Category Archives: FEATURES

Marlon Williams: Lonesome Dove

MarlonWilliams

Kiwi crooner Marlon Williams keeps bullies and tipsy Catholic cougars at bay

New Zealand native Marlon Williams admits that singing in his artsy high-school choir was a mixed blessing. On the upside, teachers always allowed him to skip class whenever he had recital practice. On the downside? You became an instant target for schoolyard bullies.

“But I found a way to use singing to my advantage and turn it into a positive thing,” says the 25-year-old, who—after several career detours—just released his eponymous, folk-rocking debut. “And being self-deprecating about it—basically punching yourself before someone can punch you—is a good way to go.”

Whenever Williams was cornered, he adds, “In a conciliatory tone, you’d just say something like, ‘Aw, you don’t want to beat me up—you’ve got no time for this!’ You’d life-coach them out of doing it.”

Undeterred, he kept right on vocalizing, in the Christchurch Cathedral Ensemble, then in a twangy duo with Delaney Davidson, for three volumes of retro covers-themed albums dubbed Sad But True–The Secret History Of Country Music. Then he moved to Melbourne and started acting, in Aussie TV series like The Beautiful Lie and upcoming feature film The Rehearsal.

Williams was also spotlighted in a recent Down Under documentary, The New Face Of Country. But his Maori-descended father was a punk-rock musician who turned him on to artists like Gram Parsons and Johnny Horton at an early age—hence his own lonesome, loping originals like “Hello Miss Lonesome” and “Lonely Side Of Her.” His bow also features personal takes on obscure folkie Bob Carpenter’s “Silent Passage” and Nina Simone’s “When I Was A Young Girl.”

But Williams has sworn off choirs after his Cathedral experience. “Because drunk, older Catholic women are much harder to deal with than bullies,” he says. “They have a few wines, they get a bit bubbly, and you’ve really got to watch out!”

—Tom Lanham

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Matmos: Spin Doctors

Matmos

Matmos presents domestic music, made by a domestic pair, from a single domestic item

Here’s the first thing to know: The album—all of it, every sound on its single 40-minute track—is played on a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine.

The second thing you need to know is that Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel, the collaborative (and romantic) pair who’ve recorded a series of brainy, witty sample-and-sound compositions under the sobriquet Matmos over nearly two decades, understand with total clarity what a gimmicky project this might sound like, on the merits. But Ultimate Care II was designed from the start to be a less weighty composition than many other Matmos projects—like A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, which used sound samples from surgery clinics as its building blocks, or The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast, whose songs are each dedicated to a gay public figure, often of some controversy—that inspired the duo in some way.

No, Ultimate Care II was, as Schmidt says, “supposed to be banged out quickly. Our last one was so ponderous, and took so long to make, that I wanted to go the other opposite direction. The washing machine is in our basement, with our studio. I could reach it with a mic, I could hit it with a stick, I could rub it with my hand.”

The Baltimore-based Schmidt and Daniel sampled that rubbing and hitting, as well as the washer’s natural programmed wash cycles, then processed them through a variety of tactics and machines, often with collaborative assistance. “(Martin designed it) as an exercise in discipline and focus,” says Daniel. “The goal was to make the domestic sound both familiar and exotic, but also to make something that was musically rich. We wanted to turn those sounds into something that could approximate a whole musical vocabulary.”

The rhythms of the machine afforded the project some dynamism, but the tonality came through innovative methods. After sampling several sounds, for instance, the duo attached a transducer to the washer, turning it into a speaker. And when the recorded sounds of the machine were played through itself, the result was a tonal feedback that provided a static note Schmidt and Daniel could harvest, convert into a sine wave, and shape with synthesis engines into a “playable” tone.

This is clearly gearhead stuff, though not without precedent. As Schmidt and Daniel openly admit, their immediate influences are heavy on musique concrète and tape-music—genres that constitute, it seems fair to assume, an acquired taste for many listeners. But to the question you’re about to ask: Yes, Matmos’ album is tonal, it’s listenable, and it’s musically rewarding.

“I pine for people’s ability to listen to long pieces of music,” says Schmidt. “I do feel like we’re sort of ambassadors for some people between what could be called ‘low’ and ‘high’ music. I dearly wish that people had more of an ability to listen to 25-minute pieces of music.”

“I’m with Martin,” says Daniel. “We wanted it to be really exuberant and over the top. We were pretty fanatical about following a rule and trying to see how far we could take it. We never cracked: ‘Goddammit, let’s just play a trombone!’ I suppose the question is, ‘If someone’s drumming on a washing machine, is that the sound of the machine or the sound of hands drumming?’ So, I guess if we wanted to get really uptight, we could only have used the sound of a washing machine struck by a second washing machine.”

—Eric Waggoner

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Freakwater: Singing To Live

Freakwater

Freakwater ends a decade-long break with the moody and captivating Scheherazade

The wheels of Freakwater grind exceedingly slow, right up until they don’t. With the release of Scheherazade, the duo of Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin have notched three albums in 16 years, not a terrible average by some yardsticks.

“We weren’t making Chinese Democracy,” says Bean. “We will. The next one will be from the retirement facility.”

It’s not like Bean and Irwin exist in states of suspended animation waiting for inspiration to strike. Bean is a member of Eleventh Dream Day and the Horse’s Ha, and released her solo debut, Dragging Wonder Lake, in 2004, while Irwin has two solo albums under her belt, 2002’s Cut Yourself A Switch and 2012’s Little Heater, and moved into the visual arts as well. This has kept the pair busy while waiting for Freakwater’s edgy, atmospheric electric/acoustic folk to resurface.

The songs for Scheherazade, Freakwater’s first new album since 2005’s Thinking Of You and debut for Bloodshot, began to bubble in early 2014. Bean and Irwin convened in their hometown, Louisville, Ky. (Bean has called Chicago home for three decades), and worked up songs with violinist Anna Krippenstapel, then tested the live waters.

“The three of us played in the cellar of this restaurant in Louisville, just to see how they’d go over,” says Bean. “Then we practiced again, then we started recording.”

“We had six or seven days of recording, then we mixed it at the end of April,” says Irwin. “We didn’t spend a year in the studio.”

As the new Freakwater songs evolved—including “Bolshevik And Bollweevil,” with irresistible folk lyric, “Come on home if you can find it, because the farm is blown away”—with Krippenstapel and longtime bassist David Wayne Gay, so too did the idea of naming the album after Scheherazade, the mythical/historical wife of Persian king Shahryar, who spun the tales of One Thousand And One Nights to avoid her demise.

“The thing is, if you stop talking, you die,” says Irwin. “To me, that sums up both the beauty and the problem of Freakwater. It is true, in a way, that we probably wouldn’t be able to do this anymore if we did stop. The idea that you have a story and you keep it going and if you stop, you’ll be executed, that is the story of a band, in a way. It seems like a relevant idea, certainly based on our between-song banter style.”

“People yell at us, ‘Shut up, just play a song,’” says Bean. “I can’t, I’ll die!”

Considering their long hiatus and the number of musical/life activities that occupy their free time, it’s a wonder that Scheherazade, or even Freakwater itself, exists at all. Bean insists she and Irwin, like water searching for its level, will always find a way.

“Short of being hit by a bus,” she says. “We agree to shows, thinking, ‘We’ll be hit by a bus before that happens, so we don’t have worry about doing it.’ So, I think we figured if we survived, we’d make another record. Goals have never been one of our, uh, goals.”

“If we had a goal, we would have stopped a long ago,” says Irwin. “Not having goals is the reason we’re still doing this.”

—Brian Baker

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Hinds: Deer Prudence

Hinds

Garage upstarts Hinds survive an early bout of stage fright

It sounds strange, but it’s entirely true, swears Spanish musician Ana Garcia Perrote. What led to the success of her all-girl garage-rock quartet Hinds—and its jangling debut, Leave Me Alone, the first great album of 2016—was one glaring, abject failure, which shuttered the group for nearly two years. Just for fun, she and her fellow singer/guitarist Carlotta Cosials had formed a DIY duo dubbed Deers, specializing in cover songs. Eventually, they were confident enough to start giving concerts. That is, until the second gig they booked ended in disaster.

“It was like a trauma,” says Perrote. “Carlotta used to be an actress, and I used to act in a school-theater thing. So, we were both used to being onstage.” They felt more vulnerable playing music, though. That night, for a small audience of family and friends, they squealed through Bob Dylan, even Jack Johnson chestnuts. “And Carlotta, after the very first song, whispered to me, ‘Should we leave? Should we just walk offstage?’ But we just couldn’t leave.” Afterward, in tears, they were too ashamed to vacate their dressing room.

The pair didn’t discuss the debacle. They simply stopped performing. A few months later, they saw a grainy video of the concert and realized that it wasn’t so bad after all. Inspired, they composed their first fuzzy original, “Trippy Gum,” a week later, added bassist Ade Martin and drummer Amber Grimbergen, and found their own ’60s-echoed sound on Leave confections like “Easy” and “Garden.” Then? Another hurdle. They were forced to legally change their moniker, due to licensing conflict with a Canadian combo called the Dears. They settled on Hinds—by definition, a female deer.

But Perrote is still pleased that she and Cosials took time off to reconnoiter. “We didn’t stop playing because of lack of interest in music,” she says. “When we stopped having fun? That’s when we stopped playing.”

—Tom Lanham

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Tindersticks: Space Is The Place

Tindersticks

Tindersticks learn to embrace the “cinematic” tag that has long plagued them

For a band that is all about minimalist exactitude and patient restraint, Tindersticks’ discography is particularly cluttered. Since starting in London a quarter-century ago, Tindersticks has released numerous live albums, compilations and soundtracks (their ongoing collaboration with French filmmaker Claire Denis has yielded six scores, with a seventh in the works). Their last studio album, 2013’s Across Six Leap Years, was an excellent set of new versions of old material.

So, how does the new The Waiting Room tabulate in the Tindersticks oeuvre?

“I suppose it’s the 10th time we’ve written a bunch of songs and gradually formed them into an album, and so it’s not taking bits from here and there or being a live album,” says singer and primary songwriter Stuart Staples, he of the deep, thoughtful and soulful voice that anchors Tindersticks’ noir atmosphere. “Fundamentally, it’s an album, even though it has a lot of other things attached to it. It’s what we’ve devoted our last 18 months or so to; it has a beginning, a middle and an end; it’s 46 minutes long. It has all the attributes of the classic album format, and that’s something that’s very deep inside us.”

By that definition, Tindersticks released six albums between 1993 and 2003. After 2003’s Waiting For The Moon, the band took a break and underwent some personnel changes.

“Since 2007, when we started to write together again, we made three albums really quickly, or what felt like really quickly in succession: The Hungry Saw, Falling Down A Mountain and The Something Rain,” says Staples. “Looking back, it was a period of rebuilding. We didn’t have our original lineup; we had new people coming to what we did, which was really exciting, but it’s not like you automatically fit together. You may be able to play music together, but at a deeper level, it takes time to define that space between you. With The Something Rain, it felt like we kind of arrived somewhere. There wasn’t that automatic feeling that we had to do something now, because there’s all this space in front of us.”

The band did soundtracks, museum installations and other projects before beginning work on what would become The Waiting Room. Staples says he tends to ruminate on song ideas for a long time—sometimes for decades—before they find their way to come to life. And he is now more likely to bring the ideas to the band in rudimentary form. “They’re all such better musicians than I am, and if I can provide something that sets something in motion, that’s my role, really,” he says. “It’s to light some kind of torch paper to get a group of people to believe in an idea.”

The Waiting Room is full of ruminative, patient songs that sometimes blossom with brass or strings. The arrangements come from a process of attrition: the band starts with lots of ideas, by what Staples calls “making a racket,” and then pares them to their essence.

“Tindersticks is five people, and each person has a voice,” he says. “In each song, I want to hear each voice, and I don’t want to have it crowded out with ideas within a moment. I suppose it’s minimalist, but it has more to do with being concise. It definitely has to do with subtraction from the barrage of ideas we start with.”

Not everything on The Waiting Room is restrained: “We Are Dreamers!” roils with tension and frustration. Staples drafted Savages’ Jehnny Beth, who he met when they were both singing in a tribute to the music of David Lynch, to add backing vocals.

“I got to see her, but see her in a different context from being in Savages,” he says. “I was working on ‘Dreamers’ at the time, and I just thought, ‘Wow, she is the voice for this.’ ‘Dreamers’ is not a duet to me. I asked her to be a fellow dissenter, somebody else to shout this thing, a refusal to accept a certain kind of reality. [Laughs] She sang it twice, and that’s the second take in its complete entirety. It was exciting. It was just the color the song needed.”

Given all their work with film scores—and each song on The Waiting Room itself has a corresponding short film—it’s no surprise that the band is often described as “cinematic,” a label that Staples has finally come to embrace.

“There must be something in it,” he says. “There must be something in being called ‘melancholic,’ too, if we’re always called that. For me and some of us, it’s kind of a natural state. [Laughs] I don’t think you can make it up. We used to fight it and say, ‘No, that doesn’t really apply to us.’ But when it comes down to making music about the emotions that make us make music, there’s no escaping it. With the word ‘cinematic,’ as much as I dislike it, I’ve always thought it’s about leaving space, and people have to step into that space themselves. They have to do … not work themselves, but have to be open to what the music brings out in them as listeners. I think when we work with film, having that kind of natural space within our music, it allows images to breathe without trying too hard.”

Space is everything to Tindersticks—space between records, between beats, between instruments, between words.

“I think space in music is so important, and edges,” says Staples. “When I hear music that has the edges taken away and the spaces squashed out of it, I think there’s no room for me. It’s all surface. I think to feel something in music, you have to get beyond the surface.”

—Steve Klinge

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Field Music: Uncommon People

FieldMusic

Only “music work” matters to the skewed pop masterminds of Field Music

British brothers Peter and David Brewis started recording as Field Music in 2004, after spending years playing in bands with other musicians. Their sound features a skewed rhythmic attack that gives their music a unique sensibility, despite the sunny harmonies and catchy melodies. They’ve refined their approach on Commontime, an album that’s closer to pure pop than anything they’ve previously done.

David says they chose the title to deride the comments they get about “weird time signatures … Common time is orchestral speak for straight 4/4. To us, doing two or three songs on a record that aren’t 4/4 doesn’t seem that extreme. Surely everyone’s heard ‘Take Five’? We both play drums and tend to have an idea of what the rhythm should do before we start recording. Percussion doesn’t take up a lot of sonic space, so you can do things which are quite intricate, without getting in the way of the song.”

The tunes on the record sound bright and carefree, but an underlying sense of expectations not realized brings weight to the proceedings. “We always laugh at our own grumpiness and tend to skewer our own happiness,” says David. “We don’t wallow in misery or take our own opinions too seriously—there’s already too many musicians doing that. I think it’s more honest to recognize that there are always conflicting elements to how we feel at any one time.”

Field Music, the duo’s nom de musique, sounds more like a genre than a band name, which is what they were aiming at. “We wanted something that didn’t sound like a band,” says David. “When we started, it seemed like everyone was the Somethings and were pretending to be a gang of lads in a band, and we’ve never been that. I read that Kraftwerk referred to themselves as ‘music workers.’ I quite like that.”

—j. poet

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Shearwater: Attractive Opposites

Shearwater

Fascination with ’80s technology helps Shearwater refine its voice

“My favorite music, my favorite art, everything like that, has the quality of being paradoxical, of holding multiple things at the same time that seem both to be true,” says Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg. “I wanted to make a record as much like that as possible.”

That record is Jet Plane And Oxbow. It’s an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future.

“I wanted to use that time and those sounds to sort of explore what seem to be the various pathologies that lurk beneath the surface in the United States,” says Meiburg. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane.

“I think it’s the most extroverted record we have made, by a mile,” says Meiburg. “It’s loud; it’s got a lot of drumming; it’s texturally complex, although melodically it’s actually pretty simple. We tried to place the record, sonically, about the year 1980. I think of that as a time when digital technology was relatively new in the world of recording. There were these strange devices that people were opening up and seeing what they could do to recorded music. There was a real sense of excitement and possibility, although they also seemed like gadgets from the future.”

Meiburg used period-specific instruments like a Korg Lambda, an Eventide Harmonizer and Linn drums; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane And Oxbow doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time.

“There was a sense that technology was going to change everything about the world, but nobody knew exactly how,” says Meiburg. “And I think we have that same feeling now, as real artificial intelligence becomes not just a figment of our imagination of what the distant future might be like, but what it might be like in four or five years. The music in the time reflects that: There’s a lot of excitement, but there’s a lot of paranoia in it.”

That’s a good description of Jet Plane, too. Meiburg may be singing about feeling “so tired of the country” on “Pale Kings” or about feeling culturally conflicted on “Quiet Americans,” but the music is full of affirmation and grandeur.

“The thing I like about the record is the more anthemic the songs became, the more ambivalent the lyrics became. ‘Pale Kings’ sounds like this victory rock song, but it’s really about this frustration and the myopia that creeps in with nostalgia or with too simple a view of who you are or what you’re doing here,” says Meiburg, who calls Jet Plane a “protest record,” although not in a traditional sense: There’s no sloganeering or proselytizing, which he hates.

“I heard an interview that David Bowie did in 1980 when Scary Monsters came out,” says Meiburg. “He described that record as social protest music. I thought, ‘What?’ But I went back and listened to it again, and I thought really actually it is: It lodges a whole lot of different protests; it’s not just the lyrics, but it’s also the sound of it. I loved that about it. It’s kind of an oblique protest record, not so much in the realm of politics as in the realm of the psyche.”

The paradoxical tensions between beauty and anger, subtlety and power, affirmation and doubt also come through in Meiburg’s voice, which is, as usual, gorgeous.

“It’s probably what makes Shearwater sound like itself,” says Meiburg. “I’ve had to untrain my voice over the years, and I’m still doing it. I grew up singing in choirs and stuff, and learned to sing in a certain way. I realized that that was not going to work in a band. I’ve been trying to shove my voice into a place that seems truer for more than a decade. This record seems more true to who I am than the previous records to me.”

Jet Plane is the eighth Shearwater record. Meiburg has been the only constant since 1999 when Shearwater was a parallel project to Will Sheff’s Okkervil River and the two bands shared players.

“I finally seemed to have gotten clear of the ‘Okkervil River side-project’ tag,” he says. “It’s taken many years of hard work to do that. I don’t bear Okkervil any ill will whatsoever, but trying to convince people that you’re not a side project or a folk band is a long and hard road. That’s sort of why I stopped playing the banjo in public. People would take pictures and those would be the pictures that would show up, and then it would become ‘folk band Shearwater.’ That did nobody any favors. I love the banjo, but we just can’t be seen together.”

Meiburg is at work on a nonfiction book (“It tells the story, basically, of the evolutionary history of South American wildlife and landforms through the 10 living species of caracaras, which are these strange falcon relatives that are sort of like crows, and the people who live with them now, and a 19th-century naturalist and writer named William Henry Hudson”), and Shearwater’s touring schedule is limited for now, although Meiburg is optimistic.

“I feel like this record could have a lot of legs to it,” he says. “At the same time, I’ve been at this too long to hope for things almost anymore. I think it’s better to try to get your fulfillment out of doing a good job than hoping that suddenly you’re going to catch fire in some way.”

—Steve Klinge

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Are You From New York?

Woody

An essay by MAGNET’s Mitch Myers

Long ago, as a young man born and raised in Chicago, I eagerly explored these United States of America. I first sought out familiar locales like Manhattan, Seattle and Los Angeles and encountered many different people in my travels. Sometimes, like when I visited L.A. in the 1980s, someone would inquire as to the nature of my hometown roots. Occasionally, they’d ask a more specific question, that is, “Are you from New York?”

Being somewhat naïve, I thought they were asking this because I radiated some kind of hip quotient, an arty, urban and intellectual coolness—like, what else could it be? Complimented, I’d dutifully explain that no, I was from the Midwest, a Chicago kid— imagining my big city ways had caused them to mistake my place of origin.

As time went on, I was compelled to widen my perception. After visiting Austin several times, I encountered this same question from fresh acquaintances—that is, “Are you from New York?” I began to assume that the query wasn’t based on my cool factor, but more likely a variation on the old familiar phrase, “You’re not from around here, are you?” That would be a fair observation. I sure as heck wasn’t from Texas, and perhaps it was simply my urban persuasion that led them to wonder if I might be from New York. Maybe these people just hadn’t been exposed to the difference between a Midwestern and Northeastern accent.

When I mentioned this to my mother years ago, she replied that she had often been asked this very same question and always chalked it up to her prevailing fashion sense, which was a tendency to always wear black. This seemed to satisfy her sense of self, and how others might perceive her. Ultimately, over time, I began to realize the true nature of this line of questioning. In that, I determined by virtue of research, deep thought and soul searching, that the exact and literal translation of “Are you from New York?” was, and is, for me, most precisely, “I notice that you’re Jewish.”

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that any of these folks were necessarily anti-Semitic in their profiling, they wanted (or needed) to affirm their appraisal for reasons good, bad or indifferent. This reminds me of Lenny Bruce’s classic routine where he explains the difference between being Jewish vs. goyish. Among other things, Lenny said, “Dig … if you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic, if you live in New York you are Jewish. If you live in Butte, Mont., you are going to be goyish even if you are Jewish.”

I have to say that I can’t recall ever being asked this question, “Are you from New York?” when in New York or meeting a New York native. For some reason, no New Yorker ever felt the need to ascertain my New York-ness, or whatever you want to call it.

Also, in all the time living in my hometown, no one in Chicago had ever asked me if I was from New York. Not ever. That is, not until last summer. It finally happened in downtown Chicago over the July 4th weekend on the way to see the Grateful Dead with my pal Shirley and her husband Thom.

One thing you should know about Shirley is that she’s Israeli-born, but raised in the USA. She and I have a close friendship and we’ve been together all across the world. Over the years, we’ve hung out in Israel, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Austin and New York, as well as Chicago.

To illustrate our rapport, I’d have to recall the time we were in Austin for the South By Southwest Music Conference and spent a good 20 minutes at a Mexican restaurant arguing whether we should leave a tip of 17.5% like her father always did, or, as I insisted, just round it up to 20%. Several minutes of that discussion included a debate over whether the sales tax should be included in our metrics.

I also have to say that while all this was going on, our dear friend Michael, who is not from New York, was there, too—sinking further and further under the table from sheer embarrassment at the scene of us hotly debating the respective merits of a tip differential like an episode straight out of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Anyway, that about sums up Shirley and me. So, like I was saying, Shirley, Thom and I were downtown, headed to the Dead concert at Soldier Field for the third time in three consecutive nights. We’d just left their hotel on Michigan Avenue when I suggested that we take a cab rather than walk since we’d been hanging out late every night and schlepping back and forth to all of the shows.

Shirley and Thom agreed, and as luck would have it, a taxi had just pulled up. We jumped in, asked the driver to take us to Soldier Field and voila—we were off.

Now, the first thing the cabdriver asked us was, “Are you guys from New York?” Shirley and I looked at each other because we’d spoken many times of my revelation as to the meaning of this seemingly innocuous question. We smiled knowingly and almost laughed. We could have been tourists from anywhere, hailing a cab in front of a downtown hotel on a holiday weekend.

In an effort to be clever and play out the scenario to its fullest, I answered, “Oh yeah, we’re from New York all right.” Everything seemed well and good and we were chatting amiably when the cabbie directed another question my way. He wanted to know, “Are you a lawyer?” This struck me as a bit more stereotyping than I was used to, but I was still trying to be funny and just said no, I wasn’t a lawyer but I could have been. Shirley didn’t say much about that one and Thom was pretty much silent.

The cab driver responded by sharing something about his own life—that he was close to getting his degree in hospitality management and soon would be quitting his job as a cabdriver. The cabbie also told us that he was Palestinian. In an effort to relate to the man, I told him that my brother lived in Jerusalem. In response, the cabbie exclaimed, “He probably lives in my grandfather’s house!” As you might imagine, nobody in the cab was laughing.

The cabbie then turned his attention to Shirley and things got weird. It wasn’t any more of this “Are you from New York” nonsense. He just asked her bluntly, “Are you Jewish, too?” “Ummm, yeah” she replied, unsure as to the appropriateness of his question but not wanting to offend.

Finally the cabbie focused on Thom, who was sitting between Shirley and myself. “How about you? Are you Jewish, too?” he asked. Thom, who is definitely not from New York, answered the question in no uncertain terms. He said something to the effect of, “I’m not going to answer that question and I don’t like where this conversation is heading at all! And I’ll tell you something else, if you’re going into the hospitality business maybe you should learn not to ask someone about their religion within five minutes of meeting them!”

It was only then that I realized Thom had been horrified as to the nature of our discourse. He wasn’t going to object if I made an ass out of myself, but he was feeling very protective of his wife. He was angry, and he wasn’t having it. Thom’s a pretty big guy and hails from New England. He isn’t a violent person, but he does have a temper and wasn’t backing down from a confrontation with this cab driver.

Things got tense. The cabbie kept eyeballing Thom in his rear view mirror and Thom was staring right back at him as Shirley and I tried to diffuse the situation until we could get out of the cab. I should mention that we were heading south on Lake Shore Drive and there was no way of stopping until we arrived at Soldier Field.

The whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes and we reached our destination without further incident. We got out quick, paid the fare plus tip (decidedly less than 17.5%) and tried to put the whole affair behind us.

But I haven’t forgotten what happened. It’s clear to me now that some people encounter profiling all of the time and just do their best to ignore the implications so they can get through their day with the least amount of hassle.

Anyway, I’m not trying to preach or complain. I just wanted to tell my story. I also have to admit that the next time somebody asks me if I’m from New York, I really don’t know what I’m going to say. Would you?

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Foxing: Deal Them In

Foxing

Growing up and branching out isn’t an albatross for the emo-punkers in Foxing

“We never set out to be any specific kind of band,” says Josh Coll. “So, when I listen to The Albatross, I hear things that are different from what other people hear.”

The bassist and co-songwriter of St. Louis fi ve-piece Foxing is talking about its 2013 album, which is often fi led (along with the band itself) under emo/punk. Between its cathartic breakdowns, the howling delivery of vocalist Conor Murphy and frequent tour runs with scene faves the Hotelier and Brand New, it’s understandable why.

Coll, on the other hand, hears the sound of his old outfit Hunter Gatherer—an entirely instrumental act with post-rock leanings. He hears Murphy’s former crew Family Might, which was not instrumental, but had cinematic tendencies. Listen close to Foxing’s debut and those moments surface—on the turbulent and theatrical “Bloodhound,” for instance.

The Albatross was a lot of us trying to find ourselves as a band in a very low-pressure environment,” says Coll. “We hadn’t played a show when we started writing the record. Nobody knew who our band was; nobody cared except for a handful of friends. In that regard, it was a lot of experimenting.”

Now, Foxing releases Dealer (Triple Crown), a follow-up that’s markedly more subdued, but also more exciting, bringing those scattered experiments into focus. Moments recall the tenderness of Sigur Rós, with Murphy’s delivery nuanced and melodic. His falsetto on “The Magdalene” is chilling, while the piano-driven “Night Channels” sees the band circling like a gathering storm out of Godspeed.

“I think that those elements were always there for us,” says Coll, citing an affnity for ambient and drone music. “It’s interesting sometimes, the difference between what a band plays and what a band listens to.”

Recording and production of The Albatross was stretched out over nine months; Dealer, by comparison, was rocked out in a month. Coll calls it much more immediate, a space where their subconscious tendencies come through. “When you are writing for months and months on end, you have a lot of time to second-guess yourself and tweak things,” he says.

Where does that leave The Albatross? Coll admits to feeling burnt out after playing its songs nightly for two years. But they will always be there—slightly adapted thanks to touring violinist and synth player Emma Tiemann.

“Something as small as that breathes new life into your work,” he says.

—John Vettese

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RevoltRevolt: Wild At Heart

RevoltRevolt

“Alternative garage-rock stuff” is selling the aptly named RevoltRevolt way too short

Idaho-based RevoltRevolt’s new EP is called Wild Unraveling, and in a large way, the title is a reference to singer/guitarist/keyboardist Chris Böck’s love of the outdoors, his relationship to the simplicity of the natural terrain proximal to his lifelong Boise home, and the freedom nature affords in letting oneself go. It’s also a reference to the quartet’s incorporation of “garage drones, hard rock, industrial noise, opera and space music” into a sound that even has its founding member stumbling when MAGNET asks about classi- fication and categorization.

“Um … I guess it’s rock,” Böck says between pregnant pauses and tittering laughter. “I don’t know. I’ve heard us called garage rock, space rock, even punk. I’ve asked myself this as well in thinking who we’d be best billed with, and I think it crosses over between different styles. I don’t know … ‘alternative garage-rock stuff’ … maybe? The interesting part, and one of the parts I like most about playing music, is songwriting. For us, it’s about the balance, what you can capture in the span of a song, how you can have it complement each part, and doing what’s best for the song.”

Beginning as a solo artist in 2007, Böck originally hooked up with a drummer friend, and the duo recorded and road-dogged until the decision was made to fill out the lineup with bassist Jacob Fredrickson, second guitarist Mike Muir, and Ben Wieland replacing the original tub-thumper. Böck describes this fl eshed-out confi guration of RevoltRevolt as possessing “more depth. All of the musicians are well-versed, which makes us more dynamic and diverse. When we were a two-piece, it was pretty straightforward. I feel we’re right where I’d like to be, and without the time constraints with this record like we had with previous recordings, it allowed us to try things I’d really wanted to do.”

Including the fusion of seemingly disparate elements and surprising one another in the studio?

“Well, I heard an opera singer in my head for one of the songs,” he says. “It was ‘Never Fade,’ the last track, which evolved after we hung on the last note of the song before it. After we did it, I could totally hear an opera singer, and the other guys were like, ‘What?’ I was like, ‘Just bear with me,’ and when we found the singer (Emma Doupé), that was totally it!”

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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