Category Archives: FEATURES

Delta Spirit: Give Them Your Tired

DeltaSpirit

The outspoken folk rockers in Delta Spirit speak up for the underprivileged

“I feel that I was born to scream into a microphone,” says Delta Spirit guitarist/vocalist Matt Vasquez. “We love to play loud, and from the start, we wanted to get into that American folk groove. This country has a tradition of people speaking their minds and questioning the way things are. There’s always been a feeling of ‘the haves’ against the ‘have nots.’ It’s a situation that’s as old as time, and one we have to deal with today. When you’re a little kid, you’re told to play fair, but as you grow up, you see that the world obviously isn’t fair. You can’t ignore that, and it’s easier to be an idealist in a song than it is in real life, so we write songs about what we think is right and just.”

The band’s new album, Into The Wide (Dualtone), is full of anti-war and pro-working-class songs, steeped in literary and biblical images that will make them resonate with almost any listener. The music is deep and moody, playing off the sound of chiming rock guitars, driving rhythms and anthemic vocals against a thick wall of dark, almost industrial noise.

“We spent a year confined in our Brooklyn studio, a claustrophobic recording and rehearsal space we built ourselves,” says Vasquez. “We were in our own world, and the songs took on the feeling of a person trapped in an urban setting and longing for the freedom symbolized by nature—or, in our case, touring. We wanted to capture the feeling of being confined, knowing it’s always possible to break loose, but in the process we got a little insane. Then we went to Atlanta to record with Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Belle & Sebastian) in a studio with big windows and a lot of natural light. The stress lifted off of us, and we were able to bring some sunshine into the songs.”

The band had more than 50 tracks demoed, but eventually pared the list down to the 11 tunes that appear on the album. The songs paint pictures of the disenfranchised, disillusioned and downcast citizens of our country, folks struggling to get by, but still maintaining their faith in the promises of the American dream.

“We decided we wanted to be more folk and less pop this time around,” says Vasquez. “There are no singles, and everything is introspective. We feel a connection to the story songs and murder ballads of traditional folk, but we want to write songs about this century, using the sounds of today to make them resonate with people. Some of those traditional ballads say more in three minutes than most writers can say in a novel. When you hear them, your imagination takes the place of all the prose. It may be a lofty aspiration, but those are the kind of songs we want to write. We want to make people think without telling them what they should think.”

—j. poet

Also posted in GUEST EDITOR | Comments closed

The Hold Steady: Ten Years After

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

HoldSteady

After a decade of cheap beer, positive jams and killer parties, there’s blood on the carpet, mud on the mattress. MAGNET goes to Brooklandia to watch the Hold Steady sleep it off and wake up with that American sadness. By Jonathan Valania

When Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn was growing up in suburban Minneapolis in the shag-carpeted ’70s, there was nothing musical about the Finn family. Nothing at all. Nobody played an instrument. Nobody played records on the stereo. They did not even sing show tunes on long car rides.

But when Finn was eight years old, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham choked to death on his own vomit, and that’s when a young boy discovered the awesome, mood-altering, life-changing power of rock ‘n’ roll. Up until this point, he’d thought of rock ‘n’ roll as nothing more than the interstitial music between the zany capers and wacky hijinks on The Monkees and The Bay City Rollers Show. But judging by the trail of tears running down the apple-hued cheeks of his babysitter—a pretty neighborhood teen he had a secret crush on—this was an Important Cultural Moment, right up there with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination. His babysitter made him listen to Led Zeppelin A-Z that day, and there would be no turning back. One day, he vowed, with God as his witness, he would make pretty girls cry when he died. This remains a work in progress.

This year, Finn turns 43, and the Hold Steady turns 10. (Technically 11, but who’s counting?) The kids at their shows now have kids of their own, as the song goes. On March 25, the Hold Steady released Teeth Dreams, its sixth studio album. (The band also boasts six EPs and a live LP.) If the Hold Steady was the Replacements, this would be its Don’t Tell A Soul.

It’s been four years since the Hold Steady released an album, which is something like 16 in rock ‘n’ roll years. Entire presidencies, college sports careers and World Wars come and go in the span of four years. In that time, the Hold Steady came closer to ceasing to exist than anyone in the band cares to admit out loud. Ego, exhaustion, addiction and communication breakdown—the great hunger-makers of rock ‘n’ roll’s infamously insatiable appetite for self-destruction—have left their scars, as they invariably do to bands around the six-album mark. Which only goes to show that there is always a crack where the darkness gets in, and even a critically acclaimed band that has waved the flag of positivity highly and mightily is not immune to private despair.

Fortunately, the members, all at or nearing 40-something, were mature and self-aware enough to recognize the warning signs and course-correct before it was too late. So, they took some time off. Finn started working on a novel, then flew to Austin and recorded a well-received solo album, which he toured on for a year. Guitarist/primary songwriter Tad Kubler got clean. Drummer Bobby Drake bought a bar in Brooklyn with Spoon’s Rob Pope. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay took his leave and was replaced by noted six-string shredder Steve Selvidge. (The latter is the son of late, great folk singer/recordist/indie-label pioneer Sid Selvidge, a pillar of the Memphis music scene for five decades who will be remembered for, if nothing else, having the sheer balls to release Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbert, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s all-time great hot messes.) They got new management, a new label, a new producer and a whole new attitude—more heart, less cowbell. And unto the world a new Hold Steady album was born.

***

It’s 3 p.m. on a yet another colder-than-a-witch’s-tit late-winter afternoon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Craig Finn is nursing a seltzer and lime at a back table at Lake Street Bar, an old-man dive short on old men and long on beardo Brooklandians getting a head start on tonight. Finn asked to meet here because he knows the owner—Hold Steady drummer Bobby Drake, who is presently restocking the bar in preparation for the coming happy-hour onslaught—and, as the song goes, the drinks are cheap and they leave you alone.

He’s a little bummed at the moment. His friend Oscar Isaac didn’t get an Academy Award nomination for his indelible portrayal of Llewyn Davis in the latest Coen brothers film. “I think he got screwed,” says Finn emphatically. “He was mind-blowing.”

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Norah Jones: The Devil In Miss Jones

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

NorahJones

Meet the new Norah Jones. The Norah Jones for people who think they don’t like Norah Jones. She just might have made the album of the year. Who says nice girls always finish last? By Jonathan Valania

Lazy Sunday morning coming down. You are awakened by the sunshine streaming through the open windows and the sound of the Brooklyn streets outside coming alive. Oddly, Danger Mouse is lying next to you, on his back, looking up at the ceiling, languidly strumming an elegiac guitar. He acts like you aren’t there. If you listen closely, you can hear a tinkling, Eno-esque piano arpeggio out of the corner of your ear. It sounds—and, more importantly, feels—like raindrops falling on your head.

You roll over and there’s Norah Jones—beautiful, kind, classy incarnate Norah Jones—her little hands plinking the keys of a toy piano. Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, you think to yourself, absently quoting e.e. cummings. Oddly, she seems to have cut her hair since you went to sleep last night, but she somehow looks even more beautiful shorn of her trademark long inky locks, which is strange because you always prefer long hair. Always. She gives you that pensive, other-shoe-about-to-drop look that spells trouble, or that unexpected change has already become operational. You hate change. She starts singing, “Good morning/My thoughts on leaving/Are back on the table/I thought you should know,” like you’re in one of those musicals where all the dialogue is sung instead of spoken. It is at this moment that you are reminded why you hate musicals.

Welcome to beginning of …Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note), which, despite the fact that it’s a down-the-middle collaboration with Danger Mouse, is credited as the fifth and latest album by Norah Jones, the Lady Madonna of modern MOR. It is easily her best album to date; it is also a fairly radical departure from everything that precedes it, a heart-shaped-box sampler of poison pills and bloody valentines, pop noir shot through with magic and loss, spooky-sexy analog keyboard textures, echoic vocal washes and tremolo power chords, knotty krautrock bass lines and the shimmering jangle of guitars. It is, in fact, such a complete break from her past that it may well cost her as many old fans as it gains new ones. Not that’s she’s sweating it. She’s used to having millions of people who she’s never met making snap judgments about her, some in the name of love, others not so much. Such is life in the business that is show.

If you are not among the 27 million global villagers who bought Jones’ Grammy-sweeping 2002 debut, Come Away With Me, and made it the biggest-selling album of the last decade, or, for that matter, Feels Like Home and Not Too Late, the two LPs that came after and pretty much pick up where the first left off, or the last one, 2009’s The Fall, which doesn’t so much and instead hints at the adept pop stylist she has become, well, you probably have your reasons. Presumably among them are:

1. You Wouldn’t Want To Be A Member Of Any Norah Jones Fan Club That Would Have You
It’s not so much the music you can’t stand, it’s the crowd it draws. Lots of balding graybeards with ponytails who still think pressed jeans and a blazer is sticking it to the man. Smug jazzbos who put on Pat Metheny when they are in the mood to fuck shit up. Tweedy Lebowskian dinner-party bores with pierced ears and patched elbows who drink too much and stay too long. Turtlenecked wine-bar Romeos and Birkenstocked fern herders. Plus, your parents like her, and the day you and your parents agree on music is the day you officially become O-L-D.

2. You Are Still Reeling From Some Tragedy In Which Norah Jones’ Music Played A Pivotal Role
Some smug yuppie assclown ran over your puppy/kitten/wheelchair-bound little brother while screaming unto distraction into his Bluetooth at his stockbroker behind the wheel of his Hummer, windows down and blasting Come Away With Me, and he didn’t even bother to stop.

3. It’s Not Your Fault, It’s Hers
It’s nothing personal, but you just simply can’t abide her amalgam of Starbuckian jazziness, tastefully muted country lilt and the smoky after-hours torch-singer balladeering. “Should be called Snorah Jones,” you have been known to say in your saltier moments.

Well, you won’t have Norah Jones to kick around anymore. At least not that Norah Jones. The old Norah Jones is dead, long live the new Norah Jones. Truth be told, the new Norah Jones looks a lot like the old Norah Jones, but with shorter hair and higher hemlines. The new Norah Jones makes kitschy panoramic odes to the inglorious bastards of Sergio Leone spaghetti-Westerns with Jack White and Danger Mouse. She takes album-cover-art design cues from Russ Meyer movies, wherein beautiful-but-deadly double-D glamazons body slam sniveling creeps into submission with feral hell-hath-no-fury fierceness. The new Norah Jones writes murder ballads, vowing homicidal retribution against the fairer-sex co-conspirator in her lover’s deal-breaking infidelity. Message: I will cut you, bitch.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Nada Surf: Reach For The Stars

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

NadaSurf

Still thriving in their mid-40s, the members of Nada Surf are that much closer to unlocking heaven’s gate. By Hobart Rowland

Apparently, the rumors are true: Matthew Caws is never more than an offhand comment away from an impromptu live performance. Right now, he’s launching into a punchy acoustic rendition of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Do It Clean” as his Nada Surf bandmate, Daniel Lorca, follows along on acoustic bass. The smoke from a pair of cigarettes forms a twisty plume above two bobbing heads as it drifts to the vaulted ceiling of the Sitcom—the band’s loft-style rehearsal space, makeshift studio and, if need be, place for expat friends to crash—situated in the once-bleak, now-hyper-hip Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The song punctuates Caws’ giddy reaction to the suggestion that New York artist Graham Parks’ overexposed, mustard-yellow cover art for Nada Surf’s new album, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy (Barsuk) bears a passing resemblance to that of the Bunnymen’s 1980 debut, Crocodiles. “Beautiful,” he gushes. “I’m an Echo & The Bunnymen freak.”

At 44, Caws is still as aw-shucks smitten with music as he was in his teens, whether it’s the classic rock and punk he grew up on, or his more recent infatuation with influential folk guitarists Elizabeth Cotten and Bert Jansch, who actually inspired some of the picking on Nada Surf’s latest batch of music. And even with plenty of other things vying for his attention these days—including a seven-year-old son living in Cambridge, England, Caws’ new home—he still embraces the clichéd notion that music is the ultimate remedy for pretty much whatever ails him.

“I’ve tried to meditate, because I know it’s supposed to be really good for you,” says Caws, between sips from a can of PBR. “I’ve tried to sit there in the morning for 10 minutes and think about nothing—and it’s very fuckin’ difficult.”

After a brief jaunt in Spain to film a video for Astronomy track “Waiting For Something,” Nada Surf has assembled at the Sitcom on a chilly December afternoon to discuss the new album and other recent developments, including an extensive international tour that’s a little more than a month away. Conversation begins in the kitchen area, but with a PBR 12-pack within easy reach, digressions are plentiful. Talk turns to the time Lorca was free-diving in Mexico and found a scorpion in his wetsuit, then onto the rhythmic merits of Neil Peart vs. Charlie Watts, the time Joey Ramone sang with Nada Surf at Coney Island High shortly before his death and the rigors of deciphering the Teutonic tongue. “I did at least four years of German,” says Lorca, who’s fluent in English, Spanish and French. “My girlfriend’s Austrian; I have an apartment in Vienna. I can order a beer and buy a pack of cigarettes, and that’s about all. It’s impossible.”

Things eventually shift to the lounge area, with its modest smattering of recording equipment, after Caws suggests an “Astronomy unplugged” preview of the new music. Caws takes a seat on the couch with Nada Surf’s Queens-bred drummer, Ira Elliot, who, without his set, briefly resorts to tapping away on an iPhone drum app. At 48, Elliot is the band’s most seasoned musician. “I played in reggae bands, goth bands, heavy-metal bands—all sorts of crazy-ass things,” says Elliot of his pre-Nada Surf work, which included an ‘80s stint with garage-rock purists the Fuzztones. “As a drummer, if you do your job properly, everyone will ask you to play. I said yes to everyone.”

The dreadlocked son of a retired Spanish diplomat, the 44-year-old Lorca is gregarious and free-spirited where Caws is more measured, meticulous and thoughtful. Both are exceedingly gracious and forthcoming, and it’s easy to see why the two have been so close since first meeting up as grade-school students at the exclusive Lycée Français de New York, a French-focused private institution on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The very definition of a healthy coupling, the two couldn’t be more different, yet they complement one another perfectly.

Lorca has a passion for soccer—something Caws couldn’t care less about. It explains Lorca’s brief disappearances throughout the afternoon, as he heads to a nearby bar across the street to catch portions of a Spanish league match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. After one such trip, he arrives just in time to grab his Guild B-30—a purchase inspired by a Violent Femmes show and paid for with a tiny inheritance he received from his grandmother—and join in on Astronomy’s lead track, “Clear Eye, Clouded Mind.” It’s a bracing start to an album of deceptively complex power pop produced by Chris Shaw (Super Furry Animals, Ted Leo + The Pharmacists).

“This is our Rocket To Russia,” Elliot quips, referencing Astronomy’s breathlessly efficient 38 minutes.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

The Hives: The Boys Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

Hives

Twelve years after their first and last great album, the Hives cash out of the major-label casino and return to the sound and DIY roots of Veni Vidi Vicious with the new Lex Hives. But first they had to survive million-dollar lawsuits, severe concussions and nearly career-ending knife wounds. By Jonathan Valania

The NoMad Hotel is one of those swanky boutique hotels that bejewel the tonier provinces of midtown Manhattan. It is here, in this New Gilded Age outpost situated in the fragrant heart of the Perfume District, that the Hives have decamped for a four-day charm offensive on Gotham’s media elite, fresh off a triumphant return to stage-and-screen with a headlining slot at Coachella and a riotous studio-lot performance for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Inside the library lounge, suitably bedecked with gorgeously illuminated two-story dark-wood bookshelves lined with sumptuously appointed leather-bound tomes of unknown vintage, Hives frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and his brother, guitarist Nicholaus Arson, are holding court. There is nothing particularly punk rock about staying at the NoMad; however, it is very rock ‘n’ roll, and the Hives ceased being a punk band and started being a rock ‘n’ roll band a long time ago.

The room is full of stylish, important-looking people nipping fancy beverages, poking at smartphones. The one confirmed celebrity in the room, in addition to the aforementioned Hives frontman, is rapper Mos Def, who gives Almqvist that barely perceptible tip-of-the-hat nod that the famous trade when they spot each other from across a crowded room. It’s been five years since we last heard from Fagersta, Sweden’s finest. A significant amount of drama has unfolded in that time. “There were some problems that pretty much had nothing to do with anything, but something to do with a lot,” says Arson.

First, the Hives parted ways with Universal Music, walking away from the $10 million recording contract that tethered them to Big Music and ushered these punk-rock refugees from a backwater Swedish mining town into the ranks of the upper crust. All told, this parting of the ways is not necessarily a bad thing—but more on that later.

Secondly, Almqvist suffered a rather severe concussion when he tried climbing up a lighting rig during a show in Switzerland and fell nearly 10 feet onto his head. “I then finish the show limping like a three-legged dog and speaking in tongues,” he wrote on the band’s website. “Turns out I have a concussion and god knows what else. The highly skilled doctors are still trying to find out. X-rays, brain scans and running other tests. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that, shit, I may even be mortal.”

Before that, he dropped a knife blade on his foot and severed a tendon governing the movement of a big toe that doctors say they have never seen on a homo sapien. “Basically, my big toe is biologically constructed like a thumb,” says Almqvist with a shrug. “Probably means that I’m the last step in the evolutionary chain.”

And then there were the lawsuits, which have punctuated just about every period of the band’s career, starting at the beginning when they told Warner Bros., “Fuck you,” and Warner Bros. said, “No, fuck you,” and sued the Hives for, like, a bazillion dollars. After two years of lawyering up, they wound up settling for considerably less. In 2008, a band called the Roofies sued the Hives, claiming that the latter’s “Tick Tick Boom” sounded too much like their song “Why You?” (It quietly went away.) Then, in spring 2011, fellow Swedes the Cardigans threatened to sue the Hives to recover the remaining half of the $6 million they claim to have loaned the Hives that had not been paid back. (This, too, went away quietly.) Concurrently—and, quite possibly, not coincidentally—the Hives sued their money managers, claiming they had helped themselves to a little too much commission. The Hives won.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

The Black Keys: Band Of Brothers

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

BlackKeys

With the new El Camino having gone gold and a global arena tour on the verge of selling out, the Black Keys have achieved what surely seemed like the stuff of pipe dreams when they were still banging it out in their parents’ basements a dozen years ago: upward mobility. By Jonathan Valania

If rock is well and truly dead—not just as a sound or a sensibility, but as an escape hatch from the downward spiral of the middle class for a pair of white college dropouts from the Midwest—the Black Keys never got the memo. As much a brand as a band at this point, the Black Keys—Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitars, Patrick Carney on drums and attitude—have spent the last 13 years abiding by the same cardinal rule that has governed the rock and the roll since the day in 1951 that Ike Turner cut “Rocket 88” and got the party started: If thou doth rock hard and, more importantly, work hard, thou shall be rewarded. Handsomely. And the Black Keys have been working very hard, indeed.

Sure, it took 10 albums (including side projects and solo outings), a dozen videos, one marriage and more than 700 concert dates to get there, but the Black Keys have finally arrived. Two years ago, they were grossing $2 million annually. This year, they should triple, or even quadruple, that figure. Though he refuses to disclose an exact figure, Carney says the band will earn much more than $2 million by the close of fiscal year 2012. Not bad for a couple of weirdbeard, goggle-eyed ne’er-do-wells who cut their rock teeth banging out rude blooze in their parents’ basements back in Akron, Ohio.

These days, Carney splits his time between Nashville, where he jets around in a 2011 BMW 528i and resides in a spacious, tastefully appointed crib complete with an in-ground pool and home recording studio in one of the Music City’s tonier zip codes (Harmony Korine is a neighbor; more on that later), and a New York City crash pad where his neighbors include one Tom Cruise.

Auerbach, who also drives a late-model BMW and owns a home in the Music City, has built an impressive recording studio somewhere on the wrong side of the tracks in Nashville (protected by a high fence and razor-wire that only those with the punch code can enter) kitted out with a vintage 1969 16-track analog recording console (that in a previous life, elsewhere in town, cut hits by Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris), all manner of outboard gear, a kitchen, a lounge and a handsomely landscaped roof deck. A climate-controlled side room houses the 25 vintage 1960s guitars Auerbach currently owns, including his beloved Harmony Stratotone, which has enjoyed pride of place on every Black Keys album to date.

Likewise, the Keys have invested heavily in their live show, and these days it takes a full-time staff of 20 to ensure that the two dudes keep on rockin’ in the free world: lighting guys, sound guys (the Keys travel with their own sound system and lighting rig), bus-driving guys, lifting-shit guys, a stage-manager guy and a tour-manager guy. Plus, a touring bass player (Gus Seyffert) and keyboardist (John Wood) who have become a staple of the Keys’ live show in the last two years.

These days, the Keys can afford to live medium large. In the wake of 2010’s Grammy-winning commercial breakthrough Brothers, the duo has earned a pair of seats at the grown-up table of show business. The new, über-catchy El Camino (Nonesuch) sold 206,000 units the first week out of the gate, went gold shortly thereafter and is currently on its way to platinum. To ensure that it gets there and then some, the Keys have booked a yearlong tour. For the American leg of the tour—which crests early with a co-headlining slot at Coachella along with Radiohead, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg—they are playing arenas, and early sales indicate they are having no problem putting asses in seats. They sold out Madison Square Garden in 15 minutes. Likewise, the European legs are doing big box office, with the Keys selling 27,000 tickets in London alone. “We could have played the O2 Center, but we chose not to,” says Carney. Instead, they are playing three nights at London’s Alexandra Palace: capacity 10,400.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Guided By Voices: Picture Me Big Time

It’s gonna be all GBV, all day, kids. This is from 2005.

gbvillushv2

In an excerpt from his forthcoming Guided By Voices biography, former band member James Greer recounts Robert Pollard’s early career as a local sports star.

“Going up to Northridge was almost like going to Twin Peaks. There was kind of this obsession with sports, and everyone was drinking.”
—Don Thrasher, Guided By Voices drummer (1990-1992)

Robert Ellsworth Pollard Jr. was born Oct. 31, 1957, the second child of Bob and Carol Pollard. Bob Sr. worked for Frigidaire, a division of General Motors, and had shown some athletic talent at the high-school level but never progressed beyond his early promise. As a result, he transferred, to a certain extent, his athletic ambition to his sons, of whom Bob was the first, and consequently the first subject of his father’s hopes. “He told me I had a ‘golden arm’ when I was, like, 10,” recalls Pollard. “But he was more encouraging than pushy. If I had a bad game, he always said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He wasn’t like one of those Bobby Knight dads.”

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

MAGNET Exclusive: GBV’s Bob Pollard Deals On Decades-Old Diamond Dominance

It’s gonna be all GBV, all day, kids. This is from last year.

Pollard

For reasons unknown, except that it’s the internet, news of Guided By Voices‘ Robert Pollard tossing a no-hitter as a college hurler on May 11, 1978, has gone semi-viral. We noted it in MAGNET’s Top 25 Of 2012 and thought it was relatively common knowledge among diehard GBV fans at the very least. Still, it’s a treat to see Pollard’s mug in the Wright State student newspaper account of his masterpiece, the first no-no in school history.

Given the unlikely resurgence of interest in his mound milestone, we asked Pollard to share any memories he might have of his gem 36 years ago. GBV, by the way, is releasing Motivational Jumpsuit (Guided By Voices Inc.) on February 18. It’s really good, so employ whatever positive baseball metaphor you’d like.

MAGNET: Before the no-hitter, how would you classify your stuff in general? What pitches were in your repertoire?
Pollard: I threw 80 percent fastballs. I threw a lot harder in high school before I injured my arm and developed tennis elbow. I had an imitation slider, which is basically a 3/4-armed curveball that my college coach allowed me to use. I developed a pretty effective curveball in college that I couldn’t control very well, but a lot of hitters would swing at it anyway after seeing predominantly fastballs. I had a decent brushback pitch.

Take us back to the game. What do you remember about it? Do you recall anything about what pitches were working, or any moments where the no-no was in jeopardy?
Well, first of all, I didn’t know that I had a no-hitter going. A run had scored, I guess on a couple of walks and errors, so I had assumed that a hit fell in at some point, which is actually a good thing because it took some pressure off. Also, I wasn’t really feeling that sharp. I only had about six or seven strikeouts, but I guess my placement was good and my team was playing pretty good defense. I struck out the final batter and our bench came running out and mobbed me, and I completely didn’t know what was happening. I was like, “What?” and they were like, “You threw a no-hitter!”

After the no-hitter, did you start to think maybe you were better than you thought? Or did you think it was just a fluke?
My dad has kept records of my pitching throughout my life, and last year he tabulated my best games. I threw 12 no-hitters, 19 one-hitters and 21 two-hitters between the ages of 10 years old and 20 years old.

Did you ever have any games that came close to the Wright State one?
Well, actually, I forgot who I threw the no-hitter against. Indiana something. But anyway, I pitched against them again the following year, at their place, and had a no-hitter going until the sixth inning with an out or two, in a seven-inning game, so I came pretty close again. I had no-hit that team for almost 13 straight innings.

What album of yours would you consider the aural equivalent of a no-hitter?
Of course Bee Thousand. From A Compound Eye. Alien Lanes. Moses On A Snail. It’s funny, I’ve thrown a lot of no-hitters, and I’ve never had a hit song.

—Matt Hickey

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Robert Pollard: Scalping The Guru

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

RobertPollard

In the time it takes you to read this, Robert Pollard will have written and recorded three brilliant albums and disbanded Guided By Voices again. MAGNET stages a Beer Summit to find out how and why. By Jonathan Valania

No light or air or hope gets past the front door of Desmond’s Tavern, a grungy windowless tap room in midtown Manhattan that looks like a VFW hall crashed into a sports bar and smells like a frat house at low tide. And the afternoon crowd seems to like it that way. They like to do their drinking in the same place the fly got smashed. With its tobacco-cured walls, expansive array of Anheuser-Busch products and classic rawk on the jukebox, it’s the closest thing to a Dayton dive this far east of the Buckeye State. Which is no doubt why it was selected to host MAGNET’s summit with the clown prince of the menthol trailer park, a.k.a. Robert Pollard, the mic-swinging, high-kicking, Bud-swigging past-present-and-possibly-former frontman for Guided By Voices. We must count our blessings—an audience with Pollard is a rare thing these days. He hasn’t granted an in-person interview in two years.

For most MAGNET readers, Pollard needs no introduction, and space is in short supply, so I will be brief. But if you are new to the Pollard saga, know that he is, hands down, the most gifted, beguiling and—by a wide margin—prolific songwriter of the indie-rock era. By his own count, he has released upwards of 80 records, including 20 Guided By Voices albums, 19 solo LPs and countless albums, EPs and seven-inch singles from his endless string of one-off collaborations and side projects, among them Boston Spaceships, Airport 5, Circus Devils, Acid Ranch, Lifeguards, the Moping Swans, Lexo & The Leapers, Hazzard Hotrods and Howling Wolf Orchestra.

The sheer volume and velocity of Pollard’s recorded output continues to amaze and overwhelm even his most devoted disciples. “I think it explains his lack of extreme, worldwide fame,” says director Steven Soderbergh, an avowed Pollard superfan. “I think people don’t trust him. I think they’re just very suspicious of the amount of material. And it’s so unusual … I don’t know if they find it threatening, or if they’re just bewildered, or they don’t have the stamina to even keep up with it. But all I do is keep listening and marveling at his ability to generate really high-quality music. The last couple years … I don’t think he’s ever been bad, but the last couple years in particular he’s been very, very good.”

MAGNET’s interview with Pollard was occasioned by the release of Honey Locust Honky Tonk, his 19th solo record and arguably his best to date. We begin with Pollard dropping the bombshell that he has grown bored with the reunion of the so-called classic lineup of Guided By Voices after four albums and a couple tours, and may well pull the plug on it, at least as far as making new albums is concerned. But fear not, my droogs. Even if that happens, there will be plenty of Pollard to go around. The Fading Captain is a lifer. He shoots himself with rock ‘n’ roll. The hole he digs is bottomless, but nothing else can set him free.

Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk is basically the songs I wrote for the next Guided By Voices album, but I’m not sure there’s going to be a next Guided By Voices album. I’m not gonna say for sure, but it’s already got a little bit stagnant. To me, it’s kind of run its course.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Devendra Banhart: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.

DevendraBanhart

Life after 30 finds the original freak folker putting away hippy-dippy things. Meet Devendra Banhart Version 2.0: shorn, showered, shaved, engaged, focused and wearing a shirt. He’s also making the best music of his career. By Jonathan Valania

It’s the crack of noon on a frigid winter day in Greenwich Village. Devendra Banhart has risen, and with the help of a caffeine injection from Joe’s Coffee, he’s ready to shine. But first we need to stop by a bodega around the corner where they have, by Banhart’s description, the most extraordinary donuts.

He simply must have one. From there, we swing by Electric Lady Studios where Banhart will have a quick word with his pal Ric Ocasek, then it’s back to his place. He currently resides in a fairly upscale high-rise apartment building, just off Christopher Street, in the same Greenwich Village neighborhood where—as Banhart, ever the student of 20th-century bohemia, points out—E. E. Cummings once lived; Bob Dylan first met Allen Ginsberg; James Baldwin, Frank McCourt and Norman Mailer once held court at the long-gone Lion’s Head Pub; and in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, in a down-market, Mafia-owned dive called the Stonewall, fed-up gay men rose up against perpetual police harassment and said, “No more.” Banhart’s pretty sure Stephin Merritt also lives in his building, although he’s never seen him.

He just got back from a tour of Russia. “In Moscow, all the taxi drivers can recite the work of their 10 favorite poets,” he says as we make our way to his apartment. “They’ll still kidnap you, but they are very well-read. We would play a game called Whoever Gets Kidnapped Last Wins.”

The lobby of Banhart’s apartment building has the faded, post-Czar glamour of a Russian tea room—high-ceilinged, edged in gilt and benign neglect. The thermostat must be set for the low 90s, and you smell that telltale aroma of roach spray everywhere.

A dozen or so floors up, Banhart shares a modest, two-room apartment with his fiancée, Ana Kras, a model-gorgeous photographer and high-end furniture designer from Serbia. They met two years ago when Kras came to shoot him for a magazine assignment, and Banhart proposed within five minutes of meeting her. They have been together ever since. Despite media reports to the contrary, they are not yet married, just engaged.

As she puts on her coat to run some errands, Banhart takes her face in his hands, looks deeply into her eyes and implores her to return.

“So, listen—come back when you’re done, and then we’ll walk to the studio, OK?”

“I will, I will. I’ll come back,” she says.

“I say it every time; I say, ‘Please come back,’” he says to me by way of explanation. “I’m always shocked when she does each time.”

“Each time I come back home, he just hugs me and says, ‘Thank you for coming back home,’” she says as she walks out the door. “Where would I go? So sweet.”

Their apartment is barely furnished, with a futon, a couple of desks, and a guitar and amp. They’ve only been living here for a few days. For the better part of the past decade, Banhart has been ping-ponging back and forth between the East and West Coasts, with no fixed address.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed