Category Archives: FEATURES

Tomo Nakayama: Busker Do

Tomo Nakayama’s intimate songs of quiet intensity

After 10 years of writing songs and singing in Grand Hallway, one of Seattle’s best chamber-pop bands, Tomo Nakayama decided to change direction. Following a period of soul searching, he started busking at Sea-Tac Airport, with just his guitar in hand.

“People from all over the world come through the airport,” says Nakayama. “When you see people out of context, a bit out of their element, it’s fascinating.”

Playing the songs he wrote for Grand Hallway, as well as his new original material, was a revelation. “Singing my songs in between covers by Sam Cooke, the Velvet Underground and other artists I admire helped refine and simplify my songwriting,” he says. “I found common threads between the songs I loved and incorporated them into my music. I love it when a song feels timeless, familiar, like it’s always existed. That’s the bar I set for myself with Pieces Of Sky.”

The songs on Pieces Of Sky (Ricebelly) have a quiet, intimate intensity. The music is subtle and full of delicate nuances, but they explore a wide dynamic and emotional range. Nakayama’s hushed vocals drift along on waves of mellow synthesizer and twinkling acoustic guitars.

“It’s an introspective record,” says Nakayama. “I think part of that was by design, and partly a result of recording at home. Most of the songs were recorded as they were being written, so they have a certain rawness and immediacy. ‘All Entwined,’ for example, is about the passage of time and all the relationships and experiences that inform who we are. I suppose there is an inherent sadness in that, but overall, it’s an optimistic record. Love to me is joy and sadness in equal measure. It’s all a necessary part of the experience of being alive.”

j. poet

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Elizabeth And The Catapult: Childhood’s End

Elizabeth And The Catapult’s Keepsake is part memoir, part dream journal—and all rejuvenating

Keepsake (Compass), Elizabeth Ziman’s fourth record, began when her landlord was considering jacking up the rent and she had to move across the street into a tiny apartment, far away from her recording gear and the baby grand piano on which she loved to write. Or it began when she started keeping a dream journal, writing down snippets of visions in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning on awakening. Or it began when she started leafing through old journals and diaries, little half-finished snatches of lyrics and couplets and freewriting, and tried to see if she could shape them through to some kind of completion.

Well, who’s to say where anything begins or ends? But for Ziman, who records as Elizabeth And The Catapult, Keepsake was definitely a milestone record—the end of one thing, and the beginning of something else.

“That was the reason I called it Keepsake,” says Ziman, an ebullient and thoughtful conversationalist, from her studio/loft in NYC (the landlord relented; Ziman’s back home). “I was sitting across the street from my building, looking back at it, trying to imagine what it would be like not living there anymore. I’d started having all these bizarre kinds of anxious dreams about being in an unfamiliar place. I’d recently come across all these writings from when I was a kid, and all these unfinished lyrics and poems. When I began writing the lyrics for this record, they came out as distorted memories of the past. And the songs ended up being about memories and expectations, the ways we try to rework the past.”

Every time you make an album, Ziman says, you’re freezing a moment of your perceptive history: “Making a record immortalizes your memories. Even if they’re skewed.” As the lyrics for Keepsake came together, Ziman found herself layering current memories and perceptions atop ones written down by her younger self. The result is a densely layered song cycle in which youth speaks ahead to experience, and experience looks back forgivingly on the indiscretions and passions of youth. Sometimes the lines get hopelessly crossed. “Mea Culpa,” a filigreed piano-driven tale of screwed-up folks trying, or refusing, to apologize to people they’ve hurt, is emblematic of the desire to make sense of the past that permeates the album: “There’s plenty more bad mistakes for us to make before we come undone/Plenty more bad mistakes for us to make, it’s our idea of fun.”

“The songs that came out of that period (living across the street) mostly had to with falling down, and figuring out not only how to not fear falling but actually daring yourself to fall, because you’re getting pretty good at it.” Ziman laughs as she chases the thought. “There’s nothing that feels worse; but this is who we are, this is what we have to do. Don’t worry so much about falling gracefully. You’re kinda clumsy, so you might as well think of it as empowering. You’re not scared of it anymore.”

The video for leadoff single “Underwater,” directed by portrait artist Meredith Adelaide, visualizes that theme—a long depiction of Ziman coming through a period of introspection, worry and gradual creativity, finally ending up on the roof of her apartment surrounded by a gang of friends, dancing around happily with glow sticks.

“That was what I had done in those old journals, too,” says Ziman; “I’d be writing about running around with my friends in the neighborhood park, but even at the time I was fictionalizing it, almost like we were kings and queens running through the woods. Some of the record is very autobiographical and real, and some are fictionalized memories, and some are me trying to work through the shame and guilt that haunts us all, through made-up characters. ‘Ambrosia,’ which I recorded at my apartment, was one that I thought summed it all up—the mother who’s dying and tries to get her family to celebrate it instead of mourning. That song’s really about how to make the best of loss. These are the things that are important, right? And that song became a keepsake of this time. We keep coming to terms with the past. Over and over.”

—Eric Waggoner

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A Giant Dog: Growing Pains

The theatrical Austin punks in A Giant Dog mature their mess

“Normally, we’re very storyteller-esque,” says A Giant Dog guitarist/vocalist Andrew Cashen about the songs he and co-vocalist Sabrina Ellis brought to Toy, the Austin band’s second LP for Merge. “I have a problem with Katy Perry songs that are just ‘I/Me/My.’ Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.”

Produced by Cashen and engineered by Stuart Sikes (White Stripes, Modest Mouse), Toy tunes such as “Fake Plastic Trees” (which namedrops fabled Texas fast-food chain Whataburger) spin a yarn with Cashen and Ellis’ trademark broad humor and theatrical glam-punk style, like mid-’70s Queen colliding with Machine Gun Etiquette-era Damned. Or perhaps a rawer Sparks, whose ’80s synth-pop classic “Angst In My Pants” gets covered on Toy in a manner more akin to the Mael brothers’ mid-’70s period. As typical with A Giant Dog (or even Cashen and Ellis’ conjoined-twin new-wave/pop outfit Sweet Spirit), the songs document messy 20-something lives rapidly becoming messy 30-something lives. Yet blaring from “Fake Plastic Trees” and drunken seduction ode “Photograph” is that damned Katy Perry-like first-person tense Cashen can’t abide.

Perhaps the members of A Giant Dog are aging gracefully? Or blurring their two bands’ identities? Sweet Spirit’s recent St. Mojo sees them absorbing more of A Giant Dog’s punk energy, while Toy folds in Sweet Spirit’s broad gestures and experimentation.

“A Giant Dog’s been a band since 2008,” says Cashen. “This is our fourth record. Sweet Spirit’s only done two. We’re still trying to figure out what Sweet Spirit is as a band. But A Giant Dog has had time to germinate. You can’t write the same record over and over again. So we went into the studio with the idea of pushing what we sound like and still have our core values in there.”

Tim Stegall

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The Woggles: 30 Rock

Thirty years of involvement in any facet of life is compelling, but three decades of rocking ’n’ rolling in its purest form is a downright rarity. Athens, Ga.’s Woggles have been broadcasting their throwback sound since the summer of 1987, honing their Southern soul-filled brand of garage-tinged rock ’n’ roll since the Bangles, Madonna and Bon Jovi were perennial chart toppers.

What started as a gang of Wuxtry Records employees and DJs at University of Georgia radio station 90.5 WUOG was more than just some cool folks with left-of-the-dial tendencies. From the fuzzed-up, Farfisa-packed gems of the original lineup to the present-day quartet, one thing has remained constant: world championship quality rock with not one iota of bullshit.

To celebrate three decades of rumbling and fumbling, the band is set to release Tally Ho! on Little Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool imprint. Together, tambourine-wielding singing-and-swinging frontman deluxe (and SiriusXM radio host) Professor Manfred Jones, guitar god Jeff “Flesh Hammer” Walls, low-end theoretician Patrick “Buzz Hagstrom” O’Connor and trap slapper Dan “Eletxro” Hall are as killer a foursome as you can muster.

Tally Ho! is, of course, a song on the record, but it also gives this connotation of ever onward—on with the chase, on with the hunt,” says Jones. “After 30 years of doing this, this is very much the attitude behind the record.” Four, “living, breathing, walking, talking cartoon characters,” to quote the Mighty Manfred, have managed to be one of the tightest touring bands around, all while residing on opposite sides of the country. Jones calls L.A. home, and the rest of the boys remain Southeasterners (Walls and O’Connor in the great Peach State and Hall in Alabama).

When asked what’s been the secret sauce to the longevity and economy of the group, Jones nails it: “If the sauce was distilled into a liquid form it would certainly be reminiscent of vinegar-based BBQ sauce.”

It’s fitting that the new LP’s artwork, by Athens’ own Big Jim Stacy, features the Woggles as cartoon characters in the style of Atlanta legend Jack Davis: the boys decked out in their best fox-hunting reds, chomping at the bit to get to rocking, as evident by Flesh Hammer’s axe strapped just over his left shoulder and Jones’ mouth agape, complete with finger point and Buzz Hagstrom’s spot of tea.

Tally Ho! is very much a homecoming of sorts, tracked at Sugar bassist David Barbe’s Chase Park Transduction Studios in town with Jim Diamond (Ghetto Recorders, Dirtbombs) in the producer throne for this collection of 13 new offerings.

“We wanted to try something different, and of course, Jim’s auditory resumé speaks for itself,” says Jones. “Jim did a lot of great stuff; it was like every wave of his hands over knobs had the engineers clamoring to find out exactly what he was doing, especially those guitar sounds.”

Scott Zuppardo

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Dan Wilson: Write On

Dan Wilson can pretty much pinpoint the moment when his songwriter-for-hire aspirations fully aligned with reality. “One of my first co-writes was with Carole King, and that was obviously pretty affirming and made it seem like it was all going to work out,” says Wilson from his home in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.

“One True Love,” his collaboration with King, found its way onto 2001’s All About Chemistry, the final album by Wilson’s insistently melodic ’90s band, Semisonic. He’s since gone on to pen tunes with a stunningly diverse list of artists that includes Mike Doughty, Weezer, Pink, Taylor Swift, My Morning Jacket, John Legend, LeAnn Rimes, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jason Mraz and Josh Groban. Most notably, he’s won a pair of Grammys for his work with the Dixie Chicks and Adele. He was also nominated for his work on Swift’s 2014 release, Red.

“For me, the impetus was having a lot of extra songs after finishing a record and wondering what people do about that,” says Wilson. “It was also about finding other ways to use all that excess musical energy. Then, it became about me being the über-helpful guy. Sometimes, my muse can be a hit-or-miss relationship, but that’s OK.”

On his third solo release, Re-Covered (Ballroom Music/Big Deal Media), Wilson puts his spin on 12 songs he wrote either for or with other artists, capping off the eclectic set with a spare, beautiful take on Semisonic’s Grammy-nominated hit “Closing Time.” A book-and-CD version of Re-Covered offers 56 pages of drawings, essays and lyrics, along with personal stories about each number.

A prime motivator behind the album was Wilson’s close friend Karen Glauber, president of Hits magazine. “I threw out Re-Covered as a possible title because of its many potential meanings,” says Glauber. “Dan is one of the few artists I know who seems to have full control and command of both sides of his brain. He’s one of the most brilliant and empathetic people I know, and his success as songwriter and collaborator is no fluke.”

With significant input from co-producer Mike Viola (Candy Butchers, Ryan Adams), Wilson began hashing out fresh arrangements of well-known songs like the Dixie Chicks’ “Home” and “Not Ready To Make Nice,” Swift’s “Treacherous” and Adele’s monster hit “Someone Like You”—his version featuring the Kronos Quartet. He also recruited keyboardist Daniel Clarke (k.d. lang, Ryan Adams), multi-instrumentalist Brad Gordon (Magnetic Fields, Butch Walker) and Attractions drummer Pete Thomas. Jake Sinclair (Weezer, Panic! At The Disco) engineered and played bass. “I put together an ‘obvious’ list—the songs that were well enough known that the record would have a kind of gravity,” says Wilson. “Then I went on a hunt for some songs I felt not enough people had heard—like Cory Chisel’s ‘Never Meant To Love You.’ Some of the things are full-on rock, but I also wanted to make sure there were some tracks that reflected that I do a lot of shows as a busker.”

Though Wilson has lived in California for seven years now, his cell phone still has its Minneapolis area code. It was there that he co-founded post-punk art-rock outfit Trip Shakespeare in the mid-’80s with bassist Jon Munson and Wilson’s younger brother, Matt. After the group struggled to emerge from the considerable shadow of edgier Twin City innovators like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, Wilson retained Munson and snatched up fellow Harvard grad Jacob Slichter to form Pleasure, later rebranded as Semisonic.

Hardly your typical one-hit wonder, Semisonic was embraced by critics and had a solid 10-year run. “For an ego-driven operation like a band, Jon, Jake and I got along great, but by the end of the Chemistry touring cycle, our lives were pulling us in different directions more than they had before,” Wilson says of the group’s amicable demise.

By then, Wilson was ready to take a break from the road, though he really had no choice. “I was contending with the fact that I had a child who’d spent a year in the hospital and had a long stretch with home nursing,” says Wilson of daughter Coco, who was born prematurely in 1997. “It was apparent I needed to stay home more.”

Of late, Wilson has achieved a nice balance of writing with others, releasing solo albums every few years and sporadically touring. All the better if a few more gold gramophones come his way in the process. “Musicians are very similar to one another in some ways,” says Wilson. “We’ve all spent endless boring hours on tour buses; everybody has been asked to do a show with a dancing bear; and everybody has been awakened at 5 a.m. to sing on the radio. There are so many shared experiences. You find that your tribal affinity is far greater than your differences.”

Hobart Rowland

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Manchester Orchestra: The Orchestral Dead

Influence comes from many sources, but only Manchester Orchestra can claim its new album, A Black Mile To The Surface (Loma Vista), was partially inspired by a farting corpse. After completing 2014’s dual releases Cope and Hope, Manchester frontman Andy Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell began work on the soundtrack to Swiss Army Man, featuring Paul Dano as a castaway and Daniel Radcliffe as the title character, a cadaver whose body is utilized by Dano in a variety of ways, including as a post-mortem gas-propelled speedboat. The film’s directors insisted Hull and McDowell create the soundtrack completely a capella, an interesting and evolutionary challenge.

“That was almost a deconstruction of the way we were used to doing things,” says Hull. “We’d never done anything like it before, to only use human voices and sounds for percussion and learning how first instinct isn’t always the best. Sonically, we got all these new ways to create sounds. If we did this effect on this Swiss Army Man vocal that makes it sound all crazy and not like a voice, what if we threw that on a guitar pedal or an old organ? We were researchers of tones and sounds for this record.”

Stripping everything down to its elements provided the perfect launch point for Black Mile. Hull was already thinking in terms of streamlining the Atlanta band’s sound after the prolific volume of Cope led to acoustic alter ego Hope, and Swiss Army Man provided a blueprint and material for the new album.

“We did 90-plus minutes of music, so many different versions of things,” says Hull. “It was like school in a cool way. I felt like I’d learned some new things I never would have gotten the chance to learn without it.”

Black Mile’s introspective themes and compelling music were also triggered by Hull’s freshly minted fatherhood. With Cope, he was clearly growing and maturing as both a musician and a person, but his new material, from the Avett Brothers ache of “The Maze” to the contemplative, Jeff Tweedy-meets-James Mercer heartbeat of “The Alien,” finds Hull writing from a new perspective.

“With Cope and Hope, I felt those were mission and life statements, like, ‘I’m turning into an adult here,’” says Hull. “It was a bit of a relief and, at the same time, still a darkness. On this one, I wanted to go real deep, and that had to do with being a new father and that shifting of my outlook and personal value. Your rank drops a few after that.”

A good deal of Black Mile was written by Hull with a sense of urgency. He had skeletal material on his phone that he played for McDowell at the end of Swiss Army Man, and the two selected the best material to flesh out. “I thought, ‘I recorded that a year ago, I haven’t listened to it since and I’m still singing it,’ so I went with that,” says Hull.

While Black Mile represented a rule-breaking project for Manchester, there was one edict that all the band members observed. “We had a rule that a song isn’t done until we’re jumping up and down,” says Hull. “It was months of trying to get them there. I’m really proud that it sounds like us, but doesn’t in a way.”

Brian Baker

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A Conversation With Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper is not a monster. The blood, gore and guillotines of his longtime act are but a smokescreen for some of rock’s best-made, endearingly contagious and complex (think Sondheim meets the Stooges) songs. Combine that with relentless energy and unceasing loyalty, and you get his latest album, Paranormal (earMUSIC). Produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Lou Reed’s Berlin), Paranormal was written and recorded in part with high-school pals Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway, with whom Cooper made classics such as Killer, School’s Out and the epic Billion Dollar Babies.

You recently finished the Hollywood Vampires tour where you managed to outpace bandmates Johnny Depp and Joe Perry. How do you do it?
I’m older, but I’m in better shape that those guys. Remember, I never quit touring. It’s been like 45 years nonstop. I know how to do this, pace myself. And I really am in better shape since I don’t smoke and haven’t had a drink in 35 years. I’m on a tour now that ends December 6, where, after that, Johnny, Joe and I go in the studio with songs we wrote for another Hollywood Vampires record, which we’ll tour in 2018.

Well, that’s certainly news. Is it going to be covers of deceased friends like HV’s debut or new songs?

All originals. We did our tribute to our dead, drunk pals already, but there were a few new ones of ours on that record, too.

Without sounding corny, when you’re writing songs for an album of yours like Paranormal, do you have to put yourself in the character of “Alice”? And I don’t mean you’re putting burnt cork around your eyes.
No, I write from a perspective where the titles come first. I hear something catchy like, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” that commercial—that then becomes “I’ve Fallen In Love And I Can’t Get Up.” Now that’s good. That’s the coolest rock song ever. I write from the punchline backward.

That’s classic Marx Brothers comedy.
I studied how Chuck Berry wrote songs. He could tell an entire story in three minutes. A lot of us learned how to navigate our stories though Chuck. Only my stories usually seem to have a twist ending. Think of “I’m Eighteen.” He can’t go to war or vote. He’s sexually confused. He complains through the whole song, only to finish with “I’m Eighteen … and I like it.” He embraces being confused and frustrated. That’s the trick of that song.

Paranormal doesn’t touch upon spirit visions. In fact, unlike your norm, there’s no real theme at all.
Nope. Just great songs. Besides, my whole career has been paranormal. Not like anyone else’s. A step into another dimension. Every album of mine has its own flavor. And it’s so normal for Bob Ezrin, me and whoever’s writing with us to have a theme. The “paranormal” thing about this one’s goal was to just write 20 great songs with the best 13 getting on the record. Now every character I write here—after I listened back—wound up with some mental defect, so it ended up having a theme without us planning for one.

You once told me that you wrote with horror, rock ’n’ roll and West Side Story as your reference points for records such as Killer and Billion Dollar Babies. Do young cats and new bandmate songwriters get where you’re coming from?
Here’s a funny story: Some of my guys are in their 40s. I remember saying, “Let’s do my ‘Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets.’ Let’s make it have that gang look.” So they all showed up looking like 1920s Chicago gangsters. None of them had ever seen West Side Story, so I sat them down and we watched. Funnier still, my 28-year-old guitarist Hurricane Nita Strauss—she shreds like crazy. We’re setting up a show and I said, “Let’s do ‘Pinball Wizard,’” and she said, “OK … what’s that?” I said, “You know, from Tommy.” “What is Tommy?” Now, when she heard it, she got it, but she had no reference point.

That’s not true of your old Phoenix high-school pals Bruce, Smith and Dunaway, with whom you wrote and recorded songs on Paranormal such as “Genuine American Girl” and “You And All Of Your Friends.” The classic Alice Cooper sound came from such shared references. So how did that work in the present day with you guys working together?
We loved the Beatles and those chord changes. But we were all art students, so doing creepy, surrealistic things was second nature. Dennis Dunaway was an abstract artist—still is—and he had his own twists. I remember Frank Zappa (who released Cooper’s first albums) heard us and said, “I don’t get it.”

A supreme compliment.
I was bowled over by confusing Frank Zappa. The earliest songs were written way before the real Alice Cooper. The reunion songs? The original band? We didn’t leave each other with bad blood. There were no lawsuits. Nothing awful happened. We were just creatively exhausted after doing seven albums in a row, and their tours, without stopping. We just got tired. We stayed great friends, though. We golf all the time. Neal, Dennis and Mike were actually working on new songs and I said, “Bring them around.” All three were so great that when we listened back to the 20 that we had in the can, those three floated to the top. “Fireball” is a killer. They didn’t just get to write them, though; they had to play them in the studio.

And those guys are even doing select dates with you, like a mini-set within the new band’s set?
I’m putting them to work. It feels great. I used to run track with these guys when we were kids. They’re just fun to be around, as well as the music being as smart and creative as we ever were.

A.D. Amorosi

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Downtown Boys: Gimme Friction

Downtown Boys deliver a multiracial, bilingual, queer-positive message

Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys may be the most challenging punk band in America. Their sonic barrage is relentless, driven by Joey DeFrancesco’s searing lead guitar, bright bursts from the sax of Joe DeGeorge and the visceral vocals of Victoria Ruiz; the punchy rhythms of drummer Norlan Olivo and bass player Mary Regalado send the music into overdrive. But it’s the band’s revolutionary message of inclusion that sets it apart from other groups.

The songs on third album Cost Of Living (Sub Pop) deal with racism, the struggle for human dignity and the daily economic uncertainties of living in a capitalist system. Their live shows always have crowds up and moving, but their realistic lyrics and the introductions Ruiz gives to the songs can cause discomfort for their audiences.

“We create friction,” says Ruiz. “The message resonates with a lot of people, but at the same time, the message can get warped or co-opted, or people wanna fight with it, or people wanna put me on some made-up pedestal because I am the one saying it. The hope is that people realize our message is coming from a collective consciousness, that I am simply putting words to what so many of us have learned. It’s messy and we’re imperfect, but hopefully we will all grow and continue to fight the war against toxic masculinity and colonial racism.”

“We do bring a different kind of connection to the crowd in the live setting,” says DeFrancesco. “That’s largely from Victoria’s introductions, where she’s able to relate songs to what’s happening in the moment, in the city, to whoever’s in the crowd, in a very direct way. It’s a super-important part of our music and really elevates the entire experience on both an intellectual and emotional level.”

j. poet

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Japanese Breakfast: Planet Of The Aches

Space is the place for Japanese Breakfast‘s Michelle Zauner

With 2016’s Psychopomp—a collection of songs deeply informed by the death of her mother and her reach for hope in the face of sadness—Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner bowled over audiences with her intimate, despairing bedroom synth-pop. Whether it was people who knew Zauner from her time with Philadelphia punk band Little Big League, critics, Girls’ Lena Dunham (Psychopomp became a topic of her podcast) or those experiencing similar loss, Zauner’s solo debut struck all the right chords and hit all the tautest nerves and wounded souls in need of healing.

“Getting that attention was nice,” says Zauner. “As an artist, writing work so personal, you feel alone. It was satisfying to see people reaching out to me, that there was a world of people with whom I could share such pain—mine, theirs—and it was more comforting than anything else. Challenging, too, as you can feel so awkward in your experiences, sharing them and such.”

Japanese Breakfast’s latest album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Oceans), is no less focused on fragile self-reflection, spiritual pain and death—occasionally all at once—than Psychopomp. This time, however, with the help of a bigger studio (“any studio, really, and not a bedroom,” says Zauner with a laugh) and co-producer/instrumentalist Craig Hendrix, Zauner is seeking healing at the rim of the cosmos, looking toward the insurmountable limits of the universe, space and science fiction for guidance and a sense of a future.

“This album actually started life as a science-fiction musical about a man who falls in love with a robot, but that was just somehow too restrictive to me,” she says, pointing out how steely new songs such as the electro-vibey, Vocoder/AutoTune-heavy “Machinist” is a holdover from her Asimov-specked first thought for a second album. “I ended up just writing all about myself instead of a robot.”

Robots aside (Zauner wanted to borrow from 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye for “Machinist”), Soft Sounds From Another Planet came from a far more deliberate place than the writing and crafting of Psychopomp. “I used to write, and a lot, without the worry for perfection,” she says. “That time, though, I was stuck in a very bad place and just needed to get out.”

Despair will do that to a person, and the narratives for Psychopomp revolved tenderly around Zauner’s return to her native Oregon before and after her mother’s 2014 death from cancer. “I was in this house in the Eugene woods with my dad, supporting him after losing his wife of 32 years,” she says. “There were things he couldn’t do, like put her clothes and makeup away. I felt, too, as if I couldn’t do anything.”

When Zauner was able to work again, she became obsessed with productivity, packing her days with tasks, a subject she embraces handsomely on “Diving Woman,” on which she claims to be a woman of regimen. “Work was safe,” she says. “I wouldn’t have to think about human stuff, which just may have something to do with the alien thing.”

When she looks at the consciously expanded vision of Soft Sounds From Another Planet and how it broadened her view of the self, she sees Psychopomp as small and focused, a micro-lens observing little but the immediacy of heartache. “All I could see was my mother—everything in my life was directed there,” she says. “I was confused and vulnerable and raw.”

With Soft Sounds, she’s pulling back that lens to a more panoramic view of life, here and beyond. “I’m moving on from death and mourning in general and becoming alive, yet I’m aware of the connection that I have to those who have suffered loss,” she says. “I’m making sense of the world after such struggle.”

A.D. Amorosi

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Sloan Peterson: Steppin’ Out

With Sloan Peterson‘s debut EP, Australia’s Joe Jackson shows she’s wise beyond her years

Joe Jackson, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the pop/punk band Sloan Peterson, was raised in a religious family. “I was at church every Sunday,” she says. “After the service, I’d go and play the keyboard while everyone else was socializing.” Growing up in a small town outside of Brisbane, Australia, Jackson found her options limited.

“Most secular music was forbidden at home, but on Saturday, while we did our weekly chores, my dad played his old CDs,” she says. “My brothers and sister and I would be mopping, vacuuming and dancing like crazy to Herman’s Hermits, Gene Chandler and the Beach Boys. When I was 13, they sent me to public school. A friend lent me her iPod. When ‘All You Need Is Love’ came on, I died and went to heaven. I listened to it for a year straight. We didn’t have internet at home, so I didn’t realize the Beatles had 236 other songs I could obsess over.”

At 15, Jackson picked up a guitar and started writing songs. When she turned 16, she moved to Sydney on her own and joined Black Zeros and began exploring the retro sounds that dominate Sloan Peterson’s self-titled debut EP (on Mirror).

“As I grew musically, the band changed and came along with me,” says Jackson. “I’ve always been intrigued by other eras. Doo-wop and girl groups resonate with me. I love simple, catchy tunes about love and heartbreak.”

The songs on Sloan Peterson are bright bursts of pure pop, driven by Jackson’s incendiary guitar and passionate vocals. “Good News Day” is a mid-tempo breakup song; “Midnight Love” sounds like the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back”) on overdrive; and on “I Want You,” Jackson’s slide-guitar work intensifies her feelings of unattainable love.
“I’m a total lover and always have been,” says Jackson. “I’m also a sensitive person, so it’s natural to write a song when I’m low or high on love.”

j. poet

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