Category Archives: FEATURES

Guided By Voices: Picture Me Big Time

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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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Band Of Horses: Mystery Riders

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.

BandOfHorses

You thought you had a bead on Band Of Horses. Now that you’ve heard the unrelentingly retro Mirage Rock, you’re not so sure. Our warts-and-all oral history should set you straight. By Hobart Rowland

“Live action!”

Making his way from the tour bus to a pre-soundcheck interview, Ben Bridwell has just spied a murky pond that would be the perfect staging ground for one of Ernie “Turtleman” Brown’s shirtless critter extractions on Animal Planet’s cult hit Call Of The Wildman.  ¶  “I just got into the show on this tour—it’s fuckin’ hilarious,” says Bridwell, quite pleased with his Turtleman impression as he fires up an American Spirit and has a seat near the load-in area at Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Bridwell and the rest of Band Of Horses are in the thick of a summer tour with My Morning Jacket, where they’ve been road-testing music from their new album, Mirage Rock (Brown/Columbia)—tracks like the yee-haw chaotic first single, “Knock Knock,” and Earth Day anti-anthem “Dumpster World,” a weird shotgun marriage of CSNY-like harmonizing and Grandaddy’s “A.M. 180.” By any standard, Mirage Rock’s in-yer-face aesthetic is a thorough dismantling of the methodically assembled, heavily reverbed sound of 2006’s Everything All The Time, 2007’s Cease To Begin and 2009’s Infinite Arms. The constants remain Bridwell’s looming presence and the band’s acknowledged classic-rock influences, which are more exposed than ever under the sway of septuagenarian producer Glyn Johns, who supplanted longtime go-to guy Phil Ek in the studio.

“Glyn chose some songs that maybe we weren’t that comfortable doing, that are a bit more Stones-y,” says Bridwell. “But who gives a shit? We got to be with this 70-year-old dude who’s having a blast, stepping into this time machine where he’s recording just as he did on Who’s Next.”

Johns coached Bridwell through some of his best vocal performances to date, mostly stripping away the overdubs that once made his potent upper register come across like Perry Farrell fronting a trailer-park approximation of Built To Spill. He did the same for the group as a whole, essentially giving the band members permission to sound derivative in all the right ways. “Electric Music” is a hokey BTO rip-off, its celebration of life on the road a nice nod to the Who’s “Going Mobile.” (Recorded by Johns back in 1971.) “Slow Cruel Hands Of Time” and “Long Vows” bear an almost ridiculous resemblance to early-’70s Eagles. (Turns out Johns produced that band’s 1972 debut. Go figure.)

“Hopefully, people get the joke,” says Bridwell. “But if I’m the only one laughing, I don’t mind.”

Less funny is “Heartbreak On The 101,” a devastating ballad about a disenfranchised lover who takes up residence beneath an underpass on the Ventura Freeway. Bridwell digs deep on this one, heaving out the first verse as the tune pieces itself together around his dismembered growl. Soon enough, the singer returns to a more comfortable range as the music swells with a despairing, string-laden urgency: “Heartbreak on the 101/Everybody’s watching, come take look/Heartbreak on the 101/Everybody watch, everybody look.”

Mirage Rock’s live-to-tape energy has drawn some comparisons to Neil Young & Crazy Horse. It’s a bit of a stretch, sure. Bridwell, guitarist Tyler Ramsey, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Monroe, bassist Bill Reynolds and drummer Creighton Barrett never muster the same fury. But they have come convincingly into their own—to the extent that the album feels like a reintroduction to a group that, intentionally or not, has kept itself somewhat at arm’s length from the rest of us.

“I actually named our genre ‘mirage rock’ before the new album came out,” says Bridwell. “It’s the kind of music you hear from a distance and think might sound really good. But then you move a little closer and you’re like, ‘Ah, shit. There’s no substance.’”

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The Flaming Lips: Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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.

FlamingLips

After 30 years as the Wonka-esque ringmaster of  the Flaming Lips’ psychedelic circus, Wayne Coyne shows no signs of slowing down. MAGNET visits stately Wayne Manor to talk cocaine and hand grenades, and how the new Lips album wound up on the dark side of the moon. By Jonathan Valania

We’d been traversing the spine of Tornado Alley for the last two hours when the stewardess announced that we would be landing in Oklahoma City in a few minutes, and that we should fasten our seatbelts and return our minds to the upright position, when the drugs took hold.   ¶  We are, as the saying goes, off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Odd—or, if you prefer, the Wizard of OK, a.k.a. Wayne Coyne, frizzy-brained mainman of the Flaming Lips, the P.T. Barnum of The Stoned, a.k.a. The Man Who Had A Headache And Accidentally Saved The World. Why? Because, because, because of the wonderful things he does, of course. The balloons. The confetti. The blood. The boobies. The strobes and the smoke and the bunny costumes and the dancing Santas. The blood. The crowd-surfing bubble-walking. The giant hands that shoot laser beams. The blood. The limited-edition marijuana-flavored brains inside a gummy skull. The rocket ship he built in his backyard. The way he’s made a 30-year career—spanning 15 albums, 18 EPs, 22 soundtrack appearances and exactly one hit song—feel like one million billionth of a second on a Sunday morning that you’ll never get back, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Wizard lives, appropriately enough, somewhere over the rainbow, precisely one state down from Kansas, on the wrong side of the tracks in Oklahoma City, a municipality of half a million people, built upon vast reserves of fossil fuels and the oceans of sweat equity it took to extract them. Architecturally speaking, OKC looks like the sprawling low-rent campus of an unaccredited Christian college, the kind that still doesn’t allow interracial dating. The city was founded back in 1889 during the Great Land Rush, which basically meant the federal government had run all the Native American tribes off their land and was ready to cede up to 160 acres to any white man who would occupy and cultivate a plot. Fifty-thousand settlers lined up to lay claims to the 10,000 available plots of land. By the end of the day, Oklahoma City went from population zero to population 10,000. They drank creek water and cooked with buffalo dung. Schools opened within a couple weeks. By the end of the month, Oklahoma City had five banks and six newspapers.

Fast-forward 94 years. One Wayne Coyne, pirate-hatted fry cook at Long John Silver’s, invites Michael Ivins, he of the my-chemistry-experiment-blew-up-in-my-face haircut, over to jam on the Batman theme. Though neither said so at the time, each thought the other was not very good. But despite that fact, or perhaps because of it, the Flaming Lips were officially born.

Barring the occasional burr-headed, jug-eared, angry loner driving a Ryder rental truck packed with enough ammonium nitrate to blow the Alfred P. Murrha Federal Building to smithereens—killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six—not a lot happens here, and most of the locals seem fine with that. Probably the last exciting thing to happen here was Coyne getting caught trying to bring a hand grenade through airport security last fall. (More on that later.)

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in OKC, the youngest of five siblings who could have passed for the cast of Dazed And Confused, the Wizard has chosen to remain in his hometown, despite his worldwide fame. He lives in a run-down, low-income section of the city, which was, up until a few years ago when the hipsters and the art farmers started showing up, a forbidden zone that you would only venture into if you wanted to get stabbed or buy crack, or a little of both. Many of the homes in his neighborhood—mostly small, one-floor shotgun shacks—are boarded up, or should be. The Wizard bought his current residence—a handsome two-story brick house with Frank Lloyd Wright-esque accents—literally for a song, i.e. the Lips’ one proper radio hit, 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly.”

Since then, he has purchased the houses and the property they sit on to the left, right and rear of his house, built a recording-studio annex and surrounded the whole thing with a high, corrugated metal fence. Wayne Manor is not so much a residence as it is a compound. It’s a great place to raise a cult or sit out a Mexican standoff with the ATF. A taxi driver dumps me in front of the main house, but only after I convinced him that, no, I wasn’t coming here to score drugs; rather I’d flown here to interview the singer of the Flaming Lips.

“Oh, I heard of them,” he says, looking back at me in the mirror, his glare of suspicion softening into something approaching friendly. “They’re pretty far out.”

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Steve Earle: Drugstore Cowboy

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.

SteveEarle

Steve Earle has been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a protest singer, a playwright, a pacifist, a pawn and a king. He’s been up and down and over and out, and the most persuasive anti-drug ad on two feet. But mostly he’s been one of the greatest living American songwriters. Still is. By Jonathan Valnia

During his 58 years on god’s green earth, Stephen Fain Earle has seen a lot of craziness, the kind of shit most of us will only ever read about, not the least of which is the inside of a jail cell he once called home. He saw a man put to death by the state of Texas. He saw President John F. Kennedy wave at him in San Antonio the day

before he was assassinated. He saw Sid Vicious’ forehead split open by a redneck’s longneck. He’s stared down the barrel of a drug dealer’s gun just inches from his face. He saw Townes Van Zandt play Russian roulette across the table from him.

But right now all he can see is the business end of a high-definition video camera, into which he strums an acoustic guitar and sings “Invisible,” a moving, mournful meditation on the transparency of the homelessness in 21st-century America that is also, not coincidentally, the first single from his excellent new album, The Low Highway (New West). The video is being directed, at Earle’s behest, by writer/director and brilliant character actor Tim Blake Nelson, whose name can be most efficiently connected to his onscreen visage by saying he’s the escaped convict in the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? who’s not named John Turturro or George Clooney. Or perhaps you would recognize him more easily as the creepy, wheelchair-bound, pipe-organ-playing prison technician in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, or more recently as one-third of the president’s triumvirate of arm-twisting lobbyists who persuade reluctant congressmen to vote down slavery in Spielberg’s Lincoln.

The video is being shot on the roof of the Upper East Side high-rise apartment building that Nelson calls home. It’s a dreary, bone-chillingly cold day in late winter. Earle is dressed in a green ski cap, rust-colored scarf, fingerless gloves and a hulking black overcoat. Nelson yells, “Cut,” when Earle starts laughing mid-take, having finally noticed that the cameraman has written L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E prison-tattoo-style across the fingers of his yellow work gloves.

“That is pretty fucking funny, man,” says Earle, his voice a gravelly twang. This from a man who’s seen his share of prison tattoos, and for that matter both love (been married seven times) and hate (drew the virulent ire of red-state America when he wrote a song from the perspective of so-called American Taliban John Walker Lindh that revealed him to be more of a confused kid in way over his head than the bloodthirsty traitor the corporate media portrayed him as).

Nelson tells everyone to take five while they switch lenses, and we all retreat downstairs to the warmth of his kitchen, a buzzing hive of activity currently serving quadruple duty as de facto producer’s office, craft services, make-up department and downtime-killing floor. Earle takes a seat at the long table and quickly commands the center of attention. A gifted raconteur, as per his Southern pedigree, with a seemingly bottomless fount of salty tales—some taller than others—Earle knows how to hold the center, as various handlers, publicists, A&R men, fixers, hangers-on and exactly one visiting journalist take seats around him in sundry triangulated clusters as if unconsciously recreating da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

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Johnny Marr: This Charming Man

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.

JohnnyMarr

Twenty-five years after quitting the Smiths, Johnny Marr finally goes solo. Plus, everything you wanted to know about the Smiths but were afraid to ask and/or didn’t have their phone numbers. By Jonathan Valania

Being Johnny Marr is nice work if you can get it. Lots of travel, flexible hours, money for nothing, chicks for free. Most days you walk between the raindrops. You are rakishly handsome, impossibly talented, effortlessly cool and beloved by all. Born in Manchester and raised in public housing, you meet your soulmate when you were 14, you quit school when you were 15, and at the ripe old age of 18 you start a band that NME readers will, 20 years hence, declare the most important band of the last 50 years, edging out the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Small wonder everyone wants you to join their band in the studio or onstage for a song or a tour, or even an album or two: Talking Heads, the Pretenders, Modest Mouse, R.E.M., Beck, Oasis, Bryan Ferry, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Black Grape, Jane Birkin, Happy Mondays, The The, Chic, Dinosaur Jr, Pearl Jam, Crowded House, Tom Jones and, last but not least, the guy who started Joy Division. You almost never say no, because you are not just a legend, you are also a nice guy.

Here you are, a year shy of 50. You still have the soulmate, two grown children, your looks and all your hair, plus a line of Fender Jaguars named after you, along with a numbered limited edition of Johnny Marr Ray-Ban Signet sunglasses with light blue-tinted lenses and gunmetal frames. And, best of all, 25 years after walking away from your own band, you are finally going solo.

“The ideas became stronger to me and the well filled up—that’s the right time to do it,” Marr says when asked what took so long. “It was pretty much all there before I started to work with it.”

The album is called The Messenger and it is easily your best work since the Smiths. Some of it is clearly as good as the Smiths, and some of it, arguably, is better than the Smiths.

Ah yes, the Smiths. Before we go any further, let’s just get this out of the way: The Smiths will not be reuniting. Not now, not ever. Not that I didn’t try to make it happen, but the sad reality is when the queen is dead, she stays dead. A full Beatles reunion is more likely.

Or, to quote Morrissey’s publicist, “The Smiths are never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to reunite—ever.” And if the more determined among you can parse that quote for a glimmer of hope that there’s still an outside chance of a reunion, please note that there’s eight “ever”s in that statement, meaning eight eternities in a row that will have to run their course before a Smiths reunion comes to pass. Given that the median age of the members of the Smiths is 50, and the life expectancy for British males is currently 78.2 years, it doesn’t look good.

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Wilco: Paternity Test

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.

Wilco

Dad-rock isn’t a dirty word for Black Eyed Peas’ number-one fan, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. By Althea Legaspi

Tucked away on a side street by an industrial area in Chicago is the Hideout, where a capacity crowd turns up for Dan Sinker and some surprise guests. The man behind Punk Planet and the fake @MayorEmanuel Twitter account—which parodied real events surrounding Rahm Emanuel’s race for Chicago’s mayorship—is holding a release party for the book housing the tweets that became an Internet phenomenon. Sinker is among many excellent writers and poets reading their work. The real Mayor Emanuel shows up, does a quick handshake lap around the bar and disappears. But it’s another surprise guest who steals the show, thanks to a single tweet from eight months prior.

At the time, Wilco was performing a fundraising concert for the real Rahm Emanuel, during which the fake @MayorEmanuel tweeted, “Tweedy’s being pissy because he doesn’t want to play any Black Eyed Peas songs. What the fuck? People love that shit.” With some prodding from wife Sue Miller, the tweet inspired Jeff Tweedy’s surprise acoustic appearance at the Hideout. He takes the stage and irreverently performs “I Gotta Feeling,” “Rock That Body” and a spoken-word version of “My Humps” that is comedy gold. (Video from the show rightly makes the Internet rounds.)

Over the years, Wilco, primarily the vehicle for Tweedy’s songwriting, has been described as many things—from sincere, philanthropic and ever-evolving to seemingly less flattering descriptors like “hipster dad-rock” and “music for white people.” Goofy and comedic, however, are not the first words that spring to mind when describing Wilco and/or Tweedy.

“That’s something I think that’s frequently missed in people’s assessment of what the Wilco environment is like,” says Tweedy. “I think we have a lot of fun. Even the bad times that people talk about and are so well-documented, I guess, in the minds of our fans—I don’t have many memories of anything being really harrowing at all. I really think that one of the reasons we’ve been able to stick around so long and do what we do is there’s a real enjoyment—a true enjoyment—of it, and we’ve been fortunate to not have too many things interfere with that. Certainly in the last five years or so, things have been much easier. So, yeah, I don’t know; even recording really sort of melancholy-sounding songs, there’s been an overwhelming atmosphere of levity in the way we work together.”

The band has just issued its eighth studio LP, The Whole Love. It’s the first album Wilco has released on its own label, dBpm Records. After 17 years and several lineup incarnations, the current formation—Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Patrick Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen—is unique for the Wilco camp.

“Well, it’s certainly longer than any one lineup, and I think it’s probably getting closer to longer than any of the other lineups combined,” says Tweedy. “Previous to (2009’s) Wilco (The Album), no other lineup had made two consecutive albums, and I guess, counting the live album (2005’s Kicking Television: Live In Chicago), we’ve made four now.”

Wilco’s storied past has been thoroughly documented in print and the 2002 film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, where the relationship between Jay Bennett (who passed away in 2009) and Tweedy dissolved during the making of breakthrough album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But there’s a certain chemistry now that hasn’t been present before. “I guess you just have to spend less time talking about things and be just more able to go directly to something and intuitively know what each others’ strengths are,” says Tweedy. “And as far as what has contributed to the longevity and the chemistry, I don’t know; that’s a pretty intangible thing, chemistry is, but I could say I think that it’s a band full of people who are primarily appreciative and grateful, doing something that they love to do and having it support them and keep them alive. And I guess being a little bit older and not taking anything for granted, that helps everybody keep things in perspective … The petty squabbles that might plague a younger band don’t tend to enter into our politics.”

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The xx: Back In Black

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.

XX

Three years after its debut won the Mercury Prize and the hearts and minds of indie-dom—not to mention the likes of Drake, Shakira and Rihanna—London’s little band that could has released a new album of hushed, lovesick melodramas that are sure to play out in late-night teenage bedrooms around the globe. By Jonathan Valania

It is the tail end of another hot, dog-breath day afternoon in early August. Mercifully, we are on our way to some place that is, for one night anyway, cool: Staten Island. There are many locales that you might associate with the sound, the look and the vibe of the xx—London after dark, Tokyo circa Lost In Translation, Manhattan around midnight, capitals of cool each and every one—but Staten Island is most assuredly not one of them. There is nothing young or cool or stylish about Staten Island, which even residents refer to as “the forgotten borough.”

And yet here we are, standing on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry, motoring across the Hudson for a semi-exclusive audience with London’s black-clad indie-pop darlings, who are playing a hastily announced concert on the island that is Staten. Behind us, the Manhattan skyline recedes into the distance. Off the starboard bow, the sun dips behind the Statue of Liberty like a solar eclipse, giving Lady Liberty a corona of brilliant white light that sets the twilight reeling.

In advance of the release of Coexist, the xx’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2009’s beloved xx debut, the band is capping a sold-out pre-release promotional tour of select West and East Coast dates in the U.S. with a performance at the little-known Snug Harbor Cultural Center, a sprawling complex of botanical gardens and majestic Greek-revival buildings situated on Staten Island’s north shore. Erected in 1801 as a retirement facility for sailors, Snug Harbor has in more recent years been repurposed to serve the arts. Tonight it will serve the xx and serve them well.

I’m huddled on the deck amidst a de facto posse of employees from the Beggars Group, which, in addition to providing the care and feeding of legendary indie institutions like 4AD, Matador and Rough Trade, serves as the stateside outpost of the xx’s British home, XL Recordings. Everyone is, to put it charitably, over 30. Crouched nearby is a tender-aged, barely twentysomething couple leaning against the wall and discussing, improbably enough, the exigencies of aging.

“Life sucks more the older you get,” says the male to the female, who nods knowingly. He looks left and right to make sure this conversation is going unnoticed before adding, “I won’t say it too loud because everyone here will just be like, ‘Shut up, we know.’” We all hear it, but pretend we didn’t, feeling no particular need to provide confirmation. He’ll find out soon enough, the poor bastard. Just like we did. Just like everyone does sooner or later.

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