Every spring since 2009, Knoxville, TN - the Scruffy City - opens for the Big Ears Festival, which showcases a staggering concert lineup rounded out by panel discussions, film events, and art exhibits. With shows in theatres, churches, bars, galleries, visitor’s centers and museums connected by dining and drinking establishments downtown, the festival has become a love letter to its unlikely hometown. Despite such a large number of venues, the organization was excellent, thanks in part to a well-designed mobile app.
The festival lineup is clearly curated with music nerds more than partygoers in mind. I heard a roomful of people laugh at a joke about ECM starting their records with five seconds of contemplative silence, and I saw a line to see Harold Budd wrap a church several times around. While the programming caters to niche listeners, it manages to be broadly niche in the awareness that audiences for Kara Lis Coverdale, Béla Fleck, and Rachel Grimes overlap more often than not. That cross-pollination is at the heart of the festival, and having so many venues permitted the listener to literally journey between experiences.
Throughout the festival, there were panel discussions which yielded conversations about all aspects of the creative process. I attended sessions on the capability of the human voice, the history of ECM records (whose 50th anniversary was celebrated there), and a panel on using history in songwriting which featured Richard Thompson, Rachel Grimes, and Rhiannon Giddens.
At that panel, Giddens got choked up discussing reading receipts for slave sales and how those ideas informed the music she wrote for the Nashville Ballet Company’s Lucy Negro Redux which was performed at Big Ears. Based on a book of poems by Caroline Randall Williams about a young black woman who reimagines herself as Shakespeare’s “dark lady”, the show’s sucker punch of pathos was matched only by the technical acumen. Spanning a number of musical genres and dance styles, the production achieved authentic diversity. In addition to the ballet company’s dance, Williams herself contributed poetic narration while Giddens and Francesco Turrisi performed the music.
St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral and Church Street United Methodist Church both hosted a number of shows, lending their stunning architecture and immaculate acoustics to events. I.C.E (International Contemporary Ensemble) performed five sparse works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir which unfurled seamlessly. At the same venue, Mountain Man performed a cappella harmonies, delivered in a warm, conversational style. Béla Fleck, too, benefited from the small space where the audience could see him trade between different banjos at a solo performance, showcasing each instrument’s potential alongside his expert skill and genial disposition.
While a number of musicians performed on the piano or other keyboard-based instruments, no two did it the same. Rachel Grimes accompanied vocalists and spoken-word actors in an opera she wrote about Kentucky history. Carla Bley performed with her trio to an audience of longtime fans. At the Knoxville Art Museum, Joep Beving delivered delicate compositions with his custom-built Schimmel upright for an hour before inexplicably running out the back door. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn performed avant-garde jazz pieces together, each on his own piano as the music alternately harmonized and fractured. Nils Frahm’s stunning fluidity was a special highlight. He programmed beats, played a number of synthesizers, and performed minimal piano compositions on both an upright and a baby grand, occasionally using amplified toilet brushes in the piano for percussion.
In addition to the virtuoso instrumentalists, innovative singers demonstrated the versatility of the voice. Legendary composer Meredith Monk delivered a new piece titled ‘Cellular Songs’ with women from her ensemble, singers dressed in a variety of white outfits, working individually and together to dramatize the plurality of a cell. On a panel about the voice, Theo Bleckmann shared a list of things he could do with his voice, which he supported with a performance of Kate Bush covers and one of German songs.
Two of the more anticipated indie rock affairs concerts by were Mercury Rev and Spiritualized, held on subsequent nights at the Mill and Mine. Mercury Rev delivered a tight but somewhat repetitive performance. (As one festivalgoer quipped, Mercury Rev was in retrograde that night.) The following night, they provided live accompaniment for a showing of 1962 cult classic Carnival of Souls, which lent an eerie humor to the movie. Spiritualized opened with ‘Come Together’ before delivering a mix of old and new songs. Each arrangement proved they still commanded their special brand of gritty salvation.
A unique and conceptually hilarious event, ALL NIGHT FLIGHT: DREAMS OF THE WHIRLWIND was a 12-hour drone event in which a cast of performers took to the stage at the Standard, making music without commentary or introduction. And the results were profoundly tranquil. The audience brought blankets and sleeping bags, curling up and dozing beneath delicate projections on the ceiling and stage as the music crept. I wanted to stay on the hard floor forever, or at least a longer portion of 12 hours than I did.
My final event was a performance by Art Ensemble of Chicago, an avant-garde jazz orchestra around 20 members large. Boasting a formidable string section alongside horn virtuosos, uncommon percussion instruments, and spoken word pieces, the ecstatic performance fully invigorated the crowd. It was a good note to leave on, but I had hoped there would be a formal closing. When I snipped off my wristband later, it was hard to say goodbye.
About two years ago, IDLES were still playing half-full toilet venues around the country, their screams for political change and vignettes of forlorn characters only half heard by the enthusiastic drunken attendees drawn to the chaotic nature of their gigs and enamored with their muscled sound, which leaned right over to the heavier side of post-punk.
Since then, they've grown to take the title of Britain's Most Vital Band in every music publication, attracted celebrity fans, had spats with other cult acts, and narrowly missing out on taking home a BRIT Award. This meteoric rise has been partially thanks to a rapid succession of LP releases including their debut Brutalism, which was name-checked in all respectable Album-of-the-Year rounds ups, followed by their sophomore offering Joy As An Act Of Resistance the next year, which saw the boys from Bristol smash into the Top 10. Both records were overtly political, attacking the Tory government, their attempts to break up and privatise the NHS, plus the demonization of refugees and immigrants by the right-wing media. They were also immensely personal, dealing with issues of depression, addiction and street-level violence, and gave IDLES' singer Joe Talbot a means to come to terms with the pain caused by the tragic loss of his mother and then baby daughter Agatha. Such grief would have overwhelmed most and certainly derailed any other band still struggling to get noticed. However, their unique ability to fuse pathos, empathy, and rage helped them rise to the top. But what happens when a rowdy bunch blows up and becomes huge, almost overnight?
Perhaps the most visible example of their change in fortunes is the legion of dedicated fans they now command. Calling themselves the AF Gang and hitting almost 16,000 members on Facebook, they are the driving force behind the rise in record sales, the growth in the size of stages on which IDLES now appear, and the inevitable selling out of each show. Their presence is immediately apparent at every gig owing to the copycat anti-fashion style mimicking the band, the pink, black and gold pin badges stating either the band’s motto All Is Love or simply AF Gang, copycat attire, and big grins all round reflecting the absence of cynicism conveyed by IDLES themselves.
Arriving early to inspect the support, the dark and moody band Crows, who have recently signed to Talbot and IDLES’ manager Mark Bent’s label Balley Records, the crowd’s reaction is initially somewhat muted. But this is in no way a reflection on their performance as Crows tear into their set, growling and roaring like a savage animal. Delightfully nasty and brimming with energy, you could almost forget that it has taken untold hours of practice to look this effortlessly cool as the acidic burns of guitar combine with dives of distorted wah wah, making for compulsive listening.
To be fair, it's not that they aren’t getting any attention from the audience – it’s just nowhere near the appreciation that they deserve. Third song ‘Wednesday’s Child’ is a real highlight as it gallops like the soundtrack to a mutated modern-day Spaghetti Western filmed in the dingy backstreets of a British metropolis on Saturday night, and it wakes up the crowd somewhat. Singer James Cox jumps into the spectators during following track ‘Empyrean’, and the provocation finally inspires pockets of pogoers. In the end, it turns out to be a short set of only seven songs but the London based band have certainly managed to make an impact and look ready for their own tour, which kicks off towards the end of April.
When I last saw IDLES, it was playing Rock City in October and they started the night with a prolonged intro to ‘Colossus’. The sense of rising anticipation worked as an excellent means to ramp up the excitement right from the beginning and I was expecting a similar opening tonight. Yet instead of a teasing build up, IDLES immediately throw themselves into the deep end with ‘Heel/Heal’ and ‘Well Done’, both from Brutalism, and the room explodes into a melee of good-natured wrestling with a ferocity that only comes from sheer dedication. First song of the night from Joy As An Act Of Resistance is ‘I’m Scum’, a mocking take-down on people’s preconception of Talbot and his troupe rendered all the more relevant with the added line “I am a Sleaford Mod”, a nod and a wink to Jason Williamson’s frequent attempts to drag IDLES into an unwanted petty spat.
It’s the first of many spontaneous outbursts throughout the night as Talbot tears down the rise of fascism across Europe, fuelled in the UK by Cameron’s failed gamble that has brought us Brexit, the shambolic attempts by May to bring it about, and the inevitable long term disasters that will hit when it finally comes whilst announcing ‘Great’ and ‘Danny Nedelko’. And it’s exhilarating to see the crowd reaction to such weighty matters, a roar of approval erupting as Talbot parades around the stage shouting “Fuck Tories” as the song starts. The passionate semi-speech seems to egg the audience on more, and the first of many crowd surfers begin to be swept up in the bulging arms of the security.
Wild the night may be, there isn’t quite the level of chaos of some of their previous gigs. Guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kierman’s leaps into the audience are limited to specific songs with staff pre-warned beforehand, and any attempt to get on stage or stage dive was swiftly dealt with. But given the number of punters now attending bigger venues, it comes as little surprise that their current gigs would lose some of the spontaneous disorder of their previous smaller shows.
However, don’t think for one moment any of the set is, in any way, stale. The passion in their playing is evident, especially when ‘Colossus’ finally does come, allowing bassist Dev to rattle our bones as Jon Beavis batters the drums. Plus, Talbot expertly takes down good-natured heckling “toerags” and dedicates songs such as ‘Samaritans’ to whichever adoring fan manages to scream loudest, breaking down any sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that has come with their growth.
There was a hope that we would hear new material from their as yet untitled third album, which is expected to come out later this year, but this wasn’t to be. Almost as compensation, live favourite ‘Date Night’ was aired for the first time in a long while, and its return was greeted very warmly. It signified the start of the final third of the set during which the biggest belters were brought out, including everyone’s favourite singalong ‘Mother’, ‘Television’, which tackles self-hate perpetrated by the mainstream media, and the irrepressible roll of ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’. The imploding clatter of ‘Rottweiler’ and a ramshackle version of Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’ finally brought the night to close, the band exiting stage right at the end of yet another triumphant showing.
IDLES are currently on tour in the UK now. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please visit their official website.
Having already announced their first wave of acts last month, the DiS partnered Fuzz Club Eindhoven have added another five bands to an already stellar line-up. Taking place at the city's legendary Effenaar venue on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th August as part of a collaboration between the people behind Fuzz Club Records and Eindhoven Psych Lab, the five bands listed below join the likes of Iceage, The Telescopes, The Warlocks and many more at this year's event.
Here are the five new additions, which more promised later this month!
Fuzz Club Eindhoven 2019 - 2nd Announcement - YouTube
Acid Baby Jesus
Having initially appeared on 2014's Reverb Conspiracy Volume Two compilation, Acid Baby Jesus finally put out their third full length LP Lilac Days on Fuzz Club two years later. Currently celebrating their first decade as a band, this Athens based quartet bring a heady dose of traditional psychedelia to an already mouth watering bill.
Acid Baby Jesus - Faces of Janus (Official Video) - YouTube
This Los Angeles based trio make loud, expansive shoegaze influenced noise rock that's drawn comparisons with My Bloody Valentine, The Swirlies and My Bloody Valentine. With a new album imminent after 2017's excellent Outside (Briefly), their set bares all the hallmarks of being one of the weekend's finest.
Froth "Contact" (Official Video) - YouTube
Les Big Byrd
This Stockholm based out fit have been creating thought provoking psychedelia since the turn of the decade. Their long awaited second album Iran Iraq IKEA finally came out last year on PNKSLM, representing the band's most ambitious collection of songs to date.
Les Big Byrd: "A Little More Numb" (OFFICIAL VIDEO) - YouTube
Having earned a reputation as one of East London's most engaging and entertaining live bands over the past couple of years, Snapped Ankles have become something of a hot property on the festival circuit. So it's quite an esteemed booking for Fuzz Club Eindhoven, particularly on the back of their highly acclaimed second album Stunning Luxury which came out last month.
Arguably one of the most innovative bands to emerge from these shores over the past decade. Their fifth album Wraith came out earlier this year and is a thing of beauty, which is no less than we've come to expect from this London based trio.
Teeth of the Sea - I'd Rather, Jack (Radio Edit) Track - YouTube
London four-piece Crows - James Cox (vocals), Steve Goddard (guitar), Jith Amarasinghe (bass) and Sam Lister (drums) - have been making an unholy racket since the early part of the decade. Formed in 2012, they put out a couple of excellent singles and EPs culminating in 2016's Unwelcome Light, then seemingly vanished for three years.
Last Friday (22nd March), they returned with a vengeance in the shape of Silver Tongues, their long awaited debut LP. Released on Idles' Joe Talbot's label Balley Records, it's a visceral, intense and at times disturbing record that more than justifies the wait.
This week saw the band embark on a short UK tour supporting Idles before their own run of headline shows begins towards the end of April. DiS caught up with affable frontman Cox prior to the band's soundcheck at Sheffield's Leadmill on Tuesday.
CROWS | SILVER TONGUES - YouTube
DiS: It's going to be a very busy few weeks for the band, having released your debut album on Friday. Then embarking on a tour with Idles before headlining a bunch of dates yourselves in April and May. How do you prepare for a headline tour compared to one where you're the support act?
James Cox: We've done big support slots in the past. We supported Wolf Alice and Slaves which were pretty much the same sized venues as we're doing on this tour. The difference is we were on first at those gigs with another support band after us, so we only ended up playing to about 10% of the crowd, especially on the Wolf Alice tour. Which is fine. We don't mind how many people we play to, and we still ended up with a lot of dedicated fans who first saw us on that tour. Slaves was pretty similar, except a lot of their fans didn't like us because we don't sound like Slaves. I think this tour will be different because Idles fans are so accepting and open to new music. We did an in-store signing session at Rough Trade last night, and several people came up to us afterwards saying they couldn't wait to see us on this tour. Hopefully, after we've done these shows it will mean our headline tour is even better because we've been a band for quite a while now.
The first time I saw you was at an all-dayer in Sheffield a couple of years ago but then you seemed to disappear for a while. What caused you to be away for so long?
JC: There are a few reasons I guess. First of all our old drummer (Laurence Rushworth) left. He moved to America to have a family which is amazing. He's having the best time. So then we had to go through the process of finding someone to replace him. That was really hard as well as we're such a tight group, so we had to find the right person to fit the band as well as be able to play like Laurence did, albeit in their own style. So it was quite hard. We found Sam (Lister), who fitted in straight away, so then we decided to make the album with the intention to put it out as soon as it was finished. We thought everyone wanted to release it as we had lots of offers coming in. But the offers were also pretty shit and we thought we've not worked this hard for this long for it to be number six on a list of importance behind other artists so that literally no one gave a fuck. That took a long time, and then when we finally got a label to release it they turned out to be time wasters. It was very foolish on our part but we had a long conversation with the guy from the label who promised us a load of stuff. We had a handshake agreement and everything, but then by the time we'd gone back through contracts with them - we ended up going back and forth with three or four different contracts - it ended up being a completely different contract to what we'd initially agreed. They'd gone back on everything they promised to us and our lawyers warned us it would probably end the band if we signed the contract.
Was there ever a point where you thought about finishing the band?
JC: Yeah, loads! That was only because we were getting so frustrated. What kept me going and thinking we should continue was because we gig all the time and they're always amazing. We have the most loyal fanbase who always come to see us and always go crazy. Always travel to come and see us as well, so gigging the whole time was what kept the band going. We had to make an album. So many bands I've loved from the past have gone so far but never got around to making an album, and I didn't want that to be us as well so the least we had to do was make this record and put it out. That's when Joe (Talbot) came along and offered to put out the album.
How did you become involved with Joe and Balley Records?
JC: I work a street food truck as my day job. In the winter we do markets and the summer we do festivals. So I was working at Latitude where Idles were playing and we all loved Brutalism. This was just before the second album came out and I'd never seen them play live before. I'd always missed them whenever they played in London. They were playing the stage literally opposite the pitch of our van, so I persuaded my boss to come and watch them with me. That's when I realised just what an incredible live band they were, so I sent Joe a fan message. Basically telling him what his band were doing for music - especially bands like us - was so important, because it's opening up heavier music for a mainstream crowd. They've helped bands like us who play loud and abrasive music get a wider audience, so I just wanted to say thank you and keep doing it.
Joe messaged back almost instantaneously and said he was a huge Crows fan. He saw us play in the Louisiana when he worked there, and then we met each other outside a Metz gig at the 100 Club and he said he really liked a lyric to one of the songs we played in Bristol. I remember that exact conversation which was about three years ago, but I had no idea who Joe was at the time. He repeated this one line to me over and over again, which I distinctly remember because no one knows the lyrics to any of our songs! So we were messaging each other for a while then got onto the subject of how much of a nightmare we were having with the label situation, and Joe replied that while they're not a huge label, they'd put everything they possibly can into the album. Which was exactly what we wanted to hear. That we'd be the number one priority rather than pushed to the bottom of the barrel.
With the political climate all around us, the rise of the right and Brexit imminent, is now the right time for bands like Idles and Crows? Both bands have been around for a while, but it's only now that you're connecting with a wider audience. Which goes back to the argument about social inequality and austerity inspiring great art.
JC: It's like that age-old question about whether you think guitar music is going to die. That question constantly comes up every year yet as long as people are pissed off about something there'll always be heavy, angry music. It's like a release in many ways.
Do you feel Crows are part of a growing nationwide counterculture of like-minded artists and bands?
JC: Definitely. That's the beauty of touring when you're a DIY punk band because you end up playing these small spaces with like-minded acts. So when we played Chunk in Leeds - which is a small rehearsal space where they also put on gigs with a capacity of 50 - it felt like we were part of a community. Sheffield is like that as well. I know a lot of musicians who moved up here from London because it's cheaper to live and rent creative spaces. So it's great touring around different cities and seeing all these pockets of scenes doing their own thing. The Netherlands is very similar. We tour a lot over there. It's more rife than ever. People come to our gigs and they talk about what they're doing and I think to myself, I'd like to move here but then I also like living in London. I've lived there for ten years since I was eighteen. It is a slog, especially trying to be creative. You can do it. You've just got to be prepared to work non-stop.
CROWS | WHISPER - YouTube
The irony of being based in London is it's so expensive to live there, and as you said, so draining. Yet there are supposedly lots of opportunities there as well. Do those opportunities exist?
JC: To an extent they do. But there's also a lot of nepotism there, especially within the music business. If you hang out in the right pubs and make the right friends then you'll get given opportunities. There are bands I know - without mentioning any names - who have achieved quite a lot for how good they are. I don't like saying its undeserved, but there really are a number of shit bands who've got the right breaks just by being friends with the right people. It's always happened, and it probably isn't just confined to London, but then there's the other side to it as well. Lots of incredible bands that probably never get outside of London. They become huge in London but they've never played anywhere else so no one really knows about them. That was a huge mistake we made at the beginning - just playing in London and hardly anywhere outside of the city. Eventually we realised it wasn't very productive and started playing elsewhere.
When I listen back to your early singles and EPs it's almost as if you were ahead of the game, especially 2016's Unwelcome Light. Do you think that's one of the reasons people weren't connecting as much then with your music as they are now? The zeitgeist had to come to you?
JC: That's a good point. We still play those songs in our live set. The fact I'm not sick of them means we must have done something right. We're very picky about writing and what we put out, which is another reason why it took us so long to create an album. The reason we re-recorded 'Crawling' and 'Hang Me High' for the album was because we didn't like the earlier recordings. If you listen to the earlier recording of 'Hang Me High' it speeds up a lot. Mainly because we did the whole EP live in one take, so the timing's all over the place. So we recorded it again, only this time with a click which we're really happy with. We've always been huge fans of that whole psych scene, even though it's probably not as thriving now as it was three or four years ago. We weren't playing that kind of music at all, but we were really obsessed with that scene. We wanted to be in that scene so much and Liverpool Psych Fest was our dream festival to play, so when we got offered it we were really excited. We probably didn't belong there compared to a lot of traditional psych bands but everyone who saw us play said we were incredible.
Were there any other songs written around the time you were making Silver Tongues that didn't make it onto the album? If so, will they be revisited in the future?
JC: The album was going to be eleven tracks then we dropped one. Mainly because for us it didn't fit. We couldn't find the right place for it. That's one thing we've always focused on with our EPs as well as the album, the flow of the songs we put out. How do we phase one song into the next one? That kind of thing. I'm really happy with Silver Tongues. I don't think we could have made it any better. The song we left out was really different to the rest of the album. I guess it would have been quite interesting to hear, but it's probably going to be one of those songs we just write, play for a little bit then end up shelving for a long time. 'Chain Of Being' was an idea we had a long time ago but we hated playing it, so we stopped. Then we revisited it before the album and changed it quite a bit to what it is now.
Will there be any more singles off the album?
JC: Not a single as such but we're releasing a video for 'Wednesday's Child'. We were originally going to put it out before the video for 'Silver Tongues', but then it became a short film instead.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019? Are you playing any festivals this year
JC: The annoying thing about that is most festivals get booked up at the end of the previous year, so with Silver Tongues only coming out last week we were a bit too late for that. We are doing a few. Dot To Dot, Handmade, Latitude, a few European ones. Hopefully, we'll do more next year. Festivals are always a weird one because again, a lot of the bookings are quite political depending on which agent you're signed with.
What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?
JC: Something people told me a lot, and I ignored, was write as much as you can. Write, write, write. Have as much material as you possibly can. Even if it's shit, keep it all because you can revisit it later. That's a big fault we have. Writing it, then hating it, then not doing it anymore. Be passionate about what you're doing. Love playing live because if you don't like touring you're going to be fucked! Always give it your all even if there are only 10 people in the room - those 10 people are here to see you. Just believe in your product and be yourselves. Stick to your guns and don't let anyone try and change you.
Are there any other new bands or artists out there you'd recommend for Drowned In Sound and its readers to check out?
JC: There are so many good bands! My personal favourites are a band called Lumer from Hull. They're really underrated. We wanted to take them on our headline tour but it wasn't possible this time round so we're taking Treeboy & Arc. Squid are great. They're a London band. Crush Puppies are another London band who are great. Yowl are great too. He is one of the lyricists I'm insanely jealous of.
CROWS | CHAIN OF BEING - YouTube
Silver Tongues is out now via Balley Records. For more information on Crows, please visit their Soundcloud and Facebook pages.
Fans of creatively enterprising groups like Animal Collective want artists to produce groundbreaking material that validates their interest - damn intrepid fortitude if it doesn’t translate to utter resplendence time and time again!
Once prominent critical darlings, a series of lacklustre (by their elevated standards) releases spanning group and solo efforts have somewhat dampened the overall Animal Collective mystique. Not severe dampening mind you, as each AnCo release seems to harbour at least fleeting levels of brilliance, but enough dampening to cause mild concern among their most faithful.
As a group, 2016’s instrumentally elaborate Painting With puzzled fans and critics alike, and 2018’s audiovisual album Tangerine Reef was notable as an ambitious undertaking but not much else. As for Avey Tare, 2010’s Down There was a surprisingly somber affair in both quality and subject matter, fusing clips of distorted human voices, various animal noises, and flushing water to paint the picture of an artist both literally and figuratively trying to stay afloat. The countryside manner continued with a venture into Big Sur, and the abounding, natural picturesque environment led to the development of 2017’s Eucalyptus, an album teeming with romantic turbulence and myriad personal sorrows that was intriguing for a few listens before being mercilessly shelved in an era of low attention spans.
But lo and behold, Tare’s Cows On Hourglass Pond finds him once again revisiting the basics and particulars of what made each member of AnCo a mythological force once upon a time. There is a balanced dose of coruscating poetics, glistening instrumentalism, and all the kooky sonics befitting an AnCo release. The most notable aspect is a wistful longing that pervades the record both in the lyricism and song structure - more hopeful ruminating than dejected pining. Fusing ambient and folk rhythms over a dub-techno mix, ‘What’s The Goodside?’ features Tare contemplating the concept of ageing not just in a personal or micro sense but a worldly, macro sense as well. This fixation on time and the silhouette of a man concerned with humanity’s overall place in history and the associated ramifications abounds again in ‘Nostalgia in Lemonade’, with an all encompassing, outer space vibe. Originally included in the setlist for Tare’s Eucalyptus tour, the song has undergone several iterations and name changes before having its contours smoothed out for inclusion on the album.
It might be an understatement to say that Tare is a deep thinker, and his musical output transcends mere boilerplate philosophies and instead reflects his frequent grandiose musings. Tare’s penchant for the thematically dense lends itself well to the bulk of Cows On Hourglass, moonlighting as a treatise on humanity and popular cultural maxims to weld one of his best lyrically savvy records to date. On one of the album’s standouts, he explores society’s fascination with rituals and the subsequent fervour they inspire on ‘Saturdays (Again)’, one of the catchiest songs in Tare’s entire catalog. He turns his focus to the concerted yearning of mankind again with the wispy ‘Taken Boy’, probing how people often thirst after that which is unattainable - namely the desire for unfettered romantic bliss. He employs a cascading vocal timbre on ‘Eyes on Eyes’ to regal effect, comprising an introspective look at how eye contact can connect human beings in nuanced fashion.
The evocative and immersive nature of ‘Chilly Blue’ puts a pause on the Tare spoken word doctrines for a lush, synth-driven instrumental. But Cows On Hourglass Pond still fumbles in certain spots, like the eccentric ‘K.C. Yours’. The track forsakes the more relatable concerns at the album’s core for an impassioned dissection of the advent of robots (literally). But the humdrum nature of the song’s instrumental backdrop is more incriminating than its bizarre topicality. Tare rebounds with ‘Remember Mayan’, a luxuriant sonic undertaking complete with gloriously discordant guitars and warbly synths. Despite a miss or two, with Cows On Hourglass Pond Tare will likely appease even the most weary AnCo audiences, stringing together an album that is sonically ornate, scintillating, and poetically metaphysical.
Indie auteur Andrew Bird, in his major releases, has recently made a transition from the abstruse art-pop of his early career to more earthy, nearly traditional singer-songwriter fare. While maintaining his distinct sound and presence, he seems to be growing less guarded and remote. The days of his long retreats to that western Illinois farmhouse are over. His last album, Are You Serious, was hailed as his first ‘vulnerable’ release because of its relatively direct, occasionally autobiographical lyrics and more standard pop structures. My Finest Work Yet is being called Bird’s first ‘political’ album, and pushes the composer further into the realm of accessibility. It’s a piece of masterful craftsmanship tucked snugly into the singer-songwriter tradition, filled with country-soul ballads and grungy laments driven by jangly guitars, family band harmonies, rumbling pianos and cinematic string passages that should appeal broadly to fans of the genre without alienating his own die-hards.
His calling cards are here — the virtuosic whistling, erudite references to mythology, literature and history, richly orchestrated violin loops, meticulous detail – but it’s all used with a lighter hand. Like Sufjan Stevens, who on Carrie & Lowell seemed so at ease melding the disparate styles he had traversed up to that point in his career, Bird comes across on this record as being much more comfortable with himself, more discerning with his skillset. His lyrics convey a similar confidence, no longer cloaking sentiment and thought in elaborate ambiguity. It’s a tone that reinforces the overriding message of the album, that open communication, especially with our nemeses, is perhaps the best antidote to the political and cultural tribalism unseaming society. “Our enemies are what make us whole… This ain’t no remote atoll”, he sings on ‘Archipelago’, the album’s thematic center of gravity, echoing John Donne’s famous meditation on humankind’s collective fate: ‘No man is an island entire of itself’.
Despite this often weighty content, the narrative tone and music itself usually belie the breathless anxiety that motivates most discussions on topics like digital isolation or mass media manipulation. The album is mostly acoustic, and was largely recorded live, everyone bleeding into each other’s mics. This technique, inspired by Bird’s favorite Fifties/Sixties jazz recordings, adds to the organic sonority of the instrumentation and the sense that the musical language, at times as suggestive of Maurice Ravel as Bill Withers or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, is meant to expand our perspective on these contemporary worries, to both indict complacency and temper sensationalism by evoking other troubled times, other bewildered voices. His verses are often similarly circumspect, considering the myths of ‘Sisyphus’ and ‘Manifest’ Destiny and human exceptionalism alongside the 2008 housing bubble, post-truth fatalism, and environmental apocalypse, or coolly drawing a comparison between the lead-up to the Spanish Civil War and the venomous divisions in contemporary western politics on ‘Bloodless’.
That same Donne meditation was used by Ernest Hemingway to title his novel on the same war, For Whom the Bell Tolls. For whom? ‘For thee’, replies Donne, each death knell for anyone equally a sign of our own mortality. Hemingway’s work, too, ponders how a community can be fractured by populists in search of power and profit, and became prophetic when the gruesome regional conflict in which it’s set ended up a prelude to the incomprehensible global carnage of WW2. The personal authenticity Bird suggests as a safeguard against these potentially explosive rifts now takes on added urgency. “You just have to look into my eyes… To know how this song is sung/ And that what I say is true”, he prays on ‘Cracking Codes’, probably the most plainly beautiful of these ten tunes, filled with the mourning of someone at their wits end, grasping to save a relationship on the brink. Yet he’s too wise to be sure of success. “Are we smarter alone or in this endless Stockholm syndrome?”, he asks on closer ‘Bellevue Bridge Club’: “Here's what is known/ We're gonna break this two-way mirror”. With this doubt Bird finishes My Finest Work Yet honestly and without losing conviction or courage, fittingly leaving things open to further debate.
Leading up to latest release Side Effects, Austin rock outfit White Denim posted song clips on Instagram, complete with brief explanations of their origins. Turns out, opener 'small talk (feeling control)' was born in the same session that yielded 'Fine Slime' and 'Good News,' songs from last year’s Performance. Yet thirty seconds into Side Effects opener 'small talk (feeling control)' you can hear the tides of change from their established aesthetic—songs that nod to classic, bluesy rock without succumbing to it. Synth riffs and electric pulses give the song an off-kilter vibe. Lead singer and founding member James Petralli asserts his choice of food (Chinese) while rejecting other suggestions (no Indian or Italian for this guy).
The song is funny – that’s the point, and sets listeners up for an album that does many things at once. Side Effects is playful and experimental while paying tribute to the band’s live shows and their own history. Second track 'Hallelujah Strike Gold' opens with a guitar riff from the 2006 White Denim song 'Paint Silver Gold' (that is, following a cow moo and pig squeal). Third song 'Shanalala' started as a demo following the band’s Corsicana Lemonade tour.
These two songs, along with album centerpiece 'NY Money,' serve as a great synopsis for everything the band has done to date. 'Hallelujah' jumps into a bluesy riff that descends into Petralli singing 'Jeans are bursting at the seams' followed by a squealing sax and guitar squall. ‘Shanalala’ embraces the grittier edge that helped raise the band’s stock a decade ago. 'NY Money' sticks to the White Denim formula—that is, until it jumps into a three-minute, self-contained jam that would satisfy Phish and Grateful Dead fans who may not know of White Denim. 'NY Money,' is a live performance in miniature.
Only at the back-to-back instrumentals 'Out of Doors' and 'Reversed Mirror' does the album lose momentum. Sure, they’re breathers, but given their placement after ‘NY Money’, the several-minute lack of Petralli’s voice may distract. Nevertheless, White Denim has always been a reliable rock band that’s never been short of ideas. ‘Out of Doors’ is twangy tune as bright as a morning sunrise. ‘Reversed Mirror’ is your classic White Denim reminiscent of tunes like ‘At Night In Dreams.’ It’s refreshing to hear how varied their ideas are.
Speaking of new ideas, album closer 'Introduce Me' has a Gary Clark, Jr. edge, an interesting thought given he’s also expanded his sound on this year’s This Land. Punk-inspired 'Head Spinning' is White Denim’s most aggressive track, as if the band were briefly commandeered by The Dismemberment Plan. “So tired of feeling useless” Petralli vents, among other grievances, in true Travis Morrison fashion. The song succeeds because it’s not implausible to hear White Denim adapt this sound in the future.
Much like what Star Wars did for Wilco, Side Effects resets what we should expect from White Denim. This is especially intriguing given the album’s fractured origins, showing the band’s restraint when one song might not be quite right for an upcoming release. Eight albums in, we can still ask ourselves, what new ideas might White Denim have up their sleeve?
Six years ago, when Richard Linklater concluded his critically-adored Before trilogy, Ethan Hawke - its co-writer and co-star - said that he never knew there would be a sequel to Before Sunrise when they shot it in the summer of 1994, but that when they did make an unlikely sequel nine years later, it seemed inevitable that a third would follow. The parallels with American Football are obvious. They recorded their now-seminal debut album in 1999, almost as an afterthought; after a short-lived stint as a live band in their college town of Champaign, Illinois, they were gearing up for graduation when a friend, Matt Lunsford, urged them to make a record out of their modest collection of songs, for release on his then-fledgling Polyvinyl label. Mike Kinsella was thrust into the role of frontman as he hurriedly penned lyrics and cut vocals. The album was finished quickly, and released to scant fanfare. The band split as they finished college.
Like Before Sunrise, American Football was never supposed to be followed up, instead sitting as a tantalising cliffhanger - what might have been if these people hadn’t been forced by circumstance to go their separate ways? Kinsella maintained a modestly successful solo career under the name Owen, but guitarist Steve Holmes and drummer Steve Lamos left music behind. It was only five years ago that the group, improbably, juddered back to life, after the advent of the internet had facilitated American Football becoming a slow-burning success, with a burgeoning cult fanbase. Suddenly, they had to figure out how to be a band again.
That’s the key reason for a third album seeming so nailed-on to follow the second; the whole process of making that follow-up, also called American Football, was one of tentative approximation and the gradual unpicking of practicalities. There was an incredibly delicate balance to be struck. On the one hand, they needed to make an album that sounded like American Football, that would retain the arpeggiated guitars, the swells of brass, and the palpable angst. On the other, to force themselves too firmly back into a pair of shoes that they’d never planned on digging out of the back of the wardrobe would be disingenuous; three guys approaching forty channeling post-collegiate anxieties seemed a lamentable concept, as did the idea of trying to too closely recreate an album now held up as near-perfect. That was especially true when two-thirds of the band had barely picked up their instruments in 15 years.
What all of that meant was that LP2 emerged as some kind of amalgam of the American Football that was and the American Football still to come; instrumentally, the album was largely faithful to its predecessor, but Kinsella’s voice had changed markedly, both literally and figuratively. It was a handsome album that did justice to the original but, as Kinsella said in a recent interview, they felt they’d only gotten it around 75 percent right; there was scope for improvement, especially now that they had succeeded not only in retaining their new-found fanbase, but in navigating the unusual logistical challenges, like juggling writing, recording and playing live around the globe with familial and professional commitments. They were ready to again do what they did when they first started out - face forwards, and break new ground.
Album number three - again, American Football - was announced last December, and fans were mock-horrified to discover that the artwork did not feature the iconic house that adorned the first album’s cover. That image, of what looks like the quintessential American college rental, shot at midnight by a camera gazing longingly at its highest bedroom window, has become a visual byword for the band, in large part because it was, for many years, the only frame of pictorial reference for them (save a single, babyfaced press shot). There’s also the fact that it genuinely is one of those rare covers that so intangibly and so strongly captures the sound of the album, like Loveless, Unknown Pleasures or The Downward Spiral. Instead, this time, we get swirling fog over an eerie, purplish sunrise, shot ten minutes down the road from Champaign.
LP2’s cover art was shot inside the famous property, and bassist Nate Kinsella, who has rounded out the now-four-piece lineup since the 2014 reformation, initially wanted to front LP3 with something much more dramatic - the ruins of a burned-down house. That he would suggest such a bold depiction of the band’s break with the past is telling as to his development with the band; when he first agreed to play bass at the initial live shows five years ago, he did so withconsiderable reticence. There was no bass on the first album, so he reasoned that, if adding it to the songs live ended up fucking them up, he would be the guy who spoiled this beloved record (he didn’t). He contributed to LP2, but remained timid, and didn’t have a great deal of compositional input.
That is patently not the case on LP3, on which he took a key songwriting role - given that he studied composition at school, this is no small asset for the band. Where LP2 saw them focusing on what people expected of American Football - skewed time signatures, undulating guitar melodies and maudlin horns - this album has them asking themselves, ‘what don’t people expect from this band?’ The guitars and brass survive, but everything else is fresh. The record’s opener, ‘Silhouettes’, opens with the soft chiming of a bell before ushering in a spiralling vibraphone; when the familiar guitars and percussion kick in, they’re as part of something new, a simmering, shape-shifting seven-minute epic that shivers with the sort of nervous trepidation that you might expect from a band who, for the first time in two decades, are finally beginning to forge a new musical identity.
Elsewhere, the deviations from the 1999 playbook are myriad, and they’re less flourishes than they are foundations. The emotional payoff on the gorgeous ‘Heir Apparent’ comes when the Omaha Children’s Choir picks up the refrain for the outro. ‘I Can’t Feel You’ is structurally mercurial, built around ghostly backing vocals, a complex, daring bass line, and striking reverb - the latter facet runs through the whole album. The glacial centrepiece is ‘Doom in Full Bloom’, a panoramic take that is American Football mark one suddenly presented in glorious technicolor. The melodies, the ‘Summer Ends’ trumpets, the lyrics that flirt with melodrama knowingly enough to get away with it; it’s an expansion of the band’s original sound so texturally rich that you wonder whether less really was more on LP1 after all. On the evidence of something this hypnotically deep, the younger Kinsella’s early concerns about sonic augmentation were not warranted - suddenly, even LP1’s most fully realised moments sound a touch primitive.
The most profound change to the fabric, though, is the inclusion of guest vocalists for the first time. Female foils are common on Kinsella’s Owen records, but entirely new for American Football. Rachel Goswell of Slowdive lends the aforementioned shadowy backing to ‘I Can’t Feel You’ - understandable, given how close it comes to full-blown shoegaze. Elizabeth Powell of tourmates Land of Talk takes a similarly shimmery approach on ‘Every Wave to Ever Rise’, with French lyrics that she and Kinsella hammered out between them.
The star turn, though, comes courtesy of the highest-profile of the three features. Hayley Williams of Paramore has made no secret on social media of American Football’s influence on her own music, and her scene-stealing appearance on the pseudo-duet ‘Uncomfortably Numb’ makes it the album’s standout; even if she’d never made mention of her love of the group publicly, you’d know deeply she understood them on first listen to her contribution. On a track that crystallises the album’s key themes, she pitches her part with just the right level of nuanced theatricality. Is she on Kinsella’s side? Is she chiding him? Is she just another reflection of his internal monologue? The appeal is in the ambiguity. For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing I knew more about the sport the band are named after, so I could call Williams’ recruitment ‘the best American football-related signing since X player went to Y team.’
‘Uncomfortably Numb’ has Kinsella wrestling with age and parenthood, something he does throughout the record; if you were to pick one lyric out to tie the whole affair up with a neat bow, it’d be, “I blamed my father in my youth / now, as a father, I blame the booze.” He strikes a thoroughly moving sweet spot between his work with the band to date, which always had more of a universally emotional flavour, and the words he writes for Owen, which tend more towards the hyper-specifics of his own life. He retains his coy predilection for sweeping statements - the refrain from ‘Heir Apparent’ is “heir apparent to the throne, the king of all alone” - but what’s new is just how bruised he sounds by the pace at which the years have rattled by. On ‘Silhouettes’, he’s grasping for his younger self’s romanticism, while ‘Doom in Full Bloom’ sounds dangerously close to mid-life crisis territory. However hard he tried on LP2, he can’t turn back into that young man in Champaign, 1999.
Therein lies the beauty of the second life the band have been granted, all these years later. It enables you to view their work through a lens like Linklater’s; one that is fascinated, primarily, with the passage of time and its effects: on circumstances, on relationships, on inner selves. It reveals the dichotomy at the heart of this album. American Football are still racked with insecurity, but now they have the wisdom and language to express it more incisively than ever, musically and lyrically. As Hawke’s character put it in Before Sunset: ‘now I'm older, my problems are deeper, but I'm more equipped to handle them.’
Kristin Hersh has been making music for the best part of four decades, having formed her first band Throwing Muses at the age of fourteen. They eventually signed to then-fledgling independent label 4AD, becoming the first American band to do so, releasing a number of critically acclaimed records in the process.
While Throwing Muses have since gone on to release nine albums and are currently in the process of recording a tenth, Hersh embarked on a solo career simultaneously that has also produced ten albums. While 1994's debut Hips And Makers remains her most commercially successful release to date having broken the UK top ten, every subsequent record has yielded something new and enriching.
Last year's excellent Possible Dust Clouds was heralded by some critics as her finest body of work to date. An album that saw her reunited with former Throwing Muses bass player Fred Abong and drummer/producer Rob Ahlers, with whom she formed 50 Foot Wave in 2003, Possible Dust Clouds is an urgent and occasionally visceral ride that bristles with energy and intensity.
Currently in the UK touring the album, DiS caught up with Hersh, Abong and Ahlers prior to their sold-out show at Nottingham's Glee Club.
KRISTIN HERSH - LAX - YouTube
DiS: How's the tour gone so far? What's been your highlight?
Kristin Hersh: It's gone really well.
Rob Ahlers: Probably the first show where everything came together for me so that would be the fourth one of the tour which was the second night in London. We played at Bush Hall which is a lovely venue. Also, Glasgow was another highlight because it was so in your face. They were a very wild crowd! They've all been wonderful in their own way. The church gig in Salford was uniquely interesting for us. We learned how to play in a large room with lots of reverb and the feeling we got from that was magic.
You've played shows all over the world for a number of years now. Are there any countries you particularly look forward to visiting or audiences that stand out above the rest?
KH: I liked Australia because we were told beforehand they would hate us! They said people will just stand and stare at you, but as it happens they just stand and stare at hyped bands who can't play. So we were like, "Bring it the fuck on!" and for the first three songs, the crowd stood and stared then afterwards went ape shit. They are clued up without buying the hype, which is perfect. Ireland can be a little bit like that too. It's the same sort of distance from other cultures. They keep up but don't take everything too seriously.
Throwing Muses were one of the first bands I saw at Trent Polytechnic back in 1989 with The Sundays. You've played Nottingham on numerous occasions since, both with your band and as a solo artist. Does the city have any special memories for you?
KH: I remember playing here a few years ago with Vic (Chesnutt) and he got a Robin Hood hat which he wore for the rest of the tour. By the rest of the tour I mean a year and a half! He thought it was a Peter Pan hat which he found in the Robin Hood museum. It was really soggy.
With such a vast catalogue of work to choose from, how do you manage to condense it all into an hour-long setlist?
KH: I thought I had to be nice to Fred (Abong) and give him predictable chord progressions but he was instantly bored so I think we could have chosen a different setlist. But seriously, this set works really well. We're playing half of the new record then a couple of songs from 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. Fred has his own catalogue as well so he's playing a solo set before all three of us go on together.
With your solo material alone it must be difficult deciding what to leave out? Everyone probably has their own favourite from the ten you've made so far.
KH: My IQ's pretty low so I can't remember most of them!
RA: Part of the reason we chose this setlist was because of the sound of the latest album. It's quite a lo-fi, heavy record so it was a case of choosing songs that could fit in around that. But we don't argue about it. It works really well.
Possible Dust Clouds is the first record you've worked on with Rob and Fred outside of Fifty Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. Do you see yourselves collaborating more often in the future?
RA: Why not? I hope so. It wasn't meant to be a solo record for Kristin, I know that. It started in a different vein. It almost became a record without vocals at all. They were all instrumentals in the very beginning. It was just a Dropbox project to start with, where we were sending each other groovy little snippets of music back and forth over the internet. Then it evolved into Possible Dust Clouds.
KH: Chris Brady from Pond sang backing vocals on it. They opened for Throwing Muses a long time ago. I'm pretty sure they played one of our Nottingham dates actually? He's one of my favourite singers and did such a good job on this. The songs just started to happen gradually.
RA: I'd get an email with a song taken in a different direction, then another, and another. So it was nice to see the record build up from these instrumentals to what it eventually became.
KH: So we recorded the album in San Francisco and Rob engineered it.
RA: Chris (Brady) came down from Portland to play some bass.
KH: So we had that but it just sounded like a band. Whereas I wanted it to sound like a fucked up band, so the editing is really out of control, and the production is extremely guitar heavy and lo-fi. Rob is a very good engineer and I needed to make sure it didn't sound so good!
Throwing Muses - Sunray Venus - YouTube
It's a very visceral record, one that actually feels like a punk rock album. With the tone of some of the lyrics in songs like 'Gin' and 'Tulum' coupled with the political climate around you, was that your intention?
KH: Rob captured 'Gin' in the middle spectrum and it is quite a muscular, athletic song. But then in a higher sonic spectrum with overdubs and vocals it all needed to be out of time and out of tune so we had to move the drums around and if I still couldn't fuck it up enough I would play dulcimer really badly and really wrong. Then I'd add atonal drums to fuck it up even more. The songs I wrote initially were still there. It just needed something more interesting in the high and lows to bring them to life.
Which songs on Possible Dust Clouds were written first?
Fred Abong: There were eight solid ones already there then we added a couple more. The oldest ones date back to around 2012, 2013.
KH: We're playing the oldest ones on this tour. 'LAX', 'Loud Mouth', 'No Shade In Shadow', 'Halfway Home', 'Tulum' and 'Breathe In'.
You've already put out 'LAX' and 'Loud Mouth' as singles from the album. Will there be any more?
KH: The next single is 'Breathe In' because they're making a video for it. It was Fire who chose the singles. We didn't.
This is your first album on Fire Records. How did you become involved with the label?
KH: They just stepped out of the wings and said we know you're listener supportive, but would you like to engage because this is what we do. Being listener supportive means I had to earmark plans production, distribution, promotion and so forth. They took all that and brought it in-house which not only saves money for more sessions and means 50 Foot Wave can continue to work. But also being in-house brings a more unified approach to finding the listeners. I am quite clear about marketing but I had to wait a long time for the paradigm to shift in order to see who the other people were and whether they were focused on that. Bringing music to the listeners, that equation has to be solved rather than trying to fool them with limited edition singles and stupid fashion statements.
Fire have an incredible back catalogue of established artists so their track record is already distinguished among the record buying public.
KH: That's true actually. There used to be a lot of labels like them when we first started playing music. People like Flying Nun and Creation. You used to be able to reliably cast your dollar vote on pretty much everything they released. Then when the industry started to fall apart that disintegrated pretty much, so it's great that some of these labels are back. Fire have an ear towards - not necessarily current material as I think music should be timeless - being able to keep up. They don't treat me like a heritage artist.
I don't see how anyone could regard you as a heritage artist as your output has been quite prolific for over thirty years now.
KH: A lot of people think I stopped when I fell off the radar, which was when Warner Brothers stopped working with us. But I don't really care that much either. I love what we do and to do it is the reward. But if people are still interested in my latest record it means we can tour, so then it becomes a much more sustainable venture. We could play in a garage to just a handful of people - which we have - and still get just as much from it. I haven't written any new songs for a couple of years. Mainly because I used to hear them in my head but I haven't heard them recently.
You mentioned 50 Foot Wave being able to continue. What about Throwing Muses? There hasn't been a Throwing Muses record since Purgatory/Paradise in 2013. Is there anything in the pipeline there?
KH: They're in the studio right now but only my parts are down so far, which is not normally how you would record. So if they don't come back to the studio who knows when it will happen! I've been laying down tracks for a while, but I have to play to a click otherwise the production becomes top heavy. So the way around that is for my bandmates to then play along to that. You can't really tell that is happening because it sounds live, which is what feeds Possible Dust Clouds' energy. Not so much as a live recording but more as a live experience. So I'm trying to do that to the Muses again. I did it with the last album Purgatory/Paradise, and the basics are there already. Rhythm guitar and vocals, then I'll see what Dave (Narcizo) does and add on to that. I play some of the bass, just because I need to. If it doesn't come together we'll have Rob come in and make it noisy.
Kristin Hersh—CROOKED [Official Video] - YouTube
You played the Southbank Centre in London last year as part of Robert Smith's Meltdown Festival. How did that come about?
KH: Honestly? I don't know! It's a beautiful venue and my cellist was there. We'd probably have paid more attention if we cared who was listening but we don't.
You've seen a lot of changes within the music industry over the past three decades. Do you think music television or even radio are as important now to an artist like yourself? The music press too?
KH: I don't care! I want to find the good people. I want to find the good radio stations that are struggling to survive or the record stores that might close if artists like ourselves aren't there playing in-stores. Because that will be in our sphere to reach listeners. All of us together. We have to take the music business out of the recording industry. That's where the paradigm shifted initially, so if the press doesn't give us attention, I don't care. If they're not going to get us money, I don't care. They're going to get us people. I don't need to find that many ears. I just need to find people that like what we do. We've never cared about becoming big. People in bands shouldn't worry about being bigger. People who are willing to suck to succeed in the desperation of survival. Those are not musicians. Musicians will never suck because they don't have that attitude. It's all over the business. There aren't many real musicians left in the business, because we die. We wander off. That would be OK if we didn't just fill people's ears with candy instead of food! You can find that in every discipline so I don't take it too personally anymore. Fashion makes people money so they go after the shallow audience. We don't want them anyway.
There are two major talking points in the UK music industry right now. One is the Keychange initiative which is looking to redress the gender imbalance on festival bills. As a female artist what's your take on it? Are women being given more opportunities now then when you first started out?
KH: White male privilege is real, make no mistake about that. So are some of the women willing to kiss up to it, and I wouldn't want to see that rewarded.
RA: There needs to be a happy medium. If there are more women in bands being given the opportunity to play then, of course, that's cool. I want to see that. But at the same time, I don't know what it means in terms of motivation for wanting to do it? Does that mean a lot of mediocre bands will be added to bills? I don't know. If promoters are just using that as a guide then it becomes a token gesture which ultimately won't work.
KH: If you tell half the population that the other half has the resources and you have to kiss up to get them, some of them are going to do it. A lot of them are going to do it, and that's what happened with a lot of women. So if you start to backpedal on that maybe there will be more women who are less willing to flirt in music.
RA: I think everyone should enjoy what we do but it shouldn't just be a case of welcome aboard, here's your ticket. You don't have to be good or whatever. I think there's an abundance of really good artists out there that don't get a lot of recognition so hopefully, those are the ones that will get the opportunities now. Those that want a life in music. That want a career in music forever. They're doing it for their lives and no other reason.
KH: Whereas the ones who are doing it for fashion will hopefully disappear. There are a lot of men who do that too. I never got called a woman because I didn't do any of this stupid shit.
The other is the stigma around mental health in the music industry, and how those affected can be given the right support. Have perceptions changed in terms of mental health awareness?
KH: I can relate to a lot of this, particularly from my time with Warner Brothers because they wouldn't let me release enough records. They just wanted to keep us down. They literally took our songs off the radio. They said we only got signed so they could sign other bands who liked us. To buy into the pressure of their version of success - which is bullshit. I don't see those pressures as being real but as a shy person, I liked having someone to handle things like promotion. Now as a musician we have to handle everything and it's tough.
What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?
KH: Don't suck! That's it. Even if no one ever hears you at least you don't fucking suck. It was played out in no uncertain terms. You sucked for attention. Who the hell wants that? Everybody looking at you when you're embarrassing yourself? That was never interesting to me.
Are there any new artists you'd recommend for Drowned In Sound and its readers to check out? Any you see parallels with yourself? Acts that could have a similar longevity 20-30 years down the line even?
KH: I just see moments. I don't see longevity or anything like that. I like Tomorrows Tulips. They care but also they don't care if you know what I mean. People who stay small are winners right now. I'm not saying people's music should remain unheard but I think there's something to be said for bands that have no interest whatsoever in becoming famous. I can walk down any street and hear music coming out of the windows. Bands playing tiny bars and rehearsal spaces. Not that tourist bullshit, but music that is not meant to be sold. It goes into the air. I think the end game is everybody plays, and if we all become musically literate and want to share then let us share. I remember we played a show in Buffalo and we thought no one would come, then it suddenly filled up at the last minute and they were all people in bands who were fans of each other. Mixed up and incestuous bands that knew each other's material who all went to practice then decided to come and see us after. Nobody wanted to be signed or do anything other than play music.
Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost (Official Video) - YouTube
Possible Dust Clouds is out now via Fire Records. For more information on Kristin Hersh, including forthcoming tour dates, please visit her official website.
There is a compelling emotion of goodwill that always weaves itself into the tapestry of whatever genre of music Roy Ayers chooses to create. The LA raised Vibes sovereign, who was bestowed with a set of vibraphone mallets by the foremost master of the instrument Lionel Hampton at age five, has constructed several mini-careers by pushing the edges of jazz forward since the '70s. His forming the group Ubiquity, which literally means the fact of being everywhere, allowed him to pursue all the connections that jazz has to soul, R&B, funk, and disco. Connectivity that later in the '90s would give him proper credit as being the godfather of neo-soul, house, acid-jazz and a canon that provided the building sample blocks for boom bap era, hip-hop.
Silver Vibrations, the heavily sought-after 1983 album by Ayers thought of as his last great focused project in that era which combined equal parts commercial viability and artistic complexity. Commanding upwards of three figures on Discogs, it's finally being reissued on vinyl for the first time by BBE Records. It stands as the truest chronicle, reporting where black music was at in the early Eighties and its trajectory to come.
At the top of the decade, while browsing the landscape of a post-disco America, Ayres switched up his production list into a worksheet of boogie compositions and string-laden grooves. Chicago, the global classic, that not only pre-dates the term ‘house music’ but in turn lays out the structure and foundation the music would grow from, is featured in its extended seven-minute version. With its sample-like loop formation, minor-key chord structure and kick drum. It elongates this slippery funk into something just a bit more than a catchy tune. We get Genre. Silver Vibrations-the sleek r&b dance track showcasing Ayers magical vibe skills-feels like something Dr Dre would sample or a production Dam-Funk would create. ‘DC City’, a kissing cousin of Ubiquity's original recording of The Third Eye, is a mellow summer night type dedication to Chocolate City.
While there are moments on ‘Lots of Love’ and ‘Keep On Movin’ where Ayers refuses to give up the hedonistic Seventies ghost, a HEAVY post-disco effect on this record, with that slippery boogie sound working its way into the zeitgeist, cannot be ignored. This abridged version morphed into new R&B. And Ayers maneuvered through all these musical developments like he was parking a car. Focused on staying relevant to the kids, he created a teaching manual. Thirty years in advance.