First, I feel like I need to issue a public apology to Nick. It seems like every time he’s sent me a great record, I’ve gone on unannounced, unexpected hiatus. The last great record he sent me, he was working with a fantastic band called Slithering Beast. The music sounded like you’d think– insidious, sharp, fuzzed rock ‘n’ roll. Had some Southern rock tendencies. You know, everything I like. And then I stopped writing for a few months.
The good news here, though, is that Nick didn’t give up on me (for whatever reason) and sent me his fantastic new EP, Extra Better. These are some of the strongest songs I’ve heard come in over the transom in a long time, and I’m excited to be able to share them with you. First of all, just in case you’re in Louisville tomorrow night, he’s having an EP release at Monkey Wrench. And if you aren’t, I recommend you listen to these songs and wish you were.
(Acoustic version of “I Can Sing”)
One of the things severely lacking from the alt-country scene is a sense of humor. I think we can all agree that that’s part of the reason people like Jason Isbell, the Drive-By Truckers, etc., are so popular– they deal with heavy subject matter without descending too deep into it. Dittmeier nails not only the scene, but how to maintain that sense of humor in “I Can Sing” (of which I’d happily transcribe the whole song, but here’s a highlight)–
There’s some guys downtown and they like to brag
Cos they write music stories for a local rag
Try too hard, staying up all night
But if you can play music, you shouldn’t have to write about it
I’ve got a million songs to sing
I can sing rhythm, I can sing blues
I can sing a song about your sister too,
Bout how she calls me up at night and begs me to sing
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack here in terms of how the industry is changing (and the first stanza is about the boys at the local record store who, of course, cut their hair and stopped playing around town). But it’s so much more fun than that, and I’d hate to ruin a song like this by overthinking and dissecting. It’s so much fun, you guys. The slide part is both old-fashioned and playful without being cloying– it fits perfectly at the end of the chorus (and in the last chorus: really, really well-placed). And I love, love the way the tempo changes when Dittmeier sings, “How she calls me up at night and begs me to sing”– by stretching those syllables, it gives the song a great pace. Changes it just enough to really catch the listener’s ear. Not to mention, as good as the lyrics are and as much fun as the music is, Dittmeier has one hell of a voice. He’s got a great delivery, too. It’s got a devil-may-care quality that makes it sound like everything in the song is just natural. Extremely listenable. (The tune, by the way, reminds me a bit of The Eagles’s “Already Gone”– I hadn’t decided if I was going to compare his music to the Eagles yet, because I know there’s an Eagles-bias out there right now, but trust me when I say that this is a favorable comparison. It’s got the classic timeless feel of a great Eagles song, but it’s also got that playability. Please take that as I mean it.)
I’m excited to be able to offer this free download of “Lay Your Trouble Down,” as well. This is a gorgeous song, and one that reminds me a little of early Black Crowes compositions. He’s got a great high range that peppers the song, but what’s really effective is the little guitar part before/during the chorus. Tasteful, but a little unexpected. I always love when an artist does something I’m not expecting (partially because it’s rare). GREAT guitar solo here, too. Again, the lyrics are beautiful:
I’m never home when I’m wanted
I get that dark house instead
I can’t stay out til the break of dawn
And leave you alone in our bed
You know what to do
Lay your trouble down with me
Lay your trouble down with me
Lay your trouble down with me
And get some sleep
The first song on the EP, “What Sets You Apart,” has one of my favorite opening lines I’ve known in a while– “Driving around in the open air/ The road can take you anywhere/ You’re thinking ’bout not coming back/ But that would give your mother a heart attack.” Again, the balance between serious and playful is perfect. The song sounds almost like a nineties pop song (good stuff, guys, not bad stuff) until the slide comes in during the chorus. There’s a great drum breakdown in the second stanza. This is the absolute perfect mix of genre sensibilities. And the last song, an acoustic finger-picked song, “You Don’t Have to Leave The Light On,” is a heartbreaking break-up song about going out on the road. It fits in perfectly, and makes for a sad bookend with the hope and promise of “What Sets You Apart.” It feels, to me, like a John Prine B-side– it’s got that kind of elegance and sorrow to it. I can’t tell you how much I like to listen to these songs, and I’ve played them over and over since Nick graciously sent them along.
Even better? (For me?) He’s from southern Indiana, you guys! He’s based out of New Albany, which is across the river from Louisville. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to write about someone who is in my geographic region. Makes me feel like I’m “connecting” with my environment. Ish.
Anyway– check this guy out. Buy the EP, come out to Monkey Wrench tomorrow and see the CD release party!
FIND NICK DITTMEIER ONLINE:
I’ve waxed nostalgic about Harvey Danger and how much they mean to me before, but I think it bears repeating with a new Sean Nelson record coming out in June (his FIRST solo record!): Harvey Danger’s Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? came to me at a time where I was young enough to be deciding who I wanted to be. I was making active choices and trying to form my personality and my core, and that record probably reveals more about the way I think and react to things than I am even comfortable with sometimes. Even songs like “Terminal Annex” which didn’t mean much to me as a young teenager (other than being really, really cool to shout) have come to pass in my life as an adult: you want ego? I will show you ego. I’m jealous now.
I could (and sort of want to) go through every song on every record (and the songs that didn’t make records!) and talk about what a brilliant writer and man Sean Nelson is. He made smart cool for me, and he made thoughtfulness a desirable quality in me. He made humor something not to be instantly blown off as trite. I know my words border here on hero worship, but it’s not that: it’s that he so desperately avoids the hero role, both as a writer and a performer, and that makes his work even easier to relate to. We listened to Little By Little… on a road trip recently and I was blown away by how fresh it all sounded, how even though I knew every word and turn of phrase, there was still surprise and life on the disk. I was most shocked, though, when I realized I sat through all ten tracks grinning like a Cheshire cat. I sang sad lines with a grin on my face. I felt vibrant and alive.
I think I hit the halfway point at “Make Good Choices” before I recognized my Harvey-Danger-grin. Like the songs I’m accustomed to as a Danger fan, it’s thoughtful, clever, provoking, and musically fulfilling. (I especially like the sparse guitar solo over the rolling drum fills… you’ll see what I mean.) But don’t take my word for it– NPR’s All Songs Considered debuted the video (awesome video: you can see it above) and even cooler, a free download.
Almost every line in this song functions as something that you could pull out and put in a fortune cookie (if fortune cookies had relevance and panache. Why don’t we have someone working on that yet?). I think the easy early favorite is, “Nothing is more charming than a narcissist with whom you’ve just agreed,” which is both funny and painfully true, but the refrain line “make good choices,” is used several times to different effect: think with the power and variance of the repeating lines in a villanelle. The first time (before that great breakdown) he reminisces just enough that “suddenly [he hears] voices, warning him to make good choices,” but the next time the phrase appears, it’s out of place in a verse– “Make good choices, thank you very much indeed.” This is the kind of turn-of-phrase that is more familiar in poetry than in songwriting, at least for me. It’s part of what’s so special about his lyrics: they play strong on the page or when sung.
I love the way that it slides from “everything’s OK” to the truth– “when I learned I couldn’t count on you/ When I was my most desperate/ When nothing that you said was true/ When breaking down my esprit de corps (killer guitar effect)/ Was your most beloved chore.” (I also liked “I put you in your place/ I knew you wouldn’t stay there”). The outro is as crunchy and exciting as you’d hope for a Sean Nelson song, but the build-up is a lot more Little By Little than King James Version. (For the record, I think any sound he has made so far works. Well.)
Apparently the record is slated for release on June 4th from Really Records, making June 4th my new birthday. Good to know. Other contributors will include Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Chris Walla (which is incredible exciting).
I know I’ve taken a lot of space to basically say “I like this very much and I’m happy about it” (imagine my hands moving back and forth while I say that), but as any Harvey Danger fan can attest: loving Harvey Danger is different than loving normal bands. It just is. This is the band that made music that was BETTER than your favorite band’s music, and still, no one seemed to ever know that or give them enough credit. There’s something to be said for the ‘cult’ following they’ve amassed. And with every release, I’m given another set of words to hang on to, to tell myself like rosary prayers and then to share with people and connect, because these songs have connective powers.
“Make Good Choices” is that good. HD fans are going to be thrilled, and I hope many more music lovers are brought in to the fold with the release of the new record.
FIND SEAN NELSON ONLINE:
OR FIND OLD HARVEY DANGER STUFF ONLINE (AND DOWNLOAD “THE SHOW MUST NOT GO ON”)
I’ve said before that my favorite part of the privilege of being a music blogger is that I get to meet and talk to so many writers I have respect for: I’ve been extremely fortunate that, for the most part, everyone I’ve talked to has been kind and interesting. Joshua Radin, who is known for his thoughtful, peaceful music, is as kind and interesting as anyone I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. (To me, he’s basically an accessible Bon Iver: the same kinds of composition, but with a beautiful, inviting voice.)
His new record, Wax Wings, is absolutely gorgeous: a rare combination of thought-provoking and reliably gorgeous music, soft, tender vocals, and a depth that invites repeat listens. I’ll be reviewing the record in whole, soon; I’ve been listening to it for a week or so, and I feel as though I’m getting to know a friend. After talking to Joshua, I understand why.
Wax Wings is a deeply personal record; despite that, it’s easy to connect to. Radin is one of the rare songwriters who is able to use his own life as a way to create intimacy with the listener. His lyrics seem to be the beginning of a conversation instead of a one-sided story. I’m excited for you to be able to read about the inspiration for the record, his foray into independent publishing, and how the story of Icarus influenced the direction of the record.
(Editor’s note: I’m going to include some of my favorite Joshua Radin songs throughout this post, including “In Her Eyes”, which is also from the new record Wax Wings. I mostly want to give you a feel for the different sounds he’s capable of.)
KDM: First things first—what made you decide to self-release this record? I think that’s a brave thing for an established artist to do, but I also think it’s a smart thing. What were your thoughts about it?
JR: I really had been thinking about it for a long time. The last record, I owed a certain number of records to the label I was on. I thought about it for a while and I thought, I really didn’t see what the point of being on a label was. I went through it all and everyone, every department that they have that works an album, I can hire every one of those people myself. I’m basically putting it out on my own label now. I think it’s going to be the future for many artists. It is scary. But the last time I switch from major to indie, that was scary and it turned out great. As long as you bet on yourself, which I’ve done in the past. I’ve done it before, it’s not as scary as it could be. It makes me feel good about myself. Every day I wake up and it’s like, ahh—I don’t know, I feel more confident that I’m betting on myself. Put your money where your mouth is. I’m paying for everything myself. I really want people to know that and realize that. I believe in this product so much that I’ll put out my own money for it.
You allude to Icarus in the title of your new record, which is my personal favorite mythological story. I’ve found that when people write about Icarus, they usually have a personal connection. What makes Icarus an important image for you, and how did that image influence the record?
Well, I love that story as well. I always have. It’s one of those things— I actually wrote about it in a forward in the record, which kind of explains it. In the past I’ve always referred to my ex-girlfriend—most of my songs are about her. Well, most of the love songs anyway. And [when I write about her], I always refer to her as the sun. Because, well, for many reasons. I guess when we split up, I kept conjuring that image of Icarus falling into the sea because he flew too close to the sun. I always felt like that’s what I did with her. I was overly ambitious when it came to our relationship. So there’s a song on the album called “Like They Used To” and that’s about her, and I refer to myself in that song as having wax wings and flying too close to her. I thought it’d be a cool title for an album, because it’s exactly how I felt about this relationship and this album is very much about a romantic relationship, albeit a cyclical one. Without a beginning and an end. Like an amusement park ride where you can get off and on at any place.
“Winter”, off his first record We Were Here (feat. prominently on Scrubs)
Is it hard to sing about something so personal every night?
It’s liberating. It’s something, it’s almost like therapy. I’ve never been to therapists, but when I’m onstage, telling these stories and writing these songs, sharing the intimate parts of my life with people, again, it’s scary, but it’s a way to get through it. It’s cathartic. I really wanted the album to have a feel, no matter what track you start on, if you have the record on repeat, it’s like you’re hopping on and off a relationship ride. The relationship is very meaningful to me. I had a different track order at first, and then I changed it around. I found that after changing the track order, it still gave me the same feeling when I was listening to the album. No matter where you start it. That’s symbolic of the way I feel about her. Even though we’re not together anymore, in my mind and my heart, she’ll always be with me. I wanted to start at the beginning of the relationship and go to the end, but that’s not how I feel about her. The window is always open for her in a way it’s not with other people: I could see us getting back together when we’re in our 80s.
One of the driving forces behind your music—and primary reasons I connect to it on a gut level—is the hopefulness in it, and especially in the new single “Beautiful Day”. Would you say you go into songwriting with that as a goal, or is it just a natural part of your music?
I do. I think I want to express myself in a hopeful, universal way. I guess when I first started writing songs, I was being very selfish. It was just to express myself. Now, after touring the world and putting out a few albums and getting emails from people about songs I’ve recorded that have helped them through certain things, I feel like that’s more of my mission now. The hopefulness is so important in my artistic pursuit. Even if I start a song melancholy and I want to get something off my chest, by the time I’m finished, it invariably comes back to being hopeful in some way. Sometimes I plan on it, sometimes it just happens that way. But it’s a beautiful world. I try to write my songs in the most honest way.
“In Her Eyes” on Wax Wings: potentially my favorite song he’s ever written
As a writer, that’s really a powerful thing to hear: I always go into projects with a feeling I want to get across, but it very rarely comes out right.
You don’t always get it out. That’s being a writer. There’s a great quote—who was it—“I hate writing, I love to have written.” [Ed. Note: Dorothy Parker. I couldn't remember either and it was driving me crazy.] The best feeling I ever have is when I finish a song, but it’s maddening when I’m working on it. I think, “I’m going to write a song about this, but how do I get there? What’s the approach?” I hate it. That quote sums it all up for me.
Are there any songs you’re especially excited about on Wax Wings?
I think the song “Back to Where I’m From” is my favorite on the album. It’s the first song I’ve written… really, it opened a new door for me songwriting-wise. It’s more of a story. I feel like that song, even though it’s mostly true and based in reality, some of it, a few lines here and there are not. And I’ve never really done that before. I usually write what’s going on and everything honest and truthful [to my life]. This was the first time I started branching out a little bit in that song, trying to write slightly from a different perspective. That’s something I’d like to try more of in the future. Maybe even whole songs or albums from a totally different perspective. I’ve always been intimidated by things like that, topical songwriting like Bob Dylan was so good at, or John Lennon, picking out a newspaper article and writing a song about it. I’d like to try that in the future. My songwriting chops are getting a little better as I do this more, and that’s exciting to me.
My songs—I’m not very precious with writing—I know a lot of people who write so many songs, and they think about it forever, and then they pick ten songs. I just write a song and record it, and when I have ten songs, I put together a record. I love Neil Young, Neil Young does that. It’s like journal entries. Some songs I love more than others, some are better than others. But I look back on my five albums and think, “These are my songs.” I don’t have a whole library of B-sides. These are my songs. Sometimes they’re experimental. There’s a record The Rock and the Tide, and it has some different stuff on there, some rock (for me). And it was a break from form. It was fun to come back and make a more intimate record afterward.
“I Missed You” from The Rock and the Tide
You’ve had so much of your music shared on television and commercials: is that exciting for you?
Not really, to be honest. I usually don’t watch them. I never—they usually cut them up in some way, or they’ll mute something I wanted to be heard. I love the fact that the songs get exposed and I can gain fans all over the world, but I prefer to listen to the songs by themselves. I prefer the songs to stand on their own. I don’t mean that to sound bad. My mom always watches them. She always texts me. She gets much more excited than I do.
CHECK JOSHUA RADIN OUT ONLINE:
I’ve been talking with Tim from Shared Music Review for, literally, years on Twitter. (He’s @AuthenticSMR, and I recommend you follow him if you like talking about good music: he always joins in with a song or an artist.) Our websites have “grown up” together; mine into the Gen-Y sometimes-updated slacker, and his into a successful, impressive workaholic. He’s dedicated to helping independent bands form their voice and gain exposure, and there are over 650 bands on SMR because of that. The whole community is about starting a conversation about music– getting musicians and fans linked up and involved. I love what he’s done.
There are roughly eight billion Kickstarters out there, and sometimes I’ll post a link to them so that you know which ones I think are cool. I’ve never done an interview based around one. Honestly, I’ve never written about another website as the whole post before, either. I hope that underscores how different SMR is and how much respect I have for what Tim is doing. His Kickstarter is going to fund posters, T-shirts, and what sounds like it’s going to be an amazing compilation record. Want in on that? Check out what Tim has to say about the website and the project, and then go to his Kickstarter. Without further adieu– here’s Tim.
What made you start Shared Music Review? How did you think of it?
My best friend Chris made me start Shared Music Review. In the summer of 2010 we were out on our friend Ben’s boat on a local lake catching up on life. Chris is a commercial pilot and always knew he was going to be a pilot. It’s impossible to not admire him for his passion and determination to make a reality of his dreams. Chris was very familiar with my passion for music and he boldly told me I need to act on it. I explained that I’m not in LA, Nashville or NYC and I had no idea how I was going to “get into the music business”. He didn’t care for any excuses and ultimately Chris got me thinking. I initially was going to write a blog about music in general… specifically independent music and the artists that I believe get undeservedly looked over. My blog was going to be called Gambling Piano but after further thought and some wise advice from my friend Mason to stay away from the word “gambling” for a new and unknown music blog I came up with the name Shared Music Review.
I can’t pinpoint exactly where the name came from but I’m almost positive it was in the wee small hours of the morning (FYI: In The Wee Small Hours and ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ are an excellent album & title track, respectively which were released in 1955 by Frank Sinatra). I liked the word “shared” & felt the name explained in three words what it is that we’ve created. Once I decided on those three words, I could see what I wanted to create in my mind & knew I had to get to work. My guess would be that I purchased the URL in the midnight hours from my phone.
Frank Foster, “Some of Us Still Do” (Editor’s Note: All music featured in today’s post is from artists who participate at SMR. I’m linking to their SMR pages, as well.)
How has that changed and expanded for you?
Having no formal background in the music industry & no web design/development skills I knew I had my work cut out for me. Time and thought allowed for a blog that was going to be called Gambling Piano to turn into an interactive website called Shared Music Review. I spent several months in mid-to-late 2010 reading hundreds of articles about the music business, about what I believed the legal requirements and/or challenges would be and about website creation. In November 2010 I hired a gentleman off of Craigslist to help create SMR. We worked together for several months but parted ways on good terms in mid 2011 when he couldn’t finish what I could see in my mind. It was at this time that my business partner and old college roommate, Nate Alberg, joined me on this venture. I was very grateful that Nate joined me and continue to be very grateful for all of Nate’s hard work. I had initially asked Nate if he had interest in my project in late 2010 but he had recently gotten married, was involved in several other freelance projects and couldn’t commit the time that he knew was required and knew I would require. It took me longer than I wanted to get Shared Music Review live on the web but I fought through the struggles believing. It was during all of this time that I focused on what I wanted SMR to be. I wanted to create an independent artist promotion site but I wanted there to be more to it than that. I wanted to determine a way to allow independent artists to gain exposure by allowing fans to offer a candid opinion and to rate the artists on an original & unique tiered system. I wanted to encourage communication between the artists and fans and wanted to develop an artist profile where you could view pictures, read a bio, watch videos and listen to songs. SMR continues to expand and we are getting close to releasing the third version of SMR which has some significant improvements that we’re really excited about. Our rating system is being updated and there are other cosmetics and tolls being added. Our future plans are to create a more in-depth fan profile allowing for pictures & additional communication tools to discover and share music and we are focused on ways to more clearly help with music and merchandise sales for the independent artists as we know how vital this is.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
Honestly, I think the greatest accomplishment is that Shared Music Review is an active website that independent artists can join to share their music and music lovers can join to discover new music. Like most people’s our road has been and is long but so is our determination. We’re not going away. We will continue to improve SMR and keep our focus on helping independent music thrive.
What are you hoping to do with the Kickstarter campaign?
The Kickstarter campaign is to raise the funds to create SMR posters which will be made by Hatch Show Print in Nashville, TN, SMR t-shirts which will be made by American Apparel and what we’re most excited about the first Shared Music Review compilation album on both CD and vinyl. Our goal is to raise a minimum of $6,500 and any pledges in excess of our minimum would help us with the legalities for the compilation album and to create additional SMR t-shirts (with a different design & different color). With the extra merchandise that is created we plan to use some for promotional purposes… like the extra posters we plan to reach out to independent record stores around the US and the world to request they hang one of our posters in their stores if we mail it to them. The compilation album and t-shirts would be used as promotional contest giveaways on the various social media sites SMR is on. We would also make some of the extra merchandise available for sale on SMR to help cover the ongoing costs of music licensing (ASCAP, BMI & SESAC), maintaining of the SMR website and other promotional expenses.
Davina and the Vagabonds, “River”
Can you tell me anything about the new music compilation?
There isn’t much I can tell you about the compilation at this time. We have reached out to several artists that we hope will be a part but until the money is raised and the legalities are cleared I can’t announce any of the artists that will be on it. I will say that there are 650+ artists on Shared Music Review today so we have a big job in front of us to narrow it down to what will probably be 10-12 artists. We are fully committed to releasing a compilation of excellent music that varies in genre and style and expresses the broadness of the music that is being shared on SMR. We’ve created a new record label called the Old Hand Record Company to release this compilation in conjunction with SMR and this is going to be something that we are very proud of. We also may run a campaign on SMR’s various social media pages to help determine a song or two for the compilation.
What are you most excited about with SMR? If you could do anything with it in the future, what would it be?
Like with the question regarding our greatest accomplishment I am truly excited to just be in the shoes I am in right now. I have the opportunity to continue to create & build something that I am endlessly passionate about. There are definitely times, sometimes often, when I wonder why I am doing this or what exactly I am doing but it can really be summed up easily… because I love music. There would be no way to get where we’ve gotten without the love for music. When my best friend Chris pushed me into doing something I am truly passionate about like he’s doing I made a decision that I was going to show him how much desire I have in me. When I thought up those three words I decided and made a promise to myself that I was going to create Shared Music Review regardless of the challenges, whether anyone ever joined it, liked it or believed in it. I believed in it and I continue to believe in it. I was and remain confident that my belief will be believed by others if I continue to dream hard and work harder.
Young Kato, “Break Out”
What is the benefit to the artist in being a part of SMR? What about the reader?
I am well aware of the competition in the music website business. I know artists are asked to join website after website and aren’t positive what, if anything, they’re getting in return. I am committed to doing all I can with the SMR website to help independent musicians find a way to do what they dream of doing for a living… create music. I’ve been at this a long time and there have been a lot of “wee small hours in the morning” spent on promoting music. We will determine a way to help sell more music and more merchandise for the artists and we will continue to be a FREE website. We will help grow their fan base with our tireless efforts in promoting. We understand the difficulties an independent artist faces as we’re an independent website facing many of those same difficulties. We know there is joy but we also know there is pain. We’re quick to take experiences forward but to put yesterday behind us while living and appreciating today and occasionally glancing through the windshield at tomorrow. I know it’s near impossible to tell anyone, especially a stranger, about my passion or my love for music. I know I can’t convince anyone with words of my commitment to this project and to their music. I know I must do, I must act to gain people’s belief and so I just ask you to watch. Check in from time-to-time to see that SMR is still improving & developing and if at some point I am able to gain your trust I’d ask you to join SMR and tell someone about it to help us grow. I also ask those whose trust I may have already gained to consider pledging and/or sharing our Kickstarter campaign to help SMR continue on. It would mean the world to us and we thank you in advance. Thank you!
CHECK OUT SHARED MUSIC REVIEW
Chicago’s own Briar Rabbit is hitting the road: if you’re in the Midwest, you need to get to one of these shows and check him out. (I’m eyeing the Newport date, myself: if I can get away, I’ll be there!) Briar Rabbit wrote last year’s incredible EP, The Great Routine, and the LP …The Company You Keep. He’s also spoken with the blog a few times. I can honestly say that if he’s half as delightful when he’s playing as he is when he’s talking, this is a don’t-miss tour. Check out the Facebook event page, and let him know if you’ll be in the audience.
While you’re thinking about Briar Rabbit, check out his quick song, “Oh My!”– though he couldn’t find a place for it on his new record, he’s uploaded it to Bandcamp for free.
CATCH HIM ON THE ROAD:
3/27 Hard Rock Cafe – Chicago IL
3/28 The Rigby Pub – Madison, WI
3/29 Acadia Cafe – Minneapolis, MN
3/30 The Grapevine – Clive, Iowa
4/1 Record Bar – Kansas City, MO
4/3 Soutgate House – Kentucky
4/4 Mahall’s - Cleveland, OH
4/5 Kafe Karouac – Columbus, OH
4/6 Detroit Issac Agree Synagogue – Detroit, MI
4/25 Iowa City Yaht Club- Iowa City, IA
4/26 - Great Day Cafe – Overland Park, KS
FIND BRIAR RABBIT ONLINE:
If you’ve ever seen the blog before, it’s probably pretty obvious that the Old 97′s are one of the most important bands in my life. I love their music, obviously, but it’s more than that: I’ve always used their music as my surrogate home away from home, as a way of keeping Dallas with me while I live in the Midwest. They’re one of those rare bands that I feel like is a representation of my heart outside of my body, because of the way the music feels. I would say that all of their records have, at least at some point, been my favorite record of theirs: Too Far To Care is one that makes the top of the list pretty frequently.
So I guess saying that I was heartbroken to miss the anniversary tour is an understatement. I actually spent the day of the last show listening to TFTC really loudly while working, feeling sad. And then I remembered: I might not have gotten to see the show, but I’m very fortunate to be in contact with Mr. Murry Hammond, who, as well as being an incredible bassist, is a great writer and vocalist, too. I’m always happy to hear from Murry, and was thrilled that he didn’t mind me asking a bunch of dorky questions about the tour. I hate to miss an Old 97′s show, but I figured there had to be others out there who missed it and wanted to hear more about it– or who saw it, but would love to hear about it from Murry anyway. (That covers everyone, right?) Anyway, without further adieu, here’s Murry about the last tour– and since the upcoming tour starts TONIGHT, scroll to see the tour schedule– they’re about to play with the Drive-By Truckers, another “don’t miss” tour.
Thanks for talking to KDR again, Murry– and thanks for making me feel a little closer to a tour I can’t believe I missed.
KDM: It’s obvious that Too Far To Care is a fan favorite, and on days when I can decide on a favorite 97′s record, it’s definitely part of the four- or five-way tie. Is it as fun for you guys to play over and over as it is for us to listen over and over?
MH: It was very fun and since we play most of that record regularly, it was only slightly nostalgic. It will very much has an immediate feel to me to play and I suppose, to listen to.
The expanded LP was awesome– I’m a huge fan of all of the additional tracks, especially songs like “Northern Line” and “Holy Cross”. Was it fun to go back through tracks to decide what to include? How do you make decisions like that 15 years later?
The extras were discovered and assembled by our Elektra A&R person from that era, a very good friend named Tom Desavia, who has always been like a brother to us. He loved the band very much and made the effort to save as much as possible from the years we were all involved with Elektra. There were several tracks that I had completely forgotten about – was amazing to see how much more there was than what I remember. I’ve discovered that’s true about most of our records – there was just a ton of writing for each.
All of the tracks on TFTC are classics: is there anything in particular that you love to play every night? Anything you’re sick of?
I’m happy to get to do “House That Used to Be” every night. And if I had my drothers, I’d throw in some of the unreleased studio stuff each night, such as “Holy Cross” and “Northern Line”. ”Holy Cross” especially should have been included on the original record. That’s happened before with us — a song should have been added to an album but wasn’t. “Singular Girl” is a song I tried to get on two different records – first Fight Songs then Satellite Rides, but we never seemed to get a take that made everyone happy, so it sort of lived out there in B-side and bonus track land. Too Far had a very good pile of very good bonuses.
What made y’all choose TFTC to tour top to bottom and not Wreck Your Life? (And can we do this again when Blame it on the Gravity hits fifteen years? I have a real thing for that record. Oh, or Fight Songs...)
I don’t know that we’d do this again with another record… perhaps our very first one Hitchhike to Rhome – that deserves the special treatment, in my view, and would make a great anniversary set. (Editor’s note: Seems like a good idea to me…!)
(Video courtesy of the fantastic Lori Hillhouse)
Were there any songs y’all hadn’t played in so long that you had to relearn/got to reinvent them a little?
No — truth be told, if you come see us for about 15 to 20 shows in a row, you will eventually hear all of Too Far to Care, or close to it. There are a few tracks that rarely get played, such as “Just Like California” but they do all get revived eventually.
Was it weird to start shows with “Timebomb”? Did it throw off your momentum? I’m used to seeing it at the end of the show and leaving the place feeling like I’ve just stuck my whole body in a lightsocket.
Yeah, it was – doesn’t feel natural live, but it completely makes sense on record for some reason.
I am completely blown away by the upcoming tour with the Drive-By Truckers; have y’all toured with them before? It seems like such an intuitive pairing. I can imagine the energy is going to be insane. What made the bands join together now?
We’ve only played with DBT one time at an outdoor show in Washington. I look forward to getting to know them and hopefully make some new friends. We just thought it would be a good pairing and approached them about it.
Are you working on anything else that you’re excited about right now? New music? Are you still working with the transportation archive?
I am writing, writing, writing. Rhett, too. We’re going to do some demos in May, and go in the studio for real in September to start the new record. Not sure what to say about it yet — just trying to write good songs. Stylistically, it’s still moving forward, I think. And yes, I’m still neck deep in my nerdy history hobby. For those out there that don’t know what we’re talking about, I’m a mad collector of primarily photographs from the early days of railroading and sawmilling in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. It’s gotten completely out of hand. Most days my front porch is covered in treasures I’ve found on eBay or some other auction site. And my peculiar preservation and collecting tastes now run into mule and other animal-powered railroads that operated in central and south America, New Zealand, Canada, etc. etc. I have thousands of rare images and rare maps by this point. I sure do love a hobby. Thank you, eBay.
Was there anything else notable or exciting about the last tour or the upcoming one that you’d like to talk about?
Well, we are done with our Too Far to Care anniversary, so we will be doing a normal set for the first time since last summer. I am very much looking forward to it — doing that record with only about 10 or so extra songs has made the rest of our catalog a bit “rare”, and I look forward to hauling it all back out.
Catch the OLD 97′S on tour with the DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS:
05/26/13 Levitt Pavillion – Arlington, TX (w/ Telegraph Canyon and Ryan Hamilton)
FIND THE OLD 97′S ONLINE:
Rusty Truck is one of those bands that got together for a few glorious records, and I figured that was it. I’m especially partial to 2008′s Luck’s Changing Lanes is one of the most impressive, lush country offerings around, featuring guest vocalists Gillian Welch, Jakob Dylan, Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, T-Bone Burnett– you get my point. How could a band pull that off again?
I suppose when your band is based around Mark Seliger, you’re able to pull off miracles. Seliger is a Rolling Stone photographer– which is kind of an understated way to say he is the Rolling Stone photographer. Some of the most iconic images in rock ‘n roll were initially reflections in his lens, including classic portraits of Kurt Cobain, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (yes, the picture you’re thinking of), the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and President Barack Obama. It feels silly to list them, because he’s taken literally thousands of beautiful photographs, all of which reflect a brightness and a genuine interest in their subjects. That’s also one of the best parts about the band: while the music is drenched in classic country & western sounds (described by Jakob Dylan as “lonesome music”), there’s a real understanding of the humanity behind the characters.
The band is made up of Rami Jaffee (so many bands that you already love), drummer Joey Peters (Grant Lee Buffalo), guitarist Michael Duff (Chalk Farm), and vocalist Kristen Mooney. Eric Heywood plays slide guitar– both for Rusty Truck and for Son Volt, which is a pretty huge statement about the expanse and sorrow of the slide sounds on these songs.
Anyway! Today, I’m able to stream his new song, “Rattle Trucks.” As always, Seliger is able to paint a red dust-colored scene with a combination of evocative language and an understanding of the way classic country & western works. I can’t wait to review the full record, Kicker Town, when it comes out on June 18th.
Yesterday, I clicked on a random “recommended” Twitter feed. This never, ever leads anywhere– except for when it does. I thought “The Luxury” was a funny band name and I clicked over to their website. Since then, I have felt like I have this great secret that I need to tell everyone in exactly the right way so that they feel as good about it as I do. I’ve made no apologies for my recent hiatus, and I’m not going to– but I think it was obvious that music wasn’t energizing me anymore. I’m desperately introverted in some ways, and for the first time in my life, the music was a drain, taking more energy than it was contributing. And I was angry about that, and hurt, and sad– and scared. What if it didn’t come back?
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been back to normal– I’ve been listening to some great new music (especially courtesy of some of the people in the last few blog posts– Roem Baur, LARCENIST, Joshua Radin…). I’m feeling a lot more connected because of that. And maybe The Luxury hit me at the perfect moment: a moment where, for the first time in a while, I was open to new music. Or maybe this music is just so damn good that it would have pulled me out of my funk anyway.
The Luxury reflects all of the sounds I’ve ever loved– trippy, catchy ’60s pop, dark ’90s tinged guitar, solo-outros, piano parts and strings– and somehow combines them into something that doesn’t sound like a knockoff. There are a bunch of bands I could compare them to, but it feels a disservice. There are obvious Beatles tones, which, of course, means there are moments that have an Oasis feel. There’s a pop sensibility about the songs I’ve heard, certainly, but there’s an edge on them: there is something very, very rock and roll about the songs, no matter how catchy they are. But I’m ahead of myself.
I was going to comb through their whole catalogue and write a career retrospective and give sort of an idea where they’re going, that type thing. I was going to be very professional. But I just can’t stop singing the guitar solo in “Ocean’s Limerick.” I can’t stop thinking of feeling in my chest when I listen to “Wrecking Balls and Rockets”. I’m just too excited to wait to talk about this band. So I’m going to write my first article on them on the brilliant 2007 effort, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. (I even love that. That is a great record title. The last time I liked saying a band’s name and record title together so much was… well, OK, LARCENIST’s American Saint. But before that! It had been a long time.)
So the first thing that happened to me yesterday was I clicked on this video. Then I looped it a few times, sent it to both my parents and my husband, and listened to it some more. I emailed the band in there somewhere– probably before I got too geeky, but I’m afraid to look. Anyway. The video apparently afforded them the opportunity to open for Coldplay in Boston once upon a time… so that says something.
This song is great. First, I love the topic of ‘malcontents’, as proven by last week’s obsession with Fastball’s “The Malcontent.” But this song is so much more than the lyrics. It’s catchy, first of all: it’s got a great rhythm, and the way the pacing changes from the verse to chorus is really effective. I love how the electric guitar mirrors and expands the vocal line in the chorus. In fact, I basically love everything about the electric guitar here. I love the long mournful notes over the soft background vocals at the end. And the vocals! I love the harmonies in this song. I love how it feels like I song I’ve known for much, much longer than just 24 hours.
The lyrics, however, are great, too– the song opens with vocals over a piano (with occasional echoes: very cool sounding).
… you’re the classic malcontent
Hate your job, hate your government,
Hate every second of the wasted hours we’ve spent
And a million other things that you can’t do shit about
When the song finally breaks into the full band, it’s a welcome release– even though the band only keeps you waiting a few minutes. It’s kind of incredible the amount of tension that’s built there. And of course, when they strip it back eventually, it makes the whole song feel tingly and exciting again.
I realize that what I’m talking about right now is classic pop structure. This song is perfectly structured. It’s made to get stuck in your head. And I like it in my head– in fact, I wish there were more songs that reflected the amazing pop and rock music I love from the ’60s. It’s impossible to listen to this song without thinking of that era, and I’m glad for that.
So I fell in love with the song, and thus, the band. I was less than shocked to find I loved every song on the album. It’s rare that I can say that I *love* every song: this is one of those rare records. It’s incredibly layered and dense. I mentioned “Ocean’s Limerick” earlier: it’s got almost a Harvey Danger B-side feel. The vocals have a hushed feel over them that feels seething, but coupled with the music, it’s relaxing. There’s an incredible swell at the chorus; man. Honestly? It feels like the Counting Crows’s “Ghost Train”. There are even some strange jingling sounds in the background. I’m completely sold. Oh, and the lyrics are intense, too:
I have broken upon your shore
And I swear not to roll anymore…
I’ll wait ’til the tide brings you home…
I was lost in the waves, spinning into my grave
Felt no love in the ocean for me
But then there’s a brief major chord… The Luxury always follows tension with release. Always. It’s, again, classic pop music.
The piano intro in “Wrecking Balls and Rockets” was jarring enough that I actually listened to it the way I used to– in a dark room with my eyes closed. Because the band writes lyrics as well as they do music, the song actually opens with the lines:
So one of you got married
The other one found the Lord
Still wondering about me
I’m still broke and bored
I blame it on a bottle
And strike another chord
Oh my God, I cannot tell you how good that first guitar strum feels. It is incredible. (For my money, this is the best written song on the record. If I had known it a few months ago, I’d be introducing them to you as a Measure band.) I’ve got a whole speech on bands that are confident enough to start a song with a conjunction and pull it off, but not everyone is as interested in rhet as I am, so I’ll keep it to myself. I just think it needs to be said, maybe over and over again, that this is an incredibly written song.
And it goes back to what I was saying in the beginning. The Luxury is a band that does its part to have a relationship with its listener: there is a promise that you don’t have to do all the work to get to know their music. There’s a promise in every song: this song will make you feel BETTER than you felt ten minutes ago. I feel BETTER today that I felt yesterday, and I can trace it solely to this record.
Maybe I’ve done something irresponsible here, because this is basically just me gushing over how much I like a record– but I never promised to do more than that, haha. I’m so impressed and blown away by this record. And they have MORE records, you guys. Other records that are also great! I’ll talk more about those soon, I’m sure. (In fact, the record after this one…wow. Just wow, guys.) Until then– if you’re in Boston, they’ll be playing around soon (including at the New England Music Awards on April 13th). If you’re not in Boston, go on this journey with me. Let’s all listen to The Luxury, get to know them, and then feel better.
FIND THE LUXURY ONLINE (OR ON SPOTIFY: SEARCH “THE LUXURY BAND” or it’ll take you to “Luxury Liner”. Not a bad detour, but still.)
Despite the fact that Joshua Radin has been incredibly successful with his last four records (here’s a list of TV and movies his songs have appeared in; and even if you’ve never seen a single show, you’ve probably heard him on a commercial), he has decided to self-release his upcoming record, Wax Wings. If the first single, “Beautiful Day” is any indication of how that will change the record, in my opinion, it looks like it’ll change it for the better. I’ve always loved Radin’s hushed, almost sacred vocals and the soft acoustic sound– but there’s a limited amount of things that you can do with that sound. “Beautiful Day” is less predictable than a lot of acoustic pop, and with a mythological title like Wax Wings, it seems to me that Radin is going to be taking huge risks on this record: and because of what an incredible writer and musician he is, I anticipate that they pay off.
LISTEN TO “BEAUTIFUL DAY”:
Look for Wax Wings in May 2013
FIND JOSHUA RADIN ONLINE:
I guess I’ve bemoaned my outcast state enough for everyone here to know that I’m not going to SXSW this year. However, I have many friends– musicians, bloggers, normal people alike– who are going. For that reason, I wanted to put together a playlist of the shows that I would, without a doubt be at, and musicians that I wouldn’t miss.
Tony Memmel has been a friend to the blog (and, from what I can tell, to everyone else he meets) for some time now. He’s a great musician, and seems to have the same radiant joy in performing that artists like Josh Ritter have. He’ll be playing two shows tomorrow, 3/13–
Jivewired Audiowall Invasion
@ the 311 club
311 E. 6th St.
Mouth by Mouthwest
Authentic Smiles Dental Studio
Fundraiser for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians
(Runaway Dorothy played this showcase last year)
211 San Antonio St.
Coby is one of my favorite emerging artists right now. Many of you know him whether you instantly recognize his name or not– his song “Hospital” was one of the best covers on the Counting Crows’ Underwater Sunshine last year. Coby’s an incredible writer, and I’m sad to be missing him this time around. Coby’s also one of the songwriters featured in my upcoming edition of Measure, meaning I have a massive amount of respect for him not just as a musician, but as a writer. Catch him at SXSW:
Nekkid Armadilla - Wednesday, March 13 / 7pm @ Lucky Lounge / 209 W. 5th St
SXSW Showcase - Thursday, March 14 / 8pm @ Townhouse / 303 W 5th St.
<a href=”http://roembaur.bandcamp.com/track/i-dont-wanna-new-mix” _mce_href=”http://roembaur.bandcamp.com/track/i-dont-wanna-new-mix”>I Don't Wanna (New Mix) by Roem Baur</a>
I posted yesterday about Roem Baur, and I’m posting again today because I really want you guys to go see him live and then tell me how right I was about him. (Seriously, I expect several, “Wow, you were totally right” emails from you fine people.) Roem Baur will be playing several shows at SXSW, but he’s also playing the Outlaw Roadshow, which is one hell of a showcase this year. (Seriously, the lineup is brilliant. Go check it out.) To enjoy the energy and raw talent of Roem Baur, find him here:
Outlaw Roadshow – Saturday, March 9 / 9:30 / outdoor stage at Rusty’s
I’ve loved Dawes from the first time I heard the introductory chords of “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” They’ll be back at SXSW again this year, and I can’t imagine any good reason to miss them. Their new song, “From a Window Seat,” has a really great 1970s Jackson Browne sound, and I have a feeling it sounds even warmer and more stunning live. Also, they have a forthcoming record, Stories Don’t End– I’d bet $20 that you’ll get to hear some songs off of it. Check them out at their SXSW showcase:
SXSW Showcase – Friday, March 15 / 10:15pm-10:55pm / Mohawk Outdoor
Et Tu Bruce’
Another band I’ve recently written about, Et Tu Bruce’ has sort of a Beach Boys meets Oasis meets Fountains of Wayne. There’s a lot of potential here, and the band is relatively new: now would be a good time to catch them. Not to mention, they’re opening for classic pop act The Zombies, and I’d see The Zombies whether or not there were cool hip up-and-coming bands opening, anyway. Seriously. Someone write me and let me know if they play “Tell Her No”. They’ve got another showcase, too, if you’ve got conflicting times or you’re allergic to too much awesome:
SXSW Showcase – Saturday, March 16th (opening for The Zombies) / 8 p.m. / Brazos Hall
Kenny Dorham’s Backyard – Thursday, March 14th / 5:00 PM.
What more can I say that I haven’t already said? If I were you, I’d take this opportunity to see him in small, intimate venues, especially with a record like The Beast in its Tracks just out.
8 a.m. – KGSR Live Broadcast at The W Hotel
12 a.m. – Pandora/Americana Music Association showcase at Antone’s
3/14: Willie Nelson’s Ranch in Spicewood, TX - Heartbreakers Banquet 6:30pm
3/14: Red 7 (DOC/JAG/SC Showcase) 11:55pm
3/15: Red Eyed Fly (Another Planet) 3:30pm
3/15: Bar 96 (Filter) 9:30pm
3/16: Hotel San Jose (SXSJ) 6:00pm
I’ll keep adding to the artists as things I want to see keep popping up. I’ll also keep updating the dates, so if your favorite artists are booking new shows, you’ll be able to keep up with them here. I might not be able to go to SXSW, but my blog can.
For the record, the showcases that I would list as absolutely DO NOT MISS, RSVP right now are as follows: