Category Archives: FEATURES

Flying Saucer Attack: Resident Alien


One guitar is all Bristol’s resurrected Flying Saucer Attack needs

The sounds and textures that David Pearce delivers as Flying Saucer Attack are full of contradictions. On Instrumentals 2015, his first album in 15 years, the music is noisy and melodic, dreamily ambient and jarringly aggressive, dense and full of wide-open spaces so vast they could be intergalactic. The 15 songs suggest tolling church bells, ouds, synthesizers, steam locomotives, ocean waves, mournful cellos and twanging country guitars, but they’re all created by Pearce on a single electric guitar in his home studio.

“I may have two, three or four guitar tracks going on, but it’s just one instrument, the same guitar throughout the record,” says Pearce. “I use a basic digital reverb unit, a digital delay foot pedal and a distortion foot pedal. I use some when I’m mixing the tracks, rather than when I’m actually recording the guitar. The question is always, ‘How can I get something interesting-sounding out of this?’”

The last Flying Saucer Attack album came out 15 years ago. Did it take a year to create each track? “Well, it does average out to that,” says Pearce. “I stopped making music for a number of years. I wasn’t even listening to music during that time. When (director) Peter Strickland reached out to me and asked if he could use an old piece in his film The Duke Of Burgundy, it snapped me out of my stupor. I started putting together songs and sequencing the record. I’ve been surprised, intrigued, beguiled and uplifted by the finished sequence of music.

“At some point in the process, I realized stripping things down was the way to go. I needed to get up quite a bit of self-confidence to try and do stuff that was so bare, though. Maybe I was trying to hide behind the noise in the past? Regardless, the stripped-down thing seems to be an accurate reflection of what’s being going on in my life the last 15 years. I was going through a process of returning to basics in the music and in my life. Maybe I’m just less angry these days, so I don’t start by making a big noise, then trying to make some sense of it. It’s more like building up from silence, with a view to carefully put only a few elements into that silence.”

Pearce doesn’t enjoy playing live and won’t be doing any shows to support the album. “The only shows—of the handful I ever did—that I really enjoyed, were the all noise, completely improvisational ones, which were pretty stressful on everyone concerned,” he says. “That would be the only route to go down, if I was ever to play live again, even though that seems a bit old hat now. I remember the first time I ever picked up a guitar. I was more interested in trying to get odd noises out of it, rather than trying to play notes. In some ways, I’m still very much that five-year-old kid. Maybe it’s better that way?”

—j. poet

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Lindi Ortega: No Guts, No Gloryville


How Lindi Ortega picked herself off the mat after a major-label K.O

Faded Gloryville, the fourth album from Toronto-bred, Nashville-based Lindi Ortega, cements her reputation as country’s crystalline-voiced goth-rock version of Dolly Parton. It’s full of forlorn, windswept ballads like “Ashes,” “Tell It Like It Is,” roadhouse-ribald stompers “I Ain’t The Girl” and “Run-Down Neighborhood,” and three soulful stunners produced in Muscle Shoals by ex-Civil Wars anchor John Paul White and Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner (“Someday Soon,” “When You Ain’t Home” and a finger-popping take on the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody”). But, as great as it is, it’s a recording that nearly didn’t happen.

Although Ortega’s last effort, 2013’s Tin Star, had landed her three Canadian Country Music Association Award nominations in 2014, where she won for roots artist of the year, the music business was taking its toll on her, sapping her strength, clouding the clarity of her aesthetic vision. Her career expectations had been hopelessly naïve, she was discovering. She’d come to the U.S. on such a promising note, with 2008’s rustic The Drifter EP for Cherrytree/Interscope. “Which was a bit daunting in and of itself,” she says. “You have a major-label deal, then that all goes south, and you’ve got to start all over again, pick yourself up, and figure out how you’re going to continue. That’s just the way it is, and I started to realize that.”

Gradually, the singer began asking herself existential questions, until she screeched to a jarring halt at what would become her career crossroads. She tried to remain optimistic. “But it’s hard to make a living, and sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent,” says the 35-year-old Ortega. “And when you’ve got things that are almost about to happen—or could happen—and then you lose those opportunities, you wonder if you’re really meant to do this, or if the universe is against you. You start to doubt yourself, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. So, I wasn’t sure if I should keep going. I felt like, ‘Oh, I’m getting older. I don’t know if anyone’s going to care anymore.’”

Unfortunately, the artist was studying the film Crazy Heart—and Jeff Bridges’ sad-sack, singer-in-decline character Bad Blake—for clues. “That movie struck something in me, as it probably would any struggling musician,” says Ortega, who began to worry that she, too, might wind up playing bowling alleys in her alcohol-fogged 50’s. She even toyed with a Plan B: going back to college to get a degree in her favorite field, meteorology, so she could become a licensed storm chaser. No joke, she swears: “I’m a total weather geek.”

What got Ortega out of her funk? The Muscle Shoals sessions helped. But mainly, she came to terms with reality. “The music industry is hard, and it hits you like a ton of bricks,” she says. “And sometimes, when you get with it, you can let it bury you, and that’s it. Or you can crawl out of the bricks and figure out what you can build. And that’s exactly what I did.”

—Tom Lanham

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Circuit Des Yeux: Vision Quest


One-woman bedroom expat Circuit Des Yeux learns to branch out

Circuit Des Yeux is the recording persona of Haley Fohr. Pronounce the first word English-style, the rest in French. “Its translation is ‘the nerve that leads the eye to sight,’” she says. “It’s not really a natural thing—it’s just something I kind of created.”

That’s not the only thing that Fohr, who was raised in Lafayette, Ind., has invented. The Midwest breeds artists who are stubborn and singular out of necessity—that’s what it takes to transcend the cultural milieu. She started making records in 2007, the summer after she graduated from high school. Those early LPs, issued by De Stijl, articulate an entirely solitary perspective; they were written, sung and played entirely alone. Their rudimentary instrumentation and murky recording are balanced by Fohr’s decidedly non-amateurish singing, which had been honed by training and competition since the first grade. Her contralto voice has a supple maneuverability, even at its deepest pitch, and that projects extreme emotional states with withering power.

Years of solo touring on the basement punk and noise circuit actually reinforced the internalized character of her music. “I would get onstage and tap into something, and I would not even notice the audience,” she says. But in 2013, she forged an alliance with engineer and multi-instrumentalist Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin Bajas), and through him began working with the Chicago-based musicians who appear on her fourth album Overdue (Ba Da Bing!). Subsequently, she moved to the city.

While Fohr is at the controls on In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey), the fifth Circuit Des Yeux LP is a more communal affair. Guest musicians contribute woodwinds and strings that infuse the grainy black-and-white sonics of her early platters with timbral color. On “Do The Dishes,” a chopped and looped sample taken from a Southeast Asian mouth-organ record forms a hurtling rhythm, which matches the pace that Fohr sustains through rounds of chores and a nude run on a treadmill in the song’s accompanying video. Its images of desperate domesticity, utter vulnerability and quiet recovery indicate that Fohr is thinking about other peoples’ lives.

“For a long while, I think I used writing and music as a chance to work through things within myself,” she says. “Now I have reached an age where I really want to be a part of society, and I want to give something back.”

This impulse has also led Fohr to begin working with other musicians. Despite her dismissive assertion that she was just a “side guy,” her voice brings a transformative emotional presence to the trance-inducing patterns on Mind Over Mirrors’ latest release, The Voice Calling (Immune). And on a wild new single, she and ex-Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt do gladiatorial battle over the course of four brief, unnamed songs.

“I’ve made it a point for 2015 to be my collaborative year,” she says. “I’m trying to work with other people and learn from them and grow in that way.” She’s off to a hell of a start.

“So, we got in touch, or we’ve been in touch off and on,” she says, “but I got in touch and said I’d be interested if you ever need a vocalist, so he sent me about an hour of material, and I was a huge fan of Harry Pussy in high school—I used to be in a punk band that was kind of like a Harry Pussy worship band, and so I know his vibe. It’s pretty raw, there’s not much overdubbing or anything, so I did it kind of true to the form. I just took a day when I was feeling a certain way and like ripped four or five tracks, and they’re all between 20 seconds and a minute and a half. And they’re all going to be on that single. It was pretty easy and pretty great.”

—Bill Meyer

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Young Buffalo: Boys Will Be Boys


Oxford, Miss.’ Young Buffalo is feeling California

What is it about the Deep South these days? Once considered an indie-rock no-fly zone, the region has been popping out great bands one after the other of late. There’s the whole ’Bama revolution led by St. Paul And The Broken Bones and recent MAGNET cover band Alabama Shakes. Louisiana has weighed in with Hurray For The Riff Raff and the Deslondes. And now Mississippi is stepping it up, if Young Buffalo’s House (Votiv) is any indication. So, why now?
“I really don’t have an answer to that,” says an audibly weary Jim Barrett, who’s been sharing songwriting, singing and guitar-playing duties with longtime friend Ben Yarbrough as Young Buffalo since 2009. “Then again, we’re not from L.A., so it takes a little longer to find some people who can really back you.”

Barrett has been on the road for months, and he’s just hours away from a well-deserved break back in Oxford, the artsy university town that was once home to William Faulkner and is still a literary haven. “It’s not as backwoods as people think—it’s a pretty awesome place,” says Barrett about where he grew up.

Most prominent on House are the richly layered, Wilson-esque harmonies of Barrett, Yarbrough and drummer Tim Burkhead. The album was produced by Dave Schiffman (Haim, Weezer) with just enough beefy crossover sheen to accentuate the group’s SoCal-skewed pop instincts.

Fittingly, perhaps, there’s absolutely nothing about its 11 tracks to suggest a band with Southern roots. But even without that suddenly trendy reference point, audiences are responding. “I definitely feel like more and more people are paying attention to us,” says Barrett. “Our last shows in New York went really well, with people singing along to the songs.”

Now, it’s back to Oxford, where the band isn’t expecting any welcome-home parades or handshakes from the mayor. “We’ll sleep, pay some bills we neglected, then hit the road again,” says Barrett. “We know we’ll have to tour this record for a while. It’s gonna be a slow-burner.”

—Hobart Rowland

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A Conversation With Giorgio Moroder


Giorgio Moroder is dance music. Long before Daft Punk lionized the disco king with “Giorgio By Moroder” on Random Access Memories, the producer/composer created the hypnotically repetitive ’70s electro-disco canon, first (and best) with Donna Summer before doing likewise for artists such as Berlin, Sparks, Queen and Irene Cara, then on his own grooving solo albums. When disco passed from fashion, he brought his syncopated skills to film scores for Midnight Express and American Gigolo before (mostly) retiring by the late ’80s. Now, at age 75, he’s back in the game with Déjà Vu, a rousing EDM-based album featuring name-above-the-title dance divas such as Britney, Kylie and Sia.

I know at your start that you played in jazz combos and rock bands in lounges throughout Switzerland. I can’t picture you doing that. Were you ever much of a band guy?
No. I would not think so. I mean, it was fun being 27 or so doing that with a bassist and a drummer, doing a Beatles song and such, but I knew …

Knew that being a producer would be more your speed?
Yes, actually, that’s right about it. I wanted to promote my own stuff. I had some money put aside so that I could survive the first years of that. Getting a hold of an early synthesizer convinced me of such.

So, when did you hear these new songs in your head?
Very recently. I was retired, you know. I did some composition for one of the Olympics, but I was out of the game. I did dip a toe in doing some DJ work, and then came the Daft Punk success. That really spurred me on. Changed my mind. I thought a modern dance record with some retro—disco—could work. I didn’t want to rely on the past.

So, you had to psyche yourself into making music again through DJing?
You know what—a little. Ten, 15 years ago, I got asked so often to DJ, but I turned everyone down by saying, “I’m a producer.” Now, it’s nothing like the old days, nothing like I imagined. By the way, I think I was one of the first DJs ever. In 1969, I performed as a DJ and a singer at a little club in Germany. I became part of a management company: the German DJ Association.

I think that was one of Kraftwerk’s earliest names. When you started doing disco—with Pete Bellotte, with Donna Summer—did you have a blueprint or did you just wing it on a purely experimental tip?
With Donna, it was an accident, as Pete and I were working on a project and needed women without English accents to sing. We found her. She did a great job. I also said that when I had something great for her that I was going to call her. That was “Love To Love You Baby.”

You’ve worked with male vocalists such as Bowie, Phil Oakey and Freddie Mercury, but mostly you’re all about the ladies: Summer, Irene Cara, Terri Nunn, all the women on this new album like Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue. What about a woman’s voice gets you, works better within the confines of your music?
You know, I don’t know. Maybe it is the sex feeling, the sensuality of the female voice against my melodies. I can’t think of too many guys who can do it. I mean, in the old days, you had the Village People, but … [Laughs] A woman has a more pleasant, sexier sound. They project the image of sexiness better.

In the ’80s, you set aside disco for atmospheric soundtrack work, put aside production for making neon art, left Europe and moved to Manhattan. What were you looking for?
I was looking for the grass that was always greener. I was restless. I wanted to do something else. Plus, disco went through all those problems with the whole “disco is dead” thing. I just kept fading away from music. I had so many other projects: I helped create a car; I did a short movie, which did not work so well.

When you decided that you wanted to do a new project, did the singers come to you? Did you go to them?
It was a mix, really. I had a wish list—my ideal names—and we went from there. Someone such as Sia was at the top of that list.

Do you like the way artists such as Sia or Britney record, piece-by-piece with vocal producers and such? The artists with their own teams, considering that back in the day, an album of yours had one producer in one studio with only your vision and that of the artist to consider?
I’m not a fan of the committee, but it is the way that these things are done now. These artists are very busy with so many different commitments other than music.

Does this mean now that this is how you must operate? Are you competitive in that way, especially since you’ve stayed away from the charts and the business for a while?
I think so. I hope so.

As a producer and a provocateur, do you feel as if you are truly making music differently than you did 30 years ago—or different music than you did 30 years ago? Is it less or more than a series of seductions than in was in the past?
That’s a funny way of looking at it. Yes, it’s very different now. There are so many people involved with each production—co-writers, co-editors—that it is hard to conjure up a seduction. It is not so intimate. It’s changed so much from when it was just me and maybe Pete Bellotte in a studio. There were no such things as vocal producers and executive producers. There was one producer. I am happy the way it is now. You really have to be, as there is no way back.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Bobby Long: Ode To Restraint


Blues/folk misfit Bobby Long learns the art of compromise

“I love that record … I’m really proud of it.”

The album to which Bobby Long is referring isn’t the new Ode To Thinking, but 2013’s Wishbone, his second and final release for ATO. And the reason he’s talking about it, quite frankly, is because the guy interviewing him won’t shut up about it. “This is one of the most in-depth Wishbone interviews I’ve ever had—I was hoping for this kind of interview when it came out,” says Long with a chuckle. “It just shows you that, sometimes, things don’t stick.”

Wishbone’s swept-under-the-rug status was all the more perplexing given the strength of its songs—nearly every one an engaging marriage of the Englander’s competing passions for folk, blues and Britpop. If any album that year was equipped to bridge the divide between “September Gurls” and “The Thrill Is Gone,” Wishbone was it. So, is it any wonder that ATO didn’t quite know what to do with the thing?

“I don’t want to be one of those people who slags off their old label—there were some really lovely people there,” says Long, who’s now settled in Beacon, N.Y. “I was instantly put in the singer/songwriter bracket, so I was kind of rebelling a bit. I remember playing a song for the people in my camp early on, and one said it reminded him of Coldplay. I was like, ‘Well, isn’t that a good thing? They sell a shit-ton of records.’”

To be clear: Nothing on Ode To Thinking sounds even remotely like Coldplay. Recorded by Mark Hallman at his Congress House Studios in Austin in September, the album was funded by a PledgeMusic campaign after Long cut ties with ATO. “It was just me and the producer in the studio; I played whatever, and Mark played the rest,” says Long. “We’d start a song in the morning, and we wouldn’t stop until we were finished. We did 24 tracks in, like, 10 days.”

With its crisp, unobtrusive production and emphasis on Long’s gritty, increasingly nuanced vocals, Ode is a solid compromise between Wishbone’s burly full-band sound and the sparse, live-to-tape feel of 2011’s A Winter Tale, produced by Grammy winner Liam Watson (White Stripes). “Not a lot of people work with Liam Watson on their first record—he’s a maverick producer,” says Long. “Maybe I should’ve recorded this album first.”
Perhaps that would’ve made Wishbone easier to swallow.

—Hobart Rowland

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SOAK: Killing Them Softly


Still in her teens, SOAK is an old soul with a young heart

Latitude 30 is your typical Sixth Street watering hole: sticky floors, $2.50 Jägerbombs, shitfaced collegiate carousing. At the moment, however, all is quiet, by order of an effusive BBC DJ, who’s just introduced the next act in a string of showcases. Shrouded in dense red-and-blue stage lights, Bridie Monds-Watson (a.k.a. SOAK) makes her way gingerly to the front of the stage with her acoustic guitar. Jagged bangs partially obscuring her eyes; she looks significantly younger than her 19 years. That the packed club stays silent for a solid half-hour is all the more surreal, given the barely controlled South By Southwest chaos unfolding just outside.

“My music works better in the quiet,” says Bridie (the name she prefers in conversation) over the phone from England, several weeks after her SXSW appearance. “It just wouldn’t get across otherwise.”

A few hours from now, the Derry, Ireland, native will be appearing on Later… With Jools Holland, sharing airtime with Father John Misty and Paul Weller, the latter almost three times her age. At SXSW, SOAK’s stunning half-hour set cast teenage upheaval in a luminous confessional glow, carried along by a voice from another planet—though not in the histrionic Björk sense. Her singing can’t help but convey a certain vulnerability, though that unusual Derry accent helps subdue any overt preciousness.

Bridie first picked up a guitar six years ago, and she still has no problem singing stuff she wrote at 14—songs like “Sea Creatures,” the title track of her first EP, released when she was 16 and still catching rides to gigs with her mom. “I wrote it about a friend who was getting bullied in school,” says Bridie. “It was very stream of consciousness … kind of like getting everything out of my head. When I sing it now, I just try to put myself in the position I was in when I wrote it.”

“Sea Creatures” can also be found on the new Before We Forgot How To Dream (Rough Trade), a richly varied full-length debut that’s being pegged as a coming-of-age statement. Truth is, SOAK already sounds pretty damn sure of herself. And while a lyric like “I’ve got a ghost, and she’s haunting me” seems to speak to some degree of dysfunction, home has always been a place of acceptance for Bridie. The middle child of three, she was 14 when she told her parents she was gay. Both are supportive wannabe hippie types with solid jobs and killer vinyl collections. “My parents were always playing music around the house,” says Bridie, an avid skateboarder when she’s not performing. “My dad would play ‘Sweet Baby James’ on his guitar as a lullaby.”

In 2012, a demo of “Sea Creatures” found its way to the BBC courtesy of Bridie herself, who uploaded it to the station’s “Introducing” web page. Radio 1 latched onto it from there, and she wound up on a European tour with Tegan & Sara. Things advanced even further when she met Tommy McLaughlin, of the Dublin-based indie-folk outfit Villagers, who produced Dream and is now part of SOAK’s touring band.

Since her eye-opening SXSW appearance, the minor buzz is approaching a loud hum in the U.S., and she’ll be touring small venues here over the course of the summer. But is it all coming too fast? “It doesn’t seem like it happened all that quick,” says Bridie. “I’ve been playing gigs since I was 15, so, to me, it feels like a slow and steady rise.”

Four years can seem like a lifetime to a teenager.

—Hobart Rowland

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Failure: Two Communicate


Nearly two decades after Failure’s greatest triumph, the trio returns with its brilliant bookend

A lifetime of change can occur in a year. Multiply that calendar by 20, and the potential for course deviation rises to an almost astronomical level. Factor in the context of a band’s history and you’re looking at a possible alternate reality of epic science-fiction proportions.

Perhaps that’s why Failure’s new album, The Heart Is A Monster, is an unexpected surprise. After a two-decade absence and a parade of band/side projects, guitarist/vocalist Ken Andrews, bassist/vocalist Greg Edwards and drummer Kellii Scott reconvened to follow up 1996’s critically acclaimed and commercially ignored Fantastic Planet. Monster sounds contemporarily fresh, and yet still feels like a logical next step 19 years after its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean Monster was stitched together the same way.

“The only difference between this album and Fantastic Planet is that we’re older now and we have families and kids,” says Andrews. “The idea of doing exactly what we did on Fantastic Planet, where we rented a house and lived like a little fraternity for six months, wasn’t going to happen.”

Failure’s reunion began nearly 10 years after the band’s 1997 break-up, which was fueled by Edwards’ substance issues (although Andrews readily admits they all struggled; see sidebar). After a fairly long stretch—Andrews pursued new directions with ON, Year Of The Rabbit and a solo album, while the newly sober Edwards assembled Autolux. The pair rekindled their friendship, a process that continued when Andrews and Edwards became first-time fathers, and eventually expanded into informal jams at Andrews’ home studio.

“It was all super casual, but we came up with a couple songs that sort of sounded like Failure,” says Andrews. “The backdrop of us hanging out again was that our friends were like, ‘You guys need to get the band back together.’ But Greg was doing Autolux, and still is, and my main job is mixing records for other people, so there wasn’t this huge, ‘We’ve got to do this because we don’t have anything else going on.’ It just came down to desire. I think we both started waking up and going, ‘What do we really want to do today?’ I wanted to get back in the studio with Greg, and I think he wanted to get back in the studio with me.”

Eventually, Andrews and Edwards formalized the reunion with the stated purpose of crafting true Failure songs and creating the successor to one of the 1990s’ greatest albums. The sticking point for Andrews wasn’t necessarily in believing that Fantastic Planet was an influential and beloved work; it was whether there was demand for another Failure album in the new millennium.

“We keep hearing how Failure has become this cult favorite, but there’s no way to gauge what that means,” says Andrews. “We proved to ourselves that we could make something we think is cool and is potentially a worthy follow-up to Fantastic Planet, but is anyone out there who will listen to it or care? So, we booked the L.A. show that happened in February 2014, and it sold out right away. That’s when we knew we should make a full go of this.”
The trio flirted with dropping an EP and leaving it at that, but the response to the L.A. show was overwhelmingly and undeniably positive. The stage was set for a full-scale Failure resurgence.

“We realized there’s a whole new audience for our band,” says Andrews. “It gave us inspiration to finish a full-length.”

The Heart Is A Monster crackles with Fantastic Planet’s incendiary passion, and even mimics its physical structure; “Segue 1,” “2” and “3” on Fantastic Planet are mirrored by “Segue 4” through “9” on Monster. The blistering ring of Failure’s skewed metallic grunge remains as thrilling in the present tense as it did 20 years ago, and the trio has been energized by resurrecting the songs, sounds and processes it created almost half a lifetime ago.

“Failure’s core sound is Greg and I working together—we’ve had different drummers, but I’d say Kelli is a big part of the sound now—but without us, the Failure sound doesn’t happen,” says Andrews. “The first three albums were all pretty different. In the most functional way, we tried to emulate Fantastic Planet in terms of writing and recording songs one at a time, soup to nuts, before moving on. That was the major difference between Fantastic Planet and the albums before that. The studio becomes less about a technical exercise of recording a song you’ve already demoed and becomes a discovery thing, and it makes for an overall more creative experience.”

—Brian Baker

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Flesh World: Positive Feedback


Long live Flesh World’s unique commingling of punk, pop and noise

Flesh World comes at you with an overwhelming rush of melody and noise. On The Wild Animals In My Life, the band’s first full-length, guitarist/vocalist Jess Scott and guitarist/synthesizer player Scott Moore produce a sizzling tidal wave of feedback-drenched guitar pandemonium that overwhelms your senses. Scott’s warm voice bobs along on the crest of the breaker, like a delicate origami boat, a splash of color that complements the darkness of the music.
“We love feedback,” says Scott. “My favorite part of the record is the last few minutes of ‘Here In The Dark.’ It’s nothing but feedback and synthesizer noise. It comes at you like a racecar.”

Scott (Brilliant Colors) and Moore (Limp Wrist) put the band together to fuse the most extreme elements of the music they love: hardcore punk and carefree pop. “After Brilliant Colors, I was in a punk band where I just sang,” says Scott. “I didn’t play guitar. I jumped around the stage like a monkey. It made my singing stronger and more melodic. That experience became a pivot between Brilliant Colors and this band.”

The group’s aggressive twin-guitar attack, supported by drummer Diane Anastasio and bassist Andrew Luttrell, relies on music more than lyrics to get its message across.

“I like to leave room for interpretation,” says Scott. “One person’s obvious is another person’s riddle. Defining yourself as gay traps you in a historical, linear way of thinking. Music is about creating something that’s above all that.”

The album art, a photo of a man slipping out of a black leather jacket, is just as striking as the band’s music.
“It’s a photo by J. Brian, a well-known gay porn director from the ’70s,” says Scott. “It’s elegant and unisexual, gay without shouting gay, which is what we’re aiming at. Like the lyrics, it has an ambiguous element we like.”

—j. poet

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The Bird And The Bee: Busy Bees


The Bird And The Bee carves out some spare time for an unexpected triumph

Inara George doesn’t blame anyone for believing that the Bird And The Bee (her L.A.-based duo with Greg Kurstin) was kaput. After all, it had been five long years since its last effort, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates, and six since its sophomore set of space-age lounge-pop originals, Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future. George stayed busy with the Living Sisters, while Kurstin worked with Pink, Lily Allen and Kelly Clarkson, as well as overseeing Tegan & Sara’s 2014’s hit Heartthrob. “But we never really broke up,” she says. “We just stopped making music as quickly as we used to.”

Now the team has bounced back with an unexpected new release, Recreational Love, featuring jazzy, cocktail-exotic concoctions like the bubbly “Runaway,” the pulsing “Jenny,” the new-wave-edged “Doctor” and kickoff single “Will You Dance?” an undulating hand-clapper with a surreal lavatory-filmed video that boasts appearances from actors Patton Oswalt and The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg. More surprising is the method they employed to accomplish this feat—composing and recording only one day a week, Friday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. On the dot.

“I have a five-year-old, and two almost-three-year-olds at this point, and the last time the Bird And The Bee put out an album was right before my eldest was born,” says George, the daughter of Little Feat’s Lowell George, and wife of film/TV director Jake Kasdan. “So, that’s what kind of stalled everything, in addition to Greg’s amazing career. So, we had a standing date—for the last five years, we’d just get together for a couple of hours on Friday and just sort of chip away at this record. So we could always keep working on the music.”

The setup suited Kurstin perfectly. As his schedule booked up—and he began tackling assignments like scoring the soundtrack for last year’s Annie reboot—he could still conduct personal business on Friday afternoons. The appointments always started the same way: with roughly 20 minutes of discussion before he’d begin experimenting with piano chords while George toyed with melodies. “And then I start to think of where the song’s going to go on the production side of things,” he says. “So, we work simultaneously, and it’s a bit of a race sometimes to see who finishes first.”

“I’m usually able to finish first,” says George. “But Greg’s so fast. We used to have the goal of finishing the song in one session. Now we kind of half-bake it and then check in with it the next week. We can really think about whether the song is good.” The musicians estimate they ditched a full two albums’ worth of tracks; just when they thought they were finished with Recreational Love, they’d pen more material. “We were our best and worst critics,” says George.

In fact, “Will You Dance?” was originally relegated to the slush pile. Three years ago, it was slated for an early version of the album. “But it got pushed aside, “ says George. “Then Rachel—Greg’s wife and our manager—heard an old mix of it in the car, and she said, ‘Why isn’t this song on the record?’ And we didn’t have to do too much to it to change it. It went from the chopping block to being our first single.”

So, not only did the pair not splinter; they see no reason to discontinue the relationship any time in the foreseeable future.

“It feels like we can do anything with the Bird And The Bee,” says Kurstin. “There are no rules. We can make our records however we want.”

—Tom Lanham

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