Category Archives: FEATURES

Marisa Anderson: Turn On The Bright Lights

MarisaAnderson

Marisa Anderson brings church and state together with a little pedal-steel improv

Nothing teaches you patience quite like walking across the United States. Marisa Anderson did just that in 1990, when she dropped out of college to join the Global Walk For A Livable World. So, it makes sense that the Portland, Ore.- based guitarist’s musical life has unfolded at an unhurried pace.

Singing hymns in Sunday school first inspired her. “That feeling has stayed with me throughout my life,” says Anderson. “I’m not religious, but I do believe in transcendence, and I believe that music has the wonderful function of helping us achieve it.”

She’s played in country quartet Dolly Ranchers and an eclectic improv ensemble, the Evolutionary Jass Band, but didn’t make her first album until 2009. “And that was only because Eric Isaacson at Mississippi Records demanded that I do so,” she says.

That year, Anderson tracked 12 guitar and lap-steel instrumentals for The Golden Hour, her debut solo record. In concert, she toggles between reverberant reveries, celebratory gospel themes and tense anthems like Spanish Civil War tune “Bella Ciao”; her between-song narration shows how the old stories relate to our current culture wars.

“I want to highlight the fact that these songs come from somewhere and are not a random aesthetic response or decorative choice of notes and phrases,” she says. “Those old church-and-state songs are beautiful propaganda, and they worked! I like to free those powerful melodies from their words and set them in motion into the future. Music is alchemy.”

Anderson’s fourth and latest LP, Into The Light (out in June), is a one-woman-band a air, constructed from layers of guitar, piano and pedal steel that often seem to be in conversation with each other. “The pieces are improvised and basically unmapped,” she says. “It’s important to me that each record I make propels me into uncharted waters. I don’t want to repeat myself.”

—Bill Meyer

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Primal Scream: By Any Means Necessary

PrimalScream

The Scottish pop psychonauts in Primal Scream are back with their best in decades

“Most people in bands are usually smart enough not to say who their influences are. I was never that smart.”

Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream frontman and full-time keeper of the faith, is on the phone from London to discuss the Scream’s new album, Chaosmosis. It’s—let’s not mince words here—utterly fantastic, easily the band’s strongest, most consistent release since the unhinged, speed-freak psychosis of 2000’s XTRMNTR. It’s also, like all of Primal Scream’s best work , a head-spinningly eclectic collection of sounds and infl uences, from floor-stomping Northern Soul to early-’80s synth grooves, spectral acoustic psych/folk to unabashed, unashamed glittering pop with a capital P. This is the Scream at its genrebending best.

From the cynic’s point of view, there’s always been the suspicion that the members of Primal Scream are little more than chancers, a motley bunch of musical trainspotters fueled by insane self-belief and a flawless record collection, a group that has spent most of its career teetering on the edge of stone-cold genius and utter stupidity.

“Aye, but see,” says Gillespie, “I used to always talk about my influences because when I first started doing interviews, I didn’t know what to say, right? So I just talked about stuff I loved. It was a way of avoiding talking about my own songs. Obviously I’m a huge fan … but it’s not like we set out to consciously sound like someone else, it’s just the history of pop music’s in our fucking DNA. The thing with this record is I just think it sounds like a Primal Scream record.”

This is most definitely a good thing. Primal Scream has always been at its most beguiling when the band soaked up its influences and managed to transcend them, embracing experimentalism along the way. (See Screamadelica or Vanishing Point as prime examples.) When these guys are lazy, jaded or uninspired, they’ve tended to drift down the retro-rawk route (Give Out But Don’t Give Up or Riot City Blues), where they’ve aimed for the ragged majesty of Exile-era Stones but ended up sounding more like a bargain-basement Black Crowes. Chaosmosis falls firmly in the former camp.

Recorded in London, New York and Stockholm, with help from Peter, Bjorn And John’s Bjorn Yttling (who also co-wrote three tracks), it’s a much more streamlined, focused a air than its predecessor, the relatively sprawling and indulgent More Light. This was a conscious decision, says Gillespie. “Our manager suggested, ‘Why don’t you write some singles?’ So it was a challenge, a good exercise in discipline.”

It’s pop but not as we know it. Delve deeper into the album, and behind the shimmering melodies lie a dark, twisted heart and lyrics that dwell on relationship breakdowns and emotional stasis. Gillespie insists it’s not based on personal experience: “I’m a happily married man, but I’m a writer, and the music just suggested that to me.”

Collaborations play a big part, as always, on Chaosmosis. In the past, the Scream, with credential-bolstering good taste, has corralled the likes of Jah Wobble, Augustus Pablo, Jaki Liebezeit and Kevin Shields. This time around, some of the band’s more seasoned fans might well raise a dubious eyebrow at the involvement of Haim and Myley Cyrus-endorsed Sky Ferreira, who both add admirably to the album’s overall pop sheen. Gillespie, however, has no time for musical snobbery, fans or no fans.

“Get them to fuck,” he says. “Really, fuck them. It’s like, I’ll apply Malcolm X’s maxim to rock ‘n’ roll, which is by any means necessary. It’s all about the art. Just like if I was a film director, it’s all about making a great picture and you cast a great actor for the right part to tell the story. And that’s what we do when we make records.”

There are some fans, though—let’s just say men of a certain age—who might be dismissive of such blatant pop acts.

“Aye, I know,” says Gillespie, “but I don’t care. We’ve always gained and lost fans. We’re making art for ourselves and putting it out, and if people get it, great. And if they don’t, fine. There’s nothing you can do about it. We refuse to be compromised by someone else’s lack of fucking vision. I mean, I don’t want to make the same record twice with the same fucking bunch of people. What’s the point of that?”

—Neil Ferguson

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Lucius: Grief Counselors

Lucius

The ladies of Lucius find diarizing life on the road therapeutic

Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe are on their way to a dance class. When they take Lucius on the road to perform songs from their latest album, Good Grief, they want to have a few moves ready to augment their vocals. “Our plan is to turn our stage show into an extravaganza,” Laessig says with a laugh.

The duo penned the record at the end of a grueling two-and-a-half-year tour to support their first CD, Wildewoman. “When we finished recording, we hit the road,” says Wolfe. “We’d never toured or been in a band before, so it was a difficult couple of years. You’re never home, you never have a full night’s rest, you don’t see your family, but you’re constantly surrounded by people. You feel like your life is in shambles. Luckily, since we co-write and travel together, we were able to talk each other through the difficulties and turn them into songs. Writing Good Grief became our ultimate therapy.”

The LP is full of smooth, mid-tempo laments that express the giddy highs and lows of life on tour, but the tunes could also be parables about the push and pull of personal relationships.

“When we got o the road, we had a bunch of lyrical ideas and voice memos of things we wanted to put on the album,” says Laessig. “A lot of it was so heavy that we decided to start with something o the wall that we could dance and scream along to. We wrote ‘Born Again Teen’ in one sitting.”

The track’s jubilant energy is a good balance for the darker melodies that make up the bulk of the record. “The songs cover the good and the bad, the heaviness and lightness,” says Laessig. “To keep the album from being too serious, this one has some comic relief.”

—j. poet

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The Lumineers: Songs From The Road

Lumineers

With Cleopatra, the Lumineers avoid the dreaded sophomore slump

“We had seven years to write the songs on our debut,” says Jeremiah Fraites, drummer, piano player and one of the songwriters in the Lumineers. “It was a greatest-hits collection, the songs that got the best crowd reaction, things we’d played for years and perfected. We didn’t have any money or time to record them the way we wanted to, so we were surprised to sell millions of records and get the Grammy nominations (best new artist, best Americana album).”

The band supported its eponymous first LP with three years of endless touring. Its songs appeared in high-profile TV shows, commercials and films, including The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. When Fraites and his partners—singer/guitarist Wesley Schultz and singer/cello player Neyla Pekarek—started writing songs for their second album, they knew they had to produce something special.

“The pressure on me and Wes was cranked up to the max,” says Fraites. “We had to decompress from three years of touring and put aside our preconceptions of what an album should sound like. It was hard to get back to writing music, but the fear of a sophomore slump made us step up to the task. We wrote in a little rented house, and since we didn’t want anyone recording them on a phone and putting ’em up online, we didn’t play them live. Without the visceral experience of playing for an audience and seeing how people react, we had to dig into ourselves and put as much emotion into them as we could.”

The result is Cleopatra, a dark, solemn effort centered around Schultz’s vocals, with backing tracks dominated by sparse guitar and piano. Fraites’ drumming and Pekarek’s cello add ambient touches to deepen the emotional lyrics. “On the first album, everything had to be heavy and intense and start on a minor chord,” says Fraites. “We relied on a big drum set and lots of effects pedals. After years of touring, we know keeping it simple isn’t so easy. This time, there’s lots of electric bass and cello, for a subliminal low end that supports the music without overwhelming it.”

The songs often revolve around themes of loss, longing for home and memories of the past that are more poignant than nostalgic. “Touring brings up those feelings,” says Fraites. “Wes likes to write about the charades we perform when we’re running away from or running towards things. Some of the songs are autobiographical, some are based on people we know, but fictional or not, you can attach yourself to the ideas they represent.”

Fraites said they made a conscious decision to keep banjo and mandolin out of the arrangements, to move away from the Americana label for a more universal sound. “We want the music to speak for itself, with a lot of lyrical and musical ambiguity,” he says. “We don’t want people to know where we’re from, or what year the music is from. The first album was slightly folky, this is more chamber pop.”

—j. poet

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The Thermals: Disappearing Act

Thermals

Death is never the end for kinetic Portland punkers the Thermals

Like a hummingbird, Hutch Harris always hovers in perpetual buzzing motion. Usually, what occupies most of the singer/guitarist’s time is his Portland alternative trio the Thermals, and its seventh set, the Chris Walla-produced We Disappear, took him two years to gradually, meticulously compose. He even turned down invitations from his old touring buddies Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to appear on their locally filmed Portlandia. “They asked me to be on it a couple of times in the first two seasons, but I was always busy,” he says. “But I like to keep busy, I like to keep working, and I like to record. I like it a lot.

To that end, Harris—who has his own gadget-filled basement studio—was thrilled when he recently started getting some unusual extracurricular assignments. “Projects that came at a good time, when the Thermals had little breaks,” he says. Somehow, Amazon Studios discovered him through his publishing company and liked what they heard so much, they hired him as a composer for potential children’s shows. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. “I enjoy jobs like that, because it’s writing songs, and I love writing songs,” he says. “So, I’ll write them a bunch of different songs, and they’ll just pick one for each project, and I end up having a bunch of extra songs.”

So far, the shows have yet to be picked up. Harris penned a kinetic theme song for one pilot called Table 58 and an anthem for another, The History Of Radness, which was scored by ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and featured other rockers like Henry Rollins and—as the narrator—Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino. “It was about these kids in high school that have a band, so I wrote this song that the band played, and I have to admit it was pretty cool to see them play my song,” he says.

Punching the clock on kids’ programs has become a cottage industry for musicians these days, but the 40-year-old Harris says the Amazon leftovers won’t be compiled on an album: “Because they’re not even children’s songs, exactly—the stuff I write for them isn’t too far from a Thermals song. It’s just that the lyrics are slightly more positive than the lyrics I usually write. But they typically want a high-energy pop/punk song, just like the Thermals.”

We Disappear is that, in scratch-chorded spades. Opening on garage-punchy stomper “Into The Code,” it quickly settles into a surly Cheap-Trick-meets-Replacements scruffiness on “Hey You,” “The Walls” and “My Heart Went Cold,” an arena-rousing rocker revolving around the Joy Division tight rhythm section of bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass. Thematically, it covers two grim topics—the frontman’s latest romantic breakup (he also dated Foster at one point) and the encroachment of technology on modern society.

And on dirges like “The Great Dying,” “Always Never Be” and “If We Don’t Die Today,” things grow more sepulchral. “If you look at our records, we’re always dying, there’s always lots of death happening,” says Harris. “When I was young, it used to scare the hell out of me. Now it doesn’t scare me in the same way, but I just can’t stop thinking about it—it’s just always on my mind.” Hence, he points out, the two key aspects he stresses in his writing. First, there has to be a concert-level intensity to the music. “That energy has always got to be there,” says Harris. “But it’s not easy to get—sometimes you’ll see a group that’s great live, but then you’ll only hear parts of that energy on their record. So, we’re always trying to stay excited in the studio and make sure we’ve got that.”

Lastly, jubilant-sounding Thermals riffs need to be candy-coating a sinister center. “Most of the bands that I grew up liking do that same thing, like Nirvana—catchy songs with really dark lyrics,” says Harris. Fans can listen to the Thermals on a playful surface level. “But it’s also cool to provide something deeper there, if people want to dig for it.”

—Tom Lanham

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Modern Baseball: Game On

ModernBaseball

With Holy Ghost, Modern Baseball is filling in the empty spaces

When it comes to college scenes, Modern Baseball sticks out like a sore thumb. The vibe at Philly’s Drexel University is a varied bag where everything goes, from hip hop to electro to folk/punk to happy hardcore and more. Yet, Modern Baseball pokes out that much further with its smartly winsome, occasionally caustic lyrics and its complex-yet-blunt brand of harmonic pop hardcore heard on 2014’s You’re Gonna Miss It All and the new Holy Ghost.

“I used to think folkier influences set us apart from pop/punk bands like the Wonder Years,” says singing/songwriting guitarist Jacob Ewald. Ewald, along with Brendan Lukens, formed M-Baseball in 2012 after the pair met in 2011. “We got really hyped on the idea of starting a band together, so we looked around my basement for a book with a good title and agreed on ‘Modern Baseball Techniques,’ but cut out ‘Techniques,’ says Ewald.

At Drexel, Ewald met drummer Sean Huber and bassist Ian Farmer and Baseball’s game began in earnest. That they won acclaim for the cutting You’re Gonna Miss It All and the snide “Your Graduation” wasn’t always easy.

“We were all between 21 and 23, goofing around, skipping school,” says Ewald. “When we began playing bigger shows than most of the bands that we were drawing influence from, the whole process was rewarding, but in that moment, it was a very lonely, confusing, two-plus-two-equals-five kind of situation.”

Lukens and Ewald—writing lyrics on their own—grew by exploring subjects beyond romantic relationships. “My grandfathers were ministers, my mom is a minister, my sister is practicing to enter the ministry, so religion has always been a focus,” says Ewald. “One of those grandfathers died, but for some reason I never processed it. When I started writing this record, I would start a song about going to school or something, then by the time I got to the second verse, I’d realize I was writing about my grandfather. I started noticing the holes that were left in my family after he died and tried figuring how they got there. Religion and Godliness had served as an insulating agent to fill empty spaces while my grandfather was alive, but when we lost him, we were left with familiar-yet-unresolved problems. He was our insulating ministerial patriarch. The songs aren’t necessarily anti-religion, but they explore the negative effects of letting religion be your cure-all.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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RJD2: Ohio Player

RJD2

RJD2 returns to his hometown of Columbus and makes another masterpiece

Veteran beatmaker and soundscaper RJD2 is trying to re-acclimate. After a decade and a half living and making music in Philadelphia, Ramble John Krohn and his family relocated to his native Columbus, Ohio. Talking by phone from his new/old home, he admits that it’s a challenge uprooting from a scene where a vast network of collaborators was literally up the street from his house. But at the same time, he’s never had a hard time making friends—and we hear them all over the new Dame Fortune, released on his RJ’s Electrical Connections label.

Teamwork has historically been a staple of RJD2 records. His previous outing was the critically acclaimed STS x RJD2, a full-length project with Philly-via-Atlanta rapper Sugar Tongue Slim. It was a lively mix of poppy, playful beats and Slim’s trademark lyrical somersaults—with nuanced moments of introspection and a featured hook by (gasp!) soulful Americana songwriter Amos Lee.

“Making records like that really facilitates my confidence in doing things that are a little left of center,” says RJ. “The goal there is to find an elegant thing that people can relate to instantly. A groove, a pocket, a chord change that hopefully won’t be boring after you listen to it a lot. And that is its own particular challenge.”

Last year also saw a vinyl reissue of The Abandoned Lullaby, the sole LP from the band Icebird, RJD2’s 2011 collaboration with Aaron Livingston, a guy you might know better as Son Little. The record was less dance-floor-oriented than his normal fare, dabbling more in psychedelic grooves, with Livingston’s gripping vocals taking center stage.

Talk turns to process, and RJ explains that there’s no one-size-fits-all mold for the beats he makes and the voices that find their way onto them. Sometimes, he’ll be in exploratory mode, messing around with modulators and synthesizers and drum machines until a seed of a song reveals itself. And sometimes, it’s more intentional.

“About halfway through the Icebird record, we made ‘In Exile,’ and that was a song where we realized we should change up the dynamic to keep it interesting,” says RJ. “We thought, ‘Let’s come up with a song that’s just acoustic guitar, strings, vocals and nothing else. Let’s keep it all mid-range and see what happens.’”

STS x RJD2 track “All I Wanted Was A Caddy” is similar. It’s the point in the record where the ’70s house-party tone—horns, strings, piano and guitar—gives way to simmering industrial synthesizers. RJ says it came about to give the record variety, though Slim—whom he connected with through producer and Philly friend Khari Mateen—could pretty much spit fire over anything.

“My normal experience from working with people musically is I will send them 10 beats and they’ll send me one or two with their parts,” says RJ. “I’m used to having to throw so much against the wall. But with Slim, I’d send him, say, six tracks in a folder. In a week, he would send me five back. It was crazy how prolific he was off the bat.”

Like “Caddy” and “In Exile,” Dame Fortune also has surprising twists and turns in tone but also a strong roster of people at the mic—beginning with Jordan Brown, a friend of Slim’s who sang most of the hooks on STS x RJD2. Brown takes center stage on lead single “Peace Of What,” a horn-laden socially conscious jam that nods to Main Source’s “Peace Is Not The Word To Play.”

“I’ve got this self-imposed rule now; I don’t want to be singing more than two songs per album,” says RJ. “And when you work with somebody like Jordan, it’s one of those times where you realize there are people out there that are born with a voice that you just want to hear.”

He also pairs up again with Phonte Coleman of Little Brother on tripped-out soul soundscape “Saboteour”; RJ met him as a fan at a Beat Society event in 2006, and has worked with him regularly since 2010’s The Colossus.

Livingston appears on rambling rocker “We Come Alive,” which was finished before his Son Little gig took off full steam. RJ says that while most people know him as a powerful singer, he’s a quadruple threat: a fierce guitarist, a producer and a songwriter as well.

“When I heard ‘Guns Are Drawn’ by the Roots (where Livingston was featured), I started digging into his old band the Mean, and looking into his lyrics and thinking, ‘This guy is also one hell of a writer,’” says RJ. “And then you see him play guitar and you see he’s a badass. And then you see he produced most of his record.”

Vocalist Blueprint sings on “Up In The Clouds.” The Columbus rapper’s work with RJD2 dates back to their duo project Soul Position, which released two LPs on Rhymesayers in the early aughts. And another Ohioan sings on “Band Of Matron Saints”: Josh Krajcik, best known for being a finalist on The X Factor. That’s not why he was picked, though; RJ was just looking for somebody who could belt like Joe Cocker, and found out his lineage after booking him. “I didn’t even realize that, in that world, this guy’s a big deal,” he says. “But I had my head in the sand.”

Which is a testament to how RJD2 works. He doesn’t write songs for artists he wants to collaborate with, he simply writes songs. When they’re done, he studies the landscape and tries to imagine who would best inhabit it.

“That is the thing that I think is so fascinating about music, that the mechanics of it translate into the aesthetics of it,” he says. “And it is not easy to envision for me how I am going to aesthetically feel about something until the song is done.”

—John Vettese

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Exclusive Excerpt: Bob Mould Interviewed By David Cross

BobMould

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here. Photo by Gene Smirnov

A decade ago, it would’ve been easy to argue that Bob Mould’s best work was behind him. With Hüsker Dü and Sugar, as well as in his early solo work, Mould helped define the Amerindie music landscape for years. A handful of unspectacular (if solid) releases seemed to find the venerable punk godfather settling into placid middle age. But then Mould started making a series of albums that rank with the best work he’s ever done. Mould’s third-act winning streak continues with the new Patch The Sky (Merge). MAGNET asked comedian, actor and longtime massive fan David Cross to talk with Mould about his life and loud times.

I’m a grown up, have been for quite a while. And what I’ve become and who I am now can, in no small part, be directly linked to my introduction to punk/new-wave music from the late ’70s, early ’80s. It was this music and its attendant ethos that changed my then-shitty life. Suddenly, I heard the anger and confusion and frustration with everything my life had to offer me. And it was articulated with the speed and noise and fury that I was feeling. Husker Du (sorry, can’t umlaut on this word program) generally, and Bob Mould specifically, were as big a part of that as anybody. Zen Arcade was a small revelation. And then later, when the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show was the b-side to “Makes No Sense At All”?! Who does that? That appealed to me on so many levels. I was lucky enough to meet Bob in North Carolina when we were both on the bill of a benefit to raise money to defeat Prop 1, the gay-marriage ban (sadly it passed; we lost). I was a little intimidated and clearly nervous, but he was so sweet, nice, honest and kind that we immediately became friends. Bob has continued writing brilliant, introspective, angry songs throughout his varied and inarguably storied career that, God willing*, will continue for decades to come. When MAGNET asked if I wanted to interview him as he was making the press rounds for Patch The Sky, I jumped at the chance. In fact, I had just hung out with him mere days earlier in San Francisco, so we would have lots to talk about. Here is a transcript of my interview with the legend known as Bob Mould. *Full disclosure, I don’t believe in God. —David Cross

David Cross: So you’re out doing shows and promoting Patch The Sky. Were all the songs written by you? Or were they written with other people? Because I know you’re with (drummer) Jon Wurster, and I know that must be a treat. So fucking funny, and a very unsettling amount of encyclopedic music knowledge.
Bob Mould: Oh, my god, yes. When he starts on stuff, I think, “Where is this secret music Wikipedia thing that you found?”

Cross: Listen, for real. Before the internet, and before cell phones, I’d be at some bar and getting in an argument with someone about, like, who sang “Drift Away”? And then I would have to go find a payphone and call Jon and go, “Hey, Jon, it’s David, Sorry to bother you. Who sang ‘Drift Away’?” [Laughs]
Mould: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. And if a name comes up then, it’s like this appendix information comes out of him. It will just be, like, fourth album, second b-side. Like, “What?” But no, it’s really great. And about the writing for the record, it was an insulated experience. Quite different than the two records before it. I guess people are looking at this as the third record of a connected sequence with working with (bassist) Jason (Narducy) and Jon and recording as a three-piece. I do all the writing, and with Silver Age, there was just this crazy rush of youthful energy, I don’t know where it came from, maybe from putting the book out and doing the Disney Hall (tribute) stuff, I had got one of those heads of steam, and I got the love and appeal that tells you your work is good again. You get back into a natural groove again, and that’s where Silver Age came from. With Beauty And Ruin, there was more democratic decision moments in the studio. With Patch The Sky, I was coming off some rough personal stuff, and that sort of put me in an isolated place to write from, and this was my way to get out of whatever I had been in and get clarity for myself. So this record was more of my voice, to be blunt about it.

Cross: And going back to the Disney Hall show, I wasn’t there, but it sounds like it must have been amazing and humbling and satisfying for you.
Mould: Yeah, it was really great. We all do our work, we all do our things, and sometimes we are out of our minds and sometimes people love what we do, and there’s quiet times, or for me there was. And to have a celebration like that, it legitimized a lot of the work.

Cross: Yeah, usually that stuff happens after you’re dead.
Mould: I kept checking my gold watch to see if I was still ticking, but totally. With Dave (Grohl) and Ryan (Adams) and everybody, the weirdest thing is being there and hanging out with everybody but hearing them singing my words back, that was the craziest part of it for me. Like, “Wow, these people know these songs.”

Cross: And they love them. In the same way that people have inspired you. And here’s something, Bob. I think you should pay that forward and arrange an evening with like-minded artists for someone that you’ve been inspired by. And it could be an annual event. And then when you are honored, you have to come back and honor somebody a year after that. It’s a good idea.
Mould: That’s a great idea. And that kind of goes with my idea of the hot potato.

Cross: I really don’t know your hot potato idea.
Mould: It’s just the idea of hearing and retelling the story that you heard. When I was a little kid, I would listen to jukebox 45s and the Beatles and the Monkees. And then I heard punk rock, and I made punk rock. And then I heard other people’s versions of punk rock, and it all gets filtered into this core idea. And you hold on to it for a little while, and then you toss it into the air. You just grab it. People say, “Don’t you feel like people have stolen what you do?” And I say, “No. It’s like the hot potato.” Somebody comes up with a notion and people hear it and they want to retell that story. That’s always what music should be.

Cross: It’s like appropriation. All music, and other art forms as well, everybody’s borrowing.
Mould: It’s funny you mention that because one of the funniest things that happened recently was the estate of Marvin Gaye versus Robin Thicke. I was really saddened by what happened there because I don’t really think that would qualify as plagiarism. I felt like in this day and age, the court of public opinion via comment sections on the internet was like, “Yeah, get him! Because we don’t like the guy. But no, this is not what we think it is.” And it scared me because I was like, “Oh my god, what if I unknowingly lift a line from a song that I heard 15 years ago in a supermarket?” Because that actually happens.

Cross: I think there’s a distinction to be made, and there’s a line. And it’s a thin line that wants to be crossed, like the Vanilla Ice/Bowie/Queen song or the Tom Petty/Sam Smith thing. And Sam Smith said, “Oh, you’re right.” And kudos to him; he said, “You’re absolutely right, that’s the same thing. And I apologize.” But I think there’s a fine line, and distinctions are being made with every court case. And you’re right: Fuck the court of public opinion.
Mould: I agree with you, but I just felt vexed for a moment. I thought, “Wow, this is what could happen. This is a weird kind of public lynching with no credibility to what’s happening here.”

Cross: I think you’re right that it was based on, “Fuck that guy. I don’t like that guy. I don’t like the way he looks. That’s not fair, so fuck him.”
Mould: Speaking of not fair, did you see the Kesha ruling?

Cross: I did. I know very little about it, but it’s pretty crazy. And the immediate backlash that she’s getting is like, “Fuck that bitch; she signed a contract! Don’t like it, don’t sign contracts!” But that’s hardly the issue there.
Mould: For me, being a musician and signing lots of contracts in my lifetime, I’m gonna try to break it down really quick when I saw that happen, and I’m not gonna even get into the emotional context right now. Sony says we have to keep her because $60 million. Ten years ago, some of the biggest pop stars in the world may have had a chance across six albums to gain $60 million. That was before people stopped buying music. So they’re gonna keep this person under an antique contract in a day and age where— who’s the biggest selling artist in the world, Adele? Eight million? The last time I checked on the math, that probably ends up clearing her 20 million out of 60 million because it’s probably two and a half bucks per record. She’s got a great deal. How in the fuck is keeping this person beholden to this contract ever gonna get a cent back? And that’s just the business part of this. It’s so sad.

Cross: What’s so sickening about that is that it’s a person against a multinational corporation. And a person has sensitivity, feelings and emotions, and it affects a human being, and with a corporation it only affects shareholders’ stock values. That’s what they’re arguing. That’s where we are now and what we’ve become in the past 150 years or so, and it’s unfair. It’s just unfair.
Mould: It’s really unfair. And when you crack into the emotional context of the story, like, oh my god. If there’s even a shred of reality to what’s being said? I can’t know for sure what people really do. It’s so sad. Shame on the court, shame on Sony, shame on the whole fuckin’ thing. It’s just so sad.

Cross: I just thought of an analogy for what you said. You know, Bill Cosby—his company owned part of NBC. Now what if he had been abusing people who were on the show, and they had signed a contract saying, “Hey, if we decide to do a sequel or we do other episodes, you’ll be required to do six more episodes as that character,” and then that person got raped. And then we found out about the allegations. Back then, if we found out about those allegations, of course he would deny it as he’s been denying it, and then the court would say, “Well, you signed a contract even though you said this guy raped you. You have to do six more episodes with him. You signed a contract.”
Mould: There you have it.

Cross: Maybe the silver lining has changed for some people, but maybe not. We don’t have to get into it.
Mould: Yeah.

Cross: Anyways, where are you now?
Mould: I’m back home now in San Francisco. I just got back. I’ve been resting up, doing some press. I’ve got to get up to go to New York at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, and I have a week of press out in NYC, which should be fun. I’m just filibustering now for the campaign. And then getting back to make more music in mid-April when we tour the U.S. But between now and then, it’s a little bit of playing, a lot of talking and trying to explain what I’m barely now learning about this record. [Laughs]

Cross: Do you enjoy the press process?
Mould: Yeah. I mean I like talking to people about music. On this go around, I’ve been encouraging people to come at me and talk about stuff, like we’re doing, instead of coming loaded with crazy questions that they already know the answer to. It’s like, “No, you already know the answer to that question. Why are you asking it? Oh, because you have to ask me that question. OK, so ask me that question and I’ll give you one of the four or five answers where I will always say politely no and then we’ll move on.” But otherwise, it’s way more fun to just engage with people and hear what the interviewers have to say.

Cross: Have a conversation.
Mould: Exactly. So I’m real happy we’re doing this. But as far as straight-up interviews, they’re fine. It’s part of the job. Cross: Here’s a question. You’ve lived in a lot of different places. And most people, they don’t. Your profession has allowed you to do that. What was your favorite place to live? And considering the time you were in that place. Mould: I think for me, unrelated to work, as a human being, I think the late ’90s in New York was just a life changer. I had spent most of my life not talking about my homosexuality because I wasn’t really, as a homosexual, I didn’t feel really integrated with the gay community. I wasn’t out until I was 31, 32, 34, I mean. But to get that out in the open and then to go back to NYC with that openness and really being able to embrace that life … And at that time Chelsea was a great place to hang out. And I think that was a real growth moment.

Cross: You were, certainly by then, an icon and a hero to many people. Were you recognized in New York? I don’t know the community you hung out with, but would people say, “Oh, that’s Bob Mould!” Or were you able to anonymously skate through every day?
Mould: A little bit of both. When I would do a music deal, like going over to the Bowery to see a show, then people would treat me like the rock guy. But I was spending so much of my time in Chelsea and in the West Village, and nobody really knew my body of work or what I would actually do. I would make friends at the gym, and I would make friends at the gay bar or at the coffee shop.

Cross: You had a secret identity.
Mould: Yeah, sort of. It just felt like it was really great to meet people and sort of establish an identity not just with what I do but who I was.

Cross: And you were new to it, so it was probably exciting and liberating.
Mould: You know the drill in New York. You know when you’re on the street or on the train when people see you and recognize you.

Cross: Absolutely.
Mould: Yeah, and for me, I seem to have the best fans in the world, like they’re all really polite and really educated and they have a good sense of when the right time to come up and say hi is.

Cross: Well, that’s good. That’s a treat.
Mould: Like when they see me lift my soup bowl off the table and pour it down my throat, it’s not the moment that they choose.

Cross: Like when you’re on the phone crying, they come up and say, “Hey, man, let’s get a picture.”
Mould: Yeah, exactly. So I’m always grateful for that. People are really nice. And it was more recognition in the rock territory rather than, in lack of a better term, gay territory.

 

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Lance Neptune: Another Space Odyssey

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The possibilities are endless for interstellar synth traveler Lance Neptune

Lance Neptune makes expansive music, soundscapes that suggest endless journeys into infinite space. “I’m inspired by astronomy,” he says. “When you listen to a track, I want you to feel like the music can go on forever. The fact that the universe is never-ending inspires me every day. Every possibility, anything you can think of, can be done. There’s no ceiling, unless you’re in a house.”

As promised, the songs on Animal Eclipse, his new EP on the Magicwire label, are multidimensional, moving in all directions at the same time. Ambient washes of sound rub up against dance beats, while growling animals and other natural sounds dance hand in hand with warm, throbbing synthesizer textures. “I wanted to show o my versatility on this album,” says Neptune. “My first record, Synthesis, was dreamy and atmospheric. This one has a lot of angles. It’s still ambient, but you can dance to it, too.

“I like layering electronic and natural sounds, so I record hand percussion and patterns I tap out with drum sticks, or I put my mic up to the window and pull in the sounds of rain or birds tripping. I live in Maryland, near Washington D.C., the home of go-go music. It’s a big influence on my work. It has a bounce you don’t get anywhere else.”

Neptune created all the sounds on Animal Eclipse by himself, in an intense burst of creative energy. “I like to work alone, without any distractions or anyone interfering with the creative process,” he says. “I just buckled down for a few months and knocked it out. I do like to make music with friends and get their feedback while I’m working on tracks, but most of the time, I do it alone. I’ve always got a lot of music in my head.”

—j. poet

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Dressy Bessy: Bess In Show

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Dressy Bessy comes back strong after a seven-year hiatus with the aptly titled Kingsized

In the time of Dressy Bessy has been out of commission, MySpace has gone from number-one online community site to virtual haunted house. Tammy Ealom knows the band has work ahead of it in getting the word out on new album Kingsized.

“We didn’t even have a Facebook page back then,” says the guitarist/vocalist from the Denver home she shares with Dressy Bessy/Apples In Stereo guitarist/vocalist John Hill. “All this social-media stuff has come up since we’ve been out of the scene. We’re having to build it back up.”

Seven years ago, Dressy Bessy released Holler And Stomp to less than enthusiastic critical reviews, which ranged from lukewarm to hateful. One infamously snarky website used several excremental references.

“They haven’t been kind to us from the beginning,” says Ealom. “Fuck them.”

Holler And Stomp’s unfairly harsh reception, combined with low attendance on Dressy Bessy’s subsequent 2008 tour, would have ended lesser bands. Fortunately, Ealom has a rare gift for perspective.

“To be honest, I didn’t know there were any reviews at all,” she says. “We’d been hitting it hard for 10 years. When Holler And Stomp came out, it was the cusp of the housing crash, gas prices were sky high and the turnout was lackluster because nobody could afford to do anything. We didn’t sit down and say it, but we decided to take a break.”

Since 2008, Ealom made music videos for every song on Holler And Stomp, she and Hill built up their home studio, bassist Rob Greene amicably left the band, and her father passed away. With Greene’s 2014 departure, Ealom did some soul-searching about next steps, and a torrent of songs subsequently erupted from her creative well, resulting in Kingsized, the sugar-pop band’s triumphant sixth studio effort.

“That’s how albums happen in our house,” says Ealom. “With Rob moving on, I decided, ‘OK, this is my direction in life—let’s see what we’re going to do.’ It opened it up for me to write bass lines and say, ‘This is exactly how I’d like this to go,’ and to invite friends to perform on the album and give it a whole new vibe.”

With guests including Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Rebecca Cole and Andy Sherno, Ealom, Hill and drummer Craig Gilbert bring a tougher, darker edge to Dressy Bessy’s standard bubblegum snap and bounce on Kingsized.

“We’ve been considered this cutesy thing, and I’ll take some of the blame—I do the visuals, and I’m drawn to cute shit,” says Ealom. “Cute isn’t something you learn; you embrace it or you don’t. We’ve always felt like we were a rocking fucking band.”

Kingsized exposes shades of punk and glam that have always lurked under Dressy Bessy’s surface without abandoning its core sound. More importantly, the band feels its captured its essence with this album.

“I think we’ve nailed our live sound in a recording for the first time,” says Ealom. “There’s that gritty underbelly. This is us.”

Inspired epiphanies notwithstanding, it seems logical to ask the universe and other interested parties: Why is now the time for Dressy Bessy’s return?

“We’re about to go into a housing crash, and we’re gluttons for punishment,” says Ealom. “We didn’t pick the time; it just is time. We’re excited, we have no expectations. Like it or leave it, we’re gonna do it, but please like it. We’re cute, but we’ll also make you cry.”

—Brian Baker

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