and lived it. To my ears they go an emotional level deeper, descend into their own private hell here and there. Listening to 'Slow it down', stripped bare of all but voice and guitar for the first half of the song, goes deep. The rasp in Schultz' voice tells it all.

The Lumineers fall into the steps of a long line of folk musicians. from everyone before Dylan, the venerable Bob himself and everyone after. Along the way the band picked up that slight pop feel, that makes the music so popular from 2009 onwards. This undefinable element that makes this music commercial all of a sudden, packing arenas pretty soon. Something that I hope a singer-songwriter like Shane Alexander is able to profit from also with his upcoming album.

The Lumineers is an album that I like despite my first misconception because of "the new Mumford & Sons" moniker. Always listen first is my credo, before adopting a firm opinion (and sometimes even passed that). In 'Big parade' The Waterboys shine through. 'Flapper girl' could have been written by Adam Carroll. His song about ducks, Schlitz, levee and rusted combines (Errol's song) is at least as good as 'Flapper girl', so listen to the man! The Lumineers prove that not all songs need to be huge. Whether its fans are really aware of this, time will tell. For now the band produced a great debut album, that it will be touring behind for a while.

Wo.

You can order The Lumineers here


or here