Showing 1-20 of 45 results tagged “Interviews”

Reclamation Project

shondes.jpgDescribing the Shondes’ new album My Dear One, violinist Elijah Oberman noted in a recent interview that “it’s basically a break-up record. ... We’re both happy and terrified to be participating in that tradition. On the one hand, it’s a very universal topic, and something that most people can relate to. And on the other hand, you really have to work to make it your own.”

Mission accomplished. Because the New York-based band so masterfully blends its atypical identities into rock music, this break-up record sounds like no other.

Follow the Character

woodrell.jpgOne thing you might notice picking up Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone is how thin it is — less than 200 pages.

And when you start reading, you might be struck that it’s been carved incredibly lean. While relatively plainspoken, the sentences are dense, with a mix of dialect from the Ozarks and artfully turned idioms that feel instantly right. One has to sip Woodrell’s language.

“I do like to make it apparent to the reader that you need to probably read everything,” Woodrell said in a phone interview in April. “‘I won’t put in any flab, but you have to read what’s here’ is kind of my deal with the reader. ... Pay attention to the sentences.”

Rigid Expectations

against-me.jpgAgainst Me! has been selling out for the better part of a decade, so complaints about the polish of the band’s forthcoming record are already tired to songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabel.

Because Gabel is a punk icon and an anarchist, it was little surprise that there were negative reactions when the band jumped to a major label. But as it prepares to release White Crosses next week, Gabel talked about the challenge of being an ever-changing person in a world of rigid expectations.

around-1.jpgWriter/director David Spaltro’s debut feature ...Around concerns a film-school student who lives out of train stations in New York City, and the movie has such a distinctive, Pollyanna view of homelessness that it’s either completely divorced from reality or born of some charmed experience.

In an interview last month, Spaltro called ...Around “a very personal story to me. I never use the term ‘biography’ or ‘autobiography,’ because I think even if you’re being extremely honest, when you start writing or creating anything, it’s always fiction in some way, because you can only tell your perspective or your memories.”

That’s a roundabout way of saying that Spaltro lived out of a train station while going to film school. He put his tuition on credit cards, aiming to pay the minimum each month, but “then I realized I’d have no money for living.” He read an article about a student calling a public library home, and ... there you go.

biw-keenan.jpgMaynard James Keenan — the frontman for prog-metal gods Tool, the co-leader of A Perfect Circle, and the founder of Puscifer — isn’t the type of person you’d expect to see as the subject of a thorough documentary. He has a reputation for being reclusive, and for jealously guarding his privacy. As he says in the movie Blood Into Wine, “I’m not much of a people person.”

Yet Keenan, along with his wine-making partner Eric Glomski, is at the center of that documentary, a freewheeling but thoughtful mix of wine primer, underdog story, buddy picture, and sketch comedy. The movie is fun and gently didactic, and thankfully it engages in little idolatry. (Those hoping for a Tool movie will be disappointed; although Blood Into Wine doesn’t ignore Keenan’s music career, it’s at best a tangent.)

Keenan often looks uncomfortable in the movie, but that could be a function of once being filmed on the toilet, and of being hectored by a pair of wine-hating talk-show hosts. (More on those things later.) But he is apparently committed enough to his cause — fostering an Arizona wine country, and combating the idea that the state’s climate and terrain can’t produce good grapes and wine — that he’s willing to subject himself to all these indignities, and the public spotlight.

As Keenan told me in an interview last week: “This is an important thing we’re doing up here. If we’re successful with what we’re doing, it’s going to set up a future for more families than we can number. ... If you plant vines in this valley, they’re going to taste a certain way; they’re going to be very specific to where they’re from. It’s not a business that you can move to Mexico or China. It’s from here. This is the definition of sustainable and local.”

A Quest for Joy


vic-chesnutt.jpgOn the 1996 benefit album Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation, the songs of Vic Chesnutt were covered by everybody from Madonna to R.E.M. to the Smashing Pumpkins to the Indigo Girls. Early in his career, the singer/songwriter was championed by Michael Stipe, who produced Chesnutt’s first two records, released in 1990 and 1991. PBS aired a documentary titled Speed Racer about his life. He had a small part in Sling Blade.

He has collaborated with a diverse slate of artists from Widespread Panic to jazz guitarist Bill Frisell to the Cowboy Junkies to members of Fugazi and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Chesnutt’s latest partnership is with the psychedelic-pop group Elf Power, part of the Georgia collective that spawned The Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. Chesnutt and Elf Power will be among the performers at a March 18 R.E.M. tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, at which they’ll perform “Everybody Hurts.”

I start with the résumé because even if you’ve heard Chesnutt’s name, he’s not exactly famous. He has an immense reputation but a relatively small audience.

rick-moody.jpgIn April, Rick Moody fulfilled a fantasy that many artists surely have: He delivered a pie to the face of one of his critics.

Moody is probably best known as the author of the 1994 novel from which director Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm was adapted. But he’s also famous in some circles for nine words written about him: “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.”

Those words were the opening line by Dale Peck in a 2002 New Republic review of Moody’s award-winning memoir The Black Veil. Moody is hardly Peck’s only vaunted victim; his reviews were collected in the aptly titled Hatchet Jobs, and he’s similarly disemboweled Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Julian Barnes. But that line is so forceful and unequivocal and personal that the two authors have been inextricably linked in the six years since.

Moody said in a phone interview earlier this month that he hoped the pie would bring some closure.

“I got so tired of hearing about this,” he said. “It seemed as though the remark launched a specific conversation about how the literary world deals with itself. That’s an interesting question, but I was never allowed to really talk about that, because people just wanted a salacious answer to the question: ‘What does it feel like to have this sentence written about you?’ That’s actually a tedious question. ... So when this guy asked me for charity if I would throw this pie at Dale, I guess I felt like I could put the first part to bed.”

Confidence Artist

damien-jurado.jpgFor somebody who’s been compared favorably to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young and Nick Drake, Damien Jurado has had a touch-and-go career, and a bit of an inferiority complex.

Eight full-length records and loads of critical acclaim still found Jurado doing music part-time, and in interviews he has said that performing live was an obligation more than a joy. He hated leaving his family behind, particularly his son.

He’s a different performer now. He is doing music full-time. He claims he’s happier, and that he now enjoys performing, and he’s certainly more confident.

But Jurado is still harsh on his former self, to the point that nearly disavows his four-album output for Sub Pop, regardless of the respect those records earned him.

AniDiFranco.jpgThe Ani DiFranco appearing on stages these days might not be the same Ani DiFranco who became something of a legend over the past two decades.

The old Ani averaged a record a year from 1989 through 2006, toured incessantly, and was a punkish-folk, feminist, do-it-yourself, and bisexual icon.

The new Ani has a 20-month-old child and a “baby daddy” (her words, referring to producer Mike Napolitano), and in September released her first studio album in two whole years: Red Letter Year.

A Big Arrow


punch-brothers.jpgChris Thile doesn’t like musical boundaries, and the mandolin player seems to almost relish pissing off those who would prefer to pigeonhole him.

On Punch, the first recording released under the name Punch Brothers but the second performed by Thile and this particular quartet of musicians, the centerpiece is a four-part, 42-minute suite that fuses classical structures with a bluegrass style.

In an interview last week, Thile’s shrug was almost audible when he was asked about how fans of his previous work with the platinum-selling Nickel Creek were reacting to this ambitious work.

“Losing people was going to happen,” he said.

davidsloanwilson.jpgIn the fifth chapter of his 2007 book Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, David Sloan Wilson writes:

“It turns out that something very similar to my desert-island thought experiment has been performed on chickens by a poultry scientist named William Muir.”

That probably sounds odd.

It will likely sound even odder when you find out what the desert-island thought experiment is: a set of three hypothetical situations to explore human morality through the lens of evolution.

Continuing on

rarariot.jpg(This article dates from late January 2008, when it was published, in slightly different form, in the River Cities’ Reader. Ra Ra Riot’s debut album, The Rhumb Line, is out today on Barsuk Records.)

The future of Ra Ra Riot sounds as if it’s in doubt.

The New York group has an album that’s being mixed and mastered, but it doesn’t have a label. The band is hoping for a May release, but that could be pushed to September. It’s now considering its options — such as self-releasing a digital version of the album — if it doesn’t find a corporate home soon. It wants the album out there, but it wants a label push, too.

“We don’t want to sit on this record forever,” said guitarist Milo Bonacci last week. The band plans to take some time to write new songs next month, but “to make sure that [a second record] is even going to happen, this album needs to get off the ground, and we need to tour to support it.”

If this sounds like standard unsigned-band talk, it is.

And it isn’t. In June, 23-year-old Ra Ra Riot drummer John Pike died under mysterious circumstances after leaving a party following a show in Rhode Island.

Earning the Buzz


tnt.jpgAs dismissive as many people are when it comes to blogs, what’s often neglected is that they can sometimes represent genuine grassroots movements. And Minneapolis’ Tapes ’n Tapes has been a major beneficiary.

Even though Tapes ’n Tapes’ members have been made poster boys for the term “blog band,” keep one thing in mind: The group deserves the hype. As My Old Kentucky Blog wrote: “Argue it until you are blue in the face, but this ‘blog band’ proved that we music blogs actually get it right some times.”

In addition to “blog band” — which is mostly said with derision — Tapes ’n Tapes have acquired another term of ambivalence: “indie-rock classicists,” which suggests that the band is too busy gazing back lovingly to chart a course forward.

But that’s never been a fair criticism for Tapes ’n Tapes, whose two albums are consistently surprising and never performed with less than full conviction — even as their components are eminently familiar, starting with Grier’s natural vocal resemblance to Black Francis/Frank Black.

borisyeltsin.jpgPhilip Dickey had a burning question about the pizza place that his band, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, would be playing in January.

It was not about the size of the room, or the setup, or the acoustics.

“Is it really good pizza?” he asked.

I recommended the calzones, but the odd thing was that Dickey seemed genuinely interested in my answer. The question was offered with eager enthusiasm, and the songwriter/drummer/singer/guitarist sounded like he was trying to establish a rapport. As we ended our interview, he not only invited me to the show but suggested that we keep in touch.

The guy wanted me to like him. More than that, I think, he wanted to be my friend.

And how could I not like Dickey? In conversation, there isn’t much that can’t be described as “confusing,” and his band makes charming, lovely, and lively pop music without sacrificing its soul, hitting earnest and honest notes somewhere between the Shins and Weezer, well-suited to the soundtrack of a Wes Anderson movie. Conviction gives the music life, and keeps it from feeling the least bit derivative.

spoon.jpgWhen Spoon was finishing its 2001 album Girls Can Tell, the band didn’t know what to do with “Chicago at Night,” which would close the record.

In an interview last week, drummer and co-founder Jim Eno told this story about what he and guitarist, singer, and chief songwriter Britt Daniel decided to do: “I never would have tried this, but Britt and I were so young, and we were just like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do it.’ We had to turn all the mixes in for mastering. ... We have these two versions, and we like different things about each version ... . So Britt says, ‘Why don’t we use the left side of this mix and the right side of this mix?’”

So Eno broke out Pro Tools, put the left channel of one mix with the right channel of the other, and time-compressed one so they were the same length.

It was a moronic idea — a simple-minded, jokey cop-out.

And you can hear the strangely spectacular results on the record.

lerner.jpgA foolish person doesn’t recognize that one can learn much from opponents. So liberals have begun to understand that they need God on their side as much as the Christian Right does.

The lesson from conservatives, said Rabbi Michael Lerner, is that it’s okay to base policy on faith and spiritual values, and it’s important to stand up for what you believe in. “When they come to a decision about what they believe in, they fight for it,” he said of the Christian Right in a recent interview. “And they’re willing to lose an election for the sake of what they believe in.”

forgiveness1.jpgNear the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, spiritual-documentary filmmaker Martin Doblmeier conducted a survey on his Web site. He asked whether people supported constructing a “garden of forgiveness” at Ground Zero in New York City.

Thousands of votes later, the results were overwhelming: Roughly 95 percent of respondents said “no.”

Although he wrote and directed The Power of Forgiveness, Doblmeier offered this anecdote in a recent phone interview without judgment. His point was that forgiveness is something that spiritual people tend to embrace as an abstract concept, but putting it into practice is shockingly difficult. For many, he said, forgiveness is the equivalent of a spare tire, something you “keep ... in the back of the trunk and hope to God you never need it.”

DriveByTruckers.jpgOn “Puttin’ People on the Moon,” the Driver-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood sings a litany of tragedies personal and regional: “Mary Alice got cancer just like everybody here / Seems everyone I know is gettin’ cancer every year / And we can’t afford no insurance, I been 10 years unemployed / So she didn’t get no chemo so our lives was destroyed / And nothin’ ever changes, the cemetery gets more full / And now over there in Huntsville, even NASA’s shut down too.”

The song is typical Drive-By Truckers: bleak, detailed, populist, Southern, and with enough twangy muscle that you can play it loud and ignore the skill of its songwriting and the loving attention it pays to the downtrodden, heard in the indignant desperation of Hood’s damaged falsetto on the chorus.

And therein lies the tension of Drive-By Truckers: This is a band that writes great songs and then drowns them out with three blaring guitars.

No Stock Footage


Andrew Bird: The mysterious production of musicThere is nobody like Andrew Bird in the world, a songwriter and a performer who makes his whistling, his glockenspiel, and his violin at home with guitars, drums, and vocals in detailed, pitch-perfect pop songs that never seem precious or forced, as eccentric as they are.

But when you’re as idiosyncratic as Bird is, that means there aren’t many people whose vision matches your own.

G. LoveSome things are too embarrassing for public consumption, so the man born Garrett Dutton and known as G. Love exercised some control over the content of his new documentary and concert DVD, A Year & a Night with G. Love & Special Sauce.

When the director showed him his initial cut of the documentary portion of the DVD, coming it at roughly two hours, G. Love demanded that some material come out.

The running time was one concern, but image was another, G. Love admitted in a recent interview. “You’ve got to take this shit out,” he told the director. “I don’t want to come off like this.”

But don’t expect a scrubbed and polished portrayal of the shambling, Philadelphia-based bluesy hip-hop artist on the DVD, or in a conversation with him. If you want to be considered authentic, it’s important to let people see your flaws. As G. Love said of the DVD, “You can’t just paint your shit so it smells like roses. You’ve got to leave a little poop in there.”

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